Monday, September 28, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, September 28, 2009

THE PROLIFERATION of political dynasties no more surprises us. But as fast as they breed, there is also trouble brewing in the backyards of the big parties. The intra party strife is mostly triggered by the conflicting interests of the big political families. An analysis of the distribution of tickets for the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections shows that nearly 25 percent of the seats have been given to sons, daughters and relatives of leaders from big political families in both states. It is now clear that dynasties, at least in politics, can be double edged weapons: they can be a marquee draw; they can also be a drawback.

Never have we seen such an explosion of dynastic ambitions and never have we seen familial ambitions stoking so much inner party strife. Parties are no more fighting each other. It is families within parties that are fighting one another and every leader with a son or daughter back home wants the progeny to carry the baton just to ensure that power stays within the family. Never mind if it triggers a faction war within the party.

The rot starts at the top. Having delivered nine of the ten Lok Sabha seats to the Congress, including his son Deepinder’s, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is busy securing tickets for near relatives. After a long innings, former state Congress president SS Surjewala has bowed but only on condition that his son takes over the Kaithal seat. Kiran Chowdhury, the state tourism minister and Bansi Lal’s daughter in law, has already sent her daughter to the Lok Sabha, so her efforts are solely aimed at stalling future threats to her little girl.

There is a moral vacuum in the NCP which is controlled by the three Pawars, Sharad, daughter Supriya and nephew Ajit. A few months ago, it expelled Padam Singh Patil, a former state minister and incumbent MP after he was charged with murder. Yet the party found nothing wrong in giving a ticket to his son. The Thackerays are a house divided after Raj, Bal Thackeray’s nephew and once seen as the heir apparent, was sidelined by Uddhav.

Inspired perhaps by his mother’s unexpected elevation to the highest office in the land, President Pratibha Patil’s son Rajendra Shekhawat, a first timer, staked claim and got the ticket for the Amaravati assembly constituency in Maharashtra, edging out a popular state minister who has now not only turned a rebel candidate but even dragged the Rashtrapati Sharad Pawar Bhavan into Congress politics by accusing the president of misuse of office.

The candidate selection process in the BJP has seen frayed tempers stopping just short of fisticuffs after the powerful former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde overruled the claims of several party veterans and handed out tickets to his daughter Pankaja, his brother’s son in law Madhusoodan Kendre and his late brother in law Pramod Mahajan’s daughter Poonam Mahajan Rao. Now that one of his sons has a toe hold in Bollywood, Union Industries minister and former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh inducted another into politics. For union power minister, Sushil Shinde, one was not enough. So he got both his daughter and son in law tickets.

Having sent one son into the Lok Sabha last May, it was time for Narayan Rane to get the next to enter the assembly. Ditto for Chaggan Bhujbal who thinks only his son can keep the flag flying. In the late seventies, when Indira Gandhi pushed Sanjay into politics, there were howls of protests about dynastic rule.
Sanjay’s aggressive, abrasive and autocratic ways convinced even many Congressmen that dynastic succession may not be a good thing after all.
Times have changed and these days nobody bats an eyelid when the latest offspring is unveiled on the political stage.

Some, like Rahul, are welcomed enthusiastically by partymen and he in turn has more than lived up to their expectations venturing into territories that similar English speaking public school educated “ elitists” would loathe. It is to be hoped that the new generation that is seeking power despite already enjoying all its trappings proves to be similarly worthy. Once upon a time, parties were differentiated by their ideologies. These have now blurred and parties are now known by the legacy not of their national leaders but of a few state level satraps.

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, September 27, 2009

We will make a comeback: Uddhav
Executive president of Shiv Sena Uddhav Thackeray says that the Congress-NCP coalition government has failed to deliver on all fronts.
Part2 ; Part3 ; Part4

Snippets / Mail Today, September 28, 2009

Time to crack Parliament’s glass ceiling
THE power of women has never been in the spotlight as now. We have the country’s first woman president, the ruling party is headed by one, for the first time the Lok Sabha speaker is a woman. And last week there was further proof of the UPA’s total faith in empowering women.

Deepak Sandhu, the former Media Advisor to the Prime Minister and Sushma Singh, recently retired as Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting were inducted as commissioners in the Central Information Commission, the body that oversees the implementation of the Right to Information Act which gives ordinary citizens the right to secure access to information about public authorities and establish transparency and accountability in the government. With Sandhu and Singh joining Anu Dixit, widow of the former National Security Advisor Mani Dixit in the CIC, the nine member commission has one third representation for women — without the need for legislation.

