New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

30 April, 2014

Proliferation of political dynasties

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Congress which has dominated the Indian political scene since before Independence has drawn much flak for its dependence on the Nehru-Gandhis but dynasties are flourishing in every party and region. What’s more, new ones keep coming up.

When the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was called upon to form the government in 2004 the party president, Sonia Gandhi, who was under attack for her foreign origin, picked Manmohan Singh for the prime minister’s post. Since he lacked a political base, she was seen as the real power centre.

Her son, Rahul Gandhi’s promotion from general secretary to vice-president last year followed an orchestrated demand by Nehru-Gandhi loyalists that he assume a bigger role in the party and government. If there is another UPA government he is almost certain to head it.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial nominee, has repeatedly alluded to dynastic succession in the Congress. In campaign speeches he has referred to the party as ‘mother-son duo’ and to Rahul Gandhi as ‘shehzada’.

Rahul belongs to the fifth generation of the dynasty whose history begins with Motilal Nehru’s entry into the Congress during the freedom struggle. Both Motilal and his son, Jawaharlal, served as president of the organisation. Their closeness to Mahatma Gandhi prompted Quaid-e-Azam Muhammed Ali Jinnah to refer to the trio as “father, son and the holy ghost”.

Facts do not fully back the widely held theory that Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, groomed his daughter, Indira Gandhi, to succeed him. In the 1950s, he had sought to bring the Socialists, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, iconic hero of the Quit India movement, back into the Congress fold. Had the effort succeeded, as the most adored leader of his generation, Jayaprakash Narayan was sure to become the top contender in any succession battle. Also, shortly before his death, Nehru boosted Lal Bahadur Shastri’s succession prospects by bringing him into the Cabinet as Minister without folio to help him.

On Shastri’s death, the Congress party’s powerful state bosses preferred Indira Gandhi to Morarji Desai for the prime minister’s post as they reckoned, quite rightly, that she was a better vote-catcher than him and presumed, quite wrongly, that she would abide by their wishes. She paved the way for dynastic rule by promoting, first, her younger son Sanjay and, on his death in an air accident, the elder son Rajiv.

When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, his wife Sonia stayed away from public life with her children, giving the Congress an opportunity to shake off the hold of the dynasty if it so desired. She assumed the party’s leadership a few years later in response to a strong demand from within. The party needs the dynasty as much as the dynasty needs the party.

The Congress has several minor dynasties too at various levels. Other national and regional parties also having thrown up dynasties, their number is legion. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty towers above the rest, primarily due to the wide national appeal of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The appeal of the lesser dynasties is limited to specific states or even parts of states.

The roots of dynastic appeal lie in the feudal tradition. The BJP has the least moral justification for railing against the tradition since it has the biggest collection of dispossessed maharajas and maharanis. It has also taken on board dropouts from Congress dynasties.

Sanjay Gandhi’s wife, Maneka, who was by his side as he functioned as an extra-constitutional authority during the Emergency, and son Varun, and former Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah, who is a grand-niece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, are among the prominent Congress defectors in its ranks.

Last week, in Modi’s presence, the BJP admitted into the party Daljit Singh Kohli, a little known businessman of Amritsar, whose only claim to fame is that he is a half-brother of Manmohan Singh, whom it has castigated as the worst prime minister in the country’s history.

Even the fledgling Aam Admi Party has its share of dynastic remnants. Its Lok Sabha candidates include Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and Adarsh Shastri, a grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Mercifully, dynastic appeal has its limits. Voters have demonstrated their ability to rise above it. In 1977, the illiterate people of Uttar Pradesh had decisively rejected the Emergency regime, defeating both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi in the elections. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 29, 2014.

22 April, 2014

Corporates under scanner

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The power the big corporations wield over the Congress, which heads the government at the Centre, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, its major challenger in the ongoing elections, is a theme which has come up in the campaign. The efforts to reform the corporate sector deserve attention in this context.

Last week the Securities Exchange Board of India (Sebi), the market regulator, outlined plans to improve corporate governance in terms of a law enacted by Parliament last year. It has set October 1 as the deadline for companies to follow the new regulations. They are, of course, free to fall in line earlier than that date.

The agreement that companies sign when they seek listing on the stock exchange contains a clause which deals with matters relating to corporate governance. The Sebi has issued a set of directives to listed companies invoking this clause.

