Monday, December 22, 2014

J&K is voting for peace

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

By the time you have come as far as this page of your newspaper this morning, the assembly election results of Jammu & Kashmir should have begun trickling onto your television screen. Therefore I shall not speculate on results, and move to its significance. J&K is India's lone Muslim-majority state, and, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi generally being regarded abroad as poster boy of the "Hindu right", if there is a single state assembly election that the West is closely watching, it is in this contentious state. If its pines, lakes and snow-capped mountains are bewildering, horrific indeed is its record of violence, with over 50,000 people including civilians killed since the onset of insurgency in 1987.

No question of Modi quitting, say PMO

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Dec. 21
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has neither threatened to quit or has any intention to put in his papers in protest against the statements made by the RSS functionaries and its affiliate organisations on religious conversions.

Highly placed sources considered close to the Prime Minister told Lokmat that some of the media reports (not Lokmat) were without any basis and figment of imagination.

"Why shall Prime Minister quit ? "These sources wondered and said, " Modi knows how to handle these elements." After all Modi as chief minister of Gujarat had taught a lesson to Praveen Togadia and other functionaries who owed their allegiance to saffron ideology. 

Modi is certainly extremely upset with the statements made by some of the leaders of the BJP including MPs and even ministers. While he has reined in the ministers and BJP president Amit Shah has also cracked the whip on party leaders. So much so that even ministers have been directed not to speak on controversial issues without the permission of the PM and MPs directed to concentrate on development agenda of their constituencies and task assigned. 

However, Modi and Amit Shah have no control over the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and other such bodies who have their own agenda. Modi has been sending signal to the RSS leadership that these wings should be restrained and allow him to implement his agenda of development. But if these organisations did not desist, Modi had no reason to quit. 

Some of the hard line Hindutva organisations like the Hindu Maha Sabha who are bent upon stalling the statue of Mahatma Gandhi's killer Nathuram Godse, has been a serious worry as Maha Sabha Bhavan is in the heart of Delhi and can cause problems. Therefore, Delhi Police will be directed to crack the whip the moment these leaders do anything "sinister". 
Modi, on his part, doesn't want confrontation with these frontal organisations and messages have been sent to them through intermediaries to refrain from indulging in such activities at least for the next two years. If they continue with their agenda, Modi is tough enough to rein them irrespective of political consequences. He had sought votes during the Lok Sabha campaign in the name of development and growth and he won't tolerate any deviation. 

The Modi supporters do not see any problem in the statement of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat who has only advocated that a law be brought to ban conversions. Neither the Muslims and nor the Christians are willing for such a law. 

No doubt, the Bhagwat statement will certainly lead to ruckus in Parliament on Monday and it may not function properly. 

But there is no reason for Modi to even think of quitting.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Insurance Bill in limbo

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Govt gets tough, Oppn unrelenting
Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Dec. 16
The fate of the much-touted Insurance Bill waiting for passage in the Rajya Sabha has become uncertain during the Winter Session as the Opposition and the treasury benches have failed to find a compromise formula.

The government seems to have realised that the Opposition parties are wanting to delay the passage of the Insurance Bill and using the religious conversion issue as a stick to get the RS stalled. 

The government is aware that it doesn't have a majority in the Rajya Sabha and even the presiding officer belongs to the Congress party. Therefore, there is a no way that it will be able to get the insurance Bill passed or even rejected. Therefore, it is gearing up to make a last ditch effort but without accepting Opposition's demand for the presence of the PM on the issue.

The insurance Bill, which is considered a big ticket reform agenda of the government, awaiting passage before the visit of the US President Barack Obama in January. The Opposition parties are insisting that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi would accept its demand of coming to the Rajya Sabha and even make a statement on the conversions so that Bill is passed.

The government has rejected the proposal saying that the PM cannot be subjected to the "blackmail" of the Opposition which has a majority in the Rajya Sabha. It feels that this was a trap the Opposition is laying and embarrass it one pretext or the other. The government has said it has nothing to do with the statements of some of the MPs or party leaders and the PM had made a statement on the issue last week. Therefore, the Rajya Sabha is being bulldozed passed.

Union finance minister Arun Jaitley who also addressed the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting in the morning, gave a detailed account of the political situation prevailing in the Rajya Sabha. 

He said until the party gets a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition parties would continue to derails the agenda. However, he hoped that situation will take turn for the better. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oil slick ahead

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

There are many who believe that the falling oil price—it was $62.45 last week but around $105 six months ago—is a blip, and that there will soon be business as usual. As expected, conspiracy theories abound, some of which, though, may be true. It all originated, it is said, from two places in the US, Texas and North Dakota, where hydraulic fracturing of shale, known as 'fracking', was so successful that it is producing 7.4 million barrels a day.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sena wants two; BJP offers one

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Dec. 14

The BJP high command is understood to have signalled to Shiv Sena that its demand for an additional Cabinet post and a minister of state in the Modi government is too high and disproportionate to its strength in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP leadership has also conveyed that any tinkering or re-opening the issue of power-sharing formula evolved in May 2014 only for Shiv Sena will lead to distortions within the NDA. 
Additional cabinet
post in Modi Govt.
Though the BJP leadership has also made it clear that it was the prerogative of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi whom to induct into the government considering the necessities of the administration. But the Shiv Sena is entitled to one Cabinet and one minister of state post as per its strength of 18 Lok Sabha MPs. 

