Monday, December 30, 2013

How not to reduce the fiscal deficit

It is true that sound economics dictates that fiscal deficit should not be allowed to surge. Is it OK for the Finance Ministry to adopt any method in order to achieve this laudable goal?

GOI is adopting dirty tricks in the process. Tax refunds are delayed. Genuine payments to contractors and others are postponed to the next financial year. And now comes the news in Economic Times that even the usually mollycoddled exporters are not spared. Duty refunds are delayed by months.

The government should play the rules of budget in a fair manner. Any attempt to hoodwink any section of the public will misfire.

Corruption in India: what has changed in the past 50 years?

The Hindu dared December 30, 1963 reported:


Mr. M. Bhaktavatsalam, Chief Minister of Madras, was reported to have said at the conference of State Chief Ministers and Home Ministers in New Delhi on December 28 that corruption existed in higher ranks and should be dealt with promptly. Mr. N. Sanjiva Reddy, Chief Minister of Andhra, is understood to have said action should be taken against top politicians who did not have personal integrity. Mr. R. Sankar, Kerala’s Chief Minister, said big businessmen were maintaining “contact men” at important places to influence decisions."

Corruption in independent India has a long history. Five decades ago, chief ministers admitted the existence of corruption and atleast pleaded for preventive and corrective steps. Nowadays the chief ministers engage in denial. Arvind Kejriwal, the new member of the august club of chief ministers, has been voted to power on the basis of his tirade against bribery. One hopes that he will change the system rather the system changing him.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lalu Prasad's discovery

Arvind Kejriwal has taken charge as Delhi's chief minister with delirious support of the public. He is seen to be a game changer in India's dirty politics. Narendra Modi is touring the country and attracting vast crowds wherever he goes. Are they relevant in present circumstances? Lalu Prasad has given his expert opinion:

"MUZAFFARNAGAR: Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav on Sunday said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal are no match to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. 

Lalu assessed that Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi is nothing in front of Rahul Gandhi. 

"Rahul Gandhi is Rahul Gandhi. It is the media, which has created the hype about Kejriwal and Modi," claimed Lalu. 

He also attacked the AAP saying, "In a month, people of Delhi will realise that they have made a mistake. People don't know what kind of people they are, especially the people living in slums don't know about their mistake. 

"The dream Kejriwal has showed to the people is nothing but a big drama. He will set the worst record of governance in Delhi. He is no Raja Harishchandra," he added. " TOI.

It is a pity that such a great seer is found guilty in a few scams. If UPA retains power after the elections, we can hope that Laluji will be our Home Minister. Why, he may even be a consensus candidate for prime ministership. Who said our future is bleak?

John Kerry and Salman Khurshid

When emotions were running high in India immediately after the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, the American secretary of state John Kerry spoke to India's national security adviser Shivshankar Menon and not the foreign minister Salman Khurshid. This was interpreted variously by the media. Was Uncle Sam trying to give short shrift to democratically elected leaders? Khurshid misled the nation claiming he was trying to establish contact with Kerry and that the latter was busy visiting some country and time zones interfered with early contact.

The New York Times has now reported what really happened:
"American officials quietly say they bent over backward to heal bruised feelings. On Dec. 19, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to get in touch with the Indian foreign secretary, Salman Khurshid, but Mr. Khurshid did not take his call for reasons he has not explained. So Mr. Kerry called Shivshankar Menon, the Indian national security adviser, to express his “regret” over the matter."

Salman Khurshid was merely being churlish. It is possible that the prime minister ticked him off for his unprofessional act. The minister was promoted to foreign affairs ministry after his family oversaw embezzlement of funds meant for physically challenged persons. Will he get another promotion now?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Aam Aadhmi Party comes of age

There is a saying that a couple understands themselves better after their first fight and not after their first night. When rifts arise, awareness of ground realities expands.

It is good that AAP has formed the government in Delhi. Appointment of ministers has caused the first rift in the party after its success in elections. Of course, Arvind Kejriwal has denied the existence of any rift. This proves that Kejriwal is maturing as a politician since one of the requirements for success in Indian politics is the readiness to deny the obvious and the ability to concoct the absent.

Vinod Kumar Binny left the AAP meeting in a huff and this was interpreted as his disappointment over his non-selection as a minister. He also assured the media that he would later hold a media conference and divulge details about functioning of the party. Kejriwal wants us to believe that Binny met him only to request him not to consider him for any ministership. Great!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Jayanthi Natarajan's resignation: Jettisoning a honest minister

The minister for environment and forests, Ms.Jayanthi Natarajan has resigned, ostensibly to devote more time for Congress party work. In a way she has been 'Kamarajised'.

