Narendra Modi in Varanasi; Lok Sabha Election 2019 updates: PM performs Ganga aarti day before filing nomination - Firstpost   |   No Priyanka makes it a no contest against Narendra Modi in Varanasi - Times of India   |   Judge Opts Out Of Panel Probing Allegations Against Chief Justice - NDTV News   |   Neighbours in Shock as Sri Lanka Attack Probe Reveals Dark Secrets of Wealthy Family - News18   |   In Kannauj, Dimple Yadav Touches Mayawati's Feet as Akhilesh Says Gathbandhan Will Give Next PM - News18   |   Narendra Modi in Banda; Lok Sabha Election 2019 LIVE updates: Anger felt for me was directed at EVMs, says PM - Firstpost   |   Akshay Kumar opens up about the candid chat with Prime Minister Narendra Modi - Times of India   |   Two Hizb militants killed in Kashmir encounter - The Hindu   |   Indian govt pressuring Interpol for red corner notice: Zakir Naik - Economic Times   |   Elections 2019 - Arvind Kejriwal's Appeal To AAP Workers: "Take Leave Till End Of Polls" - NDTV News   |   North Korea's Ghost Ships Beat Sanctions - NDTV News   |   Former US Vice-President Joe Biden announces White House bid - The Hindu   |   Blast in town east of Sri Lankan capital, no casualties - The Hindu   |   Sri Lanka blasts: Island nation's Parliament meets over new Emergency regulations; experts term set of... - Firstpost   |   Maruti to phase out all diesel cars from April next year - Livemint   |   Axis Bank back in the black; posts Rs 1,505 crore profit for Q4 as provisions drop - Economic Times   |   Microsoft tops $1 trillion as it predicts more cloud growth - Moneycontrol   |   Rupee dives to 6-week low as crude prices spike - Hindustan Times   |   Redmi Flagship Specifications Leak Tips Triple Rear Cameras, 32-Megapixel Selfie Camera - NDTV   |   OnePlus 7 Pro confirmed to feature triple rear cameras: Expected specifications and more - Hindustan Times   |   Flipkart offering up to 75% off on smart devices like Google Home, Apple Watch, Xiaomi Mi band - BGR India   |   Nokia 4.2, Nokia 3.2 Listed on India Site, Launch Appears Imminent - NDTV   |   Before Avengers Endgame, here’s exploring its deep connect with mythology - Hindustan Times   |   Kareena Kapoor Khan opens up about falling in love with Saif Ali Khan - Times of India   |   Salman Khan Accused of Snatching Mobile Phone of Man Filming Him, Police Complaint Filed - News18   |   Priyanka Chopra And 'Aunt' Parineeti Introduce Us To Adorable Pooch Bailey Chopra - NDTV   |   RCB ride ABD show to continue miracle streak - Sify News   |   IPL 2019 Live Score, KKR vs RR Match at Eden Gardens: All Eyes on Russell & Karthik After Narine Dismissal - News18   |   DJ Bravo's new version of the Champion songs is for all the Super Cubs of Chennai Super Kings - In.com   |   ISSF Rifle/Pistol World Cup 2019: Saurabh-Bhaker, Moudgil-Divyansh strike gold in mixed team events - Sportstar   |   Scientists Discover First Helium Hydride Molecule in Space, Ending Long Search - The Wire   |   A 'Quake' Was Recorded On Mars For The Very First Time! - Mashable India   |   NASA Planning Asteroid Impact Exercise Next Week - NDTV   |   NASA probe detects likely 'marsquake': an interplanetary first - Firstpost   |   Share your experiences of accessing sexual dysfunction services - The Guardian   |   How Higher Temperatures and Pollution Are Affecting Mosquitoes - The Wire   |   World Malaria Day: What is the 'Landmark' Vaccine Rolled out by Malawai - News18   |   ‘Microbial toxins found in popular e-cigarettes’ - Times of India   |   
parlimentarian-logo
parlimentarian-logo

Mamata’s Move: Glamour Gambit

True to her style of fielding star power to stem the factionalism within and add a touch of glamour quotient to the list of Lok Sabha membership aspirants, Banerjee has roped in two greenhorns to go one up on her main rival – the BJP

mamatas-move-glamour-gambit
Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

They were once part of the Tollywood ‘Girls’ Gang’, very intimate and fast friends indeed; however, they have made long strides in the last one decade, attaining glamour and stardom. Even though some of the ‘Gang’ members have ‘defected’ recently to pursue individual careers, ties among them are still rock solid. One of them was recently spotted in the birthday bash of another, partied till late at night. Hardly did a pair of the Gang members know that they would be required to play a bigger role very soon beyond the vortex of Tollywood and reel life.
Guess the duo we are talking about. Yes, you’ve got them correct – Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan, a pair of new trump cards that West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo pulled out of her wizard hat. True to her style of fielding star power to stem the factionalism within and add a touch of glamour quotient to the list of Lok Sabha membership aspirants, Banerjee has roped in these two greenhorns to go one up on her main rival – the Bharatiya Janata Party. That she has been nursing a desire to be a kingmaker at the last moment in this year’s parliamentary polls, is quite well-known.
Hence, the manner in which she has dropped eight sitting nominees (and two others defected to the BJP), reveals a special game-plan to make the ground slippery for the saffron party.
Leaving aside the first mover advantage (TMC first unveiled the list of candidates for all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal), the big takeaway from the list of Mamata Banerjee is the elaborate behind-the-door-strategy of Didi to emerge victorious in her challenge to win 42 out of 42. Let us take a closer look into it and her apparently inane thought bubbles make for a rib-tickling narrative.
Nearly eight years into power, that TMC has been riven with intense factionalism over a wide swathe of the state, is now fait accompli. It is not that Didi has taken this decision of fielding Mimi and Nusrat on the spur of the moment; both the Tollywood stars have been regulars to several big meetings of the party. And Mamata Banerjee had obviously been closely observing as well as advising them on sundry things laced with dual meaning for some time now before zeroing on to field them. It was only after being absolutely confident of their unquestionable allegiance to her that she condescended to nominate them. That they would be subject to widespread criticism from the opposition of being political greenhorns, did not deter her from going ahead.
Secondly, the TMC supremo, who used to know her district party leaders like the back of her own hand, must have kept a close tab on areas where there has been an unabated spurt in intra-party rivalry (and at some places, even killings). Jadavpur in the southern fringe of Kolkata and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district bordering Bangladesh are the two vulnerable areas where the party has been bedevilled with this menace, necessitating umpteen warnings in vain from the top leadership. The depleting base of the party in Bhangar, an assembly constituency of Jadavpur, and rise of the BJP in the Basirhat-Bongaon region of North 24 Parganas district had been posing a serious concern, leaving Didi with hardly any choice to select someone from the party who would be acceptable to all the factions.
After Prof Sugata Bose, the sitting Trinamool MP from Jadavpur, expressed his unwillingness to recontest pleading lack of consent from the university he teaches abroad, Didi was toying with the idea of fielding a ‘safe’ candidate who could bulldoze over all factions and yet has acceptability to the commoners irrespective of the party colour. At the same time, the chief minister could ill-afford to ignore the fact that it was from this constituency in Kolkata that she had shot to fame (got the tag of ‘giant killer’, to be more precise) defeating CPIM veteran and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee during the heyday of the Left rule. Hence, she could hardly take any risk that would lay bare the chinks further, endangering the prospect of the party.
There were two or three other names, all Tollywood heroines, that were in wide circulation since last year end who were tipped to be inducted into the party; prominent among them include June Maliah and Indrani Halder. However, what tilted the scale in favour of Mimi and Nusrat is, perhaps, their glamour power and the present peak form in sharp contrast to Maliah and Halder. In fact, Mamata’s spectacular decision to field this pair of stars put the BJP completely on the wrong foot. It is immaterial whether the saffron party would concede it or not, the fact remains that the BJP was particularly very hopeful to cash in on the bitter factionalism in TMC in Basirhat.
But Didi’s selection of Nusrat at Basirhat has made it quite an uphill task for the BJP to make a sizeable dent in the anti-TMC vote bank. First, Basirhat is on the Indo-Bangladesh border in North 24 Parganas district where the minority population is distinctly high compared to Hindus, even though many Hindus were from erstwhile East Pakistan. Nusrat Jahan’s current form and glamour will, in all probability, make a dent in the minds of Hindu voters as well. The claim of TMC not indulging in wooing minorities is already passe though. The BJP nominee Samik Bhattacharya will require to tide over the glamour wave as well as the game of the minority card played by the TMC. In Jadavpur, once a Left stronghold that gave way to the TMC storm in the 2011 assembly poll, the CPIM has slowly begun to regain lost ground. The selection of former Calcutta Corporation mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya as its nominee by the CPIM leadership here has been described as an intelligent move by the political experts. Because, there was wide speculation that the BJP might field from Jadavpur respected fashion designer Agnimitra Paul who was shortly slated to join the party. And if Paul would have got the nomination from here, the anti-TMC vote will be split between Paul and Bhattacharya and the latter might have a very thin chance of victory.
Be that as it may, Mimi’s chances have simply brightened up, in a twist of the tale, the BJP state leadership, reportedly peeved over one of the statements of Paul, delayed her joining. Instead, after the BJP announced the candidature of Anupam Hazra, a TMC defectee from Jadavpur; Hazra was elected from Bolpur in Shantiniketan on a Trinamool Congress ticket in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. Now, in the changed scenario, the electoral fight of Mimi, the Tollywood heroine of TMC, has become quite easier in absence of Paul. Mimi stands a fair chance of making her maiden entry into parliament unless of course Trinamool incurs heavy anti-incumbency wrath.
That there has been a high anti-incumbency air sweeping across the state, is a fact which has been causing concern in the TMC ranks and which has been a cause for increasing assault by the BJP in the Trinamool turf. However, the real test lies in making the electorate booth-bound; for the BJP, it is really a formidable challenge to turn the anti-incumbency in its favour while for the TMC, it is a bitter battle to stem the anti-incumbency factor in the bud itself. Yet, it is a difficult task for both the parties. The whys are pretty simple. With several TMC leaders making a beeline to the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and growing dissatisfaction over the selection of candidates, discontent seems to be brewing both in the BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s party.
BJP’s Mukul Roy, once the number two in the Trinamool Congress, has started inducting “disgruntled” leaders from his former party, including elected representatives, into the saffron party’s fold. Resentment in the TMC camp came to the fore after it announced its list of 42 candidates for the Lok Sabha polls. The party dropped 10 MPs and brought in 18 new faces. Sitting MPs from seats such as Cooch Behar, Basirhat, Jhargram, Midnapore, Bolpur, Bishnupur and Krishnanagar were dropped from this year’s TMC candidate list.
The BJP has made steady inroads in these places over the last five years, largely due to the infighting within the TMC’s local leadership. Local TMC leaders who had been with the party for several years were overlooked in many seats in favour of film stars including greenhorns, and those joining from the Congress and the Left parties. After MPs Soumitra Khan and Anupam Hazra, TMC leader and four-time MLA Arjun Singh, also a Lok Sabha MP aspirant, were denied ticket from Barrackpore, they switched over to the BJP, received saffron tickets. That the grassroots BJP workers were in no mood to welcome the ‘turncoats’ was evident when several of them resorted to violence in Cooch Behar in North Bengal after a local TMC leader Nisith Pramanik was given the Lok Sabha ticket after he walked into the BJP camp prior to polls.
The ripple of discontent over the candidate nomination affected the Trinamool too. The party’s South Dinajpur district chief Biplab Mitra had openly expressed his displeasure over re-nomination of Arpita Ghosh from Balurghat Lok Sabha seat. “I had informed the party that people of Balurghat are not happy with Ghosh’s performance. Her victory cannot be guaranteed this time.” Ghosh, a theatre activist who had been part of Mamata Banerjee’s intellectual brigade during her fight against the Left Front government claimed she is hardly daunted by the spectre of defeat as long as she enjoys the TMC supremo’s blessings. In Cooch Behar, the TMC has replaced its sitting MP Partha Pratim Ray with a minister in the erstwhile Left Front government, Paresh Chandra Adhikary, who joined the ruling party last year. Although Ray declined to comment, the BJP tried in vain to woo him into its fold. “Why was Adhikary given ticket? Does our district unit lack good leaders to contest the Lok Sabha polls? This decision has not sent out a good message to the rank and file of the party,” a senior TMC district leader said, adding that the BJP would definitely exploit these fissures in the party.
The situation is more or less the same in Malda North parliamentary seat where former Congress MP Mausam Benazir Noor, who crossed over to the TMC, has been nominated. In at least three other seats, Congress MLAs who had switched over to the TMC in the past one year were given tickets instead of old timers. In Murshidabad Lok Sabha seat, TMC’s youth leader Shamik Hossain, a key organisational man and a ticket aspirant, was overlooked in favour of former Congress MLA Abu Taher, who had switched over to the ruling party last year. In fact, more than 17 Congress MLAs and three legislators of the Left Front had switched over to the TMC since the last assembly elections in West Bengal in 2016. “It’s good that the TMC is getting a dose of its own medicine. As you sow, so shall you reap. It is the TMC which has ensured the growth of the BJP in Bengal by finishing off secular forces like the Congress and the CPI(M),” state Congress president Somen Mitra quipped.
The Mukul Roy factor: Last but not the least, once the second-in-command in Trinamool Congress and now one of the leading names in the state BJP, Mukul Roy might queer the pitch for his former political boss in a way that may not be quite palatable. During her stint as the opposition leader (during the CPI(M)-led Left Front regime), Mamata Banerjee had penned a book “Slaughter of Democracy” where she demanded deployment of central forces in all polling booths across the state. She had also dispatched a clutch of letters to the Election Commission detailing the reason behind her demand to declare all booths ‘sensitive’ in the Left-ruled West Bengal. After his defection to BJP nearly couple of years back, Roy thought it was an opportune moment to hand over a copy of the book and photocopies of those letters to the Election Commission, triggering a row in the inner circles of TMC.
Even as the TMC leaders strongly denounced the move of Roy, claiming that the state of democracy during the Left Front rule and that of the Trinamool Congress government could hardly be compared, the wily BJP leader wasted little time and ensured deployment of the paramilitary forces in every sensitive area across the state. While the Left leaders felt piqued at the TMC leaders’ cacophony against the demand for deployment of central forces, it is too early to predict that the presence of these forces could really alter the ‘game of thrones’ in West Bengal scheduled to go to polls in all the seven phases.

Foreign Flounderings

Lacking in any sense of historical perspective, the Modi government has lost valuable friends like Nepal and yielded unenviable space to Pakistan, China and the US

foreign-flounderings-
Sankar Ray
Sankar Ray

Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazines, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi made five visits to Nepal between August 2014 and September 2018. He was accompanied by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and External Affairs secretary Sujatha Singh, but without Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj. The then Prime Minister of Nepal, Sushil Koirala, welcomed Modi at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. Afterward, Modi visited the Pashupatinath Temple where he offered prayers.
Gestures from top political leaders of Nepal, crossing party lines, were explicit. Koirala, who represented the Nepali Congress apart, the then chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) Pushpa Kamal Dahal and chairman CPN (United Marxist Leninist) Khadga Prasad Oli, the present PM met with him with an open mind. The then Foreign minister of Nepal Mahendra Bahadur Pandey had struck am emotional tone: “Modi is result-oriented and gives priority to economic prosperity. He wants to consolidate ties with Nepal”, believing that the new government in New Delhi, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party that got absolute majority in the 543-member Lower House of the Parliament after 25 years, was genuinely interested in implementing the ‘neighbourhood first policy.’
Off Mask
There is no confirmation as yet whether the ₹ 10,000 crore India had promised Nepal has been disbursed. The hidden motive of Modi, more committed to rightwing Hindu nationalism than the first BJP premier of India, the late Atal Behari Vajpayee, is now almost open. In his last visit in September 2018, he inaugurated the first cross-border rail link between the two countries, Jainagar in Bihar to Janakpur in Nepal, spanning 29 kilometres.
But critics, especially in academic circles, snap fingers at the Indian PM for the latter’s keenness to buck up pro-Indian elements in Nepal slanted towards the Sangh Parivar the Madhesis.
Modi’s visit was to participate in a major Hindu festival if not mainly at a temple dedicated to ‘goddess’ Sita in Janakpur, the heartland of Madhesis of Nepal and named after the mythical King Janaka of Mithila and father of Sita. Modi aspired to lead a symbolic ‘baraat’ or wedding procession up to Janaki Mandir in Janakpur, believed to have been the home Sita, along with some BJP leaders in tow, a strategic gesture ahead of the Lok Sabha elections keeping in mind the voters of states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar bordering Nepal.
Dr Pramod Jaiswal, senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, and Nepali by birth, questioned Modi’s intention ingenuously in an article in mid-May 2018: “Modi’s desire to start his visit from Janakpur in the Madhesi-majority Terai region had two motivating elements to it.
“First, the government in Kathmandu had cancelled his visit to Janakpur and the Muktinath temple in northern Nepal during his second visit in 2014. Second, Janakpur is both the putative birthplace of Sita and, as the temporary capital of Province 2, important to the Madhesi plains people’s longstanding demand for proportional representation in the Nepalese parliament through a constitutional amendment, which New Delhi has pushed for through diplomatic pressure and direct economic interference.
Choking Nepal
“India had actively backed the 135-day blockade that had frozen essential cross-border trade from September 2015 to February 2016 (a week after the constitution was promulgated). This time round, Kathmandu allowed Modi to not only visit both venues but also to use them to attempt to endear himself to this Hindu-majority country riven by anti-India – and specifically anti-Modi – protests.”
The friendliness in the attitude of Kathmandu towards New Delhi suffered a diplomatic fracture during the second NDA period. The gap that became yawning was a boon for Beijing. Modi’s hyperbolic promise of beginning a new chapter in Indo-Nepal diplomacy proved to be a pious platitude.
On the contrary, China has slowly and steadily been dislodging India as a friend of Nepal. Bejing has extended its hand to the land-locked state taking advantage of a combined communist party in power Nepal Communist Party, formed out of merger of Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center).
Belting India
Beijing and Kathmandu inked an MoU on Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative to enhance connectivity of ports, roads, railways, aviation and communications in the framework of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network.
New Delhi questioned whether the trans-Himalayan railway up to Kathmandu is techno- economically viable, given the reality that it has to traverse through several tunnels, construction of which will be costly, to make the railway reach the lower mountains and plains, let alone the high seismic risks. The pro-Maoist rulers paid no heed, as they emotionally appended to the Communist Party of China that has been ruling the People’s Republic of China for 68 years.
Already, the Chinese Qinghai-Tibet railway is operational up to Shigatse (Xigaze) and is expected to soon reach the Nepal border (Rasuwagadi) in Kerung (Gyirong). From Kerung it will be a 100-km-long railway to Kathmandu. A combined transportation system of rail and truck will substantially reduce the journey. The entire journey takes only 10 days, much less than the 35 days it takes through the maritime route via Kolkata. The rail route through Kerung will hugely provide a boost to Sino-Nepal trade and commerce.
Sonar Bangla Lost
Look at Bangladesh whose people saw China under Mao Zedong as their enemy was befriended by post-Mao China. A take-off in this bilateral friendship was the groundwork for cooperation, linked to the visit of the Chinese President Xi in mid- October 2016, when Bangladesh and China signed 27 deals and memorandum of understandings, covering financing of infrastructure, energy, information and communication projects, 15 agreements and MoUs and 12 loan and mutual agreements, according to the then foreign secretary of Bangladesh, Md Shahidul Haque. The two countries agreed to work together in counterterrorism partnership as well. There had already been a robust military tie as well. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Bangladesh by that time became the largest buyer of Chinese arms, second only to Pakistan. Bangladesh accounted for 20 per cent of all the Chinese arms export during the past five years ended 2016. Unnerved, as if woken up under compulsion, the Modi government signed a $4.5 billion concessional line of credit for 17 projects in the infrastructure and power sector in favour of Bangladesh during the visit of Bangladesh PM Sk Hasina Wazed to New Delhi in April 2017.
Another $500 million credit line was extended for defence equipment plus 13 business-to-business agreements for approximately $9 million were inked with select few Indian business houses.
Tourist Modi
But Modi’s irrepressible penchant to see the world as the Indian premier seemed too lavish to keep the national exchequer on pins and needles.
The gross expenditure incurred by the foreign trips during his five-year term (2014-19) is no less than Rs 7,266.94 crore, including the related publicity spend. But the results have been mostly negative, if not destructive, as bilateral relations with none of the neighbouring countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka – let alone Pakistan show signs of camaraderie.
Officials who call the shots at the foreign policy leave no nerve unstrained to discover new digits in diplomacy, citing fragments of apparent strides reflected in economic deals with Japan, a few Middle East countries , Maldives and the like.
Jap Issues
Even deals for economic co-operation, MoUs have not all ensured sustainable efficacy. Take the reinvigorated economic and financial cooperation with Japan that pledged an investment of ₹ 33.8 billion in government and private sector investments over five years, following Modi’s meeting his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe.
Japan has already invested in the $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor that envisages setting up of new cities, industrial parks, ports and airports, aside from a 1,483 km high-speed rail and road line. Tokyo is genuinely keen on implementing Modi’s dream project, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train service, for which the first tranche of committed Official Development Assistance loan of Japanese ¥ 89,547 million (₹5,500 crore ) has been released.
The funding body, Japan International Cooperation Agency, agreed to 80 per cent of investment cost as soft loan. But there are doubts about whether the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (alone having absolute majority in the 542-member Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament), have done the spadework for its implementation.
The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited, constituted to build it, is yet to acquire the essential professionalism to take on the challenge. It has to legally acquire around 1,400 hectares of land in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Of this nearly 1,120 hectares are privately owned and approximately 6,000 land owners are to be compensated.
Some 1,000 farmers, mostly of Surat, petitioned the Gujarat High Court stating that they don’t want to give their land for the bullet train project. Moreover, the JICA set out guidelines for setting up of a committee for environmental and social impact assessments.
The farmers have alleged that no such committee has yet been constituted. As a result, release of the second tranche of credit is in a limbo. And the JICA has started pulling up the NHSRCL, although the latter tries to negate such an impression and asserts that it is committed to take care of the interests of the affected farmers, adding that all necessary steps with regard to submission of various reports such as social impact assessment, environment impact assessment and indigenous people plan, have been submitted to JICA.
Basic Faults
One can’t miss some basic fault lines in Modi’s external affairs policy-in-practice, let alone the awkward concept of keeping the Minister of EA confined to South Block and the PM seeing the world resembling a government-paid joyride.
The questions that arise are many: Did Modi define national interest or articulate a strategic vision, or even enunciate his media-hyped ‘neighbourhood policy? The answer is a simple NO. Instead, the world around witnessed gradual decimation of the prestigious independent foreign policy. There was showbiz summitry, coupled with and subservience to Uncle Sam. But there was a lot of opportunities that the NDA-2 could have seized for breaking new ground like ‘stitching together a coalition of rimland states in the east to ring-fence China.’ Shamelessly, the Modi government walked into the US trap of weakening the non-aligned foreign policy. Which was why the 2 X 2 talks between the USA and India took place in the beginning of September 2018 in New Delhi, ostensibly to ramp up strategic relations but it helped the US penetrate — horizontally and vertically — India’s most secret communications and command and control networks, including the Strategic Forces Command overseeing nuclear security. The US side was represented by its Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim while on the Indian side was the comparatively soft-spoken and most often side-lined Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and the garrulous and completely ineffective but theatrical Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Defence Minister. The latter signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, an emblem of subservience.
Balakot Blunders
The NDA too has been more committed to belligerence than a peaceful approach, overtly with Pakistan and covertly with Nepal. Strangely – if not ludicrously enough – after the Balakot strike in the wee hours of 26 February, it was not the defence secretary Sanjay Mitra, but the external affairs secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale who briefed the media (on condition of not taking questions). The latter said, “In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammad) in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), brother-in-law of Masood Azhar Chief of JeM”.
He claimed it was a ‘non-military preemptive action… specifically targeted at the JeM camp’, contrary to the news from the spot by the Reuters and video footages in the social media. Furthermore, the notion that ‘a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated’ was a matter of suspicion for the international media.
The CEO of MoEA reminds me of Dr Henri Kissinger, National Security Advisor to the former US President Richard Milhous Nixon. “Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” I don’t know how Kissinger would have reacted had he been asked to comment on Gokhale willingly agreeing to poke his nose into defence affairs at the cost of his credibility.

Facts of an Unequal World: Differences Between Income And Wealth

World economists worried over advanced economies and emerging economies struggling for prosperity and stability

facts-of-an-unequal-world-differences--between-income-and-wealth
SA Raghu
SA Raghu

The author is a banking and economics commentator based in Chennai. He is an economist and CFA by training and his professional career of over 30 years has spanned central banking, project financing and banking technology. He writes for financial newspapers on banking, economics and finance

Raghuram Rajan, former RBI Governor, has brought the capitalism-inequality debate to centre-stage with his new book, “The Third Pillar How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind”, in which he says capitalism is breaking down because the economic and political system was not providing equal opportunities to people. Critics of capitalism have long held that markets were responsible for creating inequality, but since governments have also proved incapable, all forms of systems are being viewed with scepticism today. But Rajan’s book is not so much about inequalities as it is about addressing how local communities could be strengthened to act as an effective check against a rampaging State and markets which have combined to bring capitalism to a crisis. On inequality itself, it was Thomas Piketty who famously propounded in his pathbreaking work that much of the inequality of wealth in capitalist societies results from inequalities of inheritance, through a self-fulfilling process – wealth inequality leads to differences in education, economic power and on to further inequalities in income. He argued that the rich grew richer because returns from wealth grew faster than national incomes, with the inequalities made worse by inheritance. Wealth in these economies is mostly of the financial kind and the rich get richer from the holding of wealth rather than from the fruits of labour.
Though income inequality reports use GDP data to derive distributions of income and inequality, it would be simplistic to draw any inferences from merely comparing inequality data across nations, because economies vary in structures and in the nature of growth. If we consider the data of the USA and India, this will be clear. According to the World Inequality Report 2018, inequality in the USA was extremely high at the top-most levels of the population groups – average share of income of the top 1% of adults in 2014 was 20%, as compared with the bottom 50% (12.5%). Furthermore, a large portion (about 65%) of the incomes came from capital (interest, dividends, retained earnings and rents) while it was less than 10% for the bottom 90%. The growth rate of financial wealth outpaced that of national incomes, helped by booming markets.
The US economy is also significantly ‘financialised’, with banking and financial services contributing over 30% of its GDP. It is easy to see where the moral outrage comes from- the perception of finance as a rent-seeking activity and its appropriation by a small minority. The most visible form is the ‘marketization’, the continuous creation and trading of financial assets to pander to the wealthy (bank loans into tradable securities are probably the least toxic), but the greater concern is the spread of financialisation to non-finance sectors. The corporate sector is now driven by stock market valuations and shareholder interests, with excessive managerial compensation linked to stock prices, which offers perverse incentives for rent-seeking than risk taking. Financialisation also crept into households – we can recall how American homeowners at the height of the sub-prime mortgage crisis were lured into taking advantage of rising home values and ultra-low interest rates by converting their houses into virtual ATMs. The rich had their hedge funds and other new securities that were continuously being created to meet their demands.
Even without being capitalist, India also ranks high among countries with income inequality – at 54%, the share in total income of the top 10% of India’s population was higher than even that of the USA (47%) as per the report. The bottom 50% shared only 15% of the income, which in fact is higher than those of China and Russia at the higher quantiles. The inequalities in our economy have more to do with the nature of economic growth, its components and the structural characteristics of our labour markets rather than capitalism and markets. Our employment data is notoriously outdated and unreliable and even what we have is unflattering- the labour force participation rate at 52% is among the lowest in the world, due to the extremely low participation of women in employment (73% of the labour force is male). This virtually renders the debate on unemployment numbers meaningless – when over 48% of working age people do not participate in the job market, it is irrelevant whether the actual level of unemployment is 4% or 6%. The significance of employment is with relation to incomes and demand, which leads us to another structural issue – the nature of employment – nearly 50% of the labour force is self-employed and about 33% are contractually employed which leaves less than 20% in the formal wage earning category. Without taking away from the merits of the type of labour, a low sized formal market is usually the cause of low wages, cited by many as the real issue and not unemployment per se. Piketty also says that such a small sized formal sector leads to tax ratios being low which seems self-evident. The sectoral GDP and employment data shows this up more starkly- the tertiary sector (trade, transport, finance, insurance and real estate) contributes over 42% of total value added to GDP, but employs only a small proportion of formal labour, while agriculture and the primary sector, while contributing a small proportion to GDP(less than 20%) has a large self-employed segment, but in reality an euphemism for disguised unemployment, given the low value added in this sector.
As for solutions, taxation is often an effective tool where the cause of excessive inequality is financialisation; in fact, the declining progressivity in tax rates was said to be one of the causes for the rise in inequality in the USA; tax cuts left the wealthy and the corporates with money, but that was not spent productively as intended and instead went to aggravate economic inequalities. In India, current taxation levels leave little scope for tinkering and besides benefits from lower taxes often accrue to only a small section.
Raghuram Rajan’s prescription for India is a leap out of the middle-income trap into a higher orbit of wealth and prosperity to tackle the issues of poverty and inequality. This would require a broad-based economic growth that embraces a larger formal labour participation which would make for lesser inequalities, but this is easier said. Which is probably why populist schemes such as a minimum basic income always catch the fancy of politicians. In fact, for long now, most economies have been practising some form of a markets-for-the rich and welfarism-for-the-less-privileged approach, but the sustainability of such models is coming unstuck, manifest in the growing unrest everywhere.
The Congress party in India has also jumped into the fray and come up with its catchily named NYAY scheme; while this may not be a proper universal basic income scheme, the guarantee of Rs. 6,000 to every family that earns less than Rs 12,000 per month if the household is a member of the poorest 20% of all households in the population, has all the ingredients. Raghuram Rajan apparently was consulted on NYAY and he seemed to favour it as it could build capabilities, but his own general views on minimum basic income schemes are slightly different. He feels that minimum income schemes can be hugely resource-intensive, calling for high levels of taxes at a time when the clamour is to reduce them. Secondly, he feels cash transfers should be considered only if it was genuinely not possible to create meaningful jobs, as otherwise they could rob people of the dignity of labour; in fact, such schemes could prevent the creation of new jobs by offering perverse incentives to remain unemployed. By no stretch of imagination can we claim that we have reached the limits of meaningful job creation in India, but given the notorious incompetence of Governments, the appeal of money for nothing schemes will be hard to resist, fiscal constraints notwithstanding.

Environment Ministry Is A National Shame

Historically, our traditions have been designed in a way to protect and conserve environment. The current dispensation has propagandised recovering the ‘lost glory’. Ironically, the government has done more damage to the environment through its flawed policies and vested interests

environment-ministry-is-a--national-shame
Mahendra Pandey
Mahendra Pandey

The author is an environmentalist, environmental activist and freelance writer on social issues

We are the certainly worst country in the world on the basis of environmental performance. Our country always remains choked with toxic fumes, rivers are not only polluted but have gone to a toxic level, the government remains silent over noise, amidst chanting of SWACHH BHARAT our cities overflow with garbage, industries kill protesters with the help of government and saints are fasting and dying for the cause of NAMAMI GANGE.
The BJP’s 2014 election manifesto had listed environmental management under ‘industry’. It was no accident. The mandate was clear: remove “hurdles” in the way of unsustainable growth. In the past year, several key changes have been affected in environmental legislation that’ll have a ripple effect in 2019 and many years to come.
In The Name Of Vikaas
Since coming into power in 2014, the BJP government has emphasised the need for speedy clearances, removal of red tape and bottlenecks. It formed a committee to suggest amendments in the six environmental laws of the country that form the bedrock of all regulations – Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; and Indian Forest Act 1927.
However, with the move being intensely opposed by experts, activists, the government never implemented the changes fully. The past year, the last before the government completes its tenure, saw changes in the laws governing India’s environment, from its fragile coastlines to those that protect the vulnerable forest-dwelling populations.
Although critics have argued that these changes amount to diluting India’s robust framework of environmental regulations for a vision of development that is often exclusive, a senior official of the environment ministry disagreed. The official said, “These laws are often too strict. Sustainable development doesn’t mean ‘no development’. These changes have all been implemented while keeping in mind different shareholders.” After the environment ministry amended coastal zone rules to give relief to projects that had begun in the coastal areas without required clearances, environmentalists warned of dire consequences.
First issued in 1991, under the Environment Protection Act 1986, the notification last year revamped regulatory norms to make it easier to construct along the coastline for development activities like tourism and real estate. However, environmentalists warned that these would give violators a lease of life, and lead to considerable damage along the coastlines. Last year, the government made another bid to ease environmental regulations, stipulating that construction projects that are less than 50,000 square metres don’t require green clearance and, thus, will be allowed to progress without authorities issuing permissions after the check of environmental conditions. The building and construction sector is governed under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006 under which any project of more than 20,000 square metres requires permission.
In December 2016, the MoEF introduced a new system wherein projects up to 300,000 square metres would not need the mandatory EC after state authorities integrated environmental conditions with building bye-laws. But this was challenged in January 2018 at the NGT as “a ploy to circumvent the provisions of environmental assessment”.
The environment ministry notified the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) rules 2018 to ensure proper utilisation of Rs 660 billion for the plantation of trees across India.
However, environmentalists and civil society groups argued that the rules ignore the rights of forest dwellers and tribes and that the new rules are against the existing laws that safeguard their right to self-governance in scheduled areas and forest rights. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh has also criticised the rules stating that they are in violation of assurances that were given in the Parliament in 2016 by the then environment minister Anil Dave.
In a bid to bring uniformity in terms and conditions for environmental clearances, the MoEF released standard environment clearance conditions for 25 industrial sectors including major ones like coal mines, oil and gas exploration and hydropower projects.
Often criticised for being soft on industry, the ministry maintained that this would bring transparency while also being in line with the government’s overall policy of simplifying rules and speeding up the process for the growth of industries. But environmentalists have remained wary, pointing out that simplicity often comes at a cost and that speed and efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean rigorous science to back the environmental impact of projects.
Dark Times, Darker Waters
Polluted river stretches increases to 351, as against 302 in 2015 According to a recent assessment by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), there are 351 polluted river stretches in the country with 45 of them being critically polluted.
Although a greater focus is given to the Ganga river clean-up due to its cultural significance, the assessment revealed that there are far more polluted rivers than the Ganga in the country. Nearly one-third of the polluted river stretches are in Maharashtra, Assam and Gujarat. The assessment has highlighted four significant stretches of pollution which includes the Mithi river—Powai to Dharavi; the Godavari—Someshwar to Rahed; the Sabarmati—Kheroj to Vautha; and the Hindon—Saharanpur to Ghaziabad.
Most Polluted Cities In The World
Twenty-two of the world’s 30 worst cities for air pollution are in India, according to a new report, with Delhi again ranked the world’s most polluted capital. The Greenpeace and AirVisual analysis of air pollution readings from 3,000 cities around the world found that 64% exceed the World Health Organization’s annual exposure guideline for PM2.5 fine particulate matter – tiny airborne particles, about a 40th of the width of a human hair, that are linked to a wide range of health problems.
Every single measured city in the Middle East and Africa exceeds the WHO guidelines, as well as 99% of cities in South Asia and 89% in East Asia. Since many cities, particularly in Africa, do not have up-to-date public air quality information, the actual number of cities exceeding PM2.5 thresholds is expected to be much higher, the report authors said. The report is based on 2018 air quality data from public monitoring sources, such as government monitoring networks, supplemented with validated data from outdoor IQAir AirVisual monitors operated by private individuals and organisations. India dominates the top segment of the list. The tech hub of Gurugram, a city just to the south-west of Delhi which was previously known as Gurgaon, ranked the most polluted in the world with an average of more than 135 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre (µg/m3) throughout the year. Delhi is ranked 11th.
Faisalabad in Pakistan is ranked third with 130 (µg/m3), with Lahore 10th. Dhaka in Bangladesh is ranked 17th. The only other country to feature in the top 30 is China, which appears five times, including Hotan in the western Xinjiang province (eighth) and the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar (19th). The highest-ranking capital cities are Delhi, Dhaka and Kabul in Afghanistan (52nd). The Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, is the most polluted European city with an annual average of 38.4 µg/m3. London is the 48th most polluted capital with 12.0 µg/m3 and Washington DC 56th with 9.2 µg/m3. “Air pollution steals our livelihoods and our futures, but we can change that,” said Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Swachh Bharat or a Garbage Country
Barely 35,600 metric tonnes (MT) or a quarter of the 1.43 lakh MT of garbage generated every day in Indian cities gets processed. The remaining three-quarters about 1.1 lakh MT are dumped in the open. Only eight of 35 states process more than half the daily garbage generated in their cities and not a single one has achieved 100% processing.
State-wise data on the website of the urban affairs ministry shows that states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand don’t process even 10% of their municipal garbage while Arunachal Pradesh and Dadra & Nagar Haveli don’t process municipal garbage at all. Jammu & Kashmir processes a mere 1%. Chhattisgarh (74%) tops the list and is one of only four states that process more than 60% of municipal garbage. Telangana (67%), Sikkim (66%) and Goa (62%) are the others in this category. Delhi processes 55% of its daily garbage. There are about 84,000 municipal wards in India spread across states and 61,846 or almost three-quarters of these wards have achieved 100% door-to-door garbage collection, according to the website. Yet, without proper disposal facilities, this makes little difference. Municipal bodies in Maharashtra generate maximum garbage - 22,570 MT daily - followed by Tamil Nadu (15,437 MT), Uttar Pradesh (15,288 MT), Delhi (10,500 MT), Gujarat (10,145 MT) and Karnataka (10,000 MT).
Municipal bodies are dumping waste on to landfill sites, which are overflowing their capacity and polluting the surrounding land, groundwater and air. According to the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), cities are now running out of land on which to dump their waste and have begun throwing it in the ‘backyards’ of smaller towns, suburbs and villages.
We Indians are destined for premature death – either due to pollution or due to protests for a clean environment. The government and Environmental Minister do not see any pollution or environmental degradation. We are certainly the only country in the world which makes tall claims on international gatherings on one hand and does ease of doing business at the cost of environmental degradation on the other.

Political Films Are Neo-Agitprop to Influence Voters

Movies have traditionally been the source of entertainment in India. Movies like Rang De Basanti, Raajneeti, etc had some undertone of politics, but they were largely neutral. The trend has changed recently, with more and more filmmakers creating movies centred on an identity or an ideology, backed overtly by the political class

political-films-are-neo-agitprop-to-influence-voters
Geeta Singh
Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian

Recently a trailer of the official biopic on PM Narendra Modi was released on T-Series, the number one YouTube handle in the world, to pull maximum views. The biopic ‘PM Narendra Modi’ is based on the life of Modi and is slated to release around the Lok Sabha elections. The film is directed by ‘biopic expert’ Omung Kumar who has made ‘Sarabjit’ and ‘Mary Kom’ earlier and produced by journalist-turned-producer Sandip Ssingh. But the first phase of polls will commence from 11th April so the producer changed the date.
The film will release in 3 languages before general elections to gain maximum advantage. For a change of the date Sandeep Ssingh said in a statement, “People have great expectations and curiosity, so we do not want them to wait for long. This is the story of 1.3 billion people and I do not want people to wait to see it.” The protagonist Vivek Oberoi, whose father Suresh Oberoi is a BJP member and is also one of the producers, has taken up nine different looks with the help of prosthetics makeup to narrate the life of Modi. Although, Vivek Oberoi does a poor take of Modi in the trailer. He tries to get Modi’s mannerisms, but try is all he does.
The Saffron Blessing
Along with Vivek Oberoi, Manoj Joshi will be seen in the role of Amit Shah. As per sources, Sandeep Ssingh started working on this ambitious project after demonetisation in 2016. Earlier Paresh Rawal wanted to portray Modi, in fact, he had commented in the media that nobody could play the role of Narendra Modi better than him. But things did not turn out well and he was replaced by Vivek Oberoi. Then production started in early January again, and the movie raced towards completion because it has to release before polls. As per Mid-Day, a former Election Commissioner noted that the film’s release indirectly violates the model code of conduct since it has the blessings of BJP leaders. Though BJP is not directly involved with the production, it was launched in Mumbai by BJP leader and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. He even tweeted, “film is set to create history.” But then, Sandeep Ssingh defended the film, saying that BJP had nothing to do with film ‘PM Narendra Modi’. “Since we are making a film on the sitting PM, we are requesting people who admire him to come as chief guests,” Ssingh said.
Along with a biopic, a web series on PM Narendra Modi will also be available in April to watch just before elections. Umesh Shukla, the director of movies ‘Oh My God’ and ‘102 Not Out’ made a ten-part series titled Modi on Narendra Modi. The series will cover Modi’s life from childhood to his teenage and youth to becoming PM. Umesh Shukla has produced this along with Ashish Wagh. Actors Faisal Khan, Ashish Sharma and Mahesh Thakur play different stages of Modi’s life. The web series will stream on Eros Now from April 11 to May 19, which is also the duration of the seven phases of polling for the Lok Sabha election.
More The Merrier
Last year, 32 minute short film ‘Chalo Jeete Hai’, directed by Mangesh Hadawale and presented by Aanand L Rai and Mahaveer Jain, was released. Produced by Bhushan Kumar of T-Series, the film is based on the early life of Modi and shows how he is inspired by Swami Vivekananda and the empathy he exhibits towards the poor while growing up in Vadnagar in Gujarat. The short film has its world premiere on Star Network and its OTT platform Hotstar. And later it was screened at the Rajya Sabha and hailed by a group of ministers including Piyush Goyal and Ravi Shankar Prasad.
These are not only films that are promoting and hailing Modi. ‘Mere Pyare Prime Minister’ is another flick that promotes the cleanliness drive of Modi government. Released on 15th March, directed by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, the film tells a story of a mother and son who live in Mumbai slum. Amidst many hardships of life, the film focuses on the problem of open defecation and sanitation problems. It is a social-drama featuring Anjali Patil and Makrand Deshpande. But before its release, the film faced a dispute with a budding writer Manoj Marita related to the credit of film writing. Director Rakesh Mehra is accused of taking the story and script from the new writer Manoj Marita and adding his name to it. The matter was taken to the court later. The controversy caused a delay in releasing the film also. The film flopped badly at the box office. Before its release, trade analysts speculated around Rs 1 crore of the collection in the first weekend but the film collected just 18 lakhs only. The total collection reached just Rs 30 lakhs.
On social media platforms many other films, full length and short, based on PM Modi released. ‘Har Har Modi’ made by Pahlaj Nihalani and ‘Narendra Modi - The Ocean of Dreams’ are some of the films. Other than Hindi, there are a couple of films available in Gujarati too that tell the story of PM Modi. ‘Namo Saune Gamo’ released in 2014 is one such film. Interestingly PM Modi released the poster of the film.
Election fever is growing fast in the country and films are also playing vital role in propaganda and promoting the ideologies of different political parties. In the age of propaganda, not only in Bollywood but in Southern film industry also, political parties want to take advantage of cinema and want to revive the sentiments of the electorate through political biopics. At the same time, parties want to transfuse their ideology through the films in today’s youth. Hence, viewers will watch more than a dozen political biopics being released or announced in the 2019 pre-poll season which seems like an unconventional trend.
Telugu Tryst With Biopics
In Andhra Pradesh, before polls, biopic fever is on edge. The trailer of controversial Telugu film ‘Lakshmi’s NTR’ has gone viral with a catchy hashtag #NTRtrueSTORY and has been watched more than 46 lakh times in just 24 hours. Within a week more than 79 lakh views were already there on YouTube for the trailer. One can judge the curiosity of the audience about the film that within an hour of being released online on 13th February, it was seen more than five and a half million times. Director Ram Gopal Varma is directing this controversial biopic based on the life of late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR) who was an actor before entering politics. Actor P Vijay Kumar is portraying the role of NTR. The film ran into controversy when an MLA SV Mohan Reddy reportedly filed a complaint against Ram Gopal Varma for the song in the film for defaming AP CM Chandrababu Naidu. On the other hand, Ram Gopal Varma wants to trigger sensation before its release, so he has publicly promised to reveal the untold truth about the late actor-turned-politician. As per the sources, the film is based on some factual events related to NTR’s last days. Reacting to this, the leaders of Telugu Desam Party have accused Ram Gopal Varma and his movie’s producer Rakesh Reddy of maligning and misrepresenting Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu who is son-in-law of NTR.
Well, adding to this, film buffs would experience the other truth of the life of NTR by his another biopic, which is somehow official one too. Sixth son of NTR, N Balakrishna (NBK), who is also MLA from Hindupur assembly, made his father’s biopic in two parts. While actor Balakrishna himself essays the role of his father NTR, Vidya Balan plays the role of NTR’s wife Basavatarakam and popular Telugu star Rana Daggubati has been roped in to portray N Chandrababu Naidu in the film. The first part of two-part biopic ‘NTR Kathanayakudu’ that focusses mainly on NTR’s acting career released worldwide in January. And the second part titled ‘NTR Mahanayakudu’ released on 22nd February that narrates NTR’s political journey. Director Krish Jagarlamudi tried to recreate the campaign part very well and Balakrishna portrayed older NTR with ease and finesse. There are references how NTR understood the need to connect with people and did not rely merely on his charm from cinema to turn the tables at the elections. Before release, the viewers expressed enormous expectations but both films received mixed responses. A section of people pointed out that the film glorified NT Rama Rao and failed to showcase his flaws. They called it a propaganda film for portraying Chandrababu Naidu in a favourable light.
Another important political biopic which has generated a buzz in Andhra Pradesh was ‘Yatra’ based on the padyatra of political leader YS Rajasekhara Reddy. ‘Yatra’ may not be called as proper biopic because it is more event-based covering padyatra in larger part. Worldwide the movie has been released in 970 theatres. Noted Malayalam actor Mammootty played YSR in this movie. Mahi V Raghav has scripted and directed this movie.
In ‘Yatra’ the story is recreated in such a manner to conjure up the vague memories of YSR in people’s mind. It was notable that YSR had managed to come to power after a long haul through walkathon that led him to become the chief minister in 2004. ‘Yatra’ was blatant political propaganda and in fact, it did not conceal its purpose. The introductory and closing scenes are generously laced with photographs and video footage of YSR. The film may provide notable support to his son and politician YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in gaining support from voters during elections. Jagan is banking on the popularity of his father.
Telangana people missed the chance to watch a biopic on KCR. Last year a biographical picture titled ‘Udyama Simham’ based on Telangana chief minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) was also slated to release. Directed by Alluri Krishnam Raju, the KCR’s biopic was to release before the assembly elections held. But for some unknown and undisclosed reasons, the film was not released.
Amma Magic On The Screen
In Tamil Nadu, at least four political dramas on the late AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa are in pipeline. One is in the form of web series. Filmmaker Gautham Menon is working on it. While in Tamil cinema, audience will get an opportunity to see the movie ‘Thalaivi’, a biopic on the life of actor-turned-politician Jayalalithaa. On her 71st birth anniversary on 24th February, the first look of the film was revealed. The film will go on the floor in April. Filmmaker-director AL Vijay who will direct this biopic says that it took him more than 20 drafts to lock the final version of the script. ‘Baahubali’ series writer K Vijayendra Prasad, who is also writing the script of the film based on RSS, has been brought on board to pen the script.
However, this is not the only biopic. Two more Jayalalithaa’s biographical films are in the offing. One titled as ‘The Iron Lady’ will debut A Priyadarshini as director. Actress Nithya Menen will play the role of Jayalalithaa in this film. The film will be released in Hindi also along with Tamil and Telugu versions to garner national buzz. The producers want to release the movie next year. Another biographical movie ‘Thaai: Puratchi Thalaivi’ on Jayalalitha has been planned by producer Adithya Bhardwaj. On all these biopics, director Vijay commented ‘Thalaivi’ will be the official biopic of Jayalalithaa. He revealed that they have also taken permission from Jayalalithaa’s nephew Deepak.
RaGa’s Raag Too
Interestingly, If BJP is manipulating cinema for its propaganda and to influence electoral choices, so too does Congress. A biopic on Congress President Rahul Gandhi is on cards as well. The title of the movie will be ‘My Name is RaGa’. As per sources, this movie has no intentions to glorify Rahul or demystify him. “It’s the story of coming back of a human being who had been ridiculously attacked, anyone who has fearlessly confronted defeat and failure can relate to this story. In that sense, I don’t want to call this a biopic, it’s a narrative of any man who becomes unstoppable after he wins over a catastrophic life,” director Rupesh Paul said in a statement. But its trailer does not put an impressive mark on viewers.
Ye Public Hai, Ye Sab Jaanti Hai
In January, two unusual propaganda films – ‘Thackeray’ and ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ released. ‘Thackeray’, a biopic on Shiv Sena supremo Bala Saheb Thackeray, had actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui portraying the role of Bal Thackeray. It is a completely political promotional movie produced by Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena Member of Parliament and directed by Abhijit Panse, a former Sena member who’s now with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. ‘Thackeray’ made with around Rs 30 crore budget was a disaster on box office. It only did well in Mumbai territory. The overall collection was around Rs 19 crores only. The same fate befell the film ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, based on Sanjaya Baru’s book on former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s years in power, directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte. His father Ratnakar Gutte, a prominent sugar baron of Parbhani, had contested the 2014 Assembly elections as a BJP-alliance candidate but lost to the Nationalist Congress Party. It was termed as a propaganda film because ruling BJP promoted the trailer through their official Twitter account. At the domestic box office, the film collected only Rs 21 crores.
Like ‘Indu Sarkar’ and ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, another movie ‘The Tashkent Files’ is in the pipeline that will create controversy. The first-look poster of suspense thriller was unveiled before Holi announcing that the film will hit theatres on 12th April. Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, whose last film ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ was based on the Naxal-intelligentsia nexus, ‘The Tashkent Files’ is based on the mysterious death of India’s second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent (formerly a part of USSR, now in Uzbekistan) in 1966. The film concentrates on the Tashkent conspiracy, whilst also highlighting how Shastri, regarded by many as India’s first economic reformer who introduced several steps which led to many reforms like the White Revolution, was “seen as a hurdle to some forces”.
‘An Insignificant Man’, a documentary on Aam Aadmi Party head Arvind Kejriwal, had a nationwide theatrical release in November 2018. Directed by Khushboo Ranka, the film did not catch any buzz in India though it received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival. It has gone to major festivals across the world including the BFI London Film Festival & Busan International Film Festival.
Filmy Furore
On the other hand, satire and sarcasm are also seen in cinematic creativity like director Anik Dutta’s film ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ and ‘Halahal’. ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ has been ‘unofficially’ banned after its theatrical release. The film was withdrawn from almost all multiplexes and single-screen halls in the state within 10 days of its release. Then its producers had to seek judicial help to exhibit their film. They went to court alleging that the Mamata Banerjee-led state government had ordered an unofficial ban on the film. The court passed the interim order based on a plea by the producers of the film. ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ irked the state government because it criticises political parties, including Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, BJP and CPI(M). Another recent controversial blockbuster was actor Vijay’s political action film ‘Sarkar’ that ran into trouble with the state’s ruling party AIADMK over its depiction of the late politician Jayalalithaa and her welfare schemes. Movie’s posters were vandalized, theatres witnessed violent protests, and the producer of the film, Sun Pictures, was forced to delete certain controversial scenes that depicted freebies given by a political party being thrown into the fire. One thing from this act also became clear that political parties cannot tolerate any satire on them.
In the backdrop of Vyapam Scam, a film ‘Halahal’ is made that will reveal the scam of college admissions and government recruitments involving several politicians, businessmen and civil servants in Madhya Pradesh. Produced by Zeishan Quadri, who was scriptwriter of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, and directed by Randeep Jha, the film is more fictional though inspired by true events. “It is more or less a fictional story because we have fictionalised a lot but the backdrop is real,” Zeishan Quadri said. The movie is mainly shot in Amroha in Uttar Pradesh. The makers have planned to release the film on digital streaming platform instead of theatrical release.
However, the box office report of these movies points out that people are not really keen to watch these political biopics. Whereas, on the other hand, political biopics and saffron have become the new season of Bollywood, so masses will watch more biopics in coming days. As per sources, the latest to join the bandwagon are movies on RSS and Nitin Gadkari. Movies definitely help political leaders make headlines and these days films are becoming neo agitprops to spread the message before the polls.

SWACHH BHARAT MISSION: A COMPLETE EYEWASH

On 2nd October, 2014, Swachh Bharat Mission was launched as a nationwide movement to clean India and make it Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2019, 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. It was PM Modi’s pet project and he infused lots of funds for the mission. Much water has flown since, quite literally as well, but nothing substantial has been achieved till date. This will also go down in the annals of history as a monumental governance failure.

swachh-bharat-mission-a-complete-eyewash
Sandeep Pandey
Sandeep Pandey

Sandeep Pandey is a social activist. He co-founded Asha for Education with Dr. Deepak Gupta and V.J.P Srivastava while working on his Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar

A high profile Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is on with the objective of providing toilets to every household in India. However, the scheme is marred by high expenditure on publicity and low achievements on ground. The government has not been able to make it corruption free either. In the end we’re likely to pollute our drinking water sources because of promotion of a faulty design. Government has finally resorted to publicity as it falls woefully short of its target of making India Open Defecation Free. Conspicuous by absence is the mention of role of sanitation workers in keeping India clean, all of whom belong to a particular Scheduled Caste.
Mahatma Gandhi has been a victim of this campaign, termed a people’s movement by the Prime Minister, as it appears that he didn’t have any other substantial contribution to make to the idea of India. Narendra Modi wants Gandhi to be known only for sanitation, not for truth, non-violence, satyagraha or communal harmony. For Swachh Bharat Mission is only about physical cleanliness and not about cleansing oneself of hatred, intolerance and parochial thinking.
The Number Game
In Gram Panchayat Uttar Kondh of Block Sandila in Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of over six hundred families only 310 toilets have been constructed. Only 50 of these families got the stipulated Rs 12,000 in their bank accounts to get these toilets made.
The Gram Pradhan took upon himself the responsibility of getting the toilets made in around 260 households by engaging a contractor which is against the norms laid down by the government for implementation of this scheme. Out of the 310 toilets made only 160 are in usable condition, 50 can’t be used because they have been constructed away from habitation and there is no water available near the toilets. In others either the soak pits have not been constructed or there is no door, making it difficult for women to use it. Eight households had built their own toilets before it became a government programme. 300 families in this Gram Sabha (GS) remain without a toilet but still the village has been declared ODF.
In Gram Pradhan (GP) Goni of neighbouring Block Bharawan of Hardoi district, 684 toilets have been shown to be constructed. 350 of these were constructed under SBM. The remaining were supposed to be constructed as part of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for which every family gets Rs. 1,20,000 including the Rs 12,000 for the toilet. However, in this GS not a single family which has built their houses as part of PMAY, has built its accompanying toilet. 100 families in the village have been left out of the sanitation and housing schemes. Of the 350 toilets constructed, in reality only about 200 are in use.
In GP Sua Gada of Bharawan Block there are about 600 families. 499 toilets have been made as part of SBM, of which 300 are in use but 50 are incomplete. 6 households had constructed their own toilets. In GP Lalamau Mawai of the same Block there are 300 families residing. 93 toilets have been shown to be built but actually only 50 are constructed. 200 families have been left out of SBM.
In GP Bengalput, also of Bharawan Block 283 toilets have been shown to be constructed, of which 260 have been actually made. 100 of these are in use, 160 are incomplete with either no soak pits built or with no doors. Out of approximately 400 families which reside in this GS about 100 have been left out of SBM.
In GP Rampur Atwa of the same Block out of 394 families residing here, 13 already had their own toilets and 236 got toilets made under the SBM. However, only about half of them are in use. A requisition for 182 more toilets has been made to the Block office. The target for Bharawan Block in 2017-18 was 14,283 toilets which was achieved but for 2018-19 it was 4,743 toilets for which half the amount, Rs 6,000 per toilet, is still awaited.
In GP Maharajganj Dheri of Block Moth in Jhansi district of UP two firms, Shamni Traders and Bitiya Enterprises, have been made payments by cheque for construction of toilets from the Gram Panchayat account against the norms, instead of crediting Rs 12,000 to each beneficiary’s bank account. A complaint to this effect was made to the District Magistrate on 21 December, 2018, however, no action has been taken so far. Out of 100 toilets shown to have been built by these two firms 43 toilets are non-existent.
Bida is the President of her Gram Panchayat’s Monitoring Committee of GP Kamlapuri, Block Palia in district Lakhimpur Khiri of UP. She took upon herself the responsibility of getting toilets made for villagers. She borrowed cement, iron rods, morang and bajri worth Rs 1,80,000 and bricks worth Rs 88,000 to get 60 toilets built in her Gram Sabha. Now she is finding it difficult to get these payments made from either the Gram Panchayat or the Block Office.
A 2011 baseline survey has been used to achieve the target of Open Defecation Free. As a result even after Villages and Blocks are being declared Open Defecation Free, a number of households are left out to defecate in open. The hurry to achieve ODF and corruption are yielding sub-standard quality of construction, a reason why people are not using the toilets even after they have been shown to be constructed. One solution fits all approach of the government with respect to SBM seems to have miserably failed.
Where’s The Money, Honey?
In spite of proclaiming himself as Chowkidar, Narendra Modi’s government has not been able to arrest the prevalent corruption in government schemes in the form of commissions. If anything, the rates have gone up. In SBM, the Gram Pradhans and government officials, bypassing the instruction of transferring Rs 12,000 to individual accounts of beneficiaries, have preferred to get centralised construction done in the name of efficiency and meeting the targets. A supplier from Barabanki, Uttam Nirman Kendra, which has provided about 400 pre-fabricated ferrocement toilets to GPs in Barabanki and Faizabad disticts of UP reported that Rs. 1,000 was being taken for every toilet by Gram Pradhans when these toilets were procured.
Gram Pradhan of Rampur Atwa in Hardoi, Rajeshwari, belonging to a SC community, complained that while she had to pay a small bribe at the Block office to get people from her GS registered for receiving toilets, there were middlemen who were taking money from people for supposedly getting them included in list of beneficiaries.
The Comedy Of Errors
Irony is that government has not cared to provide toilets to some of the lowest level workers in SBM working as volunteers without any honorarium whose task is to motivate others to build toilets for themselves. They have been provided with a torch, a whistle and a cap to keep an eye on people defecating in open. Members of Gram Panchayat level monitoring committees from district Lakhimpur Khiri, Shankaria and Hema Malini from Dhakia, Janewmati from Bhuda, Ramawati from Bisenpuri, Ishwari, Baldev, Anjali, Sushmawati, Rinki, Sharda, Sheela from Bhanpuri Khajuria, Guddi from Lalpur Dhaka, Barsati, Savitri, Sunita, Ria, Sabrunnisa from Kamlapuri, Sushila, Sarita, Sandhya of Krishnanagar Bhojhia, Jagdish from Murarkheda, Nirmala Devi from Krishnanagar all from Block Palia are some such examples of torch bearers of this scheme who don’t own a toilet themselves.
A number of these members of Monitoring Committees have also filed application under the Right to Information Act, 2005, asking the Prime Minister’s Office as to why they are not being given any honorarium whereas everybody above them, in the hierarchy of people implementing the SBM, is receiving a salary or working because of financial incentives. It is a strange people’s movement where except for people at the very bottom, rest everybody is working as a professional, receiving financial rewards.
Pitching The Wrong Pit
As brand ambassadors of SBM Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar have been promoting twin soak or leach pit toilets whereas in areas like UP and Bihar where water table is quite high there is a danger of ground water getting polluted because of this design. Any drinking water source should be at least 50 feet away from the soak pit. There should be a gap of 6 feet between the bottom of the soak pit, which is un-plastered or earthen, and the ground water table.
Engineering Professor GD Agrawal, who was known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand after he became an ascetic in 2011 and who gave up his life after fasting for 112 days last year demanding an uninterrupted flow of and clean Ganga, used to say that Ganga river basin area ‘floats’ over water. Hence, toilets being promoted by the government pose a real danger to the ground water. In such areas the safer design is septic tank. But everybody who has got anything to do with SBM is parroting promotion of soak pit design. Few wise people, like 5-6 families in GS Rampur Atwa of Hardoi supplemented the Rs 12,000 received from government and have built septic tanks with their toilets. However, there have been cases where people who built septic tank design were denied the Rs 12,000 grant as their design was not according to government approved specifications. Expert Ashok Jain says that 55% of India is unfit for the twin soak pit design.
In the end we may end up creating more mess by polluting substantial portion of ground water and then will have to invent another scheme to clean the ground water. This is a classic example of how modern development, in trying to solve one problem, creates further problems.
Desperate Times And Desperate Measures
As the next general elections approach, the government, having realized that it cannot meet the target of making usable toilets for everybody, is now engaged in massive wall painting exercise across the country to create an impression that a vibrant SBM is going on whereas one can see garbage strewn over at many places and people defecating in open still in large numbers.
The exorbitant publicity budget is a mockery of the people who still have to defecate in open, for the same money could have been used to build some more toilets. The government is holding the people guilty for defecating in open whereas the reality is that there are simply no toilets available for vast majority of people.
Gimmicky Government
Prime Minister Narendra Modi famously washed the feet of five sanitation workers on 24th February, 2019, during the Ardh Kumbh at Allahabad, now known as Prayagraj, as a mark of respect to their contribution to ensuring cleanliness during the month and a half long event. However, the need to undertake this exercise arose probably because there was a protest going on of sanitation workers during the event itself demanding minimum wages and better working conditions. A well known activist-poet from Allahabad Anshu Malviya was arrested on 8 February by Crime Branch of Police and threatened with imposition of National Security Act on him because he was at the forefront of organising the sanitation workers. After a protest by activists and sanitation workers he was finally released after midnight from a local police station.
Sanitation workers were getting Rs 295 per day as daily wages whereas they desired Rs 600, according to a minimum monthly honorarium of Rs 18,000, which is being demanded by national level trade unions.
Moreover, sanitation workers continue to die while inside sewer lines. On 10th November, 2018 Dinesh Paswan and Vikas Paswan died in an accident inside a sewer line in Chowkaghat locality of Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Narendra Modi, while Satyendra Paswan suffered a leg fracture. The district administration or the government did not take responsibility and instead the contractor Pankaj Srivastava was made to pay the compensation. The case was registered at Chetganj Police Station. The SBM has failed to mention the contribution of sanitation workers, all of whom belong without fail to a Scheduled Caste community, or to do anything to improve their working and living conditions. The act of Narendra Modi washing the feet of sanitation workers, which overwhelmed the basic demands of workers, seem to be motivated more by the forthcoming elections than any real regard for their basic rights - a respectable income, safe working conditions, education for their children, health care for their families and an insurance against accident.

No Dramatic Change In The PM’s Constituency

There is not much to write home about Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency in 2019. There are vocal supporters and vocal critics, more vocal critics now than there were in 2014. But there is an air of fear all over. Shopkeepers praise Modi and they lament that there is not much business. Academics refuse to speak on record. People complain there is an ugly sales pitch and culture is reduced to kitsch. But they do not lay the blame at the door of Modi. Those who grumble against him end up voting for him. Varanasi has no alternative to Modi

no-dramatic-change-in-the-pms-constituency
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

If Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to win his second term from Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency without much challenge, what then is there to write about the place? Surprisingly, there is much to write about. There is heated debate about the Modi impact on the ancient city.
The cab driver draws our attention to the widened roads, to the new lamp-posts in the city though he falls silent as we run into a traffic jam. There are more cars, more autorickshaws. What was there in April 2014 and which had disappeared in March 2019 are the rickshaws. The electric-rickshaws have taken their place. Both the autorickshaw and the electric-rickshaw drivers still fear the lathi-wielding policemen because they know they get a blow on their vehicles and on their arms before they are asked anything. But the police appeared more restrained.
Common, collective muteness
The only bit of change that can be seen is between Lalita Ghat and the Vishwanath temple, where scores of buildings have been demolished after paying generous compensation amounting to crores of rupees to the owners. There is rubble all around. The tourists use the uneven, muddy pathway as though it is beneath their pious dignity even to ask the reason for the broken houses standing all around them and numerous temples standing in the dug-up place. At one of the tea-stalls where the local wits gather mornings and evenings, there is heated debate about the rights and wrongs of it. But nothing more.
The surprising thing is that the demolition and reconstruction work had begun a few months ago, and no one is bothered whether it will be an issue in the election. The residents and shopkeepers who have been displaced murmur their disapproval and their displeasure but they have moved to their newly-assigned points without much ado. The few who argue against the demolition as violating the character of the city have not approached the courts nor have they tried to win public support for their cause. They say in a resigned note that the government will do what it wants to, and there is no way of stopping it.
A policeman at one of the checkpoints to the Vishwanath temple when asked what he feels about the changes says that it is Lord Vishwanath who rules the city, and all others are mere wayfarers, including political leaders. His ambiguous answer leaves the impression that he is not a cheerleader of candidate Modi in Varanasi.
Brewing hatred
You walk through the rubble and razed homes, and then through small clearance and again through the narrow lanes to the Vishwanath temple from Lalita Ghat. The talk is that the lanes will soon be history and that the temple will be visible from the Lalita Ghat, and the riverfront will be seen from the temple. On the way, one can see the domes of the Gyanvapi mosque built during Aurangzeb’s reign after the old temple structure had been demolished around 1669. The present Vishwanath temple was built in 1780 by Rani Ahalyabai of Holkar in Madhya Pradesh. It remains a flashpoint between the two communities of Hindus and Muslims, but it lies latent and rarely does it flare up. One of the conspiracy theories doing the rounds in Varanasi is that the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) along with its affiliate, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), will be raking up the issue and create an Ayodhya-like situation once the structures around the temple and mosque are cleared and an open ground is created.
Sanitising the past
The ghats have been partially cleaned and the Ganga is not yet satisfactorily clean even in Varanasi, and Hindu pilgrims ride to the other bank where the water is relatively clean to take their holy dip. But the waterfront buildings which had come up in the lasts two centuries still stand. But there does not seem to be an urban renovation and restoration plan that will preserve the old architectural styles of the city marking the passing of centuries while building new ones. Urban and historical aesthetics does not seem to bother the local authorities or the state government. Says haveli-turned-inn owner who is also a former academic in visual arts that the Mughal style buildings and paintings in Benaras are disappearing and it is a huge cultural loss to the historic city. There is an awareness and concern about the historic heritage of Varanasi, which seems to elude the politicians, including its current Member of Parliament (MP), Prime Minister Modi.
The attempt to introduce bigger cruise boats in the river has been opposed by the boatmen, who belong to the community of Mallas, and boatman Vishnu narrated that Prime Minister Modi had promised that he would protect the interests of the boatmen of Varanasi. Vishnu blamed Chief Minister Adityanath and Union Waterways Minister Nitin Gadkari for attempting to bring in the big cruise boats to Varanasi.
No one is blaming Modi for not transforming Varanasi into a smart city. But the city is changing on its own and at its own pace. One of the interesting examples of how it is transforming itself can be seen in the name of the Western style confectionary called Chocolate Heaven on one side of the road and an Indian style sweets shop called Ksheersagar on the other side. There was already a McDonalds in Varanasi in 2014 and the eating joints have only grown. There is the Sparrow Café near Assi Ghat where home-prepared food is advertised.
When scholars sing
But there is also fear hanging in the air, whether it is the garrulous salesmen in the saree shops or academics who love to hold forth. The saree salesmen say that Modi has done a lot of good and that he is going to win and when pressed to answer how their business was doing, they would start grumbling that the sales have gone down. But they cannot bring themselves to blame Modi’s economic policies.
They clam up, and their eulogy for the prime minister is buried in their silence. The academics are more self-conscious of the situation. They speak only on condition of anonymity and they are not unqualified critics of all that the Modi government has done. They believe that some of the programmes, especially the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, are more broad-based than their predecessors, the Indira Awas Yojana in PMAY’s case. But they agree that there has not been any radical change in the quality of life of the marginalized sections of society. There are more concerned with the growing intolerance in the campus and outside. If they were to speak their mind and they would be in trouble if they were identified. They see the rise and rise of right-wing Hindu ideology, and they think it is worse than the intolerance displayed by the dominant Leftist ideologues in the campus in their heyday.
One of them says that all top positions in the universities and educational institutions are entrusted to committed RSS folk. But there is a difference. For example, the former vice-chancellor of Benares Hindu University (BHU) was a proud RSS man who also boasted that he did no research after his M.A. But even the BJP government – the BHU is a central university – found it difficult to support him in the job, and he was replaced by a right-wing academic with distinction in science. Asked about the interference of BJP in campus politics, a local office-bearer said that the party kept away from it. But he said that government does interfere in the campus. “Government toh government hai (Government is government)”, he exclaimed. This is the story of Modi raj in Varanasi.

Modi in Parliament Not a parliamentarian

Never engaged in debate, never answered questions, never made statements after his record foreign visits. He used Parliament to give longish speeches on formal occasions like the Reply to the Motion of Thanks to the Address of President to the Joint Session of Parliament

Modi-in-Parliament-Not-a--parliamentarian
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

2014 looks a long time ago. But on May 20, 2014, when he entered Parliament House, Narendra Modi made the dramatic gesture of genuflecting at the steps of the main entrance. In the Central Hall where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentary party meeting, where he was formally elected the leader, he talked in an emotional manner about responding to the needs of the poor. In his first speech in Lok Sabha, he declared that rivalries ended once the election results were announced and that members of the Lok Sabha from all parties need to work together for the country. He also sounded a note of uncharacteristic humility when he said that he was a first-time member of the House and if he were to make any mistakes, he needs the indulgence of the more experienced members.
Curiously, he spoke in the two Houses of Parliament only on formal occasions. He spoke in the Motion of Thanks to the Address of the President to the Two Houses of Parliament, where he held forth in various degrees of persuasion and denunciation, especially as the five-year term rolled on, he was expansive in asserting the vision and achievements of his government and generally dismissive of the opposition. He spoke on special occasions like the Constitution Day on November 26, 2016, the day the Constitution of India was adopted in 1949 and which also coincided with the year of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, at the midnight joint session of parliament on the on the occasion of the rolling out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), a major tax reform, on the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement in August 9, 2017, reply to the no-confidence motion brought by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) on July 20, 2018. The only time in five years that Modi had intervened pro-actively was on December 4, 2014, when he asked Rajya Sabha to accept the apology of first time Member of Parliament and Minister of State for Food Processing, Sadhvi Nikunj Jyoti, who referred to the Muslims in objectionable language.
There was an uproar in the House, and Modi interjected. He said, “unhone Kshama maangi aur mai maanta hoon ki Kshama maangne ke baad is sadan mein itne varisht log baithe hai, itne anubhavi log baithe hai ki Kshama ke prati unka bhaav kya rahtaa hai, ham us se bhali-bhaanti parichit hai…mein sadan se aagrah karoonga, prarthana karoonga ki jab mantriji ne Kshama maangi hai aur ham sab ke liye yeh ek Sandesh bhi hai, aage se ham bhi, sabhi log in saare Do’s and Don’t’s ke vishay mein koi maryaadaayein na tode aur mein sadan se aagrah karoonga ki ham desh hit mein apne kaarya ko aura age badhaaye.’ (She has sought forgiveness and I feel that after she has sought forgiveness in the House where the veterans are sitting, and so many experienced people are sitting that they know what is meant by the seeking of forgiveness, I would request and I would beseech that after the minister has sought forgiveness and it is a message for all of us, that even we, all of us that no one should break the Do’s and Don’t’s of conventions and I request the House that it should get back to the work of doing what is good for the country and take it forward.) This intervention needed to be quoted because it is the only time he intervened in Parliament. It does not show his usual aggression. The prime minister sought to strike a calming note but he has done it in the most ambiguous way. He emphasised the fact that she has sought forgiveness though Sadhvi Ninkuj Jyoti had merely said that if she had hurt any one’s sentiments, she regrets it. It was not an unqualified apology. That is why the opposition leaders said after the prime minister’s statement that the minister did not apologise.
While speaking formally too, Prime Minister Modi could be seen breaking the bounds of parliamentary courtesy. In his reply to the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address on February 8, 2017, he attacked former prime minister Manmohan Singh: “Doctor saab se bahut kuchh seekhne jaisa hai, itna saaraa hua aur un par ek daag nahi laga. Bathroom mein rain-coat pehen kar nahaana, is kala ko toh doctor saab hi jaante hai aur doosra nahin jaanta hai.” (There is much to learn from the Doctor [Manmohan Singh], so much [scandals] has happened but he suffered no blemish. Only the Doctor knows how to take a bath in a raincoat, no one else does.) The figure of speech was quite vulgar in parliamentary terms.
It created another uproar in the Congress benches. Modi never conceded to the Congress demand that he should apologise for his ‘unparliamentary’ remark. It was left to the Leader of the House Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to say that the government held Dr Singh in the high respect and that the former prime minister’s integrity was never in doubt.
It was again in August 2017 that Prime Minister Modi crossed the boundaries of decorum when he unsubtly hit out against the outgoing Vice President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Hamid Ansari, saying that Ansari can now feel free his views which were determined by Muslim-centric world-view because he had served mostly in Muslim countries. It was a farewell speech and it was parliamentary practice to speak well of the person laying down the office. Modi could have said that he did not agree with Ansari’s views, but he respected him all the same. That was what one would have expected from the prime minister of the country. But Modi proved time and again that he had no taste for niceties, and he would rather be blunt to the point of disrespecting a person. It would be unfair to see Modi’s negative remark about Ansari in isolation. He also confessed that whenever he (Modi) met him (Ansari) after a foreign visit, his (Ansari’s observations) had taught him something valuable and useful about the world of diplomacy.
Most of his speeches in both Houses of Parliament were more like stump speeches, where he would denigrate the opposition and pat himself and his party on the back, enumerate the real and the not-so-real virtues and achievements of his government. He did not understand that Parliament is a forum to explain the government’s policies and standpoint, and that it is not a place for declamation except for the odd occasion.
Most interesting is the fact that he did not make a single statement after his apparent record number of foreign visits where bilateral talks were held and agreements signed. It was left to Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj to read out the government’s formal statement in Parliament. Modi was holding the portfolios of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Space. It is indeed the tradition that the minister of state in the prime minister’s office responded to questions related to this ministry and to these departments, but the prime minister would occasionally respond to the questions himself. But Modi did not ever do it, and he even gave the impression that he avoided it. It is true that the prime minister should speak on major issues of policy but involvement in parliamentary proceedings at others levels is also expected of him. It is a fact that he covered all the bases on policy and initiatives in his formal reply to the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address, but it deprived him of taking in the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. It seemed that the prime minister did not relish the prospect of engaging with the leaders of opposition.
At the end of his first speech on June 11, 2014, which was his reply to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address, Modi said, “aaj naye sadan mein mujhe apni baat bataane ka avsar mila. Aadaraneeya adhyaksha mahodaya ji, kayee koyee shabd idhar-udha ho gaya ho, agar mein niyamon ke bandhan se baahar chalaa gayaa hoon toh yah sadan mujhe zaroor Kshama karega.” (I had an opportunity to place my views before this new House. Respected Madam Speaker, if somewhere I had slipped in my use of words, and went beyond the limitations of the rules, the House will surely forgive me.)
In his last speech in Lok Sabha on February 13, 2019, Modi had displayed his characteristic satirical observances which showed a rare glimpse of humour and wit. He said: “mein pehli baar yahaan aayaa thhaa, mujhe bahut see cheezein nayee jaan ne ko milee, jiska mujhe kuchh arth hee zindagi mein pataa naheen thhaa. Pehlee mujhe pataa chalaa ki galey milnaa aur galey padnaa mein kyaa antar hota hai. Yeh mujhe pehlee baar pataa chalaa hai. Mein pehlee baar dekh rahaa hoon ki sadan mein aankhon sey gustaakhiyaan hoti hai. Yeh aankhon ki gustaakhiyon wala khel bhi pehlee baar isee sadan mein dekhne ko mila aur desh ki media ney bhi uska bahut mazaa liya.” (I have come here for the first time and I got to know many new things, things whose meaning I did not know in my life. For the first time, I came to know the difference between embracing and being a burden around one’s neck. This I have learnt for the first time. I am seeing for the first time the games that can be played with eyes. This eye game I have seen for the first time in the House and the national media too saw it and enjoyed it.)
Modi spoke his long pieces in the two Houses without notes. He showed that he could speak at length extempore, though not with the same charm as did Atal Bihari Vajpayee. At the end of his first term as Member of Parliament, Modi has still to acquire the skills of a parliamentarian.

Of Tall Claims & Long Roads

Nitin Gadkari or rather “Roadkari” has been one of the few leaders in the current dispensation whose work speaks more than the words. Despite the honest and innovative efforts of the Minister, the targets haven’t been met. The tall claims of the Modi government will be tested in the upcoming elections, when Modi’s star minister’s efforts will be put to test

of-tall-claims-long-roads
Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari’s office has a photo adorning its wall with a quote of former US president John F Kennedy saying: “American roads are good not because America is rich. America is rich because American roads are good.” It seems it represents the minister’s zeal to improve the lot of road infrastructure in the country. It also justifies his nickname “Roadkari” - given by late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.
Gadkari also holds charge of Shipping, Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation. No doubt he has tried hard to improve roads, build new highways, start shipping in 10 rivers and cleaning of Ganga. He has been making tall claims as well. Recently, he claimed that India’s achievements during past five years surpass its cumulative achievements of preceding 60 years. He also promised to clean Ganga before the end of tenure of the current government. Gadkari claimed to introduce e-vehicles and promised to have significant number of such vehicles on Indian roads by 2019. He also claimed to have doubled the pace of highway construction from about 12 km per day in 2014-15, to 27 km per day during 2017-18. He had set a target of accelerating the pace further to 40 km per day during 2018-19.
If the claim was true, the Jaipur-Delhi Expressway would have been completed in seven days during 2018-19 or in 10 days during 2017-18. But the Expressway is far from completion even though the work has been going on it during the entire duration of Gadkari’s five-year long tenure. Same is true for other highways – like 60 km long Delhi-Meerut, or 500 km long Delhi-Bareilly-Lucknow highway. All weather road connecting Kashmir Valley to Jammu hasn’t taken shape. Ganga is as clean (or dirty) as it was five years ago and shipping hasn’t started in any of the rivers. Does that call for Gadkari’s rechristening as “Ghoshna Mantri”?
The Road Not Taken
Putting up a plaque of Kennedy’s quote is one thing and following it to the last detail is just another. The Ministry, for example, has allocated only 4 per cent of its budget towards maintenance of 1.15 lakh kms of national highways. In comparison, in 2014-15 the US government allocated about 48 per cent of its total budget - $19.2 billion- on roads and highways towards the maintenance of existing facilities for a total highway length of 16.37 lakh kms. Lesser money results in national highways with potholes, weak bridges, poor pavements and obviously more accidents.
The government has been able to set tall targets but hasn’t achieved more than 55 per cent in the last three years. The road construction target for 2017-18 was 15,000 km, of which 4,292 km was constructed till November 30, 2017 (33%). This suggests a rate of construction of 20 km/day. This is slightly lower than the rate of construction for last year which was 22 km/day. Given that 33% of the target length has been constructed in the first eight months of the year, it remains to be seen how much of the target will be completed in the remaining four months.
The CAG had noted that between 2009-10 to 2012-13, the rate of NH construction was between 3.06 km/day and 17.81 km/day, as compared to a target of 20 km/day. The Standing Committee on Transport found that none of the targets could be met due to shortage of funds. The projects could not be completed due to various reasons such as delays in obtaining clearances, poor financial and technical performance of the contractors, as well as law and order issues.
The Committee on Public Undertakings (2017) had noted that from 1995, till June 2016, out of the total 388 projects completed, only 55 projects were completed on or before time. Delays in the completion of the projects were mainly attributed to: the long time taken in land acquisition, and obtaining environment and forest clearances, poor performance of concessionaires due to economic slowdown, and law and order issues.
The CAG had noted that several road projects get stalled due to court injunctions. As on July 31, 2017, 30 road projects with a total cost of Rs 11,216 crore were stayed for three years. Such delays increase project costs, eventually making certain projects unviable.
From January 1, 2015, the compensation for land acquired by NHAI is determined as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The Committee on Public Undertakings (2017) had noted that due to higher compensation under the 2013 Act, the expenditure by the Ministry of Road Transport on land acquisition increased from Rs 9,097 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 21,933 crore in 2015-16. The Committee also observed that farmers who were entitled to lesser compensation under the older law, have been approaching courts for increased compensation. This has further delayed the land acquisition process and added to the cost of projects.
NHAI too hasn’t been able to utilise the funds allocated to it. Funds left unspent at the end of a financial year is shown as ‘opening balance’ at the beginning of the next financial year. This opening balance was Rs 2,672 crore and Rs 6,740 crore for the years 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively.
The roads sector is facing several constraints such as availability of land for NH expansion and upgradation, significant increase in land acquisition cost, lack of equity with developers, bottlenecks and checkpoints on national highways, higher cost of financing; and shortfall in funds for maintenance. Further, the value of NPAs in the infrastructure sector (including roads and highways) has been increasing, with NPAs at around Rs 2.6 lakh crore as of November 2016.
Where The Rubber Meets The Road
The award and construction of highways during past five years has been higher than ever before. Work on major projects like Bharatmala and Sagarmala has started. Initiatives like innovative financing models, streamlining of land acquisition process, coordinated efforts to address environment and other inter ministerial issues have started.
Gadkari’s stint as Maharashtra PWD Minister had established his credentials. Having completed Mumbai-Pune expressway in record time, building 56 flyovers in crowded Mumbai besides of course conceiving Bandra-Worli sea-link wasn’t a mean feat. He had claimed then that he had completed works worth Rs. 8,000 crore with a meagre equity of Rs 5 crore. He had hoped to bring in same expertise and same business, administrative and governance model to Delhi as well. But that proved to be much tougher than he had thought. Around 53,000 km of NHs have been identified to improve National Corridor efficiency, of which 24,800 km are to be taken up in Phase-I, which will be implemented over a period of five years, i.e., 2017-18 to 2021-22 in a phased manner. This includes 5,000 km of the National Corridors, 9,000 km of Economic Corridors, 6,000 km of Feeder Corridors and lnter-Corridors, 2,000 km of Border Roads, 2,000 km of Coastal Roads and Port Connectivity Roads and 800 km of Green-field Expressways. Total likely fund provision for Bharatmala Phase-I is Rs 5.35 lakh crore.
Raising funds for highway construction is always a big challenge. The situation was even tougher in 2014 and land acquisition had become tougher owing to a stern Land Acquisition Act, 2013. But Gadkari is known to come out with unconventional, out-of-the-box solutions. As Maharashtra’s PWD minister in late 1990s Gadkari introduced Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model. Mumbai-Pune Expressway was the first major Public-Private Partnership project. In 2014 he devised Hybrid Annuity Model, which has lesser risk for the private players. This model needs private construction companies to contribute 60 per cent of the project cost while 40 per cent cost is borne by the government.
Gadkari was also instrumental behind introducing India’s first asset monetisation project, Toll-Operate-Transfer. Innovative infrastructure bonds have been introduced to raise funds for highways.
Gadkari also initiated work in Multi Modal Transport System involving railways, highways, inland waterways and airports to put in place an effective transportation grid. The objective was to make freight transportation in the country more efficient by facilitating the use of a favourable modal mix of transport, thereby reducing logistics, costs and also pollution. This is proposed to be done by developing 35 multi-modal logistics parks to serve as centres for freight aggregation and distribution, multi-modal transportation, storage, warehousing and value-added services, besides construction of 50 Economic Corridors, upgrading key feeder and inter corridor routes and constructing 10 inter-modal stations to integrate various transportation modes.
It was because of such initiatives that a well-known journalist wrote last year about Gadkari: “If a prize is instituted for the most effective ministers in the Narendra Modi-led government, the first would probably be given to Nitin Gadkari. He is a bundle of energy and ideas and delivered on the ground”. Gadkari takes note of all recommendations and requests from MPs irrespective of their party and acts upon them.

The Silver Lining
Gadkari has indeed undertaken lot of work, especially speeding up construction of highways. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, according to last year’s CAG report, has awarded of 51,073 km of National Highway projects and constructed 28,531 km over a four year period from 2014-15 to 2017-18. Construction of National Highways has more than doubled from 12 km /day in 2014-15 to 27 km/day in 2017-18 and the total investments in the sector has increased by 2.5 times compared to 2014-15. This was achieved through multiple policy initiatives taken by the Ministry like the Hybrid Annuity Model, Toll Operate Transfer Model (TOT), increased threshold for project appraisal and approval, support for languishing projects, enhanced inter-ministerial coordination etc.
The changes introduced by Gadkari include mandating use of technology in preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs), streamlining of land acquisition process, performance management system at NHAI, revision of selection and payment criteria for DPR consultants, and time-bound and online approval of projects etc. These process transformations were implemented through various digital initiatives such as the Project Monitoring and Information System (PMIS) for monitoring project management. PMIS provides customized dashboards and all the projects along with toll plazas, traffic survey points have been mapped on a GIS platform. PMIS provides customized dashboards and automatically identifies projects that are delayed to enable better project management.
Under the ambitious Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I, a total of 34,800 kms including the balance road works under the National Highways Development Project (NHDP) are to be completed by 2021-22. The Ministry has also begun the implementation of an ERP system to integrate more than sixty software and tools.
The Ministry has developed the Bidder Information Management System (BIMS) to streamline the process of pre-qualification of bidders with enhanced transparency and objectivity. BIMS would reduce human intervention in awarding work thereby bringing in more transparency.
Land Acquisition Modernised
Bhoomi Rashi, the portal developed by MoRTH and NIC, comprises the entire revenue data of the country, right down to 6.4 lakh villages. The entire process of flow, from submission of draft notification by the State Government to its approval by the Minister and its publication in e-Gazette, is online. This has reduced the time taken for land acquisition.
Integration of Public Financial Management System (PFMS) with Bhoomi Rashi is one of the key steps to facilitate payment related to compensation for land acquisition to all the beneficiaries directly through the Bhoomi Rashi system.
PFMS provides various stakeholders with a real time, reliable and meaningful management information system and an effective decision support system. The integration of Bhoomi Rashi with PFMS will streamline the process of disbursement of compensation. India has one of the largest road networks in the world with about 47 lakh km of road length. This road length includes National Highways, Expressways, State Highways, district roads, PWD roads, and project roads. In India, road infrastructure is used to transport over 60% of total goods and 85% of total passenger traffic. The country has received only half of what was promised in 2014, and in subsequent years. Targets were being constantly raised but they were so steep that only 50-55 per cent were met. One can only say… a lot more road to cover.

The Original ‘Accidental Prime Minister’

Pushed suddenly by fate and politics scheming into country’s top executive’s chair, HD Deve Gowda had tried some positive stuff but is now a reluctant retiree from politics

the-original-accidental-prime-minister
G Ulaganathan
G Ulaganathan

The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT

Spotlight:



He has been a member of the Lok Sabha six times, four terms from Hassan
His two achievements have been framing the National Agro policy and solving the Farakka dam row
His mega vision of the airstrip in Hassan has not taken off, leaving people unhappy
But now with a battery of his family in politics, he seems unable to retire
Did Sanjay Baru get it wrong, really? Who is the ‘Accidental Prime Minister’? Dr Manmohan Singh? No, it is Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda who served as the 11th Prime Minister of India from 1 June 1996 to 21 April 1997, for a period of little more than 10 months.
Gowda was born on 18 May 1933 in Haradanahalli, a village in Holenarasipura taluk, of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore (now in Hassan, Karnataka) into a Vokkaliga family. His father was a farmer.
He often describes himself as ‘Mannina Maga’ (son of the soil). He has been a member of the Lok Sabha six times, out of which four terms were from Hassan.
In the 1996 general elections, Congress headed by PV Narasimha Rao lost decisively but no other party won enough seats to form a government. When the United Front (a conglomeration of non-Congress and non-BJP regional parties) decided to form the Government at the Centre with the support of the Congress, Deve Gowda was unexpectedly chosen to head the government and became the 11th Prime Minister of India. Two of his significant achievements have the framing of the National Agro policy and solving the Farakha dam row. However, as MP how has his performance been this term?
He is one of the regulars in the House and taken part in debates whenever given a chance. Even at his age, he was prominently seen at all important events including R-Day and I-Day functions. “In Hassan, he is the king. No one can take him on,” says Prasad Gowda, one of his party spokesmen. The partymen respect him and their devotion to him is almost total. He is regularly seen in Hassan, especially in his native place Holenarasipura as well. And he maintains close contact with his voters and, like his friend DMK president Late Karunanidhi, remembers most of them by name.

Airfield Fighter
Hassan was a little known small town. Today it is a major city and well connected by good roads.
One of the major projects, the brainchild of Deve Gowda has been the Hassan greenfield airport. It has been hanging in the air for the last two decades, but with continuous push from the celebrity MP, the Civil Aviation Ministry last year directed the state government to acquire an additional 200 acres for the purpose. The district authority had already acquired 536 acres in 2007 for this.
The foundation stone was laid one-and-a-half decades ago near Bhuvanahalli, in the outskirts of Hassan city. Senior officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Director General of Civil Aviation had visited the land earmarked for the airstrip but refused to clear the project citing technical reasons. In 2016, the then Deputy Commissioner had convened a meeting of land owners and revenue officials to fix the compensation to acquire additional land and had issued notices to farmers of Bhuvanahalli, Sankenahalli, Lakshmisagara, Thendihalli, Devalapura and G Mylanahalli.
Hassan business community is of the view that industries and tourism in the district would get a boost with the completion of a full-fledged airstrip. The farmers have demanded a better compensation rate and demanding a job for one of the members of their families. S Siddarth, project engineer of Jupiter Aviation, says his company will start work on the project immediately after the state government hands over the land. Jupiter Aviation had signed an MoU with state government to build airport under PPP mode.
The farmers have been demanding Rs 2 crore per acre, while the officers have offered a maximum of Rs 32 lakh per acre. The landowners have strongly opposed the rate offered by the government. BV Karigowda, a former legislator, says the price offered was insufficient even to purchase sites in the SM Krishna Layout, recently developed by Hassan Urban Development Authority.

