Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, May 25, 2009

LESS than a week after its stunning electoral victory, some of the “ till death do us part” resolutions taken by the UPA seem to have been already cast aside. The euphoria of victory seldom lasts long because there are jobs to be done, tasks to be accomplished. But it took only five days to realise how soon and how unmanageable things can become. No one wants to diminish either the significance of the UPA victory or the sense of bonding of the allies, but the fact that ministers from just two, of the half a dozen or so, UPA coalition partners were sworn in on Friday tells its own story.

In the days since the Congress achieved the impossible, there appears to have been a sea change in its attitude to its smaller allies. Undeniably, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi share an immense rapport with alliance leaders, but once their letters of support were handed over to President Pratibha Patil, middlemen and other interlocutors seem to have taken over.

Prior to May 16, Manmohan and Sonia talked directly with the coalition leaders. Since then, it is the middlemen who are doing all the talking. And it has been mostly one- way. Alliance leaders attempting to get through to the two are told “ they are busy, please call later”. A former chief minister stormed out of a senior Congress leader’s residence after interlocutors reportedly kept him waiting in the reception area for nearly two hours, while the body language of others suggests a sense of being betrayed. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who helped the government survive the Left onslaught last July and leads the third largest party in the 15th Lok Sabha, could not even find a seat for himself at the swearing- in ceremony.

This is not to suggest that alliance leaders are noble souls who wrote out blank cheques of support for the secular cause. They are there for a share of the power pie — plum ministerial posts and the fringe benefits that go with it. Yet you would expect the Congress minions to treat someone like M. Karunanidhi with a little more respect. Congress leaders deputed to deal with him reportedly lectured him on the rampant corruption that went on in the ministries under the charge of DMK ministers during the last government.

They insisted on defining not only the quota for the DMK, but even listing names of possible ministers. Karunanidhi’s response was that the Congress should follow the coalition dharma and leave the job of nominating the coalition’s ministers to alliance partners. The “ Highest Command” came to know about the goings- on, and deputed Pranab Mukherjee to sort out the matter, but Dada is said to have been so embarrassed that he refused to get involved.
Karunanidhi wasn’t alone. For Lalu Prasad, the Congress’s staunchest ally of the last five years, the treatment was shabbier.

Despite floating a fourth front and fighting the Congress in Bihar and Jharkhand, he was being wooed till the results exposed his true worth. Overnight, he became persona non grata and though he did manage to speak to Sonia once, his attempts for a meeting have so far been unsuccessful. Karunanidhi and others are also miffed that the Congress, unlike the last time, has decided to bury the Common Minimum Programme. What the Congress has achieved electorally is nothing less than stupendous but what we are already seeing is a distasteful display of awesome, yet crude power.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Snippets/ Mail Today, May 25, 2009

While many of the GenNext leaders and debutant Congress MPs wait anxiously till Tuesday to find out if they have a place in Manmohan’s A- Team, C. P. Joshi has already made it — deservedly so — the only parliamentary first- timer in the Cabinet. He was primarily responsible for the defeat of the Vasundhara Raje- led BJP government in Rajasthan late last year and it was he, and not Ashok Gehlot, who was tipped to succeed Raje. His wife and daughter, who campaigned alongside him for the assembly, were so confident of his victory that they did not bother to turn up on voting day. Joshi lost by one vote and the gentleman that he is, he did not ask for a recount. Not only his family but the people of Bhilwara came out in full strength to give him a record breaking margin in the Lok Sabha poll.
The cabinet will be richer for his experience.

When politics gets separated by language
POLITICS in India is an unending conflict: between secularism and communalism, between the Congress and the BJP, the Left and Right, the Samajwadis and the Bahujans. In a country of more than 1,500 languages and dialects, it is sometimes also a conflict of tongues. The lack of a widely spoken national language almost led to the collapse of a carefully assembled coalition. As happened last week when DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi and his entourage landed in Delhi for Cabinet formation talks. I am told the talks would have been more fruitful and would not have ended in the stalemate they did if the interlocutors on either side had a clearer idea of what the other side was saying. The large Tamil Nadu contingent that was holed up in the state government guest house here included four who were familiar with the English language, with two among them being from Karunanidhi's family.

The other two were contentious names and were thus kept off from much of the bargaining talks. On the night of May 21, when the Prime Minister rang up Karunanidhi and explained his government’s priorities on development, infrastructure and employment generation, a family member who answered the call duly put on the speaker phone. Congress sources say that the message translated for the ageing DMK leader’s benefit was to the effect that the Congress was in no mood to hand over any of these portfolios.