The CIC briefly had another woman commissioner, Omita Paul, a retired Press Information Bureau officer who was once an advisor to Pranab Mukherjee. But with Pranabda back as finance minister Paul quit to join him as Officer on Special Duty.

Another glass ceiling was shattered last week when the government appointed Vijayalakshmi Sharma, a 1975 batch Indian Revenue Service officer as the Director General of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the first woman to hold the post since the DRI was set up in 1957.

All information commissioners are appointed by a committee consisting of, among others, the prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition. That leaves me with the feeling that, whatever else their differences may be, the Congress and the BJP seem to be agreed that women make for better administrators. If that be so, why don’t the two parties join hands and push the women’s reservation bill down the throats of the Yadavs and the Paswans so that instead of less than 80, we have a minimum of 250 women MPs? I can bet politics will become a more honourable profession.

We cannot afford to lose IAF pilots
WITH THE Sixth Pay Commission brightening up their lives, not to speak of fattening their wallets, and almost all private airlines deep in the red, you would have thought that Indian Air Force pilots would not be looking for clearer skies.

Far from that. As of now, there are nearly 100 Indian Air Force pilots who, with more than a decade and half of service left, are seeking voluntary retirement. The last time this happened, when nearly 120 pilots left the IAF, was in 2004- 05 when many airlines sprung up and more Indians began to take to the skies.

What is worrying about the exodus now is that it comes even as the IAF is on a major modernisation drive. The IAF is currently engaged in one of the biggest evaluation exercises with its pilots testing the French Dassault Rafale, the F- 16 from General Dynamics of US, the FA- 18 from Boeing, Mig- 35 from Russia and the Gripen from Saab of Sweden. These tests are aimed at buying 126 fighter jets at a cost of nearly Rs 45,000 crore, among the biggest orders in the business.

Assuming the flying machines will be in place soon, where are the men? The IAF has a staff strength of about 1.5 lakh personnel of whom nearly 3000 are pilots, split equally between helicopter pilots, large transport planes and fighter pilots. That means we have about 1000 fighter pilots. And most of those who have sought VR are reportedly fighter pilots. With about 20 years experience, all it takes them is a maximum of eighteen months to acquire an Airline Transport Pilot Licence and become commanders on commercial Boeing and Airbus jets of private airlines where the salaries are five or six times what the IAF pays. We pride ourselves on the IAF being the world’s fourth largest air force but those magnificent men in their flying machines cannot be faulted if the big buck beckons. Don’t let them go. Forget the seventh, eighth and ninth; give them Tenth Pay Commission scales. And now.

IMAGINE YOU are a minister and a file lands on your table with a tag attached that simply says 10J. To the uninitiated, that is an abbreviated yet no less intimidating way of saying 10 Janpath. I know of several ministers who are at the end of their tether trying to deal with such tagged files and I can only sympathise with the Hamletian dilemma that they face. To push or not push the file, that is the question. It is well known that both mother and son talk directly to no more than a handful of ministers. As for the rest, they choose to get their messages across through the Prime Minister or one of the other senior ministers.
Many files have been landing up in the in- trays in ministerial offices, relating to matters close to the Gandhis’ hearts, like NREGA. The problem arises due to the fact that many of these ministers have no way of even finding out if the attached 10J tags are genuine or not. Forget Sonia and Rahul, many of the ministers won’t dare call even the minions in Sonia’s office to check on the genuineness of the tags. I have a feeling the mantrijis go to bed left with the feeling: “ damned- if- I- do- damned- if- I- don’t”.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, September 21, 2009

THE FUTURE of chief ministers is seldom put on the line by the results of byeelections. Too much should not be read into these which, while having a bearing on the future of individual candidates, are no barometer on the rise or fall in the popularity of a leader or a government. Even voters, knowing their votes will not change or sustain a government, are more likely to register protest votes.

The past fortnight has seen by- polls held in 44 assembly constituencies across eight states. The winners will no doubt go overbroad with visions of revival while the losers are likely to seek solace in the dictum “ you win some you lose some”. But the results of the bye- elections have caused palpitations because the people have conveyed the message that they are monitoring their leaders not only for their performance but also their conduct.

