gfiles magazine

January 24, 2017

Foreign Secy: who’ll come up trumps

Gone are the days when appointing a Foreign Secretary was as unimportant as hiring a watchman. But with a full time globetrotting Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary has to be someone who needs to be at the beck and call of the PM. The term of the present Foreign Secretary ends on January 28. After the victory of Donald Trump, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Principal Secretary to PM Nripendra Mishra and NSA AjitDoval held an urgent meeting, where it was decided that Jaishankar should be the first diplomat to meet with Trump’s team. Jaishankar had dealt with George W. Bush and Obama during the last 16 years. Jaishankar flew to the US and met some of the officials in the transition team, as Trump was busy. But like Obama, he too was treated as ‘lame duck’ FS. According to MEA sources, Anil Wadhwa, a 1979-batch IFS officer, Ambassador to Italy is the seniormost among the serving diplomats. He was transferred last year while he was serving as Secretary (East). Another competent diplomat, Sujata Mehta, a 1980-batch IFS officer, serving as Secretary (West) is waiting in the wings. There are three 1981-batch IFS officers-NavtejSarna, current Ambassador to the USA, AmarendraKhatua, DG ICCR, and Secretary, Special Assignments, and Vijay Gokhale Ambassador to China-all eying the plum post. While the US under Trump will need careful handling, economic, strategic and security concerns are reason enough for Modi to select a China expert as Foreign Secretary. It is not certain who among the aspirants will make it to the top but what seems certain is that Jaishankar is not getting a second term. But why worry? There is no dearth of think-tanks in the US eagerly waiting to hire him.

Neighbours in shock

It appears that the Finance Ministry had a myopic view about demonetisation. Nobody in the Ministry asked about or suggested that demonetisation will have an impact on the economies of the SAARC nations. As the news is emanating from the SAARC countries, they are baffled. If one thinks India’s GDP’s size is two trillion only, they are mistaken. The collective impact of SAARC and India’s GDP is humungous. India has bilateral monetary treaties with most of the neighbouring countries. Economists who are working on the demonetisation reports say that being a big nation, India should have considered the devastating impact of demonetisation before taking such a major policy decision. Finance Ministry officials have the trade data of SAARC nations and are well aware of the impact of Indian currency on the neighbouring countries.  Economists opine that it will be difficult to generate the same confidence level in the Indian currency. Trade among neighbouring countries will take at least two years to normalise. A senior official of the Ministry informed that nobody asked them about the impact of demonetisation on the neighbouring countries, so why blame the ministry.

Bureaucracy stalls investments!

The fact that India continues to rank poorly as an investment destination in the newly released 10th annual survey of petroleum sector executives around the world carried out by a prestigious non-profit global institute is probably as good a time as any for some serious self introspection. The survey identifies countries with the greatest barriers to investments in the oil and gas industry and is confined to the oil and gas executives in the upstream sector. India is placed 30th among 36 countries with “medium reserve holdings” in terms of policy perception in the global survey. Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and even Pakistan, come before India. Among Asian countries included in the survey, India is in the absolute bottom. Only Bangladesh ranks below us. Among 100 countries overall, India is placed at 80. Why is the general perception on India so poor? The survey quotes one of the respondents as saying, “Getting environmental clearance can be a prolonged process. Even after getting environmental permission, there can be nasty surprises.” The fiscal terms in India are considered to be a big deterrent but it is a lower deterrent in Pakistan. Fiscal terms are seen to be as big a deterrent in China as they are in India.  Then again, India’s taxation burden is seen to be considerably larger than Pakistan but China’s burden is seen as much higher. Then how does China get a higher score than India? China’s environmental licensing norms are seen to be much less cumbersome. There are also more respondents not wanting to invest in India than in China or Pakistan as a result of uncertainties in interpretation and implementation of policies. The cost of regulatory compliance too is seen to be much higher in India. Surprisingly, we are less of a deterrent on labour regulations than China or Pakistan and we are higher up the ladder on this count than quite a few countries. India is higher on infrastructure, labour availability and skills but ranks lower in terms of our quality of geological database.  We are also ahead of others in terms of political stability despite our fractious politics.

