Tuesday, April 25, 2017

AIADMK to support BJP’s presidential candidate

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

A Lokmat Exclusive report

AIADMK to support BJP’s presidential candidate
Modi gets shot in the arm;  Dy Speaker Thambidurai key negotiator

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, April 24

The BJP is set to get a shot in its arm as the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu has signaled its support to NDA’s presidential nominee.

Irrespective of infighting within the two AIADMK camps and current negotiations to resolve the crisis, the ruling dispensation has communicated to the BJP that it will support its candidate in the Presidential polls to be held in July this year.
The AIADMK’s signal of support has given the BJP big comfort as the ruling NDA is still short of 25000 popular votes to get its own candidate elected. Though Opposition parties are fragmented and still working out modalities to come together to filed a common candidate. But they have to get the support of several regional ruling parties in states including AIADMK, TRS, BJD, TMC etc. Amongst these non-BJP parties, the AIADM is crucial as it has 135 MLAs and 50 MPs in parliament constituting almost 60,000 popular votes. The electorate for presidential polls comprises of 11 lakh plus votes and the NDA has 5.25 lakh votes. Therefore, the complete support for the NDA will give a big boost to the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
It transpires that Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha M Thambidurai had a meeting with the Prime Minister and the BJP Amit Shah as well. Unconfirmed report suggested that he conveyed to the BJP leaders that the ruling AIADMK KPS camp having the support of 123 MLAs and 50 MPs in Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha will support the NDA’s presidential candidate. The AIADMK (OPS) having 12 MLAs is already backing the BJP. The AIADMK is rather keen to formally join the NDA, these sources say. After the death of Jayalalitha, there is no leader worth a salt in the AIADMK who has national ambitions. The OPS camp is already close to the Centre and the ruling KPS camp wants a patch up to get the two leaves symbol de-frozen.

However, the BJP leadership is in no hurry to admit the AIADMK despite pressure from M Thambidurai. The AIADMK MPs have virtually no role despite having the biggest contingent in parliament. The AIADMK leaders are keen to join the Modi government and share power. It is learnt that formal announcement by the AIADMK will be made sometime next month once formula is worked out.

Monday, April 24, 2017

NCP may join Congress-led Front Sharad Pawar to be its Convener

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Exclusive report 

NCP may join Congress-led Front Sharad Pawar to be its Convener

Nitish, Yechury, Gowda, Mamata agree
Harish Gupta
New Delhi, April 21

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is seriously considering a proposal to join a front of like-minded Opposition parties. The NCP which quit the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) three years ago, is being wooed by the Congress, CPM and the Janata Dal leadership to play a pivotal role in this hour of crisis and strengthen Opposition parties.

According to indications available here one of the suggestions doing the rounds is that instead of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), a new joint front be formed of like-minded secular parties. This front should be formed early so that enough time is available to put up a credible challenge to the BJP before 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

It is also suggested that  Sharad Pawar be made Convener of this Joint front. Of course, Sonia Gandhi will be named chairperson of this new outfit and Nitish Kumar will also hold a key position in this proposed outfit.

If reports are to be believed, Sonia Gandhi is keen that Sharad Pawar play pivotal role in bringing all Opposition parties together as he has the capability to do so. Though some senior Congress Party leaders were trying to put a spanner in the move. But Sonia Gandhi snubbed them saying that the country was facing a grave crisis and unity of the Opposition parties is needed.

When asked Praful Patel told Lokmat, “ We are talking and various proposals are over the table. I have nothing more to say on the issue as of now. Let’s see”

Sitaram Yechury was also guarded in his comments and said, “ we are working to bring all like-minded forces together.”

However, the NCP leaders told categorically that Opposition unity should not be one-shot affair (for President’s polls). But it has to be with a long term perspective and unity should be with open mind and heart. Obviously, the NCP leadership is hurt that the Gandhis never trusted Pawar.

