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Posts Tagged ‘Government

Independent Incredible India Celebrates Corruption

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By Nick Langton

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ascends the ramparts of Old Delhi’s Red Fort on Monday to address the nation on the 64th anniversary of its independence, it will be as a political leader whose government, party, and personal reputation are seriously bruised. This will be Singh’s seventh Independence Day address since becoming prime minister in 2004.


Although Prime Minister Singh continues to be regarded as a man of personal integrity, the scandals on his watch have raised serious questions about his leadership. Photo: Flickr user World Economic Forum.

The speech is an opportunity to review his government’s achievements during the past year, highlight national challenges, and outline a vision for the future. At no point in Singh’s tenure, the longest of any Indian prime minister except Jawaharlal Nehru, has he or his party seemed so embattled.

The immediate problem is a string of high-level corruption scandals that has wracked the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. A year ago, Singh devoted one line of his Independence Day address to the issue of corruption, stating that government programs should be managed “more effectively, minimizing the chances of corruption and misuse of public money.” His reference to systemic corruption gave no hint of the grand corruption that would surface in subsequent months. First came charges of favoritism and kickbacks during preparations for the October 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, which led to the arrest of organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, a Congress Party stalwart. Next was the Adarsh Housing Society scam where the government was accused of irregularities in allocating expensive apartments in downtown Mumbai. The most debilitating blow was the 2G spectrum scam in which the now jailed telecommunications minister, A. Raja, was charged with under pricing licenses at an estimated cost to the government of a staggering $40 billion in lost revenues.

Corruption scandals are hardly new in India, but the scale of the alleged transgressions is unprecedented and public reaction strong. In April, veteran Gandhian activist Anna Hazare went on a hunger strike demanding that the government establish a lokpal, or ombudsman, office with broad powers to investigate corruption. Although Hazare’s India Against Corruption (IAC) movement has been criticized for its tactics, middle-class following, and alleged partisan bias, it raises widespread public concerns that cannot be ignored. The corruption debate has paralyzed parliament for months, with the political fallout spreading both within and outside of the UPA. In late July, in a move to protect its own credibility, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) removed its powerful chief minister in Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa, on charges he misused his influence to allot valuable mining land to his sons.

Although Prime Minister Singh continues to be regarded as a man of personal integrity, the scandals on his watch have raised serious questions about his leadership. A technocrat not known for his skills as a political street fighter, he is often at the mercy of competing interests, including those within his own Congress Party led by Sonia Gandhi. Since the UPA government holds only 262 seats in the 552-seat Lok Sabha, it must piece together support from an on-again-off-again collection of allies to retain a majority. The government’s actions in response to the corruption scandal have reinforced the perception of weakness. A cabinet reshuffle in July was viewed as little more than window dressing. That the draft Lokpal Bill placed before parliament last week exempts the judiciary and elected officials from oversight, including the prime minister’s office, has compounded the problem. Whether or not the legal and constitutional arguments for the bill’s construction are valid, it is a public relations debacle. Anna Hazare has threatened to publicly burn copies of the draft and begin a new fast on August 16 if the government does not withdraw the current bill.

The corruption scandals and parliamentary gridlock have also raised economic concerns. Capital expenditure dropped during the first quarter of 2011, a possible sign of reduced investor confidence. In his Independence Day speech last year, Prime Minister Singh cited India’s relative success in avoiding the global economic slowdown. He noted high inflation as a challenge, especially for the poor, but said he was confident that the government would tackle it. Economic growth has dropped slightly during the year, with the prime minister’s Economic Advisory Council recently reducing its 2011-12 projection from 9 percent to 8.2 percent. While the government has been successful in bringing food inflation from a 22 percent high in February 2010 to 8.3 percent today, overall inflation hovers around 10 percent. This is above the government’s target of 5 percent, which is considered a safe threshold level if the economy is to avoid overheating.

In response to financial jitters following Standard and Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. government’s credit rating last week, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee asserted that India would not be affected because its “fundamentals are strong.” But how strong are they? Despite a robust growth rate, industrial production slowed during the past year, and the government has not made progress on reforms in the energy, land, and education sectors that are needed for India to maximize its advantages, such as the “demographic dividend” from a growing workforce. As finance minister in 1991, Manmohan Singh played a historic role in unleashing the economic transformation that India has undergone during the past two decades. As leader of a weak coalition today, he seems unable to push through the second generation of economic and governance reforms that would help to secure his own legacy as a transformational leader.