The formula envisaged one Cabinet post for every 10 Lok Sabha MPs. Anant Geete is already holding the Cabinet rank with heavy industries portfolio. Even the TDP of N Chandrababu Naidu has been given one Cabinet and one MoS post as per its strength of 16 MPs in Lok Sabha.

Earlier, Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray had asked the Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to ensure the induction of two more MPs in the NDA government. The meeting that took place between Uddhav and Fadnavis on December 8 in Mumbai where Fadnavis is reported to have assured Uddhav that he would certainly apprise the party leadership of his desire. 

However, Fadnavis also felt that Uddhav should raise the issue directly also either with the Prime Minister and the party president Amit Shah. He said he had worked very hard to bridge the growing gulf between the two partners. He would like the two partners to implement the agenda of the Modi government of good governance and take Maharashtra to new heights.
Fadnavis wants Uddav 
to talk to modi directly 
Though Prime Minister Modi was ready to induct Anil Desai of Shiv Sena into the government on November 9, but due to extreme tensions, Desai was summoned from the Delhi airport itself and he couldn't be sworn in. 

It was at that very moment that the angry BJP leadership decided to make Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu to quit the party, join BJP and rewarded him with the prized portfolio of railways. Later, Prabhu called on Uddhav to soothe hurt feelings. 

Uddhav wants Anandrao Adsul or Bhavna Gawli into the Modi government along with Anil Desai. While Anandrao retained his Amravati seat in Vidarbha by defeating his NCP rival Navneet Kaur Rana, Bhavna represents the Yavatmal-Washim constituency in Maharashtra. There is a possibility that Uddhav will call on the Prime Minister.

Modi's problem is that there are as many as eight Union Ministers in his government from Maharashtra though some of them may be in the Rajya Sabha from other states – be it Suresh Prabhu (Haryana), Najma Heptulla (Madhya Pradesh) Smriti Irani (Gujarat) or Prakash Javadekar (Madhya Pradesh). Nitin Gadkari, Anant Geete, Piyush Goyal and R D Danve also represent Maharashtra.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

BJP gets boost as Cong supports Bill

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Four parties oppose
Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Dec. 10
Decks seems to have been cleared for the passage of the controversial Insurance Bill in the Rajya Sabha with the Congress lending its support to hiking foreign investment cap to 49 per cent.

With the Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha presenting its report on Wednesday as scheduled and the Cabinet accepting most of the 110 amendments proposed by various parties, the prospects of passage of the Bill have brightened. Though only four members representing CPI-M, TMC, SP and JDU out of 15 opposed hike from the present 26%, the government signaled it would ensure passage before December 24. The Bill will be brought before the RS next week, indicated the parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu.

The Select Committee appointed in August recommended after marathon deliberations that the composite cap of 49 per cent should be inclusive of all forms of foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investments. The Bill was held up for nearly six years on account of BJP's opposition and now other parties are opposing it as the BJP has taken a U-Turn.

One of the suggestions being given by these four parties is that let the Bill be considered and passed during the Budget Session. But the government doesn't seem to be willing to heed to the suggestion. The panel, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Chandan Mitra, has suggested inclusion of a person from the insurance industry in the Securities Appellate Tribunal as an expert.

It has recommended suitable amendment to the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act for the inclusion. The panel also recommended that penalties on insurance companies be linked to seriousness of offences committed by them. It has suggested mechanism to ensure that there is minimum scope for subjective interpretation.

The panel report, however, contains dissent notes from four members -- P Rajeev (CPI-M), Derek O"Brien (TMC), Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) and K C Tyagi (JDU).

In the House of 243 Members, the four parties together have a combined strength of 50.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Uber: Gadkari-Rajnath fight out in the open

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Dec. 9

The ban on Uber cab service in Delhi and similar action proposed in other Indian cities by the Union home minister Rajnath Singh was publicly opposed by surface transport & shipping minister Nitin Gadkari.

Gadkari disagreed with the decision to ban Uber cab services in the wake of the alleged rape of a 27-year-old woman in a taxi plying under it, saying banning the railways for train accidents, buses for bus accidents and taxi service for such incidents is not correct. Such a move could not be a solution," he added without blinking.

Surprisingly, Gadkari's reaction came on a day when Rajnath Singh made a detailed statement in the Rajya Sabha on the incident which rocked Delhi for 36 hours and tremours were felt across 200 cities in the world where Uber runs the tax service.

While Rajnath Singh declared that Uber violated norms of taxi operators and gave a detailed account of how the home ministry was proceeding in the matter by writing to states and Union territories to ban such illegal operations, Gadkari opposed the move.
Lokmat was the first to report the division within the Modi government on the issue and had published on Monday itself that parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu termed the banning of service a hasty decision. 

Even finance minister Arun Jaitley expressed the view that the $41 billion Uber cab service company had been evolved from nowhere and efforts be made to correct the systems.

In fact, he told the Lok Sabha later in the day that Uber was even found to be violating the FEMA regulations as it was transferring funds abroad collected through credit cards from commuters without RBI permission.

It was only on December 1 this year that Uber took corrective steps on the strict instructions of the RBI. 

Whatever be the outcome of ban on the Uber and other cab service providers, the incident highlighted massive loopholes in the capital city of India under the Union home ministry.