Around the same time time that she resigned, Rahul Gandhi was addressing the FICCI.

“The biggest problem is absolute arbitrary powers at all levels of the system. This is what we face.. In India, there are lot of arbitrary powers. The Environment Minister or the Chief Minister can take any decision he wants,” he (Rahul Gandhi) said while responding to concerns of the industry that clearances were holding up projects.
“The real issue in all these things, whether land acquisition or environment it is arbitrary power,” Mr. Gandhi said, while advocating the need for eliminating the system of arbitrary powers.
Jayanthi Natarajan is one of the few ministers known to be non-corrupt. Yes, there have been delays in clearing various projects from environment angle. The delays were caused by the minister's steadfast adherence to guidelines and refusal to clear proposals on extraneous considerations. She was following the path shown by Jairam Ramesh who was the environment minister earlier.
Rahul Gandhi highlighted the evil posed by corruption (!) in his FICCI address. Needless to say, his insincerity was transparent. As if to drive home the message that Rahul Gandhi's address should not be taken seriously, the environment ministry will be in additional charge of Veerappa Moily whose closeness to certain industrialists is well-known.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rule of Law

"This Office’s sole motivation in this (Kobhragade) case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law – no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are."

This exemplary statement was made by Preet Bharara. Instead of celebrating the contribution made by the India-born American, Indian politicians of all hues have chosen to ridicule him. We cannot expect anything better from people who always think they are above the law.

Added on 21st December: In an article in Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta argues that instead of cursing Bharara, we should try and import him as our first Lokpal. The link to his article is given below:

Preet Bharara's statement on Khobragade

The following are extracts from a statement issued by Preet Bharara in the Khobragade episode. They speak for themselves.

" It is alleged not merely that Ms.Khobragade sought to evade the law, but that she affirmatively created false documents and went ahead with lying to the U.S. government about what she was doing. One wonders whether any government would not take action regarding false documents being submitted to it in order to bring immigrants into the country. One wonders even more pointedly whether any government would not take action regarding that alleged conduct where the purpose of the scheme was to unfairly treat a domestic worker in ways that violate the law. And one wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?

Is it for U.S. prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims (again, here an Indian national), or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?

Third, Ms. Khobragade, the Deputy General Consul for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs, is alleged to have treated this victim illegally in numerous ways by paying her far below minimum wage, despite her child care responsibilities and many household duties, such that it was not a legal wage. The victim is also alleged to have worked far more than the 40 hours per week she was contracted to work, and which exceeded the maximum hour limit set forth in the visa application. Ms. Khobragade, as the Complaint charges, created a second contract that was not to be revealed to the U.S. government, that changed the amount to be paid to far below minimum wage, deleted the required language protecting the victim from other forms of exploitation and abuse, and also deleted language that stated that Ms. Khobragade agreed to “abide by all Federal, state, and local laws in the U.S.” As the Complaint states, these are only “in part” the facts, and there are other facts regarding the treatment of the victim – that were not consistent with the law or the representations made by Ms. Khobragade -- that caused this Office and the State Department, to take legal action.

Ms. Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded. She was not, as has been incorrectly reported, arrested in front of her children. The agents arrested her in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained. In fact, the arresting officers did not even seize her phone as they normally would have. Instead, they offered her the opportunity to make numerous calls to arrange personal matters and contact whomever she needed, including allowing her to arrange for child care. This lasted approximately two hours. Because it was cold outside, the agents let her make those calls from their car and even brought her coffee and offered to get her food. It is true that she was fully searched by a female Deputy Marshal -- in a private setting -- when she was brought into the U.S. Marshals’ custody, but this is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself. This is in the interests of everyone’s safety."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

India's silly tit for tat

Indian government has taken a lot of action against American diplomatic mission obviously in retaliation to the way in which India's deputy consul general, Khobragade was dealt with in New York. Steps taken by India include withdrawal of barricade protection for consular office, withdrawal of flight passes and cancellation of automatic imports of consumables.

Why did the normally lethargic government plunge into action? Is it because an American court has dared to persist with issue of summons to Sonia Gandhi? Any kneejerk reaction is prone to contain blunders. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ganguli and Ganguly

In the late sixties and early seventies there was a Chairman of Railway Board, B.C.Ganguli by name. He was supposedly very upright and therefore had every reason to offend the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. Not one to put up with uprightness that easily, she showed him the door. But he refused to accept sacking orders and stayed confined to his compartment in the train he was travelling. The compartment was detached and the drama went on for a couple of days. Political tendency to punish honest bureaucrats had its origin during Indira Gandhi's prime ministership.

