Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Am Innocent... I cannot do anything else in a Coalition... Says Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh seems to be under an illusion. His interaction this week with editors of a select group of editors of TV channels bore resemblance to a time in our recent past when Rajiv Gandhi, then the Prime Minister, sought to deflect criticism of corruption in high places by making it that he was above board. When the Bofors scandal was being raised, Rajiv Gandhi told Parliament that neither he nor anyone from his family had received the kickback. Well. He may not have known, at that time, that records would soon tumble out showing the money trail to Ottavio Quattrocchi.

The rest is history, to repeat that cliché. It came out in the months after Rajiv Gandhi made that statement that though not his family, one of his family’s close friends was among the recipients of the money that was paid into secret swiss bank accounts by the Swedish gun manufacturer. It is idle to argue that Rajiv Gandhi was all that innocent in that sordid deal. In any case, he as Prime Minister, could not have been unaware of the serious wrongs that went into the purchase of the 155 mm Howitzer guns for the Indian army.

This applies to Manmohan Singh too. He was asked about A. Raja and the scandal involving the sale of 2G Spectrum and Singh did concede that something had gone wrong in that regard. But then, he sought to absolve himself of any responsibility and held that in a coalition that he was leading it was inevitable that he left the choice of ministers to the leaders of the parties in the coalition. Here was an instance of the Prime Minister speaking against the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. The Constitution lays down the prerogative of forming the cabinet with the Prime Minister. Dr. Singh, to save his skin, did not hesitate blaming it on M.Karunanidhi. This bit is technical though a matter for concern.

Prime Minister Singh then went on to explain that he was privy to complaints against A.Raja even at the time he recommended the name to the President, Pratibha Patil to be sworn in as Cabinet Minister. And that he also heard good things about that man. Let us look into this a bit more closely. Yes. There was talk about the scandal involving the 2G spectrum sale and that Raja did something wrong. The CPI(M) had written about this to the Prime Minister even in 2007; the CPI(M) was very much an ally then and the party’s support was critical for the Government’s survival. It is a sad story that the CPI(M) did not push their point too hard then and there and Prakash Karat must explain why did his party let the scam remain a concern in just private communications between his party and the Government then.

But then, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must have known, at least in May 2009, when he decided to post Raja in the same ministry, that there was a certain industrial house trying all tricks to have Raja there and no one else at the helm in Sanchar Bhawan. The Government, at that time, had ordered the tapping of the telephone conversations by one Mrs. Nira Raadia. The conversations, thus tapped, revealed that Raadia, M.Kanomozhi and Barkha Dutt (of NDTV) were talking, several times in a day to pull all the stops and make Raja the Minister for Telecommunications. It is dangerous, even to imagine, that these were not brought to the Prime Minister’s notice by the concerned officers in the Enforcement Directorate. And if Manmohan Singh is to be believed – that he had only heard some vague complaints against Raja – there is something far too dangerous than things appear to be.

The point here is that neither can one believe Manmohan Singh nor can one disbelieve him. Either way, there is something seriously wrong with the way this Government is functioning. The nation is not safe in such hands that do not want to behave with a sense of responsibility or is prone to escape responsibility when push comes to shove. Now that Manmohan Singh has spoken, one can only wonder, as to what all horrors are in store from now to May 2014 because we are condemned to be ruled by this man and his coalition ``dharma'' until then.

The Prime Minister did get away with all these. It was a sad spectacle where senior editors, who are otherwise known to bark at party spokespersons in their studio every evening did not show such determination to nail in the Prime Minister. And the Prime Minister’s Press Advisor, a journalist known for his pontifications through his columns in the past, was seen containing even those who wanted to ask some friendly questions. Those who had the privilege to be there and interact with the Prime Minister did not do justice. It is another matter that the Prime Minister put up a poor show despite all that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dear Mr. Rahul Gandhi,

I am sure that you do realize, as much as I do, that your surname does convey an impression that you are a legatee to Mahatma Gandhi. I am not blaming you for that. It so happened at some point. However you could have made amends by way of inheriting some of Bapu’s qualities and the most important among them being brutally honest. I presume you know that Bapu lived in a manner that he represented the change he wanted in his own life and laid down his life in the course of living that way.

