Tag Archive for 'Manmohan Singh'

The knight in veshti

“ It is Chidambaram, with his unique powers of persuasion, who is now going to act as the channel of communication between 10 Janpath and the PMO,” writes Aditi Phadnis in Business Standard:

On a cool November day last year, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma got the news that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would be available in Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, where the annual trade fair was going on. Sharma was advised that it was an opportunity too precious to overlook: Banerjee would be a captive audience as she was going to be watching a cultural show; so he should seize the chance, drive down there and brief her on the development that 51 per cent FDI (foreign direct investment) in multi-brand retail would bring in.

Sharma did exactly that. Visitors to the function saw him sitting next to Banerjee, talking earnestly for nearly 90 minutes. Eyewitnesses also noted that Banerjee did not even turn to look at him. She just pretended he didn’t exist and stared into the middle distance the entire time. “We could see that he was talking. But it didn’t look as if she was listening,” recalls a visitor. So when Sharma told a Cabinet meeting that he had spoken to Banerjee thrice — twice personally and once on the phone — he was not being inaccurate.

A cabinet meeting on FDI in retail followed later in the year. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Sharma attempted to move a note seeking the cabinet’s approval to open up the sector. Dinesh Trivedi, then railways minister, said he could not be party to the move as his leader, Banerjee, was opposed to it. Sharma said that he had spoken to Banerjee thrice. Trivedi said that that may be so but “my leader is still opposed to it”. Mukherjee said that he — Trivedi — was just a first-time MP, indicating he should leave the running of the government to others. Trivedi said: “I’m not your student and you’re not my headmaster. I am an elected MP and a minister of a separate political party.” As senior Congress leader A K Antony opposed the move as well, the decision was kept in suspension. Mukherjee subsequently told the Lok Sabha that further consultations with stakeholders would follow to create a consensus. More:

India’s reforms 2012: A risky strategy, born of panic

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

I asked a senior member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet what had changed between November 2011 and September 2012. There is still no consensus on FDI in retail, yet a decision has been taken to go full steam ahead. “What has changed is the value of the rupee,” the Minister replied. Every rupee that the dollar gains adds Rs 8,000 crore to India’s annualised oil import bill. “Of course, Manmohan admitted to us that not even one dollar may flow into retail or airlines right now”, he said. But this decision to open the sector and raise diesel prices has to be taken in order to stop the rupee from going into free fall.

Signalling is not an unknown tactic, both in economics and in war. Signals can radiate strength and resolve, but they can also connote weakness. How will those whose ‘animal spirits’ are being propitiated look at the petard the UPA has just pinned upon the door of small retail across India? Dr. Singh must not be fooled by the applause he has garnered from editorialists, TV anchors and corporate leaders for being “tough” and “decisive”. These perfumed words may wash the stain of the Washington Post’s ink on his hands — a recent article in the American paper about his indecisiveness seems to have particularly stung the PMO — but they are self-serving and deceptive. From their vantage point in the White House or on Wall Street, the champions of American finance and enterprise see an Indian Prime Minister who is not tough but vulnerable: a man who believes the only way he can revive the economy and save the rupee is by doing what it takes to pull in foreign institutional investors and even hot money. More:

From ‘silent’ prime minister to a tragic one

In Washington Post, Simon Denyer looks at the two terms of Manmohan Singh to see a tragic decline in reputation.

 India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh helped set his country on the path to modernity, prosperity and power, but critics say the shy, soft-spoken
79-year-old is in danger of going down in history as a failure.

The architect of India’s economic reforms, Singh was a major force behind his country’s rapprochement with the United States and is a respected figure on the world stage. President Obama’s aides used to boast of his tremendous rapport and friendship with Singh.

But the image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.

Every day for the past two weeks, India’s Parliament has been adjourned as the opposition bays for Singh’s resignation over allegations of waste and corruption in the allocation of coal-mining concessions. more

Development and decay in Indian PM’s Pakistani village

AFP in  :

GAH, Pakistan: For years, Ghulam Muhammad Khan thought his brilliant classmate had been killed in the bloodbath that gave birth to India and Pakistan in 1947, the deadliest end to British colonial rule in history.

But when the world’s biggest democracy elected the softly-spoken Manmohan Singh as prime minister in 2004 and he told an interviewer he had been born in a remote Pakistani village, Khan was over the moon.

“He was our class monitor and we played together. He was a gentle and brilliant child. Our teacher always advised us to get his help if we couldn’t understand something,” Khan recalled, striding through village maize fields.

Even more incredibly, Singh wanted to help the 2,500 villagers in Gah, on a plateau of muddy rock and bushy forest 100 kilometres southeast of Islamabad near the ultra-modern motorway that runs almost to the Indian border.

“I never imagined Manmohan would one day bring so many blessings to our village. He did what our own government still refuses to do,” recalled Khan, who is Singh’s last surviving classmate left in the village.

But the last eight years is a tale of generosity, squandered opportunity and political short-termism that leaves Pakistan with an embarrassing predicament now that President Asif Ali Zardari has invited Singh to visit later this year.

The model village that Singh dreamt of lies in tatters. Buildings that cost tens of thousands of dollars stand empty and unfinished. The only question is what, if anything, will Pakistan do to fix it? More:

The Underachiever: Outlook does a Time

Outlook magazine’s next edition, which hits the stands soon, has a cover story that brands President Obama “The Underachiever.” That was the title of Time Asia’s cover story on Dr Manmohan Singh two weeks ago.

