Monday, May 30, 2011

Sachchi Baat with Dr Farooq Abdullah / ETV / May 28, 2011

Dr. Farooq Abdullah, says that a peaceful dialogue with Pakistan would be more fruitful as compared to what the Americans had resorted to. He also reveals that during the 1999 Kandhar hijack, he was personally not in favour of setting the militants free, but succumbed to the pressure created by the media and the then ruling government.

Sachchi Baat

Hello! Our guest for today on ‘Sachchi Baat’ is union minister for new and renewable energy, Farooq Abdullah, who has also been the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. He is also involved in many social activities; today I will do Sachchi Baat with him because he has taken an oath to be truthful.

FA: All of us have taken the oath of speaking the truth.

PC: I have been witness to your political career for the past thirty years, in which you have been the Chief Minister of Kashmir and have taken a tough stand on many occasions when India faces problems because of Pakistan. Hence, do you advocate India doing an Abbotabad style operation to flush out terrorists harbored in Pakistan who are attacking India time and again.

FA: See, America never said that they are going to do the Abbotabad operation, they did it, after that the whole world came to know about the incident. Unnecessarily, we debate on whether we are going to do such an operation or not. Let me tell you, we are not going to do such an operation; we are not doing to do it.

PC: You mean we should not talk about such an operation ….

FA: No, I am telling you we are never going to do such an operation.

PC: Why, is there some weakness that we have?

FA: We were never weak. We want that instead of escalating a conflict, if differences can be sorted out through dialogue, then that is a better option than bloodshed.

PC: Who would have more credibility than you, and you have already had dialogue, when you were Chief Minister of Kashmir, but nothing fruitful happened?

FA: No, there have been positive results, since the time talks started during Vajpayeeji’s (Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee) time. One must not forget that when the talks were progress, the Kargil war happened then, but he did not shut the road of dialogue and deliberations with Pakistan. Even the present prime minister would not abandon the path of dialogue, and he wants to solve the issue only through dialogue. Hence, one can all see that many things have improved in Kashmir, like travelling, trade and even infiltration across borders is not there like earlier times. There are no incidents of firing, earlier the farmers feared to go to the farms and not even sit at home, those all problems have stopped.

PC: You talked about Vajpayeeji, he started dialogue, even then there was an attack on parliament, and then again Musharraf was invited to India. Then 26/11 happened in India..

FA: See, India has had a policy; that army will not be used for issues that can be solved by engaging in dialogue.

PC: You are advocating dialogue, but they are not handing us over the fugitives demanded

FA: Now, we have put pressure on them, we have sent a new list. Wait for some time, the whole world is putting pressure on them, not only us. The biggest country like America, European Union and many other countries have put pressure.

PC: Do you think America is with you

FA: See, America has been good for ours; it is not that, there is a good friendship between us.

PC: They did not help us get one wanted fugitive back to India, Advaniji (Former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani) had given a list to America in 2002, I had been to Washington with him them. That list has been repeated again many times …

FA: Things have changed since then. Even in Pakistan they understand that terrorism does not yield any results. Even they might have internal problems of their own, like we have our problems, they might have them too.

PC: There is not time limit to this, what do you think?

FA: It’s not about the time limit, the kind of improvement I am seeing there, I think steps towards improvement would be taken soon.

PC: What improvement, the way people are dying in Pakistan due to attacks happening there…

FA: Even they are realizing now..

PC: But whom you will talk to, even if you want to have a dialogue.

FA: Let me tell you Prabhuji, the kind difficulties they are facing now, we have faced that already. We had told them earlier, the things that were doing against us would devour them one day, and that is happening now.

PC: Talking about dialogue, everything is run by ISI there, even America said that Osama Bin Laden was living under their nose in Abbotabad, and they said they didn’t know, would you believe this..

FA: No I wouldn’t.

PC: They definitely would have known it.

FA: Nobody believes them, its not that only I don’t, nobody believes them.

PC: When they could not remove Osama from their country.

FA: Now they are going to hand over Omar, who is in Afghanistan,.

PC: You think they will do it

FA: They will do it, now the pressure is immense.

PC: That means Pakistan will hand over enemies of America, why doesn’t it hand over enemies of India?

FA: That time will also come; it will come (smiles…)

PC: You as a senior political leader, Kashmiri leader, Hindustani leader have been fighting for India, are you not unsatisfied with the dialogue process.

FA: See, the road of dialogue should not be stopped.

PC: Sachchi Baat…Sachchi Baat.

FA: Let other things be, but the path of dialogue should not be abandoned, it would be very wrong to do that.

PC: Even America was engaged in dialogue, and then it sent helicopters and flushed out..

FA: Superpower of the world, they can do it, Pakistan is their friend, even then they are sending drones in their territory which are throwing bombs, killing people.

PC: We don’t have drones?

FA: We also have drones, that is not the issue, but we don’t want to use it.

PC: Seems it is not politically correct to do so…

FA: Would not be politically correct at this juncture, there are people there who are good friends of India. They understand their terrorism would not be over until their differences with India are sorted out and the two countries become friends.

PC: So, we have not to take any such action in the near future.

FA: We should do nothing.

PC: Nothing

FA: We should have dialogue

PC: You are hesitating to talk about Pakistan.

FA: I never hesitate to talk.

PC: You are hesitating

FA: I never hesitate, never hesitate.

PC: You are strong hearted, but

FA: Truthfully saying, I have seen those problems, Prabhuji, which you can never think of.

PC: Two time terrorists were handed to Pakistan, once in 1990, the other when Advaniji’s time, both times you took the decision, even you are party to the crime.

