Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sibal's sabre-rattling

Kapil Sibal is trying to bully the supreme court to go slow on coal scam. He has suggested that judiciary should take up monitoring fake encounters in Gujarat with the same gusto seen in the investigation into coal allocations. What is the connection between the two?

If the government has nothing to hide in the coal scam, why is the minister peeved? It goes without saying that fake encounters anywhere needs to be investigated. The honourable minister ought to approach judiciary instead of issuing a public statement.

We have the sad spectacle of aggressive ministers acting as loose cannons under (but not reporting to) a dumb prime minister who is indifferent to what is happening.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Peripatetic prime minister

The Economist points out that Manmohan Singh has spent a tenth of his near-decade as prime minister abroad. He has flown more than 1m km in 72 official visits.(He is not done yet.) "Beleaguered at home by scandal and gloomy prospects for his ruling Congress party, the airport departure lounge is more tempting than ever." It is difficult to get eviscerated in more blunt terms.

As a bonus the magazine adds, "And abroad he is unconstrained by his part boss, Sonia Gandhi." It is widely believed that coal allocations were made at the instance of Sonia Gandhi conveyed through her most trusted secretary, Ahmed Patel. Of course, PMO has denied this inference.

How did the venerable Singh land in this mess? Had he done something in the past that is opportunistically utilised by his leader to blackmail him into falling in line without demur? Future will reveal.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rahul Gandhi's supreme sacrifice

Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly explained to the electorate how much sacrifice has been made by his grand-mother and father. Both were killed and "they might kill me also". Government of India, as usual, has swung into action and assured the worried electorate that ample protection is given to Rahulji.

GOI may be protecting the leader from people. But is it not their duty to protect him from bugs and mosquitoes also? The young leader has narrated how he was harassed by bed bugs and even a stomach bug when he was 'experiencing' poverty by staying a few hours with the aam aadmi. I hope that the government will understand the seriousness of the issue and wage a war against the communal flies and insects.

The nation cannot afford to miss Rahul Gandhi's services even for a day. What if he is down with dengue or malaria? One shudders to think of attempts being made on his life. Prahalad's father had a boon that he would not be killed by any human being. That was why the Almighty had to incarnate as Narasimha (part human and part lion). Rahul also is so powerful that no human being can harm or defeat him. But he must be careful about the winged insects.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Manish Tewari's strange advice: Part II

The Hindu reports:

"Dr. Singh was ‘satisfied’ that the final decision taken in this regard was ‘entirely appropriate’, and was based ‘on the merits of the case placed before him’. This is the first time Dr. Singh has clearly and unequivocally come out in support of the former coal secretary P.C Parakh, in the wake of the recent controversy where Mr. Parakh, along with Mr. Birla, has been named by the CBI in a fresh FIR."

It is unfortunate that the prime minister has ignored the noble advice of his cabinet colleague, Manish Tewari and gone public on a case which is 'subjudice'. There is one more interesting development. After the prime minister clarified that the final decision was entirely appropriate and was based on the merits of the case placed before him, Salman Khurshid and Manish Tewari have proffered the golden principle that bureaucrats and not the ministers are responsible for the decisions taken. A new kind of democracy on the anvil?

If ministers are not accountable for decisions, what are they accountable for? The twin ministerial luminaries have also clarified as P.Chidambaram had earlier explained in another context that ministers cannot be expected to read the notes which are approved by them. What an exemplary view!

On what authority does Manmohan Singh now claim that the decision was taken based on the merits of the case placed before him? Had he committed the unpardonable sin of reading the note placed to him?
Why should the ministers say that the prime minister cannot be expected to read the note after the latter 'admitted' to and pleaded guilty of reading the file?

In the FIR filed against Parakh and K M Birla, Singh should also have been named. Can the CBI now think of dropping the FIR on the basis of a rare assertion of the "should have been named" Singh?

Murphy's Law states "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". GOI's Law says,"Anything that cannot go wrong, will also go wrong". Great going!

Manish Tewari's strange advice

Manish Tewari, the belligerent spokesperson of the Congress party, is known for supposing that he is a repository of wisdom and everyone else is a dunce. When the entire country is anxious to know what is the accountability of our non-responsive prime minister in the coal scam especially when much cleaner hands are targetted by the CBI, the I & B minister offers this triple-pointed wisdom:

1) The matter is sub-judice; so no one should speak about this;
2) People should speak appropriately at appropriate forums,

and best of all 3) the government is giving all information to investigating authorities.

