“Pillorying the government of the day for pervasive corruption is the easy thing to do, whereas it might just be an escapist option. It helps those of us who are neither in politics nor in the government to pretend that we are not tainted, and therefore have the right to point fingers at politicians, who we assume are not. The truth, as recent events have brought home forcefully, is that corruption has permeated fields that have nothing to do with politics and government….
“If the canker is widespread, there have to be systemic solutions. An obvious step is to come down hard on anyone who is caught, as a lesson to everyone else. System legitimacy suffers only when businessmen find ways of avoiding being brought to justice. But perhaps the worst outcome would be to treat this as just one more kind of reality TV, for nightly entertainment. All troubling questions can be evaded if we just watch Arnab Goswami shout at, hector and pillory his “guests” for an hour every night, for thereby we’ve earned our absolution!”
“We don’t seem to get it in other countries. It seems to be around in Asia. And that’s not me being against Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis. You know me, I love that part of the world. They are very kind and good to me, particularly the Indian and Pakistani people, where I’ve been a lot.
“But I’m telling you the truth, it seems to surface in Asia. And once you’ve got all this money floating around in a huge game with millions and millions involved, you’re going to get problems. It’s going to resurface again.”
“This is who we are, as Indians. While we need not be ashamed about it, let us not pretend that our own brand of neo-liberalism, which has produced a socio-cultural climate that makes it possible for the aspiring Indian middle classes — I use the plural advisedly — to unabashedly revel in the celebrity cesspool and pretend that we are squeaky clean is, at best, hypocritical, at worst, suicidal.
“For, cricket does not exist in a vacuum; it is not a cosy world safely tucked away from the dark, dirty, often cruel, and real, world in which we live, as Indians.
“A lot of us wishfully think that this might turn out to be India’s century or, in the least, an India-China century. But if you chose to do away with those rose-tinted glasses — a gift from opportunistic politicians and an acquiescent media — and mentally prepared yourself to stare truth in its face, then you will get an idea about where we really are.”
To the surprise of all but those who have just arrived from Mars, the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been marred by the spotfixing scam involving players from the Rajasthan Royals. Three of them, including the former Test bowler Shantakumaran Sreesanth, have been arrested, two more are to be questioned.
It was quite obvious from the very beginning that the anything-goes, anything-can-happen format of Twenty20 cricket was tailormade for bookies and other forces beyond the boundary. The confluence of cricket, commerce and cinema was a deadly combo, especially with the underworld having a vice-like grip on the gambling scene and Bollywood.
While the players are still to be proved guilty and the Delhi Police is known for monumental cockups, the mere revelation that there could have been more than met the eye in some matches so far, is a letdown of spectators at stadiums and audiences in homes. Plus, it is a disservice to the many honest cricketers showing their skills.
Questions: will you ever trust an IPL match henceforth? Will you watch the “maximums”, the no balls, the wides, without wondering if there is something more to it?
Or will this too pass in the circus that the BCCI?
Now that Congress has accomplished the easy part, it has to brace itself for the difficult part: choosing the next chief minister of the State.
Will the newly elected Congress MLAs really have a say, as they should, in choosing the leader of the legislature party? If so who will they opt for? Or will the high command impose its leader, who will be proposed and seconded, in true Congress style, by the other contenders? In either case, who is it likely to be?
Will Union labour minister Mallikarjuna Kharge get the green signal for his rock-like loyalty to the party? Or, will a younger aspirant like former deputy chief minister Siddaramaiah get the OK? or will his late entry into the party and the party’s less-than-impressive showing in the Old Mysore region prove a deterrent?
Does the state Congress president G. Parameshwar stand a chance at all after failing to hold on to his seat in Koratagere, which he unbelievably first won by nearly 90,000 votes? Or will the high command fall back on dark horse, like former chief ministers S.M. Krishna and Veerappa Moily, to tide over potential dissent?
Will the next five years see just one CM or will the Congress change horses mid-stream?
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: No longer are elections spectacles.
For the uninitiated, everyday life in Karnataka appears to be no different except for two things. First, Bangalore’s notorious traffic is manageable these days, as the political types have been camping in their constituencies.
Second, police chowkis along the highways, especially closer to towns and cities where all the private vehicles are checked for cash and gifts for the voters. According to the most recent estimate, the money confiscated across Karnataka is more than Rs 16 crore.
So, there is this reality constructed and maintained by the Election Commission.
Its rules have taken the pageantry out of elections. No longer nominees can take out a procession to file nominations or strut around with thousands of followers or hundreds of vehicles. In fact, any vehicle used for campaigning will have to be registered.
It’s simple these days: there are severe restrictions on visible campaigning.
Missing are the auto-rickshaw mounted loudspeakers. The norm today appears to be occasional rallies featuring star campaigners especially national leaders, and more frequently, road shows featuring state leaders and cinema stars in open vehicles.
More significantly, each candidate is restricted to spending only Rs 16 lakh.
Perhaps, there isn’t a single constituency wherein a candidate will have a reasonable chance of competing and retaining his deposit if he were to stay within this farcical limit.
However, that doesn’t stop any candidate from officially submitting accounts, which will be far less than sixteen lakhs. The average spending by each winning candidate across Karnataka will be at least one hundred times more.
So, that creates an alternative, parallel reality, the one political parties, candidates, and indeed, even the voting public inhabit. Here notionally the EC’s authority is recognized but the only way to earn the trust of the electorate is to blatantly violate most of EC regulations.
Professional politicians will not complain against each other for obvious reasons. They are all playing the same game.
The smaller players say the leftist groups or the anti-corruption warriors like the Loksatta don’t have the capacity or perhaps even the commitment to document violations and lodge complaints with the EC.
Consider this second reality for a moment.
For the past month, newspapers have been reporting on all the freebies distributed surreptitiously by every politician.
