Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's raining gifts... Why not have elections every year... or every month????

The AIADMK chief, Ms. J. Jayalalithaa is said to have worked hard to exclude Vaiko’s MDMK from the front she now leads because she was assured of a large donation from a business house in that event. Well. Notwithstanding the absurdity, such tales do the rounds with none raising doubts. It sounds absurd because there is no credible reason as to why should Vaiko be seen as a thorn in the flesh by any business house. The MDMK chief, after all, is not known as a crusader against anyone of the business houses. He is, in fact, known to have compromised on many issues for the sake of being in the AIADMK led front.

That none in the AIADMK front spoke for Vaiko is indeed a commentary. All those parties, now with Jayalalithaa, are there to preserve themselves rather than any common programme. And as for Vaiko, his party’s strength was tested in 1996, the first ever elections after it was founded. The MDMK then consisted of several leaders who led the DMK in the various districts and had revolted against M.Karunanidhi to jin Vaiko. But then, the MDMK was mauled in the polls. Vaiko himself had contested for both the Lok Sabha and the State assembly in May 1996 and lost both the contests. And in the 15 years since then, he has been with both the AIADMK and the DMK and even while his party won seats in the Lok Sabha and the assembly, most leaders who walked out of the DMK with him had returned to where they came from. Vaiko’s isolation and the sense of helplessness is indeed a consequence and Jayalalithaa seemed to have known this when she offered him lesser number of seats than she did to either of the two left parties!

For want of a credible explanation as to why did the AIADMK-MDMK alliance break down and the fact that the talks between the two parties were held, as is now the rule everywhere, behind closed doors rather than after a public debate on policies, it is inevitable that rumours form the basis for a discussion. A rational explanation for the split, however, would be that the AIADMK chief was convinced that Vaiko is dispensable after she managed to have Vijayakant’s DMDK in her fold. She had done her arithmetic well in 1998 and in 2001. The AIADMK along with the DMDK, the two Left parties and a few smaller outfits in the fold seems to add up to over 45 per cent of the votes and certainly more than the combined vote-share of the DMK-Congress-PMK front. The PMK was part of the AIADMK fold in May 2009. But lost in all the seven Lok Sabha constituencies it contested even while the AIADMK did well.

The most important accretion to the AIADMK front is Vijayakant. The DMDK was less than a year old when it faced the first elections in May 2006. In a polity that had witnessed political fragmentation to such extent where caste based outfits have tended to determine poll outcomes in a big way, the DMDK secured close to 10 per cent of the votes even while it posed as a party that cut across castes. The party did retain its vote-share in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections too. But then, its performance could be explained as reflecting the quest for an alternative, among a section in Tamil Nadu, to limited choice between the DMK and the AIADMK. That indeed was Vijayakant’s claim too. The film hero seemed to have realized that even if he was prepared for the long haul his cadre may not be prepared for the wait.

He may have loved to pose himself as an alternative to both the DMK and the AIADMK if only the Congress was willing to play ball. That did not happen. And that certainly was what Jayalalithaa seemed to wait for. The AIADMK chief seems cautious though. She probably feels that arithmetic alone will not help win elections. The DMK-led alliance will have to ensure a swing of at least ten per cent votes in its favour; a huge task and more so in the context of the 2G Spectrum scam. The fact that all the party’s stalwarts decided against contesting from their own citadels in the Chennai city is suggestive.

That explains the reckless announcement of sops in the manifesto. After the DMK’s manifesto promised the voters of either a mixie or a wet-grinder, the AIADMK chief has promised both of these and also a fan if her party was elected. And in a sign of the changing times, the AIADMK has also promised a certain quantity of drinking water free. This may be described as competitive populism. Well. Not really so. It is simply a sign of recklessness. A pointer to the changing times from potable water to all as a basic human right to a specified quantity – 20 litres – free as a sop in exchange for votes. The DMK seemed to set the rules this way when it promised free colour TV sets in the last elections and implemented it too.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A lesson from Japan's tragedy...

