Posts Tagged ‘Mani Shankar Aiyar’

NaMo, PaChi, chai, MaShAi and Mahabharatha

20 February 2014

Those who know Gujarat politics know that its chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s claims of having been a tea-seller at Ahmedabad (or was it Vadnagar?) railway station in his youth is a minor “fake encounter with facts”. Sonia Gandhi‘s man friday from the land of Amul, Ahmed Patel, has helpfully clarified that Shri Modiji was only a fafda-seller at his uncle’s shop.

Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped some Congressmen from revealing their upbringing.

Mani Shankar Aiyar with Doon school, St. Stephen‘s college and Cambridge in his curriculum vitae said Modi could sell tea at the Congress office, prompting the BJP (or its corporate sponsors) to do some “Chai pe Kharcha” to organise Modi’s “Chai pe Charcha“.

More recently, when Modi began doing some major fake encounters with economic facts, finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, with Harvard on his CV, stepped in to remind the world that what the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” knew about economics could be written on the back of a postal stamp.

The condescending comments revealed the class prejudice prevalent in Indian society and politics, writes P.M. Vasudev in Deccan Herald. But it is not something Aiyar and Chidambaram discovered with Modi on the horizon; we have grown up with it since the time of the Mahabharatha:

“With many of the negatives in contemporary India, it is possible to trace to the Mahabharatha the attitude underlying the statements of Aiyar and Chidambaram.

“At the display by the Pandavas and Kauravas on completion of their training in military skills, their guru, Drona, dared any person in the assembly to challenge Arjuna.

“When Karna rose to do so, Drona insulted and humiliated him about his lowly social position as the son of a chariot-driver and questioned how he could dare challenge a prince.

“Of course, in doing so, Drona brushed aside the main issue – namely, the skills of the contestants.

“Betraying deep-seated rank prejudices, he taunted Karna about his social position. It is a different story that Duryodhana, who had his own agenda to put the Pandavas down, stepped in and made Karna the prince of a small state, so he could compete with Arjuna ‘on a par.’”

Read the full article: Class prejudice, competence & spirit of democracy

Photograph: courtesy Daily Bhaskar

Also read: Do they teach this at Harvard Business School?

CHURUMURI POLL: Does Mukesh Ambani run India?

31 October 2012

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.”

Question: Are Kejriwal-Bhushan right? Do Mukesh Ambani and Reliance run the country?

Also read: Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

NDTV, CNN-IBN and Mani Shankar Aiyar ‘Live’

14 January 2011

Reader Kollery S. Dharan forwards two screengrabs, shot with his mobile phone, of the 10 pm shows of NDTV 24×7 and CNN-IBN on Thursday, 13 January 2011.

Both channels carry the “live” logo on the top right-hand corner. And “live” on both channels at the same time on the same day is the diplomat-turned-politician Mani Shankar Aiyar.

For Barkha Dutt‘s show The Buck Stops Here (left), Aiyar, in a grey coat, offers his wisdom on the dynastic democracy that the writer Patrick French says India has become.

For Sagarika Ghose‘s show Face the Nation (right), Aiyar, now in a beige/ light brown coat, holds forth on Pakistan’s identity crisis. The two pictures were captured at 10.22 pm and 10.23 pm.

So, which channel had Mani Shankar Aiyar “live” last night? Or has Aiyar broken the time-space continuum?

Citizen-Journalist quiz on Commonwealth Games

26 September 2010

Citizen-Journalist E.R. RAMACHANDRAN is pleased to present the Commonwealth Games quiz.

Please fill in and send us your entries before the due date mentioned below. If you miss the deadline, no problem; send it before the next due date.

Prizes are indicated at bottom. An empowered group of ministers (EGoM) headed by Sri S. Jaipal Reddy if he is still in charge till then that is, will announce and distribute the prizes.

Your time begins now (or then):

***

Question 1:  In your opinion, who is the biggest villain of the Commonwealth Games 2010?

a. Mani Shankar Aiyar
b. Suresh Kalmadi
c.  Manohar Singh Gill
d.  Sheila Dixit
e.  All of the above, plus Dr. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi

Question 2: Which of the following presents the biggest threat for participants in Delhi CWG?

a) Falling roofs
b) Collapsing beds
c) Dengue, malaria, gastroenteritis
d) Dogs on beds
e) Leaky toilets
f) Waterlogging in bedrooms
g) Mudslide on running tracks
h) Filth, muck in games’ village
i) Politicians, bureaucrats
j) Terrorists

Question 3:  How many kilometres of toilet paper have been imported by the organising committee for the games?

a)  10 km
b)  100 km
c)  1,000 km
d)  None at all. Yamuna water is there everywhere

Question 4: Who should take the oath on ‘spirit of fair play’ before the games?

a)   Queen of England for starting the fiasco with the ‘Baton Relay’  function.
b)    Suresh Kalmadi
c)    Lalit Bhanot
d)    M.S. Gill

Question 5: Who will be the chairman of the organising committee for the Olympics Games to be hosted by India?

a) Suresh Kalmadi
b) Kalmadi’s son
c) Kalmadi’s daughter
d) Anyone else?