Money is the obvious good and we all know that large sums will have to be spent to pay for campaigners, voters and everybody in between.
Since 2008, politicians have had to be very creative in transporting cash. So, there are numerous stories about motorbike riders carrying money or professional donkey/ black sheep herd owners being couriers transporting cash from one place to the next.
Then there are services and goods that are offered and accepted.
# Tankers carrying water.
# JCBs and tractors to do any kind of earth work in your field, either freely or at heavily subsidized rates.
# Borewell rigs to dig borewells.
# Books for students.
# Access to government welfare programs and services – from old age pension to various subsidies that the state government offers; from subscription to Yashasvini medical insurance scheme to free ration from government ration shops.
# Pressure cookers.
# Set-top boxes for televisions.
# Pilgrimages and trips to constituents.
All kinds of groups and associations too are rewarded liberally.
# Temples are built and renovated during elections if only because all the candidates will make contributions.
# Travel across the state and you will find hoardings for sports tournaments sponsored by politicians. We estimated that the budget for some of these events could run into tens of lakhs since the top prize in a cricket tournament in Shimoga was Rs. 75,000.
Obviously our list isn’t complete and the reader can add more.
However, here is the important point to note. Election results are determined in this second reality. The Election Commission has little sway over this reality and one could even argue that an efficient money spending operation precedes everything else.
The presence of star campaigners – be it Rahul Gandhi or Advani or Narendra Modi – does very little to actually sway the electorate. At best, these stars rouse the party base and raise the enthusiasm of the party cadre.
Politics has changed in this regard in the last two decades. Without this efficient ground level operation that distributes gifts, makes compelling local arguments and mobilizes voters, no candidate shall win.
And that’s true for a political party winning elections as well.
In another significant respect, a politician shows his prowess during the elections. His ability to break rules and distribute as much during the elections is actually an indicator of his ability to manipulate rules and government machinery once he is in power.
While we don’t want to sound cynical, the voting public actually considers that quality an essential trait for a leader.
The Election Commission can’t do much about the second reality. It has never had much control on that reality anyway.
In politics, like in cricket, nothing is in the realm of the impossible. And it is not over till the last ball is bowled (and sometimes not even that, if it is a front-foot no-ball). So, what was projected to be a head-to-head faceoff between Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi for the 2014 elections is showing signs of becoming anything but.
In other words, it’s time to dip into the Kuala Lumpur Police Department manual.
On the one hand, the “young yuvaraj” seems to have presumptively developed cold feet about wanting to take over the mantle, as if the people of democratic India were dying to hand it over to him. Result: prime minister Manmohan Singh feels emboldened to answer hypothetical questions on a third term, if Congress wins, if UPA comes to power, if….
But it is what is happening in the other corner that is even more captivating.
After prematurely building himself up as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Modi is coming to terms with reality outside TV studios. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar‘s comment, among others, that “only one who can carry with him all the diverse sections of people can become the leader of the nation” is proving to be the spark.
Suddenly, a bunch of people within the BJP are finding virtue in L.K. Advani.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has realised that he is without doubt “our tallest leader“. Former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh finds him the “seniormost“. And former finance minister Yashwant Sinha says, “if Advani is available to lead the party and the government, that should end all discourse.”
So, could Modi vs Rahul in 2014 become a Manmohan vs Advani battle?
Does Advani have the backing of the RSS or of larger BJP for the top job? Is the “man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred“—the brain behind the bloody rath yatra that led to the demolition of the Babri masjid—really “more secular” than Modi? Or, are his BJP colleagues and NDA allies firing from his shoulders against Modi?
Could Advani, 84, gracefully make way for a younger aspirant, like say Sushma Swaraj (who has the OK of Shiv Sena), or will he throw his hat in the ring? Does he have the carry that Modi enjoys?
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: “Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi“: It makes for a sexy headline. And for an audience drawing shouting match on television. But as an analytical frame to understand the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, it just doesn’t make any sense.
Let me explain.
Neither Modi nor Rahul is on the ballot in Karnataka. They aren’t likely to lead the government if their parties are voted into office. Nor will they be difference making vote gatherers, and to say otherwise is to misread democratic politics.
Narendra Modi’s spectacular success in Gujarat is neither unique nor is it solely based on claims of good governance and absence of corruption allegations. In fact, Shivraj Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Nitish Kumar of Bihar and Naveen Patnaik of Orissa too claim similar track record of both electoral success as well as efficient administration.
If anything, all four of them (Modi, Singh, Kumar and Patnaik) may have in common is the social alliance they have managed to create in their states, which has enabled them to triumph in the electoral arena. Sure good governance and a clean image always help.
But elections are fought and won based on caste equations, finding the right candidate and moving the right pawns. Modi has done exceptionally well in building that combination, in addition to economic development of Gujarat.
Astute political observers have always pointed out that the secret of Modi’s success in Gujarat is not that he is a practitioner of Hindutva politics; but he has rebuilt the old social alliance (of Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim known popularly as KHAM) Congress relied on for electoral success until the 1980s.
Admittedly, Muslims aren’t a key element of Modi’s social coalition but there is evidence to suggest that he has secured significant Muslim support in the last few years.
Yet the point is Modi has turned out to be an exceptional political strategist within Gujarat, and his administrative acumen has only helped in consolidating these political gains.
Does that make him a star campaigner outside Gujarat, especially among people who haven’t benefited from good governance? No one is suggesting that BJP invite Shivraj Singh or Nitish Kumar to campaign in Karnataka!
This is where Rahul Gandhi may start out with a small advantage, which accrues to any Gandhi-Nehru dynast, and that gets him the initial name recognition nationally as well as some loyalty of Congressmen. That may have been enough in the past even until the 1980s when his father entered politics. But Indian democracy has changed and has become more competitive since then.
