2 12 19

first_imgOn an otherwise bright day in New Delhi, Indian democracy passed through what was perhaps the darkest phase of its 60-year-old history as three parliamentarians from the opposition right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party emptied a bag full of currency notes worth Rs 10 million ($250,000) onto the main table in the House. The money, they claimed, was an advance for a Rs 90 million bribe offered to them by leaders of the centrist ruling coalition – including Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s senior aide -to secure their abstention from voting, and thus facilitate the government’s victory. Media reports pegged the “market rate” for the horse-trading at $750,000 for an abstention and $9 million for a cross-vote.The repeated television images of the “note-bomb”- MPs waving the wads of currency before a packed House – stunned the nation. Of course, we all knew it happened under wraps. Plus, corruption in the Indian polity has not escaped detailed media scrutiny since the early and mid-1990s (after the advent of cable-TV news channels in the country) when exposes became easier with advanced snooping technologies like hidden cameras:• In the famous Jharkhand Mukti Morcha Bribery Case (1993) four JMM MPs were penalized for accepting cash worth Rs 16 million to shore up the minority Congress government of Prime Minister P.V.Narasimha Rao from toppling.• Sukh Ram, a communications minister in that same administration, grabbed the headlines three years later when Rs 36 million of unaccounted-for cash was unearthed from his house.• The Big Bull Harshad Mehta, prime accused in the largest securities scam of the Indian stock market, claimed he had bribed then PM Narasimha Rao with a suitcase containing Rs 10 million.• BJP President Bangaru Laxman was trapped in a 2001 television sting operation accepting money from investigative reporters posing as defence contractors.• Eleven MPs were exposed after a similar sting operation a couple of years ago showed them taking cash for asking questions in parliament.But what set apart last month’s cash-for votes-scam apart from the previous exposes was its setting. Despite frequent reports of unruly scenes in the state legislatures, the Indian Parliament commands a measure of awe and respect in the average citizen. The gloom that descended on the country the day it was attacked in 2001 was almost palpable. Indians by and large would readily discount the integrity of their law-makers, but the semi-circular tall-pillared edifice of the Parliament somehow remains – or remained till July 22 – a majestic and revered symbol of people power. Bandying around tainted money on its floor was nothing short of desecrating a temple’s sanctity.This trust-vote had another significance. Never in recent memory has a political event revealed so much about ourselves as a people, crystallized and brought into sharp focus so many hitherto tentative or blurred equations, and served to expose the murky underground of Indian politics once and for all – while seeming, on the surface, to merely endorse an administrative status quo.The vote firmed up Dr.Manmohan Singh in the prime ministerial saddle, but also showed us what life in the hurly-burly of realpolitik can do to a political innocent. By taking charge of his party’s managerial reins and guiding it to victory in the trust-vote, Singh has traversed that fiction-character arc from egghead academic through strait-jacketed technocrat to savvy politician. Is the good doctor now writing his own scripts?For a person who until recently was meek and shy to the point of shunning media publicity, the so-called puppet PM surprised all with his pro-active body language and his willingness – particularly in the days preceding the debate over the trust-vote – to flash V-for-victory and thumbs-up signs to television cameras and even walk up to reporters of his own accord to make statements and answer questions. And with his uncharacteristically personal counter-attack on BJP’s Lal Krishna Advani in his closing speech before the voting.The vote, without actually saying so, has cleared the way for the nuclear deal with the US government. It sealed India’s commitment to the 123-Agreement as the deal is officially called, and has now tossed the file back onto the Bush administration’s table for further action.This indirect but no less emphatic clearance of the deal has taken the sting out of the Left Front’s tail. And rendered the Front – which sought to bring down the Singh government on the issue of the N-deal – irrelevant at least until the general elections early next year. With the Front off his back, Singh can push for further open-market reforms. That’s something India’s stock market eagerly anticipates, as evidenced by a sizable post-vote bull-run.During the trust-vote debate, Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Bihari strongman and the administration’s resident clown, whose antics have