Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Obama Presidency and Some Question marks

(Excerpts from an excellent crtique in The Hindu by Aijaz Ahmed)

Barack Obama won as a progressive populist. However, his campaign also raised far, far more money than any other U.S. presidential candidate in history. His camp likes to claim that most of the money came from small donors. The fact is that while fewer than 2,600 contributors to Mr. McCain list their occupation as “chief executive,” nearly 6,000 of Mr. Obama’s contributors are chief executive officers. Huge sums came from Washington lobbyists and lawyers, the communication industry and the electronics industry, healthcare-related private interests, nuclear and pharmaceutical industries, and so on. When lobbyists alone have given $37 million, it is naïve to believe that they would not be rewarded. The same applies to all the big corporate donors.

Mr. Obama’s voting record is not inspiring either. That he made a speech opposing the impending Iraq war in 2002, before he came even into the Illinois Senate, has been cited ad nauseum. Since becoming a U.S. Senator in 2005, however, he has voted in favour of every war appropriation bill that the Bush administration brought forth. He was the Editor of the Harvard Law Review, taught law at Chicago University, and was a civil rights lawyer before coming into politics. However, as a Senator he had no difficulty in voting for the Patriot Act 2, possibly the most sweeping attack on civil liberties in recent U.S. history. Together with Mr. McCain, he voted in favour of the recent bailout plan which gifts hundreds of billions of dollars to the very financial institutions which caused the recent meltdown. And now as President-elect he has urged the Bush administration to bail out General Motors as well.

That past is a mere prologue. As President-elect, Mr. Obama awarded the seniormost White House position to Rahm Emanuel who holds American as well as Israeli citizenships and is associated with the most conservative wing of the Democratic Party. In 2006, he co-authored a book with Bruce Reid titled The Plan: Big Ideas for America. The authors write there: “We need to fortify the military’s ‘thin green line’ around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and Marines, and by expanding the U.S. Army... we must protect our homeland by creating a new domestic counterterrorism force like Britain’s M15.” Mr. Obama has adopted the plan for just such an expansion and it is possible that Mr. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security was inspired by the thinking of men like Mr. Emanuel.

No other senior appointment has been made as yet. However, the names in circulation — of men such as Richard Holbrook and Dennis Ross for Secretary of State, and Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers for Treasury — are not reassuring. Mr. Obama’s Brain Trust and Transition Team are studded with such names. Paul Volcker, the legendary chairman of the Federal Reserve, has made a comeback as Mr. Obama’s key adviser on the economy. This caused the Wall Street Journal to quote a ‘Republican supply-side economist,’ John Tamny, as saying that “Volcker whispering in Mr. Obama’s ear will make even Republicans comfortable, because he is a hero of the Right.” So are Mr. Rubin and Mr. Summers, who were Treasury Secretaries under Bill Clinton.

The enormity of the ongoing economic crisis may yet force Mr. Obama to scrap this whole trajectory and re-make himself into a latter-day FDR, as many are hoping. This is all the more likely if the electoral mass that put him in the White House becomes a mass militant movement from below. What is clear, though, is that the kind of military policies Mr. Obama is advocating are incompatible with the kind of investments he proposes to re-build America’s failing physical and social infrastructure. Something will have to give.

Roger And Out

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Obama - Hossanah?

By Roger Alexander

As much as I'm relieved Sarah Palin will not become president in the near future, I'm alarmed Barack Obama is now the new messiah.

Take it from me, he's only a guy with dark skin practicing the white man's politics (see my blog).

Consider the wimpish Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times today (Nov 9): “Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.

Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either.”

Do I say more?

Roger And Out

Friday, November 7, 2008

Protecting India from the Global Economic Crisis

(This is the Communist Party of India (Marxist) view on how to meet the global economic meltdown challenge)


It is clear by now that the global financial crisis has graduated into a global economic crisis of serious proportions. The advanced economies are set to experience a protracted recession and the developing countries across the world, including the Indian economy, will also be adversely affected.

The UPA Government's responses to this evolving situation, however, have been extremely disappointing. Ever since the Government has come out of its initial state of denial, the measures adopted by it reflect on the one hand a sheer lack of comprehension of the causes behind and the proportions of the current crisis and on the other hand a proclivity towards appeasing myriad financial interests and corporate lobbies. The fact that the UPA Government is relying upon only one policy instrument, namely the interest rate, to both control inflation as well as reverse the growth slowdown betrays the illogic behind its policy paradigm. It is a rudimentary lesson in economic theory that two policy goals cannot be achieved using a single policy instrument.

The UPA Government has so far chosen to meet only the corporate bigwigs and bankers in order to discuss policy responses; neither have the State Governments nor other political parties, trade unions, farmers' organisations and other organisations representing crucial stakeholders been consulted. It is indeed strange that at a time when the neoliberal vision of putting corporate profits over peoples' interest and relying upon 'trickle down economics' is getting discredited across the world, the economic managers of the UPA Government are clinging on to it. In this backdrop, the CPI (M) is putting forward a set of concrete suggestions in order to tackle the adverse impact of the global recession on the Indian economy and protect the interests of the people.

Broad-based Growth through Fiscal Stimulus

* A special fiscal package should be announced by the Central Government directed at increasing public expenditure in ways which increases the income and consumption of the working people, especially the vulnerable sections, and ensure broad-based growth.

* This is an appropriate time to expand the fiscal deficit not only by the Central Government, but also the State Governments. The FRBM Act should be scrapped and a comprehensive debt relief scheme for the State Governments adopted to encourage them to adopt expansionary fiscal stances.

Protecting Existing Jobs

* Protection of domestic jobs must be the priority of the Government in the backdrop of the global recession.

* The Government should announce a moratorium on job or wage cuts in the organised sector, in the interest of the national economy, since such job or wage cuts would further depress demand and aggravate the situation. The extant labour laws should be duly invoked by the State Governments to prevent retrenchments and lay offs.

* The burden of cost adjustment should first fall on profits and executive pay, which have ballooned during the recent period. India requires an Inco3mes Policy whereby executive pay is linked to prices and the minimum wage earned by workers.

Specific Measures to Boost the Real Economy

* The Government has to undertake massive public investment directed at sectors which are employment intensive and capable of creating employment demand for those likely to lose jobs in the export-oriented sectors.

* Employment Guarantee: The NREGA should be strengthened and extended to the urban areas. Extending the period of guaranteed employment beyond 100 days should also be considered.

* Agriculture: Foodgrains production has to be encouraged and public procurement operations expanded for all major crops across the country. The allocations for the Food Security Mission and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana should be enhanced substantially. Public investment in irrigation also needs to be stepped up substantially. For cash crops like cotton and oilseeds, import protection should be accorded through higher tariffs. Protection should also be extended to cash crops like rubber, cashew etc. to prevent sharp falls in prices.