Japan, amidst the huge tragedy that its people have suffered, also holds an important lesson to us. The 2004 tsunami that struck us and some other nations in East Asia came as a reminder to a generation that had heard of the word for the first time. But then, one does remember a dialogue in the Tamil film Anbey Sivam, where the tsunami is talked about. The fact is that many in India heard of that natural calamity for the first time in 2004. But then, Japan had suffered such nature’s fury even earlier and children there grow up learning lessons on this aspect of natural calamity as well.

We have learnt, from our own school books that Japan is a land prone to earth quakes and hence the Japanese houses and buildings are done in a manner that they are resistant to wuakes. But then, I d not think that we have the technology to build houses that can resist the tsunami waves. We do have the technology, though, to know that a tsunami is going to strike a coast with the early warning system in place. The Japanese could predict this tsunami and it may be said that they could reduce the loss of lives this time.

But then, there is no way that one can ignore the collateral damage that the tsunami of last week end caused to the Island nation. And in a sense one may argue that the damage was more because the Japanese had ``progressed’’ a lot more than in the past. A larger number of cars, small planes and gas stations and office buildings in the coast meant that the killer waves washed away a lot of hard metal as they entered into the land and the speed at which such hard metal traversed across the streets along with the water meant that it must have killed men and women who stood in their way and also demolished buildings in the process.

The gas stations, operating on automatic systems and the various other systems that make life easier in ordinary times and the fact that they are run on electricity simply meant short-circuiting and fire accidents even while there was sea water all around. Recall that we in India, when the tsunami struck in December 2004, did not suffer from fire accidents. Well. Our coastal community was less dependent on automatic gadgets and lived a lot more simpler than those in Japan. It may be noted that in case of the December 2004 tsunami the loss of life was maximum in Nagapattinam and that was because human settlements had come up in low lying areas where it must not have. Similarly, Thailand, where the coasts were turned into tourism zones suffered more damage than India.

Let me now come to the point. The tsunami that struck Japan caused huge damage to lives because it also meant destruction of a lot of facilities that man had constructed to make life better! And among them is the preference for nuclear power. In other words, as the need for automation increased, the Japanese needed lot more electricity and since they could not generate as much as they wanted from hydel and thermal sources they bought nuclear power stations from the US and others and generated several thousand megawatts using fusion and fission technology. It was believed that Japan is a developed nation and that the Japanese lived happier lives than many others in the world.

The tragic developments after last Friday has revealed the problem with that development. Three blasts, one after another, from the nuclear power stations have made the tsunami rehabilitation work a lesser priority. Japan is now under a cloud and the people, who only a generation back, had suffered a nuclear catastrophe in Nagasaki and Hiroshima are put through a similar experience. It is evident now that nuclear power generation is not a safe option and every nuclear station is a sitting bomb.

The point is that nuclear power stations will necessarily have to be located in the coast. For sea water in plenty is required to cool the generators and the system. And coasts are prone to tsunami whenever there is an earth quake under water. In other words, every nuclear station, whether it be in Japan, the US or in our own coast, is a disaster in the waiting. Do we need them? Some of them are already working and it is possible to shut them down and phase some others out. But it is easier to decide against any new power station using nuclear fuel and also to decide against commissioning the ones that are ready but not started as in Koodankulam.

The 123 civil nuclear cooperation with the US was a disaster in the making. We can rescind it at least now. And this we owe to the generations to come. I cannot resist prescribing a pamphlet for everyone to read. A pamphlet published first in 1909. Hind Swaraj by M.K.Gandhi is relevant even today. 101 years after it was published first. We must learn to limit our needs and thus restrict our dependence on technology. In any case, mankind must shed its ego and agree that we are not here to combat with and control nature. We must agree to co-habit with nature and sustain our civilization. There is enough, as Bapu said, for man’s needs but not for greed.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Manmohan Singh beats Gujral... I hope he is not beaten by someone in future

It is difficult for a historian of politics to desist from making assessments of leaders of the past. It is also difficult to resist the temptation of using superlatives in such assessments. Let me admit now that such temptations are better resisted. If not, one is bound to land in trouble. I say this out of my own experience and the trouble that I am now in.

