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.

Asthana may be CBI Chief! Fly on the Wall

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The three months long Rhea Chakraborty saga may finally come to an end after the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) doused the political fire in Bihar by arresting her. The graph of Rakesh Asthana, DG, NCB has jumped manifold in the eyes of political masters in Delhi. Asthana has succeeded where CBI Director R K Shukla and Enforcement Director Sanjay Kumar Mishra failed in the task even after 50 hours of grilling running for weeks together. A top ED officer who specially flew down from Delhi to Mumbai and part of the extensive grilling told his bosses: Sorry Sir! Not an iota of evidence.” Thus, the NCB stepped in. This column had said last week itself that NCB will arrest Rhea. Insiders tell us that Asthana’s prospects of becoming new CBI chief have brightened when Shukla retires early next year. Asthana had been extremely unhappy ever since he was shunted out from the CBI last year.

The 23 dissident Congress leaders are running for a cover after raising a banner of revolt against the Gandhis. Instead of buckling under the pressure, Congress’ interim president Sonia Gandhi has gone on the offensive. If she shocked dissidents by appointing Rahul loyalists in key parliamentary panels, she humiliated a few by dropping them from UP committees. As if this was not enough, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and Bihar Campaign Committee chief was dropped from the powerful Bihar Election Committee. If sources are to be believed, the G-23 is a house divided with Mukul Wasnik, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor singing different tunes. Tewari went public recently saying the letter’s drafting could have been better. Obviously, it’s a dig at Anand Sharma who drafted the letter. Tharoor is buying peace as BJP has no strong presence in Kerala while Mukul Wasnik has his own reasons for backtracking. Prithviraj Chavan who owed his rise to the post of Maharashtra Chief Minister to Sonia Gandhi, has gone into hiding after raising a banner of revolt.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah is back at his Krishna Menon Marg residence and recouping after suffering from Covid and fatigue. Being Prime Minister Modi’s Man Friday, Shah has been batting from the front foot. But for the past some time, he has been away from public glare.
The Fly learns that he is fully active and clearing files at a faster pace though avoiding attending office. The gossip mongers in Lutyen’s Delhi have all kinds of tails like Amit Shah being upset for not being invited to the Ram Janmabhoomi foundation stone laying ceremony, appointment of C R Patil as Gujrat BJP chief etc. etc. Insiders assert there is no truth as the equation between the PM-HM remains strong. The PM inquired about his health on a daily basis since August 2 when he was admitted to Medanta and visited him after he returned from AIIMS. These sources say, “Modi-Shah relationship is like that of Ram and Hanuman and no power on Earth can separate them.”

India’s flagship Air India is first on the block among the 26 PSUs to be sold before March 31 next year. While there are many takers for BPCL and others, selling Air India is turning out to be a Herculean task for the Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. It transpires that the House of TATAs is somewhat disinclined. The TATAs already operate Air Asia & Vistara and CEO N Chandrasekaran is reluctant to put in this kind of money in the aviation business. However, two gulf nations have shown interest riding on the back of cordial relations with PM Modi. The government is keen to mop up at least two lakh crores from the PSU sale during 2020-21 to bridge 8% Budget deficit.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Modi to prune Bureaucracy, “Deadwood” above 50 years on Way out

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
  • 320 officers already dismissed
  • Quarterly review of 36L Central Govt. employees
  • All above 50 years of age under lens
  • Retirement prematurely is no punishment
  • 50 IRS officials among 320 dismissed so far by Modi
  • Review includes all non-Gazette to Secretary level posts
Harish Gupta 
New Delhi, Sep 6
With the Prime Minister outlining his plans to provide a “responsible, responsive and efficient administration,” pnic has gripped 36 lakh employees.

The 10-page circular notified by the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), directly under PM Modi, has kick-started review of every three months instead of earlier practice of every year. The plan is aimed at weeding out the inefficient and persons of doubtful integrity. 

Modi has also brought down the age of review from 55 years to 50 years to start Quarterly review of all employees. Modi has already sent a record number of 320 officers packing of Class A & B and wants to fast-track this process now at all levels. The DoPT has directed all ministries and departments to undertake a first review by December 2020 and on a “Quarterly basis” regularly from next year. 

Modi may be ridiculing the Congress regimes for the country’s mess. But when it comes to cleansing the government he invoked laws and rules enacted by late Indira Gandhi in 1972 to weed out corruption in the bureaucracy. The Act was made by the Indira Gandhi government in 1972 and rules so framed give enough powers to any government to change them as needed.

The process of fresh hiring has also slowed down due to pandemic. According to official sources 6.80 lakh posts are vacant at the Centre including Railways. All recruitments in the PSUs are halted for the time being. Fresh hiring of consultants/advisers discouraged.