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Friday 6 January 2012

11/12 20 Questions For 2012

20 Questions For 2012
Outlook asks experts for their take on India’s niggling doubts

Will a discredited Dr Manmohan Singh outlast 2012?
T.S.R. SUBRAMANIAN, Former cabinet secretary
Perhaps it will be more appropriate to talk of ineffectiveness; he may himself want to go, given his helpless plight. Apart from referring to his personal honesty and purity, one will find it difficult to refer to any achievement of the government initiated by him. With all the serious problems of India, Manmohan found it necessary to focus on the nuclear deal, staking his all on it. Curiously, the only other policy issue where he showed interest was FDI in retail. Not for nothing have some wags described him as a ‘Political economist’, with a huge ‘P’ and a tiny ‘e’. In political circles though, he is a technocrat—which calls into question the wisdom of allowing a person without political acumen to lead a complex country. His successor will find it hard to restore the prestige of the office.

Photograph by Narendra Bisht
Will Rahul Gandhi finally be in charge of his destiny in 2012?
SWAPAN DASGUPTAPolitical commentator
Well, Rahul Gandhi might certainly be in charge of his party, the INC, but whether he will be in charge of his destiny or not is too philosophical a point for me to ponder. Politics is not that profound. If Rahul Gandhi’s past is any criterion, then his thoughts are a bit basic and he will need more than just that to galvanise the country. But at the same time, dynasty still has some appeal in this country and he will milk that. His approach to issues, frankly, is anodyne. I am not entirely convinced about his application. Rahul Gandhi still doesn't have any clue except the fact that he is the son of Rajiv Gandhi and that he wants more youth to join politics and more good people to join politics. We have to wait to find out more about him in 2012. We’ll find out, if we are lucky.

Will the BJP choose Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate?
AAKAR PATELDirector, Hill Road Media
It won't. This is because Modi will not offer himself as candidate in an election he has little control over. Unlike in Gujarat, he cannot influence the voters in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra (except for the megapolis of Mumbai) and Madhya Pradesh. These voters have no experience of his governance and are not polarised against Muslims as Gujaratis are. The national issues of the 2014 general election—corruption for the opposition parties, and its social legislation record for the Indian National Congress—are not those of his liking. Modi will only enter the election after the election. Should the BJP win 175 seats, he will lead India, brushing aside Advani and Sushma. The old men of the RSS distrust him because he does not submit to them but they fear his popularity with the middle class. They will not stand in his way. For now, Modi will work on winning the Gujarat assembly in 2012 to become the most successful chief minister since Jyoti Basu. After that, he will wait.

Post the FDI in multi-retail fiasco, is it safe to say there’ll be no big reforms?
JOHN ELLIOTFormer FT correspondent in India
It doesn’t look hopeful but it’s too soon to say firmly that nothing can be done in 2012—things could change. This is a fluid coalition government that needs leadership. FDI in retail was worked out and timed very unwisely, and Anand Sharma and others overblew its economic importance. It is a long-term reform requiring massive investment and development, and there would be few immediate benefits. Let’s see what happens once the UP elections are out of the way, especially now that Rahul Gandhi is arguing for it.

Will the UPA's flagship Right to Food scheme take off?
NITIN PAIEditor, Pragati
While it is an excellent policy goal to ensure that no one goes hungry, the manner in which the UPA government is going about it is dangerous; it will worsen corruption and is quite likely to be counterproductive. The price of overloading the bill of rights will be paid in terms of the state's inability to enforce any of them. The PDS is independent India's biggest and longest-running scam. If implemented, the FSB will worsen the widespread corruption that is involved in the government buying, storing, distributing and retailing foodgrains. The UPA government's ideological blinkers do not allow it to see that there are far simpler methods to ensure food security. Conditional cash transfers are a far more efficient and liberal way of addressing the challenge.

Will justice be truly delivered in the 2G scam case?
In the eyes of many, justice has already been delivered to an extent in the 2G scam case. The fact that A. Raja has been in jail since February 2, together with former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, is significant. K. Kanimozhi spent over six months behind bars, while the time spent in Tihar jail by various corporate honchos has varied between seven and 10 months. Yes, none of the accused has been formally found guilty by a court of law. Neither have tycoons like Anil Ambani and Ratan Tata or political leaders like Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram been implicated so far in the scam.

