Sunday, April 24, 2011

Power & Politics/Jaitapur is the core meltdown of Indo-US N-deal/The Sunday Standard (Magazine)/April 24, 2011

Jaitapur is the core meltdown of Indo-US N-deal

The belated popular anger against India's civil nuclear energy programme stems from the realisation that Western countries are hawking their plants to India to revive their own sinking economies.

The cacophonic victory of falsehood over the bitter and silent truth doesn’t last long. Castles built on sand crumble in a strong wind. As powerless protesters from the sleepy hamlet of Jaitapur in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district choose darkness over doom from the nuclear power plant, the truth about a nation betrayed is haunting the country with the dangers of a deal that was sold as the most powerful panacea for all the ills that plague poor Bharat. While those who sold the mesmerising mirage of a brighter countryside are simply keeping quiet over the rising protest against setting up the massive 9,900 MW nuclear energy plant, the radioactive waves triggered by Fukushima nuclear disaster are demolishing every iota of faith in the virtues of nuclear energy. Looking at the ferocity and determination of the local residents, it is evident that they are now determined to call the bluff. They just don’t want energy that would splash venom on the future. They prefer poverty to poisoned prosperity.

But trust our avaricious politicians. They are quick to put the blame on adversarial politics behind the Jaitapur agitation. Quite expectedly, Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh, better known for his turns and about-turns, was the first to blame the rudderless Shiv Sena for fomenting trouble. Unable to comprehend the public outrage against the fear of the unknown, Ramesh arrogantly thundered, “It (Jaitapur) stays. We need nuclear power as an alternative source of energy. I haven’t called for re-think.” How could he? Only a month ago he was singing a different tune when he said, “If additional safeguards have to be built in, we will certainly look into it.” But he had to beat a hasty retreat when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped in and defended India’s nuclear energy policy while on a tour to nuke-hit Japan.

Singh had repeated his resolve to pursue nuclear energy projects with added vigour.

The belated popular anger against India’s civil nuclear energy programme stems from the realisation that Western countries are hawking their plants to India for reviving their own sinking economies. The Jaitapur plant will cost over Rs 100,000 crore and a huge amount of agricultural land will have to be taken over.It is being built in collaboration with a French company, Areva.

Foreign companies made their triumphant business entry into India when the UPA leadership bulldozed the nation and Parliament into conceding a one-sided Civil Nuclear Energy Agreement with the US. In fact, a powerful coalition of the corporate-politician- bureaucracy nexus and foreign lobbyists maimed and massacred every dissenting and contrarian voice against the deal.

The passage of the Bill was touted as a paradigm shift in India’s economic diplomacy and the end of our nuclear apartheid. All those who promoted and fought for the Indo-US Nuclear agreement were handsomely rewarded with sinecures— both in India and abroad.

Ironically, the target of people’s anger on Jaitapur is Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who was at the forefront of pushing the N-Deal when he was a minister in the PMO. He is now not as aggressive as he used to be in the company of nuclear netas in Delhi. Chavan is feeling the heat and so are other Congress leaders who are now speaking in whispers about the political fallout of India’s disastrous nuclear energy policy.

Not only has the agreement crippled India’s defence-related nuclear programme, it has allowed the country to become a market for the most expensive power to be generated by foreignbuilt reactors. Nuclear energy will cost the consumer twice of what he now forks up for his power needs. The people’s outrage against nuclear power has been fuelled by the rising suspicion about their security, particularly after the Japanese tragedy. Those who are opposed to India’s N-policy argue that even the Americans haven’t been encouraging the setting up of new nuclear energy plants in their country. According to published reports, of the 253 nuclear power plants commissioned to be built in the US since 1953, over 48 per cent were cancelled and 11 per cent prematurely shut down. In real terms, only one-fourth of those ordered or just about half those completed are still operating. Even other members of the exclusive Nuclear Power Club are discarding and discouraging nuclear plants, but are very aggressively lobbying for their nuclear power companies to open markets in countries like India. Taking advantage of India’s acute power shortage, they and their mighty lobbyists succeeded in forcing the American agenda on us. None has ever raised the question as to why India is not able to lift 40 million tonnes of coal lying in stock at its coal mines to be supplied to thermal power plants. Those who are in charge of the infrastructure development have never pushed the railways to provide additional number of rakes to take the coal. Why has the Planning Commission not encouraged public undertakings like the National Thermal Power Corporation to add and build new thermal power plants? It is only now that private operators are setting up new power plants.

The megaphones sponsored by the establishment and the multi-national corporations have begun to blow loudly to suppress the movement against nuclear plants. Since $100 billion is at stake, those who stand to lose the market and the money will unleash the worst-ever propaganda to seduce the protesters of Jaitapur.

For them making money is the mission, no matter if it endangers life in the process, not only of the current generation but also of those yet to come. But the people are also prepared to die now rather than wait and die later.

