Monday, October 27, 2008

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 27, 2008

WE ARE headed for what undoubtedly is a winter of discontent. India is still groping in the dark about the true impact of the global meltdown; the markets have tanked to their lowest in years; inflation eased a bit last week but still not enough to raise cheers; Diwali has no good news for buyers or sellers alike, but with Parliament in session, the fireworks are not missed.

With the country on the boil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should have been at home tackling pressing problems. I was thus more than a bit baffled at his fiveday visit to Japan and China. That he chose to skip the brief Parliament session and the candidate selection process for the assembly elections makes one thing amply clear: he considers business and diplomacy more important than politics. I am told the dates for this latest round of diplomacy were fixed barely two weeks ago, just after the N- deal was finally signed and delivered. So, from one diplomatic front to another.

When we landed in Tokyo it was quite evident that the visit had been planned for its economic and political impact back home. He was able to extract an additional $ 1 billion in aid, over 70 per cent of which will go to the Congress- ruled Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, controlled by ally DMK. He was also able to wrangle a $ 4 billion loan for the 1,483 km Dedicated Freight Corridor between Delhi and Mumbai. Though Japanese officials were unwilling to conclude a more comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, the corridor was something that caught the eye of Japan’s businessman turned PM Taro Aso who sees big bucks in it for Japanese businessmen, since about 30 per cent of the money will flow back into their coffers. The icing was another agreement for an industrial corridor on the same route involving investment between $ 20 and $ 30 billion.

For Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, this was the most rewarding project to push for which he even got Mukesh Ambani to Tokyo. The Reliance boss deployed a combination of clout and charm and got Jap businessmen to sign another $ 100 million for conducting a feasibility report for the proposed Delhi- Mumbai corridor. Nath also made sure the nodal authority for the implementation of the projects will function under his ministry.

The bureaucratic grapevine has it that the minister’s brainwave is aimed at helping several friends who fell on bad days after the SEZ scheme ran into trouble. And the man who could be the next chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, if the Congress manages to beat the odds and the BJP in next month’s Early of discontent Nath hits ‘ Jap- pot’ elections, made sure the spotlight was not deflected from him.

He made sure that chief ministers of six states through which the corridor is to pass were as far away from Tokyo as possible. The brief two- day trip to Beijing was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second to China in less than a year, aimed less at letting the Chinese know that India was in a forgive and forget mood over Beijing’s sleight of hand over the N- deal and more to drown their collective financial sorrows with 45 leaders from Asia and Europe. After a peaceful, hassle- free week abroad, it’s back home to face the reality — of what it will take to put the pieces back together so the Congress has an outside chance of a shot at power in a few months time.

Snippets / Mail Today, October 27, 2008

IT’S BECOMING difficult of late to find anyone who has a good word for the incumbent Reserve Bank of India ( RBI) Governor. All previous governors, including the current Prime Minister, have pursued pragmatic monetary policies, always keeping in mind the political colour of the government at the Centre. But Dr M Subba Rao seems to have converted the RBI into an extension counter of the Finance Ministry.

He is seen as a follower of P Chidambaram. Rao was earlier finance secretary, so there is a perception that he was personally chosen by Chidambaram and doesn't act until he gets to know what’s on the minister’s mind. Even during the current financial turmoil, many find his delayed initiatives inexplicable. Those alas turned out to be too little and too late. Finance Minister Chidambaram has always refrained from interfering, but Dr Do- Little Rao is causing sleepless nights to those who had initially reposed confidence in him.

War within the EC
SADLY, while the Election Commission of India, which has even provided its expertise to conduct elections in other countries, is an institution we can be proud of, its top officials are involved in unseemly fratricide that we should be ashamed of. If the personal relationship among the three Commissioners including the Chief Election Commissioner is any indication, I can only deduce that the Commission is running at the mercy of God Almighty. CEC N Gopalswamy and Election Commissioners Naveen Chawla and MY Quereshi, all three from the IAS biradari, hardly communicate with each other directly.

They let their deputy commissioners or the official files do the talking. And it is this lack of any form of communication that led to the dates for the Jammu and Kashmir elections being delayed. This may have something to do with the fact that the commissioners have bid goodbye to the past practice of dividing work and states amongst themselves. This has led to piquant situations of all three commissioners often traveling to a particular place simultaneously, putting additional financial burden not only on the host government but also the Centre. Did someone say cost cutting?

