Tuesday, June 29, 2010

UPA bites the price hike bullet and the Indian Taxpayer/Voter

On June 25, the UPA government increased the unit price of petrol (Rs.3.50+), diesel (Rs.2+), kerosene (Rs.3+) and cooking gas (Rs.35+ per cylinder).

The unit price of CNG and PNG have also been increased by up to 30%.

The food inflation rate is already above 16%.

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee was conspicuous by her absence from the meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, which decided on raising the fuel prices.

Mamata Banerjee claims that she and her party - the Trinamool Congress, are against the fuel price hike as it would hurt the already wounded 'Common Man'. On being asked why she did not attend the EGoM meeting, she replied that her party has a minority stake in the government, so her presence would not have made 'any difference' to the outcome.

One would assume that meetings are the forums where you voice your grievances and concerns. Her disassociation with the fuel price hike decision is seen as tokenism aimed at upcoming elections in West Bengal. It appears that when Mamata Benerjee claims that she is with the 'Common Man', she apparently means the Congress.

India's very own Marie Antoinette - Sharad Pawar, was however present at the meeting, and is believed to have given his blessings to the hike. Not much expected from a politician who said something to the effect - "If the price of sugar is rising, don't eat sugar. It's bad for your health anyway."

I think the UPA wants to drive home the point that it's not just sugar that's bad for our health, but a host of other things too - milk, rice, flour, vegetables, fruits etc etc.

Already suffering under the weight of high prices of everyday commodities, which has upset the budgets of many a middle/lower income households, the UPA feels that our misery hasn't reached nadir. Next in line is the deregulation of diesel!

Now everyone in the UPA government - from Pranab Mukherjee to Manmohan Singh, is talking about biting the bullet. However, when it comes to the salaries, benefits and perks of the politicians, it seems no one wants to come forward and take the bullet. The bullet it seems is only meant for you and me.

It is learnt that the government will pass a bill in the monsoon session to raise five-folds the salaries, benefits and perks of MPs. For the dereliction of their duties, the MPs' salaries will be increased to the tune of Rs 80,000+. In addition to other benefits (monetary, cash, kind, !!!FREE FUEL!!!), MPs will now get 35+ free flights to ensure that they remain in touch with their 'electorate' (Anyone hear the sound of Air India's back breaking - again!).

Electorate here seems to be a euphemism for the MPs loved ones, family and friends, as we all know Politicians never see our faces again, till the next election.

These are luxuries which the common man can only dream of... or maybe hope to enjoy after long years of hard and back breaking work. Our politicians can get these with a simple voice vote, come monsoon session of parliament. These are of course paid for by you and me - the Indian Taxpayer and Voter.

Conclusion: Whenever an A.Raja will make the government lose thousands of crores of rupees, the government will recover the money from the Taxpayers and Voters in the form of higher taxes and price hikes. Politicians will effectively shield themselves from the ill effects of inflation and higher prices by increasing their salaries and benefits manifolds.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hope floats for Palestine

On 30th May 2010, Israeli forces attacked a flotilla of small boats that was carrying basic supplies of humanitarian aid to the choked Palestinian territory of Gaza Strip. When the Israeli forces attacked the Freedom Flotilla, the boats were still in international waters. 19 persons were reportedly killed in the attack and 60+ injured, though the exact figure is still not clear.

700+ activists were believed to be on board those ships, who were eventually arrested and detained by the Israeli government. The boats and the aid supply were compounded by the Israelis. An Israeli government spokesperson said 'the activists brought this upon themselves'.

The activists came from all walks of life - including journalists, politicians, a Nobel laureate, a Holocaust survivor and even a baby (?); and many nationalities - including Turkish, Greek, German, Irish, Swedish, Lebanese, Palestinian and more... representing 15 different countries.

Why does Israel behave the way it does, almost like a rogue state (e.g. North Korea)?

The answer lies in the moral and logistic support provided by the US to this key ally in West Asia (akin to China's support to North Korea) and the lukewarm actions/reactions of the UN and world community to Israel's excesses.

Fact of the matter is that the US will not scale down its strategic partnership with Israel, unless Israel becomes a liability and the relationship starts jeopardizing US interests in West Asia.

Fat chance of that happening as the rest of the Arab World (barring a few countries) only pays lip service to the Palestinians' cause while actively engaging with both the US and Israel in commerce and/or defence. If the Arab League had imposed some kind of sanctions against the US and Israel, far fetched as this thought maybe, Israel might have by now accepted a just Two State Solution.

What has been encouraging is the World Community's simultaneous condemnation of Israel's violent actions and the emotional outpouring of support for the Palestinian people's cause. The World Community should not let this opportunity go by and raise their concerted voices against the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and the inhuman subjugation of the Palestinian people.

Due to its recent actions the state of Israel has been called 'pirates' and 'gangsters' by world leaders. It is only fitting that South Africa, which has compared the Israeli occupation to apartheid, has recalled its ambassador to Israel.

While the BBC and the CNN have started reporting 'responsibly' about the Palestinian cause and the violent excesses of the Israeli state, they still have a long way to go before they can claim to call a spade a spade. Just because these propaganda machines seem to be receptive to the plight of the Palestinians, doesn't mean that UK/US position on the issue have shifted significantly. The US continues to point fingers at the Palestinians while advocating the right of Israel to defend itself against aggression. Mr.Obama who was the aggressor here!? This is sickening!

Last I heard Rachel Corrie had been detained. No, not the American activist who while protesting demolition of Palestinian homes was brutally crushed under the wheels of an Israeli tractor, but her namesake boat carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Since then, four Palestinians have been gunned down by Israeli gunboats, just off the Gaza coast, as they were found wearing diving suits.

Israel continues to subject the native Palestinian population to ghettoized living conditions. For a community that has experienced persecution firsthand, they are expected to be more sensitive.

I am not anti-Semitic/anti-Jew. But these days anyone speaking up for the cause of the Palestinian people is branded one. This absurdity has reached its limits - even Israelites and Jews speaking up for the Palestinians are labelled 'self-haters' or 'Jew-haters'.

As far as geopolitics goes, Israel has good relations with India (esp. in defense), and is a natural ally. But I am wary that Israel's actions will continue to alienate it from the rest of the world.

The human rights of the Palestinians will continue to be trampled upon till then. If the UN wants to stay relevant in this day and age, it has to act! Act it must.