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Act of God?

Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 12, No. 25 (Jun. 18, 1977), pp. 967-968
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
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ECONO-MIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY June 18, 1977

perhaps, on the question of Nagaland, in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu in the learnt this lesson which the Congress
the prime minister was only presenting undoing all the anti-people measures inever learnt, if one were to go by what
a 'hard' line, for, in any negotiations of the previous regime - specifically the Congress government did when a
that might take place to arrive at a the repeal of the 42nd amendment to wholly new kind of governance was;
settlement, the prime minister will the Constitution - the Janata govern- tried in various parts of the country
have to reckon with many hardliners nent can no more have any excuses in in 1957, and in 1967 and 1969; but
within his own party. procrastinating over the fulfilment of the new governments that are currently
The most surprising, and uncalled for, its election pledges. It has already gone being formed, especially the one in
have been the prime minister's remarks back on some of these pledges, especi- West Bengal, cannot plead lack of ex-
on India's relations with China. It is ally those relating to the release of all )erience in this regard.
one thing to argue that China should political prisoners and the scrapping
IJow take the next step in the process of MISA, DIR and other repressive Railways
of improvement of relations; but it is laws; and with the massive victories
quite another thing to say that "unless it has won, it might be tempted to Act of God?
[the border dispute] is settled properly renege further; hence, it is necessary
to our satisfaction, there cannot be that every kind of pressure should IT is astonishing that the Railway
complete restoration of normalcy". In continue to be put on the government minister should have tried to dismiss
the past 15 years, much that was con- to fulfil its election pledges. the most serious accident ever to have

cealed from the Indian people about With these victories, the Janata party occurred in the Northeast Frontier Rail-
the real facts of the Sino-Indian border will also be able to have its nominee way as 'an act of god'; and his subse-
dispute has become public knowledge; elected to the office of the President, quent explanation that this characterisa-
and it is certainly imipudent for an thiough the government's desire to have tion was based on the interim findings
Indian leader to demand that any Janata governments in as many states of the commissioner for railway safety
settlement with China has to be to "our as possible surely had for its aim some- is even more curious, for such a
satisfaction". Such self-righteous pos- thiing more than merely securing for disaster, in which possibly hundreds of
turings suggest a throw-back to the lives have been lost, cannot be ex-
the party the largely ornamental office
times when the country allowed itself, of the President of the Republic. What plained away merely on the basis of an
under the assured protection of the big the Janata party sought to achieve was interim report, atid that too by an
powers, to be manoeuvred into a con- the near-total destruction of the Cong- official of the department concerned.
frontationist position with China, ress as a political party; and when Moreover, even such alleged 'acts of
basing itself on dubious grounds of the that process was accomplished, the god' like typhoons, cyclones, floods and
'inviolability' of borders inherited from tattered remains of the Congress could earthquakes have, on closer examination,
imperial powers, though in the mean- either sue for peace and seek accom- been known to have had in the back-
w-hile the imperial power in question modation with the Janata party on the ground the all-too-discernible hand of
had itself clearlv acknowledged that the latter's terms, thus marking the begin- rnan; the recent floods, from the first
borders were undefined. waves of which Assam and other areas
ning of a new era of one-party rule,
The unresolved problems in relation of the northeast are just recovering, is a
or remain in the wings ready to take
prime example of such 'acts of god' be-
to neighbouring countries and ethnic over when, as was inevitable, 'distor-
ilig compounded and made more agonis-
minorities like the Nagas and Mizos is tions' would occur in the Janata party
iri, by the deliberate acts of omission
part of the unpleasant legacy of the also. Either way, it would make for
an(I commission by man.
Congress party; and the Janata party an orderly continuity of the Indian po-
can haidly hope to achieve any success litical system. There are many unexplained features
in the resolution of these problems if The victories of the AIADMK in in the Tezpur Express disaster. More
the prime minister goes on speaking Tarnil Nadu and the CPI(M)-led than two weeks after the accident, it is
as if nothing has happened in the last Left front in WVest Bengal however still not clear how many people lost
15 years. show that the path to one-party domi- their lives, and the exact number of
nance or a two-party 'accommodation' the dead might never be known. There
Elections is not all that smooth. But this does is now doubt whether the first reports
not mean that the Janata party, in its that the collapse of the bridge was due
A Little Disorder defeat, has learnt a basic lesson of In- to a so-called 'flash flood' were after all
dian politics - that a multiplicity of correct. It is also not clear whether
THE results of the elections in the 10 parties is inevitable in a country like the railway track over the bridge had
states and three union territories should India at present, not so much because already been washed away, or whether
be highly gratifying to the Janata party. of the country's suipposed size and only the approach had been eroded and
The party's convincing victories in diversity, but because the class com- the track collapsed only as the train
eight states and the union territory of position of most of the parties and the irioved on to it. Questions have been
Delhi - and even its miserable show- forces backing them is fluid and is still raised about whether or not a sluice
ing in Tarmil Nadu and West Bengal in the process of being clarified. There gate on the embankment of Golandi
- fully vindicate the home minister's is even nlothing unique about this, forhad been blocked, and whether the
stand that the Congress had totally such a situation is common to all permanent way inspector - who is
lost the confidence of the people and countries where the most sophisticat- reported to have trolleyed across the
hadl no right to continue in office in ed assembly line production methods bridge barely hours before the accident
these states. With these victo- co-exist with the most primitive types - noticed the blockade of the sluice
ries, and with the assured co-operation of surplus accumulation. It is too early gate and the consequent overflowing of
of the forces that have come to power to say whether the Janata party has the banks and the erosion of the