For chief ministers in five states, the bye polls were a litmus test. I will leave aside West Bengal where the CPI( M) is so demoralised it can’t even find candidates against Mamata; Tamil Nadu, where the AIADMK is conspicuous by its absence and Uttar Pradesh where, for the moment at least, it appears Mayawati ka jawab nahin ( is unbeatable). But there were mixed signals for Nitish Kumar ( Bihar), Narendra Modi ( Gujarat), Sheila Dikshit ( Delhi), BS Yeddyurappa ( Karnataka) and Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank ( Uttarakhand).

After a decade and half of misrule of the Lalu- Rabri combine, Nitish came like a breath of fresh air but it is clear from the scale of the defeat — the NDA won just 5 of the 18 seats as against 12 it held — that the voters in Bihar weren’t taken in by the state government PR department’s advertisements portraying him as a man of action who guaranteed satisfaction. While Nitish must be lauded for improving the law and order situation in that lawless state, the arrogance and the aura of invincibility that he has built around himself has been punctured.

The back to back victories that voters gave him in two assembly and parliamentary elections were meant to better their lives; instead he saw himself as a power broker at the centre, even a potential prime minister. The reality check from the voters, who also gave the disgraced Lalu- Paswan combine nine of the 18 seats, is also proof that the real alternative to the JD( U) in Bihar is not the Congress but the RJD- LJP team.

In Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, the only third term Congress chief minister, got a rude shock as the party lost both by- elections, just four months after the Congress won 66 of the 70 assembly segments and all seven seats in the Lok Sabha polls. The denizens of the capital would agree that Delhi is a much better place to live in now than ten years ago, but three back to back wins have obviously Nitish Kumar induced a sense of complacency and over- confidence in Sheilaji who failed to see that the people had alternative choices. Narendra Modi is lucky that the Congress chooses to attack not his performance but his image.

Modi relishes nothing better. So he engaged the Congress once again on its terms and emerged triumphant. In the Lok Sabha elections, he had barely managed to hang on to his 2004 tally and the man who was seen as a potential prime minister was written off as nothing more than a regional leader. It’s quite clear that Modi knows the Gujarat voters better than his own party bosses in Delhi and the men and women who sit at 24 Akbar Road. The unending and personal attacks on Modi, the person, as against Modi the chief minister, saw Gujaratis rally around him and he won five of the seven seats.

The Congress will have to revise its strategy before it takes on Modi next. Uttarakhand’s Nishank was brought in as chief minister after the BJP lost all Lok Sabha seats in the state, so the sole by- election was a crucial test for him. And he has brought credit to his party and done well enough to ensure that he doesn’t fall prey to machinations at 11 Ashoka Road. The surprise package of course has been Karnataka’s Yeddyurappa. Remember, his first tenure lasted less than 24 hours only because he found nothing wrong in supping with the devil to grab power.

In winning four of the five by elections ( three wrested from Congress), he not only learnt the lesson that there are no short cuts to power, he has also ensured that the Gowdas will soon become an extinct political species, that the Congress has a steep uphill climb next time and that the BJP in the state is synonymous with him. The mixed signals have sent varied messages to our leaders. It is up to them to learn their lessons.

Snippets / Mail Today, September 21, 2009

Priyanka set to occupy centrestage?
SPECULATION is rife in the Congress about Priyanka Gandhi reinventing herself to take on a more prominent public role in the years to come. This follows her frequent forays of late to Jawahar Bhavan where the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation is situated.

After her father’s assassination in 1991, it was Priyanka who was widely believed to be the heir, blessed as she is with the face that wore her father’s angelic smile and the political craftiness that made her grandmother once the most powerful woman on earth. Therefore, it came as a surprise to all of us when the carefree, sport loving Rahul Gandhi was nominated as the political heir and fielded from Amethi, Rajiv's former constituency.

Priyanka’s politics has since then been limited to campaigning in Amethi and the adjacent Rae Bareilly constituency, represented by her mother. But with the uncertainties of unstable coalitions well behind them, family watchers see in the latest developments some sort of division of duties and responsibilities.

