Missing the target

What is interesting is the state of the government, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but controlled behind the scenes by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Take a close look at the UPA’s Cabinet. One minister in charge of railways is perpetually in Kolkata, battling the Marxists in her state. Another minister whose literacy does not go beyond his native language is perpetually in Chennai or Madurai — his bailiwick —preparing for a succession battle. Shockingly, he chose to miss Question Hour for queries of his own ministry.
Another senior minister in charge of agriculture is running the cricket club yet the Indian Premier League scam was outed by forces other than him. The big brother of the coalition, the Congress Party, has a running score to settle with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo. Agriculture growth may be stagnant at two per cent but it is on other issues that the Congress-NCP tensions fester. In a country that is facing food inflation, that too under a government that aims to ensure food security, we have wheat stock rotting as it is kept in the open while foodgrain godowns are used to store liquor.
And what about the “top priority” — internal security? Forget the Pakistan-based and Pakistan-directed terrorists spreading out across porous barriers. On the other terror threat — that from the Naxals — Union home minister P. Chidambaram has his party critics scorching his skin as the Naxals themselves. Dantewada-1 and Dantewada-2 may impel Mr Chidambaram to garner all resources for seizing four states from the extremist Marxists, but the home minister who denies himself security cover is insecure within his own party.
Here are some recent examples.
Mr Chidambaram on dealing with the Naxals: “We believe that it has to be a two-pronged strategy. One is police action and the other is development”.
What Congress general secretary and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh said about Mr Chidamabaram and his two-pronged strategy is now part of history. But another Congress working committee member, K. Kesava Rao, also sought to demolish Mr Chidambaram’s two-pronged strategy. A news report says: “Congress working committee member K. Kesava Rao sought to de-emphasise the security aspect of the problem and advocated a three-pronged approach to tackle the Maoist issue in the long run. Mr Rao said the three-pronged effort should ‘start with development’. A concomitant step according him was ‘winning over locals’ who were lending support to Maoists. He said the second step involved ‘talks (with locals) to firm up participative development’. He added that ‘in spite of that if there was violence (from Maoists) the government should play its own role’”. This, when Mr Chidambaram is planning an all-out offensive to clean the Naxal affected districts of their influence and is also hoping to use air power.
Mr Singh is back at his game of needling his own party’s home minister. Sample his reaction to possible use of air power and Mr Chidambaram’s declared attempt to convince the Cabinet to sanction him this useful weapon in the battle against the Naxals: “Those who talk about this do not know the terrain”. The Congress general secretary repeats his litany of “winning over the people of the area”, to which the home minister asks how the implementation of development is possible with the Maoists blowing up schools, hospitals and roads.
What is the air support now available to the security forces? Just three helicopters shared between operations in four states. What the home minister, chief ministers of four states and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) want are helicopter gun ships with thermal-imaging equipment to spot the Naxals even during night and through the dense jungles. That would be a force multiplier, says a report quoting CRPF sources. However, top Congressmen question this strategy.
A deeply frustrated Mr Chidambaram, even after quoting support he has received from the Congress president and the Prime Minister, said: “I concede that some discussion in recent weeks may have weakened one of the two prongs”. His is a deliberate understatement. However, we know that people like Mr Singh are gunning for him even after Mrs Sonia Gandhi intervened and told Mr Singh to talk it over with the home minister. The mystery is: Why is Mr Chidambaram feeling the heat from his party leaders when the top two are supporting him? Surely there is more to this than meets the eye.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had the most appropriate comment: “It is intriguing”, he said “that whereas the Opposition is willing to lend full support to the government in its plans to eliminate Maoism, it is the Congress and the UPA that is involved in demoralising the entire security apparatus”.
So who is the enemy within who is more dangerous: the Maoists in the jungles or the self-appointed saints within the ruling party and its coalition government?
Then there is the other “trust deficit” that the Prime Minister is hoping to narrow down to build his vision of the future for the subcontinent. Dr Manmohan Singh spoke of this “trust deficit” with Pakistan during his anniversary press conference and even went to the extent of linking the establishment of normal relations between India and Pakistan to India attaining double-digit growth, that he fondly hopes of achieving. The implication was evident: Dr Singh had pushed the government to overlook the reality in Indo-Pak relations and take a plunge. What is the basis of his hope? A mere handshake by Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani? The constant US pressure for its own purpose of extricating itself from the Afghan quagmire? A gut feeling? The good Samaritan game plan? Dr Manmohan Singh has not clarified.
But for the country’s sake a clarification is needed. From the news reports emanating from the United States, particularly from deep within the Obama administration, there is enough to indicate that America itself is beginning to have serious doubts. After the Times Square bomb’s perpetrator was traced to training camps in Pakistan, and the involvement of important Pakistan military officers, how far can Washington trust Islamabad regime’s repeated promises of good behaviour?
That is the seminal question that haunts the country as the UPA celebrates its crash tinged anniversary — the crash in this case being Trinamul Congress’ weird threat to quit government to pursue her own agenda in West Bengal.

Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at punjbalbir@gmail.com

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