Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Congress upset as Mamata on poaching spree

  • Adhir Ranjan Blasts TMC at CWC meeting
  • Bhupesh Baghel takes a dig at Mamata Too
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 18

The mega plan of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to unite all like-minded parties may go for a toss as Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister is on a poaching mission these days.

Mamata Banerjee is not only trying to poach the BJP leaders but winning over senior leaders of the Congress Party itself throwing to the winds the bonhomie seen a couple of months ago.

The Congress Working Committee's extended meeting which concluded yesterday saw the friendship between the Congress-TMC being thrown to the dustbin.

The TMC leaders have poached two prominent leaders of the Congress from Assam, Goa and other states. Mamata won over Congress Mahila Morcha Chief Sushmita Dev) and gave her Rajya Sabha seat.

Similarly, she also lured former Goa Chief Minister Luizinho Falerio into her party and TMC decided to contest state assembly polls on her own.

It was in this context that CWC leaders blasted Mamata Banerjee yesterday. Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee was hijacking many Congress leaders with an aim to create a 'Congress (Mamata) and pitting them against the 'Congress (I)'.

Adhir Ranjan went on to say that the TMC is primarily functioning as the B team of the BJP.

Earlier, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had tweeted against poaching done by the TMC of the Congress leaders. Without naming TMC, Baghel had said, “ People looking for a national alternative based on poaching INC functionaries who can't win their own seats, is in for big disappointment.”

It is not immediately known if Sonia Gandhi commented on the views expressed by some members.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Fly on the wall | Mamata's game of 50

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Mamata's game of 50
The Game-2024 for the Lok Sabha polls has already begun. While the Congress Party is desperately working hard to revive itself and putting its entire might to win a couple of states in the ensuing round of Assembly polls early next year, the BJP is trying hard to defend its citadel in four states; UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. Punjab is being watched very closely as its an open game with pollsters predicting a win for the dark horse AAP though its early days. These polls are also crucial for some of the regional players like SP, and BSP who have been facing BJP's onslaught for the past seven years in UP. But for most of the regional Satraps in the East, West and Southern regions, these Assembly polls are not of much consequence.

In the East in West Bengal, Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is rather waiting for the Congress to suffer a setback. She knows that she is not a player in North Indian politics and remains unruffled as her honeymoon with the Congress is virtually over. She is now on her own trip with poll strategist Prashant Kishore advising her actively. If grapevine has it, she is now targeting to secure 50 Lok Sabha seats during the 2024 parliamentary polls as she can be a player in any non-BJP government formulation. This is a huge target considering her appeal confined to West Bengal with 42 Lok Sabha seats. She hopes to polarize the state the same way as Modi did in 2014 and 2019. Rather, she will have an added appeal to the voters saying; vote for me as I can be PM, a first Bengali. She may be anywhere between 34-37 Lok Sabha in 2024. But to win extra 13-15 seats, is an Herculean task. She is working hard to replace Congress in the North East comprising 22 Lok Sabha seats. She has already brought senior Congress leader Sushmita Dev into the party and was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat to influence voters in Assam and Tripura. She is also making a strategy to get a couple of seats each in Odisha, Jharkhand and even Bihar and enter into strategic adjustments with parties in states where Bengali voters are in large numbers.

The DarK Horse Uddhav
Until the other day, NCP Supremo Shaarad Rao Pawar was the only name that always cropped up for the post of PM probable. But knowledgeable sources say that unassuming Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray could be a new player in the Game-2024. He has changed the entire culture and ethos of Shiv Sena during the past two years in power. Uddhav is in the driver's seat and shown to the people how a coalition government is run. With no one around to take on the mighty BJP juggernaut Uddhav's style of working has given some hope as well. He has been a successful manager, measured in his responses, doesn't mince words either and knows when to keep quiet.

He is managing two very ambitious leaders, Sharad Pawar and Nana Patole with tremendous skill. Political pundits say if India gets a hung parliament, Uddhav is the man to watch. Uddhav has mastered the art of retaining his hard line Hindutva credentials and at the same time running a secular government without big jerks.

He continues to be close to the RSS, goes to Ayodhya, meets Modi and still keeps his secular partners happy. In addition, he also takes pride in his Maratha identity. The Sena has also shed its anti-minority violent image too. In a way, Uddhav Thackeray can be India’s first secular Hindu nationalist. It will be difficult for the BJP to use the minority appeasement bogey against a Hindu party. In addition, big corporate houses in Mumbai also like him. Interestingly, they are the same houses who bow before Modi in Delhi, But keep Thackeray in good humour in Mumbai.

Rising graph of Stalin
After two powerful southern leaders; K Kamraj and J Jayalalitha, failed to grab power in Delhi, DMK's M K Stalin is contemplating trying his luck. But he is not in a hurry and is slowly consolidating his position. He is looking beyond 2024 even if there is a hung house three years down the line. Poll strategist Prashant Kishore is a common factor between Stalin and Mamata Banerjee. If Mamata is targeting a 50 seats game, he is not far behind either. Currently, he is creating an identity raising issues like “federal structure” etc without talking politics directly. He is busy mobilising non-BJP Chief Ministers on key issues.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Rising Loss Making PSUs worrying Modi govt.

9 in Maharashtra, one in Goa

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, Oct 10
The government is determined to cut losses and resort to a massive divestment program. One of the main reasons for ruthlessly divesting OPSUs is their mounting losses.

According to a latest analysis submitted to the government by the ministry to the PMO, of the 256 operating PSUs as on March 31, 2020, the loss-making PSUs stood at 84. The number rose from 72 in 2017-18.

Even the losses of these PSUs are mounting, year after year. If the losses were Rs 18599 crores in 2017-18, the amount went up to Rs 28404 crores in 2018-19 and further went up to Rs 30131 crores. Surprisingly, despite the best efforts of the government, there are as many as 30 PSUs which are continuously making losses.

Between August 2013 and March 2020, the government approved the closure of 21 loss-making CPSEs including HMT Watches Ltd, Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd and Hindustan Fluorocarbons Ltd. The Department of Public Asset Management (DIPAM) has failed to find strategic investors for Scooters India Ltd. and Bharat Pumps and Compressors Ltd even after inviting expressions of interest. Alternatively, the government is selling these sick as well as profit-making PSUs too. There are many under litigation too.

Of the 84 sick companies, nine are in Maharashtra which includes Western Coalfield, Bharat Petro Resources, HOC, Hindustan antibiotic, Maharashtra antibiotics, Aurangabad Textiles & Apparel, NDFC, Hotel Corporations, and Indian Ports Global.

Goa's Goa Antibiotics & Pharma Ltd is also sick which made a loss of Rs 543 lakhs in 2019-20

It is not the government only shutting down PSUs. On the contrary, the government has also cleared the path for the revival of eight CPSEs including BSNL, MTNL, Brahmaputra Valley Fertilizer Corp. Ltd, Hindustan Steelwork Construction Ltd, Konkan Railway Corp. Ltd, and revive four closed fertilizer plants at a massive investment of Rs one lakh crores.

                                             Loss Making PSUs

                                      2017-18                   2018-19                  2019-20

Number                                 72                             69                           84    

Amount in Crs                    18599                     28404                     30131



Saturday, October 9, 2021

Prashant Kishore now takes a dig at Congress, says GOP’ problems deep-rooted

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 8
In a terse message for the Congress which is struggling to revive itself amid growing dissidence and onslaught by the ruling BJP, poll strategist Prashant Kishor joined the ranks saying, “There are no quick-fix solutions to the deep-rooted problems.”

Kishore went on to say that those looking for a quick revival of the grand old party-led opposition following the Lakhimpur Kheri incident are in for a big disappointment as there are no quick fix solutions to the "deep-rooted problems" of the party.

The crispy tweet sets at rest all speculations of his formally joining the Congress as general secretary incharge of its poll strategy.

Kishore had held long meetings with the three Gandhis since July including Congress’ interim president Sonia Gandhi and had given hope that he may now join the party and chalk out its poll strategy.

But he said, "Unfortunately there are no quick fix solutions to the deep-rooted problems and structural weakness of the GOP," he said.

