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Archive for June, 2011

Did PM have his partymen in mind when he spoke to editors?

June 30, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Who was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing when he chose to speak to a select group of five editors? 
Was he addressing the nation at large or just the media (because he was upset with its coverage of events)? 
Or, he plainly decided to send a missive to his own partymen –if one considers the message he chose to send to them?
That’s what some Congress party leaders think. They believe PM rather chose to speak to them–through these editors– to convey that “he isn’t leaving” and “no one has yet told me that the party wanted him to go.” 
If the PM wanted to speak to countrymen, argued a Congress leader, he would have preferred to address the nation on radio and TV address. In fact, AICC functionaries had predicted that the PM had such a plan. In any case, he is due to address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15.
As party leaders analyzed the PM’s remarks after going through the transcripts put out by his website, they couldn’t but conclude–he had a strong message for them.
That is the PM won’t be pressurised into vacating the chair by their demands for AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi to take over –unless he is explictly told by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to leave. 
Secondly, if the party thinks that the government is stinking because he had failed to act to stem the sleaze, he would jolly well crack the whip, and the Congress be ready for political and internal fallouts.
The PM’s remark that “nobody is ready for elections” is as much for his party as it is for the UPA allies and the opposition, Congress leaders say.
An assertive Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday blamed the opposition’s “clever propaganda to which some sections of the media had lent ear” for the perception that he was “lameduck” PM or his government was very corrupt or in comatose.On the contrary, he said, “I am not helpless” and he was here to “stay, perform and deliver” with the “complete backing” of the Congress party and its chief Sonia Gandhi –on all promises and programmes of the UPA.
During the 100-minute interaction with five editors at his official residence, a relaxed Prime Minister wanted to show he is confidently tackling questions on a wide range of issues including the talk that Rahul Gandhi should take his place, the Lokpal Bill, and corruption.
Asked about the perception that Sonia Gandhi “decided everything” and “you are helpless,” the PM responded with a chuckle. “I am not helpless. All the bad things that this government has done, I accept full responsibility.”
At the same, he chose to speak warmly about his equation with her. Congress leaders say it wasn’t without purpose that the PM said he has had maximum cooperation from her. “I have never felt that she is an obstacle to things we want to do.” Stating that the two of them meet one-on-one every week, Singh said Sonia Gandhi had done a superb job as party chief for about 15 years. But partymen say the PM may not be factually correct– because their meetings have been few and far between, compared to earlier times.
Asked about occasional statements from Congress functionaries that Rahul Gandhi should become PM, Singh said the Congress Party and its president had entrusted him with this job and he had not heard any contrary view from the Congress high command.  The PM said, “Personally, if you ask me, the general proposition that younger people should take over, I think, is the right sentiment..whenever the party makes up its mind I will be very happy to step down,  but so long as I am here I have a job to do.”
This is indeed a clear message for overenthusiastic Digvijaya Singh, who as AICC general secretary, never loses a single opportunity to take potshots at anyone in the government and seek to trigger a chorus for Rahul Gandhi to step in.
Even the PM’s acknowledgement that the 2G telecom scam, the CWG scam, black money and other perceived cases of corruption had caused genuine concern to the middle class (whom he assured that the guilty would be punished) had a hidden message for the Congress leaders too. “Corruption is a big issue. It has caught the imagination of the people, and we will deal with it.” His warning lines, as it seemed, was “truth will prevail” and his government’s performance will speak up soon. “We can deal with corruption, we can deal with black money but quite frankly it is wrong for anyone to assume there is a magic wand which will lead to an instant solution of these difficult societal problems. We need system reforms.”
Defending his own performance when the Congress has refused to do so openly, the PM said “In the situation that we are faced today, day in day out I think we are described as the most corrupt government. There have been aberrations. But quite frankly I have been a civil servant all my life, except the last 20 years. What surprises me is not that there are corrupt civil servants but that despite all the temptations, so many of our civil servants remain honest and lead frugal lives and this is the mainspring that we have to tap.We must punish the wrong doers but we must not paint all civil servants as babus and contemptuously describe them as a despicable class.”
Even his opening remark to the editors, he had a message for the Congress leaders who think he wasn’t good for the top job. He recalled what he learnt at Cambridge: “If out of 10 decisions that I take, 7 turn out to be right ex-post that would be considered an excellent performance. But, if you have a system which is required to perform 10 out of 10 cases, I think no system can be effective and satisfy that onerous condition.”
Answering criticism with the Congress party, the PM explained dialogue with civil society. He said, “It is out of my respect for members of the civil society that, whether it is Anna Hazare or Swami Ramdev, I myself took the trouble to interact with them. I assured them that we are committed to come with the bill in the Monsoon Session and it was not a commitment made under duress…I said we will introduce a Bill in Parliament but then it is for Parliament to pass it or amend it and that right cannot be taken away.”
On the controversy surrounding the decision of four Union ministers to meet yoga guru Ramdev at Delhi airport, the PM said it was not to “receive” him but the meeting had been arranged so that it could take place before he entered Delhi.On the whole, the PM’s central theme was he’s no pushover– if his party colleagues think that he’s one!
A day after the PM’s outreach, the Congress did not find nothing wrong in assertions by its leaders that Rahul Gandhi should become Prime Minister, but maintained that Manmohan Singh has been carrying out his responsibilities “seriously”.
“Rahul Gandhi should become Prime Minister is the aspiration and desire of Congress workers and if anyone is expressing it is not committing any crime,” party spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters. 

