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.

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.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Fly on the wall | Pawar’s mysterious Silence in Rajya Sabha

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Pawar’s mysterious Silence in Rajya Sabha
The entire political class is baffled about the mysterious silence of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar when the Rajya Sabha discussed three farm laws for days together. It was expected that the tallest farmer leader from Baramati who was UPA’s Agriculture Minister for ten long years, will put the record straight. If a leader of his stature had spoken, farmers and the government would have listened to him. He is perhaps the only one who could have told the farmers to end the agitation as farm laws had been stayed for 18 months and has the stature to tell the government also to mend fences and find a way out. After all, it was Pawar who had brought many agricultural reforms during his tenure at the Centre and earlier in Maharashtra. Pawar was very much stationed in Delhi during the session of Parliament. But he maintained a mysterious silence in Rajya Sabha and chose to field Praful Patel instead. Though former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda who takes pride in calling himself “poor farmer from Karnataka” spoke in Rajya Sabha. But he has lost his rhythm and touch. Pawar could have made the difference. But he looked the other way. Why?? No answers are coming from the NCP.

Why PM is angry with Babus?
Ever since Modi came to power in 2014, the Babus are the worst sufferers. Gone are the days when they used to rule the roost and ministers used to eat out of their hands. In some of the ministries, the bureaucrats used to work as brokers between private players and politicians to reap the harvest. They were partying in 5 star hotels, playing golf, coming to the office at will etc. PM Modi talked of this Lutyens Delhi culture in 2014. Since then, Modi has been tightening the noose and Babus are now a nameless & faceless class. The Lutyens’ Delhi does not recognize when PM’s Principal Secretary PK Mishra takes a walk in the Lodhi Gardens. Modi wants to end Babus direct interaction with the businessmen completely and doggedly pursuing ‘faceless’ resolution of grievances. The Babus were crestfallen when Modi had a dig at them in the Lok Sabha saying they are not experts to run airlines, chemical or companies and everything. No PM has questioned their ability to deliver. Obviously, Modi was peeved that Babus are creating one hurdle after the other in the implementation of his policies. He blames them for sabotaging his vigorous divestment program and mobilizing Rs two lakh crores by selling PSUs. Modi feels Babus are to be blamed for it and gave them public bashing. Modi is now hoping for a Bonanza this year.

Rahul calling shots, G-23 crest fallen
Rahul Gandhi is neither Congress president nor Parliamentary Party leader. He has declared he won’t hold any post and rather no Gandhi will hold it either. But he continues to call the shots in the party, Parliament and makes no bones about it. He doesn’t mince words and is rather ruthless in getting things done. The Group of 23 dissident leaders had thought that he would be conciliatory to them after Priyanka Gandhi’s meetings with Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma. Both are part of G-23 letter writers. But their hopes were dashed when Sonia Gandhi sent a letter appointing Mallikarjun Kharge as Leader of Opposition in place of Ghulam Nabi Azad three days before his retirement. It sent Anand Sharma sulking who was in the race for the top post. The shocker came when Nana Patole was appointed as Maharashtra PCC chief. Now the word is that Patole may be given a ministerial berth making one of the Congress ministers resigning. The issue was broached when Patole met Rahul in Delhi. It is said that one Congress minister will quit to make room for Patole. No final word has emanated from 12 Tughlaq Road, the official residence of Rahul Gandhi in this regard. K C Venugopal is gradually replacing late Ahmad Patel in AICC.

The lone winner
The NaMo administration cleared 26 IAS officers of 1988 & 1989 batch to be promoted as Secretary and 14 as Secretary Equivalent. Maharashtra was lucky as Rajesh Agrawal was the lone officer figuring in the list of 40. But he too was made Secretary Equivalent and not as full secretary. Not a good sign for the richest and one of the largest states.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Fly on the wall - PM’s olive branch to Azad

