SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE
 SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
O P I N I O N S

Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

North by North-West
For the Congress it is harvest season
Taking a cue from the national trend, the North has returned the Congress in strength to the Lok Sabha. Except for Himachal Pradesh, where the BJP has won three out of four seats, the entire belt backed the Congress and the UPA, be it in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir or Chandigarh.

South backs UPA
Karnataka saves BJP’s face
The UPA has secured a decisive mandate from all the southern states except Karnataka, making short shrift of the challenge from the Grand Alliance led by the Telugu Desam in Andhra, both in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly, trouncing Ms Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and mauling the Left Front in Kerala. Karnataka has, however, bucked the trend, voting strongly for the BJP.


EARLIER STORIES

Risat 2: A feather in the cap
May 17, 2009
The countdown begins
May 16, 2009
Regional satraps in demand
May 15, 2009
Well-done, EC
May 14, 2009
Can’t be just goodwill
May 13, 2009
Before and after
May 12, 2009
Plunder of Aravali
May 11, 2009
Caught in the crossfire
May 10, 2009
A shocking give and take
May 9, 2009
Obama to Zardari
May 8, 2009
Wanted: Partners
May 7, 2009
Get back black money
May 6, 2009


Let Suu Kyi be free
Keeping her in bondage isolates Myanmar more 
Just when her current six-year detention was about to end has come the shocking news that Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Ms Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisoned and charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after a US citizen reportedly swam across a lake to stay for a couple of days in her house.
ARTICLE

Washington’s AfPak policy
India may come under US pressure 
by Air Marshal Brijesh D. Jayal (retd)
It was only recently that President Obama’s emerging Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) policy was based on the assumption that the key to solving the Afghanistan problem was a stable and cooperative Pakistan. It is a measure of the rapidly changing dynamics of this region that overnight it has become Pakistan that is the primary focus of both US and international concern. Predictions of it becoming a failed state are no more in the realm of speculative exercises.

MIDDLE

Man who bombed Karachi
by Trilochan Singh Trewn
Admiral Sardari Lal Mathradas Nanda who died at 93 is rightfully known as a visionary who was one of the architects of modern Indian Navy. I served under him in his three different appointments and had closely watched his plans, ideas and aspirations taking shape in various fields of naval activities.

OPED

The limits of Modi magic
News Analysis by Dinesh Kumar, who covered elections in Gujarat
Statistically speaking, the BJP has fared better this time by winning 15 out of Gujarat’s 26 Lok Sabha seats compared to 14 won during the 2004 elections. The Congress has actually showed a slight dip in numbers by winning 11 seats compared to 12 in the last elections.

Gloom deepens in Germany
by Jeremy Warner
We are all prisoners of our own history, it is sometimes said, and no more does this seem to be the case than in Europe's policy response to what is shaping up to be by far the worst recession of the post-war period.

Chatterati
Politicians’ wives too played  their part
by Devi Cherian
It was courtship time ahead of government formation in Delhi. Political leaders of various small parties were the busiest of the lot. It’s perhaps the only time they are so much in demand. For the wheeler-dealers, shakers and movers, it was party time, of course.



Top








 

North by North-West
For the Congress it is harvest season

Taking a cue from the national trend, the North has returned the Congress in strength to the Lok Sabha. Except for Himachal Pradesh, where the BJP has won three out of four seats, the entire belt backed the Congress and the UPA, be it in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir or Chandigarh.

Together, these contribute 41 seats to the Lok Sabha strength, and out of that, full 31 have gone into the Congress kitty, including the three won by its ally, the National Conference, in J & K. The Congress ascendancy has been the most prominent in Punjab, where it has ended the supremacy of the SAD-BJP combine by grabbing eight out of 13 seats.

It was expected to do better, but even eight is a remarkable figure, considering that in the previous elections it had only two seats while the other 11 had gone the SAD-BJP way. What has helped the party in Punjab most in Dr Manmohan Singh’s appeal in the state and the party’s decision to give tickets to three young Congress leaders. The Akalis will have to do a serious rethink on their government’s image which is losing its sheen.