The Outlook cover says, “America needed a reboot. He promised hope and change… can his lofty rhetoric carry him home again?” Time’s cover on Dr Singh had asked, “India needs a reboot. Is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh up to the job?”

Manmohan Singh: Guilty on many counts, not corrupt

Harish Khare, Indian Prime Minister’s former media adviser, in The Hindu:

My mind instantly recalled a conversation I had had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the day I joined him as Media Adviser in June 2009. That afternoon he spent an hour with me, sharing his views and thought-processes. At the end of the conversation, just as I was leaving, he beckoned me to sit down again and said: “One more thing, Harish. If you ever hear anything about any member of my family engaging in any kind of hanky-panky, please come and tell it straight to me, however unpleasant or painful it may be.”

Now this man is being called “corrupt” by a bunch of self-appointed Shankaracharyas who have arrogated to themselves the licence to declare someone clean and someone else corrupt. The charge of “corrupt” carries with it a suggestion of active collusion in abuse of governmental discretion in exchange for a monetary consideration.

Last year the argument was: “So what, if you are honest?” This season the demonisation game has been ratcheted up to declare Manmohan Singh to be corrupt. Was it not George Orwell who had warned us against how political language was “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”? Old George would have admired Team Anna’s homicidal finesse.

Manmohan Singh is not corrupt, but he is definitely guilty. He can be easily charged — along with his political partner, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi — of pursing a politics of decency and of elevating reconciliation to a matter of state policy. More:

United Progressive Alliance – Report to the People 2011-12

When Manmohan Singh comes to Islamabad

Pervez Hoodbhoy in the Express Tribune:

The coincidence between President Asif Ali Zardari’s sprint to Delhi last week, and the $10 million head-money on Hafiz Saeed announced by the US could be purely accidental. But this action certainly refocused Indian attention on the alleged Mumbai attack planner, who heads the pantheon of jihadi ‘heroes’ that now freely parades across Pakistan. In such circumstances, holding the olive branch before PM Manmohan Singh surely required guts. The scepticism to Zardari in India was, of course, predictable.

It is easy to pooh-pooh the visit. Mr Zardari is not a popular president or a clean one, and the PPP is unlikely to survive the elections scheduled in a few months from now. Plus, he wields no power on issues that India considers critical: nuclear weapons, Kashmir, and Afghanistan. Most importantly, he can do nothing to rein in the anti-India jihadist network, a matter that belongs squarely to the army’s domain. Moving against Hafiz Saeed is not an option. Zardari cannot forget Memogate — which he somehow survived but Ambassador Husain Haqqani did not.

And yet, a weak and embattled government did something refreshingly good for the country. According India, the MFN status for trade and related commercial activity is sure to be a game-changer that could bring peace and prosperity to the region.Ignoring the angry howls of the Difah-e-Pakistan crowd, the government for once listened to the country’s majority — most Pakistanis do want trade with India even though they consider it a threat. More:

All at sea

The Hindu editor Siddharth Vardarajan on the UPA’s struggle to keep its head above water

Remember the old Ajit joke in which the greatest Bollywood villain of all time asks his henchmen to use “liquid oxygen” against the hero? “The liquid won’t let him live and the oxygen won’t let him die,” he explains. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can be forgiven for feeling a bit like he’s caught in the middle of a forgettable 1970s movie. The United Progressive Alliance government he runs is all at sea and each week seems to push him further away from the shoreline. But even as ill winds buffet him from all sides — the latest tempest emanating from somewhere in West Bengal — none of the political forces ranged against him really wants to see his rickety boat capsize. Just when he is about to be swallowed up by all the liquid around him, he gets a tiny bit of oxygen. more

The shallow middle-class contempt for Manmohan Singh

Aakar Patel in Mint Lounge:

Historian Ramachandra Guha has sent down his pronouncement on Manmohan Singh. Writing in The Telegraph, he dismisses Khushwant Singh’s view that Singh is the best prime minister we’ve ever had. Khushwant Singh, Guha observes, is not the best judge of leaders. He thought Sanjay Gandhi would save India.

For Guha, Manmohan Singh has been a disappointment and even, this is in the headline and may not be Guha’s view, a failure. Singh has never been a popular leader because he lacks charisma. The middle class’s SMSes laugh at him because he’s seen as weak. However, most academics think highly of Singh. Guha also did once, as he suggests. He then tells us the reasons why he no longer does, and we should look at them.

Four things about Singh disappoint Guha.

The first is that he is timid towards Sonia Gandhi. He yields to her on the appointment of ministers and legislating of laws.

Yet this is how cabinets are put together. There are ministers that must repel Singh, certainly. But they are probably also the ones that repel Sonia—the men nominated by the Congress allies. But as for the Congressmen in key positions, it’s likely that Singh has no problem with most. It’s true Singh has no free hand. For instance, it is believed that he wanted Montek Singh Ahluwalia as finance minister, but got Pranab Mukherjee instead. But no prime minister has a free hand, especially one whose source of power comes not from his popularity, but that of his underwriter. More:

A PM in peril

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

When he assumed office in 2004, Manmohan Singh was by some distance India’s best educated prime minister. He was the most widely travelled since Jawaharlal Nehru. He was the most honest since Lal Bahadur Shastri. He had a wide range of experience in government, having served as, among other things, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and finance minister.