They aver this is not what the PM said and ascribe the miscommunication to the sibling rivalry in the state’s ruling family where one member does not want another to get the prestigious and lucrative communications ministry. The frequent calls and the long English to Tamil, and Tamil to English, translations not only took a long time, they were often deliberately misrepresented, one top Congress leader told me.

Karunanidhi must have felt humiliated at the “ conditions” laid down by Congress but it appears to me that the real reason for his discomfort is the DMK second rung leaders’ desire to upstage each other. Maybe all states should take the three language formula seriously so that future governments are not put at risk because of communication errors.

POLITICS, without the likes of Ajit Singh, would be incredibly boring. The man has floated more parties and done more political somersaults than he would care to remember. Just two months before the elections, he hitched his Rashtriya Lok Dal to the NDA wagon and won five seats, all from his western Uttar Pradesh pocketborough.

It was a bounty by his standards since his party had three seats in the last Lok Sabha. Assuming that the numbers nicely add up for some bargaining to vault himself into the UPA camp, he made the right mating calls and Congress’ Digvijay Singh responded. But the negotiations ran into early hiccups as Singh wanted cabinet berths for himself and his son, a first time MP, as also the assurance of a Rajya Sabha seat for a close female friend and associate who had lost the election.

For Diggy Raja, who has in recent times put the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh in their places, such demands just didn’t make sense and he bluntly asked Singh to first merge his party with the Congress. Party circles say Ajit Singh reiterated his pet demand for a separate state of Harit Pradesh, which the Congress agreed to “ consider”, but there were noisy protests outside Akbar Road by Congress workers from Uttar Pradesh. For once, the ordinary workers won against the number crunchers inside.

Presidential precedent
TWO WEEKS ago, when prophets and pollsters had warned the country of a hung Parliament, I had in these columns speculated on the possible post- results moves of President Pratibha Patil. Fortunately, the decimation of the BJPled NDA meant she did not have to make any hard choices, and the invitation to Manmohan Singh to form the government was merely a formality. Yet, more than a few eyebrows were raised at the lack of any reference in the Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqué to the government being asked to prove its majority in the Lok Sabha.
Legal eagles feel it would have been in order if the President had followed recent history and asked the government to prove its majority within a time frame. It has been more than a generation since the country has had a truly majority government and it happened last when Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in 25 years ago with a brutal four- fifths majority, making the confidence vote in the house meaningless.

No government since then has held a majority and all of them have had to prove their strength, starting with the V. P. Singh government in 1989 which showed its might after the Left and the Right joined hands; five years later, P. V. Narasimha Rao proved his majority though the dubious means adopted to achieve it became public only much later. In his first stint in 1996 Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not have the majority and resigned before the vote was taken. H. D. Deve Gowda, I. K. Gujral, the two Vajpayee governments, and the last one led by Manmohan were all regimes where the ruling party did not command a majority in the house and were therefore asked to seek the trust of the house.

Technically, the UPA government has the support of 262 MPs — short of the halfway mark — but with others pledging outside support, it has the backing of 322 MPs. So did all governments, barring Vajpayee's in 1996, yet they were all asked to seek a trust vote. I wrote two weeks ago that all presidents have set precedents that have lasted beyond their tenures. President Patil has just set one.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, May 24, 2009 (R)

आज तक के खास कार्यक्रम 'सीधी बात' में बॉलीवुड अभिनेत्री प्रियंका चोपड़ा ने अपने करियर, अपनी जिंदगी, फिल्‍मों और अपने तजुर्बे जैसे मुद्दों पर बात की. प्रियका के अनुसार अगर वो अभिनेत्री नहीं होती तो इंजीनियर होती.
Part 2 ; --> Part 3 ; --> Part 4

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why didn't India launch an attack against the LTTE?
Not possible under international law...
How'll it affect the govt if DMK, TC provide outside support?
The TMC has joined the government
Why is the Cong not keen to expose the Swiss bank accounts?
I don't think any other government...
Rahul says the Bofors scam was utter rubbish. Your comment.
What do you expect from the son of...
What is the relation between Sonia Gandhi and Quattrochi?
Nothing, except they originally belong...
Sonia Gandhi says India is facing more threat from insiders.
What is dangerous about her...
Is Sonia the most influential person who matters?
Of course she matters as she can...
Shouldn't media give zero coverage to corrupt politicians?
If the media stops reporting the ...

Read more ....
Have a question for me? ASK NOW !

