Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cover Story/ India Today / February 9, 2009

Will Manmohan be fit to lead?

The unprecedented situation of a govt without a singular point of authority following the PM’s heart surgery on the eve of crucial general elections brings out the fear and paranoia of the Congress leadership structure.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seedhi Baat/Aajtak, January 25, 2009

Omar Abdullah on Seedhi Baat says that any solution to the Jammu and Kashmir issue has to be to the satisfaction of both India and Pakistan.

आज तक के साप्‍ताहिक कार्यक्रम 'सीधी बात' में जम्‍मू-कश्‍मीर के मुख्‍यमंत्री उमर अब्‍दुल्‍ला ने कहा कि चुनावों के बाद गठबंधन बनाना बहुत मुश्किल था. उन्‍होंने कहा कि राज्‍य में उनकी सरकार बनना जनता का फैसला रहा.

Power & Politics/Mail Today, January 26, 2009

DESPITE the many false steps in the past, Sharad Pawar gives the impression of being a man who has learnt no lessons and still does not have much of an idea about choosing the right time and the right place to make the right decision. Conventional wisdom has it that with the elections almost upon us, all national parties would be busy firming up alliances and finetuning their strategies to retain or regain power. But some of the Nationalist Congress Party leaders seem to draw some thrill out of setting the cat among the pigeons.

“ Pawar is fully qualified to become the Prime Minister of India,” a senior NCP leader was quoted as saying the other day. Nobody questions that assertion. After all, this is a country which has had the misfortune of having the likes of HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral occupy the high office. Compared, Pawar is a giant. Yet, mystery surrounds that statement.

What was the need to shift the goalposts just when the game was entering stoppage time? Just a couple of weeks back, as the guest on my TV show Seedhi Baat on Aaj Tak , Pawar told me that Manmohan Singh would continue to lead the UPA into the 15th Lok Sabha elections. He was, in fact, the first senior leader from the coalition to assert that the UPA need not have to look beyond the incumbent. What then did his partymen seek to achieve by unilaterally raising the “ Pawar for PM” demand? Often in the last few months, Pawar has dropped enough hints about taking leave of electoral politics.

The NCP even announced that Supriya Sule, Pawar’s only child, would contest from Baramati, Pawar’s constituency for long. This reinforced the belief that the Grand Maratha was readying to spend the rest of his life looking after the vast vineyards that he owns and the somewhat lesser pluckings from the International Cricket Council, of which he is to take over as President next year.

My guess is that Pawar, who feels absolutely comfortable working with Manmohan, has reasons to suspect the Congress’ commitment to project the genial sardar as its prime ministerial candidate in the impending campaign. Manmohan’s heart condition has only reinforced these suspicions. Who then? There are any number of claimants: Lalu Yadav, Pranab Mukherjee, why Rahul Gandhi himself. When Manmohan went in for heart surgery on Saturday, the government scattered his responsibilities amongst half a dozen cabinet colleagues, yet another indication of the confusion within the party. A Congressman for long, Pawar knows how to milk such confusion for his own benefit.

Apart from numerous Congress leaders who may choose to back him over so many others from their own party, he is also banking on the excellent rapport that he has with several regional chieftains — N Chandrababu Naidu, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, Prafulla Mahanta, to name just a few. When push comes to shove, they will back him. It is a strategy that may well pay off.
But a Congress friend tells me that reports about the “ Pawar for PM” demand setting off alarm bells in the Congress are exaggerated and that the NCP strategy was aimed at nothing more than extracting a few more seats for the party which currently has just 11 members. He could be proved wrong. My guess is that Pawar will get the seats he seeks from the coalition. I won’t be surprised if his political skills still carry the day.

Snippets / Mail Today, January 26, 2009

TO TALK of Amar Singh’s clout is a bit like talking about Barack Obama’s charisma or Bill Clinton’s philandering. Everyone knows about it. But it is as if the man wakes up each day determined to prove the point once again. When Amar Singh serenaded Sanjay Dutt after he joined the Samajwadi Party last week, the Congress was so infuriated, it even got his sisters to turn against their brother. He is one man who can simultaneously annoy the establishment and have it dance to his tune. When the Republic Day honours list was being finalised, the government was under pressure to honour Aishwarya Rai with the Padma Bhushan, an award she richly deserves considering her unchallenged supremacy in the industry for nearly a decade and half. A little hitch though. The award to Aishwarya could have created tension on the Bachchan home front since Jaya Bachchan, Aishwarya’s mother- in- law, is merely a Padma Shri. Honours Shared.

Praising Modi a dicey affair
THE corporate titans who sang hallelujahs for Narendra Modi and nominated him as the country’s next prime minister at the Vibrant Gujarat summit in Ahmedabad two weeks back — it’s another matter that Modi said no thanks, I will wait for my time — are in course correction mode. The swift repudiation of their endorsement of Modi from the Congress triggered fears amongst some of them of impending retribution.

A recent meeting in the capital of the apex industry bodies brought many of them to Delhi where some of them knocked on the right doors to explain their conduct to those who matter in the ruling dispensation. Some are reported to have said that they were merely keeping up the Indian tradition where it is seen to be impolite if you don’t praise your host for the hospitality extended to oneself. Anonymous senders despatched CDs on behalf of some industrialists to ministers and even their minions in an effort to prove innocence. It is presumed that the CDs were raw and unedited. Still others took the all too familiar excuse of blaming the media for misquoting them. Ah, minting money is not the only factor that unites our corporate and political class. As this incident makes clear, both relish media- bashing.

