Showing posts with label Indira Gandhi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indira Gandhi. Show all posts

Friday, December 14, 2018

Undermining Democratic Institutions: Fact And Fiction

Ever since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, the charge of “undermining institutions” has been a constant refrain in what is popularly but not factually known as the mainstream media. He has been accused of “undermining” every known institution from the Indian Council of Historical Research to the Reserve Bank of India. The raucous babble reached its crescendo after Urjit Patel (a Modi appointee) announced his resignation for personal reasons as the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. The crescendo reached even a higher pitch after Shaktikanta Das a former IAS official was appointed as RBI Governor to replace Patel. Notwithstanding the fact that he served as the Revenue Secretary, the Economic Affairs Secretary and as a member of the Fifteenth Finance Commission, it was his educational qualifications that became the bone of contention.

It must be remembered that when Modi assumed charge as prime minister he left most of the ‘steel frame’ that he inherited in place except for a few minor changes. It is against this backdrop, it may be instructive to look back and review who “undermined institutions” the most. Jawaharlal Nehru ruled for nearly eighteen years since he became the interim prime minster in 1946 till his death in 1964. His daughter Indira ruled the nation for sixteen years, from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 till her death in 1984. Her son Rajiv ruled the nation between 1984 and 1989. His wife Sonia ruled by proxy between 2004 and 2014. Political chicanery of that magnitude – which amounts to nothing less than undermining the highest political office in the land – would not have been possible in any other democracy in the world.

Deception, Disinformation and Psychological Operations have been originally employed by intelligence agencies but politicians caught on to them fast. The Congress party has for long invested in an ecosystem of academic institutions and the media. They come in handy to discredit and disarm political rivals by deception, disinformation and psychological operations. Coming back to the issue of “undermining institutions”, here is a non-exhaustive list of examples of how institutions were undermined or worse sabotaged to suit political whims and fancies under various Congress leaders.

Jawaharlal Nehru

Let us begin with the reign of Jawaharlal Nehru who has been hailed as an epitome of democratic values.

Curtailing freedom of expression India’s best and brightest minds toiled for about three years to craft the longest written Constitution of the world. It was adopted on January 26, 1950. Even before the ink on the original Constitution dried, Nehru proposed the first amendment. The Americans amended their Constitution about thirty times in two hundred and forty years while we enacted a hundred and one amendments in seventy years. Whereas the American first amendment strengthened freedom of expression, Nehru’s first amendment, enacted on June 18, 1951 curtailed freedom of expression.

Curtailing powers of the judiciary The Indian first amendment did more. It created the Ninth Schedule which barred judicial scrutiny of legislations included in it.

Downgrading the Finance Ministry Enamoured as he was of the Soviet system of governance, he created the Planning Commission an extra-Constitutional body, which in a way reduced the importance of the Finance Ministry.

Dismissing state governments When Nehru used the Art. 356 of the Indian Constitution to dismiss the Kerala state government in 1959, he set a dubious precedent.

Undermining the Cabinet and Parliament Nehru took many decisions which have had long-lasting adverse effects without consulting the parliament or his own cabinet, thus undermining the institutions. The decisions include

Calling a ceasefire in Jammu & Kashmir in October 1947 when the Indian army was winning the war. The effect of this ill-advised decision was to lose a third of the state and altering international borders with India’s neighbours. Had India retained PoK, we would have retained Gilgit-Baltistan too. We would have had a border with Afghanistan. His decision to refer the issue to the UNO was equally inexplicable.

Dilly-dallying on Junagadh and Hyderabad against the wishes of the Cabinet. But for Patel’s timely action, these states would now have been part of Pakistan.

Concealing intelligence reports about the construction of a mountain road network in Aksai Chin by the Chinese.

Withdrawing unilaterally the extra-territorial rights in Tibet which India inherited from the British.

Sacrificing Tibet by accepting the Chinese claim that Tibet was a part of it.

[The last two ill-advised decisions removed a buffer state between India and China.]

Refusing to accept United Nations Security Council seat when it was offered on a platter to India but instead demanding that it be granted to China.