There were great expectations of Singh as prime minister; few of which have been fulfilled. Those who thought that the co-author (with P.V. Narasimha Rao) of the first generation of economic reforms would further free entrepreneurs from State control have been disappointed. So have those who hoped the experienced administrator would modernize the civil service by encouraging the lateral entry of professionals, those who believed that the former secretary general of the South Commission would adopt a foreign policy independent of Western (more specifically, American) pressures; and most of all, those who imagined that a person of rectitude and personal honesty would promote probity in politics and administration.

This last failure explains, among other things, the appeal of Anna Hazare, a man whose intellectual vision is as confined as Singh’s is large. In the early part of 2011, as the evidence of cabinet collusion in the Commonwealth Games and 2G scams accumulated, the prime minister continued to shield his corrupt ministers. After Anna Hazare’s fasts, a popular, countrywide movement against corruption began to take shape. Singh still would not act. In the popular imagination, the prime minister was now seen as indecisive and self-serving, his fellow septuagenarian, Anna Hazare, as courageous and self-sacrificing. It is a mark of how disappointing Manmohan Singh’s second term has been that it has allowed an authoritarian village reformer — with little understanding of what Mohandas K. Gandhi said, did, or meant — to claim the mantle of the Mahatma. More:

The 70 who matter

Barack Obama topped Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people in 2011. Obama bumped Chinese President Hu Jintao from the No. 1 spot on the magazine’s annual rankings.

11: Sonia Gandhi, leader of India’s ruling Congress party: “India’s most powerful politician (who) has twice refused to serve as prime minister, delegating that job to Manmohan Singh.”

19: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: “the incorruptible Cambridge and Oxford-educated economist (is) widely respected as the man behind India’s economic reforms, which have led to the subcontinent’s blistering growth over the last decade.”

35: Anil Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Industries

47: Lakshmi Mittal, Chairman, ArcelorMittal

51: Dalai Lama

56: Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan

57: Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, Leader, D-Company: “”organized crime figure (is) suspected of involvement in both the 1993 and 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.”

61: Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro

In search of the real Manmohan

Vinod K Jose in The Caravan:

On the morning of 15 August, India’s Independence Day, it was raining cats and dogs in Delhi. By 7 am, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was atop the ramparts of the 17th-century Red Fort, hoisting the flag and saluting the assembled soldiers and citizens from behind a glass enclosure. Amid a sea of umbrellas, children who had gathered to watch the parade ran about, as if at a disorderly festival ground; the soldiers and paramilitary troops paraded on the wet asphalt, completely drenched.

It was an unusually gloomy Independence Day, and not merely because of the inclement weather. After a cursory presentation of his government’s achievements over the past seven years, Singh devoted almost the entirety of his eighth Independence Day speech to a series of crises: the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai; the ongoing “challenge of Naxalism”; inflation and rising food prices; the “tensions caused” by land acquisition; and, most of all, “the problem of corruption”—“a difficulty for which no government has a magic wand”.

After his speech, Singh was driven to Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road for the party’s own flag hoisting ceremony. Traditionally, the Congress party president presides over the flag raising, but with Sonia Gandhi hospitalised in the US, many predicted Rahul Gandhi would seize the moment and hoist the flag himself. Instead, he passed the duty to the senior Congressman Motilal Vora, and Singh stood nearby with the party’s senior leaders as they saluted the flag and sang: jhanda ooncha rahe hamara, vijayi vishwa tiranga pyara…. (Let our flag always be lofty, this world-conquering, beloved tricolour.) Manmohan Singh, in his iconic powder blue turban, and the Home Minister P Chidambaram were the only ones not wearing the Gandhi cap—a one-time symbol of the party of Independence that had more recently become the emblem of its newest and most popular nemesis, Anna Hazare.

The Maharashtrian activist had announced his plan to begin an indefinite hunger strike in Delhi the following day, and Congress leaders were buckling under the pressure: one quarter of Singh’s speech at the Red Fort had been devoted to corruption and the Lokpal Bill, whose passage Hazare was demanding. After the flag hoisting, Rahul Gandhi called Singh, Chidambaram and Defence Minister AK Antony into a meeting in the party office to discuss Hazare. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the party’s most reliable problem solver, had already left the premises, and Rahul sent someone to retrieve him. More:

Looking for good news

Outlook’s special Independance Day issue is devoted to ‘good news’. In its lead essay Mukul Kesavan asks why good news doesn’t get the space it deserves.

Where’s the good news? Not the sort that energetic evangelicals bring with their tracts and their spiels for Jesus, just ordinarily good (good as in cheering, uplifting, heartening, encouraging) news? Where’s the story about the honest member of Parliament who used his discretionary funds to actually help his constituents? About the judges who outlawed state vigilantism? About the district where payments under NREGA are made in full? It surely can’t be any editor’s case that honesty, scruple and inspirational work are absent in India, so why don’t we, as consumers of news, hear about them? more

Elsewhere, in the same issue, Arnab Goswami of Times Now says the kernel of the negativity debate lies in the number of scams that demand answers.