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/ April 24, 2011

Is it a distaste for confrontation, or simply lack of time? The suspension of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s practice of reviewing the functions of various ministries has come back to bite him. The soul searching going on in South Block on how UPA II has been caught in a quagmire of controversy has concluded that, had Singh continued his periodic review of the ministries, the 2G and other scams could have been averted. With the boss out of the way, all Central ministers and their secretaries have been enjoying full freedom, exercising total control over the decision-making process. Rajiv Gandhi started the practice of reviewing the performance of ministries; every quarter, he and his aides in the PMO would grill Cabinet colleagues on their targets and failures. This was continued till the fag end of the UPA I. Since Manmohan Singh believes in giving total autonomy to his ministers, no decisions were taken by some ministers while others indulged in malpractices. For example, during UPA I, the Prime Minister chaired a high-powered Committee on Infrastructure which used to meet quite frequently to review various projects. But it has either become dormant or doesn’t exist at all. It is not surprising that most infrastructure projects are either languishing, or are trapped in corruption. In addition, the Prime Minister has evolved another mechanism of self defence—that of passing the buck to his senior colleague Pranab Mukherjee. Most of the complex decisions which are usually taken by the concerned minister in consultation with the Prime Minister, are now Mukherjee’s responsibility; he currently chairs the Empowered Group of Ministers which has more than 50 members. As the countdown for the next elections begins, the Prime Minister is under pressure to restore a credible system of accountability rather than let the buck move from one table to another.

Democracy of the Unelected
There was a time when it was considered the worst kind of sin to appoint a Prime Minister or a Chief Minister who wasn’t chosen by the people. Not anymore; leading a government without winning an election has become a virtue. Recently, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan joined this elite club, by getting himself elected to the Legislative Council in his state. The six-month period that mandates a chief minister has to become a member of either House of the state Legislature is to expire on May 6. Instead of getting an assembly seat vacated, Chavan forced a member of the Legislative Council to resign, in order to avoid the heat and dust of contesting an election. Chavan is now the third chief minister after Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh and Nitish Kumar in Bihar to hold office through such means. The practice of appointing a non-elected leader became popular after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh avoided contesting the Lok Sabha polls, although he could have won from any part of the country. No wonder those who secure the mandate of the people don’t respect their leaders, only fear them.

War on Graft Has a Past Tense
While the investigations into the 2G and CWG scams are yet to be completed, various government agencies have started to investigate other deals involving the Ministries of Civil Aviation and Surface Transport. The new ministers don’t want to be caught napping and they have instructed their officers to put on record all pending complaints regarding contracts awarded to various contractors for further scrutiny. Because of the fake pilots scandal, the Ministry of Civil Aviation is under intense scrutiny. But the ministry and its other wings are looking at other tainted deals. Vayalar Ravi, Union Minister for Civil Aviation, a former trade union leader who is highly trusted by the Congress High Command is under instructions to change the elitist character of the civil aviation sector and break the nexus between a few corporate honchos and the babus. He is particularly looking at the role of some babus who first facilitated various sweetheart deals and later joined private aviation companies. However, some in the government feel the whole exercise is meant to put the heat on former aviation minister Praful Patel. Similarly, new Surface Transport Minister C P Joshi is looking at all the old contracts granted by his predecessor Kamal Nath, including some of the lucrative Express Highways contracts that ministry officials feel have led to a huge loss of revenue to the National Highways Authority of India.

The Great Diplomatic Carnival
Not only will the face of the top bureaucracy in Delhi change this summer, but India will have new diplomats in place, in many crucial capitals of the world. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continues to seek suitable replacement for India’s ambassador to Washington, Meera Shankar, who retires in July, he has chosen new envoys to important nations like Thailand, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Poland. While Hamid Ali Rao goes to Saudi Arabia, the PMO has chosen Anil Wadhwa for Bangkok, Gurjeet Singh for Indonesia and Monika Mota for Poland. Since disarmament is likely to become an important issue, Sujatha Mehta, currently serving in the Prime Minister’s Office, goes off to Geneva to represent India. These changes are a precursor to many crucial top-level changes in South Block which will follow only after a Cabinet reshuffle by the end of May.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Power & Politics/The New Indian Express/April 19, 2011

Night of the long knives

Even though the battlelines have not been publicly defined, the knives are clearly out for Hazare’s Hunters. There is nothing unusual about the venomous diatribe being levelled against the man who’s perceived as an outsider, with a mind and mannerisms of his own. Success, of any kind, tends to attract detractors. And this is success of stupendous scale. But what is baffling is the behaviour of the detractors. They have not been able to find any fault in his message. So they’ve chosen to attack Hazare’s fellow messengers. What they seem to have forgotten is that these are not people of his choosing. These are the people who have credible record of taking on the establishment irrespective of its colour.

But the overall objective of their adversaries seems to be to demoralise, defame, tame and eventually maim Team Hazare.

Though the first meeting of the joint government-civil society meeting on the Lokpal Bill ended on a happy note, suspicious smirks were all too visible on the faces of the pro-establishment forces. They seemed to be openly gloating about their (so-far limited) success in defaming some prominent members of the panel.

You don’t need a telescope to spot the elitist vandals who’ve begun mining Hazare’s movements for dirt. If one goes by both the intensity of the attacks and the instruments used for weakening the anti-corruption campaign, the establishment would seem to be playing an invisible hand. Old and mischievous reports are being dug out, illegally-tapped-and-acquired telephone conversations are being circulated, and a communal angle is being touted to discredit Hazare.

Funnily enough, the tirade is being led by leaders of the most fashionable NGOs, their sponsors based in India and abroad and individuals who have been recipients of liberal government patronage and/or funds from either the government or in known entities operating from other countries They have never subjected themselves or their incomes to public scrutiny. But they are ever willing to hold up the magnifying glass for others. So if Hazare puts up a painting of Bharat Mata behind him on his stage, he becomes communal. If he endorses Modi’s Mantra for Development, he is anti-minority. Some people seem to be under the illusion that it’s their presence at Jantar Mantar that made Anna Hazare credible and acceptable.

