BP and Bhopal

Watching Tony Hayward, the beleaguered BP Chief testify before the US Congress on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, it was clear how annoyed the Americans are when their lives were shattered due to the spill. Borrowing our new boy David Cameron’s words, I can ‘understand the frustration of Americans’, but at the same time, don’t you think that they were over-reacting. If they feel so much pain and sorrow at the loss of eleven lives and the huge damage to the environment, how could they not feel any remorse when more than 20,000 people perished in Bhopal and the environment was contaminated in equal measure?

Well, I started this post with the intention of writing more. But, more I think about this, more annoyed I get. Let me end here and I promise that this will be my last post on Bhopal.

Post Election Scenario

Oh well. Here we are in UK hanging around with a hung parliament, as predicted by the pollsters. This election has been very interesting. With the American style televised debates, it was much more clearer as where each party stood. Also, when so many politicians (not the main guys) taking to social media forums like Twitter, there were umpteen avenues to get the news and gossips every minute.

As it was clear for several weeks now that this election will be a closely fought one, a casual read of the headlines in all the major newspapers for a few days clearly told where their loyalty lie. The way David Dimbleby handled the leaders’s debate and the marathon election night programme was awesome. The next best was Channel 4. Less said the better about Sky News.

This is the third general election in UK in which I have voted. The first two have been eventless and uninteresting. This one apparently wasn’t. The kind of mis-handling that we saw on the election day (not enough ballot papers, people who queued up before the closing time not being able to vote etc) is not only unfortunate, but presented the country in very poor light. As the entire media is busy with the post-election coalition talks, it is not clear if anyo of the voters who could not vote took the matter to the courts. With parties doing whatever they can to get past the magical 326, the effect of any legal action will add a new dimension to the drama that is unfolding in front of us every day.

With the kind of hype that was made over Nick Clegg’s performance in the first debate, I was surprised by the results. As for Labour, it had been a very rough ride for them for the last 2+ years. Given that scenario, whatever they have achieved is quite remarkable. Gordon Brown might not be a charismatic leader, but as a party Labour still has its base. On the same token, having such an unpopular government at the helm, it should have been a cake walk of an election for the main opposition party. Despite this, if Tories could not gain majority on their own, there is something seriously wrong with the party or with David Cameron.

For the last 5 days (it is Tuesday noon now), Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have been holding several rounds of negotiations and face-to-face meetings between the leaders that hasn’t yielded any result. For those who only get the one-liners like ‘We are making progress’ etc, it is really boring. It is a well known fact that Lib Dems are demanding ‘proportional representation’ in the electoral system, which Tories are totally against. Either Lib Dems must accept the fact that with 56 MPs, they are not going to get what they want or Tories must realise that without LD, they are not going to go where they want. All eyes are on them to see who blinks first. There was a gossip that Tories have earmarked Home and Education to Lib Dems in the event of Lib-Con coalition government. Though it is very unlikely to happen, I wish that they hand over Treasury to Lib Dems as well. Vince Cable will on any day be a better Chancellor than the inexperienced George Osbourne. In ethical terms, Tories as the party with most number of votes and seats should assume power. Lib-Con coalition will be the better way forward, but I strongly feel that Osbourne will be the weakest link in such a set up.

Although Lib Dems are holding parallel negotiations with Labour, I feel that it is more of a pressure tactic to get more out of Tories rather than anything else. If the Lib-Lab coalition materialises, they will still fall short of majority and will have to rely on the smaller parties leading to a very unstable government. Such an arrangement will definitely lead to another election within a year and in that eventuality, neither Labour nor Lib Dems will be in a position to face the voters.

It is reported that Cameron is not very happy with Clegg for having parallel discussions with Brown. If Cameron wants to bring around Clegg, he should have some secret discussions with Brown. Think about Lab-Con combination. Wouldn’t it add more spice to this drama?

Idea!

When M.K. Azhagiri is out of the Indian Parliament most of the time, how about conferring him with ‘Outstanding Parliamentarian’ award? Wouldn’t that make some quarters happy?

Of course, I am exaggerating here. But, if this really happens, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Didn’t we see this few months ago?

Second Leadership Debate

Had someone told me that all it takes is 90 minutes of airtime to change the political landscape of this country, I would have certainly dismissed that as being too hypothetical. But that is actually what happened last Thursday in the first ever Leadership debate, where in the Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg came out stealing the show and made the forthcoming elections a real three way race. Having set the bar very high for himself, the second debate that happened in Bristol this week set the expectations soaring high.

