Posts Tagged ‘Manmohan Singh’

PM goes to Press Club without his media advisor!

24 February 2012

Yes, the clothes are white, the turban is blue, but this ain’t Manmohan Singh.

The prime minister’s lookalike Gurmeet Singh Sethi arrives at the press club of Bangalore (PCB) on Thursday, with faux special protection group (SPG) men in tow, to promote his film 498-A, The Wedding Gift—and promptly tucks into chicken masala. Fareeda Jalal plays Gursharan Kaur. The director is rumoured to be looking for someone to play Pankaj Pachauri.

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

CHURUMURI POLL: Will BJP win Karnataka again?

11 February 2012

As if to show that India’s two biggest political parties are cut from the same tainted cloth, the Congress-led government at the Centre and the BJP  government in Karnataka have been slipping from scam to scam, crisis to crisis—and making a mockery of the people’s mandate—in a regular and nearly identical manner.

While the Manmohan Singh government’s scandal-marred second tenure, pockmarked with a brazen assault on free speech, is now part of political lore, the B.S. Yediyurappa-led (and now D.V. Sadananda Gowda led)  regime in the State has fared far worse with more than a dozen ministers under scrutiny for financial (and sexual) corruption.

The communal undertones of one regime is matched by the casteist undertones of the other. Both regimes survive from court order to court order. And both seem convinced that the wise voter is actually a silly fool, who doesn’t read, hear or watch the news; and that she will forgive and forget the excesses if she is thrown a few crumbs and a saree.

But there is one key difference. The BJP government’s conduct and governance in Karnataka makes nonsense of the party’s  sanctimonious posturing and fingerwagging about the Congress. Its always-vacuous claim of being a party with a difference, guided by high morals, is now a pathetic joke that cannot even be uttered in the presence of children.

The Congress’s big test will come in the UP and other state elections. But here’s the other question: will the BJP come to power in Karnataka if there is a snap election tomorrow? Or, like with the faction-ridden, leaderless BJP at the Centre, is the faction-ridden, leaderless Karnataka Congress in no position to exploit the pitiable state the BJP finds itself in?

Manmohan & Deve Gowda: 40 winks of separation

23 January 2012

In his first term as prime minister, Manmohan Singh was called plenty of names by the BJP and routinely reminded of being “weak” till it boomeranged in the 2009 elections.

In his second term, Singh continues to be called weak but with the corruption scandals chipping away at the PM’s image, there is an added twist: he is now called weaker than the former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

At a function in Madras last week to mark the 40th anniversary of the Tamil magazine, Tughlak, the “former future prime minister of India” L.K. Advani once again repeated the “weaker than Deve Gowda” charge.

Srinivasa Ram Iyengar  Iyer Ramaswamy alias Cho Ramaswamy, the editor of Tughlak who has now positioned in the AIADMK camp after having enjoyed the pleasures of the DMK camp not long ago, interjected:

“Advaniji says Manmohan Singh is weaker than Deve Gowda. But Deve Gowda was stronger in one respect. Deve Gowda was strong enough to go off to sleep on his own. Poor fellow Manmohan cannot even doze off on his own.”

Also read: Is Manmohan Singh still India’s weakest PM?

Weak Manmohan, yes, but what about L.K. Advani?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is India a liberal Republic?

20 January 2012

On the eve of the 62nd anniversary of the “sovereign socialist secular republic”, a nice little knife has been stuck into the heart of liberal India by goondas and moral policemen. The author Sir Salman Rushdie has pulled out of the Jaipur literary festival following threats from “influential Muslim clerics” of the Darul Uloom Deoband, who suddenly remembered that his banned 1989 novel The Satanic Verses hurt the sentiments of Muslims ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Considering that the book was banned the cowardly Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi 23 years ago, it will surprise nobody that it was the cowardly Congress government of Ashok Gehlot that did the needful this time round. Instead of reassuring the world that the “Indian State” would protect every single individual, down to the last man, woman and child, even if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—especially if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—the Rajasthan government caved in to the thugs.

And the Manmohan Singh government meekly watched on—just as it meekly watched on when A.K. Ramanujan‘s essay Three-hundred Ramayanas was being proscribed by Delhi University (where Singh’s daughter works), under the benign gaze of Sonia Gandhi and Shiela Dixit (peace be unto them).

While the Congress deserves every brick, shoe and invective hurled at it for the latest “stain on India’s international reputation“—on top of its execrable efforts to screen Facebook, Google and the media—no political party is properly clothed in this horribly naked hamaam which repeatedly and brazenly cocks a snook at free speech and expression.

# The warnings of Hindutva hitmen owing allegiance to the BJP drove M.F. Husain out of India, forcing him to live the last years of his abroad.

# NCP goondas burnt down a library in Poona because its author had used it to write a book on Shivaji, which they didnt’ like.

# In the glorious republic of Gujarat, movie watchers could not catch Parzania because–horror, horror—it showed the plight of Muslim victims in the 2002 pogrom; because, well, Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s government couldn’t offer basic security to theatres.

# Ditto Aamir Khan‘s Fanaa.

# And of course, the “alleged apostle of peace” couldn’t bear the hints of bisexuality in the real apostle of peace, so Joseph Lelyveld‘s book on Mahatma Gandhi was conveniently removed from the eyes of readers.

# In Left-ruled Kerala, a professors’s hand could be merrily chopped off with gay abandon by Islamists because he had mistakenly prepared a question paper that used the named “Mohammed” for a somewhat daft character. (And who can forget what happened to Deccan Herald, when it printed a short story titled Mohamed the Idiot.)

# Taslima Nasreen was unwelcome in Left-ruled Bengal because her views didn’t match those of the mullahs. (She was later attacked by Majlis MLAs in Congress-ruled Hyderabad and her visa reluctantly renewed by the UPA.)

# The BSP government of Behen Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh banned the film Aarakshan because of is “derogatory” take on reservations.

Questions: Are we really a tolerant, liberal nation open to views from all sides? Or in the 21st century, are we utterly incapable of using the word freedom without adding “but” to it?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Does freedom have its limits?

‘Online extremism has lowered tolerance levels’

What’s the correct word for a Hindu fatwa?

Free to live. Not free to do and say as we like?

Why we mustn’t ban the book on the Mahatma

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Facebook be censored?

6 December 2011

As if all the problems facing this glorious land—hunger, disease, death, malnutrition, farmer suicides, etc—have all been miraculously solved; as if all the scams facing this wondrous government—2G, CWG, Delhi international airport, etc–have all been cracked, Harvard University’s proud son, Kapil Sibal, has stepped in to crack the whip.

The telecommunications and information technology minister, he of the “zero-loss” formulation, now wants “social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online”, according to the New York Times.

According to the Indian Express, Sibal’s ire is motivated by the “derogatory, defamatory and inflammatory content about religious figures and Indian leaders such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the Web.” (Not surprisingly, somebody’s created the hashtag #IdiotKapilSibal to express his ire.)

The attack on social media comes in the wake of the attempts to muzzle mainstream media following the anti-corruption campaign. Read together, it reveals a growing political distate for privacy and free speech, reminiscent of the censorship era during the Emergency, without a formal proclamation on the part of the Congress-led UPA.

