Monday, December 28, 2020

Fly on the Wall - Mumbai model for new Congress Chief!

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Mumbai model for new Congress Chief!
How the new Congress president may be democratically elected in place of Sonia Gandhi if polls do take place for the coveted post? As many as 1400 plus AICC delegates & others have to be elected first and then they will elect a new CWC and eventually a president in February 2021 unless polls are postponed. The AICC managers hit upon a novel method and tested it in Mumbai to elect Mumbai Regional Congress Committee chief. It is now called the Mumbai Model. The General Secretary incharge of Maharashtra HK Patil sent a voice message to 450 designated party functionaries: I am AICC incharge HK Patil speaking. I seek your views on who should be the president of Mumbai Congress. After the beep, send just one name. Your answer will be kept confidential. Thank you”. No one knows who followed the drill and who didn’t. But the mandarins in the technical team of Rahul Gandhi working behind the scenes, took enough care that the process is executed with finesse. It’s a different matter that no one among 450 delegates knew till date who sent which name and how MRCC president was chosen. But one thing is clear that this Mumbai Model will may be executed in AICC polls too. Since Rahul Gandhi’s loyalists are determined to install him as party chief. The AICC media head, Randeep Surjewala has already said that 99.9% want Rahul as CP. He already knows the mind of 99.9% of the 1400 AICC delegates. The last word has yet to be written.

Rahul & his new mobile
When the 5-hour long meeting took place at Sonia Gandhi’s residence at 10 Janpath, Rahul & Priyanka were in tow to receive the invitees. The Gandhis wanted a virtual meeting over Zoom. But none of the dissidents including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Singh Hooda were ready for it. They insisted on a face-to-face meeting which Sonia Gandhi eventually agreed to. But many leaders were dismayed that Rahul Gandhi was glued to his new iPhone 12. A leader who was part of the meeting said Rahul remained busy with his mobile for nearly three hours. In between, he left the meeting twice to interact with Kamal Nath and A K Antony and attend to urgent calls. Sonia Gandhi, on the other hand, remained seated for full 5-hours without a break.

Hooda stuns the conclave
Former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is a soft spoken person and rarely talks tough. But he was perhaps the only one among the dissidents to stun the gathering. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Prithviraj Chavan and many other letter writers were speaking in a rather conciliatory tone. When Hooda’s turn came, he didn’t mince his words. Rather, he sent the chill in the otherwise warm weather in the sprawling lawns. Hooda said he is fighting a lonely battle in Haryana against the BJP which had pumped Rs 100 crores to win the Baroda Assembly seat in a bitter byelection. Yet he was able to defeat the BJP against all odds. Hooda did not stop there and went on to say that had he been made the leader of the party in Haryana three months prior to State Assembly polls last year, the Congress would have got the state. “Unfortunately, I am not accepted as leader in Delhi while people in Haryana adore me,” said Hooda in a pained voice. There was a silence of the grave.

Nadda’s rising clout
With BJP president J P Nadda down with Covid and recovering, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has taken charge of Assembly polls in West Bengal due next year. Shah was out of action in Bihar for some strange reasons. But now he is leading the onslaught on Mamata Banerjee from the front. However, Nadda is working overtime sitting home and played a key role in the selection of seven Union Ministers who were made inchage of seven regions for Assembly polls. It is learnt that the selections were made as per the PM’s desires and many favourite ministers were excluded causing surprises. Obviously, Nadda's graph has been risen after Bihar win and other polls. Only recently, a couple of Chief Ministers of BJP ruled states wanted to call on the PM. But Modi politely conveyed to them to first apprise the party president about the issues.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Fly on the Wall - Modi subtle goal-post shift

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi subtle goal-post shift
If you thought PM Modi will hang his boots and hand-over reins of power once he turns 75 years to a successor, you may be in for some surprises. Reason being that Modi has subtly shifted his goal-post from 2022 to 2029. An indication of changing goal-post came at a virtual function last week which largely went unreported wherein he said that a lot of work has been done during the past six and half years. But for India’s growth and development next nine years are very important. Modi had said on several occasions in the past that by 2022 when India celebrates its 75th anniversary of Independence, farmers' income will be doubled and all will have pakka houses, education for all and many more tall promises. In fact, when he came to power in 2014, he had promised that farmers income will be doubled within the next five years. But later, he shifted it to 2022. Now he is talking that the next nine years are crucial for India’s development. Two things clearly emerge from his statement; one that he will be around until 2029 and secondly, he is working hard to win the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Though many of his lieutenants like Amit Shah have said that the BJP will rule India for the next 50 years. But Modi had always refrained from making such tall claims.

Focus on the Bungalow now!
After losing Rajya Sabha seat for his mother Reena Paswan, the LJP chief is working hard to retain ministerial bungalow at Janpath. The 12 Janpath Road Bungalow was allotted to Ram Vilas Paswan when he became a Minister in the V P Singh government and continued since then. His son, Chirag Paswan who is a two term Lok Sabha MP is not entitled to type VIII bungalow. After Paswan’s death, the bungalow has fallen under the "general category". With no Cabinet berth round the corner for Chirag, he may have to vacate the bungalow unless the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation allows him to retain it. One will have to watch out what happens to this “Hanuman” of Prime Minister Modi. His hopes rest on BJP Chief J P Nadda who said recently, “At the Centre, the matter is different. But in Bihar, this is what it is.” Nadda was asked whether Chirag is part of NDA or not. The vague reply given has raised hopes for Chirag.

What went wrong with Ahmed Patel

The sudden demise of Ahmed Patel has left a void in the Congress at a juncture when the party needed him most. It is not as if he didn’t see ups and downs. He suffered a setback when Ambica Soni became the political secretary to Sonia Gandhi replacing him. It’s a different matter that he was back at the center- stage soon. When Rahul took over as party chief, Patel was subtly sidelined again as the scion of the Gandhi family wanted his own team. However, Sonia Gandhi was wise enough and retained him as her chief political adviser until his death. It’s a different matter that Rahul Gandhi also found virtues in him later and he was back in the political game. It, however, remains a mystery as to why he chose to travel all the way to Faridabad’s Metro Hospital in October for treatment when he was first tested positive of Covid. No doubt, he had been regular at Metro whenever he fell ill. Later, he shifted to Apollo hospital and finally brought to Medanta in Gurugram. Three hospitals in two months did not prove lucky to him.

A promoted with demotion
It's strange that Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha got a demotion while he was promoted as new Chief Information Commissioner. He was holding the rank of the Supreme Court judge as Information Commissioner. But the moment he was promoted as CIC, he was demoted to the rank of a Cabinet Secretary. He will lose salary and pension. Interestingly, his four old colleagues will hold SC judge rank while three new colleagues will be in the rank of secretary. A dichotomy created by the amendment to the RTI Act in 2018!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Fly on the Wall - Meira as interim AICC Chief!

