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Archive for July, 2011

Was Krishna’s desire to address media along with Khar nixed at the bud?

July 27, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

South Block officials nixed a plan of India’s External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to address a joint media conference with Hina Rabbani Khar, the visiting Pakistani foreign minister, after realising that it would be a unwise match. 


Till the last minute, Krishna was, however, adamant that the Pakistani proposal for a joint media interaction be accepted, say MEA insiders. 

With the Indian media going gaga over Khar, Pakistan’s first woman foreign minister, Indian officials thought they would rather play safe by having outgoing Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir do the talking before the media. 

Khar is seen as “stunning” and “petite”. On the other hand, Krishna has found himself in some sticky situations — some of them on public platforms and involving such mirth-inducing episodes as mixing up a UN speech. Also, Krishna made a “poor show” on July 15 last year in Islamabad at a joint media conference with the then Pakistan foreign minister, S.M. Qureshi.

Qureshi had compared then Indian home secretary G.K. Pillai to Jamaat-ud-Daawa chief Hafiz Saeed. Some felt Krishna failed to give a fitting riposte at the conference but others pointed out that the Indian foreign minister upheld the dignity of his post by not brawling in public with his host.

Indian officials realised Khar’s ability to capture the media’s full attention since they met her in Islamabad last week.

As one scribe put it, Khar, at 34, is the “youngest” Pakistani foreign minister, while Krishna, 79, is the oldest minister in the Manmohan Singh ministry. “All of which have made the minders at the foreign ministry jittery about the prospect of pitching Krishna along side Khar and letting loose packs of hacks on them at Delhi’s Hyderabad House, the venue for the talks,” he wrote.

Khar’s impact, as AFP noted, won instant fans in India where a flurry of flattering headlines on Wednesday greeted her first trip to the country. “Pak Puts On Its Best Face,” said The Times of India, the biggest-selling English-language daily, while mass circulation Hindi newspaper Navbharat Times said India was “sweating over model-like minister.”

“Pak bomb lands in India,” the Mumbai Mirror tabloid joked in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the history of wars between the countries and attacks by Pakistani militant groups on Indian soil. The Indian media is not known for assessing the dress-sense of Pakistani visitors, but the Mail Today tabloid devoted space to her choice of outfit as she flew in to New Delhi airport on Tuesday, the French news agency said.

“The 34-year-old minister scored full marks on the fashion front when she was spotted at the Delhi airport in a monotone outfit of blue — the colour of the season,” the agency quoted Mail Today as saying. 

“Tasteful accessories — Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, oversized Hermes Birkin bag and classic pearl jewellery — added a hint of glamour to her look,” it added.

The Indian Twittersphere was also ablaze with commentary on the Pakistani envoy, who was promoted last week to take over from her predecessor Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Many took exception to the intense scrutiny of her appearance and fashion accessories, particularly the luxury Hermes handbag, saying that male visitors to India were never subjected to similar analysis.

But one right-wing blogger, Pragmatic_d, replied: “You don’t carry a bag that is a serious fraction of your country’s fiscal deficit and not expect it to be commented upon.”

Khar’s decision to meet Kashmiri separatists at the start of the trip was a blot on an otherwise positive introduction to the Indian public at a time when the neighbours are attempting to re-invigorate their peace process.

Leading television anchor Barkha Dutt described Khar as “self-assured and easygoing” and someone who “brought some freshness and youth to otherwise formal fare.”

“She continues to dominate all Delhi chatter,” she wrote on Twitter.

In Pakistan, headscarf-wearing Khar has drawn inevitable comparisons to Benazir Bhutto, the charismatic female prime minister who was assassinated when trying to regain power in 2007. Like Bhutto, she comes from one of Pakistan’s leading political and landowning families and her clan has extensive farms in Punjab, the country’s richest and most populous province.

C Raja Mohan, a veteran journalist who covers foreign affairs, wrote in Indian Express that “Pakistan’s foreign policy has been made mostly in the army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi; it is Pakistan’s feudals who have lent it the style and the voice. The appointment of Hina Rabbani Khar as Pakistan’s new foreign minister is in that tradition.

