Monday, September 29, 2008

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, September 28, 2008


Actor Ranbir Kapoor told me on Seedhi Baat that he values his family's legacy and wishes to take it forward.

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, September 29, 2008

CONVENTIONAL wisdom proclaims that the instincts of the likes of Arjun Singh, Shivraj Patil, Oscar Fernandes would send the Congress for a fairly long spell out of power. But wait. Don’t give up hope as yet. For most of us used to the predictable servility of Congressmen, there is something about young Rahul Gandhi that is refreshing and at the same time intriguing.

One day last week, I flipped from TV channel to channel and they were all showing the same “ breaking news” of Rahul terming POTA a “ failed law” and stressing on the need for stronger antiterrorism laws to deal with the increasing incidence of subversion across the country.

I pinched myself to make sure I had heard right, since his statement stood his party’s argument — that existing laws were enough to deal with terrorism — on its head. Not surprisingly, none of the embedded journalists on Rahul’s Discovery of India travels thought it fit to quiz him further, which perhaps explains why Rahul repeated the statement not once but several times. In times to come, we will get to know about the impact of his statement on the country’s internal security situation.

That’s the larger question that Rahul, I am sure, will one day get to address. For the moment, I will confine myself to his unconventional style that has baffled Congressmen, mystified media pundits and kindled some hope in his party men, particularly the younger lot who see him as the last white hope. To the well- entrenched seniors — the Patils, the Singhs et al — he is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The party’s younger lot are clearly loving the suspense but the seniors have been on a razor’s edge in the last couple of years that Rahul has taken on a proactive role in party affairs. His is truly a dilemma: he can’t do much to the parent organisation which his mother controls, who, in turn, is guided by the seniors. So he is doing what his father did — creating a party within the party.

Nearly a quarter century ago, at the Congress Centenary in Mumbai, Rajiv Gandhi served a not- so- subtle warning to the Old Order with his famous “ Power Brokers” speech. He then assembled a team of young, dynamic and efficient partymen and women who were not only good at their jobs but knew how to keep the old fogies guessing.
Rahul is treading his father’s path, travelling a lot, talking a lot. And almost anything he says seems to cause heartburn among his senior colleagues.

“ I am open to the idea of becoming Prime Minister,” he once said, leaving several Congress’s prime ministerial hopefuls searching for new employment opportunities. On whistle- stop tours through the most backward hamlets in Karnataka, Orissa, UP, Bihar and Punjab, he threw his itinerary to the wind, shared dalchawal with the locals and once even accepted an invitation and stayed overnight with a poor family. Now this is vintage Nehru- Gandhi, bringing to mind Indira’s ride atop an elephant through Belchi in Bihar to commiserate with Dalit victims of atrocities; or Rajiv giving the slip to his security and driving through dusty Amethi to meet up with his constituents. In contrast, Sonia’s style has been conventional, which is why Congressmen feel safe with her. It’s Rahul’s unorthodox ways that has the old guard on pins.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, September 21, 2008

'There should be no tolerance for terror'

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi says on Seedhi Baat that people who support terrorism and terrorists are opposed to strong laws.

Power & Politics/Mail Today, September 22, 2008

THE CASSANDRAS have got it wrong once again and Shivraj Patil, the Serial Dresser who is also our Home Minister survives, which means a lot of ordinary lives will continue to be at risk. After 9/ 13, the airwaves were crackling with pundits and sundry analysts predicting Patil’s impending political death but last week after hunting down two terrorists in Delhi, he was on TV, scowl replaced by smile, as he congratulated the Delhi Police for a job well done.

Not only has he managed to retain his ornate room in North Block, his backers succeeded in torpedoing moves to appoint a junior minister for Internal Security. Remember, Patil had rejected demands for his resignation saying “ Why should I resign when I have the confidence of my leader?” And so, armed with that trust and nothing else, he continues to preside over the insecurity of 1.10 billion Indians.

I was always certain it would take more than pathetic performance to ease Patil out of office. Because he is special. He lost the 2004 Lok Sabha election from Latur and it is said that had he won, Patil and not Manmohan Singh would have been Sonia Gandhi’s choice as prime minister. The people of Latur truly deserve the nation’s gratitude for their political foresight. But the man dumped by his constituents was resurrected by his political masters because he has in him the virtues necessary for climbing up the Congress ladder.