If the transport department under the Delhi government didn't act tough against the Uber when the company was not following the Motor Vehicles Act and checking antecedents of the drivers operating under Uber banner, the Delhi Police also played ball with the foreign company operating from San Francisco without even having an Indian call centre or contact number. The company had not even opened a helpline for commuters though it is operating in more than 30 cities of India.

Gadkari said that state governments have the right to take a decision in such matters. But lacunae in such systems should be plugged.

He said "As per a report, 30 per cent of the driving licences in the country are bogus... We are going to change the 1988 Motor Vehicles Act by which we will have a centre comprising all records of drivers. That would help solve the problem of accessing the accident and criminal records of drivers."

It is learnt that BJP leaders in Delhi were pressing the government for taking firm action against Uber as it had created waves in the city which is set to go to polls in early February. In all likelihood, the ban on Uber will continue at least for sometime.

Rajnath Singh has an added problem in hand as Delhi police is directly under him and also even the Lieutenant Governor and Delhi government, NDMC and other agencies report to him directly. By taking firm action, he is only trying to whether the storm outside North Block. Lokmat was the first to report the division within the Modi government on the issue and had published on Monday itself that parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu termed the banning of service a hasty decision.

Monday, December 8, 2014

For Modi govt, Uber ban causes problems

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, Dec. 8

Differences of opinion within the Modi government emerged today after the Delhi government banned the Uber Taxi service with immediate effect after the rape incident involving a 26-year-old woman.

Though the driver of the Taxi service was arrested and produced in court by the Delhi Police after solving the case within 24 hours, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh agreed with the proposal of Delhi government to ban the Uber Taxi service as it is "misleading customers" by offering them Taxis with All-India permits that cannot ply in Delhi from point-to-point ferrying customers. He even made a statement in the House today on the issue. It is learnt the Union Home Minister stepped in the picture after the Aam Admi Party led a demonstration outside his residence demanding immediate banning of Uber and firm action.

However, other Taxi service companies like Ola and Taxi-For-Sure who employ similar methodology as Uber to provide Taxis to customers through a mobile application, no ban has been imposed.

However, Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development Minister M Venkiah Naidu while praising the alacrity with which the Police arrested the accused said the decision to ban the entire private taxi network on this ground seemed hasty.

Finance Minister Arun jaitley was also reported to be upset with the decision to impose a ban on Uber valued at $41 billion dollar and providing huge employment to people in the country by adopting a unique model.

Obviously, the Union Home Minister was more governed by the media pressure and political compulsions that the logic behind banning such service particularly when the accused driver was given character certificate by the Delhi Police itself.

Modi's enemies within

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

If Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a 'honeymoon period', it was more with the people at large than his political opponents. His prime opponent, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, remained uncivil to him not only from his electoral victory in May but since the beginning of Modi's rise, when she hurled the abuse, Maut ka Saudagar, and saw it boomerang on her own party's electoral prospects in Gujarat.

Planning Commission is history

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

■ Non-NDA states back Modi
■ Cong, TMC oppose
■ SP, JD (U) cautious

The exclusive story on what 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going to do with the 
Planning Commission and how it will be revamped was 
first published on August 4 in Lokmat.

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, Dec. 7
After abolishing the 64-year- old Planning Commission in August this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered an olive branch to states by making them active partners in the revamped National Planning & Reforms Commission. (NPRC). 

Though the old body has not been renamed as yet till the time of going to the press, the PM signalled that he had received lakhs of suggestions on the issue through various portals.

However, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis suggested the name of the revamped body which was a signal what the NDA wants.

But the deliberations with the chief ministers showed that the Congress and some of the like-minded parties are not ready to accept winding up of the body created by India's first Prime Minister in March 1950.

But some of the non-NDA states Tamil Nadu (AIADMK), Odisha (BJD), Telangana (TRS) & North-Eastern states gave Modi reasons to smile. Majority of chief ministers supported the idea of revamping the commission making Modi to say at the end of the conference that it was a "fruitful" exercise.

It is pertinent to mention that Lokmat was the first newspaper to publish the report after Modi came to power that the Planning Commission would wound up. 

In the 30-page presentation made during the day-long first-of-its kind interaction with 29 chief ministers at his 7 Race Course residence, the Prime Minister passionately said how the new revamped body would do wonders for the economy & growth of the country as it would like "Team India".

Giving detailed account of what had gone into the decision of abolishing the Planning Commission and restructuring the same was aimed at promoting "cooperative federalism".

The presentation trashed the old concept of the Planning Commission thoroughly by saying that the commission was fundamentally a Central government institution where states had no role; the approach paper had to be approved by the Cabinet and the Five-Year Plan needed Cabinet approval. There was virtually no role to states.
The Prime Minister tried hard to woo even the Congress chief ministers during his opening remarks recalling that even the former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh himself had noted that the body has no futuristic vision in the post-reform period. Dr. Singh also wanted the Planning Commission to reinvent.

The role had been repeatedly questioned for more than two decades.
The first introspection was done after the launch of economic reforms in 1992. Even in 2012, the Parliamentary Consultative Committee stressed on the need for a serious look at the Planning Commission and the need for a new body to replace it.

Modi also noted that in countries such as the USA, think tanks that function independently of the government have a major role in policy-making.

