Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, December 12, 2010

FRESH from his landslide victory in the assembly elections, Nitish Kumar seems to be in a hurry— to clean up Bihar politics. He has just turned off the tap of legislative spoils in the state without caring a hoot either for the muted murmurs from his own stable mates in the NDA or the loud protests from the opposition. Last Friday, the Bihar Cabinet decided to abolish the ` 1 crore given annually to all legislators of the state assembly and the Bihar council under the Local Area Development ( LAD) fund. The move will save the State exchequer ` 318 crore. But the bigger benefit is immeasurable. It will help the Bihar legislators overcome the credibility deficit— that many of their compatriots across the country face.

The MLA LAD fund is an offshoot of the MPLAD scheme introduced by the Narasimha Rao government whose aim was to help MPs execute development in their constituencies. State governments followed suit with similar funds for MLAs. When the scheme was launched in 1993- 94, the annual grant was ` 50 lakh per MP.
The amount was increased to ` 1 crore in 1994- 95 and four years later, it was again doubled. Under the scheme, funds are directly sent to the district authorities who are supposed to examine and implement the developmental works recommended by the local MP.
The officials are expected to maintain details of the funds utilised and the work executed and are to send monthly progress reports to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. According to a reply given to a recent RTI query, the total amount released under MP LADS since its inception is ` 20,957.25 crore as of march 2010. That’s for about 800 MPs alone. Add ` 1 crore each to nearly 4,000 legislators for the last 15 years and it works out to a mindboggling ` 60,000 crores.

That kind of money over a decade and a half should have made our villages cleaner and the villagers healthier. But travel into the interiors and you will realise that in the past 15 years, things have only gone from bad to worse.

The reason is simple: there are just too many middlemen walking away with the cash meant for the poor. The flood of central schemes like the JNNURM, MNREGA and suchlike have only made matters easier for the touts: there is too much duplication and too little accountability. That’s why nobody is surprised when audits show that the same stretch of road has been constructed under differ- Narasimha Rao ent schemes or that the same well is shown to have been built five different times.

Last year, a CAG review of some MPLAD schemes found many instances of the money being diverted for purposes it was clearly not meant for.

In Andhra Pradesh, the CAG found that money released by the Centre for development was parked in term deposits in banks in violation of rules which clearly state that money should be kept in savings accounts in nationalised banks and is not to be kept in fixed deposits.

An earlier CAG review found huge amounts of money being diverted to purposes ranging from building clubs to renovating schools owned by powerful politicians or their relatives or even landscaping some bigwig’s front yard. Despite such massive frauds, the programme implementation ministry had proposed last year to increase the annual outlay for each MP from ` 2 to ` 5 crore. The suggestion was thrown out by the Planning Commission with one official remarking that “ MPs would do better making laws than administering development work”.
Nitish has taken a very bold step and deserves all praise. He is the first Chief Minister in the country to do so. It has added several inches to his stature, besides giving him the moral right to do everything for probity. He has clearly taken his idea of governance a notch above the rest.
Indeed, it is heartening to note that Bihar— which is largely known as a land of scams— has just dished out a lesson in good governance for rest of the country.

Without the LAD funds, which many describe as the drip- dripdrip of corruption used in creating foot soldiers, the public representatives will have to increasingly represent people to stay relevant in their constituencies. For once it can be said that Bihar has shown the way. It’s now up to the rest of the country to follow.

Monday, December 6, 2010

ECONOMIC REFORMS BY Jagdish Bhagwati/Refiff.com/Deember 3, 2010

This is how economic reforms have transformed India

Jagdish Bhagwati, University Professor, Economics and Law, Columbia University, delivered the Third Hiren Mukerjee Memorial Annual Parliamentary Lecture in the Central Hall of Parliament House on December 2, 2010. Here are the edited excerpts of his excellent analysis of how the economic reforms have benefited India:

Perhaps the most appropriate tribute to the memory of the illustrious parliamentarian, Professor Hiren Mukerjee, would consist in the celebration of Indian democracy of which the Lok Sabha itself is the chief symbol.

India was for decades unique in her democracy among the post-colonial countries that had gained Independence. Today that uniqueness has thankfully disappeared as several countries around the world have followed in India’s footsteps.

But our embrace of democracy from the outset does set us apart from, and puts us in a higher pecking order relative to China whose egregious denial of democratic and other human rights detracts hugely from admiration for its stellar economic performance.
India has not just the Lok Sabha and elections; it also has all the elements of what we now call a ’liberal democracy’. I must add that our democracy has been a source of immense gratification, not just to elites, but also to the common man.

It is easy to slip into the fallacy that the masses yearn for economic gains, not for political rights. I have long argued that economic betterment, in a country with an immense backlog of poverty, inevitably takes time.

Even bitter critics praise India’s boom

But let me to turn now to the central question that I wish to address today: the question of economic reforms, what they have accomplished, and where we are and should be headed.
On what we have accomplished so far, what I call the ’Reforms Yesterday’, there are two conflicting ’narratives’ that we find currently, one adoringly celebratory and the other hypercritical and condemning.

Perhaps the most dramatic, optimistic view of India has come from the once sceptical magazine, The Economist, which famously wrote nearly twenty years ago that India was a tiger that was crouched for long but unable to leap; the danger was that rigor mortis had set in.

But the magazine wrote a raving cover page story on September 10th, 2010, abandoning its reservations and arguing that India’s steadily accelerating growth rate since the 1991 pro-market, liberal (or ’neoliberal’ if you wish to make them sound sinister) reforms was not a flash in the pan.

Apparently throwing caution to the wind, it speculated that India’s growth rate ’could overtake China’s by 2013, if not before’.

Some ’non-fiction’ on India’s growth

But then, the naysayers, among them the socialists in the currently ruling Congress Party, have rejected the ’miracle’ produced by the reforms by asserting darkly that the growth ’lacks a human face’, that it is not ’inclusive’, that the gains have accrued to the rich while the poor have been immiserized, that inequality has increased, and that India stands condemned before the world.

Perhaps the most articulate critics are the ’progressive’ novelists of India, chief among them Pankaj Mishra whom the op-ed page editors of The New York Times regularly and almost exclusively invite to write about the Indian economy, a privilege they do not seem to extend symmetrically to American novelists to give us their profound thoughts on the US economy!

Mishra’s latest Times op-ed on October 2, 2010, writes of the ’alarmingly deep and growing inequalities of income and resources in India’, ’the waves of suicides of tens of thousands of overburdened farmers over the last two decades’, ’a full-blown insurgency . . . in central India’ to defend tribals against depredations by multinationals, ’the pitiless exploitations of the new business-minded India’, and much else that is allegedly wrong with India!

While economic analysis can often produce a yawning indifference, and Mishra’s narrative is by contrast eloquent and captivating, the latter is really fiction masquerading as non-fiction.

The fact is that several analyses show that the enhanced growth rate has been good for reducing poverty while it has not increased inequality measured meaningfully, and that large majorities of virtually all underprivileged groups polled say that their financial situation has not worsened and significant numbers say that it has improved.

Abysmal growth prior to reforms
The enhanced, and increasing, growth rate since the reforms follow a period of abysmal growth rates in the range of 3.5 to 4.00 per cent annually for over a quarter of a century, starting in the 1960s. The cause had to do, not with our efforts at raising our investment rate, but with the fact that we got very little out of the investment we undertook.

The reason was that we had a counterproductive policy framework whose principal elements were:
1. Knee-jerk intervention by the government through a maze of Kafkaesque licensing and regulations concerning investment, production and imports, prompting the witticism that Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand was nowhere to be seen;

2. Massive expansion of the public sector into many areas other than utilities , with occasional monopoly granted to public enterprises by excluding entry by the private sector, with predictable inefficiencies that multiplied through the economy; and

3. Autarky in trade and inflow of equity investment which was so extreme that the Indian share of trade to GNP had fallen while it had increased in most countries whereas the inward flow of equity investment had been reduced to minuscule levels.

