Aruna Roy bares her angst

IT would be rather too simplistic to aver that Aruna Roy has stepped out of the National Advisory Council merely because her term had concluded on 31 May. Quoting the rules of engagement might suit a bumbling government now going through the wrap-up motions of the United Progressive Alliance dispensation. Yet the letter of resignation to Sonia Gandhi, the NAC chairperson, is a pregnant document, one that could be much too embarrassing to preserve in the files. Effectively, both in the letter and the subsequent media interaction, Ms Roy has bared her angst against the functioning of the present dispensation, indubitably the worst since Independence. Most importantly, she has criticised the Prime Minister on two counts ~ the rejection of the recommendation on minimum wages under the Mahatma Gandhi NREGS and the prolonged sluggishness in introducing the legislation on food security. That sluggishness has been in parallel with the tenure of the government. The NAC had been tasked to advance its formulations on both these critical issues and Sonia Gandhi is, therefore, answerable on two counts ~ as head of the NAC and as chairperson of the UPA, indeed the actual power behind the prime ministerial throne.  The fineprint of Ms Roy&’s resignation letter is the utter failure of neo-liberalism in the hands of its principal proponents though it might be less than fair to blame Manmohan Singh alone for the gigantic mess that masquerades as welfare. 
The NAC ~ pre-eminently Jean Dreze, Harsh Mendher and Ms Roy ~ had advanced perfectly rational recommendations on food security, but regretfully had to contend with a turmoil of conflicting ideas advanced by the Planning Commission, the Group of Ministers, and the Food ministry. Rightly has Ms Roy expressed her frustration over what is now called “policy paralysis” and the recurrent parliamentary deadlock, that has all too often blocked legislation on one of life&’s essentials. An effete government matched with an equally effete Parliament appear to be the two constants, with the purportedly “flagship measures” subject to tinkering, if not manipulation by both the Executive and the Legislature. As much is clear from Ms Roy&’s critique ~ “Both government and Parliament have not taken social welfare measures seriously. There has been a lack of political will and disarray in Parliament, not only on the part of the government but also with other political parties.” In particular, she has mentioned the Food Security Bill, the Land Acquisition Bill, and the efforts to tamper with the Right to Information Act. Not to put too fine a point on it, Ms Roy has told the government that it was “focussing on economic reforms and growth at the cost of the poor” ~ a searing indictment of the Indian variety of  neo-liberalism.

Welcome, if a trend-setter

SENTIMENT runs strong in a tradition-bound organisation like the Indian Army, so quite a few eyes will be moistened at the decision to wind up the Military Farms that for over a century have provided the soldier with milk ~ which is at the core of the diet of the jawan who hails from rustic stock. The availability of quality milk in the “civil” market has rendered irrelevant the 39 farms across the country and their 24,000 head of cattle that produce 335 lakh litres of milk a year. The closure will be in phases, ending in 2017. It is significant that while approving the shutdown in the wake of a study by the Quartermaster-General&’s branch last year, the Army Chief has directed careful monitoring of the subsequent use of the land that will be “freed up”. It is a trifle ironic that the White Revolution is responsible for “blacking out” the country&’s first organised venture in animal husbandry and modern dairy-farming. The farms pioneered the cross-breeding of milch-cattle suited to Indian climatic conditions, and their role has been widely lauded by the National Commission on Agriculture and the Indian Agriculture Research Institute. But time marches on, and “relevance” has a strong time-context: the farms were established when adequate supply of quality milk was a genuine difficulty, that is no longer the case.
The move would have considerable significance if it sets a trend. Many of the agencies that “service” the soldier, and keep him in munitions and victuals were established in the early colonial era when there was little organised economic activity, and Indian manufacture was constricted to keep the proverbial “mills in Manchester and Dundee” in business. The military was deliberately kept in isolated splendour and the culture of getting everything done in-house took root. That is why ordnance factories churned out furniture, cooking utensils, uniforms, saddles and harnesses. A thorough review of the situation is now required, the economic/industrial atmosphere has been transformed. “Outsourcing” may be a dirty word in socialistic lingo, but it has become a global norm. Modern militaries even send their heavy equipment and weaponry back to the manufacturers for overhaul. That not only reduces overhead expenses, it releases funds, and energies, for more demanding activities. Maybe a concerted drive in that direction will chip away at the military “empire” , but it will also facilitate securing that bigger bang per buck.

But who will bell the cat?

THE recent meeting that Manipur&’s little-known titular king, Leishemba Sanajaoba, had with NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah at the latter&’s camp at Hebron near Dimapur, has received mixed reactions. While some cultural organisations have applauded it, the United Committee Manipur, an apex civil society organisation formed after the 18 June 2001 uprising following the extension of the Nagaland ceasefire to Manipur, and various other youth organisations are silent. There is nothing wrong in a Meitei meeting a Tangkhul born and brought up in Manipur&’s Ukhrul district. Sanajaoba was apparently prompted by the belief that his meeting with Muivah may help ease the strained Meitei-Tangkhul  relationship caused by the NSCN(IM)&’s demand for Greater Nagaland encompassing Manipur&’s four hill districts. The ties worsened after the Ibobi government in May 2010 prevented Muivah from entering Manipur to visit his birthplace on the ground that a case is pending against him.
It is the traditional belief that Tangkhuls, the largest tribe in Manipur, consider the Meiteis as their younger brothers, something which even Muivah himself said in 1997 when Manipuris hit the streets after the NSCN(IM) claimed the Nagaland ceasefire also covered Manipur. Muivah reportedly told Sanajaouba that  “it would be a blunder to believe India will solve the  Meitei/Naga problem…we should understand each other, not blame anyone…mistakes lie with the Meiteis as well as the Nagas and the problem will remain unless there is a mutual understanding between the two.” Well said, and if seriously followed, both stand to gain. But who will take the initiative?