13th July 1997


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Challenges for a reformer

The second para graph in Reuter’s despatch on Tuesday spoke of Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral’s 13 party coalition” whereas another sentence referred to “the coalition’s 15-parties!” Was the ruling alliance splitting that fast? 50 years old, the world’s largest democracy is in trouble, a desperate search for political stability.

The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already called for the Prime Minister’s resignation. The BJP is usually described as Hindu nationalist or ‘ultras’ and ‘extremists’ but India’s Marxist-Leninists and Leftists, still quite a force, brand the BJP “fascists”. In last week’s controversy however, the BJP made an obvious point. With the split in his own centrist, Janata Dal Mr. Gujral has lost the right to hold office. Mr. Yashwant Sinha, the party spokesman, was brutally blunt. Can a Prime Minister who cannot command over five percent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha, claim any authority, moral or political, to continue in office? Mr A.B. Bardhan, a ranking Communist party spokesman, was more tolerant. “Everybody in the United Front has suffered a loss of image”. In short, Mr. Gujral has the right to hold office but he has to demonstrate that his Janata Dal can command the support of a majority in the Lok Sabha on critical issues..... Well within the rules but caught up in the familiar parliamentary numbers game.

And that game is usually dominated by parties, groups and ‘fronts’ that are advocates of “special interests” or fairly well-defined constituencies.... women, labour, professions, social justice, human rights, etc. What when these “constituencies” are articulate well-knit interest groups?

“No nation can flourish and progress if women are denied an adequate place in society, particularly in decision-making,” pronounced Prime Minister Gujral before he moved an amendment to the Constitution that would reserve thirty-three percent (33%) Lok Sabha seats for women that is in the Lower House, and in all state assemblies.

Hardly had “the gentle Mr. Gujral uttered these words” wrote Lalita Panikkar in the Times of India when his “social-justice friendly colleagues drowned them out in a cacophoney of invective rarely heard in Parliament!” The writer was particularly “shocked by the reaction of Mr. Sharad Yadav, the working President of the Prime Minister’s own party. His eloquent denunciation of the Bill.... sentiments he assures us are shared by the majority of male MP’s who are chary of articulating them... was telling”.

The rhetoric apart, Mr. Yadav’s complaint supported by many male MP’s is that the Bill makes no provision for reservation, and could divide society. Any opening of “the floodgates of minority reservation is fraught with danger” since there are “minorities within minorities”. The Shias, for instance, represent a minority among Muslims. The Gujral government has another exposed flank... corruption. Mr. Gujral, the former foreign minister, was known as “Mr. Clean”. So when he pledged “clean government”, the national media, saluted him.... and gave him time, to honour his pledge. On the way to the top, many an ambitious politician canvasses the support of powerful personalities in this or that party or faction. Thus, the Yadav connection, and its implications today. Prime Minister Gujral’s enemies in the Opposition and some rivals in his own coalition, evidently find what the international press calls India’s collosal “fodder scam”, a convenient stick to beat the Gujral government. He solemnly pledged “clean government”. And he meant it. His record was clean. But now the biggest corruption scandal, a 285 million dollar deal, is presented on the front pages of the mass-circulation papers as “as the Great Fodder Scam”. One reason for the sustained opposition campaign, says John F. Burns, the Delhi-based New York Times correspondent is that “it has occurred in the north east state of Bihar, one of India’s poorest regions. According to the indictments, politicians and senior officials in Bihar “invented” phantom livestock herds, and then made fraudulent payments for fodder and medicine for the animals, as well as for artificial insemination equipment.What’s more the millions stolen over the years, had been given as agricultural aid programs. The accusing finger points to Laloo Prasad Yadav. A self-acclaimed champion of the low-castes and the poorest of the poor, Mr. Yadav made a fortune. Of course, he has brushed aside these charges as vicious propaganda planned by his political opponents. To his credit, it should be said, that Prime Minister Gujral did try to persuade Mr. Yadav to resign as the chief minister of the state, and as President of the Janata Dal. Mr. Gujral’s persuasive powers were evidently less than the task required. Mr. Yadav did whisper in too many ears about his plan to get Bihar legislators to stop supporting the Gujral regime.... whispers duly reported on the front pages of newspapers in Bihar, and more crucially, in Delhi and Bombay. But Mr. Gujral’s next move intrigued many a diplomat in Delhi. He sacked the director of the CBI (CID) Mr. Joginder Singh. The reason? His incompetence, said top officials of the Gujral administration. No details.