“The last time Pakistan had such a youthful foreign minister was when Field Marshal Ayub Khan gave the flamboyant Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the job in 1962. Bhutto was 34 years old then, and so is Hina now. The visit to India this week is the first big test for Hina.

“Hailing from a feudal family with roots in Khar Garbi village in Muzaffargarh district of Punjab, Hina graduated from the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences and got a management degree from University of Massachusetts in the United States.

“She owns the fashionable Polo Lounge hotel that caters to the upper crust frequenting the polo grounds in Lahore. Her father, Ghulam Rabbani Khar, apparently encouraged her to take up a political career.”

Is A Raja’s strategy to save himself unnerving UPA government?

July 25, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Former Telecom Minister A Raja’s bid to rope in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Finance Minister P Chidamabaram in the 2G case was predicted accurately by a weekly newspaper, which is considered close to one of the telecom companies caught in the 2G scam, a week ago.

Siginificantly, Raja’s stand in the court came a day after the DMK leaders concluded a strategy session in Coimbatore, leaving their chief M Karunanidhi to decide on what to do next– regarding the Congress.

DMK insiders said Raja’s move had the backing of Karunanidhi whose daughter, kanimozhi, remains locked up in Tihar jail. This was his way of getting back at the Congress for his daughter’s plight, DMK insiders said.

Karunanidhi’s line is “you save my daughter and we save you” or else, the UPA government must be ready for a counter-attack.

So when Raja told the special CBI judge that the issue of sale of equity by spectrum licencees was discussed with the PM and Chidambaram, the government went into a tizzy.

Raja told Special CBI Judge O P Saini there was nothing wrong in his decision of not auctioning 2G spectrum and that he was merely following the policies pursued by his predecessors and the NDA government.

Senior Advocate Sushil Kumar appearing for Raja, now behind bars, said when Home Minister Chidambaram was the Finance Minister he had told the Prime Minister that dilution of shares by the accused licencees to attract FDI did not amount to sale of licence.

Arguing that sale of equity was not sale of licence, Kumar said Raja could not be accused of corruption in the controversial 2G spectrum allocation.

Raja’s deposition upset Chidambaram, who quickly sought to extricate himself by declaring that “the only issue examined by him as Finance Minister in 2007 and by the Prime Minister was if the two new telecom licencees Swan and Unitech were divesting i.e. selling their stake or diluting shares through issue of fresh equity.”

Chidambaram even went on to attack the BJP by saying the party was targeting the UPA ministers like him because he had take on the Hindu terrorist elements.

His son, Karthi Chidmabaram, went on Twitter to say there was “difference between dilution and divesting” even as his father was livid that BJP chief Nitin Gadkari did a televised press conference, asking him and the PM to resign.

Chidambaram said, “The question was whether it was divestment (sale) of promoter’s equity or dilution of equity by issue of fresh shares… This was examined by the Ministry of Finance.

“Both were cases of dilution of equity by issue of fresh shares. The Prime Minister wanted to know if it was a case of dilution of equity or divestment.

“I do not think there was any sale of spectrum. The spectrum was allocated to the company which got licence and the spectrum remained with the company. The company issued fresh shares,” he said.

No sooner, telecom minister Kapil Sibal was also directed by the PM to clear the air. 

Why is the government rattled? 

As the weekly newspaper, Sunday Guardian, which is edited by M J Akbar, reported eight days ago, Raja is relying his defence on a letter he had written to the Prime Minister on 26 December 2007, a fortnight before the allocation in January 2008. 

Raja, according to his legal team, wants to prove that the decisions on 2G were “not taken exclusively” by him.

Quoting a letter written by Raja many months after the allocation on 7 November 2008, the BJP pressed for investigation of the role played by Chidambaram as the then Finance Minister in the 2G scam in facilitating a “cover-up”.

Raja’s letter to the PM, D.O. No. 260/M(C&IT)/VIP/2007, begins by significantly stressing the point that besides the correspondence, there have also been “personal discussions” with the PM on “issues related to telecom sector”.

