Thursday, August 30, 2012

Smart answers Mr. Jaitley, but you only spoke half truths…..

Arun Jaitley was on Barkha Dutt’s show on NDTV last night. Like a good lawyer, he smooth talked his way through her questions. Barkha is normally quite aggressive and pushy, but with Jaitley she was mild. She was happy to let Jaitley get away with easy answers – answers that were at best half truths, if not blatantly untruthful.

So when asked if there was any evidence – any money trail – at all for the “mota maal” that his colleague Sushma Swaraj had referred to, Jaitley’s answer – with all the melodramatic facial expressions he could conjure up – was that “there were more than whispers”. Excuse me….now what exactly does that mean? In plain English, it means that there is no evidence. Has Jaitley ever used such language in the courts? Jaitley then said that the best witnesses in this matter were those applicants who were not allotted the mines. Good point, but again he left it at just that. What did these failed applicants say? Did they point to some money trail anywhere? Did they have even an iota of evidence that someone had made money? Nothing at all. So on the back of whispers (which in simple English means: lies), we are supposed to trust the word of the Leader of the Opposition in the LS? Besides, no where has even the politicized CAG mentioned that someone made money. The CBI is still investigating if there are any deals that didn’t cut the grade for allotments. But Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have whispers to go by!

Though Jaitley wasn’t asked the question, other BJP leaders had already deflected the charge that BJP politicians had made money from the mining scam in Karnataka mining scam: Even in Karnataka apparently, money was paid to the Congress. Next we will be told that Yeddy is really a Congress leader masquerading as a BJP saint. This is the classic “cart before the horse” thingy…..the conclusion is arrived at before the facts are presented!

When asked about the BJP CM’s letters of recommendations not to implement auctions, Jaitley said “every CM will pitch for allocations to his/her state, but major minerals are in the hands of the center and it alone decides the policy”. So basically, Jaitley said that the center should have ignored the CMs! When asked how this matter was different from NCTC where the BJP said its CMs should not only have been heard, but their opinions also followed, Jaitley said “that’s a different matter. Law & Order is a state subject”. When pointed out that terrorism is not a state subject, he skirted the issue and moved on! Lies and half truths!

When Barkha asked him why his own party failed to even think – forget implement – of coal auctions, Jaitley said “prior to 2004, coal block allocations were only to the public sector and that coal prices were very low”. But again, he would be saying only a half truth. Because his government not only continued with coal allocations, it also wanted to extend it to all private companies. So his argument about the public sector is a lie. The point about the coal price is also a half truth at best since the coal prices did not shoot up immediately after the UPA took over…..and yet the UPA thought of coal auctions. The BJP failed to do even that!

When asked why they were holding up Parliament, Jaitley said that by holding up Parliament, they were able to get 2G, 3G, etc cleaned up. Now as is well known, the government was forced to do auctions by the SC. So Jaitley’s point basically is that unless the BJP had held up the LS for a full session, India’s SC would not have passed its orders? So the SC looks at what Jaitley’s party does in Parliament to decide what to do and what orders to pass? Taking credit where it is not due seems to be a genetic code that seeps through all BJP folks! A lie or a half truth Mr. Jaitley?

When asked about how Godhra had stained the party’s credentials, Jaitley simply refused to answer that question by preferring instead to talk about the development of the state. Of course, the anchor was ill informed about Gujarat’s real developmental record….that it predated Modi….so she let him off the hook. Barkha also failed to ask Jaitley why there was so much malnutrition (caused by poverty) in Gujarat when Modi was claiming that there was so much progress. When asked if the Naroda verdict was not an indictment of his government, he refused without giving a reason. Just like that. No, its not an indictment of my government. But why dear Mr. Jaitley? The arrest of an ex BJP Minister is not an example of the communal nature of his government, but Kalmadi’s arrest is an example of corruption in the party. Nice try but not even a half-truth!

When asked about the leadership struggle in his party, he preferred to see it as “a galaxy of stars” emerging from “an organization structure”, and quickly deflected the glaze away by “we are not a family structure in which the leader is unquestioned”. Answer questions about your own party Mr. Jaitley….not about your rival!

When asked about why the BJP was not moving a no-confidence vote, Jaitley was unfazed in admitting that he did not have the numbers. And rather than acknowledging that others did not approve of their methods, he preferred to see it as “Congress’s ability to manipulate members by using CBI”. Mr. Jaitley should know that the same CBI – under no instructions from anybody (not even any judicial authority) – is probing the coal mining matter against a Central minister Subodh Kant Sahay. So really….Jaitley is accusing all opposition MPs of being hand in glove with the Congress. Jaitley also jumped to the conclusion that the Congress has lost the support of the people if not of the MPs… if that meant his party has won the support of the people. How do you make such statements Mr Jaitley?

On CAG, Jaitley had no worries about saying that all CAG reports are not the same. Apparently, some (the ones on his state governments I presume) only point to some weaknesses, but others (those that indict the Congress) point to corruption or such things. So he excuses all his governments from charges of the CAG!

The real truth is that the BJP is spreading disinformation by speaking lies and half truths. It’s a matter of time before it gets exposed….

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Is this the man the BJP wants to make PM????

Narendra Modi’s alleged culpability in the post-Godhra riots was in the news again (albeit indirectly) yesterday when the special court pronounced Dr Maya Kodnani – a former minister of the BJP government in Gujarat – guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy. Those of us who lived in Gujarat at the time of the Godhra riots always knew of the complicity of the Gujarat government in fanning the riots. With every new judgment, that fact is getting established ever more clearly. Supporters of Modi call him a decisive man….on that fateful day, he had perhaps decided how it would end. Now this man wants to be the PM of India. Now he wants the cauldron of hatred and venom that he has brewed to flow over to the rest of the country.

The trial court also said that the whole anti-Muslim pogrom was orchestrated by the BJP and its sister outfits. The party of course claims that it was a “spontaneous” reaction of the public and it had nothing to do with it. But then isn’t this the same claim the party made during and after the Babri masjid demolition? Even then, the facts showed otherwise. There was Advani right there provoking the people to take action. There were so many others directly egging on their people to bring the structure down. What spontaneous reaction does the BJP talk about? Even in Ahmedabad, Baba Bajrangi of the Bajrang Dal has been boasting that he felt like Rana Pratap…..what a dastardly thing to say after massacring innocents. Rana Pratap fought 500 years ago in a different world. And he never massacred innocents.

No riots can happen on the scale seen in Gujarat unless the police and the government are complicit. In spite of the terrible – and much larger scale – communal conflict in Assam, and in spite of a not-too-convincing handling of the situation by the CM there, the death toll is less than 100. That’s the difference between a government that tries to control a situation and one that encourages it to flare up. The genocide in Naroda Patiya went on for several hours before the police finally arrived. The police was apparently too stretched. Doing what? Fiddling? Drinking tea and smoking beedis? Because Naroda is not some far flung district of Gujarat. Naroda is virtually inside Ahmedabad city. Naroda is where all the industries are located. Had the CM had any interest in controlling the situation, he could have done so in no time. But perhaps, his interests were different.

All of the BJP’s politics is about spreading communal hatred against the Muslims and other minorities. In the common man’s minds, the party stands for “hindu majoritism”. The Hindus themselves are a secure and secular lot. They don’t fear the minorities. It is the BJP that is insecure and unsecular. It is the BJP’s voluntary choice to position itself as a Hindu party as distinct from what almost all other parties position themselves as – secular.

But it is Narendra Modi in particular who is the fount of such communal thinking in his party. Lets not forget… was after the post-Godhra riots that Modi “rewarded” Maya Kodnani with ministership. How strange then that his defenders are now saying that she was not a minister when the riots happened. Of course she wasn’t. But she became one immediately after the riots….