The victory of Mrs Harsimrat Kaur, who defeated Capt Amarinder Singh’s son Raninder Singh by over 1.3 lakh votes in Bathinda, and success in three other constituencies have saved the situation for the Akali Dal. In Chandigarh, Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal has retained his seat comfortably, making it a hat-trick of triumphs.

The most outstanding has been the performance of the Congress in the national Capital, Delhi, where it has bagged all the seven seats. When a controversy had arisen over the ticket being given to 1984-riots-tainted Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, many experts had felt that the party would find it very difficult to retain the six seats that it had managed in the 2004 elections. But the voters apparently had different ideas about Mrs Shiela Dixit’s performance and image in the Capital.

In Haryana, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had staked his reputation to get tickets for his personal choices and has been vindicated, what with nine of the 10 seats falling in the party’s lap. He has thus maintained the same strength as in the previous election, the anti-incumbency factor notwithstanding.

Only Mr Bhajan Lal’s Hisar victory has prevented a Congress clean sweep. As if to compensate for that, the Congress has snatched Sonepat from the BJP. More significant, the INLD and the BJP have been wiped out of the state this time.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference-Congress alliance has won five out of six, with the PDP biting the dust. The turnaround will hopefully facilitate a dialogue between separatist leaders and New Delhi in the near future.

Top

 

South backs UPA
Karnataka saves BJP’s face

The UPA has secured a decisive mandate from all the southern states except Karnataka, making short shrift of the challenge from the Grand Alliance led by the Telugu Desam in Andhra, both in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly, trouncing Ms Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and mauling the Left Front in Kerala. Karnataka has, however, bucked the trend, voting strongly for the BJP.

While in Andhra and Kerala the Congress has swept aside the opposition with a flourish, in Tamil Nadu the credit for the UPA’s impressive showing must go to the DMK.

Andhra’s endorsement of the Congress is in large part a victory for Chief Minister Rajshekhar Reddy. Learning from the mistakes of his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu, who had neglected the rural areas in his quest for developing Andhra Pradesh as a model for the new economy, Mr Reddy introduced welfare schemes for various sections, including the landless poor, women and pensioners, while at the same time furthering the party’s development agenda. Mr Naidu’s campaign was largely negative, blaming Mr Reddy for corrupt deals, but that did not hold water.

Besides, the Grand Alliance constituents — the Telugu Desam, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the CPI and the CPM — lacked cohesion. For the opposition, an added dampener was that actor Chiranjeevi failed to encash his screen image.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK ran a steady and effective campaign and held out various sops to the poor that evidently paid off. Mr Karunanidhi’s measured support to the Sri Lankan Tamils went down well with the voter while Ms Jayalalithaa’s support to “Eelam” was rightly treated by the voter as an afterthought. The AIADMK also was poorly served by its allies, the PMK and the MDMK, which were routed in the polls.

The Karnataka victory of the BJP was an affirmation of faith in the Yeddyurappa government. The anti-incumbency mood has apparently not yet set in to harm the government which is less than a year old. Factionalism in the Congress also helped the BJP. As for Kerala, the writing was on the wall for the Left, but it failed to read it.

The infighting in the party and the maladministration took their toll. All in all, the South came as a big boon for the UPA, helping it get so close to the half-way mark. For the NDA, which drew a blank in Andhra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it frustrated its bid for power.

Top

 

Let Suu Kyi be free
Keeping her in bondage isolates Myanmar more 

Just when her current six-year detention was about to end has come the shocking news that Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Ms Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisoned and charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after a US citizen reportedly swam across a lake to stay for a couple of days in her house. 

While it is difficult to understand how Ms Suu Kyi can be blamed for the American sneaking into her otherwise heavily guarded house uninvited, it has nevertheless given Myanmar’s military junta the untenable excuse to keep the 63-year-old prisoner of conscience in detention for another three to five years.

Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a believer in nonviolent struggle, has already spent 13 of the last 19 years under house arrest despite calls for clemency by the world community.

Her problem with the military rulers began when in 1990, her National League for Democracy (NLD) won an election with a thumping majority entitling her to become Prime Minister, a right that has been denied to her by the junta that has been entrenched in power since 1962.

The fact that last Thursday’s incident occurred barely two weeks before Ms Suu Kyi’s detention was scheduled to end on May 27 and also when general elections in Myanmar are just a year away appears to be too much of a coincidence. No one knows about the truth. Earlier in February, the military junta extended the house arrest of U Tin Oo, the 82-year-old Vice- President of the NLD and a close associate of Ms Suu Kyi.

Ms Suu Kyi’s continued detention is most unfortunate and reflects how parts of the world continue to lag behind in according basic liberties to its citizens. It is evident that her struggle is far from over and the people all over the world can only hope that her civil liberties, if not democracy in Myanmar, are restored soon.

While the international community must continue to collectively appeal for the release of Ms Suu Kyi and the restoration of democracy in Myanmar, the military rulers of the country ought to know that they and Myanmar have nothing to lose but their isolation.

Top

 

Thought for the Day

Though we cannot out-vote them, we will out-argue them. — Samuel Johnson

Top

 

Washington’s AfPak policy
India may come under US pressure 
by Air Marshal Brijesh D. Jayal (retd)

It was only recently that President Obama’s emerging Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) policy was based on the assumption that the key to solving the Afghanistan problem was a stable and cooperative Pakistan. It is a measure of the rapidly changing dynamics of this region that overnight it has become Pakistan that is the primary focus of both US and international concern. Predictions of it becoming a failed state are no more in the realm of speculative exercises.

In February, the Pakistan government struck a peace deal with the Taliban, acceding to the latter’s demand for the imposition of Sharia throughout the Malakand agency that includes both Swat and Buner.

Emboldened, the Taliban declared their intention to enforce Sharia in the whole of Pakistan claiming that Western-type democracy was alien to the Islamic way of life.The Taliban then occupied the district of Buner, a mere hundred kilometres from Islamabad. This set the alarm bells ringing in Washington.

Strong statements emerged from Washington. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked of events moving closer to the tipping point of a militant takeover of Pakistan.

General Patraeus told administration officials that Pakistan had run out of excuses and the next two weeks would determine whether it would survive. The White House asked the Pakistan and Afghanistan Presidents to be in Washington for a trilateral summit with US President.

This sustained diplomatic pressure and the approaching summit had the desired effect and the Pakistan military which thus far had been a mute spectator sprung into action. Their operations were perfectly timed to soften the reception that the Pakistan President and his party, including the ISI chief, would receive in Washington.

Then, on the eve of the summit, came the news of a major offensive launched by the Pakistan Army inflicting heavy casualties on the Taliban. Pakistan was repeating what it does best — running with the hare and hunting with the hound!

Within two days, the mood in Washington had softened and the strong statements verging on panic moderated. With the Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan by his side, the US President declared, “We meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their ability to operate in either country in the future.”

That this statement emphasised terrorist activities only within these three nations is not insignificant. The US has always been somewhat ambivalent about expanding the definition of its war on terror to include Pakistani-abetted terrorism against India since it desperately needs Pakistan for its war in Afghanistan.

Clearly, President Zardari and the Pakistan Army had played their parts in this charade well. Pakistan was rewarded with good words and a cheque for $400 million. At a Congressional hearing to a pointed query from Congressman Ackerman as to why Pakistan needed F-16 fighters to take on terrorists, Holbrooke is quoted to have said: “I am told by F-16 pilots that an F-16 with modern avionics can be used as a counterinsurgency tool, but quite honestly, it requires very sophisticated training. They did use the aging F-16s in their battles in Swat!”