Question 6: Who will be the athlete of the games?

a) Shera
b) A.R. Rehman
c) Arnab Goswami of Times Now
d) Athletes who manage to reach the venues

Question 7: Who should get the ‘Drutharashtra’ award for extraordinary vision, conceptualisation and implementation of CWG Delhi?

a) Suresh Kalmadi
b) Mike Fennel and Mike Hooper
c) Mani Shankar Aiyar for ditching the Games
d) Manmohan Singh

Question 8: Who exactly is responsible for the mess that is CWG- Delhi?

a) Indian Olympic Committee
b) Commonwealth Games organising commitee
c) Central public works department
d) Delhi Development Authority
e) Centre government
f) Delhi State government
g) Both governments
h) All of them

Question 9:  After the Games what do we do with Kalmadi?

a) Honour him with Bharat Ratna’
b) Hang him from a roof which doesn’t collapse
c) Make him president for hosting Olympics Games
d) Make him deputy chairman of planning commission
e) I have my own private plans

Question 10: Which movie title best sums up CWG 2010–Delhi?

a) Monsoon Wedding
b) Gol-Maal
c) Any Ramgopal Varma movie
d) Chori Chori
e) Chupke Chupke

***

Deadline for submission of entries: Just before opening ceremony of Olympic Games hosted by India.

Prizes: I Prize:  Honorary menbership of IOC + 100 strips of paracetamol to fight dengue
II Prize: chairman of cleaning committee + 100 rolls of imported toilet paper
III Prize: drug inspector to test athletes for doping + 100 inhalers

***

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

‘A devil’s idea from hell’s labyrinth to ruin us all’

10 September 2010

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Switching on the telly late yesterday, at an hour when the beat policeman had perhaps blown his tenth whistle for the night, I watched with bemused disgust the morbidity of the mandarins of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) organising committee led by Suresh Kalmadi.

The television showed pictures of half-complete stadia in various stages of almost irreparable dereliction, their pylons and multiple tiers exposed in all their brutal nakedness, maimed, battered and contorted by the shameful acts of uncaring ineptitude of  men who do not simply care even for a moment what it means to the pride of a nation to botch up the preparations for one of the most important sporting competitions on the world’s calendar.

Suresh Kalmadi and his band have shown to the world that ours is a nation where governmental bodies run by politicians can so easily, and without as much as a sliver of accountability, mess up anything they are assigned to achieve; one where gravediggers of the kind on show wouldn’t think twice before picking up shovels in the dead of the night to dig their own mother’s grave looking for the trinket she wore on the day of her burial.

A nation where the slightest opportunity to make money from projects funded by the exchequer is explored in all its dimensions with the never-say-die spirit of medieval bounty hunters; one where denial in the face of charges and simply shameless justification in the heat of enquiry is the usual fallout of the whole morass like the one the nation is presently faced with, courtesy the hosting of the CWG in Delhi.

A nation that does not know its priorities, a government that is so pathetically bereft of a conscience that it thinks nothing about literally blowing up a whopping, heart-stopping Rs 28,00 crore on putting together a sporting extravaganza where the medals list will eventually have so few Indian names so as to be rendered completely disproportionate to the monies invested to have these games in India.

A nation where a tragically large number of citizens live below the poverty line with a mere daily morsel of food becoming the equivalent of the finding of a precious nugget after unendingly long hours of toil in the harsh mines of their regular day to day existence; where infrastructural realities paint a scary and grim picture of urban existence with the vehicles of consciousness having veered off the track, seemingly not able to come back for ever.

Did we ever need to host these games?

Are we such a rich country and an athletic superpower that the track burning feats of our athletes shall be written in gold on the plaque of time for the rest of the world to be in awe of?

Can we simply afford to have so much money going into the making of mere play grounds, which in reality, is what grand stadiums are all about, for the enjoyment of a few in the midst of the unspeakable sufferings of many?

In a country which is surely not among the most advanced in the world and where the index of corruption displays such demeaning figures that to keep our heads high at the angle that god meant them to be is itself a conscious effort as we walk the national streets of sleaze, each day of our lives!

This is not to say that the pursuit of excellence in sport is abhorrent. The point is, a poor nation like ours which is still in the process of being built by half-baked, self-serving men and women who sit in judgment over our collective fate should prioritise when it comes to opening the ‘things to do’ list.

# How about striving towards building an excellent network of roads across the nation?

# How about augmenting public hospitals and their capabilities so that millions can benefit from decent health care?

# And how about going full steam ahead and building many more court halls across the length and breadth of the nation and appointing legal officers to improve the justice delivery time frame? And how about computerising the functioning of the courts to the maximum extent possible?

# How about making education accessible to the common boy and girl by refurbishing the existing government schools and colleges all over the country and making them centres of true learning?

# How about striving towards ensuring uninterrupted power supply to the nation, in today’s age and time when technology beckons?

Just a few obvious examples of what Rs 28,000 crore can do to the fortunes of a country like ours, a nation in urgent need of repair.

Twenty eight thousand crores for high jump and long jump? The 100 metres dash and the 1,200 metres steeple chase? And for the 400 metres baton race?

That too in the hands of men who are, by the looks of it, genetically predisposed towards money laundering, cheating and account fudging?

And that too when the average Indian athlete, with genuine respects to those who try, is as good, especially at the international level, as a cowering mouse in the presence of a madly hissing cobra!

This cannot be anything but the devil’s idea from the labyrinths of hell to ruin a nation’s future.

Also read: The Times of India and the Commonwealth Games

Why Ram Pyari couldn’t take her daughter home

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Mani Shankar Aiyar ‘anti-national’?

The Times of India and Commonwealth Games

3 September 2010

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The year of the lord 2010 has seen the The Times of India in uber-aggressive mode.

The nation’s largest English daily that rarely ever wants to “afflict the comfortable” despite its size, reach, reputation, resources and influence, has pulled out all stops in exposing the murky IPL dealings of Lalit Modi, Union minister Sharad Pawar and his MP-daughter Supriya Sule, and their NCP partyman Praful Patel.

In all those four IPL-related stories, Times provided blanket coverage and then let matters rest after a while. But if there is one story on which it has been relentless in the last couple of months, it is its attack on the Commonwealth Games (CWG)—and Pawar’s former factotum, Suresh Kalmadi.