Communal hatred is hardly the only thing that Modi specializes in. Modi loves to lie about his state’s progress, when in reality that progress predates him (Read my post of September 17th last year on this: Modi’s growth story is a sham…..). Read also the article in the TOI of October 6th last year by Dipankar Gupta on the same subject. Modi is aware of the albatross of communalism that hangs on his head; that is why he’s keen to deflect the attention towards his state’s economic clout. Gujarat has always been an economically strong state; and Modi has nothing to crow about for it.

But today we found one other attribute of this great man who wishes to be PM one day. On a day when his former minister was convicted – Modi disowned her. In the past also, we have seen BJP leaders in Gujarat disown several ordinary folks who they had goaded into “action” after the Godhra incident. The poor souls had been trapped; realizing their folly only after the court’s verdict. Dr. Maya Kodnani realized it yesterday too. Unfortunately for her, her boss is not there to support her. What kind of a spine does Modi have, deserting close associates in times of crisis? Is this the character you expect from senior leaders who aspire to be PM?

But that’s not all. Modi is known to be extremely dictatorial. When his sadbhavna farce (sorry fast) was going on in Ahmedabad, the Congress MLAs were denied permission to protest against him elsewhere. When Congress MLAs marched in protest against Modi in Gandhinagar, they were lathi charged. But Modi’s PR machinery works with such anticipation and preemptiveness, such stories never get publicized the way his “success” stories do.

The “decisiveness” of Modi is nothing but “dictatorship”. The problem with dictatorships is that they eventually and invariably turn on their own people. That’s what we saw in Libya with Gaddafi (an eminently popular leader in his earlier days) and Egypt with Mubarak (ditto). Modi turned against the Muslims the day he came to power. How much longer before he turns against the rest of the people?

What is the fall-out of this verdict going to be on Modi? Believe it or not, in Gujarat, this will work like magic for Modi. Read my post of July 27th, 2012: Newton’s third law of motion and Narendra Modi….and it will be clear why Modi will benefit from this verdict. The Hindus of Gujarat – those who have tutored in school to become fanatics – will re-unite and re-vote for Modi in ever larger numbers. Modi will romp home with an even larger majority this time around. But outside Gujarat, Modi’s become a bit of a joke now. Modi’s PM ambitions will suffer enormously. Is that one reason why the BJP top brass has quietly decided not to defend him?

Modi other “brilliant” characteristic is that he is quite happy to emasculate the judiciary and other constitutional watchdogs. The Sohrabuddin murder case history is well known. The SC is considering shifting the hearing out of Gujarat just like so many other post-Godhra cases have been shifted. And Modi’s stonewalling of the appointment of a Lok Ayukta in his state for 8 long years is well known.

The Congress was rightly panned for the anti-Sikh riots in 1982. But at very least – albeit with a lot of resistance – the political careers of the main accused – Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar have pretty much ended. The Congress can never be forgiven for those riots. But the party apologized. It even made a Sikh the PM (irrelevant point in a normal situation; but relevant in this post’s context). Will the BJP put the curtains on Modi’s career? Will the party apologize to the Muslims? Will the BJP propose a Muslim as its PM candidate? In my mind, the sun may some day rise in the West….but the BJP can never apologize to the Muslims.

The real truth is that Modi must take responsibility for the post-Godhra riots. He must come forward and make amends. Otherwise he should simply forget about stepping out of Gujarat. Unfortunately for the BJP, where there is Karnataka as a shining example of its corruption, there is also Gujarat as one of its communal ideology…..

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cant cancel coal block allocations – bad for economics and politics….

Obviously the BJP will demand the cancellation of coal blocks. This has nothing to do with any concern for the nation. It’s simply the next step in its campaign to gain power. But the government would be advised to consider the impact of cancelling the blocks….

If the government thinks that canceling the blocks will send a message that it has nothing to hide and is willing to prove its credentials and be transparent, it is mistaken. Because the BJP will immediately turn the tables on the Congress with a “See the allocations must have been wrong. Why else did they cancel them”. This kind of convoluted logic is common with the BJP. It did the same when the government sacked Raja. The government may have done it as part of “perception management”, but wait a second…..the man has to be tried and for proved guilty. Until that happens, he is not guilty. But the BJP said the same thing “He must have been guilty. Why else did they sack him”. So canceling the licensing will make the BJP mount even more pressure and demand the resignation of the PM with even more ferocity.

The Congress made a big mistake by not challenging the SC’s 2G verdict canceling 122 licenses. Had it challenged it, there is a very good chance that the larger bench would have reversed it. Already, the indications from the SC are that auctions cannot be the only way to allocate resources – a point that the SC’s 2-judge bench had itself pronounced earlier. But the Congress made a mistake. By not challenging the SC order, it was trying to do what a baniya does – make the best of the opportunity. It thought this was a good way to bridge the fiscal deficit. (Kapil Sibal said the other day that we have killed the telecom industry. But then why did they not challenge the SC? Why did they willingly go ahead with auctions?). By not challenging the cancelations, it opened itself to similar demands in the coal case. The Congress has to learn a little bit of real politics…..

The cancelation will also be terrible for economics. As Kapil Sibal explained on TV the other night, it takes 54 months for exploration, etc before mining can actually commence. That’s 4.5 years. So that explains why only one mine out of 54 has commenced mining. He also explained that there are many other hurdles to be overcome before the 54 months starts – environmental clearances, land acquisition, naxal issues etc etc. In India, these processes take years. Canceling without considering these reasons will make the government look very weak. And unjust. Having taken a decision to allocate the blocks by the committee system, the government has to hold on to it. It cannot do an about turn under political pressure. That would be foolhardy and political harakiri.

The government must undoubtedly see if there has been any wrongdoing in the allocation process. So if any private company has furnished false information, that would be a valid ground for cancelation that allocation and mounting a legal case against it. The CBI is doing the right thing in pursuing such matters. Such allocations would in my mind be a small part of the overall allocations, and may be more indicative of the real corruption rather than the BJP’s interpreatation of the CAG report. If anyone thinks that all decisions were motivated by corruption, that’s baloney.

In my mind, the Congress has done the right thing by defending the PM, by counter-attacking the BJP, by challenging it to introduce a no-confidence vote, and by managing Mamata, Mulayam and Mayawati so far. But now it has to go a step further. The Congress fails in its ability to communicate with the people. The BJP invariably puts slicker spokespeople on English news TV – which a lot of decision and opinion makers watch. The Congress’s spokespeople with some exceptions can’t even speak good English. In the world in which we live, if you can’t express yourself fast and smooth, you are assumed not to have a point at all. When the Congress puts out Ashwini Kumar, Salman Khursheed, Kapil Sibal, Chidambaram or Manish Tiwari, it makes an immediate impact. Aggressive and motivated anchors are put on the defensive. But instead the Congress puts out Renuka Chaudhury (who spends more time managing her pallu and fake smile), Narayanswamy (who is like an offensive bulldog) and Keshav Rao (English language problem), they are no match for Ravi Shankar Prasad, Arun Jaitley or even the lighter weights – Smriti Irani, Kirron Kher, Chandan Mitra or Shaina NC.

The other think the Congress has to do is to reach out more to its constituency. It has to reach out to the people in a mass contact program where it will get a chance to explain its position.

And lastly, the Congress must now realize what the bigger BJP’s larger plan is. By raising one issue after another, by disrupting Parliament all the time, the BJP wants to ensure that no legislative action takes place. It wants the Congress to be in a crisis mode all the time. In the past, it used Anna and Ramdev in a guerilla action. Now its mounted a direct attack. In a scenario like this, the Congress has to rely more on administrative decisions. It has to increase diesel prices (an ET story showed that more than 50% of diesel subsidy is being pocketed by the elite classes), allow FDI in aviation (concerns only the well off – why should Mamata object?), liberalize the rules for single brand retail….and most importantly improve speed of implementation of various projects stuck at various stages. Concern for the environment is a bogus excuse for projects getting delayed. If it could engage the nation in more positive tidings on the economic front, it would be able to regain the upper hand.

