Archive for category Politics

Is There More To L’Affaire Khobragade Than Meets The Eye?

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One would think that the country’s finest should represent India overseas, particularly when it comes to dealing with the lone superpower, U.S.A., with whom India is endeavouring to build up a special relationship, arguably more beneficial to India than to the U.S.

Consider now, some of the information which has come out in the public domain about Devyani Khobragade, the mid-ranking Indian consular staff in the New York office who was recently arrested on multiple charges, which led to a furore and considerable outrage back in India.

Now, check some of these facts out:

Adarsh was a co-operative housing society formed supposedly for Kargil war widows and Indian war veterans, but considering it stood on some of Mumbai’s most expensive real estate, politicians and bureaucrats made a beeline to grab flats by making a mockery of the law. When many read about Devyani and Adarsh, and given middle-class India’s utter frustration with India’s endemic corruption, many gleefully said the US arrest was payback time and karma had worked. Whether karma works or not, things have just gotten worse for Devyani and new revelations may mean that the Indian government’s vociferous defence of Devyani and actively fanning flames to bring things to a boil may actually be something that may come back to burn India.

First up, while earlier Devyani’s involvement in the Adarsh scam was just a serious allegation, a respected commission set up to investigate Adarsh has now said in its detailed 670-page report that Devyani furnished false information to own a flat in the Adarsh Co-operative housing society. She had falsely claimed that she did not own a flat anywhere else at the time of her application for Adarsh membership, the commission has said, according to The Indian Express. “Devyani told the Commission that she owned the Jogeshwari flat only in 2005. This statement is false since the 2004 application MEM-392-A mentions her to be a member of the society (Meera), which she said she would resign from when she gets the Adarsh allotment,” the report says, according to the newspaper. Worse, she also sold her earlier government-allocated flat at Jogeshwari for Rs 1.9 crore and possibly at a fat profit. To be exact, the Adarsh Commission report was rejected by the Maharashtra cabinet considering it also raised serious questions on the murky doings of past Maharashtra Chief Ministers, one of whom is India’s current home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

On Sunday, the Times of India carried another story that brought another skeleton tumbling out. India’s Supreme Court had noted that the rules for allotment of foreign language to Indian Foreign Service officers on the basis of their rank in the select list was changed only for Devyani’s batch in 1999 to ensure she got her chosen language. According to the ToI, the Supreme Court noted this in a judgment while reinstating a dismissed IFS officer Mahaveer V Singhvi in Devyani’s batch, and imposing a fine of Rs 25,000 on the Union government for wrongfully terminating his services. The article quotes the SC bench of then Justices Altamas Kabir, J M Panchal and Cyriac Joseph as saying, “The Union government and ministry of external affairs have not been able to satisfactorily explain why the rules/norms for allotment of languages were departed from only for the year 1999 so that the Singhvi was denied his right of option for German and such choice was given to Khobragade who was at two stages below Singhvi in the gradation list…The mode of allotment was amended for the 1999 Batch in such a calculated fashion that Ms Khobragade, who was at Serial No.7, was given her choice of German over and above Singhvi, who was graded at two stages above her.” Singhvi’s lawyer Jayant Bhushan has alleged that the unwarranted change in rules for which the Union government received a slap on the wrist from the Supreme Court was done thanks of Devyani’s father Uttam Khobragade’s IAS and political connections.

Read more at: This article in Firstpost

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Regarding the outrage in India this is what a recent article had to say:

In fact, a lot of rubbish has been written—and spoken on national television—about diplomatic immunity in this case. First of all, Khobragade was not a diplomat—she was part of consular staff. (Now, of course, with the Indian government coming to her rescue by assigning her to India’s permanent mission to the United Nations, she’s acquired full diplomatic immunity). The relevant diplomatic provision that applied to her was not the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations but the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. It is only the 1961 Convention that grants absolute immunity to a diplomat from the jurisdiction of the host country. The 1963 Convention grants immunity only in respect of official acts, not personal ones.
The US’s legal case against Khobragade is to do with her personal act, not something she did in her official capacity as the deputy consul general for political, economic, commercial and women’s affairs at the consulate general of India in New York. So the focus needs to be on the case itself, and unlike what prime time pseudo-nationalists would have you believe, it is not one between the US and India, but between two women, neither of whom is more Indian than the other.
Khobragade is a millionaire. She owns a flat in Mumbai’s Adarsh housing society, 30 acres of farmland in Maharashtra, a 5,000 sq. ft plot in Alibaug, and another plot in Noida. And she works in the Indian foreign service. Her salary might appear modest compared with the US minimum wage, but she was no more entitled to an Indian nanny in America than the nanny in question, Sangeeta Richard, was entitled to American wages in America—which, incidentally, she legally was entitled to. If Khobragade did not want to pay her the minimum wages as per the law of the land, she had multiple options.
One, she could have chosen not to go for a posting that did not allow her to maintain a lifestyle of her choice. Two, if she wanted the New York posting so badly, she could have opted to do all the domestic work herself. Three, she could have chosen not to take Richard along with her to US, and instead hired a part-time nanny in the US in keeping with her budgetary constraints.
But she chose none of these perfectly legal options. Instead, she pursued a course of action that involved, according to the chargesheet framed against her, visa fraud, perjury, falsification of documents, and exploitation of another Indian woman in a foreign land, which is pathetic considering that her official duties in the US also involved being an upholder of women’s rights.
Anybody who cares to read the full text of the complaint against Khobragade can only wonder how she hoped to get away with her actions, which amounts to a felony under US law. Does diplomatic immunity mean diplomatic impunity?
 Here are some more facts which don’t quite seem to add up. For a full backgrounder on l’affaire Khobragade, check out this entry from Wikipedia.

As per the reports she is all of 39 years old, which would mean that she was born in 1974. Assuming a 3 year pre-school, 2 year kindergarten, and 10 year schooling, she would have finished her schooling in 1989. Then after two years of junior college, she would have been eligible for admission to medical school, which takes one to 1991. The medical undergraduate course is a four and a half year course which needs to be followed up with a one year mandatory internship, which would take one up right up to the year-end of 1996 at least, considering the typical start times for the undergraduate course during the 2nd half of the year.

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Since she is said to have graduated with the 1999 IFS batch, she would have then joined the IFS batch in 1996. Now, if she finished her internship right during the end of 1996, she couldn’t have started her course for IFS much earlier in the year during 1996.

Alternately, she either never  completed her internship by the end of 1996 at the earliest or, if she did, she may not quite be someone who completed her IFS with the 1999 batch.

She apparently paid Rs.11.8 million for an apartment in Adarsh which she wasn’t even entitled to buy in the first place. The father, Uttam Khobragade has been involved in every possible scam on earth from BEST Land Scams, the Cadbury ban because of worms (likely an extortion racket), the Adarsh Land scam, the King Long Bus scam and the diversion of Rs 340 million in Tribal Welfare to name a few. This is possibly just a little peep into how illustrious the Khobragade family is. Some of these details can be read in detail in this Moneylife piece.

In her Linkedin profile, Devyani lists her job function as ‘law enforcement’. Yet, at the time of her arrest she was the Deputy General Consul for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs. From law enforcement to Economic & Commercial affairs is quite a jump isn’t it? One wonders whether that was the only slot available in the New York consulate?

Has anyone ever wondered why the govt. of India, together with the IFS officials, are so hell-bent on kicking up a ruckus about someone who should have been normally suspended from service for some of the irregularities and untruths she has been involved in so far?

What may also puzzle many is why Devyani’s husband, Dr. Aakash Singh Rathore, a U.S. citizen currently based in New York, has hardly made any statements regarding this whole issue and seems to be keeping a very low profile deliberately. He has apparently done stints in Germany and Delhi in the past. According to some other reports, Devyani herself has done two stints in Pakistan, one in 2005 and the other in 2008. A brief profile of the two can be read in this report from the Washington Post.

Is there a lot more to this than meets the eye? Why are some publications hinting at intelligence alliances betweeen five nations, NSA links and linkages with some of the UIDAI implementation partners. Read this article in Moneylife for the full details.

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India Adrift

 

 

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The observations and comments here are derived from my several posts and comments on the issue in various social media networks. 

The first para largely pertains to a discussion about the TMC’s and particularly Mamata Banerjee’s time in power since her victory in 2011.

Politics is as much a game of building up perceptions (even illusions for that matter) and communications as it is of actually ushering in good governance and delivering on promises made. Mamata falls quite short on at least the first count and matters haven’t been helped in the least by her periodic outbursts, loose comments, whimsical and knee-jerk reactions to events and propensity to put her foot in her mouth on several occasions. Her media managers have done a pretty poor job so far and if at all she has a P.R. agency managing affairs for her, either she needs to replace it with one far more competent and adept or pay greater heed to their suggestions & recommendations.