Friday, May 22, 2009

How a cyanide capsule delayed Prabhakaran’s meeting with Rajiv Gandhi

It was June 1985 and there was an interesting visitor to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 7 Race Course Road residence— Velupillai Prabhakaran, the young chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Tigers were then the largest and best organised of the pro-Eelam groups fighting for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran was put up at the Ashoka hotel and accompanied by his senior lieutenants—Mahendrajah alias Mahattya and Anton Balasingham. When the trio reached the security screening area at the PM’s residence, when the newly- raised Special Protection Group (SPG) which exclusively protected the Prime Minister, raised an alarm. All the leaders were wearing cyanide capsules carried in a glass capsule which dangled from black threads around their necks. The cyanide capsule was a accessory all LTTE cadre sported to avoid torture at the hands of the Sri Lankan authorities. Both the IB and the newly-raised Special Protection Group (SPG) which guarded the PM were unanimous—the cyanide capsules would have to be taken off. Mahattya and Balasingham complied, but Prabhakaran refused. “This is my protection, how can I take it off?” the indignant leader told me in Tamil through an interpreter. The SPG and the IB feared that the mercurial leader could use the lethal capsule to kill Rajiv Gandhi. A senior and very influential IB officer even tried to persuade Prabhakaran, but the guerilla simply refused to budge. Finally, after nearly 45 minutes, a compromise was reached. Prabhakaran could wear the cyanide capsule, but he would be escorted by two SPG guards. They would ensure that he made no sudden moves. Rajiv Gandhi was kept at a certain distance from him. The SPG joined two tables together to ensure that Prabhakaran would never come within handshaking distance of Rajiv Gandhi. The meeting went off well. It’s a different matter that just six years later, Prabhakaran would kill his former host using another trademark weapon in the tiger arsenal—the suicide bomber.

Read > Profile of a Tiger and Prabhakaran's exclusive interview in 1986

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, May 18, 2009

EVERY two decades or so, some sort of a churning takes place in the Congress and last Saturday, we saw the result of the latest such. It took a young man, often derided for his obsession with his ‘ Discovery of India’ tours, to remind the doddering old grandees in the Grand Old Party that there is a lot of life left in the Congress. Over forty years ago, Indira Gandhi took charge of the government and then seized control of the party after laying low a syndicate that had held the Congress in a vice like grip.

Less than twenty years later, her son Rajiv came to power and though his first steps were tentative, he soon shook up the party, stripping it of the old order to bring his own team and give his own new vision to the Congress. Two more decades have gone by and, I think, we have seen the last of the Congress as we have known it for more than a generation.

The colour of the Congress is changing and I am not talking about designer kurtas replacing the staid old khadi of Gandhi, Nehru and Indira. Congressmen are queuing up to give all the credit for the stupendous electoral victory to Rahul Gandhi and he deserves it, both for having had a hand in the selection of a majority of the party’s candidates and for taking on the mantle of the party’s chief campaigner.

But it is the two dozen odd candidates that he personally chose and whose victory he strove hard to ensure that puts the spotlight on the team that he is building for the future. Take a look. Among them: Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, Sandeep Dikshit, Jitendra Singh Alwar, secretary attached to Rahul in the AICC, Naveen Jindal, Deepinder Hooda, Manish Tewari, Madhu Yaskhi Goud, Ravneet Singh Bittu, Priya Dutt and Ashok Tanwar.

There are more but at least 20 of the 200 newly elected Congress MPs were handpicked by Rahul. At the news conference that followed the weekend victory, both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh were asked about the prospects of Rahul being inducted in the Union Cabinet.
Both hedged the question but while it is my belief that Rahul will not take on any responsibility in the government, I am certain that at least some of the above mentioned will join the Manmohan team. That necessarily means that it is curtains for many of the old family retainers — the Arjun Singhs, Sisa Rama Olas and Mahavir Prasads — whose use- by dates have long expired.

Their places are likely to be taken by some members of this Ateam who are expected to gain enough experience to advise the future prime minister when his time comes. And I think that time India Rahul Indira: Started it all will come not during the second tenure of the Manmohan government but at the end of it. Simple logic tells me that Rahul will not want to sit as a parallel centre of power in cabinet meetings. Also as a minister, he gets tied down to one portfolio while outside the cabinet, he can be privy to all that’s going on everywhere. But perhaps most importantly, while the Congress has been able to buck the five year anti- incumbency wind this time, five years down the line, it may get a lot tougher and Rahul would want to start with a clean slate. Five more years of ‘ Discovery of India Tours’ and recharging the party batteries and India itself would have discovered and be ready for Rahul.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, May 17, 2009

'Ups and downs are a part of politics'

In an interview on Seedhi Baat, BJP president Rajnath Singh says the party accepts defeat and will review the situation.