The real truth is that reversing the clock should never be an option. In my opinion, the SC made a mistake by canceling the 2G licenses. The Congress made a bigger mistake by not challenging it. It lose ground politically and the country lost ground economically. It should not repeat the mistake with coal blocks….

Monday, August 27, 2012

15 questions for the BJP to answer on coal….or risk getting exposed

A lot has been said by the BJP. All of it in media and none in Parliament. Given the nature of the TV medium, it becomes difficult to challenge in detail what a politician says. So here’s a compendium of questions that the BJP needs to answer:

1)    Precisely what did the NDA do during its six years tenure on coal allocations? Was it the one that thought of or actually introduced auctions of coal blocks? Or did it also allocate mines using the same flawed screening committee process that it now accuses the Congress of doing?
2)    In the amendments to the CMNA that the NDA government brought out in 2000, did it or did it not want to extend the benefits of “no auctions” to an even larger number of private companies? Is it not true that these companies could have simply “traded” in coal, which they got for free, rather than take up some onerous responsibility like generating and supplying power at highly reduced rates?
3)    The BJD has made an argument that the UPA intentionally delayed auctions because the commodity price boom started around 2004-5. In reality, it started twenty years back, and is now entering a cycle of slowdown. Does the BJP agree with the BJD’s allegation?
4)    The Shiromani Akali Dal’s spokesperson made a claim that the share prices of companies that benefitted from the free coal shot up dramatically after allocation. Till date, I have not been able to see this. I have analyzed all companies that are listed and that are named in the CAG report and since 2003, I have not found any exceptional share price movement. Does the BJP believe this theory?
5)    What is the BJP’s stand on federalism? The last we heard was during the NCTC discussions when the BJP wanted the Center to “listen” to the state governments. Not listening would mean that the Center did not believe in federalism. Does the BJP stand by this position? Because if it does, then why is it complaining that the Center actually listened to the voices of the states during coal allocations between 2005-9?
6)    Does the BJP believe in CAG? Then will it please accept culpability for the various CAG reports that have indicted its state governments please? Will they also please sack their CMs and lead by example?
7)    Does the BJP believe that passing legislation is easy? If so, how come it was unable to pass its own amendments of CMNA in the year 2000? The answer of course is that the Left parties opposed the amendments. Why? Because the BJP wanted to extend the policy of free coal to all private companies and for the Left, anything private is anathema.
8)    Does the BJP believe that a delay in passing legislation is tantamount to corruption? Because then there are tens of bills delayed by 1-10 years in Parliament. Why not accuse the Congress of corruption in all of them?
9)    Does the BJP agree that by disrupting Parliament, it is itself delaying the passage of some 90 odd bills that are reportedly stuck? Will these delays also be tantamount to corruption?
10)                       The BJP has accused the Congress of “mota maal” as Sushma Swaraj said. Prakash Javdekar then put some bizarre calculation out – saying the Congress made Rs 50 per tonne of coal adding up to some Rs 50000 crores or something. Do both these esteemed politicians have some trail of cash flows? Who paid the Congress? If it is the private companies, does the BJP believe that companies (or their promoters) have so much cash lying idle? Because clearly the money must have been paid at the time of allocation in a “lump sum” manner….not on a pay-as-you-mine basis since coal mining has not even started.
11)                       Does the BJP by reverse logic also accept that it made a similar “mota maal” in Karnataka in the same mining business? And if it did, then where is all the money lying? Have they paid taxes (obviously not!)? And have they siphoned all of it off abroad? Will they please call up Ramdev on this subject?!
12)                       Since most states where the mines were located happened to be in the hold of opposition parties including the BJP, does it accept that all state governments also made “mota maal” in the entire process of allocation and mining? I say this because its CM in MP has been spotted lobbying for a particular private party.
13)                       Is it true that the BJP has demanded the resignation of the PM some 30 times before this one?
14)                       Does the BJP believe in Parliament at all? Because if it does, then merely the belief that the Congress did nothing in the past cases (assuming that’s true) is no excuse for disrupting Parliament. If it takes this disruptive stance, then why even have the balance of the 15th Lok Sabha term left? In fact, in the next Lok Sabha, some other opposition party could take this stand. We might as well do away with the Parliamentary system of governance. In fact, is it not true that Modi – its prime PM candidate – is extremely autocratic in his style of functioning? Is this what we should expect if the BJP comes to power?
15)                        And lastly, has the BJP thought of what the public thinks of its image? As per an NDTV poll put out last night, if 54% people think the Congress is corrupt, 46% believe the BJP is corrupt as well. While in the past Anna was targeting only the Congress. Now he also has realized that the BJP is as corrupt. If Kejriwal was “gheraoing” only Congress leaders earlier, he is gheraoing Gadkari as well these days.

The real truth is that the BJP has no grounds to stand on. The CAG should have merely pointed out its views on the policy of free allocations. Since its report came out after the government had already enacted coal auctions, it should have actually complimented the government for its action. Policies change all the time….the change of a policy for the better does not make the previous decisions wrong and the political party that took them corrupt. I understand the BJP’s desperation to grab power…..but even so, should it not be a little mindful of public perception?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

BJP wanted to extend “no auctions” coal policy to all private companies (not just for captive power production)….

In the political ruckus over the CAG’s report on coal, many of the real political issues – the real debating points if ever there was to be a good one – have got totally buried. I was doing a general search on coal allocations on the internet and I stumbled upon the BJP government’s approach to coal allocations when it was ruling between 1999 and 2004. What I found was shocking to say the least. No where has this come out till now – neither in media, nor in any of the Congress’s rebuttals either.

So far we have only believed that the NDA government had followed the precise same “no auctions” policy that the UPA government did till it thought of auctions. We have also known that BJP CMs were opposed to coal auctions and lobbied heavily to have auctions delayed. But now it seems that the BJP actually went way beyond this to spread the policy of free coal allotments far and wide. In fact, it wanted to extend the “no auctions” (only allotments) policy to all private companies for sale. Until then, captive mines were permitted only to select private companies which were in the business of power, steel or cement manufacturing. If the BJP had had its way, the CAG’s implied “loss to the exchequer” would have been many times more….as the automatic check that existed for at least the power generation companies that got coal blocks free (reverse auctions on power tariffs) would have been absent for such private companies. Today of course, the BJP is singing a different tune…..saying that the Congress didn’t want auctions. How strange!

In the year 2000, the BJP had moved an amendment to the Coal Mining (Nationalization) Act 1973 (CMNA) which was aptly titled the Coal Mine (Nationalization) Amendment Bill 2000. The bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha, but could not be passed because of stiff opposition from the Left parties. The Left as always opposed anything that enlarged the scope of the private sector.

In the “Statement of Objects and Reasons” part of the 2000 amendments act, laying the foundation for the amendments, it is stated that “Keeping in view the estimated addition of the coal based thermal capacity in the country by the end of the tenth plan, it is assessed that the demand supply gap of coal by the end of tenth plan would be around 235 million tonnes. It will not be possible for the nationalized coal companies and captive coal mining companies to bridge this huge gap. Import of coal to meet this emerging shortage is not a sound step in the interest of the economy”. Further explaining the background to the amendments, it adds “Under the powers conferred on the Central government by Section 3 of the Act (the original Coal Mines Nationalization Act), a Gazette notification was introduced in March 1996 permitting the cement producing companies also to mine coal for captive consumption. It is necessary to increase investments in coal production and make coal available to meet the needs of the economy. For this purpose, it is proposed to amend the Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act 1973.” That’s how the BJP thought of giving free coal blocks to all private companies.