Austerity should begin at home
THE first signals from the new occupant of the White House are encouraging and I would like to believe that in sending a blunt message to Pakistan to set its house in order, Barack Obama may have been telling us Indians, don’t worry, sooner or later I will have these rogues on their knees. That doesn’t mean of course that South Block should sit back. Obama has his uses for us elsewhere too. For a start, why not borrow a leaf from his first day in office? Amongst his early decisions were two that our lawmakers would be advised to adopt: a freeze on salaries for our ministers and bureaucrats and a more transparent government.

This government flaunts the Right to Information Act as one of its achievements but anyone who has tried to access information invoking RTI will tell you what a sham it is. We have 73 union ministers, when we could do with half as many. Their numbers go up each time the ruling alliance nets a new coalition partner and each of them accounts for about Rs four crores a year. We have about 400 officers of the level of secretaries, many of whom are superannuated and have been given reemployment as a token of gratitude for past favours. The government homes in Lutyens’ Delhi, the white Ambassadors with red beacons and the paraphernalia at their disposal costs the government about Rs two crores for each of them. Indira Gandhi ran the country for 17 years with probably half as many ministers and secretaries. And she did a much better job. Cutting even a third of the flab would net the government enough money to build thousands of primary schools, hundreds of public health care centres and such like. For reasons known only to him, Manmohan told George Bush at their last meeting, “ Indians love you”. In these troubled times, if Manmohan Singh takes the cost cutting cue from Obama, acts like a CEO, cuts the flab, orders wage freeze in government and hands out the pink slips where they are overdue, millions of Indians who admire Obama may actually send him text messages professing their love.

LALU PRASAD YADAV’S Rashtriya Janata Dal has three cabinet ministers, but the railway minister’s profile is so larger than life that few would have heard of the other two — Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Prem Chand Gupta. The latter is Minister for Company Affairs and you would think that in these days when Satyam is another byword for large scale fraud, he is a busy man. Not quite. Not much was known about him until he joined the cabinet, except that he was a businessman from Haryana who stood by Lalu even as some of his closest friends ditched him when he was caught up in the fodder scam.

Lalu rewarded him by sending him to the Rajya Sabha twice and in 2004 wangled for him a cabinet post. But Gupta is slowly realising that a reserved seat in the cabinet room doesn’t necessarily mean that he has work to do. That the real power lies elsewhere. That he had no clue about the people that were being placed on the reconstituted Satyam board became clear when TV networks relayed the names even as he was telling an interviewer that these were being finalised. The one decision he attempted to take — to supersede the Maytas board — was overruled by the government.

Under normal circumstances, Lalu would have taken up cudgels on his party colleague’s behalf, but his strange silence means only one thing: Lalu is aware of the powerful connections that both Satyam and auditors Price Waterhouse have in the ruling establishment. A lot has been written about the former, but the clout that PW wields among the movers and shakers on Raisina Hill is enormous. In fact, so enormous that despite fudging in Satyam, it still acts as advisor to some crucial government departments. Such arrogance should come as no surprise. Nearly a dozen offspring of the political and bureaucratic elite work in the auditor’s offices worldwide.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, January 19, 2009

THE Vibrant Gujarat global investors summit in Ahmedabad last week is said to have attracted MoUs worth Rs 7.5 lakh crore. Kudos to chief minister Narendra Modi, though I will wait for the day when corporate honchos who pledged that mindboggling amount actually put the money where their mouths are. That’s not the issue here.

The point I was making is: did Modi, arguably the best performing chief minister in the country today, need the blessings that the A- list of India Inc who assembled at the summit showered on him? Many may be genuinely convinced that, as one top banker said, “ Gujarat is happening because Modi has made it happen.” But by endorsing his still- to- be announced candidature for future prime ministership, they could not have done a bigger disservice to the man whom they obviously admire and to the party that he represents, the BJP. The 82- year- old doughty LK Advani, the BJP- NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, was busy dousing the fire sparked by another party octogenarian Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, when this latest bushfire, set off in Ahmedabad, engulfed the BJP. Modi is no doubt the face of the BJP’s future. But the corporate honchos made it look as if the future is already here. If they were being nice to Modi whilst on his home soil, they should have been equally nice to Advani when they called on him last November, to discuss the economic downturn. None of them showed any such courtesy, though at Race Course Road, they sang paeans in praise of Manmohan Singh for his management of the economy in these dark days.

What is surprising is that the normally cautious Modi should provide a platform for hosannas to be sung and bearhugs exchanged. So is the Modi that we knew all these years undergoing an extreme makeover? Already, he has discarded the starched pyjamas and half sleeved kurtas for trendy linen jackets and designer sunglasses. The new look was captured and transmitted countrywide at his unusual New Year’s eve sojourn atop a camel on the deserts bordering Pakistan. His PR machinery that consists of about two dozen tech savvy types sends out thousands of emails, images and SMSes daily to the right addresses. His commitment to Advani remains unshakeable, but realising that his adversaries, or as he called them, a “ tolki sitting in Delhi”, were using the issue to create a rift between him and Advani, he issued a statement saying he fully backed Advani. And for good measure, he added, “ Under Advani’s leadership, the whole of India will witness rapid growth like Gujarat”. The issue seems settled for now but the other one — of the company that Modi lately keeps — remains alive.
Modi is a good administrator and we need good administrators at the top. But the choice is that of the voters and not investors. In the past, Modi stomped the villages and towns, knowing that the voters there held his future in their hands. Manmohan Singh was the toast of the investor class but the only time he contested for the Lok Sabha, he lost — from South Delhi, which is as affluent as it gets in India. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Chandrababu Naidu embraced industry. One is out of a job, the other is repenting. On the flip side are the likes of Jyoti Basu, Mayawati and Jayalalitha, all of whom, as much as they like the good life, wouldn’t be seen dead in public with India Inc. There is a lesson in it for Modi.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Seedhi Baath Aajtak, January 18, 2009

