Blog Posts by Ashok Malik

  • Congress’s head-hunting problem

    What explains the sudden chorus demanding Rahul Gandhi take over the leadership of the Congress and become prime minister? Is it only an annual ritual, coinciding with the MP from Amethi's birthday? Is it a trial balloon being floated by sections of Rahul Gandhi's — and his mother Sonia Gandhi's — confidants to test the response?

    There are no clear answers. Nevertheless what is obvious is there is a growing trust deficit between the Congress organisation and the UPA government. On the issue of corruption and the specific matter of negotiations with Baba Ramdev, party functionaries have severely criticised the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been a target but so has Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

    Mukherjee was reprimanded by Digvijay Singh, the Congress general secretary considered Rahul Gandhi's sounding board, for travelling to Delhi airport to meet Ramdev. On his part, Law Minister Veerappa Moily wrote to Mukherjee seeking a white paper on black money. He could as

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  • Doctors are Terrifying

    There are many stressful things in life - Bangalore's traffic, Mumbai's real estate prices, and Chennai's weather (it gets bitterly cold in the winters - even dropping below twenty degrees Celsius. Shiver.). In the past month, I have discovered a new source of stress that trumps even these: hospital visits.

    For about two weeks now, I have been going regularly to hospitals in Chennai. This is a remarkably harrowing experience. For starters, there's the simple fact of their geographical expansion. Starting with four or five general hospitals in Nungambakkam, they have since then colonised the neighbourhood. They have put up a heart health centre in Greams Road, a gym and yoga centre in Wallace Garden, a pediatric hospital in Rutland Gate, and parking and pharmacies throughout Nungambakkam. You get the feeling that you're dealing with the medical equivalent of the Borg: everything encountered will be assimilated. Or to use a real world example, hospitals are to downtown Chennai what water

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  • New monks for old

    In the aftermath of the Baba Ramdev fiasco, spokespersons of the UPA government and the Congress have alleged the yoga guru and religious preacher is a proxy for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – India’s biggest Hindu nationalist socio-political conglomeration – and of its daughter organisation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP).

    Politicians and commentators have confidently predicted Ramdev will now join the RSS and consanguineous political parties such as the BJP in a political assault on the Congress. They have pointed out that some of the issues he harps upon – cow protection, cleaning the Ganga, and of course corruption in the UPA regime – are also issues that exercise the RSS and its family. As such, there is the conclusion that Ramdev is a tool in RSS-VHP hands.

    This assessment may be a little flawed. I would argue Ramdev is too independent and autonomous to be satisfied being a prop for the Sangh Parivar – as the RSS network is called – or indeed any

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  • Why an Al Qaeda-Taliban Nuremburg is impossible

    Afghan intelligence may have jumped the gun in announcing the death of Mullah Omar. Even so, it is clear sections of the Pakistani establishment are planning to facilitate a summary execution of the grand mufti of the former Taliban regime in Kabul. When this does happen — and it is a question of time — some of the issues raised after the recent killing of Osama bin Laden will return.

    Could the senior leadership of the Taliban and Al Qaeda — as opposed to foot-soldiers who actually execute acts of crime and terrorism — be tried in an American court, in an international court or even a special tribunal on the lines of the one set up in Nuremburg to bring to justice the Nazis? It is important to thrash out these questions once and for all, rather than have the same tedious debate each time there is an Abbottabad-type operation.

    As surely as F follows E, the killing of Laden had farce follow euphoria. There were murmurs of disquiet in liberal circles about the manner in which the Al Qaeda

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  • India is the Great Game’s great spectator

    Indian commentary following the killing of Osama bin Laden by a United States commando team on May 1 has come to three conclusions, two of them completely contradictory to each other:

    - This is the end of the US-Pakistan relationship. The Americans told the Pakistanis nothing about the bin Laden operation and Washington, DC, loathes and completely distrusts the politicians in Islamabad and the generals in Rawalpindi.

    - This is a new beginning in the US-Pakistan relationship. The Americans and the Pakistanis worked in conjunction and (a section of) the generals in Rawalpindi betrayed bin Laden to rid themselves of Al Qaeda and strengthen the bond with Washington, DC. The Pakistanis are now pretending they knew nothing but that is for public consumption.

