Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fly on the wall : Congress's Kejriwal riddle in Delhi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Congress's Kejriwal riddle in Delhi

Congress president Rahul Gandhi's plan to clinch alliances or adjustment of seats with the like-minded parties has hit major hurdles in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi. While the talks in rest of the states are going smoothly as a team of three senior leaders – Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmad Patel and Kamal Nath – is working over-time to negotiate an amicable settlement. The talks with the BSP are progressing slowly but they are in right direction as Mayawati is wanting pan-India alliance with the Congress. Kamal Nath is insisting that it should be state-by-state as every state has different political situation prevailing. He wants Mayawati to come on board irrespective of alliances in other states. But the bigger problem is in Delhi which has seven Lok Sabha seats. The AAP is keen for adjustment of seats despite bitterness in relations with Shiela Dixit and Ajay Maken. If sources are to be believed, the AAP has offered New Delhi for Ajay Maken, East Delhi for Sandeep Dixit and Outer Delhi for any candidate of Congress choice. But the Congress is playing pricey though it is in on a weak wicket in Delhi as its a divided house. The AAP argument is in a four corner contest – Congress, BJP, AAP & BSP contesting separately, the BJP is sure to get all seven seats. The ball is in the court of Rahul Gandhi now. Similarly, the Congress is at a cross roads whether to go with Mamata Banerjee or CPM in West Bengal. The one-to-one meeting that Ahmad Patel had with Mamata Banerjee yielded no results. Serious problem exist in Andhra Pradesh where Congress is struggling to find an ally. The YSR Congress of Jagan Mohan Reddy has his own problems and doesn't want any pre-poll alliance with the Congress. Its a fate-accompli for the Congress in Andhra. 

The Baffling Silence of CBI in Sterling Biotech case 

All the spotlight may be on Vijay Mallya for defrauding banks. But the silence of CBI is baffling in the Sterling Biotech case despite the fact that the two Sandesara brothers are hiding in Nigeria. They fled the country, like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi and several others, along with their key family members with ease. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) went to town claiming attachment of assets worth over Rs 4,700 crores in the Rs 5,000-crore fraud case. But CBI officials are silent even one year after registering the case which is in sharp contrast to the speed with which cases P. Chidambaram, Lalu Prasad, Robert Vadra and several former Congress Chief Ministers are being pursued. The case surfaced after the seizure of a "diary" way back in 2011 from the Vadodara premises of Sterling Biotech by the Income-tax officials giving details of purported payments to some tax officials, politicians and police officers, including a Gujarat-cadre IPS officer who is now a CBI special director. The 11-page CBI chargesheet even named son-in-law of Ahmad Patel, senior Congress leader. Certain raided were also conducted on Patel's aides. It was claimed that clinching evidence exists establishing the nexus between the Congress leaders and Sterling Biotech  group owners. But sources say the probe is stuck as CBI is struggling to find evidence if the UPA government gave any favours to the Sterling group. On the contrary, it has surfaced through a fact-sheet that the group grew leaps and bounds during the BJP rule in Gujrat since June 2004. It was awarded contract for the development of Dahej Port and given 150 acres of land. The Gujrat government took the help in organising Vibrant Gujarat Summit as late as in January 2017. In November 2008, Nitin Sandesra, Chairman of Sterling Biotech who is  absconding, accompanied top Gujrat BJP leadership and government officials to Uganda and Kenya in his aircraft. The Vibrant Gujarat brochures of 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 list Sterling Biotech as success story of Gujarat's pharma and biotechnology policies. Sterling SEZ was allotted 3000 acres to develop a SEZ at Jambusar.  The Government of Gujarat allocated additional 6000 acres despite complaints from banks that loans  to the group were turning bad. The Sterling SEZ was sitting on a land bank of 9000 acres given by the Gujarat Government by 2013. It transpires that some “action” may be taken in the weeks to come to cover the tracks. 

