Saturday, August 16, 2008

The P.M.'s Independence Day Speech - Misinforming the people?

The Prime Minister of India made the Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15th August 2008. Apart from the usual hyperbole, a good part of the speech was devoted to extolling the virtues and achievements of his Government and at the same time adroitly making it known that everything that had gone wrong or was going wrong during its tenure so far could be attributed to others, including external factors.

Many of those who heard his speech must have gone away satisfied and suitably impressed that the country was indeed blessed to have a wonderful Government that was doing so much for the Aam Admi.

It is unfortunate that the occasion of an Independence Day speech of the Prime Minister was utilized to provide misinformation on some major issues to the people.

Reference is made to two of the points from his address.

Nuclear Deal

The Prime Minister stated:
“All over the world, there is growing realization of the importance of atomic energy to meet the challenge of energy security and climate change. It is a clean, environmental friendly and renewable source of energy.”

In the first place, there are differences of views on whether nuclear energy can be truly regarded as ‘clean and environment friendly’. For example, as one such differing view highlights:

“Whatever benefits nuclear technology may provide through decreased air pollutants are more than made up for by large and unresolved environmental problems. As of 2000, Canada has 35,000 tonnes of highly radioactive nuclear waste, with nowhere to put it.” (See here) Also read here and here,

But more significant is the Prime Minister’ assertion that nuclear energy is “…renewable source of energy.” This is not entirely accurate as nuclear energy is not regarded as a renewable resource, despite the efficiencies of breeder reactors.

The Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy defines renewable energy resources as under:

“Renewable energy resources are naturally replenished in a relatively short period of time. They include biomass, hydropower, geothermal energy, wind energy, and solar energy.” (See here)

The primary material for nuclear energy Uranium, like fossil fuels is a finite resource and is not replenished or re-grown. Nor is it regenerated as much as is consumed.

In describing nuclear energy as a renewable resource in order to justify the Nuclear Deal, the Prime Minister has presented a view that is not universally accepted despite assertions by scientists like Prof. Bernard Cohen. It is interesting to know that it was none other than President George W. Bush of the USA who, while promoting nuclear energy within his own country, began describing nuclear energy in almost similar terms that the Prime Minister has used.

Bush had said: “Nuclear power is safe and nuclear power is clean and nuclear power is renewable,” and again “Nuclear power is renewable, and there are no greenhouse gases associated with nuclear power”. See here and here. Also read this.
Considering the background of events and the heavy influence of USA leading to the Nuclear Deal, it is not surprising that the Prime Minister echoed the exact thoughts of President Bush in his speech.

But in fact, soon after President Bush began describing nuclear energy as a clean and renewable resource, nearly 50 environmental, business, anti-nuclear, sustainable energy, and energy policy organizations openly disputed his statement in a letter to him. see here and also read here.

Furthermore, said the Prime Minister: “the nuclear agreement…….will open up new opportunities for trade in dual-use high technologies and nuclear materials and equipment, opening up new pathways to accelerate industrialization of our country. It will enable us to provide electricity to meet the needs of our farmers, our artisans, our traders and our industry.”
For the benefit of the people, the Government needs to inform in details what the “new opportunities in trading” and “new pathways to accelerate industrialization” are and their precise concrete benefits and the costs. As to the claim that the agreement will provide electricity to meet the needs of our farmers etc. it is misleading and a half-truth intended to convey as if all or a substantial part of the country’s electricity needs would be met as a result of the nuclear agreement.

The nuclear deal is now on way to being finalized. The Government must have felt itself justified in pushing it through. The desperation might have come also because of critical shortage of Uranium and non-availability of equipment likely to cause an imminent disruption even in the existing program. If that were to happen, it would cause great embarrassment. Whatever were the urgent or larger reasons, the deal is practically fait accompli and there is little to be gained from continuing to argue about the same. But the Prime Minister seems to have unnecessarily tried to provide information that is debatable, in order to justify the deal.