Former Union minister and senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily had gone on record last month voiced strong support for Kishor's induction into the Congress and said those opposing his entry into the party were "anti-reform". Kishor's tweet is being viewed by many as an indication that things may not be working out between him and the party leadership.

It may be mentioned that party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was in the fore-front of launching a blistering attack on the UP Government after four farmers were mowed down by an SUV in Lakhimpur Kheri. These incidents raised hopes of revival of the GOP in UP and elsewhere.

Lokmat had reported on September 30 that Congress-Kishore talks have failed and he may not join the party.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Varun Gandhi three others dropped from BJP Executive

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 7
The BJP high command gave a tough message to those crossing the “Laxman Rekha” by dropping them from the national executive of the party today.

In the mega 309-member mega National Executive re-constituted today, almost two years after J P Nadda took over as president, three sitting MPs dropped.

Former Union Minister Ms Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi, both Lok Sabha MPs, Dr Subramanian Swamy and ex-minister Birender Singh removed.

Party's official sources explained this was a routine exercise when a new president takes over.

Varun Gandhi had lately been indulging in a flurry of tweets by condemning events of Lakhimpur Kheri and was the only BJP leader to take flag the issue, in which the son of Minister of State for Home has been accused of murder.

Many felt that Varun Gandhi, by choosing to go public had made his intentions clear to the high command that he was ready to face the consequences including expulsion. But the Pilibhit MP's stance is clearly a sign of revolt at a time when the BJP is working hard to mobilise support before the Assembly polls.

On Tuesday, Varun Gandhi had tweeted a rather grainy video of a black SUV ploughing through a group of peaceful protesters from behind forcing the high command to act not only against him but also his mother who is a seven time Lok Sabha MP. Calling it "murder", Varun Gandhi said the video was enough to "shake the soul".

Swamy has taken on senior BJP leaders and the central government on multiple occasions. On Tuesday, he said that increasing petrol and diesel prices constitute a “tragedy for honest people of India”.

There are 80 members in the National Executive and 50 special invitees while 179 permanent invitees.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Congress dissidents in disarray, mending fences

Sonia not to summon “Physical CWC” meeting

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 5

Irrespective of rhetoric by the G-23 dissidents against the leadership, the party high command is unruffled and moving ahead at its own pace. In fact, the way Captain Amarinder Singh was sent packing in Punjab, has made some of the dissidents mend fences.

Haryana's Congress stalwart Bhupinder Singh Hooda may be a signatory of the G-23 letter to Sonia Gandhi and at times airing his views. But his son and Rajya Sabha MP, Deepender Singh Hooda is standing with the Gandhis like a rock. He even got detained when he went along with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to Lakhimpur Kheri (UP) to protest against the atrocities on farmers.

Anand Sharma, deputy leader of the Congress in Rajya Sabha has been maintaining studied silence for weeks together and did not join issue with Kapil Sibal who fired a huge salvo against the leadership a couple of days ago. In fact, none of the other senior leaders joined ranks with him, be it; Prithviraj Chavan, Mukul Wasnik, Shashi Tharoor and others. Even Manish Tewari was very guarded.

Some of the signatories like Jitin Prasada have already joined the BJP.

Ghulam Nabi Azad may have demanded summoning of the Congress Working Committee meeting, but Sonia Gandhi is unlikely to oblige.

A senior Congress leader told Lokmat that Sonia Gandhi won't commit the cardinal mistake that late Sitaram Kesari did by calling a CWC meeting and faced his own removal. Though Kesari was unwilling to call a meeting of the CWC in 1998 but he was persuaded by seniors like Dr Manmohan Singh that everything would be normal. In a virtual meeting, the command and control is operated through a remote button and members can speak only when authorized. Therefore, there is no question of any “physical meeting”, said the source.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

500+ political parties registered in two years

EC seeks Power to re-register, Money laundering suspected

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Oct 4

The Election Commission is extremely worried over the mushrooming of political parties as more than 500 such outfits have sprung up during the past two years.

The EC has written to the government to seek powers to deregister them. What has made EC worried is that these have cropped up after the 2019-Lok Sabha polls and they came up between April 2019 and August 2021. In addition, more than 100 new political outfits have applied for registration in the past two months alone.

These are registered political parties but not recognized parties. More than 2700 parties are registered and most of them are defunct. There are eight recognized national and over 50 state parties. Others are registered parties but unrecognized and their number is rising rapidly.

The EC cannot refuse to register political parties. But it wants to de-register such parties who have no activity worth a salt. A senior EC official said it had come to the notice of the government and the Commission that some of the parties were used for money laundering as they are exempted from income tax. At times, large parties use the infrastructure of these registered parties during campaigning.

It is in this background that the EC has sought power to deregister defunct political parties as they enjoy tax exemption on donations. They can take donations below Rs 2000 in cash and submit a report to the ECI. Though rules have been tightened lately. The Act exempts parties’ income from house property, voluntary contributions, other sources and capital gains. The Commission has the power to delist parties under Article 324 of the Constitution but it cannot deregister dormant parties. From February 2016 to December 2016, the ECI had delisted 255 registered unrecognised political parties.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Poll strategist Prashant Kishore walks out of Congress

Three-month long talks ended in a fiasco

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 29

The Talks between Poll strategist Prashant Kishore and the Congress leadership ended in a fiasco as the two sides could not reach an understanding. Kishore told the Congress leadership, " I can't wait indefinitely."

Sources close to Prashant Kishore say that Rahul Gandhi was undecided and kept extending the date of his entry into the party. Kishore’s entry into the Congress as its key poll strategist gained credence after he met Sonia Gandhi in early July. The Congress leadership sought time so that it could consult other senior leaders. It is learnt that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was very keen to induct Kishore. But Rahul Gandhi was taking his own time.

Kishore was also instrumental in the massive victory of TMC leader Mamata Banerjee in a bitter battle with BJP in the West Bengal Assembly polls. Thereafter, he had also met NCP supremo Sharad Pawar who was keen to do business with him and held a couple of meetings. Kishore was also the official poll strategist of Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and helped him sweep polls. He was also Capt. Amarinder Singh’s adviser in Punjab in 2017 and played a key role in his win in the Assembly polls.

However, he had been looking for a role in a national party and his talks proceeded well with the Gandhis. But many of the CWC members including A K Antony expressed serious reservations about creating a post for him. One of the reasons was that “he is a professional pollster and his services should be hired rather than inducting him inside the party.”

Kishor had a botched up relationship with the BJP in 2014 afterModi’s big win. Even with Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United), his sting couldn’t last longer.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Fly On the wall | Modi's Kamraj Plan

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi's Kamraj Plan
Prime Minister Narendra Modi perhaps took a leaf out of the ‘Kamraj Plan’ when he dropped 12 Union Ministers from his Council of Ministers on July 7 and virtually dismissed three BJP Chief Ministers in a row. The shock treatment to party seniors by Modi was no different than what Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru gave to his colleagues who were part of the freedom struggle with him. Nehru was the first Prime Minister who executed major political surgery in 1963, more than 58 years ago. Nehru asked all senior ministers of his government to give up ministerial posts. Be it Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram or Morarji Desai, they were all shown the door. Nehru sacked six Chief Ministers, including the most powerful ones like Biju Patnaik (Odisha) and S.K. Patil (Maharashtra). More than 16 years into power, Nehru's charisma was on the wane particularly after the 1962 Chinese invasion. Though V K Krishna Menon had been removed as India's Defence Minister, the Congress was facing a stiff challenge at the hands of many stalwarts in the Opposition parties in Parliament. It was in this backdrop that K Kamraj, CM, Tamil Nadu, submitted a plan to Nehru and offered to quit his post. He wanted all senior ministers and CMs to quit and work for the party. Nehru accepted the Kamraj Plan. Later, Kamaraj was rewarded with the party president’s post. Kamaraj persuaded Nehru to bring Lal Bahadur Shastri back into the government sometime later. Perhaps it was part of a succession plan because Shastri was made a Minister without Portfolio, virtually working as Deputy Prime Minister. It is a different matter that Shastri died an early death after becoming the PM in 1964. Indira Gandhi took over with the blessings and support of K Kamraj in 1966. It is an irony that the same Indira Gandhi showed Kamraj the door who became part of the ‘Syndicate” to oust her in a bitter power struggle.

