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.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, October 31, 2010

Indian shuttler queen and CWG gold medallist Saina Nehwal says on the show Seedhi Baat that one has to be physically fit to be No.1.