Saturday, March 31, 2018

Fly on the wall : When Venkaiah Naidu offered to quit

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

When Venkaiah Naidu offered to quit

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu stunned the leaders of all parties when they assembled in his chamber in Rajya Sabha soon after the House was adjourned within minutes of its meeting in the morning. He created a flutter when he told Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that he would not brook any indiscipline in the House and if leaders are not satisfied by his style of conducting the House, they are “free to elect a new Chairman.” There was a pin drop silence in Naidu's chamber who is also the chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Jaitley was pleading with Naidu long with other leaders that he should be lenient and allow members to vent their feelings rather than adjourning the house for the day within minutes of his meeting. The leaders reminded Naidu that he himself had been part of this process for several decades and such venting and rhetoric by Mps is part of the parliamentary practices. But Naidu firmly told them,”Yes, I have been part of it and seen it for decades. But this is not the way the House to function. The Mps should allow the house to run in a proper and disciplined manner and set an example. If they want to make noise, then house is not the forum. They are free to do it outside. I cannot allow this and if you are not agreeable to it, you better elect a new chairman.” There was silence of the grave and the meeting ended. Since then, Naidu has been adjourning the House immediately after members troop into th well of the house. When the matter was discussed with the PM and BJP chief Amit Shah, they shrugged it off saying its between the chair and the members.

Is BJP scared of Lok Sabha bye-polls ?

It was expected that Lok Sabha bye-polls will be announced for at least three Lok Sabha constituencies - Kairana in UP and Gondiya-Bhandara and Palghar in Maharashtra along with the Karnataka Assembly polls. The Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra fell vacant three months ago and Kairana seat fell vacant in February after the death of sitting BJP MP Hukum Singh. The bye-poll for Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in J&K is not being held due to security reasons and Nagaland bye-poll can wait as Chief Minister Rio has not quit his seat as yet. The Election Commission's decision not to hold bye-polls in Maharashtra and Kairana surprised the Opposition and some even blame the EC for playing into the hands of the ruling BJP. Sources in the BJP say technically, Kairana bye-poll still has four months to go. Even the bye-polls for two Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra will fall due only in June-July. Insiders say that the BJP doesn't want to test the ground in these bye-polls in UP & Maharashtra as defeat is staring it. Better delay it on one ground or the other and hold it along with the three state Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh in December.

Rahul in no hurry for new CWC

Congress president Rahul Gandhi is playing safe. Rather than over-hauling the party in one go he has adopted a slow & steady approach. He is picking up new PCC chiefs in states selectively and deferred the re-constitution of the all powerful Congress Working Committee. It now transpires that the move has been deferred until the polls for the Karnataka Assembly. While the old CWC has become defunct with the election of the new president, Rahul Gandhi has decided to continue with the old body. He intends to induct a couple of members without touching the old body, at least for now. Perhaps, the scion of the Gandhi family doesn't want to kick up a row by sending oldies out and infuse new blood into the CWC.

Now “Bal Divas” under BJP scanner

November 14, the birthday of late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is celebrated by children across the country as “Children's Day”. But even that may be a thing of the past if a proposal mooted by BJP Mps in accepted by the government. BJP's Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma, a Lok Sabha MP from Delhi has initiated a move that the practice of observing November 14 as Bal Divas be abandoned. Instead, the Children's Day be celebrated on December 20 when the two sons of Guru Gobind Singh were bricked alive after the outer wall of the fort was pulled down and his two sons were made to stand in the gap thus created. The signature drive is going at a full speed and the BJP M Ps intend to give a memorandum to the Prime Minister in this regard.

Modi's poser make ministers run for a cover

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the immense capacity to surprise his Cabinet colleagues. At a recent Cabinet meeting he tossed a question to his Cabinet Ministers if they are aware of printing presses functioning under their respective ministries and departments. No one had a clue as to why the question was raised and none of them had a ready answer. They had no idea either about the existence of printing presses under their ministries. Modi issued a sermon that details of all the printing presses be sent to his office within a week and as soon as the information landed, directions came within the next 24 hours. Modi wanted that all printing presses be merged and modernized. It was discovered that there are as many as 17 Government of India Presses (GIPs) including three Text Book Printing Presses (TBPs) located at Mysuru, Chandigarh & Bhubaneswar are functioning. No one had a clue about their performance and outcome. It was decided that all be merged into five and modernized with state of the art printing technology. The PMO was worried over the rising cost of contract work given to outside agencies at a hefty price. It was directed that all ministries must shut down their printing presses and only five such will remain functional. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal was given a free hand to over see 14 printing presses under his ministry. Goyal announced that all its printing presses will be shut down. But he had a tough time as two major employees unions raised a banner of revolt alleging that the move is paving the way for handing over prime land to private players for commercial exploitation. He had a tough time in persuading the unions to agree to the transition to digital services with increasingly less requirement of paper-based communication. He also promised that the staff working at these units will be retained and redeployed with new training. Modi goes into every detail and Ministers do everything to make the boss happy. !