Refusing accession of Kalat and Nepal At the time of partition, a few neighbouring States wished to accede to India. These include Nepal and the Kingdom of Kalat which forms a large part of modern Baluchistan. Nehru rejected them. Oman which owned the port of Gwadar on the southwest coast of Baluchistan offered to sell it to India. Again for reasons best known to him Nehru rejected the offer.

The worst undermining of all was refusing to look after the needs of the Indian armed forces in terms of manpower recruitment and training and equipment.

Inducting dynastic succession. Nehru made his sister Vijayalakshmi ambassador to the United Nations and the USSR. His daughter Indira was unofficially Nehru’s personal assistant through his years as the prime minister. This made her privy to government documents despite the Official Secrets Act. Later he made his daughter the president of AICC.

Awarding himself the Bharat Ratna The award is recommended by the prime minister. But Nehru was the first recipient of the award in the year of its institution. Nehru’s apologists argue that Rajendra Prasad did it off his own bat to signal truce between them but nothing prevented Nehru from refusing to accept it. 

Indira Gandhi

Revocation of Privy Purses to the former Maharajas. It was a sovereign guarantee given to them by the Constituent Assembly. Her action amounted to undermining the authority of the parliament.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s she had had several judicial reverses. They include the Bank Nationalization case, the Privy Purses case and the Fundamental Rights case. Unlike her father who simply amended the Constitution in response to adverse judicial verdicts, she went a step ahead and undermined the judiciary itself. Within hours after the verdict in the Fundamental Rights case was delivered in 1973, she superseded several judges and appointed a pliant judge as the CJI.

Refusing to heed the judicial verdict about her parliament seat.

Declaring the (internal) Emergency which undermined democracy itself. Technically the (external) Emergency declared in 1962 after the Chinese invasion was still in force. Neither her father nor she saw it necessary to repeal it! Fundamental rights including the right to life suspended.

Dismissing state governments and Governors at will.

Her refusal to accept a split in the Congress party and her lust for power led to the 1969 Gujarat riots which lasted – six months – and resulted in the death of about 5000 people. The 1983 Nellie massacre in which 3000 Muslims were killed occurred in Indira’s reign. By the by, more than 90% of communal riots in India occurred during the reigns of Jawaharlal, Indira and Rajiv.

Making her son Snjay a supra-Constitutional authority. Chief Ministers danced to his tunes.

Her propping up Bhindranwale to undermine the Akalis and her war on the Golden temple.

Awarding herself the Bharat Ratna This time the fig leaf of Rajendra Prasad was not there.

An action that has long-lasting adverse effects was handing over the universities and other intellectual institutions to the left-illiberal elite as a quid pro quo for political support.

Rajiv Gandhi

His reign began with the Sikh genocide, in which between 8000 and 10000 Sikhs were killed. The genocide was a blot on democracy, and the biggest undermining of the institution of democracy.

Sacking his Finance Minister to alter the import policy (for importing PTA and other chemicals used in the manufacture of polyester fibre). This was to favour Dhirubhai Ambani. The policy declaration was a replica (or was it a template) of the 2G spectrum auction.

His grandfather sought to control freedom of expression through his first amendment. His mother used carrots and sticks to reign in the media. He sought to control the media through an amendment to the Posts and Telegraphs Act, but had to drop it due to widespread criticism.

He sacked his Foreign Secretary, A. P. Venkateswaran in a press conference

Sonia Maino (the de facto PM)

Creation of the institution of ‘UPA Chairperson’. It was an extra-Constitutional authority.

Creation of the extra-Constitutional NAC which was a supra-Cabinet superintending the work of the prime minister’s Cabinet.

Commissioning social “activists” like Teesta Setalvad to draft legislation (the impugned Communal Violence Bill) and school text books.

Now let us see the other argument about an IAS officer being appointed as the Governor of RBI. The following RBI Governors were from the IAS: B. Rama Rau, K. G Ambegaonkar, H. V. R. Iyengar, L. K. Jha, S. Jagannathan, R. N. Malhotra, S. Venkateswaran and Y. V. Reddy.