There is no denying, certainly, that there is plenty of stuff on the internet that is vile, abusive, even verbally violent. But that’s the nature of the beast, its anonymity lends it an edge, and there is no denying that there is plenty of stuff offline too that is vile, abusive, even physically violent. But to seek to prescreen everything goes against the laws of the land, indeed it veers dangerously close to China’s (or more recently Thailand’s).

Questions: Should social media be screened? Is it possible to prescreen everything that appears online? Doesn’t the government have anything better to do? Or is this just another diversionary tactic of a government that is trying to cover its tracks?

Also read: Say ‘No’ to India’s blogger control act

How will media react if Emergency is reimposed?

Censorship in the name of  “national interest”

Bonus reading: The greatest poet since ‘Bhakti’ movement?

External reading: Medianama, Kafila, Khamba, IBN Live, Tumblr, First Post, Faking News, South Reports

CHURUMURI POLL: Too much democracy in India?

4 December 2011

The ultimate irony of the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s statement in New Delhi last Friday—that India would have clocked much higher rates of growth than China had it been “slightly less democratic“—is that only in a democracy like ours could he have said so. Had he advocated “slightly less dictatorial” policies in a benign dictatorship (say, of the sort he headed or the one that exists in China) he would have been behind bars by now. Q.E.D.

Mahathir is not the first, nor alone, in seeing democracy as an impediment, not as an enabler, in the path to untrammelled growth that industrialists, businessmen, economists (and not a few politicians) are enamoured of. The former Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew, the presiding political deity in the “Sikkapatte Important Company of Karnataka” , has often said that “western concepts” of democracy and human rights won’t work in Asia.

“With few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries…What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value. Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual. As an Asian of Chinese cultural backround, my values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient,” Lee is quoted as saying in a 1992 speech.

All of which is just a roundabout way of saying that “We, the People” do not know best, and that they, the leaders, are somehow the repository of all wisdom. Which is all very well if you are running countries the size of Malaysia and Singapore, but India? Indeed, positing government by the people against China’s growth in the absence of it, and pining for a “benevolent dictator” is the favourite sport of those tired of corruption, delays, bureaucracy, etc.

It can also be safely concluded that it is this very lot which thinks a) that things would have been far better if the British were still around, b) that Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency, all things considered, was a good thing for India at the time, and c) that Narendra Damodardas Modi is the next best thing.

And so it goes, that had “reformer” Manmohan Singh not been weighed down by the tugs and pulls of coalition politics, the FDI in retail decision would have sailed through. That the Lavasa lake district project in Maharashtra, the Vedanta mining project in Orissa and the Koodankulam nuclear power plant project in Tamil Nadu would not have been held up at the altar of public opinion. And so on and so forth.

The problem with this view is that it democracy is seen only as a means to an economic end; everything is a slave to numbers.

At the other end of the spectrum are the likes of Arundhati Roy, who believe that contrary to the Mahathir Mohamads and Lee Kuan Yews, India in fact is no democracy at all; that having elections every five years do not make a democracy. Which claim again, like Mahathir’s, is loaded with irony because she would have never been able to say so were India not a democracy.

Three and a half years ago, the veteran editor and author T.J.S. George wrote on churumuri:

“There is nothing that China has achieved which others cannot. The difference is that China has the national will to achieve it, and the leadership to turn that will into action. We may say that the authoritarian system facilitates quick execution of plans unlike in a democracy.

“Is that an argument we want to push when authoritarianism is so palpably constructive as it is proving in China, and democracy so chaotic as it has become in India?”

Questions: do we have too much democracy? Or too little? Is democracy becoming a hurdle to India’s growth and development? Is listening to all the “stakeholders” such a bad thing?

External reading: How to run a very b-i-g country by world’s greatest expert on everything

What if Steve Jobs were prime minister of India?

6 October 2011

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from San Francisco: India was a key detour in the earthly journey of Steve Jobs. He came to Benares in the early 1970s looking for what most hippies did back then: nirvana.

When he asked Kairolie Baba, a sadhu, on how to attain it, apparently all he got in return was a clean shave of his head on a hilltop.

From that experience, we can conjecture that Jobs probably learnt to always keep aiming higher, give people something they never knew they wanted, and to keep it all sufficiently mystical and secretive (and pricey).

Thus suitably enlightened, “Swami Steveananda” returned home to set up Apple Ashram, ushering in what he didn’t get in Benares—nirvana albeit of the digital kind—to millions of cultish disciples by marrying beauty with utility.

In the process, he transmogrified an almost-dead brand into becoming bigger than Google and vying with Exxon Mobil on the stock markets.

Maybe that was the easy part for someone who “lived at the intersection of technology and liberal arts“.

But what if Steve Jobs were in the position of Manmohan Singh?

After all, the Congress is in the shit-hole as Apple found itself in, when Jobs returned for his second stint. A once-good brand fallen in bad times with the younger opponents snapping at its heels, accompanied by diminishing public acceptance and street cred.

So, yes, what would Steve Jobs have done had he been in prime minister Manmohan Singh’s shoes?

1. Show who’s the boss: Steve Jobs was neither a hardware engineer nor a software programmer, nor certainly a manager, yet as its CEO and “technology leader” he was the face and voice of Apple, in good times and bad, and proudly so.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have stood up and be counted, instead of blaming the demands of coalition politics or hinting at a plot to destabilise the polity for his plight. Or running for cover from colleagues (like Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, Digvijay Singh or Mani Shankar Aiyar) constantly shooting him in the foot.

In doing so, Jobs would have cleared the negative perception among the people and within his party over who really runs the government: he, she or he.

2. Launch a killer product: Like a bad Indian restaurant which churns out everything from South Indian to North Indian food, with Chinese, Chaat, Continental and Mughlai thrown in, the Congress tries to do please all, in the process pleasing few or none.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have come up with one killer idea or concept, kept it neat, simple and minimalistic so that the voters would understand, and kept making it better till he perfected it in time for the elections.

And that killer concept can’t be foreign policy. It’s got to be something like iPod and iPhone and iPad: something which the people can see, touch, feel and connect with. A bit like NREGA from UPA-I.

He could even call it “i” something, “i” for Indira that is.

3. Make peace with the enemy: Here’s what they don’t teach you at Oxford and Cambridge (or at World Bank). If you are prime minister of India, there’s no point fighting with the people of India about how to deal with corruption when gigantic godzillas of scams are running amok.

Which is what Singh’s buffoons like Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Manish Tiwari, Renuka Chowdhury et al are doing vis-a-vis the Lok Pal bill nightly on television.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs who didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge would have clearly identified the enemy—which is corruption—and made peace with those who would like it vanquished—which is the people—and laid out a road map for Parliament to pass it, without sending the signal that the Congress somehow has a vested interest in protecting the crooked and the corrupt.

4. Talk to us: Whether he had good news to convey or bad, whether he was in great shape or not, Steve Jobs stood up on stage in his trademark black turtle neck pullover and blue jeans to deliver the message.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have capitalised on his honesty and integrity to come clean, to clarify, to tell it like it is, instead of allowing those the people distrust and dislike (see shortlists above) to further tie his government in knots.

As Singh, Jobs would have shown plenty of passion, and made one stunning speech or given a great interview instead of hiding behind the anodyne speeches of his media advisors, delivered deadpan like a post-lunch lecture at Delhi school of economics.

