What is worrying is that the political discourse is degrading election after election. The times of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Rajiv Gandhi is no more.
More than two and a half decades ago, Rajiv Gandhi the former Prime minister of India and the prominent PM candidate for the upcoming general elections was assassinated in a bomb explosion. An incident that left not only the Gandhi family but entire country in an irreparable loss. BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was an opposition leader at that time, talking to senior journalist Karan Thapar had said, “Rajiv Gandhi is the reason I am alive today.”
“Today I’m in the Opposition and people expect me to speak like an opponent. But I can’t. I only want to talk about what he did for me,” said grieving Vajpayee. Such a camaraderie in politics is rare today. The tale behind Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement is even more fascinating and reveals a humane side of the erstwhile ruthless politics.
Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India from 1984-1989. Atal Bihari Vajpayee the leader of the opposition was suffering from a severe kidney-related ailment. Talking to Thapar Vajpayee said, ”He (Rajiv Gandhi) somehow found out I had a kidney problem and needed treatment abroad.” Vajpayee recalled that Rajiv Gandhi one day called him to his office and told him that he would be included in India’s delegation to UN. “He hoped that once I go to New York, I will get whatever treatment necessary,” Vajpayee said.
Even after coming back from the New York neither Rajiv nor Vajpayee mentioned the incident to anybody. Both played their roles as opponents in public life. However, Atal Bihari Vajpayee later sent a postcard thanking Rajiv Gandhi for this courtesy. One must notice that both remained tight-lipped about the incident until the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi when Vajpayee expressed his grief calling Rajiv Gandhi his “younger brother”.
While the then political history will be remembered for the friendship and mutual respect between politicians cutting across party lines, one wonders, what contemporary political scenario will be remembered for? Today, the political discourse is woven mostly around hateful, poisonous commentary about political opponents. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a rally at a Hubbli during a campaigning in Karnataka had said, “Congress leaders should be aware of their limits, they’re dealing with Modi. They won’t be spared.” The threatening language was condemned by former Prime Minister Dr Manmmohan Singh. Even during Gujrat Assembly Election, PM Modi had said that Pakistan is conspiring with Congress and is planning to make Ahmed Patel the CM of the state to keep him out. BJP National President Amit Shah had during the party foundation day event had compared the opposition to animals like rats.
What is worrying is that the political discourse is degrading election after election. The times of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Rajiv Gandhi is no more. The attacks on political opponents have become personal. On the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, all the politicians need to learn a lesson from this extraordinary tale of humane gesture, more than ever.
Kerala Flood: a grim reminder of why India must revise the NDRF guidelines
The NDRF procedure of assessment not only neglects the fact that during natural disasters like Kerala Flood, time is most precious.
If you want to see what devastation really is, look at Kerala. The southern state which is also popularly known as God’s own country is suffering from the worst ever flooding since 1924. The catastrophic monsoon rain has wrecked a havoc in the state with several districts of the state submerging in water. The human casualty has reached 164, while many stranded people are turning to social media to ask for help.
Over the past week, Kerala lost 8,316 crores worth of economic assets. The unremitting showers led to a horrific landslide that damaged many houses, roads and other infrastructure. As many as 60,000 people have been shifted to makeshift relief camps. However, as the downpour continues the water has started entering into some of the relief camps. Though the intensity of the rainfall has receded, according to the India Meteorological Department it may increase again till August 17. Following the prediction, the state has issued a red alert in all thirteen districts except Kasaragod.
The incessant rainfall has led to filling of most of the water reservoirs in the state. However, as the water level reached the danger mark, the gates of reservoirs in the Idukki system, a giant hydroelectric project, and several other dams were opened which swamped the downstream habitations alongside the rivers.