Finally, let us look at the argument that only economists should head economic institutions. In the years between 1970–1973; 1976–1983; 1985–1987; 1990–1997; 2000–2013 and 2017–2018 Americans won the Nobel Prize for economics. India’s Amartya Sen won it in 1998 giving us bragging rights! While the Americans won the maximum number of economics Nobel prizes or shared them with others, the American economy has had its ups and downs. The American economy saw recession in the years 1969-70; 1973-75; 1980-82; the early 1990s; the early 2000s and the worst in 2007-8. The 2008 collapse wiped out life’s savings of many Americans including Indian expatriates, making millions paupers overnight. So much for economists!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Why did India's original Constitution exclude the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the preamble?

The Constituent Assembly debated at length on the inclusion of the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the preamble. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee explained why it would not be in the interest of democracy to tie the nation for eternity to concepts which seemed attractive at the time.

The Indian Constituent Assembly comprising 389 of the best and brightest minds worked for three years to produce the longest written Constitution in the world. The wise men of the Constituent Assembly debated the inclusion of the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ at length and decided to leave them out of the Preamble. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee opined that inclusion of these terms in the Preamble would limit the scope of democracy.

Ambedkar felt that the democratic system of governance with its stress on equality for all citizens would ipso facto ensure equal religious rights. He was of the opinion that the inclusion of the word ‘socialist’ would deprive the people of a possibly better system of governance than socialism at a future time. Here was what he had said:

“What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organisation of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgement, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organisation in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organisation of society is better than the capitalist organisation of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves.”(Italics added.)*

It appears Ambedkar was prescient about the possibility of leaders or political parties using Constitution-tinkering as a political tool to usurp power. Here was what he had said in his speech:

“In the first place, the Constitution, as I stated in my opening speech in support of the motion I made before the House, is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism whereby particular members or particular parties are installed in office.” (Ibid. Italics added.)

The Constituent Assembly thereafter rejected a motion to include the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the Preamble. However, Ambedkar’s prediction about political leaders using amendments to the Constitution as political tools did not have long to wait. In less than eighteen months after the Constitution was adopted on November 26 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru enacted the first amendment inserting Article 19 (2) to curtail the fundamental right of freedom of speech. There were other amendments but it was his daughter Indira Gandhi, who made wholesale changes to the Constitution during the 1975-77 Emergency, she imposed on the nation. Her 42nd amendment act included the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the Preamble. Enacted in 1976, the one amendment rewrote more than 50 articles and Schedules! With the entire opposition in jail, she did not have to bother with the nuisance of debate and discussion of the clauses.

Thus, there are three different meanings to the word ‘secular’. The first was the original European connotation in which it meant separation the Church and the State. Then there is the connotation as envisaged by the Constituent Assembly and as defined by Ambedkar, which meant equality of all religions. The third connotation is the political tool, which the Congress party and more specifically Indira Gandhi and her successors put to good use for garnering minority votes. In essence, the use of secularism as a political tool involves appeasing minority vote banks to queer electoral arithmetic for electoral gains. It has different connotations in different political contexts. It has one meaning in Hindu majority states and quite a different meaning in other states where Hindus are in a minority. By the by Indira Gandhi’s famous Constitutional amendment which inserted the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the preamble is yet to be applied in Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindu religious bodies alone are state controlled and their incomes appropriated by state governments. The Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009 enjoins public and private educational institutions to provide free education to students to the extent of 25% of their strength. However, the RTE act is not applicable to educational institutions run by minorities.


* Debate on November 15, 1948: “Constituent Assembly Of India - Volume VII”. Accessible from

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Abolition Of Privy Purses Betrayal Of Constitution?

Admirers of Indira Gandhi have often described the abolition of ‘Privy Purses’ as one of her principal achievements, along with the nationalisation of banks and the victory in the 1971 war. The first two were populist measures intended to derive electoral advantage in an era in which socialism was seen as a panacea for all social and economic ills. The third, viz. the Bangladesh war was in a way thrust upon India. To give Indira Gandhi her due she had the political will to stand up to Pakistan overtly supported by the USA. While China offered covert support to Pakistan there was the lurking fear that she might open up a second front in the war.

Privy Purses

The rulers of the erstwhile princely States which were amalgamated in the ‘Union of States’ as the Constitution described the newly emergent nation were to sign two documents known as the ‘Instrument of Accession’(IoA)[1] and the ‘Standstill Agreement’ (SA)[2]. Under the IoA the princes were to surrender only Communications, Defence, External Affairs and some ancillary matters to the Indian Union.