Also read: 3 lessons from the life and times of Steve Jobs

:Amazon kindles a fire in a small Apple harem

It isn’t so easy to woo an iPhone4 user, sister

Adolf Hitler and the rise and fall of iPad

An Apple a day keeps Steve Jobs away from us

What if Microsoft, not Apple, had made iPod

11 similarities betwen Apple and Rajnikant

Gandhi & Anna: a tale of two fasts and two rulers

26 August 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The ongoing fast by Anna Hazare to usher in a Lok Pal has entered the 11th day.

What is most striking with the manner in which Hazare’s fast has been dealt with by the current “rulers” in contrast to how the British handled Mahatma Gandhi’s numerous fasts.

***

Since they were the rulers  of an Empire where ‘the sun never set,’ the colonisers could have spirited Gandhiji out of India, thrown him into a jail in some far corner of the world, and made him totally irrelevant.

Worse, they could have fed him slow poison and got rid of him and by the time the news reached India, it would have been some months, if not years, especially since there was no ‘breaking news’.

In short, the British could have done anything to break the freedom movement. It is to their credit and to their sense of fair play that they did none of the above and allowed Gandhi his right to protest.

Result: the freedom struggle took root and finally they had to quit India.

***

Cut to 2011, Anna Hazare’s fast.

Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Ambika Soni and Manmohan Singh attacked Hazare’s movement in their interactions with the press and in Parliament.

The Congress party’s spokesman Manish Tiwari even declared that ‘Anna was corrupt from head to toe’ for which he tendered a meek apology later.

After inviting civil society members, the government resorted to dirty tricks to damn their character on some pretext or other. They even had the temerity to arrest Hazare and send him to the same jail where Suresh Kalmadi, A. Raja and Kanimozhi were lodged, only to release him when the public reaction got too hot.

Above all, we have seen a number of devious, duplicitous statements unbecoming of a government, which seems to have forgotten that it remains in power only at the pleasure of the people.

Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 and the history books could well tell us a different story of how Gandhi was treated by the colonisers. Still, the question remains: were the British far more humane in their treatment of Gandhiji when an Empire was at stake than the Congress-led UPA has been of Hazare who is merely fasting for a tough piece of legislation?

Photograph: The front page of a newspaper in 1933 with news of Gandhi‘s fast

S.M. Krishna revives Churumuri’s RKN campaign

23 August 2011

The minister for external affairs, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, may be creating news for all the wrong reasons in the year of the lord 2011. But he has struck the right PR note by reviving churumuri.com‘s acclaimed campaign for recognition for India’s original English writer, R.K. Narayan, in his hometown, Mysore.

When churumuri.com was launched in 2006, we made an all-out effort to get Narayan his due place in the landscape of Mysore, where he spent almost all his life and from where he gave the world, Malgudi.

A churumuri delegation comprising the photographer T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, and the writer Sunaad Raghuram even made a representation to the then governor of Karnataka, T.N. Chaturvedi, armed with reader suggestions on how Narayan’s memory could be perpetuated.

After all the usual noises from the usual quarters, the campaign died a slow death.

Now, S. M. Krishna, a close friend of  RKN’s brother, R.K. Laxman, has given the campaign a fresh lease life in this, the 10th year of Narayan’s passing away. He has written to prime minister Manmohan Singh and railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to name a train between Mysore and Bangalore as Malgudi Express, and urged communications minister Kapil Sibal to release a stamp.

It might be too early to hail this attempt, but at least for trying, Krishna deserves some plaudits.

Also read: All the stories in R.K. Narayan campaign

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knews

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

Just one question I’m dying to ask S.M. Krishna

11 August 2011

Although former Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna is in charge of what his handlers like to think is the weighty external affairs ministry, the consensus is that the “Son of Somanahalli” got the portfolio because he was considered a malleable lightweight who would just be glad he got the high-profile job and not come in the way of a prime minister who had made “foreign policy” his legacy issue.

(That, and the fact that the Congress high command had to repay him for his “contributions”.)

Nevertheless, Krishna’s MEA tenure has not been short of theatre. For starters, there was the well-advertised five-star stay in a hotel. Over the last few months, he has been bouncing into the public eye with one faux pas after another. In February, he read the speech of the Portugese foreign minister at the United Nations for a full three minutes; in June, got into a flap for extending an official trip to Britain to watch Wimbledon.

A fortnight ago ago, news of his threatening to sue The Times of India for mentioning his name as among those who would be indicted by the Lok Ayukta in the illegal mining scam, made it to TV news bulletins. Six days ago, the litigious advisors guarding his carefully coiffured image, advised him to threaten to sue the news agency PTI for calling him “absent-minded” in a news story which showed him, well, absent-minded in the Lok Sabha.

Now, as if to prove PTI right, Krishna has urged Pakistan to release an octagenarian doctor on humanitarian grounds, although the wheel-chair bound Dr Mohammed Khalil Chisti is lodged in a jail this of the border in Ajmer, Rajasthan. “We will, certainly pursue this at the level of the high commissioner,” he added.

Admittedly, one must take into account Krishna’s age. After all, at 79, he is the oldest member of the Manmohan Singh team. The fact that he still has the energy to fly off to distant countries speaks enormously of his stamina. Still, there is such a thing as calling a spade a bloody shovel, and it is clear that Krishna, used as he was to the kid-glove treatment at the hands of the Bangalore media, is being thoroughly exposed on the national stage.

What is the one question you are dying to ask the patron saint of IT-BT after his latest gaffe?

Like, is he the first human being who nods in agreement with what he is about to say? Like, does he demand frappe from his son-in-law’s Cafe Coffee Day whereever his work takes him?  Like, is it true that he turned down the Oscar award this year for the best performance in a foreign language?

Please keep your queries short, civil and “G category”.

Also read: Can Maddur vade usher in peace to the subcontinent?

Our man from Maddur is shorter than you think

S.M. Krishna on the kidnapping and release of Dr Raj Kumar

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh survive?

6 August 2011

As August 15 looms into the calendar for the 64th time since Independence, it would be an understatement to say that the nation is passing through an extraordinary phase.  All the usual stories of poverty, death, disease, despair, homelessness, malnutrition, exploitation, inequity, inequality, inflation, etc, still populate our front pages as they faithfully have for 63 independence days before.

But you can hear the faint rumblings of something more seismic.

An avalanche of corruption has rumbled across the nation shaking Congress, BJP and Left governments at the Centre and in the States. Week after week, scam after scam of mindnumbing size and scale tumbles out of the vaults and cupboards. Report after report, from the CAG down to the Lok Ayukta—and stricture after stricture from the Supreme Court—sends shivers down the shameful spines of the corrupt and the crooked.

In such choppy waters, the admiral guiding INS India has stood unmoved and unaffected.

Not any more. Three big bandicoots have cruelly chipped and nibbled away at prime minister Manmohan Singh‘s assiduously cultivated image of impeccable honesty and integrity in recent weeks.

# First, the cash-for-votes scandal (involving Amar Singh, Arun Jaitely, and CNN-IBN) that saved Singh’s government and his pet nuclear deal in July 2008, has come back to haunt him (and the “treasury benches”) with a vengeance.

# Then, his own cabinet colleagues and bureaucrats, like former telecom minister A. Raja and former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, have spoken of how much the PM (and others in the cabinet) knew about the Rs 173,000 crore scam in the allocation of 2G spectrum in which they are disgraced.

