Saturday, April 30, 2011

Anna Hazare’s loudest mouth Prashant Bhushan now blames economic liberalization....

What was supposed to be an apolitical (though anti-politician) movement has suddenly taken on new dimensions....thanks to the relentless efforts of one of the members of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, Prashant Bhushan, to remain in the news. At a recent gathering of his activist friends, he has blamed the economic liberalization model that India adopted in 1991 for the corruption that exists in the country today. It appears that Prashant Bhushan would rather prefer the snail-paced growth that India had before liberalization (even though its apparent that that led to corruption as well) to what we have now.....

This anti-liberalization direction is the direction all activist-led movements take once they get the media attention. Somehow, they all turn against the economic liberalization model. They all hate the capitalistic system of market development and prefer the state-controlled model. Of course, there are several problems associated with capitalism and we must work at developing something that’s appropriate for us rather than clone what’s available abroad. But they forget that almost nowhere in the world does that old socialistic system work any longer. The two biggest proponents of socialism, Russia and China, have both turned almost-totally capitalistic in nature. What growth they have seen does not even need to be mentioned here. What is Prashant Bhushan suggesting? That India was a better place prior to 1991 than today? appears as if his point is that if you have no development, there will be no corruption! And frankly, what is his locus standi in commenting on economic policies of the country? Is he now claiming that in addition to law, he is also an erudite economist?

Giving him company in this anti-liberalization tirade is the omnipresent (make it omnipresent at media covered events) God of Small Things (just call her God), Arundhati Roy. Now I have no doubt she is an accomplished writer....winner of the Man Booker prize, no less.....but I have serious problems when she takes up issues that she may not even fully understand. She’s been in the news of late demanding that Kashmir be made independent (does she know how international politics and diplomacy is conducted?). She has vitriolic views against the US and US policies. Her economic view-point is anti-capitalism and anti-globalization (as opposed to what?). She is even against India’s nuclear energy policies (and is ok that India stays without power?). Her tirade against the Narmada Dam with Medha Patkar positions her squarely as being anti-development. And her penchant to amplify things beyond reason made eminent historian Ramachandra Guha comment about her advocacy as being “hyperbolic and self-indulgent”. Prashant Bhushan obviously found her to be a worthy ally in the fight against all that India has achieved in the last twenty years in the form of economic development. I think both would rather have the under-development that the Left Government has produced in WB.....and ignore the very distinct possibility that the government there is finally going to be ousted by the people.

I have strong views on capitalism. Fundamentally, I think its best that market forces determine allocation of resources. It leads to efficiency and development. Take the case of our natural resources. We are a country rich in natural resources.....and yet, under state control, we have been unable to exploit them adequately. Under a globalized and privatized economic model, these undeveloped blocks are being offered to private companies for exploitation......for a fee determined by market bidding. Make no mistake.....these rights are just “development” rights.....the state retains “royalties” in most cases and the country benefits by greater production. Contracts for exploiting minerals and other resources are always given out through a transparent tendering system.....ensuring that the government gets to choose from a bunch of bids. None of these successful winners have made supernormal profits.....Even RIL, the biggest private sector company in the country, has announced only a 7% net profit margin in its latest quarterly results.

This anti-capitalism psychosis that activists suffer from is inexplicable. They have personally gained hugely from the boom that the new policies provided. Lawyers today make crores of rupees because of a vastly active private corporate sector......none of the lawyers of 1970s and 1980s made such a pile. Arundhati Roy herself is a product of the media that has emerged after liberalization.....not to forget that her claim to fame came out of an award which has been “sponsored” by a large investment asset management company, the Man Group. The Booker Prize became the Man Booker prize and the sponsors raised the prize money by more than double when they provide the sponsorship. Arundhati Roy is a beneficiary herself of this sponsorship (its a different story that she eventually donated the prize money.....). Apart from these examples, it is a well known fact that the children of several of the biggest Left party leaders have studied abroad and continue to work abroad in the private sector......showing that even their own children don’t support their views. The socialistic model has been abandoned the model around the world.....

The real truth is that Prashant Bhushan has no business to comment on economic policies. He has a huge gap in personal credibility with all the recent muck that has emerged around him, which he must try to plug. He got a reprieve when the government itself suggested that he be allowed to continue on the drafting committee (and he was accusing the government of indulging in a smear campaign against him!). He should stay focused on legal matters. And he must get out of media at the earliest possible. As far as Anna Hazare is concerned, he must look at where his movement is headed.....and the company he is keeping.

Friday, April 29, 2011

BJP and Left as corrupt as Congress.....

There’s a feeling amongst many people that the Congress is the most corrupt party. Actually, that’s not a correct fact. All political parties are corrupt; some like the BJP more than we think them to be. A few interesting reports in the papers over the last few weeks have brought out this point quite clearly. Shows that the BJP’s hopes of benefitting from Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement are ill-founded.

The first story is about the CWG scam now starting to encircle the BJP as well. The CVC’s Chief Technical Examiner (CTE) has indicted the MCD for several projects undertaken by it for the CWG. The MCD is ruled by the BJP. Charges include intentionally delaying projects so that prices could be jacked up in “national interest”, poor quality of work etc.

The second report is in today’s papers and quotes a Center for Media Studies (CMS) study which shows that the aam aadmi feels that corruption has actually come down over the last 5 years. Only 28% of the rural aam aadmi had to pay bribes to get work done (in the areas of Public Distribution System, school education, hospitals and water supply) v/s 56% five years back. However, states where giving bribes remains high are Chhatisgarh (BJP), Bihar (Janata Dal and BJP alliance), Kerala (Left Front) and Maharashtra (Congress). If these numbers reflect the “reality” on date, then the following ones represent the “perception of corruption”: Chattisgarh (66% feel bribes need to be paid....BJP ruled), Bihar (Janata Dal – BJP alliance), Kerala (59%....Left Front), Rajasthan (54%....Congress) and UP (49%.....BSP). An even distribution across political parties!

The last report I am relying on appeared in the Economic Times of April 17th. An ET-Synovate study listed the top 13 “most corruption prone” states. Starting with the most corrupt, the list includes

1) UP (BSP)
2) Uttarakhand (BJP)
3) Bihar (Janata Dal – BJP),
4) Jharkhand (BJP)
5) Delhi (Congress)
6) MP (BJP)
7) Maharashtra (Congress)
8) Karnataka (BJP)
9) West Bengal (Left)
10) Tamilnadu (DMK – Congress)
11) Punjab (Shiromani Akali Dal)
12) Haryana (Congress)
13) Gujarat (BJP)

This list shows that out of the 13 states, BJP figured in five, Congress in four and the rest were single-state parties. Another way to look at this is that the Congress was named in four out of its 12 ruled states (33%), the BJP in five out of its 7 (71%), and the rest were ruled in the single state that they ruled in (100%). The Congress actually comes out the most clean amongst the corrupt!

