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Power Point Sachidananda Murthy
Skills of persuasion
Rajiv Pratap Rudy is an aggressive politician, with experience of both the government and Parliament. No wonder, Narendra Modi has brought him in to steer the ambitious ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship. The six-month review of the government revealed that Sarbananda Sonowal could not pay much attention to the ministry as he had the additional charge of youth and the ever...
Off the menu
Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani has washed her hands of the controversial suggestion that there should be separate canteens serving vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals at the Indian Institutes of Technology. She has insisted that her ministry had only forwarded a suggestion received from a group advocating the cause and it is up to the institutes to take a call and it has nothing...
Root out the rot
All Central government offices are going through an annual ritual which is a week-long affair. Banners have been placed in all the offices declaring the Vigilance Awareness Week in the hope of instilling a value system that discourages corrupt practices. The heads of these offices are expected to sensitise their staff members on the issue.There are several such awareness weeks—linked to the...
The coalition termination?
With the Modi wave flattening opposition, only three political outfits now have the right to be called national parties—the BJP, the Congress and the CPI(M). As per calculations being made at the Nirvachan Sadan, which goes by the matrix of number of seats won and votes scored in Lok Sabha and assembly elections, the latest parties to lose their pan-Indian status would be the Bahujan Samaj...
Fuel for intelligence
November will see the end of subsidy for diesel. Spurred by the widening gap in government revenues and expenses, Manmohan Singh had taken the bold step of allowing oil companies to gradually raise the price of diesel. Big governmental users like the railways and state transport corporations were affected, as institutional subsidy was phased out. Diesel price is now determined by a complex...
Shaking the cabinet
Even as the prime minister is on a whirlwind campaign in Maharashtra and Haryana, there is a buzz that he might go for a major cabinet reshuffle. Prime ministers generally do not confirm or deny their plans to add or drop ministers, and Modi's larger-than-life image daunts most of his colleagues popping the question. Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, who was quoted by a...
Polish or abolish
Narendra Modi will be happy if he can abolish an obsolete law every day. R. Ramanujam, who was secretary in the prime minister's office, headed a committee which identified more than 200 laws which are irrelevant today. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is even more enthusiastic. He says 287 laws, some of which are a century and a half old, will be scrapped this winter. He wants to remove...
No smooth transaction, this!
A few scams have made public sector banks the target of many agencies, including the Central Vigilance Commission and the parliamentary committees. The government controls 27 banks, including the newly created Bharatiya Mahila Bank, and these banks in turn control more than 80 per cent of the banking activities in the country. A few incidents involving the top executives of some banks have raised...
Desert rise
When a typhoon called Vasundhara Raje swept out the Congress government in Rajasthan last December, a hassled high command appointed Sachin Pilot as the state Congress president in January. The young man, who was enjoying his elevation as minister of state with independent charge of the company affairs ministry, was flummoxed. He knew the party had little hope of any improvement in the four...
Trysts with director
The Central Bureau of Investigation has taken another knock with the revelation that its director had an open-door policy for those accused of high-level corruption. Ranjit Sinha, who argued repeatedly for more autonomy to the agency, has not done the CBI any good by giving multiple audiences to the accused in the Supreme Court-monitored 2G scam and other corruption cases. His assertion that more...
Corporate rues
Sachin Pilot must be wondering at the shortness of fame. Last October, the young Congress leader was hailed by corporate India as the harbinger of change in corporate governance and for bringing Indian corporate law up to global standards. The Companies Act, 2013 was exalted as a new law for a new era. Initiated by the Vajpayee government, the overhaul of the 1956 law underwent many...
Rails to reels
When the chief executive of the Central film censor board was arrested for taking bribe, many people were shocked to learn that he was an officer of the railways. They wondered why an officer whose job is to run trains was deciding on which scene should be cut from a film. He has no expertise in the world of cinema or on public morality. Also, at a time when the railways is facing a severe staff...
Driving out bribe
Nitin Gadkari has come up with the first people-friendly big idea of the new government. The transport minister wants to scrap regional transport offices (RTOs), which service crores of vehicle owners and drivers. Gadkari is convinced that the RTOs need to be replaced with a new system to prevent lakshmi darshan, a euphemism for bribes. Gadkari, however, is not scrapping the RTO's functions...
