Monday, August 18, 2008

Snippets / Mail Today, August 18, 2008

Singh-Sen mutual admiration society

LIKE birds of a feather, Manmohan Singh and Amartya Sen have flocked together for much of the last five decades. They parted economic paths only the last decade and a half, which saw Manmohan become the most forceful votary of market forces while Sen, as the Nobel citation read, “ combined tools from economics and philosophy to restore an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems.” Yet, they form a little two- man mutual admiration society. But it was only recently that Manmohan felt the need for the “ aam aadmi connection” and use Sen to project the government’s pro- poor credentials, at the annual memorial lecture for veteran Communist Hiren Mukherjee, to coincide with the start of the Monsoon Session. Sen agreed, but there were minor hiccups though. The Lok Sabha had been through one of the bitterest sessions last month during the confidence vote. So, how does one balance Sen’s tight schedule with a one- day session in Central Hall that would ensure a decent presence of MPs. Someone, and I won’t tell you who, hit upon the brilliant idea of convening meetings of all 42 parliamentary standing committees which would ensure that each MP was in Delhi, even if not in the House. And so, Central Hall brimmed, not so much with elected MPs as with special invitees.
Singh toasted Sen saying the UPA’s policies and programmes were largely drawn from the Nobel Laureate’s world view. Sen’s words were music to Congress ears as he criticised the Left for making such a big deal of the N- deal instead of taking up bread and butter issues. Did I talk of a mutual admiration society?

FOR one known to be a reluctant public speaker, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did a remarkable job from the Red Fort on I- day. What was more surprising was that he kept going for over 45 minutes leaving no one in doubt that it was an election speech. Though his speech writers medium was Hindi, it was Urdu, a language that he is comfortable with, that dominated as he listed the achievements of his government— the loan waiver, increased farm credit, Bharat Nirman etc etc.
I was in the Aaj Tak studio doing a special I- day programme when SMSes started flowing about the lack of any reference to Abhinav Bindra’s remarkable feat in Beijing, which I think has been the most inspiring feat during the last four years.
More than nine per cent growth, which is anyway down now, more than the Nano car, which will become outdated someday, more than the loan waiver which is money down the drain, Abhinav’s gold will glitter forever.

WE don’t need the weatherman to tell us we have had one of the wettest monsoons in a long time, yet there is no sign of when the Monsoon Session of Parliament will be called. More questions: If and when it is called, will it turn out to be the last? The government’s reluctance to convene the session is understandable as the treasury is nearly empty and it will have to seek approval for demands for supplementary grants amounting to nearly Rs 60,000 crores. But even without Shibu Soren upping the ante, the government is unsure of a majority and I suspect its fear that defeat of a money bill makes it imperative for the government to quit, is forcing it to tread very very carefully. Normally supplementary demands are made during the winter session, but if the government can get these passed in the monsoon session, the last session itself could be done away with.
So goes the reasoning. Thus the pay hike for babus. The matter was in cold storage for months and it was only last week that Finance Minister P Chidambaram was asked to prepare a Cabinet note. The hike will cost the country an additional Rs 22,000 crores, needless to say, without any improvement in performance.
But in an election year which MP would oppose it? It is the government's hope that in the process the supplementary grants would pass through and curtains could be drawn on the 14th Lok Sabha.

Rigging for revenge

THE END of a relationship spanning four decades can be traumatising but it hasn’t taken Somnath Chatterjee long to recover and find happiness once again. Shorn of Marxist fetters, the Lok Sabha Speaker is clearly enjoying the freedom.
Though he prefers to keep a low profile, there is no shortage of people wanting Chatterjee, winner of the “ Outstanding Parliamentarian award” to deliver a speech, inaugurate a school or chair a seminar.
Under him, the Lok Sabha secretariat has become hyper active, particularly the Public and Press relations wing; there have been days when I have got as many as five SMSes from his secretariat. Expelled by the CPI( M) a day after the trust vote, he is off limits for his erstwhile comrades but his new friends have been quick to embrace him, particularly those in the Congress.
If Manmohan, Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders dropped by to greet him on his birthday with bouquets for the photo- ops, last week, the Hiren Mukherjee lecture in Parliament’s Central Hall gave Congressmen one more chance to sing his paeans. Manmohan termed Chatterjee “ the true inheritor of the legacy of Hiren Mukherjee”. The Marxists must be livid, but there is little they can do today. Chatterjee says he will no more fight elections, but if he changes his mind and seeks reelection from Bolpur as a Congress candidate, the Marxists can take sweet revenge by doing something they are very good at : rig votes, to make sure he loses.

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