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Straining at the leash - BJP's exaggerated vision thing; - The Indian Express

Shefali Misra ()
October 30, 1998

Title: Straining at the leash - BJP's exaggerated vision thing;
and a comment
Author: Shefali Misra
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: October 30, 1998

You have to give our government full marks for trying. It may
never get its way. Its very effort may be misplaced, misguided,
mischievous, so that it is a good thing that it does not get its
way-but you can't fault it for not trying. You could wonder why
such frantic energy is manifest in suspect matters and why not
nearly enough seen in those that might achieve some good for the
denizens of this land. But you can't say there's no energy. Oh

That, precisely, is the problem. For so long have we lamented the
absence of the vision thing in our politicians that, confronted
all at once with too much of it, we, the garrulous, opinionated
and cantankerous nation, are left speechless. In other
circumstances that might be some thing to be thankful for. But
right now it is time to tell this government to get its
priorities straight and cut out the rest.

Just at present the national lament or the national-media lament
anyway is that Murli Manohar Joshi's perfectly legitimate and
wise plans for improving education have got buried because of the
unfortunate Vidya Bharati ruckus. Well, tough luck. To take an
example from American politics, if Congress is fool enough to try
to load abortion law on to fast-track trade negotiating authority
for the President, both ideas deserve to get sunk, and you know
whom to blame. Likewise, if you try to sneak in some furtive,
unventilated and outlandish-to-boot (Homer's epic is an
adaptation of the Valmiki Ramayan!) agenda on the back of real
education reform, what right have you to expect that your reforms
will see the light of day? Putting a partisan tail on a non-
partisan agenda means that the tail will, yes, wag the dog.

Trouble with the BJP is it cannot reconcile itself to the fact
that it does not have mandate. Well, it has mandate of a sort,
but not of the sort it thinks it has or the sort it wants to
have. It is the single largest party, no doubt about that. But
does it have the mandate to undertake social-political spring-
cleaning of a magnitude that is truly breathtaking? Does it have
mandate for its big ideas?

Most of the ideas, it has to be conceded, are not bad. Most of
them deserve decent ventilation: review of the Constitution,
poring over the presidential form of government, education
reform. Beware of those particularly who will make the
Constitution a dinosaur, a sacrosanct document set in stone which
by definition is condemned to becoming irrelevant. But the
crucial questions are, naturally: precisely what sort of reform,
and is what is being proposed reform or reaction?

The BJP does not have time for ventilating these things. And it
does not have the respect for democracy and a sufficiently
liberal outlook to accept that it cannot begin to implement those
ideas without consensus and at least a semi-clear mandate. You
know about those who steal what they cannot have. Well, here is a
government that wastes its suspect resources sneaking in - or
trying to - what it cannot respectably bring in through the front

What a great pity. There would be nothing defeatist about
accepting that the BJP did not have a mandate for undertaking a
wholesale review of contemporary India's very social and
political foundations. It would be fruitful to act on the idea
that the party should focus on things that are not contentious
and are essential as well. Call it the National Agenda for
Governance or anything else. We all know what those things are.
The BJP-coined the phrase ood governance' for them. Oh, there
is lip service to them all right. But where is the conviction?

Yet it could hardly be otherwise. Not only do the BJP and its
Parivar have far too much vision for their own good, they also
have far too many visions to inspire them as one collective
entity. There is an L.K. Advani vision. There is definitely a
Murli Manohar Joshi vision. There is an Atal Behari Vajpayee
vision, too, one supposes. There is the muscular swadeshi vision.
There is the liberal swadeshi vision. There is even the Ananth
Kumar type of vision, such as it is. These busily orbiting
visions exhibit a startling tendency to collide. Is it any wonder
that instead of symphony we get cacophony?

We hear of bipartisanship - ideologically different parties or
groupings coming together on a certain agreed agenda. It cannot
be too much to ask the BJP to condescend to display at least
internal bipartisanship. It is wrong to think that agreeing on
those small things and getting on with them will not suffice to
leave a mark. It will, if anything will, because those things
have been so conspicuously lacking and so desperately needed. For
fifty years the Indian people have seen far too many big ideas,
even when they did not hang together as one coherent vision, and
not enough small ones. In any case the big ideas, dear as they
may be to party and Parivar, are divisive, impossible to
implement at this time and will earn the government the thanks
only of sections of the people. It is a lack of imagination that
prevents the party from addressing a constituency of over 900

Yet it is not easy. (Who said it was?) Good governance requires
capability. Far easier to hold forth on grand ideas than do one
little thing right. Compounding the weak mandate is, in fact,
singular ineptitude. This perhaps has been most clear in the way
bureaucracy has led this government up the garden path. No one
ever doubted the bureaucracy's lethal hold on this country, but
such a raw display of it has seldom been seen. If the BJP had a
mind to give priority to what many consider its subversive
agenda, the least it might have done was aim to secure the
support of the omnipotent bureaucracy. This does not even appear
to have been attempted.

The fantasy of bringing the presidential system to this country,
of undertaking a thorough review of the Constitution, of
Indianising, nationalising and spiritualising education, of
showing a brawny judiciary its place - all this has to be
measured against the reality of failure to make onion prices look
south for a change. Ludicrous? Exactly. This government needs to
get real. Let it try to evolve a sense of proportion between what
it wants to do and what is feasible Let it not strain at the
leash so hard. It is undignified. Worse, it could end up choking


Sachin S Pilankar

Hatiskar Marg,
Old Prabhadevi,
Mumbai 400 025.

October 30, 1998.


Reference "Straining at the leash" (Sept 30) by Shefali Misra.
She says that most of the ideas proposed by the BJP coalition
re not bad When one reluctantly concedes something one has
to say that something is ot bad instead of saying ood But
that is not the point that I would like to dwell upon. If the
ideas are not bad, why does Misra not analyse them and inform the
readers about it, so that there can be a national consensus? A
political party in power has a right to suggest according to its
own vision. But, if the ideas are not bad, then they should be
adopted without trying to seek to put any colour on them.

Misra says that the bureaucracy as led the government up the
garden path that it has a ethal hold on this country and
that uch a raw display of (its power) has seldom been seen
Amazingly, she advises the present government to try and ecure
the support of the omnipotent bureaucracy The right way of
looking at the issue is to advise the government to do away with
this bureaucracy, since it obviously is not doing any good to the
nation. One would have expect Misra to undertake a campaign of
exposing the bureaucracy and educating the people how they are
coming in the way of progress. The bureaucracy is paid for by
the people, and is expected to be their servants. A small
community cannot come in the way of 900 million attempting to
better their own lives.

Yours sincerely,

The Editor, The Indian Express,
Express Tower, Nariman Point,
Mumbai 400 021.

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