No Data Chief for months in Digital India

Ever since TCA Anant retired as the Central Statistics Officer on Jan. 31, the government has failed to find a replacement. The CSO was without a boss when it released figures last month showing the economy regained its position once again of being the fastest-expanding major economy in the world, with the growth of 7.7 per cent in the fourth-quarter of the fiscal year ended March 31. The PMO was somewhat unhappy with the way he used to come out with the data on the economy. At stake is the reputation of an institution that’s been working hard to rectify the image that India has deficient and unreliable economic data. With a population of 1.3 billion and an economy of $ 2.3 trillion collecting timely and accurate information is a gargantuan effort. With only months to go before the next election, the data is also coming under increased scrutiny as Modi’s political rivals question his claims about key campaign pledges, such as jobs creation and related parameters. The new methodology is also being worked out. For example, when the statistics office published a new series for a GDP that put India’s growth rate on par with China, eonomists said in 2015 that the data didn’t match up with high-frequency indicators showing more subdued expansion. It transpires that the PMO is looking for an outside expert for the job who is capable of gathering reliable economic data which is quite a challenging task.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Fly on the Wall : New Leaf in Modi-RSS bon-homie

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Leaf in Modi-RSS bon-homie 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is walking an extra mile to keep the RSS leadership in good humour. Compared to his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee, Modi always had a cordial relationship with his parent organisation. But he did what he felt right and in the process ignored suggestions made even by the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat too. However, Modi saw to it that the communications lines are never snapped. But things are different in an election year and political compulsions have forced Modi to mend fences further. If he held a dinner meeting with the RSS leaders on Friday, he invited them again for a detailed organisational and political discussion next day as well. The RSS-BJP leaders had assembled from across the country for a three-day conclave at Surajkund to discuss threadbare issues needed to be resolved in each state. In the process, Modi also bumped into some of the old-timers he had worked with. He had a relaxed dinner meet with them and next day held a marathon meet with them. This was somewhat unusual as it was the sole task of BJP president to meet the RSS leadership and brief him and they together used to take decisions. All top leaders of the RSS except Mohan Bhagwat were present where critical review was done for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It has been decided that RSS leadership will burn the mid-night oil for the return of the Modi government. It was during this conclave that Modi agreed to snap ties with PDP in Jammu & kashmir. The RSS was strongly opposed to the BJP-PDP tie-up but gave in as Modi wanted to make an experiment to send global message. Now RSS is happy saying, “Der Aaye Durrust Aaye”.

Modi mends fences with Sena too 

Modi was not in favour of having any truck with Shiv Sena from day one. Reasons were many, foremost being the fact that it had proposed the name of Sushma Swaraj for Prime Minister's post. But he didn't want to break ties with Sena and ignored its barbs. While Sena continued to attack the functioning of his government, Modi never retaliated and nor allowed any senior party leader to launch a counter attack. Modi was in favour of that let Sena contest independently  during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But the RSS didn't want severing of ties with the leading ally of the BJP which swears by the Hindutva philosophy. The RSS wanted that Sena be retained in the alliance and suggested that Amit Shah meet Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray and resolve the issue. Though was against any truck with Sena, he told Shah to handle the matter in the best interest of the party. What exactly transpired between Amit Shah and Uddhav Thackeray during the one-to-one meet has not been made public as yet. But insiders say that Sena's condition that Assembly polls be held simultaneously with Lok Sabha in Maharashtra has sent the BJP leadership to run for a cover. Obviously, Sena is wanting the Chief Minister's post- either through a rotational system or otherwise. BJP cannot concede supremacy to Sena again. But it is hesitant to bear the loss of Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra either. The BJP had won 23 seats while Sena had secured 18 out of 48 in Maharashtra. It transpires that RSS is talking to Sena leadership to evolve a workable formula. 

