Sunday, September 30, 2007

Looks like the Government will fall

For some time now, it seemed like the internal dispute within the CPM over the nuclear deal was preventing the left from carrying out the ultimatum to the Congress Government. It was quite clear that there was a lobby within the West Bengal unit (which had both the Chief Minster and Jyoti Basu) speak up for nuclear energy and even proclaim that relations with the US were important for the country; as opposed to the push by the politburo and Prakash Karat for a no-holds barred line against the nuclear deal even if it means bringing down the Government. And when pushed to whether this means that the left is agreeable to the BJP coming back to power if the Government falls, the left states that it treats both the BJP and US imperialism on the same level. At the same time, all the public comments by the Congress are that it will not favor going back and will push for the deal. Maybe they feel that if they go back, they will have no face left and will be pushed by the left again and again over other issues as well.

Poll clouds seem to have darkened further with CPM veteran Jyoti Basu on Saturday ruling out the possibility of any compromise on Left opposition to the US-India nuclear deal. Endorsement of the hard line on the deal is likely to quicken poll calculations of the UPA as the Left axe begins to descend on the Manmohan Singh government.
As reported by TOI on Saturday, Marxists are thinking in terms of withdrawing support if their threat against holding negotiations with IAEA goes unheeded. The deliberations in Kolkata indicated that CPM general secretary Prakash Karat's hard line had prevailed, and will strip the UPA-Left committee on the nuclear deal of even the token relevance it has. "The committee will continue as long as it is allowed to," a senior Congress source said.

At the same time, recent comments by various US officials had indicated that the time needed for the deal was reducing and various Indian ministers had indicated that they were committed to the deal going through. In addition, the Congress seems to be moving into election mode (and so are other parties). Seems like the time is over, unless the CPM is playing a massive bluff and bluster card.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:15 AM    

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cricket versus Hockey (or any other sport)

We have an obsession with cricket in this country. It is the most popular game, and maybe there are valid reasons for that. It has been marketed wonderfully, and people's involvement in the game has been raised to such a high degree that when the finals of the Twenty-Twenty were taking place in South Africa, the roads in Delhi were deserted, and for the next 2-3 days, the newspapers had major sections covering the event. The players were heroes, welcomed by the state government on arrival in Mumbai, with the BCCI doling out large sums of money to the players. Now, so far, the BCCI is a body for cricket, and it can give awards. But the Government has to appear broad-based and fair to all sports, and yet we know that is such a fiction. So, we have the hockey players, who won the Asia Cup when no one expected, protesting against the doling out of money to the players by State Governments.

Irked by the step-motherly treatment meted out to the Indian hockey players by the central and four state governments, when compared to the sops given to cricketers after their win in the Twenty20 World Cup, the team members have decided to go on a 'hunger strike'.
National Chief Coach, Joaquim Carvalho strongly objected to the announcement of cash awards by the Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and the state governments of Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Karnataka to the cricketers while ignoring the victory of his wards in the Asian Continental Championship early this month.

This is a perfectly valid argument. It may seem that the hockey players are being jealous, but the fact remains that the Government has no business giving cash gifts to players of one game, and totally ignoring the others. And that too for cricket, where neither the players nor the board require any form of support from the Government. It is other sports, suffering under abysmal conditions, without sponsorship, and with very little money (as demonstrated in the hit movie 'Chak de') that need Government support. But then who ever said that the Government made sense.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:17 AM    

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Laloo wealth case: CBI slapped in court

At some point of time, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the premier investigating agency of the country and the main federal such body will get the kick from the Supreme Court that it so badly needs in order to its job independently and without political influence. Currently the CBI reports to the Department of Personnel, and hence is extremely open to influence. In theory, the CBI works under its director and evaluates each case on its merits, but a review of many recent cases shows the kind of joke this concept is: The acquittal of Shibu Soren, the one/off investigation of Mayawati in the Taj Corridor case, the dismal performance in the Bofors / Quattrochi case, and the current issue about the Disproportionate assets case against Laloo Prasad Yadav and his wife:

The Patna High Court on Thursday held that the Bihar government appeal challenging the acquittal of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad and former CM Rabri Devi in the disproportionate assets (DA) case, an offshoot of the fodder scam, is maintainable.
Solicitor general G Vahanwati appearing on behalf of the CBI submitted as neither the state government nor any its agency was involved in the probe, the state government did not have the right to file appeal against acquittal of Lalu and Rabri.