IT WASN’T a serene Delhi that Manmohan Singh returned to on Saturday night. Equations within the UPA have become so precarious that there is not a single alliance partner who may not be thinking of reevaluating its continuance in the fold. The problems lie not just within the Congress but with the allies which are increasingly seen to be distancing themselves from the party on a variety of issues.

Thanks to a belligerent bunch of powerful ministers and party supremos, the UPA’s image is in tatters. DMK MPs have submitted their resignation to Karunanidhi protesting against the government’s inaction in Sri Lanka. Sharad Pawar turns a blind eye to Raj Thackeray’s antics in Mumbai because it suits him electorally prompting Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan to target their ire on the Congress- NCP coalition government in Maharashtra. New found friends from the Samajwadi Party never lose an opportunity to attack the Congress; even the lone Muslim Leaguer has gathered courage to criticise the government because he needs to win the coming polls from his Muslim majority constituency in Kerala. All of this raises the question: In the rare event of these parties sticking together, how would they go around seeking another mandate in the name of the leader and the government which they are attacking from dawn till dusk? My reading is they will and they have found a way. Lalu, Pawar, Karunanidhi will praise Manmohan and seek votes in the name of his leadership and blame all ills on a handful of Congress Cabinet ministers and the party’s chief ministers. At the end of the counting day, if they can all cobble up a working majority, the mudslinging of the past will be quickly forgotten and everything will be hunky dory in the Cabinet once again. Ideology be damned.

Watt a high voltage team on the PM’s plane
THE SUCCESS or otherwise of a prime minister depends to a large extent on his A- team. And Manmohan could not have hoped for a better one. There was proof of this during the tour which was choreographed and directed by two men. They are fondly known as Kutti and Kuki. To the uninitiated, Kutti is T K Nair, the PM’s principal secretary and Kuki is Shiv Shankar Menon, the foreign secretary. In the absence of the all powerful National Security Advisor M K Narayanan who along with the two makes up the high voltage Mallu troika in South Block, Kutti and Kuki had their roles cut out. As we lifted off from Delhi for Tokyo, Kutti and Kuki dropped by in the plane’s media section for a background briefing about the five days that lay ahead. This came as something of a surprise. The nature of Kuki’s job in the Foreign Office implies that he interacts with the media on occasions big and small but Kutti is known to be a recluse whose interactions with the public are mostly limited to temple festivals and art exhibition inaugurations. But throughout the trip, it was the low profile Kutti who took all questions relating to business, commerce and financial issues while Kuki dealt with the diplomacy part with the usual aplomb. Again, it was Kutti who was by the side of the Prime Minister as he met with corporate honchos from both Japan and India. I suppose it takes a special type of DNA to deal with business leaders who are more bothered about bottom lines. While the top corporate leaders were assessing the possible returns on every hour spent in the Japanese capital, the inseparable twins of the UPA establishment from Kerala were ensuring that their boss got the maximum returns on his investment. If the headlines back home are any indication, the prime minister should toast them with something stronger than mineral water.

Seedhi Baat / October 26, 2008

I am a package deal - Himesh

Singer-turned-actor Himesh Reshammiya says on Seedhi Baat that he has not done nasal singing in his latest movie Karzzzz.

watch video: part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; and part 5

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Seedhi Baath / Aajtak, October 19, 2008

'Age is not an issue for Delhi polls'

BJP leader V. K. Malhotra and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit says on Seedhi Baat that it is governance and not their age that people will vote for.

'Parties must unite to fight terror'
Political parties must stop the blame game and the entire nation must come together to counter terrorism
-Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit
Watch video: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6

Monday, October 20, 2008

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 20, 2008

POLITICIANS beware. There is one amongst you who is on the prowl. The numbers game may not have added up last July for Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to make the short hop from Maulana Azad Road to Raisina Hill but you’d be mistaken if you think that after losing the presidential elections, he is sitting back and biding his time. For one who is all of 88 and fighting debilitating illnesses, he has been remarkably active and, if reports are to be believed, his pet project now is a campaign to fight, what else, corruption in public life. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a more suitable candidate to lead such a campaign.