Let me begin with an admission. I had no idea it would become so big. When we sent our crew to London to follow up on a scam that ran into a few hundred thousand pounds, we weren’t even sure if a company called AM Car and Films existed. We had papers to show the British government was suspicious about transactions between politician-sports czar Suresh Kalmadi’s CWG organising committee and this vague company with a Peel Road suburban London address.

The story finally broke on June 30, ’10, at around 7 pm, just as we were getting into prime-time. We had placed our reporters in a way that they would hunt for reactions from the persona dramatis the moment it broke. The initial reaction was amazing. “You guys have lost it,” said one of Kalmadi’s henchmen. “A few hundred thousand pounds. Itne me toh ek hafta bhi nahi chalta. Do you think we play for loose change?” he asked.

Two days later, Kalmadi finally surfaced. He put on an air of hurt and defiance, and declared his intention to file a defamation case against our channel. He smiled at the other media, insulted our reporters publicly while referring to the channel seventeen times. He also offered himself open to ‘explosive’ interviews on other channels that often began with the penetrating question: “Mr Kalmadi, all these charges that have been levelled against you, do they have any truth?”, and included the googly: “Let me ask you, Mr Kalmadi, will you resign?” more

A Hindi film 20 years in the making

The characters in “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (You Only Live Once),” directed by Zoya Akhtar, are the finished products of reforms begun when Manmohan Singh, now prime minister, was the finance minister. Manu Joseph in IHT:

In the hit Hindi film of this season, three Indian bachelors and a Hermès handbag, which they have named Bagwati, go on a road trip in Spain. Their objective is to endure three extreme adventure sports. On the way they meet a beautiful Indian-British diving instructor, a Spanish girl who apparently will let any man into her bath as long as he asks “May I enter?” in Spanish and the artist father of one of the bachelors who had abandoned the boy when he was still in the womb.

Directed by Zoya Akhtar, this joyous film, titled “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (You Only Live Once),” is set against a backdrop of affluence, easy sex and relentless reminders that life is meant to be fun. Such ideas and protagonists in a mainstream commercial Hindi film would have been unthinkable in an earlier time. Which is one reason the film was 20 years in the making, almost exactly 20 years.

Ms. Akhtar might view such a statement as an outrageous factual error.

But it’s true.

Her film had its beginnings in a moment in Indian history whose 20th anniversary went by a few days ago, unobserved by an ungrateful nation. On July 24, 1991, when Manmohan Singh, now prime minister, then finance minister, rose to present the national budget, India was in deep financial trouble. It did not have enough foreign currency to import supplies and had to pledge its gold reserves to secure an emergency loan.

It was not hard for Mr. Singh to convince Parliament and the people of India that the country had no choice but to initiate far-reaching economic reforms, to privatize, to liberate itself from socialism and the philosophies of obsolete men.

The characters in Ms. Akhtar’s film are the finished products of Mr. Singh’s reforms. More:

Are you India’s next Chanakya?

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

Can you be the next Chanakya of Indian politics? Take this quiz to check how politically savvy you are [hint: everyone’s a winner, isn’t that the great thing about Indian democracy?]

No law was violated. Who said this?

  1. BJP on Lokayukta Santosh Hegde’s report on illegal mining
  2. Congress on the dilution of Swan and Unitech equity for huge profit
  3. Both

We demand his resignation. Who said this?

  1. Congress party (Karnataka CM B.S. Yeddyurappa must quit)
  2. BJP (Fin Min P. Chidambaram and PM Manmohan Singh must quit)
  3. Both

Please await the report/court decision, before we can comment.

  1. BJP on illegal mining in Karnataka
  2. Congress on Raja’s revelations on 2G scam
  3. Both

I have done no wrong

  1. B.S. Yeddyurappa
  2. A Raja
  3. Both

I was misquoted/this is a media trial

  1. Yeddy
  2. Chiddu
  3. Both

They are indulging in cheap politics

  1. BJP (on Congress)
  2. Congress (on BJP)
  3. Both (on each other)


From fig leaf to banana republic

Nobody sheds a tear when the police harass ordinary citizens. But with the rich and powerful under the corruption scanner, the Prime Minister now fears a police state. Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

The Prime Minister and his advisors just don’t get it. At a time when the public is looking for an end to the loot of public money, the last thing they want to hear from their government is a bunch of excuses and alibis.

In his interaction with a small group of editors on Wednesday, Dr. Manmohan Singh made a number of arguments to justify the half-hearted action that has been taken so far against the politicians, officials and businessmen suspected of corruption in the telecom, hydrocarbon and other sectors.

First he said the decisions which the media and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) are citing as evidence of irregularities and graft were all taken in good faith under conditions of uncertainty. “If out of 10 decisions that I take, seven turn out to be right ex-post, that would be considered an excellent performance,” he said. “But if you have a system which is required to perform [in] 10 out of 10 cases, no system can be effective and satisfy that onerous condition.”