For one, he is rootless, shuns factionalism, and is a devotee of Sai Baba and 10 Janpath.
The last of these has been a prerequisite for a job at North Block ever since Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. Be it Giani Zail Singh or Buta Singh, they were all loyalists. Rajiv Gandhi did appoint Arun Nehru and P. Chidambaram as ministers of state for internal security but then one was a relative and other was good at his job.

Sonia Gandhi’s political instincts are quite different from Indira’s and Rajiv’s.
Both mother and son were not known to allow any leader to settle down on the job and kept changing chief ministers and Cabinet ministers. Sonia, on the other hand, is all for stability. Since she took over as Congress chief in 1998, most chief ministers have been allowed to complete their full terms while at the Centre, the UPA Cabinet has seen the minimum of tinkering irrespective of the performance of ministers.

Not many will remember that AR Antulay, Mahavir Prasad and Sisa Ram Ola are Cabinet ministers precisely because they, like Shivraj Patil, do nothing. So why single out Patil alone for punishment, particularly when his utility value has nothing to do with his efficiency as a minister? For one, as home minister, Patil gets to fly out in the ministry’s jet to all the trouble spots in the country and he must thank the Lord, Sonia too is seen commiserating with victims in Hyderabad, Jaipur, Bangalore and other far- flung places.

Lest you wonder how she manages to reach these places in a jiffy, let me tell you Patil’s ministry has an entire aircraft fleet at his beck and call. He then accompanies her. There is not only misuse of the official aircraft, Sonia also gets all the official trappings from state governments which otherwise she is not entitled to as a mere MP from Rae Bareily or even as the Congress chief.

Snippets / Mail Today, September 22, 2008

Our Prez is a school marm

THE GOVERNOR’S conference in New Delhi last week will be remembered more than anything else for the new side to her personality that President Pratibha Patil showed. It was the first gubernatorial meeting that she chaired and she was to the manor born. In the past, such conferences have seen the President giving the inaugural address, sipping tea and exchanging small talk and leaving, but Patil chose to preside over an entire session that lasted over four hours on the opening morning. This left some folks at least squirming in their seats. For one, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to skip other engagements because protocol did not allow him to leave the venue as long as the President was around.

Her conduct of the session was, well, schoolmarmish. Governors were called according to alphabetic order of states and each one was allotted 15 minutes, though J& K’s N. N. Vohra, as a special case, was allowed much longer time. Not so lucky was West Bengal’s Gopal Gandhi, who was cut short and denied the chance to talk of his ( mis) adventure on the Nano.
She showed her concern for the elderly by allowing Andhra Pradesh’s Narain Dutt Tewari and a couple of others to place copies of their speeches on her table, so they were taken as read. And in typical classroom fashion, her finger reached for the buzzer each time a speaker had finished 14 of his allotted 15 minutes, to inform him that he had exactly one minute to wind up. I have a suggestion: Patil should give the presiding officers of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha a few lessons on how to conduct Parliament.

THE LAST week meant different things to different comrades.In Kerala, mallus celebrated Onam and in West Bengal, Singur continued to burn. You’d expect Prakash Karat to be either celebrating Onam with his fellow mallus or join the comrades to contain Mamata’s fury. He did neither. Those who keep track of his movements say he was spotted in, of all places, Scotland.Nothing mysterious about that since it was was at the University of Edinburgh, where he enrolled for his Master’s in Politics to hone his agitational skills and was rusticated for leading antiapartheid protests. He was later taken back on good conduct.With a general election that is certain to be bitterly fought coming up soon, it is being said that Comrade Karat went back to his alma mater to sharpen the very skills that has taken him to dizzying political heights. This time, he need fear neither rustication nor retribution.

No conviction, only convenience
ARE THE Congress Party and the UPA Government about to admit that terrorism is the biggest threat facing the country? What else could explain the Prime Minister talking about the need for stringent antiterror laws at the Governor’s conference last week and sundry Congress leaders taking the cue. Poor M Veerappa Moily, chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission, found himself in a minority of one when his report submitted to the PM in June sought stringent anti- terror laws. About a month ago, home minister Shivraj Patil told me on the Seedhi Baat programme in Aaj Tak that his party has the mandate to repeal POTA and existing laws were enough.

