Monday, July 25, 2011

Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard Magazine/ July 24, 2011

Diplomacy is an abstract art; and diplomats across the world its perfect practitioners. They talk a lot but say nothing; they keep all options open. But Indian diplomats are fast becoming the exception to the rule. Of late, most of them have been specific, even explicit, in their assertions even if these are not in tune with national sentiment. The recent utterances of some of our senior-most diplomats make it clear that they enjoy being politically correct even it means being diplomatically incorrect. Consider the recent statement on Pakistan-sponsored terror by Nirupama Rao, our ambassador-designate to the US, on CNN-IBN. Rao asserted, “I think the prism through which they (Pakistan) see this issue has definitely been altered.” Later, she talked about the need to tackle only non-state elements and ignored the active support that the terrorists enjoy from official agencies. As if to prove her wrong, terrorists struck Mumbai just 10 days later and killed 18 innocent people. Two died later of their injuries. On what basis the outgoing foreign secretary gave the ‘character certificate’ to what Home Minister P Chidambaram calls the “global epicentre of terrorism” is known only to her.

Surprisingly, no global leader shares her perception or even the formulations on Pakistan expressed by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna during his interactions with Pakistan leaders and at various other international fora. Even visiting US Secretary State Hillary Clinton was much more indiscreet when she spoke about Pakistan. Despite the friendly and strategic US relationship with Pakistan, Hillary was quite harsh on our neighbour. In fact, she warned Pakistan that “they cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists anywhere” and “when we know the location of terrorists whose intentions are clear and need to work together in order to prevent those terrorists from taking innocent lives and threatening institutions of the state”. Interestingly, while Hillary was talking tough on Pakistan in New Delhi, back home the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Ghulam Nabi Fai, executive director of the anti-India Kashmiri American Council. He was charged with being an ISI agent and involved in a conspiracy to influence key US officials on Kashmir policy. Compare this with our diplomats, who were not even willing to hazard a guess about the possible involvement of the ISI in the Mumbai attacks. For the past one week, Indian diplomats have weakened India’s case against Pakistan by letting an impression grow that the Mumbai incidents may not have been sponsored from across the border.

So, while the world is looking at Pakistan with suspicion, Indian diplomats and some leading politicians are still talking about dialogue and debate. From President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, most powerful world leaders have slammed Pakistan for harbouring and exporting terrorism. Last year, Sarkozy set the tone against Pakistan when he said, “It is unacceptable for the world that terrorist acts should be masterminded and carried out by terrorist groups trained in Pakistan.” Our foreign office mandarins, in contrast, can’t even ask Pakistan to wind up the terror camps operating inside the country. For the past few months, the foreign ministry has followed up the home ministry’s request to Pakistan to hand over the fugitives hiding there. Rao—while addressing a London-based think tank—made a strong case for a stable Pakistan which she hoped would act as a “bulwark against terrorism”, quite forgetting the categorical point made a few months ago by Hillary that “America cannot and shouldn’t solve Pakistan’s problems. That’s up to Pakistan.”

This stance of our diplomats baffles the political leadership. Some of them see it as the emergence of an alternative centre of power within the foreign office, which is following its own agenda. They see the diplomats taking advantage of a weak yet gentlemanly foreign minister and ignoring sensitive issues raised by the other ministries. While Pakistan diplomats are aggressively fighting for their country in global capitals, our ambassadors are either silent or making politically correct noises. Instead of isolating the country at world forums, our diplomats have allowed Pakistan to acquire the status of a victim of terrorism. Even after so many months, the foreign office hasn’t been able to get full access to Tahawwur Rana and David Coleman Headley, both accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 180 people were killed. The ministry has also failed in persuading the American establishment to force Pakistan to punish the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage. None of them has made any impact on the American establishment in reviewing its relationship with Pakistan and supporting India on ISI-funded and sponsored violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indeed, with Indian diplomats becoming more vocal on international issues, there appears to be a reversal of roles. Earlier, it was the political leadership which would determine foreign policy and the diplomats would only implement it. India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who had veto power to decide on the contours of India’s external relations, allowed powerful diplomats to advise but not dictate to him. Those who succeeded him followed the same path, never allowing civil servants to take the lead. However, with the non-political Manmohan Singh as prime minister and a hands-off external affairs minister in South Block, the diplomats have
chosen to speak for the government but not for the nation.

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/July 24, 2011

Scam-Hobbled UPA to Take War to Opposition

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is gearing for a stormy five-week session of Parliament, from August 1. The Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has already shortlisted the issues on which the Opposition would like to grill the Government. The Prime Minister expects the session to be disrupted for the first few days on various issues like inaction on black money, CWG scams, CAG reports on various ministries; a strategy to deal with the trouble is in place. The PMO is particularly elated by corruption charges against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati. The Bihar government has been accused of doling out huge industrial plots to the relatives of ministers belonging to both the BJP and the Janata Dal (United). The UPA is determined to make use of report of Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde against Yeddyurappa and his predecessor H D Kumaraswamy. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is also on the list of the UPA’s attention-diverting targets. The PMO has instructed various agencies to collate and compile complete information on scams involving non-Congress governments. All the members of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on media briefings have been instructed to deal with corruption in states and avoid talking about civil society-led agitation for which it was constituted. It is rare for Union ministers to publicly attack Opposition chief ministers directly as they have to deal with them on a regular basis. The UPA has, however, decided to sacrifice such niceties and go for the jugular. Spokespersons seem to have been forgotten as the confrontationist mood of the Opposition and UPA leads to yet another round of dirty politics.

Congress Keeps an Eye on its Ally
There was no threat to the stability of the UPA government, but the PMO and various intelligence agencies were closing monitoring the proceedings of the two-day DMK conference in Coimbatore. The PMO was particularly concerned over the DMK’s decision to send its new nominees to replace A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran. As part of the understanding between the DMK and the Congress, both the ministries—Communications and Textiles—have been given to the Congress ministers as additional charges.While the Congress is willing to return Textiles, it has refused to surrender Telecommunications. The DMK leadership is equally determined to get it back even if it has to wait for few more months. But the PMO was more interested in gauging the mood of the DMK cadres. In the absence of any trustworthy insider, it was left to the IB to infiltrate into the venue. So worried was the UPA leadership that IB director Nischal Sandhu, who had gone to Thimpu for the meeting of SAARC home ministers, was personally keeping track of the deliberations and making a dossier for his bosses, including the prime minister.

Vasundhara Prepares for Round 2
Come summer and most of our rich and mighty, famous and infamous, idle or busy elitist politicians make London their rendezvous for either dining and wining or oblige a few think tanks by delivering lectures on Indian politics, business, and even governance. Last month, over 50 top social climbers, a few politicians, relevant and otherwise, and a couple of drawing room debaters descended in London for an exchange of views. Some of them were staying in their own houses while others made a hotel owned by Taj Group the meeting point. One exception, however, was former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. She is also a frequent visitor to the UK, for medical check-ups. But Raje made the best use of her presence in British capital; she delivered lectures on good governance. In fact, Raje has been avoiding Rajasthan politics for the past few months. Despite her popular support, she was asked to quit as Leader of the Opposition. She was later appointed one of the general secretaries of the BJP at the Centre, a post she has never taken seriously for her heart is always in Rajasthan. When the BJP failed to find an equally credible leader to replace her, she was sent back as Leader of the Opposition. After making her triumphant comeback, she took up an extensive tour of the state. She, however, chose to keep a low profile and let Ashok Gehlot run the state without any opposition. She seems to be recouping her strength before a fresh charge against the Congress government.

Manmohan Devises Another Swap
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly believes in the principle of swapping positions—both political and administrative. His Cabinet reshuffles during the past few months have led to some of the ministers swapping departments with each other. For example, Law Minister Veerappa Moily was moved to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs which was once held by new Law Minister Salman Khurshid. When it came to changing the face of his all-powerful office, the prime minister seems to be following the same formula. According to insiders, Manmohan Singh has made up his mind to replace his secretary M N Prasad with Pulok Chatterjee, India’s executive director on the board of the World Bank. Chatterjee, a Gandhi family loyalist, is yet to complete his three-year tenure. Prasad will be sent to Washington to Chatterjee’s post. Prasad, however, would get less than a two-year term as against a three-year term as he turns 65 in 2013, retirement age for top World Bank executives.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sachchi Baat_Prabhu Chawla_Salman Khurshid/July 24, 2011

As newly appointed Union law minister, who is also in charge of minority affairs, Salman Khurshid laments that the surging scope and influence of private sector is checking the benefits of reservation reaching the Dalits and the lower strata of society. He reiterates the government’s commitment to work for the poor, but points out that court directions have ensured that reservations are carried out not on economic basis but as a solution to backwardness. In a television talkshow ‘Sachchi Baat’, he opens up his mind. Khurshid started his career as an officer on special duty in the Prime Minister’s office in the 1980s when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. He is the son of former Union minister Khurshid Alam Khan and maternal grandson of Dr Zakir Hussain, who was the third President of India. Excerpts:

PC: You are also the minority affairs minister.
SK: That portfolio also has its own importance.