While the focus of the first one was domestic affairs, the second debate focussed on foreign affairs. This time around, the pressure was more on David Cameron not only to improve his performance, but also to deliver the knock-out punch and seal the pact with the electorate. Did he do it? No, if you ask me. David was a little more aggressive than last week, little more passionate, but fell way short of winning the debate. Quite expectedly, he stole Nick Clegg’s idea of facing the camera than the audience.

Nick Clegg, in my opinion managed to maintain the momentum and that in itself should augur well for his party. He swapped places with David and occupied the centre podium with Gordon remaining at the same place as he was last week. Although Nick appeared to have an edge w.r.t his stand on European Union, thanks to his earlier stint as MEP, his stand on Trident is very much debatable and in my opinion, should not be an election issue. Rather, that is a decision best left to experts.

Gordon Brown on the other hand was better prepared than his two rivals. He appeared more confident, cracked few pre-prepared jokes and even smiled then and there, although the smile appeared very cosmetic and weird.

In a nutshell, this second debate didn’t create any waves as the first one did. All it did is to give Labour a fig leaf of hope. In my opinion, Clegg maintained his lead in the debate and the other two were the joint second. Newspapers might present a different picture, depending on which stable they owe their allegiance to. After all, what they publish is an opinion poll and they are very much entitled to their opinion.

UK Leadership Debate

Warning:A very long post.

The fact that it took 50 years for Britain to ape the American style of debates could explain the hype that surrounded the first of the three live leadership debate that was telecast in ITV1 at prime time last night. Not withstanding the traditional campaigning, it is everyone’s knowledge that a televised debate would make or break the electoral prospect of those aspiring for No. 10 Downing Street. It is easy for the Opposition to put the incumbent Prime Minister on the mat and if there is one way the graph would go for the incumbent, it is South. That is the reason why no incumbent Prime Minister has ever agreed for such a debate in the past. Probably, that is the reason why Gordon Brown agreed for the debate, as he might have been confident that his graph can not go any further down, as it is already at the rock bottom.

All through the day, it was evident that the news channels struggled to balance the coverage of unprecedented air space closure in Britain due to volcanic eruption in Iceland and the preparations leading to the debate that happened in Manchester over domestic policy. The format and the rules for the debate, that include – no clapping, no laughing (from the audience) had been agreed long ago after months of negotiations. In any other general election, like the previous one in 2005 or the one before in 2001, a three way debate would have been sneered at for it has always been Labour or Conservatives who mattered. But this election is different. Very different that there is a distinct possibility of the electorate returning a hung parliament on May 6. So, for the first time in about 65 years, the performance and the prospects of Liberal Democrats assumes significance. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg must have been happy to be placed in par with the other contenders Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

While we have the House of Commons, where the above mentioned leaders battle it out passionately week after week, there are other players (other MPs) who play their role there. In case of these debates, the leaders are on their own, at least after the telecast starts and it becomes a matter of personality and image. In terms of substance, we know very well their policies (or the lack of it), as we have their manifestoes on hand and in any case, all the parties have been campaigning for weeks now. So, it was all a matter of who came out on top – not on substance, but on style.

Pre-prepared questions from the audience ranged from immigration, economy, NHS, crime, education, political reform, social care etc – covering almost all of the domestic issues. There were complaints from the parties in Scotland and Wales that most of these topics didn’t matter to them. I wonder why. David Cameron was placed at the centre, Gordon Brown to his left and Nick Clegg to Cameron’s right. All three gentlemen in question were allowed to make an opening statement, before taking questions from the audience. Cameron used his opening address to say he was ‘extremely sorry’ for the MP’s expenses scandal, one of the most forthright apologies offered by a politician.

Initially, the debate was more formal and very diplomatic. However, informality was injected soon enough and all three began referring to their rivals by their first names. Brown drew the first blood by attacking Cameron saying ‘This is not question time David, this is answer time’ and Cameron replied back with the answers that Brown demanded. Being an incumbent is not easy. That too, having to defend in a single night, all your actions of the past thirteen years is no easy task and that is what Brown faced. Very often, he was in a position to defend what he did rather than offering the electorate what he would do if he is elected. Having said that, Gordon Brown was better than his usual self. He is one person who will bore you to death with his speech reeling of all the statistics and presenting them in the most uninteresting way possible. Thanks to whoever briefed him, he was quite quite ok, managed a decent smile and came out a lot better than what was expected of him. After all, he is not Tony Blair.

