Monday, December 22, 2008

Snippets / Power & Politics/ Mail Today, December 22,2008

VAYALAR RAVI holds the dual portfolios of minister for overseas Indian affairs and parliamentary affairs. I have no quarrel with his handling of the latter portfolio, despite his lack of familiarity with Hindi, the language most used and abused in Parliament. But it is the first that I have reservations about. As its name suggests, Ravi’s portfolio relates to the 20 million strong Indian diaspora spread around the world. But for reasons that are not difficult to guess, his attentions are mostly focused on the Gulf region where about 5 million Indians work, more than 70 per cent of whom are NRKs or Non Resident Keralites from his home state. Recently he convened a meeting of heads of Indian missions in the Gulf whose agenda must no doubt have been the welfare of the Non Resident Keralites. If they had a constituency, Ravi would be in the Lok Sabha instead of the Rajya Sabha.

Pranab is not losing steam
IT’S been a busy year for the government and its ministers, but none has been as busy as Pranab Mukherjee. He capped off a hyperactive year with a sterling performance in Parliament last week that had even the Opposition eating out of his hands. Pranabda is naturally in an expansive mood and is moving into territory unchartered for long. For the first time since the Nehru era, a foreign minister has convened a meeting of our heads of mission stationed in 104 world capitals. The three- day conclave is to be held in Delhi. Besides the clinking classes, the mandarins will discuss a new road map to give a push to India’s new emphasis on economic diplomacy based on our growing intimacy with the United States. The meeting was fixed a couple of months ago and wasn’t derailed by the terrible events in Mumbai last month, an indication of the importance that the foreign minister attaches to it. Yet some diplomats themselves are questioning the exercise.
They say that on his frequent travels abroad, Mukherjee regularly holds HoM meetings at regional hubs. More importantly, when the government is almost getting into election mode, the sceptics wonder, what kind of policy or agenda can be formulated at such a conclave? But Mukherjee has his supporters in South Block who defend the exercise — and the Rs 2 crore that will be spent on it — on the grounds that the country’s foreign policy has never been at the mercy of changing governments. I believe Pranabda merely wants to leave an imprint. No one deserves it more than him.

THE papers — and not just the pink ones — are splattered with bad news: job cuts, real estate meltdowns; negative industrial production. But at the finance ministry and in some Congress circles, there is a feeling that the worst is over and that happy days will soon be here again. This may have been prompted by the fact that after months of double digit inflation — 13 per cent at one point — it is now less than seven percent. After tumbling for months, the Sensex has crossed the 10,000 mark. Interest rate cuts will spur spending and all will be hunky dory, goes the argument. But wait, there are resident party poopers who feel the worst is still awaited. They are preparing a note to tell the prime minister that all initiatives so far are aimed at the rich and they fear the voters will show their wrath during the elections. They have a point. Inflation may be down, but the aam aadmi still finds the prices of essential commodities the same as before.

True the government slashed Rs 5 off every litre of petrol, but the new price still corresponds to a crude price of $ 90 a barrel when the international price is less than $ 40. Banks have been ordered to cut interest rates, but the ordinary citizen still cannot get loans. PSU banks would rather correct their ledgers and as one officer told me “ Why give loan when we know we will face action after the election”. I suspect our rulers, driven by market sentiments, feel comfortable as long as the Sensex doesn’t take a tumble. Unfortunately, most investors don’t vote.

If only dowry was all prevalent
HOW the CBI wishes that like corruption and terrorism, dowry was also a global scourge which international investigators pursued with the same vigour as the other two. Scandalous stories are coming to light about NRIs and foreign nationals of Indian origin landing in droves in this country to find matches for their sons from wealthy desi families, mostly from Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, two states with a heavy NRI presence in the UK, USA and Canada. The boys tie the knot after pocketing crores in dowry and go back, promising to return with the immigration papers for their new brides. Mostly, they are never seen or heard from again. There are over 100 such cases pending with the CBI but suddenly there seems to be a sense of urgency after the daughters of two influential politicos fell victim to such flyby- night grooms. The parents are now putting pressure to have the “ husbands” punished under Section 498A of the IPC that relates to the anti- dowry act, where the offence is not only non- bailable but non- compoundable ( meaning arrest can be made on a mere complaint even before investigations start). The CBI has given a list of the offenders to Interpol and wants Red Corner Notices against them put up at airports and transit points. The hitch: agencies abroad have no clue what dowry is all about, even less about the laws governing it. Since there are no such laws in other countries, Interpol will find it difficult to extradite the offending grooms and oblige the CBI.

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