Monday, August 29, 2011

Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard Magaine/August 28, 2011


“Success comes in cans, failure in can’ts” goes the saying. The utter collapse of the authority of the Prime Minister and his Government stems from their inability to think out of the box. The handling of Team Anna and their agitation will, perhaps, become one of the most popular case studies in ‘How to Convert an Opportunity into a Threat’. Undoubtedly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is equally, if not more, committed to strike at the roots of corruption. His track record is his great asset. But degree and pedigree don’t guarantee success in political management; instead, both have been a liability, as is evident from the bruised image of the Government and its leadership. With well-spoken and highly educated ministers like P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Pranab Mukherjee, Jairam Ramesh and others batting for it, the Government was much better placed than Team Hazare. But a 74-year-old village-educated mass leader mauled all the wise men because they believed in their own words of wisdom rather than well-tested political tools. Instead of chanting the “Yes, we can” mantra, their chorus was, “No, they can’t do this, and that.”

To begin with, the Prime Minister and his colleagues refused to talk to Anna. Then, they gave in, sitting with his team to draft a Lokpal Bill. When Anna sat on fast to protest the Government draft, the UPA first refused to consider the Jan Lokpal Bill—only to be back on its knees within a week, pleading with Anna to give up his fast, saying it would consider his bill too. Earlier, it had ignored the entire Opposition and told Team Anna that it didn’t need them. But within a month the Government had to beg all political parties to bail it out of a mess of its own creation. Almost 75 per cent of Parliament’s time was wasted in harangues between the Government and the Opposition.

While the civil society leaders came out of the crisis smelling of roses, the Congress and the Government was still struggling to salvage its reputation and credibility. Most senior Congress leaders blame the Prime Minister and his advisers for keeping the party out of the dialogue. This is not for the first time that the Congress has faced a serious threat to the institution of the prime minister and the government. Indira Gandhi did twice: in 1974, Jai Prakash Narayan led a movement that paralysed the government. Again in 1984, Indira was confronted with the Punjab terror menace that eventually led to her assassination. Three years later, Rajiv Gandhi had to face serious challenges from within on corruption; his finance Minister V P Singh revolted on the Bofors issue which snowballed into a national protest. Though both suffered electoral humiliation, they used the party to their full advantage.

It is surprising that Manmohan hasn’t involved the party and Congress chief ministers in his battle against Team Hazare. With 13 chief ministers, the Congress could have mounted a major offensive against the Opposition and Team Anna. In the past, the strategy followed by all prime ministers facing popular dissent was to orchestrate a full-throttle campaign by issuing statements against their adversaries, organising demonstrations in their favour, and prodding opinion-makers to make powerful counter-arguments. According to Congress insiders, its earlier prime ministers could control politics because they had aides like R K Dhawan and M L Fotedar who could mobilise important Congress leaders at short notice. But retired civil servants and technocrats control Manmohan Singh’s office. When the Anna situation worsened, technocrats like Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, and Nandan Nilekeni, chairman of the Unique Identity Authority of India, were the ones drafted to support the Prime Minister.

This raises pertinent questions about the relationship between the Congress and the Government. With Sonia Gandhi recuperating in the US, Manmohan hasn’t been able to rally the Congress in the Government’s favour. Worse, no Congress chief minister has spoken against Hazare. On the contrary, a few young ministers and MPs have expressed their disapproval of the way the Government is dealing with the issue. Barring a couple of meetings of the core group, neither the Prime Minister nor the party thought of calling an extended meeting of the Congress Working Committee to discuss ways and means of dealing with the challenge. A section of the party believes that by depending on non-political persons, the Prime Minister has lost an opportunity to unite the entire political system. Most parties are against many of the clauses in the Jan Lokpal Bill. The Prime Minister could have turned them into allies by involving them in the dialogue process right from the beginning, and not mid-way. At the end of his seventh year in office, Manmohan is yet to learn the rules of the political game, let alone play it better than his foes. The time has come to prove that he failed not because he didn’t try. But because he tried his best.

Race Course Road/ The Sunday Standard/August 28, 2011

PM’s Crisis Managers Lack Political Skills

The success of a leader depends on the team he chooses. His effectiveness also lies in trusting some who may have been part of his predecessor’s kitchen cabinet. If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is passing through an agonising phase, it’s because he ignored those who possess formidable skills in political manoeuvering and negotiation. Many senior Congress leaders feel that by drafting in his team only those who haven’t handled political crises in the past to deal with Crisis Anna, the Prime Minister walked into a trap laid by civil society leaders and the Opposition. Some feel that those who were once associated with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi have been kept out. While they admire both the commitment and talents of the negotiators led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Congressmen also argue that involving experienced persons would have yielded better results. For the past few months, a high power group comprising Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Law Minister Salman Khurshid, Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal have been dealing with various political catastrophes, including the Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev agitations. The team is adept at legalese and procedure, but none among them has the necessary experience to deal with complex, relentless social activism. For Team Pranab, excessive use of authority, instead of dialogue, or invoking statutes appears to be the best tool to defeat dissent. Even Manmohan has no experience in handling powerful social or political agitations. Congress insiders are wondering why ministers and leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma, Veerappa Moily, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ambika Soni et al were kept out of the negotiating team. All of them are known as champions of political wrestling. They possess enough talent to tire their opponents out, and do whatever it takes to break the opposition. Both Indira and Rajiv used them to handle difficult political situations in various states as well as at the Centre. They may have got ministerial berths in Manmohan’s Cabinet, but the Prime Minister seems to be more comfortable with those who carry no past baggage.

Sonia’s Civil Society Allies Ignored

If the Government left out political leaders from the Indira-Rajiv era from the mainstream dialogue with Anna, even the few VIP civil society leaders associated with Congress President Sonia Gandhi have also become irrelevant. Some of them are members of the powerful National Advisory Council. They have always been part of the Government’s consultative process for formulating any new legislation. But when Sonia fell sick and left for a surgery abroad, the Government didn’t involve even highly vocal NAC members like Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander in the process of finalising the Lokpal Bill. Finally, Roy had to submit her version of the Bill to the Standing Committee for consideration, forcing the Prime Minister to include her speech in his proposal as well. In the absence of a direct invitation from the Prime Minister or the Government, Mander and Roy are actively participating in TV debates and pushing their own variants of the Lokpal Bill.

