Monday, August 4, 2008

Snippets / Mail Today, August 04, 2008

UPA’s Captain Clueless IF an abundance of style and utter lack of substance could make a politician, it must be Shivraj Patil. His image of a man in charge of the country’s internal security has taken quite a few hard knocks of late, prompting rumours of him being dropped, which is what it should be or worse still, transferred out of the sensitive post to another, which I think will be a tragedy because some other ministry will have to suffer his incompetence. He seems clueless about what’s happening and makes it worse by appearing on TV so that the whole country gets to see how clueless he is. The Union Home Minister is considered the No 2 in the Union Cabinet, so it was pathetic to see pictures of the white safari suited, white- booted, white- socked Patil guiding Sonia Gandhi to a blast area in Ahmedabad. Almost like the darwan at the star hotel who receives a VIP guest and puts his hand out to say “ This way Maam”. It’s black but the joke in North Block is that the man doesn’t mind a few bombs going off once in a while as it affords him the opportunity to fly Sonia in his ministry’s special plane. A senior minister informs me that last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting to take stock of the Bangalore- Ahmedabad bombings was reduced to a farce because, as he said, “ Patil’s briefing read like an All- India Radio bulletin”. Is it any wonder that even his prime minister doesn’t take him seriously. When bombs go off in Bangalore or Ahmedabad, Manmohan Singh chooses to call BS Yedyurappa or Narendra Modi. When Patil called the chief ministers for a meeting last week to discuss internal security, few showed up. The man is truly Home and Alone.
FOR the BJP, it is the best and worst of times. The UPA Government’s image and morale couldn’t be lower, the Congress has never had so many back to back electoral defeats, the economy is on a downhill spiral. Tailormade for the Opposition to make the best of it. But they botched up. If the trust vote fiasco wasn’t bad enough, the party now has to grapple with the fratricidal tendencies of its GenNext leaders who, instead of fighting the enemies — Congress, SP, CPI( M) et al — seem more keen to fight each other. Last week, Sushma Swaraj made a reprehensible charge against the government and when it boomeranged, instead of standing by her, the troika at 11 Ashoka Road went on TV to disown her. At this rate, the future of the BJP’s GenNext may well be behind it. A worrying prospect indeed for LK Advani.
THE appointment of the new CBI Director is something that generates almost as much interest as the appointment of the new Indian cricket coach and early last week, babus blessed with the gambler’s instinct were waging bets on who would succeed Vijay Shankar as the new CBI boss. ML Sharma, CBI Special Director was widely tipped to take over. Not only was he most senior, being from the 1972 batch, the Rajasthan cadre officer also had impeccable credentials. I thought all speculation had been laid to rest when mid- week, Sharma was unofficially informed the job was his. Last Thursday, the PM had even cleared his papers making the transition a mere formality. Suddenly emerged a dark horse in the form of Ashwani Kumar, Director General of Police in Himachal Pradesh. His orderlies must have been steam- ironing his khakis when Sharma was suddenly called to the PMO and told that the job was not going to be his. What followed is perhaps the most unseemly succession ever seen in officialdom in the country, with Kumar’s formal anointment delayed leaving the agency virtually headless for a couple of hours. The government’s spin doctors are now trying to lay the blame for this needless embarrassment on its new found allies, saying it was pressure from them that forced the last minute switch. But that’s at best a cover- up. The real reason, I suspect, is this: Unlike Sharma, Kumar has had a stint in the Special Protection Group, a job that has given him proximity to the ruling family. With general elections due soon and friends and foes switching roles frequently, the establishment needs the handy tool that is the CBI to keep its opponents within the party and outside in check.

Musical spin doctors
FEW campaign slogans in recent times have been as effective as the one coined by Narendra Modi during the Gujarat Assembly polls last year. While “ Jeetega Gujarat” capsuled the impressive strides that Gujarat was making in the sphere of industrial development over the last two decades, it also harped on the pride of the state. The subtle sub- text was: The people of Gujarat want me back, the rest of India that has no voting rights in these elections and that can’t seem to stand the sight of me can go to hell. Now the chief ministers of three BJP- ruled states that are due for polls later this year are taking a leaf out of the Modi campaign strategy. It’s no easy task considering they will all be fighting the antiincumbency factor. But while Shivraj Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh’s Raman Singh are still searching for the right slogan, Rajasthan’s Vasundhara Raje Scindia is already off the block. The lyrics for “ Jiyo Jiyo Rajasthan ” have been set to tune by some musically inclined well- wishers and in a few weeks from now, lakhs of cellphones in the Rajasthan circle will buzz to the ring tune with a chorus of “ Rajasthan ka Abhiman ”. Already, among the committed it’s a hot ringtone and more are expected to opt for it as their favourite one. My advice to Chauhan and Raman: Take the help of Vasundhara Raje’s spin doctor and if he is too busy, settle for her music composer- director.

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