Archive for February, 2013

2013-14 Budget in black and white

Thursday, February 7th, 2013 February 7th, 2013 Santosh Tiwari

Any government presenting last budget before going into elections is expected to make it a populist one. The current UPA government at the centre, however, is indicating that it will not do so.

The next Lok Sabha polls are due in 2014 but signals emanating from the finance ministry hints at a tight and pragmatic budget to kill the threats of a rating downgrade by the international rating agencies to junk from the investment grade.

This is difficult to digest. Experience suggests that the savings made on the plank of fiscal prudence will be utilized to fund some scheme which will be the real ‘game changer’ in 2014 elections as farmer debt waiver scheme proved to be in the previous one for the Congress party.

The government is currently projecting the direct cash transfer as a game changer. Budget for 2013-14 is set to introduce the actual game changer and food security appears to fit the bill. The cost becomes immaterial if the politics is solidly behind a scheme.

Here lies the catch. Will the government be able to bring in a big money spending scheme only with the help of savings or it needs additional revenue generation for the same keeping in mind the sword hanging on the country’s head of rating downgrade?

The current state of government finances suggest that deft balancing would be required between revenue and expenditure if the real game changer scheme has to be introduced in the budget for 2013-14.

Ruling out the chances of extension of tax ambit to those who are out of the tax net at present would be a folly in this kind of a scenario.

Some method to augment tax collection from largely untapped unorganized sector and also the charitable institutions could be in the offing.

Raising indirect tax rates – excise, customs and service tax — is also an option which finance ministry must be looking at and a final call apparently in this case would be taken at the highest level.

On February 28, the analysts would look at the upcoming general budget through the lenses of meeting 5.3 per cent fiscal deficit for 2012-13 and sticking to the 4.8 per cent target for 2013-14.

The political class would focus on the game changer scheme. The ‘aam aadmi’ (tax payers) will count the tax savings, or hit, which the government in all probability would avoid this year.

On balance, additional revenue generation to fund the game changer scheme would be the key and budget team led by finance minister P Chidambaram must have given a shape to it by now.

Those avoiding taxes or not paying taxes at all are likely to be brought on the centre stage, when the finance minister presents UPA-II government’s last budget before Lok Sabha elections.

The Mourinho-Madrid story

Monday, February 4th, 2013 February 4th, 2013 Aabhas Sharma

Sometime last week when Real Madrid announced that their president Fiorentino Perez will hold a press conference – football fans on Twitter, message boards and forums were abuzz that Jose Mourinho was going to get the sack. The lead up to the press conference was dramatic as well. Spain’s leading newspaper and Real Madrid’s mouthpiece, Marca had carried a story that top Real players like Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas had given an ultimatum that it will be either them or Mourinho at the club. Perez took the microphone and to the disappointment of many said that all these reports are false and there’s no mutiny in Madrid. In six months, what was termed as a match made in heaven has turned into a match made in hell.

Hindsight is wonderful but it was clear from the very beginning that it was going to be an uphill task for Mourinho at Madrid. He got rid of club legend and crowd favourite Raul in his first season as manager. He rubbed the Santiago Bernabeu faithful the wrong way and it wasn’t an auspicious start for him. Jorge Valdano, director of football, Real Madrid was shown the door in the second season as he and Mourinho didn’t see eye to eye with each other.

Real Madrid are one of the biggest – if not the biggest – club in the world. And it’s a club which functions unlike any other club. While all clubs want to be liked, Real Madrid want to be revered by one and all – apart from Barcelona fans obviously. They not only want to win, they want to win it by playing beautiful football. In the eyes of their management, Real Madrid should be the darlings of world football, they want a good image, a club where everything works perfectly.

Jose Mourinho is the antithesis of Real Madrid. He has a devil may care attitude and knows just one thing – winning. And he is pretty damn good at it. He loves to build a siege mentality within the club – either you’re with us or you’re against us. Real Madrid wants everyone to be with them. The other thing with Mourinho is that at every club he has been with, players have been in love with him. They can’t hear a word against him and speak fondly of him even when he has left their club. Marco Materazzi famously sobbed in front of cameras and gave Mourinho a hug when his manager left Inter Milan for Madrid. John Terry tried to speak to the club officials at Chelsea to prevent Mourinho from leaving, Didier Drogba admitted he shed more than a few tears when Mourinho left.

At Madrid, he has been at war with Ramos and Casillas. He even committed a “sin” by dropping the club captain Casillas to the bench. He has been confrontational with players, officials and the media. He has been booed relentlessly by the Madrid fans at the Bernabeu. In fact, before one match, Mourinho came and sat in the dugout 40 minutes before kick-off so that the fans could have their fill of booing and concentrated on supporting the team during a match.

Mourinho’s philosophy is simple: as long as he is winning you football matches – shut up and put up with him. But the 2013 season so far has been anything but rosy for him and Madrid. More than halfway in the season, Real Madrid lie 15 points adrift of league leaders Barcelona. If that wasn’t enough, to rub salt in their wounds, local rivals and Real’s not-so-famous city cousins, Atletico Madrid are second and seven points ahead of them. It’s clear that Real Madrid won’t win the league this season, unless there is a collapse of epic proportions by Barcelona.

