Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, February 22, 2010

Second thought on Pak talks?
AS IN business, so in diplomacy, targets are set, but some being unrealistic, they are doomed from the start or aborted before takeoff. The foreign secretary- level talks between India and Pakistan scheduled this Thursday fall in this category. The overwhelming majority in the Cabinet Committee on Security( CCS) thought that the environment wasn’t conducive for talks and was against its resumption.

They finally bowed to the PMO’s wisdom. The government first said the talks would be open- ended but after the attack in Pune, the nuances are shifting. Foreign minister S. M. Krishna now says the talks will be exploratory in nature, which is like saying “ Okay we’ll meet, but we will only talk about talking”. Home minister Chidambaram says all pending issues related to 26/ 11 will be taken up by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao when she meets her Pakistani counterpart in New Delhi on Thursday. Defence minister A. K. Antony feels there is “ nothing wrong” in talking but adds that Pakistani terrorist camps are “ still active”. The Army Chief accuses Pakistan of sending militants across into Kashmir.

Across the border, Pak ministers who were, just a fortnight ago, gloating over making New Delhi “ blink first” are now accusing India of putting fresh hurdles in the way of talks. They may be right. For it appears to me that New Delhi would now do anything to wriggle out of the talks. It’s a lose- lose situation for the government.

If the talks fail it will lose face. If they are cancelled at the last minute, the government will have to answer the question: why were they announced at all? Parliament is in session and I can wage a bet that over at 11 Ashoka Road, the knives are being sharpened. Once again, the dialogue may be the victim.

Gadkari on lookout for a spinmeister
SINCE taking over as the BJP president nearly six weeks ago, Nitin Gadkari has done much plainspeaking to antagonise some of its well- entrenched sections and said and done a lot to re- energise the party. With his deep roots in the RSS, there is general acknowledgement that there is none better qualified than him to lead the BJP, but among his current priorities is one that is very un- RSS like.

Gadkari is on the lookout for a spin doctor to head the BJP media cell, which, according to him, should be handled by professionals as opposed to the army of amateur spin doctors who have so far managed to terribly harm its relations with the press.

Gadkari is looking for a person with connections and not necessarily convictions. His eyes fell on someone whom even his political opponents grudgingly acknowledge is the King of Spin. He has been a speechwriter to a former Prime Minister as also to a former deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister in- waiting. Unfortunately for Gadkari, he is so much in demand these days that even a king’s ransom may not suffice for acquiring his services. Apart from being advisor to a high profile tantrumprone Union minister from West Bengal, he also helps out with writing speeches for a Mumbai based industrialist who is one of India’s wealthiest businessmen and figures in the Top Ten in every “ richest men in the world” survey.
As such, the spin doctor's calendar is full and Gadkari may have to look elsewhere for a match- winning spinner.

But over at Akbar Road, Congress leaders still do it the old- fashioned way, only the frequency has increased. In the last week alone, minister Ambika Soni, party spokespersons Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Manish Tewari held separate lavish parties for the media and more are in the offing.

These are all well- attended and the Congress gets the positive column inches that the government’s record doesn’t warrant. It only goes to prove that the Grand Old Party hasn’t discarded the old dictum that the way to a journalist’s moving fingers is through his stomach.

UNLESS it is a terror strike or an alarming law and order situation, it’s seldom that the Centre accedes to a request from a state government with such alacrity. Not the least when the request comes from a regional government headed by another party. But when Uttarakhand chief minister Ramesh Pokriyal wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting that he ask Union ministers not to visit Haridwar during the Maha Kumbh, the Centre acted promptly.
Cabinet secretary K. M. Chandrashekhar sent out letters to all Union ministers, attaching a copy of the CM’s letter. It stated that in view of the massive crowds of devotees expected during the Maha Snan that will go on till the middle of April, the state authorities would not be able to make special arrangements towards the protocol and security for Union Ministers and other VVIPs. In past years, such VVIP visits have led to unpleasant situations when the bigwigs complained of lack of adequate arrangements.

