Monday, November 27, 2017

Fly on the Wall : No political secretary for Rahul Gandhi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Fly on the Wall
Harish Gupta 

No political secretary for Rahul Gandhi

There may be a mad race to grab the post of Political Secretary to Rahul Gandhi, insiders say that the new Congress President will not have a political secretary. The AICC is witnessing an interesting battle with top guns throwing their hat in the ring to grab the coveted post of political secretary to “CP”, it is emerging that there will no such post available. Insiders say that Ahmad Patel is Political Adviser to Sonia Gandhi and he will continue to hold the fort. Sonia Gandhi may not remain CP. But she will continue to be the Chairman of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) and Patel will be political adviser to the CPP. But Rahul Gandhi has his own style of functioning and will have his own team in his office. But there may not be much of a tinkering in the AICC office as a number of changes have already been made. If he has Mohan Gopal, an ideologue and director of Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies (RGICS), he has K Raju a former IAS working for him as key person in his office. Then former Union Minister Ajay Maken, Kanishka Singh and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh are also in the reckoning for the key post. Jairam Ramesh's supporters say that he has all the credentials to hold the post as he writes speeches for Rahul. But Rahul's Man-Friday these days is Sam Pitroda who will play a key role in the selection of Rahul's new team. Pitroda is the man who runs the show in the Rahul Establishment. But when it comes to political secretary's post, Rahul Gandhi will not have one. It is explained that there were historic reasons for Sonia Gandhi to appoint a political adviser. Rahul Gandhi doesn't need one.

Rane left high & dry !

Naraian Rane may have been left high and dry, at least foe the time being. He quit Congress and his Legislative Council seat as well. Though there was no formal announcement of his outfit joining the NDA by the BJP, Rane made a suo-moto declaration. It was conceived that Rane will be re-contesting his Council seat with the support of the NDA. The BJP leaders also went to town about it. But after a thorough internal discussion, it is felt that no useful purpose will be served by confronting the Shiv Sena at this juncture in Maharashtra. The Sena had made it clear that if Rane is fielded as a candidate with the support of the BJP, the “war” will begin. Rane doesn't have the strength to file nomination papers on his own. He can do it only with the support of the BJP. The BJP on its own strength cannot ensure Rane's victory either. Secondly, it will provide an opportunity to the Shiv Sena to form an alliance with NCP and Congress to ensure the defeat of Rane. The BJP leadership feels that the risk is not worth taking. The last word has not yet been written on the issue as yet.

The silence for 48 hours

Prime Minister Modi had given one mantra to his core diplomatic team including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj; to maintain total secrecy. He had burnt his fingers in 2016 when massive diplomatic effort was launched to secure the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers's group which miserably failed. But this time, the PM was very cautious and personally supervised the world-wide campaign for the victory of India's Dalveer Bhandari for the seat at the International Court of Justice. Modi was personally focusing on US, China, France, Germany and Russian and even UK who are members of the P5+1 powerful club. It was Modi who won over China in this crucial battle and in the end all 15 UNSC members voted for India. This is in complete contrast to New Delhi's widely publicized bid for the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2016. Even Justice Bhandari was told not to make any statement. The 48 hours preceding the vote for Dalveer Bhandari in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the UN Security Council (UNSC) were crucial. It was the silence of India for 48 hours that made the difference. It was a massive diplomatic campaign but all private.

Green Tribunal in great misery

The Modi government's apathy towards the National Green Tribunal was too well known and it was felt that this may be confined to the out-going chief Swatanter Kumar. But now it transpires that the government is in no mood to fill the vacancies even in four branches of the NGT at Chennai, Kolkata, Bhopal and Delhi. In fact, the government has virtually stopped communicating except for its lawyers appearing before the body. The NGT is virtually gasping for its own survival and no vacancies are filled of judicial and expert members of the body at its four principal branches. Interestingly, even in benches where judicial members are working, there are no expert members as vacancies remain unfilled. The two names that were sent for consideration of the government to replace NGT chief Swatanter Kumar who is retiring on December 18, have not been accepted by the Modi government. It transpires that the lone judicial member in Delhi NGT justice V D Salvi is also retiring February 2018. Tragically, the other benches of the NGT in Delhi are not even functioning as there are no members.

