Posts Tagged ‘Manmohan Singh’

OPINION POLL: Should opinion polls be banned?

4 November 2013

Vinaasha kaale vipareetha budhdhi,” is a saying which captures the mood of the Congress-led UPA government very well. As it swerves into the final lap of its second term in office, as bad news swirls all around it, as the foreboding gets grimmer with each passing day, the 128-year-old party has turned its eyes, well, on opinion polls.

In a communication to the election commission, a party functionary writes:

“Opinion polls during election are neither scientific nor is there any transparent process for such polls… our party fully endorses the views of the Election Commission of India to restrict publication and dissemination of opinion polls during the election.”

Random surveys “lack credibility”, and could be “manipulated and manoeuvred” by persons with “vested interest”, is the Congress’ conclusion, which is broadly in line with attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati‘s legal opinion to the law ministry in which he said a ban on opinion polls would be “constitutionally permissible”.

For a government which has consistently trained its guns on free speech, the latest move is par for the course.

There is no question that many opinion polls are dubious exercises undertaken by fraudulent agencies with little no field presence; sponsors, sample sizes, date of polling, margins of error (all pre-requirements in reporting a poll) are opaque. There is also no doubt that many cash-strapped media houses are happily carrying polls with an eye on the future.

Still, is a ban the only solution? Would the Congress and UPA be in favour of a ban on polls if the Congress was doing well in them? Do polls really influence voters, who chose just the opposite of what opinion polls advised them in 2004 and 2009? Whether dubious or not, does a ban on polls restrict the media’s fundamental freedoms?

Above all, wouldn’t Indian democracy be healthier if a voter is exposed to what his co-citizens are thinking in other parts of the country, rather than being denied access to it?

POLL: Can Nandan Nilekani win Bangalore South?

18 September 2013

Kite-flying effortlessly replaces cricket as the nation’s favourite sport before every election, state or national, and so it is in the run-up to 2014, with “guided rumours” of Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani suddenly but not unexpectedly doing the rounds as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South Lok Sabha constituency.

For the moment, there is no confirmation from the man, but he has certainly not denied the report which first appeared on the website of the business newspaper, Mint. “It’s speculative,” is how the Sirsi-born software mogul has chosen to greet the unattributed reports which clearly emanate from his “camp”, and all of which uniformally talk of his candidature having Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi‘s imprimatur.

On the face of it, Nilekani has plenty going for him. He is young (58), has a demonstrated track record as an entrepreneur and a technocrat, has ‘written’ an ambitious book on how he imagines India, and is a past-master at charming the pants off the media. On top of that, his wife, the former journalist Rohini Nilekani has pumped in crores into philanthropic projects.

Nilekani’s role in crafting “Brand Bangalore” is not insignificant. It is Infosys that largely put the shine back into Bangalore and made it the country’s unquestionable IT capital. Nilekani was also the brain behind the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) during S.M.Krishna‘s tenure. So, the Congress’s, if not Nilekani’s, calculation is: this is payback time.

The preponderance of IT types in Bangalore South, the large sprinkling of Brahmins, and a five-time sitting Brahmin MP (Ananth Kumar) who is not on the right side of the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate”, Narendra Modi, makes the Sai bhakt’s candidature look all very rosy—on a spreadsheet.

But politics is not a zero-sum, page 3 game as the similarly qualified Captain G.R. Gopinath discovered not too long ago.

It is not only software engineers who go to vote, in fact they can barely get their backsides off a spa table on the weekends. Plus, Bangalore South has a sizeable Vokkaliga population, and who doesn’t know H.D. Deve Gowda‘s antipathy to urban, educated, rich, IT-BT types?

Above all, for all the friendly media coverage of Nilekani’s “Aadhar” card, the fact remains he has essentially presided over an unconstitutional scheme which does not have Parliament’s OK, and which has actually taken millions out of the welfare net, while precisely claiming to do the opposite, by stopping leakage and pilferage. These are the people who vote and, sadly for Nilekani’s and Aadhar’s backers, there are thousands of them in Bangalore South too.

So, does Nandan Nilekani, who can just about speak Kannada, stand a chance, if he gets the chance, or is he like so many billionaires deluded about what his billions can fetch? If he does, could he end up being a potential minister in the next UPA regime, if there is one? And, while we (and he) fantasise, could he even be the kind of quiet technocrat who could be Rahul’s Manmohan Singh? Just kidding.

(Or, tongue firmly in cheek, could Nandan Nilekani’s nomination papers get rejected because his date of birth does not match the DoB on his own Aadhar card?!)

Also read: Dear Nandan, quit Infosys, join politics, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: the six things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nilekani trounced NRN?

MUST READ: 12 things no one is telling us about namma Nandu

What Manmohan Singh should really be doing

29 August 2013

download-funny-sonia-gandhi-manmohan-singh-picture-photos-hindi-jokes

As bad news oozes even from newspapers dedicated to making readers feel good—as growth falls, jobs vanish, stock markets tank, the rupee plunges, investors flee, gold prices rise, the deficit soars—all that the country gets from the man at the very top is silence: thundering, deafening, ear-exploding, mind-splitting silence.

The prime minister’s twitter handler assures us that Manmohan Singh has actually made 1,300 speeches since taking office in 2004, but was anyone listening? Is anyone convinced? On the other hand, the PM is on his way to the United States soon and China after that.

Why, asks Malvika Singh in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as the leader of India, should be visiting every state capital of this ailing country, reaching out to the people, explaining the overwhelming crisis and creating a future to look forward to, instead of only travelling to international capitals, particularly in a hugely disturbed year.

“As the head of the Union, he has ignored the country he rules and has not at all been active in this subcontinent.

“He is seen nowhere in India.

“He addresses no one in India.

“He has become much like a roving ambassador of India in Western capitals.

“There have been many trips overseas and the result has been abysmal, both in matters of foreign policy and international investment. With the exception of a ‘strong relationship’ with the United States of America, the relationship with the rest of the world has been polite and non-committal. And we all know well that the release of a bailout by the International Monetary Fund does not need a prime minister to travel to the US. His representatives can tie up the deal.”

Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu

Read the full article: Back into the mire

Also read: Why Manmohan Singh should talk to the media more

Does Manmohan Singh not trust the Indian media?