P Chidambaram may be replaced as Home Minister by Azad?

June 27, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

With Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discussing the proposed reshuffle of the Cabinet, the race has begun for key berths.

A new Home Minister from North India is likely to be appointed to boost the Congress’ chances in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections scheduled to be held next year. 

Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is Health Minister, could occupy Chidambaram’s chair. Chidambaram’s own wish is to return to Finance Ministry by displacing Pranab Mukherjee.

A case of elevation could be that of Dinesh Trivedi, the Man Friday of Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. 

During her recent visit to Delhi, Mamata Banerjee managed to get an assurance that the portfolio would remain with her party and her nominee would be in the Cabinet. Currently, Trivedi is a Minister of State under Azad. 

The buzz is Azad, who earned praise from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for his handling of Jammu and Kashmir in his tenure as chief minister, could be the second Home Minister from the Muslim community–after Mufti Mohammed Sayeed who headed the ministry in the V P Singh government in 1989.

Incidentally, Azad had replaced the Mufti as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 2005 and managed the state till the PDP’s politics over Amarnath yatra dented his image in 2008.

Congress sources say Azad may emerge the choice of Sonia Gandhi and the PM because of his vast political expertise, and his cordial ties with most Opposition leaders. 

Azad’s rise as Home Minister, however, could mean clipping of wings of Ahmed Patel, currently political aide of Sonia Gandhi. Both are bitter rivals.

Azad is known as a liberal leader, whose style of functioning will diametrically opposite to Chidambaram who was seen as too bureaucratic and “babu-like” in most matters.

Azad’s appointment will also mean dashing of hopes of AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh who would love to take up the ministerial job– but for his self-imposed ten-year ban of not occupying any position in government since he lost the Madhya Pradesh assembly polls in 2003.

In case, Chidambaram moved into the External Affairs Ministry could upset the plans of Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, who is also trying hard for that portfolio.

Notwithstanding the row over bugging of his offices, Mukherjee could still look firmly in saddle in the North Block– even if the PM and a section of the industry wants a change. 

Left to himself, Manmohan Singh would prefer to have either Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia or C Rangarajan, former governor of Reserve Bank of India and Andhra Pradesh– as the new Finance Minister.

After Mamata Banerjee shifted to the Writers Building, the PM took charge of the Railway Ministry. Mamata banerjee wanted her right-hand man, TMC leader Mukul Roy, who is already a Minister of State, to be given charge at the Cabinet-level. 