This is a very strong indictment against the BJP. The party has been trying to take advantage of the strong sentiments against corruption that have pervaded the urban middle class. With the help of mainstream media (which, as a friend pointed out.....tends to be anti-establishment since it does not depend on government advertising for survival), the BJP has been trying to ride a wave of anger against the UPA government at the Center. The media has been helping the BJP by putting a protective veil on the affairs of the party in Karnataka. However, the above reports are quite damning for the party..... five out of its seven states feature in the most corruption prone states. What would explain this? Actually, it’s not that difficult to understand. In order to fight elections, and to continue with its political activities, any party needs lots of funds. Since funds are almost never acquired legally, parties resort to all sorts of devious methods......Since the BJP does not rule at the Centre, it makes up by exploiting the states where it rules. In contrast, the Congress rules at the Center....hence is less dependent on its state units.

Which brings me to the point I have been making all through. That corruption exists for various reasons. One of the main reasons is that the process of elections gives requires political parties to spend a lot of money. The proponents of the Lokpal Bill don’t seem to have understood this. They seem to believe (a little naively) that setting up a body called the Lokpal (forget how it will harm our democracy) will solve all the problems. To solve the problem, we don’t need more laws; we need to address the core issues that I have highlighted earlier: election funding; better salaries to MPs and babus; making the CBI and CVC independent like the Election Commission is (while still staying under Parliament); and most importantly, reducing the size of the government (getting out of businesses where it adds little or no value).....

The real truth is that the BJP and the media are beating down the wrong path. If they think they will succeed in their propaganda, I think they are mistaken. The media (TV channels, newspapers) are already taking a beating in terms of reducing viewership and readership. The BJP will also take a beating in the next round of elections. Unless it develops a more robust positioning for itself. It failed with the Hindutva will fail again with the anti-corruption plank as well.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

IPL shows the domination of India in the world of cricket

I finally managed to watch an IPL match this season. This was at the Kotla in Delhi and I was lucky to get an invite to be in one of the several premium lounges that have been created in the stadium. The experience can be described in just one word: awesome!

I was impressed with several things that I saw:

1)      The facilities. Truly amazing. The stadium itself, the lighting, the cleanliness, the loos, the security arrangements all looked truly world-class. Entering the stadium was a bit of a walk, but the arrangements were marvellous. Sign-boards were in place; even the cops were friendly!
2)      The ups and downs of the game obviously added to the excitement. Kolkata were able to make only 148 when everyone thought that a score of 200 was the bare minimum required to win at the small sized Kotla grounds. Delhi started their reply strongly; and then floundered along the way. There was a sudden unexpected revival towards the end......which again got the crowds excited; but in the end, it just whimpered away. The crowd loved every turn the game took!
3)      The sportiness of the crowd was so refreshing. I was expecting the crowd to behave parochially. I thought Kolkata in general and Gambhir in particular would get booed....but in reality, a large part of the crowd was actually supporting Kolkata. There were two clear camps.....I guess one reason Kolkata got so much support was because of the presence of SRK!
4)      There was free booze and food all around! Wow....I never thought this could be possible in India. I’ve only seen the TV telecast of matches held in Australia....where the crowd guzzles on beer while sunbathing in their skimpy clothes! Never could I have imagined that free booze would flow in the stadiums as patrons watched the match from the comforts of an airconditioned zone! I admit I was in a premium zone, but even then, even in that limited zone, to expect such facilities would have been unthinkable before IPL started.
5)      The fact that some 60 of the world’s best cricketers and an additional 200 odd Indian cricketers were devoting all their time and energy to IPL made me feel really proud. In fact, international crickets cocking a snook at their boards and opting to play for IPL instead was a little embarrassing at first; but it’s a proud feeling that India can dictate terms to other nations in cricket. We’re not used to this feeling....usually, it’s the others who keep pushing us around.....but now, they kowtow to our demands! The reason of course is well known....85% of world funding of cricket comes from Indian advertisers.....! Cricketers earn their fame in their countries, but earn their money in India....
6)      The cheering girls were “bindaas”. No worries about the crowd jeering at them! The girls were confident and realized they were all part of a global entertainment jambooree.....each of them enjoying their spot in the sun. I am told Jacque Kallis’s sister is one amongst the cheering girls!
7)      The electronics in the stadium was terrific. Apart from the three giant screens, there were literally hundreds of TV sets scattered all around. So one glance around and one could get all the TV replays that one wanted. The electronic advertising boards around the ground were also fascinating....especially when all of them turned to display just one advertising message!

All in all, the experience spoke loudly that at least in the world of cricket, India was the boss and there was no challenger anywhere close by. One has to give credit to the BCCI for developing the facilities.....of course there have been many accusations against them on various grounds; but the fact remains that they have delivered. One must grant them the applause that is due to them. Clearly also, when we watch an IPL match, we are reminded of the genius of the man called Lalit Modi. We need him back; even if it means condoning all his sins....

The success with IPL and cricket in general tells me that we can develop other sports also in the same manner. People want excitement; the shorter format after-office-hours entertainment format works very well. Indian hockey can certainly get organized into clubs. What we need is a few people with big imagination....people like Lalit Modi. If league hockey can be created, I am confident that TV viewership will shift towards it.....triggering off a virtuous spiral in that sport as well.

The real truth is that the experience last night made me feel really proud. I was able to imagine a time a few years hence when we would be able to assert ourselves in the same manner in global politics and business also. We just need stronger leaders; stronger visionaries. But we also need a supportive audience......and a little patience and self belief. That’s what’s going to determine if we grab our destinies in our hands or let it go by.....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shutting down Air India or selling it off are the only solutions to the continuing mess.....

The strike by Air India pilots doesn’t find resonance with most right thinking people in the country. Most people think that this is pure blackmail and find the demands of the pilots unreasonable. If the pilots are all so unhappy with their pay scales, why don’t they just quit and find other opportunities worth their while? Are they not concerned about the huge losses their company is making year after year? Makes me wonder (yet again) why the government should be in the airline business at all. Does it need to stay on?

It’s a well known fact that airline pilots make a huge pile of money. Apparently, senior pilots in the private sector make more than Rs 50 lacs per annum in salaries alone. Plus they enjoy many esoteric perks as well. In contrast, Air India pilots make much lesser. So what’s wrong in their demand for equal wages? Well....what’s wrong is that conceptually, it’s impossible for the government of a country like India to pay as much salary as the private sector does. In comparison with other government departments, Air India pilots are already being paid an obnoxious amount. The PM of this country gets a salary of less than Rs 1 lac per month. The pilots are already making much more. So unless pilots are motivated by their passion and the zeal of serving the nation, they will always find an Air India job to be commercially less exciting.