Day after day, Times has employed reporters, editors, columnists, authors, even commissioned industrialists, to rip the games and the chairman of its organising committee apart, with the kind of first-rate journalism that ToI has condemned to play second fiddle over the last decade.

A cursory count shows that between 1 August and 2 September 2010, The Times of India (Delhi market) has published no less than 107 negative headlines on the Commonwealth Games (sample them here) with the author Chetan Bhagat just short of advocating a boycott of the CWG on the pages of The Sunday Times of India (in image, above).

Given how rarely ToI wants to rock the boat, the question that is naturally being asked in Delhi and Bombay is, why. What’s behind the Times‘ new-found aggro?

Legitimate journalism, is of course the easiest explanation for ToI‘s proactivism. The fact that the CWG is in a mess—inflated bills, corrupt deals, leaky stadiums, incomplete facilities, etc—is beyond doubt, and Suresh Kalmadi’s own culpability in this (and other) dubious deals is also beyond question.

After all, if politicians like Mani Shankar Aiyar can ask searching questions on the CWG, why shouldn’t a newspaper?

Yet, it is unnatural for a “feel-good” newspaper like The Times of India, whose advertised credo is to wake up the reader with a good feeling in his head, to rub in the bad news in the all-important Delhi market, day in and day out. Moreover, bigger scams involving more important people have been allowed to rest.

So, what gives?

There are no answers, just whispers.

But for over a fortnight now, journalists have been hissing about a four-page document that reportedly suggests that the Times‘ interest in the story may be more than just journalistic.

Now, it is up on Flickr (and Scribd).

The first page of it is a signed November 2009 letter from a director of Times of India group (C.R. Srinivasan) on a ToI letterhead to Suresh Kalmadi, outlining the “costumer connect initiatives” the group proposes to undertake.

“Kindly let us know of your decision to grant ‘official newspaper’ status to The Times of India at your earliest convenience,” concludes Srinivasan’s letter.

The second page is a signed note from Times Group general manager Gautam Sen to the additional director-general, communications, of the CWG organising committee, presenting a “comprehensive print proposal” (for Times of India, Navbharat Times, Maharashtra Times, Mirror and Sandhya Times) along with a rate-card.

For 2-page reports on five key milestone days (carrying a half-page ad of CWG at DAVP (department of audio visual publicity) rates and a half-page ad at commercial days); for six one-page reports (where in 65% of the page will have edit and 35% will be paid-for); and 12 full pages of advertorial at DAVP rates, Times proposes a Rs 12.19 crore package.

For a claimed combined nationwide circulation of 51.84 lakh copies for the five dailies, the breakdown is Rs 4.61 crore + Rs 3.31 crore + Rs 4.27 crore = Rs 12.19 crore.

The last-two pages doing the rounds—an unsigned note from a bureaucrat to a senior bureaucrat or to Kalmadi himself, explaining the fineprint of the proposed Times package—leave little to the imagination.

In summary, the ToI proposal has the following benefits:

# OC [organising committee] in totality pays for 16.6 pages and in return gets the leverage for 28 pages.

# It [ToI group] has the potential to form opinions of the public at large. It is also expected that with the influence that the ‘Response’ department has over editorial, the OC can get neutral and positive coverage from now to the Games.

# We can consider and extended and beneficial deals with ToI‘s other properties viz, TV, radio, internet, etc, including Economic Times (all editions) may be requested of ToI.

While on the face of it, the sum of Rs 12.19 crore may seem large, the benefits offered on a national basis are considerable and the proposal should be considered favourably.

Obviously, these notes and letters do not represent the full story and there is nothing—repeat, nothing—in them to suggest that the Times‘ coverage of CWG and Kalmadi has a connection with this and/or other correspondence.

But judging from the CWG coverage so far, it is fair to assume that ToI did not get the “official newspaper” status. (The buzz is that Hindustan Times has received that status with a lower than Rs 12.19 crore bid. At what terms HT secured the ‘My Delhi, My Games’ tag is not known, but Delhi’s two biggest English dailies do not come out smelling of roses.)

Judging from the hyper-ballistic coverage of CWG and Kalmadi on Times Now, it is also reasonably safe to assume that the plan to extend the deal to Times‘ other properties came to nought. (CNN-IBN swung the baton rights’ deal, unlike Times Now and the other aggrieved bidder, NDTV.)

Nevertheless, at a time when other Indian media specialities like “medianet, paid news” and “private treaties” have become the flavour of the season, the four-page ToI-CWG note lays bare the alarming interplay between editorial and advertising in Indian media houses like never before.

The two-page note appended to the Times‘ managers’ notes also shows how advertisers are confident of buying “neutral and positive coverage” if they can throw a few crores.

Conversely, the bottomline is clear: if an advertiser doesn’t play along, there is hell in store.

Also read: Why Delhi shouldn’t host Commonwealth Games

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Mani Shankar Aiyar ‘anti-national’?

Why Ram Pyari couldn’t take her daughter home

Why Ram Pyari couldn’t take her daughter home

30 July 2010

SHAH ALAM KHAN writes from New Delhi: The so-called “irresponsible remarks” by Mani Shankar Aiyar on the Commonwealth Games have left the government and its beloved babus fuming.

The mainstream and the alternative media are buzz with outright condemnation of Aiyar, calling him anti-national and an unworthy son of this great motherland.

It all amuses me.

As an Indian, I know that the stakes of Indian pride on a global scene are too high to be meddled with at the last moment. The Beijing Olympics have showcased China to a global audience and we are told by the self-righteous hawks that we too should use this opportunity to showcase the might of India, the next super-power.

