Tag Archives: Sonia Gandhi

Jan Lokpal : The Beginning of an End

I agree I have my reservations about individuals being given credit of a group’s achievement. It’s like you boss being accredited for all the hard work you put in. You break your back all round the year for a meager hike and your manager goes for a all expenses paid trip to Pataya!

Anna Hazare

What exactly did Anna Hazare do get so much credit after all?  Is it all just because of the 98 hour fast of this 71-year old ex-army man?

For a layman like me:

  • He united both, the people who sit in boardrooms and crib about corruption and the people who hang on footboard of train everyday and crib about the same.
  • He made the statesmen wake up and realize that the same herd that they drive every five years can be driven by someone else.
  • He made things move so much for the first time in over 60 years on this account.

People from all walks of life came out on the streets to say that they had enough. It wasn’t just the educated and elite from the metros but people from smaller towns like Kochi, Patna, Nashik, Asansol, Ranchi as well who came out to register their protest against corruption. The protest spilled well over the borders and we saw Indians in USA also joining in with fasts and candle light vigils. New York City witnessed 300-400 NRIs and Indian expatriates converge on New York’s iconic Times Square at noon on April 9 in support of Hazare’s crusade, other groups held meetings in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. This wasn’t one of the forums of Arundhati Roys and Mahesh Bhatts of India who come out to cry their heart out in favor of naxalites. This is a movement of the common man and we saw the common man on the street.

The government which claims to be the government of the “Common Man” did a complete U-turn within a span of 10-12 hours. Starting from a no negotiation mode to issuing a Gazette, the government not only made it look like they were against masses, they also lost face on account of nominating members on the drafting committee. The instance of Sharad Pawar “quitting” the Group of Ministers (GoM) panel on corruption after reservations made by Anna Hazare and the failed counter-attack by Pawar’s party.

From Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s initial expression of “deep disappointment” when Hazare confirmed his decision to go on a fast from April 5 and called upon the nation to join in, to issue of the notification. What made this happen. Taking cue from the fast catching up public unrest, Law Minister Veerappa Moily made recommendations to the government.

For four days, the UPA government was adamant on not yielding to the demands for a new draft of the Lokpal Bill. The government’s perspective changed dramatically yesterday afternoon — after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh received a letter from Law Minister M Veerappa Moily.

Moily told the PM that Anna Hazare’s fast unto death was fast catching the imagination of the people, and favoured an immediate resolution of the issue, sources said.

Many senior government functionaries were against the idea of having an activist as either the chairman or co-chairman of the proposed joint committee to draft the new Bill. But Moily was learnt to have suggested that the government should agree to a former Chief Justice of India as chairman of the committee. Chairmanship of the committee, he was learnt to have argued, must not be turned into a prestige issue.

Source: IndianExpress

The support of people was key to the whole movement and surely made the government think. Now the government has issued an official Gazette and the Drafting committee formed to draft the Bill to be tabled in the Monsoon Session. The committee has been asked to submit the draft by June 30, 2011.

Here is the text of the Gazette issued by government:

The Joint Drafting Committee shall consist of five nominee ministers of the Government of India and five nominees of Shri Anna Hazare (including himself).

The five nominee Ministers of the Government of India are as under:

Pranab Mukherjee, Union Minister of Finance, P Chidambaram, Union Minister of Home Affairs, M Veerappa Moily, Union Minister of Law and Justice, Kapil Sibal, Union Minister of Human Resource and Development and Minister of Communication and Information Technology and Salman Khursheed, Union Minister of Water Resources and Minister of Minority Affairs.

The five nominees of Anna Hazare (including himself) are as under:

Anna Hazare, Justice N Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan, Senior Advocate, Prashan Bhushan, Advocate and Arvind Kejriwal.

The Chairperson of the Joint Drafting Committee shall be Pranab Mukherjee.

The Co-Chairperson of the Joint Drafting Committee shall be Shanti Bhushan.

The Convenor of the Join Drafting Committee shall be M Veerappa Moily.