* Food and Fuel Prices: The hikes in the prices of diesel and petrol by Rs.4 and Rs.2 respectively, must be withdrawn without further delay, in view of the sharp fall in international oil prices (which have fallen below $60 per barrel). The PDS needs to be universalized and strengthened drastically by reducing the issue price so that subsidised foodgrains can reach every settlement in the country. This is essential for boosting consumption demand in the economy.

* Retail Trade: With slower growth in consumption, the businesses of small and unorganised retailers are bound to be hit, affecting their livelihood. In this backdrop, allowing big organised retailers to expand their businesses and capture greater market shares would only aggravate the situation. A policy to strictly regulate the operations of domestic corporate retailers and restrict their unbridled expansion is urgently required.

* Small-Scale Industries: Crisis affecting the small-scale industries would cause massive job losses and affect livelihoods on a massive scale. The Government needs to devise sector specific relief packages, especially for export-oriented and labour intensive sectors like garments and leather, keeping the interests of the small-scale industries and their workers in mind. The relief packages should include rescheduling of bank credit as well as direct subsidies and should also incentivise job protection.

* Tariff Protection: In order to ensure that the demand injected into the economy through public investment does not leak out through increased imports, increasing customs duties should be considered. Further tariff concessions under NAMA or entering into structurally unequal trade agreements like the proposed EU-India FTA should be ruled out.

Tightening Financial Regulation and Reviving Development Finance

* Regulation should be strengthened in the financial sector and state control over finance need to be reasserted in order to revive development finance. While curbing reckless flow of credit to fuel elite consumption and asset price bubbles, credit should be directed towards employment intensive sectors like agriculture and small-scale industries.

* Capital Account Convertibility: Measures undertaken to liberalize the capital account as per the Tarapore Committee recommendations need to be reversed and strict controls reimposed on the outflow and inflow of capital.

* Participatory Notes: PNs, which are non-transparent derivative instruments used by the FIIs to invest money in the Indian capital market on behalf of undisclosed entities and individuals, should be prohibited. Allowing speculative hedge funds and other dubious entities to invest in Indian markets without any adherence to disclosure norms is the antithesis of prudential regulation.

* Banking and Insurance Sector Deregulation: The Government should abandon the moves to further deregulate the banking and insurance sectors through legislation like the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, the State Bank of India (Amendment) Bill and increasing the FDI cap in the insurance sector from the present 26% to 49%.

* Pension Reforms: Pension reforms should be abandoned by the UPA Government and the PFRDA Bill scrapped. The Pension Scheme for Government employees should be reworked to ensure minimum guaranteed pension.

Roger And Out

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama's Victory: A Marxist Viewpoint

By Sitaram Yechury/ The Indian Express

The remarkable ascendancy of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America brings to mind an ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”. When my generation was growing up, Hollywood, in late 1960s, captured the conflicts of American society in the film ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’, the dilemma of an all white family whose daughter invites her African-American boyfriend to dinner. Sidney Poitier poignantly conveyed the insecurities of racial prejudices. This film strengthened the resolve amongst many of us to fight discrimination of all sorts. On my first visit to New York in the early Seventies, it was common place to find an African American on the streets asking for change. Today, one has walked into the White House on a popular mandate for Change. In this sense, history is, indeed, being made.
Fidel Castro had described Obama as “the most progressive candidate for US Presidency” from the “social and human points of view”, but warned that it would be an illusion to presume that the character of US imperialism would undergo any decisive progressive shifts. Marx had once said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past”.

Obama inherits a past: US imperialism’s hegemonic drive to impose a global unipolarity under its tutelage; US strategic doctrine of ‘preemptive strike’ against any sovereign independent country in the world; the US’s self-declared right to militarily attack and occupy any country in the name of the‘global war against terrorism’. He inherits the notorious history of ‘state terrorism’ practiced by successive US governments. He has declared to continue the criminal economic blockade against Cuba. He inherits the presidential sanction for torture in Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo.

US support to Israel has denied the Palestinians their ‘home land’ all through the 20th century. Will this change now? Pertinent to us, in India, is that, with this unprecedented Democratic sweep in the US Congress and Senate as well, the pressures for resurrecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will mount. With the Indo-US nuclear deal’s attendant pressures on India, this has serious implications. Further, Obama has already displayed keen interest in resolving the Kashmir dispute when India has consistently maintained that there is no scope for any third party intervention in this Indo-Pak bilateral issue. Obama has declared this as a priority in order to have Pakistan’s undistracted attention in helping the US militarily to combat the Taliban.

Surely, on these and many other important issues, the official US position will be known once Obama assumes the reins of office. So also will the world know how the US administration, under him, intends to tackle the current crisis of global capitalism. A recession has already begun in the US and fast spreading to other industrialised countries. Definitive positions can only be taken subsequently.

The moot question, therefore, is: will any of this change? While there are expectations, the track record of US imperialism renders all such hopes illusiory. US imperialism’s earlier preoccupation with its ‘war on communism’ led to the unilateral aggression against Vietnam, will the pressures of the current ‘war against terrorism’ propel the Obama administration into more horrendous acts of ‘state terrorism’?

Obama concludes his book, The Audacity of Hope, by dedicating himself to the process that built the US: “those like Lincoln and King, who ultimately laid down their lives in the service of perfecting an imperfect union. And all the faceless, nameless men and women, slaves and soldiers and tailors and butchers, constructing lives for themselves and their children and grandchildren, brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, to fill in the landscape of our collective dreams...It is that process I wish to be a part of.”

Indeed laudable. But will this process be confined to some 300 million people that account for less than 5 per cent of the world population? The fate of the remaining 95 per cent of humanity, war or peace, air that may be fit to breathe or not, their quality of life, as Fidel Castro said, will depend to a great extent on the decisions of the Empire’s institutional leader.

Return to the Chinese curse. It contains a belief that in every crisis situation, there is also the path for hope. Will this be used for creating a better world? The past experience of US imperialism, however, has shown that the leopard never changes its spots. If so, then the struggle shall continue for the triumph of hope over experience.

(The writer is Rajya Sabha MP and member of the CPM politburo)

Roger And Out

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Scary Halloween With Sarah Palin

("Spreading Wealth?" See how scared even impoverished Yanks view socialism. - RR)

In central Pennsylvania, the Republican base is afraid of Obama, and lost in fever dreams of a neo-Soviet nightmare. But it's all in God's hands.

Roger And Out

read more | digg story

Fawning & Uncritical Media Boosts Obama Campaign

By Harold Evans/The Guardian

What's troubling to anyone old-fashioned enough to care about standards in journalism is the news coverage in mainstream media. Forget the old notions of objectivity, fairness, thoroughness, and so on. The nastiest rumours on both sides haven't been published, but the coverage has been slavishly on the side of "the one".