Sonia is the president of the Congress, the mother organisation, while Rahul is doing a commendable job as its general secretary overseeing the revival of the Youth Congress and other frontal organisations of the party. That leaves Priyanka in charge of the RGF and the many trusts and foundations that the family runs. Nothing of course can be dearer to her than the RGF. It was established on 21 June 1991, exactly a month after Rajiv’s killing to, as its charter says, “ commemorate Rajiv’s vision for India… it aims to work in areas which were of deepest concern to Rajiv and to act as a catalyst in promoting effective, practical and sustainable programmers in areas of national development.” Though the foundation has kept a low profile in recent times, Priyanka’s entry is set to inject fresh life into it giving it an international and intellectual flavour that the family so loves. And when she gets down to work, she will have a formidable team of advisors to assist her. The trustees of the foundation include, besides her mother and brother, a virtual who’s who. Among them: Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Suman Dubey, MS Swaminathan, YK Alagh, RP Goenka, V Krishnamurthy and former Commonwealth Secretary General Sridath Ramphal. Their efforts will soon begin to show.

THE newspaper front pages last week would have us believe that there was no more pressing matter than the appropriateness or otherwise of Shashi Tharoor’s “ holy cow” remark. The twittering classes backed the minister to the hilt; the masses in khadi frowned and sought his head.

The debate has now reached ridiculous levels and is it surprising that in the melee, the issue at hand — austerity — was forgotten? It was refreshing therefore to read a report in the Hindu newspaper about the cost of Rahul Gandhi’s three day visit to Tamil Nadhi last week. The reporters calculated helicopter and aircraft rentals on an hourly basis, expenses on crew, cost of ferrying SPG commandoes on Pawan Hans helicopters and even landing, parking and routine navigation charges and came up with a figure of a little over Rs 1 crore that the Congress would have to pay for Rahul’s Tamil Nadu darshan . This was just a week before he took the much televised train ride to Ludhiana where commercial flights don’t operate anyway.

I have been told by very reliable sources that the CPWD had estimated a cost of Rs 12 crores for renovating ministers’ houses and offices. Some ministers have put a halt to the restoration work, though one carried on merrily despite being a relic from the last regime.

He obviously found nothing wrong in getting his house refurbished all over again just because he had been sworn in for another term! I am told official agencies are collecting information about the expenses incurred by some ministers and their bureaucrats in hosting dinners at five star hotels in the city in the last few months. When collated, the information is bound to cause indigestion in many.

Maya out to prove Cong hypocritical
WITH the Supreme Court and Mayawati locking horns yet again, the political pot is beginning to boil. And not just in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP chief’s “ statue politics” has now spread beyond its borders and is leading to polarisation of the kind that we have never seen before. Dalit organisations are becoming more and more aggressive and many more self styled Dalit outfits have surfaced during the last fortnight claiming Dr Ambedkar deserves no less than what successive governments at the Centre and in the states have accorded to Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

You would be wrong if you think the many newly sprung Dalit outfits are fully backing Mayawati’s cause. Unlike Mayawati whose fixation is for statues of herself and her mentor Kanshi Ram, these organisations are demanding a fair deal for Dr Ambedkar who figures low in her scheme of things. They want the house in Old Delhi’s Alipur Road, where Dr Ambedkar lived and which was taken over by the NDA government in 2003, be declared a national monument.
Mayawati's opinion on the matter is still awaited.

After defying the apex court orders for a week and going ahead with statue building, Mayawati acquiesced and ordered a halt but she has hasn't thrown in the towel. The court has deferred the hearing to the first week of October.

But one thing is clear: The Congress is looking for a place to hide. With the assembly elections in Maharashtra just a month away, Mayawati is planning to hit the Congress where it hurts — the state government’s decision to install a 315 ft high Rs 400 crore statue of Chattrapathi Shivaji more than a mile into the Arabian sea facing Marine Drive in Mumbai. It is not her contention that Shivaji should not be honoured.

She merely intends to expose the Congress’s double standards: do in Mumbai what you don’t want someone else to do in Uttar Pradesh. I can’t wait for October 5 for the action to begin in the apex court.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Seedhi Baat/ September 20, 2009

Seedhi Baat with yoga instructor and spiritual guru Baba Ramdev. Ramdev talks about finances politics and the need to remove income tax, the causes behind the socio- economic disparities prevalent in our society, and about controlling politicians’ spending.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Snippets/ Mail Today, September 14, 2009

Post- retirement blues of the babus
THE balance of post- retirement power is gradually shifting and superannuated bureaucrats are beginning to feel a sudden sense of loss. All along, most IAS and IFS officers approached retirement knowing that there was a new life waiting for them. Many of them managed to get themselves plum post- retirement jobs which, at home or abroad, entitled them to continue to enjoy all the perks they were used to. But Manmohan Singh’s preference for technocrats is increasingly seeing many a glamorous job slipping out of their hands.