Primarily the Sebi directives aim at ensuring that independent directors on the boards of companies have a key role. The companies have been asked to determine in advance the criteria for measuring their performance and to make them known through the annual reports.

In the new scheme of things, at least half of the members of the board of a company must be non-executive directors. Also, there has to be at least one woman on the board.

The amended Companies Act allows an individual to be on the board of directors of a maximum of 10 companies at a time. Sebi has set a limit of seven listed companies. This leaves the person free to serve on the boards of three unlisted companies.

In future, an independent director of a company can serve only for two consecutive terms of five years each. It is, however, possible for him to return to the board after a break of three years. A small relaxation has been made in the rules for those who are currently serving as independent directors. Even if they have already served for more than five years, they will be allowed another full term of five years.

Sebi has proposed that all independent directors of a company must hold at least one meeting every year without the other directors and management personnel. They should use the opportunity to evaluate the performance of the chairman and the other directors and of the board as a whole.

Sebi has also suggested separation of the roles of the chairman and managing director and the chief executive officer. However, it has clarified that this is not mandatory.

The principle underlying the reform effort is to use internal disclosure mechanisms to curb the promoters’ powers. The scheme will succeed only if the independent directors are ready to exercise the powers vested in them.

The Executive and the Judiciary, too, have acted recently to curb the wide powers exercised by the large private corporations who have great clout by virtue of the immense resources they command.

When the large power companies refused to heed the advice to revise the tariff, the short-lived Aam Admi Party government of Delhi state ordered an audit of their accounts by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to verify their claims about their finances. The companies moved the Delhi high court, which upheld the state government decision.

Earlier, the high court had ordered the CAG to audit the revenue accounts of private telecom service providers who are involved in disputes with the Central government. Last week the Supreme Court rejected the companies’ appeal against the decision.

Organisations of telecom service providers point out that the companies’ accounts are already liable for checks by several agencies like the Department of Telecommunications, the Telecom Regulatory authority of India, Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TERM) cells, Sebi and the Income-Tax department.

The limited powers exercised by these agencies are derived from specific laws. They have proved ineffective in dealing with the powerful corporations. The CAG is a constitutional authority charged with the task of auditing the accounts of the Central and state governments. It is not under the Executive’s control.

The telecom companies, numbering about 200, with revenues running into billions of dollars, constitute a powerful segment. The Supreme Court verdict having closed the legal options, their organisations are planning to take the issue to wider forums of industry in the hope that the other powerful segments will make common cause with them in the effort to check inroads into an area they regard as private sector preserve. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 22, 2014.

15 April, 2014

A Kashmiri intervention

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of separatist groups in the Kashmir valley, has attempted an unprecedented intervention in the ongoing Indian parliamentary elections, provoking a lively debate.

In an Open Letter, released as voting began last week, APHC Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq made a fervent plea to the people of India to hold the new government accountable on the Kashmir issue.

“You must press the elected leadership to rise above domestic politics and work towards India’s strategic and moral interests,” he wrote.

Although the Kashmir problem has festered throughout all of India’s years as a republic, it has never figured as an issue in the national elections, mainly because most parties have gone along with the policy which evolved in prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s time.

The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which came into being shortly before the first general election of 1951-52, vehemently opposed the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution, even though its founder, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, was a minister in Nehru’s Cabinet when the decision in this regard was taken.

At that time, entry into Kashmir and some border areas of the northeast was regulated through a permit system. Mukherjee who disapproved of the system entered the state without a permit and was arrested. His death in custody cast him as a martyr, and repeal of Article 370 became a part of the Hindutva election plank, along with introduction of a uniform civil code. However, it did not become a major campaign issue.

The Jana Party, in which the Jana Sangh merged its identity, won the 1977 elections that brought Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime to an end. Jana Sangh leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Kishen Advani held important positions in the Janata government but did not pursue the Hindutva line on Article 370 and uniform civil code. When the Janata Party split on the issue of membership of the Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Jana Sangh re-emerged styled as the Bharatiya Janata Party. It not only revived the Hindutva plank but also expanded it to include the demand for the construction of a Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya.

In 1998, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power at the Centre. Vajpayee, who headed the government, put the Hindutva plank on hold in deference to the sentiments of the BJP’s secular allies. The National Conference, the ruling party of Jammu and Kashmir, was a partner of the NDA at that time.