However, times have changed and it was Congress vice President Rahul Gandhi who had taken the first initiative in March itself when he drove down to the residence of Sharad Pawar signaling that a “thaw” is possible after the two parties parted company three years ago. Later, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury held a meeting with Pawar and Praful Patel.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who met Sonia Gandhi yesterday, emphasized the creation of a new front. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, CPI leader D Raja and others have met Sonia Gandhi recently. Mamata Banerjee flew down to Bhuvneshwar to meet the Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to explore possibility to have a working relationship to strengthen the Opposition because Congress is the principal Opposition party in the state. Janata Dal (U) general secretary K C Tyagi is going to Bengaluru to meet Janata Dal (S) leader H D Deve Gowda on Saturday.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Udyog Parv and a Dalit president

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The job of the President of India surely glows with gravitas, complete with a bespoke palace on Raisina Hill that could make the White House in Washington look modest. The words in the Constitution defining the position of its occupant in the Indian republic are also grand. Article 53(1) says that the executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President.

But these are just words as the issue of the President’s power was settled way back in the 1940’s, with B. R. Ambedkar, draftsman of the Constitution, favouring a truly powerful chief executive, and the Gandhi-Nehru clique, on the other hand, being all out for powerful legislature. The latter won. No wonder the same article goes on to underline that (19-3): “Nothing in this article shall…prevent Parliament from conferring by law functions on authorities other than the President”.  The fact that the Indian President is merely a titular head is known to school students, so his election should hardly attract either politicians’ get-up-and-go or even common man’s interest. Yet, politicians have always given the Presidential election—with its cumbersome calculation of votes—more weightage than it rightfully deserves.

In the Sixties, Indira Gandhi, in her early years as prime minister, wanted her protégé V. V. Giri to become President but her right-wing ‘syndicate’ in the party had Neelam Sanjiva Reddy as its candidate. Giri won, but not until the differences escalated and led to split in the Congress. In the Nineties, K. R. Narayanan easily glided through the election when the electoral college was badly splintered, thanks to the Mandal-era politics then prevalent, and everybody thought the former student of London School of Economics would be too scholarly to be assertive in India’s cutthroat political environment. Yet, it is this short and unassuming Dalit who surprised all when he refused to dismiss two state governments, of Kalyan Singh and Rabri Devi, despite being pushed by I. K. Gujral and A. B. Vajpayee respectively. But the Rashtrapati Bhavan can truly prove to be a gilded cage for over-ambitious politicians, as it happened with present President Pranab Mukherjee, who had aspired to the prime minister’s post occupied by  Manmohan Singh and had gone some way in gathering support of UPA partners until Sonia Gandhi got him summarily despatched to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Mukherjee’s term is due to end on 25 July, before which his replacement must be elected. Except Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, no other president had a second term, nor is it likely that Mukherjee, a dyed-in-the-wool Congressman, will have too many helping hands stretching out from a predominantly pro-BJP electoral college. The total voting strength of the 776 MPs and 4,120 MLAs translates into 10,98,882 votes (each MLA has a voting strength multiplied by a factor of his state’s population), the halfway mark being 549,442. The ruling NDA is already ahead of it and is adding on to the lead after every election. There is little doubt, therefore, that the new occupant of the best address in Delhi will be a man (or woman ?) approved by the ‘saffron brotherhood’, if not being one of it.

Earlier, in 2002, BJP under Vajpayee as prime minister boldly supported ‘missile man’ A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. Given a chance, the party could produce a hard-core saffronite from its RSS stable. But it did nothing of that sort. Kalam, in his turn, made the BJP proud. Being a Muslim president, he still supported the Uniform Civil Code, an issue close to the BJP’s heart for decades. Moreover, he was not given to pussy-footing on dismissal of state governments headed by leaders mired in corruption charges. In 2005, he dismissed the Bihar government headed by Rabri Devi, a task that his predecessor, Narayanan, had refused to carry out. It is a fact that Kalam did not oblige hard-core nationalists as he prolonged the mercy petition of Afzal Guru, the mastermind of the plan to attack the Indian Parliament. But Kalam’s choice brought to the Vajpayee set-up a rare respectability in both domestic and international spheres as this aeronautics scientist was held in high esteem. In the Vajpayee years, the BJP ruled only through a coalition and its grip on national politics was still unsure. A pacifist and multiculturist at the Rashtrapati Bhavan was an asset then.

