Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cong did out-of-the-box thinking to make money'

Exclusive Interview
with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar 
By Harish Gupta (National Editor-Lokmat) Excerpts:

Q: You said the Defence was worst performing sector under UPA, from negative growth you brought it up to zero and now moving up?
A: What I said was that decisions were not being taken in time. I don't want to discuss the past. You only have to look into the reports what CAG has said. You will know everything. Country knows it.

Q: How many projects got delayed like the Nalanda Ordinance Factory?
A: You see when decisions are not taken, projects will be delayed. The CAG said how critically required arms and ammunitions were not made available.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Modi wages war against NGOs thrived over foreign funds

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group


Prime Minister Narendra Modi's fulmination at the "five-star NGOs" before a recent meeting of judges and law bureaucrats could well be due to the overdose of bile at the very thought of Teesta Setalvad, India's 'NGO queen' who has been harrying him in and out of courts for well over a decade now. But the issue is not personal. It is ideological in its essence. Nor is there any doubt that the bleeding-heart donors at home and abroad who have kept the Indian civil society on the job have shown very little perception of the country's dire need to move out of its centuries old poverty trap. And that requires millions of surplus agricultural workers to be relocated to new urban spaces, with jobs that pay, to build new roads, expand the railway network, and to dig up wherever energy resources may lie. It is obvious that the need of the nation surpasses that of the communities temporarily distressed by new constructions, but the NGO frame of mind is to pre-empt the short-term pain; if it eliminates the long-term gain as a result, so be it.

Having been elected as prime minister exactly a year ago, Modi was quick to assess the essentially political nature of the civil society's resistance to his developmental work. Since there is a provision in the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the nodal law enacted during Indira Gandhi's Emergency, that the Intelligence Bureau should do spot verification of NGOs' accounts, sourcing of funds, and their end-use—a provision that was not followed during the UPA years—Modi put it to use in right earnest. The result was most embarrassing for the previous rulers as it transpired that of the 22,707 NGOs that were in business in 2011-12, as many as 10,343 did not care to file their annual return (mandatory under FCRA) for any year between 2009 and 2012. And yet, as the IB report highlighted, most of these recipients of foreign donation were indulging in protest acts over their traditional targets: nuclear power projects, mining, large dams and even construction work. The report ominously mentioned a "negative impact" of 2-3 per cent on GDP growth as a result, and darkly hinted at possible involvement of foreign powers competing to achieve their own goals in India. 

However, Modi didn't need to tweak FCRA rules framed by the Congress governments. The only difference being that it winked at their violation. As expected, the Home Ministry began a crackdown on a scale that had happened only in 1976, the year that the law was given effect, in the midst of a perceived opposition by foreign powers to the Indira Gandhi government. However, the historical contexts between then and now are different. Forty years ago, neither did India abound with 'troublesome' non-profits organizations (with the exception of George Fernandez and his railway workers' union, perhaps) nor did donations from abroad flow like a river into Third World countries. But now the magnitude of donation is rising fast. It was Rs 11,544 crore in just one year, 2011-12.

Even more worrisome is the fact that many NGOs have been sharply politicised. The FCRA rules are liberal; they have provision for organisations having political objectives. They may even resort to political actions like 'rasta roko' and 'chakka jam', but the intentions and activities must be clearly stated before licence under FCRA is issued. But most NGOs' compliance level has been low. It also seems they are being prodded by their donors to take to the streets against projects of national importance, for example the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. The project had begun in 2002, but its first unit went on stream in 2013. The delay is largely due to the activities of a few NGOs who had inflamed passion of the local fishermen, making them believe a nuclear power plant in the area could result in abrupt depletion of the fishing stock. However, the motive of the NGOs themselves remains a mystery, with a speculation that the US could be the culprit as it was unhappy about Russia, supplier of the plant, gaining entry into the potentially large Indian energy market. Even former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, known for his avoidance of public venting of opinion, particularly on contentious issues, described the Kudankulam agitation as the handiwork of "foreign funded NGOs".