Will Nandan Nilekani’s troubled Aadhar project exist at all in 2012?
The UID project, as Nandan Nilekani has himself frequently observed, was an experiment. The standing committee examined the project in detail over the past year and found it be deeply flawed in conception and execution. It has no clarity of purpose and is directionless. It ignores concerns about privacy, personal safety and national security. Ergo, the cabinet will have to send it back to the drawing board. There is also the matter of the demographic and biometric information that has been gathered so far. The UK experience shows that dismantling a structure wrongly set up is an important, even if difficult, process. Are we now going to need an agency to undertake this exercise?

Photograph by Quickpix
Will the Koodankulam nuclear plant see the light of day?
The central government is unlikely to walk away from the multi-billion dollar investment already in the nuclear plant. But much will depend on how its officials handle the situation in the villages and districts around Koodankulam. For a variety of reasons, the local residents have misgivings and these cannot be brushed aside as inauthentic or "foreign-inspired". There is a hard core of activists who have a theological position against nuclear power and who will perhaps never be convinced; but the rest will see the merit of a good argument provided the nuclear establishment argues its case well. What happens at Koodankulam is a test case for the rest of the country.

Despite Lokpal, will Team Anna remain a thorn in the UPA’s side?
They will continue to be a thorn whether the Lokpal bill is passed or not. If passed, it is likely that it will not be to the complete satisfaction of Team Anna. In all likelihood, the demand for changes will increase—they are looking for a larger role in public space, and why not? In fact, it would not be wrong to start looking into the past to see whether the movement resembles 1973-74, whether it is the beginning of a larger anti-Congress conglomeration. What form this will take, we don't know. I don’t see the tacit support for the movement dwindling. All I am concerned with right now is that the agitation could take a non-democratic turn.

Can Congress’s three allies (TMC, DMK, NCP) bring down the UPA?
I doubt if either the DMK or the NCP will push their differences with the government to breaking point because both of them critically depend on the Congress to prop themselves up in their respective states and even at the Centre. Therefore, of the three, the party that could bring down the government can only be the Trinamool. It can survive the loss of Congress support in Bengal, has enough MPs in Delhi and enjoys the prospect of many more in 2014. It need not worry about the alliance with the Congress. However, this does not necessarily mean that the TMC will snap the relationship.

Will Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari survive through 2012?
HAMID MIRExecutive editor, Geo TV Pakistan
Despite all his weaknesses, Zardari’s enemies cannot remove him through any constitutional means. His party is standing behind him like a rock. Enemies want him to resign on medical grounds. He says that ‘If I resign, democracy will go away forever. Yes, democracy is sick like me but this sick democracy will fight.’ He is living in President House, Islamabad, with his two camels, eight cows, 20 goats and one cat. A few days back, I was astonished to see a lot of weapons in his bedroom. Despite it being a chilly evening in December, he showed me his shooting range. Zardari told me, “Escape is not an option, I will fight politically. If they attack me physically, I will fight with my weapons. I will go out from President House only in an ambulance.”

What else will Markandey Katju ask the media not to do?
B.G. VERGHESEJournalist
I think he is going to ask the media not to be too critical of his somewhat wayward ways which, he says, is his way of engaging various arms of the media in a lively discussion. Katju will ask the media not to take things to heart. He is a bit of a gadfly, brusque and exceeding his brief. I don't think it is proper for the chairman of the Press Council to say some of the things he said when he should ideally be trying to find ways of getting along with the press.

Photograph by AFP, From Outlook, January 09, 2012
Will Sachin score his 100th 100 before Sehwag scores a triple hundred in ODIs?
JAYADITYA GUPTA, Executive editor, ESPNcricinfo
Conventional wisdom suggests Sachin will, but these are not conventional times. If Tendulkar was a real romantic, he’d keep the figure at 99 but, realistically speaking, here’s what I think could happen before he gets to three figures again: Lalit Modi will return to the BCCI, which will discover its long-forgotten human face; Bangladesh will win a Test match (maybe on a tour of India); Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell will celebrate Christmas together; and M.S. Dhoni will actually say something when he answers a question (though that last one could be pushing it a bit). Of course, we all know what will happen: Tendulkar will stride out after tea on Boxing Day and, around three sessions later, he’d have reached the Promised Land. The wait will be over, the weight will be off.