His second argument was to attack all bearers of bad tidings, accusing the CAG of going beyond the limits prescribed by Constitution and the media of being judge, jury and executioner rolled into one. The Prime Minister then invoked the spectre of India becoming a police state — a situation “where everybody is policing everybody else” and the entrepreneurial spirit of our businessmen is crushed — if the present atmosphere of “cynicism” about government decisions continued. Finally, he sought to puncture the popular demand for a strong and effective Lokpal, saying an ombudsman of that kind was not a panacea. Instead, he suggested the government’s Unique ID programme might be the magic wand people are looking for: “If … [we] can give unique ID numbers to all our residents, we would have discovered a new pathway to eliminate the scope for corruption and leakages in the management and distribution of various subsidies.” More:

The duet of prime minister and party president is not working

Rramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

Although Manmohan Singh is, in theory, head of government, he has absolute authority only in one sphere — foreign policy — and substantial authority in one other sphere — namely, economic policy. On matters such as relations between India and Pakistan, and the government’s position on nuclear proliferation, Sonia Gandhi has no wish to shape the government’s policy. We do have a foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, but on these questions he too is happy to defer to the judgment of the prime minister.

Before he joined the Congress, Singh was an economist, not a diplomat. His first (and most successful) assignment in politics was as finance minister of the government of India from 1991 to 1996. However, as prime minister, while he has complete autonomy in foreign policy, in the realm of economics he shares his powers with the finance minister and the Congress president. When it comes to macroeconomic issues such as trade policy and monetary policy, Singh has a substantial say. When it comes to welfarist measures such as food distribution and fertilizer subsidies, he has to often bow to the wishes (and political compulsions) of the party president.

As for Sonia Gandhi, it is now increasingly apparent that her public statements and public appearances are directly linked to their presumed electoral benefits. If she can appear as one who, by the grace of her personality, helps the citizens of India live a more stable and economically secure life, then she will speak and show herself in public. Thus, a scheme that puts money or foodgrains in the hands of the poor will be inaugurated by her, but so also a bridge or airport which facilitates travel for the middle class and the affluent. More:

20 years of liberalisation

India completes 20 years of economic freedom this year. Economic Times commissioned India’s top ad agencies to capture the past two decades. A few graphics below. For more, go to ET‘s e-paper of March 1, 2011.

Ogilvy: The battery ran out of the socialist clock in 1991. Two decades on, it surely is an exciting time for India and its hard-driving and globally expanding entrepreneurs. Gone are the hammer and sickle and even the last vestiges of a system of governance that dulled the Indian spirit and dimmed the hopes of millions. Now, in 2011, the Rupee rules, a strong symbol of a new and muscular India.

BBDO India: Summing up 20 years of liberalisation in one picture postcard was challenging. Then lightning struck! We realised that the man who kick-started it all was himself the best brand ambassador. In the past 20 years, he had grown from being an FM who hid in his own shadow to a PM who was not afraid to speak his mind. Manmohan Singh represents our growth story.

Lowe Lintas: Manmohan Singh can be called the architect of free market in India. The ad salutes the farsightedness of a man who, in 1991, was mandated to steer India out of a financial crisis. Twenty years on, the Sardar of reforms remains the engine pulling the locomotive of the government

The loneliness of Manmohan Singh

Paul Beckett in The Wall Street Journal:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday cut a very lonely figure on the giant stage of the plenary hall at Vigyan Bhavan in central New Delhi. He was the lone figure at a table that had seats for 13, fronted by streams of flowers and backed by a giant “interpretative” Indian flag.

It’s probably how he feels in his job. The soft-spoken, undemonstrative leader — the press cameras whirred and flashed whenever he lifted a hand, desperate for an “action shot” — fended questions from the press sufficiently adeptly that he failed to make any big headlines. Which is pretty much the way he seems to want it, given that this was his first major interaction with the press since his United Progressive Alliance government was voted in for a second term one year ago.

Yet we also got a sense that Mr. Singh does not have an iron grip, to say the least, on his own party or government. Instead, he presides much like the economics professor he once was over a class of slightly unruly students and with the faculty head breathing down his neck. More:

Report of the press conference here.

The final note

A last cry of despair from farmers on the brink, suicide notes addressed to the prime minister, chief minister and other government officials are a desperate attempt to be heard, at least in death writes P Sainath in The Hindu

Seeking authenticity for his letter to the Prime Minister and the President, Ramachandra Raut composed it with care on Rs.100 non-judicial stamp paper. Then he added a few more addressees, including his village sarpanch and the police, in the hope that it got home someplace. Then he killed himself. A mere digit in the nearly 250 farm suicides that hit Vidarbha in four months; but a villager desperate to be heard on the reasons for his action: “The two successive years of crop failure is the reason.” Yet, “bank employees came twice to my home to recover my loans”. (Despite a government order to go slow on recovery in a region hit by crisis, crop failure and more recently, drought). more

The perils of political paratrooping

In Shashi Tharoor’s rise and fall, a Congress attempt to woo middle class. Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

The petit-bourgeois mind is superficial and fickle. It is awe struck by the accumulation and consumption that go on in the highest echelons of society, even if outside the borderlines of legality and good taste. But it is repulsed and outraged when forced to confront the tawdriness and venality on which the life it aspires to is built.

Framed by these two extremes, the long-shot and the close-up, the rise and fall of Shashi Tharoor is a cautionary tale about the dangers of entering public life through the constituency of the middle class. The ‘perils of political paratrooping’ is how a former colleague of the erstwhile junior minister pithily described Mr. Tharoor’s fate when asked for his assessment by The Hindu. What made his jump even more dangerous was that it was made without the safety net that grassroot experience or backroom goodwill provides. By the standards of Indian politics, his impropriety in the IPL affair was relatively minor; but unlike others whose warts catch the glare of the arclights from time to time, there was nobody willing to pad up for him when the media drew blood. Fatally injured, he stood his ground just a moment too long. Had he walked back to the pavilion unprompted, he might have survived to play a second innings. But he didn’t do that. Which is why his political career is today at an end. More:

Also read: Tharoor’s IPL googly is hat-trick for Manmohan: From Hua Hin to Riyadh to Washington and Brasilia, Shashi Tharoor has always brought bad luck to the Prime Minister on his foreign tours. By Siddharth Varadarajan

A history of India, as told by the Budget

From The Wall Street Journal:

Below are excerpts from major national budget speeches in the 63 years of India’s nationhood.