Difference between the two surgeries
Old timers say there is a huge difference between what Nehru did in 1963 and what Modi executed first in 2014 and in 2021. The difference between the method, procedure and style is clearly visible. It must be remembered here that none of the ministers and CM shown the door by Nehru were senior to him. If Nehru was a product of the freedom struggle, Modi had also acquired every post and won after a bitter struggle. His early life in RSS is also a testimony of his sacrifices too. However, Nehru was in a different league and came from a rich heritage and did everything with finesse. The old timers tell me that Nehru telephoned each one of the ministers on the chopping block himself and explained why their services are needed for the party. They were all given party work too. In the instant case, no Union Minister received a call either from the PM or the Union Home Minister. The unpleasant task was given to the BJP president, J P Nadda to ring up each one of 12 Union Ministers hours before the swearing-in-ceremony. It also transpires that telephones to the new appointees were made by B L Santosh, general secretary (organization). Except for Thaawar Chand Gehlot, no Union Minister was given any work even after 45 days. No Central leader has talked to any one of them who are cooling their heels. Majority of them are Lok Sabha MPs and facing huge embarrassment while visiting their constituencies as party workers keep posing difficult questions to them. During the 2014 surgery, the cut-off date was 75 years of age. But the 2021 surgery, the cut-off age has come down to 66 years. The BJP insiders say that Modi plans to install a whole new set of leadership at the Centre and states before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Modi himself is turning 75 years on September 17, 2025. It is said that Modi is a 'Saint in politics” and capable of springing surprises. Is the 2021 surgery part of a succession plan? No one knows.

Kamraj bug hits Congress too
Sonia Gandhi failed to implement the much needed 'Kamraj Plan' to send deadwood and troublesome ministers packing in 2010 or even in 2012 as Rahul Gandhi was unwilling to take over the reins for some strange reasons. She was bitten by the P V Narasimha Rao experience and continued with her best bet i.e. Manmohan Singh. Ten years later, the Kamraj bug hit the Congress and Sonia Gandhi cracked her whip to send Captain Amrinder Singh packing. Obviously, she is clearing the decks for her son who is now batting on the front foot.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Centre may give jabs to 12-17 years soon

12 crore children need to be vaccinated now

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

After achieving the target of giving 100 crore doses by month-end to adults, the Centre is set to announce its plans to vaccinate children in the age group of 12-17 years.

Of the 44 crore children population of all age groups below 18 years, the priority will be given to the 12-17 years category first.

When contacted, Prof N K Arora, Chairman of country’s top body, INSOCOG and Covid Task Force told Lokmat that the priority would be given to this age group as they could be carriers of Covid infections. Though the Sero-Surveys had established that the number of children infected with Covid is not higher than that of the adults. But they needed the vaccine now that most of the adult population had been covered with the first dose.

When asked when the decision would be taken in this regard, Prof Arora said, “It should come anytime now.”

In response to another question, he said, the vaccination of children in this category could start within the next couple of months. “In children as it is, severe disease and fatalities are uncommon. So, we have to ensure parents are safe first and children automatically become less vulnerable,” he added.

Arora added that children with comorbid conditions will be given priority in vaccination and even among them priority will be given to those who tend to have co-morbidities.

It is learnt that one percent children have co-morbidities out of the 12 crore children and the government had estimated that roughly 40 lakh such children will be given preference. The Jabs to them may start as early as October and may be free of cost. India’s drug regulator granted emergency use authorisation to Zydus Cadila’s vaccine, ZyCov-D, on August 20. This is India’s first vaccine for children aged above 12.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Fly on the Wall | PM trimming his beard

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

PM trimming his beard 
PM Modi had confessed to a journalist once that his favourite subject in school was dramatics. Perhaps, this might explain his habit of throwing surprises. During the lockdown Modi sported long hair and an unusually long beard, perhaps he didn’t opt for a barber following Covid protocol. But many said Modi wants to project the image of an ascetic by donning the look of a ‘fakir’ while others said he wants to project himself as the saintly nation-head who helped pave the way for the Ram Mandir — a ‘true Ram bhakt’. Others linked it to a wow not to trim his beard until the pandemic is over. A few felt the PM is going in for a huge image makeover while others said he is setting himself up for something big — to turn himself into a demigod, much like Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. A few even compared Modi’s looks to that of Shivaji Maharaj. But the PM has proved all of them wrong as he has slowly started trimming his long hair and a long beard. After his August 15 speech from the Ramparts of the Red Fort, the trimming journey has rather been faster. A close look of his latest video released by the PMO while reviewing Covid pandemic, clearly showed his trimmed beard and hairs. With Covid threat receding and restrictions easing, it seems that the PM's barber is back. The Fly learns that during the pandemic, the PM kept the company of only four people including his cook, a masseur and a PMO officer (not Principal Secretary).

A PM without a Coterie
Modi is perhaps the only Prime Minister of Independent India who doesn’t have a coterie or a close circuit around him. Even those who are around, cannot claim that they can get things done. No person; be a Minister, bureaucrat, friend, an industrialist or a family member can claim he can get things done. Even those having access to him dare not take liberties. Those who had free access to him in his first stint are not even around him. The usual refrain in the past was "I have spoken to the PM... it will be done." This word is unheard in the Modi dispensation. It is not as if the country didn’t see honest and competent Prime Ministers who worked for 18 hours a day. There were Prime Ministers like Lal Bahadur Shashtri or Morarji Desai who had no baggage either. But they didn’t have long tenures in power like Modi. More than seven years as PM, understanding Modi is still very complex. He has no family, hates to mingle with the media and didn’t address a single press conference in seven years. Modi has established complete sway over the government, party and even the mother organization, RSS. After the death of Arun Jaitley in August 2019, he is neither compelled nor obliged to consult anybody either. Many think this government is run by two people PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. But they are sadly mistaken. Modi is his own master. If Rajnath Singh as Home Minister was clueless about many key appointments despite being the only member of the Cabinet Committee of Appointments (ACC), the Home Ministry isn't in the know of all key appointments either. This remains an exclusive domain of the DoPT under the PM.

Modi is flexible too
Modi is quick to take corrective steps and not adamant on reversing his decisions either. For example, he changed four Governors in three years in J&K. He appointed Satyapal Malik as the Governor of the sensitive state in August 2018 replacing a seasoned bureaucrat N N Vohra. Malik's appointment caused a huge surprise as he was a rank outsider to the party and nothing to do with the RSS philosophy either. However, Malik was shifted to Goa in 2019 and Modi brought his most trusted bureaucrat G C Murmu. When Modi saw he was not delivering as per his plans, Murmu was also shown the door within two years. He chose to send a seasoned politician Manoj Sinha reflecting his willingness to change and quickly too. This flexibility is rarely seen at the top.

A Message with smile
Modi has his unique style of conveying a message. During a review meeting of all UP Mps, Modi asked state BJP Chief Swatantra Dev Singh smilingly, “Aap Varanasi ke Lok Sabha MP ka bhi hisab kitab rakhte ho? Usko Bhi kuchh Batao!”. Dev was sheepish but the message to all Mps present was loud & clear that they are answerable to the state party chief.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Modi frees ‘Babus” from shackles protects Ministers, CMs,MPs, MLAs from probe

  • Wants decision-making accelerated
  • Many riders attached 
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Sep 3
In order to protect the serving and retired bureaucrats and top ranking persons, the Modi government has provided a sh

ield to protect them from harassment in future. This has been done to expedite the process of decision making which has been hurting the government’s growth path.

In a latest order issued tonight by the Modi government, all Union Ministers, Ministers of State, MPs, Chief Ministers, MLAs, CMDs of PSUs and top officers of the government at the Centre and states have been given unprecedented protection.

In a detailed order by the Department of Personnel & Training no 428/07/2021-AVD IV(B), directed the states and probe agencies to ensure that no officer less than the rank of the Director-General of Police or equivalent shall inquire into the complaints of allegations against top ranking persons in the executive.

The standard operating procedure (SOP) is a new norm where inquiry will be conducted by different ranks of Police Officers against different ranks of public servants. For example, additional DG level officers alone would personally hold inquiry, investigation or enquiry into; complaints and list them specifically before going ahead with the issues against public servants of level 14 & 15 and Board level PSU directors of the state and the Central governments.

