OIL SHOCK 2013
Moily must prove, or quit
MOCK-HEROICS are not new to the political arena, oft resorted to by persons under fire. Yet it would be prudent, albeit momentarily, to look beyond the present Veerapa Moily-Gurudas Dasgupta Reliance-flavoured fracas and demand that the petroleum minister be called to account. His contention that there are powerful lobbies thwarting indigenous exploration for oil and gas is an indictment not only of his predecessors ~ they obviously succumbed, since domestic production remains dismally insufficient ~ but is a condemnation of the spineless manner in which the Manmohan Singh government goes about its business. Is this further proof of crony capitalism? By raising the import-lobby&’s clout at a media interaction rather than before the Cabinet, Moily fuels the impression of UPA-II floundering ~ a shuttlecock between political elements (the NAC would fall into that category) and the corporate sector in which it has placed much faith to extricate it from the quagmire of misgovernance. For it would only be logical to conclude that the public sector oil marketing/refining entities are playing the corporate card.
At first glance that would appear far-fetched, but certainly not in the same league of fantasy as Moily&’s assertion that India was “floating in oil and gas”. Ever since the Bombay High boom dissipated, the national economy ~ indeed the nation&’s larger policies ~ have been heavily influenced by having to import close to 70 per cent of its requirement of crude/products: last year&’s import bill was a whopping $160 billion. Is it Moily&’s case that successive governments have wilted before the lobby he insists he alone has the courage to resist? Have the ONGC, OIC and some lesser entities also been stymied? What Moily has projected to the media is a prolonged crime against the nation, abetted by a series of governments of all political complexions. Prime Ministers from Rajiv Gandhi to the incumbent would have “played ball” ~ the petroleum sector is much too critical to be left to a single ministry. Given the gravity of Moily&’s charges the Prime Minister is duty-bound to direct a thorough probe. If Moily backs off from pressing those charges he must be directed to “butt out”. Without getting bogged down in the gas-pricing issue upon which the CPI veteran has directed his fire, it is worth recalling a quip in the Rajya Sabha some years ago by that respected stalwart, AG Kulkarni: “What my friends Tata and Birla strived for decades to build, the Ambanis have attained overnight”. Any ears “burning”?
REAL ESTATE ON HOLD
Turkey&’s PM relents
TURKEY’S Prime Minister would appear to have staved off a formidable challenge to his authority by dropping plans to re-develop Taksim Square, traditionally the nerve-centre of protests. Recep Tayyip Erdogan&’s latest show of force could only have steeled the resolve of the protesters. The mobilisation of the riot police doesn’t match the repression of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashr al-Assad and comparisons with the Arab Spring may be far-fetched. The other striking difference must be that the protestors are not shrilling for the ouster of the Prime Minister, who has drawn a parallel labelled the “Turkish Spring”. Yet Mr Erdogan needs to address the fundamental issues that have provoked the siege. Chiefly, the order against alcohol consumption in westernised Turkey, a directive that has been greeted with beer sessions around the capital&’s Gezi Park and Taksim Square. Yet another order bans public displays of affection. The fact that the square was cleared of protestors on Wednesday doesn’t quite resolve the core of the crisis. Mr Erdogan has a point when he claims that the continuing disruption will derail the country&’s economy by discouraging foreign investors. The establishment&’s counter-blast has served to underline the differences between the Prime Minister and the distinctly conciliatory President and the expressly apologetic deputy Prime Minister. The latter has regretted the police excesses. Indeed, the discontent at the popular level mirrors the division at the helm. No less significant must be the timing of the offensive ~ immediately after Mr Erdogan&’s visit to North Africa at the peak of the crisis.
The situation, such as it is, calls for conciliation and certainly not a high-handed strategy to end the movement and, in effect, sour the atmosphere further still. The latest offensive renders uncertain the scheduled meeting of the Prime Minister with the leaders of the movement. Doubts have already arisen about the PM&’s sincerity in agreeing to such a meeting; his feelers run counter to his description of his opponents as “enemies of the people”. Turkey has unwittingly conveyed the impression to both Europe and the Arab world that its leadership is divided with the President and deputy PM on one side of the fence. As the head of government, Mr Erdogan may be ploughing a lonely furrow with his somewhat Islamist agenda in a country that was westernised by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk a century ago. The Prime Minister cannot afford to ignore the depth of discontent over his policies and play it rough; a secure mandate is no licence to pursue a Panglossian agenda.
THE LADY’S GIFT
Log off at mid-day
IT would be a gross under-statement to call it ridiculous. So hilarious indeed that it initially strained the credulity of the staff. Mamata Banerjee has scripted history by declaring a half-holiday on the occasion of jamai sashthi (son-in-law&’s day) ~ and midway through the working day. Reports suggest that she was more than a little surprised when she noticed fairly normal attendance as she stepped into Writers’ on Friday. If that is her attitude to work, then heaven, we pray, must help the state. The Chief Minister has played to the gallery of the unions as she did during the pujas last year by announcing a ten-day break. Worse, she took the hawkers’ unions into confidence by ensuring a four-day shutdown in newspaper offices, indeed to suspend the flow of advertisement revenue and also, of course, criticism of her party and government. Small wonder that Friday&’s circular at mid-day was robustly greeted by the committees and federations, cutting across party lines. Thus did she ensure a partially extended weekend and to the ha-ha of the behemoth and underworked employees’ brigade, looking forward to be suitably feted by the in-laws. What example is she setting to the organised sector? It would be no exaggeration to submit that she has managed to trivialise work culture. A suitably attired minister Madan Mitra reflected the “gross employees’ happiness”… never mind the state&’s GDP, as did the response of the agriculture minister, Arup Roy. Sad to say, the list of unnecessary breaks keeps getting extended ~ the “celebration” of Tagore&’s death anniversary, the closure of schools on 26 September to commemorate the birth anniversary of Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, who never skipped a working day as principal of Sanskrit College (1851-55), and chhat to placate Kolkata&’s increasing immigrant population. Much as she imagines, the Chief Minister has not been able to improve what she calls the “Left&’s legacy of work culture”. There has been no improvement in any segment for that matter. And is she aware that many in the lower bureaucracy have for the past fortnight refused to move any files arguing speciously that they will find time only after the panchayat elections?