Now we have Justice A.K.Ganguly who refuses to resign from chairmanship of West Bengal Human Rights Commission despite allegations of sexual harassment against him. Ganguly was considered a honest judge. But honesty in one's profession does not entitle one to harass another. (This is not to suggest that Ganguly was guilty.)

What is in a name, Ganguli or Ganguly?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Preet Bharara" syndrome

Preet(inder Singh) Bharara is an Indian - American who has made it big as an Attorney in America. Highly dedicated to and focused in his profession, he has had a successful conviction rate against alleged white-collar criminals.

Preet Bharara has been particularly active in proceeding against Indians in America. We do not know whether this is by design or accident. Nevertheless, the likes of Rajat Gupta are scared of him. Preet Bharara has strengthened his credentials as a person immune to compatriotic indulgence by causing arrest of Devyani Khobragade, India's Deputy Consul General in New York for an infraction of American law.

It is time that we named the quality of proceeding vigorously against legal transgressions by compatriots abroad as a part of "Preet Bharara Syndrome" (PBS).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Arvind Kejriwal : A dog in the manger?

Aam Aadmi party has done exceptionally well in Delhi. Kejriwal's triumph over Sheila Dikshit in New Delhi constituency was the icing on the cake for AAP.

Kejriwal's post-election attitude does not enhance his reputation. He has decided that AAP will not support either the BJP or the Congress to form the ministry. AAP has every right to decide so. But he has gone further and decided that AAP will not accept support from any party to form the government either. This "neither they nor us" policy leads only to re-election. There is no guarantee that the re-election would produce majority for any party. Further, elections are costly affairs.

Citizens of Delhi have a right to expect Arvind Kejriwal to become chief-minister and start delivering on his party's promises. If Kejriwal reneges on this and imposes re-elections, he will be seen as derelict. If he sincerely takes up responsibility as chief-minister and performs in line with his assurances, any attempts to destabilise his government will surely be rebuffed by citizens.

If three party contests become the norm, this situation of 'hung legislature' will become more common. In order to avoid political instability, we may have to amend the law regarding votes of confidence in the legislature. The party in government may not be required to obtain support from more legislators than it had won in the elections. Such a provision may make life easier for the likes of Kejriwal and will be conducive to political stability.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Sonia Gandhi's reaction to election results

Election results are in line with exit polls. These results do not surprise anyone, barring the Congress. Maybe, Congress was also expecting the same while putting on a brave face while commenting on the exit polls.

The Hindu reports,
“In Delhi, a great deal of work was done (by the government). But the results tell us something else. We will introspect and take steps to rectify it,” Ms. Sonia Gandhi said."

Rectify what? Rectify whatever good work the party has done in Delhi? At least now, would the GOP realise that citizens expect only scam-free administration? They are fed up with corruption and malgovernance. The drubbing that Congress has received must be a warning to BJP too. One hopes that the Aam Aadhmi Party will not become too political and undistinguishable from other political parties.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Supreme Court's perfidy

The Supreme Court has decided that its administration will not entertain the complaint against Justice A.K.Ganguly on the specious plea that he is retired and that the complainant intern was not employed by the court. The following statement has been issued by the Chief Justice:

"As decided by the Full Court in its Meeting dated December 5, 2013, it is made clear that the representations made against former Judges of this Court are not entertainable by the administration of the Supreme Court,” the CJI’s statement said.

It is a shameful abdication of the court's responsibility. If this is the guiding principle, why did the CJI form a committee of judges to hear the complaint in the first place?

The following extract from the same newspaper report makes Supreme Court's uneasy dithering obvious:

"The CJI said that taking cognizance of the fact that such allegation against a Supreme Court Judge will have a direct bearing on the institution’s reputation and credibility, he had on the same day appointed the three-member committee to ascertain the truth of the allegations."
The committee observed that "complainant's statement prima facie discloses an act of unwelcome behaviour by Justice Ganguly". This Eureka conclusion only begs the question. Everyone knows the complaint. We don't require an august committee of honourable judges to read and interpret the complaint. We expected a finding on guilt or otherwise of the retired judge. Sadly, the committee has only dilly dallied. It appears that the court is not yet ready to dispense justice.