An airline is made by its people.....its pilots, its in-flight crew and it’s front-end staff. The right people deliver the right experience. On people issues, no government company can ever compete with private players. Air India cannot pay its pilots well. So the best pilots keep deserting it. Only the scum is left behind. Likewise, the government cannot attract the best crew. To make matters worse, its policies are such that it cannot force air hostesses and stewards to even do the basic things that airlines typically need to do. They cannot put weight restrictions on them; they cannot mandate them to look even reasonably presentable. They cannot enforce even basic service standards. It’s almost impossible for the government to provide a service as classy as one provided by the private sector. I remember an old joke about Air India hostesses.....the youngest air hostesses (“least experienced” though better looking!) would be assigned by the government to their lowest-grade airline: Alliance Air. The “relatively younger” middle aged ones (“experienced” in government jargon.....and starting to look ugly!) would be in Indian Airlines (economy section). The “relatively older” middle aged ones (“very experienced and very ugly”!) would be in the business class of Indian Airlines (ouch!).....and the really old ones (“most experienced and most ugly”!) would be in Air India (after all, flying internationally is a perk reserved for the most experienced)!

Poor salaries; inability to attract and retain talent; inability to build an environment of excellence leads to Air India delivering poor service. In a service industry, this alone would be reason enough for shutting down. For the government, there is yet another reason to shut down. There is a very real possibility of a scam emerging in Air India. The amount of money spent regularly by Air India on purchase of aircraft, maintenance services etc is huge making it a very likely place to have a scam. If the government is serious about reducing corruption, it has to end all such businesses where the chance of a scam is high (and the perceived value addition is low).

BSNL and MTNL are also examples of government companies in the service sector that should be shut down or sold off. These companies cannot attract talent; and they cannot provide topnotch service quality to their customers. There is always a risk of a big scam occurring since the size of their purchases is very large. There may have been a rationale a few decades back for the government to have started these companies (extending telephone services to rural areas etc); today that rationale doesn’t exist. The government should have divested its stake in these companies long back. It didn’t. Today, the market cap of these companies has fallen drastically. The companies are losing money. The government has lost most of its investment. In a similar way, if the government doesn’t exit Air India soon, there will be no value left in Air India to sell off later.

There is at least some merit in the government remaining in the Railways sector (even though I feel it should be partly privatized). There is zero merit in the government continuing in the airline sector. No one would miss Air India if it shut down.

The real truth is that the government continues with Air India for totally different reasons. Profit making has never been a goal. Losses are justified on specious grounds. If there were no Air India, how would our babus and politicians jet set around the country? How would they maintain their high-flying (though low paying) lifestyle? How would they take their family members on bharat darshans? That’s the real reason the government continues with Air India!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

78% of front page stories in TOI either on corruption; bash-the-govt; sensationalizing matters or doling out plain bad news.....

I have been cribbing about how much negativity is being spread by the media in India in the last 6 months. Again, last night when I saw Arnab lend credibility to a vastly disgraced Julian Assange and today when I read the headlines in TOI, I got the same impression. I decided to check out if my views were biased or if my feelings were correct. I decided to check the front pages (top half....above the fold.....the main stories) of TOI Bombay for the last 10 days (just as a could be any paper really). I was aghast. 78% of the stories had the following flavor: a) bash the government directly or indirectly b) sensationalised headlines and c) Investigative journalism to highlight some terrible hidden story or d) just plain bad news. Only 22% stories were the type that made me feel good and positive. At 6 am in the morning, I am sorry, but I want some peace of mind and some good stories to begin my day. Is it then any surprise at all that newspaper readership is falling or is, at best, stagnant (the younger age groups have totally abandoned the papers!)? In a previous post, I have already brought out how English news channel TRPs have fallen in the last six months since they started a negativity campaign. Not only is media upsetting India’s growth trajectory, it is also digging its own grave.....

Here are the top stories of the last 10 days:

April 27th (today):
·        School that took off without planes gave DGCA no 2’s daughter license (Investigative)
·        PM was warned of Raja’s plan to ignore 2G rules (Bash-the-govt)
April 26th
·        Kanimozhi/Raja/DMK TV chief got Rs 200 crores bribe from DB: CBI (Corruption)
·        Kalmadi arrested; suspended by Congress (Corruption)
April 25th
·        From Puttaparthy to Eternity – Rs 1 lac crore question. Who’ll lead the empire (Bad news; attempt to sensationalize)
April 24th
·        Were rules bent for DGCA no 2’s pilot’s daughter? (Investigative)
·        PM opens secret talks with Kayani; laid pitch for Mohali (Good)
·        Press pause button on new nuclear plants – says Jairam (Bad news)
April 23rd
·        Modi wanted Muslims to be taught a lesson – Guj cop’s affidavit in SC (Bad news)
·        ICICI Manager tells CBI about ADAG Swan links (Corruption)
·        Spectrograph shows Bhushan CD was spliced using old Amar tape (big story) (Corruption)
April 22nd
·        Stung by Digvijay, Santosh Hegde wants to quit Lokpal Bill panel (Corruption)
·        Bhushan CD not doctored, says govt lab (small story) (Corruption)
·        Black money – are all govt agencies sleeping (Corruption)
·        Rane: Sena got Rs 500 crore to stall Jaitapur plant (Sensationalized)
·        Lankan Board gives in to BCCI pressure (Good)
April 21st
·        Unitech’s Chandra, DB’s Goenka arrested. 3 ADAG top execs also sent to jail as court denies bail (Corruption)
·        I don’t support politics of smear, Sonia tells Anna (Good)
·        Baba’s health deteriorates, forces rushed to Puttaparthi (Bad news)
April 20th
·        Rains to be normal this year: Met (Good)
·        America stunned by credit downgrade (?)
·        Activists on Sonia-led NAC back Bhushan (Corruption)
·        India born US doc gets Pulitzer for cancer tome (Good)
·        Nuclear bandh cripples Jaitapur (Bad news)
April 19th
·        Anna cries foul; asks Sonia to stop “smear campaign” by Cong leaders (Corruption)
·        Pantry car hero helps save 150 on Rajdhani (Good)
·        Police firing kills 1 in Jaitapur (Bad news)

Just want to make the following points:
1)      My complaint is not that TOI is “fabricating” such stories. My complaint is that they are intentionally choosing such stories for the front page.
2)      My romaticized notion of media is that it should lead the country and society towards more progressive thinking and a belief in one’s future.....keeping the govt alert is good, but putting out so much negativity? How can this be good for the society or the country? Take the example of nuclear power. It is my view that the TOI (or any other newspaper) should have taken a stand to support nuclear power.....even a simple analysis will show that India needs to exploit ALL types of power generation methods. No method is perfect. India is not in a high-threat seismic zone like Japan is. But no, TOI has chosen to report on the violence instead; even project the government as being against its own people.
3)      There is bias even in the sizes given to stories. A story that the Bhushan CD was not doctored was small in size; the one that claimed that the CD was spliced was big in size.
4)      Never has TOI put out the alternate view on Anna Hazare.....his methods; the problems in his Jan Lokpal Bill, the character of his team this not a case of pandering to public opinion; rather than treating a subject on merit? Shouldn’t TOI bring out all aspects for a healthy debate?

