Monday, March 25, 2013

Congress must call the bluff... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/March 24, 2013


Congress must call the bluff of its avaricious allies to regain credibility



There is no dearth of talent in the UPA. Yet it is perceived as the least effective government since I K Gujral’s. It’s high on hype but abysmally low on delivery and content. With ministers like P Chidambaram, Salman Khurshid, Anand Sharma, Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal, Jairam Ramesh and Sharad Pawar, the UPA could have performed miracles and earned a third term in office without much effort. All these leaders are known for thinking out of the box. They are also famous for taking risks and ignoring political interests. But now, all of them have become the part of the system, which is failing fast and losing its will to govern.

Even insiders feel that the nation is now being led by highly overrated civil servants and not by the political leadership, which is too busy trying to retain power at any cost. All events and administrative accidents from the Italian marines fiasco to the ill-timed CBI raids on the home of DMK’s heir apparent M K Stalin clearly point to the fact that while the Congress definitely occupies the chair at the Centre, it is not really in power. What else can explain the statement given by both the Prime Minister and the finance minister that the raids were incorrect and unacceptable? Never before has either of them commented adversely on the functioning of any investigative agency, and have let them do their job. This also proved beyond doubt that now the bureaucracy has become so emboldened and empowered that it can embarrass the government with critical actions that have serious legal and political ramifications. If a joint director-level babu is now in a position to defy the established hierarchy, it is an indication that either our executive is maturing or that there is a crisis of leadership at the top. Otherwise, the raiding party wouldn’t have given the ridiculous explanation that they were merely searching for imported cars, which they thought were hidden on the first or second floor of Stalin’s residence.
So, as the UPA enters its last year in office, the odds are heavily placed against its survival—even for the next few months. The economy, which could survive the 2008 global collapse, is unable to withstand even a minor nudge from the Eurozone crisis. India’s neighbours, who were earlier afraid of raising a finger, are now holding guns to our heads and threatening our supremacy and challenging our authority in the region. For years, no global high table would be complete without the presence of Indian leaders. Now, other countries ignore us like a fallen icon. The international community has now realised that if Indian leaders can’t resolve problems at home, how can they be trusted with solutions for global revival?
Nothing else explains the erosion of central authority than the political pickle created by a tiny 18-member regional party like the DMK, and the defiance of a weak European nation like Italy. While Italy’s tottering government succumbed to the mounting pressure of the Indian judiciary and public opinion, the DMK leadership delivered the most painful blow to the UPA and Congress. So frightened was the Congress that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to dispatch three senior ministers—A K Antony, Chidambaram and Ghulam Nabi Azad—to Chennai to plead with Karunanidhi not to withdraw his support on the Sri Lanka issue. It has been staring at us since the past three months, but it never occurred to the Congress to sensitise the DMK against the possible fallout if India opposed the US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka. There was a disconnect between the external affairs ministry, the national security adviser and the Prime Minister’s Office.
With Sonia Gandhi leaving it to the Prime Minister to sort out the dilemma, the pro-US mandarins in South Block had a field day. Instead of striking a balance between prudent diplomacy and expedient politics, they were simultaneously blaming the political leadership for the crisis and working strongly for the US resolution. If some of their colleagues are to be trusted, key Indian diplomats had already assured Sri Lanka and the US t  hat India would not oppose the resolution. Two days before the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted it, a couple of Indian Foreign Service officers were peddling the revised resolution to the media as a victory for India’s stand. In fact, the resolution was diluted in favour of Sri Lanka and the DMK could get hold of it, soon after Union ministers left Chennai. That was the real reason for its withdrawal of support. In the Italian marines affair, Indian diplomats were passing the buck on to the home ministry for its failure to appoint a special court so that the trail could start expeditiously. Moreover, there was an extraordinary delay in sending the newly appointed Indian ambassador to Italy; he was allowed to stay in India while Rome was diplomatically burning.
But the responsibility for the current governance deficit rests completely with the UPA’s top leadership. It has failed to anticipate and spot the trouble spots. Instead of keeping a vigil on the highly suspect civil service and its allies, the Congress has convinced itself that it would complete its full term in power. In the process, it has forgotten that the UPA has lost four allies in the past one year, reducing it to an arithmetical minority in the House. After the DMK’s withdrawal, it has become even more vulnerable. It will be spending more time in serving the interests of the Mayawatis, Mulayam Singh Yadavs, Nitish Kumars and even Mamata Banerjees, and not of the nation in general and the Congress in particular. The very fact that a section of the Congress was marketing Mamata’s symbolic gesture of support for Indian diplomacy as political support for survival indicates the fear and insecurity that have overtaken the ruling party. The only way for the Prime Minister and the Congress to regain credibility and authority is to call the bluff of its avaricious allies. This can be done only by proving beyond doubt that it is the PM who not only wields actual power, but also enjoys the confidence of Parliament.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Teekhi Baat with Salman Khurshid/IBN7, March 23, 2013