Similarly, categories have been created for every rank and the power of police inspector has been curtailed in terms of initiating a probe directly.

The 8-page long circular is aimed at generating confidence among the Babus who are scared of the CBI, CVC and state governments launching probes against them either during their tenure of service or after retirement. These Public Servants don't make decisions on files and await orders from the political bosses who in terms push files to the Prime Minister’s Office or the Chief Minister’s Office.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Fly on the Wall | A New Rahul Emerges

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Media Group

A New Rahul Emerges 
The Parliament's Monsoon session may be witnessing a storm since July 19 amidst unprecedented Opposition unity. But the session saw the emergence of a New Rahul. Though scion of the Gandhi dynasty has been around in politics for nearly two decades and in Lok Sabha since 2004, things didn’t work well. There was a complete disconnect between his thinking and what was happening on the ground. His image also took a beating when he tore the bill presented by his own government in parliament relating to criminals. The end result was the Congress’ historic low of 44 seats in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP’s star campaigner Navjot Singh Sidhu called him names and it gelled well with the audience during the polls campaign. The worst came in 2019 when he lost his traditional Amethi Lok Sabha seat. But come July 2021 and it saw the emergence of a New Rahul Gandhi. The political analysts are surprised over his ‘image makeover’ during the Monsoon session. This makeover has taken place so silently that only those in close circuit have noticed it. The first sign came when Rahul Gandhi played the role of a conductor of the bus that ferried leaders of Opposition parties from Parliament House to Jantar Mantar to express solidarity with the agitating farmers. Rahul stood at the boarding gate to receive them and was the last to board himself, de-boarded first once the bus reached Jantar Mantar and stood at the gate to ensure that every leader was attended too. The drill was repeated on the way back to Parliament House. Earlier, he hosted a breakfast for Opposition leaders which was his another first. For a change, Rahul Gandhi listened to them rather than talking solo. Rahul Gandhi stood in solidarity with the protesting Opposition MPs on the Pegasus hacking scandal throughout compared to his earlier approach of being always busy with his mobile phone. Those days have gone.

When Rahul met Sanjay Raut
Rahul Gandhi is in a new orbit and holding parleys individually these days. He meets them in the lobby, goes to their residences and invites them to his house. He invited Shiv Sena senior leader Sanjay Raut at his 12 Tughlaq Road residence and held talks for 110 minutes, to be precise. While the functioning of Maharashtra government, Shiv Sena and the shape of things to come were on the agenda, the two also shared their vision for the future of the Opposition politics. Later, the two leaders also met twice. It was a new experience for Sanjay Raut too. The Opposition leaders also noticed another change in Rahul these days; he is attentive and engaged in group meetings rather than keeping busy with himself.

Antony has reservations about PK plan
All members of the Congress Working Committee in small groups have discussed at length a detailed plan of action submitted by poll strategist Prashant Kishore. Sonia Gandhi wanted to solicit opinions of each CWC member PK’s plan of action. K C Venugopal was present in all groups to take notes and submit the same to Sonia Gandhi. PK suggested that the Congress should have a small decision making body like the Parliamentary Board for faster decisions at a short notice rather than an omnibus CWC body. The Congress should create a permanent structure to formulate poll strategies which differ from state to state culminating in 2024 LS polls. It transpires that some seniors including A K Antony have reservations about PK being named as 136 years’ old party’s official poll strategist. Many feel an individual shouldn’t be allowed to play the role of a ‘Super Man.’ But Antony seems to be in a hopeless minority as the party has been in his own home state of Kerala, two LS polls and states after states. Therefore, no party can keep basking in its old glory without delivering. Interestingly, Ghulam Nabi Azad is in favour of PK’s plan.

Kamal Nath new Working president!
If all goes as per plans being finalized by Congress Interim president Sonia Gandhi, the entire organizational structure may be over-hauled sooner than expected. The grapevine has it that former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath may be brought in as party’s vice president. He is the senior-most in the party and Sonia seems to have decided to go with the tested family loyalist. He desperately needs someone to help her after the untimely demise of Ahmad Patel. The Congress may have four vice presidents including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The reshuffle is part of Mission-2024.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

NHAI debt at a record high of Rs 3.07 lakh crores

But toll collection rose during lock down, asserts Gadkari

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug 9

The Road Transport & Highway Minister Nitin Gadkari may have been making headlines for setting one record after the other in building highways in the country. But he was stumped in the Rajya Sabha by his own party leader Sushil Kumar Modi.

The Rajya Sabha MP and former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar asked Gadkari whether the debt of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) had touched a record high of Rs 3.17 lakh crores in March 2021 from Rs 73385 crores in March 2017.

Gadkari responded saying that the NHAI debt had risen to Rs 3.07 lakh crores from ₹ 2.49 lakh crores in March 2020.

Further, total borrowing of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) increased from Rs 74,742 crore outstanding as on March 2017 to ₹ 3,06,704 crore in March 2021.

Since 2017, NHAI has availed external borrowing to the tune of ₹ 3,000 crore.

When Modi asked if the toll revenue decreased by 4 per cent to around ₹ 26,000 Crores between April 2020 to March 31, 2021, Gadkari emphatically denied it.

Gadkari said, “On the contrary, toll collection has increased by approximately 3.3 %.

He also informed Sushil Modi that there are 140 Arbitration Cases pending before various Arbitration Tribunals wherein amount of Rs 91,875.70 Crore of the Contractors/Concessionaires claims are involved in adjudication. In addition, Rs 44,600 Crore of NHAI’s Counter Claims is also involved for adjudication.

Further, 240 cases are pending before various courts wherein Rs 21,601 Crore is involved.

He said the interest paid on loans amounted to Rs 18,840 Crore. and a mechanism by which NHAI will do debt servicing and repayment is as under:

The NHAI has been creating valuable road assets which are financially viable. Since 2017, NHAI has constructed a total of 17,042 km of public funded roads, with an expenditure of about Rs.4.08 lac crore. The completed public funded road assets are being tolled. Since 2017, NHAI has serviced its Debt amounting to Rs 74,337 cr, Gadkari said.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Fly On the Wall | A battle royal between two Chankyas

Fly On the Wall
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

A battle royal between two Chankyas
If all goes as per plans, the country may soon be on the cusp of a battle royal between BJP's Chankya Amit Shah and Opposition’s poll strategist Prashant Kishore, “PK”. Both were key strategists for Narendra Modi’s Prime Ministerial campaign in 2014 and fell out later. The Congress is on the verge of picking PK as its key poll strategist until the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. A decision is likely anytime next week. PK will not charge any fee for his services as he will be formally joining the Congress. He has told the three Gandhis that if inducted, he will oversee the party's poll strategies in all the elections leading up to 2024. He said the situation can be retrieved in Punjab and Uttarakhand is winnable if the right kind of strategy is adopted. But he would like to make a big beginning with Gujarat and Karnataka where Assembly polls will be held in November 2022. The BJP and Congress are in direct contest in these states. The BJP can be defeated in its home turf in Gujarat after 27 years of being in power. Before inducting PK, Sonia Gandhi wants the stamp of approval of all CWC members. The party men are happy that finally Rahul Gandhi is listening to somebody and may act on his advice.

Why PK fell out with Shah
Though 'PK' was part of Modi’s core team in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Modi was so impressed by PK’s skills that he was allotted a place on the top floor of the CM's residence itself. PK had also given Modi a blueprint to overhaul the bureaucracy on the US pattern where thousands of officers come and go with the new Presidents. When Modi asked PK what role he would like to play, the latter wanted to be named as BJP's Poll Strategist. If there could be a general secretary (organization), why not general secretary (poll strategy)? Modi was willing to consider but Amit Shah nixed it soon after taking over as BJP Chief. Modi dithered and PK moved out. Amit Shah and PK were face to face for the first time in Bihar and Delhi Assembly polls in 2015 and BJP was decisively defeated. But PK didn't get the desired credit. The victories in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh were discounted as BJP was a junior partner in these states. PK also tasted failure in 2017 in UP. His golden moment came seven years later when he trounced Amit Shah in West Bengal in 2021 in a big way. It was a huge setback for Shah and a beaming PK claimed “he is BJP’s overrated Poll Manager.”

