Monday, March 2, 2009

Snippets/ Mail Today, March 02, 2009

THE unseemly spat between the Women and Child Welfare Minister Renuka Chowdhury and Nirmala Venkatesh, member, National Commission for Women, has reached its denouement. Venkatesh has lost her job, being removed from her post when barely 96 hours were left for the electoral code of conduct to come into effect which forbids the government from removing or transferring officers. It is further proof that most such commissions are shorn of all independence and function at the mercy of the government of the day. Her only fault was that she refused to toe the minister’s — and the UPA government’s — line and gave a clean chit to the Ram Sene in the case relating to the attack on girls at a Mangalore pub in January. Nirmala was appointed to the commission by the UPA, so presumably she cannot be accused of being a “ chaddiwali”. Like baldness, there seems to be no cure for intolerance.

For Lalu it’s all about striking a pose
THE story of Lalu Yadav’s flamboyance is an old one, but every now and then, the man himself updates it by giving it a new twist. This only reinforces the widespread belief that whatever the railway minister does, he has one eye set on the vote bank and the other on public impact. The largesse he has showered on Bihar in successive railway budgets is proof that he is in a hurry to again occupy his old office at the Patna secretariat.

Last week, the man who left office as Bihar chief minister in shame after he was caught with his hands in the till walked into chief minister Nitish Kumar’s office on a holiday and handed over to him two cheques totalling Rs 40 crore. Despite their frosty relations, Nitish warmly received him and accepted Lalu’s donation for the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, fully aware of the political import of Lalu’s gesture.

Of the Rs 40 crore, Rs 38 crore had been collected through voluntary contributions from railway employees after Indian Railways set up a relief fund in the wake of the Kosi floods that devastated much of the state in mid 2008.

The balance of Rs 2 crore came from Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. The collection drive began sometime in August soon after the Kosi breached its embankment. The money was all in the bag months ago. But Lalu would have us believe that he was so busy turning around the fortunes of Indian Railways that he found no time to visit his home state to hand it over to Nitish. The truth is that nobody knows it better than Lalu that acts of generosity are better done in full glare of election TV cameras. Better still, on election eve.

ABHISHEK BACHCHAN, who is said to have broken the Guinness record for maximum public appearances in a day while promoting his latest movie, will not be too happy to know that his efforts pale in comparison with the achievements of the UPA ministers. Without exception, they are all laying foundation stones, opening bridges, flagging off new trains, unveiling statues, inaugurating steel plants and new airports and it makes you wonder if they ever manage to find time to drop by at office and look at a few pending files. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has opened/ laid foundation stones for nearly two dozen airports, leaving most people gasping trying to figure out where are they going to find the airplanes to service these airstrips. Someone has to remind the fawning ministers of the UPA government that their chairperson is actually squirming at the barrage of newspapers advertisements, all flaunting her pictures, over the past few days for which crores of public money are being spent to remind us of the breakneck work rate for our welfare.

Technically, the power behind the throne is not a public office but in reality, the world knows that in the current dispensation, Sonia Gandhi is the entire cabinet rolled into one. In the last two weeks, most national dailies have had on an average anything between eight and ten full page ads from various ministries and departments making outlandish claims about ministerial achievements, all flaunting her pictures alongside that of the respective ministers.

I can’t figure out how public money is being spent to sing paeans to someone who holds no public office, when it is well known that both Sonia and Rahul are squeamish about such things. Some years ago, on a PIL from the late HD Shourie, probably India’s best known consumer advocate, the judiciary had restrained ministries from using public funds for such advertisements that really fool nobody. But the court directives are brazenly flouted. Mercifully, with the electoral code of conduct coming into effect from tomorrow, this nonsense will stop. At least for the next six weeks.

Verbal jousts are in now
WE ALL know that most political speeches are written by clever speech writers. These elections are likely to see less of this tribe as the fight between the major players seems to be less about ideology and is taking the shape of many minor verbal skirmishes in which leaders often use words without realising their implications.

Many of them are unwittingly falling back on history books, if not at least a thesaurus, to find new ways to pin the opponent. Last week, LK Advani hosted several, mostly unknown, former foreign service officials at his residence, presumably to get a lowdown on foreign policy. The consensus at the end seemed to be that Indian foreign policy is perceived to be weak kneed and correctives were called for. In a press release that followed, the party said that if elected to power, the NDA would “ follow a muscular foreign policy”. With that the floodgates of abuse opened up. The Congress spokesman said this was further proof of BJP’s fascist tendencies since the phrase used was a legacy of the Third Reich.

Referring to recent pictures of Advani lifting dumbbells at a gym in Ahmedabad, the party warned him about the perils of “ gymming” at 81. Home Minister P Chidambaram was restrained in saying that the UPA believed in “ cerebral foreign policy and coercive diplomacy”. Advani started it, but Round 1 clearly goes to the Congress.

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