Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sivaraj Patil is a great let-down

If anything can potentially overshadow all what Manmohan Singh Government had done – the legislation and implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Right to Information Act, Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, Civilian Nuclear Deal and its serious efforts to be all inclusive; constitution of Sachar Committee, farm loan waiver, reservation in the higher institutions of learning, legislative initiatives for 33 per cent women representation – that could be its clumsy handling of the law and order situation in the country which allowed a free-run for all sorts of trouble mongers.

When the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA came to power after handing a shock defeat to the BJP, hopes were high about the new dispensation cleaning up the political environment in the country. The six years of NDA regime saw absolute communalisation of our institutions, polity and thoughts. The national agenda was always centred around communal issues as if we had nothing else to discuss as a country, as a society. In the context of unexplained but frequent terror strikes and pogroms including what happened in Gujarat the very existence of India as a secular democratic country was always under threat.

Sonia Gandhi, who has shown uncharacteristic resolve, charisma and composure in cobbling up a national alliance, who outwitted the communal combine and stole the thunder by renouncing the prime minister post and who became the darling of the country’s liberal left-leaning intelligentsia, had even promised a regime which would put an end to the divisive politics the country had lived with for sometime.

The UPA regime had shown initial signs of promise by taking some unprecedented steps like the formation of National Advisory Commission and National Knowledge Commission which involved activists-leaders in the civil society in the national reconstruction process and efforts for a broad legal and legislative framework for combating communal violence. Some would even say that such efforts have achieved their partial success although way too behind their targets.

However, the handling of internal security in the last four years which was completely devoid of political cleverness, wisdom and sensitiveness to the ground realities has literally belied all expectations. The appointment and retention of Sivaraj Patil as the Home Minister can even be construed as an undoing of whatever good deeds Sonia has supposedly done.

This gentleman who lost election appeared out of touch during most of the time when a national calamity or insurgency cropped up. His response to the media during critical situations is lifeless, mechanical and bureaucratic. He is elusive and insulate from what is happening around. He is recluse and taciturn which makes him thoroughly unfit to be a top executive in a democratic establishment which is answerable to the masses.

His performance hitherto has been a tragedy of errors. He started with a false tsunami alarm – of an approaching sweeping national disaster – which turned out premature and exaggerated. For that false alarm fiasco, he was unkindly snubbed by his own cabinet colleague science and technology minister Kapil Sibal. The latest could be his changing clothes thrice on the Delhi bomb blast day.

From North-east insurgency to naxal menace, from Kashmir crisis to serial blasts, from Orissa killings to Karnataka attacks, all incidents point to a half-asleep home minister who is absent minded, unaware and unimaginative. It doesn’t mean to say that a much stronger home minister could have wiped off all the menaces. (His predecessor, mosque-demolisher Advani was more part of the problem than solution)

But it goes without saying the internal security administration under Sivaraj Patil terribly failed in foreseeing troubles and pre-empting them. For staying close to the core theme I am not straying into the thoroughly misguided anti-naxal devise, Salva Judum and the detention of Dr. Binayak Sen.

My focus is on three instances of mishandlings which can potentially surrender our polity to the designs of those extremists who are out to convert India into a communal cauldron. One is Amarnath Yathra controversy. Needless to say, Gulam Nabi Asad-led Congress government in Jammu Kashmir and their coalition partners PDP also played their part. Granting of land to Amarnath Shrine Board and its withdrawal had actually given impetus to extremist forces on both sides of the communal divide. The BJP as well as separatists smelt opportunity to push through their agendas.

The granting of land to Shrine Board inflamed the separatists’ theme of usurping of Kashmiri land from its original inhabitants and it appealed to the Kashmiri Muslims. Following the withdrawal of the ordinance, the BJP went to town with its pet theme – that the Hindu sentiments were undermined and the Congress-led anti-Hindu government had given in to the demands of Muslim extremists. The result was a boiling Kashmir, communal resentment all across the nation and a complete U-turn from the fragile peace process in Kashmir.

An intelligent administration is expected to foresee this crisis and forestall such impending dangers. Instead of going ahead with the implementation of a court order favouring the lease of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, which can be called the genesis of the trouble, the administration could have sought some more time and could have tried to deal with this potential problem within the precincts of judicial system itself. It happened otherwise and the result was there for all to see; fuelling of mistrust and mutual hatred which serves the agenda of extremists on both sides.

The next is a government, particularly a home minister remaining clueless when series of bomb blasts happening in different places. We know for sure that every bomb blast is a god-send for one political party which is engaged in stereotyping and hatemongering. By not effectively tackling the terror menace the government is actually playing into the hands of the rightist forces.

The third is the well-plotted and engineered violence in Orissa and Karnataka against Christians which reminds us of the pattern of violence in Gujarat (thankfully, the recent ones did not assume that proportions). The false pretext for the one-sided attacks and its timing suggest that this is yet another attempt to divide the polity on communal lines in the run up to the elections which could eventually benefit the Sangh Parivar which feeds on majoritarian communalism.

As the election year approaches, given the communally sensitive Indian situation, the internal security administration should be able to monitor the furtive moves of trouble mongers.

Needless to say, air-headed Sivaraj Patil is a great let-down for all those who want a complete clamp down on shameless communalists.

Factors affecting a reporting career...

In my earlier job, as a correspondent handling municipal corporation beat, my nonstop reporting on the civic body’s complete failure in waste disposal earned me a nick name – garbage correspondent. I loved being called so for it further endeared me to my colleagues and carried subtle recognition for my work. I reported administrative apathy, public anger and corruption related to garbage menace. I ran campaigns, analysis pieces and wrote about the effective waste management proposals turned down by the municipal authorities. Appreciation from colleagues and readers must have given me further motivation.

Yet, the continuous reporting on civic issues posed serious questions about my graduating to be a journalist effectively handling issues with wider socio-economic implications and addressing larger audience. Notwithstanding the call of duty, I constantly confronted the fear of ending up as a life-long ‘garbage correspondent’. I found myself increasingly out of place when, for example, the subprime crisis and the subsequent global economic recession were discussed. I found myself without the necessary tools to develop an understanding and to effectively analyze issues in relation to the larger economic matrix.

Fighting the fear of being pushed into the rut of routine reporting I found that keeping myself motivated was my biggest challenge. An equally worrying factor was the shrinking knowledge base as my personal reading and academic quests took a back seat.

Therefore, I was happy when I got an offer to join a financial daily and am now striving to be equal to the challenges offered by the new job. Obviously, from covering a municipal corporation to tracking the Indian automobile industry, the transition is not easy. After four months in a new place, a new organization and the hitherto unfamiliar domain of business journalism, I find that many challenges -- of getting familiarized with the environment and learning new things -- remain. The question is how far I am open to the demands of constant learning and of acquiring new skills.

Having been in journalism for four years, I sometimes saw my stories losing sheen in the absence of fresh insights. Other than on-the-job
exposure to new challenges, an opportunity for a focused training never happened to me yet and I often felt I had to rely more on
A refreshing approach to writing, story ideas and the subjects one is
pursuing are essential in this profession where consistency of
performance is a big challenge. I often go back to novels, popular
magazines and even to playing chess to keep up the creative and intellectual

(Different people may have different opinion on the same topic. And we can approach it from different view points - politically and apolitically. This is actually the second part of my entry for a journalism traning course which I mentioned earlier. It was written eight months ago. If I were to write on the same topic now, after a year in business journalism, things may change..)