The Joint Drafting Committee shall commence its work forthwith and evolve its own procedure to prepare the proposed legislation.

The Joint Drafting Committee shall complete its work latest by 30th June, 2011.

Source: Hindu

The Gazette can be accessed here: lawmin.nic

Now what remains to be seen is how serious is the government about allowing the civil society have its say in the drafting of the bill and how serious is the government in actually executing a tough law. Going by the track record it has established in last few months in the way the case of Adarsh ScamA Raja and Suresh Kalmadi, people like me still have a reason to be skeptical. At the same time if the civil society which is the common people like me, keep the tempo up, I see no reason why this tough act can’t be instituted and acted upon.

The coming few weeks will decide how this war will end. Anna has already indicated that this is a long battle and people should be ready for it.

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The (Un)Common Misadventure?

CWG-Delhi-2010

Abraham Lincoln once said:

God must love the common man, he made so many of them.

It seems that God did not like the Indian common man as he made so many politicians and bureaucrats to make their life tough if not hell.

Amidst rising inflation, poverty and lack of basic amenities plaguing the common man, politicians are busy playing the game they play best: mudslinging.

The latest example is the (non-)issue about the CommonWealth Games (CWG). Two of the top-notch politicians of the ruling coalition are busy mudslinging at each other while the repute of the nation is at stake. The worst part is the truth that billions have already been spent, overshooting the initial budget and still things are chaotic. All this at the cost of hard earned money of the poor common man.

This speaks of amongst other the following failures:

Old time arch-rivals senior Congress leader, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Suresh Kalmadi, Congress leader and Chairman of the organizing committee of the CWG, are busy making accusations against each other while the preparations for the games are in a limbo. To give the matter an even more shameful flavor, the recent revelations by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) ranging from allegations like:

  • Award of works at higher rates – One of the accusations here are:

In the bid of L1, rates of some items and discount offered by the firm at the end of BOQ were tampered either by cutting or by overwriting in the price bid after opening in order to increase the quoted amount to avail the difference of Rs. 3,62,72,229/- between the next higher quoted amounts without changing the overall status.

  • Poor quality assurance – One among a list of eleven accusations CVC’s inspection note reveals :

Lot of deviations taken from the approved scheme of the Government without obtaining the approval of the competent authority. Specially poles of 12 meter length (Agreement rate of Rs. 28,358/-) and 10 meter length (Agreement rate of Rs. 28,974/-) have been deviated in such a manner which is beneficial to the agency with extra burden of about Rs. 1,13,32,464/-.

  • Award of work to ineligible agencies – CVC’s note states in one case:

Work finally had to be terminated which resulted into time and cost overrun

    Source: cvc.nic.in

    What is even more shocking and disturbing is the CVC revelation that the materials used in the construction failed “stress-test”. Basic safety norms are being openly flouted. Electricity installations remained to be tested for common checks like insulation test. With rains pouring and large crowd expected for the event, it is a dangerous proposition.

    As different parties peg the amount spent on the games at different levels, everyone agrees that it has zoomed way past the initial estimates and the whole proposition to organize the games is being questioned. A Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, Government of India press release dated July 29, 2010 pegs the figures as below:

    • Expected Income as per the CWG Organizing Committee (OC)  – Rs. 1,708 crore
    • Expected Expenditure on condust of the games – Rs.2,394 crore (includes Overlays, Timing, Scoring, Result System and Games Time Sports Equipment)
    • Indian Olympic Association (IOA) estimate of expenditure (2003) – Rs.655 crore
    • Current estimates – Rs.11,494 crore (apart from expenditure of Sports Infrastructure and Conduct of the Games, also expenditure on Security, Broadcasting, Telecommunication, Training of Sportspersons, allocation to Government of Delhi etc.)

    Some sources peg the amount at Rs. 35, 000 crores (close to USD 8, 000 millions, Indian per capita GDP– USD 3, 100).  Mani Shankar Aiyar also alleged that India had bribed the various nations to take the game.

