Saturday, January 07, 2006

High Comedy

"The Big Fight" on NDTV today is about the relevance of Socialism. Vijay Mallya, Surjit Bhalla, Subhashini Ali (socialist activist) and Atul Kumar Anjaan (CPI Secretary) are the participants.

Subhashini Ali provided a lot of unintended comedy. Comradini Ali claimed that the fact that Russia developed into a superpower within 50 years after the 1917 revolution proved that socialism was a good system (though she did say that 100 years or so of socialism was not enough to judge if it was better than capitalism, which she said succeeded only through colonialism ). When Bhalla predictably guffawed at this suggestion, mixing the name Stalin with mass murder, Comrade Anjaan was sufficiently aroused to claim that Bhalla was un-necessarily maligning the good name of Lenin. In Soviet Union, apparently, all people were equal and they enjoyed the freedom of speech and expression. The US had to create the Taliban in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviet Union (which is partially true). But the fact that commie regimes all over Eastern Europe were being deposed (non-violently, unlike how those countries were originally overrun by Soviet Union, for example Hungaryin 1956) provided the required impetus for the fall of the USSR.

Bhalla asked a simple question which went unanswered by the two comrades on the show - if socialism is good, can you name any country where socialism has succeeded?. While Anjaan tried to dance around the question, Ali claimed China has/is growing economically because of socialism. Bhalla it seems is incapable of understanding the greatness of socialism.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Natwar Singh imbroglio

The probe into the UN Oil-for-food program headed by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker is over. The Independent Inquiry Committee submitted its final report on the 27th of October. The push for the probe in the United States was lead by conservatives, and in particular by Norm Coleman, the senator from Minnesota. Claudia Rossett has been writing stories on the scam for a while now.

The Indian connection to the scandal appears in the annexure to the above mentioned report. It is alleged that the External Affairs minister K.Natwar Singh paid a kickback to Saddam Hussein through a friend of his son. It is further alleged that the Congress party also paid a kickback to Saddam Hussein through the same individual. The BJP has been quick to pounce on this and has been demanding that Natwar Singh resign from his ministerial post, where he functions as India's official link with other countries.

A few observations can be made of this messy situation.

1) The charges are very serious in nature for a number of reasons. You don't want as the External Affairs Minister of India, or even a memeber of parliament for that matter, a person that accepts money to take a particular position in international fora. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and it does not behoove a member of the Cabinet to be pushing Saddam's case.

2) The involvement of the Congress party, if true, might be illegal by Indian law.

3) Natwar Singh's personal issues may start to affect, if they haven't already, India's credibility and stature at international fora. At a very crucial time for Indo - US relations, with the recently announced nuclear deal hanging in the balance, the news of Natwar Singh's possible involvement in the scam is bad news. Any nuclear deal that the White House concluded with India has to be ratified by the US Congress. The major push for the independent inquiry by Volcker came from influential Republican Congressmen and Senators. Natwar Singh, being India's External Affairs Minister, will be the point man on India's side to see that the deal is ratified. The US congress might not be too keen to ratify the deal if Natwar Singh continues to remain in his post and India does not launch any investigation into the allegations.

The PM Dr.Manmohan Singh has a lot invested in the nuclear deal and wouldn't want to jeopardise it. But he has already given a clean chit to Natwar Singh before any investigation. Isn't there a disconnect there?. There isn't if the PM has reasons to be believe that Natwar Singh is completely innocent. The government has asked India's envoy to the UN, Nirupam Sen, to meet Volcker and Kofi Annan, and request details of the allegations. The government has to order an investigation if anything that Natwar Singh told Dr.Singh doesn't match with what Volcker tells the Indian envoy to UN.

4) The BJP needs to calm down a bit. The charges are serious in nature and deserve an investigation. But it should wait for the Indian envoy to report back to the government what he has heard from Volcker. The presumption of innocent until proven guilty has to apply here.

5) Natwar Singh's statement attacking the credibility of Volcker and the current Iraqi regime (which supposedly supplied the material on which the annexure of the report wasd based on) do not befit a former diplomat (Natwar Singh is a former Indian Foreign Service member). It also does India's chances of getting a permanent seat at the UN no good if he is shooting off his mouth. The Congress party would be also be well advised that the national interest precludes it from serving the UN with a legal notice prematurely. If the allegations turn out to be based on forged documents or just false for any other reason, the Congress party and Natwar Singh have reason to be aggrieved and can approach the UN for remedy. But serving the UN with a legal notice is a dubious approach.