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

PM’s olive branch to Azad

Whether it was an emotional gesture or deep politics, no one can vouchsafe. But it was the rarest of the rare moment in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday last when PM Modi told Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Aazad, “Do not feel like you are no longer in the House. I would not let you retire, I will continue taking your advice. My doors are always open for you.” Azad is bidding adieu to his 41 year long parliamentary career. It transpires that the Gandhis were upset with him for something and hence he was not re-nominated to the Rajya Sabha and left high & dry. It is in this backdrop that Modi made this offer stunning everybody. Modi has never made such an offer in public to any Opposition leader. On his part, Ghulam Nabi Azad made no secret of his chemistry with Modi saying, “Two people always greeted me during festivals and my birthday for many years - Congress president Sonia Gandhi and PM Modi." Aren’t bells ringing!!! The BJP doesn’t have a tall Muslim leader and those in its kitty are hardly of any stature. Ghulam Nabi may be of use for Modi’s international brotherhood outreach having huge experience behind him.

Pawar & Cong disconnected!

There is a long history of love-hate relationship between the Congress and NCP since 1999. They buried the hatchet to form the MVA government. But all is not well these days and gone are the days of Sharad Pawar-Rahul Gandhi bon-homie. Pawar is unhappy because the Congress torpedoed his plans to make him UPA co-chairman and now he is on his own trip. He is stitching alliances with TMC, SP, YSR-Congress, TRS, BJD, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and others. Rahul is content with the DMK, Left, IUML etc. Even the RJD is cool towards Rahul Gandhi these days. The Congress was left in the lurch when the delegation of 10 Opposition parties went to meet farmers on Delhi borders consisting of Supriya Sule and others. The appointment of Nana Patole as Maharashtra PCC Chief turned out to be the last straw in Camel’s back. Pawar’s reluctance to give the Speaker's post to Congress is part of NCP’s plan, say insiders. Is something cooking??? Watch out!!

Cooking Golden goose

When the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) scheme was launched by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in November 1951, had not imagined that it would become a tool in the hands of the rich to cook golden goose. It was to help employees in the public and private sector with employers contributing their 12% share in their accounts. There was no limit for employees to deposit money in their accounts. The interest income is tax-free without limit. For 70 years, the rich employees raked in mullahs. But they did not realize that PM Modi has the uncanny knack of tracking those making a killing. Interestingly, top bureaucrats who are big beneficiaries of this scheme never pointed it out to successive Finance Ministers about rich employees making a killing. The PM sought a detailed report and was shocked to learn that the largest single deposit in the account of one employee in EPF was over Rs 100 crores. It was also noticed that such employees earned tax-free interest income of more than Rs 50-60 lakhs year after year. The number of such huge beneficiaries is 1.20 lakhs employees and they put a staggering Rs 62,500 crores in their EPF accounts. There are 5 crores EPF account holders. The EPF has a corpus of Rs. Seven lakh crores as on February 1, 2021. The scheme was for employees earning Rs 15000 or more a month. The Union Budget has capped interest free income at Rs 2.50 lakhs per year now, down from Rs 50 lakhs earlier. Another loot and scoot stopped!

Biden, So near & so far

When US President Joe Biden nominated 20 Indian-Americans to key positions in his administration, it was hailed as a big win for India and Modi's leadership. But analysts pointed out that Biden excluded those who are considered close to the RSS-BJP like Sonal Shah and Amit Jani. Sonal Shah’s father was the president of Overseas Friends of BJP-USA and is the founder of RSS-run Ekal Vidyalaya. The suspicions of Biden’s not-so-friendly attitude came correct when many close to the Biden administration lent their support to agitating farmers in India including the niece of Vice President Kamala Harris. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar has a tough task in hand.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Fly On the Wall | Sonia rises, takes charge