Policy changes not imposed by US

This policy framework had been questioned, and its total overhaul advocated, by me and Padma Desai in writings through the late 1960s which culminated in our book, India: Planning for Industrialization (Oxford University Press: 1970) with a huge blowback at the time from virtually all the other leading economists and policymakers who were unable to think outside the box.

In the end, our views prevailed and the changes which would transform the economy began, after an external payments crisis in 1991, under the forceful leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was the finance minister at the time.

It is often suggested that the Indian policy changes were imposed from outside, reflecting what has come to be known by ill-informed observers as the Washington Consensus in favour of liberal reforms at the Bretton Woods institutions.

But that is no more true than to argue that the Soviet perestroika under President Gorbachev and the Chinese economic reforms starting in the late 1970s were imposed by Washington.

Why the transformation came about

In all three cases, the driving force was endogenous, a realization by the leadership that the old, counterproductive policy model had run their economies into the ground and that a change of course had to be undertaken.

The early reforms were primarily focused on dismantling the licensing regime (known popularly as the ’permit Raj’) which freed up the animal spirits of the private sector.

The economy was also steadily opened up: the average import tariff on manufactures, at virtually 113 per cent in 1990-91, was reduced steadily, avoiding the folly of ’shock therapy’, and now stands at 12 per cent.
While privatization would prove politically difficult, its intended effects in terms of efficiency of management were often achieved by opening up entry by private firms into sectors hitherto reserved for public sector enterprises: the entry of these firms, plus unwillingness to provide ever more subsidies to absorb losses, was like a pincer movement that meant: shape up or ship out.

Competition mattered

I remember how, on a flight of Indian Airlines from Mumbai to Delhi, the stewardess had brought breakfast with the tea already made Indian-style: one part tea, four parts milk, and spoonfuls of sugar. When I complained, she answered: that is the way we serve tea (and, under her breath: if you do not like it, lump it).

After the growth of splendid new private-sector airlines such as Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines, Indian Airlines changed: competition mattered.

The old policy architecture could not be demolished in one fell swoop. The leadership had to negotiate minefields of ideological opposition, bureaucratic intransigence, and the lobbies (called ’interests’ by political scientists) that had fattened on the rents (i.e. monopoly profits) attending sheltered markets that they were earning.

The three I’s --- ideas, institutions and interests --- of the old regime had to be confronted. Then, again, the post-1991 reformers felt that their task was akin to cleaning up after a tsunami. Hastening slowly was their only choice.
Substantially enhanced growth after the reforms

Still, as the reforms gathered steam, the effects on the growth rate were palpable. The growth rate, rising to roughly 6 per cent, nearly doubled in the 1990s and increased still further in the next decade and has recently been close to 9 per cent.

The sense that India was now an ’emerging superpower’ was a heady experience for Indian elites who had seen their country marginalized by policies that had become a laughing stock in the world while smaller nations in the Far East had emerged as the much-admired star performers.

The poor and the underprivileged have also benefited. But are the opponents of the reforms right to complain that the reformers have been focused on growth to the neglect of the underprivileged; and that the latter have been bypassed or immiserized?

It has become fashionable to say that this must be so because the Human Development Index, produced by the UNDP, puts India at the bottom, at 135th rank, in 1994.

But this is a nonsensical index which reduces, without scientifically plausible weights, several non-commensurate elements like literacy and health measures to a single number.
Media helps bad science gain traction

It is a fine example of how bad science gains traction because of endless repetition by the media: it must be dismissed as rubbish.

There is no substitute for hard, scientific answers to the questions concerning what has happened, during the period of reforms and enhanced growth, to the poor and the underprivileged: and these answers, as I will presently sketch, are more benign.

To begin with, however, let me remind you that the common criticism that Indian policy was interested in growth for itself is not even true if we go back to the early 1950s when planning took formal shape.

In fact, my first job in the Indian Planning Commission half a century ago was to devise a strategy to bring the bottom 30 per cent of India’s poor above the poverty line so they would enjoy a ’minimum standard of living’; and we came to the view, often expressed by the leaders of the Independence movement, that we had to grow the pie to do so: redistributing wealth in a country with ’many exploited and few exploiters’ as the visiting Marxist economist Kalecki put it graphically in 1962, was not a strategy that could produce sustained impact on poverty.

Growth was therefore regarded as a principal ’instrument’, a strategy, for pulling the poor out of poverty through gainful employment, not as an end in itself.

Growth was seen as what I have called an activist, radical ’pull up’ strategy, not as a passive, conservative ’trickle down’ strategy, to reduce poverty.

The growth strategy to pull the poor up from poverty, however, did not work because growth itself did not materialize because of the counterproductive policy framework that I sketched above.

But now that growth has actually been produced by the post-1991 reforms, what can we say about the wisdom of the growth strategy? Let me sketch some of the studies that suggest an affirmative answer.

After a considerable debate, it is now generally accepted that the enhanced growth over nearly 25 years year was associated with lifting nearly 200 million of the extreme poor above the poverty line.

By contrast, consistent with commonsense, the preceding quarter century with abysmal growth rate witnessed no perceptible, beneficial impact on poverty.

Then again, at a narrower level, the political scientist Devesh Kapur and associates have studied the fortune of the Dalits (untouchables) in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, between 1990 and 2008, to find that 61 per cent of those surveyed in the east and 38 per cent in the west said that their food and clothing situation was ’much better’.
Most striking is the finding of the political scientists Al Stepan and Yogendra Yadav, drawing on polling data produced by the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, that for every disadvantaged group including women, the response to the question ’Has your financial situation improved, worsened, or has remained the same’ posed in 1996 and again in 2004, shows that every group has overwhelmingly remained the same or improved: those who claim to have worsened are invariably less than 25 per cent of the respondents.

As for the relative economic outcomes of the disadvantaged groups, the economist Amartya Lahiri and associates have studied India’s ’scheduled castes’ and ’scheduled tribes’, two particularly disadvantaged categories, and conclude that the last twenty years of major reforms ’have seen a sharp improvement in [their] relative economic fortunes’.

Then again, using household expenditure data for 1988 and 2004, the Johns Hopkins economists Pravin Krishna and Guru Sethupathy conclude that inequality, using a well-known measure invented by the Dutch econometrician Henri Theil, while showing initial rise, had fallen by 2004 back to the 1988 levels: a straight rise in inequality cannot be asserted.

I should also add that many reforms help the poor more than the rich because the rich can cope with the results of inefficient policies better than the poor.

If the public sector generation and distribution of electricity is inefficient, and the electricity goes off in the middle of the night in Delhi’s summer, the rich turn on their private generators and their air-conditioners continue working.

But the poor man on his charpoy swelters as his small Usha fan is not working. Those who object to letting in Coke and Pepsi forget that the common man derives his caffeine from these drinks while the well-off critics get theirs from the Espresso and Cappuccino coffee in the cafes.

The most interesting political implication of the success in finally denting poverty significantly, though nowhere enough, is that poverty is now seen by India’s poor and underprivileged to be removable.

India is witness finally to what I have called the Revolution of Perceived Possibilities. Aroused economic aspirations for betterment have led to political demands for the politicians to deliver yet more.
This suggests, as my Columbia University colleague Arvind Panagariya and I have hypothesized, that voters will look to vote for the politicians who can deliver growth, so that we would expect growth before the vote to be correlated with vote now.

In an important paper, Poonam Gupta and Panagariya have recently tested for this hypothesis and indeed found that it works. So, this implies that politicians should be looking to augment reforms, not reverse them as misguided anti-reform critics urge.

So, politicians would do well to strengthen the conventional reforms, which I call Stage 1 reforms, by extending them to the unfinished reform agenda of the early 1990s.