# And now, the Commonwealth Games scam has thudded even more dangerously into Manmohan Singh’s court, showing how the PMO looked the other way while Suresh Kalmadi was running riot, with the Delhi government of Sheela Dixit, the sports ministry of M.S. Gill and the urban development ministry of S. Jaipal Reddy for company.

In the midst of all this heavy fire (and the spark of the Lok Pal bill), Congress president Sonia Gandhi has been suddenly rendered hors d’combat, leaving Singh at the mercy of Amar (Janardhan Dwivedi), Akbar (Ahmad Patel), Antony (A.K. Antony)—and Rahul Gandhi—before going off to the United States for treatment.

With Parliament in its monsoon session, this is clearly not what the good doctor would have ordered for Manmohan Singh who somehow survived the S-band scam. Also, with Rahul Gandhi suddenly in charge of the adult Congress, after hand-holding the youth Congress, the writing is on the wall for the old man.

Questions: Will Manmohan Singh survive this session of Parliament? Will he last until 2014? Or is the bell beginning to toll for a change of horse, mid-stream?

Also read: Can the paragon of virtue hear his conscience?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh, still ‘Mr Clean’—II?

Has the middle-class deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh, still ‘Mr Clean’—I?

Has media become ‘accuser, prosecutor, judge’?

29 June 2011

Like a bad host, who abuses his guests after calling them home, the prime minister of India launched into the media today after calling a bunch of five editors for a much-delayed interaction. It took Manmohan Singh just 25 words in his 1,884-word opening remarks to stick it into the editors.

“An atmosphere has been created in the country—and I say this with all humility—the role of the media in many cases has become that of the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge… . We take decisions in a world of uncertainty and that’s the perspective I think Parliament, our CAG and our media must adopt if this nation is to move forward,” Singh said.

As if the media was responsible for the 2G, CWG or KG basin scams that has seen his ministers resign or prepare to. As if the media was responsible for the thuggish behaviour of his ministers (like Kapil Sibal) in undermining “civil society”, in other words the people of India. As if the media was responsible for runaway prices or inflation.

Or, as if the media was responsible for hurling a question mark over his tenure. Etcetera.

So, what do you think? Has the media overstepped its brief? Has it become accuser, prosecutor and judge? Has the media done its job in unravelling scams and keeping the pressuer on the government? Is the media wrong in clamouring for a cleaner, less corrupt system?

Or is Manmohan Singh barking up the wrong tree by shooting the messenger?

Also read: Why the PM is hopelessly wrong about the media

How well is the PM’s media advisor advising him?

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—I

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—II

Never believe anything until it’s officially denied

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh—III

28 June 2011

The irony is stark. The tenure of an acclaimed economist has seen galloping inflation running over the aam admi on whose shoulders his government came to power. Even while the mandatory references are made to his honesty and integrity, corruption has reached stratospheric levels while his party and government bury their heads in the hand and shortcircuit the Lokpal bill by seeking to keep the prime minister’s office out of it.

Now, while Congressmen with an ear to 10, Janpath light a fuse under his chair by announcing the readiness of Rahul Gandhi to take over, and others are bugging the offices of other pretenders to the throne, the battered and beleaguered PM is set to met the media scrum tomorrow, his third such interaction in 13 months since May 2010, after a national press conference and a meeting with print editors, followed by a pow-wow with the TV types.

What Manmohan seeks to achieve is clear—to convey to the nation that he is in charge, that he is doing his damnedest to put an end to all the troubles, and to show that reports of his prime ministerial death in the 20th year of reforms are grossly exaggerated. Underlying all this is the notion that the solution to the problems ailing him and his government magically lies not in meeting the aspirations of the people, but in meeting the media.

But as with all such gatherings, the PM will only be addressing “select” editors, each of whom will only be allowed to ask one question (no supplementaries, please), which means any attempt to pin him down will be impossible. Result: the prime minister who has a face for the radio, will reel out his answers in his trademark deadpan, monotonous manner that is unlikely to set the Yamuna on fire.

What is the one question the gentlemen of the media should ask Manmohan Singh because “the nation wants to know”?

Illustration: courtesy Xavi/ Toon Pool

***

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh-I

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh—II

Have the middle-classes deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Manmohan Singh still “Mr Clean”?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh be PM till 2014?

Of course, if some VIP had been held hostage…

26 June 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: When our sailors were caught by Somalian pirates for over 10 months, their families ran from Pillai to post in New Delhi to get our government to act.

They met the prime minister, the UPA chairperson and the defence minister and god knows who else. Their efforts came to nought; no help was forthcoming from the high and mighty, and the biggest navy in the region.

Of what use is the strength of our defence forces apart from the ‘show of strength’ during the Republic Day parade?

Why was our government pussyfooting on saving our sailors caught in deep sea, not by an enemy’s naval force but by a bunch of pirates? What was the so-called opposition doing in playing its rightful role?

Why didn’t the wailings of the family and friends of the sailors capture the attention of the nation, including dare we say ours, till the rescue took place?

In contrast, our arch rival Pakistan showed far better understanding of the problem and was instrumental in securing the release of the kidnapped sailors.

Ansar Burney Trust, an NGO from Pakistan, arranged $2.1 million to rescue the hostages. India, it appears, did not pay the promised $500,000.

The owners were blind to the woes of the crew. None of the famed “trusts” of our corporate bigwigs voluntarily came to the help of the crew in collecting the ransom.

Even after the hostages had been freed, when MV Suez again came under attack from the pirates, PNS Babur intervened and thwarted the attack.

Which raises simple questions:

Why were sailors left high and dry and left to fend for themselves by the government, trusts, civil society and corporates even though we are supposed to be a mighty naval force in this region—a burgeoning superpower, an Asian tiger?

Why are we  so insensitive when it comes to the life of ‘aam aadmi’—and so hyperactive when VIP lives are at stake?

Can the paragon of integrity hear his conscience?

13 April 2011

A South Indian view of national politics is largely, if not completely, missing from Indian media, including and especially South Indian media. It is almost as if all wisdom on what’s happening in the national capital has to flow, aided by the inevitable force of gravity, southwards from Delhi.

While reporting and analysing Delhi from Delhi makes geographical sense, the truth is it also makes it easy for news and views to be susceptible to the inevitable forces of lubrication. Additionally, there is the danger of the news atmosphere being congested by a set of usual suspects.

Deccan Herald senior editor Ramakrishna Upadhya, who writes a weekly column on topics not always concerning Karnataka, is one of the rare exceptions.

RKU, as the veteran journo who has also served at the Indian Express, Sunday Mid-Day, ETV, Vijay Times and The Telegraph is known, has now put together a collection of 112 columns over an eight-year period columns in a book titled ‘Natak Karnatak‘ (Prarthana Books, 343 pages, Rs 290). Below is an excerpt, first published in November 2010.

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By RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA

It is a strange paradox that Independent India’s two biggest scandals —the stock market scam of the mid-1990s, and the current telecom scam—have occurred under the benign superintendence of the man who is universally hailed as “one of the most sincere and honest” leaders that this country has seen.

As the mind-boggling, head-reeling telecom saga continues to unfold, the nation will await to see whether this turbaned paragon of integrity is also capable of listening to his conscience and acting decisively to uphold the faith of a billion people.

We are living in difficult times. Constitutionally-mandated personalities, who are expected to work as trustees and uphold public interest at all time, compromise with principles and bare themselves as men with feet of clay, completely unmindful of the exposure.