I can’t help drawing comparisons with someone who has capitalized on the masterplan laid down by his high-powered, expensive, U.S. based P.R. agency and adroitly turned around a disastrous situation which stared him in the face in 2002 to one where he has become a cult-guru of sorts for a section of the middle-class urban Indians who have started believing the carefully cultivated hype that he will return India to double-digit growth days in a trice and solve most problems of governance with a wave or two of his ‘lathi’.

Consider some of the following inconvenient facts, even in Modi’s home state which has been relentlessly touted as a model of development.

  • Gujarat ranked 17th overall within India in terms of literacy when Modi took over. Currently, after more than a decade of Modi-rule, it ranks 18th.
  • Gujarat’s fiscal deficit a year back was the 3rd highest in India, behind W. Bengal & U.P. While W. Bengal & U.P. have never even remotely claimed that they are model states in terms of fiscal management & development, Modi has built his whole reputation on those premises.
  • Hunger & malnutrition are worse in Gujarat than several other large states and the U.N. development Index report of 2011 (which uses govt. data) indicates that 45% of children in Gujarat are malnourished.
  • No political pundit or veteran columnist seems to have qualms about the fact that a man who has little formal education, a family life which is murky (Is Modi married or divorced? Why doesn’t he answer questions about the woman, supposedly his wife, languishing in some village) and whose background largely includes being an on-again, off-again RSS ‘pracharak’ and  tea stall owner previously may not quite be the right choice to run a country as large and as diverse as India and tackle the economic complexities, foreign affairs and social media exposures & inquisitions which are a given in 2014 and beyond.

Check out details about some of these ‘facts’ and issues in these reports:

Deccan Herald – Fact-checks & Statistics about Gujarat

TOI report based on the U.N. Human Development report 2011 pertaining to Gujarat

A word cloud of Narendra Modi’s speeches over the years (most of them used to be in Gujarati & Hindi to the unwashed masses in his early years) would surely show up streaks of his personality and governance style which may not be quite palatable to the discerning. The almost indisputable fact that his P.R. agency and media managers gamed the system by pushing in over 50% fakes to build up his 1 million plus followers on Twitter also doesn’t quite indicate a man who can be ‘trusted’ to lead India in 2014 & beyond.

Some unpalatable truths about Modi’s social media strategy

Ramachandra Guha’s piece in The Hindu about the implications and fallouts about Narendra Modi as PM in 2014, makes some incisive and well-argued observations. Here is the link to the full piece.

Ramachandra Guha piece on Narendra Modi in The Hindu

The alternative to Modi, Rahul Gandhi, attempted to be projected by the Congress, is largely a non-starter too. Rahul Gandhi is widely perceived to be well-meaning but vacuous with no vision or original ideas for governing India.  He is also perceived as someone who has achieved little or nothing during the years that he has been in politics. He seemingly lacks the drive or the decisiveness needed to provide effective governance. While he may come across as charming, he also comes across as someone who has been unwilling to roll up his sleeves and get hands-on when it really matters. As a friend mentioned, had he really wanted to turn things around for the Congress in U.P., he should have shifted base to Lucknow for a couple of years at least and gone about the task with gusto and singlemindedness, rather than the fleeting visits, periodic speeches and occasional photo-op moments that happened to be part of his U.P. campaign over the years. He has also often been silent or even absent when visibility was the need of the hour and hasn’t given any indication over the years that he has either the political instincts or the panache to ‘seize the moment’ which is so important for a politician to position himself in the perceptions of the people.

Ramachandra Guha again touches on several of these points in this interview with IBN

Ramachandra Guha on Rahul Gandhi as a Prime-ministerial candidate

Surely India, a country of 1.22 billion people, with its great diversities and complexities as well as its huge talent pool and major potential, needs someone at the helm, other than these two gentlemen who don’t quite have the attributes to measure up to the task,  who is potentially capable of steering the ship safely past the icebergs after the general elections in 2014!

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The Case Against Mr. Teflon, Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

Why is Narendrabhai Afraid of the Indian Media

I am reminded of the erstwhile CPM MP & Lok Sabha speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, who, as a minister in the late Jyoti Basu’s cabinet, used to brag about signing millions & billions worth of MOUs for industries to be set up in W. Bengal. Unfortunately very little, if any of it, was visible on the ground or ever became a reality.

The problem with a lot of reporting in India is that there is little checking & analysis of facts on the ground before commentators and anchors start spewing rhetoric & opinions which, more often than not, are scripted & pre-decided.