We have given proof to Pak

Says Pranab Mukherjee , Minister for External Affairs on Seedhi Baat. His government's objective is that the perpetrators of terror attacks should be punished.
Video Part2 Part3 Part4 Part5

कूटनीति में हम पीछे नहीं: प्रणब मुखर्जी

आज तक के साप्‍ताहिक कार्यक्रम 'सीधी बात' में विदेश मंत्री प्रणब मुखर्जी ने कहा कि मुंबई पर हमले के बाद हमने पाकिस्‍तान को सारे सबूत सौंप दिए हैं और हमारे पास हर तरह के विकल्‍प मौजूद हैं.

Snippets / Mail Today, January 19, 2009

AND so the Mallu Morcha marches on. The last fortnight saw two more of them being appointed to senior positions at the Centre. KJ Mathew, Chief Secretary, Kerala, moved to Delhi as Secretary, Parliamentary Affairs.

More importantly, Radha Vinod Raju became the first chief of the National Investigative Agency ( NIA), the new federal agency set up to tackle terror. Though a Mallu, Raju is from the J& K cadre with a record that speaks for itself. His investigative skills are so legendary, back in his home state they even made a movie out of his successful cracking of a murder which at one time looked like a mystery wrapped in a riddle. Raju is a welcome addition. And he can even discuss terror strategy in his native Malayalam with PM's Principal Secretary TKA Nair, National Security Advisor MK Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, CabSec KM Chandrashekar and others. Time they renamed South Block as God's Own Block.

FIVE years after he walked out of the Congress in protest against Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origins, Sharad Pawar had a change of heart and brought his Nationalist Congress Party into the Congress- led UPA. But the distrust between the two parties seems to be as sharp as ever even if the top leaders of the two parties are seen to be very civil to each other. As president of the Cricket Control Board, Pawar even used to pass around grandstand tickets for the young cricket crazy Congress leaders.

But deep down the animosities persist. There was ample evidence of this in the recent selection of India’s candidate for a top post in one of United Nations’ bodies based in Europe. Former Lok Sabha speaker and NCP leader PA Sangma was keen that a suitable candidate from the North- East be nominated for the job. Having obtained Pawar’s consent, Sangma led a delegation of MPs from the region to the prime minister. Manmohan Singh was receptive. Natural, considering that he owes his parliamentary seat to the North- East. It is after all Assam that has sent him to the Rajya Sabha for the last three terms. Manmohan spoke to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who alerted the mandarins at the foreign office to get the job done as quickly as possible. The nomination papers were cleared and ready to be filed when, mysteriously, a senior bureaucrat with close links to 10 Janpath appeared out of nowhere and had the process stalled. Last heard, another groupie of the ruling clique was packing his bags for the journey to Europe which assures him a dollar salary for a few years. As for Sangma, he doesn’t even have the time to get angry, busy as he is fielding calls from friends and acquaintances calling in to say “ We told you so”.
NDA pulls are a migraine for BJP
WITH the elections just months away, it is open season for allies and the cause of the two alliance leaders — the UPA’s Congress and the NDA’s BJP — is not helped by the fact that both Sonia Gandhi and LK Advani are keeping a discreet distance from ongoing discussions over seat allocations. But between the two, the UPA is less disadvantaged as it has to grapple with just one demanding ally, the SP. So Digvijay Singh and Amar Singh, in the true tradition of Thakurs, continue to have public spats. But everyone knows that if matters come to a boil, Sonia will think nothing about driving across to Lodi Estate to sort out matters with Amar Singh. The NDA is not so fortunate because coalition partners are in the habit of turning up for seat- sharing talks accompanied by divorce lawyers. Nobody knows how to handle her, so they have given up on Mamata Banerejee, but trouble continues to pile up. Naveen Patnaik, a loyal and undemanding NDA constituent so far, is no more content with junior partner status and wants more Lok Sabha seats. In Punjab, the Akali Dal is not keen to meet the BJP’s demand for seats, presumably because there are more Badals lining up for the same. In Haryana, Om Prakash Chautala insists on a 50- 50 share. In Uttar Pradesh, Ajit Singh who heads a one man party wants nothing less than 12 seats when realistically, his party has an outside chance in about two or three seats.
Bihar’s Nitish Kumar also thinks the JD( U) deserves more seats and is driving a hard bargain.
Tragically for the BJP, its national leaders are busy with their priorities and its second rung leaders are looked at by alliance leaders as small fry, to deal with whom is an assault on their dignity. Somewhere, somebody has to give ground.