Shekhawat has been in active politics for nearly six- and- a- half decades, is the senior- most leader in the BJP after Atal Bihari Vajpayee and commands cross- party respect for his unblemished record in public office, during his three terms as chief minister of Rajasthan and as the country’s Vice President. Gruelling as it must have been for him, Shekhawat recently undertook a tour of 13 of Rajasthan’s 33 districts where he addressed well- attended public meetings.

The gravamen of his speeches at all fora was: yes, the economy is bad, internal security situation in worse, but corruption is the biggest evil facing the country. Of late, Shekhawat’s Aurangazeb Road residence has been a hub of activity with civil servants, both serving and retired, senior members of the judiciary, retired police and intelligence officers dropping by armed with files relating to corruption in high places. A group of retired Revenue Department and Intelligence Bureau officials who have worked with him during his stints in Jaipur and Delhi and share his passion to fight corruption assist him in going through the voluminous documents. Their job is to use their expertise to prepare foolproof chargesheets which could effectively be the launching pads for target- specific campaigns.

At least a dozen chief ministers, including some from his own party, union ministers, heads of public sector undertakings, corporate honchos as well as some of the senior- most leaders of several parties, including the BJP, are under the scanner. The man is so unbiased I understand among his targets is a minister in a northern state who happens to be a close relative. If and when he launches his “ crusade”, Shekhawat could damage the prospects of many high profile wannabes not to speak of at least two chief ministers, one from the Congress and other from the BJP. The files against the two are said to be so damaging that the best of The in winter Shekhawat: Ready lawyers may squirm at a quick perusal. And therein lies his dilemma, which he recently shared with the few remaining in his dwindling peer group: Should he go ahead and do something that could damage the party that he has served for decades or should he opt for the larger good of the country? Whenever at the crossroads in the past, Shekhawat has chosen the right path, even when it was the more difficult one. I have no doubt he will do the same again. Are we about to see another JP?

Snippets / Mail Today, October 20, 2008

Maya and Sonia head for a big political brawl

THIS is a battle royale that will have the whole country engrossed soon. Both Mayawati and Sonia Gandhi are approaching the impending Lok Sabha elections on the premise that “ if I can’t become the prime minister, I will make sure you don’t”. Mayawati is convinced that unless her BSP contains Sonia and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and wins at least 40 seats, she will have nothing except a minimal role to play in national politics. So she has chosen the strategy and targets very carefully and, mark my words, it’s going to be a nasty fight to the finish. The theme her advisors have chosen is “ The Gandhi parivar is all about vinaash, not vikas ”. She has already compiled data about Rae Bareli and Amethi which show that despite being represented in Parliament by the most powerful political family in the country for over four decades, the two constituencies remain among the most backward in the country. She sees these constituencies as mere dharamshalas where the Gandhis come for overnight stay in government guest houses that have been refurbished like palaces. According to Mayawati, the number of closed factories, schools and hospitals is proof the Gandhis are not ready to put their money where their mouths are.
She will attack the Congress leadership for spending public money on airstrips, guest houses and other facilities for their personal use and also seek details about their MPLAD funds. Mayawati has already charged Sonia with ignoring the rest of UP and will soon release details about visits made by the mother- son duo to their constituencies to the near exclusion of the rest of the state. Finally, Mayawati is readying two of the most powerful of her caste leaders to take on Sonia and Rahul. It’s a battle that will leave egos bruised.

SACHAR Committee, scholarships, madarsa modernisation. The government hasn’t stopped short to show its concern for minorities ( read get their votes). Now, the Congress faces the wrath of its Muslim leaders. Seniors led by Mohsina Kidwai called on Sonia Gandhi to demand a judicial probe into the Jamia encounter, questioning its authenticity. Muslim Congress leaders forming a Muslim delegation to take up a Muslim cause. Is this pre- poll posturing or a tactical change? I suspect it is communal bonding, in which case the Congress has reasons to worry. As Mohammed Ali Jinnah would have said, “ There is a party emerging within the Congress and that is the Congress Muslims”.

