Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Final Shuffle of the UPA Ministerial Pack

The next general elections may take place sooner rather than later, considering the political situation and the serious credibility and image deficit that the present Govt. suffers from.

There is talk of impending reshuffle of the Cabinet and this may be the last chance for Manmohan Singh to shuffle the pack. Of course, the UPA is obligated to their new found allies who voted for the Govt. in the Trust Vote, and its first priority is naturally to allocate Ministries as Just Rewards to some of these allies.

At the same time if, - with a Big if - he has the courage to do so, he would do well to introduce some critical changes in the present Cabinet even at this late stage, including changing senior Ministers in key Ministries to lift the Govt.'s rapidly falling ratings.

Pranab Mukherjee, the trouble shooter

The first change he should consider is to designate Pranab Mukherjee as the Deputy Prime Minister. Throughout the crisis-ridden period of the Govt. either with the Left parties or during the events prior to the Trust Vote, Pranab has shown exemplary maturity and ability and tremendous perseverance. Despite the strong public perception of embarrassment caused to him by the statement of the Prime Minister on the Nuke Deal, while he was talking at a different pitch with the Left parties, he never flinched. Even during the Trust Vote, he made a spirited defense of the Govt. position on the Nuclear Deal to the best of his ability. If anyone deserves the position of a Deputy Prime Minister in the present Cabinet, it is he alone.

Time for newer pastures

As far as the changes of senior Ministers are concerned, the Ministries that deserve attention are Agriculture, Home and Finance, which are three key Ministries where Govt.’s failures have brought so much misery to the people.

It is a given, considering the internal security situation which has steadily deteriorated to the extent that it is now dangerously close to complete collapse, that a new Minister is long overdue in the critical Home Ministry. Sharad Pawar appears to be a possible choice, IF he agrees to move from a Ministry where he has more power. He is a seasoned Minister and he has already shown his abilities at quickly handling a potentially explosive situation in Mumbai when he was the Chief Minister in Maharashtra. If it matters, he is also from Maharashtra as Shivraj is. At the same time, his replacement in the Agriculture Ministry may be able to do at least some good even if the time available is too short. The problem would be that Pawar may not find the time to look into the affairs of the Home Ministry in view of his prior commitment to the cause of Cricket. Hopefully, at least a further deterioration in the internal security situation may be prevented by his presence at the helm. Apart from these two Ministries, it is also high time that Chidambaram is given an opportunity to try his genius in another Ministry. The Prime Minister himself can surely take additional charge of the Finance Ministry during this short but extremely critical time for the economy.

It remains to be seen how well the Prime Minister utilizes his prerogative for the last time before the elections.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Terror and the Benumbed State






By now, all news media have given full accounts of the way terror has been stalking the country without any fear. The terrorist strikes in Bangalore and Ahmedabad on two successive days on 25th and 26th July 2008 have been condemned and the inaction of the Govt. has been strongly denounced by all the media and people at large.

And yet, the Governments of the day, whether at the State level or the Central level continue to demonstrate their impotence before and after each strike. THE STATE seems to be benumbed and to all intents and purposes continues to show scant regard not only for human lives but the threats to the very integrity and peace and harmony of the country.

For every terror strike, the primary responsibility remains that of the State Govt. and no amount of efforts to pass the buck on to the Center can diminish the responsibility of the State Governments for their failure to protect the lives and limbs of the residents of that State. The State Govt. is primarily responsible for law and order and it is the best judge of the ground conditions in the State. It is the State Govt. that has to develop its own strong intelligence network and also have an inter-state mechanism to share such intelligence. If fear has to be instilled in the would-be terrorists in the State, it is the State Govt. that is primarily in a position to do so. The State Govt.s do not appear to have any programs to provide specialized anti-terrorist training, if need be, with help from foreign countries, to its police force and create a strong cadre for such anti-terrorist operations. Nor do the State Govt.s have even a well thought out basic policy of giving monetary rewards for informants, not only after an act of terror but at all times. After all, information on suspect activities is likely to come equally from ordinary citizens as from those who are close to such activities. ( see here and here)

Therefore, in the case of Gujarat in particular, where the Gujarat Chief Minister has been daring the Terrorists all along shouting from roof tops, the blasts in Ahmedabad show that the terrorists are able to commit their anti-national acts anywhere and any time of their own choosing.

Most of the responsibility in case of the Terror attacks in Gujarat rests on the State Govt. who in over confidence and bravado has been caught napping. Unless the State Govt.s themselves develop a clear no-tolerance policy, any amount of help by the Central Govt. is bound to fail.