WITH P Chidambaram moving to the Home Ministry and finance remaining headless, both SS Palanimanikkam and Pawan Kumar Bansal dreamt of the last working day of February bringing them thirty minutes of fame that would more than make up for their long yet fruitless ministerial stints. If you wonder who these worthies are, they are both junior ministers in the Ministry of Finance. With the country heading for elections, there will be no regular budget this year and both believed it will be their turn to present the vote- on- account that must be done before February ends. Of course, one didn’t tell the other, but both were readying to tell constituents back home about their impending moment in the sun. But the dreams have died, as they often so cruelly do in politics.

Manmohan Singh, who holds temporary charge of finance, has already told Chidambaram to handle the parliamentary work relating to the finance ministry on his behalf and it is being said that he will ask the home minister to present the vote on account. If that happens, the home minister will have to take time off from chasing terrorists and illegal fence crossers to prepare his seventh budget statement with the legion of finance ministry officials, all of whom he is very familiar with. As for Messrs Palanimanikkam and Bansal, they must live with the fact that the moment which they eagerly waited for may have eluded them for ever.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

INTERVIEW / PRANAB MUKHERJEE/India Today, January 26, 2009

India has said that it will not sign Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) even if the Barack Obama administration presses it to do so. In the midst of a busy diplomatic calendar when India is using coercive diplomacy against Pakistan, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told me in Seedhi Baat programme on Aaj Tak and Headlines Today, "We will not sign CTBT or NPT. We are committed to the bilateral agreement with the US and India-specific safeguards with the IAEA."

In response to a question related to remarks made by US Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton that the US may insist on reviving the CTBT, Mukherjee said that India will continue to maintain its independent foreign policy. Mukherjee’s remarks came just ahead of the inauguration of the new US President Barack Obama on January 20. During her Senate confirmation hearing, Hillary had reportedly stressed that the US will make CTBT and Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) as the priority of the US administration.
Analysts believe that the Democrat regime under Barack Obama would strongly advocate a more hawkish approach on CTBT and New Delhi and Washington may cross swords over this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, January 12, 2009

THERE are few certainties in Indian politics but one that can be taken for granted is that young Rahul Gandhi will follow in the footsteps of his father, grandmother and great grandfather and become the Congress president. He could even emulate them and become prime minister if the voter doesn’t stand in the way. But these are in the realm of the future. So is there some sort of a cold war at the top levels in the Congress and the government that should make senior partymen suddenly revive speculation about a Rahul prime ministership at a time when the party is readying for the Lok Sabha election? Pranab Mukherjee and Digvijay Singh are two of the seniormost Congress leaders, yet it is difficult to understand the rationale of the foreign minister’s espousal of the Rahul ticket and its instant seconding by the general secretary.

Both are seasoned politicians not prone to indulging in inappropriate, much- less reckless statements. I feel it is an ill- timed statement which has merely undermined the position of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Of course, both may feel they deserve more. Pranabda has been a loyal foot soldier of the family for over three generations in an illustrious career that has seen him reach the gates of Race Course Road and Rashtrapati Bhavan. But he hasn’t got to occupy either. After being soundly defeated in 2003 after 10 years in power, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Digvijay has chosen to rebuild his career around the dynasty, quite like the way his mentor Arjun Singh did during the Indira and Rajiv era.

Many feel that Pranabda and Digvijay are reflecting the opinions of a section of Congress which feels that the party cannot afford to approach the voter in April/ May under the leadership of Manmohan. In the Obama era, they say, the party needs a leader who will do to L. K. Advani what Obama did to McCain. They have a point. But do senior leaders have to stoop so low as to take upon themselves the role of kingmakers. A few months ago it seemed different.

Asked if Manmohan would be the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Sonia’s answer wasn’t a Yes or a No but “ Why Not?”, which I would think is the equivalent of an emphatic “ Yes”. Mercifully, though it took 48 hours, Sonia put a lid on the controversy by having Shakeel Ahmed, the AICC spokesman, state that she stood by her earlier statement that Manmohan continues to be her choice.

Rahul has been away for a while, even skipping the swearing- in of his good friend, Omar Abdullah, in Srinagar. His silence makes me think he is in no hurry to bring the speculation to an end. The only conclusion that can be drawn from the different voices being heard is that Sonia has one set of spokesmen and Rahul another.

Only Manmohan has none. The country is going through an economic downslide, terror is on the upswing and these are times when talk of a leadership change can unsettle and even harm any leadership’s ability to deal with crises. But for some, national interest is never delinked from personal stakes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, January 11, 2009

'We'll take tough action against Pakistan'

The Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma on Seedhi Baat says that only those countries talk about war who want to divert attention from the main issue. Video
आज तक के साप्‍ताहिक कार्यक्रम 'सीधी बात' में विदेश राज्‍य मंत्री और कांग्रेस के नेता आनंद शर्मा ने 26 नवंबर को मुंबई पर हुए आतंकी हमलों तथा उसके बाद से भारत सरकार द्वारा उठाए जा रहे कदमों के विषय में बात की.

Snippets / Mail Today, January 12, 2009

WHERE was T. R. Baalu, the road transport, highways and shipping minister last week when truckers went on strike and essential supplies ran scarce? Baalu is known to be absent without leave even from crucial cabinet meetings, choosing to spend time in Chennai to secure his political future.

As such no one was surprised that he did not even turn up for a Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs ( CCEA) meeting convened by the Prime Minister to discuss the strike. Some suspect he was at Thirumangalam in Madurai where a by- election was held on Friday. In his absence, Manmohan Singh briefed the meeting.

Baalu, sources say, is available in his office only every fifth day. I have some advice for the striking truckers. They should add to their agenda the demand for better highways.
Because it is entirely due to Baalu’s apathy that the national highway construction programme is in reverse gear for the last couple of years.