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Meira as interim AICC Chief!
Utter confusion prevails in the Congress as Gandhi family loyalists are not sure how Rahul Gandhi will conduct himself to return as party president. These loyalists are pitching for his early return as interim president even before the revamped Central Election Authority (CEA) completes the organizational elections by March next year. The loyalists say Rahul Gandhi be brought as interim president and confirmed later as full-time president. But the dissidents are determined to prevent Rahul's return as interim party chief and have floated the name of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar. She will have 3-4 vice presidents representing various regions to strengthen the party. Since Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot is disinclined to don the mantle at this juncture, there is no other suitable name for the post. Bhupinder Singh Hooda will be one of the vice presidents.The Obama memoirs have done the worst damage to Rahul Gandhi at a time when he is trying hard to bounce back. Obama, in a way, has strengthened dissidents’ hands. On her part, Sonia Gandhi is delaying the whole process until the Assembly polls in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. She hopes that Congress will perform better in these 5state Assembly polls which may pave the way for his return as party chief.

Why Nadda on 7th Heaven
Something unprecedented happened when the PM visited BJP headquarters for a “thanks giving” function to Bihar voters after its rare win. The BJP emerged as a “big brother” to Nitish Kumar after two decades and it was no mean achievement. The Bihar polls were a turning point for the party’s fortunes in elections due next year. Addressing workers, the PM suddenly turned to Nadda and said, “Nadda ji aap aage chalo hum tumahare saath hain” (Nadda ji, you lead it from the front and we are with you). Heads turned as such right-handed compliments were never given to any of Nadda’s predecessors by Modi in the past. When Modi repeated the compliment, Nadda got up from his seat to thank Modi. When Modi repeated the Nadda slogan a third time, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and others got up and clapped for Nadda rather sheepishly. Was Modi sending a message to leaders who did not go for campaigning in Bihar anticipating a defeat. The rare compliment sent Nadda on 7th Heaven as he single-handedly remained stationed in Bihar earning a feather in the cap. Is he coming out of the shadow of his seniors? One will have to watch out. But he has made his mark. 
Full Article

Finally, STC begins winding up
When the Modi government came to power, it had big plans to sell or shut down ailing PSUs. But six years in power, the Modi government realized it was easier said than done. It failed to sell or revive BSNL/MTNL despite spending billions of rupees of golden handshake to employees. It may succeed selling Air India and BPCL but at a far below the money it had envisaged. It wanted to shut down STC six years ago. It is only now that STC will be delisted from NSE and BSE. The STC Board has issued notifications to close down all branches including Mumbai, Kolkata, and Ahmedabad by November 30 and others by December this year. Come 2021, STC may exist only on paper to resolve its ongoing legal issues. Employees have been offered a lucrative golden handshake or transfer. Next in line will be MMTC. Both have huge land banks that could be sold off at a later stage to recoup the accumulated losses.

Rajnikant gives a miss
Amit Shah may have created a flutter by his roadshow in Chennai and sealing the BJP-AIADMK electoral alliance for the May 2021 Assembly polls. But his desire to meet the veteran cine-star Rajnikant or M K Alagiri, estranged brother of DMK Chief M K Stalin did not succeed. He held meetings until 2.30 in the morning in his hotel room. But both of them did not turn up.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

BJP in a dilemma over lone RS seat

Sushil Modi, Reena Paswan in reckoning

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Nov. 25
All eyes are set on Bihar’s lone Rajya Sabha seat by-election which will be held on December 14. The last date of filing nomination is December 3. The seat fell vacant due to the death of Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

The bye-poll has assumed huge political significance as the LJP headed by Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan is claiming the seat. Though the LJP has only one MLA in the 243-member Bihar Assembly and it is not part of the NDA in Bihar either. But it remains the key member of the alliance in Delhi having six MPs in the Lok Sabha. Chirag Paswan is insisting upon the BJP leadership that his party helped the BJP emerge as the single largest party of the NDA in Bhar bagging 74 seats. Chirag Paswan also claims that LJP was instrumental in establishing BJP senior partner in the alliance. Therefore, the RS seat be given to his mother Reena Paswan. Secondly, his party may have won only one seat but it polled nearly 6% votes and a force to reckon with in Bihar. The BJP cannot brush the LJP aside and this fact was acknowledged by the BJP Chief J P Nadda too.

Insiders in the BJP say the party is grappling with its own problems. If it gives the seat to LJP, it may annoy Janatal Dal (U). Secondly, if the BJP decides to retain the seat, it will find it difficult to ignore the claim of Sushil Modi who was denied the Deputy Chief Minister’s post. It was then presumed that his services may be used in Delhi. If the BJP leadership wants to keep him at arm’s length, the seat may be given to the LJP. Therefore, the bye-poll has assumed huge political significance.

The BJP may also try to wean away some of the Congress-RJD MLAs as has been done in other states.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

SFIO’s dismal show - Corporate Fraud body Fumbles & Tumbles

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Nov. 22

If the Enforcement Directorate could secure 14 convictions only in 15 years, the track record of another prime agency to fraud corporate houses is no better. The Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) under the overall supervision of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs is dismal if not disastrous. The SFIO is pretty independent in its function, having the powers to arrest and conduct even searches. The government had set up SFIO to deal with serious frauds by corporation houses and companies. 

Data accessed by Lokmat showed that the SFIO probed as many as 132 companies during the year 2017-18. But it could complete the investigation only in five cases. The record next year was no good when it could complete probes in 12 cases though it initiated inquiries into 83 companies. The worst came in 2019-20 when 361 companies were probed and only in 12 cases the probe was completed.

In response to a question in Lok Sabha by Dushyant Singh of the BJP, Corporate Affairs Minister Anurag Thakur disclosed that investigation of 92 cases are being probed by the SFIO. This did not include 6 cases where stay has been granted by courts.

However, he ducked the question which asked the minister details of top 50 cases of fraudulent companies in terms of the amount involved. Thakur did not reveal the amount involved saying the “gradation of cases under investigation in terms of the amount involved could be known after the completion of investigation of these cases”.

In a response to another question, the government claimed that of the 1182 complaints filed as many as 462 complaints have been disposed of and secured conviction in 326 cases.

But the cat was out of the bag soon when the record of past three years of SFIO’s performance were accessed. The details of investigations completed during the past three years are given here: 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Fly on the Wall - NCB Wings clipped - Why Murmu fell out of favour?

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

NCB Wings clipped
The tremors of Sushant Singh Rajput’s case continue to haunt the powers that be. The CBI was wise enough not to act in haste and harass Rhea Chakraborty in the abatement to suicide case. But the Narcotics Control Bureau headed by Rakesh Asthana seems to have bitten more than he could chew. He went overboard in the Bollywood drug probe case by summoning all and sundry and arresting petty drug peddlers and consumers. Finally, the Supreme Court gave a shock to the NCB and took away its key power. The NCB is among the four such investigation agencies where any statement made by a person before an officer is admissible as a confessional statement. Normally, a statement before the magistrate under section 164 CRPc alone is treated as a confessional statement. The NCB, Enforcement Directorate, Customs, Excise and even Income Tax officers have been given the powers under the law to treat statements before an officer as a confession before the court. The CBI, state police and other agencies do not enjoy this privilege. But the SC gave a shock to the NCB under the Narcotics Drugs Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act, 1985, for misusing this power to extract confession and struck down the very clause. The court said that NCB such officers of the NCB are police officers and statements made before them are not admissible as evidence. This is a huge setback to the NCB and the Union Home ministry is worried as NCB is under it. The SC ruling may also cast a shadow on the enormous powers of the Enforcement Directorate and other such bodies. Insiders in the government say that the Ministry may ask for a review of the ruling which gave a split 2:1 verdict. But for now, NCB wings have been clipped. 