Disquiet in RSS
There is disquiet in the RSS these days. A top RSS leader put it very aptly: “Aajkal prasannta ka vatavaran nahin Hai.” (Nowadays, the atmosphere is not pleasant). He did not elaborate but the disconnect between the BJP and the RSS is clearly visible. The RSS was not happy with the way the government handled CAA and three Farm Acts and the talks should have been held. The recent Cabinet reshuffle widened the gulf as wings of Nitin Gadkari were further clipped when the MSME ministry was taken away.

As if this was not enough, most of the recommendations of the RSS for new inductions were ignored. The RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat’s statement that the government and Society, both, have to understand and learn lessons from the Covid pandemic, was seen as an oblique criticism of the government.

But the Pegasus telephone tapping scandal that rocked governments world over, created a major disconnect. It has surfaced now that telephone numbers of many RSS functionaries including a senior one were under watch. It is learnt that a top-most officer of the Modi dispensation visited Chitrakoot where Pratinidhi Sabha was being held in the second week of July. The meet was significant as it came much before the Pegasus snooping scandal officially surfaced on July 18. He had a long chat with RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat. What transpired between them is not known. But many say that the tweet of Subramanian Swamy on July 18 morning that tapping the phones of PM Modi’s cabinet ministers, RSS leaders and others will be disclosed soon. Obviously, this person was sent to Chitrakoot on a fire-fighting mission as the government knew beforehand that such a scandal may surface. An insider said, “the gulf has widened since then.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Amarjit Sinha quits PMO prematurely as Adviser

Major Bureaucratic reshuffle in offing

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug 2

With the premature resignation of Amarjeet Sinha as Adviser, Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), speculation is rife that Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba may be brought in. Gauba’s two year tenure as Cabinet Secretary is ending on August 30 this year. The PMO is already faced with the exit of P K Sinha who quit as Principal Adviser, PMO a few months ago prematurely.

Sinha was Modi’s favourite officer who was appointed Cabinet Secretary by the Modi government in May 2015 and continued in the post for four years. P K Sinha was brought in the PMO in August 2019 but opted out earlier this year.

Amarjit Sinha too was appointed as Adviser, PMO, quit prematurely on July 31, 2021 though he had seven more months to go. Sinha is a retired IAS officer of 1983 batch of Bihar cadre.

It may be mentioned that Bhaskar Khulbe and Amarjeet Sinha were appointed as Advisors to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a contractual basis initially for a period of two years on February 20 last year. Kulbe, however, will continue to stay put. Sinha was handling social sectors like education and rural development. Kulbe is looking into Infrastructure and whatever tasks assigned by the Principal Secretary to the PM, P K Mishra.

There is considerable speculation that Rajiv Gauba, a 1982 Jharkhand batch of the IAS, may move to PMO and Urban Development Secretary D S Mishra (1984 batch, UP cadre) may replace him. But many in the bureaucracy say that Gauba may get an extension as Cabinet secretaries get at least one extension in tenure.

There are reports that a major bureaucratic reshuffle may take place as many secretaries are retiring this month end. Home Secretary Anil Bhalla is also retiring this month and may get a key post as extension is unlikely.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Fly on the wall July 22 |Secret of Modi-Pawar bonhomie

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Secret of Modi-Pawar bonhomie

What is the secret behind PM Modi-Sharad Pawar continuing bonhomie? Not many are aware that it goes back to the UPA era when Modi was facing the ire of Central agencies during the UPA era and Congress Party’s ‘hawks’ were seeking Modi’s custodial interrogation. Sharad Pawar is reported to have opposed it at the highest level in the government any such move on the ground that political battles be better fought in electoral arena rather than through agencies. Modi did face CBI’s grilling but the UPA did not go to the extent of arresting him. Modi also got one relief after the other from courts. This apart, the personal rapport also developed when Gujarat cadre IAS officer P K Mishra had been promoted to the rank of Secretary at the Centre but no Union Minister was willing to take him in his ministry. It was at this juncture that Modi reported to have called up Pawar to help Mishra as he was holding many portfolios. Pawar got Mishra appointed as Agriculture Secretary under him in 2006. Modi also used to consult Pawar on many issues from time to time. Therefore, political deal or not, both have perfect rapport and mutual respect.

The Clock ticks after 27 years

There is a long list of politicians, officers and journalists paying the price for being dirty with Modi during the Gujarat riots. The latest in the series is R B Sreekumar who was Add. DGP Gujarat Police and led a unit when riots broke out in Godhara. He retired in 2007 and the CBI may book him anytime. But this action has nothing to do with Gujarat. The CBI has re-opened a probe in falsely implicating ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan and others way back in November 1994 in Kerala. Sreekumar was Deputy Director, Intelligence Bureau, Kerala then. It was on the basis of his “top secret” report that the Kerala Police arrested Nambi, two Maldivian women and others in the infamous “ISRO Spy Ring". Nambi Narayanan was ISRO's rising star and working on critical cryogenic technology. Though CBI gave Nambi a clean chit in December 1994 itself and filed a closure report acquitting all. The SC upheld the closure report terming it malicious and based on "notions of fancy". Nambi was given a compensation of Rs 1.9 crore from various agencies including the Kerala government in 2018. But Sreekumar escaped any penalty and the case has now been re-opened by the CBI after SC’s special permission for Sreekumar for his dubious fake IB report which caused immense damage. The CBI may not have re-opened Sreekumar's case 27 years later had he not committed the hara-kiri in Godhara. He ostensibly filed a false affidavit and statements before the Nanavati-Mehta Commission and J M Lyngdoh committee about the dubious role of law and order authorities under Modi. The SC, however, found all such claims to be false. But the ghost of ISRO case is now haunting Sreekumar as the CBI may act any time.

Hidden Talent of Ashwini Vaishnav

Many theories are doing the rounds as to why Modi developed a fancy for Ashwini Vaishnav to the extent that he telephoned BJD chief & Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik for a Rajya Sabha seat for Ashwini Vaishnav. The BJD could have won all three RS seats but spared one for BJP in 2019. What was Modi's connection with Vaishnav? One theory is that Vaishnav gave vital tips to Modi when he was working in the PMO under Vajpayee as deputy secretary in 2003. But insiders discount this saying Vaishnav had no access to Vajpayee at any point of time. Even when he was attached with Vajpayee as his PS as per protocol given to ex-PMs, he was not ex-PM’s Man-Friday. Within two years, he moved to Goa as deputy chairman of Mormugao Port Trust, went on study leave to Wharton in 2008 and finally quit IAS in 2010 to join an MNC. He landed in Gujarat in 2012 as an entrepreneur and came in contact with Modi again. It is said that Modi was looking for a pool of bright boys like Vaishnav who have multiple experiences. Vaishnav knew Gujarati fluently, an Odia, risked quitting IAS and knew P K Mishra who also hailed from Odisha. Mishra and Vaishnav have caste connections too. Modi found virtues in Vaishnav and he worked as Modi’s backroom boy in his 2014 War Room like many such high-skilled persons. But Vaishnav certainly had more hidden talent to reach where he is today.

Monday, July 5, 2021

PM’s Pack of his 52 Ministers review complete

Focus on Mega pending projects

Modi to get his 2024 War Team soon 

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Even as the Opposition is grappling to evolve a common strategy to take on the BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha polls, PM Narendra Modi has completed a month-long exercise reviewing the performance of his 52 Union Ministers. The 53rd minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ (Education) could not participate as he was down with Covid.

Highly placed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office told Lokmat the PM split his 52 ministers into 10-sub-groups and meetings were held with each group lasting throughout the day. With some of the groups the meetings spilled over to even for two days.

The free-wheeling discussions took place after each Cabinet Minister made a Power-Point Presentation of the tasks assigned in 2019, targets achieved during two years and likely scenarios by July-August 2023.

The PM reportedly made it clear to all the ministries that each one of them will have to come out with at least two to three projects which could be show-cased before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls to the people. In these free-wheeling discussions, the PM also said that the ministries must complete all the projects by August 2023 as 2024 will be an election year.