The facts of the matter are simple. There was a case filed against Laloo Prasad Yadav and his wife by the CBI for possessing more money than their income would allow (something that would mostly be obtained through corruption or other such means). The case was decided against the CBI by the CBI special court, and it would move onto the High Court in appeal under most circumstances.
Of course, we all know that Laloo Prasad Yadav is a special minister in the Central Government, very dependable and many times a trouble-shooter for discussions with allies. And the Congress has a lot of experience with getting the CBI to do what it wants rather than getting an impartial investigation done.
So, the CBI refused to appeal against the judgment and this would have prevented the case from going further except for the Bihar Government acknowledging that it does not believe that the CBI is going to do anything in this regard and deciding to appeal in the High Court. What a shock ? Both the Laloo and the Central Government were aghast, how can the State Government intervene when the CBI is the direct party. Well, now the Bihar High court says that the Bihar Government can intervene, another blow to the credibility of the CBI. The day is not far when the Supreme Court (like it did in the case of Central Vigilance Commissioner) will declare that the ownership of the CBI by the political leadership of the Center is incestuous and the CBI needs to be independent.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:05 AM    

Bihar: The lynch state

When do we get to a situation where normal people, get worked up enough to form a mob and then proceed to pummel, beat, thrash, or use other means of harming or killing somebody who is supposed to have been a thief ? Well, if people could find an answer, they could prevent what seems to be happening in Bihar. In yet another another incident of a supposed criminal having been beaten up by a mob and killed in a frenzy, 2 people were beaten to death after becoming the target of a mob.

Superintendent of Police (city), Anwar Hussain, said the lynching of the two men took place at Nutan Colony under Sultanganj police station last night after news spread that three persons were robbing passersby. The trio was then chased by a crowd. One of them jumped into a pond to save himself but he was pulled out and bludgeoned to death with sticks, iron rods and whatever the mob could lay its hands on.
The incident comes close on the heels of the killing of 10 people on suspicion of being thieves at Dhelpurwa village of Vaishali district on September 13. Earlier this month, a mob had pierced and gouged out the eyes of three young men for snatching away a motorcycle in Nawada district, reviving memories of the infamous Bhagalpur blindings of the 1980s.

This seems to becoming more common in Bihar and other regions nowadays. You report that a person or group of people is committing a robery or other such crime, and people form a mob ready to kill and main, safe in the knowledge that in a mob nobody is recognizable (isn't that what rioters in Delhi who burn public property and commit mayhem on the streets believe in?).
What is this due to ? One reason is the poor system of justice in Bihar, especially in urban or semi-urban areas where the law is mostly absent or manipulated very easily. It is not easy to see justice being served, and such is the environment in which vigilantism starts and prevails. This concept is something that once can see in a number of movies as well where the people of the locality get together and form a mob and then proceed to wreak havoc on the villains.
However, this is a very troubling situation. Such vigilante action further weakens the state, as a number of people will see that is serving the purpose of dispensing instant justice, helped by the fact that a majority of the people who are affected have actually done something wrong. However, for one, stealing is certainly not deserving of a death sentence, the chance of misuse is too high, and overall it can be directed against specific people since very few people have the chance to argue against a mob. Unless the Bihar Government is able to discourage these sort of lynching from happening, as well as make the justice system much better, such sort of vigilantism will continue to happen.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 5:29 AM    

Friday, September 21, 2007

Split within CPM more pronounced over nuclear issue

It would seem that the debate within the Communist party (CPM) over the issue of withdrawing support over the nuclear issue is continuing, and is not a done deal. Initially, there were just plain suspicions that there would be tension between the West Bengal unit of the CPM and the central Politburo; there were unnamed sources in the West Bengal unit who claimed that the attitude of the central leadership was not comfortable to the West Bengal unit. They are in a state which needs to rapidly develop, it's people are looking for development and they have already faced a mini-revolt over the issue of earlier land acquisition for development, with Mamta Banerjee leading the protest.
As the tension between the Left and the Congress escalated, and the Congress got support from its other allies, there must have been a lot of thought going into the West Bengal leadership about what this means for the state. For many of their measures, such as rural electrification, industrialization and SEZ's, they need to have a friendly centre. In a small indicator of what a uncooperative center can mean, the West Bengal Government faced problems regarding getting funds for rural electrification. And of course, a Congress aligning with Mamta Banerjee is the worst nightmare for the Left (and by Left, I primarily mean the CPM, since the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc don't seem to care all too much).
But now, it seems that the state unit is either unable to make its wishes clear internally or is sending out signals to the Congress that a condition of irreversability has not been reached. So, first the powerful Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made an interview where he said that nuclear energy is useful, and then the 'wise' old statesman of the Left, Jyoti Basu essentially claimed that the deal was a useful deal and meant nuclear energy. For some time now, the likes of Prakash Karat have been rolling the nuclear deal to mean India being a US vassal, a strategic ally, and that since the deal is with the US which is anathema for the Left, it should be reversed.