We are told that events like the Commonwealth Games bring with them employment and opportunities for developing and improving the existing infra-structure. The government sees the event as a boon for economic development and prosperity.

I won’t be wrong in concluding that we have been made to believe that the woes of the common Indian will be laid to rest on 3 October 2010 as soon as the games are declared open!

Alas!

This could have been true.

The darker side of the organisation of these Games is not only murky but plainly speaking dirty to the soul. Corruption, malpractices, poor quality and irrelevant budgeting have plagued the games in a big way. The Games will conclude with an approximate budget of Rs 35,000 crore (or $1.3 billion).

Imagine a sum of Rs 35,000 crore just to develop a showcase of might and economic wellbeing in a country where 47% of population earns less than $ 1.25 a day!

What can we call this?

Are there words to describe this inhuman and irrelevant extravagance?

I agree with those who argue that events like the Commonwealth Games shouldn’t be compared with governmental policies of public welfare. True but unfortunately it is not all about money; it is the irrelevance of thought of our policy makers which angers me.

It was heartening to see Rahul Gandhi talk about Kalawati during the trust motion in 2008. But can he imagine that how many more Kalawatis would have been added to the system ever since the inception of construction work for the Commonwealth Games?

I still remember Beena, the eight-year-old daughter of Ram Pyari, a migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh who had come to Delhi with her family to work on one of the stadia.

Beena had bone cancer and of course the family could not afford any treatment. Beena died in one of the slums which had come out as an illegitimate offspring of the Commonwealth games village.

The family wanted to take Beena’s body back home but couldn’t afford losing the provisional livelihood as the contractor wanted the work to go on a war footing: he had a deadline to meet.

Beena was buried in Delhi and Ram Pyari continued working at the stadia which is now ready as a symbol of India’s growing economic might—the ornament of the showcase which Suresh Kalmadi and his bunch of imbecile nitwits want us to appreciate.

I am sure the story of Beena and Ram Pyari is not the only one.

Many Beenas lie buried under the debris of what we think is the greatest sporting event in the country. Surely, the cost of organizing the games goes far beyond Rs 35,000 crore.

It is ironic that the logo of these games has been made to look like the Chakra (a symbol of India’s freedom) with four colors: red, blue, yellow and pink.

Each color has relevance and they represent the “trinity of values” which symbolizes the games.

Red represents a unification of humanity; yellow, a chance for the athletes to realize their destiny; blue promotes equality and pink, we are made to believe, adds an element of surprise and luxury to the Games and reflects India in all its resplendent glory.

On one of Beena’s visit to my clinic I had asked her which color does she like the best. It haunts me that she had abruptly said “pink”.

No wonder India’s “resplendent” glory could only be erected on her flesh and bones.

I am surprised why the “trinity of values” concept eludes our ruling class when it comes to prioritizing hunger, poverty and ignorance?

Why can’t the red represent an equitable distribution of resources? Why can’t blue promote social equality and social justice? And how about assigning the yellow color to opportunities and hope to fulfill the destiny of millions of common Indians who are otherwise too effete to even stretch their imagination beyond the need and fulfillment of daily bread?

It is indeed a matter of shame that we want to hold the Commonwealth Games even when we have yet to sort out more pressing issues which require an in-depth and humane allocation of funds and resources. I won’t be exaggerating if I compare this to Pokhran-II where an incumbent BJP government found it appropriate to conduct the blasts and gain instant middle-class popularity rather than mending India’s gaping economic and social wounds.

The showcase of Indian glory will also be a hallmark of core values which define our ruling political and bureaucratic setup – corruption, lop sided priorities and a determination to pose an untimely, unasked and unnecessary agenda on the common man.

I agree with Mani Shankar Aiyar that with the conclusion of Commonwealth Games on October 13, the hungry hounds will look forth to future programs of loot. Maybe Asian games or even Olympics- the final sporting spectacle, the final event for unprecedented plunder of my and your money.

In the meantime, Rahul Gandhi’s Kalawatis and my Ram Pyaris can only curse their fates. Their numbers will grow. Many more Beenas will be buried under the debris of “resplendent” glory and phony pride of India. Pinks will elude their meaning for her and for the likes of her; black will be the color of the day.

(Dr Shah Alam Khan is an orthopaedic surgeon at the nation’s premier medical college and hospital, the all Indian institute of medical sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. Visit his blog: India and Bharat)

Also read: IPL’s thugs are no better than Maoists and Naxals

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Mani Shankar Aiyar ‘anti-national’?

CHURUMURI POLL: Good to lose the Asian Games bid?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Mani Aiyar ‘anti-national’?

28 July 2010

The Oxford-educated IFS officer turned Congress politician, Mani Shankar Aiyar—the man who introduced the word ‘limpets‘ into the political discourse—has flung a small pebble into his rasam tumbler,  by publicly asserting that he would be “unhappy” if the Commonwealth Games in Delhi are successful.

Furthermore, he has said those who patronise the games “can only be evil, they cannot be God.”

Aiyar’s reasoning is that the Rs 35,000 crore that he alleges has been spent on the Games could have been better spent on children instead of splurging it on building and renovating stadiums, decorating roads, etc, that Delhi seems to be merrily doing in the name of athletes of the Queen’s former colonies who, by a not so curious turn of fate, have decided not to avail the world-class facilities which so far have been proved to be decidedly third-class.

Additionally, Aiyar, who opposed the Commonwealth Games as sports minister during UPA-I and actually hailed the loss of India’s 2014 Asian games bid, says it would be good for the country if the Games fail because that would stop the Asian Games and Olympic Games and other such global circuses from coming to India.