Part2 ; Part3 ; Part4 ; Part5 ; Part6 ; Part7

'राजनीति में उतार-चढ़ाव आते रहते हैं'

आज तक के कार्यक्रम सीधी-बात में बीजेपी अध्‍यक्ष राजनाथ सिंह ने कहा है कि राजनीति में हार-जीत का सिलसिला चलता रहता है और उनकी पार्टी भविष्‍य की जीत को लेकर पूरी तरह आश्‍वस्‍त ह.

Snippets/ Mail Today, May 18, 2009

IN THE weeks ahead, the losers of E- 2009 will sit down amongst themselves to ponder over what went wrong. Jayalalithaa and her AIADMK have no need for that. They already have found the reason. An AIADMK leader told me in all seriousness that his party fared badly because “ Madam” walked into a trap laid by the establishment. The story goes thus: the Intelligence Bureau had informed her — as well as 41 other leaders — of serious threat to her life during the campaign because of the LTTE’s last ditch offensive. Presumably, Jaya considered her life more precious than other things and so dispensed with her normal campaign style — motorcades through the villages, kissing and naming babies, giving away saris et al — and stuck to choppers for the first time ever.
The closest that anyone could get to her was about a 100 yards. She lost touch, they lost touch. And she is paying the price. Good yarn

For Didi this was just the preliminary test
THE GOOD doctor will take the oath of office for a second consecutive term sometime this week and already speculation is rife about who will get what in the new cabinet. Some of the incumbents who demanded and got plum posts five years ago are not likely to be easily accommodated. For all the good work and turnaround in the Indian Railways that he is said to have brought about, Congressmen are of the view that Lalu Prasad Yadav should forget about retaining his portfolio. At best, he should hope for a free all- India railpass for self and family in lieu of the four seats that the RJD has brought in.

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar who held his hat in his hand, ready to throw it into the ring at the last minute, held back only on Saturday morning after reality dawned. He should prepare to bid goodbye to Krishi Bhavan and instead concentrate on the International Cricket Council, which he is due to take over as chief executive soon, the consolation being the ICC is an empire of its own. His lieutenant Praful Patel is somewhat better placed, being a Congressman at heart despite holding a NCP card. On the other side are the DMK and Trinamool members, whose swelled numbers contributed in large measure to the UPA’s victory margin. After patching up with his granduncle, Dayanidhi Maran can look forward to being back in Sanchar Bhavan and Karunanidhi can afford to pick and choose his ministers and their portfolios.

But what about Mamata? My instincts tell me she will nominate a couple of her leaders for important ministries and then choose to grind it out in the killing fields of Singur and Nandigram and elsewhere in West Bengal. She has already felled the formidable Leftists. She will not rest content until she drags their noses through the dirt and the filth that is their own making. We should all wish her Godspeed.

HOURS after it became clear that his first and last bid for prime ministership had ended disastrously, Lal Kishan Advani resigned as the party’s parliamentary leader. But many BJP leaders who owe their rapid climb up the party ladder to the genial Advani wouldn’t have it.
They termed it an offer to resign though Advani said it was “ a decision.” It’s bad enough that through their fratricidal and self destructive tendencies, they have already dispatched a man thanks to whom they enjoyed nearly a decade and a half of uninterrupted and unbridled power within the party. These are people who have benefited enormously under his tutelage, which even caused ruptures in Advani’s relationship with the cadres.

Now, citing the lack of a consensus replacement, they are asking him to stay on in the hope that that would enable them to stay on too. On Sunday, a top RSS team led by Madan Das Devi met Advani, their mission being not to persuade him to stay back but to facilitate the appointment of a successor with his blessings. Advani did not disappoint them but made it clear that his future role would be no more than that of a moral arbitrator.

It was pathetic to see various party spokesmen claiming collective responsibility but not owning up their own responsibility for the catastrophe that now threatens to turn the BJP into an endangered species. It would be worth recalling that five years ago, Pramod Mahajan, as the party’s national campaign manager, had owned up responsibility and offered to resign. Once upon a time, loyalty was said to be the BJP’s secret weapon. It has now been replaced by intrigue and faction fights. No wonder the people reject them.

