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.