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Archive for March, 2011

This isn’t about cricket diplomacy, it’s about assertive PM

March 30, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sprung a surprise on his Cabinet colleagues and even his own Congress party by going in for cricket diplomacy. 

But Singh’s senior colleagues like Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee or Defence Minister A K Antony aren’t amused. Mukherjee is dead against any hype of the kind being aroused over the Mohali match and summit. 

Also, being seasoned politicians, they know there’s no guarantee that elements in Pakistan may not again spring an awe and shock incident.

“This isn’t about cricket diplomacy, but it’s about a fresh assertion by the PM of his role,” said a Congress functionary, alluding to Dr Singh’s sudden invite to Pakistan leaders to come over to Mohali to witness the World Cup encounter between India and Pakistan.

Essentially, the PM wants to fight back his critics who have often described him as “weak PM.” He wants to show that he can act “decisively”, say his aides who are scripting a powerful avatar for him for the remainder of the UPA’s second term in office.

Foreign policy, particularly detente with Pakistan and a political package for Jammu and Kashmir have been the second most important agenda of his rein. 

It’s no secret that Dr Singh wishes to leave behind a breakthrough in Indo-Pakistan relations before he ends his term in 2014. 

The first agenda was Indo-US civil nuclear deal. But with the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan, even Dr Singh’s die-hard supporters think that setting up new nuclear power plants in India isn’t going to be easy. 

Already, Prithviraj Chavan, who as Minister of State in the PMO, oversaw Parliament passing the enabling legislation to operationalise the nuclear deal, is finding the agitation over the Jaitpur plant in Maharashtra too hot handle. 

True to his style, and knowing the mood of his colleagues, the PM kept his Mohali invite plan a close secret. He let his National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, RAW and IB do the spade work. 

As soon India trounced Australia, Dr Singh sent his invite to Pakistan President and Prime Minister. Withina few hours, their acceptance came too, indicating a lot of prior ground work had been done by both sides, which was kept under wraps. 

In Delhi, there was no meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security or any question of the PM seeking Sonia Gandhi’s nod. There was no consultations among top Congress leaders, certainly no concurrence.

“All this is fine, provided we don’t have another 26/11,” said a Congress leader who cannot forget the mess the PM got into after the Shram el-Sheikh summit episode. A joint statement then had started row over India conceding Pakistan’s contention of being behind troubles in that country.

Buffeted by scam after scam, the PM finds foreign policy is the most comfortable arena for him– to leave behind a footprint. That should please the Americans too.

Congress officials say if this assertive phase of  the PM is any indication, he will try and push for a greater say in the proposed major  reshuffle of his Council of Ministers. That should happen in May, once the elections to five states get over.

Dr Singh has been wanting to send packing those ministers who have failed to deliver and against whom serious cases of irregularities have been brought to notice.

His first reshuffle in January failed to enthuse anyone because his plan to axe a handful of ministers didn’t get past 10, Janpath, an eupheism for Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.








Knives are out for Arun Jaitley, BJP’s most visible face.

