Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Unashamed Hypocrisy

Message is important

When Krishna Tirath, the Minister for Women & Child Development, allowed a picture of a retired Pakistan Air Force Officer to find its way in an advertisement released by her Ministry, she joined the select band of goofers in Manmohan Singh’s Government. See here

It was a grave blunder arising from sheer negligence which caused serious embarrassment to the Government. But all she was really trying to do was to remain in the good books of her boss - no not the PM, but Madame Soniaji - by placing her picture in the Ministry’s advertisement. She was hoping that the advertisement, released in the name of the “National Girl Child Day” would catch the eye of Soniaji as she read the morning newspaper and would show that Tirath was doing her job well by placing her picture in the advertisement. The appearance of the Pakistan officer spoiled her party.

When Tirath found herself at the receiving end after the blunder came to light, she defended the advertisement saying: “The message is more important than the image. The photograph is only symbolic.” What is the message that the advertisement displays? Its punch line says “Where would you be if your mother was not allowed to be born?” Where, indeed! It is no use trying to scratch one’s head or any other part of the body trying to find an answer. It is an absurdly idiotic line which is as senseless as the Minister’s assertion. It would be easier to get the answer by posing that very same question to the Minister herself. The advertisement was sent by the Ministry to the DAVP on 22nd and the DAVP, for some strange reason (perhaps to get over authority limits per ad) issued three different release orders the next day for releasing the advertisement in just one newspaper, Times of India, Delhi edition, on the 24th January. As Soniaji lives in Delhi and reads the Times of India, it is natural that the Girl Child issue becomes relevant only for Delhi. The message can thus be conveyed with minimal cost by selecting the right newspaper in Delhi.

Rough layout (may be?)

Pleasing Madame at Public Expense - No Holds Barred

It is, therefore, clear that the real “message” was to show Sonia Gandhi in an advertisement related to her Ministry and win the former’s approval. It is also clear that the entire advertisement was created by her staff (read the Minister) with in-house talent and she could not be bothered what pictures and what matter were included as long as the picture of Madame Gandhi was there. It is to her credit that she did not spend millions of rupees in one advertisement for the same purpose, as the others do.

Mad Scramble to Please

Minister after Minister has been trying to scramble to please Sonia Gandhi by grabbing opportunities to release huge advertisements by their Ministries where they could show her picture. Billions of rupees are being spent on such advertisements. No occasion or opportunity is insignificant enough and if there is no such opportunity, one can always be invented for announcing inauguration of some project or the other or publishing some inane messages in the name of this special day or that. Let it be clear. The content in the advertisements, the pictures of other individuals and visuals are all merely used as props, symbols, embellishments and fillers to fool the people and give the advertisements some legitimacy. The objective of these myrmidons is essentially only one: To show the picture of Sonia Gandhi and along with her, of themselves to promote their image.

More Shocking Abuse of Authority

More serious is the action of the Minister who seems to have recently outdone all others in his bid to become a greater sycophant than the others. That Minister is Kamal Nath. As the Commerce Minister earlier, he relentlessly pursued the agenda of the global retailers and multinationals of allowing FDI in Retail the purpose of which is only to allow these multinationals to make their billions in perpetuity from the Indian customer without bringing anything of value to the country. (see a series of articles here). He did manage to allow FDI in single brand retail – with very little justification from the country’s point of view. Much against his liking, he was replaced in the Commerce Ministry by a junior Anand Sharma and he has been given the Road Transport & Highways Ministry where he has not been able to do much.

Innovative ideas

Now, to get into the good books of Madame, in a shameless show of sycophancy carried out at public expense or by using public assets, he has devised a plan through NHAI to erect 1500 billboards all over the national highways showing pictures of primarily Sonia Gandhi and incidentally Manmohan Singh. This is estimated to cost over Rs. 100 crores. (see here) It is the most audacious and blatant misuse of power so far to promote and perpetuate the image of Sonia Gandhi. The flippant and irresponsible Minister with no sense of shame says: “These billboards are more a way of providing information to public than putting photographs.” If these are a way of providing information, where is the need or justification of putting up any photographs at all, whether of Sonia Gandhi or the Prime Minister or any of Kamal Nath’s friends or relatives for that matter? Going by this totally perverse logic, as long as some information is provided for the public, it would be justified to include pictures or names of any individuals like Sonia Gandhi or anyone that a Minister likes (see imaginary examples above). They are further trying to justify this repugnant action by saying that the money for the same would be spent by private contractors who will also maintain the same. The original proposal was indeed for the NHAI to spend its own money but this devise was worked out after the Planning Commission flatly declined to allow NHAI to do so. What do the private contractors have to gain from spending their own money? Such an explanation itself shows the audacity of the Minister in simply taking the people and everyone in Government for granted.

Gross Plunder of Public Exchequer

Can such gross abuse of authority ever be considered legitimate? No one can use the tax payers’ money or use public assets for promoting a private individual which Sonia Gandhi undoubtedly is because she is not in Government. “Chairperson of UPA” is just a cloak to fool the people into believing that it is an official position. It is even not proper to show the picture of any Minister because the programs are official government programs.