Raja listed his decisions in an annexure to the letter to the PM which included the controversial first-cum-first-served policy for issuing Letter of Intent to the applicants for the licences. The PM had acknowledged the receipt of this correspondence on 3 January 2008, days before the decisions were implemented.

On the issue of Letter of Intent, Raja states in the letter, “DOT follows a policy of First-cum-First Served for granting LOI to the applicants for UAS licence, which means, an application received first will be processed first and if found eligible will be granted LOI.”

“The First-cum-First served policy is also applicable for grant of licence on compliance of LOI conditions,” the letter stated. “Therefore, any applicant who complies with the conditions of LOI first will be granted UAS licence first.”

“This issue never arose in the past as at one point of time only one application was processed and LOI was granted and enough time was given to him for compliance of conditions of LOI. However, since the government has adopted a policy of ‘No Cap’ on number of UAS licences, a large number of LOI’s are proposed to be issued simultaneously.”

“In these circumstances, an applicant who fulfils the conditions of LOI first will be granted licence first, although several applicants will be issued LOI simultaneously. The same has been concurred by the Solicitor General of India during the discussions,” the letter states.

“Since the file for issue of LOI to all eligible applicants was approved by me on 2-11-2007,” Raja states in the letter, “it is proposed to implement the decision without further delay and without any departure from existing guidelines.”

The PM’s acknowledgement of the letter on 3 January 2008, states that he had received the letter “regarding recent developments in the telecom sector”.

In this letter, Raja also refers to one of the crucial TRAI recommendations. “The recommendations of TRAI were received by DOT on 29-08-2007 which suggested that ‘No cap be placed on the number of access service providers in any service area’.”

“This recommendation was accepted by the department on 17-10-2007 in order to encourage more competition in the telecom sector and decided to grant new UAS licences,” the letter added.

Is Salman Khurshid’s agenda to help 2G accused to get out of jail?

July 18, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Looks like the government is beginning to share the worry of the industry that the high-profile accused in cases like the 2G scam must not be denied bail indefinitely, just because there’s public and media pressure to highlight corruption. 

A few days ago, AICC general secretary Digivijay Singh was the first leader who said CWG scam accused Suresh Kalmadi must get bail even while certifying him as ‘innocent.’ 

Now, the new law minister has come out into open. For the first time, he has urged the Supreme Court to speak in one voice and reform in the direction of consistency, an oblique suggestion that the high-profile individuals arrested in the 2G spectrum scandal and other corruption cases deserve to get bail.  

In an interview to ET, Salman Khurshid pointed to the precedent of the judiciary giving bail to industrialist Lalit Mohan Thapar in 1986. 

Khurshid, 58, took over as law minister from Veerappa Moily , during whose two-year tenure the government suffered a series of legal reverses.

That brings us to the question why is the government worried about the accused not getting bail? 

One version is that the industry circles are not taking kindly to what’s being seen as a “persecution” approach of the agencies and the courts towards the sleaze accused — before they are held guilty.

But Opposition leaders suspect that the Congress leaders fear that the accused may turn against them and drag them in “unnecessarily” if they are not able to get out of prison. 

But, privately,  even they admit that denial of bail itself should not be held as punishment when the accused have not been pronounced guilty.

Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh was the first Opposition leader to say Rajya Sabha MP kanimozhi should be given  bail “because she is a woman”. In fact, his son, Manavendra Singh, went to visit her in Tihar jail. 

Other BJP leaders do not want to come on record to support this view. 

If Khurshid is serious about what he feels, the government must tell the CBI to take a lenient view about the bail pleas of the accused when they come up in the special court. 

Will the government do that or be scarred of public mood?

A bail should not be normally denied only if the prosecution suspects the accused may tamper with evidence. Otherwise, the granting of bail should be a routine, say some jurists.

Khurshid said in the ET interview that “I can’t say all those judges were wrong, starting from Krishna Iyer. Lalit Mohan Thapar was given bail at the judge’s residence. Now you may not like it but the point remains that that was the law of the land. That you must go the extra mile to ensure that the person does not suffer before you are able to finally, institutionally condemn him. This is not my view but the view of the Supreme Court. The judges can change their mind and there is nothing wrong with it. But my question is: Is it the position of the court or is it one of the positions it has taken?”