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‘We gave a clarification that there won’t be death sentence’


External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid speaks on the Italian marines issue, Pakistan and other issues during Teekhi Baat on IBN7. Excerpts:

You got the Italian marines back from Italy.
We didn’t get them, they came back.
You gave a guarantee that the marines would not be sentenced to death.
No, we gave a clarification that this case does not fall in the category of the rarest of the rare. Hence, there is no chance of a death sentence.
This is the guarantee that you gave.
No guarantee but a clarification.
If government gives a clarification, it means you took over judiciary’s role.
Judiciary takes a decision, we read it, and we understand what our law is.
They demanded a special court. You gave a guarantee on that too.
Supreme Court said. They did not say it.
Supreme Court said, but they said that it should be constituted fast, but you are not able to do that for the past two months.
What is the problem in saying that the courts should be constituted early?
On issue of Italy you are tough. Why do you go soft on the issue of Pakistan? Dialogue with Pakistan is still on.
Not at all, we did not even stop dialogue with Italy. Hence, we are on this position today. Nobody in the world benefits by stalling dialogue.
Let them behead our soldiers, but you will not stall dialogue.
There is no question of them beheading, how can they do that? But it should be seen in the right perspective, with a balanced view.
But Pakistan is not stopping. You asked them to stop terror camps, they did not. You told them to hand over 20 people, they did not even one.
It would be unfair to say that we have not succeeded in any issue regarding Pakistan. We have gained success in many areas.
But why foreign countries should interfere in our internal affairs?
You want war?
To save country if you have to go to war, why wouldn’t you? If they keep on killing 5,000 to 10,000 of your people.
Will you kill 10,000 people to save two people? That is why diplomacy exists, to achieve your goal without suffering losses and I have been given the responsibility for it.
You will keep on having a dialogue with Pakistan?
Prime Minister said that it would not be business as usual and business as usual stopped.
What stopped?
Many things have stopped, hockey stopped somewhere, somewhere cricket stopped, somewhere visa stopped, many things have stopped. And when will we move ahead will be on the directions of the Prime Minister.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Teekhi Bhaat with Harish Salve/March 16, 2013, IBN7

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"Somebody will fill the space that government is vacating in governance. When Mrs. Gandhi was running the government, nobody used to enter the space" – Harish Salve 

