Shallow contempt? No…only deep disappointment!!

In this week’s Mint’s Lounge, Aakar Patel takes head-on Ramachandra Guha on his article on the Prime Minister (Telegraph, December 31 2011) and through him the middle-class’s contempt for the Prime Minister and terms it ‘shallow’. (To be sure, Mr. Guha does not use the word contempt, he only cites disappointment)  Now, I should admit, I was clearly amused when I read Patel’s column and thought if he lived in a different India; and, when I fished out Guha’s article I wondered if he even read the article that he tries to counter point-by-point!!

Patel concludes his column writing: “Perhaps it is obvious that Singh is a disappointment if not a failure and I’m missing something.” Of course, you do Mr. Patel!

For starters, let me clear, I agree with you (and so do Mr. Guha, if you would read his piece carefully) that UPA-1 had not been a disappointment (at least as much not as UPA-2, Mr. Guha may add) at all. RTI, NREGA, and RTE  were indeed long-reaching legislations, whatever qualms one may have on the fine print. And, yes add the Nuclear deal too. So let us be clear much of the disappointment is with respect to the Prime Minister’s second innings. In fact, the electorate that you blame for having dealt a ‘poor’ ”hand” rewarded the incumbent government by returning 65 more of their members to the Parliament and even freed them of the influence of the Left. It was very clear that BJP, the main opposition party, was nowhere in the reckoning for another election any time soon, which meant the Prime Minister was especially on a stronger wicket in his second innings. That he had just stood his ground and won on the Nuclear Deal against much of the reported opposition within his party, and that his party went to polls projecting him as the Prime Minister only added to his strength. And his personal image for probity and integrity in public life was still very much admired. So, his performance in the second innings should be viewed in this light.

However, what followed the high of May 2009 was a gradual downfall which turned into a cascade in 2011. So why did I (a middle class Indian) get disappointed with Dr. Singh and why I agree more with Mr.Guha than you?

Yes, as you write, Dr. Manmohan Singh did ask Mr. Raja to step down, but when??!!! In the face of overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Dr. Singh remained quiet and indecisive! Only when he was left with no choice by the Supreme Court, did he yield.

“I don’t think Singh needs a reporter to tell him that he should be seen on television meeting villagers, as Guha thinks he should. The fact is that he chooses not to. The question is why.” you write. But it is not a question of why! As Prime Minister of the country, he is answerable to the nation, either through the press or the floor of the House, and Dr. Singh has failed to engage either the Press or the Parliament proactively on issues of national importance. At the height of the pressure on his government to act against corruption, he did not offer a convincing reply. His mode of engagement was more damage control in nature and that too in the form of a discussion with select editors under controlled environment.

You list his ‘delivery of taken for granted high growth’ as one his achievement, but may I request you not to show shallow regard for Mr. Narasimha Rao who was as equal a driving force, if not more, as Dr. Singh in setting us on the path of high growth and the successive governments which did not change course. And Dr. Singh has himself agreed recently that he does not have a magic wand to control inflation, at least on one occasion. And when was the last time the industry leaders wrote letters to the government of the day (on whose pleasure their businesses depend day by day) on their deep concerns on the state of economy and governance?

Of course, you do not enjoy the privileges of Mr.Guha in knowing much about the advisers of Dr. Singh. And I should admit, I know even less! (In fact, I had to strain to recall the name of the two advisers). But can’t you see that the political judgment of the government is nowhere! Starting from the Telengana fiasco in 2009 to the way the government handled the IAC movement in 2011 reaching the nadir of its political judgment at the stroke of the new year when the Rajya Sabha was adjourned under chaotic circumstances. And yes, let me add so as to remind you, in between 2009 and 2011, the government vetoed the objection of the Leader of Opposition on the appointment of CVC and tried to bulldoze its way only to be stopped by the Supreme Court (Wonder what was the political compulsion on this issue?).

Now, to a relatively minor but important issue. You write in answer to Mr. Guha’s critique, that Dr. Singh was defeated once in a Lok Sabha election and in turn imply that there is no reason to expect any different result this time. But by that logic, Indira Gandhi should not contested elections, nor should have Kamaraj!

You add that even after winning a Lok Sabha seat, Dr. Singh may continue to draw power from Smt. Sonia Gandhi. This may indeed be true, but at least he would have some show of public approval to strengthen his case. But you miss the big point of Mr.Guha – Smt. Gandhi needs Dr. Singh as much as he needs her power. And in this equation the biggest and may be the only weapon that Dr. Singh had was his integrity.  And that is the weapon he has chosen to disband at the hour he needed it the most! Makes one wonder if he is suffering from a Karna-like curse or whether he has willingly chosen to disarm himself!!