On the first question about immigration, an issue on which Labour has failed miserably Cameron scored convincingly. Conservative policy is to put a cap on the numbers coming in, although he didn’t give any figure, as pointed out by Brown. Nick Clegg’s idea is to introduce a region based system, where the immigrants will be able to work only in a certain region of the country. The idea, although looks great on paper will be more cumbersome to implement and would end up in bureaucratic chaos. Although he said that other countries like Canada and Australia has successfully implemented similar policies, he was making an undue comparison.

From there on, for every issue both of them were repeating what was there in their respective party’s manifesto. Cameron used every opportunity to attack Brown on the proposed NI increase and made sure that the viewers didn’t forget about it by repeating it very often. Clegg kept driving home the point that Lib Dems were the real alternative. At one point where Brown and Cameron were going for each other’s jugular, I had a feeling that they were pointedly ignoring Nick Clegg, making the third party seem more irrelevant. But Clegg was smart enough to say ‘The more they attack each other, they are very much the same and we are very different’. The body language of Clegg deserves a mention here. He was totally at ease, glad to watch the ‘other two’ fight, looked straight into the camera, choosing to address the millions of viewers in the TV rather than the 200+ at the studios and at the same time came to the debate having done his homework well.

From the way Brown was wooing Clegg by saying ‘I agree with you Nick’ (I lost count of the number of times he said that), it was clear that the Prime Minister was wooing Lib Dems, but it was funny to see Clegg showing disinterest in being seen along with Brown. When Cameron reeled out promise after promise stopping only short of a free trip to moon (A futute Tory government will cut deficit, stop NI increase that will save NHS £200m, get adequate cancer drugs, order new helicopters for the forces and what not), Brown was clearly sleeping. It was Clegg who caught Cameron and stopped him on his tracks: ‘David, Lets be honest. You can do one of them, but not all of what you are saying’. I am very surprised that Cameron allowed himself to be caught off guard like this. A man who is at the striking distance of making it big squandered the opportunity. If at all Clegg wanted to make Liberal Democrat more relevant, he has to convert the erstwhile Labour voters to Lib Dems. The best way to do that is to attack Conservatives more and that is precisely what he did.

All the three men in question had a story to tell based on their experience – like Cameron met a Black man in Plymouth who was worried with mass immigration, Clegg had his shock at a hospital ward finding them empty due to lack of doctors and Brown had something similar to say. Midway through the debate, it looked a little boring if not much. The debate went over by few minutes beyond the scheduled 90 minutes and all three were allowed to make a closing statement. Clegg scored here by spelling out at least half a dozen names of those who asked the questions, thanked them and ended the debate by saying: ‘There is an alternative to the two old parties. I know many of you think that all politicians are just the same, I hope I’ve tried to show you that that just isn’t true.’

In a nut shell, Brown tries to instill the fear factor in the public about the Tories wrecking the fragile recovery. Cameron on the other hand, tried to cash in on the failure of Labour for the last thirteen years and instead of being realistic tried to promise the moon. Clegg, who was clearly an underdog, came out on top having set no expectations at the beginning and cashing on ‘we are different from the other two’ theme.

Listening to Clegg for the first time, he does appear to make sense on lot of things. The man with the golden tie far exceeded my expectations, basically because I didn’t have any on him. Now that he has raised the bar for himself, it would be interesting to see how he performs next Thursday. If Cameron is serious about moving into No. 10 Downing Street, he has to seal the deal with the electorate at the earliest. After what was seen yesterday, that is by no means an easy task.

Facebook Politics

Look at the following tweet from the Conservative Party.

“Our Facebook page has more people than Labour and the Lib Dems combined. Join and show your support at http://www.facebook.com/conservatives”

I am tempted to ask ‘idhula enna perumai‘ (Whats there to feel proud about?) like Thengai Srinivasan did during the interview scene in the movie ‘Thillumullu’, but those that matter do not know Tamil.

If Tories think that their Facebook page is an indicator of their popularity, they are grossly wrong. I, follow the pages of all the parties but will be voting only for one. There are millions like me – neutral voters, who weigh in all the options before choosing the right evil. Orkut / Facebook profiles, Tweets won’t turn into votes. Only real substance will. In some places, real substance means good policies. In some others, it is Colour TV.

UK General Elections

UK General Elections

With UK general elections less than 100 days ago, let me dabble a bit into politics.