Twidddling Thumbs

Ministry of Home Affairs - In deep slumber

Having said all this, one must examine the total failure of the Union Home Ministry to take steps that are in its own power to take. Over the last few years the Central Govt. has shown a complete lack of sensitivity and seriousness and utter incompetence in creating an overall atmosphere that instills fear in the minds of terrorists. The firm actions taken by the USA after the terrorist attacks on its soil on Sept. 11, 2001, are there for all to see. The Govt. of India just does not have even the courage to state its policy, if there is one, on terror. If the Union Govt. is at all serious about rooting out terrorism from the country, there is nothing to stop it from taking actions which are within its own powers and if at all it has to give directions to the States on the subject, the States are bound to listen and follow. Instead of first defining its stance and policy on terror clearly, the Govt. continues to issue wish-washy statements that have ceased to carry any meaning even for the people at large, let alone the terrorist elements. The Govt. is now talking of having a federal agency. Such proliefration of new agencies will have no effect or impact because of enormous problems of co-ordination which are mainfest even within the existing agencies. The talk of such an agency is just a diversionary tactic to show that the Govt. is serious when it is not. The basic idea of the present Govt. seems to be to keep talking and going through the motions of taking actions till its time is over next year or even earlier.

All the actions or inactions of the Central Govt. so far show that far from being serious about rooting out terrorists, it actually does everything that achieves exactly the opposite and emboldens the anti-national elements.

The case of Afzal Guru is a case in point. Quite inexplicably, the Govt. has been sitting on his petition for clemency for years. There is no logical or plausible explanation, at least in the eyes of the public why the Govt. cannot take a decision. The only conclusion possible is that the Govt. has made up its mind either to grant clemency or wait to give the terrorists a suitable opportunity when they can secure the release of Afzal Guru in exchange as was done in case of other terrorists. Or, it does not have the backbone to take a logical decision of rejecting the application and would rather have a new Govt. take such a decision. In the unlikely event that it is voted in again, it is capable of sitting on the matter for as long as necessary. After all, Shivraj Patil had grandly told the Parliament that the Home Ministry sits on the petitions for an average of seven years.

No less intriguing is the absolute cussedness of the Central Govt. in not approving laws passed by certain State Legislatures, who in their wisdom think that such laws will help them to better support their own actions to tackle terrorism.

The level of intelligence gathered by the Central agencies also continues to be of poor quality and beyond giving regular cautionary advices to the States ‘crying wolf’, no specific actionable intelligence seems to be provided either to the Central Govt. or to the State Govt.

It is common knowledge that hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis are entering the country illegally and are even able to secure official papers of residence. However, the hear-nothing, do-nothing Home Ministry does not even have an estimate or assessment of Bangladeshis entering illegally. It is common knowledge that in the commercial capital of the country Mumbai, thousands of illegal aliens were helped in getting papers by a Congress MP in the city. It is also known that some suburban areas around the periphery of Mumbai have become a favorite abode of criminal and anti national elements and so has Navi Mumbai. It is also generally recognized that many of the terrorists who have executed operations in the country in the last few years have used the Bangladesh route to enter or are Bangladeshis or have connections there.

Such incidents raise legitimate questions in the minds of the people whether the Central Govt. is deliberately taking a soft line or is simply impotent and incompetent.

The continuance of a ‘Softee’ Shivraj Patil in the position of Home Minister lends strong credence to the perception that Govt. has not grasped the seriousness of the situation. In the history of the democratic Governments in the country, a more docile and incompetent Home Minister has never been seen. In fact, he just does not seem to inspire confidence in anyone EXCEPT HIS OWN PARTY CHIEF AND, PERHAPS, THE PRIME MINISTER. His being there as the Home Minister is giving a bad name to the entire Govt. His removal from the Ministry is the badly needed first signal that the Govt. is serious and has a will to change the present state of hopeless lethargy.

The Central Government has failed utterly and completely to inspire confidence in the people that the integrity of the country is safe in its hands.

There are two options to Terror. The first is to have zero tolerance and to deal with the terrorist elements ruthlessly. The second is to do nothing, by taking the view that in a country of over a billion people, human lives have no meaning and hope and pray that the terrorists, if they are ignored, will tire themselves out. India seems to have adopted the second approach.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Winning a Trust Vote on a Black Day

22nd July, 2008 was indeed a Black Day in the history of the Lok Sabha.

For the UPA Govt. which won the Trust Vote, it was an occasion for relief and jubilation. For the record, the UPA sponsored motion was passed with a comfortable lead. Based on all calculations that were being made for days prior to the crucial day, it was going to be a close call and the Govt. could have won, if at all, only by a couple of votes. That it eventually won with a margin of 19 votes speaks volumes for the manipulative capabilities of the UPA and its new found allies. In fact, were it not for the new rescuers and saviors of the UPA, it is doubtful if the vote could have been won at all.