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June 18, 1977 ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY

approach to the bridge. committee should have rushed in to ex- tient with their lot and resistant to
These and many other details are yet plain away the whole accident as 'an the usual 'persuations' of the politicians
to be properly investigated, arnd the act of god'; but for the railway minister - verbal or otherwise. This mood can
task should not be left merely to the to endorse this comfortable finding, only sharpen if the politicians continue
mandatory inquiry by the commissioner especiallv when the government itself to tinker with problems.
for railway safety. It is hardly surpris- has ordered a judicial enquiry into the
RE-EDUCATING THE BUREAUCRACY
ing thai this departmental enquiry accident, is, to say the least, premature.
One of the major lessons for those
who want to learn is that it is not
enough for the Janata party to talk of
CAPITAL VIEW
freedom and democracy; it must follow
through, and transform, the omnipre-

Moving to the Next Contest sent state apparatus into an instrument


that serves the people, doesn't push
them around. The bureaucracy has
Romesh Thapar lived too long in the belief that its job
WITH the assembly elections behind Vijayalakshmi Pandit and Ashoka is merely to command. It will have to
Mehta. Some are busy, for their own be re-educated, brainwashed, and dis-
us (the result will appear after this
reasons, reviving Jagjivan Ram as a ciplined, to serve. The people must
column is written!), we will move to
candidate. Those who claim to be more lose their fear of the sarkar, or else
the next contest - the presidential.
serious argue that a South Indian will violence becomes a scenario for the
Indeed, vote calculations and specula-
have to be chosen for 'political balance'. impatient. How many in the Janata par-
tions about possible candidates are
And among them are the neat minds ty are prepared to act on this central
already being published. If the Janata
who push the name of Sanjiva Reddy issue of a creative and healthy society.
party cleans up more than 65 per cent
-to achieve a full circle, so to speak! These matters are however, beginn-
of the seats in the elections just con-
ing to be discussed with a certain pas-
cluded, it will pick the President. In
STUPOR ABOUT FUTURE sion because reports circulate about
any other eventuality, there will be a
faction fights between policemen and
question-mark over Rashtrapathi Bhavan. How casually we tend to take these administrators over guilty involvements
The Janata party really hasn't made matters. We are obsessed with the during the Emergency, and of parallel
up its mind about the role the Presi- past, and demand more and more mate- efforts to keep 'outsiders' from entering
dent is expected to play in our federal rial about what took place during the key areas of decision-making and im-
polity. So much of its thinking is, in traumatic days of the Emergency, but plementation, despite the general ad-
fact, similar to that of the Congress. we don't seem to draw any appropriate mission that 'government service' is no
The President is seen as a necessary lessons. At times, it appears that we longer attracting the most talented.
figurehead, but disciplined entirely by have reduced politics to a kind of silly And anger is again rising among the
the decisions of Parliament. The public, titillation. For 30 years, we've been technocrats who have had their fill of
lacking this kind of confidence in an playing this game. It would be sen- IAS guidance!
all-knowing Parliament, and aware of sible to pause and see whether we can Well, at least there is time now for
-the antics of ruling politicians during
carry on like this for long./The news- the Janata party to think over these
paper editors really need to shake matters. There is a good mix of young
the Emergency, would like to be en-
themselves out of their stupor. and old in the hierarchy, and a tre-
lightened. No such move is in the
However, the pressure of events is mendous desire to perform differently
offing.
lessening. Parliament has convened and. from the Congress party. If attention
W'ould it not be better to select a
for the first time, the new government can be diverted from the continuing
distinguished non-party citizen rather
- probably to be properly expanded manipulations of the leaders of the
than an aged politician, usually with a
soon - will be able to project some political formations which federated
reputation ruined by a life built on
idea of its thinking on problems and and merged into the Janata party, and
perks and privileges? Could such a
solutions. Appropriately, a week of turned to the tough economic problems
person in moments of grave federal budgeting sets the tone. We will be upon whose solution future relevance
crisis enjoy the right to compel Parlia- given a great demonstration of politi- is dependent, it may assist the com-
ment to subject a dangerously contro- cal polemics with words like 'progres- plex process of creating a new ethos
versial enactment to a referendum of sive' and 'reactionary', 'fascist' and and building real unity among its
the people? Is a presi-dential refusal to 'kulak', 'radical' and 'conservative', constituents. Let's hope the results of
sign on the dotted line, followed by 'secular' and 'communal', and much the elections just concluded assist this
immediate resignation, a corrective to more being thrown around. We will process, cutting the over-size politician
irresponsible parliamentary action? We have to move through this politicians' down to size, getting the focus back
must ask ourselves these and other ques- maze to discover where the Janata on issues of more permanent import,
tiQns in the coming weeks if we value party policy is negative and where it and building the Council of Ministers
federal democracy. is positive. Difficult, if the Railway to the size intended.
Actually, the Janata party's candidate budget is a sample. It is so pedestrian. It's good to feel that after exactly
for President should be selected after In this context, we should remember two years, starting with the Allahabad
arriving at certain conclusions about that a great change has come over the judgment, we are getting into position
perspectives concerning the future role thinking of the Indian people. We are for another assault on the challenges
of the President. This, of course, is unable, for the moment, to comprehend which face us, and with our free will
not happening. All manner of names this change. But the report from the restored.
are being bandied around, including constituencies speaks of people impa- June 13

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