Thursday, September 30, 2010

Verdict and beyond

Finally the most awaited verdict is out. The decades old case of Ramjanmabhoomi- Babri Masjid has ended in the HC. While there are many different views about the verdict, some welcoming it and some slamming it, the verdict has atleast given a chance for people to move on. Let me not get into what the verdict is or how does one intepret it. I will focus on how can this verdict usher in genuine reconcilliation between the different communities.

The verdict has more or been very clear about the issue of a temple being there and it being the birthplace of Lord Ram. Now that aspect of the controversy is clear, it is time both the parties forget the bitterness of the past and work towards the final settlement. Being the majority community, so far the onus of upholding the values of secularism has been on the HIndu community. And in most cases, the community has shown magnamity. Thats why India never saw a Hindu vote bank or Hindu radicalism sweeping across the country. This verdict now puts the onus on the Muslim community to uphold this tradition. Am sure the common Muslim man or woman on the street will be willing. The only hinderance I see would come from radicals or the psuedo seculars. This time the country has to shut its ears and doors to these kind of vested interests and let the two communities join hands.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A tale of 2 school boycotts

This mornign newspapers welcomed me to two news seemingly similar but when one goes below the surface, it tells you about the clash of 2 cultures. The news items were about the school boycott called by many parents in Navi Mumbai in Maharashtra and the school boycott call in Kashmir by Islamic radical seperatist Geelani.

The Navi Mumbai school boycott was prompted on issue of school fees hike by private schools and the government's failure to control or even regularise the hikes which are very frequent, most of times unjustified and also extremely tough for the middle class. When it went beyond the tolerance of the parents, they took an extraordinary step of calling for a one day boycott. This call was taken out of concern for the future. It had the feel of concerned citizens worrying for the well-being of the kids.

The Kashmir boycott was called by Geelani and his cronies. They have asked the parents not to send their children to school. There is absolute no concern for the future here. All they want is to prepare an army of uneducated, radicalised terrorists who will be pawns at their hands. Sadly some parents heeded the call. And for those who bravely sent their kids to schools, they had to fear attacks as Geelani's men attacked school buses. It was a shameless act of Talibanising an entire population.

The two episodes show you how 2 cultures are fighting for space in Indian democracy. The one in Navi Mumbai was the culture of tolerance, non violence and had its vision set on a better tomorrow. The one in Kashmir was of hatred and had no concern for the future generation.

Sadly while the parents in Navi Mumbai had no authority or minsiter coming to meet them, one saw a galaxy of so-called secular Indian political class and media clamouring to meet the man who wants to Talibanise Kashmir. Who wins in the end will be decided by what we the people think is good for the nation.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Statesman v/s the pretender

In continuation with my last blog and the state that we find ourselves in today, I decided to do a flashback and see how did the NDA regime do and what's the biggest difference between then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and current PM Manmohan Singh. While comparing their actions or even inaction on various issues, one thing becomes very clear - Manmohan Singh can go down as a great economist but can never be called a statesman. At the best he can be called a pretender. Whereas Vajpayee had statesmanship written all over him even before he became the PM. Remember how he put his hand up and led Indian delegation to UN on a crucial Kashmir debate inspite of being in the opposition. A statesman has to be judged on various counts as below

Authority in the government - We live in a strong democracy and there is always room for dissent. On an issue once all the opinions are heard, it boils down to the person in the hotseat to raise his hand and make the right decision. It's always his or her duty to defend that decision, whatever his personal opinion be. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a master of this art. He ensured that every issue was debated well and then a decision taken. One a decision was taken, there was no looking back. That's why you never saw the squabbling between cabinet members like you see in Manmohan Singh's time (Even on Kandahar, no dissent was heard at the time of the crisis or the decision). This ensured that government never fell prey to inaction and also the cabinet decisions were respected by the bureaucracy. This is seriously missing in Manmohan Singh.

