Monday, June 28, 2010

Pioneer- Dilli Billi - '27th.June.10'

Thanks to the coming Commonwealth Games, Delhites are waking up to new infrastructure everyday. It may be flyovers, metro-lines or construction of new buildings and parking places coming up all over town. It is of course leading to chaos, mismanagement and commuting problems for the ordinary man. But hopefully all this will be over soon and the aam aadmi will really feel that the Commonwealth Games being hosted in capital did them some good.
The Government did come into heavy criticism about the aam aadmi from the rich and famous for the BRT being built in the capital. But now when you see the flow of traffic more regulated even car-walas do thank the Chief Minister for this good work. I was crossing one of the stadiums which have just been spruced up for the coming Games. I could not help but feel a bit apprehensive about the kind of chaalu work that’s been done. It looked really dicey. Everyone in Delhi whether it be the Cabinet Secretary, the general administration, politicians or the aam aadmi are keeping their fingers crossed that the preparations for the Commonwealth Games should not only be finished in time but also that the infrastructure that is being prepared for the Games should be strong enough so that no incident takes place which could mar the whole process and shame the nation.
The war between the Sports Ministry and the Commonwealth Secretariat is a well known fact. The amount of funds which have been diverted into the preparations for this great sporting event is not really a total waste. After the Asian Games we did after all, see a new Delhi. It was in the form of flyovers, new international quality hotels, new roads, new stadiums, more greenery and the capital gained lot of global awareness. Lots of new trees were planted for this great event. It was Rajiv Gandhi at that time who along with his young new force took the management for hosting the Asian Games. And what a success it was.
The Commonwealth Games have already given Delhites a quicker way of travelling in the Metro, cleaner bigger roads and a much needed cleanliness drive in the city. You have new public amenities and cleaner markets. Connaught Place looks all polished up while even Khan Market is getting a face lift. New trees have been planted, the new airport will be ready and you have to be proud of the new air-conditioned low buses. The ordinary man can even rush from Delhi to Gurgaon in the new clean air-conditioned Metro. Wow! Well lit shaded new bus-stops come as a bonus now.
Is it too soon for me to say all this? Will the Commonwealth Secretariat able to deliver the goods? We are keeping our fingers crossed as we zip pass all the new constructions happening in the city. Every morning we get up to new scandals in the Commonwealth Management. But we are still hopeful that things will finish in time without any hassle and the Commonwealth Games will also not see any mishap. God willing! If that happens the scandals, fights will be forgotten and forgiven. We then really don’t care who has a percentage where. Or, how much was given underhand or who made how much money. It is the done thing now. What is worrying and will not be forgiven is if the tax payer’s money which is being used will not give us facilities which are top class and the standard of infrastructure are not those that will give way over our heads one day and take the lives of the poor. Then the man in-charge will have to answer. But as usual, that may be too late and too far away for justice.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pioneer- Dilli Billi - '20th.June.10'

