Thursday, June 29, 2017

N N Vohra offers to quite as J&K governor

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

N N Vohra offers to quit as J&K Governor

Lt Gen. Hasnain, Rajiv Meharshi in race

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, June 26

With the Jammu and Kashmir Governor N N Vohra expressing his desire to relinquish the charge of the trouble-torn state, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to take a call on his successor immediately after his arrival from his current US tour.

Highly placed sources say that Vohra had met the Prime Minister last month and conveyed his inability to continue. Vohra has been Governor of the troubled state for more than nine years. A career bureaucrat, Vohra was appointed by the Manmohan Singh government as J&K Governor on June 25, 2008. Though his tenure had ended long ago, he continued in the post.

It transpires that the Modi government has decided to bring in a new governor as Vohra has served for nine years and no tangible results came. Though the name of Union Home Secretary Rajiv Meharshi, a trusted bureaucrat of the present government, is in the reckoning. But it now transpires that PM Modi may do which none of his predecessors dared to do.

Informed sources in the South Block say that Modi may experiment by sending Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain who is a three-Star General of the Indian Army. Of the 12 Governors that J&K has seen since Independence, none of them belonged to the minority community. A worried Modi government undertook an extensive exercise before zeroing on a panel of names including Lt. Gen. Ata Husnain. His name emerged as the Valley is slipping out of the hands with the each passing day and the South Block is extremely worried.

Gen Hasnain has a wide experience of working in the state where he served as General Officer Commanding in Jammu and Kashmir in 2010-2011. He set an excellent example of right use of soft power with hard power.

It may be mentioned that Modi appointed a former Director of Intelligence Bureau as international envoy on terrorism. Despite being a UPA government appointee Ibrahim had opposed certain "political actions" of the UPA regime.

Sources say that a final decision on the successor of Vohra will be taken some time early July.


You down jack, I down jack

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Analysing the upcoming election (July 17) of the President of India may be like replaying the tape of an old cricket match. Because there is not much surprise left in the contest between Ram Nath Kovind, a career politician and the ruling NDA’s official candidate, and Meira Kumar, UPA’s, or rather the Congress’, official candidate, daughter of former deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram, diplomat, former Lok Sabha Speaker, and an amateur rifle shooter. Kovind is way out front in the race, which generally follows party lines. And, in the arithmetic of voting strength, the NDA starts from a winning score of 63 per cent; it may go up, not down, in the weeks ahead.

But it is still an interesting election. For the BJP, the choice of candidate holds a major surprise for the assorted scaremongers who had begun counting the Doomsday by the annulment of the Constitution’s secular commitments, and expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and the RSS to rummage through the nether world and pick up a Hindutva-warrior as the Presidential candidate. The political know-alls in the stretch between Raisina Hill and the gossip-filled bar and cafe of the India International Center were convinced that the apparent rejection by Team Modi of BJP bigwigs like L. K. Advani, M. M. Joshi and Sushma Swaraj for the prestigious (and powerless) job of the President had an ominous hidden meaning—that of eventually ‘Hinduising’ the Constitution with the help of a like-minded President. As if, given an encouraging pat in the back, any of the above persons would be shy to prove their Hindutva ! Apparently, it did not occur to the ‘cognoscenti’ that if the Constitution were to be twisted and mangled right down to its “basic structure”, its operation room could be the Parliament, and not the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The President is a cipher after all.

The fact that Ramnath Kobind is anything but a Swayamsewak—his only link with the RSS being that he had gifted to it his (none too pricey) ancestral home at Derapur in Uttar Pradesh—tells nothing much. If Modi is really harbouring some radical plans about governance, he can carry it through regardless of who is the President. Just as he did not say a word to President Pranab Mukherjee before ordering the scrapping of 86 per cent of the money in circulation. However, while the choice of Kovind is an obvious pointer to the BJP’s 2019 strategy of leaving no dalit sect unturned, it has a sub-text, which is that the dalit face the BJP under Modi and Shah is looking for is the quiet and sober type, not Mayawati’s kind of a restless soul who’d put caste at the centre of every discourse. Both Mayawati and Kovind are law graduates but the latter had practised law for years and, unlike Mayawati, joined a political party which is anything but someone’s personal property. On the other hand, to Mayawati, politics is a weapon of self-aggrandizement.

Just as Kovind’s choice underlines certain aspects of Modi’s mind, the selection of Meira Kumar by the Congress—which is the short-hand for Sonia Gandhi—is also indicative of its priorities. Kumar is dalit only by name but is a prominent member of the capital’s elite club that has all along set the rules of the game of politics. In her young days, she grew up a Lutyens’ Delhi girl and never left it at her present age of 72, having been elected five times to the Lok Sabha and then nominated as Speaker of the Lok Sabha. And, like all clever denizens of Lutyens’ city, she used her influence to get her father’s 6, Krishna Menon Marg residence allotted to herself for 25 years. Her selection as the Congress’ presidential candidate speaks volumes for the elitist bias that has crippled the grand old party, with choice of leadership at every stage being determined by pedigree and rank in society. Meira Kumar may not go down as badly as Lakshmi Sahgal in 2002, who bagged merely 107,366 votes against winner A. P. J. Kalam’s 922,884. The UPA’s performance could be a lot better if Sonia Gandhi showed a bit of imagination and started the ‘trick’ herself, forcing Modi to be the ‘taker’. Instead, the Congress allowed Modi to deal first, as in a game of bridge, and the latter played Dalit, his strongest hand. As successive elections in Uttar Pradesh are showing, economic and demographic changes are making the backwards dump their traditional guardians, Congress and BSP, with a big chunk of them tasting BJP’s hospitality. If Sonia Gandhi had a better sense of the game, she could in fact accept CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechuri’s advice and put up Gopal Krishna Gandhi as UPA candidate. That would have left Modi with no option to tapping the dark and thick seam of bigotry, and hatred of Mahatma Gandhi, in BJP’s sub-soil. Besides, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is supporting Kovid as he’s too eager to get his uneasy alliance partner Laloo Yadav off his back, by keeping Modi pleased, if necessary, would have thought many times over if he had to oppose a scion of the Mahatma and stay on the side of his abusers. That has a cost, of expulsion from the respectable class. But there is a silver lining in the Congress game-plan; it may finally bring SP-BSP-RLD-Congress on the poll table during 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Modi should have a reason to worry.