An internal assessment by Congress leadership at state and central level shows that minority votes accruing to the party because of pandering will hardly make up for the loss of the majority community votes. This is alarming considering that Assembly elections are due in five states soon. Worse, the Congress’ hopes of winning over middle India with the N- deal have been badly dented by terrorism, and inflation has middle classes reeling.

With the BJP announcing that terrorism would be its main plank, it was left to National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan to write to Patil, requesting him to process Narendra Modi’s demand for special anti- terrorism legislation in Gujarat. After the Delhi blasts, Shiela Dixit wants similar laws though instead of sitting on the file, her government should be giving consent to Afzal Guru’s hanging, whose death sentence is upheld by the Supreme Court. Even powerful POTA baiters like Lalu and Mulayam have opted for silence, a sign perhaps that even they realise it’s time to keep old habits under check. Which only proves that in politics, convictions don’t matter, only convenience does.

WITH THE N- deal all sewn up, it’s time to move on to pressing matters of the day.
When Manmohan Singh arrives in New York this week for the annual UN General Assembly, the city will still be reeling under the worst crash in financial markets in decades. And when he makes a brief visit to Washington to meet up with good friend George Walker Bush, the two will have more to talk about than just enriched uranium.

India is among the largest recipients of FII funds and the PM is expected to meet top bankers and investors and tell them that fundamentals here are strong enough. Last week, Manmohan called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs as a preparatory exercise before the high- profile meetings in New York. Since it was an emergency meeting, no agenda papers were given in advance and one senior minister arrived assuming that the gathering was to discuss the issue of the swollen Kosi. It was only when the meeting began that the minister, with little grasp either of the Queen’s language or economic jargon, realised that something was amiss. Lehman Brothers, Merryl Lynch, AIG, Dow Jones, Nikkei, Footsie. The names were all Greek to him.

Finally, he interrupted to say he could understand nothing, at which time, the Finance Secretary and another senior official were asked to join by the minister’s side and explain all about economic meltdowns. The meeting continued with the officers trying to make sense of the deliberations for the minister’s benefit.
By the end of it all, the minister had stopped shaking his head vigorously, an acknowledgement perhaps he was now convinced Lehman Brothers was more dangerous than Kosi.

Monday, September 15, 2008

PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh threw in an uncharacteristic lecture last week at a book release function that was also attended by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan. He called for “ introspection to ensure judicial appointments at all levels are up to exacting standards. I also urge those responsible… to take steps to restore to the judiciary the majesty we would like our people to associate with it”.

Snippets / Mail Today, September 15, 2008

Chinese will have to grin and bear it

AT LAST, we have proof, if indeed it were needed, that Sonia Gandhi has learnt what most of our countrymen barring Left and other card holders have known for long — the Chinese are not to be trusted. In 1964, two years after the Chinese attacked India, Nehru died, more out of heartbreak than heart attack.

Rajiv Gandhi and Deng Xiaoping recorded the longest handshake between two heads of government in 1988, but Rajiv preferred to play safe. Reports about the royal snub from 10 Janpath to the visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi who spent half a day waiting for a nod for a courtesy call on Sonia before embarking on a sightseeing trip of Delhi have been duly denied.

Sonia is said have had no objections to meeting Yang. Understandable, since the Chinese had serenaded her twice in the past four years, the last just a month ago when Beijing invited Sonia, and son Rahul, to attend the Olympics opening ceremony without as much as checking with Manmohan Singh about his dates.
This is something that has riled the Indian establishment which believes relations should be on a government to government basis as against the Chinese policy of party to party.
So the establishment hit back. Despite Sonia’s eagerness to meet Yang, our mandarins, by now seething at the Chinese deceit at the NSG, persuaded her against it. The Chinese don’t take such rebukes lightly. At the moment though, they have no option but to grin and bear it. With India- China trade set to touch US$ 100 billion by 2011, they need our market as much as we need nuclear fuel.

