Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is extreme anarchism Kejriwal’s political strategy????

Kejriwal (the Joker in the political pack, henceforth abbreviated just to Joker) has accused the UPA and NDA of crony capitalism. The allegation is that both governments favored RIL, India’s largest private sector company by revenues and market capitalization. Really Mr. Joker? Of course, its impossible to ask you for evidence…..what you have provided is old hash – but your line of argument and the emerging strategy of your emerging political party appears to be getting clearer. Its called Extreme anarchism. In some ways, this is even more left of ultra socialism and is akin to what Maoists seek.

Wikipedia describes Anarchism as “a political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful, or, alternatively, as opposing authority or hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations. Proponents of anarchism, known as "anarchists," advocate stateless societies based on non-hierarchical voluntary associations.” In the past, when Joker ranted against the Congress, it looked like he was targeting a particular party. These attacks were based on certain specific issues. The focal point of the attacks was corruption and the guiding force behind the movement was the enactment of the Lokpal Act. Then Joker started attacking the main opposition party, the BJP, and a certain hint of anarchism was in the air. Joker and his earlier mentor – Anna – pompously made statements that the “people were above the politicians” and “politicians were the servants of the people” – all undeniable ideologies of a democracy but which had become somewhat discarded since independence. Both Anna and Joker talked about “direct democracy” in which people voted directly on issues; wanting to make the country run on referendums. Such “participative decision making” ideas are typical characteristics of anarchism.

So the Left parties and Mamata Banerjee (and the new socialist BJP) all have a different type of challenger now. Hitherto, it appeared that Joker’s party was going to sit squat in the middle of this grouping and take over the ultra-socialist position. It appeared that Joker wanted to set up a socialist government. But now it appears that Joker’s goal is something very different. Its to move towards a stateless entity. A country which has no formal government. A country which is run on principles of “anarcho syndicalism” (which believes in revolutionary industrial unionism as an appropriate vehicle for subjugated classes to regain control over the course of their destiny), “participatory economics” (an economic system using participatory decision making as an economic mechanism to guide the production, consumption and allocation of resources), “collective anarchism” (abolition of both state and private ownership of the means of production. It envisions the means of production being owned collectively and controlled by the producers themselves) and “anarchist communism” (abolition of state/capitalism/private property in favor of common ownership of the means of production, direct democracy and a  horizontal network of voluntary associations and workers’ councils). All these definitions have been taken from Wikipedia. Clearly, anarchism sits to the left of the Left. The ultra left…..

If Sitaram Yechury feels that any tax rationalization undertaken by a Government amounts to a “gift to the private sector” – and believes that India’s fiscal deficit of R 5.2 lac crores has arisen because of such tax concessions totaling Rs 5.3 lac crores apparently – then he is completely anachronistic with today’s economic ideology. Today, the world at large has moved towards encouraging private capital. But at least Yechury believes in a democratic set-up. He believes that the state shouldn’t have passed on the tax concessions, and should have kept those revenues with itself. Joker on the other hand appears to believe that the Government itself shouldn’t exist. What should run the country is a mofussil gathering of like minded activists who turn to the small bunch of supporters crowding around Jantar Mantar or in front of TV cameras for their views and opinions. A kind of “brotherhood” like the political party now ruling Egypt (Muslim Brotherhood). The only credo of Joker’s brotherhood is “anti-state” and “anti-capitalism” and “joint ownership” of everything including resources and decision making. Such mindless crap is tolerated in today’s India – and is evidence of our “freedom of speech”. But it is such mindless crap that has the potential to take India back by a century.

Coming specifically to the charges of RIL, it’s a lot of baloney. The first thing that Joker has to remember is that players like RIL are welcomed all around the world. Governments give them red carpet treatment, change their laws, and schmooze with them – all so that they invest in their country rather than in some other one. For Joker of course, any such political thinking is anathema. He would be happier if RIL and Ambani took their fortunes and went elsewhere. He would then sit content amongst his gathering of economic illiterates, wringing his hands in joy, believing the country has been saved from crony capitalism. But Joker would soon be crucified by these same followers, for as the RIL’s (and scores others, like Rahul Bajaj has already said) leave the country and go, so will the jobs they create. Today’s business icon in India is Narendra Modi – a man who has great pride in granting government owned land at free or concessional terms to the Tatas and the Suzukis. I guess for Joker, Modi is anathema too. But Joker cannot understand that that’s the kind of economic model this country needs at this time. Not the 17th century dogma called anarchism he propogates.

In a world in which the private entrepreneur is welcomed, the approach to governance changes. Governments make their demands of entrepreneurs. They demand job creation. They demand higher investments. They demand commitment to the government’s social programs. In short, they demand rapid growth. They don’t make policies that kill entrepreneurs. A Government that negotiates with big corporates is considered efficient; one that shuns them is a liability. This is the point that Joker simply cannot understand. Well to be fair, if Sitaram Yechury can’t, how can Joker???

The real truth is that the political model of Kejriwal is becoming clear. It’s a political structure called anarchy. In his ideal world, there is no government, no private sector. There is common ownership of all resources; common decision making. Such utopia hasn’t been found yet. But then for Kejriwal, selling such a pipe dream is the only chance he has of making a mark. It’s a dangerous political option and one that must be killed urgently….

Monday, October 29, 2012

Jaipal Reddy’s exit from Petroleum welcome. Why was Jayanthi Natarajan spared?

A country that aims to grow rapidly must love its businessmen. Instead we find in India today, a huge degree of suspicion and cynicism towards them. We often forget that it is businessmen who take risks and invest money creating growth for the country and jobs for its people. Of course businessmen expect to make profits and what’s wrong with that? If India has to cross the 10% GDP growth rate mark, it has to learn to respect big business. Instead, as the controversy over Jaipal Reddy’s transfer out of the Petroleum Ministry shows, almost ALL our political parties love to trash the corporate sector. The latest to join the fray of course is Kejriwal, the Joker (in the political pack). A few years back, it was Mamata. The Left looks distinctively dislodged from its ancient anti-business perch, overtaken by the newer socialists. And the BJP has turned completely socialist, opposing anything and everything that helps the corporate sector. My view is that Jaipal Reddy was a bottleneck to India’s energy security and was rightly shunted out. In fact, Jayanthi Natarajan, the other bottleneck towards growth should also have been shunted out.

The alternative to the private sector is the Government sector. And no matter what one may say, Governments simply don’t know how to do business. The Government sector is either corrupt or at the very least, downright inefficient. Public Sector Unit CEOs have little motivation to produce results, preferring instead to tow the Government’s interfering line. Capital is deployed not because it makes business sense, but because of pressure to fulfill some or the other Government objective. The stock markets are the best judge of corporate performance. Not surprising then that the country’s biggest bank by turnover – SBI – has a market cap of just Rs 1.45 lac crores on revenues of Rs 1.06 lac crores in FY12. ICICI Bank, the country’s number 1 private sector bank on the other hand has a market cap 85% of SBI’s at Rs 1.23 lac crores with revenues just 32% of SBI’s at Rs 33.5 thousand crores. SBI is saddled with nearly 3 lac employees, compared to ICICI Bank which has some 35000. Clearly, SBI is like the Government’s employment bureau. We’ve seen the same story with Air India which has no business to be in business. But still we prefer to rile against the private sector.

The two biggest communist countries of the past – Russia and China – have themselves switched to a largely capitalistic regime. Both countries have embraced businessmen and have encouraged them to flourish (in China’s case, its mostly foreign businessmen; the local industry is still dominated by PSUs). In any other country, RIL would be given a red carpet and its every demand satisfied. In India however, RIL is treated like its a monster. Don’t be surprised if RIL soon shifts headquarters to Hongkong or London. And takes it jobs with it. Fortunately, Veerappa Moily the new Petroleum minister has made sensible first statements – indicating he will try and get $50 billion of fresh investments into the sector. This is the right approach.

