Tag Archive for 'UPA'

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

United Progressive Alliance – Report to the People 2011-12

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

Time to step back

In Indian Express Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues for a fine balance, not an insolent civil society or a tyrannical state.

History repeats itself, first as farce and then as more farce. But in this drama both the so-called civil society and the state are bringing out the worst in each other, to the point where they both, in different ways, represent a threat to democratic values. There is no doubt that Anna Hazare’s movement powerfully expressed anger against corruption, even as its own proposed solutions border on unreasonable daftness. But it has to be said that the way in which state power is being exercised to control and squelch protest is a dangerous trend for Indian democracy. Democracy requires a delicacy of moral judgment. So we are now in the awkward position of worrying that though the state is right in asserting the supremacy of institutions, it is becoming dangerously arbitrary and arrogant. Hazare’s approach and proposals are ill-considered. But the right of that movement to protest needs to be defended. Unfortunately, both the state and civil society are in a “if you are not with us, you are against us” mood. That does not augur well for Indian society. more

The Great Indian Hijack

As yoga guru Baba Ramdev starts indefinite fast against corruption…

Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express:

Headline in IHT: Breathe in. Breathe out. Protest corruption.

On its second anniversary now, UPA 2 looks more irreparably damaged than Rajiv Gandhi’s government was in its third. In a most incredible and frightening first in India’s constitutional history, an elected government has been hijacked by intellectual charlatans, former babu busybodies, has-beens and wannabes, even some assorted nutcases and loonies. Its ministers issue a panicky, precedent-setting notification to placate a man in white and cede Parliament’s right to law-making in a surrender worse than the Treaty of Versailles. A month later the same ministers go crawling to the airport to prostrate themselves before a man in saffron, setting up directorates and committees to bring back the “four hundred lakh crore” of Indian black money from overseas. Just how ludicrous that figure is can be seen even by a class five child, once you remember that India’s current GDP is just Rs 59 lakh crore. But nobody is to question any of this. Or the fact that the same “wizard” in saffron promises that if his prescription is followed, all black money will return and the exchange rate will be fifty dollars to a rupee. That is, nearly a 2500 times increase. You can snigger, smirk, turn your face and laugh. But what is the point, because you ultimately surrender? Just as you had done when threatened by another maverick in white who believes drunks should be caned, and all voters are corrupt, and Narendra Modi personifies good governance. More:

Now, the Baba Ramdev Show

Manu Joseph in Open magazine:

Ramdev has strange views about the world around him. In a television interview with Prabhu Chawla he said that since there was so much corruption in the country it must, “ban Rs 50 and Rs 100 notes.” He said most Indians cannot afford to purchase anything that costs more than Rs 20 anyway. Then he looked at Prabhu Chawla and started singing, “Prabhuji have mercy on us, give us your love”, interrupting his song to indicate with a finger pointed to the ceiling that by ‘Prabhuji’ he was referring to god and not the interviewer. After ten Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai, Ramdev appeared on a channel and said, “They think we are vegetarians… But we should show them that we can hit back… In times like this do pranayam (and he shut his nose).”

That such a man now represents the anti-corruption movement is the worst thing that could happen to the movement and lays bare the fact that television revolutions that excite the politically impotent middleclass, which was what the Hazare farce was all about, are exaggerated momentary triumphs. The government may be scared of Ramdev and of what the media would do with his revolution, but the nervousness of elected leaders does not necessarily always mean a victory for the people. More:

Playing fast and loose

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express:

It is an unseemly sight. First, the government loses all moral authority by its complicity with corruption. The political class abdicates its role. Civil society steps in to fill the vacuum. Hunger strikes begin. And the government of an aspiring superpower, instead of behaving like a government, succumbs to blackmail after blackmail. There is something medieval about the image. The “Baba” arrives. Practically all of government that matters shows up in attendance. God forbid if the Baba curses them. You have to sympathise with these artful ministers. They are valiantly trying to make up for the fact that the Queen Mother, her Dewan and the little Prince run away from the most ordinary governance that matters. They have outsourced all leadership and thinking. A few ministers are left to pick up the pieces.

Then there is the gloss on this bizarre spectacle. First, abdicate. Then, cravenly submit. Then call it responsiveness. Such corruption of language signals a deeper corruption. A responsive government is one that in its routine functioning discharges its responsibilities: enforces the rule of law, dispenses justice, provides good management of the economy and so forth. Submitting to every whim of self-appointed civil society advocates is not responsiveness. A responsive government would govern, not sleepwalk to airports. More:


The Last Lear

Can the aging patriarch of India’s most fractious political dynasty hold his family together—and continue to cling to power in Tamil Nadu? Vinod K Jose in Caravan:

O n the scorching Friday afternoon of 11 May 2007, at Chennai’s Island Grounds, Muthuvel Karunanidhi had some important business to settle privately with Sonia Gandhi.

Gandhi, the Congress party president, had come to Chennai—along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and two former prime ministers—to join the celebrations marking Karunanidhi’s 50th anniversary as a legislator, an unprecedented milestone in Indian politics. But on this humid summer day, as thousands of his followers from across the state converged on the burning sands to celebrate their leader’s longevity, the then 83-year-old chief minister of Tamil Nadu had something else on his mind.

“It was like a thorn for him, and he had to remove it with as little damage as possible,” said an associate of Karunanidhi who described the conversation to me.

Minutes before the golden jubilee celebrations began, Karunanidhi took Gandhi aside. “Daya has to be dropped,” Karunanidhi said, referring to his grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran, then the Union minister for communications and information technology. “He’s failed us.”

“Don’t worry,” she assured him. “Your wish will be fulfilled.” The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government, then as now, required the support of Karunanidhi and his party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Gandhi, as chairperson of the ruling coalition in the Lok Sabha, was unlikely to take issue with his request.

