Back To Square One

Updated: Aug 31 2002, 05:30am hrs
Almost inevitably, the court has seized upon the two visible chinks in the Vajpayee governments spectacular order cancelling all allotments in the wake of the petrol pump scam exposed by this newspaper. One, no notice was issued to allottees and, two, it did not admit to any wrongdoing. Actually, it didnt need the apex court to spell it out. Even as this newspaper hailed the political courage demonstrated by the prime minister through this gesture, it has also been pointing out ever since that the blanket order was hobbled by certain infirmities, that it may be open to such a challenge. The real test of the governments commitment to a clean-up, it was evident all along, would lie in how it conducts itself in the follow-through. Well, now that the court has put its decision on hold, the moment has come for the NDA government to prove that it intends to stay the course. It is time the government declares its unreserved ownership of its prime ministers decision. But will it Or will it be, as the sceptics insist, that reform is conveniently allowed to fall through the legal loopholes Going by the events following the prime ministers announcement on August 5, the sceptics would seem to have the edge. The prime ministers order has been followed by a series of loud attempts by his colleagues to disown its implications. With Petroleum Minister Ram Naik leading the pack, various spokespersons of the government have heatedly argued that the unprecedented step to cancel all allotments since January 2000 and scrap the entire system of making the allotments was taken merely because, one, the media made a fuss and, two, the opposition created a furore. It was the controversy, they insist, that did it. In this scenario, it did not come as much of a surprise that the move to issue an ordinance terminating the dealerships and, therefore, backing the prime ministers decision, also proved stillborn.

This isnt just a matter of a few thousand dealerships of petrol pumps and LPG agencies. When the prime minister responded to the damning revelations in this paper, he had seemed to announce an important new beginning. For a nation weary of seeing successive governments fend off every scam by denying it or mounting a counter-attack on the opposition, Atal Bihari Vajpayees decision was a refreshing break from the past. It spoke of a willingness to acknowledge mistakes and signalled hope for systemic reform. The Vajpayee governments mincing routine on the issue is, therefore, being watched apprehensively by all those who have a stake in a cleaner politics and a more transparent system. The onus is now on the government to present a strong case in court in November. It must prove that failure was not deliberately encrypted in its move towards reform earlier this month.

(Editorial from The Indian Express)