The 2009 General Election campaign is supposed to elect a Parliament and a Head of Government for the Republic of India, not a Head Boy/Head Girl at an urban middle-class high school or the karta of a joint family. Unfortunately, our comprador national-level media seem to be docile and juvenile enough in face of power and privilege to want to ask only touchy-feely koochi-woochi pretty baby questions of the “candidates” for PM (several of whom are not even running as candidates for the Lok Sabha but still seem to want to be PM). Rival candidates themselves seem to want to hurl invective and innuendo at one another, as if all this was merely some public squabble between Delhi middle-class families.
So here are a set of grown-up adult questions instead:
1. Pakistan is politically and strategically our most important neighbour. Can you assure the country that a government headed by you will have a coherent policy on both war and peace with Pakistan? How would you achieve it?
2. Do you agree with the Reagan-Gorbachev opinion that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”? If so, what would your Government do about it?
3. If there are Indian citizens in Jammu & Kashmir presently governed by Article 370 who wish to renounce Indian nationality and remain stateless or become Pakistani/Afghan/Iranian citizens instead, would you consider letting them do so and giving them Indian “green cards” for peaceful permanent residence in J&K and India as a whole?
4. Do you know where Chumbi Valley is? If so, would your Government consider reviving the decades-old idea with China to mutually exchange permanent leases to Aksai Chin and Chumbi Valley respectively?
5. Nuclear power presently accounts as a source of about 4% of total Indian electricity; do you agree that even if nuclear power capacity alone increased by 100% over the next ten years and all other sources of electricity remained constant, nuclear power would still account for less than 8% of the total?
6. The public debt of the country may now amount to something like Rs 30 lakh crore (Rs 30 trillion); do you find that worrisome? If so, why so? If not, why not?
7. The Government of India may be paying something like Rs 3 lakh crore (Rs 3 trillion) annually on interest payments on its debt; do you agree that tends to suck dry every public budget even before it can try to do something worthwhile?
8. If our money supply growth is near 22% per annum, and the rate of growth of real income is near 7% per annum, would you agree the decline in the value of money (i.e., the rate of inflation) could be as high as 15% per annum?
9. Do you agree that giving poor people direct income subsidies is a far better way to help them than by distorting market prices for everybody? If not, why not?
10. How would you seek to improve the working of (and reduce the corruption in) the following public institutions: (1) the Army and paramilitary; (2) the Judiciary and Police; (3) Universities and technical institutes?
11. There has never been a Prime Minister in any parliamentary democracy in the world throughout the 20th Century who was also not an elected member of the Lower House; do you agree BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru intended that for the Republic of India as well and thought it something so obvious as not necessary to specify in the 1950 Constitution? What will your Government do to improve the working of the Presidency, the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and State Assemblies?
12. What, personally, is your vision for India after a five-year period of a Government led by you?
Citizen & Voter
In March 1919, Indian politics were extremely tense over the draconian “anti-terrorist” law known as the Rowlatt Act. On March 23, MK Gandhi called for the general strike or hartal on April 6 that came to be known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha (and was soon to be followed by the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in Amritsar on April 13). On March 28, MA Jinnah resigned his membership of the Viceroy’s Imperial Council in protest that the Rowlatt Act had not been amended as demanded by the Indian members of the Council. In midst of such tumultuous events, my great grandfather Surendranath Roy, on March 27 1919, seems to have quietly managed to get his “Bengal Primary Education Bill” passed in the Bengal Legislative Council.