Shekhawat comes out of retirement
IF YOU think the confusion in the Congress makes things rosy for the BJP, perish all such thoughts. Dark days have descended on 11 Ashoka Road which is still trying to come to grips with the defeat in Delhi and Rajasthan and a meeting ground eluding its old guard and its GenNext leaders. And now Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, among its senior most members and former Vice- President, is further muddying the waters by threatening to contest the Lok sbha elections. Nearly three months ago, in these very pages I had written about Shekhawat’s itch to get back into public life. He told me once about a national campaign against corruption that he wanted to initiate. I had then assumed he was eager to take on a JP- like role, a father figure who will keep away from the dirt and grime of power politics.

Anyone except the corrupt would welcome such a campaign. But that he chose to launch it by writing to Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot seeking probes into deals made during the previous Vasundhara Raje regime smacks of intra- party politics at the gutter level. A decade ago, the BJP boasted a GenNext that peers were envious of. Today the GenNext leaders are in dire need of eye- bag therapy. Worse they have nothing to show for the years that have rolled by. Shekhawat in a way reflects the state of the BJP, where the old refuse to retire and the young don’t measure up. That’s why V. K. Malhotra became its chief ministerial candidate in Delhi when anyone with a voter’s ID knew that Sheilaji was a better bet. And 75- yearold Chaman Lal Gupta is the leader in J& K. Last week, they pulled O. P. Kohli out of the woodwork to head the Delhi BJP. His initial reaction — “ I am shocked, stunned” — sums up the man’s predicament. He is clueless because he hasn’t run a campaign since they reducedthe voting age to 18. It is here that you doff your hat off to Farooq. So what if GenNext is from the family’s next generation?

Chidu ka jawab nahin
SIX YEARS and countless terrorist attacks later, P. Chidambaram last week was all set to tread the path that one of his predecessors had taken. In 2002, then home minister L. K. Advani embarked on a trip to the US with detailed and irrefutable evidence of Pakistani hand in the December 2001 attack on our Parliament. Nothing came of the trip and the jihadi menace became worse. Chidambaram was to go to Washington with evidence to drum up international pressure on Pakistan to rein in the murderous thugs. Nobody is more suited than the erudite, articulate Chidambaram to put across India’s point. More so because after the horrific events in Mumbai in November, Islamabad seemed to be winning the propaganda war with its consistent state of denial. But late Thursday came the announcement that the trip has been deferred. There were uncharitable comments that the postponement was forced because Washington was too busy with the transition. That is nonsense because the US ambassador to India, David Mulford, had met PC to chalk out his programme which included a meeting with members of the transition team.

It is my belief that between January 3 — when PC announced his travel itinerary — and January 8 — when the trip was called off — foreign office mandarins who believe dealings with Washington, London and other major world capitals lie exclusively in their domain became hyperactive. The five days saw scores of ambassadors being invited to the foreign office where external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee gave them the same documents that Chidambaram was to carry to the US. The documents were also sent to about 120 missions around the world to be handed over to the governments of their respective countries. The official explanation given for the postponement is probably more to the point: Chidambaram was needed at home to tackle the crisis arising out of the oil PSUs strike. Which just goes to show that when it comes to taking on terrorists — whether Pak or oil- based — Chidu ka jawaab nahin hai.

LAST week has brought dark clouds and silver linings for the investing classes. I have it on reliable authority that after the Satyam fiasco, the Department of Corporate Affairs has sought details of the ownership patterns of high value companies where promotee- owners currently hold less than 20 per cent of the stocks. The truth behind Satyam’s lies will continue to tumble out in the next few days but it has put the spotlight on the role of market- driven economic policies and their administration.

For a start, the government will reconstitute the board with 10 of its own appointees. But the Satyam failure reflects the total collapse of our regulatory and monitoring mechanisms and how myriad agencies like SEBI, the IT authorities and the stock exchanges were unable to detect the shenanigans that went on inside the once- blue chip company.

Investigators are still trying to figure out how the Raju family was allowed control of the giant when all they held was eight per cent of the stocks. The department has gathered information about several high- profile companies where promoters have divested up to 90 per cent of their shares at high prices and swelled their bank accounts ( probably held in Liechtenstein or Canary Island) after manipulating the market valuations. I am told the government is planning a crackdown and new regulations will soon be in place to ensure that no promoter who holds less than a minimum 40 per cent stake will be allowed to exercise management control over a company. Better late than never, the investors would say.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, January 05, 2009

IF EVER proof were needed that in India that is Bharat, democracy plays second fiddle to dynasty, there was ample in last week’s events in Srinagar and New Delhi. After six years, the old aristocracy of the Abdullahs is back in power. But not the good doctor Farooq, as the electorate were promised during the poll campaign, but the National Conference president Omar, who will take oath today as India’s first- ever third- generation chief minister, following his grandfather, the legendary Sheikh, and his father, the controversial Farooq.

Much went on between midnight of December 28, the day the results were out and the following morning, none of it remotely democratic. No party meetings were called nor were the newly elected legislators summoned for their views, either in the NC or the Congress. It was a decision that was finalised entirely between the father- son duo in Srinagar and the mother- son combo in New Delhi.