In 2017, things have undergone a sea-change. Apart from holding more than half the Lok Sabha seats on its own, the BJP, singly or through allies, is in power from the hills and the plains to the seas. Modi has succeeded in doing what Vajpayee couldn’t, winning states after states.  It is no time for an ideologically driven leader like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or his fellow-thinkers like party president Amit Shah and RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagawat, to shelter behind a façade of goody goody liberalism and be content with the party’s elders from the pre-Modi era. Example: L. K. Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi, Kariya Munda and half a dozen more. The new names that are surfacing are hard-boiled RSS men who are also Dalit: like 73-year-old cabinet minister Thawar Chand Gehlot, a Dalit. Also in the running is Satyanarayan Jatia, a jatav (Mayawati’s caste). Though he was denied Lok Sabha ticket, the party rewarded him with a Rajya Sabha seat. There may be an unknown, unsung RSS Dalit hero for the post. The presidential poll is like Udyog Parv in the Mahabharata.  The previous assembly elections are a testimony to abiding upper caste support to BJP. Modi himself claimed that he is an OBC and garnering non-Yadavs in big numbers. He is now eyeing the Dalits who were never part of saffron dispensation. Modi, ever since his arrival at 7 Race Course Road (Lok Nayak Marg), has done everything possible to embrace the legacy of Dr Ambedkar. A Dalit commitment completes the circle. Political pundits are unnecessarily misplacing their bets on yesteryears’ horses.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Prez Polls: Oppn may field Sharad Yadav

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Exclusive  News Report 

President’s poll :  Opposition may field Sharad Yadav as its candidate
Harish Gupta

New Delhi, April 11

With the BJP mobilizing its 33 allies to get its own Presidential candidate elected in the polls slated for July this year, the Opposition parties have also geared up to field a “common candidate” against the BJP nominee.
Janata Dal (U) leader Sharad Yadav’s name has emerged as a consensus candidate for the President’s post. Highly placed sources say that a preliminary discussion has already been held in this regard between Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury. Both leaders felt that the Opposition parties should together field a candidate for the President’s post where the BJP is still short of a majority. It was also stressed that if most of the small & regional parties like TMC, Biju Janata Dal, TRS, YSR (Congress), JD (S), JMM, DMK & AIADMK and others come together,  the Opposition candidate can emerge victorious. It was Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who first spoke to Sitaram Yechury in this regard and he held informal talks with the Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and then met Rahul Gandhi. The RJD leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav is also supportive of the idea of putting up a joint candidate.

Though Sharad Yadav’s name has not been finalized as yet. But considering the prevailing political situation in the country, a candidate has to be either from backward or scheduled caste or scheduled tribe community. Though the Congress Party was initially of the opinion that Vice President Dr Hamid Ansari be put up for the post of President as a joint Opposition candidate. But it was felt that the candidate should be outside the Congress Party if Opposition unity is to be achieved.

The NCP leaders have also been sounded in this regard and they have shown their inclination to support Sharad Yadav for the post. The Opposition parties are aware that the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are have already roped in 33 political parties across the country in the NDA and expanding their base. The NDA already has 48% of the popular votes in its kitty and its candidate will make it to the post unless all the remaining parties join hands in supporting the common Opposition candidate.

But one thing is clear; the Congress & opposition parties won’t allow the BJP to get its candidate without a contest. “We will give BJP run for its money in the presidential poll,” said a senior Opposition leader familiar with political developments.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Opposition deserves Modi's thanks

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization drive in November last year, he was being written off by most opposition leaders, and their buddies in the media. Even Saamna, the Shiv Sena magazine, called demonetization an “atom bomb” and Uddhav Thackeray said “(after note-bandi) it was BJP-bandi as well”. But in the ensuing municipal elections in Maharashtra, the BJP won eight out of ten councils and increased its tally in Mumbai by 264%  to 82 seats. It shocked all by its performance in Odisha, Gujrat and elsewhere. That established the basic truth that demonetization, however painful to the common man, was actually appreciated for some reason that has not been analysed; be it for being seen as just deserts for the bribe-taking rich.

