Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, June 28, 2010

These babus neither tire nor retire
LIKE old soldiers, retired bureaucrats don’t pass on, but unlike them, former babus don’t fade away. Many are getting resurrected as MPs, ministers or in some cases political advisers, cosying up to the powers that be, at the Centre or the states. Quite a few of them are turning out to be the cause of friction in the parties which adopted them and none more so than Pyari Mohan Mahapatra, the former IAS officer and now Rajya Sabha MP of the Biju Janata Dal ( BJD), and N. K. Singh , the former finance secretary whom Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar sent to the Upper House as a JD( U) MP.
Last year, Mahapatra, who is said to be Naveen Patnaik’s chief strategist, played a key role in pulling the BJD out of the NDA and, if the grapevine is to be believed, Singh is doing the same in Bihar. Reports suggest that Singh is the cause of the rift in the JD( U)- BJP tie up which is almost a decade- and- a- half old.

It is said that Singh, a networker par excellence who counts the Ambani brothers, Sunil Mittal, Praful Patel and the like among his close friends, is acting at the behest of a senior Congress minister who wants to bring the Congress and the JD( U) closer before the state assembly elections later this year.

If true, Mahapatra and Singh are merely following in the footsteps of their predecessors, some of whom have caused immense embarrassment to the parties that inducted them into politics.
Nitish Sengupta, a former revenue secretary, joined the Trinamool Congress in 1999 and successfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from Contai in West Bengal, but Mamata Banerjee had to show him the door after he tried to sabotage TC- BJP ties.

Among JD( U) and BJD cadres in Bihar and Orissa, there is immense resentment over the disruptive tendencies of these retirees and it will come as no surprise if both find their wings clipped in the not too distant future.
Get ready for Alagiri’s yankee- style makeover
HE WAS seen as someone who was in the cabinet only because his father, M. Karunanidhi’s clout in the UPA is second only to its chairperson Sonia Gandhi. He was mocked as an ignoramus who knew nothing about the important portfolios that he handled, fertilisers and chemicals, and for his inability to connect with anybody outside his Madurai constituency because he could understand no language other than his native Tamil.

His record of truancy in office and in cabinet meetings rivalled that of the temperamental Mamata Banerjee. But M. K. Alagiri, the eldest of the Tamil patriarch’s politically ambitious children is undergoing a sudden and rapid transformation that would make his critics blush if they had any shame.

He skipped the inauguration of the World Tamil Conference in Coimbatore last week, where he was to have inaugurated the book fair, and was the only DMK minister who attended the Empowered Group of Ministers meeting on Bhopal.

Papa Kalaignar has apparently told him that he must either take his duties as a minister seriously or stay away from politics altogether. The underlying message to Alagiri is that he will no more dabble in politics at the state level which is the domain of his younger brother, M. K. Stalin.

Last week, Alagiri sought and got permission from the Prime Minister’s Office for a fortnight’s leave to take his mother, Dayalu Ammal, to the US for medical treatment. Alagiri will be off in the first week of July and will return well before the Parliament’s monsoon session begins.
That will give him enough time to brush up on Rapid English Speaking lessons that he is said to be taking. When the session starts on July 26, we may be in a for a surprise: a dapper Alagiri, shedding his trademark mundu- shirt for a safari suit and replying to questions in Queen’s English.

THE second extension that K. M. Chandrashekhar got as cabinet secretary last month was said to be due to the need for continuity in view of the Commonwealth Games that Delhi is to host in October. But with tales of shady deals going on at the Organising Committee( OC), he is said to be having second thoughts on the extension. There is nothing that happens in the OC without someone being on the take and if a few upright ones decide to spill the beans, it would take nothing less than a joint parliamentary committee to unearth the magnitude of the plunder.

Recently, the CabSec himself had to intervene after the secretary in the ministry of sports accused the Delhi Police of forcibly taking away food packets meant for officials at the test events in archery, wrestling, boxing and tennis.

Special commissioner of the Delhi Police Neeraj Kumar was incensed. He refuted the charges saying the police had organised food for its force on duty at Rs 25 per packet and threw the ball right back at the OC by offering to pay the shortfall if the OC produced bills to show exactly how much it had paid the caterers.