FA: It is true I took the decision that time, but Delhi had compelling reasons, it was not my helplessness. See, when they hijacked and took that plane, which was carrying 180 people, and there was a lot of hype generated by the media. People were hanging out, crying, dancing outside Vajpayeeji’s home demanding that the people should be brought back at any cost. Then he had to take a decision, and a harsh one at that. Let me tell you in 1990 itself, if we had shown that we will not tolerate terrorism and not taken that decision, if Delhi had not put pressure then, also not freed three people in exchange for people, then it would have been said that India does not tolerate terrorism. Today we are termed as a soft state.

PC: In 1990 when VP Singh was Prime Minister, you were the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and when the then home minister’s daughter was kidnapped, you let off people.

FA: I let off people.

PC: You were the chief minister then, did you object

FA: I want to tell you one thing; you must ask these questions to two people who came to meet me that day, IK Gujral and Aarif Mohammed and what I said to them at that time.

PC: You tell me

FA: I said they should never be let off. In fact at time senior IB official, the chief secretary of the state also said that there is no question of handing over the terrorists. But there was a strong message from Delhi, I had said then itself, remember the problems that we will face if we take this step, will be very harsh.

PC: Did you put your protest on record then…

FA: It has come on record, I had written a 13 page letter, it will be in the President’s house. I had sent the letter to the Governor and he forwarded it, in which I mentioned all the factual details of what happened, what was said and what was my opinion. Also, when the plane hijack episode happened, it again put my opinion on record. You can call Dulat and ask him, he was present on both occasions.

PC: What was you main objection then.

FA: My main objection then was that shaking hands with terrorism will only lead to devastation for us.

PC: That means the government in Delhi bowed before terrorists, is that what you mean to say

FA: Yes. During Vajpayjee’s time three people were let off in response to a call from top central government powers then.

PC: Who were these top powers?

FA: Foreign minister Jaswant Singhji , he spoke. Then Advaniji was asked to speak, but see there is no use of digging old graves now.

PC: But these issues are still raised in the political arena, there are allegations and counter allegations, but you were the main actor then.

FA: Main actor was the media which gave hype to the whole issue. Why did they shirk responsibility that time, if the media had said that India should take tough decision and now bow before terrorism, then I think, nobody would have been let off.

PC: Farooq saab, you released three people on that day, who were also facing charges in the court of law.

FA: Who asked the judge then whether to release them or not.

PC: So, without asking the judge they were let off.

FA: The biggest powers of the land came, the jet was ready, they were made to sit in the jet, taken to Delhi and then to Kabul. Now we are naming them and demanding those people back, none are coming.

PC: Atalji did not speak to you directly

FA: Atalji was sitting there by the side, he said to the people to do things.

PC: The cabinet secretary would have spoken to you.

FA: No, no ministers spoke to me, not cabinet secretary.

PC: Jaswant Singh spoke, Advaniji spoke to you, what did he say?

FA: Advanji said all people are saying to release them, but I am saying from the heart, I did not feel Advaniji was in favour of doing so. But because it was a decision of the cabinet..

PC: CCS, even George Fernandes must have been part of it.

FA: Yes, all of them were there.

PC: Then Advaniji had the duty of conveying the same to you.

FA: He conveyed the decision to me, and then asked me to speak to Jaswant Singh.

PC: Since it was a decision of the cabinet, it must have been a collective decision; you must have had no option when Advaniji conveyed the decision to you.

FA: It was not a question of option, not a question of option, you must sometime invite the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, he would tell you what had happened.

PC: You could have resigned if you wanted.

FA: Do you think things would have changed; they would still take the same decision, even then those people would have been handed over.

PC: In retrospect you think there has been a fault.

FA: See; let me tell you, doing any kind of compromise with terrorism would be a big mistake, big mistake. One has to either to fight terrorism or destroy oneself, now one has to decide what to do.

PC: But you are saying time and again that Pakistan should not be attacked.

FA: There are people in Pakistan too who want good relations with India, don’t annoy them with such talks. Would one be happy if a democratic government goes out of power there and an autocratic government takes charge.

PC: Farooq sahab, how can terrorism and Pakistan be separated.

FA: Pressure has to be generated, international pressure has to be increased, only then the people there and we too can be saved from terrorism.

PC: In Kashmir it is being demanded that, army should move out.

FA: I don’t know who says that the army should be withdrawn, who says that.

PC: In your party also there are some political leaders

FA: We don’t say that the army should be withdrawn, who will protect the border. The China border, who will protect, that is not the point. The issue is army should be removed from the cities were the situation has normalized, and give relief to people. Where situation is not normalized as yet, keep the army stationed there, who has objected to that. The condition in Kashmir is better than before, an I feel Insha Allah, situation would get better there at a faster pace.

PC: Why there is a breakdown of dialogue between the opposition and ruling party in Jammu and Kashmir, Muftiji and your party. They don’t talk to your son, your son does not talk to them.

FA: See, as far as Farooq Abdullah is concerned, I talk to everybody. I don’t treat anybody as my enemy, if we have to solve the problems facing us, then all of us should work together. If we have to take the boat to the other side, then we must all move the oars together. If I keep on fighting, then the boat will never reach the other side.

PC: But now that talks are not happening between Mehbooba and your son.

FA:Why not, Mehbooba and Omar are speaking.

PC: But they never sit together on one platform.

FA: If the situation demands they will. Even she has work, is busy, moving all over in villages,cities and bazaars.

PC: Inciting hatred against you and your government.

FA: It is good.

PC: It is a fight between two dynasties’s there.

FA: The best feature about Indian democracy is that one had rights to speak in the open.

PC: But there has to be dialogue between ruling and opposition party in a democracy.

FA: There will be a dialogue one day.

PC: You are happy, looking at your son’s performance.