Manmohan’s Governor Surprise

Even as the entire nation was discussing the Lokpal Bill, the Government sprang a surprise by appointing 78-year-old K Rosaiah as the Tamil Nadu governor. The former Andhra Pradesh chief minisiter was charged by the state Anti-corruption Bureau in March for passing an order regularising occupation of prime land worth over Rs 200 crore. The Centre delayed his appointment till the court acquitted him. However, an appeal has been filed against the lower court’s order. Rosaiah is one of the four new governors appointed; two others were merely shifted from one state to another. Another surprising feature of these gubernatorial appointments is the preference given to antiquated politicians. Both Ram Naresh Yadav, a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, and Vakkom Purushothaman, a former speaker of the Kerala Assembly, are in their mid-eighties. But the Prime Minister seems to have learned some lessons from the conduct of Hans Raj Bhardwaj, the governor of Karnataka. Manmohan has chosen as governors only those Congressmen who do not have a reputation for confrontationist posturing. Purushothaman, Yadav and Rosaiah are known for their objectivity and genteel behaviour. Even MOH Farook, the new Kerala governor, has always avoided confrontation with chief ministers. Rosaiah and Yadav have been sent to states ruled by non-Congress governments like Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh. According to top government officials, the Prime Minister was under pressure to appoint aggressive Congress leaders in various Raj Bhavans, but he resisted. He, however, agreed to move Farook to Kerala, which is now ruled by the Congress. It’s obvious that these appointments didn’t reflect the hand of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Ministers Make Their Own Drafts

Anna Hazare has not only made duly elected representatives irrelevant, his movement has also made the steel frame of the Indian civil services dispensable. For the first time, the political class took over the function of formulating laws and legislation. Normally, the Cabinet Secretariat and its senior officials are involved in drafting legislation, along with the officers of the concerned ministry. But this time round, the ministers themselves decided to do the job. Various drafts were circulated, written by politicians; these reflected their politics, instead of being feasible or legally robust. The newly appointed Cabinet Secretary was, in fact, learning about the contents of the proposed laws from television debates. Ministers and interlocutors were so confident of their skills that they even kept the officials from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and the Law Ministry at bay. Only the private secretaries of the concerned ministers were trusted. But civil servants are having the last laugh as none of the drafts have cut any ice till now.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard Magazine/ August 21, 2011

No Government, Lost Opposition, but Mera Bharat Mahan

It may sound a trifle absurd, but the person who coined the slogan ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’ deserves a Noble prize for fiction. For the past few months, each and every institution of good governance has been systematically demolished. The legitimate authority of the state has been compromised. The credibility of the Prime Minister has been eroded, and his personal integrity has come under political scrutiny. The opposition has failed miserably to offer alternative leadership or a credible agenda. Yet, this nation of 1.2 billion people hasn’t lost its collective sanity. Betrayed by the leaders it elected and let down by the institutions it created, Bharat is battling with two crises: non-governance and an isolated leadership. The UPA command is suffering from a pass-the-buck syndrome: the CWG scam is exposed, Suresh Kalmadi gets the blame. When the Government suffers a huge loss of revenue in the 2G licence swindle, A Raja is identified as the villain. And finally when questions are raised about the atrocities perpetrated on Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare, Delhi Police is the scapegoat.

With the administration changing its strategy on an hourly basis, people are wondering whether the Government itself is an illusion. Who is leading the country? Or running the Government? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the AICC president, Rahul Gandhi, an empowered Group of Ministers, civil society leaders or some invisible hand? Something is rotten in the state of India. Its leadership can’t differentiate between the beautiful and the ugly; between what’s good or bad for the country and between the corrupt and the clean. The Government takes one decision in the morning, which is revised by the afternoon and finally reversed by the evening. Funny; no one knows who took what decision.

First, the UPA leadership chose to extend Team Anna a red carpet welcome. In Baba Ramdev’s case, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, accompanied by two colleagues and the cabinet secretary, drove all the way to the airport to woo him. Two days later, the Government unleashed the police on the Baba and spirited him out of the city. He was labelled one of the country’s worst economic offenders. All investigation agencies were activated to open each and every page of his account books. Ramdev was silenced by a slew of administrative bullying that surfaced again when the Hazare tsunami hit the capital.

It was the Prime Minister who first instructed his ministers to open a dialogue with Team Hazare to draft an acceptable Lokpal Bill. A few days later, the same ministers were raising questions about Anna’s integrity because he refused to accept their dictates. A Congress spokesperson even went to the extent of calling Hazare one of the most corrupt persons in the country. Pranabda, one of the saner voices of the UPA, also changed his tune according to the need of the times. On certain occasions, he sounded more authoritarian than some of his other colleagues. With all allies keeping a cryptic yet meaningful silence, various factions of the Congress party were indulging in competitive mudslinging at civil society. There was a visible disconnect between its mouth and its mind. The Congress establishment was spouting views that were totally at variance with the minds of people.

Home Minister P Chidambaram sounded unconvincing when he told the media that it was Delhi Police’s decision to deny Hazare permission to fast and to send him to judicial custody. Technically, the police commissioner and his deputies take independent decisions. But keeping in view the political implications of their actions regarding Hazare, they would have kept their political masters, including the home minister and the Lt. governor, informed of their line of action. Contrary to general perception, the decision to send Anna to a seven-day judicial custody wasn’t taken by a judicial magistrate. It was an assistant commissioner of police who passed the order after Anna refused to give an undertaking for good behaviour. It was a local police inspector who detained Hazare and his followers on the grounds that they were posing a threat to peace. And it is the same police team that withdrew the charges later in the evening, and ordered Anna’s unconditional release.

Imagine. Can a lowly inspector arrest and release India’s tallest civil society leader like Hazare without orders from the top? Since the Prime Minister defended the police action against Hazare, it was evident that Delhi Police was assured of protection from the top. Even the sequence of events that led to the Anna fiasco clearly indicates the absence of cohesive planning to handle civil society’s demands.

The theatre of the absurd concluded with some Congress leaders sending out clear signals that the party had nothing to do with the Government’s decisions. The media was told that Rahul Gandhi is against personal attacks on opponents, and it was he who advised the Government to release Hazare. How come a Government, aided and advised by eminent leaders, couldn’t devise and implement a plan that could prevent the demolition of its only icon—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? Obviously, Bharat is mightier than India.

Teekhi Baat_Salman Khurshid_Prabhu Chawla

Teekhi Baat with Salman Khurshid

Race Course Road / The Sunday Standard/ August 21, 2011

Ratings Race Prompts Rethink in Congress

Normally, the Congress and the Prime Minister ignore the results of opinion polls, even the excessively unfavorable ones. But of late, Congress supporters and members of the Prime Minister’s think tank have been minutely dissecting various surveys to spot trends that may need timely corrections for the 2014 polls. However, the party and the Prime Minister’s supporters seem to have different agendas. While Manmohan’s promoters are looking at ways and means to salvage his plummeting popularity, the Congress party is busy spotting a potential threat to heir apparent Rahul Gandhi. Though he tops the list of popular candidates for prime minister, Rahul’s popularity rating hovers around 20 per cent as against Sonia’s mere 10 per cent. Both the

Congress and the Prime Minister’s Office are seriously concerned about the rising acceptability of Narendra Modi—their prime political target for the past few years. Not only has he beaten both Manmohan and Sonia in a recent opinion poll, but he doesn’t seem to be considered a pariah among the minorities in most parts of India. More Muslims support him for the top job than they do even for Nitish Kumar. Congress analysts feel Modi’s popularity could go up if Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s name is excluded from the list. In some major states, Modi outscores Rahul. Even in Rahul’s karambhumi Uttar Pradesh, the BJP, Uma Bharati and Gujarat’s chief minister are drawing more voter attention than the Congress. What is bothering the party is that the losses suffered by both Sonia and the Prime Minister are not being converted into gains for Rahul. The Congress is now revising its strategy to promote and strengthen Brand Rahul by totally disassociating him from the follies of the prime minister and his Government. Rahul was advised to distance himself from the Anna-led Lokpal Bill movement, but was encouraged by his counselors to instead visit the families of the farmers who were recently killed in police firing in Maharashtra. Soon, a new roadmap for resurrecting both Brand Manmohan and Brand Rahul will be unfolded in the form of massive media and public relations exercises. But the focus will be more on the future and less on the present.