Click here to read full article in Hindi and Marathi

Why Murmu fell out of favour?
G C Murmu was Prime Minister Modi’s most favorite Gujrat cadre officer from the days when he was Chief Minister. He handled all sensitive matters when Modi was facing onslaught from the CBI and other agencies during the UPA era. It was Murmu who used to coordinate with top legal guns in Delhi during those tumultuous years. Unassuming and savvy IAS officer hailing from Jharkhand was given key posts and finally Modi sent him to Srinagar as the first Lieutenant Governor of Jammu & Kashmir. It was his first independent charge. Modi had great trust and faith in his abilities. But things went haywire somewhere and the PMO got worried. Perhaps, Murmu failed to deliver what Modi desired. Modi was unhappy that he did not travel extensively in the state and kept himself confined to the spacious Raj Bhawan in Srinagar. As if this was not enough, he also had a running battle with the Chief Secretary who was senior to him in the service. Finally, Modi decided to send a political heavyweight Manoj Sinha to stem the rot and take some bold decisions. If Sinha had the ears of the Prime Minister, he also had a perfect rapport with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Sinha is a political bird and has developed a personal rapport with political class in the Valley too.

Elusive Amit Shah
The health of Union Home Minister Amit Shah continues to be a cause of worry in the BJP. Though hehas recovered from fatigue and tiredness after Covid attack, he is avoiding traveling on medical advice. It is largely because of this very reason that he did not campaign in the Bihar polls as was expected which proved a blessing for the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who addressed 24 rallies. Even a shy BJP Chief J P Nadda came out of the shadow to address five rallies a day. Shah did not go to Kevadiya (Gujrat) and stayed back in Delhi. He opted to go to Patel Chowk at Parliament Street here along with the President and the Vice President to pay homage. But he will be traveling to West Bengal and start addressing rallies there.

The prized RS Seat in Bihar
Who will get the Rajya Sabha seat fell vacant after the demise of Ram Vilas Paswan? No one is sure. The LJP is still part of the NDA in Delhi and thereby Chirag Paswan hopes his mother Reena Paswan will be given the seat. But it will depend on the outcome of the Assembly polls on November 10.

Friday, October 30, 2020

JD (U) slide worries BJP - Priyanka back in Lutyen’s Delhi

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

JD (U) slide worries BJP
Irrespective of Modi’s undiminished Charisma and immense popular appeal, the BJP leadership has a reason to worry in Bihar. As the state enters the second phase of bitterly fought polarized battle, the BJP is rattled as its key partner Nitish Kumar’s graph is on the downhill. The mishandling of migrant labourers and Coronavirus issues may cost him dearly and hurt BJP more in the months to come if the NDA loses Bihar. It is not as if the BJP was not aware of the sliding graph of Nitish Kumar. All internal surveys conducted by the RSS and the BJP signaled that Nitish Kumar's popularity is waning. The vocal Bihar BJP leadership wanted to go alone smelling blood riding on Modi wave. It was in this background that PM Modi, BJP president J P Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah held two rounds of talks on Bihar in June-July. A conscious decision was taken to go with Janata Dal (U) as the consequences of dumping Nitish Kumar could have been fatal. It would have pushed Nitish Kumar to go back to the RJD-Congress. In order to off-set the anti-incumbency factor of Nitish Kumar, a buffer zone of sort in the form of LJP’s Chirag Paswan was created. It was done with the hope that LJP could cut into anti-Nitish Kumar votes which otherwise would have gone to the RJD-Congress-Left combine. But as the campaigning picking up, collapse of JD (U) is more visible. Secondly, Coronavirus has invaded the top leadership of the BJP beginning with Devendra Fadnavis, Sushil Modi, Mangal Pandey, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Shahnawaz Hussian and others. Amit Shah is also out of action.

BJP's Bihar Waterloo 
The BJP was on the seventh Heaven after its tumultuous win in May 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But its stars started fading as it suffered one loss after the other in states. If it failed to form a government in Maharashtra, it had to depend on Dushyant Chautala in Haryana to form the government. Then it suffered humiliating defeats in Jharkhand and Delhi in 2020. Therefore, a Bihar win is vital for the BJP. A Bihar loss will have a direct bearing in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, kerala, Puducherry and Assam where Assembly polls are due early next year. Many in the BJP say it will be happy to emerge as a single largest party in Bihar. Therefore, the BJP has changed its strategy mid-way. It may hold a few rallies of the PM in constituencies where BJP candidates are contesting without Nitish Kumar. Some posters are already out in the public without Nitish Kumar. Secondly, the PM will be more aggressive in his speeches in the days to come.

Priyanka back in Lutyen’s Delhi
After a brief stint in Gurugram in Haryana, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is back in Lutyen’s Delhi. She vacated her government bungalow a couple of months ago when the Modi dispensation served a notice. She shifted to Gurugram for a short while and now back in Sujan Singh Park near Khan Market. However, she doesn’t meet political workers at her residence due to paucity of space. Her security guards are having a tough time as the residential complex itself is very small.

Ram Madhav’s big slide
It seems BJP’s rising star has run out of luck with the party. He was incharge of the Jammu & Kashmir affairs and North East. He too played a key role in formulating BJP's J&K policy and helped forming governments in some of the North East states. He runs India Foundation which worked for Modi in the US and other countries before he became the PM. When he was removed as BJP as general secretary, it was widely believed that he will get a Rajya Sabha seat and possibly a ministerial berth when reshuffle takes place. It was also expected that he will be nominated to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh where the BJP is set to win at least eight out of ten seats. But his name didn’t figure in the list. It now transpires that he is vacating his South Avenue government flat also which he had been allotted as general secretary. The last word on his new assignment is yet to be heard. One report is that he may now go back to the RSS as he is now full time “Sangh Pracharak”.

Govt. picks Yashwardhan Sinha as new CIC - Six other IC also appointed

Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 27

Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha, a former officer of the Foreign Service, is set to be the new Chief Information Commissioner (CIC).

There were as many as 154 claimants for the post of CIC and 355 for the five Information Commissioners. Yashwardhan Sinha was already serving as the Information Commissioner and senior-most among them. Secondly, he is the son of late Gen. S K Sinha who was Governor of Jammu & Kashmir during the Vajpayee era.

Among the new Information Commissioners, the Modi government also picked up a journalist from Maharashtra for the post. More than half of the vacancies had arisen in the CIC during the past many months and the government had invited applications for the post. Mostly retired bureaucrats, social activists and public servants had applied for the posts.