In particular, further liberalization of trade in all sectors, substantial freeing up of the retail sector and virtually all labour market reforms are still pending. Such intensification and broadening of Stage 1 reforms can only add to the good that these reforms do for the poor and the underprivileged.

But these conventional reforms have also generated revenues which can finally be spent on targeted health and education so as to additionally improve the well-being of the poor: these are what I call Stage 2 reforms.

When ’progressive’ critics argue that Stage 2 reforms must replace Stage 1 reforms, because they appear superficially to be more pro-poor, they forget that Stage 2 reforms have been made possible only because Stage 1 reforms have been undertaken.

How to get the most bang for the buck from programmes under Stage 2 reforms is where we have to turning our attention as well. As it happens, Stage 2 reforms involve ’social engineering’ and are inherently more difficult than Stage 1 reforms.

Thus, except for political difficulties, it is easy to reduce trade barriers: you just slash them. But if you want to improve education, for example, you have to worry about the best classroom size, the issue of teacher absenteeism, the question of how to get poor children to the school when their parents might want to have them work instead, whether you want to use school vouchers, and so on.

There is little doubt however that, once we have put our minds to work and our shoulders to the wheel, we will move ahead on both Stage 1 and Stage 2 reforms.

Many of the reforms require good governance and indeed necessitate a role for the government in some areas (in the appropriate provision of health, for instance) even as they require withdrawal of the government from others (as with inappropriate labour laws). Can we do this?
It is easy to get despondent today about the deterioration in governance because many seem to surrender much too easily to the notion that we have become hugely corrupt and that this is irretrievably so.

Thus, Transparency International’s index of corruption ranks us high on corruption. However, this index is wholly arbitrary, depending on subjective evaluation of the chosen respondents.
But in India, public figures are considered to be corrupt unless they prove to you otherwise. A blind man will tell you how he saw ’with his own eyes’ a bribe being given and accepted!
A most distinguished Indian bureaucrat once told me that his mother said to him: ’I believe you are not corrupt only because you are my son’.

Equally, it is wrong to think that we cannot think of institutional reforms that can reduce the corruption we do have. The abolition of the permit raj, of course, eliminated that important source of corruption.

But that also means that we have removed from our system the way in which politicians could raise money for their campaigns which, while not as expensive as in America, are still large enough to matter.

This means that other forms of corrupt ways of raising political funds have proliferated. We need therefore legal ways to raise campaign finance. Americans have done this; we need to do so as well.

Then again, we can use science to get at corruption in several areas. Thus, Nandan Nilekani is engaged in arguably the most important innovative reform in recent years by creating a national database of identity details of Indian citizens.

This should take the political corruption out of the Public Distribution System and in the Employment Guarantee Scheme, for instance, and will also reduce bureaucratic corruption by bypassing the low-level bureaucrats who refuse to give you what you need unless you grease their palms.

In fact, what Nilekani is doing additionally is demonstrating anew how science is integral to our assault on poverty and other ills in our society. The enormous potential of science is variously manifested.

To take just three examples:

1. The invention of the cheap laptop by Media Lab at MIT and later by Intel, has almost made it possible financially to put a laptop into every lap;
2. The latest invention of Embrace baby warmers for the millions of premature and low-birth-weight babies born each year; these are slated to sell at a price that is 1% of the traditional incubator; and
3. The invention of BT Brinjal and other GM crops makes it possible to have a second round of the Green Revolution that we need so badly if we are to increase productivity in agriculture; but the government has to deploy scientific evidence and argumentation against the naysayers who have objected to these as Frankenstein foods and instead have been allowed to halt their use on flimsy, virtually unscientific grounds including assertions of ’agricultural suicides’ that have been exposed often as unrelated deaths.

Perhaps we need to recall what Prime Minister Nehru said eloquently: ’It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening of custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving poor. Who indeed can afford to ignore science today? At every turn, we have to seek its aid. The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science.’
Reflection on what I have said today should provide the agenda that the impressive young Members of the Lok Sabha, who clearly seek new perspectives and aim to accept fresh challenges, can embrace to take India to what Jawaharlal Nehru called our ’tryst with destiny’.
After sixty years of Independence, surely it is high time for his vision to turn into reality.

Courtsey: REDIFF.COM

Power & Politics / Mail Today, December 06, 2010

IT is almost a month since President Barack Obama addressed MPs in the Central Hall of Parliament. As expected, he waxed eloquent about the strength and resilience of Indian democracy. But look what’s been happening since. Democracy in turmoil and a government in paralysis. Never in the history of India have almost all the pillars of democracy come under strain as it is now. For the past few weeks, Parliament, the office of the prime minister, the ruling Congress party, high constitutional offices like the Central Vigilance Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General, not to speak of the media have come under the most intense scrutiny. Thanks to the government’s cussedness in refusing to yield to Opposition demands for a joint parliamentary committee to probe the 2G spectrum scandal, we are about to witness for the first time ever, an entire session of Parliament going by without any meaningful business being transacted.

In a set- up like ours, it is the duty of the government to develop a consensual approach to ensure that governance is not continually derailed. It is more so when the ruling party doesn’t enjoy a majority on its own and has to seek support of multiple partners to stay on in office. But the relations between the Congress and the Opposition parties are so icy that administration is paralysed and the resultant turmoil overshadows the burning issues of the day like inflation, law and order, Naxalism, education, healthcare, etc. Hardly a day goes by without yet another skeleton tumbling out of one more government closet.

Far from attempting to repair the damage, the government chooses to remain obstinate.
Much of the government’s pain is actually self- inflicted. You can sense that things are going to go wrong when the voice of corporate lobbyists prevails on a matter like selection of a minister in a crucial ministry. It came as no surprise last week when the Supreme Court chided former telecom minister A. Raja for showing disrespect to the prime minister by ignoring Manmohan Singh’s advice on spectrum pricing. The judiciary is now questioning not just ministerial behaviour but even high constitutional authorities like the CVC and the CAG. In office, they have all done their jobs admirably well, but it is their post- retirement sinecures that have caused not only the courts but even political parties to question the impartiality of their tenures. The Opposition parties want CVC P. J. Thomas out because they don’t believe he is impartial. Congressmen retort that more than two Manmohan Singh decades ago, the then CAG TN Chaturvedi who had indicted the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the Bofors scam was later rewarded by the BJP with a Rajya Sabha membership and a subsequent promotion as governor of Karnataka.

If this government had done its homework carefully, the office of the CVC would not have been dragged into the dirt it now finds itself in. Unfortunately, this government is not blessed with talent that commands enough cross party respect to help defuse tensions. Yet there is an acute shortage of leaders. The undisputed leader Sonia Gandhi is content looking after the party and has no inclination to interfere in the government. Senior leaders like Sharad Pawar have absolved themselves of all responsibility of ensuring government stability.
Pranab Mukherjee remains the exception. His stature as a minister is only rivalled by his abilities and integrity as a leader. He is the only firefighter who commands respect across the spectrum. But with the government stumbling from one crisis to another, Pranab da is clearly too exhausted to think up new and ingenious ways to win over the Opposition.

The only other firefighter is A. K. Antony but he is so much of an introvert that, faced with a problem that requires tackling, he is more likely to cross his fingers and hope it would go away on its own. Of the rest, barring the odd Kapil Sibal, Veerappa Moily or P. Chidambaram, all are loyalists strutting around in 10 Janpath’s shadow. None of them is either willing or capable of either dealing with the Opposition or dividing it. And to top this, we have a prime minister with unimpeachable integrity and honesty but absolutely apolitical.

The result is that we have a party in power but no leaders, a government in office but no governance, a parliament in session but no legislation. All this makes one thing clear: the pillars of democracy that President Obama so spiritedly spoke about are beginning to crumble.

