Sachidananda Murthy en Wed Nov 02 11:35:07 IST 2022 tale-of-two-public-addresses-in-maharashtra-on-vijayadashami <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the last five decades, two public addresses made in Maharashtra on Vijayadashami day have always attracted national attention. Every single word uttered by the RSS chief in Nagpur and by the Thackerays in Mumbai have been followed closely by politicians, analysts and the media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This year, the speech space is likely to get even more crowded with the Shiv Sena split into two factions. Both groups are determined to hold big rallies in Mumbai, although the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has not yet revealed whether it would sanction a rally at Shivaji Park, where Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray roared every year with his own brand of hindutva and Marathi pride till his death in 2012. The factions led by Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde have applied for the venue, with Uddhav making the first move. Shinde has already received permission to hold the rally at the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) ground. He is, however, keen on Shivaji Park because of its historic status. Shinde is being egged on by big brother BJP, which wants to deny any legitimacy to Uddhav as Balasaheb’s successor. Both Shinde and the BJP accuse Uddhav of ditching the hindutva ideology in favour of the chief minister’s chair.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, on the other hand, faces no such challenge and his address will be telecast live by national broadcaster Doordarshan. The speech is a tradition started by RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar in the 1930s. All his five successors in the 97-year-old organisation have addressed the faithful on Vijayadashami, although the last two editions were delivered online because of Covid-19 restrictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since the Ram Janmabhoomi struggle was launched in the 1980s by RSS affiliate Vishva Hindu Parishad–later taken up by BJP president L.K. Advani through his rath yatra–speeches by RSS chiefs Balasaheb Deoras, Rajendra Singh, K.S. Sudarshan and Bhagwat have been followed even more closely, with each and every word scrutinised for its meaning as well as its intended target. With the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in power with a thumping majority since 2014, the Union government has implemented many of the core demands of the RSS, including a judicial solution to the Ayodhya dispute and the construction of a grand Ram temple, the removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special privileges, the dilution of the provisions of personal laws of minorities which could eventually lead to a uniform civil code and a new education policy incorporating cultural nationalism and the primacy of Indian languages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhagwat, however, has also been floating a few ideas in his speeches which are more difficult for the Union government to implement, like a vigorous policy to limit population growth and more equality in opportunities, which is seen as a long time RSS agenda for scrapping reservations for the socially backward classes. But the RSS, which has waited patiently for its affiliates to take charge in Delhi, is more than pleased with the present situation, and it is expected that Bhagwat, in his latest speech, would call for more social and economic decisions in tune with some other elements of the RSS vision. While he will address an audience of discipline and attention in Nagpur, Mumbai could witness heated exchanges and even some fisticuffs because of the nasty feud between the two Sena factions.</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;"></b><br> </p> Sun Sep 25 14:14:31 IST 2022 will-autorickshaw-drivers-in-gujarat-accept-or-reject-kejriwal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Arvind Kejriwal’s standard practice of visiting the house of an autorickshaw driver in poll-bound states had a twist in Gujarat. The state police, which was providing security for the Delhi chief minister, objected. Kejriwal’s well-scripted plan went awry as the police could not provide security at short notice around the poor wage-earner’s house. But, Kejriwal, who is on frequent forays to the state pitching for the Aam Aadmi Party would not budge. Finally, Kejriwal, accompanied by hefty policemen, travelled to the autorickshaw driver’s home in his three-wheeler. The AAP said the BJP, which rules Gujarat, was scared of Kejriwal’s popularity among the poor. The state countered it was acting out of security reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is the targeting of autorickshaw drivers—who are in large numbers in every big city and also found in tiny towns—which shows the importance of this vote bank. The AAP had won over the autorickshaw and cycle rickshaw drivers as well as pavement vendors to capture Delhi in successive elections. The drivers and their families form a chunk of dependable voters, especially as the AAP promises to protect them from police harassment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Going for a meal with a poor family has also been a familiar electoral tactic for the BJP, as its heavyweights like Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda descend on selected dalit and tribal families, with cameramen in attendance. In Karnataka, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and his ministers stay the night at a villager’s home to show they are closer to the grassroots. The Janata Dal (Secular), however, insists it was H.D. Kumaraswamy who popularised the practice of village stay during his first tenure as chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi has focused on women voters by targeting his programmes of food and fuel subsidy to women in urban chawls and villages. Statistics show that in the last elections Modi got a higher percentage of votes from women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The identification with rickshaw drivers, who provide affordable transport to the common man, began with Tamil Nadu actor-turned politician M.G. Ramachandran. He made a successful film Rickshawkaran, where he played a poor but self-assured cycle rickshaw driver who overcomes troubles to emerge victorious. When MGR went campaigning, the highlight would be the procession of thousands of cycle rickshaws. It earned an entire vote bank for MGR. Later, several actors in other languages drove autorickshaws to win them over as cities expanded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde proudly recalls his early days as an autorickshaw driver in Thane, and how he got involved in politics by mobilising drivers for the Shiv Sena. Though he is criticised as the state’s wealthiest ex-autorickshaw driver, Shinde attributes his electoral success and the clout he wields in urban areas near Mumbai to his base among autorickshaw drivers and other low income groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal, today, finds autorickshaw drivers useful for propaganda. Impressed with his penchant for families of autorickshaw drivers, many agree to display the AAP’s posters or slogans on their vehicles. As they crisscross thickly populated areas, the posters attract wide attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Gujarat, the resistance to policemen, too, is being added to the legends around the Delhi chief minister, who, in his activist days, had climbed electricity poles amid protests against disconnected power supply. Now, it is for the autorickshaw drivers in Gujarat to endorse or reject him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Sep 17 10:35:24 IST 2022 is-the-bjps-stance-on-corruption-contradictory-asks-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Many political parties have disciplinary action committees to deal with complaints against members, including office-bearers and ministers. Barring the CPI(M), which has an active control commission, the mechanism in other parties either moves at a snail’s pace or is at a standstill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bharatiya Janata Party has been vocal about its government’s zero-tolerance policy against corruption. The government, which declared a war on black money when Narendra Modi first took oath in 2014, has pursued cases against opposition leaders, including chief ministers and ministers, through the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate. Several investigations are based on corruption charges by the BJP, as its leaders have made documents and sting audiotapes on alleged corruption in West Bengal, Delhi and Maharashtra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the opposition has been crying that the government and the ruling party have been deliberately blind to the corruption scandals involving nominees of the Central government and ministers of BJP-ruled states. In the last few weeks, multiple charges have emerged against BJP ministers, functionaries and nominees. The latest is the ‘charge-sheet’ submitted by the Assam unit of the Congress against Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who has been a minister for long. He is accused of amassing wealth through family members. Opposition leaders have filed a complaint with the CBI director. Sarma, an aggressive politician who was earlier with the Congress, has vehemently denied the charges that were earlier also made by the Aam Aadmi Party. He has now threatened legal action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Delhi, the AAP has fired a salvo against BJP nominee V.K. Saxena, the new lieutenant governor, alleging that he had indulged in corruption during his six-year tenure as chairman of Khadi and Village Industries Commission. He has been accused of favouring his daughter for the redesign of the Khadi lounge. But Saxena, who has fired off a legal notice, has said that his daughter did the consultancy as she had the experience and did not charge even a rupee. He has said that the AAP has heaped charges on him because he ordered a CBI inquiry against Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in the liquor policy scam.</p> <p>Recently, the Madhya Pradesh accountant general found huge irregularities in the state nutrition programme. It was found that registration numbers of scooters were given as those of trucks carrying foodgrains and other material, which later vanished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Karnataka, the contractors association has been repeatedly alleging that the BJP regime of Basavaraj Bommai is a “40 per cent commission government”. A contractor committed suicide, claiming he had paid a huge bribe to K.S. Eshwarappa, who was in charge of rural development. Eshwarappa was forced to resign, but the Karnataka police closed the case for lack of evidence. Eshwarappa has been demanding reinstatement as minister, but the high command has not given the green signal so far.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, none of these complaints have been taken seriously by the party nor referred to its disciplinary action committee. The corruption charges have been denied by the functionaries or the state units, with the high command maintaining the charges as fabricated by the opposition. In fact, the issues before the committee are regarding objectionable remarks made publicly by leaders like Karnataka BJP president Nalin Kumar Kateel and Telangana MLA T. Raja Singh. But the complaint against Kateel has been pending before the committee for two years. Singh, meanwhile, was suspended from the party, pending further inquiry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Sep 10 10:51:25 IST 2022 why-k-chandrashekar-raos-move-to-unseat-modi-is-not-working <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>K. Chandrashekar Rao is an incorrigible optimist. The Telangana chief minister has made it a mission to forge a non-BJP, non-Congress national front for the last three years, though it has not had the desired outcome. Soon after the big flip-flop by Nitish Kumar, who dumped the BJP and tied up with the RJD and its minor allies in Bihar, Rao decided to meet Nitish to pursue his national agenda. He hopes that Nitish, a master in political gamesmanship, would agree to persuade other major regional parties to form an informal alliance to ‘Stop Modi in 2024’. Also, the assembly elections in Telangana could be held with the Lok Sabha elections, and the BJP is making an aggressive push in the state, which has been ruled by Rao since 2004.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, Rao had been hopping from one state to another to meet regional party leaders, including Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, M.K. Stalin of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and H.D. Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka. He has been in touch with Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Hemant Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Pinarayi Vijayan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala. Rao’s calculation is that these regional parties have a collective strength in nearly 300 Lok Sabha seats. He has, however, avoided the parties of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh—Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress and Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party—as both were opposed to carving out a separate Telangana. Any understanding with them would affect Rao’s support base, which has a visceral dislike for the duo. He has also not seriously pursued Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal, who keeps aloof from any political discussion with other parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are other weaknesses that hamper Rao’s outreach for a national regional alternative. As he comes from a comparatively smaller state with just 17 Lok Sabha seats, he is not in a position to influence voter preference in both larger and smaller states where regional parties are an important factor. Thus, many leaders approached by Rao have been nice to him personally, but have been noncommittal in giving any undertaking of even a post-poll alignment, let alone adjustments before elections. For instance, Mamata Banerjee had not taken Rao seriously when he had approached her ahead of the 2019 assembly polls in West Bengal. He wanted her in the forefront for her considerable experience, both in regional and national politics, and better acceptability in the fight against BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao’s second flaw is his insistence on keeping the Congress out of the calculation, because it is a political rival in Telangana. Thus, any approach to the Congress would help the BJP in projecting itself as the only alternative force in the state. Even the state Congress is not keen on a tie-up with Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But some of the parties approached by Rao have the Congress as a junior partner. It is part of the alliance with the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, a long-term ally of the DMK in Tamil Nadu and of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and, now Nitish, in Bihar and the JMM in Jharkhand. Rao’s desire to fight or at least ignore the Congress may not work with these parties, which benefit from whatever base the Congress has in the respective states. The CPI(M), too, has its own different perception of the Congress in states other than Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Rao, who succeeded against all odds after decades of agitation to create Telangana, is an optimist, driven by his antipathy to Modi. But political reality makes his permutations and combinations feasible only if, in two years, people vote for a hung parliament, handing a drubbing to the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Sep 03 10:52:57 IST 2022 palanivel-thiaga-rajan-the-new-poster-boy-of-fiscal-federalism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Palanivel Thiaga Rajan has struck a strong blow for rights of state governments on policies and budgets. But the language used by the Tamil Nadu finance minister against the prime minister is perhaps unwarranted, when Narendra Modi did not name the southern state while attacking the freebie culture. Neither Chief Minister M.K. Stalin nor father M. Karunanidhi would have referred to Modi as just the “Varanasi MP”. Thiaga Rajan questioned the economic track record of Modi, who handled finance as Gujarat chief minister. But he has rightly argued that free services and essential goods given to the state’s population is well within its domain, as long as it follows the Constitution and the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The debate began with Modi being furious with Arvind Kejriwal offering free electricity to consumers in Gujarat if voted to power, as AAP governments have done in Delhi and Punjab. Modi’s attack on freebies has been taken up by BJP leaders in states where the party is in the opposition. But BJP chief ministers have been largely silent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finance ministers of non-BJP and non-Congress governments have long been assertive on fiscal federalism. When M.G. Ramachandran was attacked for introducing mid-day meal schemes in Tamil Nadu, his finance minister V.R. Neduncheziyan strongly argued that the state was promoting education through the scheme and asserted that the state would find funds. Over time, the scheme became pan-India. Similarly, when another actor-chief minister N.T. Rama Rao offered rice at 02 per kg, there was criticism. Now, Modi government says it gave free ration to over 80 crore people during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the Tamil Nadu contingent, which included an assertive chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, the vocal set of state finance ministers have been from West Bengal, both from the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress. Economist Ashok Mitra articulated the Jyoti Basu government’s demands for fiscal autonomy. His successor for a record 24 years, economist Asim Dasgupta was both a confrontationist and collaborator in Central-state financial relations. Dasgupta headed the empowered group of state finance ministers, which worked with NDA and UPA governments on value-added tax (VAT). He was also involved with the initial work on the Goods and Services Tax (GST). After the Trinamool came to power, another economist Amit Mitra carried the baton.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike the GST, which was rolled out simultaneously in all states, VAT saw delayed implementation in two big states. Under strong chief ministers Jayalalithaa and Mulayam Singh Yadav, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh did not roll out VAT with other states in 2005.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another state finance minister who batted hard for fiscal independence of states was Kerala’s Thomas Isaac. The Marxist found his option of raising funds limited under the eye of the Centre, the Reserve Bank and the provisions of the Finance Commission. He devised a government-run agency, entrusted with raising capital through loans for big infrastructure projects, taking them out of the budget ambit. These loans, nicknamed masala bonds, drew the ire of the Centre, which brought them under the state debt limitations. Additionally, Isaac, who opted out of government owing to CPI(M)’s rotation policy, was furious with the Enforcement Directorate for asking whether there was any money laundering for loans borrowed for the state’s infrastructure projects!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many chief ministers keep the finance portfolio either because they have handled it before or to keep control on their colleagues. One such chief minister was Karnataka’s Ramakrishna Hegde, who organised conclaves of non-Congress chief ministers to demand an end to the Centre’s fiscal domination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, Thiaga Rajan is carrying the baton aggressively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Aug 27 10:50:45 IST 2022 behind-modis-criticism-of-dynasts-is-an-electoral-factor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech has been viewed through many prisms. His emphasis on India reaching a decisive phase in the fight against corruption is seen as a message to all political rivals—that the central investigative agencies would intensify investigations against those suspected of amassing wealth illegally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The agencies have already questioned the Congress’s top leadership. There are indications that Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee may be questioned about the allegations against former West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee. But there is silence in BJP circles over the inaction of investigating agencies regarding corruption allegations against some BJP leaders, especially in Karnataka, where the contractors have alleged that they had to pay 40 per cent commission to politicians for every project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second prong of the prime minister’s attack was on dynastic politics—a familiar theme in the BJP’s campaign against the Congress and some regional parties. The subject has become all the more relevant after the political coup in Bihar, where the BJP lost power as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar jumped the fence to join the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, both of which are controlled by dynasts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Critics were quick to point out that the BJP had chief ministers, Union ministers and office bearers who were dynasts. Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh described the BJP as a washing machine that laundered the dynastic history of Congress turncoats. Union Ministers Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan and Jyotiraditya Scindia come from political families. There are also BJP families where more than one member occupy key positions. Former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who is an MLA now, has said that his younger son B.Y. Vijayendra would be his political heir. Vijayendra is vice president of the party’s state unit; another of Yediyurappa’s sons, B.Y. Raghavendra, is a Lok Sabha member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Modi’s defence is that he has inherited legacy issues within the party, one of which is the practice of dynasts actively working for the party. His supporters point out that he did not allow family members of prominent leaders like L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar to replace them in Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the pointed focus of his attack is on dynasts who completely control a political party, especially those sons and daughters who control even the second and third positions in a party. The Congress is tightly controlled by Sonia Gandhi and her two children; Lalu Prasad and his wife and children occupy the first to fifth rungs in the RJD; K. Chandrashekar Rao and his son, daughter and nephew control the Telangana Rashtra Samithi; H.D. Deve Gowda and his sons, daughters-in-law and grandsons control the Janata Dal (Secular) from head to toe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Exceptions are the communist parties, the Janata Dal (United), the Aam Aadmi Party, the AIADMK, and the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, where Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, whose father was also chief minister, has no relatives in control of the party. Women leaders such as Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati have nephews in key roles in the Trinamool Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come 2024 elections, and the BJP would have to face dynastic parties, including estranged allies such as the Shiromani Akali Dal run by the Badal family, in about 400 Lok Sabha seats. If the BJP were to lose seats in the Hindi heartland, as well as in Maharashtra and Karnataka, it would need seats in eastern and southern states, where regional parties are dominant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s speech from the Red Fort not just framed this national issue, but also acted as a bugle call for BJP leaders and campaigners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Aug 20 10:58:53 IST 2022 nothing-simple-about-party-symbol <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Power in Maharashtra was easily snatched by the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena from Uddhav Thackeray, but the arrow has been elusive. The Supreme Court’s observation that the manner of the split in June has raised new questions means the Sena’s election symbol remains with Thackeray. The outgoing chief justice-led bench also noted that the dispute for the symbol may go to a larger group of judges and it could take months, if not years, to decide who would ultimately possess the arrow. While a majority of state MLAs and Lok Sabha members support Shinde, thanks to big brother BJP, most of the organisation is still with Thackeray. Also, the court has to decide whether only a parliamentary revolt amounts to a split or should it be organically within the party. However, the speakers of Lok Sabha and state assemblies only look at the parliamentary numbers as per the anti-defection law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former vice president M. Venkaiah Naidu had recognised a split in the Telugu Desam Party only by its Rajya Sabha strength. Similarly, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla recognised a split in the Lok Janshakti Party based on the majority being with Pashupati Paras. Both decisions helped to bolster NDA numbers in Parliament. Both rebel groups did not vie for the symbol of the original party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But under electoral laws, it is the Election Commission’s responsibility to recognise political parties, allot or cancel symbols and decide on claims of splits and mergers. This has been happening since the first general elections in 1952. The commission’s record rooms are bulging with case files of major splits—the Communist Party (1964); the Socialist Party (1965); the Congress (1969 and 1978); the DMK (1972)—as well as a merger of four parties to form the Janata Party (1977).