Strange, but one way to be covered in the press is by inviting the PM to cut the ribbon. Normally a retreat is an exclusive and non-public occasion. Much like a private dinner! This literary happening was caught in confusion, confusion on whether it is was a retreat or a festival, which is what the Indian Council of Cultural Relations called it. A retreat but with the trappings of a public event. Two days at the Habitat Center where the public can join in! This is where we go wrong, we tend to lose our sense of appropriateness. We seem to have forgotten how to be stylish and discreet. We fall between two stools always. Communicators in retreat would have been more appropriate!
Out in the hinterland many constituents are also in retreat, refraining from going to the polling booths. Voting percentages have fallen. People are sick to death of the same platitudes, the same type of people in the game and the same garbage that is churned out at election time. As this piece goes to the press, Uttar Pradesh seems to be in limbo, Punjab seems to be headed for a clear mandate, and Uttaranchal seems to be hanging in a precarious balance. The challenge lies in Punjab. Once a rich and prosperous state that was virtually the food bowl of India, it is in shambles today, on the verge of being bankrupt.
Punjab needs investment. It needs to restructure its agricultural policy. It needs to get rid of paddy cultivation. It needs to get the farmers to pay for guaranteed electricity for at least six uninterrupted hours. It needs to create avenues of employment. It needs to look at new technologies like biotech. It needs to look at growing the agro industry sector and it needs to put in place a tourism infrastructure. It is like starting from scratch. Kar seva has been a strong reality in Punjab. Rural development work could well fall into the category of participative kar seva. Captain Amarinder Singh, leader of the Congress Party in Punjab, has said very emphatically throughout his election campaign that he cannot promise anything except that he and his party will work 24 hours a day to restore the breakdown in Punjab. He is not promising a clone of California!
Uttar Pradesh is a goner for the moment. It first needs to be divided further, at least into three more chunks. Its salvation can begin only thereafter. It needs a radical overhaul of the kind of people in the political fray. Its system needs to cleanse itself of a corroded mindset and only the people of UP can determine that change by boycotting, at the hustings, those criminals who have reduced the state into being desperately ill. The saga of the building of the Ram Mandir will possibly throw the state into a horrific situation in March. That civil and social unrest will bring all else to a precipice.
Maybe the possibility of a hung assembly and no coalition to form a government, leading to possible Presidents Rule, will be a godsend, despite it being a signal of the beginnings of a failure of the democratic process in that most populous and backward state. And, with a government at the centre that controls hardly any states, the political situation is rather bizarre. Why would the centre do anything in centre-state relations to ease the functioning of Congress and non-ally ruled states It is against their mandate. With the general elections looming two years ahead, the centre would like to see every Congress ruled state, and there are eleven of them, down and under so as to cash in on an anti-incumbency vote in the next general elections. A no win situation for India.
This coalition at the centre has not worked for the good of anything. All the voices cannot unite on the real issues and decisionmaking is therefore pathetic. What they do unite on is what carries patriotism, nationalistic rhetoric and jingoism. War cries are unanimous. Jingoism has put all crucial decisions on the backburner, pushed the real issues under the carpet because if anyone contradicts those cries they are proclaimed anti-national. The mind is no longer without fear and the head is no longer held high (with apologies to Tagore).