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Independence Day blues- Sandhya Jain

16 Aug 2011

If a single event encapsulates the corruption, sleaze and political callousness that bedevils the common man today, it is the Commonwealth Games of 2010, whose reverberations are still roiling the polity and the ruling Congress party. Even as unending price rise drives the middle class and poor to despair, and the Finance Ministry and Reserve Bank insist no relief is likely, a brazen Delhi Government threatens citizens with a staggering 60% hike in power tariffs, after having scandalously intervened last year to inhibit a price cut that was originally envisaged by the relevant authority.

That is the true measure of the rot wrought by chief minister Sheila Dikshit.  A necessary corrective would be to return this essential service to the public sector, while ensuring zero protection to power theft that makes the utility unviable. In fact, the profit allowed to the private companies would have ensured the necessary modernization of equipment, on which they anyway dragged their feet.

Ms Dikshit, meanwhile, despite blistering indictments by the Prime Minister-appointed V.K. Shunglu Committee and the Comptroller & Auditor General’s report on the Commonwealth Games, got powerful protection from the chief control of the Congress party and the fraying UPA coalition. She refused to resign, forcing the Congress to make a dramatic volte face, from bragging about how it secured the resignations of Shashi Tharoor, Suresh Kalmadi, Andimuthu Raja and others caught in one or other controversy, to rallying around the impugned chief minister. Ironically, the BJP had forced Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyyurappa to resign only so it could confront her.

Both Shunglu Committee and CAG Report brought the spotlight of corruption on Sheila Dikshit who was in-charge of the major expenditure, totalling Rs 16,560 crore on just eight city projects (including the sub-standard Barapullah flyover). Both found that the Delhi government overspent and wasted money by manufacturing an artificial crisis of deadlines by delaying the start of CWG-related projects till literally the last three years of a seven-year timeframe. This led to ‘emergency’ decisions, compromising cost and quality.

Though a full year has not passed since the Games were held, a drive through Games-related areas shows pot-holed roads, bumpy flyovers, crumbling pavements and chipped tiles, dead or dying plants on road dividers and the peculiar green net and stakes installed to hold the plants spilling out on the roads, creating a traffic hazard. They should be removed without further ado, before they cause accidents like the utterly ill-conceived and murderous BRT corridors. The BRT corridors – another money-making consultant-driven scheme – need to be ripped up, not extended. Even if workable in theory, the Metro makes them redundant.

In this writer’s mind, the most evocative image of the Commonwealth Games concerns the collapse of the new foot over-bridge near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, just 12 days before the inauguration ceremony, critically injuring several workers. PWD minister Raj Kumar Chauhan (recently indicted by Delhi Lokayukta but protected by his boss), glibly asserted that the structure collapsed because the pins were not secured properly. Then Urban Development minister Jaipal Reddy said, “This is a minor incident. The Commonwealth Games will not be judged by this.”

But Ms Dikshit took the cake. Stupefied citizens saw her on television, brushing aside the media with Antoinette-like memorable words: “The over-bridge was for spectators, not for the games officials or the athletes…” Did she mean she could bump off spectators, ordinary citizens like us? She got away with it because the Prime Minister appealed to let the Games happen for the sake of the nation, and old fashioned nationalism carried the day. But in those heady months of untrammelled power, Dikshit merrily spurned the Commonwealth Games Federation’s screams over the state of the Games Village, even as the filth of the residential towers became an international scandal.

Actually, the Commonwealth Games was from inception a non-government entity. Bizarre as it sounds, it was the brainchild, not of the then ruling party, but of the then Leader of the Opposition! This explains much of the confusion in execution, and the ability of the London-based Federation to covertly foist Mr. Suresh Kalmadi as chairman of the Organising Committee, keeping governmental supervision at bay (to its own regret).

The Delhi government’s functioning was opaque; selection of consultants arbitrary; standards and specifications amenable to instant modifications, and budgets eminently stretchable. The CAG found overspending of over Rs. 100 crore on streetscaping and beautification alone, with average cost for projects pegged at Rs. 4.8 cr/km. By contrast, a four-lane national highway costs Rs 9.5 crore/km; railway tracks come at Rs 4.1 crore/km!

Money was made on street lights (forget the contract to a disqualified firm). Violating norms, tenders were restricted to manufacturers of luminaries of international repute and higher financial eligibility, keeping competition restricted. MCD allowed deviance from design specifications in lighting standards, leading to larger number of poles and luminaries on certain roads and avoidable expenditure. Bids were altered in Phase I and II of tendering, again escalating costs.

