The Candid Eye

August 25, 2011

World’s #9 Most Powerful Person Now Accused of Corruption — Will She Fall?

From huffingtonpost article by Cleo Paskal:

 

New Delhi. Some of India’s biggest fish are getting caught up in the country’s fast-growing wave of anti-corruption activity. In what could be India’s equivalent of a judicial jasmine revolution, previously invulnerable politicians, business icons, and pillars of the community are all nervously keeping their lawyers on speed-dial.

The anti-corruption push is an unprecedented coming together of myriad facets of Indian society. Religious leaders are concerned about the effects on morality and spiritual growth. NGOs speak of the effects on the poor. The middle class is angry about its future being stifled by a smothering blanket of day-to-day corruption. The intelligence services see corruption a clear threat to national security. And the business community, thanks to globalization, has seen how efficiently things can operate without having to constantly pay bribes or be tangled in red tape, and they want the same thing at home.

Even the Supreme Court is fed up, with Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy saying about the vast sums of Indian money being illegally hidden away in Liechtenstein Bank:

We are talking about the huge money. It is a plunder of the nation. It is a pure and simple theft of the national money. We are talking about mind-boggling crime.

The scandals are bursting on to the front pages fast and thick. Suresh Kalmadi, a Congress Party politician and the former head of the corruption-plagued Commonwealth Games, was arrested April 25. According to a report by the Indian Comptroller and Auditor General, the 2G spectrum scam alone, in which 2G licenses were sold off in a manner that was, to say the least, less than transparent, cost close to $40 billion in lost revenue.

All across India, people are saying enough is enough. And suddenly the unthinkable is starting to happen. People considered above reproach, or at least untouchable, are coming under the judicial cross-hairs. 2G alone has seen charges laid against one former government minister and several captains of industry.

And the latest high profile target is one of the biggest fish of all, Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi, currently #9 on Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful People.

Sonia Gandhi has one of the most remarkable life stories in international politics. Born Edvige Antonia Albina Maino into a family of modest means in rural Italy, she didn’t even get a chance to complete high school before heading to the UK for work. There she met Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She eventually married him and the young family moved in to Indira Gandhi’s New Delhi’s home, putting her literally in the heart of Indian politics.

After Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, Sonia’s husband Rajiv became Prime Minister. Following Rajiv’s 1991 assassination by Tamil terrorists, there were rumors that Sonia was going to put herself forward as Prime Minister.

As she herself later said, she “could not walk past the portraits of my husband, my mother-in-law and her father and not feel that I had some responsibility to try and save the party they had given their lives to.”

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Given her focus on the party, it was fitting that instead of becoming Prime Minister, she ended up as President of the powerful Congress Party. Politically, it proved to be a smart move as it gave her power without direct responsibility — while she is #9 on Forbes list of power people, the actual Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is only #18. According to Forbes, “Gandhi remains the real power behind the nuclear-tipped throne […] she has cemented her status as true heiress to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty.”

Her image is of a dutiful, submissive Indian wife, now widow. When her husband was alive, she would walk behind him. In public she wears saris. Although a devout Catholic, she is often photographed at Hindu Temples. And like a good Indian mother, though she has decorously pulled herself out of the race for Prime Minister, she is happy to encourage her son, Rahul, to take the job.

However there have been growing, persistent murmurs about questionable business deals and inexplicable exponential jumps in the personal wealth of her and her family.

The allegations came out in the open in 1995 when M. D. Nalapat, then Resident Editor (Delhi) of the world’s largest English language newspaper, the Times of India, began a groundbreaking series of articles about Sonia.

The articles made the controversial (at the time) claim that the public docility was just a ploy, and that Sonia actually had serious political ambitions (later confirmed by her role in Congress). Also, crucially, the series said that her desire for power wasn’t simply altruistic and that the wealth not only of her, but of her Italian relatives, rose stratospherically after Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1984.

Nalapat’s articles could not be ignored as he was one of India’s most respected journalists and had, throughout his career, taken on corrupt politicians, social inequity and institutionalized discrimination.

This however was a ‘topic too far’. While the facts in the article were never refuted, Nalapat was forced out of journalism in 1998 and moved into academics.

Next came public questions from another highly reputed source, Sten Lindstrom, Sweden’s special prosecutor investigating the pay-offs associated with the sale of weapons by Bofors to the government of India. His investigation showed that a close friend of Sonia’s, Ottavio Quattrocchi, has received kickbacks in the millions.

In 1998 Lindstrom gave an interview in which he said:

the Gandhis, particularly now Sonia, should explain how Quattrocchi-owned companies got such fat sums as payoffs from the Bofors deal. After all, what is the connection of Sonia and the Gandhi family to Quattrocchi? Who introduced Quattrocchi and his AE Services to Bofors? At least one thing is certainly known now. A part of the payoffs definitely went to Quattrocchi. […] the papers all pointed to the Gandhi family.