While Prime Minister Singh’s speech on Monday is unlikely to outline bold new initiatives, it provides an important opportunity for him to candidly address the nation’s challenges and outline his personal vision. To some extent, India’s economic growth and continuing rise as a global power are inexorable given the current momentum, but riding the wave is not enough. Long-term growth that is stable and inclusive requires effective leadership and good governance. Corruption scandals during the past year and parliamentary dysfunction have hindered the ability of Prime Minister Singh and the UPA government to drive needed reforms, especially as coalition members begin to eye elections in 2014.

India’s Orissa state ‘halts’ offensive against Maoists

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The government in the eastern Indian state of Orissa has halted an offensive against Maoist rebels after they abducted a senior official.


Mr Krishna was on his way to inspect a government project when he was seized

R Vineel Krishna, district collector of Malkangiri, and another official were kidnapped on Wednesday evening.

The Maoists have demanded the release of rebels held in prisons and an end to the offensive by security forces.

Indian forces are battling Maoists in several states. The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of the poor.

Orissa’s Home Secretary UN Behura said the government was “stopping all combing operations in the state” and was ready to talk to the rebels.

Reports said the state government had contacted leading social worker Swami Agnivesh to negotiate with the rebels to secure Mr Krishna’s release.

The Maoists’ 48-hour deadline to the government to release rebels held in prison expires on Friday evening.

Correspondents say the deadline is likely to be extended in view of the government’s efforts to talk to the rebels.

Malkangiri is among the districts worst affected by Maoist violence in India.

The hilly and forested terrain make it an ideal place for Maoists to run their camps there and launch operations against security forces.

Mr Krishna, 30, is a graduate from the premier Indian Institute of Technology and joined the civil service in 2005. He was appointed to head Malkangiri district 16 months ago.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist insurgency as India’s biggest internal security challenge.

A government offensive against the rebels – widely referred to as Operation Green Hunt – began in October 2009.

It involves 50,000 troops and is taking place across five states – West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

Indian PM vows to punish corrupt officials

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NEW DELHI: India’s embattled prime minister defended his government Wednesday against a string of corruption scandals, saying that he took the allegations seriously and would punish anyone involved, no matter their position.


India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has been wracked by allegations that Cabinet ministers and ruling party officials orchestrated shady deals over the sale of cellular phone licenses, presided over faulty preparations for the Commonwealth Games and were involved in other alleged scams that cost the government billions of dollars.

The scandals have dominated politics in India for months. The entire winter session of parliament was paralysed by the opposition amid demands for the establishment of an independent investigative body, which Singh refused.

Singh told reporters during a news conference Wednesday that the guilty would be punished.

“I wish to assure you, and I wish to assure the country as a whole that our government is dead serious in bringing to book all the wrongdoers, regardless of the positions they may occupy,” he said.

He denied any personal connection to the scandals, and expressed concerns that the nation’s image was being badly tarnished.

“We are weakening the self confidence of the people of India. I don’t think that is in the interest of anybody that is in our country. We have a functioning government…we take our job very seriously. We are here to govern and govern effectively,” he said, mildly chiding reporters for focusing so heavily on the scams.

“India as a whole has to march forward,” he said.

Advani: bring back black money stashed away abroad

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MUMBAI: Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani on Sunday welcomed the Supreme Court’s move to make public the details of black money stashed away abroad by Indians.


Senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani at the ‘Mahasangram’ rally in Mumbai on Sunday. Others in the photograph are, from left, JD (U) president Sharad Yadav, BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray.

Speaking at the Mahasangram rally of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) against corruption and price rise here, he said, the Supreme Court pulled up Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam and asked him why the government could not divulge the details of those who had kept black money abroad.

Mr. Advani said that he would appeal to the court to take the steps on this front to a logical conclusion. The Indian government must ensure that all the money abroad was brought back and it must punish the people involved and make special laws, if necessary on this issue. He called on the Congress which had belittled him when he raised key questions on black money and said it must reply to NDA’s letter on this issue and called the party to account.

This had happened in other countries, the U.S. and Germany got back money and there was a law on this subject, he said. Linking the issue of black money in foreign banks to corruption and scams, Mr. Advani said this was the key issue related to corruption.