Snippets / Mail Today, December 06, 2010

UPA plans to be cautious in appointments for a change
Several key appointments are due in the next few months including new chairmen for the State Bank of India and several public sector banks, a new chief for the securities and exchange board and deputy governors for the reserve bank. The current incumbent at SBI, O. P. Bhatt, retires on March 31 and the Centre hopes to complete the selection process by January.

With the government reeling under the Opposition onslaught over a slew of scams, caution seems to be the byword. That explains why the government has constituted a high- level committee under cabinet secretary K. M. Chandrasekhar to shortlist candidates for the SBI job.
Though the selection is the prerogative of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, he is keeping the prime minister updated on all developments. The selection process could not have come at a more inopportune time. The recently unearthed housing scam has hit many of the biggest players in the realty lending sector and many senior officers of housing finance companies like the LIC Housing Finance, the Bank of India, the Central Bank of India and the Punjab National Bank have been arrested. At the rate they have been surfacing these past few months, there is every likelihood of this government being buried under an avalanche of scams by the time the next elections are due.

A senior bureaucrat tells me that while the government has set in motion due processes to deal with the spectrum, CWG and housing loan scams, it is keen that no further scams crop. So far, the appointment of PSU banks chiefs has been marked by hectic lobbying and the government has more often than not caved in to pressure from industrial houses, bureaucracy, ministers and even MPs. With just the prime minister and the finance minister now involved in the process, the aim is to make it as transparent and least controversial as possible.

Govt seems to have learnt from Thomas episode

As with PSU banks, so with bureaucrats, the government is learning from experience. There are signs of a tacit admission of an error of judgement on P. J. Thomas's selection as CVC. Last week, the department of personnel and training began an exercise to review the records of all senior bureaucrats who could be in line for sensitive postings in the near future.

The Thomas case has been an eye opener. He had never served as a joint or additional secretary at the Centre. Sources in the DoPT say that whenever he was sought to be empanelled as JS or AS, vigilance clearance was refused because he continued to figure as an accused in the 1991 palmolein corruption case in Kerala.

Yet he was directly cleared as a secretary at the Centre, first in the parliamentary affairs and later in the telecom.

Now hints are being dropped that he will step down. But the question still persists: what took him so long? His appointment had raised eyebrows for the manner in which the UPA government virtually bulldozed it through. Until Friday, it appeared the government was determined to brazen it out. Railway minister Mamata Banerjee's assertion on Friday that she will leave it to the prime minister to take a call on Thomas was a clear indication that the government was determined to have its way.

Technically, the only way Thomas could have been seen off was if he willingly stepped down or twothirds of the members of Parliament voted for his removal. Thomas had said midweek last he had no plans to quit, while his removal by parliament is an unreal prospect given the legislative arithmetic.

If the government stuck by the CVC despite all the brouhaha, it was only because there was a belief in official circles that asking Thomas to step down would accelerate the Opposition onslaught on several other issues.

The government seems to have drawn the right lessons from the Thomas episode. Hopefully, the new DoPT exercise will help avoid a repeat. Hindsight, forethought.

Heads have rolled in the government over the spectrum scam, but now the DMK has also initiated a cleaning up operation. Both A. Raja and Kanimozhi, who figured prominently in the Nira Radia tape conversations, are being relieved from all organisational posts in the wake of allegations of corruption in 2G spectrum allocation and their damning conversations during which they are said to have made " unauthorised claims" on the DMK participation in the Union Cabinet in 2009.

Unless the family prevails, the party is formally expected to announce its decision early next week. Tamil Nadu is poised for assembly elections next year and with the Jayalalithaa propaganda machine blaring out the inconvenient tapes in every nook and cranny of the state, the DMK is on correction mode.

Despite his fragile health, Karunanidhi has suddenly turned active on party matters again and recently was closeted for long hours, first with sons M. K. Alagiri and M. K. Stalin and later with grandnephews Dayanidhi and Kalanidihi Maran. Raja, whose continuation in the cabinet was once made non- negotiable by Karunanidhi, is suddenly persona non grata in the patriarch's Gopalapuram residence.

Sources tell me that the sudden flurry of activity is aimed at sending across the message that the DMK also has a zero tolerance policy against wrongdoers. But the bigger message perhaps it to the AICC. After the purge, we can work together in alliance for the assembly elections due next April.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, November 29, 2010

THE world’s largest democracy. There is not a visiting president, prime minister or prince who fails to utter those four words, as President Obama did recently while addressing MPs in the high- domed Central Hall, or others do at official banquets. But a cursory glance at what has been going on inside Parliament in recent times makes such platitudes seem mind- numbing. The Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha are supposed to be democratic fora for healthy debate, discussion and dialogue but of late they have been turned into platforms to fight mean political battles.

I have with me data compiled by PRS Legislative Research on the winter session of Parliament that opened with Obama’s address to the joint session. It makes for startling reading. In the first 11 days of this session, the Lok Sabha was scheduled to conduct business for 66 hours; it did for exactly five hours and 37 minutes. Fifty- five hours of business were scheduled in the Upper House but it functioned for precisely an hour and 14 minutes. That’s a work rate of 9 per cent and 2 per cent respectively, the kind that would permanently put you out of business if you were in industry or in the private sector. But then this is Parliament.

Something is terribly wrong with the health of our parliamentary democracy and I won’t be surprised if, watching the proceedings on TV, more and more Indians begin to doubt the ability of their MPs to provide answers to the many problems troubling them. The records show that MPs have little or no interest in fulfilling their primary duty, which is to legislate. Just take a look at their record this year alone. During the budget session, on eight out of 32 days, the Lok Sabha met for less than an hour; the Upper House met for an hour or less on nine days.

During the budget session, 27 Bills were listed for legislation, but only six were passed by both houses. Among those, 40 per cent were passed without discussion. Some of the Bills were passed after a mere 15- minute debate while the Lok Sabha passed the Gratuity Amendment Bill and Clinical Establishment Bills within the space of five minutes one afternoon. During Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha, on nearly half the days, not a single question could be answered orally by ministers and of the total 620 starred questions, only 92 were called in the house. That’s just 14 per cent.

The performance during the monsoon session was no less distressing. On eight of the 26 days, the Lok Sabha met for less than two hours each and during question hour, only 10 per cent of the questions were answered orally. The Lok Sabha also saw nearly half the Bills brought before the Sonia Gandhi house being passed within two hours after its introduction. 64 Lok sabha MPs did not put up any question or private members Bill or take part in any debate; In the Rajya Sabha, 34 members similarly did not participate in any deliberation in the house.

The only redeeming feature in the otherwise gloomy set of statistics is that attendance in both houses during the session was higher than in the previous session.

If anything, this proves that the MPs trooped in every morning not to debate or discuss but to disrupt. It was not too long ago that all parties had unanimously resolved not to disrupt proceedings by rushing to the well of the house. But the well has these days become the epicenter of parliamentary activity where frayed tempers dominate and occasionally fisticuffs are witnessed .
What’s worse, earlier it were the smaller parties with less than a handful of members that trooped into the well to get noticed. Nowadays it is the main opposition party with more than a 100 members that takes to the well. When that happens, even the Speaker is resigned to kissing goodbye to the day’s business. Someone once said that every parliamentary deadlock is finally resolved after some give- andtake with the government having its way but only after the Opposition has had its say. But what we are seeing now is an Opposition that has little to say and a government that’s looking for a way out of a never- ending gridlock.

That’s why I feel Sonia Gandhi needs to be lauded for asking her party MPs not to avail of the daily allowance of ` 2,000 as long as proceedings remain disrupted. For 800 members of both house, it amounts to ` 16 lakh a day, a pittance in these scam filled days. Have no doubt, it is no symbolic gesture. It’s meant to tire out the Opposition and force the disruptionists to ask themselves if , as MPs, they deserve the prefix “ honourable”.

