The 13-party United Front has come up with a common minimum programme (CMP) carrying a longish title Common Approach to Major Policy Matters and a Minimum Programme. This is supposed to be the programmatic basis for the new dispensation in power at the Centre. While the left parties, including the CPI(M) which claims to support the UF government from outside, have taken an active part in drawing up this programme, the Congress(I) which is the main prop of this government, supporting it from outside, has extended broad support to it. The lowest common factor from amongst the manifestoes of these thirteen assorted parties has been culled out by cutting the corners and blunting the edges of their respective manifestoes.
It would have been a different matter if these parties, even the non-Congress parties, had come together on a common manifesto before the elections and faced the electorate on that basis. But in a blatantly opportunist move, in clear anticipation of a hung parliament, these parties neatly compartmentalised their pre- and post-election strategies, kept their own pre-election manifestoes to the barest minimum to suit the requirements of post-election patchwork and had no qualms about making a melange of the conflicting manifestoes, shedding however the conflicting parts.
Through the parliamentary debates on the confidence motions, the UF parties repeatedly asserted that the vote in the parliamentary elections was a vote for change. But the first major change that was effected was in their own manifestoes! Also, the Prime Minister's first significant political pronouncement was that there would be a broad continuity with earlier government's economic policies. Continuity and change thus came to mean continuity of Congress policies and change of one's own colours!
The economic reforms has been the principal hallmark of the previous Narasimha Rao government as well as the prime reason for its rout. It was one of the two fundamental issues in the elections, secularism being the other one. If the UF's claim that it was a vote for change is true, then the mandate is clearly for a reversal of the economic policy of the last five years. Even if the bourgeois opposition parties were only paying lip service to the demand for rollback of these policies, the CPI(M) and CPI were categorical in their demand for reversal of NEP. Despite dilution of their stance due to the adoption of these policies by the Left Front government in Bengal, these parties maintained this position down to their election manifestoes. Once the elections were over, the actual reversal came about in their own positions rather than in the economic policy. The choice of Deve Gowda as the prime minister and P. Chidambaram as the finance minister, and their repeated pronouncements about continuity in the economic polices, dispelled any doubt on this score. All that the leaders of CPI and CPI(M) could do was to engage in verbal acrobatics to somehow invent distinction between the proposed economic policies of the present dispensation and the earlier Congress government. But least convincing they were. In fact, the former Prime Minister Mr. VP Singh was more straightforward when he claimed that "The tacit understanding on reforms will now get formalised. In one way, this will help crystallise the consensus, cutting across regional and national party ideologies".
The guiding principle of CMP has been none other than Narasimha Rao's doctrine of Market Plus which he himself didn't, and couldn't, implement. The CMP itself has been drawn up in consultation with Rao: the cat was let out of the bag in this regard by the leaders of the UF when they were out to defend themselves in the face of grumbling within the Congress over the proposal to refer Ayodhya dispute to the Supreme Court under Article 138(2). An ardently pro-Rao columnist has opined that "There are very large areas of consensus within the polity, in which the government can operate without any risk of being stymied by its allies. There is now an across-the-board consensus that while the transition from a command to a market-driven economy must be completed, this must be done in a way that does not further impoverish the poor while enriching the rich". According to him, there were gaps in the Rao government's policies relating to providing social safety net which he feels should never have been allowed to occur and he hopes that the involvement of the Left this time would ensure their implementation. Thus, whatever may be the self-image and exaggerated notions of the leaders of CPI, and some from the CPI(M), with regard to their role in this political consortium, the liberals take a realistic assessment, and far from feeling any unease they are quite eager to offer the role of a minor watchdog to the Left.
A veteran ideologue of the socalled Third Force also talks in the same vein: "...the ideological predilections of the Left and sections within the JD and the SP will need to be thought of in terms of a series of specific objectives. The latter's task is to keep pressing the view that an era of `reforms' in the macro-economic sphere as these have been advocated so far and of dismantling the `license-permit raj' through selective deregulation does not by any means rule out the role of the State in fulfilling the basic commitments to the people. This includes among other things adequate and subsidised provision of food and shelter for the poor (drawing on the experience already gained in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu), releasing resources for the poor, both natural and financial, through schemes like Antyodaya (as was practised in Rajasthan and other places under the Janata Party) and giving an employment orientation to planning and the consequent availability of purchasing power to the deprived sections of society (as was undertaken under the National Front Government but could not be fully implemented because of its very short duration)". This provides an apt idea as to how far the UF would go in implementing the pro-poor schemes - their own track record in the past providing a clear indication - and how the role of the Left is visualised. Yet, the doctrine of `liberalisation with human face' cannot be taken at its face value as the newly emerging consensus that is going to define the performance of the new government.