After the results threw up a hung assembly, Farooq went before TV cameras to proclaim himself the next chief minister, but next morning he dropped by at the florists before returning in front of the cameras to put a garland around his son’s neck and anoint Omar the new CM. Not much is known about why Farooq changed his mind, though the Delhi grapevine has it that the Congress, old hats at the ‘ divide and rule’ strategy had successfully managed to drive a wedge between the father and son. If the capital’s chattering classes — who incidentally turn up to vote only at the Gymkhana and Golf Club elections — are to be believed, Farooq was never really in the picture and it was Omar all the way, proving that the socialite coalitions in the capital hold more power than anything that political coalitions may have to offer.

Omar is part of the same social circuit that Rahul Gandhi is known to frequent. As the NC became the single largest party in the new assembly, Omar skipped meeting his party colleagues and flew to Delhi to meet Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders. Dad may have been a rival but in the true spirit of democratic dynasties, escorted him to senior UPA leaders like Kamal Nath and Sharad Pawar. The latter played a crucial role, being both a good friend of the father as well as guardian to Omar which he was when the young man pursued his graduation at Sydenham College in Mumbai. Other voices didn’t matter. Not Saifuddin Soz, who wanted the Congress to back the PDP, or Gulam Nabi Azad who thought Farooq was a better bet. The only condition that was laid before Omar was that he sever all ties with the NDA, in whose government he served as a junior minister.

He more than obliged by his first pronouncements, one of which equated Kashmir with Jammu and another that called for normalisation of relations with Pakistan, both of which now has the Congress worried. But what is of more concern to leaders in both parties is the fear that the young power centres, friends that they are, will deal directly and therefore will have no need for middlemen.

Don’t be surprised if the old days when Pandit Nehru went out of his way to appease Sheikh Abdullah are revisited. After all, Kashmir has always had a special resonance for the Nehru- Gandhis whose origins lie there.

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, January 4, 2009

I learn from every film I do: Aamir

Aamir Khan says on Seedhi Baat that when he chooses a movie it becomes his responsibility to see to it that it is liked by the audience.
अपने अभिनय से दर्शकों का मनोरंजन करने वाले अभिनेता आमिर खान ने आज तक के साप्‍ताहिक कार्यक्रम 'सीधी बात' में प्रभु चावला से कहा कि उन्‍हें हमेशा नए-नए किरदार निभाना अच्‍छा लगता है.

Snippets/ Mail Today, January 05, 2009

IT’S taken the new Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan less than two weeks to discover that being in power is not quite the same as being in control. After the disaster in late November, people expected nothing less than a purge and Chavan started by changing the principal secretary and other secretaries but the buck stopped there. Worse, even the appointment of investigators was done in Delhi with Chavan being given the mere privilege of announcing it in the state assembly. R. D. Pradhan, home secretary during the Rajiv regime and later a Congress Rajya Sabha MP, will head the committee that will look into security lapses that led to the carnage. The police establishment which fiddled while Mumbai burnt remains untouched. And police commissioner Hasan Ghafoor and his deputy Rakesh Maria, already scurrying for cover for their inept response, will provide Pradhan much of the inputs for his investigations. It remains to be seen what kind of tome Pradhan will have to show for all his efforts.

Behenji’s annus horribilis
TWELVE months is a long time in politics and Mayawati who just a year ago single handedly took the BSP to power is going through a torrid time. For the Queen of Social Engineering, 2008 was the year when everything that could go wrong went wrong. She set the bar high, set her eyes on the prime minister’s chair and put up BSP candidates wherever elections happened last year. But considering the money she invested and the time devoted, the returns have been negligible.

She considered governance in Uttar Pradesh secondary to her larger ambitions, leaving it to her set of trusted advisors, who as it turns out now, don’t deserve her trust. To be fair, she initially lived up to her promise to rid the state of Goonda Raj and thought nothing about sending her own MLAs behind bars.

With Mayawati jetting across the country to spread the BSP’s message and take a step closer to South Block, anarchy reigns in Uttar Pradesh. Her MLAs and even ministers have become a law unto themselves. In the last fortnight alone, the killing of a PWD engineer has been followed by equally horrible news about the macabre ways of some of the BSP’s top honchos. Her ambitions of leading a coalition to power in Delhi next April rest solely on her ability to swing the maximum seats in Uttar Pradesh.