The appointment of Dr Arvind Virmani, Chief Economc Advisor to the Finance Ministry, as India’s Executive Director to the International Monetary Fund, to replace Adarsh Kishore, an IAS officer, signals the PM’s determination to put technocrats in key slots in the future. The government had earlier made similar changes in the Asian Development Bank where an IAS officer was replaced by a technocrat.

With rumours swirling that Pulok Chatterjee, a 10 Janpath loyalist, is being brought back from his World Bank job in Washington for apprenticeship before taking over as Cabinet Secretary when incumbent KM Chandrashekhar retires next year, all eyes are on the selection of Chatterjee’s successor and the odds are on another technocrat being sent. The prime minister’s preference for professionals is nothing new. When he first took office more than five years ago, friendly TV channels had reported his preference for Montek Singh Ahluwalia in the Finance Ministry, but stiff opposition from the political class scuttled the move and Montek never got to occupy the office, instead settling for Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, a post he holds to this day.

I know it for a fact that he was never quite comfortable in the initial days, dealing as he was, with chief ministers and such like who never spoke the language ( I don’t mean literally) that he did. Montek has come a long way since then, as will the many technocrats who are edging aside bureaucrats to take up the many attractive jobs on offer.

Some are even willing to forego fancy cars for the humble Tata Indigo, as some technocrats who recently joined showed. If you are close to South Block, power is seldom measured in terms of BHP.

Police chiefs’ annual ritual begins today
FOR three days, starting today, DGPs and IGPs from all states will meet in Delhi. As usual, when they return after their deliberations, no one will be the wiser. And nothing will ever change.

I say this because it is a farce that has gone on for nearly 90 years now. The first ever conference of IGPs was organised by the IB back in 1920. Since 1973, it has become an annual affair attended by heads of police from states and union territories and the chiefs of about a dozen central police and paramilitary organisations. As with similar meets, this will be at best another exercise in tokenism where no major policy is initiated.

There will be platitudes from the PM and the Home Minister about fighting terror and naxalism, etc. Our structure is federal and all state police forces report to their respective state government. The aim of the conference “ is to provide an interactive platform for senior police professionals to freely discuss and debate diverse national security related” issues.

I am sure such lofty ideals have been spelt out in each of the 43 conferences held since independence but the country is still waiting to see these move beyond mere words. There are as yet no visible efforts to develop a platform for effective police coordination among the states which will guarantee minimum acceptable national standards in policing.

The meeting comes barely three weeks after the prime minister convened a meeting of chief ministers where policing and internal security figured high on the agenda. The meeting witnessed sharp differences between UPA and non- UPA chief ministers.

That’s why I forsee a lot of cross talk during the three day meet. Officers from the states will be ready with briefs from their state governments. Will the DGP of Uttar Pradesh be ready to bury those and take orders from the people at the Centre or will he go by Mayawati’s brief? Ditto for those from Gujarat.

THE last time a revolt happened in the Congress, it was exactly a decade ago when Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel et al walked out to protest “ foreign leadership” and formed the NCP. They have since teamed up with Sonia once again but that’s another story. The party has seen dissent since then, but this been in the form of gentle murmur. For the first time now, the Congress is faced with the real prospect of a revolt in one of its strongest units — Andhra Pradesh.

Last week I had written about Jaganmohan being a man in a hurry. It is now clear the man is nothing less than impatient. The party old guard’s capitulation to one of its youngest members may have more to do with safeguarding their political and financial interests than total faith in his political instincts. The happenings have sickened the toughest of stomachs. The battle has reached the worldwide web. More than a handful of sites, appropriately named “ SaveAndhra. com” or saveap, have sprung up in recent days and Reddys, Khammas and Kapus, wherever are taking frequent breaks from duty and business to flood the net with the pros and cons about Jagan and Rosaiah.

