Monday, July 13, 2009

Snippets / Mail Today, July 13, 2009

IN the three decades or so that he has been in public life, Farooq Abdullah must have stepped onto thousands of podiums to talk passionately about the rights of the Kashmiris. But at a time when his only son Omar presides over the state’s destiny and helplessly watches as Jammu & Kashmir goes through one of its worst periods in recent history, Abdullah Sr is nowhere to be seen, except, of course, in TV studios where he is seen reiterating his faith in Omar's ability to handle the crisis.

Apart from being a minister in the Union Cabinet, Farooq is also the president of the ruling National Conference in the state. His hands- off policy may seem inexplicable to most of us, but those in the know of Kashmir politics, say he is applying the old East German sports model in politics. They used to throw two and three year olds into the water and kids learnt to swim, grew up and quite a few ended up winning Olympic golds. That's called learning on the job. It's not recommended in politics though.

Does this party have a death wish?
MATTERS in the BJP are becoming stranger by the day and the once passionate supporters of the party are becoming immune to the poisonous infighting that rages within. The status of the main opposition sits easily on it because everybody is in opposition to everyone else.

Instead of doing their job of opposing the government, the leaders of the “ losers brigade” are busy taking on each other over matters like who gets to occupy which room in Parliament House and the party office, who will sit behind whom in Parliament, and even over who will face the TV cameras for their 15 minutes of fame each evening.

Far from disciplining those who led the BJP to its worst electoral defeat in two decades, the poor pitiful party chief, Rajnath Singh, can only look on as leaders continue to gang up against each other. A frustrated Rajnath takes his wrath out on minions in the state units who were merely underlings to the powerful central cabals that ran the party campaign. So Jairam Thakur was divested of the Himachal party chief post, which was given to Khimi Ram, a Dalit. The excuse was that with his induction into the state cabinet, Thakur could not continue as party chief under the one- manone- post formula. There are no such fig leafs in Haryana and Rajasthan where incumbents were thrown out and new party chiefs brought in.

In Haryana, Atmaprakash Manchanda gave way to Krishnapal Gujjar, and in Rajasthan Om Mathur was replaced by Arun Chaturvedi. The men who were kicked out may well have deserved what they got but the induction of a Dalit, a Gujjar and a Brahmin, all of whom are at best bantamweights, suggests that caste considerations were at work.

Meanwhile, the fight amongst the political featherweights at 11 Ashoka Road continues and it has come to a stage where the likelihood of fireworks happening when two BJP leaders are in the same room is very real. At the rate they are going, it won’t be long before they shut the place down.

AS a lawyer, P Chidambaram must be a firm believer in the dictum that justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done. As a politician, he must be one of those who believes that ministers must not only do their work but must also be seen to be doing it. The scorching pace that he has set as Union Home Minister would leave a lot many of his younger colleagues gasping for breath. He has managed to do in a few months what former home minister LK Advani, who liked it when people referred to him as Iron Man 2, could not do in six years.

Every day, reams and reams of papers, in the form of parliamentary questions and answers are placed in both houses of parliament. Most MPs don’t go through those papers, while journalists as a tribe are too lazy to do the same. But Chidambaram is firm that his work must be seen to be done and so has instructed the information wing of his ministry, attached to the Press Information Bureau to send out regular press releases of papers tabled by him and his two junior colleagues in the two houses.

Assuming that Parliament is not to be misled, take a look. You will find that on everything from jail reforms to communication and intelligence sharing network, naxal violence to law and order in the North East, pensions for freedom fighters and their dependents to fencing on the Indo- Bangladesh border and construction of additional posts, he has set a pace that would leave his many predecessors green with envy. I think Manmohan should demand the same level of intensity from all his ministerial colleagues.

Slamming the open door shut
ALL its other achievements notwithstanding, it was the Right to Information Act, passed in the early days of the UPA’s first innings, that was truly supposed to have been a feather in the government’s cap. All that the ordinary citizen had to do was pay Rs 10 and ask the trickiest of questions and the government was duty bound to provide the answers. Transparency was supposed to have been the buzzword and accountability the government’s mantra.

The reality is far from it. At India Today , the magazine where I am editor, we learnt it the long and hard way. It took us nothing less than a year to receive information regarding declaration of assets by ministers of the Manmohan Singh government. I thought the inordinate delay had rendered the whole exercise meaningless since ministers being, well ministers, their assets would have doubled or even quadrupled in the twelve months that we waited for a response. But at least we got the information, though outdated.
But now comes news that is truly distressing. In reply to a question in the Lok Sabha last Wednesday, the Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions said that the government proposes to amend the RTI Act whereby it intends to do away with the current practice of hearing RTI appeals. A government circular dated May 22, 2009 also advised all Information Commissioners to hear appeals and complaints as a single body. The circular is a masterpiece in mumbo jumbo but the subtext makes it obvious that the government’s much vaunted pious intentions to usher in transparency are, at best, phony. There continue to lurk a whole lot of babus and possibly ministers too, who believe that a government, even one that functions under a democratic set up, must be a riddle wrapped in a mystery.

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