This is just loose change. My hunch is that the gigantic scale of this ConWealth Games will emerge only after the event is over. A. Raja will then look like a saint.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, June 27, 2010

'Nitish's decision unfortunate'

BJP president Nitin Gadkari says that it would have been better if the Bihar CM had not returned money offered by Gujarat.
बिहार में जेडीयू और भाजपा के बीच हुए तनाव के मुद्दे पर भाजपा अध्‍यक्ष नितिन गडकरी का कहना है कि उनकी पार्टी के प्रचार में कौन जाएगा ये पार्टी तय करेगी ना कि कोई और. उन्‍होंने यह भी कहा कि गुजरात द्वारा बिहार में बाढ़ राहत कोष में दिए गए पैसे को नीतीश द्वारा लौटाए जाने का फैसला दुर्भाग्‍यपूर्ण है.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, June 21, 2010

DESPITE being Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy for more than six years now, Manmohan Singh is yet to make the transition from economist to politician.

But there is no doubt that he has taken several important steps on his way to becoming an international statesman. Global leaders have been fulsome in their praise for the manner in which his government steered the economy at a time when most developed countries were reeling under the worst economic downturn in over 40 years.

At the last G- 20 meeting in the United States, Barack Obama led the tributes, hailing the Prime Minister as a “ visionary and a marvel”. Of course he doesn’t get, nor does he expect, such praise back home, where Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and the many senior ministers take care of the rough and tumble of domestic politics. The contrasting images could not have been more stark and that perhaps explains why Manmohan is devoting a disproportionate amount of time to international diplomacy as compared to domestic issues. So what does Manmohan really want? My hunch is that by the time he finally demits office at the end of the current term, he wants to leave a mark on two issues that are dearest to him: Indo- Pak relations and India’s deserved seat on the high table that is the United Nations Security Council ( UNSC).

The first has always been on blow- hotblow- cold mode. When things go from bad to worse, symbolic initiatives are taken. The visits of P. Chidambaram later this month for the SAARC interior ministers’ meeting in Islamabad and foreign minister S. M. Krishna to Pakistan in July are to be seen in this context.

But it is the UNSC seat that Manmohan eyes as the prize catch and he is leaving nothing to chance. From President Pratibha Patil who recently toured China, to vice- president Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and many sundry ministers, they are all flying around the world to seek support for India’s bid.

It may be a coincidence that two retired IFS officers are now presiding officers of the two houses of Parliament. But it is no coincidence that the combination has been chosen to champion India’s cause. The tours undertaken by the two since UPA2 came to power over a year ago gives us an indication.

The Lok Sabha speaker has been to New York, Rome, Geneva, Hungary, Luxembourg and Bhutan as head of parliamentary delegations where she tapped her hosts to support India. Ansari has been even more active. He has been to Kuwait, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan with the same objective. Back home, Ansari has been in touch with many heads of states and governments whom he knows personally.

In Delhi, he has also been meeting the local heads of the foreign missions in the presence of the secretary concerned in the foreign office.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee travels to the United States next week and is taking with him a large contingent from among the titans of industry who are scheduled to take their minds off business matters for a while to indulge in matters of diplomacy with their American counterparts. That apart, the government has launched a new offensive in economic diplomacy with commerce minister Anand Sharma leading from the front.

With the post- meltdown scenario still worrisome and much of Europe caught in a fresh financial crisis, the Middle east, Africa, Latin American and the CIS countries are the places where India is seeking increased trade and investments. The commerce ministry recently did a road show in Dubai in which most of the top 100 companies in India participated, and I am told it was such a big hit that the ministry is now planning more such road shows in the months to come.

India will almost certainly become a non- permanent member and chairperson of the UNSC for 2011- 12, for which elections will be held this October after the two other candidate countries, Thailand and Kazakhstan, withdrew and India’s candidature was endorsed by the Asian group.
Chinese president Hu Jintao told Pratibha Patil last month that Beijing was committed to India’s bid for a non- permanent seat in the UNSC for 2011- 12 and there was hope that this would lead to Chinese backing for a permanent seat.

If the government can win that, Manmohan will leave office knowing that he deserves greater credit than he has got.