PC: That is important; hence I will discuss that portfolio more.

SK: Sure.

PC: You have become the law minister now. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh believes in stability; hence he doesn’t shuffle positions much. But you were earlier in corporate affairs with additional charge of minority, then water related ministries—and now law. What is he searching for in you with so many changes? SK: Whether he is searching for in me...(am not sure). Or (maybe) he is seeing where people should be appointed to keep the right balance of the team and who is right for the position and when. What is our work in the cabinet or the council of ministers? When the team leader decides that a particular person should be appointed at a particular post, he should prove his prowess in that area where he has been appointed. That is what we do.

PC: Sometimes you are a forward player, then backward, defence. Is it a football team?

SK: See, in politics, there is a game theory. It’s also there in economics. You are an economist, and hence (you) would know. PC: Yes…SK: The aim of the game theory is to see how, with the many players that you have got, you arrange and rearrange them to meet your goal. PC: Now Salman Khurshid has been rearranged and brought forward. What task you have been given as law minister, because (M Veerappa) Moily was also there earlier. He was also working well.SK: See, Moily saab did good work and took many steps, and it is my duty to take them forward. I think it is my responsibility to do so. But it might be so that he was needed at some other place too; that is why he was sent there.

PC: Means, where you were earlier, he was sent there.
SK: Why not, why not?

PC: Then why were you displaced from there?
SK: it is possible that then I was doing good work there, now somebody better than me is needed for that post, or somebody else would be suitable for that post now. Now, we are at a stage where we have to pass legislation in Parliament….

PC: You are not doing ‘sachchi baat’. You are saying a person better than you went to corporate affairs minister, a person better than him came to law ministry.
SK: No, I didn’t say that. I can agree that a person walking on his path has come to this post now, and since I have come on Sachchi Baat, I will do ‘sachchi baat’ only, I promise you.

PC: ‘Sachchi baat’ is that you agreed that a better person then you went to the corporate ministry.

SK: Yes.

PC: And a person better than him came to the law ministry.
SK: No, I didn’t say that. PC:

So are you not as good as him?

SK: What is said was the person who was considered appropriate here, was brought in.

PC: ‘ Sachchi Baat’ is that the government was being attacked, Moily could not save the day, hence Khurshid saab was brought in to fulfil the task.
SK: See, that is not the case, it is not a question of government-bashing. It is true that we were faced with difficult situations and it was our responsibility to face them. And how to we face those challenges, what plan we should me, on what fronts should we act and on what places should be go back. These decisions have to be taken in the interest of what is right, every leader has to takes them. Our leadership decides who should be placed where and how decisions have to be implemented.

PC: What is the law minister’s job? To save the government from all the bashing that it has been facing in recent times?
SK: No, see there is no question of government-bashing.

PC: Every day, there are orders against you. Judiciary is not effective, not working.
SK: That is not the case. You see, very complicated social and political conditions have formed now in this country. Because we are a growing economy and emerging economy—as the whole world agrees. There are challenges before an emerging economy, institutional challenges, administrative challenges and policy challenges. Sometime there are conflicts, when they should be patiently solved by compromise, in the interest of stability; like that there are many challenges. And, to face these challenges…

PC: You are speaking like political Aristotle….

SK: No, no. Like, it is our duty that we should face them, in the same way the court also is within its right. The court should support us in facing these conditions. That means they should be support of Parliament and the executive, and where they think that things are not happening right according to the Constitution….

PC: Hence you agree what the courts and the judiciary have been doing, executive is being criticised for its non-performance. Hence, as law minister, do you think their interference as judicial activism is right or wrong? Or did the government did not get time to put forward its point?
SK: I can only go till the point where court has drawn its own borders. Because our administration, the authority of court is final, we agree that Parliament is supreme, but how and to what extent Parliament is supreme, who will decide? The court does. And we have to accept the court’s decision, not because we don’t have any other option, but because we agree that their decision is very important for us. It may be possible, that there might be a difference between their decision and our thought. That happens, many times in history too, everywhere. If such a thing happens, then we have to work extra hard to explain the court, and gradually the court also changes its thought, and…

PC: I am asking the law minister of this country. The kind of situation prevalent in the country today, people are feeling that judiciary interference is good because the government has stopped doing its job.
SK: What are you blaming judiciary for this?

PC: I am not blaming them; I am supporting them.
SK: Well, you are supporting them. But why do you say for judiciary, why, didn’t the Election Commission do the same, or even the other regulators whom we made? We ourselves made, we ourselves accepted this administration and respected it, and that is why we respect the court, we respect the judiciary. We agree that many things, which we don’t understand, and in the political scope, we cannot them correct then in line with the Constitution, that the court will show us.

PC: The prime minister made a statement that judiciary should not interfere much in the powers of the executive, they should know their limits.
SK: Of course, the…PC: In what context did he say this?

SK: I will tell you. The message of the prime minister, the same decision has been given by the Supreme Court yesterday; the same thing is said by the Supreme Court. Every decision of the Supreme Court, time and again, reiterates this point, that we all have our limitations. You also have limitations, we also have limitations. But what is your limitation, we have a right of saying that ever day because you take your decisions according to those limits. If some comes before us with those decisions, then we have to investigate them…

PC: You are very selective, they made appointment on black money, gave a direction to you, but you say it is out of your limits, you have no right of taking this decision.
SK: Listen. That is not the case. If you carefully read the decision on black money, in that decision also the court has reiterated the fact that we all have our limitations.

PC: But after that also they passed the orders. This is the chairman, this is the vice-chairman, the rest of your committee is agreed to by us.

SK: Please listen. They have passed an order in connection with which we have filed an application in the court. In that application, we have tried to explain that taking this order in mind, where would we have difficulty in running the administration…

PC: Why, has the judiciary exceeded their powers?
SK: No, this is a dialogue. See, you are speaking to me, can anybody say that you have asked too much, or that I have replied too much. But when you and I have a dialogue, this dialogue will lead to a result. In a dialogue, I cannot write a script beforehand and give it to you. You know what are your powers and boundaries, I know my scope of responsibilities, and we will get to a result through this dialogue…

PC: Hence, it seems you would take forward the dialogue which had broken down.
SK: No, no, no. See, dialogue is sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes more, sometimes less but in every wing of the government, there are different mediums of dialogue and that is continuing. I think it as dialogue of democracy.

PC: In the past six months, you have lost many cases, that means you had a weak case. Right from CVC to 2G, in every case you have been on the back foot. You had no case.
SK: There can be different analysis on whether the case was not right, whether its analysis was not correct the, whether its presentation and wording was not right.

PC: In that background I am asking whether you defence was not right, facts could not be presented properly, you could not convince the judiciary.
SK: Different people can give different aspects of this issue, but, the bottom line is when the government goes before the court, it goes with the expectation and hope that if they present their case properly then they will get relief; if there is a need for it, then we will get it. If we don’t get relief, then there is sadness. Along with sadness, there is a stoppage in what you want to do. That is why, to convince the court, to keep the court with us, to persuade the court that is real lawyering.

PC: Salman bhai, tell me one thing, talking about your predecessor, is it the law ministers job, if some other ministry does a wrong thing, if you lose, the blame on the law ministers that it is his weakness. Is this theory right?

SK: See, this is not a question of theory.

PC: Whose is the responsibility? The law ministry or the ministry concerned?