Interview with  leading lawyer Harish Salve for Teekhi Baat on IBN7

PC: You were betrayed, wouldn’t you be sad?
HS: Yesterday I was sad, today I am working on something else.
PC: But if something like this happens with a lawyer like you
HS: I was saddened, this is betrayal.
PC: Don’t you feel in hindsight, that you should not have taken up such a case.
HS: If instructions come for the leadership of the government of such a big country.  In the affidavit it is written that he comments are made by the Prime Minister’s office. When a government makes a promise and then turns away.
PC: As an advocate, you are famous for honesty, putting up a fight, social causes, do you will that you will think again before defending foreign countries
HS: I believe that the main issue has been side tracked. We don’t give training to our fisherman for working in contiguous zone. They go into waters to earn bread, the area is a high piracy area. Our small boats go there on one side and armed vessels come from other side. There are a lot of legal complications regarding what happens in such a situation. Prabhu, let me tell you that I was very happy that the first that a sovereign government for the first time came to our court and said that we have full trust we will get justice here.
PC: Which means they betrayed the Supreme Court too
HS: It is a betrayal of the Supreme Court too.
PC: Do you think their case was strong on legal grounds, was this not a fight against the country?
HS: Not at all, our country respect went high as the Supreme Court moved the trial from Kerala, there was so much public sentiment there. Our country gained respect the actions stated that courts do not go by sentiment but by law and constitution.
PC: But they betrayed the Supreme Court
HS: They betrayed the Supreme Court.
PC: What do you feel about the ambassador having immunity in the context of what happened?
HS: I can give you my personal opinion now as I am not more their lawyer. My understanding of immunity is that one sovereign is different from other sovereign. Court is also a sovereign institution. Italy can say that we have no jurisdiction on them
PC: Geneva Convention
HS: Geneva Convention. Like Italian courts have no jurisdiction on our ambassadors there. But I Italian government comes to your court, files an application under article 32, that please give me relief, what I am facing is unconstitutional, the courts entertains the application. Then they gave an undertaking, why was it given if they believed that court that no jurisdiction. Now they ran away and said that the courts have no jurisdiction, I cannot agree with this.
PC: You mean they surrendered their sovereignty
HS: Certainly, any immunity is for your protection
PC: Ambassador is bound by judiciary
HS: It is an interesting question, in my personal opinion he is bound. The Supreme Court did the right thing by barring him from leaving the country
PC: Do you feel it was the governments fault, did Italian government misused our trust
HS: I will say we all believed him, they betrayed us.
PC: In hindsight you believe they should not have been trusted
HS: Certainly, the Supreme Court, me, nobody should have trusted them. I feel this is a big setback to the development of Public international law. It would be good if countries could go to courts of other countries and keep the faith. Now it is the contrary.
PC: We will take relief from you and then betray. What is the way now; they betrayed our Supreme Court and our political leadership. And your name was dragged in controversy
HS: As far as my anguish is concerned, I gave undertaking on behalf of a client in court.
PC: Should the ambassador be restrained or arrested
HS: He has been restrained from leaving the country, a process is in place, he will have to answer, why are they not coming back, then if breach of undertaking is established.
PC: What was the undertaking?
HS: Ambassador gave an undertaking in clear language, that am giving an undertaking on behalf of the Italian government, that they will be under watch, supervision throughout their visit and we take the responsibility to get them back. You are the ambassador and you have said this to the Supreme Court, if you are going back, you cannot say that your government has done this.
PC: The next step is to enforce the commitment, after that he can be arrested  
HS: Certainly, court has constitutional power under article 129 to punish, which includes imprisonment.
PC: Now henceforth there will be issue on trusting ambassadors in various countries
HS: This is a sad part, see the larger picture, one cannot trust the other. How will co-operation happen in common piracy areas, we have to work together, if one shows how one can outsmart the other, then how can one work together. Somalians must be laughing now, saying let them fight among themselves, we will go and loot.
PC: But I saw your statement which said that legally their case was strong
HS: Even today I feel that legally their case is strong, partly we succeeded in court, Kerala jurisdiction had quashed.
PC: Special court would have formed
HS: It would have formed, and I said that I would have appeared
PC: Is it normal to transfer the case
HS: No, it is a issue of jurisdiction, 12 miles into the ocean, is it the jurisdiction of state or centre.
PC: Would the case have been heard outside Kerala
HS: It was a Union of India case, Kerala government had lost. The central government would have had to build a mechanism, regarding who will investigate the case, would it be given to CBI, NIA. They agency would have filed a charge-sheet.
PC: The earlier investigation would not be taken cognizance of
HS: Yes, as that was done by Kerala police, they had no jurisdiction. Some central police would have filed charge-sheet and the defence would have contested it. The Supreme Court arrived at a very balanced judgement, which said that first see which country has jurisdiction.
PC: Supreme Court had the objective to prove that rule of law runs in the country
HS: Certainly it does
PC: And Italians showed they don’t believe in any law
HS: Italians showed they will go by the law to the extent it suits them.
PC: You took their brief, argued for them, got them relief. Didn’t they tell you in advance about what they intended to do
HS: On Monday evening I was seeing television, that Italian marines won’t come back, when I called they are some issues, they should have had the decency to call and tell me that such a thing has happened in their country, what has to be done, it would have gone to court, but the Supreme Court will take notice of what they did
PC: They betrayed
HS: I have felt bad
PC: How will you get back
HS: My personal opinion is that the undertaking given by the ambassador has to be enforced. If he is expelled, another man would come after two months and say that he had not given any undertaking. What Supreme Court did was right.
PC: What is the right political and legal way to do it
HS: As Arun said, when in Rome, behave as Romans do, detain their person and keep him.
PC: What is the other way
HS: What is the other way
PC: Isn’t such thing taken care of by Geneva Convention
HS: Geneva Convention is for civilized nations.
PC: You mean Italians are not civilized
HS: The person who goes back on his words, he is not civilized in my definition. The Geneva Convention was made when there was talk that all nations will come and work together and not fight. They did the reverse, they came, used the system, make a promise, and the day they are out, they will betray. How can joint operations happen with them tomorrow, we have joint agreements with them, tomorrow we too will tell come, pass through our waters and then detain that ship?
PC: I heard that even treaties done with them are one sided
