Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Cash Transfers - In the Neoliberal mould of 'social assistance'" - Interview with R.Ramakumar

Associate Professor, R.Ramakumar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences comments on the proposed Cash Transfers Programme in India.

Part I of interview by Newsclick India -

Part II of Interview - "Cash Transfers can have a complementary role"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Vindication and Indignation - the Nuclear Deal Trust vote in retrospect

Two and a half years ago, I wrote this on the Nuclear Deal trust vote - "Nuclear Deal and Dealing Leaders" -

"In essence, everything about the manner the Manmohan Singh government went ahead with getting legislative approval for the deal, was dubious. An opera that begin with a slew of lies made by the representatives of the government to its erstwhile left allies, continued with the addition of new partners (Amar Singh, Mulayam Yadav and his cohorts) who had their own shady self serving agenda. It has now culminated with a dark flourish as nearly 11 members of parliament went “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” and endorsed the government, while at the same time, ensuring that their wallets were sure to be bursting out of the seams with hard money. Others took the “higher road” to patronage by negotiating ministries (the JMM for example).

In the midst of it all, the sutradar and the opera conductor, the United States administration was laughing all the way to the bank. Here was the Indian government, which had now forsworn its commitment to a better, progressive and a multipolar world, to embark upon a notorious nuclear deal with the unilaterist Americans and heck, they had even gone one step ahead of the guru of graft and chicanery, George Bush, in getting the all powerful legislative approval for the deal."

Today, as I read this from a wikileaks cable, paraphrased and commented upon by the diligent Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu -

[Satish] Sharma's political aide Nachiketa Kapur mentioned to an Embassy staff member in an aside on July 16 that Ajit Singh's RLD had been paid Rupees 10 crore (about $2.5 million) for each of their four MPs to support the government. Kapur mentioned that money was not an issue at all, but the crucial thing was to ensure that those who took the money would vote for the government.


Independently, Mr. Sharma told the Political Counselor “that PM Singh and others were trying to work on the Akali Dal (8 votes) through financier Sant Chatwal and others, but unfortunately it did not work out.” He said “the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi were committed to the nuclear initiative and had conveyed this message clearly to the party.” Efforts were also on to try and get the Shiv Sena to abstain. Further, “Sharma mentioned that he was also exploring the possibility of trying to get former Prime Minister Vajpayee's son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya to speak to BJP representatives to try to divide the BJP ranks.

The cable makes it clear the Congress campaign to buy votes was not confined to the cash-filled war chests that Nachiketa Kapur and Satish Sharma had gathered.

“Another Congress Party insider told PolCouns that Minister of Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath is also helping to spread largesse. ‘Formerly he could only offer small planes as bribes,'” according to this interlocutor, ‘now he can pay for votes with jets.'”

Despite these efforts, the U.S. Embassy concluded that the UPA maintained only a “precarious lead” in the forthcoming confidence vote. “Our best guess at this time show the government maintaining its slim majority with the anticipated vote count at about 273 in favor, 251 opposed, and 19 abstentions.”

The prediction was impressively close to the mark. Prime Minister Singh got 275 votes in favour with 256 against and 10 abstentions.


The fact that Congress politicians could speak so freely to American diplomats about their bribing spree during the run up to the confidence vote — and that the latter could be so blasé about the subversion of democracy — underlines the all-encompassing but ultimately corrosive nature of the “strategic partnership” the two governments were trying to build.

As for Mr. Kapur, his candid display of crores of rupees to be used by the Congress as “pay offs” for the trust vote was not seen by the U.S. Embassy as compromising his democratic credentials in any way. In November 2008, he was sent to the U.S. under the State Department's I-Vote 2008 programme as an observer for that year's presidential election. “The move to invite international observers”, he wrote in a blog post, “reflects the open and democratic nature of the American society.

I feel vindicated and so would the rest of the Left and progressive minded sections of the country –from the intelligentsia, the sympathizers, and the polity. But of what avail? The very set of crooked politicians, which include the PM Manmohan Singh who should drop any more pretense of being a honest former academic after these leaks, are now continuing in power. The shady and murky dealing, the bribing, the American influence in all this and shameless resort to the most unethical of practices in getting through a dubious nuclear deal were only the precursor to an unprecedented show of malfeasance, corruption as seen in UPA-II. With the leak of the Radia tapes and this tranche of Wikileaks cables (thanks to The Hindu), the story is far, far more clear.

