Monday, February 24, 2014

Preventing a repeat of the disaster...

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:

“Worst Lok Sabha ever“; “Democracy at its worst” – since the last one week, there has been no dearth of these headlines. Every single news outlet in the country has used these headlines, maybe the description changed, but the essence remained the same. But not a single news outlet took the name of the Leader of the Lok Sabha (Pranab Mukherjee earlier, and Sushilkumar Shinde now); not one of them took the name of the Speaker of the House; not one of them took the name of the Prime Minister; and lastly, not one of them took the name of the UPA chairperson. It is only to the credit of Indian media that they can dedicate reams of pages and hours of coverage on a topic like “Worst Lok Sabha ever” and not mention a word about those who were incharge of it becoming the “worst ever”. They haven’t even mentioned the amount of time lost because members of the ruling party themselves obstructed the proceedings.
One of the prime reasons for this outrage are the latest developments in the last Session – an MP used a pepper spray; and the live telecast of the Telangana Bill was blacked out. In an earlier article, I explained why these are not the worst things to have happened in this Session. Much worse things have transpired; a dangerous precedence has been set that threatens to destroy the federal fabric of the country too. One leader’s will ensured that a very important Bill was bulldozed through Parliament; caught in a quagmire, the Opposition had no choice but to follow suit.
Recently, on NWR Live, a talk show was hosted in which a very important topic was discussed – Should the Governments be allowed to bulldoze such important Bills in the last six months of their tenure? I made a point that any Bill, whose financial and administrative burden has to borne by the next Government should not be taken up in the last 6 months of the incumbent Government. My friend, KVJ Sarma, has explained in more detail in his blog, on what the learnings of his disastrous Session are. And he has also given his take on what kind of Bills should not be taken up – Any Bill that proposes Constitutional Amendments; that imposes emergency – internal or external; that introduces new reservations in legislature, UPSC, SPCSs; that entails reorganisation of States.
I wish to underline a few more points before going into other specifics on what additional learnings we need to take from this disastrous Lok Sabha. Venkaih Naidu gave a detailed interview in one of the regional channels – ABN Andhra Jyothy. One of the key advantages of watching interviews on regional channels compared to the famed “national” channels, is that our anchors go into detailed specifics. In this interview, a volley of questions were posed to Venkaiah Naidu’s, which included the unconditional support of the party in the Lok Sabha; the Amendments proposed in the Rajya Sabha; why the Bill had to be passed through such a hurry etc. If you are a Telugu speaking person, chances are you must have already seen this. I will summarise a couple of key arguments that Venkaiah Naidu made:
Question 1: When the BJP (especially Sushma Swaraj) was constantly announcing that they will pass the Bill only after a debate; that there must be order in the House that representatives of AP must participate in the debate; that they don’t agree that the Bill was introduced – what changed so drastically – as to abjectly give in to the Government, and pass the Bill after just 23 minutes of discussion.
Answer 1: Venkaiah Naidu’s answer simply exposed the arrogance and incompetence of the Congress. In a meeting, the Congress representatives agreed to bring back the suspended MP’s to the Lok Sabha, provided the BJP takes the responsibility of ensuring that they will not enter the well of the House and participate in the debate. Have you ever heard of such a lame argument by an incumbent Government? The protesting MPs are from the Congress, but the BJP must ensure they don’t create a din.
uble standards on this Bill. After Sushma Swaraj made the announcement that they don’t consider the Bill to be introduced, there was some unrest in Telangana region. So, they had no option but to go back on that demand.  After steadfastly committing itself to formation of Telangana, there was no way the BJP could get away with such fine nuance – that this Bill is a bad Bill. Congress gave everyone literally two days to agree or disagree – either you are for the Bill or against; there is no other way. He also gave other instances of how the Congress went back on other promises during discussions on how to debate the Bill.
Even assurances that Jairam Ramesh gave to them in writing were not included in the Bill – something that the party could not digest. He looked uncomfortable talking about the Lok Sabha strategy, so moved on to the strategy adopted in Rajya Sabha, of which he was a key player. There was at least some semblance of a detailed debate in the Rajya Sabha. Venkaiah Naidu explained how many members and colleagues became better informed when he was presenting some facts in the debate – a debate the Government did not want in the first place.
Question 2: How good are the Amendments proposed and the how believable are the assurances given by the Government?
Answer 1: Venkaiah Naidu said that they are not fully satisfied with the assurances and when they come to power, they will ensure Seemandhra gets “justice”. Though the credibility of this Government is at an all time low, the BJP had to choose between believing them or voting against the Bill – and they took a call.
This interview got me thinking – what exactly can be done to avoid such a disastrous precedent in the near future? The Congress knew that the BJP will have no option but to support this Bill, however, bad it is. It knew it had the upper hand if the Bill was not passed in Parliament – a game that the BJP could not anticipate. Should the splitting up of a State that is not yet ready for the change, take place in such an acrimonious and unhealthy manner? Should Opposition parties be in such a helpless position? This fiasco would have been averted if the rules were much more clearer. The only way to ensure that this fiasco is not repeated or used a precedent for any future decision on re-organising State boundaries, the rules must be changed and made very clear:
1. A State Re-organisation Bill must be considered only if an SRC recommends so; if the Assembly recommends so; if a committee headed by a judge recommends so. (None of this happened in the case of the AP Reorg Bill. Infact, the Sri Krishna Committee recommended to keep the State united. The Government has not explained why they rejected the finding of this committee)
2. A State Re-organisation Bill must be debated in each House for one full day (8 working hours).
3. At least 50 per cent of members from the State must be given a chance to speak and propose Amendments.
4. The views of the Assembly must be taken into account and a detailed explanation has to be given by the Government as to why recommendations of the Assembly have been rejected, if any.
5. If any Amendments proposed by members are rejected, the Government must explain why it is doing so, on the floor of the House.
6. A State Re-organisation Bill cannot be introduced in the last 6 months of the tenure of incumbent Government.
It is imperative on our part to insist that the “Worst Lok Sabha ever” doesn’t repeat its performance. One of the key reasons for this “worst” performance is the arrogance of the leadership – that they can simply get away by the existing rules. Even when the Opposition is fighting for legitimate debates, the ruling party did not care for procedural issues – it merely resorted to rhetoric and set up a very bad precedent. It becomes incumbent on the part of the next Government to ensure no Government in the future can resort to such tactics – the procedure must be set in stone; not changed whimsically to suit the fancies of arrogant political leaders.
A fellow tweeter, Srikanth (@Modi4India), commented that “gone are those days when we used to sit in front of the TV to watch engaging debates in Parliament”. We can bring back those days – only the will and the implementation of changes of rules are required. In this article, I discussed only about one Bill, but this has been the story of pretty much every Bill in this Session. Let’s hope the next Government heeds to this clarion call – there should not be a repeat performance of the 15th Lok Sabha ever.