As if to underline the point that the penultimate resort of scoundrels is to take cover under patriotism, the Games’ organiser, Indian Olympic Association bossman Suresh Kalmadi, has termed Aiyar’s comments irresponsible and called him “anti-national”.

Questions: Is Mani Shankar Aiyar “anti-national” for saying what he did? Is it wrong to question a mega event, sporting or otherwise, merely because the nation’s name and prestiage is attached to it? Or is Aiyar merely playing to the exclusive corporate box at 10 Janpath?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Good to lose Asiad bid?

CHURUMURI POLL: Are Maoists “terrorists”?

28 May 2010

In theory, the motivation for the upsurge in Maoism in the second term of the UPA is said to be the hand over of vast tracts of tribal land to industrial and mining groups. In theory, the Maoists are said to be battling on behalf of the voiceless tribals who have suffered due to decades of neglect.

In theory, the Maoists are said to be smart, bright chaps who have sacrificed the good life to fight on behalf of tribals who are raped, kidnapped, and killed, and whose resources exploited, pillaged and robbed etc, without justice from the systems and processes that independent India has put in place.

In theory, from Arundhati Roy to Sonia Gandhi, and Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar in between, tackling the naxals is all about addressing the “root cause”. Which means, building schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, facilities that the rest of the country, or at least vast chunks of it, enjoys.

In practise, though, are the Naxals merely rebels without a cause? Is the plight of the tribals merely a figleaf for those who do not believe in the Constitution of India? In killing civilians, in Dantewada (Chhatisgarh) ten days ago and in West Midnapore (Bengal) today, have the Naxals exposed themselves as brutal, cold-blooded killers hiding using ideology for their own (or their masters’) selfish ends?

Are they “misguided ideologues”, or just plain terrorists who are now blinded by their recent “successes” that they cannot even spot their “class enemies”? Are the Maoists brutalising the masses in much the same way they accuse the State of doing? Are the Maoists any different from Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba, LTTE or any terror outfit you can name?

Also read: ‘Either you are with us or you are with them?’

One question I’m dying to ask P. Chidambaram

CHURUMURI POLL: Will the State beat Naxals?

An open letter to home minister P. Chidambaram

Arundhati Roy: ‘What Muslims were to BJP, Maoists are to Congress’

How China changed the politics of Karnataka

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Reddy brothers quit?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Mittal Steel get the land?

CHURUMURI POLL: UPA-II versus UPA-I?

17 May 2010

On May 22, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) completes one year of its second term in office, and it would be fair to say that the hype and hoopla about the Congress getting 200 seats and forming a government on its own without Left support has well nigh dissipated and disappeared.

Instead, there are questions marks, big question marks, over several of the policies ushered in by the government, be it the women’s reservation bill or the nuclear liability bill, Over the Telegana decision taken in a hurry, the approach to Maoists, and the charges of wholesale and retail corruption.

In the absence of any kind of opposition from the Left or the Right, Congressmen (from Digvijay Singh to Jairam Ramesh, from Mani Shankar Aiyar to Shashi Tharoor) have been providing all the pinpricks, even as allies like the DMK and NCP have been happily riding merry on the spectrum scam or the IPL.

Question: How has UPA-II fared compared with UPA-I? On current evidence, does Manmohan Singh seem like he will last out the full term? Will Sonia Gandhi‘s return to the helm of the national advisory council restore a sense of balance? Is the BJP poised to exploit the situation?

18 things you might like to know about Jairam

19 July 2009

Jairam Ramesh is the ultimate outsider looking in. Born in Chikamagalur but not quite a Kannadiga. Tam-Brahm but brought up in Bombay. An engineer by education but better known as an economist. A columnist and television anchor, but not quite a journalist. Half-Kannadiga, half-Tamil but now a Rajya Sabha member from Andhra Pradesh.

Yet, while the media likes to count Jairam along with S.M. Krishna, Veerappa Moily, K.H. Muniyappa and Malikarjuna Kharge as part of “Team Karnataka” in the Union council of ministers, little is known about the man from coffeeland who possesses the most over-sized pate in Indian politics and a mot juste for every occasion.

Minister of state for commerce in the previous Manmohan Singh team who had glass doors installed at his office (“because he has much to hide!” in the words of a long-time political observer), Jairam is now minister for environment and forests. In the first 100 days, the wordsmith has already crossed swords with three chief ministers, B.S. Yediyurappa (over the Bellary mines issue), Ashok Chavan (over the location of the new airport in Bombay), and Sheila Dixit (over relaxing the ban on plastic covers).

So, who is Jairam Ramesh?

***

1) Son of Prof C.K. Ramesh, who taught structural engineering at IIT Bombay, where Jairam later went on to study “girlfriend repellent” mechanical engineering. Studious Jairam often was pelted with chalk by his B. Tech classmates. His crime? He wouldn’t walk out with the backbenchers even if the professor wasn’t in.

2) Married to K.R. Jayashree, daughter of former IAS officer K.V. Ramanathan. The couple have two sons, one of whom is studying law at Oxford. Although a devout Hindu, he is also seriously into Buddhism. Suffice to say, Jairam’s personal life is the topic of more than ordinary interest in the family. His mother Sridevi Ramesh lives on Chord Road in Bangalore.

gossip_sujan_park_200907063) Jairam did a brief stint at Business India, once the pre-eminent business fortnightly owned by Ashok Advani. That began his association with tiger researcher Valmik Thapar‘s sister Malavika Singh, the eminence grise of Business India who launched the company’s now-defunct business channel, BiTV. Jairam was part of Malavika Singh gossip sessions with such worthies as Navin Patnaik, now Orissa chief minister, in attendance, and now carries the tag of being an ace gossip.