He refused the entrants to the Birla House from being frisked even while there was a feeling that his life was in danger. Nathuram Godse, the one who killed that apostle of peace in the evening on January 30, 1948, could not have achieved what he did if there was frisking that day. He could not have walked in to the lawns to shoot down the Mahatma. Well. The Bapu may have lived longer but not the way he wanted to.

I am constrained to tell this to you given the frequent trips you undertake to various parts of the country and travel in ordinary coaches and the promptness with which the media celebrates such instances. But the immediate provocation to do this comes from the news of corruption or favouritism shown by the ISRO, among the organizations directly under your Prime Minister, parceling out scarce spectrum to a private agency for no price at all. We all know, by this time, the details of the sweet deal by which a private agency with monetary links to foreign players had landed.

We are also aware that the government, sometimes in July 2010, began to rethink on the deal (for reasons best known to Manmohan Singh and some of his close associates) but then found itself in a bind against doing that summarily. The contract obligations were such that it is not easy to renege on the commitment and the Law Ministry was put on the job to find how to extricate from it. I am sure you will know as much as I do, that spectrum is a scarce commodity and there is no justification for anyone to have it free and worse when the deal allows the private player –Devas Communications – to sell it to whoever it wanted. The contract even says that ISRO too will have to buy spectrum from Devas if it wanted.

The old saying that you need not be a rocket scientist to realize that this is daylight loot of public wealth applies here more than anywhere else. The rocket scientists were behind this deal and our own Prime Minister, whom you described as impeccable presides over the department. Rahul, you are silent on all these. You did talk about one Prabhawati while defending the 123 civil nuclear deal and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament. Don’t you think you must speak up for that Prabhawatis again. Their wealth is being looted and you are not heard anywhere.

I do know, as much as you do, that Manmohan Singh cannot speak against what you say. But then, it is important that you persist with what you say. You went to Udayagiri in Orissa and spoke about the need to preserve the nature and the hills. Your message went down well and the Posco project was exposed: A committee consisting of people close to you exposed all that were wrong with the project and Jairam Ramesh followed it up with some bold measures. But then, you did not show interest in that and ended up in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere and Manmohan Singh managed to pressure Jairam Ramesh undo what he did earlier.
I recall all this because you seem to be a source of power and inspiration. You will, hence, have to speak your mind on the ISRO scandal and also on the sad episode where we all know that A Raja sold spectrum to some people who in turn sold the same for prices several times than they bought. We now hear many things about the money trail. It is impossible that such things do not reach your ears. Those whom you recruit to the Youth Congress must be asked to convey whatever they hear. You must realize that popular perception is an important thing in public life and democracy.

Well. I know there is a lot to do for you. But then, you have assumed a role, by your own choice, and there is no escape from taking up all these and more. And let me conclude now. You have the choice to remain silent on all these and do what you are best at: To indulge in theatrics. But then, that will only confirm that you are no different from the others.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

