Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The un-caged parrot

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Now that the Lokpal is a reality, and the political class considerably mellowed by the approaching electoral uncertainties, there is a new spring in the steps of the investigative agencies, be it the anti-corruption CBI or the anti-terrorism NIA.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Ganguly saga

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Ashok Ganguly was a spirited judge at the Supreme Court, and, after heading the West Bengal Human Rights Commission post-retirement, he built in no time a formidable reputation as a tenacious watchdog for human rights violation.

But his stature got deep-sixed from the most unexpected quarters, an intern who'd worked for him, when she wrote in her blog that the ex-judge had sexually harassed her nearly a year ago. In the surcharged atmosphere of the Tarun Tejpal affair, the blog worked like a matchstick struck in a tinderbox. The blogpost was mysteriously discovered by Attorney General G. E. Vahanvati who moved the Supreme Court post-haste, and the Chief Justice of India promptly set up a fact-finding committee of three judges. 
It soon became known that the alleged victim had filed an affidavit to the three judges, in addition to giving her video-recorded version of the incident, but its content was kept under wraps. Even Ganguly, who was quizzed, was not given any clue of the content of the affidavit. Nor did the intern come forward to file a formal police complaint, which alone could be the starting point of an investigation. Meanwhile, Indira Jaisingh, Additional Solicitor General, published a newspaper article containing what she claimed to be nuggets of the victim's allegation. Loaded with suggestions that the ex-judge of the Supreme Court had played the old lover boy with a young girl his "grand-daughter's age", at a suite of Le Meridien Hotel in New Delhi on the 2012 Christmas Eve night, the document plunges the knife into Ganguly's reputation as it lists, in bold letters, an array of offensive acts catalogued in the Supreme Court's Vishaka judgment of the 1990's and included in the recent Harassment of Women in Work Place law. Making physical contacts or advances, demanding sexual favours, uttering sexually coloured remarks, indulging in unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual natures—the intern's allegation supposedly contains the misbehaviours listed in the law down to a T. 
Obviously, politicians became strident in their demand for Ganguly's removal. Leading their pack is West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee, who went to the extent of approaching President Pranab Mukherjee, twice, to use his authority for Ganguly's ouster. The ex-judge has been dogged in his denial of all allegations. But what is at stake is not the criminality of his conduct but his "proved misbehaviour". Under the law governing human rights commissions, its members, including a state chief, can be removed for "proved misbehaviour". Regardless of the incident being before or after the sexual harassment law, the court will consider nothing other than the misbehaviour part of the charge, no doubt in the light of available evidence. The intern's version supposedly mentions the text messages that Ganguly sent her after she'd left the hotel room in humiliation and rage. The SMS's are now "frozen" as evidence. And Vahanvati has again played his role as Ganguly's nemesis, recommending to the President, through the Home Ministry, that he may order the Supreme Court, through a Presidential reference, to set up a committee to investigate the charges. There is no doubt, therefore, that Ganguly cannot escape trial nor can he save either his present job or reputation if the judicial investigation holds him guilty of misbehaviour, not to speak of sexual harassment. 
However, in the interest of fair trial, it is necessary to point at a series of possible conflicts of interest that may have marked Ganguly's all too sudden fall from grace. The first possible conflict of interest is with Vahanvati, who defended the UPA Government in the Supreme Court on the much discussed 2G spectrum case. Ganguly led the bench that overturned the government's plea that it was within its rights to distribute the 2G telecom spectrum on first-come-first-serve basis, almost free of cost. The bench not only passed a series of adverse remarks that still besmirches the integrity of the government—remarks that eventually turned UPA into a symbol of corruption in popular imagination—but turned down, by a single stroke of pen, as many as 122 licences that were issued. It is said that among these disheartened licensees was one of Vahanvati's very special corporate friends. 
It is Ganguly who undeniably set the tone of the Supreme Court during the UPA 2 rule as the judiciary generally accepted the view of the Comptroller and Auditor General that natural resources like wireless frequency or fossil fuel were not to be offered to private parties at the executive's own sweet will but required to be publicly auctioned in a transparent manner. Vahanvati, as the government's top law officer, was no doubt piqued by a hostile judiciary. 
The other, and more serious, conflict could have arisen from the West Bengal CM who ironically had been instrumental in the appointment of Ganguly as the chairman of the state Human Rights Commission. May be she thought that Ganguly would be pliable enough to legitimise, from a high office, most of her authoritarian acts—be it brushing aside an incident of rape as an “opposition conspiracy”, detaining a university teacher for merely forwarding a cartoon of her, arresting a person saying he’s a Maoist while all he did was to ask her uncomfortable questions on a public occasion. Earlier this year, in a gang-rape incident in North 24 Parganas district, in which a group of Mamata’s Trinamool Congress workers were allegedly involved, Ganguly took an extraordinarily tough stand. He summoned the state home secretary; and the CM prevented his obedient secretary to appear before the Human Rights Commission. Interestingly, in September, a month after the fracas over the summons, Ganguly received an abusive letter from a female law clerk in a district court, threatening him that she might sue her for “rape”. All this does in no way suggest that Ganguly is not guilty, or otherwise, of the alleged misdemeanour for which he’s likely to be investigated by a committee of learned judges. It only suggests that there are powerful people who may be overjoyed if Ganguly is removed from his post, for reasons other than their moral concerns.

(The author is National Editor of 
Lokmat group of newspapers 
based in Delhi)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Its Modi-AAP contest now

Kejriwal did in Delhi what Devi Lal in Haryana in 1987 to win votes 

A spectre is haunting India. It is the spectre of AAP. The big and beaten Congress is shivering so much that it is bending backward and careful not to rub the wrong way either AAP or its helmsman Arvind Kejriwal.  Similarly, the BJP has kept its eyes peeled to find a way out of the gridlock created by AAP in Delhi, which threatens to spread across the country. Till just a couple of weeks back, the 2014 contest was limited to Narendra Modi of BJP and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, with a handful of regional bargain-seekers screaming for a “third front”. But the table has turned extra quick, with the fear of the AAP ‘virus’ spreading nationwide. As information trickled out of AAP office that the party may contest over 300 seats in the Lok Sabha polls, rather than brushing is off as the swagger of a newbie, all bets are suddenly off, and big parties are busy barring their doors. After Congress president was slammed by AAP with a hard-hitting letter of conditions for accepting her party’s support to form government in Delhi, which included that VIPs like her must give up their bungalows in the sprawling Lutyens Zone, not a word came from her trolls in response to such ‘impudence’. But the BJP is fully aware of the consequences of AAPrising.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

