Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, June 28, 2009

I will stay with BJP: Sinha

The BJP leader on the show Seedhi Baat says that he will stay with the party and make it stronger.

Part2 ; Part3 ; Part4 ; Part5

पार्टी छोड़ने का कोई इरादा नहीं: यशवंत सिन्‍हा

बीजेपी के तमाम अहम पदों से इस्‍तीफा देने वाले यशवंत सिन्‍हा ने कहा है कि वे पार्टी में ही रहकर इसे मजबूत करने का प्रयास करेंगे. 'आज तक' के कार्यक्रम 'सीधी बात' के दौरान यशवंत सिन्‍हा ने जोर देकर कहा कि पार्टी छोड़ने का उनका कोई इराद नहीं है.

Snippets/ Mail Today, June 29, 2009

DOES Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati have a mole in the Human Resources Development ministry? Some senior government officials seem to think so. Their fear is that there are many more moles lurking around in the corridors of other ministries waiting to lay their hands on major central government initiatives and their worst fear is that Behenji's army of snoops may even get their hands on sensitive files. Their suspicions were reinforced after she made a series of decisions in the state education department and last Thursday morning called a press conference in Lucknow to announce that all students who manage to attain minimum pass marks in Class Ten must necessarily be promoted to the next class. A day later, the Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal made a similar proposal to do away with board examinations for Class Ten. Babus in the central government are waiting to see when the mole will strike again and where.

Vajpayee may step in to save party

THE fratricidal war in the BJP is showing signs of becoming bloodier. Happenings in recent days suggest that all those who were personally handpicked by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for their proven calibre are being selectively targeted by the rootless wonders that form the current ruling clique in the BJP. The sacking of Uttarakhand Chief Minister B. C. Khanduri is just the latest example. He was among the best performing ministers in the Vajpayee government and his stint as minister for surface transport during which he oversaw the construction of a large part of the Golden Quadrilateral won praise from even the then opposition Congress. At a meeting last week, when Uttarakhand BJP MLAs were asked to give their opinion on a new chief minister for the state, 25 of the 35 BJP MLAs were in favour of Khanduri’s continuation in office. And though it is the BJP Parliamentary Board that is authorised to take decisions pertaining to change of chief ministers, Venkiah Naidu announced Khanduri's removal without even a formal meeting of the Board.

I am told party chief Rajnath Singh selectively informed a few “ like- minded” Board members and kept out others like Jaswant Singh, who was at the forefront in seeking accountability for the party's crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. The party's famed GenNext leaders appear more like a Losers’ Team now but they seem determined to retain their vice like grip over the party and muzzle all dissent. But the challengers are unlikely to yield, even if it means their expulsion from the party. Their aim is to ensure its revival through inner party discussion and protect the party's constitution in both letter and spirit.

Mr Vajpayee has kept a safe distance from his squabbling partymen but I understand he may not choose to be a mere onlooker for long. Though confined to bed, he is expected to step in. A mere signal from him could neutralise the lethal ammo that the warring factions have stockpiled.

Our leaders also need holidays

THERE was a time when holidays were a luxury that politicians seldom indulged in. It was Rajiv Gandhi who broke the trend when as prime minister, he periodically took holidays with his family in Lakshadweep, Kovalam or Goa. But these were private affairs and seldom did even denizens of his holiday destinations come to know that VIP visitors were in town. Even now, both Sonia and Rahul often get away from the hustle and bustle of Delhi for rest and recuperation at unknown destinations. After weeks of hectic campaigning in the torrid summer heat, even the fittest deserve a break. But like the best plans of mice and men often going awry, holiday plans of our leaders have also been laid low by factors beyond their control. Elated, yet tired after rescuing the Congress party virtually single handedly, young Rahul Gandhi, an avid cricket buff, had taken off for a holiday, hoping to eventually catch up on some of the World T20 cricket action.

Like the rest of the country, he had hoped India would defend the cup and he be able to tell his grandchildren some day that “ I was there when Dhoni and his men won the cup”. The early exit of the Indians means that Rahul must now wait.

After leading what is perhaps his last campaign for the BJP, LK Advani too deserved a holiday and took off for picturesque Coorg where he and family checked into one of the finest jungle resorts. But the family's dreams of living in splendid isolation were soon shattered because his admirers wouldn't leave him alone. The BJP media cell sent a private family picture of Advani and his family members attired in Coorgi dress to hundreds of journos in Delhi. Knowing Advani as I do, I can vouch he keeps such pictures only for his private albums — and perhaps a future book. But there are those who firmly believe their survival depends on projecting Advani and don’t mind stooping so low as to publicise a private holiday to retain their own relevance.

MOST of the union ministers, with all their accumulated experience, are going about their work with clinical precision. But now they are veering around to believing that one should not only be doing a good job, but also be seen doing that and the key to success here involves finding the proper medium and reaching the right audiences.

And nobody is happier than the Information Officers attached to various ministries from the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Ministers are no more banking solely on their Private Secretaries to pass the good word to the media and are taking along IO's who are more familiar with journalists covering the beat than their PS's.

