Monday, April 29, 2013

SOUTH BLOCK Watch /The Sunday Standard/April 28, 2013



Choking of the MEA

Even though the last Viceroy left Raisina Hill decades ago, the imperious nature of South Block remains. It houses the ministries of Defence, External Affairs and the PMO. From Nehru’s days, the PM and PMO have dictated diplomacy’s direction. However, when Manmohan Singh took over in 2004, he wanted a lean, mean PMO, which allowed different ministries—including MEA—functional autonomy; and confine itself to the allocation of business. The PMO and Cabinet Secretary were expected to perform only a coordinating function. But what started well hasn’t ended well. In seven years, the MEA has been emasculated. It finds itself boxed between the defence ministry and PMO. Perhaps the root of this problem lies in Pranab’s Mukherjee tenure as foreign minister. He would act only according to his wisdom and not take directions. He was shifted in 2009 because the PMO felt that he should only be a ceremonial figure, crisscrossing the globe for protocol PR. S M Krishna, the suave, foreign-educated politician was next. But he proved a liability, as he forgot to walk the dotted line. The search for another external affairs minister began. The choice fell on Oxonian Salman Khurshid. Soon after taking over, he made a categorical statement that he would act independently, guided only by the PM and Congress leadership. South Block scuttlebutt says he hasn’t got the elbowroom he wanted. Though Khurshid is travelling widely, PMO factotums—who don’t want him to discover their engagements with American diplomats—are discouraging his visits to important countries. Recently, a proposed US visit was inexplicably scuttled. According to insiders, the PM’s minders feel that festering bilateral issues and a comprehensive agenda for Indo-US talks should be decided by the PMO. MEA cynics argue that if the PMO is working on Manmohan’s US itinerary without the involvement of the MEA and its minister, why not wind up the ministry altogether? Better still, why not merge the MEA formally with the PMO? Watch this space.

Extension tension
Extensions after retirement are rewards of loyalty. They also signify the utility of the person seeking the extension. Often, a thin dividing line exists between extensions that are solicited and those given on merit. Now, even senior diplomats are willing to sacrifice their dignity to get short-term extensions. For example, former ambassador to Islamabad, Sharad Sabharwal, was given a short extension in September 2012. When his extended tenure came to an end, he reportedly lobbied for another six months but settled for two. The previous envoy to Paris, Rakesh Sood, was happy with just a month. Both cases contrast sharply to Nalin Surie’s, the former High Commissioner to London. S M Krishna offered him a five-month extension, which he politely declined. Surie’s response was that if the government thought he was doing a good job, he could be given a proper tenure. Whimsical extensions have led to delays in new postings and disturbed posting cycles. Arbitrary distribution of favours is making the entire system vulnerable to misuse and crippling diplomatic credibility. It is due to the lack of a transparent system of granting extensions and giving new postings that those in charge are clearly overlooking several officers who have been languishing at their desks well after their tenures have ended. Among the luminaries in this list are Mahesh Sachdev, High Commissioner to Laos since 2008; P K Kapur, ambassador to Santiago since 2009; and Divyabh Manchanda, ambassador to Sofia since 2009. Have they been forgotten or is it a strategy to let them retire without an extension?

Corner room conundrum
South Block mandarins are watching out for the next occupant of the Foreign Secretary’s corner room. Current occupant Ranjan Mathai’s term expires in July. They were expecting the PM to announce his successor after his return from Germany. Top diplomats were given clear indications that Sujatha Singh, ambassador to Germany, would land the job. But the delay in announcement indicates the battle and lobbying going on within the PMO. It was speculated that the PM would personally inform Sujatha on his German visit. Besides her diplomatic acumen and seniority, she is considered a most credible Foreign Service officer with vast experience in handling sensitive diplomatic issues. But her assertive demeanour could be her nemesis. In case her claim is ignored, the beneficiary would be Mathai, who enjoys the support of the Kerala lobby. But the 1976-batch Sujatha has made it clear that she would not report to any Foreign Secretary who is junior to her. Earlier, when Sudhir Vyas, a 1977-batch IFS officer, was appointed secretary, West, Sujatha insisted she would deal directly with the Foreign Secretary. However, two other officers of her batch—Bhaswati Mukherjee and Sushmita Thomas—who are serving as ambassadors to The Netherlands and Turkey had no such compunctions. But the PM hasn’t frozen the name of the new Foreign Secretary yet. Since his advisers are opposing Sujatha’s candidature, a name being mentioned is that of S Jaishankar, ambassador to Beijing. But he is no pushover either. One of the PM’s principal advisers feels Jaishankar is even more unpalatable than Sujatha. Mathai promoters are confident that the current incumbent will continue in the corner room.

