"Give me some time and we will get over all these
troubles" that was the prime minister speaking during the
Charar-e-Sharief debate in the Rajya Sabha.
But had he not had time since February when the
mercenaries were spotted in the town? Indeed, having put the country
through abject humiliation at Hazratbal in October 1993, had he not
had a year and a half's time to prepare for the next siege? And in
the Hazratbal case also, the first report about terrorists moving to
usurp the place was given to the government in July.
The fact is that the prime minister does not plan
to do anything with the time he gets -- it is just a figure of
speech with him. "Leave it to me, I will make sure that not one
guilty person gets away. I assure the House, from now on I will
personally monitor the case on a daytoday basis" On the securities
scam, Bofors, Ayodhya, the functioning of the Congress, the descent
of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar into casteist gunda raj, the manner in
which Channa Reddy was conducting himself, the way in which General
K V Krishna Rao was not conducting himself, the paralysis in
his own ministries, the running feud in the home ministry -- on
everything he has stood up and chanted those words in the end.
The last time was when not having done anything to
stop Chavan and Pilot from making a fool of the country, he took the
Kashmir portfolio directly under his charge. The move was hailed: it
is positive proof that he is serious about the matter now, we were
told, you will see there will be decisive action now. In the months
since he has had the portfolio, nothing has been done to organize
even the department, let alone doing something about Kashmir. A
single joint secretary is all that the government has working full
time on the matter. And he, too, has not been attending office for
sometime now as he has been down with typhoid.
Nevertheless, once again: "Leave it to me. Give me
some time and we will get over all these troubles." But there are
new traits, too, which have surfaced this time around. First, there
is a new device: to claim that the particular thing was not done not
out of neglect but because it was his policy not to do the thing!
For two and a half years the country has been
without a defense minister. Suddenly the prime minister tells
Jaswant Singh in the Lok Sabha that not having a defense minister
has been a conscious decision of his. It is high time the defense
portfolio was handled by the country's Prime Minister, he says. Is
it because something is going on which is so secret that no one
except he can be trusted with it? Is it that war is imminent? Is it
his way of making sure that no Goldstar siphons off money in defense
deals? No explanation, just "It is high time that... " Has he not
constituted the Cabinet committee on political affairs too, asked my
friend Jaswant Singh, because he has concluded that it is high time
that the prime minister was his own CCPA?
It has been exactly the same with Charar-e-Sharief.
Ever since the mercenaries and terrorists started congregating there
in February, forces on the ground were waiting for a decision on
what they should do. The mercenaries could have been easily plucked
out when they were just a few. But no decision came. They brought in
more of their associates. They transported arms and explosives and,
as has now been seen, land mines in enormous quantities. The whole
town knew of their buildup: witness the residents who left the town
in their thousands. But no decision was taken. Eventually the army
was asked to encircle the place. But that was all. They kept waiting
for a decision as to what they should do. None came. In the event,
they were reduced to being mere spectators, crows on a wall, till
three hours after the mausoleum was burned down. "You can go in
now." An exact replay of Ayodhya in that sense.
And whose responsibility was it to take that
decision? Of the prime minister? That is Narasimha Rao. Of the
defense minister? That is Narasimha Rao. Of the minister in charge
of Kashmir affairs? That is Narasimha Rao. Of the minister in charge
of RAW? That is Narasimha Rao. The minister in charge of IB? That,
too, is Narasimha Rao. Of the only minister with whom Gen. Krishna
Rao condescends to talk? But that, too, is Narasimha Rao.
And yet, he says that whatever has happened or not,
whatever has been done or not is the responsibility of the state
administration and the men on the spot.
It is this brazenness which is new, and of which I
fear we shall see more in the coming months. "I am the Congress
president and I shall decide what is to be done," he says, and that
ends the matter. Development works are being speeded up in Kashmir,
he says in the wake of the Charar being burned down. It is not just
that that is a farce of a response, it is that it is a total
falsehood. The entire local administration of the state has been on
strike for more than two months now. They routinely refuse to carry
out orders -- whether the order is to protect pilgrims on the
Amarnath Yatra or it is to update the electoral rolls and yet the
prime minister says, "Development works are being speeded up."
In the case of Hazratbal it is the same. The
government abjectly surrendered. But the prime minister refers to it
as having been such a success that the government decided to repeat
the strategy in Charar-e-Sharief! The result is that the town has
been burned down, the mausoleum is gone, the main mercenaries have
escaped, the people are outraged, and the prime minister is
fine-tuning words: the occurrence is better described as a partial
failure of policy, he says, not a complete failure.
Not just brazenness, with the old cunning there is
a new obstinacy.
The prime minister is palming off responsibility
not just verbally, but in a deep sense. To avoid taking a decision
he let both sides in his own government have their say on TADA. As
the side advocating its abolition was more vociferous, in the end he
went along with them. And now others must get a substitute though
the country must live with the consequences.
Yet no one can do anything about the matter. The
adjournment motions in parliament on Charar-e-Sharief were
symptomatic. They have come and gone. The government's ways will not
change one bit as a consequence. Even the opposition seemed to be
just going through the motions: when it came time to vote only 186
of its 240 members of parliament were present.
Indeed, the discussion became a diversion. The
question suddenly became a matter of one party versus the rest of
which side deployed the better debating tactics.
Our situation is the one depicted in the
experiment. Let ten sturdy men stand one behind the other facing a
At the head of the column put a weakling. Each man
puts his hands to the shoulders of the man in front, the man in
front puts his hands to the wall. Everyone pushes. The strength of
the ten counts for nothing; the pressure on the wall will be no
greater than that weakling in front can put on it.
That is our situation. Cabinet ministers grumble,
Congress MPs visit each other's houses and lament, opposition
leaders protest, editorial writers declaim, the people are indignant
but nothing happens for the man in charge just looks the other way.
At the same time, the people, especially pressmen,
should not forget their own contribution. They help create the
atmosphere in which such failures are certain.
Just go back to the days immediately after the
government let the terrorists free at Hazratbal.
How much play the press gave to the
secessionists-sponsored demand that the army be removed from the
vicinity of the shrine. It was replaced. The Border Security Force
set up checkpoints well outside the shrine. The press played up the
demand that even these be removed.
Charar-e-Sharief has been the same story. If
persons going in and out are searched the howl goes up "innocents
being harassed." When as a consequence they are not searched and the
place becomes a stockade of mercenaries the howl goes up, "How did
the army let so many land mines and the rest get through?"
Worse, there is a certain glee in purveying any and
every allegation so long as it puts our men in the wrong. For five
days some of our papers in Delhi kept repeating the allegation of
some resident of the town that he had seen a helicopter (at dead of
night) fly over the mausoleum and sprinkle powder over it; the place
had then been shelled to set it on fire. This allegation was carried
under four to eight column headlines on page one. And on the sixth
day on an inside page one of those very papers reported that there
was no evidence for the allegation at all that the houses bore no
marks of mortar shelling or even bullets.
Officers and jawans who are there are not there for
their pleasure. They are risking their lives, many of them are
sacrificing their lives so that our country may survive. They are
already handicapped by the absence of policy. This broadcasting of
allegations and concoctions cannot but cripple them.
That much must be clear even to those who broadcast
the fabrications. But a certain perversity has entered large
sections of which these pressmen are representative. They will be
satiated only when the country actually breaks. See, we told you,
they will proclaim, it could not