Read the excellent piece from the former editor of the London Times at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/01/elections-obama-press-bias-mccain

Roger And Out

BJP denies tickets to quarter of MP MLAs

Nov 1, 2008

The BJP has denied tickets to nearly a fourth of MLAs in Madhya Pradesh, in its first list of candidates, reports The Economic Times. The list, announced on Friday, comprises 115 candidates, accounting for half of 230-member assembly. As many as 28 sitting MLAs, including one minister have been dropped.

Minister in the public works department, Narayan Prasad Kabirpanthi, has been dropped. He had contested from Naryaoli in the last elections and will be replaced by Pradeep Lariya. Of these 115 seats, the BJP had won 75 in the last assembly elections; 47 of the sitting MLAs have been given a ticket.

This exercise of letting go of MLAs to counter the adverse effects of incumbency proved to be succesful in Gujarat. The party has stuck to this formula in Chhattisgarh as well. It is expected that a similar exercise will be undertaken for Rajasthan.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the three poll-bound states where the BJP has been in power for the past five years. The BJP brass, in consultation with the local units, has decided to neutralise the damage by denying tickets to candidates whose report cards as sitting MLAs in the past five years were not found up to the mark.

In its first list the party has fielded 14 women candidates, 19 OBCs, 20 Scheduled Caste and 33 Scheduled Tribe candidates. Ram Pal Singh, who represents the Vidisha parliamentary seat, which he contested in a bypoll after he vacated his Budni seat in favour of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, is marking a return to state politics.

He will be contesting from the newly formed constituency of Shilvani. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan will contest from his home constituency of Budni. other notables who have been given a ticket are Sundarlal Patwa’s nephew Surendra Patwa from the Bhojpur seat, which he lost to Congress candidate Rajesh patel in the last elections.

Assembly speaker Ishwar Das Rohani will be contesting from the Jabalpur Cant seat.

Meanwhile, the Congress stuck to the quota script and awarded nominations to loyalists of powerful state leaders in Madhya Pradesh. While backers of Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Kamal Nath walked away with a major share, the party took care to guard political interests of Mr Arjun Singh, Mr Suresh Pachouri and Mr Jyotiraditya Scindia.

The first list of 117 candidates released by the Congress clearly indicated the party was adhering to the ‘quota system’ although there was talk of abandoning it.

Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Pachouri will not contest the assembly poll. Raghogarh, which is being represented by Mr Singh, has gone to his associate Mool Singh. Mr Singh was chief minister of the state for 10 years.

The list released by the party for the next month’s poll includes several former ministers and senior leaders including leader of opposition Jamuna Devi and former deputy chief minister Subhash Yadav.

While Ms Jamuna Devi has been renominated from Kukshi, Mr Yadav will contest from Kasrawad. Mr Ajay Singh, son of Mr Arjun Singh, has been renominated from Churhat. Former assembly speaker Sninivas Tiwari is the party nominee from Sirmour.

Hazarilal Raghuvanshi, who is the deputy speaker, has been nominated from Seoni-Malwa. Among former ministers who have been given tickets include Satyadev Katare, Mahindra Bodh, Raghavendra Singh, Parvatlal Ahirwar and Radnesh Solomon, brother-in-law of former chief minister of Chhattisgarh Ajit Jogi.

Roger And Out

Friday, October 31, 2008

Is Obama A War-Monger With A Different Face?

(As the US Presidential race reaches it denouement, Barack Obama's 'Change We Can' mantra is under the scanner. Indeed, the more things change, the more they they remain the same! - RR)

The media establishment has been careful to portray Obama as a fresh voice, the “anti-war” candidate. Yet, Obama has already said that he will evaluate his withdrawal plan “at the time,” pledged a massive increase of troops in Afghanistan, and has threated Iran with nuclear annihilation. This is an “anti-war” candidate?

Roger And Out

read more | digg story

Events may make Obama adopt radical positions

By Seumas Milne/The Guardian
What seems certain is that Obama's election will be a catalyst that creates political opportunities both at home and abroad. The Obama campaign grew out of popular opposition to the Iraq war and its success has been based on the mobilisation of supporters who will certainly want to go further and faster than their candidate.
Roger And Out

read more | digg story

The Pornograph-izing of Sarah Palin

Strip club look alike contests and the 'Nailin Palin' porno by Hustler are not in good fun

read more | digg story

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How Gibbering Numbskulls Dominate Washington

By George Monbiot
The Guardian

How was it allowed to happen? How did politics in the US come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind's closest living relative to spend two terms as president? How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama was a Muslim and a terrorist?

See this fabulous comment at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/28/us-education-election-obama-bush-mccain/print
Roger And Out

Sangh Parivar & BJP Can't Disown Role In Terrorism

By Kavita Krishnan

29 October, 2008


No longer can the Sangh Parivar and BJP ever disown its role in terrorism. A former firebrand ABVP leader and so-called 'sadhvi', Pragya Singh Thakur, has been arrested for her role in the Malegaon blasts of September 2006 as well as in the more recent Modasa blasts. Even more ominously, two ex-Army officers are implicated in the blasts, and it has come to light that an institution called the 'Bhonsala Military Academy' in Nagpur has been imparting arms training to the Bajrang Dal.

Read the whole story: http://www.countercurrents.org/krishna291008.htm
Roger And Out

Death Knell Of Print Journalism?

Published: October 28, 2008

After a century of continuous publication, The Christian Science Monitor will abandon its weekday print edition and appear online only, its publisher announced Tuesday. The cost-cutting measure makes The Monitor the first US national newspaper to largely give up on print.
See this story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/29/business/media/29paper.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

Roger And Out

India must look after its own interests first

By Ashok Mitra

Hell has finally been let loose. It may look like the end of the capitalist order to those done in by the holocaust. Capitalism, with its feline features, has however proved it has more than nine lives. What is more legitimate to claim is the end of the officiousness of the ideology of laissez faire, which has for this long buttressed capitalism. Recent weeks have decisively settled the issue: the so-called free market does not raise human welfare to its highest possible level, allowing the animal spirit in man to roam unfettered does not lead to either an equilibrium of bliss or to the emergence of a just society, the animal spirit actually wraps within itself such evils as greed, envy, ill-will, skulduggery and a fearsome lack of moral principles.
Since luminaries from the United States of America were the most vocal votaries of the free market, it was almost inevitable for that country to be the first and severest victim of the catastrophe that has set in. The long, dismal procession of financial collapses, insolvencies, take-overs and whining pleas to the government to bail out the wrongdoers — and those at the receiving end of their wrongdoing — is almost a re-run of the Great Depression. Quite a few of those at this moment importuning with the begging bowl were, till yesterday, holier-than-thou specimens. In that sense, it has been a great leveller: the high and mighty mortgage financiers Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, for more than a century the majordomo in investment banking Lehman Brothers, other investment banking giants such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, the grand insurance conglomerate, the American International Group; the mega stockbroker Merill Lynch, have all bitten the dust. The individual tales of how they came a cropper have their specific nuances, but the basic malady is the same: overreaching ambition goading those in charge of these institutions to cut absurd corners. The entire American nation has now to pay for the sins of a collection of private sharks, big and small. Because over the past decades so much gibberish has been talked, and listened to, on the necessity of financial integration on a global scale, Europe — and Asia too, at least partially — are also at panic’s door. What in the jargon is known as the elasticity of expectations has gone haywire: since people expect the market to crash, the market is crashing — and keeps crashing — all over.