In the cases such as this where the public life at large is affected by the cataclysmic crisis, the government is the insurer of the last resort for the citizens. Over the past few weeks, several legislators from the state have demanded that the crisis should be declared as the National Calamity. A fresh request was made for the same by VS Achuthanandan, Administrative Reforms Commission chairman. Last month, CPM leader P Karunakaran had raised this issue in the Lok Sabha.
He informed the Lower House of parliament that this is one of the worst floods in the history of Kerala considering the large-scale devastation across various parts of the state. He had even said that centre should provide funds beyond what is due under the NDRF. The centre did, however, release interim relief of 100 crores for the state but the state government retorted back saying that for the damage and destruction that scales up to almost 8000 crores of loss, the relief amount is meagre.
Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac in a tweet lashed out saying that the Immediate mitigation and rectification expenditure to the state is around Rs. 3,000 crores. “The central grant precious Rs. 100. And that too if it is from regular disaster management fund due to Kerala, I don’t know!” he tweeted.
Total loss of floods to Kerala around ₹8000 crores. Immediate mitigation and rectification expenditure to the state around ₹3000.And the central grant precious ₹100. And that too if it is from regular disaster management fund due to Kerala , I donot know!
— Thomas Isaac (@drthomasisaac) August 13, 2018
His response came after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday announced that the Centre will be granting 100 crores interim relief to the state. Rajnath Singh tweeted, “I understand the suffering of the people of Kerala from the present crisis. Since the assessment of the damage will take time, I hereby announce immediate relief as an advance of Rs. 100 crores,” the home minister had said on Sunday.
The floods in Kerala have caused severe damage to crops & infrastructue. It has also caused loss of precious lives and forced thousands to take shelter in relief camp. We are providing all possible assistance to the state. Centre to provide additional 100 crores to Kerala. pic.twitter.com/Ufq58HCEq0
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) August 12, 2018
Though natural disasters occur unannounced and there is no measure to speculate on the amount of damage it can cause, the Indian government has a framework in place regarding the relief work. The legal framework deals with the responsibilities of state as well as central governments while carrying out relief works. It lays down guidelines as to when the centre can intervene in the relief work and when the state has to fare on its own.
The guidelines on constitution and administration of the state disaster response fund and national disaster response fund issued by the Ministry of Home affairs in 2010 lists the procedure to be followed for the assessment of the disasters.
According to the guidelines, once the state government requests for central government’s help in case the SDRF isn’t sufficient, the memorandum first goes through preliminary examination. If it reveals that there are enough funds in the SDRF then the state is advised accordingly. In case, the preliminary examination finds that the state needs assistance then a central team is put on the job of on the spot assessment. The report of the central team is then examined by the National Executive Committee which is then sent to a High-Level Committee. This committee approves the quantum of immediate relief.
Furthermore, only the natural disasters that are considered to be of “severe nature” by the Indian government qualify for the relief fund by the Centre. Here, the guidelines leave a loose end as to what should and should not be considered as a severity by the Indian government. This also means unless it is assessed that the disaster is of severe nature- the process for which is lengthy and time-consuming, central help will not arrive.
The procedure of assessment not only neglects the fact that in case of natural disasters time is most precious but also withdraws from the reality that it risks thousands of lives by indulging in bureaucracy. The delayed action cost innocent civilians their lives as it happened in case of Kerala floods or even during cyclone Ockhi.
You can find the entire document here: Guidelines for National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF)
The centre though did not declare it as a “national calamity” as requested by Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu but acknowledged the cyclone as “rare and extraordinary”, which again has different norms. This leads to the killing of valuable time. By the time Centre and state resolve as to who would perform what responsibility, the damage would have done. What can be the more apt example of this than the 2014 Jammu Floods or the 2013 Uttarakhand deluge? The relief did come but it was already late and the scale of human and infrastructure casualty has gone up.
The governments cannot divorce itself from the fact that mere providing relief is not enough. Providing it on time has to be the priority.
Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee: journey of a statesman through pictures
Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee, perhaps the greatest statesman India has witnessed, we look back at the different stages of his life.