Will the rupee plunge to Rs 60/ dollar in the next 12 months?
JAMAL MECKLAI, CEO, Mecklai Financial Services
It depends on what the dollar does overseas. If the dollar strengthens dramatically (it is fairly strong now, as on December 15), it is a fairly certain possibility. But 2012 is 12 months long, during which time the whole world can go upside down. Right now the whole world is generally convinced that the sky is falling. Europe is going to hell. America can’t get its act together. So everyone has pulled money out of any risky asset. But sometime over the next 12 months, the mood can suddenly change. When that will happen, who knows? But when it happens, you could see lot of money coming into the country….

Will (former) PR lady Niira Radia make a comeback?
MAHESH MURTHYFounder, PinStorm
I think she will. And that's because nobody’s taken her place yet. She'll come back with a bigger business, I suspect, or as a formal lobbyist again. She'll lay low and return when her reputation is ready to be salvaged. She has shown the moribund PR agency world what someone with drive can achieve, with a little vision. Somebody's got to do what she did, and I think it will be her again.

Would you like to feature in next year’s Bigg Boss?
If there is such an opportunity, I would like to participate. Though I was warned that the programme “would be as deadly as potassium cyanide”, I got persuaded by the idea of being in a show which is watched by audiences of all ages, including schoolchildren. If the programme format is changed, I would not mind participating in the next season.

Do you think India Inc will have cause to write more letters in 2012?
ASHOK S. GANGULYOne of the letter-writers in 2011
I think it's all coming together. I don't want to pre-judge anything we'll do or not do in the coming year, and I also don't want to comment prematurely on what the government will do because the Parliament session is on. A lot has already happened which is cause enough (for us) to be happy—the Lokpal Bill is on the cards, the Food Bill has been on the agenda and it's all coming together.

Just how are Indo-US relations, always watched with interest, poised today?
Washington is preoccupied with its domestic travails and more urgent foreign demands (so is Delhi), but "ignoring" India it isn't. The recent US-India higher education summit is a case in point. So too are high-level visits, including in January by the co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, Mark Warner, and the likely next secretary of state (if President Obama wins a second term), John Kerry. On the other hand, on FDI in retail, the celebrations were premature, unfortunately. But arguments about protecting “mom and pop” stores from giants like Walmart have also been fought out in the US—and are being resolved. They will be in India too. The full story of the US-India relationship today is that it is not stalled. It is not adrift. It is moving forward, albeit slowly, but surely. And it could use an occasional lightning bolt from the leaders of both capitals to quicken the pace!

What will the government do to control our lives online in 2012?
AVNISH BAJAJ, MD, Matrix Partners
I hope the government does nothing. My view is that as new mediums takes shape, especially in a society that is undergoing change, these type of issues will arise and there will be tensions on account of content and online activity. But this is not an abnormal tension. I saw a similar situation in the US 15 years ago when the internet was taking shape there. We are at that point now when all kinds of statements will be made, but in the end good sense will prevail. The Indian government will realise that the backlash will be huge. I am pretty clear that you cannot control the internet and the government will not do anything in this direction.

The nation wants to know, who will Arnab Goswami declare war on next?
RAHUL ROUSHANEditor at satirical website Faking News
Who will Arnab (or Ornab, as Vinod Mehta correctly pronounces it, lest he is asked direct questions for mispronouncing) declare a war on next year is akin to asking which political coalition Ajit Singh will join next or which bowler will get thrashed by Virender Sehwag next. I think the person under attack could be anyone, even God, I mean Sachin Tendulkar. So, he’d better make his 100th century pretty soon next year or his (prospective) Bharat Ratna could be taken away by Arnab. And for lesser mortals like politicians, there will be no respite even in 2012. Our leaders might be able to wish away Anna in 2012, but Arnab will always be there.

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