AAP-ward Mobility

It has a touch of Arab Spring, born through Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement There is hardly anything unexpected in the results of the assembly polls on Sunday, except the performance of the year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is both stunning and stalling. It is 'stunning' as very few people believed what pollsters were whispering for some time, that the Arvind Kejriwal-led outfit in Delhi might finish ahead of Congress. However, AAP finished a hair's breadth below BJP, the largest party, 31 and 28, leaving Congress close to the bottom with only eight seats. Kejriwal himself made his debut in electoral politics by trouncing 'Ms Invincible' (Mrs Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister for 15 years) with a dizzy margin of 25,000 plus votes. But AAP's performance was 'stalling' as it decided neither to support nor to be supported by either BJP or Congress. In a House of 70 members.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Let man equal woman

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Last week, I wrote in this column on the larger issues involved in the Tarun Tejpal case, concerning "consensus" for sexual favours obtained by the high and mighty in exchange of professional advantage.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nice girls don't cry

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Tehelka, India's 'Private Eye', founded by Tarun Tejpal, has thrived on sensational sting operations. Few suspected that Tejpal, and the reputation of his paper, would be stung so critically by the e-mailed allegation of one of his junior woman colleagues about being molested by him, complete with CCTV footage of the Goa hotel where the ugly incident happened. These are the kind of evidence that Tejpal revelled in for destroying reputation of the bold and the beautiful. It was a comeuppance that Tehelka's readers least expected.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"An Equal Muslim"

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Harish Gupta

Why is the 'Muslim factor' so germane to all political calculations for India? It has been so not merely in recent times but since the very beginning of the republic, when the majority opinion in the Constituent Assembly stood against tampering with the Muslim, or any community's personal laws, pushing the promise of having a uniform civil code into the cold storage of the "Directive Principles of State Policy". Since elections began in post-Independence India in 1952, the 'M vote' has remained a matter of ponderous poll-eve calculation.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Collapse of middle order

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Harish Gupta

In India, 'middle class' can be a dangerously deceptive term. It means several things to several people. For example, it can mean households that possess items like (a) TV, (b) computer/laptop, (c) car/scooter and (d) telephone/mobile.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Will Mamata Turn ?

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Harish Gupta

Reams of newsprint and hours of television time have already gone into scrutinizing the respective merits and demerits of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi as the next prime minister of India. But there is little public interest to grasp the fact that either of them is unable to form a government all by himself.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

BJP wants Jaitley to face Shiela; he flies to US

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Harish Gupta

 Worried over all opinion polls unequivocally predicting defeat for the BJP in Delhi Assembly polls, the party high command has launched a search for its chief ministerial candidate who can face the twin challenges of Shiela Dixit and Aam Admi Party.

The Mumbai Club

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The run-up to the 2014 elections is quite different from previous ones in one respect: that the core of India's big industry, which we may call the "Mumbai Club", is now driven by an evangelical zeal to believe that the rise of Narendra Modi to the prime ministerial pedestal was inevitable.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The power shift

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Harish Gupta

Going by the dramatic turn of events last week that hoisted Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on the centre stage, one cannot but feel sorry for the likes of Subramaniam Swamy, who turned defaming the Gandhi family into a profession, as it seems. Rahul's action mauled not just them.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Socialist Rahul !

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

 Socialist Rahul !

Rahul Gandhi may be inexperienced in the art of mesmerising audiences…… but he is the newest flag captain of a powerful line of socialist thinking

Every election produces its crop of smart Alec in political parties. One of them in the BJP, which always has a surfeit of them, has compared Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi with Rip Van Winkle, the fictional American Dutchman who slept through the twenty years that included America’s independence, to wake into a changed world with the portrait of George lll at the local inn replaced by George Washington’s. Smart Alec’s quip draws from the fact that Rahul is allegedly living in the world of his grandmother Indira Gandhi, and, like her, he is making poverty alleviation the main plank of his election speeches. He says big roads and ports and railways are welcome but he’d make sure that their benefits travel all the way down to the poor labourers who build them. He asks the poor to dream big, like thinking of his son flying in the plane that he now only watches gliding across the sky. The opposition strategists are saying this is rehash of Indira Gandhi’s garibi hatao lines, aimed at the Great Unwashed who can’t see the line separating grand promises from what is on the ground.

Rahul’s speeches are certainly not the best of his attainments. They are often rambling, and have metaphors that tend to go off a tangent. But, with his increasing public exposure, what is indeed visible is his consistent focus on the Congress party’s unvarying socialist ideology. In this context, I’d emphasise the word “socialism”. It was Indira Gandhi who got the word inserted into the preamble to the Indian Constitution.  When she promised to eradicate poverty, she had action to match her words, like nationalization of banks, coal mines and insurance and a massive expansion of the public sector. But that was more than four decades ago. The poor of that era are no longer so poor, and there is a vibrant private sector of the economy to match, if not outgrow, the public sector. But socialism is a creed. It is a philosophy of governance. It does not become outdated from grandmother to grandson. Be it in the US or Europe, socialist thinking is accepted in the West as a non-negotiable principle of governance. That’s the reason why the NHS in Britain or Social Welfare in the US has survived periodic changes in governments. Even Margaret Thatcher, venerable icon in the church of capitalism, did not aim at dismantling NHS. Moreover, she expanded the reach of Britain’s state-funded schools.

Between Rahul Gandhi’s pro-poor stance, and that of his grandmother, there are similarities as well as differences. Indira’s socialism was of an aggressive kind. It had to demolish the legacies of colonialism, like banks that financed only their owners, and coal mines that exploited labour. But neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul promoted aggressive socialism. None of the four pillars on which Sonia Gandhi’s Congress presidency rests—Right to Information Act, MGNREGA, amended land acquisition law and Food Security Act—aims at dismantling any existing institution. The underlying philosophy of such legislation is not populist, nor even socialist in its classical sense; it is closer to the modern European form of socialism which is generally about redistribution of wealth and creation of a welfare state.

Rahul Gandhi may be inexperienced in the art of mesmerising audiences with the choicest invectives aimed at the political opponent, but there is no doubt he is the newest flag captain of a powerful line of socialist thinking that has marked the Indian political system after Independence. It left its mark on the Constitution itself, despite the word “socialism” not being there in the beginning, as I have explained earlier. But its wide popular support is evident from the fact that the Congress has remained in power in all but 10 years since the first general election in 1952. Nor was socialism challenged in the six years of NDA rule under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His party, the BJP, in fact calls itself a believer in socialism, of some kind.

Rahul, in his speeches, is reassuring his people that the Congress under his stewardship will neither move away from its historic brand-identity nor leap backward in time when, to be a socialist, it was necessary to slay the demon of private enterprise. When he talks of “dream”, he is not selling a fantasy; instead, all he is doing is to urge people to demand that their dreams, or desires, are realized. Some time back, when he described poverty as “a state of mind”, there were outcries of protest from BJP trolls in the social media. They should think again. Is poverty entirely measurable in calorific terms, or in terms of daily income expressed in a constant currency? Certainly not, for that would make the search for an equitable society quite meaningless once everyone has been fed up to the required calorie mark. Even after everyone is adequately fed, as in the Western world, socialism survives as there is need for redistribution of wealth.

