Tuesday, May 31, 2016


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Only two years are past since the installation of the NDA government led by Narendra Modi. It is therefore distinctly premature to pass a judgment. Some governments begin well but get miserably clogged up half way through, like it happened with the second UPA government piloted by Manmohan Singh. It dived headfirst into an unending cesspool of corruption charges, and got terminally tainted. On the other hand, the Rajiv Gandhi-led government began in 1985 amid great euphoria, until rumour of corruption in defence deals became so shrill that every attempt by the government to silence it seemed phoney and the prime minister’s name became mud.

Modi seems to have learnt lessons from the above example, and his promise of “Congress mukt” India is actually a commitment to keep his administration free from the stench of corruption. Unlike Manmohan Singh, Modi is a hands-on PM. Perhaps, this is the reason why there has been no charge of financial depravity in any of the ministries till now. To ensure that the clean image of his administration sustains, Modi has been particularly insistent on transparent e-auction of the natural resources, be it coal, oil or natural resources.

But a prime minister is not rated high simply if he keeps his nose clean. Modi has sparks of originality that marks him out from his contemporaries. Jan Dhan Yojana is an example. On the face of it, it is a simple plan to give a bank account to every unbanked poor. It is another matter that 21.43 crore such accounts have been created under the JDY scheme in less than two years, with the share of ‘zero-balance’ (therefore, nominal) being 27 per cent and falling. But the idea is not to turn the poor Indian into saver overnight. It is rather a financial architecture for direct transfer of all future state subsidies and grants, thus eliminating the pressure of middlemen that has plagued welfare since Independence.

In a sense, Modi is truly a Gujarati trader at heart and understands the importance of cost-cutting through disintermediation. His idea of Digital India and Smart City as well as Smart Village may sound nebulous. But, when completed, they are all about transforming Indian business from the old chaupal, and the gaggles of middlemen, to transparent and speedy transactions in real time. In India, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Gurugram came up not due to any governmental thinking but because telecommunication became faster and cheaper so an opportunity arose for Indians to do offshore maintenance jobs. Modi, with his digital thrust, now wants to turn this opportunity into a bold new venture, with a programme like ‘Make in India’.  Samsung the Korean giant, is now setting up a unit in Noida near Delhi to make a line of its mobile phones. Recently, when Timothy Cook, chief of Apple, visited India and met Modi, he was clearly told that he could launch Apple Stores in India if only he used some (30%) made-in-India products. In fact, most foreign IT biggies, including Microsoft Corporation and Cisco Systems, have of late increased their manpower and investments in India. Huwaei, the Chinese telecoms major, has started a research & development centre in Bengaluru. That Modi puts his finger on the economy shows in his MUDRA scheme for financing six crore small vendors and businessmen, 61 per cent of whom are minorities, SC, ST or OBC. Maybe he could relate to their condition, being a tea seller at a railway station once.

Modi can think and dream big. He has persuaded Airbus Industries of France and the Tata Group to begin collaboration on design and manufacture of a military transport aircraft. Airbus has already begun manufacturing some of its parts in India. These are the first green shoots of high-tech industry in India, a sector in which India lags not only behind the Asian major powers like Japan, Korea and China but newcomers like Thailand and Vietnam. To facilitate entry of high technology, FDI cap on defence industries has been pushed up to 49 per cent and Indian firms like L&T, assigned to make nuclear submarines, are potential conduits for transfer of sophisticated technology.

Some of the things that outwardly appear to be Modi’s mere fads, like yoga, for that matter, are actually smart ideas to improve public health at low cost, and creating jobs. In this year so far the government of Haryana has given jobs to 25,000 persons as yoga instructors. Similarly, his Namami Ganga scheme for cleaning up North India’s arterial river, for which a budget of Rs 20,000 crore is allocated, should create a chain of municipal waste disposal projects along the river. It is a national renewal scheme on an unprecedented scale with a huge potential of creating jobs.