In his Open Letter, Umar Farooq wrote, “Crushing the democratic right to protest and express political dissent, restricting free speech, persecuting entire sections of the population, foisting black laws and continuing to keep hundreds of thousands of military forces deployed for decades on end in Kashmir — surely this represents both a moral and political failure. There has to be an end to all of this.”

He said at various moments prime ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had given reason to believe that an honourable and lasting solution to the Kashmir issue could be achieved. But the hopes did not materialise. Vajpayee had offered to hold unconditional talks under the ambit of Insaniyat (humanity).

Unlike Vajpayee, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is the BJP’s prime ministerial face in the current elections, is widely seen as a hardcore Hindutva exponent. However, in campaign speeches he has generally focused on issues of governance and development.

Article 370 figures in the party’s election manifesto. However, instead of demanding its abrogation, as in the past, the party promises to hold talks on the issue.

The Hindu, a leading newspaper, which published Umar Farooq’s letter in full, later carried the responses of a cross-section of its readers in different parts of the country. Some of them were upset by his reference to Kashmiris as “us” and Indians as “you” and criticised him for his silence on terrorism. However, others described the letter variously as timely, mature, sincere, pragmatic and very encouraging.

Umar Farooq’s letter may not make any difference to the outcome of the elections but it has helped people outside the state to understand the feelings of the Kashmiris. What’s more, many have said they share his desire for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 15, 2014.

08 April, 2014

Change is inevitable

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The process of choosing a new government has begun. On Monday, voters in six constituencies in the eastern states of Assam and Tripura, marched to polling booths to pick their parliamentary representatives. India has an electorate of 814 million spread over 543 constituencies. During the next five weeks, voters in the remaining constituencies will make their choice.

The electoral exercise is conducted in several phases to ensure security during polling. Counting of votes will begin only after polling concludes all over the country. The people’s verdict will not, therefore, be known until May 17.

The current general election is one of the most hotly contested, with the Congress, which headed two successive United Progressive Alliance governments during the past 10 years, facing tough challenges from the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition in the last two parliaments, and a host of smaller parties whose support base does not extend beyond a single state.

Under Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has been named its prime ministerial candidate, the BJP is making an all-out bid to wrest power. It did not have an election manifesto when polling began. A committee headed by former party president Murli Manohar Joshi had drafted a manifesto but its release was delayed as Modi wanted it to be shortened.

In Modi’s scheme, the manifesto is not important. In his long and vigorous campaign — he began electioneering long before anyone else — he has relied on catchy slogans designed to hold the BJP’s traditional Hindutva followers and to reach out to young, middle class voters rather than on well-articulated ideas on policy matters.

Money matter

India Inc. has endorsed Modi. Its enthusiasm for him generated strong bullish tendencies in the stock market as the campaign progressed.

Modi’s campaign may be the costliest in the country’s electoral history. He arranged special trains to transport people to rallies he held in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which send 120 members to the Lok Sabha.

Aam Admi Party President Arvind Kejriwal asked the BJP to reveal the source of its campaign funds. The party ignored the demand.

Large sections of the electronic media have made no secret of their preference for Modi. When Kejriwal accused them of bias, the broadcasters’ organisation held out a veiled threat to black him out. 

When the BJP named Modi its prime ministerial candidate, its largest ally in the National Democratic Alliance, the Janata Dal (United), pulled out invoking memories of the anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat soon after he became chief minister of the state. That left the party with only the sectarian Shiv Sena of Maharashtra and Akali Dal of Punjab as its allies.

As pollsters identified Modi as the front-runner in the prime ministerial stakes, the NDA was able to attract new allies in Bihar and the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Expert opinion
Most opinion polls put the BJP and the NDA way ahead of the Congress and the UPA, but short of the 272 seats needed for a simple majority in the Lok Sabha. Their forecasts need to be accepted with a measure of caution. For one, they were off the mark on the last two occasions. For another, a recent sting operation showed that many pollsters are willing to doctor the findings to suit the needs of clients.

Early in the campaign, Rahul Gandhi, who heads the Congress campaign, conceded his party is the underdog in this election. However, he and other Congress leaders later made conscious efforts to exude optimism.