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Sonia rises, takes charge

Sonia Gandhi is trying to do what she is known for; stitching alliances. She successfully dislodged Vajpayee in 2004 by fixing alliances. But 2021 is not 2004. She has lost her most-trusted aide in Ahmed Patel and Rahul Gandhi has failed to enthuse workers and people at large. In 2004, Rahul had brought with him a hope to rejuvenate the party. Be it as it may, Sonia made a passionate appeal to all CWC members including dissidents that the first priority is to defeat the BJP in the ensuing Assembly polls. After clinching peace within the party, Sonia Gandhi has now charted on a course to retain Puducherry and wrest AssamIn Kerala, the Congress may be face-to-face with the Left parties but both are in alliance in West Bengal. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress is playing a second fiddle to the DMK. The way Sonia Gandhi deputed Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel as observer to Assam and he clinched alliance with five other Opposition parties in no time, has made BJP worried. The BJP and Bodoland People’s Front have already parted ways. Baghel is keeping the faction-ridden state unit together after the death of party’s tallest leader Tarun Gogoi and creating a new positive narrative. Sonia also over-ruled Rahul for a change and allowed Congress-Left alliance in West Bengal. A loss for Congress in these crucial states is a big worry for Sonia as BJP has left no stone unturned to win West Bengal, retain Assam and toy hold in TN, Puducherry and Kerala.

CBI Truly Independent

Those doubting independence of CBI need to change their opinion, for a change. It showed great alacrity in completing probe into the Hathras rape & murder case. Yogi Adityanath denied these charges saying it was a conspiracy to destabilize his government. The September 2020 incident had rocked the nation and a probe was entrusted to the CBI. It was presumed that the CBI will sit over it for months or even years. After all, there are many such cases where the CBI continues to probe awaiting forensic evidence, viscera report etc etc. Even the last example is of Sushant Singh Rajput alleged suicide in June 2020. The Mumbai police was no evidence of murder, the NCB found no evidence against Sushant’s live-in partner Rhea Chakraborty oabout drugs, the ED was forced to eat the humble pie and other agencies went silent. But the CBI continues to investigate it giving no explanation of abnormal delay even after Bihar elections are over. But the CBI confirmed within four months it was a case of rape and murdere. It came as a huge setback to the Yogi. When Yogi expressed his unhappiness with political masters in Delhi, he was politely told, “We don’t interfere in CBI’s functioning. It’s truly independent.” No doubt, the steady rise of the saffron-robed monk may have created heart-burns in Delhi. For the saffron brigade, he is an icon and favourite leader and in great demand across the country for campaigning. In the power corridors of powers, the CBI’s Hathras case is seen as a politically-loaded move to cut Adityanath to size. Wait for the last word!!

Lucky CBI Chief?

A big exercise is on for the selection of new CBI Chief as present incumbent R K Shukla is set to retire on February 1. But there is no sign of meeting of the Selection Committee comprising Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of the single largest party in Lok Sabha (Congress) to pick a new chief. Rakesh Asthana, DG, BSF and Dr Y C Modi, DG, NIA are the top contenders for the post. Both are PM’s favourite buddies. But a PMO insider says something else is cooking too. There may be a surprise in store for the low-profile, nameless, faceless R K Shukla. He has done a commendable job during the past two years. He doesn’t meet the media, doesn’t come on TV. The Boss likes such officers. So why disturb the arrangement? Why not give an extension, asked the source.

Bureaucracy Supreme

The DoPT under the PMO keeps issuing one circular after the other urging the babus (IAS) to submit their immovable property details under the Conduct Rules, 1968 inherited by them or owned or acquired or held on lease or mortgage, either in his/her own name or in the name of any member of family or in the name of any other person. Half of the Babus don't care to respond. There is nothing unusual about it.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Fly on the Wall | Modi’s baffling gift to Yogi