Snippets/ Mail Today, June 21, 2010

The UPA’s southern discomfort

RELATIONS between the Congress and the DMK have always been tenuous despite the leaders of both sides going to great lengths to send out signals of unparalleled solidarity.
The latest display of this was a fortnight ago, when Sonia Gandhi sent a handwritten message to DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi on his 87th birthday. But the bonhomie is not shared down the line and DMK leaders feel that a section of Congress leaders are as vociferous in demanding communications minister A. Raja’s resignation as the opposition is.

The fissures are now out in the open and at the DMK headquarters in Chennai, party leaders speak of a conspiracy by a section of the state Congress to cut the DMK to size. If reports are to be believed, this group wants the high command to put pressure on the DMK leadership for a 50- 50 share of the 234 assembly seats when the state goes to the polls next year.

However, the DMK wants to contest at least 140 seats and at best is ready to leave 70 to 80 seats for the Congress. The differences are not irreconcilable as yet, but could turn out to be if the group led by G. K. Vasan, Union minister and son of the late Congress heavyweight G. K. Moopanar, chooses to be unrelenting.

Yet another twist was added to the tale recently when a powerful group within the Congress, led by former minister K. V. Thangkabalu, floated the idea of aligning with Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK once again.

Thangkabalu has already sounded out the high command about this and is believed to have told them that Jayalalithaa was ready to give the Congress 120 seats.

The Congress and the BJP have been in the habit of swapping partners every few years and it would be no surprise if the Congress once again joins hands with the Iron Lady of Poes Garden, leaving the DMK to embrace the BJP- led NDA once again.

The jostle for the third EC slot begins
CHIEF Election Commissioner Naveen Chawla is due to retire next month and the UPA government has a tough task filling the vacancy, considering that there is a torrent of names being forwarded to the powers that be. Until T. N. Seshan came along in 1990 and started a badly needed clean- up of the electoral system, the office of the CEC was just like any other constitutional office. Since then, it has acquired a higher profile and is now among the most coveted jobs.

While S. Y. Quraishi, the Haryana cadre IAS officer who joined as a commissioner in 2006, will take over as the new CEC, V. S. Sampath, a 1973- batch IAS officer of the Andhra cadre, will remain commissioner.

There is much speculation about who will fill the third slot and regional and gender pressures are being mounted on the Congress leadership, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and law minister Veerappa Moily.

Among the front- runners are finance secretary Ashok Chawla and agriculture secretary T. Nanda Kumar, while an officer from the North East is said to be a dark horse. But there is an influential section in the UPA which feels that it is time for a woman to be appointed to the high constitutional office.

If this opinion prevails, the choice could be between Shanta Sheela Nair, a former home secretary of Tamil Nadu and currently secretary in the ministry of mines, and Sushma Nath, expenditure secretary.

As UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi has helped smash several glass ceilings by giving the country its first woman president as well as the first woman speaker of the Lok Sabha. If Sonia puts her might behind either Nair or Nath, the Election Commission, considered to be the last of the male bastions, may fall and get its first woman commissioner. If that happens, in about four years time, the country will have its first woman CEC.

I AM NO football fan. But for the past week and the next three, I am one. Like millions around the world, I have been glued to the TV. There are countries out there participating that a lot of us can’t locate on a map. Others have suspended their fratricidal wars and united, if only for a month.

Immensely gifted players who seemingly make the ball talk and whose names I did not know until last week now dominate the front pages. After a week of this new addiction, I realise now why they call it a beautiful game. It is truly a world- class game played for a worldwide audience where Cinderella nations take on the mighty — and win. When you watch Serbia ( population 7 million, half of Delhi) defeat three time world champions Germany, it makes you sit up and wonder: Why can’t India with a billion- plus population produce 11 players who have the hunger and passion to, if not dazzle, at least play on the world stage.

The bane, I am told, is again the politician. In the 1950s and 60s, India were on top of Asia, routinely beat the Koreans and the Japanese, won several Asian Games golds and were even an Olympic semifinalist once. The downhill slide began with politicians taking over the game’s administration in the mid 80s. It has been a downhill slide since. Sports minister M. S. Gill should take that extra step and tell the politicos: stay away from sport altogether.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, June 20, 2010

Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan says it was a dream come true to work in Raavan because as he always looked forward to work with Mani Ratnam.