More Grist for Pranab’s Mill

If the withdrawal of Pranab Mukherjee from heavy political duties is any indication of changing political equations, the Prime Minister has now entrusted him with more economic responsibilities. Last week, Pranab held a joint meeting with C Rangarajan , chairman of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Economic Affairs, and D Subbarao, Governor, Reserve Bank of India, to review the performance of the economy. Normally the Prime Minister presides over such meetings. Earlier, Pranab had summoned leading corporate honchos to discuss how to bring the ailing economy back on track. For the past few months, Pranab was the one tackling all the political problems of the UPA Government. He was the chairman of the drafting committee which formulated the government’s Lokpal Bill. Though he was present along with the Prime Minister at the AICC office on Independence Day to brief Rahul Gandhi, he has been keeping away from various other political parleys. From all indications, both the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister will be confined to Government, and leave politics to those who will be part of the future Cabinet.

Ambika Takes a Different Line

It is mandatory for all ministries to release massive newspaper ads on the occasion of both the birth and death anniversaries of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru. On August 20—former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 67th birth Anniversary—over a dozen ads carrying his pictures and statements were carried by over 200 publications in the country. But the one that stood out was issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting headed by Ambika Soni. The half-page ad contained an excerpt from one of Rajiv’s speeches which read: “The democratic way of nation building requires patience, perseverance and a spirit of conciliation.” Since Soni has been leading the attack on Hazare’s movement from the front, the advertisement took all Congress leaders by surprise because all the other advertisements from different ministries carried only inane messages from the former Prime Minister. According to senior officials of various ministries, they were instructed by their ministers last month to raise additional funds for the campaign. But none of them were directed to choose for publication any particular part of Rajiv Gandhi’s speeches. The ministers simply approved the text and the photograph put up to them by their babus. But I&B Ministry officials were directed to pick up the lines by the minister herself, which indicated a change in the Government’s attitude. Comparing Rajiv’s name to an olive branch was, however, lost on Team Anna. Surprisingly, not one ministry controlled by the allies, and ministers considered close to the Prime Minister, could find the necessary funds to pay homage to the departed leader.

India First is Manmohan Edict

While the government’s recently launched austerity drive has come a cropper, the Prime Minister has decided to ground his ministers and senior civil servants for the time being. He had been quite liberal with his colleagues and allowed most of them to go on foreign jaunts, even to attend frivolous seminars and meetings. He had also allowed External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to spend extra days abroad, even after his official work was done. Now, the message has been sent out that no minister will leave the country during the current Parliament session. In case of any emergency, only a senior official from the concerned ministry will fly out, and that too for the minimum possible period. The first victim of the Prime Minister’s missive was environment Jayanthi Natrajan who wanted to go to Brazil for a three-day official visit. Manmohan vetoed her visit, to send out the clear signal that even UPA allies will be given a similar treatment. The PMO had got a whiff that some important ministers were trying to stay away from the country to avoid Heat Hazare.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard Magazine/ August 14, 2011

Winds of Change in BJP are a Warning for Top Leadership

If leaders fail to lead, their followers will take over the leadership and lead instead. This is what is precisely taking place in the faction-ridden Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Last week, when the 140-member-strong BJP Parliamentary Party met to decide its conduct and stand for the current session of Parliament, the deliberations reflected the sudden winds of change that shook the entire leadership. For the first time in decades, people sitting in the audience and not those occupying the dais, dictated the tone and tenor of the dialogue. As usual, the platform was occupied by the BJP’s Gang of Four-L K Advani, Chairman of the Parliamentary party; Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley ( leaders of the Opposition) and party president Nitin Gadkari. Advani, Swaraj and Jaitley spelt out the agenda—let us assert ourselves in the House but also let Parliament function normally. Their logic was the party anyway had enough ammunition to nail the Government on issues like the CAG report on CWG. They were also of the opinion that the BJP should stick to issues and refrain from targeting individuals. But the young parliamentarians were in no mood to give up. They wanted their leaders to refrain from striking a peace deal with the Government. A large number of them were taken aback at the soft attitude of the BJP leadership, particularly after former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyuarappa resigned. They were expecting the party to take the moral high ground and go after Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and other top UPA functionaries. None other than the fiery, former cricketer Navjot Sidhu led the charge of the young brigade. He not only opposed BJP-UPA detente but also pleaded for a powerful offensive against the Government. He left no one in doubt that the cadres were unhappy with the party’s half-hearted attack on the administration. Sidhu wasn’t alone in this fight. Even party spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain and Gujarat state in-charge Balbir Punj strongly supported his demand to go for the jugular. All were in favour of disrupting parliamentary proceedings and demanding Sheila Dikshit’s resignation. They didn’t want the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi to be spared either during the debate. It was this assertive, defiant mood of its young MPs that forced the party to disrupt the House and seek Dikshit’s ouster. Earlier, the BJP leadership and the Government had agreed that only Sports Minister Ajay Maken’s statement on Suresh Kalmadi’s appointment as Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising committee would be debated—and that too under a no-voting provision so that the Government’s numerical weakness wouldn’t be exposed.

For the past few months, a sizeable number of young BJP MPs have been talking about the party’s failure to nail the Government on various issues. Most of them feel the BJP, by its failure to bring other Opposition parties together, has lost the chance to demolish the UPA’s political stability. With scam after scam tumbling out of the Government’s cupboard, a credible Opposition could have brought the weak UPA government to its knees. The MPs are particularly annoyed with the leadership for bailing out the Government on the price rise and various other issues in Parliament. Contrary to their expectations, the party and the Government colluded to accept an amended draft of the resolution censuring the Government. Though it was a BJP-sponsored resolution, the party didn’t get the credit. The BSP and the Samajwadi Party are also upset with the UPA and are looking for a suitable political environment to weaken the Government by voting against it in the House. They were expecting the BJP to take the lead in creating suitable conditions for issue-based floor coordination. Since the BJP doesn’t have a leader who enjoys neither the trust of its own cadres or of other non-Congress parties, it is the UPA that has gained by default.

The emergence of a vocal and assertive voice against the party’s elite signals the democratisation of the organisation that has been hijacked by non-elected individuals. Those who have a stake in its future have decided to take up issues that concern their political core constituency and voters. For them, a visible, credible and effective fight against the Congress appears to be the only weapon to win the election. Recent opinion polls have exposed the real and imagined support of all the national leaders. It is hardcore Hindutva icon and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who has emerged as the most powerful alternative to the Congress, followed by other BJP chief ministers like Raman Singh and Shivraj Chouhan. But they have not been given their due by the party’s central leadership so far. It is the credibility and performance of the BJP’s chief ministers which has enabled the party to retain electoral relevance even as its national leaders have become increasingly irrelevant. The rise of the backbenchers in the BJP has delivered a message that is loud and clear. Either lead, or vacate the seats for the deserving to take over.