For example, the PM is keen that his dream ‘Bullet Train project’ is completed by 2023. Similarly, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar highlighted the preparations for the G-20 Summit which India will be hosting for the first time in 2023. He has been traveling for almost 20 days a month these days.

The review reflected the under-performance of some of the ministries particularly in telecom and education. There is a view that young faces be brought in to develop future leaders. The impending Cabinet reshuffle which is to take place anytime will show-case PM’s War team for 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Fly on the Wall | BJP’s offensive worries NCP

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

BJP’s offensive worries NCP

The BJP seems to have mounted a fresh offensive against the NCP leadership after a lull. Two recent acts have turned heads. The first case relates to Enforcement Directorate action against former Maharashtra minister Anil Deshmukh which forced NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, Supriya Sule, Jayant Patil and others to repeatedly come out in his defence. What has made NCP leadership worried is the extremely proactive action by the ED as if the agency is in a hurry after being instructed by political bosses in Delhi. It is not as if the CBI and other agencies have not registered cases against NCP leaders in the past. But such super speed action was never witnessed before. But it is the second action by the Maharashtra BJP against Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar that has raised eyebrows. The BJP’s top Maharashtra leadership recently passed a resolution named Ajit Pawar in the Sachin Waze case. The BJP specifically asked for a CBI probe against Ajit Pawar based on Sachin Waje's letter. Though both- the BJP and NCP down-played the dragging of Ajit Pawar’s name in the case, insiders say that a lot is cooking in Maharashtra’s “unworkable” ruling alliance. The BJP high command seem to be veering round to the view that any alliance with the NCP will not be in the larger interest of the party either in Maharashtra or the country as a whole. The one-day wonder experiment is better be buried and the BJP should launch a full throttled attack on the NCP. Whether any arrangement with the Sena is arrived at or not is a secondary issue. Thus, the twin actions are part of this strategy. Whether this action will result in any future alliance with the Shiv Sena or not, is yet to be seen. PM Modi has taken the Maharashtra affairs in his own hands now and he has the habit of throwing surprises.

BJP’s UP Waterloo

The BJP leadership is extremely worried about UP Assembly polls due next year. Though polls are taking place in Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur too. But BJP’s watershed moment will be what happens next in the “Ulta Pradesh”. The hearts of the Opposition leaders are gladdened after the shock defeat of BJP in West Bengal and Mamata’s tumultuous return in the most ugly poll battles. The BJP had many handicaps in West Bengal, the foremost being the language barrier. None of the top BJP campaigners was familiar with the local language. The BJP had not projected anybody as its CM face and it had no grass root presence either in villages. However, they forget that UP is not West Bengal. Here, the BJP is already ruling the state and Yogi Adityanath is a tough CM. His graph went up in UP ever since the message went around that he did not buckle under the pressure of Central leadership. Secondly, the BJP has a battery of local leaders and no outsider tag can be fixed. In West Bengal, the BJP had a fierce and personally honest adversary like Mamata. Despite best efforts, she could not be dislodged through defection or other means. In UP, the Opposition leaders have all sorts of corruption charges being probed by CBI, ED, Income-Tax and others.

In the given scenario, the UP Assembly poll may be as polarized as we witnessed in West Bengal. It is also gradually emerging that Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party will emerge as the rallying point of the Opposition and Congress, RLD and others will come a cropper. The Jat community will go against the BJP due to farmers’ agitation and may lean towards Akhilesh Yadav along with the Yadavs and Muslims. Even Mayawati may not be able to swing the SCs’ votes as she used to in the past. These factors are worrying the BJP high command despite BJP being on the strong footing. The outcome will have a bearing on the Presidential poll due July 2022 too. Thus, a lot is at stake in UP for the BJP and PM Modi.

Uttarakhand: A new pain in the neck

While mystery continues to shroud as to why sitting Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat was shown the door in a mid-night coup by the high command, the incumbent Tirath Singh Rawat finding it difficult to choose his Assembly seat. He has to get elected as an MLA before September 9. He can contest from Gangotri or Haldwani. Both fell vacant after the demise of sitting MLAs due to Covid. Trivendra Singh Rawat can also be asked to vacate his Doiwala seat and Tirath Singh can contest from there. But Tirath Singh is scared of contesting a byelection in the current adverse political scenario. The Election Commission is quiet and so is BJP high command.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Big Buzz in Capital over impending Cabinet reshuffle

It could be this weekend?

No news with Rashtrapati Bhawan so far  

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

With the month-long exercise of performance of 22 Cabinet Ministers and nine Ministers of State (Independent Charge) over yesterday, speculations intensified in the Cabinet of a major over-haul and expansion of the 54-member Council of Ministers.

The PM had already held consultations with the top leadership of the party, RSS and many chief ministers of the states including Shivraj Singh Chouhan. It is also stated that the PM also explored the possibility of bridging differences with the Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is now ready that Janata Dal (U) joins the party. JDU leaders Lallan Singh, Ramnath Thakur and Santosh Kushwaha are reportedly in the running. The Apna Dal of UP is also set to re-join the council with Anupriya Patel in it. Both the factions of the LJP will be kept out.

A couple of Ministers with Independent Charge may be promoted to the Cabinet too.

Jyotiraditya Scindia (Madhya Pradesh) Sarbananda Sonowal (Assam), Dilip Ghose (West Bengal), Sushil Modi (Bihar), Bhupendra Yadav (Rajasthan), Varun Gandhi (UP), Zafar Islam (UP) Ajay Bhatt or Anil Baluni (Uttarakhand) and a few from poll-bound states may be brought in.

The focus will be inducting some young faces keeping long-term interests of the party. There may be at least six new young faces. The names of Rahul Kaswan (Rajasthan), Ashwani Vaishnav (Odisha), Poonam Mahajan or Pritam Munde (Maharashtra) and Parvesh Varma or Meenakshi Lekhi (Delhi) are doing the rounds.

At least three ministers may be dropped while the portfolios of nine ministers holding many additional charges may be taken away. Will a Chief Minister be brought to Delhi, no one has a clue. Nine ministers with additional charge may shed extra ministries - Prakash Javadekar, Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan, Nitin Gadkari, Harsh Vardhan, Narendra Singh Tomar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani and Hardeep Singh Puri.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Fly on the Wall | Chowksi fell into Ajit Doval’s trap

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Chowksi fell into Ajit Doval’s trap
The Mehul Chowksi saga has once again shown there is still a fire in the belly of 76-year old country’s top spymaster Ajit Doval. It now transpires that a core team drawn from the Intelligence Bureau, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) and Strategic Policy Group (SPG) worked directly under Ajit Doval to execute “Operation Chowksi”. Prime Minister Modi has been burning midnight oil ever since Neerav Modi and Mehul Chowksi vanished from India after swallowing thousands of crores of banks’ money. Modi was upset that his photograph appeared on front pages with them to paint him as if he was patronizing them. The task of bringing them was handed over to National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. While Neerav Modi vanished to London and Chowksi ended up in Antigua as a citizen of tiny Iceland. Those privy to goings-on say that three persons of British origins were specially hired by Doval in London to locate Neerav Modi’s whereabouts. They found and clicked his photo and the lid was off. Indian spies could not have operated directly in the UK. Now legal proceedings are underway after his arrest. But in the Chowksi’s case, his Antiguian citizenship created a problem and Doval reported to have chalked out a “covert operation” sitting in his South Block Office. There is a whole trail behind how Choksi was 'honey trapped' by a woman during his evening stroll, who hired this beautiful woman and her accomplice, how the fugitive was lured to this woman’s apartment in Antigua, bundled in a car and taken to Dominica. This fascinating story is just another thriller from Ajit Doval’s secret diary which may perhaps never be known.

