ALL IN THE NAME OF THE NEHRU–GANDHIS
Building Brand Nehru-Gandhi at the Cost of the Taxpayer
by A. Surya Prakash
In a planned and systematic effort to gain unfair advantage over other political parties, the Congress Party has named all major government programmes, projects and institutions in the country after three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family – Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru – who are its icons, and disturbed the level playing field in the electoral arena.
Over the last 23 years, on a rough estimate 450 central and state government programmes, projects and national and state level institutions involving public expenditure of lakhs of crores of rupees have been named after these three icons of the Congress Party. Among them are: The Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (rural electrification programme), which involves an outgo of Rs 28,000 crore during the Eleventh Plan period, the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission with even higher allocations per annum, the Indira Awas Yojana to house the poor with allocations of Rs 7000-10,000 crores per year and the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme. Programmes named after Jawaharlal Nehru over the last two decades are the Jahawarlal Nehru Rojgar Yojana and the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission. The Urban Renewal Mission, to provide funds for urban projects like transport systems and will cost the tax payer Rs 50,000 crores over seven years. Other schemes touching the lives of millions of people which are named after the Nehru-Gandhis are the Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers, the Rajiv Gandhi Udyami Mitra Yojana (to promote small enterprises), the Rajiv Gandhi Shramik Kalyan Yojana and the Rajiv Gandhi Shilpi Swasthya Bima Yojana (both insurance schemes). The latest in this list is the Rajiv Gandhi Equity Savings Scheme to encourage small investors.
These are all central schemes. Wait till you see what goes on in the states. They run into hundreds but here is a sample: Rajiv Gandhi Breakfast Scheme, Pondicherry; Indira Gandhi Calf-Rearing Scheme, Andhra Pradesh; Rajiv Ratna Awas Yojana, Delhi; Rajiv Arogyasri Health Insurance scheme, Andhra Pradesh; Rajiv Gandhi Computer Literacy Mission, Assam; Indira Jeevitha Bima Pathakam, Andhra Pradesh; and Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Vivah Shagun Yojana, Haryana.
In addition, the best national parks, universities, institutes of technology, key airports, ports, power projects and even metro stations are named after these three icons of the Congress Party. But, what really takes the cake is sports. All the major sports tournaments and trophies are named after the Nehru-Gandhis and this includes national and international tournaments in football, basketball, judo, beach ball, roller skating, kabaddi, rural cricket, gymnastics, boxing, the Delhi Marathon and the Kerala Boat Race. The only thing left out is the game poor urchins play in India's villages and urban gullies – Gilli Danda.
Such is the obsession of Congress governments with this family that they name India's biggest open university after Indira Gandhi and fellowships granted there after Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly, the Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore is named after Nehru and the science talent fellowships awarded there after Rajiv Gandhi. We are unlikely to see anything so gross even in dictatorships as in North Korea.
The Congress Party has devised a simple game plan – use public money and public schemes to promote the Nehru-Gandhi brand and milk this to its electoral advantage. A perusal of these programmes and schemes shows a systematic attempt to name every government programme concerning every citizen – man, woman, child; every possible circumstance in the life of every citizen – child bearing, child rearing, education of children, food, education of youth, employment, marriage, unemployment, destitution, handicap; and every possible challenge flowing out of lack of infrastructure – drinking water, electricity and housing after just three members of this political family who are icons of the Congress Party.
Obviously, the plan is to ensure maximum recall of Brand Congress among voters at every stage in life. Therefore, nothing is left out. The crèche for children of the working poor is named after Rajiv Gandhi. So is a breakfast scheme for poor children. The parents need to remember him for a host of other reasons – rural drinking water, rural electrification or scholarships. Indira Gandhi comes in when the poor want a house subsidized by the government and you think of Nehru when urban renewal programmes come into play. The Congress Party has taken its obsession with this family to such an extent that even calf-rearing schemes are named after them. Shockingly, even Brand IIM had been tinkered with. While all institutes of management started by the Centre go under the IIM brand, the Congress Party has mischievously named the IIM is Shillong as the Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management.