But then, such reactions are expected from those who spend the morning sitting in dharna, their afternoon at a seminar, evening in a TV studio and weekends in salubrious surroundings. Over conversations with like-minded souls, they make and unmake prime ministers and chief ministers, decide the fate of the world and generally live in a world of their own.

But what is astonishing is the behaviour of the political class. Their grouse against Hazare seems to be that he has taken up a single point agenda. They have a point, but they should have been at the forefront of expanding that agenda. They paralysed Parliament on a JPC for the 2G scam but didn’t stage even a walkout on the Lokpal Bill, which has been pending for 42 years. None of them has made an attempt to strengthen the Lokayukta in his own state. How many chief ministers, ministers or civil servants have been punished by Lokayuktas in this country? Hardly any. Instead, most of them have either been tamed or maimed and made ineffective.

Hazare may not be another Jayaprakash Narayan in the making. JP was a wily strategist who took the political class into confidence and co-opted student leaders as active partners in his Sampoorana Kranti (Total Revolution). But you can’t deny that Hazare has demolished the established social and political order. He is not a creation of Tweeteratti or TVratti. In fact, those two entities got more followers because of him. Some of their members even camped at Jantar Mantar to be seen or to participate in live TV shows.

But now, they are the ones who feel threatened by Hazare. Because he is shaking the system which helped social and corporate oligarchies to make mountains of money and climb up the social, corporate and political ladder. The system ensured that being seen with each other would generate more business and many more opportunities. Debates in Parliament would be followed by cosy dinners at some lobbyist’s residence, with stars from every sector on display. Decisions about who would get what and where would be taken at these rendezvous.

Mumbai may be the financial capital of the country but it’s the drawing rooms of New Delhi which have become parallel South Blocks and North Blocks over the past decade of massive economic growth. A social audit of the membership of elitist dinner clubs will reveal the beneficiaries of the government’s munificence. Millionaires have turned billionaires, directing and dictating the pace and face of economic policies along the way. How else can one explain the frequent changes in policies relating to national highways, telecommunications, civil aviation, car manufacturing and real estate development? And what about the zero tax on the billions made through manipulative trading at stock exchanges? The revenue lost due to tax concessions to the corporate sector amounts to Rs 5 lakh-crore.

Hazare has just won a minor battle. The frequency and fire power of the attacks to come will strongly test his survival skills. Unless, he targets the origin of corruption, the establishment might just get the better of him.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Power & Politics / Don't Forget Party Funding Mess/ April 17, 2011

Don’t forget party funding mess

It’s definitely a great victory for a thought germinated by the even-greater Anna Hazare think tank. As legal eagles from both sides ready themselves for a war of words on the framing of the Jan Lokpal Bill, the nation has thrown up another issue for discussion. Even those who actively participated in the debates, televised 24x7, on the well-choreographed happenings at Jantar Mantar are now pointing at the inadequacies in the Hazare argument. The question being raised is: Can a Lokpal institution, however powerful, solve corruption at all levels? A powerful Lokpal may serve as a lethal deterrent for the people who occupy top posts. But can he or she contain the virus that has infected all levels of bureaucracy and political establishment? Hazare and his team haven’t had the time (or inclination?) to track and attack the source of the scourge. The truth is corruption has become an integral part of our political life. It begins at village offices of a political party and ends at its fortress-like headquarters in the state capitals and/ or Delhi. Has anyone of us or any member of the Hazare team raised a question about the source of funds that political parties collect every year? According to conservative estimates, 765 registered political parties—six national, 57 state-level and 702 others—together spend over Rs 25,000 crore on elections every five years. Here’s the math. All the political parties together spend over Rs 50 crore a year to maintain their offices and office-bearers. The Election Commission has fixed a limit of Rs 35 lakh for a Lok Sabha election. But which candidate covers a constituency of over 12 lakh voters and spends only Rs 1 lakh a day? According to Income-Tax sources, each candidate ends up spending over Rs 5 crore on an average. Even if we take four serious candidates for each of the 542 constituencies which go to polls, we are talking about an expenditure of Rs 10,000 crore. Top that with the 15,000-plus candidates who contest 4,500 Assembly seats in the states, with an average expense of Rs 1 crore per candidate, and we’re talking about a total poll expenditure of around Rs 25,000 crore. And the story’s not even done yet. Most of our political leaders have forgotten the contours of the pot-holed roads that crisscross their states, since they travel only by chartered jets or custom-made raths. All national and state-level parties have posh state and central offices running the organisation. Even the district-level officebearer of a ruling party owns a big house and a fleet of cars. All the political parties are bound to file their balance sheets with the Election Commission every year. Most of them do so. But these are balance sheets that would shame even a small-scale entrepreneur. While the truth is that, on an average, both the Congress and BJP spend over Rs 2 crore a month on their offices and office-bearers. So, where does the money come from? The BJP initially decided to collect money through cheques only, but had to give up because people were unwilling to pay that way and party leaders were not ready to change to a more transparent system. The Congress has not even bothered to pretend to cleanse the system. Even the Manmohan Singh Committee, which was appointed by the party in 2003 to suggest how to raise finances for the party, ignored the role of tainted money in politics... In its three-page report, Manmohan skirted the issue of election funding and ended with a high-sounding sentence: “The committee is convinced that the Congress must take the lead in bringing about a new culture of transparency, accountability and integrity in financing.” He conveniently forgot his own report after becoming the prime minister. Sonia Gandhi, who was part of the committee, also forgot to take it forward. The fault doesn’t lie with her or other political leaders. They have become slaves of a system which encourages cash-for-votes for winning an election, and Cabinet notes in exchange for currency for getting the Government policies changed. The past three decades of economic reform have opened new avenues of raising big money by manipulating economic policies so that India’s GDP can grow at 8 to 9 per cent. The rise of crony capitalism and the emergence of a highly powerful coalition of the urban elite, irrespective of their political affiliations, have insulated the decision-making process from scrutiny. The chosen few may fight and shout against each other on TV screens and on the floor of the legislature, but once the cameras are off, they hang out together in the same city or abroad, wining and dining. Real estate tycoon Shahid Balwa is a classic example of a cultural, corporate and political coalition that has total control over the system. Even the beneficiaries of both the CWG scams and Adarsh Society reflect the growing affinity between the rich and mighty. What else could explain the ruling elite’s reluctance to give up the discretionary powers of ministers, chief ministers and other authorities? It is through these powers that the Chavans, Rajas and Kalmadis make their money and use it for winning elections. Unless the business of elections is tackled, valiant fights put up by even hundreds of Hazares will not be able to defeat the coalition of the corrupt.

