Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, June 07, 2010

An unlikely saviour for Jharkhand
THERE are governors and governors. Some are like N. D. Tiwari, the former occupant of the Hyderabad Raj Bhavan. Like moths drawn to light, they are drawn to controversy and meet with an unceremonious end. In Tiwari’s case, he was caught by hidden cameras having a romp in the gubernatorial bed with two masseuses and was shown the exit door.

Then there are others like MOH Farook. Of the 30 governors across the country, the Jharkhand governor is the least controversial although he presides over a state which has had a surfeit of political controversies in recent times. Two of his predecessors, Prabhat Kumar and Syed Sibtey Razi were summarily sacked after they got embroiled in the state’s murky politics. Farook took over as governor just after Shibu Soren became chief minister last December and politics in the state has slipped from the gutter to the sewer level since then. Farook must count his blessings for having lasted so long without a smear to his name.

It was bad enough working with a maverick like Shibu Soren. But now that the state is under president’s rule, Farook is the de facto chief and considering the mess that Soren and his team have left behind, he has got his hands full. As a three term chief minister of Pondicherry— the first as early as 1967— he won’t be found wanting in experience. He is determined to use his time as administrator to order a clean up. His first move is to hold Panchayat elections, which have never been held since the state’s formation ten years ago, this September. He has also made the Ranchi Raj Bhavan open house on Mondays for people to bring their grievances directly to him while Wednesdays are reserved for meetings with state secretaries.

Last week, he did the rounds of Delhi, meeting Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and home minister P. Chidambaram and armed with their thumbs up, is getting down to business. For the sake of that blighted state, more power to his elbows.
Election jackpot for automobile companies
IN THE old days, India’s only jeep manufacturer and the handful of light motor vehicle makers used to dread elections. That is when political parties flexed their muscles and virtually hijacked hundreds of brand new vehicles from their yards for use in the campaign. These were of course returned to the companies after the polls, but in a condition that no buyer would want to risk buying it.

Times have changed and with all political parties now flush with funds, vehicle manufacturers actually look forward to elections these days. Sales are brisk and with supply unable to keep up with demand, they are even charging premiums for early delivery.

Assembly elections are due in Bihar later this year and a windfall awaits the handful of SUV manufacturers in the country. More than a hundred candidates — independents and those from mainline parties — have ordered bullet proof SUVs that cost anything between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 40 lakh each from the manufacturers.

Many more have purchased the vehicles and handed them over to enterprising tin- shed entrepreneurs who flourish in parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh to customise the vehicles according to individual needs. Admitted, several districts in Bihar are Maoist affected and candidates need all the protection that they can afford. But the irony here is that most of the candidates are buying the fortified vehicles not out of fear of threats from extremists but from their own political opponents.

Until now, only the chief minister, some members of his cabinet and senior secretaries were accorded bullet proof convoys, but at the rate at which orders are going out for these vehicles, I reckon that up to 300 candidates will be going around campaigning in bullet proof vehicles with security cover being given by their own private armies. It’s a sad comment on the level of politics being practised in the world’s largest democracy.
IN OVER three decades that I have covered politics and government, I have found K. M. Chandrashekhar to be the most proactive cabinet secretary. I have in the past written about and lauded the many initiatives that he had taken to make the bureaucracy more responsive and in tune with the changing times. Last week, his term was extended by another year and you will be wrong if you think it was done for the good job he has been doing. In one stroke, the government has effectively put an end to all hopes that at least three senior secretaries— Ashok Chawla of finance, urban development secretary M. Ramachandran and P. J. Thomas of telecom — had of becoming the chief of the country’s civil services. For long, rumours had been swirling that the government would go to any extent to appoint Pulok Chatterjee, a 1974 batch officer currently with the World Bank in Washington, as the CabSec. Chatterjee, for the uninitiated, is a 10 Janpath loyalist who worked in the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and in the early years of the UPA was in the Prime Minister’s Office, serving as a link between the PMO and 10 Janpath. His elevation now would have involved the supersession of half a dozen officers of the 1973 batch.

By giving Chandrashekhar another extension, the government has got around this little inconvenience.

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