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi’s baffling gift to Yogi

The nomination of A K Sharma, Prime Minister Modi’s most trusted bureaucrat, as BJP MLC in UP continues to baffle the political class. Sharma was among Modi’s inner circle of officers when he was Chief Minister of Gujrat in 2001. Be it P K Mishra, K Kailashnathan, J C Murmu, R K Asthana, A K Sharma etc, they were all part of Modi’s CMO. When Modi moved to Delhi in 2014, a battery of around 12 officers moved along. But Modi decided to keep K Kailashnathan in Ahmedabad itself as Anandiben Patel’s CMO. The status of KK, as Kailashnathan is known in the bureaucratic fraternity, didn’t change even after Vijay Rupani took over as CM. KK was Chief Principal Secretary of Modi in 2013 and remains so in 2021 irrespective of who is CM, Gujrat. He is considered “Saheb’s proxy” because Modi talks only to KK and the wheels of administration move accordingly. PK Mishra replaced Nripendra Mishra as Principal Secretary in the PMO and RK Asthana continues to be a powerful IPS officer. J C Murmu was made Lieutenant Governor of Jammu & Kashmir to be Modi’s eyes & ears in Srinagar. But somehow, he could not pass the muster and was brought back to Delhi as CAG. Therefore, the shifting of A K Sharma being sent to UP for a political inning is baffling given Modi's style of functioning. No one in the BJP handling UP affairs was willing to throw any light as to how A K Sharma was chosen as MLC? Who proposed his name? And why did Modi lend his most-trusted officer to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath? If he was most trusted, then why was he ousted from the PMO in the first place in 2020?

Another KK in Lucknow?

It is no secret that Yogi Adityanath is on his trip in UP and not like other BJP Chief Ministers who pay obeisance to political masters. Insiders in the BJP say that Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappayu is another pain in the neck of the party high command. Yogi doesn’t take the call of many senior leaders. The Central high command was also upset after Yogi Adityanath cut Sunil Bansal, the unquestioned king of Lucknow to run the affairs, to size.
Lately, there have been issues relating to handling crimes in the state and law & order problem, the latest being the Hathras case. Many complain that Yogi has not risen from caste-politics either despite being a loner, unmarried and honest. One school of thought is that it was Yogi who requested the high command to give him a competent person as he doesn’t trust his two deputy Chief Ministers. A K Sharma hails from Azamgarh and can play some role. No one is sure if Nitin Gadkari had a role in Sharma’s going to UP because he worked under him in the MSME as Secretary. No final word has come out about the future role of MLC AK Sharma. Will he be another KK in Lucknow?

Nadda’s rising clout

BJP president J P Nadda is back in action and batting on the front foot in West Bengal polls. He played a key role in the selection of seven Union Ministers who were made incharge of seven regions for Assembly polls. Obviously, Nadda's graph has risen after big Bihar won. Only recently, a couple of Chief Ministers of BJP ruled states wanted to call on the PM. But Modi politely conveyed to them to first apprise “Nadda ji” about the issues. Another major change jolted the party when three posts of joint general secretaries (Organisation) were discarded. Is RSS allowing a free hand to Nadda and General secretary (Organisation) B L Santosh? One will have to watch.

Why Govt doesn't communicate

Be it farm laws or any other issue, the Modi government’s bane is it to rush into decisions and lacking in communication. The classic example is of giving Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxine without phase-III trial data. It was alleged that the government had rushed into giving preferred treatment violating rules and risking lives of people. But no one, not even the IMCR, Drug Controller General of India or even the Health ministry said that the rules for EMA were amended way back in March 2019, a year before the Covid break out. The policy was changed by regulators to give EUA for vaccines without waiting for phase-III trial results. No favours were shown to Covaxine per se. When controversy engulfed the scientific community, the rules were dug out from the grave.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Fly On the Wall | Pandemic over by June!

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group 

Click here to read in Hindi & Marathi

Pandemic over by June!

Strange it may sound but true. The Modi government signed the vaccine purchase agreement with the two Covid Vaccine manufacturers (Serum Institute, Pune & Bharat Biotech Ltd, Hyderabad) only at the eleventh hour. It has not signed any agreement with any of the world Pharma companies including Pfizer or Moderna or for that matter with Russia’s Sputnik V. Yet India is set to launch the world's first & largest adult immunization program. Many other nations including the WHO financed billions of dollars for vaccines. But Modi showed his true Gujrati skills and waited till the end when sellers were desperate as they had stock-piled. Modi could do this largely because the pandemic is receding in India and there is no clamour among the people to get vaccinated like in the West. The Covidshield may not have been invented in India, but it is being treated as one because Seerum is supplying to the world. But many leading scientists may have questioned the way BBL’s Covaxin was given emergency clearance by waiving efficacy data. These include immunologists like Ms (Dr) Gagandeep Kang and Dr. Vineeta Bal, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune. Even Dr Ganga Khedkar, ex-head of Immunologist department said he won’t take the Covaxin until efficacy data comes. Yet, the going for Modi has been good. Many in the PMO say that India will overcome the pandemic by May-June without vaccinating 80 crore people. He may, perhaps, get rid of his grown up beard then.