Bulls, bears and the Animal Farm that is India

25 August 2013

M.J. Akbar in Khaleej Times:

“Who says no one listens to Dr Manmohan Singh? The bears do. Ever since the Prime Minister of India ordered Indians to release their animal instincts, the bears have started a carnival on Dalal Street.

“Maybe the instructions of our first economist-PM got mislaid in translation. He surely wanted bulls to march across Mumbai, conquering every stock exchange in an exhilarating stampede. Instead, horrible little bears arose from long hibernation, and turned into a wrecking crew that has left the economy gasping and government choked.

“In the meantime, picking up on another variation of the animal theme, the Indian rupee has turned into a truant chimpanzee, sliding down with pathetic glee and jumping up with an occasional wheeze, but quite certain that its destination is downhill.

“If the great Indian animal farm of 2013 seems out of control, it is because the keepers have lost the map as well as the plot. The economy is only one casualty of self-generated mayhem. The political stability of India is equally a shambles.”

Read the full article: Indian farm

Everybody loves a nice, random number like 37

22 July 2013

Poverty is big business in a poor country especially on the eve of elections. As poll booths hover over the horizon, ruling parties suddenly discover what a fabulous job they have done, in marked contrast to the parties they displaced from office, and boy, shouldn’t they get another chance?

And so it is, in the year of the 2013.

With the general elections no more than a few months away, the Congress-led UPA, using figures from the national sample survey organisation (NSSO), is putting out the word that under its masterful watch, poverty has come down a full 15 per cent: from 37 per cent in 2004-05 when it took charge to 22 per cent in 2011-12.

Shorn of the jargon, it means there are 15 fewer poorer people amongst every 100 Indians than when the UPA came to power. It means that in a nation of roughly 120 crore people, about 18 crore people have been lifted out of poverty by the policies of Manmohan Singh and his “dream team“.

But, poverty repeats itself in mysterious ways in India.

In 2002, two years before the current calibration began, the BJP-led NDA too made a similar claim. The then finance minister Yashwant Sinha said the poverty ratio had come down from 37 per cent to 26 per cent.

On his blog, the food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma writes that soon after the economic reforms were unleashed in 1991, the then deputy chairman of the planning commission Pranab Mukherjee said he had brought down poverty from 37 per cent to 19 per cent in one go.

So, whether it is 1991, 2002 or 2013, the starting point for poverty reduction, it seems, is 37.

After all, as the Wikipedia page for 37 claims, it is the number that most people utter when asked to name a random number between 0 and 100..

Infographic: courtesy Hindustan Times

Also read: Everybody loves a good number: 93, 77, 54, 33…

‘India, Indians not as poor as Indian government thinks’

Can Narendra Modi win friends, influence voters?

19 June 2013

A week is a long time in politics; a fortnight is an eternity. What seemed like, what was projected to be the penultimate stop in his march to his advertised destination, his elevation as the chairman of the election campaign committee of the BJP at the party’s national executive in Goa, has come quickly unstuck for Narendra Damodardas Modi.

On one level, the very public resignation of Lalchand Kishinchand Advani from all BJP posts the day after Modi’s anointment served to show that the divisions in the party on Modi’s acceptance wasn’t a media-created fiction, as the paid pipers on TV and the internet contend, but a reality.

That such senior leaders like Sushma Swaraj conspicuously absented themselves from the unctuous celebrations of Modi’s elevation was too obvious to be missed.

On another level, the withdrawal of support by the BJP’s partner, the JD(U), after 17 years of cohabitation showed that Modi’s acceptance within the NDA wasn’t assured either. And Nitish Kumar‘s dismissal of Modi as a “shortlived wave” created by “corporate houses” only underlines the obstacles ahead of the Gujarat chief minister.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, the aide of both former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, has today described Modi as an “autocrat” and a “self-centered leader who has shown that he cares two hoots for the party organization and long-time party colleagues in his own state“.

Even prime minister Manmohan Singh has suddenly found the strength to say that “Modi is no threat. People of India know what he stands for… People of India have to draw their own conclusion what they stand for.”

What the developments of the last few days have demonstrated is that the knives are now out in the open. There are some in Delhi who smell trouble for Modi’s Man Friday in Uttar Pradesh, the former home minister of Gujarat, Amit Shah, in the Ishrat Jahan encounter killing case, and indeed some read the urgency with which the RSS and BJP ensured Modi’s elevation in Goa (sparking Advani’s resignation and the JDU pullout), in conjunction with it.

In short, the odds are getting stacked and it is going to take a strong heart, a chhappan ki chhaati, to weather the current and future storms. Can Modi still pull it off and become the BJP’s face for the next election? If he does, will he able to provide the kind of thrust and throttle that the party requires to get close to 200 seats? And if he doesn’t, does his personality inspire enough confidence to woo parties and partners?

Or have all these cards been played by Modi’s detractors too early, giving him more than enough time to recoup?

POLL: Is Advani more ‘acceptable’ than Modi?

16 April 2013

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.”

The BJP’s allies too are piping in. Naresh Gujral of the Shiromani Akali Dal says “nobody can have any objection to Advani’s candidature. He is a senior and respected leader.” K.C. Tyagi of the JD(U) says, “We contested under Advani’s leadership in 2009 and will have absolutely no hesitation in doing so again.”

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?

Or 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—destined to become a two-time “former future prime minister of India“? And is the next general election a semi-final before another election in 2015 or 2016?

Also read: Who could be the NDA’s PM candidate?

CHURUMURI POLL: A third term for Manmohan?!

29 March 2013

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.

Now in his ninth year in office, longer than other Indian prime minister bar Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh has provided fresh evidence that he may be “an overrated economist and an underated politician“. Even as Congressmen, P. Chidambaram downwards, count their 2014 chickens before they are hatched following Rahul Gandhi’s expressed reluctance for the top job, Singh has refused to rule out a third stint for himself in the event of the UPA coming back to power in the next general election.

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?

Why can’t our ‘leaders’ speak like Obama?

10 November 2012

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Barack is back, and what a victory speech he gave us!

I say ‘us’ because the speech had something for all of us, in India too.

Like many of us Indians, as I watched Barack Obama’s victory speech on Thursday morning, I was left feeling envious — envious of Americans for having elected for themselves such an inspiring leader as their President.

I was left asking, “Why can’t I have a Prime Minister like him? A Prime Minister who inspires me, makes me feel like I matter, arouses a renewed sense of patriotism even in this severely fractured democracy that is India?”