When Mumbai Police botched up Doval plan
Doval is a master of covert operations, works quietly and only a handful of people know how he won over six of Laldenga's seven commanders during the Mizo National Front insurgency era, remained underground for years in the Arakan in Burma & Chinese territory, played key role in Sikkim’s merger with India, rescued Romanian diplomat Liviu Radu in 1988 and went inside the Golden Temple, Amritsar days before Operation Black Thunder and negotiated the release of hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in Kandahar in 1999. It was due to his exemplary record that the Monmohan Singh government made him Director IB in July 2004. Even after he retired, the UPA took his services in “Operation Dawood Ibrahim”. Doval lured Chota Rajan who had split with Dawood and wanted to avenge the attack on his life in Bangkok in 2000. According to R K Singh who was Home Secretary in the UPA era and Modi government minister, Chota Rajan’s men were trained at a secret location in India with a plan to eliminate Dawood. In fact, Doval was briefing Rajan’s sharp-shooters, Vicky Malhotra and Farid Tanasha, at a 5-star hotel and handing over fake travel documents etc to reach Dubai. But that's when things went horribly wrong as cops from Mumbai landed there all of a sudden to arrest them. This was perhaps the first time when the Indian James Bond (behind the scenes only) lost his cool. He tried to explain to the team led by DCP Mumbai who he is. But all went in vain. One of the most audacious operations to eliminate the underworld don was unraveled because of an ugly turf war between India's security agencies. It was only after such failed operations that a new mechanism has been put in place where all intelligence agencies are under the NSA’s Command.

Winds of change are blowing!
When the going is good, many people will be your friends. When the going becomes tough, even your best friends will run away, sung artist William Onyeabor. After West Bengal polls, winds of change are blowing in reverse direction for the Establishment. The recent tough stance from the judiciary in states and SC has worried the government. The way Chief Justice of India N V Ramana ripped into the government’s proposed names for the CBI’s chief’s post at the selection committee meeting last week, has sent shivers down the spine of powers that be. Ramana had been deeply hurt ever since Andhra Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy made personal allegations against him. It is still a mystery as to why Reddy made such allegations who himself is at the mercy of CBI, ED & Income tax due to various corruption cases. But the outgoing CJI S A Bobade and collegium stood firmly behind Ramana. He is his own master and obliged to none.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Fly On the Wall | Why Pawar, Nitish missing in Action

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Why Pawar, Nitish missing in Action
Sharad Pawar had declared with a big fanfare to lend NCP’s support to the Trinamool Congress headed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The Maratha strongman had also declared that he would campaign for the TMC candidates in West Bengal. The Congress was peeved at Pawar’s decision to support Mamata as NCP is sharing power in Maharashtra. The NCP supremo is also desirous to play a more active role in the UPA at the national level too. Realizing the sensitivities involved, NCP explained that Mamata Banerjee is close to the “Saheb” and the latter will only address a couple of rallies as a symbol of support. But Pawar could not make it in March as he was busy in resolving the crisis that erupted after Wazegate culminating in the resignation of Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. Later, Pawar developed severe abdomen pain leading to his admission at a private hospital. He was advised complete rest before he could be operated upon as his parameters were not fit to be operated upon. He cannot campaign anymore and there is no prospect of his being in action in West Bengal in near future either.

Nitish, Tejashwi keep away too
Sharad Pawar is not alone missing in action. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav are also keeping completely away in this round of Assembly polls. Though the Janata Dal (United) is contesting the West Bengal polls dumping its alliance partner BJP, Kumar has chosen to keep away and not campaign. On the other hand, the RJD is supporting the TMC despite being a partner of Congress in Bihar. But Tejashwi is also looking the other way and has not for campaigning. The JD (U) doesn’t explain why it has left its candidates in the lurch in West Bengal. However, a close confidante of Nitish Kumar said he is avoiding traveling West Bengal to keep the BJP and Mamta Banerjee in good humour. Mamata has a fractured leg and Nitish Kumar doesn’t want to rub salt on her wounds in the given situation. After all, Nitish Kumar has also been nursing national ambitions like Sharad Pawar. The Congress is also confused as it is hand-in-glove with the Left in West Bengal while fighting with the CPM in Kerala. Secondly, Rahul Gandhi has not rolled out his program to campaign in West Bengal so far either.

Priyanka goes missing too!!
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has gone into self quarantine after her husband Robert Vadra tested positive of Covid almost a week ago. The jolt came when she was drawing huge crowds during her rallies in Kerala. According to Congress insiders, she was able to connect better with the voters due to her style of campaigning causing some anxiety in some party quarters. Though Priyanka has now been tested negative, she continues to stay home. Whatever may be the reasons; her absence is a setback to the party as most of the party’s 30 star campaigners were missing in action including Capt Amrinder Singh, Navjot Singh Sidhu to name a few. Even Rahul Gandhi has been missing in action in West Bengal, at least until writing this column. Perhaps, it’s a season of leaders missing in action.

Missing frontline workers for Jab
The Prime Minister’s Task Force on Vaccination is burning midnight oil as Health and Frontline Workers (HFW) are missing in getting themselves vaccinated. Of the 3 crores HFWs only 65% came forward for the first vaccine dose during the past 90 days while 50% came for the second dose. The government is worried about these missing Covid warriors and vaccine hesitancy has clearly among them. It is worrisome as they are directly dealing with the deadly disease. The government toyed with the idea of imposing certain restrictions on those refusing to take the jab as suggested by experts and Indian Medical Association too. But these are tough times and the government cannot risk taking disciplinary action against them for refusing to take the jab. Dr Randeep Guleria, Director AIIMS and member of the PM’s Task Force, has been on record to say that this hesitancy may be because they want to wait and read more. He did not elaborate but many are worried as the government is not sharing the Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) data. Though the government told Parliament that 89 adverse events took place and none of them was due to vaccination. But it has not shared the causes behind such deaths so far except in 13 cases.

Monday, April 5, 2021

PM outlines 5-fold plan to fight Covid surge

  • Central Teams for Maharashtra, Punjab & Chhattisgarh
  • PM extremely concerned about Maharashtra
  • Penal action against defaulters, tough steps
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, April 4

The PM today suggested a 5-fold strategy to contain the alarming rise in Covid cases in the country.

Two presentations were made before the Prime Minister on Covid and Vaccination at the high-level meeting as India jumped to number one slot in the world in Coronavirus cases witnessing a severe second wave. The PM advocated a five-fold strategy of Testing, Tracing, Treatment, Covid-appropriate behaviour (CPB) and Vaccination. The PM was particularly upset as 10 states contributed to more than 91% of cases and deaths due to COVID. Maharashtra contributed 57% of total cases and 47% deaths in the country in the last 14 days and Punjab and Chhattisgarh witnessed high numbers of cases. The Central teams will be sent to these three states.

The PM summoned the meeting immediately after Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba held discussions yesterday with the Chief Secretaries of the states.The PM’s meeting was attended by Principal Secretary P K Mishra, various secretaries to departments, NITI Aayog members and others.

The Cabinet Secretary briefed the Prime Minister about the outcome of his meeting with the Chief Secretaries of the states yesterday.

Short of lockdowns, the Centre wants states to impose penalties on defaulters in a big way in public places, restricting travel through public transport, setting up containment zones and restricting movements in markets, fair, melas, social and religious congregations that could become super spreader events. The Centre is upset that states are not vaccinating enough as total vaccination crossed 7.60 crores in 78 days averaging 9.80 lakhs vaccines a day. The PM highlighted the need to ensure effective implementation of containment measures, besides the involvement of community volunteers in active case search and management of containment zones. A special campaign for Covid appropriate behaviour with emphasis on 100% mask usage, personal hygiene and sanitation at public places /workplaces and health facilities will be organised from 6th April to 14 April 2021.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Fly On The Wall | Pawar’s huge huge dilemma

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Pawar’s huge huge dilemma
Sharad Pawar is facing a huge dilemma in his political career for sometime now. Though he is virtually running the Maharashtra government with a remote-control button, he remains a dissatisfied person. He is desperate to play a major role in the national political scene. This will be possible only when Congress is agreeable to his being leading the Opposition pack or the other like-minded Opposition parties (minus the Congress) accept him as the Leader. In addition, Pawar also wants his political legacy to be transferred to his daughter Lok Sabha MP Supriya Sule in Maharashtra. This may, however, bring him in conflict with his nephew Ajit Pawar who has been working on the ground in the state for decades. The NCP cadre in Maharashtra sees Ajit Pawar as the natural choice in the state while Supriya Sule may play a role at the national level. Secondly, Sonia Gandhi is not in a mood of quitting the post despite a considerably weakened Congress & the UPA. Rahul Gandhi is not in a mood to step aside either. Will he achieve these objectives if he joins hands with BJP ? No one is sure.

