Friday, December 31, 2010

Friendship for all

Lord Mahavir, the twenty fourth and last Teerthankara or Path-finder of the Jains, had said in Prakrit, "Khammami savva jeevanam, savvee jeeva khamantu me; mitti me savva bhooesu, vairam mejham na kenai", i.e. "I forgive all living beings, let all living beings forgive me; I have friendship for all living on the earth and enmity for none."

For me these fifteen words in Prakrit carry in them the essence of religion. In fact, I may go a little further and say that just four of them - Mitti me savva bhooesu (I have friendship for all living on the earth) - make the essence of the essence of religion for me. But I must reconcile my intrinsic and instinctive hostility for the corrupt to the sacred idea of friendship for all. Not an easy task but let me try.

I do want that the corrupt, who deny the others of their due and weaken the nation by their unfair and unjust acts, should be caught, tried and adequately punished for their crime. But only in this their real welfare and rehabilitation lie and not in stashing away their ill-gotten riches in the banks in Switzerland or other tax havens. Since I care for their welfare, I am their true friend.

So, all ye corrupt of this land, listen to this true friend of yours! Surrender to the nation all that you have looted and happily accept whatever punishment is meted out to you after a due process of the law!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Make Haryana chief minister pay for persecuting honest official

Sanjiv Chaturvedi, an honest forest service official, was victimised by the Haryana government for his ‘crimes’ of bringing to light a huge scam in which senior functionaries had been involved and of effectively implementing the Supreme Court’s orders to save a wildlife sanctuary from being wiped out. Despite his case receiving sympathetic attention from no less than the prime minister’s office, Union ministry of environment and forests, cabinet secretariat and the Central Administrative Tribunal, for years he has remained at the receiving end of the punishing might of the state government. In the last five years, all in the chief ministership of B.S. Huda, he was transferred repeatedly, denied promotion, suspended and even charge sheeted for an offence he never committed. In a fact finding report, two senior officials of the Union ministry of environment and forests have placed the blame for harassing and tormenting Chaturvedi at the doors of the state forest minister Kiran Chaudhary and some top officials in the finance and forest departments and in the chief minister’s own office.

The most shocking aspect of this most sordid incident is that the prime minister’s office miserably failed to come to any real help to the persecuted official, whose only crime was that he chose to perform his duty conscientiously. It can now make amends by instructing the state government to put under suspension all officials who had harassed Chaturvedi and try them under the Prevention of Corruption Act and also for entering into criminal conspiracy to destroy a wildlife sanctuary and for preventing a government official from carrying out his duty. The prime minister should get the Haryana chief minister to remove forthwith Chaudhary from his cabinet, he should also warn Huda that a repeat of an incident of this type would mean his own dismissal as the chief minister. And of course, all cooked up disciplinary proceedings against Sanjiv Chaturvedi ought to be withdrawn immediately, he be promoted with retrospective effect and also rewarded by the prime minister himself for upholding the best traditions, now mostly forgotten, of civil services even in the face of crudest and vilest opposition from his seniors.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wasn't Indira Gandhi the prime minister during the Emergency?

The official history of the Congress party has blamed Sanjay Gandhi for the excesses committed in family planning and slum clearance campaigns during the Emergency. It is less than clever ploy to distance Indira Gandhi, post facto, from those unpopular steps which were largely responsible for the party's defeat in the 1977 general election. What Sanjay and his over-enthusiastic supporters in the Youth Congress were doing in those fateful nineteen months had Indira Gandhi's unmistakable approval and she should be held accountable for all of that. After all, she had not ceased to be the prime minister with the rise of Sanjay.

What all Sanjay did during the Emergency, he did it openly and if the prime minister, Indira Gandhi, ever had the impression that he was overstepping the limits she could and should have stopped him. That she chose not do that only goes to establish that his actions, howsoever mistaken they may appear in retrospect, had her seal of sanction. Obviously, the hagiographers of the Congress party could not attribute any sins of the Emergency to its author, Indira Gandhi, because Mrs. Gandhi 2.0 sources her legitimacy as the party’s undisputed leader in the original Mrs. Gandhi and Rajiv, nor could they omit the mention of that period from the official history, so, they decided to hang on the now long dead Sanjay everything that had gone wrong. Now that his wife and son are in the principal opposition party, the BJP, making Sanjay the scapegoat for the crimes and excesses perpetrated 34-35 years ago is also politically expedient.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Let Manmohan Singh appear before the Public Accounts Committee

For reasons best known to himself, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Murali Manohar Joshi, seems to be open to considering the prime minister Manmohan Singh's offer to appear before the PAC and answer all questions on his role, if any, in the Rs.1.76 lac crore telecom 2G spectrum scam. The PAC is deliberating upon the report on the scam recently submitted to Parliament by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Joshi's approach is at variance with the stand so far adopted by the combined opposition that the PAC can only go into the accounting aspects of the scam and that it is the Joint Parliamentary Committee which is the right body to scrutinise deeply all aspects, including the responsibility and culpability of various political authorities, of this unprecedented scam.

Suppose, in order to hit back at his old adversary within the BJP, L.K. Advani, or as a screaming protest against his isolation in the party, Joshi overrides the opposition of all other members of the PAC and tells the prime minister to appear before the committee, not all is going to be lost. The other members of the committee should start preparing for that eventuality right now and when it is the time for Manmohan Singh to face them they should pose to him all their probing questions which in normal course they would have asked him had the UPA government agreed to appoint a JPC. He will have to give comprehensive answers and in the process will be forced to reveal the part he played or was made to play in permitting the scam to become a reality. If, on the other hand, he decides to be less than forthright he will be exposing himself to public ridicule, much bigger than he has had to suffer so far.

And of course, the prime minister's tete-a-tete with the PAC can not stop the opposition from continuing to demand a JPC.

Monday, December 27, 2010

System of criminal justice in total disarray

A special Sessions Court in Chhattisgarh has sentenced the well-known paediatrician and public health expert and equally well-known sympathiser of the cause of Naxalism, Dr. Binayak Sen, to life imprisonment for sedition. His crime - carrying three letters written by jailed Naxalites, helping a couple of Naxalites to rent houses and open bank accounts, and some such other things, but definitely not inciting violence or armed rebellion against the state which according to the Supreme Court of India fall under the definition of sedition. Of course, there would be an appeal to the High Court against the judgment and then finally there is the Supreme Court. But the very fact that Sen has got life imprisonment for a crime which can not be termed as sedition should be contrasted with a case in Maharashtra, a few years ago, in which a person, who was accused of hiring professional killers to murder his intra-Congress party rival, the District Congress Committee president, was let go by the Central Bureau of Investigation for want of prosecutable evidence. This happened in spite of some persons having given evidence that they had heard some others saying that they had committed the murder after having been hired by the DCC president's rival. Perhaps it is a matter of some coincidence that the accused's sister was the governor of Rajasthan when the CBI decided to look at him so kindly. She then went on to become the president of India, ironically as the nominee of the same Congress party.