A high-powered panel headed by the Prime Minister and comprising of Leader of the Congress Party in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, cleared Sinha’s name for the top post after close scrutiny. The 3-member panel also cleared the names of five other Information Commissioners. The posts were vacant for the past many months leading to accumulation of thousands of RTI cases with the CIC. As many as 37,000 appeals have accumulated with the Right To Information watchdog due to the vacancies galore. 

The CIC had been headless ever since Bimal Julka retired months ago. The country’s watchdog has lost a lot of teeth and in doldrums with mounting cases due to vacancies galore. Even the ministries and departments have been ducking giving replies to RTI applications on one ground or the other.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Covid Vaccine by March, Govt. hopeful

  • Availability & Distribution big problem 
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 25

Even as a high-level National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration is working hard to prepare a blue-print as to who should be given the Vaccine first and how, encouraging reports are emerging about success of at least ten vaccines under trials globally.

The Prime Minister’s Task Force handling Vaccine program in tandem with countries and world agencies, is hopeful of availability of 3-4 vaccines early next year. Dr V K Paul headed Task Force reviewed Vaccine availability. Of them, at least three vaccines in India are at Phase-III of the trials of ten global vaccines undergoing phase-III trials. In addition to these 10, five Chinese vaccines are under trials in 20 countries and one is showing some success. A UAE minister was injected with the Chinese vaccine last week and is feeling fine.

The Bharat Biotech-ICMR joint venture drug Covaxin, ZydusCadila (phase-II) and Seerum-AstraZenca’s Covidshield is at Phase-III stage. In addition, Biological E, a Hyderabad based company is also testing a vaccine. This apart, Sputink V of Russia is also in phase II stage and crosses the hump for phase III trials.

Of the 154 vaccines in the preclinical phase, 44 in clinical trials, of which 10 are already in phase 3 trials, the first major success on this score may emerge by early next year. Florian Krammer, Professor of Vaccinology at the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, U.S, Dr. Gagandeep Kang of Christian Medical College, Vellore and other experts said at a webinar said vaccines will be available early. Even if vaccines are eventually licensed and enter the market, there will be many hurdles to be crossed.

Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS, said separately that it will take at least a year to immunize the whole country. He emphasized that India will have to keep evolving its vaccine distribution strategy, keeping in mind what is best for the country. Other experts felt that issues relating to large-scale production, distribution, success of the vaccine after it is inoculated, how long immunity will last etc. will need more careful handling.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Fly on the wall - Emergence of a New Amit Shah & What next for Chirag ?

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Emergence of a New Amit Shah 
Union Home Minister Amit Shah is known for talking straight without mincing words. Lately, he was out of action for almost three months after being hit by Covid and related health issues. His absence was felt by many because the Prime Minister is not known for opening up. Even the BJP Chief J P Nadda prefers to keep his counsel and shun the media. There is no one in the ruling establishment who carries authority to speak on thorny issues. After former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was made incharge of Bihar poll, powerful BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav also decided to maintain a low-profile. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh is coming out of his cocoon but confines himself to the task assigned and speaks on Defense related issues only. There is none in the hierarchy who commands authority. It was at this juncture that Amit Shah broke his silence and dwelt on many issues. But this was a different Amit Shah as he was not full of fire & fury. Rather, he maintained a completely low-profile. Yet, he put the record straight and disapproved many a things that the hardliners in the Parivar were doing; be it Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari’s letter to CM Uddhav Thackeray or linking of drug cartel probe to only Bollywood, media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput case, Tanishq advertisement on communal harmony and what not. He was telling clearly that neither the Centre nor he per se, had any hand in all that had happened during the past three months. In a way, he was rather clarifying that neither he and nor the party should be blamed for it or if it had hurt anybody. Whether he was trying to build bridges with Shiv Sena, could be anybody’s guess. But he clearly told Bollywood that he doesn’t approve of what the Narcotics Control Bureau had done or what the Paparazzi in TV channels were doing despite their political affiliations. Certainly, it’s a new Amit Shah not the one the country knew so far. (Click here to read original article)

Putting a cart before the Horse
There is considerable surprise in the medical fraternity as to why a hype is being created over
Coronavirus vaccine. A series of meetings are being held at the highest level lately and all concerned including states have been told to draw up detailed plans how the vaccine will be distributed and who will be vaccinated first. A list of roughly two crores priority people have already been drawn up. Remember the days when the Railway Ministry converted 20000 coaches into Covid beds without much planning which are still lying idle or ICMR setting August 15 deadline for Covid vaccine! Barring China, no country is claiming any vaccine at least until April 2021. The USA & Europe have rejected India’s claim to waive off Intellectual Property Right (IPR) for vaccines at the WTO. Of course, some companies including Indian ventures are working on antibody drugs instead which can give relief for six months or so. India has not paid a penny for any upfront payment to procure vaccines to any global company. But plans are being drawn up to get vaccines distribution. Experts say “It’s like putting a cart before the horse”.

What next for Chirag ?
All eyes are set on the Prime Minister who will begin his mega Bihar poll campaign on October 23 as to what he will say about Chirag Paswan. Though BJP’s Bihar unit called Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) as “vote katua”, Devendra Fadnavis, incharge of Bihar, avoided any such adjectives. Even Amit Shah ducked the question saying, “We will see after the elections.” The Janata Dal (U) is pressing BJP leadership hard to throw LJP out of the NDA at the national level right away and refusing to give Rajya Sabha to LJP fell vacant after Ram Vilas Paswan’s death. It seems NDA is somewhat on a weak wicket in Bihar.

Atmanirbhar Bharat, what a pity 
The government banned 101 items for being imported in the defense sector with big fanfare claiming these will be manufactured in India as part of Atmanirbhar Bharat. When the list was finally uploaded by the Defense ministry on its website, there was amusement. Why ? It turned out that more than 40 items were never imported for years. The ministry banned the Hull-mounted Sonar even though DRDO's HUMSA and USHUS sonar suits are mega successes already. In another bizarre move, the ministry canceled tenders of more than a dozen companies who had started their manufacturing units to meet defense needs only. Now these companies have been left high & dry and shut down. This was done after a series of negotiations for the supply of ammunition since 2016.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Govt Orders probe over Fake Farmers accounts

  • PM-KISAN fund embezzled
  • Rs. 61 crores recovered in TN alone 
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct. 20
Alarmed over the busting of fake farmer beneficiaries of the Prime Minister’s much touted PM-KISAN scheme, the Centre has ordered a nation-wide probe into the massive leakage of funds. The Centre has released more than Rs one lakh crores into 11.07 crores farmers accounts under the scheme including 1.10 crores in Maharashtra. 
  • Total Number of Farmers: 14.64 crores 
  • PM-KISAN beneficiaries: 11.07 crores
  • Maharashtra beneficiary: 1.10 crores
  • Amount Released: Rs 1.10 lakh crores
  • Fake farmers detected : 5.38 lakhs in TN
  • Probe ordered, Random checking to begin
The Centre has asked state governments to physically verify their genuineness and decided for random checking of at least 5-6% such accounts physically. The Centre transfers Rs 2000 every four months into all eligible farmers accounts. The massive scam surfaced in Tamil Nadu. Top government officials in the Agriculture Ministry told Lokmat that “some unscrupulous elements had misused the login-id and password credentials of district officials under the scheme for bulk booking of ineligible persons,” said the ministry. 