1. 1947-1948

“The long-term effects of the division of the country still remain to be assessed and we are too near the events to take a dispassionate view. When the ashes of controversy have died down, it will be for the future historian to judge the wisdom of the step and its consequences on the destiny of one fifth of the human race.”

–R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, finance minister, Nov.26, 1947

2. 1949-1950

“Although this is the fourth year since the cessation of hostilities, the return of normal conditions, without which it is impossible to expand production and develop trade, seems still as far off as ever. Over large parts of the world, conditions remain disturbed and the progress of recovery from the ravages of the war is painfully slow. In Europe the impasse in Berlin, the civil war in Greece and the emergence of two rival camps among the countries that fought the war as allies are symptomatic of the abnormal conditions which still prevail.”

–John Mathai, finance minister, Feb.28, 1949


Reinvigorating the BJP

Swapan Dasgupta in The Wall Street Journal:

Barely 10 months ago, India’s elites agonized over the possibility that the general election would produce an unstable and fractious coalition government that would jeopardize the country’s economic growth. Today, with a stable government in place and the Congress Party having clearly established its political primacy, Lutyens’ Delhi resonates with whispered concern over the absence of a purposeful opposition.

The concern is based on a string of misgivings. The Manmohan Singh government is perceived to have grown utterly complacent. With inflation having crossed 8% and the price of food having registered a sharper increase, there is a feeling that the government is letting matters slide because it doesn’t fear political opposition and social unrest. There are fears that political considerations are preventing a robust response to the Maoist threat. Finally, in the aftermath of the Copenhagen summit and the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, there are concerns that the prime minister is obliging the Obama administration excessively.

Since it lost power in 2004, the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s principal opposition party, has lost its earlier appeal among the middle classes and the youth. This erosion of support was a consequence of a tired leadership, internal feuding, the pursuit of a policy of blind obstruction to all government initiatives and a failure to check sectarian hotheads identified with its Hindu nationalist ideology. From being a party of conservative Middle India, the BJP ceded its centrist space to the Congress Party. In recent months, it has been paralysed by a failure to counter the appeal of Rahul Gandhi, the Congress heir-apparent. More:

From INC to Congress Inc.

It was a party of educated professionals once, and Rahul Gandhi wants to make it so again. But his father before him had tried, and he will succeed only if he finds a new way to do it. Jatin Gandhi and Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

Indeed, as an organisation, the current Congress faces the same challenge any family-run business faces—how to bring about greater professionalisation while retaining control. The need to do so is not in doubt, spelt out as it is by the first of Ramachandran’s working hypotheses: family businesses with a higher level of professionalism practised both in business and by the family are likely to perform better and perpetuate their success over a longer time frame.

This, though, is easier said than done. Within the Congress, the idea has been in the making since Rajiv Gandhi’s ascent to power. But what was then a limited initiative to bring in a few friends with professional qualifications has now given way to a far more ambitious approach. Already, in the transition from Rajiv to Rahul, Sonia Gandhi has managed to implement an important step. She has placed a ‘professional CEO’ such as Manmohan Singh in charge of what managers call a ‘key result area’ (KRA): governance. Since 22 May 2004, Manmohan Singh has wrought professionalism across several governance functions, but his party itself has remained much the same. More:

[Image: Open]

Among the “25 Smartest People of the Decade”

According to the influential The Daily Beast:

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

“Anyone who can obtain a Ph.D. in economics from Oxford and successfully manage the world’s largest democracy has to be the smartest person in the world,” says one of our MacArthur voters, Loren H. Riesenberg of Indiana University.

Muhammad Yunus, Managing director of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh

He used his brain to make a dent in the fight against poverty. This “banker to the poor” from Bangladesh is the originator of the innovative microcredit concept, in which financing is doled out to those too poor to receive traditional loans to help them break free from poverty.

Gatecrashers at Obama’s party for Indian PM

From the Telegraph, London:

The Gatecrashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi with Vice-President Joe Biden in ascreen image from Facebook page.

The Gatecrashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi with Vice-President Joe Biden in a screen image from Facebook page.

Like many suburban couples, Michaele and Tareq Salahi clearly aspire to greater things in life. The former cheerleader and her husband enjoy a spot of polo, run a winery near their home in Virginia, and like to rub shoulders with local movers and shakers. Indeed, when the most powerful couple they know of recently hosted a glittering party for a visiting friend, they decided to try and gatecrash. It would be their chance to mingle with the great and good, the stinking-rich and the well-connected. Who could possibly resist such temptation?