The insensitivity of politicians towards human life is completely missing. We have observed this over and over again. It is only during the election time that these politicians think of distributing bags full of money avoiding the Election Commissioner’s eye. After the Bhopal tragedy where the official number is thirty thousand dead and approximately a lac deformed, the effect of the gas leak in human lives is still there. The culprit was flown in a government plane and set free immediately. Is this a responsible or a sensitive act?
Fortunately the public is not blind or deaf anymore to the faults of the Government. It is a known fact that personal friendship of businessmen, politicians and beaurocrates go much above the law. Anderson was god sent to the Madhya Pradesh government at that time. His coffers were full for politicians and the beaurocracy. His seven star company guest house was used by the men in power and their families very often. He funded enough charities owned by powerful politicians. Many politicians and beaurocrates have enjoyed his hospitality in America on holidays. So, to go all out and use official machinery to set free a murderer of thirty thousand people was returning a favour for his large heartedness towards them. Unfortunately no one directly connected with the influential and powerful was a victim in this tragedy. Then would Anderson with the help of government machinery fled from this nation? For once I must say, thanks to the electronic media we can see the fate of the families who are effected by the poisonous gas. It has left generations deformed. No amount of compensation can make amends in this inhuman act. The carelessness of Madhya Pradesh Government in not having safety norms checked again and again is unforgivable. The attitude of the American Anderson of running away instead of helping the effected families medically and monetarily the less said the better.
It is very easy for Arjun Singh who was then the Chief Minister to keep silent now when the whole country wants to know the truth. Is he trying to pretend that the orders came from the Centre, because he thinks people have a short memory? Right after this tragedy Rajiv Gandhi visited Bhopal and said in a speech that ‘Action’ will be taken and within five minutes Arjun Singh turned the word ‘Action’ into ‘Compensation’ and said that the compensation will be given. Unfortunately, the State Government made sure that there was no ‘Action’ or ‘Compensation’. Everybody has come off badly in the aftermath of this tragedy; the government of the day, investigating agencies and the judiciary.
After this tragedy enough Governments have come and gone - the Narasimha Rao government, the Chandrashekhar government and the Vajpayee government but no action was taken. It is a sad and unfortunate state of affair for the public of nation that we have leaders who are insensitive and inhuman to the common man and their loss which is in-repairable. But it is never too late now that the can of worms is open and we do expect some relief and justice for the families who suffered after this tragedy. Will 93 years old Anderson’s extradition heal the wounds of Bhopal? Why don’t we concentrate on giving a larger compensation package for the victims which is properly disbursed and make tighter laws to prevent future Bhopals’ from happening. We must also own up to the multiple institutional failures and make sure that we learn a lesson from it.

The Tribune-Chatterati-21st.June.10

The fashion frat is over the moon as the Mumbai High Court has ruled that designers are entitled to an income tax exemption given to other artists. Tarun Tahiliani was the most jubilant as he won his long-drawn battle against the Income Tax Department seeking relief.
Tarun is, of course, now a hero in the fashion industry. The designers feel that he has proved that designers have the same stature as artists. Rohit Bal, the king of fashion, has just got back from hospital after a heart attack. He hosted a party at his restaurant Veda in Connaught Place for his friends to appreciate Tarun’s hard work and the tax gift to designers.
Tarun and Rohit Bal feel that showcasing their talent abroad is a legitimate means of carrying forward Indian culture and at the same time helps swell the foreign exchange coffers of the nation. Our designers are today appreciated in the West even as India is the flavour of the moment. A Rohit Bal ordinary T-shirt in Selfridges, London, can now cost you up to Rs 20,000 and wedding lehengas from our top designers can cost you up to Rs 10 lakh abroad. But all this has left most of the industry still in the cold.
Anderson, the Bhopal tragedy culprit, we all now know was flown in a government plane and set free immediately. Was this a responsible act? Personal friendships of businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats can go far above the law. Anderson’s coffers at the time were open for politicians and the bureaucracy. His seven-star company guesthouse was often used by men in power. He funded charities run by politicians. Ruling politicians enjoyed his hospitality on holidays in America. So the use of official machinery to free a murderer was actually a return of past favours. Right after the tragedy, Rajiv Gandhi visited Bhopal and said in a speech that ‘action’ would be taken. Within five minutes Arjun Singh turned the word ‘action’ into ‘compensation’ and said that ‘compensation’ would be given. Unfortunately, the state government eventually made sure that there was neither ‘action’ nor ‘compensation’.
Congressmen in Delhi carry cuttings of old newspapers where all this has been quoted. Everybody has come off badly in the aftermath of the tragedy; the government of the day, the investigating agencies and the judiciary. Will 93-year-old Anderson’s extradition now heal the wounds of Bhopal? Why don’t we concentrate on giving a larger compensation package for the remaining victims and ensure it is properly disbursed and then make tighter laws to prevent future Bhopals from happening.
Delhi-ites are cheering – cheers for the new licences to smaller eateries to serve beer and wine. Specialised eating places other than the five stars have always been a major draw for those celebrating high life. Today the true literate like to shun the more obvious five-star culture simply because it is so predictable. While hotels too have been forced to upgrade their dining facilities, the thrill of seeking the ‘dice’ is a gourmet’s delight.
Now with the booze licences, ‘sada Dilliwalas’ will be able to indulge themselves fully. Will drunken driving and brawls explode as a result? Unlikely, say those who insist that Delhi must host Commonwealth Games like a global, grown-up city.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Tribune-Chatterati-15th.June.10