Race Course Road / The Sunday Standard/April 17, 2011

NDA in sleep mode, Modi in overdrive

Does the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) exist only in the drawing rooms of Lutyens’ Delhi? Has it been reduced to a talking shop which occasionally opens at its working chairman L K Advani’s residence? Or has the BJP chosen to ignore its allies? If elections to the five state Assemblies are any indicator, the NDA doesn’t operate like an active political alliance outside Delhi or Bihar. The BJP hasn’t commissioned any leader from its alliance partners like the Janata Dal (U), the Shiv Sena or the Akali Dal to campaign in any of the state elections, preferring to use its own chief ministers and middle-rung leaders. Predictably, it was Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who was in greatest demand. It was for the first time that Modi was extensively used as a campaigner. He had been prevented so far from visiting Bihar during state polls. Even BJP chief ministers were reluctant to invite him. This time, he faced hardly any opposition because Nitish wasn’t around to dictate terms. Modi’s rise in the BJP hierarchy has given heartburn to many.

All eyes on Cabinet Secretary

As Manmohan Singh’s Government lurches towards a topless summer with most senior bureaucratic positions falling vacant post-May, he has launched a massive hunt for credible, yet dependable names to fill the to-be-empty chairs. His moves, however, are hamstrung by Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar retiring in June. Normally, it is the cabinet secretary’s office that initiates the process to appoint secretaries to the Government of India. Chandrasekhar is not in a mood to take the initiative as he would rather have his successor begin the process. A new cabinet secretary is appointed a month before the current incumbent retires. So, the name should be announced within next two weeks. If the PM chooses to make history of sorts, the civil service may see a woman taking charge of the cabinet secretariat for the first time ever, and after 29 male cabinet secretaries. Alka Sirohi, a UP-cadre IAS officer and secretary of the crucial Department of Personnel appears to be the dark horse. Although she is only No 5 in the merit list, Sirohi enjoys the reputation of being a firm, yet dignified officer. However, those close to 10 Janpath are once again floating the name of Pulok Chaterji — currently with the World Bank. But, it will be very difficult for Manmohan Singh to ignore the claims of seven other officers, including a woman. If he has to go purely by seniority then A N P Sinha, secretary, Panchayati Raj, should be automatically elevated. Since the cabinet secretary is expected to play an important fire-fighting role in crises, the PMO is also considering Anup Mukherjee, the senior-most officer of the 1974-batch, now chief secretary of Bihar. Mukherjee’s appointment would eliminate the hectic lobbying in the capital. The choice of the next cabinet secretary will set and define the tone and direction of the Government. It will not come as a surprise if the PM finally opts to retain Chandrasekhar, who by completing a four-year term, would’ve broken all records since Independence.

The jetsetting babu code of conduct

The Election Commission may be taking credit for strictly enforcing the Code of Conduct on Union ministers. But there’s a catch. It had prohibited ministers from travelling to their own states at government expense. The fallout was that over a dozen ministers such as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A K Antony, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister M K Alagiri were stuck in their respective election-bound states. Since important files and Cabinet notes couldn’t be delayed, the private secretaries to some of the ministers had to make frequent trips to the relevant states for approvals. Since all notes and proposals meant for the Cabinet are stamped ‘Top Secret,’ only IAS babus were allowed to travel. Now it is for the Election Commission to determine whether the money spent by the private secretaries and private assistants to meet their bosses during the campaign amounts to a violation of the code of conduct. Or should these expenses be added to the amount spent by the party or by the candidates?

