Tuesday, July 31, 2018

RS Deputy Chairman poll

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

RS Deputy Chairman poll
BJP drags feet as Opposition turns strident,
BJD, AIADMK neutral

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, July 30

The prospects of holding elections for the post of Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha receded with the Opposition parties launching fresh attack on the ruling NDA today. Contrary to the friendly conduct of the Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK & other small parties in the Lok Sabha towards the government, these parties joined ranks with the Congress, TMC & others in opposing the government on various bill. The way the Motor Vehicles and other two bills failed to pass the Rajya Sabha muster has made the ruling BJP re-think on holding the Deputy Chairman's poll.

The government was inclined to evolve a consensus for the post which fell vacant on July 2 and informal talks were underway with leaders of all political parties in the Rajya Sabha. Since the government is short of majority in a house of 244, it sounded out TMC & BJD for the post. However, both the parties refused to bite the bait and said the government should find a person who is acceptable of the entire house. Several names cropped up and Naresh Gujral of the Akali Dal was emerging as the choice. But the BJP leadership is keen that one of its own leaders to inducted to the post considering the fact that the house is evenly divided. The BJP wanted its senior Bhupendra Yadav to be elected for the post but the numbers eluded the party. The leadership was, however, trying to garner numbers in its favour.

However, going by today's developments in the Rajya Sabha when the house was forced to adjourn over the National Register of Citizenship issue in Assam, it is clear that the Upper House may not have a smooth running. If sources are to be believed, the Congress will raise the Rafale deal issue once the NRC case subsides. The Opposition parties are determined to take the government head-on.

It is in this context that the ruling dispensation not desirous to hold the polls during the Monsoon session of Parliament. The government came out with the agenda during the coming week in Rajya Sabha where there was no mention of the Deputy Chairman's poll. There are exactly nine working days left and senior BJP leaders are saying that there are precedents of the election being delayed.

In April 2012 the post of Deputy Chairman fell vacant during the Budget session in the UPA era when A Rehman Khan retired. But the polls were held during the Monsoon session. Even during the UPA-I in 2006, the polls were also delayed by 40 days. During 2004 there was delay as post fell vacant on June 10 but polls were held on July 2.

The BJP sources say that the panel of presiding officers is already in place and the House can function without a deputy chairman.

Monday, July 30, 2018

PMO worried over SC judgment on Manipur killings

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

PMO worried over SC judgment on Manipur killings

Security forces demoralized
SLP may be filed soon

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, July 29

Extremely worried over the stance of the Supreme Court that criminal cases be filed against army personnel and security forces for killings in Manipur during the operations for killing the innocents, the Centre is likely to file a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the apex court.

The Centre reviewed the situation arising out of an order of the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur in July 2017 where it had directed the CBI to constitute an SIT to probe alleged fake encounters by the security forces in Manipur. The two-judge bench order of the SC created a piquant situation for the army in Manipur which is fighting against the ultras in extremely grave situation. The SC order also had a bearing in anti-terrorists operations in troubled-torn Jammu & kashmir where massive operations are underway. But the security forces have pointed out that it would be extremely difficult for them to continue with the operations if the sword of criminal cases registered against them would hang over their heads.

The situation became grave when the SC bench summoned the CBI director seeking his explanation for slow pace of probe against the security forces. A couple of such petitions are also pending in the Jammu & Kashmir high court in the wake of SC order. The army and police is battling every day with the NGOs and human right activists who are filing contempt petitions against them. This has demoralised the forces.

Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat has brought the seriousness of the situation to the notice of the government and the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is also of the view that the SC judgment needs a immediate review.

It is in this background that a high-level meeting was held in the Prime Minister's Office. It is not immediately known whether the PM was present at the meeting or not. But it has been decided that a review petition be filed against this judgment immediately.

It may be mentioned that a bench of Justices M B Lokur and U U Lalit has summoned the Director CBI tomorrow in SC for the delay in investigation into the Manipur fake encounter cases.

The bench said it was “not satisfied” and added that it “would like to hear from Director CBI what can be done to expedite investigation and chargesheet can be filed”. The court asked him to be present at 2 pm on July 30. The court was upset when the CBI submitted that out of a total of 41 cases, investigation was complete in seven. Of the seven, approval has been received for filing chargesheets in two cases and approval for two others was expected in next few days. There are such cases in Jammu & kashmir too. But no SIT has been formed such operations in state.


Electoral Bonds Scheme a big flop

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Electoral Bonds Scheme a big flop

Bonds worth Rs 438 cr bought across India

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, July 27

The government's ambitious Electoral Bonds scheme to cleanse the political funding has turned out to be a big flop.

Electoral bonds worth Rs 438 crores have been sold so far by the State Bank of India, the only authorized bank to issue such bonds since January this year. In all, 980 Electoral Bonds have been issued in three phases.