Just a few days before Obama’s victory speech, our Prime Minister and our future prime ministerial candidate also spoke at a Congress mega rally. What a disappointment it was. No one on the dais could connect with the people they were addressing.

Rahul Gandhi’s ‘screech’ was full of sound and fury, at one point it seemed like he might collapse under his own vocal ferocity. But in spite of all the sound, in the end he shed very little light on any issue.

Instead, he showed us how dim he sometimes can be when he compared support for Kargil war to FDI! Neither did he inspire nor did he inform.

The only good thing about his speech was its timing. It was short.

Then our Prime Minister spoke. The content was repetitive, and like all his speeches, uninspiring. At best it could have inspired a few ventriloquists. Probably Robocop would have done a better job of connecting emotionally to us than our PM.

It is unfortunate. What use is intellect, if it can neither save us nor give us hope or produce words that will inspire us?

More importantly, what most of us would have noticed during the American presidential elections is the role of the family. We Indians never tire of saying that Americans are very detached from their families and add how we are such a family-oriented culture.

But every US President is judged by his family life. Every US President brings up his family in his speech, and never fails to mention the family values they imbibed in their formative years.

On the victory night, Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden both had their families on stage.

In fact, Obama said:

“and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly. Michelle, I have never loved you more.”

Then he acknowledged his children saying:

“You’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom. And I am so proud of you.”

In fact, not only did Obama thank his family, he also thanked and praised his opponent Mitt Romney’s family when he said:

“The Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service. And that is a legacy that we honour and applaud tonight.”

Now we have to ask, for a people who claim to be so much more ‘family-oriented,’ how many of our leaders have ever brought their family to the public fore to feel one with the people?

How many of our leaders have thanked their wives for their success (may be they don’t want to create ripples by picking one over the other)?

How many politicians have thanked their children for tolerating their absence?

None.

Even if they do, it is a display to garner sympathy and not family values.

Every Indian politician’s family life is shrouded in secrecy and when their children join them in politics, it is for personal gain, or when they have learnt the dirty tricks of the trade. Or even worse their names surface only when their illegal property is unearthed or a back door deal is exposed.

So political families get involved to stay in power and loot together. It makes us wonder, is there any true patriot among Indian politicians? It seems more likely that they love this country like one would love their goose that lays golden eggs, that’s all.

While we were in envy, Obama’s speech also made us feel miserable, because he made us think about our own nation when he said:

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world.”

We were left thinking, what do our leaders want to leave behind for our children? A chaotic mess, that churns out black money and mediocrity, over which their equally greedy children can rule?

American Presidents care about legacy. But our leaders care only about power. And the only legacy they worry about is passing on their constituency and seat to their children. So they are either in power or forever in pursuit of it.

No wonder that yesterday Vijay Kumar Malhotra at age 80 won his 40th term as President of the Archery Association of India. It’s astounding that in 40 years, the members could not find anyone better than him.

When this is the case, it’s power that drives our leaders, not the vision of a better India or patriotism. That is why our election is based on promise of freebies, caste and money.

Not on agendas such as social justice, equality and prosperity.

Obama made us cheer for an otherwise arrogant America, when he said:

“We believe we can keep the promise of our founding fathers, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

Can any of our leaders say that?

Have we ever heard our leaders say “no matter whatever you are, North Indian or South Indian, no matter if you are rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim, abled or disabled, if you are willing to work hard and be sincere, you can make it in India?”

No. Instead, our leaders have created an environment where you have to be born rich or be crooked to make it in India. We have to be a certain vote bank to avail basic facilities and must be able to mobilise a mob to get justice.

Obama probably is the best thing that happened in recent times to the very idea of democracy. Because when we heard Obama’s speech, we felt inspired to be part of a democracy.

We felt we needed to be part of nation-building.

We felt we mattered.

We felt we had to vote.

We felt we had to be responsible citizens.

In contrast, our leaders have left us feeling deceived and helpless, so helpless in fact that we want to flee this nation the first chance we get. The only ones who are staying back are those who cannot leave due to financial or family constraints; in some cases, the inability to adjust to a new culture.

That is why so many of our young, unappreciated minds go there. They almost always do better than they would have here in their own country. They go there and become whatever they want. Some may disagree, especially our neo-rich, real-estate barons and corporate honchos who say that India is shining and no one wants to leave.

Well, then how come there is still a line outside the US Consulate offices all over India even today and there is no line in sight anywhere near an Indian Consulate in any part of the world?

That’s because India does not harbour an environment to facilitate the development of a decent and dignified citizen.

Instead we are engulfed in the smog of corruption, crony-capitalism, casteism and a lethargic justice system that has only helped the development of a crooked, greedy and self-centered citizenry.

When Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister with Rahul Gandhi waiting in toe, we assumed there was hope. Instead, in these ‘hopeful’ hands, our nation has become hopeless.

And so today while we watch in envy the American President’s inspirational and touching address to his nation, we are left orphaned with no leaders to inspire us or lead us. The only thing holding us together is our collective sense of greed and insecurity.

We have no hope.

We have only God.

But he too seems to have given up.

(Vikram Muthanna is managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

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

8 reasons Karnataka is wrong on Cauvery issue

8 October 2012

Like a bad penny, the Cauvery “dispute” returns to the national discourse every few years with both the “riparian” States involved the story, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, making the same noises—the former of everlasting injury and the latter of arrogance, with the Centre acting like a traffic policeman with his hands tied.

Every time the dispute flares up, and that is usually when there is scanty rainfall, the same revanchist forces of linguistic chauvinism and parochialism dust themselves and utter the same threatening cliches.

The world’s topmost water resources experts—the moviestars of Gandhinagar—descend on the streets. Bandhs are called, roads are blocked, resignations are offered, the ruling party flexes its muscle, all-party delegations meet the PM, and the media beats the familiar wardrum that sends shivers down the spines of those who can remember 1991-92.

Lost in the melee is sense and common sense. A dispute involving a couple of districts in the deep south holds the rest of the State and its relationship with a neighbour hostage. Karnataka’s fair name as a law-abiding State and the reputation of Kannadigas as a decent, civilised lot is muddied in the eyes of the nation and the courts.

Here, a lawyer conversant with the intricacies of the dispute lists eight reasons why Karnataka is once again barking up the wrong tree in circa 2012.