Rather than worrying about Rahul’s speeches, smart Alec should now pay attention to the threat to India’s socialist tradition implicit in the New BJP. Its ‘thinking brigade’ now argues that the welfare legislations of the past ten years were a disaster, though their party, wary of losing the votes of Joe Public, dared not oppose any of these four legislations. It shows that BJP’s support to the Food Security Bill, for example, was not from its heart. It obviously raises reasonable fear about what will be the future of welfare in a nation under its rule.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Watch, minefield ahead

Modi decided to buy Bullets two months before the Assembly polls. Can he get 4 states to BJP ? Those in the BJP who sincerely wish Narendra Modi to lead the nation after the 2014 poll have no reason to celebrate the announcement of his name as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in such tearing hurry, more than six months before the general election is due, and with a couple of months still to go for the bellwether assembly elections in four mainline states and in the north-eastern state of Mizoram, where the Congress is in power.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Might is Right

Summons to Sonia Gandhi by a New York court proves that judiciary in the US is also over-steeping its jurisdiction with US emerging as “Globoscop”. In issuing summons against Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of India’s ruling UPA and president of the Congress party, during her recent short visit to the US in connection with her medical treatment, the district court in New York has shown a rare arrogance of power and a singular lack of sense of the limitations of the law that it was brandishing. The Alien Torts Statute (ATS) is an 18th century law was aimed at recovering Americans’ dues from British businessmen after the colony’s independence in 1776. In the post-Cold War era, with America’s emergence as “globocop”, this law, in combination with Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA), is being touted as a statute that allows foreign citizens to seek remedies in US courts for crime allegedly committed outside the US. Sikhs for Justice, an advocacy group in the US, obviously had its political motive to file a petition against Mrs Gandhi, a person who was not at all in public life in November 1984, when the atrocities against Sikhs took place in India. The group is remnant from the Pakistan-inspired Sikh separatist movement that had led to the tragic Operation Blue Star, the subsequent assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi in the hands of her Sikh bodyguards, and the retaliatory mob frenzy in which 3000 plus Sikhs were killed . Sonia Gandhi reluctantly joined politics a generation later, in 1998. Of the three main targets of Sikhs for Justice, Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath and Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, the last two were denied party tickets by her in 2009. Nath, on the other hand, was absolved by the Nanavati Commission, instituted in 2000, of the charge of instigating a mob to attack a gurdwara on November 1, 1984. Therefore, with no case pending against him in any Indian court, it is but natural that Nath, regarded as an efficient executive, is continuing in the Union Cabinet during the entire UPA rule. It is true that the police and CBI had botched up the investigation of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots which led to the questionable acquittal of Tytler and Kumar in a lower court. However, the proverbial long arm of the law is showing the firmness of its grip in higher courts. But Sikhs for Justice seems to have objectives other than mere justice. In recent times, it has exhibited an unusual zeal to drag to the US courts not only Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Kamal Nath but even the Akali Dal Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Badal and others. Congress and Akali Dal are political adversaries except in one respect—that both are signatories to the 1985 Punjab Accord that put an end to the separatist movement. But Sikh extremists did not accept peace. Soon after signing of the accord, they assassinated its Akali signatory H. S. Longowal. Even now, the embers of separatism have kept glowing in the Sikh diaspora, Sikhs for Justice being one example, and the fire is diligently stoked by Pakistan, particularly the cloak-and-dagger wing of its army. However, apart from joining the brigade of American ambulance chasing lawyers by pinning summonses on visiting Indian dignitaries, a section of the Sikh diaspora seems to hold distorted views on how much their community is integrated with modern India. If there has been a delay in bringing perpetrators of the 1984 riots to book, it is attributable more to the country’s notoriously tardy criminal justice system than string-pulling at the highest level. However, Alien Torts Statute (ATS) is a laughably one-sided device that no international law, which is based on all participants’ acceptance, can go along with. If the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, for that matter, puts something similar to ATS on its statute book, and its court summons a visiting US dignitary on a complaint that the US Army had committed genocide in that country, will Washington stomach such an insult with a beaming face? In 1987, three years after Bhopal gas tragedy, Warren Anderson, CEO of the Union Carbide chemicals factory from where gas leaks took a toll of 3,000 lives, refused to comply with the summons issued by an Indian court to appear before it. If India had its ATS, could it enable the activists still fighting for more than the token damages paid by the US to bring before court some official of Dow Chemicals, the present owner of UC? Can an aggrieved person in Baghdad get an Iraqi court to summon ex-President George W. Bush for bathing his land in human blood on the cooked up ground of possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)? Being without a rival, the US is thinking that might is right. No wonder President Obama has called Russia’s President Vladimir Putin a “jackass” at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg. The world is now realizing that Cold War had a positive side after all. (Harish Gupta is National Editor of Lokmat Group of newspapers based in Delhi)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why RSS betting on Modi ?