In other cases, withdrawal of police and security apparatus from the general public and their reassignment to VVIP duties have led to uncontrollable, even potentially dangerous situations.
Last heard, VVIP traffic to Haridwar is near negligible this year and consequently, there have been no untoward incidents so far.

It is to be hoped that the Union ministers have set an example and henceforth will take all directives from the Prime Minister’s Office equally seriously.

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, February 22, 2010

THE BUDGET session of Parliament starts today.
All eyes will be on Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee when he presents the Union budget on Friday and corporate India as well as the aam aadmi are eagerly looking forward to it. But our honourable MPs have other worries on their minds, particularly those belonging to the Rajya Sabha. This is because of a get- tough plan unveiled by Hamid Ansari, the Vice President and Chairman of the Upper House to crack down on truant ministers and MPs who are in the habit of taking their parliamentary responsibilities lightly.

Ansari has decided to hammer such truant elected representatives with a slew of measures and if these succeed — I don’t see why they shouldn’t — we will be spared the many shameful occasions in recent times when Parliament sessions had to be abandoned because too many MPs or ministers were absent.

The Vice President’s initiatives couldn’t have been more timely. Delinquency among MPs and ministers is rising by the day and last December, the Lok Sabha stood disgraced when on two occasions, Question Hour was suspended due to lack of quorum as many MPs whose questions were listed in the day’s business remained absent. Until the mid- 1980s, this sort of thing was a rarity, but now it’s happening with unfailing regularity. Consider these: of late, both houses are half empty when the day’s proceedings begin at 11 am with the traditional Question Hour. Even when they do turn up, it is often to hurl abuses or even wrestle with each other. MPs are lucky in that they don’t have to report for work until 11 am. In many states, assemblies convene at 8.30 am. One recent study showed that while the first three Lok Sabhas met for an average of 124 days a year, now it is less than 80. Things are so bad that Sonia Gandhi sent missives to her party men and the BJP leadership issued diktats to its MPs to get serious. But these didn’t work and I am not surprised, because in the current coalition scenario, I cannot see, for example, the DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi’s son M. K. Alagiri, a Union minister, taking commands from anyone except his father.

Some ministers and MPs may be plain lazy. But the more likely reason why many of them stay away is because it suits both sides: the former won’t have to answer embarrassing questions; the latter won’t have to sit up late nights doing homework for the next day’s session. And to think that for every minute that each house of Parliament sits, it may cost the exchequer a month’s salary of an MP. It’s easy to see why there is a near collapse of trust in politicians.

Vice President Ansari is not a career politician; he is a distin- Meira Kumar guished retired diplomat and an academician and it comes as no surprise that someone like him has decided to crack down on delinquency. He has made sweeping changes in the Rules of Procedure in the Rajya Sabha aimed at making ministers and MPs accountable. The new rules come into effect from today and will ensure that ministers do not escape answering questions even if the MPs who posed them are not present in the House.

Until now, if the MP who asked a “ starred question”— where the concerned minister has to give an oral answer as against the “ unstarred” ones where written answers are merely placed in the house — is absent, the question lapsed. Starting today, irrespective of whether the questioner is present in the House or not, the minister will have to give the information sought.

What’s more, other MPs who may want clarifications will now have the right to grill the minister on the subject. Ansari has sent letters to all members of the Upper House about the new rules and it is hoped that our MPs take it as a reminder that they have been elected to serve and they serve best when they attend Parliament. I see no reason why Meira Kumar shouldn’t be encouraged to usher in similar changes in the Lok Sabha.

Our MPs will then become more responsible and our claims of being a vibrant democracy will sound a lot more credible.

P. S. Too many businessmen have “ managed” their way into the Rajya Sabha, whose membership entitles them to diplomatic passports. These are being used increasingly for business purposes and the foreign ministry has now issued a circular warning against such misuse.