How Govt pushed for Covaxin

There is an interesting tale behind the Covaxin. As soon as the pandemic broke out in March, the PMO tossed a question towards ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava – Can you develop a vaccine and by when? The ICMR and its battery of scientists & immunologists have been bossing around for decades. But such a question was never posed to them by the PMO. Frankly speaking, the ICMR never invented any vaccine either of its own. Bhargava went back to his 9-member vaccine panel headed by Dr Gangandeep Kang. There was silence of the grave. The PMO was getting restive. One fine morning, Dr Bhargava dissolved the ICMR vaccine panel in early May as the PM constituted the National Task Force on Vaccine directly under him. Dr Kang quit ICMR to go back to Vellore. Modi may not be a scientist but he knew there is enough politics among the scientists too and took the command in his own hand. Within days, the ICMR-Bharat Biotech signed an agreement on vaccines.

Why was Bharat Biotech chosen?

No answers are available till date as to why ICMR chose BBL to make the vaccine. No doubt, ICMR has been working closely with Bharat Biotech and many other Pharma companies for years and has partnered with it for Rotavirus and H1N1 vaccines earlier. No one has a clue till this date of the clauses of agreement between ICMR-BBL. What is known is that the ICMR had transferred the Coronavirus strain isolated at its National Institute of Virology, Pune to BBIL for making the vaccine in May 2020 itself. What is also known is that Dr Bhavgava had created a furor by asking the BBL to produce the Covid vaccine by August 2020. He even issued a terse letter in this regard. The letter surfaced in public domain embarrassing the government as it was felt Modi wanted to make an announcement from the Ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15. The ICMR had to eat crow when BBL couldn't produce the vaccine by August 15. But the Covaxin is ICMR’s baby and all regulators had to fast-track clearances tweaking laid down procedures without Phase-III efficacy data.

Kejri’s Konkani love

Arvind Kejriwal is considered a maverick and is not the one to give up. After his failed 2017 attempts, he has set his eyes on Punjab, Goa, Uttrakhand and UP again going to polls in 2022. In order to gain a toy hold in Goa, he hit upon a novel way and set up Konkani Academy in Delhi. There was no such demand for academy and no one was clamouring for it either. But Kejriwal’s sudden love for Konkani is not missed by rivals in Goa who are poking fun at him. Obviously, the national Capital will see a lot of cultural activities to promote Konkani language and Goan culture. Will it fetch votes for AAP in Goa where Kejriwal had lost deposits in all the seats? You guess!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Big global demand for Indian Vaccines

  • As Chinese vaccine Efficacy below 50%
  • Covidshield, Covaxin may reap the harvest
Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Jan 14

With doubts emerging about the efficacy of China’ Coronavirus vaccine, CoronaVac during trials in Brazil & elsewhere, countries are scouting for Indian vaccines now.

With reports surfacing that CoronaVac, manufactured by Beijing-based Sinovac, showed only 50% efficacy, these countries are now knocking at India’s door. India is one of the largest vaccine suppliers.

While Seerum had already signed MOUs with Gavi-COVAX under the aegis of the World Health Organization (WHO) to supply up to 400 million doses and Bangladesh , a crisis of sort is erupting in Brazil, Indonesia and ten other countries who were dependent solely upon the Chinese Vaccine.

They had agreed to buy 400 million doses of CoronaVac and now want alternative vaccines too. Bharat Biotech is now in talks with Brazil to supply Covaxin, according to sources.

The Indian Government has given permission in principle to Indian vaccine manufacturers to export after meeting domestic demand. Rather, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is actively involved in the process through members of his task force on vaccine management headed by Dr V K Paul and Ministry of External Affairs.