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/August 14, 2011

The past two weeks in Parliament have been disastrous for both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the UPA Government he leads. The chaos in the House also exposed the internal weaknesses of the Congress Party in handling the business of governance. The politics of confrontation has led to a complete breakdown of dialogue between the ruling party and the Opposition. Moreover, it also exposed the truth that the recent Cabinet reshuffle hasn’t made the Government more effective. The Congress was fighting a lonely battle, with its allies sitting on the fence and letting it suffer political humiliation. The Government failed to get even three of the 35 bills listed for Parliament’s approval passed. The Prime Minister had to skip the session for a day after coming under relentless opposition fire. He was relying on the team of three Cabinet colleagues headed by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal, to ensure smooth sailing in the House. But not one of them could strike a deal with an unusually aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party, or strategically divide the opposition to rescue the Government from periodic embarrassment in both Houses of Parliament. Over 50 per cent of the total Parliament time was lost in boycott, filibustering and adjournments. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi’s absence made life even more difficult for the Prime Minister and his trusted colleagues. While the young ministers were missing in action, the confrontationist approach of the senior ones made communication with the Opposition difficult. The premier seemed clueless; for example, he would spot a minister he believed could open informal talks, either with the BJP or non-saffron parties, to end the impasse, but he would hesitate to take the matter forward being unsure of the political implications of involving senior ministers like Sharad Pawar or Trinamool leaders. Finally, the hapless Manmohan turned to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as usual, to contact and plead with the BJP leadership and others to let the Government get some of its legislative business done. Pranabda walked the whole mile, but he wasn’t successful. Now, the trapped Prime Minister has initiated a search for a new set of troubleshooters who will save him from the troublesome Opposition in Parliament.

And the Babus are Infected Too

Troubles for the UPA Government never seem to end. Most of its ministers are unable to take decisions because senior civil servants are avoiding putting files up to their ministers. Even the agenda for Cabinet meetings is prepared at the last minute. There appears to be an informal agreement among top babus that they would only follow instructions and not take the initiative. Moreover, upright and efficient officers based in various states are unwilling to come to the Centre. All of them are particularly peeved over the inability of the political leadership to protect them from over-active and coercive investigative agencies and Comptroller and Auditor General of India reports. Earlier, CAG reports were filed away, after submitting an Action Taken Report. Now, adverse reports involving even minor procedural delays are referred to the CBI, or other agencies, for scrutiny and possible prosecution. Due to bureaucratic inaction, many infrastructural projects, important policy decisions and even proposals for foreign direct investment are not being processed. Babus are now passing the buck to the Empowered Group of Ministers with the message: take it or leave it.

Can the PM Hold the Fort?

Minister Manmohan Singh will be the first non-Gandhi Prime Minister to address the nation for the eighth time from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Before him, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had the privilege of making six speeches. But the record is still held by Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi who made 17 and 16 speeches each, from the Red Fort. Both would speak extempore while Manmohan Singh still reads from written notes. And that has posed fresh problems. For the past two weeks, officials from the Prime Minister’s Office have been seeking inputs from all the Union ministries to draft a speech that would restore Manmohan’s credibility and re-establish his authority. Since his last speech on August 15, 2010, Manmohan has suffered a severe blow to his personal reputation, thanks to various scams. His last seven speeches dealt with predictable subjects like agriculture, terrorism, infrastructure, North-East, Jammu and Kashmir and the usual flattering references to the Gandhis and a Nehru. The Prime Minister’s unofficial think tank and aides have run out of ideas for a speech that would be an ideal mix of politics, economics, diplomacy and social issues, which will project Manmohan as a statesman and not just a UPA leader. This time around, he was advised to emphasise his resolve to fight corruption and ensure a stable economy. The real challenge for PMO speechwriters, who are formulating the Prime Minister’s speech, is how to erase negative perception with an emotional outpouring of purple prose, from the mind of an economist-turned-politician.

Union Cabinet Has MoS Hiccup

Some of the newly appointed Ministers of State (MoS) with independent charge are yet to understand the protocol involved in attending a Cabinet meeting. According to the rules, no MoS is expected to attend a meeting of the Cabinet, unless an item relating to his or her ministry is on the agenda. Once a decision on the item has been taken, the MoS has to leave the meeting so that other MoSs may join. But for the past two meetings, newly appointed MoS Jayanthi Natarajan forgot to follow the format due to sheer ignorance or forgetfulness. She had been an MoS earlier too, but without independent charge. Now, after becoming the MoS with independent charge of the important Ministry of Environment and Forests, Jayanthi has been landing up earlier than necessary for Cabinet meetings, even if no matters related to her ministry are listed on the agenda. It was left to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, with a polite signal, to remind her about procedures regarding participating in a Cabinet meeting. Jayanthi would have been saved from the embarrassment if only the newly appointed Cabinet Secretary had given her a proper briefing.

Prabhu Chawla_Sachchi Baat

In this concluding episode of Sachchi Baat Mr Chawla traverses through his journey as a student, his professional stint as a teacher, a journalist and as an anchor. He shares his insights as an anchor for this show 'Sachchi Baat' where he interviewed political and film based personalities.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Race Course Road / The Sunday Standard/ August 07, 2011

CAG effect, or How UPA Learnt a Lesson

The political establishment is concerned about the growing clout of various constitutional authorities like the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the judiciary, Lokayuktas, the Election Commission and even the institution of the Chief Information Commissioner. What is worrisome is not the extent or the nature of exposes by these authorities, but their tendency to run after publicity and encourage selective leakages of portions involving the Prime Minister, Union ministers and chief ministers. Some of the these institutions have been in existence since Independence, but never before have their chiefs held press briefings and made public comments, soon after, or even before, their reports were submitted to the concerned authorities. Last week, deputy CAG Rekha Gupta released the audit report on the Commonwealth Games at a crowded press conference within minutes of the copies having been submitted to Parliament. Earlier, some parts of the report were leaked to the press. In the south, Lokayukta Santosh Hegde’s report reached the media even before it was formally signed. After that, Hegde chose to appear on all national TV channels offering advice on how to implement his findings. It’s worth remembering that CAG findings on Bofors were not publicised by the then-CAG T N Chaturvedi through a press release; yet it demolished the credibility of Rajiv Gandhi’s government. The UPA leadership is now convinced that the time has come to restrain CAG and others from exceeding their constitutional brief and to prevent them from becoming power centres. The PMO is likely to set the tone by selecting only those who go by the book, not those who seek to make waves.

Some powerful state honchos are causing serious problems for the UPA leadership. With the erosion of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s political authority, chief ministers like Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa are dictating terms to the Central government and redefining the political agenda. Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh had a taste of Mamata’s clout during his Kolkata visit; when he sought an appointment, he was told Mamata was extremely busy. When Jairam insisted, he was advised to wait for her at the office of a private Bangla news channel where Didi had gone for a two-hour-long live interview. Poor Jairam got a short audience during a commercial break. Mamata has sent clear signals that all Union ministers, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, can meet her only at her convenience. Even to seek funds, she sent West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra, a former FICCI official, to meet Pranabda. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa uses her MPs to carry missives to various ministers, and even the Prime Minister. Power seems to be shifting from the Centre to the states.


For the beleaguered PMO, offence is the best defence now. The Prime Minister feels that having a Group of Ministers to deal with the media has paid dividends. Now young ministers will be fielded not only to defend the premier, but also to throw the mud back on prime minister baiters. Most enjoy a clean image. They are well-connected with their constituencies and opinion-makers. Last week, the PMO directed Sports Minister Ajay Maken to turn the tables on the NDA on Suresh Kalmadi’s appointment as the chairperson of the Organising Committee for the CWG. The PMO opened all its files to him. Maken is digging deep into decisions taken by the NDA government. Kalmadi may be a pariah for the Congress, but he was the darling of the capital’s powerful chatteratti club comprising prominent political leaders and India Inc. Various government agencies have collected enough evidence about his connections to the other side, which will be reflected in the counter attack by the UPA’s young guns.