However, Presidential election cannot gauge public opinion as its electors comprise those already elected. Still, it is an occasion to get a sense of the kind of people running the majority group among the country’s lawmakers, big and small; their values and the respect they have for the illustrious countrymen whom majority of the people respect. In this sense, the Congress’ role is disappointing. For Modi’s Dalit, all it could offer was its own Dalit. And one like them, to be sure.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Modi’s President pick is a non-RSS man

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group


Modi’s President pick is a non-RSS man

Kovind was blessed for top post on May 3

He campaigned for Modi in 2014 Lok Sabha polls

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, June 20 

It was a sheer luck and non-controversial political journey that made Ram Nath Kovind to be the BJP’s presidential candidate.

Though Kovind was a light weight and had no connection whatsoever with the RSS during his political journey in the BJP. Yet Prime Minister Narendra Modi zeroed on him as he wanted a Dalit leader from UP only. Surprisingly, there was no Dalit leader worth a name who was senior enough to be picked up for the post of the President.

It was Dr Murli Manohar Joshi who brought him into the BJP in 1991. Joshi was party’s president then. Since Kovind was a standing counsel of the Government in the Supreme Court for the past 11 years and well-educated and the BJP was trying to expand its Dalit out-reach then, the party was happy to admit him into the fold. In 1994, Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani gave him Raya Sabha seat and he was repeated in 2000 or another term.

It was surprising that after his retirement in 2006, he was in political wilderness for almost eight years. The BJP leadership gave him no responsibility as Rajnath Singh didn’t like him. Incidentally, Rajnath Singh didn’t attend the BJP parliamentary Board’s meeting which approved Kovind’s selection as Presidential candidate. The official reason given was that Rajnath Singh broke his knee during morning walk. Incidentally, Kovind’s only major political assignment was in 2014 when he was stationed at Varanasi for Modi’s poll campaign. He never looked back since then.

It is somewhat strange that the RSS leadership has not reacted to the selection of Kovind so far. Its now two days and the RSS is quiet.

Sources say that the RSS leadership reported to have urged the PM and Amit Shah that the next President should be of RSS origin. But Modi picked up Kovind saying there is no Dalit leader of stature  from UP for the post. Though Thawar Chand Gehlot and Satya Narain Jatia are prominent Dalit leaders. But they belonged to Madhya Pradesh and Modi wanted only from UP.

But eyewitnesses say that there was a hidden hand of divine power also behind the emergence of Kovind for the coveted post. Kovind as Governor of Bihar visited India’s first Handicapped University at Chitrakoot on May 3. He paid  respect to the founder of the University Jagadguru Ram Bhadracharyaji. Though completely blind, the Jagadguru told Kovind like this, “Though I can’t see with my eyes. But I can say that you will get the highest post.” He blessed Kovind who touched Jagadguru’s feet.

It may be mentioned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a disciple of Jagatguru Ram Bhadracharyaji and derived his idea of doing a lot for handicapped from him. Modi bestowed the Jagadguru with Padma Vibhushan in January 2015.

When asked BJP vice president Prabhat Jha and Rajya Sabha MP confirmed that such a prediction was made by the Jagadguru   in his presence only.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Kovind to get more than 6 lakh votes, says BJP war room

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

exclusive copy 

Kovind to get more than 6 lakh votes, says BJP war room

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, June 19 

Tantrums thrown by Shiv Sena notwithstanding, the BJP presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind is set to win hands down as NDA has the support of more than six lakh popular votes.

Of the 10,98,882 votes, a winning candidate needs 5,49 442 votes to win the presidential poll slated for July 17. The BJP and its committed allies already have 5,06,834 votes in its kitty minus Shiv Sena’s 25,893 votes. Sena has 63 MLAs and 21 MPs in Parliament. An MP carries 708 votes each while an MLA carries votes according to the strength of the Assembly and population of the state.

The BJP  has also been extended support by the TRS, YSR Congress and AIADMK. They together have 98120 popular votes. Assuming Shiv Sena remains defiant, the BJP candidate will poll 6,04,954.

There are other non-UPA parties like the TMC, BSP, BJD and INLD who have not opened their cards as yet. The Janata Dal U has already welcomed the move by the BJP to field Kovind. In this scenario, the victory of Kovind is a foregone conclusion, say BJP sources sitting the war room calculating every vote.


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

In Britain, the law to register a joint stock company, instead of waiting for a Royal charter, was enacted in 1844. The same year saw the Joint Stock Companies Winding-up Act that could bring a company to an end and liquidate the assets. 

India inherited so much of its financial processes from its colonial masters yet it remained a laggard in the handling of failed businesses, thus crippling the banks’ resolve to find new borrowers. Sadly, having an economist prime minister trained in Britain didn’t help much. In 2014, India’s toxic loans stood at Rs 13 lakh crore ($195 billion), or a good $20 billion more than the GDP of New Zealand. The government of Dr Manmohan Singh collapsed under a cloud of controversy about sweetheart deals in licences for natural resources, and the consequent ruining of banks. 