In his first two years, if his conduct seems somewhat puzzling, it is in his silence about the mindless outbursts of his party’s fringe elements. Their missiles are not always limited to a bigoted version of art and culture, or ancient history of their choice. Despite Modi, as it appears, Subramanian Swamy, a machinator par excellence and newly appointed BJP member of the Rajya Sabha, is firing salvos at RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan on trumped up charges. When Rajan was under attack from the finance ministry for his stubbornness and refusing to reduce interest rates, Modi had stepped in April last year saying he is a good teacher. But this time Modi has preferred to practically remain non-committal on the controversy. He may be upset with Rajan for not reducing interest rates for high growth despite low inflation. Modi cannot remain maun  like his predecessor Manmohan Singh and is nor an “accidental prime minister” either.  His has pressed the pause button in terms of launching new schemes and  fully focussed on implementing programs already launched as next coming two years are crucial for him to establish that he is not an accidental choice.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Congress’ Cinderella Syndrome

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Results of elections to five assemblies last week have certainly put the BJP in an advantageous position vis-a-vis the Congress. By winning in Assam, a border state with a long history of ethnic conflicts, it has finally been able to pitch its tent in the north-east.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Seven Union ministers eyeing Rajya Sabha seats

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Seven Union Ministers are in the race for 17/18 Rajya Sabha seats that the BJP is likely to win during the ensuing biennial polls due on June 11. The term of these seven ministers including one belonging to the TDP is expiring in July.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Modi on peace & harmony mission

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seem to be on peace and harmony mission. Even as reports of impending Cabinet reshuffle are floating around, the PM has been working in twin direction o achieve his mission. If he is making peace overtures to several of his senior Cabinet ministers in the Union Cabinet, he is also toying with the idea of creating a new Ministry of Peace in the country.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The government of Narendra Modi is soon to complete two years, which, if compared to a human life span, is like someone reaching 35 years. In 2014, Modi's NDA swept to power on the crest of great popular expectation. Yet, in what can be described as its late youth, the Modi government still fails to inspire confidence; rather, it resembles a dissolute person who refuses to learn from experience.

As it approaches 'midlife', it becomes more and more brazen with institutions and rules. Much of it centres on Modi's hatred for Congress, the main opposition party, beginning with his invective that he'd like to see a "Congress-mukt Bharat". His irritability to the presence of Congress even in far-flung and minor states was evident last year when the Union Government, assisted by the loyal Governor of the border state of Arunachal Pradesh, laid out an elaborate plan to topple its Congress government with the help of 'dissident' MLAs. The plan succeeded but not without the smoke and mirrors of a conspiracy— complete with the Governor attempting an assembly 'floor test' in a five star hotel, the Union Cabinet holding meeting on a Sunday to recommend President's rule under Art 356, and it being revoked as soon as Kalikho Pul, the main dissident leader, had obtained the required number to form the next government. A last word on this adventurism is yet to the written as SC ruling is expected anytime.

After 'liberating' Arunachal from Congress rule, the Modi administration turned its attention to Uttarakhand where it turned out to be fatal this time round. At the end of a 50-day-long tug-of-war between Uttarakhand's Congress chief minister Harish Rawat and the Centre, it was Rawat who had the last laugh. Following a powerful intervention by the high court, and a robust judgment of the Supreme Court that stuck to the knitting of the S. R. Bommai Case (1994, it held that promulgation of Art 356 is subject to judicial scrutiny), Rawat not only regained his chief minister's seat but dealt a blow to BJP powerful enough to put its nose out of joint.