Last laugh for Ajit Doval 

National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval is the happiest person in the PMO with the departure of Mehbooba Mufti as Chief Minister of J&K. Doval is considered a hardliner and was against any alliance with the PDP to form the government. He wanted to develop a network of spies in the trouble-torn state and wanted complete coordination between the Police and Security forces. But Mehbooba government was a bottle-neck as most of the violent incidents took place in the areas under the influence of the PDP. Doval did not meet Mehbooba except when she called on him during her visit to Delhi on August 8, 2016. Now Doval would be able to implement his doctrine in the Valley. He was of the view that the policy of appeasement will not work. He had conveyed during a series of meetings with the PM that there is no point in taking a soft stance in the valley. It was Doval who brought in Dineshwar Sharma as  Interlocutor. Sharma was made IB Chief at the behest of Doval. Sources even say that Doval wants an experienced hand like Governor N N Vohra to continue for some time so that forces can stablise before launching an offensive in a big way. A massive cleansing operation in the Valley will begin now and the PMO will directly take over the Kashmir affairs with Home Ministry playing second fiddle. The Mufti government canceling criminal cases against 11000 stone pelters will also be reviewed now. 

BJP offers Deputy Chairman's post to BJD

The BJP leadership has signaled that it is willing to offer the post of Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to any of the acceptable leader of non-BJP parties. PM Modi is of the firm view that the Deputy Chairman plays an important role in the day-to-day running of the Rajya Sabha and given its composition, an acceptable face is needed. The BJP was earlier toying with the idea of installing its own leader Bhupendra Yadav as Deputy Chairman. But the party gave up as it would created a situation of confrontation given that the BJP and its supporters won't cross the 112 seats mark in a House of 245. But the BJP was not sure which way Shiv Sena will behave as deal with it has not been clinched as yet. It was also not sure which way Biju Janata Dal (9), Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (6), YSR-Congress (2) and Chaulata's INLD (1) will go. Even TDP (6) is still undecided even after severing ties with the BJP. Therefore, Modi wanted a non-BJP person even if he belonged to Trinamool Congress be chosen. In the process, the name of Sukhendu Shekhar Roy was mentioned. But Mamata Banerjee is not receptive of the idea as it may send a wrong signal in the election year. The BJP will be too happy to offer the post to BJD as Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is maintaining equiv-distance with BJP and Congress.  With the departure of P J Kurien, the Congress has also signaled to other parties that it is willing to support any of them for the post as it held it for ten years. The Congress & its allies are way behind with 92 seats and their candidate cannot win unless seven non-NDA non-UPA  parties accounting for 40 seats go with them. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Fly on the Wall : How Piyush Goyal took G K Pillai to task !

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

How Piyush Goyal took G K Pillai to task !

The mighty chairman of the Duty Drawback Committee of the Finance Ministry, G K Pillai had a taste of interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal recently. It was a Sunday when Goyal summoned a meeting in his office to resolve the long-pending issue of refunds to garment exporters. Textiles Minister Smriti Irani was also called in along with top officials and exporters to long pending problem. It emerged during the meeting that the issue is to resolved by the G K Pillai Committee and its report is awaited. “So all of you are suffering because the report is pending ?” wondered Goyal as top Finance ministry officials nodded in affirmative. Goyal asked for Pillai's mobile and dialed himself. When Pillai picked up the phone, he told Goyal that he was driving the car. Goyal politely requested him to park the car on the roadside as he wants to discuss something important. Remember Pillai has been a very seasoned bureaucrat and was Commerce & Home secretary. He was appointed by Arun jaitley as chairman of the committee to resolve the problem of garment exporters whose duty drawback to the tune of Rs 6000 crores is held up. Goyal asked him if it would be possible for him to submit the report within the next ten days. Pillai was taken aback but promised to do so. Before GST was introduced, garment exporters used to get refunds ranging from 2.9% to 3.9% of the freight-on-board value of products. Since most of the state levies, including central sales tax, have been scrapped in the GST regime, the government decided to reduce it to an interim rate of 0.39% (up to September 2017). But exporters protested saying why shall they be penalized. In fact, they wanted input tax credit on the GST paid on job work and stock transfer where drawback isn’t available. The interim report came and within days, Goyal gave the much-needed relief earning laurels from the industry. The industry watchers say it is unusual for the ministers in the Modi government to function in this manner.

