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Caligula's Horse

Caligula's Horse

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: Outlook
Date: January 15, 2007
URL: http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20070115&fname=ASwapanDasgupta&sid=1

Introduction: I would rather look back on 2006 as the year the UPA government finally came into its own, showed off its myopia and exposed its talons.

If journalism, as has been unwisely suggested, is instant history, a year is a woefully short period to arrive at considered conclusions. It is entirely possible that 2006 will go down in history as just another hum-drum blip-at best the year the US Congress passed legislation exclusively centred on India, the year the judiciary decided it was the boss and the year Arundhati Roy discovered a sinister inhouse conspiracy behind the attack on Parliament five years ago.

However, since history also lives in the eyes of the beholder, a paid-up member of the reactionary, politically incorrect right-wing brigade like me would rather look back on 2006 as the year the UPA government finally came into its own, showed off its myopia and exposed its talons.

It was a year when progress blended with decay, and a year in which the stupendous energies of the post-socialist, liberated India were sought to be stifled by a government caught in a monstrous time-warp.

It was also the year the most cynical and devious of the land decided that the road to political glory lay in making national fragmentation the mantra of governance.

For me, 2006 has been a depressing year broken by the occasional moments of hope. Indian enterprise,

having dramatically gatecrashed into global reckoning, was sprinting along, famously offering opportunities denied to the Midnight's Children, when it was hit by a thunderbolt. First Sonia Gandhi, in her self-image as Lady Bountiful, decided that the gains of economic resurgence must be dissipated in the name of equity. The Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which was enacted in the budget session at a stupendous cost to the national and state exchequers, was the brainchild of economists and NGOs who have no real stake in India as a global power. It blended the most simplistic facets of Keynesian economics-dig a hole and fill it up again-with the insatiable greed of small-time political functionaries. Destined to be mired in waste and corruption, the REGs will divert resources from what India needs most-infrastructure, education and meaningful employment.

As if this celebration of wasteful fantasy wasn't enough, factions of the Congress decided this was the year to hit India where it hurts the most. The extension of reservations in education to the 50 per cent mark was dictated by the spurious egalitarianism which has been tried and discarded elsewhere. Founded on anti-elitism, actually a euphemism for outlander envy, its consequences are certain to be baneful. First, there is certain to be a levelling-down of standards in the "centres of excellence". Secondly, it is calculated to revive the brain drain to the West and Southeast Asia. Finally, it may end up blunting India's competitive edge in the global knowledge economy.

Arjun Singh always had a slightly perverse view of India's history. I suppose it is logical that he has now fulfilled a subliminal desire to be the modern-day Mahmud of Ghazni-the iconoclastic wrecker of the other temples of modern India.

Singling out the HRD minister for opprobrium may yet be unfair. What has marked the UPA's innings in 2006 is a single-minded determination to break India into sectarian fragments. The private sector has been told that in the coming days it may no longer be in a position to decide who it wants to employ. That right will be circumscribed by considerations of birth-suitability be damned.

The government is scraping the bottom of the barrel for newer and newer categories of exceptional treatment.The Rajindar Sachar Committee shed copious tears for a community that till 150 years ago perceived itself as India's ruling class. After reading the report, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, instinctively a gentleman and a chameleon, proclaimed that minorities, but particularly Muslims, must have the first call on the nation's resources. Encouraged by this bout of self-flagellation, a cross-party group of Muslim MPs has demanded the establishment of Muslim IITs, IIMs and medical colleges.

The journey from the sublime to the dangerous has been egged on by a wanton disregard for national security. Nearly 200 people died in serial blasts on Mumbai's commuter trains and powerful bombs killed worshippers in Varanasi and Malegaon. The National Security Advisor pointed an accusing finger at the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba; the Mumbai police commissioner disclosed that interrogation of local jehadis indicated a Pakistan connection. The prime minister responded by saying that Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism as India. To cap it all, the poacher was elevated to gamekeeper in a joint Indo-Pakistan complaints centre.

Why blame a proxy prime minister? Caligula is, after all, remembered for appointing his horse as the pro-consul!

A decade ago, during the dark Gowda-Gujral interregnum, I wrote a despondent article: "Time to grieve, time to leave." It was about emigration. Should I pass it on to my 16-year-old son?

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