The CAG found that the chief minister ordered imported lighting equipments in Type A and Type B roads, and indigenous lights for Type C roads. Besides creating a caste hierarchy of city roads, she permitted a huge cost differential which benefitted two private firms. One firm imported luminaries from a Gulf country at the rate of Rs 5,440/unit while charging Rs 25,704/unit. Worse, the chief minister imperiously ordered ripping out all tiles installed in Connaught Place as she did not like the colour!

The bottom-line is that when Sheila Dikshit won the Delhi elections again in 2008, work for the 2010 Games had hardly begun. As decisions were to be taken on street-scaping, road signages, horticulture, purchase of a new fleet of buses, etc., she took direct control of all CWG-related projects costing over Rs 100 crore (i.e., ALL projects.) Now, as the fancy and costly low floor buses are failing (remember the brake jams and bus fires?) and maintenance costs eat up the DTC budget, she cannot evade responsibility for her actions. Not when we citizens are bearing the costs.

If Dr Manmohan Singh wishes to restore public confidence in his government, he must give the CBI a free hand to investigate the chief minister, her erring colleagues and protégés, and bring them to book. We must know if we are a free country or a banana republic.

The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com

http://www.vijayvaani.com/FrmPublicDisplayArticle.aspx?id=1921

Sonia Gandhi: Sphinx who would be Pharaoh & When did Rahul Gandhi acquire identity of Raul Vinci? – Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain
06 Aug 2011
In a move reminiscent of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s startling decision to will her political party, including its workers and presumably also its voters and supporters, to her eldest son, Bilawal, the Congress president Sonia Gandhi secretly flew off to the United States for medical treatment, leaving behind a demi-testament bestowing the de facto leadership of the party on her only son, Rahul, though formally embedded among three family regents.

Given the thinly veiled nature of Sonia’s conflict with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over his refusal to step down and make way for her chosen heir after the victory of May 2009, it is safe to assume that the Signora now expects party loyalists to cluster around her charmless prince-ling and ensure him a say in government as well. Political compulsions have forced discretion regarding the chairmanship of the UPA parliamentary party, and her personal vanguard, the National Advisory Committee (whose members will doubtless be feeling orphaned already).

The composition of the committee that is now to preside over the Congress and its interaction with government reveals everything about Sonia Gandhi’s intent, mindset and style of functioning. It is an open affront to the Prime Minister and his senior cabinet colleagues (particularly to all purpose trouble shooter Pranab Mukherjee), to all senior Congress leaders with vote catching abilities, and to the party and nation. As such, it is virtually designed to undo the objective for which it has been formed, viz., install the Amethi MP as de facto leader of the party, and at an early date in the future, as head of the Government as well.

Even by the standards of the factional politics she played when she decided to keep the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao on tenterhooks throughout his tenure – which culminated in the party denying him a ticket to contest the next Parliamentary election, and then consigning him to oblivion – Sonia Gandhi’s designated committee is scandalously narrow. Worse, it is partisan against the Hindu community, a fact that would have been noted in the country as a whole.

Besides the non-Hindu Rahul Gandhi, who is obviously positioned as primus inter pares of the group, it comprises Defence Minister A.K. Anthony (supposedly for his clean image, but really because he is a Christian co-religionist and is therefore trusted more than other party veterans); her political secretary Ahmed Patel (a Muslim with no base in his home state of Gujarat, or indeed in any part of the country); and party organizing secretary Janardhan Dwivedi (a Patel acolyte and party spokesman with no base outside 24 Akbar Road).

Neither Rahul Gandhi, nor any among this group, is known for political sagacity, vision, and the ability to inspire the masses by winning votes, and thereby elections. Rahul Gandhi’s leadership qualities (sic) have already been tested in the waters of Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and leave one speechless. His espousal of the farmers’ cause in Bhatta-Parsaul villages of UP was swiftly undone by revelations of State favours in land acquisition in Haryana for a Trust run by Sonia, Rahul, and Priyanka!

Yet Sonia Gandhi chose to shove aside all party veterans and trust such non-charismatic ‘nurses’ to propel Rahul Gandhi on a winning trajectory into the Prime Minister’s Office. Actually, the family miscalculated by refusing Dr Singh’s offer of a cabinet berth for Rahul in the recent cabinet reshuffle (though they would have been aware of Sonia’s ill-health by then), and now he is on a sticky wicket. Neither Dr Singh who sits in the Prime Minister’s chair, nor the seasoned Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who controls the Government’s purse strings, is going to forgive the calculated insult to their persons and their chairs.