One mail I got from a Telugu in Chicago was detailed about YSR’s contribution to the rebuilding of Congress in Andhra. YSR’s contribution cannot be belittled and in death he has become even bigger. But the manner in which these are being flaunted makes me wonder whether Jagan himself is behind this frenzy. If so, he better watch out. Sonia hasn’t lost an intra party war in a decade. She is not about to start by losing to a greenhorn.THE last time a revolt happened in the Congress, it was exactly a decade ago when Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel et al walked out to protest “ foreign leadership” and formed the NCP. They have since teamed up with Sonia once again but that’s another story. The party has seen dissent since then, but this been in the form of gentle murmur. For the first time now, the Congress is faced with the real prospect of a revolt in one of its strongest units — Andhra Pradesh. Last week I had written about Jaganmohan being a man in a hurry. It is now clear the man is nothing less than impatient. The party old guard’s capitulation to one of its youngest members may have more to do with safeguarding their political and financial interests than total faith in his political instincts. The happenings have sickened the toughest of stomachs. The battle has reached the worldwide web. More than a handful of sites, appropriately named “ SaveAndhra. com” or saveap, have sprung up in recent days and Reddys, Khammas and Kapus, wherever are taking frequent breaks from duty and business to flood the net with the pros and cons about Jagan and Rosaiah. One mail I got from a Telugu in Chicago was detailed about YSR’s contribution to the rebuilding of Congress in Andhra. YSR’s contribution cannot be belittled and in death he has become even bigger. But the manner in which these are being flaunted makes me wonder whether Jagan himself is behind this frenzy. If so, he better watch out. Sonia hasn’t lost an intra party war in a decade. She is not about to start by losing to a greenhorn.

Power & Politics / Mail Today, September 14, 2009

F OR most ordinary Indians who have the tough task of balancing their family budgets every month, these are testing times. Just when the aam aadmi began to tighten his belt by another notch, our ministers put up a tasteless display of their own importance last week. It just proved how much they are out of touch with the common man whom they claim to represent.

If you watched TV or read the papers last week, you may have been led to believe that all it takes to cut government expenditure is to ask all ministers and MPs to travel economy class on airliners. MPs were interviewed and straw polls conducted to find out if our honourable ministers should indeed be dumped on cattle class. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is not silly to believe that symbolic austerity measures will set the government’s finances right. When he asked two of his ministerial colleagues to move out of the 5- star hotel suites they had been occupying since May — because the bungalows allotted to them weren’t to their liking — he was not seeking publicity.

He was merely asking them to follow the rule book. It’s almost two decades ago, but it is hard not to reflect back on those muggy days when we Indians had to pledge our gold reserves to buy the next month’s ration. Since then, we have been on austerity drive. The Rao government started the trend in 1991 by initiating several cost cutting measures including — don’t laugh, I am being dead serious — asking ministers and bureaucrats to surrender one official phone each! Later governments did not abandon the austerity drive.
In 2005, even when the economy was booming and the government’s coffers were overflowing, the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram laid out guidelines for government spending. That however did nothing to stop our ministers and bureaucrats from accumulating frequent flyer miles on first class. Early last year, in a cover story on jet- setting ministers, India Today magazine had reported that in their first four years in office, 71 of the 78 ministers in UPA1 had logged enough miles to circle the earth 256 times. At least one minister had spent one out of every three days away from home.

This is extravagance that the country can ill afford. That ministers intend to continue with their bad old ways was evident at last week’s cabinet meeting when Pranabda was heckled by his colleagues — some of whom I assume are wide-bodied — who insisted that the economy class seats even in the widebodied Airbus airplanes were not big enough to ensure them a pleasant and comfortable journey. But Pranabda cocked a snook at them the next morning by flying abudget carrier to Kolkata.

Measures like 10 percent cut in non- plan expenditure on things like ministerial and bureaucratic travel expenses, advertising and publicity, office and administrative expenses, buying new vehicles and conducting seminars and conferences are at best symbolic.

How much does the government expect to save through such measures? Rs 100 cr? 200 crore? What about the tens of thousands of crores that could be saved if the government cut down on major expenditure by, say, downsizing its machinery. Instead of downsizing, each year sees the creation of new ministries and departments. Start from the top, at the council of ministers which is the largest ever in the country’s history. Each minister and his establishment costs the exchequer a minimum of Rs 2 crore annually. A notch lower come secretaries to the government.

Two decades ago, there were about 80 secretaries; now there over 400 people who hold the rank of secretaries, including dozens of bureaucrats who have been reemployed following superannuation. One of the perks of being minister is that you get what you want. This is all the more so in a coalition set up where every minister — even from a one MP party — throws his weight around. One cabinet minister recently refused to accept the house allotted to him even though his predecessor had spent about Rs eight lakhs just months before moving out.
You’d think the CPWD officials are a hassled lot, having to tinker with the same things again and again when they should ideally be taking care of civic amenities.

