Cynics might ask if the UPA-II has anything to celebrate but, at least, give it credit for having survived full three years. Now, if in spite of massive scams, court strictures, arrests of its leading lights, a series of adverse CAG reports, and, above all else, non-performance and an economy-shattering policy paralysis, Manmohan Singh is still in the saddle, well… he has every reason to throw a celebratory dinner, doesn’t he?
The dinner itself at 7 Race Course Road was a low-key affair. In the absence of any achievements of the last three years, attention was focused on firming up the lien on office for the remaining two. Thus, enticing Mulayam with a seat on the high table turned out to be the high point of the evening.
And, mind you, the high table was not the one on which the Prime Minister occupied a pride of place. No. It was the one which was graced by the PM’s employer, Sonia Gandhi. In fact, the PM did not even find a place on the high table. He and his other senior ministerial colleagues, including Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram, like some family retainers, were relegated to another table.
The media missed the slight to the PM. Being the host that evening, Singh ought to have been allowed some slack, if for nothing else than the fact that he had somehow retained power for the family-run Firm for full three years. Instead of being the master of ceremonies, the PM seemed peripheral to the proceedings. The focus was on the mother- son Gandhi duo and, of course, on the new bakra they had planned to woo into the parlor, namely, Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Those present on the occasion were certain that the Congress’s heir apparent was in a rather non-communicative mood, sitting in a corner fiddling with his cell phone.
In her remarks, Sonia Gandhi blamed the Opposition for targeting the UPA-II government, a wholly untenable charge considering how the BJP had gone out of its way to project an image of internal strife and external confusion. If the truth be told, the UPA- II had no one but itself to blame for its sub-zero public standing.
As for the achievements the PM talked about, the less said the better. The seven per cent growth rate, he should know, is actually two per cent lower than the nine per cent the economy had recorded when he first took over from Atal Behari Vajpayee in May 2004. It was even lower from what was recorded in the last year of UPA-I.
The PM should also know that despite the passage of the relevant Bill by Parliament, universalization of primary education continues to be a pipe dream. As for the so-called success of the rural guarantee scheme, for which the PM patted his own back, he cannot be unaware of various committee reports which have panned the scheme for huge leakages and a wasteful expenditure on wholly unproductive works.
Yes, as we noted above, if the government has one real achievement it is that despite its various scams, its non-performance, its gross mismanagement of the economy, -- look at the free fall of the rupee, for example --- it has survived them all. But its existentialist crisis seems to be unending.
Indeed, if there was any hope that there could be a major course correction in the remaining two years of its five year term, it was dissipated by the way the backroom managers of the Congress Party went about lassoing political horses for trading with ministerial offers and other blandishments.
Whether Yadav finally agrees to sup with Sonia for ministerial inclusion or for the vice president’s post for his brother was not clear but since he is in the market he should be careful lest Mayawati agrees to sell her wares (read MPs) cheap, if for nothing else than to ensure that she does not remain unsold.
However, given the state of the main opposition party, there is no threat to the UPA government. It is condemned to last its full five-year term. Only those who have the good of the country ought to be concerned about the damage that a leaderless government can do in the remaining two years. More of drift and dithering could see the rupee plummeting a hundred to a dollar and prices of essential items, which keep the aam aadmi from meeting his maker ahead of his time, could skyrocket further.
Meanwhile, Mulayam, who has just won a great victory in UP, should do his political math again. Does he see percentage in aping Lalu Yadav, who having lost Bihar has reason to search for sustenance in the Congress Party, or in toeing an independent, third-front line, with the Communists providing the ideological anchor? A spurned Mayawati with a not-so-covert alliance with the BJP could well reclaim the entire anti-Congress space should Mulayam respond to the cooing noises emanating from the Congress parlour.
Sonia for PM, Singh for President?
On the morning of the UPA government’s third anniversary, an authoritative business daily made bold to suggest a change of guard at the very top in New Delhi. It forcefully argued that Sonia Gandhi should replace Manmohan Singh as prime minister, something no other paper has done all these years.