In Pakistan, the Prime Minister made a strong statement declaring that the Army would wipe out all militants and terrorists that were threatening the integrity of Pakistan. Significantly, he did not name the Taliban at all. At least, the immediate crisis appeared to be over, and all parties, including the Taliban, would retreat to execute their next moves.

Where does this leave India? Judging by the tranquillity being displayed by the Indian security establishment amidst some of the most ominous security developments in the region, one can only conclude that the Indian foreign policy and security establishments are still basking in the glory of the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation deal and the anticipated strategic embrace that would propel India into world power status!

Looking back, President Obama had in an interview with Joe Klein of Time magazine stated, “Kashmir in particular is an interesting situation where that is obviously a potential tar pit diplomatically…..But, for us to devote serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in there, to figure out a plausible approach, and essentially make the argument to the Indians, you guys are on the brink of being an economic superpower, why do you want to keep on messing with this?”

Talking to the House panel recently on the deteriorating situation in Pakistan and efforts to reduce India-Pakistan tensions, Mrs Hillary Clinton said, “It’s a very profound question because there has to be effort to enhance confidence between India and Pakistan.”

This, when we were told by our foreign office mandarins, specially in the closing stages of the Bush administration, that the US had long dehyphenated Pakistan from US-India relations!

Already, there are indications that the next government is going to come increasingly under pressure on the issue of Kashmir supposedly to assist Pakistan in dealing with the Taliban, its own creation. Mr Robert Blackwill, a former US Ambassador to India and Adviser to the Bush administration, has said in interviews that India will come under US pressure on the Kashmir issue and Indo-US relations will see some cooling off. As one can see, Pakistan, the spoiled brat of the region, once again seems to be getting its way.

We are now faced with stark choices. A Talibanised or failed Pakistan is not in our security interests. Yet this is a possibility and in an environment where even friends and allies are putting their national interests first, we cannot be doing otherwise. 

More importantly, we cannot be seen to be outsourcing our national security to the US or anybody else. But judging by our past performance, we seem to have done just that.

Describing India’s response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks as remarkable, Mrs Hillary Clinton told the House panel that both the Obama and Bush administrations had worked hard to prevent India from reacting to the Mumbai attacks and predicted that the perpetrators would not cease their attacks, in India, because they were looking precisely for the reaction that the US wished to prevent.

Clearly, the message to the soft Indian establishment is that while there may be more attacks, India must be patient and not provoke Pakistan, because that would hurt US and Western interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As far as the US and its allies are concerned, terrorism in Kashmir and the rest of India is a byproduct of India-Pakistan relations, and solutions lie in improving them. In short, the West’s war on terror is different from that of India.

Taking a cue, it is time for India to jettison the mindset that others will help propel it to great power status. It must make its resolve clearly known that its status will come from its inner strength and that it has the will to safeguard its sovereignty. 

Any further attack will be met with a response solely determined by India’s wider security interests. On our part, this needs just two things. We need to be adequately prepared and to have the resolve to act in our own security interests. For the present, we seem to be lacking in both.

Top

 

Man who bombed Karachi
by Trilochan Singh Trewn

Admiral Sardari Lal Mathradas Nanda who died at 93 is rightfully known as a visionary who was one of the architects of modern Indian Navy. I served under him in his three different appointments and had closely watched his plans, ideas and aspirations taking shape in various fields of naval activities.

From a junior beginner in the Karachi Port Trust in 1941 he rose to the coveted rank of Chief of Naval Staff of India and had been decorated with Padma Vibhushan, PVSM and AVSM.

During his career he served as Commanding Officer of India’s flagship Mysore, Chairman and Managing Director of Mazagon Docks Mumbai, Commander-in-Chief of Western Naval Command as well as Chairman and Managing Director of the Shipping Corporation of India besides being the Director-General Dockyard Extension Schemes, Mumbai. All his jobs required hard work, drive, vision and resourcefulness of the highest order.

