Posts Tagged ‘Sonia Gandhi’

One question I’m dying to ask Nandan Nilekani

10 March 2014

Like Arvind Kejriwal overshadowed Anna Hazare leaving the old man suitably stumped and stupefied, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani has taken a giant leap into electoral politics that should leave his former colleague, N.R. Narayana Murthy, moaning in his majjige-huli.

By joining the Congress a day after he was named the party’s candidate from Bangalore South, Nilekani has put his political money where his voluble mouth is, a far cry from Murthy, who after aiming to be the President of India, said he was happy to be India’s ambassador to the US, before finally returning to his parent—and sneaking in his son Rohan Murthy in a fit of meritocracy.

But parachuting in politics is the easy part, especially if you have the ear of Sonia Gandhi and the earpiece of Rahul Gandhi. The difficult part is landing, and in a few weeks from now, Bangalore South will show (and Nilekani will learn) if the “urban, educated, literate, middle-class” truly wants change, or if it is happy with Ananth Kumar.

On his YouTube channel, paid twitter messages, and super-soft interviews with business correspondents whom he courted in his previous avatar, Nilekani paints himself as a son of the soil, being born to a Minerva Mills employee, in Vani Vilas hospital, who lived in BTM layout, etc.

He even tries to speaks in Kannada.

But there is plenty Bangaloreans do not know of Nilekani. So, what is the one question you are dying to ask the Bangalore South candidate?

Like, have his number-crunchers already computed the victory (or defeat) margin on their computers? Like, will he run away, as NRN did from the Bangalore international airport project, at the first hint of criticism? Like, all Congressmen, does he too think Rahul Gandhi is god’s gift to Indian politics?

Like, does he see Rohini, Nihar or Janhavi taking over from him, should he win, in the best traditions of the Congress?

Also read: Not yet an MP, could Nandan become PM?

Can Nandan Nilekani win from Bangalore South?

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

Nandan Nilekani: The five steps to success

NaMo, PaChi, chai, MaShAi and Mahabharatha

20 February 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph: courtesy Daily Bhaskar

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

Not yet MP, could Nandan Nilekani become PM?

11 December 2013

On December 8, as the results of the assembly elections in the four States showed that opinion polls are not always wrong, and as the clamour for clarity on the Congress’s “prime ministerial candidate” a la the BJP grew in overheated TV studios, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said:

“I think people need not worry. At the opportune time, the name of the PM candidate… the name of him will be announced.”

Despite the ungrammatical awkwardness of “him”, the invocation of the male gender in her response triggered instant speculation. Was it going to be son Rahul Gandhi, or could it finance minister P. Chidambaram, or could it be a totally new face?

The Times of India, which broke the news in September that former Infosys man and UID chief Nandan Nilekani was being thought of as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South, now reports that Nilekani could be Sonia Gandhi’s “him” with a boiler-plate denial.

When TOI called him, Nilekani’s immediate and only reaction was, “Complete rubbish. This must be a figment of someone’s over-active imagination.”

Obviously, Nilekani’s candidature is predicated on several imponderables. That Rahul Gandhi may not want the top job, should he by a stroke of miracle become eligible for it. That other potential candidates in the Congress will quietly acquiesce should Nilekani’s name come up. Etcetera.

But the Congress moves in mysterious ways, often with some fingers of the left hand not knowing what the other fingers of the same left hand are doing.

In an interview with Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, for NDTV’s walk the talk programme, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah takes a few questions on Nilekani’s predicted candidature. The responses are mighty revealing.

Is Nandan Nilekani going to contest one of the three Bangalore seats?

He has not discussed this with me, but it is news which has appeared… Don’t know whether he is contesting or not.

Do you think it is a good idea if he contests ? Will you be happy?

I don’t know because I have not discussed it with him. And he has also not discussed it with me. About 15 days back we met, but he did not discuss it with me.

As a friend, will you advise him to contest, or not?

It is for the Congress to decide. If he wants to contest, then the Congress has to take a decision now.

But will you recommend his name?

Let him say whether he is interested or not. I do not know whether he is interested.

That’s the problem with your party, everybody has to go and ask.

