For some time now forfeiting of the capacity to think independently has been a pre-requisite for plenary membership of the Congress party. It was accepted that the fount of all wisdom played in 10 Janpath ~ the road was originally designated Queensway ~ and its wisdom-rich waters were pumped nationwide from the abutting 24 Akbar Road. Policy-thinking was the preserve of “Madame” and the coterie around her, even if articulated through nom-de-plumes such as the Congress Working Committee, the so-called High Command, or perhaps the National Advisory Council.
Shoved down the throats of the party&’s rank-and-file were directives on even local issues, and the men and women in authority served at the pleasure of the party president. Could that be changing? As of now there are only semi-strong signs of the resentment of the party&’s leaders in Seemandhra mounting pressure to modify the CWC decision on Telangana; and apart from creating embarrassment the Congress members joining in the disruption of Parliament is unlikely to have sustained impact.
Yet the very fact that some MPs and MLAs from the region have quit the legislatures, ministers at the Centre publicly spoke of an intention to resign, and effigies of Sonia Gandhi have been trampled on does send out a message ~ the intellectual right to independent thinking can be suppressed, but when regional emotions come into play the diktat from New Delhi is open to challenge. Indeed the resentment and protest, admittedly not so strong to be deemed a mini-revolt, constitutes the first formal resistance to a party policy-decision taken in Lutyens’ luxury enclave that has far-reaching implications for the “distant” masses.
Yet, that resentment is “hurting”. The party&’s select media interlocutors have quit their arrogant, demeaning, “time heals everything” line; P Chidambaram, who relishes batting for Sushil Kumar Shinde, has promised Parliament a comprehensive statement on various aspects of the Telangana decision and how the fallout will be addressed.
The party has now set up a four-member committee to defuse the trouble. Does this not confirm that at the political and administrative level the matter had not been thought through before the CWC played a blatantly “electoral” card? It is also worth noting that Prime Minister has refrained from spelling out his personal position, or the government&’s line of action. Nor is any clarity available of how his government intends to tackle the snowballing demand for smaller states, which could further fragment the polity. All that, of course, is for the future to determine: what is of immediate consequence is that the shackles of sycophancy that had held regional stalwarts of the Congress in bondage have been challenged. Which might require the party&’s top leaders to recognise that No. 10 might no longer always chart the “Queen&’s way”.
Rot from the head
There is a message to be derived both by the education department and the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education in the aftermath of Wednesday&’s resignation of the Council&’s president. The short point is inescapable ~ the Council needs to be drastically revamped. It is in a mess if the thoroughly unprofessional conduct of this year&’s Higher Secondary exam, the dismal results and the scam over textbooks are any indicators. Professor Muktinath Chatterjee has sought an escape route by putting in his papers, citing “illness”.
It is a somewhat facile defence of an ugly truth, indeed the indefensible record of the Council, tasked with the conduct of a public exam in the crucial transition from school to college. Indeed, his statement is a giveaway ~ “I wanted to resign on the day when the HS results were declared this year; but somehow it did not materialise.” The education department is smarting in the wake of reports of a fiddle in the publication of books. And Minister Bratya Basu has been no less evasive than the professor ~ “If one is ill, what can be done?”
A lot indeed can and needs to be done. Not least a thorough investigation into the textbook fiddle, specifically the stealth with which the highest bidder among the publishing houses was bypassed and the tender awarded to another of the Council president&’s choosing. In the net, the students began the session with no books to study on a range of subjects. A more damaging travesty of learning ~ to which the government was privy ~ is hard to imagine. Effectively, prescribed texts were verily reduced to commodities under the hammer. No one quite expected a convincing statement from the Council under Prof Chatterjee, but suspicions are bound to deepen if the education department is equally muted in its response.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the Council president presided over an allegedly corrupt tender process and on occasion doubled up as principal of a private college. In a word, the Council is plagued by an irregularity too many, exemplified no less by the night-long distribution of HS admit cards. The first initiative must be to streamline the conduct of the exam in parallel with clearing the cesspool of corruption. Fish rots from the head; so it is with the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education.