***

1. When the agreement of 1924 was signed between the Maharaja of Mysore and Madras, the former diwan of Mysore,  Sir M. Visvesvaraya, supported it unequivocally. The said agreement gave 80% of all the water to Madras, which is equal to 360 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) at the Border.

2. The Cauvery Tribunal, reduced the quantity from 360 TMC as provided by the agreement of 1924 to 205 TMC in its interim Order, or 192 TMC in its final Order, which is a reduction of about 50%. During the years of drought, the shortfalls are to be shared equitably by riparian states. How is this distress to be shared?

3. According to Tamil Nadu, if the shortfall in the flows is 40%, its share ought to stand reduced by 40%. On applying this simple mathematical reduction formula of pro-rata, the shortfall in the flows given to Tamil Nadu comes to 40 TMC as on 19 September 2012.

4. However, the Prime  Minister rightly ignored the pro-rata formula when he passed the Order on 19 September 2012 directing Karnataka to ensure 9000 Cusecs till 15 October 2012 equivalent to only 20 TMC. This 20 TMC not only includes the arrears but also the monthly quota. Therefore, in real terms, the Prime Minister has only given 10 TMC towards arrears as against 40 TMC which ought to have been due to Tamil Nadu under the pro-rata formula.

5. Present storages is about 65 TMC. Even in the worst year of 2003-2004, 30 TMC flowed into the Karnataka reservoirs till December. So, in this year too, a similar quantum of water can be expected.

6. Cauvery is a political issue for the Vokkaligas. Historically, none from the Vokkaliga belt in Mandya and Mysore ever raised a word of opposition in 1924. Even after independence in 1947 or the re-organisation of States in 1956, none from Mandya or Mysore sought revision of the agreement of 1924. It is only after 1974, that the Opposition to the 1924. After 1974, the opposition in the Vokkaliga belt started but it is selective, targeting Non-Vokkaliga Government.

7. Mandya Vokkaligas opposed the Varuna Canal because it benefitted the Lingayats and Backward Classes in Mysore District. Mandya Vokkaligas do not bother when water is released from Kabini to fulfil the Order because Kabini caters to Lingayats, SC, ST and OBCs.

8. The ones who should really be complaining are Coorgis, since Coorg does not have drinking water though more than half the Cauvery water comes from there.

Photograph: Kannada movie stars (from left) Pooja Gandhi, Prameela Joshai, Shruti, Tara and Sudharani emerge out of the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on Saturday after submitting a memorandum to Governor H.R. Bhardwaj on Cauvery issue (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: If it’s summer, it’s time for a nice Cauvery row

Not everybody is a loser in the Cauvery dispute

CHURUMURI POLL: Will reforms result in UPA-III?

26 September 2012

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?

The New York Times: Reforms do win elections in India

Is slamming PM, government ‘yellow journalism’?

5 September 2012

The Washington Post newspaper has put in print just about everything that an ordinary Indian thinks about prime minister Manmohan Singh as he presides majestically over scam after earth (and space) shattering scam:

“An honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat (who) has slowly given way to a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.”

The people quoted by the paper (including the historian Ramachandra Guha and the PM’s ex-media advisor Sanjaya Baru) have called him a “tragic figure”—fatally handicapped by timidity, complacency and intellectually dishonesty—who has transformed himself from an object of respect to one of ridicule, and is in danger of going down in history as a “failure”.

Not surprisingly, for a government which thought Time magazine did not have the right to call Manmohan Singh an “underachiever”, there are calls for an apology from the Washington Post. Ambika Soni, the information and broadcasting minister who was once part of Sanjay Gandhi‘s charmed circle, has called Washington Post‘s reporting “yellow journalism”.

“We have our apprehension to a foreign daily publishing something baseless on our prime minister… This is what we call as yellow journalism,” Soni said.

“How can a US daily take the matter such lightly and publish something regarding the prime minister of another country. I will speak to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) and government officials and definitely do something over this issue,” she added.

Really? Is this yellow journalism or legitimate journalism?

The kleptocratic republic of India that is Bharat

3 September 2012

T.N. Ninan in the Business Standard:

“The coal scandal began with revelations about the Manmohan Singh government, then expanded in scope to take in the Vajpayee government, and has now become a sweeping saga that lays bare the contemporary Indian state.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, we are running a kleptocracy, one where the majesty of the law is used repeatedly to favour the growing tribe of crony capitalists, until a crisis erupts and all bets come off….

“Corruption silenced telecom, it froze orders for defence equipment, it flared up over gas, and now it might black out the mining and power sectors. Manmohan Singh’s fatal flaw — his willingness to tolerate corruption all around him while keeping his own hands clean — has led us into a cul de sac, with the country able to neither tolerate rampant corruption nor root it out.

“How much of today’s policy paralysis and economic slowdown are because the state has been captured? And how much of that is a consequence of the prime minister’s Faustian bargain with the kleptocracy?”

Read the full article: Dr Faustus‘s Price

CHURUMURI POLL: BJP, responsible opposition?

27 August 2012

The people get the government they deserve, is an old political cliche. By the same token, the people also get the opposition they deserve. And what “We, the People” of India have got from the 2009 general election has been obvious on our TV screens and the front pages of newspapers for all of three years now.

An arrogant, powerdrunk government which has utterly and completely cut itself off from the reality and blithely buried its head in the sands of scams, scandals and other shenanigans. And an opposition which is hellbent on functioning like the fifth column; turning the institutions and procedures of democracy on their head.

There is little to be said about the so-called coal scam that has engulfed the Congress-led UPA government that hasn’t been said before in the 2G scam. While the latter saw a noisy boycott of Parliament, it eventually resulted in a joint parliamentary committee, the matter went to court, a minister was jailed, etc.

However, in the coal scam, the BJP seems to have, in the manner of Anna Hazare and his silly cheerleaders, decided that such well-laid procedures are not to be trusted. It doesn’t want Parliament to discuss the issue, it simply wants a summary resignation of prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Guilty until proven innocent.

Questions: Is the BJP right in such conduct? Is “obstructionism” of Parliament a right of opposition parties, as averred by leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley? Do opposition parties have no responsibilities? Is the BJP performing its role of opposition appropriately?

Or, is it trying to stymie debate, wary of what skeletons might tumble out of its closet?