"The Indo-US nuclear deal is for nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is necessary and there is a need for nuclear power plants. With new industries mushrooming, the demand for power will increase," Basu told reporters after the party's state secretariat meeting here.
He also expressed hope that the conflict between Left parties and the UPA government over the Indo-US nuclear deal would ease after the CPM's politburo and central committee meetings here. "CPI-M's Politburo and central committee would meet in Kolkata from September 28 to October 1, which will be followed by a joint meeting of the UPA-Left committee on the nuclear deal. There could be some easing off of the situation," he said.

These are pretty large statements, and one wonders as to exactly what this means. Could it really mean that the West Bengal leadership has managed to get a reversal of the overall situation and that the left will keep on making a hue and cry, but will not pull out ? Seems a bit unlikely, but stranger things have happened. However, if that happens, it will be a severe setback for Prakash Karat, and will demonstrate that elected politicians are the ones who wield power.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:13 AM    

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Left divided over nuclear issue

There is hope for the Congress Government as yet. It currently seems to be between a rock and a hard place; if they back down from the nuclear deal under Left pressure, then the Government will have a serious loss of face with future agreements being disputed and maybe rolled back under other such pressures. In addition, internationally the Primer Minister will have a monumental loss of face in the sense that a Treaty, negotiated for a period of 2 years and seemingly which meets the needs of the Government is being held up. In addition, it will tell the Left that the Government will eventually give in with the right amount of pressure. On the other hand, if the Government does decide to go ahead with the nuclear deal, it is very likely that the Left will carry out its threat to withdraw support and leave the Government in a very fragile political environment.
And maybe not. The CPM is divided into 2 sections, with a section representing the central leadership, people in the politburo who don't face Lok Sabha elections (most likely because they would not get elected given their stands on various issues) and the Governments in West Bengal and Kerala who have to face public pressure and ensure that they are seen on the side of development. So far, it has been under-stated that there are differences of opinion between the Central and State leadership, but they have mostly papered over.
However, it seems like the dam is opening up; the collapse of the Central Government will have a major ripple effect on West Bengal (a state that the Communist parties just cannot cannot afford to lose given their 30 year old grip on the state). Currently the Government is seen as pliable, and the opposition in West Bengal is seen as divided; but if the Central Government starts to act tough and aligns with Manta Banerjee in the state, it would give the CPM a strong sense of worry (especially because it is starting to see how development, even though necessary has its own pain). So, maybe some amount of realism from the state side is pushing the West Bengal Chief Minister to make this statement regarding the need for nuclear energy:

West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee created a flutter on Monday by stressing the importance of nuclear power at a time when his party, CPM, is locked in a battle with the Centre over the Indo-US nuclear deal and party bigwigs, like politburo member Sitaram Yechury, are publicly arguing that nuclear power isn't critical and perhaps not even desirable.
Within hours of the CM's remarks, his comrades in Delhi went on an overdrive to paper over the apparent difference between two senior politburo members - Bhattacharjee and Yechury - on nuclear power.

The Chief Minister of Bengal is no paper-weight, he is the leader of the major state for the Left parties and if he starts pushing his weight, he can cause a major disturbance in the current stand of the Left party.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:18 AM    

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Creating terrorists where none existed

India's faces a severe problem with respect to terrorism. Some of them are on the path of terrorism due to wrong incitement, some are due to the situation and some are terrorists due to being mercenaries, and this being the most profitable route. So, for example, terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir got a massive boost by the rigging of the 1987 state elections, and this was further increased due to the massive boost given by Pakistan through training, funds and men. In many sections of the North-East, terrorism has grown because of separatism again, but for many Naxalite affected areas, people also turn to violence because the state and its institutions have failed them. Hence, the message always goes out from security experts that innocents must not be harmed, and a lot of care and attention must be taken to ensure that people do not feel prompted to turn to terrorism to escape state repression. Those who would have seen Gulzaar's movie 'Machis' would see one example of this happens. In Kashmir right now, the biggest measure that brings hundreds of people out to protest against security forces is the case of frame-ups and innocents being killed. Such one-off problems increases the total problem of handling the insurgency.
But it looks like these set of people in the security forces did not hear about all these problems:

The CBI has found that Intelligence Bureau operatives colluded with Delhi Police special cell sleuths to 'plant' RDX on two youths who were arrested as 'Al Badr terrorists’, TOI has learnt. The shocking conclusion comes a month after the agency told the Delhi High Court that the special cell’s probe into the murky affair "didn’t inspire confidence".
Top CBI sources told TOI on Wednesday that the seized RDX appeared to have been planted on the two 'terrorists' Mohd Moarif Qamar and Irshad Ali. The agency will submit its report, which indicts officers of IB and Delhi Police special cell, to the court on October 24. While similar episodes in the past have hurt the credibility of the anti-terror agencies, this one stands out because it marks a rare instance where Intelligence Bureau operatives collaborated in the plot hatched by Delhi Police’s special cell against its former informers.

Even though one can sometimes have some sympathy for these security personnel because of the intense pressure on them to show results, these actions only tend to increase disaffection and not bring any benefit either in the short-term or long-term. The Home Ministry & Defence Ministry need to again reinforce the message of not going in for these kind of frame-ups.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:53 AM    

What happens when a Government refuses to listen to reason

What happens when a Government is so taken up by populism that it won't listen to reason ? Well, now is a good time to find out. The Andhra Pradesh Government of Y. Rajsekhar Reddy has been trying to implement a separate reservation quota for Muslims in state colleges. Now reservation vs. merit has been a tricky subject currently, with plenty of impassioned speech for and against the subject. However, most debaters seem to agree that trying to implement reservations with a religious agenda is just not on; it smacks too much of a populist move (not bad by itself if it works for public good), it goes against the concept of the state not discriminating between against religions (sacrosanct in the Indian system), it militates against the concept of targeted reservations where reservations are only meant for those people who have been denied or suppressed for a historically long time (and you just cannot say that about the Muslim community in Andhra Pradesh) and is against the concept of judicial review where the ultimate correctness of a Government action is viewed against the intention of the constitution by the courts (and in this case, this particular stand is being reviewed by the Supreme Court).
So what did the Andhra Government do ? 2 years back, it passed an ordinance whereby a 5 % reservation was introduced for the entire Muslim community in Andhra Pradesh. Most people considered this an obvious attempt to curry favour with the Muslim community since the Government knew what was going to happen (it would not pass court approval with the High Court very clearly ruling against providing reservation on a religious basis). So the state filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, although it knows that the Supreme Court is very very likely to rule against such an ordinance and declare it ultra vires of the Constitution.
Then in July this year, the Andhra Pradesh Congress Government struck again, passing another ordinance giving 4 % (and not 5%) reservation in Professional colleges for Muslims. This is when the Supreme Court is already hearing the earlier case. And the Government must have felt to be very clever, after it all reduced the figure to 4% so as to not exceed the 50% quota limit introduced by the Supreme Court in the landmark Indira Sawhney case. Now, this latest quota has been challenged in the Supreme Court again:

The Supreme Court would hear on September 24, a petition challenging the Constitutional validity of an Ordinance granting four per cent reservation to Muslims in professional colleges by the Andhra Pradesh government.
The petition filed by T Murlidhar Rao and K Sriteja has challenged the Andhra Pradesh High Court order declining to stay the Ordinance issued by the state government on July 6, 2007, under which it provided four per cent reservations to several sub sects within the Muslim community by treating them as backward classes. The High Court refused to stay the ordinance after the state government submitted that the issue relating to reservation for OBCs was pending before the apex court and hence no order be passed till the matter was adjudicated by the Constitution Bench.

The State Government submitted before the High Court that since a matter related to OBC reservation in professional educational institutions was pending before the Supreme Court, the Andhra High Court should not intervene, and the court bought into this argument. The fact of the matter is that this is different, since this pertains to reservation on religious lines, and is a much more serious manner. But will the Congress listen ? It needs to be seen as implementing the Sachar committee report and doing something symbolic for the Muslim community, and this trend is hard to reverse.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:13 AM    

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Crowd blinds 3 motorcyle thieves

This seems to be happening more and more. Lynch mobs are ready to dole out instant justice, without worrying about any law or judicial process. Refer this article:

A mob was waiting for the three and they were dragged off the stolen motorcycle as soon as they appeared, fisted and kicked before their eyes were pierced and gouged out with a sharp tool, the Sirdala police station officer in-charge Manoj Kumar said.