The Union Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar admitted that large scale bungling had taken place in the PM-KISAN scheme in Tamil Nadu. The probe revealed that out of 5.95 lakh beneficiaries accounts verified till 15th September 2020, 5.38 lakh were ineligible. The Services of 96 contractual staff were terminated, 52 persons including contractual staff were arrested and a large number of FIRs registered.

Since it is the responsibility of states to identify beneficiaries, the onus is also on them to recover money lost and refund the amount to the Centre. “An amount of Rs. 61 Crore has been recovered” said the official. A worried Centre has ordered a country-wide probe to find out the existence of bungling in other states too. Highly placed sources in the government told Lokmat that the Centre would initiate steps to physically verify beneficiaries of the PM-KISAN scheme soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Yogi’s mounting troubles & Big challenge for Chirag Paswan

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Yogi’s mounting troubles
There was a time when the graph of saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath was on top of the ladder among all chief ministers of the party. The 47-year young ‘Sanyasi’ had even pushed veteran Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan behind. The whispers in the corridors of power were that the Yogi had joined the club of the likes of Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Chouhan as a potential successor to the PM. Not anymore! Adityanath’s handling of cases particularly relating to crime against women, has hit him hard. Be it Kuldeep Singh Senger case or Swami Chinmayananda, the UP CM failed to act swiftly. No doubt, he has waged a war against hardened criminals. But the Hathras case has damaged Yogi’s image considerably. It also emerged that he may have been a prisoner of a handful of bureaucrats in Lucknow. The charge favouring a community be belongs to is also talk of the town and doesn’t act against them. The Central leadership of the party is also unhappy with him as he doesn’t listen to it in some instances. He doesn’t have a good rapport with Amit Shah either for obvious reasons and most of his baiters in Lucknow find patronage in Delhi. His running battle with Sunil Bansal, organizational incharge of UP, has added to his woes. In a way, he is now fighting a lonely battle when troubles are mounting.

Why Jagan is in deep mess!
If Yogi Adityanath is facing rough weather in Lucknow, his counterpart in Andhra Pradesh Y S Jaganmohan Reddy is in a deep mess too. Ostensibly, he is the first Chief Minister in the country to write a letter against a sitting Supreme Court judge justice N V Ramana and several judges of the AP High Court to the Chief Justice of India seeking probe. Interestingly, the charges have been leveled against the SC judge who is in line to become the next CJI in April 2021. Why did Jagan take such an unprecedented step? Insiders say that Jagan did it as he is perhaps the only sitting CM in the country who has 31 criminal cases against him. Of them 11 are being probed by the CBI and seven by the Enforcement Directorate for amassing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. The trial in cases is going on at a snail’s pace. On September 16, Justice Ramana ordered high courts across the country that criminal cases against all sitting & former MPs, MLAs, MLACs be completed within one year. All stays granted by any court in the country be vacated and SC registry will monitor them. Who will be the first to suffer if a trial is launched on a day-to-day basis? Obviously, Jagan woke up one month after the verdict and shot off the controversial letter against the Judge itself. Can Jagan’s letter torpedo action in cases against him? Doesn’t look so! 

Big challenge for Chirag Paswan 
Union Food & Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s death has taken place at a time when his son Chirag Paswan is in the midst of a major political gambit. Chirag’s father played many political gambles in his long political career and luck was always on his side. He was such a political weathercock that whichever alliance he joined before a Lok Sabha, the victory fell on his feet. Now all eyes are set on Chirag Paswan who lay in store for him. Of course, he will get huge sympathy and cut into Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) vote bank. During the 2015 Assembly polls in Bihar, LJP contested with BJP on 42 seats. It could barely win 2 seats and secured 4.38% votes. Pollsters say the LJP is capable of damaging JD(U) in at least 25 seats. This may help BJP emerge as the single largest party in Bihar after the polls on November 10. Will BJP reward Chirag then ? No one knows! Will the BJP give Rajya Sabha seat to Paswan’s widow Reena and induct Chirag into the Union ministry after the polls? No one knows what is cooking in the PM’s mind.

Tushar Mehta next AG
It is almost certain that Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta will be the next Attorney General of India after octogenarian K K Venugopal hangs up his boots. The Modi government was keen for the continuation of Venugopal in the post. But Venugopal declined the offer politely and told the PM that he will have to find a successor sooner than expected. With great difficulty, he was persuaded to continue for a period of one year. Tushar Mehta, a close confidant of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, is next in line. He has gained enough experience ever since he came to Delhi in 2014- first as Additional Solicitor-General and later as SG in 2017. In fact, Venugopal has not been appearing in most of the cases for the government lately. Instead, Tushar Mehta is representing the government and holding the fort.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Covid Vaccine by April 2021, say experts

  • Indian Vaccine trials on right track
  • Regulators tough after Remdesivir failure
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 17

The hype created by global drug companies notwithstanding, it is emerging that vaccines may not be possible before March-April 2021.

Highly placed sources who are handling vaccine trials in India told Lokmat on the condition of anonymity that trials on three vaccines were at various stages. The Prime Minister who chaired another meeting on Vaccine management today was told that two vaccines are undergoing phase-II trials while one is at phase-III stage.

The Bharat Biotech-ICMR joint venture drug Covaxin and ZydusCadila are at Phase-II stage and their data is yet to be shared with the regulators. The Covaxin trials are going on at 12 locations in India, the ZydusCadila vaccine trials are being done privately and its data has not been shared.

The Seerum-AstraZenca’s Covidshield is at Phase-III stage and the number of vaccine warriors has also been cut short. Yet the final product will take longer than expected. The Sputnik-V from Russia is yet to commence trails though it has been granted permission. The SinoVac Biotech of China had approached the Central Drugs Stan­dard Control Organisation (CDSCO) for trials in India. When CDSCO asked the Chinese to share data, the company never came back.

The Indian regulators are very cautious after the WHO disapproved Remdesivir which was termed as a wonder and after it was sold in 100 countries at a hefty price. Of the 26 vaccines undergoing trials at various stages, only seven are at Phase-III stage which is very crucial.

The regulators have relented on fast-tracking of procedures. But they are unwilling to compromise on the efficacy and safety of the vaccine as its effects are felt after a couple of years.

How the Vaccine is made
It is also disclosed that some of the manufacturers including producers in India are making vaccines by killing the Coronavirus itself to make the product. But they are using different methodology.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Race begins in BJP for 10 Rajya Sabha seats

  • Party to win 10 out of 11 seats in UP, Uttrakhand
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 13
The ruling BJP may be losing allies at a rapid speed but its strength will touch a whopping 94 seats in the Upper House when biennial polls are held in UP and Uttrakhand. The biennial poll process has been set in motion by the Election Commission.