External reading: BBC: Deja vu hits Parliament

Andheri raat mein, Diya tera haat mein phone

15 August 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Freebies are the lubricants that grease the wheels of democracy in India—and the cranky old engine needs to be serviced at least once in five years. Wine and money have traditionally played a great role in ensuring that the cogs, also known as contestants, run smoothly for the next few years.

Of late, though, the traditional attractions have partly given way to other more persuasive and trendy modes in terms of sops. If DMK gave colour television sets, AIDMK promised free laptops in the last election. More recently, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister promised digital tablets.

Not to be left behind, the ruling UPA government reportedly hit upon a scheme to put a mobile phone in the pocket of every BPL ( Below Poverty Line) family before the next general elections. If things had gone as planned, this was to be announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his Independence Day address at Red Fort this morning.

However, the ‘Har haath mein phone’  project seems to have been abruptly put on the backburner, though it should surprise nobody if it is launched with full fanfare before you can say 2014.

Costing an estimated Rs7,000 crore, the project would have “empowered” every BPLite all over the country.  Unfortunately, there was some spoilsport who put a spanner in to the works.

Disputes broke out over the actual number of BPL families. While the government thought there were 6 crores of them, state governments put the figure at closer to 11 crores and our ever-correct planning commission put the families at a safe 8 crores. Problems due to distribution, power shortage, recharging, battery replacement etc were also envisaged.

Imagine ‘har haat mein phone’ scene would have created in the country. It would have brought back memories of Dada Kondke’s 1985 movie ‘Andheri raat mein, Diya tere haat mein’ movie of double entendres.

It would have met the double agenda of Congress to win the elections and decimating the opposition.

Apart from being a stepping stone for winning the election ‘hands down’, what other uses would this massive project have served?

# In India more food is wasted than consumed the day after any marriage. The number of dishes, the menu drawn up etc is measured on a social scale than actual consumption. When marriages are conducted over a week with mehendi, sangeeth, Bollywood song and dance acts, what are a few crores for unconsumed food thrown away after each meal?

Har haath mein phone’ would have precisely helped reduce wastage on a national scale.  Most of the BPL phoneites would already be present outside marriage halls even as saath pheres are being taken. The food otherwise that would have gone wasted will now at least fill BPL family stomachs thanks to their networking with phone in har haath.

#  Recently Indian Railways who are supposed to carry passengers safely were given an additional job; that of disposing tons of food grains which were not fit for even animal consumption.

The railways had dumped their merchandise safely near Jagatpur, Odisha. The poor with nothing to eat dug into the riverbed and carried whatever they could in their bags. People rushed into feast on food certified unworthy of even animal consumption.

Well, with ‘har haath mein phone’, the BPLites would not have allowed it to happen. They would have networked and tracked the movements of the train, kept each other informed at every station and swooped on the food before it was buried in the sand. At least digging to retrieve grains from riverbeds would have been avoided.

# And in Sharad Pawar’s Maharashtra had they introduced the project, farmers, instead of committing suicide would have watched Dada Kondke’s old hit in the powerless nights across Maharashtra on their mobile phones.

How Sonia has taken Congress beyond sloganism

6 August 2012

Prabhu Chawla, editorial director of the New Indian Express, in the Sunday Standard:

“It’s a perfect picture of perfect politics—a Sikh Prime Minister accompanied by a Christian defence minister and a Dalit home minister.

“When the monsoon session of Parliament starts this week, an erudite Sikh economist and a former Dalit police inspector—the new home minister—would occupy the first two seats in the first row of the Treasury benches. It will also have Defence Minister A.K. Antony.

“The two Houses of Parliament are presided over by a Dalit—Meira Kumar (Lok Sabha)—and an articulate Muslim—Hamid Ansari (Rajya Sabha). Never since Independence have the top legislative and executive posts been held by a combination of minorities and socially backward leaders.

“It was not mere political accident that led to the creation of a hierarchy, which was heavily loaded against the upper classes who always claimed to be born rulers. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Rajiv Gandhi, the Gandhi parivar was the darling of the minorities and the Dalits. It lost most of this support after the 1984 Sikh massacre and the Babri Masjid demolition.

“Ever since Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the Congress in 1998, the party has been undergoing an invisible social transformation. Both Indira and Rajiv believed in sloganism. However, for the past 14 years, Sonia has been silently working according to plan to change the social character of the government and the party.

“She may have allowed the urban elite to dominate the Council of Ministers, but her long-term agenda to create and promote new leaders from the minorities and Dalits is finally acquiring shape.”

Read the full article: Sonia’s new umbrella

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan, an underachiever?

9 July 2012

There is nothing more disastrous than a PR drive gone awry.

For months and years, prime minister Manmohan Singh has pretended the Indian media doesn’t exist or that he doesn’t care if it does. He has given no one-on-one interviews to any Indian print, electronic or digital interrogator, and has opted to meet editors in groups where no supplementaries can be asked.

So as the scams and scandals enveloped his government, all he could do was lie low and hope his image and integrity would carry the day.

With the economy in the doldrums and Pranab Mukherjee out as the finance minister, the PM’s media mandarins have sensed that the time is nigh to pump up his image. Suddenly, there are stories all over the papers of how proactive Manmohan has become. He answered questions from Hindustan Times in an interview last week. And he even gave Time magazine access to 7, Race Course Road.

If his media advisors were hoping for a nice little plug, this is what resulted.

Not surprisingly, everybody in the Congress is hopping mad that the prime minister is being called what all except those who have read a newspaper or magazine or watched television in the last four years were calling him. Secretly, they are also pointing fingers at the glowing cover Time did of Narendra Modi.

Questions: Is Manmohan Singh an underachiever or is this Time magazine’s euphemism for “failure”? Should we really be bothered if the Indian edition of Time (the story doesn’t appear in the American edition) calls him or anybody else an underachiever or failure? Does the Indian thirst for a “white certificate” signify a colonial hangover?

What is the headline would you have given if you were in charge of giving headlines in Time magazine?

External reading: India overachieves in prickliness over Time cover

Also readWhy Manmohan should talk to media more

Why PM is hopelessly wrong about the media

Is the PM right about the Indian media?

And who’s afraid of the one-on-one pow-wow?

How BJP allowed Yediyurappa to become Sonia

9 July 2012

T.J.S. GEORGE writes: Crippled by corruption, Karnataka is now brutalised by blackmail.