Bihar next in his line of fire
COMETH THE hour, cometh the man. Rahul has achieved the near impossible in Uttar Pradesh by, first daring to go it alone and then winning more than a quarter of the seats from India’s largest state. To appreciate his achievement, one must remember that the last time the Congress touched double figures from the state in the Lok Sabha was in 1984 when it won all 85 seats. Since then, it has been one big downhill slide and the Congress even failed to win a seat once. And here they are now, with 21 Lok Sabha seats, which strangely enough is exactly the number of seats that the party has in the state assembly.

Translated into assembly segments, that would account for over 120 seats which is an impressive turnaround for a party whose candidates seemed content just not to lose their deposits. Is it any wonder then that suddenly Congressmen elsewhere are beginning to see a whisker of a chance of revival in their own states? Addressing party workers in his constituency soon after the results were out, Rahul promised them: “ Soon you will see a new Congress in Uttar Pradesh”. Mayawati had better watch out. And so should Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, a man on whom Rahul lavished much praise before the results were out but who may not come in for such praise any longer.

I am told his next target is Bihar where the Congress won just two seats out of the 40 at stake and where he is going to be spending a lot of his time. So the next time villagers in Bihar see a handsome young man resting in a cowshed in the back of beyond in Begusarai, Darbhanga or Munger, they can be sure they are in the presence of the future prime minister of India.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, May 11, 2009

PRESIDENT Pratibha Patil came to office as India’s first woman Head of State two years ago amidst a blaze of controversy but apart from fulfilling constitutional duties and protocol requirements, she has mostly stayed away from the limelight. Not for long though. This Saturday, the election results will be out and assuming the elections throw up a hung and terribly divided house, who gets to govern will depend to a large measure on whom the president invites to form the next government.

In similar elections in the past where no single party won a majority, vastly different precedents have been set. In 1996, President Shankar Dayal Sharma went strictly by the book and invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee after the BJP emerged the single largest party winning 161 seats against 140 won by the Congress.

It’s a different matter that Vajpayee quit after only 13 days in office acknowledging his government’s inability to reach the magic halfway mark in parliament. Two years later, KR Narayanan authored what is now known as the Narayanan Formula. Though the BJP had won 182 seats against the Congress’s 141 and Vajpayee staked his claim for prime ministership, he tread a new path and gave both parties enough time to win over enough allies, insisting on written letters of support.

It wasn’t until Jayalalithaa faxed a message to Rashtrapati Bhavan that Vajpayee was finally invited to form the government and the NDA was born. In 2004 after the voters gave a stinging rebuke to the NDA, the Congress staked claim and hastily put together the UPA. Suprisingly, it lasted five years but now it is clearly coming apart.

It is in this context that various statements by Congress leaders in recent times have to be seen. Party leaders now flit from one TV studio to another essentially to reiterate the same point: that the president must invite the leader of the single largest party, which they believe the Congress will be. Just a little over a month ago, when the UPA seemed one big happy family, the emphasis was on alliances and not the single largest party.

Much has changed since then and the Congress is now the nominal head of an alliance that exists on paper. Lalu, Mulayam and Paswan are gone; fears of a Jayalalithaa revival have sent Karunanidhi to hospital; Sharad Pawar is so tense about the NCP’s fortunes he finds the IPL matches less nailbiting; record voting in West Bengal indicate the Congress- Trinamool Mahajyot will fall victim to the CPI(M)’s scientific rigging. On the other side, the BJP’s NDA allies, if reports from the states are to be believed, are all expected to fare better than last time. Barring perhaps the Akali Dal which may surrender a few seats, the JD(U) in Bihar, Chautala’s INLD, Ajit Singh’s RLD, the AGP in Assam and the Shiv Sena are all expected to better their last results.

Results out, there will be much scrambling for allies and President Patil will have to choose between the NDA’s arranged marriage which was fixed pre-poll and the many post poll shotgun weddings that the UPA has plans for. I am told she takes daily briefings from a panel of legal experts who are poring over presidential notes from 1989 when India’s first minority government headed by VP Singh was sworn in. It’s a tough task. But she has the chance to wipe her hands clean off the controversies that surrounded her arrival in office.

Snippets/ Mail Today, May 11, 2009

THE once dogmatic Left is suddenly discovering the advantages of being different things to different people all the time. Senior leaders are talking in varied voices and in doing so, the comrades hope to have all doors open for themselves and a hold on the levers of power in any post- election scenario. So Comrade Karat abuses the Congress and says the Left will not commit the same mistake again, but Congress leaders confidently say the Left will come to their aid once again. Is such confidence based on quiet assurances given by other politburo members, notably Sitaram Yechury who holds the secular card close to his chest and never tires of repeating that nobody is untouchable, except the “ fascist communalists”? With the general secretary and the senior politburo member speaking with forked tongues, is it any wonder that the party has to now grapple with the unsavoury spectacle of the powerful state secretariat asking the chief minister, who I assume was handpicked by the politburo, to step down? Stranger things may still happen in the CPI( M).