Hard times call for hard decisions. Whatever the wrench in the heart, dogmas have to be thrown into the wastebasket. Can you believe it, George W. Bush presenting himself before the world’s media and thundering in no-nonsense terms: the government must intervene in the affairs of the economy? The free market is officially buried. The State must reassume centre-stage, the treasury and the federal reserve board will be handing out rescue money right and left in order to save banking and non-banking institutions alike. Even when such entities have gone bust entirely on account of devious doings on their own part, State generosity will not be denied. After all, the survival of American capitalism is at stake. Saving a crooked and corrupt Wall Street is saving the capitalist order.

At the same time, it is being rubbed in even to the thugs in trouble, there is no free lunch. The US Congress, representing the American nation, has assumed the role of a stern taskmaster. State agencies will henceforth oversee and regulate the activities of institutions receiving government bounty. In some instances, such institutions — including banks — will have to part with a segment of their equity to these agencies, a euphemism for semi-nationalization. That is to say, American capitalism, in sackcloth and ashes, has agreed to the shackles of a regulatory regime. Even salaries and perquisites going to the executive personnel of quite a few fund-receiving institutions will be subject to public scrutiny. Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, equally hard hit by the blowing typhoon, has gone even further, to the extent of nationalizing, in full, some of its largest banks.

Will the message reach the shores of India, where the authorities, bewitched by liberalization, have been obstinately anxious to integrate the domestic financial market with miracle-making Wall Street? Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar: it is only determined resistance by the Left which has stood in the way of a greater exposure of our financial system to American banks and insurance firms. Notwithstanding that piece of luck, share prices here are behaving like Nervous Nellies. And this for a solid reason.

Short-term capital funds from abroad have parked in our stock exchanges in substantial quantities. Foreigners have purchased a sizeable slice of equity of not only many Indian industrial and commercial ventures, but of some of our leading banks as well. If, because of uncertainties originating in the US and Europe, these equity investments are withdrawn at an extraordinarily fast pace, it could cause a debacle in both share prices and our foreign exchange holdings. The nervousness on our bourses is largely on account of contemplation of that prospect, which can be avoided only if the authorities, without losing a moment, re-clamp restrictions on capital movements on the current account.

The neo-colonial grip on North Block is yet to slacken. Even as both Sensex and Nifty show signs of a free fall, the prime minister, his finance minister and their cronies persist in glib talk about the “strong fundamentals” of the Indian economy, a copycat version of the assertion of the US Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain that the American economy is “structurally sound”. Hope is being pinned exclusively on providing additional liquidity to participants in the share markets. Official verbiage continues to avoid mentioning the most crucial fact though. Foreign institutional investors at present hold around 70 billion US dollars —equivalent to Rs 350,000 crore — in Indian stocks, including equity of major banks and corporate bodies. If worst comes to the worst, foreigners could all of a sudden begin to sell short, dump these stocks, take their pickings and depart from the scene. The consequences could be frightening for share prices, the external value of the rupee and the country’s foreign exchange reserves. The Reserve Bank of India’s pump-priming would be hopelessly inadequate in that kind of a situation.

Is not what is immediately called for is, if not a total ban, at least a strict regime of controls, on taking short-term capital out of the country? Those at the helm of our affairs, overly concerned about possible negative reactions from their patrons in Washington DC to exchange control proposals, would like to perish such a thought and mumble inanities like the necessity of a global solution to a global problem. But the rude fact will not go away: finance ministers of the Western countries will lay stress on solutions which save their own skin; India and other developing countries are not at the top of their agenda.

What should worry our policy-framers is that, in case, while they do nothing, foreigners scoot with their loot, the stock markets collapse, foreign exchange assets shrink and some of the banks go under, the so-called “fundamentals” of the economy might cease to stay “strong” for any length of time. To cling to the notion of globalization together with liberalization leading us to an Arcadia would be plain silly in this season. The Americans and the Europeans are taking care of themselves, and have returned to the shelter of the State. In our country too the State has to step in and choose the most efficacious instruments, including those which foreigners disfavour: our own interests should precede the interests of foreigners.

The town cynic would conceivably chip in here. He would contribute a further argument against financial accommodation to save speculators in the stock markets. Why not let those who live by share prices, he would suggest, die by share prices too? After all, they constitute at most three per cent of the national population. Why not invest the money for an alternative purpose, for bettering the lot, for instance, of the agrarian community, which makes up close to two-thirds of the nation? That would, he would add, contribute much more towards strengthening the “fundamentals” of the economy.
(Courtesy: The Telegraph, Kolkata)
Roger And Out

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Real Story Behind the US-India Nuclear Deal

By Subrata Ghoshroy, AlterNet.

The legislation signed by Bush is technically known as the 123 Agreement because it amends section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which regulates U.S. cooperation with other nations in nuclear matters and prohibits trading with states that have not signed the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Not only is India a non-signatory to the landmark treaty, it is, along with Israel and Pakistan, also in contravention of its underlying principle, having secretly developed the bomb by transferring fissile material from its civilian program.

But while the point of the legislation was ostensibly to enable India to meet its energy needs, in reality it was about much more than that. The primary motivation is the U.S. embrace of India as a strategic partner.

Read the whole report: www.alternet.org/audits/103313/

Roger And Out
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Congress, BJP Groping In The Dark In Madhya Pradesh

By Roger Alexander

Exactly a month from now, Madhya Pradesh goes to the polls. Yet, both the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress have failed to announce their candidates for the 230 seats even though some names have been cleared by the respective ‘high commands’. Indeed, both parties had said earlier with a lot of fanfare that the names of candidates would be announced well in advance but nothing of the sort has happened till now.

Reports in the media suggest that the lists will be made public only after Diwali and campaigning in earnest would start only in November 10, giving candidates three weeks to reach out to the electorate.

According to speculative reports, one factor that could be responsible for the delay could be that neither the BJP nor the Congress wants to be the first to declare candidates and both appear to be waiting for the other to make the first move. Besides, Bharatiya Janashakti Party president Uma Bharti has queered the pitch for both parties by holding out hope for aspirants who fail to get tickets from either the BJP or the Congress to contest elections on her party’s ticket. Similarly, Mayawati’s BSP and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party are also eyeing rebels from the Congress and BJP, though to a lesser extent.