This is the background to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s daring Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 (IBC) which ought to have come a couple of decades earlier—but better late than never. It is the first step in clearing the mess in which the economy is stuck, in which 240 of the top 500 borrowers belong to the stressed or Elevated Risk of Refinance (ERR) categories. These 240 entities, in their turn, hold about 42 per cent of the total outstanding debt of Rs 28.1 lakh crore. Rather than criticising the Prime Minister for “going slow” on reform, it is time his critics asked if the economy could be back in motion without unclogging the money pipes to and from the banks. 

However, the IBC architecture is complex. It requires armies of Insolvency Professionals (IP) National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and the regulator, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI). These professionals will be directed to takeover a troubled company and run its affairs with as much authority as its CEO. And they will of course remain in consultation with a Committee of Creditors. But it is the IP who has to decide the way forward—with either a saving formula (“resolution”), or liquidation. It is different from the existing (and ineffective) business rescue or winding-up procedures, like BIFR and SICA. What is lacking in them is the speed element, which puts IBC in a different league. After being assigned by IBBI, the Insolvency Professional must send his report within 180 days, with an extension of 90 days if the creditors have no objection. But that must lead to the final solution. Its novelty is charmingly spectacular in a city like Mumbai where the pre-Independence textile mills, all falling irretrievably sick in the Sixties, took almost half-a-century to let their creditors sell off the land for residential buildings, offices and shopping malls. 

Led from the front by the Prime Minister, his administration’s urgency to clean up the credit market is evident from the beginning. Last week itself, the Reserve Bank of India, with prodding from PMO, sent a list of 12 stressed accounts to bankers for urgent resolution through IBC. The holders of these ‘dirty dozen’ accounts, with names as familiar as Jyoti Structures, Monnet Ispat, Bhushan Steel and Essar Steel, account for 25 per cent of the current gross Non-Performing Assets (NPA). In India, as in Britain, the process of insolvency resolution has historically been biased on rescue. But, with a rigid time line for resolution or liquidation, IBC leaves no room for dodgy promoters to keep dawdling over airy-fairy rescue plans. In a way, it wouldn’t have allowed liquor baron Vijay Mallya to spend years in India on the excuse of trying to ‘save’ his bankrupt KingFisher airline, and then flee to England. 

The IBC is superior to anything similar in existence in the past. It exhibits a clear understanding of the real-life situations prevailing for asset quality to deteriorate in stages, from doubtful to outright bad. The PSU banks, host to most of the stressed assets, are manned by a crop of cautious bankers who’d give the difficult borrower one more chance before reporting his account to RBI as an NPA. Such extreme step also involves a personal risk. Sniffing a banker-client corrupt linkage, the CBI may knock at the very banker’s door one day. Under the new IBC, however, criminal proceedings are not permitted to interfere with the resolution of the existential problems of an insolvent company. This should give bankers the spirit to report a loan that doesn’t seem right before it gets rotting. 

Still, what is not clear yet is the government’s readiness with the IBC architecture. While IBBI, the regulator, may develop the required personnel and skill sets with time, the NCLT will have a tough time. Its mandate is to hear cases earlier dealt with by the Company Law Board (CLB), in addition to the new IBC cases. In March 2015, the CLB had 4,200 pending cases. All this will now go to NCLT, plus 4,000 IBC cases annually. The latter number may multiply with old BIFR and Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) being channeled to NCLT. This may raise workload on the NCLT benches quite sharply, with its solution being large scale fresh recruitment of NCLT judges, many of whom are required to be technically knowledgeable. 

The Indian business professionals—executives, shareholders, lawyers, finance experts—have a mindset coloured by the past culture of being reckless with bank loans. It led to the joke of a borrower visiting his banker in a rickety Maruti 800 to negotiate a loan, but, after defaulting, returning to the bank to restructure the debt, but in a Mercedes this time. One hopes Modi’s IBC will restore parity between the size of the debt and the length of the defaulter’s car.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kamal Trivedi is new SG?

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Kamal Trivedi new SG ?

Salve yet to respond to AG’s offer

Govt in a hurry to finalise Law officers early

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, June 13 

Even as suspense over the appointment of new Attorney General continues after Mukul Rohtagi expressed his desire to quit, the name of Kamal B Trivedi has emerged for the post of Solicitor General of India. Kamal Trivedi is currently advocate general of Gujrat and considered very close to Prime Miniser Narendra Modi. It was Modi who appointed him as Advocate General of Gujrat 11 years ago in 2006.

It is learnt that he has been sounded for the coveted post of SG. It is not immediately known if Trivedi is willing to come over to Delhi. For the post of Attorney General, leading lawyer Harish Salve is reported to have been sounded too. He was contacted in 2014 when Modi came to power. But he expressed his inability due to commitments in London. It is not immediately known if he is willing to return to India permanently. Sources say that in the event o him declining once again, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar may be promoted as Attorney General of India.

The government is keen to finalise the appointments of law officers before Modi departs to the US.

BJP Presidential nominee by June 21

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Special Report 

Presidential candidate

BJP presidential nominee by June 21

Amit Shah meets Naidu & others

3-member ministerial panel working in full swing

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, June 13

The three member ministerial group to hold consultations with the allies and the Opposition parties for the selection of the Presidential candidate held its first meeting this morning.

The meeting was held at the residence of  Urban Development and I&B Minister M Venkiah Nadu, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Interestingly, the BJP president Amit Shah was also present at the meeting.

