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വായന

17 October, 2011

The cost of procrastination

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Mark Twain once said, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” The Indian administration has elevated the American humorist’s quip to the level of a principle of governance.

From Kashmir to Koodankulam, the administration has routinely pigeonholed several pressing issues. Some of them are coming back to haunt the nation, demanding a high price for procrastination.

The Manmohan Singh government cannot be apportioned much blame for the Kashmir problem, which is as old as the free nations of India and Pakistan. The problem has internal and external dimensions, and these aspects have been complicated by insurgency and cross-border terrorism.

The government cannot, however, escape blame for failing to douse the flames of discontent in Kashmir. A year ago, in a time-buying effort, it appointed a three-member team of interlocutors to talk to all sections of people and make recommendations. Last week the team submitted its report, which calls for “meaningful autonomy”, speedy development and withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which allows the army to act with impunity.

The report has not generated much enthusiasm in government circles. Few expect the central administration to push for autonomy as it is sure to invite strong criticism from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, not to mention Hindu extremists who have assaulted several persons for not toeing their hard line on Kashmir.

Kashmir is the oldest and most intractable of the problems before the administration, and Koodankulam the newest. It is also a simple one inasmuch as a decision can be taken without having to look over one’s shoulders constantly.

The Koodankulam issue relates to the future of a nuclear power station, the first phase of which is ready for commissioning. Worried by the Japanese experience at Fukushima, last month residents of villages near Koodankulam launched a mass movement demanding that the project be scrapped. They suspended the agitation after Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and the Tamil Nadu Assembly endorsed the demand.

Instead of using the time thus gained to remove the people’s apprehensions about their safety, the administration went ahead with preparations to commission the plant. The villagers then returned to the battlefield with renewed determination.

Procrastination on the Telangana issue has created an explosive situation in Andhra Pradesh. In the 2004 election manifesto the Congress party had committed itself to the formation of Telangana state and included it in the common minimum programme of the first United Progressive Alliance government.

An 11-day fast by Telangana leader K Chandrasekhara Reddy forced the second UPA government to announce it would “start the process” of state formation. It then constituted a committee to look into the issue. Early this year the committee submitted its report, which merely listed three possible ways in which Andhra Pradesh can be split.

A mass movement in support of the state demand, which began five weeks ago, has disrupted life in Telangana and hit other areas too. More than 120 passenger trains running through the region are cancelled or diverted each day. Thermal power stations in Telangana on which other states too depend for power are not able to keep up production. Yet there is no sign of a sense of urgency in the way the administration handles the problem.

The northeastern state of Manipur is reeling under the impact of a double blockade of national highways, which began in August. The first blockade was imposed by the Kuki tribe to press the demand for carving out a Sadar Hills district by splitting Senapathi. The Nagas, who oppose the Kuki demand, launched a counter-blockade.

The double blockade has affected flow of essential commodities to the region, leading to steep rise in prices. A cylinder of cooking gas now sells at Rs 2,000, which is five times the normal price. Hospitals in the state are not able to undertake surgeries due to shortage of medical supplies.

Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh met the prime minister in New Delhi on Thursday to apprise him of the situation in Manipur. However, so far there has been no central initiative to resolve the issue, which has the potential to precipitate ethnic strife in the entire northeast. The government’s indifferent approach has led some observers to speculate that it may be cynically looking for some political dividend from the worsening situation. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, Octoner 17, 2011.

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