Dayanidhi Maran, then 41 years old, had served three years as the communications minister, a plump portfolio in New Delhi that Karunanidhi had personally requested for him. Maran quickly became the sophisticated face of the DMK in the capital: he spoke in fluent English to the national press and wore designer shirts and trousers—a marked departure from the dhoti-clad DMK politicians who had preceded him.

But back home, tensions had been rising between Karunanidhi and his grand-nephews—Dayanidhi and his elder brother, Kalanithi, who had leveraged party connections to build a powerful media empire that included Sun TV, India’s largest television network. Karunanidhi was convinced that his own family had been shortchanged by Kalanithi Maran, who had aggressively bought back the family’s shares in Sun TV for well under the market value before taking the company public in 2006. And now, Karunanidhi believed, the Marans were intent on fomenting discord among his own children, his chosen political heirs. More:

The true story of one of the biggest scandals in recent Indian parliamentary history

Ashish Khetan in Tehelka:

This is a story that stands to turn contemporary discourse on its head. It is a dark story of how three mainstream political parties—and sections of the media—have fooled the nation. It is a story of how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) willfully set out to entrap its opponents in the cash-for-votes scandal. It is a story of how the Samajwadi Party voluntarily fell into the trap. It is a story of how the Congress covered it all up. It is also, unfortunately, a story of how sections of the media muddied the truth.

This is how the story goes.

As everyone knows, the two-year-old cash-for-votes scandal is back to haunt the UPA government. Parliament has been in uproar over the past few days as outraged Opposition parties, led by the BJP, have demanded that the government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh step down on moral grounds. “A government which survived on such a political sin has no authority to continue even for one minute. We demand this government resign immediately,” thundered Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. BJP veteran LK Advani reiterated this position, saying, “We would like the Prime Minister to come to the House and announce that he has decided to resign in the light of the new revelations.”

As everyone knows too, this political storm was triggered by a secret diplomatic cable published by The Hindu , in partnership with WikiLeaks, on 17 March. In this cable sent by the US Embassy in New Delhi to the State Department of the United States on 17 July 2008, the US Charge d’Affaires Steven White wrote that five days before the Manmohan Singh government was to face a crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008, Nachiketa Kapur, an aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma, had showed him two chests containing cash. According to Kapur, the cash was part of a larger fund of Rs 50 crore to Rs 60 crore that was lying around Satish Sharma’s house to purchase the support of MPs to clinch the vote.

According to this cable, Kapur also claimed that four MPs belonging to Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had already been paid Rs 10 crore each to ensure they voted in the UPA’s favour on the floor of the Lok Sabha.

There were several inaccuracies in this cable that made it problematic. Nachiketa Kapur was not a formal aide of Satish Sharma but a Congress hanger-on who was sacked from service in the past by Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury for corruption. The RLD had three MPs at the time, not four. And the Lok Sabha records show that none of them voted in favour of the UPA government. More:

Is there life after democracy?


Activist and writer Arundhati Roy in Dawn:

So, is there life after democracy?

Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defence of democracy. It’s flawed, we say. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than everything else that’s on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: ‘Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia . . . is that what you would prefer?’

Whether democracy should be the utopia that all ‘developing’ societies aspire to be is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn’t meant to suggest that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. It’s meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy-too much representation, too little democracy-needs some structural adjustment.

The question here, really, is what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasised into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the Free Market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximising profit? Is it possible to reverse this process? Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used to be? More:

Past its blooming period

The BJP has lost its appeal amongst its traditional bastion, the middle class. In the Hindustan Times Rajdeep Sardesai tries to come to terms with why.

As a news anchor who lives in a television studio, and whose reporting days are rapidly becoming a fading memory, my one connection with the ‘real’ world is a morning walkers’ group in the neighbourhood park. The gathering includes senior citizens, service sector professionals and independent businessmen. Their viewpoints on most issues — be it POTA, uniform civil code, black money in Swiss banks, or even the Ram Mandir — are similar to a BJP manifesto. Yet, a majority of them voted for Sheila Dikshit in last year’s Delhi Assembly elections and Dr Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister this year. In their voting preferences lies the key to explaining perhaps the only nationwide trend of election 2009: The dominance of the Congress/UPA over the BJP/NDA across urban India.

As the comprehensive National Election Study done by Yogendra Yadav and his team has shown, the UPA has gained in votes and seats in urban constituencies. With the exception of Bangalore and Ahmedabad, the Congress and its allies have swept metropolitan India. The UPA won 34 of the 57 major urban constituencies, the NDA just 19. The UPA won an impressive 81 of the 144 semi-urban constituencies, the NDA only won 39. It’s not just the urban poor, the study shows that the UPA was 15 per cent points ahead of the NDA among urban middle class voters.


Fronts and friendships

The Indian political party is just a vehicle on its way to Delhi. Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in The Telegraph:

Despite Disraeli’s belief that parliamentary government is impossible without parties, the current campaign suggests that the principal – often only – purpose of a party is to further the ambitions of an individual. Parties presuppose ideas if not ideology. A great deal of time, effort, expense and anguish might be avoided if this pretence were dropped.

It has in practice. There’s anxious heartburning when Sitaram Yechury calls on Sharad Yadav or any other party leader not because he might convert them to revolution but because he keeps the headcount in the quinquennial Gentlemen vs Politicians race for the prime ministership. As for the other half, Mayavati and Jayalalithaa probably regard themselves as the only men in clusters of old women. But does that make them Gentlemen? When Barbara Castle lamented in the Commons that the English bulldog (Churchill) had become America’s lapdog, a Tory MP yelled, “You are not, of course, a dog!” He didn’t need to spell out the alternative for sedate members even on his own side to express shock.