Just when one was considering a few words in rare praise of Mr. Virbhadra Singh, Chief Minister of HP, for his unequivocal statement that the state could not afford to pay unemployment allowance, he has reverted to the gold standard of all politicians – mindless populism – by declaring Dharamshala as the second capital of the state. Its a horrendous prospect for a number of reasons. One, it is profligacy on a stupendous scale for a state that already has a debt burden of more than Rs. 40,000 crore (almost US$ 7 billion, or a thousand dollars for every sorry man, woman and child in the state!). Estimates put the cost of a second capital at Rs. 1000 crore, but that is surely an under-estimation, and it also doesn’t take into account the annual recurring expenditure on moving thousands of officials from Shimla for a few months every year. Secondly, it will mean the permanent despoiling and ruination of Dharamshala if the decayed and rapidly deteriorating condition of Shimla is anything to go by. Thirdly, how will the government manage TWO capitals when it can’t even administer ONE? Jaundice in Shimla has become an annual visitation (32 people died this year), illegal construction and encroachment is rampant (the government of Mr. Singh has just passed a law to regularise 20000 buildings that violate the laws), it takes just one snowfall to cut off all power and water to the residents, hundreds of trees are either axed or fall due to neglect every year, tourists are fleeced more expertly than an Australian sheep, any attempt to regulate traffic (36000 vehicles entered in just 48 hours when it snowed earlier this month) was given up long ago. It is against this backdrop of ‘urban planning’ that the promise of a second capital should be seen. If I was a resident of Dharamshala I would be extremely disturbed at this prospect.
It surely makes more sense to decongest Shimla by moving some offices to Dharamshala, Mandi or Bilaspur – this would also upgrade the status and infrastructure of these towns. The Electricity Board, the Himachal Road Transport Corporation, the Pollution Control Board and a few Corporations can easily be shifted without any loss of administrative efficiency. Such incremental measures would be more sustainable and cost-effective than grandstanding announcements.
Which begs the question: why is the CM doing this ? Surely he is aware that such Tughlakesque ‘firmans’ won’t garner any votes for his party– even oxygen deprived Himachalis won’t fall for this anymore. My own personal view is that this is all part of a scorched earth policy. Mr. Singh knows he’s not coming back next elections and so he wants to make things as difficult for his successor as possible: this also explains the deluge of announcements he is making on a regular basis: hospitals, schools, sub-divisions and tehsils, bridges and roads, etc.etc. He knows that he won’t have to bother about them a year from now but they will give Mr. Dhumal, or Mr. Nadda, or Mr. Bali many sleepless nights later on. Sweet revenge ? I must revisit Chanakya to find out if he had thought of this devilish strategem.
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The current election campaign is throwing up some interesting side-lights.
The coming together of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav and his very presentable wife and Priyanka Gandhi may just be the change we have been waiting for: the replacement of decrepit “ancient regimes” by a younger generation more in tune with people’s aspirations. 65% of UP voters are below the age of 35 years and they surely deserve to be offered a better menu than the traditional concoction of caste, crime and corruption, which is what Mulayam and Mayawati represent. There is a very powerful symbolism in these four faces on one poster and this may just upset the BJP’s applecart in UP. Modi won 73 Parliament seats in this state in 2014 primarily because of the youth voting en bloc for him, but the wind may be veering away from him now. An newly assertive Akhilesh and a resurgent Rahul Gandhi may yet turn out to be a harbinger of the change of generations that we so badly need.
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The comments by Mr. Katiyar (BJP) and Mr. Sharad Yadav (JDU) on women were not unexpected, both have time and again proved that they consider women as chattel and to be tolerated only for their looks. What surprises me, however, is how the TV channels have, as usual, got their knickers into a twist. Primetime outrage has become their stock-in-trade: on the 25th of this month ALL five English channels had prime time panel discussions on the subject! They have provided a few lakh worth of free publicity to these two odious individuals. Lets consider the comments. Mr. Katiyar stated that the BJP has more beautiful campaigners than Priyanka Gandhi. I don’t find this sexist at all. Inappropriate, yes. In bad taste, yes. Irrelevant, yes. But sexist and demeaning of women, no. There is a hypocrisy here, among all the hysterical outrage. Our entire culture is fixated on emphasising female beauty – fashion shows, beauty contests, model selection. films, even selecting receptionists, air-hostesses and secretaries for the CEO. Mr. Katiyar appears to have made a similar value judgement. We may not agree with him but we cannot roast him for saying that his party has more beautiful women than Priyanka. We may not admit it, but all of us are making similar comparisons (most of the time in a hypocritical and guilty silence!) every time we step out of the house and ogle someone else’s wife or daughter.
The comment that should have received more critical attention, but strangely did not, is that of Sharad Yadav – that the honour of a vote is more important than the honour of a woman. Now, THIS is reprehensible, condemnable and absolutely disgusting. It is also extremely revealing of the mind-set of the typical Indian middle-aged politician: it lays bare the priorities of out netas – that a vote is more important than a woman. It also explains why crimes against women are on such an exponential rise in our country: they are expendable commodities just so long as the votes keep pouring in. Mr. Yadav is the one who should have been castigated on prime time for his antediluvian thinking but he seems to have got away lightly, defended by the likes of Pavan Verma (JDU spokesman) an ex-career diplomat: I know Mr. Verma slightly and am disappointed to note that the political coprolite has also rubbed off on him. (Coprolite, by the way, is fossilised shit and represents the values of most of our netas faithfully).
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The latest Santa-Banta joke is contained in the poll manifesto of the SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal) – if returned to power their government will acquire 100,000 acres of land in Canada to settle emigrating (NRI) farmers from Punjab! Now, this would be hilarious if it were not so outrageous and mind blogging. Punjab is reeling under a debt burden of Rs. 1.38 lakh crores, the farm debt is Rs. 90,000 crores, the per capita farmer debt is Rs. 5.70 lakhs, and 7000 farmers have committed suicide since 2011. Surely the SAD should be thinking about doing something to ameliorate the pathetic conditions of its own farmers, rather than making theatrical and preposterous announcements to pander to people who are neither Indian citizens nor tax-payers in this country. The SAD is rattled, it appears, by the hordes of AAP supporting NRIs from Canada who have besieged Punjab in recent days. There is, however, another uncharitable explanation for this absurdity – that the Badals, having captured all other businesses in the state, are now looking to start an air-line and a travel agency to ferry to Canada farmers attracted by this offer! This will also rid the state of its major problem – if there are no farmers left there can be no farm distress, right? Now, I wonder what they’re smoking in Punjab these days ?!