We move on ...

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:

One of the muddiest events in post-independent India is nearing the completion process. The Rajya Sabha on February 20 gave its consent to the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill.
For months, Union Ministers and public representatives of the Congress at the Centre have pleaded with Sonia Gandhi to at least announce a special package to the residual of Andhra Pradesh. Sonia Gandhi did not bother to even respond. On Thursday, the BJP insisted on such a package and she promptly asked the Prime Minister to announce sops to the residual State. As always, the Prime Minister obliged by announcing that Andhra Pradesh will be given special status for 5 years.
The contours of what “special status” means, remains to be seen. Why has this been one of the muddiest events? Simply because the State was not ready for such a big event. Sonia Gandhi ensured that every established norm was trampled upon, every established procedure was circumvented to get her word through. Never in the history of Independent India has a State been divided without the consent of the State Assembly.
The “Spirit of Federalism” was thrown into the dustbin when even the view of the Assembly was not even considered during the “debate” that happened in Parliament. Never in the history of Independent India have Union Ministers trooped into the well to protest the decision of their own Government. The strategic secrecy with which the whole process was carried out and the petty potliticking over this issue that Sonia Gandhi encouraged will remain a permanent blot in the history of this country.
Ministers of the Congress threatened to resign but they don’t press for it – and after a while will continue to enjoy the perks of still being in power. MPs of the Congress troop into the well of the House, disrupting proceedings day in and day out; Rahul Gandhi goes to town blaming BJP for the disruptions. Chief Minister of the Congress, while retaining himself in the seat of power, launches regular tirades against his party – we are witness to this spectacle from 6-7 months. And then after everything is done, he simply quits the party. He himself said that he stayed in power at the behest of Sonia Gandhi, even after the announcement was made.
I can go on and on to list the dirty games that Sonia Gandhi played; but it is now time to look forwardA Congress Mukt Bharat is becoming a desperate necessity with each passing day. The seeds of poison that Sonia Gandhi planted in Andhra Pradesh will have to be nipped in the bud – and she/her family is definitely not capable of achieving this. Sonia Gandhi will be hailed as the goddess in Telangana and as the devil incarnate in Andhra Pradesh – primarily because she failed to take everyone along in her decision making process.
We now wait for her decision on when exactly the two States will come into existence.We now wait for her word on whether our State will have President’s Rule or not. Once these events are decided, the politics of merging and alliances will begin to hog the headlines.
We now wait for two efficient Governments to take over both these States. We should now hope that there will be a healthy competition between the two States. We move on by remembering our responsibility ahead – that of building two prosperous States that will help in the growth of India. Remember, this will happen only if Congress is thrown out.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lies, deceit, chicanery...

