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VIRENDRA KAPOOR
NO HOLDS BARRED

Harvard, Oxbridge do not a good politician make

Chidambaram, Khurshid too clever for their own good.

No common sense

A college degree is certainly no guarantee that you will become a successful politician. No. Scan the crowded political field to figure out for yourself how the alumni of some of the most prestigious schools and foreign universities have failed to make the grade in politics. There are so many of people in politics, but for our purpose only two should suffice. And both have made headlines in recent days for all the wrong reasons.

Take Salman Khurshid first. He earned prime-time television mention for his most inventive remark in recent times, suggesting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi lugs his own audiences with him whenever he goes abroad. Clearly, Khurshid's remark stemmed from a grudging acknowledgement, albeit unstated, that Modi's rallies of the Indian diaspora, be it in New York or in Sydney, are very well attended. But to suggest that these are a global extension of the rent-a-crowd rallies that Khurshid's leaders were good at organising at home until the crowds refused to attend, even if offered good money, is to betray a lack of common sense.

Now, common sense and Khurshid, the holder of a degree from the widely respected Oxford University might not be natural companions. Remember how not long ago he had rolled up his kurta sleeves and challenged the critics of his Orphangate scam to a duel. Besides, he had threatened Arvind Kejriwal to enter his Farrukhabad constituency, only if he wanted his bones broken in tiny pieces. It is this Khurshid, who in order to please his party leaders, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, has now come up with the bizarre suggestion that Modi flies his own audiences with him whenever he goes abroad. All that we can say is this: A university degree can only arm you with bookish knowledge, not wisdom and/or common sense.

The case of P. Chidambaram is slightly different. Not only does he exude the air of an all-knowing politician, but his mien is always serious, even authoritative. But pierce the mask and you will find a politician, who is too clever for his own good. The Harvard-educated Chidambaram carries so many chips on his shoulders that his colleagues invariably get put off with his sense of superiority, even arrogance. Remember that Digivjaya Singh had called him "arrogant". What Pranab Mukherjee used to call him shall, however, remain unsaid. Without going into his past conduct, let us stick to two of his too-clever-by-half observations. At a recent book launch he ticked off Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for not reversing the retrospective tax demand against Vodafone. He was disappointed that the Modi government did not do what needed to be done soon after coming to power to restore foreign investors' confidence in the Indian economy. Very well, then. But the question must be asked as to what Chidambaram himself did when he was in a position to do so. For someone who did not lift his little finger as Finance Minister to undo the mischief of his predecessor, Chidambaram's public criticism of Jaitley was ironical. He failed to appreciate that the matter was in arbitration and a positive outcome could soon emerge to the satisfaction of all concerned. Instead, he commended a course of action for the new government, which would have played straight into the hands of Chidambaram's own party. Had Jaitley reversed the Vodafone decision, which would have certainly resulted in the paring of the income tax demand from some Rs 20,000 crore to less than half of that amount, the loudmouths in the Congress would have gone to town, shouting "sell-out" to a foreign telecom company. Jaitley, therefore, did well to leave the Vodafone case well alone for it to be decided through arbitration, while shutting the door on all future tax demands with retrospective effect.

However Chidambaram's hypocrisy is further brought out when you consider his stand in the Satyam Computers case of 2009. The Hyderabad-based promoter of the now defunct company had inflated revenue and profit figures to keep the Satyam share price high. Eventually, the lie was exposed and its promoter, Ramalingam Raju, jailed for criminal fraud and conspiracy. Later, thanks to government intervention, Satyam was acquired by Tech Mahindra. But that is not the point. In spite of knowing all the facts about the case, Tech Mahindra, as the successor company which had acquired Satyam, was sent a huge tax demand on the basis of the cooked up account books of Satyam. On being told that the Satyam promoter was actually in jail on charges of inflating profit figures, Chidambaram pointedly refused to see reason. Tech Mahindra had to approach the court to have the income tax order quashed. This is not all. Remember how the other day he described the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act as "obnoxious". Yes, obnoxious. Recall that Chidambaram was Home Minister for over three years and during that period nothing substantive was done to make AFSPA less obnoxious. In sum, he is no less a hypocrite than anyone else in the growing breed of educated politicians. One approach in government, quite another out of it. Small wonder, then, such politicians do not make much headway, though a few media types continue to eat out of their hands.

QUESTION MARK ON CREDIBILITY

The Modi government might be fortunate to have got the opportunity to appoint the heads of key agencies such as RAW, IB, CBI, CVC, etc., but it will be helpless in correcting the conduct of the Congress-appointed CAG, Shashi Kant Sharma. As Defence Secretary, Sharma had approved the Augusta-Westland helicopter deal. AAP leader Prashant Bhushan had questioned the appointment, arguing that it was a clear case of conflict of interest. But a far more valid reason to question Sharma is as to why he had abruptly ordered the Haryana branch of the CAG to stop examining the favours granted by the Bhupinder Hooda government to Robert Vadra. Sharma was so angry with the Haryana head of the CAG's office that he ordered his immediate transfer to Delhi. In spite of this clear case of wrongful intervention on behalf of Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, Sharma is assured of a secure tenure thanks to a constitutional provision. He has more than five years to go before retirement. However, his continuance is bound to cause suspicion about the credibility of CAG reports, given that a faceless bureaucrat with no achievements to his credit during his long stint was hand-picked for one of the most critical constitutional posts.

GUJARAT CADRE RULES THE ROOST

It was only natural that Gujarat cadre officers would get picked up for key posts at the Centre under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There can be no grudging the confidence and trust that Modi had come to repose in the competence and integrity of some of these officers during his long stint as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. But what is not as well known is the fact that key members of the Gujarat squad of IAS officers in the Modi government are all Oriyas, with some of them coming from equally humble backgrounds as Modi's own. On the last count, at least half-a-dozen Gujarat cadre IAS officers of Oriya origin were holding key positions in the Prime Minister's Office or in the core economic ministries.

 
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