The rise of Narendra Modi, an outsider to Delhi, as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, which is almost certain to be announced this month, is RSS’ revenge on BJP, its prodigal son. It is precondition of healthy democracy that the incumbent party must be keen to repeat its victory but prepared to leave, if leave it must after a fair election. Similarly, the opposition party must be self-confident; it must put its own house in order and be in shape to helm the ship when required. While the Congress-led ruling UPA seems just keen to pay to Aam Aadmi to buy votes despite an economy that has gone belly-up, the BJP is facing an internal turmoil unprecedented in its 33 years’ history. Election 2014 is becoming odd-maker’s nightmare. Trouble in the BJP originates from its external obligation to RSS, which, though a “cultural organization” on paper, governed BJP, or the Jan Sangh, its earlier avatar, much like how the USSR under Lenin or Stalin had ran the world communist movement—through remote control, that is. However, though regarded as the paterfamilias of the Sangh Parivar, RSS, over the last few decades, was losing grip over BJP, its political son. Democracy was making BJP create its own stars—Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani—who shone way beyond Nagpur’s limited sky of Hindutva philosophy. While Vajpayee led a government for six years, both he and Advani became stalwarts of Lutyen’s Delhi. RSS smarted under it. The rise of Narendra Modi, an outsider to Delhi, as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, which is almost certain to be announced this month, is RSS’ revenge on BJP, its prodigal son. Modi could rise in national politics as much as he has with the support of RSS and a couple of other factors. These developments are severely impacting on BJP. The party today is a perilously divided house. It is divided between a cautious group, obviously led by the octogenarian Advani, which is of the view that, by declaring Modi as BJP’s ace up its sleeve, the party is slamming its door, forcefully and finally, on several potential allies who are “Modi negative” but “BJP positive”, like Naveen Patnaik, Jagan Reddy, Mayawati, and, who knows, Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar. The Advani groupies want NDA, and not BJP, to decide who’d lead the government. But the new RSS wants its cards to be shown without delay. The man who started the process of direct supervision was late RSS chief K. Sudarshan, who madly envied prime minister Vajpayee during the NDA regime. The present RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat installed Nitin Gadkari as the BJP chief and wanted a second term for him too. When Advani torpedoed it through what is known as Lutyen’s Establishment. The IT department swung into action and Gadkari shown the door. Bhagwat was left with no choice but steamrolled all internal opposition to Modi by making him chairman of the party’s campaign committee, which is actually the penultimate step to his being declared the party’s candidate as prime minister. This step is likely to be crossed this month, after the monsoon session of Parliament ends and Election Commission notifies the dates for assembly elections in five states. Nowadays, the party’s new brigade of Modi supporters brusquely remind followers of Advani: chadte sooraj ko salam karna seekho (learn to salute the rising sun). Modi’s stenciled face has begun appearing on walls across northern and central India, with the words: nai soch aur nai ummeed (New Vision and New Hope). It is possible that BJP, with Modi leading the charge, will end up with more seats in the next Lok Sabha than what it could with Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley or even Advani (assuming his age will permit contesting). But, so deeply etched in public memory is Modi’s image as a man of little commitment to democratic values, that it will be extremely difficult for his party to bridge the gap between its tally, and the number required to form government, unless he is able to swing votes in a big way. Whether Advani and his ardent supporters spread over in every state like it or not, Modi is a reality. He is BJP’s mascot for 2014. As Arun Jaitley aptly put it: The hand of destiny has touched Modi.” It’s a different matter that none in the BJP is able to put the number of seats party’s new mascot will be able to deliver in 2014. But is RSS bothered ? RSS is a complex organization as it has a world view entirely different from that expressed through the Constitution of India. Realizing that the rules of democracy, as set by the 1950 Constitution, could be alien to it, it allowed a party of its making, Jan Sangh first and BJP later, to pursue it independently. But now a powerful group in RSS has decided that its ideology should no longer be segregated from the political fortunes of its protégé. And no one in the BJP comes closer to RSS’ own thought process—its patriarchal views, and its inherent dislike of pluralism—than Narendra Modi. Nor could it be better timed, as UPA-2 government’s policy paralysis, bordering on helplessness, has driven popular faith in democracy to its nadir. Viewed from Nagpur, India in 2014 is a political laboratory, rather than a government to be won. It would be too happy to get back its political son who had been hijacked by Atal-Advani duo. (The author is National Editor of the Lokmat group of newspapers based in New Delhi)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why not Gold Bonds

Sub Heading: India needs to do what Roosevelt did in 1933 and bring Gold Bonds rather than India Bonds in its hunger for dollars

Behind every symptom, there is a disease. And behind disease, like, say, cardiac complications, there is a cause, which is either embedded in the DNA or picked up by choice—be it smoking, or excessive drinking and eating. The drastic fall in the price of the rupee in relation to the US dollar, as we are witnessing now, is a symptom. The disease has been diagnosed by experts as current account deficit, which is the gap between what we earn in dollars by way of goods, services and transfers, and what we pay under these heads, again by dollar. But the current account deficit, or CAD, though still high, is responding to controls. From a scary 7 per cent of the GDP last year, it is poised to settle for 4.5 per cent by March next. So what exactly is the disease?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Create 50 states

Its time to create small states and make them accountable rather than sing wrong tune of federalism 
The imminent formation of Telangana, the 29th state, and the consequent outcry for a multitude of smaller and ethnically more cohesive states, questions the inherent arbitrariness of the 1956 states’  reorganization, brought about by Jawaharlal Nehru and Govind Ballav Pant in a haste. Telangana is the remnant of the Nizamshahi, the land where the Nizam family, as titular head in the British period, could still live off the fat of the land. The Nizam rule had it injected a sense of uniqueness into the people’s mind, ahubris not ironed out by Operation Polo
But Nehru’s government got rattled by nationalist posturing in many regions of the country at that time. It thought—rightly, perhaps, with linguistic separatism rocking the erstwhile Bombay province—that sub-nationalist enthusiasm is nothing but a precursor to mob violence, and of course a political challenge to Nehru’s authority. So little attention was paid to the reservations that Chief Minister of Hyderabad state Burgula Ramakrishna Rao had expressed about the merger of Talangana with Andhra Pradesh, and Nehru went ahead with putting the two unwilling horses under the yoke just because majority population in both places spoke Telugu. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Money doesn’t matter

The RBI governor may have been a disaster during his 5 year tenure. But can he alone be blamed for the rot ?
As RBI Governor D. Subbarao unveils today the first quarterly policy review for the current financial year, one wonders if there is much for him to show. Pummelled by a precipitous fall in the value of the rupee, which touched a horrifying low of 61.20 to a dollar earlier this month, the Governor and the Union Government have embarked on something like necromancy, or what witch doctors do to make a corpse stand up.
Since last week, an asphyxiating squeeze on credit has come into effect without any change in the policy rate. Instead the central bank has put an array of quantitative restrictions on rates at which banks can access money from it. As a result, the bank-to-bank borrowing cost has shot up to more than 10 per cent, against 7 per cent a while ago. The Finance Minister has said the monetary control is temporary.  Even the Prime Minister echoed similar sentiments. But the RBI Governor is ominously silent till now. Continuation of this credit squeeze is something akin to holding the price of chicken by putting away all the birds in the coop. But controlling supply of currency has its own risks. It may hurt growth for a long time—way beyond the 2014 election where the calculation of everyone in authority tends to stop. It may be like the bad surgeon’s classic post-operation utterance: “The operation is successful but the patient is dead”.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Changing tune

Sub heading: There is no finality now either in law and  judicial pronouncements. The thumb rule is that you show me the face and I show you the rule or a ruling

Stare decisi et non quieta movere. It is a Latin legal phrase that means: Stand by decisions and do not disturb the undisturbed. It is this principle of ‘stare decisi’ that has for centuries given to the countries guided by common law, like Britain and the US, a near-unfailing predictability of outcome of cases. It became a cardinal principle in law in Britain since the 17th century, when Royal whims were cut short by a famous regicide. In the US, justice became thoroughly precedent-driven after 1800, with printed accounts of cases becoming readily available across the country. Britain had to wait a few decades more for the ‘bar libraries’ to get lined with case reports. So have we, supposedly Britain’s ardent followers in judicial practices, as we too identify the places connected with courts, including lawyers’ chambers, with the rows of hardbound spines of the ‘All India Reporter’ (AIR).
But does our judicial system respect precedents as much it should? Sadly, it is not so. Results of cases in India are a gamble, more or less. As late as 2010, the apex court decided that even though the standards of medical education are somewhat flexible in the private medical colleges, which are about as many in number as the government-run ones, the future medical doctors of the country must be all of a reasonably high cerebral quality—a demand that called for their qualifying in a nationwide entrance test for medical colleges, on the model of the joint entrance test for engineering colleges. But there was no finality is this view. Last week, the outgoing Chief Justice of India ruled, with a majority of two in a three-judge bench, that there would be no National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) across the board for MBBS, BDS and MD courses, and that the private medical colleges are free to set their own standards for admission. If it is in exchange of hefty capitation fees, as is the practice now, so be it. With all due respect to the Hon’ble court, it can be said that the judgment has put the medical education entrepreneurs’ urge for money above the ordinary citizen’s right to quality treatment, and therefore life. It is heard that a review petition from the government is in the offing, and that may lead to a judgment being overturned not once but twice. The Law Minister wants an amendment in the Medical Council of India rules to reverse the judgment.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Made in USA