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference.
February 18 was particularly distressing day. Never before in the history of this country has a Bill that seeks to split a State been passed in the manner it was done on Tuesday. The utter contempt with which Sonia Gandhi-led UPA treats established procedures; the arrogance with which it pushes through legislation is unparalleled in the history of our country. The meek manner in which the Speaker merely follows the lead of the high command is distressing to note.
On Thursday last, Members of the House were not given an agenda that said the AP Re-organisation Bill was to be introduced in the Lok Sabha. None of them knew that the Bill will be introduced at 12 pm that day. Typically at 12 pm, papers are first laid on the table. Since there was a No-confidence Motion notice given, it was imperative of the Speaker to first close that action item out. She did not do it. She allowed the Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to introduce the Bill, and then adjourned the house till 2 pm. And then at 2 pm, the MP were given the agenda on which it was written that the Bill will be introduced at 12 pm that day! Opposition parties protested this transgression but that’s about it – because Sonia Gandhi would anyway not care two hoots about who protested. Right from the beginning, a strange secrecy surrounded every single important event. On the afternoon of October 3, 2013, Sushilkumar Shinde says he is yet to read the Ministry’s note on Andhra Pradesh bifurcation. Within a couple of hours, the note is presented as a table item before the Cabinet – which means MPs will not be given a chance to study it. It was later proclaimed as a “strategic” statement of the Home Minister.
It was leaked that the Group of Ministers (GoM) is considering Rayala-Telangana. Outrage followed – it was leaked that the proposal has been put on hold. Till the Bill was presented in the House, no one had a clue about it. MPs were used as bouncers, security personnel for Ministers in the House. MPs were used to protect the Government from their own party MPs. Lies, deceit, chicanery – all were allowed under the name of “strategising”. And then came the debate and discussion on the Bill, in which other democracy does such a Bill get passed amidst such din and acrimony? Ministers of this Government are themselves trooping into the well of the House protesting their own Cabinet’s decision. When the Congress Working Committee (CWC) resolution was announced on July 30, 2013, there was massive pressure on these Ministers to resign. They clung to their posts citing multiple reasons – only if we sit in this seat of power can we effectively put across our voice.
Only if we remain as Ministers, we can effectively ensure that justice is done to our regions. Only if we remain as Parliamentarians can we effectively make our voice heard when the Bill comes up for discussion. Then the Cabinet note was out – some of these Ministers resigned. Not a single demand of theirs was met in the last 7 months. One Minister, Chiranjeevi even sent his resignation letter to both the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi too. Till date, no one has a clue on the status of those resignations! After a while, these Ministers meekly started attending work – perhaps, it was too difficult to stay away from the lure of power. On February 18, 2014, some of them started this charade of “massive injustice” done and therefore their “conscience” doesn’t allow them to continue as Ministers! Whom are these people trying to fool? Ten days before the Code of Conduct comes into force, these people are trying to sound as if they are making a big sacrifice. This charade that Sonia Gandhi has orchestrated has no precedence and no will be capable of repeating this too.
The BJP had no choice, but their problem is that they made too much noise. No choice because, the BJP’s demand for carving out a separate State of Telangana precedes the chicanery of the Congress. However, the BJP started making a lot of noise about the need to ensure that this Bill gives justice to the people of Seemandhra. The BJP went to town saying that they are proposing 32 key Amendments to this Bill. In the Bill, we have no idea on how many of these Amendments have been accepted by the Government. Sushma Swaraj herself has said that there is a legal flaw in this Bill, because of which a Constitutional Amendment is needed. The concept of common capital, common Governor and special powers to the Governor definetely needs a Constitutional Amendment – yet the BJP did not insist on this and helped in passing of the constitutionally flawed provisions of the Bill. These are the BJP President’s own words from yesterday: The manner in which the Bill was pushed through by the Government was not transparent and utterly undemocratic.
After this statement, I don’t think there is any need to substantiate the argument on the trap BJP walked into. Helping pass an “utterly undemocratic” Bill in the worlds largest democracy is an event that is difficult to fathom. Perhaps, Sonia Gandhi-led UPA’s arrogance stems from this inherent contradiction of the BJP. It would have been much simpler if the BJP said, ” We have remained committed to the cause of Telangana for years. We find inherent flaws in the Bill; flaws on which we have no control to Amend, despite trying our best. We will fix this once we come to power”.
Instead, what do we get? “Utterly undemocratic”,  “Constitutionally flawed”. Sushma Swaraj even left it to the courts to decide whether this Bill can stand their scrutiny. Venkaih Naidu says that the party will insist on some Amendments in the Rajya Sabha – something they did not do in the Lok Sabha! As much as I am distressed by this sudden turn of events, the focus still needs to remain on the damage Sonia Gandhi’s UPA has done to the country. Maybe there is no institution left that has not been damaged or whose reputation has been sullied under this regime. Every known procedure was given a go-by to ensure one woman’s word goes through – when Sonia Gandhi has the will, she will find a way, however, damaging it is. It will perhaps take years to undo this damage – but perhaps this churn is important. We perhaps needed to see the damage before we know how to rebuild.
The Andhra Pradesh Reorg Bill now goes to the Rajya Sabha (perhaps on February 19, perhaps tomorrow. We don’t know). The Bill postpones every single contentious issue to be resolved after 3 or 5 or 10 years. Every single political party is not happy with the Bill, but doesn’t want to oppose it because of fear of losing votes. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh is all set to resign today. There is no option but to impose President’s Rule in the State – or perhaps Sonia Gandhi will find another way to appoint her Chief Minister. We don’t know. Once the Bill is passed in Rajya Sabha, the entire process will have to be overseen by Sushilkimar Shinde if there is President’s Rule. I wonder what it is that the people of the State have done to deserve to be bossed over by the likes of UPA.

Pepper Spray not the worst thing to happen...

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference. 