Conflict of interest
The government has rules and procedures to ensure that unscrupulous officials do not use their official positions to negotiate lucrative post-retirement deals. The MEA is confronted with a novel problem. How to deal with a retired IFS officer—now employed by a London-based group—who is officially designated the India head of a European defence consortium and yet writes prolific articles, insisting on being identified with his previous designation? There are other retired officers who are associated with corporates, but also work closely with the government. Is it because persona non grata doesn’t apply to all after retirement?
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 22, 2013

UNLESS the BJP calls ...... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/April 21, 2013




Unless the BJP calls Nitish’s bluff, it is going to be reduced to just another party



Napoleon Bonaparte famously and provocatively said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Our leaders have improved upon Napoleon. Indian political leaders have become dealers in hype. They hawk their virtues as if they are the best of rulers. They market themselves as the maker of a modern society. Even those who control just a tiny district market use megaphones to create an impression, as if they have acquired pan-Indian market and acceptability. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is doing exactly that. His is not selling his state to the rest of the country as a model of good governance, he is merely telling the country what is not good for him or India. For him, it is Narendra Modi, and not the UPA, that poses a bigger threat to communal harmony. Without holding any office in his party, it is Nitish who is the extra-constitutional centre of power in the Janata Dal (United), simply because he is the chief minister. His state remains without proper electricity and water supply. Bihar’s educational system has collapsed. Caste conflicts are on the rise. Yet, his cacophonics dictate political discourse in the National Democratic Alliance.

The Nitish-Modi war reflects the demolition of the institutional framework to deal with contradictions. In the fight between two individuals, their parties have become just tools. Nitish has acquired a larger-than-life stature because the BJP leadership has outsourced the dialogue between the Bihar chief minister to either individuals with strong corporate connections or those who don’t want the Gujarat chief minister to be the rallying point for the NDA’s fight against the UPA.
Moreover, the feud symbolises yet another malaise inflicting India’s political culture. As national parties lose their national character, a group of individuals define the political narrative. Both the BJP and Congress are losing allies because they have failed to evolve a mechanism that deals with issues and not a few individuals like Nitish, who are now becoming their most potent destabilising factors.
An analysis of Nitish’s political conduct during the last few weeks reveals an interesting trend. He has been softer on the Congress and the Prime Minister, and harder on the BJP and Narendra Modi. He runs a coalition with the BJP in his own state. On various social parameters, the Bihar government has done much better than even Gujarat. Interestingly, the performance of all Bihar’s BJP ministers is much better than than that of those belonging to the JD(U). Yet, Nitish has been grabbing all the credit. He has been talking about coalition dharma, which he has been himself violating with impunity by attacking Modi on every possible platform. The metamorphosis of a former diehard socialist to a populist parvenu happened more due to the drive of individual ambition and not any ideological idealism.
Political analysts feel Nitish has chosen to attack Modi as part of his strategy to grab the centre stage and divert attention from his plummeting popularity at home. Nitish was furious after a series of opinion polls showed that Modi was more popular than him in Bihar. One poll conducted by a local agency concluded that Modi’s individual popularity was more than the combined ratings of both Nitish and Rahul Gandhi with the former coming third. Over 70 per cent respondents wanted Modi to be the Prime Minister as against just 21 percent who preferred Nitish. Another poll predicted that even if Nitish joins the Congress-led alliance, the BJP would poll more votes than both the JD(U) and Congress combined.
Nitish has always prevented Modi from entering the state on one pretext or the other. He sharpened his attack on Modi soon after the Gujarat chief minister acquired wider acceptability within his own party and also in other parts of the country. Nitish was also encouraged by a powerful section of the BJP who don’t want Modi to become a formidable prime ministerial candidate. FoNIs (Friends of Nitish) in the BJP have been feeding the Bihar honcho with all the ammunition and ideological justification needed to stall Modi’s elevation. They ensured that the BJP talks to only Nitish and not the Janata Dal President Sharad Yadav for the resolution of crises. BJP leaders hosted dinners and lunches for Nitish Kumar, but forgot to invite leaders of their own party, including its president. Even in Bihar, the BJP is known as Nitish’s B-Team. He dictates the BJP’s ministers, and even the election of its state president. According to Bihar government sources, most BJP leaders have been compromised and Nitish has collected dossiers on each of them.
Even in his own party, there is resentment against Nitish over his inaccessibility and arrogance. Actually, he wasn’t the JD(U)’s first choice for the chief minister’s post. It was Uma  Bharti, the then BJP-in-charge of the state who unilaterally announced Nitish as the leader of the coalition without even taking other leaders into confidence. Nitish was elected the leader only later. Hardcore BJP workers are also annoyed with him for his soft attitude towards terror attacks. They claim he has never spoken against J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah for supporting extremist elements. Nitish has been silent over the failure of the Congress government to mete out justice to the perpetrators of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Strangely, BJP leaders swear by its structured and institutional system, but most of its leaders are ones who weaken and sabotage the party to gain personal allies and benefits. Unless the BJP calls Nitish’s bluff, it is going to be reduced to just another party, which will be led by outsiders and not by its forgotten and ideologically committed insiders.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