If some of Modi’s ‘facts’ are more like ‘imaginative pieces of fiction’, his biggest project till date has been a failure and despite his claims to the contrary, corruption at every level in the bureaucracy is very much a fact in Gujarat even today (this I know based on first-hand accounts of friends who operate there), then this man is indeed an impostor who has successfully managed to project himself as a ‘doer’ and as a viable alternative for the position of PM of India.

Gujarat was never an impoverished state by any stretch of imagination and Gujaratis, who happen to be counted generally among the most enterprising Indians, had always seen to it that their home state happened to be among the top 5 most prosperous Indian states economically.

If the UPA loses power after the next general elections, a coalition like the NDA is most likely the alternative. A man with Modi’s megalomania & arrogance will just not be able to function in a coalition where the regional chieftains have a lot of say and wield a lot of power.
(Disclaimer: I have nothing against this man personally; neither do I have anything for him. It would be interesting to read about alternative points of view based on hard facts, reason & cold logic but shorn of empty rhetoric and pointless rants )

The Emperor Uncrowned – Caravan Magazine

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Ten Reasons Why I Went to The Ramlila Grounds To Attend The Anna Show Currently On

Anna Hazare - Delhi

Anna Hazare

X.  I don’t like Manish Tiwari of Congress. I thought that Anna, being an ex-army driver, can drive Manish Tiwari into the ground.

IX.  I heard that this year there were going to be two Dussehras and in the first of these, which would be a live event, the new Rama, Anna that is, would be taking care of the new Ravana, Kasab that is.

VIII.  I was told that from now onwards there would be this new supreme being for the country known as Lokpal whose word would be law. I went to have a look at this new supreme Lokpal, Kisan Baburao, whom people lovingly call Anna.

VII.  I was told that there is this new belly-dancer in town, Anna Kejriwal, who will be giving free shows at the Ramlila grounds for two weeks, four times daily. Since I have never seen a belly dancer perform, I was curious.

A Belly Dancer in Marrakech (Morocco)

Belly Dancer

VI.  I heard that someone named Anna was conducting walk-in interviews at the Ramlila grounds for two weeks, starting on the 19th of August,  for a variety of positions like truck drivers, cooks, driver’s assistant and flogger (a newly created position). I wanted to be considered for ‘flogger’, I think I’ll be good at it.

V.  I seem to have read a poster somewhere which said ‘feast’. Now, you don’t want to pass up a ‘feast’ specially if it is one on the house. Only after I landed up I realized that the interim ‘e’ was a figment of my imagination and what was on here was actually a tele-evangelized ‘fast’.

IV. I saw some posters & banners proclaiming, ‘India is Anna, Anna is India’. I went to see how India actually looks like.

III.  Some of my friends were going there to spend the better part of the day and it would have seemed quite boorish if I refused to go along, so I went.

II. My company’s HR was only granting ‘fasting leave’ to those who promised to furnish subsequently a certificate obtained from the Ramlila grounds, stating that they had attended & fasted also to force Mannu Sardarji to adopt the Jan Lokpal bill, no questions asked.

A Ramlila actor wears the traditional attire o...

Ramlila

I. We heard from our associates that they had great ‘pickings’ working the crowds outside Tihar jail while Anna was inside. Given that Ramlila grounds is a much bigger venue and Anna is now outside, we thought we would have a real bonanza working the crowds and ‘picking pockets’ there.

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The Corruption Brouhaha – A Reality Check

This is a conversation on the issue of graft in the country at various levels, between Q and A. Q is a middle-aged, mid-level executive based in Delhi who works for a Telecom firm whose business ethics are questionable. As part of his official duties, Q has no hesitation in corrupting people to get the job done when it is warranted and when asked to do so by his bosses to expedite matters. A is a worldly-wise budding entrepreneur who claims to have ‘been there and done that’. He is quite opposed to corruption in all its forms but realizes that there are times when one reaches a dead-end without ‘greasing’ individuals who help to keep the wheels turning. He also has a good enough understanding of structures, systems, and processes.

Q. This corruption in high places is really ‘killing’ the country. It has never ever been so bad before, has it?

A. If stunted development of educational facilities, poor infrastructure, lack of minimum standards in healthcare, slowdown in economic growth, gross inequities in income levels, runaway inflation & inadequate employment generation are not killing you, why is corruption alone killing you?

Q. Its just not fair, these guys making so much money on the sides, stealing our money actually? They should be brought to book & severe punishment should be meted out to them.

A. Aah, so you are primarily worried about big-ticket corruption? What about small-ticket corruption, harassment bribery? Doesn’t that bother you?