The heart of the amendments proposed was in the Section 3(A) inserted after the original Section 3 of the principal 1973 act. Section 3(A)(1)(c) says “Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 3 and on and from the commencement of the Coal Mines (Nationalization) Amendment Act 2000, any company may carry on coal mining operations in India in any form either for own consumption, sale or for any other purpose in accordance with the prospecting license or mining lease or sub-lease as the case may be”. The word “company” has been defined in the standard way as per Section 3(1) of the Companies Act 1956. The only exclusions to this list of private companies were foreign companies.

The essence of this amendment is that the restriction of “captive mining” was being removed. The coal mining sector was being thrown open to the entire private sector. Frankly, in my mind, this was a progressive change and I have always supported the scrapping of the CMNA itself. What I don’t support is the BJP forgetting this initiative of its own and accusing the Congress of corruption. If anyone had intentions of corruption, it was the BJP.

However, what is important to note is that while bringing about this amendment, even the thought of auctions did not cross the BJP’s mind. So if it had its way, the process of “allotments without auctions” would have extended to all private companies. Under the extant policy of the time, free coal blocks were assigned largely to power companies which at least had to take up the onus of supplying power at the auction-determined “cheapest” rate. If the sector had been thrown open to the private sector “for free” and “without any auctions”, what would have been the potential loss?

The BJP had taken the same approach for 2G spectrum – where right till 2004, it kept charging nothing for spectrum that was included in the original entry fee, nor for any additional spectrum that was given away to telcos subsequently. What the BJP did during its tenure was fine; when the same policy was continued by the Congress, it became a case of corruption! In both the 2G and the Coal cases, it is clearly seen that the BJP prefers to ignore its own policies when it was ruling, but wants to put the noose around the Congress for following the same….

The other point I want to make is that the “informed debate” we should have in Parliament or in media simply doesn’t take place. Since Parliament is not being allowed to function by the BJP, its difficult to speculate if the informed debate would take place there. But at least in media can we expect such an informed debate? But I have still not found a single anchor on news TV informed enough to research the matter and take on the BJP for its double standards. Does any TV journalist know of this 2000 amendment that the BJP had introduced in Parliament? If he/she does know, has he/she done anything to grill BJP spokespeople on TV? Not at all….not surprising why Justice Markandey Katju called journalist uneducated!

The real truth is that the BJP is the last party to have anything to say on the subject of coal allocations. Not only did the NDA do nothing to bring in auctions, it in fact tried to spread the “no auctions” policy even wider. How can a party that wanted to extend free allocations to the entire private sector ask for the PM’s resignation when it was the PM who thought of bringing in auctions?????

Last 3 poll forecasts all wrong…..India Today now forecasts an NDA win….

The August 27th, 2012 issue of India Today covers its usual Mood of the Nation Poll. Giving it a “circulation-enhancing” title of “UPA loses India”, it probably hopes its continuing poll forecasts will improve its revenues and bottomlines. In general, the India Today group is known to be critical of the UPA at most times – with its Hindi news channel Aaj Tak generally joining hands with the magazine in anti-UPAism. So when I read the magazine’s forecast, I thought an analysis of its past predictions was worth it. And boy, were the findings just what I thought they would be!

One thing that comes out is that the magazine excels at getting its election poll forecast exactly wrong. It’s record of the 1999, 2004 and 2009 forecasts is precisely that – exactly wrong!

But before that, its worth looking at what the magazine is forecasting at this moment. The UPA is expected to get between 171-181 seats; the NDA 195-205 and “others” between 163-173. According to the magazine, this is the 2nd time (the 1st one being in its forecast of Jan 2012) that the NDA is scoring more seats than the UPA. If the magazine’s forecasts had more credibility, it would have been a matter of concern for the UPA. Fortunately for it, the magazine’s forecasts count for nothing. If anything, it should heave a sigh of relief, given the exactly wrong nature of its forecasts!

Now let’s look at the magazine’s forecasts ahead of the 1999, 2004 and 2009 elections and see what patterns emerge.

The magazine did a poll in Dec 1998 and predicted that the BJP+ would get 135 seats while the Congress+ would get a huge 305. In fact, for the first time in a long while, Sonia pipped Vajpayee in the “Who will make the best PM” question by 31%:27%. I’ve got this from their online archives; unfortunately, I could not locate any poll done between Dec 1998 and Sept 2009 when the polls were actually held. But considering that the forecast was done just 9 months before the elections, one would have expected it to capture the mood fairly accurately. The sample size was a respectable 18960 eligible voters spread across 16 states and 79 Lok Sabha constituencies. But aaah…..the painful truth is that the magazine got it all wrong. Why? I believe it was the Kargil conflict in May-July 1999 which swung the mood decisively towards the BJP. With its aggressive nationalism, the BJP was able to smartly capitalize on the Kargil conflict, coffingate notwithstanding. The learning from this is that even 9 months is too long a period in India when it comes to forecasts…..and magazines should be overcautious if anything about them. India Today prefers on the other hand – commercial pressures or political agenda? – to title the cover the way they did it!

Let’s take the 2004 elections held in May. The magazine had a poll forecast in its April issue in which it predicted a huge BJP+ win with the alliance getting as many as 282 seats compared to the Congress+ alliance’s 165. In fact, Vajpayee was riding a high with a personal rating of 51% - his second highest after the 59% before the 1999 poll. The magazine to its credit – perhaps learning from the debacle of the 1998 poll – increased the sample size to 50000 eligible voters. If anything the results should have been even more accurate. And this time around, there was no “Kargil” explanation possible. Within a month, the magazine had to eat crow when the UPA romped home with 218 seats (enough to make it the largest formation) with the NDA relegated to just 181. So the poll was wrong by 101 seats as far as the NDA was concerned – an error of 36%! Seriously – how can one get the results so so wrong? And if they do get it wrong so badly, should they continue to be in the business of publishing forecasts at all?

Again in April 2009, the magazine’s forecast indicated that the UPA would be just marginally ahead of the NDA by 200 seats to 177. Again, the forecast was held immediately ahead of the elections; and nothing should have affected its results like Kargil may have in 1999. The Indo-US nuclear deal had been passed by Parliament in July 2008 and all the positive vibes it generated for the Congress and the UPA were well known. The entire middle class had swung towards Dr. Manmohan Singh’s side and “Singh is King” had become the most famous song in the aftermath of this vote. And yet, the magazine’s forecast failed to capture the mood of the nation. The reality was there for everyone to see. The UPA got 262 seats, with the Congress itself performing at its best level in recent times. The NDA was down to 158….

After three successful failures, shouldn’t the magazine have stopped doing the poll? Or at the very minimum, shouldn’t it have changed the name of the poll from “Mood of the Nation” to “Mood of the magazine” or some such thing?! But no, in the politicized media environment, every magazine has a job to do and every forecast has its wee bit to achieve. If nothing else, the poll will keep the BJP going for a bit!

So when I look at this time’s findings, I think of it as perhaps just an editor’s attempts at increasing circulation. The poll is anyways a half-hearted attempt with the sample size down to just 15000 odd. The research is done by The Nielsen Company – a research outfit recently sued by NDTV in a New York court for getting its TV viewership ratings totally wrong. Besides, there are still nearly 21 months left for the polls, and if its impossible to predict what will happen one month later, it is surely impossible to predict 21 months in advance.