These gentlemen never pose for themselves the question why Rao failed to put in place a credible social package despite the danger of losing power clearly visible on the wall. Was it merely due to a lack of political will or failure to read the popular mood? Or was it that the logic of liberalisation didn't leave any fiscal room for undertaking any such credible programme? The liberals glibly assume, contrary to the growing evidence the world over, that liberalisation can comfortably coexist with a pro-poor package and come to the conclusion that the failure on the latter count has overshadowed the success of Rao on the former. The dilemma of the UF too on this score is amply reflected in the CMP. Being a governmental programme one would have normally expected the CMP to be precise and the proposals concrete and time-bound. But the CMP document is replete with stale abstractions and vague generalities which pass for programmatic proposals. Most of the high-sounding promises do not indicate the exact quantum of allocation. No time schedule is given even for those requiring purely administrative action and no fresh legislation. If all the non-specific proposals are taken out, the CMP will not run for more than a couple of paragraphs. And the reasons are not difficult to seek. With the containment of fiscal deficit figuring on the top of its agenda, this government too will be strapped for cash. Hence vagueness has substituted for substance. It is natural for the liberals to harbour illusions that market reforms can go hand in hand with increased pro-poor programmes but CPI and CPI(M) should know better. Treachery and betrayal of the centrist politics - apart from arising from the perfidy of their leaders - are here inbuilt into the contradictions of the CMP. Let us take it up for a detailed review.
Ayodhya Hot Potato - Passing it on to Judiciary
The UF has time and again asserted that their mandate represents the massive triumph of secularism and a clear rejection of Hindu communal forces. But the single most important challenge to the secular credentials of the Indian state in recent times was the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya where the Indian state miserably failed. If the UF is to reiterate their assertion on secular mandate not merely as a smokescreen for developing an opportunistic equation with Congress(I) but take the groundswell of support to secularism and the secular preference of the voters seriously, then they are duty bound to convince the masses of the need to right this historical wrong and the UF leaders shouldn't fight shy of telling them the need to rebuild the Mosque and restore it to the Muslims. But the shallow secularism of these anti-communal champions is immediately evident in their attempt to hide behind the courts and to pass the buck to them renouncing their own political responsibility. Does putting the UF parties in power in itself signify the ultimate in secularism? BJP, by contrast, was sticking more consistently to its communal-fascistic promise of building a Hindu temple at the demolition site in its manifesto and promised to do this through a legislation in the parliament in the Somnath pattern.
Following Rao's footsteps, the UF has also opted to brush the issue underneath the carpet of history by dumping it into a judicial deep freeze. When Rao tried to pass the buck to the Supreme Court by referring the issue under Article 143 of the Constitution for a non-binding opinion to ascertain whether a temple existed prior to the construction of the Mosque, he was rightly snubbed by the court saying that the court is not competent to decide such an issue. In any case, by its very nature the dispute cannot be decided by the courts but only by talks between both sides and involvement of community organisations, religious leaders etc. What is needed is a sustained political counteroffensive against the Sangh Parivar to that end which the UF parties have been avoiding. Instead the manifestoes of both JD and CPI(M) had promised to refer all disputes relating to Ayodhya to the Supreme Court under Article 138(2) which has been repeated in the CMP.
Not surprisingly, Muslims, who are uniformly one of the most important electoral
support bases of the UF parties, feel badly let down by this decision of the
UF (See box). And they have genuine reasons for feeling so.
|Sharp Muslim Reaction against UF Proposal on Ayodhya
The reactions of various Muslim organisations and leaders to the CMP proposal on Ayodhya have been very sharp indeed. Mr. Nehaluddin, President of the Muslim Forum of India has come out strongly against referring the issue under Article 138(2) to the Supreme Court and has demanded that the hearing on the title suits long pending before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court be expedited and disposed within three months. He points out that already the Supreme Court has once referred back the title suits to the High Court and delaying disposal of the suits would only help the Sangh Parivar make further political capital out of the issue.