“In 2009 I said black money by those who have earned it through nefarious means, is kept in countries like Switzerland, where banking norms allow having secret accounts and no one will even ask you. Banking secrecy laws are there in many countries. Now there is a chance, the U.S., Germany felt that their money should return to their countries during the time of the economic slowdown. The United Nations passed a Convention on corruption and now laws are being drafted for the repatriation of money,” he pointed out. “When NDA raised the issue, the Congress reacted by saying no country will change laws for us, how will they give us back the money and they made fun of me,” he added.

Before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had created a task force, and Vaidyanathan who was a member, gave examples of how much money was stashed in foreign banks. Global Financial Integrity, an international group published a small booklet and estimated that Indian money abroad at Rs. 20.85 lakh crore, Mr. Advani said.

The NDA rally on corruption and scams came down heavily on the Congress and the Maharashtra government. BJP president Nitin Gadkari, said this was a government which looted its people by making laws to suit them. For instance, for the Commonwealth Games, there was a rule that contractors had to have previous experience with such games and thus all the Indian contractors were ruled out.

Suicide by farmers

He said lakhs of farmers have committed suicide, and there were reports which said that in India 70 per cent of the people spend less than Rs. 20 a day. On the one hand, while Mr. Pawar was Agriculture Minister, foodgrains were rotting, there was no storage facility, gas prices were spiraling, he said.

Calling on the Congress to reply to all allegations of corruption, Mr. Gadkari said that he had all the evidence of Win Chaddha’s son’s accounts, and also proof that Quattrochi had deep relations with the Gandhis. He also had information on Mr. Quattrochi’s bank accounts but refused to divulge more details.

He also reiterated the NDA’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into 2G scam and asked the Congress “what is wrong thing we have done by asking for a JPC?” The Congress was afraid because their faces were already blackened and they were afraid that more scams would spill out. Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav said this was a fight for justice. He said a majority of the parties wanted a JPC probe into the 2G spectrum and the Commonwealth Games scam, even the Congress allies were game, but the Congress with 206 seats was not relenting. “Even during the meeting with Pranab Mukherjee all of us had agreed to the JPC probe from 1998. It is the Congress which by its refusal has put a lock on Parliament,” he said.

Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray said, the Congress and its allies had no shame. He said “an economist heads the country and a farmer’s son is the Agriculture Minister. Yet farmers are committing suicide and prices are going out of control.”

Referring to the Adarsh Society, he said, while the Environment Minister suggested that the building be demolished, the question of the Lavasa remained to be seen. Mr. Sharad Pawar’s ‘connections’ with the Lavasa implied that little was said about it, he alleged. He dared the Environment Ministry not to clear the Lavasa. If the Adarsh was not demolished by the government then common people would take the law into their hands, he warned.

The Congress wanted to target Hindutvawadis as terrorists, said Mr. Thackeray. “Action must be taken against whoever is against the State. But why give a colour to terrorism,” he asked. How did Aseemanand’s confession came to the press and Digvijay Singh first, he wondered.

Political dissent Indian urged to repeal sedition law

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ISLAMABAD: International human rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Indian government to immediately repeal the colonial-era sedition law, which local authorities are using to silence peaceful political dissent.

According to the Kashmir Media Service, the HRW said that the Indian government should drop sedition cases against prominent human rights activists such as a vocal critic of the Chhattisgarh state government’s counter-insurgency policies against Maoist, Dr Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, and others.

“Using sedition laws to silence peaceful criticism is the hallmark of an oppressive government,” said the South Asia director at HRW, Meenakshi Ganguli. “The Supreme Court has long recognised that the sedition law cannot be used for this purpose, and India’s parliament should amend or repeal the law to reflect this.”

“Considering that India wants the world to celebrate its independent judiciary and active civil society, these actions are both bizarre and regressive,” Ganguly said. “Local authorities do not need to wait for parliament to pass any changes in the sedition law to act lawfully, but instead should just stop pursuing cases against their critics.”

Govt taps about 5,000 people’s phones on average

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NEW DELHI: Telephone calls of about 5,000 people are being recorded by central security agencies daily as part of security and preventive measures.

Government sources said on an average telephones of about 5,000 people are being kept under surveillance by intelligence agencies suspecting their linkages with terror activities, hawala operators and members of banned organisations.

Telephones of a number of people involved in various economic offences are also being monitored.

Sources said that conversations of terrorists and insurgent outfits in Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast and the banned CPI (Maoist) are mostly under the scanner of intelligence agencies.

“A lot of times the phone tapping is done for only sixty days. But when it involves persons who are facing any criminal case or are under the scanner of investigating agencies, their phones are kept under surveillance for a longer period,” a senior Home Ministry official said.