AMONG an army of Non Performing Assets in the Union Cabinet, Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Commerce Minister Kamal Nath stand out. For the nth year running, revenues have crossed targets while exports continue to be on the up and up. So why are the two at each other’s throat? Recently, an exasperated Kamal Nath shot off a letter to Manmohan Singh about the export target of US$ 200 billion set for this year which is a 28 per cent jump over the last. Ambitious, you’d say, considering the global slowdown? Yet, he is confident it can be achieved with the “ support of every arm of the government. Unfortunately, a number of issues are still pending clearance with the Ministry of Finance”. While the Prime Minister goes through the details in the annexures that the Commerce Minister has attached with his letter, Chidambaram has promptly denied putting any hurdles.

Hate Modi but love his babus

IT CAME as no surprise to me when the government recently appointed Ashok Chawla as the new economic affairs secretary. The elevation of Chawla ( no relation) has only confirmed my belief that while the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi may be taboo for the UPA Government, it considers his officers prize catches.

Modi is a ruthless and obsessive administrator, but if his government is known for its cando- will- do reputation, it has got a lot to with the highly talented group of bureaucrats that advises him. Chawla, a 1972 batch officer of the Gujarat cadre is one such. Less than one and a half years ago, he was appointed the Civil Aviation Secretary and two months back also given additional charge of the I& B Ministry upon the retirement of the incumbent.
The cardinal principle of Manmohan Singh’s style of governance has been: Change no ministers, change no secretaries. While periodic Cabinet reshuffles were the order in almost all previous governments, Manmohan has rarely tinkered with the set up. In the case of bureaucrats, when incumbents retire, the appointment of the seniormost as the successor is a formality that the government has diligently observed. Manmohan seems to have made an exception in Chawla’s case, since there are officers senior to him. I have it on reliable authority that the government has zeroed in on at least a handful of officers from the Gujarat cadre for appointment at the Centre.

This is in addition to the couple of serving or retired officers that the government has poached or tried to poach in the last few months. It wanted to appoint Srikumar, a DGP in the Gujarat Police who earned a name for his frequent skirmishes with Modi, as a member of the Central Information Commission. LK Advani put his foot down, saying human rights activists in khaki have no place in the CIC.

HAS ANYONE seen of late someone who goes by the name of Nitish Kumar? He is the Chief Minister of Bihar, large parts of which still remain under floodwaters and where millions of people have been displaced as a result of the swirling Kosi river.

Humour in Bihar, black at best, has it that as a member of the Legislative Council, as against the Assembly, Kumar does not have a constituency and therefore prefers to sit in Patna and oversee the relief operations.

This is one of the advantages of the Upper House. A terrible calamity can strike your place of birth or the village you hail from but you know you don’t have to go there to seek reelection. All you need to do is muster the necessary numbers among MLAs. Why blame Manmohan Singh alone for not seeking election to the Lok Sabha and preferring the Rajya Sabha when increasingly politicians are showing a preference for the Upper House? Even the unassailable Mayawati who ensured victory for 206 of her BSP candidates opted out of the popular elections and chose to be in the Vidhan Parishad.

Only six states in India have a bicameral legislature. Andhra Pradesh which abolished the Upper House during NTR’s regime in 1985 reintroduced it last year and the Badal government in Punjab now says it will restore the Parishad. I suspect more states may go the same way. It will give the loyalists a designation. And ensure chief ministers don’t get travel weary.

Seedhi Baat / September 07, 2008

"J&K in eye of storm since 1947"

Former J&K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad tells Prabhu Chawla on Seedhi Baat that the Amarnath land row blew out of proportion because it was given a religious angle by political parties.

watch video: part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, August 31, 2008

Whoever performs is the hero: Abhinav
Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra on Seedhi Baat that winning the World Championships in shooting was tougher than competing in the Beijing Olympics.
watch video: part 1, 2, 3, 4,

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, September 15, 2008

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh threw in an uncharacteristic lecture last week at a book release function that was also attended by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan. He called for “ introspection to ensure judicial appointments at all levels are up to exacting standards. I also urge those responsible… to take steps to restore to the judiciary the majesty we would like our people to associate with it”.

Manmohan’s remarks come at a time when Balakrishnan had recommended the removal of a Kolkata High Court judge on charges of misappropriation of public funds and elsewhere corruption charges are being leveled against judges of high courts. I can’t recall any other PM indulging in such plainspeak. There is much in our judicial system we must be proud of. At the worst of times, it has protected our rights and shielded us from the dictatorial instincts of some of our rulers.

But suddenly the institution is under the scanner. Problems at lower judicial levels are dealt with by the higher courts which discipline subordinate judges. But it is at the upper levels that these persist.