Obama may be carrying idol of Lord Hanuman and admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. But he is not a friend of India
In the recent US trip of Finance Minister P Chidambaram, his third in recent months, nobody expected any downpour of American FDI to end the unrelenting drought of dollars. Still, it was expected that there would be some concrete developments on thorny bilateral economic issues, be it drug patent, or the constant niggling by President Obama about an imaginary exodus of American jobs to Bangalore.
For that matter, many in India are anxious to know how the US will respond to the growing economic crisis in India, a nation which three successive American presidents have described as an “important ally”. A foreign reserve crisis is impending. India had short-term debt amounting to US $172 billion in end-March this year, which means it has to pay that much money to creditors on or before 31 March 2014. It will knock off two-thirds of the foreign reserve as of today. The bite may be even bigger if there is a new crisis, putting us back to the 1991 situation where there were just enough greenbacks to fund 15 days’ import.  Can a part of the short-term debt, mostly owed to American financiers, be rolled over? Or what?
Instead, what took place between the articulate Indian finance minister and a phalanx of American bureaucrats and businessmen was a dialogue between the deaf and the dumb. American investors of today seem no more generous than their British indigo-planter forebears two centuries ago. They’re livid because the Indian Supreme Court has thrown out the patent claim by Novartis, a pharmaceutical MNC with its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, of Glivec, a leukaemia drug. After it had gone off patent, Novartis put the stuff in a pill and claimed it to be an innovation. The drug costs $75,000 a year in the US, and $31,000 in India. However, the court upheld Indian authorities’ decision that Novartis could not milk the drug any longer, and allowed generic drug-makers to market it—at a dream price of $2,100 a year.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Modi: The Dark Horse

Those betting on Modi, have started hedging their stakes. 
Has anything changed on the racecourse

On Narendra Modi’s engagement with  Uttarakhand flood relief operations, which has become a contentious issue, I am citing two opinions appearing recently in newspapers:
“…he (Modi) synergized resources, energized BJP workers to get going, not just for immediate relief but also long-term reconstruction work…There was genuine spirit of cooperation and teamwork. The Congress party is understandably upset because its chief minister has proved a disaster, its party machinery is in disarray, Congress Seva Dal workers are nowhere in sight, Rahul Gandhi’s Youth Brigade is clueless even in routine situations, leave alone know how to face a crisis like the Uttarakhand deluge. That is the reality of the Uttarakhand relief operation led by Narendra Modi”
-Madhu Kishwar in The Economic Times, 26 June 2013.
“In every area the Modi narrative is a tale of bluster and bluff. But his Himalayan miracle is a barefaced cynical lie”
--Abhek Barman in The Times of India, 26 June 2013. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A tough call for UPA

A tough call for UPA

A disaster is looming large and nobody is talking about it; thanks to Advani-Modi row, match-fixing, Railgate and what not
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, like all harassed finance ministers, always looks for a ‘fall guy’. His recent utterances suggest that it is RBI Governor D. Subbarao’s turn. Subbarao is firmly targeted on inflation—particularly consumer price inflation—and would not budge an inch by lowering policy rate until he sees result on the price front.

But prices have belied all hopes given periodically by government sources. After 2010, when inflation spun out of control, government spokesmen began assuring at every opportunity that the “worst is over”. Actually it was only the beginning. Perhaps to convince the RBI Governor, a stickler for monetary discipline, some tentative measures were taken to bring down WPI inflation under five per cent, but the retail inflation raged 9.39 per cent in May, with food inflation at a dizzy 10.65 per cent. In the mid-year policy statement last week, Subbarao was naturally not amused.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Front for Disaster

India, like any other nation, can only be ruled from its center, not the periphery. In 2014, it will be either UPA-3 or NDA-2. Every other speculation is wild imagination laced with wishful thinking

Now that we are into the final year of UPA-2, political soothsayers cannot have a day off. Yet the business has got messy. Their usual two-option game, with heads for UPA and tails for NDA, has taken a tricky turn this time round for two reasons. Congress, which is the fulcrum of the UPA coalition, is stressed after two terms and its partners, having sensed it, are leaving. But NDA, the flipside of the betting coin, is also heavily corroded. BJP’s projection of Narendra Modi, its trump card no doubt but too tough a cookie nevertheless, has left NDA co-members and potential supporters jumping in their skin. Even if BJP gets the numbers, if it insists on being led by Modi, it will be difficult for it to gather enough friendly shoulders to lift it to government.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Finally, Modi has arrived

The apprehension about Modi originates from the notion that he is bent upon changing the content of India’s politics, not merely its form.

Narendra Modi’s almost certain emergence as BJP’s leading figure in the next parliamentary poll—whenever it happens, next year or later this year—is a reminder of a past and significant chapter in India’s political history. It is the rise of Indira Gandhi as a populist leader, triggered by her splitting the venerable Congress party in 1969. The Congress was never the same again. The foreboding from Modi’s selection as chairman of his party’s campaign committee, and almost overnight marginalization of its established hierarchy, is that the BJP is at a historic cross-roads, like Congress in 1969. Maybe there will be a new BJP now, something like BJP (Modi), just as the new Congress, and the one that mattered in future, carried the sobriquet of Congress (Indira). About BJP’s Goa conclave. the metaphor that comes to my mind is drawn from our national epic, the Mahabharat. It is the Udyog Parva, putting Modi in the leadership position of his side. It is “prelude to the war”, as in the epic. On the winning side, there were many who were pacifists, Fabians, fence sitters, or in secret league with the enemy. Likewise, Modi too has too many dissenters.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

'All is well now'

What happened in fixing & betting ridden game of cricket- where all interest group ganged up against Sharad Pawar, may happen in 2014. Times have changed !
It is nobody’s case that BCCI’s “stepped aside” president N. Srinivasan—a man of questionable morals and monumental ego—deserved being treated with respect at the Board’s working committee meeting on Sunday. Particularly so as reports of unprecedented corruption through IPL matches “fixed” between betting bookies and cricketers acquired an ominous edge, with Srinivasan’s son-in-law, under detention until Sunday, allegedly being the chief link between the dishonest bettors and the players willing to be corrupted. While the father-in-law controls the company that owns an IPL team—itself betraying a glaring conflict of interest—the son-in-law was its boss. It is nothing short of a miracle that the tainted BCCI president has got a reprieve by simply stepping aside, and not fired.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Autonomous CBI ! My foot