The opposition’s reading of the tea leaves of politics was again in gross error in Uttar Pradesh. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Samjawadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, both in their 40’s, swayed by a hi-flier election consultant, formed a pre-poll alliance even though Yadav’s SP had been born in the early 90’s as an offshoot of the Janata Dal, the rainbow coalition of caste and creed that swore to remove the Congress from power. Gandhi and Yadav were walking on air after the coalition. After the results were out, the SP and Congress polled 21 and 7 per cent votes respectively, and the BSP, which the duo thought was of no consequence, polled 22 per cent. But the BJP and its local allies grabbed 41 per cent votes and 312 of the 403 (77.41%) seats. The Gandhi-Yadav pair were gung-ho about their chances all along, thinking of Modi as being out on a limb after the demonetization ‘fiasco’. So another upset since David beat Goliath.  What is the problem with the opposition? Why is it repeatedly failing to read the message that the electorate is repeatedly giving out?

It is evident that the opposition is distinctly worried about its prospects in the 2019 general elections. The chances of Modi’s return has suddenly entered, from an equal-odds zone, into an area of fair possibility. If that happens, the entire opposition leadership will go through an existential dilemma, with decades-old, if not centurion, families that may be forced to bid adieu from the stage of power. What is more important, a 2019 defeat will compel the anti-BJP political groupings to hit on a new idea of India, something quite different from what Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and B. R. Ambedkar had foisted on the nation after Independence, and what BJP, given a chance, will inarguably replace by an idea of its own. And if it wins the 2019 general election, its second consecutive conquest, the following five years cannot but rewrite its markers as a nation. Many things may change beyond recognition. India may move faster towards becoming a Hindu nation, like Israel is Jewish. The BJP’s historic victory in UP and installation of Yogi Adityanath at the bidding of the RSS at an eleventh hour shows the speed with which the so-called “secular” slate will be re-written. The saffron-clad Yogi continues to make waves and TV channels have gone berserk painting him as new messiah on the horizon. The entire RSS-BJP machinery is ensuring that UP becomes the shining example of the success of its ideology so that 2019 can be repeated with ease.

Gone are the days of the appeasement of minorities; nursed by so-called secular parties since Independence in one form or the other. It was not without reason that the BJP there wasn’t a single Muslim BJP candidate in Uttar Pradesh. The Muslims population as high as 18 per cent made hardly any impact on the electoral outcome in the state. A clamour for beef ban in the entire country is already gaining ground and states after states are levying cow cess for their welfare. If the Muslims don’t yield on Ram Temple, there are other ways & means to make them see reason. The Beef ban, Triple Talaq, war against conversions etc has made the Muslims worried and they have been exerting pressure on the “secular” parties to come together before more damage is done. It is no wonder that Congress leaders with a sophisticated sense of history, like Shashi Tharoor, who has recently admitted that the traditional Indian definition of secularism has not “worked”, are back to the drawing board to work on the Idea of India 2.0.

Whatever it transpires to be, the BJP’s own “idea” will differ from it vastly on two grounds. First, its unceasing hostility to Muslims has given it an opportunity to cobble together an overarching alliance of victimhood of Hindus across all castes. Besides, the electoral consolidation it has achieved can be the bell ringer for all kinds of reforms that India, so far administered very loosely, must carry out if it wants to be counted even as a middling nation in a few decades. Modi obviously sees his goals clearly. A uniform indirect tax policy (GST), subsidy reduction, making the public distribution system leak-proof—all these are bold reforming steps towards achieving inclusiveness.

Modi’s present home run in elections, and its future course, is therefore the result of complex cross currents of history—of a creeping ‘Indianness’ overpowering regional pulls and pushes—and the opposition will act stupidly again if it bets too high on Modi’s “mistakes” without working out its own strategy. But, barring a few intellectuals, the opposition ranks are poor on ideas. Instead, they keep hoping for a better tomorrow without doing anything. As the name of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar began circulating as the possible face of the opposition in 2019, Laloo Prasad, his ‘frenemy’, was sullen; he said he’d go on a “tour” of the country first. And C. P. Joshi, Congress general secretary known to be his vice president’s eyes and ears, claimed that, by 2018, “under Rahul Gandhi”, “we pose formidable challenges” to Modi. If the opposition refuses to wake up, the Prime Minister may send them ‘thank you’ cards in advance. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

PM cracks whip, clips home ministry's wings

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

PM cracks whip, clips home ministry's wings

New body to oversee security clearances 

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, April 8

Prime Minister Narendra Modi cracked his whip and the powers of Union Home Ministry have been clipped if not taken away all together. The whip came when the Cabinet Secretariat set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) over-see orders of the Union Home Ministry relating to security clearances. This IMC will over-see all cases of security clearances relating to “ease of doing business” as part of Modi’s vision of fast-tracking investment, jobs and opportunities in India.