INTERVIEW with DIGVIJAY SINGH/ The Sunday Standard/IBN7 April 20,2013

Interview with Congress party general secretary Digvijay Singh


PC: You make policies, but in event of a blast, politicization happens?
DS: Like?
PC: What happened in Bangalore today, Shakeel Ahmed said that BJP will benefit. You MoS home said that he does not know exactly, but it may be a CNG blast. Despite guidelines that are issued in the party, do you think blasts should be politicized?
DS: Should not happen at all. An impartial investigation should happen. State government should be careful; it is a BJP government there, and it is matter of thinking if blasts occur in BJP office, in a BJP ruled government. In the last elections in Karnataka, I was campaign in charge there, the day first phase polling was going on, two blasts happened court in Hubli.
PC: Do you mean to say Bangalore blasts are linked to politics
DS: Am talking of co-incidence.
PC: Which Means?
DS: You can infer any meaning but the issue is co-incidence.
PC: If i say Congress party youth wing president MS Bitta was attacked in the Conress party office premises in Congress ruled government.
DS: No, at that time you would know what the situation in Punjab was.  
PC: But the blast targeted at Bitta happened in the youth Congress office
DS: Punjab was drowned in terrorism, but that is not the case with Karnataka. Am not doing politicization, am talking of co-incidence, at the time of elections, blasts happen during the last day of nomination, or first day of polling.
PC: You are raising doubts
DS: Am saying that investigation should be handed over to NIA
PC: When home ministry issued an official statement that this is a terror attack. Even after that Congress party general secretary is saying that it is co-incidence, that whenever elections happened blasts happen, it even happened before last elections. Which means you are engaging in politicization? You have a doubt?
DS:I am saying one thing since 2002, that some Sangh terror activists are involved in terror activities. That thing was proved after they were caught. I am not blaming the whole Sangh, but it had some such people, who were doing these things and I had inputs about it. Now, in the case of Karnataka blasts, the NIA is investigating. NIA should be handed over the investigation.
PC: NIA has reached there. But what you are saying that this incident may not be a terror act, it may have communal forces acting behind it.
DS: Any blast is an act of terror.
PC: But you are saying anybody would have done it
DS: See all the blast incident, whether it is done by Hindu communal, or Muslim communal, only communal elements take up such things, our fight is against communal elements be it by Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians.
PC: Shakeel Ahmed said BJP will benefit due to Karnataka blasts, you said it is co-incidence. RPN Singh said it is possibly a CNG blast. Do you think this treatment was right?
DS: In this case, I will not speak about their statements. But I will say what happened was unfortunate and the investigation should be immediately handed over to NIA.
PC: But you will not answer my question, a Minister of State for Home saying that it may be a CNG blast.  
DS: What the home minister says is not my responsibility
PC: But it the responsibility of your party.
DS: Every person has a right to tell what he wants to put forth
PC: Shakeel Ahmed is your spokesperson, whom you issue guidelines.
DS: I don’t issue guidelines
PC: The Congress party does it, and you are a responsible member of the planning wing
DS: I don’t have information about what Shakeel Ahmed said
PC: You want like to comment on it
DS: No
PC: You are UP in-charge, not Karnataka, but you distributed tickets there. You are consistent in one thing, that Rahul Gandhi is the Prime Ministerial candidate, other party people keep on changing their stance, be it Hindu terror, be it Rahul Gandhi,
DS: Be it communal Muslim terror, I even speak about that from the start. I was the first chief minister in the country, who took action against SIMI. Other states took action after me taking it. BJP was ruling in Uttar Pradesh then, Rajnath Singh was chief minister, even he took action against SIMI after me. I was the first chief minister to take action against SIMI
PC: It was reported that Digvijay Singh made some guidelines, even after that ministers are issuing such statements, which also means your guidelines are violated somewhere.
DS: It is not so, I have not been asked to form guidelines. I was entrusted work to prepare media strategy and response systems. I made it and submitted.
PC: After that Shakeel Ahmed, RPN Singh gave responses, may be they did not read your guidelines.
DS: I have not given the guidelines; the media committee of AICC has given it.
PC: You were asked to give suggestions by AICC office and you gave it
DS: Yes, I gave suggestions.
PC: You say again and again Rahul Gandhi should become PM. About Karnataka blasts, it looks like co-incidence, why it doesn’t happen at any other time. Leave that, Rahul Gandhi said that he believes in total transparency, made guidelines that such and such people should not get elections tickets, but if one does analysis of Karnatka you gave ticket to 80 plus year old candidates. He said young people will be given tickets. He said relatives should not be given tickets, but a son of former chief minister, and central cabinet minister was given ticket. Your party does opposite of whatever Rahul Gandhi says. Which means he does not have control over the party even now?