Seedhi Baat /Aajtak, November 28, 2010

'Corruption eating into India's soul'

Yoga guru Baba Ramdev says on the show Seedhi Baat on Aaj Tak that corruption being the bane of India's body politic, the passage of Lokpal Bill is a must. He says people behind black money must be unmasked.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

Snippets / Mail Today, November 29, 2010

Cong looks to star power to end southern discomfort

IF you can't beat them, at least join hands seems to be the new AICC motto, at least as far as two southern states are concerned. In Andhra, the Congress is in the midst of a fratricidal war and despite installing a new, young chief minister, it is trying to get all the help it can from anyone who is willing to help to stay afloat.

In Tamil nadu, its alliance with the DMK is uneasy at best and a search for a new partner will do no harm, senior leaders feel. In both states where filmdom dominates every sphere of public life, the Congress’s new game plan is to rope in political parties which are headed by cinema stars. With assembly elections due in Tamil Nadu next year, the party has now set its eyes on Vijayakant.

Efforts are now on from one section of the Tamil Nadu Congress to bring Vijayakant closer to 10 Janpath. Soon after the winter session of Parliament is over, there are plans to bring Vijayakant over to New Delhi to meet Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. The party has for sometime been actively wooing the Prajarajyam Chief and Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi and the AICC is encouraged by the response after a twohour meeting that Ahmed patel and Veerappa Moily had with the actor recently.

Obviously, Vijayakant has been acting pricey, because this is the fifth meeting that the Congress duo had with him in recent months.

Is the overt courting of the film star an indication that the Congress has decided to get rid of the baggage that is the DMK, particularly in the light of the 2G scam that has cost the party dearly? Vijayakant floated his party, the DMDK on the eve of the last assembly elections. It did not do as spectacularly as the film star expected but nevertheless with a 10 per cent vote share, has the potential to tilt the scales. Vijayakant recently said that his party was open to alliance with anyone except the DMK. Already, the AIADMK is actively wooing him. Having spurned the AIADMK’s offer of support, the Congress is also now actively wooing the actor. We will wait and see who gets the prize catch?

BJP must not undermine CMs in spite of Bihar result
I CAN understand Nitish Kumar wanting to flaunt his secular credentials by keeping all BJP chief ministers out of the campaign for the recent assembly elections. But I was surprised that none of them was invited for the swearing in of the first ever NDA government in a state to be reelected.
The BJP’s state icons such as Narendra Modi, P. K. Dhumal, Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, B. S. Yeddyurappa and Ramesh Pokhriyal were all conspicuous by their absence last Friday when Nitish and his deputy, the BJP’s Sushil Modi took oath of office in Patna.

This is a departure from the past when all BJP chief ministers made it a point to be present when one of their own was taking office. Instead, the spotlight this time was, deservedly so on Nitish, and quite undeservedly, on the handful of central leaders from 11 Ashoka Road though their contribution to Nitish’s victory can be a point of debate. L. K. Advani, Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and a handful of lesser leaders were all there. So is the new line- up making a pitch for a “ secular” BJP in the light of the fact that even Muslims who otherwise keep an arm’s length from the party chose to vote in large numbers for the NDA. One school of thought within the BJP has it that this is the party of the future. As the leader of the NDA, it could attract many regional parties into its fold, as was the case during the Vajpayee regime. Many allies of that period have since found better sanctuary elsewhere, leaving the BJP a bit out in the cold, but Bihar has shown that there is still hope.

The next round of elections will show whether this is a sound strategy. My own hunch is that the Bihar experiment cannot be replicated elsewhere and in the next Lok Sabha elections, the party will have to fall back on its tried and tested leaders in the states to deliver the numbers.

THE political turmoil in our neighbourhood is taking its toll on the establishment at home. Going by the diplomatic buzz, the abject failure of our mission in Kathmandu is triggering off a major reshuffle in the Foreign Office and many missions in strategically important capitals around the world such as Moscow, Tokyo, Tehran and Kathmandu will soon have new ambassadors. I understand that Rakesh Sood, an otherwise brilliant officer who has had a rather ineffective tenure in the Nepalese capital is being recalled for posting as one of the Secretaries in the ministry of external affairs.

He is likely to be replaced by Jayant Prasad, additional secretary at HQ. P. S. Raghavan, a Joint Secretary in the PMO during the Vajpayee regime will most likely be on his way soon as envoy to Moscow. The most significant of the many changes will be that of Alok Prasad, the former ambassador to Sri Lanka and current deputy national security adviser who was widely tipped to succeed Nirupama Rao as the next foreign secretary. His hopes were dashed once when last month the government gave Nirupama a seven- month extension. It now appears that Alok will be sent as envoy to Tokyo. In that case, a dark horse will emerge for the top foreign office job, or Nirupama will get yet another extension. That will be no surprise because, in the current dispensation, no Malayalee has ever retired or not got a sinecure.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

BIHAR MANDATE / November 24, 2010

It is a clear mandate for performance and not promises. The JD(U)-BJP combine's victory wasn't unexpected but the scale of the opposition rout certainly came as a surprise. For 15 years, Lalu Prasad Yadav kept Bihar on a diet of promises without ever delivering.

Nitish did not promise much but on those that he did, he quietly delivered. The pathetic performance of the RJD, LJP and the Congress reflects not only the erosion of their credibility but the absence of a credible alternative to Nitish.

The collective might of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi could do little to spoil Nitish's party because, despite severing their ties, people of Bihar saw the Congress as an ally of the RJD. The NDA strategy was clever and it worked.

"If you don't vote for Nitish, the big bad wolf Lalu will come back to haunt you," was their campaign refrain. Lalu retorted by reminding voters that every vote for Nitish was a vote for the communal BJP.

The fact that even a lot many Muslims placed their faith in Nitish and backed the NDA could set a rethink in the BJP about moderating its political agenda to make it less communal and more anti-Congress centric. After back-to-back defeats in Delhi and in crucial states in the last few years, the resounding victory in Bihar should help the BJP emerge triumphantly out of the wilderness.