Thieves being caught by a mob is fine, and one can understand some elements in the mob getting hyperactive and beating them, although that is also a problem. But to gouge out their eyes is such a brutal step, and something that just shows the total lack of regard for human lives.
We have earlier had cases of illegal caste panchayats condemning lovers to death and carrying out such attacks, of people beating thieves to death, of policemen / ticket conductors throwing people out of fast-moving trains, of policemen being complicit in dragging a thief behind a motorcycle. If we have to dispense this brand of rough justice, then what is the need for a legal system.
One can also argue that it is our legal system that has caused this to happen, with thieves and others not getting convicted or taking too long to convict, and people not having the honest fear of the law that makes people obey the law. Unfortunately, the more we let people do such actions and go unpunished, the more likely it is that we will see more such mob action, and in the off case, an innocent getting punished in this way.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:28 AM    

Friday, September 07, 2007

What actually happened in the Quattrocchi case ?

It is know that Q, the elusive gentleman in the Bofors case, the one who has got the entire Indian law and criminal establishment conspiring to get him off, has friends among the powerful (extremely powerful, given that he is connected to Sonia Gandhi). So, when there was no appeal in the Argentinian High court against his acquittal, people were not surprised; in fact a lot of people would have expected this to happen. What was strange was the way in which nobody was willing to go and say as to how this happened, and where the decision to not go after him further was taken. In fact, the CBI acted as the hurt party in all this, claiming that they were all set to go after him and had no idea as to why the case was dropped.
Well, this report by the Indian Express points out that everybody was involved, with the Law Ministry signing off on the opinion, the CBI being kept in the loop and the external affairs ministry also in the act.

It was none other than the UPA Government’s Law Ministry and its Minister H R Bharadwaj who let Bofors-accused Ottavio Quattrocchi walk free by deciding not to appeal against the Argentine court order rejecting the CBI’s extradition request. An investigation by The Indian Express has revealed that not only was this decision signed and approved by Bharadwaj, the CBI was constantly kept in the loop and was even given copies of the opinion several days before Quattrocchi got his passport back in Buenos Aires on August 15.
After the CBI’s request to file an appeal against the June 8 Eldorado court order rejecting Quattrocchi’s extradition, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) sought the Law Ministry’s opinion. The CBI is now under pressure given that by September 19, as per a direction of a Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, it has to place all documents and details pertaining to Quattrocchi’s release before the Court.

Of course, one cannot fault the CBI or the Law Ministry, or the Department of Personnel. After all, Q was close to the first family of Indian politics, and if Sonia Gandhi has so decreed, then who will take the responsibility of touching him.
If at all, one can in an ideal world expect somebody to act, it should be the CBI. It is after the premier investigating agency of the Government, and should go against crimes, no matter what the pressure. But the CBI has been kept under the department of Training and Personnel, and not independent.
With this, one can be pretty sure that one has heard the last of the Quattrocchi affair.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:32 AM    

Sting operations and lies

The media is an extremely powerful entity, and can make or change fortunes in this country (actually in almost all countries). While good coverage of a person in a newspaper or TV can make the person a celebrity, there is a negative side as well. With most libel laws left weak so that the investigative powers of the media are not curtailed, there is a great tendency for misuse.
Take for example, the very thing that is most famous nowadays, sting operations. In a country such as ours where the corruption level is very high and present at all levels, there have been many sting operations that have helped immensely to expose the rot and corruption - examples being the Tehelka exposes, the cash for questions MP scandal, and numerous other smaller scandals where a hidden TV camera exposes the corrupt and showcases the corrupt person on prime TV.
However, in the US and other Western countries, any such expose or sting operations by a major media entity is fully vetted before proceeding, with confirmation being received before publishing. However, in the current case of the sting operation involving the teacher, it seems very obvious that in the crowded world of TV channels, people are willing to let confirmation and proof go by. What is more important is the scandal. And that is precisely what seems to have happened when a TV channel allowed a reported to carry out his own revenge in the name of a expose:

Delhi Police on Friday detained for questioning a TV channel reporter who conducted a sting operation on a government school teacher in an attempt to show that she was running a prostitution racket.
The channel had aired the sting operation on August 30 which purportedly showed the woman telling the reporter that Khurana had allegedly filmed her in "compromising position" and had forced her into prostitution.