According to data accessed from the Finance Ministry, 980 electoral bonds for a cumulative value of Rs 438.30 crore in three tranches have been issued.

Of these, as many as 959 bonds have been redeemed of the total value of Rs 437.30 crores. The government had brought the electoral bonds scheme with the objective to cleanse the black money culture in the political system. Another feature in the scheme was that it will not contain the buyers name and it will remain with the State Bank of India. The Bond buyer can handover the same to a political party of his choice and the political party concerned can redeem it at any point of time.

It is also clear from the data available with the Lokmat that the enthusiasm towards the scheme amongst the corporate houses is waning.

While a total of 520 bonds amounting to Rs 222 crore were issued in the first tranche in March this year, it came down to in the second tranche. The number of bonds sold came down to 256 bonds and amount was just half to Rs 114.90 crores. It fell miserably in the third tranche when 204 bonds worth Rs 101.40 crore were sold.

The bonds were sold by the SBI till May 2018 in three tranches and the fourth window will be opened shortly. The bonds are sold in the multiples value of Rs 1,000, Rs10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore.

The Finance Ministry disclosed that almost the entire amount of Rs 437.30 crores had already been redeemed by the parties. More interestingly, 21 bonds worth Rs 11 crores were not redeemed by registered political parties. These bonds have now become infructuous and will have zeo value as these had to be redeemed within 15 days of issuance.

Finance Minister Arun Jailtey, in Budget 2017-18, while announcing the electoral bonds scheme, had also imposed a ban on receiving more than Rs 2,000 in cash from one person. It was strongly opposed the parties saying that it will add to the opaqueness of political funding.

But Jaitley refused to relent and the scheme was finally notified in January. The bonds can be purchased by all citizens of India and registered political parties which secured not less than 1 per cent of the votes polled in the latest general election to the Lok Sabha or a State Assembly are eligible to receive them.


                                     (Rs Crore)
      Bonds         Amount    Bonds        Amount
                      (Rs Crore)     redeemed redeemed
      520                   222      511           221
      256                   114.9      250         114.9
       204                   101.4      198           91.4
Total : 980          438.3    959       427.3

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fly on the Wall : The “hug” was no fluke, Rahul scripted it

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The “hug” was no fluke, Rahul scripted it

Ever since Rahul Gandhi took over as Congress president, he is learning the ropes, rather fast. If he took the party and political observers completely by surprise by dropping big guns from the Congress Working Committee last week, he also sent out a clear signal that generational shift has come here to stay. Then came his “hug and wink” storm in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the No-Confidence motion. The debate on the No-Confidence Motion has been relegated into the background while “Hug & wink” continues to make columnists burning their mid-night oil. To top it all, Rahul Gandhi himself is sending out contradictory signals over the “hug & wink” events. He told NDTV the same day that the 'Hug” was a spontaneous decision as he had sat down after finishing his speech and later got up and moved over to Modi. The Wink was also impromptu. But when he met women journalists on Tuesday over high-tea at the India International Center (IIC), he told them that he was thinking about it for the past some time. Rahul didn't disclose further. But sources close to him said that Rahul Gandhi gave considerable thought to his “hug” plan. These sources also say that the inner core group of the party comprising of Sonia-Rahul & Priyanka did discuss the consequences of such an initiative. Sonia Gandhi was slightly worried that it may not be parliamentary protocol. But Priyanka Gandhi said Modi has broken every parliamentary protocol by not allowing a no-confidence motion (NCM) during the Budget session. The NCM is Opposition's birth right. But even that was over-ruled. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in the hug. Thus Rahul's thinking was converted into action on Friday. In fact, Rahul Gandhi's speech was so good that he was overwhelmed and sat down. Suddenly he realised that he had forgotten the planned “hug”. He got up again to the surprise of the Speaker and others and started speaking for less than a minute. Instead of taking his seat, he moved over Modi, hugged him and gave the PM his first shock. The headlines next day was the rare Hug and not the motion.

Rahul’s PM card

Ever since “sources” in the Congress Working Committee said to the media after the mega event that Rahul Gandhi would be party’s prime ministerial face, all hell broke. Until the CWC, Rahul Gandhi was sending clear signals that his aim for 2019 is to defeat Modi and not become PM himself. It was almost year and a half ago when he said in an informal chat with the a select group of journalists, myself included, that he is willing to wait until 2024 or beyond, but Modi must go in 2019. The sourced report did the damage as Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar etc became unhappy. This was also contrary to what Rahul Gandhi had discussed with Sharad Pawar during his three long interactions. But he undid the damage  on Tuesday when he told women journalists that anyone, Mamata or Maya, could be PM. The Congress will support any "non-RSS-backed Prime Minister" in 2019  Rahul said and added the priority was to defeat the BJP and end the climate of fear that has entered "our homes". Asked if the Congress was open to a woman Prime Minister, he said that anyone not backed by the RSS was acceptable. With Congress’ U-turn on the PM’s issue, the hearts of contenders are gladdened.

