PM & Montek don’t see eye to eye for once
LIKE two great minds that think alike, Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia have rarely disagreed on anything. Ahluwalia has been a Manmohan favourite for long and if the economist turned prime minister’s hands were not tied politically, Montek would have even been made the finance minister when the new government assumed office in May.
Last week, for the first time perhaps, the prime minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission differed publicly. In 1985, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, on a visit to Kalahandi in Orissa, one of the poorest districts in the country, had said that of every rupee that the government spent on welfare schemes for the poor, only 17 paise reached the intended beneficiaries.
Statements of top government and Congress functionaries in recent times make it clear that after all these years, Rajiv’s words still ring true. During a campaign rally sometime in April this year, Rahul Gandhi recalled his father’s words and said the situation had only become worse since then.
Last week, while addressing a seminar in New Delhi, Ahluwalia too quoted Rajiv Gandhi and said it was a tragedy that even after a quarter century, the government had not figured out how to plug the leaks.
But the very next day, the prime minister refuted Ahluwalia’s remarks. “ Leakage of funds earmarked for development does exist but I don’t admit these leakages are as big as is being mentioned”, Manmohan said in Mumbai.
I am no judge to decide who is right, but what I do know is that since Rajiv uttered those words, government allocation for social sector spending must have gone up by more than 200 percent. Considering that last year the Centre and states together earmarked nearly Rs 3,51,000 crores on social sector spending, the scale of the loot by crooked politicians, middlemen, agents and contractors can only be imagined. And as the already filthy rich become richer, the poor can only become poorer. Manmohan and Montek can differ on the quantum of pilferage, but implied in this is an admission of a huge, faulty delivery system. The shame is that they can’t seem to do anything about it.
FINANCE Minister Pranab Mukherjee found instant stardom when he wielded the axe on External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and his junior Shashi Tharoor and asked them to move out of their 5- star hotel rooms. As if to show that austerity was serious business, Pranabda himself took a economy class flight to Kolkata one day; Sonia Gandhi flew by a commercial airline to Mumbai and babus began to get used to sitting cramped in cattle class. In the last few weeks, however, the signals have been mixed. Pranabda flew in a chartered aircraft to Kochi for a INTUC function; Rahul Gandhi took a private jet to Kerala and bullet proof cars for travels within the state were flown in by the IAF. How gratifying then it is to note that there are people who still swear by austerity.
Last Wednesday, I called up Anand Sharma, the Commerce Minister. He was in the US. And, get ready for this, he told me he was actually on a train from Washington to New York. Last month, P Chidambaram, on his first visit to the US as home minister, also travelled by train on the same leg. The proof of the austerity pudding will of course be if, on their return, they condescend to travel by Mamata Didi’s Indian Railways. We shall wait and see.
RSS sends out warning to BJP’s allies
THE RSS seems to be getting tired of being repeatedly bitten by the hand that it feeds. Under its new chief Mohan Bhagwat, there is a new mood of aggression in the organisation and this was evident in its decision to hold the three day national working committee meeting last week in Rajgir, near Patna. The venue was deliberately chosen. The RSS feels that Bihar’s JD( U) chief minister Nitish Kumar has been following a policy of minority appeasement and cites the government’s decisions to allot land for setting up of a centre of the Aligarh Muslim University in Katihar and to give scholarships to Muslim girl students as the latest in a chain of steps aimed at appeasing minorities.
By holding the session in Rajgir, the RSS hopes to tell Kumar, who heads a coalition government, that the BJP’s support will be conditional to the government not compromising on the core issues of Hindutva. Nitish had earlier irked the BJP by asking both LK Advani and Narendra Modi to stay away from the Lok Sabha poll campaign. The RSS didn’t spare the BJP’s deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, a good man if ever there was one in Bihar politics, for lying low while the government pursued its minority appeasement policies.
There is a feeling in the RSS that the BJP is being used by allies to stay in power even as they expand their base at the cost of its own ideology. The message from Rajgir was: in a coalition, the BJP should insist on following its agenda and force alliance partners to agree to a common minimum programme that does not compromise on the core values of Hindutva. No one would have failed to notice the paeans of praise that Bhagwat had for the home minister P Chidambaram’s efforts to squeeze the life out of the ultra leftists.