Good & Bad
Out of the Rs 25 crore allocated to him under the MPLAD funds during this term, he has been able to utilise 50 per cent of funds. He has recommended works worth Rs 14.52 crore and almost 95 per cent of the money has been spent by the district authorities.
Most of these have gone to infrastructure related works but a sizeable chunk has gone to Holenarasipura segment. As one drives through Hassan, one can notice that a lot of road works is being done but according to local people, the execution has been quite slow.
On the face of it, many people here take pride in the fact that a former prime minister represents their constituency but there is also unhappiness over the lack of development, growing unemployment and farmers’ distress in the region.
Villagers in the district rue the fact that the region has not seen much development compared to Shivamogga and Bengaluru despite electing political heavyweight like Gowda as MP.
Hassan, a JD(S) bastion, is dominated by the Vokkaliga community to which Deve Gowda belongs. “We are facing drinking water problems for the last 10 years. Because of poor rains, the groundwater level has gone down and the two borewells which 150 houses depend upon, are not working properly,” says Vanjashri, who stays in Sathigala area of Sakleshpur constituency.
In some remote places, women have to walk about 2 km daily to fetch drinking water from small streams that flow nearby. Many feel disheartened that Deve Gowda has failed to address their concern despite getting elected multiple times from the region. “We had high expectation from Deve Gowda. He is known as ‘mannina maga’ (son of the soil). What has he done for poor farmers?” asks Malleshappa, who owns 15 acres of coffee plantation in Sakleshpur.
“Pepper prices have crashed due to cheaper imports. If the situation continues, farmers will sell the agriculture land and look for jobs in cities. The price we get for the produce does not cover the cost of production,” he stresses.
“Youth are getting educated from here but not getting jobs. They have to migrate to Bengaluru for jobs, where with a meagre salary they cannot afford a living. There are no industries here,” BJP candidate from Hassan Assembly constituency Pritam Gowda says.

Parched People
On the drinking water crisis, he says there is “lack of willingness” from incumbent JD(S) MLA to ensure people get smooth supply of water. “Hemavathi river is just 15 kms away. They have taken water from this river to places like Tiptur, Tumkur and Arsikere through Hassan. Hassan people are not getting drinking water,” Pritam Gowda says.
Lack of water, unemployment, farmers in dire straits due to crash in prices and poor connectivity to Bengaluru are the main problems that have remained unsolved over the years. But the question everyone asks is whether Deve Gowda raised these issues in Parliament. And though he is a frequent visitor to the constituency, he has not appointed any trusted lieutenant to stand in for him when he is away.
Even for the media, it is difficult to track his movements. His personal staff is not helpful and some of them behave as if he is still the prime minister.
Family Fundamentals
Gowda plays his cards close to his chest. Apart from ‘guiding’ his son Kumaraswamy to run state politics, he also has to take care of his ambitious family members.
But he surely knows time is running out for him. And now by all accounts family comes first for him. Son Kumaraswamy is state chief minister, another son Revanna is Public Works minister in the state cabinet, daughter-in-law Anitha Kumaraswamy is an MLA, two of his grandsons —Nikhil and Prajwal – are contesting the elections to become MPs, and so on.
The patriarch of the family can be satisfied that he has done his duty for them. But his voters and supporters are still unhappy. And, he knows fully well that there are “Miles to go” before he sleeps.
In-Conversation with HD Deve Gowda

“Rahul closer to people than Modi”
You had said many times in the past that you would retire and will not contest another election. But now you are still in the field. Do you aspire to be the prime minister again?
Absolutely not. I am 86 and not getting any younger. My spirit may be willing but body may not. I wanted to concentrate on Karnataka only and help my party JD(S) to emerge stronger. But, both my partymen and some of the senior opposition leaders (he avoids giving out names) have insisted that I return to the Lok Sabha. In the event of opposition coming to power, they would need my advice and so I accepted it in the national interest.
Out of 8 seats allocated to us by Congress, we may easily win 6 or 7. Who am I in a House of 545 (to ask to become PM)?
Your close aide Danish Ali has joined Mayawati’s BSP. Is there any secret deal between JD(S) and BSP?
Danish Ali joined BSP with my blessings only. Our party has no presence in Uttar Pradesh, which is his native state. So, if he wants to contest elections, I cannot field him from there. His contesting from Karnataka is ruled out. We had a detailed discussion (again, with whom he did not say who he had that with) and decided that it would be better he joined Mayawati’s party. He would be a key man for us post the LS elections.
You have given tickets to two grandsons — Prajwal from Hassan and Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil from Mandya. People say JD(S) has been reduced to a family party.
I am very much pained by this. Some leaders who have grown because of this party say Gowda had not allowed them to grow. It’s they who say this party has been reduced to a family party, a caste-based party. I don’t want to allow this party to sink and that is why I am working hard.
You have blessed the mahagathbandhan initiated by Chandrababu Naidu. Will you be able to stop Modi from returning to power?

Yes, surely, it will be difficult for the BJP to get a majority on its own. Modi’s image has taken a beating and that is why they have come up with the upper caste quota.

What happened to demonetisation and other measures?
Everything failed. It will be difficult (for BJP) to get a majority.
What do you feel about the coalition government headed by your son and its stability?
Though the JD(S) and the Congress have had differences for years, we came together to form the government. After the assembly elections, the Congress took a firm stand that it is going to support Kumaraswamy for five years. The entire state is watching what is happening now. Stability of the government depends on the Congress too.

In this long political journey, do you have any regrets?
My only regret was not completing full terms as prime minister of India and chief minister of Karnataka. I was chief minister only for two years –1994-96 — and then I was called to perform national duty. Had I been able to complete my full term here, Karnataka would have been a different state by now, a front runner in all areas.
I laid the foundation stone for the longest bridge across River Brahmaputra in Assam. The Bogibeel bridge, one of several major infrastructural projects to be set up in Assam in accordance with the Assam pact. The foundation of the bridge was laid in January 1997 by me. Yet, when Modi inaugurated it with much fanfare and media publicity, I was not even invited for the event. It really hurts. That is why I visited the place a couple of months ago to see it for myself.
During my tenure as PM, I had visited the North-East extensively – something which no other Prime Minister had done before. There was no communal violence in any part of the country, including in Jammu and Kashmir.
Did you get due credit to your achievements?
Not certainly from the media. I am not going to blame because I was not able to cultivate the media like the present prime minister because my focus had been on the administration. Frequently meeting media, pampering and manoeuvring; I didn’t do that. How has been your relationship with Congress leaders?
I do not have many happy memories except for PV Narasimha Rao and Sonia Gandhi, who has always shown a lot of respect for me.
How do you rate Rahul Gandhi?
He is much more matured, mellowed down now. As a young man, when he made his debut in politics, he used to shoot his mouth and repeat whatever was told to him. He has come a long way and is closer to the masses than Modi. Only time will tell what is in store for him. He is very much like his father Rajiv who was thrust into politics in unforeseen circumstances.

East’s Femme Fatale

Mamata Banerjee held out a strong case as the Opposition’s PM candidate, but neither the Congress nor the Left agreed to her role

easts-femme-fatale
Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

THERE has been much brouhaha about the January 19 Mega Opposition Conclave hosted by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee; a critical stock-taking too might have been done in various sections of the media. Perhaps, the one that follows, might as well be stale within a fortnight or so. The overriding reason is obvious: it’s poll time and permutations and combinations fluctuate and shape up all too suddenly, taking even the seasoned poll forecaster off guard.
One example at the beginning would be enough; the Bharatiya Janata Party and its now-sweet-again-sour, belligerent partner Shiv Sena have forged a deal in Maharashtra for the assembly as well as Lok Sabha polls, having buried long-drawn hatchets. And in New Delhi, AAP and the Congress have sworn not to make an inquest of the body (read rivalry) after exhuming it from the coffin and embraced a new relationship around the Valentine’s Day!
Be that as it may, Mamata Banerjee’s mega show of galvanising the virtual` who’s who’ from the Opposition at the beginning of the year served a unifying force at the nick of time. Didi, it must be conceded, still commands the gusto to liaise and egg on the tie-ups with a single point agenda – BJP Hatao/Bharat Bachao. That she succeeded in gathering together ‘heterogeneous heads’ under a single roof, is no doubt, quite commendable. However, the point that is a logical follow-through, is, what after this; the conclave had to keep at bay the crucial question of who would be at the helm of the country replacing Narendra Modi in the coming polls, she had perforce to declare at a subsequent meet in New Delhi that the burning issue of the prime ministerial candidate of the Opposition would be declared in due course.
Many in the Opposition, as also in Trinamool Congress, found in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the best qualities of an emcee executed with tremendous professionalism. Because she took it upon herself the role of playing the anchor-woman so that nothing went amiss nor the top-notch leaders of the Opposition - Mallikarjun Kharge, Sharad Pawar, Chandrababu Naidu, Arvind Kejriwal, Farooq and Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh and Tejashwi Yadav, Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha, and the last, but not the least, Narendra Modi’s two main tormentors in his home state of Gujarat, Patidar leader Hardik Patel and Left-leaning Dalit mascot Jignesh Mevani - would feel hurt during any time of the grand unity show.
The questions or the issues that have been hogging the limelight in the political vortex in the aftermath of the successful conclave, are: • Is she engaged in astute political manoeuvring to slowly establish her credentials as an alternative to Modi, given the united show of the opposition in the rally convened by her?
• Is she sending an indirect yet firm signal to Sonia Gandhi-Rahul Gandhi (and now Priyanka Vadra Gandhi)-led Congress that the contest for the hot seat post the Lok Sabha elections will not go undisputed?
• Did the Modi-Shah-led BJP deliberately allow the conclave to be a successful in order to take the heat and media attention away from Rahul Gandhi?
• Can the conclave be construed as part of a BJP gameplan to drive a wedge in the opposition unity with one block supporting Mamata as the future PM and another Rahul or Priyanka (a political greenhorn though)?

Major Issue
The last issue has already gained credence, as within a few days after the rally DMK leader Stalin had declined to accept Mamata Banerjee’s leadership at the centre and made it clear that the Southern states would love to see Rahul Gandhi as the next PM. BSP chief Mayawati from Uttar Pradesh too challenged the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
In sharp contrast, RJD leader and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejashwi Yadav reposed full faith in Didi, while Chandrababu Naidu is yet to officially accept her as the future PM.
Naidu had lavished praise on her at the rally though, appreciating her sincere efforts to raise the pitch of the fight against the BJP at all levels. So, the BJP, one may assume, has gained post the mega Mamata rally in two ways; first, it succeeded in keeping the issue of the prime ministerial candidate still burning. Secondly, seeds of division in the opposition unity over the same issue, have been carefully sown.
Congress Sails
True, the Congress got wind of it and struck fast in a quick counter-attack, by declaring and roping in Priyanka Gandhi as the party chief in Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi Adityanath-ruled state BJP has still been banking on a potential yield in terms of seats in the coming parliamentary polls. As for Didi, it was a mixed fare. She had a groundswell of support for her commitment to float an anti-BJP front at the national level. That she could stitch together a heterogeneous front and remain at the helm without triggering a single divisive voice, proved beyond doubt her credentials as a seasoned administrator.
All this has also made her a serious challenger for the top job.
On the home front, she, however, suffered some reverses a little later. What we cannot afford to forget is the fact that she had made the announcement of the mega opposition rally on July 21, 2018, long before the anti-BJP mood-swing could really have gathered the present storm. “Where was that pronounced swing against the BJP?” asked a senior Trinamool Congress leader. Didi, undeniably, has been mocked for her call ‘Delhi Chalo’; as if, she has been raring to go for the hot seat, come what may.
Her success has also ferried some worries for the Congress leadership.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who were present at the rally, carried a special missive from Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Though both of them were invited, the mother-son duo gave the gathering a miss. Reasons cited were a bit mysterious though both wished the rally a grand success.
The West Bengal unit of the Congress boycotted the conclave on the plea that it could hardly participate in a unity show with a party which ‘is no different from Modi’.
By dispatching Kharge and Singhvi, the Congress leadership might have just been testing the waters as also the overall mood of the opposition camp, and whether the leaders were really missing the presence of Rahul Gandhi. But she being Mamata Banerjee, Didi completely overshadowed everything, let alone the absence of Rahul Gandhi. It was abundantly clear to all those present on the dias; she made none feel the absence of the Gandhi parivar. And as stated earlier that Rahul would not be the undisputed king of the throne has been made categorically clear.
CBI War!
Hardly had Mamata Banerjee started basking in the glory of the magnificent gathering when she was greeted by a rude jolt. She got embroiled in a fierce controversy involving the jurisdiction of the CBI and that of the state government and its police force.
Citing victimisation and vengeance (by the Modi government for organising the Opposition Conclave, she indulged in a ruckus that hardly befits the stature of a chief minister. Instead of asking the Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, who happens to be a close confidante of Didi, to come to her place or office, the chief minister herself drove to the official residence of the top cop to prevent his purported arrest by the CBI sleuths over the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam that ruined millions.
The dharna that subsequently followed and the coercive action by the Bengal police against the CBI officers hardly behove a federal apparatus where the rule of the law is very well defined.
The CBI raid at the residence of Kumar, who had reportedly been evading summons by the CBI, had been described as ‘an affront on the federal set up’ by the chief minister who launched the ‘Save Democracy’ dharna.
Barely a week back, Mamata, the succinct force behind the massive rally, who had demonstrated her extraordinary ability to unite leaders of diverse ideologies, was suddenly reduced to a situation from where the Supreme Court directive, fortunately, provided her with the dire oxygen and a face-saving exit route.
Had not the CBI top brass moved the apex court and the latter not come up with an interim directive, the ill-conceived dharna would have continued! Even though she claimed it (the SC directive) to be a moral victory, there is no doubt that the directive itself was a severe loss of face for her.
The apex court issued contempt notices against her top officials and directed the CBI to conduct the interrogation of the top cop at a ‘neutral’ venue – Shillong; this only suggests that the same could not be conducted even-handedly in Kolkata. Doesn’t this clearly shed a poor light on her governance?
Opposition Words
Both the opposition CPIM and Congress in the state lambasted her for what the parties described as ‘shameless act of providing protection’ to a top cop, triggering a bevvy of questions.
“She did not demonstrate an identical alacrity when her party MP Sudip Banerjee was arrested by the CBI. Does Rajeev Kumar hold some special key to the Saradha scam?” asked the state Congress chief Somen Mitra who happens to be Mamata’s strong bete noire.
What is equally intriguing is the fact that after so much of noise and the resultant heat, the chief minister had to shunt out Rajeev Kumar from the post of Kolkata police commissioner to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) as its head. The grilling of Kumar at Shillong has still been on, though. Secondly, the chief minister who has been crying hoarse about being a champion of democracy and questioning the Modi government’s constitutional propriety, is being lampooned by the BJP for not practising what she has been preaching.
“It is sad to see that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has been denied permission to land his helicopter for the Lok Sabha campaigning. Earlier, prime minister Narendra Modi was denied a huge ground as his venue for a public meeting in North 24 Parganas district by the state administration. It’s so ridiculous to see her launching a Save Democracy campaign,” alleged the BJP Bengal unit chief Dilip Ghosh.
Meanwhile, the latest action by the Kolkata police left a section of the city intellectuals fuming and gaping in wonder. “Bhabishyoter Bhoot” (Ghost of the Future), a film by Anik Dutta that has dealt with the modern times in an extremely satirical manner, was forcibly taken off from the cinema halls in the city, citing ‘law and order’ issue.
A shocked and surprised Dutta, who launched an impromptu dharna in front of the Academy of Fine Arts, claimed that any “dissenting voice in the state is being systematically stymied by the state apparatus.”

Weird as it may sound, the latest police swoop is an eerie reminder of the identical action taken by the then Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led CPIM government in the state which stopped the staging of the play ‘Winkle–Twinkle’ that contained a veiled criticism of the Left government. In fact, ironically though, the Left often compares Mamata Banerjee’s rule with Modi’s, citing intolerance. While she has continued to attack prime minister Narendra Modi over his government’s and party’s intolerance, her government and party face similar allegations from the state opposition parties.

Nevertheless, all said and done, the pro-poor image of Didi as a resilient fighter still holds sway over a wide swathe of West Bengal. Much though the BJP could try to rock her applecart, it is too early to predict that the saffron brigade could really push her to the corner.
Didi’s Gameplan
Didi, it appears, has set her eyes firmly on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls which might trigger a surprise. In the event of a hung parliament, which many think is hovering, she has been quietly working up to a plan which is tailored to suit a regional player like Trinamool Congress where TMC could play a major role in policy decisions. But in that case, the Congress would require to play the second fiddle.

Whether that would be possible is a wide open question, answer to which we need to await a couple of months more.

Squeezed Lives in Kathmandu

Flesh trade have become part of what is called kathmandus ‘entertainment industry of at least 13000 women

squeezed-lives-in-kathmandu
Sutirth Sahariah
Sutirth Sahariah

Sutirth Sahariah is a graduate in media management and journalism from the University of Stirling, UK. He writes for The Guardian, London, from Delhi. He covers human trafficking, gender violence and development issues. He has also worked for the BBC, Dutch Public Radio & TV and the NPR

Thamel! The glitzy, sleazy underbelly of Kathmandu.
There you could meet Sunita, serving you drinks in a tiny closet in a joint. You have all the right to bodily misuse her, and she does not have the right to refuse and there would be no “Me Too”! After all, she works in a ‘cabin restaurant’, where this is the price she pays to stay alive. She does not always get paid. The greasy, greedy men she hates. But this is what she had come to after the Maoists ditched her and she was no longer a ‘girl soldier’.
Like her, there are others working in ‘duet restaurants’, which feature live music shows, which includes palming and pawing. Or the massage parlours, where too male carnality rules the roost. Unbridled. Known to the authorities….
They call this Nepal’s ‘entertainment industry’, where you will also meet Dhan Kumari and many others, whom I got to interview. In 2016, as a part of wider study funded by Britain’s Department of International Development (DFID) that explored the relationship between Women, Work and Violence in Nepal, Myanmar and Pakistan, I interviewed thirty women and conducted to two focus groups of ten women each engaged in sex and informal entertainment industry in Kathmandu, Nepal.
But this is not just a story of tears. This is the story of hundreds of such women who fought it out and have become independent members of society.
Insurgency’s Victims
Seema, 20, was six-years-old when she was abducted by Maoist rebels from her village in Sindhupalchok, 66 km north-east of Kathmandu, during the ten-year armed conflict with the government forces that ended in 2006.
Her father, who was in the Maoist army, was killed by the government forces. “They said I have to avenge my father’s death. I was forced to use the gun; I was used as a soldier. I was in the entertainment wing (advocacy) which was made up of children. Its purpose was to influence people with the Maoist ideology. I was a dancer. I used to carry guns and ammunition. I was made to kill a lot of people. Every time they came across someone, they would say he is your father’s killer so shoot him,” says Seema.
Like Seema, Dhan Kumari alleges that she was abducted by the Maoist during the height in the insurgency in 2002, as they suspected that her brother was in the Nepal army. She says she and many other girls were raped and tortured by the Maoists forces known as the People’s Liberation Army.
Seema returned home but wasn’t accepted by society. “I was ostracised. There were families in the village that had a member in either police or the army and were killed. They blamed me for that.”
Seema was married off soon at the age of 15, but the 2015 earthquake that hit Nepal killed her husband and destroyed her house. She came to Kathmandu with her six-month-old baby to start a new life. Unable to find a proper job, she joined a massage parlour in Thamel a popular business district in the heart of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu popular with tourists.
She says “I don’t like this job. If I could remain in the village, that would have been better. In the massage parlour, we are pushed to have sexual encounters with customers. I hate this job.”
Red Menace
One of the significant findings that emerged from the interviews conducted with the women is that the ten-year-long Maoist conflict (1996-2006) against the government forces had devastating consequences on their early lives. From the sample of women studied it was found that one third were directly affected by the Maoist conflict; four women confirmed that they were abducted, sexually abused, raped and used as child soldiers during the conflict. Others, who had migrated to Kathmandu when they were very young, said the conflict was the major cause for them to leave their villages as school children were regularly abducted by the Maoist forces (PLA) and coerced to join various ranks in their forces.
The recruited girls were used as combatants, scouts, spies, porters, cooks and as part of cultural troupes.
But when the peace agreement was signed between the government and the Maoist forces, women like Seema or Kumari were simply abandoned by the PLA. Many of the top commanders in the Maoist forces went on to occupy powerful positions in the police and in the army and abandoned the objectives of the movement, which was to reframe social and gender relations at the grassroots level.
Abandoned, ostracised and unskilled, many young girls migrated to Kathmandu and found their way into the sex and entertainment industry in Kathmandu to make a living. Recently the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) considered the sixth periodic report of Nepal at its 1631 and 1632 meetings held on 23 October 2018. It expressed concern that the draft bill to amend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act (TRC Act) impedes legal action for claims related to sexual and gender-based violence, including war crimes and a crime against humanity.
It has been further pointed out that women and girl victims of the armed conflict have not benefited from interim relief reparations.
There are no official figures available on the number of women working in what is largely regarded as informal entertainment industry in Nepal; a 2009 study by Terre des homes (TDH) estimated it to be 11,000 to 13,000 girls and women in Kathmandu valley alone the actual figure is believed to be much higher across Nepal.
The study also found that that child marriages, domestic violence and abandonment by alcoholic husbands and fathers are other common factors that drive women to join this sector. Activists emphasise that post the April 2015 earthquake, that killed 8,000 people, there has been a disturbing trend of thousands of young women from the devastated regions being tricked by human traffickers to join this sector with the lure of quick money and foreign jobs.
Menuka’s Message
Raksha Nepal is one of the leading NGOs that have been working to provide support to sexually exploited girls and women working in the entertainment sector. Its founder, Menuka Thapa herself worked as a singer in a cabin restaurant as a teenager. She says: “I saw the girls being mistreated and exploited badly. They were also forced to perform sexual activities by the customers and the owners of the restaurants. The girls wouldn’t get paid for days but could not raise their voice for the fear of losing their jobs. I was determined to fight against such atrocities.”
Horrified by what she saw, Thapa rounded up a group of women and girls who worked there and encouraged them to speak up for their rights. She says this helped them feel more confident in firmly saying “no” to advances from the customers and owners and demanding their full wages.
Hearing about her initiative, girls from different dance bars, restaurants and massage parlours in Kathmandu started contacting her. Realising that she had hit a nerve, Thapa started the NGO Raksha Nepal (“Protect Nepal”) in 2004, when she was out of the restaurant industry, with the goal of empowering women working in informal entertainment.
Over the past 15 years, she says her charity has helped 1,623 women and girls escape from sexual exploitation.
Way back in 2008, responding to the huge surge of women working in this sector, and reports of severe exploitation and trafficking, the Supreme Court of Nepal had issued a directive to the government to set up guidelines to protect women and girls in the entertainment sector from economic and sexual exploitation.
Activists say that the guidelines have never been implemented.
Larger Concerns
Recently, CEDAW expressed concern that the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act punishes women in sex and entertainment sector rather than addressing wider issues of violence and abuse at workplace. It has recommended that the government of Nepal formulate a comprehensive policy, legislative and regulatory framework that ensures monitoring and legal protection from exploitation of women who engage in sex and entertainment industry and ensure that they are not prosecuted for engaging in such activities.
“The large number of women engaged in this industry is contributing to national economy and tourism, yet, there is a lack of social acceptance and a huge stigma attached with their professions. They are very vulnerable as they don’t have any social security. There is a critical violation of their human rights”, says Anisha Lintel of Women’s Forum for Women in Nepal.
Ratna Bajracharya, former director -general at the Department of Women and Children says: “It’s a well known fact that girls and women working in the entertainment sector are being physically and sexually abused. While the massage parlours and dance bars are legal, sex work is not, so the government ignores the matter pretending that the problems don’t exist. It is better to regulate this sector and protect the basic rights of those working in it.” To advocate for the rights of women working in this sector, Women Workers’ Protection Union was formed in 2015 with the help of DKA Austria in Kathmandu. The union now boasts of 9,000 members.
The union leader Sabina Tamang says: “Our biggest problems are frequent raids, abuse and unlawful detention by the police. We want this to stop. Our key demands are formal recognition of our work, minimum wage and better work conditions.”
Official Stand
Sarbendra Khanal, who at the time of this interview was a senior superintendent of Police, Metropolitan Crime Division, refuted the allegations of police atrocities. He says “We take cases of gender violence, rape or sexual exploitation very seriously. We give it a top priority and don’t leave a stone unturned while investigating such cases. We have no problems with registered massage parlours or dance bars but as a law enforcement agency, it is the duty of the police to check any illegal activities which are seen as anti-social. We need to stop people that carry 10-12 girls in vans in the middle of the night.”
Mohna Ansari, Commissioner, Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission, describes the problem as “alarming” and says to help women affected by internal conflict Nepal has set up a National Action Plan to implement UN Security Council resolutions 1325 and 1820, and further formed good institutions and policies like the Prime Minister’s National Plan for Action against Gender-Based Violence, 2010.
“The concern is that these mechanisms haven’t been able to respond adequately to the problems of women and girls in a systematic manner. There is no political will and the ongoing political instability means all the gains made in the past are lost – gender and human rights issues are never accorded priority. These issues are a challenge for the whole Nepalese society”, she says.
A year ago, Seema met a health outreach worker, who took her to the NGO Raksha Nepal. She is now taking tailoring courses funded by UNODC. “If I had even basic education my life would have been better. If there was no war, probably I would be studying at a university. I hope that one day I can start my own tailoring shop. I want to get out of my present occupation and want to provide a good life to my child,” says Seema.
Income Empowers
The study also found that though the informal entertainment sector is highly abusive, it also represents a transformative moment for the majority of women studied. In part, this is because they have been able to leave behind violent husbands and destructive family/community contexts. Income has enabled them to take control and build resilience to their past traumas by connecting with other women with similar backgrounds. It has given them a voice, rebuild their lives and invest in their children’s education.

BJP Hits Urban Roadblock

The numbers tell a sober story about the many schemes launched by the BJP-led NDA government, and the dazzling claims about achievements are not credible, writes Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

bjp-hits-urban-roadblock
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has generally been considered an urban party, a city-and-town party because the educated Hindu middle and lower middle classes were its vocal support base, many of them graduated from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ‘shakhas’. The party had not much of a basis in the villages. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been trying to remake the BJP into a village-oriented party, but it is not clear whether he has succeeded.
The Swachh Bharat Gramin Mission and schemes like Ujjwala, providing gas cylinders to poor rural households in an attempt to ease the burden of the village housewife has been the focus of the government’s and the party’s publicity campaign, but has come a cropper. Families that have registered under Ujjwala have been ousted from the BPL list of state sponsored food and other subsidies, and yet are paying for the LPG at the whopping market price which is a bother even for urban middle classes.
However, the urban supporters of the BJP, especially the youth, are quite disappointed with Modi and his party for overlooking them. The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) did not receive the same emphasis in the projections of the Modi government and the BJP as it did in the case of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). All that the SCM offered was the beautification of cities, making them better places for people to live in, and the surveys which awarded the Clean Cities with regard to management of clearance of garbage evoked a bit of interest among the people.
Some of the ardent supporters of the BJP, especially in cities like Indore, are quite happy with the BJP and Modi for its SCM initiative. The prime minister is given credit for the cleaner system because it is felt that it was he who had set the ball rolling, and all that the municipal administration did was to implement it.
In its SCM Weekly Update for December 31, 2018, we have been informed that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation raising Rs 2 billion worth of bonds, with a five-year maturity, and that the municipal bonds have been rated AA+ by India Ratings, a 100 per cent subsidiary of the Fitch Group. The newsletter says, “The high ratings have come on the back of the corporation witnessing a 28 per cent rise in tax collection, reduction in power costs due to 100 per cent LED conversion and windmill projects, increase in non-tax revenue income as well as reduction interest costs by Rs 135 crore through loan restructuring.”
Statistical Razzmatazz
It sounds like statistical razzmatazz, impressive on face value, but hugely less credible on closer scrutiny. In a box accompanying the Ahmedabad municipal bonds story, there is a list of other cities which had issued bonds: Pune: Rs 200 crore in 2017; Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation: Rs 200 crore in February 2018; Indore: Rs 140 crore in July 2018; Amravati (the Andhra Pradesh capital-under-construction): Rs 2000 crore in August 2018; Bhopal Municipal Corporation: Rs 175 crore in September 2018.
The newsletter projects that the municipalities will raise Rs 15,000 crore by 2023, of which Rs 6,000 crore are expected to come through bonds. This is supposed to be dazzling and gargantuan in Modi style, and as it spreads into the future, it escapes scrutiny in the present.
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), which was launched by the UPA government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005, and which was meant to last till 2012, and extended to 2014 in March 2012 and to 2015 in March 2013, had two components: Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) and Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme (IHSDP).
In 2013, the government had also approved the Affordable Housing in Partnership (AHP), with the central government giving Rs 75,000 per Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Lower Income Groups (LIG) as part of Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY).
Changing Clothes
This has been changed to Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) Urban, stretching from 2015 to 2022, which is based on the projection that slum population will grow to 18 million at the decadal growth rate of 34 per cent, and another two million non-slum urban poor households are added, taking the urban housing shortage to 20 million, which the PMAY-Urban plans to cover.
Interim finance minister Piyush Goyal in his interim Budget for 2019-20 on February 1, 2019, had said that 1.53 crore houses were constructed under PMAY, which included both urban and rural. According to the government, 75.2 lakh houses have been sanctioned on January 30, 2019.
However by the end of 2018, only 12.45 lakh houses have been completed. A government press release of December 27, 2018 says, “The huge investment of Rs 3.6 lakh crore in housing sector is providing more job opportunities in construction and allied sectors with the help of induced effect and contributing to overall health of the economy.” The total investment in PMAY-Urban is Rs 3,56,397 crore.
The unemployment rates do not directly reflect the situation in a particular sector, but in September-December 2018 period, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a private agency, urban unemployment rate stood at 7.2 per cent, higher than the rural unemployment rate which was 6.5 per cent.
There is vast gender gap here with the female unemployment rate for this period at 19.4 per cent compared to the male unemployment rate of 5.5 per cent. For the May-August 2018 period, urban unemployment rate stood at 6.3 per cent to the 5.3 per cent rural unemployment rate, and the urban female unemployment rate of 17.2 per cent compared to the male unemployment rate of 4.8 per cent.
Gender Jars
In the January-April 2016 period, the urban unemployment rate was 10.5 per cent compared to the 7.8 per cent in rural areas. The urban female unemployment rate stood at a high of 31 per cent to the urban male unemployment rate of 6.3 per cent.
In May-August 2016, the urban unemployment rate was 10.8 per cent to the rural 8.2 per cent. And the female unemployment rate remained high at 30.6 per cent compared to the 6.7 per cent for the urban male. In September-December 2016, the urban unemployment rate came down to 7.7 per cent compared to 6.3 per cent in the rural sector. The urban female unemployment rate remained high at 23.2 per cent compared to 4.9 per cent for urban male unemployment rate. In January-April 2017, the urban unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent compared to 4.3 per cent in the rural sector.
The urban female unemployment was 15.3 per cent to 4 per cent for the urban male. The urban unemployment rate fell to 4.6 per cent compared to 3.6 per cent in the rural sector in May-August 2017. And the urban female unemployment was 11.9 per cent to that 3.5 per cent for the make.
In September-December 2017, the urban unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent compared to 4.5 per cent in the rural sector. The urban female unemployment rate was 15.8 per cent compared to 4.1 per cent for the male.
Except for the first half of 2016, when urban unemployment rate crossed the 10 per cent mark, 10.8 per cent in May-August 2016 and 10.5 per cent in January-April 2016, and fell to a low of 4.6 May-August 2017, the unemployment hovered well above the 5 per cent mark and well below 10 per cent. But these figures do not tell the whole story.
Though inflation has remained low in much of this period, the implications were not all positive. The wages did not rise substantially and the cost of living did not fall. Food and fuel inflation was on the higher side, and its effect was felt more in the urban sector than in the rural.
Non-Starter
Another major initiative of the Modi government was Start Up India. It was announced on August 15, 2015, and launched on January 16, 2016. According to official figures, 2.7 lakh users have registered, 1,14,000 queries were made through phone, email and Twitter, 660 startups provided advisory on business plans, 14,036 have been recognised as startups, and 91 startups have been approved for availing tax benefits as on 3 November 2018.
Prime Minister Modi and the BJP can cite statistics to show that things are not bad, and that as a matter of fact they have been a little better. But anecdotal information from the ground, which is what is accessible at any point of time, the sense of anxiety about economic security is acute.
The seven per cent average growth rate of the economy in the Modi years – May 2014-February 2019 – have not been positive for job and wage growth. The average rates hide the disparities in unemployment and in wages as well as in the cost of living.
Most of the economic initiatives of the Modi government are works in progress, and the progress has not been spectacular. Modi is not so much at fault for the modest gains and losses on the urban economic front, but what makes for urban restlessness and anger is the gap between Modi’s bombastic rhetoric and harsh reality.
Had the prime minister adopted a modest and humble tone, he would not be judged too harshly. But Modi is anything but modest, and he is unapologetic about it. He always played for high stakes, and his vulnerability is high on that count.

Holy Sewerage

In his 2014 poll campaign, Modi said ‘Ganga Mata’ had asked him to contest from Varanasi. Today, several saints have died fasting to improve the Ganga’s lot, but nothing has happened

holy-sewerage
Sandeep Pandey
Sandeep Pandey

Sandeep Pandey is a social activist. He co-founded Asha for Education with Dr. Deepak Gupta and V.J.P Srivastava while working on his Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar

O ctober 11, 2018: Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand passed away, ending his sojourn on earth on a hunger strike for cleansing the Ganga. Former Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur Professor Guru Das Agrawal, who became an ascetic in 2011 at the age of 79 years and came to be known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, died on the 112th day of his fast, demanding a law for the conservation of River Ganga. He left us at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh.
Forty-year-old Sant Gopal Das, a Jain saint, who had fasted earlier for release of encroached grazing land for cows in Haryana, inspired by Professor Agrawal also sat on fast for the same cause two days after Professor Agrawal began his fast, on June 24, 2018, at Badridham temple in Badrinath.
At a critical health junction, Sant Gopal Das was kept in the Intensive Care Unit of AIIMS, New Delhi, after being moved about to different hospitals in Uttarakhand, Chandigarh and New Delhi. On 4 December, he was taken to Dehradun from New Delhi and left outside the office of District Magistrate. He got admitted after that to a hospital in Dehradun but is untraceable since December 6, 2018.
Twenty-six-year-old Brahmachari Atmabodhanand began his fast on 24 October as a sequel to Professor Agrawal’s fast at Matre Sadan in Haridwar, which Professor Agrawal had chosen as the site of his fast. Even when Professor Agrawal was alive, the head of Matre Sadan, Swami Shivanand, had warned persons belonging to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of ruling Bhartiya Janata Party in power both at Delhi and Dehradun, who were visiting him, that if anything happened to Swami Sanand he and his disciples would continue the unfinished task undertaken by Professor Agrawal.
Brahmachari Atmabodhanand
Professor Agrawal’s was the 59th fast by a saint associated with Matre Sadan and Atmabodhanand’s is the 60th. Brahmachari Atmabodhanand dropped out of a Computer Science graduation programme in Kerala and became a saint at the age of 21. He has fasted seven times till now for the sake of River Ganga, at least once every year since 2014.
In 2017, when he publicly protested against the DM of Haridwar, Deepak Rawat, who was patronising illegal sand mining in the Ganga, being given an award in the name of Madan Mohan Malaviya, he was beaten by the DM and his security personnel in a room behind the stage and put in jail for a day.
During the ongoing fast, Atmabodhanand was forcibly admitted to hospital by the district administration on November 29, 2018, and when his condition started deteriorating on 1 December, he left the hospital against medical advice (known as LAMA in medical parlance). When he was in hospital, Atmabodhanand was told that he was suffering from dengue and his platelet count had dropped to 64,000, but after independently verifying it outside he discovered it to be 1,01,000.
Sixty-two-year-old old Swami Punyanand of Matre Sadan gave up food grains and is on fruit diet since Atmabodhanand started his fast on 24 October and is prepared to shift to a water diet in the event of Atmabodhanand becoming a casualty.
Earlier, Swami Nigamanand, then 35 years of age, also associated with Matre Sadan, died on the 115th day of his fast in 2011 in a government hospital in Haridwar demanding curbs on mining in Ganga, which Matre Sadan claims as a murder by a mining mafia associated with the ruling BJP in Uttarakhand then.
Swami Gokulanand, who fasted with Swami Nigamanand from 4 to 16 March 1998, a year after Matre Sadan was established, is also believed to have been murdered by the mining mafia in 2003 when he was living in anonymity at Bamaneshwar temple in Nainital.
Baba Nagnath died at Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi in 2014 fasting for the same demand as of Professor Agrawal, to let Ganga flow uninhibited and unpolluted, Aviral and Nirmal, respectively.
Both Swami Shivanand and BrahmachariAtmabodhanand in their separate letters to the Prime Minister have quoted Śrīmad Bhāgavata to say that when Ganga becomes polluted with sins it will be the duty of saints to rid her of these sins by sacrificing their lives.
Modi and Gadkari
But they have not content with their duty to fast for Ganga as a religious exercise. They have chosen to criticise the government, its ministers, policies and also its attitude. Both saints have accused the PM of adopting consumerism-driven development policies which view Ganga as merely a water resource to be exploited for profits. They have reserved some harshest criticism for the Minister of Water Resources, River Basin Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Nitin Gadkari, whose capacity for appreciating the dignity of Ganga has been doubted by Swami Shivanand.
Atmabodhanand has condemned Gadkari for having lied a day before Professor Agrawal’s death that his demands had been met. Nitin Gadkari had laid down ecological flow specifications for different stretches of the Ganga and hydroelectric projects were expected to modify their operations to ensure compliance within three years.
This was at variance with the Indian Institute of Technology Consortium recommendations and was unacceptable to Professor Agrawal which he clearly expressed in an interview just before his death. Moreover, Nitin Gadkari was vague on the question of future of hydroelectric projects and silent on mining in Ganga.
Both saints, Shivanand and Atmabodhanand, have been especially critical of corporatisation of water - the bottled water industry and the marketing of ‘holy Gangajal.’
Swami Shivanand has come down heavily on Modi for his love for foreign sojourns and attempts to make cultural city of Varanasi into Kyoto. Atmabodhanand thinks that this government is ‘nationalist’ only for namesake, otherwise it has a western view of development. He has demanded from the PM immediate compliance of two of the four demands raised by Professor GD Agrawal - halting of ongoing and proposed hydroelectric projects on Ganga and ban on any mining in it as an expression of homage to Professor Agrawal on behalf of the country.
Atmabodhanand has criticised the government for having considered Professor Agrawal’s fast as ‘one man’s intransigence.’ He says Professor Agrawal represented the pain felt about the condition of Ganga, state of global environment, immoral development policies promoting crime and corruption and the irrational man bent upon destroying all living beings, environment and the culture of co-existence.
Atmabodhanand feels it is the arrogance of power because of which government refuses to recognise Professor Agrawal as representative of this pain felt by what he describes as ‘tradition of saints willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of Ganga.’
Support has been received even from Bangladesh for the struggle to ensure Aviral and Nirmal Ganga, which shows the issue affects the lives of people across India’s border too.
For two reasons the hydroelectric projects are undesirable in the Himalayas. It has been seen that maximum damage was caused at the sites of hydroelectric project in the floods of 2013. Moreover, dams and barrages on Ganga, by obstructing the flow of the river, take away the unique bactericidal properties of flowing Ganga water which is present in its sediments.
In 1965 Calcutta Port Trust reported bactericides of 8.92 milligrams per litre of sediments near Sundarbans, while in 2016-17 the department of forest reports it to be 5.52 mg/l in high tide and only 4.68 mg/l in low tide according to scholar Supratim Karmakar from West Bengal. A number of researchers and expert committees have opined that modern development of the kind which seeks to build hydroelectric projects is an invitation to disaster and should not be pursued. Had the government not released water from Tehri dam by submerging more people before they could be rehabilitated, there would not have been enough water in Allahabad, now renamed Prayagraj, for people to take a dip in Ganga during the ongoing Kumbh. However, the governments have been surreptitiously promoting the dams and their builders and have ignored the sane opinion which is now resonating in the voice of the fasting saints. As the number of saints dying while fasting for the sake of Ganga keeps rising and resolve of more of them to embark on the same path becomes stronger, it may be difficult for the country and its government to ignore this phenomenon. The BJP, now busy raking up the Ram temple issue in Ayodhya and the Sabarimala issue in Kerala, can ignore the issue of Ganga at its own peril.
If the government were sincere about cleaning Ganga, at least 4 out of 10 people in the country would have directly benefitted whereas nobody’s life is in danger if the proposed grand temple in Ayodhya is not built; and in Sabarimala the BJP is taking the society backwards by obstructing the entry of women of child bearing age going against the Supreme Court decision.
It would have been better if the RSS-BJP combine, which leave no opportunity to exploit people’s religious sentiments, had given preference to an issue which benefits people rather than promoting a retrogressive agenda. People haven’t forgotten that the PM claimed that he got a call from Mother Ganga to contest his parliamentary election from Varanasi. There is a high profile Rs 20,000 crore-Namami Gange project aimed at cleaning Ganga, which seems to have achieved little. Ganga has become more polluted as much water has flown through it since Narendra Modi won his election from Varanasi.
The Namami Gange programme aims at abatement of polluting activities in the river through interception, diversion and treatment of waste water flowing into it through drains. However, the capacity of Sewage Treatment Plants is woefully short of the volume of sewage being generated and we are nowhere near being able to completely treat the whole sewage. Rs 11,176.81 cr, which is more than half the budget of Namami Gange, has been earmarked for creating a capacity to treat 1,178.75 Million Litres per Day of sewage but National Mission for Clean Ganga, responsible for implementation of Namami Gange, estimates total sewage generation to be 2,900 MLD. In all likelihood by the time NMCG meets its target of sewage treatment, the volume of sewage generated would have gone up several times. It almost appears to be a hopeless task. The only hope is to let the river clean itself but that will require letting the river flow naturally, a demand for which Professor GD Agrawal fasted and died and something with which Nitin Gadkari doesn’t agree. There is a clear conflict between the development agenda of governments and the demand of environmentalists and fasting saints. There is also a view that sewage should not flow into water bodies and must find alternative disposal.
The boatfolk community, Nishad or Mallah, in Varanasi has been protesting against the introduction of cruise owned by a private company to ferry passengers. At stake is a population of about 40,000 whose livelihood depends on the 3000 boats in Ganga at Varanasi. While licences of boatfolk have not been renewed by the Municipal Commissioner, the cruise has obtained permission from Tourism Department of Government of India. The leader of the community Vinod Sahni is in jail on false charges since May 2018 as he was opposing the traditional exploitation of boatfolk at the hands of middlemen as well as the new projects being launched by the BJP government which are a threat to the livelihood of boatfolk. The Nishad community is also demanding the traditional agricultural rights over land across the river from Varanasi city which is now in danger of being encroached by vested interests. People living all along Ganga, whose livelihood depends on it, face a similar bleak future.
The BJP’s hypocrisy related to Ganga stands exposed now. It is apparent that saints fasting for Ganga or the boatfolk of Varanasi matter little for it compared to the vested interests of private corporations who gain from commercialization of Ganga. If it has to choose between its core agenda of Hindutva and profits for corporations it has made its preference clear.
However, this could spell trouble for BJP. Tulsidas in Ramcharitmanas has said that if saints are unhappy in a regime then the king may burn even without fire. BJP’s fortunes have seen a sharp downhill slide since the saints started fasting in Uttarakhand, also known as Devbhumi, or land of God. It could be a mere coincidence.