Pressure from external forces - If Manmohan Singh had Left, Laloo, Karunanidhi, Mamata etc to contend with in his 2 tenures, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had George, Mamata, Karunanidhi, Patnaik and others to deal with. But one can hardly see any decision that was taken then under pressure from the allies (except a couple of fuel price rollbacks). No major policy decision was cancelled or postponed because of allies. Manmohan Singh during his first tenure stopped the economic liberisation process under pressure from the Left. And today due to that we can see the slackening economy. Inspite of socialists in his cabinet and as allies, Atal Bihari Vajpayee allowed Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie to do what was needed for economy. Similarily the frictions with the party or Sangh Parivar were kept under control and never allowed to become a hinderance to governance. Inspite of Sangh pressure, Atal Bihari Vajpayee entertained no adventurism on Ramjanmabhoomi and continued his effort at out of court settlement. Whereas Manmohan Singh has always buckled under pressure from Congress party or the Gandhis. That's why today inspite of a well experienced cabinet, the policy decisions are taken by the Gandhis and the National Advisory Council.

First amongst equal - Manmohan Singh though the PM is not the tallest leader within the allies, the parliamentary board and the party. This means everytime he has to demand respect rather than commanding it. Compared to this, Atal Bihari Vajpayee though in company of stalwarts like L K Advani, George Fernandes, Jaswant Singh etc, was still the tallest leader and everyone knew the buck stopped there. This helped when it came to complex issue. Take for instance Kashmir. Atal Bihari Vajpayee used his famous lines of talks within the ambit of insaaniyat and allowed talks with moderate seperatists. He allowed them to go to Pakistan. This bore fruits when Kashmir saw a heavy turnout in 2002 state elections. Many Kashmir analaysts also laud it as the fairest elections Kashmir ever saw. Even today he is loved for his moves on Kashmir. Compare this to Manmohan Singh. He and his cabinet and his party and his high command can not agree on the solution. To start with they stopped the talks started by NDA. Then they allowed situation to go out of control during 2008 Amarnath crisis and now their mishandling of the situation has given Kashmir another long bout of struggle. Why has Manmohan Singh failed to take a decision? Why can't he overule everyone else and do what is needed as the PM? Answer is that he does not have the political stature of a statesman that one needs for such a complex issue.

Country first, party later - One of the aftermath of NDA rule was that BJP lost a lot of its traditional constituency. This to me was not the failure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee but his victory as a statesman. Nowhere did he allow party considerations to rule his actions. He did what was important for the country be it Indo Pak thaw or the N bomb testing or the economic policies or tightening of tax rules. He did what was needed at that time for the country and did not let political gains govern his decisions. Compare this with Manmohan Singh. For years they did not do anything about farmer suicide and suddenly before elections they decided to announce a package , The UPA fuel prices change is dictated by the state assembly elections calendar. The export or import controls over sugar have been changed based on elections in Maharashtra or UP. Even projects like dam, mining, roads etc been held hostage to considerations like opposition ruled state or Congress and allies ruled states. While the Vedanta project which has been dealt a body blow in Orissa, the Povaralam dam project in AP has been allowed to go ahead inspite of similar conditions and impact on tribes and environment. Political bias does not befit a statesman. Manmohan Singh fares extemely poor on this when compared to Atal Bihari Vakpayee.

Sense of fairplay- One of the biggest strength of a statesman is how he or she behaves with an opponent. In entire NDA rule, there was no case of any opposition leader being targetted. Also tainted ministers like Muthaiah, Buta Singh were asked to quit (NDA 1 lost power due to this). Compare this with the phone tapping actions of UPA or their misuse of CBI in Gujarat. Corruption tainted ministers like Raja, Kanimozhi, Pawar etc are all still in the government. The sense of justice is clearly missing with Manmohan Singh as the PM. Party is allowed to go ahead with it's vendetta politics when it comes to opposition leaders and opposition ruled states.