The new NGO battlefield is Mahan, a coal block on the edge of a forest in Madhya Pradesh. The coal mine was to be jointly developed by Hindalco and Essar, but UPA's former environment minister Jairam Ramesh put a spanner in the works, saying the forest could not be destroyed. When Ramesh was overruled by the then Group of Ministers chairman Pranab Mukherjee, Greenpeace, the largest NGO in the world, headquartered in Amsterdam, fielded its volunteers in a guerrilla-style operation. This face-off is continuing even after NDA coming to power. As Greenpeace India executive Priya Pillai was ready to board an aircraft on her way to London, where she was scheduled to make a presentation on Mahan to a group of British MPs, she was pulled back under executive order. Since then Greenpeace’s accounts have been frozen, along with those of 34 other NGOs. The licences of over ten thousand others have been kept in abeyance and those of 165 are under scrutiny. Under scanner is the licence of Ford Foundation, which has funded many cutting-edge research projects, in India and around the world.  

Modi is perfectly justified in telling the NGOs (and their donors) that they must act within the law. But it is also a clash between two world views. The one that nationalist governments like that of Modi cherish obviously has very little space for environment. But Greenpeace was founded “to ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity”. Ford Foundation was founded in the 1940’s by the original owners of the Ford Motors with the objective to make the world free from wars. If the Earth cannot nurture life, or aggressive nationalism fuels a war, can economic growth sustain?  Thus it is necessary to have a voice of dissent, but the civil society too must not take running NGO as a profession. Besides, they must give up a forest or two to get in exchange electricity that can light homes and hospitals and schools.

(The author is National Editor, Lokmat group)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

RSS red flags dissent against Modi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
  • Reins frontal organizations
  • Plans for RSS-BJP meet deferred

New Delhi, May 19, 2015
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is understood to have conveyed to the BJP’s Central leadership that none of its senior functionaries including Chief Mohan Bhagwat would travel to Delhi for an interaction for some time.

The RSS leadership has conveyed that the entire machinery is extremely busy in training camps of its cadre across the country for the next two months. Except for two senior RSS functionaries, Krishan Gopal and Suresh Soni who are permanently camping in Delhi’s Jhandewalan office, no other functionary would travel for RSS-BJP meet.

The RSS has also conveyed to the BJP leadership that it had already reined in some of its hawkish elements on the “Ghar Wapsi” and other issues. It has also firmly told some of the frontal organizations including Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch that the issues raised by them would be adequately addressed. But there should not be any public criticism of the Modi government on such matters. Even the VHP has been told that the moratorium on the Ram Temple issue had been given to the Modi government in national interest.

Highly placed sources in the RSS told Lokmat today that Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and others who have been dissatisfied with the style of functioning of the party and the government, were politely told to “wait”. Gadkari even went to extent of going public saying that there was “conspiracy” against him when CAG reported tabled in Parliament mentioned him by name which has never been the practice before. Yet, the RSS leaders are unwilling to bell the cat at this juncture.

Obviously, the RSS leadership doesn’t want to do anything which can even be seen to be weakening the Modi government in any respect. The RSS leadership has publicly and privately has been highly appreciate of work done by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the last one year. “He is the first Hindu ruler after Chandragupt Maurya to rule the country and nothing should even remotely be done to weaken the government. If there are some grey areas the same will be resolved,” said a senior RSS leader.

No doubt, the RSS itself is somewhat disillusioned with the functioning of BJP president Amit Shah. But the parent organization also realizes that it would not be possible to change the party leadership before the Bihar elections. Secondly, issues of concerns will be discussed and resolved.

The RSS leadership is also keen that none of the top ministers including Rajnath Singh should think in terms of quitting the government as it will not send the right signals. RSS joint general secretary, Dattatreya Hosabale went public in Nagpur yesterday when he warned affiliate organisations not to obstruct the Narendra Modi-led government's push on economic reforms.

The RSS had sent points of concerns to all important ministries in confidence and wants action be taken. Of the  72-point list sent to central ministries, 30 are considered for immediate action. The RSS, it seems, has sent a conciliatory note when it said that the government was on the right track and its efforts must be complemented with responsive cooperation rather than selective confrontation.

Therefore, there is a clear indication that despite dissatisfaction by some of the ministers, the RSS is broadly in agreement with the functioning of the government so far.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Rajnath wants to quit as HM

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

All is not well in Sangh Parivar

Special Report
Harish Gupta

New Delhi, May 17 :

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is understood to have expressed his desire to quit the government and serve the party organization. Rajnath Singh who is number two in the Modi government, has reportedly conveyed to the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to permit him to be relieved from government duties and be sent back to the party. 

