Saturday, March 19, 2011

Singh is King! Really?

Cash helped him win trust vote!
(A spoof poster that did the rounds after Congress won July 22, 2008 vote.)
The standard operating procedure which Indian politicians follow is tailored for our polity with its ugly underbelly. For instance, a politician’s ‘aide’ could be anyone who facilitates his or her activities in public view or behind the shuttered doors of the bungalows in Lutyens’ Delhi. Pimping for politicians is one of the most lucrative jobs in the nation’s capital and comes without an appointment letter or a paper trail: If things ever go wrong for our cynical politicians, there’s always plausible deniability. That option has been exercised by Captain Satish Sharma who has stoutly denied that he ever had an ‘aide’ called Nachiketa Kapur, leave alone using his services to bribe MPs in the last Lok Sabha to enable the UPA to win the crucial trust vote on July 22, 2008 after the Left withdrew its support over the India-US civil nuclear deal.

But neither Capt Sharma nor his party can deny that there was a person called Nachiketa Kapur or that he had access to the inner courtyard of the PWD-built haveli that has come to substitute Bahadur Shah Zafar’s court in amoral, if not grossly immoral, Delhi where issues of ethics are of least concern for those who claim to rule India. That Mr Kapur, whoever he may be, wielded considerable power (without accountability) and was politically well-connected is borne out by the fact that the American Embassy in New Delhi was sufficiently impressed to send him on a junket under the State Department’s ‘I-Vote 2008’ programme as an observer for the US presidential election.

It, therefore, stands to reason that the contents of the ‘Secret’ US Embassy cable of July 17, 2008, filed by its then Charge d’Affaires Steven White, are not without substance. The cable mentions, among other things, how the Congress mobilised funds to buy votes to win the confidence motion and the manner in which the funds were distributed and to whom. The ‘price’ for a ‘Yes’ vote was Rs 10 crore; the political counsellor of the Embassy was shown chests containing between Rs 50 crore and Rs 60 crore to be used for purchasing votes. The cable also mentions Capt Sharma providing details of how he was trying to target MPs within the BJP and its allies, for instance, the Akali Dal. He owed this much to the party which had bailed him out in 15 cases of corruption filed by the CBI.

Senior leaders of the BJP will confirm that during the week before the vote they were desperately scrambling to keep their flock together. The lure of lucre is not easy to overcome. In any event, few MPs wanted an early election -- if that could be avoided and easy money pocketed, where was the harm? Some back-benchers in the BJP had begun to question the wisdom of opposing the nuclear deal as a cover for their imminent act of disloyalty. The Akali Dal, not too sure of preventing its MPs from straying, wondered whether opposing the deal was the right move as there was a large Sikh community in the US and they wouldn’t take kindly to America-bashing. It may sound laughable in retrospect, but that’s exactly what was conveyed to the BJP. The BJP’s apprehensions came true when cash was actually handed over to some of its MPs by an ‘aide’ of Mr Amar Singh, who had also offered his services and resources to prop up the UPA regime.

Political parties are known to try till the last minute to avoid a mid-term exit from power. The NDA Government would not have fallen by a single vote in 1999 if its political managers had been alert to the Congress’s strategy of getting Mr Giridhar Gomango to participate in the voting despite his having taken charge as Chief Minister of Odisha. He still remained a member of the Lok Sabha and exercised his privilege, although it was both immoral and unethical to do so. Nor should we forget that JMM MPs were bribed to ensure the survival of the Government headed by PV Narasimha Rao. Such subversion of the ethical foundations of democracy comes naturally to the Congress.

That said, two points should bother us more than anything else. First, the Americans had a remarkably accurate sense of the voting pattern five days before the vote. According to their estimate, there would be 273 votes in favour and 251 a the trust motion, with 19 abstentions. After the vote, the tally stood at 275 votes in favour and 256 against the motion, with 10 abstentions. Who briefed the US Embassy? Second, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was all smiles when he was greeted with cheers of “Singh is King” after he won the vote. The king today looks no different from the emperor without clothes.

(This appeared as my column in DNA.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dirty tricks by Congress

Spiteful act, deplorable deed
The Congress is just not reconciled to the idea of Gujarat, more specifically Narendra Modi, showing the way to rapid development and inclusive growth through good governance. Hence, every effort is made by the Congress, through the UPA Government, to harass Modi and stall Gujarat's progress. Having failed to deliver anything that even remotely resembles the Gujarat model in the States where the Congress is in power, the party leadership has responded with limitless hate and spite. The CBI has played hand maiden to the Congress in its deplorable endeavour.

The latest object of Congress envy is Vibrant Gujarat, the hugely successful investors conference hosted by the Gujarat Government and a brainchild of Narendra, which has played a significant role in fuelling Gujarat's success story. At this year's Vibrant Gujarat, MoUs for projects worth Rs 1237570.48 crore were signed. This despite the Congress instructing the Union Ministry of Finance to warn public sector banks against participating in the investor summit in any manner. Complaisant babus in the Ministry eagerly conveyed the message to bank chairmen; that didn't quite do the trick. Nor did the campaign by 'friendly' media to run down the initiative help the Congress.