IN OUR parliamentary system of governance , the Prime Minister is seen as the first among equals, but with the government in choppy waters, it is open season. Collective responsibility has become a casualty and union ministers, perhaps taking advantage of the PM’s genial nature, are indulging in fratricide. In the old order, a Cabinet meeting was a meeting of minds and the notion of collective responsibility was taken seriously and little of what transpired leaked out. Now ministers go for each other’s jugular, then come out and criticise policy matters, take sides in corporate affairs, in public. The turmoil in the aviation sector is the latest example. Tobacco baron Praful Patel got more than he bargained for when he blamed Petroleum Minister Murli Deora for not lowering the prices of aviation fuel after internal crude prices fell by half. Deora hit back by releasing details of the thousands of crores that private airlines owed the oil companies.
Their fight is not new, since Deora is a staunch Sonia loyalist while Patel is still seen as a suspect since he is a follower of Sharad Pawar who is close to Jet Airways’ Naresh Goyal and Vijay Mallya of Kingfisher. Mallya was even coopted as an office bearer in the Cricket Board by Pawar.
The Kamal Nath- Chidambaram feud is as old as the UPA Government and each has more than once attacked the other, even complained in writing to the PM. Shivraj Patil’s views on homosexuality almost echo that of a Catholic priest while Anbumani Ramadoss who turns insomniac without his daily quota of controversy went around mocking the home minister until Manmohan finally intervened. Maybe all this has something to do with this government in which the Prime Minister is not seen as a first among equals.

UPA is on daily wages

LAST week, I raised doubts about the durability of the Parliament session which started on Friday. I wasn’t then aware that even the PM will be giving the session a long skip. Tomorrow and again in the second week of November, Manmohan Singh will take off on official visits abroad. That leaves me wondering if the government is serious about taking up any legislative business during this session, except getting the supplement demands for grants passed. Normally, with the market meltdown and rising communal violence, the Opposition would have loved to put the government on the mat, but they would rather go out and campaign in the states where elections have been announced. Yet, the Opposition wants the government to make a firm commitment about the winter session.

The government is in a bind. With the DMK acting like the enemy within, it is not sure of a majority and could well face a defeat if a no- confidence motion is moved. But if the government adjourns the House abruptly, then it will have to convene Parliament again unless it recommends the dissolution of the House to ring in a general election which could be scheduled in February and March. Talk of weak governments – the UPA is living on daily wages.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, October12, 2008

'I am doing what leaders haven't'

Baba Ramdev says on Seedhi Baat that political leadership of the country has failed to do enough to fight terrorism, corruption and pollution.

watch video: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 13, 2008

IN THEORY, the general elections are still seven months away. In practice, it could be a lot closer. That is why as the 14th Lok Sabha assembles after a rather long break this week, speculation mounts whether the House will meet for the full four weeks as scheduled; and more crucially, whether this will be its last session? But such questions, instead of throwing answers, trigger more questions. Has the Congress, for example, decided to go in for early elections ignoring the views of its allies? If so, is it because the party is confident that early elections will yield better results? Only Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have a clue about all this, and they won’t tell. But if this is destined to be the last session of this House, I am certain it will not go on till November 21 as scheduled because I have reason to believe that the Opposition will not allow the session to continue even for a week. This could put the government in a bit of a tight spot.

With its majority in doubt after the expulsions of many cross voters on the nuclear deal debate, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may not want sleaze tainting his government in another trial of strength. So he is more likely to seek a vote on account and get the House to approve supplementary demands involving additional expenditure of about Rs 1,00,000 crore and then dissolve the House.

What’s behind this new line of thinking is a lurking fear in the establishment that just as they did in July, the left and the right will join hands to attack the government on national security, communal violence, inflation and the nuclear deal et al. Both Sonia and Singh firmly believe that, with a little bit of help from a mostly embedded media, they can squarely beat the Opposition outside Parliament; it is the fight within Parliament they don’t have a stomach for. Most of the allies like the DMK and the RJD are not quite sure of their poll prospects and would want to remain in power till as long as they can. Only Sharad Pawar backs the “ early elections” line of Sonia and Singh. Ironic because Sharad feels the NCP can do better than the Congress in Maharashtra.

Sonia and Singh are expected to soon meet M Karunanidhi and Lalu Yadav to allay their worries about early polls but most leaders have pulled out political calculators to work out the electoral arithmetic. The primary question now is: will the combined tally of its allies be more than that of the Congress? At present the Congress has 150 MPs, more than the rest of the entire UPA which has 115. I am reliably told that a powerful group consisting of Whispers in corridor Singh: Early polls? Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu, Ram Vilas Paswan and couple of other leaders are working on a strategy — that includes seat sharing pacts — that would see the allies getting more seats than the Congress.

