India Insight

Has Shashi Tharoor dug his own political grave?

Is it too early to write the political obituary of Shashi Tharoor, who over the weekend resigned from the post of junior foreign minister not even a year into holding the post?

Shashi TharoorSome commentators have already written him off. Others, including a report in the Hindustan Times on Tuesday, cite Congress party sources to say Tharoor has not lost all the goodwill of the leadership and could one day make a comeback.

His resignation, so they say, had more to do with Congress not wanting to be seen to let Tharoor get away with it.

Tharoor submitted his resignation amid opposition accusations he had used his political clout to help influence a $333 million bid for the Kochi team in the Indian Premier League.

He was also accused of helping score a $15 million stake in the team for a woman widely described as his girlfriend.

Ramdev: A political force for the good?

Amidst the hustle and bustle of a town dotted with temples and brightened up by saffron-clad “sadhus” or holy men, was a pandal with a thousand people waiting for Baba Ramdev’s daily yoga preaching.

Yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks during a yoga camp in Haridwar April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Jitendra PrakashAt least 30 million were waiting to start their day with his discourse, through live telecast on an Indian spiritual channel.

Holy man Ramdev, known for popularising Yoga and traditional ayurvedic treatment and also for practising the ancient technique of breathing exercises called Pranayam has been beset by controversies for the last few years.

From across the border, books and bats

This week, while one Pakistani was being questioned by the Indian police and hysterical reporters on an alleged marriage to an Indian, another Pakistani, composed and smiling, fielded questions from an admiring audience on dynasty and politics in the country that every Indian has an opinion on.

Pakistan cricket player Shoaib Malik (R) speaks to the media as tennis player Sania Mirza looks on, in Hyderabad April 5, 2010. REUTERS/Krishnendu HalderThe contrast between Shoaib Malik, who is all set to marry Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, and Fatima Bhutto, writer and niece of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, could not be more glaring. And that is reason to celebrate.

Because for a few days, we could forget all the usual tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals and simply revel in a public spectacle that had equal measures of romance, melodrama and suspense.

Amitabh Bachchan and politics of celebrity

Amitabh Bachchan is caught in a political controversy yet again. The 67-year old-actor finds himself in the middle of a row over his presence at government functions in Mumbai and Pune.

Amitabh BachchanWhile no official reason has been given, Bachchan’s presence at a government function in Mumbai last week has raised hackles in the Congress party, ostensibly because of Bachchan’s bitter relationship with the Gandhi family.

Later the same week, his son Abhishek’s posters were removed from an Earth Day function for which he had earlier been declared ambassador, organised by the Congress-run Delhi state government.

Jyoti Basu – poster boy of Indian communism

(UPDATE: Communist patriarch Jyoti Basu died on Sunday)

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rushed to Kolkata on Thursday just to pay a 22-minute visit to the hospital where 95-year-old Jyoti Basu is battling for life, the trip spoke volumes about the communist patriarch’s relevance in Indian politics.

Veteran communist leader and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, is seen during his 95th birthday celebrations in Kolkata July 8, 2008. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw/FilesIndia’s longest serving chief minister is on ventilator support but the throngs of teary-eyed followers outside the hospital, the 24×7 mediapersons camping outside and the steady stream of political dignitaries indicate the respect Basu commands across the political spectrum.

The Prime Minister offered to fly in experts from anywhere in India to treat Basu.

Trick or Tweet? Can politicians have an online life?

I recently came across this article on the Washington Post.

GERMANY BOOK FAIRBeing a part of a generation that gradually, if with cautious unease, learnt to adjust to the Internet, I could not help but compare India’s policymakers with those of developed nations based on their level of acceptance of changing media.

Frankly, it is difficult to imagine our lawmakers in the same position as described in the article.

For years, when social networking meant visiting friends and family at Christmas and New Year, and Facebook was still a concept, representatives of our democracy would depend on traditional ways to reach out to their electorate.

Dynasty in Politics: How much is too much?

At a recent family gathering, a cousin of mine expressed her desire to be a doctor. Not surprising, considering her parents are both in the same profession, and run a prominent hospital. It seems only natural that she will take the baton forward.