Political loyalties are only skin-deep these days even in a High Command centric party like Congress.
Rahul gives the impression of being a reluctant politician, who given a choice would do something else. He hasn’t shown the commitment or stamina of a professional politician who will breathe politics every waking moment.
Can he be the adept strategist and star campaigner that Congress party, and indeed even the media expect him to be?
I remain skeptical. The voter has gotten better at seeing through masks and evaluates his self interests in ways that media or political scientists do not recognize.
What Rahul and Modi will accomplish, if they campaign vigorously in Karnataka, is bridge and/or raise the enthusiasm gap for their parties. That is their appeal will be limited to committed supporters of Congress and BJP respectively, who will be energized to vote for their candidates instead of staying home.
A recent survey by Suvarna News and Cfore media bears this out: more than two thirds of likely BJP voters admit that Modi’s support will make them vote for BJP.
What neither will be able to do is to convert the undecided voter or the opponent. Hence their impact will be limited and marginal at best.
Is it because the media is lazy and cannot come up with better explanations?
IAS – KAS conflict: Are only direct IAS recruits efficient and capable of running fair and impartial elections?
The Karnataka Election Commission seems to think so and has replaced twelve deputy commissioners, who are IAS officers but promoted from Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS). Sashidhar Nandikal reports in Vijaya Karnataka on April 1 that this has created a rift among direct recruits and promotee IAS officers.
Majority of the direct recruits into IAS are non-Kannadigas and therefore lack deep roots in local caste politics or personal / family connections to leading politicians. That’s the not case with KAS recruits, whose initial selection will largely be because of their powerful connections.
Still, we must file this question among the inexplicable mysteries!
On Actresses and Politics: Recently, I was asked to explain why actresses are getting into politics in Karnataka. While the elders in the business, like Umashri, Tara and Jayamala relied on MLC nominations or an Academy chairmanship to launch their political career, the younger lot like Rakshita and Pooja Gandhi is sweating it out, traveling across the state and taking part in party conventions.
Lest the reader mistake their political activism to the tireless campaigning of a Mamata Banerjee or a Mayawati, I hasten to add that these actresses haven’t offered a compelling reason for entering politics. In fact, we don’t hear much about their political commitments or track of social service.
The talk in Bangalore revolves around the money they are being paid. Pooja Gandhi is supposed to have received Rs 2 crore for joining BSR Congress and when asked by Vijaya Karnataka, she strongly denied that rumour. Yet in a political career spanning a little over a year, she has been a member of JD (S) and KJP.
To my questioner, a journalist-friend, I suggested that for someone like Pooja Gandhi a political party is no different than a product or a business she endorses. I suspect she looks at herself as a brand ambassador for a party, and taking a fee for that work isn’t the worst thing in the world.
When he was first sworn in in 2004 after Sonia Gandhi reportedly heard her “inner voice”, the less-than-charitable view was that Manmohan Singh was merely warming the prime ministerial chair for her son Rahul Gandhi, who was decreed even by the prevailing feudal standards to be too young to be imposed on a captive nation. All his first term, they teased and taunted the Silent Sardar. They called him “India’s weakest PM since independence“, they called him nikamma. It didn’t work; he survived a pullout by the Left parties.
By 2009, when the Congress-led UPA won a second stint in office, Singh, a mascot of the middleclasses for his 1991 reforms and clean image, had emerged as one of the three faces in the Congress’ aam admi campaign, besides mother and son, but it was said he would be kicked upstairs as President in 2012. We asked if he would survive in 2010, in 2011, in 2012. They called him “underachiever“. It didn’t work; he survived a pullout by the TMC and DMK, and every scam and scandal swirling under his very nose.
On the flight back from the BRICS summit in South Africa….
In the 2014 elections, If the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and your party request you to accept third term, will you accept Prime Ministerial nomination for the third term?
These are all hypothetical questions. We will cross that bridge, when we reach there.
Hypothetical yes, but certainly “India’s weakest PM since independence” has killed many birds with one stone. He has not ruled himself out of the race, if such a race were to take place. He has told his upstart colleagues to watch out. He has shown that the Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi race is one he isn’t watching on his television set. And he has shown that he has greater political stamina and acumen than people give him credit for, despite the scams and scandals that have enveloped his regime and the repeated pullout of various parties.
Question: Could the Silent Sardar become India’s first PM to get three consecutive terms?
VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: After two decades, it is said that justice has been served in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case.
No, it hasn’t. What we have got is just a good balm.
Justice will never be served until Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon are caught and sentenced; like what the Americans did with Osama Bin Laden who was also hiding in Pakistan like Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon. But unfortunately, no one is really interested to know how our authorities plan to bring to book these “India’s most wanted.”
We wonder if there is even a plan at all. Instead, our Parliamentarians are busy trying to get a pardon for Sanjay Dutt.
Yes, it is indeed heartbreaking to see a now mellow-fellow Sanjay Dutt, father of two young children and also an older girl, go to prison. It is clear that he was not involved in any terrorist activities. But he has been booked for illegal possession of weapons under the Arms Act.
However, the fact remains that he committed an illegal act knowingly; and there is a law for punishing such offences and he has been sentenced for it. The law has taken its course. But, Dutt sympathisers must think, had Sanjay Dutt informed the Police about his “friends” smuggling arms, maybe today 257 of his countrymen would be alive?
But we want to know, why are our Parliamentarians going overboard in seeking a pardon for him?
Asking for early parole is one thing but complete pardon!? Former MP Jayaprada declared, “he is innocent!” Jaya Bachchan said, “Where was the government all these years? Suddenly you have realised he has to go to jail? This is rubbish…”
Yes! Our own lawmakers think that our judiciary and laws are rubbish.