As many as eleven members of the Rajya Sabha are retiring from UP (10) and Uttrakhand (1). The BJP is all set to grab nearly 10 seats out of these 11 on the basis of its strength in respective state assemblies. Currently, the BJP has 86 MPs in Rajya Sabha. The Congress Party's strength will go down further to 38. 

In UP alone, the BJP is likely to win 9 out of ten seats and the lone seat in Uttrakhand. The BJP's three retiring MPs - Civil Aviation & Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, general secretary Arun Singh and Neeraj Shekhar are looking for being re-nominated. But it will win six extra seats. The Samajwadi Party will win the lone seat in UP as it has 54 MLAs in the 403 member State Assembly. There is a likelihood that Ram Gopal Yadav, a brother of Mulayam Singh Yadav, may be nominated for it. Yet the SP will suffer a huge loss as its strength will come down from 8 to five.

The BSP will be left with just two MPs in the Rajya Sabha and cannot get any of its nominees elected as it has just 19 MLAs. The composition of the UP Assembly is such that even if the Opposition parties join hands, they cannot win more than one seat. The Congress' P L Punia will also be left high & dry as he too will retire in November. Raj Babbar of Congress who was elected from Uttrakhand, is also retiring in November. Congress's Raj Babbar will also be out of Rajya Sabha from Uttrakhand and BJP will win the seat instead.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Centre steps in to check NCB

  • Go after drug syndicates, peddlers, not consumers
  • Film stars may have a sigh of relief, for Now!
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 10
The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is understood to have been cautioned in the infamous Mumbai Drug case to go after the peddlers and drug syndicates rather than film stars. The NCB officials were quoted by several TV channels last week several big names of film industry will be called for questioning. The NCB officials did not deny these reports creating a panic. The NCB had arrested more than a dozen persons including Rhea Chakraborty and some associates of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput who was found hanging in June last.

It now transpires that the Union Home Ministry has cautioned the NCB to exercise extreme caution and it should go after drug syndicates and peddlers. But individual consumers should not be harassed if they are not part of the "drug syndicate".

If sources in the Union Home Ministry are to be believed, it had only directed that the SSR case be handed over to the CBI for probe instead of Mumbai Police. Even the Enforcement Directorate was roped in the probe. But it was never the case that innocents be harassed. The CBI Director R K Shukla, on his part did not play the role of an "over-enthusiastic" officer.

Even the AIIMS Forensic team headed by Dr.Sudhir Gupta ruled out the possibility of death by strangulation. Later, the ED also conveyed to the government no case of money laundering has been made out.

Meanwhile several representations, personal and written, were made to the Prime Minister's Office and Home Ministry that everything should not be seen with the political prism. Many in the BJP also told the leadership that dragging the drug consumption case to a battery of film stars will not give any political mileage to the party.

It is learnt that the NCB has now been told to focus on drug syndicate and big operators involved in the smuggling and those helping in it. The NCB has been told not to abandon the probe but to put the probe in the "slow lane."

Monday, October 5, 2020

Covid Vaccine may cost $5 per dose

India may have to spend Rs 50000 crores on Immunization

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 5
India will need Rs 50,000 crores approximately to vaccinate 20-25 crores people during the next one year. This is based on the estimates that one dose of Covid vaccine will be available to India at a price of $4-5 per dose.

The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has signaled that Covid vaccine price will be under ₹1,000. Every person will require at least two doses for immunization.

India will require at least 40-50 crores doses. Though India has been assured vaccine supplies by the WHO and Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) promoted by the Gates Foundation and Indian vaccine manufacturers and pharma companies. 

This is far less than Rs 80,000 crores indicated by Adar Poonawalla of Seerum Institute of India a few days ago.

India may require at least 5 billion doses of vaccine if it is to immunize 25 crore population. The government is heavily dependent on AstraZeneca by University of Oxford being produced by the Seerum Institute and Bharat Biotech-ICMR joint project undergoing phase-II trials.

However, the Indian government has yet to make an upfront payment to pharma companies like the US, UK, European and other countries have made.

It is learnt that the Prime Minister’s Task Force headed by Dr V K Paul has been holding regular parleys with the global pharma chains researching and undertaking trials and also vaccine manufacturers who are producing vaccines on their behalf. India is a global vaccine hub and has a capacity of manufacturing two billion doses a year. These companies can ramp up production provided the government gives them facilities and funds.

The WHO has urged wealthier member states to join its Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, to ensure the equitable global distribution by end 2021. Gavi, the Global Alliance vaccine backed by the Gates Foundation, has raised $8.8 billion from world leaders and companies. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $1.6 billion.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A mysterious Fadnavis-Raut Mission - Fly on the wall

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

A mysterious Fadnavis-Raut Mission
The tremors of Fadnavis- Raut close-door 150-minute meeting continue days after the event and even felt in Delhi. The top BJP leadership is also maintaining a studied silence except for saying that Fadnavis is tasked to oversee Bihar elections. There is no general secretary incharge of Maharashtra after the exit of the affable Saroj Pandey. Is the BJP smelling blood in Maharashtra again, not really? The party is in no hurry and feels the present government will crumble due to inherent contradictions. Then why Sanjay Raut’s 150-minute close-door meeting with former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis ? No one is buying the theory that it was held to discuss modalities of Fadnavis’ interview with Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece, Saamana. But there are no takers of Fadnavis’ statement either where he said “politics was not discussed”. Is the turf ready to pull down the Uddhav Thackeray ? The CM’s baiters allege that he has largely been confined to his Matoshri residence even once for eight months and his handling of the economy is dismal. However, Pawar is enjoying fruits of power in Maharashtra and Uddhav is reaping the harvest and never had it so good. Did he dispatch Sanjay Raut as his emissary on a secret mission? Doesn’t look like it! Was Raut playing solo? Political watchers say Sanjay Raut is his own master these days.

And a Failed Amit Shah- Jagan meet
If the Fadnavis-Raut meeting is shrouded in mystery, another unreported meeting between India’s second most powerful man Amit Shah and Andhra CM Jagan Mohan Reddy ended in a damp squib. The Union Home Minister who was incommunicado since August 2, held a rather long chat with Jagan after declining to meet him twice before. Amit Shah granted the audience after a word came from the PMO to grant him time. Jagan wanted funds for Polavaram project, GST compensation among other favours. But Amit Shah was worried as the NDA has weakened after the exit of Sena and Akali Dal. Insiders say that Amit Shah sounded out Jagan if his party, YSR Congress would join the NDA. Amit Shah is reported to have told Jagan that TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu is also keen to re-join the NDA. But the BJP wants to start a new inning with YSR Congress. It transpires that Jagan expressed his reluctance to join the NDA due to his party’s strong Christian-Muslim-Reddy vote bank. But he agreed to lend support to NDA wherever needed. Amit Shah was not impressed and the meeting ended in a fiasco.