My first contact with him occurred just some months before Partition when he served as First Lieutenant on board HMIS Cavuery operating from Karachi and flying the flag of senior officer Persian Gulf. I still recall how deftly and harmoniously he handled those sailors on board who had opted for joining the Pakistani Navy in 1947.

Next, I served under him when he was Commanding Officer, INS, “Mysore”, in the United Kingdom in 1957 where the British Admiralty admired him for his qualities as a captain and public relationship.

But, above all, Admiral Nanda is remembered for his leadership in planning and executing a direct assault inside Karachi harbour through missile boats during December, 1971, sinking ships and putting harbour installations on fire. This single dramatic and brave achievement by the late Admiral will be written in golden words in the annals of Indian naval history.

As planned by him, after declaration of hostilities in 1971, the first missile attack known as Operation Trident was carried out by three OSA class missile boats with high surface strike capabilities brought from Russia. These were named Nipat, Nirghat and Veer.

During the night of 4th and 5th December, 1971, undetected by enemy patrol and radar the missiles struck and sank Pakistan navy destroyer Khyber, Coastal mine sweeper Muhafiz and set ablaze some oil tanks at Keamari. The devastation caused by this sudden offensive surprised everyone.

The second raid named Operation Phython planned for 6th December was actually executed on the night of 8th and 9th December. This was carried out by missile boat Vinash.

Besides destroying the Pakistani oil tanker Dacca the entire remaining oil tanks in Keamari area were set ablaze like a huge burning inferno with a pall of smoke which could be seen even from a distance of 60 nautical miles and the fire raged for seven days.

The demoralised enemy recalled all ships and crafts in safety of harbour and took away all ammunition to safe depot. This brave offensive act — unparalleled in naval known engagements — although approved by the Prime Minister, had initial resistance from certain advisers but was finally undertaken for the greater glory of country.

The novel bold and daring missile boat tactics adopted by the Indian Naval Command bottled up Pakistani naval ships and put Karachi port out of use for several days. Neutral foreign ships in Karachi harbour started seeking Government of India’s permission before leaving Karachi harbour. The planning and execution of this brilliant missile boat operation continues to be a subject of naval analysis by leading world navies.

Top

 

The limits of Modi magic
News Analysis by Dinesh Kumar, who covered elections in Gujarat 

Statistically speaking, the BJP has fared better this time by winning 15 out of Gujarat’s 26 Lok Sabha seats compared to 14 won during the 2004 elections. The Congress has actually showed a slight dip in numbers by winning 11 seats compared to 12 in the last elections.

The BJP wrested five seats from the Congress while retaining six. The Congress snatched four seats from the BJP and retained five others. The remaining seats won by both parties are newly created, post-delimitation.

But such a reading would be far too simplistic. The story behind the numbers is one of ambitions and aspirations, claims and counter-claims.

Considering that they were hoping to win up to 20 Lok Sabha seats, the ruling BJP has not fared that well in a state that has been considered a bastion of the saffron party and which played electoral host to a prime ministerial candidate in Lal Krishna Advani even while a section of the party’s national leadership projected Chief Minister Narendra Modi as future prime minister material.

But this decade’s electoral saga in Gujarat has not been about party politics alone. It has mostly been scripted by one man, and that is Narendra Damodardas Modi. His popularity, and his electoral strategies have largely decided the fate of the state BJP.

On the other hand, the electoral fortunes of the Congress have been determined more by projections of Modi’s unpopularity and his miscalculations in the absence of that party’s state-level stars.

This year’s electoral results seem to reflect that Modi’s ‘magic’ did not work to plan or to his party’s calculations. The parliamentary election results appear to mark a dent in his popularity coming as they are barely a year-and-a-half after his second successive thumping victory in the 2007 assembly elections.