Mr. Zafrab Jiliani, Convener of the All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee, has also said that the proposal would only drag the issue and has demanded a direction to the three-member bench of the High Court for a day-to-day hearing of the case. Explaining the technicalities, he pointed out that parliament would have to enact a law under which the contentious issue could be referred to the Supreme Court for its opinion. The law, when enacted, will be challenged again before the Supreme Court to delay the process of justice further. When the Rao government referred the issue earlier to the SC under Article 143, the apex court returned the presidential reference without giving any opinion after about two years and the repetition under Article 138(2) might further delay the opinion by a few more years, he added. Mr. Jiliani as well as the Muslim Personal Law Board who have opposed the UF's proposal feel that speedy adjudication of the title suits may result in the restoration of the site to the Muslims and the consequent reconstruction of the Mosque at its original site. All the Muslim organisations in UP have agreed among themselves not to accept any other mode of solution.
The UF government's proposal has put Mulayam Singh Yadav on a tight spot. Mr. Yadav has come under increasing pressure from the Muslim leaders and from sections from within his own party who feel that Muslim voters who are in a mercurial mood might abandon SP in total revulsion at this betrayal and turn to BSP in the coming assembly elections. The Muslim leaders point out that the Congress, after the earlier refusal by the Supreme Court, approached Mulayam Singh, then Chief Minister of UP, through Salman Kurshid, to seek his consent for a reference under Article 138(2) which at that time was rejected by same Mulayam who as a partner in UF has now agreed to the same proposal. They have openly accused the UF of having walked into the trap of the Congress.
It may be too early to conclude that there is already a large-scale alienation
of Muslims from the UF. But if the UF leaders persist with their proposal
meant for putting a heavy judicial lid over the issue, it will only widen
the cracks that have already appeared between UF and its socalled impregnable
minority vote banks.
|The Dispute and the Courts
- A Brief Outline
The Ayodhya dispute has been awaiting a judicial pronouncement since 1950. Till 1986, even issues had not been framed in the original suit pending in the lower court in Faizabad. Meanwhile, regular worship of the idol of Ram Lalla installed inside the disputed structure continued. A priest appointed by the receiver used to accept flowers and prasad from the devotees, siting inside, through iron bars of the locked gates. The regular worship was allowed by the Allahabad High Court which had rejected the prayers of the other parties. In February 1986, the then District judge of Faizabad, Mr. KM Pande, accepting a petition, ordered the removal of the locks for unobstructed darshan of the deities, while status quo continued in regard to the structure as also to the original suits. The Babri Masjid Action Committee was formed thereafter and the VHP also highlighted the issue and raised the demand for construction of Sri Ram temple at the disputed site. All the pending suits in the lower courts were subsequently brought before the Allahabad High Court in Lucknow, where several additional issues were framed, several of fundamental nature, challenging each other's claim. The BMAC is in favour of the cases continuing before the Special Bench with a stipulation that hearing be held on a day-to-day basis for an expeditious judgement. But this is easier said than done since the 41 issues framed are very complex. The court's judgement can hardly leave both sides happy and would not be easy to implement.
The Hindu, June 10, 1996
Climbdown on Corruption
"Corruption exists at all levels and in all walks of life. We should all sit together and devise a strategy to tackle this" - this pontification on corruption came from Deve Gowda during his reply to the debate on trust vote when the concrete issue at hand was whether his government would shield the guilty, including Narasimha Rao's son and relatives, in the urea scam. More than the formal trust vote, the urea scam exploded to pose a test of legitimacy before the new government of UF whose constituent parties fought election on an anti-corruption plank directed against the Congress. And within the next three days, Deve Gowda himself put much of his image at stake in getting his senior colleague from his home state, Mr. Hegde, expelled from the party accusing him of having a hand behind a PIL case filed in Karnataka High Court seeking enquiry into irregularities committed by Gowda in the allotment of house sites in Mysore when he was a PWD minister in the state. These are the people who want the nation to believe that a Lok Pal, which includes the office of the PM under its purview, would put an end to corruption at high places.