Basking in the glory of victory,
under the shadow of ignominious actions

Unparalleled conduct
This was one Trust Motion that has no parallel in history in so far as the brazen and shameless deployment of money power adopted to engineer a win is concerned. That monetary consideration, ministerial appointments, election tickets and other forms of inducement were deployed liberally was known to the people soon after the date of the vote was set. There is no smoke without fire and in the days prior to the vote, the atmosphere was filled up with such sickeningly dense smoke that the entire country could realize that a fire was raging. With the MDEs (Masters of Defection Engineering) of the UPA and its new ally running amuck and throwing all caution to the winds, they approached scores of persons who had the power to vote against the Govt.

In the stable

It is just too far fetched for anyone to believe that those in favor of whom the vote was being sought were blissfully unaware of what was going on. The efforts of those who worked to ensure a victory in the face of defeat admirably succeeded. If those who voted for the Motion or abstained in defiance of the Whips of their parties had actually followed the party Whips, the Govt. would have lost by nearly the same margin with which it won the vote.

Show me Proof
Sardar Manmohan Singh, when asked the previous evening a pointed question on the talk of money being offered, bluntly asked for ‘proof’ as is done by many hardened politicians, knowing full well that such activities are hardly conducted in broad daylight and receipts and agreements exchanged between the parties. And yet, it was already known that the JMM chief was assured of Ministries and other goodies during his meetings with the PM and the chairperson of the UPA. The proof of that pudding will be there for everyone to see in the next couple of weeks. Then, during the crucial debate on the Motion, agitated BSP MPs were on their feet claiming pressures from CBI to vote in favor of the Govt.

Disgust and revulsion

To cap it all, just as Abani Roy was about to finish his long speech, three MPs from the BJP produced in the Lok Sabha bundles of notes totaling to Rs. one crore, which they claimed to have received as advance in return for their promises to abstain. Their allegation was promptly denied and pooh-poohed by the UPA including those whose names were mentioned by the MPs. It would, perhaps, have been tactically more advisable for the BJP MPs to meet the Speaker in his chamber to produce before him the money with their explanations. Be that as it may, it is now for the Speaker to take a decision. The Black Day that began with the allegations by the BSP and BJP MPs eventually ended with the vote going in favor of the UPA due to several opposition MPs voting in favor of or abstaining from the vote. All right thinking persons were filled with a sense of disgust and revulsion, not because the money was produced in the Lok Sabha for the whole world to watch, but because it showed to the whole world the murky depths to which some people were going in trying to secure votes in favor of the Motion.

The aftermath
The Speaker of the Lok Sabha has asked the MPs to file formal complaints by a communication in late evening on the 23rd. The tapes of recordings of some of the details of the dealings of the agents from the UPA with the three MPs were finally handed over to the Speaker by the TV Channel that co-operated with the MPS in a sting operation, but only on the 23rd afternoon after an unexplained delay. It is still unclear as to what, if anything, has been decided by the Speaker with regard to the complaint by the BSP members. As was to be expected, those who induced some BJP MPs to vote in favor of the Govt. have also encouraged one of them to file a tit-for-tat complaint against BJP leadership for trying to kill him!

It now falls upon the Speaker to take several key decisions viz. regarding the disqualification of MPs who defied party whips, the investigation into allegations by the BSP MPs and the BJP MPs. Somnath Chatterjee is a senior and highly regarded parliamentarian. He has an avowed aversion to one of the Parties whose MPs have complained to him, to the extent of making his aversion an issue worth compromising his Party's position on substantive issues. He has also been disowned by his Party that now sits in opposition. But he is an honourable gentleman and knows fully well his crucial responsibility to restore the faith of the people which is badly shaken up. He occupies the Chair of the Speaker which is non-partisan and he will surely take the right decisions quickly in order to enhance the prestige of the High Office.

Whatever be the outcome of the actions of the Speaker, one thing is sure. Those who talk in legalese asking for proof or claim that they are being wrongly maligned or say that 'let the law take its course' should understand that the people's court does not work in the way that the law courts do. People have seen, heard, read and understood what has transpired in the run up to the vote. Protestations and proclamations of innocence have no meaning in the light of what people already know. For the people, what means most is the immorality of it all, regardless of whether those who committed this perfidy on democracy can ever be brought to book under law or not.

And finally it is also hoped that, Manmohan Singh, a man of impeccable integrity and with the supreme national interest of the country always at heart, will reflect deeply upon his victory. Just as he asked the MPs to vote according to their conscience he will, hopefully, also ask his own conscience whether what he has won was worth the serious dent to his image that he has undoubtedly suffered. For the present, it does appear that he has adjusted himself to his surroundings even if that means lowering the high standard of probity that he might have once had. He also seems to be rejoicing for the moment, having fulfilled a solemn promise that he made to the U.S. President some time back. At least on that score he has convinced himself that the end justified the means.

Democracy shall survive, despite all efforts to subvert it.