A representation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka...

The Lion Capital of Ashoka

Q. All kinds & types of corruption bother me, big or small. The small guys should not be left alone either.

A. Can you put your hand on  your heart, look your colleagues in the eye & honestly state that you have never ever either indulged in or encouraged, either tacitly or overtly, small-ticket corruption?

Q. I didn’t want to, but I had no recourse. I was stuck and without paying there was no way out. Everybody pays up in these situations you know.

A. Ok, let’s get to big-ticket corruption. How does that affect you directly or indirectly?

Q. It’s my money that they are stealing, isn’t it? Makes me mad.

A. Not really. Big-ticket corruption is usually between two individuals or institutions, one of whom has the power to provide a certain service or grant a favour and the other feels a need for that service or craves that favour for certain anticipated gains. Supposing we reclassify it as a fee being paid for a certain service or favour, would it still bother you so much?

Q. But it’s wrong, it’s dishonest and it’s hurting the country, isn’t it?

A. In some cases it may be speeding up a product or a service which, in the normal course, wouldn’t have been available for a while. Don’t you therefore think that sometimes it may have a salutary effect?

Corrupt Legislation. Mural by Elihu Vedder. Lo...

Corrupt Legislation : A mural by Elihu Vedder

While China may be somewhat better than India as far as corruption is concerned, it still remains quite low down in the ‘corruption rankings’. Most corruption in China is ‘institutionalized’ and of the big-ticket variety. Do you think corruption has impeded in any way the dazzling progress the country has made, virtually in all spheres, over the last two decades?

Q. My blood boils when I think about how corrupt our leaders are!

A. Look, corruption has always been a fact of life in India, particularly during the days of the license-permit Raj. The nexus between big business & politics has always been a reality. With accelerated economic growth & a quantum jump in the size of the projects executed, naturally the total amounts changing hands have increased significantly.

It is also a fact that the media has opened up a lot more than earlier and while certain sections of  the mainstream media

Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister

may be aligned with certain political parties there are enough other players in the arena who are always sniffing around for news of this kind and are not either afraid of or inhibited about putting it out. In fact both the 2G Telecom scam as well as the CWG mess were first brought to the notice of the public by smaller media players before the mainstream media picked up the refrain after some months.

Kapil Sibal - Union Minister for HRD & Telecom

The RTI Act which came into being in 2005 is also a pretty powerful tool which can be used both by the citizens and the media to get at certain facts & uncover them. And the growing popularity of social media has ensured that information dissemination and exchange of facts, thoughts & views can take place very, very quickly over cyberspace. It has also given rise to a degree of ‘citizen journalism’ even though this may be in its fledgling stages currently in India.

Q. Thank god that people like Anna Hazare & his group of ‘activists’ brought this issue centre stage!

A. If you carefully check out the facts, big-ticket corruption issues like the 2G Telecom scam & the CWG scam have been very much in the public domain almost for a couple of years before Anna Hazare & his people first emerged on the scene. The media kept on relentlessly highlighting it, it was a hot topic of discussion on social media & the opposition picked up the gauntlet as well, forcing the govt. to appoint a JPC to look into the 2G Telecom scam issue. The Supreme Court also kept up their relentless vigil on the whole issue and did not allow the various government agencies to brush the investigations under the carpet. In an unprecedented move a sitting Cabinet Minister was sacked, investigated and sent to jail along with various other players, including a M.P. who belongs to one of the constituent parties of the UPA and is the daughter of the party’s founder and the erstwhile C.M. of Tamil Nadu.  Several owners & CEOs of Telecom organizations who were the beneficiaries of the Telecom Minister’s benevolence have also been jailed. Suresh Kalmadi, a sitting M.P. of the Congress and a key member of its Parliamentary party who has also been the long-time & undisputed chief of several powerful sports bodies including the Indian Olympic Association has been jailed for the CWG scam together with several of his top officials. Actions of this kind against such powerful politicians, officials & prominent businesspersons has never before been seen in independent India. Bapat (Anna) Hazare and his group leapt into the fray after all this had taken place and thus can be suspected to be possibly crassly opportunistic.

Q. But Anna Hazare is a true Gandhian and is committed to Gandhi’s methods of fast & non-violence to pressurize this corrupt government.

