Monday, October 5, 2009

Snippets/ Mail Today, October 05, 2009

Modi outwits Patel at function for Sardar
FOR close to a decade, Narendra Modi’s bearded visage has been like a red rag to the Congress bull. The sight of him makes the Congress’ blood boil and Modi’s close aides in turn say he sleeps better after every verbal skirmish with the khadi brigade. Dinsha Patel is a senior Congress leader in Gujarat and a Union minister but he obviously was not aware of protocol requirements which dictate that at all functions involving the President of India, the local chief minister must necessarily be consulted. Patel, who heads the Sardar Patel Memorial Trust, wanted to keep Modi out of a Presidential function in Ahmedabad.

But Rashtrapati Bhavan was finding it difficult to accept Patel's plea unless the state government concurred. Modi's office insisted not only on his presence on the dais but on his being seated next to the President since the blue book says that on visits to the states, the President must be flanked by the governor and the chief minister. Patel was thus consigned to one of the corner seats.

Modi may be in trouble with the courts rapping him for his shameful handling of the post- Godhra riots, but it seems every time he finds himself down and out, the Congress comes to his rescue. By harping on the Ishrat Jahan encounter during the recent byeelections, the Congress walked into the trap he laid. Modi ended up winning five of the seven assembly by- elections. Modi’s strategy has always been simple: invoke Gujarati pride.

A message from Sonia Gandhi was read out at the Ahmedabad function last week in which Sonia said that Sardar Patel and Pandit Nehru never had unbridgeable differences.

It was of course a travesty of facts. So when his turn came to speak, Modi left red faces all around him by saying that “ the history of independent India would have been different had Sardar become Prime Minister instead of Nehru.” The sight of President Patil squirming in her seat couldn’t have escaped Modi, but again, what mattered to him was Gujarati pride.

BRITISH politics was thrown into turmoil recently by the expenses scandal but there is a much bigger controversy that’s happening in our own Parliament. With many crorepatis and corporate czars forcing their way into Parliament, mostly the Upper House, questions are being raised about information that they are privy to as MPs being used for promoting their own financial and business interests. It has come to the notice of various ministries that some of the companies involved in disputes and arbitration, particularly in the infrastructure sectors, are owned by MPs or their relatives.

As of now projects worth over Rs 10,000 crore have suffered both cost and time overruns because officials dealing with the relevant files are reluctant to take decisive action fearing retribution. Some of the MPs have also managed to get nominated to various Parliamentary Standing Committees that deal with sectors in which they have pecuniary interests.

Some prominent leaders cutting across party lines have mooted the idea that MPs must be kept away from panels that deal with the sectors in which their companies are involved in much the same way that judges are barred from presiding over courts in which their relatives practise. Now the ball is in the court of the leadership of all the parties and presiding officers of both the houses. Last heard, they may ask such MPs to disclose their interests and resign from the committees if required.

Babus seek cut in grants for NGOs
BUREAUCRATS being bureaucrats, it is perhaps inevitable that they see opportunity beckoning in virtually every official file. Groaning under the austerity measures that have forced them to forsake the morning drive to the golf club in the official white Amby and fly cattle class instead of first class, they suddenly see a ray of hope that could put their lives back on five- star track. A letter sent by a Union minister from Kerala to his senior in the ministry, seeking a Rs one crore grant from the ministry’s discretionary funds to an organisation in his home constituency for some social celebrations set them thinking. A quick audit was done of all the money that various ministries distributed during the last two years to NGOs and such like, working primarily in the areas of health, environment, women and child welfare, culture etc.

It was found that the Centre gives Rs 5,000- 6,000 crore every year to such organisations across the country. The babus needed no convincing that less than half of the funds given as grants to these organisations reach the actual beneficiaries, the money being spent mostly on establishment and administrative expenses. Unlike charity, austerity need not necessarily begin at home, they argue. A file has now been moved to the finance ministry detailing a few examples of the misuse of such grants and a proposal has been mooted for the slashing of the grants by half, which could save the government up to Rs 3,000 crore.

The government would ideally lap up the recommendations and implement them right away, since most NGOs are headed by left wingers who are otherwise very vocal critics of its policies. But there is a catch. Sonia Gandhi is very much a patron of several NGO causes and is on very friendly personal terms with the heads of many. If the recommendations win the seal of approval from finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, the NGO sector will keep their fingers crossed and hope that Sonia will intervene and save them.

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