NATIONAL POLITICS: Left minister ‘stuck’ in own hartal – not in tune with current reality ?!!
BY JOHN MARY
June 26: A CPI minister today chose to taste his own alliance’s medicine rather than getting beamed on television breaking a Left hartal in Kerala, cooling his heels in an airport for as many as eight hours.
Revenue minister K.P. Rajendran was on his way back from Saudi Arabia and supposedly had a busy day ahead in hometown Thrissur. His flight landed at the Nedumbassery airport near Kochi around 10.30am.
While Rajendran was in the oil kingdom, the Indian government had raised fuel prices, angering his ruling alliance that called a 12-hour “hartal” — a euphemism for bandh.
At the airport this morning, Rajendran started marching towards the exit and froze when he saw a television crew covering scenes of the supporters of his alliance enforcing the hartal.
The minister suddenly took an about-turn and dashed to the VIP lounge, presumably to avoid being filmed travelling on a day ordinary people were not allowed to do so.
The panic may seem unusual for communists who do not care much about what appears in the media “syndicate” — a term used by Big Brother CPM to deride critical newspapers and channels.
But, like in Bengal, the Left is going through a rough patch in Kerala and no minister wants to take a chance.
Besides, Kerala ministers returning from the Gulf are extremely sensitive to suggestions of privileged treatment — a fallout of a hit movie titled Arabikkatha (Arabian Tale) whose plot revolved around the double standard of communists at home and abroad.
The hartal, called by the ruling Left Democratic Front to protest the petro price hike, went on till 6pm.
Till then, Rajendran sat in the air-conditioned lounge, read newspapers and watched TV. Had the minister been in Bengal, he would have had to wait much longer as Citu had called a 24-hour transport strike in the eastern state.
The media crew waited for some time but left after the minister’s chauffeur told them that he would leave only after 6pm.
Rajendran’s official vehicle, along with the police escort, stayed parked in front of the airport all the while.
Before he left around 6.10 pm, Rajendran also gave some bites to journalists who were patient enough to hang around. The people had co-operated with the protest wholeheartedly and the Centre should heed their sentiments, he told them.
Unlike the minister, who decided to kill time in the AC lounge to avoid possible embarrassment before television cameras, normal passengers had no option but to remain in the airport.
Among them, there were wage earners returning from the Gulf with not enough money to hire a taxi on a hartal day.
Jhansi, a nurse from Ranni, near Kottayam, reached the airport around 3.30am to catch her evening flight to Delhi en route to Saudi Arabia. She wanted to be at the airport well before the agitators settled down.
Time to swallow petrol pill – Price freed, Mamata skips – away from reality, probably not ?!!
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, June 25: The Centre today decided to free petrol prices from state control and raised the prices of diesel, LPG and kerosene in an effort to slash the ballooning fiscal deficit and haul oil refiners back from the brink of financial ruin.
The decisions were taken by an empowered group of ministers headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and signalled the government’s determination to put its finances in order.
Mamata Banerjee stayed away from the meeting in protest, keeping in mind the Bengal Assembly elections that are less than a year away.
The price decisions came on a day Prime Minister Manmohan Singh headed to Toronto for the G20 summit. Last year, India had joined other G20 members in agreeing to slash subsidies on auto fuels as part of a global effort to encourage energy conservation.
Petrol prices have been raised by Rs 3.65 a litre in Calcutta and will henceforth be market-determined. This means that a surge in global crude prices — currently hovering around $77 a barrel — will trigger an almost immediate revision in pump prices.
Diesel prices have been raised by Rs 1.95 a litre in Calcutta. “Diesel will also be freed from state regulation eventually,” said petroleum secretary S. Sundareshan but refused to set a date by when subsidies would be withdrawn on this critical transportation fuel. A change in the price of diesel has a greater cascading effect on prices across the board.
Cooking gas prices are being raised by Rs 36.40 a cylinder while kerosene prices will go up after a gap of eight years by Rs 3 a litre.
The price hikes will come into effect from Friday midnight. Several pumps around the country claimed that they had run out of fuel stocks as serpentine queues formed.
Petroleum minister Murli Deora said allies had been consulted. But Mamata said: “I will request the government to reconsider the decision to raise the prices of diesel, LPG and kerosene as this will push up the prices of other commodities as well.” The DMK ministers circulated a note at the meeting to articulate their opposition to the move.
The government chose to bite the bullet because it was no longer in a position to dole out subsidies to state-owned oil refiners.