In outlining the path to make the CBI autonomous, in accordance with the Supreme Court judgment in Vineet Narain case, and the recent judicial reprimand of the government for making the agency “a caged parrot with many masters”, the empowered Group of Ministers (GoM) must do tightrope walking—but walk it must.
It has moved very little so far since a Bench led by the late Justice J. S. Verma drew in the 1990’s a roadmap to keep CBI insulated from political interference. The CBI directors get two years fixed tenure; report to CVC for overseeing and certain cosmetic changes. But since then, corruption in public life has acquired gigantic proportions. From highway, it has spilled into every alleyway. But CBI, which flaunts the motto of “Industry, Impartiality, Integrity”, has shown huge deficit on all the three counts.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Left Foot and the Right Foot

So, what is the shindig really about? Well, we’re talking about the nine-year-old wonder, the diarchy that rules India, between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Wait a second. Is the country really being ruled “between” them? Is it like the once-popular sitar and sarod duet, the “jugalbandi”, with both calling the tune, literally? Or is it an unequal music, the typical Indian solo recital, in which the percussionist or the veen follow  the lead player, unless in very rare cases. Between Sonia and Manmohan, who has the edge? The jury is out, but it is no doubt a ticklish issue in political management of a nation of 1.2 billion people.

Ever since Sonia positioned the every-inch un-politician-like Manmohan Singh onto the Prime Minister’s seat—herself being in a corner from where she could drive the government from the back seat—there has been endless speculation on whether the system would work. And yet it has worked, completing nine years on this very day.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SC blow to CAG

In a virtual reversal of its earlier judgments, the apex court gave a jolt to CAG Vinod Rai by rejecting his Rs one lakh crore “national loss” philosophy in the Cairn-Vedanta deal. The judgment largely went unreported in the National Media and TV channels 

The problem with moral crusade against corruption is that it makes some of the crusaders blind to the legal nuances of the evils they are fighting. Too ready to cry “off with their heads”, they have little patience to hear the defense argument, or to double-check the prosecution’s logic. Finally, it is left to a constitutional authority, like the Supreme Court, to put a brake on the crusaders’ zeal.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

UP is crime Capital of India not Delhi

Don’t cross Delhi Border and set shop in UP. Criminal gangs with full protection of political masters are reaping the harvest in police uniform.
The depth to which a state can descend under gangsters’ rule is best evident in Uttar Pradesh, where crime is everyday occupation of a good many people, and punishment, if any, is merely subject to the criminal’s political connections. With a party of criminals, now in power, extortionists and kidnap gangs spare none, and the police often are a party in the loot. Throughout the state, the criminal law has become a dead letter.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Politician & ponzi schemes

Why SEBI did not act tough against Ponzi schemes in West Bengal when it was going after a corporate house in UP, is a mystery. Politician is ultimate beneficiary of these unaccountable flow of thousands of crores
In the public agitation over the recent Saradha ‘chit fund’ scam, a key fact that is being overlooked is that it is a political crime after all, not just a financial swindle. Sudipto Sen, the mastermind of the Ponzi scheme that went bust, might have had started his operations as early as 2006, when the CPM-led Left Front was in power in West Bengal. But its final term, 2006-11, was the wobbliest in its career, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress being the ‘rising force’ of the day. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A shameless police & citizenry

Public apathy to individual misery is dangerously rising. And if police jobs are auctioned, which is indeed the gruesome reality of India, it is time that policemen are written off as guardians of public safety As one French diplomat said, a country gets the government it deserves, yet another French scholar commented that a society gets the criminals it deserves. Both are correct. The poignancy of the latter, in particular, is evident from the spate of brutal attacks on women and children, unparalleled in barbarity, that is unfolding now, and the business-as-usual fashion in which these incidents are being treated by all the concerned parties—particularly police, politicians and witnesses. It seems that our fellow Indians, far from being rattled by so much inherent cruelty and violence in the society, is busy devising ways for turning it into opportunity—a TV opportunity for the politician, an occasion for the cop to show his "effectiveness" by shooing off the protesters with kicks and blows, and the moment for the witness to look the other way as though his neck is sculpted from stone.

I can't help resorting to the cliché that there is a conspiracy of silence, one which is guaranteed for the safety of the violent psychopaths on the loose. In the process, it is lowering the cost of crime against women and children, and giving the country a permanent stigma for being unsafe to live in. It is worse than the reputation of being dangerous for terrorism or foreign aggression, like living in Syria or Afghanistan.
A test case is the recent Delhi incident of a five-year-old's captivity for two days, in course of which the girl child was not only serially raped but, in a bout of depravity that calls for cure in eternal hellfire, a plastic bottle and some candlesticks were inserted into her genitals. Apparently the little girl was playing somewhere around her house when the very devil, the tenant on the ground floor named Manoj in this case, called her inside his room, and nobody knew what happened in the next 72 hours. Long after the beast had fled, locking his room, that the child's relatives heard a groan from there. They broke open the door and found the child lying in a pool of blood, barely alive. When her father approached the local police, the officer offered him two thousand rupees and ordered him to thank his lucky stars for having got his child back, and get lost. When some protesters gathered near the hospital, a policeman was seen punching an agitator, thus adding a new element to the plot, that of police apathy and culture.

The question that comes first to mind is, what were the child's relatives doing in the 72 hours of her kidnap? Were the police informed? If so, how much effort did the men in uniform make to trace the missing child? One need not be a Sherlock Holmes to guess that the police investigation ought to have begun from a place no other than the child's residence, and, if a room was seen locked, the first thing the police would have done was to knock it down with a practiced shoulder blow and thereafter save the child and handcuff the criminal. It seems nothing of that sort happened and it is doubtful if the police would have taken even the preliminary measure to trace the child until the news hit the television news channels, and that got the police their goat for having to face the unpleasant task of facing questions from equally nonchalant superiors. The political parties, on the other hand, were playing their own games. Shiela Dixit wanting control over Delhi Police and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde asking for a report. The young women protesters who were roughed up badly by cops were meat for the 24X7 and forgot the story after the ACP was suspended. The sequence of failures/apathy relating to this incident is as follows: (a) When Manoj, the dangerous child molester, was let in as tenant, the landlord never kept the police informed, as it was his duty under the law, (b) the victim's parents were obviously not careful about their child's security, particularly in a city notorious for its crimes against women and children, (c) the police have no system of regular patrolling of areas within their beat; if they had, they'd have got the news of a child missing long before the complaint arrived, (d) police are interested in extortion, not service, and (e) the public are ready to shout as long as there is an OB van in sight, (f) a scared government offers all help to the victim and her family after the gory incident with VIPs lining up at the hospital and her home but nobody has thought about an NGO, or an effective organization, to help trace missing children.