FA: I am very happy, he is doing well, he is working hard, he has got the stamina, he has got the age which I don’t have.

PC: A father is happy if his son performs does well, now your son is set in his career, do you interfere in his work.

FA: No, I don’t.

PC: There would have been problems if you did.

FA: No, there would have been no problems.

PC: You have energy, but the question remains if the government also has energy.

FA: No, there is a lot of energy. See, wherever there is trouble, problems have been sorted out.

PC: Farooq saab, it seems that the government has more emphasis on nuclear energy as compared to alternative and clean energy. Even the existence of the government was staked for this issue, but somehow the government was saved from falling. But areas like solar energy, hydro power are not on priority.

FA: There is tremendous emphasis; there are major projects under progress in the hydropower sector. Small projects are being built, in my ministry a power station of 25 mw is being set up. Machines are being installed in villages to supply renewable energy to whole villages. Electricity is being generated using wind and geo thermal sources. We are going setting up like wind mills and hydro power generation projects but even nuclear energy is essential, let me tell you why.

PC: But it is so expensive, what can one do.

FA: The biggest issue is that India’s energy needs are increasing by the day and are showing no signs of lessening. Even today after 60 years of independence, once can witness power cuts, even in big cities where the temperatures are hovering around 45 degrees

PC: Power plants are not running efficiently, there is huge problem of electricity thefts, is nuclear energy necessary, that to when it will be supplied at over Rs. 20 per unit. Then there is a risk of Japan type incidents happening in which more than thousands of people might lose their lives

FA : Such incident would never happen here. There would be great emphasis on the protection of the plants. The protection measures have increased after the Chernobyl disaster and more recently the one in Japan. All over the world, now there is great emphasis on protection of there plants even more than the construction, even we are doing the same.

PC: Tell me even one country that is setting up a nuclear plant. Even now Areva, which is setting up a plant in Jaitapur, has not completed work on a plant in Denmark. Prices of petrol are shooting up, nuclear energy is expensive, would power purchase become very expensive in the future for people.

FA: No, that will not be the case. When production of solar energy was started, it used to cost Rs. 18 per unit, within one year the cost has come down to Rs. 12 per unit. And by the grace of god, it will go down further. Hence, it is not so that the energy will become expensive.

PC: But then these projects are better for India rather than nuclear energy. Every village can have such projects but nuclear power plants cannot be constructed in every village. Nowhere, a 10,000 mw nuclear project has been set up, but we are planning to set up.

FA: Prabhuji, for India, all things are essential, be it coal, renewable energy or nuclear. We have to have a composite thing.

PC: If you have Rs. 10 in your pocket, what would you spend on, a cost effective thing, isn’t it.

FA: Yes, I will buy what is cost effective, but it is said, “ sasta roye bar bar, mehenga roye ek baar”

PC: What is Farooq Abdullah dream, what after energy minister.

FA: First let me produce energy.

PC: The presidential elections are coming up in 2012

FA: No, thank you very much.

PC: First time you got betrayed.

FA: No, what happened has happened. You have a habit of freshening old wounds (smiling, said in a lighter vein, laughing), for Allah’s sake, talk something sweet sometime (smiling, laughing).

PC: We are with you when you become president, will you call us as Rashtrapati Bhavan too (smiling)

FA: I would not speak anything on this issue.

PC: You are not a candidate

FA: I am not

PC: But if offered, you will be one.

FA: No, I am sitting silently.

PC: Another point is that kind of language being used in politics these days, without any sensitivity, during your earlier days (in politics), such language was never used in politics.

FA: “Ab kalyug aa gaya hain, kalyug mein kya kya hota hain.” What all happens these days, are elders respected, fathers are thrown out of their houses. This was not the culture of India, if India has to be saved, “then humara dharma majboot karne ke zaroorat hain, agar humara dharm majboot hoga, to humara karm bhee majboot hoga”

PC: One has to be smiling and improve relations with ones children.

FA: What one takes with himself in heaven, everything will be left here.

PC: No you tell the kids you speak well, not your own but the younger lot in politics.

FA: I tell everybody to speak with respect and courteously with each other.

PC: I will wait and see if and when you are anointed in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Thank you for coming to our show.

Thank you! Prabhuji.

Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard Magazine/May 29, 2011

It's All Out in the Open Now, So

Why the softness on Pakistan?

Practising politicians are rarely prophetic as they live only in the present. They refuse to read the writing on the wall if it is politically inconvenient. They don’t mind killing their conscience to serve their fake drawing room constituencies. This is exactly what our ruling establishment is doing when dealing with Pakistan. All of them concede that Pakistan is almost a dead nation, yet they want to engage those who aren’t safe even in their own country. They live at the mercy of those who pose a threat to India. While bloodthirsty fundamentalists continue to demolish all the civilised and democratic institutions of Pakistan, large-hearted leaders from the US and their Indian fellow travelers continue to lobby for a dialogue. They have no logic. They don’t even have an idea about whom to talk to. For them, a healthy and stable Pakistan represents a golden future. These regular yatris from Lutyens’ Delhi to Lahore are more concerned about their evening parties where champagne is spilled than about the blood spattered all over the streets of Pakistan and in Mumbai during 26/11.

If any more evidence of Pakistan being the most favoured and safest haven for terrorists was required, it was there in the form of the audacious attack on the Karachi naval base last week. Earlier, the US army killed the Badshah of Terror Osama bin Laden in an area that was barely a few kilometres away from the seat the Pak military establishment. In the US, David Headley left no one in doubt during his ongoing trial that he was trained and funded by the Pakistan’s dreaded and unconstitutional ISI.