A formal announcement about revamping commission is likely to be made later. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Modi continues with Manmohan's legacy

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Gives 6 months' extension to Ajit Seth
New Delhi, Dec. 5
In an unusual development, the Modi government gave Cabinet secretary Ajit Seth another extension in service for a period of six months.

This was the third extension in a row – the first given by the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh in June 2013 for full one year and two extensions of six months each by the Modi government -- making him the darling of both the UPA and NDA governments.

The extension of Seth was approved by Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday and formal orders were issued as he was to retire on December 13.

Though South Block mandarins say there is nothing unusual in such extensions as Cabinet secretaries had served beyond their stipulated tenure of two years fixed. But in the case of Seth, the bureaucrats are baffled as Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to repose faith in the top IAS officer who was UPA's choice.

But some insiders say that the 6-month extension to Seth was aimed at eliminating some of the senior IAS officers who were in the race for the Cabinet Secretary's post. There were couple of them whose claim to the top post could not have been brushed aside.

With Seth getting another extension, decks have been cleared for the finance secretary Rajiv Meharshi or power secretary P K Sinha to get a chance in June to stay in the race.

Home secretary Anil Goswami, petroleum secretary Saurabh Chandra, corporate affairs secretary Naved Masood and several others are out of the reckoning with Seth getting extension.

Seth, a 1974-batch IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre, had taken over as Cabinet secretary on June 14, 2011 with a fixed tenure up to June 13, 2013. The UPA government had extended his tenure by a year. The Modi-government had given six-month extension to Seth in June. He was due to retire on December 13. 

The Cabinet secretariat is under the direct charge of the Prime Minister. The administrative head of the Secretariat is the Cabinet secretary who is also the ex-officio chairman of the Civil Services Board.

Friday, December 5, 2014

PM proposes, Oppn. disposes

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Sadhvi issue continues to rock Parliament

New Delhi, Dec. 4
The face-off between the Modi government and the combined Opposition in Parliament continued despite the Prime Minister urging the parliament to accept Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti"s apology for making an abusive remark.

While the Rajya Sabha was adjourned for the day after repeated disruptions and Lok Sabha continued its business as usual after the entire Opposition walked out of the House. The AIADMK and the BJD did not join the Opposition chorus of sacking the minister of state Sadhvi Jyoti saying that the apology was enough.

The Prime Minister's plea that being first time MP and a minister and coming from a certain "background" , she used certain words at an election rally which she should not have used. "I had made my displeasure clear on the very day the abusive statement was reported in the media. Now, that the minister has apologised, therefore, let the House function."

The PM went on to say that "It is a lesson, we should all speak carefully."
In fact, the Prime Minister was to come to the Rajya Sabha at 12 noon as Thursday was his Question Hour time. But he came at 11 in the morning and had come prepared to make a statement on the Sadhvi issue bowing to the demand of the Opposition.
Since Monday, the Opposition has been making the absence of the PM from the House an issue and also wanted action against the Sadhvi. 

In the Lok Sabha, leader of the Congress Mallikarjun Kharge said, "What we are demanding is Prime Minister's statement condemning the conduct of the minister. But he even refused to make a mention of it."

But the Opposition in Rajya Sabha became more vociferous and the PM's appeal had little effect. The 10-party combined Opposition in the Rajya Sabha forced the chair to adjourn for the day without any business.

It is clear that the Congress has been able to galvanise the Opposition on the Sadhvi issue and put the Modi government on the backfoot. No doubt, the government has the support of nearly 350 Lok Sabha MPs. But in the Rajya Sabha more than 140 out of the 245 MPs are with the Opposition. 

Therefore, the government will have to consider whether to allow continuous disruptions in the Rajya Sabha on an emotive issue or get the crucial insurance and other Bills passed. There are as many as six Bills pending for the passage in the Rajya Sabha. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Modi reconstitutes Cabinet Committees

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Wings of Paswan clipped, Nadda shines

New Delhi, NOv. 30

If the wings of Ram Vilas Paswan, Union food & consumer affairs, are clipped, health & family affairs minister J P Nadda shines in the various Cabinet Committees re-constituted by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Paswan, president of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and a key ally of BJP in Bihar, does not find a place in the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). Its this committee which takes almost all key economic decisions. The meeting of the full Cabinet takes place only after the CCEA clears economic decisions. But Paswan despite being the food minister does not figure in the list. Instead of the food minister, the PM chose to keep food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur in the committee. Even the representative of the TDP civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju has been retained in the CCEA.

Even Anant Geete (Shiv Sena) who is Union heavy industries minister, does not find a place in the CCEA. However, Paswan has been retained in the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) which has 13 members and Parliamentary Affairs Committee.
The Cabinet Committees were reconstituted by the PM yesterday after the expansion & reshuffle of the Council of Ministers three weeks ago.

The importance of the Cabinet Committees is immense under Modi dispensation as he has abolished the system of Group of Ministers (GoMs) and empowered-Group of Ministers (e-GoMs) and brought down the number of the Cabinet Committees from 15 to a mere six. Therefore, there is virtual clamour amongst the ministers of the Cabinet & those holding Independent charge to get into these committees.

Political observers are somewhat baffled over the inclusion of J P Nadda, Union health minister into the CCPA. Nadda hails from Himachal Pradesh and was senior-most general secretary of the BJP. His induction into the CCPA is an indication that he may get a larger role in future.

