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.