    “To take the Games, the Olympic association of every Commonwealth country was given $1 lakh ($100,000); it was given to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Britain. Those countries did not need this money,” he said. “I would call it a bribe, I don’t know what it is called from the legal point of view.”

    Source: EconomicTimes.IndiaTimes.com

    Aiyar openly declared that he would be happy if the “Games are spoilt”. Organizing such games and events are a good way to showcase the growth and cultural diversity of a nation to attract investment and tourism but the way this event is being managed, it will raise more doubts about Indian acumen and competence rather than creating a positive impact.

    “I am very happy with the rains, firstly because it will ensure a good agriculture for the country and secondly because it will ensure that the Commonwealth Games are spoilt,” Aiyar said candidly.

    Source: EconomicTimes.IndiaTimes.com

    As of now the CWG seems to have become a White Elephant which no one is ready to own. Games OC Chairman, Kalmadi has already wiped-off his hand from allegations of corruption.

    As the countdown clock on the games official page happily ticks away to the D-day, organizers are feeling the heat. CVC as well as the opposition parties and now even constituents of the ruling coalition are raising doubts on the successful conduct of the games. Delhi Finance Minister and a member of the Delhi government Commonwealth Coordination Committee, AK Walia has also gone on records, stating that he was not sure if all stadiums would be ready by the August 15 deadline for the Games.

    Come October 15, 2010, the day the games begin: the world is watching.

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    Asian Politicians you will hear of soon

    Varun Gandhi - BJP Secretary

    Politicians and Politics in some way or the other, touch each one of our lives daily.  We can love or hate them but we cannot ignore them. The Diplomat, an international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region recently brought out a series of publications on politicians to watch out for.

    The Indian fire band leader and Secretary of India’s main opposition party The Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP), Mr. Varun Gandhi featured as one of the leaders to watch out for. Already making headlines due to his comments on various issues and being accused of professing a politics of “hate“, Varun is being seen as one of the leading figures in the BJP’s youth stable.

    Other politicians figuring on the list are:

    The Diplomat states:

    In 2009, 29-year-old Varun Gandhi was elected to parliament by the biggest margin (nearly 400,000 votes) of any other new member of his party—main opposition group the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The emphatic win quickly marked him out as one to watch on the Indian political scene.
    Despite being a member of India’s foremost political family, Varun—cousin to fellow ‘new generation’ politician Rahul Gandhi and the grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi—broke the mould by joining the BJP in 2004, instead of the Indian National Congress, with which his family has traditionally been aligned. He has stated that the BJP’s recent values better reflect his and the original ones held by the Congress on issues such as nationalism, for which he is a strong proponent.
    Often portrayed as more direct and confrontational than his cousin Rahul, Varun Gandhi has emerged as the hero of the ‘Hindutva’ forces, or those seeking to ensure that Hindus in India get the same status as presently enjoyed by Muslims in Pakistan. The cousins may well end up competing head-on with each other at some point in the future as they try to persuade the Indian electorate to choose between their societal visions.

    In 2009, 29-year-old Varun Gandhi was elected to parliament by the biggest margin (nearly 400,000 votes) of any other new member of his party—main opposition group the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The emphatic win quickly marked him out as one to watch on the Indian political scene.Despite being a member of India’s foremost political family, Varun—cousin to fellow ‘new generation’ politician Rahul Gandhi and the grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi—broke the mould by joining the BJP in 2004, instead of the Indian National Congress, with which his family has traditionally been aligned. He has stated that the BJP’s recent values better reflect his and the original ones held by the Congress on issues such as nationalism, for which he is a strong proponent.Often portrayed as more direct and confrontational than his cousin Rahul, Varun Gandhi has emerged as the hero of the ‘Hindutva’ forces, or those seeking to ensure that Hindus in India get the same status as presently enjoyed by Muslims in Pakistan. The cousins may well end up competing head-on with each other at some point in the future as they try to persuade the Indian electorate to choose between their societal visions.

    Source: the-diplomat.com

    Indian the largest democracy of the world faces deep rooted issues ranging from Corruption to Crime, from Poverty to Population. While this new breed of politicians surely are looked upon as hope for a new India, the politics of family itself raises concerns about the agenda that they may profess.