One of the first acts of betrayal by the new government was the permission given by P.Chidambaram, as the Law Minister, to the CBI to file a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court against a Delhi High Court directive which asked the investigating agency to file a regular charge sheet against all those whose names were figuring in the JMM MPs payoff case which included the name of the former PM Rao. The SC rightly rejected the SLP. The irony is that the JD, in its manifesto, promised to free the CBI from the control of the Department of Personnel and make it autonomous, a promise which understandably doesn't find mention in the CMP.
The standards of morality of JD, the leading constituent of UF, on the issue of corruption is astounding: the Hawala-tainted Bommai was made to resign as JD President but has been taken into the Union Cabinet while Sharad Yadav, who even admitted to taking money from the Jains, has been denied a berth in the cabinet for this very reason but has been made the Working President of JD! No wonder, the JD manifesto did not find it morally obligatory to utter anything on Bihar animal husbandry scam. Bihar is one of the two showpieces of JD where every pore of the administration stinks of corruption. Those who cannot stem their own moral-political corruption can hardly be expected to cleanse the public life and fight corruption at high places. Mega corruption being the Siamese twin of liberalisation, continuity in the latter also means perpetuation of the former. Though the CPI and CPI(M) have taken an appreciable firm stance on corruption, they have, instead of gunning for the super-corrupt Rao and his cabal, unfortunately confined their conditions to the non-inclusion into the cabinet of Hawala-tainted UF politicians like the inconsequential ND Tiwari and Scindia and even this is being strongly resisted by the JD which has now adopted the amoral argument that until proved guilty by a court nobody should be denied office, an argument which even Rao didn't dare subscribe to.
If there is one area where the new dispensation has generated lots of illusions, especially in the media, it is the issue of restructuring of the Centre-State relations. The larger presence of the regional parties in the power-sharing arrangement within the UF, and the relative decline of the national parties favouring a strong Centre and not inclined in favour of any basic power spread and dispersion within the polity had given grounds to much speculation and expectations. The CMP has cast away all these illusions and sets at rest all the speculation.
Explaining the changed context, the CMP document says "The Sarkaria Commission report was submitted 10 years ago. (It however offers no explanation why the VP Singh government was sitting tight over it throughout the period when it was in office.) Since then there has been a sea-change in both the politics and economics of the country. There has also been a new articulation of States' rights". Of course, the `new articulation' that the CMP is speaking of is nothing but the demand of various chief ministers for a right to enter into direct deals with MNCs without waiting for clearance from the Centre. Strangely, both the rightwing Gowda and the leftwing Basu were leading the pack on this demand. Here was another instance where for the sake of some immediate gains for the Left-ruled states, the CPI(M) chose to sacrifice its principled position on an issue of vital national concern (See Liberation, June 1996 issue).
The CMP promises to implement the unimplemented recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission, but not without any hedge: "the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission on which there is already a broad consensus, will be implemented through legislation and administrative action as appropriate". Will Congress, the very same Congress which refused to implement the very same recommendations of Justice Sarkaria in the last 10 years, be a party to the consensus? Why should the Congress which as a ruling party staved off, at a considerable political cost, tremendous pressure from various quarters, including from some states witnessing separatist insurgency, to implement the report in full now oblige the motley galaxy of parties when it is in a comfortable position, staying outside but holding levers over this UF government? If the administrative action of this minimalist government is limited by `broad consensus', its capacity for legislative action is limited by parliamentary numbers. Hence on the question of devolution of greater financial powers, which the CMP acknowledges as the vital question, all that the UF government can promise is a new committee. It is promised that the new committee, whose main terms of reference is a review of the long-unimplemented recommendations of the old committee, will submit its report in three months. It remains to be seen what this new exercise will accomplish.
Meanwhile, the CMP believes it is possible to take immediate action on the following: greater autonomy to States in determining their priorities in developmental programmes; greater freedom to draw up their State Plans within the broad framework of the National Five-Year Plans (which amounts to the same thing as the first and both are concerned only with changes in administrative control rather than the political autonomy to States to determine their own frameworks); transfer most Centrally-sponsored schemes to the control of the State governments (which is not going to increase the actual flow of funds by a single rupee); and to grant assent promptly to bills passed by the legislatures on matters which are within the legislative powers of the State legislatures. While the pro-poor land reform legislations from Kerala and West Bengal were pending for years, the instance of Karnataka Land Reforms Bill which seeks to undo the land reforms in the interests of the big business and kulaks has prompted the JD leaders to raise this issue but the CMP document doesn't enlighten us as to how this can be institutionalised without an amendment to the Constitution for which the UF doesn't have the required strength. Thus the 'immediate action' agenda amounts to nothing more than a piffle.