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The smallest party that has become multiple smaller parties is the Republican Party of India, founded by B.R. Ambedkar. There are half a dozen RPIs, including one headed by Union Minister Ramdas Athavale and another headed by Prakash Ambedkar. The state-level byproducts of the once mighty Janata Party include the Biju Janata Dal (Odisha), the JD(United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (Bihar), the Samajwadi Party (Uttar Pradesh), the JD(Secular) (Karnataka) as well as the Jannayak Janata Party and the Indian National Lok Dal (Haryana).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the AIADMK was riven with fissures after supremo J. Jayalalithaa’s death, the factions had approached the commission for the two leaves symbol, which was first frozen before the dispute. Now again the party has had a division, though bulk of the organisation and MLAs are with former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami. But the lone Lok Sabha member, who happens to be the son of rebel O. Panneerselvam, has stayed with his father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since 1980, the Congress has not had a major split at the national level where there was dispute over its hand symbol. But there were rebellions against Rajiv Gandhi, led by V.P. Singh; against P.V. Narasimha Rao by Arjun Singh-N.D. Tiwari and Madhavrao Scindia groups and finally against Sonia Gandhi by the Sharad Pawar group. All the rebels formed their own political outfits, but V.P. Singh merged his Jan Morcha into the Janata Dal; the Tiwari Congress and Scindia’s Madhya Pradesh Vikas Party returned to the Congress. Only Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party is going strong in Maharashtra, though in alliance with Sonia Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP was formed in 1980 after de-merging from the Janata Party. It has not had a national level revolt, though regional chieftains—Kalyan Singh (Uttar Pradesh), B.S. Yediyurappa (Karnataka) and Babulal Marandi (Jharkhand)—formed their own parties, did electoral damage to the BJP and were then welcomed back.</p> <p>The apex court’s verdict in the Sena symbol dispute would be of immense interest to all political parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Aug 13 11:26:07 IST 2022 why-war-of-placards-in-parliament-may-not-end-soon <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Don’t bring placards into Parliament complex.” Parliament officials called it a routine circular, but the Congress saw it as a challenge. Young MPs, especially from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, told the leadership that it is the right of MPs to bring placards displaying their demands on burning issues, as they were sure the BJP’s larger shouting power would deny their right to speak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the reaction of the Speaker, Om Birla, was equally swift. He warned members not to bring placards, as it violated the discipline of the Lok Sabha. But the Congress MPs insisted on their right, and the government moved a resolution suspending four vocal MPs for rest of the monsoon session.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was similar crackdown in the Rajya Sabha by the Chairman, Venkaiah Naidu, and the government, so more members were suspended. It plunged Parliament into chaos ahead of the 75th anniversary celebrations of India’s independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the Speaker revoked the suspension a week later, he told the members he would not tolerate if they brought placards. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi went a step further, asking for an apology and commitment from the Congress leadership that the members would be disciplined. The Congress would not budge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Placards matter a lot to the opposition for several reasons. As the BJP has overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha, it is an uneven match in terms of numbers and lung power. The BJP shouts down any demand to raise issues. The Speaker would not allow zero hour to be a free hour, unlike during the time of minority and coalition governments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opposition MPs also realise that live telecast of parliamentary proceedings, as well as YouTube and social media uploads, gives them tremendous exposure. When speech is drowned in noise, a well-written placard grabs camera attention. MPs across party lines are known to get their speeches or actions narrated in subtitles in their own languages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They argue that the rules were made at a time when telecasting and social media did not exist and only speeches were reported in print media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But every strong ruling party uses rules to its advantage, while in the opposition it argues the reverse. It is true for the BJP also. Congress members cite how BJP members, when in opposition, brought placards in Parliament and state assemblies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In almost all parliaments, members bring placards, especially relating to their constituency or special interest demands. The US Congress even allows members to use a stand where large cards, highlighting the case being argued by the member, are displayed by rotation, so that the member can use the telecast selections for his/her constituents. There are also instances, in the South Korean parliament, of both sides bringing contrarian placards and having a placard fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The general understanding in Indian Parliament earlier was that while placards were not unwelcome, members should not bring placards attached to steel or wood frames and sticks. These could be used as weapons when tempers run high. It was more welcome to bring slogans written on paper, which if needed can be snatched and torn, like a House of Cards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No list of banned substances can be complete. Long ago, a member claimed he could bring a revolver to show how lax the security in the complex was. In 2008, BJP members brought bundles of currency and placed them on the table of the Lok Sabha alleging that the Congress was trying to buy some members so that the Manmohan Singh government could win the confidence vote, after Left parties withdrew their support. On television, the cash in the house was more impressive than the speeches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Members alleging police assaults on them have brought blood-soaked clothes to visually demonstrate their suffering. Members also make statements with the clothes they wear, and sometimes wave scarves of particular colour and signage. Members also use shouting of slogans to make a point in a collective voice. BJP members since 1992 have been saying Jai Shree Ram in Parliament, while communists would often shout Inquilab Zindabad or AIADMK members would raise slogans in Tamil praising their leader J. Jayalalithaa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The war of placards may not end soon, as the Congress thinks the placards are more provocative, while the BJP is determined not to allow placarding to be a new parliamentary convention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Aug 05 15:56:44 IST 2022 sachidananda-murthy-on-the-right-way-to-play-the-diversity-card <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The BJP is claiming the high ground for bringing diversity in national politics through the presidential nomination of Droupadi Murmu. Party leaders are celebrating how Narendra Modi put the focus on the 8 per cent tribal population of the country by selecting the first tribal president. Some followers also say that among the last five presidents, the three nominated by the National Democratic Alliance were a Muslim (A.P.J. Abdul Kalam), a dalit (Ram Nath Kovind) and a tribal (Murmu). The indication is that among the two nominees of the Congress between Kalam and Kovind, only Pratibha Patil fit the diversity nomenclature, being the first woman to be in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, while Pranab Mukherjee was from the upper class.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Congress supporters argue that if the longer history of the presidency is considered, it is the Congress that chose two Muslims (Zakir Husain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed), a Sikh (Giani Zail Singh), a dalit (K.R. Narayanan) and a woman (Patil) as president much before the BJP jumped on the diversity bandwagon. Also, a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) was made prime minister for two terms by the Congress, they say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there is frustration among dalit and tribal leaders in the Congress, who say the party seems to have deliberate amnesia about its leaders from the backward sections who were given high positions. They argue that the longest-serving tribal chief minister outside the northeast was from the Congress—Vasantrao Naik, who was chief minister of Maharashtra for 11 years (late 1963 to early 1975). He belonged to the Banjara community, a nomadic tribe that is spread across seven states. While the community has OBC (other backward classes) status in Maharashtra, it is a scheduled tribe in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Naik’s home province—Vidarbha—was part of the Madhya Pradesh state, and was later added to Bombay state that became Maharashtra. He was a legislator and minister in the three states. In 1963, Maharashtra strongman Y.B. Chavan, who had moved to the Centre after the India-China war, had backed Naik for the top post against powerful upper-caste contenders. Naik showed his mettle as an administrator and troubleshooter, and was credited with the success of industrialisation and green revolution in the state. But Naik and his tenure is not remembered much by the Congress high command, as the leftists who dominated Indira Gandhi’s second term argued that he let the Shiv Sena grow to curb communist-dominated trade unions in Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, there is a feeling that the party has not done much to celebrate the long tenure of Jagjivan Ram as cabinet minister and Congress president, despite the dalit leader having the reputation of being one of the best defence and agriculture ministers of India. The BJP accuses the Congress of ignoring its stalwarts because of its Gandhi family obsession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A crucial difference between the Congress and the BJP is that the ruling party’s leaders, including rejected contenders, publicly accept any decision made by Modi and his core team. There have been exceptions though, like in Tripura, Uttarakhand and Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in the Congress is different. Even while declaring that the decision of the Gandhis is final, voices of dissent are loud. This was evident in Punjab last year when the party forced Amarinder Singh out as chief minister and went through a tortuous process to replace him with Charanjit Singh Channi. As a dalit Sikh, Channi was the best example of diversity, but the decision was not even accepted by state party president Navjot Singh Sidhu and his predecessor Sunil Jakhar. That showed Channi could never deliver, and the party plunged to a big defeat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress may have to learn a lesson or two from the BJP on how to milk the maximum from the diversity agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jul 30 11:38:08 IST 2022 how-apples-might-upset-bjps-applecart-in-j-k-and-himachal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was noted for his patience as he dealt with angry farmers during long rounds of negotiations over the three controversial farm laws last year. Ultimately, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the eve of assembly elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, announced that he was withdrawing the laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Months later, Tomar now has to deal with a lot of tears as there is distress in the Himalayan paradise known for giving the country its luscious apples. Growers in orchards of the Kashmir valley, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are sending their representatives to Tomar, pleading for urgent steps to help the apple crop that will hit the markets from August.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though India produces just 2 per cent of the world’s apples, the domestic varieties are known for their taste and nutritional value. Yet, imported apples are flooding markets across the country, and have caused price crashes in the past three years. Unlike the mango, which is not threatened much by foreign varieties, the Indian apple, which once dominated the market in all states, now faces competition from apples from China, the US, Europe and Iran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The annual apple production is estimated at around 24 lakh tonnes, of which Jammu and Kashmir contributes 17 lakh, Himachal six lakh, Uttarakhand and some northeastern states a total of one lakh. The only non-hilly state that produces apples, a small quantity, is Telangana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If those with bumper crops in Himachal were affected by the low prices, growers in Kashmir were hit more by premature snow, rain and heavy wind, which damaged the fruit-laden trees in the past three years. After the withdrawal of Article 370 and conversion of Jammu and Kashmir into a Union territory, the agriculture ministry had announced a scheme to procure the bulk of the apples produced in the valley. However, it did not make much headway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farmers had to depend on networks of wholesalers and agents to dispose of the bulk of their production and prices were depressed. The wholesalers blamed the lack of demand during the pandemic restrictions for the low off-take, and now argue that the demand would be robust this year as markets have opened across the country, and there has been good sale of summer fruits. However, the recent hike in GST rates for wooden packing material—the standard size is 20kg of apple per box—has added to the rising input costs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though NAFED (National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India), which reports to Tomar, had come up with a scheme offering fixed prices for three grades of apples in the hill states, its expectation that the three state governments should cover half the procurement expense has made the scheme come a cropper. The states enthusiastically say yes, but they have budgetary constraints.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, NAFED does not have its own extensive distribution chain, which means the movement of the procured apples from the orchard to the table is not as seamless as the private networks. There is also less demand in the country for processed apple products compared with other fruits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Himachal will go to the polls this year, and Jammu and Kashmir might, too. The orchardists have threatened to make the apple an electoral issue. Tomar may come up with solutions, especially as the BJP faces a strong opposition in Himachal’s apple belt, while it hopes to open its score in the rural Kashmir valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jul 23 11:10:56 IST 2022 sachidananda-murthy-on-why-naidu-was-not-at-the-national-emblem-inauguration <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The inauguration of the 6.5m-tall bronze national emblem atop the new Parliament house by the prime minister was a big event in the project to redefine the mega buildings of the capital area. There have been questions on whether the installation, in which the lions have their mouths open, is a replica of the emblem or a variation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Rajya Sabha members were surprised that only the Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla was by Narendra Modi’s side, apart from Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, whose ministry is executing the new complex and other mega government buildings on the Central Vista. Vice President and Rajya Sabha chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu was conspicuous by his absence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parliament officials had two explanations. Even when the foundation stone was laid by the prime minister, the vice president was not there, as the construction and maintenance of buildings in the Parliament complex are under the control of the speaker. However, the Rajya Sabha chairman has control over the upper house chamber, lobbies, corridors and rooms allotted for offices and parties in the Rajya Sabha. Though there are two secretariats, they coordinate on the use of common areas like the central hall, conference rooms and committee offices in the old Parliament house, and houses for members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the formal control is with the speaker. (When the Rajya Sabha launched its own television channel a decade ago, it did not get space in the Parliament complex, but had to rent space in government buildings.) Thus, the speaker was present at the inauguration of the national emblem as the functional head of Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Secondly, the officials point out that under the order of precedence for ceremonial occasions, Naidu occupies the position between President Ram Nath Kovind and Modi. Hence, the presence of Naidu would have meant he would be the chief guest. But, both the speaker and the administrative department wanted the prime minister to launch the emblem as he was the initiator of the new Parliament house project. So, it was decided that only Birla and Puri would be present with Modi atop the complex, along with priests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the order of precedence changes for specific occasions, like when the president arrives to open the joint sitting of Parliament—at the beginning of the new Lok Sabha term and during the budget session every year. He is escorted by the vice president and the speaker to the high podium, where the seat of the president is taller than that of the presiding officers. The prime minister, who is part of the procession, sits in the front row of the central hall.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When a new president is sworn in, the procession includes the outgoing president, the incoming president, the vice president, the Lok Sabha speaker and the chief justice of India who administers the oath of office. The Rajya Sabha chairman and the speaker are both included because the president is one of the three components of Parliament along with the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. In 1997, the vice president’s post was vacant because of the death of Krishan Kant. Therefore, the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Najma Heptulla, sat on the dais at the swearing-in ceremony of K.R. Narayanan, while prime minister I.K. Gujral was in the front row.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, when other functions are held in Parliament house, the prime minister shares the dais with the president and vice president. In state functions, like swearing-in of prime ministers and ministers, or presentation of national honours, the president is seated alone, while the vice president, the prime minister and other dignitaries are in the front row. When it came to the launch of the GST at a midnight function in the central hall, president Pranab Mukherjee waived protocol to state that the revolutionary tax scheme would be jointly inaugurated by himself and Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sun Jul 17 18:26:43 IST 2022 beware-of-the-subsidy-honeytrap <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In February, the Union government almost decided not to continue with the prime minister’s free ration scheme. It was introduced in March 2020 to help the poor, including migrants, affected by loss of livelihood due to Covid-19 and economic meltdown. The finance ministry said Covid-19 was under control and India’s economy was bouncing back. Two years of support had ensured there was no privation in villages and cities. But, there was a dramatic public appeal by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who was about to face re-election. He urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to continue the scheme as the after-effects of the crisis were still being felt in the state. Modi agreed with Yogi and the government allotted 080,000 crore to extend the scheme till September. The BJP romped to victory in UP and Uttarakhand, where the scheme had high demand from beneficiaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, the department of expenditure has again told the ministry of food that the scheme should not get another extension as the food subsidy bill is mounting. However, assembly elections are due in BJP-ruled states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where the Aam Aadmi Party is promising subsidies. Arvind Kejriwal’s government in Delhi has followed the Union government in extending the free ration of five kilograms of foodgrain till September. But the consumption patterns studied by the ministries of food and finance show that the off-take of free grains is not heavy in Gujarat as it is in the Hindi belt. The food ministry is working on finding a golden solution where the scheme would be continued either in specific regions of the country or with a moderation in the quantum, so that there will not be heavy burden on the fiscal balance. The war on subsidies is not confined to foodgrains alone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Gujarat, the AAP is making a serious pitch to reintroduce a free electricity scheme, which was discontinued by Modi when he ruled the state. Modi, back then, succeeded in persuading the farmers that what they needed was assured supply of power, and not the promise of free power, which was supplied erratically. Modi had revamped the power distribution, separating the power feeders for domestic and agricultural consumption. While domestic power was available round-the-clock, the supply for agriculture pumpsets flowed only in the night, so that farmers had enough water during the day. The scheme bucked the trend of most states offering free power supply to farmers, leading to a lot of diversion and misuse, resulting in very poor supplies in most states. Kejriwal says he would give free power to 80 per cent of Gujarat’s population, matching with the scheme running in Delhi, and now introduced in the new AAP stronghold of Punjab. He taunted the “big leader” from Gujarat and said if farmers get power only in the night, even ministers and bureaucrats must get electricity only in the night; he conveniently ignored that the night restriction is only for pumpsets and not for homes of farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The demand for subsidies has also begun in Karnataka as opposition leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah is accusing the Basavaraj Bommai government of trimming the subsidies introduced by Siddaramaiah during 2013-18, and has promised to give more milk and eggs, apart from foodgrains. Bommai struck back and said his government was generating more jobs and giving higher welfare doles. The competition over government freebies is only intensifying, and will reach a fever pitch by the time of the Lok Sabha elections in May 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jul 08 10:54:33 IST 2022 sachidananda-murthy-on-how-india-is-prepping-to-host-g20-leadership-summit-2023 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Before he leaves for foreign capitals, diplomat Harsh Shringla, who is coordinator for hosting the G20 leadership summit and the ministerial-level meetings of 19 major economies and the European Union next year, is now on a Bharat yatra. He has been entrusted with the mission to implement Narendra Modi’s vision to make 2023 a very special year by hosting the biggest congregation of world leaders in the country in this century. A bigger summit of non-aligned movement (NAM) leaders was hosted by Indira Gandhi in 1983, where 97 countries and two pro-independence organisations participated. There are only four countries common to the two summits—India, Argentina, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But G20 is a different grouping than NAM, which was against aligning with the capitalist and communist blocs of that time. G20, which includes the highly industrialised countries and emerging economies, has been the most powerful bloc as it controls 80 per cent of global trade and 90 per cent of global GDP. Since the global economic crisis of 2008, India has been an active participant in the 16 leadership summits held so far, represented by only two prime ministers—Manmohan Singh for six years and Modi for eight years.