The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Governance lessons for Sonia

Mount Abu, Nov. 10: The real objective of the chief ministers’ conference was not to monitor the functioning of Congress-ruled states, rather it was aimed at familiarising Sonia Gandhi with the finer points of governance to prepare her for more important assignments in the future.

An insight into the two-day deliberations at the Mount Abu conclave showed Sonia donning two caps — one of a teacher and the other of a student. The Congress chief, who lacks experience in public life and high academic qualifications, exhibited keen interest in drafting “people-oriented policies” and repeatedly quoted Amartya Sen.

At the hill resort, away from public glare, Sonia supervised in-depth and thorough discussions on subjects ranging from the state’s role in ensuring clean drinking water, power supply and health services to more complex issues such as the empowerment of Dalits and women and reforms in the Kyoto treaty.

On national security, the former director of the Intelligence Bureau, M.K. Narayanan, pointed out the need to change the “mind-set” over insurgency problems in the Northeast and Kashmir.

Narayanan said there has been no major labour unrest in the country in the last 30 years because of general improvement in economic growth even in rural areas. If such a trend was supplemented in employment opportunities, it would have been a different story in the Northeast and Kashmir.

Narayanan also cautioned against the state’s tendency to label a section of society, be it minorities or linguistic groups, as “miscreants” or “trouble-makers”. He told Sonia that it was the duty of the state to look after the welfare of all sections of the society.

Ravi Parthasathy, an expert on infrastructure, mentioned that the number of children dying due to water-born diseases in India in a year is more than the number of children killed in Iraq over a period of 10 years due to sanctions.

On the issue of water and power supply, Parthasathy said there was an urgent need to change “regressive laws” such as uniform water and power charges from the rich and the poor. Over four lakh villages in India lack clean drinking water more than 50 years after Independence, he said, adding that the quality of water in urban areas is also steadily deteriorating leading to death and water-born diseases.

Parthasathy said it was both naïve and impractical to expect privatisation to do wonders in this area. Village panchayats and nagar palikas should be involved to “communiticise” such services where different tariff charges could be introduced at the local level.

Speaking on gender inequality, educationist A.K. Shiv Kumar said 25 million women in India go “missing” due to poor health services and discrimination.

He accused the political class of “criminal negligence” of the issue. Kumar presented several facts and figures to substantiate his point that political parties were merely “indulging” in tokenism instead of addressing the real issues regarding women. He said the feminist slogan, “all issues are women’s issues”, has an equally important corollary — “women’s issues are everyone’s issues”.

While most Congress leaders and some chief ministers were occasionally caught dozing off, Sonia remained alert and attentive and sat through all the discussions. Sources close to her admitted that it was the best and quickest way of learning all about governance.

Yesterday, when Sonia was asked how close she was to becoming Prime Minister, she had said that there was need to do more. The next meeting of the chief ministers’ council has, therefore, been called after four months instead of mandatory six months.

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