Not only is it necessary to respect and love our domestic businessmen, it is equally important to extend a welcome to foreign businessmen. A businessman who comes from a different country takes even higher risks. He doesn’t understand our culture and our political system. He has no idea of how strong or weak our legal system is. He has no way to know if his investment is going to be safe or not. Too many of these businessmen have had a bitter experience in some country or the other. If we have to become a magnet for global attention, we have to demonstrate that we love our businessmen. And yet, our politicians are loathe to FDI, be it in retail, banking or insurance.

There are a few states that have shown their love for businessmen. Most notable of them are Gujarat, Maharashtra and Haryana. All of these states have been business-friendly for decades. No matter what Modi may say, the industry friendliness of Gujarat predates him by decades. Maharashtra was the pioneer in industrialization; not surprising most of India’s businessmen call Mumbai home. What is encouraging is that of late, many other states have taken the lead in becoming industry-friendly. TN, AP, Karnataka, Punjab, Orissa and even MP and UP are now starting to understand the importance of being business friendly.

Of course there are bad businessmen just as there are good businessmen. We must cull out the bad from the good. A Satyam may have been a case of how businessmen can fraud their people and their shareholders, but for every Satyam, there are many Infosys’s and TCSs and Wipros. For every wrong coal block allocation, there are tens more that are done correctly and rightly. We cannot let the experience of a few bad businessmen cloud our opinon about the whole community.

In fact, the job of the government should be to unleash the animal spirits of our businessmen as the PM has rightly said. In the corporate sector, every department – be it finance or manufacturing or R&D or legal – works towards enhancing revenues and profits. It should be the same in the government. Every ministry must be evaluated on how it helped business grow. No one is saying that rules should be flouted. I am talking of making rules business friendly. If we want to welcome businessmen, we have to make our rules acceptable to him. Of course the government has to protect the environment and ensure that businessmen don’t exploit our people. But there is no reason to be over-worried about that. By making our legal systems robust and reliable, and by speeding them up, we can ensure that our people are protected, even as the businessmen are welcomed.

India presents a very sad picture in this regard. In terms of “ease of doing business”, we are way low down the pecking order. In terms of “time taken to start a business”, likewise. And in terms of the number of licenses required to start a business, we are equally poorly off. Add to this the government’s intervention in every step of a businessman’s journey, and we get the picture. Imagine if we could clean up our act, where would our growth trajectory go? It is very correctly said that India’s growth is despite the government, not because of it! If the Government becomes a player in ensuring growth, imagine what growth we would see. In this context, moving Jaipal Reddy out of the Petroleum ministry is the right thing to do. My  complaint is why Jayanthi Natarajan – the new empress of environment – wasn’t shunted out. In the name of protecting the environment, she has turned the tap off on development.

The real truth is that any minister who is a hurdle to economic progress must be shunted out. We have to love our businessmen. Not simply tolerate them. Actually love them. We have to roll out the red carpet for big industry. There is no shame in this. There is no reason to be coy. Today Jaipal Reddy lost his shirt. Hopefully tomorrow, Jayanthi will hers (figuratively speaking!).

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why is our media not “exposing” Zee’s extortion of Naveen Jindal????

We have today entered an era where nothing unseemly remains under wraps for long. Corruption scams are being exposed by the day. Without doubt, the brunt of this is being faced by the politicians; most of whom are scurrying around trying to cover their misdeeds. Civil society activists are at the forefront of these attacks; pulling down one and all with their “connecting the dots” kind of evidence. In the middle of all this are the thousands of media outlets that populate India. Without doubt, media outlets have amplified the exposes, bringing them to hundreds of millions of households. They have no doubt played a stellar role. But the question that needs to be asked now is: is media sucy a holy cow that exposes cannot be conducted against corrupt elements within the industry? For if it is not, then the silence over the Jindal sting on Zee News is completely unacceptable.

Yes, you heard it right. The sting was conducted not by Zee on Naveen Jindal’s company Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL), but the other way round. The story goes that Zee News had unearthed dirt on Jindal’s coal block allocations and had threatened to air the story. Apparently, the channel was willing to scuttle the story if Jindal agreed to a Rs 100 crore advertising deal with Zee News (and all along we thought that TRPs determined advertising rates and revenues!). Apparently Jindal refused to pay up and instead managed to trap Zee in the middle of the extortion. Apparently, Jindal’s company recorded the meetings with the Zee News editor, Sudhir Chaudhary. The tapes exist and Jindal has filed a police complaint (see, this is the right thing to do! Not the way our activists accuse politicians…..only on media….without any real follow-ups with the cops or the courts). Apparently, the complaint is against the redoubtable Subhash Chandra, Chairman of Zee Enterprises and his son Punit Goenka, the CEO of Zee Entertainment.

The matter has been investigated by the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA) and the editor of Zee News has been suspended from the association. This shows that prima facie, there is evidence of truth in Jindal’s assertion. However, Zee group has backed its editor and has refused to sack him.

The moot question here is not about what happens to this editor. The moot question is why our media – with all its holier-than-thou attitude – is not playing up this huge scam. Everyone knows that media is the 4th estate, the 4th pillar of democracy. If media itself is corrupt or abuses its powers, what kind of damage does it do to the democratic processes? If all media outlets ringfence the errant news channel, and prevent the flow of information to the public at large, then how can this be an ethical practice? As ordinary citizens of this country, we deserve to know which media we can trust and which we cannot. Why is everyone trying to shield Zee? Why not expose it the way TV channels love to expose politicians? Why these double standards? Doesn’t this lead us to ask the question: are the rules different for media?

The fact is that there is as much corruption in media as there is in any other sector in the country. Its sad really that its difficult to find a single place where corruption hasn’t made its presence in India. We have seen accusations being hurled at anti-corruption activists themselves – so much so that they are now being investigated by their own groups. There are enough and more charges against Ramdev – the self professed anti-corruption leader and yoga guru. If now media also behaves like gangbangers, then it’s a sad day indeed.

What I would like is for Zee to be publicly shamed. The sting tapes have apparently been sent by Jindal to various TV channels. These TV channels owe it to their viewers that they play the tapes out. Since not all in media are corrupt, it would help if the ethical channels publicly debated the issue; accepted blame wherever required; and re-committed to stand by the cause of their profession. By hiding the tapes and by scuttling the publicity, media outlets will be guilty of cheating their audiences. It amounts to massive abuse of their powers. This is worse than pronouncing the innocent guilty. It is like pronouncing a guilty innocent. How is it fair that the innocent has to stand media trials, but the guilty owners of media don’t have to in a similar way? This is shocking to say the least.

Not playing the tapes would bring disrepute to media. It would put a question mark on the good work done by hundreds of other media outlets. There are always a few black sheep, a few dirty apples, in every flock or basket. The right way to handle them is not by hiding them. It is by exposing them and throwing them out. The quality of the rest gets established even more strongly. That is the only way out for India’s media industry. They need to expose Zee News’ completely unethical practice. They need to public denounce its conduct.

And what about Mr. Subhash Chandra? He should be the first one to come out and salvage the pride of his otherwise reputable media empire. Subhash Chandra is India’s Rupert Murdoch. Just like Murdoch took the unprecedented step of shutting down “News of the Word” (accused of breaking privacy norms in the UK), so should Subhash Chandra consider shutting Zee News down. This is the only way responsible and ethical business leaders behave. Equally, it would be correct for the Government to order an inquiry into the affair, the way the UK Government did so. And the rest of the media industry must support this inquiry – not call it a witch-hunt or some such thing.