</p> <p>India will take over the leadership of G20 at its summit in Bali this year. Ignoring the recent trend of not holding the summit in a capital city, Modi has opted for New Delhi as the venue for the leadership summit. New Delhi is undergoing massive construction, with old edifices in the Pragati Maidan complex giving way to a mega modern conference venue. New Parliament and secretariat buildings are being readied, and the Central Vista from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate is being transformed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi, however, does not want everything concentrated in New Delhi. Therefore, the ministerial-level meetings, which precede the main summit in the winter of 2023, are to be held in as many states as possible. Indonesia, the current year’s host, is having three ministerial-level summits—finance, foreign affairs and employment—and 10 engagement group meetings. During the last 14 years, ministerial summits on trade, agriculture and tourism have been held occasionally. Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal is India’s sherpa for building the main summit agenda. But India now wants more ministerial summits to be held during its presidency, so that senior ministers of every G20 country would be involved. In addition are 10 engagement groups of government and private experts, meeting at different venues, which will give wide inputs to the leadership summit in New Delhi. That is the reason for Shringla’s national tour. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai stunned Shringla when he said that Karnataka was ready to host 10 meetings! But Shringla has more pitstops before the schedule is decided at a high-level meeting presided by Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vladimir Putin will be in focus at the summit, with the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and western European countries putting pressure on Indonesia not to invite him to Bali as punishment for invading Ukraine. But India, China, South Africa, Brazil and Turkey do not believe in exclusion of a major economy even by majority. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has said he will invite Putin, thus putting pressure back on the anti-Russian lobby on whether it should boycott only Putin or the summit. It is not the first time that Russia finds itself in the crosshairs. In 2014, Australia, as host of the Brisbane summit, wanted to keep Russia out, but BRICS countries issued a statement that no member could take a unilateral decision on another member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever be the political controversies, India wants to put its best performance as a global host in 2023.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jul 02 16:49:46 IST 2022 how-governments-union-and-states-are-handling-the-travelling <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Union government may want to trim its travel budget due to ballooning deficit caused by inflation and increased expenses. As lakhs of government employees travel for work across the country, they have been advised to plan their travel in advance to avail cheaper air-tickets. Department heads have been told to end the practice of giving tour approvals at the last moment, and to prioritise travel programmes of their team members. The finance ministry found that travel expenses surged for physical meetings and inspections across ministries during the post-pandemic period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the government is being cautious on the travel spree of its employees, there is a sudden spurt of vacation travel during the summer months across the country. Roads leading to popular tourist destinations are getting jammed with luggage-laden cars and buses. Srinagar and Leh are witnessing huge demand for air tickets, forcing airline companies to add more schedules, and stretching the limited infrastructure at the two airports—in Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Despite the rise in civilian killings in J&amp;K, tour operators are aggressively selling Kashmir. Union Tourism Minister G. Kishan Reddy is thrilled that domestic tourism has been on the upswing, including visits to religious shrines, many of which had either closed down or limited the number of worshippers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, then, Reddy is concerned that international tourist arrivals have not been at pre-2020 levels due to hesitancy among tourists from many countries. Similarly, Indians who are keen to travel abroad are in a spot—processing of visas in majority of embassies in India are taking time due to higher demand. The Schengen visa, which gives access to most of the European countries, is particularly delayed due to the backlog. The embassies of Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, which issue the maximum number of these multi-country valid visas, are loaded with transferred work of their embassies in South Asian countries. They are also catering to travel documents of refugees from Afghanistan and other distressed countries. Thousands of Indians working in the US are weary of travelling to India due to the long waiting period at the embassy and consulate for stamping of visas. The US, the UK, Canada and Australia are prioritising visa requirements of Indian students who want to go to these countries for higher studies. Such prioritisation would mean that regular visas for tourism and family visits do not get the priority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, the external affairs ministry has undertaken an exercise to interact with governments of countries popular with Indians. Recently, Thailand announced that it was opening its borders fully for Indian citizens; Singapore is also in a relaxing mode. These two countries receive a huge number of Indian tourists every year. The ministry has also asked its embassies to speed up the process of issuing visas to foreign tourists who want to visit India. There is consensus among health, home and civil aviation ministries for relaxation of pre-flight safety measures for travellers coming from abroad, including Covid tests and filling details on Air Suvidha portal as the pandemic situation is under control. With more and more airports seeing new air services, it has made state governments push hard for tourism during the monsoon season, which normally sees a slump in domestic travel due to the reopening of schools as well as state of waterlogged cities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jun 24 11:08:46 IST 2022 when-democracy-is-under-trial <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There was a flutter in political circles when courts in Maharashtra denied a day’s bail to jailed ministers Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik to vote in the Rajya Sabha elections on June 10. In a tight race between the ruling alliance and the opposition BJP for the last seat, the BJP candidate won, defeating the Shiv Sena nominee, thanks to the support of independent MLAs. The courts relied on electoral laws, which say that prisoners do not have the right to vote. However, every prisoner, except those who are convicted for a term of two years or more for specific offences, can contest elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The courts, meanwhile, are more careful dealing with applications of imprisoned MPs and MLAs when it comes to their right to vote in Parliament or state assemblies. Article 105 of the Constitution gives MPs the absolute freedom to speak and vote in Parliament and its committees, while MLAs are extended this privilege under Article 194. But since jailed members cannot be released for daily sessions, which would make a mockery of the order of judicial custody, the courts follow a golden rule. A day’s bail is granted in exceptional circumstances if a member has to vote in a confidence motion where the survival of the government is at stake. In 2008, when prime minister Manmohan Singh faced a vote of no-confidence, six MPs, including two sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, were released for two days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such a crisis can also force political parties to bring to the house even those MPs who are on the sickbed as it happened during the vote faced by Singh. The BJP told speaker Somnath Chatterjee that it wanted to bring former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to vote. Chatterjee said Vajpayee could vote in the Parliament lobby where a full medical team had assembled. Finally, the BJP chose not to disturb Vajpayee as it realised that Singh had mustered enough numbers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But a ticklish question arises when a large number of opposition MPs and MLAs are arrested by vindictive Central and state governments, accusing them of committing non-bailable offences. The opposition has been complaining that Central agencies are working overtime to put hostile lawmakers in jail. Such arrests could distort results of key elections. The Constitution says MPs and MLAs will vote to elect the president, while MPs alone choose the vice president. Similarly, it is the right of the MLAs to choose Rajya Sabha members from their states. In states with bicameral legislatures, MLAs also elect one-third of the members of the legislative council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What if Central agencies and state governments conspire to send a number of elected representatives to jail before the presidential elections in July? The courts, faced with strong arguments from the prosecution, may wash their hands of the matter, saying that voting in a presidential election is not a fundamental right for the MPs and MLAs. Their hope then lies with the Election Commission which is expected to conduct free and fair elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the EC cannot permit voting by those in jail, it has the right to cancel or postpone elections. It has earlier cancelled elections in an entire state or in a particular constituency because its ground reports said voters would not be able to exercise their choice freely. But it is for the EC alone to determine what is the tipping point to make such an important decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 18 11:00:23 IST 2022 modi-and-shah-are-on-a-mission-to-enfeeble-the-congress-writes-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>These days, some junior functionaries of the media department at the BJP’s national headquarters in Delhi ask a question before the day’s work ends: “Which state will it be tomorrow?”. It is not about party affairs in a particular state, but about where the next big defector to the BJP is coming from. The answer is known when party president J.P. Nadda or one of the general secretaries lets out the name of the newcomer just before the official announcement at a media briefing. The team, however, knows early if the briefing is scheduled in a state office, as the new entrant would be from that region. These days, though, the answer is more often than not Gujarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahead of state elections later in the year, the party is in war mode in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Both leaders have been frequenting the state to ensure that the party is in shipshape to fight the elections. They are inaugurating a slew of programmes aimed at specific sections of the electorate and closing gaps in the social coalition of the party, even as the new chief minister, Bhupendra Patel, is working on a clear script with his team of first-time ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from projecting development and expanding the BJP’s social base, Modi and Shah are on a mission to enfeeble the Congress, which has been the principal opposition in the state during the BJP’s uninterrupted rule of more than 25 years. The duo had planned and won elections as chief minister and senior state leader before moving to Delhi in 2014. But in 2017, the party, under Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, got a big jolt when the Congress threatened to end the reign—the BJP won 99 of 182 seats, barely winning a majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Compared with Modi’s triumphs in 2002, 2007 and 2012, this was poor. The prime minister was shocked to see that, just three years after he left the state, the party machinery had become wobbly under two chief ministers—Anandiben Patel and Rupani. The latter was retained as chief minister, and Gujarat became a priority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That the party won all 26 seats in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was not consolation enough. The BJP high command worked with a single zeal to weaken the Congress; several of the latter’s MLAs were persuaded to resign and win byelections on the lotus symbol. The BJP also worked on persuading big community leaders like Hardik Patel at the state level and others at the district level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another setback for the Congress, though temporary, is the decision of veteran leader Bharatsinh Solanki to take a short break from active politics because of a family crisis. He has, however, promised to be back to mobilise votes for the party during the elections. The trickle of Congress defectors has become a stream in the past few weeks, and could become a torrent if Operation Lotus finds more success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As politics abhors a vacuum, there are speculations that other forces may fill the space a weakened Congress might vacate. After some success in municipal elections, the Aam Aadmi Party is already fluttering its wings in Gujarat. There is also talk of the emergence of strong independents in some districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jun 10 10:53:33 IST 2022 gyanvapi-sachidananda-murthy-writes-on-the-prospect-of-religious-bench-in-courts <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The clogged lower courts in India are going to be even more choked as activists are planning to file petitions seeking to enforce their right to worship in disputed shrines in many parts of the country. The suit filed in a local court in Varanasi for conducting a survey in the Gyanvapi mosque, alleged to have been built after razing a temple, has already attracted a trail of petitions. This case, which travelled like a rocket to the Supreme Court, was sent back to the Varanasi district court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, there is a similar petition in a Delhi court that seeks to restore Hindu and Jain temples inside the Qutub Minar complex, built by Qutb-ud-din-Aibak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Archaeological Survey of India, which manages the complex that includes an iron pillar, a mosque and other halls, has said that the monument has been protected since 1914, and that nobody had the right to worship at the complex. But the petitioners have been demanding a survey by court commissioners, as was done in Gyanvapi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In several states, district courts are getting suits seeking to enforce the right of worship by litigants who claim either to be “friend of the deity”, or wanting to fulfil their right to worship in a shrine of their choice. Such suits are multiplying, showing a mirror to the contested history of the last ten centuries, despite the existence of law that prescribes status quo as in 1947 for all places of worship except Ayodhya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the Allahabad High Court—and later the constitution bench of the Supreme Court—upheld that the deity in a temple has an interest in the ownership and title of the temple, the gates have been opened for petitioners seeking justice on behalf of deities whose temples were forcibly converted into mosques. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is also organising lawyers’ collectives to guide these petitions in many districts of the country, as they have local jurisdiction and context.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, in one way, these are public interest petitions also, which can be filed only before the Supreme Court and high courts under Article 32 of the Constitution—as the “right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Article 25, this right can be enforced. But those who are aiming for using the judicial route to prove that a particular mosque was once a temple are more comfortable testing the waters in local courts. They are filing the suits that can enforce individual rights, while the Supreme Court has said a public interest litigation should have a bona fide interest cause, vindicate the cause of justice, and that the petitioner should not be a “mere busybody or interloper”. The locus standi of the devotee would be easier to establish in a lower court than the loftily defined qualifications when the petition is filed in the constitutional courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But as local petitions are heavily contested by mosque committees, and also those who pray in these mosques, most of the cases would travel up the judicial ladder to the high courts and Supreme Court. Perhaps the number of appeals may be such that the chief justices may have to constitute a separate “religious” bench, similar to the green bench (for environmental matters), taxation bench (for taxation disputes) or the social bench (for enforcement of social rights).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jun 03 11:29:59 IST 2022 cag-has-become-quiet-in-the-last-decade-who-is-responsible-asks-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If things go as per the plans of Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, the coming monsoon session of the two houses could be the last to be held in the old circular building. Construction teams and interior decorators are working hard to ready the new Parliament House in the adjoining plot in time for the winter session in November. Yet, there are no indications so far of any explosive report from the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) which would rock the old building, which has reverberated with tension over CAG reports on Bofors, 2G telecom spectrum allocation and other smoky deals of the then governments. Even the number of reports submitted to Parliament is less compared with a decade ago, because of a new cluster system adopted by the financial supervisory body with autonomous powers under the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CAG, either by accident or design, has stopped creating any sensation since the days of Vinod Rai (who was in office from 2008 to 2013). His reports on the anticipated loss of 01.76 lakh crore had rocked the Manmohan Singh government, leading to an uproar in Parliament. There were corruption cases against communications minister A. Raja, senior officials and middlemen, but the cases were unproven and Raja was acquitted. There were other reports of the CAG in the first decade of the 21st century which had made the governments at the centre and states tremble.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But all has been quiet in the past decade on the CAG front. If Rai’s reports were sizzlers, the reports from his low-profile successors—Shashi Kant Sharma, Rajiv Mehrishi and now G.C. Murmu—have not created much enthusiasm. Even the report on the twists and turns in the negotiation for the purchase of Rafale aircraft from France was a flat one, though the copies of the files received from the defence and finance ministries occupy a big room at the CAG headquarters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Rai headed the department of financial services before becoming CAG, Sharma was defence secretary during the UPA era and Mehrishi was finance secretary and later home secretary under the Narendra Modi government. Murmu had worked with Modi in Gujarat and later in the Union finance ministry, apart from being the first lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Both the Congress and BJP governments have preferred to appoint IAS officers as CAGs, instead of professionals from the Indian Audit and Accounts Service.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The public accounts committee (PAC) of Parliament, which had followed up on controversial audit reports earlier, has also now become subdued. By convention, the all-party committee is headed by a frontbencher of the main opposition party. But the dominant numbers of the BJP in Lok Sabha have meant that the BJP committee members can veto the chairman, unlike in the coalition era. The first Congress nominee since 2014 was former Union food minister K.V. Thomas, who was recently expelled from the Congress. Thomas had an uneasy relationship with the high command, especially over his passive role as PAC chairman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the more combative Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury later became PAC heads, they, too, have not been able to deliver any hot reports for two reasons—they are not getting controversial stuff from CAG and even when they have some material, the aggressive BJP members have their say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the Modi government insists that there is no masala in audit reports because the government follows procedures and eschews corruption. The opposition, however, says it is because the government has aggressively interfered with high constitutional offices and prevented X-raying of bad deals. Either way, there seems to be less excitement at the desk of the government’s top auditors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 27 11:03:00 IST 2022 its-padayatra-time-for-parties-and-patras-says-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The pandemic scare has died down, and political parties are now planning for yatras in a big way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were political rallies and long walks during the pandemic phase, too, but the Election Commission had put a lid on the holding of mega rallies during elections in Uttar Pradesh and other states this year. There were also complaints in many states against politicians violating the crowd norms fixed under the Disaster Management Act for preventing the spread of Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But now, with the crowd limit being lifted in all states, planners are busy convincing their bosses to hit the road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah is hopping from one election-bound state to another to secure the first-mover advantage for the BJP. He has just completed a day’s brainstorming in Gujarat, where he has told the party leaders that the next four months should see a surge in party activity. Among the plans is a state-wide yatra led by the low-profile Chief Minister Bhupendrabhai Patel, alongside local chieftains, so that the ground is prepared for high-profile campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Shah has also been on several trips to Karnataka to pull the faction-ridden state unit together. He has told Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to get the local morchas moving. Unlike earlier occasions, when the party avoided holding rallies during the monsoon, which would hit both Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, the BJP wants to have outdoor activities during the rains this year—even though Karnataka elections are due only next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has decided that its make-or-break Kanyakumari to Kashmir padayatra would start on October 2, by which time the southwest monsoon would have retreated. The party wants its frontline leaders to get involved in the rally, which is an activity meant to charge up the cadres. But it is uncertain whether the Gandhi siblings would walk the full route. Congress leaders are planning state-level yatras also. The party faces tough tests in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh—the only states where it is in power—and in Madhya Pradesh, where it lost the government to the BJP due to infighting and defections. In Karnataka, the Congress had been a junior coalition partner in the Janata Dal (Secular)-led government, but the BJP toppled the shaky government in 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu, who is a veteran of many padayatras, is drawing up plans for a year-long journey through Andhra Pradesh in 2023 to wrest power from Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who himself used padayatra politics to beat Naidu in the 2019 assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In neighbouring Telangana, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi has been keenly watching the rallies of state BJP president Bandi Sanjay Kumar and state Congress president Revanth Reddy, as both have mobilised big crowds. Now, both are planning state-wide yatras in their bid to end the rule of chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, who has been at the helm since the formation of the state in 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from official programmes of parties decided at national and state levels, some politicians are launching their own yatras in their constituencies of interest. BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra, who unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from Puri in Odisha, has decided to return to the temple city to launch his campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Similarly, for assembly elections in the next 12 months, ticket aspirants of national and regional parties have hit the ground running, even spending good sums without the certainty of a ticket!