Pawar's pep-talk to Rahul

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has found virtues in NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and is a frequent caller whenever both are in town. Last week, Rahul drove to Pawar's Akbar Road residence and held a marathon on prevailing political situation in the country. The meeting was kept a closely guarded secret and even after the event became public, no one had a clue as to what transpired between the two. The Fly learns that Maharashtra was on the table and Rahul wanted to pick Pawar's brain on prevailing political situation in the country and how things are moving. It was at this juncture that Pawar reported to have suggested that Congress being the leading Opposition party should take the lead in sealing alliances in states. Pawar also said that a victory here should not bring in complacency. The unity is required in Opposition ranks from top to bottom and effective synergy is needed at the booth level. Pawar also told Rahul that Modi is capable of springing a surprise on the Opposition by advancing Lok Sabha polls to November-December. If the alliances and adjustments of seats are sealed in time, it will help the entire Opposition to take on the NDA in time. While the Congress-NCP have agreed in principle to contest Lok Sabha polls in alliance in Maharashtra, the Congress is taking its own sweat time in clinching such arrangements in other major states.

KejriCare VS ModiCare

While Most of the states have fallen in line and agreed to implement the ModiCare scheme, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has stood his grounds. He says that his Health for All scheme is far more superior than the one proposed by Modi government's much-touted ModiCare. Kejriwal says he doesn't need health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakhs per year per family at a premium of Rs 1000-1050. Why bring in insurance companies when the Delhi government directly provides health facilities to all ?. He has trashed the Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM) scheme as middlemen and touts will benefit. He claimed that the Delhi government's DAK (Delhi Arogya Kosh) highly successful and benefiting the citizens of the Capital in a big way. Its a unique scheme under which all kinds of diagnostic tests and treatment and medicines are free once a doctor of Delhi government hospital recommends. Even the treatment/hospitalization in free. The Delhi government has agreements with 25 Delhi private hospitals and diagnostic centers where patients don't have to pay and all expenses will be paid for by the government directly. Kejriwal says ModiCare should adopt KejriCare.

Mayawati wants pan-India alliance with Congress

The Congress leadership is Madhya Pradesh- Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia- have issued public statements favouring an alliance with the BSP in the Assembly polls. Similar sentiments have been expressed by the Congress leadership in Chhattisgarh too. But Mayawati is keeping quiet and has not uttered a word. She is talking to all the parties all the time but not the Congress. She clinched an alliance with H D Deve Gowda's JD (S) in Karnataka and opened her account. The JD (S) is willing to contest Lok Sabha polls in alliance with BSP as well. The photo ops at Benguluru where Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati hugging may have gone viral. But there is no alliance/adjustment of seats talks between the Congress and Mayawati so far. Both are keen and waiting who to bell the cat. Mayawati, however, has signaled that she would like to have pan-India alliance with Congress not only in UP but also in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh. She even wants a pie in Gujrat and Karnataka too. If she wants three seats each in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, she is eyeing four Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra and five in Madhya Pradesh besides two each in Chhattisgarh and Gujrat. The Congress wants 20 Lok Sabha seats in UP and Mayawati is not willing to give more than 5-7 seats. Therefore, the situation is very fluid and no one is willing to initiate a dialogue.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Fly on the Wall : Shah scouting for Talent for Rajya Sabha !

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Fly on the Wall:

Shah scouting for Talent for Rajya Sabha !

With BJP president Amit Shah calling on prominent personalities across the country, a buzz here is that some of them may be lucky to find a berth in the Rajya Sabha soon. After celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar (Cricket), Rekha (Film) and Anu Agha (social work) retired, the current dispensation is gearing up to fill these vacancies shortly. The supporters of Kapil Dev are elated and expect that he may be brought to the Rajya Sabha. They say it was Kapil Paji who was responsible in bringing the first Cricket World Cup to India in 1983 and it would be in fitness of things if he becomes the Rajya Sabha MP in the Presidential nominated category. Similarly, noted film actress Madhuri Dixit may also be on the BJP's radar ever since she joined Prime Minister Modi's “Beti Padhao Beti Bachao” movement. The PM expressed his gratitude for the work done by her way back in March 2015. There is also a vacancy in the social workers category and the BJP leadership is scouting for talent who can held the party win 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Lately, BJP leadership's emphasis has been that nominated MP s join the party after being nominated and help it politically. As many as four nominated MP s have joined the BJP so far taking its tally in Rajya Sabha to 69.   