Prime Minister Gujral does not seem to have much room for manoeuvre. He knows the risks of ousting the Bihar chief minister. He also knows that Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav’s threat to unleash political violence is serious. But then if he does not punish Mr. Yadav, the communists may keep their word.... withdraw support from the Prime Minister’s shaky coalition. Not surprisingly, Mr. Gujral, the former Indian Foreign Minister, has some achievements in the field of foreign policy.... or personal diplomacy.... which have been appreciated from Islamabad to Colombo and Male. “Mr. Gujral has been trying to give a new look to India’s foreign policy in particular its posture vis-a-vis the neighbours,” says Pakistani scholar Prof. Khalid Mahmud. The real test, he suggests, would be a serious discussion on reduced defence spending. But the real problem is that of leadership, says Nikhil Cha–kravarty, India’s most respected editor. There is very little to show that the best of these leaders could rise above their narrow interests, party, coterie and family.

Caught in the web of failures

World News Analysis

By Jonathan Power

Eight years on from the end of the Cold War we seem to be mired, even en trapped, in a seemless web of failures on the international scene. United Nations peacekeeping, once the flag-ship, has been holed below the waterline and is sinking fast - it doesn’t even try to put in a port call in bloody African conflicts these days. START 2 (the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) meant to cut the over-large US and Russian nuclear arsenals, first held hostage by Senator Jesse Helms is now a prisoner of the equally chauvinist Russian Duma. The Clinton Administration’s energies have been deployed almost excusively on the expansion of NATO - there are not many beads of sweat to be seen in Washington from the pushing for START 2, much less START 3. Elsewhere, Saddam Hussein is still trying to build weapons of mass destruction, the Middle East peace process is dead in the water...

But is this all? It is not, though to find a mention in the press of another side of things is a laborious and unrewarding task. The media appears to revel in its melancholic view of life. Last week the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute held its annual press conference to launch its 830 page yearbook. Admittedly it is a complex read, but is that a good enough reason for ignoring the remarkable revelation made in its first chapter that for every year since 1989, the last year of the Cold War, the number of wars has fallen? In 1989 there were 36 major conflicts. In 1995 it was down to 30 and last year down to 27, of which all but one, between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, were domestic in nature.

Last year there was only one new conflict serious enough (over 1,000 deaths) to be noted - the war in northern Uganda between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army. This was far outweighed by the four wars that were wound up by negotiation, (at least for the time being). Two were in ex-Yugoslavia, in Bosnia and Croatia. In Angola, the UN-brokered peace finally took hold after 22 years of continuous warfare. The fourth was in Liberia where despite new fighting the implementation of the peace agreement remains on track.

There were also two conflicts that were settled by superior force of arms - the Indian government triumphed over the Sikh rebellion in the Punjab and the Myanmar government over the Mong Tai army.

The wars that did continue their course through 1996 experienced no dramatic signs of escalation. In most of the ongoing conflicts the intensity waned even in the most serious - in Afghanistan, Algeria, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Turkey.

The other major conflicts were all of low intensity - Bangladesh, Guatemala, East Timor, Iran, Iraq and the Philippines. In fact there was only one conflict in the world last year that could be realistically described as potentially unsettling to the world at large - that of Israel and the Palestinians. Even here it is difficult to make a case that the conflict is a military threat to any outsiders, much less Russia and the major western powers who nevertheless continue to maintain large and expensive military establishments, left over from another era.

Last year was an historic watershed. It witnessed the end of the post-Cold War period. Those conflicts where Cold War superpower involvement had been greatest - in Southern Africa, Central and South America - were finally wound up. And the conflicts emanating from the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were at last contained. Only the continuing civil war in Afghanistan is a left-over from this period.

The evidence appears conclusive that it was the Cold War that was the greatest single stirrer of conflict. With that out of the way it probably doesn’t much matter so much if the Clinton Administration still spends on defence at Cold War levels or Russian and American missiles stay nuclear armed in their silos. Since America and Russia are no longer engaged in proxy wars it doesn’t any more weigh on the rest of the world, only on the American and Russian taxpayers who should wake up and ask what it’s all for.

We are now living in a very different kind of world than humanity has long been used to and the question is can we keep it that way - can the momentum of declining conflicts be sustained?

Africa and an arc of instability around the Russian periphery remain the most troubled regions. But who can help them? The most single successful arbitrator of disputes, for all its setbacks in Somalia, Rwanda and ex-Yugoslavia, remains the UN.

These days, however, the Security Council remains shy of launching new initiatives. UN peacekeeping continues its dramatic decline and all the remaining large-scale UN operations are set to be terminated this year.

Yet, even though it is a truism to say it, peace must be struggled for continuously. A small band of UN enthusiasts, determined and skilled diplomats and, increasingly, voluntary organisations continue their unremarked upon good works of arbitration and interposition. No other generation in humankind’s history has been so close to a world-wide peace.

Are we going to go for the final push or are we not? Why on earth at just this moment are we losing our nerve?

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