4) Former planning commission member Abid Hussain has been quoted as saying  “Jairam has the highest IQ I have ever come across in anybody and energy levels that 10 horses can’t match.”

5) Jairam dropped out of a PhD program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after getting a master of science (MS) in public management at the Heinz College at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1977 to take a job at the World Bank.

Quotable quote: “The rate of growth of any economy is inversely proportional to the number of economists. Look at South Korea, look at India. South Korea produces no economists, but it has three times the growth rate as India, which produces three times the number of economists.”

6) Upon his return, he did a stint as a backroom boy with economist Lovraj Kumar and was an Officer on Special Duty in V.P. Singh government. He became a key fixture in Manmohan Singh‘s finance ministry in the Narasimha Rao regime. As an example of the licence-quota-permit raj that Singh unshackled, Jairam has said his father waited 15 years to buy a car.

As long back as 1979, he gave a clear indication of his main interests by co-editing a book titled Mobilising Technology for World Development.

moodindigo7) Jairam Ramesh and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, both excellent quizzers, were part of the 1975 Mood Indigo team at IIT Bombay. Jairam was the man Nandan tapped when the Infosys IPO was undersubscribed in 1993. Nandan asked Jairam to put Rs 10,000 in the company; Jairam didn’t and calls the move “the single biggest mistake of my life“.

8) Has a deep interest in history and when he wrote a column for The Times of India, revealingly chose the pseudonym Kautilya. He says he used to spend two-three days researching the topic: “Most columnists in India write for senior government officials to read. They write to be noticed by the government. And they write in a language only they can understand. I am writing for an ordinary person who wants to know more and more about economics. I try to de-mystify economics and issues. It is not an easy thing.”

9) Workaholic Jairam hosted a Sunday evening business roundtable on Doordarshan in the early 1990s called Crossfire produced by the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group, and a daily morning show called Business Breakfast on Star Plus.

The legend goes that for 480 days he woke up at 3.30 am, read the morning papers, and hosted the programme. He would arrive at the studios in a Fab India kurta and pyjama, remove the kurta, and host the show with a shirt and the pyjama. He was also famously known to be addicted to mint with a hole, finishing off a couple of packets a day.

miles-davis10) His North Block office as was famous for the music that emanated from it all day. Jairam, who counts music among his interests, has a huge collection of music CDs, from Kumar Gandharva to Miles Davis.

11) In the early 1990s, Jairam told friends there were four reasons why he thought he wouldn’t make it as a politician: “I am Brahmin, I am South Indian, I am good-looking, I am brilliant.”

12) Jairam is an Iyengar and wags say the line “this website is a public service so that you can leverage my knowledge and experience,” as proof that the three forms of the human ego are I-Iyer-Iyengar. Mani Shankar Aiyar, with whom Jairam fell foul early, is reported to have said, “The only thing Jairam Ramesh is interested in is Jairam Ramesh.”

Both Mani and Jairam later fell foul of Sanjaya Baru, the journalist turned media advisor to the prime minister. Jairam is seen to have played a key role in the installation of Harish Khare as Baru’s replacement this time around.

13) Jairam Ramesh fancies himself as a wordsmith, but is notorious for shooting his mouth off with amazing regularity. Yet, something in his persona endears him to the powers that be in the Congress first family who are famously not known to tolerate dissent.

He told Asiaweek magazine in 2000: “Two years down the line [after the Congress' 1998 election defeat], Sonia Gandhi is seen as a loser and the morale in the party is very low… People who saw her as a ticket to nirvana now see her as a ticket to narak [hell]…. If things go the way they are, the Congress will not come back to power for another 50 years.” He also famously rubbed off Gandhi family retainee, Ambika Soni, on the wrong side on the Ram Sethu issue, but without sustaining any visible injury.

14) Jairam is known to draft many of Sonia Gandhi‘s English speeches. He wrote and re-wrote the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme in 2004 on his Fujitsu notebook at 99 South Avenue six times. He now uses a Sony Viao laptop.

15) Created a diplomatic boo-boo in 2006 by trashing the India-Brazil-South Africa summit in an interview with Patricia Campos Mello of the influential Estado do Sao Paulo daily, even as the prime minister was winging his way to the Brazilian capital. Later, when asked “why” by a veteran political correspondent, Jairam is said to have said: “But she was so beautiful.”

16) Although he served as deputy chairman of the Karnataka State Planning Board, chief minister S.M. Krishna is said to have refused to give him a Rajya Sabha seat, because, according to a well-known quizzer, “SMK has a slight aversion for bright people”.

Quotable quote-II: “The early generation of our founding fathers were all educated in England. Our tragedy is that not many crossed the Atlantic. In fact, there were only two of our leaders who crossed the Atlantic, and they made a substantial difference to India.

17) Although he is 55, Jairam has a formidable reputation as a “whiz-kid” and “backroom boy” in the Congress, and is even credited for having his finger on the political pulse, by pushing the Congress’s aam admi slogan in 2004. However, Jairam, who served as deputy chairman of the Karnataka State Planning Board, is said to have predicted 120 seats for S.M. Krishna‘s Congress in the assembly polls. He got 65.

zheng he18) Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch admiral who headed a Chinese fleet which reached the Malabar coast of India in the early 15th century (some have argued he reached America, before Columbus, as well) is a particular favourite with Jairam. He appears several times in his book Making sense of Chindia.

Photographs: courtesy Bharatwaves, Scott Adams, Outlook, Flickr

Also read: 12 things no one’s telling us about namma Nandu

With sports ministers like this, god tussi great ho

20 August 2008

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: If the decision of the Congress party to field former chief election commissioner Manohar Singh Gill as a candidate for the Rajya Sabha in 2004 was bad enough, the move to make him a member of the Manmohan Singh ministry in the last reshuffle was worse.