If he comes to the party, I will welcome him. But I don’t know whether he is ready to contest or not, he is willing to contest or not. But ultimately the high command has to decide.

So, not yet an MP, does Nandan Nilekani stand a chance of being PM?

Dream on.

Photograph: courtesy Namas Bhojani/ Forbes India

Also read: Can Nandan Nilekani win from Bangalore South?

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

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?

POLL: Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi in 2014?

21 January 2013

The contours of the next general election are becoming ever more clearer with the expected “elevation” of Rahul Gandhi as the vice-president of the Congress. Given the repeated rumours on the state of Sonia Gandhi‘s health and her reported desire to retire from politics at the age of 70, it is obvious the leadership of the 130-year-old Congress party has passed on to a fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

But Rahul Gandhi is no Rajiv Gandhi. His father was 40 when he became PM, Rahul is 42. His father was thrown into the deep end all of a sudden, Rahul has been around for several years. And more tellingly, despite his travels across the country and his exertions in several election campaigns, Rahul Gandhi has not quite been the vote-magnet that Congressmen suspected he would be, having lost Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

But all that is in the past tense now. As the new, official No.2, the silence that Rahul Gandhi adopted as part of his mystique (he has only barely attended Parliament and spoken even more rarely on the issues of the day)—and the reluctance that he conveyed through his swift disappearances after parachuting into the rough and tumble, allowing lesser mortals to face the flak for his failed experiments—is no longer a luxury he owns.

For politics is a game played with a scoreboard, and push has come to shove for the scam, scandal tainted party that is facing diminishing returns across the country despite a slew of well-meaning social welfare schemes designed to fetch votes by the bucket.

Although the BJP is in no better shape, the word on the street is that Rahul Gandhi’s elevation will serve as an impetus for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to assume a bigger, larger role in the BJP before the next general elections. With his hat-trick of wins in the State and with his advertised record as an administrator, Modi has a headstart over Rahul Gandhi, nearly 20 years his junior.

Indeed paradoxically, Modi, 62, is seen as more of a youth icon than Rahul Gandhi, who was missing in action when, say, the Delhi gangrape was scorching the party or when Google, Facebook and Twitter were being clogged up by the Oxford and Harvard educated geniuses in Manmohan Singh‘s government.

However, elections in India is not a zero-sum game.

So, given all the imponderables that swing into play—caste, allies, secularism, communalism, etc—who do you think will come up trumps if it is Modi vs Gandhi in 2014? Does Rahul, who has the Gandhi surname, have the pan-national appeal that goes beyond the urban middle-classes? Which of the two could garner more allies, so crucial in a coalition era? Which alliance will triumph—UPA or NDA?

Also read: What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

Jesus, Mozart, Alexander aur apun ka Rahul Gandhi

In one-horse race, Rahul baba is a two-trick pony

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

After Manmohan who? Chidu, Diggy or Rahul?

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part I

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part II

Only question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

What Minoo Masani’s wife thought of Sonia G

5 November 2012

These are quite extraordinary times we are living in. The floodgates have opened, indeed the floodgates have been prised open. And what till not long ago used to be taboo topics—the wheeling-dealing of Robert Vadra, the business acumen of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the status of Priyanka‘s marriage, etc—is now meat and drink.

***

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

In Zareer Masani’s recent memoir of his parents, And All is Said, he quotes a letter written to him by his mother in 1968.

“Yesterday we went to Mrs Vijayalakshmi Pandit’s reception for Rajiv Gandhi and his wife,” wrote Shakuntala Masani, adding, “I can’t tell you how dim she is, and she comes from a working-class family. I really don’t know what he saw in her.”

And All is Said was widely reviewed when it was published, but no reviewer seems to have picked up on this comment. Shakuntala Masani was the daughter of Sir J.P. Srivastava, once one of the most influential men in India, an industrialist with wide business interests and a member of the viceroy’s executive council besides.

Shakuntala’s husband, Minoo Masani, was a well-educated Parsi from a family of successful professionals, who was himself a leading politician and writer. By upbringing and marriage Shakuntala Masani was a paid-up member of the Indian elite. Hence the condescending remarks about the working-class Italian whom Rajiv Gandhi had chosen as his wife.

