Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Modi in Tin Tin land

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The recent ISIS attacks in Brussels, the city which is otherwise associated with the unforgettable Tin Tin of comic strips, is a typical consequence of confused European thinking. They cannot decide on the extent to which they should create space for "outsiders". Since the end of the Second World War, the front-ranking nation states of Europe loved being open societies with no discrimination on colour, creed or race. But in reality, the long-existing barriers between the indigenous people and new comers became even more steep.

Brussels is an example. It is currently the breeding ground of terror in Europe, Paris and London being perhaps the second and third respectively. Brussels' Molenbeek neighbourhood, mostly inhabited by 25 per cent Muslims, was raided just a few days before the recent bombing of the Zaventem airport and Maalbeek metro station, killing 34 persons. 

In the Molenbeek operation, the police arrested Salah Abdeslam, a suspected accomplice in the ISIS attacks in Paris last November. And Abdelhamid Abaaoud, ring leader of the Paris attack, also came from Molenbeek. So radicalised the population of Molenbeek has become that, after Abdeslam's arrest, Belgium's interior minister said he was surprised by the support the accused received from the neighbourhood.

Molenbeek is not the only ghetto of its kind to spread Islamic jihad in Europe. Ca n'Anglada in Barcelona, the tourist city in Spanish Catalonia, is yet another hotspot identified as the origin of several ISIS fighters. So is Seine-Saint-Denis in Paris, or the Neuk├Âllin borough in Berlin, both home of many North African ISIS recruits. 

And so are London and Birmingham in the UK. Many of the refugees reaching Europe as a result of the turmoil in Mesopotamia are sheltering in these ghettoes. Like their Muslim hosts, they too expect jobs and equality in status with their European neighbours. Grievances due to disparity of benefits are an old story but it has got a new boost with the fresh arrivals.

It is undeniable, though, that most European nations are inept in guarding their frontiers, which is the reason why many terrorists have found refuge in the continent under the guise of refugees. Besides, ISIS is currently targeting Europe because of its series of defeats at the hands of the US-led forces in Syria and Iraq. Since January 2015, it has lost 17 per cent of its territory. It is obviously trying to make up for its tough luck back home by launching vicious attacks on the civilian population of Europe.
Besides, ISIS is caught in a web. It uses the 1000-year-old terminology of the Christian-Islamic battles to say that their actions are aimed at halting the "crusaders", as if it is final onslaught now. However psychopathic it may sound, it is no doubt prompted by the belief of a people who refuse to accept a single deviation from the interpretation of God's words by the Prophet. 

And, unlike Al Qaida, their fight is not for a defined objective (like US troops to leave Saudi Arabia). But it wants that there would be no disbeliever alive. It could be brushed aside as a fit of delinquency as long as they had limited potential to damage the liberal establishment. But the indoctrination of so many suicide bombers—they're a huge force multiplier—has substantially shifted the balance of power. 

Where does India stand in the new 'clash of civilizations'? No one can tell, except that India has a large number of ISIS supporters hibernating in sleeper cells, and it is anybody's guess if and when they will wake up and strike. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leaving for Brussels on his way to Washington DC, and will address an estimated crowd of 4,000 diaspora Indians in the Belgian capital. The visit has caused considerable commotion in the city which is already the butt of global criticism for its slovenly security system. Not to take any risk, it has deployed the army to ensure that Modi's visit remains trouble-free.

Though it is not the best time to visit Brussels—its airport was still closed at the time of writing this article on Sunday—Modi insisted on sticking to his schedule because of his proven grit and fondness for foreign trips. 

It is not only that he loves to be seen arm in arm with world leaders. He relishes the optical of addressing crowds of Indians abroad, like in New York's Madison Square Garden last year, or at Silicon Valley, or in Singapore. He appreciates the qualitative superiority of Indians who have moved abroad and done well in life, and he has accepted them as an important constituency. Probably he expects that the Indians in Brussels will be reinvigorated by his presence and establish themselves as 'good foreigners', quite different from the Molenbeek crowd.

But it has a flip side. The Indian presence in the ISIS drills is still negligible because the South Asian countries have discreetly kept themselves away from the battlefields, staying neutral in the “crusades”. The ISIS is perhaps aware of backlash in India of its foolhardiness. However, the inherent risk of mobilising four thousand plus Indians in Brussels, mostly Hindu traders from nearby Antwerp or Amsterdam, is that India may accidentally surface on ISIS radar. But Modi is clear in his vision and objectives. Rather than being told of India’s greatness, the rally will reassure Indians abroad. Modi  has been stressing lately, rather publicly, his soft side as witnessed in West Bengal when he stopped his speech midway due to recitation of Ajaan.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Chit Fund biz is history

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

* Hundreds of companies shut down as agencies go after them 
* West Bengal, Maharashtra top the list

Harish gupta
New Delhi, Mar. 26
A virtual war seem to have been declared against Ponzi companies across the country including Maharashtra.