On the contrary, nothing makes them happier. They love ministers coming and going because every new incumbent means another round of renovation and another slice of the pie. I sometimes wish the RTI had a clause under which public spirited citizens could find out about money wasted by the government on needless expenditure. The figures would be revealing. And shocking.

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, September 13, 2009

Actor Salman Khan on the show Seedhi Baat talks about his upcoming film Wanted and his evolution as an actor over the last two decades.He also speaks about his relationship with Katrina Kaif, the rivalry between the film industry’s big Khans, and his newfound love for football and says he still has many years to go in the film industry.
Part2 ; Part3 ; Part4 ; Part5

Monday, September 7, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, September 07, 2009

POLITICIANS are rarely blessed with the gift of decency. In Andhra Pradesh, even less so. It was a measure of his image at the national level and the cross- party respect Y. S. Rajashekhara Reddy commanded that when he died last Wednesday in a chopper crash, many states, including those ruled by non- Congress parties, observed a two- day mourning, the flag at the BJP headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road fluttered at half mast for two days, and the Leader of the Opposition L. K. Advani joined Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi at the funeral of the late AP chief minister.
It was a pity thus to see Andhra Congress leaders indulge in a naked display of power politics even as YSR’s body lay in state. The memory of this mindless and absolutely disrespectful lobbying by state Congress leaders, shown 24X7 on TV, will live much longer than the many good deeds associated with the departed leader. Instead of condoling the demise of a man who was undoubtedly dynamic, they indulged in a naked and greedy power dance.

The state cabinet met on Thursday to condole his death but they did not mourn the passing of a leader. The meeting was a precursor to a battle to grab the seat that fell vacant with his death. After the meeting, ministers came out and started the chorus for the elevation of Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy, YSR’s son, as the new chief minister. Worse, it all happened in front of K. Rosaiah, the seniormost Congressman who had just been named as interim CM by the high command.

Signature campaigns were floated and TV channels were fed stories about Jagan having the support of more than four- fifths of the Congress Legislative Party. The papers and newscasts were full of stories of suicides and heart attacks though the exact number of victims depended on which factional leader you spoke to. It was as high as 150, as the pro Jagan camp would have us believe; merely 30, the other side said. Having created the hysteria, the Congress courtiers brought forth a solution.

In an unprecedented move, all ministers ( appointed by YSR of course) signed a representation, obviously aimed at putting pressure on Sonia Gandhi to sanction Jagan’s coronation. The man behind the exercise is KVP Ramachandra Rao, Rajya Sabha MP who was YSR’s classmate.

The young Reddy is undoubtedly a successful man. With not a little help from his father, he became a media baron and last May, he won his first election to the Lok Sabha. Jagan may have the grit and guile of his father but it is doubtful if, without YSR’s guiding hands, he will have the Jaganmohan same political valuation. Yet, he has the financial muscle and control of the party’s coffers.

This is a state which has given the Congress and the country some of the tallest leaders: Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Narasimha Rao, Brahmananda Reddy, NT Rama Rao, M. Chenna Reddy etc.

The Congress is in a dilemma: can it afford to ignore Rosiah, its senior most leader who has been a minister in seven governments, and a backward to boot, and elevate a greenhorn? The behaviour of the senior leaders, as seen on TV, was sickening and the naked greed for power is not likely to let the dead rest in peace.

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, September 06, 2009

Actors want to reinvent: Rani

Actor Rani Mukherjee on the show Seedhi Baat says that for her latest movie Dil Bole Hadippa she learnt cricket for six months.

Part2 ; Part3 ; Part4 ;Part5

Snippets/ Mail Today, September 07, 2009

EVERYONE thought so far — this writer included — that President Pratibha Patil is the dullest personality ever to have moved into the Rashtrapati Bhavan. After hearing reports of her ongoing visit to Russia, I will admit to a readiness to eat my words. At a function hosted by the Indian Ambassador, she reportedly had the audience in splits. She acknowledged she was merely recalling what Valentina Tereshkova, the world’s first woman cosmonaut, had told her more than 30 years ago when she was an MLA in Maharashtra. Incidentally, Ms Tereshkova was among the evening’s audience. The Chinese have a knack of complicating things. The proverb that Ms Tereshkova quoted was Chinese: “ While man is the head of the family, the woman is the neck that turns the head”. In simple English, that translates to “ Behind every successful man there is a woman”. Woman power, in short. No quarrels on that.