Last week clearly was a week of celebrations for the BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. First he will return to the Rajya Sabha. With the kind of confusion in the BJP, no one was sure if Naqvi would make it.
The second celebration for the Naqvi family was the wedding of their son Arshad Naqvi. The reception was at a five-star hotel. It was an elegant evening with a royal gathering of political bigwigs. The Prime Minister came to bless the couple and spent time chatting with other dignitaries.
Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Dr Karan Singh, BJP leader Rajnath Singh and Sachin Pilot were also present. Arun Jaitely and Rajeev Shukla spent the evening together most probably discussing the fate of the IPL and BCCI. The two new young faces of the Gadkari’s crisis team in the BJP — Varun Gandhi and Vani Tripathi were also present. Abhishek Manu Singhvi did drop in to wish the new couple.
Delhi is a place where leaders from different states carry small gifts to VVIPs, considered politically appropriate. Last week any top leader’s house you went to, you were served syrupy-sweet Shahi litchis and Jardalu mangoes, admired for their size, aroma and pulp. Many VVIPs in New Delhi received 5-kg packets of both fruits colorfully wrapped with words, Bihar Ke Mukhya Mantri Nitish Kumar Se Saprem Bhent. They were sent from Bihar with special refrigeration facilities to New Delhi.
During the apple and cherry season, Himachal Pradesh leaders bring boxes to Central leaders. Some are transported from their personal orchards while some are bought from Khan and Bengali market here under the pretence of having travelled all the way from the hills in their cars.
From Mumbai, Maharashtra’s leaders get Alphansos during the season; from Andhra Pradesh the most valued offerings are the special mango Begum Palli and the famous Shaarifa (custard apple). From Kashmir, it is either Kagazi Badams or the very rare Amri apple. We also have the special cashewnuts with skin sent by leaders who want to create a real impression. The miniature seedless papaya from the North-East as also pineapples are also a real big deal. From Bengal, its the special sweet dish Mishti Doi and Kerala’s smoothies travel with the crispest coconut chips. Then, we have various leaders travelling abroad picking up chocolates, cheese and perfumes by the dozen to smooth their pathways in Delhi’s Byzantine corridors.
Delhi’s obsession with the Rajya Sabha is natural. It is one place where party leaders, the real rulers of Delhi, have complete sway. While the Congress uses the tactic of keeping its cards close to its chest, this time there was nervousness.
Though all sitting ministers have been accommodated, speculations about some of them like Mr Anand Sharma and Mr Jairam Ramesh kept them on tenterhooks. Comfortable cross-country berths were found to accommodate each of them and all is now well. The BJP pulled off some surprises and there were allegations of money bags against JD(U) and JMM. On the whole, the Congress circles heaved a sigh of relief.