The basic questions are: Does the honourable minister want to gag the entire country? What are appropriate forums? What happened to the missing files? If the minister claims that all information is provided to the CBI, does he mean that the missing files are blank files?

There are occasions when ministers will be helpful if they keep quiet. This is one such occasion.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rahul Gandhi's emotional appeal

"My mother refused to leave parliament when the food bill was passed ...I tried stopping her but she went inside parliament after a medical check-up... I dragged her to a hospital... She was unable to breathe when she landed in the hospital and she had tears in her eyes. She said she fought for the bill and wanted to vote on it. But she could not." This is Rahul Gandhi's dramatisation of his mother's concern for the poor.

If the concern were real, so many scams would not have been facilitated. The Congress party is in such a terrible mess today that only emotional appeals are possible. A party once nurtured by stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel is now trivialised by reckless leaders and selfish and slavish followers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Undermining bureaucracy to save corrupt politicians: Is our prime minister a sociopath?

Following report is from Times of India. The irony cannot be more stark. The Prime Minister who presided over all scams is safe. Those officials who wanted to streamline governance are charged with corruption. It will be interesting if a psychologist would study the sociopathic tendencies of our P.M.

Coalgate FIR: Bureaucracy shocked by action against 'honest' officer

NEW DELHI: The irony couldn't be starker. Booked for corruption in a Coalgate case, former coal secretary PC Parakh had strongly protested to the Prime Minister against political interference in the coal ministry.

Sources familiar with events said Parakh, coal secretary in 2004-05, referring to the intrusive role of then minister of state for coal Dasari Narayana Rao, had explained the morale of officials was adversely affected by Rao's actions.

A concerned PM is understood to have assured Parakh that he would speak to officials to reassure them and dissuaded the senior bureaucrat from putting in his papers.

On Tuesday, as word of the CBI filing a case against Parakh spread, officials were shaking their heads in disbelief. While serving officers would not go on record, former power secretary E A S Sarma told ToI, "It is indeed a sad commentary for an FIR being filed against an upright and honest officer like P C Parakh."

Sarma added that he is waiting for action against PMO for its role in Coalgate. "I made a formal complaint to CVC last year and earlier that PMO's role in Coalgate and other scams should be investigated. I do not find any visible action on that complaint so far," he said.

Sarma said there are senior politicians involved in Coalgate and none has so far been proceeded against. Proceeding against honest officers and letting off dishonest politicians will only erode the credibility of the government.

Furious emails were exchanged as bureaucrats recalled that Parakh had first blown the whistle on a likely scandal in coal block allocations by warning in July 2004 that award of captive coal blocks could result in "windfall profits" for benefitted corporates.

Just like Pararkh, his predecessor in the coal ministry H C Gupta is also facing an investigation. Gupta strongly amplified Parakh's warnings, saying in a meeting held in PMO on April 7, 2006, that there is no legal basis for allocation of coal blocks by a screening committee.

The case of Shyamal Ghosh, a former telecom secretary, is also spoken of among officials as being made a victim of political score settling between the UPA government and BJP. Ghosh has been booked in a case relating to fees being waived off when the late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan was telecom minister.

Officials point to demoralization in the bureaucracy due to alleged witch hunts. "An honest officer under investigation for no fault of his feels diminished. The crooks don't get caught, but the diligent officer feels double the distress," said a bureaucrat.

He said Parakh has been targeted while "others are not being proceeded against. I understand that he was the one who put his foot down on the first-come-first-served method of coal block allocation and expressed himself firmly in favour of a transparent, auction system. He was overruled."

Sarma said there are senior politicians involved in coalgate and none has so far been proceeded against. Proceeding against honest officers and letting off dishonest politicians, corporates and officers will only erode the credibility of the government which has diminished a great deal during the recent times.

RBI Governor's cheek

Raghuram Rajan while addressing an IMF meeting in Washington claimed that huge banking reforms are on the anvil in India. He said that foreign banks will soon be permitted to take over Indian banks.

One wonders whether the Governor has been correctly quoted because change in ownership of banks is beset with political and legal implications. RBI Governor of the day cannot arrogate to himself the authority to pronounce, suo moto, on such matters.

Such hasty declarations by persons in authority ultimately undermine the credibility of the government.

