Thursday, December 30, 2010

BRIC cleaves in the middle (contd.)

Coincidences never cease to surprise us. Have a look at the following report from AFP:

29 December 2010 - 11H26

Medvedev fires space chiefs after satellite failure

"A Proton-M rocket, carrying the Russian Glonass-M satellites, blasts off from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 5. President Dmitry Medvedev has fired two top space officials and reprimanded the head of Russia's space agency after the failed launch of three vital communications satellites, the Kremlin said. AFP - President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday fired two top space officials and reprimanded the head of Russia's space agency after the failed launch of three vital communications satellites, the Kremlin said.

Medvedev fired Vyacheslav Filin, vice president of the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, and Viktor Remishevsky, the deputy head of Russia's Roskosmos space agency, news agencies quoted a Kremlin statement as saying.

The Russian president also reprimanded Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov, the statement added.

"On the Russian president's instructions, Roskosmos will undertake additional measures to strengthen its performance discipline," the Kremlin statement said.

A Russian Proton-M rocket failed to reach its initial orbit during the December 5 launch, causing it to dump the three high-tech Glonass-M satellites near the Hawaii Islands.

It marked an embarrassing setback to Russia's much-publicised attempts to introduce a global rival to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), a programme that was first begun by the Soviet Union in 1976."

Last week, India's attempt to launch a GSLV rocket ended in failure in the first stage itself causing deep embarassment. However, no scientist was fired. We may perceive the contrasting styles of Russia and India in any of two ways.

1) There is accountability in Russia, but not in India.

2) India is more considerate and does not resort to witch-hunting.

The choice is yours.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Responsibility of the Prime Minister

The Hindu recently published an interestng essay written by Jaswant Singh on the perils to parliamentary democracy. I hope our prime minister would have had the opportunity to read this. (The prime minister lamented a few days ago that the parliament was not allowed to function by the opposition parties which are insisting on JPC probe into the 2G scam.) The essay follows:

"If our parliamentary democracy has indeed become a source of great worry to the Prime Minister, then who other than he and the government can steer the ship of state to safer waters?

The Prime Minister, recently, while returning from a G-20 meet expressed his concerns about the future of our parliamentary democracy. I share these apprehensions, for different reasons, though. Doubtless, his dire pronouncement is born of this unhappy ending of our Parliament's recent session. This disappointment, too, is shared by many. The PM, then rejected the Opposition's demand for establishing a JPC to enquire into the scandalous mismanagement of our ministry of telecommunications, but chose to do so outside the Parliament. Why outside, when he had chosen to remain studiedly silent throughout the session, on an issue that had shaken the Parliament? To an assembly of business leaders the PM rationalised the government's philosophy on surveillance of telephones. Again, why not inside Parliament? For of this matter, too, the Parliament was fully seized. Why, on all issues of serious parliamentary concern did the PM choose to comment only when away from it?

Reflect then, briefly, on what transpired in the Parliament during the winter session. After almost a month of unprecedented parliamentary turmoil, never earlier witnessed, the two Houses adjourned without transacting any business. The obstructing boulder of contention was this demand for a JPC, and the government's continuous rejection of it. Of course, it was an utterly depressing ending and greatly worrisome, too. But where, in this hour of grave challenge to our Parliament was the PM? The impasse was grave; the issue of substance; the opposition determined; it is here that leadership was needed; did the PM provide it? Under all circumstances the government must govern, but by leading not absenteeist withdrawal. The opposition will always question, confront, challenge, increasingly when not heeded, and even more when the prime mover of the government remains mutedly distant.

The Prime Minister has, perhaps unwittingly separated himself from the ‘ills of parliament'. This he cannot do and must not, for he is after all a product of this very institution. From where else does, or can his office originate? The Parliament is that great aorta of authority through which the sustaining blood of our relevance flows; sever this link and collapse must follow. The Prime Minister, in voicing his apprehension is, doubtless pointing an accusatory finger at the opposition, though, again involuntarily he is admitting to a great personal failure, too. It is failure of a profound and telling lack of leadership from him, personally. After all, at the heart of this kind of conduct and the current immobility in our Parliament lies an absence of regard for the laws of our land. This is the core debility: a wilful and uncaring disregard for not just the letter of our laws but almost a flaunting defiance of the spirit of it, too. It is this variety of corruption, heading all other manifestations of it, that is poisoning all our laws, debilitating our Parliament, in the process our democracy; not the noisy interruptions alone of the opposition, however unacceptable they also be.

Why failure?

