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Jagan Reddy: Paternity Power Test; LCA High and a Shocking Low; Bharat Bandh: Losing the Plot; Right Note, Wrong Man

Jagan Reddy: Paternity Power Test

Enfant terrible The Congress High Command has been in a tizzy for the past 10 months because of the waves of challenges being mounted by its Kadapa MP, Jaganmohan Reddy—even as his only claim to fame is that he is the son of YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR).

This week again Jagan defied a party diktat and decided to go ahead with his Odarpu Yatra, to console families of those who died of shock or committed suicide after YSR’s sudden demise last year. Despite calls of restraint from Delhi, and sharp divisions within Andhra Pradesh (AP) on how to handle YSR’s son, Jagan plans to arrive in a train on 8 July at Icchapuram, on the AP-Orissa border, on YSR’s 61st birth anniversary. Icchapuram is where YSR concluded his 1,500 km padayatra in 2003, which catapulted the Congress to power the next year. He sure is choosing the parallels with care. That he is in no mood to relent can be gauged from the ‘open letter’ he wrote addressing ‘the people’. 

He says it is customary to call on the household of the dead, as did Sonia Gandhi when she came down to meet his mother Vijaya-laxmi, after his father died. Though he admitted that the High Command was not happy about his yatra, he made a veiled attack on Sonia for not understanding Indian customs and practices. ‘I have made a promise to visit all the 400 families and I will,’ he says in his two-page letter—also published in his Telugu newspaper Sakshi. 

It is a war of nerves. The Congress must walk a tight rope while balancing Jagan’s ambitions and stability of the Rosaiah government. Many in the party feel that a new rebel has been born after two decades—the last being M Chenna Reddy, who later merged his party with the Congress and went on to hold gubernatorial positions.  


LCA High and a Shocking Low

The first week of July was an eventful one for the Indian Navy, but it ended on a tragic note. The accidental death of Chief of Staff of the Southern Naval Command Rear Admiral SS Jamwal on 7 July shook up the Naval establishment and overshadowed celebrations on the induction of the Naval version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), just a day before the incident. Rear Admiral Jamwal was at the small arms firing range on the INS Dronacharya—the Navy’s firing range—in Kochi when he reportedly caught a bullet in the head in what Navy sources described as an accident. Stunned naval authorities ordered an inquiry into the death. Jamwal was killed at a time when the Navy was celebrating the roll out of the LCA (Navy) trainer and 50 years of the White Tigers—the Indian Navy Air Squadron (INAS 300). Incidentally, it was on 7 July, exactly 50 years ago, that the INAS 300 was commissioned at the Royal Naval Air Station in Brawdy, under the command of Lieutenant Commander BR Acharya. The White Tigers played a crucial role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, sinking and destroying more than 100,000 tonnes of Pakistani targets without taking any hits themselves. The Navy was in a celebratory mood, hoping that its LCA variant with superior thrust and air power would be an ideal replacement for the ageing Sea Harriers, when Jamwal was killed, shot through the head.


Bharat Bandh: Losing the Plot

5 July 2010 could have been a historic occasion for Indian democracy, but it wasn’t. A largely decimated opposition, which has performed its role of questioning the Government rather poorly in the last six years, had finally come together to do its bit. Led by the BJP and Left parties—both on the opposite ends of the political spectrum—it set out to protest rising prices under the rule of the Congress-led UPA-2. 

The cost of the common man’s food, a bowl of dal with a few rotis or some rice, has gone up by as much as 300 per cent since the UPA first formed the Government in 2004. Sugar and milk prices have nearly doubled. If the opposition doesn’t take the Government to task on such matters, it would be failing in its duty. But on 5 July, by handing over the reins of the protest to hooligans who went on a rampage damaging public and private property, it lost the plot.

BJP Chief Nitin Gadkari proudly announced after a day of violence and road blocks that the Bharat Bandh was “just a trailer, the film will follow”.  The BJP chief’s filmi announcement has only enraged the middle class, which is already reeling under the burden of rising prices. If a large number of people could not travel on the roads because state transport buses had their tyres deflated and windows smashed, they actually ended up being at the receiving end of the protests.

The protestors, who represented the BJP or the Left and their allies, destroyed buses, trains and even private vehicles. State-owned buses, railways and infrastructure are bought with the taxpayer’s money. The Government, then, logically speaking, is only the custodian of this property. Indian business bodies like the CII and Ficci doled out statistics suggesting that Rs 13,000 crore was lost due to the bandh. CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat has written in the party’s mouth organ, People’s Democracy, that the businesses complaining about the bandh got Rs 80,000 crore in tax concessions in 2009-10. Someone ought to ask Comrade Karat how smashed bus windows take away these concessions or bring down dal prices.


Right Note, Wrong Man

A few days ago, Kamal Nath lambasted the Planning Commission, in the presence of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, for failing to be in touch with ground realities.  There are, of course, the political implications of such a step.  The PM, due to the nature of fragmented authority in the Congress, exercises whatever little control he can over his Cabinet through the Commission. His proposal to monitor ministries has virtually been sidelined, and it was ironic that Kamal Nath said, “There are no performance targets to be met [by the Planning Commission]… It is in a great position not to be responsible to anybody. I have to answer. I am accountable.” 

No minister in this country has ever been accountable. Kamal Nath, sidelined rather than sacked for his own not-so-great tenure as Minister of Commerce, is now getting his own back by couching his criticism in professional terms.

However, that should not take away from the fact that he made some very pertinent points. “Building a road in Kerala is different from building a road in Assam or Madhya Pradesh. We have to have a concept that has flexibility.’’ That is as succinct a case as ever has been made out for decentralisation in planning. It is not just about roads, it lies at the heart of our failures across various ministries. Take agriculture, for instance. Foodgrain surplus states such as Punjab and Haryana have very different requirements from states such as Bihar. And Rajasthan requires a different approach altogether; in fact, different parts of Rajasthan require different approaches.

Even if it is Kamal Nath who is uttering them, let us take some of his words seriously.