Though Kamal Nath has been doing this for long, other ministers are now beginning to follow suit. This week, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal is off to Germany for an international conference and the PIB official in charge of the ministry is also travelling along with him.

Foreign travels of ministers and their secretaries are cleared by the PMO which has in the past stipulated who could accompany a minister and who could not. But with many ministers — including some from the alliance partners — now demanding that IO's be added to their entourage, the PMO has suddenly become very accommodative, wishing everybody bon voyage.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, June 29, 2009

THERE couldn’t be two political parties so unlike each other as the BJP and the CPI( M), yet from the goings on within both this past month, it would appear they are twins who emerged out of the same womb.

Both were disciplined, cadre based parties where once upon a time the writ from the top ran all the way down. But post the 2009 electoral drubbing, both appear to be in turmoil, riven by dissent and infighting.

The mood of despair that immediately followed the electoral debacle has turned into one of self destruction. LK Advani’s jibe about Manmohan Singh being the “ weakest ever” would suit Prakash Karat better — he is the weakest General Secretary that the CPI( M) has ever had.

Sitaram Yechury never forgoes an opportunity to take a swipe at him; Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee openly defies him; Pinarayi Vijayan, the first ever Politburo member to be charged in a corruption case, dares Karat to take action against him and VS Achuthanandan flouts party discipline on a daily basis and the General Secretary conveniently looks the other way and pretends he saw nothing, heard nothing.

Things are not very different over at the BJP where a bunch of drawing room Field Marshals have brought the party to its lowest point in nearly two decades. Its younger generation leaders are going for each other’s jugular but like the apparatchiks at AKG Bhavan, the senior- most leader has gone on a holiday, presumably hoping that the problem would vanish on its own by the time he returns. It was perhaps just a coincidence, that on the very day that the CPI( M) Politburo met in New Delhi for the first time after the elections to discuss the poll rout, the BJP’s National Council also met in the capital.

The agenda was the same — to discuss the electoral rout. But in both parties, the top leadership was scared of facing the uncomfortable truth and so decided to postpone the problem and agreed to meet again in the first week of July. Comrades and the right wingers alike have taken advantage of the long interval to beat Delhi’s scorching heat and fly off to London, Rome, Paris and other summer destinations. Once back, I can wage a bet that unlike Rahul Gandhi, they will not be embarking on Discover India tours. You are more likely to see them waxing eloquent on TV shows or flaunting their newly acquired Swiss watches at Page 3 parties.
The CPI( M) politburo will meet again in the first week of July and coincidentally, during the same weekend, the BJP National Executive is also scheduled to meet, as is the RSS Prathinidhi Sabha whose meeting is expected to review the organisation’s ties with the BJP. Karat: Weak I suspect this will be the only one where any meaningful discussion will take place. The top leaderships of the CPI( M) and the BJP will disagree on everything except finding fresh excuses to agree to meet another day.

Unfortunately, the problems have reached a stage where they cannot be pushed under the carpet for much longer. Now that the exhausting election season has passed, it is time they pondered over the leadership — or lack of it — in their parties. In both parties, the leaders should ideally step down before the next fateful election season starts. That may be the last chance.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, June 22, 2009

EVEN after spending close to half a century in politics, Pranab Mukherjee still appears to have the enthusiasm and energy of a long distance runner who can’t wait for the marathon to start. Twenty five years after he presented his last Union budget in 1984 as finance minister in the Indira Gandhi government, Pranabda is back in the same office. On July 6, he will present the first budget of the UPA’s second innings. It is a personal milestone for him as well, since it will be the fourth time that he will present the annual national housekeeping statement that is eagerly looked forward to by corporate czars and the aam aadmi alike.

Mukherjee is no flash in the pan artist, so it would be foolish to expect him to come out with a financial spectacular. After nearly twenty years, we have for the first time a finance minister who is a dyed in the wool politician whose BP levels are not tied to the wild fluctuations of the Sensex. That is why there is widespread expectation that this budget will not merely carry the stamp of a politician, but one of Pranabda’s class and stature. And fortunately for him, unlike his immediate predecessor, Pranabda will not have to peek back every now and then to see if the Left is watching over his shoulders.

During the last couple of weeks, he has been holding consultations with a cross section of people, including bureaucrats, politicians both from the Congress and major opposition parties, corporate honchos, trade union leaders, bankers and the like for political and financial inputs for the many initiatives that he plans to unveil. So while both the aam aadmi and the corporates are keeping their fingers crossed on the actual contents of the budget, my information is that he is placing a premium on the political inputs. All of which leads to me to believe that, with the Congress still in election victory mode, the budget document may turn out to be a voluminous Thank You note to the poor and the lower and middle classes who stood massively behind the UPA. Knowing the general mood in the country and to some extent Pranabda’s own strong beliefs, I have the feeling that when he unveils the budget, the corporates may not exactly be whistling with joy. Pranabda will, in all probability, focus on placing more money in the hands of the lower and middle classes so that they have the power to purchase. A firm nonbeliever in the “ supply creates Predecessor: PC its own demand” theory, his emphasis will instead be on demand creation which has always been a guiding testament for him. He is said to have identified over a dozen sectors where he is likely to unleash a multi- crore spending spree to create lakhs of jobs. The tax cuts and other such incentives that business leaders are looking forward to may not materialise to the extent of their liking and you can be sure India Inc will not be sending him Thank You notes on the evening of July 6. He won’t mind either. From experience spanning half a century, he knows corporates are not the best allies.