Head hunting for AIIMS

AIIMS has been a political battleground for long. Despite being the premier hospital of the country, nobody dares to intervene. The current Director, Dr MC Mishra, is retiring on January 30, 2017, and is reportedly lobbying for an extension. Meanwhile, the search for a new director for AIIMS has begun. The names in the forefront are Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s relative DrRasik Vajpayee, DrRandeepGuleria, DrJagdish Prasad and Dr AB Dey. Dr Mishra is, moreover, under a cloud these days as he has appointed his close aide Dr Umesh Kapil as Head of Gastroenterology. Dr Kapil is known as a Human Nutrition expert. Notably, the required eligibility for the position is MD (Medicine) and DM in the same field. Sources disclosed that Dr Kapil does not have these requisites. Sources claim that Dr Kapil actually comes in the list of ineffective doctors. This is why in 1997, the then head of the department, Dr Ramesh Tondon, had recommended his removal. What has shocked the AIIMS fraternity is that in the history of the institute, this is the first time that a Head of Department was appointed without the Director’s signature on the order, which is a must as per the AIIMS Charter. Otherwise in general cases, any letter of appointment or promotion comes from the faculty cell, based on which the Director issues his order. Sources reveal that the entire sequence of events engineered by Dr Mishra was to sideline DrAnoop Sarai, as the latter is reportedly  the best qualified and experienced person for the post. Ironically, on the one hand, there is a shortage of doctors in AIIMS and on the other, experienced doctors are being dispatched for administrative duties. And a private practitioner has been made a member in the selection body. It’s to be seen in the above circumstances, whether Dr Mishra is given an extension or a new competent and experienced doctor is appointed as Director, AIIMS.

The RSS connection

ratantata visits nagpur

When the Ratan of Tata group paid a surprise visit to RSS HQ at Mahal and Reshimbaug, Nagpur and met with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, many highbrows went up at the number of places media, BJP HQ and industrial houses closely watching the Tata-Cyrus war. As usual the faceless spokesperson of RSS Manmohan Vaidya, a known Modi baiter, dismissed it as a “courtesy visit”. Obviously we know, no Tata company is supplying full pants to RSS. But what was the agenda? According to business circles in India’s financial capital, Ratan Tata could be in trouble for some of his international business transactions gone wrong beyond repair. Cyrus could be privy to some of them by now and will leave no court unturned to nail Ratan. Now who will insulate the Tata group’s breakdown from the Mistry? One of Ratan’s many ‘friends’, Shaina NC, a fashion designer, BJP spokesperson and fund raiser, aspiring South Mumbai candidate and daughter of Nana Chudasama, former Sheriff of Mumbai came handy. Working her way up the political ladder she had befriended a powerful politician from Maharashtra close to the RSS chief. All that Ratan Tata did was press the right buttons and the next day he was kneeling before the statue of RSS founder at Reshimbaug. He is understood to have been ‘highly appreciative’ of RSS work in the areas of education and social work in tribal areas and reportedly promised to un-cap CSR funds to the RSS. This done, the RSS will apparently put in a kind word to the concerned quarters to have a sympathetic view of the doyen of Parsi community.

Race for Prez begins

sushma among contenders

The news about the election of President and Vice President will be hot till August. There is no indication from either the BJP or the Congress, but lobbying within the BJP has started and names of different leaders are emerging. One section within the BJP is advocating for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as President. There is another lobby which is advocating the candidature of Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. However, sources disclosed that BJP President Amit Shah is not happy with the Speaker. Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmur, a dalitadivasi leader from Odisha, is another strong candidate. The rumour mill is also propagating the name of film star Amitabh Bachchan for the first citizen of India. For the post of Vice-President, the names of former Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and P Sadashivam are emerging. There is another lobby which is propagating the name of Venkaiah Naidu for the Vice-President of India. Insiders within the BJP also feel that if wisdom prevails, then veterans of the party  Lal Krishna Advani and  Murli Manohar Joshi are the most  suitable candidates, keeping in mind the dedication and commitment of these leaders.  In the given political atmosphere, the battle for these most prestigious posts will gain momentum after the results of five state assembly elections. It has to be seen who RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat, Bhaiyaji Joshi and DattatreyaHosbole  recommend to Narendra Modi. One top BJP leader informed that Modi will choose a personality who will fetch him votes irrespective of RSS or BJP affiliations.

Lodha in ED net

eyes on his diary

Parasmal Lodha nicknamed ‘Extra Floor Lodha’ the Kolkata businessman­realtor has been nabbed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). After the announcement of demonetisation on November 8, Lodha travelled more than six times in the same chartered plane that is meant for the Chief Minister, that too with a famous industrialist. It is reported that the diary that has been seized from Lodha has the names of several famous personalities. Lodha was arrested in connection with the recovery of Rs 25 crore  of new currency notes from a Delhi law firm belonging to advocate Rohit Tandon and Chennai businessman Shekhar Reddy. It is learnt that his digital diary has the names of the Who’s Who of the political world. A former Chief Justice of India also figures in the list. The diary reportedly also has the name of a son of a leader from the ruling party. A prominent industrialist’s name from the field of communication and oil, allegedly connected to the 2G scam, is also mentioned. Sources say the diary has the name of Vijay Singh Dogra who was associated with the Sahara chief. Dogra’s diary has been used by Rahul and Kejriwal to criticise the Prime Minister. It has been said that one should not be surprised if some more prominent names of businessmen and politicians surface from Lodha’s diary.