If the poll results were more accurate, the Congress should worry about some things though. When the BJP outsmarts the Congress on questions like “Which party will best solve the problems of the country” and more importantly “Which party is most concerned about the problems of the poor”, it has reasons to worry. Also, corruption at 28% is the 2nd largest factor to have “adversely impacted” the UPA with price rise being the first at 53% (Corruption used to be the 3rd largest factor in the past with a score of only 9-12%. Unemployment used to be the 2nd biggest factor with a score of 34-41% but is down to just 12% now). Given the Congress’s core constituency of the poor, the inflation could hurt and given its hope of pulling in the urban middle classes, the corruption could hurt too. The lesson for the Congress is that it has to do something – something that changes the mood. Whatever the truth, neither 2G nor Coalgate is helping it right now. It needs bold economic reforms, Mamata Banerjee notwithstanding. Maybe it needs to bite the bullet and announce FDI in multi-brand retail. Maybe it should pass an amended Lokpal Bill. Or maybe it should give Rahul Gandhi a bigger role to pull in the youth. Whatever it does, the Congress should keep at least one eye on this flawed research.

The real truth is that in any case, poll forecasting is a very imperfect science. Add to this the political compulsions that drive the India Today group. Add again the recently sullied reputation of The Nielsen Company. Put together, one doesn’t know what to make of this “circulation-busting” magazine cover!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bizarre BJP/NDA arguments on Coalgate on TV….

Last night, the most bizarre arguments were presented by BJP/Akali Dal politicians on TV. The anchor was ill informed or motivated to let them off easy. The Congress minister was caught by surprise by some new facts presented to him by the SAD politician and was unable to give convincing rebuttals. In the courts, both sides are given advance information of the arguments that are going to be presented. But in the wild world of TV news channels, spokespeople are often subjected to last-minute data points. Not knowing answers is construed as culpability! But in the interest of better information flow, it is important that someone rebuts these false arguments.

One of the most bizarre argument I’ve hard in recent times was presented by Ravi Shankar Prasad in a TV interview (not panel discussion). Here’s how it went: Till 2004, only 39 coal blocks were allotted. And then in 3 years, some 142 coal blocks were given away. This is the real scam. This shows that the government was trying to rush through the corruption before the auctions kicked in. I mentioned yesterday that if we took the line that a new and better policy implied that all past dealings were corrupt, then there is an inherent disincentive for politicians to reform and make improvements. But if one takes Ravi Shankar Prasad’s line of argument, then there is an inherent disincentive even for politicians even to accelerate economic growth. Everyone knows that the NDA government messed up the economy (average GDP growth rate in NDA rule was lesser than in the six years preceding it and during UPA-1) and in 2004 when the UPA took over, it tried to hasten the pace of economic reforms. This urge to reform is what led to the thought of auctioning coal blocks. And as part of the push forward, the government hastened the allocation of coal blocks. The big push was on power generation and other infrastructure sectors like steel and cement. That’s why more coal blocks got allotted after 2004. Ravi Shankar Prasad is an intelligent man, but he was speaking the wrong thing when he put forward this argument.

Then on TV, Naresh Gujral from the Shiromani Akali Dal put furnished some “new” information of share prices of some companies and alleged that the share prices of those companies that got coal blocks increased some 5 times to 45 times soon after. His allegation was that “wealth” got generated even though mining did not take place….and hinted that promoters raked in the moolah (he was rebutting Chidambaram’s point that since no coal had been mined, there was no loss). Now frankly, I was surprised by this data, because my own work had indicated otherwise. So I re-looked all the data again. I looked at data from 2004 January till now. I looked at the share prices of Hindalco (AB Group), NTPC (state owned), Adani Power, Tata Steel, NALCO (state owned) and Sterlite – some of the companies named by the CAG. Here’s how it looks. Even if one adds up the total market capitalization of all the private companies named, it only adds up to Rs 1 lac crores or so. And mind you, these are pre-operating companies –  many for several decades – with pre-existing market capitalizations. The delta (change) if any was small. Secondly, there was no visible increase in share prices around the period of coal block allocations. Whatever movement was observed was routine – nothing that one didn’t see in other companies not affected by coal scam. So was Naresh Gujral giving completely wrong facts?

Then Sidhant Singh of the BJP – grinning in a “gotcha” manner – said: Imagine if someone gives you a free plot of land. Trust me, the share prices of the company will shoot up! Now what he said is no rocket science. It’s obvious. Again he is an intelligent person. So I have to assume that his objective was to fool the audiences. Because he failed to mention that unlike a company getting a free plot of land, in the case of coal blocks, the acquiring company had taken on the onerous responsibility of supplying power to the State Electricity Boards at the cheapest possible rates! The free allocation came with a future burden. That explains why the stock prices didn’t skyrocket. But Sidhant Singh could not let such a juicy opening go!

All along, the other guest Vinod Mehta kept urging the BJP and SAD with: these are strong points. You have a good case. Debate in Parliament. But why is the BJP unwilling to debate in Parliament? Because it knows that its TV arguments are flawed. It knows that it is more guilty in this so called scam than the Congress. It was their state governments which “urged” or “lobbied” with the Center to continue with allotments rather than go for auctions. The BJP’s argument that the ultimate call was the Centers is flawed because when it came to NCTC (National Counter Terrorism Center), the BJP – on grounds of federalism – screamed that the Center was not doing what the states were saying. How convenient is this! I was always sure that the BJP’s story of federalism was just another ploy to stall the government’s working is now conclusively proven.

I would love to see a debate in Parliament like the one that happened on Lokpal. That was a fascinating debate in which Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj put forward their points and Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi rebutted them. It’s a different matter that after giving their assurance to Anna on including Lok Ayuktas within the Lokpal Bill, the BJP went back on its word. But at least they got exposed. Maybe that’s what the BJP is really worried about. What if they got exposed again!

In the meanwhile, the SC has let Chidambaram off completely cleanly in the 2G case.It has also said the PMO was not involved in Raja’s shenanigans. I have a feeling the 2G case is not going the way the BJP hoped. Worse, the SC may rule quite soon on it, ending the matter once and for all. If the Congress comes out relatively unscathed, the BJP will have no option but to rely on Coalgate. That’s why it wants to keep pushing it. But with more and more media outlets panning the report, it’s a matter of time before the truth comes out on Coalgate also.

The real truth is that the BJP wants to avoid discussions in Parliament, where it won’t be allowed to say lies. On TV, its like the wild west. Gullible and politically motivated anchors allow panelists to spread lies. Its shocking the way TV channels are allowing themselves to be abused and misused in this manner. But then this is the face of liberal media in this country!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Psst….Mr. CAG…there is a better way to nail the PM!

Hello Mr. CAG. While you have tried very hard, you have only managed to take the scam numbers up to a few lac crores rupees. Why, you have not even been able to reach the Rs 10 lac crore number, though you did try very hard to hit that milestone with your coal report. If only those damned PSUs could have been included! But here’s an idea whose time has come. All that it needs is the creative accounting that you have trademarked and voila….you could create an insurmountable lead in scam-creation over any other CAG in this country for decades to come! You could become the Sachin Tendulkar of Auditors! You could please your political masters like never before!

What’s it that I am talking about? What’s that idea that could have escaped your incredibly clever mind? Well I’ve written about it in the passing a few times, but then why would you read the blog of a person who is so dumb as to not even understand your high standards in accounting?! So here goes….

There is a huge loss to the exchequer – and in your usual style you could brand it corruption of the UPA! – that is taking place year after year. They call it diesel subsidy, kerosene subsidy and LPG subsidy. Why do economists use such fancy words like subsidy? That makes the loss sound almost legal and respectable. In the accounting world as you see it, there is no difference between a subsidy and an opportunity to haul the Congress’s a** over the coals! You have the Constitutional right – unquestionable even by Parliament – to call whatever you want in whichever creative way you want it! So exercise your powers and call this subsidy the corruption scandal of the century! No…of the millenium!