All companies/individuals desirous of setting up industries, companies, businesses are given security clearances by the MHA. This clearance is also required in cases of expanding existing business venture.

The MHA undertakes a thorough screening of companies, their ownership, route of investments and origin of such investments and antecedents of the directors & owners. The MHA vets these cases with the help of intelligence agencies and other such mechanism to which no other ministry has access. But often MHA and other Ministries are engaged in a bitter tussle over years for security clearances. The worst happened when proposal to grant security clearance to Sun TV, when its owners Maran brothers were chargesheeted by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate for bribing and corruption in Aircel-Maxis scam and for setting up illegal telephone exchange. Finally, Home ministry toned down its objections and home secretary was sacked.  But there were many such cases including foreign direct investment in the Telecom, power & port sectors.

After discussions at the highest level in the PMO it was decided that let the Home Ministry continue with its mandate of security clearances exercise. But all its negative recommendations will go to the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) comprising of officials of Finance, Corporate, Commerce Ministries and Niti Ayog. The IMC will have powers to veto the recommendation and opinions of the Home Ministry and even send back it for further examination in a time bound manner.

The Cabinet secretariat has also directed the MHA that it must complete scrutiny of all cases of security clearances within a stipulated period of 45 -60 days rather than taking its own sweet time. In several cases, the MHA sat over the clearances for several years on one ground or the other.

The creation of IMC will help the concerned ministries, departments and even state governments who are normally scared to question the wisdom of the MHA. One of the reasons cited by the PMO was that though many of the issues highlighted by the MHA/security agencies may be important. But they may not be so vital as to necessitate stoppage of the said investment or project. However, the Ministry/Department/State Government concerned is not able to or willing to take full responsibility in this regard. And the project get stalled or delayed or canceled causing huge loss of investments. This also clearly goes against the spirit of the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ on which Government has been working seriously for the last two years,” said the two-page order.

Therefore, it is necessary that there is a “mechanism to take a holistic view of the observations made by security agencies on economic, corporate of criminal proceedings involving the proponent company or its directors,” the Cabinet Secretariat said.
The creation of IMC will also help the officers concverned not to be too much scared of the Prevention of Corruption Act while over-ruling the MHA.

The order further said,“Once this committee has seen the observations made by the MHA or the security agencies indicating that the investment/projects, its activities and/or directors are not a threat to national security, it will proceed to look into other observations.

“If other remarks or observations of the MHA or security agencies have been found to be inconsequential or irrelevant with regard to any other national or public interest, then the committee would record the same and recommend the investment/project,” said the Order. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

All eyes on Gujrat’s three RS seats

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Special report

All eyes on Gujrat’s three RS seats

Anandiben Patel Vice President contender ?
Harish Gupta

New Delhi, March 31
The Capital is agog with intense speculation that BJP president Amit Shah and Anandiben Patel, former Gujrat Chief Minister may quit as MLA after the Presidential polls due to be held in July this year.

Since MLAs in states along with MPs constitute electorate college for the Presidential polls, both have chosen to stay put. But the moment presidential poll is over, they will quit. Interestingly, both will have their own reasons to quit their respective seats in the Gujrat Assembly.

Highly placed sources close to the BJP president say that Amit Shah will prefer to come to the Rajya Sabha in August when biennial polls for three RS seats will be held in Gujrat. BJP’s Smriti Irani, Union Textiles Minister, and Dilipbhai Pandya ill be completing their six year terms as MPs from Gujrat. Ahmad Patel of the Congress will also complete his term in the Rajya Sabha. Given the composition of the State Assembly, the BJP will be able to retain its two seats while the Congress will get one seat easily.

