The J&J; factor   (19 Nov 2000)



Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh and Minister of Urban Development Jagmohan must be praised for their performance so far.

When the NDA government had assumed office our relations with most of the countries were in a bad shape. We were at loggerheads with both the superpowers — America as well as China. Apart from these countries, Britain and the Gulf countries were also not very favourably disposed towards us.

Thanks to George Fernandes and one remark of the then political adviser of the prime minister referring to China as a thief — things were made worse for India.

Just after the Pokhran explosion, the confidential letter of the prime minister to the US president mentioning China as a threat was also leaked to the press. The global opinion in any case was too bad for India.

In this situation, Vajpayee brought Jaswant Singh as minister for external affairs.

If we look back, we find that India has achieved a substantial gain in terms of improving its foreign relations. A history of 50 years of strained Indo-US relations has changed. This is a major achievement and I think India will be a major beneficiary of this new beginning.

Today, if the US government and its President is going ga-ga over India, a substantial credit for it also goes to Jaswant Singh and his friendship with Strobe Talbott. They were the architects of the successful Clinton visit.

Yet by improving relations with USA, India did not compromise with its old friends. During Vajpayees Washington visit our minister of state for foreign affairs was in Baghdad. India has developed its friendship with America in such a manner that other countries including Russia and China have not taken it in the wrong way.

India is trying to become a partner of USA in Asia rather than becoming its stooge. Singhs recent visits to South East Asia and Saudi Arabia have created further scope for a better relationship in both the regions.

The controversial issue of CTBT has been handled with such tact that the Opposition had to eat humble pie in Parliament. Singh has also managed to islolate Pakistan as far as international diplomacy is concerned.

Similarly, Jagmohan has also shown the courage to fight against the colossal problem of haphazard growth in urban areas, illegal construction, dirty tricks of the land mafias, encroachment and industrial pollution. Though he is facing considerable opposition within his own party, he has gone ahead as a crusader trying to clean up Delhi. I think he should take up other metropolitan or A and B grade cities after the capital. After all, he is the minister of urban development for the entire nation.

I also strongly believe that the government should introduce a permit system in the three metropolitan cities — Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta — to control the increasing pressures of daily migrants. The civic amenities of these three metros cannot cope with the pressure of the increasing number of residents. Though the Constitution allows the free movement of citizens in any part of the country without any restriction, in the case of these three cities, it is better to ignore the constitutional provisions considering the miserable life of millions of people.

In Mumbai, one feels ashamed while travelling in suburbs with massive traffic jams, heaps of garbage on the roadsides chocking the drainage system and people living like animals in dirty jhuggi jhopri colonies in unhygienic and inhuman conditions.

The whole city is packed with human beings and motor vehicles with no place to move comfortably. Thanks to the sea breeze people get some fresh air. These small colonies are thickly populated and every day dozens of trains bring hundreds of new people to Mumbai in the quest of jobs. Since the five lakes supplying water to the inhabitants are not sufficient, water is now brought from the various other districts of Maharashtra.

Getting held up in traffic jams for hours together is a criminal waste of time. Even the smallest distance from one building to another in the same locality takes at least 20 minutes.

In these circumstances, I think the Government of India and respective state governments should sit down together to work out on a formula to save these three metropolitan cities. No new offices should be allowed unless essentially required. New migrants should seek permits before settling down or joining a job. A strict vigil should be kept in jhuggi jhopri colonies. In fact instead of preventing them from settling in these cities, satellite towns should be developed. Another new Mumbai, can be created near Pune.

If not like international cities our three metropolises should at least look like Bangalore or Madras.