It is learnt that the name of the BJP’s presidential candidate will be finalized early next week and all consultation process with allies and Opposition parties will be completed by then. An elaborate plan was discussed today to finalise the roadmap, from selection to filing nomination papers, for the party’s Presidential candidate before June 21-22. 

It was somewhat an irony that Venkiah Naidu who was in the reckoning for the President’s post, has been made a member of the selection committee itself.

According to informed sources, the top leaders met to evolve a strategy as who will speak to which party and which groups. While Arun Jaitley will talk to leaders of Opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha since he has a very high level of personal relationship with them. He has a great rapport with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Derek Obrian of TMC, Ram Gopal Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Satish Mishra (BSP), Praful Patel (NCP) and others. He has high level of comfortable relations with Anand Sharma (Congress) and deputy chairman P J Kurien. Amongst the allies, he is close to the Akali Dal leadership and a large number of Independents and smaller parties.

Venkiah Naidu has primarily been charge of talking to all political parties of southern India including Pudducherry and Chief Ministers of various states. The TDP, TRS, various factions of the AIADMK, Janata Dal (S), Rajnath Singh will handle Jammu & Kashmir and North Eastern State Parties and chief ministers.

The task is not only to focus on the Members of Parliament of Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha but also MLAs who will count in a big way. There is a whole battery of smaller parties in states and Independents.

The objective is to talk to all these MPs, MLAs and parties to obtain their in-principle support for the BJP nominee and thereafter talk to the Opposition parties.

As per plan, the ruling NDA will complete the process this week end and thereafter the process of consultations with the Opposition will begin.

The last date for filing nominations is June 28.

Meanwhile, the government constituted  a committee of secretaries headed by Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha to oversee arrangements for the swearing-in-ceremony of the new president on July 25.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The loan waiver gambit

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a way of making juicy promises studded with numbers that he emits with great certitude. Some time it works, sometime it doesn’t. When it fails to work, it blowbacks on his government with unfailing accuracy. Just as it’s happening for over a month now. A rosy promise he made in 2014 is now chasing him. During his general election campaign, Modi assured the farming communities that, if he could wield power, they’d get a 50 per cent return on their investment in agriculture. Such return on investment in the medium term is many times over that in oil, gas, or even information technology in its heydays.

But the fact is that Return on Investment (RoI) in agriculture is moving southward, not the other way round. I am not sure if the government has the vision to see light at the end of the tunnel in which agriculture in India has gotten itself imprisoned over decades. Had successive governments implemented some innovative schemes in the agriculture sector, farmers would not have suffered as they did during the several decades. Modi knew the plight of the farmers as he was at the helms in Gujrat as Chief Minister.  In 2014, Modi offered moon to the farmers and that’s Modi’s present unenviable situation. With farmer unrest setting off as Jat farmers’ pandemonium in Haryana and Delhi, it has now engulfed Maharashtra, parts of Uttar Pradesh, even distant Tamil Nadu. In Madhya Pradesh, where an insensitive state government failed to curb police brutality at Mandsaur, bordering Maharashtra, six farmers were killed in firing. Adding insult to injury, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, whose calling demanded of him to rush to the spot, remained unperturbed as he appeared on a television program the same day by the side of a yoga tycoon, and bending his torso in the same asana as the latter’s. Meanwhile, the next day at Mandsaur, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was grabbing headlines as police of the BJP-ruled state of Madhya Pradesh prevented his entry and arrested him.

Agriculture accounts for only 17.32 per cent of India’s GDP yet 58 per cent of the rural households depend on it as the principal means of livelihood. Common sense dictates that a sector being so overcrowded, its stakeholders would insist on multiple reforms, like educating and re-skilling themselves for alternative vocations, forcing the state to invest heavily on agricultural infrastructure, help diversify produces and design ‘smart’ subsidies. In all these tests, if the Congress-led UPA were an utter failure, the BJP-led NDA is under performer.

However, the Modi administration was quick at promising reform. Irrigation is an example. Only 47 per cent the country’s farms are irrigated, though it generally means pumping up groundwater with bore wells and dry up the underground aquifers. It is sheer waste of water. However, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), with a Rs 54,000-crore allocation (in five years), is floundering because it has little interest in minor irrigation that brings water directly to the farmer—the budget for such schemes has been cut 30 per cent this year. The explanation was that higher allocations have been made to the states. The government’s focus is on large projects, 92 of them, most of which are under various stages of completion. The problem is such long term projects do not help the farmer facing consecutive droughts in short term.  

Irrigating India being too challenging a task, the Modi administration has gone for the easy option, which is loan waiver. For this, however, the copyright goes to Congress which waived farm loans countrywide in 2007. Its futility is best shown by agricultural economist Ashok Gulati in a chart that shows the state-wise tepid and unequal growth of agricultural output between 2007-09 and 2014-15. In 2004-05 prices, the annual growth rate of agriculture in India was only 3.2 per cent. Punjab, once the granary of India, witnessed its declining growth trend dropping even faster to 1.3 per cent.

Loan waiver, therefore, is not linked to agricultural productivity. Instead, it is a fallout of rural indebtedness which has become, over centuries perhaps, a signature of India’s village life. From Nehru to Modi, no regime could combat it. Up to 57 per cent of farm families in Maharashtra are indebted. For India, the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) measured it as 52 per cent in 2013. The anxiety of loan default sits on the mind of India’s rural people like dead weight, accounting for most farmers’ suicides (in Maharashtra, 4,291 in 2015). Politicians try to cash in on this anxiety, like Yogi Adityanath who, after taking charge of Uttar Pradesh, promised a loan waiver of Rs 30,792 crore.