Kani takes poll route to fight back

Despite investigations against her, Kanimozhi, the feisty daughter of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, is undeterred. Her direct line to 7 Race Course Road may have been disconnected after her connections with A Raja surfaced in public, but Kani’s will to fight back was reflected in her state Assembly election campaign. Not only did Kanimozhi cover over 40 constituencies, she made sure her meetings were well-publicised. The idea was to prove that though she may face a CBI investigation and possible prosecution, she isn’t an unwanted leader in her own party. She hired a young team of professionals who created a special Web network for her with the e-mail ID: Kanimozhi News. Every day, the inboxes of over 500 journalists and opinion-makers countrywide were flooded with her campaign speeches and photographs. Fielding Kanimozhi was part of Karunaidhi’s strategy to divide the state into various sectors between his children so that his two sons Union minister M K Alagiri and Deputy Chief Minister M K Stalin don’t get embroiled in turf wars with the daughter. The sons were asked not only to campaign for the candidates recommended by them, but also to raise resources. Now, the three siblings are waiting for the results to pour in. Is the daughter more popular than the sons? May 13 will tell

Monday, April 11, 2011

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/April 10, 2011

The falling value of brand Manmohan

The Congress has finally discovered that Brand Manmohan is not a bestselling political label anymore. Or why would he be sitting tight in Delhi except for token campaign-end appearances while other Congress leaders are on the road in the poll-bound states? No prime minister in Indian history has got such minimal public exposure in state Assembly elections that will set the tone for the next general election. On the other hand, sycophantic requests are pouring in from most of the states for both mother and son as star campaigners. Strangely, Sonia Gandhi has chosen to spend most of her time electioneering in Tamil Nadu where the party’s chances are poor. While she stood next to beleaguered DMK Chief M Karunanidhi in a show of coalition solidarity at a rally, Rahul avoided all contact with the DMK’s top leadership, choosing to throw weight only behind candidates of his choice such as K T Benny in Kerala. Many state leaders have made it clear that it is not worth spending huge amounts of money on Manmohan Singh’s sparsely attended rallies; even some of Sonia’s have been very thinly attended. As a result, in the states/UTs where the Congress is confident of winning — Kerala, West Bengal and Puducherry — the party is taking no chances by presenting Manmohan in public since he is perceived as an inefficient commander who is helpless in reining in recalcitrant ministers. Manmohan’s supporters are dismayed by the fact the Congress leadership has decided to distance itself from its own government which, ironically, was only following party diktats right from the beginning. It has finally dawned on them — Brand Gandhi is considerably more powerful and durable than the Singh Durbar is.

The Devolution of Delay

The Central government’s paralysis is affecting not just the ministries but has also spread confusion in the states. Electioneering has nothing to do with it. The inability of the UPA leadership to define the contours of the compromises it has to make with its allies and its own regional and old satraps has put all crucial gubernatorial appointments in deep freeze. The prime minister has chosen to play it safe and keep mum; Congress President Sonia Gandhi has decided to wait and watch. It’s almost a year since Rajasthan governor Prabhakar Rao died, but the post is still vacant with Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil holding additional charge. Tamil Nadu Governor Surjeet Singh Barnala’s term ended in November 2010, but both Sonia and Manmohan have failed to find a candidate acceptable to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. Perhaps coalition dharma compels the prime minister to avoid any change till after the state elections. After all, the governor’s role would be key in the event of a fractured verdict. The most glaring delay appears to be the difficulty is finding a suitable replacement for the Lt-Governor of Delhi, Tejinder Khanna. His three-year term also ended in April last year. Considered a close confidant of the prime minister, Khanna has come under severe attack from former CAG V K Shunglu for his role in the Commonwealth Games. Since Home Minister P Chidambaram has been away electioneering, North Block mandarins have not even moved the file. Insiders say the real reason appears to be the lack of regular communication between 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road.

When Too Much News is Bad News

The PMO is keeping a wary eye on Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh’s growing tendency to grab the headlines. What has annoyed the prime minister is that Mr Green’s official letters get published in newspapers along with his beaming photographs much before they reach him or the ministers to whom they are addressed. According to Ramesh-watchers, during the past one year, the Green Minister has grabbed twice the media space in terms of pictures and reports than even the Congress president and the prime minister put together. There is a feeling in the Government that by making his unilateral decisions public, Ramesh takes away the rights of the PMO as well as other colleagues to express their views on the subject. Of late, Ramesh has also been rolling back some of his decisions. Since an impression has been created that Ramesh reflects the view of Rahul Gandhi, no one dares to take him on. The reality is that he has revitalised the green agenda and forced corporates to change their attitudes towards the environment. However, Ramesh’s lust for visibility and his rigid vision has made him quite vulnerable as well.

Mamata Plays a Secret Hand

The Assembly polls seem to be setting the roadmap for a realignment of the Congress’s GenNext leadership. These elections are also defining the relationship between Rahul Gandhi and regional parties. For instance, in West Bengal, Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee is wooing those close to Rahul, even if it means offending the local Congress leadership. Recently, she decided to invite State Youth Congress President Mausam Noor to campaign for TMC candidates in Islampur against the wishes of Deepa Dasmunshi, wife of former Union minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, a Lok Sabha member from Raiganj. There is no love lost between Deepa and Banerjee. The TMC leader has kept most Congress leaders out of the joint campaign except Noor, a niece of former Union minister A B A Ghani Khan Choudhury. Banerjee may be keeping a distance from Sonia and other Congress leaders, but has identified the link which will come of use in opening a dialogue with the Congress’s prime minister-in-waiting.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Last Among Equals/The Sunday Standard/April 03, 2011


Women in Public Life

More than six decades after Independence, India remains a male-dominated society whose elected representatives cannot even agree on women's reservation in Parliament.