There was also speculation that she might agree to part with Railways and allow a Congress minister to be put in her place in exchange of another TMC leader being inducted in the Cabinet. But with the Prime Minister reluctant to appoint Roy, the choice has fallen on Trivedi to be elevated as Railway Minister. Trivedi is backed by Ahmed Patel, fellow Gujarati.

Officials say Prime Minister has done a performance assessment exercise of the ministries and ministers. He wants a major overhaul of his Cabinet and a few younger ministers given more important roles to refurbish the government’s image. It may be the last big reshuffle before next Lok Sabha polls. 

The buzz is that Law Minister Veerappa Moily could be shifted to another porfolio. Statistics and Programme Implementation Minister M.S. Gill and Rural Development Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh may be made to exit the Cabinet.

In fact, Chidambaram appeared to give sufficient hint when he was interviewed by NDTV over the weekend– on the changes in the Cabinet and whether he would stay as Home Minister. Here is the transcript:

Chidambaram: Do I have a choice? I don’t think I have a choice. These decisions are made by two people in our system today. One, the Congress President because I belong to the Congress Party and the other is the Prime Minister. We simply accept their decisions.
 
NDTV: You stepped down as Finance Minister, right after 26/11 .It’s been 3 years now. Would you say this is a job you want to keep or do you want to change portfolio? 

Chidambaram: I have been in this job now (for) two-and-a-half years plus 25 days. I don’t know if I told you, in the security system we live one day at a time. It is like what Nadal said day before yesterday — I play one match at a time. I am not looking at meeting Federer or Djokovic in the final. I play one match at a time. So we live one day at a time. So I have a very accurate count of the number of days. But that’s not the point. The point is this is a tough job and sometimes one has to be out of your own character in order to do this job. I think many times I act and conduct myself quite contrary to my true character, when I have to deal with the issues that come with this job. This is a physically and mentally challenging job. The Finance Minister’s job is an intellectually challenging job. The job of the Minister of the Environment is an emotionally satisfying job, so I think these are different jobs. Now what job I will have, or whether I will have a job at all, I can’t say. I may not have a job at all  
 
NDTV: Like many politicians do you aim for the top job?
 
Chidambaram: I know what I want to do in the remaining years of my life. I want to read, I want to travel and above all I want to write. I think inside me there is a writer. I can’t write as felicitously as Arundhati Roy. I disagree with her on everything, but I love the style in which she writes. I think she is the best Indian writer today. What she writes is, of course, highly provocative, but she is the best writer, be that as it may. So I want to read, travel and write. Now if you tell me that there is an afterlife and I can read, travel and write in the afterlife, if I am remain to be political for the rest of my life. Now I don’t believe in the afterlife, I have to find the time for doing those things in this lifetime.(end)

Is Prime Minister upset with Digvijaya Singh?

June 20, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is said to be very unhappy with Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh’s comments on Sunday saying Rahul Gandhi was now ready to become PM. He  wants the Congress party to clarify the party’s stand on Digvijay’s remarks.
But the party isn’t willing to say much on this matter as it involves Rahul Gandhi.   Privately, many Congressmen think that Singh, who’s been PM for last seven years, has lost his sheen and no longer commands high rating among people.  
Within the AICC, Digvijaya’s remarks are seen as indication that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi could be toying with the idea of “kicking up” Singh as Presidential candidate next year when Pratibha Patil’s terms ends.
Digvijaya had used Rahul Gandhi’s 41st birthday on Sunday to say he should take over as prime minister. Digvijaya had said, “I think it is time that Rahul becomes the Prime Minister. Rahul is now 41 and he has been working for the party for the last seven to eight years. But all this will be decided by him only.”
Anyway to soften his remarks for the PM, Digvijaya modified his comments on Monday.  “I must clarify that the only thing I said was that in my lifetime I would like to see Rahul Gandhi as the PM. It does not mean that Manmohan Singh should go. I never meant it. We are happy under his leadership. I meant that Rahul has all the qualities to become PM,” he said.
 
“Rahul has got all those qualities and capabilities that are needed for a good Prime Minister”, Singh, who has been working closely with the young leader, who turned 41 on June 19. .
 
