Sunday, April 10, 2011

Was this a Made to Order Revolution?!

Please do not take this seriously. Even I do not want it to be taken seriously. But I like to say ‘I told you so’ and therefore I am recording this wild thoughts that are refusing to go out of my mind.

Of late, we have been hearing a lot of talks about Tahrir Square and Jasmine revolution in India. Notwithstanding the fact that we don’t hear anyone speaking about a Tiananmen Square in India and notwithstanding the fact that India is a land of Million revolutions each day, such talks are of concern to any government; more so, in the light of major scams being exposed with alarming frequency and the increasing resentment of general public against the ‘corrupt politicians’. Add to these problems, an incalcitrant opposition that does not think twice before blocking an entire session of the Parliament just to get a Parliamentary Committee constituted for inquiring into a matter which is already sub-judice and under the direct supervision of the Apex Court of the Nation, no government can feel safe and secure.

More and more countries of the world are experiencing the chaotic uprisings and its aftermaths. In such a situation, any government and the political brains behind that government will have to seek innovative ways to ensure that things don’t get out of control. What better way to ensure this than conducting a controlled explosion of the pent-up negativity. In other words, creating and managing a made to order revolution!!

Anna Hazare is not a known supporter of the government. Most of the other members of this IAC group are also by and large apolitical. But many of them have been associating with establishment in one way or another; yet have enough credibility to lead an anti-establishment and anti-politician movement.

My gut strongly suggests that the government seized the opportunity and stage managed the Jantar Mantar revolution to perfection. My reasons for this preposterous allegation are many- Let me enumerate them:

1. Congress party was never averse to civil society’s inputs into any of the Bills brought out in the recent past. In fact, it has actively sought the involvement of civil society. NAC is a very good evidence for this fact.

2. When Congress was seeking Civil Society inputs into drafting Lok Pal Bill and NAC had initiated discussions with IAC after rejecting the original government sponsored Bill, where was the necessity for a fast unto death agitation at all?

3. In the first instance IAC even refused to talk to the Group of Ministers saying that they are all corrupt. But very soon we saw them in discussions with the very same GoM (with the exception of Sharad Pawar with whom Anna had an old axe to grind).

4. The Government of the day was abused to the hilt as fully immersed in corruption and not willing to control corruption by bringing in Lok Pal Bill. However, now the same IAC is working with the same government in a joint committee.

5. The very concept of Civil Society is wider participation of general public in decision making. However, when and where it mattered they appointed two members of same family out of a total 5 members representing the Civil Society. Is it that Civil Society is so small a group that it can’t find five unrelated and truly independent representatives?

6. All the five members representing Civil Society have associated with the State and the corrupt system in some capacity. Among these five, barring Anna Hazare and Kerjiwal, all others are very much part of the system that made the corruption possible in the first place.

7. Mr Shanti Bhushan was even been a Law Minister of the country and had introduced one of the Lok Pal Bills which was nowhere close to Jan Lok Pal Bill.

8. The Fast unto death started out by saying that the Jan Lok Pal Bill is the perfect solution to all our problems and the agitation will not stop till it is made a law. However, now the same Group has joined a Government sponsored committee to draft another Bill instead of the ‘Perfect Jan Lok Pal Bill’.

9. Have you ever head of the revolution or freedom struggle succeeding in so little a time? If the difference was that miniscule why was such an agitation foisted on the Nation in the first place; more so when the parties were already in negotiations on the same matter?

Unlike what was being proclaimed in the TV channels, this agitation has caused hardly any ripples in the wider India! In Kerala, where I am based today, this was not an issue at all and all is well with the elections scheduled for 13th of April. Where it could make an impact is among the urban middle class which, after enjoying all the benefits of recent development in the country is impatient for more and after seeing the Jasmine revolutions unfold is thinking in the similar lines to achieve their objectives.

Finally, let us see the outcome of this agitation. With this movement, Government could easily provide a controlled exhaust for channelizing all the frustrations simmering among some sections of this country. It effectively removed all the scope for any Jasmine revolution in the near future. Corruption as an issue is limited to passing of Lok Pal Bill alone. As we have seen, even most of the most vociferous supporters do not care to read the Bill and that makes it easier to push some Bill through subsequently. Even if there is failure to do so, you can always shift the blame to other motley political groups as in the case of Women’s Reservation Bill.

