Friday, May 25, 2018

Fly on the Wall : Piyush Goyal is Bharat Bhai, Truely

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Piyush Goyal is Bharat Bhai, Truely

The North Block is abuzz with stories never heard of in the government before. When the newly appointed Finance Minister, Piyush Goyal visited the ministry soon after taking over, top officials including secretaries went to congratulate him in his chamber. They were surprised to see the Minister was sitting on a sofa rather on the designated chair for formal meetings. Goyal issued the first sermon that they will continue to do the same work they were doing and the personal staff of Jaitley was told to continue working as they were earlier. Goyal did not bring a single person of his choice in the finance ministry. Even after assuming the full-fledged charge of the Finance and Corporate Affairs Ministries, he prefers not to make frequent trips to North Block and calls for files in the Railway Ministry where he sits for long hours. Even the finance ministry's website which put out his name as new Finance Minister, was taken off within hours of being up-loaded. Arun Jaitley continues to be the Finance Minister according to the official website of the ministry. Even when Goyal holds regular meetings with the officials and ministerial colleagues, he does not occupy Jaitley's chair. Officials in the ministry say that Goyal is conducting himself as Bharat, younger brother of Lord Rama during the Ramayan era. When Lord Rama went to the jungles for 14 years, Bharat became the King. But he never sat on the thrown and put “Khadaon” (Wooden sleepers) of Lord Rama on it. Goyal is doing exactly the same. He also makes it a point to visit Jaitley at the AIIMS where he is convalescing after undergoing kidney transplant whenever in town. It is strange but true that Reuters news agency's news that Piyush Goyal will be the new Finance Minister has come true after two years of it being flashed. Goyal vehemently denied that he had any hand in it. But it turned out to be true and that too at a time when his hands are over-filled as he is holding four key portfolios-- Railways, Coal, Finance & Corporate Affairs. Cheers Bharat Bhai.

Rahul, not Sonia clinched the Karnataka deal

It was not Sonia Gandhi but Congress president Rahul Gandhi who “triggered” the post-poll alliance with the JD(S) as the results were trickling and it became clear within hours that the Congress is way behind the majority mark. It was Rahul Gandhi who gave a direction to the State leaders. He had discussed at length - plan A, plan B and plan C and what to do if “we don’t win”. D K Shivkumar who is the Man of the Season in the Karnataka power game disclosed to a few confidants, had told the party leadership in Delhi that the Congress would perform badly in South Karnataka, where the JD(S) is the main contender. Rahul made it clear that if the numbers are wrong, stay back, don’t bid or bargain for power”. He instructed Venugopal to seal the deal with JD (S) and entrusted Ashok Gehlot and Ghulam Nabi Azad who was in touch with Danish Ali, a confidante of H D Kumaraswamy. This was contrary to impression being created by a section of the Congress that Sonia and not Rahul decided to join hands with JD(S). In fact, Rahul Gandhi spoke to Kumaraswamy on Sunday, May 13 itself, two days before the results were out. This was followed up by a phone call from Sonia Gandhi to former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda reiterating the same proposal. In Fact, Siddaramiah, wanted to sit in the Opposition. But Rahul persuaded him to make way as larger challenge is on the horizon in 2019. It was Ghulam Nabi Azad who persuaded him to fall in line. Sonia Gandhi reportedly wooed Deve Gowda by saying that she had no hand when Congress withdrew support of his government at the Centre in 1997. Gowda had lost the Prime Minister's post.

How Amit Shah lost the Karnataka Plot

BJP president Amit shah was working on party's win in Karnataka for almost six months. In fact, his Man-Friday and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal was in regular touch with H D Deve Gowda and his elder son Revenna. The Gowdas were bitter with the Congress ever since Deve Gowda had been dislodged and arch rival Siddaramiah was made the Chief Minister. Lokmat was the first to break the story when Piyush Goyal went to meet the Gowdas in March at the latter's residence. He later asserted that he had gone there to discuss railway projects in Gowda's constituency. Shah and Goyal had offered them the most lucrative deal-- Deputy Chief Ministership to one son and a Cabinet post in the Central government to the other son. The alliance will be post-poll. It was because of this very deal that entire BJP leadership never criticised the Janata Dal (S) throughout the campaign. Rather the PM praised Deve Gowda. The BJP targeted only Rahul, Rahul and Rahul and his party. There were reports that Shah even met Kumaraswamy in Mumbai and the meeting was organised by Piyush Goyal. The formula was that if the BJP is below the majority mark it will enter into an alliance with JD(S) and share power. But Kumaraswamy walked into the lucrative offer made by Rahul Gandhi on Saturday itself that he will be Chief Minister.