I am not suggesting that the TOI (or other newspapers) be more responsible in the interest of nation building. It should be so in its own interest. If media were to maintain a balanced position, it would find that its readership and viewership would improve. A bulk of the urban Indians feel positive and happy today....they are seeing economic progress they have never seen before. People are buying more cars; eating and drinking and partying more; flying rather than taking the train; going on overseas vacations; and generally feeling good about their life and future. A paper which projects the opposite view all the time is un-aligned with the mood of its readers.

The real truth is that media in India is highly irresponsible. It’s projecting an image of India that isn’t true. A foreigner who comes to India would think that it was a banana republic. Indians who read the papers have started feeling miserable about their country. The government has become wary of taking decisions. The only ones who are gaining.....and whose agenda the media is pushing without the political opposition. Media should know that taking on an anti-establishment position rarely gets in advertising dollars. India TV, Tehelka, Indian Express (of the past).....are examples of anti-establishment titles.....they never got the monies though they had high readership/viewership!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wait a sec.....the 2G “scam” is only worth Rs 200 crores???

While everyone in media and opposition seems to be exulting with the naming of Kanimozhi in the 2G chargesheet yesterday, an important point seems to have been missed. After months of investigation, all that CBI is pinning on the DMK as corruption charges is Rs 200 crores or so. What happened to the accusation made by the CAG, media and others of this being the “mother of all scams”? Were those just inflated numbers put out to create sensational news?

Let’s take stock of what all has been found after months of investigations. The only case made out by the CBI so far.....where a money trail has been the link between DB Realty (which set up Swan Telecom) and the DMK party (via Kalaignar TV). In a transaction which looks clearly like a bribe to Raja/DMK for favors rendered, DB group transferred about Rs 200 crores to the party run Kalaigner TV. This is a charge which hasn’t been proved yet; but given the look and feel of it, my own mind tells me that the charge looks to be true. Clearly, Raja and the DMK were rewarded in cash for the out-of-turn allotment of license and spectrum to Swan Telecom.

The other link that has been charged (its still to be established) is of the Reliance ADA group’s involvement in Swan Telecom. If proved, it would establish that ADAG actually controlled Swan.....thus violating a DoT rule that a telecom operator cannot own more than one telecom license in one circle. It would appear that either Reliance wanted to control the telecom market better by having two companies while its competitors had only one; or it wanted to “trade” in the spectrum by selling it further to others. No case has been made out yet on the second possibility. I don’t think a case has been made out that Reliance profited from the spectrum. It looks like the motive was controlling the market. The charge against Reliance really is one of violation of the telecom rules. And no money trail has yet been established between Reliance and Raja/DMK.

There is still no money trail established in the case of Unitech (Uninor) and Raja/DMK, though Sanjay Chandra has been behind bars for so much time now. It’s surprising......given that Unitech was clearly also a beneficiary of Raja’s favors. Are we saying that Unitech is smarter than CBI.....that they have been able to keep the dirt so deep down that CBI has not been able to find it yet? All that CBI has been able to establish is that Unitech received favors out of turn.....not yet the mechanism of payment or indeed, even the amount of bribe money.

Likewise, there is no link established yet between the other beneficiaries like Datacom (Videocon), Loop Mobile etc and Raja/DMK. It is reported that CBI may file one or two more supplementary chargesheets involving these companies, but it appears that it is running out of steam. The bulk of the charges have been made. A few small ones remain.

The only other accusation made (though totally wrong and misunderstood by all) is that when the promoters of Swan and Unitech diluted their stakes in their companies by getting in foreign firms (Etisalat and Telenor respectively), they made a killing in the valuation of the company. These foreign companies came it a valuations of some Rs 8-10,000 crores each. It was thus claimed that Swan and Unitech promoters made thousands of crores each because their share of the company was valued so much higher. This is a wrong charge.....because neither DB owners nor Unitech owners actually “sold” any of their shares. All they did was “dilute” their shareholding by issuing new shares to their partners. Not a single paisa was taken out by these two. Yes, their valuation “on paper” went up many times over. These gains are ephemeral and cannot be called profits......because profits or losses are to be considered when the promoters actually exit the company ( which won’t happen for several years). If at that time, the two telecom companies are making losses (and most likely they will, given the crowded and competitive telecom market that exists in India), then the valuations will plummet and DB and Unitech will actually make losses. Let’s not forget most companies that are set up end up in losses. Besides, almost all joint venture partnerships work in this same manner. The foreign partner bring technology and capital to the deal; the local partner gets value in the form of licenses, business relationships, and expertise in handling local regulations. Most foreign companies dread the quagmire of laws that India has.....related to production to labor to taxation to licenses to what not. The Indian partner usually handles all this; Most joint ventures are structured like this. There is nothing unusual in all this. It’s not a scam.

That brings me to the original estimate of Rs 1.76 lac crores that the CAG and the media called the 2G “scam”. This was an unfounded charge. This was a political charge which was alright for the BJP to make.....but the media never even understood the matter....or it intentionally amplified for parochial gains. In fact, the government itself initially didn’t understand what was happening when this story first came out. In a series of missteps, the government started by denying the “charge”, putting up a weak defense and only much later accepting that it was a policy decision; not a scam. But it was too late by then. Poor Kapil Sibal and Montek Singh Ahluwalia weren’t even given a chance. The truth was that giving 2G spectrum cheap was a policy decision and the government should have defended it strongly. CAG was wrong in mixing up issues of “policy” and “procedures”. The policy is clearly in the domain of the government. The government considered telecom to be virtually an “essential” commodity and hence did not want to “maximize revenues”. Just like it doesn’t in the case of diesel, kerosene, fertilizers, power etc. The government was right. As has been totally proven, telecom has been the biggest revolution in this country. Directly as a result of the 2G revolution, so many of the underprivileged sections have been empowered; so many are now able to do business without even having a permanent shop/office; so many have raised themselves out of poverty as a result of this. None of this would have been possible if spectrum had been charged a high rate and consequently telecom prices were very high. If people believe that cheap 2G spectrum benefited the telecom companies, then that’s not true. Airtel, the biggest and most successful telco in India reports EBITDA margins of about 30%......a figure not unusual given the amount of capital deployed (the cost of which is captured below the EBITDA line. Its net profit margin is only about 19% or so). The 2nd biggest operator – Reliance Communications – is in losses. Almost all other telcos are making much smaller margins. The fact is that telcos did not benefit monetarily because of cheap spectrum......the people of this country did. A bulk of that Rs 1.76 lac crores is directly attributable to this policy the government followed. In fact, both the BJP and Congress governments thought this way. But in a country surcharged as it is right now with accusations of corruption being played up by media, who wants to understand the real truth???