You accuse the BJP of spreading poison. And then you host lunch and dinner to them to split Andhra Pradesh”.
This is not some random Opposition leader blurting out accusations on the TV. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (who belongs to the Congress) posed this question directly to the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi. But this won’t be newsy enough for English TV channels that claim to be “national” channels. This comment came a couple of hours after the Andhra Pradesh Reorganiration Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha.
The Press advisor to the Prime Minister, Pankaj Pachauri, has a special liking towards graphs and charts. Yesterday, he tweeted about one more chart, sourced form HT. In the chart, he reminded us that four years back, another Winter Session was lost because of the Telangana issue! In every Parliament Session, this issue has resulted in loss of work days. Two Sessions have been nearly wiped out because members of Parliament primarily belonging to the Congress (remember 33/42 MPs from AP are from Congress) have trooped into the well of the House; shouted slogans; and have disrupted proceedings. What does the Congress do? It allowed this to proceed for some time; and then in one session suspended their own MPs from the house. And yesterday again, they had to suspend their own MPs from the Lok Sabha! The tragedy and disaster that we are witnessing now is the sole responsibility of the high command of the Congress party and no one else. Even their own party members are saying this – perhaps this kind of event never happened in the history of the country.
Yesterday on Rediff and today in the regional newspaper Eenadu, two articles were published. These articles were basically interview given by an MP and a Union Minister explaining how they planned to stop the MPs from Seemandhra from approaching both the Speaker and the Home Minister. He proudly explains that 18 MPs meticulously planned this operation, and made sure that the Bill is introduced before the MPs get a whiff of it. The plan, according to reports, was this:
1. Normally, at 12 pm, papers are first laid onto the table of the House. Since there was a notice for No-Confidence Motion, the Speaker had to make a statement on it. All this would generally take about 10-15 minutes.
2. The Parliament Affairs Minister apparently requested the Speaker to ignore all this procedure and allow for the direct introduction of the Bill – this will take the Seemandhra MPs by surprise.
3. Meanwhile, 18 MPs will act as a “security ring” to the Home Minister and Speaker – they will prevent the Seemandhra MPs from approaching these chairs to tear the paper etc.
4. While these 18 MPs engaged the Seemandhra MPs, Sushilkumar Shinde was able to successfully able to introduce the Bill in the House!
It is amidst this scuffle that Lagadapati Rajgopal used a pepper spray. He claims he used it for self defence. Others claim that he used it to ensure the Bill is not introduced. Abominable as much as this action is, please look at the events in their totality. Everyone screamed – murder of democracy; new lows for democracy etc. There is no denying that it is a new low. But what about the manner in which the Bill was even introduced in the House? The Union Minister also proudly claimed that they anticipated a lot of things – that a gas like material might be released; that MPs might take out a blade and attempt suicide etc. It has come down to such depths – under the reign of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Incidentally, both of them were not in the Lok Sabha on February 13 when the scuffle happened. Using MPs as bouncers? Look at the below picture (sourced from Eenadu and shown on all channels on February 13), they did not hesitate from using women MPs (Vijayashanti) as a shield to the Speaker – which Government plans such abominable things?
Suspending MPs will not resolve Telangana tangle
Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Kamal Nath, instead of being mature, almost immediately spoke to the Press and gave credence to rumours that he heard of knifes and gas in the Lok Sabha. Why the hurry to spread this panic and rumour? Could he not have observed restraint and spoken only after getting confirmation? The TDP MP accused of wielding a knife said that he only had a mike in his hand – what was the urgency with which Kamal Nath had to spread this rumour?

Suspending MPs will not resolve the Telangana tangle. On Wednesday, even Union Ministers trooped into the well of the House. There is no guarantee that they will not troop into the well on Tuesday too, when the Bill comes up for discussion. And then there is the daily disruption in Rajya Sabha too – no action has been taken yet on the MPs on this. The key question to ask is this – why was it allowed to come to this State? Why are MPs given such a free hand in disrupting proceedings? Why can’t presiding officers act in a more stringent manner? Why can’t the ruling party, the Congress, which has the responsibility of ensuring the functioning of Parliament encourage their own MP to disrupt the House?
I repeat again – this nuance is very very important. One can be pro-bifurcation and be totally against this version of the reorganisation bill. Demanding for equal justice to both regions does NOT amount to opposing the formation of Telangana State.The Congress, most supporters of Telangana and of course the “national” media refuse to understand this nuance.
There is a controversy about the tabling too – Opposition parties-led by the BJP claim that they did not even know if this Bill was being introduced. The agenda that was tabled before them did not list the AP Reorganisation Bill. Only after the Bill was tabled did they receive an agenda paper at 2 pm, did they come to know that the AP Reorganisation Bill will be tabled at 12 pm that same day! But then, we are clutching at straws here. This transgression is a minor one compared to the bigger transgressions this UPA Government-led by Sonia Gandhi has committed. This is merely procedural; an insult to the established procedures but when did UPA ever care for this? Don’t the MPs atleast deserve to know that a Bill is being introduced? We don’t even know if the MPs even have a copy of the Bill in their hands. Is this how you want to split a State? Amidst such acrimony? Throwing all norms to the winds? Remember this – Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have never communicated with the people of the State in the past four years – this very State that gave them 33/42 MPs.
The suspension of the MPs means nothing. We haven’t seen the end of this yet – next week promises to be even more tragic than this one. Though the spraying of pepper was not the only distressing event that happened. It’s important for us to remember that too.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Shramadaan - a humbling experience!

The past weekend has been a memorable experience for me. 

I have come across a large number of people who want to "change" India. A large number of people are continuously vexed with India. They complain that our country has gone to dogs; we don't have this, we don't have that; we don't know how to do this; our education is bad; our roads are bad etc etc. And then they remain clueless on what impact they can create, or what change they can bring in. Bringing in change does not mean ushering in a revolution. Bringing in change can start at an individual level, by targeting at an individual level too. 

This is precisely what Mr. K. Gangadhar Tilak does on a daily basis. Going forward, I will call him Tilak uncle, because I have known him for many years now :). He was distressed with the state of our roads. The accidents that keep happening because of the potholes moved him. He is a senior citizen, yet did not hesitate to pick up the dambar lying idle on the roads; dump it into his car; take it to the pothole location and filled it. He then quit his job, and started doing this on a daily basis. Since filling up of potholes cannot be done in rainy season, he used to do this even during the peak summer in Hyderabad. 

After individually filling up nearly 500 potholes, he approached the GHMC commissioner. The commissioner, surprised at the dedication of uncle, has agreed to officially provide him with dambar material so that he can continue with this mission. Slowly, others started taking note of this. With the message spreading, many young engineers now join him on his mission almost daily. He gets a lot of support on the weekends, but is mostly on his own on weekdays. 

When Mr. Tilak started his mission, he had no idea on how long it will continue and on how many potholes can be filled. He just started doing it, pothole by pothole, road by road. Today, he has filled 925 potholes in the city of Hyderabad. More than 75% of these, he has done on his own, without support from any volunteer. Most of the time, he did it under blazing sun because sunlight is essential for the drying up of the dambar. He has turned his car into a "Pothole Ambulance". It's not merely a name - this car actually has a lot of material on the back seat and inside the boot. I don't know of anyone who would want to spoil the ambiance of their own car for a cause greater than the individual!