Like truant MPs, businessmen know their rights but it seems they too have to be reminded of their responsibilities.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, February 21, 2010

My marriage is for real: Rahul

Reality TV show Swayamvar star Rahul Mahajan says his marriage will defiitely take place at the end of the show and he has already made honeymoon plans.
Part 2 ; Part 3 ; Part 4

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, February 15, 2010

WHEN IN doubt, set up a panel. Earlier this month, the UPA government constituted the BN Srikrishna panel on Telangana and last Friday, the Union home ministry announced its terms of reference. If the UPA government hoped these were enough to lull the Telangana agitationists back to sleep, its calculations have gone terribly awry. The TRS which is spearheading the agitation has already rejected the government’s initiatives and I suspect that the budget session of the Andhra Assembly which begins today will be stormy, even violent.

Governor EML Narasimhan is to make his maiden address to the assembly but, last heard, wasn't sure what he would say on behalf of the state government since the state cabinet headed by K. Rosaiah, which has to approve his speech, has nothing to say on the Centre’s moves. I cannot recall another occasion where the deliberations of the Union Cabinet or central government formed part of the Governor's address in a state which has a duly elected government. Normally, the gravity of the situation would have demanded that the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs be called to discuss the matter, but the central political leadership, which has been feeling the heat from Telangana for about four months now, tossed the ball into P. Chidambaram’s court. The home minister’s firefighting skills are legendary but there is only so much that even wizards can do and I fear that what the mandarins have devised is not a clear road map to settle the issue but a formula for more political acrobatics.

The seven point terms of reference is a classic example of both legal and bureaucratic creativity that totally lacks conviction. The official statement vaguely defined the work of the panel headed by the former judge and four other wise members. Former home secretary V. K. Duggal, who is member secretary in the new panel, discussed with Chidambaram five crucial aspects concerning the title, headquarters, accommodation,administrative and financial allocations for the panel.

Two joint secretaries have been assigned to assist Duggal. They are faced with an uphill task. To start with, they have not been able to decide if the office of the panel will be in Mumbai where Srikrishna resides or Hyderabad, the city where the fire rages. There is some “ progress” though.

The panel has decided to take “ blanket permission” from Union Ministry of Personnel, to recruit 15 Research Fellows who will be the main link between the issues and the committee. The panel has also decided it will need a conference hall, 15 stenographers, 50 computer terminals, 10 landline phones with STD connections, fax machines, internet connections, chairs, tables and video and slide projector equipment.

If you think this a joke, consider the next one which is hilarious, to say the least. “ Clause ( 4) of the Terms of reference will identify the key issues that must be addressed while considering the matters mentioned in Clauses ( 1), ( 2) and ( 3) above.” It is bureaucratic gobbledygook at its best and betrays the confusion that reigns at the top levels in the Congress party over the creation of the new state. Congress insiders tell me that it was due to pressure mounted by its allies like the DMK and Trinamool Congress that the government didn’t take a final call. Top central leaders such as law minister Veerappa Moily, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram are all in favour of the government using the Telangana issue to set the tone for the creation of smaller states in due course, but the Congress leadership in the states stands divided on the issue. In almost all big states, the Congress faces the real threat of losing power to regional rivals which could in turn pose a threat to the government at the Centre itself.

Justice Srikrishna and Chidambaram are among the sharpest legal brains in the country and it is the Congress’ hope that between them, they will work out something that will find cross party acceptance. My own hunch is that whatever they come up with will not be enough to get the Congress out of trouble.

The TRS has already rejected the panel and is expected to intensify the agitation in the coming days. This in turn will prompt Mayawati to renew her demand for the division of Uttar Pradesh to put the Congress on the defensive during assembly elections in 2012.

Ultimately, the government will have just one option left: set up a Second States Reorganisation Commission. It will buy some time as well as help the party make up its mind. Till then, they should milk the political situation for all it’s worth.