Bengal is BJP’s Turning point!
West Bengal election results on May 2 will be a turning point for the BJP in more ways than one. A BJP win will not only open the flood gates for the party's pan-India reach but consolidate Modi-Shah grip on the entire political spectrum in the years to come. It is not that the Assembly polls in Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu & Puducherry are not important in BJP’s scheme of things. But BJP’s full focus is on snatching West Bengal from the TMC while retaining Assam and playing a second fiddle to NR Congress in Puducherry. In Kerala, the BJP’s priority is to defeat the Congress and won’t mind CPM retaining its bastion. The BJP has opened its gates for the Congressmen in Kerala in a big way. Knowledgeable sources in the corridors of power here say a tacit understanding may have taken place with the Left. The Left lent a helping hand to BJP in West Bengal in lieu of it. The latest slogan in West Bengal left is, “Aage Ram, Pore Baam (Ram first, Left later).” It means to dislodge Mamata first and let the BJP win this time around. The BJP had played a similar game in Punjab in 2017 when it ensured Capt Amrinder Singh’s win to defeat the AAP. Therefore, it is all the more baffling as to why Rahul Gandhi fell into the trap of the Left parties in West Bengal and had spurned Mamata’s offer for a tie-up.

Mamata on a weak wicket
TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee may be a born fighter but many battles in the past. But in the 2021 polls, she entered the battleground on a weak wicket. There are many factors including 10-years’ of anti-incumbency, desertions by many powerful leaders her ship, Abhishek Banerjee factor (the rise of Mamata’s nephew in the party) and success of BJP in polarizing the state voters by consolidating the Hindus on the one hand. Whether the Muslim voters have been divided or not will be known on May 2. But one should not forget the Owaisi factor that cost the RJD-Congress dearly in Bihar. Last but not the least, the PM’s visit to the historic temple of the Mathuas in Bangladesh has given BJP a big edge. Mathuas play a decisive role over 40-45 seats. And one should not forget the role played by the central agencies like the CBI, ED, NIA, NCB in every election. Is the tide turning? Wait until May 2.

BJP aims big after Bengal
A BJP win in West Bengal may give the party a clear majority in the Rajya Sabha by 2022 thereby giving PM Modi an opportunity to implement his ambitious “One Nation One Poll” plans. The BJP has 95 MPs in Rajya Sabha and a workable majority in the House of 245. Many regional parties like the BJD, YSR Congress, TDP and DMK have virtually no role to play in the given situation. The Assembly polls in 5 states are equally important for the entire Opposition and the Congress in particular. A TMC win may lead to the emergence of the United Front against the BJP. The role of the Congress Party will depend on its performance in Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. It is precisely because of this very reason that many prominent leaders like Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar and others are patiently waiting in the wings.

Boris Johnson’s Pune, Mumbai trip in jeopardy

British PM is to visit two cities April end 

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat 
New Delhi, April 2

Maharashtra's alarming Covid-19 situation and high positivist rate of more than 14% has put British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's visit to Pune & Mumbai in jeopardy.

Johnson is slated to visit New Delhi sometime on April 26-27 and as part of his itinerary was contemplating visiting Pune, Mumbai etc.

Johnson is eager to visit Pune which is the world's largest vaccine manufacture facility, Serum Institute of India (SII). SII has been producing Oxford Astrazeneca's vaccine Covishield, which has been exported to many countries from there. British officials are struggling to take a call on Pune visit and in touch with Indian counterparts.

This is the second time the British Prime Minister is contemplating visiting India. He was to be country's Chief Guest during the Republic Day celebrations on January 26. But Britain was hit hard by another Covid wave and lockdown was declared forcing cancellation of his trip.

The April trip was finalised when the situation started improving in the UK and it looked as if the second wave won't hit India. However, Maharashtra is among the worst hit among eight states. As if this was enough, Pune and Mumbai top the list of districts in highest reported cases. A night Curfew has been imposed in Pune from today and the situation continues to be alarming in Mumbai too.

The cases have risen at a rapid speed in Maharashtra from 15000 or so on March 15 and have trebled in less in 17 days. Though the state tops the country in terms of vaccination.

UK as the chair of the G7 grouping has invited India for the meeting of the grouping in June. Indian PM Modi will be traveling to the country for the summit, which could see its first in-person quad meeting as well. Both sides are also working on a trade deal.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Fly on the Wall | Modi drawing Leaf out of Nehru

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi drawing Leaf out of Nehru
There is no dearth of cheerleaders who have termed the Chinese withdrawal from the finger areas in the Galwan Valley as “historic” win for PM Modi. No doubt, with visuals of Chinese withdrawal created a fervor and a welcome development. But it was certainly not the first time when the Chinese had retreated from the Galwan Valley. They had done it first time on July 7, 1962 by unilaterally withdrawing from the same Galwan Valley bringing huge jubilation in the country and relief to the then PM Nehru. In fact, India had not retreated an inch from the Galwan Valley then. But the Chinese retreat was a trap as they returned 96 days later on October 20, 1962 to attack India. India suffered a humiliating defeat then. The cheerleaders may have forgotten the lesson in history but not Modi. He is aware of the pitfalls ahead and it is because of this very reasons that neither Modi nor NSA Ajit Doval have spoken a word about it. Even Defense Minister Rajnath Singh gave no details when he read out a statement in Parliament on February 11. The MEA has also been coy about the agreement. Reason: If the Chinese have retreated from the Pangong Tso, India has also retreated from the Rachin La and Rezang La hills in the Kailash range. India is now mounting pressure on the Chinese to pull back from the Hot Spring, Gogra in the Depsang Plains. Modi is waiting with a bated breath of what the Chinese will do in the days, months or even the years to come. Modi has been deeply hurt. After all, it was he who invited Xi Jingping in 2014 to Gujrat Riverfront and both were spotted swinging together. But April 2020 intrusion changed the course. He has drawn a leaf out of the archives not to allow the Chinese to take him for a rise.

Business & Border inter-linked
Modi has made two major changes while dealing with China and Pakistan; one is that Business bonhomie and Border confrontation can’t go together and two; External Affairs Ministry won’t be allowed to dominate decisions of the Defense forces on the ground. Modi snapped all ties with Pakistan after his failed unscheduled Pakistan visit in December 2015. The same is being done with China after the April 2020 border row when India was in the midst of Covid crisis. The trade ties can’t be snapped overnight. But they have been put in the slow lane, banned Chinese apps, no Chinese entry in 5G technology and no free flow of FDI either. Secondly, the forces have been given a free hand to deal with the situation on the ground without overriding powers of the MEA. The MEA will be in the loop certainly.

How Modi pipped Rahul
Rahul Gandhi may have inadvertently given pleasure to the “Modi Bhakts” when he said in Puducherry the other day that there should be a ministry of Fisheries in Delhi. It was a faux pas as Modi had created such a ministry in June 2019 itself and Giriraj Singh continues to be the first Minister for Fisheries. But what was drowned in the butt of jokes was that Rahul Gandhi wanted fishermen to be treated as farmers. He wanted that fishermen be treated as ‘farmers of the sea’ like the farmers of the land. But his message was lost and Modi picked up the thread sitting in Delhi. He has a sharp nose, worked quietly and a decision was taken overnight. Next day Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that Fishermen in 9 states and 4 Union Territories will also be treated as farmers. Shah did not stop at this. He went on to announce that millions of fishermen will be entitled to the benefits under the PM-Kisan and get Rs 6000 per year. Obviously, it will directly benefit the fishermen in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry – all poll bound states. According to the Fishery Survey of India, 2003, the population of fishermen in India was 1.44 crores.

Importance of being Nana Patole
Rahul Gandhi may have been busy launching a blistering attack on Modi on three farm laws. But what a pity! The AICC doesn’t have a Chief of Kisan Congress for one year after Patole quit. Insiders say the post was kept vacant by Rahul Gandhi for his bĂȘte noir as Patole as PCC Chief. Perhaps, he may do backseat driving in the Kisan Congress too.