As late as February 1947, Nehru had assured the Negotiating Committee of the Chamber of Princes that neither the monarchical form of government, nor the integrity of the States, would be touched. […] The grant of Privy Purses to the rulers was a sort of quid pro quo for the surrender by them of all their ruling powers and for the dissolution of their States.[3]

The privy purses were thus an important component of Sardar Patel’s negotiated settlement with the 562 princely States which were amalgamated in the Indian union. The settlement was incorporated in the Indian Constitution under Articles 291 and 362.

When they agreed to amalgamate their States in the Indian union, the rulers of the princely States had surrendered the towns and villages that comprised the States, thousands of acres of jagir land, palaces and other buildings, museums with their invaluable treasures, armouries and aircraft (which the larger states had) and other properties. The cash balances and investments of the States which were taken over alone amounted to ₹77 crore. This figure however excludes the cash balances of two large states, Hyderabad and Mysore as they were continuing States at the time. The interest accruals on these amounts alone would more than cover the payment of Privy Purses. In addition to all these assets, the rulers also surrendered a railway system of roughly 12,000 miles (which, to put in perspective was about one sixth of the length of the present track network) and rolling stock, without receiving any compensation.

The Indian government agreed to compensate rulers at a rate of not more than 8.5% of their annual revenues with a ceiling of ₹10 lakh. In subsequent negotiations the ceiling was waived off in eleven cases. Of the 562 princely States 398 were eligible to receive less than ₹50,000 per annum. The largest State, Hyderabad received ₹43 lakh (which in 1947-48 was just 2% of the State’s revenues), whereas the smallest State, Katodia received just ₹192 per year. The objective of the Privy Purses was to

enable the rulers and their successors to adjust themselves to the new order of things and to fit themselves into the modern social and economic pattern (Ibid.)

The Privy Purses were in effect a kind of pension that the Constitution of a sovereign nation guaranteed to pay to the erstwhile rulers, and as Menon put it

The Privy Purse is intended to cover all the expenses of the ruler and his family, including the expenses on account of his personal staff, his palaces and the marriages and other ceremonies in his household. (Ibid.)

The Privy Purses were to be gradually reduced. At the time of independence, the annual outlay for the purses was ₹6 crore. By the time they were abolished by Indira Gandhi in 1971, the figure came down to ₹4 crore. To put this figure in perspective, it amounted to 0.1% of the estimated annual revenue receipts (₹3867 crore) for the year 1970-71.[4]

The Privy Purses were to be paid by the Indian Union into which the princely Sates were absorbed. The rulers were initially apprehensive that they would be at the mercy of the whims and fancies of the popular ministries of the states into which their States were absorbed. The apprehension turned out to be not entirely groundless as in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, as soon as the State acceded to the Indian Union, Sheik Abdullah expelled its ruler from the state. He refused to honour the agreement to pay the negotiated Privy Purse to the Maharajah. The Government of India was forced to pay the Privy Purse and continued to do so till its abrogation by Indira Gandhi.

Political Vendetta?

As in all other matters, the Indian left-illiberal have one take on Jammu and Kashmir and quite a different one for the rest of India. The Privy Purses have been the subject of intense debate for long. For instance they argued for the perpetuation of the purely temporary Article 370; while on the other hand they contended that the Privy Purses were not compatible with an ‘egalitarian social order’.

What could have cooked their goose, perhaps, was that some rulers joined C. Rajagopalachari’s Swatantra Party and in the 1967 general elections defeated many Congress candidates. Indira Gandhi was incensed by this and wanted to teach them a lesson by abolishing the Privy Purses. In 1969 her government introduced the Constitution (Twenty-fourth Amendment) Bill. It was passed by the Lok Sabha with a majority of 332:154 votes but was defeated in the Rajya Sabha by 149:75 votes. Not one to bow to silly inconveniences like parliamentary procedures, she had a pliable President, V. V. Giri issue an order derecognizing the rulers. The September 6, 1970 order was challenged in the Supreme Court by N. A. Palkhivala (and others) in the famous Privy Purses Case and was struck down by the Supreme Court on December 15, 1970.[5]

After Indira Gandhi returned to power with a landslide majority in 1971, her government passed the Constitution (Twenty-sixth Amendment) Bill to abolish the Privy Purses.