The 206 seats that the BSP won in December 2007 and the leads in other segments had triggered visions of the party winning about 60 of the 80 seats Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, without which prime ministership would remain a dream and nothing more. But the resurgence of the Samajwadi Party in the last few months makes it imperative for Mayawati to understand that, like charity, governance should also begin at home.
THERE is an election coming up in the Thirumangalam constituency in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district and though it’s just a by- poll caused by the death of the incumbent, Tamil Nadu’s major political parties are treating it as a watershed. The seat was last won by the MDMK, which was then in alliance with the DMK but is now with the AIADMK. In true coalition spirit, Vaiko has handed the seat to Jayalalithaa’s party. This is the last poll before the general elections early next year and the result will give an idea of which way the wind is blowing. So nothing is being left to chance by the major parties. Chief minister M. Karunanidhi has taken leave of official duties at Fort St George, even skipping the chief miister’s meeting convened by the prime minister, and is camping there and so is the Iron Lady from Poes Garden. The goings- on in Thirumangalam would make Bihar look like democracy’s citadel. Both parties feel the way to a voter’s mind is through his stomach. So while the DMK lays out mutton biryani for lunch, the AIADMK makes a spread of the day’s catch from the Bay of Bengal. There’s a fair share of violence — Jayalalithaa’s 50- car motorcade was stoned — and bribing, enough to make the state electoral officer say that “ there is huge cash flow, the violence is worse than J & K”. Not free, not fair. But in politics, unlike sport, winning is all that matters.
BJP is learning the hard way
THE BJP has learnt, the hard way of course, that it takes a lot more than just shrill sloganeering about national security to win elections despite the country going through the worst spell of terror attacks in recent memory. With four months left for the do- or- die Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and the RSS leadership have started a review of its poll strategy. After revelling in watching the Congress lose backto- back assembly elections these past four years, the BJP is suddenly squirming at its own losses, particularly Rajasthan and Delhi. Even the results from Jammu and Kashmir, where its tally rose eleven fold is no consolation if one takes into account the fact that in the 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the party had led in 31 and 17 assembly segments. Worse, if the trends of the recent assembly elections persist, the party is likely to end up with about 15 seats less from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. If that happens, nobody has a clue how the losses would be recouped. In Kashmir, the party was hoping to ride on the Amarnath issue, but as the results have shown, emotions don’t deliver elections. Kashmir is also proof that while the Congress may not necessarily win elections, it knows how to grab power because it has foot- soldiers who can penetrate any camp even as its top leadership remains inaccessible.

It’s quite the opposite with the BJP which wins but still doesn’t get power, Goa being one example. For better BJP- RSS coordination, Jhandewalan has dispatched Murlidhar Rao, former convenor of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch as advisor to Rajnath Singh. He will work with Ram Lal, the party’s organisational secretary.

Singh is yet to assert his authority and it is expected that Rao’s no- nonsense approach coupled with Lal’s insight into the 11 Ashoka Road’s workings will force the fratricidal party leaders to get their priorities right. The results, the Sangh Parivar hopes, will be profitable for all.

Interview /Pranab Mukherjee/India Today, January 26,2009

Excerpts from the interview.

Q. Mr Foreign Minister, you have tried coercive diplomacy to isolate Pakistan but it’s not working. You seem to have lost the diplomatic war against Pakistan.
A. I do not believe in the use of words like coercion. It is not a diplomatic war, it is diplomacy. The issue here is effective action against terrorism to prevent further outrages
and to neutralise and eliminate the infrastructure of terrorism. A definite de-hyphenation of the perpetrators of terror and its victims has to take place. We are doing what every other responsible country would do after a situation like this.

Q. But what is your threshold? Will you wait for another attack to take action?
A. No, this will not happen. You should understand that diplomacy takes time. It’s not a quick-fix method that one has to just switch on or off. Sometimes, it can be a delayed
process, but it has to be tested.

Q. Sometimes one feels that you have outsourced your diplomacy to the US and the West.
A. That’s not correct. We are telling everybody that you must put pressure on Pakistan as this is not about Indo-Pak relations. These issues need not be seen through the prism
of this relationship. In fact, they are a part of global terrorism and should be confronted collectively.

Q. You gave them evidence spanning 40-50 pages. And yet their President says this is merely information.
A. I must tell you candidly that Pakistan has been in denial mode till now. Information is collected on the basis of evidence. When a crime takes place, the first thing that the police records is an FIR. Only after that is the investigation carried out. We have not given them mere information but material from where they can proceed for further investigation. These are tactics to divert attention from the main issue.

Q. What do you want from Pakistan?
A. We want them to hand over those Indian fugitives who have run away from here. They should try the perpetrators of Mumbai. A fair and transparent trial should be held, not
a sham. The prosecution should be done properly. They should punish them. Only then will we be satisfied.

Q. Are you saying that Pakistani nationals who are involved be tried over there? Won’t you try them here?
A. Yes, this can happen. The trial should be transparent. We have caught Ajmal Kasab. But there were others who were a part of the conspiracy. They should be caught and tried
there. The authorities there should not let them go scot-free.

Q. Don’t you want them to be brought here?
A. If they can hand them over to us, we will only be too glad. But if they don’t, at least they should hand over those other criminals who have committed offences here, escaped
the law and taken shelter there.

Q. But did you really expect Pakistan to do anything?
A. I hope that pressure will help Pakistan discharge its responsibility which it is obliged to do as a party to various international norms and decisions.

Q. You are saying that everyone is putting pressure, but the US is planning to triple its civilian aid.
A. I can’t explain the conduct of other countries. This is a reality we have to live with.

Q. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband came here and disagreed with you on the Pakistan Government’s support to terrorism.
A. I told him that we disagree with his perception.

Q. Pakistan says it wants a joint investigation.
A. I would ask the Pakistani leadership this question because President Zardari himself wanted international agencies to investigate Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. I don’t think any joint investigation will work.

Q. Do you think the international community will allow India to go in for a military option?
A. All options are open. I will only say that the appropriate option will be exercised at an appropriate time.

Q. Is Pakistan a failed state?
A. I will not use the specific word, but there are various centres of power in Pakistan and there is a lack of coordination.
Q. Your junior colleague E. Ahamed has said that we should snap all diplomatic ties with Israel.
A. A man has various identities. Ahamed is an important leader of his political party. He has just expressed his views.

Q. A.R. Antulay also gave a handle to Pakistan by questioning the things that happened in Mumbai.
A. Firstly, he did not give a handle to Pakistan. He merely explained his own doubts. Once the home minister replied to the issue, and explained the situation, he was satisfied.