Pity the hapless Congress party spokesmen
THERE is never a more thankless job than being a party spokesman. You get pilloried by the media and are pulled up by your seniors, yet in the Congress there are many who are more than happy to do it. One count I did a few months back had 21 of them. Among them: Veerappa Moily, Kapil Sibal, Jayanti Natarajan, Manish Tewari, Anand Sharma and if nobody else was available, Tom Vadakkan was more than ready to fill in. But after the unceremonious ouster of Moily, who proudly served three generations of the Gandhi- Nehru family, it has become a hot seat.

If it can happen to Moily, it can happen to any of us, is the refrain. Moily’s fault was that the day after Rahul Gandhi praised Nitish Kumar for good governance, he rubbished the Bihar chief minister, calling him a “ pollutant” for keeping the company of the BJP. Rahul’s praise for Nitish may have more to do with shoring up the UPA’s rapidly depleting membership, but problems arise because nobody outside that charmed inner circle has even a clue about the official stand to be taken with respect to the likes of Jayalalithaa, the Left parties, Nitish etc. Rahul attacks them one day and praises them the next. In Sivaganga, he said the Congress DMK alliance was “ inseparable”, yet he was anything but harsh on Jaya.

The Congress is fighting the JD( U) in several constituencies in Bihar, yet Rahul praised Nitish in a manner that would have made many Congress chief ministers green with envy. Being the veteran that he is, the Bihar chief minister accepted the compliment but rejected his overtures. Moily has been replaced by Janardan Dwiwedi, a family loyalist who owes his rapid climb up the party hierarchy to the fact that he writes Sonia’s Hindi speeches. If there is anything Congressmen fear these days, it’s the return of Durbar politics.

NOTHING fuels politics as much as low- brow gossip and since much of what happens in Indian politics are mysteries wrapped in riddles, gossip often acquires the label of gospel truth. So it was last week when Sonia Gandhi made a last minute cancellation of her scheduled campaign in Chennai where she was to address a joint rally with M Karunanidhi. The cancellation happened because Karunanidhi was suddenly taken ill, but the rumour factories in Delhi and Chennai went into overdrive and churned out a series of fairy tales, some of which bordered on the bizarre. One had it that Sonia was informed about a proposed black flag demonstration by 10,000 AIADMK activists and was so incensed she stayed back. A corollary to this was that the DMK government had issued an order banning carrying of black flags.

This triggered another outlandish story about instructions going out from the AIADMK headquarters to the party faithful, all 10,000 of them, to beat the ban on black flags by assembling at the rally clad in black shirts. Nearly three months ago I had written in these columns that the DMK patriarch was not likely to actively participate in the campaign because of his failing health. But this being a do- or- die battle for the DMK, I am told the Karunanidhi family requested Sonia to visit the ailing leader in hospital. Live images beamed on the DMK owned Sun TV would do the trick. Or so they believed. Originally, she was to fly to Chennai’s Kamaraj Airport and then take a chopper to the venue of the rally. But since a visit to the hospital involved a drive through the city, the idea was promptly shot down by her security advisors who said they would not allow her to drive through Chennai even if a bulletproof motorcade was made available. Quite where all this leaves the voter is anyone’s guess.

Weather cocks move
CIVIL servants, apart from grinning all the time, can also turn out to be very accurate weather cocks. Over two dozen senior civil servants posted at the Centre and in various states have launched a massive public relations exercise with leaders of leading political parties with the aim of grabbing important posts at the Centre in the new set- up that will be in place after the elections. Some will go to any extent to ingratiate themselves with the new masters — whoever they may turn out to be. In fact, they have even formulated an Agenda for Governance.

But since leaders of most national parties have their own favourite civil servants, these wannabes are chasing regional leaders without whose support no government can come to power at the Centre. Sources tell me that no government in the past has re- employed as many retired bureaucrats as the UPA regime. The ones who are most worried are the 100 odd bureaucrats who managed to get plum post retirement jobs from the UPA government.