HS: Treaties are all in standard terms, but there is a promise in every treaty, is a result of faith and confidence between two sovereigns. That I will allow my citizen to board your ship, don’t drown it.
PC: On Rape law, cabinet has said that consent age be lowered from 18 to 16, but the age of marriage is 18, isn’t there a contradiction
HS: Not only contradiction, I find the whole decision making process to be wrong. These are sensitive decisions, opinions of sociologists need to be taken and considered. Verma committee was consisting of jurists. You and me cannot decided on this issue, sociologists should. I was on a panel the other day, a lady principal said what you have done,  you are giving a signal to students at 16 years, and students are in school till the age of 18, the 12th class. Now, if I tell a student of 10 class as to what she is doing, she will say that parliament has given the right. Now, you and me cannot think this,  but a principal can.
PC: 18 for marriage, and 16 for consent
HS: This is adhocism.
PC: You would not have given approval if you had been solicitor general
HS: I would have put up objections, tell to take a comprehensive view, either make age of marriage 16, but that has so many downsides, everybody  agrees to it. According to me, a wrong solution has been found. De-criminalize means keep an offence, but not punishment, keep it on probation, find different solution. The act is wrong, but jail is not the punishment for every wrong act, one is not handcuffed for every wrong act. Make a different status for 16 to 18 years. That it is illegal, and if it is as a result of consent, it would not be taken as such. But the child should be given psychological training, community service, there are so many ways to get a child back on path when he goes astray. Hence, when people argue that is a 17 year old kid does this put him in jail. Do not put him in jail, but that does not mean reduce the age of consent to 16.
PC: Hence you can see a contradiction
HS: Certainly. When you talk of decriminalizing, change the punishment, that is a person does so, he will have to do community service, social service, put on probation, I don’t say put him in jail.
PC: Do you feel that bill is brought under pressure
HS: First you used water cannons on people at Raisina hill. I felt very saddened that if some people want to meet the President, middle class people of country, not thieves and criminals, you had time, a meeting could have been arranged for 100-200 people, he is also a father, he could have folded his hands and said that I am with you, people’s anger would have cooled down. But you used water cannons, this leads to increased anger, it does not cool down anger. First you do this, then make a knee jerk law.
PC: You think there is a political mismanagement, be it Italian issue, be it rape law,
HS: Two wrongs don’t make a right.
PC: The other is regarding judicial accountability, people from Congress and other parties are saying that judges are interfering in work, even Sibal saab said it recently
HS: There are two reasons, Sibal saab said judges are interfering, you have been a senior political correspondent, you know the sociology of politics. Nature abhors a vaccum, there is no empty space left. Somebody will fill the space you are vacating in governance. When Mrs. Gandhi was running the government, did judges enter domain like that, she used to leave no space for anybody else. You have left so many spaces now. In 1992, when Babri Masjid fell, what did your attorney general tell the Supreme Court, that my army is standing there, waiting for your orders. Wasn’t is judicial over reach then? Should army be deployed, should arms or sticks be used, whose decision is this? Justice Venkatachaliah  said that they have deployed army, was there no judicial over reach then. In every controversial decision, you hide behind the judges.
PC: Judicial activism is due to non performance of government?
HS: If there is a fight over water between two states, you go before the Supreme Court, if there is border dispute between two states, Maharashtra and Karnataka, you go before Supreme Court. Judges are in tension as the union government is not ready to take a stand in cases. In Politically controversial cases, hence when it does not suit them, they say it is judicial over reach.  
PC: According to you, there is no judicial over reach
HS: I have a concern, that court is working leaving is maiden ground, is an unsustainable model.
PC: Hence judicial overreach is because government is not doing its work
HS: Today some states have sent affidavits on VIP security, in a state like Bihar, Rs. 140 crore is being spent. This when people have no money to eat food, there are below poverty line people and Rs. 141 crore is being spent in one state. In Delhi, I have heard that Rs. 3 crore is spent for security on a person under prosecution. Now judges are asking what don’t you remove this, you say you won’t, now when they would quash this, there would be a lot of noise saying that judges have taken away our read-beacons, this is judicial over-reach. But when there is a quarrel over water between two states, which is a political issue, you plead the judges to take decision, that would not be judicial over reach.
PC: Executive is not doing its work, hence judiciary has to intervene
HS: On the issue of coal, when Supreme Court asked for reports, they are saying that court is acting arbitrarily. Where is judicial over reach in this? Fairness is a proposition of administrative law. Now there will be talk that Supreme Court has shut industries. In Mining sector, Supreme Court ordered it be stopped because private sector was doing illegal mining everywhere.
PC: They get a kilometre area, they capture three kilometre
HS: You know why they are doing it, who pays by the bagfuls during election time.
PC: There was talk about collegiums for judicial appointments, the structure should be changed, there should be public accountability
HS: Certainly, it should.
PC: Do you feel the procedure of appointment be changed
HS: Certainly, it should be changed, the system is not working and has become controversial. Secondly, I am worried because if tomorrow if court becomes part of controversy.
PC: In India people trust the judiciary
HS: And it should be above controversy. Tomorrow if there judges are appointed, and there is talk in the corridor that a certain person was appointed as the chief does not like him, why should they take this. I believe, that judges, till proved wrong, are right.
PC: On all institutions there are some questions
HS: Those are institutional faults. It is wrong that you five people will sit quietly and take a decision, it should be transparent. Make a committee, collegiums. If the Prime Minister can run the country and leader of opposition can keep check, than cant you take them in the collegiums, cant you take President in collegiums, cant you appoint three four independent people jointly, when the decision of our life and death is in your hands, shouldn’t we see who is coming on the post,
PC: You feel that the judiciary should be transparent to resurrect its image and executive is not working hence the image of all institutions is getting spoiled
HS: Certainly
PC: What is the solution for this
HS: For good governance, where will political reforms come from, I firstly said one thing, which annoyed the media, that is state funding of elections, there is no need of cash for everything. Every news channel, television channel, will give free air time during elections for some time. Election commission did not agree. I said one more thing, tell all corporate to pay by cheque, deposit in one account, it will go to election commission, which will distribute it.
PC: Nobody wants to agree to this
HS: Nobody wants to agree to this, everybody wants sweet heart deals.  