Q. All your ministers speak in different languages at some point of time. For instance, the home minister talked about curtailing visas, snapping off commercial relations. Didn’t he speak on the issues concerning your ministry?
A. For him the question of options was theoretical. I have chosen not to spell out the options and this is a policy which I am going to adopt. If somebody theoretically explains these options, I don’t think it is against the policies.

Q. Mr Mukherjee, the Left parties withdrew support to your Government, but do you think the Congress and Left can form a post-poll alliance to keep the NDA out?
A. It has been said that politics is the art of the possible. Therefore everything is possible.

Q. So will you be open to new coalition partners?
A. So far as the pre-elections coalition is concerned, those who are currently a part of the UPA Government are expected to stay. The post-election partners will depend on the numbers. But we will choose them without compromising the basic principles of the party.

Q. What issues will dominate in these elections? Will terrorism be a major one?
A. Performance, development and leadership will be the key issues in the upcoming polls.

Q. Leadership plays an important role, but questions are being raised about your statement about Rahul Gandhi being the candidate for the prime minister’s post.
A. I was responding to the questions at the Pravasi Bharatiya Sammelan. Someone asked me why India has an aging leadership. I gave a number of examples, like that of Praful Mahanta, Omar Abdullah, and I said Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister when he was 40 and then I said, who knows Rahul Gandhi may one day follow in the footsteps of his father.

Q. So you are not ruling out Manmohan Singh as the next prime minister.

A. Of course some of the UPA partners have stated that we will fight under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has also said that.

Q. So are you saying that the next elections will be fought under the leadership of Manmohan Singh and there is no doubt about that?
A. Yes, positively.

Q. What is the future of the omnipresent Pranab Mukherjee
A. I am reminded of a line from an old song, Whatever will be, will be, the future is not ours to see.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


15 January, 2009

  • Mayawati's birthday celebrations will be held today. The newly formed National Dalit Front (NDF) will launch an agitation from today against the lynching of a PWD engineer, allegedly by a BSP MLA, in Aurrariya UP
  • Two-week long classical, Sufi and folk music festival in Jammu. Conceived by Santoor player Abha Rustum Sopori, it focuses on the musical traditions of J&K. The festival will be held at various cultural centres, auditoriums and educational institute. The festival will be on till January 22, 2009 in Jammu.
  • Petrotech 2009 - 8th International Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition will be held on Sunday. The Petroleum Minister, Mr Murli Deora will open the exhibition at Pragati Maidan. The exhibition will be inaugurated tomorrow by the Union exernal affairs minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee. Venue: Pragati Maidan, Delhi.
  • Asia's largest drama festival, Theatre Utsav's 11th edition, is being held now, the festival will be inaugurated by the 96-year old actor Zohra Segal. Host institute National School of Drama's (NSD) screening committee approved 60 plays, including 12 foreign productions, out of 400, to mount at seven different stages at Mandi House, Delhi between January 7 and 19. This time the satellite city for this festival is Lucknow, for a total of 18 plays, including six from abroad, which will travel there from January 11 to 18, 2009.
  • Jamaat on completing 10 years of being in the art world calls for a celebration and what better way of doing so than bringing together the best in the industry under one roof. On its anniversary, the gallery has hand-picked 10 artists - owner and curator Pravina Mecklai's personal favourites - who will display their works at the gallery. The artists include Ajay De, Ashok Salian, A.V.Ilango, Babu Xavier, Jayasri Burman, Ravi Mandlik, Samir Mondal, Senaka Senanayake, Solanki, Sunil Padwal. Venue: Pravina Mecklai, Jamaat National House, Tulloch Road, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai. Gallery hours 11 am to 7 pm (except Sunday)

16 January, 2009

  • "Cloud Cuckoo Farm" - Couturier Ritu Beri to put her fashion expertise, creativity and knowledge by joining hands with upcoming entrepreneur Pallavi Luthra Puri to present a two-day children's carnival in Delhi beginning today for an altruistic cause.
  • The Central Reserve Police Force deployed in Kandhamal would be withdrawn in a phased manner from Friday.
  • Asia's largest drama festival, Theatre Utsav's 11th edition, is being held now, the festival will be inaugurated by the 96-year old actor Zohra Segal. Host institute National School of Drama's (NSD) screening committee approved 60 plays, including 12 foreign productions, out of 400, to mount at seven different stages at Mandi House, Delhi between January 7 and 19. This time the satellite city for this festival is Lucknow, for a total of 18 plays, including six from abroad, which will travel there from January 11 to 18, 2009.
  • Two-week long classical, Sufi and folk music festival in Jammu. Conceived by Santoor player Abha Rustum Sopori, it focuses on the musical traditions of J&K. The festival will be held at various cultural centres, auditoriums and educational institute. The festival will be on till January 22, 2009 in Jammu.
  • Jamaat on completing 10 years of being in the art world calls for a celebration and what better way of doing so than bringing together the best in the industry under one roof. On its anniversary, the gallery has hand-picked 10 artists - owner and curator Pravina Mecklai's personal favourites - who will display their works at the gallery. The artists include Ajay De, Ashok Salian, A.V.Ilango, Babu Xavier, Jayasri Burman, Ravi Mandlik, Samir Mondal, Senaka Senanayake, Solanki, Sunil Padwal. Venue: Pravina Mecklai, Jamaat National House, Tulloch Road, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai. Gallery hours 11 am to 7 pm (except Sunday)

Friday, January 2, 2009