And that blew the fuse on the farming front. Across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, farmers are demanding full waiver of all outstanding loans. Maharashtra has already buckled under farmers’ pressure, and others too may not have much option. But, with total agricultural loan standing at Rs 12.6 lakh crore, it can be fully written off at the peril of “severe systemic consequences”, as minister of state for agriculture Parshottam Rupala said in Parliament. The other anodyne in the government’s chest of medicines is the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism. As subsidy, MSP has gone a long way in curbing India’s crop diversity, by keeping it primarily a wheat-and-rice country. But, with rising income levels, popular food choice is changing, and, according to a study by Credit Suisse, per capita consumption of cereal is dropping 1 per cent annually over the last 30 years. That explains bursting cereal warehouses.

What is destroying agriculture? Can it survive with so many people jostling for a sector of so little value? How can farming be modernized when the holdings are pocket handkerchief-sized? Modi rightly abolished presentation of a  Railway Budget. But its high time that a separate Krishi Budget be introduced. This will force the bureaucracy completely insensitive to plight of the farmers and rural economy and lame-duck ministers to help in changing the face of the farmer. My humble advice is Modi’s yoga-loving ministers and chief ministers can apply their mind to these issues, rather than assuring fictional profit in agriculture, or busting the exchequer to write off bad loans.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ravi Shankar Prasad interview of the week

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Interview of the Week with Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Law & IT Minister  

Law is taking its genuine course in probes against the corrupt

We can’t look the other way in corruption cases

India is free from cyber attacks, our systems are in place

Digital payment charges are being looked into

By Harish Gupta

Lokmat: Where do you stand on Triple Talaq now that the SC has heard it ?

R S Prasad: I will not make any comment now that the SC has completed hearing on its validity. But we have stated our views very clearly. Its not an issue related to any religion or community. It relates to gender justice, gender dignity, gender equality. After nearly 70 years of India`s Independence, the issue of right to live with dignity has been raised by a big segment of country. Our view is clear; It is unconstitutional and must go.

Lokmat: What is the alternate machination if the SC strikes it down?

R S Prasad: We will have to decide after the court judgment.

Lokmat: It is said that you may come out with Muslim Marriage Act?

R S Prasad: All these things are going on. I do not wish to make any comment. But surely the government is open to have a fair mechanism if it is needed.

Lokmat: But you have doing this lip service. Your party has done nothing for Muslims in terms of giving them tickets or positions of eminence ?

R S Prasad: This concern for dignity of women is not for Muslims. What is BETI BACHALO BETI PADHAO, What is Sukanya Samridhi Yojna which I am handling as postal department minister. Why is out of almost 7 Crores transactions in MUDRA 2/3 are woman. Of the nearly 40 lakh IT employees nearly 1/3 are women.

Lokmat: I was talking about giving them political recognition by your party?

R S Prasad:  May be you have a case that we ought to give them more tickets. But there I have differences and I am happy that you asked this question. But other parties symbolism ends by giving them tickets. The real issue is of denial of empowerment of the Muslim women. These parties maintain silence when it comes to their empowerment. 

Lokmat: So you are empowering Muslim women?

R S Prasad: Obviously. Now their voice is heard. Rajiv Gandhi ultimately surrendered despite having a massive majority in the Shah Bano`s case. But the Muslim women in India have got a strong leader in Modi who stands by them in their pain and agony.

Lokmat: You are needling your political opponents one by one by using state agencies in every state and also at the Centre?

R S Prasad: Did we tell Lalu Prasad`s sons to have big land in Delhi and Patna ? Did we advise his daughter to have huge farm houses through means which are questionable?

Lokmat: You have lodged cases against Mayawati’s Brother, congress leaders in Karnataka, Himachal, Haryana and other states ?

R S Prasad: Has any one been chased without any evidence? If there is a case against a Karnataka Minister and crores of rupees are found,  you want Income Tax dept to remain quite? If Mayawati’s brother`s issue is discovered by agencies, you mean to say they should look the other way.

 Lokmat: So you are saying that your CBI, ED, DRI, IT are not going after the opposition parties.

R S Prasad: Your allegation is incorrect that’s what I can say.

Lokmat: All kinds of allegations and probes are being made against Arvind Kejriwal. But why have failed to chargesheet him?

R S Prasad: We do not interfere in the work of any of these agencies.  The law is taking its genuine course without any pressure and without resorting to any manipulation.

Lokmat: You mean the whole lot of Opposition is corrupt?

R S Prasad: There are court rulings in cases where Income Tax is probing cases against high & mighty people, you know. Now they are forming grand alliance. Its nothing but the congregation of the corrupt.

Lokmat: You are selective in acting against political class.In Maharashtra you bitterly campaigned against corruption of NCP leaders like  Ajit Pawar. But did nothing against him ?

R S Prasad: I do not have the facts of the case presently. But the legal process is on against all of  them.

Lokmat: Cyber security is one of the biggest issues and you are handling it……..

R S Prasad: Digital India is changing the face of India now. Two Crore people are on BHIM app for digital payments and more than 20 crore transactions have taken place by linking 27 crore Jan Dhan account with mobile and AADHAR. We have saved more than Rs  50000 crores by directly transferring the monies into their accounts eliminating the middlemen.

Lokmat: But why the banks are still charging higher for digital payments? It’s a great concern?

R S Prasad: There is no charge on BHIM app. The AADHAR PAY which the PM had launched, there is no charge. For other UPI apps, the cost is zero. 

Lokmat: But banks are charging more for digital payments while cash is free of charge?

R S Prasad: Its very low and we are already looking into this issue.

Lokmat: And what about the cyber attacks & security?

