More privileged than others
A Surya Prakash, Tuesday, March 9, 2010 , Pioneer
On March 13, 2009, I had drawn the attention of the Election Commission of India to the unfair advantage accruing to the Congress because of the naming of Central and State Government schemes and programmes after icons of that party. Since a majority of the schemes of the Union Government are named after just three members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, I had said that there could never be a level playing field for all political parties unless this process was reversed. I had urged the commission to issue a direction to the Government to ensure that the nomenclature of public schemes and programmes remained politically neutral.
The main points made in this letter to the Chief Election Commissioner and the legal issues involved were discussed in articles published by this newspaper at that time. On the first anniversary of this complaint, I am constrained to inform readers that I have not received any communication from the commission until now. Although hundreds of crores of rupees are spent to run this key constitutional body, the Election Commission obviously lacks discipline, the democratic temper and basic manners to write back to citizens who raise substantive issues.
The main points made in that letter to the CEC were as follows:
Over the last 18 years there has been a sustained effort by the Congress to name all major Government programmes, projects and institutions in the country after three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family — Jawaharlal Nehru, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Roughly about 450 Central and State Government programmes, projects and national and State-level institutions involving public expenditure of hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees have been named after these three individuals. All the social sector schemes, barring one, are named after these them.
While there are hundreds of Government schemes and programmes, some of the programmes that involve huge outgo of funds are the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, with an allocation of Rs 28,000 crore during the Eleventh Plan period; the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission with a budgetary allocation of Rs 21,000 crore over three years; the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission with Rs 50,000 crore over seven years; the Indira Awas Yojana with an annual allocation of approximately Rs 8,000 crore; and, the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme with an annual budgetary provision of over Rs 3,400 crore.
However, the greed of the Congress, when it comes to appropriating public schemes for party advantage, knows no bounds. The allocation for the national crèche scheme is just Rs 90 crore a year whereas that for the Udyami Mitra Yojana, a programme to help promote micro and small entrepreneurship is a meagre Rs 1 crore to Rs 2 crore a year. Yet, even these programmes are named after Rajiv Gandhi.
State Governments too have been vying with each other to name programmes after these three members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. For example, children in Pondicherry are expected to remember Rajiv Gandhi whenever they have breakfast, the poor in Andhra Pradesh must remember him whenever they use their health insurance card and farmers in that State who are into calf-rearing must remember his mother. In Haryana, poor women must remember Mrs Indira Gandhi at the time of marriage because the shagun paid out of the public exchequer to them comes in her name.
There are hundreds of such schemes and simply no space to list them all. The entire list of 450 schemes, programmes, scholarships, institutions and sports trophies named after these three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family is on my website http://www.asuryaprakash.com.
I requested the Election Commission to issue directions to the Union Government and to all the Governments in the States to remove the names of individuals, who are seen by the people as icons of specific political parties, from all programmes and schemes funded by the public exchequer.
I said such a direction would also ensure enforcement of the model code of conduct in letter and spirit. The code prohibits even minor misdemeanours like misuse of Government vehicles and personnel by the ruling party during an election, yet it allows the Congress to hijack almost every Government scheme and name schemes worth over Rs 1 lakh crore after just three members of a single family who are icons of the party!
I also drew the attention of the commission to many of its own orders, in which it seemed to be keen to ensure fair play in the electoral arena. In one such direction issued in 2006 it restrained Central and State Ministers from making statements which could affect the conduct of free and fair elections and disturb “the level playing field among political parties in the election arena”. If mere statements of Ministers can disturb the “level playing field”, how is it that the commission allows a single political party to go on a naming spree and derive electoral advantage for perpetuity over all other political parties?
Though the commission has been silent on my complaint, there have been some developments over the past year. I had said a year ago that while Union Government programmes involving annual expenditure of lakhs of crores of rupees were named after members of the Nehru-Gandhi family, no major Government programme was named after Mahatma Gandhi. Anxious to hide its bias, the Union Government has now named the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme after Mahatma Gandhi!
However, after this show of tokenism, it has once again lapsed into its old ways and named the Worli-Bandra sea link after Rajiv Gandhi. Since this bridge is an engineering marvel, it ought to have been named after one of India’s greatest engineers — someone like the engineer-statesman Sir M Visveswaraya — but it seems we are asking for too much when we insist that the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhis honour the true builders of modern India.
What do you make of the Election Commission’s silence on the issues raised a year ago? Is this indeed a public institution that is still competent to fulfill its constitutional mandate and is it capable of taking independent decisions? I would leave it to the readers to determine what implication the commission’s silence has in regard to its impartiality and commitment to the conduct of free and fair elections in the country.