Whether the Madame approves?

We must practice austerity (but if we are spending anyways..)

Sonia Gandhi apparently does not believe that the people are thoroughly disgusted seeing her picture practically every day staring at them and taking credit for what the government is doing. Whatever is done by the Government is its constitutional responsibility and is supposed to be done by any welfare government. It is not done as she ordains. But as her cohorts obligingly place her picture in the advertisements and now even on other public assets; far from being really concerned she is seemingly enjoying seeing her picture every morning.

Mirror, Mirror....

In the matter of the highways billboards, for example, a cleverly worded report was let out saying that she “was not keen to have her photographs on highway billboards”. She is supposed to have written a letter to Kamal Nath asking him to drop the photographs. (see here) It is evident that this is a fake exercise only for public consumption. If she was really of that mind, there was no need to write a letter, a phone call would have put a stop to this hare brained idea of the Doon School product. By merely writing the “confidential” letter and making the fact known to the media, she has only tried to make a mock display of morality as her toady tries to make a mockery of morality. Secondly, she has been seeing her picture being used in the advertisements almost daily, assuming she at least glances at the newspapers if only to see her picture. She has not told anyone to stop such wasteful expenditure or at least not to show her picture. While talking of austerity (also see here), she has been simply grabbing all the publicity at the taxpayers’ expense.

She has clearly shown herself to be free-publicity hungry and an inveterate pretender claiming to have high morals. The Ministers are mere spouts; she is the fountainhead as far as this blatant misuse is concerned.

Now what?

If the Prime Minister and his Finance Minister have any claim to promoting public accountability and if they stand for what is right, let them decide from whom the expenditure on promotion of individuals by such devious means needs to be recovered – whether the Congress Party, their President, the concerned Ministers, the officials or the entire Cabinet on the basis of collective responsibility.

Unfortunately, as freebooters help themselves, these two worthies have chosen to conveniently look the other way. Sardar Manmohan Singh’s justification may be that he is merely following the philosophy of the revered Guru Nanak who had said: “Ram ki Chidiya Ram ka Khet, Khalo Chidiya Bhar Bhar Pet”. In this case, the Chidiya refers to the people’s representatives and the Khet refers to the people’s money.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

All the Singh's Men

The Manmohan Singh Government had promised to achieve a lot in 100 days after coming back after already having been there during the previous five years.

It is over 200 days now and by way of the so-called ‘all-inclusive growth’ that they claim to propound, the main achievement which people see is the ‘all-inclusive’ uncontrolled inflation that spares no one and is especially hurting the poor and the middle class who continue to be at the receiving end.

Leaving aside a broader analysis of his Government’s working, it is worthwhile to list some (but not all) of the useless, the non-performers and the laggards in his Ministry. Even more important it is to list some of the Ministers whose working is not aboveboard, to put it extremely mildly.

Crown of Thorns

Starting with Manmohan Singh, he has to his credit mainly his honesty of purpose and dedication. Other than that, he has left no one in doubt that he does not have the will or the inclination to act on many issues relating to Government which he is supposed to head, without the say-so of his Party Boss. It is perhaps, this determination not to upset the apple cart driven by his Boss that keeps him from taking action against erring Ministers in the Cabinet.

Sharad Pawar

Sharad Pawar - useless and incompetent

At the top of the list of Ministers whose continuance is doing immense harm to the country is obviously, Sharad Pawar. His indifference and his callous approach to matters under him are too widely recognized. Amidst continuous and unrestrained rise in prices of food products, he has been inventing any number of excuses ever since his first term where he started by blaming fuel prices, rise in international prices (even if the country is self-sufficient) and a host of other excuses unrelated to his own incompetence. While repeating ad nauseum that the Government is very serious and doing everything possible (cleverly saying Government not just himself, to put the blame on the entire Government), he has very little to show for what actually he has done himself. Of course, during his term, there has been a wheat scam, a sugar scam, a rice scam and perhaps, some as-yet-not-known scams. But scams and motivated decisions have always been known to be there wherever he is involved. Knowing his past and present, there may be very few in the country, who will honestly vouch for his integrity. If he is still surviving in the Ministry, it is only because of his manipulative and arm-twisting capability vis-a-vis Singh's Party Boss.

Apart from the present dismal situation of food availability, Pawar has hardly done anything worthwhile to ensure the food security of the people for the future. In fact, due to the total lack of any purposeful actions during his term, the country is headed for a serious scarcity situation in the years to come. That is the legacy this man is going to leave for the people. He may well be voted the worst Agriculture Minister the country has had so far.

After having run out of believable explanations and excuses, he has repeated without a modicum of sense of responsibility, for the second time in as many months that only an astrologer can predict when the prices would come down. What the aam admi needs now is an astrologer not to predict when the prices would come down, but for how long would the country suffer him as a Minister.