March 28, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Arun Jaitley’s enemies are out to scuttle his projection as a PM probable ahead of 2014 polls. His detractors in the BJP and the RSS have seized upon a WikiLeaks disclosure of US diplomatic cables, which was accessed by The Hindu, that he did not think much of Hindutva — other than being an “opportunistic” issue for the saffron party in times of elections.
The cables had quoted Jaitely as telling Robert Blake, then Charge d Affaires at the US embassy in New Delhi, as saying that the Hindutva was an issue to woo voters—and not a serious obsession with his party.
Jaitley’s assertion was no surprise because of the disenchantment in the BJP over the issue since they lost the Lok Sabha polls in 2009. Many BJP candidates had, in fact, blamed the shrill campaign by Varun Gandhi and other leaders on Hindutva for their defeat—as it pushed many Muslim voters enbloc to back the Congress.
In fact, in June 2009 after despair gripped the BJP following the results, Jaitely wrote a newspaper article calling for a debate within the BJP on fine tuning its ideological position and presenting a modernist face for its re-invention.
Now, Jaitley’s enemies think that he should not be let off the hook now. They have mounted a silent campaign in the RSS for action against him in the near future– though he has officially denied that he ever used the word “opportunistic” to describe the BJP’s ideological quotient to the US diplomat six years ago.
A known-Jaitley baiter, S Gurumurthy, is said to have written a letter to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, asking how could a senior leader like Jaitley be so causal about the core belief of the BJP and the Sangh. And whether he was worthy of the position he held in the BJP and before the eyes of the Sangh’s top brass.
Other Sangh functionaries who have never liked Jaitely have also joined hands. They are wondering sufficiently loud as to how the the Sangh could condone or allow such a remark when it had acted against L K Advani for his pro-Jinnah remarks made during a visit to Pakistan. That remark cost Advani his job as BJP chief.
Interestingly, Gurumurthy and Jaitley were once friends — because of their common association with Indian Express founder and proprietor Ramnath Goenka and their crusade against Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. 
Subsequently, they fell out when Jaitley became industry minister in the Vajpayee government and rubbished Gurumurthy’s swadeshi ideas.
A month ago, Jaitley targeted Gurumurthy, dubbing him as the Shankaracharya of Mylapore, for “misleading” Advani on the issue of black money. 
Advani had to apologise to Congress president Sonia Gandhi after she strongly objected to him in writing about references to her as holder of foreign bank accounts in a report authored by Gurumurthy. 
Jaitley’s predicament in the wake of WikiLeaks disclosure is being relished by Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, and his bitter rival, former BJP president Rajnath Singh. 
Swaraj and Rajnath Singh see Jaitley as a huge stumbling block to their rise as undisputed leaders. 
Though they are maintaining a careful silence, their backers in the BJP want to kick start a whisper campaign, which can eventually force the RSS to seek his removal from the post of Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. They want to install Venkaiah Naidu in his place.
That way, they think that they would be able scuttle his bid for the top slot as BJP prime minister candidate ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.
Till date, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, however, has refused to play into the hands of Jaitley’s detractors and backed him to the hilt. He says he cannot believe Jaitley would have ever said such a thing. But many BJP insiders believe “ooportunistic” could not have been invented by the US diplomat, who was only transmitting to his bosses in Washington about his interaction with the senior BJP leader. 

Rahul and Varun to stay off poll campaign?

March 21, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

The young Gandhis — may not campaign in the five states going to polls next month and May. 

Rahul is said to be nursing an injury on his foot, and Varun is miffed with his party, the BJP, again. 

Rahul is not too enthusiastic with the Congress’ plans in Tamil Nadu or West Bengal where the allies haven’t made things exactly very “honourable” for his party, Congress sources say.

If he had his way, Rahul would have preferred that the Congress had led a third front in Tamil Nadu but the UPA’s numbers in Parliament didn’t leave much scope for any new adventure. 

Similarly, for the same reason, the Congress couldn’t not antagonise Mamata Banerjee who’s no love lost for Rahul.  

She had resented his forays into Bengal and his statements that the Congress wanted an honourable pact with its allies.

Varun thinks it’s better to focus on his one month-old marriage than waste his time for a party that doesn’t obey his suggestions when it comes to giving ticket.

Varun was made BJP’s campaign in-charge of Assam after BJP chief Nitin Gadkari took him into his team of office-bearers. For almost five years, Varun had refused any post in BJP unless they made him a general secretary (a position enjoyed by Rahul in the Congress).

Before his wedding earlier this month, Varun had toured Assam on several occasions after being given charge of campaign. He had even given ‘vital inputs’ to the central leadership and was supposed to hit the trail from March 17.

But no one in the BJP now seems to be aware of his campaign tour.

A BJP source said Varun is very upset about the distribution of party ‘tickets’ to undeserving candidates. He had a heated exchange with party colleagues ahead of the first Central Election Committee meeting of the party, at the BJP headquarters, when he protested against nomination of few candidates. 

When asked about Varun’s campaign programme, BJP general secretary Vijay Goel said it’s not certain whether he is going to join the trail at all. ‘We are hoping that he campaigns, but since the issue is personal, we can’t even insist,” he added.

