18th Parliament: How much a New Beginning?

This last month has witnessed new scandals. The likes of which occur, unfortunately, not rarely. Politicians involved in sleaze and scandals is not in itself news breaking. Neither is consumption of hooch. Howsoever sordid and unfortunate these are, nevertheless we need to recount them in passing, in some detail. To understand where they come from, in what spirit and with what intentions.

The NEET-UG examinations exploded as a major scandal. Did one never suspect that papers get leaked? That there are cases of cheating rampant across colleges and universities, some were more notorious than others. But how organized these could be, how extensive an outreach these could have, assumed newer proportions. Imagine in a national level examination, conducted by the National Testing Agency, some 1500 plus candidates were given grace marks. These are on all India level, conducted in 13 languages; this year, over 24 lakh students took them. What was truly exceptional this year was that 67 students got 100/100, that is 720 marks which was the highest possible. In earlier years, there were only 2 toppers last year, 3 in 2022, 2 in 2021 and only 1 in 2020. This year, the number had exploded. Some 6 of these were from the same centre in Haryana. Thereafter, hell has broken loose. What is emerging that it is a nation-wide, most well-organized racket, where undeserving students steal a march over the more deserving ones. This tarnishes the future, not of education alone, but also of those fields to which these students then move on to, in this case, medicine.

Typically, one of the remarks that we can quote, that of Omar Abdullah, that the PM should have spoken, that ‘exam pe charcha’ is long overdue. The Opposition has demanded a discussion on the subject, declined by the ruling party. Protests and walk-out were witnessed, Parliament was adjourned. A similar story, repeated again, for the Nth time.

The second incident that imploded was the hooch deaths in Tamilnadu. The concoction was said to be laced with methanol. As we write this piece, some 58 people have died already with some 200 plus hospitalised. Heart wrenching videos have appeared on the small screen, showing how devastating these deaths have been, how they have eroded families. Some officials were transferred, others suspended. An enquiry has been instituted. Last year, too, there was a similar incident. It has been well known for some time that industrial methanol was being used to brew alcohol as a cottage industry. The rising price of government liquor has also motivated regular drinkers to move to cheaper solutions, not preferring to give up the habit. One option has been to shut down small scale industry of illicit brewing in the state. Ironically, one of the solutions offered is that the government can get back to supplying cheaper alcohol through its own outlets. What we need is public awareness, strict penalties imposed on the guilty, and brought to speedy conviction, to be made examples of.

Typically, we have seen some reaction. Kamal Hasan has visited the families of the bereaved. BJP president, JP Nadda, is believed to have written to the Congress President Kharge as to why the Congress is silent on this gruesome tragedy. Meanwhile, BJP workers have staged protest rallies in the state.

Another episode is the unfolding saga of the Revanna brothers, who have struck the limelight, albeit all for the wrong reasons, in neighbouring Karnataka. They are grandsons of the former prime minister, an illustrious family of the state. While HD Revanna and his wife are on bail, after having being accused of alleged kidnapping, their two sons, Prajwal and Suresh are both in jail. Sadly, for charges on similar reasons. Prajwal is said to be featuring in some thousands of videos, available on pen drives, showing him in various acts of molestation. His houseworker has accused him of molesting her repeatedly over the last few years. Mobile camera videos, some of few minutes, others longer, are said to have been transferred by him to his laptop. Brother Suresh is said to have sodomised one of his camp followers, who has now lodged a complaint against him. One more case has been since registered for the same charges. In all these cases, there are charges, counter charges, will the truth prevail, one will have to see?  Was this the case of a perception battle waged during the recent elections. Prajwal was campaigning for his Lok Sabha seat, when these surfaced. Was there a larger plan not only to malign the family, but also to tarnish the BJP in its run up to the Lok Sabha in the state? Will this story too, eventually, bite the dust, as high-profile people are involved?

Not to forget yet another unfolding saga of the Pune car crash, a juvenile driving his father’s expensive car, after having got smashed at a local bar. The subsequent attempts to cover up for the boy, the quick redressal and bail, all that too is familiar patronage that the well-heeled are ‘entitled’ to in our system. It happens, we dismiss such episodes, till it affects us personally. Till then, it is just another, one more, of the same thing.