Well, most of us, actually. For the hosts of said party were Barack and Michelle Obama and the venue, naturally, was the White House. Yet somehow, on Tuesday, the Salahis managed to brazen their way past the Secret Service, the many layers of security screenings that one might expect at a do thrown by the most powerful man on the planet, and into the South Lawn tent where the state dinner in honour of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was taking place. More:

And more about the party at The Daily Beast:

The most anticipated moment of the evening came when a member of the White House communications team emerged around 8 p.m. to brief the press on Michelle Obama’s outfit. “It’s a gold strapless dress,” the woman said, gesturing to her décolletage. “By Naeem Khan. N-A-E-E…” Khan, an Indian-born designer who started his own label in 2003, having thus been blessed with the Mobama fashion seal of approval, must have had a pretty good night.

“Michelle Obama is not following type,” said Wall Street Journal columnist Teri Agins, who predicted the strapless gown hours in advance. “We’ve seen her wear cardigans to meet Queen Elizabeth. We’ve seen her wear walking shorts on Air Force One. We’ve seen her wear Target and the Gap and White House Black Market; she’s just all over the place. And I just kind of think: I wonder if this has now set a new tone in Washington.”

Who sat where:


Mrs. Gursharan Kaur, India’s First Lady

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass)

Ambassador to India Tim Roemer

Mary Johnston, Roemer’s guest (likely a relative of his wife, Sally Johnston Roemer)

Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Paul Pelosi, her husband

David Geffen, the Hollywood titan

Jeremy Lingvall, Geffen’s boyfriend


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Amrit Singh, the Prime Minister’s daughter, an ACLU lawyer in New York

Upinder Singh, another daughter, a Professor at University of Delhi

Dr. Amartya Sen, Nobel-prize winning economist, now at Harvard

Emma Rothschild, Dr. Sen’s wife, economic historian, now at Harvard

Gen. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State

Alma Powell, his wife

Rep. Howard Berman, (D-Calif.)

A global election, victory for India

S. Mitra Kalita in the Wall Street Journal

His victory is a global one. Across the world, 30 million members of the Indian diaspora have largely come to see Mr. Singh as their symbol of a new India. There have been gestures small: his 2005 extension of “overseas citizenship of India” that allow Indians to freely live, work and travel between multiple homes. And the big: his stewardship of a nuclear deal that could mean a windfall of contracts to their high-technology firms.

But the main reason the turbaned Mr. Singh gained the world’s respect is for what he is not: corrupt, calculating, self-aggrandizing. And with admonitions like his plea for more austerity in corporate India back in 2007, when the country’s gross domestic product soared 9%, Mr. Singh kept an eye on what got him into office in the first place.

This recession has forced many countries to rethink the role of government in an economy. India though has been in this quandary for much of its existence-and the 76-year-old Mr. Singh and the leaders of the party that brought India to independence knew this better than anyone else. More:

Indian election 2009: The verdict

A selection of front pages, their lead stories, and comment:


National, a forgotten idea, is reborn in the triumph of Congress

Manini Chatterjee in the Telegraph, Calcutta:

tallyThe idea of India – a vibrant, secular, plural, resurgent nation that can transcend its myriad differences and complexities to reaffirm an essential unity of purpose – received a resounding victory today as the world’s largest electorate shed the politics of extremes and delivered a decisive mandate to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

For the Grand Old Party, today’s verdict was, arguably, its sweetest victory in many decades. In terms of numbers, the Congress secured much bigger wins in 1984 and even in 1991. But those came in the backdrop of tragic assassinations and were harvested in abnormal times and soon became a thing of the past as the politics of identity and regionalism, of caste and creed left little space for the middle-of-the-road politics of the only truly pan-Indian party. More:

Mrs G & Mrs G: same score

From the Telegraph, Calcutta:

The original Mrs G delivered a second successive election victory for the Congress but before that she had to win a war in 1971. The reigning Mrs G has also led the Congress to a consecutive poll success but hasn’t had to go so far as to fight an external war, though there might have been many domestic battles.

At least on one count, Mrs G equals Mrs G. Both have now won elections back to back. Indira Gandhi never won a third one running.

Given the culture of worship in the Congress, no one would openly weigh Field Marshal Sonia against Indira but comparisons are inevitable if only because they share the name. More:


Hands down

Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:

There are winners and there are losers in any election. But this is one election India can feel particularly good about. Not only because it’s been one of our smoothest ever – for which the Election Commission deserves the nation’s gratitude – but also because it confirms the positive trends that some of us, incorrigible optimists, have been flagging for a while. This newspaper has argued that the politics of grievance, rooted in our complex past, is giving way to the politics of aspiration. Or, as Thomas Friedman puts it, the weight of dreams is turning out heavier than that of memories. This election, powered by 60 crore voters, shows our democracy is firmly on that virtuous curve.

For, anybody who built a campaign on negativism, prejudice, victimhood and vengeance has been demolished. The voter has, in fact, been even less forgiving with victims of hubris, with those who loftily announce themselves as “next” Prime Ministers without being sure of even 40 seats; those who build their own statues; and those who with a fraction of seats in Parliament aspire to control the nation’s foreign and economic policies without, of course, being accountable for anything. More:

The headline says it all.

The headline says it all.

Red in the face

Jayati Ghosh in the Asian Age:

In West Bengal the picture is more disturbing. There is clear evidence of vote shifts against the ruling Left Front, and this message from the electorate cannot be ignored but must be addressed. The Left Front has ruled the state for more than three decades, providing not only stability but also many extremely positive measures for the improvement of conditions of life of ordinary people: not just the crucial land reforms that were the most extensive of any state government in the last 30 years, but the pioneering moves towards decentralisation and providing more powers to locally elected bodies.