He reminded the RSS chief that it was on his directions in May 2014 that he had quit as BJP chief and joined the government. However, he finds himself somewhat at odds to continue further in the government.  It is not known what exactly transpired between Rajnath Singh and Mohan Bhagwat when they met on Thursday last. 

But authoritative sources close to Rajnath Singh say that he has couple of grievances. Rajnath was deeply hurt last year when allegations against his son Pankaj Singh surfaced in the media and the government opted to remain silent What pained him most was drastic cut in the Budget of his ministry dealing with police modernisation and sending L C Goyal as home secretary without even consulting him. Rajnath was only informed about it. L C Goyal is considered close to National Security Adviser Ajit Doval as both belong to Kerala cadre of all India services. Even the Intelligence Bureau though technically under the Union Home Ministry, doesn't listen to MHA. Rajnath Singh may be a member of the Cabinet Committee of Appointments (ACC), he is hardly consulted on key appointments.

Rajnath Singh is understood to have also reminded Mohan Bhagwat that he didn't want to go to the government in the fist place. But it was on the directions of the RSS that he moved over to the government. Now he be allowed to go back to the party, Rajnath Singh reportedly pleaded.

The exercise has begun within the party apparatus as complaints have grown against Amit Shah's style of functioning and defeat in Delhi Assembly polls brought his graph down too. The RSS leadership comprising Bhaiyyaji Joshi, Dattatreya Honsbole and Krishan Gopal had held detailed consultations on March 23 at the residence of Nitin Gadkari in Delhi where party matters were discussed. It was felt that someone else may be needed who can carry the party workers. Some of the frontal organizations of the RSS like the Swadesh Jagran Manch, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and Kisan Sangh have been publicly criticizing the Modi government on Land Bill and other crucial issues.

Surface Transport & Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari has been also extremely unhappy and doesn't mince words in criticizing the government and the party. Gadkari was in the news last year when reports of spy bug being found at his residence surfaced in the media. He had also been unhappy the way finance ministry allowed the CAG report to be tabled in Parliament relating to the Purti group.

Monday, May 18, 2015

No more a nice guy

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

With the anniversary of the Narendra Modi government just a week away, the "cultured" Indian — mostly English-educated secular liberal — discreetly looks the other way when conversation moves towards the obvious — how should one rate the Prime Minister's performance. He used to be a lot more candid, and voluble, in his criticism of the Modi dispensation till a few months back, the decibels going up with the RSS types both within and outside the BJP, and also in the Cabinet, passing crumby remarks on life in general, and the "sinister designs" of the minorities in particular. The western educated Indian thought it was a culture shock of sorts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Grammar of Anarchy

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not literally correct when he told the TIME magazine in a recent interview that the Indian Constitution is his “only holy book”. The trouble with holy books is that once written they cannot be changed, and, if changed, a new religion is born. But Constitutions are liable to change. Modi is now struggling to amend the Constitution for legislating Goods and Services Tax (GST). It will not only make taxes by and large uniform across the states and UTs but should give the first stamp of confirmation on US President Barack Obama’s description of Modi, in TIME’s earlier issue listing the world’s most powerful men, as India’s “reformer-in-chief”.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

In one of Winston Churchill's oft remembered quotes about the state of the war in 1942, he said it was neither the end of the war nor even the beginning of the end, but it could be the "end of the beginning". The epithet can well fit the progress of the Narendra Modi government uptil now, since May 26 last, when the Prime Minister was sworn in amid great pomp. The opposition parties are trying to gang up against him; the least powerful of them, like Lalu Prasad Yadav of RJD, being the most active in this endeavour. Even Modi's NDA partners like SAD and Shiv Sena are restless with the 'big brother' for their own reasons.There are voices of dissent even from within the BJP, with someone of the stature of Arun Shourie, disinvestment minister in the A B Vajpayee cabinet, accusing Modi, finance minister Arun Jaitley and party chief Amit Shah of being the trimurti who have grabbed all powers. The confidence of investors, particularly of the foreign institutional investors in the stock market, has been at its lowest ebb in recent times. And so is that of the common man who expected Modi to achieve a miracle.