Snippets / Mail Today, February 15, 2010

Why did Pranab meet Patil?
EVER so often, we read in the newspapers about the prime minister calling on the president at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Such meetings are described either as mere “ courtesy calls” or sometimes more serious interactions where the prime minister and the head of state discussed more vital political issues. But it is seldom that cabinet ministers, however senior they are, meet the president individually. That is why eyebrows shot upwards last weekend when within the space of less than 12 hours, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee called on President Pratibha Patil. Apart from being finance minister, Pranab da also heads the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs.

So what prompted this unusual meeting? Did the finance minister meet Patil to brief her about the budget that he will present on February 26? Or was a crisis of unmanageable proportions brewing that the president had to be kept in the loop? Or, as is being speculated, did the twin meetings have to do with the judgment in a case in Amravati in Maharashtra, Patil’s home district, where the president’s husband Devi Singh Shekhawat, a man who has courted much controversy, was found guilty by a subdivisional magistrate’s court of usurping two acres of land belonging to a poor local farmer. Mukherjee met the president over an hourlong breakfast, after which he drove across to brief Manmohan Singh about his talks with Patil.

Later, in the same day, Manmohan Singh also went to Rashtrapati Bhavan and the fact that the visit lasted more than an hour suggests it was no mere courtesy call. Rumours swirling around the Capital suggest that the Opposition parties are planning to mount an offensive against the presidential spouse in an effort to embarrass the government. If these turn out to be true, the poor farmer may get his land back.

Pawar’s tete- a- tete with Balasaheb still a mystery
EVEN more than a week later, the smoke shrouding the secret meeting between Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is yet to be clear. While Pawar asserts that he had only IPL3 in mind when he drove to Matoshree, the Thackeray residence, the Congress party believes it just wasn’t about cricket.

The BCCI president Shashank Manohar accompanied Pawar to meet the senior Thackeray though Pawar is not a member of the IPL board which is an autonomous body, while Manohar is an exofficio member, being the cricket board chief. If indeed, as Pawar claims, it was IPL3 that he wanted to save from the Sena’s army of vandals, why didn’t he take along any of the IPL team owners or the tournament commissioners?
The Congress- NCP coalition government in the state has taken a strong stand against the Sena and the Home portfolio is with R. R. Patil of the NCP. If indeed it was the IPL that Pawar wanted to discuss with the Sena boss, why was Patil kept out? We all know that Pawar wears many hats; what is not known is which one he wore on this occasion. That he is a personal friend of Bal Thackeray is also well known. That’s why many, especially in the Congress, have concluded that the meeting was not about saving IPL3 but about embarrassing the Congress. After all, among the major political parties, the NCP alone has not come out in defence of Pakistani players while Pawar launched an offensive against team owners for their omission.

While Pawar keeps the Congress on the backfoot with his deadly googlies, the state home minister has shown whose side he is on. On the day the Shah Rukh starrer My Name is Khan was released, he went to the INOX multiplex in Nariman Point, bought a Rs 350 ticket and watched the film for precisely 10 minutes before getting back to office. Not that he found the movie a bore; more likely he just wanted to prove a point.

SECULARISM, it seems, is something to wax eloquent about, but not practise. Taslima Nasrin's case proves just that. When she fled Bangladesh in 1994 after her book Lajja inflamed Muslim fanatics, she was hailed as a crusader against fundamentalism. The Marxist government led by the Communist Party of India ( Marxist) in Kolkata gave her abode, New Delhi assured her all protection. But now she has become a victim of competitive vote bank politics.

The darling of the secular chatteratti classes is now searching for a place to hide and platform to speak. Last week, she flew into the Capital from New York where she has been living since she was asked to leave India last August. Due to the many “ fatwas” from Islamic fundamentalists everywhere, the security agencies in Delhi have taken Taslima into protective custody but officials handling her are at a loss about her repeated demands to go to Kolkata.