Why such profound failures? Perhaps, because our grievance redressal systems have ground to a halt; also because we have lost regard for each other, we have abandoned our sense of kinship and fraternity without which no parliamentary democracy can function. We have forgotten how to accommodate dissent, and the less we do so, the harsher it becomes. We no longer consider the alternative view-point as being even remotely relevant; instead, we now treat disagreement as a disservice, a rebellious challenge, which must either be totally rejected, or then crushed. The tone, tenor and the content of our language, of mutual address, government to opposition, or the other way round has become dryly ritualised, patronisingly rejectionist, emptied totally of the spirit of parliamentary democracy. The hierarchy of our concerns no longer harmonise; courtesy and accommodation to the opposing view point is treated as being ‘soft', a weakness. We no longer recognise the great relevance of the ‘intensity, passion, intimacy, informality and spontaneity of parliamentary debates'. Perhaps, the Hon'ble Prime Minister no longer recognises, or accepts, that it is this ‘passion' which constitutes the personality and the heartbeat of our (or any other) Parliament. This ‘passion' occasionally obscures, but often illuminates, too; it distracts, yes, but this then is both it's strength and its weakness. Parliament is an assembly of human beings; it must have human virtues, and vices and failings, it is not, must not ever be, just a container of ritualised nothingness.

Where, therefore, has that human sense and good cheer of our Parliament gone? Surely, it is not the opposition alone that has robbed our institution of it. It saddens me greatly to have to rebut the Hon'ble Prime Minister, who chooses to, almost always declaim his views outside the Parliament, and that, too, about the Parliament. He is after all, the head of the government, he is a consequence of Parliament, not an outsider; he has to understand the failings of it, to sympathise, to be with it in both its strengths and its weaknesses; to value and nurture it, not to shun it. Above all he must attend to all the concerns of it, vital or trivial, just or unjust, for Mr. Prime Minister this is a living organism, not just a hide-bound institution. Doubtless, there would arise occasions when its actions border on the unwise, or even totally unjustified, but those are the very situations in which the Leader must lead. More when those sudden and awesome storms of contention shake the very pillars of Parliament; it is then that the Prime Minister must step in, take command, not abandon the Institution and proceed to comment on it as if uninvolved, unconcerned, unconnected. Let us never forget that the spontaneity of the House, or it's debates, even an absence of them is an integral of this institution; a part of its personality.

The telecom issue

It would be repetitively wearisome to recount here the sorry episode of this telecom scandal. Clearly, no minister can, or ought to act entirely on his/her own, to take significant decisions involving national laws, national economy, and the exchequer, without due diligence and a full consideration of the views of his cabinet colleagues. No one is authorised to throw overboard the entire philosophical and functional core of parliamentary, representative and cabinet system of governance. Has justice been done to this central aspect? Clearly not. Where then was the PM? That is why the victims of this neglect is the institution of Parliament; also our cabinet system of governances; its accountability and answerability, and above all due regard for law; indeed a wilful denigration of the majesty of it. Nobody can today say, with any lasting conviction as to which of the great institutions of our Republic have remained unsullied. Who is responsible?

Yet, the Prime Minister complains — ‘Our parliamentary democracy is under great strain'. Yes, but can the government, or the Prime Minister, voice this concern only as a complainant; always as accuser and forever be complacent in the face of this great wrong that has been done, continues to be done, to the very moral fibre of our country? And if our parliamentary democracy has indeed become a source of great worry to the Prime Minister, then who, other than the government, and he will steer the ship of state to safer waters? What then are we, the rank and file of Parliament to do, as we are confined to the lower decks, other than to clamour for attention?

What has brought all this about? An experimental division of the functions of governance in our parliamentary democracy. This division of responsibility, instead of being handled normally, as has always been done uptil now, through India's independent years, has now been turned into a kind of a diarchy. In this all authority, all decisions of substance are made outside of the government; for there now exists a kind of a supra-cabinet, too, which is not answerable to the Parliament. What then remains with the ‘elected executive' is empty, residual ‘responsibility' for decisions, which in reality are not even of its own making. This is a totally unnatural and unviable arrangement. Why has this been set up? How then is the parliamentary system to work? It is elementary, and axiomatic, that unproductively dry dynasticism is the very antithesis of democracy. For preserving hereditary priorities if our systems have to be bent, means made subservient to ends, and until that desired ‘end' is attained, all rules will continue to be bent, then surely for all this India will be made to pay. And if India pays, then in the process surely the instrumentality of our parliamentary democracy will also pay, thus be debilitated. And that is what is happening now: along with a tragic, painful and absurd trivialisation of our concerns. It is manifestations like these that strike at the heart of our parliamentary democracy, not what the delphic utterances of the Hon'ble PM imply.

That is why it needs to be asked: as our parliamentary democracy is in danger, according to the Prime Minister, what then has he done about it — or intends to do?"