Modi had a say in choosing most of the party’s 26 candidates. In the process, as many as 10 of the party’s previous 14 sitting candidates were not fielded partly due to delimitation but mostly due to Modi’s opposition. The fact that Modi may have badly miscalculated appears evident since eight of Modi’s handpicked candidates lost — something that will be the subject of much analysis within the party’s rank and file.

In five out of seven of these eight constituencies, the sitting MP was from the BJP. The defeat in these five constituencies reflects adversely on Modi’s choice and on his decision-making. The eighth, Bardoli, was a newly created constituency.

On the other hand, the two candidates who were not Modi’s choice, i.e. Rajendrasinh Rana (Bhavnagar) and Harin Pathak (Ahmedabad-East), both sitting MPs, won with comfortable margins. In fact, all four sitting MPs who were fielded, emerged victorious.

Only one BJP sitting MLA was able to win the parliamentary elections compared to four Congress sitting MLA’s. All the three Congress defectors that had been fielded by the BJP in Patan, Surendranagar and Dahod were also defeated.

Interestingly, on the other hand, Somabhai Patel, the BJP defector to the Congress, who had supported the UPA government on the nuclear deal against the party, was re-elected from Surendranagar on the Congress ticket. Clearly, both Modi’s personal belief and his party’s confidence that he could get anyone elected single-handedly have been badly bruised in these parliamentary elections.

A nasty shock for the BJP has been its poor performance in the Saurashtra and Kutch region where the Congress increased its tally from a solitary seat to four. In fact both parties polled a similar percentage of votes i.e, 43.09 percent (Congress) and 43.84 percent (BJP).

Much to the BJP’s dismay, it lost two traditional strongholds, Rajkot and Porbandar, after two long decades along with Surendranagar. While delimitation has been attributed as one of the causes, the major factor has been the mobilisation of the Patels away from the BJP, especially in Rajkot, Porbandar and Jamnagar.

The elections also marked the BJP’s first humiliation if not actual defeat at the hands of the Mahagujarat Janata Party (MJP), a breakaway faction of the state BJP, which contested parliamentary elections in the state for the first time.

The MJP’s president, Gordhan Zadafia, who fought from Bhavnagar (also located in Saurashtra), managed to secure 1.5 lakh votes, which resulted in reducing the BJP candidate’s victory margin to just under 6,000. 

Yet another significant sidelight from Saurashtra is that Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace, Porbandar, has the dubious distinction of electing a candidate (Vitthal Radardiya) with the maximum number of criminal cases (16) against him in the state. This was one of the three constituencies that Sonia Gandhi visited during her one-day tour of the state. 

To the surprise of many political observers, the state’s three main diamond cities voted for the BJP despite many incidents of suicide by diamond workers following large-scale retrenchment and closure of diamond units. While the BJP was able to retain the seats of Surat and Bhavnagar, it was also able to wrest Amreli from the Congress.  

But just how close was the electoral contest, thereby indicating the tough fight that the BJP faced this time, is evident from an analysis of some of the victory and defeat margins. In two constituencies each, the BJP and the Congress won with narrow margins ranging between just 800 to 6,000 votes.

While in Kheda and Surendranagar the Congress won with a margin of 846 and 4,837 votes respectively, in Panchmahal and Bhavnagar the BJP won with a margin of 2,095 and 5,912 votes respectively. Then again, in six other constituencies, the BJP and the Congress won four and two seats, respectively, with margins ranging between 17,000 and 27,000 votes.

However, Advani’s cherished desire of winning with a huge margin like last time was not to be. He won with a margin of 1.22 lakh compared to 2.17 lakh in 2004, partly due to an overall reduction of votes due to delimitation and largely due to mobilisation of the Patel vote against the BJP. Interestingly, Advani’s Congress opponent did better in Sanand where Tata’s Nano car project has been relocated. 

Advani’s victory margin is the lowest so far compared to his own and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s earlier victory from the Gandhinagar constituency. Also, his victory margin is lower than that of some of his party colleagues in the state, for example, Balkrishna Khanderav Shukla from Vadodara who won with a margin of 1.36 lakh votes. 