The CMP is also full of vague promises on this subject but keeps a strange silence on many of the pre-election promises of the UF parties. For instance, it talks of reactivating and energising National Developmental Council without saying anything over their own earlier demand of bringing the Planning Commission under its purview. The CMP says there would be no misuse of the Article 356 but is silent over its scrapping.
Notwithstanding all the noise the JD chief ministers made as opposition chief ministers, the regionalisation of this national party now stands reversed and the regional bosses are now more keen on a national role and profile and have already started emphasising the virtues of a strong Centre. Hence the JD's commitment on restructuring the Centre-State relations is suspect and through a 'consensus within the consensus', the JD and Congress may ward off all pressures for any basic restructuring.
The CMP is based on the assumption that everything is okay with the economy. Deve Gowda has no inkling into what he was saying when he declares that there will be broad continuity with the economic policies of the Rao government. In the last five years, these policies have led to a two-fold increase in foreign debt and a doubling of the prices and the exchange rate of the rupee is less than half of what it was earlier. No wonder the CMP is silent on foreign debt and BoP situation but proposes an ambitious 7-plus per cent GDP growth for the next 10 years and 12% industrial growth in magical terms even while underlining the need for a sharp fiscal contraction. It seems to be blissfully unaware that such a high growth target, accompanied with a contradictory target of bringing down fiscal deficit to less than 4% of GDP, would almost take the trade deficit to about $15 billion a year by the end of the decade. And by some miracle if Gowda were to continue in the office for a full term he would find himself at the feet of IMF before long.
The only point on which the CMP apparently strikes a minor note of difference from Congress policy was on foreign investment. FDI in consumer goods sector will be discouraged, the CMP bravely declares but soon hedges with the condition that it will be done through fiscal measures. But this differential taxation will not hold water for long in view of the treaty on investment it may have to soon negotiate under WTO. Moreover, to show that this selectivity has nothing to do with the resistance of a section of Indian industrialists to FDI in the consumer sector, the UF leaders have subsequently clarified that this discouraging is in view of the employment considerations in labour-intensive food processing and other traditional industries. With this explanation they have left the overwhelmingly large segment of the consumer industry from the purview of foreign investment regulation.
Gowda government which otherwise appears to be blind to the macro-economic aspects of the economy, switches over to the language of macro-economy and declares that the Indian economy has the capability to absorb around $10 billion FDI a year. Here the CMP breaks with the continuity of Rao's policies: even under the five years of Manmohan regime the total FDI was around $5 billion only and the CMP talks of $10 billion for a single year! This would mean the FDI would be equal to the present private sector share in the Gross Domestic Savings and would be one fourth of its share in the Gross Domestic Capital Formation. The UF seems to have picked up the standard trick of all liberalisers: it gives a highly inflated figure of $200 billions (Rs.700000 crores) as the current investment requirement in the infrastructure sector and on that basis justifies massive inflow of foreign capital. With this kind of logic one can well inflate the figure to even $2000 billion in an underdeveloped country.
The manifestoes of CPI, CPI(M) and JD breathed fire against IMF and World Bank. But the decision to allow foreign companies into the insurance sector - this too in line with the earlier IMF and WB conditionalities and GATS requirements - is the biggest let down by the CPI(M) of the white-collar sections of the working class who have hitherto remained strong supporters of this party. If the CPI(M) and CPI cannot protect the interests of even PSU workers and white-collar employees, then what is the point in 52 left MPs extending unqualified support to this government of betrayal?
