Friday, June 08, 2007

Shivraj Patil is the best choice for President

The Race for Rashtrapati Bhavan is nearing finish. We will soon have a winner. And we already have the biggest loser: the selection process. It has nothing to do with the present government; it’s been a gradual decline since Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed left office in 1977.

“May the Best Player Win” is alien to our political system, where caste, creed, region, religion and loyalties count more than how good a player you are.

In spite of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s qualifications, grace and popularity as president, the political class is near-unanimous that he will not get a second term. After Kalam who? A lot of names were given as the possible answer to the question and then suddenly something happened. That something may turn out to be a blessing disguised in a well-tailored bandhgala. Ladies and gentleman, the frontrunner for the president’s post, is Shivraj Patil, the most well-dressed, suave and gentlemanly politician of our times.

And here’s why he is a blessing in disguise. If he becomes India’s President, the Union will finally have a home minister. Patil was never quite at home handling home affairs. His term started with a conflict that engulfed large parts of Manipur. The man sat in North Block for months as Manipur burned. He followed that up with the luckless lifting of the ban on People’s War in Andhra Pradesh. He had no followup strategy. The Maoists rearmed and regrouped as central and state governments waited for peace to drop from the sky. That ceasefire was soon in tatters. We are yet to see the government-Maoist talks. Today, Mao’s ideological progeny run a Red corridor from Nepal to Tamil Nadu.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had begun with two boulders tied to his feet. With Shivraj Patil’s exit, he can think of sprinting. Well, almost. The other, Kunwar Natwar Singh, ejected himself not so long ago. Singh was foreign minister material for the 1960s and even the 70s. But, alas, it was Century No. 21 and he refused to come out of the time warp. So he began with a madcap scheme to revive the Non-Aligned Movement, followed it up with a series of foot-in-mouth mishaps, and ended up as food for the oil-for-food scandal. Last heard, he was unsuccessfully campaigning for Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Mr Patil, however, is free from the diseases afflicting Natwar. He rarely opened his mouth and when he did he made sure the pedicure wasn’t spoilt. He found three starched suits in a day more hospitable than the metaphorical time warp. He understood the virtues of loyalty to the leader. After all, these qualities had won him the home minister’s chair, even after losing his Lok Sabha seat. The same qualities make him the President probable. With the threat of a hung House post-2009 general election, the ruling coalition would need a pliable President.

The only obstacle in Mr Patil’s way to Rashtrapati Bhavan is that he’s not the unanimous choice yet. Pranab Mukherjee is the unanimous choice, but Congress President Sonia Gandhi has rightly told him to withdraw from the race. Both the party and the government could use him and his political and administrative skills. The President’s post is largely ceremonial. There’s no man better suited for ceremonial duties than Mr Shivraj Patil.

North India cut off; Cows threaten to launch their own moovement

Protesters from a bovine group demanding special privileges blocked roads and damaged railway tracks across north India, stranding thousands on the fifth day of protest that has killed 23 cattle.

Violence erupted across the cow belt after buffaloes began demanding they be declared cows, which entitles them to temple jobs, respect in the society and a shield against slaughter. Many states in India have laws against cow-slaughter, while buffaloes are slaughtered for their meat, popularly called buff or bada.

The demand has been opposed by cows, who fear they will lose their own identity and of course the privileges, leading to violent clashes between the two bovine communities. Road traffic on National Highway 2 to Kolkata remained disrupted for the fifth day on Thursday.

On Wednesday, a buffalo mob stood on the railway tracks between Unnao and Kanpur, throwing train services out of gear. “Services of about 25 trains have been affected,” B.P. Pandey, a railway official, said in New Delhi. “Our engineers have reached the spot, but the buffaloes are not allowing them to restore the tracks.”

Foreign tourists, coming to Delhi from Varanasi, are stuck in a village, with little to eat. They fear the big, horned buffaloes but are also amused. “Whenever we read about India or watched a film based on India, we saw cows obstructing traffic on the road. I always wanted to see how you guys manage. But this is more than I ever imagined. Buffaloes on railway track, thousands of them blocking it for three days! This is amazing,” Steve, an American tourist, told our reporter before he asked him to share his (reporter’s) sandwich.

Some people tried to trek to the nearest road, but that too has been jammed for almost a week. The state has come to a standstill.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm in UP and neighbouring Bihar states yesterday, urging all animals to desist from violence. He said the animal parliament would discuss the issue once the state’s animal government sends a proposal to it.

“Just leave us humans out of it. Do not make them suffer,” he appealed.

Earlier in the day, the prime minister met leaders of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, who support cows in this battle against buffaloes. Senior BJP leaders also held a meeting at the residence of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to discuss the crisis in the cow belt. They asked UP Animal Husbandry Minister Murli Manohar Sharma to participate in the talks with the buffaloes.

A senior BJP leader said: “Sharma seems to be caught in a Catch-22 situation as appeasing the buffaloes will upset the cows who are stoutly opposed to their demand to be included in an affirmative action plan which will give them access to the benefits of being a cow.”
Buffalo Bachao Andolan chief B.D. Bhains Lala had earlier rejected any talks with the BJP government saying he did not expect justice from this government. “They made a false promise to us. We voted for them. But now they are showing their true colours. Their leaders are named after cow-supporters. Lal Krishna, Atal Behari, Murli Manohar... even Manmohan, for that matter... All are different names of the same person, the Mathura leader Krishna, who is responsible for giving cows special status.”

Cows have also given an ultimatum to the human government that if the government failed to remove the roadblock and control violence by buffaloes they will hit the street to take on buffaloes. Social and political organisations of the cows have expressed their strong resentment over the buffaloes’ forceful entry into their pens and targeting cows during the ongoing agitation.
Meanwhile, experts said buffaloes must realise that they cannot force their entry into the special status category. “If you are born a buffalo, you are born a buffalo. One cannot change one’s caste. Tomorrow, if a dog demands special status, should the government listen to its barking,” asked Ghoda Lala Rukh, a progressive thinker horse.

“That horse is talking udder nonsense. Dog is canine. Buffaloes and cows are both bovine. Man drinks milk from the udders of both. Buffaloes are just dark in complexion. Should we discriminate on the basis of colour? Are we living in colonised Africa? We have better habits. Cows will eat anything. We are discerning eaters; you will never spot a buffalo scrounging for food in a waste-bin. We bathe almost daily. And our milk is supposed to be better. In spite of all this, cows get all the attention. This will not be tolerated any longer,” B.D. Bhains Lala retorted.