Desert Waterloo for Amit Shah

Rajasthan is turning out to be BJP president Amit Shah's first Waterloo within the party. While he is wooing the friends and foes to strengthen the party for the 2019 battle, the mighty party chief is facing an unprecedented situation in the desert land. Amit Shah never witnessed such a situation in any of the 14 BJP-ruled states where Chief Ministers are bending backwards to placate him. But not Vasundhara Raje Scindia who is refusing to budge. Last week, she was called to Delhi to select new state unit chief after Ashok Parnami resigned in the wake of Alwar & Ajmer bye-poll defeats.  This was the second meeting after Raje vetoed the name of Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat suggested by Shah. Raje wanted a "caste-neutral" leader  and proposed an alternative name of Srichand Kriplani, a Sindhi Punjabi leader whom Shah rejected. It transpires that the name of another Union minister, Arjun Ram Meghwal, a Dalit, emerged. But this was also rejected by Raje for some strange reasons. As part of a compromise, the name of national general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Bhupendra Yadav was also discussed. Raje was willing to accept him. But Shah said he needed his services for the Lok Sabha polls in Delhi. In fact, the BJP leadership once toyed with the idea of removing Raje herself and install a new Chief Minister. But the tough woman sent a clear signal that she should not be taken for granted and she is not Anandiben Patel who will surrender meekly. The move was abandoned. It transpires that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have to step in to resolve the differences between Shah & Raje.  Amit Shah has now decided to camp at Jaipur as part of his strategy to ensure that the BJP wins Rajasthan Assembly polls. He may not hire premises in Bhopal as earlier planned and monitor polls from Jaipur itself. 

NHAI Chairman's post, Headache for Gadkari 

The premature repatriation of NHAI Chairman Deepak Kumar to Bihar as Chief Secretary has left Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari in the lurch. The chairman's tenure is fixed for a period of three years. But the NHAI has seen three Chairmen in a span of 33 months and Gadkari is finding it difficult to cope with the situation. He is racing against time to complete projects before the year is out and show the world that Road Tranport was the only performing sector. He had reconciled to the fact that he had no hand in selecting the chairman of the NHAI and it is done by the PMO. But his worry is that NHAI is destablized in the process. After R K Singh retired in June 2015, Raghav Chandra was given the marching orders within 15 months. His successor, Yudhvir Singh Mallik was was there for a period of 6 months only as he was promoted to the rank of secretary in the Ministry. Then came Deepak Kumar in June 2017 who was also repatriated to Bihar within 11 months. The NHAI Act 1988 (Amended in 2013) says that the post of Chairman should be advertised in at least three national dailies inviting applications and the entire process of selection and appointment takes at least four to six months’ time. Reportedly, the post was not advertised prior to the appointments of Y S Mallik and Deepak Kumar and due process was not followed. Now Y S Malllik has been given the temporary charge and the NHAI is waiting for a permanent Chairman. Why so many frequent changes in a performing NHAI ? No one had a clue. 

Cabinet Committees ? Coming soon 

For the past one month, the website of the Cabinet Secretariat has been displaying a rather unusual sign. Whenever one wants to clicks on “Cabinet Committees” link, it displays “Coming soon” sign. No one has clue as to why the crucial Cabinet Secretariat directly under the PMO has a dis-functional link. When inquired, it surfaced that the PMO never wanted to make any changes in the composition of Cabinet Committees after Arun Jaitley was temporarily divested of the Finance Ministry portfolio due to ill health. All Cabinet Committees were off the radar; be it Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, Cabinet Committee on Security or others. Perhaps, the PMO didn't want to change the composition of these committees for a short period. One should hope that Arun Jaitley may be back in North Block sooner than expected.

