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Biting the ballot

A parliamentary democracy needs a healthy opposition that keeps the ruling party on its toes. But it must rise above the negatives, nit-picking and focus on the real shortcomings of the government, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Dec 20, 2008 00:36 IST
Khushwant Singh

There are a few lessons to be learnt from the recent state elections. First, calls for boycott were ignored. The turnout was healthy, between 50-70 per cent in all six states including Kashmir. Two, elections were free and fair. There were no cases of booth-capturing, intimidation or bribing voters — a little free booze didn’t hurt anyone. It was as clear an example of people’s voice as we have ever had.

You may well ask, so what had the people to say? It would be wrong to assume that what mattered to them were how their state governments tackled regional problems, and issues of national importance were not on their minds. Or, that they were not influenced by what national leaders of political parties had to say. It was a mixture of both regional and national issues and leaders of parties were listened to before people made up their minds which side they would vote for.

They were less swayed by class, caste or religious affiliations than ever before and more by achievements like the nuclear deal with the US, planting the tricolour on the moon, increasing number of cars on roads and visible signs of prosperity. Consequently, what Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi said made more sense to them than what LK Advani, Rajnath Singh or Arun Jaitley repeated.

All this, clearly, came out with the spectacular victory of the Congress in Delhi. Sheila Dikshit had much to display in the way of positive achievements — she proved herself as the best Chief Minister Delhi has ever had. Vijay Kumar Malhotra’s image suffered from his performance in Parliament. He reduced himself to being the cheerleader of the braying brigade that has almost ruined our parliamentary system of democracy. Millions of voters watched this on their TV sets and were appalled, especially the young voting for the first time. They voted en masse against the BJP.

A parliamentary democracy needs a healthy opposition that keeps the ruling party on its toes. But it must rise above the negatives, nit-picking and focus on the real shortcomings of the government — the slow pace of development, failure to clean up the environment, little use of solar and wind energy, ever-mounting logjam of cases pending in the courts. And, much more.

The BJP needs to be reminded that we are now about to enter 2009 and do not live in the middle ages. It must rise above the mandir-masjid disputes, stop carping about minority appeasement, lack of proper facilities for pilgrims etc. They are of secondary importance. Take the government head on over things that matter. What you need are younger leaders with a modern outlook.

Or, you are doomed forever.

Goodbye to all that

The world media have been unfair to the outgoing US President. It has portrayed him as a brash, boorish, brainless buffoon who wrecked the prospects of peace in many parts of the globe.

India has been no exception to the general trend of Bush-bashing. Now that he is retiring, I feel we should take another look at his tenure in office. Those who had pinned their hopes on the United Nations to maintain peace have been badly disillusioned. The UN is a divided house in which the smallest and the poorest of countries count as much as the big and the powerful. Moreover, UN members are known to gang up on ethnic, religious and political affinities at the cost of equity and justice.

Bush has been accused of waging a war against Iraq because America needed its oil. This is far from the truth. There were — and are — other oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia willing to sell all it needs. Bush went to war not against Iraq but against its dictator, Saddam Hussein, who had waged an undeclared war against Iran for many years, annexed Kuwait and persecuted Iraqi Shias. Bush had 35 other nations, including Britain, to support the US intervention. When Saddam was executed, not many tears were shed over him.

America is at the frontline fighting al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant Islamic groups operating from the no-man’s land on the Pakistan-Afghan border. In both these countries, the governments are heavily reliant on America for financial and military aid to combat terrorism. The fact that Osama bin Laden and his mullah-minded supporters have failed to destroy Afghanistan and Pakistan is largely due to the presence of US troops and armour.

India’s relations with America have never been as friendly as they were during Bush’s regime as president of this country. He spearheaded the nuclear deal from the American side and Manmohan Singh did it from the Indian end. We hope to meet our energy requirements during Barack Obama’s tenure as president. We have much to be grateful for to George Dubya Bush.

No business like bad business

Four friends decided to start a motor garage business. A month passed without a single client because the garage was on the third floor. So the three converted the garage into rooms to be let out. A month passed without any takers because they had forgotten to change the signboard: ‘Garage tolet’. They did not give up hope and decided to ply a three-wheeler. They got no passenger. Reason? Three of them occupied the seats and one drove vehicle.