SK: Please see that this is a collective responsibility. In a government, you cannot single out a minister and say that he has done such and such a thing. That does not happen. All decisions are collective. If we take some decisions, going away from collective decision, then that is our responsibility, our personal responsibility. And in everyday’s time, you might be doing many works which, your personal responsibility…

PC: Like you said, it is collective decision but the law minister is held responsible, in the case of the CVC, the law minister does not appoint him. Somebody else appoints the CVC, if the law minister is not able to defend him, does that mean that the law minister is responsible?
SK: No, nobody is responsible, the whole government is responsible. Moilyji, said thing in general terms. Somebody expects that one man should be the strong one that does not happen. The decisions of government are collective. And for that collective decision to be good, everybody gets the credit. But if it is bad…

PC: You are diverting, if there is a wrong decision in the finance ministry, and they consult the law minister to defend it in report, the decision is theirs…
SK: There are two points, their decision, which we have vetted, and then we also have a responsibility. Even if we have not vetted the decision, but the responsibility of defending is with us. Then does a very good lawyer does take only good cases, only strong cases, what is the difference between a very good and a small-time lawyer, a good lawyer can also make a bad case good.

PC: In between Moily and you, it is evident who was the better lawyer. The government has taken a brief from lawyer, given it to Salman.
SK: He got one more good responsibility.

PC: I want to confirm this from you: if other ministries have taken wrong decisions without being vetted by law ministry, is the responsibility of defending them with the law ministry?
SK: Of course, it is our responsibility. But how will we shoulder that responsibility, how much we will defend, in what words will be defend—that decision also we would have to take as a lawyer. When a lawyer stands in court, for example if somebody is accused of murder, and if he cannot convince the court that he has not committed murder, then he gives a different argument, which is that, it is true that the murder has happened, but it has happened in certain conditions hence the accused should not get a quantum of punishment...

PC: One thing happened. That you minister said that I don’t like the law officer of the government, I will appoint a private lawyer, he did not have faith in the law ministry.

SK: No, no, no. That is not the thing. When there are many complicated cases, if one man has 10 subjects with him, and if on any special item if there is a subject, then it is given to a special lawyer to handle. For example, if four people are accused of one crime, one lawyer getting all four cases…

PC: You appointed other people without asking the SG?
SK: No, no, no, that is not the case, it has happened earlier too, I think that Gopal Subramaniam himself, when he was not SG or ASG, in many cases of the government, he was made special counsel, and he was given the responsibility of that particular subject.

PC: That means his protest was wrong.

SK: No, no. Every lawyer, artist and professional.

PC: But it is public record that he said that he was removed, not asked…

SK: We did not go into that, he gave his resignation to us, and you know that, people had tried that he should give his resignation, and if given then he should take it back. When it was felt that this would not happen, we accepted the resignation letter.

PC: It all boils down to the fact that, in the government if it comes down upon the law ministry to defend everything. And if you lose, then you are blamed. Is Salman Khurshid ready, if the judiciary gives decisions against Salman Khurshid, then he should be hanged.
SK: No, we should be ready to be hanged. What is the problem in that? When we are getting so many benefits from the government, that we are on such big position, and getting so much recognition, and people like you are interviewing us, then if we cannot work rightly, if the results don’t come as expected, then shouldn’t we get the blame for that.

PC: Salman bhai has the work of defending the indefensible.

SK: I am not ready to agree that it is indefensible, but we must say out view in the best way possible to the court, and...

PC: Hence, your responsibility to present facts before the courts well, which were not put forth till now.
SK: I am not saying that.

PC: I am saying that.
SK: We have not got the results now, the way we expect from ourselves. We will make efforts to get those results.

PC: What are your priorities are law minister. There is a lot of talk about judicial accountability, you are on the defensive side on that issue.

SK: No, that bill…

PC: Will it come or not?

SK: The bill is before the parliamentary committee, standing committee, people who are experts, who have knowledge, have put evidence before the parliamentary committee, its report will come, after the report comes out, we will present the bill before Parliament, and it will be passed. If the need is felt to have more dialogue with the stakeholders and judiciary, then we will surely do it. Because this is not our agenda, this is a collective agenda.

PC: It can be understood as the nation’s agenda, but don’t you feel, in the current system of appointments of judiciary, do you think there is need for reformation.
SK: See, many people think…

PC: Your thinking…
SK: that there is need for reformation here, I also agree, but I also agree that change should not be for the sake of it.

PC: There will be a consensus on the same.
SK: There will be a consensus; there has been extensive dialogue with the judiciary, in judiciary conventions, vision statements these points have come, now what form we will give to it, that will be known after final consultation…

PC: So many vacancies, there are 400 vacancies in the high courts, there are vacancies in Supreme Court, there will be six in this year. Don’t you think that, one, you are not making additional appointments, cases are increasing, isn’t it the law ministry’s responsibility to give infrastructure, people, so that decisions can be taken fast?
SK: Certainly, this is our commitment, we will do it. And if there is delay anywhere, we will try to minimise it. Last year, six lakh people who were in jail from the long time, and they should be released, because if they are punished, it will be not so much compared to the time that they have spent in jail. They were released, six lakh people…

PC: I am talking about the government. Why were the vacancies not filled, there are so many proposals before the government, but are lingering for months with you.
SK: Please see, that is not the case, I have said it clearly that such things will not happen. The normal time that is taken for obtaining information, that verification has to be done, but the initiative about this, that the judiciary…

PC: But the many cases sent before are pending for many months…
SK: I promise you, such a thing will not happen. Call me again after a few months, and talk to me about all this. …

PC: You are also the minority affairs minister, there is now talk of criminal violence bill, secondly, reservation of communities, but political parties do have reservation in office-bearers or posts in the party.
SK: Let me say two things about the same, reservation is a traditional instrument for social justice, this has been very important and successful till the point we made efforts to assimilate people from Dalit samaj and Harijan in the growth story. But now reservations beyond. Now because the influence and the scope of the private sector is increasing, there reservations have not reached.

PC: Is it true that the poor is not benefited by reservation, rich Dalits have been benefitting out of reservations not the poor dalits; hence will it happen that the rich minorities will get benefits of reservation not the poor ones. Why don’t you do economic reservation the country?
SK: The definition of Dalits is different as till now the creamy layer does not apply to them, even the court has not vetted it. As far as the OBCs or backward-class people in minorities are concerned, creamy layer will apply to them. That reservations and the constructive work that we are doing, that will be for the people who are poor. Now regarding your questions as to why reservations are not on economic basis, that is because the court has told us time and again, that you can do reservations on backwardness not on economic basis. That you can do by the medium of economic policies. Now, this is a part of our constitutional thought, we cannot oppose this part.

PC: But there can be Constitutional amendment, if it has been done 120 times, then it can also happen the 121st time.
SK: Yes, why they cannot happen, they have been happening. In promotions, we have done constitution amendments, they were denied, said to be void. Then we tried again, hence where all we can get a window for constitutional amendment, we can work.

PC: You agree with the point that financial parameter, because the poor people, as the census figures say, the number of poor people has increased in the past twenty years. These are the figures of your government, not mine.

SK: Please see, we have tried many times to give reservations on economic basis, this proposal have come from Rajasthan, this proposal has also come from other states, there have been efforts, but yet we have not been successful in any of the courts, to get this proposal vetted, that this is right as per the constitution.

PC: On the question of minority reservations, I even asked earlier, there might be hardly one general secretary from minority in your party. See the history of past 60 years in this court, you are a cabinet minister from minority, the Congress has made just six chief ministers hailing from minority, whereas there have been more than 300 chief ministers in the past 60 years. The politics that has been happening in the name of minorities in every party, in your party it has been happening more, Digvijay Singh also makes statements sometime, but why cannot a Muslim become a chief minister in this country. There have been only six.
SK: Why not, there have been six.

PC: There have been six among 300.
SK: There have been six among 300; if you want there should be more, we should efforts for this. But the solution for everything is not reservation.

PC: Not on reservation but on merit, why Salman Khushid cannot be finance minister, defence minister.
SK: Isn’t enough that he has become a law minister?

PC: That is ok, but why did the Muslim form this country did not become a prime minister, home minister till now.

SK: No, there has been.

PC: V P Singh made one.
SK: Let anybody make.

PC: I am talking about the Congress party. You are from UP were made UPCC leader there three times, but at the time of being chief minister you were given other responsibility. You mean that you Rahul Gandhi will make you win there?
SK: We have full hope.

PC: Do you think you will be made chief minister then?
SK: Why from now you are talking about who will be chief minister, who will not be? As I told you earlier, at what time what is found appropriate, there…

PC: I said this because, only six minority chief ministers, every time you talk about minorities. Do you agree with what Digvijay Singh said, who talks about the RSS, like when there were blasts in Mumbai, the Congress party gave a mature reaction, but Digvijay Singh said something else, is politics being done to make minority happy.
SK: There is not issue of doing politics in their name or doing politics for making minorities happy.