Once that plan is in place, they won’t mind an early election after forcing Congress to announce Singh as the prime ministerial candidate of the UPA and settling key portfolios even before the first vote is cast. But will Sonia and the Congress want to deal with another power centre within the UPA? The conduct, smooth or chaotic, of the impending Parliament will give us the answers to these and many other questions.

Snippets / Mail Today, October 13, 2008

Small men grapple with big leadership issues
BIG LEADERS are expected to fight the war, but in our political parties, they often end up fighting small battles. That is evident from the internal shenanigans in both the national parties in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP and the Congress together won just about a fourth of the 80 parliamentary seats from the state. Both of them have many things in common.

Both have Brahmin presidents, are remotecontrolled by the Thakurs at the Centre and are under the illusion that if you have trusted people with hard bargaining skills to run the campaign, everything else will fall in place. Digvijay Singh, AICC general- secretary in charge of UP makes life difficult for Amar Singh by staking claim to over 20 seats on the foolhardy belief that the Congress’ credibility is better than the SP's. Even Sonia Gandhi seems to be missing the larger picture by letting Diggy Raja bargain endlessly at the cost of alienating allies. In the BJP too, its top leadership including L. K. Advani and Rajnath Singh think that issues or candidates don’t win elections, it is the men in charge who do the job.

For the past few months its central leadership was locked in a tussle to replace BJP's state president Ramapati Ram Tripathi. Singh, who chose Tripathi only last year, put his foot down. While Tripathi could hang on to his post, Rajnath was forced to appoint Kalraj Mishra as election in charge replacing Kalyan Singh. If that wasn't enough, the state and the central leadership are now feuding over allying with Ajit Singh. State BJP leaders want nothing to do with the unpredictable Jat leader but 11 Ashoka Road has other ideas. While leaders in both parties continue to fight over such petty issues, the more crucial ones like selection of candidates and getting the organisation battle ready have gone into a spin.

COMMUNISTS, we have been taught, are atheists who believe that the only gods are Marx and Lenin. But sometimes they do turn believers. Now from God’s Own Country, where no communist is presumably godfearing, comes news that the CPI( M)- led government deputed a minister as head of an official delegation to the Vatican where Pope Benedict XVI yesterday canonised Sister Alphonsa, making her the first female saint from India. Sister Alphonsa who lived in the early part of the last century is said to have disfigured herself to avoid marriage and dedicate herself to Christ and is venerated by Christians who form a fifth of the state’s population. Could electoral arithmetics be the reason for the Marxist- led government to send a representative for the canonisation? With its fortunes at its lowest, the Left may be looking at divine help to keep it in power against the odds.

SKEPTICS who doubted the Indo- US nuclear deal will go through have had to eat their words but perhaps the real story behind the men and the way they went about their missions is waiting to be written. There are many claimants for the credit. I was in New York last week and it is my belief the credit belongs entirely to one person and a trusted aide. I don’t enjoy the most favoured journalist status with the American establishment either at home or in the US. Yet I did meet several movers and shakers, all of whom told me that we should doff our caps to Dr Manmohan Singh. He burned the midnight oil, calling up influential Congressmen and Senators to revive a deal that was in a comatose state. With even Republicans distancing themselves from president Bush and his elegant secretary of state Condi Rice, a handful of mega- rich NRIs who have liberally filled both Democratic and Republican coffers took upon themselves the task of spotting US lawmakers who could manage an early listing of the deal for legislative approval. So, a list of half a dozen lawmakers was drawn up. But there was a price.

The Americans would rather deal directly with the PM. At which point Manmohan appointed one of his key aides, who was never part of the negotiating team, to be his pointsman. Only he knew the names and telephone numbers of the lawmakers that the PM rang up even at odd hours.

So, it was only the PM's secret and persuasive involvement which finally saved the deal when Bush had almost failed to convince his own party. N- deal enthusiasts should closely scrutinise the telephone records of this low- key official. They will recommend that he be conferred the Bharat Ratna. Others were file pushers now basking in reflected glory.