6) If Natwar Singh does not step down, India's national interest can possibly
suffer significant setbacks. If he does step down, there would seem to be a presumption of guilt on his part by the BJP particularly and it would be an injustice to the minister. The PM could announce that Natwar Singh will step down from the post for now and will regain his ministerial berth pending his name being cleared by an investigation. It would still give the opposition something to beat the government over the head with, but in the national interest this has to be done.

7) It remains to be seen whether the UN would take any action based on the report, or they follow the time honoured tradition of Governments all over the world ignoring the recommendations of inquiry commissions they have setup. It wouldn't be a surprise if the UN did just that - after all the UN is a kind of world government.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Frankly speaking - NDTV edition

1.A few weeks back, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the ex-general secretary of the Chinese Sympathisers Part of India (Morons), also known as CPI(M), was in Jakarta for some conference. While there, he took ill and came back home. NDTV had a report on this and it started
Comrade Surjeet....

2. Today, NDTV sought Sitaram Yechury's reaction to Advani's resignation as the BJP president. The reporter started by asking him
Do you think that the brand of politics practiced by BJP has come back to haunt them?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Make the flakes be with you

We got a big box of Kellogg's cereal a couple of days back and my mother was talking about some spoon that was "free" with the cereal box and was supposed to be inside. This brought back memories of us buying Boost (instead of alternate malt drinks) long back just for the spoons that were given free with it. I had forgotten about this spoon till I saw a thin, long box in the kitchen today. The words Saber Spoon caught my eye.

Thinks is't just another plastic spoon! Flickr
Think it's just another plastic spoon?

Think again, partner Flickr
Think again, partner

Watchout! Flickr
Watchout Darthboy!. Master Pachalla is at hand.

Visit my Flickr account for more photos.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Individual freedom - India vs America

Gaurav Sabnis talks about Freedom Vs Sovereignty and compares the freedom Americans enjoy to do their own things as long as it doesn't affect others. Indians, he says, tend to think of freedom in the sense of sovereignty, in a free from British way, whereas Americans value personal freedom. I agree with him. One of the reasons that we Indians don't have the kind of freedom Americans enjoy is our constitution gives our government a lot of power to restrict it. It bears noting that the American consitution is all of 5000 odd words and has been amended 27 times in 200+ years. We are now at 82, I think, after 55 years. The US Congress has enormous power to make laws no doubt. But the laws aren't there in the constitution. So if the Congress there wants to enact a law to restrict freedom, some would say like the PATRIOT ACT, their constituents can raise a stink and make them think twice about enacting the law. There is also the check on their power in the form of the President excercising his veto. In India, on the other hand, many laws are hardwired into the constitution. It is a humongous constitution, maybe the longest in the world.

I am reading a book on the history of our Constitution by Granville Austin. I have just finished the first part dealing with the Nehru years and am surprised by what I've read. Nehru and Patel and his cabinet had a huge fight with the Judiciary over the Government's right to restrict property rights (redistributing Zamindar lands etc) and also many speech rights. Nehru wanted to be able to prosecute papers which endangered national security, by their reporting, or caused disorder or for a few other things. Rajendra Prasad was very concerned about this and consulted a lot of legal experts before signing his assent to those laws.

The Supreme Court and many High Courts struck down many laws made by the state and central governments of the day. The American first amendment guarantees free speech amond other things. In contrast our first amendment, which is an absolute mess to read for an engineer like me because it makes additions and modifications to an existing statute in the consitution, takes away freedom and gives the government the right to make some laws without Court interference. It was written specifically with a lot of court decisions (which went against the government) in mind. They tried to undercut the judicial review of laws made by placing them in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, which apparently puts those laws out of the purview of the judiciary. The author says that it took the courts about 30 years to find a way around the Ninth Schedule. He says he deals with it in later chapters, which I haven't come to yet.

It might be politically incorrect to say this, but the huge illiteracy numbers in our country make it easier for the government to restrict freedom and not pay a price for it. If you don't know rights, how do you know if they have been taken away?.