On inflation, the Prime Minister was happy to dutifully repeat the information provided by the Sage of Sivaganga Chidambaram who revels in misleading the people at every opportunity to hide his own failures. The Prime Minister declared:
“The inflation we have seen this year is basically due to external factors. All over the world and in global markets the price of food, fuel and other commodities has been rising. In many developing countries the rate of inflation is double that in India. Our Government has worked hard to ensure that in India the rate of inflation is not as high as in many other countries. We have also taken special measures to insulate the poorer sections of our society from the full impact of rising food and fuel prices.”

These misleading arguments and alibis about external factors being largely responsible for the inflation and about India’s inflation being half of many developing countries have already been dealt with in an earlier article here. (see section: “Excuses, Blame Games and Buck passing”).

While the impact of rising oil prices over which the Government indeed does not have control, is understandable, the rising food prices abroad can hardly be used to justify inflation in the country when in the same breadth the Government claims to have record production of food grains. If imports had to take place, they were the result of the mess in agriculture sector due to lack of attention and faulty policies. It should also not be forgotten that it is this neglect and faulty policies that have cost over Rs. 71,000 crores in loan write-offs out of public funds. The WPI comprises of 435 items. For how many of these items does the Government hold the world responsible? How can the people be misled in such a brazen manner?

The Prime Minister also sadly parroted the Finance Minister’s deliberately misleading alibi that the inflation was lower than many countries. In this context, it was mentioned in the earlier article, "...inflation happens in all countries and some have low inflation while some others have higher inflation. Such comparisons cannot be used at will as justification for high inflation in our own economy. The inflation in each country is determined by a host of factors to which it is subject and if it is higher in some countries than in India, it gives no solace to the people. Such misleading and fallacious reasoning does not wash." Does the Government's alibi also mean that the country should rejoice and be grateful to the Government that it worked hard to ensure that the inflation is not high as in Zimbabwe? And precisely how has the Government 'worked hard', pray? It is not out of place to mention that while the Finance Minister and other so-called economists were shedding tears over the external factors and sitting helplessly, it took a maverick like Amar Singh to suggest making using of the dollar reserves to appreciate the rupee and bring down the rupee cost of imports. Even if an appreciation of the rupee has implications for exports and other considerations, at least in the short run it might bring some relief and that is what the RBI is understood to be trying to do now.

As for the Prime Minister’s proud assertion that "We have also taken special measures to insulate the poorer sections of our society from the full impact of rising food and fuel prices.”, should the country feel obliged for these small mercies on the “poorer sections”? And how should the "not-poorer" - the poor and not so poor sections be bailed out? Does the Government not owe any responsibility to all the people in the country?

It seems that the Government is intent upon persisting with its policy of misinforming and misleading the public, hoping that the gullible people will gulp down whatever it chooses to thrust down their gullets.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jammu & Kashmir - Chestnuts in the Fire

The conditions in the State of Jammu & Kashmir seem to be going out of hand, with the Union Govt. not showing any purpose in its motions. For all intents and purposes, the only plan it seems to have is to let the situation cool down and hope that eventually, it can resolve the problem by talking.

That may well happen but given the passions inflamed by the Government’s actions and inaction in the last several weeks, unless the Government has the political will and the required firmness, there is a grave danger of things taking a turn for the worse. Instead of resolving a small matter related to the facilitation of pilgrims to Amarnath, the Government may find its hands full dealing with separatist elements.

Although this may not be the time to place blame, it is necessary to have a perspective on the events. The origin of the Amarnath Shrine issue is to be found largely in the political miscalculations on the part of Congress and the apparently mindless misadventure on the part of PDP. Both the parties behaved in a very myopic way on an issue which could have been resolved by discussions in the first place without the need to turn the State into a battlefield.

As far as the Central Government is concerned, although a large part of the responsibility rests with the Home Ministry, the Amarnath issue was essentially handled as a political matter and whatever was done either by the Central Government or by the Governor on directions of the Central Government was based on political decisions. These actions badly backfired and gave an opportunity not only to other political parties but also separatist elements to jump into the fray. It also made it possible for those in Jammu to give vent to their pent-up sense of frustration and turned a relatively small matter into a larger issue.

