CONGRESS politicians of Delhi school seldom speak their mind. When they do, they are careful enough to not harm the interests of the high command and at the same time they ensure that their place under the Banyan tree is safe and secure. So much so, the comments of Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit (76), against the Delhi Police are good food for thought.
On the Women’s Day, she lamented that her own daughter felt insecure in Delhi as it became a crime capital of India. She did not field the obvious question – if a CM’s daughter, who enjoys the protective ring that is available to her mother, finds it unsafe, what about ladies from aam aadmi households, who travel by buses and three wheelers, and are, therefore, exposed to the dangers from a Ram Singh lurking in the shadows. None of them would like in their worst dreams even to go through the hell suffered by Nirbhay last year.
Sheila Dixit could have taken up the issue with Police Commissioner but didn’t. Not even with the Union Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde (71), her contemporary in Congress, to whom the Police Commissioner reports.
What a shame it is for the Congress, which is ruling Delhi and the nation? And which is about to seek a fresh five-year mandate soon.
This is not for the first time that she has been targeting the City police but it is certainly the first time when a chief minister has expressed lack of confidence in the police setup.
She is not new to the corridors of power. She has been the chief minister of Delhi for more than a decade. She may have got the job on the platter because of internal equations in the Congress that had something to do with a Telugu bidda. Like her, all those who were part of that particular equation had found luck smile on them even before the Congress –led UPA happened.
Well, it is a subject matter good enough for a wider public debate in the context of Congress politics after Rajiv Gandhi. When will such a debate take place? It is difficult to crystal gaze.
The celebrations marking the fifteen year rein of Sonia Gandhi (61) as Congress President offer a perfect backdrop to undertake a retrospect and prospect for the 127-year-old organisation that had seen several splits down the years.
Sadly, at the moment the issue appears destined to be a Friday resolution that Parliament sees listed on the agenda but seldom comes up for discussion.
Undeniably, political calculations have pump-primed Sheila-speak against the police. The Nirbhya tragedy had brought people to the streets. Their anger was targeted at the Congress.
Neither Sheila Dixit nor her high command ventured out when the young and old made India Gate the Tahrir Square of Delhi. In fact, both simply vanished from the front lines ignoring the fact that the problem confronting the police was political at the core and not a mere law and order issue.
But then, Sheila is a hardcore Delhiite, who did her apprenticeship under Uma Shankar Dixit, her father –in-law and home minister in the Indira days. She knows the survival mantra. And it’s that the best way to deflect public anger is to speak their language. This is what she has been doing after the lead taken by her lawmaker son, Sandeep Dixit. He did it rather crudely though.
The law of Delhi is such that the Chief Minister has to knock at the doors of the Union Home Minister in case of a dispute or discard with the Lieutenant Governor. Often, the Home Ministry’s bureaucracy sides with the resident of the Rajnivas.
During her spat with the Police Commissioner, the Babus of North Block threw their weight behind the policeman. Rarely the IAS fraternity sides with the IPS but in this instant case they did because of the fear of getting engulfed.
In matters of Delhi police, the chief minister is kept in the loop by way of courtesy or to put more bluntly because of the old bureaucratic mantra of keeping all politicians in good humour. This arrangement suits her, and that was why she did not murmur in protest even once in the past decade plus of her stewardship of Delhi government.
Electoral calculations are what make her turn against the police. She may not be alone in such thinking. Otherwise, fellow Congressmen of Delhi would have made her life miserable. For them, she is an outsider still, as her place of birth is Merut in western UP. They have been tolerating her because she is in the good books of 10 Janpath. Post-Nirbhay, her NGO-centric son, has been made a spokesman of AICC.
So, will Sheila’s gamble pay off? Will people fall a prey to her bait? Difficult to say though from all accounts she knows her onions. Election is a big ticket exercise.
As of now, this much can be said, going by the past precedents.
Chidambaram’s budgets have not won elections. His dream budget made his Prime Minister Deva Gowda dream big and the voters to ignore them both.
With every passing day, it is becoming clear that in his bid to please Sonia Gandhi, who has to win the election for the Congress, and Manmohan Singh, who has to run the government, Chidambaram has ended up serving neither.
An articulate driver of a Maharashtra RTC bus offered an insight into what may be in store during my journey from Nasik to Pune the other day.
Speaking a mixture of Marathi and Hindi, he said, “In Gujarat, the roads are excellent. So are their buses. Our roads are potholed and busses are rickety. There, it is only BJP. Here there is Sena, RPI and BJP. All are just small fray. Congress is corrupt. Inefficient. So, what? People will stamp on the hand once again!”
A TINA factor at work for Sheila and her high command? We will have to wait for a while to know.
