Sunday, March 30, 2014

Expectations vs Reality

An interesting confrontation is now on between Yashwant Sinha and P.Chidambaram. Being politicians, both are adept in obfuscation. The current rally in the stock market, according to Sinha, is an expectant rally that factors the likelihood of BJP coming to power. Chidambaram argues that the rally has crystallised because of positive steps taken by the government.

It is probably a combination of both. It is quite an achievement on the part of government that no new scam has surfaced in the recent past! On the part of the principal opposition party (how one hopes that it is also a principled opposition party!), though a few senior leaders have become disillusioned, it has attracted quite a few leaders from other parties. However, the quality of such new entrants is highly suspect.

The results of 2014 elections may contain shocks and surprises. Modi has peaked rather too early. BJP may be missing the advantage of slog overs. The Congress may do unexpectedly well, unexpected by itself also. If this happens, it has to thank the quirks of electoral arithmetic in India and not its own performance.

If BJP does well, the credit should go to misgovernance of Congress. If Congress does well, BJP's inability to convert abundant potential into positive results will be blamed. In short, the winner whoever it be,  cannot take credit for its success.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Viscera report on Sunanda Pushkar's sudden and unnatural death

A report in The Hindu says,

"The autopsy report had mentioned more than a dozen injury marks on Sunanda’s both hands and an abrasion on her cheek which suggests a “use of blunt force”, besides a “deep teeth bite” on the edge of her left palm. Viscera samples were preserved after the autopsy at AIIMS and were sent to CFSL for further tests.

The viscera report of Sunanda Pushkar, Union Minister Shashi Tharoor’s wife who died under mysterious circumstances two months ago, hints towards drug poisoning but its findings are still inconclusive to file an FIR in the case, according to police.
“The CFSL report has not been able to give much headway into the probe. It rules out poisoning and hints toward drug poisoning,” said a senior police official associated with the probe." "
The police are dragging their feet. Common sense suggests that if the police are convinced about the innocence of a person in authority, they will posthaste declare his innocence. 

What do they mean?

I heard the following today: (23rd March)

1) Sushil Kumar Shinde: "Waqas is a good catch". ( Being election season, I thought at last one political leader has crossed over to Congress. I was disappointed to know that Waqas is after all an overt terrorist who was caught by the police today.)

2) G.R.Gopinath: "I decided not to contest the elections because I want to continue doing something useful like creating jobs". What a tribute to politics! Persons whose presence in politics will be worthwhile become disenchanted with it very fast.

3) Shashi Tharoor (in The Right to be Heard programme of Headlines Today channel): "I belong to the middle class." I never knew that a person full of contempt for economy class ('cattle class') travel and who cannot stay anywhere other than a seven-star hotel can yet represent middle class. His disclosed assets (in election papers) amount to Rs.23 crore. This amount is exclusive of whatever asset has accrued to him after his wife's controversial demise.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Election Time

As elections 2014 draw closer, passions are boiling over. Opinion polls are predicting that BJP will emerge as the single largest party and NDA as the largest combination of parties. Opinion polls are of course not fool-proof. We are also witnessing a large one way migration of politicians towards BJP. Senior leaders within BJP keep bickering among themselves. Narendra Modi is certainly a polarising figure, in a negative sense if you are against him and in a positive way for his fans and supporters.

Election results are not predictable except in Communist countries. Given India's present economic conditons, it is not realistic to expect a sea-change post the elections. High expectations may lead to deep disappointments.

When all of us are comfortable with our respective ideological blinkers, it is not surprising that every blind person is trying to lead every other blind person. What we need is a combination of robust scepticism and an ability to expect the unexpected. Else, our passions will consume us.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gender-based differences

Gender-based differences engender an eternal controversy among biologists and social scientists. Academicians have been forced to quit for airing apparently conclusive opinions which fell short of political correctness.

Women are taken to be more perceptive whereas men are arguably better motor-skilled. Indian Railways believed that women adopt less unethical practices and posted more women to "man" ticket issue counters. There was a perceptible improvement in ease of obtaining tickets in advance. Black marketing was on decline.