Modi has the last laugh
FOR LONG the target of vile critics within and outside his party, Narendra Modi is having the last laugh. In bagging the Nano project, he outplayed three BJP chief ministers and cocked a snook at the secular brigade which would have liked everyone to believe that Modi’s Gujarat is a dangerous place. He moved with lightning speed and outwitted the PM who made a pitch for Congress- ruled Andhra. But Modi had been in touch with Ratan Tata for months even as he set up a small team of key officials to settle all issues relating to the 1,100 acres at Sanand. Modi was determined to stage this coup because he knew the tiny Nano is corporate India’s biggest stamp of approval. Unlike West Bengal, he gave the land at the prevailing market rates. To ensure that Ratan is not persuaded to move elsewhere, he ordered the state government to hand over the land to the Tatas without even waiting for the cheque to be dropped. So impressed was Ratan that he took to singing paeans in praise of the CM. With a badge of honour from Ratan Tata himself, Modi doesn’t have to look for certificates from any one else. “ I welcome Ratan and the House of Tatas to Gujarat. For me, the Nano project entails nationalistic spirit”, he said. Spoken just like a politician.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 6, 2008

ALL GOOD things come to an end. Correction.

Not all good things have to have an end. MS Liberhan was 54 and a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court when he was appointed to head the commission probing the circumstances leading to the Babri Masjid demolition. PV Narasimha Rao was the prime minister then and since then, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee have all moved into and out of Race Course Road and barring a miracle, Manmohan Singh may soon have to pack his bags. But Liberhan, now 70, remains the constant.

Last week, the commission which was set up 10 days after December 6, 1992 and asked to submit its report within 180 days, was given another six months’ extension, the 47th occasion that Liberhan has managed to buy time. The commission has already spent Rs 7.5 crore in the last 16 years, making it the costliest and the longest ever panel in independent India. The question that the government ought to ask Liberhan and is not asking is: What are you waiting for? Evidence and cross- examinations ended two years ago, and Rao, LK Advani, MM Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti are among the many who deposed before the commission.

Liberhan himself has not offered any reason for the inordinate delay nor has the government order last week given any reason for the latest extension. And that is precisely what keeps the pot of speculation boiling. The latest extension ends on March 31, 2009, which is a few weeks before the next General Elections are due.

Assuming the polls will be held as scheduled, will Liberhan drop a bombshell on its eve to torpedo the prime ministerial ambitions of Lal Krishna Advani? The BJP leader has already been exonerated by several lower courts, but Congressmen are now pinning their hopes on Liberhan pulling a rabbit out of the hat, in the form of a sanyasin, Uma Bharti, whose cross- examinations were completed way back. And herein lies the story. During the demolition and through much of the deposition before the commission, she was in the BJP. But her bitter parting with its leadership has seen Congressmen lick their lips in anticipation of the sanyasin spilling a few beans that would make her former colleagues squirm and botch the ambitions of the BJP’s PMin- waiting. Well placed friends in the Congress have told me that the Liberhan Commission is not money down the drain.

Uma Bharti may ( be coaxed to) express a desire to depose again. If she does, her deposition would arouse more media interest than any murder trial. With terrorists mocking at authorities and the resultant wave of nationalism, the Con- gress cannot hope to fall back on BJP- bashing to win votes. But if Liberhan makes the right noises about Advani, some of the minority votes would accrue to the Congress kitty. Liberhan’s long stint on the job comes at a time when judicial commissions are under scrutiny not for what they do but what they do not do. Whenever Liberhan submits his report, credibility is likely to be at a premium since some will view it as a whitewash and others as a witchhunt.

Snippets / Mail Today, October 6, 2008

BJP dumps its GenNext for GenEx

IN THE BJP, they are busy ringing in the old and ringing out the young. The announcement of Vijay Kumar Malhotra as its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi is proof that the party is falling back on its ageing leadership to pull a few rabbits out of the electoral hat. What then happens to the BJP’s famed Gen Next? Will they be content being merely shrewd backroom operators and ace election strategists, which some of them undoubtedly are. This is a distant cry from five years ago when the BJP unveiled a young and talented line- up which was toasted as the team of the future. But some of them don’t seem to have the stomach for a fight, while of the rest, Shivraj Chauhan and Vasundhara Raje remain.

