It is the beginning of 2014. Three months from now there will be Lok Sabha elections in the country. It is not yet clear which party or coalition will win in the Lok Sabha elections. It may be that under the leadership of the Congress party the UPA comes to power. It may be that under the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party the NDA comes to power. It may also be that an alliance of many parties comes to power with the name of the Third Front, with several of the parties remaining outside, but the alliance forming a Government with Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party support. In this case there is also a possibility that one ‘front’ tries to ally with the Congress and form a Government and another ‘front’ tries to ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party and form a Government. Of course, elections are generally fluid, beyond estimates, because it is beyond the capability of computers to read human minds and the possibility is also low of of one human mind being able to read another human mind.
No matter who comes to power, it is necessary to make an assessment of those who have been in power for the last ten years. Who comes to power and who does not come to power this assessment is not necessary at all for that. But this assessment is necessary because no matter who comes to power, questions and issues should remain before whoever is in power, so that, after occupying the seat in Delhi, an effort should be made to try and find a way of protection from such questions. Though of course, that would be stretching credulity, because neither has anyone been able to escape from questions and issues and neither has anyone raised less questions. After Independence in 1947 and after the Constitution of the country was framed in 1950, our country has been continually getting hemmed in by a labyrinth of constant problems. Policies have never been made keeping the poor people of the country seriously in mind. Noise was made about policies, but they were never followed.
Let us begin talking with a story. The story is not actually a story, but a true incident and it is mentioned in the proceedings of the Lok Sabha. Chandra Shekhar had become India’s Prime Minister but his Government fell in 1991. In 1992 the Government of P. V. Narasimha Rao was formed. His Finance Minister was Manmohan Singh, who announced economic liberalisation, that is, new economic policies in Parliament and said that in the next twenty years the country would be seen fighting a meaningful and significant fight against poverty. Unemployment will be almost eliminated. Electricity will be universal. Infrastructure, roads, communications, transportation and water, all these will be available to the people of the country. On all these he was giving pithy speeches. After this, Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao rose in the House and praised the economic policies in fairly good words.
The former Prime Minister of India, Chandra Shekhar, was a member of that Lok Sabha. It was the tenth Lok Sabha. Narasimha Rao sat down and Chandra Shekhar gave an impressive speech against those policies. He said that 20 years from today there will be extreme disappointment, corruption will increase. The hopes and expectations of the poor will end and the country will stand at the doors of civil war. He said clearly that the policies that Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister had made for the country would be fatal for the country. This country will move towards being dismembered to pieces. Chandra Shekharji’s speech ended, and Narasimha Rao rose and said,Chandra Shekharji, when you were Prime Minister, then my Finance Minister Manmohan Singh was your Economic Adviser. I made him my Finance Minister because I felt that he will bring your economic policies into effect. Chandra Shekharji rose again and said just one sentence, and that one sentence is before us today, giving us knowledge and understanding like the Gita, the Bible and the Quran. Chandra Shekharji said, Narasimha Raoji, I had given you a knife to cut vegetables, but you have started using that knife for an operation, for surgery of the heart. The whole House was stunned. Clapping resounded in the Lok Sabha, in which there were some members of the Congress.
Today when we are doing an analysis, Chandra Shekharji’s sentence tells us that in reality we operated on the heart with a knife for peeling vegetables and our country has reached that abyss towards which Chandra Shekharji had pointed. Broadly speaking, and why broadly, even from a precise viewpoint, the number of scams and corruption revelations that have taken place in the country during this duration has never happened before.
The ‘open’ economy after 1991, i.e., the handing over of the country to the markets has seen the country cross overriding limits of corruption. The Bofors scam of Rs. 64 crore engulfed and helped topple the Rajiv Gandhi Government at the fag end of the eighties, but in 1992 when ‘open’ economic policies were implemented the first scam was of 5000 crore rupees. That scam revolved around 5000 crore rupees from our country being siphoned to foreign banks. There was an uproar, but this scam was ruthlessly surpressed, presided over by the Finance Minister. Then after this, the corruption that began with Harshad Mehta, that entire series of corruption stopped at the recent coal scam at the figure of of 26,000 crore rupees. After 2004 approximately, no month went by when the buzz of corruption did not enter the ears of the people. And after 2009, it was just amazing. There was corruption in everything. It seemed as if a ‘Mandi’ , a large market of loot had opened throughout India and whoever got a chance took a mouthful. The conditions became such that in the context of corruption, be it the people, be it leaders, be it the courts, all made comments, but this Government, i.e. , UPA-2 simply shut its eyes to corruption : no investigation or inquiry, nor the will for an inquiry, and not even a spurious assurance for an investigation or inquiry. Our country began to be counted amongst the most corrupt countries in the world.
A new form of corruption emerged. Corruption was taken to every village.