BJP's New Modi from South!
Ever heard of B L Santosh ? If not, the loss is entirely yours. He is the new man on the horizon in BJP. Many in the ruling party go to the extent of saying that he is Narendra Modi of South though not as charismatic as the PM is. If Modi brought BJP in power in Gujrat, Santosh brought the saffron party to power in Karnataka in 2008. If Modi installed Kesubhai Patel as CM, Santosh installed B S Yediyuruppa as CM. Santosh never looked back since then and was promoted as BJP general secretary incharge of the Organisation 11 years later. A chemical engineer, bachelor and 24X7 RSS worker, Santosh is a no-nonsense, tough man. He is tech savvy and a person with an open mind and new ideas. He watched Shahrukh Khan’s “Chuck de India” ten times to understand how the spirit of patriotism can be inculcated among the party workers through visual medium. He reminds of the days of late Sunder Singh Bhandari who built the party with Atal-Advani-Nanaji Deshmukh. The recent shake up in the BJP is attributed to Modi-Shah-Nadda Trimurti. But the man behind the entire exercise where 4 powerful generals secretaries and seven Vice presidents were shown the door is B L Santosh. Of course, some may be accommodated in ministries and others as Governors. But Santosh convinced the RSS and party high command that new blood is needed for 2024 now if BJP wants to gain in five major Southern Indian states, North East and West Bengal. The Growing Beard

Why is PM Modi growing his beard these days? Everyone in the town's talking about it but no one has the answers. Not even those who interact with him. One explanation is that the PM doesn’t want anybody in his immediate proximity due to Covid. A hairdresser to trim his beard can cause infection. Therefore, everybody is kept at arm’s length including those who serve at his official residence. There are a few who feel it may have something to do with ‘divine” help he is seeking to fight Coronavirus.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

RTI goes for a toss, 6 of 11 posts go vacant

Y K Sinha may be new CIC

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, Sep 24

For the first time since its inception, the Central Information Commission will function at less than half of its strength. Of the 11 members including the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), there are five members now with D P Sinha retiring tomorrow.

The CIC has been headless ever since Bimal Julka retired and senior-most member D P Sinha was not named as the new CIC. The country’s watchdog has lost a lot of teeth and in doldrums with mounting cases due to vacancies galore. Even the ministries and departments have been ducking giving replies to RTI applications on one ground or the other.

If reports are to be believed, Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha, a former officer of the Foreign Service, may be the new CIC. Sinha is senior-most and is the son of late Lt. Gen. S K Sinha, Governor of Jammu & Kashmir.

Interestingly, there is no rule in the CIC that the senior-most member alone is made the Chief Information Commissioner. Neeraj Gupta, an IAS officer, is also in the reckoning and also considered close to the government. 

The government, however, assured the Parliament that the process of appointment of a new Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners has been set in motion. The government is contemplating issuing an advertisement to fill up the vacancy in a timely manner.

“The High level Search Committee follows a method of obtaining relevant information in respect of various candidates while scrutinization of applications and shortlists the candidates for the post of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission,” said the Minister.

Fadnavis flying to Patna, Delhi for talks

  • BJP not to buckle under Nitish Pressure
  • Wants JD(U) to contest 102 seats only
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 26

Former Maharashtra Chief Minister and incharge of BJP’s Bihar unit Devendra Fadnavis will be flying to Patna and later Delhi to finalise party’s strategy for October 28 Assembly polls.

If sources close to Fadnavis are to be believed, the party is unlikely to buckle under Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s pressure in seat-sharing arrangements. Fadnavis will come to Delhi in the first week of October after visiting Patna. 

Fadnavis had gauged the mood on tie up when he visited Patna immediately after his surprise appointment to over-see Bihar Assembly polls by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Obviously, Modi was unhappy with the way the BJP had to surrender five extra Lok Sabha seats to Janata Dal (U) during the 2019 polls. The BJP contested 17 seats instead of 22 sacrificing five sitting MPs and gave 17 seats to JD(U). The party high command accepted this humiliation at the hands of Nitish Kumar despite the massive Modi wave.

But now there is no such compulsion. Secondly, Fadnavis is reported to have conveyed to the party high command about the dwindling graph of Nitish Kumar due to mishandling of Coronavirus and migrant labours and floods issues. 

Internal field surveys ordered at the instance of Fadnavis showed that PM Modi has a lead of 12% over Nitish Kumar in popularity and its time Nitish made to pay the price. Nitish wants to contest 118 seats but the BJP is unwilling to concede more than 100-102 out of 243 seats.

The BJP also wants to contest 102 seats leaving 39 for LJP, HAM and other new entrants.

Insiders say that open revolt against Nitish Kumar by Chirag Paswan, president of the Bihar LJP is being engineered by the BJP. The BJP brought HAM party’s Jitan Ram Manjhi into the NDA fold and instigated RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha to leave the RJD-Congress. Perhaps, Modi has not forgotten the day when Nitish Kumar walked out of the NDA in 2013 after he was declared BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. It is a different matter that Nitish Kumar defected to NDA in 2017 to remain in power. Its pay back time for Nitish Kumar.

Fly on the Wall - How Modi ticked off his Cabinet Minister

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

How Modi ticked off his Cabinet Minister

Harsimrat Kaur Badal who quit as Cabinet Minister for Food Processing in protest against 3-farm-related bills, had a taste of Prime Minister Modi’s style of functioning. She tried hard to persuade Modi to defer them and failed. When she sought an appointment, she was politely told by the PM’s aide to contact the Home Minister or party president J P Nadda. Amit Shah was convalescing after returning from the AIIMS and not available. Left with no option, she knocked at the doors of Nadda. She told Nadda that if these bills were passed, she would be left no option but to quit the government and maybe even the NDA. She wanted the bills to be sent to “Select Committee of Parliament” as a last ditch effort. An ever smiling Nadda had a tough task in hand as Akalis are BJP’s oldest ally for five decades. What transpired between Nadda and the government is not known. But Harsimrat Kaur was told that if she tendered her resignation from the Cabinet, it will be accepted without delay. When the bills were finally passed in the LS on Friday last, she sought an urgent appointment again as she wanted to tender her resignation. The PM was sitting inside his Parliament House chambers and she walked up to the room. She told the PM’s aide that it's urgent for her to meet the PM. But the worst was in store for her as the PM refused to meet his own Cabinet Minister when she went to his office as he was extremely busy. A frustrated Harsimrat Kaur handed over her resignation letter in a sealed cover to a junior aide in Modi’s office. Rest is history. Modi accepted it without blinking. 

BJP looks for life without Akalis?
Many in the BJP are upbeat who say it is time the party should dump the Akalis and reinvent itself in the key Northern state. It dumped Chautalas in Haryana and emerged victorious. The Akalis have lost miserably, barely winning merely 17 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha seats in Punjab. S S Dhindsa and several senior leaders have quit the “Parkash-Sukhbir-Harsimrat private limited company”. But some in BJP have cautioned not to risk the border state in over enthusiasm and go-slow. The BJP suffered huge setbacks in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and yet to gain ground in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu etc. It is thriving on defections in Manipur, Goa, Madhya Pradesh etc. Even in Bihar, it is playing second fiddle to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Therefore, efforts must be made to consolidate alliances not break them. However, there are no takers of this contrarian view in the BJP.

