UPA: Close Encounters for the Third Time

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) and Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi hold up a recently released book titled "Report To The People 2010-11" by the government of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in New Delhi May 22, 2011. -REUTERS

by Farzana Versey

(May 22, Mumbai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Hawaii chappals, silk sarees and a prison cell with an open Indian style toilet have been in the news for what appears to be the right reasons that are all wrong. They have given the UPA-2 government reason enough to celebrate its second anniversary and shameless entry into the third year. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s house will be lit up and tables set for the bash. What exactly are they celebrating? Rahul Gandhi’s biker dude act and his yadda-yadda about Noida? Or the fact that after 34 years the Left has been trounced in West Bengal and their ally is ruling? Or that now Tamil Nadu has a new government and they can heave a sigh of relief?

All these are opportunities that have fallen in the lap of the mother party – the Congress. Some months ago Sonia Gandhi was singing the praises of Mayawati. Now, Uttar Pradesh is the pits, except for Rae Bareilly and Amethi, of course, the principalities of the royal Gandhi family. The victory of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu is part of the cyclical nature of electoral politics. True, the scams contributed, but if the two parties are now hobnobbing with the Congress they forget that it was the Congress policies and the liberalisation of the Prime Minister that made these backdoor entries possible.

If, as someone said a long time ago, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle, then who should own up responsibility? The man who is playing host. And the party president.

Of women and men:

The reason I began with the trivia is because the media has feminised the issue, and is yet hypocritical. The sartorial details of Mamata Bannerjee and J. Jayalalitha were trotted out to reveal the differences. The fact is that while both have been unfortunately at the receiving end of vile sexist abuse, they have been a part of the cult factory themselves. Mamata was seen as an image of Goddess Durga and during the puja season quite a few of the tableaux would be dedicated to her. She has chosen eight portfolios for herself this time. Jayalalitha has been tried for corruption, for possessing wealth in excess of her position; her devotees’ rolling on the ground to pay their respects to her is well-known. Now to flaunt them as examples of woman power is facile.

On the other hand there is talk about how equal treatment should be meted out to the DMK’s M. K. Kanimozhi because she asked for bail on grounds of her gender. Most people have been demanding reservations for women in parliament, they want to discuss kitchen cabinets, about how these women manage home and career, but when a person is imprisoned and asks for consideration, then there is the ho-hum about how she should take it like anyone else.

Were that the case, then why are the big players not arrested? A. Raja is indeed behind bars, but Raja or any minister for that matter cannot move unless someone higher up permits him to. He is most certainly culpable and benefitted from the contracts, but who was it who thought it was convenient to have him in the Telecom Ministry? The CBI has relied heavily on the Radia tapes, and Niira Radia was not working for the government. She was employed as a lobbyist. Where are her employers? Where are those who were going to help her get in touch with the ministers?

Of Tatas and alibis:

The political arrests are the most expedient ploy to show that the Congress is attempting to clean the stables, while the real derby colts and fillies will watch from the stands. Ratan Tata is currently in Little Mr. Buffett mode and hitting out at Mukesh Ambani for living ostentatiously and wondering whether he is concerned about making a difference. He told The Times, UK:

“If he is not, then it is sad because India needs people to allocate some of their enormous wealth to finding ways to mitigate the hardship that people have. We are doing so little about the disparity. We are allowing it to be there and wishing it away.”

He is, as the biggest manufacturing employer in the UK ever since his takeover of Corus and Jaguar Land Rover, also taking to task the British system of work where no one goes the “extra mile”. In India it is different:

“If you are in a crisis, it means working till midnight, you would do it.”

These are more interesting statements than they appear to be. His ‘I was once a victim’ cry has much to do with the Trinamool’s victory. When Mamata had made a loud enough noise against the Nano factory, he shifted to Gujarat. But Mamata has appointed the former FICCI general secretary to head her finance ministry. Mr. Tata is using the time-tested double sword, where he makes his point and also gets it. His talk about Indian commitment to entrepreneurship at the managerial level is an indicator that he is pushing the India Shining vision overseas, made even more clear with his endorsement of Barack Obama and David Cameron:

“Both of them are open to ideas; they are very pragmatic in their views. Each of them feels that India is a land of some opportunity for themselves.”

This will make Dr. Manmohan Singh happy. He wasn’t ever unhappy, but this will make him overtly so. His score card will move steadily. It will do for him what the abused people in Uttar Pradesh cannot do for Rahul Gandhi. After making a celebrity of one farmer’s widow, Kalavati, Rahul is on a showcasing spree. The PM and he may be on the same page, but they are reading between the lines differently. In fact, Rahul’s open emphasis on youth power can be seen as a tangential out-down of the PM. Of course, being a nice guy – even Mamata Bannerjee said so – he will speak the same talk while continuing to support the worst criminals. And the crime is not merely in the committing, but in the obfuscation and the omission.

We have had enough of “human errors” in the technological age where computers do most of the work. Despite major problems on the home front as well as defence, the ministers of these portfolios will continue to occupy their seats. The Sharad Kumars, Shahid Balwas, Karim Moranis are the conduits – where is the money? Remember how after the hearings both Tata and Anil Ambani were praised by the Bench for being “candid”? They can afford to be. Alibis are left with small change and no fingerprints on them.

Hassan Ali had been in the news for years and there was this one rather dandy picture of him that would be flashed all the time. Suddenly, we saw him in pajamas and stories about his demand for ‘western-style toilet’ became front page news. Has any probe found out why he was protected all this time and who are the other beneficiaries? The same goes for the Commonwealth Games. They are held in the nation and showcase the country; it is not about a stadium and flower pots. Suresh Kalmadi could not have been alone.

Of the media:

It is ironical that the media is sounding so saint-like when just a few months ago many of these groups were tainted for their role as facilitators. A grand opportunity has presented itself for them to slink away from the real heat because those in the clinker are easy targets. No one, not even those behind the people’s movement, will implicate the media because they need prime time as much as anyone else. Not only is it business as usual for them, they are now experts on the subject. They are exposing it, which conveniently validates their earlier stance of “doing it for journalism”. That it comes a bit late in the day won’t matter. In the ad-run world that is India today, the news too is sponsored.

The UPA has the advantage of being the main upholders of secularism. Is it any wonder that Mamata Bannerjee has decided to be in charge of minority and madrassa affairs that she believes aided in the Left’s downfall? When the Congress party had allied with the Left earlier, it was considered an asset for the minority vote. Didi is just playing her cards well. Regarding the DMK, as Cho Ramaswamy has said, M. Karunanidhi needs the Congress but the Congress should get rid of him. It won’t blink an eye to do so. Without thinking about their ally, Sonia Gandhi congratulated the rival J. Jayalalitha and invited her over.

The UPA has, with a losing ally, found the best option. By extricating the DMK, it will wash its hands off some of the crimes and scams in the location where they flowered. No one talks about who got the seeds and who watered the plant. Happy Birthday, UPA. You have just proved that you can indeed eat your cake and have it too.

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