Snippets / Mail Today, June 22, 2009

WOMEN have always been known to be more talkative than men but here is something that goes to show they are more reliable too. The UPA clearly believes that when it comes to transparency in government, women officers are more trustworthy than men. This is the picture that emerges after it appeared last week that the government was planning to appoint Deepak Sandhu, former media advisor to the prime minister, as the latest member of the eight member Central Information Commission, the body that oversees the ordinary citizen’s right to information. Omita Paul, a former Press Information Information Bureau officer and ex- advisor to Pranab Mukherjee and Anu Dixit, widow of former National Security Advisor Mani Dixit already function as commissioners, which means women occupy three out of the eight posts.

Since ICs are appointed by a committee that includes the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition, it can safely be assumed that the male dominated BJP shares the Congress view that women on the whole are more reliable.

STRANGER things may have happened in a coalition government, but the goings on in Maharashtra last week have truly bordered on the bizarre. The Mumbai Police Commissioner Hassan Gafoor and the Joint Commissioner Rakesh Maria, two Neros who sat in their police Gypsys and fiddled while Mumbai burnt last November are under the scanner; the former has been shunted out, the latter a likely target sooner or later. The tragedy is that it took the government so long. Now here comes the farce.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan took the belated decision, though a much awaited report by a fact finding commission headed by RD Pradhan, a former union home secretary, has not been made public. Curiously, while the report was not tabled in the assembly, an Action taken Report based on the Pradhan report was tabled.

Though the exact contents of the inquiry report are not known, the commission is said to have indicted the police officers for their inept handling of the crisis. Now, this is where things take an even more bizarre turn. Having shown Gafoor the door, the state government later rallied around him by rejecting Pradhan’s observations about his leadership and even giving him a post- sack promotion as, mercifully, the chief of the Maharashtra Police Housing Department where it is hoped his duties will be limited to checking cracked roofs and leaking cisterns. Worse, D. Shivanandan, the state intelligence chief who had no clue about the impending attack, was promoted to replace the sacked Gafoor.

So, was Gafoor fit for the job or no? And if Shivanandan had failed in his job as intelligence chief, how is he suddenly good enough to head the city police? Mumbaikars want to know the answer to these questions but the nature of the Congress- NCP coalition and the fact that the two officers have benefactors in either party means that they will never get to know the truth.

Mysterious chance encounter
PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh appeared to have turned his back on diplomatic tradition last week when he met Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at a multilateral summit in Russia. Normally, a meeting between heads of state or government is preceded by a photo- op where the two clasp hands and exchange pleasantries until the photographers can’t take it any more.
Political statements are scrupulously avoided. But our prime minister broke with convention when in full glare of TV cameras, he bluntly told Zardari “ I must tell you quite frankly that I have come with the limited mandate of telling you that the territory of Pakistan must not be allowed to be used for terrorist attacks on India”. The red faced Pakistani president is said to have pleaded with him to wait for the media crew to leave. But that’s besides the point.

Was the meeting just a chance encounter on the sidelines of the summit? Indeed, if it were so, do such “ chance” meetings between government heads go on for as long as 45 minutes behind closed doors? I have reason to believe that the “ ran into each other” meeting was just a cover up for a decision to start the dialogue process which was abandoned after 26/ 11.

For the last seven months, India has maintained that talks cannot resume until Pakistan acts against perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage. Though only Manmohan and Zardari were present, I am sure a RoD ( Record of Discussion) has been made which will show if the PM has already set the time frame for a composite dialogue. Don’t be surprised if that has been done and Manmohan and his Pak counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani meet up at the forthcoming NAM summit in Egypt.
The Americans have been after us to resume talks and if we don’t, Hillary who will be here in July, is going to be very angry. If a decision has been made to resume talks, Manmohan will have a lot of explaining to do when Parliament meets next month and the BJP revives the non- talks with Pakistan hysteria. But with a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, that should be the least of his worries.

A HUMILIATING defeat doesn't seem to have chastened Ram Vilas Paswan and once again he has got his feet firmly planted in the air. The giant- killer has several records to his credit, including winning an election to the Lok Sabha with the highest ever margin — 4.5 lakhs — way back in 1977, from Hajipur, Bihar. Much water has flowed down the Ganga that flows by the constituency and Paswan now has a record he wouldn’t want to own up: he lost to the JDU’s Ram Sunder Das, who at 88, was perhaps the oldest candidate to contest the 15th Lok Sabha elections, from the same constituency that elected Paswan seven times.