When it rains, it pours, and pours! Over last few days in June, we witnessed unprecedented rains in the capital. That in-famous Minto Bridge has been marooned every other year, since as early as 1960. Only 64 years later, we have no solution to offer. Parts of Delhi went down under, literally, besieged by the torrential rains. With strong winds and rains, came down a roof at the T1 airport terminal, killing a cabbie resting in his car. The terminal was abandoned, with flights being shifted to T2 and T3. Over 60 flights had to be just cancelled. Who should be blamed for the roof collapse? Should this see another political slugfest, in which the truth will get buried, because it will become just another blame game exercise? Or, is it something which cannot be tasked at any ministerial level; instead, it could be a technical mishap which needs a thorough probe. We gather it was a job carried out by L&T corporate entity, the best the country has to offer. Incidents like these, need investigation, correction and the proper fixing of responsibility. Penalties imposed where dereliction in duty is identified. Hurling unfounded accusations is not any solution, making them another ‘you versus me’ debate.

Are these isolated cases? Most despicable, but not unheard of. These are symptomatic of the malaise in our society; these issues concern and affect our system, our society itself. Most such cases get brushed aside, in this process, and soon forgotten. Where and when politicians are involved, they get re-elected as well.

Such incidents happen, without any regard to which political party is in power. It is the same end game. These are not political issues, not of law and order having come down under one dispensation or the other. These are ongoing. The least we should do is not make them political. You may say, why not? Because they arise out of the same system, regardless of A, B or C. And once one can appreciate this, we should stop playing politics around them, and consider them as common problems, and find solutions to them as common cause. In cases where investigations are required, these should be conducted honestly and swiftly, making such probes transparent. Public awareness, NGO efforts should be directed to this common cause; there is so much that needs to be done. Once we take them out of the realm of politics, stop trying to make political capital out of them, we will be quicker, more successful, in finding solutions.

Meanwhile, the Parliament convened with its new members. For all the predictions of doomsday, the stars and the pundits, there was total peace and calm, even as the results did not favour any single party, or perhaps better still, favoured quite a few of them, across the political spectrum. One was not trounced, in fact, came out a winner – in Bengal. Another came back as a king in his domain, back from a long hiatus – in Uttar Pradesh. Rahul Gandhi won both his seats, now having the luxury to bequeath one of the two to his sister, marking the beginning for her in electoral politics. The Congress was able to double its strength, when there were forecasts the party will come down below its last numbers. The BJP, though losing some 60 odd seats, considering it is their third term in office, was able to withstand the pressure of anti-incumbency, and make a government, though in coalition, for a third successive term. As the prime minister pointed out, his party numbers were more than that of the entire INDI alliance. There was, then, solace for all!

So, what are the prospects of this new government? To my mind, there are few, if any, problems going forward. It is a done deal, for as long as the three principal partners want it to remain so. This means the BJP, the TDP and the JDU. And, there is every likelihood, given the persona of the principal protagonists in the ruling party’s dispensation, there would be more partners in the wings, if and when the need arises. But we do have a spirited opposition, significant of the total representation in terms of numbers, which means we do have some opportunity to have a recognizable opposition. As everyone says, this is good for democracy in action. But, how much the Opposition can present a common voice for a common cause, remains to be seen.

Within the government, can one and should one, expect much to change in style and substance, as the months roll on? Will the BJP change tack? Will we see a chastened BJP?

In the opening remarks of the prime minister, there was emphasis on politics and governance by consensus building. There was talk on the need to focus on development. Immediately thereafter, as it happened to be the 50th anniversary of declaration of emergency, this was recalled as a reminder, as a day of commitment to democracy and to the Constitution of India. It was also a dig at the Congress, which had been propagating holding of the Constitution of India, as its fundamental concern during the BJP rule. How far was this necessary? How far do such reminders work with more than half the voting public, that was born well after those dark days of the emergency; do people need reminders on what happened 50 years ago?

Does this help towards consensus building? How does the ruling party and the opposition walk the talk? That it is time to move on, be more concerned about what lies ahead, and not dwell on what happened. In one sweep, is it possible for us to stop talking of what Nehru did, the Godhra riots, the Sikh holocaust of 1984, and so much else; that we must find focus on areas that provide inspiration, not make us divided. We need politics that binds our people, narrows down differences and builds a strong sense of pride in being Indians, first and foremost. India does not have the luxury of time on her side; a nation is ready to take off and she must. We have a big catch-up game to play, and win we must!


Navin Berry, Editor, Destination India, over five decades has edited publications like CityScan, India Debates and Travel Trends Today. He is the founder of SATTE, India’s first inbound tourism mart, biggest in Asia.



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