Does that mean that Jaya Bachchan’s Samajwadi Party colleague and minister Raja Bhaiyya, if his case goes on long enough and is finally held guilty, must he be pardoned because “suddenly the judiciary realised he has to go to jail!”
Yes, indeed today, we feel for Sanjay Dutt.
We have softened as we think of him as the jhappi-giving Munna Bhai. No wonder, the first official support petition was put forth by former Supreme Court Judge Justice Markandey Katju.
But interestingly, the former Justice repeatedly said in his many interviews on TV channels that he does not watch movies and added, “I have not watched a movie in 40 years!”
Yet the former Justice wrote in his petition for pardon that Sanjay Dutt had “revived the memory of Mahatma Gandhi through his films”! and we believed Justice Katju when he said he had not watched a film in 40 years!
Also, we assure our former Justice that Sanjay Dutt didn’t do Munna Bhai for free so he could propagate Gandhiism.
He got paid for it.
Katju further stated that Sanjay Dutt had “suffered a lot and had to undergo various tribulations and indignities.”
Yes, we are sure he did. But isn’t that one of the objectives of punishment?
Justice Katju, justifying the tribulations suffered by Dutt, added: “He (Sanjay Dutt) had to go to court often, he had to take the permission of the court for foreign shootings, he could not get bank loans, etc.”
How can visiting courts often, taking permission to go abroad for shooting, inability to get bank loans and propagating Gandhiism through a movie written by someone else, produced by someone else while getting paid for acting in it be a justification to be pardoned on moral and legal grounds!?
Yes, Sanjay Dutt did go to jail for 18 months. But then he has also lived a happy life, he made movies, made money and made babies.
Now, if we remember rightly, wasn’t it the same Justice Katju who said that 90% of Indians are idiots…?
So now, many idiots would ask, that while the former Justice surely is not an idiot like us, has he not become a sentimental fool?
Going by Katju’s logic, can the former Justice also write a letter asking pardon for thousands of criminals who have committed petty offences which are bailable but are languishing in jail because they are too poor to pay for the bail amount?
Maybe Salman Khan can help. After all, it was his NGO last year which paid Rs 40 lakh for the release of 400 prisoners who had committed petty offences and were too poor to pay bail money in UP.
According to a 2011 report, nearly 70% of the total 3,00,000 inmates in India’s 1,356 prisons have not been convicted of any offence. They are undertrials. Of them, nearly 2,000 have spent more than five years behind bars without being convicted of any crime.
Will the people asking for Sanjay Dutt’s pardon, help these people?
While the Parliamentarians are asking for pardon for Sanjay, maybe they can mull over the Right to Justice Bill… if they know what it is.
In 1982-83, the All India Jail Reforms Committee had called for quick trials and simplification of bail procedures.
In 2011, it was the same M. Veerappa Moily who, as Law Minister, said, “the government is planning to introduce a Right to Justice Bill, whose highlight will be a time-bound justice delivery system”.
Nothing has happened.
Maybe Jayaprada and Jaya Bachchan can take it up? That way, next time they won’t have to be “startled” by judiciary’s sudden need to send Sanju baba to jail.
Also, if people should be pardoned without even completing 20% of their punishment, then why don’t the former Justice and the Parliamentarians rework the Indian Penal Code and say that possession of illegal arms will be punishable by just 18 months in prison, the one served already by Sanjay Dutt?
Why keep a form of punishment if you are not going to use it or if you can pressure a pardon out.
At this rate, Salman Khan may be getting his Public Relations machinery in gear. Carefully choosing powerful sympathisers and pardon-petitioners, keeping them ready, in case he gets sentenced.
After all, he has been charged with culpable homicide for driving over a man and killing him. The case has been going on for 10 years now. He is also charged in the Black Buck shooting case where he was sentenced to five years, for which he served three days in prison.
So, are we to expect that if the court sentences Salman to prison for five years for killing a black buck and a human being, we must pardon him for he has an NGO like “Being Human”?
Must we pardon him for paying for the release of 400 poor prisoners? and because he is our beloved Chulbul Pandey?
Yes. Emotional it is. But rational we must be.
As the saying goes, “You do the crime, you do the time.”
Sanjay Dutt has committed a crime and he has to do the time. At best, he can get an early parole for good behaviour and come out and continue his Gandhian work.
We don’t live in the movies where emotions rule. We live in a real world and in a real world it is the rule of law that keeps some semblance of civility.
Yes indeed, there is the theory of repentance and reformation.
Yes indeed, there is a need to see the spirit of the law, not just the word.
If that is the case, let us see the spirit of the law applied to all the petty cases — from the poor pickpocket to the sex-worker. After all, Sanjay Dutt did it to be a Macho Man. These people do it because they are human and they have to eat to live.
(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this column originally appeared)
The smiles are back on the faces of Indian cricketers, if not cricket fans. After a 0-4 drubbing against England in England and a 0-4 defeat at the hands of Australia in Australia, followed by a series loss to England at home, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys have finally sealed a 3-0 series win against Australia at home, with one Test still to come.
Minus Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag, the young guns (from Murali Vijay to Shikhar Dhawan to Cheteshwar Pujara to Virat Kohli) have scored runs by the bucket. Suddenly Ravichandran Ashwin is taking wickets and Ravindra Jadeja is being spoken of as a match-winner.
No cricket victory is to be scoffed at, although critics will point at the advantage of home conditions, turning tracks, an inexperienced opposition, dissent in the ranks, etc. But there is such a thing as a reality check, too. So, the question is: is this just a chimera or could Dhoni & Co come up trumps against South Africa later this year?
Can the young batsmen stand up to the searing pace of Dale Steyn, Mornie Morkel and Vernon Philander? Will the bowlers run through a batting order that comprises Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, A.B. de Villiers, Faf du Plesis? Or is winning at home enough?