( *The comment appeared in The Hans India on Mar 16, 2013)
It is difficult to resist the comment that former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf has not lost the jest to pull off a surprise though he had bowed out of the country in 2007 under a deal brokered by the Saudis, Americans, and the army chief Kayani. But for the deal he had negotiated for abdicating first the post of army chief and later on of the head of the country, he would have been another faceless NRP – non-resident Pakistani.
Today he is able to live in real comfort either in own house or houses arranged by the old loyalists in Washington, London and Dubai. And his old friend, the US of A, queered the pitch, though unwittingly probably, for him as the voice of Pakistan for the western media and think-tanks alike. So much so why he has asked his henchmen back home in Islamabad to pull down an extra structure on his sprawling farm house in a tony area on the outskirts of the Pakistan capital.
Dawn, the Karachi daily, which broke the story on its front page on Nov 12, said it was an entirely unanticipated move.
Musharraf, along with some 490 nouveau riche, has been hauled up by the Supreme Court for building their houses exceeding the permitted limit for covered area under the master plan for Islamabad. Musharraf’s five-acre farm sports a built up area of 12,500 sq ft. Of this, 764 sq ft area was ordered to be demolished more than a year ago. Five notices were issued. He did not yield. But now, suddenly he did. The question is why
It is possible that the one-time strongman of Pakistan wanted to appear law abiding though his entire career that culminated in his taking over the reins of the country was a saga of twisting the law of the land to suit his ends. There is a fresh non-bailable warrant for his role in the killing of a Bugti clan chief when he was the garrulous President. But it is not something that he has to worry since the foreign office and interior ministry have categorically stated that Musharraf is beyond the reach of the long arm of Pakistani law.
Being the commando at heart, he could be taking advance action to avoid booby traps as the count down for a mid-term poll has begun. He will not like the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to haul him up for a petty offence like an extra shed on his farm house when he would be getting ready to face the electorate.
Secondly, and more importantly, the phenomenon of Imran Khan must have unnerved him, like it did his bête noire, Nawaz Sharif, who is determined to complete his unfinished term as Prime Minister of Pakistan. . Yesteryears playboy- cricketer is the new find of the army for leading democratic Pakistan just as Nawaz Sharif was once and Benazir Bhutto was in her first stint as Prime Minister. Political leaders pump primed by the GHQ have short shelf life in Pakistan. But when the going is good they put paid to the dreams of the likes of Musharraf. Well that is the Pakistani tradition.
Yet another important factor that propels him into a law abiding citizen is the feeling that his enterprise ‘self-anointed Army drum beater’ is reaching the stage of bankruptcy. Washington and Rawalpindi have had their way with each other and they don’t need ‘Brand Musharraf’ any much longer. Put differently, Musharraf will have to be on his own and find a suitable turf space in the public domain to prolong his shelf life. What better way is there than to falling in-line with the directions of his nemesis of sorts, Chief Justice Chaudhry, and collect some brownie points along the way, which someday could be the IOUs.
Any how the demolished area, as Barrister Saif, the spokesman for the former president, told Dawn, is hardly 20 feet wide. It houses a cowshed. Pulling it down is not a big sacrifice when his main dream home with five huge bedrooms, several lobbies and a swimming pool stands intact. Barrister Saif also stated that Musharraf’s personal staff had paid the fine of Pakistani Rupees 1.25 million slapped on him.
As if he is seeking a good conduct certificate, pictures of demolition of the farmhouse`s excess construction were submitted to the Capital Development Authority.
In politics, perceptions matter the most. And this is what Musharraf is targeting to achieve just in time for his second innings in public life.
The demolition gives him the privilege to say ‘Mai is mauqe pe Pakistan ki awam se muazrath khwa hoon’- (On this occasion, I seek forgiveness from the people of Pakistan).”
Myanmar goes to polls on November 7 to elect its new law makers and new government, according to the brief announcement carried on the state radio and TV on Friday, Aug 13. The junta describes the one-day ballot as the final step in the roadmap to democracy, which is a very elaborate seven stage plan of Senior General Than Shwe to establish ‘discipline-flourishing democracy’ in the country.
How far the forthcoming one-day election will be free and fair is any body’s guess. Political parties are denied breathing time to put their act together for contesting the election. They have been asked to file nominations between Aug 16 and 30. That means they are given just 18 days to complete their home work for contesting the 400-member parliament. Sept. 3 is set as deadline for withdrawal of nominations.
Myanmar politicians cannot claim that they are taken unawares by the Election Commission’s decision. The junta has been talking about elections for a long while, and has gone through several motions which are in effect nothing but clearing the decks for sartorial change by the prime minister and several of his colleagues. In fact, many candidates in the fray will be military officers, who have just doffed off their uniform.