The Congress waxed eloquent about marshalling the secular votes to keep the NDA out but by fielding candidates in all 243 seats, it ended up helping Nitish by dividing the anti-NDA votes. Though the Nitish campaign harped on development, it was his government's impressive performance on the law and order front that got it the thumbs-up from voters. Nitish has made Bihar a safer place to live. Now, the people of the state expect him to make it a better place by focusing on development.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Much has been made about a conversation that Nira Radia had with me. This is just to put the record straight. The 13 minute conversation had nothing to do with the controversial 2G of A Raja. Nira called me as she said “to seek my expertise” on the Battle for Gas” between the two Ambani brothers. I merely told her that the earlier the brothers put an end to their private battle, the better it will be for the public good. I did not take sides. I did say that I knew both brothers but was equally critical of the tactics being adopted by each to run down the other. Nira also asked me about my son, who is a lawyer and is retained by the Anil Ambani group as their counsel. I however made it clear that my son Ankur was not appearing in the particular Gas case. Following is the transcript of the 13 minute conversation. It is proof, if indeed proof were needed, that I have nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
NR. Hi Prabhu
PC Ya tell me now
NR Nai nothing, I was just wanting to understand things from you. You always have a very good perspective.
PC On What?
NR On everything Bhai he he he he. Generally you have a good perspective of everything. I just wanted to know what is yr view on this great historic judgment.
PC. Which one, the Bombay one?
NR The Bombay one which takes the family pecked above the national interest.
PC You see when the brothers are involved, the nation also gets involved na?
NR Ya, probably not a good thing na. not good for the nation.
PC Not good for the nation, but the brothers don’t talk to each other. There is nobody who can force them to talk also
NR Who tho ho gayi na Prabhu tum bhi janthe ho
PC Maine koshiosh kiyi thi., Nahi hua. Maine kaha ho jayega.
NR Nahi. I was speaking to him recently, in fact this morning
PC (interrupts) is he back from wherever he had gone, Mukesh?
NR. He is very much here, he has been here the whole week.
PC He was abroad last week I think.
NR No no no.
PC Anyway somebody told me that he is abroad.
NR NONONO. He has been here the whole week. He is not due to travel till next week.
PC because sometimes he responds. Abhi I have stopped calling him
Because usko maine 15-20 din pehle message bheja tha. Then he never responses. Uske baad maine message nahi bheja. Before the judgement was coming I wanted to forewarm him.
NR Kya judgement uske khilaf aara ha?
PC Ha, lekin itna arrogant hai na. uske saath kya kare? Usjke arrogance, dono bhaiyyon ka samajh bhi nahi aathi mero ko
NR Prabhu tell me one thing. Judgement is fixed, right?
PC Dekho in this country, donon side ko fix karne ka capacity hain. Chotta bhai mobile jyada hai. Paise kam karch karta hai, kanjoos hai sabse jyada. But he is more mobile than the elder brother. Eler brother doesn’t want to go beyond what Dhiruibhai left behind with him. Men or people, whatever. You are getting what I am telling? He is totally depending on the people that Dhirubhai created. They were relevant at that point of time. Now they are not relevant. Anilbhai has developed new sources, new contacts , new way of thinking. Mukesh, Apna wife ki thoda jyada dictate karti hai. Anil ki wife nahi karti hai. The way things are moving, mukesh poor fellow is not able to get the right feedback because of insulation from various other sources. Now I know what he is doing on the Supreme Court front. Various things. Which is not the way to go about it. What he doing it is known to the rest of the world. This is not good. If he has to….because everything is fixed these days. Ab Supreme Court nein reverse ho gaya, then he is finished for ever ya. If he doesn’t get a favourable response from Supreme Court, then he is finished, na?
NR But Prabhu ek baat bataon?
PC Ha?
NR Abhi tak Suprepe Court ka, between you and me, kuch finalise hun nahin?
PC Finalise ka matlab kya hai? Bhai Murli Deora bhi jayega court mein. Prime Minister is also putting pressure on Murli Deoa to settle it. Because ultimate it is national loss na, as you put it. Itna mehanga ho raha, ab 2-3 mahine mein 90 dollars ho jayega, if yo are not able to take out gas from your own sources, then there is a problem na. Country should not suffer because of these two brothers.
NR That’s right. Which what Mukesh has told his brother very clearly. What is the issue? Anil …usne apne gas ke liye kabhin mana nahin kiya. Usne kaha tera 28 mm sidhi ban tha hai. Agar NTPC bara nahin leta tho thera who bhi ban tha hai. Yeh 2.34 who govern,ent ki price hai, mein us mein decide nahin karta hai as an operator. Uska point limited woh hai. Aapne MoU dekha? I don’t know whwther you have sen it, but it will show it to you. Un mein aisa kich likha nahin hain.
PC. MoU mein mein pataha nahin, maine dekha nahin, so I cant say, frankly speaking , and MoU mein, agar court ne order kiya, kuch basis pe kiya hoga na. Pata hua na/
NR. Nahin. Court ka order mein, 328 pages mein I can give you any , I can tell you, who open drive use kiya hoghi na, who jo telecom ka TD se judgement hua na, dualk techniol;ogyu ka Vahanwati ne jo karvaya, Raja ne Dr sarma kop TRai chairman banaya. I am guaranteeing same pen drive use kiyi hogi.
PC hahaha (laughs)
NR Mein tumko dono judgement (Mumbai) aamne saamne dikhaoonga, tun dono padlo.
PC Gulam Vanavati is an old friend of mine. When I was eidfotor of Indian express, he was our consel. Mera bahut acha dost hai. Pehla Nusli wadia ke saath tha. He was a goods friend of Nusli, I think even now he is with Nusli. But he is very close to Anil Ambani. Everybody knows about it. Appointment…..Anil Ambani, Nusli Wadia and our power minister, kya naam hai, Shinde, they all went for him. Bhardwaj never liked him. Bhardwaj would have made him the attorney general. Ab Ban gaya who. See these brothers have to come to the conclusion themselves first. Kyonki agreement ko hoga court mein ja karke Supreme Court ne order dono ko ikkate dediya tho. That is one way of looking at it. Because basically this judgement will decide the future of both of them na? More of Mukeah than of anil. Anila kop kya power plant hi shuru nahin kiya, kya karna gas se.
NR Judgement 17 saal se likha nahin tho gas tho dena chahiya kal se. Usko bolo chal tu le? Kya keraga uske saath? Kuch nahin karega.
PC Aur le nahin sakta. Theek hai, bolo uttalo gas.
NR. Aur paise do uske liye.
PC Ha paise do, chalta nahin kisi aur ko. Judgement… you cant sell it toanybody else na?
NR Correct
PC Theeka hai, then let Mukesh sell it wherever he wants to sell it. Ab Mukesh ka objective kya hai, I don’t know. You are not clear because …unka yahan Anand jain tho nahar ho gaya na. he is out na?
NR Nahi nahin, he is very much there. Again ye Anil ki baat hai. Mein usko itni baar khud dekh shukke.
PC I don’t know, because people on both sides are haraamis, advisors.
NR Nahin, ek baat baton tum ko. Anand Jain is very much there. Manoj Modi is very much there. Mukesh is very much there.
PC Manoj Modi is little more professional
NR he is very professional
PC Anand Jain thoda politics karta hain
NR But is matter mein manoj Modi jyada hoga na?
PC Jo bhi hain, but now Supreme Court mein aana hi hai case. Aura nil Ambani en caveat file kardi.
NR Who tho karega na
PC But since you…you should should convey to Mukesh that the way he is going about the supreme Court is not the right way.
NR Matlab, you mean he is going to the SC, you are saying he shouldn’t go to the SC.
PC The way he going to thje SC, I wont tell you more than that. The people he is using are not the kind of people who can be trusted for keeping it to themselves. Bol dete hain, ab London mein baithke kuch bhi bolo. Achcha nahin lagta na, it gets back. London is not so far, it just a fone call away. Political system….People may be projecting he is close to Sonia, he is close to Rahul. Mukesh gas got access, but he cant influence anybody. Collective jyada ho gaya na,. Kamalnath can decide one thing but he can be overruled by Pranab Mukherjee. So ye saara loose ends ko tighten karna hain na?
NR Prabhu, mera ko tumhara London ka point catch nahin kiya
PC Matlab, he is trying to understand how to go into the Supreme Court.
NR I don’t think so Prabhu, tumkop yeh kisne bataya?
PC. Chodo na
NR Nahin seriously, mein tumse kyon chupaoonga.
PC he has to go to appeal in Supreme Court or not finally?
NR he will have to appeal in the Supreme Court, the question doesn’t arise
PC If he is appealing to SC, he must be trying…the right people. Harish salve will appear for him,. Because he is an outstanding advocate. But he must be thinking if there any way, like Anil must be using various ways, he must also be thinking if he can use various ways or not. Brothers apne apne tareeka dono lagayanega na?
NR Anil apna laga hoga, apne logo ke through, DMK ke through , apne chief justice ke saath.
PC No, CHief Justice kerala ka hain. Mukeh jis tarike se approach kar raha hai is not the right way, that’s what I am saying.
NR I undersootd what u r saying.
PC Now u understand na
NR Main baat karoongi thodi der mein, I will tell him to speak to you.
PC I sent him messages, 10 bar mnessages bheja, he doesn’t reply. I don’t want to come into….because my son is a retainer for anil. I don’t want to discuss with him at all. Lekin sun to leta hoon na, idhar udhar political logon se. But he not appearing for him. My son is not involved in this case at all.
NR Your son na?
PC ha, he is not involved at all
NR why
PC (laughs) he doesn’t trust my son also, in this case. Anil doesn’t trust my son (in this case).
NR Yr son is with whom?
PC he is a retainer for anil. He is running his own indenednent company. He is not with Rian any more. He is running his own solicitor firm. He was retained by various people. Anil’s mobile is one company which retains him. ,./….But in this case he is not involved. But idhar udhar se pik up tho karte hain na cheezen sab.
NR Right right
PC my information is thru the legal sources. Once you tell him that Prabhu was saying something about you talking to people in London, he will understand.
NR Chalo I will tell him
PC Chotta Bhai bada harami hain.
NR Harami tho hain lekin har waqt harami panna last nahin karta na?
PC Question is, when u r working in a system which is not clean, bhai tumhare ko nuksaan tho ho gaya na? Tho recovery karte raho apne aap. It is better to do it in a manner that you are not a loser. Main kal jara hoon Bombay. Ek baar usne kaha tha dinner pe aana ghar pe. He called, me. I was the only senior editor there. After that I tried to meet him but nahin milpaya. I went a couple of times to Bombay recently but he was not there. I have been trying to reach him.