PC: What he said was right.
SK: We will do effective work. He is a political person, he has a political understanding, he wants debate in our society, what all is wrong in our society, he wants an open debate on what all is happening. He has such broad shoulders…

PC: Do you agree with him?
SK: We cannot have a debate like this. In the debate, there is no question of agreeing or not agreeing.

PC: He is the general secretary of AICC.
SK: Please see, he has started a public debate, the number of people who join in the public debate.

PC: The nation gets split if he taken name of some Hindu or Muslim outfit. This talk is wrong.
SK: That is why he wants to see that you speak on this issue, the debate goes further, result comes out. After the debate, other people, who are not on such a big and large position.

PC: You are hesitating to do ‘sachchi baat’
SK: No, I am doing ‘sachchi baat’.

PC: Now you are going for elections in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi said that 99 per cent of the blasts can be, one per cent cannot be. That is also an issue of debate.
SK: That is also an issue of debate. The common man, or even we don’t know that how many terrorist.

PC: A leader should talk like this…

SK: A leader should.

PC: Have you ever heard (US President Barack) Obama saying that they will tolerate 1 per cent?

SK: There is no question of tolerating.

PC: Told 1 per cent ho jaata hain. He spoke of possibility, not ‘we will get them’.
SK: Everybody has his own style, now if you compare American president style and say that somebody should do it in Uttar Pradesh, then how will one do it, and then that cannot happen.

PC: What is your slogan in Uttar Pradesh?

SK: Our slogan in Uttar Pradesh is that we will make and alternative administration, we present a case that we have done work which has been seen in this country, which we will do in Uttar Pradesh.

PC: Who will be the chief minister, in case by default your party wins, you don’t have confidence, but I am saying...

SK: You know about my party, that my party, not from today but from many decades.

PC: Has decided later.
SK: That we go for elections under CLP leader PCC leadership and after that the party decides who will be the chief minister.

PC: Only the prime minister is decided earlier, the chief minister is decided later.
SK: No, no. In many places, when chief ministers are so strong that in their name elections can be won, then under chief ministers’ leadership...

PC: Who is the chief minister’s face in UP now?
SK: Now we have a face bigger than the chief minister there.

PC: But he will not become the chief minister…or will Rahul Gandhi be chief minister?
SK: We have bigger face than chief minister.

PC: Will you fight elections with his name? SK: Of course. Why not? PC: If there is a win, then it is his; if there is a failure, then it is of the Congress party.
SK: That is not the case. Rahul Gandhiji, I want to tell you, had come in one election there, he campaigned with full strength, and he used to say only one thing, that may be we cannot win this time. I have no worry that we might not win this time, we will win and show next time. Such a bold and courageous young leader.

PC: Can you win in UP under his leadership?

SK: Certainly. He has said one thing: don’t ask yourself now whether you can win or not, fight with the confidence that you can win.

PC: After Bihar we will also see the UP example, what will happen there. Our good wishes are with you, thank you for coming to our show.
SK: Bahut Bahut Shukriya


Monday, July 18, 2011

Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ July 17, 2011

The Manmohan

It is better to refrain from taking a decision if all it does is reflect the decision-maker’s indecisive state of mind. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s belated decision to honour his promise to deliver an expansive Cabinet reshuffle turned out to be yet another exercise in futility. He was under no obligation or compulsion to change the look and composition of his largest-ever Council of Ministers. Yet he dropped seven and added eight. After the much hyped rejig, the average age of the UPA II Cabinet climbed from 60 to 65. The new-look Government is neither younger in the biological sense nor more promising in terms of delivery. Unfortunately, re-engineering the Union Cabinet is perceived as the best road map for better governance. In practice, this has hardly ever worked. Most Cabinet expansions or contractions in the past have been motivated more by political expediency and less by the performance of individuals. Do the prime minister and the Congress party really believe that dropping ministers like Murli Deora, Manohar Singh Gill, B K Handique and Dayanidhi Maran will make the government smell like roses? Or by moving Salman Khurshid from water resources to law and Jairam Ramesh from environment to rural development, the Cabinet will look lily white? If such is the case, they have grossly underestimated the scrutiny skills of the Indian electorate. From the nature of changes made in the Cabinet, it appears that the dropped ministers are responsible for the plummeting credibility of the Government and a collapsing economy. It wasn’t even a game of musical chairs as it lacked the consistency of musical notes. Of the 32 Cabinet ministers, only two were shuffled. No minister handling infrastructure or the economy was moved. Did Manmohan Singh chose to retain S M Krishna—whose performance as foreign minister is pathetic—bowing to his decency, age, Savile Row tailoring and an Oxbridge accent? It was clear that a once-great economist-turned-politician-turned-prime minister, beaten down by scams, has decided to follow the beaten path.

For the past few weeks, establishment spin doctors have been hinting at a major overhaul to improve the prime minister’s personal image. Subtle hints were dropped about inducting new blood that was raring to deliver on many fronts. Admittedly, the economy is in a terrible shape. Inflation has almost crossed double digits. Global confidence in the India Story is fast evaporating. Foreign Direct Investment has fallen by over 30 per cent: from $27.3 billion in 2008 to just $19.42 billion in 2011. Even the outflow of FDI from India is in sharp decline, which means Indian industrial barons dare not continue their global acquisition spree. According to figures released by the government, the index of industrial production plunged to a mere 5.6 per cent in May this year, as against 8.5 per cent during the same month last year. Even the growth of car sales was restricted to 1.62 per cent last month—the lowest ever during the past 27 months. No infrastructure sector is doing well. For example, the construction of nationalhighways today has declined to less than 6 km per day as against 11 km in 2004 during the NDA regime. The petroleum sector has failed to live up to expectations. Finally, the number of people living below the poverty line has risen despite the nation growing at an average of over 8 per cent.

The UPA Government’s pathetic image is not due to the bad performance of those who have been shown the door, it is entirely due to policy paralysis and aimless political drift. When Pranab Mukherjee, the government’s most productive asset, is diverted to handle over 50 Group of Ministers appointed by the prime minister to resolve vague issues, it is the finance ministry that ultimately suffers. If Mukherjee is sent to deal with troublesome UPA allies, hostile opposition parties and truculent civil society leaders, obviously he will not have the time or energy to mentor India’s economic administration. No wonder, the government now doles out Rs 8,000 crore per day as interest on the money it has borrowed from the people. Government expenditure has risen from Rs 5 lakh crore in 2004 to over Rs 1,250 crore during the current fiscal year. If the prime minister and the Congress President are unable to handle political problems, Mukherjee should’ve been drafted as the Working President or Vice President of the Congress, and a full-time economist like Montek Singh Ahluwalia should’ve been appointed the finance minister. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal was doing an outstanding job by pushing badly- needed education reforms. For the past five months, he has been saddled with fire-fighting on the government’s behalf, leaving the education ministry at the mercy of babus—and both his ministries are suffering. Even Home Minister P Chidambaram is not comfortable at home. Though, he has done a commendable job, Chidambaram would, perhaps, make a better defence minister or external affairs minister. No doubt, the prime minister has chosen new faces, clear of any taint or political infirmity, but none of these can reverse the economic downturn or save the Government from daily judicial scrutiny. With no big message emerging from the Cabinet readjustment, it is clear that the prime minister lacks the will to shed the Non-Productive Assets (NPAs) of the UPA government.

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/July 17, 2011

Playing politics over blood and death has become a political pastime. It has acquired such frightening dimensions that politicians see votes in each drop of blood of innocent terror victims. As investigative agencies grope in the dark after Mumbai’s latest round of blasts, politicians are busy blaming each other. While the BJP and the allies slammed the Congress, Digvijaya Singh, the party’s incorrigible motormouth, hinted at the possibility of RSS involvement. The ruling establishment’s secular megaphones were unwilling to even indirectly blame Pakistan. BJP honcho L K Advani was the first national leader to descend on bleeding Mumbai. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh followed, with condolences and promises of strictest possible action. Meanwhile, bureaucrats and intelligence officials were scurrying to collect information for their political masters to use. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan blamed the mobile networks for the horrific 15-minute delay in reaching senior cops. According to credible Mumbaikars, the city police’s top brass were informed of the blasts through non-police sources. It is unbelievable that all communication—cellphones, MTNL, the wireless, satellites phones—were inactive for 15 minutes. Whether the police commissioner, Anti-Terror Squad chief Rakesh Maria and other senior police officers were able to communicate with other between 6.45 pm and 7.15 pm—when three bomb blasts killed 20 and injured over 125 people—remains unknown to the public. The Maharashtra Police have antiquated weapons and infrastructure, but it is scary that its communication network can also be paralysed. While Afzal Guru and Kasab enjoy government hospitality, Mumbaikers seem fated to live with terror. Since 1992, Mumbai has suffered over 50 terror incidents, but the colour of politics over dead bodies hasn’t changed.