As per official procedures, the phone tapping by intelligence agencies is done with the consent of the Union Home Secretary . The government can authorise tapping for 60 days which can be extended again as per needs.

The sources said that emails are also being monitored by government agencies after getting the consent of the service providers.

Sources said that tapping of telephone conversations of leading corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, whose name has cropped up in the 2G Spectrum row , with several influential persons were authorised by the government.

We definitely need sports, what we don’t need are Jakhrani, MA Shah and Ijaz Butt

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By Mohammad Malick

ISLAMABAD: Nobody can argue with Tuesday’s house resolution demanding raising of standards for sports in the country and creation of sports facilities for youngsters. The perfect beginning could be made by terminating the shameful innings of PBC chairman, Ijaz Butt who brings nothing but shame to the country and losses to the national cricket team. The next best thing would be the sacking of sports minister Ijaz Jhakrani who did not even bother turning up for the discussion, and anyway who wants a sports minister who only landed in the rough of the pitch after being hounded out of the health ministry due to lot of corruption talk in the power corridors. And of course the latest entrant to the hall of shame is the Sindh sports minister, Dr Shah who literally stole the national flag from the heartbroken athlete anointed to carry it in the opening ceremony of the ongoing Commonwealth Games. Once the national sports arena is cleared of such old debris and the new hubris, we can get on with the much delayed and badly needed task of putting our youngsters in the playing fields and away from the prying hands of criminals and religious exploiters.

The power of sports is evident from the fact that on a big day like Pakistan playing India or the like, even the suicide bombings stop. When Aisam Ul Haq wept with joy at the governor’s reception, millions of watching Pakistani’s got teary eyed. When we won a cricket match recently, the national mood shrug off desperate despondency like nobody’s business. But when you see the government putting a man like Jhakrani in charge of a vehicle that could literally galvanize the youth and transform the national mood then you know it’s nothing but a cruel joke, another golden opportunity squandered. Sports, and lots of it is not an option but a necessity in a country where almost 65% of the population is under 25 years of age, where 40% live below poverty line and real literacy runs in single digits. We can channelize the bursting energy of the youth positively or let it be exploited by those with guns in one hand and the promise of heaven in the other. Hardly a sporting thought.

On a lighter side though, the press gallery hacks could be heard chuckling when a smiling Speaker, Fehmida Mirza squeezed all the seriousness of the world in her voice and proposed the revival of parliamentarians sports teams. To be fair to the lady, parliamentarians used to play cricket and other games in the good old days and the leader of the opposition Ch. Nisar for one used to be a formidable cricketer. But despite all the talk about tolerance and policy of coexistence, we know the underlying political realities and the simmering rages so the matches would be one hell of an entertainment fiesta. Imagine the prime minister coming in to bat and refusing to hit the ball thrown in by Ch Nisar out of his compassion for consensus and no-offense strategy. Imagine Babar Awan keeping the wickets behind a swashbuckling Khwaja Asif, only for Asif to turn around and find out that like the zillion overnight amendments, the number of his wickets too have been amended to provide a larger target to the bowler. And we could have some equally interesting pairing in some other games including Sherry Rehman and Maulana Fazlur Rehman teaming up for playing mixed-doubles in a tennis match. In fact our imagination is the only limit.

But sharing her serious passion for reviving parliamentary sports later in a conversation, Speaker Fehmida Mirza was spot on when she talked of the “fund raising potential” of say a friendly sports match of a good parliamentary team with a media team or a team comprising a celebrity mix, with the proceeds going to the flood victims. It’s definitely a doable thing, rather a must do thing but before embarking on such a venture the parliament must grant constitutional immunity to players of the other teams for causing any injury to a legislature.

magine a delivery bowled by a Jang group guy hitting a PPPP chap on the head, he would instantly be accused of leading a campaign against the government (though he should be credited for knocking some sense into senseless heads). But all said and done, it’s a good day and we are game if the parliament is, and the parliamentarians are still around in the cricketing winter season.

FOOTNOTE: Law minister Babar Awan presented a good documented defence against the opposition allegations about him sneaked in a dirty NAB ordinance while hoodwinking an unsuspecting prime minister. But numerous angry opposition speakers and his irritatingly calm rejoinders later the key issue still remained unanswered: what was the unholy emergency that caused the promulgation of the arguably controversial ordinance in the first place? If only the minister can explain this because rest is all procedural rigmarole. What do you say minister?