Lalu upset with the Gandhis

Down but not out Lalu Prasad Yadav is extremely upset with the Gandhis. Reason is not political but personal. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi had promised to attend the wedding ceremony of his son Tej Pratap at Patna on May 12. The day was fixed keeping in mind that the Karnataka polling will be over by then. Lalu Yadav wanted to make the wedding as demonstration of Opposition's unity in this hour of crisis when the CBI and ED are after him and his family. A chartered plane had also been kept in waiting for the Gandhis and special arrangements for their stay had also been made. But the Gandhi gave the ceremony amiss. Why ? No one knows. This was despite the fact that Rahul met Lalu at the AIIMS a couple of weeks ago. But what came as a surprise was that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar showed up at the wedding. Perhaps, he wanted the send a signal to the BJP leadership that he has his options open. The BJP leadership was not discussing with him Lok Sabha seat sharing arrangement with the Janata Dal (U). Nitish wanted a meeting with Amit Shah. But Amit Shah wanted him to talk to Bhupendra Yadav. Nitish felt slighted and sent the signal. More seems to be in store in Bihar in the months to come.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Fly on the Wall : Modi brings Chinese Acupuncture to India

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi brings Chinese Acupuncture to India

Prime Minister Modi's love for China is growing faster than expected after the unprecedented and historic meet at Wuhan between President Xi and Modi. In a major decision, the Modi Government cleared the Chinese therapy –Acupuncture – to be taught and practiced officially in India. If the Chinese can practice Yoga why can't Indian take advantage of the Chinese medical science, goes the argument. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), after months of discussions and studies, has given its consent that the Acupuncture can be taught and practiced. A full-fledged degree course has been cleared and soon one may find acupuncture Hospital and clinics. Though a couple of state governments had allowed Acupuncture to be practiced. But it was never recognized by the Government of India. The file moved before Modi's visit to China and after confabulations, it has now been cleared. Acupuncture will be an Independent therapy like other forms of treatment. It will be five year degree course. The move was opposed by Yoga and Ayurveda practitioners tooth and nail. They suggested that it be made part of the Naturopathy since its like Acupressure. However, the ICMR expert committee felt that its an intrusive technique and different from the acupressure.

Dalit Out-reach given quiet burial

Prime Minister Modi's pet project of “Dalit Out-reach” has been given quiet burial. The PM wanted that BJP Mps and top leaders and even workers should interact with the Dalits, go to their homes, mingle and have dinners/lunches at their homes. The idea was to bring them closer to the party. The program was launched with big fanfare after serious backlash from the Dalit community who were attacked by the activists considered close to the BJP. But the Dalit Out-reach program made headlines in newspapers and juicy TV stories of a different kind. Sensing that it is proving counter-productive and coming under criticism, it has now been decided toi shelve for some time. Even the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat suggested that Dalits be invited for dinner/interaction rather than people going to their houses who themselves have meagre means. It is learnt that the program has been given a burial.

How P K Sinha’s extension opened new possibilities

The one year extension to Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha has opened new possibilities for IAS officers who were two notches down the ladder in seniority. By the time Sinha completes his four year extended tenure, the entire 1980 batch of IAS officers would retire including K D Tripathy, Rita Tiwetia and even Hasmukh Adhia. Similarly, some of the 1981 batch officers, too, would attain superannuation in January and March next year. Prominent among them are Rajiv Nayan Choubey and Rakesh Srivastava. This will open immense possibilities for the 1982 batch IAS officers to be new Cabinet secretary post Lok Sabha polls 2019. Irrespective of who wins the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the officers for such coveted posts are selected on merit. P K Sinha was no Modi-Bhakt and had almost given up the hope when the call came from PMO that he had been selected. And he will be Cabinet Secretary for four years.