However, in the past few years the state government of West Bengal, through its own actions or its inability to get its message across, has contributed to some loss of goodwill among the people. Three factors that have contributed to this and which must be recognised and addressed are:

The sense of alienation among the peasantry in the face of the events at Singur and Nandigram and the inability of the government to adequately justify its actions to the people or even to publicise its continuing land distribution programme;

The perceptions of discrimination among the Muslim community, even among those who have earlier been consistent Left supporters; More:


Man who would have been king

Ashok Malik in Hindustan Times:

The May 16 verdict is not a mandate for continuity; it is a vote for change. People never vote for the status quo. They vote in hope, they vote for better times, they vote for change. In this election, in substantial swathes of India, Rahul Gandhi came to represent change.

Uttar Pradesh is the most striking example. The Congress made gains in the eastern part of the state and in Bundelkhand, where Gandhi toured extensively over the past two years. In Jhansi, he sat in dharna on a local issue. The Congress won the seat. More:


Yesterday once more

Sunil Khilnani, author of The Idea of India, in Mint:

The demand in New Delhi for cars with opaque windows, and for large suitcases, has suddenly dropped. The extraordinary decisive victory of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) now gives it the opportunity to form a government without the usual, tortuous machinations-and with the nearest approximation to an electoral mandate that India has seen in 25 years. The victory asserts Manmohan Singh’s personal authority at the heart of government, and it vindicates his decision last year to dispense with dependence on the Left parties. He now has the opportunity to serve a historic second term, and Congress has that rare thing in politics, a second chance. After the UPA government came to power in 2004, it squandered-despite some golden economic years-many opportunities to develop infrastructure, to improve primary and higher education, to pursue financial reforms, to provide basic health, and to work towards stabilizing the region. More:


Bharat Shining, Cong Smiling, Left Whining

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in the Times of India:

I was dead wrong in predicting a hung parliament with Mayawati having a kingmaking role. Yet, I cannot resist recalling the heading of my March 9 column, ‘India slumps, Bharat rises, Congress smiles’. Despite a global recession that has hammered industry, rural areas – called Bharat – have prospered, enabling Congress to win a smashing victory.

Indian voters throw out 80% of all incumbent governments, especially in bad economic times. The global recession has hit India hard – industrial production slumped into negative growth, and exports were down 33% last month. Rural consumer prices are up almost 10%.

For Congress to get re-elected in such circumstances is remarkable. The main reason is prosperity in rural areas, which have 70% of the population. The entire organized sector has barely 30 million workers out of India’s total workforce of 500 million, which is overwhelmingly rural. Industrial captains, trade unions and information technology may hog newspaper headlines, but are barely visible to the rural millions. More:

The Manmohan Singh impact

Harish Khare in the Hindu:

Three months ago some of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s friends and aides were not averse to expressing their sense of disappointment that the Congress seemed so reluctant to project him as its prime ministerial mascot. Their argument was that he was an asset to the party, and the electorate was bound to appreciate his honesty, integrity and efficiency.

Then the Bharatiya Janata Party did the good doctor a favour. The principal Opposition party took a strategic decision to convert the Lok Sabha elections into a kind of presidential contest between its “strong leader” L.K. Advani and the “weak” Manmohan Singh. Mr. Advani started attacking Dr. Singh as the “weakest Prime Minister,” ridiculing him for being subservient to the Congress president, taunting him as a wimp, and heaping scorn, saying: “I do not get angry with him; I pity him.” More:

The party man or the economist?

LK Advani and Manmohan Singh

LK Advani and Manmohan Singh

One wants to be the Prime Minister of India for the next five years; the other, the incumbent, has been PM for the past five. Aakar Patel on LK Advani and Manmohan Singh in Mint-Lounge:

He opposes the Indo-US nuclear deal. Why? Because America does not treat India as “equals”. He views strategic policy through honour and emotion.

Of his autobiography’s 48 chapters, not one is on economics. Muslims, Kashmir, terrorism, Pakistan, Musharraf, Kargil, Shah Bano, Naxalism, Godhra, Assam, Ayodhya. These are his concerns. His passion is all about what other people should not do.

Under Advani, the BJP’s three policy thrusts were all negative: Muslims should not keep Babri Masjid; Muslims should not have polygamy; Kashmir should not have special status.

He offers nothing creative, even to Hindus, only resentment.

There is one brutally tough man in politics, but it is not Advani. This man is cold and emotionless when you observe him talk.

If power means the ability to influence change, he is the most powerful leader in the history of India.
His policies, 18 years old, cannot be bent, forget changed, by leaders who came after he wrote them.


The fall and fall of India’s political leviathans

As India braces for another fractured verdict in the forthcoming general elections, analyst Mahesh Rangarajan looks at the decline of the country’s national parties in BBC

keralaNeither of the premier parties, Congress or the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is confident of leading their respective alliances to full power.

India is completing a decade in which coalitions dominated by one or the other have held power.

After five years at the helm, the alliance headed by Dr Manmohan Singh has much to smile about. For four of these years, growth rates were well over 8% and even now, amid a global slump, India will be the world’s second fastest growing economy.


(Image attributed to Bryce Edwards’ photostream under the Creative Commons license)