Daily Archives: June 14, 2011
Offence is not always the best defence. Delhi’s ruling establishment is learning it the hard way. For the past few weeks, the UPA, the Congress and its megaphones have gone cacophonic with questions over the colour of the movements led by Anna Hazare and Ramdev against black money and corruption.
The reaction of the Government and the party to civil society’s champions defies not only logic but also consistency. They decided to defame and deride the same leaders whom they treated like manna from heaven until last week. Both Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had written personal letters to both the reformers, praising them for their relentless drive against the same cause to which, both claimed, the Congress is equally committed. Over a dozen ministers were deputed to plead and pray together with Baba and Anna. No doubt, Manmohan Singh and Sonia later put together a very effective team comprising spin doctors, legal eagles, filibusters and sagacious leaders to deal and tame the rising revolt against the establishment. The team led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was expected to rein in both the crusaders by dialogue, debate and database.
They were also under instructions that if they failed in their endeavour, they should not spare any page in the rulebook to derail and demoralise the civil society groups through the use and misuse of the ever-ready investigative agencies. As the public outcry against the system acquires monumental proportions, the Government has devised a dangerous mechanism of dealing with dissent in a democracy. The message is clear: Join Us or Perish.
Once Anna and Baba refused to fall in line, the ruling establishment dubbed them as communal, corrupt, thugs and agents of unknown enemies of the state. But the Government fell into yet another trap for which they weren’t ready. Those who oppose both Anna and Baba chose to ask some questions like:
● Who were the donors who provided huge funds to both these campaigners?
● How are they spending their money?
● Why don’t civil society leaders declare their assets to the public?
● Are civil society leaders divided on many issues?
● How can a few selected people be allowed to dictate the nation’s agenda?
● Why do they want a live telecast of the proceedings of the panel on the Lokpal Bill?
● Why have they taken the support of organisations like the RSS and other allegedly communal organisations?
Interestingly, none of these issues were raised by any of the senior ministers who spent over 50 hours with Anna and Ramdev at the cost of government functioning, pleading for the agitation to be called off. As the Government and opinion-makers it sponsors mounted a tirade against Anna and Ramdev, they received an equally powerful rebuttal to each of the doubts raised about their motives. Team Anna turned the tables on the Government by putting out the assets of each key team member on their website.
Anna also ensured his website was brought to date by uploading the names of the movement’s donors, money spent on each rally, travel and so on and so forth. An earlier attempt to tar the image of Shanti Bhushan and his son by circulating a fake CD fell flat when two contradictory reports were handed over about the veracity of the discs. The Delhi Police have conveniently chosen to forget all about the case. Some prominent Government leaders issued veiled threats, promising reprisals against those who were part of the civil society movements. In Baba’s case, the threats were implemented; the Government selectively leaked reports on his business empire. It also sent out clear signals to all its departments to dig deep into the yoga guru’s past and present to try sabotage his future.
If the Government’s moves were aimed at silencing and demoralising both Baba and Anna, it failed miserably. Instead, it only brought them together.
Allegations of a division among civil society ranks were exposed by a massive protest fast at Rajghat by Anna and his team. They argue that when Parliament proceedings are telecast live, what is the problem with doing the same with the Lokpal Bill meetings? Civil society leaders were particularly upset with the way the Government treated Baba. Questions posed by the establishment were answered to with more inconvenient questions to the Congress and the Government. The most devastating question was on the legitimacy of the National Advisory Council led by Sonia. If, as the Government points out, unelected leaders like Anna and Baba are forcing it to set the tone for legislative business, then why is the NAC, with unknown members, being allowed to summon government files and officials for a brief on every law that the Government proposes to enact? The prime minister and all political parties are under pressure now to force ministers and leaders to declare assets on regular basis. Now, the public will ask the leaders to declare how much money was spent on each rally and also the names of donors who contributed towards these political shows.
Even the Election Commission that has failed to take any serious action against political parties for not filling their annual returns correctly will have to pull its socks. No political party has ever given out the names of those who give them money to run their political establishments and fight the elections.
According to credible estimates, over Rs 80,000 crore is spent by parties every five years on contesting polls and meeting their running costs. Most leaders now travel only by chartered planes.
It is now time to come down to earth. If the Government continues with its strong-arm tactics, it should be ready to confront a tsunami. After all, arrogance does bring agony.