Read the full article: Family romance

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is this Congress’ Bofors—II?

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

CHURUMURI POLL: Is this Congress’s Bofors-II?

8 October 2012

The grenade lobbed by the Arvind Kejriwal-Prashant Bhushan gang on Friday, accusing Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, of dubious deals with the construction company DLF, has sent the Congress camp into a tizzy. Over half-a-dozen Union ministers trooped into TV studios to defend FDI*—the First Damaad of India—even as Vadra maintained a studied silence, before breaking it on Facebook (he has since deleted his FB account).

To be sure, there was little of surprise: the same details had been carried by The Economic Times a year and six months ago, quoting Registrar of Companies (ROC) documents. At the time, the Congress had not seen it fit to respond. But the timing of the latest “expose”, after the Jan Lok Pal movement was tarred and tarnished, after the announcement of a new party sans Anna Hazare, and in the run-up to the Gujarat and general elections, gives the issue a whole new angle.

Questions: Will the charges against Vadra become a millstone around the Congress’—and by extension, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi‘s necks—forever, like Bofors has? Or will they peter out because there is no foreign hand like Ottavio Quattrochchi‘s and no clear quid pro quo? Do the charges prove crony conspiracy at its worst? Or, has the Kejriwal-Bhushan duo bitten off more than they can chew by hitting below the belt?

*courtesy Rama Lakshmi/ WaPo

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Yedi exit harm BJP?

4 October 2012

After threatening to leave the Bharatiya Janata Party virtually every fortnight since he resigned from office in disgrace under a haze of sleaze and corruption in July 2011—and after making a mockery of two wonderful Kannada words sthana (position) and maana (respect) since then—former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa has finally mustered the strength and the courage to say that he has had enough with the BJP and will call it quits from the party.

By all indications, Yediyurappa will announce his new party in November or December, in time for the assembly elections due in the first-half of 2013.

Yediyurappa has ruled out joining any other political party although he has been singing paeans of Sonia Gandhi‘s Congress party over the last few weeks, and although Nitish Kumar‘s JD(U) and Mulayam Singh Yadav‘s Samajawadi Party, both avowedly secular parties with little presence in the South, are both said to be toying with the idea of joining hands with Yediyurappa, who cut his teeth in the RSS.

But the questions remain: Has Yediyurappa delayed his exit too long? Has BJP neutralised his influence by allowing him to drag on with his antics? Will Yediyurappa on his own be even half the force he was with the BJP? Will the BJP split help the Congress in the assembly polls? Will Yediyurappa’s new party result in a four-way race in the State and thus make it easier for the BJP?

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: Will Pranab be a ‘good’ Prez?

23 July 2012

At the end of a long and distinguished career in politics, Pranab Mukherjee has finally ascended Raisina Hill to become the 13th President of India. Almost to a man, every politician, expert and analyst has doffed his hat to Mukherjee’s political sagacity and stamina, his knowledge of constitutional affairs, and so on.

Yet, there is an element of doubt about what his presidency is going to be.

Since 1984, Mukherjee has carried the accusation that he secretly coveted the prime minister’s post, which is why he earned Rajiv Gandhi‘s distrust, or at least of those close to him, with the result that he had to leave the Congress briefly. Although the Congress and UPA backed him four-square in the presidential campaign, some say he was never really Sonia Gandhi‘s first choice for the post (Hamid Ansari was the other); in fact, Sonia had snubbed an earlier attempt to become deputy PM.

More importantly, ever since he relinquished the finance minister’s post, a number of attempts have been made to tar-brush his record (his retroactive imposition of taxes on Vodafone, etc) and, although he was at the helm when NRIs were allowed to invest in Indian companies in the early 1980s, he is now being loosely called “India’s worst finance minister ever”.

Question: Will Pranab Mukherjee be a copy-book President, going strictly by the Constitution, or given his baggage with the Congress, is he likely to be a bit of an imponderable in 2014, when the time to swear in the next government comes?

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

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

Should Sachin Tendulkar accept RS seat offer?

