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Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Where did it all go wrong? India wonders…

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By Amit Baruah

Not very long ago, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could do no wrong – or so it seemed.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, hoping it would restore confidence in his beleaguered government

Long considered a man of unimpeachable integrity, Mr Singh coasted to a second term as the prime minister of the world’s second most populous nation in May last year.

From 145 seats in the lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha, in 2004, his Congress party increased its share of seats to 206 in the May 2009 polls.

By current Indian electoral standards, it was an impressive performance.

With the opposition in disarray, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government appeared to be on a roll.

An unshakeable understanding between Mr Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi ensured political stability in the country. Frequent meetings between the two suggested a neat division of responsibility between party and government.

‘Mind-boggling’

In the past few months, the personal equation may have continued, but things have begun going horribly wrong for the Congress-led coalition.


Regular protests by Telangana activists are just one of the government’s worries at the moment

Inflation, corruption scandals, a massive and ongoing agitation for a separate state of Telangana in southern India, apparent favours in the allocation of land, the abuse of discretionary powers by state leaders: everything seemed to go wrong at the same time for Mr Singh and his government.

A spate of court cases has given the government a headache.

The Supreme Court made some sharp observations of official decisions in what has come to be known as the 2G scandal – where the government is said to have incurred losses of billions of dollars in the sale of mobile phone spectrum.

And on Wednesday, hearing a case of unaccounted money being held by Indians in foreign banks, the court criticised the coalition for its reluctance to provide more information.

“It is a pure and simple theft of national money,” said Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar. “We are talking about mind-boggling crime. We are not on the niceties of treaties.”

Such comments have become a near-daily affair for the government in one case or the other.

And so far it has not been able to come up with convincing answers.

Government ‘rudderless’

In what the Indian media has dismissed as a lame effort to energise his government, Mr Singh changed the portfolios of as many as 36 ministers on Wednesday, terming it a “minor reshuffle” and promising a more “expansive exercise” in the next few months.

But analysts believe that this may not help the image of the government as a performing entity.

Neena Vyas, associate editor of The Hindu newspaper, told the BBC: “More important is whether the government is able to break the logjam with the opposition, which prevented parliament from conducting any business in the recent session of parliament.”

Ms Vyas was referring to the impasse in parliament, in which all sections of an often-divided opposition came together to demand a parliamentary inquiry into the 2G scandal.

Several officials who chose to remain anonymous told this writer that a sense of paralysis had gripped the government.

“No-one wants to take decisions in such an environment where everything is suddenly under question. The government appears rudderless,” one of them said.

“It’s sad, but this is true,” confirmed a junior minister in Mr Singh’s government, who told me he believed the prime minister had been extremely hurt by the personal allegations levelled against him by some opposition leaders.

Challenges ahead

It is an open question whether the reshuffle carried out by Mr Singh will mean anything in real terms.

There also appear to be divergences on key issues like a new Food Security Bill between the government and the National Advisory Council, a powerful lobby group within the establishment headed by Mrs Gandhi.

Mrs Gandhi has said publicly there should be “no tolerance” for corruption or misconduct.

At a Congress party conference in December, she suggested fast-tracking corruption cases against public servants, providing full transparency in public procurements and contracts, and reviewing the discretionary powers of state chief ministers.

She also called for an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources.

Analysts are comparing Mr Singh’s second tenure to the political crisis, linked to a corruption scandal, that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi faced back in the mid-1980s, despite having a huge majority in parliament.

Eventually, Mr Gandhi lost the 1989 elections and a motley coalition of parties took power.

While there are similarities between then and now, Mr Singh and Mrs Gandhi still have the opportunity to retrieve lost ground.

A lot will depend on whether or not the government can check spiralling food inflation. Also, whether the Congress and its allies are able to blunt the opposition attack during next month’s budget session of parliament will be critical.

Mr Singh and his government still have a little over three years to go before the May 2014 elections.