Modi wants NHRC Act to be amended

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also signaled to the judiciary that he is not comfortable with the current law governing the National Human Rights Commission. Under the law, only a retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court can be the Chairman of the NHRC. The law was made at the prodding of the Supreme Court when the executive was weak. The government feels that the law benefits only the retiring CJIs and doesn't send a positive signal. Modi is of the view that the law be changed and scope of appointing NHRC chief be expanded. Why only retired CJIs be its chairman and why not a human rights activist of acclaim or veteran jurist, wondered Modi at a close door meeting. The UPA under the Manmohan Singh dispensation also thought of amending the law. But it could not muster the courage to amend the law. But Modi is of the firm view that monopoly of post-retirement post reserved for CJI is discriminatory and be changed. Watch out ! 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Food for Children: PMO overrules two Union Ministries

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Special Report 

Food for Children: PMO overrules two Union Ministries
States can give packaged food 
Shot in the arm of packaged food industry 

Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Nov 9
The running battle between some of the Central ministries and the states for years on whether the children be given cooked or packaged food has been resolved by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

While the Ministries of Health and Women & Child Development ministries have been strongly advocating the need for giving cooked food to children falling in the severely acute malnutrition category. However, many states including Maharashtra were pitching for ready-to-use food for them.

After prolonged discussions with the states, expert committee reports and obtaining the views of the concerned ministries, the Prime Minister's Office mandated that states be allowed to decide their own policy in this respect. If the states want to give packaged food, so be it. The decision of the PMO has come as a big shot in the arm for the packaged food industry. Some say it will be a big incentive to the big players in the market such as Patanjali Foods, ITC and others.

In fact, the PMO overruled directives of the two concerned union ministries who were against providing ready-to-use food to children. The PMO said that individual states be allowed to formulate their own policy to give nutritious food to children. The PMO, however, clearly stated that the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) where hot-cooked food is served to children in the age group of 3-6 years will continue unhindered. The scheme to provide food to children in the age group of upto three years will remain unchanged. But the states will have the discretion to give ready-to-use food to children above the age of 6 years.

The tussle began when the WCD Ministry headed by Maneka Gandhi issued a directive to states that the ready-to-use food is against the stated policy. Therefore, the matter went to the PMO where it was resolved. Even the health ministry was of the opinion that the nutritious food quality is better in the hot cooked food rather than in the Ready-To-Use Food packets. In fact, the ministry had set up an expert committee. However, the states contested the claim and wanted their own way to implement the scheme which is centrally funded scheme with Centre footing the 50% of funds to states. The Health Ministry had, in fact, stressed as early as in 2009 that the use of RUTF was not an accepted policy of the government. And in 2013, the centre had asked Jharkhand to stop distributing RUTF to malnourished kids. However, the inter-ministerial group also spoke in two languages when it said that the Packaged food was helpful only temporarily and would not affect eating habits of the family. The WCD letter also pointed to concerns that the use of RUTF may replace family foods habits that children should normally be eating.