Gujarat’s glamour candidate Mallika Sarabhai, who was the most sought after candidate by the media in the state, lost her deposit while contesting from Gandhinagar.

The Congress party’s most significant shock was the defeat of two of its three union ministers — Textile minister Shankarsinh Vagela from Panchmahal of which Godhra is a part, by just 2,095 votes, and Railway minister of state Naran Rathwa from Chhota Udepur by 27,000 votes. The third Congress minister at the Centre, Dinsha Patel, managed to win but by a narrow margin of just 846 votes from Kheda.

In Modi’s Gujarat, it was the Chief Minister who was the sole star campaigner. But evidently, his 80 odd rallies in the state were not enough to swing the tide. Advani, the state’s only non-Gujarati speaking candidate, confined his campaigning to his constituency and that too during the last three days of campaigning.

Modi clearly overshadowed all BJP leaders in his state. The Congress largely managed locally with few star campaigners. Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi made only one visit each, the latter on the last day of campaigning.

Elsewhere in the country, Modi addressed over 300 rallies, reportedly more than even Advani did. The fact that the BJP fared badly in almost every state that Modi campaigned in, is perhaps a reflection of the magic gone awry — something that might be the subject of introspection within the party.

Top

 

Gloom deepens in Germany
by Jeremy Warner

We are all prisoners of our own history, it is sometimes said, and no more does this seem to be the case than in Europe's policy response to what is shaping up to be by far the worst recession of the post-war period.

Figures for first-quarter GDP in Europe announced last week made truly shocking reading, with Germany, Europe's largest economy, contracting by a jaw-dropping 3.8 per cent on the final quarter of last year.

This counts as almost mild against what's going on among accession nations such as Slovakia and Latvia, where the shrinkage was an astonishing 11.2 per cent apiece. If the contraction carried on at that rate, national income would virtually halve within a year.

It all makes Gordon Brown's economic travails look pedestrian by comparison. The British Prime Minister's proud boast during the early part of the downturn that Britain was better placed to withstand the economic maelstrom than almost anywhere else – much mocked at the time – may even turn out to be true.

It's all so unfair. Germany behaved itself during the boom. It didn't have a credit bubble, it shunned the irrational exuberance of Anglo-Saxon capital markets, it invested in its manufacturing industries and it was prudent in its management of the public finances. Yet it has ended up more badly damaged than Britain and America, the countries widely blamed for causing the collapse.

Why is this? Why is it that Britain's economic funk is unlikely to be as bad, and that recovery is likely to be faster? There are two key distinguishing features. One is the depreciation of the pound, particularly against the euro. This has provided a powerfully reflationary effect, as it did back in the early 1990s when Britain exited the ERM.

Our exports are more competitive, and there is growing evidence of import substitution. Some companies have even been persuaded by the weakness of the pound to repatriate services and operations which had been offshored.

Equally important is the speed and radicalism of the policy response, particularly of the monetary authorities. Having initially been slow to realise the seriousness both of the financial crisis and the economic downturn, the Treasury and the Bank of England have moved much more aggressively than their European counterparts to address the banking crisis and ease monetary conditions.

Interest rates have been cut close to zero and the Bank is now aggressively expanding the money supply through quantitative easing.

Why has the European Central Bank been so cautious by comparison? First, there are significant practical difficulties in following the lead set by the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve. If the ECB were to embark on a similar programme of asset purchases, which government bonds would it buy, and in what quantities?

The choice would be even more bewildering when it came to buying corporate debt. Which industries, which countries, and which companies? What's more, who would be there to underwrite the credit risk? If governments became involved, this might be seen to compromise the ECB's jealously guarded independence.

Yet you get the impression listening to the various remarks on the subject by Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the ECB, and other members of the governing council, that the objection is more philosophical than practical.