Mamata wooing Congress for tie-up

It is now clearly emerging that Congress will enter into some-sort of alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the TMC in the ensuing Lok Sabha polls. While the CPM general secretary, Sitaram Yechury was keen to tie up with the Congress in West Bengal, things are not working out. One of the reasons is that Congress and the Left are arch rivals in Kerala. Congress strategists have also advised Rahul Gandhi that the Left parties, in any case, will support any combination of like-minded parties from outside. Therefore, let the Left parties go alone in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. It has some claim over 3-4 seats in other states which may be considered sympathetically later. But the Congress should go with Mamata Banerjee during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress has a legitimate claim over 7-8 seats in West Bengal out of 42 seats. But the TMC is willing to concede 5-6 seats with the argument that the strike rate of this combination will be very high. The TMC-Congress can combine is capable of winning 39 Lok Sabha seats as most of the cadre of the Left parties has either the BJP or the TMC. The TMC had won 34 and the Congress 2 Lok Sabha seats during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and both had contested separately. The BJP is targeting to win 21 seats in West Bengal on the back of anti-incumbency of Mamata, cow vigilantism, Hindu sentiments and Modi wave. Mamata is keen to join hands with the Congress too hoping to overcome this anti-incumbency and emerge as Consensus Prime Ministerial candidate.

The UP Seat-sharing formula

The SP-BSP have evolved a seat-sharing formula in UP and conveyed the same Congress & RLD. The formula is that  whosoever won or came second in the state during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, will get the those seats. As per this formula, the Congress can get 7seats while the RLD of Ajit Singh can stake a claim on two seats. The remaining seats will go to the SP-BSP. Now the young leadership surrounding Rahul Gandhi comprising of RPN Singh, Jitin Prasad and others want the party to be realistic and settle for 10 seats. On Tuesday, BSP leader Mayawati said she would join the Opposition alliance only if it gets a "respectable number of seats" to contest in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan elections and also in the Lok Sabha. Obviously, the BSP wants pie in other states before conceding even 10 seats to Congress. Hence, Rahul’s PM card.

Jayant Advani to contest from Gandhinagar ?

Jayant Advani, the only son of veteran BJP leader L K Advani had a long meeting with the Prime Minister last month. It so happened that when he was in his factory in NOIDA, his mobile rang and the PM was on the line. Jayant Advani met the PM and later Modi called on L K Advani along with party chief Amit Shah. The purpose of the visit was to understand if L K Advani would like to contest again in 2019 from his traditional Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat or make room for someone of his choice. The BJP leadership is keen to explore all these contentious seats and in the process of deciding whether seniors above 75 years of age be repeated or their kith and kin be accommodated. While Modi is reported to have kept quiet, Amit Shah broached the subject if the octogenarian leader would like to contest. Advani heard them but reported to have said nothing.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

PM, others asked to give 5 names each for Lokpal Panel

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Special report

PM, others asked to give 5 names each for Lokpal Panel
Selecting Lokpal a Herculean task 

New Delhi, July 24

The selection of country's first Lokpal is turning out to be most complicated and Herculean task for the Modi government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is learning the ropes even four years after assuming office and it is highly unlikely that Lokpal will be place before the next General Elections.

This became clear when the first meeting of the Lokpal Selection Committee comprising of the PM, Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra, Speaker of the Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan and eminent jurist Mukul Rohtagi was held to form the search committee on July 19. Since Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Congress Party in Lok Sabha refused to attend the meeting for being invited as “Special invitee” and not as full member, the Selection Committee decided to proceed.

It was decided by the members including the PM that all of them furnish the names of five experts each at the next meeting of the committee. Even Kharge will be requested to furnish five names of experts and out of this mega list of 25 experts, the Lokpal Search Committee will be constituted. The Search Committee will comprise of eight members who will be selected out of these 25.
Interestingly, the four members who attended the first meeting of the Lokpal Selection Committee under the Modi era were finding it difficult to draw the names of five persons capable of being members of the Search Committee. Two members felt they needed time to come out with the names while the PM looked on. Mukul Rohtagi reported to have suggested that experts from all corners should be picked up and then a short-list of eight can be drawn. The government will make a special request to Kharge to send the names even if he is not willing to attend the meeting.
It was not clear when the government will hold the next meeting of the Lokpal Selection Committee. It was largely because of this very reason that the Supreme Court rapped the government in the court today.
But the process is so cumbersome that it is unlikely to be completed anytime soon because the 8-member search committee will invite applications from all over the country through a proper advertisement in newspapers for the posts of 9-member Lokpal body.
It may be mentioned that the same task was undertaken by the Manmohan Singh government after the Lokpal & Lokayukta Act was passed in 2013. A search committee comprising of 8 members headed by Justice K T Thomas was constituted in February 2014 which invited applications for Lokpal. 300 persons applied. But suddenly Justice Thomas quit and process came to a grinding halt. It will be a miracle if the Modi government can complete the task during the remaining period of its term.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Fly on the Wall : Babri case may not be fast tracked, CJI blinks