A Nazi ‘Democracy’

Unlike in any autocracy, democracy stands on the firm legs of several unalterable institutions, but Modi has finished them all, bringing Indian polity to wheelchairs

-a-nazi-democracy
Yogesh Vajpeyi
Yogesh Vajpeyi

Yogesh Vajpeyi is an Independent Writing and Editing Professional. He has been associated with New Indian Express Group as Consulting Editor; with Sakaal Times as an Associate Editor and Indian Express as Senior Editor

In his monumental book “How to Save a Constitutional Democracy”, American jurist Tom Ginsburg has drawn attention to the recent disturbing phenomena of ‘democratic backsliding’ taking place in many democracies. ‘Backsliding’ refers to previously established democracies declining in quality, sometimes to the point where we can no longer use the term.
In the context of India, he refers to a troubling trend toward systematic erosion of autonomy of time-tested institutions and undermining independence of the organs of the state, combined with thuggish intimidation of journalists and civil society and concludes: “I am sure elections will continue in India, and so there is no threat of democratic collapse. But are we witnessing the erosion of India’s grand tradition of democracy?” During the two stints of the United Progressive Alliance government, the Bharatiya Janata Party spent years accusing the Congress, and in particular Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council, of attempting to conduct governance by remote control and undermining India’s constitutional institutions in the process.
If the BJP and Narendra Modi came to power, this line of argument seemed to suggest, the country’s institutions would be safeguarded and operate in the manner they were supposed to.
Events during the tenure of the Modi government suggest that exactly the opposite has happened. There has been a systematic attempt to undermine the autonomy of critical central agencies such as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Reserve Bank of India. The Planning Commission has been abolished and replaced by a government think tank NITI Aayog that has been keener on data manipulation at the cost of the National Statistical Commission to showcase the government’s achievements.
War Within
The war within the CBI and the government’s role in packing off former CBI Director Alok Verma unceremoniously and illegally on this pretext has been hogging the headlines for the last few months. Even after Verma’s exit, the CBI remained a headless agency for months, working under an interim director, and found itself at war with the West Bengal police when it raided the home of Kolkata Police Commissioner without any intimation to the state government, or even without as much as a search warrant, a day before the new Director, Rishi Kumar Shukla, took charge. As for the Reserve Bank of India, the government’s bulldozing forced the RBI governor Urjit Patel to quit nine months before completing his term. In a public lecture on October 26, RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya warned, “Governments that do not respect the central bank’s independence will sooner or later incur the wrath of financial markets, ignite economic fire, and come to rue the day they undermined an important regulatory institution.” His remarks do not come from out of the blue. Over the past few years, the finance ministry has been consistently pushing the central bank to act in accordance with its diktat, and in some cases even announced new measures without consulting the RBI first.
But the CBI and RBI controversies are only a tiny,(if egregious,) part of the tale. As the Modi government nears the end of its term, the list of Constitutional and statutory institutions that are unable to bear its destructive interference, and are openly protesting has been extending day by day.
The government’s refusal to release the latest periodic labour survey report of the National Statistical Commission has forced its Chairman and a senior member to resign. In an attempt to bail out the government, the NITI Aayog, disputed the NSC survey findings. In another recent episode, the NITI Aayog, which was purportedly set up to focus on long-term issues, has decided to take over the role of the drugs pricing regulator, the National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Authority. India can ill-afford to send out signals that its core macro data has been politicised, or that its key economic institutions lack the requisite autonomy.
EC Subverted
Even hallowed institutions like the Election Commission, whose independence has been assured by the Constitution, have been forced to buckle down. First, the Election Commission called electoral bonds – the monetary instrument proposed by the government that would make funding of political parties more opaque – a “retrograde move.” Soon after, the Commission changed its mind and said these bonds are a “step in the right direction”, even though analysts everywhere said that they were a blow to transparency.
At least two instances of flagrant partisanship have been displayed by the Election Commission: one was its decision to delay the announcement of Gujarat Assembly polls schedule in 2017, allegedly to allow the Prime Minister and his party to continue distributing largesse in the state. The second was the hurried and unseemly disqualification of AAP MLAs from Delhi over the office of profit charges, after which the Supreme Court rejected the EC’s decision, and castigated it for not looking at the whole thing more thoroughly.
The EC has thus far not displayed, publicly at least, any resistance to government pressures. Although it continues to go about its business in the usual manner, holding elections at different levels, the coming months will be a test for its mettle, as its conduct of the all-important general elections in 2019 will be keenly watched.
Routing RTI
In a move to curb the use of Right to Information (RTI) Act to expose government malfeasance, the Modi government has moved amendments to the Act itself, which do away with the present five-year fixed term for information commissioners both at the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions (SICs). The amendments also enable the Centre to prescribe the term of office, salaries and allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of chief information commissioners, and information commissioners at both central and state levels. In this case, the government has attempted to subvert the RTI Act and its machinery through pushing amendments – a legislative way of curbing transparency and accountability. In the process, the whole mechanism of information commissions will be made dependant on the government, further weakening it.
In many other official bodies ranging from the UGC to top officers in research and academic bodies including university appointees like vice chancellors, the Modi government has played fast and loose, freely appointing its own supporters, and thereby tilting the balance in favour of their ideological positions. These appointees have also played an active role in destroying democratic functioning in the institutions they head, as most flagrantly brought out by in the case of JNU and its BJP-supporting VC.
In a country that claims the legacy of over 70 years of Constitutional democratic governance, these are unmistakable warning signals. However, the litmus test for the Modi government is its approach towards the four pillars of democracy—the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the free media.
Supreme Subversion
Judiciary was hardly a topic of discussion during the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But during Modi’s reign, the Supreme Court has gone through perhaps its most tumultuous period since the days of the Emergency in the 1970s. At the heart of the debate was the question of judicial independence, with a string of controversies that began in 2014 culminating in an aborted attempt to impeach former Chief Justice of India, Deepak Misra and an unprecedented press conference by four senior judges in January 2018 about the distribution of work by him.
The government had signalled its intentions regarding the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court when an uncharitable comment about senior advocate Gopal Subramanium was leaked when he was supposed to be elevated to the Apex Court. Subramanium finally withdrew from the process. While the government denied any role in what transpired, the speculation was that the Modi government did not like that fact that someone who was the amicus curiae in the Sohrabuddin encounter case in Gujarat was about to rise to the bench.
Four years later, a judge who had given an unfavourable order that cost BJP a chance at forming the government in Uttarakhand had to face similar resistance. In January 2018, the Supreme Court collegium recommended Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice KM Joseph for elevation. The Centre first sat on this file. Then, in April, it expressed its reservations at the appointment, stating that the parent court Joseph came from, the Kerala High Court, was already well represented in the apex court. It wanted the collegium, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, to reconsider the appointment.
Instead of putting its foot down categorically, it took the collegium three sittings to reiterate Joseph’s appointment even as Justice Indu Malhotra, who was recommended along with Joseph, took oath in April. But the Centre had its way as the reconsideration came with two other recommendations, leading to KM Joseph losing his seniority in the Supreme Court.
In stark contrast, the elevation of four other judges in November was cleared in a record time of three days. This included Justice Hemant Gupta, against whom allegations of money laundering were made a year earlier. Reports suggested that the Congress was even thinking of an impeachment motion against Gupta.
As Modi’s tenure draws to a close, the most crucial development is likely to involve how the Supreme Court handles the Ayodhya matter. While Prime Minister claimed that his government would prefer to wait for the judicial process to take its due course, Union Law Minister has gone public that the court should not unnecessarily prolong a decision on the dispute and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other rabble rousers have even threatened to take things in their own hands if the court doesn’t act according to their expectations.
Parliament Pruned
The Modi government’s approach to Parliament and democratic conventions is equally worrisome. In an ideal situation, after the government tables a fully-formed bill in Parliament, the MPs are supposed to examine and vigorously debate the provisions of the bill, suggesting additions, omissions, dilutions and amendments. The process is supposed to take several hours, if not days, with high chances of major bills being referred to standing committees for stricter scrutiny.
This, however, is just not happening now. Take, for instance, the monsoon session of 2017, the Modi government’s best law-making year. Fifteen new bills were introduced in that session, and none of them were referred to a standing committee. It could indicate two things—that none of the bills required closer scrutiny because they were drafted rather well, and that the debates in both houses were robust enough to fix whatever problems these bills had.
But records of the time spent by MPs debating each of these 15 bills suggest that a majority of the bills were passed in a hurry. The passage of some major bills—like the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill—took less than two hours combined in both the houses.
The Question Hour has also not been very productive either. Ministers have kept away from answering questions, with the prime minister himself keeping away from crucial parliamentary debates on demonetisation and other reforms.
The Modi government has resorted to dubious means to get contentious bills passed, because of the ruling coalition’s weaker presence in the Rajya Sabha. There has been an increase in the number of money bills, which are not required to be passed by the Rajya Sabha. The most contentious such money bill was the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
The Aadhaar bill had several controversial provisions, which were passed only because the Modi government introduced it as a money bill. But late last year, some of those provisions were struck down by a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court.
Apart from sloppy law-making, the government has also been accused of reckless law-making. A classic example is the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, which was passed to provide 10 per cent reservation in jobs and education to the poor who belong to the forward castes. The bill was tabled on the last day of the winter session, and was pushed through the Rajya Sabha by extending the session for a day—that, too, without notice. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described it as a “slog-over six”.
Media Muzzled
As for press freedom and civil liberties, despite claims to the contrary, the Modi government’s record is far from inspiring. “I want this government to be criticised. Criticism makes democracy strong. Democracy cannot succeed without constructive criticism,” Modi said after he was swept to power in 2014 on a wave of optimism.
The World Press Freedom Index 2018 compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), reflects growing animosity towards journalists in which India dropped two ranks from 136 to 138. The reasons for India’s fall are obvious. In the report, the media watchdog called the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting the “most active censoring agency” during the period.
The BJP supporters counter any suggestion that like Indira Gandhi during 1975, Modi is behaving like an autocrat. But we must remember that the erosion of democracy takes place through a number of incremental steps, any one of which may be unobjectionable, but when added up they amount to a serious challenge. The key is to recognise the pattern and not just focus on the individual action in question.

Modi’s Patriotic Games

Balakot aerial attack in response to the terrorist attack in Pulwama is signature statement of the prime minister keen to establish his credentials on the security front as the no-nonsense strong man

modis-patriotic-games
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

It would not be necessary to state the obvious: India has overwhelming military superiority over Pakistan in terms of numbers, fire-power and technological superiority. The dedication of the Indian armed forces is to a constitutional democracy. Indian soldiers are not fired by ideological zeal but by their commitment to the multi-religious and multi-cultural Indian nation-state. The heroism and sacrifices of the Indian men and women in uniform cannot be appropriated by any section of society and polity, not by the majority nor by the minority.
That is why, Indian armed forces, despite their human failings as in the operations that the army is forced to carry out against insurgencies, commands respect and admiration of the people of India. The commandos who carried out the September 2016 surgical strike or the Mirage 2000 pilots who bombed the terrorists’ camp in Balakot have displayed extraordinary courage and competence. It would be wrong to ask whether these brave men and women have ended the scourge of terrorism. Terrorism is a wider issue with political and ideological ramifications, and armies can root it out when the political and ideological aspect is taken care of. And this applies to the most powerful armies like that the United States, Russia, China and India.
Poll Impact
There are also many alternatives to fight terrorists through physical force. India has been handling terrorism since the time of the rise of militancy in Punjab in the 1980s and in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s. The extremism in the Punjab had been contained, and it has been raising its head every time it has been brought under control in J&K. The fight has to continue even as other ways have to be found to deal with it at the political level.
The question that comes up in the context of the Pulwama terror attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) on February 12 and India bombing the JeM training camp at Balakot in Pakistan on February 26 is its impact on the April-May Lok Sabha election.
It is true on the face of it that Pulwama attack had happened in the run-up to the election, and there was no option for the government of the day to strike back at the JeM, which had claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack. Prime Minister Narendra Modi can rightly take credit that he had acted decisively based on the advise and assessment of the security and intelligence forces, and he can also argue that prime minister Manmohan Singh government did not respond in the way he did after the November 26, 2008, terror attack on Mumbai, and nor did prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government after the attack on the Parliament on December 13, 2001.
Modi can claim that he is a more aggressive prime minister compared to Singh and Vajpayee. The Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 was months away from April-May 2009 Lok Sabha election. And that election was won on basis of the sober image of Singh, and the Congress had surprisingly won 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh. It is probable that Modi’s decision to bomb the JeM camp at Balakot might win him the election this summer even as Singh’s restraint won him the election in 2009. These are imponderables and it is futile to find irrefutable connection between terrorist attacks and election results.
Critics of Modi would be wrong in denying him the credit for deciding on the counter-terrorism attacks. And it is foolish to argue that the counter-terrorism attacks do not solve the problem of terrorism. Terrorism is to be fought on the ground with guns and planes even as one fights it at the ideological, political and diplomatic levels. The problem is not with Modi’s military response, nor is his belligerence at fault.
Moral Trap
The moral and political question is whether Modi and the BJP are going to use the Pulwama attack and the retaliatory bombing of Balakot as the basis for his election campaign? If they do so, and it is even natural to do so, then the next question that comes up is whether Modi needed a war to win an election. Modi and others in the BJP will retort that it was the JeM which had carried out the terror attack in the run up to the election, and that the Modi government responded in the only way that a government in the situation had to: through the aerial strike at Balakot, the training camp of the JeM. And that it was not their intention to fall back on the ‘war’ against terrorism to win the election.
On the morning of February 28, addressing a videoconference of booth workers of the BJP at 5,000 venues, Modi was seen emphasising the economic achievements of his government between 2014 and 2019, and he referred to the tension on India-Pakistan border in passing. He told a booth worker from Hapur that the 2014-2019 term was engaged in meeting the ‘aavasyakataaein (necessities)’ of the people, and that the next term will be engaged in meeting the ‘aakaankshaaein (desires)’ of the people.
Quiet Game
The strategy is clear. Now that the patriotic sentiments have been aroused through the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot counter-attack by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and even because of the capture of the IAF fighter pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, by Pakistan. it seems that Modi is assured that he does not have to emphasise the issue any more and that the sentiment of the voter has been suitably triggered and on the voting day, people will lean towards the BJP. This is the assumption. And if the Opposition parties were to criticise the government on the Pulwama terrorist attack, they can be labelled as ‘anti-national’. He knows as a good propagandist that the Pulwama-Balakot episode will remain fresh in the mind of the electorate and that it would influence the voter’s choice more than anything else. He has more than one arrow in his bow. Patriotic fervour is one of them along with that of economic development and welfare measures. Though on the ground the latter have not been delivered. It falls to the people to scrutinise the record of the Modi government on development, on welfare measures and on India’s military response. Modi and the BJP would not like to be scrutinised on any of these issues because the record is not too impressive. Pulwama-Balakot have dominated the headlines for two weeks and it has been the focus of the nation’s attention. His address to the BJP booth workers on the morning of February 28 showed that Modi is looking ahead to the elections, and he has displayed a calculated nonchalance towards the faceoff with Pakistan and he is confident that it will play an important emotional part in the voter’s mind. But he does not want to overplay the patriotism card for fear that he will be labelled a war-monger in any way. The aerial attack on Balakot in response to the Pulwama terror attack is to declare in a loud and clear fashion his brand of muscular nationalism. The capture of the IAF pilot and the shooting down of the Mig21 showed that everything did not go according to plan, and there was the clear danger of things getting out of control. But the Indian government played the game with caution when Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale described the attack on Balakot as ‘a non-military pre-emptive attack’. If India had declared this to be a military attack, then Pakistan would have had no choice but to respond militarily and it would have led to a moment of conventional war. The Indian description of the Balakot has provided Pakistan an escape route as well. The intrusion of Pakistan’s war plane into Jammu and Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC) is nothing more than a face-saver for Pakistan. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s televised address made it clear that it was just a statement of Pakistan’s capability to respond and it was not intended to be an act of war.
Pulwama Windfall
The Pulwama terror attack has proved to be a windfall for Modi as he was preparing to fight an election with nothing more to show than a few welfare measures and lackadaisical economic growth rate in the last five years. Though Modi and BJP president Amit Shah had gone belligerent on Pulwama and indulged in sabre rattling, the party’s tone turned subdued and restrained after the aerial attack on Balakot. The party and Modi seem to have realised that it would not do to indulge in war rhetoric. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s cavalier statement that if the United States’ Navy Seals could take away and kill Osama bin Laden, the reputed brain behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York and Washington, why cannot India do the same, seemed out of place in the light of the subdued statements of Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar denying the opposition charge that the BJP was politicising the Pulwama-Balakot episode, and which was also reflected in Modi’s address to the party workers a day later. Basically, the BJP is backing off. It appears that Modi has realised that his purpose is served by the limited aerial attack on Balakot and there is no need to step up the hostilities because as his Pakistan counterpart Khan had pointed out that once war begins neither he nor Modi has control over how the war plays out. Khan was once again playing the game of nuclear blackmail. The Balakot aerial attack was supposed to call the Pakistan bluff on the apocalyptic nuclear flare-up. India and Pakistan have once again checkmated each other. Modi and the BJP have gained a limited advantage which might be sufficient to tilt the electoral verdict in their favour.

Policing better childhood

An Indian charity founded by a former woman super-cop is transforming the lives of children of women prisoners

policing-better-childhood
Sutirth Sahariah
Sutirth Sahariah

Sutirth Sahariah is a graduate in media management and journalism from the University of Stirling, UK. He writes for The Guardian, London, from Delhi. He covers human trafficking, gender violence and development issues. He has also worked for the BBC, Dutch Public Radio & TV and the NPR

Tabassum, a 24-year-old, remembers the day when one evening police came knocking at their doors to arrest her mother. “I was around 5-years-old and suddenly there was a lot of commotion in the house,” she says. “I realised that mom was about to go somewhere. The police didn’t handcuff my mom in front of us, but they were harsh. I and my younger brother clung onto my mom wailing and refusing to part from her when someone pulled us away.”
Afsha Praveen, her mother, was in her early twenties when she was convicted on the charges of kidnapping and was sentenced to fourteen years of imprisonment in Delhi’s Tihar Jail in 1999. The court had granted that her two very young children could remain with her in the prison until they attained the age of six. “I knew that my life was doomed but didn’t want my children to have the same fate. The life inside prison was tough and full of dangerous people. I was very worried about my children’s safety and future,” says Praveen, 45, who was released after serving her term in 2014.
Tihar prison in New Delhi, where Praveen was imprisoned, has over 10,000 inmates making it one of the largest prison complexes in the world. In 1993, a high-ranking woman police officer, Kiran Bedi, was given the charge to run the affairs of what was then one of the most notorious and dismally run high-security prisons in India.
“There was an undercurrent of violence, tensions and distrust between the inmates and authorities. There were 7,200 inmates as against the sanctioned capacity of 2,273 and 90 per cent were under trails. The prison management was almost dysfunctional. The prison staff was so illiterate that they could barely count. Women prisoners were subjected to most humiliating experiences, which robbed them of what little dignity and self-respect they had before coming to the jail,” Bedi says.
Great Opportunity
“I took it as an opportunity to directly connect with people in dire need and was determined to create an environment for the prisoners’ self-reform,” says Bedi, 69, who is now the lieutenant-governor of the Union Territory of Puducherry. “I started with whatever we had inside the prison. We crafted out the creche from women's prison premises. We then reached out to NGOs outside to extend support. We got it all in abundance. My approach to administrative reforms was based on respecting the human rights of prisoners, winning their trust through non-violence, compassion and welfare policing – and it gradually paid off.”
In August 1994, she was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for her work. Bedi used the prize money to expand her work to other prisons and set up charity (NGO) India Vision Foundation (IVF). “I always believed in expanding the scope of doing good when in a position of influence and power, so I dedicated it to promote the causes for which I was given the award. It greatly helped in institutionalising the programmes of women and children inside prisons and helped bring about the much-needed continuity,” says Bedi. The 2016 India’s National Crime Records Bureau shows that there are 17.834 women in prisons across India who make up 4.3% of total prisoners in the country. A study says that though there has been a marginal rise in the number of women criminals since 2001, the number of the women arrested and convicted for serious criminal activities like human trafficking, drugs and prostitution have gone up drastically.
Supreme Court Order
In 2006, the Supreme Court of India issued various guidelines and directions to the federal and state governments, encompassing all kinds of issues concerning incarcerated mothers and their children. It was held that a child can remain in jail with his or her mother until the age of six and they shall be entitled to food, shelter, medical care, clothing, education and recreational facilities as a matter of right. The top court also said that in case of separation of the child and mother, the Department of Social Welfare must ensure the well-being of the child.
Monica Dhawan, the director of IVF, says the charity ensures that the needs of women prisoners and their children are attended swiftly. “The focus of our work is to make the inmates believe that their term in the prison is an opportunity for them to rebuild their lives. Intervention programmes are designed to impart education, inculcate a strong value system through a range of co-curricular activities and enhance their skills with vocational training programmes.” In the last two decades, the charity has transformed the lives of 10,000 prisoners, ensured that over 500 children of women prisoners completed their higher education and had a job, and over 1,000 kids attended its crèche facilities which it set up in various prisons.
Praveen was persuaded by Bedi in one of her visits to the prison to send the two children to a boarding school. She says: “Madam (Bedi) encouraged us to think about our children’s education and said she could offer financial support. Through her, I saw a ray of hope for my children’s future.”
India Vision Foundation found a good boarding school for Praveen’s children. The charity also ensured that they met their mother in prison during school holidays. “These interactions are important so that there is a strong bonding between the child and the mother. The mother is also consulted while taking decisions for the child. So, when Tabassum completed her school, she wanted to study management. We informed the mother and then looked for a residential college for her,” says Dhawan. When Praveen was released from prison, both her children had jobs. Tabassum did very well in her studies and now works for a multinational company. But like Bedi, whom she considers her mentor, she aspires to be in a position when she can make a difference to the lives of people.
Bedi says Tabassum’s success is an inspiration to the society. “I treat all the children of prisoners as my children. I would like to see them run the IVF themselves one day. They are the best to run it.”
Tabassum says she is delighted to be united with her mother. “My mother made mistakes, but she has taught me to be strong and righteous. Today I feel very proud to be her daughter.” “She wakes me up every morning with a hug, makes my breakfast and sees me off to office. I feel so happy as these are the little things I missed as a child,” she says. “Being with her gives me a great sense of security. I would never want to lose her again.”

Grossly Distorting Perceptions

GDP estimates world over are frequently re-based globally, and even sharply revised, but the Modi government is simply trying to wipe out UPA’s achievements to hide its own sheer non-performance in this election year

grossly--distorting-perceptions
N Chandra Mohan
N Chandra Mohan

The writer is an economics and business commentator based in New Delhi. He is an economist by training and has worked in most of the leading newspapers of the country for the last 34 years. He also teaches economics and international business in MBA programmes for the last seven years and has been involved with various think-tanks in the capital

Ahead of the national elections this year, India’s ruling BJP-led NDA regime will, no doubt, bask in the glow of regaining the ‘fastest among major economies in the world’ position according to the International Monetary Fund. This can be the crucial evidence that it has honoured its promise to bring the good days back again.
To bolster its electoral prospects, the incumbent government would surely ram home another statistic, notably, that growth during its term was much faster than during the UPA regime. How credible are such claims? Will the India growth story make a difference at the hustings?
India’s growth is projected at 7.4 per cent in 2018-19 up from 6.7 per cent in 2017-18. These numbers refer to the annual increase in gross domestic product or GDP after taking into account inflation. The latter is a measure of how much more one has to pay than one did last year and is measured in reference to a base year. For GDP calculations by India’s Central Statistics Office (CSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the new base year is 2011-12 and the previous one was 2004-05. This has been done to take into account changes in the structure of production and better methodologies.
Juggling Base
GDP estimates the world over are frequently re-based and even sharply revised with more up-to-date databases. In 2014, for instance, Nigeria’s GDP was jacked up by 89 per cent after revision in methods and re-basing. On a lighter note, following an EU agreement on GDP standards to include income from selling recreational drugs and paid sex, these changes added as much as 0.7 per cent to Britain’s GDP. Such changes enlarge the absolute size of GDP but the annual growth rates usually do not change that much. As we shall see later, this problem, unfortunately, bedevils the NDA vs UPA growth claims.
Reclaiming the world’s fastest-growing economy tag with the projected 7.4 per cent growth is one thing, achieving this number is another matter. The prospects in fact are somewhat daunting in this regard, as the Indian economy has not fully recovered as expected from severe disruption due to the twin shocks of demonetisation – when 86 per cent of currency was taken out from circulation to check unaccounted wealth in November 2016 -- and the introduction of a nationwide goods and services tax that scrapped state levies to turn the nation into a single market on July 1, 2017.
Pre-poll Slump
India’s GDP growth during the July-September quarter of 2018-19 fell to 7.1 per cent from 8.2 per cent in the April-June quarter. This ended four successive quarters of acceleration from the July-September quarter of 2017-18.
During the remaining half of this year, further deceleration is likely. Rural demand will be subdued as sowing operations were lower during the winter or rabi season. The stock markets have been volatile with foreign investors pulling out their money. The downside risks include prospects of a global trade war, worsening geopolitical tensions, weaker global growth.
If growth falls to 7 per cent in October-December and 6.7 per cent in January-March, according to SBI group chief economist Soumya Kanti Ghosh, the result is 7.2 per cent for 2018-19. However, even at these levels, there are hardly any other large economies with a comparable pace of expansion in the global economy. But this growth could unravel more dramatically if downside risks take a turn for the worse.
Instead of being buffeted by strong global headwinds, the Indian economy needs favourable tailwinds and a strong domestic-led pace of economic expansion to sustain even a 7 per cent trajectory.
Back Track
If the current year’s performance is blowing in the wind, what is the track-record of four years of the NDA regime? The average is 7.4 per cent: Rising from 7.4 per cent in 2014-15 to 8.2 per cent in 2015-16 followed by a sharp downswing to 7.1 per cent in 2016-17 and 6.7 per cent in 2017-18. Last year’s low clearly reflected the adverse and still persisting impact of demonetisation and GST. The severe knock to India’s growth and decoupling of its performance occurred when the world economy was experiencing a broad-based synchronous recovery according to the Economic Survey for 2017-18.
Under these circumstances, the only way the NDA can secure a potential electoral dividend of sorts from its four-year performance is to show that it is still better than the previous UPA regime’s. As if on cue, the CSO under the aegis of the Niti Aayog released a back series from 2004-05 of GDP estimates with 2011-12 as the base on November 28.
During these seven years, 2004-05 to 2011-12, when the UPA was in power, the earlier series with 2004-05 as base showed an average GDP growth of 8.2 per cent. The new back series substantially downgraded this performance to 6.9 per cent.
Garnishing ‘Growth’
NDA’s growth thus appears better than the UPA’s. But is the latest back series credible? No. For starters, what detracts from the credibility of these numbers is the association of Niti Aayog.
“Niti Aayog’s like the old Planning Commission, a political one. It is supposed to be an extension of the Prime Minister’s Office and the moment the Niti Aayog comes into the picture, it tends to give a political colour. This may not actually be true but that is the impression that comes out. Otherwise, they have absolutely no business in convening the data release,” stated former chief statistician, Pronab Sen.
Three years ago, the CSO had calculated a back series with 2011-12 as the base that showed an upward revision to growth in the UPA era. The then vice-chairman of the Niti Aayog took one look at it and said: “We cannot allow it,” according to Sen, who was present at that meeting as chairman of the National Statistical Commission.
Niti Aayog had issues with a proxy for growth estimates of the corporate sector. In July 2018, the Committee on Real Sector Statistics headed by Dr Sudipto Mundle put out another back series that also showed higher growth during UPA, but that effort was termed “not official”.
Parrying Answers
The CSO’s defence is that the methodology for preparing the back series from 2011-12 to 2004-05 is “largely” the same as the one followed in the new GDP series with 2011-12 as the base. The data used is also in sync with the recommendations of the UN System of National Accounts, which included the estimation of gross value added or GVA at basic prices, among other things.
This is arrived at by adding up the value of goods and services produced in the country minus the inputs. Accordingly, GDP is the sum of GVA plus product taxes minus product subsidies.
On the methodological front, “largely” is the operative word as far as the corporate sector, in particular, is concerned. The 2011-12 series incorporated a more up-to-date base of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs that had the annual financial accounts of nearly 500,000 companies, compared to the data of a few thousand companies that was previously accessed from the date base of the Reserve Bank of India. While this MCA-21 database is a treasure trove of latest balance sheet information, it is unfortunately not available for earlier years. In other words, this source cannot be used backwards from 2011-12.
The CSO thus had no alternative but to use the more limited database of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy for some of the earlier years as also the non-corporate or quasi-corporate data of the more robust volume-based estimates of the Annual Survey of Industry, which was the mainstay of the earlier GDP series to estimate organised manufacturing’s contribution.
The limitations of data unavailability have no doubt forced the hand of the CSO to work out the back series with a hybrid methodology. How comparable then is all of this to the exclusively MCA-21 data from 2011-12 onwards?
Bad Series
Beyond the Niti Aayog factor, the back series lacks credibility as it also fails the smell test. As we noted earlier, re-basing GDP estimates with different methodologies and up-to-date databases typically enlarge the absolute size of GDP, but the annual growth rates should not change that much.
Interestingly, the absolute size of GDP in 2011-12 – the very first year of the new series – is lower when compared to the earlier 2004-05 series: the nominal size of GDP is significantly lower by as much as Rs 2.7 trillion at Rs 87.4 trillion when compared to the GDP estimate of Rs 90.1 trillion of the earlier series. Moreover, how can the GDP growth from 2004-05 to 2011-12 be downgraded, when this was a period when India’s exports boomed, credit growth, corporate sales and profits were in double digits and investments took off? Although the share of manufacturing, electricity and construction or the secondary sector is higher, the back series shows slower growth of 8.8 per cent compared to 9.1 per cent of the 2004-05 series. In sharp contrast, during the NDA years, exports were down, credit languished, corporate sales and investments were low, yet GDP growth was much higher.
For such reasons, the NDA is unlikely to secure electoral gains from claiming that under its regime growth was much faster than the UPA. To make a difference at the hustings, it must show that the India growth story under its watch has been more inclusive. That the rising tide of 7.4 per cent growth has lifted all boats, as it were.
No Growth
GDP growth, unfortunately, is only a summary statistic. Although the average levels of prosperity have gone up, the big question is whether the gains have largely gone to the affluent sections of society while living standards of the vast majority have fallen behind?
Farmers and agricultural labourers, who account for roughly one of two working Indians, have lagged behind in a big way. The latest Economic Survey indicated that their incomes have been stagnant over the last four years.
There is also a likelihood of further declines in the future, thanks to climate change or global warming. To contain the widespread agrarian distress, the NDA government appears committed to doubling farmer incomes by 2022. The narrative of nationwide farmer discontent weighs heavily over the forthcoming national elections.
Has India’s rapid economic growth resulted in employment? The NDA regime came to power in 2014 by promising development and jobs for the youth. On the face of it, growth hardly matters to the electorate if it has not generated an adequate number of jobs to absorb the 12 million job seekers who enter the labour market every year. The dismal reality instead is that there are as many as 25 million highly educated job applicants for 90,000 low-level railway jobs. The electoral preferences of the youth – who constitute a substantial segment of the voting population – may well decide the 2019 election.
Real Reforms
If the NDA regime does return to power, the challenge ahead is to sustain the current growth trajectory over a period of time. That is not easy: it depends not just on structural reforms but also a stable social and political environment. Structural reform includes those of factor markets: labour, land and capital. Land acquisition laws are in a limbo. The clean-up of the bank and corporate balance sheets must accelerate so that bank credit revives to stimulate growth. Reforms to free up agricultural product markets to make cultivation more viable also must be on the table.
Labour laws also deserve priority attention. Greater labour market flexibility will encourage job creation and enable India to reap the demographic dividend of a young workforce. If not there will be considerable social and political unrest that can eventually derail the growth narrative.
As if all of this weren’t bad enough, inter-state disparities in growth have also widened as faster-growing, richer states have steadily pulled apart from the slower-growing, poorer states in the country. The regime in power must, therefore, realise that to sustain rapid growth it must be more inclusive.

Fastest Growth

Despite the blows like demonetisation and GST, the Indian economy remains the fastest growing among all major ones in the world

fastest-growth
Sindhu Bhattacharya
Sindhu Bhattacharya

Sindhu Bhattacharya is a senior journalist. writing on business and economy. She has worked across daily newspapers as well as digital publications and was the Contributing Editor to CNBCTV18, India’s largest business news channel.

Two years have passed since demonetisation crippled the Indian economy and though some economists believe the shock and awe unleashed by this single decision of the Modi government may not have been fully absorbed even now, recovery has begun. In addition to demonetisation, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime also came into force from July 2017 and coupled with some severe global headwinds, including oil price shocks later, the Indian economy did face real rough weather in the second half of this government’s term. But green shoots are beginning to emerge, as industrial growth picks up, oil prices soften and effects of demonetisation etc., begin to wane.
According to Fitch Ratings, the Indian economy grew by 7.1 per cent as an annual average in five years between 2013-2017, slowed to 6.7 per cent in 2017-18 but is now picking up again with the full year forecast for 2018-19- being 7.2 per cent. The rating agency has gone on to forecast 7 per cent growth for 2019-20 and 7.1 per cent for 2020-21.
In 2018-19, GDP growth has picked up after a lag and been robust in the first half, partly because of the low base of the previous year. The manufacturing sector is reviving after making massive adjustments to the GST regime, and agricultural production is also improving significantly. And even though the economy is expected to slow down in the second half of this fiscal compared to the same period last year on a higher base, overall growth for the full year should remain robust.
And as per the first advance estimates released by the CSO (Central Statistical Organisation) this week, the forecast of 7.2 per cent GDP growth for the full year 2018-19 puts India in the front of the global economic pecking order. Yes, this number is still a tad lower than expected as the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) estimate was 7.4 per cent and the finance ministry’s projection was of 7.5 per cent growth. But 7.2 per cent growth will still be higher than the 6.7 per cent seen in the previous fiscal so in this, at least, it is a leg up. The CSO estimates put second-half GDP growth at 6.8 per cent and a clearer picture will likely emerge when the second advance estimates are released next month.
As per projections by the CSO, manufacturing is expected to grow at 8.3 per cent this fiscal against 5.7 per cent in FY18; construction at 8.9 per cent (5.7 per cent). In the services sector, trade, hotels, transport, communication services and public administration will grow at a slower pace in FY19, while financial, real estate, and professional services are expected to grow at a marginally faster pace. Agriculture is projected to grow at 3.8 per cent in FY19, marginally higher than 3.4 per cent in FY18.
Significant Stride
So the Modi term will end with a reasonable growth in GDP. How has the economy done in the first four years of this government’s term? On its part, the Finance Ministry has said that the government made “significant” strides in the last four years in terms of welfare, the overall structure and growth of the economy and in creating a strong presence as an emerging global power. The ministry said GDP growth was 7.2 per cent in the first half of this fiscal, current account deficit stood at $15.8 billion in Q1 while trade deficit was $45.7 billion and CPI was 3.9 per cent in the September quarter.
The share of the Indian economy in the world (measured as a ratio of India’s GDP to world’s GDP at current US$) increased from 2.6 per cent in 2014 to 3.2 per cent in 2017 (as per World Development Indicators database). The average growth of the Indian economy during 2014-15 to 2017-18 was 7.3 per cent, fastest among the major economies in the world. And the ministry further said that the Indian economy is projected to be the fastest growing major economy in 2018-19 and 2019-20 (International Monetary Fund October 2018 database). This is borne by GDP growth of 7.6 per cent in the first half of 2018-19 (and now after the first advance estimates put out by the CSO).
Chamber Upbeat
Leading industry chamber, the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), has concurred with this rosy picture presented by the government, saying India remained the fastest growing major economy in 2018 and is expected to continue to shine in 2019. CII’s positive outlook is buttressed by strong drivers emanating from the services sector, infrastructure including construction equipment and better demand conditions arising out of election spending. “Better demand conditions, settled GST implementation, capacity expansion resulting from growing investments in infrastructure and continuing positive effects of the reform policies undertaken and improved credit offtake especially in services sector at 24 per cent will sustain the robust GDP growth in the range of 7.5 per cent in 2019,” said CII Director General Chandrajit Banerjee.
Rating agency CARE Ratings has said in a note that in 2018, particularly, volatile oil prices and exchange rates combined with conflicting signals from inflation, where farmers were stressed on account of low prices and core inflation remained intransigent and affected decisions of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on monetary policy. Industries had varied performance mainly due to differing effects of overall growth as well as the effects of GST, which skewed numbers and contributed to the ‘base effect’ argument when interpreting economic numbers.
Aided by a favourable base effect as well as some momentum in both consumer goods and capital goods, IIP (Index of Industrial Production) growth for the first seven months of 2018-19 was “quite satisfactory” at 5.6 per cent against 2.5 per cent in the same period last year. The growth of 8.7 per cent in capital goods, 9.4 per cent in durables helped manufacturing move up by 5.7 per cent so far this year.
In terms of the core sector or infrastructure, industries growth has been impressive for electricity, cement and coal during this period. Positive spending by the government has helped to maintain this growth rate.
The capacity utilisation rate, which is a good indicator of the spare capacity in industry which in turn gives a signal of future investment, increased in Q3 (September to December 2017) and Q4 (January-March 2018) of FY18 at 74.1 per cent and 75.2 per cent respectively, but declined to 73.8 per cent in Q1 FY19 (April-June 2019).
Fastest Growth
And CII observed that despite 2018 witnessing external vulnerabilities arising out of rising oil prices, trade wars between major global trading partners and US monetary tightening, the Indian economy stood out as the world’s fastest-growing major economy. The chamber has, however, listed seven key drivers for growth that need to be fostered and has suggested policy actions for robust GDP growth to continue in 2019.
1) Lowering the number of GST tax slabs to three - a standard rate, a higher rate for demerit goods and a lower rate for some mass consumption items. The GST Council should also consider extending GST to excluded sectors such as fuels, real estate, electricity and alcohol.
2) The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC): The government should consider setting up additional benches of the National Company Law Tribunal to spread geographically to strengthen the judicial infrastructure for an easier and faster exit of distressed businesses.
3) On Ease of Doing Business: Government should digitize land records, online single window systems in states and enforce contracts for even more improvements in ease of doing business.
4) In measures to unlock agricultural markets, it is important to persuade states to implement the Agriculture Produce and Livestock Marketing Model Act, which has been implemented in just four states. Also, implementation of e-NAM mandis should be prioritised, to promote inter-state trade and improve E-NAM handling share from the current 4.5 per cent.
5) In the immediate term, credit availability has been a challenge, particularly for the micro, small and medium enterprises. Credit flow to industry grew by only 2.3 per cent in H1 (April-September) of the current financial year. RBI should introduce measures such as revisiting lending restrictions of PCA banks, opening of a limited Special Liquidity Window to meet emergencies of financial institutions (including Mutual Funds) besides others to improve liquidity in the system.
6) India needs to continue guarding against the risks of higher oil prices by increasing domestic production of oil, providing a special window for Oil Marketing companies to procure oil and stepping up diplomacy with the USA to continue to secure purchase from Iran. This would also help in effective exchange rate management, CII added.
7) While the fiscal deficit target of 3.3 per cent is expected to be fulfilled, the government should continue its strong program of infrastructure development, including roads and highways, airports, waterways, and ports. This would provide the necessary growth impetus for downstream industry sectors as well as generate employment opportunities.
Banking Woes
Meanwhile, despite the green shoots on the economic front, problems persist. Fitch has noted that India’s banking sector continues to struggle with a high proportion of nonperforming assets, while non-banking financial institutions (NBFIs) face tighter access to liquidity following the default of IL&FS, one of the 30 biggest NBFIs in India.
NFBIs have accounted for a large share of all lending in recent years and have expanded credit rapidly. The rating agency has suggested that fiscal policy should continue to support growth in the run-up to elections in early 2019.
Stepped-up public investment has helped to stem the downward trend in the investment/GDP ratio, boosted by infrastructure spending. There have also been measures to support rural demand.
Besides, other measures announced to ease liquidity in the system have helped some. But still, the big question which remains is this: since external shocks like oil prices etc., are outside India’s control, how eager will the new government be to take more fiscal steps to support growth?

The Stage Manager

The Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha has grossly ignored his constituency, Karur, barring setting up one hundred drama stages, hardly ever used

the-stage-manager
G Ulaganathan
G Ulaganathan

The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances…
Says Shakespeare in his ‘As You Like It’. And, one politician who has taken it very seriously is the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Dr M Thambidurai. As an MP, for twenty years, his only worthwhile contribution seems to be the construction of drama stages across his constituency in all the panchayats. There are more than 100 such stages, proudly proclaiming that they were constructed by the Member of Parliament from his MPLAD funds.
Thambidurai is in a great dilemma now. In the past, irrespective of what he has done or not done, his passage to Lok Sabha was easy. Jayalalithaa’s charisma and the liberal use of money power saw him through.
But, with the passing away of his leader and the desertion of one of his key aides, V Senthil Balaji, a former minister in the Jaya cabinet, local MLA and a staunch loyalist, it’s almost curtains for this four-time MP.
Post Jaya, Balaji joined hands with Dinakaran in the confused TN political scenario. But now he has gone to DMK and has vowed to defeat Thambidurai at any cost.
Bad Bargain
Durai was also initially strongly in support of Sasikala for chief ministership. Hardly a month after Jayalalithaa died and O Panneerselvam had become Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Thambidurai kicked up a major political storm. “Jayalalithaa’s political heir is Sasikala. She should take control of the party as well as the government,” he wrote, curiously, on his official letterhead, as Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha.
There was large scale criticism of this and he was charged with converting his constitutional post into a political one to curry favour with the then Mannargudi clan.
After O Panneerselvam took over as CM and met Prime Minister Modi, he did not take Thambidurai along. Angered at being ignored, he started campaigning for Sasikala as CM.
He had served as the Cabinet Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs and as the Minister of State of Surface Transport from March 1998 to April 1999. He had also served as the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha from 1985 to 1989 and was a familiar face in Delhi. Jayalalithaa gave him a lot of importance and all the MPs were told to take orders from him.
It is said whenever Madam visited Delhi, all the MPs had to line up outside the airport with bouquets in hand, and Thambidurai would decide who should stand where in the queue.
He was such a strong loyalist of Jayalalithaa that circumstances even forced him to skip his own daughter’s wedding, as Jaya was against her marrying the son of former Congress MLA, C Gnanasekharan. The wedding created ripples in the state when reports trickled in that Jayalalithaa did not relish it. Post Jaya, the political scenario was changing rapidly and with Sasikala going to jail, Thambidurai sided with the chief minister Edappadi Palanisamy and distanced himself from Dinakaran.
Senthil Balaji was the transport minister in the Jaya cabinet but Edappadi sidelined him and he threw in his lot with TTV Dinakaran. Balaji is a powerful man in Karur district and can mobilise any amount of money in a short time.
Lonely Reaper
Now, with him not by his side, Thambidurai is forced to plough a lonely furrow. With the Lok Sabha polls round the corner, he is not sure of a victory again from this constituency.
In the last six months, he has been desperately going around the constituency with a team of officials and cops. There are hardly any partymen accompanying him.
And, wherever he goes he faces angry voters. “You only come when the elections are near. Where were you all these four years?” they confront him. There are six assembly segments in his Karur Lok Sabha constituency (Karur, Aravakurichi, Krishnarayapuram, Vedasanthur, Viralimalai, Manapparai) and all of them are represented by the ruling AIADMK. Even the MLAs who accompany him are not allowed to step out of their cars and are chased away by the voters. Thambidurai belongs to the Kongu Vellalar community which is a majority in the western districts of Tamil Nadu, also known as Kongu Nadu which comprises the districts of Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode, Karur, Namakkal, Salem, and northern parts of Dindigul district such as Palani, Oddanchatram and Vedasandur.
As an MP what has he done for the constituency which elected him four times in the past? Karur Lok Sabha constituency spreads across four districts in Tamil Nadu — Karur, Pudukkottai, Dindigul and Tiruchirappalli. This constituency comprises more than 100 villages and though the people are rich, the literacy level is quite low.
An educated man with a Doctorate in Economics, Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, who can meet Prime Minister and other ministers easily and get things done, a close confidant of the former chief minister J Jayalalithaa — Thambidurai’s plus points are these and much more. Even his political opponents acknowledge that he has a clean record and there is no scam or serious corruption charges against him – something rare in today’s politics. The only charge is that he has been totally ineffective as a people’s representative.
Dying Industries
There is all-round disappointment and anger among the people that he hardly meets them, leave alone doing anything worthwhile for them. “He has constructed drama stages in all panchayat and bus stop shelters in some places. That’s all. He hardly spends time here, makes a flying visit only Sundays and leaves like lightening,” say most of his voters.
“Karur is known for its flourishing textile and bus body building industries. Due to demonetisation and GST, almost all the small scale industries have been badly hit. Bus body building industry has been severely hit by the central government’s rules that all components have to be taken to Pune for authentication. This has led to increased costs. Almost all the small scale industries in this sector have closed down. The high profile MP has not done anything to save them”, says Nanniyur Rajendran, a senior politician and Karur district secretary of DMK for more than 10 years now. Rajendran’s father Gandhi was a close associate of DMK leader M Karunanidhi.
Less said the better about the once flourishing textile industry. Known for its world-famous bedsheets, lungis and mosquito nets, this industry is now in the doldrums. Jayalalithaa had set up a textile park with about 54 units in 2010. Now, the park is nowhere and only about half a dozen units are still surviving. “Thambidurai used to make many promises before polls, like setting up cold storage warehouses for vegetables and fruits. But, once the elections are over he would conveniently put all those promises in the cold storage,” says Senthil, a political activist.
Paper Promises
“Some of these promises include setting up a new bus stand in Karur, Dyeing Park at a cost of Rs 200 crore, Coimbatore-Karur Ring Road, day train from Chennai to Karur, a check dam across Cauvery, and so on. He could have easily achieved them through his contacts as Deputy Speaker. But his promises remain only on paper,” adds Rajendran and says his party’s former MP KC Palanisamy was responsible for various projects like getting the Lalapet railway overbridge, drainage scheme for Karur town and many other road bridges – some of which were constructed at his own expense.
Now since KCP, as he is affectionately known, has left electoral politics, the opposition is yet to identify a powerful candidate, and Thambidurai is confident that he can easily get all the votes of the Kongu Vellalar community to which he belongs. Interestingly, he is not a native of this district but his wife hails from Karur. Some of the other unfulfilled promises include a cold storage warehouse for banana and other vegetables, perfume factories for Manapparai, etc.
Poll Largesse
Padmanathan, panchayat union president of Kodayur, says that apart from Jayalalithaa’s campaign, and distribution of money (Rs 2,000 per vote) Thambidurai’s men distributed free dhotis and sarees for every household and that fetched him many votes last time. “But now these tricks won’t work and his partymen themselves are fed up. So, he has been taking them in batches for sightseeing to Delhi and picnic spots like Courtalam, misusing his official position,” he says.
At a nearby village Vellalapatti, a small hamlet with about 3,000 people, there is a water tank in a precarious condition. Sukumar, a retired employee, says people are living in fear that this tank might collapse any moment. “Our MP came here last month and instructed the officials who accompanied him to immediately pull it down and construct a new tank. But he did not offer to do it from his MPLAD funds as we expected. That was the last we heard about it. No one has come so far and even if we try to reach him, it is not possible as in his office in Karur there is no one to listen to us”, he bitterly complains.
Karur’s lifeline has been its dyeing units. Hundreds of them existed once. The white thread that comes from the powerlooms are given different colours in these units and sent to various knitting and weaving factories in Karur, Erode and Tiruppur and also exported to many foreign countries.
According to farm workers in and around Karur, because of these dyeing units, the Amaravati River which runs alongside the town has been contaminated. Thambidurai assured them that he would raise the issue in Parliament and find a solution. But he has done nothing till now.
College Collision
Two medical colleges were sanctioned — one for the nearby Pudukkottai and another at Karur. While the one in Pudukkottai has already started functioning, the Karur medical college is stuck in political one-upmanship.
Says Sadiq, Thambidurai’s political secretary, “Our MP had spoken to Madam Jayalalithaa and got it approved. But getting land in Karur was difficult. No one was willing to give so much land. Senthil Balaji, meanwhile, wanted to set it up in Aravakurichi where he was the MLA, just to help his cronies who owned large tracts of land there. If the college comes up there, the land prices would go up. That was his plan. But now our MP has successfully thwarted this plan and, through Chief Minister Palanisamy, got the land and construction is in full swing. The college will be functional from next academic year,” he says.
Another promise made by Durai was to get a government engineering college for Karur. Incidentally, he runs a successful Adhiyamaan College of Engineering near Hosur, in close proximity to Bengaluru. But he never tried to set up any college or school in his constituency.
Karur is also an important junction on the railway route, connecting Chennai with southern districts. But most of the express trains pass through this town between 12 midnight and 4 am. There is a long pending demand to get a day time express train on this route. People are sore that he has not pressurised the railway minister and got this sanctioned. As Deputy Speaker, he could have just sent a letter to the minister. But even this he has not done. “He had promised to get the four-lane Karur-Coimbatore highway during the last elections. Now it is being executed as a six-lane highway. It is because of his efforts only,” says Sadiq.
Under Prime Minister’s pet theme of each MP adopting one village, Thambidurai had selected Balaviduthi in Kadavur panchayat. Here there are 18 small villages where there is acute shortage of drinking water. “I will have toilets constructed in all the houses,” Durai had promised. But, except for a preliminary survey, nothing much has been done.
“Not even water and drainage connection have been given. There has been some scam,” says one of the village elders who does not want to be named. “There are no proper roads either. Instead of making proper roads for the people, he has only obliged one of his henchmen to whose farmhouse there are two pucca tar roads,” he fumes.
Big Drama
Thambidurai says since there is no separate fund allocated for this scheme, it could not be successful. He has a point there as the villages are closely knit, and if an MP spends more on one village with his MPLAD funds, the other villagers are likely to revolt and may vote against him in the elections. Hence, the MP village adoption scheme has not found many takers, not only here but across south India. Of course, Thambidurai says he has fully utilised the MPLAD funds. But how? By constructing drama stages and bus stops, he says!
One expected a well-staffed office for this high profile MP in his constituency. But not many people know where it is. With great difficulty when I reached his office, which is in an apartment, there is hardly any staff. A couple of youngsters there said only Sadiq knows everything. When called, he said he was in Chennai attending to the MP who was hospitalised. But for a photograph of Jayalalithaa, the office did not have any paraphernalia befitting an MP. But will the large portrait of Jayalalithaa be enough for the MP to retain his seat? That is the Million Dollar Question!

