Monday, September 5, 2011

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/September 04, 2011

Maken missile for Congress allies, BJP

It took Ajay Maken, Union Minister for Sports and Youth Welfare, more than six months to finalise the first-ever comprehensive National Sports Development Bill. But it took only 60 minutes for six ministers to demolish his dream. Neither does Maken control any sports body in the country, nor is he linked with any sports lobby in his party. But freeing sports from its mafia is both his passion and mission. As the sports minister, he has been working on a legal and advisory framework to make all Indian sports bodies accountable and transparent. Since he was aware of the sports connections of powerful ministers, Maken took the Prime Minister into confidence before embarking on his mission. He got Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi’s support as well. Maken instructed his ministry to draft a legislation which brings all sports bodies under the Right to Information Act and prescribes the age and tenure of office-bearers, and make it mandatory for a long-term sports development plan to be submitted. Since many other ministries were also involved in the process, the draft bill was circulated to the home, finance, law, external affairs and human resources ministries for suggestions and objections. All supported the Bill. But surprisingly, at the Cabinet meeting, barring one minister, all others either kept schtum, or opposed it. In an unprecedented move, ministers holding posts in wealthy sports bodies roped in important Opposition leaders to scuttle the Bill. Within a few hours, a powerful coalition comprising the Congress, BJP, NCP and Akali Dal was formed to save their sports fiefdoms. While their parties didn’t take any official stand, its leaders went hammer and tongs against Maken. They led a delegation to meet the finance minister. Pranab Mukherjee expressed helplessness: “By looking at the discussion, I don’t think we will able to get the Bill passed in Parliament.” But Home Minister P Chidambaram, armed with reports about the activities of the sports bodies, rescued the Bill from certain death. He suggested modifications. Finally, the Prime Minister used his authority to support Maken, even after Pawar threatened to seek recourse from the UPA chairperson. According to PMO sources, the Congress party will use Maken to as its own Hazare to expose its allies and the BJP, which have interests in loaded sports organisations.

iPads Help MPs in the House

According to Parliamentary convention, MPs are not expected to read written speeches when they speak during Zero Hour. This healthy convention was established on the grounds that a written speech might reflect the mind of the person who wrote it, and not necessarily of the one who made it. They, however, are permitted to refer to published reports or other documents to bolster their arguments. Last week Rahul Gandhi made a spirited intervention, using written notes. He isn’t the only
one. Many others including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other opposition leaders come to the House with written speeches. In order to escape the charge of reading from a written speech, some tech-savvy parliamentarians have acquired the art of using their iPad 2-s to make their interventions. The Government recently provided them with state-of-the-art iPads. Earlier they were given laptops. Now, thanks to the new gadgets, our MPs can either write, or ask aides to vet their speeches in order to make the necessary impact.

The BJP’s Many PMs-in-Waiting

Even though there is no vacancy for the post of the Prime Minister, many central BJP leaders have set their sights on 7 Race Course Road. They are holding special media briefings, distributing their Parliament speeches, even using YouTube to reach out to the social networks. Their pitch is not based on the support they enjoy in the party and among the cadres, but in the drawing rooms of Delhi’s chatteratti. Ignoring other party MPs, they are building bridges with smaller parties. Their desperate urge to become prime minister even prevented them from taking up Narendra Modi’s cause as he had expected them to. Even the discussions held at the conclave of 60-odd Sangh Parivar leaders in Ujjain recently were twisted out of context to the advantage of an individual. According to Sangh sources, no views were expressed on who will be the party’s premier candidate for 2014. However, the media was misled that the choice was limited to three: L K Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. It was left to BJP President Nitin Gadkari to set the record straight by making an unequivocal statement that the party doesn’t declare its candidate in advance. The internal power struggle was reflected in the conduct of BJP’s parliamentarians; its leadership was charged with adopting a soft line towards the Government because it wanted to project the image of being reasonable. But a determined group of Rajya Sabha MPs from Gujarat forced the leadership to go on the offensive against targeting the Gujarat chief minister. A weak Modi will never pose a threat to BJP’s central leadership. But a stronger Modi will leave them behind by miles.

Government Mulls Media Control

The Prime Minister is seriously concerned about what he considers a hostile media. The PMO is also baffled over formerly friendly media turning into a foe. The Cabinet Secretariat has done a study on the negative space given to the Prime Minister and the UPA during the last six months. Last week, an attempt was made to tame the press by invoking certain conditions imposed on TV channels while granting them licences. Some ministers suggested that the Prime Minister should appoint a Group of Ministers to devise a strategy to deal with recalcitrant media organisations. The Government is very much peeved with the 24X7 coverage given to the Anna agitation. A suggestion was made to evolve guidelines that would impose a time limit for the coverage of agitations. But the PMO resisted the idea as it would amount to censorship. Moreover, earlier experiments of fielding a Group of Ministers headed by the home minister to face the media had come a cropper in currying media favour. Most are reluctant to face the media and field questions on current affairs. Keeping in view the Congress’s history of taming the media, the Government may spring a surprise in one form or the other.

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