Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 25, 2010

EARLY NEXT month, New Delhi will roll out the red carpet for US President Barack Obama. There will be a lot of protocol, pomp, diplomacy and dinners. And of course there will be much speechmaking about shared values of the two large multi- ethnic multi- religious democracies and the common challenges that India and the United States face. We saw the first part of this being enacted in Washington a few months ago when Obama invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur as guests for the first state dinner of his administration.

In June last, the president made a surprise visit to the State Department during a reception that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was hosting for the visiting foreign minister S. M. Krishna. The gesture was supposed to send across the message that India remains pretty much on the top of his agenda.

In the months since, India gone out of its way to ensure that the presidential visit is a success.
Considering that only very recently we showed the world how tardy we are in gearing up for big events, the facelift for Parliament House, where the president will address a joint session, is being overseen by top government honchos besides the secretary general of the Lok Sabha. In the next few days, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao will go live on Lok Sabha TV and Doordarshan to tell viewers about the high importance that India attaches to this visit. Our ministers have been jetting to and fro between New Delhi and Washington to make sure that when the red carpet is rolled up and before the guests are ready to leave, they will complement us for being good hosts. In the last four months, half of the senior ministers of the Manmohan cabinet have visited the US, the Indo- US Business Council has met twice and the Indo- US CEO's summit once while several high ranking officials of both countries have been flying in and out of the two capitals to hold backroom discussions.

But behind the public displays of bonhomie, the irritants remain and questions are being asked whether we are bending over backwards to please the visitors even as they continue to blow hot and cold. Take a look at the extent to which we go to keep them happy. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee promised American businessmen during his June visit that New Delhi will address their concerns on infrastructure, investment restrictions, opening up the insurance sector and on expediting legislation on the land acquisition act. During his visit to Washington last month, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma promised American businessmen calibrated FDI liberalisation in the defence Barack Obama and retain sectors.

Remember, these are contentious issues on which a consensus eludes the political class. And what does Uncle Sam give in return? Nothing. During the many recent rounds of meetings, the American response to every India demand has been “ we have a positive attitude”. Clearly, they are reluctant to put their money where their mouths are. Defence Minister A. K. Antony went to Washington last month to request the Americans to remove the restrictions on defence imports to India which were imposed after the Pokhran blasts in 1998. He met, among others, the US Defence Secretary, National Security Advisor besides the secretary of State but came back empty handed.

He also raised the issue of Pakistan using arms given by the Americans to fight the Taliban against India and the response he got from his US counterpart was that they will have something to say about it closer to the presidential visit. India has also consistently been raising issues like the recent hike of H1- B visa fees that has adversely affected our IT sector and US support for India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. On all these, Washington continues to hedge. While they are telling us to open up our markets, the Obama administration is amending American laws to protect their markets.

Consequently, there is a tussle going on in the establishment. The bureaucracy is vertically divided with the babus in the MEA and the economic ministers being more American than the Americans themselves, while the others are reluctant to blindly embrace all things American.
Barack Obama may not get the kind of rapturous reception that greeted Bill Clinton in Central Hall but with the establishment bending over backwards to accommodate every American demand, the president will be heading back with cheer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, October 24, 2010

Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who won the National Awards for best actor for the role Auro, a 13-year-old child suffering from progeria says that playing Auro in Paa was not a cake walk.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Khas Mulakat /Aajtak, October 18, 2010

बिहार के मुख्यमंत्री नीतीश कुमार खास मुलाकात में बताया कि वो विकास के मुद्दे पर चुनाव लड़ रहे हैं और बिहार में अब विपक्षी पार्टी भी विकास की बात करने लगी है यही उनकी (नीतीश की) सबसे बड़ी जीत है.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 18, 2010

MONEY, blackmail, lies and deception have always been the lifeblood of politics. Nowhere is this truer than in Karnataka where over the past few weeks a disgusting natak ( drama) has been played by the country’s two main political parties. A government that was supposedly sailing along smooth was overnight brought to the brink of disaster and politics reduced to the level of the cesspool.

If anything, the natak in Karnataka reflects the collapse of the concept of collective leadership of both the national parties— the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) and the Congress. While their state leaders were indulging in horse trading, naked misuse of money and violation of constitutional norms, the national leaders of the BJP were oblivious to the goings on, some seniors being on foreign jaunts while others like Shanta Kumar who ironically is the BJP’s pointman for Karnataka were unaware of the impending crisis. In the Congress, the plan was hatched by a section of the High Command.

Now that the harried Yeddyurappa has won an unprecedented second vote of confidence in less than a week, everything seems to have come back to square one. He is still the chief minister and H. R. Bhardwaj who is being painted as the main accomplice, still resides in Raj Bhavan.

An inquest is bound to follow and what remains to be seen is if anyone will be made to pay the price. If so, it will be Bhardwaj who attracts controversy like moths are drawn to light. As a former union law minister and a legal eagle who has got many a VVIP off the hook, he is the last one you would expect to trip up on a matter with serious legal implications. Congress Governors have traditionally been masters at the black art of destabilising non- Congress governments and Bhardwaj’s appointment in Bangalore was meant to serve a purpose.
The Congress, characteristically, was having its cake and eating it too. Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad who is in charge of Karnataka was the party’s invisible hand whose responsibility was to save both the central leadership and the Prime Minister from direct line of fire in the event of Operation Topple backfiring.