Having said all this, I would not have cared as much if it was an ordinary politician. I would have expected as much. But my disappointment, and so I believe the disappointment of people like Mr. Guha, stems from this fact that I used to respect Dr. Singh much. In a time when almost every politician was corrupt, I respected and adored the rare politician who was known for his integrity in public office. I saw him as one of my own and one of my millions of fellow honest citizens, not the run of the mill politician. I was proud that he was our Prime Minster. And so, when he suddenly turned silent and indecisive on the face of the some of the massive scams in recent memory, it was a shocker.

And I disagree with your inference ‘martyrdom’ is not heroic. Let us not show disregard the sacrifices of those have given up power to uphold their own (and universal) principles and yet continue to serve the people. Let us not dismiss those honest public officials who against enormous odds stand by their principles. The fact is, Dr. Singh could have resigned. He could have served the nation by that very act alone –  by sending a message and by serving an inspiration to the future generations. He could not continued to serve the people even without the office. In fact, his leaving making a noise would have been such a big liability for the party that it may very well have heeded to him. But he chose not to do so.

With each passing day, as his silence and inaction (or late action) grows, the disappointment only grows larger. And makes one wonder, as do Mr.Guha, if Dr. Singh is just clinging to his office. You write rhetorically “To what end does he cling to office?”. But for me the question is not a rhetoric! It is very real. Let me assure you, if at all I get to meet Dr. Singh some day, this is the one question for which I would like to know the answer.

Rajiv Gandhi

Today is the 20th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi. I still remember vividly the moments I heard the news of his assasination. It was holidays. And I had been to my grandparent’s place and stayed overnight, a rare instance. We were sleeping when we heard noise on the streets in the middle of the night. We thought it was some election galatta and went back to sleep. The next morning we heard the news of his gruesome assassination. The news that some one can blow a human being and by blowing oneself up was very shocking to me. Back then, I could not even imagine such a thing could happen. The photos on the newspapers were very disturbing. I have never been disturbed by a political leader’s death before or after.

In part it was because of the nature of the assassination and in part because Rajiv was my first hero in the political space. In that impressionable age, Rajiv’s charisma was overpowering. I remember his charming smile, quick sprints to the stages, his speeches (usually translated simultaneously to Tamil by P Chidambaram) and the way in which he used to throw the garlands back to people. One such garland was to take his life in the end.

With some knowledge of history, today I could see Rajiv in a more balanced way. Still I believe he is the last mass charismatic leader we have had. I was very young when he took over. But accounts of his times show there was a sense of vitality and confidence that marked his initial years. Though his political inexperience and the reality of the political life finally caught up with him, he seemed a mature more experienced person in 1991 and was all set to come back to power.

We have had a series of uninspiring leaders since Rajiv, at the national level, an exception in some ways would be Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee.  In my opinion, the Prime Minister of the country is not only the executive head of the state. He/She is also the leader of the nation who should serve as an inspiration, paint a vision for the nation and galvanize it to action. Dr. Abdul Kalam was an inspiring President. Unfortunately, our recent Prime Ministers remained only as political figures or temporary occupants or a bureaurcrat’s bureaucrat. We need someone like the younger Rajiv, someone with charisma, vision and action to inspire, motivate and lead. Twenty years, I am still waiting. 

P.S.: A couple of days back the second anniversary of the Mullivaikal massacre was observed. Ironically, I believe Rajiv Gandhi was the best possible bet for a solution to the Srilankan problem from the India. He took genuine steps to bring peace there. His killing definitely alienated LTTE from the public opinion in India. Life is always a series of ifs and buts..but if only he had not been killed 20 years back, one never know, we may not have had the massacre 2 years back.

Shame on you Congress!

My sympathies for the Congress party which has already reached abysmally low levels since the start of UPA-2 is on the verge of complete extinction now. It pains to see how this party and the Government can stoop to such low levels in resisting attempts for cleaner governance. Why is there such a barrage of insinuations and vilification of civil society representatives in the Drafting Committee of the Lok Pal Bill? The Bhushans have been carrying out their fight against corruption at high places for quite some time now. Why were the issues raised now not raised earlier? One wonders what moral right does Digvijaya Singh have in giving his opinions on Justice Santosh Hegde! And now the Congress ‘High Command’ has directed their members not to air opinions in public. Are we so dumb to believe that Mr. Singh made his statements without the blessings of the ‘High Command’? I am not saying that all the allegations are false, I am not the one to judge it. But the timing surely stinks!

