Monday, September 22, 2008

Snippets / Mail Today, September 22, 2008

Our Prez is a school marm

THE GOVERNOR’S conference in New Delhi last week will be remembered more than anything else for the new side to her personality that President Pratibha Patil showed. It was the first gubernatorial meeting that she chaired and she was to the manor born. In the past, such conferences have seen the President giving the inaugural address, sipping tea and exchanging small talk and leaving, but Patil chose to preside over an entire session that lasted over four hours on the opening morning. This left some folks at least squirming in their seats. For one, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to skip other engagements because protocol did not allow him to leave the venue as long as the President was around.

Her conduct of the session was, well, schoolmarmish. Governors were called according to alphabetic order of states and each one was allotted 15 minutes, though J& K’s N. N. Vohra, as a special case, was allowed much longer time. Not so lucky was West Bengal’s Gopal Gandhi, who was cut short and denied the chance to talk of his ( mis) adventure on the Nano.
She showed her concern for the elderly by allowing Andhra Pradesh’s Narain Dutt Tewari and a couple of others to place copies of their speeches on her table, so they were taken as read. And in typical classroom fashion, her finger reached for the buzzer each time a speaker had finished 14 of his allotted 15 minutes, to inform him that he had exactly one minute to wind up. I have a suggestion: Patil should give the presiding officers of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha a few lessons on how to conduct Parliament.

THE LAST week meant different things to different comrades.In Kerala, mallus celebrated Onam and in West Bengal, Singur continued to burn. You’d expect Prakash Karat to be either celebrating Onam with his fellow mallus or join the comrades to contain Mamata’s fury. He did neither. Those who keep track of his movements say he was spotted in, of all places, Scotland.Nothing mysterious about that since it was was at the University of Edinburgh, where he enrolled for his Master’s in Politics to hone his agitational skills and was rusticated for leading antiapartheid protests. He was later taken back on good conduct.With a general election that is certain to be bitterly fought coming up soon, it is being said that Comrade Karat went back to his alma mater to sharpen the very skills that has taken him to dizzying political heights. This time, he need fear neither rustication nor retribution.

No conviction, only convenience
ARE THE Congress Party and the UPA Government about to admit that terrorism is the biggest threat facing the country? What else could explain the Prime Minister talking about the need for stringent antiterror laws at the Governor’s conference last week and sundry Congress leaders taking the cue. Poor M Veerappa Moily, chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission, found himself in a minority of one when his report submitted to the PM in June sought stringent anti- terror laws. About a month ago, home minister Shivraj Patil told me on the Seedhi Baat programme in Aaj Tak that his party has the mandate to repeal POTA and existing laws were enough.

An internal assessment by Congress leadership at state and central level shows that minority votes accruing to the party because of pandering will hardly make up for the loss of the majority community votes. This is alarming considering that Assembly elections are due in five states soon. Worse, the Congress’ hopes of winning over middle India with the N- deal have been badly dented by terrorism, and inflation has middle classes reeling.

With the BJP announcing that terrorism would be its main plank, it was left to National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan to write to Patil, requesting him to process Narendra Modi’s demand for special anti- terrorism legislation in Gujarat. After the Delhi blasts, Shiela Dixit wants similar laws though instead of sitting on the file, her government should be giving consent to Afzal Guru’s hanging, whose death sentence is upheld by the Supreme Court. Even powerful POTA baiters like Lalu and Mulayam have opted for silence, a sign perhaps that even they realise it’s time to keep old habits under check. Which only proves that in politics, convictions don’t matter, only convenience does.

WITH THE N- deal all sewn up, it’s time to move on to pressing matters of the day.
When Manmohan Singh arrives in New York this week for the annual UN General Assembly, the city will still be reeling under the worst crash in financial markets in decades. And when he makes a brief visit to Washington to meet up with good friend George Walker Bush, the two will have more to talk about than just enriched uranium.

India is among the largest recipients of FII funds and the PM is expected to meet top bankers and investors and tell them that fundamentals here are strong enough. Last week, Manmohan called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs as a preparatory exercise before the high- profile meetings in New York. Since it was an emergency meeting, no agenda papers were given in advance and one senior minister arrived assuming that the gathering was to discuss the issue of the swollen Kosi. It was only when the meeting began that the minister, with little grasp either of the Queen’s language or economic jargon, realised that something was amiss. Lehman Brothers, Merryl Lynch, AIG, Dow Jones, Nikkei, Footsie. The names were all Greek to him.

Finally, he interrupted to say he could understand nothing, at which time, the Finance Secretary and another senior official were asked to join by the minister’s side and explain all about economic meltdowns. The meeting continued with the officers trying to make sense of the deliberations for the minister’s benefit.
By the end of it all, the minister had stopped shaking his head vigorously, an acknowledgement perhaps he was now convinced Lehman Brothers was more dangerous than Kosi.

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