Such schemes were made which sucked entire Gram Sabhas into the morass of corruption. From the Ministers to the officers and from the officers to the Gram Sabhas, everybody began to take a dip in the holy river of corruption. A scheme like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) began to be counted amongst the corrupt schemes of the country. Instead of making the people self-reliant the present Government made them supplicants, made them beggars, made them corrupt. A daily wage of Rs. 100 was fixed, out of which Rs. 50 would be pocketed by the person whose name was written or entered as the recipient, and for Rs. 50 he would send someone else to do the work. This form of ‘dealing’ increased everywhere.
It causes us deep regret and pain too that during both his tenures, i.e. from 2004 to 2009 and between 2009 and uptill now the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh could not be seen working as a Prime Minister, rarely did a political statement come from him, there were hardly any political decisions by him, he was not seen as politically active. And in a country where personalities like Jawahar Lal Nehru, Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, V. P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee have been Prime Ministers, before such personalities, the stature of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh just cannot be seen, just isn’t visible. The Chair can be seen, but the person occupying it cannot be seen.
No political image of any kind of Manmohan Singh developed. H. D. Deve Gowda too remained India’s Prime Minister. All the good work done during his time, the way during his time problems were brought under control, the way efforts were made to provide facilities or relief to the farmers of the country –looking at all of them Manmohan Singh cannot be compared even with Deve Gowda. In fact, Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister, but his image remained that of just a bureaucrat. He could not ‘make’ or attract any political advisors. No political person was able to reach close to him. He had with him only – and only — three bureaucrats: two from the south and one from Punjab. The fourth was Manmohan Singh. These four would hold meetings. It was of these four that the core group remained and it was these four who brought the country to the spot, the point where we are standing today. Free and independent bureaucrats and free and independent Ministers too. An economist Prime Minister has, instead of building the country, brought the country to the verge of ruin and in Chandra Shekharji’s words, brought the country to the doors of civil war.
When Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister of the country, 62 districts in the country were affected by Naxalism, and today, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is making a retirement announcement, then in these ten years of his tenure 272 districts have come into the grip of Naxalism. There is no development here, no education, there are no hospitals, and no food. And the number of such districts is increasing. There are big buildings being built in the cities, large hotels are being opened. New airlines are coming in, but 80 per cent of the people of the country are outside the purview of development.
For the first time in the history of India, the Supreme Court has expressed doubt over the Prime Minister of the country. While commenting on the coal scam, the Supreme Court included the Prime Minister in the ambit of its disapproving comments. The Prime Minister was compelled to declare that the CBI can question him if they want. So much erosion of the Prime Minister of India’s post or so much protection under it has never happened before. It was being believed that the Prime Minister of India never speaks a lie, but in the coal scam the Prime Minister’s statements, his public stand and his very own signatures while he was Minister of Coal and the seriousness of the Supreme Court monitoring the inquiry over the coal allotments are matters that stigmatise the Government of a country like India.
I believe that if the Supreme Court had taken another step forward, the Prime Minister of India would have had to resign and it is likely that there would have been a possibility of his going to jail. Several retired Supreme Court judges themselves who keep the Supreme Court in focus, study its comments and judgements believe that the Supreme Court, to save democracy in India from becoming stained, have compromised even with justice. It happened for the first time that the Supreme Court called the CBI ‘a caged parrot’ and ‘its master’s voice’.
The sloth in the Government increased so much that the Supreme Court adopted a proactive role. What work the Government should have done, the Supreme Court had to order that it should be done. Made in an effort to keep the balance or keep the situation in control, some decisions of the Supreme Court came in for criticism. But had the Supreme Court been more stringent, then the Government of India would have become a partner or participant in the crime or offense of weakening the democracy of India.
For the first time, India’s Prime Minister violated the principle of collective responsibility of the Cabinet and showed that there is no such thing as collective responsibility. When files went missing in the coal scam, the Prime Minister made a statement that I am not a keeper of files. These files had gone missing from South Block, these files had gone missing from within the Ministry headed by the Prime Minister. It means that under this Government anybody could walk leisurely into South Block, pick up whatever was desired, and come out with it. Another meaning that emerges from this is that spies from China and Pakistan or their agents had easily established their reach to the Prime Minister’s Office. And it happened for the first time in the country that spying devices were found in the office of the Finance Minister of the country. This incident was investigated by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) but that investigation too was suppressed ruthlessly by the Government.
It happened for the first time that the Government of India came into confrontation with the Army chief. It was also the first time that an attempt was made to bribe the Army chief, which was investigated but that investigation too was inked in a cover up. This is the first Cabinet whose Ministers went to jail while retaining their posts and for the first time, the Prime Minister did not respond or react to allegations made against the Government, shattered the faith of the people of the country that their problems could be solved after their voices were raised. He is the first Prime Minister against whom there is an allegation that despite the Jan Lokpal Bill being passed in Parliament through a unanimous motion, he allowed the process of turning it into law to drag on for so long. The whole country had stood up in support for the Jan Lokpal due to Anna Hazare’s andolan or movement. Parliament passed the proposal, the Prime Minister wrote a letter, but the Prime Minister kept delaying and dragging it for more than 2 years, till the time that Anna Hazare once again staked his life in a fast unto death.