Well done, Governments

There is at last some good news about governance. The much-feared cyclone, Phailin did not do much damage in terms of human casualty. This was largely because of preventive steps taken by the Orissa government. The central government also contributed its might.

In addition, Indian meteorologists predicted with greater accuracy than their American counterparts.

This shows that Indian governments can deliver if they are focused and if much time is not made available for scheming and scams.

Around the same time, a wholly avoidable tragedy costing hundreds of human lives took place in Madhya Pradesh. Reports blame police corruption for the disaster. It is a blot on the government.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Governor vs Dy.Governor: Clash of views or tactical manoeuvre?

The Economic Times reported on 4th October that a decision has been taken to advise state-run banks to provide cheaper loans to fund purchases of autos and durables. The decision was taken at a meeting between Finance Minister, Chidambaram and RBI Governor, Raghuram Rajan.

The Hindu reports on 6th October that Deputy Governor of RBI, K.C.Chakrabarty has observed that "no one can force" lenders to selectively cut rates. He added, "It is not a prudent measure to increase consumption by lowering interest rates. Cheap loan plan can impact asset quality of banks".

What is really happening? Prima facie, it appears that Rajan and Chakrabarty have contradictory views on the proposed measure. If so, Chakrabarty need not have embarrassed the Governor by voicing his differing opinion publicly a la Rahul Gandhi. Chakrabarty is a mature person and therefore this interpretation is wrong.

What is more likely is that Rajan has been bamboozled by the minister into agreeing to his view. Despite his learning, Rajan is still a babe in the political woods and he is not yet Y.V.Reddy who could stand his ground whatever be the pressure on him. Has Rajan sought a favourable 'dissent' from Chakrabarty so that Rajan can stave off ministerial coercion?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

"Dehati aurat": A message, not an insult

Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister was hosting a breakfast for two journalists, one from Pakistan and the other, Barkha Dutt in USA during Manmohan Singh's recent visit there. After the breakfast, the Pakistani journalist remarked that Nawaz Sharif opined that Manmohan Singh behaved like a dehati aurat (village woman) in seeking President Obama's help in curbing terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

Barkha Dutt contested this version and clarified that Nawaz Sharif was only allegorical and that the reference was not an insult. She did not deny the happening.

It is plausible that Nawaz Sharif did not mean to insult Manmohan Singh and was only suggesting that as prime minister of a huge neighbouring country, Singh could as well handle the situation directly by hitting at terrorist spots in Pakistan, if necessary. This interpretation gains credibility in the light of suggestions that Osama Bin Laden was caught by the Americans only on specific input from the government of Pakistan which preferred, for obvious reasons, to remain as an anonymous source of information. This interpretation becomes all the more credible because the Pakistani government preferred not to defend its airways when the American jets thundered in. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Manmohan Singh

Sanjeev S.Ahluwalia is a former civil servant and Montek Singh Ahluwalia's brother. He has written the following in his blog. This was written before Rahul Gandhi's histrionic 'nonsense' act.