Western economists believe that if there were more women CEOs, the global financial crisis that started in 2007 would have been less disastrous as women are 'known to be' more longterm oriented.

Sometimes the unexpected also happens. Some people claim that Jayanthi Natarajan and Archana Bhargava were exceptionally corrupt and that was why they lost their jobs. Does power corrupt everybody irrespective of the person's gender? Is corruption gender-agnostic? 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

CBI's duplicity and Jairam Ramesh's ire

Jairam Ramesh has done himself proud by expressing his indignation over CBI's ham-handed approach in its investigation in the issue relating to MCX - SX.  CBI, for reasons inexplicable, has taken up a preliminary enquiry (PE) against two of the most scrupulous civil servants India has ever seen.

C.B.Bhave and K.M.Abraham have been the nemeses of many rent-seekers in our business world. The unscrupulous folks have been waiting for a chance to get back at them. It is well known that President Pranab Mukherjee was not pleased with Abraham's uncompromised approach towards Sahara and others when he was the Finance Minister. Bhave stood by Abraham.

Many retired civil servants have criticised CBI for its duplicity. Jairam Ramesh has been more forthcoming; it is praiseworthy that he has not allowed his ministerial inhibitions to prevent his plain speaking.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Corruption in India

Excerpts from The Economist (noted for its credible understatements) dated 15th - 21st March are given below:

"One senior figure in the ruling Congress party worries about the feeling that “the law for the common people doesn’t apply to the political princelings and industrialists.”

For his part, the outgoing prime minister, Manmohan Singh, claims history will absolve his administration of its reputation for graft. The leader of the Congress campaign, Rahul Gandhi, a scion of India’s most famous political dynasty, says he is a reformer, though it is hard not to see his family’s secretive habits as part of the problem.

The Reddy family, which had close connections to the state’s BJP-led government, appeared to rule the roost. A businessman who visited a Reddy associate recalls being escorted by men with automatic weapons to a mansion with a Bell helicopter and a collection of 13 cars. “They were like Indian warlords,” he says.

The business interests of the present cabinet—if you believe the rumours—include a real-estate empire in Singapore and an insider-trading ring run by a minister’s son.

 54% of Indians say they paid a bribe in the last year, compared with 44% in Nigeria and 36% in Indonesia. Jobs with opportunities for extortion are sought after and a slice of the profits funnelled up the ranks.

Firms offer “speed money” to avoid red tape. “Everybody pays,” admits an executive at a firm known for its good governance. 

But India’s entry into the global economy created unprecedented opportunities for dishonesty.

 At the same time the elite cadre of the civil service, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), has decayed. A top officer puts the clean and motivated proportion of its 5,000 members at just 10%—and adds that at the other end of the spectrum 15% are “scum”.

 Global Financial Integrity, a research organisation, estimates that gross illicit outflows from India have averaged $52 billion a year since 2007.

How much Indian money is stashed abroad? India’s tax authorities have a database of offshore-account holders given to them by the German government, but appear to be under political pressure not to release it. “They’re sitting on it,” says the anti-graft tsar in Delhi.

The banker adds that India’s big political clans may have been dealt with by a separate wing of the bank. Adding in an estimate for them, he calculates that the offshore assets of Indian residents held in all global banks as between $100 billion and $150 billion.

To hold a rally at which Sonia Gandhi, the head of Congress, appears costs up to $330,000. The buses, hats and sound-system all have to be paid for.

Illegal party funding is at the heart of corruption. But politicians are in denial, says the Congress bigwig. “Nobody wants to admit that they have taken money. It is a completely hypocritical system.” 

Some institutions are clean, too. They include the central bank and the Supreme Court, which on March 10th introduced rules to speed up trials of politicians. The banking system, despite its bad debts, has not been captured by tycoons as were those in South-East Asia and Russia in the 1990s. In February a chunk of radio spectrum was auctioned off smoothly, a process that makes impropriety harder."