The art of housecraft
As the full session of the new Parliament reached its final stages, the performance of the first-time ministers was of tremendous interest. The Narendra Modi government has a mix of veterans like Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Venkaiah Naidu, and a large number of newcomers, who have never handled any ministerial work.Some are rank newcomers to both Parliament and the government,...
A mute point
Narendra Modi’s silences in Parliament are much talked about. Apart from his similarly structured speeches in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in June while replying to the motion of thanks to the president, Modi has been silent in Parliament during his infrequent appearances. He has allowed his ministers to speak, especially the voluble ones like Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu,...
Grudge match
Lalu Prasad, who recently ended his one-and-a-half-decade-long feud with Nitish Kumar, seems to have been carried away by it. The one-time Bihar strongman now wants arch enemies Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati to come together in Uttar Pradesh to take on the Amit Shah-led BJP, which swept both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the Lok Sabha elections. But ground reality is different in the two...
Mutiny on the bounty
The Congress high command is kept busy with the resignations of key players in the party-ruled states. Dissident leaders in Maharashtra, Haryana and Assam  have quit their posts to precipitate crisis for chief ministers Prithviraj Chavan, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Tarun Gogoi. But, there is also frustration among the leaders because the three chief ministers are so well entrenched and have...
Wipe the state clean
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to visit every ministry in New Delhi has resulted in a cleanliness drive across the dozen bhawans where major activities of the government are carried out. Hundreds of broken almirahs and chairs have been removed from the bhawans, and the ministries are destroying lakhs of unneeded files.The cleanest and swankiest government buildings are the recently...
Cost-cutting on ribbon cuts
R ailway Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda has taken a sensible decision to stop the practice of holding gala functions at railway stations to inaugurate facilities financed by his fellow parliamentarians under the MP Local Area Development Scheme. The railway minister was aghast to find that several railway divisions had spent more money on such functions than on providing drinking water, wheelchair...
Seeing red over green rickshaws
Who is family and who is not among relatives of a politician? The definition of a family member has assumed urgency in the wake of a controversy involving National Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari and his enthusiasm for encouraging battery-driven autorickshaws in New Delhi. Gadkari had announced at a rally of eco-friendly rickshaw drivers that he would encourage more of these rickshaws to ply on...
Withdrawal symptoms
Narendra Modi joins the distinguished company of his predecessors who were forced to withdraw the bitter medicine administered to mobilise more money for the government. Electoral compulsions in Maharashtra have made the government to cut the hike in train fares by exempting season ticket holders in cities like Mumbai. The railways, therefore, will not get more than Rs900 crore.The partial or...
Workaholics, shirkaholics
The Narendra Modi government has nixed the proposal to return to a six-day working week, which would have meant reduced working hours daily and a holiday every second Saturday. Cabinet secretary Ajit Seth has assured employees organisations that the five-day week introduced by prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s would continue, despite the change of government. While there was a fierce...
Statecraft statement
Like several non-Congress prime ministers, Narendra Modi is keen on giving more attention to states. His intention is clear in the president's address to Parliament which promises to "reinvigorate fora like National Development Council and Inter-State Council". The two bodies headed by the prime minister have all the chief ministers of states and administrators of Union territories...
Special guest, special chair
Strong-willed chief ministers have ignored conventions with the Central government, and got away with it. They also return to the same conventions when convenient. This was evident during Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa's visit to New Delhi to greet the new prime minister. While that was on par, eyebrows went up when she met Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley. She had never...
Upper hand
Parliament watchers are excited by the prospect of a single-party government dominating the Lok Sabha, with additional support from allies. The opposition in the Lok Sabha is fragmented, and the real opposition can surface after some time outside Parliament. Though the NDA is in minority in the Rajya Sabha, the Narendra Modi government is confident of managing the upper house. Interestingly, the...
Presiding problem
Supporters of BJP patriarch L.K. Advani are pitching hard that he should be made the Lok Sabha Speaker, so that he gets a meaningful role and does not have to work as minister under Narendra Modi. Advani, who has been reelected to the Lok Sabha and has spent 38 years in Parliament, does not want to fade away gently. But Modi's advisers have cautioned against this move, as Advani is likely to...
Game plans
Once bitten, never shy' seems to be the motto of the Indian Olympic Association. The apex sports body in the country seems to have shaken off the controversy and mismanagement of the 2010 Commonwealth Games and wants to bid for the 2019 Asian Games. Hanoi had won the bid to host the Games from the 45-member Olympic Council of Asia, but last month the Vietnamese government pulled out. The...
