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)