Now media is in two minds about retaining Modi on the front page and prime time. Since there aren't too many faces in the opposition to choose from, the spotlight is naturally shifting to Rahul Gandhi, the 44-year-old vice president of the Congress party who will probably become its leader some time this year. And Rahul, sensing something in the air, is bubbling with smart one-liners. He has called the Modi government suit boot ki sarkar and is unfazed by Jaitley reminding him of his deficit of soojh boojh. Instead, he tends to get personal with the prime minister, taunting him for his frequent foreign tour. He thinks he has already aced Modi on the government's proposed amendment to the UPA's 2013 Land Acquisition Act, to scuttle which is now the main mission of the Congress and some die-hard anti-Modi elements in the opposition. It seems Rahul's minders have misdirected him on two counts: first, they've blinded him to the cosy nexus that existed between the corporate sector and the UPA. Besides, Rahul is being misled on the true objective of the proposed Land Act amendment. 

In a land teeming with people of dubious literacy, being dubbed anti-farmer is naturally an emotive issue. But Modi's amendments are in fact pro-farmer if one has the patience to read the fine print, for instance, in the 'consent clause'. The UPA law sets a 70 per cent consent threshold for PPP projects and 80 per cent for projects in the private sector. But it sparked off huge problems in practically every state-sponsored development work, like rural infrastructure (road and electrification), and affected projects related to national security, like building strategic roads and airports. In retrospect, it seems that the UPA was in too much a hurry to genuinely understand that "consent", in the context of land acquisition, meant the landowner becoming a pawn in the hands of the land sharks who could grab the land in advance and then push up the price of his "consent" to a point that makes the project least cost-effective. Modi spoke about these problems in his monthly radio speech Mann ki baat and also in his Lok Sabha speech in February following the motion of thanks to the President for his address. They fell on deaf ears.

In its amendment, the NDA government has removed provision for consent for projects concerning national security, rural infrastructure, affordable housing for the poor, industrial corridors and social infrastructure like schools and hospitals. Also, there is no need for consent for PPP projects on land owned by government. Besides, there are 13 different utilities, ranging from railways to nuclear power plants, for which land can be acquired without landowners' consent, which the UPA law too provided for. But the big difference is that the amended Land Act promises as much as four times the market rate as compensation in such cases. It is a compensation which is not only just, but few of the landowners will prefer holding on to their plot in preference to a bounty of this size.
Modi does not appear to be the
type to lose his marbles in the 
middle of the innings

Rather than thinking of Modi as a bitter adversary, it is better that Rahul take a closer look at the real problem of India's agriculture. It is not about farmers losing their land but their utter failure to put it to use. At 60.3 per cent of total land under cultivation, India has, in no way, got its farmland more squeezed up than comparable countries like Indonesia (31.2%) or Vietnam (35%). But India's agriculture is partially pre-modern. Farm mechanisation that is now gathering pace in India is creating armies of jobless "stakeholders" who are hardly employable in non-farm sectors. They are also the pivots of opposition politics on land acquisition. It is because of their unproductive and unreasonable continuance in the agrarian economy that India's per worker value addition (constant 2005 US dollar) is a lowly 688,  against 49,723 in Australia and 5,564 in Brazil. In most of the past 67 years since Independence, the governments of the day failed to make agriculture even as productive as that of Bangladesh, which grows 4,357 Kg of cereals per hectare, against India’s 2,962 Kg. The “collapse of agriculture” about which some opposition MPs are going to town should remember that the alleged collapse began ages ago, by not providing skills and education to farmers for transition to industry, and by keeping the terms of trade negative for the cultivator.

Going by the record of his first year in office, Modi does not appear to be the type to lose his marbles in the middle of the innings, after the “end of the beginning”. He is committed to bring about systemic changes, like the amended Land Act and the proposed GST. If Rahul wants to replace him in 2019, he should begin by grappling with more fundamental issues, like creating an exit route for farmers much like China did  in the 80’s and 90’s. Instead, he’s practising jibes and pulling out of his family armoury rusty twentieth century weapons, such as populism.

 (The author is National Editor, Lokmat group)