But the same government which once gave her a home now doesn’t want her to step into its territory. She came to India to renew her residence permit, something she has to do every six months. Indeed, it was extended but on condition that it must not be used by her to reside in this country and that she leaves immediately thereafter!!! It’s as heartless as telling a poor villager: Here’s your ration card. You are entitled to keep it as long as you don’t draw your rations.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, February 14, 2010

IPL chairman Lalit Modi talks about Jadeja's ban and his decision not to hold matches in Hyderabad over Telangana issue.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, February 8, 2010

Distributing the loaves and fishes is not easy

FINANCE MINISTER Pranab Mukherjee is a harried man these days and the impending budget is not the only reason for this. Also weighing him down is the impending appointments to fill the posts of about 70 non- official directors in nearly two dozen public sector banks. In the past, the prime minister used to have the final say in the matter, but now the job has been left entirely to Pranabda, the UPA’s man for all seasons and all reasons. There are more applications pending on his table for these jobs than there are petitions from corporate and political lobbies for budgetary concessions and Pranabda has shortlisted about 200 candidates from which the final 70 will be chosen.

As usual there is the political lobby of retired or “ lost” politicians who are leaving nothing to chance not only to make sure they find a place but find one on the board of one of the top five public sector banks like the SBI or Canara Bank. As Finance Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, VP Singh had banned politicians from being appointed to these posts, but after saboteurs had their way, the rule was later reversed.

Apart from politicians, there is another lobby comprising “ professional” directors. They are also known as “ permanent” directors because of their ability to stay put in their seats despite the many changes of regimes at the Centre. They are about 60 in all spread across different banks but have formed a cosy little club where everyone works in tandem to ensure the benefits are spread evenly.

Pranabda has plans to screen every applicant and seems determined to keep those directors who have formed a “ permanent habitat centre” out. Even if he meets with success there, one final hurdle remains. Those selected by him will finally have to be vetted by the Home Ministry. That’s where the indomitable P Chidambaram comes in.
Maybe she doesn’t really care at all
THAT she is unique was never in doubt. But Mayawati’s distinct, some would say bizarre, administration style baffles most politicians. As chief minister, she has set her own rules, created new precedents and a new administrative culture itself that could be the envy of most of her peers. Protocol, she thinks, is someone else’s problem.

Though she has been in power for almost three years she has hardly attended a meeting called by the Centre on any issue. She doesn't deign to meet visiting central leaders which also serves as a deterrent against the Prime Minister or other central ministers visiting the state.

Her boycott of the Chief Ministers meet called by the Prime Minister to discuss price rise and the Naxal menace is only the latest example. Her logic: she will not budge until agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is sacked for attacking her government. She didn't reply to the many letters written to her by Pawar on the sugar crisis and instead directed one of her junior officers to respond to Pawar's secretary to merely state that Pawar’s letter had been noted.

The lady obviously has her own logic. She is convinced that it is not the number of functions she attends in Delhi or the high level delegations from industry, trade or civil society that she receives which will decide her future but her own connect with administration as well as her people. But can a Chief Minister, and one as charismatic as Mayawati stay away from national dialogue? Uttar Pradesh is not merely the country’s largest state but a potential catalyst for overall economic development. Her concentration is on her pet projects like the Ganga and Taj Expressways which she thinks will change the face of her state. Her standoffishness means that the state which elects every sixth MP and has given the country eight of the 13 prime ministers will not be able to tap the benefits of collective national wisdom. Or may be Mayawati doesn’t care.

NOT for the first time have Indo- Pak relations fallen victim to the contradictions within the UPA. Politicians and diplomats in the capital were taken by surprise at last week’s unilateral announcement by New Delhi about resumption of Indo- Pak talks and it can be safely assumed that this has a lot to do with the recent shake- up at high levels in the government. MK Narayanan, the former National Security Advisor, as is well known, is a hawk, anti- Pak and anti- dialogue and had stalled all efforts aimed at resumption of talks after 26/ 11. His successor, the former Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon is comparatively a dove. The announcement, so soon after he took over as NSA, indicates that he wants to make up for his botched efforts in Sharm El Sheikh.

