Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Urgently Wanted: A Foreign Minister

The recent political developments around India’s immediate neighbours has brought out the urgent need for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appoint his Foreign Minister. When Natwar Singh quit the Union Cabinet as a fallout of the Oil-for-Food scandal, the Prime Minister began to oversee the Indian Foreign Ministry, as well, as an additional charge. Later, Anand Sharma was appointed the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. While appointing Sharma as the MoS may have given the Ministry some sort of a leadership, his role has been more to be in charge of protocol and the rest rather than Foreign Policy initiatives. Also Foreign Secretary, Shyam Sharan and Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Navtej Sarna can only do so much in their respective capacities. It is the crucial Foreign Minister that is missing out when the region and the world is seeing great changes in politics and internal developments.

The Nepal Crisis, with India’s missing Foreign Minister, stuck out like a sore thumb in the diplomacy needed at the time. The Prime Minister did appoint an envoy in Dr. Karan Singh but appointing representatives on a country by country basis is unadvisable and frankly unacceptable. A coherent policy was needed to be communicated to the citizens of the country and to the Nepalese establishment and their people as well. However, without a Minister in place, all one got was some sound bites from differing voices and off the record comments. These comments ended up antagonizing the Indian stand by many protestors on the streets, who saw India’s position as being soft on the King. Anti monarchy protests and the threat of the Maoists certainly will have an impact in India and an official Minister of the Government was needed to be in the thick of things.

Now with the fragile peace in Sri Lanka also on the brink, it seems India will also have to deal with the problem and get involved in whatever diplomatic channels acceptable to both countries. Also, a debate is rages on Capitol Hill on the India-US nuclear deal along with the crisis in Iran. India needs an effective Foreign Minister in place to apprise the international community on where India stands on all such pressing issues. India is an emerging superpower and must assert itself more internationally. In order to do so it will have to make its Foreign Policy clear and unflinching in all major capitals in the world.

Although Jawaharlal La Nehru did hold the post of Foreign Minister when he was Prime Minister, it is hugely unrealistic to imagine Manmohan Singh carrying out a full term with both portfolios. In fact it is unthinkable today for the President of the United States to also be the Secretary of State. In the UK the Foreign Minister Jack Straw and even his predecessor Robin Cook were seen criss-crossing the globe to make their nations voices heard. It is acutely necessary that the potentially handicapping berth in the Cabinet is filled up sooner rather than later.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Pramod Mahajan: The Shooting Star Shot

The shocking shoot out involving Pramod Mahajan and his brother Pravin has stunned the nation. The BJP leader, whom Vajpayee called the Lakshman of the party, second only to Advani, is battling for his life at a Mumbai hospital. The impact this incident will probably change the politics of the BJP and even the nations political atmosphere. Pramod Mahajan is a person who enjoys a reputation ranging from a brilliant politician to a wheeler dealer with undesirable links with industrialists. The 56 year old Mahajan has been the public face of the party along with Arun Jaitley. They both have formed the Gen Next in the party that will soon see a transition from the old guard of Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi to them to take the 25 year, currently crisis ridden, party forward. Mahajan has played a crucial role in the rise of the party and making it become the first non-Congress party to head a Union Government for a full term. He also was the man behind many election wins and was known to be strong organizational man.

But his critics and disappointments also went besides his ‘blue-eyed boy’ of the party image. There were constant whispers about his dealing as Communications Minister with Reliance Infocomm. His glamorous image had its fair share of critics in the media and the political establishment. Also, he was known to bring monetary and political benefits to his cronies and protégés. Then there was his biggest failure, the general elections of 2004. By the end of the NDA term, Mahajan had become all powerful in the BJP and hence was in charge of the entire campaign. His ‘India Shining’, though brilliant in theme and execution, failed to excite voters to make the BJP come back to power. Although, it was not the India Shining campaign that made the NDA lose the elections, it was some pre-poll alliance gaffes (most notably with the AIADMK) that ultimately crushed the Mahajan dream of a second successive win.