Vision for future - What is the PM's vision for future? How does he intend to build the infrastructure which has been left neglected so far in his regime? What is the long term economic policy? In his years as PM, Manmohan Singh has concentrated so much on keeping all his allies, party and high command happy that he seems to have lost his touch which endeared him to the country in 90s as the FM. All one hears from him are lofty words or predictions like inflation will come down at _______. Atal Bihari Vajpayee with his years of experience in the villages and small towns of the country knew what was needed in India. That's why he unveiled his vision where infrastructure was to drive the development of India and fuel the economy. Roads, Power, Railway, Telecom and other sectores were given a boost to enable a good platform for the economy to take off. His vision on interlinking of rivers has to be fulfilled to solve woes fo agricultural sector.

Respected outside - While nobody doubts that PM Manmohan Singh has endeared himself to the world leaders, one does not certainly know if it is just appreciation or genuine respect for him. Can he take a decision which is good for India but which US does not like and still get away with it? Like Atal Bihari Vajpayee did when he went ahead with the Nuclear plan. Atal Bihari Vajpayee took bold foreign policy initiatives and at the same time did not blink when national interest was at stake. He allowed Jaswant Singh to mend post-sanctions relations with US and other superpowers but not at the cost of national respect. India sailed through the sanctions and other countries had to acknowledge India as a growing power.

One can go on long about how Atal Bihari Vajpayee as PM was the statesman while Manmohan Singh is the pretender, I will end with just one point. NDA regime will be remembered for N Testing, Road Infrastructure, Education for all programme, Port development, Power reforms, Kashmir peace process and subsequent elections, peace initiatives with Pakistan and Kargil war when needed, corruption free governance, midday meal scheme, relations with other countries, economic progress and many more. Will UPA be able to better this?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Perils of a dysfunctional government

So finally the PM spoke on matters troubling the country. And when he finished speaking (to a select group of editors) the confusion increased rather than decreasing. While the media focused on his statements about retirement, Rahul and young cabinet, the things which he did not speak about clearly missed a mention.

The country today wants to know what is the PM planning to do about Kashmir? What is his solution for the Naxal issue? How does the economist PM plan to revive a slowing economy and control the rising inflation? Pakistan and China are getting aggressive by the day and what's India's view on that? The corruption and inefficiency continues unabated in this regime. What's the PM's view on that? What about rotten grains and lack of storage? What about Commonwealth Games? How does PM plan to stop the squabbling within the cabinet? Many questions left unanswered and as one suspects, it's a problem of "I can put my foot in the mouth if I answer"

What is leading to this state of motionless inertia? How did a government elected with a larger mandate fall prey to such a situation? Answer is loud and clear. The government is torn apart by internal divisions thereby rendering it dysfunctional. The divisions are many - between various ministers, between allies, between govt and Congress party but one which is most hurting the nation is increasing differences between Sonia Gandhi and the PM.

Take an example. Food is allowed to rot in absence of a good PDS just because Soniaji wants to bring in Food Security Bill and they have not agreed on final draft. Whenever such situations arise, anarchy takes over and ambiguity increases. Vested interests start taking over and twist things to their benefit. This is easily explained by inaction on Pawar, Raja or increasing violence in Kashmir valley or even Mamata's open support to Naxals.

Can India afford such a situation at this time? China's designs vis-a-vis India are getting aggressive by the day be it military, land grabbing, economy or interference on Kashmir. India is facing a war both internally and externally. Economy has shown signs of lethargy and inflation is making life worse. India needs a leadership which can strong decisions quickly. India needs a leader who can raise his \ her hand and be counted to see us through the testing times. Alas, we are faced with a lack of choice. We have 3 options thrown at us - a PM who cannot take decisions, a super PM who has no accountablity but has a say in all decisions and a wannabe PM who is not only ill-equipped but also unsure of his readiness to take on the accountablity.