P.S. I cannot vouch for the veracity or the origins of the tape or even whether they have been tampered with. Neverthless, I am posting this because I want you, dear reader, to be the final judge.

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, November 22, 2010

THE winter session of Parliament has been on for nearly a fortnight now and the only time MPs behaved like honorable members was when US President Barack Obama addressed them. With both houses deadlocked for more than a week over Opposition demands for a Joint Parliamentary Committee ( JPC) to probe the telecom scam and the government’s reluctance to oblige, speculation swirled at week’s end about both houses being adjourned sine die . If that happens today, it would be the first time ever that an entire session will pass by without any business being conducted.

For Manmohan Singh, this has been the worst week in over six years as PM and a friend in the Congress admits the prime minister is beginning to feel a sense of insecurity. He referred to Singh’s uncharacteristically offensive remark during his joint press conference with Obama at Hyderabad House on the sensitive subject of outsourcing when he said that “ we Indians” were “ not in the business of stealing jobs”. True, but if Manmohan had nothing to hide, the least the nation expects of him is to be equally forthright and come out and say his ministers are not in the business of stealing the nation’s wealth. “ Instead what we have from the prime minister is the sound of silence,” my friend said.

In the cabinet form of government, the prime minister is the first among equals. Manmohan Singh’s unimpeachable honesty and integrity were supposed to reflect the strength and stability of the UPA government. But what we are seeing is the highest court in the land raising questions about the manner in which the PMO went about taking decisions. If such a legal rap is unheard of, even more surprising is the silence of the more than 200 Congress MPs who were expected to back him when the entire opposition was baying for his blood. Where were they?
When the opposition cleverly targeted Manmohan instead of the usual suspects in the ruling combine, the Congress was caught off guard. For a full two days, the opposition held forth in parliament and in TV studios. There is no shortage of legal luminaries in the government, but initially none of them were to be seen. Instead Dr Subramanian Swamy did what he loves doing — hog the limelight. That one man army held news conferences on the Supreme Court lawns and was readily answering journalists calls.

There was nobody from the Congress either at the Supreme Court, Akbar Road or at Parliament House to defend the prime minister. It wasn’t until after three days that the Congress began to get its act together. As Parliament remained paralysed S. Swamy for the sixth day, first Rahul Gandhi and then telecom minister Kapil Sibal launched the most powerful defence. “ I don't think he is in an embarrassing position at all,” Rahul Gandhi snapped back when asked to comment on the PM’s situation after the Supreme Court’s harsh comments. Insiders say Sibal spoke out only after the Prime Minister bitterly remarked in the Congress core group meeting at his residence on Thursday that he did not get support from legal luminaries such as Sibal and P. Chidambaram.

The confusion in the government was such that the law ministry’s decision to ask attorney general of India G. E. Vahanvati to represent the Prime Minister in the Supreme Court attracted flak. If they had guided the government’s legal officers down the right path, the government would not have looked so silly, goes the argument.
To say that Parliament meets this week with the government in disarray is an understatement.
The Opposition has already tasted blood, having forced the government in the last session to buckle on Bills such as enemy property amendments, prevention of torture Bill and the education tribunals law. They are determined to make the government buckle again and concede to their demand for a JPC. It suits the Opposition fine since the JPC gives them the power to seek documents and extract information which the government may otherwise be reluctant to show.

The daily closed door sittings of the JPC will surely be followed by selective leaks that will have the government squirming or running for cover. There have been only two JPCs in our Parliamentary history. The first was on Bofors, the second on the Harshad Mehta scam. Both were set up during Congress regimes. Both times, the Congress lost in the elections that followed. It is easy to see why the government dreads another JPC.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, November 21, 2010

आजतक के साप्ताहिक कार्यक्रम ‘सीधी बात’ में बिग बॉस से निकाली गई डॉली बिंद्रा ने कहा कि इस शो में मुझे ज्यादा फोकस किया गया. साथ ही डॉली ने एक सवाल के जबाव में कहा कि बिग बॉस के घर में खली सच्चा है बाकी सब फर्जी हैं.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, November 15, 2010

CONGRESS leaders and workers in Maharashtra are beginning to wonder if there is one rule that binds the party’s leaders in their state and another for those in other regions. Last week, when Ashok Chavan was given the marching order, he was merely following the path down which many of his Congress predecessors were dispatched by the party high command — forced out of office without completing a full term. Chavan’s ouster was an attempt to project a clean image for the Congress, whose government in Delhi is facing flak on a host of corruption charges. No doubt it gave a moral edge to the Congress but it signaled the erosion of the state’s political authority.

For more than four decades now, the Congress has been slowly but steadily disintegrating in Maharashtra which was once a “ bulk seat” state. Ashok Chavan was the 20th chief minister since the state came into being in 1960 and barring two — Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane of the Shiv Sena— all others have been from the Congress.

Yet, only one — Vasantrao Naik — completed a full term. He, in fact, ruled uninterrupted for eight years from 1967.

The rest were all waylaid by either internal party rumblings, charges of corruption or sacked because of appalling inefficiency. Each time change was effected, the high command claimed the high moral ground. In reality, this was nothing but political expediency as many of the chief ministers ejected from office later found their way back. There were some exceptions: Abdul Rahman Antulay, Shivajirao Nilangekar- Patil and Sudhakarrao Naik, but even they were brought to the Centre.

As late as 2004, Sushil Kumar Shinde, without doubt among the most acceptable of Dalit leaders in the Congress, was asked to go barely months after he had taken the Congress to a handsome victory in the assembly elections. He was replaced by, well, the man he replaced barely a year- and- a- half earlier, Vilasrao Deshmukh. The latter was forced out of office in 2008 not because of 26/ 11 but because he took his actor son on a conducted tour of the burnt out Taj Hotel. And now, Chavan has been shown the door because some of his relatives are among those who got apartments in the controversial Adarsh Society.

The story is repeated in the case of the state PCC presidents too, most of whom are not allowed to settle into their seats. The average tenure of the MPCC chief has been about two years and Pratibha Patil, now the country’s president, led the MPCC for exactly 18 months.

To a large extent, regional lead- Sushil Shinde ers themselves are responsible for the party’s pathetic plight in many of the states. Most of the PCCs are so horribly divided that state- level leaders can never agree on anything and leave the decision making process to the high command, a euphemism for 10 Janpath. We saw this most recently at the AICC session in Delhi earlier this month which was specifically convened to elect 13 members to the Congress Working Committee. Instead, the AICC voted as one to let Sonia Gandhi decide who will be in the CWC. The absence of the democratic process means that the party is being led by “ leaders” who are thrust upon the cadres.

With all power being concentrated to a few hands in Delhi, there is little attention paid to the states. There is no one in the party in major states such as Karnataka, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Orissa who can be truly called “ leader” After Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death, Andhra Pradesh has joined the group.