It's just a month since his defeat and he is already itching to get back to the Lok Sabha to mark his party's token presence in the house. He is eyeing the Firozabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh after Mulayam’s son Akhilesh Yadav resigned the seat, having also won from Kannauj.
Just three months ago, Mulayam had joined Lalu Yadav to project Paswan as a prime ministerial candidate. But last week when Paswan met Mulayam to seek his support for the Firozabad seat, the SP leader told him to first talk to the Congress.

Though the Congress President and Paswan are neighbours in Lutyens Delhi, he has not been able to arrange a meeting so far — before the elections when a minor fire broke out in Paswan's house, Sonia walked across to help him assess the damage. But much has changed in the last month and the feedback Paswan got from party minions is that the Congress plans to field its own candidate in Firozabad.

A month is indeed a long time in politics.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, June 21, 2009

Kamal Nath on the show Seedhi Baat says that he plans to contribute for the development of the nation as transport minister.
आज तक के खास कार्यक्रम सीधी बात में कमलनाथ ने अपनी जिम्‍मेदारियों और चुनौतियों समेत विभिन्‍न मसलों पर अपनी बेबाक राय रखी.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, June 15, 2009

MYTHS don’t die easily. But in less than three weeks after the UPA’s surprise victory in the 15th General Elections, Sonia Gandhi has managed to explode many myths that had grown around her and prove the skeptics who felt she was an introvert and a misfit in politics, wrong. All the Cassandras — yours truly included — are gladly eating their words and will have no hesitation in conceding that she is the best thing to have happened to the Grand Old Party at this moment in its long history. The finest of professionals will find it hard to match her public relations’ acumen; she is the Great Communicator who manages to convey her messages without even speaking.

I was among the 370- odd journalists — from junior reporters to chief editors — who were invited to a lunch that she hosted last week. In my 35 years of covering politics, I have attended several such do’s, mostly held on the lawns of party offices, under a tent meant to serve as protection from the blazing sun. But this was a proper sit- down lunch at a five- star hotel. Sonia came on the dot, spent about two minutes at each table, asking everyone present their names and the organisation they represented and moved on to the next, a process that took almost an hour- and- half since about 40 tables had been laid out in the huge convention hall. She took no questions and everyone from the cub- reporter to chief editor was given equal treatment before she moved on to a table reserved for her where she was joined by only her party colleagues.

Eleven years is a long time in politics and we have seen the best of them — Nehru, Indira, Rajiv and even Advani — lose their way around, but I think the Sonia story is just beginning. She has already got several firsts to her credit. She is the first person of foreign origin to become the Congress president since Independence; the first foreign born to become leader of the Lok Sabha and perhaps the only politician to reject the office of the Prime Minister, something she did not just once but twice. Her eyes, I presume, are now set on another: the first mother to preside over her son’s coronation.

The folks at the BJP are just making it easier for her. Instead of indulging in some serious introspection, the BJP leadership is writhing in self- inflicted pain and Sonia should ideally have been doing the victory dance all over again. Instead, she is thinking ahead and putting plans in place for the next elec- Priyanka Gandhi tions. Three days after the first session of the 15th Lok Sabha ended, she was in Rae Bareily along with Priyanka for a “ homecoming” where more than 7,000 party workers who had worked as booth level election agents were invited. The party workers came to celebrate and have a jolly good time but were caught by surprise when both mother and daughter stood beside each other and greeted and shook hands with each of them. It’s of such small gestures that electoral wonders are made of. Those at 11 Ashoka Road who thought winning elections was all about accumulating flying miles would do well to emulate Sonia.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Snippets/ Mail Today, June 15, 2009

HAPPENINGS in the BJP are becoming curiouser and curiouser. The top leaders, including its 60 plus Gen- NEXT, are going for each other’s jugular and I don’t see an early end to this very uncivil war. Last heard, the wellentrenched GenNext leaders were seeking action against Jaswant Singh for writing a letter criticising the leadership.

I find this a bit over the top, a little like the pot calling the kettle black. How ironic it would be if action is taken against Jaswant. After all, his only crime was indulging in the very democratic act of writing a letter meant for internal circulation only. On the other end, those who played very prominent roles in the policy and publicity formulations are inventing excuses for the two back- to- back defeats to cover up their ideological bankruptcy and redundancy, and continue to cling on to their posts, despite eroding public confidence in the BJP, through selective leaks to chosen journalists.

Modi’s quick response to poll result
OFFENCE, they say, is sometimes the best form of defence. After its less than spectacular showing in Gujarat where the BJP got just one more seat than it won in 2004, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is not about to let his aura of invincibility wane and has launched an aggressive political strategy to retain it. What better way then to try and recapture some of the lost glory than by launching an offensive. So while his party leaders in Delhi indulged in a fratricidal war where nobody is likely to end up a winner, Modi, who is now halfway through his third term as chief minister, has decided to take on the Congress by playing on Gujarati pride.

Soon after the short Parliament session ended, he invited all the 25 MPs from the state to brief them about taking up matters relating to Gujarat with New Delhi. His logic was that with the elections over, it was time everybody acted in the interest of Gujarat and not along narrow political lines. Only 13, all BJP MPs, attended, with the rest from the Congress staying away. He then took to the rostrums to remind people that while he was ready to sink political differences for the cause of the state, the Congress leaders were avoiding him.