Lost in transition.
The corridors of power in Delhi are witnessing winding up activities as the 10-year rule of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh comes to an end. Delhi has around 5,000 personal staff members attached to ministers and officials of ministerial rank. Ministerial offices are seeing thin attendance and personal staff of ministers speculate on the nature of the new government and who will be ministers....
Name the general, please!
Should the Election Commission decide when the chiefs of Army and Navy should be appointed? Both the Congress and the BJP have, for different reasons, supported abdication of responsibility by a government during election time. While the Manmohan Singh government sought clearance of the Election Commission to appoint a new Navy chief after the sudden resignation of Admiral D.K. Joshi, now the...
Snail’s pace
As the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections enters its final phase, there have been much debate and speculation on voting percentages. While percentages have gone up, a lot of voters still do not turn up—at times one out of three. This, however, is an improvement from a time when three out of five did not turn up.An important reason for the no-show is that many voters would not be at their...
Handpicked team
Two months ago, the Congress high command sent a disturbing signal to partymen when it nominated Kumari Selja, Union minister for social justice and empowerment, to the Rajya Sabha. Selja had won four Lok Sabha elections and was expected to fight the polls this year, as she is a favourite of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Soon enough, Sonia despatched another “sure candidate”,...
The treasurers two
Atal Bihari Vajpayee is increasingly becoming the silent mascot of the BJP campaign, with Narendra Modi invoking his governance model. Vajpayee is confined to his Delhi home because of old age illnesses and could not record even an audio speech for the campaign. But, even Modi has agreed that Vajpayee should appear on posters that highlight the economy's growth during the NDA years.Yet, the...
The ambassadorial itch
Yet another US ambassador is leaving New Delhi under less than happy circumstances. Nancy Powell has had a tough time as Barack Obama’s representative ever since she arrived in April 2012. Her predecessor Timothy Roemer had resigned the day after India told Boeing and Lockheed Martin that they were out of the race to supply new fighters to the Indian Air Force. Roemer had invested a lot of...
Siding with success
In politics, instinct matters as much as strategy and preparation. In the past 18 years, some regional leaders have instinctively chosen the national party on the ascendent and picked the fruits of power.Though they were dismissed as political weathercocks, many grizzled politicians marvelled at the way these regional leaders backed the winning horse. The DMK, which shared power in the United...
Lok is key
BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley will contest his first direct election in his three-decade-long political career from Amritsar. By doing so, he has dared his critics within and outside the BJP; they had whispered often that he had always taken the back door to Parliament, i.e. the Rajya Sabha. Jaitley was willing to fight the 2009 elections, but the party wanted him for campaign work. He has prime...
Father, son and the holy boast
The trinity of the anti-corruption movement of 2011 has now gone different ways. Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Baba Ramdev symbolised the mass protests in Delhi against corruption, delay in enacting an effective Lokpal and bringing back black money stashed abroad. Anna and Kejriwal started the journey together, while Ramdev flitted in and out. The mass protests had seen high drama when Anna...
The audacity of hope
The BJP has informally told Raj Thackeray that his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena should not contest the Lok Sabha elections as the MNS has terribly harmed the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in elections after Raj parted ways with his cousin Uddhav. The cousins fell out on the issue of inheriting the leadership of the Shiv Sena, founded by Uddhav’s father, Bal Thackeray. In the last Lok Sabha...
The boomerang defect
For most of the last eight years, Nitish Kumar had the golden touch, but now he looks more uncertain and shaky. By failing to force a split in the small MLA base of arch-rival Lalu Prasad Yadav just ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Nitish has scored a self goal. It was an operation that the Bihar chief minister would have done with finesse a year ago. Now his desperation to get a majority in the...
Lead by example
When Justices R.K. Agarwal and N.V. Ramana were given the oath of office by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, it was a rare moment for the Supreme Court. It was packed to its strength of 31 judges, including the Chief Justice. Finally, the collegium of the court and the Union government had worked in tandem to see that the apex court did not have a single vacancy. Sathasivam and Law Minister Kapil...
Constituency conundrum
Narendra Modi has not given an inkling on whether he will contest the Lok Sabha elections and, if he takes the plunge, which constituency he will choose. Modi's close adviser Arun Jaitley took digs at senior Congress leaders like Digvijaya Singh for rushing to the comfort of the Rajya Sabha. Jaitley, who has taken the easy route to the upper house so far, is now keen to contest from a seat in...