“Every military ruler has a craving for legitimacy, and at some point of time, whether out of own interest or under external pressure, holds elections. Historically, most such elections do not usher in an unadulterated democracy. But quite too often, these regimented elections, which, in some countries saw the GHQ doubling up as the EC and Vote Counting Centre, paved the way over time to a semblance of democracy the world has come to accept. The developments in Myanmar fall into a familiar pattern, though with hope and cynicism in equal measure- hope that ‘discipline-flourishing democracy’ is at best a half-way measure; cynicism that the ballot will herald a sartorial change from colourful uniform to three-piece suits with stripes,” says the writer.
This article first appeared on www.poreg.org
This is one reason why the criticism against the forthcoming elections rings hollow. Whatever be its other failings the Than Shwe regime did not hide its plans and planks from public view; these are designed from the word go to keep out Aung San Suu Kyi. She is not only barred from contesting elections but even the ballot is scheduled in such a way that it takes place a week before she ends her latest house arrest. If the arrest has been cited as the reason for her disqualification, the poll date is quarantined from her physical presence during the campaign period. The fact that her late husband was a foreigner (Britisher) also prohibits her from running for elections.
The election held in 1990 saw Aung San Suu Kyi lead her party, National League for Democracy, to victory securing 392 of the 492 seats on offer. But neither she nor her colleagues enjoyed the fruits of the landslide win. And the country remained under military rule. It was because the electoral outcome had effectively ruled out any role for the army in the national affairs.
The voting in the November election will not lead to limitations on the army, which is in the driver’s seat for five decades. The government to be formed will be effectively in the hands of serving and retired military officers.
The constitution adopted in 2008 expressly barred civilians from key ministries like defence, interior affairs and justice. And, created National Defence and Security Council, headed by the commander- in – chief, with powers to overrule the civilian government. The statute makes two other stipulations – one 25 per cent of parliamentary seats go to the military; two there can be no constitutional amendment unless more than 75 per cent of lawmakers give consent. Put mildly, the statute has taken every care to insulate the military from the civilian interference.
So, to crib that the election will not be free and fair is neither here nor there. Nor is the lament voiced by Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma that the junta was moving forward to hold the “sham election.” And the concern of the State Department spokesman, Noel Clay, “We remain concerned about the lack of a level playing field for opposition parties and the oppressive political environment in Burma”.
There is merit, nonetheless, in the criticism that the United States, European Union and the United Nations have failed to exercise “effective pressure” on the junta. Myanmar expatriates living in ASEAN member-states, Australia and the US have welded together as a powerful force. Naturally, they feel badly let down at a crucial time in their country’s history.
Aung Din echoed their mood, when he said, ‘The generals in Burma are now confident that the international community can’t and won’t do anything beyond issuing statements to stop their crimes against humanity and plan to build a permanent military dictatorship in the country’.
The US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell made a two-day visit to Myanmar in May. After his talks in Yangon, he said he was “profoundly disappointed” over the preparations for the election. And added, “What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy”.
From these remarks it is clear that Campbell had some inkling into the preparations for Nov 7 poll. If so, the question is, did he persuade the Junta to follow the universally accepted norms for democracy? Did he offer any incentives and speak of disincentives. The American preferred to be economical in his post-Yangon visit interaction with the media. So, we donot know what had exactly transpired during the visit.
In hindsight, it may be said, though in a very limited sense, that the West had not served the interests of Myanmar people and of democracy by refusing to enter into a dialogue with the junta for a fairly long time. Criticism that the institutions of law are weak and that there are no checks and balances in the country is one thing, and not helping a nation that is steeped in poverty despite nature’s bounty is another.
Whether it is the US, EU or the UN and their various organisations, they all appeared satisfied at least in the initial days with the backing to the pro-democracy campaigners stationed outside the Myanmar borders. By ignoring the people and their plight and steadfastly refusing to enter into a dialogue with the junta, the West has neither served its cause nor of the people of Myanmar.
For Washington or London or Brussels, talking to generals is not a new thing. They have always pampered the leaders in uniform, often at the cost of democratically elected leaders in the neighbourhood all across the globe in countries that appeared as important to serve their geo-political and strategic interests. Obviously, Myanmar did not fit that bill till recently, and hence its junta and people were allowed to fend for themselves.
ASEAN has every reason to shun Myanmar junta. Yet, the ten-nation grouping did not refuse to open the doors to Than Swe and his colleagues. What is more this most successful regional group did not wait to be influenced in its interaction with Myanmar by the actions of China. The west should have taken a cue from ASEAN, which has become a benchmark in regional cooperation. .