As if to prove the point that not all Congress leaders considered him an untouchable, Modi sought an appointment with the Prime Minister. The meeting was all about bonhomie, with Modi presenting Manmohan Singh a shawl and wishing the new government the very best.

During the half- hour meeting, Modi raised matters ranging from the Sardar Sarovar dam to drinking water management, and even the attacks on Indian students in Australia. With just half his term left, I expect Modi to be the man for all causes and at his aggressive best, reserving all his energies to retain Gujarat, without which he will be as much a spent force as his party leaders in Delhi.

Rahul laying ground for coronation
RAHUL Gandhi’s tremendous contribution towards the UPA’s victory in the election cannot be overestimated. But for his brave decision to go it alone in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress may never have got anywhere near its current tally of 206 seats, the most that it has got in the last five Lok Sabha elections. But you would be mistaken if you think Rahul is sitting back and taking a well- deserved rest. Like his mother, Rahul has already launched Operation 2014 the aim of which is to take the Congress to a third consecutive term in office. As a first step, Rahul, who is also the general secretary in charge of the Youth Congress, is personally selecting state youth wing presidents and top office bearers. To make the grade, no amount of sifarish will work and appointments are made only after candidates pass the rigorous standards that he has set. Brushing aside strong lobbying from even a former chief minister, last month he appointed his own nominee as the Kerala Youth Congress chief.

More recently, half a dozen aspirants for the Bihar YC chief’s post were dispatched to Amethi where they were asked to work among the party workers in Rahul’s own constituency. The feedback he got from party field workers in Amethi, most of whom he knows by their first names, wasn’t particularly flattering to any of them and they were all asked to go back to their state and start afresh. He is now turning his attention to the BJP- ruled states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh etc, all of which will soon see new YC chiefs. Such tenacity and doggedness is easily explained. When the time comes for his coronation, Rahul would like the Congress to cross the 272 mark — on its own. Because no Gandhi would want to be the head of a coalition government.

Instead of being dictated, the Gandhis like to dictate.

TILL the other day, the buzz was all about Special Economic Zones. Then the skeletons began to tumble out and now many of them have been put on hold. The new buzzword in Delhi and many state capitals is SSS ( Special Status State). It was Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister, who set the ball rolling by saying on May 15, a day before the election results were out, that his party, the JD( U), which is a partner in the Opposition NDA, will support whichever party or alliance that offered Bihar a special status.

“ We have a good opportunity at hand”, he had said, alluding to the chances for bargaining in a hung house that was then foreseen. The UPA may still need the JD( U) if some of the unpredictable allies behave, as they are frequently known to. Now Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot is demanding special status for his state. After showing the door to the Vasundhara Raje- led BJP government last November, Gehlot delivered 21 of the 26 Lok Sabha seats from the state to the Congress last month.

I foresee a rush of special status applications landing up in the in- tray at the PMO. The Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the United Democratic Front in Kerala will demand special status. It will help them kick the commies out. Karunanidhi will demand it, so his heirs can keep Amma at bay, forever. The day may not be far off when India, a union of states, becomes a union of special states.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, June 14, 2009

Casteism should end:
Meira Kumar

The Lok Sabha Speaker on the show Seedhi Baat says that one's identity should speak of one’s work.
Part2 ; Part3 ; Part4 ; Part5

'महिलाओं को अवसर मिलना जरूरी'
आज तक के खास कार्यक्रम सीधी बात में लोकसभा की पहली महिला अध्‍यक्ष और कांग्रेस की नेता मीरा कुमार से बात की. बातचीत में मीरा कुमार ने सदन चलाने में सभी दलों के सहयोग की उम्‍मीद जताई.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, June 08, 2009

YOU can tell a lot about the state of an organisation by just looking at its headquarters. At 11 Ashoka Road, the BJP’s Central Office, the neon lights that shone on giant cutouts of the party’s top leaders don’t even come on anymore. It could be a case of a simple short circuit which the electricians there haven’t been able to detect. Quite like the disconnect between the party and the majority of Indians, which its leadership failed to detect, bringing the party to this pass.

And now, nearly a month after the results came out, they are still unable to decipher what went wrong. Far from taking collective responsibility for their shared failure, they even persuaded the lone man who owned up and offered to quit to stay on, so that they themselves continue to enjoy the perks of power without the burden of responsibility.

There are turning points in the history of political parties, when the future is made or lost. For the BJP, one such moment was in 1987 when it adopted the Ram Mandir as its mascot and a symbol of cultural nationalism. It reaped huge benefits. In the space of just 11 years, the BJP which had just two members in the 9th Lok Sabha went from strength to strength until it became the largest single party in Parliament in 1999. Sadly for the party, from then on, it’s been a downhill slide.

Party leaders hoped E- 2009 would reverse the trend. But if the defeat in 2004 was a tidal wave that left its leaders shellshocked, last month’s humiliation was a tsunami that killed their spirits.
They are still trying to figure out what went wrong. But if history is anything to go by, they don’t have to look far, just within. After the 2004 debacle, a committee headed by Ananth Kumar was set up to look into the matter. My good friend Ananth never made his report public because like everyone else, he knew the truth would be embarrassing for his own peer group.