Pioneer- Dilli Billi - '13th.June.10'

Last week was the week of speculations and great activity in the capital. The Congress Rajya Sabha’s aspirants were trying desperately to seek the attention of the Gandhi family while in the BJP it was only Advani and Arun Jaitely who mattered. In the Congress many thought that loyalty to the family would count while others thought it was hardwork and deliverance that will see them through. In the Congress and BJP it seems are on the same footing. It is a mix of all three - loyalty, hardwork and deliverance.
Several Congress Ministers of UPA-II had to be adjusted. They may have had to leave their home states and go to other states like Jairam Ramesh and Anand Sharma. All these leaders who have been adjusted in the Upper House are bright, intelligent and deliver. From the BJP also the choices had been good but one just cannot understand why Ram Jethmalani wants to stay on as Rajya Sabha member and why would BJP need him so badly. Whenever Ram Jethmalani’s Rajya Sabha tenure comes to an end he makes new friends and manages to get another six years term. Well, obviously the BJP and RSS need this eminent lawyer with them. This time when he retires he will be ninety three.
The other major announcement last week was of the National Advisory Committee. After enough speculations about the members in the board who have nothing to do with politics or politicians but are all assets in their own fields. It is evident that there will be clashes between the NAC and Government policies. The NAC members are all very strong willed and in some cases do not see eye to eye to the Government policies. They will not hesitate to express their views and will stick to their ideologies. Mrs.Gandhi and the Prime Minister may have some serious and embarrassing situations to face on this issue.
People in the capital are now waiting for the long overdue AICC re-shuffle and the UPA cabinet re-shuffle. A lot of General Secretaries who are holding also Union Cabinet post will have to give up one post. So, loyalists who were not adjusted in the Rajya Sabha may become a part of AICC. These are exercises which will leave many disalluioned and upset as some choices made may not be very suited to them. They may think that they were more deserving than the people put in their places. But the system of both these major political parties has changed ever since Rahul Gandhi and Gadkari took over. Rahul of course is more matter of fact now while Gadkari is still fumbling between Advani and the RSS. New parameters have been set for selection. The elder politicians are a bit insecure with these new jet-set politicians coming in under the two new bosses. You need to change with time and you need to change with new bosses. The cleverer lot has understood this and has immediately changed to satisfy their new leaders. It is a difficult change to the older lot but they will have to change themselves with time and new style of functioning.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Tribune-Chatterati-7th.June.10

While a book on Sonia Gandhi’s life is catching the headlines, the capital is abuzz with pyrotechnics around the release of the movie “Rajneeti”. Director Prakash Jha is fixated on politics. After making several movies around politics, he himself jumped into the fray in Bihar and fought the elections in 2004. But, of course, he had to eat a humble pie. Making movies and fighting elections are two very different ball games. He made noises about development and changing the political scenario, but not many took him seriously. For the promotion of the movie, Prakash Jha claims that he was denied permission for press conferences at some historical places in Delhi, including the Habitat Centre. He says he was not allowed to show the film to celebrities at the Mahadev auditorium. So he travelled from one TV studio to another with the cast of his movie crying foul. He wonders why everyone thought that the movie was about Congress president Sonia Gandhi and dynastic rule. But it suited him perfectly. So just curiosity will take people to cinema halls. The Censor Board has made matters easier as it clipped a couple of scenes. This has given the movie further publicity.
A wedding in a political family usually makes news. It may be a low-cost wedding or an extravaganza. In Jaipur the other day we saw celebrities from Delhi and Bollywood attending the wedding of the daughter of Rajasthan’s Tourism Minister Bina Kak. It was quite a mix of politics, Bollywood and Page 3 crowd.
If Bollywood personalities arrive, how can choreographed dance performances to Punjabi film songs be far behind? The sangeet ceremony was straight out of Yash Chopra’s movies Chandani and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. The venue was a farmhouse which was beautifully done up in white and Delhi’s politicians mixed freely with celebrities from Mumbai and Jaipur. The music by Amrita and Riju Jhunjunwala made the host, Bina Kak, dance. In fact the evening saw Bina in a light mood dressed in a traditional sari with gotta patti work. The guests danced, giggled and chilled out at the do.
Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif were present. Though Kat had to leave half way through for the Capital to promote her movie “Rajneeti”. Salman was a part of the family, it was clear. He has acted as Bina Kak’s son in a film and must say even in real life he lived up to that reel image at the wedding. Salman is also familiar with Jaipur people as he is a frequent visitor there for his black buck case which is still pending in court.
The reception was held in Delhi. You name the VIPs and they were there. Salman Khurshid, Shiela Dikshit with family, Amar Singh, Shashi Tharoor and Rajeev Shukla, among them. Murli Manohar Joshi and Karan Singh came and left dot on time like many other guests. For the first time, I witnessed a disciplined Delhi.