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 20 11:17:16 IST 2022 sachidananda-murthy-on-modis-u-turn-on-the-sedition-law <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi’s adherents in the BJP marvel at how he comes up with surprises. While he is an excellent mind reader, it is difficult to read Modi’s mind. He pulled a surprise on his law minister and top officials when he asked them to reconsider provisions of sedition law. Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had to make a swift U-turn in their defence of the sedition law, reversing the government’s earlier stand that prosecution of Indian citizens on charges of treason was valid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi wants a comprehensive re-look at the non-bailable law, under which dozens of activists were booked by the police and Central probe agencies like the National Investigation Agency. While Modi’s supporters hailed it as one more vindication of his commitment to liberty and democratic values, his critics, especially those facing relentless persecution under the sedition law, accused him of adopting a diversionary tactic to avoid a knock on the knuckles from the apex court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whenever the NDA government has been in a spot, it has promised a review, as it did in the case of demand for legal guarantee by agitating farmers for minimum support price for rice, wheat and other commodities. But the committee, which would give a detailed report to the government, has not yet been constituted. The government has asked the Supreme Court to drop the cases, which had reached the final round, until the comprehensive review was done for which no time limit was given. But the court had tough questions on government’s U-turn and its implication on all those who are under trial for sedition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The continuous campaign by human rights activists has made several foreign governments ask the government to address fears that civil liberties were being trampled by the police, especially those controlled by the BJP governments. There is also international pressure as economy rating agencies have warned that India’s outlook grading would get lowered if threat to civil liberties by non-governmental groups continued without corrective action. This comes at a time when rupee has been under pressure due to international economic turbulence and inflationary pressures are building within the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Further, the sedition game is no longer one-sided, as opposition governments in Maharashtra and Punjab are using the same stick to fix pro-BJP lawmakers and activists, leading to an ugly confrontation between police forces over the arrest of BJP leader Tajinder Bagga from Delhi. The frequent use of sedition law flies in the face of claims that a strong government has reduced anti-national activities, and that there is major improvement on the law and order front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It helps the prime minister that his party was at the vanguard of the struggle against internal emergency imposed by the Indira Gandhi government. While top leaders like A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani had undergone preventive detention back then, a younger Modi had worked underground to fight the suppression of fundamental rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has to ensure his core constituency is not disillusioned by any dilution of the treason laws, which would seem to favour “the tukde tukde gang and urban naxalites”, whom Modi attacked inside and outside Parliament. But whether the stunning change of mind to review the sedition law has come due to a genuine concern for liberal order or because of other circumstances, would be known only when the government finalises the changes to the sedition law, after the consultative process. No mind reading till then!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun May 15 12:52:05 IST 2022 best-option-for-babul-supriyo-is-to-swallow-his-pride-writes-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Singer-turned-politician Babul Supriyo is ready to take oath as a cabinet minister in West Bengal. The oath will be administered by Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. But, Supriyo is not ready to receive another oath—as MLA—from Dhankhar. The governor has said that if Supriyo does not receive the MLA’s oath from him, he can remain MLA from Ballygunge (home of the Bengali film industry), but he cannot participate in the assembly proceedings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Supriyo wants the oath for MLA to be administered by Speaker Biman Banerjee. But, amid continued spats with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a piqued Dhankhar withdrew the powers of the speaker, whom he accused of repeatedly insulting him whenever he drove to the assembly to deliver the customary joint address. On one occasion, the main gates of the assembly were closed to the governor’s motorcade, forcing Dhankhar to enter through a side gate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Article 188 of the Constitution, the oath for members of state legislative bodies can be administered by the governor or any other person designated by the governor. It has been a convention in the states that the speaker of the assembly and the chairperson of the council are delegated this power, while the governor administers the oaths to the chief minister and cabinet ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhankhar says he is free most of the time as the West Bengal government does not send any file or information his way and that top bureaucrats defy his summons. Since he is free and is the main person assigned to administer oaths, why should he not do it, he asks. He is ready to roll out the red carpet for Supriyo at Raj Bhavan. But, Mamata thinks it will be abject surrender if the governor gets away with snipping the role of the speaker and that it will only embolden Dhankhar, whom she accuses of acting at the behest of the BJP government at the Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike the president, who is bound by the advice of the Union cabinet, the Constitution has given more powers to governors, including the power to dissolve the state assembly, even if the chief minister has a majority. In the 1990s, Nagaland governor M.M. Thomas had dissolved the assembly because of multiple instances of horse-trading. He did not even consult the Central government. However, an annoyed prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao did ask for Thomas’s immediate resignation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surpiyo, who knows he is on a weak wicket constitutionally, requested the governor to restore the speaker’s powers saying that his voters would be unrepresented if he was not sworn in. But, Dhankhar was in no mood to restore the power of the speaker. Instead, the governor, a leading constitutional lawyer, cited cases to tell Supriyo that he can continue to do his MLA’s work without taking the oath of office and that he will only miss the assembly sessions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has put Supriyo and Mamata in a catch-22 situation. If the chief minister wants to make Supriyo a minister, Dhankhar will swear him in. But, Supriyo will have to receive the MLA’s oath from Dhankhar within six months or lose his ministership. The other option is for Supriyo to swallow his pride and appear before Dhankhar for a double swearing-in. Especially because Trinamool strategists are not sold on the idea of the speaker approaching the courts challenging Dhankhar’s decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Maharashtra, also ruled by an anti-BJP coalition, the governor has sat over for a year on the proposal to nominate members of the legislative council. In Tamil Nadu, the state assembly wants to take away the powers of Governor R.N. Ravi to appoint vice chancellors. In neighbouring Kerala, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has refused to appoint vice chancellors, asking the government to take away his powers if he was not allowed to monitor the universities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The games being played by the occupants of the Raj Bhavans and the chief ministerial offices are all within the letter of the Constitution, if not in its spirit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 06 14:15:04 IST 2022 sachidananda-murthy-on-why-mamata-banerjee-picked-shatrughan-sinha-for-asansol <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shatrughan Sinha has returned to Parliament after a gap of three years. The star, who was one of the dominant voices in Hindi cinema from the 1970s to the 1990s, spent 12 years as Rajya Sabha member and 10 years as Lok Sabha member, all the time representing the BJP. But now he has entered the Lok Sabha as a Trinamool Congress member, winning the Asansol by-election. He replaced singer Babul Supriyo, who left the BJP to join the Trinamool and became an MLA in West Bengal. Sinha, 76, was still in demand both in public rallies and television programmes, and was often requested to repeat his signature one-word Hindi dialogue—Khamosh (silence)! He had a smooth ride in the stronghold of Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within the BJP, Sinha was seen as a Vajpayee-Advani man, who failed to adjust to Narendra Modi’s style of functioning. Giving him company were two other Modi critics—Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, both of whom were also ministers under Vajpayee. The trio was critical of the departure from the ‘Raj Dharma’ (political code) practised by Vajpayee. Many others from the Vajpayee cabinet like Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ananth Kumar, however, made the smooth transition into the Modi era, getting important portfolios. But the actor, who had handled health and shipping portfolios under Vajpayee, was miffed at being ignored, a grouse he shared with Shourie and Yashwant. Even as he remained a member of the BJP, Sinha took swipes at Modi, though always in a polished language. Even after he was out of Parliament, Sinha would regularly tweet on the plight of the migrant workers who took to the highways during Covid-19 and also on the rising unemployment numbers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At present, a ruling party MP who raises such critical issues regularly about government policies in a dignified language is Varun Gandhi. Like it ignored Sinha, the ruling establishment has not responded to any of the criticisms from Varun, who became the youngest general secretary of the party before it came to power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a man who projected toughness on screen, Sinha even couches his critical messages in mild language. However, when Sinha praises leaders, as he did Rahul Gandhi during his brief sojourn in the Congress, he uses a lot of admiring words. During campaigning, he eschewed the harsh language normally used by Trinamool leaders against the BJP. Though there was criticism that he was an outsider from Bihar, Asansol, with its multilingual population, celebrated the veteran’s nomination. Supriyo’s supporters who had jumped to Trinamool en masse also worked hard for the actor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are several reasons being given on why Mamata chose Sinha. It was seen as part of her long-term desire to make the Trinamool a party of north and northeastern India, instead of being confined to West Bengal. That is why she gave Rajya Sabha nominations to Congress defectors Sushmita Dev of Assam and Luizinho Faleiro of Goa, thinking they would help in the expansion. Sinha is an orator who had been deployed by the BJP for a quarter century to campaign in the Hindi heartland, and has a rapport with middle-aged and elderly voters. Further, Mamata feels his presence in the front benches of the Lok Sabha will annoy hardcore Modi supporters on the treasury benches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The actor himself has not set out what his plans will be in the next session, beginning in July. Inside the house, he would be joining other parliamentarians who had glamorous careers like Hema Malini, Smriti Irani and Sunny Deol, all belonging to the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Apr 29 14:09:46 IST 2022 india-happiness-index-ranking-is-on-the-mark-says-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India was ranked 136 out of 146 countries in the United Nations’ World Happiness Report, 2022. This is not surprising in a survey that heavily favours north European countries for its top ten spots. The Narendra Modi government has not disputed the survey, which marginally increases India’s position by three ranks. But, the government had damned two other recently released comparative studies—the Global Hunger Index by European NGOs of Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe, as well as the World Press Freedom Index put out by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), based out of Europe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union ministry of women and child development questioned India being placed at the 101st place in the hunger index based on figures of malnutrition and mortality among children under the age of five. It said the Modi government had launched the world’s largest food and childcare programmes, which had improved health of babies and reduced deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union ministry of information and broadcasting said the RSF methodology, which puts India at 143 out of 180 countries, was opaque and it did not understand how democracy works in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the happiness index ranking seems to be on the mark as there is extreme unhappiness, strife and hate on many Indian streets, and the atmosphere is vitiated with negative talks by a deadly cocktail of aggressive communal groups, negative-minded politicians and provocative media anchors. There is a lot of vitriol poured out amid communal flare-ups. While the BJP blames the opposition, the Congress and other opposition parties blame the BJP for creating tensions to feed vote banks. National presidents of both the BJP and the Congress have come out with long statements blaming the other party for the ‘state of unhappiness’ into which the country is fast plunging. Even the faces of leading politicians have become grimmer as they hurl accusations ahead of elections in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka, all ruled by the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tautness of facial muscles is a feature among many regional leaders who have won elections emphasising on the negativeness of their rivals. If there is a national happiness index for parties and politicians in India, the first position would go to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his Biju Janata Dal. During the 22 years that he has been in power, Patnaik has tried to avoid vile language against political opponents and critics. He is comfortable in fashioning his own programmes and has created immense sporting infrastructure, which is aimed at keeping the young students busy in a positive way. Perhaps, the second position would go to another long-serving chief minister—Bihar’s Nitish Kumar. Much more combative than Patnaik, Kumar avoids slanging matches, which BJP and Congress chief ministers resort to in their states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even though under Modi the BJP has scored big—like winning two Lok Sabha elections, gaining control of Rajya Sabha, gaining complete control of government and its subsidiary institutions—the furrows are stretched on the faces of team Modi, which is seeking to achieve—Congress-free India, coming to power in states in eastern India and achieving a five trillion dollar economy. But one minister who is an exception is the man in-charge of road and bridges—Nitin Gadkari. He can easily join Patnaik and Kumar in the happiness group. He exudes a smile and is rarely provocative while standing his political ground, or even while addressing a group of veteran cricket players, where he had many anecdotes to share. Of course, smiles alone will not change the deteriorating communal situation in the country. It needs the will to contain the troublemakers without fear or favour, and to stop the ugly rhetoric. Once streets come under control, possibly India’s ranking in the happiness index would gradually move up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Apr 22 11:03:45 IST 2022 sachidananda-murthy-on-the-validity-of-bulldozers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>During the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP said it had two election symbols. One was the lotus, which the party adopted at its birth. The second was the bulldozer, which was displayed at election rallies of Yogi Adityanath. The faithful would flock to decorated bulldozers, which symbolised the power of the state and of the party to punish alleged malefactors and demolish their properties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police and revenue officials included bulldozing in their handbook, along with encounters, and were thrilled at the voter endorsement for their zeal. The highpoint before election was the demolition of the house of Vikas Dubey, a Kanpur-based don who killed policemen, and was in turn gunned down by the police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, a petrol pump that belonged to a Samajwadi Party MLA was levelled for being an illegal construction. There are questions raised about how the government can demolish buildings without due procedure. But, the Yogi government that proudly cites its record, has argued that it is upto the criminal to prove ownership, and also that none of the laws that permit demolition are violated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are murmurs of resentment among ministers and officials in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh over the state government’s demolition drive. The most famous case happened in Indore when the local administration demolished properties of a businessman, after he had honey-trapped politicians and bureaucrats and tried to release digital evidence. He was first arrested, after which the municipal corporation deployed the wrecking ball on his properties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chief minister Shivraj Chouhan and his aggressive Home Minister Narottam Mishra said the state’s bulldozers must work faster than those in Uttar Pradesh, and now the Indore Municipal Corporation has struck down more properties of offenders in one go. The government has also been accused of targeting Muslims to terrorise the community, but the BJP argues it has zero tolerance towards offenders irrespective of their religion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not as if bulldozer has been exclusively used by the two BJP governments. The Congress and regional party-led governments in states have also used it in the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Central government does not use bulldozers. But in the last few years, the hyperactive Enforcement Directorate, which has a wide ambit to investigate money laundering activities, has issued notices for attachment of properties of businessmen and opposition politicians. In recent days, leaders of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, which rules the most wealthy state, have experienced “special attachment”, including Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s brother-in-law [Shridhar Patankar], Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, minister Nawab Malik and Shiva Sena spokesman Sanjay Raut. There are vows made by opposition politicians that once the wheels of power turn, same medicine will be administered to those politicians of the BJP who are riding high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mughals and the British used to punish villages for offences committed by a few residents. Punitive fines were levied on people living in streets, and villages were demolished, so that nothing remains on record. Sometimes an entire population was uprooted and forced to migrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, since 1947, more sophisticated methods were used to shift inconvenient settlements by seeking the land to be acquired for development projects. The Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court have stayed the practice of the Yogi government of imposing massive fines on charges of destruction of public property and ordered refunds. But there has not been a comprehensive judgement on the legality of the bulldozer. Jurisprudence that strikes its own special fear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Apr 16 11:25:31 IST 2022 why-india-may-never-get-a-super-agency-sachidananda-murthy-explains <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Chief Justice N.V. Ramana’s proposal for a super investigative agency replacing multiple Central institutions is not a new one. There have been demands earlier, too, to merge the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office and the National Investigation Agency into an umbrella organisation under one powerful boss. Ramana feels that if the merger is done through a carefully crafted law, then there would be no scope for political interference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He argued during a police lecture that a committee of experts could choose the uber agency’s head; someone who will owe allegiance only to the Constitution and not to any individual or party. The cupboards of the prime minister’s office, and the ministries of home, finance, personnel and law have many files on the merger proposals, but there has been internal and external opposition to the creation of such a behemoth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Firstly, there have been turf wars between the four ministries who argue that they know best how to investigate crimes in their domain. The finance ministry has gone on expanding and muscling the ED, and the income tax, GST and customs investigation wings for probing money laundering and tax evasion. The home ministry insists it is best qualified to investigate the anti-national and anti-social. The personnel ministry says that the CBI is the right agency to probe corruption cases in the government. And the corporate affairs ministry is looking to expand the SFIO.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent years, the CBI has lost anti-terrorism cases to the NIA and financial fraud cases to the SFIO. The ED, with the argument that money is at the root of all crimes, has delved into the domain of all central agencies and of the state police forces, too. Big states have tried to counter it by strengthening their special investigative teams and economic affairs wings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in a majority government, the turf war is not a problem as the strings are controlled by an all-powerful prime minister, to whom agencies like the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing also report. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who declared war on black money and corruption in his first cabinet meeting in 2014, has relentlessly driven the agencies even to bring back economic fugitives from abroad. But, the opposition has accused the Modi government of continuously targeting political rivals, their families and friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior officials point out that the trend has been to split agencies, not merge. The NIA and the SFIO were created by taking away the powers of the CBI, while the income tax department has ceded powers to the ED. The dysfunctional Lokpal, too, has got powers which were with the CBI. There is also the argument that the investigative agencies have to be accountable to Parliament and that control can only be exercised by questioning the elected government which is responsible to Parliament. The government does not want the super agency to have powers like prosecutors in Italy and France, on whom the executive has no control.