Here was what Sardar Patel said commending the adoption of Article 291 in the Constituent Assembly

The Privy Purse settlements are therefore in the nature of consideration for the surrender by the rulers of all their ruling powers and also for the dissolution of the States as separate units. We would do well to remember that the British Government spent enormous amounts in respect of the Mahratta settlements alone. We are ourselves honouring the commitments of the British Government in respect of the pensions of those rulers who helped them to consolidate their empire. Need we cavil then at the small — I purposely use the word small — price we have paid for the bloodless revolution which has affected the destinies of millions of our people?

The capacity for mischief and trouble on the part of the rulers if the settlement with them would not have been reached on a negotiated basis was far greater than could be imagined at this stage.

Let us do justice to them; let us place ourselves in their position and then assess the value of their sacrifice. The rulers have now discharged their part of the obligations by transferring all ruling powers and by agreeing to the integration of their States. The main part of our obligation under these agreements is to ensure that the guarantees given by us in respect of Privy Purses are fully implemented. Our failure to do so would be a breach of faith and seriously prejudice the stabilization of the new order.[6]

In the light of what Patel said, the abolition of the Privy Purses can only be seen as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of our nation because it was betrayal of a solemn Constitutional guarantee.

It may be appropriate to quote here what Arvind P. Datar had to say of the betrayal of the Congress party:

Sardar Patel persuaded the Constituent Assembly to guarantee payment of Privy Purses and preserve the rights of the erstwhile rulers. But the Congress betrayed him 20 years later by abolishing the Privy Purses.[7]

[1] It is an agreement signed by the ruler of the princely State and the dominion of India subjecting the princely State to the Government of India Act 1935. The Instrument of Accession binds the State to the jurisdiction of the Union government for making laws in the areas of Defence, External Affairs, Communications and some ancillary matters.

[2] It is an agreement that assures continuance of any ‘existing agreements and administrative arrangements in the matters of common concern’ existing between the Indian State and the British government. It specifies eighteen administrative areas in the Schedule attached to the agreement. It also signifies the end of Paramountcy of the British government. 

[3] Menon, V.P. (1955). Chapter XXV, “The Cost of Integration”: The Story Of The Integration Of The Indian States. Longmans Green & Co. London. pp. 324-328.

[4] Annual budget speech for 1970-71 delivered by Indira Gandhi in the Lok Sabha on February 28, 1970. Accessible from

[5] H. H. Maharajadhiraja Madhav Rao ... vs Union Of India on 15 December, 1970. Accessible from

[6] Menon, V.P. (1955). Chapter XXVI, “Retrospect and Prospect”: The Story Of The Integration Of The Indian States. Longmans Green & Co. London. pp. 329-335.

[7] “Who Betrayed Sardar Patel” The Hindu. November, 19, 2013. Accessible from

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is 2002 a decoy for 1984?

How do you make a line smaller without touching it?’ is a question which kids use while playing games. It is a sort of a children’s equivalent of an IQ test. It would be more appropriate to rephrase it as ‘How do you make a line appear smaller without touching it?’ The answer would of course be ‘by drawing a larger line adjacent to it.’

Why would adults play a kids’ game? But they do. They do. Human rights activists do. Intellectuals do. Media analysts do. Politicians do. Social activists do. They do and have been doing it, in spite of the issue under discussion being, as macabre as the butchering of thousands of men, women and children in the national capital. They do although one unnatural death (death by wanton murder) is one too many.

The riots in Gujarat following the burning of a wagon-load of karsevaks in February 2002 could be discussed as a standalone riot. There is another strange aspect to it. It is as if India had no history before 1992 and no history after 2002. Therefore the demolition of the ‘Sri Rama Janma Bhumi – Babri Masjid’ in 1992 and the riots that followed the burning of a wagon-load of karsevaks in 2002 are discussed ad nauseum as standalone incidents as if they had no context. In the case of 2002, only the riots are discussed. The burning of a wagon-load of karsevaks that preceded them is airbrushed as if it never happened. If it was ever mentioned it was done so, as an after-thought. ‘Yes, it happened. Unfortunate.