It was the April of 1980 when a new party was born on India’s political map- The Bharatiya Janata Party. “Andhera Chhatega, Suraj Nikalega, Kamal Khilega.” This is how the party chief Atal Bihari Vajpayee introduced this new political party to India. True to his words, the dream was realized more than 15 years later. The victory of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and that of BJP was significant. His government was the first non-Congress government in India’s 50 years long political history to complete its term. But that’s not the only reason why the former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be immortalized in India’s political history.
For the parliamentarian who had spent more than 4 decades inside the temple of democracy, the praise- “right man in the wrong party” wasn’t new. Some even described him as the “Nehru of the right”. He even mentioned this in his speech in the Lok Sabha before the trust vote in 1998. However, he managed to break the spell and the very next year, NDA led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP swung back to power.
The journey of Atal Bihari Vajpayee is as mesmerizing as it is inspiring. Remembering perhaps the greatest statesman India has witnessed, we look back at the different stages of his life. A journey down memory lane through pictures:
- The Angry Young man
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born to Krishna Devi and Krishna Bihari Vajpayee on 25 December 1924 in Gwalior. His father was a poet and a schoolmaster in his hometown. Vajpayee did his schooling and higher education in Gwalior itself. He attended Gwalior’s Victoria College (now Laxmi Bai College) and graduated with distinction in Hindi, English, and Sanskrit. He completed his post-graduation with an M.A. in Political Science from DAV College, Kanpur, and was awarded a first-class degree.
There is an interesting story about his student life, which people may rarely know. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his father studied together in the college. Krishna Bihari Vajpayee joined the law course after his retirement from service. The son-father duo attending college together had left many amusing.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee had 3 brothers and 3 sisters. All of them got married. But when his turn came, he categorically rejected the idea saying that he has vowed to devote his life for the service of his motherland. His activism started with Arya Kumar Sabha. Later, he also joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1939. Even at that time, the wordsmith in him peeped out in the form of poems and speeches that were inspiring.
Vajpayee was inspired by the freedom struggle and actively took part in anti-British protests as a minor. He even spent twenty-four days in jail. The political master was taking shape during these early days.
The Bharatiya Jan Sangh days:
In 1948, the RSS was banned for its alleged role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1951, he was seconded by the RSS, along with Deendayal Upadhyaya, to work for the newly formed Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a Hindu right-wing political party associated with the RSS. He was appointed as a national secretary of the party in charge of the Northern region, based in Delhi. He soon became a follower and aide of party leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. In 1954, Vajpayee was with Mukherjee when he went on a fast-unto-death in Kashmir to protest against the perceived inferior treatment of non-Kashmiri Indian visitors to the state.
First Lok Sabha win:
In 1957, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected from Balrampur. Coming from a small party against the Congress in the heydays of Pandit Nehru, Vajpayee performed exceptionally well as a debutant parliamentarian. He soon became the face of Jana Sangh inside and outside the parliament with his oratory skills par excellence. This young parliamentarian raging with passion soon caught the attention of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Pandit Nehru was so enamored with his fluency in Hindi that he had even predicted that Vajpayee will be the prime minister of India in future. While introducing Vajpayee to a foreign dignitary, Nehru had said, “This young man one day will become the country’s prime minister.”
After the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya, the responsibility to lead Jana Sangh fell on the shoulders of Vajpayee. He became the national president of the Jana Sangh in 1968. This was also a time when the Jana Sangh saw the beginning of the rise of the party to national prominence.
The External Affairs Minister in Janata Party government:
During Janata Party government days, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the External Affairs Minister. He was also the first non-Congress external affairs minister to attend UNGA. It was a historical day as well. Vajpayee delivered a speech in Hindi at the UN General Assembly, raising India’s stand on key issues like nuclear disarmament, state-sponsored terrorism, and reforms at the world body. “I am a newcomer to the United Nations, but India is not, having been associated actively with the Organisation from its very inception,” he said.