We also have the ludicrous case of some petty government official recently sentenced by the Supreme Court to one year's rigorous imprisonment for accepting a bribe of fifty rupees in the year 1993. In a country where those responsible for scams for tens of thousands of crore rupees, be it in the Commonwealth Games or in the Adarsh Cooperative Building Society, are not even dislodged from their Union ministerial perches, what to talk of suffering any punishment like jail terms, frowning at a bribe of fifty rupees is laughable. If the Supreme Court is so particular about upholding the letter and spirit of law, how has it been allowing the CBI to change its stance on charges of holding assets disproportionate to known sources of income against politicians to suit the convenience of the ruling United Progressive Alliance at the Centre?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Make corruption unfashionable

When I had joined the State Bank of India as a Probationary Officer way back in 1972, one of every two employees used to smoke. Smoking was then supposed to be a sign of advancement and was considered very fashionable. But when I left thirty years later, retiring voluntarily, only one out of four of five smoked. In 2002, smoking was no longer fashionable even among the younger staff of the bank. This big change was made possible by greater awareness about the ill effects of smoking on the smoker's health.

Something like this has got to be done for corruption. People have to be educated about its pernicious effects on the economy and, more importantly, on the moral fabric that binds the nation together. Corruption is far more addictive than tobacco smoking; getting people to kick this habit, therefore, is going to be an uphill task. But if India's non-corrupt take this up as a challenge, they can do it, just as the Obama supporters could do it in November 2008.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Population control is an imperative

At the time of independence in 1947, India’s population was 33 crore or 330 million but in these 63 years it has crossed the figure of 120 crore or 1.2 billion. This almost quadrupling of the population has taken place despite the country having declared family planning as a national policy way back in 1951, the first country in the world to have done so. India’s effort to reduce the average size of the family received a deadly blow in 1977 when due to a backlash of the excesses during the 19 months of the Emergency, such as forced sterilization, Indira Gandhi’s government was badly defeated in the general election. Even now, more than three decades after the Emergency was lifted, population control or planning remains a taboo subject for the government. In fact, after the world’s leading investment bank Goldman Sach spoke about India’s demographic dividend ushering in an era of economic prosperity for the country around 2025, the country’s officialdom suddenly discovered the silver lining to its resounding failure to curb the rate of population growth. The rate has come down somewhat but it has been a secular trend and no government agency, even at its wildest, can claim any credit for it.

But at 1.1 per cent per annum, the rate of growth of India’s population is still too high. Every effort, short of forcing family planning methods on people, should be made to reduce this rate to 0.1 or 0.2 per cent per annum latest by 2020. In the hinterland and even in the city slums, the majority of productive couples do not know that simple means are available to space out their children and also to limit their number. Through intensive publicity on electronic media this message must be put across to them. There is also a need to educate the parents on marrying off daughters when they are at least eighteen and have attained physical maturity. Self-appointed leaders of some communities consider family planning an interference in the affairs of God and forbid it accordingly. The government could engage a few educated members or role models from the fields of sports and films from among these communities to counter this propaganda by convincing the people that by limiting the size of their families they will be able to improve their living standards and educate their children.

There is another angle to this issue. Now we have in India the right to employment, the right to education, and the right to food security and very soon the right to clean water and good health would follow and quite rightly so. In other words a child born in the country becomes in some ways the responsibility of the government. If this is universally agreed upon, should the government then, keeping in view the country’s limited resources, not have a right to advise the people to adopt suitable methods of family planning so that they may not have more than two children? The country has not reached the Malthusian state, and thank heavens for that, but we are very near the maximum carrying capacity of this land.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Politicians as freeloaders

Ever heard of any ethics law in India? Here the president of the main opposition party BJP can get away with a statement that his party's chief minister in Karnataka could have acted immorally in allotting denotified land to his own kin but it was not illegal, where the prime minister has a cabinet colleague who in his previous stint as the chief minister of the state of Maharashtra was found by the Supreme Court to have illegally favoured some usurious money landers related to a legislator of his own party to poor farmers who had borrowed from them, as a punishment the court imposed a fine of Rs. ten lac on the state, not on the former chief minister. And compare this to what has just happened in the the state of New York. There, the governor, a directly elected chief executive of the state, has been fined $62,125 by the Public Integrity Commission for accepting, in contravention of the state ethics law, five free tickets to a popular baseball game in 2009 from the New York Yankees, which had commercial dealings with the state.

What is remarkable is not only that the Public Integrity Commission chose to punish such a senior public official for a transgression considered laughable in India, where ministers, legislators and bureaucrats think it is their birth right to ask for and get all sorts of freebies from those having business with the government, but also that it took it only one year to decide the case in. In our great democracy, if at all, such a case would take about fifteen years and then another five years because of an appeal to the High Court followed by one to the apex court.

When will the Indians learn that the United States has been the world's greatest power for about three fourth of a century not just because of its scientific, technological, economic and military prowess but also because it is, by and large, a law abiding nation where howsoever high you might be, the law would still be above you?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is the Congress party serious about fighting corruption?

The Congress party's recent plenary session at Delhi's Burari was dominated by two battle cries, one against the Bharatiya Janata Party and the other against corruption. Obviously, fighting the BJP is a matter of life and death for the Congress and its determination to take the fight to the BJP's camp was genuine. But the same can not be said about the Congress taking on corruption, after all, of late many of its members have been caught with their hands in the till.

However, if the Congress is really serious on this, it can make a start by introducing an effective bill on Lokpal or ombudsman in the next session of Parliament (Here I am presuming that the Opposition will not boycott it on its demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to go into the Commonwealth games and 2G telecom spectrum scams) acceptable not only to the political parties but also to the civil society, initiate the process for creating law to provide for seizure of public servants' assets disproportionate to their known sources of income, and move to amend the People's Representation Act to debar from fighting elections those against whom a law court has preferred charges. Unless the party takes these three steps very soon its newly found animus against corruption will look like a put on act only to keep up with the Jones.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Need for fast track courts for trying corruption cases

In India we have many examples of politicians against whom law courts have preferred serious charges of corruption, including having assets much beyond their known sources of income, continuing to hold important executive positions like chief minister of a state or a minister at the Centre. Lalu Prasad Yadav, who had earlier been jailed in the infamous animal fodder case and was let out on a bail, completed full five years as the Union rail minister in the first United Progressive Alliance government led by Manmohan Singh from 2004 to 2009. All this while the case of embezzlement of Rs.1,000 crore was still there against him but it was kept in suspended animation at the behest of the Central government, what with the Central Bureau of Investigation, nothing more than a hand maiden of the central government, taking all the time in the world to collect the necessary evidences against Yadav. Similar has been the good fortune of Mayawati, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh since May 2007. A case of having assets disproportionate to income was filed against her a couple of years ago but the CBI has been blowing hot and cold in the matter of registering charges. On the 19th April 2010, the CBI told the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the case, that it had incontrovertible evidence against her and was in apposition to file a charge sheet any day but just a few days later, when Manmohan Singh’s government needed Mayawati’s support to survive a cut motion moved in the Lok Sabha by the Opposition, it somersaulted to its own disgrace and submitted to the court that since Mayawati was found not guilty by the Income Tax Tribunal, the CBI too might not prefer any charges of disproportionate assets. But that does not mean that the case has been withdrawn, only that it is not being actively pursued.