Farce, failure and fiasco

By seeking to dramatise himself as a visionary foreign policy thinker and declaring ‘Neighbourhood First’, Modi lost much in the world, and that includes the countries in the neighbourhood too

farce-failure-and-fiasco
Sankar Ray
Sankar Ray

Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazines, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Damodardas Modi, has no parallel in the history of Indian parliamentary democracy. None of his predecessors from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh in any tenure from six-year term (1971-77) of Indira Gandhi to the 13-day premiership (May 1996) of Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited 84 countries in four and a half years or almost two foreign trips a month. And the government of National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party had incurred Rs 4,343.26 crore only on advertisements and publicity through different media for those trips, according to a reply under the Right To Information to Mumbai-based RTI activist Anil Galgali, who sought the information from the Bureau of Outreach and Communication. This is aside from Rs 1,484 crore on maintenance of the PM’s aircraft and hiring of chartered flights, together.
And every time Modi goes abroad, he is accompanied by a 40-member crew from state broadcaster Doordarshan to beam the event live. All private TV channels telecast every event sans acknowledging the source of the feed or the footage most of the time. An eerie extravaganza.
Negative Benefits
But what is the cost benefit ratio? Or to elaborate it, has it generated financial flows benefitting the national exchequer or the economy? Is it substantially more than the costs incurred? To be candid, no.
Take the foreign direct investment. Between 2014-15 and 2015-16, apparently there was over 23 per cent increase in gross FDI that reached $55.5 billion in 2015-16, according to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion. But the Reserve Bank of India negated the claim. Between the two years, FDI in manufacturing fell from $9.6 billion to $8.4 billion. Moreover, the percentage of FDI flow, which was in the range of 35-40 for the four years until 2014-15, fell markedly to 23 in 2015-16.
The picture is more depressing according to the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development (ISID), which disclosed that FDI dropped further by nearly 30 per cent. During April-August 2016-17 compared to the same period of previous fiscal. Critiquing the media-hyped “Make in India” of the PM, KS Chalapati Rao, co-author of the ISID report and its distinguished fellow stated, “according to the revised index of industrial production, the manufacturing sector’s annual average growth rate after 2014-15 is less than 4 per cent.
In exports as well, the picture is not rosy. In 2016-17 manufactured exports, including petroleum increased 5 per cent, but this should be seen in the backdrop of a steep fall in oil prices in the previous year. The average annual growth rate during the last two years also remains negative.
Rao added that the number of investment proposals increased in 2016, but remained below “the peak of 2011 or the grossly reduced figure of 2013 in the pre-Make In India period. There cannot be an FDI policy without an industrial policy that works in tandem with trade and technology policies”.
Economic policy and strategy analyst Mohan Guruswamy who was an economic adviser for the major part of the first term of NDA government (1998-2004) pointed out the factors for the collapsing FDI, “over 60 per cent of FDI into India is of Indian origin. It’s by round-tripping. To me, when India starts looking good to Indians, FDI will start pouring in. We still have too many restrictive laws and policies that make acquisition of land, building, and bank finances problematic. Even our labour laws are inhibiting”.
Hoopla & Blunders
Modi’s four years of foreign policy is unabashedly aimed at coating himself with hype and hoopla one after another, ostentatiously but there is a hyperactive push for subordinating India’s foreign relations to a round-the-clock exercise to make India look like a strategic power alongside projecting himself as a powerful personality.
And for this he has unashamedly posed himself as a super foreign minister, keeping the Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj subordinate under him.
But he committed major blunders from the beginning as he demanded changes in Nepal’s newly approved constitution and imposition of unofficial blockade of the Himalayan state in 2015. This had come as a boon for China which moved in towards an unprecedented close position to the newly-born democratic regime, rid of oppressive regal heritage.
To the south of India, China’s acquisition of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka in an equity-for-debt swap underlined the massively increased clout of India’s largest neighbour. Security specialists admit China’s “string of pearls” strategy, and consider Hambantota as an addition to that string, alongside the Gwadar port in Pakistan and the country’s first overseas military base in Djibouti.
India’s influence in bilateralism wanes perceptibly in Bangladesh and Maldives too.
Pakistan Pains
About the Pakistan policy during the NaMo era, the less said, the better. Pakistan diplomacy under the present government remains ‘the weirdest link in the chain of foreign policy’. The only cordial stable bilateral relations is on the Afghan front. The trajectory of India’s worsening relationship with Pakistan hints at the downside of having a larger-than-life figure like Modi at the helm. Everything becomes about him in a way that isn’t in the nation’s best interest.
The abject failures on the Nepal and Sri Lanka fronts exposes the hollowness of ‘Neighbourhood First’ as the main pillar of the foreign policy. Nailing the concept, the former external affairs secretary Kanwal Sibal has said that it has proved to be a non-starter “The world’s second most powerful country believes in ‘America First’. India needs investments and access to technology. It needs to fulfil its defence needs through imports. It must secure its energy needs and defend its interests in international trade negotiations, besides seeking reform of the international financial and political institutions to obtain its rightful say in global governance, and so on. None of these pressing needs can be fulfilled by our neighbours. And so, while it is a bonus to have a friendly neighbourhood, it is not a prerequisite for India’s progress and the achievement of its aspirations.”
Blistering Barnacles
Modi has actually been unconcerned about the formidable tradition of India’s foreign policy that enhanced India’s image in the world arena. Or maybe, he is intellectually incapable to perceive this. Otherwise, he would not have been the first Indian premier to have skipped the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Venezuela in 2016, and expectedly, he was blasted by the Eurasia journal for his strange misperception in external policy, unlike his predecessors.
“Modi’s absence in New York signals that he feels less need to personally meet with the business community, a regular focus of past UNGA trips. Similarly, giving NAM a pass demonstrates both that India now enjoys closer than ever ties with the US and regional powers.” He was the first PM to have been absent at the NAM meet. He seemed to have blissfully forgotten that India together with Egypt and the erstwhile Yugoslavia formulated the non-aligned foreign policy when India was led by its first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, and presidents of Egypt and Yugoslavia were Gamal Abdel Nasser and Josip Broz Tito respectively.
On the contrary, he enthusiastically attended the World Economic Forum, which even his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh did not, in spite of being a globally recognised economist, and assigned the Union finance ministers to participate. Ludicrously, Modi delivered the plenary address in Davos in January 2018 in Hindi as if it was a “bid for recognition of Hindi as a language—an Indian language—just as deserving of visibility as one of the world’s major languages alongside English, French, Russian, Chinese, or any other.”
Sober Lashes
In a balanced and sober manner, Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, observed on Modi’s presentation of India’s democratic diversity as an advantage in an unstable world of flux “This is a smart way to differentiate the great Indian democratic experiment with the increasingly controlling, panopticonic world of China — and indeed, to present the constant of India’s democratic traditions, however messy, as its global selling point. By emphasising this argument, Modi’s remarks today marked a shift to a broader theme from the more narrowly focused investment pitches of the Make in India campaign”, but she reminded the ultra-right ‘Hindutva’ leader that “while democracy’s centrality to India’s story indeed distinguishes the country from so many others, it is also true that India’s great diversity is not always harmonious. Recent headlines have focused on the shocking cases of cow-protection vigilante violence — anti-Muslim in sentiment. I would also note that violence against women has not ended — just pick up any newspaper in India for daily reports — and that frictions and in some cases violence due to ongoing caste discrimination continue. India has a great story to tell about its against-the-odds universal franchise. But the country has not solved its many domestic tensions.”
Political Cesspool
“Foreign policy cannot be an island of excellence in a political cesspool,” appropriately inferred Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, former Pak ambassador to India, China and the USA. Although he had in mind Pakistan, the words are appropriate for India under ‘NaMo’ when foreign policy in applications was afflicted by whims and fancies. Modi is openly pro-Israel unlike any Congress prime minister.
The tilt towards Israel was precipitated when India had the first non-Congress PM, Morarji Desai, a Gujarati like Modi, although Morarji was groomed as a political being in Congress, very much unlike Modi, who has for decades been immersed in saffron ideology. Small wonder, in four years under NaMo rule Israel’s weapons exports to India increased along a steady linear path, alongside trade and technology transfers between the two nations. In sync with the pro-Israeli swing, India had been leaning towards Trumpism. Modi’s subservient attitude towards the US President Donald Trump is detrimental to India’s tradition of independent foreign policy. Qazi, a peacenik, reminded his compatriots but unwittingly all well-meaning political beings of the subcontinent that ‘the degenerate Trump is not an American aberration. He is an American reality. His baleful impact on relations with Pakistan is the American policy.”
Trampled Transparency
The worst casualty of the present government is transparency and this is applicable in foreign policy practices too. The federal government trampled the obligations under the RTI Act by refusing to comply with the Central Information Commission’s order to disclose the names of the government and private individuals who had accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi on foreign tours from 2014-15 onwards.
A resident of Assam, Karabi Das wanted information from the Ministry of External Affairs under RTI on the expenditure of PM’s foreign trips from 2015-2017, as also details of non-government individuals who accompanied him on these trips.
The MEA resorted to delaying tactic and partial compliance. On 6 October 2017, Das approached the CIC RK Mathur, who directed the MEA to make available the list of non-government individuals (not concerned with security) who travelled with the PM at the government’s expense. The MEA refused to reply under the cloak of ‘secrecy. It wrote, “The information sought is extremely sensitive. If this information is disclosed, it will have an impact on India’s sovereignty and integrity as also on the country’s security, and strategic, scientific and economic interests. Because of this, a person’s life and physical security can be put in danger. Therefore, this information cannot be disclosed under Section 8 (1)(a) and (c) of the RTI Act, 2005. On a foreign tour, PMO officials, security agencies, foreign ministry officials and media persons usually accompany the prime minister. These officers are selected on the basis of requirements of the foreign tour. The work of these officers for the prime minister is confidential, which is why this information is sensitive.”
Showbiz PM
Modi poses as a showbiz batsman who consistently fails to make good scores. Indeed four and a half years on, he’s put far too few runs on the board, trailing far behind the Chinese President Xi Jinping. The NaMo technique is fatally flawed, especially in external area. Nonetheless, Narendra Modi fits into the degrading transition of the game from ‘glorious uncertainty’ to brazenly speculative twenty-twenty savagery.
But that savagery has cost India Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and even the genteel Bhutan is mighty upset. The old Onida advertisement might as well be tweaked to read: Neighbours’ Enemy, Himself’s Pride! And perhaps no Indian premier in history has gone about saying: “Heads you win, tails I lose”!


Curtains: Pushy Politics

Whether it is the diversified opposition that wins in 2019, or a fragile BJP stays in power, no formation will have absolute domination

curtains-pushy-politics
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

There is reason enough for West Bengal Chief Minister and All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) chief Mamata Banerjee to feel triumphant that she had managed to bring together a large number of opposition parties in the country on the same platform, though there are quite a few of them who are left out including the Left parties – the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the Communist Party of India (CPI).
It is indeed the case that the Communists do not have much to contribute to the Opposition tally in the Lok Sabha elections this April-May. The moot question is whether the Opposition parties which share an anti-BJP, anti-Modi sentiment can work together to combine their numbers and provide an alternative to the BJP and Mr Narendra Modi.
If the TMC does well in West Bengal, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh, Congress in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu, and they can hold together in the moment of victory, then there is a chance for the anti-BJP alliance to emerge as a national alternative.
But then there is a big if. First, these parties must do well in their respective states, and then they must stand together. It is possible that these parties will hang together if they win enough number of seats because they sense that if the BJP gets a second term at the Centre, then they will all be marginalised.
This is indeed the reading of the political experts, and the opposition leaders seem to concur with this view.
The BJP for its part wants to win the parliamentary elections as well as the assembly elections. It wants to dominate the country’s politics at all levels. It wants to reign supreme in the country as did the Congress from 1952 to 1971 and again from 1980 to 1989.But it is unlikely to happen.
The victory of the BJP under Mr Narendra Modi in 2014 is to be compared to the performance of the Congress in the 1967 elections, when it lost its dominance in the Lok Sabha. The Congress had lost the elections in many of the states, starting with Tamil Nadu, when the undivided DMK came to power under CN Annadurai, and the now defunct Swatantra Party, founded by C Rajagopalachari, formed governments in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Odisha, and the Samyukt Vidhayak Dal (SVD) under Charan Singh in Uttar Pradesh in that momentous year of 1967.
The BJP in 2019 could be faced with a similar situation. It would not be a dominant party in the Lok Sabha and it will have to depend on the allies more than it did in 2014. And in the assembly elections that are to follow the Lok Sabha elections and in 2020, it may not remain in power in states like Haryana, Maharashtra and Bihar.
For many people, the emergence of what is described as a rag-tag coalition of the disparate parties that Mamata Banerjee had gathered in Kolkata, or a weakened BJP is an undesirable thing because they believe that India needs a unified political leadership and not a divided one. The argument finds favour with the middle class across the country.
But the logic of democracy is not the same as that of the middle class. The fact that no single party will emerge strong and unchallenged is what keeps Indian democracy vibrant.
Whether it is Mamata Banerjee’s mahagatbandhan or Modi’s BJP that wins the Lok Sabha election, it will not translate into unchallenged dominance. The different parties in the country will be constantly challenging each other, and that is what will keep these parties on their toes. The BJP under party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi will unleash all the aggression it commands, but the aggression may not pay off.
The opposition parties do not sound as aggressive as the BJP’s Shah and Modi, but they may win the election at the end of the day. The BJP will be tempted to underestimate the strength of the splintered opposition, and it is this overconfidence of the ruling party that will be its undoing.


Killing Fields

For the past four years, farmers’ income have remained static, and political parties are still playing games of hiking minimum support price and loan waivers, while ignoring a financially sound system of direct subsidy

killing-fields
Bhavdeep Kang
Bhavdeep Kang

Bhavdeep has worked for publications like The Times of India, The Telegraph, The Indian Express, India Today & Outlook. She has authored a book ‘Gurus: Stories of India’s Leading Babas’. She is presently freelancing for several publications -both print and digital

It’s that time of the election cycle, again, when the political class revisits the ‘Jai Kisan’ slogan. The never-ending agrarian crisis, marked by falling farm incomes and rising input costs, is sought to be addressed through a variety of quick-fix measures. The formula for relieving farmers’ distress and/or mobilising votes has thus far revolved around loan waivers and an increase in Minimum Support Prices (MSP). Both have proved to be effective vote-catchers but have failed to deliver benefits to the majority of farmers. The new flavour of the year is, thus, the direct farm subsidy.
Before analysing the above schemes, let’s take a look at what really ails India’s farm economy. At first glance, there’s something very wrong with the picture. On the one hand, we have rising food, fertiliser and power subsidies to the farm sector and spiralling credit flows. On the other, there is increasing rural debt and farm input costs, low public investment in agriculture and falling groundwater tables. On the one hand, record sowing and bumper harvests of cereal crops are reported year after year. On the other, NSSO data reveals that most rural households live a hand-to-mouth existence, earning just enough to cover their basic expenses.
Risque
Farming is a high-risk profession, vulnerable to any number of variables: weather, crop pests and diseases, price volatility in global and local markets, policy changes and availability of inputs, irrigation and labour. Risk management, in the form of publicly administered crop insurance, is poorly implemented and in any event cannot insulate the farmer against all these factors. Added to these are the problems of misdirected subsidies and credit flow, fragmentation of land holdings, exploitation of tenant farmers, encroachment and degradation of village commons, health risks posed by agro-chemicals, archaic and anti-farmer laws on marketing of produce, lack of post-harvest infrastructure and climate change – the list of farmers’ grievances is virtually endless.
Thus far, our food security strategy has been consumer- rather than farmer-centric. Boosting farm incomes took a backseat to keeping food prices low. With agriculture providing half the employment in the country, the huge gulf between agricultural and non-agricultural incomes must be addressed. In relative terms, farmers are getting poorer by the year.
Bumper harvests can be as big a disaster as failed crops, leading to price crashes - to the point where it makes more sense to let the produce rot on roadsides than take it to the market. In recent years, prices have hit lows of 20 paise a kilo for potatoes and Re 1 per kilo for tomatoes and onions – a fraction of the production costs.
The end result is static farm incomes. Estimates of average monthly farm income range from Rs 1,600 (Economic Survey, Vol 2, 2016-17) to Rs 6,426.00 (National Sample Survey, 2012-13, 70th round). By contrast, a central government employee gets a minimum of Rs 18,000. Small wonder that estimates of indebtedness are as high as 35 per cent to 52 per cent of rural households.
The plan to double farmers’ incomes, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised in 2014, centres around four elements: first, higher prices for produce by reforming markets; second, increasing productivity; third, reforming agricultural land policy; and fourth, crop insurance.
A discussion on better remuneration for farm produce is usually MSP-centric. Last year, the MSP of food grains was sharply increased. The current method of computation takes into account the cost of inputs, family labour and the interest on borrowings and fixes the MSP at 50 per cent over the total. On the face of it, this sounds reasonable. If open market prices are ruling above MSP, the farmer need not sell to government procurement agencies. So, MSP is meant to be a safety net and not a benchmark price for food grains.
MSP Game
Sadly, that is precisely what it has become. The relentless focus of the MSP system is on paddy and wheat, leading to an overproduction of these two crops and consequent soil and water degradation. Of late, procurement of pulses and oilseeds has picked up, moderating prices of these commodities. The biggest drawback of MSP is that it benefits only a handful of farmers who actually have a disposable surplus large enough to sell to procurement agencies: just six to ten per cent and that too in select states. The rest are at the mercy of private traders.
To extend benefits from higher MSPs to all farmers, the Price Deficiency Payment (PDP) or Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana was floated. When open market prices fall below MSP, farmers can sell their produce to private traders, but claim the difference from the government. On paper, the scheme has a dual advantage: it gives the farmers income support and spares the government from the headache of procuring and storing produce.
Unfortunately, the scheme ended up becoming just another arbitrage opportunity for middlemen. Private traders and mandi functionaries, who made a killing by underpaying farmers. The poor farmer then faced enormous trouble in getting his dues from the government. So, private traders benefitted at the cost of the exchequer.
Policy-makers are well aware that the MSP mechanism is no substitute for a robust market. A parallel scheme, with the objective of ensuring that farmers get the best price for their produce, was initiated by the NDA government soon after it came to power. The National Agricultural Market (eNAM) is expected to link mandis across the country and serve as an online trading platform. E-auctions will serve as the default price discovery mechanism.
A study of the Unified Marketing Platform (UMP) in Karnataka – a sort of precursor to eNAM – showed that farmers benefit from online trading. After its introduction in 2015-16, modal prices of agricultural commodities in UMP-linked mandis increased sharply over the previous year – much higher than the increase in wholesale prices in the rest of the country. As of last year, almost 600 mandis across the country were registered on eNAM to trade in some 90 commodities, but it hasn’t taken off because of infrastructure, policy and implementation issues. Apart from dumping restrictions on inter-state and inter-mandi trades, states must ensure that mandis are provided with equipment: seamless internet connectivity, computers/printers, sorting/grading and quality testing machines, etc.
A review of eNAM by the Niti Aayog has found that mandis are ill-equipped to assay farm produce. Most mandis have equipment for weighing and measuring moisture content, but this is not adequate for quality assurance in e-trading. The review also confirmed that auctions were taking place offline and the data was being entered on the eNAM portal post facto, which defeats the purpose of the platform.
eNAM Hijack
State governments must stop politically powerful middlemen from hijacking the eNAM platform. For example, in Haryana, which topped in eNAM sales in 2017, 60 per cent of the trade on eNAM was actually procurement operations for rice and wheat by the state government agencies. Taking into account the total trades and bids received, it seems there were only 1.5 bids per e-trade on the average, most of them offline and local. The middlemen walked away with fat commissions, defeating the objective of the platform, which is to connect the farmer directly to the traders.
In fact, middlemen continue to rule the roost in the state. Government-licensed arhatiyas take home a staggering Rs 15,000 crore each year! Their presence is justified on the premise that they extend loans to farmers who do not have access to institutional credit. This is a specious argument. Why should the state, through commissions to arhatiyas, subsidise informal channels of credit? Why not reform the credit system, which caters to agri-business rather than farmers? Loan waivers, likewise, benefit a minority. Farmers take loans to meet the cost of farm machinery, irrigation equipment and inputs like seeds, labour, power, agro-chemicals and soil amendments, as well as meeting personal expenses. Most of them, however, have no access to institutional credit and wind up in the hands of moneylenders.
Waiver Damage
Agriculture economists who have denounced farm loan waivers as unproductive and harmful in the long-term aren’t just whistling in the wind. That loan waivers negatively impact taxpayers is a no-brainer. State governments use public funds to pay off banks who hold farmers’ loans, effectively transferring money from the pockets of taxpayers to borrowers.
Most states face a ballooning fiscal deficit and debt waivers make matters worse. A bloated fiscal deficit means heavy borrowing and debt servicing and therefore, less money for expenditure on health, education, infrastructure and so on. The poor get fewer services and growth is stymied.
The biggest problem is that loan waivers penalise honesty and self-sufficiency and create what bankers call a ‘moral hazard’. That the farmer is an honest soul who likes to repay his debts is not just a romantic fiction, but is borne out by the fact that default on farm loans is a lot less than that of corporates. Along comes a politician and declares ‘karza maaf’. This is manifestly unfair to farmers who did not – or could not - take loans from banks and also to those who repaid their loans in a timely fashion. Farmers who have the capacity to repay (and these are the ones who find it easiest to get loans) get away with a free bonus. Those who take loans from informal channels (because banks have refused to consider their loan applications) suffer.
Bankers are fearful that the trend of farm loan waivers will encourage farmers not to repay loans, resulting in a gradual increase in agriculture NPAs. This will make future access to credit harder for all farmers. Studies have shown that loan waivers result in a subsequent credit squeeze as banks tighten norms – after the 2008 mega-loan waiver, bank lending moved away from the districts which saw the most write-offs.
Direct Subsidy
Yet, farmer leaders lobby ceaselessly for higher MSPs and it is politically expedient for governments to succumb to their demands, regardless of the increased burden of agricultural subsidies and further skewing of the country’s food economy.
The one scheme that has attracted kudos from agricultural economists is the direct farm subsidy. Applied across the country, it has been estimated to cost around Rs 2 lakh crore, half as much as a pan-Indian loan waiver.
Politicians’ interest in a direct farm subsidy was piqued when Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao decimated the Congress in the November 2018 assembly elections. The Congress was stunned: its pre-poll promise of farm loan waivers and bonus on MSP had clicked in the north but fell miserably flat in the south. A curious outcome, given that the incidence of rural indebtedness in Telangana is two-and-a-half times that in Chhattisgarh (NABARD, 2017).
KCR’s Rythu Bandhu or direct farm subsidy scheme has the advantage of being truly universal. It gives an annual payout of Rs 8,000 per acre to all farmers, big or small, irrespective of crops. It is intended to cover the farmer’s input costs but does not demand any proof of utilisation. The farmer is free to spend the money as he pleases. As power to the agricultural sector is free, it will ensure that the farmer is not cash-starved, or dependent on money-lenders, at the beginning of the crop season.
The subsidy is given in the form of a cheque, rather than through direct benefit transfer (DBT). Launched from May 2018, the scheme is believed to have benefited 93 per cent of actual land-holders. Direct farm subsidies have the advantage of having the least distortionary impact on our food economy, according to research body ICRIER.
The KCR effect is now visible. Jharkhand adopted the direct subsidy scheme last month, whereas Assam chose the tried-and-tested loan waiver route (perhaps anticipating that the centre would come out with a direct subsidy, as suggested by KCR, thereby delivering a double benefit to farmers). Even as the policy-makers struggle to determine the best way forward, the Economic Survey of 2017-18 raised the biggest red flag yet, when it estimated the impact of climate change on farmers. Farm incomes, it said, may shrink by as much as 25 per cent as a result of crop losses due to water-stress. At that point, our food sovereignty may stand compromised.


Abracadabra Economy Lies Cold

Even friendly economists discern that all of Modi’s jugglery has done nothing to take the country where he had promised it would reach under his ‘magic wand’

abracadabra-economy--lies-cold
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

There is a fierce argument about what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been able to achieve in office over the last five years. If many point to the disaster that demonetisation of November 8, 2016 is, then others point to the far-reaching tax reform of Goods and Services Tax (GST) that Modi had rolled out on July 1, 2017.
International Monetary Fund’s chief economist Gita Gopinath observed wryly that the collections from GST were less than expected, and some of the people, not economists, do feel that demonetisation has helped check the generation of black money. There is the battle between perception and fact. Prime Minister Modi is faced with the tricky challenge where perception is both positive and negative as in the case of demonetisation. Similarly, some of the facts related to the economy are also both positive and negative.
Political opponents will focus on the deleterious effects of some of Modi’s economic measures like demonetisation, though this has receded into the background because November 8, 2016 looks a little far away from February- 2019, and there is the farmers’ distress across the country, especially in BJP-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra which cannot be dismissed as the propaganda of the opposition parties.
But economists are not willing to judge the Modi government’s performance on the economic front too harshly. They see the government’s achievements much more generously. But the views of the economists do not turn the tables in an election year. It does happen that a ruling party loses an election even after it has done a good job in dealing with the economy. This had been the case with the PV Narasimha Rao government, when then finance minister Manmohan Singh steered the economy out of a crisis, but Rao and the Congress lost the election in 1996. The Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 2004 faced the same problem. The economy was coming out of a downturn but the BJP lost the election.
In 2014, it was not the fault of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister P Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee that the Indian economy was caught in the tailspin of what is now recognised as the Great Recession triggered by 2008 financial meltdown in the United States. But the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance lost the election.
Nothing Spectacular
The Modi government has not achieved spectacular success on the economic front, and as Surjit Bhalla, member of Modi’s Economic Advisory Council, points out, the growth rate of 7 per cent is below potential, and former chief economic advisor Arvind Virmani feels that the growth rate of the Modi years is the same as those of the previous five years.
It is only Lord Meghnad Desai who gives thumbs up to the Modi growth narrative because he seems to sense that in terms of perception of the people, the 7 per cent growth rate is good, and no one is going to pause and scrutinise its real significance.
Prime Minister Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and their colleagues in the government and in the BJP had blamed the previous government for the large non-performing assets (NPAs) of the public sector banking system, which in turn affected the credit flow system. But the NPAs never really posed a critical challenge to the banks and to the financial system.
Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das, speaking at Vibrant Gujarat Summit on January 19, 2019, revealed: “After reaching a peak of 11.5 per cent in March 2018, the gross non-performing assets ratio improved to 10.8 per cent in September 2018. As per the current assessment of the Reserve Bank, the ratio may further improve to 10.3 per cent by March 2019.”
It can be seen the NPAs improved only marginally, from 11.5 per cent in March 2018 to an expected 10.3 per cent in March 2019. In the same speech, Das said, “The progress of IBC (Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code) so far has been encouraging and has resulted in better recovery as compared to the earlier mechanisms. Data available till January 3, 2019, suggest that resolution processes have been approved in 66 cases, involving around 800 billion as resolution value to creditors.”
This shows that the NPAs posed a challenge to credit system but it was not life-threatening at any time, and that the IBC, a far improved and rational mechanism, is only helping in resolving the NPAs in a modest way.
Fizzled FDI
Another major area where the Modi government did not perform miracles was in the segment of foreign investments in India. The Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) was abolished in 2017. But this has not radically altered the profile of foreign investments in India. Data shows that much of FDI came into the services sector, and much of it came from Mauritius and Singapore. Again, foreign investments in the markets are higher than foreign investment in businesses and infrastructure projects in the country.
It has been noticed that in the last two years, foreign investment flows into India have decreased as part of a global trend.
An assessment of the economic performance of the Modi government cannot be done in black and white, or positive/negative terms. It is a fuzzy picture. The economy does not follow the political diktat of leaders. Though there were many things that Prime Minister Modi wanted to do, he could not. And it is not his fault.
The economic trends are much too complicated.
It is not surprising then that Modi would not fight the election on the basis of economic statistics because there is not much to show there. He will have to fall back on emotive issues like his fight against corruption, which cannot be quantified, or attack the Nehru-Gandhi domination of the Congress party.

Mocking Economy For Politics

His hubris generated by the staggering 2014 victory and the avarice to stay in power for ever forced Modi and his team to make severe mistakes on the economy front

mocking-economy-for-politics
Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

May 2014: It seemed the end of politics for the next four years. Narendra Modi single-handedly got the BJP a majority in the Lok Sabha. There was a saffron wave that would gain momentum and enable the party to capture more state assemblies in the near future. Apart from a few states, the signs of BJP resurgence were there on most political walls across the country. It was an opportune time to focus on economics, including social welfare.
January 2019: It never happened. It turned out to be a nightmare. The more Modi focussed on economics, the more politics dragged him away. Like the several crises in the economy, there seemed to be un-surmountable ones on the political front. The politics of Modi, and his never-ending and ever-stretching political goals, impacted the economy. The report card is dismal, and there are red marks across the page, against several subjects.
The five-year term began earnestly. The economy seemed derailed, growth had stuttered, unemployment was on the rise, and central finances were in disarray. But there was a bright sky on the horizon.
Inflation was low, prices of commodities, especially crude oil, were at the lowest, and there was visible excitement within the different classes, including the business community. It was a time to march, and the pot of economic gold was around the corner.
Blunders Begin
Sadly, the blunders began within a month – with the first Budget that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented in June 2014. That set a trend of economic mistakes, which were only bolstered by the looming political disasters, as politics dominated economics. By 2016, even earlier, in 2015, it was clear that the timing was out, the cylinders and bores were not aligned. Ultimately, as was the case in 2013-14, politics triumphed over economics. Economic policy was dictated by political objectives. Even when it wasn’t, it seemed so because of the political fallouts. The action-reaction mechanism went into a loop, a kind of feedback mechanism. The cause-and-effect was out of sync; the cause became the effect, and vice versa. As the saying goes, when the finger pointed at the moon, Modi and Jaitley, along with the BJP loyalists and sympathisers, looked intently at the finger. There were many good policies that seemed necessary. The problem lay with the changing politics, both at the central and states levels, which influenced their contours and implementation. The Benami Transaction Act was used more for political vendetta against opposition leaders. So were IT and the GST to target business supporters of political parties.
Together, they proved that several decisions were not thought through, along with a realisation that they frightened the honest, and didn’t matter to the dishonest.
The more the government tried to change things, the more they remained the same. In some cases, both the trends showed. They led to criticism, as well as frequent changes, which undermined the credibility of the policymakers. In other cases, perfectly-sensible policies were used for personal vendetta as revenge against political enemies, either to scuttle them or force them to fall in line to support the BJP or work against its other foes.
The end result was chaos, confusion, frustration, and even anger. The economy faltered. This was reflected in the relationship between politics and Budgets.
Bumpy Budget
Political euphoria after an unexpected and grand victory ensured that Jaitley’s first Budget was a washout. Arrogance and extreme self-confidence within, along with the pressures from the quarters that helped, forced the finance minister to deliver a part of the promised booties to vested interests. Hence, there was something for every section that voted for the BJP. It was neither here nor there, although a few policies were announced. Before the government could present its second Budget, there was a political shock. Despite personal campaigning by Modi, who announced that if he was a ‘lucky’ prime minister, the voters should elect his party, the BJP was swamped in the Delhi assembly election. Arvind Kejriwal, the new political star got over 95 per cent of the seats.
There was a tornado within the BJP. From then on, one of the priorities was to decimate Kejriwal, by hook or by crook. More importantly, the BJP realised that its juggernaut won’t necessarily hurtle through the states. And this was crucial because while the party had a majority in the Lower House, it was way short of the half-way figure in the Rajya Sabha. The ‘Congress-mukt’ philosophy became essential if the numbers had to swell up in the Upper House to push through the critical legislation. Hence, Kejriwal’s win forced the BJP to focus more on the states.
Bihar Bruising
The scenario became scarier with the Mahagathbandhan. When several opposition parties joined hands in the Bihar assembly elections in late 2015, the BJP lost. Nitish came back to power, after he ditched the central ruling regime.
Politics became even more important for Modi. Now, he and his loyalists had to ensure that there was no political ganging-up against them. They had to make sure that the opposition stayed disunited.
From then on, politics became more important than economics. The year 2016 only concretised this realisation when Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa retained powers in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, respectively. Politics was now the top priority for the prime minister. Hence, economic decisions were dictated by their political implications. This was reflected in the announcements made in the subsequent Budgets.
Beginning 2016, the Budgets were geared towards the creation of new vote banks, and consolidation of the old ones. Welfare schemes too were aimed to broad-base BJP’s voters’ base. The party’s and the government’s overriding focus was on how to win the forthcoming assembly elections, with an eye clearly on 2019, the year of the national election.
Economics became a means to achieve electoral victories, not for growth, not for development, and not to reduce corruption, the three most important election promises in 2014.
Sure enough, the same was true for Budget decisions. Two of the most crucial ones were demonetisation, and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Whatever the government claimed, and it changed its narrative several times, the ban on the older Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes wasn’t for economic and security reasons. It was neither to curb the expanse of black money, nor to dry up the cash funds with terror organisations. Subsequent events proved this.
Demonetisation Drama
Almost all the cash in circulation via the old high denomination notes was deposited with the banks. It seemed as if there was no black money around. Similarly, terror activities continued as usual. In fact, the government possibly fuelled the black economy by introduction of even higher denomination, the Rs 2,000 note.
The cash in circulation, according to the RBI, has reached, and even surpassed, the pre-demonetisation level. In retrospect, the only objective behind the move was to squeeze the money bags of some of the regional political parties with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly elections.
Demonetisation was announced in November 2016. The UP results were announced in March 2017. The BJP rightly assumed that some of its fiercest competitors in the state had access to huge money bags. Those purses had to disappear as Modi badly wanted to win UP.
They did. The BJP won majestically. Demonetisation proved to be the key to dismantle the dominance of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. In the run-up to the assembly election, the BSP was predicted to sweep initially, and later the SP was believed to romp back to power. In the end, the BJP won an unbelievable over 300 seats. It convinced Modi that economics, apart from usual politics, could result in unexpected electoral victories.
Growth Ruined
Growth was hit because of demonetisation. The unorganised and unregulated sectors felt the heaviest blows. In a bid to revive the economy, and make it more transparent, the government pushed through the GST. Here too, the main objective was to gain political brownie points, i.e. to woo the voters in the upcoming elections. Hence, GST, which was introduced in June 2017, turned out to be an immediate disaster.
Implemented in a hurry, GST’s initial proposals hurt the small and medium enterprises. The only segment it benefitted was the large industries and prominent business empires. The traders were hit the worst, as a single tax was now levied on consumption, and not on production.
The concept of a single tax went for a six due to several different rates. There was a virtual revolt among the self-employed and poor traders. Over the next year, the government had to change the policy several times, including the levied taxation rates. But it neither stopped corruption, nor even curtailed it. After the initial hiccups, it was business as usual for the dishonest businessmen. However, thanks to the frequent changes, the BJP won the Gujarat assembly in late 2017. It convinced Modi that the criticism against GST will not harm the party’s electoral successes.
Stats Games
Since the policies were used to reap political benefits, they were not implemented properly. This was true of several welfare schemes. In the case of the construction of toilets, and opening bank accounts for the poor, statistics were the key. Numbers were important, not whether the toilets and accounts were used. Targets were everything, although there was little activity in the new accounts, and toilets went unused because of lack of water.
Crop insurance for farmers was an ideal policy. But the money hardly reached the needy. Suicides among the agriculturalists remained high. The doubling of the minimum support prices (MSPs) for several crops was laudable. This was to double farm incomes in a few years. Alas, the farmers never received the MSPs, as they generally couldn’t wait to sell to the government, or the government wouldn’t buy beyond certain limits.
To woo rural women voters, the government gave them subsidised gas stoves and LPG cylinders. It was highlighted as a great boon to the women, who used wood and charcoal as fuel. But this too wasn’t thought through. Suddenly, the rural households, now used to LPG, realised that they had to buy non-subsidised cylinders at the expensive market prices. Most couldn’t afford them. The families found themselves in a lurch.
Modi couldn’t have done a lot in terms of economics at this late stage. The reason was that the economic tide had turned against him. Luck gave away to misfortune as global commodity prices, including crude oil, rose ominously. Growth sputtered back to normal levels but wasn’t as high as in the pre-Modi era. Businessmen were cagey to invest; the banks were apprehensive to lend given the ever-growing bad loans, and banking scandals.
By 2018, after a tough victory in Gujarat, politics was paramount, and economics took the seat at the extreme back. The reason: BJP desperately wanted to win the three important assemblies in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. Unfortunately, by then, for the voters, the economics became more important than Modi’s politics. They were tired of low growth, higher fuel prices and growing unemployment.
The BJP lost all the three states to the Congress, whose revival in north India was written off a couple of years earlier. Politics then triumphed over economics, with the national election just a few months away.
It’s now back to full-time politics for the BJP and its government.


…And Then The re Were None!