Headley even gave details about the names of Pakistani officials, terror funds and terror attacks planned against India. Yet Indian peaceniks have turned their backs to the facts and plugged their ears. While American opinion makers are furious over Headley’s revelations and confessions, Indian authorities have chosen to hide behind diplomatic camouflage. While the US is waging its war on ISI-sponsored terror, Indians are debating through media and TV channels on how to make Pakistan a stable and viable state. Predictably, the US is speaking with a forked tongue. One argues for the safety of their country and its strategic interests. Another advises India to wait and watch, which means let the ISI divert its terror outfits to hit at will on Indian soil.

It is amazing that our leaders and cheerleaders for Pakistan behave like ostriches. In private, however, they admit that Pakistan is the global godfather of terror. Even a hardcore diplomat-turned-politician like Natwar Singh admitted during a TV interview, which he gave as India’s foreign minister in 2004, that Pakistan was a failed state. But fearing diplomatic disaster, he withdrew his remark before it was telecast. He, and all those who both preceded and followed him to South Block, held almost similar views but never spoke their mind in the presence of colleagues or fellow diplomats. Hardly a day passes without women losing their husbands, children their parents and mothers their children in Pakistan, but its rulers instead of flushing out the killers boast about targeting India and that too on the floor of their parliament. General Pasha, the man whose ruling passion is harbouring and training terrorists isn’t bothered about the implications of his warmongering.

Why should he? He was, after all, addressing a captive house that enjoys only a token mandate from the people of Pakistan. None of them dared question the ISI chief about his dangerous plans to attack Indian defence and civil installations. Meanwhile, as Pasha was spewing venom, our leaders were still talking about talks. From Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to most Congress leaders, all pleaded for an incensed India to ignore the hawkish boast of a frustrated military establishment across the border. Moreover, American leaders visiting the subcontinent were exhorting their Indian counterparts to restrain themselves from speaking the same language as Pakistanis. Even the American collaborators in India are more active now than they have ever been before. Using foreign-funded think tanks, they have mounted pressure on Indian political, corporate and social circles to prevent the Government from taking any sort of action against Pakistan. None of them has spoken out for the repatriation of 45 fugitives, including Dawood Ibrahim who lives like a monarch in Pakistan. Not even a single NGO has demanded the dismantling of terror camps operating across the LOC. Instead, they go about collecting crowds and inviting Pak chatteratti and glitteratti to participate in Indian cultural festivals in return for generous remuneration. Even India’s hawkish Home Minister P Chidambaram admitted in a candid interview that while India has a limited capacity to undertake an Osama-type operation in Pakistan, it has constraints. It is clear that even his hands are tied.

For the past few months, as more and more evidence against Pakistan’s patronage of terrorism surfaces, Indian movers and shakers retreat further into their shells. While candlelight peace processions and seminars have almost vanished, so have those who were aggressively advocating an offensive against Pakistan; instead they are seen participating in seminars and conventions abroad. Escaping the summer heat seems to be more important than turning up the heat on Pakistan. Suddenly our over-enthusiastic defence chiefs also have lost their bravado and have stopped giving vent to their inner feelings. Defence Minister (Saint) A K Antony always preaches tolerance, even in the wake of serious provocation. Chidambaram will be reflecting the mood of the nation if he demands a level-playing field for Indian forces when he meets US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Chidambaram should demand the destruction of the evil empire of terror, whose access to Pakistan’s nukes will always be an ominous possibility. It can be done with US cooperation. Or if need be, in spite of them.

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/May 29, 2011

UPA's Nuclear Push Morphis into Shove

As protests against proposed nuclear plants in India continue, the UPA has decided to brazen it out—both at home and abroad. The same team that bulldozed opposition to the 2008 nuclear deal has roped in commercial and academic interests to create a pro-nuclear climate among political, social and economic groups in India and overseas. Hostile leaders will be persuaded not to incite local populations against land acquisition for N-plants. Refusing to learn a lesson from the Fukushima disaster, the Indian government is, unwittingly, becoming a stooge of nuclear businessmen. Next month, a high-powered Indian team will participate in the ministerial-level meeting of the

International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. According to government sources, a nexus of US, UK and India will hardsell civil nuclear power with additional safeguards. India wants to maximise nuclear energy production by 2030 and is the biggest market for nuclear reactors—spending over $25 billion in the US and France. Atomic reactor-makers are facing a major crisis, following Switzerland, Germany, Italy and even Japan abandoning plans for new power plants and phasing out existing ones. But India has signed up for two big N-projects in Gujarat and Maharashtra. While all other major manufacturing proposals for steel, cement, thermal and hydro power plants as well as highway construction languish, nuclear stations are being cleared at jet speed—the impact on marine life, underground water pollution and their ability to withstand tsunami-type natural disasters ignored. Obviously, UPA II’s success lies in pushing expensive and unsafe nuclear energy to the aam admi.

Due Diligence on Vigilance Now
The Union Government has finally realised that it can’t delay the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner further. Last week, the PMO finally decided to compile the details of over 90 probable candidates. Following a Supreme Court judgment, the department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) invited applications from both serving and retired civil servants and the corporate sector. Bitten by the P J Thomas fiasco, the twice shy PMO is not willing to take risks. It has referred all applications to the intelligence agencies and the Income Tax department. For babus who have served in the states, reports from state governments are being sought. What is baffling the PMO is why senior corporate executives—over a dozen—are willing to give up lucrative jobs to become CVC at less than 10 per cent of their current salary. A corporate executive, if selected, will enjoy enormous clout over the selection of all senior civil servants, PSU chiefs and directors and supervise the CBI. The prevailing post-scam animosity towards corporates has made the DoPT cautious. The PMO will shortlist 15 candidates, of which five names will be put up before the selection committee. The PMO expects a unanimous decision but the current hostility with the UPA may force it to present a list of aspirants without political baggage.