The first victim of Sonia Gandhi’s sudden illness seems to be the Governors’ Conference, slated to happen by August-end. The President’s secretariat has conveyed to all the governors that it has been postponed again. Initially to be held by July-end, it was postponed due to political compulsions. The ongoing Parliament session will be cited as the official reason for the second delay. The real reason, however, is the government’s inability to fill some of the Raj Bhavan vacancies. The Congress hasn’t decided the fate of controversial Puducherry Lt Governor Iqbal Singh yet. President Pratibha Patil is resignedly waiting for the next date.

Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard Magazine/August 07, 2011

Middle Class Betrayal Marks
Brand Manmohan Meltdown

It takes decades of dedicated performance to create a credible brand. But it takes just a minor marketing move to destroy it in the market place. Seven years ago, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi launched Brand Manmohan to regain its lost political territory. She was elected the leader of the UPA and could easily have become the prime minister. But she chose not to. Her advisers and aides convinced her about the marketability of Manmohan. He was clean. He was from a minority community that is hostile to the Congress. He was an internationally recognised economist. Finally, he had no baggage or stink in his backyard. During the next seven years, Brand Manmohan captured the imagination of the Indian middle class. He was seen as man of the moment and momentum. Under him, the nation’s Gross National Product grew at a yearly average of 8 per cent. India became the world’s most attractive foreign investment destination. The number of homegrown millionaires and billionaires grew by 1,000 per cent. Manmohan won the US for India in return for a generously lucrative Nuclear Civil Energy deal. He also delivered rich political dividends for the Congress, which broke its 20-year-old record by winning 206 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Manmohan came to be considered the most effective panacea for all the ailments that plagued India.

Come 2011. India’s once-fastest selling political brand is hardly visible. Even his own party is reluctant to use him for promoting its interests. Manmohan has become a subject of hatred and contempt on a large number of social media platforms. A leaderless and directionless Opposition has suddenly found a soft target in him. For the past few months, it is the Prime Minister, and not the Congress party, who is being blamed for what is wrong in the government and the country—if A Raja has looted the treasury, the blame lies at the Prime Minister’s doorstep; if Suresh Kalmadi indulged in worst kind of skullduggery during the Commonwealth Games, it is the PMO that should own up the responsibility; if the NTRO violated financial rules and ordered inferior equipment, the fault lies with the Prime Minister who ignored the early warnings. The Prime Minister, who could once demolish any attack on his integrity with a mere gesture, now needs a Group of Ministers to defend him. His silence is more lethal than his few words.

Until a few years ago, his interaction with the media would generate good news and yield a positive projection of the premier. Now, when he meets even a chosen few journalists, he gets into trouble for speaking his mind. Manmohan was a Prime Minister for whose audience the mightiest of corporate leaders would once wait for months; today they would much rather be in the company of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Barring a few loyal ministers, most Congress leaders are unwilling to take up cudgels on the Prime Minister’s behalf.

Ironically, it is not the performance of Manmohan Singh’s government that is being questioned. On most parameters, UPA II is doing remarkably well. While inflation is a cause for concern, all social sectors are booming. India has a better healthcare system now, a much more effective poverty alleviation mechanism, political stability and is relatively safer security-wise. It is not for non-performance that the Prime Minister is under attack for. The fall of a political leader of stature is reflected by the comments and cartoons made on his or her personality. For the past few weeks, the regional media is full of cartoons making fun of the Prime Minister as a leader who fiddled as Rome burned. The Congress can afford to ignore the damage to his reputation in rural areas, as Manmohan isn’t its mascot in BPL India. It is the urban elite and the middle class that seem to have lost faith in Manmohan’s skills and virtues. Corporate India and the unscrupulous middle class are now at the forefront of a war against Manmohan Singh. But they are the ones who speak against corruption in India at international fora and support, encourage and participate in the public movements led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev. In fact, they are the beneficiaries of the liberalisation (and the scams that followed) which Manmohan Singh, the father of economic reforms, started 20 years ago.

Last week, when the Prime Minister was facing the most vicious and personalised of attacks on his integrity from the Opposition and the media, the chorus that joined in was made up of a large number of his own liberal and rich constituencies—that provide fodder to seminars, symposiums and round tables—in order to save their interests and empires. They make snide remarks about the premier and his style of governance—Manmohan has lost it; he is simply not there. Remarks like “He is not taking interest in governance; he is not independent” are heard quite often in the corridors of power and at dinner parties in Mumbai and New Delhi. The same class had expressed similar sentiments in 1996 when the fair weathercocks seemed sure that Brand Manmohan was on the wane.

The class that promoted Brand M is now his worst enemy, as it doesn’t see any future in him. The fault for trusting those who look for what one can do for them and not for the country lies with the Prime Minister alone. With his unblemished personal integrity, Manmohan Singh is fighting a lonely battle to retain his acceptability and marketability. But his promoters and party are certainly looking at another brand that can retain the market for them.

Sachchi Baat_Abhishek Manu Singhvi_Prabhu Chawla/ August 6, 2011

Interview with renowned lawyer, Rajya Sabha MP and Congress party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi. Excerpts:

PC: You never do ‘sachchi baat’ in your avatar as a spokesperson, I hope here you will.

AMS: In my role as a spokesperson, as far as it is possible, we speak the full truth, or if a things can be seen from two angles, then the best aspect is what I put forward, but don’t speak lies.

PC: As far as it is possible, you do “Sachchi Baat”

AMS: If cannot say anything, then keep quiet.

PC: But don’t lie

AMS: As far as possible, see, in my view as a lawyer, spokesperson, normally, black and white is less, there is a lot of grey area. Work is to see that the best facet of grey should be shown on behalf of the party. And if it is not possible, the keep quiet, speak less or don’t go to the program. There are many times I don’t go to the program.

PC: You don’t go because you don’t want to speak the truth.

AMS: No, where it is necessary to speak the truth, but it is impossible to do so, I don’t go there.

PC: In politics, maximum time lies are said.

AMS: That is not the case, in everything there is no black or white. In addition to ‘satya’ and ‘asatya’ there are grey areas.

PC: No what you said is as far as possible you make efforts to speak the truth, that means you speak half truth.

AMS: Where it is not possible, I don’t go, or keep quiet.

PC: You are spokesperson of the party, are you a party lawyer or spokesperson, there must be some difference between the two.

AMS: Many times we cannot go to programs, where we feel that one some issue I cannot contribute or will have to say white lies, I don’t go then. You have seen many programs, people also complain.

PC: You don’t go because you will have to lie.

AMS: Yes. Or when I feel that I will not have conviction, trust in what I say. This is ‘sachchi baat’, it is a ‘sachchi baat’ program and that is what I am telling.

PC: You have raised a good point, that spokesperson many a times does not have conviction. If Congress party, has a view with which you don’t agree but, as a loyal worker you have to say. But many times you would be faced with issues, hence though Abhishek Manu Singhvi does not like something, but he has to say it.