Race for new TRAI Chairman
All eyes are set on the next chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as R S Sharma demits office on September 30. The TRAI plays a crucial role in making and breaking the fortunes of telecom companies. During Sharma’s 5-year tumultuous tenure, the “Punjabi lobby” lost a lot of its clout and the “Mumbai lobby” emerged Number One. The new chairman will decide on spectrum pricing, entry of 5G players, predatory price and many more. Of the 88 applicants, the selection committee headed by Cabinet Secretary is reported to have short-listed Rita A Taeotia’s name for the post. If appointed, she will be the first woman to become TRAI chief. Teotia is a tough bureaucrat and a former Commerce Secretary belonging to the Gujrat cadre of the IAS.

CBI groping in the Dark 
For six years, the CBI has been going after the “FAM” (Gandhi Family) and “AP” (Ahmad Patel) in the AgustaWestland helicopter Rs 3727 crores deal. It was alleged that AP got 3 million euros while FAM got 15 million. The deal was clinched during the UPA regime for the purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters. When the charges of bribery surfaced, Dr Manmohan Singh canceled it and a CBI inquiry was ordered. The country was rocked over the scandal and hogged headlines. The CBI filed two chargesheets against former Indian Air Force Chief and other officials, middlemen including middlemen Christian Michel James, Rajiv Saxena and others. But lately, there is a silence of the grave and as no politician was found to be involved in the second supplementary chargesheet. The CBI continues to be groping in the dark. The BJP says “wait for the third chargesheet!”.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Indo-China trade worsening for three years - FDI inflow/outflow fell rapidly

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 19

Indo-China relations may have soured after the Ladakh stand-off. But the FDI inflow from Chinese companies has been falling at a rapid pace to India for the past three years. Even Indian companies have been keeping away from China. 

This was revealed in the FDI inflow figures saying if $350 million was invested in India by the Chinese companies in 2017-18, it came down to $229 million next year and further fell to a record low of $ 163.77 during 2019-20.

It is not as if only FDI inflow has been falling regularly. The Indian companies have been investing less and less in China for the past three-four years. If Indian companies invested $49.19 million in 2017, it came down to just $12.61 million next year and rising slightly to $27.57 million during 2019. 

When the Minister asked in the Lok Sabha if the Government has any proposal to not accord any permission to any Chinese firms to invest in India, he emphatically denied “No.”

Piyush Goyal, Minister for Commerce, Industry and Railways informed the Parliament separately that India’s trade deficit with China came down to $5.8 billion in the April-June 2020-21 period from $13.1 billion in the same period of the last financial year. Even the total trade between the two nations also slipped to $16.55 billion in Q1 FY21 from $21.42 billion in the April-June period of 2019-20.

Interestingly, when asked if trade barriers have been imposed against China to ward off trade deficit, Goyal said at present, about 550 products) are under the restricted/prohibited category for imports under the Foreign Trade Policy not only from China but from all countries. Obviously, the ban was not China specific.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

After SAD, JJP in Haryana worried

Harsimrat wanted Bills be sent to Select Committee
Harsimrat Kaur Badal quit the Union Cabinet 

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 17

After Harsimrat Kaur Badal quit the Union Cabinet in protest against the passage of the three agriculture related bills on Tuesday by voice vote, the NDA may face trouble in Haryana too.

The JJP of Dushyant Chautala which is an NDA ally in Haryana and sharing power may find the going tough. The farmers in Punjab and Haryana are up in arms against the passage of the three bills.

The Shiromani Akali Dal leaders including Sukhbir Singh Badal had been talking to the NDA leaders for the past three days to defer the passage of the bills as farmers in Punjab and Haryana are on the streets. But the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was determined to pass these bills as they will usher in huge reforms in the sector.

The SAD for the time being is unlikely to withdraw support to the NDA but quit the Modi government.

A senior Akali Dal leader and member of the Rajya Sabha Naresh Gujral said, “We wanted the bills to be sent to the Select Committee of the Parliament. But the government is not listening.”

The Bills are likely to come up in the Rajya Sabha on Saturday and it is yet to be seen whether some behind the scenes parleys are held.

It is because of these behind the scenes parleys that Harsimrat Kaur Badal took two days time to quit the government though the bills were passed on Tuesday.

The SAD is feeling pressure from the ground in Punjab and its survival is at stake.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra quarantined, Cook Covid +ve

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
Priyanka Gandhi

New Delhi, Sep 14

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, AICC general secretary incharge of UP is understood to have been quarantined.

Highly placed sources in the Gandhi household say that since her cook has been found Covid positive, she has been advised home quarantined until September 21.

It was due to this sudden development that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had to abandon her plans to accompany her mother Sonia Gandhi to the USA.

At the last minute, Rahul Gandhi had to chip in and go with the mother for her annual checkup. Rahul Gandhi had to skip the Parliament session though he was scheduled to take on the government on the very first day during the Zero Hour.

It is also emerging now that Priyanka Gandhi will shift from her Gurgaon residence and shift to Lutyen’s Delhi flat soon. Her new address will be a duplex apartment in Sujan Singh Park facing Ambassador Hotel near Khan Market.

The complex was built by author-editor Khushwant Singh’s father Sir Sobha Singh. Priyanka will be staying in the apartment as a tenant. It is learnt that Rahul Gandhi will come back early from the USA while Sonia Gandhi will stay back and later be joined by Priyanka Gandhi.

Friday, September 11, 2020

CVC whips the corrupt babus

  • Stern letter issued to Ministries, PSUs,
  • Timeline for action fixed
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 10

The country corruption watchdog, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has come down heavily on the ministries and departments for adopting delaying tactics when it comes to punishing the corrupt.

The CVC discovered that disciplinary action against a large number of Babus is delayed by the ministries on the ground that the files have been sent to the CVC for reconsideration.

The Commission was tired of file pusher Babus who were delaying action being taken on one ground or the other. Therefore, the CVC decided that action once recommended by it against the guilty officers will not be reconsidered for “second-stage” advice.

The Babus were taking advantage of a rule brought in the year 2000 and 2008 whereby they were sending files back to the CVC for reconsideration not once but twice; first stage advice and second stage advice.

In a significant order, the CVC plugged second stage advice and capped the time limit for even first stage by one month. In the process, the action against the corrupt and those involved in misconduct was delayed for a long time.

In a Demi-Official letter sent to all the secretaries of ministries & departments, Chairman & MD of all PUSU, autonomous organizations and others, the CVC came down heavily on such practice.

The Lokmat has a 2-page copy of the official DO letter sent yesterday.

The CVC said after detailed analysis of the long pending cases, it has been decided that there will be no second stage advice for such cases. The ministries and departments must adhere to timelines for finalisation of disciplinary cases.

The CVC directed that no proposal for reconsideration would be entertained in future.

The CVC amended its Manual to make it clear that the first stage advice would be final unless fresh material/evidence is brought before the CVC for a review.