It transpires that Cabinet Secretary will be for the 1982 batch that include Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba and Telecom Secretary Ms. Aruna Sundararajan. Gauba, by virtue of topping the merit list of the batch, will be best positioned to get the job. Of course, everything will depend on NaMo’s fortunes in the next General Election. For Hasmukh Adhia, there are many possibilities after November 2 when he retires. Either he will continue for extended term of one more year in the Finance Ministry after superannuating or may move to the PMO.

NCLT new power center

If you thought Supreme Court is the biggest grosser place for senior advocates who charge astronomical fee from clients, you may be in for some surprise. It transpires that National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) which came into being on June 1, 2016 is the most crowded place. Be it lawyers, businessmen, professionals, companies, advisers all are making a bee line for the big mega bucks. There are around 600 companies which are up for the grab under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) through a cumbersome process of bidding. These 600 odd-companies have NPAs of almost Rs 10 lakh crores of the banks. Now the banks have initiated the process of recovering their monies through the NCLT. In the first phase, 12 major companies involving Rs 2 lakh crores are to be settled within the next 60 days. The deadline for these 12 companies was 270 days which is now coming to an end. Interestingly, the lender banks are taking a haircut of as much as 75% of loan amount. Obviously, the buyers are surely making a killing. The big money is on the table and hence the big line up. The lawyers and Insolvency Professionals are making a killing, sources say and almost all senior counsel preferring to be at the NCLT building rather than at the SC.

Sword hangs over contractual employees in Prasar Bharati

After the Information & Broadcasting Ministry sent a missive early this year suggesting that Prasar Bharati stop engaging consultants on contract and also not grant extension/ renewal to them, it created a flutter. The Prasar Bharati has more than one thousand contractual employees on its rolls. The number in Doordarshan and Prasar Bharati as on 31st January, 2018 was as high as 336 and 885 respectively. It had been alleged that consultants are hired in Prasar Bharati at whims & fences without assessment of need, formal approval or selection by transparent manner with reference to a set of qualification, skills and experience. The ministry pointed out in its letter that the engagement was without ‘assessment of need, the formal approval or selection by a transparent manner with reference to a set of qualifications, skills and experience’. Though the ministry made it clear that it is not issuing a directive to Prasar Bharati to terminate the services of the contractual employees. But asserted that such contractual hiring contravenes the order of Department of Expenditure.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fly on the Wall : Mayawati, A tough player

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Mayawati, A tough player 

The terms and conditions of political alliance arrived at between BSP supremo Mayawati and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Singh are unfolding now causing acute embarrassment to all & sundry. The two leaders agreed that this alliance is limited to Parliamentary polls in May 2019 and not for the Assembly elections due in 2022. That Mayawati's party will contest 45 Lok Sabha seats while the SP will be given 35 seats. The constituencies will be decided is due course but the number is non-negotiable. Akhilesh Singh requested Buaji that the line of communications should remain open to which Mayawati nodded in agreement. However, Mayawati is now not available for talks and operates through intermediaries. Even when the question of putting up a joint Opposition candidate for Kairana Lok Sabha seat came up, Mayawati refused to meet. RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary wanted to contest the seat. Akhilesh Singh invited him to Lucknow to sort out the issue. Mayawati, instead of meeting them, sent a message that ticket be given to a woman Muslim leader who may contest on the RLD symbol. Since the Jats who dominate Kairana constituency, don't vote for Muslims, it will be a test of RLD's popularity among the Jats, she conveyed through messengers. If the RLD's Muslim candidate wins, it would be a proof that Jats voted for the RLD candidate. Left with no choice, RLD accepted the condition as the BJP is unwilling do any business with the RLD as its two tradition seats - Kairana & Baghpat – were captured by the BJP in 2014. 

Congress' pipe dream

Irrespective of Congress president Rahul Gandhi's declaration that he would be Prime Minister if his party emerges as the single largest party and Opposition parties come together, Mayawati is determined not to do business with the Congress. She had told Akhilesh Yadav during the seat sharing meeting that the Congress party has no political base in the state and its votes are also not transferable to the BSP or SP candidates. Sensing that Akhilesh Singh was keen to bring Congress on board, she said, “If the SP wants, it can shares seats with it from its quota of 35 seats. We are not going to spare a single seat for the Congress in UP.” Akhilesh Singh didn't react on this issue as it was he who had taken the initiative to enter into an electoral alliance with “Buaji”. He had  and even touched her feet during the first meeting to mollify her. Obviously, Mayawati is adopting a tough posture with the objective to negotiate Lok Sabha seats with the Congress in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and other states. The Congress wants 15 Lok Sabha seats in UP which neither SP nor the BSP will be willing to spare. Therefore, Rahul Gandhi's dream of making the single largest party cannot be achieved unless SP-BSP are willing to do business with it.  