The sheer arrogance of the Modi-Shah duo has seen a steady leakage in the alliance tank, till NDA started is tanking, with allies showing BJP the middle finger one by one

and-then-the-re-were-none
Sujit Chakraborty
Sujit Chakraborty

Sujit Chakraborty is a senior journalist and author of three books. He has worked with various publications and was the first Indian to manage Bhutan’s first independent daily, Bhutan Times. He has also specialised on environmental issues

It’s that time of the election cycle, again, when the political class revisits the ‘Jai Kisan’ slogan. The never-ending agrarian crisis, marked by falling farm incomes and rising input costs, is sought to be addressed through a variety of quick-fix measures.
When Agatha Christie wrote this mystery novel in 1939, she could never have imagined that the story line would fit a Union Government in a far off country like India. With sixteen parties having deserted the BIP during past five years, National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) fate seem to have been sealed. Only a few still remain on board but none of them, barring Akali Dal, carries any weight. What happened to the NDA which was 334-member strong in 2014?
Shiv Sena is among the earliest allies of Bharatiya Janata Party. The Sena Chief Bal Thackeray forged a bond with Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pramod Mahajan in 1989 which lasted for 25 years. The Sena, along with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Parkash Singh Badal, stood by the BJP when no other party was ready to back the 13-day-long Vajpayee government in 1996. The two parties have been together through thick and thin. If Lal Krishna Advani launched a rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya for construction of Ram Janmabhoomi Temple, Thackeray was a step ahead planning the demolition of the Babri Mosque.
Chor Chowkidar
It therefore came as a bolt from the blue when Thackeray’s son Uddhav, the current Sena president, not only distanced from the BJP last year but also announced that the two parties would contest separately in the 2019 Parliamentary elections.
In fact, this is not the first time that BJP and Sena would contest separately since the two parties came together in 1989. They contested the last Parliamentary elections together but parted ways during Assembly elections held nine months later. Seeds of the discord had been sown on a dispute over seat sharing. Riding a resurgent Modi wave, BJP performed better than Sena during the 2014 Parliamentary elections.
This is why it wanted to play big brother to the Sena during Assembly polls. Not agreeing to scale down the number of seats the Sena had been contesting for past quarter of a century, Uddhav decided to contest alone.
Unable to get a majority, BJP looked at the Sena to form the government in Maharashtra. The Sena obliged. But BJP remained the dominant partner, grabbing not only Chief Minister’s post but also cornering most of the important ministries. Uddhav had to eat a humble pie. But, last year his cup of humiliation was filled to the brim. That’s when he decided to part ways with BJP.
With Lok Sabha hold just around the corner, BJP wants to court the Shiv Sena once again. In the wake of a resurgent Congress-NCP alliance, BJP leaders have been making overtures to the Sena for seat sharing. Uddhav Thackeray instead responded by repeating a slogan coined by Congress chief Rahul Gandhi: “Chowkidar Chor Hai” (the guard is himself the thief).
The ‘Guard’ in question, is none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who coined one of his typical cheap populist slogans, that he was the ‘chowkidar’ guarding against thieves and knaves looting the country. Gandhi’s slogan came in the context of the allegation of monumental misappropriation in the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France, and bringing in Ambani by ousting the official aircraft makers of the country, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
Steady Desertions
This, more or less, has been the story of the NDA led by the BJP, during the past five years. Lo and behold, one by one 16 parties have quit the alliance – some quietly like Asom Gana Parishad, and some among claps of thunder, like the Telugu Desam Party and Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Officially, the NDA claims to have 42 parties in its fold but if Shiv Sena is left out, the biggest chunk of Lok Sabha MPs is six of Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP), four of SAD and two each of Janata Dal (United) and Apan Dal. Only four other parties have one MP each in the Lower House of the Parliament. Rest of the 31 parties are there in the alliance as just fillers – 13 parties from southern India (including eight from Kerala and five from Tamil Nadu) and 12 from North Eastern states.
The alliance tally in Lok Sabha is now down from 334 in 2014 to 307. And if we take out recalcitrant Shiv Sena, the tally gets further down to 289 just seven more than what BJP won in 2014 elections.
The reason for this depletion in numbers is twofold – first, the desertion by a dozen and a half allies, and second, losses suffered by the BJP in successive by elections during the past five years.
These are the twin problems BJP needs to tackle on priority. Solving the first puzzle automatically solves the second. If BJP manages to persuade its estranged allies to come on board again or win more, it could harbour hopes to return to power. On the contrary, there are at least a dozen more allies who are threatening to part ways.
Fire in Northeast
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha during the Winter Session, is proving to be the proverbial Achilles Heel for the BJP. The bill provides citizenship to all non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries who apply for it after residing in India for six years. BJP’s allies in the northeast are mighty miffed over this.
The AGP has already left the NDA, while a number of them like Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura and Nagaland People’s Party are threatening to follow suit.
The AGP feels the bill negates the Assam Accord reached between All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Rajiv Gandhi government at the centre in 1985. The agreement barred people from migrating into the state after 1971 the year Bangladesh was created. It also provided for eviction of people migrating into Assam after the cutoff date. The National Registry of Citizens (NRC) created last year, has 49 lakh such people who have been living in Assam “illegally”.
The AGP leaders fear that the situation will worsen if the Citizenship Bill is turned into a law after passage from the Rajya Sabha as well. But, such a situation is highly improbable because of staunch opposition to the bill by a host of parties including Trinamool Congress. These parties won’t allow the bill to be approved in the Rajya Sabha, as the ruling alliance is still in a minority there.
“We tried our level best to explain the negative effects of this bill in Assam, but the BJP left us with no choice but to leave the alliance by taking this bill forward,” said AGP president Atul Bora. Other northeastern parties agree with AGP that the bill if passed, might alter the demography of these states, besides being ultra vires because of discrimination on the basis of religion (singling out Muslims).
Gaping Holes
This latest exit has given rise to speculation that the NDA is in deep trouble. BJP leaders however claim: “Whenever old allies leave, new ones join. The NDA doesn’t get weaker if a party leaves it. The coalition is in an even stronger position than before.” But, the current trend indicates otherwise. And it is likely that BJP might be left with only a handful of allies by the time election schedule is announced in March first week.
This was precisely the reason for the shocking defeat of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in the 2004 elections. The NDA-1, as it has come to be called now, was formed in 1999 after the fall of the Vajpayee government with one vote on the floor of Lok Sabha. At that time, it had 23 members. The BJP had only 181 members, 101 less than its 2014 tally. But, the allies made up for much more than the required number. But, by next elections, the alliance was left with only six parties most had already jumped the sinking ship.
Narendra Modi fears an encore. This is why he along with BJP chief Amit Shah has been going out of the way to placate the allies. First to threaten the BJP was Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJSP. Paswan’s son Chirag wrote two letters to Shah and Modi demanding an ‘honourable share’ in seats for the next elections. Shah and Modi not only conceded his demand of six Lok Sabha seats but also promised to send the senior Paswan to Rajya Sabha via elections due next month.
But more surprising was their capitulation before another Bihar ally JD(U) agreeing to let it contest 17 seats, though the party could win only two in the 2014 polls. This left the BJP to contest only 17 out of total 40 seats in Bihar, though it had contested 30 seats, winning 22 of them in the last elections (2014). What a major climb down!
This emboldened other alliance partners to extract their pounds of flesh as well. Apna Dal chief Ashish Patel has started cribbing about the unfair treatment meted out to a party which has two Lok Sabha MPs and 19 members in Uttar Pradesh Assembly. He threatened to field candidates in 10 Lok Sabha seats if the party was not compensated adequately this time. Another UP ally, the prickly Om Prakash Rajbhar of Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, too has demanded at least two seats, lest it is forced to part ways.
Repeat Act
The exodus of allies from the NDA had started in 2014 itself, when, just a few months after the Lok Sabha elections, the Haryana Janhit Congress quit before the state assembly elections. Party Chief Kuldeep Bishnoi alleged: “The BJP is a fraudulent party. It wants to finish off regional parties.”
Another party that left the fold in December that year was Tamil Nadu’s MDMK. Its chief Vaiko alleged that the BJP was working against Tamils. Vijayakanth’s DMDK, which had lost all 14 seats it contested as part of the NDA in the Lok Sabha polls, left soon after, as did S Ramadoss’ PMK.
Telugu superstar Pawan Kalyan had campaigned heavily for the NDA in the general elections, but didn’t take long to get disenchanted, leaving the alliance with his JanaSena Party. In 2016, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (Bolshevik) in Kerala also distanced itself from the NDA. Recently, tribal leader CK Janu’s Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha departed, accusing the NDA of not fulfilling its promises to the tribal population of Kerala.
Maharashtra ally Swabhimani Paksha left NDA in 2017, accusing the BJP-led central government and state government of being anti-farmer. Last year, the spate of allies quitting the NDA began with Bihar’s Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM). Then, the BJP lost one of its oldest allies. The Naga People’s Front broke its 15-year alliance with the NDA just before assembly elections in Nagaland in February last year.
The Telugu Desam Party, the biggest party in NDA after BJP and Shiv Sena, too quit soon over non-fulfilment of demand for special status to Andhra Pradesh. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha withdrew its support to the NDA, claiming that the BJP had cheated them.
The aftermath of the Karnataka assembly polls saw the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party break its partnership with the BJP to join the post-poll JD(S)-Congress alliance.
By December, another ally had enough, as the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party left the NDA fold and joined the UPA. Another party from Bihar, Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaan Party, followed the RLSP into the opposition fold. Sahni was considered close to Amit Shah.
In June 2018, BJP pulled out of its alliance with the Jammu & Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, leading to the fall of Mehbooba Mufti’s government. Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma of the National People’s Party (NPP) has also threatened that he has all options open to him, including quitting the NDA. The NPP is vehemently opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
Payback Time
In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had contested with 28 parties, winning 282 seats on its own, while 22 allies won 52 seats. After the polls too, the NDA has welcomed many smaller parties into its fold — at its peak, the NDA had 48 constituents.
Political analysts claim that most NDA parties are hedging their bets for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. Feeling that Modi has lost his charisma, they are either siding with UPA or charting their independent course in the hope of being in a better bargaining position, in case of a third front government if neither BJP nor Congress manage a clear majority in the coming elections.
The allies are also miffed over the high handed behaviour of the BJP during the past five years. The allies had negligible say in governance. They suspected being snooped and followed. With BJP having a clear majority in Lok Sabha, allies were apprehensive of being thrown out of government if they protested the Modi-Shah antics.
That explains their anger.
It’s payback time for them.
And for the BJP as well.

Priyanka: Trump Card or Morale Booster?

Her sudden entrée into politics has been likened to a ‘surgical strike’ on the BJP, but she will need much more than her personal charm and her Indira-like looks to win elections. Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr writes

priyanka-trump-card-or-morale-booster
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

It is the media speculation about Priyanka Vadra Gandhi that has always had a feverish ring to it. She is expected to bring a magic wand to revive the decimated party, something that her brother and party president Rahul Gandhi is supposed to have failed to do, though he is fighting the first general election this summer. And there have been conspiratorial theories that in old-style palace intrigues, the ostensibly charismatic and cleverer than her brother Priyanka is supposed to replace him in the party. There are some courtiers in the party who talk of these things in hushed tones and which the media believes to be the ‘pulse’ of the party. But the facts are prosaic.
She was slated to lead the party like her distinguished grandmother Indira Gandhi, and it has been in the air since 1999 when she attacked Arun Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi’s cousin who joined hands with VP Singh in 1988 and turned against her father. She launched an emotionally-charged frontal attack, accusing Arun Nehru of stabbing her father in the back.
At the time her mother was the party president, and she and her brother were not in politics. There was speculation again in 2003 that the brother-sister duo would join the political fray and help revive the party’s fortunes in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. It did not happen.
Flash News
It was Sonia Gandhi with the help of advisers who reached out to allies and formed the United Progressive Alliance and succeeded in forming a government in 2004. Rahul Gandhi had then joined the party at the time and became a first time Member of Parliament from Amethi, even as Sonia Gandhi contested from her mother-in-law’s constituency of Rae Bareli. There was not much speculation about Priyanka in 2009, though the hushed talk was heard again how Sonia Gandhi, like a typical Italian-Indian mother, is doting on the son to the neglect of the talented daughter.
Even as Rahul Gandhi struggled to find his political feet in the Lok Sabha election of 2014 after he became the vice-president of the party in 2013, and as president in 2017, there was no loud talk about Priyanka entering politics. So when the press statement was issued on January 23 appointing her as the general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, the key Hindi heartland state which will decide the fate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP, the news caught everyone off guard. No one expected her to be inducted at this moment in this way, and given a modest assignment.
Uttar Pradesh will be looked after by Jyotiraditya Scindia and Priyanka, two new generation leaders, who are in their 40s, and whose fathers have been leaders in the party. Scindia had campaigned for the party in the parliamentary elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014, and the assembly elections of 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018.
In many ways, Scindia is the more experienced of the two. Priyanka had only been the campaign manager for her mother and brother in the parliamentary elections in Rae Bareli and Amethi.
It is indeed a moot question whether the two new appointees can do anything to turn around the fortunes of the party in the most populous state in the country with the largest contingent of 80 members in the Lok Sabha. Priyanka’s formal political baptism in Uttar Pradesh will be just that, a baptism. She cannot be expected to do miracles for the party in this election.
Quick Sand
There is, however, the danger that her formal presence in the party structure will make her a power centre of her own, and she will have to tackle the position deftly because she cannot, and should not, turn away members of the party who would want to approach her to get favours from the brother. At the same time, she has to avoid becoming a power centre parallel to that of her brother.
Party insiders make it clear that there is no inner rivalry in the family, that Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka act in unison and they consult each other. There was a sense that Rahul Gandhi faced problems in asserting his authority in the party while he was the vice-president and after taking over as president, because Sonia was keen that feathers should not ruffled, and the party old guard should not be thrown out in any peremptory action.
It does appear that her counsel has prevailed. Priyanka will, however, be seen as the bridge between Rahul and the party cadre, and she may have greater freedom to take decisions, which will not be overturned by the brother.
Priyanka is yet to win her political spurs. Her charming personality cannot be the base for inferring that she will be a charismatic leader in the mould of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi. Many people forget that Indira Gandhi had to struggle to establish her credentials in the party as well as in the country from 1966, when she took over as prime minister after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri and 1971 when she won a massive mandate with her slogan, ‘Garibi hatao’. But her charisma did not work in 1977 when she and the Congress were wiped out in Uttar Pradesh.
People’s Mood
The belief of the spineless members of the Congress that it is the Nehru-Gandhis who will bring them back to power is not in sync with the national mood. The people in this country are evaluating every political leader on their ability. Prime Minister Modi will learn to his dismay in the May election that people do not care much for his so-called charisma, which the members of the BJP slavishly believe. Charisma is a component of political reckoning of leaders but it is not the only one. There has to be a feasible programme, an acceptable ideology. Each leader will have to make sense of what is the programme and what is the ideology. If Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra were to speak the language of their grandmother, then they might find there are no takers for this. The poor people in India of 2019 think differently from the poor people in the country back in 1971. Mr Modi knew that people had no patience for the mumbo-jumbo of Hindutva and the Ram temple in Ayodhya. That is why, through the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign, he did not utter the words ‘Hindutva’ and ‘the Ram temple in Ayodhya’. He cannot harp on slogans of 2014 in 2019. The dynamic of democracy does not allow that.
Apprenticeship
The fact that Priyanka has been assigned eastern Uttar Pradesh means that she will not campaigning for the party across the country as Rahul, who will be chief campaigner in his capacity as party president. The burden of the Congress’ national campaign will rest on the shoulders of Rahul Gandhi alone, this time around. Priyanka will have to do her years of apprenticeship as did her brother. Rahul served an apprenticeship of 13 years from 2004 to 2017.
Priyanka will have to be an apprentice at least for five years. In the unlikely scenario of Rahul Gandhi taking over as prime minister of an anti-BJP coalition government, then there would be frantic moves by the sycophants in the party to make Priyanka the party president. As of now this looks an unrealistic scenario. Whatever be the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, Priyanka Gandhi will travel across the country and meet party workers and leaders, and the people. She will familiarise herself with the politics of the country. It is something that the Nehru-Gandhis do. Jawaharlal Nehru did it, so did Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. The only one who did not serve the apprenticeship period is Sonia Gandhi. She took over as president of the party in 1998 without prior experience in politics and in the party. But that was an exception. The party was so desperate in 1998 that it allowed a novice to take over the party. But she handled her job well because Sonia Gandhi worked with the senior leaders in the party. She did not display the impetuosity that is characteristic of the Nehru-Gandhis. She was very un-Nehru-Gandhi in the manner she managed the party. And she did her job creditably well. Rahul and Priyanka can make mistakes and get away with those. They can lose elections and not be thrown off the perch in the party. What will bring electoral success to the party will be changing mood of the people rather than the ability of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. This was proved in victories in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December 2018. Whether in 2019 or in 2024, people are likely to vote for the Congress and it may not be entirely due to the charisma of either Rahul or Priyanka. With most of the political parties choosing their leaders from a family, whether it be National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir, Akali Dal in Punjab, Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, it is no more a stigma for the Congress to stick with the Nehru-Gandhis. The BJP cannot attack the Congress on the dynastic succession issue and hope to score a point. The BJP has yet to establish its democratic credentials in choosing its leader. Right now, it is the closed shop Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that chooses the BJP president and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. The party formally approves the RSS nominee. Rahul and Priyanka will have to prove their political worthiness to win elections. They cannot fall back on the family connection. The family talisman does not work in 21st century democratic India. So, the brother and sister will have to hone their political skills, evolve a vision that chimes with the people of India at this moment, and build a team of new leaders in the party. It is a grueling and thankless task, and most probably they know by now political leadership is indeed a crown of thorns.
Emerging Leadership
Whether the century-and-a-quarter old Congress learn to stand on its own feet and stop depending on the Nehru-Gandhis is a question that will persist. The answer does not lie with Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka but with the new leaders in the Congress. This does not necessarily mean that Rahul and Priyanka will have to be thrown out of the party. It would only mean that other emerging party leaders will share the responsibility of managing the organisation and lead it to victory in elections at the national level. It will only mean that Rahul and Priyanka will be part of the galaxy of leaders in the party and not the only leaders. It is not likely to happen going by the present mood in the Congress. As a consequence, Rahul and Priyanka will have to plough a lonely furrow for the party.


The Last Of The Mohicans – Mrinal Sen

It was his passion to continuously experiment with form and content that saw him producing a bevy of ‘reel legends’

the-last-of-the-mohicans-mrinal-sen
Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

The demise of Mrinal Sen, the last of the Mohicans in the Indian film fraternity, has left some of his close disciples groping for words to express their sense of loss. However, almost all of them have finally taken recourse to cling to the immortal films the maestro has made during his career that spanned for more than five decades, and the memories of the ‘barefoot’ Communist gentleman that he remained throughout.
True, Sen flatly declined to see eye to eye with many of the conventional concepts the modern film making has been associated with – namely the market and RoP (Return on the Product). Unlike some of his contemporaries and a large majority of modern film makers, the market and the return hardly impacted this out-of-the-box director whose non-compromising attitude and stance earned him many a basher at home. Fortunately though, the international acclaim his films had fetched, put those bashers at bay during his lifetime!
It was his passion to continuously experiment with form and content that saw him producing a bevy of ‘reel legends’ like Bhuvan Shome, Ek Din Pratidin, Akash Kusum, Interview, Padatik, Akaler Sandhane, Ek Din Achanak and scores others. IfEk Din Pratidin is an indictment of patriarchy and deals with the middle-class social crisis and Kharij the social milieu, the famine of 1943 gets a different portrayal in Akaler Sandhane, while the political and social unrest finds a voice in Interview , Calcutta 71 and Padatik. It was he who first initiated the new cinema movement in India.
A Different Nuance Everytime
The value of his contribution to the art of cinema is not just artistic but must be assessed in the light of his humanitarianism embracing his warm compassion, especially for the meek, and his profound concern for social justice. He did not seek recourse to any sort of comfort zone (unlike many of his contemporaries) which is why each of his film speaks independently in a different nuance. He has continuously broken his own narrative structure and eked out an independent path for each of his films. Hence, the narrative we find inChorus does not get repeated in Bhuvan Shome; or if Ek Din Pratidin weaves a new structure, Antareen treads an independent path. The endeavour to shed a new light that ‘was never there on earth, sea or land’ on each film (come what may!) has given Sen a signature that is rare in Indian cinema. And obviously, he had eclipsed many an Indian director in his over-riding concern for the humanity.
Cinematic Confection
Through Sen, Indian cinema got actors such as Mithun Chakraborty, Anjan Dutt, Mamata Shankar, Sreela Majumdar and Madhabi Mukherjee to name a few. Also, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri have worked in several of Sen’s films. The living legend made his last film Aamar Bhuvan in 2002.
The first period of his career, up to the three related films Interview (1970), Calcutta 71 (1972) and Padatik (1973), has some memorable political reflections to offer except for the beautiful and exquisitely understated film, Baishey Sravan (1960) and arguably the best comedy film ever to come from the Indian art cinema, Bhuvan Shome (1969). In between, there are some nice pieces of cinematic confection, such as Akash Kusum (1965) , and Neel Akasher Neechey (1958).
Neel Akasher Neechey (1958). (banned by the Indian government for two months) is a commendably original endeavour to portray an unusual character in an unusual historical context. This film demonstrated his courage to handle a theme at a time when the Indo-China relationship suddenly developed an unusual coldness.
However, as well as being fine films in themselves, Baishe Sravan and Bhuvan Shome point to future highlights in Sen’s career. In Baishey Sravan, we meet everyman helplessly entangled in the unalterable course of history or, more simply, the way of things. This way of things finds depiction in various contexts in Sen’s films, while the individuals in conflict with it are also many and varied.
Ever Willing For New
Bhuvan Shome, a near lyric in reel, was a proof that unalloyed comedy in cinema can also draw crowd (and it is interesting to note that Sen never made another comedy). Its timeless humour is very funny, largely due to the superb performance of Utpal Dutt as the almost incorrigible Mr Shome (like ‘Barkis’ in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens).
However, its importance to Indian cinematic history lies at least partially in the technical innovations with which Sen decorated the film and which were used to some extent or another in later works, particularly Calcutta 71. The use of still photography, caricature, animation, quasi-documentary and the like has taken Bhuvan Shome to an unparallel level (Who would ever think of making cinema out of a telephone conversation?). At the same time, there are indications that Sen was ever willing to try something new.
Interview, Calcutta ’71 and Padatik,made and released during the climate of protest, general and intense, of the Naxalite years, reflect the best of what many have described as the political aspect of Mrinal Sen’s films. Protest here is not sloganeering processions punching the air, but a genuine attempt to make the audience think about what might be wrong with ‘the way of things’. Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta triptych (Pratidwandi, Seemabaddha, Jana Aranya) made almost contemporaneously, speak in an identical vein. Admittedly, these films subtly raise fingers at society’s leaders, most notably the self-interested and largely anachronistic captains of industry as well as the faceless puppeteers of the Naxalite movement; but of much greater interest is the suggestion that traditionally held values urgently need to be reassessed. The city, in a moral sense, needs to be rebuilt.
Questioning Traditions
The rest of the decade saw the emergence of Mrigayaa (1976), where Mithun Chakraborty made his debut, along with Mamata Shankar; Mithun won a National Best Actor Award for his performance. Actor-danseuse Mamata Shankar, the daughter of legendary dancer Uday Shankar, says she is ‘indebted to Mrinal da’ for introducing her to the world of light, camera and action in Mrigayaa in 1976. If Mrigayaa is a critical examination of the injustice of colonial justice, Oka Oori Katha is a hard-hitting tale of rural poverty that challenges comfortable middle-class mindsets about ‘the poor’.
But Ek Din Pratidin (1979) heralds a new chapter in the cinema of Mrinal Sen, a chapter that brings into focus the lives of the urban middle-class. Even though there is an urge to protest, the context is different as the issue of questioning the traditionally held values is central.
Ek Din Pratidin is equally important in pushing the cause of women’s emancipation. The subject treated here has come a long way since then, with Satyajit Ray giving his own touch in Mahanagar (1963), establishing a woman’s right to work. In Ek Din Pratidin, the woman in question asserts her right to maintain personal control over her own life, something which many adherent to a patriarchal value system might find rather challenging. The focus of Sen’s protest here is really quite revolutionary in a society that is overprotective of women, subjecting them to excessive control and apprehensive of the potential shame that they might invite – by being raped, for example.
The narrative twist in this film is the consistent refusal to have the girl explain why she was out all night, so obliging the audience – at least those members of it sensitive enough to be niggled and nagged – to think further about traditional values that would suppress and stifle women.
A Silent Crusader
In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett left a void at the end, allowing his audience an infinite space to speculate on what finally happened to Godot. When some people from the audience asked him about the fate of Godot, Beckett’s lone sentence to the query was “I would’ve stated this in the drama itself had I known it.” Several critics of Sen had felt that the director had ‘thrown up the underbelly’ of the city (Calcutta) without revealing a solution. A smiling Sen used to quote Beckett and stole a silent laugh. In his death too, he remained a silent crusader – an innocent yet loaded message “Don’t place bouquet or garlands on my body when I finally depart.”

Modi Era's Hikes Are Not Where We Want! India's Debt Up 50%

Compared to the latest data available till September 2018 when the total debt of the Central government stood at Rs 82,03,253 crore, the corresponding amount till June 2014 was Rs 54,90,763 crore

modi-eras-hikes-are-not-where-we-want-indias-debt-up

Total liabilities of the government has increased 49 per cent to Rs 82 lakh crore in the last four-and-half years during the Narendra Modi government, as per the 8th Edition of the Status Paper on Government Debt released.
Compared to the latest data available till September 2018 when the total debt of the Central government stood at Rs 82,03,253 crore, the corresponding amount till June 2014 was Rs 54,90,763 crore, the Finance Ministry's data on government borrowings shows.
The huge surge in government's debt has been propelled by 51.7 per cent growth in public debt from Rs 48 lakh crore to Rs 73 lakh crore in the four-and-half year period, which in turn was driven by 54 per cent rise in internal debt to about Rs 68 lakh crore.
Dependence on market loans show a similar rise of 47.5 per cent to more than Rs 52 lakh crore during the period. While debt raised through gold bonds was nil at the end of June 2014, it stood at Rs 9,089 crore including the gold monetisation scheme.
The Central government, in the status paper on government debt, gave a detailed analysis of the overall debt position of the government of India. It has been bringing out an annual status paper on government debt since 2010-11, the Finance Ministry said.
"The overall liabilities of the Central government are on a medium-term declining trajectory and government's debt portfolio is characterised by prudent risk profile," the paper, covering details of fiscal deficit financing operations of the government, however, said.
"Government is primarily resorting to market-linked borrowings for financing its fiscal deficit. Conventional indicators... indicate that debt profile of the government is comfortably placed in terms of debt sustainability parameters and is consistently improving," it added.
While the country's debt has been on the rise, little help is expected from the fiscal deficit side in the current financial year. The fiscal deficit in the first eight months till November stands at Rs 7.17 lakh crore, or 114.8 per cent of the Rs 6.24 lakh crore full year's target.


Chai ‘19 Who’ll Serve, Who’ll Drink

With the sudden turn of fate of a politician – Narendra Modi - whose hubris had flattened even his mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – was rubbished in the trial at the hustings in three crucial Hindi heartland states. And with the step-wise rise of the erstwhile “Pappu” Rahul Gandhi, speculations have begun: Who now? At the political level, poll math professionals take their own way of forecasting results, but on the astral map, India’s top star gazer Dr Ajai Bhambi reads the writings in the heavens…

chai-19-wholl-serve-wholl-drink
Dr Ajai Bhambi
Dr Ajai Bhambi

When the cinema industry in India seemed to be sinking after Amitabh Bachchan’s near-fatal crash in a shot in the film ‘Coolie’, no one but Ajai Bhambi had said he would rise lrom the ashes like a Phoenix. He did. Pt Bhambi, one of the most respected names in astrology worlwide, also predicted the assassinations of Indian premier Rajeev Gandhi, Pak premier Benazir Bhutto and the ascendence of Sonia Gandhi in Indian politics. He was the only one to predict that Narednra Modi will register a landlslide victory in the 2014 general elections.

A politician’s life is full of highs and lows but Narendra Modi has been seeing a high from 2001 onwards, when he became chief minister of Gujarat, and the gold run has lasted till now. He faced a lot of opposition during his three terms as CM of Gujarat but that never bothered him, and his charisma started peaking from 2013 onwards.
In 2014, he became the Prime Minister of India with a thumping majority for his party. He is a great orator and made the entire country believe that he is the only leader after Independence who can reshape India and put her on the top in the realm of world politics.
Has this perception changed after his party’s humiliating defeat in the three Hindi belt states? Let us peep through his horoscope:
Narendra Modi was born on 17th September 1950 at 11.17 hrs, at Mehsana (Gujarat). At the time of his birth Scorpio lagna was rising on the eastern horizon and the planetary configuration was such: Mars, Moon–Scorpio, Jupiter (R)–Aquarius, Rahu–Pisces, Saturn, Venus–Leo, Sun, Mercury (R), Ketu in Virgo.
Rajyogas
Modi’s chart has many rajayogas. His lagna is Scorpio, Moon and Mars are placed in it. The presence of Mars creates Panch Mahapurush Rajayoga Ruchak and with Moon it creates another Neech Bhanga Rajayoga. Jupiter has occupied the 4th house and Saturn, Venus are placed in the 10th house. Jupiter and Moon form another rajayoga called Gajkesari.


All these rajayogas are of high quality and results are very much in evidence. If we look at the background of Narendra Modi then we won’t find many parallels to it. Whenever Jupiter and Saturn are involved in aspect, it makes a person a great public figure, and Modi has a world audience behind him. The mutual aspect between Jupiter and Venus, or when they are together in a sign then the person concerned is considered highly intelligent among the intellectuals.
The presence of Sun, Mercury, Ketu in the 11th house makes the person politically wise and ready to take bold decisions. Ketu has afflicted both these planets to some extent which denotes some decisions can be taken without proper calculations and these decisions create a nightmare for a long time.
All these rajayogas – or good combinations – have given optimum results in his life. If that is so then when planets are on the descending mode or not aligning well then they should also produce results accordingly. In his chart Mars is a great rajayoga-karaka and created two yogas single handedly which we discussed elsewhere but Mars himself is weak in the navamsha by occupying debilitated one.
Moon’s 10 years mahadasha is in operation from September 1, 2011 onward and after the onset of this dasa Modi has seen a phenomenal rise. Moon is debilitated and has not occupied friendly nakshatra (Moon in Saturn’s nakshatra). There is a situation in planetary hierarchy when a positive planet gives all his energy and goodness to the debilitated but friendly planet and loses his own potential to a great extent. In this rare planetary phenomenon, Mars has become beleaguered but makes the debilitated Moon extremely potent, which is why he has become the Prime Minister of this great country and created his own brand called Modi brand in Moon’s mahadasha.
Sade Sati
Mars has made Moon so effective in his chart that the Sade Sati of Saturn did not bother him for more than six and a half years and he became Prime Minister in the peak of Sade Sati. Generally, people dread Sade Sati and here powerful Moon had warded off all the negativities of Saturn’s sadhe sati for such a long time.
Astrology is a great science and it is very difficult for us mortals to understand the real wisdom of great seers and sages. The Moon might have gained all the powers by default, but the affliction of Moon has not diminished completely. Let us try to understand the current state of affairs by analysing the Moon and sub dasa of this planet.
In his chart Moon–Mercury operated from 2/07/2017 till 1/12/2018. Moon is placed in the lagna and retrograde Mercury is present in the 11th house along with Sun and Ketu. Mercury is not good for Scorpio lagna because of its first lordship of 8th house. Mercury is also the lord of 11thhouse and placed in it.
Subtle Damages
Moon and Mercury don’t enjoy a good relationship between them. If we look back and analyse the period from July 2017 till 1st December 2018, a lot of subtle damage has been done to his image in this period which started surfacing now. The major institutions of the country felt the heat and voices of dissent were heard from Supreme Court judges, CBI, ED and explosion took place when RBI governor resigned.
Moon–Ketu is in operation from 1/12/2018 to 2/07/2019. Moon is in lagna and Ketu in the 11th house, again is not a good combination. Modi’s remark on Congress ki vidhwa came out on 4th December and that was the first negative impact of Moon–Ketu. The results of three states also came after the operation of this period. Lok Sabha elections are also going to be held in this period and that will also decide the fate of PM Modi. Moon–Ketu is not a good period and if impractical promises or harsh language is used then that could be counterproductive. Sadhe Sati is still there and inherently Moon is weak although strengthened by various reasons, which we discussed earlier. Ketu is known for unpredictability and sages have warned astrologers (us) not to make over board predictions when this period is in operation. If a practical and sincere approach is followed genuinely then his chart is still powerful to render good results.

Clairvoyant Sees Turmoil

The coming year will be one of turmoil, says CRAIG HAMILTON-PARKER, the world’s foremost Psychic Prediction maker. Brexit, Theresa May and Angela Merkel resigning… domestic chaos in the US (but Trump will survive)… Narendra Modi to return to power... Here are some his most startling soothsaying

clairvoyant-sees-turmoil
Craig Hamilton Parker
Craig Hamilton Parker

The ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ astrologer and psychic medium is outspoken and has astonished people with the accuracy of his clairvoyance. He had accurately predicted in 2015 of ‘lone wolf’ terror attacks in Berlin, Rome and Paris, and also said Britain will thwart such an attack. The reality is now well established. He has worked with the yogis and astrologers in India. His blog is https://psychics.co.uk

I make my psychic predictions for the coming year in September and usually do a review and some new predictions in December. As well as making psychic predictions I also suggest spiritual remedies that we can all do to help make the world a better place. This idea is inspired by my time in India and is explained in detail in my books Messages From the Universe and Mystic Journey to India.
Psychic Predictions for 2019
Here are my psychic predictions for 2019. I got a lot right last year and you can read these on my archived pages or check them on the YouTube videos. I like to make my predictions well in advance. We know things like Brexit are going to happen but I have also included predictions here for unexpected events.
Please treat this all as an experiment. I get a lot right but I also get things wrong too. I am fallible but I do my best to use my clairvoyance to give real insights. We must ask ourselves if fate is fixed. Destiny is determined by karma and free will.
Karma And Free Will
Karma is the result of past actions. It brings fortune and misfortune. The positive and negative things we do as individuals and collectively decide the future. Some of this cannot be changed because it is like an arrow that has already left the bow. Only divine grace can change its course.
We also have free will that can alter future events. Our actions and our thoughts can heal the future. If we do charitable and humanitarian acts, it not only helps people immediately but also sets up a positive karmic energy that will bring other good things. Similarly, loving thoughts have tremendous power and can change the world.
Whatever your religion, these thoughts can take on a powerful energy when sent during meditation or prayer. Thoughts are things. They can change things.
2019 USA Psychic Predictions
Donald Trump will be in all kinds of trouble politically and personally, but he will not only survive, he will go on to get a second term in office. All attempts to impeach him will fail.
Trump will promote one of his current advocates, Rudi Giuliani, to a high post but will be betrayed. Giuliani may one day run for President. Internationally, Trump will challenge Putin over Syria. Trump will also put pressure on Imran Khan to drive out terrorists and extremists in return for a positive trade deal. Extremists are driven into Afghanistan that sees new troubles.
Trump’s illness will not be life-threatening but maybe something like a perforated bowel – serious but not terminal. This is normally a time when the sitting party does badly. I feel Trump will fare quite well despite new scandals and do well in the Primaries. The US will experience a lot of seismic activity in 2018 and 2019. Hurricanes and flooding will hit Florida and the East Coast, plus hurricane winds will hit as far north as New York.
2019 UK Psychic Predictions
It is common knowledge that Brexit is the anvil in Europe today. It is going to be a hard Brexit. I have predicted this since the start. A last minute deal is made with Germany and France but negotiations go to the wire. There is initial chaos at the ports, but trade flow improves quickly. There are no major medicine shortages.
The Irish border is left open. A ruptured border allows free flow of international goods into Europe. Ireland eventually enforces the border.
The City of London sees unprecedented activity and a general improvement after a sharp initial fall. I have spoken about this in the Sun newspaper psychic predictions in 2017. I believe it will happen this year and will draw politicians from all parties.
Two very crucial developments will occur. In a close inner party fight, David Davis defeats Boris Johnson, eventually becomes PM.
On the political front, again, incumbent PM Theresa May does not survive Brexit. She will be there till March 2019, not beyond. Late in 2019, may be in September, there will be another election. Tories win and we see the rise of a new political party.
Business Issues
A top company is accused of fixing an international deal using bribes. There is a Scottish influence connected with this story. Nicola Sturgeon (the fifth and current First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party) is implicated. In science, big money will be invested into space projects. I predict a British partnership with NASA will be announced. A new British telescope will be devised to study the Sun.
So far as natural disasters go, large swathes of the country see record flooding. Hardest hit are the West Country and Lancashire. A large factory will explode. Initially I ‘saw’ in my psychic predictions a Gas Works but I feel that there are chemicals involved.
2019 European Psychic Predictions
There will be turmoil in Europe. Right-wing and Euro-skeptic candidates will dominate European elections.
There will be a re-vamp of the European flag. It will appear in the corner of the European nations’ flags as the stars appear in the corner of the USA Flag. Angela Merkel’s minority position will become untenable and she will resign.
The iconic car industry of Germany will be rocked. Trump will put high tariffs on German cars exported to the USA. China will stop German car imports.
2019 World Psychic Predictions
• China plunges into recession and people take to the streets.
• Exceptionally big bush fires will cause chaos in Australia. Canberra is most affected.
• A large meteorite will hit Russia and make international news. This is not a threat to the world but a wakeup call that we pay more attention to avert future problems.
• Russia will sell battleships and other military hardware to China and so upset the balance of power in the South China Sea. America will increase troops in the area.
• Land taken from white farmers without compensation will cause armed clashes in South Africa.
• Under pressure from Russia Turkey will retreat from Syria but fail to protect their borders from a new flood of refugees.
• Kim Jong-un will strike a deal with Trump but North Korean people will eventually revolt against their leader.
• There will be a devastating earthquake in Nepal.
Psychic Predictions for India 2019
These are my psychic predictions for India 2019. I made these predictions on the 3rd October 2018 and will make further predictions later this year. The Vedas are the holy Hindu scriptures and written in the Sanskrit language. The Puranas contain legends and spiritual teachings as well as narratives about the history of the Universe from its creation to its destruction. I touch on this briefly and quote some of the psychic predictions for India from the Kalagnanam. In the Sanskrit language, Kalagnanam translates as “Knowledge of Times”. This is a book of prophecy. It predicts some strange events in the distant future of humankind.
Narendra Modi Re-Elected
Narendra Modi will be re-elected as PM of India. His majority will be easily sustained and we will see him as the Prime Minister of India for many more years. The Naadi Oracles also have predicted that Modi will do a great deal of good for the Indian Nation.
I predict that the current problems with Chinese influence in the Maldives will escalate. China will also try to extend its influence to other islands such as Mauritius. This growing conflict will result in a trade war with China.
India will restrict the import of Chinese goods. Although Modi will be no fan of Trump, they will nonetheless work together against aggressive Chinese expansion.
India will strongly resist large corporations opening in the towns and cities. India will embark on a policy that emphasizes the fact the democracy is for people, not corporations. It will be protectionist in that it safeguards its small businesses and promotes the idea that many small businesses are more powerful and democratic than a few big ones. India will lead the world in demonstrating a more democratic form of capitalism.
I predict a major earthquake that hits Nepal and Kashmir. It will also affect parts of northern India. India will come to the aid of Nepal and be seen as the humanitarian force for good.
I foresee a government drive to clean up India. This will be on an unprecedented scale and will see the poor paid to collect rubbish for a fee. The campaign will be a badge of national pride and will set an example to China and the world.
I will make some more predictions about India later, however, I will add here that India will continue to see terrible weather conditions during 2019. In 2018, I predicted the floods in Kerala. For 2019 I see droughts becoming a serious problem. The Indian climate will lurch between severe flooding and severe drought. The rice fields of Southern India will be at risk.
China also will see crop failures from drought and will affect the grain prices for India too. India I feel will be one of the first countries to properly manage its water. New water supplies will be discovered beneath the old course of what once was the Sarasvati River.
In my previous predictions, I have stated that ‘India will expand its borders’. I feel that in time India will take on Pakistan and endeavor to take back some of the Punjab. It will also reaffirm its influence in Nepal and Kashmir. A time will come when Tibet will fight to free itself from Chinese occupation. At this time, India will support the Tibetan cause and become a protectorate of Tibet.

Maturing ‘Pappu ’ Vs Fading ‘Chowkidar ’

The Congress president is no more a political Lilliput that he was in 2014, and the prime minister Narendra Modi is no more the invincible warrior that he was then

maturing-pappu-vs-fading-chowkidar
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

The Rahul Gandhi-Narendra Modi battle has taken a sharp turn. In 2014, the media pitted the two against each other, with the sly intent of showing Gandhi, then a greenhorn, as no match to the tested Hindutva warrior Modi, who wore the scars of the 2002 Gujarat riots rather proudly on his sleeve and spoke in a monotonous tone about development and jobs, without ever mentioning Hindutva, or the Ram Temple in Ayodhya for once during his election campaign.
At the same time Modi made the cunning move of contesting from Varanasi, and entrusting the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh to confidante Amit Shah. The moves paid rich dividends, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning 73 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP, and Modi winning his Varanasi seat and giving up the Vadodara seat, from where the Gujarat chief minister won the 2002 assembly election on the issue of Gujarati ‘asmita’ or self-respect. By abandoning Gujarat and adopting UP, Modi tied his political fortune and that of his party to the Hindi heartland. When the party won an overwhelming majority in the UP assembly elections in March 2017, it seemed that Modi’s strategy has been vindicated.
But the certitude of the BJP’s stranglehold in the Hindi heartland was shaken with the party’s defeat in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. And after more than a year of BJP’s rule in UP under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the ground from beneath the feet of Modi and BJP is slipping away.
The BJP is worried and it is hard at clawing its way back, but it may not do so in the emphatic manner it had done in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The wheel of fortune has turned.
2014: Congress Slide
Congress was reduced to sub-50 tally of 44 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014, a steep slide from the 202 strength in the House after the 2009 general elections. Ever since, except Punjab, the Congress lost Maharashtra, Haryana and Assam assembly elections. It is against this background that the Congress’ victories in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh should be seen. The party is finding its feet back again and it is back in the reckoning.
The BJP cannot hope to have a cake-walk in 2019. Gandhi has emerged a doughty fighter who has not only taken on the redoubtable Modi but has also defeated him fair and square in these state elections. Modi is no more invincible and Gandhi no more a political pygmy. Rather, Gandhi has become the David to Modi’s Goliath. These are indeed the glorious uncertainties of the game of politics!
After four-and-a-half years in office at the centre, the BJP looks quite shaken by the electoral reverses in the three Hindi heartland states, and analysts within the Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh (RSS), which plays the role of coach to Team BJP, and inside BJP as well as in the media, are trying to understand the BJP’s debacle under the stewardship of the Modi-Shah duo.
The halo of invincibility that mainstream media had created around Prime Minister Modi and party president Shah has paled, and there are no ready answers as to how a Congress, forever racked by internal squabbles under an apparently weak like Gandhi, managed to steal victory from Modi’s BJP.
Targetable blitz
The impact of the defeats in these three states is seen in the responses of Modi and Gandhi. The Congress president has realised the secret of sustained aggression, and he continues to target Modi day in and day out, from pronouncements in public rallies and press conferences to bites before television news channel cameras. Gandhi is literally pummeling Modi, and at the moment Modi is a little helpless in hitting back.
While Modi attacks Gandhi and his family, Gandhi targets the prime minister’s failures to deliver on the promises. The evidence in the Rafale jet fighter deal is neither substantive nor clinching, but Gandhi is keeping at it relentlessly, saying Modi ‘chowkidar chor hai’, alluding to Modi’s much vaunted description of himself as the chowkidar (guard) of the country.
The BJP is not in a position to laugh away Gandhi’s verbal sallies. They are forced to rebut him, and that in itself is a big change. Gandhi is not resting on his laurels post-victory in the three states. He has stepped up the attack.
The aggression may or may not pay off in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but Gandhi seems determined to deliver his blows to Modi, whatever may be the outcome next summer. It appears that Rahul unconsciously nurses the hurt and humiliation of the BJP and the rest of the Opposition cornering his father and then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on the Bofors kickbacks controversy where no clinching proof was shown that Rajiv took bribes. Gandhi, it seems, is hitting back with the grudge-fuelled passion that his innocent father was politically crucified. There is more than political rivalry when the Congress president speaks about the Rafale deal.

Frayed Chowkidar
Modi continues with his aggressive tone and tenor, but it has become dull and its sharpness is flattened because he had been maintaining the same pitch in the last four-and-a-half years. His attacks on the Nehru-Gandhis remain unabated but people are not any more amused, and even the obsessive-compulsive Nehru-Gandhi-baiters want something new from the prime minister.
But sooner than later, Modi has to take on Gandhi man-to-man, and answer the issues raised by the Congress president. There is also a strategic compulsion for Modi and BJP wanting to single out Gandhi and the Congress from among the Opposition parties.
Modi feels that it is not right for his national stature to stoop to take on Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav or All India Trinamool Congress leader and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The only leader he can take on as an equal is Gandhi, the leader of the other national party, however reduced its presence may be across the country.
In this fresh duel with Gandhi, Modi is on a weak wicket. If he scores over the Congress president it does not rebound to his credit because he is considered a tall leader and Gandhi is not tall in comparison. If Gandhi scores points, including brownies, against Modi, it shows the prime minister in a bad light. The prime minister is in an unenviable no-win situation. The mainstream media shares the same dilemma with Gandhi as Modi. They cannot any more ignore him and they feel embarrassed to give him the space that they contemptuously thought he did not deserve all these years. They have to report his speeches, do his interviews, do his profiles, speculate about his future moves and analyse his decisions. Had the BJP and the media not made Modi the larger-than-life icon, then the clash between Gandhi and Modi would have remained a clash between leaders of two big parties, like in any other democracy. Some of the pro-BJP analysts are still harping on the theme of the presidential style of campaign that Modi had introduced, where the contest is not between the parties but between the two main leaders. The underlying argument is that there is no other leader with the national footprint that Modi has, and that Gandhi’s nationwide reach is laughable compared to Modi, and therefore Modi wins this presidential fight hands down.
Hallucination
It is turning out to be a hallucination of sorts, because on the ground it is parties and the candidates, the local caste arithmetic that still rule the roost in Indian politics. The election results in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh do not reflect the clash between Modi and Gandhi. As a matter of fact, they are nowhere on the scene. People had voted out the governments of Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, and they voted Congress in a tenuous manner in Madhya Pradesh (Total number of seats: 230; Congress: 114 seats (40.9 per cent vote share); BJP: 109 seats (41 per cent vote share) and in Rajasthan (Total number of seats: 199; Congress: 99 seats (39.3 per cent vote share); BJP: 73 seats (38.8 per cent vote share) and decisively in Chhattisgarh (Total number of seats: 90; Congress: 68 seats (43 per cent vote share); BJP: 15 seats (33 per cent vote share).
A marginalised senior Congress leader wryly remarked that even victories need to be analysed as defeats are, and pointed that the Congress’ victory margin in the number of seats won and vote percentage garnered in Madhya Pradesh was dangerously narrow, as was the vote percentage in Rajasthan, though the margin of the number of seats won is quite convincing. In these two states, the Congress had failed to reach the halfway mark, 116 in Madhya Pradesh and 100 in Rajasthan.
The Chhattisgarh poll verdict is crystal clear. Congress has a two-thirds majority, which the BJP in its last three terms never got. The BJP won 50 seats in Chhattisgarh in 2003 and in 2008 and 49 in 2013. Congress won 37 seats in 2003, 38 in 2008 and 39 in 2013.
The story in Rajasthan in the previous three elections is quite different. BJP won 120 seats in 2003 and Congress 56 in 2003, Congress won 96 and the BJP 78 in 2008, and the BJP won a two-thirds majority with 163 seats in 2013 to Congress’ 21.
In Madhya Pradesh the Congress had been far behind the BJP. In 2003, BJP won 173 seats and Congress 38, in 2008 BJP won 143 and Congress 71, and in 2013, BJP won 165 and the Congress 58.
The performance of the two major parties in these three states is intriguing as well. In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, BJP had won 25 seats in Madhya Pradesh and Congress 4. In Rajasthan, BJP had won 21 and Congress 4. And in Chhattisgarh, BJP won 10 and Congress 1. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, BJP won 16 seats in Madhya Pradesh, Congress 12; in Rajasthan, BJP won 4 and Congress 20; and in Chhattisgarh BJP won 10 and Congress 1. In 2014, BJP won 27 seats in Madhya Pradesh and Congress 2; in Rajasthan, BJP won 25 and Congress none; and in Chhattisgarh, BJP won 10 and Congress 1. The score in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will change, and the BJP will stand to lose more and the Congress could gain more compared to the 2014 figures, and they could be closer to the 2009 figures.