Gaurang G. Vaishnav
Swami Nigamanandji’s death due to fasting is a big shock. While politicians play one upmanship and try to find advantage even in death, what is disturbing is that practically no one knew about Swami Nigamanandji’s fast. Why the media did not pick up on this story for four long months is a question we need to ask. Why VHP did not highlight it? I do not know if they did but I have not seen any reports on it.
What is happening with our religious places which are also our cultural heritage sites is very troublesome. Whether it is the quarrying in the Ganga basin in Haridwar, building of a dam on Gangaji in earthquake prone area or illegal mining of Vrajbhumi, what is happening is the permanent loss of history and cultural heritage. This is no less than the menace of corruption and black money. The fight against corruption and black money would be won some day but by the time our nation wakes up to the disaster of ruins visited on our historical and cultural places, if it ever does, it would be too late. We can blame the Muslims invaders for vandalizing our shrines and centers of learning and rightly so, but who do we have to blame but our own Hindu people and politicians for the naked aggression on our heritage because of their insatiable greed?
I am grieved by the death of Swami Nigamanandji but I have come to a conclusion (and Dr. Subramanian Swamy said the same thing when Baba Ramdev broke his fast) that you can use fast as a weapon only against those who have a heart. In today’s aasuric and adharmic world, one has to use the appropriate weapons as were used by Shree Krishna and Pandavas. I am glad that Shree Krishna did not advice Yudhisthir to go on fast against Kauravas. Come to think of it, how many instances you can find in our scriptures where people went on fast to right a wrong?
Gandhiji made fasting fashionable but someone rightly said that Gandhiji was successful because his adversary were Britishers; had he tried to fast against Hitler, he would have been dead long time ago.
I do not care for what Digvijay Singh says because he is no better than a puppy dog of Madam Sonia. He has no credibility to pass judgment on what Hindus are doing after calling Ramdevji a thug and referring to bin Laden as Osamaji. The Uttarakhand government did move Swami Nigamanandji to a hospital, just as they did with Baba Ramdev. They should have paid serious attention to Swami Nigamanandji’s demands. It is a matter of great shame and pain that in free(?) and democratic (?), saints die because of total indifference of people in power to genuine grievances of people.
So far as the state government not stopping the quarrying is concerned, I would not pass a judgment without having all the information. When the central government is dragging its feet nay, putting all kind of road blocks in the path of having an effective Lokpal bill and bringing back the black money stashed abroad, why should we expect something different from any state government? They take their clue from their counterparts in New Delhi.
May Swamiji’s soul rest in peace and may his sacrifice not go in vain.
“The saint was fasting for the Ganga since the last many days. He laid down his life for the Ganga. I pay my tribute to Swami Nigamananda,” Ramdev told reporters after he was discharged from the hospital.
Swami Nigamananda’s followers have asked for a CBI probe into his death alleging that he was poisoned.
EDITS | Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 2:03:11 AM
A Surya Prakash
The Congress’s fascist reaction to the anti-corruption movement shows the party still remains unchanged. Its misdeeds remind us of the 1975-77 Emergency.
The Congress-led UPA Government is sadly mistaken if it thinks that its ruthless Gaddafi-style midnight operation to evict Baba Ramdev and his supporters from Ramlila Maidan in the early hours of June 5 will crush the movement against corruption in the country. The Government’s action, which is reminiscent of the response of Mrs Indira Gandhi to charges of corruption in the mid-1970s, only goes to show that nothing much has changed within the Congress. It continues to function like a family-owned private limited company whose promoters have fascist tendencies and remain extremely vulnerable to charges of corruption.
Apart from ending the mass satyagraha at the venue in Delhi, the Congress has launched a vituperative attack on Baba Ramdev, calling him a “thug” and a “fraud” and raising questions about the funding of his organisation. There is nothing new in this. These very tactics were deployed against Anna Hazare and his team members in April. An identical operation is now on to paint Baba Ramdev in ugly colours.
