I HAVE in the past often written about the powerful cabal in the bureaucracy that runs this government. The Mallu mafia in South Block is the object of jealousy of anyone not fortunate enough to hail from God’s Own Country. I am told many non Mallus are on the lookout to establish some link that could help further their careers. Sudhakar Rao, Karnataka Chief Secretary, doesn't fall into this category but may well be a beneficiary of a Mallu link. He is now tipped to take over as Election Commissioner on April 20 when CEC Gopalaswamy retires and Navin Chawla takes over. Rao is a Kannadiga but the Kerala brotherhood will have no problems in warmly embracing him. After all, his wife, Nirupama Rao, our ambassador in Beijing who is a frontrunner to succeed Shiv Shankar Menon as the next foreign secretary, is a Keralite.
Govt eats humble pie over jobs
TWO contradictory pictures have been painted by the government in the space of less than three months over the job situation in the country. Three months ago, in these columns I had written about the government going for ASSOCHAM’s jugular after it predicted that the slowdown i
n the economy would lead to the immediate loss of about a quarter million jobs in the organised sector. Considering that this accounts for just about 10 per cent of the workforce, the actual fallout could be much worse, it said. Political feathers got ruffled and rallying cries of “ shoot the messenger” went out from North Block. Much pressure was put on ASSOCHAM to withdraw the report, its representatives were barred from the secured gates of Lutyens Delhi. Ultimately, the organisation, being a body that had to be on the right side of the establishment, had no option but to withdraw the report.
It was therefore heartening to see Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes admitting in the Lok Sabha last Friday that the “ estimate of five lakh job losses due to the economic meltdown does not reflect the full magnitude of the problem in the country”. In effect, he was saying that, bad as our plight is, we are still to reach the bottom. That appears inevitable now and the job losses could be much more.
The new, temporary dispensation in North Block is now said to be searching for the architects of the original doomsday papers. After all, their instincts appeared to be right compared to those of the army of sarkari economists who seem to think that if you suppress a problem long enough, it will go away.
LOOTING the filthy rich isn’t such a bad thing after all, many would say. So, the moneyed classes are taking no chances. There are about 250 aircraft and helicopters belonging to corporate houses and individuals parked at major airports across the country. These rich men and women may argue that time, for them, is money and therefore they need these swank state of the art airplanes to hop across the country from one plant or office to another. The real reason could be entirely different: they wouldn’t want to be seen dead flying a commercial plane in the company of expense paid executives.
But suddenly, most of the planes seem to have vanished; the helicopters have been dismantled and whisked away from the airport aprons. Yes, it’s election time and if there is one thing that our political class is desperate for, it is private aircraft that would fly them to the country’s far corners and back between daybreak and dusk.
I remember the 1970s and the early 80s when the country’s sole jeep manufacturer and only large car manufacturer— it still makes the same old cars, exclusively for babus across the country — dreaded the arrival of elections because the ruling party of the day would forcibly take away all vehicles for their candidates’ campaigns, returning them, battered and bruised, only after the elections were over.
India has moved on and so have its politicians. Important leaders like Sonia Gandhi, LK Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sharad Pawar, Kamal Nath, Mulayam Singh Yadav and others have chalked out their poll itineraries much in advance and booked jets and choppers. But it is the lesser fry — the unorganised political sector —- that the corporate class is scared of. Some of the owners have used the economic downturn as an excuse to say that they have returned the jets that were on lease while others are citing routine repair and maintenance schedules to explain the disappearance of their magnificent flying machines.
It’s all about chemistry, honey
IN POLITICS, body language counts a lot. Particularly in the Grand Old Party where getting the right vibes from Sonia Gandhi is the stuff that Congressmen’s dreams are made of. Looks and gestures can be deceptive and often, what looks like a warm namaste from her barely hides the fact that she just about tolerates your presence and, given a chance, would rather be somewhere else. But at the dinner that Sonia hosted for Congress MPs last week, the vibes were perfect.
A friend who attended the dinner gushed at the way the party chief and her general secretary hugged and kissed each other on the cheeks, overlooking the fact that the duo were in fact, mother and son.
Rahul walked in 20 minutes late and even as fawning partymen were conjuring up ways to catch his eye, asked loudly, “ Where’s Mom?” On being directed towards where she was, he walked up and kissed her on her forehead and in return got a firm one on the cheek. Old timers in the party noted that whenever such fine chemistry existed, their party’s fortunes have soared. In 1980, it was similar chemistry between Indira and Sanjay that took the Congress back to power after two and a half years. A few years later, it was Indira and Rajiv sharing the same chemistry that saw the biggest landslide in Indian parliamentary history. They hope history will be repeated.