Of what order is this eye-popping corruption scam of the UPA? From newspaper reports, one understands that the government subsidises (“presumptive” losses in your parlance!) fuels to the extent of about Rs 1.5 lac crores per annum. Imagine…..the 2G scam that you painstakingly crafted was spread over several years. The Coalgate scam that you have recently designed so innovatively (even Steve Jobs would applaud you from his grave!) also spreads over several years. But this fuels scam – if we can call it so with your permission (or would you like to consult your political bosses before naming it?) – is worth almost the same amount in just one year. Wow! What a fantastic opportunity! Because if the exchequer is losing the money, then the UPA must be making it! It is so obvious! Why do you need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure that one out. We only need to be as creative as you are! Damn good for you too. You could say to yourself: I am so lucky I can be in the media all over again! That anchor on “Scam TV” has been pushing me for something new for so long. Poor guy, he’s losing TRPs. I have to oblige him! And this time around, the PM will have no option but to resign! Yippee! And then I can become a minister…..ooops….for that I need to first retire in 2014. Maybe its best the UPA doesn’t fall until then. So let me hold my horses till late 2013. That will be the opportune moment!

So Rs 1.5 lac crores is a big number. But its not quite Rs 10 lacs yet. So what do we do? Think, think, think! Maybe you could call your friends in the BJP. Oh yes, that Gurumurthy fellow is quite creative too! Maybe even Subramanium Swamy – he’s quite adept at crafting legal cases around nonexisting issues pretty much like you do with your audits! Maybe you can multiply this number by 8 for the past 8 years of UPA rule – that makes it….yippee! Rs 12 lac crores! That’s stupendous! This could be your Eureka moment! I can almost hear you getting into the bathtub a la Archimedes screaming: Eureka! The PM has to quit! I am a genius!

But Mr. CAG, please be a little careful. Do stop at 2004….don’t go beyond that year….that field is full of mines. Don’t even whisper about the fact that this damned fuel subsidy existed prior to the UPA. Already, you are being made to answer questions (unnecessarily) by those corrupt Congress leaders….about why you didn’t point out that coal was been “allocated” even during the NDA’s six years right before this foolish PM decided to auction them. Foolish? Yes….foolish. I mean….just imagine….if the PM hadn’t thought of auctioning the coal blocks back then, there would have been no scam at all. That would have been tragic! Thank god the UPA put up an economist as the PM. The moment he thought about it, the scam started! Who asked him to think about reforms? Really foolish! So be careful with the fuels scam – stop at 2004. That’s the condition put on your for your future posting, remember!

And of course, don’t even go anywhere near calculating the loss to the exchequer when Parliament is stalled. That’s taboo. That’s the turf of your political masters. When they come to power (as you sure hope they will!), and when the Congress is in the opposition and disrupts Parliament, you (or another brilliant CAG like you) will get the chance to do the audit then! With your genius in accounting, you could make that too into a many-lacs crore scam, but shhhh….not right now!

The real truth is that Mr. CAG, that while you have done well, you could have done better. You’ve done enough to be rated “A”, but not yet “A+”. A little more creativity….a little more (political) motivation….and you’ll get there. So I look forward to hearing more from you. And please do heed my advice! You could get the PM next time! And then the Bharat Ratna (and that ministership of course!) could be yours too!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It was the PM who brought in coal auctions….why should he resign???

As expected, the BJP has made yet another demand for the PM’s resignation. It’s worth looking at what the BJP is charging the PM with in making this demand and how justified it is in this demand.

For one, it is not like the PM started the policy of giving away coal blocks through a screening committee. This was the system prevailing since times immemorial – including right through the NDA period – and the UPA government was merely continuing with that policy. Nothing happened in 2004 or 2005 that made it think of switching to coal auctions. It was a policy initiative, not necessitated by any terrifying developments. It was progressive thinking. In fact, it was the PM who first thought of coal block auctions as a way to bring in transparency and augment government revenues. So he’s the one who should be credited with the shift from random allocations to auctions. That process may have taken time – 7 years in this case – but at least it happened. In the previous 6 years of NDA rule, no one even thought about the idea. How can a person be asked to resign for something he sought to improve???

Change in policies is continuous. So there may be another policy tomorrow on another subject. Take the example of the CAG report today on the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board). The report says that the penalty for a nuclear disaster was just Rs 500. But the government has already changed the policy in 2010 by introducing the Nuclear Liability Law which takes the penalty up to Rs 1500 crores on the facility operator. This is a progression from the past; this doesn’t make the past a scam or a case of corruption. Take the new land acquisition bill which is in Parliament and could get passed in a few months (assuming it is allowed to function at all by the BJP!). And then suppose a few years later, the CAG or the opposition alleges that all the land deals of the past were cases of corruption! This would be bizarre. By that logic, there is an solid incentive for politicians never to change policies. Because any change for the better would make all prior actions look like corruption!

What should the CAG really have said (rather than what it actually did with all its political motivations)? It should have opined that the policy of random allocations, had cost the nation Rs xyz. It could have said that the policy was flawed. That would have been fine. But what did it actually say? That it was corruption! How did it make the leap from flawed policy to corruption? If it is corruption, someone who took the decision should have benefited financially or otherwise. Has the CAG done that? Is it the CAG’s case that the PM took money? Well if that is the case, I would be the first one to demand the PM’s resignation. But that is not what the CAG has said. In fact, the CAG has not made any allegations of corruption against any politician. The CAG has – bizarrely – alleged that there were corporates that benefitted, but has failed to point out who in the government was corrupt. Amazing!

Besides, should the CAG not have commented that the policy was flawed right from the time the Coal Mines Nationalization Act (CMNA) was formulated? Since the deviations were made which allowed for captive mining? No. The CAG failed to even point out that the policy was decades old. A creaky old policy was attempted to be changed by the PM. The CAG preferred to ignore the past….and accuse the one who had the audacity to change! In the same way, had the 3G auctions never taken place, the 2G scam wouldn’t exist! It’s bizarre. Tomorrow, if a new policy is attempted for 4G, then even the 3G may be declared as being a case corruption! Why, if the Institute of Chartered Accounts of India (ICAI) changed the rules of audit, should we also declare the past CAGs to be corrupt, no less?! Should we so dumb as not to realize the difference a changing policy and an act of corruption?!

And what about the BJP habit of disrupting Parliament? When you have an opposition that says “We are the opposition….so we will oppose” (Yashwant Sinha), then what better can we expect? Even when they are not completely shutting down Parliament, the BJP is opposing everything it can, irrespective of what its own beliefs are. It has no justification to oppose FDI in anything, considering it’s own past penchant for FDI. It has no reason to oppose the Lok Ayukta clause in the Lokpal Bill considering its promise to Anna. But then, the BJP is the opposition, and poor souls….they are duty bound to oppose!

One last point. The BJP talked so much about the federal structure and the need for the Center to consult the states. I guess, by “consult”, they didn’t merely mean someone from the Center making a courtesy phone call to a state official and then ignoring the state’s views? That’s what I gathered from the entire storm around NCTC. Even there, the Center had called up the states, but it had gone ahead apparently ignoring the views of the states. So when it came to the NCTC, the Center should have followed the advice of the states; but when it came to coal, the Center should have merely considered the advice of Rajasthan, Orissa, Chhatisgarh, Bihar…..? So maybe in future, in addition to taking the advice of the states, the Center should also ask them: Should we ignore you or follow your advice? Please document this for posterity!

We need to use the system of Marshals that the rules of Parliament allow (like done in the RS when the Women’s Reservations Bill was passed). Obstructionists have no place in Parliament and should be forcefully evicted. The rules of democracy should be followed….else democracy itself will be crushed. If there is so much policy paralysis, the opposition has at least half the blame to take. Such powers as given by democracy to our MPs are unsustainable if they are not matched by similar duties. It is the duty of every MP to let Parliament function. To let every Parliamentary institution (JPC, PAC etc) function. If someone blocks the working of these institutions, they should be forcefully evicted. The BJP is the master of drama….but it doesn’t help anybody…..least of all, itself.

