A Surya Prakash on September 17, 2012
In addition to violating basic democratic norms and electoral law, the Congress’s tendency to name everything after the big three of the Nehru-Gandhi family seems to be pushing the limits of basic decency as well. Every major sports tournament has been named after the Nehru-Gandhis, as if nobody else matters, not even the greats in Indian sports. Among tournaments named after Rajiv Gandhi are national and international tournaments in football, basketball, judo, roller skating, beachball, kabaddi, rural cricket, gymnastics, boxing, the Delhi Marathon and the Kerala Boat Race. Anything left has been named after Indira Gandhi and Nehru.
The same pattern is repeated in major national parks, universities, fellowships and scholarships. Such is the obsession of Congress Governments with this family that they name India’s biggest open university after Indira Gandhi and name fellowships granted there after Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly, the centre for advanced scientific research in Bangalore is named after Nehru and the science talent fellowships awarded there are named after Rajiv Gandhi. For long years we have all been familiar with the Fullbright Scholarships. The Manmohan Singh Government has ensured that it is now known as the Fullbright-Jawaharlal Nehru Scholarship! It is unlikely to see anything so gross even in dictatorships like in North Korea.
This blatant attempt to package and market Government programmes run on public money as munificent offerings from a single family to the people has made a mockery of the Model Code of Conduct drawn up by the Election Commission for observance by all political parties.
I therefore petitioned the Chief Election Commissioner on March 13, 2009 and requested him to immediately issue directions to the Union Government and to all the governments in the states and direct them to remove the names of individuals, who are seen by the people as icons of specific political parties, from all Government programmes and schemes funded by the exchequer and to immediately give these programmes politically neutral names. Such a direction from the Election Commission will ensure the enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct in letter and spirit and will also be in consonance with the various directions and instructions issued by the Commission from time to time. The Election Commission rejected my petition and directed me to approach the Government – the very Government controlled by the Nehru-Gandhis! – if I had a grievance.
Where is the Mahatma?
Such is the obsession of the Congress with three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family that even the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi has been virtually forgotten. The Congress’s contempt for Mahatma Gandhi is best explained by the fact that just one central scheme – the Mahatma Gandhi Backward Region Development Fund — had been named after him. Even this tokenism has come as an afterthought only in 2007, almost 60 years after the Mahatma’s assassination. On the other hand, schemes to promote rural electrification, drinking water, crèche for children and micro and small industries in rural areas (each of which was close to the Mahatma’s heart) are all named after Rajiv Gandhi. Again, the scheme to build houses for the rural poor (something that would have made the Mahatma proud) is named after Indira Gandhi, as also the national old age pension scheme.
In my complaint to the Election Commission in March 2009, I had drawn the attention of the Commission to the fact that even the Mahatma had been completely ignored. I said that apart from programmes like drinking water and rural electrification, one programme which ought to have been named after the Mahatma — the greatest Indian of the 20th Century — is the Rozgar Yojana which guarantees 100 days of work for the rural unemployed all over the country. Even this programme was initially named after Jawaharlal Nehru along with the Urban Renewal Mission (annual budgetary allocation of over Rs 10,000 Crores).
Since the omission of the Mahatma was too glaring, the Manmohan Singh Government took some belated remedial action late in 2009 and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act which came into force in February 2006 was renamed as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act on December 31, 2009.
Equally glaring is the omission of many other eminent Indians including Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, India’s first Deputy Prime Minister who undertook the arduous task of integrating 563 princely states into a single nation and B R Ambedkar, who presided over the committee that drafted our Constitution and embedded basic values of democracy and social justice into it. No central programmes have been named after them. Such is the Congress’s determination to name every scheme after the members of the Nehru-Gandhi family that even the National Fellowship Scheme for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students is named after Rajiv Gandhi and not Ambedkar, the man who waged a relentless battle to better the lot of the Dalits in India.
There are hundreds of other leaders belonging to various political shades who have made an invaluable contribution to the building of India, but not a single central Government programme is named after any of them. The list of those ignored is a pretty long one. They include Rabindranath Tagore, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bal Gandadhar Tilak, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu, Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, C Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad and every other stalwart of the freedom movement. Also ignored are great saints like Shri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda, social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Mahatma Phule, great scientists like C V Raman, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and Jayant V Narlikar and great patriots like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad.
While there are many examples of this kind in the states as well, the most glaring example, which raises a question with regard to free and fair elections is the blatant advertisement of the Congress on the ambulances that provide emergency medical help all over Andhra Pradesh. These ambulances, which reach every village in the state quickly, provide efficient integrated emergency services that cover medical emergencies, police and fire. The capital expenditure on each ambulance is Rs 10 lakh to Rs 16 lakhs and the running cost per ambulance is Rs 1.25 lakh per month. All this expenditure is borne out of public funds drawn from the Union and State accounts. Yet, it is made out as if these ambulances are a gift from the Congress to the people of the State because every ambulance carries a portrait of Rajiv Gandhi on both sides of the vehicle with the legend ‘Rajiv Arogyasri’. The Congress is drawing undue electoral advantage out of this programme, which is being made to look like a programme of a political party or a private donor. Gujarat too has ensured full coverage of all its 18,080 villages by these ambulances. But it does not advertise these ambulances as some kind of largesse from the ruling party.
(Next: Public money, public schemes, but benefit accrues to Dynasty.)