JUNE 20, 1991, Prime Minister-designate P V Narasimha Rao had just woken up from his afternoon siesta at 9 Moti Lal Nehru Marg, New Delhi, to meet ministerial aspirants waiting in fevered anticipation outside his Race Course Road house. Among the many portfolios that were Rao’s to allocate, his chief concern was Finance. As he settled down in his small but elegant study, Rao asked an aide to get the famous economist I G Patel in London on the phone. Patel ducked the embedded offer, but he had a suggestion: Dr Manmohan Singh. Rao was relieved. It didn’t last more than a few minutes, however. The tension came fl ooding back within a few minutes with a call from a powerful Gandhi family loyalist. The instructions were clear: induct Sheila Kaul, an aunt of Rajiv Gandhi, into the Cabinet with an important economic portfolio. Rao’s pout became more pronounced as he decided to stand his ground. Sheila Kaul would be the Urban Development Minister. It was a 54-member Council of Ministers that Rao put together, with Kaul the only one of six women in it to get a Cabinet rank for the others were allocated insignificant portfolios. Rao’s decision wasn’t defiance; it was merely the political perpetuation of a social order where women are no more than symbols. Rao wasn’t being different either. His predecessors and successors more or less allowed or installed women in the ruling establishment only because it was a political compulsion. And that’s the Great Indian Tragedy: politicians professing to women’s empowerment keeping them in the margins of power. The 20 Union Cabinets constituted after Independence have seen only 14 women with Cabinet rank. Parliament adjourned last month without even discussing the Women’s Reservation Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha last year, a clear indication of the contempt for women our leaders— male and female—are blessed with. Even when Jaya Prada, the feisty Lok Sabha member from Rampur, reminded the House of its promise to half of India’s population, not a single member from the Congress or BJP supported her. Jaya Prada’s isolation in the House of the People is an echo of India’s male theme. From business to politics, and the bureaucracy to the judiciary, women have hardly any stake in responsibility and authority. We do have Pratibha Patil and Meira Kumar, but the nature of their offices only darkens the shadow of symbolism this state of affairs casts on our nation. And who can forget they weren’t even the fi rst choices. Patil became President only after the Left vetoed all other candidates, all men, and Meira Kumar was Cabinet Minister for a day before becoming the Lok Sabha Speaker.

An analysis of women’s representation across various sectors reveals that it hardly crosses double digits. In the 32-member UPA Cabinet there are only three women ministers and none hold a significant portfolio. Ambika Soni, one of the senior most Congress leaders has been given the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Kumari Selja is the socially correct Union Minister of Tourism, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. Mamata had the electoral clout to choose the Railway Ministry for herself. It’s strange that the 15th Lok Sabha has the largest number of women in parliamentary history, but their representation in government is pathetic. Soni explains the bias in terms of seniority. “There is no particular reason why women are not given key ministries. When portfolios are allocated, the leadership looks at seniority of leaders,” she says, admitting that “fewer women MPs certainly limits the choice

The irony is that a 120-year-old ruling party that was founded by a woman and is currently led by a woman hasn’t found a single woman to head any of the economic ministries so far—only Tarakeshwari Sinha was made Deputy Finance Minister by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1958. It seems none of India’s 14 Prime Ministers found a female candidate capable of presenting a budget for the nation though women run domestic budgets quite efficiently. Even Indira Gandhi, the country’s first and only woman Prime Minister, didn’t include a woman in her Cabinet, let alone a woman the Home Minister, External Affairs Minister or Defence Minister. Now when Sonia Gandhi wields real political power, she hasn’t been able to break the male domination of government and her party. Even outside the Central Government, Sonia hasn’t been able to choose a single woman Chief Minister apart from Delhi. Even in cases where suitable female candidates were available to lead a state, the natural choice was in favour of a man. Ashok Gehlot was chosen as Chief Minister of Rajasthan over Dr Girija Vyas, Chairperson of National Commission for Women who was one of the front-runners for the job. Even in Punjab, the Congress preferred Capt. Amarinder Singh to Rajinder Kaur Bhattal. Down south, YSR Reddy was handpicked after ignoring the claims of other female contenders like Renuka Chowdhury and Dr Geetha Reddy.

In Delhi, Sonia has only five female members as part of her own 40-member Congress Working Committee and only one woman, Rita Bahugna Joshi, is a Pradesh Congress President. Of the nine AICC general secretaries, not one is a woman. After Ambika Soni in 1975, no woman has become the Youth Congress chief. Some Congress leaders wonder in private why Rahul was given preference over Priyanka, whose communications skills they admit are better than her brother’s. Not just the Congress, but other political parties are equally guilty of ignoring women in their power structure. The BJP doesn’t have a single female state chief or a general secretary. Its 12-member parliamentary Board has a solitary woman member.

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj doesn’t agree. “I’ve never felt any discrimination. I’ve myself held key portfolios like telecom and health but have never felt any problem. Mrs Gandhi was not from the BJP but women feel proud that she held such important positions, including that of Defence Minister.” Other regional parties like the SP, Akali Dal, National Conference, DMK, Indian National Lok Dal and Rashtriya Lok Dal are dominated by men. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi decided to appoint his son M.K. Stalin as successor and sent his daughter Kanimozhi to Delhi for the succession in the DMK to go smoothly.