'भोजपुरी फिल्‍मों में सौ गुंड़ों को मारना पड़ता है'

भोजपुरी फिल्‍मों के महानायक रवि किशन ने कहा है कि उन्‍होंने अच्‍छे निर्देशकों का साथ पाने के लिए हाल में हिंदी फिल्‍मों के ऑफर स्‍वीकार किए हैं. आजतक के कार्यक्रम 'सीधी बात' में उन्‍होंने कहा कि भले ही 'रावण' को उतनी कामयाबी मिलती नहीं दिख रही, पर उनके काम की सराहना हुई है. उन्‍होंने कहा कि भोजपुरी फिल्‍मों में तो एक साथ सौ गुंडों को मारना पड़ता है. ऐसे कामों से कभी-कभी ऊब हो जाती है.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, June 14, 2010

Modi not welcome in Bihar
THE BJP, which tried to score a point by holding its national executive ( NE) in Patna last weekend, seems to have ended up scoring a self- goal. The battle of political wits that began in Patna last weekend between chief minister Nitish Kumar and his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi triggered events that could end up in a messy divorce between the JD( U) and the BJP, who are in coalition in the state that is up for polls.

So far, Nitish has done a fine balancing act as a secularist who finds nothing wrong in sharing power with the BJP. It may be recalled that during the last Lok Sabha elections, he campaigned for BJP candidates but made sure the minorities weren’t lost by keeping Modi away from poll platforms.

With Modi arriving in Patna for the NE, the expected and much worse has happened.

A public rally scheduled under the NDA banner with senior leaders such as L. K. Advani, Nitin Gadkari, Narendra Modi along with the fiery Varun participating ultimately became a BJP rally after Nitish refused to share the stage with Modi.

A dinner that Nitish had planned at his residence for all NE members was cancelled after Nitish made known his distaste for supping with Modi.

But the unseemly row touched a new low when Nitish objected to ads that the Gujarat government had taken out in Patna papers which had pictures of Modi and Nitish together and extolled the generous grants the Gujarat government had provided to Bihar after the 2008 Kosi floods. So offended was Nitish that he called it “ uncivilised” and threatened legal action against those behind the ad. He also said Bihar would return the money the Modi government had given.
The JD( U)- BJP alliance has been under strain for long.

And my instinct tells me it will not last long. Sooner or later, the BJP will decide to go on its own, knowing that in a polarised polity, Nitish will have to vie with Lalu Prasad and the Congress for the minority and backward votes while hoping to cash in on the rest.
Congress ambiguity on the caste census
EVEN four weeks after the Prime Minister announced the decision to appoint an Empowered Group of Ministers to discuss and resolve the conflicts stemming from the decision to hold the controversial caste- based census, Manmohan Singh seems to be in no particular hurry to honour his pledge. Ever since he said in Parliament that his government will give the idea serious thought, he has been under immense pressure from civil society leaders as well as large numbers of young MPs to keep the decision on hold. Even during the past few cabinet meetings, the idea was opposed by few senior ministers.

The opposition within the council of ministers, however, came into the open only when minister of state for home affairs Ajay Maken wrote a letter to all young MPs cutting across party divisions, asking them to oppose the move. It was his contention that a caste- based headcount will trigger another aggressive and divisive agitation for enhancing reservations in government jobs and educational institutions, leaving the upper castes and even the meritorious among the poor with nothing but crumbs. The Prime Minister’s promise to take a serious look at the demand for a caste- based census was made merely to placate the powerful Yadav duo in return for their support to get cut motions moved by the BJP and the CPI( M) on the finance bill defeated.

Bizarrely, he did so just a few hours after home minister P. Chidambaram told Parliament about the inherent difficulties and dangers of holding such a census. It now appears that with the cut motion now out of the way, the government is having second thoughts and there are rumours that it was the party leadership that encouraged its Gen Next MPs to speak up. Now, with the massive divisions within the BJP also coming into the open, Gen Next seems to have won round one in dictating the political agenda.
GOPALKRISHNA Gandhi’s C. V. could make anyone turn green with envy. An IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, he served as secretary to the President, director of the Nehru Centre in London and as India’s envoy to Norway, Iceland, Sri Lanka, South Africa and other countries, and also had a five- year stint as governor. He is also the grandson of C. Rajagopalachari and Mahatma Gandhi.

