Friday 1 January 2016

Budget session likely to see fireworks (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat

Friday, January 01, 2016 - For the first time in his four decades of political prominence, Union Minister for Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information & Broadcasting Arun Jaitley is facing a serious and sustained attack from within the BJP as well as from other parties. Expectedly, in view of the reality that Jaitley is the most accessible of the ruling party’s leaders to press persons, almost the entire media has spoken out in defence of Jaitley. 

Indeed, in a press conference on the subject of corruption in the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) called by the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a correspondent from a television channel otherwise known for its hard-nosed reporting was apoplectic as she sought to defend Arun Jaitley from the chages hurled by the organisers of the press conference, refusing to cease her repeated barbs at the AAP despite disapproving looks from other correspondents eager to have their turn at questioning the AAP leaders holding the press conference. 

The BJP has been making error after error in its political strategies. Given that there are hundreds of corrupt senior officials in Delhi, including several whose families own properties worth millions of dollars, the most likely explanation for the raid by central anti-corruption officials on the Principal Secretary of the Chief Minister of Delhi is that it was an effort to show up the AAM asc orrupt. The party is on track to unseat the BJP and its ally (Shiromani Akali Dal) from Punjab in the state elections falling due in that state, and hence it has become imperative for the BJP to blacken the image of the AAM and its quirky albeit charismatic leader, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

In any government, the Finance Minister has to be above suspicion. During the time when he was the Leader of the Opposition, Jaitley took care to ensure that no charges of corruption were laid by the BJP against then Union Finance Minister Palaniappan Chdambaram. This despite the fact that there have been whispers for long about the way in which Chidambaram’s son Karthik has become super rich during the period when his father was handling the Finance portfolio. Of course, it is possible that it was business genius rather than any other driver behind Karthik’s progress to the ranks of the super rich. Unfortunately for Jaitley, the Congress has not reciprocated his generous gesture to Chidambaram, with the party’s parliamentary leadership voluble with invective against a politician who has never in the past faced a single charge of impropriety.

India is changing, even while its laws remain regressive and its governmental structures committed to control rather than to the encouragement of innovation. Each day, instances multiply of some official agency or the other seeking to choke to death activity by citizens that would be not simply permitted but welcomed in less regressive governmental structures. Arvind Kejriwal has watched as Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi seems set to walk away with the prize of being the NOMB (Number One Modi Baiter), a sobriquet sure to ensure a plentiful harvest of votes in the 2019 national elections. He has therefore sought to fire at Modi by hitting at the minister closest to him, Arun Jaitley. 

The AAP has announced the setting up of a commission of enquiry comprising of one of the country’s most accomplished lawyers, Gopal Subramanium, to probe into the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) finances. Because of the fact that there has been much talk of mafia money i cricket, especially in matters of betting and match fixing, Subramanium has asked National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to provide “honest” police officers to help in determining the truth behind the allegations made against the DDCA,a request unlikely to be complied with. 

It has been the stand of the BJP that the very setting up of the commission is illegal, and the Lt-Governor or Delh, Najeeb Jung, is certain to uphold that view. Although appointed by the Congress Party Jung has proved to be as obedient to the dictates of the present central government as he was to its predecessor, and has repeatedly sought to corner the AAP government in Delhi despite the latter’s crushing (67 out of 70) majority in the Delhi assembly. Jung has a good reputation as a scholar and as a bureaucrat, and going against his bosses is clearly not in his guidebook. Indeed, a grateful BJP may make him the Vice-Presidential candidate of the ruling NDA when the present incumbent, Congress-leaning Hamid Ansari, demits office in 2017. 

Opposing the DDCA enquiry commission is another of the missteps of the BJP, for should the central government declare it to be illegal, Gopal Subramanium would nevertheless go ahead and hold public hearings on the matter. In the future, hopefully every court proceeding in India will be streamed online, as transparency is the most effective guarantor of integrity. The Subramanium Commission has announced that its hearings will be open to the public, including the media, and it is expected that tens of millions of television viewers would watch the proceedings, thereby nullifying the efforts of Lt Governor Jung to kill the enquiry. 

Friends and admirers of Arun Jaitley are hoping that the cricket scandal will die down, but this is unlikely, as the Congress Party and the Aam Aadmi Party know that damaging the credibility of the Union Finance Minister would hurt the credibility of the economic team of Prime Minister Modi at its heart. Economic success is at the core of the electoral appeal of Narendra Modi, who has to deliver double digit growth by 2017 at the latest if he is to create a Feel Good factor sufficient to ensure a repeat of his 2014 feat of winning his party a majority in the Lok Sabha (House of the People). For that, his economic team has to have global credibility, especially to attract the billions of dollars of investment needed for the economy to zoom. 

Both Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal can be expected to separately seek to ensure that the Modi-led government falters in matters of the economy. In such a war, there is no surprise that the principal target of opposition attacks is Finance Minister Jaitley, who must be feeling that such a painful twist in his hugely successful career is hardly cricket.

— The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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