The real truth is that the BJP is letting its hunger for power be abundantly publicized. Some days back, the BJP claimed that its states had done better on GDP growth. That would be the right argument for it to carry to the people. That would be a constructive agenda. Everything else it has been doing is just obstructionist and destructive….

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Government right in demanding shut-down of fraud twitter handles….

There is a notion in some people’s minds that banning anything is wrong. It is illiberal. There will be many critics of the action the PMO has taken of asking twitter to shut down accounts of fraudsters who impersonate as the PMO’s official handle. While I am against bans that disallow freedom of speech, and for those that may criticize the government or do something that’s obviously fake and funny, I am all for banning fraudulent sites that only intend to deceive people….

I would oppose any ban on parody sites. If for instance there was a twitter handle called @PMOgaffes, I would be all in favor of it. After all, there is no office that cannot be parodied. Parodying something is a definite form of expression and I cannot be denied that right. But if someone intentionally fools the public by calling himself @PM0 (the “O” replaced by the numeral “0”), then his intentions are suspect. It’s not parody any longer. It’s not even an obvious fake id which people can recognize. It’s a willful attempt at fooling people who may come looking for the real PMO. In any case, it is difficult on twitter to know which is the real handle of a person; There are multiple options that exist for every famous personality. With such fraud handles existing, the task of identifying the real one is difficult. Of course twitter does provide “authenciated” or “verified” tags to genuine ids….but most people don’t know about that. By the way, even Sushma Swaraj’s and Rahul Gandhi’s twitter handles are unauthenticated. How does one know whether @rahulgaandhi or @rahulgandhi2020 is the real one? What if a fraudster is operating one of these and dishing out crazy stuff in the name of the real Rahul Gandhi?

Those who think India is becoming illiberal should look at the way the US, UK, Australia and so many Western European countries (the most liberal ones!) are handling the Assange matter. I have always maintained that Assange should be arrested and tried for treason (Read my post of June 23rd this year - Julian Assange deserves exemplary punishment…..). Here is a man who has made a business out of publishing classified information; as if that can be called providing service to anyone. Classified information lands into the hands of many people (like journalists) almost all the time – sent as it is by disgruntled elements. But publishing the information could seriously compromise national security, spoil relations between countries and cause other unfathomable harm to the world. And yet, Assange was considered the hero of freedom of speech. See how the West is eliminating him? They’ve implicated him on a rape charge…..and want him deported to Sweden (Assange fears he will be deported to the US and tried for treason)? Nobody is complaining that their freedom of speech – as symbolized by Assange – is being emasculated. And yet if the same thing had happened in India, it would have been called “government vendetta”! See the tax probe against Ramdev? It’s called vendetta, when everyone knows the man has a lot of answer.

I am totally for genuine parodies or those that have genuine angst against public authorities. So banning books or disallowing movies from releasing or pulling down websites that are anti-government are not ok at all. But blocking out intentional attempts at fooling people are ok. There should be no politics here. It is a nation’s right and duty to fend off criminal elements.

So which is the most savvy of our political parties when it comes to twitter? For the Congress, it is undoubtedly Shashi Tharoor who has 14.6 lac followers. Others that I could readily locate are the PMO with 1.7 lac followers. Then there is Rahul Gandhi with 1.07 lac, Digvijay Singh with 22 thousand and Sonia Gandhi (assuming it’s an authentic id which I doubt) with 12 thousand followers. For the BJP, Narendra Modi is the clear winner with some 8.6 lac followers. Sushma Swaraj has nearly 3 lac followers, Nitin Gadkari just some 13 thousand while Arun Jaitley (looks like a fake id) has less than a thousand. Akhilesh Yadav has about 10000 followers. The Left thinks twitter is a symbol of US hegemony. None of its leaders (not even Sitaram Yechury) has any twitter account!

Some twitter accounts are hilarious! For eg., there is an obvious fake account of LK Advani’s that goes by the handle @fakeadvani which has some 400 followers. One of the tweets reads: If someone throws a shoe at me, I’ll kill that mo….. and build a temple on his grave. Period”. Hilarious! There is one handle called @RIP_Congress with 10 Janpath as the address. This one has a thousand followers and its intro reads as follows: Mughals – Britishers – Fake Indians – Italians. We want a real Indian to rule the nation. Jaihind! Funny! Then there is one on Pranab Mukherjee – @Mukherjeebabu – with some 2500 followers. The intro reads: PM by baarth. Shinghji was tha Gobornor, RBI whoen I was the Eph M (Phinance Minishter) andaar Shoniaji’s Mathar-in-law. Awesome! And how can Mayawati’s fake account – @Behenmayawati – be any less interesting. It has 1000 followers and reads: Statue builder, garland acceptor, sandal wearer, house renovator and manuwadi basher. Also, now that UP is gone, Future PM? Satire? Who kya hota hai? Hain?! Priceless!

The real truth is that obvious fake….obvious parodies….should all be permitted. Our leaders must develop a sense of humor. But those handles that impersonate as the real person….spread canards and lies….those need to be shut down. Freedom of speech or not…..

Monday, August 20, 2012

Haha! Ramdev wants different standards for himself….

This is the one thing that’s almost cute about Baba Ramdev. He is brazen in his demands for different standards to be applied to him than to politicians! Slapped with a tax fraud case, he is officially saying that if there has been some mistakes made by his flunkees, then he is willing to correct the same. Who isn’t when caught?! His TV interview last night and the defence put up by his friend Dr Vedic was quite a comedy show!

To be fair, Ramdev isn’t the only one who has sought a different standard for himself. Before him, all of Team Anna wanted a much more relaxed, a much less punishing, standard to be applied to them than to the ministers they were accusing. Kejriwal thought that not paying back his dues to the government in spite of several reminders was explainable on grounds of some difference of opinion (and of course political vendetta!). And Kiran Bedi found nothing wrong when she abused her political connections to secure admission for her daughter. And so on and so forth. Team Anna was full of double standards. Demanding an SIT on the one hand when it accused the ministers of corruption; but being much more lenient on its own members.

But other aspects in the interview with Ramdev and his friend Vedic were even more funny. For example, Vedic claimed that these charges were being made by the Government, not by some “neutral” body! How interesting….does he expect tax claims to be filed by some neutral body? Maybe some civil society members? Maybe retired General Singh? Or maybe his favorite political party? Who runs the tax administration in the country? The government or some neutral body?!

And then the defence that Ramdev didn’t meet all devotees himself and if some people had donated monies “down the line” (my words, not his), then he couldn’t be held responsible! How convenient. What about “moral responsibility” – the albatross that is permanently strung around ministers? Shouldn’t Baba Ramdev also “resign” on the same grounds – even though there is nowhere he can resign from. Maybe what he can resign from is issuing brazenly self-serving statements when he criticizes the Income Tax action against him?

It is quite clear that Baba Ramdev is a shrewd one. There is at least some chance that his entire struggle against the Government (and it was that; nothing else) was more “pre-emptive” in nature than anything else. Pre-emptive since he knew the Income Tax action was coming; he knew all the “kaands” (scams) that he was involved him. What better way to ward off trouble than by portraying himself as the victim of a vicious government attack. The hunger strike; the fight against black money; were all just veils of deceit. What else can this all be? How come a yoga guru suddenly gains interest in black money of which he stands accused himself as a beneficiary, if it wasn’t to save his own skin?