Rural Realities
The presidential-style battle between Modi and Gandhi will happen only in mainstream media. The Indian voter in this vast and diverse country has other criteria in his mind. The local candidate and the strength of the party in each state will count for more than the charisma of Modi or Gandhi. Gandhi has an advantage in this devolutionary political battle because Congress with its fissiparous tendencies stands to gain compared to the nearly homogenous and monolithic BJP under Modi. BJP is brittle because it is under the unified command of Modi.
Gandhi had to struggle in deciding who would be the chief minister in each of these three states, as he had to contend with factional feuds and demands. What might appear to be a weakness of the Congress could turn out to be an advantage, because the old party is responsive to local demands and there is intense internal competition between groups and leaders.
In a paradoxical manner, democracy is at work in the Congress, though the party is unable to shake off the Nehru-Gandhi family shackles. The BJP, which is ostensibly democratic in choosing its leader, seems to be at a loss under Modi because of the absence of inner party diversity. What was an advantage for Modi in 2014 will be a disadvantage in 2019. Gandhi leading a raucous party is strong because he has to contend with diversity inside the party and in the country.

Battle Of Two Stars

The two politicians do not see eye-to-eye, and nor do their stars. But as far as predictions from Vedic Astrology go, both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi are all set to have a terrific year ahead

battle-of-two-stars
S Ganesh
S Ganesh

S Ganesh is one of the highly respected names in Vedic Astrology. He has been practicing Vedic Astrology for more than 35 years and also taught at Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan from 1994 - 2016. He is also a Vaastu expert. He hails from a traditional Tamil family and his father Sankara Narayanan was secretary of Madrasi Vedic Brahmin Association of Delhi. His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Sri Shankaracharya of Sringeri Mutt is his spiritual guru. His email is astrologerganesh@gmail.com

I am here delineating the chart of one of the most charismatic leaders of India. He came into political scene and became the chief minister. He came into the national front and became a prime minister. That’s how charismatic, energetic, vibrant, philosophical, devoted, committed and fatefully blessed is the person whom we all know as Narendra Modi.
Doing a virtual journey of his life, struggle, achievement and services is in itself very exhausting and a learning process for many. So let’s do a real journey into the stars placement and understand his achievement and growth with reference to his birth chart.
I have taken his date of birth as 17th September, 1950, and his place of birth is Vadnagar, as per official documents. The time that I have taken is 11:44 am. In this, the rising sign – the ascendant – is Vrishchik lagna, i.e. Scorpio, and the Navamsha lagna would be Tula, i.e. Libra.
Why I have taken this? There are two reasons. One, normally a person who is born with Vrishchik rashi has excellent fighting ability, perception, an ability to look through the darkness and attain the exact goal and progress required for a person to become successful and famous. The Navamsha is Tula, because the person should also have charismatic personality and extraordinary good persona to attract others. This combination Modi has in ample. He, definitely, would be ranked as one of the most outstandingly good-looking eminent personality in India. Hence, I have taken this time, i.e. 11 hours and 44 minutes, to delineate his chart.
Let’s first see the merits of his chart. Ascendant, i.e. lagna, has Mars and Moon conjunct together. Here, Mars is lagna lord. Hence, this placement is extremely benevolent. It forms a formidable Pancha Mahapurusha Yoga, known as Ruchaka Yoga. And since it is with Moon also, therefore Ruchaka yogam is twice formed – both from lagna as well as Moon. Hence, Mars is potently benevolent, benefic and showering exceptional promises for growth and accomplishments in life.
Mars is also the 6th lord. Placement in lagna makes him a formidable character – a person who will never have an enemy, or even if there are enemies they will compromise and make him a leader. Shastra says such persons will live a life without any enemies or contemporaries.
Here, the conjunction of Mars and Moon forms an extraordinary good yoga, which is ranked #1 amongst 300 yogas, known as Chandra-Mangala Yogam. This promises extraordinary fame and success to a native. But here, ironically, Moon is debilitated. Therefore, it is inherently afflicted. But because it is placed in Anuradha Nakshatra, it is devoid of debilitation, dosham or affliction. Hence it promises Raja Yogam for the native.
Further, for this ascendant Moon is Bhadakadhipati, i.e. he is the 9th lord. Hence, his debilitation also indicates Viparita Raja Yogam. And being in the lagna with lagna lord, it ushers exemplary good success and accomplishments in life for the native.
Secondly, Modi is born on Shashthi Tithi in Vrishchika rashi. This rashi is held by Mars and Shashthi Thithi’s lord is considered to be Lord Subrahmanya, i.e. Kartikeya. The Pratyadhi Devata for Mars is Subrahmanya. Hence, the association of his lagna and tithi indicates good vision and steel-like abilities of a warrior to fight against any kind of adversities in life. This also promises great fame and success for the native.
Thirdly, for Shashthi Tithi the Dagdha rashis are Aries and Leo, i.e. Mesham and Simham. In the chart of Modi, both these lords are inherently afflicted. Since the Dagdha rashi lords are afflicted, it promises Viparita Raja Yogam.
Placement of Mars in the lagna with debilitated Moon and in Navamsha Mars is debilitated. Thus Mars is naturally afflicted. For Simha rashi, the lord is Sun. Here, Sun is placed in the 11th house, i.e. in Kanya rashi, with Mercury and falls in Rahu-Ketu axis. Hence, the Sun is afflicted in the birth chart being in Rahu-Ketu axis. Therefore, both these lords are afflicted and they promise Viparita Raja Yogam for the native.
Saturn is placed in the 10th house with Venus. The latter is the 10th lord from the 10th house, i.e. the 7th lord from lagna. This is very good and it promises name and fame for the native. Saturn itself in the 10th house indicates a leader of the mass who will have exceptional good success and accomplishments in life. With the 10th from the 10th lord Venus, conjunct with Saturn, becoming Vargottama that is placed in the same rashi in Navamsha is an indication of unmeasurable success in near-immortal status for the native. Further, both these planets have mutual aspect with Jupiter placed in the 4th house. This is again indicating Raja Yogam for the native. Although, Jupiter here is retrograded and inherently weak.
In his chart there are five planets placed in the kendras and this assures good growth, progress, achievement, popularity and success for the native. He will be bestowed with national honours in his life and will be an example for others in future.
Finally, in his chart, the lagna is placed in Pushkara Bhaga, i.e. in 11 degrees. The 11 degree of Vrishchika, i.e. Scorpio, is considered to be Pushkara Bhagam and this assures very good success and progress in one’s life.
The Brihat Jatakam says that if Venus is placed in Kendra one will have extraordinary good learning and wealth. Saturn placed in the Kendra also promises one serving many people. Also, Jupiterin Kendra indicates a person who will be involved in religious rites and having vision which will be equal to a seer. All these characters are very true to our prime minister. So this assures his lagna and Navamsha lagna to be what we have taken in this chart. Now, as per this chart our Prime Minister Modi is undergoing the mahadasha of Moon. I have already stated that Moon as a 9th lord is badhakesh and his debilitation promises very good Raja Yogam for the native. Hence, he is experiencing all the success and adulation in his life.
Under the mahadasha of Moon he is running the sub-dasha of Ketu till February 2019. Till this time his position will be clouded because Ketu indicates smoky atmosphere. It will give a bhram, i.e. oblique visions. Therefore, the decisions taken during this period may not fructify as per his expectation. Hence, any major decision should be avoided till the end of Ketu sub-period in order to make good progress and accomplishment.
After this period, Modi will run Moon-Venus dasha. Venus is Vargottama and it is placed in the 10th house in his natal chart. This is an extraordinary good period and he will again rise as a formidable force. He would make good success and progress along with accomplishments. Venus here is placed in own Nakshatra also. This makes him attain the lost grounds, or those doubts which otherwise came into his leadership or other areas of life would be washed away and he will regain the confidence and acceptability of the mass.
Venus antardasha under the mahadasha of Moon will run till October 2020 and this is going to be a good Raja Yogam period for the native. In this year, 2019, there are two major phenomenon occurring in the zodiac. Both Mars and Venus do not have retrogation movement and this is very good and very rare event. This promises excellent result and accomplishments for Modi. He will have good results coming for this entire year as per his expectations and capabilities. From March onwards, till May, it is an excellent period and he would build on his reputations and honor. He will spearhead a good moment and the momentum will bring him success and achievements in coming months.
From the month of July till September he has to take ample care of his health. Since Modi is running Sade-Sati the time is not very good and can produce some dangerous results. This is Modi’s third round of Sade-Sati. There could be some remark and tarnishing factor on his reputation. So he needs to be very vigilant with regard to his contemporaries and others. There could be some treachery or such similar repercussions coming during these months. He has to be very very careful.
Again, in the month of October there could be an important event where he would be taking some major decisions.
November and December again would prove very fruitful and auspicious for Modi. It will bring him auspicious results and he would get extraordinary good overwhelming support and understandings from the mass. For his life also, from November onwards when Jupiter comes into his 2nd house, i.e. into Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) he will have excellent auspicious happening and further growth and popularity coming in his life. Very good chart and a very good year for Modi. I wish him extraordinary success and accomplishments in his life and for the nation also.

Fate Readers Of Power

Almost all politicians flock to astrologers and various practitioners of Tarot etc, not always to win an election, but mostly to skin their rivals and seek a meteoric rise

fate-readers-of-power
Rashme Sehgal
Rashme Sehgal

Rashme Sehgal began her career as a poet-cum-short story writer in 1970s. She then shifted to journalism and worked with several leading newspapers including The Independent, The Telegraph and The Times of India

The growth of television and new media has given a fresh fillip to astrology. Just about everybody from new age entrepreneurs to venture capitalists are making a bee line to the swanky offices of these peddlers of Jyotish Vidya. Their walk-in clients include people from every class, but politicians have today emerged as some of their biggest clients.
Ministers and parliamentarians from every political class - from Smriti Irani to Vasundhara Raje to Amar Singh - are known to seek the help of these Jyotish Gurus who are using every possible medium from You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platform to promote themselves. The days of astrologers sitting down on pavements or outside temples willing to tell your future for as little as Rs five per palm has vanished. Today, their fees are running into thousands of rupees and it is all being done via video conferencing.
Top Job
Rashmi Miglani, astrologer, Tarot card reader and alternate therapist, believes that in this competitive age, every politician wants to be on top, and it is their job to help them achieve the numero uno position.
“When politicians come to me, they do not ask me whether they will win an election or not. An election comes once in five years or so. Their queries are invariably around their rivals. How can I help them out manoeuvre their rivals, how can I help them get closer to the powers that be, how can I help bring them into the limelight. I have to work towards enhancing their luck factor, and this is done by suggesting simple remediation measures. Supposing, to cite an example, their Saturn is heavy, then how can it be tweaked in such a manner that we lessen its impact. You can do it by distributing some black item on a Saturday or else help a needy person who is blind on that particular day or else they must eat a certain type of food,” said Miglani.
Can she name some of the politicians she has given this advice to and have they followed it ? She refuses to disclose the name of a single politician, saying: “Everyone comes to me, from executives from the Reliance group to models to top notch leaders. Everyone today wants name and fame. I tell them all just one thing: visiting an astrologer is akin to visiting the doctor. I help calm down the planets that are creating obstructions in their lives. I am also a face reader. When a client walks into my office, by simply reading his face I will know what he wants. But if you come to me, you need to have faith. By following my remediation techniques, I give people wings to fly. I provide them with an obstruction free flight.”
96-year-old Nathulal Vyas, who lives in the village of Kario located 20 kilometres from Bhilwara, is no exception. Every politician worth his salt made a bee line in the months of September and October this year determined to ask if they had a chance of winning in the recently concluded state elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Vyas is an expert in Bhrigu Samhita, a Sanskrit astrological treatise.
Vyas had shot to fame after former president Pratibha Patel, along with her husband Dev Singh Patel, went to consult him. Vyas had predicted that she would hold the highest office of the country. Later, after being made the President, Patil invited him to attend the oath taking ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Jaan Mein Jaan
Another extremely popular astrologer is Bejan Daruwalla. This self-acclaimed Ganpati bhakt continues to be in great demand, even though he is now 88 years old and not in the best of health.
Everybody from Narendra Modi downwards, hold their palms out to Bejan when they meet him, hoping for a prediction. Daruwalla is loud speaking and boisterous and claims to have ten million ‘satisfied’ followers.
He has the distinction of having predicted the ascent of three prime ministers: Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi. Being Ahmedabad-based, Modi has kept in close touch with him and Daruwalla admits to being an admirer of Modi. But he goes on to elaborate that there is nobody in India who is a who’s who amongst politicians, film stars or tycoons who has not consulted him at some point or the other. He has read the kundalis of Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, Deve Gowda and other leaders. But he believes that astrologers can go wrong on occasions. “It depends on the kind of inputs we receive,” says Daruwalla.
Few leaders and states are so closely linked to astrology as is the newly formed state of Uttarakhand, where its leaders will go to any length to follow the advice of soothsayers. To cite an example of how intertwined the two are, the state hosted a National Astrology Conference to which a large number of astrologers were invited. Bejan Daruwalla was amongst the many astrologers who were invited to participate and he came on stage to predict that Harish Rawat, the then chief minister, would win at the state assembly hustings held in 2016. Alas, he lost.
Bunged Look
The length to which Rawat went to remain in power can be gauged from the fact that he did not stay in the chief minister’s 58-room bungalow because it was reputed to be ill-fated and no chief minister who had stayed there was able to complete his tenure in office. In order to do away with malefic influences, the entire look of the bungalow was changed to make it look like a traditional Garhwal bungalow.
Amongst its many occupants who had to move out were Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Major General BC Khanduri and Vijay Bahuguna. Harish Rawat chose to stay in a nearby guest house but despite all the blessings he received from a galaxy of astrologers, he still had to bite the dust at the polls. A large majority of astrologers had to do a Rawat-once-over in the recently held assembly elections, with the majority claiming that Shivraj Singh Chouhan would win a fourth term as chief minister, albeit with a wafer thin majority. That did not happen, and Congress leader Kamal Nath has gone on to become the chief minister.
Bungled Homes
This is not the only bungalow with a jinxed reputation. Delhi’s 33 Sham Nath Marg in the posh Civil Lines has a similar reputation. This posh bungalow was allotted to Sheila Dikshit when she became Delhi’s chief minister, but she refused to move into it. Brahm Prakash could not complete his term in office and had to quit. The same was the case with Madan Lal Khurana in 1996 in the wake of the hawala scandal. Khurana had been told by several astrologers that it was a ‘lucky’ bungalow and moved in there with a lot of expectations, but those were soon belied. But astrology is not all about accommodation problems, nor is it just about winning elections. Sonal Varma, who wears many caps including Tarot card reading, master of Ching, astro numerology, aura reading, crystal and gem therapist and dowsing, believes that today the game for politicians is not all about just winning elections. Elections come once in five years and before an election takes place, they have so many other queries.
Their questions will relate to what is so-and-so person in power thinking and how can we influence their thinking. How can I better position myself in my party? How can I better manoeuvre myself in my party? Who are the people acting against me and how can I counteract and negate them? Their focus all the time is on other people and their ability to out-manipulate them.
Tarot Power
For that, Tarot cards are ideal because they help in all this mind reading. “Tarot cards provide strategic inputs about what moves an individual should play out against others. It provides key inputs and it provides inputs into what moves other people will make and how my client should be ready to provide the counter thrust,” said Varma.
Pandit Arvind Sharma specialises in Maha Mrityunjaya Puja, Kundli Milan, Saraswati Puja for students, Grah Pravesh, monthly puja for office/residence, Laxmi Puja, Navratri Puja, Ramayan Path, Sundar Kand Path, Vastu Puja, Janam Kundali, Navgrah Puja, marriage, gem advice, and vastu consultations.
Fate Globalised
Sharma points out that he no longer expects clients to visit him. Rather, the vibrations set off from the mobile number are sufficient to provide him an indication of the character and personality of the prospective client. “A large amount of jyotish is now being done on the mobile and I have clients from across the world,” boasts Sharma.
Of course, the veterans in this field insist the newer players in the Jyotish business are diluting the Vedic piousness of the ‘science of astrology,’ but young practitioners state the newer proponents are here to stay.
What they are unanimous about is the fillip the age-old world of astrology in India has received with the growth of television and new media. Business volumes are booming. And payments are accepted by Paytm and bank transfers before advice is dished out. The smaller ones are no push-overs. Rajendra Baidik is a street vendor for ‘precious stones’ and he sits on a small carpet laid beside the pavement at the gates of the District Court of Banswara in the western state of Rajasthan.
“Mine is a family business and we used to earlier sit along temples and areas where fairs were held. Now, for some years, I have found that people are coming here for litigation in large numbers and they are stressed out. All of my clients have my WhatsApp number and I suggest a specific stone and ring for them as per the situation and face reading from their photos,’’ states Baidik.
Nandita Pandey is a popular name among Indian politicians and celebrities. She describes herself as ‘AstroTarotloger, Numerologist, Vaastu consultant, Energy Healer, Past Life Regression Therapist, Spiritual Guide, Life Coach’. Said Pandey: “I have prominent VVIPs like political heads from various parties, Bollywood, business houses, socialites, and bureaucrats coming to me for consultations. They feel that I will be able to provide right guidance to them. The trust and faith they have in my readings is immense, as most of them approach me through word of mouth recommendations, looking at my portal or after following my prediction accuracy for a long time.”
“Astrology in India was always there, will always be there until eternity. It will continue to grow stronger as we have already entered into the Aquarian age. This means that now onwards, science and metaphysical sciences like astrology will work parallely and grow leaps and bounds, complementing each other in a more amicable environment. No wonder we have healing sessions that run in NASA. Also in the conference on recent research on Mars, NASA had invited astrologers also to speak on the subject,” says Nandita
Spaced Out
The importance of astrology can be gauged from the fact that the Indian Space Research Organisation continues to seek the divine blessing by getting a special puja performed at the Tirupathi temple before every space mission.
Conventional specialists in astrology in India, however, deny that the art of telling the future is as easy and plentiful as it is made out to be. They say it is a science which has to be perfected with time and dedication. But no one can go to the lengths to which our politicians are willing to go in their attempts to find an auspicious date and place to operate out of. Several politicians insist on getting the drapery and upholstery of their homes changed at the direction of their spiritual gurus. Others will go to great lengths to get the timing of their swearing in changed at the behest of their astrologer.
Baba of Babas
No present day astrologer can match the influence of Chandraswami who had a free access to the likes of VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, Romesh Bhandari, Adnan Khashoggi, the Sultan of Bruenie, and Al Yayed, the owner of Harrod’s, and other high ranking officials in the CIA and Mossad.
He was in a league by himself and in his heyday was known to have easy access to the powerful in both South Block and North Block. He was known to be a conduit to the rich and powerful, but following the demise of prime minister Rao, Chandraswami’s clout began to wane and he soon found himself confined to his ashram in South Delhi. Today, there are a plethora of astrologers and none of them can dream of possessing the clout and cunning of a Chandraswami. The truth of this becomes extremely apparent when we look at who enjoys proximity to the power centres in New Delhi. Today it is Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who are close to Narendra Modi and who are enjoying the many favours granted from this proximity.
This does not perturb the younger generation of astrologers. New age astrologers have a different focus. They specialise in character analysis and are combining astrology with self-improvement, meditation, psychology and yoga. The aim is to make people feel good about themselves. It also means laughing all the way to the bank.
The politician client believes in feeling good but only when his rivals are relegated to the bottom of the ladder. A tad help from these new age gurus should help him, or so he likes to believe.

Avarice And Star Power

Politicians, perhaps from as early as the time of Mahabharata, have been spending huge amounts to either win power or retain it. And as G Ulaganathan says, nowhere is this more brazen than down south

avarice-and-star-power
G Ulaganathan
G Ulaganathan

The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT

The final war in Mahabharata is at hand. Duryodhan is adamant: “not a speck of dust without war”, he says. Even a peace mission by Lord Krishna to the Kaurav clan has been spurned. War it has to be, but what would the date to start it to ensure his victory? Duryodhan falls back on astrology. The late statesman Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, or `Rajaji’ as he was fondly called, says that Shakuni then advised Duryodhan to consult Sahadeva, the last of the Pandava brothers, and fix the auspicious time and day to start the war against the Pandavas.
Sahadeva was expert in the sciences of foretelling of events based on omens called ‘nimitta shastra’ and also astrology, astronomy, etc. Sahadeva is in a dilemma and asks for the advice of his eldest brother Yudhishthir. Now, Yudhishthir, who always upheld Dharma, advised him that if Duryodhan had come to him as his astrology client, he is supposed to help him with the auspicious muhurat.
Sahadeva then advises Duryodhan to start the war on the Amavasya (new moon day).
Had it happened, the course of destiny would have perhaps changed but the clever Lord Krishna saw to it that it would not happen. Sahadev’s calculation never goes wrong. The worried Pandavas approached Krishna for help.
Then, the wily Krishna created an Amavasya a day earlier. On that day, Krishna asked Pandavas to offer tarpana (a ritual done to forefathers) as it was Amavasya that day. Krishna declared that as Moon and Sun are together in one place, that day itself was an Amavasya. Duryodhan, who was unaware of this, started the war on the wrong day, lost it and the rest is history.

Modern Duryodhans
Modern Duryodhans Politics and superstition go hand in hand. More than 90 per cent of Indian politicians, many of them in south India, have almost become slaves of superstition. They look up to astrology, numerology, vaastu and sometimes even bizarre tantric rituals to keep them in power and `serve’ the people.
Many of our modern day rulers are like Duryodhan. They blindly follow these occult sciences and there are very few exceptions. For Telangana leader K Chandrasekhar Rao, astrology and vaastu are like two eyes. He often conducts Chandi Maha Yajna at his farmhouse to propitiate various gods and goddesses.
At the beginning of his chief ministerial tenure, about four years ago, more than 1.5 million people attended one such five-day ritual at the sleepy Erravalli village, some 60 km from Hyderabad in Medak district of Telangana. It was called Ayutha Chandi Maha Yajna —for the well-being of India’s newest state and universal peace.
A 40,000 sq. ft Yajnashala was built, using bamboo and paddy thatch for the roof, to accommodate 108 elevated fire pits for 1,500 Vedic pundits to perform the Yajna.
A helipad for five helicopters was prepared near the venue. President Pranab Mukherjee couldn’t make it to the event as planned, due to a fire at the yajnashala on the last day of the yajna. In fact, the President had already got into the helicopter for the short hop from Hyderabad when he was told about the incident and cancelled the trip.

Astro-Fest
“It was like a jatra (festival),” says Venkat Reddy, a real estate developer who travelled from Hyderabad to Erravalli on the last day. “We wanted to be part of an event that was held for the larger good of society,” Reddy said. He and his family waited for two hours to get a glimpse of the yajna. A firm believer in Vaastu (a traditional system of architecture) and astrology, KCR took the vow during the peak of the Telangana agitation to conduct a Chandi Yajna if the state was successfully carved out of Andhra Pradesh.
“The yajna is for the well-being of the entire state of Telangana so that everybody lives in peace; there is no vested interest in it,” KCR had said in an address to the media. Ayutha Chandi Maha Yajna is an ancient ritual performed to invoke the blessings of Chandi or Durga, considered the mother of all creations. Ayutha in Sanskrit means 10,000. The yajna involves reciting the verses of the Durga Saptashati 10,000 times, a 10th of which need to be accompanied by ‘homam’ or offering of oblations of ‘payasam’ to the sacrificial fire.
On the concluding day, KCR felicitated the conductors of the yajna with gold bangles and other gifts, and also gave them a fat remuneration, all from the government exchequer.
Within hours of the Ayutha Chandi Maha Yajna coming to an end, KCR announced that he would perform a Prayutha Chandi Yajna, once all the flagship programmes were implemented successfully.
Astrologer’s Rise
According to senior journalist, GS Radhakrishna, KCR is a firm believer in astrology and had even appointed his personal astrologer Suddala Sudhakar Teja as a ‘vaastu advisor’ to the government. He was given all the perks and privileges befitting a cabinet post.
KCR depended so much on Teja that when he constructed his new bungalow as big as a shopping mall with 150 rooms, three halls and a ‘bullet-proof toilet and bedroom’, this astrologer was consulted for everything that went into the making of this mansion.
When KCR and family performed the ‘gruha pravesham’ (house warming ceremony) of their new residence, built at a cost of Rs 36 crore of public money, he also made his spiritual guru Sri Sri Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar sit for a few minutes on the chief minister’s seat in the official chambers, triggering a political furore.
“KCR’s obsession with the disputed science of Vaastu has been evident in that he inspected bungalow after bungalow before picking his official residence after he was sworn in on 2 June 2014.”
After choosing a group of quarters meant for IAS officers in Kundanbagh and ordering their demolition for making his official home, he had second thoughts, and reluctantly occupied the ‘jinxed’ camp office built nine years ago at Begumpet by late Congress chief minister YS Rajashekhar Reddy. The building, spread over two acres and built at a cost of Rs 10 crore, was branded ‘jinxed and unlucky’ after the chopper crash death of YSR and the unsavoury term of his successor K Rosaiah, who quit as chief minister within a few months of coming to the helm. KCR has also changed the vehicles of his convoy twice. From the Tata Safari fleet he inherited from Kiran Kumar Reddy, the government first bought bullet-proof black Scorpios at a cost of Rs 6 crore. But soon, on vaastu advice, he shifted to another fleet of white Scorpio cars,” adds Radhakrishna.
Unalloyed Devotion
In undivided AP, astrology and vaastu commanded the unalloyed devotion of political bigwigs. From the days of former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to Telugu Desam Party supremo NT Rama Rao, Vaastu experts had occupied powerful positions in various regimes.
KCR’s mentor NT Rama Rao was known for his strong belief in superstitions. As an actor, during the making of his magnum opus, ‘Vishwamitra’, in which he played the lead role and also directed the film, he switched over to wearing saffron robes and always sat on a deer skin. He wanted to live the character in real life too.
This continued even after he became chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. He called me to his residence at 5 am once to give an interview. And there he was, sitting on a deer skin after his bath and puja! As per his personal astrologer, he had to finish media interviews before the sun rises!

The Showman
NTR had rewarded his personal astrologer, BV Mohan Reddy, with an Assembly seat and also made him a minister. Not far behind was Marri Channa Reddy, whose trusted vaastu architect BN Reddy got a Rajya Sabha seat.
When TDP came to power for the first time under the leadership of NTR, his house in Troop Bazar was renovated and additions made to suit a chief minister’s home. NTR owned a farmhouse at Gandipet on the outskirts of Hyderabad, which was also officially renovated.
A ‘shanti kutir’ (meaning peace hut, a hut with grass roof and air conditioning) was built for NTR’s use during weekends. The same model was replicated during TDP’s Mahanadu events in various cities, as NTR, who had donned the saffron robes of ‘Raja Rishi’ then, would not spend nights in hotels or guest houses.

Chandrababu’s Whims
The new state of Andhra Pradesh may be in the midst of a major financial crunch but this has not stopped Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu from spending a whopping Rs 100 crore of public money on tours, offices, residences and also staff. This includes redecorations of his various offices at Hyderabad and Vijayawada, chartered flights for himself and his staff from Hyderabad to Vijayawada, Delhi and Singapore.
To date, the AP government has redone four to five offices and camp offices (residences) for the chief minister in both Hyderabad and Vijayawada. The government spent over Rs 40 crore on redoing H Block and the 7th and 8th floors in L Block of the Secretariat in Hyderabad.
Naidu has another office coming up at Amaravati and another residence geared up at his farmhouse at Madinaguda on the outskirts of Hyderabad. His personal staff and team of writers and officials working at both residence and in the CMO cost the government nearly Rs 3.5 crore. “He is a chief minister who hardly sleeps and is on the job 18 hours a day even at the age of 65,” defends a CMO spokesperson.
Hypocrisy
In Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian parties outwardly decry and ridicule practitioners of astrology, etc, but leaders, barring the late chief minister Dr M Karunanidhi, had been secretly following ‘guidance’ from astrologers.
The famous Kerala astrologer Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker was known as the personal astrologer of AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha. Panicker shot to fame after he predicted a massive victory for Jayalalitha in 2001 through a ‘prasnam’. (Prasnam is one of the six important branches of Hindu astrology. In this an astrologer attempts to answer a question by constructing a horoscope for the exact time at which the question was received and understood by the astrologer.)
After coming to power, she paid a visit to Guruvayur and other Kerala temples following his advice.
Jayalalithaa is understood to be a very keen follower of astrology and never even stepped out of her house without checking the auspicious time. The choice of the time is also very much vetted by an astrologer. She was also a strong believer in numerology. She added an extra `a’ to her name after she lost power in 2006 and was also jailed for a brief while. She stated signing as J Jayalalithaa after 2007, till her death. Another strong but strange notion she had is in the choice of colours. She always wore a green or maroon sari, and green almost became the state colour during her regime. All the government buildings, including the water tanks even in remote villages and towns, were painted green, as were the state transport buses.
Incidentally, her party symbol is also two green leaves.
Her political opponent Karunanidhi belonged to another extreme. In a state where EVR Periyar had sown the seeds of rationalism and drove home his message that wisdom lies in thinking and that the spear-head of thinking is rationalism, Karunanidhi was the torch-bearer of the movement against superstitious beliefs. He was an atheist to the core and never visited any temples. Godmen like Satya Saibaba went all the way to his Gopalapuram residence to meet him. It is said Saibaba never visited even the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but went to the then chief minister’s house.
In Karnataka, which has perhaps the largest number of mutts and seers in the country, the Deve Gowda family is known to be strong believers in astrology, godmen, and are great patrons of anything to do with religion. Gowda and his son Kumaraswamy’s frequent temple and mutt visits are much criticised by their opponents as well as the public.
Former chief minister and Congress strongman, Siddaramaiah is like Karunanidhi—an atheist and someone who ridicules superstition. To his credit, during his chief ministership a couple of years ago, he introduced the Anti-Superstition Bill, the first of its kind in the country, which provided for stringent punishment to practitioners of various occult sciences who were misleading gullible people.
The much-delayed and debated Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017, popularly known as the anti-superstition Bill, was finally passed with some minor changes.
The Bill is expected to put an end to various inhuman practices such as black magic, witchcraft, or any act in the name of religion that causes harm to humans and animals. However, acts such as Kesh Lochan (plucking of hair), Vaastu and astrology have not been barred.
Some of the strange practices which were stopped thanks to this legislation are the infamous ritual of babies being thrown from the top of a temple in Bagalkot to make them stronger, the ‘made snana’ or rolling over left-over food eaten by Brahmans at the Kukke Subramanya temple near Mangalore and another dozen bizarre rituals. Shockingly the BJPplayed politics and this bill which seeks to make bizarre rituals punishable was strongly opposed by the BJP and other Hindu groups like the VHP and Bajrang Dal.
The bill also sought to ban common practices like astrology but it hasn’t gone down too well the Hindu groups. “Astrology on TV shows should be banned but people should be allowed to visit astrologers privately,” says Sri Veerabhadra Channamalla Mahaswamigalu, a well-known pontiff in Bangalore. “We should neither accept everything nor completely reject everything,” he added.

Vaāstu’s Vaastav

Is Vaastu a true science? There are many ‘liberals’ who deride it, though since the mid-1980s it has become a rage. Pundit Sanjay Rath, scion of an established family of astrologers, writes about the ancient science, and his background as an engineer gives his logic some compelling force

vaastus-vaastav
Sanjay Rath
Sanjay Rath

Sanjay Rath belongs to a traditional family of astrologers from Bira Balabhadrapur Sasan village of Puri, Odisha, which traces their lineage back to Shri Achyuta Das (Shri Achyutananda). His grandfather, the late Pandit Jagannath Rath, was the Jyotish Ratna of Odisha and authored many books on Jyotish. He began his studies at a tender age, and achieved the depth of Jyotish only found among those who have been trained in the ancient. His website is srath.com

The word Vaastu refers to a shelter, either for the self or deity. Vaastu Shastra means the science (shastra) of construction of a Vaastu whereas Shilpa refers to the art of making it aesthetic and appealing to the senses of the inhabitants of house/ building. The science of house building is very ancient in India. The knowledge has come down from creator Brahma through an unbroken succession of sages.
According to Vishwakarma, the celestial architect, Lord Brahma was the first recipient of this knowledge from Lord Shiva as a part of the Vedas, just like He received the knowledge of Jyotish.
Vaastu Shastra as is practised presently is based on the 125 verses contained in Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira, the ancient Indian scientist. This very point indicates the vital link between Jyotish and Vaastu. Unfortunately, what the standard Vaastu experts are applying today is the use of temple architecture in homes and offices. There is a need to use the Astakavarga and other charts of Vedic Astrology along with Vaastu principles for every individual home, provided this is to be designed for a particular person to occupy for a long period. If instead flats and apartments are being designed for the general public, then the standard principles can be used.
Vaastu Principles
The following are some of the Vaastu-logically correct principles of house making and design. Please note that like most of the ancient sciences, some of the knowledge that is contained in these principles may not be any more relevant at present times. However, the very basic of Vaastu principles will always continue to be beneficial to the mankind in one form or the other.

The basic principles of vaastu are:
1. If you are in the process of buying a plot or site, please remember that plots/sites in South West, South and West directions are more advantageous than others.
2. According to Vaastu, the most beneficial entrances in the house are those in North East, East or North direction.
3. Living Room or the dining room is best looked in East, North and Northeast directions.
4. The bedroom according to Vaastu should be in southwest/south or west direction.
5. The children’s bedroom should ideally be in Northwest. It could be in Southeast and North as well, but never in southwest or south.
6. If you are fortunate enough in present times to have the luxury of having a separate room for the guests, make the guestroom in Northwest or northeast direction.
7. The kitchen of the house is ideally located in Southeast followed by Northwest and East.
8. Bathrooms and toilets should be in Northwest of the house or in West or South direction.
9. While purchasing a plot or a site, it is advisable to go in for a rectangular or square shape. As far as possible, the site should be slopping towards North and East or Northeast.
10. While making the building or the house, it is advisable to have equal open space on all four sides. The levels of open spaces should be higher in South and West side and lower in North and East side. Outlets of rainwater should be in Northeast or North zones.
11. The living room of the central zone (Brahmasthan) should be free from any kind of obstructions. By obstructions, we mean any kind of beam, pillar, fixture, toilet, staircase or even a wall or lift.
12. The direction in which you sleep is also very important. One should never sleep with head in the north. Sleeping with head towards south ensures long life. While on a journey, it is advisable to sleep with head towards west.
13. In your study room, have your seat so as to face east or north. Do not have a toilet in the study room, though you can have a bathroom.
14. Do not use a dark colour in the study room. Use yellow or white or pink. Put the book shelf in east or north.

15. If you construct more than a floor, prepare the first floor on Southwest. The height of first floor shall not exceed that of ground floor. Do not build a storeroom on first floor.
16. It is said that a storeroom in the Northwest corner leads to abundant supply of essential commodities. Keep a holy picture on one eastern wall. Light colours should not be used on the storeroom. Use dark colours or blue or green. Never sleep in the storeroom at night. Also, refrain from taking out grains from the storeroom at night. 17. The bathroom/bathrooms can be either inside or outside the house. In case it is inside, it should be located on the eastern or northern side. (If attached to a bedroom, then to eastern or northern side of the bedroom). When located outside, then it should be in Northeast corner, but away from the main building. The lavatories are forbidden in Northeast, Center, Southwest and West directions of the house.
18. Vaastu Shastra also guides us about what type of plants and trees should be planted around a dwelling unit so as to enjoy their positive properties the most.
19. Vaastu does not prescribe having a Mango, Banana or a Jamun tree very near your house. However, Peepal at some distance from the house in West direction is considered auspicious as is Imli in South West of the house.
20. It is also auspicious to have an Anaar, Ashoka, Chandan, Champa, Chameli, Gulaab, Nariyal and Keshar tree around a house.
21. On the size and shape of the door, Vaastu advises that width of the door should be half of the height of the door. Square doors as also automatic doors should be avoided.
22. The Paintings/statues in the house are also important. One should not have pictures depicting war scenes (even if they belong to the Epic Mahabharata or Ramayan battles) in rooms other than the office. Similarly, scenes depicting negativities of life like sorrow, struggle, violence (including that of wild beasts), tragedy and of calamities should not be kept.
Warning: Before you start tearing down your beautiful home, please ensure that you have had a Vaastu reading of your chart and determined what is right for you. One house can bring marriage and children for a couple while the same house can bring death for another. The Vaastu of the house does not change but affects different people differently. Know about this from your chart before venturing into Vaastu homes.

Sati’s Yoni Mystique

Enraged by insult to her husband, Lord Shiva, by her father, Sati killed herself. An incensed Shiva took her body and went into Tandav, the dance that would destroy Creation. Lord Vishnu then sliced Sati’s body to stop him, and the Yoni fell in Kamakshya

satis-yoni-mystique
Rajeev Bhattacharya
Rajeev Bhattacharya

The author is a senior Guwahati-based journalist. He’s a Chevening scholar and has worked with the Times of India, Indian Express, The Telegraph and Times Now television. He is the author of two books on the northeast dealing with continuous insurgency

Kamakshya Temple, situated atop Nilachal Hill in Guwahati, is one of the fifty-one Shakti Peeths found throughout the Indian subcontinent which are places of worship consecrated to the Mother Goddess, the female principal of Hinduism and the main deity of the Shakta sect. The Peeths are shrines which are found throughout the Indian subcontinent. Kamakshya derives its name from the Hindu God of love, Kamadeva. According to mythology, the god had sought out Shakti’s womb and genitals after having lost virility to a curse. As a tribute to Shakti and her ability to lend back Kamadeva his potency, the deity of Kamakshya Devi was installed and continues to be worshipped until today. Mention of Kamakshya temple is found in various ancient scriptures. In Kalika Purana, Kamakshya is referred to as the goddess who fulfils all desires, the bride of Lord Shiva and the benefactor of salvation. There is no idol of the goddess in the temple; the item of worship is a yoni wrapped with a piece of red cloth over which flows a perennial spring keeping it moist.
The origin of the temple centres around the Hindu gods Shiva and Sati. Sati married Lord Shiva against the wishes of her father, King Daksha. He did not invite them when a yajna was performed. Sati was upset, but decided to go to her father’s palace much against Shiva’s advice. When she reached there, her father insulted her and Shiva. Unable to bear the insult to her husband Shiva, she jumped into the yajna fire and killed herself. Enraged over the incident, Shiva held the dead body of Sati in his arms and began the dance of destruction of the universe, which is called Tandav Nritya.
Lord Vishnu stepped in to save the universe and cut the body of Sati into pieces with his Sudarshan Chakra.. he Sudarshana Chakra is a spinning, disk-like weapon, literally meaning “disk of auspicious vision,” having 108 serrated edges used by the Hindu god Vishnu. Various body parts of Sati fell at different places which came to be known as Shakti Peeths. The yoni of the goddess fell at the Nilachal Hills in Guwahati.
Another story of Kamakshya is associated with a demon called Naraka, who fell in love with the goddess and wanted to marry her. The goddess put a condition that if he would be able to build a staircase from the bottom of the Nilachal Hill to the temple within one night, then she would surely marry him. The incomplete staircase is known as Mekhelauja Path. Naraka took it as a challenge and was almost about to accomplish the task when the Devi decided to play a trick on him. She forced a cock to crow to give the impression of dawn to Naraka. Deceived by the trick, Naraka thought it was futile to continue with building the staircase and left it halfway through. Later, Naraka chased the cock and killed it at a place called Kukurakata, situated at Darrang, about 70 kms north-east of Guwahati.
But of the many legends behind the Shakti Peeths, the one most time-honoured is that of the slicing of Sati’s body by Lord Vishnu to control Shiva’s celestial rage.
According to archaeologists, the origin of Kamakshya temple dates back to the eighth and ninth centuries. Some religious texts are of the view that the temple was demolished in the 15th century by Kalapahad, an Afghan general of the Sultan of Bengal in the mid-16th century. The ruins of Kamakshya temple were discovered by Koch king Viswasingha and he revived the worship of the goddess. His son Naranarayan reconstructed it with the help of his brother and general Chilarai.
Kamakshya is considered one of the most important centres of tantric worship in the world where goats and buffaloes are also sacrificed to propitiate the Goddess. The temples of the Dasamahavidya personifying the ten different forms of Shakti, Anga Devata and other temples dedicated to various deities are located within the Nilachal hills. The tantric sadhak offers puja at each of these temples at specific levels of his attainment. Apart from the daily puja offered at the shrine, a number of special pujas are also held round the year which includes Durga Puja, Pohan Biya, Durgadeul, Vasanti Puja, Madandeul, Ambubachi and Manasa Puja. The event that draws the maximum crowd is the Ambubachi puja when the Goddess is believed to go through the menstrual period. The temple remains closed for three days and then opens with great festivity on the fourth day.
(Ambubachi is central to the fertility cult, as it is believed that Mother Earth goes into menstruation. Scholars say that these few days – June 23 to June 26 – are the time when the earth is attaining maximum fertility, and the rituals warrant abstention from all agricultural activity. After the festivity, agricultural activity restarts.
All the rituals are performed by different category of priests and their retainers as per the norms laid down in the scriptures at different times. Brahmans well versed in the Vedas, Puranas and Samhitas supervise of the rites and rituals; Pujaris performed with the rites and ritualistic practices; Bidhipathaks (Scriptures) are read to guide the pujaris (priests) in the observance of the rules of such pujas and the recitation of the mantras.
Hotas perform the rites associated with the fire altar and Chandipathaks recite the “Chandi” or book of chants related to the invocation of the Goddess. Supakars are entrusted with the task of preparing the daily offering of “Bhog” or food offerings to the deity.
In addition to the Brahmans, different categories of non-brahman families fulfil other roles such that are associated with the smooth functioning of the entire process of worship and are intrinsically related to the ritualistic practices.
The elaborate paraphernalia of the shrine notwithstanding, there are murmurs among some sections that the tantric tradition could be fizzling out from the complex. Decades ago, names of tantrics were heard who would offer remedies to people suffering from various ailments and difficulties. During the festivals like Ambubachi Mela or Deodhani Nritya, it is still not uncommon to see people huddling with sadhaks and attentively listening to them. Rajib Sarmah, researcher and a candipathak priest at the temple, however, feels that tantric practices are not becoming extinct from Kamakshya shrine. “The tradition is highly secretive, strictly based on lineage and not discussed with anybody else. Only those who are initiated into the tradition are allowed access to the knowledge and rituals. The external appearance of the complex has undoubtedly changed and it has somewhat become similar to other temples in the country. But at the same time, the tantric tradition has continued as in the previous times,” he said. Another tantric practitioner who did not wish to be named explained that sadhaks from all over the country come to Kamakshya for initiation into the tantric tradition. He added that different categories of practitioners are found associated with the temple depending upon their levels of attainment on the tantric path.
Visitors to Kamakshya shrine have been increasing since the past several years. Among them are also people who offer pujas at the shrines as an astrological remedy, since the deities are also associated with each of the nine planets. Of late, a growing number of foreigners have been spotted at the festivals, which also include a small number of researchers of the tantric tradition at the complex.
The government has also sanctioned funds with the goal to develop it as a major tourist spot. Certain changes have been brought about in the complex like installation of railings, tiles and a facelift to the different shrines which have also invited criticism that the original flavour of the temple has been transformed to resemble a structure in the northern region of the country.