When it comes to discussing the Sikh massacres of 1984 (an inconvenient issue that cannot always be avoided), the issue of 2002 had to be invariably invoked as if it was somehow it was the incident that triggered it. Stranger still, even in a discussion about the massacre of 1984, the riots of 2002 become the focal point and the massacre of 1984 an addendum. These are the ways of our secular polity and objective media!

This was the background for Vivek Kaul’s ‘1984 riots: The original ‘maut ka soudagars’ set tone for future’. The issue came back to limelight after the Delhi High Court ordered reopening the Jagdish Tytler case, which, CBI, India’s premier investigation agency sought to bury umpteen times in the last twenty-eight years. It was not due to its ineptitude that the premier investigation agency sought to bury the case but because the oft-quoted dictum ‘the law will take its course’ is applicable only to ordinary mortals but not to the high and mighty. There is a separate jurisprudence for them!

Kaul relies heavily on Ramachandra Guha's book (India After Gandhi –The History of World’s Largest Democracy) to put across his point of view. There are many inaccuracies - deliberate and mala fide - in both Kaul's and Guha's versions. Guha writes, “…The mobs were led by Hindus who lived in and around Delhi…” That the massacre had nothing to do with Hindus or Hinduism has been conveniently ignored. That it was the private revenge of the Congress party was intentionally ignored. That the Congress party’s most cynical, if not macabre game plan was to use the sad incident to derive political dividends by whipping up public hysteria was deliberately not highlighted.

Guha goes on to say, ‘…in Delhi alone more than a thousand Sikhs perished…’ A deliberate attempt, to use Nixon’s famous phrase, to economize with the truth! The fact was, in Delhi more than 3000 Sikhs were butchered and 5000-7000 more were killed in the other parts of the country.

It is at this point Kaul tries to draw his ‘Gujarat 2002 larger line’ to make ‘the 1984 Sikh massacre, the smaller line’. Kaul doubles the number of deaths in the Gujarat riots – off his own bat without any help from Guha! The number of Muslims killed in Gujarat in the 2002 riots was not 2000. It was 790, according to a reply given by a secular Congress Minister of State for Home (MoS, Home) in the Rajya Sabha. There is more to the inappropriate comparison. The 1984 anti-Sikh carnage was a totally one sided affair, truly a genocide, to use a word often inappropriately applied to the Gujarat 2002 riots. In the riots that followed the burning of a wagon-load of karsevaks, 254 Hindus were killed. The number of Hindus dead is a matter of no consequence for secular writers and hence no mention was ever made of them.

Guha’s specious argument about unnamed Karsevaks ‘getting into a fight with Muslim vendors at the Godhra railway station’ as a reason for burning down a whole compartment of Hindus, more than half of whom were women and children is another spin of sick secular minds. This mauling of facts often resorted to by the secular mob since 2002 is a deliberate insult to the common sense of – well, the common man. Do platform vendors routinely store hundreds of gallons of petrol anticipating altercations over a few rupees with their customers, and do they routinely burn customers to teach them a lesson?

While the central government in Delhi deliberately delayed the deployment of the army in 1984 till the blood-lust of the dynasty was satisfied, the army was called in Gujarat in 2002 within 48 hours. (There were no four days between February 27 and March 1 as some over-zealous, motivated commentators tried to make out!) While the accuracy of Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘the earth trembles when a big tree falls’ statement has been fairly well established, the Gujarat Chief Minister’s statement following the riots was deliberately distorted to paint him as a bloodthirsty tyrant.

Another detail which the article deliberately glosses over was that in the Delhi massacre, senior Congress leaders like H. K. L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler led the murderous mobs from the front. The fact that Congress workers were as much part of the Gujarat riots as members of the BJP is too inconvenient for the secular brigade to be bothered about.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Congress’ Communism & Empress SoniaG’s Upkeep

Cho Ramaswamy's Tuglaq (the protagonist in the eponymous movie) says, ‘It is not possible to make the poor rich. Therefore make the rich poor and all will be equal!’ It is an unstated dictum of the communist proletariat. The communist elite (vlasti in Russian) had a different take on Marxist philosophy as George Orwell so vividly depicted in his Animal Farm. Irrespective of how they live, quite often the vlasti echo the proletarian edict, more to show that their heart is in the right place rather than because of an ardent belief that ‘all men should be equal’. Therefore it is no surprise to hear Mani Sankar Aiyar often cavil about Antilia, Mukesh Ambani’s 27-floor residence in Mumbai’s southern suburbs. Flaunting his knowledge of the Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality of wealth distribution) he often cites Antilia as an example of the deep chasm that exists between the rich and the poor in India. He did so again in the television debate, ‘Is India ripe for a revolution?’ hosted by Tim Sebastian on Bloomberg / Headlines Today recently. (Indian television anchors have much to learn from Sebastian, but that is a different matter altogether.)