Pioneer- Dilli Billi - '6th.June.10'

The Andhra Pradesh’s former Chief Minister YSR Reddy’s son is being a problem for the Congress at the moment. Jagan Reddy is on a high and is also an angry young man in a hurry. These to me are all wrong ingredients for a mature politician. It was a sad incident which shook the country when YSR died in tragic circumstances. Everyone right from the Prime Minister to the common man was praying that YSR would be found alive somewhere in the jungle but the whole nation fell into silence with grief when the scattered torn bodies and the broken aircraft were found.
Immediately after the tragedy and finding the dead body Jagan’s men started the hype for Jagan to step into Chief Minister’s chair. It was of course an absurd and impractical agenda.Jagan’s men did all that they could. They started blackmailing the Centre High Command of the Congress into letting Jagan takeover or there would be a revolt in the Andhra State Congress. It was a wrong move. Jagan is known for his extra curricular activities and business acumen which were not hidden from anyone including the leaders of the Congress in the capital. The High Command acted wisely and appointed an old faithful as Chief Minister. Jagan of course started manipulating and creating a ruckus for the new Chief Minister. This impatient young man with his unaccounted wealth was not the one to sit in the shadows. He obviously has underestimated the leaders in the Centre and by his immaturity has rubbed them all the wrong way. Politics is not a business and C.E.Os’ of the company cannot be your advisors. Jagan does not have the acumen to form a new party. In Andhra you have enough parties already. It would be advisable for him to sit still and work on the grassroot level. Or is he feeling that his sympathy vote bank will disappear as time goes by? His father YSR had enough support from all quarters. And becoming Chief Minister is not dynastic rule. You have to prove your mettle. Not by having media presence and holding rallies in various parts of your State. It will work against him and not for him. He will be perceived as nuisance value rather than an asset. And the High Command is today powerful enough not to give in to pressure tactics. He should have taken a cabinet post in Andhra Pradesh and then worked towards becoming Chief Minister.
Jagan could leave the Congress and form the party but we know by now that no one is above the party. It is the party which makes you; it could be a Natwar Singh or a Jaswant Singh or even an Amar Singh. Till they had the backing of their respective parties they had enough influence and power. But today not many people have time for them. Jagan should get the message loud and clear that you cannot come to power through blackmail, violence, threats or money. You need to be subtle, mature, know which right button to press at the right time and not be taken in by your chamchaas who are bad advisors.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Tribune-Chatterati-31st.May10'

The BJP is going through a real tough time. This party was supposed to be the main opposition to the ruling coalition. But unfortunately for the nation it’s been a complete flop show. The new President Nitin Gadkari has still not got used to the heat of either the politics or the mercury rising of the capital. Delhites were really amused when at a rally in Ram Lila Grounds; Gadkari fainted due to heat stroke. Fortunately for him Advani’s Z-category protection men were around who carried Gadkari to Advani’s car which was nearest and gave a cold towel and water. Now in May, Gadkari is in Europe. Officiating him in his absence is Anant Kumar who has always been active as a mediator in the warring groups of the BJP and the Sangh.
Advani in the meantime is all set to get his old favorites back. Jaswant Singh and Uma Bharti are likely to re-join the party. Gadkari too wants the parivaar all around him. Soren in Jharkhand ditched them. Top leaders who want a berth to the Rajya Sabha like Venkaiah, Rudy, Abbas Naqvi and Tarun Vijay are having sleepless nights while Gadkari is cooling off far away from reality.
It is always been said, ‘Behind man’s success is always a woman’. This is an international phenomenon with leaders and successful men all over the world. The former Prime Minister Tony Blair of U.K always claimed that his wife Cherie, a successful lawyer was his best advisor and a critic. Infact she also came out with a critical book about him and his fellow politicians. The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law duo Barbara and Laura Bush are authors too. They both came out with their books while their husbands were the Presidents of America. Hillary Clinton wrote a book when Bill Clinton was the President. And now how can our Indian Prime Minister’s wife will be left behind. Manmohan Singh’s wife Gursharan Kaur is writing a book and author cum columnist Kushwant Singh is involved and so hopefully will not be a boring book. Will she spill any beans? One wonders!
The Prime Minister at a press conference recently claimed that he is advised by not one but two women Sonia Gandhi, the UPA President and his wife Gursharan Kaur. May be that can be a contribution to his success of running a successful coalition government. The Prime Minister’s daughter Upinder, a scholar in her own right, has authored books titled Ancient Delhi and A History and Early Medieval India. Another daughter, Daman, has written a book titled The Last Frontier: People and Forests in Mizoram and a novel titled Nine by Nine.