Fly on the Wall : Baffling Disappearance of scammers

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Fly on the Wall : 

Baffling Disappearance of scammers

The Sterling Biotech bribery allegations case in the Rs 5000 crores scam in which the name of CBI's special director Rakesh Asthana figured took an interesting turn; that the Enforcement Directorate is yet to seek the custody of the Gujrat-based promoters Nitin Sandesara and Chetan Sandesara. The ED went to town when it arrested Delhi businessman Gagan Dhawan recently who was instrumental in helping the company to manage its affairs with Central government agencies and banks. But the ED did not seek their non-bailable warrants against the Gujrat-based promoters. In fact, the scam first surfaced in 2011 and neither the UPA and nor NDA did anything worthwhile in this case for six years. It gained prominence only when proposal to promote Rakesh Asthana within the CBI to make him number two was brought before the Central Vigilance Commission. The CBI director Alok Varma opposed Asthana's promotion and was overruled by the CVC and news was leaked along with the entire case. Now it transpires that the promoters of the Sterling Biotech have vanished and not available to ED. The other directors of the company are around but the promoter director Sandesaras have vanished. No doubt, the ED has caught hold of the company CA who used to write the diary after making payments to officials. He has confessed that he made the payments. But unless the promoters are arrested and confess the same, nothing can be done. The ED is keeping its fingers crossed as no one has a clue where have they vanished, are they in India or abroad like many others.

Kovind's GCTOC test

President Ram Nath Kovind will face his first acid test when the controversial Gujrat Control of Terrorism and Orgnaised Crime bill (GCTOC) will land on his table soon. The GCTOC has been hanging fire for the past 14 years as three of Kovind's predecessors; APJ Abdul Kalam, Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee refused to sign. The Bill empowers the police to tap phones and use it as evidence in courts. It was conceived by Modi when he was CM in 2003 and pushing for its passage since then. In fact, he was very hopeful that Pranab Mukherjee will clear it. But he too declined to clear it in its present form. Now certain provisions are being re-worked. The bill is on the pattern of Maharashtra's MOCOCA which gives enormous powers to the state police. As per norms, the Union Home Secretary has to be kept in the loop before tapping telephones. The Gujrat police wants immunity to the state for any wrong doing in public interest. The bill will be on Kovind's table after the Assembly polls.

"Bichhre Sabhi Bari Bari", Lalu crying

Ever since his most trusted lieutenant and four-term Rajya Sabha MP Prem Chand Gupta deserted Lalu Prasad Yadav, the RJD supremo is in great agony and pain. He has been calling Prem Gupta repeatedly on his mobile and home numbers and waiting to meet him for long. But the former Corporate Affairs Minister in the Manmohan Singh government has not returned the call. Lalu's two former trusted officers Mahajan and Srivastava have also chosen to keep a safe distance from the former Railway Minister. Lalu has seen his worst as nobody calls on him these days and he is left with no monies. He is tapping all his former corporate friends and nobody comes to him. They are either not taking his call or not returning call either. Both his sons, wife, daughter Misa Bharti, her husband and other close relatives are under the ED/CBI scanner. Their bank accounts have either been frozen and confiscated. It is becoming clear that after the Gujrat polls, they will face a big music. But what Lalu can't comprehend is that his most trusted person Gupta stopped visiting him. It is learnt that ever since Gupta's wife Sarla Gupta was slapped with a PMLA case, Gupta is trying hard to curry favours from the Modi government. He is repoted to have met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley twice. What transpired during these meetings is anybody's guess. Lalu cried when an old friend called him up and said, “bichhre sabhi bari bari."

Amit Katyal goes missing too !

Heard of Amit Katyal ! He was a small time businessman who came close to Lalu and became big and fixed deals when Lalu was CM Bihar or Railway Minister. The ED has unearthed now that the New Friends Colony bungalow in the posh South Delhi area was virtually gifted by Amit Katyal virtually free to Lalu's daughter Misa Bharti and other family members through web of shell companies. The bungalow is worth Rs 30 crores though ED claims its more than Rs 100 crores. The ED has sealed the property and now fixing nuts & bolts. But it has been caught in a jam. Why ? Amit Katyal is not traceable. He is reportedly run away to Dubai. Though evidence has surfaced when ED detained Bharti's Chartered Accountant (CA) Rakesh Agrawal who started singing. Agrawal was arrested under PMLA for allegedly being instrumental in providing accommodation entries (illegal funds) to launder the money of businessmen brothers - Virendra Jain and Surendra Jain. But the prime person Amit Katyal has gone missing.