Friday, March 23, 2018

Fly on the Wall : Cabinet reshuffle round the corner !

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Cabinet reshuffle round the corner !

BJP's senior general secretary Ram Madhav may have missed the Rajya Sabha bus. But the speed with which the party gave him charge of Andhra Pradesh is an indication that BJP is working on a counter-offensive in the state. It transpires that Andhra BJP Chief K Haribabu may be brought in the Union Cabinet to represent the state as it has no representation after the exit of the TDP. There is also a proposal to bring in D Pruandhareswari, daughter of late N T Rama Rao who had joined the BJP long back. Since she was against Chandra Babu Naidu she failed to grow in the BJP. But her stars are shining now with the BJP parting company with the TDP. The party also brought in GVL Narasimha Rao into the Rajya Sabha who hails from Andhra. Party insiders say that the Cabinet reshuffle will take place after the Karnataka Assembly polls and some grass root leaders may be brought in the Cabinet in the wake of mounting pressure from certain states. A large number of ministers have been holding dual charge and since Lok Sabha polls are only a year away, Cabinet expansion has to take place for political balancing.

How Yogi was put in his place

It has now emerged that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was denied the privilege of choosing a candidate of his choice from Gorakhpur lok Sabha seat. There is no denying the fact that last minute unity between the two arch rivals – SP & BSP- had surprised the BJP and situation was uncomfortable. Yogi wanted the party high command to give ticket a person of his choice. Instead, the high command sought three names from him. The Yogi sent the names but insisted that his first preference be accommodated. But to his surprise, state incharge of BJP Sunil Bansal recommended the name of Upendra Dutt Shukla. It transpires that same thing happened in Phulpur where Sunil Bansal vetoed the recommendation of Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. Insiders in the BJP say that the party's defeat served two political purposes; first being that Yogi who was flying high, has been grounded. “A person who cannot retain his own home constituency, how can he be brought in to the Parliamentary Board?” said a senior functionary. The BJP's parliamentary board has one vacancy after the elevation of M Venkiah Naidu as Vice President.

Jaitley's tough conditions delay Kejri apology

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is making frantic efforts to persuade Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to accept his unconditional apology and close the defamation case. It transpires that AAP's newly elected Rajya Sabha MP N D Gupta who is a noted chartered accountant, has held several meetings with Jaitley to sort out the problem. But Jaitley is in no mood as arguments in the trial court had been completed and judgment is awaited. Secondly, Jaitley is reported to have put some stiff conditions such as that Kejriwal should apologise from the same public platform which was used to make allegations against him and his daughter. Jaitley doesn't want merely written apology but a public apology on TV channels and at a public meeting. Jaitey is no Nitin Gadkari or Punjab Akali Dal leader Majithia who accepted Kejriwal's apology meekly. The last word on Jaitley-Kejri saga is yet to be written.

What's cooking between Rahul & Sharad Pawar ?

Congress president Rahul Gandhi is batting on the front foot and calling on party leaders seeking their cooperation. If sources are to be believed, he has spoken to most of the Opposition leaders over the phone including Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Sitaram Yechury and others. But he held long parleys with Sharad Pawar seeking his cooperation and understand shape of things to come. It is clear that Congress-NCP will contest the Lok Sabha polls together and Pawar gave an in-principle approval for the same in Maharashtra. Both the parties will revert to the same seat-sharing arrangement that existed between the two parties before they parties company in 2014. The Chief Minister will be from the Congress party while NCP will have the post of Deputy Chief Minister in the event of alliance winning the state. The contours of alliance will be decided at a later date. But Rahul wanted Pawar to prevent division of Opposition votes in the states and expressed Congress willingness to make sacrifices.