Manmohan Singh has no more moral right to continue as the country's prime minister and so do the rest of the pack of thieves masquerading as cabinet ministers and political leaders in the Congress and the UPA. Much more has to be said, but this blogger leaves this for now for the reader's digestion.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Alliance of Convenience

The Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam stage a skit as their marriage of convenience continues.

If it was only the allocation of three seats in next month’s Tamil Nadu assembly elections that came between the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) last week, one wonders what all the song and dance was about.

There are reasons though for the DMK playing the politics of brinkmanship; one only has to look closely at the events of the past few weeks to understand the context of the party’s actions. The arrest of former union minister A Raja of the DMK for his role in the 2G telecommunications scam and speculation about the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) soon taking action against members of the DMK’s first family over complaints of bribery have strained the seven-year-long DMK-Congress tie-up. Did the final seat-sharing “agreement” feature a quid pro quo of a reprieve for the DMK protagonists, much like the UPA government has at different points of time gone slow on CBI investigations into similar allegations of corruption against Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party?

The DMK-Congress alliance is a set case of how federalisation and regionalisation of India’s polity can bring about a cohabitation of otherwise historically inimical forces. Both the parties have undergone a metamorphosis in the state. The DMK, by being in power at the centre almost uninterruptedly for nearly 15 years, has long since ceased to be a marginal regional force, using its power in the centre to cater to its constituents and garnering powerful ministries which have helped its leadership/first family become a major business conglomerate. No one can deny that the DMK first family has used its political clout to create a media empire in the state that is now branching into film production, civil aviation and other areas.

In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has steadily declined to the status of a minor party, no longer able to challenge the two strong Dravi­dian outfits either organisationally or even ideologically. It ­remains content with partaking in the politics of patronage fostered by the DMK. The Congress is happy to just ­provide support from outside to the DMK government in the state in return for an assured and stable presence of the regional party in the centre. It has been convenient for the Congress Party in Tamil Nadu to play second fiddle to the DMK government – protesting none of the government’s excesses or policies while the DMK has used its ministries in the centre mainly to further the ­interests of the leadership. This lack of an ideological or moral ­fibre in the alliances stitched ­between the Congress and its allies in the UPA is one reason for the spate of decisions revealing a high degree of poor governance by the UPA government.

The price that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claims to have paid for the stability of support from the DMK – “coalition compulsions” – is a lack of due cabinet diligence and no control over the “procedural problems” created by Raja when he was telecommunications minister. This suggests that this coalition is nothing more than a marriage of convenience.

The other major parties in Tamil Nadu are no different from the DMK. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has in many ways shown itself to be a mirror image of the DMK in its policy direction and organisational structure. And the party has indicated that it would gladly take the DMK’s place if there is a rupture in its alliance with the Congress.

Coalition politics does not have to mean that the parties form alliances only as a matter of convenience. There is the better option of building an alliance around a programme drawn up before the elections, which allows the electorate to judge the alliance’s agenda ahead of the polls and also allows it to question the coalition on the programme after the polls. The federalisation and regionalisation of India’s polity was meant to result in a form of governance and policymaking that was sensitive to regional concerns and did not follow a traditional top-down approach. The DMK-Congress alliance story suggests that such a realisation is still some way off in India’s democracy.

An EPW editorial

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Beyond Maritime Borders: The Indo-Sri Lankan fishing problem

V. Vivekanandan, Advisor, South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies, speaks on the issues confronting fishermen in South Tamil Nadu, apropos the problems between India and Sri Lanka over fishing close to the maritime boundary.

Part I:

Part II:

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Referendum for Peace

The larger Sudan region will continue to face many challenges even after the referendum on South Sudan.

A referendum held in the province of Southern Sudan between 9 and 15 January to decide on secession saw voters overwhelmingly endorsing the formation of a new nation state. Southern Sudan has been a semi-autonomous ­region after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (cpa, also called the Naivasha agreement) that ended the civil war ­between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NcP)-led forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLa/M).

Read more of the Editorial here.