DS: We have a ticket distribution process in the party. Block and district committee sends list to state election committee, which is further send to AICC, a screening committee speaks to everyone and sends proposal to central election committee, after which it arrives at a decision of ticket distribution.  You are speaking about the son of a central cabinet minister, in the last elections he lost by merely 1600 votes and he has been continually working there. Now should he right be denied because his father is a minister?
PC: Am not speaking about anybody’s merit, am talking about guideline issued. Rahul Gandhi has said something, something has been written too, that a person who has lost elections with a difference of more than 15,000 votes, or one who has lost elections more than two times will not be given ticket.  Relatives of ministers and chief minister would be avoided in ticket distribution. People with criminal record would not be given ticket. Rahul Gandhi has repeated these four-five guidelines again and again. In Uttarakhand too, you gave tickets to relatives, people with criminal record, what I mean so said that Congress says it will not implement whatever Rahul Gandhi says. Are there two Congress?
DS: As far as Karnataka elections are concerned, I have not done its analysis, because I was not involved in it. But it is true that the inputs come via a democratic process and the best candidate is chosen.
PC: It is written in the constitution that people less than 18 years of age would not be allowed to vote. If you made a guideline, rule, fit people in it,
DS: But referring the guidelines, if we see that there is no other viable candidate there, then the seat cannot remain empty.
PC: In Gujarat also the same thing happened, on 15-20 seats, tickets were issued in violation of guidelines, and you lost elections. May be you could have won if the guidelines had been followed.
DS: But you have to also see the winning percentage of such given tickets.
PC: But if you implemented guidelines fully, the results would have been better
DS: This could be your thinking. But one should see the winning percentage of places where we have violated guidelines.
PC: Rahul Gandhi, your vice president, talks about democratisation, but some party leaders have decided to disobey what he says, fail him and sabotage, which is the impression.
DS: You may be getting such an impression. In politics, guidelines that are made are broad based.
PC: It needs courage to violate guidelines that Rahul Gandhi has made
DS: The Congress president presides over the central election committee, even Rahul Gandhi is there in the central election committee. The state leadership is there, discussions are held, If it is seen that there is a possibility of anybody else winning.
PC: You believe that Rahul Gandhi is your future Prime Minister, in 2014, or later
DS: Firstly, let us get majority. In NDA, they have started fighting for the PM’s post before getting majority. Once we get majority, we will decide on Prime Minister.
PC: Manmohan Singh says indirectly many times that he is available for third term. Earlier he did not say this, these days he does. You feel that a young Prime Minister should come.
DS: These talks are non consequential now, it is no use talking about PM post of 2014, till the country does not vote and give majority.
PC: Rahul Gandhi has been almost given the reins of the party, while Sonaiji is guiding. But why are Rahul Gandhi’s talks not being implemented.
DS: Rahul Gandhi decided that NSUI and Youth Congress elections will be held, it happened in the whole country.
PC: And all chief ministers’ sons became leaders
DS: It is not so
PC: Many places it happened
DS: If free and fair elections are held there, then let the best man win.
PC: In Tamil Nadu, all relatives have been appointed.
DS: Is being a relative of somebody, a disqualification.
PC: But guidelines have been issued
DS: It is clear, broad guidelines are made, and on the basis of broad guidelines, party look at win ability, at the political character of the constituency, and then takes a decision.
PC: Looking at the big picture, to what extent do people listen to Rahul Gandhi in the party. Now he is vice president, earlier he was general secretary like you, now he is senior you, earlier too he was above.
DS: It is clear, Prabhuji, he was given the work of NSUI and Youth Congress, and he did that well.
PC: But there can be discussion what he said then did not happen
DS: He did it.
PC: He got elections held
DS: Congress party youth wing and student wing are one organisation, where free and fair elections are held. Who are getting it done, people like Lyngdoh, Rao, who are known figures as former CEC and member and are impartial.
PC: The slogan in Karnataka is that Congress’s hand is with the wheelchair. Rahul Gandhi has said that 55 should be the average age of candidates, but now 7-8 candidates are over 80. Like Modi is being sabotaged in BJP, are there people like these in Congress who are sabotaging Rahul.
DS: Congress party has unity. One should not speak bad about a person who is sitting on a wheel chair. Don’t physically disabled have a right to contest elections.
PC: They may be the most qualified for the candidature, but the reference here is with regards to old candidates.
DS: Last time in Karnataka, an 88 year old candidate was given ticket, and he won and he is continues till now.
PC: If your 42-44 year old PM candidate chooses 80 year old people
DS: If you see average age of candidates, you will find that the average age of Congress candidates is less.