We are wonderful, but we are too many

The global environmental crisis is no longer a myth but a clear statement of facts. People are advocating recycling and alternate systems of power, but this will only help in a minor way. I’m not trying to belittle these efforts. Windmills, solar panels, etc., are very crucial interventions, but we are not yet looking for solutions; we are only looking to slow down the disaster. This means we don’t want the disaster to happen in our lifetime; we want to gift it to our children. We are trying to lift a tonne of weight with a little finger; we want to handle a massive problem with small incentives here and there. If we as humanity are serious about this looming environmental disaster, we need to come to terms with the fact that all ecological problems have sprung from irresponsible human reproduction.

Shift to financial assets

The market is likely to witness increased volatility as the December quarter results pour in. How the initial days of the Trump Administration pan out coupled with lack of clarity on GST and impact of demonetisation on the economy and corporate sector may further add to the choppiness of the market. However, investors should be clear that though the market may witness bouts of correction, a complete blood bath may be ruled out since domestic funds have a lot of liquidity and are waiting for any steep correction to happen. Investors will, therefore, do well to pick stocks in a staggered manner with each correction they witness lest they are bound to miss the bus again. The market may go into a prolonged bearish phase only if the government fails to tackle demonetisation effectively with the implementation of GST getting delayed beyond a point and Union Budget 2017 not able to meet the expectations of the resurgent economy and the market and if the earnings revival of the corporate sector get delayed beyond the next quarter.

Mr. India International

The curtain rose on yet another succession drama, with Mulayam Singh Yadav again struggling to become the Prime Minister. This time he had the vocal support from Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu, with whom he had several meetings in Banga Bhawan. But ranged against Yadav was the other Yadav, Laloo, who fancied himself as the real king-maker. Last time it was Mulayam who had stopped him from becoming Prime Minister, this time he would stop Mulayam. Laloo had by now lost favour among the Communists because of the fodder scam in Bihar, but there were others he could lobby with. At one stage Laloo told Chandrababu Naidu to take the job. But Naidu, aware that years were on his side, and that any arrangement would be short-lived and tainted, was quick to refuse.

Challenges of old age care

The  sinister shadow of urbanisation, industrialisation, and atomisation of families has  not only deprived the elders of the  societal reverence, traditional family love and care but they are being increasingly neglected and abused. The problem would exacerbate and reach gargantuan proportion with the growing size of elderly population, which was 20 million in 1951, 57 million in 1991, 104 million in 2012  and would be over 300 million by the year 2050. While successive governments have devoted greater part of their focus on shelter, food and healthcare, especially maternal and child health, the healthcare of the aged continues in a state of terrible neglect. The deprived, neglected, abused and abandoned elders whose number continues to swell, suffer unattended  from serious  geriatric  health  and cognitive disorders. Many senior citizens suffer  from the most common form of dementia-Alzheimer’s disease, a silent tormentor.

Golden Girl

For Sudha Pillai, the former Member Secretary of the Planning Commission, the inspiration to join the civil services came quite early in life-in fact, when she was not even ten years of age.Sudha Khanna (Pillai after marriage) met Sarla Grewal, India’s second woman IAS officer, when she was barely eight-year-old. Grewal, then Director of Public Instruction (commonly known as DPI), had come for an annual day function in her Senior Modern School, Chandigarh. She handed over the prize-The Hungry Strones, a book by Rabindranath Tagore-to her. With the prize, it seems, Grewal also gave Sudha Khanna inspiration to be a civil servant. “There I decided to be an IAS,” she recollects, with the incident still etched in her memory.

Global power shift

The global power architecture in 2017 may see a significant evolution. Three things will trigger this evolution: entry of Donald Trump in the White House, increasing cooperation between Russia and Japan and the growing European disenchantment with multiculturalism-a post-WWII ism that facilitated the flow of migrant workers from Muslim North Africa and West Asia into Europe and America for industrial reconstruction of war-ravaged Europe.Even before being elected, Trump had indicated that he would reset the USA relationship with the Russian Federation. A more than a decade of mutual meddling in Ukraine, which acts as a buffer between the European Union (EU) and Russia, has badly soured the US-Russia relationship.

Incomplete judgment

Accidents are a common occurrence on the roads of the country. There can also be no denial that a large number of them-to the extent of almost 80 per cent-are attributed to the driver’s fault. As per the statistics incorporated by Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH), in its report titled ‘Road Accidents in India 2015’, in almost 4-5 per cent of such cases the drivers were found under the influence of drugs/alcohol. MoRTH, on the basis of statistics available, thought that easy availability of liquor along the highways is one reason for the drivers to consume alcohol and, therefore, it has issued numerous advisories to the State governments to not allow sale of alcohol/liquor within a distance of 220m from middle of State or National Highways.