The news is that Press Council of India (PCI) Chief Markandey Katju has asked the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) headed by Retired Justice JS Verma to conduct a thorough investigation into this murky affair. Naveen Jindal has released the tapes to all media outlets. The ball is now in the media’s court. Will it prove to be fair in its commitment to fight corruption or will it play a parochial role here?

The real truth is that there is a strong stench coming from inside media now. If proven true, Zee News will sink the credibility of the entire TV news business. It might even give an opportunity for the Government to impose curbs on media. It is best that the matter is handled maturely by all media players…..the black sheep must be exposed and culled. That is the only way forward….

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gadkari’s plight a Narendra Modi plot?

See how beautiful the plot is. By using Kejriwal the Joker (short for Joker in the political pack), Narendra Modi is ensuring a win-win for both. Kejriwal gets to prove that he is not afraid of attacking the BJP, thus establishing that he is not anti-Congress alone. And Modi gets to see the back of his detractor and party President Gadkari, thus paving the way for his ascent to PM in case a chance arises. Maybe this is the allegation that Digvijay Singh recently made…..that Joker was merely the B team of a faction within the BJP. He hadn’t elaborated then and most TV channels and newspapers didn’t speculate on it either, but it sure appears to be true….

When I did research on this Diggy accusation, I was surprised that there was already some speculation on this theory. So I am not the first one writing on this L In fact, DNA carried a story four days back “Nitin Gadkari worries; Narendra Modi’s joy” in its online edition (maybe following Diggy’s TV statement). There were also a number of stories after the May national executive meeting of the BJP held in Mumbai, in which Narendra Modi “won” convincingly over Gadkari. By removing Sanjay Joshi from the party, Modi asserted his clout within the party. But he could still not be sure. With Gadkari slated to get a second term as BJP President (the rules were amended specifically for him it would seem) with the RSS backing him as well, Modi was a worried man. His recent meetings with the RSS in Nagpur and the spate of revelations against Gadkari could be driven by that fear.

The faction that Kejriwal allegedly represents is the Modi-Jaitley one against the Gadkari-Advani-Sushma one. So many PM candidates within the BJP we are told….but just see how they are teamed up against each other! I would rather have one anointed heir! The theory of a factional struggle gets strengthened when one considers maverick lawyer and BJP MP Ram Jethmalani’s recent “suo motu” proclamation that Modi is a better PM candidate than all the others in the party. What provoked this pronouncement? This was hardly an isolated incident. Jethmalani had only a few days earlier said that he would ask for Gadkari’s resignation if Joker did so. Is he working in tandem with Joker? He also said that he possessed “evidence” against Gadkari but he was waiting to verify it. Verifying it or waiting for the go-ahead from Modi? The series of moves made by Jethmalani clearly point to the two coteries in the BJP.

Lets get one other fact right. This entire “scoop” against Gadkari is hardly a media scoop. Several media outlets have been provided the inputs for the story. A few days back, NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain had aired an intereview with Gadkari in which he touched upon these precise points. Then TOI followed it up with a much better researched story yesterday. Once that happened, all media pounced on it. Today, every media outlet is claiming that it was the first one to get the facts. Times Now claimed last night that it was its RTI application filed in August this year that finally brought the muck out. This is not how a “scoop” breaks. If it’s a genuine scoop, it would break exclusively on one outlet. This is more like someone (Modi?) feeding ready made information to a select few media outlets. All of media is being used. And abused. By Narendra Modi and his coterie. Call this smart politics? Maybe, but with what results for the party?

Here’s more. Some time back, there was speculation that Modi would cut loose and set up his own party. That was the pressure he mounted for Sanjay Joshi to be sacrificed. Such shrewed tactics are completely in line with what one knows of Modi. One knows that from history. Once he’s made up his mind, he doesn’t give up easily. One remembers how a young Haren Pandya, a “dynamic” leader of the BJP and considered by many to be a direct challenger to Modi was bumped off after being denied the ticket from his constituency. By throwing out the prosecution’s case that Pandya was murdered by some assailants from Hyderabad to avenge Godhra (was CBI being misused by the BJP central government even then??!!), the High Court pointed to the political conspiracy theory that has many takers in Gujarat. Pandya’s two sisters and father have accused Modi directly for Pandya’s murder and have demanded a fresh probe. Modi’s involvement was never established, but what points to a possible link is that Pandya had started to squeal on Modi’s sinister handling of the post-Godhra riots and had secretly deposed before the Citizen’s Tribunal comprising several eminent judges. As per a Hindustan Times story of May 11th 2012, “One of the judges on the citizens’ tribunal, justice Hospet Suresh, told Hindustan Times Pandya had alleged that Modi asked the police not to take action against the rioters. Modi allegedly gave the instruction during a meeting with top police and government officials on February 27, 2002, the day the riots started after the burning of a train coach near Godhra station.” Clearly, Pandya was an irritant who had to be taken care of.

One also knows of the fall out between Modi and Advani with Modi denying Advani the permission to launch his most recent yatra from Gujarat. Why was Modi turning against his former mentor? The speculation is that Modi didn’t want Advani to be in the contention for the PM’s post should it become available to the BJP.

“Connecting the dots” as is the new mantra of investigations these days, one would have to conclude that there are reasonable grounds to assume that Gadkari’s plight is the doing of Modi’s PM aspirations. Those who croon for Modi as PM should take note of the man’s Hitleresque characteristics. This is precisely the way many of the world’s biggest despots conducted themselves; blunting or crushing any form of protest against them. Does the country need a PM like him?

For his part, Joker has to think of which path he is treading on. Is this the political strategy he wants to adopt? Is this why Anna refused to back his political plans….surely Anna would have known his political game plan? Well, all of this is now starting to unravel. Not only is the needle of suspicion pointing towards Modi and his coterie, there is also a needle pointing at Joker. Joker has never spoken against Modi in spite of there being several cases of alleged corruption against him. Joker never bothered to criticize Modi for failing to appoint a Lok Ayukta in the state for 8 years as well. So there are some strong reasons to believe that Joker is not the BJP’s B team, but Modi’s.

The real truth is that Gadkari finds himself in the cross-hairs of Modi’s gunfire. Modi’s making sure that he remains the only contender for the PM’s post if it comes BJP’s way. Gadkari is nothing but an inconveneient hurdle….getting him out of the way is a necessity. But what Gadkari and his team do now remains to be seen. Will they play-up Nitish Kumar’s even more against Modi? Will they play on his Marathi manoos reality and get Shiv Sena to attack Modi? Wait and watch….this promises to be fun!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The muck of corruption now sticking to Gadkari and Kejriwal….

In a country in which almost all are involved in some or the other form of what can broadly be called corruption, it was always surprising that someone should attempt to don the “anti-corruption” mantle. That both, the deeply corrupted BJP and the holier-than-thou Kejriwal (the Joker in the political pack, henceforth abbreviated to just Joker) chose to do so was always too ambitious. Now as the knot of corruption start to unravel, both are caught in an embarrassing manner.

When Gadkari was blamed by IAC activist Damania for “not questioning the NCP on the irrigation scam”, she had zero proof of her meeting with Gadkari. I was clear that her claim should be rubbished. When Joker mentioned about some investments made in Purti Power and Sugars Ltd (a firm alleged to be “owned” by Gadkari), my point was that given Joker’s credibility, these charges should be taken as just that – charges. If Joker had anything to prove, he should simply have filed an FIR or a suit against Gadkari. Of course, the rabble rouser did nothing. But now that the respectable TOI has researched Gadkari and found interesting revelations, the muck is starting to stick to Gadkari. His interview with Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV a few days back on the same subject also strengthens the impression of some element of truth being there in the allegations. Of course, the MD of Purti as well as Gadkari himself have stated that all is clean. My opinion remains unchanged. Till the time they are proven, these are mere allegations. Someone should take Gadkari to court. Else they should let him be.