Legal eagles have written reams about the hows and whys of this malaise, but I have my own theory. From Nehru’s time, the Law Ministry has mostly been headed by lawyers, most of them still practising. There have been 24 of them since Parliament was first constituted.
They were brilliant, eminent lawyers of unquestionable integrity: From CC Biswas and AK Sen in Nehru’s Cabinet through SS Ray, Shanti Bhushan, the first non- Congress minister, P Chidambaram, Ram Jethmalani, Arun Jaitley and others.

The makers of our Constitution had provided enough checks and balances to ensure that none of the pillars of democracy came to acquire more power than necessary. But while the judiciary has been able to keep a check on the executive, the latter has not been able to rein in the judiciary.
It’s simply a case of scratching each other’s back. Judges appoint brother judges through a collegium and rare is the Law Minister who will dissent in an era where, after an election, law ministers have to trade their safari suit for the lawyer’s gown. So, ministers looked the other way when a ruling stipulated that no judge of the high courts or Supreme Court can be raided by the CBI without the prior approval of the respective chief justices. Bureaucrats have no such cover and the CBI can come visiting anytime.

That’s why Justice Shamit Mukherjee of the Delhi High Court brazenly tried to stick it out, with some help from the fraternity, despite evidence which would seem to suggest that either his hands were in the till or that he was a Kaun Banega Crorepati winner many times over. Unfortunately our law ministers don’t want changes because they may appear before the same judges on behalf of clients who are mostly politi- cians or the rich. That is why Justice Balakrishnan has to be lauded for seeking the removal of Justice Sen. The nexus has to be clipped.

To say that a Law Minister has to be a lawyer is like saying a Civil Aviation Minister has to be a pilot. By that yardstick, Kapil Sibal would be a misfit as Science and Technology Minister but the fact is that he is doing a good job out there. Ace lawyer that he is, given an option I think he may turn down the law ministry.

Monday, September 8, 2008


A MEASURE of a leader’s success lies in his choice of a successor. The joint press conference that Lal Krishna Advani addressed along with Narendra Modi in New Delhi last week has the debate reopened within the BJP of who exactly will take over from the 81- year- old leader of the Opposition who I assume will be leading the BJP campaign for the last time next year.
Read ......

Snippets /Mail Today, September 08, 2008

FOR YEARS, the late Kamlapati Tripathi, UP chief minister, union minister in the Indira and Rajiv Gandhi regimes and Congress president lived right across 10 Janpath at No 9 but it was more than the wide avenue that kept its occupants at arms length. Relations were really frosty, particularly during Rajiv’s time. But last week, the party’s top brass gathered in homage to commemorate his 103rd birth anniversary. They even got Karan Singh to go up on stage and recite a few Sanskrit slokas which wasn’t a bad things considering that it’s one thing that he is really good at. It’s surprising how people who barely remembered him on his centenary three years ago suddenly discovered virtues in him. Actually it is no surprise. With UP CM Mayawati gobbling up the Congress’ traditional Brahmin vote bank, Congressmen think Tripathi’s brahiminical credentials would do. Panditji must surely have stopped turning in his grave.

Disaster and lack of direction

HOW QUICKLY the times— and our responses— change? On December 26, 2004 one of the worst natural disasters ever struck shores as far apart as Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu and Bali in Indonesia in the form of the tsunami.
Thousands perished in India, lakhs across south and Far East Asia. Yet the response— of the government, NGOs and ordinary citizens— was swift and exemplary.
India showed it can not only take care of itself, but even sent ships with food, medicines and clothes to Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia.
As Indians we felt proud. It’s been more than three weeks since a disaster that was waiting to happen for a long long time, happened. We still can’t put a finger on the numbers that have died, but lakhs have been rendered homeless and each passing day is only a reminder that things are going from bad to worse.
We have a National Disaster Management Authority( NDMA) which functions under the Prime Minister’s Office and is headed by former Chief of Army Staff Nirmal Vij, and a National Disaster Management Centre( NDMC) under the Home Ministry. They sent ships to Bali but couldn’t spare a few hundred boats for the flood struck. You cant stop a natural disaster, but if these agencies had been upto their task, the sufferings could have been contained. Is it a case of too many cooks spoiling? You only have to look up the NDMC website to learn how inept they are.
There’s plenty there about ministerial conferences, national workshops held and even a section under the head “ Foreign Visits” which gives a detailed list of who attended what programme on disaster management in which country and when.
I tried to find out what the NDMC was doing in Bihar and found a report of that read like a babu’s compilation of clippings on the floods from the mornings newspapers duly translated into bureaucratese. Such a shame.