There is a need to put an end to this farce once and for all by having fast track courts to try all cases of corruption against politicians and senior government officials, say, equivalent to deputy secretary in the government of India or above. Once a corruption case is filed against such a person, the investigating agency should be given a maximum period of three months to file a charge sheet, followed by maximum nine months for the case to be tried and decided by a fast track Sessions court. The appeal, if any from either side, should be decided on by the High Court in not more than four months, and in the rare case the case is taken to the Supreme Court, the apex court should dispose it of in maximum two months. Thus, in not more than eighteen months from the day a corruption is instituted against a politician or a senior bureaucrat, either the person would be behind the bars cooling his heels or would be honourably discharged. The government will have to provide two to three hundred special fast track courts for this and budget to incur a total annual expenditure of one to two thousand crore rupees on them, but the courts shall pay many times the amount spent by way of increased public confidence and trust in the system of governance of this country.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Is walking along the straight path so difficult?

It was with great fanfare that on the morning after the Commonwealth games ended the Central government announced the setting up of a committee under the former Comptroller and Auditor-General V.K. Shunglu to look into all aspects of organising and conducting the games at Delhi. The committee was given wide terms of reference and three months to submit its inquiry report to the government. It got going in the last week of October, working quietly, and should be tendering its report by the end of January next. But a recent decision of its has drawn public attention.

The committee has hired the services of Dinesh Mehta & Co., a firm of Chartered accountants, to scrutinise the expenses of the Commonwealth games which are believed to have been fudged and bloated by the games' organising committee chaired by Suresh Kalmadi. What has raised the hackles of the press and public alike is the fact that the same Dinesh Mehta & Co. have been auditing the books of the Indian Olympic Association, a pocket borough of Kalmadi. When this obvious conflict of interest was pointed out to V.K. Shunglu he is reported to have refused to see it as such, saying that the auditors engaged from this firm would make only 5-6 per cent of the Shunglu committee's total staff strength. His logic, to say the least, is faulty; why should even 5-6 per cent of the inquiry committee's staff face a conflict of interest? Where was the compulsion for the committee to hire auditors from Dinesh Mehta & Co. when it could have had its pick from scores of well-reputed audit firms in the country? The Shunglu committee ought to answer these questions to the satisfaction of the Indian people who, of late, have discovered that they can see as well as speak.

Going by the dictum that those in authority should be fair and seen to be fair, most appropriate for a committee inquiring into alleged malfeasance of massive proportions by public functionaries, the Shunglu committee must admit publicly its serious error in judgment in hiring auditors from Dinesh Mehta & Co. and immediately cancel the arrangement. The CAG can be asked to suggest replacement for the auditing firm the committee would be letting go.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rahul Gandhi can now be ruled out as the next p.m.

At the official dinner hosted by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, for the visiting U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, on the 20th July 2009, the Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi told the U.S. ambassador to India, Timothi Roemer, that the Hindu extremists were a bigger threat to India's security than the Lashkar-e-Taiba. This has been revealed by a recent Wikileaks leak of a secret cable sent on the 3rd August 2009 by the U.S. ambassador to the state department in Washington D.C.

The leak, so far not denied by the Congress party, shows that Rahul has internalised so much his party's policy of treating the Muslims as a vote bank as to consider the LeT's Muslim jehadists, who are clearly in the service of the Pakistan army's Inter Services Institute and who do not miss any opportunity to declare their intentions not only to free, by use of arms, the state of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian control but also to balkanise India, a lesser evil than the Hindu extremism, which is not at all anti-national and, at the worst, may turn out, if not checked in time, to be a danger to communal harmony in Maharashtra and perhaps also in Madhya Pradesh. From this, it is clear that Rahul has not been able to understand the true spirit of India and all his whistle stop visits to a large number of villages, towns and cities of the country have been a sheer waste of his party's money. Further, the readiness with which he has shared his "profound knowledge" with a foreign diplomat only goes to indicate on his part an abysmal lack of discretion and a grievous error of judgment.

But thanks to the Wikileaks the way Rahul's mind works has been exposed; and the people of India are not going to ever accept this ignorant and immature person as their prime minister.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Does the buck ever stop in India?

Harry Truman, the U.S. president who decided to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring an early end to the war with the imperial Japan and who a few years later sacked the hero of the war in the Pacific, General Douglas McArthur, for his open dissent, had "The buck stops here!" written on his desk in the Oval Room and quite appropriately so because the buck did actually stop with him. But in our democracy, the biggest in the world, who is our Harry Truman? Who ultimately is responsible for what all goes on in this country, who is responsible for our fractured polity, for our democracy in a disarray?

Reghupathi, a judge on the Madras High Court, writes to H.L. Gokhale, the head of his court, about the Union Telecom minister A. Raja trying to influence him to give anticipatory bail to two accused for murder. Gokhale forwards the letter to the head of the Supreme Court, K.G. Balakrishnan, who in turn writes to the Union Law minister, Veerappa Moily, about the incident without mentioning Raja's name. Moily takes no action because the offending Union minister's name is not there, it does not occur to him though to ask for that name from Balakrishnan who has a copy of Reghupathi's letter to Gokhale giving Raja's name but feels he can not reveal it because Reghupathi has not addressed the letter to him.

What is all this - a comedy of Himalayan stupidities? And who are the principal players - a former head of the Supreme Court, who is now heading the National Human Rights Commission, and a Union Law minister. No, the buck does not stop in India until it finds its way to the minister's pocket.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

There is no such thing as a systemic failure

Whenever a massive scam happens or is allowed to happen, it is quite usual to blame it on a systemic failure and the 2G telecom spectrum scam is no exception. It is believed that this type of scams could be possible only with the collective failure of a number of agencies involved. This type of thinking is used as an umbrella to protect the individuals charged with preventing exactly such happenings. Even if those individuals were not accomplices, they were at least deficient in carrying out their bounden duty to exercise due vigilance. Scams happen because there are persons who engineer and execute them and there are others in the know who choose to look the other way.

It is, therefore, incorrect to say that scams result from systemic failures, it is actually the failure of some individuals, they could be in large numbers, in the system that causes them. Each one of them should be identified, their culpability fixed in promptly held trials and be punished adequately. Simultaneously, any holes in the system should also be plugged. Only then scams and scandals will not become common place.

Why must India lag behind China in high technologies?

Today, when the Chinese premier Wen Jiaobao has arrived on a three day visit to India, is the right time to consider the massive lead China has taken over us in various high technologies. In space, nuclear – both civil and military, super computer, telecommunications, power generation – conventional and renewable, ultra fast rail transport and cutting edge civil construction technologies, we are lagging behind China and what is causing greater worry is the fact that the gap is increasing day by day. India seems to be reconciled to the idea of bringing up the rear in this race with China which with the passage of time is turning into a non-race. We are condemned to be a mere exporter of high grade iron ore to that country, sourcing from it, among other things, high technology telecom equipments and power generating plants to meet nearly half of our requirement and in the process running a deficit of US$16 billion in an annual US$60 billion two-way trade, in other words, we import goods and services worth US$43 billion from China and export to it goods and services worth only US$27 billion. And the deficit is not going to go away soon; just one Indian company, of course one of the biggest in its field, Reliance Power has contracted to import from China power generating machinery worth US$8.5 billion over the next ten years. The Chinese edge is going to stay because their technology is among the best and the prices nearly half of the competition.

