Posts Tagged ‘Yojana Bhavan’

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

‘If they can’t eat roti, let them go and eat boti’

31 October 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: As I was walking with my hot upma plate at the UNI Canteen in Delhi, who do I notice sipping a cup of coffee looking in the general direction of nearby the Planning Commission but Yojana Singh, the Ace Planning Expert (APE).

What luck! Here was a chance to find out how they are going to eradicate hunger from our country.

As we settled on the stumps of some chopped-down trees in the open park, I asked: “India has slipped two places further to 67 out of 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2010. In fact Sudan, North Korea and Pakistan fare better than us. Does that not worry you, Mr Singh?”

“Worry? No way. The poor in India are responsible for this bloated figure in the index.”

“I didn’t get you.”

“More and more hungry poor people have started eating well. Our people in rural areas are eating as if there is no tomorrow. This has created unprecedented pressure on the commodity prices and hence there is inflation.”

I  thought it was down right rude of the APE to make such caustic remarks on our rural populace.

“Wht are you suggesting, that the rural hungry shouldn’t eat at all?”

Arrey Bhai! When did I say that? I am only quoting President George W. Bush who once blamed the poor in China and India for eating more meals in a day, thus raising grain and cereal prices in America. Dubya found that he couldn’t afford jam and butter spread for his bread and pretzels for evening tea anymore. It’s all simple see-saw in world economics; you push it down here, it goes up in USA and elsewhere.”

“Mr Singh, this year 13.5 lakh metric tons of food grains were allowed to rot in the open for want of storage facilities. Despite bumper crops, millions of children still go to bed without a  proper meal. What was the Planning Commission doing all these years?’

Dekho bhai, we had to attack the problem of availability of seeds, water for irrigation, fertilisers, etc. This alone took us some six five-year plans. Thanks to M.S. Swaminathan and Norman Borlaug for the Green Revolution, and Dr Verghese Kurian for the White Revolution, which put us on a path of continuous growth of food grains and milk. But we didn’t have any revolution for storing food grains and milk, you know.”

“No revolution in storage of food grains?”

“That’s right. We knew how to grow but nobody taught us how to store. So we decided to store in  the open in  places where it has not rained over the last few years. Our planning was excellent but nature was against us as it rained  all through the year.  That’s why the grains started rotting after the rains. Sheer bad luck. Kya karen?”

Great planning, I must say! The Supreme Court had to rebuke your agriculture minister for refusing to distribute even the rotten grains free of cost.”

“With all my due respects to SC, what do they know of the economics of distribution of grains? We have middle men who have to be engaged all the way until it reaches the poor, and middle men don’t come free. We have to pay them to distribute grains even if it is through ‘Rajiv Gandhi Mufth Dhanya Vitharana Samstha’ or ‘Indira Gandhi Ghar Ghar  ke liye Gehu Pahunchana Nigam’.”

“You are saying you would rather pay the middle men than distribute free to the poor?”

“I am not saying that. All I am saying is that this is how the economics in food operate.”

“Mr Singh, some estimates say over 5,000 children die every day due to malnutrition in our country. This was also discussed by the Millenium Development Goal (MDGS) of the UN Summit in its meeting in September.  Why are we not doing something at least with respect to children? Why is it there is less and less consumption of grains every year?”

“The consumption  of food grains maybe coming down, but it may be more and more children must be consuming milk, vegetables and fruits.”

“This looks like the modern version of what Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XIV, said to the French people, ‘If they can’t eat bread, let them eat cake!’  Can you do something to stop this trend of massive deaths due to malnutrition?”

“‘Of course! Children are our greatest asset. I am not saying this! Pandit Nehru, I believe, used to say such things. We intend starting a programme covering lakhs of children across the country to give them an egg every day so that they get enough protein in their diet. We will be calling this, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Rashtriya Bachhonke Poustika Ahaar Ande Vitharana Karyakram.”

“Good you have at last something for children.”

“But funds are not available. They have all been diverted to CWG 2010.  Even, Rs.170 crores of funds allotted as pension for disabled persons and widows was diverted to CWG this year as their budget shot to Rs 70,000 crore. I will see what I can do,” said APE Yojana Singh of Planning Commission.