On the trade front, the CMP, as per the conditions of IMF and World Bank, promises to bring the tariff to 'world levels' (sic) which means further opening up of imports. The CPI(M) and CPI have been made to eat the humble pie on PSUs privatisation. The CMP says not only sick but also potentially sick PSUs will be privatised. It makes vague promises on a new law on sickness, complete revamping of the BIFR and a separate mechanism for sickness in the SSI sector. For the labour, it promises trade union recognition through secret ballot but says nothing about penalising the managements which refuse to deal with the majority unions. The CMP is silent on the controversial pension scheme. Without uttering anything about the immediate implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission Report which has been submitted to the government, all that the new Finance Minister promises to the government employees is wage freeze and austerity. For the unorganised sector, it talks of new laws only with regard to construction and beedi industries but is silent on some uniform minimum labour standards covering also the sweatshops in the small-scale factory sector and export units.
Regarding the agricultural sector, complying with the GATT conditions, the CMP says that "All controls and regulations that are in the way of increasing the incomes of the farmers will be reviewed immediately and abolished wherever found necessary". This means the fate of the farmers in the relatively underdeveloped areas and the small farmers would depend on the market forces. The CMP also leaves it open whether this deregulation covers land ceilings also which undoubtedly will come in the way of higher incomes of the big farmers.
The CMP promises a special plan for infrastructural development in 100 most backward and poorest districts but does not spell out how much money would be earmarked for this. This probably refers to the Rural Infrastructural Development Fund set up by the Congress government last year in NABARD for Rs.2000 crores, siphoning off the money from scheduled commercial banks and to be reckoned as indirect lending under priority sector advances. Such a scheme only amounts to diverting the money to the State governments which otherwise should go directly to the farmers.
It talks of doubling the flow of credit to agriculture and agro-industries, particularly to small and marginal farmers but it doesn't clarify where the money would come from, whether from budgetary allocations in view of the shrinking priority sector credit from the public sector banks caught in the whirlpool of financial sector reforms.
The CMP extends privatisation to the agricultural sector saying that the agencies that supply inputs to farmers will be professionalised and where found feasible converted into farmer-owned cooperatives. With fertilizer and seed cooperatives already in existence this could only mean falling for the World Bank dictates of privatising water management and selling water to the farmers - to the benefit of big farmers and to the deprivation of small and marginal ones - through cooperatives which Deve Gowda was trying to do in Karnataka. The CMP which talks of a new national policy on water sharing and water management is conspicuous by its silence on inter-state water disputes where Gowda had been accused of a very chauvinistic position in the past vis-a-vis Andhra and TN. Gowda who promises the most advanced technology to the farmers is strangely silent about seed patenting and multinational seed companies. The pro-kulak bias of this government is clearly evident by its total silence on the question of taxing the agricultural incomes of rich farmers.
Land reforms appears to be a completed task as far as UF government is concerned. It doesn't even recognise that land reforms have not been implemented in any meaningful way in several States including Bihar and Andhra Pradesh and approaches this question as if the only residual tasks on this front is to 'plug the legal and administrative loopholes'. It says nothing about penalising the erring States and is silent on expediting tens of thousands of litigations pending perpetually before the courts meant to circumvent the earlier land reform measures.
The CMP promises nothing more than a minimum wage law for the agricultural labourers which was in the offing already under the Congress government but doesn't clarify whether the minimum wage level will be implemented in the government-sponsored employment programmes which are shunned by the agricultural labourers because of their very low wage levels. It promises 100 days of assured employment which the existing employment programmes initiated by the Congress government are already supposed to provide. This is going one step backward from the demand for at least 200 days of assured employment or full employment towards which some States are already heading for. On PDS too there is no talk of extension but only about excision.
Making the right to employment the fundamental right which figured in the manifestoes of CPI(M) and JD has been given a go by in the CMP. In the educational sector too, the UF has conveniently washed its hands off from any responsibility with regard to secondary education by promising only that the right to free and compulsory elementary education will be made a fundamental right. It offers nothing on secondary education and vocational training, and does not reverse the Congress policy of privatisation of higher education. Here too the CPI(M) and CPI have drawn a blank as a quid pro quo for their unstinted support. On the whole, the policy of the UF on education front is worse than the 1985 New Education Policy of Rajiv Gandhi.