"We assume that knowledge, learning and professionalism is what makes the difference between an “extractive” policracy and a “developmental” one. This builds on the modern Indian tradition of education being the path to progress and the high ritual status given to learned Brahmins, poets, literatures and artists in ancient India. Dr Radhakrishnan (1962-67), Dr Zakir Hussain (1967-69), Dr Abdul Kalam (2002-07) and Pandit Nehru (1947-1964) did not disappoint in their actions as President/Prime Minister by remaining true to their intellectual integrity.
In 2004 when Dr Manmohan Singh was selected by Mrs Gandhi to became PM, there was relief that after a hiatus of two decades, India would again be led by an “intellectual” far above the hurly burly of election politics, with no personal stake and no motive, except to “wipe the tears from the eyes of the poorest Indian” (the Mahatma). We exulted when Dr. Singh showed his mettle in initiating change in our energy policy, continuing the BJP approach in external relations of abandoning the deadweight of polarizing ideology, unless it served national interest and seemingly putting Indian on the track of fast growth with social inclusion. In 1984 he was an accidental choice as PM, out of the several other “old” faces around, who were considered politically innocuous enough, to keep the seat warm for Rahul.
In 2009 we voted for Dr Singh, based on his record of the past five years but also based on our belief,  that more and better was to come. He and the Congress with him, won and the deluge began. Like the collapse of the mountains above Kedarnath, the lofty edifice built up by reputation and public expectations cracked and collapsed under the weight of timidity, poor political instincts but most importantly self-betrayal.
Dr Singh betrayed himself time and again as he turned a Nelson’s eye to massive corruption, allowed decision making to be subverted by unconscionably partisan politics and sloth. He defined the integrity of the highest executive position in India as a narrowly construed “personal” integrity and in doing so reverted to his essentially “babu” roots of keeping “his desk clean”. Even this is questioned in the 2G scam and Coalgate, though most would put down the seeming links to him, to a secretariat, outside of his control. He betrayed his profession, since economics played, at best a marginal role, in the working of his cabinet. He betrayed his earlier characterization of himself as a Sher (Singh) and appeared to meekly toe the backward looking, ineffective and contradictory party line. In acting thus, he debased the high office he holds. Who holds the Nuclear “button” today is really the question?  and does the World believe that Dr. Singh would be allowed to press it should the situation warrant?
Could he have acted differently? Was he constrained by the limitations imposed on “outsiders” joining the “policracy” laterally, as Russi Mody was in Air India or Sudhir Muljee in the State Trading Corporation? The analogy itself nails the absurdity of the comparison. When the going gets tough, the tough get going….one way or another.  
Here is some gratuitous advice to Dr. Singh. It is not too late to resign. Rahul is ripe to take over and we would all welcome his coming out of the shadows. More importantly, when you became PM you became “our” PM, not the Congress Party’s representative. You are, hopefully, not just any other policrat. Please preserve our faith in the belief that professionals and intellectuals are actually “high minded” enough to work against their own self-interest. Are you scared that once the “immunity” of high office is lifted the opposition will go after you hammer and tongs and even your own party will “sacrifice” you, just as they failed to support you, when you fought your first and only election in South Delhi in 2004? Surely, as the PM, you have a “black book” in the “cloud” which will act as “insurance”? Please do it now, so that all of us, who believe that education and erudition results in intellectual integrity and purposefulness, can continue to dream.
T.N. Seshan (Chief Election Commissioner 1990-1996), another babu, turned upon the political machine which created him, once he was given a high constitutional position. But he served us Indians well by working against election malpractices. Most recently, Raghuram Rajan (RBI Governor) has done exactly the same by ignoring the noise of corporate and government “likes” and remaining true to his intellectual integrity and commitment to the poor, by targeting inflation, rather than pandering to the optics of growth orientation…just as his babu predecessor (Subba Rao) had done. This is a time honored tradition amongst babus. We sup with anyone who parties in the evening, but come the morning, we do the “right” thing, no matter what the consequences. There are thousands of babus who do this for 35 long years of their working lives and are none the worse for it. Please shed your intellectual robes and become the babu you have been." 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

State of the Nation

Today (2nd October) is Gandhi Jayanthi. We may take some time off our usual routine and introspect where we are headed.

The prime minister whose core competence is in betraying the nation has said he would not resign in response to Rahul Gandhi's fulmination against the ordinance. "I have seen many ups and downs in my life. Let us see which way the wind blows."

Yes, he has seen ups and downs in his life. But, in his leadership the country has seen only downs in the recent past.

Digvijaya Singh, supposedly one of the most cerebral Congress persons, has said that Lalu Prasad has been framed. Once in a blue moon, a politician gets convicted for corruption. Even when convicted, his influential political friends will bail him out.

One tends to be  pessimistic about India. Governments may or may not change; but governance would remain in the pits. Maladministration and corruption being so widespread, the system cannot tolerate any palpable redemptive measures. Rahul Gandhi's histrionics is not a game-changer. Lalu's conviction is just a one-off diversion.

The Mahatma must be happy that he is not alive to watch such lows in Indian governance.

Reputation of our leaders

Following story is circulating among netizens:

"The Pope lay dying.
He sent a message for Sonia Gandhi and Chidambaram to come to the hospital. 
When they arrived, they were ushered up to his room. 
As they entered the room, the priest held out his hands and motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed. 
The Pope grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled and stared at the ceiling. For a time, no one said anything. 
Both Sonia Gandhi and Chidambaram were touched and flattered that the Pope would ask them to be with him during his final moments. They were also puzzled because he had never given any indication that he particularly liked either one of them. 
Finally, Sonia asked, " Father, why did you ask the two of us to come here? " 
The Pope mustered all his strength, and then said weakly,
"Jesus died between two thieves, and that's how I'd like to go.""