Alibi or threat
Since there is little “cricket” played in contemporary governance, the Prime Minister is not entitled to invoke the “benefit of the doubt” norm when asking the CBI to distinguish between errors of administrative judgment and swindling the exchequer. His address to a seminar that is part of the Bureau&’s anniversary activity makes it palpable that he is “burnt” by the coal block allocations probe spreading too close to home ~ on this one he cannot take the line that he kept “an arm&’s length away”. While it might be an exaggeration to interpret as a threat to the agency his reminding it that it is not exclusive from the executive, it indicates an acceptance that in the absence of effective and upright political leadership ~ does he duck the onus of providing it? ~ the bureaucratic machinery either gets paralysed, or runs amok. The latter in cahoots with mantriji or minions. And that is what has triggered the suspicions that run rife in all monitoring and investigative agencies; not to mention that the common man is convinced that the majority of politicians are crooks.
Mr Singh will do well to remember that the major probes rocking his government are being conducted by the CBI in the wake of adverse findings of the Comptroller & Auditor General, or at the directions of the judiciary. On its own the CBI does nothing, and since it appears ready to be used as a political weapon to suggest that it over-hypes probes into headline-dominating government scams only confirms a guilty conscience.
Where the Prime Minister does make a valid point is the tendency of the CBI to manipulate a gullible, sensation-thriving media by misleading public opinion into believing “theories” which it cannot substantiate with evidence. Yet that is only reflective of the low esteem in which people hold their governments. Another reflection is the manner in which various institutions of the polity ~ the Election Commission, the C&AG, the judicary, and let&’s admit it the media too, sometimes especially the media ~ overstep their brief to encroach upon the “space” vacated by incompetent governments. Who will bell that cat? It was significant that while insisting that the CBI enjoys investigative autonomy ~ has he forgotten a mate named Ashwani Kumar? ~ and promising to do more on that front as well as remove legal doubts on the CBI&’s legitimacy, the Prime Minister made no reference to the demand for a separate CBI Act.
Now is the time, the experts aver, to come up with a legal blueprint that will insulate the agency from undesirable influences. Admittedly no government wants that, but as the sun sets on his political career Mr Singh can salvage some shreds of his severely ravaged image by bolstering and not battering the agency.
For some years now the political landscape in North-eastern states has not changed as often as it did earlier. Today, the region has four enduring chief ministers. Pawan Chamling (Sikkim Democratic Front) is ruling for the fourth term, followed by Tripura&’s Marxist leader Manik Sarkar. If re-elected in next year&’s assembly elections, Chamling may even equal/surpass the late Jyoti Basu&’s record of 23 years. Assam&’s Tarun Gogoi (Congress) is relishing his third stint, so are Manipur&’s Ibobi Singh (Congress) and Neiphiu Rio (Naga People&’s Front). Perhaps Arunachal Pradesh&’s Gegong Apang, whose name was once anonymous with development, would have broken the record of being the longest serving chief minister had he not quit the Congress on the issue of conferring citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees the Nehru government had settled in the state in 1964 on humanitarian grounds.
Mizoram goes to the polls on 25 November. So far there is no indication of regional parties undermining veteran Congress chief minister Lalthanhawla&’s prospects of being re-elected. He is the one who despite having received a popular mandate in 1984 stepped down mid-way in 1986 to make room for Mizo National Front supremo Laldenga to take over following the signing of the historic June 1986 Mizo Accord.
The MNF and the Congress shared power for 18 months. In the February 1987 elections, the MNF secured 21 of the 40 seats and Laldenga formed a coalition government, but it lasted only 19 months, when the Centre had to step in. In the 1988 exercise the Congress emerged victorious and ruled till 1998. Then came the MNF rule under Zoramthanga. The people&’s disenchantment with the government run by former rebels and their style of functioning became all too clear when in 2008 they rejected the MNF ~ it managed just three seats, compared to its 2003 tally of 21, and Zoramthanga himself bit the dust.
The Congress got a clear verdict ~ 32 of 40 seats, a feat no party in the state has achieved so far. On this assumption alone the Congress should perform well. What is of interest is whether the BJP, which has been trying to find a toehold for a long time, will have a turn of good fortune this time out. Reports speak of tribals changing their perception that the BJP is a communal party. The Congress in the state has won both the battle and the peace but it has not been able yet to repatriate more than 30,000 Bru refugees living in Tripura camps. They fled Mizoram in October 2007 following ethnic violence and at that time Lalthanhawla was the chief minister. One wishes for an early decision on this issue.