He needs to be removed from the Ministry, whether ceremoniously or unceremoniously, but without delay. The aam admi has been waiting to say Good Riddance to him.

Praful Patel

Praful Patel

As Minister for Civil Aviation in the previous Government, he has successfully mismanaged the national carrier Air India/Indian Airlines under the tutelage of his party chief Pawar. That an airline with a globally known Brand was brought on the brink in such a short period speaks volumes for this Minister’s capabilities. And yet, he has kept on saying that Air India was always free to take decisions and at the same time blaming global recession for its woes. Those in the airlines, including the employees’ Unions, know only too well about the interference in their affairs which not only accelerated the financial losses but also the loss of market share to other airlines with whom the Minister and his Boss are known to have cozy relations. ( see also here)

Apart from the airlines debacle, favors were also granted to the GMR/GVK led Consortia running Delhi and Mumbai airports, by allowing them to recover from hapless passengers airport development fees after the contract was won by them based on the original tender conditions. An effort is also being made to favor GVK led Joint Venture for Mumbai Airport by allowing them to sell 200 acres of land, ostensibly taken for airport development earlier, to give them a windfall of over Rs, 10,000 crores. Of course, these two incidents have caught the people’s attention as they are now in public domain. Skeletons that may still be rattling underneath the Civil Aviation carpet will be known only when they spring out in future.

S M Krishna

S M Krishna

After coming out from gubernatorial hibernation, he has been favored with the External Affairs portfolio. International Relations is a sensitive issue requiring a Minister to have considerable vision and an alert mind. S M Krishna, a Fulbright scholar is performing only as half-bright and is constantly at sea and at loss of words to forcefully convey anything sensible on foreign policy. Foreign Policy has always been a weak point with India and giving such an important Ministry to a person whose mind is no longer alert and where he is totally out of depth can only further weaken India’s stature in the world. It is hardly possible to gain in stature by offering good hospitality to foreign dignitaries as is being done by Krishna.

Murli Deora


As Petroleum Minister, he has been seen to be consistently supporting and favoring a particular business group with whom he is known to have close relations. He is also the Minister who in November 2008 bypassed the Prime Minister by writing directly to the party boss about pricing of petroleum products, a subject which was under the discussion within the Government possibly also violating his Oath of Office. So much for his loyalty to his Prime Minister, who unfortunately is not able to act despite such incidents and despite the Minister having made the Government go through awkward situations in a legal dispute on gas pricing.

Mamata Banerjee


The absentee Railway Minister who promised a White Paper on Railways during Laloo’s time, did publish the White Paper along with a Vision Document. But everyone knows that her heart and mind are set on the West Bengal Chief Minister’s seat. For all practical purposes, she is just warming the Railway Minister’s chair till the elections. Not much can be expected when most of her time is spent in her home state.

A. Raja


He is a liability thrust upon the people by DMK, the coalition partner of the present Government. His suspect role in the 2G Spectrum scam that led to a huge loss estimated to be Rs. 22,000 crores to the public exchequer – the tax payer is by now known to everyone, including the Prime Minister who is intent on keeping such bad apples in the apple cart. Raja like many other Ministers in similar situations, is defending himself saying he only followed procedures and also consulted the Prime Minister, forgetting that as Minister, he is responsible to ensure that the public exchequer gets what it should and he is there not just to follow procedures.

CP Joshi


He is a laggard whose only interest, as seen during the Lok Sabha debates was to question the opposition parties for what they did not do, rather than answering the questions put to him. He could not clarify exactly what, if anything, he was doing himself as Minister. His highly immature performance during the Lok Sabha debates does not inspire any confidence at all in his ability to do justice to his job.

Azhagiri alias Alagiri


He is another liability on the people from DMK. It is not known how he can perform any of his responsibilities without communicating with the Babus and Cabinet colleagues except by sign language when he does not understand any language other than his own mother tongue. Sadly, Singh is unable to even ask him to quit because Singh does not speak in Tamil.

Sushil Kumar Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh


Two of the lacklustre Ministers from Maharashtra have practically nothing to show for what they have done. While Vilasrao obviously does not have to do much at the Centre where he can no longer oblige the builders and developers, Shinde is in charge of the critical power ministry. They have been carrying on with the same tardiness which is their characteristic.

Some others
Then there are the goofer-gaffers, flipper-floppers and twatter-twitters. Sincere though they may be, they are prone to land the Government in embarrassing situations from time to time.


While the above is a listing of only the Ministers, mention must be made of two others who are in similar high positions but the people are unclear about their usefulness.

Montek Singh

Montek Singh’s achievement as Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission is hard to evaluate as he has been largely seen commenting only on matters on which the Ministers concerned are required to speak. Narayanan’s actual contribution as the National Security Advisor also remains obscure.

The above list is naturally not exhaustive and there may be other Ministers well qualified to take the place in the backhanded Honor Roll. Readers are free to make their nominations in the Comments section.

* For a plot synopsis of the well-known movie "All the King's Men", see here.