One way to look at Mukesh’s opulence is to attribute it to his business acumen, hard work and intelligence. For, although he has inherited a large part of his wealth he must have worked hard to grow the rest. In a democratic society which at least theoretically provides equal opportunities to all, one should not grudge Mukesh his success. Much has been said about Mukesh’s father Dhirubhai’s business acumen. His life is the stuff that made it to case studies in business schools. The less uncharitable (but probably more accurate) view is to attribute Dhirubhai Ambani’s success less to business acumen and more to his ability to network with the ruling establishment. Even this may be characterised as business acumen, but to put it bluntly Dhirubai was able bribe his way through the Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi administrations to tweak government policy to suit his business interests. Dhirubhai’s Reliance Industries was perhaps the first example of crony capitalism on a gigantic scale. It had all the ingredients: funnelling funds through invisible sources, stock exchange skirmishes and manipulation of government policy. V. P. Singh who took on Dhirubhai to alter government policy on import of purified terephthalic acid (PTA) lost his job as Finance Minister! (See For this fighter, life was a big battle). On hindsight one might even suspect that the Bofors scam could have been a decoy. This being so, why does Aiyar constantly invoke Mukesh as a negative example of economic distortions knowing fully well that the seeds of the Ambani empire were sown during Congress regimes? More importantly, the Ambani empire reached its exponential growth stage during the regimes of Aiyar’s deities, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

Be that as it may, if opulent living reflects a ‘vulgarity of greed’ to use an expression coined in the Films Division (of the I & B ministry) documentaries of the emergency era, how much does it cost to put up MPs like Aiyar in Lutyen’s Delhi? How much does empress Sonia’s upkeep cost the people of India?

[N.B.: What follows are only ‘back of the envelope’ calculations based on certain realistic assumptions.]

According to a recent Economic Times report, bungalows in Delhi’s Lutyen’s Bungalow Zone (LBZ) cost between Rs 111 and Rs 170 Crore. (See Delhi's most expensive realty deal: Torrent Group buys bungalow in Lutyen’s Zone for Rs111 crore). As No.10 Janpath is in an even more exclusive zone, it may be safely rated at the top end of the scale, i.e. Rs 170 Crore, assuming of course that it is of the same area and not bigger! At 1% of the price as rental value the bungalow costs Rs 1.7 Crore a year (as rent) to the people of India. [A] One might safely assume an expenditure of Rs 30, 00,000 per annum on staff and maintenance. [B]

Her electricity bills come to Rs 2. 49 Lakh a year. [C] (See Sonia Gandhi's power bill: over Rs. 7 lakh for 3 years). We are relieved to know, that of the Rs 7.47 Lakhs incurred in three years, she herself has paid all of Rs 0.09 Lakh whereas the Lok Sabha Secretariat paid Rs 7.38 Lakh!

As an MP she is eligible to salary and perquisites of Rs 36. 45 Lakh, excluding house rent which is already computed above. [D] (See SALARYOF MP'S - Indian Parliament members salary)

She is entitled to Z+ security which consists of 36 personnel of the NSG. An NSG Z+ team consists of various ranks from IG to constable. Assuming an average salary of Rs 3 Lakh per commando, the team cost Rs 1.08 Crore per annum. [E]

The total of [A]+ [B]+ [C]+ [D]+ [E] = Rs 3.47 Crore per annum. Based on a similar computation, Rahul’s expenditure to the exchequer (only salary and security included) comes to Rs 1. 45 Crore.

It is interesting to note that (if our rental computation is right) Sonia exceeds her rental allowance by 700% and her electricity allowance by 400%.

Is it not pertinent to ask, how many households in India can incur an expenditure of Rs 4.92 Crore per annum, especially in a country in which the BPL is set at just Rs 11, 520?