But the charges look bad. Gadkari was PWD minister in Maharashtra in the Shiv Sena-BJP government during 1995-99 (incidentally, that was the only time these two parties ever ruled Maharashtra). The allegation is that he gave the Mumbai-Pune expressway contract to IRB Infrastructure with the understanding that IRB would later invest in Gadkari’s Purti. Sure enough, the investment happened only after Gadkari was out of power, but the allegation is that that was the exact quid-pro-quo terms. The fact that subsequent orders were given to IRB “by the central government in 2003” only proves that the BJP’s national government was part of the deal as well (the NDA was in power until 2004). What compounds life for Gadkari is that the other investors (other than IRB) of Purti include a clutch of companies whose whereabout (addresses) are fake. This arouses suspicion of benami ownership of Purti by Gadkari, who officially holds almost nothing in the company. Even the Directors of these investor companies are associates of Gadkari. If benami holding is ever done, it is precisely in this manner. Surely, the needle of suspicion points at Gadkari. But like I said, let someone challenge him in the courts; not in media.

If anything is proved against Gadkari, he will be the 2nd BJP President to be indicted for corruption. So much for the main opposition party’s record of fighting corruption!

The other interesting story of course is about a question (strange how no one thought of this before) being asked of Joker. How did he manage to stay put in Delhi for 20 years of his IRS service? Now the accusation here is very very strong. People want to stay in Delhi and Mumbai because these are the hubs of tax collection and hence, corruption. A majority of Indian corporates and HNIs are based in these two cities. It is reported that tax officers are willing to “pay crores” to secure postings in these two cities. How then did Joker manage to stay put for 20 years? Did he also bribe the system to manage that? If he did, did he also “recover” his investments? What is worse is that even his wife has never been transferred out of Delhi. Suspicions of a “family business” abound. But again, no one should conclude anything without a court enquiry. What is really bad for IAC (not surprising at all really) is that Damania is herself accused of “change of land use” (what Vadra is also charged for). Ditto Prashant Bhushan (Himachal), his father (NOIDA) and god knows who else.

I said “not surprisingly” because in this country, corruption has seeped into our very bones. Being a little corrupt is a necessary requirement to just survive. Managing the process is considered “smartness”. In such a real situation, it doesn’t help when someone tries to stand on a pulpit and preach to others. I have never had any problems with the objectives of Anna, but I have had severe problems with their holier-than-thou attitude. Everyone knows there are various centers of corruption – the PDS is one such example. When Nandan Nilekani talks of the UID and its important role in curbing corruption in the PDS, there is no need for Joker to laugh it off. Nilekani has far more credibility than Joker ever can. Auctions (without necessarily maximizing revenues) is the way to cut corruption in government projects and purchases. Simplifying laws and removing discretionary powers are other ways of removing corruption. None of this has anything to do with the Lokpal. They are just administrative moves that can be far more effective than the flawed concept of the Lokpal. But for Joker to appreciate all this is perhaps beyond his intelligence.

The real truth is that the story started off by Joker has now engulfed him as well. The support given by Gadkari and his party to Joker has now backfired on Gadkari and the BJP. They both started out to blame the Congress. In reality, they have only shown that every single party, every single person is corrupt. Creating a mood of despondency will ravage the country. It is time we halted such insane practices and got down to the basics. And start to dismantle corruption the right way… brick at a time.

Kejriwal’s party looks even more Leftist than Mamata’s!

Kejriwal (the Joker in the political pack; henceforth abbreviated to just Joker) has positioned himself on the anti-corruption platform. Very little has emerged about his party’s economic priorities. But a few statements of his have emerged and what has come out so far indicates that he is yet another Left-of-Left politician. More anti-corporate than even Mamata; more anti-reform than even the BJP; in short more Leftist than the Left and Mamata put together!

Here’s a smattering of what has emerged:

Joker is against power tariff increases. In Delhi, he went so far as to organize a protest against the Delhi government’s recent increases in power, forgetting that power tariffs had not been increased for so many years. He in fact, made it a political issue by creating a drama around “restoring” power at the home of a power thief. He made some bizarre observation that power discoms are making enormous profits and alleged some sort of criminal conspiracy against Sheila Dixit personally (that she was not allowing discoms to lower tariffs). He chose to ignore the facts of the matter as usual; and of course demonstrated no understanding of how governments undertaken several programs, many of which need to be funded through “profits” (if any) from other programs. This indicates a clear preference for mindless socialism; and a disdain for even basic economics. I would have liked to hear Joker say what he would like to over-price so that things like power could be under-priced or subsidized. But that was not forthcoming. One gathers the impression that just like all Left parties, and more recently the BJP, Kejriwal wants prices to remain stuck in the past. How the government should reduce fiscal deficit then is a mystery. By cutting corruption I guess!

Joker was also asked a question on FDI in modern retail. Again, his answer was similar to the BJP’s. No. Why do we need FDI in retail is his question. He repeated the BJP’s half-truth about Walmart being driven out of New York. He chose to forget that Walmart in any case opens shops only outside main city areas and the Walmart Asia head has already clarified that Walmart is not quitting New York. But then just like truths don’t matter to the BJP these days, they don’t to Joker. The message one gets again is that he is opposing what is being seen by all sections of society – farmers and urban middle-class prominently – as a positive move. In his case, it’s a little unclear why he is opposing. In the BJP’s case, they are protective of the bania. What is Joker’s story apart of course, from opposing the Government in everything it does.

We have also heard Joker speak on land reforms. And his view appears to be even further Left than Mamata’s. Why should the state intervene in acquiring land for private projects or even infrastructure projects, he asks. But he fails to answer how the private sector or infrastructure companies are supposed to acquire land if a few people hold out. Land acquisition is never a happy thing, but without some sacrifices being made, how can the country progress? I would have liked to hear a more nuanced approach here. For example, favoring higher compensation to land owners, creating an insurance policy to better secure the future of those who land their land, providing employment to family members of those whose land is acquired etc. But no, Joker has only taken the standard “hobe na” line of Mamata!

Its easy for someone not in Government to take such populist stands. So one cannot single out Joker for this. But it would help if someone with the educational and learned background that he has changed the rules of the game and made positive statements about his vision for the country. That’s what the people want to know. What are his programs going to be. Who is his target audience? What will his industrial policy be? What are his views on taxation? How will he encourage exports? All this is needed to define a political party. When he was just a movement, he could remain focused on a narrow sliver of issues. But now that he wants to set up a party, he has no option but to formulate policies on larger issues. Otherwise, even if he comes to power (which he won’t), he will be booted out in no time. Remember what happened to the Janata Party government which came to power in 1977 on the single issue of the Congress’s imposition of emergency? It collapsed in less than two years.

This is one more reason I don’t like Joker. I never liked him for his low level personal attacks strategy. I never liked him for his smug “my Lokpal bill is the only good bill” attitude. Now I don’t like him for his highly monochromatic adoption of socialistic policies.

The real truth is that India needs more liberal policies; not socialistic ones. The time when India really came out in its own was after the 1991 reforms. We have far too many socialistic parties. In fact, we need to amendment the Constitution itself which warrants that every political party must believe in socialism. Further, what is apparent is that Joker has no team. Manish Sisodia is an unknown quantity. Prashant Bhushan is too busy fighting PILs to make anything in the name of policy. If anything, all of Joker’s strategy is about being anti-establishment. That’s the turf he relishes. Just as much as Mamata does. It’s a shame really. By not accepting a half-solution on Lokpal, Joker destroyed India’s chances of getting one. By not formulating his onw positive agenda, he will destroy’s India’s one chance of getting an alternative political entity….

Thursday, October 18, 2012

See the difference between allegations and facts??? SC order on Rahul Gandhi a pointer….