If reports are to be believed, the BJP is toying with the idea of adopting the “Modi formula” of dropping unpopular legislators as a strategy to minimise the anti-incumbency factor. Speculation is rife that around 40 of the 173 MLAs in Madhya Pradesh may miss their names in the list of candidates as the party leadership feels that the state government has done well and cannot afford to lose because of the unpopularity of individual leaders.

The Congress, as usual, is groping in the dark. Even though around 70 candidates have been approved by the ‘high command’, their names have not been made public for fear of driving the losers to revolt (as if they won’t later). Besides, the four top leaders from the state – Arjun Singh, Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia – are pulling in different directions. 

To complicate things further, the BSP has emerged as a strengthened force after the elections in Uttar Pradesh. It has used its base among the Dalits to build a wider coalition of caste politics in the areas adjoining UP, besides the tribal areas. Indeed, the party will be an important factor in Madhya Pradesh even though it has announced that it will not ally with any other party for the elections.

In the 2003 assembly elections, the BSP had obtained 7.6 per cent of the vote resulting in two seats. In the present scenario, it will certainly play the spoiler because it remains squeezed in between the Congress and the BJP which have not declined in the state as in Uttar Pradesh. However, some observers feel that the BSP will hurt the Congress more than the BJP as it draws on same social combination of Dalits and Muslims as the Congress.

Meanwhile, the CPI(M) has announced it will field its candidates in 12 of the 230 constituencies in Madhya Pradesh for the assembly elections on November 25. The party will contest the elections in coordination with the CPI and other secular forces, including the JD(S). The Left parties would appeal the voters to give an opportunity to a third alternative, whether it is the BSP or any other party, to form the government in the state.

Roger And Out!

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Political Uncertainty In Rajasthan

By Roger Alexander

Rajasthan elects its next legislature in six weeks and politics in the hot weather state is hotting up further. While it is a direct contest between the ruling BJP and Congress, a new set of political developments are queering the pitch for the traditional rivals.

The most important, of course, is the rise of the BSP and Mayawati’s growing popularity in the state. The other is the ‘Gujjar conundrum.

The BSP may not have big names on its rolls but has an early-bird advantage of starting is poll campaign much before the BJP and Congress. In fact, the party released its list of 155 candidates for the Assembly polls in Rajasthan and 13 for Lok Sabha elections way back on September 1.

The list included the name of Jagat Singh, son of former External Affair Minister K Natwar Singh. The remaining 45 candidates will be named in the next few days. “We are hopeful of the successful implementation of the UP formula that brought us to power in Lucknow,” says state party chief Durgaram Gader.
Apart from the traditional Dalit votes, the party is likely to garner sizeable minority and Jat votes. The inclusion of former Congress MP Natwar Singh and his son Jagat Singh has facilitated its entry into Bharatpur district, a Jat stronghold.
The Jats are visibly upset with Congress over the issue of making a Jat CM. They can vote in favour of BSP with the hope of a Jat CM in Natwar Singh. Also, the minority, having tested both the Congress and BJP can give a chance to the BSP following its favourable attitude towards them in UP.

In the last elections, the BSP polled 5 per cent of the votes to win two seats out of 124 constituencies it contested. “Last time, we went for the poll with only eight-month preparations. Even then, the margin between our candidates and the winning MLAs was barely 4-5 per cent. This time, we are fielding our candidates on all the 200 seats. We have our plans cut out with hard work of four-and-a-half years behind us. We will definitely upset all political calculations,” claims Gader.
Indeed, the BSP has already fielded its grass root workers in a door-to-door campaign in areas where it hopes to make inroads even before the Congress and BJP have finalised their candidates. With a strong presence in eastern Rajasthan districts adjoining Uttar Pradesh — Bharatpur, Karauli and Sawai Madhopur — the BSP is also trying to make its presence felt in tribal areas of southern districts Udaipur, Banswara, Pratapgarh and Dungarpur.

“We have the right mix of candidates. We have given tickets to candidates belonging to 40 castes. Around 100 are Meenas while 40 are Brahmin and Rajput candidates; we want to give a comprehensive image to the party,” claims Gader.
Besides the BSP, the Gujjars too have skewed all political calculations. The Gujjars can tilt the scales in around 17 seats in the Sawai Madhopur, Dausa and Bharatpur districts and their leader Kirori Singh Bainsla could well play the role of kingmaker in Rajasthan in the case of a hung assembly.

There is said to be huge pressure building on Bainsla from within the community to float a Gujjar-specific party. However, this commentator believes that it is rather late in the day for such a move, even if the limited aim is to win a few seats and a voice in the state assembly.

Indeed, Bainsla has indicated publicly that rather than float his party, he would rather support the BJP, which means he’d rather extract as many tickets from the BJP for the Gujjar candidates. However, that is easier said than done as the BJP has a strong following among the rival Meenas. So watch out for some tightrope walking from Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

She is sure to make the pitch that she was instrumental in carving out a special quota for them. Indeed, recently at a public meeting in New Delhi Bainsla said the state BJP had done whatever best it could for the Gujjars and that it was Congress-led UPA which was refusing to grant the Gujjars ST status.

The waters may be muddies at the moment and a clearer picture will emerge next week when electioneering will resume in right earnest after Diwali.

Roger And Out

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Barack Obama For President

(Roger Reports: Barack Obama may not be bring about much change - he's a Democrat - but his election will ensure that Sarah Palin does not become President of the US. For that reason alone he should be sent to the White House.)

October 24, 2008
NYT Editorial

Hyperbole is the currency of presidential campaigns, but this year the nation’s future truly hangs in the balance.

The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush’s failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens — whether they are fleeing a hurricane’s floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable.

As tough as the times are, the selection of a new president is easy. After nearly two years of a grueling and ugly campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has proved that he is the right choice to be the 44th president of the United States.

Mr. Obama has met challenge after challenge, growing as a leader and putting real flesh on his early promises of hope and change. He has shown a cool head and sound judgment.

We believe he has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation’s problems.In the same time, Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism.

His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in Congress.

Given the particularly ugly nature of Mr. McCain’s campaign, the urge to choose on the basis of raw emotion is strong. But there is a greater value in looking closely at the facts of life in America today and at the prescriptions the candidates offer.

The differences are profound.Mr. McCain offers more of the Republican every-man-for-himself ideology, now lying in shards on Wall Street and in Americans’ bank accounts. Mr. Obama has another vision of government’s role and responsibilities.

In his convention speech in Denver, Mr. Obama said, “Government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.”

Since the financial crisis, he has correctly identified the abject failure of government regulation that has brought the markets to the brink of collapse.The EconomyThe American financial system is the victim of decades of Republican deregulatory and anti-tax policies.