YES, WE all know that elections will soon be upon us and all of you are doing a great job and deserve to be back in power, but do you have to badger us every waking moment to tell us about the great deeds that all of you have been doing? My question is to my many friends in the BJP. The party office and its leaders have become hyperactive and the stream of SMSs that start in the morning turn into a flood of e- mails and fax messages telling journos like us about the day in the life of its leaders. Problem is, there are too many wannabe leaders and they all want you to know what the day meant for them. In the Congress, things are organized. They have one person who does all the talking on any given day. But in the BJP, the media cell handled by a few minions is constantly under pressure from its many leaders to send out SMSs and press releases to the media. I remember once three statements came to me within an hour on the same or similar topics: One was from Advani’s office, one from party president Rajnath Singh’s and third was the party’s official statement. Sometimes, they can really infuriate. As when an Urgent Press Release tells us that “ His Excellency, The Ambassador of Burkino Faso today called on the BJP Leader Mr X” and discussed matters of mutual interest. Which actually leaves you wondering: Is there a Hindu vote bank in Burkina Faso?

Congress at wit’s end over farmers

IT’S BEEN a while since the Congress yielded the main Opposition space to the Trinamool in West Bengal and with time, the Grand Old Party seems to be slipping from obscurity to oblivion. The impasse over the Tata plant in Singur afforded the party a chance to bounce back politically, but save for a march to the Nano factory by a few hundred khadi clad, as against the thousands and lakhs that Mamata mobilizes, the Congress remains a spectator.
Besides the moribund party set up in the state, this exposes the confusion that has gripped the party over the issue of SEZs. In the last four years, the UPA Government has sanctioned nearly 300 SEZs, most of them in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, all Congress- ruled states. As such it can hardly afford to make noises about farmers’ land being grabbed. Yet politics in the heartland demands that it must now start selectively opposing these. In Uttar Pradesh, it hopes to take on the virtually unassailable Mayawati over land that is being acquired for her pet project, the Noida- Varanasi expressway. Congress leaders even persuaded Sonia Gandhi to lead the protests, but Mayawati in turn taunted them by daring them to hold similar protests at Chakri Dadri where a private power monolith has acquired hundreds of acres of farmland to set up a 3800 megawatt plant. The company has a good rapport with the the UPA’s new found ally who, as we all know, now controls the government, and the consensus in the party seems to be that the risk simply isn’t worth it. So, despite the Rs 60,000 crore bounty to farmers, the party seems to be at its wit’s end, for the moment.

Power & Politics / Mail Today, September 08, 2008

A MEASURE of a leader’s success lies in his choice of a successor. The joint press conference that Lal Krishna Advani addressed along with Narendra Modi in New Delhi last week has the debate reopened within the BJP of who exactly will take over from the 81- year- old leader of the Opposition who I assume will be leading the BJP campaign for the last time next year.
Advani normally does not address joint press conferences and it was perhaps apt that on a day that he chose to speak to the media about internal security, he chose Modi to share the stage with him. Because if there is anything that gets the adrenalin pumping in Modi, it is internal security and to a somewhat lesser extent, minority appeasement, two issues that are expected to form the core of the BJP campaign in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

If the Washington Post hadn’t broken the story about the government’s doublespeak on the N- Deal, I have no doubt that the event at the BJP headquarters would have dominated the front pages and TV channels and reams and reams would have been written about Modi’s “ coronation”. Advani had in fact known about the N- deal bomb from the US capital that morning but since he had already committed to the Gujarat Chief Minister to let him have his say on the woeful internal security scenario, he went ahead with the news conference even at the risk of it being relegated to the inside pages.

It was familiar surroundings to which Modi returned: The same room at 11 Ashoka Road where till about a decade ago, as the general secretary of the BJP, he addressed the media on most evenings. For once Advani chose to play second fiddle, letting Modi steal the limelight while answering a volley of questions on the Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Bangalore bomb blasts and the Amarnath row, now mercifully resolved.