The Supreme Court agreed with the UP High Court’s verdict that the petitioners who had alleged that Rahul Gandhi kidnapped and raped a girl had done it for political reasons and had presented lies in the court. The High Court had levied a penalty of Rs 50 lacs on the petitioners. One of the petitioners had confessed that it was Akhilesh Yadav himself who had plotted the plan. The SC has now agreed with this view and in fact, repeated even more forcefully, how the reputation of a politician was targeted by another one. In the meanwhile, whatever damage had to happen to Rahul Gandhi’s image has already happened. That can never be undone. But maybe we can all learn a lesson; to guard ourselves from such misinformation in the future. Unfortunately, the same thing continues day after day on TV and we lap it all up assuming every allegation to be the gospel truth.

Back then, TV news channels and newspapers had declared Rahul Gandhi guilty and accorded the petitioners a hero-like status. Because of a few rotten apples, there is a public perception that all politicians are criminals. Any charge of wrongdoing hurled against them tends to stick. So strong is the public perception that even good politicians, those that do genuine public service, suffer. This starts a self-fulfiling prophesy where the good guys start staying away from politics and the bad guys start to dominate it. If we recognize the trap for what it is, then we would learn from it and make sure we did not become victims all over again. But that’s the trap that is laid out everyday by the Joker in the political pack (henceforth, just Joker for brevity) Kejriwal. Everyday he makes an accusation against someone, brandishing documents that no one has vetted, making charges and pronouncing guilty verdicts like he’s the accuser-investigator-prosecutor-judge all rolled into one, and undoing the good work of decades in just a few moments. Every single day, this Joker lays the trap and we become victims. It is time we break free from this.

The Joker steadfastly refuses to go to the courts and present his documents there. Maybe he knows the pitfalls of any sane judicial process. The first limitation the process would put on Joker is that it would disallow him from becoming the judge himself. With that power gone, Joker’s documents would be submitted to extensive scrutiny by the courts, something that media does not do. My guess is that most of these docs would just be thrown out. The court would also insist on the counter party being heard and their views being taken into consideration. They may have their own documents to present. The court’s scrutiny would reveal the truth – did Gadkari get the 100 acres land for 99 years as Joker claims or just 11 years as Gadkari does? Further, the court proceedings would make the matter disappear from TV studios; as subjudice matters cannot be discussed in public. In a sanitized environment provided by courts, the truth comes out unlike what happens in the politicized kangaroo courts run by TV channels – especially the one I call Scam TV (the one whose content is only scams). But all this rigor is inconvenient to Joker. That’s why he avoids the courts. That’s why he rushes to media. And look at how he makes a fool of the people – by saying that the courts will take forever to decide. The crores of people who wait for justice in the courts are all idiots, it would appear. Maybe all of them should just approach media to find a solution. Maybe Joker can start a judicial service of his own. This is exactly how totalitarian regimes have started in the past – by the leader becoming the settler of disputes. This is what is sought to be wreaked on India. When Dileep Padgaonkar says that India’s democracy is under threat, don’t take it lightly.

The problem with Joker is that he is interested in mere sensationalism. And he has understood the mad competitive rush for TRPs in the TV business. So many accusations have been hurled at politicians in the past. Does anyone remember what happened to the charges against Praful Patel for some apparent favors granted by Air India to the IPL organization? Or for that matter, to charges that he ordered 40 odd new planes for Air India at “double quick” speeds (it’s a different matter it still took 17 months to place the orders!). Do we remember the heated debates in the papers just a few months back when General VK Singh had made startling accusations against the Government on the matter of his age? What did the SC do? Threw the matter out. Or the matter raised by Subramaniam Swamy against Chidambaram that he was involved in the 2G pricing decision? That too was thrown out by the Supreme Court. Media had of course irresponsibly treated Scam TV, General Singh and Subramaniam Swamy as though they were all Harishchandras.

There are thousands of such examples, when the truth is the exact opposite of the charges levied. That is why we need an independent judical process to investigate the charges. Opposition leaders say that the judiciary is handicapped because the investigating body, the CBI, is in the hands of the central government. But they fail to explain why they themselves turn to the CBI whenever they are in an inconvenient position. If the CBI were indeed the Congress Bureau of Investigation (a good punchline, but a hollow one really), then why do they turn to it for their own investigations (BJP in Shehla Masood case in MP, Jayalalitha in TN)?

Joker claims the judiciary is too slow. That it is indeed and the judiciary must do something to rid itself of this charge. So what’s the solution – jump the queue and take decision making in your own hands? The way Joker conducts inquiries, any defence by the charged party is impossible. When Salman Khurshid sued him for defamation (a step that should prove his confidence), Joker alleged this was a threat. He said that the Akhilesh Yadav government would wipe out the evidence (yes, the same Akhilesh Yadav who apparently plotted the rape charge against Rahul Gandhi; but logic seldom matters to Joker). When the farmer who Joker alleged was hiding in fear in Nagpur suddenly surfaced, Joker said that he had been “bought” over by Gadkari. As far as Joker is concerned, no defence of the accused is permissible. His original charge is final. And of course, anyone who challenges Joker is either corrupt or anti-national or both. Isn’t it time we show joker his true place?

The real truth is that media needs to wake up. If it continues to be this irresponsible, and continues to misinform the public, it will see its credibility being eroded. If it still continues, it will see bodies like the Supreme Court (if not Parliament) put restrictions on it. For a free press, this has to be avoided. But then with freedom comes responsibility. Its time media realized this…..

Grrrroan….one more bizarre expose….time media starts to ignore Kejriwal

Yet another “expose”. Yet another bizarre and brazen attempt at being accuser, investigator, prosecuter and judge all rolled into one. Watching Kejriwal, the Joker in the political pack (henceforth abbreviated to just Joker) “perform” yesterday, I wondered if we even needed any of the institutions of governance the Constitution provides for. I also wondered if the Lokpal that Joker proposed was just something that he created keeping himself in mind. And when he went about brandishing “Jokepal”, was he referring to himself?

There are new rules of the game now. “Connecting the dots” appears to be the only way judgments are being pronounced these days. Being a politician’s relative is a crime. Politicians are guilty until they can prove themselves to be innocent. The rules that apply to politicians don’t apply to activists. Politicians cannot have a sense of humor; only activists can. All this is part of the Joker’s “vision”. And he wants us to vote for the party.

Not me for sure. Joker is out to wreck this country. Until now, it was only the TV channels that stood accused of populist sensationalism. Now we have an upstart political party doing the same. Till date, I haven’t heard ONE positive statement of intent from Joker. Whatever little I have heard about economic policies put Joker even Left of Mamata Banerjee, who herself is further Left of the Left parties. So we are talking about a party that is as Left as the Maoists perhaps. In fact, someone on TV last night mentioned the words “Urban Maoists” to describe Joker and his party. Another panelist called his core economic philosophy to be “anti-business”. Thanks, but I am happy without this bull in a China shop. I am happy if this “munna” could also be “muted” like poor Ranbir was in “Barfi”.

How long will media tolerate this attack on the way we do politics in this country? Agreed, the existing system is rotten. Agreed, there is rampant corruption. But is it anyone’s point that by changing the current lot of politicians and substituting them with these activists, we will lick the problem? Can Joker achieve anything without proposing specific changes to the electoral funding system? Have we heard anything about that at all? Are we supposed to assume that genetically, Joker and his followers are superior to the “mongrels” who occupy positions of power today? That somehow, miraculously, they will survive the temptations of power? And even if they do so, how will they manage the political requirement of raising funds without accepting monies from people who seek illicit returns? For the ultimate need for politicians to take bribes is to fund their elections.