Modi's obsession with the Congress is now affecting his clarity of judgment on issues that are less personal and of more immediate concern— like a stagnant economy, a retail inflation which is proving more stubborn than earlier projected, and a banking system reeling under NPAs. It is at this juncture that Subramaniam Swamy, BJP's one-man army against the Congress, has entered the fray. He has begun a vilification campaign against RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. He is known as a crusader against inflation and respected globally for his nose for coming economic crises. But Swamy's vitriolic outburst against Rajan, that he be "sacked", is both offensive and puzzling. Why did the Prime Minister, who had seemed to hold Rajan high in his personal estimation, did not discipline Swamy? Is it because Swamy was targeting a man put on the high pedestal like RBI chief, by Congress? If so, it is a pity because BJP lacks economic talents and Rajan is not only a renowned central banker but a tough sheriff to control the loot of banks by crony capitalists. 

However, having seen Congress humbled to 44 Lok Sabha seats after the 2014 general election, there was little need for even a ruling party wedded to a 'Congress-free India' to act in a tizzy. With 57 Rajya Sabha members having retired last week, 14 of them from Congress, the party's strength in the Upper House may even dip low enough for BJP to finally draw level with it. Besides, Congress is out of power in all but six of the 31 states, while two others, Kerala and Assam, are poll-bound. Instead of lying low for the present due to tactical reasons, the administration is actually giving local & regional parties enough provocation to rally with Congress in future. A recent example of a past critic of Congress turning a new leaf is the ease with which the two BSP members of the Uttarakhand assembly hugged Congress MLAs, their rivals, before the floor test of Rawat's majority at the Dehradun assembly. 

Modi and his advisors are perhaps hoping that Congress president Sonia Gandhi might get mired so deep in the Augusta-Westland controversy that, in a parliament with a near-silent opposition bench, it will be cakewalk in the next three years till 2019 poll. Pro-Modi activists are perhaps drawing parallels from recent history, particularly with the effectiveness of the 1989 campaign against the late Rajiv Gandhi in the thick of the Bofors payoff allegations. But the inherent reason for the Congress rout under Rajiv lies not just in the scam report but in the more compelling fact that the party was without any major ally when the crisis was taking shape. Despite getting a massive mandate of 411 Lok Sabha MPs, Rajiv Gandhi’s advisers allowed the Left to join hands with the BJP and messed up every issue; be it Shah Bano, Babri, Sri Lanka’ Tamilians or Bofors. The final nail in the coffin came from forces within Congress.  

BJP under Modi is also drifting towards a similar alienation. In Bihar last year, and West Bengal now, Congress is winning friends. If BJP can put up an impressive performance in Assam as the results are declared this week, it will be due to its alliance with AGP and Bodoland People’s Front. In the Uttar Pradesh election next year, the chances of a Bihar-style anti-BJP mahagatbandhan depends on just how much Modi can avoid confrontation. On the day of election, voters after all prefer achievers, not swaggerers and hyper-combatants.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Garm Hava (Scorching Winds), M. S. Sathyu’s 1973 film was about the dilemma of a Muslim family over migrating to Pakistan post-Independence, ends with the patriarch, played by Balraj Sahni, deciding to stay back in India. As id this was not enough, he also decided to join the communist movement against the ruling Congress, amidst the slogan yeh azaadi jhooti hai (”this freedom is a sham”). Since then, and even earlier, the Congress and communists have remained at polar removes, representing not only two different ideas of India but conflicting views on everything, from property ownership to role of state and democracy. Over the decades, and particularly due to the rise of Hindutva politics under the BJP, their distance has got narrowed but the core difference persists, and so the refusal of their leaders to share power. In 1996, the CPI(M) central committee prevented its senior leader and West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu from being sworn in as Prime Minister, predominantly because of his top comrades’ objection to their party becoming dependent on the Congress. The composition of the lower House at that time was such that the Congress could pull the rug from under the government’s feet any time it pleased.

However, it is the recent assembly election in West Bengal, ending on May 5, that has finally bridged the gulf between the ‘hand’ (symbol  of the Congress) and the red flag of communists. How the alliance will fare is anybody’s guess, May 19 being the scheduled poll counting day. Still, it is an unusual bonding tied by pressure from the ranks, not imposed from above. Congress president Sonia Gandhi was reportedly not much in favour of the idea of a communist-dominated alliance in Bengal where her party had remained number two for decades. But Rahul Gandhi, the party’s vice president, who was not given to such niceties, readily addressed rallies in Kolkata with former CPI(M) chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee by his side, and forests of clenched fists being raised in front of him with the slogan, comrade Rahul lal salam.  It was first time after Independence that a Gandhi scion was hailed as “comrade” by a predominantly communist rally.