R S Prasad: India, fortunately, is free today except a few isolated incidents in AP and in Kerala.

Lokmat: May be India was not targeted by hackers?

R S Prasad: No, not at all. From March-April we have taken enough steps to make our systems secure because we were planning to go digital in a big way.

Lokmat: You mean to say that you had advance information about these attacks?

R S Prasad: All I can say is that we took steps to tighten digital and cyber security systems. We installed PACT system. We advised all the banks and govt. departments to put strong systems in place.

Lokmat: Controversies with regard to Aadhaar refuse to die down. P Chidambram says it was conceived for Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme and was optional?

R S Prasad: The problem of Chidambram is that he is yet to reconcile that he is no more in power. We are doing what they didn’t have the courage to do. We laid Optical fiber network for 2.5 lakh gram panchayats today while they connected less than 100 villages.  We are not making it mandatory.... section 7 says no one shall be denied the right of benefit but you must alternatively come on the AADHAAR system. Who is unhappy? The Poor ? Some people are unhappy because there are no middlemen. I am surprised at Chidambaram’ statements.

Lokmat: So the sinking feeling that Chidambram is having and expressing through his articles is only for him and his party?

R S Prasad: It is completely personal….. why it is so… I will not go into those details. The whole country knows why he is having this sinking feeling. For the Congress, in-spite of getting 44 seats...  in-spite of reduced to single digit in UP... in-spite of a washout in one election after the other, the party is unwilling to learn lessons. It is seeking space in only editorial pages.... good luck to them.

Internal bickering led to quitting of Rohtagi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Internal bickering led to quitting of Rohtagi

Salve in line of suucession

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, June 12

With Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi declining to continue in the post “until further orders” decks are cleared for a shake up in the government’s legal officers’ team.

It transpires that the proposal for extending the terms of AG Mukul Rohtagi, Solicitor-General of India Ranjit Kumar and eight other Additional Solicitor generals of India was mooted almost two months ago.

has written to the Narendra Modi government, saying he is not interested in the continuation of his tenure as the nation's senior law officer and wishes to get back to private practice. Normally, such decisions are taken well in advance rather than delaying until the last moment. But in the instant case, the file remained pending somewhere in the Law Ministry or the Prime Minister’s Office.

Without waiting for the government to take a decision, Rohtagi wrote to the government that he was not interested in continuing with the job and wants to return to private law practice. 

Rohatgi, 61, had been appointed for three years and his term was to expire on June 18, 2017. However, Prime Minister Modi, before embarking on a foreign tour, issued a general order saying that the term of all law officers is extended until further orders. It is said that this was the crux of the problem as self-respecting Rohtago felt that he can’t remain an atmosphere of uncertainty and decided to call it a day.  Sources in the law ministry said they were "not aware why the Attorney General is not keen to continue".

"I have worked for five years as law officer under the Vajpayee government and now three years under the Modi government," Rohtagi said in the state. "I want to return to my private practice. I have a good relationship with the government... That's why I wrote to the government not to extend my term," he added.

A word is yet to emerge in respect of Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar whose term had also been extended until further order.

Sources in the law ministry said the present team of law officers was considered close to Finance & defence minister Arun Jaitley. It is also felt that Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was always uncomfortable with Rohtagi and even Ranjit Kumar. It is not known what will happen next because the entire government will now be stationed in Delhi for the next one week as various important decisions are to be taken in bureaucracy, law ministry and also Presidential elections.

Over the last three years, Rohatgi was handling the cases involving Aadhaar, judicial appointments for the government. His recent cases also involved the contentious triple talaq issue, the matter is being heard by a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.

The son of former Delhi High Court judge Justice Awadh Behari Rohatgi, he earlier represented the Gujarat government in the Supreme Court regarding the 2002 Gujarat riots, and cases involving Zahira Sheikh and the Best Bakery. There are reports that leading lawyer Harish Salve may now be brought in a AG and Tushar Mehta, an additional solicitor general of India may be promoted.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Modi govt worried, may hike Kharif crop prices

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi govt worried, may hike Kharif crop prices
Early rains and package may douse fire

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, June 8

With farmers agitation spreading like a wild fire, Modi government is taking every possible step to douse the fire. If the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was directed to handle the issue with sensitivity rather than be in a denial mode that farmers were not killed in police firing. It was after the Prime Minister personally spoke to Chouhan before leaving for Astana, that the MP government announced a cash compensation of Rs one crore each to those killed in the firing. The Madhya Pradesh Home Minister who had blamed the Congress for firing on the farmers had eat the humble pie and confessed that they were killed in the police firing.

As if this was not enough the MP Government is also opening new procurement centers across the state to procure pulses an onion at much higher price.

The prime minister’s focus before departing for Astana was to ensure that farmers’ agitation doesn’t spread in other states particularly in the neighbouring Gujrat and Rajasthan. Since loan waiver package have already been announced in UP and Maharashtra, it is expected that situation will be under control.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh was asked to oversee the situation in states in the absence of the Prime Minister. It was also decided that Union Cabinet’s decision relating to 14 crops of Kharif season be deferred. Union Agriculture Radha Mohan Singh who was to announce Cabinet’s decision, deferred his press conference yesterday. No reasons were given either by his ministry or by the government. It seems that the government wants to announce the steep hike in procurement prices of Kharif crops in a big way. It may now be done after the return of Prime Minister and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley from Paris.

The government also expects that the agitation will subside as the Monsoon is setting in MP, Rajasthan and other parts of North India within the next few days.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Opposition needs French lesson

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The routing of the opposition in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections by the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a stunning effect which will not subside anytime soon.

