The lotus shall bloom

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– Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Influence of Money Power must be contained

The growing influence of money power in elections has always been a matter of concern, but lately this problem has acquired dangerous dimensions. Money not only from indigenous sources but from foreign sources as well is reported to be playing havoc with our elections. In order to contain the corroding influence of money power at the polls the following measures should be

Seriously considered :

1. Election expenses should be regarded as a legitimate charge on the public exchequer. Political parties should be given grants on the basis of votes secured by them in the preceding elections. Candidates who are able to save their security deposit should be entitled to reimbursement by the State up to the maximum limit of expenditure permitted.
2. The expenditure incurred by a party on any candidate’s election should be added to the candidate’s own expenses.
3. There should be a ceiling on the exenditure which political parties can legitimately incur.
4. There should be a limit also to the external props of publicity used by a party such as newspaper advertisements, posters, leaflets, etc.
5. The accounts of political parties should be subject to statutory audit.
6. As recomended by the Tarkunde Committee, the Election Commission should be a multi-member body, and voting age must be reduced from 21 to 18 years.

The Janata Government had taken the historic step of allowing all recognised political parties the use of radio and television during the elections. There is need of further extension of the facility given. A scheme of political broadcasts also, apart from election broadcasts, should be drawn up.

Compulsory Voting

I feel that there is a case for compulsory voting in India. We have had seven General Elections till now, but the number of such electors who have never voted or who have been generally indifferent to elections is still legions. The 1980 Lok Sabha elections, like the 1977 elections, were contested on some very crucial issues. But out of 35.40 crore voters only 20.13 crore exercised their right of franchise. This means that more than 15 crore voters did not go to the polling booth. In several democracies voting is compulsory.

Foreign Policy

By making foreign policy a plaything in the game of politics, the present government has seriously undermined the national consensus that had developed on foreign policy during the last three decades.

In 1977, the Janata Party had fought the Lok Sabha elections almost entirely on domestic issues, and so, after winning the elections, emphasised the need for continuity in foreign policy. In 1980, however, the Congress (I) dragged foreign policy into the election arena and made it a major plank in these elections.

If India’s relations with its immediate neighbours have suddenly turned sour, the roots of this development have to be traced to speeches delivered during the election campaign in which it was said, ‘Even small neighbours of ours are behaving arrogantly with us.”

Big Brother Attitude would not serve our Interests

By pursuing a policy of good neighbourliness and mutually beneficial bilateralism, the Janata Government had for the first time in 30 years succeeded in creating a climate of trust and confidence in this region.

But now by reverting to the earlier Big Brother attitude towards these neighbouring countries, the new government has in twelve months wiped off all the gains of the earlier period. The charge is baseless, even malicious, that the Janata Government, in order to win the goodwill of neighbouring countries, has sacrificed vital national interests. The Salal Agreement with Pakistan was entered into on exactly the same terms as our predecessor government wanted to secure, but could not. On the question of the division of Ganga waters, while in 1975 our treaty with Bangladesh gave India only 11000 to 16000 cusecs of water, the treaty finalised by the Janata Government ensured augmentation of water supply to 20500 cusecs.

Failure to stand up to Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan

By acquiescing in USSR’s military intervention in Afghanistan, which now has become virtual occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet Russia, the Government of India has tarnished the country’s image the world over, and has isolated India completely from the neighbouring countries, the non-aligned nations and the Islamic world.
Freedom-loving Afghans, who have always been our friends, are never going to forgive us for our failure to stand up unequivocally against the Soviet intervention.
The joint statement issued at the end of Soviet President Mr. Brezhnev’s recent visit to India says not a word about Afghanistan. India’s silence in this regard is even more eloquent than its earlier equivocation.

No Justification for our Kampuchea Policy

Government’s decision to recognise the Kampuchean regime propped up by the Vietnamese army is without any principled justification. This decision also has created serious misgivings about the independence of India’s foreign policy, particularly in the eyes of the South-East Asian countries.

It would not be out of place to mention here that even while continuing efforts to normalise relations with China, the Janata Government never hestitated to condemn Chinese aggression on Vietnam. Aggression is aggression, irrespective of whether the victm is Kampuchea or Vietnam. India cannot afford to have double standards in such matters.

No Indo-Soviet Alignment

Independent observers cannot be blamed if they infer that Indo-Soviet friendship is getting transformed into Indo-Soviet alignment. The entire Indian people, all political parties in the country, appreciate the value of Moscow’s friendship and would like to see it strengthened. During the Janata regime, despite misgivings in certain quarters, these ties of friendship did become deeper and maturer. But making Indo-Soviet ties meaningful and fruitful is one thing and allowing the impression to grow that in respect of world events, India has no strategic perception distinct from that of the USSR, is quite another.

Soviet Russia’s armed intervention in Afghanistan and the reaction to this of America and its allies has precipitated in this part of the world a situation which would have prompted both India and Pakistan to forget the past and try to open a new chapter in Indo-Pakistan relations. It is a matter of regret that the leadership in both these countries has allowed a historic opportunity to slip by.

Pakistan ought to understand that the threat to its security posed by the presence of Soviet troops just beyond the Khyber Pass cannot be met simply by trying to grab arms and armaments from wherever it can.

A Strong and Stable Pakistan would serve Indian Interests

India too must realise that it is in India’s own interest that there should be a strong and stable Pakistan between India and USSR as a buffer. Any temptation to take advantage of Pakistan’s present difficulties can in the long run prove very costly to India herself.

The Government of India should take an initative to overcome the setback in our relations with Pakistan. When BJP Vice-president Shri Jethmalani visited Pakistan a few months back in connection with the problems of Afghan refugees, President General Zia told him in the presence of the Indian Ambassador to Pakistan that Pakistan is agreeable to having a no-war pact with India. We should have pursued this matter from this point onwards. We should also take steps to resume talks with Peking at high level.

To be continued…

(Presidential address of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpeyee at BJP National Council, Bombay, 28-December, 1980)