According to information available, the RBI has been conducting special probe into the complaints involving 104 companies. The RBI has told the government that these companies are suspected to be holding public deposits. Other probe agencies such as CBI, Enforcement Directorate, SEBI & Special Fraud Investigation Organisation (SFIO) under the Corporate Affairs Ministry have been conducting separate investigations into Ponzi/chit fund companies which have duped thousands of poor investors.

According to information collated from various agencies, the total amount calculated so far is Rs 33141 crores. In Maharashtra, there are at least 18 companies under investigation where action has been initiated involving an amount of Rs. 4697.67 crores. 

These agencies estimate that the amount of scam would be of a very high order once the probe is completed. Apart from RBI, the SFIO is conducting separate probe.

The RBI has been conducting probe into the complaints involving 104 companies. The RBI has told the government that these companies are suspected to be holding public deposits. 

Maharashtra Companies                          (in Crore)
Seamless Outsourcing LLP (3 Companies)                 3494
option one industries Ltd                           1000
Vishwamitra International Infra                           106.75
Cell Industries                                   15.61
Wasankar Wealth Management                           13
Equinox Infratech                                    12.47
Angel Group                                   12
RBX Land Developers                                   11.98
others (8 companies)                           31.86
Total                               4697.67 

According to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the SFIO was assigned the task of probing 164 cases against these companies. Probe into as many as 78 companies has been completed until December 31, 2015 while investigations are on against 46 companies. The Finance ministry sources said probe into major offenders such as Saradha, Rose Valley, Seamless, I Core and other groups has been completed. The probe against other companies will be completed within the next couple of months. A Computer Forensic Lab has been set up in SFIO for analysing the database of the companies under investigation. The investigations into the Punjab-based Pearl Group of companies are still in progress. The amount involved is said to be nearly Rs 45,000 crores.

The Directorate of Enforcement has registered 57 cases under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) and the CBI has registered 65 cases during 2014-15. The ED has attached assets worth Rs. 1133.25 crores and prosecution launched.

Chit Fund biz is history...

Ponzi Companies in the Country Rs. in Crore
Rose Valley Realcom Ltd. (19 Companies) 10281
I croe group (12 Companies)          7375
Seamless Outsourcing LLP (3 Companies)  3494
Saradha/Global Automobiles Ltd. (14 companies)  2394
Saradha/Basil Express Ltd. (5 companies)  1721
URO group                  1500
Alchemist Holding Ltd          1088
option one industries Ltd          1000
Unipay2U Production Pvt. Ltd. (4 Companies)   792
NVD Solar                   595
Artha Tatwa                  500
Seashore Group                  478
SGI Research & Analysis          494
Annex Infrastructure          200
Vishwamitra International Infra          106
Rimel group                 100
Others (51 Companies)               1023
Total             33141 

The crack down that began with the SEBI action against the Sahara group two years ago has now been expanded to hundreds of companies in West Bengal, Jharkhand, North Eastern states, Odisha etc. The government has now set up State Level Coordination Committee (SLCC) for greater coordination between RBI, SEBI and other agencies as chit fund companies are governed by states. 

Though the Maharashtra government had estimated that the amount involved is more than Rs 10,000 crore, the central agencies' estimates are based on cases registered with them. 

Incidentally, the BJP MP Kirit Somaiaya has been spearheading the campaign against chit fund firms in the state and claimed the scam in Maharashtra alone was to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Soft Modi, hard party

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Triggered by a series of Islamist terror attacks in the West, notably the November 2015 ISIL slaughter of hundreds of men and women in Paris, Islamophobia is at its peak now, Ultra-nationalist parties like AfB in Germany are coming to the centre-stage of European politics. The immigrants from Syria, who were welcomed by powerful leaders in France, Germany and Italy, are now looked upon with scorn. Across the Atlantic, a populist Islamophobic Donald Trump could not have almost succeeded to outdo others in the race to be the Republican Party's candidate without public opinion veering towards an intense dislike of 'outsiders', both Mexicans and Mohammedans. 

In this global environment, the friendly signals recently given to Muslims by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of all persons, can be read as a most welcome sign of eagerness for an image makeover. At a Sufi conference in Delhi, he underlined that Islam is a religion of peace. He said: "When we think of the 99 names of Allah, none stand for force and violence, and that the first two names denote compassionate and merciful. Allah is Rahman and Raheem." It is quite something, coming as it did from the mouth of a seemingly Hindutva zealot who is still seen by his critics through the prism of 2002 post-Godhra riots.

Significantly, the tolerant view that Modi expressed at the Sufi conference is neither sudden nor uncharacteristic of him. As former Financial Times representative in Delhi, John Elliott, has reminisced in his book, 'Implosion: India's Tryst with Reality', back in 2001, Modi, then a national secretary of BJP, held pretty much the same view in a TV show three days after the 9/11 Al Qaida attack on America. Elliott quotes Modi saying that Islam had "many good aspects" but "when one community says that my community is different from yours, it is higher than yours, and that until you take refuge in mine you cannot get 'Moksha', the conflict starts". According to Elliott, it was in that show that Modi gave an inkling of his inner feelings about Islam, tempering his admiration for the religion with frustration over its intolerance. "When one says your religion is hopeless, and mine is better than hatred starts...terror starts".