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Apr 07 16:31:19 IST 2022 mann-wants-special-financial-package-join-the-queue-say-other-cms <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The new Punjab Chief Minister, Bhagwant Mann, made an overarching request for a special financial package of Rs1 lakh crore from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bail out the state from its debt trap, which he says is Rs3 lakh crore. Mann insists this money is needed for making his state “rangeela [colourful] Punjab”. Metaphorically, several chief ministers would be shouting to the new entrant to the club that he should join the end of the queue of special package aspirants. Among them are Naveen Patnaik of Odisha, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh. They all have failed to get special economic packages or special status from the Union government in the last two decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each had given special reasons to justify the urgent need for funds, apart from fiscal mismanagement by their predecessors. Patnaik and Banerjee had pointed to the long-term neglect of the eastern region and how both their states and Jharkhand lacked infrastructure and had fewer employment opportunities. Kumar and Reddy have argued that after the bifurcation of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, the more revenue-generating districts had gone to new states of Jharkhand and Telangana. But the three prime ministers of the 21st century—A.B. Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Modi—had a consistent stand of saying no to requests for special financial packages, even though Singh had promised that Andhra Pradesh would get special status. But then Singh lost power, and even though Modi was partnered by N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party, his government cited constitutional difficulties in granting the same—which made the TDP leave the NDA in 2018. Only the northeast states and the Himalayan regions of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh as well as Jammu and Kashmir have special status, where the Union government bankrolls more of their expenditure, compared with the other states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arun Jaitley, who was finance minister for five years, had argued that the Union government had increased the share of states from the Central pool. He wanted the states to contribute to the Centre to meet partly the expenses for defence and internal security. Some of the states which have better revenue income—like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi, Gujarat and Haryana—have rarely made requests for special funds, though they have asked for funds for specific purposes like natural disasters and specific infrastructure projects in the roads and rail sector.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nitish Kumar, who re-joined the NDA in 2016, has been frustrated that he has not got any special status. Reddy—who had unseated Naidu on the charge of failing to get special status for Andhra Pradesh—on the other hand, is under attack from Naidu for failing to get any extra money from the Centre. However, the Union government has argued that states across the line have benefitted from the Rs20 lakh crore stimulus package announced for meeting the Covid-induced economic crisis, and also from the extra funds allotted for the creation of health and vaccine infrastructure. The Union government has also relaxed the rules which allow states to borrow from private and foreign sources, but the states argue that these loans carry their interest burdens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When new chief ministers complain of mismanagement of state finances by their predecessors, the NITI Aayog always advises prudent management of resources and cutting of freebies. But like all other new helmsmen, Mann, too, has announced money-guzzling schemes. Unlike the AAP-ruled Delhi—where a lot of expenses for land development, policing and national capital area management are paid by the Union government—Mann will have to manage with the funds the state government can generate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Apr 02 10:48:22 IST 2022 the-selective-dynasty-card <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned on the anti-dynasty theme in Uttar Pradesh as he took on the Mulayam Singh Yadav family-dominated Samajwadi Party. His party retained the four states despite the challenge from the bigger dynastic party dominated by the Gandhis. He told wildly cheering BJP MPs from the party-ruled states that he had personally denied tickets to sons of MPs and other party leaders, as he wanted the party to fight dynastic tendencies across the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the seat allocation stage, more than 100 BJP leaders had sought tickets for their children. Some of these aspirants, like Mayank Joshi, son of party MP Rita Bahuguna Joshi, had defected to the SP. Even former UP labour minister Swami Prasad Maurya had jumped the ship as he was not confident of getting a ticket for his son; Maurya’s daughter Sanghmitra is a BJP MP from Badaun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since he became the prime ministerial candidate, Modi has pushed hard against dynastic politics. He has targeted not only the Gandhis, but also the Pawar family (Maharashtra), the Rao family (Telangana), the Lalu Prasad family (Bihar), and the Abdullahs and Muftis (Jammu and Kashmir). During the campaign phase of West Bengal assembly polls last year, he had attacked Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek’s hold in the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi, however, had remained silent on the Badal family’s control over long-term ally Shiromani Akali Dal, which broke with the BJP over the farmers’ agitation. Similarly, he had not directly attacked the Gowda family’s dominance over the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, entrusting the attack to local BJP leaders. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he had denied a ticket to Tejaswini Ananth Kumar, wife of former Union minister Ananth Kumar, who died in 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But family links matter a lot in the BJP also. The opposition has been releasing a long list of dynastic relations in the BJP. Ved Prakash Goyal, father of Union Textiles Minister Piyush Goyal, and Debendra Pradhan, father of Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, were ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur is the son of former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. The Scindias have five members in Parliament and legislatures, while Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi are party MPs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the recent elections, Modi did not touch dynasts who were already in politics like Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj Singh, who retained his Noida assembly seat by a big margin. Similarly, the party gave a ticket to sitting MLA Ritu Khanduri Bhushan—daughter of former Uttarakhand chief minister B.C. Khanduri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP also encouraged new dynasties when it gave a ticket to Divya Rane, wife of Goa health minister Vishwajit Pratapsingh Rane. The Ranes were the second husband-wife duo who were given tickets, apart from Atanasio Monserrate Babush and his wife Jennifer. All four won the elections. Vishwajit had cajoled his father and four-time Goa chief minister Pratapsingh Rane of the Congress to declare that he would not contest, denying a sure seat for the opposition. But he demanded the seat vacated by his father should be given to Divya and had his way. But long-time BJP leaders who have always been with the BJP grumble that the party is more accommodative to the dynastic wishes of turncoats from other parties like Ranes and Monserrates, whereas the son of former Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar was denied a ticket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are exceptions, but Modi’s long-term plan is to deny easy paths to dynastic aspirants so that the party can use the dynastic deterioration card against its opponents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Mar 24 16:55:04 IST 2022 sachidananda-murthy-on-policing-the-polls <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Once again, a long electoral stretch has ended without many incidents, much to the relief of the Election Commission, which continued to give special attention to Uttar Pradesh. This time it was seven phases in the most populous state, where the assertion of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath that he had improved the law-and-order situation over the past five years seemed to be proved on the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The success should prompt the EC to stick to the T.N. Seshan era formula of polling in a small cluster of contiguous constituencies. This was adopted after Seshan had an argument with the Central government over his requirement of a large number of Central Armed Police Forces personnel, as he felt the local police was too compromised. As the sole election commissioner (till an angry government appointed two more to curb his powers), Seshan would do his calculation, especially as he had also been secretary in charge of security in the Rajiv Gandhi government.When Seshan did not get the desired numbers at one go, he went for fragmenting the election schedule. All his successors were comfortable in multiple phase polling in several states, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which were once notorious for booth capturing by landlords and dons; Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh (before their division) as well as West Bengal, which had Naxalite violence; and states like Punjab, Assam, and Jammu &amp; Kashmir, which were affected by militancy. Political parties—which often were the target of attacks by militants, Naxalites, and criminals—went with the EC’s thinking of concentrating maximum forces in smaller clusters. But the situation has improved in most parts of the country as election-related violence has come down drastically, even though tensions are high in Jammu &amp; Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland and Manipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The law-and-order situation in West Bengal, which was affected by the Maoist presence in Jangal Mahal, has vastly improved after a crackdown by Mamata Banerjee’s government. The Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments, too, have cracked down on Maoists. Assam has seen improvement. It was noteworthy that the election in Punjab, once the hotbed of separatism, was held in a single phase—and more heat was generated by words than arms. Further, the Central Reserve Police Force and the Central Industrial Security Force have grown big with large numbers available. The improvement in road network during the last three decades has also meant that eight-lane highways are available for transporting the security convoys in a quicker time than in the 1990s. Thus, there are several factors that make it easier to hold elections in a smaller number of phases than is being done presently. But the three key players—the EC, the Union home ministry, and the state governments—would like to stick to caution, and hence old files containing division of constituencies are taken out and dusted during every election for scheduling the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The negative effect is that states and constituencies that vote in the first or second phase of a seven-phase election have to wait for a month for the results to be known. With proper thinking and coordination, this big delay can be reduced, if not eliminated. The time saved would also mean good money saved in campaigning, and deployment of forces to guard the EVMs from the earlier phases. It would also help the eventual movement towards e-voting where the entire country can vote on one day, after two weeks of electoral campaigning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Mar 19 11:16:32 IST 2022 pakistan-not-amused-by-taliban-officials-wheat-comment-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was a quality certificate that was costly for the issuer. But, the recipient was thrilled. An unnamed Taliban official had, at a meeting in an Afghan city, described wheat donated by Pakistan as inedible, while he praised the quality of the supplies from India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unconfirmed media reports said that as soon as the video went viral, the official lost his job, but there was celebration in Delhi’s Krishi Bhawan, which houses the food and public distribution ministry. Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, who the holds additional charge of food, praised “hardworking farmers”, thanks to whom India was able to supply the Afghan people with “good quality wheat”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were congratulations in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India, where workers pack the wheat into bags with the inscription of the gift in English, Pashto and Dari. A total of 2,000 trucks, in batches of 40, then transport the bags through 600km of Pakistani territory to Afghanistan’s borders. As New Delhi does not recognise the regime in Kabul, the United Nations World Food Programme handles the distribution in Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The external affairs ministry, too, piped in saying India always ensured quality assistance to the country’s friends. But, the Pakistan government was not amused with the comparison of its own earlier shipments with Indian supplies. Islamabad launched a protest to Kabul saying that even after agreeing to the request by the Taliban for allowing the transit of humanitarian assistance from India, the criticism by a single individual was being used by the Indian government to give a bad name to Pakistani wheat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With India-Pakistan relations at a nadir after the changes in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan had agreed reluctantly to the transit request. This was vital, as India could not have transported such volumes through the Chabahar Port in Iran. India was able to send medicines and other essential donations through the aerial route via Gulf countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the FCI was criticised by the parliamentary standing committee on food and public distribution in a report last August. The committee said there were major complaints regarding diversion of food grains, rotting of cereals and corruption in the government-owned corporation, which dominates food procurement and distribution in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The committee had asked the government to strictly monitor the corporation’s functioning as there were nearly 2,500 complaints from state governments in 2020—a three-fold increase from the previous year. The Union territory of Chandigarh had asked the FCI to take back wheat supplied for distribution under the prime minister’s free grains scheme because of poor quality. But, the government had argued that it had stepped up quality checks to ensure poor quality grains were not supplied.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The FCI has already sent 6,500 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan and faces the humongous task of sending the remaining commitment of 43,500 tonnes during the summer. The wheat diplomacy may have pleased Afghan consumers, but there could be long faces in Pakistan, if there is more criticism of its wheat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Mar 13 12:12:36 IST 2022 need-domestic-political-consensus-on-ukraine-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Describing herself as a senior chief minister and the leader of a national party, Mamata Banerjee has extended her full support to the Narendra Modi government’s diplomatic efforts to end Russia’s war on Ukraine. In a two-page letter, she expressed her anguish over the suffering of Ukrainians as well as that of Indians stranded in the war zone. She highlighted the long tradition of domestic political consensus during international crises and asked the prime minister to convene an all-party meeting.</p> <p>The letter has caused raised eyebrows in the BJP, given Mamata’s spat with West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and her war of words with Modi last year. But, for Modi—who is engaged in a balancing act with the west and the east—the letter from the country’s only woman chief minister, who also commands good numbers in Parliament, has been welcome.</p> <p>Analysts see shifts in Indian policy, after Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Moscow hours after declaring war on Ukraine. Along with Chinese support to Putin, this means the coming together of three nuclear powers in the Asia-Euro sector. But, given the depth of India’s connection with Russia and the continued dependence on it in multiple sectors, there is unanimity in strategic and political circles that the government’s response will have to be measured.</p> <p>Mamata’s suggestion of an all-party meeting to discuss the crisis, especially when Parliament is not in session, is a good one. However, there has not always been domestic political consensus during international crises. In 1988, when the Rajiv Gandhi government sent the Indian Peace-Keeping Force to civil war-torn Sri Lanka, there was strong resistance from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its allies in Tamil Nadu. They accused the Centre of aiding Tamil genocide.</p> <p>Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee used the lack of political consensus to deflect American pressure. When president George W. Bush wanted India to send troops to Iraq, the opposition parties told Vajpayee that India should not send any uniformed men to a conflict zone unless it was under the mandate of the United Nations. Vajpayee told Bush that he was helpless as political consensus was against honouring the president’s demand.</p> <p>But, summoning all-party meetings has become the norm for prime ministers, especially of coalition and minority governments in the last three decades. When all-party meetings have been held on national security and international issues, the normal response of the opposition has been to suggest that the government should act as it deemed best because it would know the full facts.</p> <p>The Modi government has not been holding regular meetings on international policy. While there are informal briefings by the external affairs minister or the defence minister to select political parties on specific issues, the number of all-party meetings on strategic and diplomatic issues have been far fewer under the current regime. The Ukraine crisis is an opportunity to hear the views of the opposition and also give them the government’s assessment on the multilayered and complex issues involved, including possible negative effects on economic recovery. Mamata has shown the lead in seeking a consensus on the Ukraine issue, which at one level portends a change to the current world order and at another can lead to a mess on many fronts.</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Mar 06 15:22:31 IST 2022 mission-cooperation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>During his ongoing shuttle diplomacy to unite non-Congress opposition parties to fight Narendra Modi in 2024, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao has flown over many peninsular rivers. Even though the flights were smooth, on the ground, the rivers have become political disputes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The central government is pushing hard for a Rs80,000 crore project to link six rivers—four major and two smaller—flowing through nine states. The project report says the Godavari-Cauvery river linking would transfer surplus waters from Godavari basin to the Krishna basin (benefiting Telangana and Andhra Pradesh) and the Cauvery basin (helping Tamil Nadu). But some of the riparian states—Telangana surprisingly among them—have strong objections. Only Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are ecstatic as they can develop dry regions chronically short of water.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The riparian states have had bitter battles over sharing of Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery waters. Justice A.M. Khanwilkar of the Supreme Court is currently inquiring about the dispute over the sharing of the Mahanadi river between Chhattisgarh and Odisha. As the Mahanadi basin overlaps the Godavari basin, both Chhattisgarh and Odisha also have a say in the Godavari-Cauvery linking project. Though Kerala and Puducherry are part of the Cauvery basin, their opinion is not asked for, as they gain or lose nothing. Similarly, Maharashtra, where Godavari is a major river and Krishna flows through, has been kept out of initial consultations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi, who got the river linking project launched last year by persuading the BJP governments in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to agree to link the Ken and Betwa rivers to irrigate the parched Bundelkhand region, has a bigger job on Godavari-Cauvery linkage. BJP-ruled Karnataka has raised serious objections as its irrigation needs in the north are met by the Krishna and in the south by Cauvery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi is at odds with the BJP-ruled Centre and the YSR Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh. The Congress is in power in Chhattisgarh and it is anathema to Rao. Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, after he broke the alliance with the BJP, has steered clear of national politics. Among the regional parties wooed by Rao are the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party; both are in alliance with the Congress. Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is a long-time electoral partner of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While waters can be either harmoniously or contentiously shared, the problem with the federal front is that there are no votes to transfer among regional parties. The other regional parties Rao is pursuing—the Trinamool Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in its Kerala bastion, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (Secular)—cannot exchange votes with the TRS. A post electoral coalition, too, would depend on whether the BJP is defeated in many states, and the seat share of regional parties, reflecting the hung Parliament of 1996.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, the regional parties together matched the strength of the BJP, the single largest party, which propelled H.D. Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular) to prime ministership. But, the general elections are two monsoons away, and both the river levels and voter moods could fluctuate and have a bearing on Rao’s mission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Feb 24 15:59:58 IST 2022 sachidananda-murthy-on-the-bjp-silence-in-select-states-on-the-hijab-ban <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If there is a quiz on which party is the most aggressive on the issue of banning the hijab, many caught in the swirls of the current headdress controversy would answer that it is the BJP. The BJP government in Karnataka has been ferocious in its attempt to enforce a school uniform code that would prohibit dresses that are identified with a religion. The chief minister insists the code, which is being evolved, would make the school uniform religion-neutral. Ministers in other BJP-ruled states also have spoken about the need to follow the Karnataka model, while the saffron party leaders in the states where the BJP is in opposition say they would agitate for banning the burqa and skull cap of Muslims. There is a counter-campaign by Muslim student organisations insisting on the right, which they say has been in existence for decades; these organisations are asking more Muslim girls to wear hijab. Now the dispute is before the Karnataka High Court, and the losing side will inevitably knock on the doors of the Supreme Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But if there is another question in the quiz as to which is the least aggressive party on this issue, the surprising answer would be again BJP—at least in Bihar, Punjab and Delhi. The silence of the BJP in these states is for different reasons. In Punjab and Delhi, the saffron party cannot oppose the headdress as the Sikhs, who have voted for the BJP, would react even more strongly if there is an attempt to enforce the ultimate dream of One India, One Uniform. Even aggressive secularist countries like France and Denmark have faced resistance from the Sikh and Muslim populations. In countries with large minority populations like Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, relaxation has been provided in school uniforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bihar, the lack of noise from the BJP has a different explanation—though it is a ruling party, it is a junior partner to the Janata Dal(United). Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is a strict enforcer of the coalition dharma fashioned during the A.B. Vajpayee-L.K. Advani years, compared with the more assertive Narendra Modi era. Nitish has insisted that his socialistic and secular politics would be the political philosophy for the Bihar NDA. On many hindutva causes, Nitish refuses to react, and when he does, the cryptic comments brook no murmurs of disagreement or disturbance from the junior partner. As the JD(U) is a very junior partner in the Union government, the chief minister has told his leaders not to comment on any decisions taken by Modi or his senior ministers unless the rights of Bihar are impacted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about the hijab, Nitish came out with his standard response that it was a non-issue in his state. “When someone puts something on the head, no need to interfere. We respect religious sentiments,” was his reply. Nitish controls the police department and general administration; the education portfolio, too, is with the JD(U).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there are BJP leaders who are itching to initiate moves to topple Nitish and install a BJP chief minister. Over the years, Nitish has measured the potential of every BJP leader and has checkmated their moves to enforce diktats on issues of faith, school curriculum and food habits. He has also been supportive of issues like the ban on instant triple talaq—which his party believes is a progressive measure—without the shrill rhetoric used by the BJP against the orthodox sections of the minority community. The moves to depose Nitish or bring him down a few notches have remained as wishes so far, as the BJP high command knows how Nitish can fight back—as he did in 2015 by teaming with Lalu Prasad to defeat a rampaging BJP. Secularism is Nitish’s political headscarf, which may be difficult to ban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Feb 19 11:53:32 IST 2022 polls-flag-off-name-game <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A video of five policemen, who were working in an Uttar Pradesh prison, dancing and shouting “Jayant Chaudhary zindabad” appeared recently on social media with a comment that voters’ mood was changing in western UP. The vigilante who shared the video said the policemen were celebrating the “certain” victory of Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Jayant Chaudhary, who is fighting the assembly polls in alliance with the Samajwadi Party. Outraged BJP supporters demanded action against the policemen for “celebrating the defeat” of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Uttar Pradesh Police—known for its muscular policy, encouraged by the chief minister—has been proactive on complaints received through social media. Senior officers said the matter was being inquired into and the policemen had been asked to explain their actions. The sheepish constables clarified that “Jayant Chaudhary” was the nickname of a colleague who had been commended by President Ramnath Kovind, and the songs were sung to congratulate him. BJP supporters, however, are not convinced by the explanation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was an even bigger instance of confusion when Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole declared in a speech that he was so honest that he could “hit” Modi if the latter were to campaign against him. As the video went viral, BJP leaders accused Patole—who had rebelled against Modi and quit the BJP to join the Congress—of threatening the prime minister. Patole clarified that the Modi in reference was a notorious character from his constituency who was nicknamed thus. The BJP said Patole was trying to cover up his threat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As there are restrictions on physical campaigning, political parties have found smarter ways to engage voters. After finding out that television channels and cable networks no longer give full live coverage to their speeches, leaders have arranged for huge screens to be set up in colonies and villages. Even the Congress, which was lagging behind in using new technology, compared with the BJP, arranged big screens and organised smartphone rallies for the Gandhi siblings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Road shows are being camouflaged as door-to-door campaigns and later magnified into video shows. But the advertisement blitzkrieg over WhatsApp and Facebook, which had given the BJP a big advantage when smartphones were a novelty, has become less attractive as many users have learnt to distinguish between morphed and real videos. Political parties now employ smarter and quicker fact checkers to expose fake videos of their rivals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putting up dummy candidates with identical names is an old ploy which is still popular. Parties try to find and field independent candidates who have a name similar to that of their rival candidate. Even though symbols and photographs accompany candidates’ names on voting machines, simple folk sometimes end up voting for the ‘dummy’. When it was announced that both Adityanath and Akhilesh Yadav would be contesting assembly polls for the first time, there was a scramble to find lesser known Adityanaths and Akhileshs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An interesting feature of the elections is that the more the conditions and technologies change, the more they remain the same in many respects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Feb 10 17:52:31 IST 2022 raids-seizures-and-an-ec-dilemma-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Election Commission is proud of how its expenditure observers and flying squads are preventing parties and candidates from distributing cash, liquor and gifts during the current elections. Punjab’s chief electoral officer announced that drugs worth Rs200 crore, liquor worth Rs12 crore and Rs18 crore in cash have been seized. In other states, claims are being made by both the police and election officials regarding seizures from offices, homes and vehicles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The haul would only increase as polling dates come closer in the five election-bound states. So far, there has been no seizure of other gifts, though enthusiasts belonging to different parties have announced that lakhs of saris and shirts embossed with party symbols and images of leaders are ready. In Gujarat, where assembly polls are due next year, a sari-maker wants to get political customers from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>T.S. Krishnamurthy, the first Indian Revenue Service officer to become chief election commissioner, had actively stressed the need for having observers to monitor election expenditure. He had also promoted the practice of appointing IAS officers from other regions as general observers reporting directly to the commission in poll-bound states. The present CEC, Sushil Chandra, is also from the IRS background; other chiefs in the past three decades have mainly been from the IAS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For officials who are drafted from different regions in the country, it is an exciting experience to act on tip-offs and carry out raids when the model code of conduct is in place. Last year, when Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal went to the polls, the seizures were valued at more than Rs2,000 crore—up from Rs225 crore five years earlier. During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which were swept by the BJP, the seizures totalled Rs3,500 crore. Central agencies, including the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate and the Narcotics Control Bureau, have been told to focus on the hoarding of money and distribution of drugs, but opposition parties have accused them of being the BJP’s handmaidens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Activists who work hard on ensuring clean elections are frustrated that these claims of big seizures remain just claims. In most cases, the police or the district treasury are forced to return the seized money, as the accused are able to furnish evidence regarding the source of funds and the intended use. Though the model code of conduct says that anyone who carries above Rs50,000 has to explain the source of money, the claims are easy to establish. Invariably, they are meant for business transactions, especially for purchasing property. Even though the income tax department issues a notice for possessing large amounts of cash, the accused can secure the money if they can furnish a reasonable explanation. Further, prosecution becomes difficult because officials on deputation for the election period would not be available either to complete the investigation or help the investigators in court. When activists approach the Election Commission for knowing the status of the prosecutions, they are referred to the police or Central agencies, as the EC does not have its own teams for monitoring the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even in the case of liquor, ingenious claims are made to prove ownership. Seized gifts like sewing machines, pressure cookers and saris are often reclaimed by producing bills from agents. In some cases, though, they rot away in government godowns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are questions whether candidates and parties actually distribute drugs as an inducement, and whether drug seizures are from the usual trade and distribution channels. What seems clear is that the EC now has to seriously work out ways to ensure that seizures made during poll campaigns help in convicting corrupt players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Feb 05 11:05:56 IST 2022 congress-thinks-only-promise-to-god-would-keep-mlas-loyal-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In a desperate move, the Congress shepherded its candidates fighting the Goa assembly elections to a temple, a church and a mosque and made them take an oath of loyalty to the party. The ritual is being replicated in Manipur, another state with a small assembly. In both Goa and Manipur, the BJP, with its offers of power and pelf had bought most of the Congress MLAs five years ago, denying the grand old party an opportunity to form the government. The BJP repeated the strategy later in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka—states with bigger assemblies—replacing incumbent chief ministers with its nominees. Most of the defectors from the Congress in all four states got re-elected on the lotus symbol and became ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, once again fearing the brute power of the BJP and having no faith in the anti-defection law, hopes that a promise made before divine powers will bind the winners with a sense of obligation. Similar attempts, however, have come a cropper in the past. The first big attempt to hold elected representatives accountable was made by two idealistic Gandhians—Jayaprakash Narayan, revered as Lok Nayak for his fight against authoritarianism, and Acharya J.B. Kripalani. On March 24, 1977, they administered a pledge to the newly elected MPs, including four future prime ministers and two future deputy prime ministers at Rajghat. The MPs had defeated the seemingly invincible Indira Congress and many had been imprisoned during the Emergency, which witnessed the suppression of fundamental rights. The MPs, who came from eight parties, promised to carry on Gandhiji’s work, safeguard democracy and practise honesty. But within hours began the jockeying for prime ministership and the infighting was on original party lines. The Janata experiment collapsed after two years and the government was toppled. The splits and defections began in 1979, with Indira Gandhi exploiting the ambitions and egos of the men who had defeated her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Janata leaders had spoken about a law to ban defections, it was Indira’s son, Rajiv, as prime minister, who got the Constitution amended in 1985 to ban individual defections. But the new law permitted a split by at least one-third MPs of a party. The law has been used, misused, abused and ignored by governments of most parties at the Centre and the states in the last 37 years, as speakers have been partisan to the interests of their parties. The Supreme Court, with all its powers, could not prevent the deliberate procrastination of the Manipur speaker sitting over Congress petitions for the disqualification of defectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political parties have tried ingenious methods to tackle dissent. When senior minister Arjun Singh threatened to walk away with dissidents who supported him, prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao did not expel Singh, which would have allowed him to keep his Lok Sabha membership. Instead, Singh’s membership in the Congress was downgraded to the lowest level. After some months, Singh went ahead with the formation of a new political party. Aggressive parties like the Shiv Sena and the Trinamool Congress have cadres who menace potential defectors. In more aggressive scenarios, malcontents have even been slapped by their supreme leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress, however, has no ethical consistency as it has freely welcomed defectors and given them tickets in the five states, leading to heartburn among Congressmen who have nursed the constituencies. Unless the Congress gets majority on its own in Goa and Manipur, its hopes of retaining the victorious MLAs would rest on a wing and a prayer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jan 27 14:49:43 IST 2022 sachidananda-murthy-on-how-parties-pick-their-cm-candidate <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Aam Aadmi Party added more spice to the Punjab elections by choosing a phone-in programme to select its chief ministerial face. Though national convener Arvind Kejriwal thought he would build suspense on the name, Bhagwant Singh Mann swung the polls with 90 per cent endorsement, as there was no other serious contender. As expected, Kejriwal, too, got a few endorsements to lead the border state, but nowhere near Mann’s numbers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The strategy has been a new one, even though the AAP has used phone polls to take policy decisions in the Delhi government. Opponents were sceptical on the numbers, as it was an in-house survey that was not independently verified. However, the party had no recourse to vox populi when Kejriwal had last year announced that former Army officer Ajay Kothiyal would be the chief ministerial face in Uttarakhand. Goa is another state where the party is active and Kejriwal has a different strategy there. He has only said that the chief ministerial face would be from the influential Bhandari caste, without specifying a face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Regional parties normally have no confusion regarding their chief ministerial faces as invariably it is the party supremo—evident in 14 states. Pinarayi Vijayan is de-facto head of the CPI(M) in Kerala, though there is a national and state leadership at the organisational level. Both H.D. Deve Gowda of the JD(S) and Sharad Pawar of the NCP are above the state leadership fray in Karnataka and Maharashtra respectively, preferring projection of Gowda’s son H.D. Kumaraswamy and Pawar’s nephew Ajit as the chief ministerial face.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another regional party trying to expand wings outside its home base is the Trinamool Congress, but it has struggled to find a chief ministerial face in Goa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal had battled a whisper campaign in the 2017 Punjab elections, when it was alleged he had ambitions to become the first non-Sikh chief minister of the state. Rahul Gandhi’s announcement then that Amarinder Singh would be the face of the Congress had dramatically swung fortunes away from the AAP and the NDA towards the Congress. Otherwise, the Congress normally maintains that its policy is for elected MLAs to choose their leader, even though in reality they authorise party president Sonia Gandhi to nominate a leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Likewise, the BJP’s parliamentary board picks the leader, like the surprise choice of Yogi Adityanath in 2017 when the BJP had swept Uttar Pradesh. One of the many reasons for the BJP’s poor performance in West Bengal last year was that it had no chief ministerial face acceptable to its own cadres, let alone voters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There had been demands that Kejriwal announce a Sikh as chief ministerial candidate, as both the Congress and the Akali Dal are banking on Sikh votes. When the Congress dramatically overthrew Amarinder Singh and appointed a dalit as chief minister, the Akali Dal-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance announced that the deputy chief minister would be a dalit. The AAP, too, jumped on the bandwagon, stating its preference for a dalit deputy chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, which rules four of the five states going to polls, is comfortable projecting the incumbent chief ministers. Otherwise in states where it fights elections from the opposition ranks, the BJP generally does not project a chief ministerial face—an exception was in Karnataka in 2018 when B.S. Yediyurappa’s face was on all posters. However, at the national level, the party projects a prime ministerial face like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Narendra Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now in Punjab, Mann has to prove he is equally popular on the ground as he is on the phone!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jan 20 14:41:37 IST 2022 police-prosecutors-oppose-court-ordered-community-service-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In Swachh Survekshan 2020, the annual cleanliness survey of some 4,000 cities by the Central government, Buxar in Bihar found an ignominious place. It was the second dirtiest among cities with a population of less than 10 lakh. The first place went to the international pilgrim centre Gaya, also in Bihar. The state capital, Patna, was the dirtiest among cities with a population of more than 10 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Buxar, like other Bihar cities, had defied all incentives of the urban development ministry initiated by the Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi governments. From sewage and garbage disposal to supply of clean water, the city administration’s performance was patchy on all cleanliness parameters. The chief justice of the Patna High Court, during an official visit to Buxar, saw for himself that the environs of the court complex in the city was filthy. Interestingly, he did not issue a direction to the municipal corporation, but asked local judges to arrange community services in the area, which included temples.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The oral orders, however, were reduced to writing by an administrative officer as a direction to clean just the temples. Though questions were asked, the judges and staff came on a holiday to do community service. But the district judge felt there was some mischief in the wording, as there was no direction from the chief justice to clean only the temples. An inquiry was ordered on how the cleanliness advice was narrowed down to temples only.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not unusual for judges to initiate community service; several high court and district judges have imposed non-penal activities, especially while considering bail applications. Judges have asked accused persons in criminal cases and recalcitrant respondents in civil matters to plant trees, clean premises, take classes in government schools or donate books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Madhya Pradesh, a respondent was asked to provide a water harvesting system in the opposite party’s home. Prison authorities, too, take inmates for community service, so that the time spent helps in getting parole or early release.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it comes to fines, especially for what a court considers as frivolous litigation that wastes judicial time, the litigants are told to deposit fines with the prime minister’s or chief minister’s relief funds, and in some cases into the Advocates’ Welfare Fund. In rare cases, judges have imposed big fines on rich convicts instead of giving them long prison terms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police and prosecution, however, argue against this concessional approach, pointing out that the Indian Penal Code and other criminal laws do not provide alternatives to jail and fines. There have also been instances when judges suggested baffling solutions like asking a rape victim to marry the rapist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was an attempt in 1978 by the Janata government of Morarji Desai to amend the criminal laws so that those convicted of offences warranting short prison sentences could instead be directed to do a stretch of community service. But the government collapsed the next year, and the amendment was not taken up by subsequent governments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Justice Malimath Committee, which made far-reaching recommendations for reforming the criminal justice system two decades ago, had also strongly recommended alternative accountability measures to long prison terms. But this report, too, has not been implemented holistically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Buxar festers in its garbage as even judicial advice gets distorted and leads to controversies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jan 15 11:20:12 IST 2022 stalin-will-need-coalition-era-to-return-to-delhi-to-scrap-neet-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Even as legal controversies over reservation for economically backward students in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) All India Quota flared in the Supreme Court, the Modi government is yet to give a green signal to the bill passed by the Tamil Nadu assembly scrapping NEET in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chief Minister M.K. Stalin is busy lobbying with his counterparts in 11 opposition-ruled states to join the DMK in opposing the test, which, the bill says, puts poor students from rural areas at a huge disadvantage. But as the bill challenges a Central law, it is unlikely to be recommended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to President Ram Nath Kovind for assent. Only after receiving Central approval can the state governor sign the bill and make it a law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So far, the three-party alliance government in Maharashtra has announced its opposition to a common entrance test as the state wants to regulate admissions to its medical colleges. Now, Stalin’s emissaries are lobbying hard with other major non-BJP controlled states including West Bengal, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Punjab and Delhi to stop the National Testing Agency from conducting the test and announcing the merit list.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, NEET was opposed by Modi-ruled Gujarat when it was introduced by the Manmohan Singh government in 2013. Ironically, the DMK, which was a founder member of the United Progressive Alliance, had withdrawn its support to Singh two months before NEET. The reason given was that the UPA government was soft towards the war crimes committed against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam by Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa government during the civil war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Singh had been convinced by the medical education fraternity that a national entrance test was the answer to complaints of non-meritorious candidates getting admission in state government-run medical colleges. The one-day examination was hailed for providing a level playing field.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the DMK returned to power in Tamil Nadu last summer, with the Congress as junior ally, Stalin stuck to the promise he had made while in opposition. Even though the AIADMK, which was in power for 10 years, too, was opposed to NEET, it did not bring forth a state law to counter the Central law. The DMK set up a commission of inquiry—headed by a retired judge, which held that NEET was discriminatory, favouring students from elite and urban backgrounds against poor, rural students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin asked the assembly to unanimously pass the resolution. While all other parties, including the AIADMK, supported the move, the BJP’s four MLAs walked out in protest. They were acting as per the party’s stand that NEET was a beneficial exam that helped produce better doctors, especially as it was conducted in Tamil and other regional languages, apart from Hindi and English. The MLAs were not impressed by the commission’s findings that the NEET merit list had adversely affected at least one out of 10 poor students with a rural background.