In Karnataka, Ananth Kumar, once the rising star, has yielded space to the older BS Yedyurappa, in Uttarakhand, BC Khanduri who did not fight the election initially was roped in as chief minister. PK Dhumal remains its best bet in Himachal. In picking the 77- year- old Malhotra over several younger aspirants, the BJP is merely playing it safe. He is a veteran of 16 electoral contests, 15 of which he won. He was Delhi’s Chief Executive Councillor, equivalent to today’s Chief Minister, way back in 1967, when Lal Krishna Advani, four years older than him, was merely a corporator. Advani was born in Karachi, Malhotra in Lahore. So, the BJP has two Pakistanborn running for prime minister and chief minister. The party has surely come a long way.

No SEZ please, we are Congress. It’s official and brings to end months of speculation about the party’s stand on the issue of land acquisition for SEZ and IT parks. Farmers in Noida and adjoining areas have been involved in periodic skirmishes with the police for weeks now, demanding better compensation for land acquired by the Mayawati government. Typically, Mayawati responded with brutal police force. For quite some time now, Sonia Gandhi was said to have been keen to meet the farmers, but was dissuaded by her advisors. Congress- ruled states are among those where maximum land has been acquired for SEZs and her solidarity with farmers would send wrong signals, she was advised. That she threw caution to the wind and went ahead last week to address rallies essentially means two things: she intends to take Mayawati head on; and Vilasrao Deshmukh, YS Rajashekhara Reddy and Bhupinder Hooda will have to move a bit slow on SEZs.

TRUST Jayalalithaa to hit where it hurts. Though she has been ruthless in her attacks on the DMK and its leadership, she finds nothing wrong about filching a few points from Karunanidhi’s agenda in the forthcoming elections. Voters in Tamil Nadu will not only be electing 39 MPs but will also be queuing up at polling booths to elect a new government at Fort St George, and if the Iron Lady’s recent speeches and actions are anything to go by, she may well jettison some of her pet themes and embrace those that the DMK has espoused for long. The Tamil Eelam, for one. Jayalalithaa is among the few politicians on the Z+ category, having been on the LTTE’s hit list for more than two decades now, but her recent utterances about the Tamil Eelam should make many DMK bigwigs green with envy. Her sudden switch around has put both the Congress and the DMK, allies at the Centre but with varying approaches to the Tamil cause, on the defensive. And Karunanidhi must have more reasons to worry since she has successfully managed to wean regional heavyweights away from the DMK- led front in the state. First to join her was Vaiko who has thrown the considerable weight of the MDMK behind her.
With the powerful Vanniyars of the PMK led by S Ramadoss ditching the DMK, Jayalalithaa seems to be going from strength to strength. And though she gives signs of distancing herself from the BJP, it is clear that her stiff opposition to the Sethusamudram project has less to do with environmental reasons and more with winning over the Hindu votes. Add to these the twin issues of rising prices and terrorism, and the situation seems tailor- made for her to erase memories of the humiliation in 2004 when the AIADMK did not win even one of the 39 seats to the Lok Sabha.
Swami and friends
MORE ON inquiry commissions.

Does anyone now remember the Jain Commission which was supposed to look into the conspiracy that led to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Hardly likely. Then you are even less likely to remember the Multi Dimensional Monitoring Agency ( MDMA), set up to probe, well, the conspiracy behind the assassination and the alleged role of Godman Chandraswami and the LTTE in the former prime minister’s killing. Like Justice Liberhan, the MDMA, now in its tenth year, is nowhere nearer to solving the mystery than when it started out and has been getting one extension after another.
The MDMA functions directly under the CBI, which is handled by the Prime Minister’s Office and comprises, besides CBI, officers from the Revenue Department, Home Ministry, External Affairs Ministry, Military Intelligence plus the ubiquitous Research and Analysis Wing( RAW). The MDMA was set up in 1998 by then Home Minister LK Advani under sustained pressure from Congressmen who seethed with rage after the 6,000- page Jain Commission report held Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and the DMK responsible for actively aiding and abetting Rajiv Gandhi’s murderers.

The report had led to the Congress withdrawing support from the then IK Gujral- led United Front government in which the DMK was a partner. Strange that the same Congressmen don’t raise a finger these days despite the MDMA running around like a headless chicken. Not so strange actually, since the Congress needs the DMK more than the other way round. As for Chandraswami, whatever the dispensation at the Centre, he has enough friends to ensure that he goes scot free.

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, October 05, 2008

'One should better oneself every day'

Actor Abhishek Bachchan on Seedhi Baat says that creative stagnation is suicidal for an actor.
watch video: part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5