Every survey supposedly done by pollsters in Karnataka has shown that the BJP has slammed the doors of the “gateway to the south” on its face. From a low of 113 in a house of 224, pollsters are predicting as high a tally as 133 for the Congress. And almost every poll has shown that the BJP could end up between 30 and 40 seats shy of the Congress in the legislative assembly, which means there is no room for “Operation Kamala-II”, the disgusting subversion of democracy that the legal lights of the BJP hailed.
If there was room for doubt if not suspicion about the motives and motivations of these polls, the results of the March 7 elections to the urban local bodies dispel them somewhat. The Congress has won three of the seven city corporations, so far. The BJP has been routed in Bellary, the epitome of all that has been wrong with Karnataka politics in recent years. And the BJP is staring at the prospect of ending up not even second but third in the tally of the wards under its belt.
Questions: Is it all over the BJP in Karnataka or could the assembly elections spring a surprise? Can the heady cocktail of casteism, communalism and corruption that was the hallmark of BJP rule in Karnataka blunt the hype surrounding its government in Gujarat?
Is a resounding victory the end of Congress’s troubles or the beginning of the tussle for leadership? And even if it comes up trumps in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, will the Congress ever make up in Karnataka, what it is most likely to lose in Andhra Pradesh?
Replying to the motion of thanks to the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, prime minister Manmohan Singh was unusually belligerent, invoking memories of 22 July 2008, when he spoke in a similar vein after the UPA had won a controversial vote in favour of the civilian nuclear deal on which he had staked all.
“The Leader of Opposition, L.K. Advani has chosen to use all manner of abusive objectives to describe my performance. He has described me as the weakest Prime Minister, a nikamma PM, and of having devalued the office of PM. To fulfill his ambitions, he has made at least three attempts to topple our government. But on each occasion his astrologers have misled him. This pattern, I am sure, will be repeated today. At his ripe old age, I do not expect Advani to change his thinking. But for his sake and India’s sake, I urge him at least to change his astrologers so that he gets more accurate predictions of things to come.”
Yesterday, days after Narendra Damodardas Modi said the PM was only a “nightwatchman“, the PM said:
“In 2009, they (the BJP) fielded their Iron Man Advaniji against the lamb that Manmohan Singh is and we all know what the result was. The BJP will lose again because of its arrogance…. I am convinced that if people look at our record, they would repeat what they did in 2004 and 2009.”
The PM’s “aggression” has caught many by surprise. Coming a day after Rahul Gandhi‘s admission that becoming prime minister was not his life-objective, there is even talk that this was as close as Manmohan Singh could come to bidding for candidacy for a third successive term as Prime Minister.
Questions: Is the prime minister’s charge of arrogance against the BJP valid? Or is he merely venting his frustration? Is it possible, just possible, that Manmohan Singh could be proved right again? Or is this just a pipe dream?
On the eve of the winter budget session of Parliament and with the Gujarat Karnataka, MP, Delhi, Rajasthan elections around the corner, the scam and scandal-ridden Congress-led UPA has stumped the scam and scandal-ridden BJP-led NDA with its early-morning announcement of the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist involved in the 26/11 siege of BombayAfzal Guru, the convict in the 2002 attack on Parliament.
Within a matter of hours, a weak government is being seen as assertive by the lynch mobs which routinely bay for blood, and a “soft-state” is slapping its thighs in delight, although the implications of the hanging—on India-Pakistan relations Guru’s home-state Kashmir, which goes to the polls next year, on the fallout in the country, on the fate of Sarabjit SinghRajiv Gandhi‘s killers, Beant Singh‘s killers etc—are still to be weighed.
Above all, in the very week two months after India refused to be a signatory to a United Nations resolution banning the death penalty, the hanging of Ajmal Kasab Afzal Guru, almost as if to satiate the public and political need for revenge and retribution, throws a big question mark over India’s presumed humanism of the land of the Mahatma.
Afzal Guru was walked to the gallows on Saturday morning at the end of the macabre rite governments enact from time to time to propitiate that most angry of gods, a vengeful public. Through this grim, secret ceremony, however, India has been gravely diminished….
In case after case, the course of criminal justice has been shaped by public anger and special-interest lobbying. Indians must remember the foundational principle of our Republic, the guardian of all our rights and freedoms, isn’t popular sentiment: it is justice, which in turn is based on the consistent application of principles.
For one overriding reason, Guru’s hanging ought to concern even those unmoved by his particular case, or the growing ethics-based global consensus against the death penalty. There is no principle underpinning the death penalty in India today except vengeance. And vengeance is no principle at all.
Even where a person has killed another, or many others, in any circumstance or for any reason, there is no justification for taking his life. The provision for capital punishment is based on a primitive idea of retribution and should have no place in the statutes of a civilised society.
Afzal Guru did not kill, and there is no absolute certainty about his role in the events that he is said to have been involved in. Then why did he have to be executed? The question will haunt the nation’s conscience in the days and years to come.
The Delhi gangrape has already seen a multiplicity of effects. A government-appointed committee has presented a report in record time. The government has moved an ordinance just two weeks ahead of a Parliament session. There is a gag order on the media reporting the court case. The I&B ministry has issued an advisory to TV stations. Etcetera.
Now, there is another unintended victim: item songs.
The central board of film certification has reportedly decreed that “item songs” will in future be graded as “A” (adult) content, which means they can no longer be shown on TV whose content otherwise is supposed to be U/A (universal/adult).
“Item songs are essentially adult content. We ourselves do not define what an item song is, but what we mean is that all those songs which are meant for adult consumption, either because of their lyrics or because of visuals, should be given adult certification,” Pankaja Thakur of CBFC is quoted as saying.