It does not have to be like this for ever because if China could do, we can also. But for making this possible, like them, we will have to be single-minded and extremely focused in our approach. If we put together our best scientific and technological brains and our top managers and give them adequate financial resources, also three to four years’ time absolutely free of interference from the bumbling bureaucracy, in all likelihood, they will come abreast with China in their chosen technological fields. For this, however, the government must have a clear vision and it must show sufficient leadership to get there. That we are a democracy should not be held out as an excuse for inaction, or, far worse, for confused action – two steps forward , three backward and four sideways.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't just count the number of Ph.D.s

When comparing India with countries in the developed world, even with China, one of the measurement parameters adopted is the number of Ph.D.s produced every year by India and by other countries. It is often said that for a country of our size our number is plainly inadequate and must go up manifold in science and technology and social sciences including management studies if we have to keep our place among the world's emerging economies.

All this is unexceptionable but a thought should be given to the quality of research at our universities and other institutions of higher learning. Barring a few, they are not properly equipped for carrying out research specially in the newer areas of science and technology, both in terms of expertise and necessary scientific instruments. There is a relatively better known private university in the National Capital Region in which research in the cutting edge nanotechnology is being conducted for the past four-five years without any competent guide. One could have reasons to believe that many Ph.D. theses there would just be cut and paste jobs of a plethora of research papers on the internet.

The malaise lies much deeper, the spirit of enquiry is not encouraged in our schools and colleges. One can not only make do but also score very high marks just by learning by rote. So, when such students go to work on their Ph.D. they can not be expected to suddenly turn into real researchers. In order to produce Ph.D.s of some value, work has to start very early when the students are in their formative years by letting them learn by exploring and experimenting, by working on projects, and not by limiting their imagination to the boundaries set by the text books.

Corruption is not a partisan issue

In this long season of scandals and scams, repeatedly one has come across the mentality of the two principal political parties, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, to declare that their party men are less corrupt than the other's. Each party seems to be concerned only with the acts of corruption perpetrated by the other. The message is very clear that corruption per se is not bad, unless it is members of the other party who are indulging in it or, to put it more precisely, have been caught doing that. That is why Sonia Gandhi and her minions in the Congress keep attacking the BJP for its Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa's transgressions of law in land denotification and allotment to his own kin. The lady also claims for her party a better record in dealing with its own and its allies' ministers when they stray from the right path. Similarly, the BJP blasts the Congress for its acts of commission and omission which have given rise to a series of scams in the recent past but sees no wrong in its corruption-infested government in Karnataka. It says that the Congress' record can not be called better than the BJP's merely because it has belatedly moved against a few of a large number of corrupt persons in its and its allies' ranks.

What these two political parties seem to have forgotten is that the nation has come to be completely sick of corruption, it is not concerned whether it is of the Congress origin or BJP. If the two are even a little serious about battling corruption and bringing it under control, they must first learn to view it as such and not through glasses coloured by their respective political prejudices. The people of India have watched their game of blaming each other long enough, now they expect them to act in a decisive way to clean up public life. If they fail to do this quickly enough, the people are quite capable of dumping them both in the garbage bin, in there th etwo parties can continue with their fight and claims that the muck on one's face is a lighter shade of black than on the other's and vice versa.

Let’s first put our house in order!

For the last few years India seems to be obsessed with the ambition of becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council; some times together with the other aspirants to the high table, Japan, Germany and Brazil, some times acting alone, India has been seen to be openly canvassing for this. It knows only too well that organizational reforms in the United Nations are very difficult and time consuming, after all there are so many players in this game, but still it anxiously waits for a visiting head of the state to make the ritual reference to India’s suitability and deservingness for a permanent seat on the Security Council and breathes easily after it is done. One can not fathom out how such a representation on the Security Council will help India in finding solutions to the problems facing its people, of poverty, of lack of education, of ill health, of corruption, of communal disharmony, of lack of employment opportunities, of terrorism, of Maoist extremism, of air and water pollution, of uneconomic agriculture, et al. Even in pure security terms, the power to exercise a veto is not going to subdue a hostile Pakistan or a constantly prickly China.

Rather than running after the mirage of veto carrying membership of the Security Council, if the government concentrates on tackling the problems of governance our country will be much more secure. If it resolves that just for five years it will be single-minded in its approach to making India a powerful country from within and on its own inherent strength and does likewise, the rest of the world will take notice and will not require much persuasion to come to agree to India’s ambition. As against this, if we keep on desiring without deserving it first, we will compromise our national prestige and not even get what we want.

One of the two is lying

A serving judge of the Supreme Court, H.N. Gokhale, has today taken the wind out of the former chief justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan’s sails by making a statement that on the 6th July 2009, as the then chief justice of the Madras High Court, he had forwarded to Balakrishnan a letter received from Reghupathy, a brother judge, complaining of A. Raja, the then Union Telecom minister, trying to influence him to grant anticipatory bail to certain persons. He went on to say that in August 2009 he had received an acknowledgement from Balakrishnan. Only a few days back Balakrishnan had said in a press conference that neither Reghupathy’s letter nor Gokhale’s forwarding letter had mentioned Raja’s name, he, therefore, did not consider it appropriate to talk to the prime minister in the matter. He had added that the concerned letters would still be in the files of the chief justice of India and they would corroborate his statement.

The matter is not very old, it relates to July-August 2009. It is, therefore, perfectly in order to believe that neither gentleman’s memory is playing tricks with him. One the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, the other a judge of the Supreme Court, both should also be in full control of their other mental faculties. What can then explain their diametrically opposite statements about the same fact? I am not getting any pleasure in saying it but one of the two is clearly lying and simply by reading Reghupathy’s letter it can be easily determined who has been economical with truth. But if I know the Supreme Court and the Central government well, as I do, they would never like to get to the truth. They would just hope that a bigger scandal would make the people forget about this controversy.

If nothing is done on this issue it would be very unfortunate because that would allow either a liar to continue as a judge of the apex court or as the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, either way it would be disastrous. Integrity should be the first filter for any post, be it in the government, public sector or private, and unimpeachable integrity ought to be such filter for exalted positions of a judge of the Supreme Court and the chairman of NHRC.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It is not the Opposition that has denigrated the institution of prime minister

As part of the battle for their own survival the Congressmen are rallying behind Manmohan Singh. Their undisputed leader is carrying the fight into the opposite camp by charging that it is denigrating the institution of prime minister by dragging Singh's name in the recent scams. Her desperate moves to defend Singh at all costs are understandable because his carefully cultivated image of a person of great personal integrity has been the biggest asset for the Congress party. He has been the Congress' mascot since 1991 when his present leader's bete noire, the then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, had made him his Finance minister and supported him to the hilt in salvaging and then opening up Indian economy. But it was in May 2004 that Sonia Gandhi decided to make an icon of him by nominating him to the highest political office in the country. It was a masterly move; not only it put a halo of supreme sacrifice around her persona, it also placed an ever obedient, and now also most grateful, non-politician on the prime minister's chair. The Congress and its leader gained from his elevation because his sagely appearance and clean image stopped people, even many in the Opposition, from questioning many dubious decisions of the government; how could a government headed by him do any wrong? He got the benefit of doubt even in July 2008 when his beleaguered government, abandoned by its Leftist allies, reportedly purchased its way to win a crucial trial of strength in the Lok Sabha. His political mentor Narasimha Rao had not been so fortunate, he was convicted for having bribed the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs to vote his minority government to safety.