However, to get there, she will still have to go through the grind. Study for at least six years, serve in a rural posting, burn the midnight oil and gain some experience before she can fulfil her dream.

Rajendra Shekhawat has a similar story. He also wants to take up his mother’s profession and take on the baton, so to speak. The difference is that he may not necessarily have to go through the grind. His mother, Pratibha Patil, after all, is the President of India and Shekhawat has been given a ticket by the Congress party to fight the assembly elections from Amravati in northern Maharashtra, one of India’s biggest states.

India in a “ring of fire”

As a growing power which aims to rewrite global economic and geopolitical realities, India’s first order of business is to secure its strategic periphery without provoking a backlash from its neighbours.

But the political crisis in Nepal, triggered by the resignation of Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda, is yet another reminder of India’s strategic challenges.

Nepal has for long sat in India’s sphere of influence, but the rise of the Maoists has seen an increasing antipathy in the nascent Himalayan republic towards New Delhi.

Should the Prime Minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not contesting elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower and popular house of parliament.This is for reasons of health and also because the constitution permits the prime minister to be a member of either of the two houses of parliament.Like Singh, we have had prime ministers from the Rajya Sabha earlier but they sought to get elected to the lower house and succeeded easily.As the de facto head of the government, the prime minister is expected to earn people’s approval directly.Mayawati recently took a dig at Singh over the issue.”This Manmohan Singh has not contested any public election…he was brought back door in Rajya Sabha and made prime minister,” the Bahujan Samaj Party chief said at an election rally.”If Manmohan can become PM, why can’t an educated Dalit woman.”This is possibly the first instance in Indian politics where the sitting prime minister has decided to stay away from the race.But should India’s prime minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?The opposition, after initially trying to make it a poll issue, now seems to have lost the plot.The question keeps popping up on internet discussion boards.FOR– Those who support the idea of a prime minister from the lower house say that a popular vote marks acceptability by the people as compared to someone nominated to the Rajya Sabha.– Such a person having earned the people’s mandate is seen as less susceptible to manipulation.– A person’s performance as an MP is seen as a necessary test of his competence and claim to the top job.– Some even suggest that a prime ministerial candidate should seek election with a pre-announced team, something like the shadow cabinet system in Britain.AGAINST– The most convincing argument against the idea is that the constitution puts no such caveat.– The upper house is seen as a talent pool where competent candidates are sent after consideration. This compensates for impulsive behavior of voters which can sometimes make “good” candidates unelectable. For example, Manmohan Singh lost the 1999 Lok Sabha election from the posh South Delhi constituency.– It is also felt that any prime minister would work according to the party’s ideology, membership of a house being irrelevant to his policies and performance.– Moreover, the prime minister is in any case indirectly elected (by the party MPs), so the argument of his having greater acceptance may not cut much ice.– Some feel that if the person is a representative of the majority party and competent then nothing else should count. Others say the proposal calls into question the very rationale of having an upper house, and therefore, needs to be fleshed out.One comment on the online forum points to the question being a moral rather than a legal one.There are two facts to bear in mind.In the Westminster system of democracy, a prime minister from the upper house would be an anachronism.Secondly, the constitution review commission recognised the lower house’s pre-eminence in its recommendation that the prime minister be directly elected by the house in the event of a hung poll verdict.As for the practical aspect, the Congress is contesting around 400 seats in these elections, and finding a safe seat for a politician like Manmohan Singh, the sitting prime minister, should have been easy.In March, opposition leader L.K. Advani raised the issue at an election rally.”Singh will be more acceptable to the people of India if he decides to fight the elections and go to the Lok Sabha,” he said.Did Advani have a valid point?

Do we need sex-education in schools?

A parliamentary committee, with a varied political membership, recently recommended that there should be no sex education in schools.

Sex even if done at the proper time, with a proper person, in a proper place, is a topic that makes many Indians uncomfortable.

The committee itself refused a power point presentation on the question “after going through the hard copy because of its explicit contents.  The Committee felt that it was not comfortable with it and could be embarrassing especially to the lady Members and other lady staff present.”

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