The Government is rattled by Baba Ramdev’s movement because it strikes at the root of the problem — money stashed away in Swiss banks by politicians and businessmen. The Anna Hazare movement got confined to the limited issue of establishing a national ombudsman (Lok Pal) to deal with corruption at the highest level. But, the creation of such an institution is just one of the many initiatives that need to be taken. Since corruption is a hydra-headed monster that has affected all aspects of politics, governance and life, what is needed is a comprehensive anti-corruption agenda that seeks to tackle the problem at the root and throw up permanent remedies.
For example, money power has vitiated the entire electoral process since the beginning and the humongous amounts spent by candidates in State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections has made a mockery of the spending limits imposed by the Election Commission. Over the last two decades, the permissible spending in a Lok Sabha constituency in a large State has more than trebled.
Just three monmths ago, the Conduct of Election Rules were amended yet again to enhance the maximum election expenditure in Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies to Rs 40 lakh and Rs 16 lakh respectively. However, those who track election-spending are aware that even this revised limit will be observed more in the breach than than in the observance because in recent years the average spending by serious candidates in Lok Sabha constituencies is between Rs 3 crore and Rs 5 crore.
All of this is black money — some generated within the country and the rest brought back fromSwitzerlandand tax havens likeLiechtenstein. Therefore, any anti-corruption initiative must first deal with the issue of black money vitiating the electoral process and making a mockery of the democratic system. We need to accord high priority to this problem.
The second most important source of corruption is Government contracts. It is long established that those who run the Government and the ruling party get kickbacks on every deal. In the early decades after independence when the licence-permit-quota raj held sway, bribes and commissions were paid in Indian rupees. Later, after Mrs Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, the Congress chose a new route for political funding — kickbacks from international deals which are paid into secret accounts in Switzerland and other tax havens.
Those who have worked in Government at senior levels — for instance, Mr BG Deshmukh who was Cabinet Secretary during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister — have noted that since the 1980s, the Congress has found it more convenient to take commissions from foreign companies in international deals rather than pass the hat around among Indian businessmen and industrialists to collect party funds. This way, huge sums can be collected to fund the party without any obligation to industrial houses within the country. It was presumed that there would be no whiff of corruption if discreet payments were made to Swiss bank accounts.
This grand plan, however, went for a toss when the Swedish Audit Bureau reported that arms manufacturer AB Bofors had paid ‘commission’ to certain individuals in connection with the sale of field guns to India in 1986. Despite that embarrassment, there is no indication of any change in the attitude of the Congress towards collecting funds. This is also the reason why the party is dragging its feet on the black money issue.
When the pressure from the Supreme Court became unbearable, the Government cleverly announced the setting up of a “high-powered committee” to keep the court at bay. This committee is supposed to examine the problem and outline a plan of action to bring back the loot. The Government offered a similar bait to Baba Ramdev the other day, offering to set up “a committee” to draft a law to bring back black money.
After making this offer, the Government claimed that it had met “all the demands” of Baba Ramdev and wanted him to end his satyagraha. When he failed to oblige, the Government responded with police brutality. The use of brute force to end a peaceful agitation is reminiscent of the Emergency days. This was exactly how Mrs Indira Gandhi responded to Jayaprakash Narayan’s campaign against corruption 36 years ago.
In fact, the parallels between 1974-75 and 2010-11 are striking. Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement began with the campaign against corruption in Gujarat and with the demand that then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi probe the allegations against LN Mishra, a senior Minister in her Cabinet. Mrs Indira Gandhi did none of this. Instead, she used brute force to crush the movement.
Mr Manmohan Singh, too, has resorted to an Emergency-style operation to crush the satyagraha at Ramlila Maidan. Also, in typical Mrs Indira Gandhi fashion, he has defended the midnight police raid and said the Government had no option but to resort to such action. There are other eerie coincidences. It should be remembered that Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed her dreaded Emergency in 1975 after a massive Opposition rally which, incidentally, was held at Ramlila Maidan and in June.
This only shows that more things change, the more the Congress remains the same. The party continues to be extremely vulnerable when corruption is discussed and the party’s fascist tendencies come to the fore whenever its Government is cornered on this issue. That is why all those who believe in democracy need to be on high alert after Mr Singh’s Ramlila Maidan operation. Needless to say, eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.
FRONT PAGE | Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 2:02:55 AM
PNS |New Delhi
A day after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee launched a frontal attack on anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team, the civil society members hit back at the ruling dispensation in the Centre. Accusing the Congress of behaving in an “autocratic” manner, they decided to brief the UPA allies and the Opposition parties about the goings-on in the meetings of the Joint Drafting Committee (JDC) for Lokpal Bill.
