West looks inwards

Assembly elections in Bihar are fast approaching but before we get into election mode let us spend some time looking at global trends. After the general election in the UK, which produced a coalition government, we had elections in Australia where the Labour Party lost ground and it took time for a coalition to surface. In the US, too, we

have crucial elections where the Democratic majority could be reduced as President Barack Obama suffers on account of the poor performance of the economy. The impact of all these developments will be that each country will look more “inward” than “outward” and we can expect a great deal of noise on issues related to immigration. As I have written earlier, while the developing economies are looking to reform open trade, the developed economies are resorting to measures to protect their economies with restrictive measures.
The US visa fee hike issue was most unfortunate and backroom efforts continue to resolve this crisis. While electoral rhetoric is understandable, it is a bad omen for the future. The US has suffered long-term damage by the financial mess on derivatives and despite a massive trillion-dollar hole in its economy on account of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, there are few efforts to curb expenditure both from the government and the general public. This attitude will eventually hurt the efforts to revive the economy. Early signs of this are already visible.
We wish the global community well but we have to protect our interests. Fortunately, we have several options at our disposal. Nine per cent growth for us is crucial to finance and to bridge the poverty levels, which cover nearly 400 million Indians. Despite all our positives in several fields we have to do a great deal of work in the next two decades. We must always keep this in mind as we negotiate the future.
We think of the monsoons for half-a-year and now, when the rain gods have been kind, we suffer floods in several states. The position in Delhi is far from happy as flood water is on the rise and work on the Commonwealth Games is suffering. We have chaos in Delhi as power breakdowns occur almost 10 times a day and roads have simply disappeared in many parts of Mehrauli, where I stay. Though we are quite good at crisis management, the media continues to reveal scam after scam as the issue spreads to officials in the UK and Australia.
The first step, of course, is to conduct the Games successfully. Once they are over then will come the issue of fraud and corruption and in this process we may well succeed to reform the entire system of sports in the country. Many will question the very existence of the Commonwealth forum and its relevance today. We have shown our ability and competence in the Metro and the new international terminal, and considering that the government did little from 2004 till 2008, the very people we criticise today for the delay in the CWG may be the ones who actually deserve a medal for completing the work in two years.

The situation in Kashmir is a concern for every citizen of India and those in governance will be surprised to know the level of awareness about the situation in the Valley. Chief minister Omar Abdullah will no doubt take the immediate pressure and everything negative on earth will be attributed to him for what is the collective failure of the system. The pattern of violence, curfew and security intervention indicates that political authority, be it the Congress, the National Conference (NC) or the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), is becoming irrelevant. Considering that we had a record voter turnout just last year and a close, hotly-conducted election where the results were evenly divided between the PDP and the NC, it is difficult to believe that the people in the Valley are becoming victims of fundamentalist violence. We hear the names of Asiya Andrabi and Masarat Alam and I think it is time for the media to make their thinking public and expose their designs.
We pride ourselves on secular values and fight political battles, sometimes at absurd levels, on secular and non-secular lines. So it would be a mistake to allow things to deteriorate in the Valley. The security forces have done commendable work at the borders, the political parties will continue to fight for space, but we have an army of intellectuals and secular thinkers and it is time for the government to activate these lobbies to instil confidence in the Valley. We have had over 60 casualties in the Valley and this is tragic. It is time for senior leaders, cutting across party lines, to visit Kashmir and show our solidarity with those who have lost their dear ones and assure them of all assistance.
We had a terrible tragedy in Leh and a spate of VVIP visits. Should we treat things differently in the Valley? Mr Abdullah, the NC and the Congress cannot deliver political miracles in this situation and the Centre cannot be a silent spectator to these developments.

The MPs’ salary hike of 300 per cent invites adverse criticism. Even if the government had done this gradually every year, it would have still attracted the same anger. Sadly, everyone takes out their anger on the elected representatives and this is rather unfair as the vast majority do a great deal of work as handling a constituency with a million voters is not easy by any standards. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav were expressing the sentiments of the vast majority of MPs when they demanded that they be given the five-fold salary hike suggested by a parliamentary committee. I sometimes wonder what would happen if the discussion panels on all our TV networks displayed the monthly salary drawn by the person debating the issue, and if you take the salary levels of the TV anchors none of us will have any hesitation in giving the MPs another hike of 300 per cent!

Arun Nehru is a former Union Minister

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