The real truth is not that there was no corruption in the 2G licenses issue. There was. But it was only of the order of a few hundred or at most a thousand crores or so. Rs 200 crores has been identified now. Another few hundred crores may be unearthed in the months/years to come. Quite a big sum of money in its own right, but very small given the kind of accusations drummed up by the CAG. The rest of the charges were political in nature and sensationalized by media for its own TRP gains. The real truth also is that scams of this order can be found in virtually every single government deal.....Kalmadi’s corruption charges are likewise small change. Nothing close to the Rs 70,000 crore “scam” that it was made out to be. The real reasons for corruption in government are well known.....There is a need for nearly Rs 1 lac crores every five years to contest elections. Till a legal way is found to fund this need, corruption will not go away.....

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Anna’s panel of civil activists looking like a pack of jokers....

First they demanded separate standards to judge them when they were themselves accused of corruption charges. Now the civil society members of Anna’s panel to draft the Anti-Corruption Lokpal bill are making a joke out of themselves with the way they are agreeing to make changes in their own proposed bill. The roundtable held yesterday in Delhi – in which the two Bhushans, Arvind Kejriwal and Justice Hegde participated – brought this out very clearly.

From newspaper reports, what comes out is that the roundtable concluded that:
1)      The selection method suggested in the Jan Lokpal Bill by Anna was wrong. What is now proposed is that there will be a “search” committee and then another “selection” committee. The search committee’s job would be to shortlist candidates....and it is still not clear who would be members of the search committee. Maybe the issue was too controversial to discuss in a public forum! Maybe the googly will come in later.....maybe people like the Bhushan’s and others (the self declared non-corrupt people! Evidence notwithstanding!) would be part of the search committee. The selection committee would then choose the Lokpal from amongst the shortlisted candidates. The selection committee itself will be headed by the PM (Hahahahaha....isn’t this quite a turnaround!), the two presiding officers of the two houses (politicians.....Hahahaha!), the leaders of opposition of the two houses (hahahaha!), two judges of the SC (not clear whether they should be “seniormost” or “juniormost”....hahahaha!) and finally two “eminent” citizens of the country (presumably the Bhushan variety! This is too funny!). What a volte-face! Hallelujah! Wisdom dawns on the civil society activists! Apparently, the selection committee will work on “unanimous” basis; what civil society still doesn’t understand is that there is no concept of unanimity in the working of any committee..... The Supreme Court has already ruled that if unanimity cannot be achieved (as in the selection of the CVC), then majority view should continue! So effectively, the political class will choose the Lokpal!
2)      The higher judiciary will be kept out of the purview of the Lokpal. Hahahahahaha! This is too funny really. So is it that the higher judiciary’s support is being sought by acquiescing to their unspoken demand?! Or is it that this roundtable had two ex-SC judges Justice Verma and Justice MN Vekatachaliah and no one could argue with them?! Maybe in the next roundtable when a few politicians are brought in, the politicians also will be exempted!
3)      The PM himself/herself will be excluded from the ambit of the Lokpal. Hahahahahaha! Now this one robs the civil society activists of all moral authority they acquired during Anna’s fast. And this comes after the PM has been pushing for his office and he himself being brought under the purview of the Lokpal! So what’s changed? Apparently the civil society members now feel that “the PM is the country’s face in the international arena”! Maybe Obama and Sarkozy just gave Arvind Kejriwal a phone call to point this out! The other reason is “for political stability”...... maybe LK Advani and Arun Jaitley gave Kejriwal and co. a phone call! Maybe the RSS did it on the BJP’s behalf?!
4)      Lokpal should only handle “sensitive cases” involving huge bribes and affecting the prestige of the country. Hahahahaha! So all the arguments I made that there was nothing wrong with the existing judicial set-up except maybe the workload has been amplified by a few others and now understood by the civil society activists! Why the existing judiciary cannot be the judicial authority in the proposed Lokpal Bill has never been clear to me. I guess they will agree to that also in the days to come!
5)      And lastly, and this is probably the pièce de résistance  in the entire discussion of yesterday. The CBI should not be brought under the Lokpal! (I am now breaking into a delirium.....please pardon me, I cannot even laugh!).

So effectively, what the civil society activists are agreeing to now is that the judiciary should be kept out and the investigating body should be kept out. The selection of the Lokpal should lie vastly with the political class. The PM should be kept out. What a turn-around! Very soon, the other provisions will also be diluted........suo-motu powers to initiate action and seeking permission from the political class before pursuing a corruption charge! Makes me wonder what it is that they have really started all this agitation about? Why couldn’t they just have focused on implementing the current laws better? Why couldn’t they just have demanded certain amendments to the current laws? Is there more fame in being called the Father of a new law than just being the one who got a few amendments made? Or is this all very different from Anna himself wanted and wants?

And that’s the really strange part. The man who started it all.....who probably understands now that he is indeed surrounded by nothing but a bunch of fame-seeking, probably-equally-corrupt, and maybe just-plain-incompetent keeping quiet. Anna must realize that his group of friends is making a mockery out of the movement that he started. Even earlier, it was Sonia Gandhi, the PM and Pranab Mukherjee who came to Anna’s rescue by saying that there would be no change in the civil society members on the panel. If they had not done so, then the panel would have dissipated by now.

The real truth is that this Lokpal panel is not going anywhere. It’s made up of a bunch of jokers and they are making this entire struggle of Anna go down the drain. Don’t blame the politicians for this. Blame the activists themselves. The real truth, unfortunately, also is that Anna is simply not strong enough a leader. At this time, he should be preaching his members to lead by example and make sacrifices. Not cling to power and fame. He should have sacked the Bhushans. Rather, he is choosing to stay mum. He apparently made a statement that he did not know the Bhushans very well. Then why have them around? Anna needs to rise.......much above his present operating level.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jairam Ramesh speaking from both sides of his mouth....

A few days back, Jairam Ramesh said in a press interview that there can be no going back on nuclear power. Jaitapur must go on. Yesterday, he told the Planning Commission meeting chaired by the PM that it was not possible to augment power production capacity by 100,000 MW during the 12th 5-year plan (2012-17) least on the back of coal-based plants. So he appeared to be consistent with his support for nuclear power. Today, he had advised the government to put a pause button on Jaitapur. What’s going on? Why does he keep changing his statements? Is he just trying to be popular?