On Egypt... may be too simplistic and seditious too... But I think this way

For a generation that has grown up in the last couple of decades, the kind of protest happening in Cairo is indeed unprecedented. The last time that such crowds thronged the streets seeking an end to the regime was in the late 1980s. Beginning with the Solidarity movement in Poland, there were such massive mobilisation of the people on the streets across Eastern Europe and regimes established by the Soviet Union in those countries began collapsing one after another. The world order changed when that wave of protest culminated in the peoples’ movement putting an end to the Communist rule in Moscow.
The US seemed the only leader since then and those who wished another pole looked forward to China emerging into one. The non-aligned block, of which Egypt along with India had been the original leaders was now only a theoritical proposition. Egypt had turned a US stooge since Hosni Mubarak ascended the throne in Cairo (after Anwar Sadat was assasinated while reviewing an army parade). The US designs in Egypt had more to do with its agenda in West Asia and Mubarak danced to the designs pretty well.
For the US, Egypt was a necessary annexation particularly after Iran slipped out of its embrace. The 1979 anti-Shah revolution in Iran, indeed, began on an anti-US and a fairly radical premise but was taken over by the Islamic Fundamentalists. Under Ayyotollah Khomeini and his successors, Iran has remained an anti-US force in the region and after Iraq too was lost to the US (Iraq was a base from where the US threatened Iran in the early Eighties), Egypt had been far too important for Washington.
This background, in as brief a manner as it is, will help see the uprising in Egypt during the past week in perspective. And now some more facts leading to the present uprising will be in order.
The US regime also pushed the Mubarak regime, ever willing to listen to the master, into an economic regime that is not too different from what successive regimes in India too have been following. The principle of free market, as it is called, visited Egypt almost a decade before it was formally adopted in India. The idea was that the state withdrew itself from bothering about industrial and such projects and allowed the private investor, domestic and foreign, play the way they wanted. The shift, in a way, from the spirit of the Bandung Conference (from where the NAM was born) was not only in terms of foreign policy but in the area of domestic policy as well. Socialism, in any case, did not have any takers in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern block.
The kind of capitalism, as it developed in Egypt, however was marked by a certain cronyism. Nationalism, which was seen historically as a force behind capitalism, hence, did not determine the development in Egypt. This is where the shift away from the spirit of Bandung was pronounced but many did not see that a problem in the larger context of prosperity of a kind. In a sense, the system depended upon props from outside and the US was ever willing to provide that given Egypt’s strategic location in the West Asian region. That Egypt happens to be the only nation in the Arab region to have a no war pact with Israel is a relevant fact in this context.
But then, there is something structurally deficient about capitalism and this is more pronounced in the context of crony capitalism. It is incapable of ensuring prosperity across the spectrum. Unlike socialism, where the primary needs of the entire population is taken care, there is no such structural guarantee in a capitalist order. And in the era of a technology revolution and the exponential growth of consumerism, which is what sustains the capitalist system, the society was beginning to get divided across two poles: The haves and the have nots. And the gap simply kept widening and life for those on the wrong side of the growth turned miserable. More so when the welfare state principle too was given a go bye.
Such developments took place in France in 1789. In Russia in 1905. And in both those instances as in Egypt now, those at the helm were not responsible people. They did not care about the people. Hosni Mubarak, for instance, thought that he was accountable only to the US regime. An amoral leader, of such a kind, will also breed amorality in the establishment. It is indeed a rule. This meant that the various levels of the administration consisted of people who were corrupt and self serving.
Recall the episode, just a couple of weeks ago, involving the ruler of Tunisia. He was another stooge of the US regime and it is possible to argue that the Tunisians set the path that the people of Egypt are now treading. Recall that the Tunisians also managed to get a lot of money that their erstwhile leader had stashed away in Swiss Banks! One shall wait if Hosni Mubarak too had done that and the revolution in Cairo and Alexandria and elsewhere in that land of ancient civilization succeeds in getting it back from the Swiss.
Yes. It is a peoples’ revolution against an irresponsible regime that was a crony of the US. Our own history has such glorious records. The students in Gujarat had rised in protest to get rid of what then was the most corrupt regime. Chimanbhai Patel’s scale of corruption was just peanuts when compared with our own times. Our own leaders now, apart from building the same system that Hosni Mubarak had done in his country, are as corrupt and insensitive to the gnawing gap that is between the haves and the have nots.
Rising food prices, falling standards of living, unemployment and corruption are the immediate causes to the revolution in Egypt. These were caused by the economic programme that the Mubarak regime adopted and implemented for three decades. Well. Those dreaming of a change for the better in India need not feel frustrated. Like Bob Dylan sang in the 1960s, the times are changing…!