This work of uncle was profiled in many newspapers and TV channels - which helped many volunteers to realise the power of an idea. Those who contribute their time and energy towards this never go back home disappointed - because they know they ushered in change. A positive change. 

I finally got a chance to contribute to this cause - a cause that he has named as "Shramadaan". We identified some potholes that are an irritating impediment to our daily journey. After cursing the government for its laxity for about 2 months, I approached him and along with a colleague, we filled in a few potholes. And when I drove past the same road later in the evening, the sense of contribution that I felt is something that has to be experienced. 

Being a senior citizen, he could have easily relaxed at home, and continue to rue about the state of affairs in this country. He did not - he picked one issue dear to his heart, and started doing work. Tilak uncle is the best example of the quote - "A thousand mile journey starts with a single step". If this story is not an inspiration for us to start implementing our own ideas, then I don't know what is. 

However, please remember that this still does not absolve our government of the laxity in its works. Soon, we will aim to explain why these potholes get created in the first place; what can be done to prevent their formation in some places etc. But for now, I think it is time to stand up and applaud the work a senior citizen of this country is doing - ensuring better roads so that we travel peacefully. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

When PM's heart bleeds ...

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference.

Do you remember the time when LK Advani called Manmohan Singh as the weakest Prime Minister we ever had? Do you remember the outrage in the circles of the usual suspects? Do you remember the sympathy wave generated in the TV studios because the then Leader of Opposition called the Prime Minister as the weakest head of the country?
Now, let’s come to the present day situation. Yesterday, the Interim Railway Budget was presented in Parliament. MPs from the Seemandhra region were seen rushing into the well of the House protesting against Sonia Gandhi’s decision to split Andhra Pradesh. Yesterday, while the Railway Budget was being presented in the Lok Sabha, four Union Ministers joined the protests too. One of them was the Union Minister of State for Railways! The Government’s own Minister was protesting against the decision of his own party, at the exact same time when the budget of his own department was being tabled – can it really get any worse than this?
What does the Prime Minister have to say about this? “My heart bleeds”. That’s it – all he had to say was “My heart bleeds”. Few moments later, another Minister in his own Cabinet says that the comment is “unfair”. Are these the traits of a “strong” Prime Minister? Has he even bothered to make an attempt to arrive at a truce with the warring Ministers? Does he even care that the institution of Parliament has been under threat because of behaviour of his own party MPs? One would expect a “strong” Prime Minister to be decisive under such trying circumstances – but here we have Dr Manmohan Singh whose only response is – “My heart bleeds”.
From the past two years, many working days of Parliament were lost because MPs from the Congress had disrupted the House to no end. We even had to witness the spectacle of the Congress recommending the suspension of its own members from Parliament (9 MPs from Telangana region were suspended). In the last two Sessions, all we have seen is disruptions by the Prime Minister’s Cabinet or his party members – and what does he have to offer? “My heart bleeds”.
The acrimony and the vitriol in Andhra Pradesh has to be seen to be believed. Not a single concerted effort was made by the Prime Minister to resolve this issue. And to top this all, this Prime Minister arranges for lunch meetings with Opposition leaders at the last minute trying to resolve the logjam over Telangana in Parliament. In this meeting, Kamalnath had the gall to question Advani and others to come clean on whether their support on the AP Reorganisation Bill is unconditional or not. Their own house is in utter chaos and they ask the Opposition for clarity – is this the trait of a “strong” Prime Minister? Local newspapers have reported that Advani told the PM that the nation’s heart is bleeding because of the games that Congress is playing. If true, Advani is again spot on.
The Government wanted to introduce the Bill in Rajya Sabha first. It took a TDP MP to tell the Government that this is a money Bill and therefore, cannot be introduced in the Rajya Sabha first. What kind of preparation is this Government doing? One would definitely expect that a “strong” Prime Minister would take care of such things and be more  meticulous in planning. This is not an isolated instance of the PM not being in control, but since the focus is on the splitting up of Andhra Pradesh now, I am not getting into the other specifics.
Meanwhile, in Andhra Pradesh, the Chief Minister continues his hide and seek game of resignation. Newspapers continue to speculate on when he will resign. The APCC chief says resignations at this juncture would not mean anything – they should have all resigned in August itself. Lakhs of Government employees are again on strike. It is 9:50 am at the time of writing this article. The Lok Sabha business schedule does not include the introduction of the AP Reorganisation Bill. It is still unclear as to when the Bill will even come into Parliament – this behaviour is consistent with what the Congress has been doing all along – provide zero clarity on anything related to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.

Monday, February 10, 2014

It's not just Telangana that was messed up!