Most of them have not proved equal to the task assigned to them and are likely to lose their jobs. According to insiders, even if Manmohan returns for a second term, the PMO, Cabinet Secretariat, Home Ministry and key economic ministries are set to take a fresh look at many of these cases. Time for post retirement planning.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Seedhi Baat/Aajtak, May 10, 2009

'मनमोहन सिंह की बहुत इज्‍जत करता हूं'

आज तक के खास कार्यक्रम सीधी बात में लालकृष्‍ण आडवाणी ने कहा कि वह मनमोहन सिंह की बहुत इज्‍जत करते हैं.

Part 2 --> Part 3 --> Part 4

व्‍यक्ति का नहीं, विचार का महत्‍व: आदवानी

चुनाव कार्यक्रम

I respect Manmohan Singh: Advani
Senior BJP leader says on the show Seedhi Baat that his criticising the PM as being weak is only a political remark and not personal.

Part2 ; Part3 ; Part4 ; Part5;

Monday, May 4, 2009

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, May 03, 2009

'Politics is my mission, not ambition'

Gujarat CM says on Seedhi Baat that the youth should not dream of becoming something, but dream of doing something.

Part2 ; Part3

राजनीति मेरे लिए मिशन है: नरेंद्र मोदी

आज तक के खास कार्यक्रम सीधी बात में मोदी ने कहा कि राजनीति उनके लिए मिशन है. उन्‍होंने कहा कि बिना सत्ता पाए भी राजनीति में बहुत कुछ किया जा सकता है.

Part 2 --> Part 3 --> Part 4 --> Part 5

मैं भाजपा का मामूली कार्यकर्ता हूं: मोदी

Power & Politics / Mail Today, May 4, 2009

VOTERS in 369 constituencies have already decided on their next MPs and while the winners will be known on May 16, there is one clear early winner: voter apathy. How ironical that those who believed that voting was someone else’s problem are the ones who are shedding tears over the low voting percentage.
Across the country, half the registered voters failed to show up at the polling booths. Even the choreographed appeal by the glamour crowd failed to enthuse their own blood group in a city like Mumbai where voting was at its lowest ever. The rich and the mighty and the bold and the not- so- beautiful have been leading the attack on “ dirty politicians” ever since that dreadful Wednesday night in Mumbai in late November. This time too, they arrived at polling booths, leashed Boxers or German Shepherds in tow, cast their votes and displayed their middle left finger to eager TV cameras.

Yet they could not get their friends, relatives or fans to brave the summer heat. City after city and village after village turned its back on the politicians. The high profile campaigns by the Gandhi Parivar seemed to have had little effect on voters in Amethi and Rae Bareily who stayed away in large numbers. Never before has the Great India Election pageant been so listless. Now there are as many excuses for the low polling in each constituency as there are candidates.
Despite the hundreds of aircraft and helicopters at their disposal, the leaders of six national and 40 odd state parties were not able to mobilise and motivate even their own workers. I didn’t cover this election as extensively as I have done earlier ones but after brief visits to Lucknow, Mumbai and Ahmedabad during the past two weeks, it left me with the feeling that the fault lay with the parties themselves. Committed workers have been replaced by hired hands. Local leaders with tremendous grassroots networking skills were ignored by the national leaders and parties who have outsourced their campaigns to advertising and marketing agencies which work for multiple clients and whose main objective is not winning elections but showing healthy balance sheets.

As a result, party workers feel betrayed and left out and are happy doing a 10 to 5 campaign. A senior leader told me it is now becoming difficult to expect even a district president to work for a candidate unless he or she is paid money — in advance and in cash. Local leaders demand money because they see their leaders spending huge sums for their five star rooms and air- conditioned cars during the campaign. In some cases, contracts were handed out on caste or community basis or to local dons to ensure a certain number of votes were polled in every booth. To give credit where it is due, the cadres of the Left parties still seemed willing to bear the heat and dust of the elections. Others chose the new election model where no campaign is complete without an aircraft and a couple of choppers and the status of a leader is measured in terms of air miles accumulated and not the number of workers mobilised by him or her.

This has led to a disconnect between the leaders and party workers which has now percolated down to the voter. Clearly, the corporate approach to the elections has failed to increase the market share of political parties or leaders. As in business, there is a recession on in politics and the net worth of some of the top notch leaders is plummeting faster than the Sensex. I have a suggestion. Along with names of candidates, the EVMs should also have an option “ None of These”. Voters will surely come out in large numbers to register their anger.