It was hard to question the paper’s line of reasoning. “… the government gives every impression of being rudderless, limp, without energy or ideas at a time when the Congress faces severe challenges in retaining popular support in key states across the country. The economy meanwhile is in danger of slipping from distress into crisis. Whether one likes it or not, it is time for change – a new government and a new prime minister. At the heart of the government’s problems is the diarchy that prevails, something which the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy is simply not equipped to deal with. Political power rests with Sonia Gandhi, and she therefore has an important say in what must happen. In practice, therefore, the prime minister serves so long as he enjoys her confidence, and he has to consult her on ministerial appointments. More importantly, he cannot dispense with any of them if he so chooses… since Dr Singh is by nature non-assertive, he has chosen to give in more often than not. The Government that he leads, therefore, does not bear his stamp. And since nature does not tolerate a vacuum, some members of the National Advisory Committee, which Mrs Gandhi chairs, have often sounded as though they are a super-government. One of the sins of the UPA has been to devalue the office of prime minister, to reduce it to a chief operating officer…”
The editorial effectively demolishes the argument that ‘coalition compulsions’ are responsible for the current mess in government. “.. 28 out of 34 cabinet posts are with the Congress, as also all seven positions of minister of state with independent charge; that is a score of 35 out of 41. Of the six posts with five allies, the Government has got almost unstinting support from Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. When push came to shove, the DMK too played along, even allowing its cabinet representation to shrink. The sole problem case can be said to be Mamata. Is this really an unmanageable situation, or a failure of management?”
The paper then goes on to argue that Sonia Gandhi ought to take over as Prime Minister: “… it is she who has the political power and leadership of the largest party in Parliament; she therefore should be the prime minister… Pranab Mukherjee – whose record as finance minister is nothing to write home about –should move to Rashtrapati Bhawan..”
Well, while one may endorse Sonia Gandhi becoming PM – and exposing herself thoroughly – given the long history of suspicion between her and Mukherjee, it is highly unlikely she would like to see him become the president. Therefore, the blow to Singh could be softened by sending him to the Raisina Hill. Being a life-long bureaucrat, Singh may actually relish the idea of further extending his lien on ‘official car and bungalow’ for another three years since his present term is due to end latest by May 2014 while as president he will continue till July 2017.
The IPL politics
Cricket and politics are fast becoming twin sports with professional practitioners of one increasingly dabbling in the affairs of the other or vice versa. So you have the BJP MP Kirit Azad, a former cricketer himself, unleashing a fusillade of abuse, much of it unprintable, against various cricket officials, in particular against his bete noire, Arun Jaitley, the President of the Delhi and District Cricket Association. Then you have the junior minister in-charge of Sports, Ajay Maken, revealing his irrelevance by abusing all and sundry who happens to be associated with the organizational set-up of the country’s lone mass sport.
But neither Azad nor Maken seem to be above accepting whatever crumbs the very cricketing authorities they abuse day in and day out might throw their way. For instance, Maken could do with more complimentary tickets for IPL matches but in spite of his office badgering the organizers he seems to be dissatisfied with the number that obliging IPL authorities send him regularly. Admittedly, Maken was grateful to accept the invite from Sahara Shri Subroto Roy to be the star presence at the inaugural match at Pune stadium.
As for Azad, the less said the better. Having been closely associated with the game long after his retirement, Azad finds himself isolated in the DDCA/BCCI set-up due to his not-so-overboard conduct. Besides, given the internal dynamics of the BJP, taking potshots at the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha seems to earn him brownie points from a section of the party which is perennially engaged in plotting Jaitley’s downfall.
Slightly different however was the case of Laloo Yadav who ranted against the IPL, asking for an outright ban on it. Well, his son Tejaswai’s five-year contract with the Delhi Daredevils at Rs. 30 lakh a year is due to end later this month. Which means Tejaswai Yadav, who, by the way, did not have a single outing all through the five seasons of IPL, is up for grabs by any of the franchisees. Given that Yadav spoke gratuitously in defence of Shah Rukh Khan following the fracas at the Wankhede, maybe the Kolkata Knight Riders can hire Tejaswi for doing such errands as fetching water, bats, towels, etc., for players on the field for the next five seasons of IPL.
Pakistanis are not as straitlaced as their system of government might suggest. They freely poke fun at their rulers, including the military leaders. The latest joke doing the rounds on the net targets President Asif Ali Zardari.:
Robber to Pakistani President Zardari: “Give me all ‘your’ money.”
Zardari: “Don’t you know who I am? I am Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan.”
Robber: “In that case, give me all ‘my’ money.”