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference
In a move that surprised pretty much everyone in the State, the India Today Group selected Andhra Pradesh as the best governed State. One of the reasons being that Cabinet Ministers of Kiran Kumar Reddy themselves opposed the manner in which the schemes are announced and implemented!
Much before this award was given, I have written an article Cabinet Ministers of this Chief Minister themselves opposed the manner in which the schemes are announced and implemented! explaining the various schemes of Chief Minister, for which this award was now given! While receiving the award, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister made a significant statement. “When I took over as the Chief Minister three years ago, the first priority was to“restore normalcy”, because of agitations… and there was a huge debt that the Government had to pay to the tune of 9000 crore. We were in a financial crisis.
What the anchor and later the media simply ignored was that for 6 years before Kiran Kumar Reddy took over as the Chief Minister, the State was ruled by the Congress only! For 5 years, YSR was the Chief Minister. For a little over an year, Rosaih was the Chief Minister (after YSR’s demise). So according to the Chief Minister’s own admission, his party messed up the State so badly that it took him very long to overcome the mess.
However, the crucial point is that did he overcome the mess as he claims? With and without the Telangana and United Andhra agitations, the people of the State have suffered so much; governance was literally halted for so long that partymen of the ruling party themselves rue this massive failure. Let’s take a look at some of the crucial incidents that will merely reinforce what the CM himself has agreed upon.
1. The electricity supply crisis
On November 26, 2011, we woke up to read the following item in the newspapers:
“The AP TRANSCO and the distribution companies have decided to continue the present 12-hour power cut (6 am to 6 pm) in rural areas till the middle of next year, attributing it again to power shortage again. If any village gets supply for one or two hours during daytime now, it may be by mistake of the field staff. ”
Remember this news item was in 2011 – the decision was to continue the existing power cut policy till the mid of next year, i.e., 2012. The crisis started in August-September 2011. It continued till about September of 2012. Nearly an year. There was a 4-14 hour power cut in the entire State during this period. Note the statement by the TRANSCO – “If any village gets supply for one or two hours during daytime now, it may be by mistake of the field staff.”
Now you might say, the problem was there for an year – so what? The problem cropped up in early 2013 again! Two to 12 hour power cuts across the State (depending on city, town, village). The Chief Minister is on record saying that it is true that the State is going through a power crisis. He told industralists that if there is a good monsoon then the crisis will be resolved by June. If not, he assured them that he will resolve it by October of 2013. Thankfully, we had a good monsoon and power problems were resolved by July. Wait, don’t jump the gun by feeling good yet. Because guess what – the problem is back to haunt us again! “Starting last week (we are in now in 2014)”, 2-8 hour power cuts have been imposed across the State. So, a crisis that started in 2011 continues till date – and we are to believe that Andhra Pradesh is the best governed State in the country?
Domestic consumers will still survive these power cuts. But what about industries? The power situation turned so bad that the Government, at one point of time, had to tell industries to have a four-day power holiday every week! That’s right — industries were running only 12 days per month! Their situation is still precarious. All small industries have been hit badly since they cannot afford to have more manpower than required for those 12 days and layoffs had to happen. It takes no genius to understand that fewer working days lead to lesser production which lead to slower growth!
2. The electricity billing crisis
In 2010, the Government increased the cost per unit, which was understandable since no increase has happened since 2004. But before the hapless consumer could grasp the repercussions of this increase in power cuts, another bombshell was dropped. A new concept called Fuel Surcharge Adjustment (FSA) was introduced! Many consumers were unaware of what this FSA even meant. All we knew is that an inflated bill started showing up and we had no option but to pay.
Simply put, distribution companies are transferring fuel charges incurred in 2009-2010 to the hapless consumer in 2012-2013. So even if someone did not stay in a house in 2009-2010, one still had to bear the burden of tax on electricity consumption that one was not responsible for! This concept continues till date – we get to pay FSA, i.e., additional charges for consumption incurred three years back.
Before you come back saying – so what if you have to pay a little extra – take a look at this earlier article in Niti, which explains in detail the FSA. For those who don’t want to click on the link – in 2012, for energy charges of Rs 468, an additional surcharge of Rs 1079 was imposed. Nearly twice as high as the original bill. The quantum of charges have come down in recent times, but that does not offer any relief to the hapless consumer.
3. The resignations/strikes by the Ministers
Yes – you read it right. Ministers of the Government, at various times, have either submitted their resignations (which were seldom accepted) or simply refused to visit the Secretariat to work. Much before Arvind Kejriwal came into picture, Ministers of Andhra Pradesh have set the precedent of protesting against their own high command!
Whilst the Delhi based English TV media chose to either ignore or give very little coverage to this farce, the people of Andhra Pradesh have been at the receiving end of this “best governance”. And no – this is not a recent phenomenon. Since 2011, someone or the other has either resigned or has not attended work. The full details about this “halt in governance” has been detailed here. For about a month in 2011, Ministers from the Telangana region did not go to Secretariat protesting against their high command’s decision of taking a decision on Telangana. Their chicanery is astounding – after a while, they started clearing files from their home offices instead of going to the Secretariat!
After the Congress Working Committee (CWC) announcement favouring the splitting up of Andhra Pradesh, the Ministers from Seemandhra joined the chicanery. They submitted resignations and vowed not to work for the Congress. Guess what – not a single resignation is accepted, and the Ministers are happily back to enjoying the perks and privileges of being Ministers! They are either clearing files from home or are busy participating in agitations or are busy plotting moves against their own high command.
And then there was different resignation saga by Ministers accused of corruption during the YSR regime. Please note that these Ministers are from the Congress, accused of corruption during the rule of one of Congress’s most favourite CM’s! We have documented this entire saga on Niti, earlier itself. Please visit the link to get more details on the same – will not waste space on reproducing the piece here.
4. The delay in conducting elections to local bodies
In his speeches, Rahul Gandhi doesn’t get tired mentioning about Panchayat Raj. He doesn’t get tired talking about “empowering the village pradhan”. He doesn’t get bored while praising the extremely abusive Mani Shankar Aiyar for helping in ushering the Panchayat Raj system into our dreary lives.
The elections to the Panchayat bodies in Andhra Pradesh were due in 2010. They were held in 2013. Just a wait of mere three years. There was a case in the High Court regarding BC reserved seats. The Government took it’s own sweet time in responding citing the absence of latest census data to notify seats according. Once that data was available, we were constantly bombarded in 2013 that the elections will be held in February; February went by, we were told that the lastest date is March, then April; then the Chief Minister finally told June. The Chief Minister told us that elections to Panchayats will take place in June- July; elections to municipalities will take place in July-August; and elections to Zilla Parishads will take place in August-September.
Elections to Panchayats were finally held in July 2013. On the last day of polling, the Congress announced it’s support to split Andhra Pradesh. And with this decision, everyone forgot about the decision to hold elections to the municipal bodies, until last week, when the Andhra Pradesh High Court ordered the Government to conduct elections within a month! So, how were these bodies governed over the last four years then? By executive officers!
On the one side, Rahul Gandhi shouts from the roof top about empowering “local bodies”; and on the other side, the State ruled by his party had scant respect to this whole process! We did not have elected bodies, as mandated by the Constitution for about four years – if this is not a crisis, then what else is?
5. The crisis of strikes by Employees
The Government employees belonging the non-gazetted officer cadre of the Telangana region resorted to a 44 day strike in 2011. The Government employees belonging to the non-gazetted officer cadre of the Seemandhra region resorted to a nearly 70 day strike in 2013. The participating employees during each of the strikes ran into lakhs of employees! Lakhs! Both these times, the crisis was precipitated due to the Congress itself. Lakhs of people had to undergo severe hardships due to the strike by these employees. We have documented the details of this hardship in detail on NitiCentral.
IAS officers were arrested on charges of massive corruption – some of them were targetted unfailry too. An earlier blog details why they are unfairly targetted. Do you want to know the end result of this targetting? “Decision making in State takes a hit“!
6. The by-elections
Since the 2009 elections, the AP Assembly has witnessed bye-elections to more than 40 seats in the Assembly. At various times, these elections were either a result of some political crisis or because of the resignation caused by the AP bifurcation struggle. More than 40 seats went to poll at various times! Sometimes, there was also a question mark on the continuance of the Government too! Even today, 15 seats are lying vacant in the 294 seat Assembly – primarily because the Congress made sure the resignations of these 15 legislators was accepted only in June 2013, despite being submitted in February, 2013. Because the resignations came into force at a time when the life of the current Assembly is less than a year, the Election Commission was under no obligation to conduct bye-elections! And because of this strategy, the constituents of 15 Assembly seats do not have a representative in the Assembly!
The mess in Andhra Pradesh is primarily because of the hide and seek played by Sonia Gandhi after YSR’s demise. As illustrated above, under the present and past Congress Governments, governance has taken a major hit. These accusations are being made by the Congress folks themselves, so no one can even accuse of an “Opposition conspiracy” here! If such horrible governance were to happen in a State close to Delhi, or in a BJP-ruled State, the “national media” would have been baying for the blood of the parties in power. But AP is the “abandoned” one!
Amidst all this, Sonia Gandhi has not once, not once visited the State to assuage our feelings. Not once has she even issued a statement to the people of Andhra Pradesh. Such is the state of affairs – no wonder many were baffled at AP getting the “best governance” award.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Chicanery of the Congress on AP bifurcation!