(Jaswant Singh is BJP Member of Parliament and former Finance Minister

Sunday, December 19, 2010

BRIC cleaves in the middle

The Economist dated Dec 11 says the following:

" "Corruption no longer meant breaking the rules of the game; it was the game.-----------

“The problem is not that this regime is authoritarian, the problem is that it is unfair, corrupt and ineffective,” says one leading businessman. “Corruption will erode and bring down this system.” The paradox is that few  government officials disagree with this. -----------

But even if the Prime Minister would like to retire, can he afford to?" "

The magazine was referring to Russia. The reference can as well be to India. Among the BRIC countres, Russia and India seem to be racing towards unheard levels of corruption, incompetence and malgovernance.

A.L.Basham's book on Indian history was aptly titled "The Wonder that was India". Any contemporary analysis would be called "The Tragedy that is India". Our posterity will not forgive us for misusing our inheritance and ruining the nation.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Manmohan Singh and Ratan Tata

Manmohan Singh and Ratan Tata are among the few Indian leaders with unblemished reputation. At least, they appeared to be so before the 2G Scam broke out. Their reputation is now in tatters. Strangely they have responded to the telecom imbroglio in opposite ways.

The prime minister has been steadfastly quiet when he should have spoken aloud and put his foot down. The industrialist on the other hand was uncharacteristically outspoken and getting hoist with his own petard. In the process both have revealed their true selves.

When a respected leader indulges in a misdemeanour, the unsuspecting public goes through a crisis of faith and turns cynical. This is what is happening in India today. Singh and Tata have let us down very badly. Brand valuers will have a tough time figuring out the huge dip in the value of the Tata brand.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Should we not marvel at Assange's digital diligence and dexterity in prising open the dichotomy between the public and private views of so many leaders and diplomats? Instead of trying to gun down Mr.Inconvenient, the governments ought to introspect on the advisability of continuing to indulge in double talk. We may succeed in tracking down the "evil genius", but the pioneering path he has shown is likely to get crowded with many followers, some skilled and many naive.

Equally interesting is the "Radiagate" that is blowing the lid off the imaginary integrity of business tycoons like Ratan Tata. It is indeed sad that an icon of our times is getting exposed in this sordid way; it is even more sad that his amateurish attempts to protect his teflon coat are only aggravating the damage to his reputation. It appears that there is no leader in politics or elsewhere whose image has not been sullied. Tragic times, indeed!

It would be a travesty if instead of modifying our errant behaviour we resort to silencing the critics.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Tata's discomfiture and Chidambaram's strange argument

As noted on 28th November, Ratan Tata is aggrieved over the leak of tapped telephonic conversations. His petition in the Supreme Court pleading for an order against further public dissemination of private conversations is in the hearing stage. He has argued that right to privacy is an essential part of right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of our Constitution. He has sought to widen the implications saying that any damage to his reputation will also affect the interests of innumerable investors in the Tata group of companies. It is moot however if such an argument does not assume a larger right to privacy for some over others. While the court proceedings promise to be interesting, P.Chidambaram's public statement on leak of tapes is rather strange.

Economic Times dated 4th December quotes the minister as saying  that such leaks are inevitable when tapping relates to a major scam or tax violation. "I am afraid that when there is a major scam and a major tax violation and such conversations are recorded, things tend to get leaked. It is unfortunate but some of this is inevitable." Is it really so, Mr.Minister? If your private conversations are repeatedly telecast, will this reasoning appease you? When there is a major scam and therefore attempts at leak are expected, should not the government be more careful? Attempts to leak may be inevitable but not the leak itself. It is indeed scary when the government itself argues that crimes/misdemeanours/violations of constitutionally granted rights are inevitable and "therefore, grin and bear them". Of course, the last quote is not attributed to the minister.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Impeccable integrity (contd.)

Apropos the post dated 23rd November, let us read what Justice V R Krishna Iyer has to say on this unsavoury incident: (Courtesy: The Hindu)

Submission of suspicion

V.R. Krishna Iyer

A statement by the Attorney-General before the Supreme Court raises a question mark over judicial appointments. It spells an implicit challenge to the integrity of the judiciary as a whole.
On November 22, an extraordinary oral statement on behalf of the Union Government was made before the Supreme Court of India. During the course of hearings on a writ petition questioning the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the court had raised certain questions about whether the person chosen would be able to function effectively, given that a charge sheet was pending against him. Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati was then reported to have told the Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar: “If the criterion [of impeccable integrity] has to be included, then every judicial appointment can be subject to scrutiny. Every judicial appointment will be challenged.”