Not only have the questions not been answered by Sonia, but in spite of substantial evidence against him, Quattrocchi has managed to evade prosecution in India, and has even had his kickback funds unfrozenfrom overseas accounts.

Part of the genius of Sonia Gandhi is her ability to present herself as a helpless victim, convincing even her political rivals not to fear her as she is fatally flawed. In 1998, India was being led by BJP Prime Minister Vajpayee. When Nalapat spoke with him about Sonia, he was bluntly told to lay off, as, “so long as a white Christian lady is head of the Congress Party, I [Vajpayee] and my party will always be in power”. Vajpayee and his party lost power to Sonia’s Congress in 2004.

But the most serious threat to Sonia — and, as she is at the apex of the Congress Party, and so to Congress itself — is now lying on the desk of #18, the Prime Minister of India.

On April 15, former Law and Justice Minister and Harvard Professor Dr. Subramanian Swamy asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for leave to lay corruption charges against Sonia Gandhi. In a meticulously researched 200+ page submission Dr Swamy alleges Sonia Gandhi has been involved in corruption in India since 1972 and personally benefited from the Bofors scam (1986), has held billions in non-Indian bank accounts since at least 1991, illegally profited from the Iraqi oil-for-food deals (2002), and even accessed KGB payoffs during the Cold War.

The Prime Minister has three months to decide whether or not to grant sanction to prosecute. If he doesn’t, Dr. Swamy can take the case directly to the Supreme Court, which under Chief Justice Kapadia is showing a definite proclivity towards facilitating corruption cases.

While, so far, the corruption cases in India have caught up some pretty big fish, if charges are laid against Sonia Gandhi, it won’t just be part of a wave, it will be a sea change.

Sonia Gandhi is not just an individual, she is the steely core of a pillar of Indian politics. If she crumbles, it will shake the foundations of the venerable Congress Party, and possibly leave a gaping hole in the political scene. Meanwhile, a range of polarizing and regional parties are ready to rush in and stake their claim. Given the growing importance of India in our heavily globalized world, this is not just an Indian story, this is one all should be following very closely indeed.

Follow Cleo Paskal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cleopaskal

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June 19, 2010

The art of healing

The art of healing

SUHEL SETH, Jun 8, 2010, 03.43pm IST

I was in Chandigarh watching television on May 30 when the news of an assassination attempt on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar flashed across all screens and then began, in typical Indian fashion, the analysis of this near-fatal event without an iota of accuracy or on the basis of an informed decision. I have to confess, while I am neither a member of the Art of Living Foundation nor have I ever done a course, I have, for many years admired the manner in which Sri Sri has galvanized millions of people across the world to believe in a simple set of values: all of which revolve around human character and happiness. I wanted to call him and check how he was but in the interim, I was disappointed at the positions that everyone began taking. It was no rocket science to understand the silence of the state Government of Karnataka: no one in their right minds would have wanted to say anything on the subject when they were preparing to host their first Global Investor’s meet barely four days later. But it was P Chidambaram who surprised me the most and this was a very different Chidambaram. Not the one I had seen address the press admirably early in the morning of February 14, 2010 when the German Bakery in Pune had been the target of a vicious bomb attack the night before. At that time, Chidambaram was measured and was clear that he would offer a view only after thorough investigations were done.

But this time round, when the attack on Sri Sri took place, Chidambaram alluded to some dangerous theories; one that Sri Sri was not the real target and second that this could have been an inner-ashram feud. Yes, comments made without even a whiff of an investigation: made perhaps in passing but ones that, in hindsight have proven to be more damning than Chidambaram can imagine. This then triggered off a wave of theories: something that only we in India are brilliant at: commenting on things that are in circulation but have no roots.

I finally called up Sri Sri to enquire about his well-being and he was more amused than angered. He was more concerned about his assailant and anguished at the allegations that were circulating. But not once did I hint even a dash of anger or for that matter frustration. He talked about the calmness at the ashram and the happiness quotient therein. He talked about forgiveness and moving on and then said, he couldn’t understand why things were being said when there was no truth in them. This article will hopefully help him understand an India that is not so calm and not so happy. This is an attempt to awaken Sri Sri from the oasis of peace he resides in and fosters. And something that reflects on the general malaise that has come about in our society.

Television has made many of us instant commentators: silence is no longer a virtue nor is smiling away your troubles: you are either seen as guilty or as one who has something to hide. So Sri Sri should have never been silent or for that matter happy that his followers, one of whom was shot, were alive and more importantly happy. He should have given a dozen television interviews and made it to the front pages and prime time headlines: that would have kept him in currency not for peace but for violence: exactly what the terrorists and now the Maoists feed off.