Sometime in the near future, they will have a Chintan Baithak where, my instincts tell me, there will be a clamour to push the truth under the carpet. Instead of accepting responsibility and taking corrective measures, the leadership has gone into a shell, leaving it to some self appointed apologists to offer explanations for its defeat in all kinds of fora, except the party where one ceased to exist long ago.

So what really went wrong? Was it the mid term projection of Narendra Modi as its prime minister- in- waiting in 2014? Was it the failure of the leadership to zero in on the right candidates and convey the right message? The apologists, who never understood the party’s culture and yet dominated its leadership’s mind space, have it that the party lost because it was seen as a Hindutva outfit that was out of step with a vibrant and modern India. They argued it was time the party abandoned its original platform and transformed itself into an inclusive outfit, much like the Congress. That they have the leadership’s eyes and ears has in turn sparked off a conflict Rahul: Master stroke between these “ friends” of the BJP and the party’s original ideological stakeholders who gave their blood and sweat to build the BJP. There is recrimination rife among the latter who feel the party is paying the price for deviating from its original path; that LK Advani, who single- handedly built up the party, has compromised it by playing into their hands.

Thus the same people who sang Advani’s praise for seizing the moment in 1987 now hold him responsible for the irreparable harm. They point to his 2005 visit to Pakistan and the secular certificate he gave to the Qaid- e- Azam. It may have won him admirers in the country of his birth but it alienated his party.

Many see that as the beginning of the downturn, as he could neither sell his ideology to the cadres nor enthuse them. To be fair, Advani did not pursue the ideological shift, but neither did he attempt to extricate himself from the vice- like grip that the BJP’s new found friends had on him. This in turn led to demoralisation and waning enthusiasm among the party hardcore who were the dipped- in- saffron types.

SO SHOULD the party change just to give a comfort zone for a few? Or should it go back to its original roots that saw the BJP clocking the fastest growth rate that any political party in India has ever had? No is the opinion of the paratroopers and self appointed ideologues. But the long- term faithful, not to speak of the parent organisation, the RSS, feel the BJP has no option but to adopt its original and distinct identity if it is to remain a potent political force. Such dilemmas have of course never been a bother for the party’s famed Gen- Next who will soon engage each other in a war of succession to determine who will lead the party five years hence. As things stand now, whoever is unfortunate enough to get the top job can only lead the party further down the road to oblivion.

The ambitious men and women at 11 Ashoka Road should perhaps draw some lessons from Rahul Gandhi. The mandate for the Congress had less to do with its performance record and more with young Rahul’s bold decision to go it alone in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. One master stroke and some untiring work and the Congress won back the support of a large section of Dalits, Muslims and pandits, its core constituency that once seemed lost forever. The BJP should also try going back to its roots. And also ponder why its leaders are now reluctant to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai while the Congress Jai Ho chorus wafts all across the country.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Seedhi Baat/ Aajtak, June 07, 2009

We've not surrendered to Cong: Amar

Samajwadi Party leader on the show Seedhi Baat says that the party will support the Congress for the next six months and then will review its decision based on the govt's performance.

Part2 ; Part3 ; Part4 ; Part5

जमाना अब युवा नेतृत्‍व का है: अमर सिंह

मुलायम सिंह यादव के बेटे अखिलेश यादव को सपा की कमान सौंपने के मुद्दे पर अमर सिंह का कहना है कि अखिलेश उनके बेटे जैसे हैं इसलिए अगर बेटा बाप से आगे निकले तो ये खुशी की बात है. उन्‍होंने कहा कि जमाना अब युवा नेतृत्‍व का है.

Snippets/ Mail Today, June 08, 2009

WITH one minister resigning from her job just days after taking office and rumblings of dissatisfaction continuing, especially among Congressmen from Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh who between them have sent 53 MPs and in return have got just one cabinet minister, it is still too early to say whether the final pieces of the new Manmohan cabinet are in place. Congressmen from the heartland state are mystified that the Sultanpur- Rae Bareily- Amethi- Pratapgarh belt, the domain of the Gandhis and dominated by the Congress which won all four seats, does not have even one minister.

The last time the area had a representative in the cabinet was when Satish Sharma became petroleum minister in the Narasimha Rao cabinet. While Sonia and Rahul represent Rae Bareily and Amethi, Sanjay Singh, who fought against Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi in 1989, is the Congress MP from Sultanpur while Ratna Singh, daughter of the late Dinesh Singh, represents Pratapgarh for the fourth time. I understand that there was much pressure on the prime minister to include one of the two in the council of ministers, but I presume it’s not Manmohan Singh’s prerogative to decide whether someone from outside the Parivar can represent the family belt in the cabinet. With Rahul opting out of government, only one conclusion can be drawn.

There are no in- betweens for those elected from the Family belt: they can either be ordinary MPs as Rahul has chosen to be, or the first among equals which he looks set to be.