But Singh's luck ran out in the second year of his second government. Scam after scam, some of previously unheard of proportions, which owed their origin to his own inaction and immobility in the face of his colleagues' mountainous greed and avarice did not do any credit to his image. What made the situation worse was his spirited defence of his embattled associates. Time and again he tried to reassure people by claiming that all was well, be it in organising Commonwealth Games or in allotment of UAS telecom licences and 2G spectrum. But he could not for ever create smoke screens around reality, the truth came out and out went his unsullied reputation. He could not fool all the people all the time.

It is painful to say, but will be more painful if allowed to remain unsaid, that it is Manmohan Singh himself, who mostly by his acts of obvious inaction and by his unstinted support to various wrong-doers in his government, has lowered the dignity of his high office. The Opposition can be blamed, if at all in his case, of holding a mirror to him.

Protecting dignity of the undignified?

The Supreme Court is very much concerned about protecting dignity of some individuals caught on audio tape hobnobbing with corporate lobbyists and fixers, not just exchanging pleasantries but planning and deciding composition of the Union cabinet after the 2009 general election, selecting most pliable from among Opposition leaders to lead the debate in Parliament, sometimes also deliberating on which wire agencies should be banned. It says that personal dignity is a fundamental right and by publishing excerpts from the by-now infamous Radia tapes, the journalists have impinged on this right of certain individuals.

It is not these persons were engaged in some legitimate activities, they were planning to subvert and in some cases were actually subverting the very institutions supporting the superstructure of our democracy. Could it be Parliament, Union cabinet, news agencies, news channels or newspapers, nothing was sacred to them; they were sullying everything and that the biggest protector of Indian democracy, the Supreme Court, should be disturbed about their right to personal dignity is plainly unfortunate.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Manmohan Singh has become a liability for the Congress

On the eleventh day of the Mahabharata on the battle field of Kurukshetra, a day after the greatest warrior of his time and commander-in-chief of the Kaurava armies, Bhishma Pitamah, had fallen to a bed of hundreds of arrows fired at him by the Pandava Arjun, hiding behind Shikhandi, a half-woman, against whom Bhishma was duty bound not to fight, the new commander-in-chief, Dronacharya, decided to bring an early end to the battle by capturing alive Yudhishthira, the putative king of the Pandavas. Coming to know of the enemies' plan, forgetting every thing else, the Pandavas concentrated all their energies and forces at protecting Yudhishthira and they were able to do so though at great sacrifice. The present political scene in the country, particularly the ding-dong battle over the Opposition's demand for instituting a Joint Parliamentary Committee to go into the labyrinthine affairs of the Commonwealth Games and 2G spectrum scams, which between them are believed to have caused a loss of gigantic Rs.225 lac crore or US$50 billion to the public exchequer, reminds us of the costly escape of Yudhishthira.

Despite repeated prodding from its own allies in the ruling UPA to accede to it, the Congress party has been steadfastly rejecting the Opposition's demand for a JPC because it fears, and rightly so, that its nominated prime minister, Manmohan Singh, would be unable to explain to the JPC his own failure as the leader of the government in preventing the massive loot of public money. Congressmen, irrespective of their seniority in the party, have been asked to rally round and defend Manmohan Singh by aggressively taking on the Opposition leaders, often raking up the long forgotten scandals of those six years when today's main Opposition grouping was in power at the Centre.

The winter session of Parliament is over without JPC being instituted and it seems at this moment that Manmohan Singh has survived but in the process he has perhaps used up his entire political capital. Now on, he will be a severely handicapped prime minister and his a lame duck government.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Something rotten in the entire judiciary!

A bench of the Supreme Court has refused to expunge its earlier remarks that something was rotten in the Allahabad High Court, on the other hand it has reiterated that some close relatives of some of the judges of the High Court were practising at the same court and in just a few years had made millions. Unfortunately, even some of the judges at the apex court have not been absolutely above board in some of their dealings. Only recently Tarun Chatterjee, who was implicated in the infamous Ghaziabad Provident Fund scandal, has retired as a judge from the Supreme Court. That a man like him was allowed to complete his tenure and retire honourably is a sad commentary on the working of the highest judiciary in our country. Shanti Bhushan, senior advocate and Morarji Desai's law minister, has said that out of the sixteen heads of the Supreme Court till Y.K. Sabbarwal, eight were certainly corrupt, six certainly honest and about two nothing can be said. He has given the category-wise names in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court and challenged it to try him for contempt of court. In a month that has since gone by, the court has not done so, nor it is likely to do that ever.

It is an undeniable fact that greed, which has become the presiding deity of Indians, has also taken some of the Supreme Court and High Court judges in its embrace. And nothing can be done to remedy the situation as long as firing such a judge is next to impossible; the rotten apples among them can only be impeached with at least half of the combined strength of the two houses of Parliament and two thirds of those present and voting casting their votes to impeach them. No wonder then that in more than sixty years of the life of the Republic it has never been possible to impeach a High Court or Supreme Court judge.

A properly worded judicial accountability act could be the only answer but can our frivolous and badly divided polity deliver that - I doubt it very much.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Should we not ask politicians how they made their millions?

One of the reasons that the central government yesterday gave in the Supreme Court for tapping Niira Radia's phone was that she had put together a business empire of Rs.300 crore in the suspiciously short period of nine years. Radia's business success pales into insignificance when compared to that of Jaganmohan Reddy, whose father Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy was chief minister of Andhra Pradesh for little over five years from May 2004 to his death in early September 2009. Jaganmohan had declared a net worth of less than Rs.10 lac before the May 2004 election and in just years his businesses have blossomed so much that for the financial year 2010-11 he has projected his income at Rs.500 crore. He has already paid an advance tax of Rs.84 crore for the first six months of the financial year. Will the central government and the prime minister care to tell their real masters, the people of India, what sort of investigation or phone tapping they had ordered into extraordinary wealth, many times bigger than Radia's, collected by Jaganmohan in only six years as against hers in nine years?

Left to the central or state governments these inconvenient questions will never be asked and the people will have to take this responsibility upon themselves. We should ask Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa, the Abdullahs, Rahul Mahajan, Prakash Singh Badal and others of their ilk who are super, super rich today how they accumulated their wealth particularly when they had been in politics all their lives, Jayalalithaa being the only exception, which is officially not a money spinning profession.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

When the task seems too big

When the task ahead of us seems too big we should close our eyes, inhale a deep breath, the deepest that we can take, and imagine ourselves expanding and growing in size. How so ever big may be the task it is limited in dimensions but we have the capacity to make ourselves so big as to be limited only by our thought. Thus, by letting our thoughts work for us we can dwarf any task and that, in my view, is the beauty of being a human being.

I pity P.J. Thomas

P.J. Thomas was shown over the television today expounding on remedies for corruption, he said that one could be people's refusal to pay bribes. First of all, Thomas, with a case of fraud and cheating pending against him, makes a laughable caricature of the high post of chief vigilance commissioner he happens to occupy, courtesy the prime minister and his Home minister, both of whom have been certified as honest persons by the prime minister in waiting. Then by offering his solution to the problem of corruption he has exposed his total lack of understanding about the situation obtaining on the ground.