So now the Congress, once again through the Union Ministry of Finance, has instructed the Income Tax Department to make life difficult for the Modi Government by scaring away investors who signed MoUs. The Income Tax Department ha
obliged its political masters of the day by issuing a notice on February 17 to Gujarat’s Industries Commissioner, demanding details of Memoranda of Understanding signed during Vibrant Gujarat earlier this year. Never before has something so extraordinary happened.

As I have said in the editorial I wrote for The Pioneer, a State Government is at liberty to raise funds and invite investments to further development and propel growth. That the Government of Gujarat has raced past others is a tribute to the quality of governance under Narendra Modi’s tutelage which no Congress leader can ever achieve — either in New Delhi or in State capitals. To try and scuttle the efforts of the Government of Gujarat and arm-twist potential investors into staying away from the State is tantamount to disallowing States to function freely.It's a crude assault on federalism.

As my friend and commentator on the INI blog,Nitin Pai, tweeted on Thursday: "So now the UPA govt is using the Income Tax department to bully/threaten investors in Gujarat. Anti-national fascism on display."

If the intention behind the notice had not been mala fide, the Income Tax Department, or for that matter the Union Finance Ministry, need not have served a notice. All that they needed to do was get the details from the Vibrant Gujarat website. For all those who are interested, you can access full details of the MoUs here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Shahbaz Bhatti, RIP

Another voice is silenced with jihadi guns
Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated on Wednesday, March 2, a short distance from his home in Islamabad. His killers, three men armed with Kalashnikovs, riddled his body with bullets. One report said the autopsy showed he had been shot 35 times, another put the figure at 25.

That number is really irrelevant. What is relevant is that his assassins are members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Pakistan’s largest daily, Dawn, in a report attributed to ‘Agencies’ and not a staff writer or reporter, says:
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing, saying the minister had been “punished” for being a blasphemer.
Witnesses said the attackers scattered leaflets signed by “The Qaeda and the Taliban of Punjab” at the attack scene, which read: “This is the punishment of this cursed man.”
Taliban militants had called for Bhatti’s death because of his attempts to amend the blasphemy law.
“He was a blasphemer like Salman Taseer,” spokesman Sajjad Mohmand said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (said) “Such acts will not deter the government’s resolve to fight terrorism and extremism,” adding that the killers would not go unpunished.
Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was assassinated by his bodyguard, an elite force personnel, Malik Mumtaz Hussain. The killer was showered with rose petals by lawyers when he was produced in court.

The attacks on those seeking amendments to Pakistan’s inhuman and harsh anti-blasphemy law began ever since voices of protest were raised against a poor and illiterate Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, being sentenced to death for blasphemy.
As after Taseer’s assassination, the Left-liberal commentariat in India has been vociferous in denouncing the murder of Bhatti and shedding copious crocodile tears.

The libbers’ grief would have been touching but for the fact it is so much bunk.
Here’s why. The Left-liberal commentariat remained stunningly silent when Bangladeshi dissident writer Taslima Nasreen was being hounded by mullahs and their storm-troopers. There were no voices of protest when Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen goons assaulted her in Hyderabad. There was undisguised glee when the CPI(M) used manufactured mullah rage against Taslima Nasreen to chase her out of Kolkata.

I know it for a fact that many of those who are waxing eloquent on the “assault on freedom of expression and liberalism” in Pakistan had ‘advised’ the Government of India not to extend Taslima Nasreen’s residence permit.

The Left-lib commentariat has been vicious while lashing out at those who have dared criticise the abuse of sharia’h and Muslim Personal Law in India, or sought a uniform civil code to protect the rights of Muslim women. They pitilessly mock at those who denounce the burqa, insisting it’s a matter of “individual choice” which is of course not true. They gloss over the most regressive actions and utterances of the mullahs and accuse their critics of indulging in Islamophobia.

Their hearts bleed for Pakistan’s assassinated Minister for Religious Minorities yet they cold-heartedly denounce those who seek the protection of rights of religious minorities in Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley. They are frauds and charlatans.
To see them ‘mourning’ over the killing of Taseer and Bhatti is laughable.

The point is simple. Left-liberal intellectuals who preach tolerance are the most intolerant lot when confronted with contrarian views. For them tolerance means to meekly accept their bunkum.

As for Pakistan, it’s a state that continues to crumble, bit by bit. Jinnah’s dream has turned into a frightening nightmare. But, and tragically so, Pakistanis refuse to acknowledge this simple fact.

Blinded by their hate-India agenda, Pakistan and its citizenry can’t see the terrible reality. The monster they have lovingly nurtured and nourished has turned on them. This is the 21st century version of Frankenstein’s Monster. As in the story, both monster and its master shall die in the end.

Not all the nuclear bombs in Pakistan’s arsenal can save it from its fate. If at all anything can yet rescue the country, it’s the people if they take a stand. But that seems unlikely. Why else would Jamaat-e-Islami blame the CIA for Bhatti’s murder and mainstream newspapers offer space for this amazing allegation? (This question has been dealt with in a post Pak Journalists: Conspiracy Theories and Willful Ignorance on Pakistan Media Watch, to which my attention was drawn by Raza Rumi.)

Pakistan’s enemy is within. Not without.