26 April 2012

There is never a dull moment in the circus that is the Indian political league. As if the indecent clamour for a Bharat Ratna to be bestowed upon him wasn’t enough, the word is that the Union home ministry has recommended that Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar be nominated to the upper house of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha.

Coming as it does the very day Sachin and his wife, Anjali Tendulkar, called upon the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, in the company of the other IPL chief, Rajeev Shukla, the move has necessarily led to some tongues wagging.

Like, is a battered government trying to distract attention from the scams and scandals? Like, is the beleagurered Congress trying to shine in the reflected glory of a sterling cricketer? Like is the Mukesh Ambani hold on the Mumai Indian becoming all too clear? Etcetera.

Sachin hasn’t said yes or no, but obviously smoke like this doesn’t emanate without some fire somewhere. Simple question: does Sachin deserve the “offer”? Should he accept it? Will he be useful in the “house of elders” or will he just end up being used by politicians and political parties? And what can the BJP to match this?

Also read: Why Sachin should not get Bharat Ratna now

A true great, but a Mysore University doctorate?

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

6 questions Rahul Gandhi still hasn’t answered

7 January 2012

If you listen closely to the breeze blowing through the capital’s vineyards, the year of the lord two-thousand twelve is the year when a not-so-young man will become the “fifth generation custodian of one of the world’s longest serving political dynasties of the world“.

But Rahul Gandhi‘s personal life has not been the bed of roses that pathological Congress-haters with Subramanian Swamy on their Twitter timeline think it is: he was 10, when his uncle crashed to death; 13 when his grandmother lay soaked in blood in the family garden; 20 when the call came from Sriperumbudur.

His political life, though, is not as touching.

Seven years since he set foot in the cesspool, few know where he stands on any issue. He speaks for FDI in retail after the bill has been torpedoed. He speaks for Nandan Nilekani‘s Aadhar project after the parliament standing committee has torn into it. He looks ashen-faced when his suggestion to make Lok Pal a constitutional authority is noisily defeated.

If the Congress wins anything, bouquets are laid at his door; if it loses, partymen magnanimously bat the bricks. If he speaks in the Lok Sabha, he is cheered; if he remains silent, his critics are jeered. For a digital generation politician, he seems to loves playing a stuck LP on his strange two-nation theory of India.

Yes, has heroically (and admirably) made the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections a test of his prowess, unlike his presumed rival from the BJP—Narendra Damodardas Modi, to give him his full name—who cannot even step out of his Vibrant State, but what after that?

On India Real Time, the Wall Street Journal‘s superb India website, Ajit Mohan asks the one question reporters on the Congress beat are loathe to asking:

“The question that has never been sincerely posed is what will he have to do to earn the right to lead the nation or even the party? Even the scions of established political dynasties have had to earn their stripes in recent history.

“While it was always a guaranteed outcome that Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew’s first-born son would become the prime minister some day, Lee Hsein Loong was battle-tested in critical ministerial portfolios and successfully led the country’s monetary authority during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s before he got anywhere near the leadership chair.

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the Democratic party’s favorite president, John F. Kennedy, and descendant in a long line of family members who served in senior leadership positions in the government, failed to get the nod from her party for a US Senate nomination despite her legacy and support from a sitting president. North Korea may well be an exception to the rule, where the only criterion for the new supreme leader seems to have been that he happened to be the son who was not a full-blown lunatic.

“For Rahul Gandhi to earn the right to be the leader that he may be destined to be, he must prove his mettle on many fronts.

“Can he articulate a philosophy of political and social change that is compelling enough to chart the policies of the Congress for the next 20 years? Can he create a political strategy that is rooted not in the vote bank politics of the past — slicing and dicing communities and castes — but in appealing to the aspirations and energy of constituencies that have traditionally not even bothered to vote? Does he have the intent and the ability to reform the party’s governance structures? Can he win elections for the party? Can he build and sustain coalitions? Does he have the management ability to lead and govern a party as diverse as the Congress, or a country as complex as India?”

Photograph: courtesy The Associated Press via WSJ

Also readJesus, Mozart, Alexander aur apun ka Rahul Gandhi

What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

How different is Rahul Gandhi from MNS and KRV?