PC: Once is see the list, I can tell you, I have not seen it now. Don’t you think no one listens to Rahul Gandhi in the government, his thoughts are not implemented? Sharad Pawar said this is not a stable government. Hence, the authority of Congress in the government is one the decline, even in the party. Whatever is happening in the BJP is happening, but even in your party, same thing is happening.
DS: You said Rahul Gandhi is not listened by the government; tell me one thing in with Rahul Gandhi has interfered with the government. He does not interfere in the functioning of the government of India of UPA government because everyone is responsible and accountable to the Prime Minister in the government. It is a UPA government, we are the major dominant partner
PC: Rahul Gandhi neither comments about the government, nor interferes
DS: Certainly he does not interfere.
PC: Hence, if government is performing badly now, Rahul Gandhi has no contribution in it, if he says that, I am not saying.
DS: Tell me one government before UPA one and two which has given so many rights to the Aam Aadmi. Right to Information Act, Right to Education Act, Right to Work Act, Right to Food Security, which government has worked to give so many rights to the people.
PC: There are charges that the most scams surfaced in the tenure of these governments, the CAG or somebody else said, I am not going whether the allegations were true or false, but they surfaced.  
DS: CAG’s own figures have become doubtful, hence I don’t want to talk about it. But in which other scam, the government has not taken strict action. Tell me one government, which has sent minister, secretary, big officers, senior bureaucrats to jail.
PC: After the report surfaced, they were made scapegoats.
DS: It is natural that a criminal will be caught after the crime has been committed. Can they be caught in anticipation, am asking you, only after a crime, arrests will follow, can arrests be made in anticipation.
PC: Now nobody has denied that the law minister call the CBI direction to give him instruction.
DS: It is clear, law minister is sitting, he has a right to talk to speak to attorney general, seek his assistance and file an affidavit.
PC: But agency should not be summoned
DS: It is clear, CBI is directly reporting to the Supreme Court,
PC: You mean they did not wrong
DS: There is no question of interference.
PC: But the direction should not have been called
DS: I don’t have knowledge about it.
PC: Elections are happening, they will happen in Madhya Pradesh too, you are not in charge there, but you will interfere there somewhat. As it is there is a BJP candidate for Prime Minister’s post there.  
DS: It is clear, am a resident of Madhya Pradesh, I started politics from there and whatever I got, it got from there. Hence I will try my best to see that Congress government forms in Madhya Pradesh, and we contest elections together.
PC: Is there any chance, do you have any leader there, since you have come here and your 10 year abstinence is also over.
DS: In 1993, I was PCC president, Arjun Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Kamal Nath, Moti Vora, Shamacharan Shukla, Vidyacharan Shukla, I was a simple man.
PC: But tell me the comparable names now, you don’t send Jyotiraditya Scindia there, project him as CM candidate.
DS: We don’t project anybody, was I projected in 1993? Was I projected in 1998? It is clear, Congress part does not declare its chief ministerial and prime ministerial candidate in assembly and lok sabha elections because in parliamentary democracy newly elected representatives should have right to elect their leader.
PC: They always decide that the party president will decide  
DS: But their view is taken.
PC: From 37 years am doing journalism, always the decision is left to the Congress president.
DS: In 1993 elections, Shyamacharanji and I were elected, and I became chief minister. In 2008 in Rajasthan, by the same method,
PC: Even there they decided to leave the decision to the Congress president
DS: They do it, that is our way of working. There is clear cut democracy, we send an observer, MLA’s opinions are sought,
PC: Then opinions are sent to a place where it is pre decided who has to be made
DS: The central leadership is asked, and then they tell us
PC: Like it happened in Uttarakhand. But leave that aside. Sharad Pawarji said that government is not stable, there is a question mark after DMK left, do you agree?
DS: Sharad Pawarji is an experienced leader, hence ask him
PC: But even you are experienced, you are his friend too.  
DS: I was his friend, am his friend and will be his friend. He is senior to me, elder to me, more experienced, whatever he would have said, would have said after giving some thought.
PC: When stability is doubtful, then is he talking about himself.
DS: May be, you ask him
PC: May be, that he may move away, now that you are in minority with outside support.
DS: It is clear, from 2004 till now, media talks about the government falling after a 6 month, year gap, nut now it is clear that every time we have proved our majority.
PC: You want to say elections will happen on time
DS: Elections will happen on time.
PC: Do you feel social media influences election results
DS: The kind of penetration in urban areas, youth, facebook and twitter and internet have, we cannot ignore that section.
PC: You feel telephone will make you win elections, not votes
DS: We will do our vote talk via telephone.
PC: You cannot ignore social media according to you
DS: Cannot ignore.
PC: Thank you for coming to our studio
DS: Thank you. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