Here in Karnataka, we have a chief minister brazen enough to justify corruption and nepotism as part of his ‘power package’ and, at the Centre, we have a prime minister who willingly turns a blind eye to all the muck around him, wallowing in the belief that as long as his personal reputation is white as a lily, he doesn’t have to care a damn.

It was the same Dr Manmohan Singh as finance minister in the Narasimha Rao cabinet, who, when the Harshad Mehta-engineered scam broke out, remarked that he “would not lose sleep” over it.

After the Joint Parliamentary Committee investigated into and exposed the dubious activities of a handful of share brokers who milked the economy of crores of rupees illegally, Dr Singh’s diagnosis was that it was “a systemic failure.”

Dr Singh is now the prime minister of the country and considering the magnitude of the scam, he simply can’t get away with vague and wholly excuses. As the comptroller and auditor general of India’s report has revealed, the former telecommunications and information technology minister Andimuthu Raja arrogantly discarded the advice of several ministries and the prime minister’s own counsel in arbitrarily awarding the 2G Spectrum in January 2008 and yet Dr Singh maintained ‘silence’ till it exploded in his face.

In a stunning disclosure, the CAG has confirmed that 85 of the 122 applicants for 2G licence were ineligible, that they suppressed facts or gave fictitious information, that the cut-off date for licence letters were advanced arbitrarily, that most of these companies were created barely months before they were issued licences and that the owners of these licences after obtaining them at throw-away prices, in turn, sold significant stakes to Indian/foreign firms at high premium within a short time.

The CAG has estimated that the presumptive loss to the exchequer is of the order of Rs 1.76 lakh crore and of that, two dubious entities, Unitech and Swan alone made Rs 1,27,292 crore from the sale of equity to other players. Even major telecom players happily participated in the loot as Raja appeared to be the king of all that he purveyed, with the prime minister being a mute, disinterested spectator.

The scam had surfaced in January 2008 itself and the Left parties, to their credit, had raised a stink before the May general elections that year, but the UPA’s “resounding” victory in the polls and the principal opposition BJP’s intra-party troubles ensured that the Manmohan Singh government was able to sit tight over the mega scam.

After the elections, Dr Singh made only a feeble attempt to take away the telecom ministry from the DMK and no more than that: After all, he was only a ‘mukhota’ for Sonia Gandhi and her parivar who conducted negotiations with the DMK patriarch, M. Karunanidhi on ministry formation. With the lid on the scam still firmly in place, Raja came back with a bigger smirk on his face.

What is mystifying is that Dr Singh, who seems to love the label of ‘Mr Clean,’ never bothered to take a second look at 2G Spectrum allocation nor ordered an investigation. Is it possible then, that the amount involved in the scam being so huge that the DMK was only one of the players and the other hidden ‘hands’ must have been too hot for the prime minister even to contemplate taking any action?

But the truth could not be supressed for too long and here, the officers of the CAG must be complimented for a job thorough and meticulous. When some portions of the report inadvertently leaked out, a cocky Raja kept insisting that he had done no wrong and whatever he had done was with the ‘“knowledge” of the prime minister.

For the image-makers of the prime minister and the UPA, Raja had now become a hot potato and he had to be dispensed with. The Congress head honchos conveyed their ‘decision’ to Karunanidhi, who had no option but to accept it with the elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly only months away and his bete noire, Jayalalitha always lurking in the corner.

If the Congress thought that the Opposition would be satisfied with Raja’s ‘head’ and Parliament would return to normal business, the supreme court’s embarrassing questions to the prime minister and the full disclosure of the CAG report have put paid to any such illusions.

Just as the land scandals involving B.S. Yediyurappa, his family members and cabinet colleagues, have reached a stage where the BJP Central leadership will perforce have to step in to lend credibility to their campaign against corruption at the national level, Dr Manmohan Singh will have to step out of his facade and initiate credible action to show that in the evening of his life and career, he has no reason to be “used” by anyone, any more.

(Copies of the book are available at Gangaram book depot, and Sapna book stall)

Read a review of the book: An insightful look at Karnataka

15 lessons Mahendra Singh can give Manmohan

30 March 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Manmohan Singh are leaders in their chosen areas of work. While one is just a captain of the cricket team and the other is the prime minister, their styles of stewardship impact the people of the entire country.

Yet, one could not be more different from the other.

As MMS flies to Mohali to watch MSD in the semi-finals of the cricket World Cup, here are 15 traits which help us to study and compare their styles of leadership, their omissions and commissions, and how they are generally perceived by  the people:

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1. Mahendra Singh Dhoni doesn’t have report to the BCCI on every single move he makes although he is appointed by it. Manmohan Singh cannot move a single sheet of paper without an OK from the high command which appointed him.

2. Dhoni has built a team which listens to him most of the times; Manmohan’s team rarely listens to him or to each other.

3. Dhoni remains calm and soaks in all the pressure even when leading Chennai Super Kings. Manmohan too remains calm, but that is because he transfers all the pressure on to his colleagues when Chennai’s Super King is in the picture.

4. If Dhoni makes a single mistake (like say handing the ball to Ashish Nehra for the final over), the whole country turns against him. If Manmohan makes blunder after blunder (CWG, 2G, S-band), the people are not bothered.

5. Dhoni graciously owns up when he slips up, he doesn’t call it an “error of judgment” or attribute it to some unknown ‘compulsions’. On the other hand, Manmohan….

6.  In times of crisis, Dhoni leads from the front to overcome the situation. Manmohan hides or deflects it to his colleagues, unless the crisis lands directly at his doorstep, a la S-band.

7. In case of Dhoni, the buck stops with him. In case of Manmohan, whose “personality integrity is beyond question”, the buck travels upwards, downwards and sidweards to one or more of his colleagues in the government or party.

8.  Nobody is looking over Dhoni’s shoulders to occupy his position, at least not publicly. In case of Manmohan, from day one he is rumoured to be merely warming the chair for someone else.

9. Dhoni remains calm and unruffled be it in victory or defeat, the hallmark of a true leader. In the case of Manmohan, no one ever gets to see his emotions.

10. Dhoni doesn’t make vicious comments on the opposition in case of adversity; Manmohan likes to needle the opposition, especially Lalchand Kishinchand Advani.

11. Dhoni makes decisions all by himself after taking inputs from all. It is evident from Wikileaks that the United States is helping Manmohan make msot of our key decisions.

12. Dhoni doesn’t have an intellectual background and has never had to buy up the opposition to keep his position. Despite his “personal integrity being beyond question”, Manmohan, well…

13. Rarely has the BCCI publicly interfered with Dhoni’s work and told him how to run the Indian team. Not a day passes without the Supreme Court telling the government what to do.

14. Dhoni’s action brings cheer to millions every day; Mammohan’s inaction brings sense of dismay and betrayal in millions.

15. Dhoni is yet to visit Parliament in the company of Shahid Afridi to see how Manmohan and his men battle it out in Parliament; Manmohan is visiting Mohali to see how Dhoni and his team fare.

CHURUMURI POLL: Semifinal bigger than final?

28 March 2011

It is just the semi-finals of the cricket World Cup, but India’s response to its last-four meeting with Pakistan at Mohali on March 30 shows a supposed superpower’s silly Pakistan Obsession. Newspapers and news channels report every drip of news about the teams, about the venue, about the fans and about the match as if the two countries are meeting for war—minus the shooting.