No UPA type front in the offing

Sonia Gandhi may be holding parleys with the Opposition leaders over dinners. There may also be a talk that Sonia Gandhi may form a front of like-minded parties on the pattern of United Progressive Alliance (UPA). But Rahul Gandhi is in no hurry to create such a front. Rahul Gandhi feels that no such front is needed at this juncture and Opposition parties should work quietly. Secondly, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is working over-time to create a third front and speaking to regional satraps. While Sharad Pawar sees the light once again at the end of the tunnel in 2019 polls in the emergence of a third front. But having burnt his fingers in the past, he is sitting pretty and trying to expand NCP's base outside Maharashtra. For him, Maharashtra is the key and other states are a bonus. But Mamata Banerjee is banking on Pawar to create a third front as Mulayam Singh Yadav has been pushed into the background by his son who is busy in stitching alliance with Mayawati in UP. Akhilesh Yadav has signaled that Congress cannot be given more than 8-10 Lok Sabha seat in any seat-sharing arrangement for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The RLD may get 2-3 Lok Sabha seats while one seat may be spared for Sharad Yadav.

Two hour delay caused a flutter in HRD ministry

No one was in doubt that all the sitting eight Union Ministers will be re-nominated to the Rajya Sabha. But things didn't happen as contemplated. When general secretary incharge of BJP's Parliamentary Board and Union health Minister J P Nadda issued a press release at 9 pm, it contained the names of only seven ministers re-nominated to the Rajya Sabha. The name of savvy HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar was missing from the official press release. All hell broke and frantic calls were made to inquire about the fate of Javadekar. There was no response as to who will dare ask the PM or the BJP president Amit Shah. However, within two hours, second press release was issued announcing the name of Javadekar from Maharashtra. He was told that the party delayed the announcement as it was in the process of deciding whether he should be sent to UP or his home state of Maharashtra. However, the two hour gap was enough to cause a political flutter.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

PM's call halted Naidu's NDA exit

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Special report

PM's call halted Naidu's NDA exit

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, March 9

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's phone call to Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu helped in containing some damage as TDP deferred its decision to quit the NDA.

Highly placed sources said that the PM called up Naidu after the TDP ministers submitted their resignations and requested him to reconsider the painful decision.

Naidu reported to have said, "I waited for four years patiently that something will be done as promised in the reorganisation of Act of the state and promises will be fulfilled. Now I cannot reverse the resignations. But if you want to do something for the state, you have the opportunity to do so.”

Modi promised to revert back to him following which Naidu deferred his decision to quit the government only. A directive was also issued to all TDP Mps and ministers who had quit the government not to speak a word against the BJP or even the Modi government.

In fact, the language of the two TDP ministers after they submitted their resignations was so guarded that they merely termed it a “divorce due to circumstances.” It was neither here nor there. Obviously, the PM will have to take a political call on the issue and grant some relief which may be a “face-saver” for Naidu to change his stance.

There seem to be some re-thinking on the part of the BJP while dealing with Andhra affairs. Therefore, if it was Naidu who frantically calling up the PM on Wednesdayon Thursday, it was PM's turn to assuage the hurt Naidu by reaching out to him. It transpires that Modi and BJP president Amit Shah reviewed the political situation arising out of developments in Andhra. Shah is a hard-liner and believes in rebuilding the BJP in Andhra Pradesh and doesn't believe in surrendering to the regional parties. The local unit of the BJP is completely against Naidu and wanted to break the alliance since the beginning. The BJP has also received feelers from the YSR Congress though it may not enter into any pre-poll alliance with it.

Amit Shah wants to send a clear message to the cadre that the party can't be bullied by anybody whosoever he may be. However, the PM is of the view that TDP has been a pre-poll ally and divorce should not end up in a disaster. Hence, the phone call and efforts to retrieve the situation.

How far these efforts will succeed is too early to say as Naidu thinks that he will swing the 2019 polls on BJP's betrayal plant.

Fly on the Wall : Why Govt. going after Chidambarams

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Why Govt. going after Chidambarams 

It is no secret that the entire government machinery is going after P Chidambaram (PC)  and his son Karti in a big way. The INX Media case against Karti was of 2006-08 vintage when PC was the Finance Minister during his first stint.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Fly on the Wall:Naidu refusing to relent, TDP Ministers may quit Cabinet

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Naidu refusing to relent, TDP Ministers may quit Cabinet 

Alarmed over the public ultimatum given by Andhra Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu to quit the NDA if the Centre didn't give special status, the desperate BJP leadership found a way. Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu landed in Visakhapatnam to open the state investors summit on February 24. Normally, Prime Minister Modi is on the forefront of opening NDA-ruled states' Investors' summit. But he was extremely busy and hence Venkaiah Naidu went to assauge the hurt feelings. However, Chandrababu Naidu reportedly conveyed that his Union Ministers in the Central Cabinet will quit as a first step if special projects for Andhra were not announced.