Rahul Gandhi‘s ascension: A foregone conclusion?

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

After Manmohan who? Chidu, Diggy or Rahul?

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part I

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part II

Only question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

Ask not what your leaders have done for you…

15 December 2011

With the year drawing to a close and Christmas close at hand, E.R. RAMACHANDRAN is in an expansive mood, compiling a list of gifts that he would like to give out to our various performing and non-performing assets.

1. Asif Zardari: A permanent hospital room in Dubai

2. Imran Khan: A Pakistani political pitch to bowl on

3. BJP leaders in Karnataka: Sites in Bangalore + a room in Parappana Agrahara

4. Jayalalitha: A set of 10,000 sample questions for practice

5. Rahul Gandhi:  ‘India is UP, UP is India’ T-shirt

6. Sharad Pawar: Protective cover for the other cheek

7. Team Anna: ‘Scams within’ report

8. Virender Sehwag: Indore pitch

9. Mamata Banerjee: Fireproof hospital (scale model)

10. Anna Hazare: Jantar Mantar for fasting

11. P. Chidambaram: A pocket map of Tihar

12. Manmohan Singh: A mike

13. Sonia Gandhi: Calendar with a red marker

14. Subramanian Swamy: Permanent room in  Supreme Court

15. Kapil Sibal: Facebook without faces

16. Sachin Tendulkar: 100 centuries of 90s

17. L.K. Advani: Hidden agenda

What gifts would you like to give your favourite performing and non-performing assets, for services rendered or denied in the year gone by?

Check out what ERR gave in 2008: Gifts for some one you love and don’t

Church, temple, mosque, gurudwara & hunger

13 December 2011

The food security bill, masterminded by the Sonia Gandhi-headed national advisory council (NAC), that seeks to guarantee that 63.5% of India’s population don’t go hungry and translate the Congress party’s 2009 election manifesto promise, has drawn plenty of criticism on either side of the political divide.

From Narendra Modi to Shiela Dixit, chief ministers have opposed key clauses of the bill.

In other words, the bill is unlikely to face fair weather in Parliament, which means the onus of feeding India’s poor, destitute, disabled, elderly and homeless will continue to be on religious charities, which are sporadic, not very hygienic or wholesome, and often test the dignity of the receiver.

NAC member Harsh Mander, who chaperoned the food security bill, says only 4% of homeless persons depend completely on these religious charities for food.

He writes in today’s Hindustan Times:

# Feeding the hungry is deeply valued in all Indian religious traditions. But we found these traditions eroded, mutated or abandoned in shining 21st century Delhi. We were surprised to find no destitute feeding centres run by churches in Delhi….

# Many Hindu temples serve food, but this is usually oily, sweet and served only on fixed days. (There are fine exceptions, like the Hare Krishna temples.) The ‘giver’ seeks divine merit, but is not interested in serving the receiver’s needs….

# We found dignified forms of charity in the Nizamuddin Dargah and the Sai Baba Temple. Here food tokens are purchased by donors from hotels, with a validity of a month, and distributed to the destitute. A person can later exchange these coupons when hungry and in need at the eatery, and is served food worth the cost of the coupon. Less dignified, in Jama Masjid, we found many people seeking food charity patiently seated on their haunches outside dhabas which line the mosque, waiting for persons who pay the dhaba owner for the number of people they want to feed….

# Traditionally, the most wholesome food served with greatest dignity has been in the langars in Sikh gurudwaras. People are seated together on mats laid out on the floor in single lines, and food is served in this dining space in unlimited quantities.

However, we found that these egalitarian traditions abandoned in the capital’s main gurudwaras. Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib in Chandni Chowk, at the centre of the largest concentration of homeless people, actively bars the ‘dirty poor’ from entering the langar.

Bangla Saheb, near Connaught Place, also blocks them from entering the temple and eating at the main langar, but it has a separate langar for them at the rear, outside the temple precincts, serving the same food but without the same respect. We enquired from the managers about this departure from the core of Sikh teachings, and they justified it by claiming that the homeless defile the temple, because they smoke and drink.”