But like I said, Ramdev is brazen if nothing else. Unlike his other civil society brethren, he has no qualms in portraying himself as an extension of the Hindutva brigade. He is proud of his saffron clothes; and more importantly his saffron ideology. But the same cannot be said of the BJP. The story in the Indian Express yesterday is revealing (“At center of stirs against graft, a body with RSS links, ex babus”). Amongst other things, the article suggests that an “anti corruption front” was formed by members of the RSS (S Gurumurthy, Govindacharya etc) as well as other BJP sympathizers (Prof Vaidyanathan of IIM Bangalore who co-authored a BJP task force’s report on black money alon with Doval (former Director of IB) and Vedic (Ramdev’s friend). Now let me be candid here. There is nothing wrong in the RSS/BJP forming an anti-corruption movement (except that it’s a little funny given the corruption record of the political outfit!). What is wrong is that the movements were never publicly declared by the RSS/BJP as theirs. They preferred to hide behind the persona of Anna and Ramdev – wishing to earn the rewards by deceit.

Ramdev on the other hand has no such qualms. After an initial period of “I am apolitical. I am willing to talk to all politicians including from the Congress”, the gloves came off. The target was clearly the UPA. Very soon, there was Nitin Gadkari and Ram Jethmalani on the stage doing what they do best. Attacking the UPA, while not deigning it important to answer the allegations against themselves). Earlier newspaper reports also suggest that Ramdev himself was unable to draw the crowds – and made an SOS call to the BJP. So if Ramdev is nothing but a prop of the BJP/RSS, why deny it? Why not play a fair political game? Why not take on the UPA openly? Why all this subterfuge and deceit?

I also like the defence put up by Vedic that “these were just charges. They were not proved yet” as if the charges that Team Anna and Ramdev made against the ministers were proven (unless they took a particular TV anchor to be the judge cum Lokpal!). I also found it interesting that the government was “being vindictive” while Team Anna and Ramdev were not so; both were just nationalists concerned with the country! And lastly that Ramdev was willing to make amends; while a similar chance can never be given to politicians!

The real truth is that the UPA has been attacked by the NDA and there is nothing wrong with that at all. Only that this has not been well known till now. Now it is getting clear. Team Anna and Ramdev are nothing but BJP props. Their relationship may be strong and times and wobbly at times, but it is clear that the BJP is using them as part of a political strategy. How the UPA responds to this political strategy remains to be seen….

CAG gets it all wrong… panned across the board….

The long weekend has provided time for analysis and the one conclusion coming up repeatedly is what has been obvious to many for long. The CAG has got it all wrong. The CAG has been commenting on policy matters…..sensationalizing its reports and politicizing its office in the process. The CAG did it first with the 2G “scam” and it has done it now again with Coal and power.

Sample a few stories in the papers. In a remarkably well written ET story (and blogpost on the same subject), TK Arun argues for the scrapping of the Coal Mines Nationalisation Act (CMNA). It is this act that gives a monopoly to Coal India Limited (CIL) and starts off the entire process of inefficiency of mining the mineral and its utilization by the end users. Arguing against auctions of captive mines being the panacea, he writes “The market for coal is linked to the markets for the end-produce of coal. While steel and cement are reasonably stable, competitive markets, the market for power is a maze of uncertainty predicated on regulatory whim. This vitiates reasonable bidding in any manner that would make upfront payments to the government a bid parameter. If there is no upfront payment, there is no revenue to the government and no revenue to be lost on account of not having conducted auctions.” He ends by accurately summarizing the report “The CAG variety of criticism is unmitigated garbage.” Very similar to my own title a couple of days back “More gibberish from the CAG….its not Coalgate but CAGgate”.

The article by Arun argues rightly about the policy pursued by the GOI since 1973 when the CMNA was enacted. It argues strongly why CMNA breeds inefficiency and why it must be scrapped. This is the kind of informed debate we must have in the country. In fact, the CAG should have brought this up in its report. It should have separated “policy losses” from “actual cases of corruption”. No one is saying that there isn’t corruption in coal block allocation, but to call it a Rs 1.86 lac crore corruption case is way out of line with the reality. Just like the Rs 1.75 lac crores on 2G was way out of line. Newspaper reports also indicate that the CBI will file cases against cases of actual corruption and that’s how it should be.

The TOI in its editorial “Go Beyond CAG: Shout less about notional losses, do more on genuine coal sector reform” writes “if CAG – whose job is to keep accounts – habitually hypothesises about presumptive revenue loss owing ostensibly to absence of this or that policy in the past, where will it end?” It adds “Its coal audit claims private firms could make a killing of Rs 1.86 lakh crore from coal blocks allocated non-transparently. That, it says, means a dent in public coffers. As with telecom, here’s another case of breast-beating over a ‘loss’ to the exchequer that’s notional rather than real.” Arguing against politicizing the matter, the editorial notes “But since it (the committee system of allocations) predated the UPA, politicising the matter won’t help.” And “no ruling dispensation has done what’s really required: get government out of the business of running coal mines by dismantling nationalised coal mining.”

Yet another newspaper argued in defence of the PM saying that he was the one who started the process of auctioning coal blocks. Before he did this, coal blocks had always been allocated. So rather than blame him for the delay in implementing auctions, it would be better to acknowledge his role in starting off the process.

The editorials in the Economic Times of today on Coal and DIAL also summarize the problems with the CAG: “A Public Disservic: CAG reports, instead of shedding light, increasingly spread confusion” and “Plane Wrong: The CAG’s report on DIAL is ill-informed and full of holes”

The BJP is of course clamoring for the PM’s resignation in spite of the above stated logic. Like some news channel brought out, the BJP has demanded the PM’s resignation on some 30 previous occasions… no one gives their demand a second thought. But what could be very embarrassing for the BJP is that its own state governments were opposing coal auctions right since 2004 when the PM first mooted the idea. Why? By opposing auctions, wasn’t the BJP making its position on the subject clear? Wasn’t it the beneficiary of the alleged corruption as well? Is this why the BJP did not even think about coal auctions during its six years of rule? The BJP is on very slippery wicket here…..and I have a feeling that it will be forced to taper off its criticism of the UPA on this report.

Unfortunately for the BJP, its blued eyed boys of yesterday, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan have started freely ranting against the party. What’s happened here is the subject matter of another post. But here’s what the duo stated as mentioned in the Indian Express of 18th August “All parties together in graft: Arvind Kejriwal”: It was not just the Coal Ministry that was opposed to auction of coal blocks, all state governments opposed it, including BJP-ruled states and Left ruled West Bengal because all of them wanted a share of the pie”. So is BJP really in a position to capitalize on this CAG report?

The CAG has become a politicized office. So much so that Tavleen Singh had to caption her piece in the Indian Express of 19th August “Can anyone challenge CAG?” – a title very similar in sentiment to my own title on September 10, 2011: Who will audit the auditor? She quotes Surjit Bhalla from an article he wrote in the same paper (Where Donkeys fly – March 24, 2012) where he asserts that “it was the economic illiteracy of India that allows Mr Rai’s bizarre mathematics to go unchallenged”. The question to be asked is: Is the CAG doing the job that it is intended to do? Clearly, it’s not a question of the capability of Mr. Vinod Rai. A friend pointed out that Mr. Rai is a graduate of the Delhi School of Economics and Harvard. So his credentials are above board. If its not capability, what is it that ails Mr. Rai’s understanding and appreciation of the facts? In the past we’ve seen how the CAG had to beat a hasty retreat (without apologizing) on its Rs 2 lac S-band spectrum scam. I guess the CAG realized the mistake it had made by equating S-band spectrum with 3G spectrum. How can such fundamental mistakes be condoned? How can it be explained if not by the possibility that Mr. Rai has carved out a political future for himself?

The real truth is that just like we have dirty cops, it is possible that we have dirty auditors. The CAG has a lot to explain. The BJP has hardly anything to go by – at least as far as Coal is concerned. If it doesn’t handle it properly, both the CAG and the BJP will find their faced smeared by coal…..