Monday, February 8, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, February 8, 2010

Distributing the loaves and fishes is not easy

FINANCE MINISTER Pranab Mukherjee is a harried man these days and the impending budget is not the only reason for this. Also weighing him down is the impending appointments to fill the posts of about 70 non- official directors in nearly two dozen public sector banks. In the past, the prime minister used to have the final say in the matter, but now the job has been left entirely to Pranabda, the UPA’s man for all seasons and all reasons. There are more applications pending on his table for these jobs than there are petitions from corporate and political lobbies for budgetary concessions and Pranabda has shortlisted about 200 candidates from which the final 70 will be chosen.

As usual there is the political lobby of retired or “ lost” politicians who are leaving nothing to chance not only to make sure they find a place but find one on the board of one of the top five public sector banks like the SBI or Canara Bank. As Finance Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, VP Singh had banned politicians from being appointed to these posts, but after saboteurs had their way, the rule was later reversed.

Apart from politicians, there is another lobby comprising “ professional” directors. They are also known as “ permanent” directors because of their ability to stay put in their seats despite the many changes of regimes at the Centre. They are about 60 in all spread across different banks but have formed a cosy little club where everyone works in tandem to ensure the benefits are spread evenly.

Pranabda has plans to screen every applicant and seems determined to keep those directors who have formed a “ permanent habitat centre” out. Even if he meets with success there, one final hurdle remains. Those selected by him will finally have to be vetted by the Home Ministry. That’s where the indomitable P Chidambaram comes in.
Maybe she doesn’t really care at all
THAT she is unique was never in doubt. But Mayawati’s distinct, some would say bizarre, administration style baffles most politicians. As chief minister, she has set her own rules, created new precedents and a new administrative culture itself that could be the envy of most of her peers. Protocol, she thinks, is someone else’s problem.

Though she has been in power for almost three years she has hardly attended a meeting called by the Centre on any issue. She doesn't deign to meet visiting central leaders which also serves as a deterrent against the Prime Minister or other central ministers visiting the state.

Her boycott of the Chief Ministers meet called by the Prime Minister to discuss price rise and the Naxal menace is only the latest example. Her logic: she will not budge until agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is sacked for attacking her government. She didn't reply to the many letters written to her by Pawar on the sugar crisis and instead directed one of her junior officers to respond to Pawar's secretary to merely state that Pawar’s letter had been noted.

The lady obviously has her own logic. She is convinced that it is not the number of functions she attends in Delhi or the high level delegations from industry, trade or civil society that she receives which will decide her future but her own connect with administration as well as her people. But can a Chief Minister, and one as charismatic as Mayawati stay away from national dialogue? Uttar Pradesh is not merely the country’s largest state but a potential catalyst for overall economic development. Her concentration is on her pet projects like the Ganga and Taj Expressways which she thinks will change the face of her state. Her standoffishness means that the state which elects every sixth MP and has given the country eight of the 13 prime ministers will not be able to tap the benefits of collective national wisdom. Or may be Mayawati doesn’t care.

NOT for the first time have Indo- Pak relations fallen victim to the contradictions within the UPA. Politicians and diplomats in the capital were taken by surprise at last week’s unilateral announcement by New Delhi about resumption of Indo- Pak talks and it can be safely assumed that this has a lot to do with the recent shake- up at high levels in the government. MK Narayanan, the former National Security Advisor, as is well known, is a hawk, anti- Pak and anti- dialogue and had stalled all efforts aimed at resumption of talks after 26/ 11. His successor, the former Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon is comparatively a dove. The announcement, so soon after he took over as NSA, indicates that he wants to make up for his botched efforts in Sharm El Sheikh.

Nothing has changed in Indo- Pak ties since those dreadful days in Mumbai and while India may have found international sympathy and support, it’s Pakistan’s treasury that the Americans are pouring their money into. So it has boiled down to the personal agendas of two Mallus, born within a few miles of each other in that bureaucrat’s nursery called Ottapalam in Kerala’s Palghat district.

Knowing the pressure the Americans are putting on the prime minister, Menon’s initiative, I am sure, has Manmohan Singh's blessings. What remains to be seen is: what kind of dialogue are they going to have? Composite? Complete? Civil? Or Chaotic?

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