There is the artificial injection of diplomacy into the proceedings with an otherwise soporific prime minister Manmohan Singh suddenly waking up to invite his Pakistani counterpart to come witness the “clash”. They are supposed to watch the match together, but we are dutifully informed that there will be an informal meeting followed by a formal one, with diplomats meeting on the side.

The response from the other side is no less frenzied. There is a wild clamour for visas as if apocalypse is the day after. Long festering issues, like the release of prisoners, are suddenly fasttracked with the kind of mindlessness that escapes both countries in peacetime.

All this means just one thing: that when India and Pakistan meet on a cricket field, there is more to the batting, bowling and fielding than meets the eye. Pumped-up patriotism meets carefully marinated prejudice. Suddenly, the eleven men in blue are at once ambassadors of and warriors for peace, lugging not just their cricket coffins, but also their nation’s ambitions, aspirations and animosities.

The simple word on the street in both countries is: it is OK if we lose the finals but we must win the semi-finals.

Obviously, there is a background to such primal emotions: the memories of Partition, the wounds of wars over Kashmir, Bangladesh and Kargil, and the attack on Bombay. Still, there are questions to be asked. Like, is such maddening frenzy such a good thing, either for cricket or for diplomacy? Like, can 100 overs of artifically manufactured excitement paper over 64 years of organically engineered hatred?

Like, cross-border terrorism notwithstanding, can India really put all its eggs in the Pakistan basket? Like, should we expect 11 young (and ageing young) men—whose basic skills lie in hurling, hitting or halting five-and-a-half ounces of leather and cork—to do what politicians, bureaucrats, armymen, businessmen and diplomats can’t do, won’t do or are not allowed to do, which is act maturely and strive towards peace and prosperity on the subcontinent?

Like, is all this pressure such a good thing for either Dhoni or Afridi, and their boys?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan, still ‘Mr Clean’?

17 March 2011

Manmohan Singh‘s unique selling proposition (USP), especially with the urban middle-class, has been his squeaky clean image in the “cesspool of Indian politics”. No scam or scandal or slipup under his watch begins without a mandatory mantra of the “prime minister’s personal integrity being beyond question”.

The artfully constructed scaffolding came unstuck last year with the 2G spectrum allocation and Commonwealth Games (CWG) scams although Congress’ media miesters rushed to certify that the PM had nothing to do with the scandals. Even that weak defence fell with the S-band issue and the nomination of the chief vigilance commissioner.

Now, in a further blow, the latest tranche of cables sent by American diplomats based in India, published by The Hindu, shows the huge pile of muck that lies rotting outside 7, Race Course Road.

“Five days before the Manmohan Singh government faced a crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in 2008, a political aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma showed a US embassy employee “two chests containing cash” he said was part of a bigger fund of Rs 50 crore to Rs 60 crore that the party had assembled to purchase the support of MPs. The aide also claimed the four MPs belonging to Ajit Singh‘s Rashtriya Lok Dal had already been paid Rs. 10 crore each to ensure they voted the right way on the floor of the Lok Sabha.”

The cable only confirms what had been public knowledge with the widely televised “cash for votes” scandal.

But read together with the JMM scandal of the early 1990s, when his mentor P.V. Narasimha Rao, bought the votes of MPs of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in a similar deal, it raises a few uncomfortable questions about Manmohan Singh’s “personal integrity”.

Is personal integrity just about physically receiving money, or does it extend to other parameters? Is silence an indication of collusion? Are the Congress and its allies (like NCP and DMK) using the PM’s image to make merry? Or is Manmohan Singh a master of the realpolitik, a pragmatic politician who knows how to balance various countervailing forces while doing his job as best as he can, inshallah?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh—still Mr Clean—I?

External reading: Madhu Kishwar on Manmohan Singh

CHURUMURI POLL: End of Indian nuclear dreams?

14 March 2011

The fears of a nuclear meltdown in Japan, following the tsunami that snuffed out thousands of lives at work, at play and at home on Friday, have revived all the vestigeal fears about the long-term safety of nuclear energy. If this could happen in as technologically savvy and as punctilious a country as Japan, what about us, is the question winging around the world.

As blast after blast at the Fukushima reactor spreads the scare of long term radiation, this is a key inflection point for the Manmohan Singh regime, whose biggest achievement in the first term of the UPA was the signing of the civilian nuclear deal, which paved the way for nuclear exporters to smell business opportunities in a power-deficient country.

As it is, the opposition to the Jaitapur nuclear power plant (the first reactors to be built after the n-deal, by Areva of France) has been building up over the damage to the pristine Konkan belt in Maharashtra. The images coming out of Japan, on top of memories of Cehrnobyl, are scarcely likely to sway public opinion in favour of this “cheap, safe, efficient” power source.

Questions: Could what is happening in Japan spell finis to India’s nascent civilian nuclear power dreams as envisioned by the nuclear deal? Will Indian cities and villages accept nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities on their soil given the abysmal infrastructure and compliance with safety standards? Or, will this too pass?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will you vote for Hema Malini?

27 February 2011

The BJP’s decision to nominate the former dancer-actor Hema Malini as the party’s nominee for the Rajya Sabha polls from Karnataka is now a fait accompli. In itself, appointing an “outsider” is neither unprecedented, unconstitutional nor unwelcome. Parties and politicians have their own requirements (seemingly political, but usually financial) and there are other institutional and individual dynamics at play.

The lawyer Ram Jethmalani has represented the Janata Dal, Shiv Sena and BJP from three different States, because his legal eye was required by parties and personalities in them. Moneybags like the stud farm owner M.A. M. Ramaswamy and the mobile phone operator turned media baron Rajeev Chandrasekhar get in because, well, they can afford to. The Kannadiga owner of Garuda mall (Uday Garudachar) tried Bihar but failed.

Another reason is that many politicians stand no hope in hell of being elected given the role cash, caste, community and other imponderables play in our politics. Prime minister Manmohan Singh represents Assam because South Delhi, a prime beneficiary of his reforms, didn’t think the great reformer was worthy of their vote. The Kannadiga Jairam Ramesh represents Andhra Pradesh; Venkaiah Naidu, a Telugu, represents Karnataka.

However, Hema Malini’s candidature doesn’t sit so easily in such silos. Au contraire, it raises some fundamental questions about the kind of candidates parties push through the back door; about the track record of candidates and their ability or lack thereof to shoulder the expectations of the people they represent; about how the hands of legislators are tied by the whip in what is supposed to be a democratic setup. Etcetera.

For starters, is a rich dancer-actor, who has previously represented the party in the RS, the only “artiste” the BJP could think of for the State? The playwright Girish Karnad says the ‘Dream Girlhadn’t asked a single question in her earlier term. Words like “dud, daddi, buddi illa, inefficient” have been freely used by Kannada “buddhijeevis” to describe the BJP candidate. Plus there are murmurs that her candidature doesn’t have the backing of all BJP legislators and that has she been imposed on them to quell the dissidence.

To be sure, Karnataka has been through this debate before, when businessman Rajeev Chandrasekhar was pitted against the literatteur U.R. Anantha Murthy. Then, too, similar questions had flowed forth. But it tells us something about the worldview of Basanti of Sholay when she promises to take special interest to develop Ramanagaram. Was the BJP incapable of finding a writer, dancer, intellectual who could earn the legislators’ vote other than Ayesha Bi?