While Amit Shah coming to the Rajya Sabha is considered a foregone conclusion, it’s the second seat that has led to intense political speculation within the party. While a section of the BJP says that Anandiben Patel may be brought in Rajya Sabha for the second seat and get a Cabinet berth and Smriti Irani may move to UP to occupy the seat to be vacated by Manohar Parrikar who is now Chief Minister Goa. Parrikar is Rajya Sabha MP from UP at present.

But what has caused enormous interest in political circles is the talk that Anandiben Patel may even be brought in as Vice President of India. The BJP and NDA have a clear majority to get its own candidate elected as Vice President. Though various names are being mentioned for the post including that of M Venkiah Naidu, Minister for Urban Development, Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Speaker of the Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan, Social Justice Minister Thawar Chand Gahlot, P Sadasivam, former Chief Justice of India and Governor of Kerala and others. But Anandben Patel’s claim to the post is stronger compared to others, these sources say.

She was removed as Chief Minister and has been cooling her heels quietly for long. She herself is a Patidar and was considered to PM Modi who anointed her as his successor in Gujrat. Since Gujrat Assembly polls will be round the corner, her elevation will help the BJP during the elections as well.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Aadhar: The fear psychosis

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The current brouhaha in the parliament, the media and the court over Aadhar, India’s unique identification card for citizens is typical of a nation witnessing a regime change, and its accompanying about-face on policy. It was the previous Congress-led UPA regime, harassed as it was by mounting subsidies and their rampant misuse through corruption, commissioned the services of IT wizard Nandan Nilekani to set up Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). Insiders say it was Dr Manmohan Singh who came up with the idea and the government authority was created to administer the nation-wide 12-digit Aadhar card. The number touched 50 crores mark when UPA demitted office and shot up to 1.12 billion already. But always wary of upsetting the UPA vote bank—be they PDS cheats and assorted rent seekers—UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the cabal around her put roadblocks on its use in one form or the other. The Aadhar actually remained a number, nothing else. The NDA, on the other hand, is keen to use the Aadhar platform for not only incidental operations like distribution of subsidised LPG cylinders but to replace the entire creaking PDS with a Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) architecture that may include issuing of Food Stamps.

But a countrywide identification system has its downside. If put in the hands of a draconian regime, its most fearsome use may be as an instrument of mass surveillance, much as the Nazis reportedly used an IBM machine way back in the 1933 census to identify the Jews in Germany. But, food and petroleum subsidy alone costing Rs 240,000 crore in 2016-17, and over 40 per cent of grains and sugar distributed across the Fair Price Shops either rotting in transit or getting pilfered, the gain from Aadhar far outweighs its imagined cost and fears. And the ‘cost’ is being cynically exaggerated by a section of leftist intellectuals in the former National Advisory Council (NAC) of UPA; it was popularly known as Sonia Gandhi’s ‘kitchen cabinet’. Jean Drěze, its economist ex-member, is particularly vocal against the NDA government’s plans with Aadhar. He is campaigning that the Aadhar Bill now passed in the Lok Sabha as a Money Bill (so bypassing the Upper House where the BJP is not in majority), is being built “as an infrastructure of social control”.

Last week, after the Lok Sabha cleared the Aadhar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley reminded the House that it was the “culmination of seven years of discussion” over the Bill. It was a confession of sorts of the stiff resistance that the BJP gave to the passage of some features of the law when the latter was in the opposition. But Jaitley was unambiguous in its purpose. He said “it will empower the state to distribute resources to the deserving people and save the resources that undeserving people get”. It is obvious that the economy, plagued by tepid tax revenues and soaring costs of government wages and defence expenditure, is desperate to curb the pressure of subsidies on both economic and social services. Even after setting aside the ‘merit’ subsidies (i.e., the essential subsidies in primary education, health, sanitation and sewage, mid-day meal, etc.), the non-merit (or inessential state spend on the undeserving) subsidy works out to a hefty one-tenth of the GDP. It is anything but sustainable. And the intention to curtail it signifies the political shift from the left to the right that marks the 2014 regime change.