What does shipping portfolio row foretell?
TO the world outside, it appears that all is well between the two largest parties in the UPA coalition, the Congress and the DMK. But the Dravidian party is still smarting from the denial of the shipping portfolio which was held in the last government by TR Baalu. He was sacrificed after a family feud erupted over cabinet berths, but the DMK nevertheless hoped to keep the shipping portfolio because of the Rs 2600 crore Ram Sethusamudram project which is both a money spinner and a vote catcher. Will the project lead to friction between the alliance partners before the state assembly elections that are due in March 2011? The shipping and transport portfolio is now with the Congress whose debutant minister GH Vasan is the son of the veteran Congress leader GK Moopanar and is being projected as the future face of the Congress in the state. At the Centre, the tussle over Sethusamudram is being dealt with by the shipping ministry as well as the culture department, which is now directly under the control of the prime minister. Equally signicantly, V Narayanaswamy, also a Tamil and a Gandhi family loyalist, is the minister of state for culture. In the last government, Baalu had frequently clashed with Culture Minister Ambika Soni at meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs where the two ministries gave diametrically opposite viewpoints. Baalu once even put the government in a bit of a spot after his ministry filed a highly controversial affidavit in the Supreme Court.

I won’t be surprised if RK Pachouri who is looking into the matter shows no hurry to complete his report. So will the DMK use the project to whip up Dravidian sentiments by linking the Sethusamudram to the economic development of the state? Will Karunanidhi and his Deputy Chief Minister son once again sit on a health- fast between breakfast and lunch to play on local emotions? Whatever the father, son and the extended family do, Vasan and Co can be expected to match them step for step.

Deciphering a namaste
IF A picture tells a thousand words, a moving picture recites an entire story. On and off for two days last week, I watched on TV the newly elected MPs taking oath in the Lok Sabha. It can get a bit dull, watching over 500 men and women walk down the aisles from their seats, doing their customary namastes to the prime minister, Sonia Gandhi and the treasury benches before taking the oath, then signing the register and walking back, repeating the namastes , this time aimed at the opposition benches.

It gets even more boring watching it on DD’s Lok Sabha channel because the cameras are static and the voiceovers are dreary. But the cameras suddenly came to life when Kalyan Singh, ex BJP and now independent, walked up. It zoomed in as he bowed before the PM and Sonia. From their beaming faces, you could draw any interpretation. Strangely though, as he returned to his seat past the benches of his old BJP colleagues, the camera shifted elsewhere. The public doesn’t know if he shook hands with Advani and his ex- colleagues. Body language counts a lot in politics but the video editor denied viewers the chance to bet whether the unpredictable Kalyan will walk back to the BJP or embrace the Congress.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Snippets / Mail Today, June 01, 2009

IT’S TIME they really gave a hard thought to renaming South Block as the Deep South Block.
For the Mallu Mafia is growing from strength to unrivalled strength. I have in the past written about its stranglehold on the bureaucracy. And now the tiny state has sent its biggest ever contingent to the council of ministers, two at the cabinet level and four ministers of state. Of the six, three have offices in Raisina Hill and with top officers, from the Cab- Sec, Foreign Secretary to the National Security Advisor reigning in South Block, I suspect the day is not far off when you peep into any room on the Hill and you would find a Mallu sitting there. The reunion of so many of them thousands of miles away from home caused so much excitement at the Rashtrapati Bhavan that when the ministers from Kerala posed for photographers, even the top bureaucrats joined in.

Wasting the promise of the young
IN THE age of youth power, a lot of us thought that at least some among the large contingent of young MPs, touted as symbols of the new and vibrant Congress, would be rewarded with crucial and meaningful posts in the new government. But such hopes have been quickly belied. The allocation of portfolios shows that the Congress views talented young ones like Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasad and others as no more than showpieces in the ministerial cupboard. All of them have either been put under heavyweight Congress ministers or under the Cabinet ministers from alliance partners who are not likely to part with any power or authority, thus depriving them of an opportunity to perform.

Particularly worried should be bright young men like Pilot who has been put under DMK’s A. Raja, in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Raja, was the target of a smear campaign orchestrated by the Congress spin doctors whose sole aim was to scuttle his induction into the cabinet but got the job after M Karunanidhi dug his heels in. He is not likely to share power with someone as suave and dynamic as Sachin.

Ask Jyotiraditya Scindia. He worked under Raja in the last government and was given charge of the Department of Posts, and all that the young Scindia scion could do was to ensure that post offices across the country were given a fresh coat of paint. Srikant Jena, the firebrand socialist from Orissa and the only minister from the state stayed away from office on the first day, presumably in protest at being placed under MK Azhagiri in the Ministry of Fertilisers and Chemicals. His grouse must be genuine. Jena was a cabinet minister in the V. P Singh government when his senior minister was busy leading DMK cadres pull down Jayalalitha’s posters from the streets of Chennai.
AFTER suffering the likes of Murli Manohar Joshi and Arjun Singh for over a decade, it is heartening to note that the Human Resources Development Ministry will finally be headed by someone who carries with him no ideological baggage. There could not have been a better choice for the portfolio than Kapil Sibal, who last time did a commendable job as India’s Science and Technology minister.