BJP changes tack, avoid attacking Siddha, targets Rahul

After initially attacking Karnataka Chief Minister Siddharamiah and calling him names, the BJP leaders changed tack.  Modi had bitterly attacked Siddha while launching Karnataka poll campaign terming the state's Congress-led government a " Sidha rupaiya sarkar" (a government that directly takes money). BJP's leader after leader targeted Siddharamiah of looting the state and used all sorts of adjectives. But Modi suddenly changed tack and gone gone full tilt at Rahul Gandhi. Its the Congress president who is now bearing the brunt of  Modi's broadsides at election rallies of late. 
It is learnt that surveys had revealed that Kannadiga sub-nationalism was working on the ground and the Chief Minister was succeeding in invoking the regional pride. Siddaramaiah's efforts to hold up Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath who are even seen as North Indians attacking a south Indian leader.

Thus, the campaign was turned into Modi VS Rahul and the PM is avoiding locking horns with Siddaramaiah. The BJP even started playing down the corruption charges against Siddha as BJP's own Chief Ministerial candidate commands no better record on this score. In fact Siddha is proving a nightmare for BJP on twitter and scoring with the each passing day in campaigning. Irrespective of the results, Siddha has emerged as the leader par excellence. 
Battle over re-naming college turns bitter

A relatively junior BJP leader who was once a party spokesman, Amitabh Sinha has challenged the authority of Human Resources Development Minister Prakash Javadekar. Sinha who was made chairman of the governing body of Dyal Singh Evening College, changed the name of the historic college as  Vandemataram Dyal Singh College. Since this created a political crisis, the Minister told him to reverse the decision. However, Sinha curtly told Javadekar that the minister had no locus standi on the issue. This has acutely embarrassed Prakash Javadekar who is camping in Karnataka as incharge of the BJP's campaign. Javadekar had assured the Akali Dal, a key ally of the BJP, that the sentiments of Sikhs would be taken care of. He even held a high-level meeting of the higher education secretary, the then chairman of the University Grants Commission, the vice-chancellor of Delhi University and other officials. Amitabh Sinha was told to hold a meeting of the Governing body to reverse the decision. The virtual revolt by Amitabh Sinha has caused a flutter. Javadekar reportedly complained to BJP Chief Amit Shah in this regard. The matter may be resolved after the polls. But it certainly brought out chinks within the ruling BJP.

A hidden agenda Behind arrest  

The arrest of Upendra Rai, a former editor-in-chief of the Sahara TV by the CBI caused ripples in political circles. It transpires that a case under stringent Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) may be invoked by the Enforcement Director shortly as the government is keen to fix Rai's political patrons. The Modi dispensation believes that Rai was able to make a killing due to his close links in the Finance and Home ministries. It transpires that he deposited Rs 57 crores in his various bank accounts and withdrew Rs 53 crores within one year period. The CBI went after Rai after Rajeshwar Singh, a senior officer of the Enforcement Director, lodged a complaint to the CBI. Though Rai was once close to Rajeshwar Singh but both fell out. It was Rajeshwar Singh who was reportedly promoting Rai and the latter had free access to key government departments including the ED and CBI. The tiff turned so bitter that Rai complained to the CBI against Rajeshwar Singh and a Preliminary Enquiry (PE)  registered by the CBI. As the probe began, Rajeshwar Singh went up to the Supreme Court and obtained a stay against the CBI probe. Later, Rajeshwar Singh lodged a counter complaint of blackmail and extortion against Rai with the CBI. The end result was that CBI registered an FIR against Rai and arrested him. Now the PMLA is being slapped. It is now learnt that the Modi dispensation wants to know who were the recipients of Rs 53 crores Rai withdrew from banks on various dates. The government suspects that Rai had links with Karti Chidambaram. The Modi government feels that Rai had the support of certain senior Congress leaders who held key positions in the government during the UPA regime.