First and foremost, he has no business to speak about policies on subjects outside his ministry’s domain. His ministry surely has an involvement in Jaitapur....and his clearance is mandatory. He can surely object to a specific nuclear power project on environmental grounds, but commenting on the overall power policy of the government is above his pay grade. That’s for the Power Minister and the PM to dictate. Incidentally, in the case of Jaitapur, his ministry has already given the clearance after putting some 40 conditions for the clearance. Actually, even this is becoming a pattern. So many conditions are put for granting permission, that it looks almost as bad as the much maligned License Raj of the 1960s and 70s......

There really is no alternative to nuclear power. Not because there is no more potential left to exploit thermal power. There is.....but India needs power from ALL sources. The requirements are so stiff that it would be foolish to assume that we can fulfill our needs from only one source. At present, we have only 1.72 lac MW of built-up capacity. In comparison, China has 8 lac MW of capacity. If we need to grow at 9-10% per annum for the next 20-30 years, we need to add power capacity at a very rapid pace. The 12th Plan has taken the target of adding 1 lac MW in the 5 year period starting 2012. We added around 55000 MW in the 11th five year plan (2007-2012). If we need to add so much capacity, should we not be exploiting everything under the sun?

That brings me to the subject of energy from the sun. Or what is typically called “non-conventional” sources of energy (also fashionably called “renewable” sources of power). These sources also include wind power, biogas, tidal power and other similar stuff. Just as the name suggests, these methods of energy generation have not yet become mainstream. One reason is that the capital investments required for generating substantial amounts of energy from them is extremely high. Secondly, even the operating costs are very high.....apparently, the cost of generating solar power is double of what it is for nuclear power. Will Indians be willing to pay (or rather, will we be even able to afford to pay) for such high cost of power? In any case, if the future power capacity has to be built on solar power, a huge chunk of our land resources will be used up in setting up solar impossible situation in a land-starved nation.

Some people argue that if only we reduced our power wastage (during distribution) and theft, we would overcome all our problems. Not true at all. We should reduce these losses, but the savings would be a very small part of what we need in the future. Remember, we need to produce 4 times of what we have today.....a little cutting of losses will not serve our purpose.

Cribbing about nuclear power is similar in many ways to cribbing about air-travel. The scenario built is the worst-case doomsday scenario. Isn’t it the same with air travel? If an air crash were to happen, there is virtually no chance of survival.....while (supposedly) in trains and automobile transport, people have a chance of survival. We just “feel” that way.....we can step off a running train or jump off a car! True, except that the reality is that there are far far more number of people dying in train and road accidents every year than in air accidents. More than 1.5 lac people die on the roads every single year in India......and an equally staggering number in train accidents. People ignore these figures when they make their impassioned pleas against nuclear power. People talk about Fukushima and Chernobyl and paint a scenario that once a nuclear power plant goes off, there is no saving the people around the plant. That there would be problems for many generations to come. This is indeed true. If not designed well, and if the security measures are inadequate, this can indeed happen. But this can happen in so many different industries....why only power? Just like the Bhopal Gas tragedy happened when toxic chemicals went into the air. But this happens very very rarely. In fact, the safety record of nuclear plants is the best. Only 2 major accidents have happened in the last 25 years since Chernobyl. And let’s not is very reasonable for us to believe that what happened in Japan will probabilistically not happen again for the next 100-200 years. Besides Jaitapur is in a far lower order seismic zone. Let’s also not forget that Fukushima was old generation technology.....the plant was more than 30 years old. And yes, Japan can make mistakes.....and India may not. Why do we have such low self-esteem?

Jairam Ramesh should be clear in his communication. Safety discussions are on-going. Just because a power plant is built up does not mean that all safety discussions are over. With new technology coming in, more safety features can keep getting added. We must also remember, that there is no ideal way of generating power. Coal based power plants have many issues....most notable being the emission of green house gases (causing global warming). Hydro-electric plants are clean but have a finite capacity....and cause submersion of a lot of land, leading to displacement of people. Oil based power plants are similar to coal-based plants in terms of global warming. We need all of nuclear a well balanced manner. One is not saying that we should only set up nuclear power plants. What the government is proposing is only some 40000 MW of power in the next 10 years or so....which will be less than 10% of India’s capacity by then. Today, France has 70% of its power coming from nuclear power......nothing’s ever gone wrong for them.

The real truth is that Jairam Ramesh is behaving like an activist. He would ideally like to be outside government and rail against the developmental policies of the government. Unfortunately, he likes the fame and power of being in the government also. He is forced to juggle these mental contradictions every now and then. It does him no good; it does his government no good. He should choose.....does he want to be in government and focus on development (and make tough choices in the process) or outside it as an activist. Activists don’t have to bother about development issues. They don’t have to make choices. They can choose idealistic positions and leave the dirty job of governance to others. Fortunately, activists hardly ever get elected to run governments.....else this country would remain stagnated in poverty forever.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Narendra Modi can never lose an election in Gujarat; more so if proven guilty in the Godhra riots case.....

The affidavit filed by ex-cop Sanjiv Bhatt against Narendra Modi in the anti-Muslim Godhra carnage of 2002 may be music to people ranged against him all over the country. That bunch of people includes me; having lived in Gujarat for two decades, I know exactly what sustains Modi in that state. Which is why I believe that this affidavit will only make Modi stronger. He may face trouble in the Supreme Court, but in Gujarat, he will become an even bigger hero.

I can say with a near guarantee that right now, the people of Gujarat must be building a protective cover around their CM. They have no doubts about Modi’s role in the fact, he did what he did against the muslims, with the full support of his people. It may or may not be proven ever.....but the people of Gujarat know that Modi stopped the police from protecting the Muslims so that they could be taught a lesson. They are proud of him for this act of his. And they have rewarded him amply.....with 3 successive terms.

To understand why the Gujjus support Modi so much, it’s important to understand a little bit of the Gujarati psyche. Gujaratis are primarily a business community. For them, a college education and all that is fine, but the thing that really matters is business. So many college pass-outs opt out of the job market to start something of their own. Many who are unable to start off immediately do a job for a while......but start a little “side business”. Many college students prefer to do a part-time college, because they have already got into business. In fact, Gujaratis feel sympathy (given the humility built into Gujju culture.....they never “look down” upon anyone) for salaried people. No matter how much they may have good a job they may be the eyes of a Gujju, the salaried ones are the unfortunate ones who could not do business. There is nothing new in this Gujju attitude towards “dhandha”.....this piece is not about that. This piece is about how this single minded attitude to business creates guilt in a Gujju’s mind and how he has outsourced the cleansing of this guilt to Modi.