Lutyen's razing axe to hit the mighty 

The Lutyen's Zone will witness what it never saw before in several decades. The Supreme Court's Monitoring Committee on illegal constructions has prepared a list of 40 mighty encroachers of forest land and government land which includes politicians, corporate czars, judges, and even film personalities. The list is virtually Who's Who of the Lutyen's Zone which includes former Delhi L-G Tejinder Khanna, former Haryana Chief Minister O P Chautala, sitting BJP Minister in Uttarakhand Satpal Maharaj, owners of Ranbaxy Group and other corporate honchos and in-laws of actor Shahid Kapoor. Even a farm house once owned by a top court judge is on the radar.  As much as 197 acres of land was encroached worth Rs 20000 crores as per acre cost is Rs 25 crores. The religious bodies such as Radha Soami Satsang Beas and ISCKON will also face demolition action.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Rahul's "One seat One candidate" plan to counter Modi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Count down 2019

Rahul's "One seat One candidate" plan to counter Modi

403 LS seats identified in 15 states for Opposition alliance

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, June 4

As part of Rahul Gandhi's ambitious “One seat One candidate” mission, the Congress president's war room has identified 403 Lok sabha seat in 15 states where it may enter into alliance or understanding with like-minded parties.

Rahul Gandhi is willing to make any sacrifice and walk an extra mile to dislodge the BJP during the Lok Sabha 2019. If he is wooing adversaries, he is keen to bring all ex-Congressmen back into the fold to gear up for Mission-2019. He personally made a phone call to Ajit Jogi's wife to inquire about her husband's health. Jogi has floated a regional party in Chhattisgarh and has been ensuring Congress's defeat for ten years. Simultaneously, he is exploring the possibility of entering into an pan-India alliance with the BSP in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh etc. Obviously, Rahul Gandhi wants enough number of LS seats for the party in UP and willing to concede seats in Congress-dominated states. Rahul Gandhi is not averse to concede space to others in Punjab, Haryana and even Delhi to the BSP. He told the local leadership to come out with a detailed plan to counter the Modi juggernaut in 2019.

Same goes with AUDF in Assam and even NCP may get a few seats in Gujrat outside Maharashtra as part of this mission. Efforts are on to rope in the Abdullahs in Jammu & kashmir who had deserted the Congress. The Congress is already in alliance with Bihar, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand. The talks are on in UP where SP-BSP-RLD have come together. The Congress burnt its fingers in two byelections- first in Phulpur where it unnecessarily put up a candidate and lost the deposit and secondly, lost Palghar seat in Maharashtra and faced humiliating defeat.

But it was Rahul Gandhi who personally clinched the Karnataka alliance and gave the prime position to Janata Dal (S) with the objective to win majority of 28 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP had won 17 seats in 2014 while JD-S won 2 and nine by Congress. Rahul hopes to reap the harvest in Karnataka during LS polls.

Incidentally, Rahul Gandhi did in Karnataka what his late grand mother Indira Gandhi did tway back in 1978 when she installed Charan Singh as PM though he had no majority. Surprisingly, it was Kamal Nath who was behind the whole operation in 1978 which was executed at the behest of Sanjay Gandhi. Now same Kamal Nath wants alliance with the BSP outside UP.

It is, however, not clear as to how many seats Congress will contest out of these 403 Lok Sabha seats in 15 states as seats are being identified. Rahul Gandhi is yet to resolve tricky issues on remaining 140 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh (25), Telangana (17), West Bengal (42), Odisha (21) and Delhi (7) etc.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Fly on the Wall :Ajit Singh, Raju targeted in Air Asia case

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Ajit Singh, Raju targeted in Air Asia case

