Charred, again

The cool climes of St Petersburg, and the dignified ambience of the G-20 conclave, would offer the Prime Minister welcome relief from the coal-fired grill of Parliament ~ where even his using the “over a cup of tea” remedy to defuse tensions did not quite click. Yet fires raging in both Houses were largely self-fuelled: once again Mr Manmohan Singh&’s bid to clear the smoke of suspicion over the non-supply of certain files to the Central Bureau of Investigation only provoked the “plot thickens” reaction.
 The author of the statement made in response to Opposition demands (worse if self-authored), was either oblivious to the reality that the probe is being supervised by the Supreme Court so the furore is not merely “political”, or that the strategy was to brazen it out since the UPA has the numbers. It deviously ignored several points raised in the preceding discussions and, as has been the PMO&’s wont recently, washed its hand off the corruption that has become a hallmark of the government.
The Prime Minister&’s opening comment about “so-called missing files or papers” borders on contempt of the apex court which has gone as far as setting a deadline for the coal ministry to submit to the CBI the files it sought. That there was nothing “so called” about the matter was embarrassingly confirmed by the Attorney-General&’s having received a detailed list of the material the CBI requires. Mr Singh&’s contention that members had “drawn their own conclusions” also reeks of arrogance ~ both the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Supreme Court have taken serious cognisance of irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks, the scandal is not the fruit of political imagination.
The feeling that there is “something fishy and the government is hiding something” would be backed up by the powerful force of public opinion. Does the Prime Minister not accept that the apex court&’s having directed the government not to influence the CBI ~ probably an unprecedented directive, which cost the former law minister his job ~ is indicative of its apprehensions of a cover-up?
The Opposition has made much of the Prime Minister&’s hasty exit from the Rajya Sabha after making his evasive statement on Tuesday. Perhaps it is true he hurried off to make a similar statement in the other House ~ as “explained” by the minister of state for parliamentary affairs. Yet that also confirms the UPA&’s inefficient management of parliamentary affairs ~ was the minister not aware that the Lok Sabha had been adjourned? The upshot of the latest uproar is that while the last time around Mr Singh had asserted he was not the custodian of the coal files it now appears he is a poor custodian of his personal credibility.

Mending fences

Recent irritants in India-Bhutan relations have hopefully been removed with the successful conclusion of the new Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay&’s visit to Delhi, indeed his first port of call since he assumed office. In a way, that hope is perhaps symbolised in the sapling that he planted in Hyderabad on Tuesday. While both sides have been diplomatically tightlipped on the contentious issue of Thimphu&’s foreign policy ~ pre-eminently its engagement with China ~ it is the economic aspect of the agreement that is significant. Indeed, the economic factor is an offshoot of the diplomatic souring of relations.
The restoration of subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene is a matter of considerable relief for consumers, yet India will have to contend with the fact that its somewhat vindictive action in the midst of the electoral process was at the root of the psephological swing, leading to a change of government. It was a reprisal that affected the people, placing the unique concept of Gross National Happiness at stake The vote went against Jigme Thinley, and his successor has been desperately anxious to mend fences.  The economic underpinning to the joint announcement mirrors Delhi&’s willingness to improve equations with its only steadfast friend in the neighbourhood… for all the grandstanding at the periodic Saarc conferences that yield little or nothing.
India&’s funding of Bhutan&’s 11th five-year Plan was on hold in the aftermath of Thinley&’s meeting with Wen Jiabao in 2012, almost in the manner of economic sanctions for pursuing an independent foreign policy. The ice has seemingly been broken with India agreeing to advance a Rs 4,500-crore assistance package in addition to Rs 500 crore for an Economic Stimulus Package, crafted by Bhutan&’s democratically-elected government.
For all the economic concessions, it would be overbearing on the part of India to dictate the foreign policy of Bhutan, under an elected government since 2008. Thimphu&’s conduct of foreign relations ought not to be tied to the coat-tails of South Block. Indeed, there is no indication in the Manmohan Singh-Tobgay talks to suggest that Delhi is willing to shed its dominance. This runs counter to the spirit of sovereignty.
It is time for India to spell out its position, and, still more crucially, realise that tiny Bhutan has ceased to be its protectorate and is perfectly entitled to engage with China.