When I said that Real Madrid are a club which are different from others, there was another reason. At any other club, winning the league would amount to a successful season. But at Real Madrid, it’s never enough, they want the biggest prize in Europe: the Champions League (CL). As nine-time record winners, Madrid see it as their stomping ground. It has been nine years since they last won the CL and Perez when he got Mourinho on board in 2010-11 that he wanted the CL above anything else. Mourinho too made it clear that one of his ambitions was to become the first manager to win the CL with three different clubs. He already has two – one with Porto in 2004 and the other with Inter in 2010.

Mourinho is a modern-day great, a football manager who collects trophies for fun. He knows that even if he wins the CL with Madrid, he will leave at the end of the season. He would love to show the middle finger in form of the CL trophy to the Madrid fans, media and the management. Will the Madrid-Mourinho story provide one more episode of drama? We will see in two weeks time when Madrid take on Manchester United. I won’t be surprised if Jose Mourinho isn’t the manager of Real Madrid on March 6, if Real Madrid lose to United. Win or lose, Mourinho will always be seen as a villain by a majority of Real Madrid fans.It always was a match made in hell.

Why I don’t care about Rushdie not going to Calcutta

Friday, February 1st, 2013 February 1st, 2013 Devjyot Ghoshal

Unlike Ruchir Joshi, who wrote a fascinating open letter in The Telegraph, I really don’t care that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee didn’t let author Salman Rushdie into Kolkata — or Calcutta, as l still prefer.

I really don’t care either, though I agree, that it’s pointless to debate whether Calcutta is still India’s cultural capital, as Firstpost’s Sandip Roy lucidly explains.

The city isn’t today, and it hasn’t been anywhere close to during my brief existence of 26 years, the cultural epicenter of the country.

We might still love to constantly — irritatingly — mention Tagore, Satyajit Ray and others from that revered clutch of Bengali cultural giants, but let’s accept it: they’re dead and gone, and few like them are likely to arrive anytime soon. (Although Mamata painting Duronto coaches was a first)

I don’t care for Suhel Seth’s terrible joke about Mamata thinking Midnight’s Children meant Communists. Or how Sagarika Ghose finds it “wonderful to be in Mumbai, sip coconut water and watch the sea” while feeling “so so sad that Salman Rushdie not allowed in Kolkata lit fest.”

Instead, I am massively amused by this wave of outrage — because you should feel “so so sad” about what is happening in that city, and the entire state, in its entirety. Not because a Muslim cleric purportedly made a phone call to the chief minister asking her to stop Rushdie from landing in the city.

(Rushdie probably did a good thing by skipping the city altogether. For more on that, read postscript.)

Because the same anger about Mamata’s call must also be there for what is happening in Tamil Nadu with Kamal Hassan. But Mamata, and rightfully so, is infinitely easier to criticise — and so, as the weekend arrives, get ready to be told that the ‘nation wants to know’ how it came to this.

Yet, that is unfortunate — and more evidence that, after all, we, the middle-class holders of morality, are blind or elitist or hypocrites, or all three.

Because what I do care about is how the chief minister has quietly hiked the electricity tariff in the state for the fifth time since coming to power. About how the state’s economic growth is at a standstill; about how the finance minister, once feted for his connections in New Delhi, has delivered next to nothing; about how ‘Bengal Leads’ turned out to be a stage musical with industrialists belting out tunes, not investments and about why the state’s single largest industrial investment is still stuck.

I do care about how Pariborton has changed a city, once thought safe for women, so dramatically in the last few years that I worry about my women friends being out late; about why the police chief who cracked the Park Street rape case was shunted (never mind Trinamool’s Dinesh Trivedi); and about why the politicians of the ruling party continue to slander the victim without provocation.

I do care about how advertising whiz Bodhisatwa Dasgupta can’t raise his daughter in the city that he grew up in; about why, as Dasgupta writes, “Calcutta may have its love; But Delhi has the money”, and about why it is unlikely to change anytime soon. About why despite loving much about this flawed metropolis, for most young people there aren’t enough jobs to go around, no careers to be made. About why college students are called Maoists on national television, and about why their professors are jailed.

I do care about Bengal’s hinterland, which has seen among the slowest growth in infrastructure and consumption nationwide in the last 10 years. About why the growth in penetration of automobiles per household in West Bengal has been the one of the lowest in India, below that Odisha, Bihar and Communist-ruled Tripura in the past decade. About why only about half the state’s households use electricity has the main source of lighting; and about why less than half of West Bengal’s families access banking services.

And that is why I don’t care much about Rushdie not coming to Calcutta.

True, curtailing culture and restraining its exponents must be unacceptable.  But as with everything else, this, too, must be put in context. West Bengal’s problems are much, much bigger — definitely more important than the cancelled itinerary of one of the world’s most controversial and gifted writers.

If only some of the outrage about the Rushdie episode has elicited could be on display for all the other failings of West Bengal’s rulers, then maybe — just maybe — a semblance of actual Pariborton could arrive on the muddy banks of the Hooghly.

That, however, will probably never really happen. Just like how Calcutta never really became London.

PS: Rushdie probably did a good thing by skipping the city altogether: The airport is like the biggest air-conditioned wholesale market in the country; Calcutta’s roads aren’t much better; and the literary fest, as they mostly are, would probably be a mediocre talking shop, with some booze thrown in for free. At best, what he missed is Calcutta’s food. But that’s unlikely to change his life or mine — and that isn’t the point anyway.