It’s easy to blame our woes our legislators, the party whip, and the system, for these infirmities.

Here’s a straightforward, counterfactual question: If you could take part in a Rajya Sabha election, if you weren’t bound by the party whip, would you vote for an outsider, “dud, daddi, buddi illa, inefficient” celebrity like Hema Malini, party affiliation notwithstanding? Or would you back a home-grown intellectual, a drama and theatre expert with his ear to the ground like Dr K. Maralusiddappa, party affiliation notwithstanding?

The whore who couldn’t dance blames the floor

19 February 2011

T.J.S. GEORGE writes: Does the media distort facts? The Prime Minister thinks so. By “focussing excessively” on scam after scam, does the media spoil India’s image? The Prime Minister thinks so.

For the leader of a government that is neck-deep in scams, it is natural to think as the Prime Minister does. But that does not make it right.

In fact the Prime Minister is hopelessly wrong.

Manmohan Singh was in conversation with television editors. A great deal can be said in criticism of news channels. Generally speaking, they are amateurish, childish in their “me first” claims, irritating in their competitive sensationalism, more irritating in their loudness, superficial, repetitive and often plain unprofessional. But, like newspapers, they are essentially mirrors.

News journalism may have its weaknesses, but functionally it merely reflects the reality around it. It does not generate governmental corruption, it only reports it. If scams demoralise the nation and spoil the image of the country, the blame lies squarely with politicians and officials and fixers who produce the scams and benefit from them.

The Prime Minister must attack the scamsters, not the mirrors.

Actually, the media is doing an incomparably valuable national service by bringing corruption to public attention. After all, if the media had resolved not to do anything that would “spoil India’s image,” what would have happened?

The shame of India would have spread anyway as the world would have known that India was a country where a roll of toilet paper could be sold for Rs 4000, and where decisions on spectrum allocations were made in Chennai’s Gopalpuram area, and where there were billionaires with more illegal funds in Swiss banks than billionaires in the top five countries put together. It is the people of India who would have remained in the dark about the extent of their rulers’ criminalities.

Worse, India would have sunk deeper and deeper into corruption since the corrupt would have been emboldened by the fact that they would never be exposed. The media, for all its excesses, has put the fear of god into the hearts of the criminally inclined politician, bureaucrat and “crony capitalist”. That even their private conversations may someday become public property is one of the best disincentives we have against corruption. The Prime Minister would have been smart to acknowledge this instead of suggesting that the media was negative in its attitude.

It is true that the media also has developed a taste for corruption. It has a long way to go before it can be called mature and creative. But even in its present three-fourth-baked state, it performs the function of a conscientious opposition. Without the media playing this role, Indian democracy would lose much of its substance especially since the formal opposition in Parliament is playing a petty obstructionist’s role.

Both in Delhi and in the various states, the Opposition’s role is to oppose – oppose for the sake of opposing. If the Government says the sun rises in the West, the Opposition will say: No, it rises in the North. In no other democracy is Parliament’s functioning completely blocked as a form of Opposition politics. Even on urgently needed social and electoral reforms, they never show the unanimity they readily bring out when their salary increase bills come up for passing. When corruption cases come up, different parties take different positions as all are entrenched in corruption in different ways.

In such an environment the media becomes the only reliable forum for actionable information and democratic mobilisation. Even those who get the wrong end of the stick really have no reason to grumble. As Ram Mohan Roy explained: “A government conscious of rectitude of intention cannot be afraid of public scrutiny by the Press since this instrument can be equally well employed as a weapon of defence”.

Those who are beyond defence cannot of course use the weapon. But Manmohan Singh should have known that the real scoundrels who spoil India’s image are outside the media.

CHURUMURI POLL: Is BJP blackmailing Congress?

18 February 2011

Plenty of pixels have been expended on Manmohan Singh‘s inquisition on television against the backdrop of the scams enveloping his government, and the jury is agreed that the prime minister underlined his image as the lonely hero, blaming everybody—the coalition, the opposition and the media—for his woes, i.e. everybody except himself.

Seen from the PM’s perspective, though, he delivered a couple of telling blows. In reiterating that he will last his full tenure in clear, unequivocal terms, he sent a message to the Congress. And he socked it to the BJP where it hurts most: that it was using reforms like the goods and services tax (GST) as a bargaining chip.

“The reasons that have been given, frankly, I cannot mention it in public. They say because you have taken some decision against a particular person, who was a minister in Gujarat (Amit Shah), we must reverse it.” Singh, however, stopped short of naming the minister.

The Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has, as is his wont, laughed the charge away, calling it the biggest joke of 2011, although we are just 45 days into it and we might yet seem better jokes in the days and months ahead. But the PM’s charge shines the light on the politics of blackmail that is the bedrock of modern Indian politics.

If B.S. Yediyurappa is accused of corruption, he threatens to reveal all the wrong doings of his predecessors but just stops short of it. The Congress switches on the CBI probe into the disproporationate assets of Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav like a switch, whenever it suits the grand old party. And so on.

But since even Lalchand Kishinchand Advani doesn’t deign question the personal integrity of PM, Manmohan Singh’s charge can’t be wished away. Also, given the kind of trouble the RSS and its inspirational figures like Indresh Kumar and Swami Aseemanand are in vis-a-vis “Hindutva Terror”, the PM’s allegation throws up the big question: for all its sanctimonious breast-beating, is the BJP blackmailing the Congress when no one is watching?

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan—II

15 February 2011

Never the most articulate of speakers, a battered and beleaguered Manmohan Singh has reportedly decided to subject himself to a grand inquisition at the hands of the tigers of television. Tomorrow morning, if all goes as planned, a set of TV journalists will fling their questions at the prime minister.

And, hopefully, he will answer them. Live.

Unlike his previous interaction with the media, which came in the backdrop of naxalism, price rise, 2G and “trust deficit”, this time’s pow-wow comes in the midst of soaring inflation, “governance deficit”—and the S-band scam which has brought questions about his “conspiracy of silence, culpable inaction and gross indifference” to his doorstep.

Plus, there is the “Shankaracharya of Lavasa”, Arun Shourie‘s claim that he told the PM that the loot (in the 2G scam) was happening in his name, etc.

Hopefully, the ladies and gentlemen of the idiot box will not hurl soft-ball questions at the PM and will not stop with vague answers. Still, why give them a chance? What is the one question that the Arnabs, Barkhas and Rajdeeps should ask sadda Manmohan (provided they are invited, that is)?

Like, Mr Prime Minister, “the nation wants to know”, do you think it is all over for you? Like, Mr PM, why was Montek Singh Ahluwalia picked for the Padma Vibhushan?

Please refrain from keeping your queries longwinded and self-congratulatory, thank you.

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Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh-I

Have the middle-classes deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Manmohan Singh still “Mr Clean”?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh be PM till 2014?

Montek Singh Ahluwalia gets a Padma for what?

29 January 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Unlike the Padma awards last year which had the media doing cartwheels over the inclusion of the controversial New York hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal for the Padma Bhushan, the 2011 roll of honour has barely created any bubbles in the champagne glasses.

The silence of even a committed partypooper like P. Sainath might make it seem as if the scam and scandal-tainted Manmohan Singh government has finally got something right. But has it?

Au contraire, we present item No.7 on the list of the 13 awardees chosen for the nation’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan.