AMS: Please see, there are two three aspects to this issue. First point, spokesperson does no chalk out strategy. In a way they do it as a Congressman, but It is not true that I have made up the whole thing what I am saying. Number two, many times I feel, this aspect is better regarding this issue, then we present the best part. There are many issues against us, but we don’t fear the same. But there third category that you are speaking about, when I feel that there is not point to get across, or there has been a wrong decision, it will not be right to attribute it to the Congress, as it happens in every party. And I cannot put across the decision and the soul does not permit then, many times don’t go.

PC: No, many time your soul does not permit even then you have to go out and speak. There are many such times.

AMS: Even though the soul does not permit, I have to go but then there must be something to say, a point to put across. Where I feel there is no point to put across, or have to say just for the sake of it, then it is better, for the party also, and even for me, to not go.

PC: Spokesperson are appoint because they ideology, principles otherwise even they would not like him representing.

AMS: principles, ideology, strategy, politician, but you are talking about a decision taken in a particular, month, day and time. These are two different things. Decisions are a manifestation, that can be different.

PC: It is issue based and different issues come every day, they tell you that this is the strategy and you have to speak so and so today about this issue. In a way you became a loudspeaker for the party.

AMS: No, no in this there is one more amusing thing. I am asked this every time, and you will know this better, even then you are asking this question. People think there are fifty boxes, in which there are fifty strategies of congress are kept. Today an issue was raised by Prabhu Chawla, a strategy from box number 51 was taken out, and I announced and spoke about it. The truth is different, it is such a fast moving world that, some decision is taken and what we go and speak becomes the line of the Congress party. The spokesperson does not only announce or speak on the loudspeaker, many times, because every issues has newness, hence what we formulate in front of you, that can also become the strategy. The other Congressman also take the same line later.

PC: What about issues that happen on a daily basis, like Digvijay Singh said, that RSS is a bomb making factory.

AMS: I said clearly, he has announced and made statements, ask him. Then we also have clarity on this issue.

PC: You are not lying, but isn’t it is Congress strategy, what he said.

AMS: It has been indicated to you that this is not Congress’s strategy. The signals are clear.

PC: But you cannot say clearly because you are bound by discipline.

AMS: It is quite clear. I feel it is reasonably clear. This indication the whole mass of people and even you have understood.

PC: I have understood, the question is that time and again he says and every time Abhishek Manu Singhvi says that ask him. In the past six months, Dr. Digvijay Singh, I am addressing him as Dr. as he has a new theory every time, and you say ask him.

AMS: Digvijay Singhji is a senior leader of our party. He has got a lot of experience. He has done a lot of work for the party. We fully agree with his many statements and strategies. Yes, where he makes a statement, which is not the party’s statement, I say it clearly, as I did today. Ask him as it is his statement.

PC: A party’s general secretary, in charge of UP where elections are going to be held, every fifteen day, he says such a thing that party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, says time and again that as him. Hence, don’t you think what he says is also on behalf of the Congress.

AMS: No, not at all. The official briefing of the Congress party, its not about me, about any spokesperson who is officially appointed, and what we say, either we get some clear strategy, or we have to agree that this is our strategy, of the Congress party. That is why, what I say in may capacity as Congress spokesperson, or any other Congressman says, there is a difference.

PC: What you say is the Congress’s policy.

AMS: It is a stand, statement.

PC: Hence I can infer that what Dr. Digvijay Singh says, is not the Congress line.

AMS: Not necessary should be every time.

PC: The general secretary puts forth is personal opinion and you only the Congress line.

AMS: 99 per cent is can matches, it does. There might be one of the other issue on which, which may not tally. If he is our general secretary, then there are many things which tally.

PC: If I ask Sachchi Baat in one line, what Abhishek Manu Singhvi says is Congress policy,

AMS: That is there officially.

PC: But sometimes what Digvijay Singh says, it is not necessary that it Congress’s policy

AMS: You have said it correctly, sometimes, not necessary.

PC: That sometime is becoming many times these days. Somebody like Digvijay Singh is AICC general secretary speaks against the Congress policy. Should a person like this being a post holder in the party or not. You were saying that it is not necessary that the Congress general secretary should speak the party line, sometimes he can also say his personal opinion, on which you later have to say is his own opinion, Is this true.

AMS: Most of the times, the issues tally, sometime I say you ask him it is his statement.

PC: Now I am asking you are very important question. A very important general secretary of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhiji, he said 99 per cent bomb blasts are stopped within this country, one per cent happen. There Congress general secretary talk about zero tolerance, which is also the Congress parties line.

AMS: This is a very important question Prabhuji and I want to give two answers for this. Please read the whole statement, the next statement of what you quoted, ‘but we are making efforts that 100 per cent this should not happen”. This is his whole sentence. Number two, what he said, am on Sachchi Baat today, tell me if I am saying wrong, today the terrorist has to try 100 times to be right one time, we have to be right 100 times, sometimes there are mistakes. We are making efforts to stop it 100 per cent, but sometimes mistakes happen, our one fault, his 99 faliures. This is true.

PC: The BJP asked which are the 99 per cent of the attacks which have been stopped..

AMS: Not 99 more than 99 per cent were stopped. Those incidents which have been averted are not discussed on your program. BJP will only catch one point, am answering BJP’s question, in the past three years, I am not boasting, god forbid some such thing happens, but do we think that the glass if not three quarters full, half full, one quarter full. How many incidents have happened after 26/11. We don’t want praise, we don’t want wishes, but some due credit must be given.

PC: Did some other leader said till today that one per cent happens.

AMS: He didn’t say one per cent. He said, 99 per cent we avert, sometimes there are mistakes and he added the next sentence that ‘ we are trying that it should be averted 100 per cent”. What wrong did he say.

PC: You are justifying

AMS: Certainly. I said it in another way. I said that 99 times he can be wrong, but if terrorist is right one time… the security forces have to be right 100 times, there is possibility that they may not be right some time.

PC: In addition to court, you also do political defending well.

AMS: It is Sachchi Baat, Sachchi Baat is always true.

PC: After being good lawyer and a political spokesperson, you have a good strike rate in court, I saw your record. But don’t you think you would have worked well if you had been in the government.

AMS: Whom are you asking this question?

PC: Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

AMS: I am incapable of answering this question. I am very happy where I am. I think what work I am given by the party, I think; all people don’t think am sure, do with full dedication, and try to work well. When and when I have to be, I have been given a lot of respect. I am in the parliament, I am a speaker, I am being given different works, like I am the president of Akhil Bharatiya legal and human rights wing. After this where I have to be only two people know, three people know.

PC: Who are these three?

AMS: There are two three people. Congress president, Hon. Prime Minister and..

PC: And Rahul Gandhi …who is the third one.. You have said it

AMS: What I have given you very clear answer, I am happy being where I am.

PC: Don’t you feel that you had to be a minister.

AMS: How can I say this? I have to learn a lot many things.

PC: You have been made spokesperson, head of legal and human rights wing, these are symbolic office posts.

AMS: These questions you should not ask me. As I said, I think in this country, if you are committed to some party, then you have to work through the party. Rest, to get into these thinks, dwell, cry about them, this is not done.

PC: Like the way you defence the party, the kind of bettered state that the party is in today, in spite of defending so much, it seems Congress UPA 2 government is most corrupt government, the most inefficient government. It has the biggest cabinet in India headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh, how will you be able to defend. Don’t you think that there should be better people so that what has been happening should not happen?

