Tuesday, August 16, 2022

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Gubernatorial changes on the anvil in Seven states


 With Presidential & Vice President elections and Independence Day celebrations over, the stage is set for gubernatorial changes. There is talk of a Cabinet reshuffle too but it may still take some more time for the party as to fix nuts & bolts in many states. An exercise is already afoot for gubernatorial changes as tenure of five Governors and two Lieutenant Governors is coming to an end soon. As a matter of policy, the PM prefers to appoint senior politicians as governors and retired civil servants as Lgs. Lately, talent from the private sector has also been brought in Delhi as LG in V K Saxena. The name of former Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is among the names under consideration.

Topping the list of Governors on the way out is Satyapal Malik who is currently in Meghalaya. It’s a different matter that ever since he was shunted to Meghalaya from Goa, he has made Meghalaya Bhawan in Delhi as his abode and refused to go to Imphal except on a few occasions. He was appointed Bihar Governor in October, 2017, sent to J&K and finally landed in Meghalaya. He is perhaps the only sitting Governor in the history of Independent India who spoke publicly against the Central government for months together. The PM did not sack him and is waiting for his five year tenure to come to an end. The tenure of B D Mishra (Arunachal Pradesh), Jagdish Mukhi Assam & Nagaland) and Puducherry in dual charge under Tamilsai Sundarrajan & Lt. Gen. D K Joshi (A &NI) is coming to an end. Banwarilal Purohit was made governor of Tamil Nadu in October, 2017 and shifted to Punjab. He may be allowed to continue, sources say.

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

No Takers for Nitish' Opposition Unity move, for now 

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar may be a new torch bearer to unite like-minded Opposition parties against the BJP. But it is a long shot as many Opposition parties are signing their own tunes. Neither West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee nor Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar have issued a formal statement welcoming developments in Bihar. They have not even congratulated Nitish Kumar. Even Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has maintained silence. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik looked the other way as if nothing happened in Bihar. Andhra Chief Minister Y Jaganmohan Reddy also opted to keep quiet. The BSP has not reacted to these developments. Mayawati has been lending support to the NDA on crucial moments inside and outside Parliament.

A senior Janata Dal (U) leader said on the condition of anonymity, “many Prime Ministerial candidates in the Opposition are rattled though Nitish ji has repeatedly said that such ambitions are not on his mind.”  Kumar also allayed such apprehensions saying, “It's (PM's post) not on my mind. No matter what people say, even if people close to me say it." Nitish Kumar is the latest leader to join Opposition unity efforts before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Earlier, Mamata Banerjee and K Chandrashekhar Rao spearheaded the movement to unite Opposition parties. If KCR traveled to various states and met Opposition leaders, Mamata Banerjee presided over the 15-party conclave to select a Presidential candidate. But their efforts did not bear any tangible fruits as they lack appeal in North India. With Nitish Kumar emerging on the scene, these parties have gone back into the shell. Nitish Kumar, after expanding his Cabinet, is likely to chart out his own course for Opposition unity beginning with Congress, DMK and others. He has a tough task to unite 20-odd parties.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

 Uddhav’s MPs are at a crossroad


With fire-brand leader Sanjay Raut in judicial custody,  thanks tof the Enforcement Directorate,  the Uddhav Sena MPs virtually went into a silent mode in Parliament. Be it Lok Sabha where it has seven MPs and in Rajya Sabha with two, no one is around to keep the pot boiling. Even on the debate of price rise in Rajya Sabha, none of the MPs belonging to the Uddhav faction spoke. Priyanka Chaturvedi, another fire-brand MP, preferred to skip her participation.  "What to say when our leader is in jail!" She was heard telling a fellow parliamentarian. The MPs in Lok Sabha  didn't know what to do. Arvind Sawant and Vinayak Raut were unwell and couldn’t  even vote in the Vice Presidential poll for Margret Alva. Others watched the proceedings sitting on the back benches thinking something may be cooking between the two Sena factions. Gone are the days these MPs were roaring with each passing day in Parliament and outside. Even the participation of Sena MPs during the Question Hour lacked biting spirit. Insiders say that the uncertainty will continue until the Supreme Court decides the battle between the two Senas. The status quo in deciding the petitions will harm the Uddhav faction more than the Eknath Shinde group.Uddhav’s another dilemma is fighting for the Hindutva turf while staying put with the Congress & NCP.