Pakistan Understands only... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/March 17, 2013

Pakistan understands only one language, turn it into a social and economic pariah

Only a weak host gets hostility in return. While India serves bread, Pakistan responds with bullets. These were Pakistan’s main course in return for the warm and sumptuous lunch served to the outgoing Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf when he came to India for a pilgrimage last week. India’s erudite and affable External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid was led more by the euphoria of Stephanian-Oxford fake liberalism than by the earthy political instincts of Farrukhabad. Ignoring the political fallout, Khurshid travelled all the way to Jaipur to make Ashraf’s visit to Ajmer Sharif a peaceful and rewarding event. Little did he know that he was hosting a political leader who was invoking divine blessings for dangerous games. Three days afterwards, Ashraf was leading his Parliament in a venomous attack on his gracious host for hanging a criminal who led the murderous assault on Indian Parliament. Ashraf even chose to forget that Afzal Guru was the creation of the part of the Pakistani mindset that preaches bloody jihad and intolerance. Ironically, the Pakistan assembly—its symbol of democracy—was engaged in justifying an attempt to destroy the Indian Parliament, which is a powerful and vibrant symbol of true democracy.

It is well known that Pakistan is part and parcel of the global terror machine. But its belligerence and gall to directly interfere and condemn India’s democratic structure was blatantly shocking to those who continued to hope that normalcy could be restored through seven-course dinner conclaves in Lahore, London and New Delhi. Last week’s action by Pakistan’s Parliament has proved that India’s diplomatic adventurism has failed to tame or silence the AK-47s that keep targeting innocent Kashmiris in Jammu and Kashmir and people living in India’s cities. Despite over 500 incidents of ceasefire violations and deaths of over 100 Indian soldiers and officers during the past few months, our diplomats still carry white flags and file-folders, waiting for their Pakistani counterparts to reciprocate. From Sharm-el-Sheikh to Jaipur, Indo-Pak dialogue is a sordid saga of deceit, deception and decadence.

During the past few months, India has moved heaven and earth to ensure cordiality between the two nations. It agreed to open trade, grant bulk visas and facilitate Pak business with visas on arrival; permitted Pakistani cricketers to play in India and earn dollars; facilitated the Pakistan women hockey team to practice in India; and encourages Pakistani artists to stay in Delhi and Mumbai to earn huge money. But all these gestures have been contemptuously ignored by Pakistan. Yet, Indian peaceniks holding flags and candles are conspicuous by their absence at venues of tele-opportunities to protest the uncivilised conduct of Pakistan’s political hierarchy. They would have been beating their chests if such a resolution aimed at interfering in the internal politics of Pakistan was adopted in India. Even the leaders of all Indian political parties were subdued in their retaliatory speeches against Pakistan. Taking advantage of India’s liberal establishment firing from the lip, terrorists aided by Pakistan continue to fire at will at our jawans in Jammu and Kashmir. Others are busy selecting future targets for bomb attacks in various parts of India.

For the past two decades, India hasn’t shown any steely resolve to teach Pakistan a lesson in civilised conduct. It has been mostly engaged in dialogue and discussion in the hope that Pakistan would see some reason in reining in the terror camps. Pakistan’s leaders have received red-carpet welcomes in India, soon after its forces and rebels maimed our soldiers and violated ceasefire restrictions. Even the brutal beheadings of Indian soldiers were forgotten after throwing a couple of paper bombs at the Pakistani leadership. Never before since Independence has the nation’s diplomatic fraternity pleaded to place such deep trust in an enemy that considers civility as India’s weakness.