But before we march into the next crisis, let’s pause and think what all of this has really done: it has created an impression of an inner feud which doesn’t exist; it has made Sri Sri come across as publicity-hungry which he clearly isn’t: he was as well-known before May 30; but the damage it has done is considerable: we have almost, without unsettling Sri Sri, created a level of cynicism and anguish amongst his followers in this country’s rule of law; in our ability to forget and forgive and most importantly to move on. With all the utterances around, we have confused and confounded some very happy people living in that ashram and who are helping the poor and the distraught. So while we may serve the cause of TRPs and individual one upmanship, have we really addressed the larger malaise of unhappiness and anger? Of desolateness and isolation? Of social stigmatization and separatism?

I genuinelybelieve we have many lessons to learn. Our media today is playing into the hands of vulgar sensationalism and our politicians are falling into this trap. We as a nation think it to be hip and cool if we knock the good that our fellow country-men are engaged in. We love to pull the ones that are doing good down with a ferocity that is seeped in negativism. Rather than praise the good work, we invest emotions mired in cynicism and disbelief. Are we increasingly becoming a nation that is suspicious and bitter? Or will we allow ourselves to be happy and optimistic. Many a time, each one of us that has the option to speak in public or write in newspapers want the easy way out. Criticism and not critique are the birthmarks of this India. But then this is a downward spiral. It will make us even more miserable than we need to be. It will make us despondent when we don’t need to be and more than anything else, our very attitude will deter people from pursuing the path of good and nobleness. Sri Sri runs the Art of Living program. But given what one sees around, there is a crying need for us to invest in an Art of Healing program. We need to placate and please; we need to progress and prosper and not be bitter and banal about every thing good around us. Perhaps May 30 was a lesson which we need to learn from; a signal to every Indian to be proud and not picky about everything good about our own people; our own values and our own culture. It is easy to cast stones at everything but very difficult to pick up the pieces of shattered souls. The time to stop this is now. The time to move on is now.Sri Sri has the ability to move on and he will; the happiness quotient will not see any dip or turbulence except that we will make every human being question his own integrity and his own belief system, the next time he wants to say what he really feels. Sri Sri was happy when I spoke to him. No words of rancour or remorse. But then, he is evolved. What if he wasn’t? Do we want soap operas in this country every time a tragedy occurs or do we actually have it in ourselves to let our silence heal us: from within and comprehensively?

April 11, 2010

Cartoons in US Media on Obama’s Nobel Prize

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Corruption,USA — Abhay @ 6:00 AM
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December 26, 2009

Article 311

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Corruption,India — thecandideye @ 6:00 AM
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The Central Minister of Law, Shri Virappa Moili made a public statement that the corrupt government employees should be dismissed or removed from service and Article 311 of the Constitution of India which is protecting them should be amended or be dropped from the Constitution.However,Biswabhusan Harichandan, the former minister of Law, Government of Orissa has objected to the abolition of this article.

Veerappa Moily : Image Courtesy - http://harinigallery.blogspot.com/

So far as the first part of his statement is concerned, we entirely agree with him but the second part of his statement that Article 311 should be dropped from the Constitution requires close examination.

Article 311 provides that (1) No person who is a member of the civil service of the union or an All India Service or a Civil Service of a State or holds a Civil post under the Union or a State shall be dismissed or removed by an Authority sub-ordinate to that by which he was appointed.

(2) No such person as afore said shall be dismissed or removed or reduced in rank except after an inquiry in which he has been informed of charges against him and given a reasonable opportunity of being heard in respect of those charges.

Article 311 of the Constitution does not prohibit the government from dismissing any corrupt government employees, it only provides that the delinquent employee should be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard in respect of charges made against him. There should be an enquiry against him where he will have the opportunity of explaining his conduct. Article 311 has also authorised the government or the concerned Authority in the government not to hold any enquiry where it is not reasonably practicable. The authorities are required only to record the reasons as to why it is not practicable to hold the enquiry. If the government is armed with so much of power to dismiss a corrupt government employee, after observing some formalities as required by Article 311 what prompted the Law Minister to think of abolishing such a valuable right of the employee. If the government employee is corrupt, he should immediately be dismissed from service in the greater interest of the administration, but the case of corruption must be proved against him otherwise the employees who are dutiful but upright and a bit independent minded will be subjected to victimisation, if they fail to act according to the whims of their higher bosses.

This valuable right of a citizen or government employee cannot be taken away arbitrarily without giving him any opportunity of being heard. He is entitled to know the crime he has committed. We should not forget that we are governed by rule of Law on which the entire Constitutional system of this country is based. The cardinal principles of rule of Law is that nobody should be punished without being afforded an opportunity of hearing. The framers of the Constitution had clearly foreseen this danger while drafting the Constitution.

Read the complete article here.

October 19, 2009

BPL families pay 16 crore rupees as bribe to our goverment servants!!