SOUTH BLOCK Watch / The Sunday Standard/April 14, 2013




Four is a crowd


A list has finally been cleared. Among those who figure in it are Yash Sinha to Sri Lanka, Ranjit Rae to Nepal, Preeti Saran to Vietnam, Radhika Lokesh to Ireland, Rajesh Prasad to the Netherlands, and Heads of Missions Gauri Shankar Gupta and Malay Mishra currently posted in Budapest and Port of Spain respectively who will be swapping places.
After Ashok K Kantha takes over as secretary in South Block, three officers of the 1977 batch will be occupying secretary-level jobs in the MEA. The other two are Sudhir Vyas and Pinak Chakravarty. With yet another officer S Jaishanker, India’s ambassador to China, being considered for appointment as fourth secretary, situation is likely to get messy. A piquant situation bordering on the messy. It has rarely happened that four officers of same seniority have been posted at the headquarters. With big egos, most of them don’t even share their views with each other on sensitive issues. Is bringing in so many people at the Centre, part of some strategy or conspiracy to influence future appointments of senior diplomats?
The corner room
The dirty diplomatic war for capturing the corner room has already begun. The Prime Minister has just completed a visit to Germany and will be visiting China in June. Insiders are now speculating whether the Prime Minister will announce the new foreign secretary only after his visit to China, or has he already chosen a person? MEA watchers believe the ultimate appointing authority will insist on due diligence on all the candidates being pushed by various lobbies within the government. The saner elements are convinced that the Prime Minister will strictly follow the principle of seniority and appoint Sujatha Singh as the new foreign secretary. If she is ignored, the Congress leadership and the Prime Minister would have to bear in mind the political fallout of not following seniority and ignoring a legitimate claim of a woman as well.
Heartbreak hotel
Diplomats are known to suffer from many professional ailments, localitis, egomania, clientitis and so on. The present lot, unless they watch out, may succeed in adding to this unique lexicon. It is a well-established procedure that accommodation and logistics for a VVIP visit are worked out in minute detail by what is known as an Advanced Security Liaison (ASL) team comprising representatives from the SPG, PMO, foreign office, IB and other agencies. Was this also not the case for the Prime Minister’s visit to Durban for the BRICS summit?
Because Durban has very few five-star hotels, the 300-strong Chinese delegation chose to stay in a three-star establishment. With the two remaining small five-star hotels Beverly Hills and Oyster Box Hilton 20 minutes away from the conference venue, the ASL team reportedly settled for the Fairmont Zimbali. A story fed by a senior diplomat accompanying the PM delegation, known to be close to the highest in the land, placed the blame for this squarely on the hosts. The alleged discourtesy even agitated Members of Parliament. Can someone stand up and set the record straight? The new ailment is called absurdities.
Communication gap
MEA has a well-structured Foreign Service Institute (FSI) headed by a senior officer, somewhat pompously designated as Dean. Current incumbent is Nengcha Lhouvum Mukhopadhayay. Young entrants to the world of diplomacy are prepared for what lies ahead through a broad-based programme. There would appear to be a need for officers at policy-making levels being given basic training by the FSI in the art of communication and outreach, especially when the handling of policy in relation to Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the flip-flops on the Italian marines case are beginning to raise questions. Is the problem one of policy, its implementation or of failure to effectively communicate to the rest of the world the rationale for the decisions taken? Most of the current senior officials lack the art of communications and also briefing their former colleagues who have now started writing extensively as experts for the media. Even some of them are poorly informed about the latest diplomatic developments. The political class has reason to be worried. If South Block mandarins fail to acquire communication skills, most of the ruling dispensation’s allies already alienated for one reason or the other coupled with problematic relations with countries in our neighborhood could add to many more problems for the UPA in the run-up to May 2014.
Dash for the post
With the US, UK and many others pulling out of this Vienna-based United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), there is very little interest in the real world among professionals to head the agency. Not so in the Foreign Service biradri. As soon as the word got out that the post of DG was going to fall vacant, two serving officers, Hamid Ali Rao, India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a wife of a serving diplomat and another retired officer T P Sreenivasan threw their hats into the ring. MEA did what comes naturally to it. It acted like the Post Office and sent the list to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry for its final approval. But the ministry rejected all of them and decided to suggest M Ganapathy’s name, who recently retired as secretary in the MEA and had hardly any experience of handling UNIDO. But the PMO applied its own yardstick. It overruled both the MEA and the industry ministry. Last heard, no Indian candidate for the post which is currently held by a diplomat from Sierra Leone.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Modi and Rahul should aim .... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard, April 07, 2013