Not only had a body blow been struck on the notional independence of the Election Commission, by dangling carrots before its high officers, it had handed a blanket licence to the BJP to impudently follow suit for eternity: “After all, didn’t the Congress do so too…?”

However, Gill’s record as a sports buff provided some comfort. As a mountaineer, he had trained with Everest hero Tenzing Norgay. He was a reasonable cricketer. And, at least, he was not as dogmatic as his predecessor Mani Shankar Aiyar on matters of sport.

Yet, three incidents in the last ten days give three good reasons to ponder:

# Amit Varma reports that on the day Abhinav Bindra won India’s first individual gold medal in 117 years at the Olympics, India’s Cambridge-educated sports minister grandly said on NDTV: “I congratulate myself and every other Indian.”

Yes, myself and every other Indian.

# When “The Goldfinger” returned to Delhi, The Times of India reports that Gill, who chaperoned Bindra around in the capital, suggested that while he should call on Congress president Sonia Gandhi, it was not necessary to visit the leader of the opposition, L.K. Advani.

However, it is Gill’s latest boo-boo that takes the breath away.

# When Saina Nehwal, the women’s badminton quarter-finalist at the Beijing Olympics, paid a courtesy visit on the minister, Gill greeted the Hyderabad lass heartily. But the 72-year-old minister failed to recognise her coach who was alongside.

Who are you?” Gill is reported to have asked the coach pointblank, leaving all those present dumbstruck and embarrassed.

The coach? Pullela Gopichand, one of only two Indians who have won the All-England Open championships.

Hopefully, when he bumps into Deepika Padukone during one of his many social engagements, Mr Gill won’t ask her father, “Who are you?”

Photograph: courtesy Election Commission

Also read: Say hello to Mani Shankar Aiyar for a real cock-up

What’s in your name? What’s in your namam?

24 June 2008

R. Ramaswamy Iyengar in a letter to the editor of Praja Vani:

“Some 58 years ago, N. Keshava Iyengar was the mayor of the Bangalore City Corporation. A staunch Congressman and Nehruvian, he was a firm believer in secularism.

“Some citizens needled him: “Sir, you follow secular principles. How come you still retain the ‘Iyengar‘ in your name?”

“Finding merit in the citizens’ argument, the mayor dropped his surname and soon came to be known as N. Keshava.

“The reason I bring this up is because so many of our secular titans continue to retain surnames that denote the name of their communities and sects. For example, H.D. Deve Gowda who heads the Janata Dal (Secular). Doesn’t this run counter to their secular credentials?”

***

The late economist and Member of Parliament Prof K. Venkatagiri Gowda would angrily telephone editors and reporters if he was referred to as Prof Gowda. “My name is Venkatagiri, not Gowda,” he would holler.

Lalu Prasad Yadav has long become Lalu Prasad, but Mulayam Singh Yadav continues to be MSY.

So, should Mani Shankar drop the Aiyar from his name? Does “former prime minister H.D. Deve” have the same ring as “former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda?” Would B.K.S. Iyengar have been as famous as just “B.K.S.”, or K. Pattabhi Jois as K. Pattabhi?

‘Our democracy is of devolution, not evolution’

11 June 2008

Union minister for panchayati raj Mani Shankar Aiyar at a speech at the University of Stanford:

“And why are we stuck somewhere in the 120s on the UN Human Development Index? In 1994, we stood 134th on the UN HDI. Ten years later, as the NDA government yielded to our government, we had inched our way up to just the 126th position. On the UN HDI for the year 2005, published last year, we actually sank from 126th to 128th position.

“True, as Prof. T.N. Srinivasan of Princeton was quick to point out to me, this was largely because the downward revision of death rates from AIDS of children in Botswana catapulted Botswana ahead of India � but surely in an era of accelerating growth we ought to depend less than we seem to do on infant mortality in Botswana to determine India’s place in the sun?

“Because our democracy flowered at the highest branches, unlike the developed democracies where democracy was nurtured at the roots, our democracy has followed not the path of evolution from the grassroots but devolution to the grassroots.”

Read the full text: Political framework for inclusive growth

Also read: Rising India’s share of the poorest is growing

Never ask where on earth Gabon is

Link via Nikhil Moro

It’s unofficial: 2009 is the year of mother & child

16 March 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: As I went round Delhi, I saw pictures of the mother and child pasted everywhere: on Kashmiri Gate, at INA market and Sarojini Nagar market, and on the walls of Qutub Minar and Lal Qila.

I was lucky to get couple of minutes with rail mantri Lalu Prasad at Rail Bhavan to get it clarified.

“Laluji! You presented a great budget although you gave zilch to Karnataka. I see the mother and child highlighted all over Delhi. Are you planning to anything for M-C?”

“Definitely! This year I gave 50% discount for female senior citizens. Next year, I will give 100% free for mother and child. I will declare a mother-child year for Indian Railways. An all-expenses-tour on the Golden Chariot for mother-child for all ages will be borne by Railways next year. This is my tribute to Karnataka!”

As I was coming out, I bumped into finance minister P. Chidambaram.

“Are you too planning to do anything for Mother-Child, sir,” I asked him.

“How did you guess? Saint Thiruvalluvar said in Tirukkural in the first century BC, in Verse VII(2), and I quote:

The gruel that children’s little hands have stirred is sweeter than nectar‘.

I will make it the year of the Mother-Child in the next budget. The child will get everything free, and so too will the mother. I will write off all expenses incurred by mother and children of all ages. This will cost around Rs 100,000 crore to the exchequer.”

“Can you afford it? I mean can India afford this? Only last month you wrote off Rs 60,000 crore of farmers’ loans.”