He is the first Prime Minister who accepted that the economy has reached the 1991 level, i.e. has gone back 23 years. And where has the money spent during these 23 years gone? Very little development took place in 23 years. And when the present Prime Minister had stood in Parliament and roared as Finance Minister that in 20 years, the country will become paradise, that entire time took the country’s history from the track of development. The present Government also committed the offense, the crime of handing the country over to market forces.
Now this Government is not responsible for anything. This Government has stated that if you want to drink water, purchase mineral water bottles. If you want to walk on the road, then pay toll tax, because we will sell the rivers, we will give the land to big industrialists, we do not believe in a Welfare State. If people are to be given water for drinking, if people are to be saved from hunger, then that too if the big companies want they can do it. The Government only – and only – opened the way to hand over the country’s minerals, forests and land to large companies.
Without taking the country and Parliament into confidence, this Government has changed the Constitution of our country in a wishful way. According to the Constitution, our country is a Welfare State. If there are deaths in the country, then the State, i.e. the Government is responsible for it. That people should live with dignity, employment and education, all these are the responsibility of the State, but in the last ten years the meaning of ‘Welfare State’ in the Constitution has been changed without changing the Constitution. And now whether it is the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the Finance Secretary, Opposition Governments, they are all screaming ‘markets-markets’.
For the first time, this Government, for the sake of two deals or agreements, did not care even if it fell. The first was the nuclear deal. The whole country was against it, Parliament was against it, but the people were swung in favour of it through the ‘sutra’ of “Saam, Daam,Dand, Bhed” — the four ways for making someone do a task—and the nuclear deal was done, and the country was handed over to a new danger. The second instance was over foreign direct investment in India. On the issue of foreign direct investment in the country too this Government twisted the arm of Parliament for the law to be made. Why did this Government take such a big risk? The Government has never talked about the Right to Employment, the Right to Food, the Right to Education, but for American interests, to provide benefits to their economy, this Government went ahead with both the above agreements.
For the first time the Government ignored the opposition parties, even though the opposition parties were prepared to sell themselves. The opposition parties did not fulfill their ‘dharma’, their duty in the last ten years. Perhaps the reason for this is that in some State or the other one or the other political parties are in power. Therefore everybody got the same disease that afflicts the ruling party in Delhi. For the first time in the last ten years all-party meetings were rare. No meetings were held of the Committees under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister. Discussions were not held with opposition leaders except on a few occasions, when it seemed that they were being held ritualistically. It happened for the first time that no attempt was made in the country from the Government’s side to form a general opinion. But why weep about all-party meetings not being held, about National Integration Council meetings not being held or its recommendations not being implemented, when this Government did not listen even to its alliance partners and associates.
For the first time in the history of the country, inflation broke all limits, reached its highest level and this was the first Government in which the Agriculture Minister increased prices by talking. He named milk, and milk prices increased. He named sugar, sugar prices increased. He spoke of pulses, and the price of pulses increased and this Government gave a free hand to all. Every Minister became a Prime Minister. There was never any news that Ministers had held discussions about their Ministries with the Prime Minister.
For the first time there was talk of the Army being used for civilian purposes. To finish off Naxalites, this Government considered deploying the Army in Naxalite affected areas, held discussions on this with the Army, but for the first time, Army officers too rejected the Government suggestion. But it was clearly indicated that the Government could use the Army for civilian purposes. A Minister in the Government and a Party General Secretary are two different things. The Government is of the country and a party is of an ideology. It is also the duty of the Government that even if someone does not agree with its ideology, it should still work for that person, otherwise it is not regarded as a Government of the country. But the current Information Minister of our country is behaving like a Congress Party Spokesperson and sitting in the Ministry, is briefing journalists about party decisions. He doesn’t tell journalists the Government policy, but tells them about the party policy.
Which are the many things that should be mentioned, and how? The debate is a long debate and there is nothing hidden in it. The entire inventory is known to the people, but these are questions and issues from which the coming Government should protect itself, whether that Government is of the UPA, whether of the NDA or whether of the Third Front. If a search is not made for answers to these questions and issues and if they are not stopped from swelling, the bad dream, the foreboding, the warning of the former Prime Minister of India, Chandra Shekhar, will come true. The warning he had given in Parliament during discussions on economic reforms when Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister — that after 20 years, this country will not become paradise, but will come to stand at such a verge from where the battle ground of civil war will remain not far off.