Have you ever gotten your driving license or family card or voter’s id or any thing on time,from a government office without paying anything ?You can consider yourself lucky if you have/get any of these things without paying any money as bribe.Jharkand goverment officials are the ones who are welathier than their counterparts in the world.These leeches suck the blood not only from wealthier people but also from the downtrodden people of the state.

Jharkhand State

Jharkhand State

Jharkhand government employees do not spare even people living below poverty line (BPL) when it comes to extracting bribes. The extent of greed can be assessed from the fact that the total bribe paid by BPL families in Jharkhand in 2008 was around Rs 16 crore.

This revelation was made in the annual survey report of Transparency International India (TII). To ensure that the results of the survey holds ground at the time of any verification, TII had documented complaints of every person who paid bribe. TII project director Vineeta Singh said the amount of bribe paid to the officials was small because the affected people paid the same from their pocket.

TII executive director Anupama Jha shared the findings during the launch of `Pahal’ for improving governance in rural areas of Jharkhand. “Anyone can gauge the extent of corruption in the state by the total bribe paid by the poorest of the poor in Jharhand. In 2008, the total bribe paid by BPL households was around 16 crore,” Jha said. The number of BPL households in the state is around 25 lakh.

Corruption in India

Corruption in India : Image Courtesy - http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/

The finding shows that corruption was highest in basic services which are free for BPL families like health, school education and water supply. Corruption is also rampant in police department and schemes under NREGA, land record and banking.

Another surprising fact that came out during the survey was that less than 5% of BPL families were aware of Right to Information Act. Director general of state administrative training institute AK Singh, a Cabinet secretary-rank officer, admitted that most government employees accept bribes.

“`Jharkhand is perhaps the only state in the country where even ministers demand a bribe and the percentage is fixed. I have worked in Bihar but there the ministers do not fix any fixed percentage for bribe on every tender,” Singh said.

Singh referred to an incident of building construction department where he was asked to pass the estimate of a building before floating a tender when the work was over. “I was surprised when my colleagues brought the file for approval of estimate of the building which was already complete,” Singh said.

Source: TOI

September 21, 2009

Consumers reject GM food, demand Nestlé India go GM free.

New Delhi: 16th September 2009: More than 500 consumers today pledged to return their Nestlé products to the company’s corporate office in Rajiv Chowk today, even as Nestlé continued to deny the consumers their right to GM free products. Greenpeace volunteers, who acted on behalf of more than 20,000 consumers across the country, placed the rejected products marked with question marks, into larger than life nests in front of the office building, parodying Nestlé’s well known logo. This symbolized questionable contents of Nestlé products owing to the company’s failure to have a GM free policy.

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Greenpeace India released the Safe Food Guide in New Delhi recently ranking 17 major food companies as ‘green’ or ‘red’ on the basis of their policies regarding the use of genetically modified ingredients. Only two companies Nestlé, and Hindustan Unilever had indicated a policy which favoured the use of GMOs.

Hindustan Unilever, which was initially slotted in the ‘red’ list, has since clarified to Greenpeace that it does not use any GM ingredients in its products. This clarification by HUL has made Nestlé, with brands like Maggi, Cerelac, Lactogen, Kitkat and Nescafe, under its umbrella, one of the big brands, openly supporting the use of GM ingredients in its products.

As a result of the pro GM food position indicated by Nestlé, thousands of consumers across the country have started demanding that Nestlé, in sync with its policies in the European Union and Russia, should go GM free in India as well. Over 21000 emails have been sent to the Chairman and Managing Director of Nestlé India, Mr. Antonio Waszyk demanding that Nestlé India go GM free.

Last week, Greenpeace in China discovered Nestlé’s baby food products contaminated with GM ingredients. Like India, Nestlé has had a history of disregard to consumers in China. Soon after the news of this scandal, over a 100 people called the Nestlé India head office demanding a GM free policy from the company.

“Overwhelming public opinion shows that consumers reject GM food as unsafe and unnatural. Nestlé needs to respect consumer choice and declare itself GM free like it has in Europe and Russia. Anything else will be merely a manifestation of double standards. If MTR foods can, why can’t Nestlé” said Jai Krishna, campaigner with Greenpeace India.

(1) Of the 17 major food brands, 6 are in the ‘green’ list. 11 companies are in the red list. In the green list, MTR is the only company to have a policy rejecting GMOs in their food products. For the entire guide log on to http://www.safefoodnow.org

(2) http://www.greenpeace.org/china/en/news/nestle-baby-food
India has not approved any GM food crops as of today. However there are more than 11 food crops which have been under hundreds of acres of field trials. In addition to this, unauthorized imports of packaged foods and even grains, makes the threat of contamination a reality.

September 20, 2009

The Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 114, Number 3, March 2006 Open Access
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The Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods

Letter: Margulis C

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