Before the bill’s passage in the Lower House, it went through the Upper House with a slew of amendments, all moved by Congress lawmaker Jairam Ramesh. His amendments sought to prevent disclosure of “biometric or demographic information” in the interest of “national security”. It was proposed that the clause be substituted instead by “public emergency” or “public safety”. There were a few other amendments that were all swept aside in the Lok Sabha, where Jaitley’s ‘money bill’ made short shrift of Ramesh’s suggestions, one of which was against the use of Aadhar number for any purpose not mentioned in the Bill (such as for filing of Income-Tax return).

However, a good question to ask Ramesh could be: why is he nettled by the term “national security”? It is evident that a fear is stalking the opposition benches that the Aadhar Bill, after it becomes a law, may be used by the government to throw open the dossier on every dissenter and everyone who refuses to toe the line, and get its finger on his location, correspondence history, tax details or personal life. In a world which is digitally vibrant, the twelve digits on the Aadhar card are like a screen to the secret police to every secret in one’s life. In South Africa under the apartheid regime, the 1950 population registration data was used to assign in the 13-digit national identification number, the penultimate (12th) digit, telling if its holder is ‘black’ or not. There is no doubt, therefore, that Aadhar can turn out to be a weapon in the hands of the government of the day fighting war on many fronts. Surely, individuals, groups, communities etc indulging in anti-social, anti-national activities may have a reason to be worried too. For students of recent history, the anti-Sikh massacre after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984 may be a haunting issue in this respect. The Nanavati Commission report cites a glaring succession of the lynch mobs identifying Sikh households in Delhi with unerring precision within 24 hours of the former Prime Minister’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. Therefore, when a conspiracy drives mobs, it is not essential for them to act on a public identification network. There was no Aadhar then.

What is more relevant is the fact that the world has changed, and so has technology; and claiming privacy to be a “fundamental right” may be legally debatable but technologically laughable. Assuming that Big Brother is watching one’s movements, it makes sense giving everyone a number rather than making his wheat, or rice, get gobbled up by someone else.

Modi clips CVC wings

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group


Modi clips CVC wings
DOPT says it’s a recommendatory body only
Makes it a toothless

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, April 3: 
The Modi government is all set to make the Central Vigilance Commission a toothless body as it plans to bring a new vigilance law. A prelude to government’s thinking was reflected when the Department of Personnel & Training (DOPT) under the Prime Minister relaxed rules pertaining to Vigilance clearance for senior government officers under the  central government.

The significant change was made through an innocuous order buried under the mêlée of notifications issued by the DOPT in the service rules. The new order says adverse observations made by the CVC against officers pertaining to their conduct will not be binding on the department concerned. Until  now, the recommendations made by the CVC against the officers for their alleged misconduct are binding and can be over-turned only by the CVC or the tribunals or courts.

But the government has decided to clip the wings of the CVC in one go and that too quietly. The government is of the view that creation of one body after the other to punish the erring officials has only delayed justice and put road blocks into good governance. In any case, the Prevention of Corruption Act is of 1988 vintage and changes are needed in this regard. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has strongly advocated a new law in this regard.

The DOPT’s new rule stipulates that the department will have the prerogative whether to accept the recommendation of the CVC or not. However, the department will have to keep the Union Public Service Commission posted with the decision in the event of over-turning the recommendations of the CVC. It is clear from the new situation that the it will be for the department alone to ahead with lower level of punishment or penalty than recommended by the CVC.
The department concerned have been empowered to drop the charges altogether and it will only have to inform the CVC that it has decided to drop the charges. In the event of the CVC again deciding to insist on penalizing the concerned erring officer, the case will go to the DOPT  for the final decision.  

An office memorandum issued this month by the DoPT makes it clear: “All cases, where the Disciplinary Authority (of a department) decides to impose a penalty after conclusion of the proceedings and where UPSC consultation is required as per existing rules/instructions, shall not be referred to the CVC for second stage consultation.” The relaxation, however, will not be applicable to officers of banks and state-run organisations.

The DoPT order is significant because earlier, the case of a corrupt officer would be referred to the CVC for inquiry. Once the CVC had given its recommendation either way, the department concerned was supposed to accept it in toto. But not under the new rules issued where the cobcerned department can reject the finding.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dual charge of Defence puts Jaitley in a spot

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Exclusive report

Dual charge of Defence puts Jaitley in a spot
Harish Gupta

New Delhi, March 23

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley found himself in a tight spot when he took over as Defence Minister’s charge after Manohar Parrikar demitted office earlier this month.