There is, of course, no direct correlation between the Delhi gangrape and item songs, but there is much to be read into the timing of the CBFC move, which otherwise was turning the blind eye for so long. The underlying belief seems to be that item songs, most of which showcase severely underdressed women in orgiastic settings, fashion the minds of youngsters and could have a deleterious effect in the long run.
Question: should item songs be shown on TV or not? Should they be shown at a specific hour, like advertisements for condoms? Or are we reading too much into its impact on young minds?
To nobody’s surprise, Narendra Damodardas Modi has secured a remarkable third, consecutive victory for the BJP in Gujarat. But to the shock of his fanatical drumbeaters and hype masters (and internet trolls), he has ended up with two fewer seats than what he had got five years ago: 115 in 2012 versus 117 in 2007.
The reduced margin does little to take away from the significance of the mandate, but it does throw a nice question mark over the expensive and relentless public relations campaign that had been mounted (through TV channels, magazine covers, newspaper ads) to erase the memories of 2002 and to create the self-fulfilling prophecy of the development giant towering over meek, inactive creatures populating the landscape.
The size of the victory also throws a small spanner in his grand design to swiftly move to Delhi and assume charge of his beleaguered party that is no better shape than the Congress, if not worse.
The fact that he has ended up with fewer seats for all that had been invested into his giant leap by corporates, business and media houses, means that many in the BJP and RSS (and not necessarily in that order), and the NDA, will now be emboldened to question what had been assumed for granted: that he would win a huge win on the scale of his persona, serve out a few months as chief minister, hand over charge to one of his chosen ones, and then move to Delhi to lead the BJP charge in the next general election against the hapless Rahul Gandhi.
He might yet do that, but there can be little denying that some of the air has slipped out of the blimp for the moment.
The BJP reverse in Himachal Pradesh (where he made a big song and dance over induction cookers) shows that he still doesn’t possess the pan-Indian appeal that his supporters thought he does. Sans an emotive issue (despite his efforts to spread a canard about Sir Creek or his derisive labelling of Ahmed Patel as Ahmed miyan), Modi is not the force he was expected to be.
Quite clearly, it would require a superhuman to retain the interest or sustain the hype for another five years. So, when exactly will Modi make his move to Delhi? Will it be smooth? Will he able to stomach a rebuff if his advances are spurned by his party colleagues and allies? And will the “former future prime minister” be given the opportunity to stand from Gandhinagar again?
The exit polls for the Gujarat elections are all gung-ho, predicting between 118 seats on the down side and 140 plus on the upside for the BJP under Narendra Modi in the 2012 assembly election, and not surprisingly some media houses are already in celebration mode.
But the satta bazaar is less sure. According to a report in the Economic Times, bookies think that while Modi will retain power, he will not cross 100 seats in the 182-member assembly and will most certainly not overwhelm his 117 tally in the previous assembly election.
After the first round of polling, Gujarat’s most important Congressman is said to have told a Congress functionary “we are through”. And after the exit polls came in, a Union minister and a prominent Congress general secretary are both believed to have told a published journalist that there was no way Congress would get “less than 70″, meaning Modi could be looking at a tally of under 117.
On the other hand, India’s bestknown business journalist said after a tour of Gujarat last week that 140 was on the cards for the BJP. And a BJP functionary says that while talk of 90 is ridiculous, she is also wary of euphoric numbers of the sort the exit polls have been touting, like 140.
And so it goes on.
How much do you think Narendra Modi will score tomorrow?
The disgraceful nataka in BJP-ruled Karnataka has taken yet another farcical turn with the former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa formally launching his own regional party, the Karnataka Janata Party, from the central town of Haveri on Sunday. With just a few months to go before the term of the current assembly ends, the “gateway to the south” is clearly now in election mode.
Yediyurappa’s is not the first regional party in the State: from D. Devaraj Urs to Ramakrishna Hegde to S. Bangarappa, the pot of regionalism has been periodically simmering, usually in vain. But there are three key differences between then and now.
One, while those worthies at least had the semblance of the greater common good—social justice, land reforms, secularism, etc—Yediyurappa and his ilk have had no bigger aim or objective than cloaking their own self-interest in reginoal colours . Witness the constant refrain of “sthaana-maana” in the last couple of years.
Two, while M/s Urs, Hegde and Bangarappa represented small communities, Yediyurappa represents the large Lingayat community, which is neck and neck with the Vokkaligas in numerical strength. So, to that extent, Yediyurappa has given his community the political equivalent of H.D. Deve Gowda‘s Janata Dal (Secular).
And three, and perhaps most importantly, Yediyurappa’s party comes at a time when the two national parties, the Congress and BJP, are in decline across the nation, as evidenced by diminishing vote share and seat share, odd exceptions notwithstanding.
Questions: Will Yediyurappa’s attempt pay off? Is Karnataka ready for a regional party? Will he eat into BJP votes or Congress votes? Can he get the majority to form a government? If not, will he tie up with the BJP or the Congress? Or, will his political outfit be an insiginficant player, which will be his shield against the cases against him and his sons?
If elections were just a bunch of opinion polls and television shows and magazine covers and advertisements and 3D shows, it would seem as if Narendra Modi has already won the Gujarat assembly elections and the Congress and the other opposition are only there to help him do so—although polling begins only after ten days from now.
In the face of such drum-beating about Brand Modi and Vibrant Gujarat, and against the backdrop of constant invocations of development and growth, key issues that help a voter make up her mind have been swept under the carpet. There is no talk of the three-cornered contest, even less of education, poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, pollution, law and order, etc—all very live factors in Gujarat as in other parts of the country.
Nonetheless, who are we to poop such a party? So here’s a simple question: how many seats do you think Narendra Modi and the BJP will walk away with?
