Monday, August 8, 2011

Race Course Road / The Sunday Standard/ August 07, 2011

CAG effect, or How UPA Learnt a Lesson

The political establishment is concerned about the growing clout of various constitutional authorities like the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the judiciary, Lokayuktas, the Election Commission and even the institution of the Chief Information Commissioner. What is worrisome is not the extent or the nature of exposes by these authorities, but their tendency to run after publicity and encourage selective leakages of portions involving the Prime Minister, Union ministers and chief ministers. Some of the these institutions have been in existence since Independence, but never before have their chiefs held press briefings and made public comments, soon after, or even before, their reports were submitted to the concerned authorities. Last week, deputy CAG Rekha Gupta released the audit report on the Commonwealth Games at a crowded press conference within minutes of the copies having been submitted to Parliament. Earlier, some parts of the report were leaked to the press. In the south, Lokayukta Santosh Hegde’s report reached the media even before it was formally signed. After that, Hegde chose to appear on all national TV channels offering advice on how to implement his findings. It’s worth remembering that CAG findings on Bofors were not publicised by the then-CAG T N Chaturvedi through a press release; yet it demolished the credibility of Rajiv Gandhi’s government. The UPA leadership is now convinced that the time has come to restrain CAG and others from exceeding their constitutional brief and to prevent them from becoming power centres. The PMO is likely to set the tone by selecting only those who go by the book, not those who seek to make waves.

Some powerful state honchos are causing serious problems for the UPA leadership. With the erosion of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s political authority, chief ministers like Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa are dictating terms to the Central government and redefining the political agenda. Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh had a taste of Mamata’s clout during his Kolkata visit; when he sought an appointment, he was told Mamata was extremely busy. When Jairam insisted, he was advised to wait for her at the office of a private Bangla news channel where Didi had gone for a two-hour-long live interview. Poor Jairam got a short audience during a commercial break. Mamata has sent clear signals that all Union ministers, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, can meet her only at her convenience. Even to seek funds, she sent West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra, a former FICCI official, to meet Pranabda. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa uses her MPs to carry missives to various ministers, and even the Prime Minister. Power seems to be shifting from the Centre to the states.


For the beleaguered PMO, offence is the best defence now. The Prime Minister feels that having a Group of Ministers to deal with the media has paid dividends. Now young ministers will be fielded not only to defend the premier, but also to throw the mud back on prime minister baiters. Most enjoy a clean image. They are well-connected with their constituencies and opinion-makers. Last week, the PMO directed Sports Minister Ajay Maken to turn the tables on the NDA on Suresh Kalmadi’s appointment as the chairperson of the Organising Committee for the CWG. The PMO opened all its files to him. Maken is digging deep into decisions taken by the NDA government. Kalmadi may be a pariah for the Congress, but he was the darling of the capital’s powerful chatteratti club comprising prominent political leaders and India Inc. Various government agencies have collected enough evidence about his connections to the other side, which will be reflected in the counter attack by the UPA’s young guns.


The first victim of Sonia Gandhi’s sudden illness seems to be the Governors’ Conference, slated to happen by August-end. The President’s secretariat has conveyed to all the governors that it has been postponed again. Initially to be held by July-end, it was postponed due to political compulsions. The ongoing Parliament session will be cited as the official reason for the second delay. The real reason, however, is the government’s inability to fill some of the Raj Bhavan vacancies. The Congress hasn’t decided the fate of controversial Puducherry Lt Governor Iqbal Singh yet. President Pratibha Patil is resignedly waiting for the next date.

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