There are reasons to love America and there are reasons to hate it. Their constitution is one thing we can admire them for. I am not a lawyer and I don't play one on the internet. But the American constitution is a fantastic document, while ours is a bigger, fatter, uglier 5th cousin. A lot of intelligent, smart and honest people worked on writing our constitution, but a lot of geniuses worked on the American one.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Frankly speaking

A few weeks back, Aligarh Muslim University decided to introduce 50% reservation for Muslims in all courses. This decision had to be okayed by the HRD Minister Arjun Singh. Being the secularist that he is, Arjun Singh promptly gave the proposal the thumbs up. In an interview on NDTV last week he said, in a bit of frank speaking,
"... I can't make decisions based on whether they are legal or illegal."

A couple of days back on NDTV's big fight, the topic du jour was "Is secularism a political gimmick?", with the guests being Mani Shankar Aiyar ( Best Indian Ever), Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Seshadri Chari and Teesta Seetalvad. Mr.Secular Fundamentalist in a moment of lucidity claimed
"I am a better Indian than people of their ilk (Rudy, Chari etc) because I am Secular and they are not."

Henceforth Arjun Singh is Mr.Metalegal and Mani Shankar Aiyar is Best Indian Ever.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Score one for Laloo a.k.a Paswan closer to irrelevance

Laloo Prasad, the Union Railiway Minister, pulled out all the stops and got the UPA Govt. to dissolve the Bihar Assembly. The offficial reason given for the decision is an urgent need to prevent horse trading by the NDA.
"Patil said Bihar Governor Buta Singh, in a report to the government, had said that unconstitutional and illegal steps were being taken by political parties to win over legislators".

NDTV is however reporting the UPA sources admit in private that Laloo had gotten some indication that the NDA was ready to stake claim to form the government with the help of the breakaway LJP MLAs and independents. On Sunday evening, after a ceremony to release a book about the achievements of the UPA government during its first year (I wonder if Goa, Jharkand, Shibu Soren, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Saptarishi were mentioned in the booklet), Laloo reportedly told Manmohan Singh it was now or never, and that if the answer was never, "complications" might arise in the government.

A bomb blast at two Delhi cinemas necessitated a late night cabinet meeting, but the issue of the Bihar Assembly dissolution was also discussed, according to NDTV. Soon the Govt. recommended that the Assembly be dissolved. The NDA (BJP and JD-U in particular) is going nuts at this decision and the usual threats of Bandh and going to courts have been made.

Now to the analysis: the biggest loser in all this has to be Ram Vilas Paswan and the LJP, closely followed by the NDA. The Congress will now have to go with the Laloo and the RJP to save its government. Laloo is promising to give it more seats during the elections and it remains to be seen. Ram Vilas Paswan is however caught between the devil and the deep sea. He cannot possibly go with the RJP having opposed him tooth and nail so far and having made it his election platform during the elections a few months back. But he cannot join the NDA for the assembly elections alone because the UPA will throw him out of the government. It is quite a big fall for him from a few months back, when he looked like a kingmaker, with a real possibility of controlling Bihar and also getting a plum ministry in the Union Govt. in return for keeping the NDA out of power in Bihar. There is a real possibility (small but significant) that he could lose his Cabinet position in the run up to the Bihar elections if he chooses the wrong side, and also end up not ruling Bihar as well.

Laloo cashed in on his 25 MPs in the Lok Sabha and made the spineless Congress accede to his demand of dissolving the Assembly. The RJP will in all likelihood head a coalition consisting of itself, the Congress and the Left parties, and maybe even the LJP.

This spells big trouble for the NDA though. The electoral arithmetic does not favor them and they might face a rout in the new round of elections. BJP has to be very worried. Nitish Kumar has resisted all efforts so far fromPaswan to leave the BJP. However this is the crunch time. An alliance with the LJP might get him the one seat he has coveted for long - the CM of Bihar.

They need a miracle to get out of this logjam. If they take this to the courts and the courts hear the case (highly unlikely in my opinion, what with the President having already acepted the Cabinet's decision to dissolve the assembly), they can take the moral high ground in this whole issue. It will be another event that follows in the pattern of Goa and Jharkhand, where the UPA Govt. has blundered and were admonished by the courts for their hasty and ill-conceived actions.

The NDA needs to start praying to RAM right now. Even he might not be able to get them out of this one. Laloo seems to have outwitted and outlasted them and it looks like Rabri will be back for a 2nd innings. The Bihar people get only a brief reprieve from Laloo. They might just be the biggest loser in all of this. However they have a chance to control their destiny through the ballot box. Will they be allowed to do so and, more importantly, will they vote for a change?.