What is Sharad Pawar up to?

When Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar sneezes, Congress leaders catch a cold. The massive political attack on his integrity had forced him to lie low for the past few months. Last week, he met Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu for over an hour in Delhi—their first meeting after the Assembly polls—flustering senior Congressmen. Since Naidu had earlier visited Chennai to attend Jayalalithaa’s swearing-in ceremony, his sudden arrival in New Delhi created a flutter in Congress circles. Pawar maintained that Naidu’s visit had no political overtones, but TDP leaders dropped enough hints suggesting otherwise. Pawar is assessing the Andhra Pradesh government’s stability; with the DMK in a sulk, a split in the Andhra Congress will rattle the UPA. Pawar’s annoyance with the Congress was obvious when he arrived late for the UPA’s second anniversary celebrations at the PM’s residence. While other allies shared the dais with Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, Pawar chose the first row, deputing Praful Patel to join them. After the speeches, he sat with Singh while others kept Sonia company.

Ministries at War Over Natgrid
In the UPA, the turf war is not confined to alliance partners. Ministries controlled by Congress ministers are at war on national security. Recently, the prime minister sent out the file on the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) for further debate. A brainchild of P Chidambaram, the Rs 2900-crore Natgrid was conceived to ensure connectivity and collectivity of information regarding the suspicious activities of many Indians to be shared with other security and intelligence agencies. Raghu Raman, a senior Mahindra & Mahindra executive, has been chosen to set it up, and is paid Rs 1.5 lakh a month with the rank of secretary. Both the foreign and finance ministries have raised questions about the safety and reliability of information collected by a corporate honcho. Raghu Raman’s visits to the US without clearance from the RAW and the foreign ministry have been questioned. The finance ministry believes Natgrid is a colossal waste of money and will create confusion. Undeterred, Raghu Raman has mounted a massive PR exercise on Natgrid, which, he claims, will make India safer. Can he get away with it?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Race Course Road/May 22, 2011

Seven degrees of spin don’t cut it for UPA

The troubled Kapil Sibal, leadership has found that its strategy of bullying the media with cacophony has failed. The prime minister appointed a powerful seven-member Group of Ministers (GoM) on Media to serve as a “structured mechanism to disseminate information and to fill the news vacuum”. Home Minister P Chidambaram was chosen to lead his six other colleagues—Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, Salman Khurshid, Pawan Bansal, Ghulam Nabi Azad and V Narayanaswamy—all well-known lawyers. Chidambaram’s mandate is to deal with terror and Centre-state relations while Sibal’s is telecom scams. Khurshid’s charge is Uttar Pradesh, and Azad’s Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Soni handles sensitive political issues, Bansal the PAC and JPC, and Narayanaswamy all CBI- related matters. The GoM was to meet daily. Chidambaram succeeded to charm hacks during his first media interaction on terrorism and the Uttar Pradesh farmers’ agitation. But that was the end of the GoM’s public performance. The Government had promised that one of the groups would meet the media daily, if necessary. But a week later, when the petrol hike happened, the GoM shied away from journalists. Chidambaram probably expected Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy to defend the Government, but Reddy didn’t oblige. Perhaps he wanted to escape public ire, fearing that public opinion will anyway crucify him when LPG, kerosene and diesel prices go up in the near future. All members found various excuses to avoid press briefings. Finally, the Government issued a handout. The GoM still remains invisible with no briefings on the “most wanted” goof-up, Karnataka Governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj’s antics and Kanimozhi’s arrest. Most of its members are conveniently out of the ‘hot’ capital. Even when the GoM met soon after Kanimozhi’s arrest, it probably decided that silence is golden. Moral: Manmohan Singh needs deeds to speak, not spin doctors.

The Great Karnataka Disconnect

There appears to be a major disconnect between 7 Race Course Road and 10 Janpath on Karnataka Governor H R Bhardwaj. It is perhaps for the first time that a Union Cabinet has not responded to the recommendations of a governor even after a week has passed. Bhardwaj had suggested that the Assembly be kept in suspended animation and the popularly elected state Government be dismissed. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram aren’t keen to open another front against the BJP. Any move to dismiss a duly elected government under Article 356 has to be initiated by the home ministry, but its officials have been instructed to keep the file pending. The Congress has been on the offensive—both at the Central and the state level—seeking the dismissal of the state Government on the basis of the Supreme Court strictures. In the absence of any clear directive from the high command, the prime minister is in a fix. The governor has thrown the ball in the Centre’s court by refusing to summon the Assembly session on the plea that New Delhi must take a final call. According to Raj Bhawan sources, the governor has been itching to move out of the state and jump into active politics in New Delhi. By adopting an aggressive anti-BJP stance, he has acquired political acceptability in the party. His actions now are meant to ensure his politically respectable exit from Karnataka even if it means embarrassment for the prime minister.

Azad’s Dire Andhra Diagnosis

The political health of Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is under a cloud. When it came to handling southern politics, Azad was always perceived as the man with the Midas touch. But last month he became the target of his foes in the Congress because of its massive electoral reverses in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Soon after the results were declared, he was sent to Andhra Pradesh to deal with the crises created by the huge victory of Jagan Reddy and his mother in Kadapa. According to Congress sources, the party’s high command was so paranoid with the likely fallout from the rise of the southern mother-and-son duo that it wanted to neutralise their influence before they turn into a political tornado. The Congress has also failed to deal with the Telangana issue so far. Now Jagan is perceived as the alternative force in the state. Azad spent two days in Hyderabad and submitted a three-page report to the high command. Azad’s prescription: the party needs a Jagan to fight Jagan. Since the party has none—former YSR acolyte Kiran Reddy failed to vanquish Jagan—let the Government at least okay Telangana so it may retain at least a third of the state rather than lose all of it.