There is only solution and that is that one of the 3 people in this situation has to make a move. Either PM puts his foot down and runs the government with authority or Sonia /Rahul remove the PM and take over. If no one is ready to do this and the state continues, one can just imagine the implications on the country. It would get on to a road of no recovery.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rahul's dangerous left turn

Manmohan Singh would have never imagined in his wildest dreams that the shackles he broke as a Finance Minister would return to haunt him as a PM. As FM in his first budget speech, he came down heavily on Nehruvian socialism which according to him resulted in the lack of growth in the country. But he would have to eat crow today as Nehru's great grandson revisits his agenda and makes it his political vehicle to the seat of power.

The signs were obvious for a long time. People close to Rahul were all mouthing words which are generally found in dictionairy of a Left Liberal. Digvijay Singh coming down heavily on Chidambaram on Naxal policy, Jairam Ramesh playing traunt to many development projects. But the government's intervention in Vedanta case and Rahul's subsequent visit was the point where it was declared openly that Rahul wants to follow his great grandfather, grandmother and father. While Rahul applauded the tribals for their fight and vowed to work as their soldier, he forgot to give them a solution to their economic woes. The tribals in Orissa are amongst the most impoverished in the country and Kandhs are reported to be living on mango kernels. Vedanta was both a boon and a bane to them. Now that the project is scrapped, what option does Rahul give them to improve their lot? Rahul will possibly say NREGS and the proposed Food Security Bill. What are these two bills and how will they improve the conditions? Well, these two schemes will give the poor guaranteed work (for a limited number of days) and food from PDS. But what about overall welfare? What about health, education, sanitation, infrastructure? No answers on that front because they aren't important. He is following the same theory which impoverished India for a long time - Give a fish everyday to the fisherman but don't teach him to fish. Because an independent and affluent India will have no place for sound good slogans or poverty toursim that Rahul likes to indulge in just like his late elders.

Rahul surely needs to read and understand economic and political history of post independence India .All spheres of our life were ruined by Nehruvian brand of socialism. License Raj gave brith to corruption, populist policies gave way to laziness and apathy, lack of competition gave birth to mediocrity being the accepted standard. If Nehru started it, Indira promoted it to her benefits. Garibi Hatao was the biggest sham in history of this country. She ensured that the poor remain poor and never question her. Rajiv was the naive one who did not try to change the situation and had no choices either. So when India got it's first non Gandhi Congress PM, it broke out of that evil grip (and it also had no choice either). Manmohan Singh spoke out against the policies of yesteryears. When India got it's first PM who had no Congressism in his blood, Atalji, he ensured that India accelerates on it's journey to prosperity. He overame all pressures from the Left leaning allies (Left Libs like George, Mamata were not allowed to hijack the development agenda). His vision and pet projects like the Golden Quadrilateral, Antodaya or Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan not only ensured welfare, created jobs but also improved other aspects of rural India. One thought Manmohan Singh on becoming the PM will accelerate this growth but the hopes were dashed. UPA 1 faced pressure from the Left and the UPA2 is facing pressure from the Ultra Left Libs in form of National Advisory Council, Sonia, Rahul and their advisors.

Today this government is under seige from it's own party. Every important minsiter seems to be stalked by a member of Sonia-Rahul coterie. If P Chidambaram is being shadowed by Digvijay Singh, Pranab Mukherjee has Mani Shankar Aiyar on his heels. Ministers like Kapil Sibal are heckled by Keshava Rao who is known for his Leftist leanings. Jairam Ramesh is allowed to play anti-development policies under the garb of environment. NAC advisor list and their introductions will clearly show their leanings and ideology. To give an example, N C Saxena who played a vital role in the cancellation of Vedanta project is a member of NAC, Advisor to Environment Ministry and also a number of other important decision making bodies. So we are currently governed not by Manmohan and his cabinet but a shadow cabinet which owes no accountablity to the country. This makes one think if in near future, Manmohan Singh, Pranabda, Chidambaram and other will be replaced by Rahul, Mani Shankar, Digvijay Singh and their likes.

This will be the beginning of another nightmare. The first one lasted nearly 45 years and cost us heavily. The next one even if it last 5 yrs will bleed us even worse. So don't fall for the 'Avatar' and know your politics and economics before you herald Rahul as 'The man India needs'