“As one who has been a parliamentarian in my own country for two decades and more, I feel a special sense of exhilaration in attending this assembly of nations for the first time,” Vajpayee said in the historic address. It was the first time that an Indian leader had delivered the speech in Hindi at the UNGA as other Indian leaders had opted to speak in English, the dominant language at the forum.
Formation of Bharatiya Janata Party:
After the Janata Party banned dual membership of RSS and the party, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani along with some leaders broke away from the party and established Bharatiya Janata Party in April 1980. Presiding over the first session after the formation of the party, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that the post of the BJP president is not a piece of jewelry to boast about. “This post is not a prestige, it is a challenge,” he said.
At this session, Vajpayee ji resolved to fulfill the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and Jay Prakash Narayan. While dismissing the politics of manipulation, Vajpayee ji had said that the BJP would do politics related to land, politics in political parties, politicians, to restore the lost faith of the people, which was a big thing in itself. It was at this meeting that he said, “Andhera Chhatega, Suraj Nikalega, Kamal Khilega.”
When PV Narasimha Rao trusted the opposition leader:
India faced a big challenge when Pakistan on 27 February 1994, moved to UN Human Rights Commission and tabled the resolution through OIC that condemned India for violation of human rights in Kashmir. If the resolution would have passed, India would have been put on UNSC economic sanctions. Faced with challenges on several fronts, PM Narasimha Rao took the matter into his own hands. The same month he flew from Davos (where he was attending World Economic Forum) to Germany.
He formed a team of delegates all carefully chosen to represent India. Despite being the leader of the opposition, the then PM PV Narasimha Rao trusted Atal Bihari Vajpayee and included him in the delegation to represent India at UN. The delegates also included Salman Khurshid, E. Ahmad, National Conference head Farooq Abdullah and Hamid Ansari. It was the time when keeping the political differences aside, Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to Rao’s decision. This also proves the “Nation first” policy of Vajpayee.
In Prime Minister’s chair:
Victory in the Gujarat and Maharashtra assembly elections in March 1995 and a good performance in the Karnataka assembly elections 1994 led BJP to a greater political prominence. During a BJP conference in Mumbai in November 1995, BJP President L. K. Advani declared that Vajpayee would become the PM candidate of the party. Subsequently, the BJP won the May 1996 parliamentary elections.
Though BJP was the single largest party, it could not gather the majority and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to resign. The elections were again conducted in 1998. The BJP again won and this time with allied parties formed the government. However, it only lasted for 13 months until AIADMK withdrew its support. In 1999 general elections the BJP-led NDA won 303 seats out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, in the aftermath of the Kargil operations. This time Atal Bihari Vajpayee completed a full term as a Prime Minister.
In May 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests in Pokhran desert in Rajasthan, 24 yrs after India conducted its first nuclear test (Smiling Buddha) in 1974. This test is called Pokhran-II. The tests were held just a month after the government had been in power. Vajpayee has been the strongest proponent of India as a nuclear power. In 1964 he had said in the parliament, “The answer to an atom bomb is an atom bomb, nothing else.” When he took office in 1996, he began taking steps in the direction of nuclear test. However, before the plan could materialize, his government fell within 13 days. When the BJP government came back to power in March 1998, with Vajpayee at its helm again, the party veteran and prime minister began laying the ground for the nuclear tests. On 8 April, he summoned Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) chief R Chidambaram and DRDO chief APJ Abdul Kalam to give them the thumbs-up for the tests.
The entire operation was conducted in such high secrecy that nobody except the aforementioned and home minister LK Advani knew about it. Defense Minister George Fernandes was told about the tests on 9 May. The next day, the three service chiefs and foreign secretary were informed.