Opposition fire against Sadhvi, says sack her

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi Dec. 2
The ruling BJP is facing its first litmus test in Parliament's Winter Session with the combined Opposition demanding the resignation of Union minister of state for food processing Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti for using expletives at a public rally. Though the minister tendered apology in Parliament and the Lok Sabha functioned smoothly, the Rajya Sabha had to be adjourned for the day as the Opposition wants to taste the blood. 

The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on his part sent out strong warning to party MPs this morning. As if this was not enough, Modi went on to say that he would not "compromise on this kind of indiscipline." 

But the PM's statement did not douse Opposition's fire against Sadhvi saying how could a minister of the Central government use such words against the members of the minority community and divide the country on communal lines. Sensing that the issue has given an opportunity to unite against the government in Rajya Sabha where it is in a hopeless minority, Arun Jaitley made the minister to apologise for her statement. The minister tendered similar apology in Lok Sabha too. 

But the Rahul Gandhi-led agitation outside and inside the parliament gained grounds with SP, BSP, JD (U), TMC, Left parties and others joining. But the AIADMK, BJD and a couple of other parties opted to watch the situation quietly.

The unity amongst the Opposition parties was more visible in the Rajya Sabha rather than in the Lok Sabha. 

The Congress leadership has conveyed to the treasury benches that the Opposition would not allow the House to function until the minister resigns. It is stated that even the BJP had held up the Parliament for weeks together on various issues including the 2G and coalgate. 

It is pertinent to mention that the Sadhvi had said at a public rally in Delhi, "You have to decide. Do you want a government of Ramzaadon (followers of Ram) or those who are illegitimate?" 

When the Opposition said the apology is not enough, Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha that she had not done anything inside the Parliament. She has already apologised for what she had unintentionally said at an election rally. Therefore, if someone had a problem outside, he or she could launch criminal proceedings. 

NCP takes a U-turn too, joins sack sadhvi chorus

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

■ Pawar looking for a new role 

New Delhi, Dec. 3
In a reversal of stand, the National Congress Party (NCP) on Wednesday joined the chorus in parliament seeking the removal of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti as Union minister of state for food processing for her expletives at a public rally in Delhi a few days ago. 

Though the Congress & other Opposition parties have been asking for the minister's resignation despite tendering an unqualified apology in both the Houses of parliament, the NCP had been somewhat maintaining a distance. Six NCP MPs including Sharad Pawar maintained a studied silence and did not go to the Well of the House or issued any statement.

However, with the Shiv Sena finally joining the BJP government in Maharashtra, the NCP is now charting out a new role. Hence, the NCP MPs stalled the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha though in Lok Sabha its MPs watched the disruptions during the Question Hour quietly.

D P Tripathi, NCP spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP told Lokmat, "We have demanded Sadhvi's resignation and we are part of the agitation." He said that the NCP had always stood for secular values and opposed to the divisive politics. The sooner the BJP sack the minister the better it would be for the polity, he added.

Political observers in Maharashtra say that with the BJP-Shiv Sena joining hands, the NCP will move towards consolidation of the like-minded parties. Sharad Pawar being the senior-most Central leader of this plank, he may even emerge as a rallying point.
The leaders of the Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (U), RJD, INLD and JD (S) are meeting over lunch on Thursday to form a new party. The objective is that all five parties merge and form a new party to take jointly on the Modi government. 

Sharad Pawar, on his part, will try forge a new alliance with other like-minded parties.
Sources say that even in Maharashtra, the NCP will form a joint front with the Congress. 

The Sadhvi issue has given these parties a breather to come together. Therefore, the NCP joining the chorus to be seen in this perspective.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Reform First, Hindutava Later

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

'Can't Hindutva wait?" This was the headline to my column in this space last week. Hindutva should wait, so I argued, and development must get priority.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Can't Hindutva Wait ?

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Till May last, the utterances of characters like Ashok Singhal or Pravin Togadia  of Vishwa Hindu Parishad were generally dismissed as the wild ranting of those belonging to the ‘saffron brotherhood’s’ lunatic fringe. Once the BJP under Narendra Modi came to power, it was argued, the crazy Hindu supremacists would take the back seat, if at all, and Modi would galvanize his BJP party into a unique instrument to deliver quality governance. It is a fact that, in Modi’s campaign speeches, echoes of Veer Savarkar’s Hindutva lines did ring once in a while. But the common man chose to ignore them as, with Congress collapsing with incredible determination, he thought it would be either BJP or anarchy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Climate Change ! No Joke

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

India could have been “shining” a decade ago or is “rising”, or so it is claimed, but its air, water or soil have reached a level of pollution that has made the country groaning. It is not that the cities alone attract filth and the countryside is pristine. Pollution has destroyed the commons without exception. But the cities are where it hurts more. Of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, 13 are in India.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Parrikar: Modi-II Arrives

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's choice of Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar as his Defence Minister, in place of an overburdened Arun Jaitley, is indicative of his new requirement. In the Prime Minister's eyes, there is certainly no comparison of anyone with Jaitley, who has long been his trusted envoy in the gilded corridors of Lutyen's Delhi. Even after shedding Defence, Jaitley will remain practically the face of the Modi government in his new Avatar as I&B Minister as well.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a host of items on his to-do list but what could be uppermost on it became known recently when he urged party workers to make BJP “as diverse as India”. The exhortation is linked to BJP’s massive membership drive. But Modi is trying to pull his party out of the present stereotypes to which it is traditionally cast. Like the party of bhat (Brahmin) and sethia (trader) in Maharashtra. Or the party of the “Hindu right”, as the Western media routinely describes BJP for unknowable reasons.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