Fly Now, Appoint Babus Later

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left India for a week-long overseas trip without revealing his mind about pending appointments to the posts of cabinet secretary, home secretary, chief vigilance commissioner, the two vacancies in the Union Public Service Commission and over half a dozen board-level vacancies in various Public Sector Undertakings, including the Oil and Natural Gas Commission. The prime minister is not willing to show his cards because of various pressure groups—including some UPA partners who are pushing their own candidates. The delay in choosing new babus has also a lot to do with a Cabinet reshuffle which Manmohan proposes after his return. Speculation is rife that even the Gang of the Top Five may be affected by the reshuffle. Moreover, new representatives from allies like the TMC and the DMK will have to be accommodated. So the prime minister will choose new bureaucrats to suit new ministers. Till then, the lobbyists have all the fun.

Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/May 22, 2011

Politics of antagonism will murder our democracy
The survival of democracy depends on dialogue and debate. Sadly, the Indian democratic system is being subverted by the very individuals who are expected to hold healthy discussions to resolve contentious issues. The picture of a chief minister seeking justice from the president of India against the atrocities unleashed by a nominee of the Rashtrapati Bhawan defines the impending collapse of India’s institutional framework. Last week, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa accompanied by 121 of his MLAs walked up Raisina Hill in New Delhi to meet Pratibha Patil because back home, Governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj had refused to engage the chief minister in sane dialogue. For Bhardwaj, the language of threats and dismissal was the best means to settle political disputes. As the BJP leaders were meeting the president, the governor issued yet another veiled threat to a democratically elected government which has been repeatedly winning the people’s mandate during the past few months.

The crisis in Karnataka symbolises the sickness that plagues Indian politics. Consensus has been replaced with confrontation, effusiveness with ego and accommodation with arrogance. As five new chief ministers took over in states which went to the polls last week, the mood at nearly every swearing venue was the jubilation of a bloody war won. It didn’t look anything like the celebration of an electoral victory. Those who were defeated by the voter were conspicuous by their absence; those who won were least concerned about their missing rivals who had earlier ruled the state for five years. It was a change without the continuity of democratic tradition. In both Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, no political party that vied for power had ever opened a dialogue with each other. Mamata Banerjee had been leading a relen
tless campaign against Marxist misrule for the past 15 years but not one photograph of her with former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has appeared anywhere. When did anyone last see J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi sitting across the table to discuss issues concerning their state? In fact, the leaders of the opposition (read whichever party that lost the elections) have made it a point not to attend Assembly sessions for five years in the wilderness.

No wonder, former chief minister Karunanidhi and his clan were missing in Chennai when Amma was sworn in. So were all prominent Left leaders in Kolkata and Thiruvanthapuram when the new chief ministers took charge. In Assam, there was no opposition worth the name left to represent those who lost to the Congress. This trend looks ominous for the survival of a pluralistic political system in which the majority must have its way while the minority is allowed to have its say. For the past few years, both the opposition and the ruling parties—at the Centre and in the states—have abandoned the democratic tradition of consulting each other on problems facing the people. In almost every state, the ruling party has hardly ever made an attempt to even invite the leader of the opposition for an informal meeting to discuss issues. For example, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has never met a single opposition leader in the past so many years. In Bihar, even the normally affable Nitish Kumar has kept the opposition at a distance, as if he doesn’t need their suggestions on tackling the state’s thorny problems. In Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti has spurned every offer of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to participate in all-party meetings. Kashmir faces daily threats of terror and is still one of the least developed states despite liberal grants from Delhi. But never have the ruling party and the opposition confabulated even once to get rid of poverty and ensure security.

Even when helpless Tamilians were being mowed down by the Sri Lankan army, it didn’t occur to Karunanidhi to invite the leader of the opposition for a brainstorming session. In the north, have we ever heard of the Chautalas of Haryana breaking bread with Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in the past seven years?

Perhaps, our state leaders are taking the cue from their bosses in New Delhi. For the past few years, all opposition parties have been locked in the foulest slanging match ever with UPA leaders. The most recent example is the total demolition of the Public Accounts Committee—an institution whose credibility had survived until now amid political scandal for decades. Confronted with the 2G impasse, its members resorted to the use of offensive language against each other rather than civilised and mature discussion. The political air has been fouled by mistrust so much that neither the Government nor the Opposition has met even once so far to take stock of the security situation arising out of the threat posed by the ISI chief’s outburst against India. It seems even the UPA’s coalition partners have forgotten to hold the usual meetings of the coordination committee. The fact is they are involved in an internecine secret war.

Their only agenda has been to dislodge, besiege and besmirch the reputations of one another through means both fair and foul. In the process, even daily political discourse has acquired venomous overtones with most leaders using acerbic, sometimes even abusive, language against each other. Perhaps, the current crop of political leaders have forgotten how Titans—who are part of their own political lineage—like Jawahar Lal Nehru, Ram Manohar Lohia, Atal Bihari Vajpayee conducted their political lives; each one of them was capable of going for the jugular within the legislature but would be seen dining together and sharing the same venue later in the evening. Lal Bahadur Shastri invited the RSS to work for civil defence and Vajpayee called up Indira Gandhi after India won the 1971 war against Pakistan. For them, the nation came first and not their names on the front pages or their faces on prime-time news. Now politicians use newspapers and the small screen to convey anger through abuse. Their discourses are not about solutions but slandering one another. GenNext is certainly a master of words but severely lacks wisdom.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

'Let forensics

prove Rahul

Gandhi's claims'

Says Rajnath Singh, former president of BJP in a freewheeling interview on Sachchi Baat .