Goel was referring to Gandhi’s wedding and a possible extended honeymoon. 

In any case, the BJP has lined up Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, top BJP leaders L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, and Sushma Swaraj for extensive campaign in Assam. The BJP has aligned with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) giving him four seats.

Like the Congress, the BJP too is planning to harp on the economic development agenda in its manifesto, which is being released next week by Rajnath Singh. The BJP would promise to develop Assam in the same manner, in which it has been taken up in other states like Gujarat and Bihar.

The BJP’s four poll plank will include inflation, economic development, corruption of Congress Government and illegal infiltration from Bangladesh, Goel revealed.

Another son rises! But Wikileaks cramps his style

March 16, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Karti Chidambaram (Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s son) of the Congress, M. Patturajan (confidant of DMK’s M.K. Alagiri) and Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) MP Asaduddin Owaisi spoke without inhibition to US diplomats how they and their men made payments to voters during the election campaign. That’s the story of Wikileaks cables on India.

Responding to the publication of Wikileaks cables in The Hindu involving his name, Karti Chidambaram has stoutly denied he was involved in any acts of bribing voters as chief manager for his father’s campaign in Sivaganga Lok Sabha constituency.

Karti’s detractors in the faction-ridden Tamil Nadu Congress Committee cannot contain their glee at the cable leaks. But Karti’s friends say the criticism is because the “Chidambram camp” is gaining prominence against other dominant group led by G K Vasan, son of late G K Moopananar and Shipping Mininister.

Though Karti began as his father’s son and campaign manager, he is now in thick of TN politics, whether it is organising voters at polling booths, crowds at rallies, or devising strategies to keep other faction at bay.

Karti has ensured that loyalists of his father, Chidambaram, get at least 16 of the Congress list of 63 (wrested from the DMK after tense seat-sharing talks). There were just three MLAs in the last Assembly.

Apart from Chidambaram, it is Karti who has worked in the last five years to create a ginger group in the TNCC. His detractors within the party openly accuse Karti as a wily businessman/sports official/ politician of using his political clout and money power to woo the members of ‘rival’ Congress factions.

Karti’s friends say Karti is a hardworking young man. Unlike his father who is not easily accessible to Congress cadres, Karti moves with them. He ensured that his father’s group won 15 districts in the state-le vel NSUI polls. Vasan’s group won only eight.

“Karti has proved his organisational skills. He can speak extempore in both English and Tamil depending on his audience,” says Karate R. Thiagarajan, former Chennai deputy mayor and PC loyalist.

Another Congress senior recalled that Chidambaram would campaign only within his Sivaganga Lok Sabha constituency and rarely pushed himself during the era of his political guru the late Moopanar. “But now Karti is all over the state addressing meetings and visiting houses of party members, in veshti if in the rural side and trim pants in the cities. He is the only Congress leader who will immediately respond to an SMS,” says Viswanathan, the lone Chidambaram’s supporter among the Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha.

But the Wikileaks cables show Frederick J. Kaplan, acting principal officer of the US consulate general in Chennai, telling his bosses in Washington that these leaders have admitted to payments made in the form of cash, goods, or services, according to a revealing cable sent to the state department by

In a cable sent on May 13, 2009 Kaplan elaborated the role of money in the electoral process: “Bribes from political parties to voters are a regular feature of elections in south India. From paying to dig wells to slipping cash inside the morning newspaper, politicians admitted to violating election rules to influence vote.”

“The money to pay bribes comes from proceeds of fund-raising, which often crosses into political corruption. The precise impact of bribery on voter behaviour is hard to measure. But there is no doubt it swings at least some elections. Journalists, politicians, and voters speak of bribes as a commonly accepted fact of the election process,” he said.

Why is Robert Vadra again making headlines?

March 14, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Why is Robert Vadra again making headlines?

Robert Vadra, son- in- law of country’s first political family, is back in the limelight. He has made himself available to a select media to show how he’s changing as an avid entrepreneur, thanks to the UPA’s rule?