The UPA also proposes to name the food scheme after a member of this family. Then the Nehru-Gandhis will have virtually and rather cunningly executed the plan to ensure recall of Brand Nehru-Gandhi at every moment of a citizen's life. It will go something like this: With every sip of water you drink, remember Rajiv ; with every morsel you eat, remember Indira; every time you switch on a bulb at home, remember Rajiv again; with every home you build, remember Indira; every time you board a bus, remember Nehru; every time you take your child to the crèche, remember Rajiv ; every time you end up in a hospital, remember Rajiv; every time you win a medal in sports, remember Rajiv ; every time you get admission to a good technical institution on your own merit, remember Rajiv ; every time you open your lap top, remember Rajiv; and every time you play the stock market, remember Rajiv.
The list of 450 government programmes, schemes, institutions etc named after these three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family broadly fall into the following categories: Central government programmes and projects (12), State Government Programmes (52), Universities and Educational Institutions (98), Ports and Airports (6), Awards, Scholarships and Fellowships (66), Sports Tournaments, Trophies and Stadia ( 47), National Parks and Sanctuaries (15), Hospitals and Medical Institutions (39), National Scientific and Research Institutions, Chairs and festivals (37), Peaks and Key geographical Markers (4); Roads, Buildings and Places (74). (Entire List is in Annexure– I)
Even Kabaddi and Roller Skating
Apart from violation of basic democratic norms and electoral law, the naming spree has crossed all limits of decency. Every major sports tournament has been named after the Nehru-Gandhis, as if no other nobody else matters, not even the greats in Indian Sports. Among tournaments named after Rajiv Gandhi are national and international tournaments in football, basketball, judo, roller skating, beachball, kabaddi, rural cricket, gymnastics, boxing, the Delhi Marathon and the Kerala Boat Race. If anything is left out, it has been named after Indira Gandhi and Nehru. Possibly the only sport left out is Gilli Danda, an low-cost indigenous game played by street urchins! The same pattern is repeated in major national parks, universities, fellowships and scholarships.For long years we are all familiar with the Fullbright Scholarships. The Manmohan Singh Government has ensured that this is now known as the Fullbright-Jawaharlal Nehru Scholarship! We are unlikely to see anything so gross even in dictatorships like in North Korea.
Even Peaks and Key Geographical Markers
The long arm of the Congress Party also extends to the farthest points of India. Even Himalayan peaks and key geographical locations have been named after these three icons of the party. They include Indira Point (the southernmost point of India- formerly known as Pygmalion Point), Indira Col (near trijunction of India-China-Pakistan), Jawahar Dweep (formerly Butcher Island in Mumbai Harbour) and Rajiv Peak. Indira Col (near the trijunction of India-China-Pakistan) was so named over a century ago, possibly by someone who had great foresight! The result is that virtually the northern most and southern most points of India are named after Indira Gandhi.
What About Mahatma Gandhi, B.R.Ambedkar, Sardar Patel?
As of now, Union Government schemes worth at least Rs 3 lakh crores have been named after Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Some states have gone to ridiculous levels in trying to please the Nehru-Gandhis. Since sycophancy has no limits in the Congress Party, the party's chief ministers go to ridiculous lengths to appease the deities at 10, Janpath. The Andhra Pradesh government has an Indira Gandhi Calf-Rearing Scheme. The Chief Minister of this state knew that he is not going to earn any brownie points with his ‘high command" if he named the calf-rearing scheme after Dr.Kurien, the man who ushered in the milk revolution or Dr. M.S.Swaminathan, the father of the green revolution. Likewise, Haryana has an Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Vivah Shagun Yojana. Obviously, the chief minister believes that when every bride gets a gift on her wedding day, Indira Gandhi is the woman to remember, not Kasturba Gandhi or Sarojini Naidu.
All three prime ministers from this family have been awarded the Bharat Ratna. Strangely, although the award is given on the recommendation of the Prime Minister to the President, Jawaharlal Nehru (1955) and Indira Gandhi virtually conferred this honour upon themselves. Rajiv Gandhi was conferred Bharat Ratna posthumously. Vinobha Bhave, the sage who promoted bhoodaan was conferred the honour only in 1983 and Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, the architect of India's Constitution, was found worthy of this award only in 1990. Sardar Patel, the man who stitched 563 princely states into one nation was considered worthy of the Bharat Ratna only in 1991 along with Rajiv Gandhi!
The approach of the Congress Party and its government is to keep every other national leader out of the picture. Sometime ago, when the Bharatiya Janata Party asked the government to name the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (Prime Minister's Rural Roads Scheme) after Atal Behari Vajpayee, a news agency reported that the Rural Development Minister, Mr.Jairam Ramesh had "rubbished the idea". This scheme was launched in the year 2000 when Mr.Vajpayee was prime minister to provide all-weather road connectivity to unconnected villages.