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though many states have passed laws opposing a Central law, the Constitution is clear that the Central law will prevail, unless the state proposal making the law inapplicable in the state is approved by the Centre. There have been dozens of laws, including state-level amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, that have been given assent by the Centre through the president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the Modi government, which believes in One Nation, One Tax, One Election, One Entrance Test, may not concede to Tamil Nadu’s request unless there is unavoidable political pressure. For success on NEET, Stalin may have to hope for a return to the coalition era where the DMK support is crucial. Meanwhile, Modi and Stalin will share the stage this year for the launch of 11 new medical colleges in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jan 06 14:51:34 IST 2022 an-aggressive-russia-a-muted-us-and-a-watchful-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The strong words used by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov against the United States for opposing the sale of the S-400 missile system to India have surprisingly not evoked an equally nasty reaction from Washington so far. The Indian side also was surprised at the vehemence of Lavrov’s comments made on the day Russian President Vladimir Putin met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi in early December. A few hours before that, Lavrov and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had met their Indian counterparts S. Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh together as well as separately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This indicated multi-level contact, and it was only the second foreign trip by Putin in 2021, the first being to meet his adversary, American President Joe Biden, in Geneva. Indian defence and external affairs ministries have played a dead bat on the issues surrounding the missile system, including the threat of American sanctions for buying big weapons from Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian side has also been circumspect by not being willing to confirm Russian statements that some missile components have already been delivered and that the first set of deliveries will be completed by New Year’s Day. On the other hand, the Russians have been boastful not only on the missile deliveries but also on the quiet beginning of the construction of the sixth nuclear reactor at Kudankulam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lavrov, in his carefully prepared statements, had accused the US of trying to make India obey its orders, so that New Delhi follows the American vision for the region. This was a direct reference to India’s Quad alliance with the US, Japan and Australia. The statement also took note of the new alliance planned with Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the US, which is being nicknamed Quad West, though no summit-level meeting has taken place with the leaders of these countries. The spurt in Russia’s interest and aggression has also coincided with increased tensions between Putin and Biden over central Europe, especially Ukraine, as NATO has accused Putin of amassing an army to invade Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s defence ministry has argued that it is not customary to confirm receipt of sensitive arms and that a big ceremony was organised at the Ambala Air Force Station to welcome the first Rafale aircraft from France as there was a huge political controversy at the time over the purchase. Interestingly, it was the Russian side that took the lead in announcing that the “first concrete” was poured—soon after Putin’s state visit—for the construction of the sixth 1,000MW nuclear reactor in Kudankulam. On the other hand, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India which builds the plants had not made any official announcement, yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The atomic energy department does not give publicity to the different stages of construction of a nuclear plant, as per its policy. But the reiteration of the nuclear energy cooperation with Russia is another reminder that the proposals to set up nuclear power plants by American companies, that were included in the India-US civil nuclear deal signed 16 years ago, are yet to be a reality. The muted American response, despite calls from a powerful senator to block the S-400 deal, may indicate the robustness of the relations New Delhi has with the Biden administration. However, there are strong feelings against Russia in the American Congress, and there is a need for dexterity among the Indian diplomats to ensure that there are no sanctions imposed on India for keeping up defence and high-technology imports from Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are also indications that Putin played the good Samaritan to bring about a rapprochement between India and China, though both sides have been tight-lipped about the conversation or where it would lead to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jan 01 11:20:18 IST 2022 nobody-wants-neutral-panel-to-appoint-head-of-autonomous-bodies-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The controversy over the law ministry’s note summoning the chief election commissioner and the two commissioners for a meeting chaired by P.K. Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister, reignited the debate on the “arm’s length” to be maintained by heads of autonomous institutions. The principle is applied mainly to judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, election commissioners and the comptroller &amp; auditor general (CAG), who have to take decisions which may displease the executive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, other functionaries of the Constitution like the president, vice president, Lok Sabha speaker, attorney general, chairman and members of the Union Public Service Commission work with the government of the day. While the president is bound by the advice of the Union cabinet, the vice president, as chairman of Rajya Sabha, constantly interacts with ministers as he has to ensure its smooth functioning. Audit reports of two CAGs—T.N. Chaturvedi on the Bofors scam and Vinod Rai on the 2G scam— have shaken the chairs of prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Yet, the appointment of the chief election commissioner, election commissioners and the CAG, which is solely made by the prime minister, has seen favourite bureaucrats being selected for these sensitive jobs. Since every government has done it, there is no push to have a neutral panel appoint the high functionaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While judges were supposed to maintain a mile’s distance from politicians, there is now a great deal of interface with judges and ministers taking part in functions, chief justices of high courts holding meetings with chief ministers, and the Chief Justice of India consenting to be a member of committees headed by the prime minister to select the director of Central Bureau of Investigation, the Lokpal and other high-profile appointees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent times, former chief justice S.H. Kapadia avoided going to social functions, as he did not want any loose talk around his adherence to delivery of justice. On the other extreme is chief justice Ranjan Gogoi, who accepted a nomination to Rajya Sabha soon after retirement. Judges and lawyers argue that unlike earlier when judges could insulate themselves in their legal towers, information revolution has invaded every judicial chamber now. There are stories of how sessions judges would not even read the morning newspaper, lest they come across a report on a murder trial they were presiding over. But now smartphones bring a barrage of news.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One functionary not mentioned in the Constitution but is expected to keep the government at an arm’s length is the CBI director. But his office has always been close to the chambers of the home minister and minister of state for personnel. In the division of his loyalties, it was devised that he would only report to the courts on the CBI’s investigations, and would report to the government on budget, staff and administrative matters. But a clever bureaucrat coined the term “preliminary inquiry”, where the government entrusted investigations to the agency without having to file a first information report in a court. That was a clear way to cage the parrot, as the Supreme Court said later about the government control of the agency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra did the right thing by expressing his displeasure over the law ministry note, but did wrong by taking part in an “informal” discussion with Mishra, after the regular meeting was over. It is this informal chat that is seen as the government commanding and hugging the commission, especially when assembly elections are round the corner. Famous predecessors like R.V.S. Peri Sastri and T.N. Seshan had taken on prime ministers in asserting the independence of the commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the bigger test for Chandra and his two colleagues would be the supervision of the highly charged contests in Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Dec 23 15:16:41 IST 2021 sachidananda-murthy-a-china-policy-for-2022 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Which pressure points will work on China to make it yield the territory it seized in Ladakh has been a question vexing Indian strategic policy planners ever since the Galwan aggression happened. There have been discussions on the available economic, diplomatic and military options, and their costs. Despite the restraint on the military option, India has been ramping up its preparedness on the long and unsettled border from Ladakh to the northeast, by moving more troops and equipment. Additional warplanes have been sent to the bases, while surveillance devices in satellites, drones and aircraft monitor the gathering of more Chinese troops and the construction of permanent structures. Yet, the option of a surgical strike, which seemed so obvious in the case of Pakistan-sponsored terrorist acts, is not so easy, given the size and strength of the Chinese army and its likely response. The long rounds of military-level talks have not been scaled up to the level of four-star generals who can take decisions, while at the political level, only the foreign ministers have spoken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The economic options, too, are limited because of the comparatively moderate economic relations, especially after the virtual halt to Chinese investment in Indian companies, and the overt and covert steps taken by the commerce ministry to discourage exports. Indian businessmen who used to make frequent trips to China now rarely visit Chinese industrial hubs, because of Covid-19 restrictions and the growing negative sentiments towards China. Still, this has only firmed up the new status quo where the Chinese have occupied Indian territories, though the Indian government has not specified how many square kilometres have been lost in the last three years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has joined the Quad, which aims to ensure that China follows global rules in the Indo-Pacific. The Indian Navy has participated in joint exercises with other Quad members—the US, Australia and Japan. But New Delhi is not ready to declare the Quad a military coalition, preferring to describe it as an umbrella grouping for non-military purposes.</p> <p><br> India has also not shown any public urgency towards suggestions that the Quad should be expanded to bring in South Korea and the UK initially, followed by southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Singapore, which have close relations with Beijing. During the recent Narendra Modi-Vladimir Putin summit, Russia seemed to have got the assurance that the Quad would not be a military alliance against Russia or its allies, given the hostility of the Biden administration towards Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What should be the China policy for 2022? Experts who have dealt with the northern neighbour in diplomatic services, armed forces and intelligence agencies at the highest levels, feel that the Chinese vulnerability on its restless border territories—Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang—should be exploited. India has not volubly criticised Chinese policies in these territories unlike western democracies, especially the US. Australia, Japan, South Korea and the US have been vocal about Chinese military ambitions on Taiwan, which claims independence. The Taiwanese have been lobbying aggressively to isolate China, even demanding sanctions, for its attitude towards the island. Beijing, however, claims Taiwan to be an integral part of China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Taiwanese government has been actively lobbying the Indian government, the strategic community, the business leadership and the civil society to ensure that India supports the Taiwanese cause. Beijing has reacted sharply whenever BJP leaders visited Taiwan or met with Taiwanese officials. India allows a representative office of Taiwan in Delhi which issues travel documents for Indian citizens to visit the island.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, however, a counter argument that the Taiwanese ask for too much and give too little in return. Ever since former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao launched the national manufacturing mission, India has been wanting to be a hardware superpower. Four countries were identified by Rao’s manufacturing czar V. Krishnamurthy—the US, Japan, Taiwan and Israel. The US and Japan, which had sanctioned India for its nuclear explosions and for the refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, have been very selective in releasing sensitive and dual-use technology. Though India has been described as a major defence partner by the US, Indian diplomats say American laws have made technology transfer difficult as the US Congress has to approve every important deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Taiwan, which had no reservations on nuclear issues, has been extremely cagey about transfer of technology and has discouraged big foreign investments in hardware technology, despite several concessions given by India. A section of the Indian establishment, therefore, feels that Taiwan is not a low-hanging fruit as far as confrontation with China is concerned, and thinks that India should show some muscle in other Chinese regions which are landlocked. It is a challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s national security ministerial team of Rajnath Singh, S. Jaishankar, Amit Shah and Nirmala Sitharaman and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Dec 19 17:57:29 IST 2021 sachidananda-murthy-on-bjp-temples-and-divine-rollbacks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Narendra Modi government’s withdrawal of the three controversial farm laws showed that even strong governments blink under pressure. Pushkar Singh Dhami was in a more vulnerable position in Uttarakhand, so it is not surprising that he, too, has blinked by withdrawing a legislation aimed at bringing temples under state control.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhami has been Uttarakhand chief minister since July, but he is more of a nominated CM than someone who had won the mandate. His predecessor, Trivendra Singh Rawat, had provoked priests with his decision to nationalise the administration of 51 temples, including prominent pilgrim centres such as Badrinath and Kedarnath. Rawat had insisted that the protesting priests, and the politicians who supported them, did not have popular backing. But that did not stop the BJP high command from axing him and bringing in a replacement, Tirath Singh Rawat, who was later replaced by Dhami.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhami had also favoured state control of shrines to end administrative anomalies. But the assembly polls, due in months, presented a tight deadline. The belligerent priests even threatened to stop Modi from attending an event at the Kedarnath shrine—if their demands were not met. Dhami had to assure them that he would decide within a month, and requested that they not disrupt Modi’s programme. He has now fulfilled the promise by withdrawing the legislation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The protests of the priests had won support from dissident BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy, who had long been opposing state intervention in managing the Tirupati shrine in Andhra Pradesh. Swamy had also questioned the control of the Tamil Nadu government over a large number of temples in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A section of the RSS leadership was unhappy with Trivendra Singh Rawat because he was apparently setting a bad example of a BJP government wanting to control temples. The RSS has raised questions about some state governments controlling just Hindu places of worship while not intervening in the management of shrines of minority religions. Rawat was also accused of being guided more by bureaucrats than by party patriarchs in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his defence, Rawat pointed out how the intervention of Jammu and Kashmir governor Jagmohan had saved the Vaishno Devi temple at Katra. Jagmohan later became culture minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and was widely respected in BJP circles for cleaning up the cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora. Rawat’s reforms, however, hit a hard wall of the entrenched governing hierarchies, but he refused to backtrack on his decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Modi wants a single national model on ration cards, taxes and elections, his government has no policy prescription on temple management. It has left the matter to states, since the subject comes under the state list of the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But many temples have valuable parcels of land in tony neighbourhoods of metropolitan and tier-II cities. The DMK government in Tamil Nadu says more than 40,000 acres of valuable land have been encroached on over decades. It has begun digital mapping to recover the assets, and recently claimed to have recovered temple land worth Rs1,000 crore in a prime Chennai locality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is not just temple lands that are encroached upon. Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana and Karnataka have reported that wakf land worth thousands of crores have been encroached upon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are also allegations that land sharks encourage temple managements to divert land for commercial use, and that large amounts of offerings are deposited in unsafe financial institutions. Thus, many famous and not-so-famous temples have become not just divine attractions, but money magnets as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Dec 09 15:12:32 IST 2021 why-people-still-march-to-parliament-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Staying true to recent trends, the ongoing winter session of Parliament has seen clashes between an impatient government and an agitated opposition, resulting in more noise than informed debate. But even as the old parliament building is covered with fine dust from the construction of a new house, Parliament remains the last resort for groups of concerned people from across the country. Several hundred groups are jostling for permission from the police to articulate their grievances when parliamentarians are in Delhi. Dozens of marches are scheduled during the short winter session; there are also demonstrations at designated spots on Parliament Street, next to Jantar Mantar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some organisations are busy organising day-long discussions at congenial venues like the Gandhi Peace Foundation and the Delhi Press Club. The groups which seek the attention of the Narendra Modi government, the MPs and the media are diverse, ranging from a mother seeking justice for her murdered child to tribals who want a state called Tipraland to be carved out from Tripura.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second day of the winter session saw a group from Madhya Pradesh demanding an airport in Bilaspur, while another one from Kerala wanted the Kozhikode airport to be expanded. Jostling beside them were frustrated aspirants who were asking the Union Public Service Commission for a second chance. A group of teachers from Uttar Pradesh was protesting because the government was yet to confirm their jobs, a demand shared by anganwadi workers from Rajasthan. Some bank employees were protesting the move to privatise government banks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike in the past when a small delegation was allowed to visit Union ministers or officials to present the grievances, now the memoranda are collected by officers from the Delhi Police and the Intelligence Bureau, who also videograph the protesters. The memoranda are supposed to reach the particular ministries, but the police tell the demonstrators that they should send their grievances by email. A register is maintained to ensure that same groups do not occupy large spaces for many days. As access to the parliament building is difficult, most demonstrators depend on their MPs. Thus the protest sites attract dozens of MPs coming and making a brief address, posing for cameras and hoping that their presence will be noticed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The retention of the protest sites so close to the parliament building has been a challenge for the police, who have tried in vain to shift the venues to far-off places. Covid protocols have ensured that not more than 200 persons are permitted at the sites, but the police prefer even smaller crowds.</p> <p>Even as the protesters brave the harsh Delhi weather, the capital is also invaded by special interest groups and lobbyists who use the session time to take their MPs to ministers and officers. The MPs also tell delegations from their constituencies to visit Delhi to meet the decision makers, but the prime minister has been very selective about meeting delegations, which are keen on a photo opportunity and a handshake. Modi tells MPs that it is better they email their issues so that the PMO can take action. But for MPs used to bringing in delegations for enhancing their own standing among the voters, it is a let down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The winter session also caught some groups by surprise because of the complexity of the Delhi government’s excise policy, which made premium brands of liquor difficult to get. Those who wanted the best brands had to go to neighbouring Haryana to keep the evenings warm. The Parliament session is nevertheless the time when issues of different regions get highlighted on the streets of Delhi, and some even reach the ears of the powerful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Dec 04 11:54:57 IST 2021 farm-laws-repeal-wont-diminish-modi-power-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The withdrawal of the contentious farm laws is having multiple consequences for the BJP, which was otherwise riding strong on the stallion of parliamentary majority. Though, there is a perception that the decision was taken due to electoral compulsions, the party has been confronted with twin realities of caste and agriculture in recent months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The decision to withdraw farm laws was unilateral—without discussions in any party fora, including the national executive, which met few days before Narendra Modi addressed the nation. But, now, party leaders from rural areas say the government should consult them more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Varun Gandhi, who has written on agrarian policies, has made public his letter to the prime minister. Other MPs, too, have been conveying their opinions on policies, which are perceived to be not in the interests of farmers and agriculture labourers. Many have written about the fertiliser shortage in several states. The MPs are also agitated that the much-acclaimed Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana—of providing gas connections to every kitchen—is shadowed by lesser refills being availed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also criticism that the kisan units of the party at the national and state levels are not taking enough initiatives to mobilise farmers and farm labourers. Several ministers in the cabinet handling agrarian subjects have urban backgrounds. There are suggestions that the party should run a brainstorming session on agriculture and rural development to find out whether the push for a single all-India model on different sectors would help farmers, agricultural labourers and rural artisans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is also forced to look more intensely at tribal constituencies, as it had lost power in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand; had fared poorly in BJD-ruled Odisha, but made some gains in West Bengal’s tribal belt. The Congress and activist groups have accused the Centre of approving too many industrial and infrastructure projects in the tribal belt, ignoring local misgivings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Conversely, there is also a strong feeling that the party cannot bend too much to accommodate leftist policies, as that would dilute the ‘right-of-the-centre’ ideological focus of the BJP. The question is whether the party would be more vulnerable to other pressure groups in areas of privatisation of public sector.