The CMP makes a welcome declaration that one-third of elected membership in parliament and legislatures would be reserved for women and that one-third of central government jobs would be reserved for them. But there cannot be a mere legislative solution to this colossal socio-cultural problem of gender inequality in employment. This calls for a massive intervention in the labour market by the government through education and training about which the CMP is silent. Already in some areas of white-collar employment the percentage of women who are coming into employment and the job market approaches one third, and many State governments have already passed legislations to this effect, and hence the UF declaration in this regard is no big deal. But the ground reality is that in vast areas of government employment such reservations go unimplemented as in the case of SC and ST reservations, either because of prejudices or due to lack of availability of candidates. And there are areas where extensive training will be required for women, and detailed micro-level monitoring apart from overcoming deep-seated socio-cultural obstacles. For instance, women employment in PSUs remain negligible. Mere legislative trick won't do. The CMP offers nothing more on enhancing the powers of the Women's Commission, and is totally silent on other vital issues like growing atrocities on women and special developmental packages for them.
The CMP promises that special courts will be set up under SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to "ensure quick justice to the victims of atrocities" but doesn't say anything about transferring and expediting tens of thousands of cases already pending for long in various courts. It says nothing about banning the private armies of upper caste landlords, about giving arms to dalits to defend themselves in vulnerable areas and regarding the accountability of the DM and SP of a district in the case of massacres.
Adopting the Congress approach and keeping an eye on its minority vote banks, the CMP promises that the personal codes of different religions will not be altered. This is playing into the hands of the conservative sections of the minority communities. Here it has also defied the Supreme Court directive to the earlier Congress government. The UF which claims credit for pathbreaking achievement in the field of gender equality has, in one stroke, negated it by this opportunistic stance. Apart from trampling upon the aspirations of Muslim women, it has also negated the demand for equal property rights to Hindu women in the bargain. With regard to the more fundamental need for educational and employment assistance for minorities, the CMP says it will review and upgrade the 15-point programme of the Congress introduced in 1993 in the wake of Ayodhya fiasco. A National Minority Development Finance Corporation set up under this programme in 1994 with an authorised share capital of Rs.500 crore has so far disbursed only a paltry sum of Rs.47 crore covering 11000 people belonging to the minority communities.
The CMP dishes out vague promises to artisans, craftspersons, tradespersons, weavers and fishermen. But on two burning issues, banning of foreign fishing companies and export of cotton yarn it is silent. It promises ownership rights to urban slumdwellers without committing itself for making housing a fundamental right. It promises to relax the urban land ceiling acts but offers no legislation to protect the rights of the squatters and other urban poor against forcible eviction.
The tribals have been promised one more commission. But there is no assurance on the controversial Forest Bill. There is no comprehensive legislation against land alienation in tribal areas. Even the existing laws are sought to be revoked in different states, especially in Andhra by TDP government, a UF constituent. The joint forest council programmes are either being rolled back or being handed over to World Bank funding with all sorts of conditionalities, the tribals and peasants coming under these programmes do not even have the tenurial rights and the only offer that the CMP makes is ownership rights with regard to minor forest produce, and concretely only about Tendu leaves, without saying anything about the contractors and other middlemen who are fleecing the tribals. The Tribal Development Corporations in various states have spent only Rs.13 crores from 1992 to 1996 for this purpose. Above all, the UF government doesn't recognise the demand for comprehensive tribal area development and has brushed aside the demands for tribal area development boards which even the Congress promised to consider due to political pressures during assembly elections in Orissa. And the CMP offers no special package to the tribal communities of the Northeast.
On human rights, the CMP is totally silent on custodial deaths, undertrials spending long years in jail without trial, and fake encounters. There is nothing about enhancing the powers of National Human Rights Commission. On media, the glaring omission is on foreign entry into the print media, and the CMP says nothing about further autonomy to the electronic media and only promises to review the Prasar Bharati Act without clearly stating its objectives. Ironically, the real commitment to autonomy got exposed through a blatant act in which a News Tonight programme was taken off the air because it carried some critical remarks from Hegde and KH Patil on Gowda.
True, a programme of a united front of different parties is bound to be a programme of compromises. But the CMP of the United Front is a document of compromise on principles. And without doubt, the biggest concessions on principles have been made by CPI and CPI(M). The CMP talks so much about transparency in government functioning. But do not these parties owe it to their voters the information on who gave up what at whose insistence in arriving at this remarkable document of dilution of principles? Do not the CPI(M) and CPI owe an explanation, to their ranks at least, as to what exactly they have achieved and on what points and what they failed to achieve and for what reasons, by their active participation in the United Front as well as in drawing up this common minimum programme.