Coming specifically to the charges levied yesterday by Joker….the charges against Gadkari are far more serious than the charges against Vadra for at least two reasons. First, Vadra and DLF are both outside the ambit of the Prevention of Corruption Act as they are both not public figures. If they have violated any rules of the country, the appropriate authorities will investigate them. Gadkari, on the other hand is the President of the BJP and a very important public figure. He can be investigated under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Secondly,  the only accusation against the Haryana government is that it speeded up the mutation process (big deal) and that it allowed change in land usage (done almost with every land deal). It’s not as if Government land was given away to a politician. In Gadkari’s case, that’s the main charge. Apparently, he has usurped 100 acres of village land which the state had acquired.

But honestly, I don’t care much for these charges against Gadkari either. These are just charges. And Joker is just another politician. Two politicians accuse each other of corruption all the time. If there is any substance in Joker’s charges, then let him file cases against Gadkari. Let courts decide if there is any merit at all. And if that happens, I will salute Joker…..till then he continues to get my scorn.

And what’s this about Joker being so thin skinned that he runs to the media at every jab that is taken at him. What happened to his sense of humor? If Salman said that Joker has to come back from Farukhabad, what’s the big deal. There are many times when people say to each other “I’ll see you” or even “I’ll get you man”. That’s not a threat to kill. And anyone who saw the video clip would have realized it was a statement made to supporters to pep them up. If Joker has to take offence to every such statement, then he’d better quit politics.

The real truth is that its time we pull the plug on Joker. He can join any Hindi GEC (Star, Sony types) and produce some good entertaining shows. But to give him any more credence that that is a waste of time. He’s best ignored….

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A political witchhunt against Vadra….

Not for a moment am I saying that Vadra is innocent. Nor am I ready to accept that he is guilty. The truth is that there simply hasn’t been any findings that could help us decide the matter. The “inquiry” ordered by Ashok Khemka on October 8th was conducted so fast that by October 15th (in a mere seven days), he was in a position to conclude that the mutation deal should be canceled, albeit on a mere “technicality”. Such haste – or zeal should I say – is unheard of in the bureaucracy unless there is an agenda. In this case, the agenda  appears to be a witchhunt. As always, the truth will get buried underground. Political opponents will score a few brownie points and some of us will say “Oh my God” and move on.

But pause for a moment and think of what’s going on here. What is the Haryana government accused of? Of allowing mutation of the deal very quickly (in a day, rather than the usual three months). Of allowing the usage of the land to be changed (allowing construction to start). That’s it. It’s not like government land has been sold off cheap to Vadra (like Yeddy is accused of doing so in Karnataka). This isn’t the big “quid-pro-quo” that the Haryana Government has provided to Vadra, is it?  Governments giving special treatment to the politically connected is hardly a secret. Why are we acting so surprised now? Only because it is Vadra who is involved here?

One of the known truths about India is that the Real Estate sector is a huge source of black money for the political class. If the electoral system requires an estimated Rs 1 lac crores every five years to fight elections, then that has to come from a few “special” sectors traditionally popular with the political class. Real estate. Mining. Licenses of all types. The PDS system. There are quite a few more, but let’s look at the Real Estate sector for a moment.

Almost all land deals in India are partially in black. The black component can vary from 30% to as high as 90% at times. The only rare exception is when land parcels have been auctioned off, as in Mumbai. One of the sub-texts of such land transactions is the conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural, a process that allows construction to happen and land to suddenly acquire value. In fact, the conversion to non-agricultural status is a pre-requisite in most land deals. Also, those who acquire agricultural land are not usually farmers, but they still manage to call themselves that by bribing Government officials. So wealthy non-farmers first acquire farm land by bribing officials; then bribe again to get the land converted to non-agricultural status. This generates huge black money for all political parties and governments. This is not the same as Governments giving away their own lands at a throwaway price. That would be high-order corruption. This is merely another example of how thousands of bureaucrats earn their “under the table” share. The extent of the black money is so high that ordinary god-fearing people stay away from land deals. They prefer to invest in relatively cleaner flats and apartments. The really brave, or the really well connected are the ones who buy land.

That Robert Vadra is well connected is obvious. But that he’s the only one well connected is a white lie. Every single politician in India has his or her hand in some or the other land deal. Wait for IAC’s announcements (or should we say “pronouncements of guilt” as is their wont) against Gadkari. I can bet they will say that he is the kingpin of some land racket. So much of Maharashtra’s politics is intertwined with land; almost all party leaders have land in Mumbai and elsewhere either in their own name benami. Prithviraj Chauhan is one of the rare CMs who is trying to clean up the real estate business. And for doing that, he is under constant threat of losing his job. It’s good that the Congress hasn’t buckled under alliance pressure so far. How long he will continue is difficult to say.

Equally, Khemka is hardly the saint he is being made out to be. By canceling the mutation yesterday, after having been transferred, he has erred. The norm is that once you are transferred, you let the new person take the calls. Khemka’s motivation looks too exuberant; the source no doubt Vadra’s family connections and a chance to show himself as the brave David fighting a Governmental Goliath. The fact that Khemka had to be transferred 40 odd times in 20 years is not an indication of his virtuous character, but the fact that he simply cannot fit into a system and work as a team player. There are thousands others who are honest and yet don’t have to be transferred this way. No Government has found him maintainable. Since it’s unheard of to sack IAS officers, he keeps getting shunted around. In the private sector, he would be called a misfit; perhaps even a non-performer and would have been sacked early on. If the Government is often guilty of being high-handed, there are enough cases where bureaucrats are as guilty. They dig in their heels and become pain points. That does not make them messiahs of truth and virtue. Take Kejriwal, the Joker in the political pack (henceforth abbreviated to just Joker). He violated his service norms, abused his education leave privilege, kept earning his salary while on leave as per rules, and then refused to pay it back when he broke those rules. All this with a brazen “let’s see what you can do” attitude. What was his plan? That anyone who fought the government would be called a martyr or a whistleblower. The Joker was the aggresor; so could Khemka well be.

So here is what emerges. Vadra has most likely abused his political connections; maybe his connections helped him get his way without paying a bribe. Others would have had to. But that’s it. The work gets done for everyone ultimately! The Haryana government obviously wants to oblige Sonia Gandhi, considering the CM owes his survival to her fancy. But equally true is that Vadra is being witchhunted because he is Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. Proof? Millions of others who indulge in the same thing don’t get investigated the same way. This is the curse of being a celebrity in today’s India, as we have seen in other contexts also. A celebrity who merely injures a person while driving is now sure to go to jail. A more ordinary mortal will probably escape by paying off some cop even if he’s done much worse. Lastly, no one gains politically. Definitely not the BJP. Every political party is now shi**** bricks. Who is it going to be next? Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj? Prakash Karat and Sharad Yadav? Suddenly, no one knows what’s going to happen next. If the Government was in paralysis earlier; the entire political class is now.

The real truth is the Vadra-Khemka episode may be a very entertaining drama. But it is this interesting only and only because Vadra is the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi. Take that away, and there are millions others – including most of us – who have been involved in some or the other hanky panky with land deals. Let’s not be moral purists here….A case has been filed apparently. Let the courts hear the appeals and decide. Lets hold our horses till then….

Monday, October 15, 2012

Beni Prasad Verma may be a fool; but he’s spoken two big truths….

When he said yesterday that Rs 71 lacs was a pittance for a central minister to embezzle, the media immediately came out with knives drawn. They forgot that they had themselves accused many in the Government of “shooting the messenger” when an activist brought out uncomfortable facts about our politicians. They were quick to shame Verma. Verma became the laughing stock online in no time. But just pause for a minute and think of what he said. Stop heckling him. Think also of the “advice” he gave Kejriwal. His two statements are profound realities. If we understand them, we will benefit from them.