Meanwhile, a number of questions arise about the secretive manner in which Sonia Gandhi went abroad for surgery on 2 August 2011. The excuse of excessive visitors disturbing patients in an Indian hospital is sheer arrogance; visitors do not get beyond the reception if one does not want them.

In January 2009 the Prime Minister underwent a well-publicized heart surgery at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences; Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar announced he was going to undergo jaw surgery for cancer some years ago. With India having some of the best oncologists in both private and public hospitals, the true reasons for Ms Gandhi opting to go abroad, and the nature of her illness, should be made known as soon as possible. Reports that she was operated upon at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center need to be confirmed or denied without further ado.

To begin with, there was simply too much secrecy. At first, on 31 July a small news item in a newspaper said Sonia was suffering from viral flu and would be back in Parliament on Thursday (4 August). That same day, Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters she had gone abroad the previous day and been operated upon successfully. When the timeline did not add up, this was amended and the operation placed in the future; then finally it was stated that the surgery was successful and that Sonia had left on 2 Aug.

More disturbing are the reports in the latest issue of India Today that the Gandhis habitually refuse to inform the Lok Sabha Secretariat about their foreign trips, though this is the established convention, even for personal visits. Thus, in June this year, Sonia Gandhi went to London and Italy. The same month, Rahul Gandhi celebrated his 41st birthday in London, and both reportedly went to Switzerland – where they reputedly did not visit the holiday district but the commercial centre of Zug, thereby setting tongues wagging amidst a nationwide furore over black money in Swiss banks.

When Dwivedi announced the formation of the uninspiring committee, observers were quick to notice the absence of Home Minister P Chidambaram and Rahul mentor-cum-general secretary Digvijay Singh. As Sonia does not seem to have had detailed discussions with the Prime Minister and senior cabinet colleagues about the status of her health and the issues pending before the government, political observers speculate that the UPA will have to postpone appointment of Governors in states with vacancies, and a decision on the Telangana issue. It remains to be seen, therefore, how long her ill-health can be allowed to paralyze the government.

Ra(h)ul (da) Vinci

Now that the Gandhi family has concertedly declared Rahul Gandhi as their official candidate for the leadership of the party and government, both of which they tend to regard as watan jagir, it would be appropriate for the nation to know everything it has a right to know about the Amethi MP cum wannabe PM.

To begin with – and the Prime Minister would do well to make the matter public without further delay – how and when did Rahul Gandhi acquire the identity of Raul Vinci?

As friendly journalists and newspapers were asked to acknowledge and dismiss the news that Rahul Gandhi has travelled abroad on a passport issued in the name of Raul Vinci, some questions deserve an answer: –

– Which Government issued the Raul Vinci passport? India or Italy?
– If it was Italy, does it also follow that Rahul Gandhi enjoys Italian citizenship by virtue of an old Roman law that bestows citizenship on the offspring of all children born to its native citizens? Note that Sonia Gandhi was an Italian citizen at the time her two children were born, and that the family has persistently refused to answer pertinent questions regarding their citizenship.
– The Government of India must now settle this issue in public – including the legality of the trio holding Indian passports, and contesting Indian elections.
– What are the names of the alleged parents of Raul Vinci in the fake passport and what is the place of residence given on that document? It should be made public on a Government website.
– Where is that passport now and how often and where has Rahul Gandhi travelled on it? All details should be made public on a Government website.

The specious plea that Rahul Gandhi assumed a false identity for security reasons will not wash: Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal studies abroad under his own name, as do the scions of other eminent families.

Then, Rahul Gandhi supposedly holds an M. Phil degree in Development Studies from Cambridge University, UK, though there is no information about when and where he completed graduate and post-graduate studies. To this day not a single person has surfaced anywhere in the world to say that Raul Vinci (his disguise) was his/her classmate at x y or z college.

Family acolyte and then Cambridge Master Amartya Sen defended the degree but refused to furnish details. Now, following revelations about the purchased Ph.D. degree of Saif Gaddafi, it seems that London routinely “takes care of” the academic credentials of political scions in the third world.

Raul Vinci is also supposed to have worked as financial consultant in London. No colleague has stepped forward to say where.

Yet this man wants to impose himself upon the nation as Prime Minister. He needs to be downsized.

And Sonia Gandhi, appropriately dubbed ‘the Sphinx’ for her dogged silence on all issues of public concern, would have realized that she was not born to be Pharaoh of India. This country is governed by the invisible ethos of Vikramaditya – the throne will move away when the utterly unworthy approach it.

The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com   http://www.vijayvaani.com/FrmPublicDisplayArticle.aspx?id=1909

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