Can Vajpayee tame Narendra Modi?

New Delhi March 29. Two days ago, the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, met the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani. He was directed to undertake relief and rehabilitation for the riot-affected citizens. Yesterday, back in Gandhinagar, Mr. Modi issued a "GR'' order, detailing the responsibilities of the all-party high power committee, under the chairmanship of the Governor, to undertake relief and rehabilitation; quite conveniently, the "GR'' does not reveal any rehabilitation intentions.

Under the circumstances, a genuine rehabilitation effort is needed to ameliorate the lot of the minorities, who constitute 90 per cent of the riots victims, and whose rehabilitation is deemed a pre-requisite for restoration of confidence and reconciliation.

Those involved in decision-making in and outside Gandhinagar about Gujarat see the latest "GR'' not only as violative of the Prime Minister's commitment (made to the Leader of Opposition in a letter dated March 23) but also as defiance of the Prime Minister's authority. Mr. Modi is deemed to be in no mood to attend to the task of restoration of peace and reconciliation. At best, he seems to be confused and unequal to the task at hand.

What, then, are the Prime Minister's options? Of course, the most effective and most dramatic option is the invocation of Article 356 and putting the State Assembly under "suspended animation''. This option would, of course, have to be negotiated within the BJP, and Mr. Vajpayee would have to display the courage to defy the odds and to do the morally right thing; in other words, he will be called upon to give another demonstration of the kind of courage he challengingly boasted of to the Leader of Opposition during the POTO debate in the Joint Sitting of Parliament.

Short of invoking Article 356, the Prime Minister has an array of political and administrative options. He could consider appointing an experienced bureaucrat as the Governor because Sunder Singh Bhandari is hardly the man of experience or vision to provide a corrective to the Chief Minister.

Or, the Prime Minister can think appointing a BJP man as "commissar'' for Gujarat, who as a friend, fellow-party functionary and as an overseer could help the Chief Minister overcome his lack of administrative experience. Someone like Bhairon Singh Shekhawat or Jagmohan.

Apart from these two options, there are a few cost free moves the Prime Minister can make during his Gujarat visit next week. He has to find innovative ways and means of signalling to the people in and out of Gujarat that he does not endorse the Chief Minister's "divisive agenda".

First, he must have a one-to-one meeting with Justice M. Kadri of the Gujarat High Court. The Prime Minister must be seen by the citizens as constitutionally and emotionally empathizing with a judge who has been hassled by the mobs. Such an encounter would be much bigger than the symbolism involved.

Second, Mr. Vajpayee must have a meeting, without the presence of the Chief Minister, with the five IPS officers who were recently transferred by the Chief Minister, allegedly because they refused to go slow against the VHP men.

The Prime Minister has to understand for himself from these all-India officers the nature of difficulty they have faced in doing their constitutional duty; and, these officers — like the rest of the IPS fraternity — need to know whether they have the sympathy, if not the protection, of the Prime Minister if they are being victimised.

Third and foremost, Mr. Vajpayee must visit the Shah Alam relief camp, by far the biggest and which is teeming with minorities.

Again, he would have to visit the camp without being accompanied by the Chief Minister, and has to hear for himself the kind of insecurity a section of citizens is living with.

Recommended for you