The initiative that Congress president Sonia Gandhi began since April to meet individual opposition leaders—from Sharad Pawar to CPM’s Sitaram Yechuri, both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav of Bihar, or West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee—is a direct fallout of the defeat in Uttar Pradesh.

However, it is the seemingly irresistible rise of BJP, and the anxiety that it may after all change the rules of the game of politics set in the past decades, that has spread across the length and breadth of the country. In Chennai, the possibility of matinee idol Rajanikanth carrying the flag of BJP into peninsular India has made the Opposition worried. It lent  to the birthday of nonagenarian leader K. Karunanidhi, into a matter of national urgency, on the scale of Udyog Parvin the Mahabharata. In Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party leader and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has resumed calling BSP supremo and his sworn enemy Mayawati “bua” and they are talking again directly now. Besides, unfazed by the new anti-corruption inquiries he is facing, Lalu Yadav is holding a joint rally of opposition parties in Patna on August 27, its battle cry being “BJP hatao, desh bachao”.

Nevertheless, achieving opposition unity is easier said than done. It’s because it was hopelessly disunited to begin with, so much so that the BJP could manage to come to power in 2014 due to, inter alia, its disunity. The vote share of NDA was 38 per cent yet it bagged 336 (61.87%) of the 543 Lok Sabha seats.

And now, after the UPA parties’ misfortune, their internal problems have compounded. Mayawati is no longer the monarch of her Jatav community as the Dalit youths of Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, have taken their destiny in their own hands instead of leaving it to BSP. They were oppressed by the rich and armed and politically influential Rajputs. Now they have formed Bhim Sena which promises to become the community’s new platform. Within SP, the Yadav family tussle involving  Akhilesh and Mulayam Singh Yadav, his father and the party’s founder, is far from being resolved. Also doubtful is the Congress’ ability to project itself any longer as the ‘natural cradle’ of potential prime ministers. Sonia Gandhi’s ‘unity luncheon’ (for selecting opposition candidate for President election), coinciding with the NDA government’s third anniversary, skipped by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, was an impressive photo-op, and just about that.

In fact, Nitish rubbed it in by abstaining from Sonia’s conclave yet meeting the Prime Minister over lunch the very next day. Pawar was present at the lunch but he’d earlier turned down Sonia’s call-in to be UPA’s presidential candidate. “The job comes with a great house but I enjoy talking to you”, he later told journalists. Obviously, the job he’s aspiring to is to lead the next government from Parliament, not Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nitish Kumar, too, has got his sight set on the prime minister’s job. In his earlier meeting with Sonia, he’d recommended a second term for Pranab Mukherjee, the outgoing President. However, he said little about the nature and leadership of a future opposition alliance. The Congress is desperately looking for an alliance with H D Deve Gowda in Karnataka. But Gowda is deeply hurt as the Congress government had put his son H D Kumaraswamy in jail. He did attend Sonia’s lunch after persuaded by Sharad Yadav and Sitaram Yechuri. But no further political deal in Karnataka.

The opposition turf has no shortage of vaulting ambition, inflated ego, or pulses racing doe to Modi’s taxmen and cops closing in on piles of allegedly ill-gotten cash. But that doesn’t a leader make. The big change that has hit the electoral process in democracies worldwide is that it has become almost entirely personality oriented, like in the presidential system, with little room for the opposition except that of “also ran”. Most recently, it has happened in France, with centrist and globalist Emmanuel Macron getting  66 per cent votes while Marine Le Pen, the right-wing populist being left with only 34 per cent. What’s noteworthy is that Macron, who had been the finance minister in the previous socialist government of Francoise Hollande (something comparable in its ineptitude and venality to the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-2), quit it, formed his fledgling party En Marche, and targeted and grabbed his bull’s-eye—the huge middle ground that’d shiver to support Hollande’s  party yet would have voted for Le Pen if there was no option.

Incidentally, Britain is heading for a similar situation as it goes to poll on Thursday, June 8. In this mid-term poll, the British voter will be caught between prime minister Theresa May’s pro-Brexit Conservative Party and the Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a rather loopy communist who worships Venezuelan ex-president the late Hugo Chavez and says if elected PM he’d nationalize mail, rail and energy firms. That’s a bit too much in a nation that still respects Margaret Thatcher, the ‘iron lady’ of privatization, and the country reshaped by her. The country became the bedrock on which two ‘new Labour’ PMs, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, could thrive. Corbyn is a hater of their ‘neo-liberalism’ while May is clearly devoid of political ideas. Therefore, it is likely that, come June 8, voters will move one way in large herds but none will be there to represent the sensible middle ground. Significantly, Macron polled 84 per cent of the top 20 per cent highest educated voters.

India did not (and does not) have a Macron-type leader primarily because it lacks enlightened voters. But that is no excuse for leaders being so bereft of ideas about the direction that India may follow. When called upon to govern states, their ideas are limited to banning alcohol, or denying land to industry. It’s not Modi’s opposition, India is waiting for his challenger.

Pawar daydreaming on mid-term poll in Maha

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Pawar day dreaming about mid-term poll in Maharashtra

BJP not worried about Sena

Amit Shah confident SS will vote for BJP presidential candidate

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, June 7

The BJP high command dismissed senior NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s view that Maharashtra is heading towards a mid-term poll.

“Pawar Saheb is day-dreaming. His party is looking for a role in the state and at the Centre. He thinks that Shiv Sena will desert BJP and there will be political role for his party. But nothing of this kind will happen,” said a senior general secretary of the party on the condition of not being quoted.