Politically, Mahajan is a maverick with him, getting a keen ear from Advani and Vajpayee (at one time). He has served the role of political advisor when Vajpayee was PM. Although not a mass leader, and many in his party have a grudge against that deficiency, he has a keen sense of negotiating and politicking that keeps him close to the powers that be. Without him in the fray (although it’s still very early to say), the succession battle may have already begun. The leaders who have been waiting in the wings for years may now sense their opportunity. There is the efficient Arun Jaitley, the hardliner Modi, the now rarely seen Sushma Swaraj and the BJP president Rajnath Singh who will be keen to increase their influence. All of them could now want the top job to take the party forward. Whether such succession frenzy will take place is debatable and too early since Mr. Mahajan is still alive.

So as Pramod Mahajan battles for his life, everyone across party lines, wish his speedy recovery. But national politics has certainly changed ever since those three shots rang out early this morning.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Shivraj Patil : Time to go Home

The terror scare in Jama Masjid has passed as the bombs used in the attack were crude, low intensity and caused little damage. The situation could have been totally different had the casualty numbers been higher or a higher number of dead. The attacks follow a spate of terror attacks in the country. After Delhi, Varanasi, Kashmir and now Jama Masjid brings to light the detriorating internal security. The terror attacks coupled with the rise of Naxalism in the “red corridor” are real causes of concern. Ultimately, in terms of internal security, the buck stops with the Home Minister. Shivraj Patil has enjoyed the trust of Sonia Gandhi and that of the PM (in that order) over the years and was rewarded for his sycophantic skills with the prized post of the Home Minister. Another reason for having Patil as the Home Minister and not a person like Pranab Mukherjee was that Sonia Gandhi and the PM didn't want an alternate power source in the Government. It is no secret that Pranab Mukherjee is the most powerful person in the Cabinet and his elevation as the Home Minister would have seriously undermined the Prime Minister.

So we are stuck with a Home Minister whose performance as has been extremely poor and the his only success has been apparently in his suave sense of dressing! The Prime Minister has gone on recors to say that Naxalism is the biggestthreat to country today. However, he has left it that and has not brought about any credible plan to tackle the problem. What is required is a strong interior minister with experience in the field who can tackle the internal war that is raging inthe country. Also, India has been on the receiving end of terrorism for decades, the NDA regime saw LK Advani acting tough on state sponsored and home grown terrorists. Today, with repeated attacks on the country has left the citizens jittery and wondering they might be next targets in this continuing fight against terror. We require a HomeMinister who can show results and up the ante agianst the terrorists and the Naxals. There is a crying need to also improve our intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing amongst various agencies and state police to help stall terror plots. All these important changes will only come about with a stog Home Minister in charge.

More so it is high time the PM steps in and holds those responsible for maintaining the nations internal security responsible and accountable. And on those counts Mr. Patil desrves to go. It is now for t he Pm to decide what is more important - sycophancy or national security.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Mandal Redux

The Governments decision to make 27% reservation for OBC's for educational institutions is deplorable. The decision will take the reservation quota to 49.5% (the maximum reservation that can lawfully be imposed) and in doing so will signal the death knell for thousands of hard working students who will miss out beacuse they are in the open quota. Years of politics over reservations and the rise of regional and national backward caste parties have ensured that the proposal to increase the reservation to nearly 50% was unanimous amongst the political class. The propsal which is said to have the blessings of the PM will end meritocracy (if there was any) to an age where caste decided your future. While many may argue that thousands of years of the caste system in India led to many bright Dalits and backward classes to suffer at the hands of upper castes, and now that the reverse is happening the upper caste controlled middle India is protesting. However, it is also true that the reservation system which was meant to benefit the poorest of the poor in the country have largerly been ignored in the humdrum of reservation politics. The plights of the SC/ST's and OBC in the Indian heartland remains the way it has been for eons. The same rigid fuedal system prevails in the villages and rural hinterland. The benefit of various reservation programmes have not benefitted these people but political parties and the so called “creamy layer” amongst the SC/ST's.