After being a sandbag and facing blows from the Congress and, notably, a troublesome ideological ally like lawyer Ram Jethmalani, for allegedly pussy-footing to disclose the names of Indians with unaccounted wealth in foreign banks, the Narendra Modi government is finally ready to take the gloves off. From a well-timed TV interview of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, it seems obvious that the government has completed the process of framing charges against about 15-18 persons whose names were passed on to it by the Swiss banking authorities as part of the so-called “HSBC Geneva list”. The UPA government apparently used India’s Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with 84 countries as a shield against public disclosure of the names, as the agreement forbids it. Inscrutably, the previous regime hardly ever paid attention to a provision in the DTAA that allows the veil of silence to be lifted for depositors already charged in an Indian court. From the Finance Minister’s statement, it seems likely that the government will submit the list to the Supreme Court today. And that may take the fig leaf off some of the dignitaries of the past regime, if not the big fishes. Jaitley has significantly reminded his critics in the Congress that the disclosure may be “embarrassing” for the party.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

With the fall of the mighty Congress in Maharashtra, the transition should ideally have been seamless. It hasn’t been so as the BJP has fallen short of simple majority by 22 seats, a formidable gap. As I write this article on Monday morning, it is not certain if the BJP is going to pole-vault the gap with the help of the 41-member NCP or the 63-strong Shiv Sena, its ally-turned-enemy or form a minority government. Regardless of which way the plot turns, it is clear that the post-election developments in Maharashtra are marked by two big shifts from the past.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

No full-stop in politics

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

In May last, when a feisty campaign by BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi, brought it 282 seats, thus breaking the 25- year-long jinx of no single party being able to win a simple majority, there was a general feeling that the result augured a long period of stability. As Prime Minister, Modi seemed a picture of confidence, and his party seemed a picture of obedience. On the other hand, Congress, the main opposition party, was not only overwhelmed by a most stunning defeat, scraping together just 44 seats in a House of 543, but seemed unable to figure out the cause of its defeat. In the near-total absence of opposition, even Modi"s bitter critics thought there might not be much for them to do except to grin and bear.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bhagwat on DD? Yes, it's politics

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Nearly a hundred years ago, a young Brahmin boy of Nagpur went to Calcutta to become a doctor. But, with his studies, he hobnobbed with the patriotic terrorists of the city"s sprouting secret societies, like Anushilan Samiti, and inevitably got arrested by the colonial police. He got released a while later and earned his medical degree too. But, after returning to his home town, Keshav Balirao Hedgewar, now a "doctor" prefixed to his name, developed a different idea of patriotism. He thought India craved from freedom from not just two hundred years of British subjugation but a thousand years of foreign domination, beginning, perhaps, from the march of Mohammad Ghori and his brigade in the eleventh century. On a small ground in Nagpur in 1925, the young doctor held a meeting attended by some of his friends and formed a society which they named Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS). It was the Vijaya Dashami day.

The day, therefore, is very special on the calendar of the "saffron brotherhood", whose political wing, the BJP, is in power with a simple majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time. The brotherhood is understandably preening a bit. When it went out of its way by using the state-owned Doordarshan to air a programme based on current RSS sarsanghchalak (supremo) Mohan Bhagwat"s Vijaya Dashami speech, it was as if all hell had broken loose. Those in Delhi long used to wearing the "secular" badge on their sleeve went ballistic. A Congress spokesperson whose late father famously acted as the bridge between arms dealer Gopichand Hinduja and the Atal Bihari Vajpyee administration, was particularly crestfallen. "I am shocked", he declared. The communists went a step further, calling it an open announcement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi"s fascist programmes. 

It is nothing but nitpicking. It is based on a long-standing belief that BJP (or the Jan Sangh, its earlier avtaar) is embarrassed about its RSS lineage and any public reminder of it would make it tremble in its pants, or those khaki half pants, to be precise. It is a tactic that BJP"s opponents picked up from the early days of coalition politics. During the Janata Party rule in the late 1970"s, its socialist constituents were apprehensive about continuing to share power with merged Jan Sangh members and so they started needling their Sanghi colleagues and even demanding that they resign from RSS. Sangh stalwarts like Vajpayee tried to bypass the trouble, saying that RSS is just a "cultural organisation", but nothing worked and the first non-Congress government at the Centre crashed on the RSS issue.

BJP became cautious about its RSS link after the collapse of Morarji Desai government on the "dual membership" issue. Even hardcore RSS pracharaks (full time workers like Narendra Modi) deputed to the BJP made it a point to avoid public glare of their links. Nanaji Deshmukh shunned politics on the ground of age factor and Sunder Singh Bhandari became the link between the RSS & BJP. But it was known to all that L K Advani is the bridge and maintained his Hindutva posturing while Vajpayee, during his tenure as prime minister (1998-2004), remained touchy about it. So incensed was Vajpayee about it that K Govindacharya had to pay a heavy price for calling him a "mukhouta" (Mask) of the RSS. Vajpayee projected himself as a representative of "soft Hindutva" which was never appreciated by the RSS. Therefore, Vajpayee never enjoyed a good equation with K. Sudarshan, who was the RSS supremo during the best part of Vajpayee"s rule. For instance, he continued to liberalise trade in line with the WTO agreements of 1995 despite strong opposition from Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an RSS offshoot.