Anna Hazare - Delhi

Bapat Baburao Hazare aka Anna

A. This government is one elected through a true democratic process. However flawed Indian democracy might be, the media is free, citizens can check out vital information through the RTI, contrary views & opinions can be voiced through the media or through many other forums set up for the purpose. There may be good and bad elements who are a part of the government. One may also agree or not agree with what the government does. If one does not agree with most of the govt’s actions & decisions one always has the option to vote out the govt. after 5 years, provided a majority feel the same way. Hence tarring the entire govt. with a black brush is in a way akin to blackening your own face.

Q. Who is going to wait five years every time. Besides all politicians are corrupt and need to be taught a lesson. India badly needs an ‘Arab Spring’ kind of revolutionary change. Jantar Mantar could soon become the new ‘Tahrir Square’.

A. What are your alternatives?  You could dismantle the present democratic structure of course, but then what do you plan to replace it with? Invite the Maoists for a shot at ruling the country? And if you think all politicians are venal, why don’t you actively help in getting a better person elected from your constituency the next time elections are held. Maybe you could stand yourself.

Also have you taken stock of what the ‘Arab Spring’ has achieved so far, if at all. Changes have happened in only two countries, one of which, Tunisia is an inconsequential state even within the Mid-East’s pecking order of nations. The other, Egypt, is in a state of transition with the army in charge currently. While Mubarak’s regime has been dismantled, already Egyptians are divided over whether he should be tried in a court of law and punished for his alleged misdemeanours or left strictly alone as a senior leader who also did a number of good things for the country. When elections will take place and what kind of government will come to power eventually is still anybody’s guess.

Q. Are you trying to say this government has provided good governance and done the right things as far as issues like

Baba Ramdev

corruption are concerned?

A. Not at all. They have had major issues concerning governance. There are many intrinsic problems, including an ‘appointed’ Prime Minister who is a classical wimp and is apparently answerable only to the party chief, Sonia Gandhi. The party chief and her son, Rahul Gandhi, who is one of the General Secretaries of the party, seem to be involved in making all the major decisions behind-the-scenes but they are really accountable to no one in particular. In addition to that there must be major internecine battles going on within the Congress party. All this adds up to a chaotic situation where no one is really in control firmly. This leads to an environment where governance aberrations start becoming more the norm rather than the exception and things just don’t get done.

Q. That is why Anna and the ‘civil society’ took up the cause of eliminating corruption strongly.

A. If you analyze objectively, they have actually made things worse. They ‘pushed’ their way into a government committee, comprising senior cabinet ministers, and got caught between the devil and the deep sea.  The team, including Bapat Baburao Hazare, doesn’t inspire confidence, consisting as it does of a sitting Lok Ayukta from Karnataka whose track record till date is quite poor, two activist lawyers with dubious antecedents who also happen to be a father-son duo and an activist who was till sometime back a civil servant and now runs an NGO.

After a few meetings they restarted the circus and started mud-slinging publicly and going on well-publicized single-day fasts even. Can you ever imagine two sets of people abusing & denigrating each other publicly and then sitting in a meeting and achieving anything substantive at all?

Q. But they have been demanding that the Lok Pal should have jurisdiction over all ministers, including the Prime Minister. Is that an unfair demand?

A. Provided there are enough checks & balances it is not. But then have you given a thought to the process of selection of the Lok Pal and his office? An ‘independent’ ombudsman who may turn into a rogue can be a serious threat to the administration and to an elected government. Such a ‘rogue’ ombudsman may bring decision-making and executive action about any issue to a virtual standstill. A well thought-out system of checks & balances needs to be implemented in parallel with the office of an independent, all-powerful ombudsman. The supervisor needs to be supervised.

Q. You have been mostly talking about what won’t or may not work. Why don’t you talk about what will?

A. Curbing corruption is a complex issue. It needs a whole series of structural, administrative and legislative changes, in addition to a change in the mindsets of people. One of the major sources of corruption is the electoral process in the country. To curb this, political parties need to be closely scrutinized and audited for their sources and usages of funds. Campaign finance reforms need to be initiated at multiple levels. One doesn’t quite see the proposed Lok Pal bill laying any emphasis on such issues.

There was a suggestion sometime back by the Chief Economic Advisor, GOI, about ways of curbing small-ticket corruption or what he termed as ‘harassment bribery’. Do browse an interesting discussion on the issue to appreciate the complexities of the task here.

In the absence of a well thought-out initiative, merely the addition of a Lok Pal may just mean addition of another layer of bureaucracy which, while pandering to populist sentiments, would hardly be effective in curbing corruption. At best, the incremental effect may be fairly marginal, at worst, nothing may change eventually.