Mercifully for the Congress leadership, the BJP reserved its ire for the governor. Under pressure, the normally unflappable Bhardwaj did several flip flops. The last of which was to ask Yeddyurappa to prove his majority after he had already recommended dismissal of the government. No one knows the fate of the Governor's recommendation of dismissal. Has the Union cabinet rejected it or has it been kept away for future use?
Now that the sordid drama is Yeddyurappa behind us, the pieces are slowly falling into place. If public posturing is anything to go by, the Congress has dumped the governor. Insiders at 24 Akbar Road tell me that the governor exceeded his brief.

The Congress would not have ventured into such adventurism when it knew that there would be hurdles in getting the dismissal of the Yeddyurappa government and imposition of President’s Rule ratified by both houses of Parliament.

I gather that during last week’s meeting with the prime minister, the BJP leaders conveyed to him that they would boycott the joint session of Parliament being convened for President Barack Obama’s address if the Yeddyurappa government is dismissed. The PMO was also told that the BJP was in possession of tapes ( similar to the Moily tapes that toppled the Ramakrishna Hegde government in 1983) that had the Raj Bhawan, Janata Dal ( Secular) and Congress discussing terms and the contours of the Operation Topple. Once the High Command was convinced about the fall out, it backtracked.

TV pundits have already decreed that Bhardwaj has fallen out of favour. Nothing could be farther from the truth because the Congress leadership needs his legal skills in future too. But for the moment, Bhardwaj is the scapegoat. He has named two top AICC leaders as the villains of the piece and sources close to him say whatever he did was at their behest after messages were conveyed through a union minister. Bhardwaj is not known to be a quitter, but very reliable sources tell me that he may put in his papers on Tuesday.

This has set alarm bells ringing in the Congress which is now trying to placate him by swapping governors at the Bangalore and Bhubaneswar Raj Bhavans. In that case, watch out Naveen Patnaik!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, October 10, 2010

Mohammad Hashim Ansari, the 90-year-old litigant and Mahant Bhaskar Das, chief of Nirmohi Akhara talk to Aajtak on the show Seedhi Baat about the issues concerning the Ayodhya verdict.
Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 11, 2010

IT WOULD be no exaggeration to say that if a list of all the buildings, roads, airports, stadia, colleges, universities and social welfare programmes across the country named after the Nehru- Gandhi family were to be compiled, it would be thicker than the Delhi telephone directory. A first time visitor to the capital could be forgiven if he is led to believe that the city belongs to one family. After all, he will land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, be driven past scores of buildings named after Nehru, Indira or Rajiv. As he scans the papers, he is likely to read stories about Rahul Gandhi spending the night in a Dalit hamlet in Uttar Pradesh or the chairperson of the National Advisory Council, Sonia Gandhi advising cabinet ministers to closely monitor the implementation of centrally sponsored schemes, many of which are named after three generations of prime ministers from one family. The Indira Awas Yojana, Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water mission, , Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, the Indira Gandhi Canal project, the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, to name just a few.
All that may now come to an end. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has issued a fiat to his cabinet ministers to exercise discretion while naming new programmes or schemes in the name of late former prime ministers Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi. The reason is not because he feels that there already are far too many programmes to honour them, but due to the manner in which these are implemented. Far from honouring them, they are insults to their memories, he thinks.

A letter dated October 6 sent by Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar on behalf of the prime minister states that henceforth the names of leaders like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi should be used very sparingly as the practice has become rather “ widespread and indiscriminate.” It further admits that the purpose of identifying government schemes with national figures is undermined by the fact that many of these do not end up achieving the desired impact.

It is not known how 10 Janpath will react to this latest diktat: will the family concur with the prime minister’s assessment or do Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka believe there is scope for more?
I understand that the Manmohan missive followed periodic reviews of many of the major schemes and the mounting criticism from across the country, including non Congress leaders, to the endless naming of everything in memory of members of one family.

The Prime Minister’s directive may well be an attempt to prevent alliance partners from giving their regional leaders a larger than life image. Already Mayawati is carving a larger than life image for herself, literally and figuratively across Uttar Pradesh’s landscape.

The DMK is on an overdrive to replace the giant 80 ft cardboard cutouts of M Karunanidhi with permanent structures to be named after the Kalaignar so that, long after he moves on, his children and their children continue to benefit. Political dynasties are emerging in other states too.

With over half the states being ruled by the non- Congress parties, some of whom are coalition partners in the UPA government, there is increasing demand from regional parties that central schemes in their respective states be named in memory of their leaders.

The naming trend began after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in 1964 when some institutions were named after the late prime minster, with the JNU, which was set up five years after his death being among the biggest.

But the trend turned into a renaming frenzy after Indira’s assassination in 1984 when Delhi’s Palam airport was renamed the Indira Gandhi International airport.

Since then, there has been no stopping. The opposition however fears a flip side to Manmohan’s directive. Don’t be surprised therefore if some of the flop schemes are renamed after Deen Dayal Upadhyay or Veer Savarkar.