India Insight

DMK, Congress to untie the knot?

By Annie Banerji

Cast as the villain in high profile graft cases and reeling from its huge loss in the Tamil Nadu state elections in May, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) appears to be in freefall.

The party has declared an emergency meeting in the state capital to discuss potential strategies regarding the recently incarcerated daughter of the DMK chief, Kanimozhi and the party’s strained ties with the ruling Congress party, itself struggling to shake off its scam-ridden identity  and public resentment for its lack of initiative and inability to tackle corruption.

Controversy has been hovering over the DMK since last year when A. Raja, a key member of the party and then Telecoms Minister, was accused of spectrum allocation at discounted prices causing a loss of $39 billion to the national exchequer.

A. Raja’s case has caused a domino effect within the Karunanidhi family, with the former Tamil Nadu chief minister’s grandnephew, Dayanidhi Maran, also under investigation for alleged misdeeds in the purview of the 2G spectrum allocation scam, regarded as the largest graft case in India.

In May, the special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court ordered the arrest of Kanimozhi for handling a 2 billion rupee bribe.

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.

Wikileaks cash for votes allegations implicate India’s Congress

India’s ruling Congress party offered cash for votes to pass a crucial 2008 confidence vote in parliament, a secret U.S. state cable released on Thursday said, embroiling Manmohan Singh’s beleaguered government in yet another corruption scandal that risks further opposition attacks on the graft-smeared coalition. File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

The secret U.S. state department cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper on Thursday details a conversation between a senior Congress party member and a U.S. Embassy official surrounding the payment of almost $9 million by a government facing a crucial confidence vote to members of a regional political party to secure their support.

Does Swaraj hint at a more politically sharp future for the BJP?

India’s main opposition party, the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have had much to crow about in recent months.

From the minute that the much vaunted Commonwealth Games began to – literally – crumble despite the hundreds of millions of rupees spent by the central government, a seemingly endless run of corruption scams linked to the ruling Congress party has seen much chest-beating and finger pointing from across the parliamentary aisles.
Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition

Riding high on damning headlines, and egged on by a lacklustre defence from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the BJP have trained both barrels on Congress, with party leaders Arun Jaitley, L.K. Advani and Nitin Gadkari missing no opportunity to squeeze government and corruption into each and every soundbite.

Fight corruption – at your own risk

The judges in the Supreme Court had finished hammering out for delivery the next day a landmark verdict in the battle against corruption, when a thousand kilometres away, another anti-graft crusader was beaten to death.

An activist shouts slogans during a protest in New Delhi March 4, 2011. REUTERS/B Mathur/FilesNiyamat Ansari’s killing on Wednesday night in the poor eastern state of Jharkhand came days after he exposed large scale embezzlement of funds meant for India’s flagship social security programme.

A recent spate of corruption scandals has sparked off outrage among Indians and the newfound zeal against graft has been reflected in the Supreme Court’s tough stance. But the killing shows, these measures may be just curing the symptoms, not the ills.

Is Congress digging its own corrupt grave?

Telecom Minister Kabil Sibal’s attack on the competency of India’s independent state auditor appears to show Congress’s growing desperation at its inability to silence corruption charges, and the inevitable backfire may illustrate just how out of touch India’s ruling party has become with the current political climate.

Kapil Sibal, Indian Minister of Telecoms attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 31, 2009. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener

Last week’s allegations by Sibal of the “utterly erroneous” calculations in a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) estimating a $39 billion loss to the exchequer during the 2008 2G spectrum sale have led to a barrage of criticism from opposition politicians and the CAG, and appear to have only resulted in increased pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is reportedly mulling a breach of privilege motion against Sibal – a Congress heavyweight – for his insinuation of “serious errors” in the independent investigation, the CAG has suggested his remarks were “in contempt of the House” and the opposition, already riding high on the ruling party’s seemingly endless list of corruption-related woes, accused the minister of attempting to “overreach the Parliamentary process.”

Congress takes comfort in DMK smiles, for now

Smiles, handshakes and declarations of friendship abounded during a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi on Monday, as the investigation into a $39 billion telecoms scam that has centred on the Tamil Nadu party appeared to have been forgotten in favour of coalition camaraderie.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) speaks to Karunanidhi, President of DMK (Dravida Munetra Kazhagam) party during an election rally in the southern Indian city of Chennai May 4, 2006.  REUTERS/Babu
With parliament paralysed and DMK MP Andimuthu Raja sacked from his role as telecoms minister as a result of the scam, the last thing Singh needed was signs of dissent from a key member of his Congress party’s ruling coalition.

After appearing to snub the Prime Minister on his arrival on Sunday – choosing instead to “meet a poet” – Karunanidhi, also chief minister of Tamil Nadu, was all smiles during a 25-minute meeting, telling reporters afterwards that the relationship was “strong”.

Singh returned the favour, telling national broadcaster Doordarshan: “The alliance remains as strong as ever”.

Will departure of embattled India anti-graft chief end Congress party woes?

India’s Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the country’s federal anti-corruption body, has a self-affirmed mandate to “fight corruption and ensure probity in public life by taking various preventive and proactive initiatives from time to time.”
The Indian parliament on Wednesday approved a $9.8-billion additional spending bill to cover various payments including outstanding government debt, food and fertiliser subsidies, and government pensions. The bill was passed by a voice vote in parliament, a type of vote allowing the government to bypass a three-week deadlock between the ruling Congress party-led coalition and opposition parties caused by rows over a series of corruption scandals. REUTERS/B Mathur
Faced with a windfall of political scandals to investigate, red faces thus abounded at the CVC when media reports showed that its chief, and the highest anti-corruption officer in the country, P.J. Thomas, was himself facing questioning in connection with corruption allegations.

Thomas, who was appointed to the position by the Prime Minister and Home Minister in September despite being implicated in a 1992 palmolein import fraud case while serving in the Kerala state government, on Saturday found himself the subject of strong resignation rumours as the central government desperately seeks to insulate itself from contagious graft allegations

The embattled Thomas has already been stripped of his leadership of a probe into an alleged $39 billion telecoms scam due to the outstanding charges and his tenure as the Telecommunications Secretary during the time that the alleged illegalities took place in the ministry.

Forget journalistic ethics. The Radia tapes have wider implications

British press magnate Lord Northcliffe once stated: “News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising”.
Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, attends the annual general meeting of Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai July 2, 2010 REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files
It’s interesting, then, that in a season of multi-billion dollar scandals that has seen India’s 24/7 news machine at its probing, questioning, investigative best, one — perhaps bigger and more serious than all the rest — has failed to make the hourly bulletins.

Taped conversations involving corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, anonymously leaked from a reported set of around 5,000 recordings made by India’s Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax authorities, appear to reveal the unholy nexus between India’s business leaders and the political policymaking machine.

But due to the embarrassing proximity that the Indian media elite have to the most controversial dialogues amongst her web of business, political and journalism sources, full-blown coverage has not been seen.

The ‘Manmohan’ factor reins in the Congress

Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi(L) with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is accused of looking the other way while murky deals were on in the telecom ministry.

He has drawn flak from the opposition and his personal integrity was questioned in what may be India’s largest corruption scandal.

But with few alternatives for his role as a fill-in for the Congress heir apparent, it is no surprise Singh is being stoutly backed by his boss, powerful party chief Sonia Gandhi.

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