Back to black box?

The verbal duel between BJP leader Arun Jaitley and Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), need not surprise us. We have seen the ruling coalition attacked by self-styled social activists, most of whom have faded into the sunset. Look what has happened to Anna Hazareji, Baba Ramdev or the former Army Chief, Gen. V.K. Singh. They all appear and disappear in a flash. Rejection of these self-elected leaders has come from the aam aadmi who is many steps ahead of them and has the power to elect or unseat any government.
The Supreme Court and all other constitutional bodies have their space and the delicate balance between all the three wings of governance is essential; but going by my experience an ideal situation rarely exists and friction is inevitable. In a coalition structure with a diffused power base this can become an issue. We have seen the Comptroller and Auditor General acting far ahead of the auditing function and this has been welcomed by the Opposition, and now the PCI chairman has been attacked by the BJP and supported by the Congress. The President has remarked recently on this delicate balance but the fact is that the lines are blurred.

The 2G scam is no longer a public issue. It is relegated to the inside pages of newspapers as fatigue has set in. All the telecom scandals unfolding these days will attract attention for a day or two and then will be lost in the welter of issues that dominate the headlines. The Supreme Court will hear the tape case as part of the due process. I believe public interest to the subject will come back, as the telecom sector has been one of our great success stories. Whatever decisions are taken regarding the scam should take this fact into account. The ground reality is that mobile services have deteriorated. One has to call more than once to complete even a short conversation, as connectivity is often difficult for long spells.
I am going back to the landline as a standby. In the Mehrauli area of the national capital, where I live, there are no other service providers than MTNL, which does not work most of the time; it used to have a single lineman for the whole area, who should have retired a century ago. I was the last one to abandon my MTNL connection (for telephone and Internet) as I recall with a good deal of fondness the “black box” as we called it then. I remember as a young boy in Lucknow the telephone which my grandmother was entitled to as an MP. It was kept on the verandah so that it could be used by others in emergency, as there were less than 10 telephones in the area in the late 50s.
I write three articles a week and besides going through several newspapers every day, I hold telephonic conversations on the mobile phone to keep abreast of political developments across the country. The mobile phone has brought the whole country to our doorstep; you can communicate with almost anyone in any part of the country. But this communication highway will count for little if mobile phones are subjected to indiscriminate surveillance and tapping. Holding political conversations across a variety of subjects can be sensitive if the conversations are carried out on mobiles. And if you are quoted out of context, it can be quite bizarre. I have no issue with the mobile phone but almost everyone in governance is reluctant to talk on the mobile, as several tapping devices are in use. They prefer to communicate using the landline telephone, which is difficult to tap. It saddens me to see this, as we are not planning to rob the bank or stage a coup or lock up the government — to live in fear of a tapping machine is awful and reflects the current mood.
We are a free society but we cannot speak freely on the mobile; attending a party with strangers can be a hazard as every third person in Delhi is a middleman. Ask the enforcement directorate or Revenue Intelligence and they will tell you the VIP names crooks use to cover their tracks in mobile conservations and diary entries and these include politicians, law officers and film actors and actresses and may now include our TV stars.

The AgustaWestland helicopter deal has led to media frenzy, which will continue till names of companies and individuals surface. Everyone who has met the Swiss, Italian or the British middlemen will be suspect. It is proving to be increasingly difficult to hide a money trail. Many of those involved in these transactions will tell their side of the story to the media. Who is right and who is wrong will emerge only when the Italian court proceedings leak out to the media. In 2013 the word “secret” means very little. Cash withdrawal of 4,000 euros is petty cash in a `3,600 crore transaction and the Tyagi brothers may well have been used by unscrupulous commission agents. It is sad that a former Indian Air Force Chief should have been maligned without any
evidence.

The developments in the Maldives are serious. This five-star tourist paradise looks like a nation at war with itself. Former President Mohamed Nasheed, who had in 2008 won a stunning victory in the first free and fair election in the Maldives, was overthrown in a coup at gunpoint but despite all this he still has a charismatic hold on the electorate and may sweep the polls, which are due in October this year. But will he survive till that date? He has taken sanctuary in the Indian embassy, holed up there for the past six days. The good thing is that 2013 is not 2008, as there are no secrets in the system and the global community is well aware of the situation.

We are close to elections and we have a difficult global situation with a great deal of economic stress, and while we are in a better situation we still have serious challenges to contend with. Sadly there is a great deal of negative thinking and I suppose sometimes many things happen together to create a crisis. I do not think that this atmosphere exists in India alone. As economic and political pressure escalates, we see a great deal of tension in most of south Europe. All you have to do is watch the BBC or Al Jazeera for an hour to see the carnage in many parts of West Asia and the problems in individual countries in Europe. As a global player all this hurts us.

The writer is a former Union minister

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