Mumbai’s finest just aren’t up to it

Is it mere coincidence that Rakesh Maria, who now heads Maharasthra’s current Anti-Terror squad (ATS), directed police action during 26/11? Maria, Joint Commissioner (Crime), was specially chosen by the then police commissioner Hasan Gafoor to manage the police control room. Barring Ajmal Kasab’s conviction, the Mumbai Police is a flop as a terror hunter. The Ram Pradhan Committee that probed 26/11 passed strictures against the “inefficient control and command system” that failed to follow standard operational procedures. Ignoring these, the state government mysteriously decided to hand over ATS to Maria. His current job is not only to investigate pending cases, but also to track suspected terrorists and bust sleeper terror modules. Home Minister P Chidambaram and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan admit to the absence of actionable intelligence predicting the July 13 blasts. Questions are being asked why the ATS failed to warn the government. A reason for the bombings is this information failure and placing potential terrorists hiding in Maharasthra in preventive custody. The faction-ridden top brass of the Mumbai Police is divided between the NCP and the Congress. Since the home department is with NCP’s R R Patil, it suits the Congress to pass the buck and save its pet officers who serve its interests.

Maneka-Varun eclipsed in UP

While Rahul Gandhi is roaming and roaring in Uttar Pradesh, the other Gandhi and his mother have slipped into mourning. Both Maneka and Varun Gandhi won elections with huge margins from Uttar Pradesh on BJP tickets. While the state is heading for the mother of all Assembly polls, mom and son are are conspicuously absent from all agitational politics, letting Rahul grab the headlines. Varun is a party secretary, and his mother an important member of the National Executive. They have a massive following in certain parts of the state. Varun was even in charge of Assam, which went to the polls recently. Following his decision to marry during the elections, he was denied much of a role. Since then, the BJP hasn’t given its Gandhis the importance they expect, or deserve. Varun hoped he would be projected as the party’s future leader in Uttar Pradesh. Maneka had chosen to withdraw from active politics for Varun’s sake. She has spoken little on any political subject at party forums and other platforms. She is, more or less, being kept out of the state Assembly elections. With Uma Bharti’s re-induction and Rajnath Singh’s appointment as BJP in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, the saffron Gandhis are likely to be ignored. Party insiders are convinced that Varun is hugely popular among the youth and hardcore Hindutva forces in the state who feel that only Varun can neutralise Rahul. The BJP’s central leadership, however, wants him to wait and mature. Since he is also the Sangh Parivar’s darling, the BJP may wait till after the Assembly polls and launch him as its mascot against his cousin in the 2014 general elections. For now, Uttar Pradesh will not see much of Gandhi vs Gandhi.

The Big Brother boycott tactics

The Congress leadership has decided to firmly take on all “unfriendly media”. After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remark that the media is now playing the role of “an accuser, prosecutor and judge”, instructions have gone to all spokespersons and senior ministers to boycott TV channels which take an extreme view against the Government. The Congress high command feels that some of them behave like political adversaries and never lets the Government’s point of view to be projected. It’s clear that the Congress is taking advantage of media proliferation. The party’s motto—ignore some, promote some

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Prabhu Chawla_Sachchi Baat_Smriti Irani/Etv Network/July 16, 2011

PC speaks to BJP Mahila Morcha president and Rajya Sabha MP Smriti Irani, days before her elevation to the Upper House was announced, on ETV’s Sachchi Baat. Excerpts from the interview:

What all you have done till now as BJP’s Mahila Morcha’s head?
I have completed one year at the helm on June 24, organised programmes all over the country and involved 10 lakh women. We fought the case in the Supreme Court regarding permanent commissions for women in the army.

Morcha means doing dharnas, fighting.
That also we have done; my wish was to see that our work is not limited to dharnas and morchas, but go a step ahead. Hence, when women in uniform were fighting it out, we thought that we should be a part of the solution.

Have you done morchas on the road, or is it that you have got used to air-conditioned environment?
No, we have done andolans (protests) on the road and also fought legal battles.

Talking of morchas, which issues were the ones that you fought it out with the government?
The government gave us many issues, be they inflation or law and order.

What have women got to do with your male-dominated party?
Who told you this?
Who is the woman general secretary in your party?

There is only one.
The BJP is the first political party in this country who understood women’s issues and said that we would not only stand by the issue of giving 33 per cent reservation to women in parliament, but also change the party’s constitution and give them reservation in the party. Even then you say that we don’t care about women.

Many promises have been made, but what after that?
Let me update you on this issue also. Vasundhara Rajeji has also been the general secretary in the party and now Kiran Maheshwari is the general secretary.
How many general secretaries do you have?
Now the slots which are empty…
You have 32 Pradesh Adyaksh (state presidents). How many of them are women?
There is no woman state president.
They are not considered, don’t qualify, or because they are not considered fit for the post in your party....
I feel that that might not be qualifying the qualification parameters set by Prabhu Chawla. But in our states, the presidents are elected in a systematic and democratic way. The basis of which is to elected a good president who is capable, we don’t see whether the person is a man or a woman.

You have enjoyed high TRPs on television, but is your political TRP good?
I don’t know. I had fought elections last in 2004. How much my political TRP is, would be known when I fight elections.

Why couldn’t your party do well in the recent Assembly elections?
In Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, there is need to develop our organisational strength, and we knew this beforehand. In West Bengal, we had the same challenge and we knew there was a wave in Mamataji’s favour, a desire in the people’s minds that they have to anyhow defeat the Left and put them out of power. In spite of that, we gave a tough fight there. As far as Assam is concerned, what we had expected, and hence projected, we did not get that much success. But…
What are you going to do in reality besides politics?
When I spoke to you the last time, I had only worked in Hindi, Gujarati theatre and television. Now when I am sitting in front of you, I have done Bengali and Telugu films. But the main focus of my life is politics.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/July 10, 2011

Not taking a decision is also a decision. Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi seem to have taken a leaf out of former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao’s book.

Manmohan is Rao’s precious gift to the Congress party and the nation, and the prime minister has mastered his mentor’s art of governance. Rao was famous for either delaying decisions or referring contentious issues to committees and commissions. Sonia may like to forget or ignore the Rao chapter in Congress history but the prime minister is taking full advantage of his former teacher’s legacy. One rule amended is: When in doubt, pout. Manmohan doesn’t believe in action, only belated reaction. From acting against A Raja to mishandling the Lokpal Bill, the premier has been forced by an invisible hand to take the call. He has successfully crossed many hurdles but not without getting his reputation muddied. While his Government grapples with rising inflation, a ferocious civil society and a furious judiciary, Manmohan and Sonia are again politically paralysed—this time by the Telangana crisis. Even as a large number of Andhra Congress leaders defy the High Command’s might, the duo is unwilling to bite the bullet, though willing to be hit by it.

For the economist in Manmohan, a smaller state makes economic sense. For the politician in Sonia, it is another opportunity to create yet another fiefdom. The Telangana agitation’s intensity makes it clear that it won’t subside in a hurry. It has multi-party support, and is spearheaded by students and opinion-makers. While political compulsions may be driving the sustained T-campaign, the arguments put forward make sense. Ever since Andhra Pradesh was formally created in 1956, the people of Telangana have been protesting against the forced merger. Even the first States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) headed by Justice Fazal Ali was opposed to idea of merging Telangana with Andhra Pradesh on economic grounds. In its report, the SRC very categorically stated: “After taking all these factors into consideration, we have come to the conclusions that it will be in the interests of Andhra as well as Telangana, if for the present, the Telangana area is to constitute into a separate state, which may be known as the Hyderabad State with provision for its unification with Andhra after the general elections likely to be held in or about 1961 if by a two-thirds majority the legislature of the residency Hyderabad State expresses itself in favour of such unification.”