Nothing has changed in Indo- Pak ties since those dreadful days in Mumbai and while India may have found international sympathy and support, it’s Pakistan’s treasury that the Americans are pouring their money into. So it has boiled down to the personal agendas of two Mallus, born within a few miles of each other in that bureaucrat’s nursery called Ottapalam in Kerala’s Palghat district.

Knowing the pressure the Americans are putting on the prime minister, Menon’s initiative, I am sure, has Manmohan Singh's blessings. What remains to be seen is: what kind of dialogue are they going to have? Composite? Complete? Civil? Or Chaotic?

Power & Politics / Mail Today, February 08, 2010

MONEY and power have always been an explosive mix. Politicians use their unbridled powers to spin rags to riches tales while the rich have used the clout of money to make the political establishment dance to their tune. For far too long, this deadly mix, has darkened our political system and turned our politicians into objects of national suspicion. Ordinary people often wonder if there is one law for the rich and another one for the rest. The debate has reached official circles and the provocation for this is a chance scrutiny of the income tax returns of some ministers that revealed huge discrepancies between their affidavits filed before the Election Commission at the time of the last general elections and their declarations before the tax authorities.

It has resurfaced after affidavits filed during last year’s elections revealed that nearly half of the candidates had not filed their PAN details and many among those who had filed returns saw their assets increasing five fold, even ten- fold in some cases. Tax authorities have discovered after initial scrutiny that politicians are being wooed with gifts in cash and kind, that money is pouring into ventures floated by their family members and political scions who have graduated from some of the ‘ doomed universities’ are easily finding jobs in the very MNCs that were handing out pink slips to the far more gifted graduates of our best B- schools.

Let’s start with our ministers. There is a code of conduct in existence since 1964 applicable to ministers both at the Centre and in the states. Though it has no legal backing, all ministers are expected to scrupulously adhere to it, with the authority of ensuring its observance resting on the prime minister in the case of union ministers and chief ministers and with the chief ministers in respect of his or her cabinet colleagues. As government documents go, it is amazing for its brevity: it runs into less than five pages and lists all the do’s and some don’ts for ministers.

Among the do’s are that all ministers disclose to the PM or the CMs, as the case may be, details of assets and liabilities, business interests of himself and family members, sever all connections with any business in which he had an interest before his appointment and furnish annually by August 31 declarations to this effect. The don’ts say that ministers must not start or join any business, ensure members of his family don’t engage in business with the government, not accept contributions, political, charitable or otherwise, not accept costly gifts, avoid ostentatious parties etc.

Manmohan How many of our ministers actually adhere to these guidelines is anyone’s guess. Mine is that it is less than a handful, at the Centre and the states put together. Is it any wonder then that MPs and MLAs are following the same path. About a year ago, following reports which suggested that several union ministers were not filing their returns despite clear orders from the PMO, I had in these columns written about India Today magazine, where I am Editor, invoking the RTI to find out the truth. Our applications kept bouncing between the Central Information Commission, the PMO and the Cabinet Secretariat for over a year, at the end of which we were none the wiser.

The disease is not new, it is at least two decades old. Even during the NDA regime, there was not a single year in which all ministers submitted details of their wealth to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But during this regime, whose brainchild is the RTI that allows ordinary citizens to seek financial accountability, truancy has reached new heights. The Prime Minister’s office sends its annual missive which are dealt by ministers with a punch of two keys —“ control delete”. And I am told in the states the situation is far worse.

Why are our Ministers, chief ministers, MPs and MLAs so brazen about violating the code? One of the reasons could be the advent of coalition governments and consequent weak leadership where even a one MP party thinks it can do as he wishes because the government dare not raise a finger. In the UPA, this seems to have become the norm, thus making a mockery of the concept of transparency.

The right to know what the government and ministers are doing is fundamental to a democracy. Our political class seems to think that while democracy is a good idea, transparency is not.