The big news is that Vadra has quietly moved into the real estate business.

Six months ago, he made himself available to a leading newspaper for an interview to show he likes to be known as an exporter of handicrafts and costume jewelery. He also said he would join politics only when he felt he could make a difference.

On Monday, The Economic Times carried a front page report that Vadra tied up with Congress-friendly DLF to buy tracts of land in tier-III cities in Haryana and Rajasthan. 

He’s has also got a 50% stake in a leading business hotel in Delhi, and attempting an entry into the business of chartering aircraft.

Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd , a company wholly owned by Vadra and his mother Maureen Vadra, is a partner, along with DLF Hotel Holdings and others, in a partnership firm that owns the business hotel Hilton Garden Inn in the upscale South Delhi business district Saket. 

The hotel is located within the DLF Place mall, also known as DLF Courtyard. The Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in Saket is a small business hotel. 

“I have interest in hospitality and am happy to be part of the hotel,” Vadra told ET, speaking on the phone from Europe, where he is travelling presently. 

He said the business association with DLF stemmed from a long-standing friendship with the family that controls the realty giant. “I have known the DLF people for a long time and they are friends of mine. I had wanted to invest in real estate and one thing led to another. Right now, I can only be part of a small hotel.”

But is Vadra benefitting from the Congress-led UPA rule for the last six years? No, no. “If I were taking favours from people I would be doing far bigger things. But I am doing this on my own. I can?t expand immediately but I hope to expand a few years down the line,” he said

Moradabad-born Vadra, whose mother is Scottish, rose to national prominence when he married Priyanka Gandhi in 1997. Six months ago, Vadra was quoted saying that “there is a time and place for everything. If I feel that I know enough about this line (politics), if I can dedicate enough time and effort to it, when my children are grown up and if I can make a difference, then why not?” 

No politics, Vadra had stated. “I don`t even indulge in the thought at the moment. I enjoy my children, my business, my fitness regime and other pursuits.” 

Vadra had also revealed that he was under great pressure to contest from Sultanpur (UP) in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections but refused. “There was huge demand for me to stand (from Sultanpur) but I was clear that it was not my place. I was being recognized only because of the family,” he said.
 
He had candidly admitted that he “does his bit” by accompanying wife Priyanka during election campaigns. “I travel with her when she campaigns. I have been travelling for 12 years. I have done my bit, given many speeches,” he said. 

About his brother in law,Rahul Gandhi,Vadra had revealed that he and Rahul Gandhi share a passion for sports and fitness. Rahul is his cycling partner and the two often cycle for anywhere between 50 and 100 km in the mornings. Sometimes, the two of them go to the gym to work out together. 

“But I don`t interfere in his (Rahul`s) politics and he doesn`t interfere in my business,” Vadra stressed. “I don`t tell him who to include in his team and he doesn`t tell me who to hire. I know my business and he knows his.”

Now, Vadra is entering the big league of real estate business. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government encouraging the growth rate of realty sector, Vadra is bound to sport a big smile soon.

Sonia’s censure or Pranab’s sweet talk? What worked?

March 09, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Not long ago, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had declared that he did not wish to contest the Lok Sabha polls any more. 

The 75-year-old veteran, whose conventional approach to politics, issues and problems, is sometimes is at variance with other younger Congress stalwarts, like P Chidambaram or even Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel. They believe carrot and stick approach works in politics.
Nevertheless, Pranabda‘s  counsel is not something that the Congress president cannot do without in hours of crisis. 
When the DMK-Congress ties took a downswing, it was  Pranab who sought to reach out to another veteran, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. 
Right from the beginning, Pranab was aghast at the ‘mess’ created by Chidambaram-Patel duo, forcing the DMK to react that way. 
As we saw, the DMK was forced to blink and finally made to give the number of seats the Congress wanted to contest in the Tamil Nadu polls. 
Without Pranab’s intervention and Dayanidhi Maran, who virtually played the Cupid, the ice couldn’t have been broken. It was their discussions that set the ties back on track.
But friends of Patel and Chidambaram won’t give credit to Pranab.
They were busy feeding a section of Delhi newspapers that, it wasn’t the new negotiators like Pranab but Sonia Gandhi whose tough talk with Maran and Union Minister M K Alagiri that brought the DMK to its knees.
Those who know Alagiri and his father, Karunanidhi, are unwilling to buy this story. Known for his rough style, Alagiri isn’t someone who will go to 10, Janpath to receive a dant.
With the crisis coming to an end, Pranab is readying his retirement plans. While his name doing the rounds already for being the Congress nominee for Presidential elections next year, he is getting ready to introduce his eldest son, Abhjit, to enter politics. Abhjit, 52, quit his job in SAIL, to be ready to contest the West Bengal assembly polls from their native constituency of Nalhati. 