 Can it be the harbinger of an enduring and electorally tenable centre-left coalition in India? Why not? The Congress, despite its corruption-tainted image for a long time now, has steadfastly held on to its socialist policies, which got a marked boost in the 10 years of UPA rule due to Sonia Gandhi’s hallmark programmes, like MGNREGA and Food Security Act. But, despite its left-leaning core ideology, the Congress remained without allies as caste-based politics had come to rule the roost. In the Nineties, BJP, with its Hindutva politics, added a new dimension to it. Since then Congress has been left with no regional allies worth the name. The Congress-left alliance, if it spreads across the nation, will have the potential of an anti-elite and pro-poor coalition. It is like turning the clock of history back to where it would have rightfully belonged, in a society divided by class. And it doesn’t matter if it is divided by caste too.

    It is natural that BJP will not be pleased if the Congress-left alliance puts up a stellar performance in Bengal. But even a fairly decent tally of, say, around 100 seats (in a house of 294) will bring a new momentum and push the envelope, particularly for the Uttar Pradesh election next year. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury is working hard to create a nation-wide non-BJP alliance wherever feasible. Rahul Gandhi is extremely comfortable with Yechury and both agree that road to Delhi goes via Lucknow. Neither Rahul nor the Left trust Mulayam Singh Yadav anymore as he has ditched secular forces six times in the past. It is learnt that poll strategist Prashant Kishore, regarded as the architect of Modi’s election in 2014 as well as that of Nitish Kumar in Bihar last year, is insisting on the party rallying behind a “face”, be it of Rahul, or his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The advice has a lot of substance as even the elite classes, who supported Congress in the past and have now gone mostly to BJP, can respond to their old links only if a member of the party’s leading family agrees to launch his (or her) march to Delhi from Lucknow.

But the elites cannot win an election on their own. The local parties with their caste identities do not trust Congress. Nor is the party held in great trust by Muslims, who constitute 17 per cent of the population of Uttar Pradesh. The left can be a powerful adhesive to glue the regional parties and communities together to Congress. In other words, the left can function as a catalyst in the coalition-building process. It is win-win for regional parties too. Take, for example, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who is working hard to get a leadership slot in UP’s anti-Modi space but hasn’t made much headway yet. A future coalition in the state spearheaded by Congress, and guaranteed by the Left, can offer at least three territorial players—Nitish’s JD(U), Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Mayawati’s BSP --an opportunity to take part in the governance of India’s largest state.
The 131-year-old Congress still has substantial brand value. But it has no friends. Despite Sonia Gandhi’s pro-poor programmes, it failed to forge lasting ties with the toiling masses. But the rally for “comrade Rahul” in Kolkata’s Park Circus maidan on a sizzling summer afternoon may pave the way for the party to unshackle itself at last, and win back the poor man’s trust that it has forfeited.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Water train to nowhere

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The water-starved Latur district of Maharashtra's Marathwada region is now witnessing the frightening sight of armed guards patrolling along its water reservoirs, where assembly of more than five persons has been banned. With an unrelenting summer leaving most parts of India baked to bone, it is no more an unbelievable sight that water lorries are piling up in all sorts of unthought-of places: Usha Kiran Building, on Mumbai's Carmichael Road, its toniest patch, where the late Dhirubhai Ambani lived with his family for many years; Subhadra, at Worli, which houses, among others, BJP minister Nitin Gadkari and NCP heavyweight Ajit Pawar; not to speak of the chrome-and-steel skyscrapers in proud Gurgaon, the Millenium City in Delhi's outskirts which will come to a standstill without the water tankers.