Rainbow politics
Prakash Javadekar, the BJP spokesperson, is not returning to the Rajya Sabha as his party has decided to concede its lone seat in the Upper House from Maharashtra to Ramadas Athavale, who heads a Republican Party of India faction named after himself. The suave Javadekar is not only known for his words, but also his choice of colours. In fact, the only passion of the simple politician is colourful...
Nothing official about it
An old joke about elite clubs is that the lady members sit inside discussing their aayahs (servants), while the aayahs sit in the verandah discussing their memsahibs. For the Indian bureaucracy at least, servant problem is one of the main issues these days. After diplomat Devyani Khobragade got into trouble in the US, it is not just the external affairs ministry which is caught in...
Star fixation
Amar Singh might have been thrown out of the Samajwadi Party, but the party has not given up the Bollywood obsession introduced by the former general secretary. Years after Singh's tumultuous exit from the party and an open denunciation of his style of politics, Mulayam Singh and his son Akhilesh Yadav are wooing Bollywood in a big way. On their home turf of Saifai in Etawah district, the...
Rooms for the Broom
Arvind Kejriwal has backtracked on his demand for two adjoining homes, each with five bedrooms, because of a storm of criticism. He now wants a smaller house for himself and another one for his home office. The justification is that thousands come to meet him with their grievances, so space is needed both for visitors and staff.An office at home is a must for ministers, judges and top officials...
Desperate remedies
The Congress high command, finally, has started moving. After a prolonged strife in the party's Kerala unit between Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and state president Ramesh Chennithala, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has broken the impasse. Chennithala, who was keen on the post of deputy chief minister, is now satisfied with just a ministerial post. And Chandy, who was reluctant to give home...
Tragedy and errors
The Central and state governments got a pat on the back for predicting and minimising the casualties of cyclone Phailin that hit Odisha a few weeks ago. There was a lot of crowing about the way the Indian disaster management mechanism, which was put into place after the 2006 tsunami, had worked in preventing a major disaster. There were, of course, comparisons with the severe cloudburst in...
Suggestions, not welcome
The Congress is looking down the barrel, and its critics are gleefully saying that its strength in the next Lok Sabha could be below 100. Such a double-digit presence would be the lowest ever for the party, which has formed governments after 10 of the 14 Lok Sabha elections so far. Apart from defeats in the Hindi heartland states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi...
That sinking feeling
When Vikramaditya, India's newest aircraft carrier, drops anchor in Karwar in January, the country's first carrier, Vikrant, would be ready for the knacker's yard. After struggling to maintain Vikrant as a naval museum in Mumbai, the Navy has decided to auction off the vessel, which patrolled three seas for 36 years till 1997. The Navy does not have enough money to maintain the...
Snubs and surprises
The conferment of the Bharat Ratna on Sachin Tendulkar and C.N.R. Rao has predictably sparked demands that the highest civilian award be given to other eminent Indians. The Bharatiya Janata Party has repeated its refrain that Atal Bihari Vajpayee should be honoured for his services to the nation, and some of his ministerial colleagues, who are now opposed to the BJP, like Nitish Kumar and Farooq...
Saheb’s silence
Narendra Modi is trapped in the snoopgate, with the BJP and the Congress engaged in a fierce battle of words. The Congress's lawyer brigade of P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Manish Tewari have jumped on the bandwagon, describing the surveillance of a young woman architect belonging to a 'prominent RSS family' as stalking by the state. A Congress leader showed his insensitivity by...
Hammer your successor
Peer pressure is a behavioural issue, which has been studied a lot in areas of work and academia. But now some bureaucrats in Delhi are complaining about the retiree pressure. They are concerned that groups of retired bureaucrats of ministries and different constitutional organisations are putting pressure on serving officers. The pool of officials who have retired during the past two decades is...
Moscow mellowed
As Manmohan Singh completed his tenth and last annual summit with the Russians—sixth and last with Vladimir Putin and four with Dmitry Medvedev—there is stocktaking on both sides. India will have a new leader for the year-end summit in New Delhi next year. When Putin was to visit New Delhi last year for the summit, the situation was tense on the ground, as the national capital was...
Resigned to standstill
Are ministers essential to run a ministry? There are mixed reports from Shastri Bhavan, the HQ of the human resource development ministry, as its minister M.M. Pallam Raju has stayed away from office since early October. The Union minister told officials that since his resignation is pending with the Prime Minister, he would not sign any file. Since Manmohan Singh wants him to withdraw his...
