Capital Grapevine   
Capital Matters

Capital Grapevine   

Virendra Kapoor

When Manmohan Singh presented Yashwant Sinha’s budget dictated by Fund-Bank

Yashwant Sinha’s autobiography, Relentless, has some interesting nuggets. Among those there are a couple which lay bare the mealy-mouthed character of Manmohan Singh. The former prime minister is widely credited for being the father of economic reforms. Of course, that is wrong. Take note, the budget Singh presented in July 1991 was actually to be presented by Yashwant Sinha when Rajiv Gandhi for some inexplicable reason withdrew support to Chandra Shekhar Government citing the presence of two Haryana Police constables outside 10 Janpath. Sinha’s eternal regret is that he was denied the opportunity to present the epochal budget.

At the recent release function of Sinha’s book, former President Pranab Mukherjee who was earlier Finance Minister in several Congress-led governments, virtually gave credit to Sinha for opening up the economy and setting it on the path of liberalization. “ Actually, the budget that Manmohan Singh presented in July 1991 was to be presented by Yashwant Sinha.”

However, to tell the truth the budget that Sinha prepared but Singh actually presented was dictated by the IMF-World Bank. Remember the foreign exchange crisis had forced Sinha to pledge the country’s gold reserves with the Bank of England and Bank of Japan and to approach the Fund-Bank for a longer bailout who insisted on unshackling the economy and opening it to domestic competition and foreign investment.

Meanwhile, Sinha virtually establishes with evidence how the former prime minister skirts around the truth, ever so softly uttering falsehoods. He cites a specific example. Following the Harshad Mehta scam --- recall how a gung-ho Singh had dismissed fears of an overheated market, telling the Rajya Sabha he did not lose sleep if it went up ---- the Parliamentary Committee investigating it questioned the appointment of M J Pherwani to examine the setting up of a new exchange.

Asked if he had appointed Pherwani to head the study group, Singh blandly said no. “ It was appointed by my predecessor.” Later, on checking the file, it emerged that indeed it was Singh who had appointed Pherwani. It was the same Pherwani who as chairman of the National Housing Bank had collaborated with Harshad Mehta in perpetrating the securities scam.

And here we are not even referring to the time when Singh pleaded with Chandra Shekhar the same evening Rajiv Gandhi had withdrawn support to his government to back-date the letter appointing him the chairman of the UGC . So much, then, for the decency of Dr Manmohan Singh.

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The growing irrelevance of the Gandhis

Mamata Banerjee on her own can hardly win a single vote in all of Tamil Nadu. But, instead of inviting Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi, the DMK Chief, M K Stalin, has invited the Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister to unveil the statute of his late father, M K Karunanidhi, next month. Invitations to other leading lights of the Opposition have been extended some of whom are most likely to attend. But what is notable is that no member of the Gandhi family is invited.

What does it signify? Clearly, if the Congress cannot put its own house in order, if the Gandhis cannot settle the sibling rivalry, and the two cannot mutually resolve the leadership tangle, if they let the Congress drift and dither into increasing irrelevance, it is on the cards that other parties arrayed against the NDA at the Centre and in the States too would look for leadership elsewhere. Even though the Trinamool Congress is not even a member of the UPA, the invitation to Mamata to be the chief guest at a DMK event in Chennai next month is a clear signal that her anti-Modi credentials make her the foremost leader of the Opposition.

Granted, DMK’s current opposition to Modi is not ideological; it has partnered the BJP in the past. Its current stance is dictated by the cosy relationship the AIADMK Government has with the Centre, but this can change overnight should the DMK regain power in Tamil Nadu. Till then it feels obliged to stay in the UPA. But inviting Mamata and not Sonia Gandhi to unveil the Karunanidhi statue indicates how far the Congress stock has slipped after the Lok Sabha poll. Admittedly, the Congress still has small pockets of influence in Tamil Nadu, but the Trinamool Congress has none.

Meanwhile, the drift in the Congress can end, it now seems, only one way. Which is with Rahul Gandhi again becoming de jure party chief. Make no mistake. Since he resigned, he is still playing the boss, but informally. Because the party finds it hard to find a replacement, and Rahul doesn’t want Priyanka to head the Family Firm, the only way the present crisis of leadership is likely to end is for him to get back. Enough of this pretence of owning moral responsibility for the Lok Sabha disaster. Moral responsibility is for lesser beings, heaven-born legatees have life-time lien on the top post in the Congress. Besides, as far as cringing, crawling Congressmen are concerned, he is irreplaceable.

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Yediyurappa is friendless in BJP

Not everyone in the central BJP was on board when Yediyurappa launched Operation Topple in Karnataka. But the 76-year-old was desperate to become chief minister one last time. After the Lok Sabha poll, when the BJP swept the State, winning all but one of the 28 seats, loyalties of jobless MLAs in the JD(S)-Congress coalition became further suspect. Besides, the Congress leader Siddaramaiah, who several months earlier had said that keeping the coalition intact till the parliamentary poll was a necessity, instigated loyalists to desert his old bête noire, HD Kumaraswamy. Though the former Chief Minister denies it, some of his loyalists-turned-rebels have publicly claimed the same.

After the battle of nerves and legal tangles finally ended in the inevitable fall of the JD(S)-Congress coalition, senior BJP leaders were not convinced that installing Yeddyurappa as chief minister was the best option. Most preferred a brief spell of Presidential rule before a fresh Assembly poll. But what seemed to have clinched the issue in Yediyurappa’s favour was the commitments he had made to the rebels and his own veiled threat to retire in a sulk if not allowed to fulfill his ambition.

The BJP has always been wary of Yediyurappa’s antics, given his influence over the numerically significant Lingayats, and the lack of a tall leader to replace him as the new face of the party in Karnataka. Ironically, the only senior leader present at the swearing-in on Friday was the new Organizing Secretary B L Santosh who, of course, is no friend of Yediyurappa, er… sorry, Yediyurappa.

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One from the Net

It seems that Donald Trump has claimed that Bollywood actors Hrithik Roshan and Kangana Ranaut have separately asked him to mediate in their dispute.