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, February 07, 2010

The Union Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar says that several reasons such as rising purchasing power, high international prices for the spiralling food prices in the country.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, February 01, 2010

A MONG the more famous quotes about the game of football is one from a top English team manager who once said: “ Football is not just a matter of life and death. It is much more important than that”. What he said about the beautiful game could be a metaphor for cricketing ties between India and Pakistan. Long before the uneasy neighbours began to play each other, cricket had stopped being referred to as the “ gentleman’s game” and though the Ashes series involving England and Australia is the most celebrated rivalry in the game, nothing can match the passions that an Indo- Pak encounter arouses. Yet, as we have seen so often, after the last ball is bowled or the last wicket taken, and one side celebrates and the other agonises, fans have lined up to applaud the truly great performers— on both sides.

That’s why millions of cricket lovers around the world are appalled at the IPL’s decision to keep out Pakistani players from its third edition beginning in March. Foreign players have enriched the tournament in its first two editions and there were 77 foreigners registered for 12 slots available for them in IPL3. Of them, 11 were from Pakistan who incidentally are the current World T- 20 champions. Which team owner in his cricketing senses wouldn’t want to have a world beater in his team?
The issue predictably has triggered a cross border crisis with the Pakistan government accusing India of humiliating its players and threatening to snap all sporting and cultural ties. The owners of the eight teams have responded saying they merely acted “ under pressure from above”. This is rubbish. I have reason to believe that it was a decision jointly taken by all teams, prompted by the business calculations of their owners who paid crores to acquire the franchises. I am reliably told that at an informal meeting of team owners shortly before bidding began, one of them questioned the wisdom of investing money on Pakistani players in the absence of guarantees that the players would be given visas or allowed to play. Such fears weren’t baseless considering the current cross border tensions.

Later, when bidding began, one team owner quoted from the morning papers a statement attributed to Robert Gates, the visiting United States Defence Secretary, that “ India will not tolerate another 26/ 11 attack on its soil”. After that, all it took was less than a minute for the eight owners or their representatives— including Vijay Mallya ( Bangalore ), Nikhjil Meswani, ( Mumbai) R Srinivasan ( Chennai) Shilpa Shetty ( Jaipur) and others to make up their minds.

Alarmed, the ICC representative at the meeting suggested a com- Shah Rukh Khan promise whereby Pakistan players could be kept out of matches in Mumbai— where the Shiv Sena had issued the mandatory pitch digging threats. But the owners were not ready to stick their necks out. Their obstinacy was enough to make even Saurav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, former captains who are in charge of coaching of the Kolkata and Bangalore teams and who know the real worth of the Pakistani players, fall in line.

Now that all hell has broken loose, all sides are involved in finger pointing. Team owners still insist there was pressure from “ above”. Some have come to the conclusion that the “ mysterious being above” is Lalit Modi, the IPL Commissioner. I cannot see the shrewd businessman ever coming up with such a business unfriendly strategy. Others lay the blame on the Home Ministry.
But Home Minister P Chidambaram, a self confessed cricket fan, has said that the government had no role in their exclusion. Proof of that lies in the fact that 17 Pakistani players have already been issued visas by the government of India.

So who is being economical with the truth? We will never know, but statements in the last few days from team owners indicate they are either confused or belatedly realise their mistakes.
Actor Shah Rukh Khan must have kept in mind the fact that his latest film, My Name is Khan is due for release soon and the Sena could turn a potential hit into a dud, at least in Mumbai.
Later, in a public statement he lamented the exclusion of Pakistani players. If he really wanted Pakistanis in his team, did his representatives fail to read his mind? Now that the Sena has dared him to pick one, it remains to be seen whether he will put his money where his mouth is. Others too have reacted similarly and we will have to wait and see. For the moment though, the message that has percolated down is: Damn the players, damn the spectators, the owners are there because of a lust for the fast buck.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, February 01, 2010

Narayanan’s departure heralds change
WITH the departure of MK Narayanan as National Security Advisor, the government has initiated the process of restructuring the security apparatus to fit the Chidambaram doctrine. Since he took over as home minister, his meetings with security and intelligence agencies have been on an almost daily basis and attended by, among others, the chiefs of RAW, IB, NSA, CBI and the Secretary ( Security). This has bogged him down in Delhi, leaving him little time to go around the country for a first hand look at things. Many are the times when he leaves the capital after one such meeting and visits three or four states before returning to New Delhi for the next day’s meeting.