It is only hoped that the Government would not continue to act in its blundering ways but come out with some concrete solutions on its own rather than going through the motions of obtaining ideas from political parties and other organizations. It has been suggested by many that the discussions should take place amongst the members of the civil society in Jammu as well as the Valley to work out a solution. But first, the Amarnath issue needs to be resolved peacefully. For that to happen, at least one of the parties needs to be convinced to show restraint and strive for a solution rather than strife. The larger issues which have, unfortunately, come to the fore must also be handled with extreme caution and far-sightedness.

Given the record of the Government in handling difficult situations, does it appear that it has the will and the ability to do what needs to be done? Though doubtful, in the interest of the integrity of the country, it is absolutely essential that it does act to pull the chestnuts out of the fire ignited by shortsighted actions scripted or prompted by it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Manmohan Singh - Breaking Free?

“They (the Left Parties) wanted me to behave as their bonded slave.”
- From PM's reply to the debate on the Motion of Confidence in the Lok Sabha, July 22, 2008.

The Prime Minister, fed up with constant badgering by the Left Parties on various policy issues almost from the beginning, must have heaved a sigh of relief when the fundamental differences in perceptions on the Nuclear Deal between the UPA constituents within the Government and the Left Parties became unmanageable and led to a parting of ways.

Breaking Free, really?

The separation has left the Government free to proceed with the Nuclear Deal on its own terms and in its wisdom. In theory, the Government is also now free to pursue some of the changes in economic policy which it sees as ‘essential reforms’. Whether the Government will be able to successfully bring such changes to their logical conclusion in the face of a hostile Left remains to be seen. But at least, it would now be able to bring them on the table for a wider debate, instead of being confined to the meetings of the UPA - Left Co-ordination Committee only to be summarily scuttled and vetoed.

Such perceived gains, however, have come at a heavy cost, as the Prime Minister must have already begun to realize. The huge compromises which the Congress in particular was required to make in order to win the Trust Vote in Lok Sabha have left the Party and the Government badly discredited.

As the time for rewarding all those who supported the Government comes closer, the Prime Minister and his Party will find themselves at the losing end. First of all, the Party has to show its gratitude to the main constituents like NCP, DMK and RJD by suitable gratuities in terms of positions of power or other ways of accommodation. Then, the rewards already assured to JMM have to be ensured. Some of these will inevitably mean that less will be left for the Congress Party members.

Come into my parlour....

The real problems of the Party and the Prime Minister may arise when rewarding their true saviors, the Samajwadi Party. Effectively, the SP is simply going to step into the shoes of the Left Parties. The main difference would be that whereas the Left Parties were largely concerned with policy issues, the new ally is not shy of pushing its own agenda in other matters. The SP comes with all the baggage of its past and even the man on the street knows the kind of requests they have already made and the favors they are seeking for themselves and their friends. At every step of the way, for as long as the Government lasts, the hands and fingers of this new ally will be seen guiding and goading the Government. Whether through a co-ordination committee which is now being talked about or through direct pressures, the new ally will take every opportunity to throw its weight around to gain what it wants, whatever the means the Govt. may have to adopt to grant their wishes. It only remains on the good sense of the SP how far it chooses to push the Government.

On the hand, the Prime Minister has to contend with parties like PDP and DMK who are out to play with the sensitivities of the people regardless of consequences. On the other hand are parties like RJD and SP who are openly supportive of entities which are generally regarded as anti-national. The Prime Minister may find himself increasingly caught in the vortex of such disturbing currents, not knowing how to swim against such currents.

In the reply to the debate on the Trust Vote on 22nd July 2008, the Prime Minister had said:

“When I look at the composition of the opportunistic group opposed to us, it is clear to me that the clash today is between two alternative visions of India’s future.”

Although the entire country has realized it by now, some day soon it will dawn upon Manmohan Singh too that actually it is he who, willy-nilly, is a part of the opportunistic group and his words will come to haunt him. After all, the truly opportunistic group is not one in the opposition, but one that manages to retain power by fair means or foul and whatever be the credentials of the parties forming the amalgam that is born out of compulsions to cling on to power.

The lofty talk of "visions of India's future" sounds rather incongruous at this point, to say the least, considering the events of the recent past.