The Lahore summit:
In late 1998 and early 1999, Vajpayee began a push for a full-scale diplomatic peace process with Pakistan. With the historic inauguration of the Delhi-Lahore bus service in February 1999, Vajpayee initiated a new peace process aimed towards permanently resolving the Kashmir dispute and other conflicts with Pakistan. The resultant Lahore Declaration espoused a commitment to dialogue, expanded trade relations and mutual friendship and envisaged a goal of denuclearised South Asia. This eased the tension created by the 1998 nuclear tests, not only between the two nations but also in South Asia and the rest of the world.
During Kargil War, Operation Vijay was launched in June 1999. Indian military fighting thousands of militants and soldiers in the midst of heavy artillery shelling and while facing extremely cold weather, snow and treacherous terrain at the high altitude. Over 500 Indian soldiers were killed in the three-month-long Kargil War, and it is estimated around 600-4,000 Pakistani militants and soldiers died as well. India pushed back the Pakistani militants and Northern Light Infantry soldiers. Almost 70% of the territory was recaptured by India.
Vajpayee sent a “secret letter” to US President Bill Clinton that if Pakistani infiltrators did not withdraw from the Indian territory, “we will get them out, one way or the other” – meaning he did not rule out crossing the Line of Control (LoC), or was the use of nuclear weapons.
Though the Vajpayee government was uprooted by the Congress-led UPA in 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpayee still remains one of the last politicians in India who command respect across the party lines.
Rafale deal is Modi’s Bofors nightmare
Though the video attempts to defend the Modi govt’s Rafale deal, it ends up raising one more important question. Who is answerable to us? Modi government or Pallavi Joshi?
The Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s back to back rallies in poll-bound Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and the southern states of Karnataka and Telangana have shed the unambiguity surrounding the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign. Mistake not, the public speeches going hammer and tongue against the Modi government are an indication that the Congress has already launched its poll campaign. The controversial Rafale deal has been at the center of the Anti-BJP campaign by the Congress.
Since the hug and wink episode in the Lok Sabha during the No-confidence motion debate, Rahul Gandhi has been constantly mentioning the Rafale Deal in his each and every address. Talking at Jaipur, during a campaign trail, he said that Prime Minister Modi couldn’t meet eyes in the parliament when asked about Rafale deal. The “Chowkidar is Bhaagidar” rhetoric followed.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 8, 2018
Since the time it was first brought to the notice, the Rafale deal has been carrying mystery about its pricing and accusations of crony capitalism surrounding it. The opposition has fanned the fire more. So much so, that rebel BJP leaders Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha even held a press conference alleging that the infamous Bofors scam that brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government pales to insignificance as compared to the Rafale deal. Though BJP would like to ignore the rebel leaders, it cannot turn a blind eye towards a monumental question that awaits the party ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha Election- Will Rafale turn out to be Modi’s Bofors nightmare? Well, the signs are it will!
The defense deals in India are controversy’s favorite child. Moreover, they have not only led to the fall of the incumbent government but have severely dented the credibility. Thus, defense deals also become a favorite tool of the opposition to attack the ruling party. Then be it Bofors, Coffin Gate, Tehelka investigation or now the Rafale deal. However, the Rafale deal, the defense deal between India and France broadly is equated with the first defense scandal that hit the country- Bofors, majorly because of the cronyism that played out.
What was Bofors scam?
The Rajiv Gandhi government decided to replace the old field guns and artillery with the induction of a bigger caliber 155 mm howitzers. A deal was signed between the Indian government and Swedish Armament major AB Bofors for $285 million i.e. roughly about 1500 crores rupees. Even by today’s standard, the amount is huge. When the deal was signed, India was still in a pre-liberalised era. The amount by the then standards was humongous.
