March 3, 2014 at 5:55 PM
Two-time MP from the high-profile Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency and Minister of State for Shipping and Telecommunications Milind Deora is gearing up for his toughest election yet, with his party facing a double anti-incumbency in Maharashtra.
In this interview to Firstpost, the 37-year-old talks about the recent spectrum auction, the disappointment of the short-lived AAP government in Delhi and the mobocracy the country is turning into.
With its extension of deadline for regularising slums, the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra is again playing politics instead of finding a sustainable answer to Mumbai’s housing crisis.
Personally, I believe that extending deadlines and cutoff dates is not the way to find a long-term solution to Mumbai’s housing problems. I personally believe that there is no better solution than freeing up large tracts of land – this will increase supply of land, bring down cost of land, make housing affordable. So the long-term solution for Mumbai is connecting it to the hinterland.
Until there is political will for this, until it becomes an important political issue, there is no other long-term solution. When land prices come down, that on its own will make even promises politicians make to slumdwellers, to safai kaamgars, to policemen, to chawl tenants a much more realistic promise.
It is indeed unfortunate that for the third election in a row, I am seeing that we are debating the same issues and are not talking about how to increase supply of land and create affordable housing.
You’ve spoken out against the policy paralysis in Mumbai. Why do Delhi and Bangalore not suffer from policy paralysis?
I think there was a time when things were moving slow. But I too have changed my perception about that. Infrastructure projects that I thought were getting delayed have become a reality such as the eastern freeway connecting P D’Mello Road to Chembur and the monorail.
Certainly, there is scope for improvement of delivery. Nobody is giving a pat on the back for delays. There should be limited timeframes, contractors and public-private concessionaires should be pulled up, penalised for inordinate delays.
To the credit of the chief minister, he has been able to shed a lot of cynicism about slow pace of work, including my own cynicism.
There is scope for improvement. The Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link, for example, has been languishing for decades, and is a very, very important project.
Had the MTHL been in Delhi, it would have been built by now.
You can’t deny that coalition governments do mean you have to consult with more stakeholders, that automatically means a little more delay in decisions.
Secondly, Delhi has the NCR region that has three states competing for a slice of it – Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. This gives a fillip and boost to NCR in terms of infrastructure.
So does Mumbai need that kind of structure?
I believe that Mumbai is an integral part of Maharashtra, culturally and socially, and that’s good for the city and for the state. But we can experiment with certain ideas that can give Mumbai a little more freedom in terms of governance. I see no reason why we can’t have more devolution of power, I see no reason why we can’t have a directly elected mayor in Mumbai who will have more power and more accountability.
Eventually, as time progresses, as the seat of the mayor grows in power and importance, that position may demand and get more powers from the state, leading to more devolution of power. In five or ten years you might even have a mayor who controls the police, the housing issues of Mumbai, apart from civic issues. Such a mayor would be a brand in himself. That’s a powerful structure.
We need to create political consensus on that.
There is talk of Ashok Chavan getting a ticket to contest LS elections from Nanded. Has the Congress got itself twisted around the Adarsh scam hopelessly and will find it a huge embarrassment during the polls in Maharashtra? Do you support Chavan’s candidature?
There are two kinds of allegations. There are frivolous and slanderous allegations that anyone can make, and allegations that go through court, through due process. But unfortunately in every issue we have knee jerk reactions to things. People don’t understand the difference between an allegation and an investigation and a conviction. People see an allegation as proof of guilt, and you tend to build a kind of mob mentality.
About Adarsh, should the investigation be completed, should facts be put out before the public? Sure, of course. Should Chavan be given a ticket? That’s for the party to decide about what kind of perception it’s going to have. Good or bad. I opposed the ordinance that would have allowed convicted legislators to be members of Parliament. I was very clear — that was for somebody who is convicted, you can take an objective view there. With an allegation or an investigation you have to be careful in determining whether that person should get a ticket, should be a member of an Assembly or not, that’s something the leaders of the party will have to decide.