Lalu goes to astrologers

Lalu is now completely banking on his star for his fortunes. He has turned to the astrologers and godmen completely. Though he used to believe in astrology and star power. But he remained a die-hard political bird. However, his dependence on astrologers has gone up many folds with the appointment of Shankar Charan Tripathi, an astrologer, as party's national spokesperson.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

“Old is Gold” in BJP, once again

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

“Old is Gold” in BJP, once again

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, Nov. 2

After dumping party veterans to fend for themselves or dispatching some of them as governors, there is a sudden re-think in the BJP towards the 75 years old leaders. In a complete U-turn, the BJP announced Prem Kumar Dhumal as its Chief Ministerial face in Himachal Pradesh virtually at the fag end of the campaigning when he is set to turn 74 years shortly. As if this was not enough, the BJP president, Amit Shah, discarded the age-bar principle in Karnataka as well when he flagged off the “Nav Karnataka Parivarthana Yatra” today with B S Yedurappa. Interestingly, Yedurappa will turn 75 years January next and the Assembly polls will be held in May 2018. Yadurappa has been entrusted with the task of taking the state-wide padyatra. The 3-month long padyatra will be concluded by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But Yedi's elevation as party's face is a clear indication that the old leader is back in favour and lead the party from the front. 

The elevation of these two veteran leaders as chief ministerial face in their respective states is a complete reversal of declared policy of Prime Minister Modi and BJP leadership. Only recently, the leadership sent packing Gujrat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel once she turned 75 years old. Though she was virtually having a running battle with Amit Shah. But she survived as Modi was lending his support to her. However, the day she turned 75, the age-bar clause set in and she quit. Rather, she chose to write an open letter to Shah saying that she is quitting as she has turned 75 years.

But the age-bar rule is passe now with the announcement of Dhumal as BJP's CM face and B S Yedurappa in toe in Karnataka. The development has raised hopes of a large number of party veterans who are sitting members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as they have been forced to cool their heels. Veterans like L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, have been inducted into the Margdarshak Mandal of the party which has not even met once in past 42 months of NDA-II rule. Dr Joshi told Lokmat that not a single meeting of the Mandal has been held. There are at least 12 sitting Mps who are above 75 years of age in the party and they all had played a key role in building the party from the scratch. They have not been given any work in the party either if it was decided that they won't be inducted as ministers. So much so that some of the sitting ministers of the union government were made to resign which included Najma Heptulla and Kalraj Mishra. But the rule has been broken as there is a re-think on this score in the party. It is found that the rule cannot work in a democratic set up unless workers and leaders are geared up to accept it. Yashwant Sinha's tirade against the leadership that “we all have been declared brain dead” had played some role in the re-think.

A senior Rajya Sabha member of the BJP who is over 75 years, said, “The party must find out some alternative mechanism how to utilize the services 75 years old leaders as they have done only party work throughout their life. They do not know anything.”

It seems that all 75 years leaders won't be treated with the same yardstick in the party henceforth. The “Old is gold” now.