Ashok Chavan’s ouster has left local Congress leaders really peeved. I was in Mumbai last week and met up with a lot of them who had much to say about the high command’s discrimination.
The charge against Chavan is loose change compared to the allegations against, say Sheila Dikshit or a host of central ministers. Yet, Dikshit is in her 13th year in office and scam tainted Union ministers carry on merrily.

The party is likely to pay a high price for the very different yardstick that is applied in Mumbai.
With 48 seats, Maharashtra sends the second largest contingent of MPs to the Lok Sabha after Uttar Pradesh. It’s a “ bulk seat state” that’s very crucial to the Congress and its alliance partner, the NCP. But the high command’s revolving door policy doesn’t hold much hope for the Congress in that crucial state.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, November 14, 2010

'Sonakshi was a pampered child'

Actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha tells on the show Seedhi Baat that his daughter Bollywood actor Sonakshi Sinha was the most pampered child of his three kids.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, November 08, 2010

ON TOP of the agenda at last week’s day long AICC session was the selection of the 23 member Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest policy making body to which 12 members are elected and 11 are nominated. In keeping with tradition, courtiers engaged each other in a royal battle to prove their loyalty to the Gandhi family. In all the bootlicking at the meeting, the 1,200 members forgot why they met in the first place. Instead, perhaps for the first time ever, the AICC authorised the Congress president to nominate all 23 CWC members.

I see a contradiction between what the top leadership preaches and what the old guard practises. Rahul goes around the country, supervising elections in the Youth Congress and talking about the democratisation of the party. But the entrenched lobby loathes, indeed fears, change. Reports have it that both Sonia and Rahul were keen on elections being held for the 12 seats in the CWC but the chorus to authorise Sonia to handpick the CWC was led by the old guard. This is not surprising because amongst themselves, they cannot arrive at a consensus on any one issue. But the one thing that unites them is the fear of internal party elections throwing up popular, young winners who could pose a threat to their stranglehold over the party. So, out with the elections.

For some time now, there has been talk about Sonia effecting an organisational makeover. We often hear about the oneman- one- post policy being implemented but four union ministers— Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik, V. Narayanswamy and Prithviraj Chavan— continue as general secretaries while A. K. Antony and Veerappa Moily are in charge of crucial states. Even Rahul’s rapid climb up the Congress ladder hasn’t altered the status quo. With Sonia authorised to nominate all members, I gather several seniors like Arjun Singh, Mohsina Kidwai, Mallikarjun Kharge and Urmila Singh will be dropped from the CWC as will some permanent invitees like Karunakaran, R. K. Dhawan. Rahul is likely to have a big say in deciding who gets into the latter category. But we will wait to see how the old guard reacts.

The happenings in the Congress are one up on Newton's Third Law. Here every action that the leadership contemplates is met with an opposite and more forceful reaction. And it is not a new phenomenon.
Sanjay Gandhi used terror tactics to bring the old order to its knees, but ultimately Indira Gandhi had to split the party in 1978 to regain control over it. Rajiv brought in his own young team when he first joined poli- Rahul Gandhi tics to assist Indira. The team was very much in place when Rajiv was anointed prime minister and seemed in control when a quarter century ago, he pledged to rid the party of wheeler dealers and power brokers. But long before his untimely demise, Rajiv had cast aside many of the young technocrats who joined him when he set out on his political journey. He had become a prisoner of the system. The same seems to be happening to Sonia and Rahul.

The AICC sessions were held in the backdrop of the crisis of credibility that is engulfing the Congress. Two major scams have haunted this government for the past few months and a third was added last week. It was hoped that Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Manmohan Singh will use the AICC to send out a strong message to the country that the perpetrators of the scams will be brought to book and the money recovered. But there was not a word about the 2G spectrum or the Commonwealth Games scams. There was total silence also on the less monumental but no less shameful Adarsh Society scam in Mumbai despite the public outrage over it.

This situation doesn’t augur well for the Congress.

In many of the “ bulk deal states” where the party won a large chunk of the seats in 2009, the Congress is in a disarray. In Andhra Pradesh, there has been no government worth the name since the death of YS Rajashekhera Reddy more than a year ago. In Maharashtra, the Congress and NCP are reeking from the stench of corruption.

For the Congress to be third time lucky in 2014, it is imperative that immediate clean up operations are set in motion to improve its image in these two states. Sonia wants change, but the old guard groups together to resist it. She must win this inner party battle to have any hopes of winning four years from now.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, November 01, 2010

ONE IS the ruling party at the Centre and the other the main Opposition but the dividing line between the Congress and the BJP on economic matters has got blurred in recent years. Even on some political issues, the twain have met. But that’s where similarities end. The 125 year old Congress has a spring in its step, a stomach for a fight and has a clear roadmap for the future; the 30 year old BJP is content playing second fiddle to regional partners. The Congress is led by a feisty leader at the Centre whose handpicked nominees rule in the states.

The BJP on the other hand has a spineless central leadership, yet has star chief ministers in the states.
Narendra Modi, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh, Prem Kumar Dhumal and B. S. Yeddyurappa are in office on their own right and they have gone about their job in a way to have won grudging admiration from even some of the UPA ministers at the Centre.

I would have thought that with a high stakes election going on in Bihar, the BJP's High Command would let loose these party mascots across the state to win votes for the JD( U)- BJP alliance government in Patna. But no. The presiding deities at 11 Ashoka Road have decided that there is no need.
The BJP has been in the grip of the warped ideology of political correctness for quite some time now. This was highlighted once again last week when the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha said in Patna that “ Modi’s charisma and magic have worked in Gujarat, but it is not necessary that everybody’s magic works in every place”. More than anything else, Sushma Swaraj’s statement is a pointer to the deep centre- state crisis that has engulfed the BJP. The powerful cabal at Ashoka Road thinks it knows what’s best for the party, and runs it accordingly, often with disastrous consequences. Ranged against them are popular chief ministers who have fought all odds, both from within and outside the party, to keep the BJP flag flying in several major states. Sushma’s graceless remarks about Modi show not just the depth of the divide but the lengths to which some of the party’s leaders will go to belittle one another.
It’s tragic but true that the party’s chief ministers are not involved in any of the important political decision making process. Barring Lal Krishna Advani and BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, none of the other leaders even talk about the performance of governments in BJP ruled states in their speeches. Even in Bihar, BJP leaders remain content prais- Narendra Modi ing Nitish and playing second fiddle to him and dare not utter the ' M' factor in his presence. “ In Bihar, the magic of Nitish Kumar is at work and we are confident of our victory,” Sushma said last week. Nitish’s aversion to Modi campaigning is well known, but Gadkari had told me on my TV chat show Seedhi Baat , as well as made several public statements, that the decision to nominate the party’s campaigners remained the sole prerogative of the BJP. Then why are its star campaigners being kept out? My instincts tell me that the chief ministers have been kept away from the campaign by the central leaders who fear being dwarfed by them.

Now look across to the other side at the Congress whose best hopes are centered on coming in a respectable fourth or fifth position in the polls. Yet it has drafted almost all its chief ministers for the campaign.

In the elections in which Nitish has made development his biggest plank, the BJP has asked Modi, Raman Singh and Chauhan, the party’s development mascots to stay at home. Almost all the Congress chief ministers have visited the state at least once and in the last fortnight, the Congress sent its own development mascot, Delhi’s three term chief minister Sheila Dikshit on two whirlwind tours of Bihar ( October 19- 20, 26- 27) during which she addressed more than 15 campaign meetings.

When things go wrong in politics, they never go half wrong. The defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections shattered the morale of the BJP; the elections last year broke its back and there is a very good chance that even without any damage being inflicted from outside, the men and women at Ashoka Road will finish the job.