The last paragraph is an acknowledgement that perhaps not all is lost. Politicians have not completed their job.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Mainstream on Shashi Tharoor

Reproduction of an article from the magazine - 'Mainstream'


The Shashi Tharoor Case Reminds Us Again that Politics Seriously Diminishes People

This is a time when even his critics would feel sorry for Shashi Tharoor. He had a dream run for the first half-century of his life— progression through the very best of schools, a prized United Nations career, acclamation as an author, political debut as a favourite of India’s ruling oligarchy, ministership at first shot as MP, recognition as a darling of high society. But he was star-crossed from the day he entered politics. One controversy ended only when another started. And then, tragedy of a kind that one would not wish on one’s enemies.
The sudden death of his wife prompted speculation much of which was unfavourable to Tharoor. That Sunanda Pushkar’s family filed no complaint was helpful to him, but loose ends remained in spite of—and sometimes because of—reports by doctors, forensic experts and police sources. There is also scepticism about inquiries by the police when Tharoor remains a Union Minister.  At the political level, he continues to be a honeybun with the Congress High Command; at the height of the controversy, he was appointed an official spokesman of the party.
It is possible that Shashi Tharoor may emerge legally and politically unscathed through his ordeal, and  even stand for re-election. But there are things that go beyond the legal and the political. Writers are supposed to be aware of, and sensitive to, life’s unsaid realities. If the writer in Tharoor overcomes the politician in him for a moment, he will realise that his glamour value will never be the same again, that he will forever be linked in the public mind with things that should not have happened.
But the writer will not overcome the politician in Tharoor. That is what politics does to people: It dulls human sensibilities and makes the paraphernalia of power look more important than they are. It also ruins reputations. The grandest reputation in free India’s history was Jawaharlal Nehru’s.  It lay shattered at the end of 17 years of power—shattered by a range of mishandled crises, from the Kashmir mess to the border war with China. Next only to Nehru’s was Jayaprakash Narayan’s reputation for sacrifice and probity. In the perspective of history, JP now looks like a great man whose contribution amounted ultimately to nothing. Manmohan Singh was an internationally respected economist until politics turned him into an object of ridicule.
Shashi Tharoor is not in this league of course, so his diminution by politics has been the more drastic. It’s a pity that he fell for the  transient trappings of power because, unlike even  the High Commanders who protect him, he had other options.  Literature remains  an obvious one, since he already has a firm foundation as both novelist and nonfictionist. With his international connections and public relations skills, he could break new ground with the Chandran Tharoor Foundation named after his father. Big-ticket programmes for public benefit have not turned modern with modern methodologies in India in ways Bill Gates and Bill Clinton have pioneered. Shashi Tharoor can be an avant-gardist in this area, honouring the values of a family he has often publicly praised.
Chandran Tharoor was Amrita Bazaar Patirka’s correspondent in London and then The Statesman’s advertising director in Calcutta. He was admired as a benefactor of those in need, and for his zestfulness which earned him, from The Statesman colleagues, the title of “dynamo”. Chandran’s brother, T. Parameshwar, was the father of Reader’s Digest India and an aristocratic presence in Bombay’s meritocracy in the 1950s. The Tharoors are proud of their traditions that go back a few hundred years. So there is enough for Shashi to build on, enough options to choose from. The most detrimental  option will be to stand for re-election from Thiruvananthapuram and, inevitably, open up the wounds. Very likely that option will be chosen. That is what politics does to people: It subverts judgment.

Nandan Nilekani in politics

A co-promoter of Infosys, Nandan Nilekani is an activist who takes risks. Otherwise he would not have agreed to be in charge of the monumental task of providing 'Aadhaar' to every Indian. The scheme started off well but ran into many logistical, legal and political problems which remain to be sorted out. In the meanwhile, Nilekani has decided to take the greater risk of jumping into politics. He is contesting from Bangalore South constituency representing the Congress party.

The technocrat activist has cogently explained his action. His father was an enthusiastic supporter of Nehruvian policies. Ideologically, the son also fits into the Congress scheme of things.