Corruption was the collective contribution of all parties. What the Congress carried on quietly, the JD(S) took up with gusto and BJP turned into a celebration. Blackmail is the exclusive contribution of the BJP.

Congressmen can’t think of it because they shudder before their High Command. In the BJP, the High Command shudders before B.S. Yediyurappa. Yediyurappa’s victory is BJP’s tragedy—and Karnataka’s misfortune.

Look at the misfortune first. Historically one of India’s best-governed states, Karnataka witnessed audacious misuse of power from the day BJP’s first chief minister took office. He and some of his colleagues focused on illegal land transactions as a major activity of government.

The principal financiers of the party, the Bellary lobby, took to plain plundering of the state’s good earth in violation of many laws. Wounded by its keepers, Karnataka bled.

When half a dozen ministers, including the chief minister, were jailed, prudence demanded a moment’s pause.

The BJP as a party and the state government as a constitutional entity should have re-looked at where they were going. They didn’t. Instead, they mounted a show of defiance, politicians looking for loopholes in the law and the Bellary Brotherhood making a suspected bid to bribe a judge. The judge landed in jail in a demonstration of the ugliness of today’s politics.

The neglect of governance could not have happened at a more inopportune moment. The state was in the grip of a serious drought, but water resources minister Basavaraj Bommai had no time to bother about it. Farmers were facing starvation, but agriculture minister Umesh Katti was busy with resignation games.

A grand show was held a couple of months ago to attract big-ticket investments to the state. Industrialists were upset that not a file moved since the show because industries minister Murugesh Nirani was in the plot to topple the chief minister.

All this to satisfy one man’s ambition.

So all-consuming was Yediyurappa’s passion for power that even after coming out of jail, he acted as though nothing untoward had happened.  He spent his not-negligible resources to keep a few dozen MLAs on his side.

This support base was a weapon with which he threatened the party bosses in Delhi, knowing well that the bosses would go to any length to see that the BJP did not lose Karnataka. Although his threats were effective, Yediyurappa knew that he was too tainted to become chief minister in one go.

He had a solution to that problem too. He found in foe-turned-friend Jagadish Shettar the fittest person to become the Manmohan Singh of Karnataka, and let him, Yediyurappa, be the Sonia Gandhi of Karnataka.

The puzzle is that the BJP’s leaders in Delhi do not see that approving Yediyurappa’s scheme is equal to approving corruption. They are said to condone Yediyurappa’s record, including the jailing, so as to ensure the allegiance of the Lingayat community.

First of all, will the BJP really gain by doing what no party has openly done before, namely, split Karnataka into Lingayats (17 per cent), Vokkaligas (15 per cent) and others (68 per cent)?

Second, how do they know that the silent majority of Lingayats will accept the position that they have no leader other than the second most tainted politician in Karnataka’s history (after Janardhana Reddy)? This is a community that gave India one of its noblest philosophical creeds. It has a proud public record and several eminent leaders.

On the other hand, a principled stand against the threat politics of Yediyurappa could have given the BJP a swing in its favour. Yediyurappa’s flaunted support base is sustained by the feeling among BJP legislators that his bullying will put him back in power. Call that bluff and the support will melt away.

The Congress and the JD (S) are in a mess, which gives the BJP a reasonable chance to beat them at the next election. But the rivals have a propaganda plank that is powerful: that the BJP promotes corruption officially. The BJP could have demolish that plank. All it needed was some guts.

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

CHURUMURI POLL: Who will be next President?

14 June 2012

After weeks and months of speculation, there is finally some official activity in the race for the next President of India.

The Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee says the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has revealed two preferences: finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as the first choice and vice president Hamid Ansari as the second. In turn, Mamata and Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party have indicated their choices: prime minister Manmohan Singh, former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, and former President A.P. J. Abdul Kalam.

The announcements turn the political applecart upside down.

Mulayam and Mamata have effectively snubbed Sonia, Manmohan and Pranab, thrown cold water over the overweaning ambitions of Pranab Mukherjee, cast a big question mark over Manmohan Singh continuance as PM and the longevity of UPA-II as an alliance and advanced the prospect of an early election.

So, which of the five names in the air could make it, should make it, to Rashtrapati Bhavan?

Or, all things considered, is this just kite-flying and could we see a totally dark horse (or mare) ride up Raisina Hill? And who could that be: Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, Congresswomen Mohsina Kidwai or Margaret Alva? Or how about Sam Pitroda?

Five reasons why Manmohan Singh is ‘guilty’

6 June 2012

After tearing down every one of Manmohan Singh‘s ministers, “Team Anna” has trained its guns on the prime minister himself, calling him “shikhandi“, accusing him of turning a blind eye while his colleagues were making merry, and charging him of presiding over the coal scam.

In a piece in The Hindu, Singh’s former media advisor Harish Khare offers a backhanded defence of his ex-boss:

“Manmohan Singh is not corrupt, but he is definitely guilty. He can be easily charged — along with his political partner, Sonia Gandhi — of pursing a politics of decency and of elevating reconciliation to a matter of state policy to the extent of avoiding confrontation; a luxury, statecraft does not permit a prime minister.

“Manmohan Singh is guilty of making the grievously erroneous assessment that Mob Anna was just a bunch of well-meaning civil society busybodies; he is guilty of not seeing through their incurable political agenda.

“Manmohan Singh is guilty of not being ruthless enough to crack open the Nira Radia tape case, a rogue operation carried by unscrupulous corporate elements.

“Manmohan Singh is guilty of not marshalling the intellectual and policy arguments to tell the nation that Vinod Rai‘s maximalist interpretation of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)’s mandate has dangerously undermined the constitutional structure of equilibrium.

“Above all, Manmohan Singh is guilty of pursuing the noble quest for reconciliation at the expense of another maxim of statecraft: those who spurn the public authority’s hand of reconciliation must be made to learn the cost of confrontation. He is guilty of not learning the lesson from the mid-1970s and early 1990s when mobs were allowed to overwhelm the democratic institutions and their liberal ethos.”

Read the full article: Guilty on many counts, not corrupt

What Montek Ahluwalia can learn from Sir MV

31 May 2012

“I don’t think many Indians care about the country,” he (George Fernandes) said. “By Indians I mean those in the highest places. If they cared they wouldn’t have been looting the treasuries as they are and they wouldn’t be allowing the crooks of the world to treat this country as a grazing ground. Some day we will sink and this is not anything to do with China or with Pakistan. It is because this country is cursed to put up with a leadership that has chosen to sell it for their own personal aggrandisement.”