 Abhishek Banerjee on top


If one person is happy with the raids by the Enforcement Directorate on Mamata Banerjee’s  most powerful minister Partha Chatterjee, he is Abhishek Banerjee. The TMC’s Lok Sabha MP and Mamata’s nephew had been pleading with the Chief Minister to drop Partha since 2016 as he was making side money, selling party tickets. Mamata didn’t listen and went on to arm Partha Chatterjee with more power to balance the rising clout of Abhishek Banerjee in the TMC. As a protest,  Abhishek Banerjee did not attend the swearing-in-ceremony when Partha Chatterjee was inducted again into the ministry in 2016 and also in 2021. With the ED seizing massive cash haul and benami properties in raids, Mamata was left high and dry. Though Abhishek and his wife are also under the ED scanner. But they have got protection from the court. In the case of Partha Chatterjee, it’s a Sun set. Now Mamata has nobody else  but to fall back upon Abhishek Banerjee. He may be a beneficiary by default. But West Bengal will witness a new political script as Mamata is on the back foot. She stayed in Delhi at Abhishek’s residence during her long visit as visibly worried. What if Partha Chatterjee may spill the beans as to whom the crores of cash actually belonged to. Partha’s aide Arpita Mukherjee is already singing before her interrogators.

Nitish eyes Delhi Now


Finally, Nitish Kumar has bitten the bait and went back to his foe Lalu Prasad Yadav who is more than willing to support him. The contours of the deal are interesting; Nitish Kumar will travel across North Indian states and launch a campaign against the BJP. Nitish Kumar is an astute politician and chooses his time to strike as the Opposition parties were desperately looking for a face to counter the BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Since  Rahul Gandhi has failed to deliver, Sharad Pawar is aging and Mamata Banerjee has gone back into her shell after the massive cash haul, Nitish Kumar has jumped ship. Nitish Kumar may be a  leader of the Kurmis and do not have backing of the other backward classes. But he may now emerge as a rallying point as was witnessed in the early 90s. Nitish commands an honest leader’s image and no corruption charges have been leveled against him by any party. He is articulate, fluent in Hindi and with other like-minded parties backing him, he stands a chance to put up a fight during the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.   The BJP may not have a cakewalk, if things go as per plans.  



The Rakesh Asthana riddle


The Rakesh Asthana riddle continues to baffle the bureaucracy in the NaMo administration. The 1984 cadre IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre is considered to be a blue-eyed boy of the government and was all set to take over after Alok Verma’s retirement. But he missed the bus again and Maharashtra's Subodh Kumar Jaiswal was chosen by the selection committee. Asthana moved to the BSF as DG and four days before his retirement, made Delhi’s Police Commissioner for a period of one year on July 28, 2021. It transpires that the proposal in the Union Home Ministry was kept ready for his further extension. But in the nick of time, Asthana’s successor was appointed to the shock and disbelief of many. It is baffling that when every favourite officer is getting an extension after extension in the government, how come Man-Friday Asthana was made to retire. There are many who believe that he may get a political posting soon.









Thursday, August 4, 2022

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

No fervor for VP poll, Dhankhar set for easy win


Jagdeep Dhankhar is set to sail through in the Vice Presidential poll to be held on August 6 as the BJP has a majority on its own.

It has 303 Mps in Lok Sabha and 91 in the Rajya Sabha among the 780 electorate (543 Lok Sabha and 237 Rajya Sabha). There are eight vacancies still in the Rajya Sabha at present. 

In the Vice Presidential polls, the BJP will have the added advantage of getting the support of all nine nominated Mps as they can take part in it unlike in the Presidential poll. While four of these 9 nominated Mps have joined the BJP, there are five others who may also go with the ruling party candidate. Therefore, the BJP is making efforts to ensure that Dhankhar gets more than 540 Mps' votes who voted for the President, Draupadi Murmu. 

But there is no visible fervor either or campaigning for the VP's poll either slated for Saturday. The BJP has geared up its entire machinery to mobilize a maximum number of Mps to support Dhankhar. It has already issued an informal whip to all its Mps to remain present in Delhi and requested all NDA and supporting parties to come in large numbers to vote. 

Interestingly, 17 MPs voted in favour of Draupadi Murmu who belonged to the Opposition parties and at the same time, 15 votes of Mps were declared invalid. The BJP organised several training camps for Mps to ensure that no votes were invalid this time around. The tenure of current incumbent M Venkaiah Naidu ends on August 10.