The Election Commission, which has the responsibility to ensure free and fair elections must step in, but it has remained a silent spectator to the gross misuse of public money to promote one political party. This writer lodged two formal complaints with the Election Commission (in March, 2009 and October, 2013) in this regard but the commission has failed to take heed. While it is the prerogative of a government to name an institution after a person whom it considers to be a national or state leader, government programmes which have been initiated to ameliorate the lives of millions of citizens ( like drinking water, housing, old age pensions, employment guarantee etc) fall into an entirely different category. If the nomenclature of these programmes is not politically neutral, the sanctity of the democratic system would be in jeopardy and it would not be possible to ensure a level playing field for all political parties.
Such is the obsession of the Congress Party with these three members of a single family in this country that even the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi has been virtually forgotten. The Congress Party's contempt for Mahatma Gandhi is best explained by the fact that just one major central scheme – the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme – was named after Mahatma Gandhi , that too in October, 2009, after this writer's complaint reached the Election Commission. On the other hand, the rural electrification programme, the drinking water mission, the national crèche scheme for children and the programme to promote micro and small industries in rural areas (something that was close to the heart of the Mahatma) are all named after Rajiv Gandhi. The massive central programme to build houses for the rural poor (again something that would have made the Mahatma proud) is named after Indira Gandhi, as also the national old age pension scheme.
Equally glaring is the omission of many other eminent Indians including Sardar Vallabhai Patel, India's first Deputy Prime Minister who undertook the arduous task of integrating 563 princely states into a single nation and Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, who presided over the committee that drafted our Constitution and embedded basic values of democracy and social justice. No central programmes have been named after them. Such is the Congress Party's determination to name every scheme after its own leaders that even the National Fellowship Scheme for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students is named after Rajiv Gandhi and not Dr.Ambedkar, the man who waged a relentless battle to better the lot of the Dalits in India. There are hundreds of other leaders belonging to various political shades who have made an invaluable contribution to the building of India, but not a single central government programme is named after any of them. There are hundreds of other leaders belonging to various political shades who have made an invaluable contribution to the building of India, but not a single central government programme is named after any of them. The list of those ignored is a pretty long one. They include Rabindranath Tagore, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bal Gandadhar Tilak, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu, Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, C.Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad and every other stalwart of the freedom movement. Also ignored are great saints like Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda; Social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Mahatma Phule; great scientists like C.V.Raman, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and Narlekar and great patriots like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekar Azad.
Andhra Pradesh – The Worst Culprit
A similar tendency is seen in all states where the Congress Party has been in power. These states have been vying with each other in naming government programmes and schemes after these three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. While there are many examples of this kind, the most glaring example, which raises a question is regard to free and fair election is the blatant advertisement of the Congress Party on the Ambulances that provide emergency medical help all over Andhra Pradesh. These ambulances, which reach every village in the state in quick time, provide efficient integrated emergency services that cover medical emergencies, police and fire. The cost of this service is borne by the public exchequer. Yet, it is made out as if these ambulances are a gift from the Congress Party to the people because every ambulance carries a portrait of Rajiv Gandhi on both sides of the vehicle with the legend "Rajiv Arogyasri". By displaying the portrait of Rajiv Gandhi on every ambulance (it has 650 ambulances and proposes to add 150 more to this fleet) which reaches every village, the ruling Congress Party in the state is drawing undue electoral advantage out of a programme launched with public funds. A public programme is being made to look like a programme of a political party or a private donor. But, this is not all. There is shameless usurpation of almost every government programme by the Congress Party. Here is a sample: INDIRAMMA, an acronym for Integrated Novel Development In Rural Areas and Model Municipal Areas – a programme for integrated development of villages and municipalities; Indiramma Pachcha Thoranam – An Action Plan for Village Organisations; Indiramma Amrutha Hastham Scheme – To provide nutritious food to pregnant and lactating women; Amma Hastham – A kit containing nine essential commodities for Rs 185; and Indiramma Kalalu – To identify individual and community needs among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Several complaints have been lodged with the Election Commission, but the commission remains unmoved. That is why its silence is deafening.