Those ideas have been proved wrong at an unfathomable price, but Mr. McCain — a self-proclaimed “foot soldier in the Reagan revolution” — is still a believer.Mr. Obama sees that far-reaching reforms will be needed to protect Americans and American business.Mr. McCain talks about reform a lot, but his vision is pinched.

His answer to any economic question is to eliminate pork-barrel spending — about $18 billion in a $3 trillion budget — cut taxes and wait for unfettered markets to solve the problem.Mr. Obama is clear that the nation’s tax structure must be changed to make it fairer.

That means the well-off Americans who have benefited disproportionately from Mr. Bush’s tax cuts will have to pay some more. Working Americans, who have seen their standard of living fall and their children’s options narrow, will benefit. Mr. Obama wants to raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation, restore a climate in which workers are able to organize unions if they wish and expand educational opportunities.

Mr. McCain, who once opposed President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy as fiscally irresponsible, now wants to make them permanent. And while he talks about keeping taxes low for everyone, his proposed cuts would overwhelmingly benefit the top 1 percent of Americans while digging the country into a deeper fiscal hole.

National Security
The American military — its people and equipment — is dangerously overstretched. Mr. Bush has neglected the necessary war in Afghanistan, which now threatens to spiral into defeat.

The unnecessary and staggeringly costly war in Iraq must be ended as quickly and responsibly as possible.While Iraq’s leaders insist on a swift drawdown of American troops and a deadline for the end of the occupation, Mr. McCain is still talking about some ill-defined “victory.”

As a result, he has offered no real plan for extracting American troops and limiting any further damage to Iraq and its neighbors.Mr. Obama was an early and thoughtful opponent of the war in Iraq, and he has presented a military and diplomatic plan for withdrawing American forces. Mr. Obama also has correctly warned that until the Pentagon starts pulling troops out of Iraq, there will not be enough troops to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Mr. McCain, like Mr. Bush, has only belatedly focused on Afghanistan’s dangerous unraveling and the threat that neighboring Pakistan may quickly follow.Mr. Obama would have a learning curve on foreign affairs, but he has already showed sounder judgment than his opponent on these critical issues. His choice of Senator Joseph Biden — who has deep foreign-policy expertise — as his running mate is another sign of that sound judgment.

Mr. McCain’s long interest in foreign policy and the many dangers this country now faces make his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska more irresponsible.

Both presidential candidates talk about strengthening alliances in Europe and Asia, including NATO, and strongly support Israel. Both candidates talk about repairing America’s image in the world. But it seems clear to us that Mr. Obama is far more likely to do that — and not just because the first black president would present a new American face to the world.

Mr. Obama wants to reform the United Nations, while Mr. McCain wants to create a new entity, the League of Democracies — a move that would incite even fiercer anti-American furies around the world.Unfortunately, Mr. McCain, like Mr. Bush, sees the world as divided into friends (like Georgia) and adversaries (like Russia). He proposed kicking Russia out of the Group of 8 industrialized nations even before the invasion of Georgia.

We have no sympathy for Moscow’s bullying, but we also have no desire to replay the cold war. The United States must find a way to constrain the Russians’ worst impulses, while preserving the ability to work with them on arms control and other vital initiatives.

Both candidates talk tough on terrorism, and neither has ruled out military action to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But Mr. Obama has called for a serious effort to try to wean Tehran from its nuclear ambitions with more credible diplomatic overtures and tougher sanctions. Mr. McCain’s willingness to joke about bombing Iran was frightening.

The Constitution and the Rule of Law
Under Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the justice system and the separation of powers have come under relentless attack. Mr. Bush chose to exploit the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the moment in which he looked like the president of a unified nation, to try to place himself above the law.

Mr. Bush has arrogated the power to imprison men without charges and browbeat Congress into granting an unfettered authority to spy on Americans. He has created untold numbers of “black” programs, including secret prisons and outsourced torture.

The president has issued hundreds, if not thousands, of secret orders. We fear it will take years of forensic research to discover how many basic rights have been violated.Both candidates have renounced torture and are committed to closing the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

But Mr. Obama has gone beyond that, promising to identify and correct Mr. Bush’s attacks on the democratic system. Mr. McCain has been silent on the subject.Mr. McCain improved protections for detainees. But then he helped the White House push through the appalling Military Commissions Act of 2006, which denied detainees the right to a hearing in a real court and put Washington in conflict with the Geneva Conventions, greatly increasing the risk to American troops.

The next president will have the chance to appoint one or more justices to a Supreme Court that is on the brink of being dominated by a radical right wing. Mr. Obama may appoint less liberal judges than some of his followers might like, but Mr. McCain is certain to pick rigid ideologues. He has said he would never appoint a judge who believes in women’s reproductive rights.

The Candidates
It will be an enormous challenge just to get the nation back to where it was before Mr. Bush, to begin to mend its image in the world and to restore its self-confidence and its self-respect.

Doing all of that, and leading America forward, will require strength of will, character and intellect, sober judgment and a cool, steady hand.Mr. Obama has those qualities in abundance. Watching him being tested in the campaign has long since erased the reservations that led us to endorse Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries. He has drawn in legions of new voters with powerful messages of hope and possibility and calls for shared sacrifice and social responsibility.

Mr. McCain, whom we chose as the best Republican nominee in the primaries, has spent the last coins of his reputation for principle and sound judgment to placate the limitless demands and narrow vision of the far-right wing. His righteous fury at being driven out of the 2000 primaries on a racist tide aimed at his adopted daughter has been replaced by a zealous embrace of those same win-at-all-costs tactics and tacticians.

He surrendered his standing as an independent thinker in his rush to embrace Mr. Bush’s misbegotten tax policies and to abandon his leadership position on climate change and immigration reform.Mr. McCain could have seized the high ground on energy and the environment. Earlier in his career, he offered the first plausible bill to control America’s emissions of greenhouse gases. Now his positions are a caricature of that record: think Ms. Palin leading chants of “drill, baby, drill.”

Mr. Obama has endorsed some offshore drilling, but as part of a comprehensive strategy including big investments in new, clean technologies. Mr. Obama has withstood some of the toughest campaign attacks ever mounted against a candidate.

He’s been called un-American and accused of hiding a secret Islamic faith. The Republicans have linked him to domestic terrorists and questioned his wife’s love of her country. Ms. Palin has also questioned millions of Americans’ patriotism, calling Republican-leaning states “pro-America.”

This politics of fear, division and character assassination helped Mr. Bush drive Mr. McCain from the 2000 Republican primaries and defeat Senator John Kerry in 2004. It has been the dominant theme of his failed presidency.The nation’s problems are simply too grave to be reduced to slashing “robo-calls” and negative ads.

This country needs sensible leadership, compassionate leadership, honest leadership and strong leadership. Barack Obama has shown that he has all of those qualities

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Patil's Discovery: Homosexuality Is A Disease!