Modi and Rahul should aim for real votes, not celebrity endorsements



A country of over a billion people obsessed with only two individuals—Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. It reflects the famine of leadership in a country that aspires to become a superpower. The UPA has a Cabinet of 33 members whose average age is well above 60, and is led by the 80-year-old Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. None of the ministers are considered leaders of tomorrow since they are perceived as ones who have betrayed the present. So, the debate and dialogue is now restricted to 43-year-old Rahul and the 63-year-old Gujarat Chief Minister, Modi.


Both have much in common. They are reclusive, surrounded by sycophants. Both are choosy about meeting or avoiding people. Both are secretive in their approach and agenda. Both want to be loved, respected and feared for either their pedigree or the post they hold and the power they have. Both want to be heard but avoid hearing others. Both select only platforms and audiences they like. On top of it, both have an arrogant streak that comes with the clean image and performance. Both are the least acceptable leaders to their allies, as the rhythm of their narrative is alien to the tune regional colleagues are used to. They are dealing with a highly divided electorate, which seeks answers on issues like how to fix fiscal policies that protect FDI and MNCs from paying legitimate taxes to how to ensure a proper drainage system. These scary expectations force both to skip the specifics and resort to polemics and generalities.
The similarities end there. Modi and Rahul are two extreme ends of India’s complex political landscape. Modi has served Gujarat for over a decade. His work and words speak louder than his acerbic—yet witty—speeches. From a humble servant of Gujarat, Modi now wants to repay the debt he says he owes India. For him, development is the only mantra for resolving all problems. Modi communicates with his audiences in his own language and through symbolic facial expressions.
The deadpan Rahul has been in active politics for almost a decade as well. He is known for his political adventurism and romance with the other India—Bharat. He doesn’t mind travelling by train to understand its diversity, complexity and potential. He even found a new lesson to learn by spending a night in a Dalit home, even though part of his Socialist chic involved the companionship of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. He makes a great impact on the media by addressing Parliament on issues that he thinks are more relevant than a stimulated Sensex. For Rahul, a participatory democracy is the perfect tool to lift India out of its current mess. He connects with people mostly in English or through well-rehearsed iPad presentations—though on occasion he has “lost it”. A search of his name on Google yields 48.9 million results, while Modi finds mention 29.3 million times. For a tech-savvy chief minister, it’s a comparison that is galling.
As the countdown to the next general election begins, both Rahul and Modi are caught in the crossfire not only between leaders in their own parties but also of corporate India. Rahul is the undisputed leader of his party. A Gandhi can only lead the government through remote control or by becoming Prime Minister. But no Gandhi will accept the top job unless the Congress acquires an absolute majority. A Gandhi can’t accept a situation where his or her wish is overturned by a regional satrap. Rahul is not Manmohan who would change according to the need of the moment.
Modi is equally inflexible. He knows how to dictate his agenda and mission. The current debate on the colour of the future revolves around two personalities and not the ideology they represent. Even they are confused as is evident from their chase for platforms which affords visibility but not votes. Modi and Rahul are now competing to grab corporate, youth and international attention. It gives them instant fame and endorsements. Both have forgotten that leaders who sought elitist endorsement have always lost voter confidence. It happened to Chandrababu Naidu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Amrinder Singh, Mulayam Singh and even Narasimha Rao. All were hailed as the champions of economic reform and modern India, but real India sent them packing. It is the correct interpretation and understanding of the past that will determine the future stature of both Rahul and Modi, and not the orchestra of applause they get at exclusive gatherings of fair-weather friends whose hands hold wads of currency notes but rarely have voter’s ink on their fingers.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 1, 2013