Coach and poach
Some people believe that the punishment meted out to Lalu Prasad, Jagannath Mishra and others in the fodder scam case would deter those who create false vouchers and drain out the treasury. However, fraudsters are as brazen as ever in milking government schemes dry.Recently, Union Public Service Commission officials were scared when officers of the Comptroller and Auditor General came knocking....
Brand Indiramma
Sonia Gandhi wants a name for the food security programme, so that state governments will not hijack it. Among the pantheon of the Nehru-Gandhis, she has zeroed in on her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi. Sonia has asked the Union food minister to ensure that the just approved Food Security Act is amended, so that the programme is named after the iconic politician, who was both loved and loathed...
Armoured one from Assam
After Rahul Gandhi savaged the ordinance proposed to save convicted lawmakers, BJP leaders as well as a former adviser of Manmohan Singh said the best option for the Prime Minister was to resign. They argued it was unacceptable humiliation of Singh and his cabinet. True to his nature, Singh did not rise to these baits and taunts. Refusing to quit, he chose to speak philosophically about the right...
Over a barrel
South African arms manufacturer Denel is set to return to the crowded Indian market, after the CBI decided to close a bribery case against the company. Denel had been blacklisted by the United Progressive Alliance government on the allegation that kickbacks were paid by the company during the National Democratic Alliance regime for purchase of bunker-busting guns. The company and the South...
On the waiting list
The curious case of the headless railway board has caused a rethink in the Prime Minister’s Office and the cabinet secretariat. For several months, the railway minister has not been able to recommend a suitable officer for the chairmanship of the country’s largest public utility because of important procedural blocks.Either eligible officers did not have requisite years of service or...
Endgame begins
Former British prime minister Harold Wilson once said a week was a long time in politics. Then what about the 13 weeks it took for Narendra Modi to travel from campaign committee chairmanship to prime ministerial candidature? The BJP likes the number 13. Modi was given the party mantle on Friday, September 13, and the partymen lost no time in saying Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s first two...
Status update
The Supreme Court has backed the demand that the CBI director be made a Union secretary¯a proposal opposed by the political and bureaucratic leadership at Delhi's Raisina Hill. Current director Ranjit Sinha's argument is that he would be able to deal with the bureaucracy on an equal footing, and would get functional autonomy. A Union secretary has more financial and bureaucratic powers...
Obstructing the field
The slugfest between the cricket boards of India and South Africa is largely portrayed as an ego fight, because Cricket South Africa did not agree to the Indian cricket board vetoing the appointment of Haroon Lorgat as its chief executive. Lorgat has not had good equations with the big guns of Indian cricket like Sharad Pawar, Jagmohan Dalmiya and, at a very personal level, N. Srinivasan, who...
Balk strait
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris speaks at length. When he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month, he waxed eloquent about his government's efforts to rehabilitate Tamils. He also spoke about Indian fishermen trespassing into Lankan waters, and how their trawl nets were endangering marine life and damaging the seabed.Singh raised the issue of the Sri Lankan Navy's aggressive...
Delhi-dallying
Irritated by criticism over the suspension of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, a minister in Uttar Pradesh threatened to send away all the IAS officers attached to the state and manage with the state service officers. Nagpal was suspended for taking on the sand mafia in Gautam Buddha Nagar, as the dons were close to the Samajwadi Party. If UP is averse to IAS officers, Kerala wants more of them,...
Sign and whine
The Left parties have asked their parliamentarians to verify the antecedents of individuals and organisations who ask them to sign mass petitions and forward letters to ministers and officials.The directive came after CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury and several other MPs denied they had signed a letter to US President Barack Obama, requesting him not to give a visa to Gujarat Chief Minister...
Resign and revert
The Telangana issue has made parliamentarians and legislators use the resignation weapon so freely that the threat of vacating the seats has become a farce. Elected representatives of the Congress, Telugu Desam Party and Telangana Rashtra Samithi have been flinging their resignations at their party leadership, and even sending resignations to the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha, the Rajya...
Price of disruption
The Tamil Nadu government has demanded Rs.20 crore from opposition Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) for the losses the state suffered because of two agitations called by it. The AIADMK government's argument is that whoever causes loss to the state exchequer should compensate it. Like the principle of “polluter should pay” for environmental damage, the new demand is “disruptor...
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