I was struck by the note of despair in his voice. It was hard to believe that this was the country’s Defence Minister speaking, a politician who had reached the pinnacle of his career.

Amitav Ghosh in his book ‘Countdown

***

By K.B. GANAPATHY

Reading an article some time back in India Today magazine, and on May 21, 2012 in The Hindu about Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the great Sardar, deputy chairman of the planning commission for the last nearly eight years, I was livid with anger and felt ashamed of myself as much as helpless for being unable to do anything to stop such alleged stealing and squandering of my nation’s wealth, created from the sweat of my countrymen for the development of my country.

Though a democracy, see how helpless we the Aam Aadmi are. And to think that his case of extravaganza in splurging our country’s wealth on himself is just a tip of the iceberg of a behemoth of Indian bureaucracy, frightens me.

I was suddenly made aware that what is bugging this country’s development is not just corruption but also a very highly indulgent bureaucracy rolling in luxury at State expense. Instead of helping build our nascent free-nation, these pseudo-intellectual, highly educated bureaucrats are bleeding our country of its tax and natural resources.

Thanks to the RTI Act and some of the newspapers like The Hindu and news magazines, this kind of ‘corruption by other ways,’ is also being exposed.

As I was reading The Hindu article by P. Sainath, I was reminded of bureaucrats of my own princely State of Mysore — some of the Dewans — specially two well-known ones: Sir M. Visvesvaraya and Sir Mirza Ismail, legends in their own time and perhaps for all the time to come in the matter of administration and honesty.

About Sir M. Visvesvaraya it is said that when he was on official tour and stayed in the government guest house (also known as inspection bungalow) after his official work, he would switch off the electric light and remove a candle from his pocket and light it for his personal work! That’s the level of honesty.

What a contrast to the total degenerate conduct of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, as reported in The Hindu.

It is keeping this Sardar in mind, the renowned author and journalist Khushwant Singh, being a Sardar himself, with natural pride in such situations which anyone would display, had said, in a lighter vein I suppose, that the prophesy of a Sikh Guru that ‘Raj Karega Khalsa‘ had come true with three Sikhs in top positions ruling India — Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Army chief Gen J.J. Singh (Retd) and Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

This was during the 2004 victory of Congress. UPA-1 rule. But now, the Sikh Army Chief is not there but the other two are there in office. However, the question is, doing what? Oh, yes. From June 2012 when the new Army Chief, Lt Gen Bikram Singh, takes over as Army Chief it will again be ‘Raj Karega Khalsa.’

But, what about Montek Singh Ahluwalia?

A real Sheikh of a country that is ready to fall apart, the Centre cannot hold. If you have not read the The Hindu article, here I give a sample of it.

The title itself is sarcastic in tone — “The austerity of the affluent.” And it gives a peek into the details of financial abuse of office, “A rural Indian spending Rs. 22.50 a day would not be considered poor by a Planning Commission whose deputy chairman’s foreign trips between May and October last year cost a daily average of Rs. 2.02 lakh.”

And this man tells the Supreme Court and the dumb Indians that an Indian who spends (or earns) Rs. 29 a day in urban area and Rs. 23 a day in rural area is not a poor man.

What cheek, what gumption, what audacity and what economics!

The man undertook, between May and Oct. 2011, “four trips [abroad] covering 18 nights [which] cost the exchequer [tax payer] a sum of Rs. 36,40,110; an average of Rs. 2.02 lakh a day,” according to The Statesman News Service, says the article.

At the time it happened, that amounts to US $4,000 a day. And we are a poor country? Absurd. This is a poor country for ‘Aam Aadmi,’ not for bureaucrats like Montek Singh Ahluwalia and politicians. The truth is that this is a rich country where poor people live, because of rulers like Ahluwalia and other corrupt leaders.

There is more startling statistics to come from RTI: “Dr Ahluwalia made 42 official foreign trips and spent 274 days overseas during a seven-year tenure. That is ‘one in every nine days’ he was abroad. And that is excluding travel days. The India Today story found that his excursion cost the exchequer [of our country] Rs 2.34 crore. This could be apart from what Indian embassies abroad spent on him on frills such as hiring limousines. Even a Moghul Emperor would not have had this kind of luxury, freedom and enjoyment.

Apparently, Ahluwalia was and is a law unto himself as much as a boss unto himself.

No one to question him, not even his de jure boss, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

And remember, all this when our ‘dumb’ Prime Minister pleaded for austerity in 2009 and his Cabinet responded handsomely to the call. The message was for the opposition too. But look at this. This is the spirit of austerity practiced by the ruling party, as also the BJP opposition.

Praful Patel (UPA-NCP) cabinet minister and Nitin Gadkari (NDA-BJP) have hosted two of the costliest weddings ever, says the report.

The Hindu article mentions many more instances of such spending of looted money by our netas, bureaucrats and industry tycoons as you and I watch the world collapse around us helplessly.

What did Chanakya say in his ‘Chanakya Neeti‘?

“Do not live in a country that does not allow you self-respect, honour, means of living, a family, kith and kin, friends, well-wishers, ways of education and self-development. Quit such country. It is not fit for living.”

Alas! Quit and go where?

Jeena yahan marna yahan

Iske siva jaana kahaan…

(K.B. Ganapathy is the editor and founder of India’s most successful English evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: Deputy chairman of planning commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, at a hydrogen energy exhibition in June 2007 (courtesy Manvender V. Love/ Press Trust of India)

***

Also read: Montek Singh Ahluwalia gets a Padma for what?

Ayyo, Amma, Maami, is tea a national drink?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is the ‘dream team’ exposed?

Ajji: ‘The only thing to fear in life is fear itself’

27 April 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Ajji was reading Praja Vani, once owned by Netkalappa, which was a favourite of Bangaloreans along with P.R. Ramiah’s Tayi Nadu, a long time ago.

She was unusually silent. Normally Ajji slices and dices reputations as well as she does vegetables.

“What happened, Ajji? You are quite different this morning,” I teased her.

I was reading about the renovation of Niranjan Mutt in Mysore where Swami Vivekananda stayed there once.”

“Yes. He stayed there before he went to Chicago to address the World Congress on Spirituality.”