    Hopefully while following Nationalism, Varun will put “Nation” first.

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    Indian Telecom Minister at the wrong end of “Spectrum”

     

    Manmohan SinghThe ruling National Democratic Alliance was in a party-mode after its win in the recently concluded state assembly election of three states when it a multi-million “scam” was revealed which has spilled beans and put the government on a back foot in front of opposition parties. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) while conducting the investigation landed at the office of A. Raja, Cabinet Minister, Telecom & IT following a trail on the controversial 2G spectrum auction. In his defense Raja revoked names of top Cabinet ministers. The offices of his ministry were raided by the CBI in a bid to find missing links in the case which is estimated to be worth INR 60,000-crore though the CBI charge sheet values it at a mere 22,000-crore. This makes the scam the biggest scam in Indian history.

    (Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha <the Upper House of Parliament>, Arun) Jaitley also says the CBI probe is too little and too late. ‘‘The FIR filed by the CBI admits to a loss of Rs 22,000 crore. However, simple calculations yield a loss exceeding Rs 60,000 crore making it the biggest scam in India’s history.’’

    Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com

    To push through a policy of allowing more competition, the ministry under Raja’s jurisdiction in 2008 allowed new players to take telecom licenses at 2001 prices, which were way below the rates that could be fetched if market rates were determined in a normal bidding process.

    Earlier there was a belief that there should not be too many operators and so there was a cartel. I wanted competition and got the new operators in. It seems that the cartel has created the storm. There are allegations from them. Let the investigations happen,” Raja said.

    Source: profit.ndtv.com

    He also said that even the empowered Group of Ministers (GoM) saw no reason to change the license fee. The GoM was headed by the current Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee which was constituted after the then Law Minister, H R Bhardwaj (in November 2007) had cautioned of a “mega scam” in making. The suggestion to set up a GoM had infuriated Raja who wrote a letter to the Prime Minister questioning the Law Minister’s suggestion.

    The Telecom Minister’s letter is a classic example of arrogance. He wrote, “The Ministry of Law and Justice, instead of examining the legal tenability of these alternative procedures, suggested referring the matter to EGoM. Since generally new major policy decisions of a department or inter-departmental issues are referred to the GoM, and needless to say that the present issues relate to procedures, the suggestion of the Law Ministry is totally out of context.” (The emphasis is as in the letter.)

    Source: dailypioneer.com

    The PM seemed unimpressed about the letter and wrote back “I would request you to give urgent consideration to the issues being raised with a view to ensuring fairness and transparency and let me know of the position before you take any further action in this regard”. PM in his response also objected to the proposal to go ahead with the first-come-first-served model and cheap pricing. He instructed the Minister to adopt “correct pricing of spectrum and revision of entry fee”. Raja was also asked to respond to the objections raised by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) over the first-come-first-served basis and the 2001 pricing for sale in 2008. This was followed up with a flurry of letter exchanges and then Raja went into a no-response mode for some time. After about 50 days he sent a letter to the PM on December 26, 2007 which stated that he had received the go ahead from Pranab Mukherjee (then External Affairs Minister) and the then Solicitor General Goolam Vahanvati.

    It is here that the Telecom Minister got enlightened. “In these circumstances, the discussions with External Affairs Minister and Solicitor General of India have further enlightened me to take a pre-emptive and pro-active decision on these issues as per the guidelines and rules framed thereunder to avoid any further confusion and delay,” a grateful Raja stated.

    Source: dailypioneer.com

    The opposition has stepped up its attack on the minister in particular and the government in general. Some view this as an opportunity for the Indian National Congress, which leads the coalition government, to remove Raja who belongs to the DMK party. Raja has been in the line of fire from different quarters over the projects he sanctioned as Environment minister previously.

    In Jaitley’s opinion, it is best that the PM allow the CBI to continue its investigation without hindrance by airing political messages. ‘‘It is not appropriate to interfere with the investigations of an independent agency in a matter where the entire nation believes that Raja and some of his officials are involved in massive largesse to select private companies.’’

    Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com

    As different groups squabble over the action; the CBI is believed to have recovered incriminating documents that may put the minister in a tight spot. Meanwhile even as the proceedings in the case are underway; acting on a strong worded letter from the the Finance Minister, DoT today issued timelines for 3G spectrum auction. There have been issues of contention between the various ministries and armed forces on the 3G spectrum allocation as these bandwidths are currently used by the armed forces and may not be available anytime soon.

     

    The defence ministry has said that it will not be able to vacate the spectrum before June 2010. This had prompted some DoT officials to suggest that the auction should be delayed. As a result, DoT delayed the issue of the information memorandum which was supposed to be released earlier on September 29.

    But Mukherjee, in his letter of October 15, made it clear that there was no scope for any delay in the auction, especially as the government wants the revenues from the auction to accrue in the current financial year. The government, in the Union Budget, had earmarked over Rs 35,000 crore from the auction of 3G auction, which is crucial if it wants to contain its fiscal deficit.

     

     

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    “Indian Summer” gets cold shouldered

    Nehru bidding farewell to Edwina after partition

    Nehru bidding farewell to Edwina after partition

    The much hyped Hollywood movie Indian Summer being produced by Universal Studios has been put on the backburner, at least for now. Indian Summer is a story of the alleged relation between Edwina Mountbatten (wife of last Viceroy of British ruled India, Lord Mountbatten) and the first Indian prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.  The film is based on Alex Von Tunzel-Mann’s book – Indian Summer, The Secret History of the End of Empire.

    Variety magazine reported that the movie which was planned to be shot in India starting early 2010 has now been put on hold by Universal Studios due to two main reasons. The first being differences in the budget being granted by the production house and actual estimates by the director Helmer Joe Wright who is now believed to be waiting for better market situations to emerge. Universal had approved a budget of under 30 million while the actual being projected are between USD 30-40 million.

    The second reason behind the decision was the logistic issues of filming a major production in India. Further the creative differences over how much to emphasize the alleged love affair between the two historic figures also seems to have become a bottleneck.

    We were in between a rock and a hard place,” Wright said. “The Indian government wanted us to make less of the love story while the studio wanted us to make more of the love story.”

    Meanwhile Nehru’s niece Nayantara Sahgal in an interview said that the relation between two was purely platonic. Lady Pamela Mountbatten, daughter of Earl Mountbatten in an interview to CNN-IBN (which was published in Indian daily The Hindu) had also voiced similar sentiments and termed the relation “platonic” while confessing that Edwina had other affairs.

    Nehru-Edwina lighting it up

    Nehru-Edwina lighting it up

    In the first interview given by any member of the Mountbatten family on the relationship between Lady Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, Lady Pamela Hicks, Earl Mountbatten’s youngest daughter, has said she does not believe Nehru and Lady Mountbatten had a sexual relationship but added “maybe everybody will think I’m being very naïve.”

    Some Indian directors also seem skeptical to take up the project given the controversy around the subject. While individuals and govt. deliberate on what and how to show an Indian director already seems to be pitching in to take up the role of filming the saga.

    Director Onir, however, wouldn’t mind attempting such a subject should a producer be game. “I’ve dealt with films that explore uncomfortable areas. It’s important that such a film is made in India,” says Onir, adding, “Unfortunately, our fraternity doesn’t have the artistic freedom. I shudder to think that a director has to apologise before for using the word Bombay and not Mumbai in his film. I don’t mind exploring the relationship between Nehru-Edwina. If someone approaches me with the right budget, I wouldn’t mind doing a film on this issue!

    British daily The Telegraph meanwhile reported that the Indian govt. had approved the script sans the intimate scenes and the reasons for shelving the movie is simply financial. Foreign movies shot in india need approval of a vetting committee.

    All foreign films shot in India must be approved by a vetting committee which screens the script to make sure “nothing detrimental to the image of India or the Indian people is shot or included in the film”.

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