What’s your role now?
I’m an ordinary BJP cadre. People call you kisan neta... If there is any issue affecting the farmers, I try to do as much work as possible in their interest.
No kisan neta has become India’s PM...
Lal Bahadur Shastri?
He was not a kisan neta, he just coined a slogan Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.

He worked for the people, and was the first politician to recognise the need for securing our borders, that is why he had Jai Jawan in the slogan. He also said that to develop the country, farmers’ conditions should improve, hence Jai Kisan.
BJP was wiped out in the recent assembly polls.

The states in which the elections were recently held are in parts of India where BJP does not have much influence. Earlier we didn’t even have one seat in those states. Still, in Assam our tally improved in the last elections— BJP won 10 assembly seats.
Now that’s down to five.
Yes, primarily due to large infiltration of Bangladeshis, who were given wholehearted support by the Congress government.
There were more leaders visiting Assam than number of party workers there. Responsiblity for debacle in 810 seats over five states—party workers or ‘high flying’ leaders?

Nobody is responsible for this. I only accept we had no influence in those states, and were failed to create one till now. But we will struggle to win the confidence of the common people there.
In UP, Rahul Gandhi (RG) won the first round by highlighting brutal treatment of people by the state.

RG said he’d sit on an indefinite dharna till his demands are met. But lifting of Section 144 just before his visit was a conspiracy by the BSP and Congress. After he left, it was imposed again. He returned the evening.
RG challenged you, and made public photos and videos of atrocities.
He went there after the clashes. Farmers have been treated unfairly and targeted but let forensics prove RG’s claims. Until I have proof, I won’t allege anything.
RG changed agenda of UP politics.

Who says that? We held five massive rallies in UP recently, the biggest in the state, bigger than Congress can ever do. Politically, the Congress has been dead in UP for a long time.
They have 20 MPs in UP, you have only 10.

Their tally has reduced in Kerala where they won only 35 seats, while CPI-M won 45. In West Bengal, had there been no Mamata, Congress would have been wiped out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sachchi Baath with Yashwant Sinha/ETV /May 14, 2011

Sachchi Baat with Senior BJP Leader Yashwant Sinha:

Sinha affirms that if required, he will support the Indian Government if a strike strategy is considered, to counter terrorism in Pakistan. He also says that the present Government is too weak to tackle the ills of corruption effectively. Video ( All vidoes at )


Monday, May 16, 2011

POWER & POLITICS/The Sunday Standard Magazine/May 15, 2011

The mostly airborne jetset leadership of the BJP in Delhi finally decided to land on planet Earth last week. After ignoring the real leaders and achievers of the nationalist movement for nearly two years, the party high command chose to hold a dialogue with them about the fate and future of the party, which has neither identity nor ideology.

For the past seven years, its leaders have been speaking in many voices on almost every national issue. Finally, wisdom seems to have dawned on its youngest party president in history, Nitin Gadkari. Early last week, when he summoned all BJP chief ministers including a deputy chief minister, the agenda was crystal clear. Contrary to general perception, they weren’t convened to be made accountable for any lapse in governance. Nor were they summoned for their performance to be audited by the occupants of 11 Ashoka Road, who themselves have nothing to show. Instead, all the chief ministers were given an agenda in advance and were told to come prepared to educate their ill-informed party leaders in the Capital about their achievements and performance. The chief ministers who attended the twoday summit were Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Arjun Munda (Jharkhand), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh), Prem Kumar Dhumal (Himachal Pradesh), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh), Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank (Uttarakhand) and Sushil Kumar Modi, deputy chief minister (Bihar). The conclave, presided over by Gadkari, was also attended by all the members of the BJP Parliamentary Party Board, those in charge of various BJP-ruled states, and its general secretaries. Gadkari had summoned all of them to put in place a system that would ensure better accountability, transparency in governance and perfect coordination between the state governments and the party.

During the 14-odd hours of marathon debate, dialogue and discussion, all the chief ministers left for home with an assurance that they would not only get their deserved place in the party’s decision- making forums, but would also receive full support in fighting the Central government. The meeting also concluded on a confident note that if the party was to rule the country in 2014, the big shots in Delhi had better sink their differences and bury their inflated egos. The chief ministers also resolved to meet more frequently and conduct proper scrutiny of their delivery systems. Gadkari outlined the future contours of the BJP’s politics when he thundered that 36 per cent of India’s population is governed by the party while the Congress rules only around 31 per cent.

Though such meetings have been held in the past, never before has the party given a collective hearing to the woes of its chief ministers who continue to perform well in their states; some have even beaten the incumbency factor by winning elections twice in their respective states. All the chief ministers made powerful presentations to Gadkari on their accomplishments which they claim have been recognised even by their opponents, while remaining unappreciated by their own leaders.

While the objective behind the meeting was to prepare for a massive offensive against the Centre on corruption, the state bosses exploited every opportunity to plead their case with the party bosses. The tone and tenor of the chief ministers left no one in doubt that they were fighting a lonely battle without any visible support from the central leadership. Since one of the topics for discussion was Centre-state relations, almost all the BJP chief ministers poured out their sorry tales of discrimination by the Central government. Almost all gave details about the delays in releasing legitimate funds by the Centre for schemes that are Centrally sponsored. Chouhan set the tone. He complained that the Centre has invented convoluted means to defame BJP state governments by not implementing and completing Central projects and then blaming the state government for their failures. He gave the example of the pathetic conditions of all the national highways passing through Madhya Pradesh caused by negligence of the Centre-controlled National Highways Authority of India— something the local Congress leaders blame the BJP government for. Similarly, Nishank expressed his helplessness in fighting the Congress propaganda of not providing enough food and funds for people living below the poverty line because the Centre simply wasn’t releasing the needed funds.