Wednesday, August 3, 2022

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Fly On the Wall

Mamata, Kejri run for a cover

Two of the three main challengers to Prime Minister Narendra Modi are facing their worst in their political career. They trounced the BJP in elections after elections and retained their citadel against all odds. They withstood Modi's charisma and refused to buckle under any pressure. If West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee remained unscathed despite the Narada & Sarada scams denting her image badly, nothing could stick on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Even a CBI raid on his office premises and other charges failed to stick on him. On the contrary, Kejriwal went on to expand his footprints by selling the “Delhi Model” and pocketed Punjab. Enthused by his successes, Kejriwal opened a new front recently i.e. directly attacking the PM. Until now, Kejriwal had been refraining from personally attacking Modi. But he opened a new frontier alleging that Modi is obliging his rich industrial friends and waiving off their loans, seeking contracts for his industrial friend from foreign governments, etc. As a shrewd politician, Kejriwal must have calculated consequences of his utterances too. Within days, the new Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, V K Saxena, ordered a CBI probe into what is now called “Liquor-gate.” Kejriwal's one minister Satyendra Jain is already in ED's custody and now it is a matter of time that his number two Manish Sisodia may be in the CBI dragnet. A frightened Kejriwal withdrew his so-called money-spinning excise policy. Insiders say that it's only a beginning as more cases will be slapped on AAP leaders in the weeks to come. If “Cash-gate” shocked Mamata Banerjee and caged her, Kejriwal is quiet suddenly. The two prime challengers to Modi for the 2024 battle are certainly at the receiving end.

The Third challenger

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is the third political leader who is perceived to be a potential PM candidate. But his style of operation is completely different from Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal. The JD (U) leader is a different kettle of fish. He has switched sides like Uddhav Thackeray who dumped BJP after winning election with the saffron party. Nitish Kumar did the same - winning Assembly polls in Bihar with RJD and started swimming with BJP.

Nowadays, he is sulking again as he is having a taste of the New BJP under Modi. The BJP knows his art and is giving him back the same coin for the past sometime. It used Chirag Paswan to weaken him during the Assembly polls and succeeded in creating fissures between him and his loyalist RCP Singh who had to quit the Cabinet after being denied the Rajya Sabha seat. Nitish is now throwing tantrums and sulking. For example, he supported Droupadi Murmu for the post of President but did not attend her swearing-in-ceremony. He did not attend the farewell function of out-going President Ramnath Kovind either. When the PM visited Patna on July 12, Nitish government gave no big advertisements in newspapers either. There are reports that a deal is in works between Janata Dal (U) and RJD-Congress -Left. The RJD has developed cold feet after the CBI conducted raids on Lalu's daughter Misa Bharti and aide Bhola Yadav recently. It is a message to Tejashwi Yadav that an old pending case of corruption may be revived. If Nitish Kumar thought that he can enter into political deals at will, he may be in Fool's paradise. It's a different BJP. Gone are the days when Vajpayee had lost his government by a single vote in Lok Sabha.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Survey of Nagpur-Mumbai Bullet Train projects ordered 

Six more surveys of Bullet trains on track

Ahmedabad-Mumbai Corridor work gathering pace

The government has ordered survey and preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Nagpur-Mumbai bullet train project. The survey work is already underway. In addition, the Railway Ministry has ordered survey work for six more bullet train projects including Mumbai-Hyderabad corridor. 

The ministry has identified new High Speed Rail (HSR) Corridors on the pattern of the first  Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project launched by PM Modi after coming to power.  Apart from Mumbai-Nagpur and Mumbai-Hyderabad projects, five other routes are Delhi – Varanasi, Delhi-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysuru, Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar and Varanasi-Howrah.

The government has, however, clarified that none of these corridors have been sanctioned as yet and a decision may be taken after the completion of survey work and  outcome of DPR, techno-economic feasibility studies, etc.

At present, only one High Speed Rail Project with design speed of 320-350 Kmph between Ahmedabad-Mumbai is under implementation. The Railway Minister, Ashwini Vaishnav told Shrikant Eknath Shinde and others in Lok Sabha the other day that the government had already been running two Semi-High Speed (SHS) trains and more than 100 such trains are planned to be manufactured at Integrated Coach Factory (ICF).

Meanwhile, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train project is still struggling with land acquisition hurdles. “Out of a total 1396 Hectare of land required for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) project, about 90% of the land (1264 Ha) has been acquired”, the government said. 

Obviously, the MAHRS is finding it difficult to acquire remaining land in Maharashtra as villagers are still resisting in certain patches. However, with the change in regime, there is a strong possibility that the process will be fast-tracked.