From the Prime Minister downwards, the Indian establishment has supported and encouraged numerous known and unknown Track-II rendezvous. The UPA has allowed the home minister, foreign minister, commerce minister and prominent businessmen and politicians to visit Pakistan and humour them with concessions, and invited them to India for less work and more leisure. During UPA’s nine years, Pakistan has regained its credibility on the global stage. Earlier, India was able to isolate it through sustained efforts by mounting pressure on the international community to act against the nefarious activities of ISI-led terror operations. Hardly any democratic country did business with the rogue nation. No cricket-playing country has withdrawn its ban on team visits to Pakistan. Earlier, Pakistan was seen as a failed state, which was divided into various regions and sectional interests. In reality, Pakistan’s poor have fallen into the hands of extremist elements while its elite enjoy a global lifestyle. It is the coalition of wealthy leaders from both India and Pakistan who are promoting dialogue, because it makes them acceptable to the West and the US. Since America needs the Pakistani army to contain the Taliban to save Western troops in Afghanistan, India has been under US pressure not to escalate diplomatic and strategic crises by pushing Pakistan into a corner. But after its recent act of defiance, even the doves in India are running for dignified shelter. Pakistan understands only one language. It has to be turned into a social and economic pariah. For Manmohan Singh, the time has come to prove that when he says it is “not acceptable”, he means it. After all he has everything to gain and nothing to lose if he strikes back. As they say, a leader is measured not by his words but by his deeds.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, March 11, 2013

Artificial aggression won't help.../Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/March 10, 2013


Artificial aggression won’t help, PM must focus on basic issues




Aggression is not an antidote for dealing with arrogance. Resorting to the historic romanticism of rhetoric to disarm one’s detractors is an exercise in escapism. Both were amply evident in the two speeches Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made while speaking on the Presidential address in both the Houses of Parliament. While his words were quite unManmohan-like, his deliveries bore the stamp of Congress culture. Rebutting the Opposition’s acerbic attack on his government, the Prime Minister invoked the words of Roman historian Tacitus who wrote “when men are full of envy, they disparage everything, whether it be good or bad”. Undoubtedly, the Prime Minister was at his best during his 80-minute intervention in Parliament. Some of his colleagues were linking his newly acquired confidence with Rahul Gandhi’s categorical withdrawal as a candidate for the next prime minister, at least for now.
But his speech was coloured and influenced by the mindset of an economist who knew the art of using statistics according to his convenience, and not conviction. He pulled out figures, which made his government smell like roses. He was absolutely correct when he claimed that the UPA has performed better than the NDA. Manmohan was quite justified in charging the Opposition for being jealous of his government. But he forgot that the figures he used tell a different story as well. For example, he claimed that the GDP growth has been much higher during the nine years of the UPA as against just six years of the NDA. But he conveniently forgot that the GDP growth during the NDA’s last year was over 8 per cent. It is now below 5 per cent—40 per cent lower than in 2003-2004. In simple words, it means that the UPA government has failed to create real wealth and productive assets. It has frittered away money on wasteful fancy and politically beneficial schemes. His speech was a well-written lesson for India Inc to follow—to claim huge success by camouflaging failure. It is amazing that the Prime Minister was boasting about the better management of the economy, while forgetting that his government’s market borrowing has risen 10 times—from about `46,000 crore during the last year of the NDA regime to `4. 67 lakh crore in 2012-2013. Interestingly, P Chidambaram during his first stint as finance minister kept a tight control over the fiscal deficit at just `1.26 lakh crore in 2007-2008. But soon after he left, later budget papers tell the story of a spending spree that has led to an almost four-fold increase in the fiscal deficit—from `1.25 lakh crore during 2004-2005 to `5.20 lakh crore
during the last financial year.
The Prime Minister also charged the NDA government with making very little progress in the direction of reforms. But it is an admitted fact that most fiscal and monetary reforms in the areas of FDI and rationalisation of interest rates took place during NDA’s time. Manmohan was absolutely right when he moaned that “we are not seeing this arrogance (of the Opposition) for the first time”. Admittedly, the BJP is still under the false impression that it occupies the seat of power, while in reality, it is in the Opposition. Its leaders target the Prime Minister and UPA leaders for personality faults and not for their performance. However, that doesn’t take away the reality on the ground—that the UPA has under-performed. The ruling party and the Prime Minister have not learnt any lessons from the defeat of the Congress in 1996. Like the NDA did later, the Congress fought the election on the basis of economic reforms, which were conceived by prime minister P V Narasimha Rao and ably implemented by then finance minister Manmohan Singh. But the electorate dismissed those fancy flirtations with Western economic models as a policy to make a few of India’s favoured rich even richer while leaving the poor to exist at mere subsistence level. And the Congress won the minimum number of seats ever since Independence.
The Prime Minister was expected to spell his mission and define the roadmap for his big mission to win a third record term for his party. Manmohan’s claim that the percentage of people living below the poverty line fell by an average of 2 per cent during the UPA regime is certainly not false. But the figures posted on the Planning Commission website make it clear that the UPA’s policies are helping the urban population to move out of poverty much faster than people living in rural areas. The UPA considers those who earn less than `28 per day in rural areas and `32 in urban areas as BPL families. Even by these standards, the percentage of BPL persons in rural areas declined by 20 per cent between 2004 and 2010, while those in urban localities fell by over 20 per cent. Clearly, the UPA’s economic policies were churning out more and more crorepatis in cities. And they are the ones who push and press for economic reform.
The Prime Minister’s intervention was merely a reflection of the nature of the public discourse going on in the country. Debate and dialogue now revolve around the academic affluence of Wharton and not the lethal scarcity of water. Almost all the platforms and forums of debate spend more time on how to resolve GAAR but not on how to provide more ghars (homes) to the homeless. Pakistan and secularism get more time and space in the government and media than paani (water) and sadak (roads). Unless the direction and content of public dialogue and debate is reversed in favour of resolving basic issues, even a soft economist like Manmohan Singh and others like him in politics will continue to adopt artificially aggressive political postures to try and win yet another term in office. But he and his ilk will lose the hearts of those who continue to repose faith in them in spite of unpardonable betrayal.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Teekhi Baat with Anna Hazare/IBN7/ March 09, 2013