A majority of the chief ministers were upset with the lack of support from the central party leadership in fighting the interference of the governors who were stalling pro-people legislations in BJP-ruled states. According to them, over half-adozen bills are pending with the governors of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Gujarat for their consent. As one put it, “The governors are behaving like Congress agents. They interfere in our daily affairs and encourage dissidence within the bureaucracy.” The chief ministers were particularly annoyed with the Centre for inciting senior civil servants against the state government and promising lucrative assignments in Delhi as rewards.

Expectedly, it was Narendra Modi who stole the show and left no one in doubt that he would like the performance of the BJP’s Parliamentary Party to be audited. He conceded the need for accountability, evaluation and transparency. But he asked the leadership to also conduct an appraisal of the performance of its MPs who are also looking for direction. In an indirect criticism of the BJP high command, Modi wanted to know how a party with almost 150 MPs in Parliament isn’t able to fight the misuse of Central government agencies against the Gujarat government and him personally. If Gadkari succeeds in his agenda of getting the real winners and performers in the BJP on board the decision- making apparatus, he may succeed where his predecessors failed—making the national leaders without a territory of their own in the party irrelevant.

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/May 15, 2011

Whose governors are they anyway?

Do governors report to the president or the prime minister? According to protocol, no governor can travel out of his state without the president’s prior approval. They also have to put down in writing the purpose for which they are leaving the state. If any governor makes frequent journeys to Delhi, the visits come under closer political scrutiny. When Karnataka Governor H R Bhardwaj landed in the capital on Saturday and drove straight to 7 Race Course Road, many eyebrows were raised. Many other governors such as M K Narayanan of West Bengal and E S L Narasimhan of Andhra Pradesh have also been visiting Delhi quite often for covert reasons. They hardly call on the president though they don’t miss an opportunity to visit 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road. Both Narayanan and Narasimhan have one thing in common—both are former intelligence czars and police officers who have worked closely with each other. As governors, both were dispatched to troubled states to monitor political developments and report to their political masters instead of their constitutional boss. What was intriguing about Bhardwaj’s arrival in the capital was that it was a few hours after a Supreme Court judgment which restored the House membership of 16 MLAs who were disqualified by the Speaker on the eve of last year’s trust vote. The BJP has charged the governor with destabilising a duly elected state government. Bhardwaj’s unplanned visit to the prime minister’s house has bolstered the BJP’s claim that governors are acting as Congress agents. The recently concluded conclave of BJP chief ministers in Delhi warned the Central government against misuse of the gubernatorial office to paralyse governance in Opposition-run states. The Congress is concerned about the growing erosion of its popular base in the southern states. It won Kerala by a whisker, its survival in Andhra Pradesh is threatened by the rise of Mother and Son power in the state versus Mother and Son power in Delhi, and it has been reduced to a non-entity in Tamil Nadu. Since it can’t do much in other states, the party expects to push the BJP on the backfoot in Karnataka with a governor who is a Gandhi family loyalist and a master of manoeuvres.

Manmohan’s southern discomfort

Though he hardly played any role in the Assembly elections, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has to deal with the results. Both Jayalalithaa and N Rangasamy—the chief ministers-in-waiting of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry—have made it clear that they wouldn’t like to work with the existing occupants of their respective Raj Bhawans. Tamil Nadu Governor Surjeet Singh Barnala has overstayed in Chennai, thanks to his proximity to both M Karunanidhi and the Prime Minister. Puducherry Lt Governor Iqbal Singh has been linked with Hasan Ali. In fact, Rangasamy had hinted that he would not take the oath if it is administered by Iqbal. Since appointing a governor involves consultations with the chief ministers, the prime minister is in dilemma. There have been many instances where chief ministers were informed about the appointment of new governors only after the deed was done. For Manmohan Singh, the problem is that in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, the Congress would like to appoint governors who can open a dialogue with the new chief ministers. After all, with Andhra Pradesh expected to go out of Congress control, Tamil Nadu may be instrumental in formation of the next Union government in 2014. The search for yet another set of pliant governors has begun.

Antony’s talking heads

When it comes to Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh believes in freedom of expression. That Union ministers such as Home Minister P Chidambaram, Defence Minister A K Antony or Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee speak in different voices is known. Now even secretary-level officers have started delivering sermons on Pakistan. Recently, V K Saraswat, scientific adviser to Antony, said India was capable of duplicating an Osama-type operation in Pakistan, but “our democratic system and policies do not allow us to go into another country and start killing people”. Was he speaking for Antony or is he simply a loquacious peacenik? Antony has many such talking heads in his ministry who he hasn’t been able to rein in.

Defence deals are the biggest pie

While the 2G scam and CWG contracts are under the glare of the Opposition parties and investigative agencies, a few highly motivated individuals are quietly working on the role of middlemen in various defence deals. So far, no credible evidence of direct corruption has surfaced in any of the deals, but the wealth and political power acquired by the usual defence dealmakers have attracted more than their fair share of attention. The government has signed defence deals worth over Rs 100 crore in the last four years. According to a rough estimate, India will be spending over Rs 450 lakh crore—almost 500 times the estimated scope of the 2G scam—during the next 10 years on defence purchases. Surprisingly, none of the big deals are being probed, though many indirect beneficiaries are under the scanner. Under the new guidelines, any foreign company that is awarded a defence deal has to plough back at least 50 per cent of the tender amount into Indian companies engaged in defence-related manufacturing. Investigators are now locating these firms and their owners to find whether any of them also represented defence suppliers directly or indirectly during the dealmaking. Most are situated either in Delhi or Mumbai.