Monday, March 26, 2012

Army Chief's sensational disclosure

Gen.V.K.Singh has told The Hindu that he was offered a bribe of Rs.14 crore by an equipment lobbyist to facilitate purchase of substandard vehicles by the Indian Army. The General duly informed this incident to the Defence Minister, A.K.Antony. When asked whether the General did inform the minister, Antony responded, "the Parliament is in session". The supposedly cleanest minister in the scam-ridden cabinet is apparently buying time to formulate his strategy after perhaps consulting the persons involved.

The GoM (Group of Ministers) headed by Pranabda is now in session to discuss this grave issue. Manmohan Singh has been "asked" to attend as a "special invitee" without the right either to hear or to contribute to the discussions. So the Prime Minister is pleased to attend the meeting. The views expressed during the meeting are:

Antony: "There are two views on whether the Army Chief informed me or not. My secretary says I was not informed. I stand by my secretary's version".

Sharad Pawar: "Who chose V.K.Singh as the Army Chief? Poor chap, he is talking about a piddly amount of Rs.14 crore. Sack him immediately and post someone who will not value any amount less than Rs.1000 crore. Should we not maintain our country's prestige?"

Chidambaram: "Who will talk about corruption? He must be in team Anna. Or is he a Naxal? In either case, it is dangerous to keep him free. I am ordering his immediate arrest. He is an unmitigated threat to national security. I had once seen him wave a saffron kerchief !"

Kapil Sibal: "Where is the evidence for what the foolish General claims? There is no corruption in the country. How do you spell corruption? The word has two o's which look like zeros. So it is doubly proved that there is zero corruption here. The Army Chief knows no logic."

Manmohan Singh tried to open his mouth perhaps to yawn. He was ordered to leave immediately. He rushed to Soniaji to seek her advice. She kept aloof knowing fully well that the small amounts under discussion would not have involved Q and his countrymen. Singh went back to his office dejected and dashed off a strongly worded letter to the Defence Minister not to involve the PMO in any matter of importance.

Antony shared his anguish with Soniaji that this incident might sully his clean image and pleaded that he be given a portfolio unaffected by corruption. Soniaji ordered the Prime Minister to make Antony a Minister without Portfolio.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tamil Nadu's Vision

Ms.Jayalalithaa has unveiled "Vision Tamil Nadu 2023" detailing the three outcomes to be achieved by 2023 namely the percapita income to reach Rs.4,50,000 per annum (at 2010 prices), the state's Human Development Index to match those of developed countries and high quality infrastructure comparable with the best in the world to be available throughout the state.

The aim is admirable. But given the propensity of the Dravidian parties to indulge in mutual destruction, do these plans have a chance?

International Jurists Award

It was exciting to know that the Samajwadi Party leader Mr.Mulayam Singh is being honoured with the 'prestigious' 'International Jurists Award - 2012' for his "unflinching contribution to the advancement of the Bar and the Bench". It is recognised that "his support to the development of the legal fraternity is unparalleled in the world".

I felt ashamed that I had never cared to learn about this aspect of MS. My shame started vanishing when I also remembered that International Jurists Award - 2007 was bestowed on Justice K.G.Balakrishnan in recognition to "his immeasurable contribution to the system of administration of justice in India" and on Her Excellency the President of India, Ms.Pratibha D.Patil in recognition of "her contribution as guardian of Constitution". Touche!

Monday, March 19, 2012

World's most ethical companies

The Ethisphere Institute, a reputable think-tank has released the list of world's most ethical companies for the year 2012. The list contains 145 ethically sound companies of which only two are based in India, Tata Steel and Wipro.

Rarity of India's presence in such enviable lists underscores our eager willingness to trade off ethics for short-term profits. Critics may argue that interpretation of ethics differs from country to country. This solace can only be self-defeating in the long run.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Budget 2012-13

Pranab Mukherjee, one of the few seasoned ministers we still have, presented the Central Budget for the year 2012-13 on 16th March. Economic requirements are at present overshadowed by political constraints. Thus the Finance Minister's job was unenviable. 
The imminent need to raise more revenue to meet ever-escalating expenditure is obvious. Mukherjee has chosen to enhance excise and service duties by 2% across the board. He has not dared to face the media-assisted criticism from voluble sections that would have ensued any increase in income tax rates. It is old hat that indirect levies like service tax and excise tax are more regressive and unfavourably impact the real "aam aadhmi". The Finance Minister however is in no mood to bite the bullet. This is simply bad ethics. This move by itself guarantees nearly 2% jump in inflation rate much to the consternation of the economically challenged.

Proposal to retrospectively amend the Income Tax Act to nullify the Supreme Court's decision on the Vodafone case is further evidence that the government cares two hoots for ethics. Public trust in GOI is vanishing fast. Fiscal deficit and ethical deficit are uncomfortably high.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Who is our next President?

It's now time to choose the next President of the country. Would he or she be like the present President or better or worse?

The performance of Pratibha Patel has at best been mediocre. We cannot blame her. She never promised anything better. Whoever was responsible for her selection should take the blame.

Hamid Ansari, the present Vice-President in the normal course would have been a natural choice but for his controversial handling of the Rajya Sabha debate on Lokpal (non-) Bill.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former Governor of W.Bengal will be an excellent President. He is sensible, articulate, self-effacing, apolitical, well-informed, non-sectarian, ethical and zero-tolerant of violence. But are these the qualities that will ensure victory in a Presidential election? Can we afford to forget that the electors are parliamentarians and legislators?

Monday, March 12, 2012

A.M.Naik and L&T

It was expected that A.M.Naik would find it difficult to gracefully move away from L&T given his penchant for hard work and zealous commitment to the company he nurtured so long. Yet the arrangement that has been made known does not seem to be in the best interests of the company.

Naik would now be executive Chairman and R.Venkataramanan, his protege would be CEO & MD. The talent of both is unquestionable. The question is how free would the CEO be to manage the company. Without freedom, would he be accountable?

Naik could have chosen to become non-executive Chairman. Such an arrangement would give some breathing space to CEO and would also enable Naik to disassociate from day-to-day issues. Naik had shown extraordinary courage and corporate commitment when he mobilised the entire company against an imminent takeover by the Ambanis and creeping acquisition by the Aditya Birla group. He should not dissipate the goodwill that he had earned. He should be more like Rahul Dravid than like Sachin Tendulkar.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Intolerant judiciary

One is dismayed to note that the Supreme Court has imposed a fine of Rs.50000 on a petitioner who had filed a public interest litigation regarding the Vodafone judgment. The petitioner, M L Sharma,'s contention is that the Chief Justice had a conflict of interest in hearing the Vodafone case since his son is working for a consultancy firm which advised Vodafone on Hutchison Whampoa transaction.

The court has termed the PIL "highly scandalous, frivolous and irresponsible". One is tempted to say the same about the Court's response. Details of the PIL are not available. Even if the petition were obnoxious, tendentious and mistaken on facts, the Court would have covered itself with glory if it had given reasons for rejecting the PIL rather than fuming at it emotionally. The highest court in the country is also expected to tolerate criticism. There are more mature ways of dealing even with cantankerous criticisms than levying a fine and foul-mouthing the petitioner.