Governance deficit

Last week, I wrote about the likely effects of US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and I am not surprised that since then a series of suicide attacks have been reported. Taliban fighters armed with explosive vests, anti-aircraft weapons and grenade launchers raided an international hotel in Kabul and killed seven people on June 28, the eve of a conference to discuss plans for Afghan forces to take over when international troops leave by the end of 2014.

Helicopter gunships circled the hotel (which is in a heavily populated area), firing down with machine guns.
Such high-profile attacks are likely to increase as insurgents attempt to promote a perception of instability in Afghanistan.
Looking at the death and destruction that Nato airstrikes have caused in Libya and the violent uprising in Syria, one can say that total anarchy prevails across the region. While the United States will talk tough and deliver its usual sermon, the fact is that its military capability is on the decline. “Sponsored” regimes, therefore, cannot survive for very long and we can expect more violence in Kabul, Pakistan, and even Iraq.
Western superpowers will act in their own interest. Their “addiction to oil” will form the central thinking of their policies, as it has been in the past, and democracy and human rights will be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.
World diplomacy is conducted in accordance with two sets of rules: one for the Western world and another one for other countries. I wonder how the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries will act in the future. We are all directly affected by the changes and maintaining silence is no longer a viable option. In West Asia, there are many stories waiting to be reported. It is time the media focused on the fights for democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Syria and Gulf states like Bahrain.

THE DECISION of the International Energy Agency to release strategic oil reserves is “shock therapy” to stabilise the escalating prices of crude oil. Unfortunately, this can’t be sustained in the long term. Inflation is a global virus — when prices escalate, they invariably settle at much higher levels for almost everything.
For India, 2011 is a very difficult year. The country is in a “conflict zone”, both on the political and economic fronts. And, looking at the current trends, I think things are going to get much worse.
The United Progressive Alliance-2 (UPA) has done the right thing by hiking fuel prices and at the same time providing some relief by reducing excise and custom duties. In a bid to ease the burden of the public, the Delhi government decided to subsidise the cost of LPG by `40 per cylinder for Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Antyodaya card holders. This is a welcome move as those above the poverty line and the high-income groups don’t need it.
Also, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit has decided on cash payouts instead of subsidised kerosene for the BPL families. This is a welcome move and is aimed at controlling widespread pilferage of the fuel.
I sincerely hope that the ministry of petroleum and natural gas can find a viable method to solve the kerosene issue where in the name of the poor and deprived there is a thriving black market.

PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh’s decision to speak to the media more often is good news, but will it result in better governance? There are no miracles and Dr Singh does not have a bag of magic tricks. Only good governance and a strong will to tackle increased criminality in the system can save the day for UPA-2. The media cannot be “managed” any longer and few things will remain hidden from the public. If the government does not tackle criminality soon, change is inevitable and it will not wait till 2014.
The public mood is “sullen” on all things political. Besides inflation, which affects everyone, the issue of corruption and increased criminality is a matter of serious concern as even the legal system seems unable to render justice within an acceptable time frame.
We talk of the rule of law but where is the rule of law except in a few cases? High-profile cases like the 2G spectrum scam get attention from the Supreme Court and there are daily hearings. This is good but millions of cases languish for a decade or more. Only those who are guilty benefit from this delay. The Supreme Court is now our only hope as political authority seems to have been compromised by the large unaccounted assets of political leaders, both at the Centre and in the states.
As I write, one of the news channels is showing how coal is being looted from a freight train by the coal mafia. This is nothing new but it would be nice to know what coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal is doing about this. Does he have the will to fight the mafia?
We have seen the hand of the underworld in the killing of Mid-Day scribe J. Dey. The Mumbai police has done well by identifying the killers and the motive.
But recently, a chief medical officer (CMO) was shot dead by unidentified gunmen outside his residence in Lucknow. In another incident, deputy CMO Yogendra Singh Sachan was found dead late evening by authorities at a district jail in Lucknow. The mafia seems to be gaining in strength and spreading its influence to every aspect of our daily lives. These isolated instances could soon become a regular feature. It is a matter of time before those fighting criminals are singled out and eliminated by vested interests. Must we
wait for high-profile murders before governments swing into action?

The author is a former Union minister

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