While this is only a scenario analysis, I would be disappointed if nobody in the Government had even thought of something similar to this, to have the cake and eat it too. After all, we know politicians are crooks.. don't we?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Indiscreet Discretions- Rewarding Cricketers for World Cup Win

Sports Ministry recognizes achievement by Arjuna and Khel Ratna Award. We keep scarce resources to train those unknown who are yet to achieve”; thus tweeted Ajay Maken, the Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports. These words bring back into focus the huge cash prizes and residential plots being bestowed on our World Cup winning cricketers by various States.

Team India has made us proud by winning the World Cup after a long gap of 28 years. No doubt, each member of the Team deserves accolades and recognition by the entire nation, not only for the great efforts of these individuals but also to provide encouragement to our budding sportspersons.

But what we have seen, immediately after the win, is something that calls for concerns. Many a State declared prize money to the tune of Rs One Crore to each player domiciled in that State. Some others are promising houses and plots to the Team Members. These offers are in addition to the offer of Rs One Crore to each player, made by BCCI itself.

As I said, I am not against rewarding talent. I have no grudge against the monetary prizes even if some of these individuals are already among the highest income earners in the country. But, I can’t stop being angry at the way these prizes are being announced in a mere one-upmanship manner.

Where are these large amounts coming from? Don’t we have a system of Budget? Was there any money dedicated to making such prizes in the budgets approved by respective legislatures? Or, is the money being diverted from any other account- more importantly, from the scarce resources allocated to sports departments ‘for training those unknown, who are yet to achieve’?

Next question that arises is who authorised these prizes? Were these decisions taken by Cabinets of respective governments? Or was these decisions taken as per the whims and fancies of the respective Chief Ministers? Has anyone analysed the pros and cons of paying such huge amounts (Rupees One Crore is still a huge amount at least for the so called 1 Billion people, out of the total population of 1.2 Billion!) of tax payers’ money to a select group of sportspersons.

In a democratic system of governance, the governments are only trustees of public money. They do not own it. They can’t spend a single rupee without budgetary sanction from the people (through their representatives in the legislature). Indeed, there are discretionary funds in the hands of Chief Ministers/other heads of governments but these funds are merely to meet exigencies.

Discretionary powers are not to be exercised indiscreetly. Singling out cricketers for such largesse is nothing but indiscretion. All those Governments who declared cash or land as prizes for cricketers owe an explanation to the people as to how they had exercised their discretion (if at all there is one) in arriving at the decision and what is the source of money. We have the right to know whether the trust bestowed upon these elected governments were exercised for right reasons.

We have seen time and again, that use of discretionary powers is a source of corruption and nepotism- be it in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamilnadu or Centre. Congress President Ms Sonia Gandhi had even admitted, in the AICC Plenary, the need for doing away these discretionary powers. No doubt, the present instance is yet another example of its misuse.

If a government wants to reward its achievers, let there be a proper policy in this regard. The level of achievements and reward size be declared in advance. A proper procedure should be followed in a transparent manner, while making decisions on such rewards.

Even the hardcore fans of cricket who may argue that these cricketers deserve such huge prizes will not be able to give any justification for the fact that the Gujarat Boys will get Rs One Lakh each while their counterparts elsewhere will get Rs One Crore each. If this is known in advance at least the sportspersons can choose their State of domicile so that they don’t end up being in the wrong State at the right time.

Huge disparity between the Cricketers and sportsmen of other disciplines is staring at our faces. It is fine for cricketers to take advantage of the commercialisation of their sport and earn more than others. But, it is not so fine when Governments discriminate among sportspersons on the basis of TRPs of TV channels (presumably) alone.

Before I end, I must say Olympics and Asiads are much wider arenas for sportsmen and any achievement in these events are, any day, far superior than a world cup win in cricket, for the sheer reason that the competition is limited to just 14 nations. These sportspersons also deserve at least similar consideration from their governments as they have no BCCI to award huge sums on their best performances.