Public apathy to individual misery is dangerously rising. In Aligarh, a woman is gang raped and when women protest, the police batter them with canes. In Nagpur, a girl is targeted by molesters, and when her friend comes forward to protect her, their forceful ire leaves him dead on the street; others pass by without any show of sympathy or offer to help. In Jaipur, in a traffic accident in a tunnel, a woman dies on the spot and two others are gravely injured, but not a soul comes forward to help. In fact, this is the n

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Penitence in Public Life

Emperor Asoka is one of the biggest achievers in ancient India. He carried Buddhism from a local faith to that of being a global religion. But his other big achievement was in abjuring violence in a dramatic manner and accepting peace. He got this story told to the posterity in powerful language in his edicts that say a lot about the mayhem he had himself caused in Kalinga, and his thoughts thereafter. The longest among the edicts reads: “150,000 persons were thence carried away captive, 100,000 were there slain, and many times that number died”. His penitence followed. “Directly after the annexation of the Kalingas began His Sacred Majesty’s remorse for having conquered the Kalingas, because the conquest of a country previously unconquered involves the slaughter, death, and carrying away captive of the people.

Harish GuptaAfter annexing Kalingas in the 3rd century BC, King Ashoka understood the virtue of penitence in public life. Why leaders do not understand it today
That is a matter of profound sorrow and regret to His Sacred Majesty”. It is doubtful if history would have remembered Asoka for his conquests alone. But since the discovery of his edicts and coins by 19th century British civilians in India, he captured the imagination of Indians as a king who not only felt remorse for his past wildness but could turn his repentance into an ideology which traveled far and wide.

His story acquires relevance in today’ context, against the background of the travails of Narendra Modi, a leader whose governance talents and iron will undoubtedly makes him a deserving candidate for the post of prime minister. Yet he is in a limbo because he has not thought it necessary to show any remorse whatsoever for the horrendous 2002 riots in Gujarat under his charge. True nothing has been proved so far to implicate him personally in the communal holocaust killing 1,200 people, mostly Muslims. Nevertheless, one of his ministers, a woman,  has been sentenced with prison term; another is facing trial; and the allegation that the police took too long to appear on the scene is an accepted fact. Maybe much of the violence had happened without Modi’s knowledge, as mob fury has its own dynamics, but he still remains morally accountable as the state was under his charge and it was his remit to maintain public order.

With Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose JD(U) is a coalition partner of Modi’s BJP, absolutely unwilling to accept Modi as the alliance NDA’s candidate as prime minister for the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, what has come into focus is the importance of penitence in public life. The value of atonement is not merely derived from the Bible, or the life of Asoka. If Modi had in all these eleven years made a single public gesture to express grief for his administration’s failure to prevent the riots, the atmosphere would have been different altogether for him. Instead he issued a half-hearted apologia before the assembly elections last year, with no mention of what was it about. A heartfelt “sorry” for the 2002 massacre would have erased many bitter memories from public mind of his own vitriolic utterances, including his citing, at the height of the violence, Newton’s law of motion about each action drawing an “equal and opposite reaction”.

One understands why it is so difficult for Nitish to accept Modi as NDA’s candidate for the post of prime minister and yet remain in the coalition. Far from its being a refusal born out of jealousy, it is an expression of helplessness. Bihar’s capital, Patna, is the place from where Emperor Asoka ruled over a vast empire in the 3rd century BC. In today’s Bihar, Muslims are 17 per cent of the population and are a community known to vote en bloc. Despite protestations to the contrary by Modi’s influential advocates in the media and elsewhere, the fact remains that Muslims have not pardoned him after 2002, not to speak of voting for him or his party. It is no wonder that he does not field a single Muslim candidate in the state’s assembly elections. It doesn’t matter as Gujarat has just 7 per cent Muslim population; they are scattered, and are too timid to matter electorally. But Nitish presides over a broad alliance of Muslims, a section of OBCs and dalits. In 2005, he managed to show the door to Laloo Yadav and his RJD precisely because Muslims as a community had switched sides. There could be other reasons too that had led to the ouster of Laloo Yadav, but getting Muslims over to his side was Nitish’s trump card. And now the BJP is cajoling him to give up his hard won constituency by riding the Modi bandwagon.

The 2002 Gujarat riots may be an old story but it has an unending recall value, somewhat like Stalin’s gulags, Hitler’s pogrom, or, looking closer to our times, the three-day-long massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and some other places in early November 1984, following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh bodyguards. Its long shelf life in public memory is evident from the allegation against former Congress minister Jagdish Tytler that he played a key role in the riots near a Gurdwara in the capital leading to the death of three persons. Like Modi, Tytler never publicly regretted his role. He is of course not a gifted leader like Modi but he has the same arrogance of power, which people would neither forgive nor forget. The day last week when a Sessions Court ordered reopening of the investigation against him, 29 years after the incident, there were sizeable crowds of ’84 riot victims and their relatives who had assembled outside the court to demand his fair trial. Modi’s plight is on a larger scale. He is unlikely to get powerful allies in states with 15+ per cent Muslim population, like Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Kerala. These states account for 36 per cent of total seats in the lower house.

Asoka had ruled two millennia before modern democratic states came into being, but he understood the virtue of penitence in public life, and that of moderating one’s pride of power with a credible concern for the welfare of every section of the populace. It is a pity that Modi has not cared to understand the message of Asoka’s edicts. Maybe India will be the loser, for it genuinely needs the leadership of an “iron man”, or perhaps an “iron gentleman”.

(The author is the National Editor of Lokmat group)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sonia & The Economist

Of course corruption cases are rising and it is affecting the people's morale. But the state governments of BJP, including Gujarat under Modi, do not have saintly record on corruption, nor have they been able to derive. Harish Gupta The Economist is read with enjoyment and pride in many educated homes of the world, including the developing countries. It is liked for its dry wit and it provokes the intellect for its liberal views. But, above all, it is regarded as bellwether for Western (read American) view of happenings around the world. Half the circulation of the 170-year-old British publication is in the US, and unlike Fox TV and such other ham-fisted publicists of the American official view, The Economist is nonpareil in its subtlety.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Sonia-Singh Chemistry

I very well remember that hot afternoon in May 2004 when I, and most my professional colleagues, were contemplating the opening line to the story about what seemed to be the big news of the day. It was the impending swearing in of India’s first foreign-origin prime minister, Sonia Gandhi. The assembled scribes were about to leave the Akbar Road headquarters of the AICC adjacent to 10, Janpath, the residence of Mrs Gandhi. And then the penny dropped. It was later in the same evening that her "inner voice" spoke through the microphone. The rest is history.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Decoding Rahul Gandhi