Teekhi Baat with Mulayam Singh Yadav/March 31, 2013, IBN7


'We will not withdraw support; UPA themselves will hold elections in November'






With his now-on-now-off threat to withdraw support to the UPA Government, Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav has kept the Congress-led government on tenterhooks. Yadav spoke  on the DMK, the Congress, his support to the UPA Government, Sonia Gandhi, the Uttar Pradesh Government and host of other issues during Teekhi Baat on IBN7. Excerpts:
You said Congress is a traitor party, but you’ve been supporting it for the past eight years.
Karunanidhi joined the government, following which one minister of his party was framed and sent to jail. He said that he would spill the beans and stated that it was not his decision (2G spectrum auction) alone; others were party to it too.
Who are they?
Let them be anybody, they know it. He will say it on his own, at some time he may have to say it before the court. In the same manner, we saved their government when they were facing hard times. If we had not, it would not have stayed till today.
In 2008, if you would not have saved the government...
As soon as we extended support, they let loose the CBI on me. They are using the CBI and income tax department to run the government. They betray the ones who support them.
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They betrayed the DMK and you; that is what you say. 
Others too have been betrayed by them.
Till now, only you have been betrayed, with CBI, income tax.
They put Karunanidhi’s daughter and their minister in jail.
You feel Congress fixed them?
How else? The government has fixed them.
Did they purposely do it and why?
How can it happen by mistake? Who has control over the CBI and income tax department?
Why did they do it?
So that people support them out of fear.
They do so because they want support of Mulayam Singh.
If I had fear, I would not have spoken out openly.
Do you think the Congress is not a party that can be trusted?
It was never a party that one could trust.
Even then you support it?
It is due to our principles that we are against communal forces.
Elections are next year in May.
It’ll not be in May, but before that.
You say elections will happen earlier.
They will be in November.
Congress spokesperson said “if we are traitors, then why are they supporting traitors?”
If they have said, the party will think about it.
You mean you are not in the mood to withdraw support.
We are not withdrawing support now.
Not in this session?
No.
You were saying elections would be held in November but you won’t withdraw support in this session. How is that possible?
They themselves will hold elections in November.
You are tough sometimes and weak sometimes. People say you are wheeling-dealing clandestinely, like you took a tough stand on Beni Prasad Verma, demanding his resignation, but kept quiet later.
Soniaji today is a big leader of a big party. She came to my chair. They have people who act in such a manner, and then their national president has to apologise. I did not like the fact Soniaji had to apologise because it was not her fault. Kamal Nath also criticised the comments and apologised.Soniaji told you with
folded hands and you supported Pranab Mukherjee;
Soniaji told you with folded hands and you withdrew your demand for his (Verma) removal from the Cabinet.
I didn’t want to act big. It was due to the large-heartedness of Soniaji that I agreed.
In Uttar Pradesh, you say that bureaucrats are not working. You put your son under pressure. He is your obedient educated son, don’t you think this curbs his freedom?
There is no check on his freedom.
It doesn’t seem he has full freedom, he has to ask his uncle, father etc.
Can I do this being a party president? We won because of our party’s principle and our stance against corruption. Hence, if I see faults happening, then it is my right to say it. Government is not above party, party is above government.
Will you make a Third Front?
That is automatically formed after elections.
Will it not be formed pre-poll?
It can’t be, as there would be feuds over tickets in that case.
How many seats would SP win?
Let elections be held today or late, we will win so many seats that government would not be formed without its support.
Will there be no prime minister from the SP ever?
How can this be said? The party may grow stronger in future.
SP can become so strong that it can stake claim to PM’s post.
That can happen if big parties support us, which they will not.
You’ll not take BJP’s support, Congress will not support you, then you will support Congress.
We will try for third front. Deve Gowdaji had become PM of third front government.
In 2014, the PM will neither be from the Congress nor the BJP.
Yes, from neither of them.