By Roger Alexander

In what is considered a major breakthrough in AIDS research, India's ministry of home affairs (MHA) led by Shivraj Patil has claimed that it has discovered that homosexuality or gay sex is a disease, putting it in line for the next Nobel prize in Medicine.

This was confirmed by additional solicitor general PP Malhotra representing the MHA to the Delhi High court which is hearing a bunch of petitions filed by gay rights activists seeking decriminalisation of gay sex among consenting adults.

Disagreeing with the bench headed by Chief Justice A P Shah - which pointed out that “it is an accepted fact that it is a main vehicle that causes (AIDS) disease but it is not a disease in itself” - Malhotra insisted homosexuality is a disease and legalising it would bring “devastation” to society.

AIDS is already spreading in the country and if gay sex is legalised then people on the street would start indulging in such practises saying that the High Court has given approval for it. Legalising homosexuality would further divide the country....it will send a wrong signal to youth of our country,” argued Malhotra.

Homosexuality is “immoral” and a “reflection of a perverse mind” and its decriminalisation would lead to moral degradation of society, he said, adding, “Gay sex is against the order of the nature. The State has to take the help of the law to maintain public morality. Homosexuality is a social vice and the state has the power to contain it. If it is allowed then evils of AIDS and HIV would spread and harm the people and would degrade moral values of society.”

Clearly taken aback, the court observed, “It’s a strange situation. Your (home ministry's) first affidavit is silent (and) there is not a single word on what you are saying, while other (health ministry’s) affidavit is pointing out that the penal provision leads to marginalisation of HIV patients.”

Unfazed, Malhotra said, “No act of Parliament can be struck down due to an affidavit or a minister’s (read Ramadoss) statement. Since Parliament passed a law criminalising homosexuality, it represented the will of the people of this country.”

When the bench pointed out that the government needed to prove that allowing gay sex among consenting adults would increase the risk of HIV to an extent to criminalise it, Malhotra countered, “Indian society strongly disapproves of homosexuality and it’s enough to justify it being treated as a criminal offence even where consenting adults indulge in it in private...Our Constitution does not talk about sexual orientation. We cannot impose other countries’ constitutions on us. Our moral and ethical values are different.’’

Roger And Out

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Homophobe Patil Is A Pain In The Ass

By Roger Alexander

Would you believe it? India’s Union Cabinet is stuffed with a bunch of paranoid homophobes. If Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code – which criminalises same sex love – is repealed, it would “have far-reaching consequences,” they claim. Not only that, legalising gay sex would raise “law-and-order issues” and that society – except for some sections of urban India – wasn’t ready for it. Ironically, the homophobic charge is led by the effeminate union home minister Shivraj Patil.

The fertiliser hit the PMO’s air-conditioning when Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss decided to back a widely held view that Section 377 was an anachronistic law that ought to be repealed. Ramadoss and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) want homosexuality to be made non-punishable, citing it as a health problem. They argue that Section 377 is hampering the anti-AIDS drive in the country.

In fact, NACO, in its affidavit to the Delhi High Court argues, “Enforcement of Section 377 can adversely contribute to pushing HIV positive persons underground, which would make such risky sexual practices to go unnoticed. The National Commission on Women and the Planning Commission also support the repeal petition pointing out that the anti-gay law is a colonial relic that even the UK rejected in 1967.

Still, at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, many ministers not only supported Patil but also took exception to Ramadoss’s “uncalled utterances on the issue” which, they said, showed the government in bad light and was causing embarrassment to the ministry of home affairs (read Patil). The Cabinet also decided to continue opposing the demand for it repeal in court. Curiously Ramadoss was not present at the meeting, and the matter was hurriedly discussed without the concerned minister present as is the practice. The Prime Minister, as is his wont, failed to take sides and asked the ministers to sort out their differences through discussions. What a joke.

Nonetheless, Patil continues to tilt at windmills. And if proof is needed that a moron is in charge of the criminal justice system, go no further. Opposing a PIL in The Delhi High Court which seeks the repeal of the archaic Victorian law that still adorns our statute books, additional solicitor general PP Malhotra actually quoted the Bible – presumably the King James’ version – to buttress the government’s against “unnatural sex.” Patil clearly does not know of India’s rich homosexual tradition, both in the mythologies and in secular history that he has to tell his lawyer to take recourse to the Bible, of all things. 

Asking the court to disregard Ramadoss’s views on legalising gay sex among consenting adults, the advocate general said Section 377 was “the will of the people.” Even the normally status-quoist judiciary was dumbfounded. “These are not scientific reports. These are articles quoting the Bible, which is propaganda. Show us scientific reports which justify criminalisation of  such acts (gay sex),” the bench observed.

Commenting on the ongoing courtroom battle, my friend gay activist Ashok Row Kavi wryly observed, “These gandus don’t know their ass from their elbow.”

Roger And Out

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Emperor Has No Clothes!

By Roger Alexander

Jet Airways Chairman Naresh Goyal protests too much. The decision to lay off workers was taken by the management and I was not fully in the loop,” he claims. Who’s he trying to kid? If he’s not the management, then he’s certainly the mismanagement that sought to correct a tailspin by throwing out young recruit in mid-flight, as RK Laxman noted in today’s Times of India.

But then he gave the game away in the very next sentence. “My directions to the management was to run the company profitably…They took the decision on that basis.” Of course, managements follow the bossman’s orders.

But guess who the bossman is? It is Vijay Mallya, of course. Mallya had declared a day earlier that the new Jet-Kingfisher alliance needed to “cut the flab and be more lean and efficient.” He was not worried about his own girth, of course.

It was sickening to see the two mercenaries hug, kiss and do a jig after having 2000 staffers for breakfast. The two bloated beasts were so stuffed that they could not walk and took a golf cart to have a dekko at the flying machines around the Begumpet airport looking important and wondering whether to buy an Airbus or go in for Boeing.

By sacking 2000 young people, the Goyal-Mallya jodi was hoping to “save” Rs 60 crore annually. But do you know their saving so far: Jet has “saved” Rs 1143.31 crore and Kingfisher Rs 881.02 crore (total Rs 2024.33 cr) in the past few months. And guess, how did they manage this feat? By the simple expedient of refusing to pay their outstanding dues to the Oil companies, of course!

In fact these two fatsos were hoping they would use pal Praful Patel’s clout to have this debt written off. To demonstrate they were in such dire states, they made out the case that if they did not have staff for breakfast, they’d be unable to afford caviar and champagne for lunch and dinner!

Then came the calculated roll of the dice. “Honourable Prime Minister and Finance Minister, could we have a Rs 5000 crore bailout to save the aviation sector, especially since we control 60 per cent of the market? We must keep flying high so that the country’s “growth story” is not affected.” These fat cats are shameless.