Pioneer- Dilli Billi - '30th.May.10'

Everyone in Delhi is anxiously waiting for the Commonwealth Games in October. The clock is ticking fast. The infrastructure development being done for these games is going on at top speed according to the officials of the Organizing Committee of the Commonwealth Games.
Last week a professor friend from London was visiting Delhi. It was quite an eye opener for me and him as I took him around town. I have always marveled at the way Delhi is a host to a colorful mix of people and delicacies from all over the country. It gave me immense pleasure to see the reactions of the wandering Britisher who in my view had no insight into the real India. It is important that a foreigner in town must get to taste delicacies right from the Kashmiri Waswan to Tandoori Chicken, Hyderabadi Biryani and then delicacies from Southern India. He was at home dining at a five star hotel but it was when he went to the Sagar Ratna which is the favorite haunt of politicians like Chief Minister Hooda, Union Ministers and Rahul Gandhi that he was truly excited. The ambience here is simple but clean and hygienic. The variety of Dosas and Idlis here are absolutely original. He could not get enough of the Badam Halwa either.
Driving out of Lutyen’s Delhi into Jama Masjid and Chandani Chowk was what left him aghast and wondering what the real India is today. Two extremes he witnessed as he drove from the Rashtrapati Bhawan built during the British Raj to the Red Fort of the Mughals. Foreigners visiting can hardly believe the architecture of Lutyen’s Delhi and the drive from Rashtrapati Bhawan on Raj Path to India Gate leaves them in awe of it’s splendor. Drive them to the Nizamuddin Dargah to the Gurudwara at Rakabganj and Birla Mandir. They are left so confused. The variety of culture and religion that we all survive in happily and unceremoniously together. It was difficult for him to believe when the rest of the world suffered recession, India was hardly affected by it. He could not believe that we would complete our stadiums which are only one fourth built till now; our parkings for the Commonwealth traffic which seems no where in place and our roads are all broken due to the metro stations been built in different locations will all be ready (or atleast almost) in next five months. He was wondering if our hotels and private accommodations will be geared for the traffic of the players and visitors. He did not seem to realize that we all are also keeping our fingers crossed that our Government and the official machinery will not let us down and goof-ups will be minimum. We may not be very systematical but we do have something called ‘Jugaad’. But obviously he did not quite understand the Indian ‘Jugaad’, on a first trip.
The ordinary Indian today has his pride and would do whatever to make sure that the Games are a success. We are very hopeful. So, we do hope that the infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games will be ready and all the foreigners who visit will go back after touring different parts of our city tasting our food without any mishaps. As of now most foreigners who come to India go back amazed at the confidence of every Indian, at the progress that India is making internationally and the kind of democracy that we all live in. Infact it was suggested by this professor that given what we have managed we could send a couple of our politicians to U.K to tutor them now, on how to run a coalition Government. What an idea Sir ji!