On 31st January, we had posted the following under the caption "Parties and Policies":

"Satyapal Singh, esteemed Commissioner of Police, Mumbai has resigned; he says he will contest the upcoming elections to the Lok Sabha. He also says he has offers from AAP and BJP and that he will soon choose one of these two. Earlier, Uttam Kobhragade, the influential father of Devyani Khobragade had also said he has offers from quite a few political parties.

Do these instances mean that political parties cannot be distinguished based on their policies? Can we cynically say parties don't have policies; they only have privileges? Is this what politics is supposed to be?"

It is obvious that Nilekani is vastly different from the likes of Uttam Kobhragade who have no ideology of their own but keep seeking political opportunities. Nilekani sincerely hopes that being part of GOP would enable him  to contribute his mite to community in a better way. His move therefore needs to be encouraged. Many politicians choose to join a party which allots a post or offers a candidature to them. But NN has chosen to enter a political outfit that in his opinion matches his ideological predilections.  So far, so good. Well endowed that he is, he has decided to spend only his money for the election. There are some equally rich or even richer candidates who merrily use party's funds!

Nonetheless, practices of the Congress are at variance with its proclaimed ideology. Nandan Nilekani is perhaps positioning himself for a bitter disappointment aka 'cognitive dissonance'. He has created dilemma in voters' minds also. Many Bangaloreans would prefer to vote for him but not for Congress. What should they do?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Salman Khurshid, the madcap

Here is a report that has appeared in The Hindustan Times:

"External affairs minister Salman Khurshid has slammed the Supreme Court and the Election Commission saying they direct political parties and parliamentarians to a great extent.
Khurshid made the comment during an event in London.
He said directions issued by the EC can only ensure that a party loses an election rather that win it.
"They are only three and they can decide which word you can use during election campaign. The broad philosophical approach is that you should do and say nothing that wins you an election, you should try your best to lose election," Khurshid was quoted as saying by CNN-IBN.
Khurshid also commented on Supreme Court judges and said should stop directing parliamentarians and need to get their act together, according to the news channel.

"Judges sit and they say this is not to happen and of course go to the extent of threatening contempt proceedings against officials. Two judges can say anything about parliamentarians that they will be allowed to contest or not, what kind of affidavit they have to file, what they can do and so on," he said"

It is a national disgrace that this perverted politician is our minister for foreign affairs. Imagine he was earlier our law minister. No, he was not drunk while he prattled the above in London. He was his normal self.
It is likely that the dishonourable minister will soon deny having made these atrocious remarks.
Note: "Rules of Indian democracy" was posted before I saw the HT report. SK has hastened to prove me right.

Rules of Indian democracy

Demonise your opponents.

Embellish your achievements (if any).

Market yourself as the polar opposite of what you really are.

Outshout others.

Crucify the honest.

Rehabilitate the corrupt.

Aggravate anarchy.

Condemn the judiciary.

Yet, pretend to be the paragon of innocence.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Tragedy in the air

It is very unfortunate that a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 239 persons has reportedly crashed while flying over the Vietnamese seas.

While the cause of this mishap is not yet known, there are indications of a sabotage. There was no distress call (mayday) from the pilot. This means that whatever caused the tragedy was not discovered by the crew till the last minute by which time there was no scope for sending out a distress call. A sudden explosion? Perhaps caused by a bomb? Human error and mechanical problem were unlikely. The pilot was well experienced. The airliner Boeing 777-200 ER has an enviable safety record.

Two passengers were travelling on stolen passports. The two passports were stolen in Bangkok, one 3 years ago and the other one in 2013. Why stolen passports? It is possible that the real identities of these two passengers were easily relatable to some (terrorist?) group.

Five Indians were among the passengers. Whereas foreign news agencies while reporting the accident invariably also mentioned the number of their respective nationals on board ( I read the reports of Australian and Canadian news agencies), the Indian news reports were silent on this crucial information. The five Indians were originally mistaken to be Indonesians. A very sad tragedy that will be discussed for a long time to come. 