AMS: I have no doubt that if I will be given any responsibility, I think I will make efforts, to work efficiently, whether it is party of government post, decision and will full force. This has always been my focus. But to think that one person, can change the whole thing, it is a collective thing a team work. As far as the examples you gave, certainly, on one side an environment has been created, but don’t think that the environment is like that only. Recently, there were elections for 800 assembly seats, if people thought we were so bad, then we would have been thrown out. This is not the case, there are problems…

PC: Tamil Nadu you were thrown out.

AMS: There are problems but not like the pessimism that is being shown.

PC: There was no alternative in Assam, in Tamil Nadu where the issue of corruption was at peak; there your party’s performance was affected.

AMS: Please see, there can be reasons given for losing and winning but the truth is that in this country, from 800 seats, one party has won 5-7 seats, one party has come back to power, there is a difference.

PC: How many seats you had earlier from 800.

AMS: We came back to power again in West Bengal, Kerala, where there is pre announced tie up, there you have to count your win. Bengal, Kerala and Assam were pre announced. I can say the real disappointment was losing Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry together.

PC: in Pondicherry also, the rebel Congress has won.

AMS: There is some disappointment, but it is ok, see what condition the opposition is in.

PC: ‘Sachchi Baat’ is that the image of the UPA 2 is that of a corrupt government, in spite of having an honest Prime Minister, the government’s is bad.

AMS: In my opinion, I don’t agree with this point. This issue that you have taken up is important, and has been made in the past six months,

PC: You are talking as if it has been made

AMS: I am not saying that it has been artificially made, it is getting made. But nobody has taken a poll that how many people think UPA for senior UPA leaders to be corrupt or agree with this that in their tenure the instances of corruption that came out during their tenure, all those places, till whatever extent possible, they have tried to take action. These are two different things, if corrupt people have been found in the government, action has been taken.

PC: If you see opinon polls in newspapers, atleast 60 to 70 per cent people think that Dr. Manmohan Singh has been responsible for things comings to such a pass.

AMS: I don’t agree with you.

PC: You talked about opinon poll, I am telling you.

AMS: Am not talking about that opinion poll. Those opinion polls have stopped happening in the right manner many years ago. Please don’t go on those opinion polls. I think those opinion polls should get noble prize of miniaturisation.

PC: The kind of integrity and credibility that Dr. Manmohan Singh has, which was his USP, slowly slowly that is diminishing.

AMS: These attempts have been made by the opposition. The opposition has understood, till such time that it does not attack some people like, one side Sonia Gandhiji, one side Prime Minister, in such a way, to remove an image from our leaders, which their leaders do not have. Till then they cannot be successful, these efforts have been happening, but I don’t agree that this has been successful.

PC: But First of all you are saying opposition is making an attempt to malign the image of Manmohan Singhji and Soniaji. There is less attack on Soniaji Gandhi, why there so much attack on Dr. Manmohan Singhji. After 2014, as it is he is not you candidate.

AMS: Now you are putting forth theories, I am listening.

PC: He has himself said, you can make Rahul Gandhi Prime Minster now, I am ready to vacate.

AMS: I have a clear answer, he is Prime Minister of our country, congress party leader, this situation is continuing, what happens ahead, next, I don’t want to comment on that.

PC: You don’t think there is vacancy

AMS: There is no vacancy. All other things are speculation and rumour, not right.

PC: Tell me one thing, the spokesperson of the Congress party, there is a charge, all the Congress run states, in Maharashtra, where farmers are dying, Rahul doesn’t go, but reaches Uttar Pradesh. Like the latest issue, Mamta put pressure, you solved the gorkhaland issue, but you are not ready to make Telangana.

AMS: Please see Prabhuji, what is the allegation, shouldn’t this country prosper, please leave Telangana, in Gorkhaland, there was lot of violence, many people died. You cannot connect Gorkhaland and Telengana, the history and aspiration of every movement is different.

PC: Where ever you powerful ally dictates you, like Karunanidhi told you that you will not give communication ministry to anybody else

AMS: I will give a straight answer, as soon as the government changed in Bengal, there was co operation, with the help of the state government the home ministry solved the Gorkhaland issue, it is very good thing, positive and the country is happy. I am also saying that make hill council autnnomous, which party will agree in Telangana, are people are Telanagana agreeing for making an autonomous council. Demand for statehood and autonomous council are two different things.

PC: I am talking about intentions, where you don’t have to work …

AMS: That is not the case, as far as the case of Telangana is concerned, we have made full efforts. You also know it is a very delicate issue. We cannot please every party, I agree there are options on this issue, that there are a lot of emotions, people are discontented, hence we will have to tread slowly. Nothing can happen without patients.

PC: Nehruji…there Justice Fazal Ali recommened that Telangana should be formed. But Nehruji said that it should not be done…temporarily. Hence, is it that since Nehruji didn’t allow hence Congress party is not allowing it to happen?

AMS: If this was the issue, the committee would not have been formed, would there have been so many options. Today, so many of our MLA’s and MP’s resigned,

PC: The resignation was not accepted, if it had been the BJP or some other party, it would have.

AMS: would this have happened. We are aware and sensitive on this issue.

PC: Should Telengana be formed or no.

AMS: I cannot say anything about this now.

PC: What is the Congress strategy on this issue.

AMS: This is a sensitive issue, but let me tell you, if somebody wants to sincerely solve it, it is the Congress. BJP, for many years when it was in power, did not twitch a finger on this issue.

PC: They have changed, earlier they were against, now they are in favour of Telangana.

AMS: We are making efforts, it is talking time, I agree.

PC: it takes time to solve things, but tell me one thing, you father was a good academician, worked well, wrote books, was a Rajya Sabha MP like you, was an Ambassador, will you go on your fathers route or you have any political ambitions.

AMS: I am politics, public life, is hesitate to say the politics work, I am in public life, it is a better word.

PC: By nature, you are not a politician.

AMS: This point is not wrong to an extent; let me tell you one thing, I believe that, you people tell time and again, that there is corruption and wrong doing in public life, but I think that too an extent if you keep people in proportion like 30 to 40 per cent, in typical inverted comma whom you don’t call politician. When you dependence on one thing does not force you to compromise, is that bad thing. In think that I want a combination

PC: You don’t want to be a stereotype politician.

AMS: Pease see, there is not theory, at a point of time; I was an academic, before becoming an advocate. After that was an advocate, before formally joining politics I have been associated with it, from close quarters. But now in the India of 2011, at typical stereotype of Indian politican might not work.

PC: Dr. Manmohan Singh fits in that brief.

AMS: Dr. Manmohan Singh, you are talking about a very big man. “ Raja ko rank se aap”

PC: You fit that brief

AMS: In a way he has started …

PC: Though there is another thing that there should be an elected prime minister, a debate can be done on that too. But I don’t want to get into that issue now. What is your dream. Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi as an individual

AMS: I dream is that I have many ideas, I think I have to ability to bring them into effect by working 22 hours a day if not 24 hours. But thing cannot be brought into effect unless you are given the right opportunity. I have some ideas, now I don’t want to use words that I want to do ‘ janseva’, that all I live, we also have our aspirations. ‘ Sachchi Baat’ you are telling is the name of this progam, if I get that one change, then I think there are 5 – 10 such issues, I am not only talking about the legal sector. There are many areas. As you asked about my dream, if I get a change sometime, I will do it. Otherwise, I am happy, as it is am doing many things.