But we have to have nuanced debate about these things. At one level we have moved towards very mature phases with RTI, social media, electronic media. At another level we are also moving to a mobocracy where I just pronounce people guilty very easily. We can’t get into a system where slanderous allegations are made about politicians, journalists, businessmen, judges and others with no recourse available to that person, and with public impression being that they are guilty.
Opinion cycles are now 140 characters: Somebody will say this is paid media, corrupt politician. This will eventually harm the public discourse in our country. If balanced public opinion goes out of the window, a lot of good professionals, whether political leaders or journalists or any other professionals, will not be excited about these professions and you might attract a lot of riff-raff to these professions who are either very thick skinned or they come from a school of thought where they believe it is good to hurl allegations, good not to be balanced. Both of these are dangerous.
Are you saying the allegations of corruption are baseless, that there has actually been no wrong done whatsoever?
No. In the 2G case for example, where I am minister in the telecom department, I feel if Mr Raja is guilty of a crime he is accused of, if courts find them guilty, I will be the first to applaud and welcome the verdict. Why do I have to defend him, whether he is from my party or from an ally’s party or from the Opposition?
But as a minister in the telecom department, I am concerned about how quickly and with no debate we moved from a regime that we inherited from the NDA which in their wisdom, in Mr Vajpayee’s wisdom, they felt would encourage tele-density in the country. To be fair to him, he was right.
In 2003 when the first come first served policy came out, to now a decade later, look how things changed. There were 7 crore people who had telephone connections in 2003 and now there are 90 crore people who have telephone connections. So Mr Vajpayee and his government must have decided not to auction spectrum with some idea in mind.
Now, I am worried that instantaneously and without any debate, that gets thrown out of the window and you’re told by the court that you have to auction spectrum. Is that the right decision? The auction is now complete and all the operators who were interviewed last week said they believe they have paid a lot for spectrum, there is a strain on the banking system, and they have all said they will have to pass this cost on to the consumer.
Now is that going to encourage or reduce tele-density? Is it going to mean that those from less affluent sections will think twice before purchasing a mobile phone? Possibly.
The way the Opposition behaved on 2G was also irresponsible. They made it seem as if it was our policy, not theirs, to score political points.
How serious is the Aam Aadmi Party factor in the coming Lok Sabha elections?
I don’t take any party lightly. About 30 candidates contest against me every election and I take each one very seriously, studying their background, community, what work they have been doing, etc.
What AAP did well was that they galvanised a very exciting political movement. I think when they became a political party, they had to have some kind of political accountability, and more so when they came into government. I think they failed very badly in governing.
As they moved from a movement to a party in government, that exposed their abilities. How effective you are administratively, how effectively you can control the system, how effectively you know how to fight the system, how to make it work to achieve your commitments — that is governance
I was one of the few people in Congress who didn’t mind the party supporting the AAP government in Delhi. I felt they needed time. I was very disappointed personally when he quit. He ran off after 49 days and said he can’t deal with this any more. I thought he was someone who would find interesting ways to counter political challenges, to work around them to do the things he needs to do. I didn’t like it that he quit. I got flak from my party for having said let’s give him time.
The last few sessions of Parliament have seen more disruptions than debate. Is being a Parliamentarian still exciting for the younger lot of MPs?
Not last two sessions, my two terms, ten years, have been very disappointing. I remember going to Parliament before I got into politics, and though there were disruptions, the House still functioned. When I became an MP, from the very first day, I can remember clearly, there were disruptions. I remember when I initiated the debate on the historic RTI bill, I spoke to empty benches. There was not one member of the Opposition in the House. Initially I was very cynical but I believe it is the only form of democracy that works. I still believe that Parliament has huge relevance in India.
Another point I want to make here is that MPs’ behaviour in Parliament should become an election issue. We cannot have this situation where disrupting Parliament is something an MP can be proud of when he goes back to the voter. The electorate should vote out those who disrupt Parliament.