“The Congress is not only excluding its UPA allies in the talks for the Lokpal Bill but also the Opposition parties. It thinks as if only the ruling party is important. It shows the Congress’ concern for parliamentary democracy,” said activist Arvind Kejriwal, while talking to mediapersons on Monday.
He said the civil society members would now brief the non-Congress parties on the issue. “We will brief them as to what all is happening at the JDC meetings,” he said.
The civil society would write to the political parties with details of the deliberations that have taken so far at the joint panel meetings. They would also attach the documents circulated during the meetings.
Kejriwal, a member on the joint panel, quoted Mukherjee as saying the MPs were elected representatives of the people and they had the powers to legislate laws. “But the MPs cannot become dictators if they are elected once in five years,” he retorted.
Replying to Mukherjee’s attack on Hazare, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said it was a proof of the Minister’s skewed understanding of democracy and arrogance of power. They have also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying an honest person like him should not be scared of being investigated by an independent Lokpal.
In turn, without naming Hazare Congress went all out against him by alleging that the Gandhian was an “unelected dictator” who was acting at the behest of “forces attempting to destablise the country”.
On Sunday, Mukherjee, who is the JDC chairman, had stated that the civil society’s agitations and fasts were undermining established institutions of democracy such as Parliament. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, both members on the joint panel, spoke to the mediapersons on Monday to trash the charges made by the Finance Minister.
Responding to Mukherjee’s charges, the civil society members, in a statement, said, “Such statements betray a distorted understanding of democracy and an arrogance of power.
They show a mistaken understanding that the people have no role to play in governance and law making once they have elected their representatives and they have formed a Government.”
While Mukherjee had taken a dig at the fast undertaken by Hazare in April, Bhushan retorted that fasting, as Gandhi had demonstrated, was the most non-violent and civilised means of expressing oneself and exerting democratic pressure on any Government. “Unfortunately, a party which considers itself as the political legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, is reviling civil society movements and fasting as anti-democratic,” he said.
Bhushan also objected to Mukherjee rejecting the demand of civil society to televise live the proceedings of the JDC and calling it a circus. He asked whether by this logic it meant that Parliament was also a circus and the MPs were animals in that circus.
Kejriwal repeated the points made in the letter written by all five civil society members to Manmohan Singh to buttress their argument that the PM should indeed be brought under the purview of Lokpal.
He reminded the Government that Mukherjee himself as the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lokpal Bill in 2001 under the NDA rule had recommended that the PM should covered under the ambit of Lokpal. Later, in January this year, in the draft law prepared by his Ministry, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily suggested inclusion of the PM in Lokpal’s purview, he said.
Kejriwal went on to state that the draft law was sent to Home Ministry under P Chidambaram, which also concurred in March with this view. Even Manmohan Singh had advocated the inclusion of PM in Lokpal’s ambit, he said, adding that in the last 10 years the Government’s view has been in favour of bringing the PM under the purview of Lokpal. Incidentally, three out of five Ministers – Mukherjee, Chidambaram and Moily – are on the joint panel for Lokpal Bill.
Kejriwal asked, “Now, all the three Ministers have suddenly taken a U-turn and they appear to be adamant on keeping the PMO out of the Lokpal’s ambit. We are wondering what happened post-March, which prompted the Government to suddenly take a u-turn on the issue?”
On the other hand, stepping up its attack on Hazare and BJP-RSS, Congress charged that the greatest danger to the democracy is from the unelected dictator. “If democracy faces its biggest peril, it is from the tyranny of the unelected and tyranny of the unelectable,” party spokesman Manish Tewari told mediapersons without naming Hazare or BJP or RSS.
Apparently sending the message to Hazare and his colleagues not to take the engagement with the Government for granted, he said there can be only one veto in Indian democracy and that is in the hands of people and “not any one individual”.
Taking strong exception to Hazare’s threat to go on an indefinite hunger strike from August 16, Tewari wondered whether it was democratic to talk about such threats when one is engaged in a dialogue with the Government.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, LensOnNews
In the life cycle of elected governments, a time comes when the public support decisively swings from one of enjoying inherent trust to one in which people have lost implicit trust. In case of some governments, this happens very rapidly and in some others, it takes a very long time as was the case with the Left Front in West Bengal which had an uninterrupted reign of 34 years.