Read the full article: Unpalatable truths

Infographic: courtesy Hindustan Times

Also read: Soul kitches of soul as soup kitchens of stomach

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

P. SAINATH: India is a nation of two planets: rich and poor

U.R. RAO: Rising India’s share of poorest is growing

Everybody loves a cheap, vegetarian thali

Because, well, the s**t has hit the ceiling fan

21 November 2011

The BJP’s disgraceful tandav with democracy in Karnataka is coming full circle in Bellary. It was from the mineral-rich district that the party’s ascent towards power and the State’s descent towards anarchy began in 1999, when Sushma Swaraj rode on the shoulders of the Reddy brothers to take on Sonia Gandhi in the Lok Sabha elections.

A week is a long time in politics; a decade is an eon.

Now Sushma Swaraj has washed her hands off the Reddy brothers. One of the Reddy brothers is in jail. B.S. Yediyurappa, who owed his chief ministerial position to the brothers’ “purchasing power”, has just about managed to come out of it here. The rape of the mines has come to a pause after the Lok Ayukta report.

And the Reddy brothers have declared revolt.

Their Man Friday, B. Sriramulu, who quit the legislative assembly after new chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda would not accommodate him in the cabinet, has quit the BJP, necessitating a poll. And he is now standing as an independent candidate, ranged against the very party he and his benefactors propped up with their dirty money.

As if to show that the ore has hit the roof, the Election Commission has allotted Sriramulu a ceiling fan as his election symbol. Which is held up like an exhaust fan behind him by an aide as he addresses a street-corner meeting, on Monday. Meanwhile, as Yediyurappa prepares to campaign against him (and the Reddy brothers), the tandav continues.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

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

Do we have a right to know Sonia’s condition?

28 September 2011

The veteran editor, writer and columnist T.J.S. GEORGE weighs in on the secrecy surrounding the health of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi:

“Speculation and all kinds of gossip flourish around Sonia Gandhi thanks to her own addiction to secrecy. The contrived drama about her surgery in America could not have happened in any other democracy.

“She controls the destiny of every Indian but no Indian has the right to know whether she is in a condition to do so. Citizens are only entitled to dry titbits dished out by Congress spokesmen trained not to speak a word beyond what they are told.

“They have not even told us what her ailment is. How then do we believe what they say?

“How do we know that she is really back in India? How do we know that she is cured when curing is rare in cancer cases? Photographs are strictly no-no, so how can we not believe that she has lost hair through chemotherapy?

“By hiding facts, they feed rumours. This is not privacy. This is secrecy. Evidently Congressmen think that there are things about their ruling dynasty that must remain shrouded in secrecy. That is why they panic at the merest sign of a crack in the wall of secrecy. Unfortunately history shows us that walls crumble some day, somehow.”

Read the full article: Real drama is in secrecy games

Also read: What Sonia Gandhi‘s illness reveals about media

Why foreign media broke news of Sonia illness

 

What Sonia Gandhi’s illness reveals about media

22 September 2011

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, scooped by Indian Express photographer Anil Sharma, as she leaves her daughter’s residence in New Delhi on 14 September 2011.

Nothing has exposed the hollowness of so-called “political reporting” in New Delhi, and the fragilility of editorial spines of newspapers and TV stations across the country, than the Congress president Sonia Gandhi‘s illness.

Hundreds of correspondents cover the grand old party; tens of editors claim to be on on first-name terms with its who’s who; and at least a handful of them brag and boast of unbridled “access” to 10 Janpath.

Yet none had an inkling that she was unwell.

Or, worse, the courage to report it, if they did.

Indeed, when the news was first broken by the official party spokesman in August, he chose the BBC and the French news agency AFP as the media vehicles instead of the media scrum that assembles for the daily briefing.

Sonia Gandhi has since returned home but even today the inability of the media—print, electronic or digital—to throw light on just what is wrong with the leader of India’s largest political party or to editorially question the secrecy surounding it, is palpable.

Given the hospital she is reported to have checked into, the bazaar gossip on Sonia has ranged from cervical cancer to breast cancer to pancreatic cancer but no “political editor” is willing to put his/her name to it, taking cover under her right to privacy.