The relentless media attention and pressure could have played a part in courts denying bail to those accused of involvement in corruption scandals, Khurshid said. 

“Media pressure is very great and not every judge can withstand media pressure. Forget a judge, not any minister can withstand media pressure.” 

Khurshid admitted the government’s shortcomings, but said the judiciary, too, has failings it must correct. “They must have their own internal norms and codes which allow for a greater reflection of a collective opinion rather than an opinion of one or two benches,” he said. 

The minister’s remarks, made in the backdrop of uneasy relationship between the government and the judiciary, presage a more assertive attitude towards the Supreme Court by the centre. 

Just in recent weeks, as ET reported, the country’s top court annulled the appointment of PJ Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner and declared unconstitutional the government- backed anti-Maoist militia group Salwa Judum. 

In the case of Salwa Judum, the Union Home Ministry and BJP-run Chattisgarh government want to file a review petition. 

The apex court is monitoring the probe into the 2G spectrum scandal and has taken over the investigation of the black money by appointing a special team, leading to the government’s concern that the judiciary is encroaching into the domain of the executive. 

The government has already asked the Supreme Court to review its decision to appoint the special investigation team in the black money case. 

The voice of the Supreme Court, not just that of a judge or a bench, should be heard, Khurshid, who is a senior advocate of the court, said. 

He cited the examples of Pakistan, the US and Canada, where all the judges of the top court sit together to hear cases, but not in India. 

“People say it is now too late for us to turn back the clock. But how can we say we can’t do this but we can clean up black money? Cleaning up black money is as hard as reforming the Supreme Court, not in order to get something of an advantage over them but to actually give them an advantage they need,” he said. 

“I am not happy that we don’t get to know the vision and the view of the entire court.” (end)

Now, ministers begin to defy PM?

July 11, 2011 By: Gemini Category: Uncategorized

Can a junior minister defy orders of the Prime Minister? The answer is yes, if it is a minister belonging to one of the allies of the Congress-led UPA.

A day after a train derailed in Assam following a blast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked Minister of State for Railways Mukul Roy to visit the site. He was already in Kolkatta.

But he virtually defied him, arguing that the track had been cleared and there was nothing for him to inspect. 

Roy belongs to Trinamool Congress. He was upset with the PM on two counts.

One, he wasn’t give full charge of the Railway Ministry, which is what West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wanted when she resigned to take charge in Kolkata two months  ago. Two, Banerjee had to name his arch rival, Dinesh Trivedi, for the Cabinet post. So Roy chosen open defiance, which did upset the PM but his office kept silent. Also, Trinamool Congress leaders say Roy was told to “ignore” the orders of the PM by none other than Mamata Banerjee, who was also cut up with the PM for delaying the reshuffle and not accepting her choice of successor in the Rail Bhavan in Delhi.

Why did Roy act the way he did? He was holding only temporary charge as he would continue with other portfolio, which is shipping. 

But, the most surprising response was from the Congress party  whose spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, “Roy has simply stated the fact that he was far away”.

Roy had argued that he was “1,000 kms” away from the site and there was another Minister of State for Railways who could go there.

He would rather stay put in Kolkatta (where he spends most of the time to be available at the beck and call of his boss, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) and look after those injured in the accident involving the Delhi-bound Kalka Mail near Fatehpur in UP.

Roy told the Prime Minister’s Office that the affected railway track in Assam had been cleared and the injured moved to hospital and that there was nothing for him to inspect.

The PM, who holds the railways portfolio, asked Roy to visit Rangiya where six coaches of Guwahati-Puri Express derailed Sunday night.

A few days ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s former press aide Sanjaya Baru raised the hackles of the Congress party when he blamed the PM’s “lack of political authority” for his inability to act with authority—and at most decisively for good governance.

Baru, who is known still to be close to the PM, appeared to be speaking “as a matter” but Congress leaders began to read “deep meanings.”

The buzz was that even Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had not taken very kindly to the remark—because Baru seemed to imply that the PM was unable to act because “the political authority” was vested “elsewhere” (meaning her, perhaps.)But Baru turned out to be right! (end)



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