The SRC’s advice was rejected by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Andhra Pradesh’s powerful Congress leaders. Fifty-five years later, Nehru’s blunder has come home to roost at his granddaughter-in-law’s doorstep. The impression that only affluent coteries in Andhra Pradesh can hold the central leadership to ransom has gained ground in the state. Most of these own huge swathes of real estate and numerous business establishments in Hyderabad; they fear eviction if a new state is born. Andhra Pradesh was carved out on a linguistic basis. The fact that people speaking the same language are fighting for a separate state is a clear indication of the economic and administrative impulses behind the agitation.

The T-struggle underlines the growing clamour for smaller states. As India grows annually by over 8 per cent, the benefits are not being distributed equitably. Smaller states like Goa, Sikkim, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh have scored well in social sectors like health and education. Despite having a smaller share of the GDP, they have created more wealth than many of the bigger states. Both politically and administratively, it is easier to manage smaller states. The time has come to divide all big states into smaller ones. If the US, with less than one-third of India’s population, can have 50 states, why can’t India be divided into at least 40 smaller units? It will ensure better governance and facilitate regional leaders to become stakeholders in the development of their own areas.

Economic and political power is concentrated in the hands of a few who are now feeling insecure. For them, the creation of more states means the emergence of a new corporate and political leadership that could challenge the established order. More states are facing the demand for smaller states: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has sought the division of her state into three smaller units. A powerful mass movement is building up for the creation of Vidharabha in Maharashtra and a new hill state in West Bengal. It is tragic that even genuine demands for new states have been conceded only after violent political agitations. For example, the Punjabi-speaking state of Punjab was created in 1966 after years of protest. The NDA government saw historical reasons and created three new states—Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand—because prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee saw an opportunity for his party to gain power in smaller states. Until now, the Congress hasn’t been able to return to power in the above states.

The fear of the unknown has crippled the Congress High Command and the prime minister. They genuinely feel that new states will weaken the Congress and strengthen regional parties. They also anticipate the rise of new regional satraps who will not be dependent on the Congress High Command for survival. Those who favour smaller states argue that the Congress should grab the opportunity—it gives the party a chance to absorb new leaders in new states, which will eventually help the Congress to grow. However, the leadership prefers to rule only in Delhi, even if it means losing all other state capitals either to Congress rebels or its adversaries. Herein lies the reason for the current state of indecisiveness at the top.

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/July 10, 2011

Opposition parties are calling Manmohan Singh India’s weakest prime minister. But they are missing the trees for the woods. As the frivolous cacophony over the New Look Cabinet gets louder, Manmohan’s spin-doctors are busy spinning their own yarns about its real purpose. Is it meant to fill up vacant slots? Or to drop the tainted and the old, and induct the clean and the bold? Is it meant to appease the allies or to rein them in? Or is it meant to induct Rahulites who will carry his agenda forward? Since nobody except the Congress president and the prime minister are aware of the compulsions, composition and contours of the reshuffle, party spokespersons, media pundits and even the potential ministers are at sea. If newspapers and TV are to be believed, the prime minister is unlikely to change any member of the Cabinet Committee on Security that includes P Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee, S M Krishna and A K Antony. He is also unlikely to change ministers heading Commerce, Petroleum, Communications, Law and Fertilisers & Chemicals. It leaves Manmohan with very few options. Rejuggling Tribal Welfare, Child Development, North-East Affairs, Social Welfare, Medium and Small Scale Industries, and Minority Affairs, Manmohan would invite ridicule that his has been the most immobile Cabinet since 1980 with the balance of power remaining static. Most ministers running Railways, Petroleum, Commerce and Industry stayed on for more than three years. The last Cabinet reshuffle on January 19 saw no dismissals; it was a game of musical chairs in which over two dozen ministers moved from one office to another. Political observers are debating on both the timing and desirability of the new look.

From all indications, the primary criterion for keeping or dropping a minister has little to do with age or performance. Most members of India’s largest, and perhaps most aged, Council of Ministers owe their berths to caste, community or loyalty to the Congress high command. This leaves the prime minister with limited manoeuverability. Since Manmohan doesn’t control the Congress party, he has been waiting for the list of ministerial names from 10 Janpath. He had toyed with the idea of inducting technocrats or professionals like Montek Singh Ahluwalia into the Cabinet, but didn’t press further.

Undoubtedly, there is a pressing need to induct new ministers to fill the vacancies caused by the resignations of Mamata Banerjee, A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran—all UPA allies. The prime minister could have asked the allies for replacements and be done with it. Constitutionally, the prime minister chooses his colleagues, but it’s not the political reality. Barring some individuals, Manmohan has never been permitted to choose his own Cabinet. He needs a lean, mean and clean Cabinet. But it is likely that the nation will only get more of the same.

But First, a Clean Sweep of Things

Though it is the prime minister who sends the list of ministers to the President for induction into the Cabinet, it is the Cabinet Secretariat that provides the full dossier on each to the PMO. Since Cabinet Secretary A K Seth is new to his job, it was left to his office to discreetly dig out the details of those on the probables list. The purpose behind the PMO and Congress President Sonia Gandhi gathering all this information is to avoid future embarrassments over corruption. Over a dozen names from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Punjab are under the scanners of the IB and other investigating agencies. The message was clear: the prime minister will not induct any new politician with deal-making tendencies. Even names suggested by the allies were sent for extensive scrutiny at the state level. Earlier, well-connected and resourceful candidates could influence the agencies but this time around, the exercise was kept a well-guarded secret. Even in the case of existing ministers, a fresh round of checks was conducted through direct and indirect means. No wonder, many aspirants were seen wooing those who could give them clean chits while ignoring those who appoint them.

The Man They Sent to Tell Maran

For the Congress, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is the most untrustworthy of allies. Not for the prime minister. According to party insiders, when its core group decided to get rid of Textile Minister Dayanidhi Maran, it couldn’t find the means to convey it to the minister. Manmohan has always been wary of conveying bad news to his colleagues. Former prime ministers Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, P V Narsimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee used their political aides like R K Dhawan or M L Fotedar, Jitendra Prasada or Brajesh Mishra to extract resignation letters from allies or party colleagues. Manmohan usually depends on Pranabda to do the dirty work, who didn’t oblige this time. Manmohan drafted Pawar in to persuade Maran to quit before last Thursday’s Cabinet. Maran sought at least a month to decide, but Pawar cautioned him against the negative political impact on the UPA. A stickler for rules, the Maratha leader had spoken to Karunanidhi before phoning Maran. Though the final deal between the DMK and the Congress will unfold only after the reshuffle, Pawar kept alliance interests in mind. Because he didn’t want the Congress party to decide the fate of ministers belonging to regional parties, Pawar is believed to have assured Karunanidhi that Pranab Mukherjee will personally meet him and explain the future course of action. By obliging the Congress, Pawar made sure that the formula and the principle of power-sharing wouldn’t change for him.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/July 03, 2011

It is ironic that a reluctant prime minister of what is the world’s largest democracy has been forced to speak when he would rather keep quiet. Traditionally, a premier isn’t expected to present himself for frequent media interrogations. His action should speak louder than his inaction.

When a country’s chief executive speaks, the nation stops talking and listens. Not anymore. Last week, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to just five chosen editors, it wasn’t his decision.

From all indications, it was because of a directive from the Congress High Command to explain his Government’s failures to the media. The tone and tenor of his dialogue with editors reflected Manmohan’s frustration, not with the system, but with the press. Unlike his usual charming self, he was blunt and aggressive. He charged the media with playing accuser, prosecutor and judge.
For the troubled prime minister, the media has become his most troublesome irritant.

But he did announce, “I am in command.” If the media was looking for a scoop, a revelation or even a feeble admission from Manmohan, it was in for disappointment. It was evident that the message was ignored. The medium was targeted. It would be unfair to blame the prime minister for finally adopting the blame game culture of politics. As the opposition parties and civil society leaders mounted their attack on the UPA, the Congress party failed to counter them effectively. Its spokespersons and even ministers spoke the language of confrontation and arrogance. Its allies either kept quiet or chose to speak against some of the Government’s decisions.

If the image of the prime minister has got a beating, it has less to do with the paralysis of governance and more to do with the vicious slanging matches between some Congress leaders and the Opposition. Instead of defending the Government, most of them threatened to silence dissent with force or other Government agencies.

