Only a handful of old fogeys still believe in quoting Oliver Goldsmith: 'Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey,/ Where wealth accumulates and men decay.' This country's finance minister knows better; he has, in a recent speech, enunciated what is now the overwhelmingly acceptable mantram: the creation of wealth is the noblest of human goals. Making money, whether by hook or by crook, matters, nothing else really does, all scruples deserve to be discarded where the issue is to be or not to be rich and wealthy. Since mafia dons are helpful in winning elections, and winning elections is crucial for the capture of power and therefore of pelf, politicians have begun to cultivate the company of mafia dons. The dons in their turn have argued similarly: politicians preside over administration and the enforcement of law and order, it would hence be folly to keep them at arm's length. There is accordingly a trend towards an intermeshing of roles; it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between a politician and a mafia don: is the politician a mafia don or is the mafia don a politician too' Call it an issue of identity crisis or whatever, it is the contemporary reality.
No surprise therefore inheres in coming across the datum that one in four of the members elected to the Lok Sabha last May has either a criminal record or is alleged to have a criminal record; wealth and power on the one hand and criminality on the other go together. The only exclusion from this list of distinguished tainted parliamentarians are the left MPs; they are as clean as Caesar's wife. The media keep making snide comments on the role of the left; it is as if, if only the left were not around, life and living would be so smooth and uncomplicated. Such an attitude is easy to explain, for the media too by and large belong to the category of the tainted. They feel uncomfortable at the sight of a group of individuals, who, because of their commitment to ideology and principles, are able to stay away from the venality route. The left are incorruptible in money matters and are likely to remain so. They are impervious to temptation because they are steeled in the principle of the policy of the principle, whose majesty supersedes all mundane considerations.
That dictum Lenin exerted upon his comrades in the Bolshevik party was however intended to have an all-comprehensive reach. It is absurd to pick and choose areas where the principle of the policy of the principle is to be applied; it must apply in all spheres and under all circumstances. This admonition is called for because of an incident that has lately taken place. In the recent flurry of shuffling state governors, the United Progressive Alliance government has committed a gross breach of norm which the left have not cared to question.
Madam Jayalalithaa is not everybody's cup of tea. Not many susceptibilities will be hurt if her chief ministerial tenure in Tamil Nadu is described as a disgrace. Her authoritarian manners certainly go ill with a democratic ambience. The outrage she perpetrated last year by dismissing close to half-a-million teachers and government employees through the modality of a single circular, was, it will be said, beneath contempt. And yet, she is Tamil Nadu's democratically elected chief minister whose term has not run out. The left have been, over the decades, at the forefront of the campaign to introduce a degree of democracy and decorum in the appointment of state governors. Pursuant to pressure mounted by the left and other like-minded political groups, the Sarkaria commission had made a categorical recommendation: consultation with the state government concerned should be obligatory before a governor is formally named by New Delhi; the final prerogative for the appointment may continue to be with the Union government but the state chief minister must at least be shown the courtesy of being consulted prior to the reaching of the formal decision.
Madam Jayalalithaa may be the b'te noire of everybody in the neighbourhood. But she is still the state's chief minister. No question the Union government has perpetrated a major impropriety by ignoring the norm suggested by Justice Sarkaria and his commission. Perhaps Madam Jayalalithaa herself did not adhere strictly to grammar by releasing the transcript of her telephone conversation with the Union home minister concerning the matter. Her point nonetheless is well taken: that was the only way she could prove that the Union government had merely informed her about the change of governor and had not bothered to have prior consultations with her.
To those who swear by it, the policy of the principle should prevail in all situations and in all cases. Madam Jayalalithaa is not everybody's cup of tea, but neither her persona nor her record should have clouded judgment since an issue of principle was involved. The left should have protested, they should have gone on record condemning the breach of norm the UPA government has been guilty of. Instead, the left kept mum. Thereby they not only diminished their credibility as defenders of the policy of the principle; they actually helped to set up a precedent by which they themselves could be inconvenienced on a future date.
The policy of the principle should equally prevail with respect to the discussions currently on regarding the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Disturbed Areas Act. The left were victims of the provisions of these acts in the past; they were victimized by the government in New Delhi presided over by the Congress. The same Congress is back in power at the Centre, though this time as allies of the left. That should not induce the left to join the status quo-ists in the debate over the continuation or abrogation of these two dubious statutes. Going by the manner the provisions of the two acts have been misused in the different parts of the country, they are an affront to human rights. True, the two states where the left control the administration have common borders with foreign countries from where hostile infiltration takes place every now and then, and the state governments find it difficult to tackle the problem on their own. Even so, where issues of principle are involved, snap decisions deserve to be avoided. The left had in the past opposed, as a matter of principle, the marauding of army and Central police personnel in jurisdictions which belong to the states. It would be a blunder if there is any wavering from that stand. In any case, the left should remember what happened in Tripura in 1988: the arrival of Central forces on the eve of state assembly elections, on the plea of terrorist infiltration in the state, saw to it that the left were prevented from winning the elections; terrorist incursions mysteriously stopped as soon as the elections were over. It would be equally inadvisable to blot out from memory the rampage Central police personnel indulged in in West Bengal in the late Sixties and the early Seventies.
If surveillance is to be strengthened, alternatives to the Disturbed Areas Act and the AFSPA deserve to be explored first. And if deployment of army personnel is considered as absolutely necessary, arrangements must ensure that they operate under the total control and command of the state governments. The guiding principle should continue to be that law and order is a state subject and no part of it should be handed over to agents of the Union government.
There can be no segmented application of the principle of the principle of the policy being the best policy.