served to camouflage his less innocuous irregularities, further needled the Left party leaders for badmouthing the US government in public and then sending their kids to American schools and nursing a quiet penchant for American-made wrist-watches!The American connection showed up in another, even more eagerly-awaited speech. In a Reaganesque twist, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress Party’s PM-in-waiting and a Harvard alumnus, introduced the story of Kalawati, a real-life widow whose farmer-husband had killed himself because of insurmountable debts. The link however was too far-fetched: one needs an awfully big leap of faith and foresight to be convinced that the nuclear-power deal (with its “more electricity, so more development, so less poverty” logic) would see Kalawati through her present problems. The Nehru-Gandhi family scion couldn’t have asked for a better moment to make his mark in Parliament before a nation-wide television audience. He squandered it.The vote has resulted in the reworking of political equations across ideological divides, rendering party labels meaningless. And if, as some observers believe, ideology has been dead in Indian politics for some time now, the vote simply issued its death certificate. Imagine the Left willing to vote with the Right, and politicos affiliating with parties they had been denouncing ad nauseam. But the reworking also betrayed a silent caste prejudice. Analysts are unwilling to dismiss the allegations by Dalit (low-caste) leader Ms. Mayawati that the BJP leadership, sensing that she would emerge as a consensus candidate for the post of Prime Minister if the Singh government fell, actually colluded with the latter to ensure its victory and survival. Look out for Mayawati to make waves in the next general election.The vote also brought to the fore the all-round trivialization of politics by the country’s media. When the Times of India, considered to be a newspaper of record rather like the New York Times, front-pages stories comparing the build-up to the confidence-motion vote in terms of a T20 cricket match, other media commentators could be forgiven for calling Omar Abdullah’s debate speech “stirring and inspirational,” because he began on an impassioned note, saying he was a Muslim and an Indian and found no difference between the two. The media, one suspects, failed to recognize the nuanced distinction between a parliamentary debate and a political rally.The final straw came during the final voting. The Parliament’s electronic vote-registering system failed to register as many as 54 of the total 541 votes. (They were later counted manually.) Turned out that this was the combined result of a snag in the system as well as the inept handling of the buttons by parliamentarians. Think: Nearly 600 million Indians cast their votes on electronic voting machines in every parliamentary election with little or no fuss, while one in every ten of those they elect can’t find the right button to press in a historic trust-vote. Think: India boasts of the world-class techies it produces, while its premier law-making institution struggles with a sub-standard electronic voting system.A sad casualty of the trust-vote was Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s 40-plus-year-old association with his party. Chatterjee, whose Santa Claus-like figure and deep stentorian voice, as much as his stature as a veteran parliamentarian, have for long helped in maintaining order in the House, was expelled from primary membership by the Communist (Marxist) Party’s politburo, because he refused to step down from the Speaker’s post to vote with his party against the Singh government. The law – which treats a Speaker as a neutral in such trust-votes except in the case of a tie – was clearly in favor of Chatterjee, himself a Constitutional expert. But his party bosses weren’t impressed. Barely hiding his rage, Dada (as he’s fondly called) later told reporters: “I am a small man, only big in size.”That’s precisely how the nation felt about itself on that sleazy cash-for-notes day in July.  Related Itemslast_img read more

21 09 19

first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram iPhones and smart phones are less likely to cause cancer than earlier models according to a new report by the World Health Organisation. However, frequent use still could cause cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer said heavy usage could lead to an increase incidence of giloma, a malignant type of brain cancer and young adults are mostly at risk. Professor Bruce Armstrong, University of Sydney, a member of the team that conducted the research told the ABC that “there is an observed association between using a mobile phone and a higher risk of brain cancer”. Although research into smart phones is in the primary stages, Professor Armstrong said that the “3G phones in fact give a much lower dose to the brain that the previous generations”.last_img read more