Political naivete or legal chicanery?

Aam Aadmi Party has petitioned to Supreme Court contesting the legality of Presidential notification to keep the Delhi Assembly in suspended animation. While the court was trying to acquaint itself of the niceties involved, the Attoney General Vahanvati and Addl. Solicitor General K.V.Viswanathan representing the central government justified the notification with the outlandish argument that the Congress and the BJP may come together to form the government in Delhi.

What a creative idea! The government is ready to invent any fiction if only to subserve its selfish purpose. The Court must have been amused.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Kerala's disgrace

Kerala is a progressive state with competent people. It is unfortunate that such a glorious state is represented, among others, in the central ministry by two 'gentlemen' of whom one is a suspected uxoricide and the other a confirmed incompetent who only oversees disaster after disaster in the military establishment with nary a care for frequent loss of brave lives in totally avoidable circumstances.

The former had apparently misutilised his authority to remove any gross evidence of his shenanigan. It is however said that there is no perfect murder and as such justice may yet catch up with him when he least expects.

The latter thinks that his only duty is to safeguard the interests of his political leader and in the process does not mind losing his reputation as "Mr.Clean".

How power corrupts!

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Unadulterated misgovernance

The central government is unashamedly indulging in unending acts of misgovernance. Scams and acts of corruption are a dime a dozen. Illegitimacy has become the norm. Rules of governance have been thrown to the winds with gleeful abandon. Though there are many instances, two recent events stand out for their egregiousness.

Sheila Dikshit has been appointed Governor of Kerala. There are complaints of corruption against her. In order to save her from criminal proceedings, she is made the Governor. This sends out a clear message that persons with influence in the ruling dispensation can commit unlawful acts without fear of punishment.

Lokpal is more or less a non-starter. The selection committee was formed without any sincere attempt for consensus. A search committee is sought to be appointed whose function will only be to endorse the choice made by DOPT or to make a meaningful recommendation which will be rejected by the selection committee. If Justice K.T.Thomas and Fali Nariman have refused to be part of the search committee, unfairness of government's approach is all too obvious.

One hesitates to commit an unprincipled act for the first time. Once the unprincipled act is done, the Rubicon is crossed. Then unscrupulous behaviour becomes a habit. This is what has happened to the Government of India. We should henceforth be surprised if anything is done lawfully and ethically. The most noteworthy contribution of the Manmohan Singh government is the systematic destruction of the country's moral edifice. We have reached a situation where any wrong doing by any future government will be sought to be justified by a precedent set in the recent past. Thank you, Manmohan Singh.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Wendy Doniger's mischievous twist

"The Hindus: An alternative history", a book written by Wendy Doniger was recently withdrawn by its publishers, Penguin Books India. The decision was in response to a petition filed by an "aggrieved person" in a court of law. There was no orchestrated violence to browbeat the publishers; the book is not a recent one; neither is the petition.

The publishers' decision has been criticised as a surrender to lumpen elements. Whether this criticism is valid or not, withdrawal of the book, to the extent it was not entirely voluntary, is an infringement of freedom of expression and therefore whatever or whoever coerced the publishers deserves condemnation.

Having said this, it is unfortunate that the author has issued a statement that is tendentious and mischievous. The mischief is contained in a sentence (noticed hereunder in colour):

" I was thrilled and moved by the great number of messages of support that I
received, not merely from friends and colleagues but from people in India that I
have never met, who had read and loved The Hindus, and by news and media
people, all of whom expressed their outrage and sadness and their wish to help
me in any way they could. I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this
happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in
the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s
daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless
they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be
pulped. But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just
quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to
save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir
anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years,
both as a civil and as a criminal suit.
 They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece—the Indian law 
that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends 
any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter
how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book"

The author ought to know that the law under reference is meant not to protect the Hindus alone. A historian supposedly researching Hindus can indulge in this kind of misinformation only at the cost of her credibility.