Deserves to be defended

This writer, who happened to be a Judge of the Supreme Court some 30 years ago, has been morally molested by the suspicion cast on the Indian judiciary as a whole by that statement. The Indian judiciary, one of the best such institutions among global democracies, deserves to be defended rather than besmirched. However, since there has been silence in the few days since the statement was made, I am provoked to register my protest against the insinuation that was implicit in the submission of the Attorney General made to the Supreme Court. Insinuation is imputation concealed by cowardice. Are all judges innocent of integrity? Alas!

Can it indeed be true that the present Attorney-General, a successor in office to the great M.C. Setalvad and others of his ilk, did submit to the Chief Justice of the highest court of judicial justice of the nation, that if the integrity of every judge of the higher court were to be assured, it would turn out to be a very embarrassing adventure? What about the integrity of the Attorney-General himself?

Therefore, the court should put the Executive under obligation to answer the question why the integrity of the person who was chosen as Chief Vigilance Commissioner was not thoroughly investigated before the appointment was made. The hint given to the court and the hunch left to the nation through that statement is that the integrity of even Supreme Court judges is problematic, and that no investigation was made when members of the noblest robed brethren were chosen and appointed, nor could it be scrutinised. This submission, if it is true, puts under a shadow a sublime institution that is empowered to pronounce with high authority its judgment if ever the executive and legislative instrumentalities violate the Constitution, and the fundamental rights are under threat. In short, the Attorney-General's observation amounts to casting doubts over the integrity of the highest institution to which We, the People of India, can go seeking justice and human rights.

‘It is blasphemy'

Are judges, then, a suspect instrumentality with their very credibility under challenge? Expressed as a submission, it is blasphemy uttered against the most glorious and finest of the trinity of instrumentalities under the Constitution. The most sublime instruments of the Indian judiciary, every member thereof, are no exception. Suspicion about their probity and impartiality has been expressed openly. When their integrity, credibility and impartiality are raised as issues by the Executive, through its Attorney-General who has dared to submit it, no assumption in their favour can be made. Yes, we cannot assume their integrity and secularism: both must be investigated.

This is scandalous — a shock and a shame. I protest, and expect the Supreme Court to get the Attorney-General to explain whether the President, on the advice of the Cabinet, appoints judges without making any assessment of their integrity, character, social philosophy, antecedents or democratic commitment. All these values hang on the iron string of integrity.

Let the nation awake to this implicit slander. The Attorney-General may have his alibi or a valid defence in this matter. Fiat Justicia is an idle phrase, and as in Pakistan and once in Sri Lanka the top executive is then on top of the Supreme Court itself. This submission of suspicion is the upas tree under whose shade reason fails and justice dies — here it concerns the court itself. The Indian Bar must protest against this.

Let there be a commission

Let there be an Appointments and Performance Commission so that any suspicion over the integrity of a member of the judiciary is dispelled before that person sits on the Bench, an incredibly public sanctuary of dignity and divinity. Indeed, the high judicial bench is Bharat's non-negotiable institution of integrity. Parliament must immediately discuss this dangerous attitude of the Attorney General. A grave National Judicial Commission should be made a part of the constitutional judicial code.

Does that statesman, Dr. Manmohan Singh, support vicariously this dubious statement by the Attorney-General? Why does the Bar Council of India remain silent when a covert aspersion on the institution of the judiciary comes up in the open court? This is either a grave crisis or a casual, though accidental, aberration. Silence is guilt when fearless speech is basic courage. Or else confidence in the Supreme Court will become a casualty.
It is my conviction that judges of the higher judiciary should be like Caesar's wife — they have to be above suspicion. Or else, justice, social and economic, will remain a paper promise and the robe will become a mere cover-up of concealed sins. Speak up, Indians. Taciturnity is trauma and a taint.

Sans the Supreme Court, beyond doubt India will face functional chaos under the shadow of criminality. Satyameva Jayate will have to surrender to corrupt power syndrome. Do we want a new forensic avatar? This puts all other scams to shame.

Maybe I have somewhat exaggerated the implications of an innocuous submission by the Attorney-General, but mainly I stressed the truth of my soul. Judges ought to beware.
Yet, now it would seem that the members of the robed brethren have themselves started suspecting one another. A Bench comprising Justice Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra of the Supreme Court on November 26 made remarks that amounted to questioning the integrity of at least some of the Judges of the Allahabad High Court.

It said: “We do not mean to say that all lawyers who have close relations as judges of the High Court are misusing that relationship. Some are scrupulously taking care that no one should lift a finger on this account. However, others are shamelessly taking advantage of this relationship. There are other serious complaints also against some judges of the High Court. The High Court really needs some house-cleaning and we request the Honourable Chief Justice of the High Court to do the needful, even if he has to take some strong measures, including recommending transfers of the incorrigibles.”
How corruption seems to have corroded one of the finest institutions of India!

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