A. I don’t want to listen to all your depressing arguments. My friends are right now calling me to join a candlelight march on the issue which they would be starting in the next one hour. I have to leave now. We will win, come what may. { Anna ….. Anna ….Baba …Anna….Baba…..Vitthala …..Vitthala ….Guruji }

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Of Japan’s handling of one of the biggest natural disasters they have faced, doomsday prognosticators & lobbies which have single-minded agendas, often irrational

Protesters

Protesters against nuclear plants

 

The catastrophic events in Japan, after the double whammy of a quake and a tsunami  which wrought havoc, widespread destruction & death in its wake, typically illustrated the fact how bad news is extremely newsworthy and grabs attention & eyeballs much better than any strictly factual, objective reporting. It also illustrated how self-professed or media created analysts & experts tend to come out of the woodwork and circulate around all kinds of views & scenarios which often have little factual grounding & basis and tend to emphasize and amplify the ‘bad news’ as best as possible. And seizing on all this bad news & bleak doomsday scenarios, lobbyists and various faux liberal activists & ‘jholawallas’ with fixed, often highly prejudiced & inflexible agendas start screaming their heads off about their favoured point-of-view, such breast-beating & screaming often having very little objective or factual basis. By way of illustration, relevant links with brief comments follow.

Bill Durodie, writing in TODAY summed up this scenario rather well. His piece can be read [ here ]

Yukio Edano

Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano

 

The way the political leadership in Japan responded to the crisis & the hands-on approach of the Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano & also the PM Naoto Kan, both fairly new to their jobs, was exemplary. Even then, some people expressed their disappointment & unhappiness at the situation despite the fact that these men were on top of the rapidly developing situation for most of the time and were taking decisions needed to be taken quickly, working in tandem and by rotation, tirelessly & spending sleepless nights. An idea can be got from the piece [ here ]

The exemplary sense of duty, courage and the great sense of sacrifice demonstrated by both the employees and the contract workers of the TEPCO Fukushima nuclear power plants has been written about fairly in detail and the Fukushima 50 (actually that’s a misnomer dreamt up by someone looking to create an eye-catching byline for the story, since apparently the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had about 180 people working in batches of 50 for short periods because of the extremely risky & hazardous conditions) are possibly on their way to becoming an integral part of Japanese folklore. Some of the pieces about this group of brave, selfless men & women can be read [ here ], [ here ] & [ here ].

The blog of Michiko Otsuki, a young female employee of the Fukushima Dai-ini plant which quickly and efficiently achieved a cold shutdown can be read [here]. While this is translated from the original in Japanese, the original blog had to be taken down by her, because all kinds of people started misconstruing it and deliberately giving it all kinds of slant.

The way the Japanese people in general have reacted to the disaster and the crisis has been exemplary and there are lessons to be learnt here for much of the rest of the world. Nicholas Kristof of the NYT, who was the bureau chief in Japan some years back and who witnessed the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in ’95 writes about that experience [ here ] & about the lessons that can be learnt from the present disaster [ here ]. The lessons the British could draw from the way the Japanese have handled this whole episode till now can be read  [ here ]. One wonders what lessons the Indian politicians, bureaucracy and even the people may have drawn from this. Given the severe administrative & governance deficits presently plaguing the country as well as the serial scams which come to light virtually every week, one doubts of course whether either the politicians or the bureaucracy is even in a frame of mind to learn any lessons from any such event or episode.

The most dismaying, perplexing or amusing, depending on the way one looks at it, has been the coverage of the potential nuclear meltdown situation, following the earthquake and the tsunami at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. While the basic source of information was principally from TEPCO personnel on the ground, Japanese officials & bodies like the IAEA, mediapersons, homegrown experts & instant analysts who came out of the woodwork by the dozens revelled in painting all kinds of scenarios, mostly bleak, and giving their armchair interpretations of what the reality is possibly like, implying in the process that the information frequently being shared by the concerned Japanese personnel & officials was not possibly reliable or even believable. Since there is no point in even providing the links to some of these works of fantasy, here are some links from industry bodies & sources with some integrity about the situation [ here ], [ here ] & [ here ].
An informed, objective presentation about the modus operandi of nuclear power plants like Fukushima can be viewed [ here ]

Now that the heroic band of men & women, generally getting to be known as the Fukushima 50, have succeeded in stabilising the situation and reattaching the power cables which would enable water to be pumped in again to cool the reactors (check this link here), I presume that the media will soon lose interest in the whole business since hopefully not much bad news will be forthcoming from here onwards. The current situation in Libya will of course dominate the news cycle for a few days at least.