At the age of 65, you’d expect him to look back in satisfaction at a long and distinguished innings and spend a quiet life in Chennai. But is the former governor — among the most activist that any Raj Bhavan has seen — missing the trappings of the gubernatorial mansion? His backers are doing the rounds in Delhi seeking another stint as governor for him, preferably in the Raj Bhavan in Panaji, Goa.

Gandhi has enough powerful backers in the government, yet there are hurdles.

The current incumbent in Goa is S. S. Sidhu, who is known to be close to the Gandhi family from the mid 1980s when he was the secretary in the civil aviation ministry and pilot- turnedpolitician Rajiv was the Prime Minister.

Power & Politics / Mail Today, June 14, 2010

THERE is a raging existential crisis in the Congress that threatens to cripple the government and the party. UPA ministers feuding openly at cabinet meetings are now passé; now the government and the party that’s leading it are at war and it’s an ideological war. One thinks global, talks about FDI, wants greater economic interaction with the West, is grateful for Barack Obama’s occasional kind words and gloats over strategic initiatives with the United States. The other thinks local, its leaders talk of aam aadmi , routinely visit jhuggi jhopris and never take their eyes off the next elections. Digvijay Singh is among the seniormost Congress leaders.
Far from being a loose cannon, he is among the most responsible Congressmen. Yet, he has said and done enough in the last two months to show up the glaring differences in the ruling establishment.

Two months ago, he embarrassed the government by publicly slamming P. Chidambaram for the home ministry’s policy on handling Maoist extremism. Now, Diggyraja has gone and done it again, this time over the Bhopal gas leak tragedy. His statement that Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson was allowed to go scot free under pressure from the US has once again embarrassed the government and underscores the depth of the divide. The frequent salvos from Digvijay — never mind if once in a while he retracts his statements — are signs of two wings of an establishment pulling in opposite directions. One that wants development at any cost and the other that believes in the Congress of old times — left of centre.

After the massacre of CRPF jawans in Dantewada, Chidambaram talked tough but was met with scathing criticism from large sections of the party. Surface transport minister Kamal Nath is in a hurry to acquire land for roads but environment minister Jairam Ramesh wants the impact on local habitats to be assessed before clearance is given.

The same Jairam had embarrassed the government by attacking the home ministry while on an official visit to China. He was duly censured by the Prime Minister and there was even speculation over his continuation in the ministry as rumours did the rounds that he would be denied a renomination to the Rajya Sabha. His re- entry into the Upper House last week, which could not have come about without clearance from the highest party levels is, if anything, proof that for all the admonitions, he continues to have the full backing of the few who matter in the party.

Last week, the newly reconstituted National Advisory Council with Sonia Gandhi as chairperson held its first meeting. Readers will recall that the NAC was set up weeks after the UPAI took office and, before it became defunct in 2006, had played a key role in the enactment of two of the government’s showpiece achievements — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Right to Information Act.

In its first avatar, there were charges that the NAC was being some sort of a “ Super Cabinet” but the government was quick to deny these. The charges are likely to resurface now after the NAC, at its meeting last Thursday, made known its displeasure over the implementation of flagship schemes.

The members are said to have insisted on scrutinising the progress of the programmes. One even pointed to the incongruity of the government pushing the Nuclear Liability Bill at a time when the nation is reeling in horror at the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict.

Everyone seems to have taken positions, but the two who must are holding their cards close to their chest. So far, neither Sonia Gandhi nor her son has said anything of significance on the Naxalite menace, terrorism, the economy or foreign relations. Their motto seems to be: talk less, work more. So Rahul spends nights in the interiors, sharing dal- roti with impoverished villagers in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Sonia’s helicopter makes day trips to similar locales in other parts of the country. Both mother and son ignore the bitter recriminations in the UPA cabinet and carry on with their work, knowing that issues such as the Nuclear Liability Bill or increased FDI have nothing to do with getting votes.