Usually, a major decision or action precipitates this dramatic shift of public perceptions about an elected government. In Left ruled West Bengal, the agitation in Singur provided the stimulus. In the case of the UPA government, the midnight crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s supporters – after meekly acquiescing to him and rolling out the red carpet at Delhi airport – has provided that spark.
I have been keeping tabs on public opinion for several months now and the extensive ground level feedback that we have gathered shows that the midnight crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s fast was the turning point and turned the supporting masses against the Congress led government at the Centre. Admittedly, it has taken many years in office and many scams in its wake to pierce the credibility of the Congress led government at the Centre. And, once the credibility of a regime is eroded, it is impossible to regain it. Rajiv Gandhi government never recovered from the Bofors scandal that broke out just two years after he won a landslide victory in 1984 and faced a humiliating defeat in 1989. Similarly, P.V. Narasimha Rao’s government never recovered from a series of scandals – securities scam, JMM scandal, Sukhram’s telecom scam, Urea scam, etc. –that led to its devastating poll defeat in 1996.
It is instructive to study how the governments in the past tried to recover ground when they were confronted with extremely adverse situations. Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in 1975 following Allahabad High Court’s verdict declaring her election to Lok Sabha as void; Rajiv Gandhi’s associates forged documents purporting to show that his principal challenger V.P. Singh had a secret bank account in a foreign bank in St. Kitts; V.P. Singh himself unleashed the anti-quota stir by implementing the Mandal Commission recommendations in 1990; P.V. Narasimha Rao raked up years old Hawala scandal to fix political rivals in 1995 etc.
Circa 2011, the Congress party facing an unprecedented crisis over corruption charges can be expected to do all that the past governments have done and much more to survive politically. But the UPA presently has a serious problem at hand.
First, it faces a multitude of scams and myriad issues like black money, corruption, price rise etc. With every passing week, new scams are coming out of the closet. Undoubtedly, 2G is one scam that has damaged the UPA government the most. The scale of the loot and its brazen manner has had a devastating impact on the public. Curiously, the 2G scam which has claimed many top leaders of the DMK hasn’t yet reached the Congress’s doorstep. The manner in which the Congress party stymied the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) probe led by the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi and the tardy functioning of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probing the 2G scam have aroused suspicions about the Congress party’s motives and involvement.
Second, unlike in the past when governments faced one major scam and a clearly identified political rival, the Congress party is faced with a barrage of attacks from an active judiciary, a demanding civil society led by popular Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, a rejuvenated opposition, vigilant media and statutory institutions like the CAG. Despite the Sonia Gandhi led Congress party’s best attempts to emasculate high offices of the Prime Minister, President by appointing pliable individuals to these venerable institutions, the Congress party has not been able to avoid public scrutiny as other institutions of the government have turned their heat on the government.
True to its habit, the Congress party will attempt some drastic actions to regain its lost credibility. It will unleash vendetta against opposition leaders and attempt to show that all those arraigned against the Congress are corrupt. It will create and exploit every opportunity to rake up non-issues to divert public attention.
It may even resort to dividing the electorate on caste, communal or some other lines to minimize the electoral damage. This may actually backfire on the Congress party that traditionally has had a wide appeal across various caste and other groups. Yet, a desperate Congress party may make some cynical moves to get out of the corruption rut. Attempts to link activists like Anna Hazare with the RSS are a part of this cynical strategy.
Take my word: nothing will help restore the present government’s credibility. Let me explain this from my experience as a poll analyst for two decades. When a government enjoys public trust, all its actions are generally seen from a positive perspective. And, when a government is seen to be inherently untrustworthy, all its actions become suspect. All actions of the Manmohan Singh government will henceforth be viewed from a negative perspective due to the credibility crisis that envelopes it.
The Manmohan Singh government, despite enjoying a parliamentary majority is a lame duck government. Whether it lasts the full term or dies a premature death will depend on its political survival strategies. For sure, in the public mind, it has already lost its mandate. Its defeat at polls, whenever they are held, is an inevitability that stares it in its face.
GVL Narasimha Rao is a noted poll analyst