India’s defeat at the hands of England in the second Test match in Bombay has turned the spotlight not on the spinners who were supposed to take revenge on the Poms for what they did to us when we went to their country, but on India’s greatest ever cricketer, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
With the 39-year-old getting out cheaply twice in a row to the left arm spin of Madhusudhan Singh alias Monty Panesar—his last 10 Test innings have yielded just 153 runs at an average of 15.3—the calls for Sachin’s retirement are ringing aloud once again.
For its part, the BCCI says the maestro will himself decide when it is time to go.
“He will hang up his boots when he thinks it’s time for him to go. He does not need any advice on this. Before making a comment on his performance you have to see his colossal record and his past performance. “He will do well in forthcoming matches,” BCCI official Rajiv Shukla has said.
The irony will not be lost on many, that while Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman—no less contributors to the India Batting story—were given no such choice to decide their fate, the BCCI seems overly reluctant to make up its mind on Sachin’s future although Sachin himself indicated in a recent television interview that he was unlikely to play the next World Cup.
Question: should Sachin take the cue from his recent performances and pack up his bags or should he stay on because, well, a turnaround could still be around the corner?
The RSS ideologue M.G. Vaidya has kicked off a big storm in the BJP teacup ahead of the Gujarat elections, by alleging that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was behind the recent campaign of vilification against the party president Nitin Gadkari, which culminated in a demand for Gadkari’s removal from the post by the renowned lawyer and BJP member of Parliament, Ram Jethmalani, and his lawyer-son Mahesh Jethmalani.
“Needle of suspicion in the campaign against BJP president Nitin Gadkari points to Gujarat BJP and Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Ram Jethmalani had in one breath said he is seeking the resignation of Gadkari and that he also wanted to see Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister in 2014.”
In many ways, what Vaidya says is not particularly new; Modi’s alleged involvement (and of his lackeys) in hurling allegations at Gadkari over his business dealings through the media has been gossip in the political corridors and television studios in Delhi for days now. After all, Jethmalani senior (who represents the former minister of state for home, Amit Shah, in the encounter cases) was given a Rajya Sabha seat at the behest of Modi.
But the backroom buzz has been given a certificate of authenticity with Vaidya putting it on record and then reiterating it, although the BJP has been at pains to reject the insinuation. However, since nothing in the RSS happens without a pattern, Vaidya going public with his allegation at this juncture poses several questions:
Is the RSS conveying its displeasure of Modi’s tactics and his overweening ambition to occupy the national stage? Was Gadkari retained as BJP chief last week (after another RSS ideologue S. Gurumurthy gave a clean chit) largely to show Modi his place? Did Modi mount a subversive attack on Gadkari in the full knowledge that if Gadkari finished his first term or got a second term (as the party’s consitution now allows), he could prove a hurdle in his path given the backing he enjoys from the RSS?
More importantly, does Modi’s ascension look less assured even if he wins a third term, as he is slated to? And, if he is rebuffed in his prime ministerial ambitions should NDA get a majority, could Modi (as B.S. Yediyurappa aide and the president of his soon-to-be-formed party, Dhananjay Kumar, has said on TV) break away and form his own party as Yediyurappa is threatening to do?
And, does the recent turn of events indicate the kind of polarising figure Narendra Modi will be if he graduates to Delhi?
Reading newspaper reports, columns and editorials on the magnificent reelection of Barack Obama—and listening to his reelection speech full of hope and promise—brings home the stunning similarities between the current plight of the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s biggest democracy, in the year of the lord 2012.
There, like here, a man seen to be a reasonable, transformational figure was reduced to a divisive caricature by constant denigration. There, like here, the opposition put every hurdle in the path of the ruling dispensation, not allowing it to pass key legislation even if some of it may have been for the good of the country.
There, like here, the opposition stuck its head in the sand and pretended every problem was one man’s creation with no part of theirs or of the global economy. There, like here, sections of the media were skillfully used to spread the canards and the cock and bull stories reeking of self-righteousness and sanctimony.
There, like here, the opposition party allowed its agenda to be dictated by fringe elements from outside the boundary. There, like here, the opposition thought that the people would be fooled by the negativism and resentment, the intolerance and hate that they have made their leit motif.
Long years ago, when Doordarshan was the only TV option for the mango people, the weekly serial was the sole form of entertainment in the back of beyond. Each evening, thirsty masses waited with bated breath for what Hum Log and Khandaan, Ados Pados and Jaane bhi do yaaro would throw up that week.
That done, the waiting would begin again.
In the age of 24×7 news television, editors and journalists appear to have outsourced one hour of each week to Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan to allow them to air their libel-laden soap opera.
One week, they show the wheeling-dealing of Sonia Gandhi‘s son-in-law Robert Vadra; another week it is Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s son in-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya. One week, it is Salman Khurshid, another week it is Nitin Gadkari. One week, it is DLF, another week it is Reliance Industries.
And so it is, this Wednesday evening, when the producer-director duo behind India Against Corruption have merrily stated that it is RIL’s Mukesh Ambani, not Manmohan Singh, who is running the country. Using the cabinet reshuffle, in which the oil and petroleum minister S. Jaipal Reddy was shunted out to the lesser science and technology ministry, as the peg, the two have alleged:
# Reliance’s arm-twisting ways have caused a massive loss to the nation. Reliance has promised to deliver cheap gas for 17 years, but it has never delivered…
# Reliance has the contract to extract oil from KG Basin. Under an agreement of 2009 with the government, they are supposed to sell gas at $ 4.2 per mmBTU upto 31 March 2014. Midway now, RIL is demanding that the price be increased to $ 14.2 per mmBTU. Jaipal Reddy resisted that and he was thrown out…
# The then petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was replaced and Murli Deora was brought in to benefit RIL. Pranab Mukherjee gave undue benefit of Rs 8000 crore to RIL in 2007. Now, Jaipal Reddy has been ousted for objecting to raising RIL’s demand to raise gas prices.”