The decay in the ministry actually set in nearly four decades ago when Indira Gandhi appointed Nurul Hasan as Education Minister and the ministry became the monopoly of Leftists. Much later, Joshi sought to undo Hasan’s doings and in the process impose the Sangh Parivar’s own ideology on the educational system.

For the last five years, the ministry was at the mercy of Arjun Singh who was ever busy endorsing history as seen by the Leftists and other pseudo secularists. Unlike them, Kapil is a forward looking man and a visionary and I am sure he will quickly get down to work on, among other things, the increasing involvement of private players in education and the need to curb the growth of both communism and communalism in the sector.

Like Kapil, Anand Sharma carries no baggage though unlike the HRD minister, he is ever ready to carry the baggage of the first family. Some say that, more than anything else, is the reason why he has landed up with the twin portfolios of Industry and Commerce, earlier the preserve of political heavyweights which Sharma is clearly not. There are crucial WTO negotiations coming up in the near future and where Kamal Nath held his own against the developed countries, sometimes even defying the orders from above, Sharma is not expected to do anything more than what he is best at: take orders from his masters.

Free rein to dynasticism
THE POWER of dynastic politics was in full display in both New Delhi and Chennai last week and the two events were linked. In the capital, the freshly sworn in mantrijis had the first meeting of the union council of ministers, while in Chennai, Tamil Nadu got its first ever deputy chief minister; MK Stalin now joins Punjab’s Sukhbir Badal as the second to serve as a deputy in a government led by the father. The DMK patriarch’s failing health does not allow him to work as he used to and the party’s spin masters, zeroed in on his son only after K Anbazhagan, the state finance minister and seniormost in the party hierarchy excused himself because of, well you guessed it, failing health.

The first meeting of the new Manmohan cabinet would have taken place without seven ministers being present. No, it wouldn’t have been the unpredictable Mamata Banerjee throwing early tantrums. It would have been the DMK ministers’ more pressing engagement in Chennai: the coronation of Stalin.

The DMK contingent was ordered by the party patriarch to shelve all official duties and be present. All seven ministers caught the morning flight out of Delhi but were back by Saturday and the first meeting of the new council of ministers mercifully saw no empty chairs.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, June 01, 2009

IN THE system of government that we have, the prime minister should ideally have the final say in the selection of his cabinet. In reality, that seldom is the case. During the last two weeks, while the process of cabinet formation and portfolio distribution was on, there was ample evidence of the prime minister’s helplessness in choosing his team. For over 12 days, a lot of haggling, hassling and bargaining went on. It was convenient for Congressmen to blame it all on the power struggle in the DMK. Truth be told the problem was within the Congress itself.

After endless rounds of negotiations and compromise, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is left with a ministerial council, of whom a quarter would not have been there if the prerogative was entirely his. Flush with victory on May 16, Manmohan promised to do much within the first 100 days but sadly, the first two weeks were spent bickering over who would be in and who would be out and who would get what portfolio.

The way the Congress party works, it would be tempting to believe that Sonia Gandhi’s writ runs in the party and that the collective might of the Congress chief, the prime minister and Rahul Gandhi was all that was needed to steamroll all opposition. While it is true that the DMK made the inclusion of certain ministers and their portfolios nonnegotiable, the problem was compounded by the internal pressures within the Congress and the part played by party satraps from some of the states. As proof, you need look no further than the inclusion of seven former Congress chief ministers in the cabinet, not to speak of two from the allies. The latter of course are beyond the control of the High Command, but it is the inclusion of some of the ex Congress chief ministers that raises eyebrows.

In the past, ex chief ministers like ND Tiwari, VP Singh, SB Chavan, Zail Singh were given important portfolios but they were not losers as today's crop are; Vilasrao Deshmukh’s removal from Mantralaya for his ineptitude during the Mumbai massacre is too recent to bear repetition. Yet, he had the gall to land up in Delhi, supporters in tow, lobbying for a place in the cabinet and a portfolio of his choice. There may have been several factors at work that rendered the Sonia- Manmohan team unable to resist such pressures, but still praise be to them.

The portfolios handed to them shows they have been put in their places. Deshmukh has got Heavy Industries and PSUs. Coming at a time when the public sector is being forced to yield space to the private, Deshmukh should be grateful they saddle him with the Ministry of Nationalisation.

Himachal’s Virbhadra Singh must have been looking forward to Deshmukh: Surprise heading a newly created Ministry of Fruit Processing, but now must make do with Steel which will do no good to his bid to regain his numero uno status in his home state. The suave SM Krishna at External Affairs must surely be aware that while the Prime Minister will keep a keen watch from above, Shashi Tharoor, first time MP, will be equally vigilant below. Farooq Abdullah’s eyes were set on the tourism portfolio but he will have to make do with New and Renewable Energy. I assume the babus will in the next few days tell him what that is all about. If all this proves anything, it is that while the prime minister does not have the right to pick his own team, it is entirely his prerogative to show them their true worth.