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We will not support people who contest elections’


Noted social reformer and anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare speaks to IBN7 on Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, his new andolan Janatantra Morcha and a slew of other issues during Teekhi Baat  Excerpts:
Didn’t you say that you don’t agree with this Lokpal Bill which is to come now?
Yes, the Bill is not right. A Lokpal bill should end corruption and poor people must get justice.
You don’t accept it.
Certainly not.
Your associate Kiran Bedi says that she agreed with the Bill.
Kiranji said the Bill is good after reading the content of the Select Committee Report. But the decision that the Cabinet took after Select Committee that they will not include class one, two, three and four is wrong. These officials are connected with the poor people and their issues.


















But Kiran Bedi has not changed her statement since then.
She said later that she did not know this. Now Kiranji is not saying that the Bill is 100 per cent correct.
Arvind got into politics, formed Aam Aadmi Party. He was an honest officer who worked with you. Is his decision to get into politics the only reason for his split with you, or is there some other reason too?
This is the only reason. He wanted to take the path of politics and I do not like it. Because I believe that the difference that an ‘andolan’ can make cannot be brought about by any political party. Today 65 years after Independence, we can say that we got it due to ‘andolan.’
Are you giving a new look to the protest?
It is a struggle and hence we are giving it a new look.
What name would it have?
Janatantra Morcha. It will not fight any elections or form a political party. Its main objective would be struggle.
If Kiran Bedi from you team contests elections, what would you do?
We will not support people who contest elections.
If Kiran contests elections, you will not keep any relations with her.
We will not extend support to her. We will have no relations with her.
Hence, people with you will not join any party.
People, who join any party, will not be with us.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mr Home Minister, please...Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/March 03, 2013


