Manmohan Set to Fly, But who'll Play PM?
It’s quite amazing that many Union ministers are more interested in who will perform the duties of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he is out of India, rather than how is he doing at home. The Prime Minister is leaving for the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly session early this week. He will be away for almost a week. At the same time, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will also be in the US to attend the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Though there is no constitutional provision for an acting prime minister, it has always been Mukherjee, however, who calls emergency Cabinet meetings in Manmohan’s absence. Now with both away, various ministers are speculating on who will be authorised by Manmohan to stand in for him. According to convention, the Prime Minister nominates one of his Cabinet colleagues, in writing, to coordinate on his behalf with all other ministries, and preside over full Cabinet meetings to discuss and decide on matters of importance. So far, the finance minister was performing this role. Now the Prime Minister appears to be in a dilemma as he has to choose between Home Minister P Chidambaram and Defence Minister A K Antony. Since the Prime Minister’s decision has political implications for both the party and the Cabinet, he has to consult Congress President Sonia Gandhi before taking a final call. In normal circumstances Chidambaram would have been a normal choice. Since he was nominated as one of the four members of the committee to deal with political affairs during Sonia’s absence, the Prime Minister may find the decision justified. But Manmohan isn’t sure whether he will be able to meet Sonia before his departure. He also has the option of not nominating anyone, and leaving it open until a situation that needs a stand-in arises.
Will the CAG be gagged?
The Congress party already stands accused of subverting various constitutional institutions like the judiciary, the Chief Vigilance Commission and even the Election Commission of India. Now an attempt is being made to undermine the authority of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Vinod Rai, a 1972 batch IAS officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre, has rubbed the ruling establishment the wrong way with his highly critical reports on 2G, Reliance, and CWG. He has made the CAG the country’s most feared and respected audit agency. Stung by Rai’s reports, a section of the ruling party is encouraging some of the smaller parties to mobilise MPs for moving an impeachment motion against him. Rai, who was appointed in 2008 has three more years to go and can be removed only with the consent of both Houses of Parliament. A legally correct representation is being drafted to collect at least 80 signatures, which is to be submitted for discussion during the Winter Session of the Lok Sabha. What angered the Congress was the CAG’s greed for excessive publicity and the premature leakage of some of its reports. Only extraordinary precautions taken by the Government ensured that the last two reports on Reliance and Air India didn’t find their way to the media until the last day of Parliament. However, some others smell an attempt to intimidate the CAG so that his reports don’t make headlines in the near future.
Uncle Sam trains India spooks
It’s surprising that both Indian and Pakistani counter-intelligence agencies are being trained by the US to tackle terrorism. Last week, American spooks concluded a two-week-long counter-terrorism programme at the Indian Detective Training School in Chandigarh. They trained agents how to decipher and decode digital evidence. The training was partnered by the US Embassy and the Home Ministry and led by US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security under its Anti-terrorism Assistance (ATA) programme. Over two dozen officials from the National Investigation Agency and other covert organisations from the Indian Central and state police participated. More importantly, senior diplomats from the US Embassy, New Delhi, were allowed to address the Indian security establishment. The US has been conducting similar training sessions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Though the course was altered to fit Indian needs, the excessive access given to the US by the Indian counter-terrorism establishment has raised eyebrows, since the US has failed to contain terror emanating from Pakistan. Indian officials also suspect that it may use the information collected from India to its advantage in dealing with Pakistan.
Didi shows her might to Pranab
After snubbing the PMO by withdrawing from the Indian delegation to Bangladesh, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is now setting the tone for dealing with the next man in command at the Centre. According to the bureaucratic grapevine, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee wanted a particular junior officer from West Bengal to replace Manoj Pant, his private secretary in North Block who is due to retire soon. But when the name was sent to the chief minister for the final relieving orders, she decided to put it on hold. Suddenly, the concerned civil servant serving as a district collector in Birbhum had become indispensable to the state Government! The suspicious Banerjee was given the impression that the officer was being rewarded for services rendered to Abhijit Mukherjee, the finance minister’s son, who won the election from that district. If a section of the local Congress is to be believed, Didi’s decision is aimed to cut the stature of the finance minister to size in his own state, where he still commands more respect than she does. Didi’s message is clear: ‘When it comes to West Bengal, I am the reigning deity’.