When the Rs 71 lac story around Salman Khurshid’s NGO first broke, that was my exact same reaction. Rs 71 lacs is a pittance in Indian politics. In fact, when the “VBS” story broke a few days earlier, in which many diary entries were shown containing figures of Rs 5 and 10 lacs allegedly paid to ministers and CMs, my reaction was the same then too. Civil society activists and media get excited by every small thing, but the reality is that these are indeed very small sums. If illegal funding of our elections (and I propose that this be removed from the definition of corruption – but more on this later) was of this small order, we would all be a happy lot! On the contrary, the truth is that more than Rs 5 crores is required on average per Lok Sabha seat. In the more affluent areas (where the “payback period” is shorter!), the spends could go up to Rs 25 crores and some would say even Rs 50 crores per seat. And like the PM said earlier in a different context “Money doesn’t grow on trees”. Election funding money certainly doesn’t. In fact, “donors” to election funds are amongst the savviest of financial investors – demanding much higher returns than the usual financial markets could offer.

Of course, every penny of corruption is unacceptable and Rs 71 lacs is certainly more than a few pennies (though I must point out that Salman doesn't appear to have pocketed any of it). But there was nothing abominable in what Verma said. The problem with our media is that it is way out of line with the market realities. It fails to understand the truth about election funding and finds every small bit of information titillating. What was media’s reaction to Verma’s statement? It derided him; called him a fool; and eventually forced him to withdraw his statement. Fine. He withdrew it. But does that change the reality on the ground? Instead of drawing attention to how much we have started spending on elections, it quickly put a lid on the subject. An opportunity to discuss something so important was squandered away.

Then Verma – who appeared to be in turbo-charged form yesterday – made another profound statement. He advised the Joker (in the political pack – henceforth abbreviated to just Joker) Kejriwal that if he barked everyday (ranted on some or the other politician) then he would merely be a dog. But if he did it only once in a while, he would be a tiger! Rustic and vengeful as this advice may appear to be, it is true. I don’t know what happened to Vadra. Has anyone anywhere filed any case against him at all? Or has it all been left to the Directors of DLF to ask questions of the management and promoters – which should have been the case in the first place? And what happened to VBS? Again, did any FIR get registered? Not sure. Such is the pace at which the Joker wants to reveal the real truth that he cannot wait to catch his breath!

Since we are talking of dogs here, it is worth pointing out that there is another Hindi saying which no one mentioned yesterday and which also has an English equivalent which is relevant here: “to run with your tail between your legs”. That expression is apt to describe the Joker’s “tactical” decision to stop the stir against Salman. What happened suddenly? Did Joker realize he was on thin ice here? Did the defamation suit of Rs 240 crores scare the wits out of him? As a fig leaf, Joker’s team is saying that they haven’t “let him off the hook” and have already “pronounced him guilty” (behaving like Judges that they are!). They have taken the fight to his constituency, Farrukhabad. I feel like laughing at such imbecility. The Joker must realize that the only fuel his party (can be called Joker party???) works on is the fuel of TV cameras. Who’s going to give him that fuel in Farrukhabad for god’s sake. Does anyone even know where Farrukhabad is????

Verma is right. Joker barks too often to be taken seriously. The people are now expected to await the attack on Gadkari. That episode airs tomorrow (Wednesday). Sounds like a TV soap? It is. It is almost fiction. Or a reality show filled with typical over-acting. Either way, its drama galore.

Now the last word on election funding. If politicians require as much funding as mentioned earlier, it is but natural that they are going to get the money from somewhere. The Election Commission’s response to this has been puerile. It has put a lid on official expenses, limiting them to ridiculous levels, thinking such a rule would reduce election funding. This is naivete at its best. One of the reasons why so much black money exists in elections is because of this arbitrary and completely infeasible cap. So politicians have no option but to fund their campaigns through illegal means. If this is going to be called corruption, then everyone is corrupt. If Joker is going to find “evidence” of such corruption, its hardly a story worth putting on prime time. Senior politicians also have to raise funds for their party’s activities. Some of this also goes towards funding the younger politicians. In my humble opinion, corruption to this extent should be taken as an unfortunate reality. People who indulge to this extent should not be bandied around as thugs and dacoits. There are the really corrupt ones of course – for whom entering politics and making money has become a business. Those are the really corrupt ones on whom our focus should be. But all that gets lost in the Joker’s penchant for speaking nineteen to the dozen.

The real truth is that election funding needs to be acknowledged, legitimized and made transparent. Rs 71 lacs is indeed a pittance. The real spends are much much more. We can joke about Verma and his rustic antics….but what he spoke was the truth!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shame on India Today….this is a new low even for Yellow Journalism

What is emerging in the Salman Khurshid scam accusation is the irresponsible, sensationalist and overtly political manner of conduct of the India Today group. Their facts appear fudged; their responsibility towards accuracy and research overtaken by their need for speed. What is worst is the rude behavior of its journalists; looking at them, we needn’t fear about media freedom in this country…..we need to fear media anarchy instead. Media knows it has the powers to destroy a person’s reputation and at least the India Today appears to have no qualms of exercising that power.

There were a few points Salman proved conclusively. The main one was that the camps in which the equipment were donated to the disabled were indeed held. Not only did he present pictures of the camps, he also showed pictures and stories that appeared in reputed newspapers. The Joker in the political pack, Kejriwal (henceforth just called Joker for brevity) has now made some bizarre statement that the picture related to a different period. How he concluded that I don’t know. If only he listened to Salman’s wife Louise, he would understand. There are two camps organized in each district, she explained. One is the “assessment” camp in which an assessment is made of the requirements of the disabled. Someone may require a hearing aid, someone a Jaipur foot. Basis this assessment, an estimate is sent to the Government which studies it and releases the funds. Then the goods are purchased. Yes, goods are purchased “after” the assessment camp, but this does not indicate any hanky panky; this is a proof of the correct procedure. Then the final “distribution” camp is held in which the goods are distributed. The goods are bought
“before” the distribution camp. Salman’s pictures relate to the distribution camp. Kejriwal’s accusation is that the goods were purchased after the camp. He’s referring to the assessment camp. Such a Joker (in the pack) he is! Unfortunately, the rules that apply to Salman don’t apply to the Joker. Salman has to prove he is innocent; the Joker doesn’t have to prove anything. He can rant on. Be that as it may, what about the newspaper pictures, one of which was in the reputed Dainik Jagran, which is also the country’s biggest newspaper? Were they also wrongly dated? Were the newspaper owners in the hands of the Congress? (as a matter of fact, Mahendra Mohan Gupta, the promoter of Dainik Jagran is a Samajwadi Party Rajya Sabha member). But still, the Joker owes no explanations.

The second point that Salman proved conclusively was that JB Singh, the CDO of one of the districts in which the camp took place was himself present at the distribution camp. In fact, he gave away the products to the beneficiaries himself. Apparently, JB Singh has now alleged that the camps did not take place. Well, they say a picture speaks a thousand words. Let JB Singh explain himself. Let the Joker ask JB Singh that question. Let the UP government inquiry find out the truth.

The third thing that Salman conclusively proved was that it was his wife who demanded a probe to establish the veracity of the fake signatures and affidavits. It wasn’t like the Khurshids were caught unawares by the UP government probe. Apparently, Louise Khurshid wrote to the UP CM after certain stories emerged that the affidavit given by JB Singh and others testifying that the camps were held were fake. She even went and met him. This was on Sept 19th  or so of this year. The UP Government then replied back to her on 3rd October referring to her 19th Sept letter and agreeing to probe the matter. The reference to the 19th Sept letter proves who initiated the probe. If Louise was guilty, why did she seek a probe?

Salman also made the point forcefully – and for the first time that I can think of so clearly – that the India Today group and Aroon Purie should be investigated in a “Murdoch like” manner. I agree. Why should we treat media with kids’ gloves. If media is the 4th estate, then it should swear itself to maintaining ethical standards beyond any doubt. In this case, the media group’s dealings are mired in muck. Given its past record of anti-Congressism, it is entirely possible that the group went overboard this time. In any case, why should the minister’s accusations not be considered true when every accusation of the media is thought of as being true? What if I accuse Aroon Purie to be angling for a RS berth on the nomination of one of the opposition parties? What if I then expect him to prove himself innocent? What if I have to do nothing but sit and accuse him? Much the same thing is being done by the Joker and by the TV channel.