Snippets/Mail Today, May 04, 2009

NEWSPAPERS, often accused of being irresponsible, are very careful when it comes to reporting the statements of the First Family. So it was something of a surprise to read one newspaper quoting Rahul Gandhi telling an election audience in Western Uttar Pradesh that David Miliband, the British foreign secretary who spent a night camping with him in a cowshed in Amethi in January, was so impressed with the rural setting that he gushed “ the real India lives in its villages and not in the cities”. My hunch is that the reporter has resorted to misquoting, being himself unaware that it was Rahul’s great- grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru who had originally penned that famous line. I don’t think Rahul would have been unaware of that and have serious doubts whether he would have resorted to quoting a British minister who embarrassed his hosts by talking for Pakistan while on Indian soil.

Ministers in absentia seek people’s mandate again
AS India’s first ever prime minister not to contest a Lok Sabha election, Dr Manmohan Singh is the target of attack from both the Left and the Right which have joined hands to demand suitable amendments on the grounds that for the prime minister to be accountable, he must seek the mandate of the people. Constitutionally, Manmohan is on strong ground; it is the propriety that the BJP and the Communists are questioning.
But there are worse things that are happening which the opposition should take due note of. Shouldn’t there be something in the Constitution to make sure that ministers attend office, at least once in a while. There are ministers who are seeking fresh mandates despite not going to office even once.

M. H. Ambareesh, Union minister of state for information and broadcasting resigned in protest over the Cauvery issue two years ago but for reasons unknown, his resignation wasn't accepted. It wouldn't have made a difference either way since the Kannada film actor had attended office just for two days as a member of the council of ministers.

Ditto for Taslimuddin, Lalu’s handpicked man. Ambareesh is now contesting as a Congress candidate from Karnataka and Taslimuddin, minister of state for consumer affairs, has been fielded by Lalu Prasad Yadav as the RJD candidate from Kishanganj in Bihar. Taslimuddin probably has no clue even today about where his office is located but has been enjoying all its perks from the day he was appointed as a junior minister under Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. Messrs Advani and Karat, I think, are barking up the wrong tree. They should save their ammunition for the likes of Ambareesh and Taslimuddin.

IN the 15th general elections, both the Congress and the BJP have adopted cyber attack as the weapon of choice. Tech savvy leaders from both parties, aided by teams of dedicated and hardcore professionals/ supporters are now spending more time and money to make their websites more attractive and substantive than the election speeches and the rallies of their leaders.

So while they are unable to gather or rouse the crowds in the torrid summer heat, their cyber campaigns are putting them into homes all across urban India. Cyber wars are of course decided in terms of the number of hits their websites get and for weeks it was the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L. K. Advani who led by miles. But as voting began, the Congress began to catch up and after the third round of voting, it had surpassed Advani’s and his party’s websites.
The Congress Web masters, not to speak of their spin doctors, are particularly pleased at the huge fall in the traffic in the direction of Advani’s website.

The money spent on the cyber wars by each of the parties is a humongous amount but if the turn- out of young voters at polling booths is any indication, the expensive e- wars have not paid enough dividends.

Pink slips for these pink panthers
AS an undertrial, Ajmal Qasab could not have hoped for a more helpful prosecution team. As the trial of the Pakistani accused in the Mumbai massacre began in the Arthur Road jail, his defence lawyers are finding it ever so easy to rip apart the investigation and the chargesheet and delay justice in a case in which over 180 people were killed.

The ministries of external affairs and the home affairs are seething with rage over the callousness on the part of Mumbai police while sending DNA reports of Qasab and Mohammed Ismail, the co- terrorist killed during the police encounter, to Pakistan. The Mumbai police sent two identical reports of DNA samples, which the Pakistani establishment gleefully lapped up to question the objectivity of the Indian investigations and eventually refuse to share any information. Home minister P. Chidambaram admitted, “ There could have been a minor clerical error”. It would have been laughable if the matter wasn't so serious and now questions are being asked about how lowly clerks were allowed to deal with such a sensitive case. More importantly, how could the report be sent to Pakistan without senior officials in Mumbai, the home and external affairs ministries and the National Security Adviser having a look at it? How did two copies of the same DNA report acquire two different names? Who made that cardinal and idiotic mistake? Even five months after the dreadful events, a committee headed by a former Congress MP to look into the systemic lapses is yet to give a report.

Rakesh Maria, the joint commissioner ( crime ) of Mumbai police admits “ we have a limb and not the brain of the organisation behind the attack”. Statements like these, besides trivialising the probe, have caused much embarrassment to the nation. Belatedly, the MEA has decided to scrutinise each and every word from the Mumbai police before forwarding reports to Pakistan.
Thus, while the probe drags on as inconclusively as before, Qasab buys time. As does the lowly bungling clerk.