    - The Americans are looking for an excuse to exit Afghanistan. The bin Laden killing is just what they need. President Barack Obama will declare the war on terror over, say Al Qaeda has been decapitated and call the troops home.

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  • The Case Against The Bhushans

    Less than a fortnight after the opening meeting of the Lok Pal Bill joint committee, three trends have become visible.

    First, the UPA government is doing its best to muddy the waters, to discredit the civil society activists and to further the impression that corruption is a universal phenomenon and not one that can be pinned on the Congress-led administration alone.

    Corporate and political interests have coalesced here. For instance, the clumsy attempt to "fix" the Bhushans — father Shanti Bhushan and son Prashant Bhushan — with a mysterious CD that appears to play doctored conversation is a typical dirty tricks operation. No laboratory, other than one run by the Union government, has authenticated the CD as genuine. That aside, various versions of the CD seem to be doing the rounds of New Delhi.

    As is well known, the CD makes it seem the Bhushans offered to bribe a judge on behalf of Mulayam Singh Yadav, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, and his then man Friday, Amar Singh. The

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  • Our dissent, their dissent

    How would China's government have responded to an Anna Hazare type challenge? To answer that question, one needs to assess the phenomenon and mechanism of the Hazare-led protests this past week. In some respects, these are more important than the immediate issue of a strong ombudsman law or Lok Pal Bill.

    When Hazare and a small group of supporters went on fast at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar grounds, the symbolism was just too tempting: a frail, diminutive man taking on the might of the state; a government riddled with financial scandals; a ruling party with a succession of incompetent, 'I don't give a toss' spokespersons.

    Television channels took the story to living rooms across the country. Public impatience, growing with every swindle in the past few months, reached boiling point. Soon enough, Hazare was a folk hero. He found backing from movie stars and business leaders alike, and from tens of thousands of ordinary middle class people. There were copycat demonstrations in city after

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  • The End of Privacy

    It will take a long time for any reasoned and reasonable analysis of the 250,000 confidential cables sent by American diplomats and released by the whistleblower website Wikileaks. Understandably, the United States foreign policy establishment is hopping mad. Other than making public information the State Department would not want revealed, the incident also brings under the scanner the efficacy of security and confidentiality systems in the US administration. If nothing else, it will make prospective interlocutors and sources that much more cautious.

    No wonder senior officials in Washington, DC, have responded with rage. Some have asked for the Wikileaks website to be shut down. John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a candidate for the presidency in 2004, has said, "The release of classified information under these circumstances is a reckless action which jeopardises lives by exposing raw, contemporaneous intelligence."

    He is dead right. The release of

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  • The Challenges of an Emerged India

    President Barack Obama's visit to India and his praise of it as a "global power" that was no more "emerging" but has "emerged" has got many people thinking about the future of Indian foreign policy. No doubt some of the American president's words were overstated and designed to flatter the Indian elite - which is particularly prone to flattery - but it was equally clear that India's global standing had reached a level it could only have dreamt of in 1991, when the process of economic reform began.

    Consequently there has been much focus in recent days on India's choices in the global system. How will it act as a non-permanent member of the Security Council - it has just been elected to a two-year term beginning January 1, 2011 - and potentially as a permanent member of the Security Council?

    How will it square its strategic silence on Myanmar's oppression of democracy and calibrated pronouncements on Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon with responsibilities that Obama reminded it about

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  • Maharashtra’s Audacious Chief Ministers

    Should he lose his job as Maharashtra chief minister courtesy the Adarsh Housing Society scandal, Ashok Chavan could pass into history as one of the most forgettable heads of a state government. Unfortunately, keeping him company in that 'India's most unwanted' list would be three or four other recent chief ministers of his state.

    Chavan not only bears facial resemblance to Vilasrao Deshmukh - his predecessor, sacked after he took his movie star son and a film director friend on a drive-by visit to the Taj Mahal and Oberoi-Trident hotels just hours after the 26/11 terror attacks concluded - but has a governance record that is equally embarrassing.

    A third candidate would be Sushil Shinde, who some consider a spent force left over from the 1990s. In the past decade, the Maharashtra chief minister's job has rotated between Deshmukh and Shinde, with Chavan entering the circle two years ago. Changes have been effected periodically by the Congress central leadership, depending on factional

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