“Poet Subramanya Bharati wrote in the Nineteenth century thus:

Destroy the world, if even single person doesn’t have food‘.

Mother and child are the backbone of a nation. It is only fair I am doing my bit in the 21st century.”

Before leaving, I told him, “I am sure a future finance minister, say in 2045-2050, will quote you and do his bit for grandmother and grandchild.”

The more time I spent in Delhi, I realised the government had drawn even bigger plans for mother-child.

Free Blackberrys for mother-child and two-way free talking time for them. Free air travel for mother and child to and fro whenever they travel together in Indian Airlines and Air-India.

Anbumani Ramadoss announced free treatment for both mother and child for any age group in government hospitals, with free boarding and lodging facility at PSU guest houses post-recovery. I thought this would create a huge rush for marriage. Girls, working women who had decided to remain single will chase perfect strangers for marriage with the hope of getting free mother-child bonanza. DINKS (Double Income No Kids), no doubt will drop their silly idea and rush home early to make babies…

As I was heading to the the North Block canteen, Mani Shankar Aiyar called out for me. Before I could escape, he almost yanked me out of my collar and shoes.

Aiyar, who was burning high-octane petrol flying between world capitals trying to get gas through pipes from Iran has been grounded to look after Panchayat Raj and speaks only Dakshin Bharath Hindi Prachar Sabha shuddh Hindi. Ever since, he buttonholes anyone coming 10 feet of his vicinity with news of his pet projects.

“Just this morning I have launched “Rashtriya Yojana Mein Maa-Shishu Vikas ke liye Panchayat Raaj ka Punarnirman (RYMMSVPRP)”. Chaps in Churumuri daily churn out at least 4,000 words, can’t they write 40 words on this? What a shame!” Aiyar thundered.

As I approached the Election Commission building, I could see Election Commissioner Gopalaswamy in a tearing hurry to get the dates organized for General Election 2009.

Only then it became apparent the reason behind the mother-child propaganda: The Queen Mother was making preparations for her child to be the next Prime Minister. The courtiers were already drumming up their bit.

Say hello to Mani Shankar Aiyar for a real cock-up

6 February 2008

ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: Badminton is the sport which, in the eyes of the great Sunil Gavaskar, has contributed the greatest ever sportsman produced by this country: Prakash Padukone.

In Pullela Gopichand, it is also the sport that has contributed one of our most conscientious, a man who could do what no cricketer or film star could when the softdrinks makers dangled big cheques before him to endorse their poisonous brew: say no.

Yet, in a disgrace that is difficult to comprehend, the national camp in Goa for 32 badminton players competing in the upcoming Thomas Cup and Uber Cup has been cancelled at the last minute today.

Reason: non-availibility of shuttle cocks.

Yes, you read that right! Non-availibility of shuttle cocks.

A country which is clocking close to 9 per cent GDP growth, which has billions of dollars in foreign exchange reserves, whose scientists are planning to go to the moon, whose stock market is caressing 20,000, whose business and film stars paid hundreds of crores to pick up cricket franchises last month could not supply shuttle cocks to its players to practice!

And yes, we are the same country which will host the Commonwealth Games two years from now, which wants to host the Olympics some time soon, and which periodically breaks out in politically correct sweat about cricket hogging all the limelight.

If not getting their shuttle cocks is bad enough, wait for this. According to a Press Trust of India report, officials of the Badminton Association of India, admittedly not one of our most cohesive bodies, have been running from the Sports Authority of India pillar to the Union sports ministry post for the last five months—that is 150 days and counting—for the requisite shuttle cocks.

And, yes, the Union sports minister is Mani Shankar Aiyar, the panchayat raj pasha who has a sagely solution for every problem under the arclights of airconditioned television studios, and who is currently pushing an “aggressive sports policy” when not trying to get Leave Travel Allowance for bureaucrats to visit the Northeast.

“This has happened due to the complete apathy on the part of the director general, Sports Authority of India, and the Sports secretary. I have met them so many times and informed them about the shortage,” BAI president V.K. Verma has said.

“This is sabotage on their part for the preparation of the Youth Games in Pune this year…. I even told them that we will import the shuttlecocks and they can pay later but DGSAI said we will have to get procedural clearance. We did the paper work required but we have not got the clearance.”

How much would the shuttle cocks have cost? Say Rs.10 lakh? Rs 20 lakh? Rs one crore? How difficult is it to cough up that amount, when the sports ministry finds it so easy to find funds to send more officials than players on foreign junkets? And how difficult is to find a corporate sponsor or a sporting brand willing to underwrite the expense in return for some exposure?

And how difficult is it to get “procedural clearance” for a box of shuttle cocks even in big, bad, bureaucratic Delhi? 10 days? 20 days? 100 days?

Can we ever imagine a cricket match, even a Ranji or Duleep Trophy match, being called off because there were no balls of the leather kind? Two years ago, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) decided to contribute to non-cricketing sports by way of funding and sponsorship. Perhaps it needs to look at badmintion first.

BAI officials say this loss of preprations will severely hamper India’s chances in the world champtionship and the other prestious tournaments that kick off in Vietnam in less than two weeks. Is this a case of “For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail”?

Who must be held responsible for this fiasco? The sports ministry officials for sleeping over the matter for months? Or BAI officials who expected mandarins to do their job despite knowing what was likely to happen? Is BAI guilty of lack of anticipation and not having a plan B and jeopardising India’s chances in international tournaments?

Whatever be the case, this is a day to get angry for sports-loving Indians.

And to feel a bit of shame for this monumental shuttle cock-up.

Also read: Good to lose the bid for Asian Games?

Does India need Formula-One racing?


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