The first test of this strategy will be the elections next year in states such as West Bengal and Kerala, where the Left has already ceded space. If they succeed, by the time Rahul’s coronation comes up in 2014, it will be a different Congress that marches to the polls. And many of the ministers now strutting around will have no place in Rahul’s team.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, June 13, 2010

Former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh says on Seedhi Baat that the Bhopal gas tragedy happened because of carelessness on part of the Union Carbide management and the administration but was not a conspiracy.

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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, June 07, 2010

LATER this month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will leave behind spiralling prices, the Maoist menace, feuding cabinet ministers, Mamata’s tantrums and other niggling issues and head for Toronto, the Canadian financial capital to attend the G- 20 summit. It will be his 47th foreign tour since he first took office in May 2004 and his 12th in the first year of UPA II. With the impending trip, Manmohan will be on course to win the frequent flier award for being India’s most travelled prime minister in the last quarter century, outstripping the 46 official trips that Rajiv Gandhi made during his tenure as Prime Minister between December 1984 and December 1989.
Rajiv was young— just 40— when he set out to sell a new vision of India to the world and was a frontline participant, particularly at nuclear disarmament summits.

Since then, the Berlin Wall has collapsed, the world has changed a lot and today international summits are dominated by the likes of G- 20, G- 8, ASEAN, et al. Those who keep a regular tab on these would have noticed that Manmohan has been a regular fixture at all such high tables. He made 35 tours in his first tenure, averaging one every six and half weeks. But the frequency has picked up in his second tenure where he’s already averaged a trip every four weeks. Manmohan’s fondness for being constantly on the move is understandable. Opponents at home may accuse him of being a puppet in the hands of the party’s power centre, but on the world stage, he has been hailed as a visionary and a man who is in total control.

In fact, at the last G20 summit in Pittsburgh in the United States held at a time when the world economy was faced with its greatest challenge in more than a generation, President Barack Obama had singled out Manmohan as “ a wonderful man and a visionary who has done a tremendous job of guiding India along the path of extraordinary economic growth”. Other leaders have been no less fulsome in their praise for the prime minister who is so much in demand to address international gatherings that he is forced to send regret notes to almost half a dozen invitations every month. When he finally lays down office, we know that there is an alternative career awaiting him like so many former heads of governments.

Is it any wonder then that Manmohan would rather be somewhere in cooler climes abroad where he is the recipient of such abundant and effusive praise rather than at home where he is pilloried day in and day out by opponents whose knowledge of economics is at best fleeting? In any case, Manmohan doesn’t have much of a political role to play at home.

He finds domestic politics as complicated as some of the dyed- in- the- wool politicians would find economics, which is Manmohan’s strongpoint. On the political front, the Congress party is run from 10 Janpath. At the government level, the Union cabinet is on auto pilot with not just ministers from alliance partners but even those from the Congress taking their own decisions on all matters relating to their departments without as much as consulting the PMO. Manmohan would have loved to dabble in the finance ministry, but with Pranabda, under whom he served in the ministry more than 25 years ago, heading it once again, the prime minister doesn’t have much of a role to play there either. In fact, it is just as well that Manmohan appointed a low profile, nonassertive person like S. M. Krishna as the minister of external affairs. It gives him the space he needs to operate on the international arena.

If the latter years of Manmohan’s first term was characterised by his obsession with selling the nuclear deal, in his second term, he appears keen to be seen as someone who had the vision, the will and the courage to shape history.

The government’s initiatives on Kashmir and the resumption of talks with Pakistan are clear pointers that Manmohan wants to leave a lasting legacy. And now he heads for Toronto, knowing fully well that with a doctorate in economics, he is more qualified than the other 19 heads of states or governments with whom he will rub shoulders, to talk about the complex subject of international finance. So despite India’s puny share of world trade, when Manmohan speaks, the world will listen. How he would wish he is listened to with the same rapt attention back home.

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, June 06, 2010

Shivraj delayed Afzal file: Sheila

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on the chat show Seedhi Baat says that the former home minister Shivraj Patil is responsible for delay in her reply to Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru's mercy petetion.

आजतक के खास कार्यक्रम सीधी बात में शीला दीक्षित ने इशारों ही इशारों में ये कहा कि पूर्व गृहमंत्री शिवराज पाटील ने उनसे अफजल की फाइल लटकाने को कहा था.