There are people who pay bribes to induce a government employee to look the other way when they are violating the law. Here people paying bribes and those accepting, both are accomplices in a crime of corruption and both gain at the cost of the public exchequer. Obviously then such a bribe payer is not going to listen to Thomas' exhortation not to give bribes. On the other hand, there are those who even for getting their legitimate work done by a government employee are forced to grease his or her palms. These victims of corruption have no choice, if they do not pay they will be made to make endless rounds of government offices losing their wages and incurring transport cost. If they listen to Thomas and not pay bribes they might forget about getting their work done by the so-called public servants.

So, for whose benefit did Thomas speak? My advice, unsolicited of course, to this favourite bureaucrat of Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram is that until the 27th January 2011, when the Supreme Court will decide whether to dismiss him, he should observe complete silence in public.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

India should attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

China has sent demarches to many countries, including India, asking them not to attend this week’s ceremony in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, at which the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded, in absentia, to the pro-democracy Chinese activist, Liu Xiabo. Eighteen countries, among them Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt, have decided to stay away from the function. India has not been able to decide so far but if it does attend the ceremony there is the risk of the Chinese cancelling the premier Wen Jiabao’s scheduled visit next week. The newly aggressively assertive China has already warned those attending of the consequences of their action. But should this nation of 1.2 billion and an atomic power in its own right be frightened into submission by the fire throwing dragon one more time?

India has always been careful about Chinese sensitivities, be they concerning Tibet or Taipei, it has also gulped Pakistan’s gift of a huge tract of Indian territory to China, but what has it got in return? To keep India confused and worried all the time, the Chinese keep on reopening the issue of the unsettled land border between the two countries every now and then, they are treating Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory and are stapling visas to the passports of the state subjects wanting to visit China, they have objected to Indian prime minister’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh which they have recently started calling ‘South Tibet’. Enough is enough, it is now time India called China’s bluff and told it in unmistakable terms that India would do what suited its national interests.

There is no bottom in this pit!

About two decades back, though extremely concerned about huge corruption in every walk of India’s life, I used to think that India had already hit the rock bottom and there was only one way it could go from there – up. Then Rwanda happened, in a small country with just about six million population, the Hutus, making two thirds in numbers, butchered one million of the minority Tutsies. It was closely followed by the Serbian Christians unleashing all sorts of cruelties on the Bosnian Muslims. I found that these countries were far below India in terms of adherence to universal social values. But perhaps even they did not make the bottom because by that time I had figured out that there was no bottom in the pit. Countries and civilisations have a natural tendency to fall and they keep on falling unless a strong upward force is continually applied on them by their peoples.

India’s recent fall has been very pronounced, scam a day seems to have become our staple diet. The latest to be discovered among the long list is the Rs.35,000 crore food grains scam in the state of Uttar Pradesh from 2004 to 2007, when Mulayam Singh Yadav was the state’s chief minister and his brother, Shivpal Singh Yadav, his agriculture minister. Millions of tonnes of food grains were diverted from the public distribution system, mid day meals and other social projects to the market and a substantial part even illegally exported to Nepal and Bangladesh. Some persons had approached the Allahabad High Court to intervene to stop the loot and it did by sending notices to the state governments and also in 2005 and 2009 to Manmohan Singh’s central government but could not shake them out of their slumber. Now that the scam, which some people say could be as big as the GDP-scale 2G spectrum scam, is out in the open, sanctimonious statements will be issued by all whose inaction and complicity made it possible in the first place that the guilty will not be allowed to go unpunished, that no one is above the law, and a comprehensive inquiry by the ubiquitous CBI will be launched. Sometimes, I wonder how many simultaneous inquiries of this nature and spread the CBI can manage without compromising the quality of its investigation, particularly when its record for ultimate conviction is already nothing much to write home about.

Diversion and theft of food grains on this massive scale could not have been possible without patronage from the highest echelons of the state government and active involvement of hundreds, perhaps thousands, at all levels of the state’s bureaucracy, including police. Even the central government can not escape its responsibility; it had failed to come to life despite the High Court’s notices. With so many, including big wigs, involved and culpable, I will be highly surprised if anything worthwhile is allowed to happen in this case unless the civil society and people of India build up sufficient pressure on the state and central governments and sustain it not for months but years. It is our tens of thousands of crores which were looted by crooks and criminals in the garbs of politicians and bureaucrats and it is we who must keep pressurising the governments and the criminal justice system to ensure that the guilty are made to cough up their ill-gotten gains and do long terms in prison.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cell phone towers are a health hazard

The very nature of the cellular phone technology is such as to necessarily have a large number of transmission-cum-receiving towers spread all over the area serviced, the distance between any two adjacent towers being not more than a few hundred metres. Consequently, in cities and towns these towers are located even in close proximity to residential areas. This is not a happy situation because for maintaining round the clock cell phone connectivity these towers are always emitting powerful pulses of electromagnetic radiation and also receiving radio signals from cell phones. Exposure over long periods of time to such radiation can have carcinogenic effects in human body. The problem is made worse when some house owners permit the telecom companies to put up towers on top of their houses. For a monthly rent of thirty to forty thousand rupees these people not only overload the foundation and superstructure of their houses, they also choose to expose themselves, their families and neighbours to continuous doses of cancer-causing radiation.

The reward of the monthly rent may be sufficient to offset the risk for themselves and their families but they have no right to endanger the lives of their neighbours. The governments, municipal, state and central, therefore, must make stringent laws and rules prohibiting telecom towers in residential areas and it must be the duty of the residents’ associations to report the violations to the concerned authorities. Some people may crib that blanket ban on telecom towers in residential areas could result into loss of cell phone connectivity there, but if asked to choose between good health and cancer-causing connectivity, what would they choose? Of course, no prizes for guessing it right!

Are the golden days of Indian bureaucracy now over?

A retired Indian Administrative Service officer was today sentenced to four years of imprisonment by the CBI court in Ghaziabad for wrongful allotment of a big tract of land to an industrialist and for entering into a criminal conspiracy with him when she was the chief executive officer and chairperson of the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority way back from 1994 to 1996. The Noida Entrepreneurs Association had filed the case against her in 1997 and much later, to ensure that the ends of justice be served, the Supreme Court transferred it to the CBI court. While in service this lady was known for her blatantly corrupt ways. In 1995, in a secret poll, her service mates in the state of Uttar Pradesh had adjudged her the second most corrupt IAS official in the entire state. But it is a sad commentary on the way this country is governed (?) that despite her obvious notoriety no action was taken against her, in fact a few years later she was made the chief secretary or head of the state’s bureaucracy. Fortunately the state did not have to suffer her for long, soon she was removed from the post of chief secretary on the orders of the Supreme Court. Now, about fifteen years after her venal acts in Noida she has been asked to pay the price.

Of course, she would appeal to the High Court against her conviction and, in the event of the conviction being upheld by that court, to the apex court, and all this while, it could be three to four years, she would be moving about freely on bail. Some people might find this state of affairs disappointing, if not outright disgusting, they would like criminals to land in jail the moment they are convicted but the due process of law can not be wished away. What is worth celebrating in this case is the fact that for the first time in independent India an IAS officer who retired from the rank of a secretary to the government of India has been punished for criminal malfeasance with a jail term. It is a black bordered day for the coveted service which so far had been beyond the reach of the law’s long arms. There are hundreds others in the four and a half thousand strong IAS cadre who should be behind the bars for their debased activities, if after the CBI court’s judgment they are feeling badly rattled and shaken, today could be a red letter day for the people of India and for their injured democracy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Honesty is the only policy!