Many other political leaders like the Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, National Conference supremo Farooq Abdullah, Samajawadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, the late Andhra Chief Minister YSR Reddy, PMK Chief S. Ramadoss have promoted their sons in politics rather than their daughters. Supriya Sule, NCP MP, and daughter of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, remains optimistic. “With more women coming into Parliament, political parties giving tickets to women will, I feel, change the scenario. Nothing is a male bastion any more.” The few women in positions of real political power behave like men, making their own kind suffer. Take, for example, Mamata Banerjee, who is yet to upgrade any one of her female colleagues to a senior position. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati doesn’t believe in grooming any woman leaders in her party while former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa perhaps thinks there is no other woman who can keep the AIADMK together. Harsimrat Kaur, Akali Dal MP, believes a grassroots approach will remove all hurdles. “I think women need to do more work at the local level before assuming bigger roles. But I think, when given responsibility, most women carry it out better,” she says. It is perhaps the indifference of the male leadership across the spectrum that prevents women from getting important posts in governance.

During the past six decades, India has never had a woman as Cabinet Secretary or Defence Secretary; or for that matter, a Union Home Secretary. Of the 150-odd secretaries to the government of India, less than 10 are women. No woman has so far become a Chief Vigilance Commissioner or a Chief Election Commissioner in India. Not one of the 30-odd chief secretaries in the states is a woman. More often, most of the women candidates for the position have been ignored even if they were senior to their male colleagues. For example only two of the 21 foreign secretaries have been women. One of them, Chokila Iyer, was appointed Foreign Secretary only after protests shook the bureaucracy at Kanwal Sibal being chosen over a dozen senior officers, including Iyer. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao put it best in an address on “Women in Public Service” at a DRDO workshop in Delhi recently. “Some estimates have put the number of women at around 8 per cent in the top ten civil services.

This is certainly not commensurate with a rising and developing India.” Of the 250-odd Central PSUs, not a single woman has made it to Chief Executive Officer. Public sector banks are yet to get a female chief executive. It is shocking that while the Reserve Bank of India has had a couple of women Deputy Governors, the top job has always been with a man. It is obvious that the political leadership doesn’t find women good enough to be in charge of governmental monitoring and regulatory bodies. While hundreds of IAS officers have found lucrative post-retirement havens in the government, no woman has been so lucky. When it comes to justice, women seem to be missing from top positions. In a 29-member Supreme Court, there is only a single female judge. Of the 137 retired Supreme Court judges only three were women. India is yet to appoint a Woman Chief Justice. Supreme Court advocate T. Anamika believes, however, that the situation is improving. “Look at the number of women lawyers in courts and compare it to 20 years ago,” she says. Semi-urban areas and rural areas are a different world, Anamika points out. “Men have always tried to suppress women in semiurban areas. Though I’m against reservations for women, they are needed because women are not being treated as equals. Even if a sarpanch of a village is a woman, she is indirectly controlled either by her inlaws or others,” she says. There’s no getting around reservation, though. Says Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research: “The stumbling block for women in not getting important positions in the government and equal opportunities is women’s reservations. Once it is ensured, women will have to be given important positions in the government.” Obviously the bias against women runs deep in the political class. On the contrary, women’s representation in the private sector is much higher; more than 100 women run companies with a total annual turnover of over Rs 100 crore. The corporate sector recognizes gender equality as an incentive to growth: for job interviews, American Express insists that at least one-third of candidates be from the fairer sex; for Bharti Enterprises, it is 25-30 per cent. Many prominent women of Indian origin head multinational companies overseas.

A 2009 study by global executive research firm, EMA Partners, of 240 medium and large domestic and foreign companies in India said that 11 per cent of Indian CEOs are female—the banking and financial services sector has 54 per cent female leadership, the media and life sciences have 11 per cent each, and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and consulting have 8 per cent each. That doesn’t mean the glass ceilings don’t exist in the Indian corporate world. A 2007 survey by executive search firm Redileon indicates that only 392 of 1,500 firms have a woman on their board. Only 10 directors in the 30 BSE Sensex companies are women. The study goes on to say that the pay packets of Indian women executives in the duration of their entire career average are 40 per cent lower than their male colleagues. Out of the 200 of the world’s biggest conglomerates in the Fortune list, 77 per cent have least one women director (2006 figures) while senior Indian women bosses are only in 36 per cent of companies; China has 91 per cent. Many women head important NGOS as well.

It is the hypocrisy of a culture which worships women as divine that our political and social elite don’t find them worthy of mortal equality. In 1730 AD, Tryambakayajvan, an official in the service of the king of Thanjavur quoted the ancient Brahmin scholar Ä€pastamba in his treatise on women: Mukhyo dharmah smrtishu vihito bhartrshushrushanam hi (The purpose of a woman is to be of service (or a slave) to their husbands)” The irony is that from mythology to politics, it is our women who have husbanded culture and society—Sita our virtue, Ma Anandamayi and Mirabai our spirituality, Rani Lakshmi Bai our patriotism, and Sarojini Devi the song in our hearts. The Indian woman is not just a pretty face; if it took a single face to launch a thousand ships and bring down the towers of Troy, 496 million faces are enough to destroy India’s ivory towers.

Women Cabinet Ministers in Independent India:

■Rajkumari Amrit Kaur Health (1947-55, 1955-57) ■Dr Sushila Nayar Health (1952-55, 1962-67) ■Indira Gandhi Information and Broadcasting (1964-66). As PM from 1966 to ’77 and 1980 to ’84, she held various other ministries, including External Affairs (1967-69), Atomic Energy and Planning (1967-77), Finance (1969-70), Information and Broadcasting (1971-74), Space (1972-77), Home (1970-73), Defence (1975-77 and 1980-83) and External Affairs 1984.