It is true that, on being elected PM, Modi broke with the capital's tradition of holding Iftaar parties, and made no special show of togetherness with the minority community. But he did not deviate from his reasoned approach to Islam, which is anything but "Islamophobic". At the launch of a book, 'Educations of Muslim', by historian JS Rajput, Modi addressed a large audience of envoys of Saarc countries and many Arab nations. "The Quran", Modi said, "mentions the world ilm 800 times. It is among the most repeated words after Allah. This is the importance of knowledge in the religion". The Arabic word ilm means knowledge. Modi's speech was a strong advocacy for sharing knowledge among communities, with Islam as an important partner in the sharing process.

It is clear that Modi is trying to strike a balance between a soft Hindutva and a soft Islam. The idea of soft Hindutva in Modi's scheme of things was apparent when he defied all criticism to attend the Sri Sri Ravishankar's Art of Living global conference in the capital. And the possibility of soft Islam beckoned at the world sufi meet. 

Modi's efforts at bridging the religious divide that has stigmatised his party and paralysed his government is not a voice in isolation. It synchronises with multiple overtures of peace and harmony across the subcontinent. If Pakistan began with a formal nod to its T20 cricket team's tour of India, its Sind province went a step forward by declaring the Hindu festival of Holi as an official holiday. And the apex court of Bangladesh, whose secular constitution was hijacked over three decades ago branding it as an Islamic nation, has now admitted a petition to drop religion from the republic's identity. The nation is eagerly awaiting its verdict.

The RSS is also showing signs of change. It took ten years to change its dress as needed to change the mindset of orthodox followers. The statement made by RSS' third in command at a conclave, Dattatreya Hosbole that homosexuality was a psychological disorder and not a crime, is significant. It reflects a change, slowly but surely. It is difficult for the hundreds of thousands of RSS workers to shed their thought process simply because Modi is in power today.

While making utterances, Modi is sensitive to others' response and builds arguments based on reason. But he has little leverage with either RSS or VHP, the organisations that not only recruit cadres of the BJP but tutor them to suit their ideological objective. And that is nothing which resembles peace and harmony. Even as Modi talks of Allah's 99 names in the Quran, storm clouds of a communal riot are gathering in Agra over the recent murder of a Dalit youth. Ram Shankar Katheria, BJP MP from Agra and Union Minister of State for HRD, has his own choice of names that he demands to see in the police charge-sheet, while the names of his friends must be dropped from a hate-speech complaint. If his order is not obeyed, the Union MOS has threatened, Agra will witness this year  “a different kind of Holi”.  At Latehar in Jharkhand, two Muslim herdsmen have been hanged from tree after being last seen driving a buffalo herd. The arrested persons include someone connected to a local cow protection vigilante group though the police of the BJP-ruled state refrained from questioning the group’s leaders.

Like all well-meaning reformers, Modi wishes to advance peacefully along the path of development but finds his feet gummed up in a cesspool of fixed ideas. It needs a statesman, not a mere politician, to rise above the party.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Other kings of good times

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Why did you let Vijay Mallya escape even though he never paid back the nine thousand crore rupees he owed the banks, thundered Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi ? "You began it all", BJP finance minister Arun Jaitley reminded him, "when your government allowed Ottavio Quattrocchi to flee the country". Jaitley then softened his tone and explained to the younger Congress leader that the act of the Gandhi family-friend in 1993 had come at a time when the Swiss authorities named Quattrocchi as a recipient of the Bofors slush money. The CBI had even written to the then (Congress) government to impound his passport. "That makes Quattrocchi's escape a criminal act", Jaitley went on to pontificate. Mallya's case falls in a different category, he argued. He said neither the lending banks had demanded that he be prevented from flying out nor was there any request from the Enforcement Directorate, investigating possible money laundering cases against Mallya, to desist him from leaving the country. It's a different matter that the CBI had to apologize for its own folly in the case later in a press statement.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Trump, India & Modi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

It is no longer a remote possibility. Though the US presidential election is still a good eight months away. But its time to brace up for White House to receive, as its next occupant, Donald Trump, "a bully, showman, party-crasher and demagogue" as TIME said in its cover story. "His (Trump's) is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader", says Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican candidate. He called Trump a "phoney" who is "playing the American public for suckers", a man whose "imagination must not be married to real power". If it happens, how exactly will the world respond to a potential dictator elected as the 45th President of the USA?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

FM proves mettle, earns praise

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

FM proves mettle, earns praise
Oppn fumbles
Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Feb. 29
Finance minister Arun Jaitley passed his litmus test with flying colours on Monday. If he earned kudos from economists for massive spending proposals for rural & infrastructure development while sticking to fiscal deficit target of 3.5%, political class acclaimed it for taking care of the poor, women and weaker sections. 

Ministers spent whopping ` 566 cr on travel this year

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Ministers spent whopping ` 566 cr on travel this year
LT Exclusive 
Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Feb. 29
How much money was spent on travel of Council of Ministers in the Modi government including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi this year?