Seerum has capacity to produce up to 100 million a month and got funding of $300 million from the Bill Gate Melinda Foundation to supply vaccines to GAVI. Bharat Biotech can raise its annual capacity to 200 million a year from the present 100 million.

The government has said Covishield & Covaxin can export to neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, African and South American countries. The shipments will also reach Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Myanmar at a later stage.

Modi had spoken to leaders of various SAARC nations earlier in this regard. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had said last week there was no bar on the export of Covishield or Covaxin but India’s requirements will get the first priority.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Bank frauds treble in 2020, Amount touches Rs 67000 crores

Delhi oust Mumbai in Bank frauds during Lockdowns 

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Jan 11

If you thought lockdowns and restrictions during most of the 2020 due to Covid pandemic prevented financial frauds, you may be in for a shock.

A report by the CBI for year 2020 says bank fraud cases more than doubled compared to 2019 from 91 to 196 during 2020. The bank frauds accounted for the maximum number of cases in the CBI- 196 out of 543 total FIRs registered during 2020.

The amount in bank frauds in 2020 was equally mind-boggling at Rs 67,319.40 crore compared to Rs 19,830.14 crore in 2019.

Interestingly, Delhi upstaged Mumbai in bank frauds during 2020. While over 50 bank fraud cases were registered by the CBI, nearly 30 were instituted in Mumbai, apart from some others in Pune and Nagpur and Chennai unit registered 17, Gujarat’s Gandhinagar 16 cases.

Of the total amount of frauds in cases registered by the CBI, Rs 53,379.38 crore (79.29 per cent) were in 27 FIRs only each one with over Rs 500 crore. In 47 cases amounts were between Rs 100- Rs 500 crore, amounting to Rs 9,423.78 crore (13.99 per cent).

The bank fraud cases accounted for over 3% of all cases during 2017 and these started rising jumping to 36 per cent in 2020.

Some of the biggest and noteworthy fraud cases from last year include the massive Yes Bank, DHFL, RKW Developers and Avantha Group, the Surana Corporation and group companies, TDP leader Rayapati Sambasiva Rao-linked Transstroy's Rs 7,926.01 crore alleged fraud and Educomp Solutions' Rs 1,995 crore cases.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Covaxin Vaccine cleared for Emergency Use today

Govt. to buy Both --Covidshield or Covaxin 
Covidshield & Covaxin
Regulators to clear both vaccins soon

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, Jan 2
With the Emergency approval granted to Covaxin, jointly produced by Bharat Biotech-Indian Council of Medical Research late in the evening today, India has got another shot in its arm.

Covaxin is the country's 100% indigenous vaccine while Covidshield of Seerum Institute, Pune-Astrozeneca, UK was approved yesterday by the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) yesterday. The SEC cleared the Covaxin today. 

However, the formal approval of both the vaccines by the drug regulator Central Drug Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) is yet to be granted.

While Seerum Institute has said that it already has stock-piled 40-50 million doses which it can supply to the Government of India by March this year itself, the authorities have not reacted to the proposal so far. In fact, the government has not signed any contract with the Seerum for the supply of Covidshield so far.

Neither Dr V K Paul who is head of the Prime Minister's Task Force on Vaccine management nor the Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said anything so far as to which vaccine will be injected/inoculated to the 3 crore frontline health workers and other related categories. 

Whether the government will buy the Covidshield or Covaxin or a combination of both the vaccines for the Emergency usage, is still being worked out. 

For three crore frontline workers, India will need 60 million doses as every person has to be given two doses. As per the estimates, these three crore priority workers can be covered during the next four-five months. There is a strong possibility that the government may now involve the private sector in the entire vaccination drive. 

If the other population is also to be vaccinated at the earliest, the government will take a decision at the highest level. 

Secondly, the CDSCO and DCGI have yet to approve Covidshield and Covaxin. Once these medical bodies clear these vaccines for usage, various government institutions including the ministries of Health and others will take up follow-up action and allocate funds accordingly.

Sources say that the government will start the process around Makar Sankranti day on January 14 or so.