Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, April 26, 2010

The case of the missing ministers
THERE are some people whose actions — or lack of it — never cease to amaze. M. K. Alagiri, the Union fertilisers’ minister and the DMK supremo M. Karunaidhi’s son is one such. He is an embarrassment to the UPA government, but since he has a doting father, there is nothing Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi can do but grin and bear the nuisance. Last week, he again caused red faces in the government by failing to turn up in Parliament for the question hour.
That he doesn’t attend cabinet meetings, even when matters concerning his department are up for discussion, is well known. Alagiri of course is not the only one. Mamata’s truancy is legendary as is A. Raja’s and so many other ministers, all belonging to alliance parties.

Some months ago, the India Today magazine had invoked the RTI to find out the attendance record at cabinet meetings after we learnt that at some sittings, it was less than 50 per cent. Our request was thrown out, almost as if we were seeking a state secret. In December, Sonia Gandhi had sent a missive to Congress MPs after the question hour in the Lok Sabha fell through one morning because of lack of quorum. Delinquency among ministers and MPs is nothing new but is rising alarmingly by the day. The latter can be dealt with by their respective party chief whips, but who is to rein in delinquent ministers? In the current coalition setup, the Prime Minister does not have the power to change even a junior level assistant to a minister from an alliance partner.

What is worrying in all this is that in a parliamentary democracy, collective responsibility reigns. What happens to the concept of collective responsibility if half the cabinet is on perpetual leave? The people have a right to know what their ministers are up to. The cabinet secretary would do the country a great favour if, after every cabinet meeting, his secretariat issues a circular that tells us who attended and who did not. The people will then know about the rotten apples.

Lotus fails to bloom in the Delhi heat
SINCE its ouster from power six years ago, the BJP has been bumbling from one blunder to another. The election of its youngest president hasn’t changed its fortunes and the litany of disasters continues. Last week’s anti- inflation rally in the Capital was the latest. It was to have been the party’s biggest rally in the Capital in more than a decade and was meant to signal the main opposition party’s new found vigour and a fresh offensive against the government.

That it turned out to be a damp squib was partly because it was ill- timed and partly because the well- planned but badly executed event was overtaken by other events. The party had threatened to unleash one million protesters on the Capital’s streets, but on the day, less than two lakh turned up. The reason was that in its catchment areas of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the party faithful were too busy harvesting. The oppressive heat in Delhi ensured that barring the hardcore, its substantial middle class supporters in the Capital stayed indoors. The party had hoped that the rally will monopolise TV airtime and print space, but thanks to Lalit Modi, the only pictures that newspapers carried and the only clips news channels showed were that of the party chief Nitin Gadkari, unable to bear the scorching sun, fainting towards the end of his speech and being helped to his feet by party colleagues who put wet towels on his overheated head.

The Delhi summer could take its toll on the fittest of men. But the sight of the man, who was brought in to inject fresh life into the party, collapsing, while others around him including 83- year- old Advani braved it out, has done no good to the morale of the party.

IN NORMAL times, the visit could have been dubbed as just one more foreign jaunt by another bunch of babus. But next week’s tour to Australia by a team led by Arun Mathur, director ( Enforcement) at the department of revenue, has attracted unusual attention from both the top echelons of the government and the corporate world. For the record, they will be participating in a meeting organised by the Financial Actions Task Group ( FATG) to monitor real- time money laundering by suspected terror outfits and drug smugglers.

India is just an observer for such meetings and has been lobbying hard for formal membership of the FATG. For the past week, the ministry of finance has been in a tizzy over Mathur’s agenda at the FATG. The government is already under attack for not making serious efforts to track the black money which is stashed in Swiss banks. The goings on in the IPL has added another dimension to the visit. The government is mulling over whether IPL should be added to Mathur’s agenda. It fears that if it does and gets a negative report, the entire investigative process will collapse. Thus, there is a suggestion for detailed but informal discussions with the top brass of the FATG before proceeding further. The government wants to be cautious now rather than regret later.

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