The message was clear: fall in line or land in jail. Now, when political warfare has failed to silence either the media or the Opposition, the Congress leadership has drafted its best and credible face not only to fend for himself, but also to defend the party. Strangely, the prime minister alone is being accused of maintaining a cryptic silence on most of the controversial issues being raised.

A large number of senior Congress leaders were expecting both Sonia and Rahul to come forward and take on the Opposition. Some of them have already sought Rahul’s intervention in dealing with the outspoken civil society leaders.
But the mother-son pair has concluded that silence is the best option. Neither can either be easily accessed or questioned. Since they aren’t technically in power, they can afford to distance themselves from the misdemeanours of ministers and mismanagement of the system. They have been following the Nehru-Gandhi tradition of keeping the media at arm’s length. Indira Gandhi, and later, Rajiv Gandhi hardly ever spoke to the media. When they did, they chose the time and the people. But when it comes to others, the rules of the game are suitably altered. That is exactly what happened to Manmohan.
Four months ago, when his ministers and others were caught in scams, Manmohan was forced to speak to TV editors; he made the cardinal mistake of admitting that coalition compulsions were responsible for the rot in the system.

Tragically, one of India’s cleanest prime ministers is now facing public scrutiny for the actions of others. Yet, the fault is his own too. Since he never saw himself as an apolitical premier, Manmohan chose a team that was more loyal to him than the party. Most of Team Manmohan’s members are from Punjab; the economic fraternity or his social circles. It began with the appointment of Kutty Nair—a retired IAS officer from the Punjab cadre—as his principal secretary and the selection of his former student Montek Singh Ahluwalia as deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission.

Their agenda was to advise the prime minister and project him as a person serious about the second phase of economic reform. For the past seven years , Manmohan has been projected as the face of the Government and not a leader who leads the nation.

This was primarily due to the conflict between the party’s interests and the government’s projection. While those in the Government wanted all decision-making to revolve around the prime minister, others in the party wanted to establish the Congress High Command’s supremacy.

The creation of the UPA and appointment of the National Advisory Council (NAC), with Sonia Gandhi as chairperson, spawned conflicts. Manmohan Singh wisely chose to concentrate on governance. Here again, he was hemmed in by some coalition partners. It was hard to be tough with those who were once his bosses or colleagues.

Now that the prime minister has succumbed to speak out more frequently, he has to be clear. Those who admire Manmohan expect him to lead from the front. Credibility and honesty—his two precious assets—have already been eroded. He has nothing to lose; his future doesn’t lie in politics. His aggression at the editors’ meet would have been more lethal only if it had reflected his deeds and not mere words.

BJP-Divided and Ruled Out / The Sunday Standard/July 03,2011

When the BJP’s holy hope in Uttar Pradesh, Uma Bharati, was welcomed back on stage formally by party President Nitin Gadkari in Delhi on June 7— after a vanvaas of 16 years—there were no fireworks.

It was left to Gadkari, architect of her return, to greet the sanyasin with sweets. Bharati was specifically brought back into the fold to take on the redoubtable Mayawati who seems invincible mainly because the BSP has no credible opposition. For the BJP, which is preparing its electoral strategy for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections will be a harbinger of fate.

At last month’s party executive meet held in Lucknow, Kalraj Mishra was appointed chairman of the Campaign Committee after much haggling between warring groups. Rajnath Singh, who has a strong Thakur mass base, was ignored completely—at one point he walked on to the stage uninvited, to make a sardonic point. Bharati inherits a legacy of communications failure between state leaders supported by nepotic national chieftains; the BJP has no strategy in Uttar Pradesh to build a caste phalanx of Rajputs, Brahmins, backward castes and Dalits to counter the upper caste-dominated Congress, the Dalit-led BSP and the Muslim- Yadav combination of the Samajwadi Party. The sanyasin’s skills at political Sudoku will be tested sorely in the state; she has to balance the numbers between Delhi and Lucknow when it comes to possible candidates. The BJP’s cadres favour Rajnath, Mishra, Bharati and Swami Chinmayanand. Varun Gandhi is in great demand among the party’s youth; a fact that has nettled sections of the central leadership. So much for a winning strategy! There are other state elections around the bend—Gujarat, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa. War cries are heard within the BJP; but unfortunately, it is the sound of fury of saffron overlords battling each other.

Fighting to lose it all

The central leadership on the other hand seems busy consuming large quantities of the party symbol, the lotus. In history, leaders change in every institution and new groups are born. Institutions that succeed do not cast earlier mentors into political winter, especially in a summer of discontent— mainly because experience guides enthusiasm. Mysteriously, the BJP headquarters has discarded the authors of the party’s popular, ideological and strategic prominence— Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh and Arun Shourie. Once a party of titans, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was never afraid to speak his mind and encouraged a spirit of civilised dissent within the party, these senior leaders have been sidelined because they refuse to be part of any group and possess independent minds. Gadkari’s biggest challenge is how to manage the cabals within. In Delhi, the duel between the two Opposition Leaders in Parliament—Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj—continue to cause discomfort in the party rank and file. Political hostilities in Maharashtra went national when the BJP’s Deputy Leader of the Opposition Gopinath Munde rebelled against party chief Gadkari—an old Maharashtra hand—only to arrive at an uneasy truce.

The stateside mess

In the states, the din of conflict gets louder as the shadow war within the party becomes kamikaze theatre. In Rajasthan, where Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s image is substrata, L K Advani’s favourite Vasundhara Raje is being sniped at by Arun Chaturvedi, a Rajnath acolyte. In Uttar Pradesh, Rajnath and Mishra who is supported by Jaitley are locked in battle, leaving room for the Congress to conserve its energy to attack Mayawati.

In Uttarakhand, Advani supporter Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and Rajnath confidant Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank are at war. In Bihar, where the BJP shares power with the JD(U), Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi is being sabotaged by C P Thakur who claims Rajnath’s backing.

The situation in Jharkhand is tragic comedy—Advani’s candidate for chief minister was Sinha, but Gadkari cast his vote in favour of Arjun Munda. The differences in the party became apparent when former party President Murli Manohar Joshi described the developments as a “theatre of the absurd”.

In Himachal Pradesh, the old rivalry between titans Prem Kumar Dhumal and Shanta Kumar continue unabated.

In Gujarat, loyalists of Advani and Swaraj are propping up Harin Pathak against Narendra Modi. Sanjay Joshi, former BJP national general secretary who was sidelined after a sex scandal, might return to the party—a move seen in party circles as clipping Modi’s wings. Gadkari and company reportedly favour Joshi’s return to active politics. Not a Modi favourite, Joshi claims support from large sections of the party.

In Karnataka, where Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa keeps winning election after election in spite of corruption charges, combat with Ananth Kumar continues nonstop. Once Yeddyurappa even attacked his bête noire with a chair in rage. Many groups operate within the state BJP: the Bellary Reddy brothers lead a gang of MLAs from Bellary while state party president K S Eshwarappa’s group is RSS-backed.

In Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is in shreds, Shivraj Singh Chouhan sees Bharati as a contender for his well-administered chair. The Delhi state BJP is a battlefield on which Gadkari-backed Vijay Goel has been fighting Jaitley groupie Vijender Gupta.

In Punjab, where the BJP is a ruling alliance partner, it is demoralised by corruption scandals and the internecine strife between Manoranjan Kalia, a Swaraj follower and Tikshan Sood who is a Jaitley cohort. The enmity between Navjot Singh Siddhu and Avinash Rai Khanna is seen as an example of distrust between Jaitley and the RSS in Punjab. In Jammu and Kashmir, infighting became public after MLAs were expelled for cross-voting. In Orissa, the BJP seems to have thrown away the tribal advantage after former Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram was chosen over Dharmendra Pradhan as party chief. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is relieved at the cracks within the BJP, the BJD’s former partner. Oram is now at loggerheads with the sitting MLA from his former constituency Bhimsen Choudhury and is lobbying in Delhi to expel him from the party.

Delhi’s role has upstaged local leaders everywhere in the BJP. During the recent Assam Assembly elections, Varun—the election in-charge—had no say in the selection of candidates as Jaitley, the overall in-charge of Assam called the shots. Varun packed his bags to go off to Italy for his honeymoon rather than waste time playing second-fiddle.

MP Kabindra Purkayastha accuses the Central leadership of not building up the organisation in Assam. “Teamwork was missing and there is no consultation process between state and central leaders,” he says.

