Time to end the Presidential tamasha?

Every five years, when it’s time to elect the new President of the India, there is needless muscle flexing and show of strength that eventually fizzles out and amounts to nothing. This time seems to be no different. The UPA has settled on Pranab Mukherjee, while the opposition is still in the hunt for a candidate of its own. Thankfully, former President Abdul Kalam refused to take the bait and seems to have survived with his reputation intact. He knew better than to fall prey to a losing cause when he had already served a creditable stint as the President.

The President of India is largely a ceremonial post and nobody refutes that. Most people can barely name our past Presidents (barring probably APJ Abdul Kalam) because in the last few decades, none of them have really had a lasting impact on the country. Sadly, the post of President is generally considered a retirement appointment. Someone who is a safe bet, should it ever come to a crisis of any sort, is often the choice, Pratibha Patil, being a prime example. Plucked from virtual obscurity, she was rewarded with the Presidency for her blind loyalty to the Gandhi family. After several foreign tours with friends and family, she is now headed towards a safe and comfortable retirement. In short, her stint has been a complete waste of taxpayer resources with absolutely nothing to show for it except for a controversy surrounding her post-retirement home. Despite being the first woman President, she has far from proven to be an inspirational figure or a role model of any sort. The irony is that she is hardly to blame because her landing the post is a reflection of the state of our democracy and politics more than anything else.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Nation needs “honest” PM to break free

The Coal-gate saga, the “scam du jour,” is fast being lost like every other scam, as the media revels in motives, allegations and counter allegations. In the midst of this, the most revealing piece of news on the Coal-gate saga was the pronouncements made by Mr. P.C Parikh, former Coal Secretary, who was at the center of all the action when these decisions regarding the coal allocations were made.

“I had written to the PMO way back in 2004 that coal blocks should be given through an auction. But the policy has been implemented now in 2012 and till date, not even a single coal block has been allocated through auction. The government lost a lot of money by giving coal mines using the existing system.” Mr. Parikh said that the committee was always under tremendous pressure from MPs, state governments, ministries and other players to allot coal blocks. “Any system which is based on a subjective decision is open to pulls and pressures, and this is precisely what happened,” he remarked.

These statements reveal several serious flaws in our current system. Firstly, there is way too much left to the discretion of those in power. The bulk of our scams can be traced down to ministers using their discretion to make decisions that are often arbitrary. The reality of coalition politics is that the PM could feign helplessness if the likes of Raja chose to do as they please. It’s hard to argue that a tough, no-nonsense PM would make a huge difference as opposed to an affable, yet purportedly clean PM.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Aamir Khan deserves praise, not attacks!

Aamir Khan’s recent episode of Satyamev Jayate seems to have created quite a furore in the medical community. The India Medical Association (IMA) have accused Aamir of unfairly targeting them and have demanded an unconditional apology from him. They have threatened to boycott his program and also his films.

The controversy surrounding this program follows a very familiar pattern. For example, from the time the anti-corruption movement was started by Anna Hazare and his team, one common refrain was,  “You can’t paint all politicians with a broad brush and say that everyone is corrupt.” The fact is no one ever said that. The other common refrain was, “You can’t end corruption with one law — the Lokpal Bill” The fact is, once again, no one ever made such a claim. The need of the hour is that you have to start somewhere.

The same holds true for Aamir’s exposé on the medical profession. I saw the program and I thought that Aamir had done a wonderful job of putting the show together. There was absolutely nothing in the episode that said that all doctors are bad or corrupt. It highlighted the fact that there is growing corruption in the medical profession and something needs to be done to at least curb, if not put an end to, this malaise. In a developing country like India, the government needs to play its part in ensuring that its citizens, especially the poor, have adequate, affordable healthcare.

 Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

PM should follow words with some action

Mr. Jairam Ramesh had referred to himself as Shikhandi a year back, when faced with attacks for land acquisition for various projects. “I had become Shikhandi in Environment and Forest Ministry,” he had said. But his comment went relatively unnoticed. A year later, Shikhandi is back but this time in the center of a political storm of seemingly epic proportions. What is also back is the indefatigable Team Anna, this time armed with scores of documented evidence of corruption against fifteen ministers including the PM himself. While unleashing a barrage of allegations, Mr. Prashant Bhushan said that the PM was being used like “Shikhandi.” He meant that the Congress party was using the PM’s personal credibility and honesty as a “smoke screen” while indulging in seriously corrupt practices behind the scenes. Not surprisingly, there has plenty of chest-thumping, especially from the UPA, about the reference to “Shikhandi” to describe the PM. In fact, this entire episode has been replete with Bollywood-style melodrama. First, the allegation from the relentless Team Anna. Then, the counter allegations from the UPA combined with innuendos about cracks in Team Anna. And finally, the punchline from the PM himself (“I will give up my public life if allegations are proved against me….). What is missing now are signs of a filmy happy ending!

 

Firstly, we need to thank Mr. Bhushan for putting Shikhandi on the map and giving us a quick refresher on one of our great epics (Justice Katju should have something to cheer about?). I asked at least five highly educated people about Shikhandi and all of them confessed ignorance. A couple of those who hail from the south with limited knowledge of Hindi did a quick mental pattern match for similar sounding terms and wondered if it was some kind of “Shikanji!” (lime juice). So much for the pervasive power of our mythological metaphors.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times