Home ministry babus feel the heat

WHEREVER he goes, P Chidambaram is known to send a few shivers down lazy spines. Babus in North Block which houses the home ministry are filled with a feeling of dread after PC ordered the installation of new Biometric Attendance Control systems at the gates to monitor their comings and goings.

“ A working day consists of eight hours ( 9 am to 5.30 pm with half an hour for lunch) and all officers/ officials are expected to work for this minimum period; i. e. eight hours a day and 40 hours in a week… some persons may get delayed due to transport/ traffic problems and such late arrivals within a reasonable period of 15/ 25 minutes will be acceptable subject to their adjusting their working hours up to 8 hours by delayed departure,” said a ministry note.

Bureaucratic gobbledygook, you say. Not for this minister who looks at everything from a productivity angle. He himself reaches office at 9 and promptly places a finger on the machine before going to his chamber and does the same before leaving for the day.
Every day, officers have to give reports about files received, acted upon and disposed of and the work done by their staff. If files are kept pending, reasons have to be given.

Besides monitoring the work done on a daily basis, the new system is also aimed at taking a holistic look at staffing and related matters. I am sure there are several hundred babus working in the home ministry and I have a feeling that after sustained monitoring for a year, Chidambaram will have a clear idea of the number of staff that is redundant. Downsizing has been his mantra since 1996 when he became the finance minister for the first time. If he succeeds, I am sure that other ministries and wings of the government that urgently need to cut flab, will be quick to follow.

IF ONLY walls could talk. Last week, the RSS Sarsangchalak Mohanrao Bhagwat rounded off his highly publicised visit to Delhi by calling on Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The one- on- one meeting without aides or even family members present lasted a little over half hour, but that did not stop the breaking news brigade from churning out a stream of “ exclusives” that claimed Vajpayee was “ disgusted at the goings- on in the BJP”, Bhagwat was “ determined to set things right” and similar fanciful stories.

I drop by “ Bapji’s” house once in a while and I know that he doesn’t talk, watches TV, but mainly for the serials and the movies. Since the tumultuous events of these past few weeks, only party president Rajnath Singh had called on Vajpayee, while those who hold the party levers churned tales to suggest that LK Advani was the sole decision making authority.

Bhagwat’s visit was aimed at erasing that perception, to let the world know Vajpayee’s place in the party, that his word still mattered. In that sense, Bhagwat was the third umpire who played back the true picture. Vajpayee may have merely listened while Bhagwat did all the talking. But I am sure of one thing: the roadmap, if any for the BJP’s revival will have neither the concurrence nor the disapproval of the party’s Grand Old Man. He just wants to be left alone.

Yeddyurappa to occupy slot left vacant by YSR

HUMAN tragedies sometimes throw up unintended opportunities — even beneficiaries. In the tragic death of YS Rajasekhara Reddy, the South has lost its most powerful satrap. With M Karunanidhi ready for the sunset walk, it is his Karnataka counterpart BS Yeddyurappa who stands out South of the Vindhyas. He has been carving out a niche for himself and going on to acquire an image bigger than his party. Of late he has been working on a combination of political, social and economic strategies to ensure inclusive growth and politics. His first move to acquire a pan- South India image was to repair the bad ties between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. For over two decades, the chief ministers of the two states never shared a social platform because of dirty politics over a host of issues including the Cauvery Water dispute.

But Yeddi fell back on statue diplomacy, by inviting Karunanidhi to unveil a bust of Tamil saint poet Thiruvalluvar in Bangalore, and then going to Chennai to unveil one of Kannada poet Sarvajna. Later, when Yeddi visited Chennai for a medical check up, Karunanidhi expressed his desire to visit the hospital. But Yeddi sprang from his hospital bed and landed at Karunanidhi’s Gopalapuram residence. The DMK chief was so moved, he is now said to be ready to talk with Yeddi about all pending inter state disputes.

Yeddi is consolidating himself slowly but surely. He has already ensured massive victory for the BJP in the assembly, Lok Sabha and the recent by- elections, clinically divided the Janata Dal ( S) and made his government stable. By repairing ties with the neighbour, Yeddi will also be doing a favour to the DMK. If the bad blood between the two states is buried once and for all, the DMK will have a huge rain check waiting encashment. And the BJP would have finally found someone who can win it allies.