The timing of CBI's action against Air Asia (India) Limited (AAIL), a joint venture between the prestigious Tata Sons Limited and others

surprised many in the corridors of powers. The fact that Air Asia case was hanging fire for a long time and no one was interested in pursuing it either considering the fact that TATAs were partners in the project and it also involved Tony Fernandes, a Malaysian businessman of India origin. But changed political situation brought sudden alacrity at the CBI headquarters and everybody was under fire irrespective of the status. It now transpires that two former Civil Aviation Ministers, Ajit Singh and Ashok Gajapati Raju, are also under the scanner in the case apart from some officials of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) who also cleared the proposal. The CBI say that Air Asia was granted critical permissions to fly on international routes in violation of laid down rules and procedures which were arbitrarily amended by the then ministers and officials. Incidentally, Praful Patel was not the Civil Aviation Minister and had made way for Ajit Singh of RLD who headed the ministry from December 18, 2011 to May 25, 2014. The Air Asia submitted applications to the FIPB in February 2013 and received a formal approval in April 2013, followed by the no objection certificate in September 2013 and an Air Operating Permit in May 2014 permitting it to start domestic operations in India. Simultaneously, a secret cabinet note was sent on 27 February 2014 to the cabinet to amend the existing 5/20 rule for operation of international scheduled in civil aviation. Tony Fernandes, wanted the airline to fly on international routes and local partner Tata Sons through its nominee Venkataramanan, was supposed to lobby to obtain government approvals including a FIPB clearance and an amendment to then prevalent 5/20 civil aviation rule. The 5/20 rule stipulated that international flying licenses could be granted to airlines with five years' of domestic operations and a minimum of 20 aircraft in their fleet. The civil aviation ministry had sent a clarification in the form of a supplementary note on 5 March 2014 to the cabinet to relax the rules. But it could not be done as Lok Sabha polls had been announced on 5 March 2014. Finally, the 5/20 rule was relaxed in June 2016 when Ashok Gajapati Raju of the TDP was the Civil Aviation Minister. The Air Asia probe was hanging fire as the government didn't want to needle either Ajit Singh of the RLD or Raju who was NDA partner until a couple of months ago. Now that Ajit Singh has aligned with SP-BSP-Congress and TDP parted company with the NDA, there was no reason for the government to put the probe on the back burner.

TRS plans to open Federal front office

The Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao seem to be in a big hurry. If reports are true, he is set to open Federal Front office in Delhi in June-July. He is so desperate to cement the front of non-BJP and non-Congress parties, that he has decided to open an office in Delhi at his official residence at 23, Tuglak Road itself. The sprawling bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi has been allotted to the CM and his daughter, K. Kavitha, a member of the Lok Sabha. KCR decided to open the office to give a fillip to like-minded parties after he held back to back meetings with several leaders including M. Karunanidhi, M.K. Stalin, former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, H D Deve Gowda and others. KCR would be visiting Bhubaneswar later this month to meet Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and also visit Mumbai to meet Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray and NCP leader Sharad Pawar. TRS MPs in Delhi are trying to get an appointment with BSP leader Mayawati. But she is somewhat cool to the idea of a federal front itself. KCR is planning to hold a round-table conference with different parties and experts at the time of the office inauguration in New Delhi.

Rahul changes tack, hugs Jagan Reddy now !

Gone are the days when Rahul Gandhi was stubborn, inflexible and a poor listener. Over the past couple of months, Congressmen and callers on him are feeling a sea-change in the attitude and conduct of the new Congress president. Now all this a thing of the past and he is responding to calls, available to party leaders and even shunning his notions against some of the leaders. He principle is to stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi at all costs from returning to power during 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In order to achieve this objective, he is willing to walk an extra mile which he did in Karnataka to the surprise of the BJP leadership. He even installed Kamal Nath as president of the Madhya Pradesh unit of the party despite personal dislike. Recently, he has given the go-ahead to explore all possibilities to tie up with YSR Congress leader Jagan Mohan Reddy. The Congress party was virtually a pocket borough edition of YSR Reddy in Andhra Pradesh. However, the Congress leadership refused to accept Jagan Mohan Reddy as the automatic choice for the Chief Ministership. This finally led to the extinction of the Congress itself from the state. Now Rahul Gandhi has signaled that Congress is willing to do business with YSR Congress. As part of this strategy, Digvijay Singh has been divested of the charge of Andhra Pradesh and former Kerala CM Omen Chandy has been appointed general secretary incharge. Chandy was very close to YS Chandrshekhar Reddy. Rahul Gandhi is pursuing the same strategy in every state with the sole objective to dislodge the BJP and concede even the prime position held by the party.