I had thought, until some times ago, that Inder Kumar Gujral was the worst of the Prime Ministers that we had in the short history of our nation. For those who grew up in the past decade, Gujral was Prime Minister of India for a short period of seven months between April 21, 1997 and November 28, 1997.

In that short while, Gujral established the lowest ebb to which the office of the Prime Minister could be taken to. He looked the other way when three members of the Union Cabinet went about organizing violent agitations against the CBI. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Kanti Singh and Jai Narayan Prasad Nishad, all followers of Lalu Prasad Yadav and members of Gujral’s cabinet were actively organizing agitations stopping trains and blocking roads against the CBI. They all believed that Lalu Prasad Yadav was above law. Gujral, after all, could not have turned ungrateful. He was a MP and PM only because Lalu Yadav helped him to be all that.

It did not matter to him that he was whittling down the authority of the Prime Minister. Let me clarify. Lest I be mistaken. I am not arguing that the Prime Minister behave like a commander of forces or turns a tyrant. That was what Gujral’s leader, Indira Gandhi emerged into and her actions cannot be held as an example of a strong prime minister. A strong Prime Minister, in a sense, is one who does not let things drift and when pushed against the wall or into a corner say that he committed a wrong and that it was an error of judgment.

Well. Gujral was the weakest Prime Minister we had as a nation. I will now qualify that the statement held until Manmohan Singh arrived on the scene. One remembers the sad spectacle he made of himself within a couple of months after he became the Prime Minister in May 2004. Shibhu Soren, among his cabinet colleagues, was served with an arrest warrant on charges of murder from a Jharkhand Court. Soren went into hiding. Sadly so, the Prime Minister was unable to even contact his cabinet colleague and ask him to resign. Gujral did have a similar problem when Chandradeo Prasad Verma, then a union minister, was chargesheeted in the fodder scam cases and it took some time before the Prime Minister could even ask Verma to resign.

Manmohan Singh too, managed, after a couple of days, to convey the message of propriety to Soren. But then, Singh emerged into a leader and even showed signs of a determined fighter, willing to stoop down to any level and engage with Amar Singh when push came to shove in the case of the 123 civil nuclear deal with the US. November 2007 saw Prime Minister Singh show all signs of a powerful political leader and unmindful of anything. So much so, elections 2009 were fought by the Congress-led alliance with him as the leader.

Anyone who happened to witness him speak in the Rajya Sabha this past week, explaining his position on the appointment of P.J.Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner, will necessarily wonder whether our Prime Minister is such a helpless person and in that event bound to be scared of his or her own safety in this country and the fate of the nation itself.

He said that he was unaware of any case against Thomas when he went in for the meeting to decide on his appointment. He trusted Prithviraj Chavan, then Minister of State for Personnel and now Maharashtra Chief Minister whose office had forwarded the list of three names including that of Thomas from which the CVC was to be selected. Manmohan Singh, however, admitted that Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a member of the committee that selected the CVC informed the committee that Thomas had a case against him and that involved charges of corruption. Singh was so much helpless that he just presumed that Sushma’s information was incorrect and that Thomas was a good man.

He could have put the meeting on hold, asked his secretary or anyone who was in an adjacent room, to verify if Sushma Swaraj was up-to-date or that the information was incorrect. He did not. I will not believe that our Prime Minister does not have even a secretarial staff on whom he could have leaned that day. I know that he has a very loyal, assertive and efficient press secretary in Harish Khare; I know Khare used to proclaim, once in a while, his commitment to democracy and probity in public life apart from preaching many other things. He could have found out if Thomas was un-blemished.

The fact is that Manmohan Singh did not care for probity and the past record of Thomas. The Supreme Court found that out and set aside the appointment and then we find Manmohan Singh declaring that he respected the verdict (as if he had a choice) and that he committed an error of judgment and that he was unaware of Thomas and his past and the Palmolein Scandal. Well. Manmohan Singh will be the worst and the weakest Prime Minister this nation has ever had and all that I wish is that one does not have to revise this opinion. In other words, we do not discover someone who beats Dr. Singh in the way he has beaten Gujral.