The Congress derives satisfaction from the reports that the NDA will not secure a majority. In such a situation, the small national parties and the regional parties will have a say on the shape of the next government.

In 2004 and 2009, many of these parties backed the Congress. If the BJP emerges as the largest single party and the NDA as the largest pre-poll alliance, many of these parties may be inclined to go with them instead of the Congress and the UPA.

If the NDA’s shortfall is small, the BJP will be able to attract enough small parties to raise the strength of the alliance to 272 or more. If the shortfall is large, it may face demands from them to choose a more acceptable leader than Modi as the prime minister.

This general election is the 16th since Independence. The voters who chose rather wisely on the earlier occasions will hopefully do so again. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 8, 2014.

01 April, 2014

The Law's lengthening arm

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Years ago, on a Friday, two judges of the Supreme Court of India sat at the home of one of them after dinner to hear the bail application of an industrialist who had been given a jail term by the Delhi high court earlier in the day. They did so to avoid the tycoon having to remain in prison until Monday, the court’s next working day.

An urgent hearing by judges after working hours is not something an ordinary citizen can hope for. It is a privilege available only to a rich litigant with high-paid counsel. 

Against this background, the Supreme Court’s pursuit of the cases against N. Srinivasan, President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and Subrata Roy, head of the Sahara Group, who modestly describes himself as its Managing Worker, comes as a refreshing change. Both are businessmen who are under scrutiny in connection with suspicious deals.

Srinivasan is Chairman of the India Cements Limited, owners of the Indian Premier League team Chennai Super Kings. His son-in-law and CSK official Gurunath Meiyappan was arrested by the Mumbai police last year in a betting and spot-fixing case. While police and a BCCI team were probing the scandal he got himself re-elected as BCCI president.

When the Cricket Association of Bihar brought the issue before the Supreme Court, it asked how the BCCI could conduct a proper inquiry with Srinivasan at the helm and gave him two days’ time to step down. Publicly he took the position that under the BCCI bylaws he could not be removed but in the court he offered not to perform the president’s functions until the case was disposed of.

Rejecting the offer, the court appointed former Indian cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar as interim president of BCCI and entrusted him with responsibility of conducting this year’s IPL matches. BCCI vice-president Shivlal Yadav was asked to look after other duties of the president.

Subrata Roy’s troubles began when the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) started investigating a complaint that the Sahara Group committed various illegalities in raising over Rs240 billion from more than 30 million investors.

The group had filed a prospectus before Sebi in 2009 in preparation for an initial public offer of the shares of its real estate venture, Sahara Prime City. When Sebi sought some clarifications, the group sent to its office 127 truckloads of documents — more than 30 million applications and 20 million bond redemption vouchers the companies had received from investors.

Sebi’s scrutiny showed the two companies had resorted to large-scale fund-raising exercises without complying with the rules. It ordered refund of the money. The Securities Appellate Tribunal turned down the group’s appeal against the Sebi directive. So did the Supreme Court, which asked the two companies to deposit Rs 240 billion with Sebi for refund to the investors. It said payment could be made in three instalments. The group paid only one instalment of Rs 51.20 billion.

Roy who played truant was arrested four weeks ago on a non-bailable warrant issued by the apex court. He is still in custody, unable to meet the bail bond terms of a cash deposit of Rs 50 billion and a bank guarantee for an equal amount. The court rejected a scheme Roy submitted for refund of investors’ money, saying it was impractical.

The Sahara Group says it has raised funds to the tune of Rs 2,250 billion since its inception in 1978. It puts its net worth at Rs 681.74 billion and total assets at Rs 1,525.18 billion. Its employees are said to be working on a plan to contribute their mite and raise a Rs100 billion to secure Roy’s release. 

The Supreme Court has acted against Srinivasan and Roy without any adverse legal findings against them. Roy’s counsel told it last week that under the law a man cannot be jailed for not honouring a money decree without first establishing through inquiry that he had the capacity to pay but had defaulted.

The court is acting on the strength of the constitutional provision which gives it the authority to pass any order to do complete justice in a matter before it. Its readiness to invoke this omnibus provision to check exploitation of the unwary public by the rich and the powerful may serve as a warning to those who are inclined to take advantage of loopholes in the laws. -- Gulf Today, April 1, 2014.