The blow to the deal came almost a year later in 1987 when a Swedish state radio broadcast made a damning allegation against AB Bofors claiming the company has paid kickbacks to get the contract. The allegation also involved key Indian policymakers and top defense officials. The scandal hit like a storm back home in India. After the news spread, the Indian Government promptly blacklisted AB Bofors. But the investigation carried out by Indian Newspapers revealed that the rot was deeper and scam amounting to 64 crores was unearthed. The name of middlemen called Ottavio Quattrochi cropped up in the investigation. His proximity towards the Gandhi family also led to speculations that he was a powerful broker in the 1980s between big businesses and the Indian government.
The scandal took center stage in no time. The Rajiv Gandhi government under the growing pressure from public and opposition had to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the allegations on August 6, 1987. Though the probe was going on, the scandal has already damaged the reputation of the Rajiv Gandhi government and it cost him his PM post in the 1989 Lok Sabha Elections.
Though Rajiv Gandhi was acquitted by the Delhi HC in 2002, the Bofors case has been stuck to Congress since then. It is a stain on Congress that will never be washed away.
What are the allegations in Rafale deal?
The Rafale deal differs from the Bofors in a sense that more than a corruption case, it is an example of gross misuse of the authority and crony capitalism. The Rafale Deal was made during UPA 2 with France’s Dassault. The Indian government had put out a tender for 126 fighter jets out of which it had planned to buy 18 Rafales in fly-away condition from Dassault, while the remaining were to be built in India along with the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
However, the deal was scrapped and a completely new deal was announced by PM Modi in 2015 on his visit to France. According to the new deal, India would be getting 36 Rafale jets from France, all in fly-away condition. Under the terms of this Rs 59,000 crore deal, all the planes would be built in France, but Dassault would have to offset about 50% of that cost in India. According to this clause, Dassault had to ensure that 50% of the payment received from India will be invested in Indian Defence System i.e. Dassault had to find an Indian partner to complete the deal.
According to the allegations by the opposition, mainly Congress, the HAL was dropped from the deal and Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aeronautics was awarded the contract. According to the reports, the company has never had any experience in the field of aircraft manufacturing. There have been reports that the defense minister had no idea about the new deal finalized by PM Modi in 2015. There are constant demands raised by the opponents to reveal the price of the exact price of the Rafale deal which the Modi government has been consistently denying citing secrecy pact.
Though the Modi government says that the Rafale deal is not a scam, the persistent refusal to reveal the pricing of the deal and even come out with a proper explanation has only contributed to growing suspicion and mystery surrounding the deal. The assurance by defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman to reveal the prices and later backing off from it has given an edge to the opposition who have stepped up their attacks.
In light of confusion, the BJP yesterday released a video on its twitter handle handing out an “easy” explanation of the Rafale deal featuring actress Pallavi Joshi. The video titled “Rafale deal for dummies”, features a monologue by Pallavi Joshi, who tries to explain the Rafale deal with the example of a housing society secretary looking to sign with a French company in order to upgrade the society building’s security lock system.
She goes on to explain how her predecessor has spent years in talk with the French manufacturer with nothing actually happening in the deal. Joshi asks, is the point if the locks do not come with accessories and the promise of maintenance and upgrades?
— BJP (@BJP4India) August 13, 2018
She says she spoke to the French company’s boss and negotiated a fresh deal for locks that also included other benefits as well as a promise that some of the locks would be made in India. The entire deal was cheaper than what the previous secretary had negotiated, Joshi says. “And, that is the Rafale deal.”
India saved Rs 12,500 crore under the Rafale deal signed by the Narendra Modi government, Joshi says, suddenly dispensing with her housing society example.
Though the video attempts to defend the Modi govt’s Rafale deal, it ends up raising one more important question. Who is answerable to us? Modi government or Pallavi Joshi? If the comparison between the lock system and Rafale jet is not amusing enough, the ruling party of India expects the citizen of the country to buy the explanation. All this while the Defence Minister and Prime minister maintain a conscientious silence over the details and dodge the questions over the deal.
If this is the way, the government responds when confronted with the allegation, the Rafale deal has very much chances of going the Bofors way!
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