Shame on you Congress! You are the oldest party of the country, the party that has ruled the country for most times, the party which was rewarded with a couple of hundred seats in the Lok Sabha for the performance of UPA-1. And people expected you to double up the good work without the constraints of coalition partners, and here you stand having squandered such an opportunity. Taking comfort in the fact that no credible alternative exist you have become arrogant! Shame on you!

Decision 2011 – On voting, 49-O and tender ballot

“Decisions are made by who show up”– The West Wing, Season 1 , Episode 22

April 13, 2011 is one such decision day. One of the crucial elections in TN in recent times.  So do go, vote and make yourself heard.

EVERY VOTE COUNTS. EVERY VOTE COUNTS. EVERY VOTE COUNTS.

Here are some useful FAQs from the Election Commission website for the election:

Source: http://elections.tn.nic.in/faq.htm

1) How to check your name in the electoral rolls and to find the polling station where you have to go to vote?

As an elector you should immediately check whether your name has been included in the electoral roll of the constituency where you reside or not. You can find out this information from the Electoral Registration Officer of your area. Electoral Rolls in all major cities have now been displayed on official websites also.

For TN elections you can check the electoral rolls at this site: http://elections.tn.nic.in/

2) What is the process of voting? How do you go about it?

1. The poll date and hours are fixed by the Election Commission of India and they are well publicized before all elections.

2. When you reach the polling station, entry will be regulated by queues. There will be separate queues for men and women voters and the physically handicapped persons. The persons who enforce the queues will allow 3-4 voters into the polling station at a time. Physically handicapped voters and women voters with babies in arm will be given precedence over the other voters in the queue.

3. Stage 1: When you enter the polling station, you will go to the First Polling Officer who is in-charge of the marked copy of the electoral roll and responsible for identification of electors. You should keep your identity document ready to show to the First Polling Officer. You can also show to him the unofficial identity slip giving your particulars. However, you should note that unofficial identity slip only helps in locating your name in the electoral roll but is not a guarantee of your identification. The First Polling Officer will then call out your name and serial number so that the polling agents become aware of your presence and your identity is not challenged.

4. Stage 2: Thereafter, if your identity is not challenged, you will proceed to the Second Polling Officer who will mark your left forefinger with the indelible ink. Thereafter, he will proceed to record your serial number in the electoral roll in the Register of Voters. Once this is recorded, you are to sign in the appropriate column in the Register of Voters. If a voter cannot sign, his/her thumb impression will be obtained. The Second Polling Officer will then give you a signed voter’s slip which will record your serial number in the register of voters and your serial number in the electoral roll.

5. Stage 3: You will then proceed to the Third Polling Officer who will take the voter’s slip issued to you by the Second Polling Officer. The Third Polling Officer will press the “Ballot” button on the Control Unit of voting machine and direct you to the voting compartment where you will record your vote on the balloting unit of the voting machine. Please note that each voter will proceed to the voting compartment in exactly the same sequence in which his/her serial number is recorded in the voters’ register.

6. Stage 4: Voting Procedure.

  • Inside the voting compartment, you are to press the blue candidate button on the Balloting Unit against the name and symbol of the candidate of your choice.
  • Press the button only once.
  • On the candidate button being pressed, the red lamp will glow against the name and symbol of that candidate.
  • There will also be a beep sound heard to indicate that your vote has been recorded and the Busy lamp goes off in the Control Unit.
  • This process is repeated for other voters till end of the poll.

7. You must remember that secrecy of voting is important. Every elector is expected to maintain the secrecy of voting and in case of failure to maintain secrecy the elector may not be permitted to vote. Any person who violates the secrecy, will be booked for an offence under Section 128 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. You should, therefore, not disclose to any person who you have voted for. Similarly, if any election official attempts to obtain information on who you have voted for, it will amount to an offence committed by that official. Photography of a voter casting vote is prohibited. It may also be noted that no polling official or agent can come inside the voting compartment under the pretext of helping you to vote. You can, however, be permitted to take a companion of not less than 18 years with you for recording your vote, if for any physical infirmity you require such assistance.

3) (49-O) Can you decline to cast your vote at the last stage?