In the single minded pursuit of business, the Gujju is willing to deal with anyone. Including with the many successful muslim businessmen of Gujarat. When it comes to business, it does not matter what the religion or caste of the other person is.....only the color of money matters! Gujjus like all businessmen, are willing to make any “concession”.....dealing with muslims is a concession in their order to close a business deal. This passion for business creates a huge amount of guilt in the minds of the gujju. Is he doing the right thing by dealing with muslims? Muslims are seen as being anti-Hindu.....the gujju has seen enough and more provocations from Muslims in his life. In the 1980s at least (I don’t know what the scene is now), Muslims in certain pockets of Ahmedabad used to cheer for Pakistan in a cricket match against India. In fact, certain parts of Ahmedabad used to be called “mini Pakistan”. There have been innumerable riots in Gujarat.....all Hindu-Muslim. The Gujju’s antipathy towards Muslim is well-known.....and yet the Gujju almost always put that aside in the interest of business. Manmohan Singh may have stopped talking to Pakistan for a couple of years after 26/11......the Gujjus would never have done that if the business with Pakistan was good!

This guilt haunts the Gujjus. Since most Gujjus are generally peaceful people (many are Jains), they realize they can never “fight” the muslims themselves. So, to get rid of their guilt, the Gujjus have decided to “outsource” the cleansing to Modi. Modi was smart. He grabbed at this opportunity with both hands. What Modi did in the form of muslim-bashing was on specific instructions from his people. Also, Modi keeps reminding his people about the cleansing he is doing for them. Every time before the elections, he will trigger something that will get all the Hindus to rally behind him. In one election, an ad appeared in the newspapers on the day of the election.....supposedly released by a Muslim organization......asking all Muslims to vote against the BJP. This obviously got the Hindus to support Modi and the BJP en-mass......this was the exact reaction that Modi wanted from his people! It is believed that the ad was planted by Modi himself! Every Gujju knows that Modi stopped the police from controlling the carnage.....but they love him for it. Theirs is a debt of gratitude for ever.

Modi was smart in one more respect. He realized that even while he continued to enjoy the support of his people, he could not possibly build his persona around it. He didn’t want to be known as another Hitler. He had dreams of becoming the PM one day. So he chose to focus the attention of the world on the economic growth of Gujarat. He took credit for Gujarat’s economic strength. People outside Gujarat attribute Gujarat’s spectacular economic growth to Modi.....but the truth is that the credit for this must go to the people of Gujarat. Between 1960-1990 (Gujarat was formed in 1960), Gujarat became a leader in textiles, engineering, chemicals, petrochemicals, drugs and pharma, dairy, cement and ceramics and Gems and Jewellery. From 1994 to 2002, Gujarat achieved an annual growth of 14% per annum......Modi only came to power in Oct 2001. Gujarat has no power problems because power production increased by 35% between 1995 and 2001. Modi had very little to do with Gujarat’s economic progress.....he was plain lucky to inherit a state like this. To his credit, he has continued with the economic focus......but it was the previous Congress government that made Gujarat as powerful economically as it is today.

Modi cannot be stopped politically in Gujarat. He will continue winning all elections in Gujarat. The need for Modi has only become stronger. 26/11 was a shot in the arms for Modi. Hatred for muslims flared up again after this 26/11. This resulted in a backlash against muslims all over India.....but politically, it was only Modi who could exploit it.

The real truth is that if Modi has to be removed for his complicity in the Godhra riots, it can only be done by the Judiciary. The Supreme Court could rule against him and ask for his ouster if he’s proven guilty. If however, the case against Modi remain unproved.....and Modi will try everything under the sun to do that......then Modi will rule Gujarat till the end of his life. Today, Modi is bigger than his party. Gujarat is not BJP-ruled; it’s Modi-ruled. Fortunately for all of us outside Gujarat.....what works for him inside Gujarat works against him outside. Modi may be CM of Gujarat forever....but I doubt if he can ever become PM of India.....

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Indian media is highly politicized and politicized....a dangerous thing in a democracy.....

No one knows today which side of the Bhushan CD story is true. Depending on which newspaper you read or which TV channel you watch, you get different versions. Some will dwell more on the Truth Labs report; others on the CFSL one. Even on other issues, media in India appears to be totally polarized and politicized. Media is taking sides.....and is becoming a willing accomplice in the agenda of one political party or another. In the’s failing to do its duty to its readers and viewers.

Let’s look at the facts on hand. On the TV channels side, Times Now and CNN-IBN are virulently anti-Congress. NDTV 24x7 is clearly pro-Congress. In newspapers, TOI has become increasingly anti-Congress, while HT has stayed consistent in supporting the Congress. In magazines, India Today is highly critical of the Congress; Outlook is out-and-out pro-Congress. Depending on which these media brands you consume, you get totally different interpretations of the same story. At one time, “let truth prevail” used to the rule in media; today it’s merely a slogan.

The way this works is as follows. If you are a pro-Congress media, you will frontpage stories that show the Congress in a favorable light. And put negative stories in the inside pages. If you are anti-Congress, you will do the exact opposite. It’s not as if media probably doesn’ only chooses front page stories with a political bias. So the fact that Sonia Gandhi’s NAC had actually drafted quite a bit of the anti-corruption law itself without any political interest in it was chosen to be put in the inside pages in some papers.....while it was highlighted on the front pages in some others. Similarly, on this entire Anna Hazare hunger strike and subsequent developments, newspapers and TV channels have chosen partisan positions.

TOI has been at pains to show its pro-Anna credentials. They have made it look as if being pro-Anna is the same as being anti-Congress. They have gone as far as to make Anna Hazare the guest editor for a day. Quite obviously, the choice of stories that Anna chose that day was skewed, but TOI was quite ok with that. Earlier, in the Karnataka scams connected with Yeddyurappa....TOI down-played the accusations. But when it came to Kalmadi.....responsible for an much smaller irregularity, they gave it front page prominence on several days. Or the CD row was HT, a Congress friendly paper, that first brought out the story that the CD was authentic. They did not mention the name of the lab where they got it tested; but it was a foregone conclusion which side HT would take.

How does this affect us, the readers of papers and viewers of TV news channels? In many more ways that we can imagine. To understand this, it is first necessary to understand how dependent we are on media for our information. Do this test on yourself. Take any subject: Ask yourself what the source of your information on that subject is. It will always be a newspaper or a TV channel. We hardly ever do original research to get the facts. None of us has read the original CAG report on 2G, or the CBI’s chargesheet in the same case. Or the ED’s investigation of Hasan Ali; or the Supreme Court’s orders on Narendra Modi’s carnage. We have no time and we expect media to do the analysis for us and be fair in reporting their results. But if media is selective in choosing its stories, then it means that they are treating us like puppets. Doling out what suits their interests and positions rather than what is really right or wrong.