No. 7: Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Discipline: public affairs.

Stranger things have happened in India id est Bharat, of course, but it’s strange that the inclusion of a serving bureaucrat who is the serving deputy chairman of the planning commission should go uncommented upon in the business press that is currently lying in the lap of neo-liberal luxury in Davos.

Question #1: Is it a good idea for a serving babu to be elevated to the exalted status of a Padma Vibhushan?

A diligent user of Wikipedia will be able to see if pen-pushers have been similarly provided a “service lift” before sadda Montek, but that is not our beef with the career-bureaucrat”s selection. It is more primal. It’s like WTF is his contribution to humankind to deserve the Padma Vibhushan?

WTF, as in What’s The Funda, yaar.

Generally but not always, the preferred method of picking up a Padma Vibhushan is to carefully pick up a Padma Sri first and then even more carefully pick up a Padma Bhushan.

Take Azim Premji. The Wipro boss, who has provided employment to a few thousand people, got a Padma Bhushan in 2005 and had to wait till 2011 for get his Padma Vibhushan. Or take the actor Akkineni Nageshwara Rao (ANR), who has provided pleasure to a few million people, who went through the long route.

But our brilliant babu gets fast-tracked to Padma Vibhushan just like that—sans a Padma Sri, sans a Padma Bhushan—in fact his name preceding Premji’s, who’s ninth on the list? WTF.

WTF, as in Who’s The Fu Manchu, yaar.

Question #2: Are Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s qualifications so immense, his achievements so mammoth, and his contributions to his countrymen and women so extraordinary that he deserves nothing but the second best award the nation can give straightaway?

Even a cursory glance at Montek’s Wikipedia page tells you that there is nothing particularly out-of-this-world in the man.

Words and letters like DPS, Bishop Cotton’s, St. Stephen’s, Oxford, BA, MA, MPhil are littered all over. He apparently picked up one half of his strange accent as the youngest “division chief” in the much-abhorred World Bank; and the other half as a director in the even more abhorred international monetary fund (IMF).

But that’s typically the trajectory of most high-achieving climbers—creepers as some call them—and for that we decorate him with a Padma Vibhushan?

WTF, as in Wisconsin Tourism Federation, yaar.

Question #3: Is Montek Singh Ahluwalia the only officer among the 5,159 IAS officers in the country doing yeoman service in the year of the lord 2011?

However, it is the timing of Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s choice, given his record past and present, that is most baffling.

Montek’s role in the Enron scandal in fixing sky-high anti-consumer electricity charges that ultimately turned the Dabhol Power Company belly-up is much documented to be retold again.

As the advocate Prashant Bhushan wrote in 2004:

Jyoti Basu called him a “World Bank man”…. As revenue secretary and then finance secretary through most of the 1990s, Ahluwalia spearheaded the neo-liberal economic policies in India, exactly according to the prescriptions of the WB/IMF. But his enthusiasm for privatisation went beyond the most basic financial prudence that even the World Bank observed.”

In suddenly awarding the Padma Vibhushan at this juncture it is as if Manmohan Singh—the father of LPG: liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation—is fobbing off his blue-eyed boy with a piece of chikki having failed in accommodating him in the reshuffled ministry a couple of weeks ago.

(Montek recently figured in the Niira Radia tapes, courtesy his kinsman N.K. Singh, as eyeing a ministerial portfolio.)

And then there is the ultimate irony of it all.

When food inflation and fuel inflation are screwing the aam admi, when Maoist violence is shining a light on planning in the tribal areas, when farmer suicides are going on unabated, when bureaucratic redtape has made India the worst business destination in Asia, the nation decides to decorate the deputy chairman of the planning commission with a Padma Vibhushan!

For what, pursuing growth at all costs?

Question #4: By rewarding a fellow-traveller, has Manmohan Singh sent the clearest signal yet that he may not be around as prime minister this time next year to do the needful?

History might not give a rat’s posterior to the Padma Vibhushan, but it will surely remember neo-liberal Montek’s neo-conservative George W. Bush moment last week.

Just like the US former president blamed the global food crisis in 2007 on hungry Indians eating more, Montek observed that “the high inflation number points towards people eating healthier food, better lifestyles“.

As the food expert, Devinder Sharma writes:

“Montek Singh Ahluwalia has been at the helm of India’s planning process for quite some time now. It is during his tenure as the deputy chairman of the planning commission that India has been pushed deeper and deeper into the quagmire of poverty. With the largest population of hungry in the world, the Global Hunger Index 2010 has placed India in the pit.

“I wasn’t therefore shocked when I read Ahluwalia blame the hungry for the rise in food inflation. From someone who literally lives in the ivory tower of the Yojana Bhawan, anything can be expected. But what, of course, surprised me was the audacity with which he blamed the poor and hungry in the rural countryside for the rising inflation.”

And for this Marie Antoinette-esque moment, we decorate the deputy chairman of the planning commission with a Padma Vibhushan? WTF.

WTF, as in Who The Fuck is Alice, yaar.

Question #5: By goofing up with Sant Singh Chatwal one year and Montek Singh Ahluwalia the next, surely something is rotten in the Singh Parivar?

Of course, similar questions can be asked about some of the other business choices on the 2011 list: like, is there some rule that everybody on the Infosys board should get a Padma honour (as evidenced by the choice of “Kris Gopalakrishnan, for what?) Or, what really is ICICI bank chief Chanda Kochhar‘s stellar contribution?

It’s just that Montek Singh Ahluwalia gets our goat nicely, thank you.

Also read: A Padma Bhushan for K.V. Kamath?

A Padma Bhushan for the BGS swamiji?

Why Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt must decline Padma Sri

Has the middle-class deserted Manmohan Singh?

27 January 2011

Manmohan Singh was always the darling of the middle-class. He was educated, honest, and had risen to the top on his own steam—plus Manmohanomics had put money in their pockets. Clean Mr Singh was seen to be beyond all the muck that the “system” was seeped in.

Post the 2G, CWG and Adarsh housing scams in UPA-II, this umbilical chord bond between Manmohan and the middle-class has broken, writes Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr in DNA:

“In the beginning the middle class saw Singh as an honest man who had nothing to do with the political quagmire surrounding him. From 1991 to 1996, it was P.V. Narasimha Rao who was the villain of all the things that went wrong….

“Even during his first term as prime minister, Singh was spared the criticism. The sharpest criticism of the main opposition party, the BJP, was that he was weak and ineffective and not his own man.

“By the end of 2010, the scandals and corruption that overwhelmed the UPA-II, and friends of Singh were not willing to give him the privilege of being a non-political prime minister anymore. In an abrupt turnaround, they are now pinning the blame on the man for pervasive corruption.

“There are two reasons for this. For the first time, the middle class is feeling the pain of market economy in recession. It is bitter and angry and in an irrational manner thinks the PM is somehow responsible for its economic anxieties arising out of the 2008 market meltdown.

“Corruption comes in handy to nail Singh at last. They are not willing to accept that an honest man cannot do much to fight the corruption around him on his own. They are now convinced that he had the power to prevent corruption and remove the persons responsible for it, without realising that then he would be bringing the roof down upon himself and his party, if he does so.”

Cartoon: courtesy Thomas Anton

Read the full article: The middle-class turns away from the PM

Also read: Why our silly middle-class loves Narendra Modi

An epitaph to the literate, educated middle-class


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