It is the economy, no politics, stupid

Whatever be the form of government, winning elections and governance have largely depended on catchy slogans, especially the economic ones. Whoever said ‘man does not live by bread alone’ must be repenting how he went so wrong. From ‘workers of the world unite’ in 1848 to ‘achhe din’ in 2014, slogans laced with a tinge of economy and prospects of coins jingling in your pocket have enthused millions to choose a government or throw the unwanted ones out. A year before the 1992 US Presidential election, 90 per cent Americans approved George Bush’s job-creating economy. Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, James Carville, re-hashed a phrase and coined a new slogan “It’s the economy, stupid”.

Double speak on Narmada

On January 11, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is slated to perform BhoomiPujan for the Rs. 750-crore Coca-Cola bottling plant and food processing unit at the Mohasa-Babai industrial estate in Hoshangabad district. The proposed plant is just eight km from river Narmada. Billed as the biggest Coca-Cola bottling unit in India, the proposed plant will require one million litre water per day, according to the State’s industry minister Rajendra Shukla. On this day, the Narmada SewaYatra (Narmada pilgrimage) will likely enter into the district with the message to conserve each drop of the holy river.

Restore Standard Deduction

The budget presentation date having been preponed by one month to February 1, umpteen suggestions must be pouring in the Finance Ministry regarding changes that need to be made in the Income Tax Act.I just wish to make one to highlight the injustice and discrimination practiced in the cases of the most honest sector of taxpayers-the salary earners-on whom injustice was thrust by P Chidambaram, the Finance Minister in the UPA Government, vide his budget proposals for the year 2005-06 when he increased exemption limits and adjusted the tax brackets.

Judicial Conundrum The prudent way out

Amidst the intense cry and cacophony over ‘demonetisation’, grievous governance wounds that bleed the nation are getting sidelined. Most important among them is the Central Government-Supreme Court impasse on the appointment of High Court judges. For quite some time the Central government and Supreme Court Collegium have been locking horns on his issue. The Chief Justice of India (CJI) has been blaming the government for not doing enough for appointing judges with the Union Law Minister responding with a counter accusation. The bone of contention is the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), which will be the Rule governing appointment of judges.

Tata-Mistry Feud What Lies Behind?

Rome wasn’t built in months. Nor was it destroyed in months. The same is the case with the spat between Ratan Tata, interim Chairman, Tata Group, and Cyrus Mistry, former Chairman. The story starts, ironically, when Ratan decided to search for his successor. The year: 2010. The five members of the selection committee included Ratan’s loyalists-NA Soonawala, RK Krishna Kumar, the UK-based Lord Bhattacharya, ShrinBharucha, and, of course, Cyrus, whose family owns 18 per cent in Tata Sons, the group’s holding company. Cut to November 23, 2011. After 18 meetings in search of a professional outsider to carry on the almost 150-year-old Tata legacy, the committee selected Cyrus, who was already an insider as Tata Sons’ director. He was actually an insider-outsider, possibly the worst combination for a successor of a $100-billion business empire.

Demonetisation: The jury is still out

When we are confronted with the evidence in any matter, for example a personal or a political issue, the cognitive process in our brain is immediately activated. But surprisingly, the neural circuits in the brain that are normally involved in reasoning or logic do not participate in this process. In fact, when the brain arrives at a certain conclusion which makes us emotionally comfortable, we get the rewards in terms of joy or pleasure and get massively stuck to that conclusion as our own view. This is the finding of a scientific study reported in the Scientific American recently.Perhaps this hypothesis explains the obdurate extreme views some of my senior colleagues hold concerning the dress, gait or stubble of the Prime Minister. These worthy gentlemen leave no opportunity to berate the decision of the Prime Minister to replace high denomination currency.

From the Editor

A veteran BJP leader once said during the run up to 2004 elections that ‘all political parties will be in a state of flux’. He should be happy that his prediction may come true, only a little late. Like the traffic stops during a VIP visit, governance comes to a grinding halt the moment elections are announced. With elections in five States from February 5 and results on March 11, the next 70 days promise to be eventful, keeping poll pundits to voters busy. Akhilesh Yadav, the Chief Minister of the largest State, Uttar Pradesh, is facing two fights, one in the family and the other in the political arena. If he manages to win both, he is sure to emerge as a national figure obliterating the Congress vice-president who is struggling to remain above water. The Congress, which has been out of power in UP for the last 35 years, seems to be looking for nothing beyond a runner-up status to the third largest party.