To be sure, Mallya was confident that given the gung-ho attitude of the corporate media that has crowned him the ‘King of Good Times’ (sic) would give him easy passage, indeed even salute him for following “prudent business practices”  and “safeguarding shareholder value.”

Well, the diabolical plan did not run according to the carefully-crafted script. The sight of young girls from as far as Manipur and Mizoram , crying their hearts out - mascara and foundation streaming down rosy cheeks - before TV cameras had an electrifying impact across the country. Hey, these kids are “one of us.” Hey, they’ve taken loans to enrol in grooming institutes (that con is another story). Hey, these kids didn’t deserve to be shafted.

These pictures reached everyone from Sonia Gandhi to Sitaram Yechury. Everyone knew what they meant: In an election year you can probably give a spin to farmers’ suicides, but can you have the blood of young cabin crew on your hands on 24x7 satellite TV?

The charlatans in the government were first off the blocks. The government, which is keen to introduce “labour reforms” (basically a hire-and-fire policy as opposed to the current protection-of-workers-rights regime), sought to obfuscate the issue.

“Hiring is reckless and firing is breathless,” thundered Veerappa Moily. Before reporters could digest what that meant, Moily opened another front. “They thought they are emperors…This is India and not America.”

The upshot of the story so far? One more freeloader, no make that freebooter, bites the dust! The King of Good Times will have to settle for a Bermicide’s Feast, after all.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

By Roger Alexander

The election season is finally upon us. With the Election Commission announcing the poll schedule for Chhattisgarh (Nov 10 & 14), Madhya Pradesh (Nov 25), Delhi (Nov 25), Mizoram, and Rajasthan (Dec 4) , the ball has been set rolling for the grand finale – the Lok Sabha elections in March or April next year.

This is a critical round for the two chief claimants to that seat, the Congress and the BJP. Although these are state elections, both parties see them as a “semi-final” for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The results would assume a larger-than-life importance because they will be an indicator of the shape of things to come.

All four states have been with the Congress and the BJP locked in a straight contest ever since the Swatantra Party went into oblivion. However, this time, there is a wild card entry, the BSP, which hopes to upset the applecart of the two national parties by emerging with the support of smaller outfits as the dreaded third force. 

The BJP will be defending its government in MP, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan while the Congress will be trying for a third consecutive term in Delhi. Being so close to the centre of power and with the general elections nearing, the campaign will see a mix of local and national issues, with security, terrorism, and price rise dominating the discourse.

So which way is the political wind blowing? Received wisdom has it that usually incumbent governments face the voters’ wrath that results in the main opposition party making major gains. By this yardstick, the BJP that is leading the governments of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has a lot to worry about. Similarly, the Congress is on shaky ground in Delhi and the Mizo National Front should be chewing its nails in its backyard.

Alas, things do not usually work this way. This writer, for one, takes the so-called anti-incumbency factor with a generous pinch of salt. The mantra is supposed to work this way: the incumbent government makes such a hash of things that voters automatically plump for the opposition. However, the wily Indian voter is known for delivering nasty surprises and the 2004 verdict is still fresh in the public mind. And they keep their cards so close to the chest that even the governments’ intelligence gathering units fail to gauge the public mood. Independent pollsters are even more clueless.

If elections were to be held tomorrow, in Madhya Pradesh (230 seats), Rajasthan (200 seats) and Chhattisgarh (90 seats), the BJP retains an advantage in Madhya Pradesh, and has a fighting chance in Rajasthan given the disarray in the Pradesh Congress. On the other hand, Congressmen claim they have an in Chhattisgarh, but with Ajit Jogi incapacitated and the Shuklas over the hill, it remains to be seen if this is bravado or hard fact. The electoral race in these states is very finely poised and minor swings can change the nature of the outcome.

True, corruption was emerging as a major electoral issue in the BJP-ruled states where corrupt administrations, ministers and legislators have made it into a salient issue but since the BJP-led state governments have generally delivered on other fronts and there aren’t many other big-picture themes for the opposition to try and exploit during the electoral campaign.

For example, in a move to prop up its prospects in the forthcoming assembly polls, the Vasundhara Raje government on Sept 11 played its trump card: it obliged over 7.3 lakh state employees by announcing a pay hike of 30 to 50 per cent, which is even higher than what the Centre announced for its staff. The hike will have retrospective effect from September 1, 2006. Besides state employees, three lakh pensioners in the state will receive the new pay package from the same period. 

It must be remembered that disgruntled state government employees played a large role in the unexpected and decisive defeat of Ashok Gehlot-led Congress in 2003.

The BSP factor is another headache for the Congress. The BSP has virtually no history in this region, except in parts of Madhya Pradesh. But after the party surprised all including Mayawati by winning 17 municipal seats in Delhi last year, Mayawati has developed ambitions of spreading her wings outside UP.

That victory was put down to sheer fluke at that time but since then, Mayawati has spent considerable time cultivating political space for her party in these states, all of which share borders with UP. It's a moot point how many seats the BSP will succeed in winning. But it could influence results in enough constituencies to tip the balance. And with Mayawati pinning her prime ministerial ambitions hinge on her ability to snatch the Congress party's vote bank of Dalits and Muslims, she will certainly go for the Congress’ jugular. Ironically, a resurgent Mayawati, rather than being a threat to the BJP, could in fact indirectly help its prospects.

In 2003 assembly polls, the BSP won two seats each in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and polled 4 per cent of the popular vote in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and 7 per cent in Madhya Pradesh. If the BSP were to, say, secure 10 per cent of the popular vote (comprising mostly the traditional Congress vote, which appears likely), the BJP would return to power in these states delivering devastating defeats to the Congress. In other words, the BJP’s hopes of returning to power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, may well depend on the BSP’s ability to cut into the Congress’ Dalit vote bank.

Moreover, two acts of the UPA government could also emerge as new poll issues in these highly polarised states and could hurt the Congress’ prospects. One is the union government’s controversial submission to the Supreme Court that Ram Sethu cannot be worshipped because Lord Ram himself had destroyed it hence was not an integral part of Hindu religion requiring protection under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution (dealing with right to freedom of religion). Government counsel argued before the bench hearing the case that religious texts showed that though the bridge had been built, it had been broken by Lord Ram himself and that anything broken could not be worshipped.

The other issue that the BJP is already using to whip up religious passions is the J&K government’s decision to withdraw transfer of land to the Amarnath board owing to pressure from Muslim groups. This issue is likely to find many takers in north India.

The outcome of these state elections will set the tone for general elections in 2009. If the Congress fails to win at least two of the three BJP-ruled states, the game could be over for the Congress at the Centre. If the BJP fails to retain two of the three states, the party’s hopes of coming to power in New Delhi may appear to be misplaced. Not surprisingly, neither party looks confident about its prospects. Both are ridden with factionalism and may soon be busy putting out bushfires in the form of rebel candidates and defections to the BSP once the process of ticket distribution begins.