That Modi was the master of ceremonies was evident when he brushed aside two questions relating to economy and foreign policy, saying “ this meet is about internal security, so limit all questions to the subject”. Advani then butted in to say that he would ask Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh to answer queries relating to the economy and foreign affairs.
It set the cat among the pigeons. Was the PM- in- waiting opening up about his shadow cabinet? Since Sinha and Singh had held the finance and external affairs portfolios during the Vajpayee regime, was Advani hinting that in a future BJP government, Modi would be the home minister? Anyone remotely concerned with the pathetic internal situation would wholeheartedly welcome the suggestion.

Modi has one grouse though: that his party did not stand by him when the US State Department recently said it would not give him a visa which he in any case had not applied. He thinks his party seniors, some of whom share an excellent rapport with US lawmakers should have put that to good use to temper them. I think his grouse is unwarranted. Should he become home minister, why some day even prime minister – if IK Gujral and Deve Gowda can be – Washington will not only grant him a visa, but roll out the red carpet for Modi.

Monday, September 1, 2008


It is often said that you can judge a man by the company he keeps. In the CPI( M) and the BJP, increasingly senior leaders are being judged by the kind of people they are seen with. The two cadre- based parties are as different as chalk and cheese and both are going through a churning that makes nonsense of their claims of tight discipline down the line.

Snippets / Mail Today, September 01, 2008

Is it a cover-up for RTI not working?
AS A nation, we are not in the habit of preserving history, be it a monument or a document. As a result, there are no records available pertaining to many sensitive subjects, ranging from national to local, from bilateral talks to something as mundane as the ownership records of an important building. But a people suddenly empowered with the right to know are seeking information on a whole range of matters and the government just doesn’t have the answers.
The increasing rate at which ordinary people are invoking the Right to Information Act has put the government in a tizzy. My colleagues at India Today magazine have several RTI’s and while they have been successful in getting information, more often they have been stonewalled as one babu throws the ball into another’s court. Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrashekar recently shot off a missive to secretaries of ministries and departments directing them to shun the “ lackadaisical approach” and to appoint a joint secretary to be Chief Records Officer to maintain “ accountability and transparency.” It will be the CRO’s duty to “ coordinate and supervise all activities relating to management of public records. You may also consider visiting records room of your ministry during this month for an inspection so as to convey the importance of records management”. Ordinarily, Chandrashekhar should have been lauded, only it’s come too late. In a country where nobody bats an eyelid when precious artifacts are allowed to be smuggled abroad by the high and the mighty, records, if not already lost, must be thrown away to save a VIP’s skin. I think the missive is nothing more than a cover- up to later say “ See we did our best”.

A brain wave to save DRDO

FOR QUITE some time now, we Indians have waxed about our intellectual capital,
of the brain drain being reversed and painting pictures of our countrymen from
California to Canberra returning in droves to ride on ‘ Shining India’. Ask the
fellows at the Defence Research and Development Organisation and they will think
you are an ignoramus. DRDO runs 52 research laboratories in the country and in
the last five years, over 1,200 scientists have left for greener pastures.
Things were bad earlier too, and in the five preceding years, 400 scientists
had quit.
Bad pay, appalling working conditions and a bureaucratic mindset
that is hardly in sync with scientific temperament of the establishment. The
government’s concerns were allayed by the babus who convinced their masters that
once the 6th Pay Commission recommendations were implemented, the scientists
would be happy with the bounty, would fall in line and all would be fine.
Really? The DRDO is taking no chances though. This month, it is organising a
Round Table where HR honchos from the US, UK, Israel as well as top Indian
corporates like Wipro, Infosys and Tata will teach them the art of retaining
For the sake of our defence forces, let us hope the lessons would be
truly learned.

WHEN set up, JNU was supposed to be a centre of academic excellence on the lines of the Ivy League colleges in the US. Those dreams died young as it acquired the dubious reputation of being the cradle of arm chair revolutionaries. Last week, JNU once again shamed itself. Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State was scheduled to address students but the Left Unions would have none of it and the programme was cancelled. Last year, I was in New York when students protested against Columbia University’s decision to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address them. But they didn’t stop him. Instead, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS were all on hand to show the boys and girls put the Iranian despot through the wringer. The message went all across the US and indeed the world. The JNU protests were limited to a single column on the inside pages. Centre of excellence?