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:

The Legislative Assembly of Andhra Pradesh had sent some 9,072 Amendments to the AP Reorganisation Bill. The Legislative Council had sent around 1,157 Amendments. Most of them might be repetitive but are opinions of the legislators nevertheless. Except for the PCC president and the TDP president, every single member proposed amendments. Most of the amendments are for key provisions of the Bill, not some random ones. Yesterday, the GoM on Telangana met for a whopping 30 minutes – and okayed the Bill that will be presented before the Cabinet in the    tomorrow. It is safe to assume that the GoM did not care about the report sent by the Assembly. Not agreeing with the view of the Assembly is one thing, but to ignore in totality the views of the members is plain disgusting. If ‘sources’ are to be believed, no major changes have been made to the Bill.
But then ‘sources’ also told us a lot of stories, including the formation of Rayala-Telangana! So, there is also a probability that the ‘sources’ are wrong too. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh is holding a “Silent Deeksha” at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday to protest against his own party’s decision to split the State! The Congress leaders had a “war room” meeting with MPs from Andhra Pradesh last night.  ‘Sources’ say that Digvijay Singh asked MPs from Seemandhra to propose Amendments that will benefit the region, so that they can discuss it in Parliament! He didn’t want the BJP to get away with credit for Amendments on Seemandhra region’s concerns! The Congress’s chicanery is outstanding really. After doing a mere copy paste job to prepare the Bill, they are now relying on other parties to come up with relevant Amendments to make the Bill look much better than what it is now! The game plan is simply astounding – let’s prepare some Bill; let other parties do the thinking and propose meaningful Amendments; let’s then take credit for those Amendments! All these days, one wonders why they slept on the Bill without bothering to think and seek Amendments to address concerns of Seemandhra leaders and people?
Every since July 31, we have been bombarded by the likes of Digvijay Singh stating that “justice will be done to Seemandhra” folks, with no clarity or quantification on what “justice” means. Even today, a day before the Cabinet will discuss the Bill, the Union Cabinet Ministers are clueless on what this “justice” means! Ten Ministers have submitted memorandums to their own Government giving advise on how “justice” can be done. Not a single one of those Amendments have been considered so far! Their own Minister, Purandeswari, has derided the use of the phrase “wherever feasible” in the Bill. She told us that, in Government parlance, this phrase means that the project cannot be done! Other Union Ministers have echoed similar sentiments – though it is another matter that despite resignations the Ministers still continue to perform their duties! This is the confidence level of Ministers themselves; guess what the UPA Government  demanded on Tuesday? It had the audacity to demand an “unequivocal” support to the Bill from the Opposition parties!
Kamalnath told the waiting Press that he wants the Opposition to either support the Bill or oppose it. He didn’t want them to impose any “conditions” to the passage of the Bill. One wonders where these leaders get this arrogance from – why should the Opposition parties merely parrot the Government? Why shouldn’t any party for that matter not take a stance of conditionally supporting the Bill? What kind of example is being set by Sonia Gandhi’s Government? Why is the ball being thrown in the court of Opposition parties? For 10 years, a common capital, common governor, common High Court, common entrance exam is such a farcical solution to this saga. Newspaper reports indicate that the Home Minister has written to Rajya Sabha chairperson that they will introduce the Bill on February 10.
The Government employees have given strike notices and will be going on strike from tomorrow onwards. This will be a repeat of the 66 day ordeal in August-October of last year. Almost the entire Assembly of Andhra Pradesh is in New Delhi only – with leaders lobbying with every party that has at least one MP! It is a given fact that MPs from the Congress will disrupt Parliament – will the Bill be discussed and passed after suspending these members is what remains to be seen. As always, we still do not have any clarity!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The abstract content of these AICC ads....