For eg., does anyone know whether HT gave the CD to only one lab or to many more? If they gave the CD to more than one lab, what did the other lab reports suggest? What about the Bhushans? Did they give the CD only to the 2 labs they have announced results of? Or to more? What about the plots of land that the Bhushan’s have acquired. One paper today said that the NOIDA authorities have already said that there was no hanky panky; which is obvious because if they admitted otherwise, they would themselves be in the dock. On TV on the other hand, a leading journalist argued that if a lottery system of allotting land was followed as in all public schemes, then there was virtually zero probability for both the Bhushans getting the plots when there were thousands of applicants to choose from. In reality, he claimed, participants were “interviewed” by the NOIDA authorities and then allotted the land. That would explain how the Bhushans used their power to get favorable allotments. Now which story should we, ordinary citizens of this country, believe? Shouldn’t media be asking more questions and doing more research? Probing better? Taking the responsibility of analyzing and putting out the analysis to the people? If not, then they are abusing the powers they have. Would a channel like Star Plus be excused if a show it aired contained explicit sexual content or verbal abuse? The show may not have been produced by them; but it’s their job to make sure it adheres to all standards of decency that exist in the country. Likewise, is it not the job of newspapers and news TV channels to verify the stories they put out before they put them out? This was the point that Harish Salve was making when he said that we have allowed a culture of first accusing; then investigating. Can media be allowed to become mere platforms for all and sundry to exploit?

When media brands become mere platforms, they hurt their audiences. They mislead them. They of course enjoy the heady feeling of power that such conduct gives them. After all, it’s proven in this country that media can get CMs removed; or ministers sacked and projects stalled. What role should media play in the Jaitapur nuclear power plant issue? Should they highlight the fact that Maharashtra is not a high seismic zone state? And that nuclear plant accidents are extremely infrequent? That Japan was a freak case? That the French offer of brand new technology reactors is not a grand design to experiment in a developing country, but a genuine offer to a friend? Or should it take the opposite position? That all things nuclear should be stopped? That India was being exploited by France?

The real truth is that media in India is partisan, politicized and sometimes irresponsible. There must be a law to check this. A strong media is a fundamental requirement of any democracy. But neutrality in media is an even more fundamental requirement. Taking biased positions should be treated as abuse of power and punished in an exemplary manner. Else, we the people will continue getting treated like puppets.....a totally unacceptable practice in a fast-growing democracy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lets not be an unfair society. Let’s not treat Anil Ambani and the Bhushans differently than Raja and Kalmadi......

Two incidents over the last few days show how we have become blatantly unfair in our approach to corruption. One is the entire stinking episode of the Bhushans about whom I have written earlier. The other is about Anil Ambani and the ADA group’s involvement in the 2G matter.....brought to the fore today after the bail pleas of their senior employees was rejected by the courts today.

In the case of the Bhushans, there are enough grounds to at least doubt their integrity. It’s not proven yet, but there is a prima facie case that they have taken undue advantages from powerful politicians that they obviously know so well....the charge of avoidance of proper taxes in Allahabad was serious enough. Now the new charge of acquiring land at cheap rates in Noida makes them even more seriously accused. There is also some doubt about whether they are lying or the question of whether Shanti Bhushan ever met Amar Singh or not. Considering the key position they occupy in the joint committee set up to draft the Lokpal bill, its surprising how they have decided not to step down. It’s also surprising that media and civil society is not immediately suggesting that they resign. Clearly, we are applying different standards to them than we do to politicians. If a polilician were similarly accused, we would expect him/her to immediately step down. Not so the Bhushans.

Then is the case of the senior employees of the ADA group who have been charged and have now been jailed in the 2G matter. Again, its surprising that we, in civil society, do not demand that it should be the senior-most person of the this case Anil Ambani.....who should actually be arrested. We are ok that he is spared while his poor employees are arrested. Surely, we do not believe that the decision his managers took were taken without his knowledge and active agreement? Anyone who has worked in the ADA group knows exactly how much energy and verve Anil Ambani’s impossible (not just unlikely) that he was in the dark on the issues raised. Why then has he been spared? More importantly, why is it that in a similar situation involving a minister, we would not hesitate to demand his/her resignation and even arrest him/ matter how distant the relationship may be between the minister and the level at which the crime happened? We saw that in the Antrix case. The Antrix S-band deal was an independent decision taken by had the necessary approvals of its Board. Even today, there is no case established against the deal. And yet, we were all demanding the PM’s resignation......why?

It’s sad that we have so much antipathy towards our politicians that we are willing to apply the harshest possible standards to them while sparing others who are probably even more guilty of corruption. I don’t know if anyone has ever considered how difficult it is to be a politician in this country. To get elected, you need investments.....but there is no one to fund you. Your party expects you to “raise” the funds yourself and in fact....contribute to the party’s coffers. What can you promise to those who give you the funds? Obviously, favors. This is where corruption starts. Even honest politicians have to engage in this much of corruption. Then when you become an MLA or MP, you get some measly allowances from the government to run your office and your life. You have no direct power and are in no position to return the favor to those who funded your election. So you become innovative......start “referring” your friends to the powers that be; use your funds under the MPLAD or other similar schemes for dubious purposes. And so on and so forth. Even after you are elected, it is reasonable to expect that you have to wait 20-30 years before you become part of the Executive.....where you get more powers in your hands. And you will only reach the Executive if you have demonstrated your ability to raise funds in the past and support the party in its activities. Even after you get the power, you are under constant scrutiny of media and a multitude of governmental bodies like the CBI, ED, CAG, EC, Income Tax and what not. Everyone wants a cut. Everyone wants a favor. Anyone can accuse you of anything......he/she has to prove nothing. Media is happy to play up the accusations.....all in the name of free speech. You are assumed guilty before the trial even begins.

Now if this is the kind of environment we have created in politics, then who is likely to be part of it? Clearly, for the “chaalu” type of person, politics is full of promise. If you can maneuver the levers, you can make a fortune. But if you are a clean person with only the love for public service driving you to join politics, you have no place in it. This is why none of us wants to enter politics. It’s an extremely unfair treatment that we give our elected reps. This is extremely sad in a democratic country.....a fast developing one at that.....which needs the best hands on the deck to steer it ahead full blast. If only the scum of the nation enter politics, then we are doomed as a country.

It doesn’t help to blame politicians. It helps to sort out the real issues. Start with the election process. Election funding is the starting point. Make it clean. Speeding up the judicial process is the next step. If decision from the courts could come quickly, then we can make a law that people charged with serious crimes cannot contest elections. At present, cases linger on for so long that it is impractical to enact this obvious law. We must then pay the politicians well, so that good people are attracted to politics. We must empower them so that they can make changes as required. Just like the Board of a company empowers the CEO. And please.....let’s not see all politicians as being corrupt. A majority of them are clean.....if you don’t include the election funding related bits.....Some of them are dirty, just like some private sector promoters are. Can we please have the same rules applying to both?

The real truth is that both Anil Ambani and Shanti Bhushan should be punished. Just as severely as Raja and the babus. Both of these are fully involved in whatever they are being accused of. It’s not fair to arrest salary earning employees when the promoter himself is fully involved. It’s not fair to let the Bhushans go off the hook when they conduct themselves in this manner. Let’s be’s as important as being non-corrupt....