No more icons left

The satrap strife in the saffron party might end in the BJP squandering away a great opportunity to shape up as a credible alternative to the Congress, whose image has been battered by scams. It lacks a unifying figure like Vajpayee who stood tall above all controversy. In spite of respective coteries trying to drive a wedge between old friends, Vajpayee and Advani used to love watching films together. A BJP leader recalls them watching the movie Phir Subah Hogi, sometime in the late 1950s; the Jan Sangh had been trounced by the Congress in the second General Election.

Coming out of the cinema hall, Vajpayee joked, “phir subah hogi!” (dawn will come again!) It came briefly in 1977 when the Janata Party (with which the Jan Sangh had merged) rode the anti-Emergency wave and became part of Morarji Desai’s Cabinet. In 1996, the skyline lit up briefly when the BJP came to power as a minority government and again in 1998. A wish made in 1950 was fulfilled, and despite differences, Vajpayee and Advani had managed to bring the party to power at the Centre. One of the architects of the Janata Party coalition was Vajpayee. His stature ensured that a second attempt was successful 20 years later. Recalls BJP senior leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra, “It was Vajpayeeji’s idea of naming the conglomerate of parties as National Democratic Alliance, as he wanted to emulate Jan Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who had formed the National Democratic Front in the First Lok Sabha in 1952 by cobbling together smaller parties and splinter groups.”

Satraps at war

Today, the BJP has formed splinter groups of its own. Asks a party leader, “Can anyone imagine Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley sitting together and watching a movie or sharing lunch, despite sitting in adjacent rooms in Parliament? They would rather hold separate get-togethers and invite journos for chit-chat and lunch but avoid each another, even though they are supposed to work in tandem on a daily basis, to ensure that the party-line is strictly followed in both the Houses of Parliament.” The animosity between Swaraj and Jaitley has led to several embarrassing moments for the party.

A debate on the CBI’s role in the Gujarat riots investigation was initiated by the BJP in the Rajya Sabha by Jaitley; but not in Lok Sabha since Swaraj dislikes Modi. On the controversial Indo-Pak Joint Statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh, the BJP took a belligerent stand and staged a walkout in the Lok Sabha; it stayed put in the Rajya Sabha.

On the Somali pirates issue, Jaitley avoided joining the BJP delegation to the PM’s residence led by Swaraj. On the controversial CVC appointment, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted to goofing up on the floor of Parliament, Swaraj wanted it ignored and moved on but Jaitley said the matter should not end.

No new leaders

The BJP’s tragedy is that its senior leadership is trying to imitate the Gandhis by crushing state leaders, but they lack the charisma and electability of the ruling family. Beyond the current leadership that was created by Vajpayee and Advani, no BJP GenNext exists. The party has no presence in Haryana, has collapsed in Jammu and Kashmir, is a failure in Assam and West Bengal. Except in Karnataka, it is absent south of the Vindhyas. A failure to create a third generation leadership by insecure, power hungry leaders who are busy knifing each other in the back will be the party’s obituary after 2014.

The BJP now hopes to ride on the coattails of Team Anna and Baba Ramdev, seeking a piece of the limelight. BJP MP from Lucknow, Lalji Tandon, rubbishes the need for defensive action. “Neither Anna nor Ramdev are going to contest elections. We will be the ultimate beneficiaries,” he remarks.

He recalls how the Jan Sangh climbed on the JP bandwagon in the 1970s.

Today, the BJP’s engine has too many drivers. Whether it is Gadkari, Advani, Swaraj and Jaitley or Rajnath, all encourage their supporters in the states to keep rivals in check. In all likelihood, all this shadow boxing and strife will only lead to the party being checkmated all the way to 2014.

With inputs from Anil Gejji in Karnataka and Bijoy Pradhan in Orissa


Keeping Modi out

Exactly one year ago, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi was forced to take back Rs 5 crore given to Bihar as flood relief. That the BJP is a partner of Bihar’s ruling alliance, headed by Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), didn’t deter the secular-thanthou Kumar from returning the money. Not one senior BJP leader protested. It was left to BJP Spokesperson Nirmala Sitharam to say, “I wonder if only the money is being returned or also the feeling of empathy, solidarity and spirit of togetherness is being returned.” Modi was barred from campaigning for the BJP in Bihar. Also within the political minefield that is the BJP, there is little empathy for Modi.

“Modi’s magic and charisma have worked in Gujarat, but it is not necessary that everybody’s magic works at every place. Nitishji has put no condition before us. The decision on who should or should not campaign in Bihar has been the sole discretion of BJP.” Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj admitted the party wasn’t overtly bothered. Ironically, his own party has used the Gujarat riots as an excuse to keep its most popular mass leader from the national campaign trail. In the last Assembly polls, Modi campaigned only in Assam and West Bengal. Mainline BJP leaders who had campaigned in these states whisper the party’s poor showing in these states prove Modi’s charisma works only in Gujarat.

Immediately after the NDA’s defeat in 2004, the saffron politburo of Ashoka Road also blamed the riots for the fall.

With Atal Bihari Vajpayee in poor health, the BJP has no mass leader who combines charisma with administrative excellence. Lal Krishna Advani has been relegated to Bhishmapitamah status—more adept at apologising to Sonia Gandhi and praising Jinnah than being a votecatcher. Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu et al know of Modi’s ability to achieve what the BJP tried with Rath Yatras and Ram Janmabhoomi rhetoric— polarise the Hindu vote and return the party to power in 2014. So far, Modi has concentrated on Gujarat. He has proved that he is an efficient administrator, a grassroots leader and a chief executive who can bring billions of dollars as FDIs: in short, a blueprint of a prime minister-in -waiting. Modi is quietly preparing for a hat-trick in 2012. He cares little for Delhi visits unlike other BJP chief ministers, except to attend Planning Commission and National Development Council conclaves.

“Indeed, he is our tallest leader. He works hard and enthuses his subordinates to deliver.

A thoroughly honest person, he works in a transparent manner. He is seen as a strong leader, who will not compromise with either the interest of the state or the nation. It’s the reason, why enemies fear him and friends respect him,” remarks Balbir Punj, BJP incharge of Gujarat.

Clearly an astute mind is at work—one with prime ministerial ambition. At the BJP Chief Ministers’ Conference in Delhi in the heat of May, Modi left his undeclared rivals sweating.

He questioned the leadership’s silence on the Government misusing Constitutional institutions including the CBI, to target him in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case. Modi thundered that BJP MPs should raise these issues in Parliament, suggesting that they should not wait for Leader of Opposition Swaraj’s signal. Modi was upping the ante from Gandhinagar.

His work culture in the party and in the state seems like a plan to establish credentials for a bigger platform—a worry for many in the party. BJP General Secretary Jagat Prakash Nadda says, “When I was with the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), Narendra Modi was the in-charge. He remembers every task given to a BJYM worker, in the same sequence in which it was assigned, even after 20 days and asks for compliance reports.” As Chief Minister, Modi remains always unflappable. His message to the babus is clear: “Work has to be done. If you cannot manage, someone else will do it.” Many senior BJP leaders feel insecure that at party conclaves, it is Modi who draws the maximum applause from the workers, with nationalist rhetoric and acidic barbs against the Congress. This, perhaps, explains why many BJP bigwigs are busy building bridges with other political parties. Hoping the NDA does well in 2014, the jockeying for support for the prime post has begun—Jaitley is assiduously cultivating Kumar, while Swaraj goes about wooing Jayalalithaa.

At the BJP National Council meeting in Indore in February 2010, when BJP President Nitin Gadkari formally assumed charge, Modi tore apart the UPA Government’s policy on national security, wondering why it was in a hurry to resume a dialogue with Pakistan. “As a mature democracy, there is even greater need to talk to the principal opposition party.

Did they ever feel the need to talk to the BJP?” In the BJP, it seems, the need to talk to Modi isn’t apparent.

Modi's hits

■ Stable government; Modi is the longest-serving Chief Minister of the BJP

■ Consistently high economic and agricultural growth

■ No communal riots post-2002

■ Vibrant Gujarat summit attracts record investment which shows that Modi enjoys investors’ confidence

■ Administrative efficiency, modernisation

■ Gujarat, rated as best e-governed state, is set to usher in village-level e-governance

■ Swagat online grievance redressal that enables direct communication of citizens with CM besides steps like evening courts, Jyotigram electrification scheme, Kanya Kelavani Yojana have made Modi successful.