Mr Home Minister, please shun your inferiority complex and rise to the occasion



If the survival of a leader is linked with servility and not substance, he or she is bound to ignore the dignity of the office held. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde is a classic case of a politician who slips at every step he takes, yet gets up and moves on with his back held straight. For him, his crass words don’t matter. His earthy wisdom does. Even after committing verbal hara-kiri, Shinde remains the darling of his leadership. But he is also the target of the ruling establishment, which finds him an unacceptable claimant to the throne in the event of the UPA coming to power again in 2014. 
For the past few weeks, the home minister has given enough fodder to both his promoters and detractors to train their guns on him. On every sensitive issue—ranging from the shameful gangrape in Delhi to naming the minor rape victims of Bhandara—Shinde has displayed his unsuitability to occupy the post of the home minister of India. Though he has been only reading out the statement written or provided by his ministry officials, the buck ultimately stops with him for his inability to spot the red signals and saboteurs within his own system. Ever since he took over as home minister, Shinde has let the impression grow that he isn’t the master of his ministry. His predecessor, P Chidambaram, was considered both a terror and a hard taskmaster in North Block, who arrived at work even much before his junior-most colleagues opened their desktops. Chidambaram was quite focused in his approach. He acquired powers which none of his immediate predecessors enjoyed. He made sure that the chiefs of all intel agencies briefed him on a daily basis. It was he who ensured that both the RAW chief and the national security adviser attended all his meetings, so that he could frame an appropriate response on all sensitive issues ranging from Left to Right terror, Centre-state relations and even dealing with Pakistan. But hardly anyone takes Shinde seriously because he leaves it to civil servants to run the ministry. For example, his statement on the Bhandara rape case emerged out of the inputs and reports which emanated from the district collector, eventually reaching him after passing through the hands of the state’s director general of police, home minister, and perhaps even the chief minister. It then reached the home secretary, and finally the home ministry officials drafted a statement, which was to be read out by Shinde in the House. Instead of examining each and every word, as Chidambaram would have done, Shinde simply read it out in good faith. If such a gaffe was committed during Chidambaram’s tenure, the official would have been dispatched to his home state within hours. But Shinde decided to probe the truth, which he already knew. Known more for his affable personality than being a stern home minister, Shinde hasn’t let the aura of his office alter his DNA. The joke in Mumbai used to be that when he replaced Vilasrao Deshmukh as the chief minister of Maharashtra, Bal Thackeray remarked that “one Deshmukh has gone and a Hasmukh (one who is always laughing) has taken over”.
Shinde is the second Dalit home minister of the 20 who have occupied one of the four corner rooms in both South and North Blocks, which represent the symbols of real political and financial power in Indian government. He has occupied the chair, but has failed to acquire and understand the gravitas and dignity attached to the home minister’s office. He forgot that 18 leaders who preceded him came from rich, upper caste and well-groomed families from various states. Like him, nine had also been chief ministers. Since caste and class have become the benchmarks for assessing ability and agility, a substantial number of home ministers have been from the upper castes. All the four from south India came not only from the wealthy classes but also from landed, rich communities. Six, such as Morarji Desai, Vallabh Bhai Patel, Y B Chavan, S B Chavan and Shivraj Patil, who represented western India like Shinde does, had both caste and class advantages over him. But they were never under such strict social and political scrutiny as Shinde is facing now. Barring Jagjivan Ram, almost every other political leader from Dalit or other backward communities has always faced hostile social reactions for their follies or the usage of politically incorrect statements. It wasn’t just Shinde who was under fire, but the very institution of the home minister was being questioned for erosion of credibility.
The problem with Shinde is that he suffers from a caste complex and believes that he is in office not on merit but for his unconditional loyalty to the Gandhi Parivar. Soon after taking over as home minister, he told me in television show Teekhi Baat that he would shoot anyone if ordered to do so by his leader, Sonia Gandhi. Earlier, Giani Zail Singh, another backward class home minister, had asserted in an interview given to me for India Today magazine that he wouldn’t mind sweeping the floor if asked to do so by Indira Gandhi. Zail Singh was later elevated as India’s first Sikh president.
But the Shinde episode epitomises a bigger malaise inflicting the high offices in government. While the role of the home minister has changed drastically over the last few years of the coalition era, individuals chosen by the Congress have failed to rise to the occasion. The controversies surrounding the conduct of the home minister has more to do with the caste and sycophantic political culture prevailing in the country, which are killing the institutions and symbols of authority and power.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Teekhi Baat with Praful Patel/IBN7/March 02, 2013


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'If there is consensus, Sharad Pawarji will be ready to be PM'


Nationalist Congress Party leader and Union Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel spoke on coalition politics, Maharashtra and NCP leader Sharad Pawar during Teekhi Baat on IBN7.

I want to talk regarding politics, but have to introduce you as heavy industries minister, but there is no much role in industry these days?
We facilitate.
Earlier Praful Patel used to fly in the skies, now you are on land
It is not possible to fly in the air always.
Two days ago, Sharad Pawar-ji said there is no difference between NDA and UPA government.
He said that there is similarity between NDA and UPA as far as foreign policy, economic policy are concerned.  This does not mean we are comparing NDA and UPA.
They have announced their leader
They have a right to announce their leader, we have no objection.
If UPA is in majority, and Rahul is leader, you will work under him
Certainly.
Praful Patel and Sharad Pawar both would work under him...
Who will take decisions (speaking of Congress-led UPA) is not the issue. The government runs on the basis of the largest party, Congress is the largest party in UPA and it does not seem that in future they won’t be the largest party.
But he (Sharad Pawar) said he won’t contest elections
He said he wont contest elections but…
He would get elected via Rajya Sabha route
He will be the president of our party, the reins of the party will be with him.
Then he will be out of the Prime Minister’s race
No, this is what your are saying, that he is our of the race of Prime Ministerial candidate.
But Pawar saab’s relations are good with Jayalalitha, Naveen Patnaik, Mamta, he has good relations with everybody. He is not retiring from politics
If there is a situation where there is consensus on the issue, then why not Prabhuji, Sharad Pawarji will be certainly ready. (to become Prime Minister). But I think to talk like this now is basically wrong.
Will there be no merger with Congress?
And this gossip of merger with Congress which happens many times, that is never possible.