ON VALENTINE’S DAY, a spate of newspaper advertisements announced Sonia Gandhi’s simultaneous presence at four different inaugurations: the new Srinagar international airport terminal, the direct flight from Srinagar to Dubai, the new rail line connecting Baramullah and Mazhom, and the flaggingoff of the first train between the two stations. You have to have super human qualities to pack all this into a few brief minutes. The mystery of the eventpacked afternoon later unravelled. The small print in the ad said the railway inauguration would be done “ through remote”. What it obviously meant was via video conferencing. The ad designer was either mischievous or a fool not to realise the import of the word in the current establishment. With Parliament in session, the joke doing the central hall was: how apt that a government which is remote controlled should inaugurate railway lines through remote.
A deluge of words as sedative
SPEECHES, even the most inspiring ones, can turn boring beyond a point. I am sure I am not the only one who felt sympathy for President Pratibha Patil when Parliament’s budget session commenced last week. She was merely following the tradition of our presidents who provide no inputs for the speeches, written by some babu sitting at Raisina Hill, which they have no option but to deliver. But at 9,000 words and nearly 80 minutes, it was among the most tedious speeches the Central Hall has ever heard. If cameras were allowed into Parliament, we would have all by now seen scores of MPs catching 4,000 winks — while the Head of State reeled out stats to tell us what a great job the government was doing.
But that’s not the point here. Inside and outside support put together, the ruling alliance has about 20 partners and if you take into account the disgruntled Congressmen with damage potential, there were too many people to be taken care of. So the president was forced to talk about the pride inspiring feat of Chandrayan in the same breath as the allocation of 158 new mining blocks to public and private sector players. For nearly two years, they didn’t even allot an office to the minority affairs minister A. R. Antulay, but post 26/ 11, Antulay was turning out to be an embarrassing nuisance and so his ministry got a pat on the back from the President. If Patil ever pens down her memoirs, she should call it, A Presidential Survivor’s Guide To Coalition Politics.
TO SAY that politics is business is to state the obvious. What is less known is that there is a huge business spin- off from politics, particularly in this election year. There was a time when inputs for poll campaigns, including coining of slogans, came from party functionaries and grassroots workers, but that era seems to be behind us now. Today, the job belongs to advertising agencies and professional spin masters. It was Rajiv Gandhi who started the trend in 1984 by hiring a private ad agency to market the Congress. The sales pitch had nothing to do with the 4/ 5th majority the Congress got then. Remember Indira had just been assassinated and the Congress was the beneficiary of a sympathy wave. But the ad agencies were there to stay. Now even regional parties like the RJD, NCP, BSP et al are taking the same route and an informed friend tells me that the pickings for the ad fraternity from the impending election campaign could be in the range of Rs 200 to 300 crore.
In recent days, the country’s top ad agencies have made presentations before the top brass of the Congress and the BJP. They include Grey Worldwide, McCann, BrandCurry, Euro RSG, and Percept. The BJP team that viewed the presentations consisted of L. K. Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Venkiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar. As for the Congress, Yuvraj Rahul was assisted by Pranab da , Ahmed Patel, Kapil Sibal, Janardan Dwivedi, Anand Sharma, Vishwajit Singh and Jairam Ramesh.
Final contracts are yet to be awarded, but the Congress has already stolen a march over the BJP. Posters and hoardings of the troika — Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Rahul — already stare down at us on the city’s roads. In the BJP, haggling goes on in the light of the recent disastrous campaigns in Delhi and Rajasthan which saw the party snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Hopefully they will sort out these problems before it gets too late. But the old- style campaigns that once drew us out of our homes and offices are now gone forever.
Transparency the best asset
H. D. DEVE GOWDA has enjoyed fortune’s favours more than any other politician in India. I thought the one- year stint as prime minister — a job he neither deserved nor was qualified for — would have familiarised him with some constitutional niceties. I was wrong. Gowda has been fighting a losing battle in his home state on the Bangalore- Mysore expressway project.
Recently, it was clear his cup of frustration had boiled over when he sent letters to judges of the Karnataka High Court and a Supreme Court judge wherein he is said to have made very uncharitable remarks about some of the judges and advocates involved in the expressway case. It’s unbecoming of an ex- PM to indulge in such base tactics, but the worrying fact is: instances of such pressure tactics are on the increase and in the last six months, almost a dozen judges have asked to be recused from hearing cases listed on their benches after aggressive advocates representing petitioners or respondents made insinuations of bias against them.
This is an ominous trend that could damage the country’s judicial system, which, despite its imperfections, has served us well. In a society where the political- corporate- criminal nexus is becoming tighter by the day, the judiciary remains one institution that is largely credited with the right instincts. This is not to deny that the legal system can do with a bit more transparency.
Back in 1997, the judges conference itself had passed a resolution calling on all judges to declare their assets before the chief justice every year. Far from heeding their own advice, the Delhi High Court is now faced with a piquant case filed by the Supreme Court seeking quashing of a Central Information Commission order that sought to know if all judges had declared their assets. It is the court’s stand that the 1997 resolution was just that — a resolution, and not a law that had to be complied with. I think like charity, the healing process should also begin at home.