However, Vajpayee led a coalition government and his partners wouldn"t accept the RSS meddling in government affairs either. But the BJP under Modi, which has more than half of the seats in the lower House, has no reason to be coy about its political parentage. Besides, as I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar has observed, Bhagwat"s speech is "news-worthy". If there is anyone who"s at least Modi"s equal in the saffron brotherhood, he is Bhagwat. There is little justification, therefore, for the head mentor of the ruling party being blanked out of state-owned television.

It is true that, other than praising Modi"s government, much of what the RSS chief said was routine fare, except a sudden (not sure if well-thought-out) advise to Indians to avoid buying Chinese goods. It is expected that his cautioning will have little effect on the rising curve of India"s imports from China. And to avoid buying Chinese goods may be as difficult as to "make" things "in India". However, there is another reason why the Modi government decided to let the RSS chief come out and speak on the stats media.
As past experience shows, RSS was used by anti-BJP forces as some sort of a bogey, and the more it happened the more BJP was tempted to push it back into the closet. It often backfired on the party. RSS is a disciplined body whose organisational skills, and ability to transcend the caste barrier within Hindu society, was praised, among others, by Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar. It is by alienating this disciplined army of helpers the Vajpayee is said to have lost the 2004 poll by a mere seven Lok Sabha seats. The disciplined army of RSS volunteers, disheartened at their Chief Sudarshan being ignored by the government of the day, didn’t work for the victory of the BJP. The RSS got a jolt when Advani decided to preach secularism after visiting Jinnah’s memorial in Pakistan and dumped him in 2009. Modi therefore had every justification (political)  to give the avuncular RSS chief some air time to babble, at taxpayers' cost, of course. It may force the RSS to come out of the closet and debate its ideology in public in the years to come. Will this experiment pay dividends to Modi in 2019 Lok Sabha polls ?
(The author
is National Editor,

Lokmat group)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Make in India, How ?

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's characteristic one-liners, the one that got decidedly the most resonance is 'Make In India'. It has been warmly received not only at home but in the US, where Modi's current tour has been a huge draw and the liberal American opinion is in favor of fast developing India. Everybody knows India has got the right size, and the right demographics, to replay the 'China story' of three decades ago. But the persistent question is: has India got the political will to make the transition from a predominantly agrarian economy to a modern one which is sustained by manufacturing. At present, only 15 per cent of India's GDP is from manufacturing while that of South Korea is 31 per cent and, with China, it is 35 per cent. Is such a huge handicap manageable?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Narendra Modi, rock star

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Narendra Modi had promised better governance and "Achchhe Din" before his spectacular electoral victory. But now he's a diplomacy addict, going places, banging drum with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the island nation and hosting Xi Jinping, the all-powerful Chinese President, at Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad, his home town. However, his moment of truth will be in the US later this week, where he was declared unwanted and denied visa in 2005 under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) provisions of US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), for his alleged failure, between February 2002 and May 2002, to prevent violence in Gujarat.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Will Modi wave last?

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, BJP"s spectacular victory was attributed to a "Modi wave" because of the decisive nature of the result. With BJP winning 282 seats on its own, it was the first time in 25 years that a single party could gain majority in the parliament. Before him no party other than the Congress, and the post-emergency Janata Party, could cross the victory line of 272 seats. Political pundits had assumed that the polity would remain balkanised. Modi proved them wrong. And that gave rise to the popular conviction that it could not be due to BJP"s merit alone; it was due to a "Modi wave" that blew across the nation.

But will the wave last through the upcoming elections, notably for the assemblies of Maharashtra, the richest state, and Haryana, which has undergone a rapid transformation from agriculture to service and industry? Besides, will Modi"s popularity sustain beyond the assembly elections, through the subsequent years of his leadership of government? It is a fact that the BJP did not appear to be anchored in concrete in the ongoing round of assembly by-elections at least till last week (when this article was written), having won in only four of the 10 seats in Bihar that went to poll recently.

However, by-elections are hardly the bellwether to gauge the mood of the nation. Elections for assemblies of mainline states are a somewhat different matter. Because assembly polls hinge on a face, which is that of a state"s towering political personality, they have the potential to throw up national figures. Modi himself graduated from a state leader. Vishwanath Pratap Singh was essentially a state leader who successfully challenged his Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

It is in this context that the future of the so-called "Modi wave" should be gauged. Who are Modi"s challengers left on the ring? Are they all in full form and in a position to turn every lapse of the Union Government to his or her favour? In 2004, the Vajpayee-led NDA government fell because by then Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, had cobbled together a large enough alliance of parties opposed to BJP whose constituents wanted NDA to exit from power at any cost. Is a similar counter-wave building up against Modi?

Doubtful. The Congress today is stung by its humiliating defeat and the consequent leadership crisis. It will be some time that it can gather enough self-confidence to take on a opponent of Modi"s stature. The biggest problem of Congress is that, with Vice President Rahul Gandhi not able to make a mark as boss, and his mother, Sonia, not keeping well, for some time, it must look for new life. But it cannot do that because it is a divided house and an image deficit across the board has turned it into something like the house of the seven dwarfs that Snow White had discovered in the forest. Besides, the popular expectation that Prime Minister Modi is bent on bringing about systemic changes in governance is still high. It is therefore premature, to say the least, to expect that either Maharashtra or Haryana will throw up a verdict that gives NDA cold comfort.

