Much heat and dust has been kicked up with the upcoming election to the party president’s post in the Congress later this month. The two frontline contenders, Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor, both veterans of the party in their own right but with different skill sets and worldviews, are travelling from state to state to canvas for votes. Kharge is an old war horse, pugnacious, grounded, and deeply loyal to the party. Tharoor, the toast of the chatterati who is also the man of the soil, draws support from the young and aspirational segment of the party. The Gandhis, who led the party without taking on the leadership mantle formally, have not openly indicated their preference between the two veterans, but there are enough hints dropped that Kharge would be their man of choice.
Irrespective of which of the two men becomes the party president, a post once held by stalwarts like Dadabhai Naoroji and Subhas Chandra Bose in the pre-independence Congress and titans like Jawaharlal Nehru and K Kamraj after independence, it is safe to assume that the Gandhis will continue to have a say in key areas and issues from appointments to election campaigns. The election is a deferential nod to party democracy; the high command culture is likely to continue. However, the high command culture, essentially a power centre holding the veto card or pulling strings from backstage, is not unique to the grand old party though the popular discourse makes it out to be. The Bharatiya Janata Party is just as beholden to it.
The BJP president JP Nadda was not chosen through the party ballot and if he secures an extension, as has been the quiet buzz, it will only be with the stamp of approval from the ideological fount of the party in Nagpur, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Indeed, none of the presidents in the party have stepped into the post without blessings, explicit or otherwise, from their Nagpur super-bosses. The RSS leadership famously sought LK Advani’s resignation as party president after his remarks on Mohammed Ali Jinnah and subtly disallowed the veteran Jaswant Singh from being made India’s finance minister in the Vajpayee cabinet. When Narendra Modi was chosen as the party’s candidate for the top job in 2013, over-shadowing Advani and Sushma Swaraj, it was with the high command’s approval.
The high command or super power structure exists in both the parties. The difference is that the BJP uses it to its advantage while training guns on the Congress; the latter is unable to return the favour.
Roadblock for the GMLR
The proposed Goregaon-Mulund Link Road (GMLR) in Mumbai, connecting the western suburb of Goregaon to the eastern side of the city at Mulund, hit a major roadblock this week. The union environment ministry’s Regional Empowered Committee (REC) deferred its approval to divert 19.43 hectares of forest land in the protected area of Sanjay Gandhi National Park for the purpose on the grounds that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had not provided complete information of the impact on the Park’s ecology. The arterial link road involves tunnelling below the ecologically-sensitive Park for about 4.7 kilometres.
The deferment will undoubtedly delay the project which was launched earlier this year and expected to be completed in part next year and by 2026. However, the BMC has none but itself to blame this delay on given that it had tweaked the proposal submission to show that the GMLR did not need a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) report despite the protected status of the National Park. Studies done so far by IIT-Bombay and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) show that there will not be significant change to the biodiversity in the National Park given that the tunnelling will happen several feet below. However, the REC remained unconvinced.
It would not be misplaced to accuse the REC of being too correct, but matters of complex ecology and biodiversity are better handled with extra caution and care. Playing around with urban ecology to accommodate infrastructure has been the leitmotif in Mumbai’s urban development story – and the city is paying the price for it in terms of recurring floods and urban heat island effect. The firmness shown in the GMLR case was also needed in the case of the Coastal Road and other major infrastructure projects that transform the natural ecology of the city. The GMLR will happen, albeit a bit late, but it is important to ensure that it does not disrupt ecology too much.
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