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Politician first, gentleman later

Politician first, gentleman later

Author: Editorial
Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: October 11, 2004
URL: http://www.samachar.com/features/111004-editorial.html

To say that Manmohan Singh is fast learning politics on the job will be to miss the point. Which is that he was all along a politician who for long did what his political masters wa nted him to do so that he could keep on their right side; after becoming the Prime Minister he was still doing what his new masters in the Congress and Communist parties want him to do. So where is the change? What is the difference between Manmohan Singh as PM and Manmohan Singh as FM or earlier Manmohan Singh as an economic bureaucrat?

When he was an economic bureaucrat he implemented stringent controls in the name of socialism. After becoming the Finance Minister through a stroke of immense good luck, he dismantled a lot of these controls but only at the urgent prodding of the World Bank and IMF. And now as PM he feels obliged to defend the tainted lot in his government and implement some of the most retrorade policy measures ever taken by any government in post-independent India. So what is the difference between a run-of-the-mill politician as PM and a gentleman and educated Manmohan Singh as PM? In practical terms, we are afraid, nothing at all.

The case in point is his remark the other day in Mumbai that reservations in the private sector was an idea whose time had come. It betrayed his intellectual dishonesty, nay, it underlined his opportunism. He knows full well that the very idea militates against fundamental principles of free enterprise and trade, that it would put brakes on efficient and competitive businesses and industries and, furthermore, would result in avoidable social tensions in a society which was still to recover from the upheaval caused by the caste-based reservations in governmental and educational sectors.

Yet, instead of taming the vote-mania of his masters in the Congress, Communist and casteist parties which constitute the core of the ruling alliance, Singh brings to bear the authority of the prime ministerial office on a reactionary idea which seeks to embed caste in the heart of India as the sole denominator of rise up the economic ladder. Even Indira Gandhi at the height of her experiments with "Garibi Hatao" had kept the genie of the caste reservations sealed firmly in the Mandal bottle. Was she less solicitous of the welfare of the poor than the present torchbearers of the Gandhi-Nehru family?

Despite pressures from various directions inside and outside Parliament, she did not make the Mandal report public. Rajiv Gandhi too refused to succumb to the pressure. It was V P Singh who opened that can of worms, but, mind you, not because he was a champion of the OBC cause. But only to save his prime ministerial "gaddi". Singh did not succeed in his objective, but nonetheless succeeded in doing lasting damage to the harmony and peace of the people at large by reviving the scourge of divisive caste in modern-day India. Others in his wake have now sought to widen the scope and ambit of reservations by spreading the caste dragnet to the private sector.

The consequences of such a myopic move would be dangerous. Voluntary affirmative action by private sector employers is quite different from forcing caste-based quotas down their collective gullet through an official fiat. It seems that the need of the Congress Party to retrieve the lost electoral ground is greater than the demands of merit, efficiency and competitiveness in the private sector.

Equally destructive is the idea to extend the sop of reservations to the religious minorities (read Muslims). After the partition of the country on religious grounds in August 1947, we should have thought that the Congress Party had learnt the right lessons from that cataclysmic event. Alas, the lust for its electoral revival seems to have blinded its leadership to the huge danger these religion- based reservations pose to the unity and integrity of this country in the near future.

It is unfortunate in the extreme that a party which tom-toms its faith in secularism is using the retrograde measures of caste and religion to pander to the baser instincts of our people. The real friends of the deprived sections of the people are not those who offer them the largely symbolic sops of caste- and religion- based reservations.

Their actual redemption from socio-economic backwardness lies in making decent school and college education available. Instead of improving the educational infrastructure the gentleman PM would fob off these sections with the empty promises of reservations which cause widespread disruption and disaffection in the society and cannot be commended as a tool for the socio- economic betterment of the poor.

Meanwhile, it is hoped that the gentleman PM has taken note of the severe strictures the Supreme Court felt constrained to pass against the CBI for its softness towards the mafia don Pappu Yadav and the rap on the Government's knuckles by the Election Commission for its well- publicised decision to set up a commission for extending reservations to religious minorities in the midst of the election campaign in Maharashtra. Gentlemen are expected not to indulge in such questionable practices, isn't it? So what is different under this gentleman PM?

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