After viewing the full version, the police appears to have concluded that the lady was in fact framed by the channel reported to carry out a person vendetta, and he along with his helpers have been arrested. One is not so sure as to what happens next, but it is a fact that the reputation of the lady, Uma Khurana has been dragged through the mud, she has been mishandled by a crowd, and has been fired from her job.
The last part was all the more surprising. In a short panel meeting coordinated by the education minister based on viewing the tapes, she was actually dismissed from her job. Just goes to show how seriously our panels take their job, and how quick politicians are to latch onto something that they see as a public cause.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:12 AM    

Will Congress shock CPM in West Bengal ?

It has been quite clear for some time that the Left Central Leadership is not satisfied with the policies of the Congress Government in the center, looking at the Government as being too tilted towards the US (nuclear deal, military exercises, overall globalization, etc); at the same time, their Government in West Bengal, wanting to continue to stay in power, has to show actual development on the ground. For this, it has to adopt policies of liberalization, and has to attract investment in the state. And guess what, if you looked at the West Bengal government in terms of what it is doing for industry, it would not seem any different from other states in terms of policies or actions. They need a friendly central Government, and so far has been able to get the Congress Government to help them out. But, if the Congress gets miffed, or really starts to feel the heat in the center, they will try to strike back in the state. And they just got a big start:

The buzz has been there for quite some time now but Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee chose the setting of a madrasa students’ programme today to indicate, more clearly than she ever has, that she is set to part ways with the BJP. “We are now with no one and are trying to stand on our own,” she said, adding that her party was going ahead with agitation programmes on its own, be it Singur or Nandigram. “In West Bengal, our party is going it alone,” she reiterated.
The Congress, which has been prompting her to snap off ties with the BJP, was quick to welcome her statement. “We urge Mamata Banerjee to come back to Congress and fight the CPM jointly. We are sure that if she leads us, we will be able to throw the CPM out of the state,” Manas Bhuina, Congress Legislature Party leader, told.

Mamta Banerjee is feeling resistance from Muslims when she tries to get their votes due to her ties with the BJP, and given the large scale migration of Bangladeshis and their acquiring voting power, she needs their support. This is a good enough reason for her to spurn the BJP and go back to her voters with a claim of breaking away from the BJP.
Now, Mamta Banerjee is a highly populist leader, capable of stirring up lots of emotions, and if she does opt to go with the Congress, it has the potential to be a major challenge for the CPM rule. At this time, because of the way that the CPM has gone about implementing its SEZ agenda and land acquisition, there is an under-current of resentment against the party and Mamta Banerjee can take some advantage out of that, provided that she builds up an organization. And that is where the Congress can come in. It will be able to provide the requisite cadre such that the combined might will be able to overcome the immense pressure applied by the CPM cadre (who aim to win using any and all tactics).
The biggest question is, when does this play out. If Mamta Banerjee opts to join hands with the Congress in the next few days, it will put the Congress central leadership in an awkward situation. One the one hand, they are depending on the Left to not withdraw support, and on the other hand, they are courting the biggest opponent of the Left in their strongest state.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:49 AM    

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Do we sometimes take too much time in policy making ?

It would seem so. It has come out many times in the past, that with so many vested interests in each decision making, decision, especially in policy matters take forever to happen. As an example of such decision making and the influences that go into the whole process, people would remember the entire fuss about the initial license to Reliance for running Wireless in Local Loop and how that got converted into a license to run full-blooded cellular services using CDMA. There are umpteen other examples that I can list out, but let me just take a few - the whole issue about SEZ is nothing but a policy in which there are so many parties wanting to participate that things are out of control; there was the whole matter about the upgradation of the Delhi and Mumbai airports and that took a very long time to bet converted into actual contracts; the discussions about whether airlines can fly out of India before 5 years of domestic flights is subject to intense lobbying; and finally the current issue about awarding of 3G contracts and distribution of spectrum to the rival GSM and CDMA players.
All of them show one simple principle: Big business is intricately linked with Government and policy makers and subject the making of policy to incredible lobbying; in many cases such as Reliance and its initial cellular contract, the lobbying is enough to over-turn Government policies and make new ones.
But even in areas where there is less dispute due to business lobbying, there gets to be all sort of other political factors thrown in. Sometimes, this process can delay policy making by large periods and frustrate the businesses on whom India is depending to get the mega-investment required to generate the large number of jobs required. Take an example of the incentives required for the policy of getting large scale investment into India by semi-conductor manufacturers. It has not been able to be settled and the first impact of this delay is now apparent:

"We were in serious discussion for chip manufacturing in India but the government was a bit slow on semiconductor manufacturing proposals", Intel Chairman Craig Barrett who is on his ninth visit to the country said.
Barrett justified his decision to go to Vietnam and China by saying "to set up a manufacturing base, we do planning years in advance. The China and Vietnam plans were made much earlier. As the government was slow in announcing the policy, in the window period we went to these two countries".

These are setbacks that the Government can ill afford. In this age of many other companies appearing as attractive investment destinations, India cannot afford to be slow in decision making, especially for areas where there are not too many controversies.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:10 AM    

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Man beaten to death by mob

We keep on reading about incidents like this. Maybe our law and order system has so broken down that people no longer believe that a thief will actually get sentenced, or maybe they will confident that they can administer quick justice, even if it leads to the death of a human being outside the judicial system. What makes it even more bad in this case is the fact that a policeman was there, but did not take a step to stop them. The case is simple, a thief was caught, and beaten up so badly that he died; and apparently a policeman was there who did not stop them. How long can this system go on with people being able to administer vigilante kind of justice:

MOGA: About one dozen persons, including some workers at a local gaushala, lynched a suspected thief on Friday evening in Moga. The suspected thief Mohinder Singh was allegedly beaten to death even as a policeman looked on.
Though the deceased kept begging for mercy, claiming that he had simply been looking for his lost cow, frantic guashala workers tied him up with an iron chain in the gaushala and gave him a severe thrashing leading to
his death. Though a police constable reached the gaushala immediately after Mohinder was nabbed by the workers, he used no force or showed any resistance to save the deceased.

This kind of summary illegal justice in incredibly dangerous. A mob knows no truth, and any kind of problems can be there in this approach. An innocent can be easily caught in this kind of brutality, and people can even misuse such occasions to take out their personal enmity against somebody else. The police have to take action, else they are equally guilty.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 4:30 AM    

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Monorail to link townships in New Mumbai

We have seen in the past as to how the various state and national authorities in the past have always under-performed in terms of transport planning. So, we have the scene where the roads between big cities and their suburbs are extremely congested at most times, where any big plans to improve roads such as the Golden Quadrilateral project are seen as major improvement projects (instead of a normal expectation of having good raods), where the amount of money and time lost in inter-state commerce / transport of goods is a major economic drag (the cost in terms of fuel, tyres and general wear and tear on vehicles itself is a major cost), and where large sections of the rural population are cut off because of bad roads and poor connections.
So, it is very surprising when one sees news of such projects such as the plan to have a mono-rail connection between Mumbai and its suburbs; it is difficult to credit our planners with such foresight. However, if this is genuine and a part to have an integrated transport plan for the region, then it would be great:

The monorail, a light mass transit medium earlier considered for short routes within the city, including between the two airports, is now being proposed for an integrated transport system to link satellite townships around the city. The monorail proposal was discussed when commissioners and mayors of Navi Mumbai, Bhiwandi, Kalyan-Dombivli, Ulhasnagar, Mira-Bhayander and Thane held a meeting with Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad on Saturday.
The monorail is now being seen as a supplement to the road and rail transport facilities that already exist in suburban areas on the outer limits of the city region. Gaikwad said that in addition to transport, detailed plans would be drawn up for a proper sewerage system and public toilets in the emerging cities. "All of this will be taken up under the Nirmal MMR Abhiyan," he said. No costs have been mentioned as the projects are still at the discussion level.

The other major problem that we normally see in such critical projects is the delays that happen due to lack of political will to make sure that all the hindrances that are coming in the way of such projects such as land acquisition, governmental clearances, people resettlement, etc. We have already seen this in major projects such as the National Highways scheme, the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, etc. On the other hand, we can already see the benefits of major transport projects such as the completed stretches of the Golden Quadrilateral, the Delhi Metro, the Konkan Railways, etc. All of them show major transport ease for travelers, reduced time and money, environmental benefits, etc.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:49 PM