</p> <p>The RSS has a head of ideological thought who constantly holds discussions to enforce and fine-tune the ideological thought and action plan of the Sangh. It was Modi who succeeded in blending ideology with electoral pragmatism to give scintillating results.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rollback on agriculture would not diminish Modi’s power, but would increase the chatter on governance options as the bigger election looms in 2024. That would also give an opportunity for Modi and his core team to find enough ways to tell the party leaders, the faithful and the swing voters, that it would listen to all sections of society as much as it speaks for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Nov 25 15:29:23 IST 2021 param-bir-singh-knew-the-odds-well-before-he-disappeared-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the Maharashtra government, former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh is a missing person; a court declared him a proclaimed absconder. Yet, thanks to the interpretation of rules framed long ago, he would not be considered missing by the Central government until next year. The civil services rules stipulate that if a person is absent from work without authorisation for at least a year after his leave expires, he is confirmed to be missing from service, and can be automatically dismissed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the protection clause inserted long ago to protect officials from the all India services who may go on leave because of harassment by states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is much speculation on where Singh is hiding, after making staggering corruption allegations against former Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh (who is now in jail). The Maharashtra government has slapped equally serious graft charges against Singh, saying that he used a gang of police officers to extort protection money from all kinds of businesses in the country’s commercial capital. Leaks from the investigative team said Singh, fearing for his life and liberty, fled to Nepal. There are others who claim that he has been spotted in Belgium and other European countries. There are also those who believe that Singh is being hidden by powerful people within the country and would make a dramatic return to topple the Uddhav Thackeray government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the home ministry, which administers the Indian Police Service, feels that there is a distinction between a missing officer and a court declared absconder. The department of personnel, which is headed by the prime minister and interprets the rule on all India service officers, agrees with the view. They point out that if the trial court in Mumbai has declared that Singh has wilfully defied summons, the criminal laws on fugitives will come into operation. If the court or the investigative agencies have reasonable proof that Singh is outside the country, then the Central Bureau of Investigation would weigh the evidence and decide on alerting the Interpol to issue a red corner notice for his apprehension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plot gets complicated as Singh is in the middle of the slugfest between the Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena, which rule Maharashtra, and the BJP. Interestingly, when the call goes out for Interpol assistance, the file would land on the table of CBI director Subodh Jaiswal, who is also from the Maharashtra cadre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the rules restrict French leave to only a year, many IPS and IAS officers have been absent for decades, and their cases are pending. These officers took long leave to study at a western university, where they actively seek lucrative jobs and long-term employment visas. In one case, the resignation of a Maharashtra cadre IPS officer was accepted 16 years after she went to the US to get a doctorate. The department did not get response to the notices sent to her known addresses in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several times, members of Parliament have asked why these truant officials were not brought back to the country. In most cases, foreign governments do not even cooperate in locating them after they obtain citizenship or legal visas, as it would be an invasion of privacy. Even if there are simpler criminal charges, it would not justify the demand for forced repatriation. The personnel department, however, points out that the percentage of officers who go absent without permission is a miniscule number.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The view in the department is that Singh, who has only a short period before he retires from service, knew the odds well before he disappeared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Nov 20 12:01:27 IST 2021 param-bir-singh-knew-the-odds-well-before-he-disappeared-says-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the Maharashtra government, former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh is a missing person; a court declared him a proclaimed absconder. Yet, thanks to the interpretation of rules framed long ago, he would not be considered missing by the Central government until next year. The civil services rules stipulate that if a person is absent from work without authorisation for at least a year after his leave expires, he is confirmed to be missing from service, and can be automatically dismissed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the protection clause inserted long ago to protect officials from the all India services who may go on leave because of harassment by states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is much speculation on where Singh is hiding, after making staggering corruption allegations against former Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh (who is now in jail). The Maharashtra government has slapped equally serious graft charges against Singh, saying that he used a gang of police officers to extort protection money from all kinds of businesses in the country’s commercial capital. Leaks from the investigative team said Singh, fearing for his life and liberty, fled to Nepal. There are others who claim that he has been spotted in Belgium and other European countries. There are also those who believe that Singh is being hidden by powerful people within the country and would make a dramatic return to topple the Uddhav Thackeray government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the home ministry, which administers the Indian Police Service, feels that there is a distinction between a missing officer and a court declared absconder. The department of personnel, which is headed by the prime minister and interprets the rule on all India service officers, agrees with the view. They point out that if the trial court in Mumbai has declared that Singh has wilfully defied summons, the criminal laws on fugitives will come into operation. If the court or the investigative agencies have reasonable proof that Singh is outside the country, then the Central Bureau of Investigation would weigh the evidence and decide on alerting the Interpol to issue a red corner notice for his apprehension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The plot gets complicated as Singh is in the middle of the slugfest between the Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena, which rule Maharashtra, and the BJP. Interestingly, when the call goes out for Interpol assistance, the file would land on the table of CBI director Subodh Jaiswal, who is also from the Maharashtra cadre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the rules restrict French leave to only a year, many IPS and IAS officers have been absent for decades, and their cases are pending. These officers took long leave to study at a western university, where they actively seek lucrative jobs and long-term employment visas. In one case, the resignation of a Maharashtra cadre IPS officer was accepted 16 years after she went to the US to get a doctorate. The department did not get response to the notices sent to her known addresses in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several times, members of Parliament have asked why these truant officials were not brought back to the country. In most cases, foreign governments do not even cooperate in locating them after they obtain citizenship or legal visas, as it would be an invasion of privacy. Even if there are simpler criminal charges, it would not justify the demand for forced repatriation. The personnel department, however, points out that the percentage of officers who go absent without permission is a miniscule number.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The view in the department is that Singh, who has only a short period before he retires from service, knew the odds well before he disappeared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Nov 18 12:28:30 IST 2021 doles-have-made-the-government-doleful-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Five kilograms of rice or wheat may be tiny compared with India’s huge grain stockpile, but it has been proposed that the government discontinue giving this modest quantity of grain to 81 crore families (totalling 4.4 million tonnes) every month. The proposal has provoked pleas to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to continue the stimulus until next summer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the polls next summer, has extended its own pro-poor food grain programme till next Holi, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has said that his government’s free grain supply scheme will run for another six months. Other states and political parties want the Centre to continue the scheme, which Modi has described as the world’s largest food security programme. States like UP, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have added kitchen essentials like edible oil, salt and sugar to the free grain kits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet Modi and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman face a dilemma in extending the scheme, which was announced as part of the 020 lakh crore stimulus package during the first Covid lockdown. The scheme was introduced for three months to help poor families uprooted by shutdown restrictions, especially those living in villages and urban slums. It was continued as the Covid threat lingered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The food ministry now says the economy is recovering and that grain distribution in the open system has stabilised. The ministry records also show that even as politicians heap praise on the scheme, as many as 11 states failed to pick up more than 10 per cent of their allotted quota during several of the past 18 months. Also, the grain did not reach many beneficiaries because of corruption and wastage in the system; migrants who had returned to urban centres were no longer drawing free ration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As elections are being held in five states next March, the discontinuation of the scheme could have political repercussions. There is intense debate in the ministries of finance, commerce, and food and civil supplies on when to end the various stimulus measures announced by the Centre and the Reserve Bank of India last year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The RBI’s monetary policy committee recently decided to continue its “accommodative” stance of maintaining lower interest rates, moratoriums on payment of interests, higher subventions to banks and other lenders, and concessions for industries and exporters. There are fears that the government’s stimulus spending may not be sustainable and that the borrowing would shoot up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das had defended the accommodative approach as pragmatic, because economic growth was yet to take firm roots and there were worries about supply bottlenecks, fuel price spike and “several uncertainties” in the global economy. But a member of the monetary policy committee warned that the continuation of stimulus in a fast-recovering economy could push inflation higher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The RBI, however, was also following other central banks, including the US Federal Reserve, whose chairman had said that it was time to be “patient” about withdrawal of stimulus. Banker Uday Kotak has said that the RBI needs to look at withdrawal of stimulus, warning that future generations would pay the price if it is continued indefinitely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts also point out that the Rs30,000 crore stimulus package that the Manmohan Singh government introduced in December 2008 was continued for a long time, resulting in rapid widening of the fiscal deficit. The 2008 package also allowed banks to be imprudent in lending, which saddled the first Modi government with a banking crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While logic dictates that the Covid-era stimulus needs to end, there are compelling political reasons to cater to the wants of a population battered by health and financial emergencies. The call that Modi needs to make is a tough one, especially since most of the stimulus measures are labelled as prime ministerial programmes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Nov 11 17:52:41 IST 2021 modi-and-xi-are-not-keen-on-any-talks-now-writes-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The reluctance of Chinese President Xi Jinping to travel outside his country dashed the chances of a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the G20 summit in Rome or the Conference of Parties on Climate at Glasgow, where heads of government gathered in big numbers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi has shut himself in ever since the pandemic began compared with other global leaders who have travelled out at least once, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, who went to Geneva for a summit with US President Joe Biden. Top diplomats feel that even if Xi had attended these summits, he would have avoided meeting Modi, as Indian armed forces have got integrated with their counterparts in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Further, Modi participated in two Quad summits; one virtually and then the physical summit in the US. China strongly protested military exercises held by India, the US, Japan and Australia. If Xi was present at these summits, it would have needed the intervention of a Good Samaritan leader to bring the leaders of the two most populous countries across the table.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin has a good rapport with Modi and Xi, but Russia was interested in a meeting between Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow. The two ministers have also spoken on the phone with each other on the Ladakh intrusion by Chinese troops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yi was present in Rome as the leading Chinese representative for the G20 summit, while Jaishankar was the leading member of the Indian delegation. But there was no reaching out from either side. However, Modi who had bilateral discussions with more than a dozen leaders, did discuss the situation with some. There were also questions from some on the implications of the new border agreement between Bhutan and China that has been a sequel to the Chinese army muscling in on Bhutanese territory, which led to the Doklam standoff in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The announcement in October that the two Himalayan neighbours will have a three-step “roadmap” to speed up negotiations on demarcation of the disputed boundaries had sparked off fears in the strategic community that Thimphu, which always depended on New Delhi, was opening a big door for Beijing. But both the defence and external affairs ministries felt there was no need for any adverse comment by the government as the Bhutanese government had taken India into confidence about the contours of the agreement. While the official Chinese media hailed the agreement as a big breakthrough, the Modi government felt there was no need even to mildly criticise the agreement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thirteenth round of talks between Indian and Chinese armies held at Moldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control on October 10 failed to get a commitment for the Chinese troops that had intruded into Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok areas in Ladakh in 2020 summer. No date has been set for the next meeting, but now the mood in the Army is that the talks are not making any progress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is strong suggestion that the talks should be continued at the diplomatic level. Both countries have highly placed special representatives for border talks since the 1990s. Yi is the Chinese special representative, while his Indian counterpart is National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, both of whom directly report to Xi and Modi respectively. Doval and Yi can talk to each other only if they get the green signal from their supreme political bosses. But the signal from both Modi and Xi appears to be red, which means the army generals, more used to fighting, will have to keep talking in Moldo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Nov 06 10:57:07 IST 2021 governor-satya-pal-malik-has-history-of-troubling-bjp-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The most serious corruption allegation during the seven-year NDA rule came from unexpected quarters. Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik, an appointee of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alleged that when he was governor of Jammu and Kashmir (2017-2019), he was offered a bribe to clear two files—in which an industrialist whom he named only as Ambani and an RSS leader active in the state were interested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While no industrialist with the Ambani surname reacted to the allegation, RSS leader Ram Madhav, who was BJP general secretary in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir during Malik’s tenure, responded sharply. Madhav, who has helmed multiple successful missions for the BJP in recent times, said that he was never involved in any such attempt and threatened to take every possible action against the slur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik made a halfway apology, saying he would seek a pardon from the RSS for having mentioned its name, but did not withdraw his claims that he was given the impression that there would be a windfall of around 0300 crore if he cleared the files.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malik, a Jat leader from western Uttar Pradesh, has created some trouble for the BJP in other places, too. He was moved to Goa in 2019, but soon developed differences with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant. An annoyed Modi had then sent him to the hills of Meghalaya. But, Malik, who comes from Janata Party background, likes to return regularly to his favoured stomping grounds in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. He said that there would be backlash if the Centre does not resolve the farmers’ agitation. He also irked the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh by saying that BJP leaders should not visit villages which were affected by the farmers’ agitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Modi has generally been careful in choosing governors, there have been the odd exceptions. Tathagata Roy, who was also governor of Meghalaya, used to create storms with his statements, not only against the BJP’s political opponents, but also against his own partymen in West Bengal. Even after he was persuaded to resign, Roy returned to his home state and, in the wake of the BJP’s defeat, said that garbage had come and now garbage was going out (referring to defectors from the Trinamool Congress). However, the feisty West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has stayed true to the BJP script. Similarly, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has not been friendly to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It remains to be seen whether Malik’s allegation pertaining to J&amp;K will be investigated by the anti-corruption body at the Centre or in the Union territory. The anti-corruption law says even an unsuccessful attempt at bribery is a criminal offence. Apart from having constitutional immunity while remaining a governor, Malik claims he has only five pairs of kurta-pyjamas and that he lives in a simple house. Till the corruption charge was made now, his most controversial statement was at the height of the Kashmir crisis, when he said he had not received a communication from then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, as “the fax machine in the Raj Bhavan was not working”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the question is whether the government will wait for more bombshells from Malik or ease him out of gubernatorial duties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Oct 28 14:50:02 IST 2021 govt-needs-to-be-proactive-on-the-prices-front-sachidananda-murthy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Tensions are rising in several Union ministries as their budgets are showing signs of going haywire because of the disruptions in global supply chains and the resultant rise in commodity prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Supply chain disruptions had been there since March last year, because of Covid-related restrictions. But the restrictions also caused a fall in consumption because of the subdued demand for food, fertilisers and petroleum products. But, as the pandemic has slowed down considerably, consumption levels have been rising. Even as the government celebrates the increase in industrial activity and the return to normal work schedules in most areas, the ministries had not been well prepared for the shortfall in imports. Even in the case of commodities that were available, prices have gone up. As government continues to spend on Covid preparedness, by maintaining hospital beds and oxygen plants, the brief scare given by coal shortages has been a forewarning of other crises that are looming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, who also handles the fertilisers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals portfolio, has warned that international fertiliser prices are shooting up. But he has praised the prime minister for directing the government to absorb the price difference so that farmers across the country could get fertiliser at current prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The petroleum ministry has sounded a warning that international oil prices were going up and more funds were needed. But the ministry is not earning any sympathy; it is being flayed for having continuously increased prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas even when international prices were low. There is talk that Union Petroleum Minister Hardeep Puri will hold talks with Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on the need to reduce Central customs and excise duties, so that fuel prices do not rise further. But the finance ministry, which has many demands on its plate, has been a tax guzzler. It would be tough to give up the habit, as deficits can shoot up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The food and civil supplies ministry has also been criticised for its slow response to the steep increase in prices of pulses and edible oils. Now, using provisions of the amended Essential Commodities Act, the government has imposed restrictions on stocks that can be kept by wholesalers and retailers so that prices would not shoot up. But, since demand has surged because of the festival season and the return to normalcy, countries which export palm oil, tur dal (split pigeon pea), urad dal (black gram) and chickpea to India are eyeing big profits. The government’s edible oil and pulses missions, which aim at making India self-reliant in the production of these commodities, are a long way from fruition because of the annual increase in demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the decades of scarcity, the government had a cabinet committee on prices headed by the finance minister, which monitored prices and shortages, and took necessary actions when required. In the past two decades, shortages of essential commodities have been rare. The functions of the prices committee have been subsumed into the committee on economic affairs, headed by the prime minister and whose members include political heavyweights such as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, as well as ministers who handle economy-related matters—Sitharaman, Piyush Goyal (commerce, industry and civil supplies) and Narendra Singh Tomar (agriculture)—and Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With crucial elections coming up, the government needs to continue to be proactive on the prices front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Oct 22 16:58:36 IST 2021