Digvijaya said no leader on his own says that he wants to become the Prime Minister and all this depends upon the overall situation and circumstances. He claimed he had never said it was “high time” for Rahul to become Prime Minister. He said such a decision has to be taken by the party and Gandhi himself. 
“I have never said ‘high time’… I have said he (Gandhi) has got full potential to become a good prime minister,” Digvijaya said, clarifying his earlier remarks. 
At the AICC briefing, Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  “Our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done an excellent job in heading the government for the last seven years. Manmohan Singh is our PM and he will continue to lead us.”

Long haul for Priyanka’s summer home?

June 16, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

It’s over four years since Priyanka Gandhi Vadra bought a piece of land near Shimla for her summer home. But her dream house is still a long haul, for now. 
In fact, the construction work at her plot in Shimla’s Charabbra village has come to a halt for the second time. 
The reason: Priyanka is reportedly unhappy with the way the cottage was coming up, especially with the size of the rooms. She asked in April for the entire structure to be dismantled, the huge expenditure incurred on construction so far notwithstanding.
Locals say Priyanka couldn’t have asked for a better location. Just 15 km from Shimla, the plot is nestled between the President’s Retreat-located on the Mashobra hill 1,000 feet above the Shimla Ridge-and Hemkunj, the summer residence of the Punjab governor. 
With the stunning Shaali peak in the backdrop, there are cedar and pine trees all around. 
But more than the scenic beauty, it’s fond memories associated with the place that made Priyanka pick it as the site for her summer abode. 
When her late father Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister, the family used to stay at the Retreat while on vacation. They would often come down to this place at Charabbra, where Priyanka would play with brother Rahul.
According to Mail Today, in September last year, the slate roof had been brought down after seepage was reported. A pile of bricks, some wooden poles, a dismantled structure, a locked-up shed and some debris now exist at this picturesque location. 
It wasn’t easy getting the land, just below the Kalyani helipad, from the Soods, an affluent family now based in the US. The property was registered in the name of over a dozen family members. The tabloid quoted a mediator on condition of anonymity that “it was very difficult to get them together and talk business.” He added: “Incidentally, a death occurred in the family. It was only then that we could reach out to them.” .
Priyanka bought the nearly 1 acre plot (4.25 bighas) for around Rs 47 lakh four years ago. The market value of the plot now is Rs 1 crore a bigha. The then Himachal Pradesh government had relaxed norms under Section 118 of the Land Reforms and Tenancy Act to facilitate the sale because under the state’s land laws, only permanent residents can buy land. 
Arun Sharma, principal private secretary to the chief minister, says, “There is nothing illegal in the deal. Required permissions have been taken.”
What Priyanka now wants is a double-storey cottage. “Originally it was a lot of wood. Now the walls will be of reinforced concrete and a roof of slate. There were to be three to four rooms on each floor earlier. They were marked as study, guest, family and lounge, though the final shape hadn’t been given,” says a person involved in the construction.
Sources close to Priyanka and her husband Robert Vadra say it could be a few months before work resumes.

Chidambaram decides to fight back tag of 2G sleaze after Jayalalithaa’s fire?