“The government is succumbing to the illegitimate demands of RIL. Even the PM was very sympathetic to RIL. And as a result, Reliance has gained more than Rs 1 lakh crore, that the country lost.”
In its 62nd year as a Republic, India presents a picture that can only mildy be termed unedifying.
Scams are raining down on a parched landscape with frightening ferocity. From outer space (2G, S-band) to the inner depths of mother earth (coal), the Congress-led UPA has had it all covered in its second stint. Meanwhile, Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of the first family of the Congress, has taken charge of scandals at or near sea level.
The BJP’s president Nitin Gadkari is neckdeep in a gapla of his own, one that threatens, in fact one that is designed to deprive him of a second stint in office. “Scam”, of course, was the middle-name of party’s Karnataka mascot, B.S. Yediyurappa. From Mulayam‘s SP to Mayawati‘s BSP to Sharad Pawar‘s NCP, from Karunanidhi‘s DMK to Jayalalitha‘s AIADMK, money-making is the be-all and end-all.
The less said of the corporates who have pillaged the country since time immemorial the better but Vijay Mallya presents its most compelling side as he shuts down his airline while his son hunts for calendar girls. The do-gooders of Team Anna and now Team Kejriwal are themselves subject to searching questions on their integrity levels. And the media is busy getting exposed as extortionists and blackmailers.
Questions: Have we as a country completely lost our moral and ethical compass? Are we going through an “unprecedented” phenomenon or is this what the US and other developed democracies like Japan have gone through in their path to progress? Or does it not matter in the greater scheme of things? Is all this leaving the citizenry cynical and frustrated or do we not care because all of us are in it, in our own little ways?
The grenade lobbed by the Arvind Kejriwal-Prashant Bhushan gang on Friday, accusing Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, of dubious deals with the construction company DLF, has sent the Congress camp into a tizzy. Over half-a-dozen Union ministers trooped into TV studios to defend FDI*—the First Damaad of India—even as Vadra maintained a studied silence, before breaking it on Facebook (he has since deleted his FB account).
To be sure, there was little of surprise: the same details had been carried by The Economic Times a year and six months ago, quoting Registrar of Companies (ROC) documents. At the time, the Congress had not seen it fit to respond. But the timing of the latest “expose”, after the Jan Lok Pal movement was tarred and tarnished, after the announcement of a new party sans Anna Hazare, and in the run-up to the Gujarat and general elections, gives the issue a whole new angle.
Questions: Will the charges against Vadra become a millstone around the Congress’—and by extension, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi‘s necks—forever, like Bofors has? Or will they peter out because there is no foreign hand like Ottavio Quattrochchi‘s and no clear quid pro quo? Do the charges prove crony conspiracy at its worst? Or, has the Kejriwal-Bhushan duo bitten off more than they can chew by hitting below the belt?
After threatening to leave the Bharatiya Janata Party virtually every fortnight since he resigned from office in disgrace under a haze of sleaze and corruption in July 2011—and after making a mockery of two wonderful Kannada words sthana (position) and maana (respect) since then—former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa has finally mustered the strength and the courage to say that he has had enough with the BJP and will call it quits from the party.
By all indications, Yediyurappa will announce his new party in November or December, in time for the assembly elections due in the first-half of 2013.
Yediyurappa has ruled out joining any other political party although he has been singing paeans of Sonia Gandhi‘s Congress party over the last few weeks, and although Nitish Kumar‘s JD(U) and Mulayam Singh Yadav‘s Samajawadi Party, both avowedly secular parties with little presence in the South, are both said to be toying with the idea of joining hands with Yediyurappa, who cut his teeth in the RSS.
But the questions remain: Has Yediyurappa delayed his exit too long? Has BJP neutralised his influence by allowing him to drag on with his antics? Will Yediyurappa on his own be even half the force he was with the BJP? Will the BJP split help the Congress in the assembly polls? Will Yediyurappa’s new party result in a four-way race in the State and thus make it easier for the BJP?
A week is a long time in politics; ten days is an eternity. Ten days ago, the Congress-led UPA government was weighed down by the scams and scandals that have enveloped it since its return to power in 2009. The economy was down, the fiscal deficit was up, the ratings were near-junk, the writing was on the wall.
It was deja vu 1991 in circa 2012.
But the partial rationalisation of diesel prices followed by the announcement of foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, aviation and broadcasting (followed by a slew of measures including one rank-one pension for Army wallahs, dearness allowance hike for government employees, etc) have changed the headlines.
Suddenly, the coal scam is off the front pages and nightly news.
Suddenly, the main obstacle to reforms (Mamata Banerjee) is out.
Suddenly, the “underachiever” prime minister is talking.
Suddenly, there is talk of a reshuffle of the Union ministry and Congress party apparatus.
And, on top of all that, the entire opposition from the left to right is united in its opposition to FDI in retail, citing the interests of everybody from the farmer down to the consumer, to dire warnings of economic slavery and colonisation of the mind. Even Narendra Damodardas Modi who has gone around with the FDI bowl in his hand to more countries than most chief ministers is warning of the “foreign hand”.
What last week’s Bharat bandh (in which UPA ally DMK too took part) and today’s BJP suggestion of a rollback of the FDI in retail should it come to power, have done is to willy-nilly paint the Congress as the only “pro-reforms” party in the country ahead of 2014, which is all the more surprising because this was the party which in the last few years had turned subsidies into an entitlement.
Questions: Will the reforms work in reviving the economy and will that in turn convince the electorate to plump for UPA-III? Or, is it just a desperate last-ditch effort by the Congress to revive its chances, one doomed to electoral failure? Will the aam admi see through the xenophobia, or will he let his wallet do the voting?