A friend, otherwise a crusader against corruption, saw no problem with the idea that when a government employee was being unnecessarily difficult and not doing your legitimate work you should start shouting in his office that he had demanded a bribe from you; alarmed at this he would do your work without delaying it further. To me it was absolutely unacceptable because a victory gained through fraudulent means is much worse than an honest defeat.

Truth is the ultimate power and if we still resort to lies to gain an advantage it only means we have more faith in the power of lies. We may also be forgetting that the truth can stand by itself whereas a lie needs all around supports to prop it up.

As another friend put it very clearly, if you want to reach a place in the east you can do so only by going east, not west. Let us choose the right 'disha' or direction, our 'dasha' or condition will improve as a natural consequence.

Financing election campaigns

It is often said that politicians in India are forced to adopt corrupt practices to be able to raise finances to meet the ever increasing costs of fighting elections. As someone who has always held that there could never be a justification for corruption, I refuse to accept this defence of politicians. Had politicians been making money by misusing and abusing their public offices only to finance their election campaigns, how can their ‘rags to super riches’ stories be ever explained? One just has to look at their statements of assets and liabilities submitted before the elections, usually their net worth goes up many times in five years, and if their undisclosed assets could be included the growth would be much more. No doubt a certain part of the funds the politicians raise illegally, not infrequently their fee for permitting and protecting outright criminal activities, goes to meet their election expenses but the rest, and that is the major part, remains with them in India or is stashed away in their bank accounts in Switzerland, Singapore or other safe havens for stolen money. With the present state of governance in the country we may not be able to catch these rogues and try them for treason for their crimes against the state and the people of India but let us not at least try to justify their worst villainy and avarice.

It is my considered opinion that today if a political party comes clean and declares that it will not make any criminal or anyone charge-sheeted by a court its candidate in any election, be it for the village Panchayats, municipal councils, State Legislature or Parliament, and then asks for donation from members of the public by way of cheques or bank transfers, it would manage to raise enough resources for funding election campaigns. Thanks to the interminable line of scams which are coming to light with monotonous regularity, so much hatred against corruption has been generated in the middle class that people would not mind loosening their purse strings a little for helping clean up the political system.

Vulgar show of wealth

The BJP president Nitin Gadkari has spared no expense to make his son's wedding reception a memorable event. Chartered plane loads of his party colleagues, businessmen and Bollywood glitterati descended on Nagpur to attend the reception along with about two lac locals. Perhaps he spent 25 to 30 crore rupees of his 'hard earned' money on hospitality of a scale the maharajas of the yore were known for.

In our great country one can not ask the politicians the source of their income and wealth and if one makes bold and does, they are not supposed to answer such silly questions. The same applies to Nitin Gadkari, son of a school teacher this first generation industrialist seems to have done excellently for himself. Now, of course, he does not have time to look after his business interests and it is his son who does it for him. Let us presume that he has really earned his money by fair and legitimate means but does that give him a licence to make an ugly exhibition of his opulence, particularly when he is the president of a political party which claims that it follows Mahatma Gandhi's and Deendayal Upadhyay's brand of simplicity?

Gadkari may have spent his own money but the manner in which he has done it, he has made outrageously ostentatious expenditure fashionable and politically acceptable. In our culture of 'keeping up with the Joneses' he has given the lead to other politicians to put up such extravaganzas. Since all of them may not be prosperous industrialists like him, so per force they will have to scam their way through to be able to throw parties of such gigantic proportions.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Let Parliament function!

Pressing its demand for instituting a Joint Parliamentary Committee for looking into the 2G spectrum and Commonwealth Games scams the opposition has not allowed Parliament to work for the last three weeks. Both the ruling alliance and the opposition are sticking to their positions on either side of the JPC divide and there seems to be no way an agreement could be reached between the two. It was widely reported by the electronic and print media that as a reconciliation gesture to the opposition, the government could get the tainted chief vigilance commissioner P.J. Thomas to resign before next Monday's hearing of a Public Interest Litigation petition against his appointment. But since that has not happened, in all likelihood the impasse in Parliament will continue. The situation is unfortunate because Parliament is not able to exercise its Constitutional oversight of the executive. Expenditure of more than forty thousand crore has been passed without debate, and more of this will follow.

The opposition has been successful in drawing the nation's attention to an unprecedented level of corruption prevalent in the Central government, now it is time that it attended Parliament and accepted the government's offer of unrestricted debate on all scams that have rocked the country recently. The Public Accounts Committee, a smaller and milder form of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, in any case, is already discussing the Comptroller and Auditor General's comprehensive report on the 2G spectrum scam.

If, on the other hand, the opposition did not come down from its high horse the winter session would be over without Parliament conducting any business.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Time to rekindle faith in ourselves!

Icons in India are falling like nine pins. It could be the prime minister, who had been certified as having impeccable integrity by those whose own integrity is, to say the least, doubtful, the otherwise sanctimonious Supreme Court which was silenced by an unusually belligerent attorney general claiming that had integrity been a selection criterion many judicial appointments could have been questioned, the chief vigilance commissioner who reportedly could not exercise vigil against his own rapacity, the holier-than-thou and all-knowing journalists who could be playing minister-maker one day and be acting as corporate fixers' messenger the next, or the leader of a century old industrial house celebrated for doing business most ethically but caught on an audio tape planning for reappointment of a Central minister widely known to be corrupt.

What should an ordinary Indian do in such circumstances, who should one believe, in whom to have faith? It is not easy to answer these questions with finality but one can venture forth and suggest that in times like the present it is best to rely on yourself, to have faith in yourself. Loss of innocence is painful but we should be grateful to all these fallen heroes that in their fall they have given us a chance to grow, a chance to act as an adult who can look at anyone without stars in his or her eyes.

Who is U.P.'s Nitish Kumar?

After fifteen years of government-sponsored anarchy, Bihar has had a government for the past five years which reintroduced good governance, repaired old roads, built new ones where required, and started many welfare projects for the poor and other deprived sections of society. The people of Bihar rewarded him by giving him another term of five years, this time with overwhelming majority. Like his bete noire Narendra Modi, Nitish has made development fashionable in politics.

But the politics of development seems to have stopped at the Bihar-Uttar Pradesh border. U.P. is still embroiled in the politics of identity and caste arithmetic. There the biggest projects completed by the state government are memorials for Dalit icons over hundreds of acres of land and costing about rupees three thousand crore. And this in a state which almost makes the bottom among all Indian states on various social development indices!

There is a real chance that the U.P.'s ruling party, facing a badly splintered opposition and feeling reinvigorated by a favourable judgment by the Supreme Court, would call the state elections in early 2011 more than a year before they would be due in the normal course. The state could thus be looking at five more years of non-development and resultant backwardness. U.P.'s Nitish Kumar is nowhere in sight and the state is going to pay dearly for that.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Honest persons in a corrupt set up

Yesterday, when a young television journalist introduced himself to me as working in a particular news channel, I could not help remarking that because of the extra-journalistic activities of one of his seniors the entire news channel was suffering from the ill effects of "Radiation". Naturally, the young man was distraught at the comment but picked up enough courage to say that five fingers of a hand are not equal, and that there were others who were carrying on th best traditions of ethical journalism. He, himself, had worked day and night in hostile atmosphere to bring to light the sordid saga of rotting food grains in many open-to-sky godowns of the Food Corporation of India. Taking a suo moto notice of the situation, as reported in the news story, the Supreme Court gave a lashing to the Central government and ordered it to distribute food grains among the poor and under-nourished rather than letting it rot in ill-equipped storage.