What is sad for India is that battles that should be fought in the courts are being fought in media. “Evidence” is presented in a press conference as if it is a court room. Media hounds interrupt speakers with no sense of protocol or decency in a way that would never be allowed in a court. In the end, no on gets to know what the truth is. But this is the “new” India, in which media freedom has gone so far that it is beyond even the rules of the court. Media anchors have often been accused of being even more powerful and prescient than SC judges. Now, India Today’s conduct shows that even lower order journalists can be more imperious than infamous global despots. Its time we handled media in a fair and balanced way, and not unnecessarily put it on a pedestal. Its time India Today is probed.

What is also sad is that the defendant, if one may call Salman that, is treated with suspicion in spite of his best efforts to prove otherwise. Kejriwal peremptorily said that the inquiry by the UP government will be a farce because the Congress will pressurize the UP government. This is nice. Basically no matter what Salman tries to do to prove his innocence, he cannot. The Joker has pronounced him guilty. Salman has even offered to be probed by the CAG or by a SC judge. With the proviso that Aroon Purie also be simultaneously probed. What is wrong in this? In the past, the Joker has called the CBI a Congress outfit. He forgets that even BJP chief ministers (MP, in the Shehla Masood murder case) and others (Jayalalitha in TN) demand CBI probes every now and then. If CBI was a Congress outfit, why would these guys do so? But Kejriwal still wants Salman to resign. Kejriwal is being too clever by half. He knows that if Salman resigns, the media will spin the development into a guilty verdict. Salman will lose the battle the moment he resigns.

Salman has done all an aggrieved person can do in this country. He has written to the UP Government seeking a probe. He has agreed to subject himself to an “independent” probe. He has filed a defamation case against the India Today group. He has produced “evidence” in a press conference. He has offered to debate with Aroon Purie on any TV channel. He has offered to resign if Aroon Purie also resigns. What else can a man do????

The Joker may also want to ask who it was in the political establishment who wanted NGOs to come under the Lokpal, so that probity could be ensured in their conduct. And who didn’t. In case he has forgotten, let me remind him. It was the Congress that wanted government funded NGOs to be kept under the ambit of the Lokpal; the BJP and indeed the Joker himself objected. It is this government which wants transparency. Kejriwal the Joker in the pack only wants publicity.

The real truth is that India Today has behaved in the most shameful manner possible. The group’s anti-Congress credentials have been known for long. But this is stooping to really low levels. If this is what media freedom means, I would rather not have it. India is not a case of media being gagged. It is a story of media becoming irresponsible and despotic.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Battle of attrition between the BJP and Congress killing both parties…..

I am writing this piece right now after reading an online breaking story about a BJP youth leader shooting a waiter in a restaurant in Kanpur. This comes a day after a story hogged prime time on Scam TV concerning a Congress MP brandishing his gun at a toll-booth in Saurashtra, Gujarat. This one-following-the-other stories of almost criminal-like conduct against both the major national parties is evidence of a huge power struggle between the two. Described differently, it is a huge battle of attrition going on between the two.

This story was only the last one in a string of similar paired stories. The second part of each pair nullifies any gain that the first part may give to a particular party. Take the Coal scam for instance. Now its too much to call it a scam in the first place (there may have been some irregularities; but the policy was a long-standing one and the Congress surely didn’t make the kind of money the BJP has alleged). But even if one was to call it that, it was merely the 2nd part of the overall minerals story. The first part was the Karnataka mining scam which took Yeddy’s scalp and which threatens to break up the BJP in the state. The Congress had been going gaga over the BJP’s discomfiture in Karnataka; but with the coal scam emerging, it was soon on the back foot. There was also the Goa scam angle in which both parties are involved in one way or the other. Even at a smaller level, for every coal mine the Congress is alleged to have given away to a sympathizer, there is a mine that the BJP has given to its. Its uncanny that the scam has singed both parties at the same time.

Or take the India Against Corruption (IAC) charge against Salman Khursheed. There is reportedly some hanky panky in the accounts of the NGO run by his wife. To be sure, there are more accusations at this point in time than actual facts. The only real fact is the CAG report on this which merely states that there are some factual errors in the reports put out by the NGO. For example, some of the “camps” where bicycles etc were distributed to the differently abled did not take place where they were reported. I am sure that Khursheed’s wife’s statement on Monday will provide a different perspective on the matter. Be that as it may, Khursheed is bound to face the heat for a few days. But then this was the second part of the IAC story. The same IAC had “exposed” how the BJP’s President Nitin Gadkari had scuttled the demand for a probe against the NCP over irregularities in irrigation projects in Maharashtra. At that time, the Congress had a good laugh and a chance to poke into the BJP’s ribs. But now, the BJP is having its day in the sun. Neither party has been able to enjoy itself for too long.

Take also the coalition troubles the two main parties are facing. BJP made hay while Mamata created the mess in the UPA. For too long, they enjoyed the presence of an opposition party within the ruling coalition. How well placed it was – not having to do anything; not having to take any difficult positions on any matter – just pointing a finger at Mamata to embarrass the ruling coalition. Now that Mamata has gone, the BJP is forced to show its hand. And what a dirty hand it is. The BJP which has always claimed that it is pro-reform is not pro-reform at all. It opposes everything; all types of FDI; all proposals of the government; all decisions of the Executive; everything. In the past, it didn’t have to come out this clearly. Now with Mamata gone, its all out in the open. But the BJP itself has been facing enormous pressures from its allies. First it was the Shiv Sena which refused to back the BJP’s Presidential candidate. The skirmishes in Maharashtra between the two parties are well known. Then it was the Janata Dal (U) in a very embarrassing and hurting manner. With the Shiv Sena and JD (U) up in arms against the BJP, there is hardly any coalition called NDA left. One wonders if each party is not jabbing at each other’s coalition partner in a tit-for-tat for political gains.

My theory is that there is a huge sparring match going on between the two major national parties. And in this sparring match, everybody is taking sides. There are activists, media, corporate honchos, even Constitutional bodies taking sides. This could appear to be just my imagination, but the repeated occurances of such incidents makes me believe that the entire country is polarized. And its getting ugly. An accusation against a “VBS” (allegedly Vir Bhadra Singh) just before the HP state election looks suspicious because of its timing. For the BJP, it must be a case of sweet revenge, for the Congress had reaped the rewards of the Jain Hawala case (also a diary based allegation, which the courts eventually threw out). Likewise, the announcement of the UK’s Foreign Office Minister in india to try and normalize relations just before the Gujarat elections seems too suspicious in terms of timing. This is just dirty, vindictive and opportunistic politics.

In the meanwhile, Kejriwal (the Joker, not the joker in the political pack) is getting a lot of space under the sun. But wait and watch what happens to him. Once the BJP and Congress realize that it’s a no-win battle for them both, they will conspire to finish Kejriwal off. And media, which is anyways on the side of either of two parties, will join hands. Saw the way Anna was finished? That was because he started complaining against the BJP too. Before that, it was an Anna backed by the BJP. The day Anna became “neutral”, he was finished. And the Lokpal was finished too. This time around, Kejriwal will be finished.

The real truth is that we are witnessing interesting times, if one can call this interesting at all. In reality, these are really troubled times for the country with both sides interested more in hurting each other that in tending to the hurting economy. The aam aadmi – by whichever name you call him – is hurting the most. When will our parties realize the dangers of a hurt aam aadmi? They better do it in time…..else they will both become history…..