With the 2014 general elections inching closer, there is little doubt that the Congress will choose vice president Rahul Gandhi as its general, just as BJP is almost certain to accept Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. Though India follows the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, its election for the Central Government has acquired, over the decades, a strong ‘presidential’ character comparable to the US, the only, and crucial, difference being that India has inner-party democracy only in name, and the choice of candidate depends upon considerations that are anything but rational. Modi is therefore being lauded by his panegyrists much like a medieval emperor was heralded in his court. With Rahul, however, there is a difference. Though Congress party has no lack of trumpeters of the Nehru-Gandhis, the paean for Rahul is somewhat muted in comparison to that of Modi. It is because Rahul has a political record which is somewhat uninspiring, if at all, and the incumbent Congress party is currently buffeted by the twin hurricanes of disastrous governance, high food inflation and a rising stench of corruption.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Two Budgets: Price of populism

Between UPA’s two finance ministers, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram, one feels sorry in equal measure. Mukherjee had moved into the North Block office at an inopportune time, when the flow of money had dried up worldwide, including India, and, undeterred by the economic realities, his party’s dominant philosophy continued to be to “buy out” the poor. It actually meant showering cash on those who could herd them into the polling booth. The pressure of his job compelled him to increase in the last year of his tenure the total non-Plan revenue expenditure by 12.29 per cent, despite a raging inflation and runaway fiscal deficit. His subsequent short journey to the nearby Rashtrapati Bhavan was more a lifeboat from a burning ship than being “kicked upstairs”, as The Economist magazine somewhat unkindly commented.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The battle of Brands: Rahul and Modi

Facebook, Twitter and e-mails may facilitate the choice but they are no substitute for a thinking leader. ‘Rahul the leader’ should take priority over ‘Brand Rahul’. 
Harish Gupta

If the upcoming battle between Brand Modi and Brand Rahul is nothing but a marketing joust, it may be safely argued that the former enjoys a decided edge over the latter. Between BJP strongman Narendra Modi and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, twenty years his junior, Modi is ahead of his rival in most matters—political experience, non-incumbency of his party, perceived leadership quality, proven track record, and, last but not the least, a huge following in the social networking media. The Gujarat Chief Minister rides the cyberspace like a colossus. Thousands  ofHindutva enthusiasts, in India or abroad, generally owing their loyalty to Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the RSS, work overtime to keep the flag of Modi flying along the internet highway. Last August, when his chat session was broadcast live on YouTube, there were over a lakh questions storming in. The Google+ platform had crashed under the weight of traffic.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Perform or Perish

The complexion of political game has changed all of a sudden. Though there was hardly any doubt that Narendra Modi will emerge victorious. But despite losing votes and seats he is sounding desperate to be named the prime-ministerial candidate by a BJP and unconcerned about the entire bunch of allies. This is in contrast with a young and reluctant not so impressive Rahul Gandhi who has virtually denounced power- saying that his mother calls it poison. There are those who want that 2014 should be a Modi versus Rahul battle, and those who virtually despise it as a no-contest. But one thing is clear, whereas Rahul had his own party men in tears (for the sake of loyalty) after an emotional Jaipur acceptance speech, Modi is yet to take the party along and banking on outside support of students’ (SRCC, Delhi University), diplomatic (EU) and  Corporates fraternity and even TV channels and social media campaign to buttress his claim to power in Delhi.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Barbarians at the gate

Sub heading: The Congress under Rahul Gandhi must end the mistake of “outsourcing” to regional and caste-determined parties in such large states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. BJP also say enough is enough to these fringe parties

Ashish Nandy, the psychologist and social anthropologist, said at the Jaipur Literary Festival that  dalits, despite many decades of affirmative action, were still lagging so far behind others that they now seek to equalize through controversial means, including corruption. In Tamil Nadu, film star and director Kamal Hasaan is seeking release of his film Vishwaroopam which is a spy thriller in which the “evil” could be someone like Taliban boss Mullah Omar. In Kolkata, the ‘cultural capital’ of India (only Bengalis know why is it called so), novelist Salman Rushdie had plans to attend the annual book festival now on.
All the three men knew not what they’d soon be up against. Nandy, a life-long supporter of affirmative action against caste discrimination, was accused of vilifying dalit by a phalanx of SC/ST politicians led by Mayawati. Buckling under pressure, the Congress government of Rajasthan got the police in Jaipur to file an FIR against Nandy who had to rush to the Supreme Court to secure a stay order against detention. Hasaan’s film could not be released on the scheduled date because 24 Muslim groups had warned Chief Minister Jayalalitha against its screening, which, according to them, would outrage their community’s sentiments to the extent that there might be street protests. Jayalalitha obligingly got some collector to ban the screening. Hasaan went to the Madras High Court where a single bench threw away the ban order but soon a two-judge bench overturned the previous order and restored the ban. The matter is now being “amicably settled” .

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Can Rajnath deliver

The surprise elimination of Nitin Gadkari from BJP’s presidential sweepstake, and the unanimous choice of Rajnath Singh, former party chief and a has-been, have the touch of a television serial hurrying to end because the producer is broke. To add a touch of Inspector Clouseaeu into the plot’s climax, a field investigation by the Income Tax Department on the alleged financial misconduct of the Purti Group founded by Gadkari commenced on the same day. If it were a shoddy screenplay, equally incongruous were the characters in it. Rajnath could be nobody’s choice—neither Arun Jaitley nor the veteran L. K. Advani. At best, he was the second choice of RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat. In fact Bhagwat was Gadkari’s savior and benefactor whenever he got into trouble, and that was all too often. But he had to go as the taxmen, who report to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, knocked at his door in the nick of time to put a red flag on his choice as president for another term, as Bhagwat had wanted.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

3G violations by Telcos cost dearly

Eye-brows have been raised as to how eight major telecom companies are operating 3G services in 33 circles with impunity without permission or giving any charges.

This is despite the fact that some of these companies have got  no relief from the courts or even appellate tribunals. The  Department of Telecom (DoT), for the record, has an answer “Show Cause Notices to telecom companies who are in violation of  license conditions are under the consideration.”

But these have been under the consideration for a long time. The list of these powerful companies may give a clue as to why there is a delay in acting by the DoT. They are Vodafone Easar South, Vodafone Eassar Spacetel Ltd.,  Idea Cellular Aditya Birla Telecom Limited, Aircel Limited & Bharti Airtel Limited,  Dishnet Wirless Ltd and Spice Communications Ltd. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Will Rahul win the 2014 Race ?

The Congress is also better equipped than BJP to mobilize its voters on the day of election. Modi can still come to power in Delhi, but, for that, there has to be a tsunami of anti-Congress sentiments. It seemed possible in most of 2012. Now it doesn’t.