He then made a very significant statement, he said that even if some crucial people in the organisation he was working for were not above board in some of their dealings, the organisation still provided him a platform from which he could make a real contribution to society by exposing inefficiency and corruption in the way the government functioned. Without that platform he would just be an aware, perhaps even enlightened, citizen who would be pained at the worsening situation all around but unable to do anything to improve it.

BJP, please also look inside!

As the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party may be feeling justified in not letting Parliament function for the last three weeks over the opposition's demand for setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to inquire into the 2G spectrum and Commonwealth Games scams, but it has also to look at its own conduct. And here I am not referring to the admission of nepotism and other wrongdoings made by its chief minister of Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa, whom, after an initial show of toughness, the party allowed to continue as chief minister.

Niira Radia of the Radia tapes was photographed with Atal Behari Bajpai at the Pejawar Peeth in 2003 when Bajpai was very much the prime minister, the Pejawar Swami and two other priest-looking persons were the only other people in the photograph. This Lankesh Patrike photograph has been reproduced in the latest issue of the Outlook magazine. Will the BJP ever explain the obvious proximity Radia, a known lobbyist even then, had with the prime minister? Or for that matter, will they care to clarify about her reported closeness with Ananth Kumar even earlier, in 1998-99, when he was Civil Aviation minister in the NDA government and she a lobbyist of the Singapore Airlines?

For the ministers' corruption and conduct not befitting their important public positions, it is the role of the opposition to haul the government over burning coals but while doing so it should not forget its own behaviour when it was in power.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Putting a wrong person in the dock

The Supreme Court, in its school masterly best, asked the former Telecom minister A.Raja of the Rs.1.76 lac crore 2G spectrum scam to explain his various acts of commission and omission while deciding not to auction Unified Access System licences and 2G spectrum but to allocate them on first come, first served basis, that too with some very original alterations. The court also admonished Raja not only for not listening to the Law ministry but also for ignoring the advice of the prime minister in the matter. Raja's counsel tried to justify his client's actions but the court did not buy it.

I do not hold any brief for Raja, in fact it is high time that he had to pay for his wrongdoings which denied the public exchequer huge revenues, but rather than asking Raja why he ignored the prime minister's advice, should the court not be asking the prime minister if his responsibility ended at advising Raja. Should he not have pursued it with him and at recalcitrance on Raja's part, should he not have sought his resignation or dismissed him in January/February 2008 and cancelled all licences and spectrum allocations made by him? These are inconvenient questions, no doubt, but if the Supreme Court won't ask them, who would? The nation is owed answers to these questions.

Azim Premji does a Bill Gates!

With personal wealth estimated at US$18 billion, the third richest Indian, Azim Premji, is donating US$2 billion or about Rs.8,850 crore to fund education, this is in addition to US$150 million or Rs.700 crore that he has already donated for improving schools in six districts of three Indian states. It seems that at least one mega-rich Indian industrialist has got the American billionaires’ disease, at least the beginning of it, of earning huge amounts of money all to ultimately give away as charity.

Today the name Carnegie suggests Dale Carnegie of the ‘How to win friends and Influence People’ fame but in the early twentieth century Andrew Carnegie was the richest man in the United States, perhaps in the world. No one inherited his wealth because he gave it away, all of it, to philanthropic causes including creating thousands of public libraries all over the U.S. The Rockefellers of Standard Oil put major part of their wealth into the Rockefeller Foundation, a charitable organisation. In the present time, of course there are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, world's second and third richest persons, who have decided to leave only US$300 million and US$1 billion, respectively, to their children, dedicating the rest to Melinda and Bill gates Foundation, which is engaged, among other things, in funding research for finding cure for diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. These diseases, called poor people's diseases, have been below multinational drug companies' radar for obvious reasons - there is no big money in their treatment.

Let Premji be the trend setter for India's growing ranks of dollar billionaires; creating loads and loads of money is great but much greater is spending it on activities directly benefiting society.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

P.J. Thomas in or out - either way the government will suffer

The Central government is on the horns of a dilemma. If it asks the Chief Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas to put in his papers as demanded by the Opposition, the wisdom of Manmohan Singh and his Home minister P. Chidambaram would be questioned in selecting him for the post in face of stiff protest by the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, only three months back. And if it allows Thomas to continue, it will continue to attract opprobrium from the Supreme Court.

But either of this should be preferable to the "smart" solution being tried for the problem that would let Thomas recuse himself from exercising oversight on the CBI's investigation into the 2G spectrum scam because he was the Telecom secretary till the end of August 2010. One had heard of High Court or Supreme Court judges recusing themselves from hearing a case where conflict of interests could be imputed but a CVC doing that from an investigation because he himself was a suspect, can not have any precedent in India or in any other democracy. But trust the Manmohan Singh government to create such dubious records again and again.

Declaring war on corruption

More than four years ago I had written in my diary “My goal beckons and challenges me to find the path to it and also the will and perseverance to keep to the path to reach it”. By nature I am allergic to corruption and I always wanted to eradicate it, at least bring it down to a level where it stops being a nuisance and an unofficial tax for a common person. In the U.S., Canada and Western Europe there could be corruption in large construction or defence projects but the man or woman on the street can spend a lifetime without coming across a single incidence of corruption. In this regard, I wanted India to stand as an equal to these countries. But now I have become more specific, in five years I want India to be among the world’s fifty most honest countries as assessed by the Berlin-based Transparency International. From the present 87th rank, it will have to be a jump of at least 37 places. From a desire it has now become a goal that beckons me.

The challenge lies in finding a pathway to this goal. So many people in different parts of the country are seized of combating corruption. Some are convinced that corruption starts at the top and then travels down, they, therefore, minutely observe the unexplained aberrations from the normal by the top decision makers and, when needed, pin them down by initiating against them Public Interest litigation in the High Courts or Supreme Court. There are others who concentrate on simplifying the laws and rules so there could be better compliance, consequently less number of violations and fewer chances for the corrupt officials to ask for bribes for looking the other way. I admire all these efforts, they are extremely necessary, but the path which I have chosen is of a mass movement against corruption.

The movement will move on four legs. The first, educating people to abide by the law and follow the rules because by doing this conscientiously they would seldom find themselves in a situation where a government employee could demand bribes from them. The second, making people conscious of their right to being served by government agencies established for that very purpose, be it a primary school, health centre, Panchayat, block development office, land registration department, etc. The third, empowering people to be able to refuse to pay bribes - come what may. And the fourth and the last, providing strength and support to the honest among government officials so that they may make bold to discipline their corrupt juniors and to resist, oppose and ultimately expose the corrupt peers and seniors.

So far so good, but the problem is how to get this movement going on the ground? This is occupying me and I have also requested my like-minded friends to apply themselves to finding a way. It is not going to be easy, nothing worth while is, but I am confident that, together, we will arrive at a solution and that in the near future.