But the prime minister, Mrs Gandhi and the government have a tough job ahead if they fancy a return to power in Delhi.

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.

Police target top official in Delhi Games probe

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NEW DELHI – Indian police said Thursday they had registered a case against the director-general of the Delhi Commonwealth Games, the most senior organiser of the tainted event named in a widening graft probe.


The Games were marred by venue delays and chaotic organisation

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) spokeswoman Vineeta Thakur told AFP that police had registered a first information report against V.K. Verma, the first step in criminal proceedings against an accused.

Verma was director-general in the organising committee of the October 3-14 Games, headed by its chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, who was quizzed by federal CBI detectives for eight hours on Wednesday.

“Verma is named as the key accused in the case which we have registered against him and four companies,” she said, adding that the four Delhi-based firms were searched on Thursday.

Police said the case against Verma related to contracts, reportedly worth six billion rupees (133.3 million dollars), awarded for the refurbishing of various stadiums of the scandal-hit Games.

Verma and the companies are suspected of cheating, criminal conspiracy and violating India’s tough anti-corruption laws.

In addition to searches at the four companies named in the case, CBI detectives carried out searches at another 10 premises in New Delhi and its suburbs on Thursday, a CBI source told AFP.

Police have so far charged three lower-ranking officials who are now in jail awaiting trial, but attention is turning to top managers, including Kalmadi, for their role.

The Games, which were marred by venue delays and chaotic organisation, were also hit by claims of massive financial irregularities as the budget ballooned three times to an estimated six billion dollars.

The national anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), received complaints alleging up to 1.8 billion dollars of Games money was misappropriated.

A initial report by the CVC into the Games confirmed the use of sub-standard construction materials in a host of Games-related building contracts and deliberate cost overruns.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seen as “Mr Clean” in his corruption-ridden administration, set up a panel after the Games ended to investigate graft claims. It is expected to deliver its preliminary report later this month.

The Games brought together 6,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories, mostly from the former British empire.

India police raid minister’s homes in telecoms probe

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NEW DELHI – Indian police on Wednesday raided two homes of a former telecoms minister who is alleged to have sold off mobile phone licences at knock-down prices in a scam that cost the government billions of dollars.

A spokesman for the Central Bureau of Investigation said A. Raja’s residences in the capital New Delhi and in his constituency in the southern state of Tamil Nadu were searched by police.

Raja, who resigned last month, is accused of changing bidding rules to favour selected companies who were often ineligible to compete for the lucrative second-generation (2G) mobile phone licences.

The licences were sold in 2008 at cut-price rates that denied the treasury up to 40 billion dollars in lost revenue, according to the national auditor.

The scandal, which could prove to be the biggest corruption case in India’s history, has engulfed the Congress-led ruling coalition and is seen as one of the government’s most serious setbacks since it came to power six years ago.

In a campaign for a cross-party investigation, the main opposition parties have stalled parliament for weeks.

The government has refused to agree, saying that the police and state anti-corruption bodies are both investigating the sales.

Raja belongs to a regional party that is key to the Congress alliance holding onto power, prompting accusations that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was slow to act against him after the 2G sell-off.

Raja’s lawyer, T.R. Andhyarujina, told the Supreme Court last week that his client had only been following procedures established by previous ministers.

J&K MLA placed under house arrest

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Ahead of the arrival of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here, independent MLA Sheikh Abdul Rashid was on Monday placed under house arrest when he along with his supporters defied prohibitory orders and tried to stage a dharna to protest the killing of three youths in the Machhil fake encounter. Official sources said Mr. Rashid and his supporters tried to take out a procession towards Lal Chowk in the heart of the city to stage a sit in but police and paramilitary forces prevented them. As Mr. Rashid and his supporters tried to break the police cordon, law enforcing agencies placed Rashid under house arrest and detained nearly 150 of his supporters, they said. Mr. Rashid had sought permission from the District Magistrate, Srinagar, for holding a “peaceful” protest demonstration in Lal Chowk or Raj Bhavan against the alleged “murder of three youths of Nadihal and unabated human rights violations”.