Who will take the rap for SC indictment on CVC?

March 03, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Law Minister Veerappa Moily may try to downplay the Supreme Court’s indictment of the UPA government for appointing P J Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner. But the haunting question within the Congress is who should take the rap for messing up this issue?

When there were many pliant and “clean” officers who could have become CVC, why did Home Minister P Chidambaram try to bulldoze Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj at a meeting to try forcing to accep Thomas’s candidature?
Was it the all-powerful “10, Janpath”, a reference to Sonia Gandhi, that forced Chidambaram’s hand?
Once Thomas was appointed in spite of Swaraj’s dissenting note, Chidambaram told many Congress leaders that he was merely asked to get the appointment of Thomas through– even though he had personal reservations on his eligibility.
But, as Swaraj made it clear, it was Chidambaram who stuck his neck out for Thomas. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was silent during that meeting with Swaraj. 
The big question is who was  behind Chidambaram’s decision?
Defence Minister A K Antony’s name was mentioned in the Congress circles as the one who pushed Thomas’ name. But this is not backed by claims by other Congress leaders who point finger at Civil Aviation Minister Vyalar Ravi, who merely   echoed the views of “10, Janpath.” 
Another version is that a powerful lobby of Kerala church worked on the Congress high comand to ensure Thomas is appointed. But with egg on their face, the blame game has begun, and Chidambaram does not  look too comfortable. Though Congress sources have affirmed that neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister will take moral responsibility and offer to resign, the search is on for a scape goat. 
One obvious choice is Thomas himself, on the plea that he did not take the hint to quit when things became messy and the apex court was clearly against his appointment even in the course of the hearing of the case. 
Another version given by AICC officials is that Thomas kept the government in the dark by not disclosing the status of the infamous Palmolien case against him. 
Whatever it is, the Congress leadership is upset with both the PM and Home Minister for “mishandling the case.” Will they take the rap? That’s big question.

War between Pranab and Chidambaram gets thicker?

March 01, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

It’s no
secret that Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram differ on many issues – ranging from
the economy to naxalites. The buzz goes that Chidambaram is eyeing Pranab’s
ministry since he finds his portfolio more of a policing work.

But Pranab
won’t budge from Finance unless he is tempted with, say a tag of Deputy Prime
Minister.

Also, Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh would like either Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia or Dr C
Rangarajan if he is allowed to have his say when the promised second major
reshuffle takes place in May.

Interestingly,
Sonia Gandhi is very pleased with Pranab for paying attention to her pet
concerns relating to the rural sector. She would rather prefer Pranab than
anyone else, which makes Chidambaram’s plan to get out of Home all the more difficult,
say AICC sources.

The not-so silent war between Pranab and Chidambaram has got thicker.

Asked about
his budget speech wherein he said the talk of drift in the government was
misplaced is directed at those like Chidambaram who have talked of “governance
deficit”, Pranab’s answer has left many in the Congress speechless.

“When I am
in the government, I have to maintain certain norms. If I find that there is a
deficit in the governance, then the corollary is why am I there?”

Pranab left
no one guessing who he was aiming at. After, all it was Chidambaram who had
told a Wall Street Journal interviewer that “there is indeed a governance
deficit in some areas and perhaps there is also an ethical deficit.” As a
counter, Pranab said in his budget speech that the impression of a drift in
governance is “misplaced.”


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