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference. 
You wake up in the morning and pick up the newspaper. Front page advertisement shows Rahul Gandhi in a serious pose, along with some 8-10 folks, with a slogan that seldom makes sense.
Congress shamelessly steals leaf out of NDA's book, claims credit
You complete reading the newspaper and switch on TV – chances of a Rahul Gandhi centric advertisement playing during the ad breaks on any channel are near 100 per cent. In vernacular channels, we have Yuva Congress karyakartas telling us how awesome Rahul Gandhi is.
You get ready for office, start your car, switch on the radio hoping to listen to some nice songs and pleasant conversations. You are bombarded with two kinds of ads – One is Bharat Nirman and the other one says how awesome Rahul Gandhi is.
While driving to office, you will come across at least two large flexi posters of Rahul Gandhi in a pose that says he is the deepest and greatest thinker of all time. Again mostly in vernacular.
Congress shamelessly steals leaf out of NDA's book, claims credit

In office cafeterias, news channels are generally shown on TV. You sit for breakfast/lunch/snacks/coffee – at any given point of time, within 10 minutes, either a Bharat Nirman ad or a “Rahul Gandhi is awesome” ad is shown.

To unwind, you open a youtube video, “Rahul Gandhi at FICCI” ad comes up.
Phew! At the end of the day, you become so frustrated with these ads that you might end up not switching on the radio or the TV!
So you might ask – what is wrong in this marketing strategy? After all, don’t they have to sell their ideas? Here’s what is wrong with the ads:
The UPA Government, in one of their Bharat Nirman advertisements claims credit for “Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana” and “Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan”. This is chicanery at its best. Both these schemes were started by the NDA Government. It is a known thing that NDA Government focus on infrastructure improvement led to tremendous opportunities for various strata of the society. The Gram Sadak Yojana initiated and implemented by NDA made sure that villagers are well connected to main centres of trade. For the UPA to claim that their achievement lies in merely continuing this programme shows their sorry state of affairs. Similar is the story with Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan – the NDA started this and the UPA is now merely claiming credit to just continuing it!
Also note, how the NDA did not name these programmes after any random leader. Imagine if the UPA ever came up with such schemes – one would have been named after Indira and the other would have been named after Rajiv Gandhi. The UPA Government and Rahul Gandhi leave no stone unturned in claiming credit for bring in RTI and RTE. They even claim it to be one of the cures of all the ills plaguing our country. One might even get tired of listening to “We bought RTI. We bought RTE”. Here are two facts – the precursor to RTI was the Freedom to Information Act, 2002. Right to Education was included as a Fundamental Right in the Constitution in 2002. Guess who was in power in 2002? The NDA Government – the UPA took it’s own sweet time (7 years after RTE was first envisaged in the Constitution) to come up with the finer details of RTE. It made changes to Freedom to Information Act and called it the RTI. Both these concepts were not envisaged by the awesome Rahul Gandhi and co.
Finally, we come to the Rahul Gandhi ad blitzkrieg. Here’s a fundamental question – what exactly do those slogans mean? For example – “Not suggestions, results”. What does this mean? When it is his party that ruled India for 17+16+5+5+10 = 53 years since Independence, who is this directed at? Who is stopping at giving suggestions? Who is showing results? His own party has been in power for 10 years since his debut – so against whom are these rhetorical and abstract slogans directed at? To whom is kattar soch nahi, yuva josh directed towards? Or consider this – “Not politics, responsibility”. Are we to seriously believe that the Congress does not play politics? Or are we to seriously believe that Rahul Gandhi takes up responsibility?
Rahul Gandhi thundered at the AICC plenary recently – the Congress does not depend on a single person. And yet, day in and day out, all we see are ads that portray Rahul Gandhi as the awesome leader we ever had. The characters in the ad say that they are associated with “Rahul Gandhi’s yuva josh/shakti” – yet not a single question to the Congress by journalists on how blatant can Rahul Gandhi lie? All of the ads DO NOT have a single picture of the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi. Not a single picture. Is Rahul Gandhi so afraid of being associated with them and their rule? Is Rahul Gandhi wary of using their names while promoting the Congress? Is Rahul Gandhi so ego-minded that he does not what to share space with the Prime Minister and his own party’s president? Or does Rahul Gandhi think the people of India are so dumb that they will look at him and all that his Government did in the last 10 years, separately?
The costs for such an ad blitzkrieg must be monumental. There is no way that the Government of India is spending Rs 175 crore on the Bharat Niraman ads. We don’t even have an estimate on how much the Congress is spending on these ads – surely front page ads in every single newspaper of the country; prime time ads in every single news channel of the country – these don’t come cheap at all. There needs to be a debate on both the content and cost of these ads – neither of which our TV channels will do. We just need to wait for the day the discourse gets better.