“It seems he said there, ‘Be not afraid of anything. It is fearlessness that brings Heaven even in a moment’.”

“That’s right, Ajji.”

“Our Prime Minister also has advised the boorokrats.”

Ajji, adu bureaucrats not boorokrats. What was the advice?”

Yeno sudugaadu.  He has asked them to be fearless in their work.”

“Isn’t that good advice? What’s wrong with it?”

“If you ask somebody not to eat onions, first you must not eat onions yourself. So goes a proverb in Kannada.”

“What have onions got to do with his advice asking them to be fearless?” I demanded.

Alvo! He himself chickens out on every occasion. He refused to confront A. Raja on 2G spectrum; also Kanimozhi. Didn’t want to sack Suresh Kalmadi on CWG. Wasn’t that lack of guts?”

“You have a point there, Ajji. But he attributed his lack of fearlessness partly to coalition compulsions.”

Ajji took no notice of my interruption. She had compiled a dossier on the PM’s lack of action like our home minister on Hafeez  Saeed’s involvement in terrorism.

“Then there was S-band scam in the ministry of space which is directly under him. Then there were the file notings of P. Chidambaram in the 2G scam. The Prime Minister kept quiet in public and in parliament. He chose to answer everything in his customary eloquent silence.”

“What you say is true.”

“He didn’t take Kapil Sibal to task when he declared that the amount of loss to the exchequer from 2G scam was zero, instead of Rs 175,000 crores as calculated by CAG. He should have sacked Sibal if he had worked fearlessly.”

“Hmmm….”

Rahul Gandhi failed utterly in the UP elections. Why is he not acting fearlessly and sacking him?”

“Looks like he has deliberately forgotten how to act fearlessly,” I intervened.

“It’s not that he doesn’t know how to act fearlessly. During Narasimha Rao’s days as finance minister he took bold steps to liberalize the economy. The economy boomed because of that. He was only a finance minister then, not a Prime Minister.”

“That’s true.”

“Though he is the Prime Minister now, I think he is taking orders from somebody. That’s why he can’t act fearlessly.”

“Do you think he is taking orders from his wife as all men do?” I  asked.

“I wish it were like that. Then at least outside he would have acted fearlessly!”

“Then who is he taking orders from?” I challenged Ajji.

“I think he is hemmed in both at home and from outside. That is why he is helpless. When he is asking the borokrats to ‘act fearlessly’ he is expressing his own wish. He remembers he acted fearlessly once. He wants to be like that again but realizes he can’t; that is why he is advising the borecrats to act fearlessly,” Ajji surmised.

Just one question I’m dying to ask A.K. Antony

28 March 2012

Without a shadow of doubt, the relationship between the armed forces and the civilian administration is going through its most testing time in the history of post-independent India.

What started off as a simple issue over Army chief General V.K. Singh‘s date of birth has spiralled out of control into a disgraceful bushfire of scams and scandals—all being played through the media without consummate ease, and neither side emerges smelling of roses.

In the middle of all this is Arackaparambil Kurien Antony, India’s defence minister for the last seven-and-a-half years.

Like the other “Mr Clean”, prime minister Manmohan Singh, the taciturn and incomprehensible Kerala politician chose silence while the Sukna land scam was raging and while the Adarsh housing scam was unravelling. Little wonder, when General Singh says he brought the issue of a Rs 14 crore bribe offer to his notice, Antony’s reaction, on available evidence, was neither here nor there.

Now, after Gen Singh’s letter to the PM on the state of India’s defences has become public (and enemy) knowledge, after Parliament has been stalled two days in a row, the focus on Antony is getting even more intense. And questions are being asked if personal integrity is a much-overvalued commodity in our polity.

So, what is the one question you would like to ask A.K. Antony?

Like, has he ever considered resigning from his job?

Like, does he understand the situation in Pakistan better?

Keep your queries short, civil and simble.

Photograph: courtesy India Today

How reformer Manmohan became a xenophobe

29 February 2012

Twenty years after he emerged in our lives as a practising politician, Manmohan Singh appears to be happily dismantling the very attributes that endeared him to the chattering classes—or allowing those around him to do so.

For one, as the 2G and CWG scams show, “Mr Clean” has wilfully turned his nose away from the stench of corruption asphyxiating his government, while blithely letting the attack dogs in his ministers to tear into independent institutions like the election commission and comptroller and auditor-general—and the media.

There is dark talk of the return of “estate tax” that is widely believed to have paved the way for the reforms that he unleashed in 1991, in this year’s budget. And now the original reformer who opened the nation’s doors to the world and taught us to trust “the other”, is talking of a “foreign hand” behind the protests at the Kudankulam nuclear power project.

The irony is too heavy to be lost: a government that is seen to have surrendered to the “foreign hand” behind the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, a government that is seen to be the chihuahua of global finance giants, is turning against a citizenry fearful of what reactors can do to their lives and livelihood, post Fukushima.

Behind all this is the dire message: Agree with me, agree with what we do.

Or else.

***

In the Indian Express, the commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes that the prime minister’s remarks show a diminishing space for dissent in our democracy.

“On the surface, Indian democracy has a cacophony of voices. But if you scratch the surface, dissent in India labours under an immense maze of threats and interdictions. What is disturbing about the prime minister’s remark is its construction of what dissent is about.

“The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves you from taking their ideas seriously.

“Once we have impugned the source, we don’t have to pay attention to the content of the claims. The necessity of democratic politics arises precisely because there is deep, good faith disagreement. Reducing disagreement to bad faith betrays a subconscious wish of doing away with democratic politics.

“This has serious consequences for dissent. Our actions and rhetoric are sounding increasingly like China’s. The state, when challenged, will often resort to all power at its disposal to pressure organisations and institutions. Make no mistake about it: seriously taking on the state is still an act of bravery in India….

“The prime minister unwittingly showed what a banana republic India can be. If a few crores here and there, given to NGOs which have no instruments of power other than their ability to mobilise, can bring this country to a standstill, then we are indeed in deep trouble.

“Banana republics are more paranoid about dissent than self-confident democracies.”

Illustration: courtesy Keshav/The Hindu

Read the full article: Do not disagree

CHURUMURI POLL: Too much democracy in India?

Is India moving towards becoming a dictatorship?

ARUNDHATI ROY:  A corporate Hindu state


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