The law enables a voter to decline casting his vote at the last stage. If you decide not to cast your vote after having signed on the Register of Voters and after having received the voters’ slip from the Second Polling Officer, you must inform the Presiding Officer immediately. He will then take back the voters’ slip from you and proceed to record in the remarks column of the Register of Voters that you have declined to exercise your franchise and you will be required to put your signature under such entry. After this is done, you can leave the polling station without proceeding to the Voting Compartment.

4) What happens when your vote is challenged?

In case your identity as a voter is challenged by a polling agent of any candidate, on the ground that you are not the person whose name is listed on the rolls, the Presiding Officer will ask the challenger to give evidence in proof, of his challenge. Similarly, he will ask you for proof of your identity. You can use your EPIC or any other supporting document like Passport, Ration Card etc. for this purpose. If the challenge is not established, you will be allowed to vote. However, if challenge is established, you will be debarred from voting and handed over to the police with a written complaint by the Presiding Officer.

5) What happens if someone else has cast the vote in your name?

1. If the First Polling Officer tells you on arrival inside the polling station that your vote has already been cast, bring this to the attention of the Presiding Officer immediately. The law allows you to cast a Tendered Vote. A Tendered Ballot Paper, as per Rule 49P of the Conduct of Elections Rules, will be given to you and you will be required to sign your name on the list of tendered votes. A tendered ballot paper is the same as the ballot paper displayed on the balloting unit, except that it shall be endorsed on the back, with the words, “Tendered Ballot Paper” either stamped by the Returning Officer or written by the Presiding Officer at the time of issuing it.

2. After marking your choice of candidate with the help of Arrow Cross Mark rubber stamp you should hand over the tendered ballot paper to the Presiding Officer, who will keep it in a separate cover. Please note that in such case, you will not cast your vote on the EVM.

(Picture Source: http://www.erepublik.com/en/article/-presidential-election-a-new-journey-ahead-1233685/1/20)

தை பிறந்தால் வழி பிறக்கும்! (The month of Thai will bring with it new beginnings)

Tomorrow is Pongal, the Tamil harvest festival. An elaborate festival in (rural)Tamil Nadu , Pongal marks the end of harvest and thanksgiving to the Sun God. Sakkarai Pongal, a sweet dish made from rice and jaggery is offered to the Sun God. The day before Pongal is the Bhogi festival which celebrates the old giving way to the new. The day after Pongal is the Mattu Pongal (Cattle Pongal) which celebrates the cattle that helped the farmers in their harvest. The day after Mattu Pongal is the Kaanum Pongal (Seeing Pongal) when the farmers go for a holiday and visit places.

Pongal is also the first day of the Tamil month Thai, which is considered as an auspicious month. As the old Tamil saying goes, Thai Piranthaal Vazhi Pirakkum, the month of Thai brings with it new beginnings. Whether it is the unwed groom/bride who is searching for his/her partner for long, a long drawn legal wrangle, a search for a new house, whatever be the problem, the month of Thai would offer a way, or so the belief goes!

What Tamil Nadu needs this Thai is a new beginning indeed. The end of a brazenly corrupt and insensitive DMK rule. A regime that relies on fooling people by doling out freebies without a long-term vision for the state, insensitive to the real problems of the people, engages in brazen corrpution both in the State and at the Centre and marked by siblings who fight over dividing the spoils of the State as if it is their private property should be thrown out! And the only way it can happen for sure is when there is a unified Opposition that educates the people of TN of the ills of the DMK style of government and offer an alternate vision.

On this Pongal eve, I hope for a new beginning. I hope Jayalalithaa stick to her stand against freebies till the end and do not start matching DMK’s freebies as the poll dates near. For all the glorious uncertainties of politics, consistency is still a virtue. Two, I hope Jayalalithaa firms up an alliance with Vijayakant’s DMDK. It is the only sure way to counter the numerical strength of DMK+Congress combine.  The alliance as the news stories suggest is immiment. Sooner the better.Would it not be great for the alliance to be announced tomorrow on Pongal day? That should sure galvanize the cadres of both parties and herald a new beggining!

பொங்கல் நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள்! Happy Pongal 🙂

Voice Against Corruption – A Plea to the Prime Minister

Are you concerned about the corruption that engulfs public life in India? Are you conerned enough? Are you enraged? Are you enraged enough? Do you want to make a difference? Do you want your voice heard? Write to the Prime Minister. That’s what we did. A group of like minded people in my campus got together and decided that it is high time we stay a mute spectator to the decline of our country. We wrote a petition to the PM to act immediately and decisively and transparently in the CWG and 2G scams. Some 40 odd people have signed it. We are sending the petition to the PMO tomorrow. Will it make a difference at all? We sincerely believe it will. However infinitesimal the difference, it is infinitely greater than just cribbing over coffee table conversations.