Beyond Maharashtra, the anti-NDA national leaders are all so hobbled that none of them can hope to fight back any time soon, if not ever. Jayalalitha, the AIADMK supremo, should by now be trembling to hear the verdict of the CBI court in end-September on the ongoing graft cases against her to engage in any sparring with Modi. Her D-day is September 23 and she is a scared person today. Things are no better with Mayawati, yet another ambitious leader. In the UPA period she had almost managed to get the Income Tax and disproportionate assets cases against her leave in a frozen state. Come NDA, and judicial activism has brought the cases back to life. So dispirited is she that her party BSP did not put up candidate in any of the 11 assembly constituencies in Uttar Pradesh where by-elections were held, knowing well that in the absence of her party"s elephant symbol it is quite likely that most of her Dalit voters would press on BJP"s "lotus". She is going alone in Maharashtra and Haryana. Going by revelations of CBI Director Ranjit Sinha"s famous "guest book", Mayawati"s confidante S. C. Mishra visited the top cop"s residence, so high is the level of anxiety in the mind of bahenji, once considered indestructible as granite.

In Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee, who was once regarded as an icon of simplicity and integrity, is now so inextricably embroiled in a scam involving plunder of a Ponzi scheme that her popularity is at its lowest in her state. The condition of Mulayam Singh Yadav, once a symbol of secularism, is no better. In Uttar Pradesh, two years of hellish mis-governance by Akhilesh, Mulayam's swell-head son and chief minister, has reduced his own stature to a ridiculously low level. In Bihar, Lalu Yadav is on bail and hearings on his appeal will commence soon. It will surely churn up much of the dirt from his past. By embracing him in a marriage of convenience, Nitish Kumar, the only secular person who had the moral credential to challenge Modi, has scored a self-goal by siding with corrupt Lalu.

Modi's pull is sustaining because of the hypocrisy and self-deception on which the capital's politics is based. Tainted leaders who deserved to be in prison cell could use their clout to paralyse the judicial process and strut about like big shot. Such a vain political class had to go some day. It is strange that it could survive so long. The Modi wave of course needs a counter wave. Just as democracy is meaningless without an opposition. But it has to be reborn and rise, like Phoenix.

Who are Modi"s challengers
left on the ring to
create a counter-wave ?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Modi: Love in Tokyo

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

There is hardly anything unusual about an Indian Prime Minister visiting Japan, and Japanese dignitaries visiting India. In fact, former prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Japan as late as May last year while, in a somewhat unusual gesture, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were both in India, the first visit by a Japanese Emperor after 1960. So the two countries are neither long lost friends nor strangers, apart from Buddhism and many cultural ties that they share, Japan has left its signature on two items that are so prominently visible on the Indian cityscape: the Maruti car, and the Delhi Metro.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

'Achchhe Din' have arrived, some can't see: Javadekar

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Prakash Javadekar was a dejected man when he was denied Rajya Sabha seat and not given Lok Sabha ticket either. But there was windfall all of a sudden. The Prime Minister gave him three portfolios -- environment & forest, information & broadcasting (independent charge) and minister of state for parliamentary affairs. And above all, he is the eyes and ears of the PM. Lokmat Times' National Editor Harish Gupta caught up with him on the eve of completion of 100 days of Modi government in office. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A wake up call

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

In parliamentary democracy, an election is not the war. It is a battle. In public perception at least, the outcome of an election can be outdone, or nearly so, if it is reversed in the next election, be it a major assembly election of even a slew of bye-elections. Just as it is happening now. Narendra Modi's spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha elections in May got chipped off a month ago when his BJP lost all the three assembly bye-elections in Uttarakhand. But that's a minor damage compared to the big dent in the 18 assembly bye-election results that came out yesterday. BJP lost four of the seven seats it won in Bihar to a dour coalition between JD(U) of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav's RJD, and to Congress.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Outsider

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 65-minute speech from the ramparts of Red Fort on Independence Day last week will be remembered, if at all, for the jolt it gave to the political class. Many of its members had assumed that, despite his being a rather crotchety guy, he's in the arena of politics after all and therefore it'd soon become 'business as usual'. Modi's speech and his style said it would not be so.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why Modi is Silent ?

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The glitterati of Lutyen’s Delhi, who made Narendra Modi’s fan club a year ago, when the future downslide of UPA had become self-evident, have suddenly become sullen. They are restive about inflation not receding and the drought in investment continuing even though it is not even three months that Modi became the Prime Minister.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

When a courtier turns a foe

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

One of the worst ill-effects of a prolonged dynastic administration is that it creates an army of useless rent-seekers. Delhi is too full of them. Their sole mission in life is to convince others that they are 'consulted' almost on a daily basis by members of the dynasty. Such perception of access gradually becomes their reason for existence. Any cessation from such proximity makes them wild. Kanwar Natwar Singh, the 84-year-old former courtier of the Gandhis, seems going through such 'withdrawal symptom'. That alone explains the gall in which he dipped his pen before writing his autobiography, One Life Is Not Enough.