Such is the obsession of Congress governments with this family that they name India's biggest open university in Delhi after Indira Gandhi and fellowships granted there after Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly, the Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore is named after Nehru and the science talent fellowship awarded there is named after Rajiv Gandhi. Sir C.V.Raman, Homi Bhabha, the father of the Indian nuclear programme, the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, Nobel Laureates Har Gobind Khorana or Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar or Dr.Abdul Kalam are unworthy of this honour. How can such honour be bestowed on such pigmies!
Reference to "Inclusive Growth" is de rigueur in all major policy pronouncements made by the Congress Party and the United Progressive Alliance government. The Aam Aadmi would presume that this means including everybody in the process of development and India's great democratic journey. But, if one were to see how every scheme is named after members of just one family and everybody else stands excluded, in reality "Inclusive Growth" means just one thing – include the names of every member of the Nehru-Gandhi Family while naming government schemes, programmes, projects and buildings. In order to understand the principle on which the Nehru-Gandhis conduct their politics all one needs to do is substitute famiglia (family) for Stato (state) in the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's famous quote. It would then read Tutto nello famiglia, niente al di fuori dello famiglia, nulla contro lo famiglia ("Everything within the family, nothing outside the family, nothing against the family).
Why Is The Election Commission Silent?
While it can be argued that a government has a right to name an airport or an institution or building after someone it considers a national icon, it cannot certainly be anybody's case that government programmes involving public spending of thousands of crores of rupees on a recurring basis can be named after members of a single political family associated with a single political party so that this particular party would gain electoral advantage on a continuous basis. Many years ago, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power at the Centre, it launched a special programme to fund rural roads and called it the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. This nomenclature, as is obvious, is politically neutral. This is the model that needs to be promoted both at the Centre and in the States if we are to ensure political plurality and fair and objective conditions for all political players.
Therefore all government schemes must be given politically neutral names. Only then will the Election Commission be able to enforce the Model Code of Conduct in letter and spirit as also the various directions and instructions issued by it from time to time. Part VII of the Model Code of Conduct drafted by the Election Commission for the guidance of political parties and particularly for political parties which are in government says: The party in power whether at the Centre or in the State or States concerned, shall ensure that no cause is given for any complaint that it has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign.
The Code of Conduct prohibits a party in power from using its "official position" for its election campaign. Also, it prohibits ministers from using official machinery and personnel, vehicles and state aircraft to further "the interest of the party in power". Ministers are not to misuse the mass media for partisan coverage or to do anything which is tantamount to "influencing the voters in favour of the party in power". Since the Commission lays down a general injunction against misusing "official position", how can it possibly allow a ruling party to name every other government scheme after one of its icons, thus placing all other political parties at a terrible disadvantage? Is this not the most glaring misuse of official position? Further, when the Model Code of Conduct prohibits even minor misdemeanors like misuse of government vehicles and personnel by the ruling party in an election campaign, how can it possibly allow a ruling party to hijack almost every government scheme and name schemes worth over Rs Three Lakh Crores after just three icons of a single party?
I am indeed surprised that this matter has not caught the attention of the Election Commission, which has always displayed such alacrity in disciplining political parties and rapping party bosses on the knuckles for even the slightest deviation in the Code of Conduct. In its orders it has repeatedly claimed that "the level playing field" in the election arena should not be disturbed. So obsessed is the Election Commission with the idea of ensuring a "level playing field" that it prohibits government websites and ministerial websites from highlighting their achievements and eulogizing the same "as personal achievements of Politicians / Ministers". It directs that during the period when model code of conduct is in force "all references to Ministers, Politicians or Political Parties available on such State Government /Central Government`s official websites, shall be taken off. Then, why is the Election Commission silent on the issue of naming of all government schemes and projects after icons of one political party?
I regard the naming of dozens of government programmes and schemes after just three members of a single political family as a sustained and colossal misuse of the government machinery and government funds by the Congress Party for political and electoral purposes. Given the commission's rigid and inflexible approach to even minor violations by other parties, I would urge the commission to take immediate steps to correct the imbalance that the Congress Party has brought about through this Machiavellian device of naming all schemes and programmes after members of the Nehru-Gandhi Family. This blatant attempt to package and market government programmes run on public money as munificent offerings from a family to the people and consequently to draw political and electoral advantage for a political party, run by that family, must, in the larger interests of our democracy and political plurality, in my view, be put an end to. The Election Commission must step in to correct this humongous anomaly.