Few months ago, it was very apparent that people were more than fed up with New Labour and are ready to dump them. David Cameron appeared all set to occupy 10 Downing Street with ease. It could still be the end result, but there are questions about how easy the ride will be for Cameron and his mates? Apart from having technically come out of recession, nothing has changed much in the recent times. But, whoever I talk to ask the question – how are Tories any different?

In my opinion, Tories seem to be concentrating a lot on attacking Labour without explaining what they would do when they are voted to power. Unless, they address this question convincingly, there is every danger of the verdict returning a hung parliament which is worser than either of these two parties. I see that Tories are encouraging people to ask questions through their website and it looks like someone would be answering them. I have submitted quite a few to know if these guys are worthy of my vote.

Padma Bhushan Controversy

Right from the morning twit world was abuzz with the controversy over awarding the prestigious (ahem… I was kidding!) Padmabhushan award to one Sant Singh Chatwal. The issue was that this gentleman was recently involved in a massive fraud involving Indian and US banks and was briefly arrested as well. So, the question of ‘Why him?’. Familiar big names like Vir Sanghvi, Pritish Nandy etc were very vocal with their opinions and some were even contemplating on finding out ‘how and why he was nominated for the award’ using Right to Information act. As I type this, Vir Sanghvi tweets that he is overwhelmed by the support for RTI on Padma Bhushans. Rajdeep Sardesai (of IBN-CNN Live fame) couldn’t digest the fact that Indian state placed people like Chatwal and A R Rahman in the same pedestal (by awarding them the same honour).

For some reason, I feel it all funny. Why do people over react for this? This Chatwal guy might be a person who maintains a good distance between himself and honesty (I do not know the real details behind the scam he was allegedly involved with), but haven’t we seen this before? Don’t we know that in our good, old India all that matters is the right connections with the right people? When a terribly tainted person like Pratibha Patil could be installed as the President and the country could march on as if nothing happened, what is wrong in Chatwal getting an award or two – incidentally from the hands of the same scam tainted President. After all, we are not hitting a new low here. I reminded Rajdeep over Twitter that this same Indian state placed people like Pratibha Patil and APJ Abdul Kalam in the same pedestal. What did we do about it?

Chill out guys. Enjoy your holiday.
Oh yeah… Happy Republic Day!

Manmohan’s Speech

Despite all my interests in Indian politics, I have never heard Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speak. Yesterday was the first time I hear him speak at the White House, standing aside President Barack Obama. He was reading out from a paper and his voice was very weak and hollow. Well, I meant the physical voice – not the other one. Moreover, the way he was pronouncing every word was like he spoke with a chewing gum in his mouth. If someone got an impression that Manmohan Singh doesn’t have a grip on the english language, he could be forgiven for that thought – for his speech did seem that way.

County Council Elections

Couple of months ago, when I was checking out the websites of the three major political parties in UK, I thought of downloading Labour Party‘s policy brochure. Like many marketing sites, they sought my contact details and promised to send it by post. Few days later, I got a letter from the party that went on like ‘Dear Chakra, Welcome to the Labour Party. We are proud to welcome our newest member.. yada yada yada…’. I promptly sent that letter to the bin and forgot about it.

Last night, I had a knock at my door and it was a Labour Party person from our neighbourhood. He is running for the County Council election and wanted my support. Apparently, he was thinking that I am one of the party members as he showed the list of Labour Party members in our area and my name was there in it. After explaining him that I am not one, I started discussing about an issue that I want to take up with the local authorities. He explained about the process and mentioned that if he gets elected, he will be the person expected to sort that out. When I enquired with him about his chances of winning the election he was contesting, as a matter of fact he said that he will not be winning this election, as Labour had very few supporters in the area. Moreover, Labour has been in power for more than 12 years now and things are not really looking in good shape. Asked why he was contesting then, he mentioned that there are people who will vote only for Labour, no matter what and we don’t want to disappoint them.

While talking about campaigning styles, he mentioned that Liberal Democrats (nationally, they are the third front of UK, but locally, they are the runners up here behind Conservatives) will be dropping pamphlets saying not to waste your vote by supporting Labour, as the real contest is between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. I was baffled when he said – ‘perhaps, they are right coz we are not going to win’. 🙂 What do you call this? Is this pessimism or being brutally honest?

After meeting this guy, I am keen on getting into a party and see the way it works, their campaign style etc and compare it what we see back home. At the moment, I don’t have time and energy, but this one has got into my wish list.