India’s chief economist Kaushik Basu said: “I expect an increase of 0.9 percentage points in the monthly inflation figure… the bold reform will result in lower fiscal and revenue deficits, cooling inflation in six to nine months.”
Finance secretary Ashok Chawla had recently said that the fiscal deficit would dip to 4.5 per cent of the GDP if auto fuel prices were deregulated and revenues from 3G and broadband spectrum auctions were taken into account. Fiscal deficit for the year to March 2011 had been projected at 5.5 per cent of the GDP in the budget.
The government had tried to move towards market-determined prices for auto fuels in April 2002 during the NDA regime. The move was abandoned in December 2003 just before the general election.
The victorious Congress-led UPA government took another stab at it in July 2004 when it allowed a price band of 10 per cent either way but had to jettison it when crude oil prices surged.
Freedom from reading the leader – when reality can be just a keyboard away ?!!
SANJAY K. JHA
New Delhi, June 26: Congress foot soldiers can give their eyes a break. Most of them no longer need to subscribe to their party journal.
Only the big shots have to.
A quiet change has taken place within the party with the leadership realising that the organisation’s official mouthpiece Congress Sandesh had failed to serve the purpose of educating ordinary workers.
Result: the leadership has allowed ordinary members the freedom not to subscribe to the 32-page monthly, which costs Rs 10. A year’s subscription comes to Rs 100.
Initially, however, it was mandatory for every member to buy the magazine, though this clause was never complied with as barely a few lakh copies got printed.
If every Congress worker had subscribed to the mouthpiece since it was started in 1999, it would have been the world’s largest circulated periodical as the party has over 2.5 crore members.
Even now the party constitution says “Every member shall pay… subscription to the periodical” and the “subscription amount shall have to be deposited along with his/her enrolment/renewal form”.
The party constitution also says that those who “desire to become members but cannot afford to pay (the) subscription… along with his/her enrolment fee are permitted to pay the same within one year after their enrolment as members”.
This means every member has to buy the magazine.
But the next two sentences virtually exempt ordinary members from subscribing to the journal.
“However, for the members who get elected to any of the committees, it shall be mandatory to enrol themselves as subscribers of the Congress periodical i.e. Congress Sandesh. In the case of elected representatives like MPs, MLAs, MLCs, panchayat raj members and all party functionaries at (the) block level and above subscribing to Congress Sandesh is compulsory.”
Several members said the omission of the “mandatory” clause was a welcome move as the contents were mostly stale and the magazine had little to offer except for Sonia Gandhi’s letter, the editorial and lots of photographs.
An exception had been the recent article by Sonia that sought to bring about a balance between security operations and the need for development in Maoist-affected areas.
A member of the All India Congress Committee said the magazine had been reduced to a “publicity machine” of a few individuals.
“Old speeches and interviews reproduced from newspapers and essays on irrelevant issues and mostly meant for personal projection do not interest us,” added another AICC member. “It would be better if Soniaji sends us a letter in plain paper on a monthly basis instead of spending so much on the magazine.”
Senior leaders agreed that drastic measures were needed to tone up the content and added that party chief Sonia, too, was deeply concerned about the quality of the magazine and had voiced her displeasure several times.
Sonia had tried to improve the quality by drafting in a senior journalist, Pankaj Sharma, as associate editor. For a few months, the magazine showed some improvement, then it was back to square one.
“Cosmetic measures won’t help,” said an AICC member. “Soniaji will have to rebuild a fresh team. It was meant to convey to the ordinary workers the party’s vision and the leadership’s perspective on burning issues. It has been reduced to a publicity machine of three-four individuals crying for attention.”
Apart from Sonia’s letter and the photographs, the magazine’s contents now include write-ups on history and historical personalities by editor Anil Shastri, editorial board member Sarvjit Singh, associate editors Ravni Thakur and Pankaj Sharma, and AICC secretary Praveen Davar.
Senior leaders from the party or incisive commentators are, however, not invited to write on important events. Guest writers are often picked on whims of the editors. Senior leaders described an article on Sonia as worse than a primary school essay. “‘Sonia often meets the aam aadmi and mingles with them’ — this was the most significant sentence written by her,” a Youth Congress leader said.
The Sandesh did have a powerful editorial board once, including senior leaders like Natwar Singh, Vasanth Sathe, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Girija Vyas and Salman Khursheed. Now the board has only two leaders as members, Khursheed and Sarvjit Singh.
Sources said Khursheed had stopped attending board meetings after becoming a minister. Now the Sandesh for party workers every month are lots of photographs, “shoddy” articles and speeches of Sonia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.