June 15, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

First, Home Minister P Chidambara was upset by a report in M J Akbar-edited Sunday Guardian that said ex-telecom minister A Raja had a conversation with lobbyist Nira Radia in which he named him as an alleged beneficiary of the 2G scam. A day later, his bitter rival, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa launched one of her powerful attacks on him, saying he had played a fraud on the nation and his position in the Union Cabinet was untenable because he has not won the election from  Lok Sabha seat of Sivaganga. Chidambaram dismissed off her outburst as a proof of her habit of utter contempt of court. 
But, with the BJP launching a fresh broadside on him for alleged 2G links, he has decided to fight back– though his senior Congress colleagues are enjoying his plight in the wake of the attacks. So, he found out who this Raja was and sent a legal notice to him. This Raja is a former employee of Reliance Industries Limited(RIL)  and a panic-stricken RIL quickly apologised to him. In a signed statement, Chidambaram said statements attributed to as “totally false and per se defamatory”. He also said that a conversation between the RIL employee K Ramachandran Raja and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia is “reckless and malicious gossip”. Chidambaram’s statement came after the BJP demanded his resignation citing a news report that claimed that Chidambaram was a beneficiary in the 2G spectrum scam on the basis of a “telephonic conversation between former telecom minister A Raja and Radia.” The Home Minister said, “I know that my friend Shri Prakash Javadekar, spokesperson of the BJP, will be disappointed. I offer him my sympathies.” Responding to a legal notice from Chidambaram,  RIL Group President V Balasubramanian said in a letter to the Home Minister s lawyer stating that one of its employees K R Raja had in a private telephonic conversation with lobbyist Niira Radia “made certain remarks which were unjustified unwarranted and derogatory in nature”. But BJP chief Nitin Gadkari kept up the heat. “Nira Radia has stated in her statement to the CBI that Chidambaram had received a lot of money to clear the 2G spectrum, his signatures are present on at least 10 documents relating to these clearances and he also assured the PM vide a letter that everything was ok with respect to the clearances.Chidambram can’t escape by merely burying an alliance partner DMK ”, Gadkari, in an interview to M.J. Akbar for Seedhi Baat. When quizzed by M.J. Akbar about the mechanism of putting the Home Minister in the docks by the BJP, Gadkari replied that,”the BJP already has enough evidence against Chidambaram and is in the process of gathering more. The BJP Members of Parliament will present all the evidence to the Director of CBI and urge him to conduct a thorough enquiry, file an FIR and proceed firmly against him.” To a pointed question by M.J. Akbar, Gadkari reiterated his stand that Chidambaram and others in the congress were definitely culpable of graft in the 2G scam and satirically added that,”Tihar jail should create a special air conditioned 3 star  facility to accommodate the congress VIPs involved with him in this act of corruption.” 

Pranab Mukherjee said very sorry to Sonia? Congress on spin!

June 06, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Union ministers and Congress party leaders are blaming one another for the mess they have landed in the handling of yoga guru Ramdev’s agitation after police’s midnight swoop at Ramlila Maidan on Sunday. First it was Digivijay Singh, Congress general secretary, and then other Congress functionaries like Janardhan Dwivedi and Anil Shastri who sought to blame the government and “administration” for what was essentially Congress’ top leaders’ decision to engage Baba Ramdev first to put down Anna Hazre and then dump him when he turned recalcitrant. Kapil Sibal, HRD Minister, who was their Man Friday, is now accused of “mishandling” the issue. Sibal says “everyone in the Congress and the government was involved in all decisions.” So, the ultimate objective is now to insulate Congress president Sonia Gandhi somehow. She is naturally furious that the whole thing collapsed with the baba blaming her and raking up the foreigner origin issue against her for the cops canning women at Ramlila. So Congress’ media managers are sending SMS to their media contacts that, at the Congress Core Committee Meeting, Sonia also strongly disapproved of the decision of four ministers led by Pranab Mukherjee and the cabinet secretary going to the airport to talk to Ramdev. One version is that Mukherjee said “very sorry” to her. But, within the Congress, there are serious doubts over whether Sonia was kept in dark. Some argue it was a decision of the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs presided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Even Sibal, who engaged Ramdev said so initially, and then said the Congress’ top leaders were involved in whatever happened. But is it possible that Sonia didn’t know? The externment of Ramdev too was a CCPA decision and there was a core committee meeting after that. Despite Congress managers’ spin, is it possible that Sonia was not briefed?
There is an informal committee, which coordinates party and the government, what was this committee doing then?
“Please ask the Government about the operation, it was their decision,” said senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh.
“The administration had to resort to force as a Yoga camp was converted to a protest site. The party is not involved in this,” he added.
However, Sibal kept insisting that there are no cracks in the Congress on Ramdev and the party is united.
“No differences in the party and the Government. Everybody was united on the issue. In such things of course the party and the Government work in coordination,” said Sibal. One man who has not said a word on police action is Home Minister P Chidambaram, who is head of the group of ministers (GoM) for media!


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