The messiah of the SC/ST's Lalloo Yadav after having ruled Bihar for 15 years on thepretext of making every poor Bihari self sufficient failed miserably and the condition of the peopel who got him to power more or less remains the same. A similar case in point is that of Mayawati, who after going after the Bahujan samaj has now courting the Brahmins and Thakurs in UP, not to help the caste she represents but to ultimately grab the CM's chair from the other caste politics flip flopper Mulayam Singh Yadav.

It is imperative that the Government aoids such policies in higher education and research and instead try to work on the economic and social conditions of the SC'ST's and OBC's. Of what use is reserving seats in institutes like the IIM's, IIT's and AIIMS when people in the villages do not even have access to basic education and and healthcare. Surely, the benefits of such reservatin policies will not affect the villages, instead it will help the creamy layer of the SC/ST's in towns and cities. Why should a person who has gotten through to a good college or say the Civil Services through the quota have his children avail the same benefits that he/she did? Will this not make the “well off” SC/ST's even better off while leaving the ones who need a push still way behind. isn't reservation politics making the divide between urban and rural backward classes even more acute?

The politicians don't seem to think so, they argue that it is required. This when the origianl idea behind the policy of reservations was meant for a period of ten years only. But the politicians want to woo the backward classes, as they form a sizeable chunk of the electorate, hence the complete silence from the Congress and the BJP on the issue (especially in a election year). The move will also start another brain drain of sorts, students who cannot get through to Indian unviversities will prefer to go abroad. This in a day and age when India is a rising power and is alos shifting towars a knowledge based society. As a country is important that the best minds get exposed to the best institues and help build a progressive nation. Years later when we will look back at the myopic policies of the politicians of the time, we will realise not only did we increase the urban-rural rich -poor divide, we will also impeded the nations growth, with the best minds feeling left out in the scheme of things. Is it a price worth paying?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Medha Patkar: The Dam Woman
Medha Patkar’s eight-day hunger strike protesting against the rehabilitation scheme offered by the Government has brought the issue the Sardar Sarovar Dam back to the forefront. The concerns of the activists are well understood and appreciated by the corridors of power and the people in general. But their refusal to take cognizance of what the Government has to offer shows how these activists refuse to listen to another point of view and think of their viewpoint as final, correct and standing. A closer look at the whole Narmada Bachao Andolan shows that the fight of the NBA with the Government goes back some 20 years, while the whole idea to make the dam was first proposed in early 1900’s. The Government undertook the project, as it would help close to 1.5 million hectares of land that had little or no sources of irrigation. The benefits of the dam have already started showing its effects in many villages of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The Government has also till date spent close to Rs.1600 Crores on rehabilitation for those whose villages have been displaced or submerged. While there is doubting that the people displaced have to be relocated and their source of livelihood restored, the activists idea of putting a full stop on the entire project is detrimental and against the progress of the nation. The dam in the long run will help the poor farmers and improve their plight, the cost of 200 villages affected by the dam, pales in front of the millions who stand to benefit from the project.

Similar scenes were witnessed during the Tehri dam project. There was a public outcry led by Sunder Lal Bahuguna about the project. Not realizing that the dam project itself provided jobs to thousands who worked there apart from the fact that the project would help provide electricity to large parts of Uttaranchal and neighboring states. But neither the activists nor the media would have any of it. Our television screens were full of shots of the submerged Tehri town and the clock tower that was the last landmark that stood as if it were a symbol against the unnatural progress of mankind (or so we were supposed to believe). Not one news channel took the effort to show the relocated New Tehri Town that resides on top of a mountain overlooking a beautiful man made lake thanks to the dam. The people of Tehri not only have a new town and a tourist attraction but also abundant electricity.

I would like to also inform our knowledgeable activists that as India progresses there is great need for all resources including electricity, irrigation and other infrastructure. This will only be possible through maximizing our existing resources with a mix of conventional and unconventional methods. This includes dam projects, nuclear energy and renewal sources of energy along with conventional sources of energy like fossil fuels. If the activists oppose all development to fuel the burgeoning Indian economy then be prepared to have your electricity line cut since you oppose the very means of production to light up TV sets, bulbs and fridges. For the majority of citizens who are tired of power cuts or worse, no power, let the projects go ahead and make their lives better. Only if these dam(n) activists would understand!