India Insight

Why is Team Anna targeting the PM?

A combative Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he would quit politics if charges of corruption in allocating coal blocks, levelled against him by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption team, are proved.

Singh has been criticised in the past for not doing enough to curb corruption in the government, but the one thing that has never been questioned, even by his detractors, is his integrity.

So why is Team Anna going after Singh? Especially since the allegations are based on a federal auditor’s draft report in which there is no direct proof of corruption or gains made by the prime minister.

Public support for Team Anna has waned considerably in recent months and the activists are not without their own closet skeletons.

They have  been criticised for their generalisation of the political class and officialdom as corrupt, their over-simplified view on how to fight corruption and use of crass language, like when senior member Prashant Bhushan called Singh “Shikhandi” (a mythological character in the Mahabharata) to describe him as someone who shields corrupt officials.

Congress reshuffling an empty deck?

The clock is ticking for the ruling Congress party. Ever since the national auditor’s report blew the lid off the 2G spectrum scandal, the second term of the UPA government has been clouded by incessant talk of premature general elections or who will lead India in 2014.

As rumours do the rounds of a possible reshuffle of the Congress party after the Budget session, one gets the sense that India’s grand old party is starting to prepare for national elections, even if they are two years away. And rightly so, especially after its disastrous performance in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the largest number of lawmakers to parliament. While no political party is likely to secure majority if national elections were to be held today, regional parties could hold sway.

The Congress’ present situation is a throwback to the 1960s when the party was trying to revitalise its functioning in the face of declining popularity and vote share. Indira Gandhi ruled India for eleven consecutive years, followed by another term later that was cut short by her assassination. After her son Rajiv came to power and his destiny followed his mother’s, the Congress returned to power for only one term until the UPA government came to power in 2004.

Zardari’s India visit: Much ado about nothing?

As the hype over Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s India visit settles, critics and the general public are wondering whether the so-called dargah diplomacy could be a game changer in India-Pakistan ties?

Zardari’s trip to India, the first by Pakistan’s head of state since Pervez Musharraf’s visit in 2005, was overshadowed by the spectre of Hafiz Saeed, who had a $10 million American bounty placed on his head this week.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Zardari it is imperative the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks are brought to justice.

Allies fretting over issues a warning sign for Congress

The past few days have been quite busy for the government. As yet another spiritual leader started yet another “movement” against corruption in the government and bureaucracy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was at the chic French seaside resort of Cannes, holding discussions with heads of state of the G20 nations on how to deal with the crisis in Greece.

Back home, another petrol price hike left the general public seething as the main opposition  Bharatiya Janata Party went on the offensive yet again. Singh put up a firm stand when he said that the country should move more in the direction of deregulation. It was a situation he has found himself in regularly during his second term, that of political versus economic compulsions.

Talking about political compulsions, the biggest problem Singh and his government seem to be facing right now is not the opposition or a frustrated middle class bogged down by double-digit inflation and price rise for most food products and essential commodities, but an ally who has been known to have her way within the UPA coalition.

PM, Sheila Dikshit caught in the eye of another storm

By Annie Banerji

With greying hair, humbly garbed in a sari and a smile that adorns her grandmother-like appearance, 73-year-old Sheila Dikshit finds herself in the spotlight over the Comptroller & Auditor General’s (CAG) report, right after combating the Shunglu Committee report.

The CAG had hauled up the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for the appointment of Suresh Kalmadi, now in jail, as chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee in 2004 despite “serious objections” from within the government.

The auditor also held the chief minister of New Delhi culpable for her “active involvement” in causing a loss of almost $6.9 million in wasteful expenditure due to “irregularities”, “favouritism” and “bias” in sanction of contracts for projects in the capital’s beautification process last year.

Civil society points finger at PM in 2G scandal

By Annie Banerji

He can run, but he definitely cannot hide. The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to release information regarding correspondence between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former telecom minister A Raja related to the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, which caused a loss of up to $39 billion to the national exchequer, in response to an applicant under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The prime minister has seen his popularity slump since he first came to power in 2004 with a downpour of high-profile corruption scandals, paralysed policymaking and a slow paced economy due to high inflation and interest rates. He finds himself under the scrutiny of not only opposition parties, but also civil society.

A civil society movement against corruption headed by popular Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare received nationwide support in April proving to the government that the masses do not treat corruption with nonchalance.

Indian politicians and the art of the tell-all memoir

Along with the likes of Shakespeare, Britain has a longstanding literary tradition of a different kind — the explosive political biography, memoir or diary.

An employee poses with the political memoirs of Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair, "A Journey", in a bookshop in London September 1, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/FilesBritons can gorge on countless books of their lawmakers who wash their dirty linen — and other people’s linen — in public. The diaries of Alan Clark in the 1980s gave readers a glimpse of the tears and infighting in Margaret Thatcher’s government as well as his own amorous conquests.

The diaries of Alastair Campbell, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s press man, were a sensation, and were followed by the memoirs of Blair himself where he described his relationship with Chancellor Gordon Brown as like being “a couple who loved each other, arguing over whose career should come first”, then calling Brown a “strange guy” with zero emotional intelligence.

Manmohan Singh: middle-class darling no more?

For nearly two decades, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the darling of the Indian middle classes, who saw the Oxford- and Cambridge-trained economist as a rare alternative to the stereotype of the uneducated, corrupt and criminal politician.

Prime Minister Manmohan SinghThat love affair had begun to fray at the edges of late, after Singh’s perceived inaction over several corruption scandals that had emerged in his second term as premier, but now, it may finally be over.

As thousands of mostly middle-class Indians across the country demonstrated in support of veteran social activist Anna Hazare’s hunger strike against corruption, the anti-government and anti-Singh mood was very much palpable.

Congress’ 2007 leadership whispers underscore 2011 election dangers

Rumblings within the ruling Congress party that suggested the “jettison” of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the party’s electoral failures in state elections in 2007, cited in a secret diplomatic cable published on Monday, are a timely reminder of the dangerous implications of failure for Congress in elections this month.

India's ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi watched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) fills nomination papers seeking to retain her post as the party chief at her residence in New Delhi September 2, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

The electorates of Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will go the polls this month to elect new state legislatures, in the first tests of public confidence in India’s ruling party that has been implicated in a string of multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals over the past nine months.

Singh, a 78-year-old technocrat and economic reformist, had his leadership questioned by senior aides to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who mooted a more politically sellable replacement following electoral defeats in Punjab and Uttarakhand, detailed a U.S. state department cable accessed by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper.

Will Singh add Pakistan to his list of triumphs?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has long wanted to secure what his dozen predecessors have failed to achieve: lasting peace with arch rival Pakistan. But, if the WikiLeaks cables are to be believed, Singh probably remains isolated in pursuing his dream.

In a week when officials from both countries meet to resume talks broken off after the 2008 Mumbai attacks and when the two prime ministers play “cricket diplomacy“, have the chances for peace improved?

There seems to be too much loaded against the initiative. The enmity between the two nations is rooted in their very existence and peaceniks are a handful. There is little political gain and much risk to be had from pursuing peace.