It was only last year that the Obama administration initiated a policy of re-engagement with Myanmar after years of trying to isolate the country. A number of visits by high-level American officials followed. But the junta made no concessions that Washington considered as high point on the road to democracy. And the generals’ decision to press ahead with the vote makes this amply clear.
Admittedly, the forthcoming election is a means to legitimize the military power and give it the trappings of civilian rule. Put differently, the election gives democratic gloss to the junta regime. The timing of the election, the short campaign period and the ban on chanting, marching or saying anything at rallies that could tarnish the country’s image (in other words criticism of the government) are nothing less than a calculated political ambush as a Burmese commentator in exile, Win Tin, says.
So much so, should there be a poll boycott, as suggested by Aung San Sui Kyi to her NLD cadres. It will be tempting to endorse her stand but larger interests of democracy and the policy of isolation so resolutely followed by the West offer compelling reasons to welcome the election. Howsoever deeply flawed an election is, it always represents the best chance of bringing about a change even haltingly.
Democracy is never picture perfect, anywhere. There are so many models in vogue today, each with its own trademark flaws. Even, the greatest democracy, the United States doesn’t have a text book perfect election system and vote counting methods, as Al Gore will testify to the discomfort of George Bush junior. The Westminster model is not as hollowed as it is made out to be, going by the scandals that surfaced during Prime Minister Brown’s term.
Any how there is no single model of democracy even in the Asian region – there is the Rajapaksa model, which is one –family rule that relies on the police and bureaucracy rather than the elected lawmakers; there is the Pakistani model which is another name for military dictatorship through the backdoor; the Malaysian model, which defies a straightjacket definition; the Afghanistan model of tribal jirgas that decide the course of social and government interaction’, and above all, the Indian model that is both federal and unitary in character with a three-tier elected democratic institutions in the provinces.
The point is each country has to evolve and adopt a democratic system based on its own core values and learning from others’ experience. From a Zia to Musharraf and from an Ershad to a Mugabwe, every dictator has a craving for legitimacy, and at some point of time, whether out of own interest or under external pressure, holds elections.
Historically, most such elections do not usher in an unadulterated democracy. But quite too often, these regimented elections, which, in some countries saw the General Headquarters doubling up as the proxy Election Commission and Vote Counting Centre, paved the way over time to a semblance of democracy the world has come to accept. The developments in Myanmar fall into a familiar pattern.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s call to NLD to boycott the election deserves to be respected. So is the decision of Democratic Party chairman Thu Wai, who is upset that special branch police were visiting the homes of his cadres for personal information and two photos each. By the same token, the resolve of some colleagues of Aung San Suu Kyi to enter the fray as the National Democratic Force deserves to be treated with respect. Obviously, these leaders believe in the age old dictum that not retreat into a shell, but constant engagement with the rulers is the best way out to reach the cherished goal.
By the last official count, at least 40 parties have registered to join the elections. Only five of them had fought the 1990 general election. Amongst the new parties, the most prominent is the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is the junta’s platform, and, therefore, pampered with state money and special privileges. Most other parties represent ethnic minority groups with local agendas.
It is unclear how many of the country’s marginalized ethnic minorities will take part in the ballot. Myanmar is home to 135 officially recognized minorities, who make up 40 percent of the population of 50 million. Many of these ethnic groups lead what may be loosely called an autonomous existence as adversaries of the government in Yangon. .
The Election Commission has designated one parliamentary constituency for each ethnic minority in each of the seven regions and seven states. Sagaing, Tanintharyi, Bago, Magway, Ayeyawaddy, Yangon and Mandalay are the regions; Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and Chin are the states under the new constitution. The election law reads: the region or state parliament will be made up of two representatives from each township in the region or state with each representative elected from each ethnic minority determined by the authorities as having a population which constitutes 0.1 percent and above of the population of the union. The law reserves one-third of the total number of parliamentary seats for the military personnel nominated by the commander-in-chief of the defense services in the region or state parliamentary election.
In March this year, State Peace Development Council, the ruling junta passed a set of five electoral laws, namely Union Election Commission Law, Political Parties Registration Law, People’s Parliament Election Law, Nationalities Parliament Election Law and Region or State Parliament Election Law. As a follow-up, the SPDC formed a 17-member Union Election Commission led by U-Thein-Soe. On its part, the poll body has designated 330 constituencies for the House of Representatives and 12 constituencies for the House of Nationalities in the multi-party mode.
By all accounts, Myanmar is entering an unchartered territory with hope and cynicism in equal measure – hope that ‘discipline-flourishing democracy’ an euphemism for ‘controlled’ democracy is at best a half-way measure; cynicism that the ballot will herald a sartorial change with colourful uniform giving place to three-piece suits with stripes.
Both schools have a point as they stand at the threshold of a new dawn. The jury is still out.