■Abna Mati Industry (1977-79) ■Renuka Devi Barkataki Culture, Education and Social Welfare (1977-79) ■Sheila Kaul Urban Development (1991-95), Urban Affairs and Employment (1995) ■Mohsina Kidwai Rural Development (1984), Health and Family Welfare (1984-86) Transport (1986), Urban Development (1986-89), Tourism (1988-89) ■Mamata Banerjee Minister of Railways (1999-2000 and 2009-present), Minister without portfolio (2003-04) ■Kumari Selja Minister of Tourism (2009-1), Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (2009-present), additional charge of Culture (2011-present) ■Sushma Swaraj Minister of Information and Broadcasting (1996, 1998 and 2000-03), Minister of Health and Family Welfare, and Parliamentary Affairs (2003-04) ■Uma Bharati, Minister of Youth and Women’s Affairs (2000-02), Minister of Coal and Mines (2002-03) ■Meira Kumar Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment (2004-09), Minister for Water Resources (2009) ■Ambika Soni Minister of Culture and Tourism (2006-09), Information and Broadcasting (2009) -

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/ April 03, 2011

Garibi hatao clouds gather before reshuffle

While Congress leaders are busy with the elections, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are busy reading up dossiers on those likely to be promoted or be inducted as new ministers in the Cabinet reshuffle next month. Worried partymen have made it clear to both Sonia and Rahul that the Family must intervene to revive the party’s fortunes by refashioning the face of the government. None favour a change of Prime Minister yet, but all those seeking an ideological shift in the look and feel of the government are firm that the coterie around the Singh be dismantled — those loyal to the party ideology should be made part of the new Cabinet instead of the ones who seek endorsement from America or India Inc. After the scams, UPA II is perceived as a pro-business government. Congressmen say the reason why they lost the 1996 elections — Manmohan was the Finance Minister then — was that the party was seen as pro-rich. Hence, the new mantra is that the Congress should be projected as a political party that approaches “from the centre and one that leads from the right to the centre,” and that the Cabinet should have faces with a Leftist complexion. Only the next Cabinet reshuffle will tell.

All The PM’s Corporate Cassandras

Is an insecure government dimming the India story? This was the fear of the nattily attired group of more than 20 business and banking honchos who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence last week for the first-ever meeting meant to lay out a roadmap for inclusive growth. For Manmohan, it was an opportunity to engage the corporate world in bringing his economic agenda back on the table. The power list of India Inc. — Ratan Tata, Jamshed Godrej, Rahul Bajaj, Pawan Munjal, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Deepak Parekh, Ashok Ganguly, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Chanda Kochar — patiently heard each other out. Some even made PowerPoint presentations. All used the opportunity to obliquely inform the PM that the current environment of fear and favour has put them all under pressure and is inhibiting their potential. The irrepressible Rahul Bajaj said an impression that the country was slipping back into the pre-1991 controlled economy was gaining ground. Young Kumar Mangalam Birla read out a well-written intervention on India being hamstrung by economic inaction on reforms. Both banker Deepak Parekh and telecom czar Sunil Mittal spoke about the disastrous impact of indecision on FDI policy on retail and how the suspense over the new telecom policy after the 2G scam is detrimental to the sector. Parekh said he has discovered that India isn’t popular with investors any more. The message to Manmohan was clear — punish the criminals but don’t penalise the clean. For Manmohan — once India Inc’s darling — it was a shocker coming from members of his own Council on Industry and Trade.

CVC Haunted By Thomas Effect

After the P J Thomas fiasco, the government is in no hurry to appoint a new Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). For the first time since 1964, India has been without a CVC. It’s been six weeks already, and the selection process for a new CVC hasn’t even started. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister P Chidambaram — on the election trail, South Block mandarins are waiting for instructions, leaving the two Vigilance Commissioners, R Sri Kumar and J M Garg, to hold fort. Even the secretary to the CVC, K S Ramasubban, has retired. With minister of state for personnel V Narayanswamy in Puducherry for elections, the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) is sitting on all files. The real reason behind the delay, however, may be the government’s confusion over implementing a Supreme Court ruling, making it mandatory for candidates from outside the All India Services to be considered for the CVC’s post—so far the position has been an IAS bastion. Usually, a top babu is given the plum post in recognition of services rendered to the ruling party, both in the states and at the Centre. The bureaucracy, insecure at the thought of an outsider monitoring their conduct, is strongly opposed to the court’s ruling. The political leadership has fallen in line with the IAS. Insiders say the PMO is agreeable to letting the DoPT invite suggestions and applications and shortlist suitable candidates to be interviewed by the three-member panel headed by the Prime Minister with the Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha as members. The final word is not out, but the nation may get its first woman CVC.

Chidambaram’s Certificate Course

It was a choice Hobson could’ve dreamt up: excessive security or incredible India? Recently, the Home Minister P Chidambaram gracefully accepted that attracting tourists is as important as securing India. Succumbing to mounting pressure from the newly appointed Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai, the home ministry unobtrusively withdrew its earlier communications to Indian missions abroad which made it mandatory for all seeking a visa to submit birth certificates. The ministry issued this order in the wake of the David Coleman Headley revelations. The comminique had drawn flak from Indians who are foreign citizens but who don’t possess a birth certificate. Many US citizens found it a bothersome procedure. Finally Chidambaram yielded, but not before instructing Indian missions to ensure proper verification is done before granting a visa.