The district magistrate had declined permission, saying prohibitory orders were in force in the city. Section 144 Cr. PC prohibiting assembly of five or more persons has been imposed in the areas falling under police station of Nowhatta, Khanyar, Mehrajgunj and Safakadal, official sources said.

However, Mr. Rashid said he will go ahead with the dharna as he wanted to draw the attention of the Prime Minister towards the killing of three innocent youths of Nadihal. “We strongly condemn the police action. It is nothing but sham democracy”, he said. Mr. Rashid had also lodged a complaint with the state human rights commission (SHRC) on alleged forced labour following which the state police in its report to SHRC had admitted that people of Mawer in Langate constituency were used as forced labour by the army for 13 years without any remuneration. “Now that my complaint has been proved, the prime minister should apologise to the people and compensate them”, Mr. Rashid said.

Mr. Rashid in a separate complaint with SHRC had sought arrest and punishment of armymen allegedly responsible for the fake encounter in which three youths of Nadihal area were killed on April 30. An Army Major has been suspended and a Colonel removed from his command for their alleged involvement in the killing.

The Prime Minister will visit Kashmir on Monday to take forward his peace initiative in the state and is expected to renew his offer for talks with separatists. In view of prohibitory orders imposed in parts of the city and a shutdown called by separatists to protest the Prime Minister’s visit to the valley on Monday, all examinations scheduled for the day have been postponed. “All university examinations scheduled to be held today have been rescheduled. Revised schedule will be notified separately”, Kashmir University spokesman Showkat Shafi said.

Traffic has been restricted along the Boulevard road stretch from Dalgate to Nishat Garden in view of Dr. Singh’s visit. Superintendent Police (Traffic) Showkat Hussain Shah said no private or commercial vehicle will be allowed to ply on the road from Badyari chowk to Nishat Garden, a distance of nine km. Tour operators have also been asked not to ply on the road stretch and depart from the area before 6 a.m. and return only after 10.30 a.m., Mr. Shah said. He said similar restrictions will be in place on Tuesday as well.

India Maoist train sabotage toll climbs to 146

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KOLKATA – Indian rescue workers completed search operations on Sunday after pulling out 146 bodies from the site of a train wreck blamed on Maoist saboteurs, a state minister said.


The precise cause of the derailment was still unclear

The crash occurred on Friday when a Mumbai-bound high-speed passenger express from Kolkata veered off the tracks into the path of an oncoming freight train in a remote part of West Bengal state.

If confirmed as a Maoist strike, it would be the deadliest attack by the rebels in recent memory.

The government has recently been severely criticised for its handling of the worsening left-wing insurgency.

“Teams have pulled 146 bodies from the damaged carriages of the train. Now we are concentrating on hospitals because more than 200 injured are still there,” West Bengal civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee told AFP.

Relief and rescue workers rushed to the site — a Maoist stronghold around 135 kilometres (85 miles) west of Kolkata — and used mechanical cutters to reach the injured and the dead inside the badly mangled carriages.

The precise cause of the derailment was still unclear.

Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee initially said Maoists had blown up the track with explosives, while police pointed to evidence that a section of rail had been manually removed.

The Times of India on Sunday said police believed a “rogue Maoist gang” was behind the carnage.

Mukherjee said many of the bodies were badly dismembered and identification of the remains by relatives was proving to be a big challenge.

“We have urged the next of kin of the victims to donate blood to the Central Forensic Laboratory in Kolkata so that the bodies can be identified” by DNA testing, he said.

The Indian Railways Board responded to the disaster by cancelling nighttime services in a number of Maoist-affected areas until further notice.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of landless tribespeople and farmers left behind by India’s rapid economic expansion.

The Maoist rebellion, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has labelled the biggest threat to the country’s internal security, began in West Bengal in 1967 and has since spread to 20 of India’s 29 states.