About the only insight of Sonia’s present shape has come from an exclusive photograph shot by Anil Sharma of The Indian Express last week.

In a counter-intuitive sort of way, Nirupama Subramanian takes up the silence of the media in The Hindu:

“That the Congress should be secretive about Ms Gandhi’s health is not surprising. What is surprising, though, is the omertà being observed by the news media, usually described by international writers as feisty and raucous.

“On this particular issue, reverential is the more fitting description. Barring editorials in the Business Standard and Mail Today, no other media organisation has thought it fit to question the secrecy surrounding the health of the government’s de facto Number One.

“A similar deference was on display a few years ago in reporting Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s uneven health while he was the Prime Minister. For at least some months before he underwent a knee-replacement surgery in 2001, it was clear he was in a bad way, but no news organisation touched the subject. Eventually, the government disclosed that he was to undergo the procedure, and it was covered by the media in breathless detail.

“Both before and after the surgery, there was an unwritten understanding that photographers and cameramen would not depict Vajpayee’s difficulties while walking or standing. Post-surgery, a British journalist who broke ranks to question if the Prime Minister was fit enough for his job (“Asleep at The Wheel?” Time, June 10, 2002) was vindictively hounded by the government.

“Almost a decade later, much has changed about the Indian media, which now likes to compare itself with the best in the world. But it lets itself down again and again. The media silence on Ms Gandhi is all the more glaring compared with the amount of news time that was recently devoted to Omar Abdullah‘s marital troubles. The Jammu & Kashmir chief minister’s personal life has zero public importance. Yet a television channel went so far as to station an OB van outside his Delhi home, and even questioned the maid….

“Meanwhile, the media are clearly not in the mood to extend their kid-glove treatment of Ms Gandhi’s illness to some other politicians: it has been open season with BJP president Nitin Gadkari‘s health problems arising from his weight. Clearly, it’s different strokes for different folks.”

Read the full article: The omerta on Sonia‘s illness

Also read: Why foreign media broke news of Sonia illness

How come no one spotted Satyam fraud?

How come no one saw the IPL cookie crumbling?

How come no one in the media saw the worm turn?

Aakar PatelIndian journalism is regularly second-rate

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?

Is it time for Sonia Gandhi to be prime minister?

3 July 2011

The diagnosis of the UPA’s chronic illness since the 2009 polls has been markedly conventional. Everybody agrees that prime minister Manmohan Singh has messed up big-time, and that there has got to be a change at the top sooner not later, if “young” Rahul Gandhi‘s hopes are not to be dashed.

As for the aspirants, the usual names do the rounds: finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, the senior most leader in the party, whom the family doesn’t trust, home minister P. Chidambaram, whom the party can doesn’t trust, and neither of whom trust each other.

But do either Mukherjee or Chidambaram or anybody else in the party at the moment have in it in them to pull the Congrfess out of the hole and give it a push? In the Bombay newspaper DNA, editor-in-chief Aditya Sinha challenges the conventional wisdom, by suggesting that Sonia Gandhi should disregard her “moral voice” she first heard in 2004 with 2014 in mind:

“Perhaps the only thing left to be done that would undoubtedly shake everyone up and energise the government is for Congress President Sonia Gandhi to take over from Dr Manmohan Singh.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?

“She is, after all, head of the dominant party of the UPA. If any of the allies threaten to walk out, she can walk them straight into jail. Imagine: if she throws Sharad Pawar in jail, she’ll become the Queen of Anti-Corruption (after all, Anna Hazare earned his crusading credentials by opposing Pawar).

“Rahul Gandhi won’t evade ministerial responsibilities for he’ll want to help his mother steer the ship of government through the choppy waters of global recession. Sonia at the helm of government will boost the Congress’s chances in UP. And she can smoothly pass the baton to Rahul in 2014.

“So, Soniaji, we beg you: rid us of this prime minister and instead of replacing him with one of the usual suspects, take matters into your own hands (before Sharad Pawar takes matters into his). After all, you have little to lose, and everything to gain.”

Read the full article: Time for Sonia Gandhi to become PM?

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?


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