PC: If five years from now if you are required be in the political arena in Rajasthan. Because you are from Rajashtan.

AMS: To think that I am not from Rajashtan, or I don’t want, I is true that I am in the central politics and associated with it, but the smell of the land of Rajasthan, that is in my vein, I was born there. Even now, my 400 projects under MPLAD are running there, for which every month – month and a half I go there. Hence, I am associated, rest, it in somebody else’s hand. When I get a chance then I can talk.

PC: Would you like to be in politics full time.

AMS: If there is a right, purposeful, chance, then certainly. People tell me many times, am telling you ‘Sachchi Baat’ people ask me are you leaving law practice. I tell them, with god’s grace, I am doing well at may practice, name is counted among the top lawyers in the country. Hence, the success, money, status that comes with it, I am ready to leave that. Is this not a commitment? But to think that I will leave it beforehand, for example if I have left it and say, ‘ Hey Prabhuji kuch karo ?” That will be wrong.

PC: You mean until you get a better opportunity.

AMS: It should not be better, it should be purposeful.

PC: In which you have interest.

AMS: Certainly.

PC: Now the days judiciary is prevailing on you, don’t you think that lawyers have a responsibility, they are not performing their exactive role. Hence, the judiciary has to intervene.

AMS: This is an vital issue, cannot be discussed in such less time. It is an important issue, I think there is one more point to this, this is done by government lawyers, not private ones. But if executive decides one policy, and even takes four days to do it and stays put on that. Then with due respect, we will tell the court that this is not their jurisdiction. After that even if the lawyer gets scolded by the court, even then we will sat put. Then this can change. But then a policy has to be made, on an individual issue. Certainly, there are some solution that I cannot say now.

PC: The government has policy but does not stay put. The government executive does not stay put on its decisions.

AMS: No, no I did not say that.

PC: That I am saying.

AMS: There are some issues, on which by spending time, you can tell the court in advance we have no strategy, policy on this issue, we need time, we will tell you in three days. But after a week when you decide, then you must stay put. Court has to be told, with due respect, that this is not your jurisdiction. After that, court also has the jurisdiction…

PC: Has the time come for saying this thing or no.

AMS: In many sectors certainly, On many issues and many cases certainly.

PC: In what language will it have to be said?

AMS: The best thing about our democracy is that the court is ready to hear it. Court does not stop you, but after that the last word, decision is of the court that what they will say about the issue. And we have to obey that.

PC: If you would have been in the government, this point would have been put across soon.

AMS: I believe in this point.

PC: We hope when you are in the government, you will take up such issues. Thank you for coming to our studio.

AMS: Thank You!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Race Course Road/The Sunday Standard/July 31, 2011

Rahul shows his intent with
Delhi inauguration

It’s official now. If the Congress wins the 2014 elections, Rahul Gandhi will be the prime minister. Rahul’s presence as the chief guest at a Delhi government function on Friday appears to be the beginning of his yatra towards Raisina Hill. Until now, he has been evading all invitations from state governments and Union ministries to inaugurate official functions. For the past seven years, whenever he has visited a non-Congress state, it was only to attend political rallies and conclaves, leaving government events to be presided over either by his mother, or the prime minister. Last week, however, he drove all the way to the Delhi-Haryana border to dedicate the Guru Tegh Bahadur Memorial to the capital’s Sikhs. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, laid the foundation stone four years ago. Spread over 12 acres, the project cost over Rs 22 crore. Since the memorial is meant to pay homage to the ninth Guru of Sikhs, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a devout Sikh himself, was expected to be the chief guest. But Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit pulled off a coup by getting Rahul to shed his reservations about openly associating himself with Government-sponsored functions. She was determined to get Rahul, and only Rahul, to do the honours. According to local Congress leaders, the Gandhi scion hadn’t responded to her request for months. However, considering the coming civic elections in Delhi and Punjab state Assembly elections, Rahul was advised by his aides to grab the opportunity to connect with the powerful Sikh community. He made stirring speeches about the sacrifices made by the community and its gurus. Rahul even praised the prime minister, who he described as the community’s most precious gift to the Congress. By accepting Dikshit’s invitation, Rahul has sent a clear signal to all other chief ministers and Union ministers that he is now available to promote, inaugurate and launch new projects and schemes at official inaugural functions. The competition to get Rahul over to other states will ratchet up now—he will also get excessive media and political exposure at government cost. Does it mean less exposure for Sonia and Manmohan until the 2014 elections? Stay tuned.

Loyalty is Key for PMO Positions

Along with the Cabinet, the PMO has also been restructured. Like with the Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has played a game of musical chairs. While Pulok Chatterjee, a Gandhi loyalist IAS officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre, has been brought in to replace Kutty Nair as the prime minister’s principal secretary, Nair will serve as the prime minister’s adviser with Minister of State rank. Some officials who have completed seven years in the PMO are being moved out. Chatterjee’s appointment has created ripples in the upper echelons of the Indian bureaucracy. For the first time in decades, a person far junior to around half a dozen secretaries, including Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, has taken over as principal secretary. Retired senior civil servants like Nair, Brajesh Mishra and A K Verma were chosen for the job because the principal secretary’s authority is so exalted that he even presides over various official government meetings, including those held by the chiefs of the armed forces. He also gives directions to all other secretaries. Chatterjee, a brilliant and efficient officer, is however junior to Deepak Gupta, Secretary, Non-Renewable Energy Ministry, Alka Sirohi, Secretary, Department of Personnel and Training, and K M Acharya, Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment. Even some state chief secretaries are senior to him. The prime minister usually follows protocol while filling sensitive posts; he opted for seniority while choosing the new foreign secretary and the cabinet secretary. Chatterjee was in the race even then. But when it came to choosing his own chief of staff, he had to accept loyalty over seniority—for the second time Manmohan had to keep the Gandhi connection in mind. Earlier, he inducted Bharat Vir Wanchoo as Director, Special Protection Group, superseding over a dozen senior IPS officers. Wanchoo also has been associated with the Gandhis for over two decades.

Chief Ministers Play Lokpal Game

Why are most chief ministers not protesting the prime minister’s exclusion from the purview of the proposed Lokpal Bill? Because if passed by Parliament, it will give them an excuse to keep themselves out of a Lokayukta probe. If the Bill is passed in its current form, the chief ministers are likely to insist on an amendment to the Lokayukta’s powers. Stung by recent Lokayukta activism in Karnataka and Delhi, most chief ministers are arguing that a politically motivated Lokayukta could damage their moral authority by launching frivolous inquiries. However, none of them have made a formal move yet; but some prominent chief ministers, cutting across party lines are lobbying within their own parties to make the suggestion during the Parliament debate on the Lokpal Bill.

Khar in J&K a Net Gain for Omar

While Union External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and his trusted diplomats were dismissing Hina Rabbani Khar’s meeting with Kashmiri separatists as a minor irritant, Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was taking her on. Using his huge Twitter following, Abdullah reminded the attractive lady from Pakistan that she could have returned home better informed had she met leaders of the state’s mainline political parties and other opinion-makers. He conveyed to overtly pro-Pak diplomats and bleeding heart liberals that the genuine Kashmiri leadership doesn’t care for the looks of a dignitary who is of no substance or consequence to the state.