Timeline Graphics of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant problems

 

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Random musings about the loud & largely unprofessional Indian mainstream media

Barkha

Barkha Dutt

I believe when the uprising in Egypt started attracting major headlines internationally, some members of the Indian mainstream media rushed to Egypt to provide on-the-spot coverage. Why this was necessary in the first place was a mystery since the Mid-East in general, including Egypt & several other countries would not quite be high-up on the typical domestic mass-market audience or viewer’s list of interesting places in any case and since that is typically the market most national & regional news-channels in India

Christiane Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour

cater to, the move still remains largely inexplicable. Maybe this constituted a pioneering attempt to broaden the horizons of the target audience, as it were. One also wondered what was the typical Indian angle, if any, that they were planning to cover since there weren’t a large number of Indian expats based in Egypt in any case and also since the Indian govt., generally clueless & not knowing which way to turn, as is fairly typical of the way it conducts its foreign policy, continued maintaining a studied silence on the whole affair. In any case several major international publications & channels like Al-Jazeera, NYT, Guardian & CNN to name a few were already doing an excellent job of covering the developments extensively & timely. Also, this being Revolution 2.0, as many have suggested since, constant updates on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube & Google were available to those who had access to such channels and cared to check periodically about what exactly was happening.Soon these gentlemen & ladies made a sorry spectacle of themselves after landing up in Cairo. Instead of reporting about developments on the ground they became the news themselves and ended up whining,

Sagarika Ghose

screaming & tweeting about how they were being harassed, followed, arrested, threatened etc., etc.,. Ostensibly the only one to have been spared such treatment was the outrageous Ms. Barkha Dutt, who soldiers on thanks to the UPA & Prannoy James Roy. She then busied herself going sight-seeing all over Cairo, filing dispatches by selectively cutting & pasting the

considerable volume of material already available on the Egypt affair & pretending that she was arranging to get an exclusive interview of Uncle Hosni as soon as Christiane Amanpour had finished with him. Unfortunately, despite her vocal championing of the Revolutionary Kashmir Stone-Pelters’ Association, she couldn’t get any of the folks in Tahrir Square to chuck even a couple of such ‘missiles’ generally her way which could then lead to dramatic coverage about the ‘brave & intrepid Barkha Dutt reporting from the scene of action despite grave threats to her life (i.e. mortal danger)’.

Having lost a great deal of face vis-a-vis her competitors who could triumphantly talk about being followed, harassed and even imprisoned, she & her boss planned to best them the next time around. Soon Libya happened & despite NDTV‘s target audience apparently having even less interest in Libyan affairs than in that of Egypt, she landed up with a team in Egypt again and decided, apparently on the spur-of-the-moment, to venture forth into ‘liberated’ Libya. This became all the more necessary to upstage the competition which had landed up too, in an effort to beam live reports from the ‘scene of action’.

Arnab

Arnab Goswami

She then apparently set forth in vehicles hired in Egypt across the Egypt – Libya border, which is long & largely porous at the best of times. Thousands of Libyans & Egyptians, apparently go across it daily, mostly to earn their daily bread in a neighbouring country, without bothering in the least about niceties like checkpoints, entry permits or Visas. However when Ms. Dutt went across this virtually unmanned border, it was projected as an extremely brave & hazardous move to the target audience, generally clueless about what the ground realities at that point in that part of the world were (if they were aware, they wouldn’t have been tuning into NDTV’s dispatches anyway for regular updates). Soon, this became a full-blown story about Ms. Dutt’s adventures in ‘extremely dangerous’ territory, while she prattled & tweeted her way across miles & miles of largely deserted countryside. The hordes of folks who follow her on Twitter apparently got into paroxysms of anxiety & delight alternately, exhorting her through tweets to take care, stay in touch & even come back to keep ‘life & limbs intact’. Any stragglers she may have come across in the largely deserted countryside became ‘fighters & revolutionaries of a liberated Libya’ who were egged on to voice their ‘views’ about the ‘momentous change’ happening and about Gaddafi’s repressive regime among other things.

NDTV apparently fashioned a full-length feature out of the ‘Adventures of Barkha Dutt’ which played out to their prime-time audience. The competition was thus upstaged and in a paradigm shift, the correspondent became the centre of attraction and the news herself. The synergies between championship cricket, soap, Bollywood & ‘breaking news’ which are the four pillars on which most news channels in India survive and even thrive on thus got greatly reinforced and the target audience went to bed happy after being riveted by this latest edition of ‘news soap’, Bollywood style.

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