The ECB simply doesn't like the idea. This aversion to unconventional policy action may have influenced the ECB's apparent tardiness in cutting interest rates too. Because they are suspicious of the idea, the Europeans have been reluctant to cut interest rates to the point where the ECB would be forced to consider expanding the money supply.

Just as American policymakers look to the experience of the Great Depression to instruct their actions, in Europe it is more the catastrophe of the Weimar Republic, the great inflation of the pre-Nazi period, and the subsequent destructiveness of the Second World War that provides the cultural and historical backdrop to policy on the Continent.

The Germans really, really, really, don't like anything that smacks of printing money. The euro is meanwhile regarded as important not so much for its claimed economic benefits, which in any case look remarkably thin right now, but as a way of binding Europe together in harmony and preventing a repetition of past conflicts.

These are noble objectives. Unfortunately they seem particularly ill-suited to dealing with the economic meltdown. European policymakers lined up last Friday to declare that the contraction is bottoming out of its own accord. Let's hope they are right, for they aren't getting much help from their central bank. 

— By arrangement with The Independent

Top

 

Chatterati
Politicians’ wives too played their part
by Devi Cherian

It was courtship time ahead of government formation in Delhi. Political leaders of various small parties were the busiest of the lot. It’s perhaps the only time they are so much in demand. For the wheeler-dealers, shakers and movers, it was party time, of course.

Now guess who the main targets for wooing were? No, not Jayalalithaa and Mamta. But the wives of Lalu, Paswan and Karunanidhi. And, of course, the main one here was Prakash Karat’s super wife, Brinda Karat.

It was the fair sex power game, once again. Mamta, Jayalalithaa and Maya are, of course, leaders with a mass following. Male politicians have to follow their wives’ instincts. After all, they say a lady’s gut feeling is usually right. Besides, more peace at home if you hear the wife out at least.

One thing the two most powerful women in politics have in common is the obsession with themselves. They love to see their cut-outs or portraits in every nook and corner of their houses, in the homes of their faithfuls and, of course, all over the towns and the state they rule. It’s amazing.

Also see how they treat their workers and office-bearers. No one is allowed to sit near them. Behenji and Amma are both known for their bad tempers. Mamta shares that trait too. But, on the other hand, hats off to them. Managing politicians with all kinds of dubious backgrounds is a tough job. Maybe that is why they are called the “Iron Ladies”.

Dinners and diamonds

Mayawati is now getting used to hosting dinners in style. A short-cut to the Race Course Road, she had thought, was perhaps through the stomach. Then what are the dinners all about? Maybe to flaunt her acquisitions, be it gold, diamonds or even her bank account.

Well, her invites to her peers for dinner flaunt her new address on Gurdwara Rakabganj Road, right next to the Parliament House. Two and a half decades back, when the Prime Minister’s residence was shifted from Safdarjung Road to Race Course Road, they merged bungalows numbered 1,3,5,7 and 9 RCR where 1 and 9 were occupied by security and the rest formed the Prime Minister’s sprawling residence cum-office complex.

Mayawati’s new estate isn’t that big yet, but she too merged three independent bungalows – 12, 14 and 16 Rakabganj Road – to construct a huge complex that forms her residence, a Kanshi Ram Memorial and the party office. Which just goes to show that Mayawati does not have to be the Prime Minister to enjoy all the trappings that go with the office.

New houses for ladies

First, it was the BSP supremo who started this trend of taking over old spacious houses in the Capital and turning them into palaces with huge elephants at the doors. Now one can expect a rush of devotees from Tamil Nadu to head for South Delhi where a huge bungalow is being constructed for the AIDMK’s presiding deity, J.Jayalalithaa.

The old house has been demolished. Here Jayalalithaa will indulge in her machinations to ensure that her younger political cousin from the BSP does not make it to the top job.

Post-elections, you can hope to see a steady stream of red-beacon fitted white Ambassadors making their way through the narrow streets of the area whenever she is in Delhi.

Top

 





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |