THE picture is getting bleaker day by day. First, the President of
India surprised everyone by asking the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) to take over the reigns of the country at a time when the
party's strategists themselves knew they could not have pulled
off the game. The President had probably been trying to stick
to his statement before the elections, that he was committed to
invite the single largest party. But in this instance, the single
largest party did not the reflect the majority opinion.
That the BIP at all agreed to stage the II -day drama was
even more ludicrous. Way back in 1988-89, the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), fountainhead of the BJP and its
allied formations, had decided that it would assume power in
1995-96. Probably to appease the Rss hawks within the leadership and the rank and file, the Bjp decided to 'fight it out'. But
in retrospect, the party did not even stay back for the voting,
and decided to give the opposition a walkover. The BIP's election plank had been su-raj, that is, good governance. But good
governance is about accountability, among other things. In
this instance, the party had decided to take over power without
the mandate, and left the country in a limbo for II days.
Where was their commitment to accountability?
But all this is less important than the fact that in the furious debate inside and outside Parliament, environment was not the issue. No one challenged
the BJP on the grounds of its developmental
agenda, or on its commitment to environmental issues. The party is in power in three states
and in all three, environmental issues have
assumed critical proportions in the last few
years. Enron is perhaps the most notorious
among them, but there are other issues too.
These were, however, not debated, and neither
was the BJP'S commitment to resolve other
burning issues. The centre of squabbling was
the numbers game.
But that game, too, is over. And today, a loose coalition of
ideologically heterogenous parties is in power. There are two
sides to the picture. On the one hand, this is a situation which
lends itself to a political tug-o'-war, ensuring that the coalition
will be short-lived. No major progress can be foreseen, and the
future cannot be very bright. On the other hand, the fact that
some regional parties are active members of the coalition has
been heralded by some social scientists as the first expression,
notwithstanding all its fragility, of a truly federal government
and a broadened sharing of power at the Centre.
These experts argue that in this situation, the regional parties will push their agenda, and perhaps there will be a better
apportioning of resources. Some of the neglected regional
issues may see solutions, they aver. Such hopes, no doubt, provide the only silver lining in the otherwise clouded scenario.
But first, the parties in the coalition will have to settle down,
resolving their ego hassles and mad scramble for lucrative
ministries. By the time the smoke is cleared, the development
agenda will be relegated to the back-burner.
But whatever hopes one could still retain would seem to
vanish in the face of the fact that the new Prime Minister,
H D Deve Gowda, is himself too firmly hooked to an aggressive liberalisation agenda. In an interview to our research
team, while he was still the chief minister (cm) of Karnataka,
he came out as a person least concerned with environment.
Indeed, he has categorically stated that there is no link between
liberalisation and environment!
Gowda's track record as cm does nothing to assuage our
fears. He has been obsessed with the development of his native
state, and in that drive, he has washed aside all environmental
considerations. Most of the developmental projects in
Karnataka, which include the Cogentrix power plant, the massive aerodrome in Bangalore, the setting up of dye plants near
the Bangalore water tank (Tippangowdanhalli), or the four
super-highways, have all been severely criticised by environmentalists. Besides, despite repeated warnings against aquaculture, Gowda is so keen to ensure investment in this sector
that he has given it a stature equal to agriculture, with the same benefits that the latter is entitled to.
Envi@onmentalists have been beseeching
politicians time again to protect the sensitive,
biodive?sity- rich Western Ghats. But sadly, it
was under Deve Gowda's regime that one rare
bureaucrat, committed to preserving
the Ghats - former special secretary to
the state's department of environment,
A N Yellappa Reddy - was forced to give up
his job. Reddy had told Down To Earth that he
had to resign for warning against the threats to the Western
Ghats from recent developmental projects.
One can only pray and hope that the person from Karnataka
will try and see the world from a better perspective, once
he becomes the fountainhead of power in New Delhi,
although this is a tough proposition. As it is, concepts such
as sustainable development seem to be just mouthfuls to
our politicians. And then, in order to stay even for a while,
Deve Gowda's best bet will be to push for foreign investment,
to give the country a feeling of economic buoyancy. That is
the lurking danger behind the present regime. It is surprising
that a person whose hands still smell of the village soil, has
so little to offer in terms of environmental thinking. But
that being the case, the country might see any prospects of a
balance between development and sustainability headed for a
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