The general secretary said Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is handling the state in perfectly. If he has taken a decision to announce the package sometime in October, it is largely because the Monsoon is about to set in the state. It is expected that immediate problems of the farmers would be resolved and a fair assessment will be made about the compensation to them only after the Monsoon.
The BJP leader said  that Pawar is a worried man because the probe agencies continue to go after cases of corruption. The Enforcement Directorate had already gone after Ajit Pawar and the CBI registered an FIR in the aircraft purchase case during UPA regime.

With regard to relations with Shiv Sena, BJP president Amit Shah had told a small group of journalists last week that relations with the ally are cordial.

Amit Shah had said the allies do have their own views on certain issues. The Shiv Sena is an ally at the Centre and in the state and he had not heard anything that they have  changein a democratic set up, an ally is free to express its view and it will be seriously looked into.

The BJP leadership is confident that Shiv Sena will vote for the party’s Presidential this time. It may be mentioned that the Shiv Sena did not vote for the BJP candidate during the two previous Presidential elections. But the Modi-Amit Shah team is confident that Sena will vote for the BJP candidate.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Steak and Dhokla

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Defying gravity, when Donald Trump made his way to the White House last year, it was generally seen as a mostly local catastrophe whereas the US foreign policy, it was hoped, is too big to fail, resting on the long pillow of seemingly unshakable global business and defence ties. But Trump is a new persona amidst foreigners in Washington.

Till recently, in the French presidential election this month, he seemed championing populist right-wing leader Marine Le Pen as “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France”. After rolethe liberal pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron soundly beat her, Trump did a somersault as he told Macron: “You are my guy.” With other European leaders, he was downright caddish. In his recent trip across the pond, he called Germans “bad” because they sell “just too many cars” in America. At a NATO meet photo-op, he shoved the leader of Montenegro, a small Balkan nation, who happened to be at the centre, to occupy his place.

Before flying into Europe, Trump was in Riyadh where he became a picture of cordiality, starting his interactions with a traditional all-male swordplay, and promising a bonanza of aid for arms to fend against “radical Islamist terrorism”. What he forgot was that it was his host that was the engine powering jihadism based on the tenets of Wahhabism, and Saudi nationals constituted most of the fighters of both Al Qaeda and Islamic State. In the process, attention got deflected from the significant fact that the Saudi priority being to mount attacks on all non-Sunni nations, notably Iran, Trump’s promised aid has the potential to derail Teheran from the path of non-nuclearization. Tehran had earlier agreed to tread after patient persuasions from the Western powers. However, Trump, in stark contrast to his inexplicable show of magnanimity in Riyadh, was all petulance in Europe as he reminded his NATO colleagues that what mattered most (to him) was the regularity of their payments into the alliance’s coffers. NATO was born in the early years of the Cold War as a bulwark of the Western democracies against the communist USSR under its totalitarian leader Stalin. It is obvious that Trump, with hitherto unstated Russian affinity that he and his family members reportedly cherish, is finding NATO’s very idea to be flawed from his perspective from the beginning.

In fact, the Trump presidency has got deeply mired in the Russian muddle. FBI, America’s top investigative agency, which was given the task of investigating possible links between Trump’s campaign team and entities in Russia, has now got its chief fired by the President. Yet there is no sign of the agency closing the investigation. On the other hand, it has zeroed in on Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, apparently to investigate the extent and nature of his alleged interactions with Russians. It has been reported that, a month after Trump’s election, Kushner discussed with some Russians a project to set up a secret line of communication with Moscow.

Also under the scanner are the extensive business dealings that officials close to Trump had with Russian proxies in Ukraine. It is the Russian military intervention in Ukraine that brought a new urgency into NATO. After all, Ukraine is the most pro-West of the ex-Soviet satellite nations which former US President Barack Obama fully appreciated. It was Trump’s predecessors who made his country share the concern of Europe and the cost of containing Russian president Putin’s fury. In his election campaign, Trump turned it into his ammunition as he presented the European powers as parasites that were leeching on America for their security. On the other hand, he presented Russia as a victim. Strangely, this fanciful narrative not only went unchallenged in the American public space but created a lot of interest in within the Putin administration to install  “our man” in White House. This is an idea that might make the remains of Stalin turn in its grave. Trump’s deeply troubled five months’ presidency, and the continuance of governmental and congressional probes into his affairs, have got Washington shrouded in an uncertainty not seen till the end of the Nixon years.

All this is bad news for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has visited 57 countries since assuming office, but whose foreign policy turns on the pivot of America. A Modi visit to the US towards the end of next month is on the anvil. But the problem is, India is not prominently placed in Trump’s attention span and priorities. In his recent speech in Riyadh, he mentioned India, among others, as a victim of terrorism. But, unlike his predecessor, he lacks a world view, not to speak of a civilizational compass. India in his mind may be lost in a landmass which seem to be distant.

It is not that Trump’s mind-space is limited to the Trump Towers in America. He has a dealmaker’s shrewd understanding of who’re the ones that matter, and is careful to set the chocolate cake moment with Chinese president Xi Jinping at his Florida club Mar-a-Lago, or play golf with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, and beam at his Saudi hosts when served his favourite all-American fare, well-done steak and ketchup.

He is a Conservative elite and will remain so, impeachment or no impeachment. Personality wise, he is so far removed the liberal Obama that Modi must rewrite his manual of self-projection—the “my friend Bahrahak” types—with care. And food is an issue; committed steak-lovers may hold dhokla-eaters as the ET.

The real problem is, Trump’s dealings with people are purely transactional. If India is jointly pounded by Pakistan and China, he is unlikely to promptly act, at least that’s the impression one gets. Secondly, Trump in unpredictable. And that’s why the coming US visit is Modi’s litmus test.