This can tire the toughest of men and a search is now on for someone who is well versed in security management to take the responsibility for coordinating between the various agencies all matters relating to security and surveillance.

The candidate selection process will soon begin and the government is not limiting its choices to the establishment; professional security and strategic experts are also being shortlisted. The one who finally gets the job is likely to be given the rank of secretary and will be asked to head a new outfit which most probably will be called the National Security Group or Panel. The chiefs of the RAW, IB, CBI and others, barring that of Military Intelligence, will report to the NSG who will in turn report to the Home Minister. The restructuring ought to have taken place long ago since Chidambaram had planned these steps not long after he had taken over in the aftermath of 26/ 11. But stiff resistance from an entrenched cabal meant that his plans were put on hold for more than a year. Now that the obstacles are beginning to melt, he has lost no time.
More power to his elbow.

They are missing PC at Davos meet

FOR some years now, the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos has been one that no businessman from India worth his balance sheet would dare give a miss. Four years ago, the theme at the meet was “ India Everywhere” and Indian businessmen joined the government to launch a marketing blitz to convince global investors that India was the place to be. Since then, the world has been on a financial roller coaster but there’s no stopping India or Indians. This year, over 90 business honchos have joined ministers Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma and the Planning Commission chief Montek Singh Ahluwalia in the Swiss ski resort. And as usual, they are making a splash. Still, there is one man who is missed: P Chidambaram.

He has led the Indian team to Davos the last few years and is on first name basis with most government and business leaders. Of course they are aware that he has moved from finance to home, but many of them still thought that his credentials as a financial diplomat would have given the Indian team a much needed boost, especially in dealing with the Chinese.

Besides, there is the acknowledgement that in the current global scenario where matters relating to the economy cannot be delinked from those related to security, Chidambaram would have been an asset. But who is to tell them that we do things differently here? The division of labour among the UPA top brass is in stark contrast to the NDA government where a handful of senior leaders decided everything from economy to trade to terrorism to cricket. Pranab Mukherjee is among the best finance ministers we have had, but he is not the kind to want to rub shoulders with the high and the mighty in Davos.

He is more comfortable leading political firefighting operations at home along with AK Antony, Veerappa Moily, Digvijay Singh and Ahmed Patel. The economic pie is shared between Kamal Nath, Sharma and Ahluwalia who between them are doing an admirable job. Security remains the sole preserve of Chidambaram. The fatcats in Davos may be missing him but I am sure PC doesn’t miss them .

THE 15th Lok Sabha has the largest contingent of young members of Parliament and while many of them are yet to display their full potential on the debating floor, they seem to have reached a cross party consensus on one thing: food. One of the privileges of being a member of Parliament is that it enables you to tuck into just about edible matter at ridiculously low costs, thanks largely to the huge subsidy offered by the Indian Railways, official caterers to Parliament House. Things may change soon. The kitchen that serves Central Hall has been temporarily closed and the old kitchen inside Parliament House is being renovated and the babalog seem to have convinced the powers that be that it’s time to better the fare at India’s most exclusive club. Among those who have raised the demand for better quality and more variety in the daily fare are young MPs like Supriya Sule, Milind Deora and Jitendra Prasada.

The General Purposes Committee of Parliament is expected to take up the matter at its next meeting scheduled in March and if the proposal is accepted, large hotel and restaurant chains could be making bids to keep the honourable MPs gastronomically content. Mamata Banerjee shrieks each time someone tries to curtail her department’s powers, but with the railway minister sportingly acceding to the young MPs, the all new cafĂ© could open as early as the next winter session.

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, January 31, 2010

I am upset with Mulayam: Amar

Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh on the show Seedhi Baat that he has been treated very badly by the party.
Part 2 ; Part 3 ; Part 4 ; Part 5