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Babri case may not be fast tracked, CJI blinks
It is now clearly emerging that the Ayodhya case hearing in the Supreme Court is unlikely to be fast-tracked. Contrary to popular perception that the Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra will constitute the bench and commence hearing of the highly emotive dispute and settle the case before he retires on October 2. It was expected by the ruling BJP leadership that the SC will constitute the bench and commence hearing within the week of its opening. But now it is emerging that the CJI Justice Dipak Mishra will not play ball and the case will be taken up in due course. In the run-up to the 2019, all eyes are on the Supreme Court that it will commence hearing the contentious Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute. Before the vacation, when the Ram Bhakts pressed for a day-to-day hearing, Muslim litigants in the case had expressed strong reservations against it. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal had pleaded that the appeals should be deferred until the next Lok Sabha elections. Government lawyers have been nudging the court to decide the issue at the earliest. Without giving a clue of his thinking, CJI Mishra adjourned the case to be taken up after the long summer vacation. Now two weeks have gone by and the date and the bench is nowhere in sight. Highly placed sources say that unless something dramatic happens, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri land dispute case is headed to the south.

Govt. disappointed with Justice A K Sikri

There was a time when ruling BJP leaders were throwing hints that the sitting Supreme Court judge, Ranjan Gogoi may be superseded after CJI Dipak Mishra retires in October. It was also whispered that Justice A K Sikri who is fourth in the line of succession will be the new Chief Justice of India instead. The government was peeved with Ranjan Gogoi as he had addressed a joint press conference with three other brother judges and questioned the functioning of the SC under the leadership of CJI. Indirectly, the judges had taken a dig at the working of the Modi dispensation in influencing the judiciary. But things didn't work the way the government may have thought. When the Karnataka Governor's decision to allow 15 days time to the BS Yedurappa to prove his majority on the floor of the state assembly was challenged, the matter was listed before the bench of Justice A K Sikri. PM Modi made a personal phone call to former AG Mukul Rohtagi to appear for the BJP and seek relief. Sensing that the BJP is losing the game, Rohtagi pleaded with the bench to give time until Monday. But Justice Sikri's bench was unmoved and no relief was granted. The BJP lost its face and credibility. As if this was not enough, Justice Sikri did not give favourable verdict in favour of the Centre in the bitter battle with AAP's Delhi government. These two set backs changed the thinking of the government and it is felt that super-session is not a good idea particularly in an election year. Secondly, the BJP will lose its main plank against the Congress if does the same what late Indira Gandhi did when Justice A N Ray superseded three senior judges and all quit in protest.

Will Sonia pave way for Priyanka from Rae Bareli?

The Capital is agog with speculation that Sonia Gandhi may bid adieu to the electoral politics and may not contest from Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat. Instead, she may pave for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Sonia Gandhi is withdrawing from the day-today political activities and passed on the baton to Rahul Gandhi in December last year when he took over as Congress president. There has been clamour for a long time in the Congress that Priyanka Gandhi may be brought to the fore and it will boost the prospects of the party in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It will electrify the workers in UP and elsewhere. In any case, priyanka Gandhi has been working a backroom boy for Rahul Gandhi for a long time and managing affairs from behind the curtains. Sonia Gandhi, it may said contested from the Amethi constituency in 1999 and shifted to Rae Bareli in 2004 which she continues to represent till date. However, she has not been keeping a good health and unable to campaign intensively which she used to do earlier. Sonia Gandhi wants that the family bastion Rae Bareli seat be retained in the family and Priyanka Gandhi may be brought to the fore. The assessment is Priyanka's induction will improve the bargaining chip of the Congress in the Hindi heartland.

When Modi tried to charm Kharge
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is mending fences with the Opposition leaders lately. On Tuesday after the all-party meeting ended, Modi saw senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge walking slowly. Modi asked him to come along as he was to drive home after the meeting and Kharge was also leaving. However, Kharge recited a small poem in Hindi to the surprise of Modi. He said, “Jab Raja Hilta Hai to Mulk Hilta hai, Jab Kazi Hilta Hai to Dadhi Hilti Hai, Aur Jab Aapki Gadi Hilegi to Hum Bhi Hilenge”. (When the King moves, the country moves, when the judge of the Sharia court moves, his beard moves, and when your cavalcade moves out only then I can leave). Kharge was telling him that due to the security, the PM has to leave first and only then others can leave. This caused a huge laughter in the entire corridor and Modi enjoyed the dig.