ABHINAV Bindra, Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar are suddenly the toast of the
country and more than advertising agencies, it is the political class that seems
determined to milk them dry. The two Kumars arrived last week from Beijing and
did the mandatory photoops with the President, Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi
but before they could be whisked away, the Opposition swung into action. BJP MP
VK Malhotra who heads the country’s Archery Federation, Digvijay Singh, JD( U)
MP who is president of the National Rifle Association and Abhay Chautala, who
heads Boxing, convinced the jet- lagged boys it would be inappropriate not to
call on the PM- in- waiting. So, off they were herded to LK Advani’s Prithviraj
Road residence where they were introduced to Page 3 types who for a change were
washing down lassi. It was no different a fortnight earlier when Abhinav became
India’s first individual gold medalist.
Within five minutes of his feat,
Ambassador Nirupama Rao handed out to Indian journalists copies of
congratulatory messages from the PM and Sonia Gandhi. The PMO even got in touch
with the IOA to convey the PM’s desire to meet him on his return. Again, the
BJP, for ever in agitation rather than congratulatory mood was caught napping
and it fell on Digvijay to turn sharp- shooter for the Opposition. He called up
Abhinav’s father to ensure the young man did not ignore Advani. If you thought
it was Even Stevens and end of matter, there’s more. Last heard, the NDA camp
was claiming that two out of three medal winners came from disciplines whose
associations were headed by their leaders.

POWER & POLITICS / Mail Today, September 01, 2008

It is often said that you can judge a man by the company he keeps. In the CPI( M) and the BJP, increasingly senior leaders are being judged by the kind of people they are seen with. The two cadre- based parties are as different as chalk and cheese and both are going through a churning that makes nonsense of their claims of tight discipline down the line.
The spotlight these days is on West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Last week, the CPI( M) was squirming in embarrassment after BB said that, left to himself, he would organise protests against the frequent bandhs that turns normal life in his state into a nightmare. He was catering to his audience of the moment, which comprised captains of industry at a FICCI meeting in Kolkata. Coming as it did when the state had virtually been brought to a halt by Mamata Bannerjee over the Tata Nano factory in Singur, it left party leaders, well, Red faced. And that’s where the problems lie.
The people who are lining up behind Mamata Banerjee form the CPI( M) core constituency — the poor, the hungry, the dispossessed. Its leaders feel BB has compromised on the CPI( M)’ s basic credo. That outsiders and not the indoctrinated are dictating its political and social agenda. The fingers that point at BB these days accuse him of being a prisoner what is termed as the “ rattis brigade” — the chatteratti, the glitterati, the corporatti.
Only a fool would expect them to vote the Left, nevertheless they woo the comrades for the power they wield. BB is a willing target.
The fact that the CPI( M) had to issue a “ lifestyle guideline” at its Coimbatore Congress earlier this year is perhaps an admission from the highest levels that a lot is rotten. Its ministers and leaders will baulk at accepting invitations from cadres to address a rally but will grab an invitation to rub shoulders with the Page Three types. The dyed- in- the- wool comrades feel that such sustained familiarity, far from breeding contempt, influences policy making.
Initial reports that BB had been “ publicly censured” were denied by the Politburo which issued a statement that seemed to suggest the chief minister was “ given a public dressing down in private”. There are even demands that BB and other Marxist social butterflies be banned from attending bourgeois dos. But will that change the Marketeer in this Marxist? Jyoti Basu too turned reformer towards the end of his 25- year tenure, but his stature was such that he did have to attend CII meetings and collect certificates from industry titans to prove his reformist credentials.
BB’s style has been different and one which has ensured that the eyebrows of fellow comrades never drop. The Salim Group fiasco, his statements on the N- deal, the red carpets he rolled for US businessmen — all have been frowned upon by his senior colleagues.
Across the political aisle, the BJP is also grappling with similar problems. The much- touted discipline is distant memory with its MPs being indicted in the cash- for- questions scam, the lifestyles of some leaders coming in for scrutiny and the party’s image touching rock bottom when eight of its MPs defied the whip in the trust motion in Parliament on July 22. The temptations are hard to resist. The surprise is that it took the Marxists so long.