The piquant situation arose because as Defence Minister he will have the financial powers to buy weapon systems of Rs 2000 crores on his own without going to any other ministry or the PMO.

In fact, earlier this power was Rs 500 crores to the Defence Ministers. But the PM Narendra Modi enhanced from Rs 500 crore to Rs 2000 crore to buy weapon systems when Parrikar was Defence Minister.

Modi also directed through an executive order that the combined financial powers of the Defence and Finance Ministers will be Rs 3000 crores. The Defence & Finance Minister need not come to the Cabinet or to the PMO before buying defence equipment and they together can decided decide between them to buy up to  Rs 3,000 crore. The decision to enhance the financial power of the key acquisition related ministers has been taken at the apex level by the Prime minister. The order was issued to enable  services to carry out low valued essential purchases without waiting to get clearances. It had been a long pending demand of the services as one of the measures to speed up acquisitions.

However, with Jaitley assuming the charge of Finance & Defence ministries, he holds the power to buy weapon systems up to Rs 3000 crores.

It is authoritatively learnt that he raised the issue of with the PM recently that he holds only an additional responsibility until the new person arrives. Therefore, it will be not be desirable that he sit on judgment of two ministries for buying equipment. He is reported to have told the PM that a way be found to resolve the dilemma.  When asked Jaitley told Lokmat informally that this issue has certainly put him in an awkward situation.


PM wants ban on cash donations to parties

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Special report 

PM wants all cash donations to political parties be banned before Next Lok Sabha polls

Shah, Jaitley to evolve consensus among political parties 

Cash donation limit was brought down from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2000 this Budget, introduced electoral bonds 

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, March 22

The Modi government is contemplating to dispense with all cash donations to political parties and wants such donations to be made only through digital/cheques/drafts and other modes of transactions. All donations must have a trail rather than from unknown sources.

Sensing the mood of the nation and growing desire to root out political corruption, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has now floated the suggestion that cash donations to political parties be completely banned.

As part of cleansing political corruption, the Modi government has already brought down the maximum cash donation limit from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2000 by any individual in the current Union Budget. In his budget speech on February 1, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley referred to the Election Commission’s recommendation in December 2016 to ban anonymous contribution “above or equal to” the amount of Rs 2,000.

BJP president Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have been sounded by the PM in this regard to evolve a political consensus among various political parties. Though publicly, some political parties including the Left have said that cash donations be banned. But the principal Opposition party, the Congress, has not expressed any opinion in this regard. Even other national and regional recognized political parties have come forward or demanded that cash donations be withdrawn.

Earlier, there was a restriction in place with regard to cash or anonymous donations in excess of Rs 20,000 by any person or company in a financial year under Section 29C in The Representation of the People Act, 1951.

The Commission had also suggested to the government to amend laws in order to allow tax exemptions only to parties that contest elections and win seats, either in the assembly or the Lok Sabha. The same was incorporated in the Union Budget this year.

Amit Shah said that “the BJP is working towards abolishing all cash donations and consult others.” He did not elaborate what he meant others. But it was explained by a senior party leader that BJP wants to bring in transformational changes and reforms in the governance of the country and polity and moving towards taking hard, bold and risky steps. “Demonetization and surgical strikes against Pakistan were bold decisions. If we can bring down the cash donation limit to Rs 2000 we will eliminate all cash donations as well”, said a senior general secretary. But it will take some time.

The BJP leadership is aware of some of the critical statements made by experts and learned people even when cash donation limit was brought down to Rs 2000 only from Rs 20,000 within three years of coming to power.

Modi is keen that all cash donations be banned and it should be done before the next Lok Sabha polls due in May 2019.

The government has already introduced a proposal to amend the Reserve Bank of India Act in order to enable the apex bank to issue electoral bonds in according with which the government shall be framing a scheme wherein a donor could purchase bonds from authorised banks against cheque and digital payments only. They shall be redeemable only in the designated account of a registered political party. These bonds will be redeemable within the prescribed time limit from issuance of bond.”   When asked, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “Lets wait.”