The petition is reproduced below. In case you believe in the cause and method, please take a print out of the petition, get it signed from others around you and send it to the Prime Minister TODAY. It takes not more than a couple of hours. It can be as low as only 10 signatures. It can be only your signature. The effort is only to take the printout and mail it the PMO. Most offices should have concierge’s office for courier, postal etc. So it is not as difficult as it seems. You can even fax it.

Even if you do not believe in this cause or this particular method, GET ENGAGED in one form or the other. It is high time privileged citizens like us GET ENGAGED with the affairs of the country.

PLEASE TAG AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE. THANKS

Text of the petition:

Voice Against Corruption – A Plea to the Prime Minister

Honourable Prime Minister Sir,

We, the people, are deeply concerned about the recent developments in our country, namely the exposure of the huge scams in the issue of 2G spectrum licences and the conduct of Commonwealth Games (CWG). We condemn the lack of urgency and transparency that the Government has displayed in handling these charges.

Sir, we had placed great faith in your leadership. Now, we are deeply grieved by your silence. Your silence on these scams and the brazenness of our public officials towards public opinion in this regard is deeply disturbing. It is quite saddening to see that even the findings of Constitutional authorities like the Honourable Supreme Court and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India are approached with substantial indifference. The lack of urgency and transparency in the Government’s response in this regard is telling.

While corruption has always been an enemy that we have fought against, these recent issues have stretched the limits of our tolerance. We sincerely believe that that the manner in which we address these two issues would be a test of our National will to root out corruption from public life. We believe that it is also a test of the political will of the Government in delivering clean and transparent governance.

Sir, we demand accountability from our public officials. As the highest elected public official in the country, we look up to you to lead us by example. We place the following demands for your consideration:

1. There should be utmost urgency and transparency in engaging with the 2G spectrum case. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report on the 2G spectrum license issue should be tabled in the Parliament immediately.

2. We urge you to apprise the Nation of the Government’s position and approach on the entire 2G and CWG issues from the floor of the Parliament immediately.

3. We urge you to ask the Minister for Communications and Information Technology to resign from the Cabinet with immediate effect so as to ensure a fair and impartial trial.

4. Joint Parliamentary Committees (JPC) should be constituted to investigate into the alleged malpractices and corruption in both CWG and 2G episodes.

5. We urge you to ensure that the JPC submits its findings within 100 days and action taken on the report within 30 days of its receipt.

6. Lastly but most importantly, we urge you to bring to bear the weight of your office to ensure that the Lok Pal Bill be passed in the current session of the Parliament itself. In this regard, may we please recall your attention to the address you made at the All India Conference of Lokayuktas and Uplokayuktas in September, 2004, in which you said:

“..we also have the mandate given by the Common Minimum Programme to enact the Lok Pal Bill which, over past three decades has been introduced from time to time in Parliament, I believe eight times, but unfortunately could not enter our statute books. I have no hesitation in saying – and even confessing – that the absence of an institution such as the Lok Pal at the Centre is to some extent negatively affecting the working of the Lokayukta institutions at the state level. The need for Lok Pal is, therefore, much more urgent at present than ever before and we shall take effective action in this regard without any further loss of time.”

You had also famously quoted Victor Hugo in your historic 1991 Budget Speech. “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”, you said. Sir, we believe the time has come to make it clear to ourselves as a Nation and the world that we will not take corruption in public life lightly. The Lok Pal Bill should be tabled in the Parliament in the current session itself and the current session of the Parliament should not be adjourned till the Bill is passed.

7. We request you to put in place systems that would ensure and facilitate active engagement of the Citizens with the government, enhance transparency and accountability in governance. We believe that we need to raise the level of public debate in our country.

Sir, we welcome your decision to disclose the assets and liabilities received from the members of the Council of Ministers in the public domain. We make a plea to you to do more in restoring our faith in India’s democracy. On this day, as we celebrate our Nation’s children, we want you to assure us that a corruption free India is not just a dream. We want us and our coming generations to live that dream. We look up to you to lead us in making that dream a reality.

(Signed)

Give your name, signature, contact address/emailid.

Send it or fax it:

The Prime Minister’s Office

South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi, India-110 101.

Telephone: 91-11-23012312.Fax: 91-11-23019545 / 91-11-23016857.