Fly on the wall : No Taj Mahal memento by the President

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

No Taj Mahal memento by the President

Why blame the UP Government or BJP hardliners for discarding Taj Mahal as the 7th wonder of the world and erase it from booklet meant for tourists. Long before this was done, the Rashtrapati Bhawan had discontinued the practice of giving Taj Mahal's replica as memento to visiting dignitaries. Gone are the days when Taj Mahal used to be given as precious gift to VIP visitors. But one must remember, this has not been done by Shri Ram Nath Kovind who was elected President with the support of the NDA in July this year. On the contrary, Ram Nath Kovind has proved to be a person of his firm beliefs. He recently said in Lucknow that if UP is known for Kumbh Mela, its also known for the Taj Mahal. This made some of the BJP leaders uneasy. The fact is that the practice of giving Taj Mahal replica was dispensed with by Kovind's predecessor Pranab Mukherjee. It transpires that Mukherjee chose to do away with the practice after suggestions emerged during informal discussions with the Modi dispensation. It was felt that the visiting dignitaries be offered books such as Gita or mementos reflecting the ancient civilization & culture of the country rather than of the Mughal era. Though no one from the government suggested to Mukherjee that he shouldn't give Taj Mahal replica as gift. The government was aware that Mukherjee is very sensitive to such issues and didn't say anything directly. However, Mukherjee was also aware of the sensitivities of the Modi government and keen to maintain cordial relations with it. Some say that he was hoping for second term and this step was aimed at keeping the NDA in good humour. Mukherjee stopped giving Taj replica as gift and Kovind has continued with the practice. Its a different matter that the Yogi Adityanath government in UP is now working hard to dispel the notion that its against the Taj. However, there is no dearth of those demanding that the old glory of Shiva temple be restored and Taj Mahal be buried in history.

Amit Shah batting for Hindutva

The Modi government may be completely focused on “Vikas” (development). But BJP president Amit Shah is clear in his thoughts and vision that the party cannot dump its Hindutva plank. He gave a clue to his thinking recently during an informal chat on Diwali Milan when he said, “I need my Hindutva, its my lifeline.” In fact, the BJP finds that the Congress is walking an extra mile to woo the community rather than focusing too much on the minorities. The fact that Rahul Gandhi is visiting temples and shrines regularly is an indication that the Congress is changing tack. “So why shall BJP abandon its time-tested policy?” wondered the leader. In fact, the UP government's recent order banning consumption of non-veg food in Vridavan and Barsana, birth places of Krishna and Radha, is an indication of BJP pursuing its policy stridently.

Its Modi VS Rahul in Gujrat

Its Modi VS Rahul battle in Gujrat now. No one cares who is the Congress face for the Chief Minister's post or whether Rupani will be stay as CM after the polls. For the first time in 40 months, its the first time that the polls are being fought between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. If Modi is contemplating to address 50 rallies during eight days of campaigning, Rahul is not lagging behind either. He may not address five rallies a day like Modi. But he has earned some brawny points recently due to wit and sarcasm and has made a mark too. Irrespective of the outcome of the Gujrat Assembly polls, Rahul Gandhi has arrived on the scene as he is making right noises these days.

How Patel got Bharat Ratna !

How Sardar Patel was conferred Bharat Ratna ? There is an interesting tale. And no one including the BJP or erstwhile Jan Sangh can take credit for it. Of course, the Congress was never keen to confer the highest national award to the departed leader. It so happened that Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991 in the midst of the General Elections in the country. T N Seshan who was the Chief Election Commissioner postponed the polls for some time and there was a pressure on the Chandra Shekhar government to confer Bharat Ratna on Rajiv Gandhi immediately. R Venkatraman was the President of India then and some discussions took place between them. It was agreed that Sardar Patel be also conferred Bharat Ratna. The BJP may be taking pot shot at Congress for ill treating its Iron Man.” But how the present dispensation treating its own “Lauh Purush” is for all to see. So why blame the Congress ?

Govt. to go soft in the Valley, for now

After telling the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to go soft in its operations in the trouble-torn Valley in J&K, the army has also been told avoid raiding civilian homes just on the basis of suspicion. “Unless there is specific intelligence information, unnecessary gun battles be avoided,” the Army was told. This has been done to facilitate the Special Representative of the Centre, Dineshwar Sharma, to undertake his peace mission in the state. Sharma has made a special request to the PMO that he would require calm in the Valley as he would like to initiate a dialogue with all the stake-holders. The NIA will not file the chargesheet against the Hurriyat leaders immediately giving some leeway to Geelani & company. There is already a talk to have are-look at the controversial AFSPA.