Judicial Faux Pas and Baseless Jubilation

The Rafale judgment unwittingly rescued BJP in a moment of defeat, but is based on a ‘typing error’

judicial-faux-pas-and-baseless-jubilation
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

It was a cheerful December Friday for a party that was crestfallen. The three-judge Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi dismissed three Public Interest Litigation (PILs) accusing the Modi government of breaking rules and favouring a private corporation in the purchase of the French medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCS) Rafale from Dassault Aviation. One of three petitions was filed by Prashant Bhushan and two former BJP ministers, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.
It came as a relief to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had lost the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the Congress on December 11. The ruling party, which prided itself in ruling large parts of the country, was indeed browbeaten, and the BJP leaders went silent. On Friday, December 14, 2018, within hours after the Supreme Court judgment became public, the combative BJP president Amit Shah called for a press conference at 1 pm at the party headquarters in New Delhi, and he read out parts of the judgment which exonerated the Modi government of any wrong-doing in the controversial defense deal.
Shah advised Congress president Rahul Gandhi not to base his campaign on “white lies” for “temporary advantage” and he said that “lies have no legs”. He went on to pose some key questions to Gandhi. The BJP president wanted to know as to who was the source of Gandhi’s information about the allegations he (Gandhi) made on the deal? He asked Gandhi: “Why did you not finalise the deal from 2007 to 2014?” He said that Gandhi should reveal his source. He advised Gandhi “to avoid childish allegations”.
He clarified that the 36 fighter planes that Prime Minister Modi purchased in April 2015 on his visit to France “will be made in France” and not in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) or by the Ambanis. Shah tied himself up in a knot when he said that the Rafale deal was a government-to-government deal, and asked Gandhi: “Why did you not do government-to-government deal?” He had completely forgotten, or may be his freshly minted bravado had erased that crucial fact, that India was buying the Rafale fighter jets from a private manufacturer and that the French government has nothing to do with it.
And Shah said that he would answer questions to BJP’s poll defeat in the three states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh – in a separate press conference, which he promised to call soon. He hoped that the media would carry the message of the Supreme Court verdict clearing the Modi government and the report would be taken to the people.
At 4 pm on the same day, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke for the BJP-led NDA government of Modi on the same issue. Sitharaman quoted from the court judgment - as had Shah - to show that there was no wrong-doing of any kind in the Rafale deal. Jaitley too framed the issue as one between “truth and falsehood”. He too wanted to know “why the deal was stopped if not abandoned” under the UPA, and why time was lost between 2009 and 2014.
He said that the non-weaponised aircraft was nine per cent cheaper and the weaponised aircraft 20 per cent cheaper in terms of 2016 prices. He also said that the off-set policy was decided in 2005 and the Congress “cannot taint the off-set-mechanism” by which a private sector Indian player was to be involved in defense production.
But the court’s faux pas about the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report being submitted to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) when it was not, has indeed created a flutter which the government and the party tried to gloss over. But it raised eyebrows about what has been described as a ‘typing error’. When I asked Shah, and again Sitharaman and Jaitley, whether the Modi government was not clear about meeting the total requirement of the Indian Air Force of 126 fighter jets, and that in its whole term, the government has made a deal only for 36, Shah assured that the IAF’s needs will be met and it takes time.
Sitharaman and Jaitley denied that there was any tardiness in getting the remaining 90 aircrafts, though there was no clarity as to what was being done about it.

From Arab Spring To MeToo

It is necessary to examine whether the revolutions being enacted on the social media are changing the reality in any meaningful way

from-arab-spring-to-metoo
Prem Prakash
Prem Prakash

Prem Prakash has been a journalist for three decades. He has worked with Navbharat Times, Jansatta, Sahara Samay, Rashtriya Sahara and National Duniya. He is much discussed for his creative interventions in the criticism of Gandhian thought. He is the author of many books.

MeToo campaign is moving forward two steps every day; evidence and criticism are also being put up with conviction and strength. The interesting thing is that from the National Women’s Commission to the common person with discernment is not against it, everyone is supporting it. But if this movement has to reach a radical conclusion apart from the daily revelations and the increasing shaming of men every day, then it is necessary, to entertain great hopes from this movement would be to turn our eyes away from the decade-old history of social media and the many movements that it gave rise to. It is necessary to look at the MeToo movement in the context of similar movements and to look boldly at its past to reach a critical perspective.
Fourteen years ago, sitting in a room with a computer Mark Zuckerberg had brought the idea of Facebook into the Internet world, he was sure of its success because he had with him because along with names and addresses of people he was able to accumulate in digital form likes and dislikes, and responses to different life situations and contexts. He would then say to his friends that he is going to ride the strong and big wave of change because I am not just capable of reaching people but I am able to pry into them.
The claims of Zuckerberg who is able to influence the electoral process from America to India were turning out to be true.
There is another side to the prediction of Zuckerberg. This is connected with the many misperceptions and analyses of the Information Revolution. In reality, ever since digital revolutions had begun to dance in the open arms of market, ever since society, relationships and dealings have turned into a desire for self-expression and also a wish for instant revolution. When in 2010 Arab Spring broke out and people saw the power of social media and the change of social and political change through it, somewhere the idea was glimmering that the vocabulary of protest and leadership was undergoing a change. As the hopes that sprang from the Arab Spring faded before our eyes, in many other uprisings there was nothing more than sensation and buzz for a while. Before we discuss and understand the MeToo movement, it is necessary to grasp the decade-old developments in the social media.

The other thing to grasp in this context is the distinction that Simone de Beauvoir had made for the first time between sex and gender and placed it before the world and she put forward the powerful logical argument that at the end of it all how a woman in the context of her time and place and the situation it implies is reduced to her bodily existence, and how her physicality determines her sensibility and her activity. The logic and criticism initiated seventy years ago by Simone has shaped the women’s movement ever since and aspired for liberation from the body.
No one will deny that from the touch button of the mobile to the computer mouse the expression of the woman’s rich world that has been created in the last decade has exposed men’s thinking about, and behaviour, towards women. It can be said in an almost ritualistic way that the information revolution has helped in women expressing themselves fearlessly as never before and that they are living through the most uninhibited era ever. But it remains to be assessed how much of a difference did this uninhibited mode has made to the real life of women. It is also necessary in this context to underline certain things. The most important among these is that on the highway of markets and needs, the speed at which women began to work alongside men also meant that the working conditions of women outside the homes had become horrid.
The MeToo movement which has gained such momentum that a minister in the Government of India had to quit intends to bring to light the horridness of the position of women and to incorporate the reactions of the country and society to the situation. It is necessary to clarify here that whatever has been said and whatever clarifications and arguments have been offered with regard to the MeToo movement, there is no space in it for the painful and humiliating experience of a common woman. Even if there is space for the pain of the common women, it still remains outside the scope of the criticism that has emerged, and the hopes that have been raised by, the MeToo movement. The women who have spoken in #MeToo were either well-known personalities or the men against whom the complaints were men of established reputation. Why should this not be, because the contradiction was evident from the very beginning that only those could connect with the social empowerment that was the basis for the information revolution who have made a mark because of their education, wealth and fame and who are far ahead of others.
The beginning of the MeToo campaign is not separate from this. It was American civil rights activist Tarana Burke who had started this in 2006. It is 11 years after her speaking out that it had gone viral on the social media in 2017. Until now, from America to India, all the women who spoke out were either part of the television-cinema world or they are connected with big media corporations. Similarly, the men against whom the charges were made were big names and who were well known. It can be said that in a way the MeToo campaign has pulled down masks of people who succeeded in the society’s glamorous fields and who are considered as ideal and who are looked up to as icons, and world has been made familiar with the hidden truth.
Experience shows that it is doubtful this movement can achieve something beyond newspaper sensationalism and trial by media. The voices raised for gender equality are sure to empower society to move forward but it is not possible to achieve something beyond this if the market-information system is not committed to the self-respect of women. In the world of mouse-and-click where the issues of justice for half the world are raising new challenges and new arguments, the uninhibited self-expression of women has become a moot issue, there are tendencies present in the same universe and people who naturally – sipping milk as it were – look upon woman as an object of pleasure, and who want to keep her only to gaze at her.
Earlier too, the force of hash tag causing a social storm and transforming reality remains a mirage and one should not have much expectation this time too. If we want to take this discussion forward towards a conclusion tied to the Gandhian tenet of listening to and understanding what the last woman and the last man have to say does not become evident on the mobile screen and on the computer screen, until then the shadow of the mirage will not allow the reality of truth to emerge.

How To Become The Best - MC Mary Kom

I have been observing the overall performances of our country in sports, and there have been many improvements but changes are very much needed

how-to-become-the-best
MC Mary Kom
MC Mary Kom

Mary Kom reigns the world as the six-time world women’s boxing champion and has shown what Indians can do

Let me begin from the scenario in Manipur where I hail from. The border state has been named as the “Power House of Sports for India” for having produced and contributed the maximum number of sportspersons for the country. In contrast, it is rather strange that the sports infrastructure in the state leaves much to be desired and inadequate compared to the rest of the states and cities. It has been sheer hard work and passion that have driven many of us to achieve success and reach this far in sports.
In Northeast India, perhaps because of its social and economic challenges and unemployment issues, more and more youngsters are adopting sports as their careers. The encouraging results are not surprising because many of them are indeed extremely talented. This has impacted society very positively, resulting in a transformation of sorts that has brought laurels to the country. But of course, the country has immense scope to do better.
I have been observing the overall performances of our country in sports and though there have been many developments and improvements in the systems and performance, in some disciplines we are traversing the other direction of going down the ladder. Perhaps the world is going at a faster pace than us in every aspect and we are maintaining the same speed. But this has led to a gradual downfall in our achievement and performance in sports.


Alarm Bells
We need to be alarmed, understand and rectify before we are left behind by every country. We cannot ignore the talents and potential available among the millions of our population. I have always respected and quoted the human resources in our country which is nowhere less from the rest of the world, but somewhere we have failed to nurture and guide those talents efficiently. The government can promote sports and take it to the next level. I believe that with perfect implementation of all policies and plans in sports, we will be able to change the fate of Indian sports in the world.
What the world demands today is the MORE and the BEST in every field. Competitions are tough everywhere today, be it in sports or academic or at the job avenues. We need to prove that we are the best and that’s the only option. This is where the need arises for us to wake up and take a leap from the existing system. Being a sportsperson, my knowledge is limited to my discipline and I might not be able to give an insight that could make Indian sports traverse a better way and reach a higher level. But I would like to share a few thoughts and conclusions based on my journey so far.
Sports Experts & Coaches We are more dependent on our experiences than the new research and techniques being put into trial. Is it not possible to accord a higher status to our coaches and experts in sports and expose them to avenues of learning and updating their skills and knowledge? This can help us in churning the whole learning into a refined and appropriate training methods or manual.
Periodical Refresher Course: Coaches and trainers should be given orientation programmes, training of trainers’ course and exposure to different sports academies and centres in the country and abroad for cross-learning and be updated both technically and practically.
Scientific Methods
We should not ignore our traditional and experience-based training methods but it is high time to also adopt scientific methods as well, which must go along with SPORTS SCIENCE and MEDICINE, which in turn will enable us to track our strength, deficiency and deal it with proper interventions.
Mental Health
We also need psychologists and counselors to assist athletes at all time as we all go through the roller-coaster ride, which will have a profound impact on their performances. We need to be mentally strong to win an opponent under any circumstance. Being confident is as half won.
Spotting The Talent
If we go back to decades from now, we identified talented sportspersons only when they have reached the national level but they could be either someone who is young or at the end of his / her career. We wait for someone to prove himself / herself really good in their specific discipline. I wish we could identify talents at a younger age (even below 10 years), though Khelo India has already started. Then, we need to design the training plan depending upon their age group and capabilities.
Nutrition & Supplement: Proper guidance for sportspersons concerning intake of nutrition and supplements at different age groups is very necessary for the player to grow in their field.
Awareness On Anti-Doping:
Out of ignorance, many sportspersons fall prey to doping. A proper awareness should be imparted on anti-doping with clear specifications of the medicines and compositions they need to avoid.

Athletes’ Support In a state like Manipur, it is difficult to find senior sportspersons and are not given any attention as well. In fact they have no place for training or any facilities that could be of benefit. As most of them hail from poor family background, their priority is diverted to finding a secured job for supporting their family. This way, we have lost quiet a many of them who could have brought us medals at the international levels. Only a handful of them were fortunate enough to train well even after finding a job. We need to monitor and keep a close vigil to identify these talented men and women wherever they are. Equally important is to ensure that they continue rendering service and sharing their expertise and experiences.
Free And Fair Games
A minor mistake made by juries and officials can topple all chances of winning medals and even spoil the career of medal prospects of the country. We should always be alert and careful at all stages of trial selections and competitions. We should not limit ourselves and confine judgments to a district, state, region or caste but expand to cover the entire country at every level.


Involvement Of Corporates
We should not deny the contribution made to sports by the corporate sector of our country. They have done an excellent job and we should encourage them to do better and we should not be entirely dependent upon the Government. My only wish and dream is to take our country to the next level in sports. It will call for a lot of hard labour and efforts but again, WE ARE NO LESS than anybody. We have the potential. Let us support our sportspersons, let us dream and let us win together.
(As told to Rajeev Bhattacharyya, exclusively for Parliamentarian)

Is The Riot In Bulandshahr Accidental? Or Is It A Political Smoke Signal?

Communal polarization is a double-edged sword and it may not always help the BJP

is-the-riot-in-bulandshahr-accidental-or-is-it-a-political-smoke-signal
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

While Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was threatening that if the BJP came to power in Telangana, All-India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi will flee the country as the Nizam did (of course, it was not true that the Nizam fled, he remained in Hyderabad until his death in 1967 and contributed 5 tonnes of gold worth Rs 75 lakh then and Rs 1500 crore at current prices to the war fund in 1965 at the request of then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri) and that he would rename Hyderabad Bhagyanagar. History has never been a strong point when the BJP leaders indulge in anti-Muslim rage. But back in the small and sensitive town of Bulandshahr in the home state of Chief Minister Adityanath, a riot broke out on Monday on the pretext of cow slaughter, and a police inspector was killed as also one other person. Those arrested include members of the Bajrang Dal, and it does not a Sherlock Holmes to know who is behind the violence.
The Bulandshahr riot assumes gravity because of the killing of the police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, and another person, 21-year-old Sumit. It was coincidence that Singh had investigated the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri for alleged possession of beef.
The interesting question is whether this was an accidental outbreak of violence which is bound to happen in a backward state like Uttar Pradesh where law and order is fragile and communal tensions are on the boil. But with Rajasthan assembly elections round the corner, it seems that it may not be an accidental eruption and that it is meant as a smoke signal for the election in the neighbouring state. It will be hard to prove the connection but the BJP cadres and local leaders in Rajasthan would not want to let go an opportunity to make cow protection an election issue based on the Bulandshahr incident in the conservative state.
The worst fears of the political rivals of the BJP, including the Congress, who feel helpless in the face of the virulent communal rhetoric of the right-wing Hindu party, seem confirmed that the BJP would not hesitate to engineer a riot or raise the bogey of cow protection or the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya to win an election. If the Congress can be accused of trying to win the Muslim vote by pointing to the Hindu communalists, it is not beyond the BJP to rake up communal frenzy in the majority community to win an election.
When there is breakdown of law and order, and there is fear and tension in the air, it is people at large who are affected by it, and their caste and creed does not matter. It is a point when people lose faith in the government of the day. Whichever party happens to be in power has to bear the responsibility of riots, deaths and injuries. The BJP government of Chief Minister Adityanath cannot duck responsibility for the Bulandshahr eruption.
The BJP and other militant Hindu organizations have every right to campaign for cow protection but they have no right to indulge in arson and rioting as they did in Bulandshahr. And wherever the BJP is in power, its governments have no option but to take strict action against the rioters even when they happen to right-wing Hindu organizations like the Bajrang Dal as in this case of Bulandshahr. People are not likely to vote for the BJP if they feel that BJP governments condone the criminal acts of Hindu organizations. We get back to the famous, cryptic dictum of later Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he murmured the advice to then chief minister of Gujarat, now prime minister, Narendra Modi, that he should follow ‘raj dharma’. Today, Prime Minister Modi has the duty to advice Chief Minister Adityanath to follow ‘raj dharma’ and take strict action against the rioters in Bulandhshahr.
And whatever the temptation for communal polarization in the belief that it would help the BJP, BJP leaders will have to think of the backlash. People do not easily accept governments which allow rioters from their own parties to get away. Communalism and the consequent violence is indeed a double-edged sword. It is quite likely to backfire, something that the BJP’s top brass cannot rule out.

Ripples Of Fear In Arab Circles

Closer ties between India and Israel based on countering ‘Islamic’ terrorism make India’s traditional friends in West Asia and North Africa apprehensive

ripples-of-fear-in-arab-circles
Dr Waiel SH Awwad
Dr Waiel SH Awwad

Dr Waiel SH Awwad is a senior Syrian ­journalist based in New Delhi

Currently, there are more than 14 million Indians visiting the Arab world annually, and more than 7 million expatriates residing in the Gulf countries resulting in more than US $73 billion remittances to India. The bilateral trade exceeds US $150 billion. India imports 65% of its oil from the region and hence oil security is of prime importance. According to experts, India’s foreign policy underwent a change because of New Delhi’s desire to improve its economy and development, working with the East, using its soft power by strengthening connection with Indian Diaspora, and at the same time to develop close ties with the West. In the Nehru era of the 1950s, the Indian foreign policy was marked by the spirit of anti-colonialism, independence of judgment, support of just causes in adherence to international law and the United Nations charter, in addition to the proximity of the Arab countries to India geopolitically, taking in consideration its national interest. It is worth mentioning that the large Indian Muslim population helped successive Indian governments to be closer to the Arab causes. This policy continued to be supportive toward the Palestinian cause. India supported the right of Palestinians for an independent state alongside Israel, coexisting in peace and harmony. India’s stand has remained constant. India’s commitment to Palestine may appear to have weakened under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who enjoys a close relation with his Israeli counter-part, right-wing nationalist Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Modi is the first Indian prime minister to visit Tel Aviv. New Delhi calls it the pragmatic phase of its foreign policy. This phase emerged after the end of cold war, collapse of the Soviet Union and opening of the economy since the early nineties. The Arab world saw India as an emerging power to reckon. It was understood that India is looking for modernization, of enhancing its security and military capability with a high economic growth rate. USA and Israel turned out to be the top technology and military suppliers along with Russia. India normalised ties with Israel after the Madrid Peace conference. This relationship was closely watched by Arab countries, because of the fear that it may be at the cost of the Arab cause since a peace agreement with Israel is yet to materialise. According to reports, New Delhi’s change in attitude towards West Asia was visible as India moved closer to Israel. There is also a strong belief that India wants to fight Pakistan with the support of the Arabs. The foreign policy of India toward the region is now based on ideology and not pragmatism. The position of Muslims in India has become vulnerable under the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-mentored Modi government, with reports of discrimination, attacks on minorities, and destruction of their properties in different parts of India. Many radical groups are taking the law into their hands right under the nose of the Modi government. On the other hand, West Asia has witnessed turbulence and escalation of tension and wars with the onset of what is called the Arab Spring in 2011. With the emergence of new powers in the Middle East, India began to get closer to the Arab region to understand these forces under political Islam. The fear of terror spreading into their own backyard is legitimate. On the other hand, it is getting closer to US and Israel in terms of counter-terrorism measures and fighting Islamic radicals. In the eyes of the Arabs, USA, Israel and the West are responsible for the anarchy in the region by arming, training and funding radicals and extremist groups. They are responsible for the creation Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and ISIS in the Levant. It was a policy of regime change that started with the Iraq invasion. As of late, US President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has prompted Israel leaders to declare whole of Palestine a homeland for the Jews and denying the Palestinians right of existence. Now they are looking at Jordan as the alternative homeland for the Palestinians .This will lead to more fighting and wars. One of the Arab newspapers said that under Modi the nationalists are charging Mahatma Gandhi with ignorance toward the Jewish because of his support to the Palestinians when he said Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same way that Britain belongs to the British and France to the French. According to website alaraby.co.uk Mahatma Gandhi had regular contacts with the Jews in South Africa who played a major role in his nonviolence movement. The Arab world sees Indian foreign policy changing under Modi and there is growing concern about the agenda of the current government toward the Muslim community, which is the second largest in the world after Indonesia. The main concerns of Modi are to promote Hindutva policy and religious backing to the Hindu community in different parts of the Arab world. This is seen through the focus on Hindu temples and Gurdwara in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries during his visits to UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman, where these countries hurriedly showed their tolerance to the existence of Hindu shrines for the Indian community in their respective countries for long years. The relationship between Israel and India is growing. It is of prime importance to the Arab world, not because of the ties as such but because of the worry from the different agendas of each party. It is conceded that it is India’s sovereign right to foster relations with any country. But the worry is of Israel’s agenda toward Arab countries as a whole. Israel is seen as an occupation force of Palestine, parts of Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. It is denying the Palestinians their right of existence in their own country. No matter what Arab leaders may say, and normalize ties with Israel, it is the Arab mass which is objecting to such a move without a comprehensive peace with Israel which looks more elusive the ever. Hence the closeness of India and Israel will always be the most difficult part since it creates the apprehension in the Arab mind that India is moving away from the Arab countries and falling for the US and Israel hegemony in the region. The more it gets closer, particularly in security and military matters, the more it worries the Arab people. In Arab eyes, India remains a bystander to the Arab – Israel conflict, and that in spite of the fact that it enjoys a close relation with all parties, it does not take a proactive role in peace process between the Arabs and Israel. It is believed that for decision-makers in New Delhi, Arab causes are secondary. When Prime Minister Modi travelled to Tel Aviv, he ignored the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah which was seen as bowing to Israeli pressure. After the 2+2 meeting with US, External Affairs Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj postponed her visit to Lebanon and Syria citing security concerns because of “prevailing situation”, while there were more the 67 Indian companies’ representatives attending Damascus 60th International Trade Fair in September. Ironically the Indian pavilion was the biggest, among the 45 countries which participated in the fair, with about 100 businessmen. The close ties with US and Israel are also meant to deal with challenging issues like terrorism, Islamophobia, “Islamic terrorism”, and checking Pakistan nexus to militant groups active in Jammu and Kashmir. There will be closer ties with both on the issue of Afghanistan and Iran in the future, while Islamabad under Imran Khan will move closer to Saudi Arabia. There is a strong belief in the Arab circles that with Modi in power, a close circle of experts are getting regular briefing about the future ties with Israel with the aim of targeting Arab and Islamic countries, in the place of India’s independent foreign policy with its “strategic autonomy”. It is widely feared that such an axis will be against the interest of Arab and Islamic nations’ ties with India, especially when you glorify colonial forces and equate a great India civilization with a 72-year-old Israel. India`s soft power, now is focusing more on education, trade, investment and military ties. It has to enhance its engagement with the Arab/Islamic world and keep a balance to be able to counter dominant USA’s influence in the region, and be a key player in the new security architecture of the region. Arab people and decision-makers are eager that emerging India should play a greater role in the region stretching from Marrakesh to Kabul. Terrorism has no religion or boundary. It spreads like a plague all over the globe and must be fought collectively by the international community. Being selective in targeting terrorist groups will not help in eliminating terrorism nor will selecting certain countries to fight it.

Where Is The Black Money? - Mark Tully

Mark Tully is the oldest hand among foreign correspondents now living in India. He had headed the BBC bureau in Delhi through tumultuous times stretching from the Emergency in 1975 to Operation Blue Star in 1984, and in 1990 he wrote ‘No Full Stops In India’, giving a ring-side view of politics and politicians, even as he looked at the cultural developments as well.

where-is-the-black-money-mark-tully
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

He remains an active observer of Indian scene, though many would consider him now as more an Indian than an outsider. But he remains the quintessential foreign correspondent even after he has ceased to be one because he brings the insider’s insight along with the outsider’s objectivity.
In an exclusive interview with Parliamentarian on a late November evening at his tastefully furnished home in Nizamuddin West, near the centuries-old resting place of Delhi’s most famous and popular Sufi master, Nizamuddin Auliya, Tully talks about his views on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ideological texture and tenor of his government. He told Parliamentarian’ Senior Editor Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr that the Modi government’s Hindutva is more pronounced than that of the previous BJP-led NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his second-in-command LK Advani. He also makes the point that unlike right-wing parties like the Republicans in the United States and the Conservatives in the United Kingdom, Modi’s BJP is committed to the free market economy, but that Modi is aware that the poor are a big constituency in the country.

Excerpts from the interview:

How do you look at India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi? What is the kind of change that you see?
I don’t know what is really going on. We will have to wait and see in the election. I think the system has awakened the idea of a Hindu India which was dormant. As I said, Vajpayee and Advani did not think it was realistic. I also think there is clear evidence that caste will still play a role. The idea of one great block of Hindu vote has not been achieved and may never be achieved.

Do you think that Modi has maintained a tactical silence on Hindutva and harped on development?
Yes, he does from time to time, he does. His sidekick Shah (BJP President Amit Shah) does not hide it. Modi does not stop Shah. He is obviously conscious of the fact that identifying himself too much with it is risky.

To what extent does a right-wing Hindutva government find acceptance either in the West or West Asia? Are they disturbed by it or do they think that it is an internal affair and they don’t want to talk about it?
It is seen by many people as part of a pattern of right-wing leaders. I think Modi is seen as part of the pattern of right-wing leaders who are coming up everywhere, from Trump to Erdogan. Of course, that part is seen as undemocratic, too much power is concentrated in one person, appealing too much to inflammatory forms of nationalism. And I think to that extent Modi is viewed with concern by a lot of people.
Are you taken in by his exclusive emphasis on technology and technology-oriented solutions to the economic problems?
Obviously he thinks so. The election campaign was about ‘badlao (change)’ and ‘vikas (development)’. I think lots of people voted for him because he was seen as different from other prime ministers. To that extent they will judge him on that record.

What do you think of the Indian opposition and the liberal critics? Have they dented Modi’s image?
I think there are points at which the opposition can attack Modi and will attack Modi. I think for instance his economic record is not bright. The question of demonetisation. If you go down the list of promises, his promise of bringing back black money. Where is the black money? This whole Rafale deal, which could be very damaging to Modi. It is too early.

To what extent as a right-wing prime minister he believes in the market economy?
He does fundamentally believe in market economy, but I think he knows the poor are a huge constituency, or the less fortunate people are a huge constituency. It is widely said, and I believe that he was rattled by Rahul Gandhi’s comment of suit-and-boot government (given his sartorial exclusivity, explanation added). Globally, politicians are realising that one of the reasons for the emergence of right-wing governments is due to leaving the markets too free, too unregulated which has caused imbalance in economic growth. It is felt that there is need for greater control over the economy, greater regulation. Francis Fukutyama has said that we need wealth distribution. He certainly said that problems were created by free market economy and he mentioned the word socialism as well.
Do you think that Modi is being pragmatic in not emphasising Hindutva?
I would not put it like that. I think he wants to be recognised as an international leader and he knows it will hurt his image if he is identified with the extreme right. But he is aware there is a constituency of Hindutva and he wants to win that constituency, and he wants to broaden that constituency and he leaves it to others to do that.

Do you think there are middleclass Indians who were liberal in the earlier decades and who have moved to the right now?
I think there are some in the middleclass who feel ‘hamara mauka aa gaya (our time has come)’.

Do you think that this constituency is large enough to enable Modi win an election?
Who knows? I do not know. Elections are very difficult to forecast. I think certainly there is a national core and it is a Hindu national core.
Is the BJP committed to a market economy as the Republicans in the United States and Conservatives in Britain?
I think the BJP is not economically ideologically rightwing. In a strange way, much of the division is about personality and not about politics. In India, one man leads. Look at all the opposition parties. They are led by single leaders. The BJP, which was relatively democratic, has now become entirely a Modi party. We can see the election as Modi vs Stop Modi. I think Modi wants to play Modi vs Rahul Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi has wisely said that he will not be leading the opposition.
Is Modi like Indira Gandhi?
He is authoritarian He is a one-man band, he runs the government. He is authoritarian in the way police and income-tax are used. Modi is like Indira Gandhi . Power is centralised and he has placed his people in key positions. He may live to regret this centralisation.

Viper-God rules

The Modi government has posted a man facing well documented serious criminal charges against him at the head of the country’s premier investigation agency: ‘clean governance’…

viper-god-rules
Chandrani Banerjee
Chandrani Banerjee

Chandrani Banerjee has studied at the Columbia Journalism School, and covered the US elections, 2016. She has also filed an experience report for UN office of Drug and Crime about the Indian migrant workers, and worked with Outlook

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has offered everything that will keep the current soap opera lasting many “Monday-to-Friday” outings on the idiot box.
The duel between CBI Director Alok Verma and a Modi-foisted ‘Special Director’ Rakesh Asthana gripped the soap lovers a few weeks ago and intermittently lights a cracker with the two reaching the Supreme Court, the latest being a warning from Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi about required secrecy not being maintained.
There are WhatsApp jokes doing the rounds on ‘how CBI raided CBI and nabbed the most corrupt officer in the backyard of the CBI’. The virulence of the malaise this time, like a mutated and wrecking form of the dengue, has put India’s premier investigation agency on the ventilator in a political ICCU. The ‘doctor-on-call’ Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi, is busy on other calls, perhaps a few more foreign tours before… Ahem!
Rao’s Rows
However, the man of the moment is M Nageswara Rao, the new interim director of CBI. If an unclean track record was the issue that led to the removal of the earlier director and special director, then the current interim CBI director would expectedly be clean, surely? But he is like a cleverly wrapped up dirty restaurant table just dressed up for the next trusting customer.
Rao, a 1986 batch Indian Police Service officer of the Odisha cadre, is from landholding Telugu community of Hyderabad and the classmate of politically blessed Garikapati Mohan Rao, who studied with him in the same school and belongs to the same village. Garikapati Rao enjoys Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s affection and proximity for long.
Nageswara has a string of controversial chapters behind him.
In 2014, he went to the court for correcting his date of birth. However, the civil services rules say if one needs to correct the date of birth, it has to be done within five years of joining the services. Nageswara was already more than 20 years beyond his allowed time. He ‘managed’ a decision in his favour, but it was clearly against the service rules.
Similarly, there is a matter of land purchase in Guntur where the land was purchased in his wife’s name and there is a court case of money laundering going on. But Rao enjoyed an uninterrupted run of luck, till a local Tamil news blogger and independent investigative online magazine Savukku reported about his illegal ‘landing’.
Speaking to Parliamentarian, the Savukku reporter who filed this report, Savukku Shankar said, “In his annual property returns, Nageswara Rao had declared that during his tenure as IG (Operations), Central Reserve Police Force, his wife Mannem Sandhya had purchased a land at Pedapalakaluru village, in Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh, measuring 13,668 sq ft, with a built-up area of 6,563 sq ft, along with her brother Ratna Babu at a cost of Rs 20 lakh. The source of funds for this purchase has been shown as a loan from a firm named Angela Mercantiles Private Limited, Kolkata.”
Shell Shocking
Further, Shankar added, “The firm Angela Mercantiles Private Limited is a shell company functioning from CA 39, Salt Lake City, Sector I, North 24 Parganas, Apart from this Angela Mercantiles, several other shell companies belonging to the same set of accused are reported to be functioning out of two small rooms of Salt Lake and another at 5 Clive Row, Room No. 42P, Sarvamangala Building, Kolkata.
The records of this firm were obtained from Registrar of Companies. Documents revealed that M Sandhya had given a loan of Rs 38,27,141/- to this company, which was outstanding as of 31.03.2013. This M Sandhya is none other than the wife of Nageswara Rao. Mannem Sandhya, w/o Shri Nageswara Rao, has suppressed her husband’s name from RoC records and has instead used her father’s name – Chinnam Vishnu Narayana in all the records”.
Shankar explained that in the details of shareholders filed by Angela Mercantile Private Limited, the address of M Sandhya, who is also a shareholder in the said Angela Mercantile, is shown as “CA 39, Salt Lake City, Sector I, North 24 Parganas, Kolkata,” which is the address of the shell companies and not the address of the shareholder.
Nageswara Rao’s wife had invested money to the extent of more than Rs 60 lakh in Angela Mercantiles and obtained Rs 25 lakhs as a loan which is pure money-laundering. These are the supportive documents to my claim.
Land Bites
During his tenure in his parent cadre, Odisha, Nageswara Rao had in the year 2011 purchased a government land using forged documents at Khurda, Odisha, from a lady. Due to reasons that remain unclear, the deal fell through and litigation in this regard is pending in 14th Additional Civil Court, Khurda in Civil Suit No. 9211/2015. Sources say, an out of court settlement with the seller was worked out.
Nageswara Rao ruled the roost as Joint Director, Chennai Zone of CBI. He was almost unstoppable. No one dared to question him. And those who tried were shown their place and doomed.
In another matter as a Joint Director CBI, he was supposed to conduct searches in the premises of a firm that has paid less amount for a high-value party and caused loss to State Bank of India of about Rs 50 crore, and this was noticed by CBI director Alok Verma.
Hyderabad-based Professor K Nageshwar, a former MLC and renowned political scientist said, “The closeness with top politicians is known about the current interim director. Also, there are other factors like the same community, college and village that works for him. The responsibility is to put everything aside and keep the national interest on top. Sadly, that has taken a back seat”.
Savukku Shankar filed many stories detailing the wrongdoings of people in high positions. CBI’s lack of interest and the reasons were also highlighted by him in his magazine.
Print Lies
Shankar said, “Hindustan Tele Printers Limited, or HTL, was started as a Public- Sector Unit of the Central Government, on 14th December 1960 at Guindy. It was intended to manufacture teleprinters, but at the initial stage, it assembled teleprinters imported from the Italian Company Olivetti. Another PSU, Hindustan Machine Tools Limited (HMT), manufactured many of the machines required for the Hindustan Teleprinters. Hindustan Teleprinters Limited continued as an active supplier to P&T Department. But economic liberalisation turned out to be a bane for this PSU, as it failed to understand the sea change in technology. The introduction of mobile services was the final nail in the coffin of HTL. It turned into a loss-making unit.
When the central government wanted to commence a PSU in Chennai, TN government was liberal in allotting prime land in Chennai keeping in mind the employment it would generate. The land was allotted in 1965 and the condition for allotment was specific. The land so allotted should never be used for anything other than the purpose it has been allotted.
After HTL became a sick unit, its debts started mounting. HTL owed money to banks, employees, the state government by way of sales tax, etc. Banks to which HTL owed money formed a consortium headed by SBI.
This consortium investigated the matter and found out discrepancies. The CBI was supposed to investigate the case and book the culprits. We filed a detailed report. If at all the CBI bothered to conduct any proper investigation, the enormity of the scam and the overwhelming evidence available could have been unearthed. The documents which are in the possession of Savukku were never collected by the agency and instead, the agency was very keen to give a clean chit to VGN, a realty company, and other officials.”
At this juncture, a detailed complaint was sent to the Director CBI, against Nageswara Rao. The relevant portion of the complaint is shared below. And these very documents were part of a complaint filed before the Supreme Court by a Delhi-based NGO, Common Cause, to draw the attention towards the arbitrary functioning of the agency.
Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan is representing Common Cause in the court. The official complaint says, “Though the FIR (VGN) was registered on 28.12.2016, Shri Nageswara Rao failed to instruct the IO to conduct any search operations in connection with the case. Due to this serious lapse, sources say, some serious evidence of bribery by the VGN Developers to various state and central government officials was lost, and the said evidence was published in media last week. Instead of allotting this case for investigation to an IO of police/investigation background, Shri. Rao assigned the investigation of this sensitive case to one Shri Velayutham, who is a deputy from Indian Bank for reasons best known to him.
“Shri Nageswara Rao failed to issue any clear instructions with regard to the investigation of this case or monitor the progress of this investigation. However, he had ensured that he is always kept in the loop with regard to any developments. Though the allegation as per the FIR is that the land in dispute which was purchased by VGN Developers was purchased below market price, there are widespread allegations of the involvement of two senior IAS officers of TN cadre who facilitated the issuance of NOC for the sale. Sources also claim that one Rama Mohana Rao, who was a former Chief Secretary of TN government, had also received sizeable money from VGN promoters.
“However, no investigation whatsoever has been conducted in this regard. Further, as per sources, VGN Developers sent part of the bribe amount of Rs 2 crore intended for the SBI officials through one Ganesh Raj, retired Assistant General Manager of SBI. Rs 80 lakh of the bribe amount was sent by VGN Developers to HTL account. From the HTL account, the above- mentioned Ganesh Raj transferred the amount to his account, later encashed the same and handed over the bribe amounts in cash to A.1 Leon Therattil and A.2 Ramadoss. A simple verification of the bank accounts of Ganesh Raj and HTL would have revealed evidence of bribery. But, Shri Nageswara Rao chose not to touch any crucial area of investigation.”
Now, according to sources, Nageswara Rao had instructed the IO Shri Velayutham to give a closure report in the above RC and accordingly a report stating that the Bank has not suffered any loss, the amount due has been recovered, and no further action is required has been given and the same has been approved and sent to Delhi by Nageswara Rao.
Profitable Connectivity
Sources also reveal that Nageswara Rao is strongly connected with the Telugu officers in Tamil Nadu and is in the habit of passing on several sensitive information to the officers. One such officer who is regularly in touch with Shri Nageswara Rao, is former Chief Secretary of TN, Rama Mohana Rao.
The community connection and the classmate club allegedly gave Nageswara Rao an edge to manage such allegations against him. His much-known closeness with Garikapati Mohan Rao has allegedly helped him to manage such issues.
KV Chowdary, the current Central Vigilance Commissioner, who is the nodal authority for induction and repatriation of officers in CBI, is close to Chandrababu Naidu. Therefore Chowdary keeps Garikapati Mohan Rao happy.
Though the present CBI Director, after making due verification tried to repatriate Rao, Chowdary shot down his proposal, say sources. A detailed source report was sent to CBI Director, Alok Kumar Verma, following which he had ordered a discreet enquiry into allegations on Nageswara Rao. Alarmingly, the discreet enquiry had thrown up enough material not only to remove Nageswara Rao from the CBI but also to launch prosecution against him, add sources. However, due to the backing of Central Vigilance Commissioner Chowdary, who put his foot down and refused to permit the CBI Director to take any sort of action against Nageswara Rao, nothing could be done.
Verma’s Action
A helpless CBI Director decided to save the cases at least from going down the drain. Swiftly, Alok Verma ordered the transfer of the investigation of important cases from Chennai Zone of CBI to Banking and Securities Fraud Cell (BSFC) of Bengaluru. Nageswara Rao’s jurisdiction does not extend to BSFC, which works under the direct supervision of a separate Joint Director, meant exclusively for BSFC.
A former Assistant Director of CBI, while requesting anonymity, said: “Forget about a position, if there is a single allegation on someone that person is not fit to be an officer. And in his case, I think there is enough for consideration”.
Only time will tell whether Nageswara Rao will become a full-fledged director of the CBI. Judiciary is the arm of governance that keeps the faith of the common man afloat. And all that is played out in the past few weeks has certainly eroded the faith of the common man.

String Of Pearls: Episode II

While India and China are keen duelers in controlling the strategic Indian Ocean region, Maldives moved back into New Delhi’s arms, but Sri Lanka remains within The Dragon’s clasp

string-of-pearls-episode-two
Seema Guha
Seema Guha

India is quickly moving to woo the new government in the Maldives. The pro-China administration of former president Abdullah Yameen’s defeat in the recent national elections has given New Delhi the space to manouvre and bring back Maldives, a stone’s throw from the Indian heartland to its sphere of influence in the strategically important Indian Ocean region. The downside is Sri Lanka, where former strong man Mahinda Rajapaksa, known to be close to China, is back in the centre stage of the island’s politics. Asian rivals India and China are in a race to spread their influence in the Indian Ocean region. Ever since China has begun spreading its wings across South Asia, India has been scrambling to deal with this new situation in its neighbourhood. China is now buzzing around in what India traditionally regarded as its backyard, where it had excellent ties with the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. But with the rise of China, Delhi has to take into account, the looming presence of the Asian dragon in its bilateral ties with neighbouring countries. This is the new narrative with which India needs to come to grips.
When Deng Xiaoping began his economic reforms in 1979, the Chinese concentrated on getting rich and lifting its millions out of poverty. Deng’s advice to people was to bend their heads and work tirelessly. Three decades later, that stage has passed. China is now the second largest economy in the world, replacing Japan. Side by side with its economic clout, China has also developed and modernised its navy, air force and armed forces and is now ready to exert its influence on the world stage. The 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, held last year, was a coming out party. As President Xi Jinping said in his Political Report, China would offer an alternative model of development. Put simply, “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
India’s policy since independence was to keep great powers out of its neighbourhood and make sure that the proxy war between the US and the former Soviet Union was not played out in South Asia. With the rise of China, and its growing economic and military clout, Delhi has to deal with this new factor. China provides an alternative narrative of development and many Asian nations, desperate for infrastructure projects, are turning to China.
This is naturally affecting India’s tactical position in the region. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives have had traditionally good relations with India. But China is now aggressively wooing South Asian powers. In Nepal and Maldives (under Yameen) China was able to spread its wings. The unexpected defeat of Yameen has been a setback for China.
Maldives Matters
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first world leader to call newly elected President Mohamed Solih after he unexpectedly defeated Yameen in the recent elections. Despite his heavy electioneering schedule, Modi took time off to attend Solih’s swearing in. Delhi had been batting for the opposition in Male and has excellent ties with the Maldivian Democratic Party leader Mohammed Nasheed.
In fact, the downturn in relations with Yameen followed Modi dropping out of a visit to Maldives in 2015. This was because Yameen had slapped terror charges against Nasheed and thrown him in jail. The court which passed the order was allegedly influenced by the government.
Yameen was furious at Modi cancelling an announced visit. The Indian Prime Minister went ahead with the rest of his official tour to the Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka. Yameen, who was already inclined towards China, now played the Dragon card. He signed a Free Trade Agreement with China, during his visit to Beijing in December last year.
The procedure that had to be followed for signing a major foreign policy move, which is laid down in the Maldivies Constitution, was flouted. The opposition said that the Majlis (parliament) was hurriedly convened and the vote was hurriedly pushed through, without having the required numbers. India’s GMR, which had been awarded the job for modernising, expanding and running the international airport, was ousted and a Chinese company given the deal. Many Chinese companies were also given land on leases ranging from 50-100 years, prompting the opposition to talk of land grab by China.
The new government has hinted that these deals will be reviewed. The FTA is likely to be cancelled. In a recent interview to the BBC, Nasheed has said: “The trade imbalance between China and the Maldives is so huge that nobody would think of an FTA between such parties.” He added that “China is not buying anything from us. It is a one-way treaty.” Nasheed was prevented from contesting the last elections, due to the false charges slapped on him by the previous government. Solih was chosen as the joint opposition candidate to take on Yameen. But Nasheed wields enormous clout in the government and his statement on China reflects the general mood in the party. India will go out of its way to regain its foothold in the Maldives. Lines of credit, new projects as well as helping to build democratic institutions in the island state will be India’s priority. The attempt will be to show that while India may not be in a position to conduct cheque book diplomacy like China, it excels in institution building. China’s debt repayment is another problem that is haunting many of those who have opened up their countries to Chinese companies. Whether it is Sri Lanka, Maldives or even all weather friend Pakistan, every country is facing the problem of servicing the huge loans. The first foreign visit of President Solih is likely to be to India. Most of the new initiatives will be announced when he is here.
Sri Lanka
While things are proceeding according to script in the Maldives, in Sri Lanka the India-leaning Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been replaced by former President Rajapaksa.
The unlikely protagonist is neither the former strong man Mahinda Rajapaksa nor the sophisticated scion of a political dynasty Ranil Wickremesinghe. He is the nephew of president JRJ Jayawardene, the man who signed the India-Sri Lanka accord with Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 and literally defanged India.
Maithripala Sirisena, the mild mannered President, made the first move by sacking Wickremesinghe on October 28 and plunging the island nation into a political crisis. A quintessential politician, who keeps his cards close to his chest, was frustrated with the workings of the Wickremesinghe government. The two were at loggerheads and were not on talking terms for several months.
Ranil and his United National Party were calling the shots, and Sirisena knew that he was losing grip on the government. If he wished to remain politically relevant for the next elections he had to strike early.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ditched their leader Rajapaksa, and had joined hands with traditional rivals, the United National Party, to keep Rajapaksa and his family out. The move was supported by India, US and other western democracies.
Rajapaksa, charged by the Tamil diaspora of large scale human rights abuse during the last days of the military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, was a hate figure for the minority Tamils. The powerful diaspora lobby wanted to have him tried for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court of Justice. The Rajapaksa family, including his two brothers Gotabhaya and Basil, were regarded as both ruthless and corrupt.
Sirisena and Ranil joined hands to form the government amidst general euphoria among the Tamils, who felt they would now be given their political due, the liberals and the democratic world. However from the start, it was a marriage of convenience and there was no real meeting of minds.
Though out of power, Rajapaksa remained popular among large sections of Sinhala Buddhists, who saw him as a hero for wiping out the LTTE.
Rajapaksa swept the local provincial elections in February this year, signalling that his popularity had not dimmed. Sirisena read the writing on the wall.
Days ahead of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India, there were reports in the Colombo press that Sirisena had spoken of a RAW attempt to assassinate him, at a cabinet meeting. An Indian was arrested. His brother in Mumbai said that he was deranged and suffering from depression. The next day, Sirisena was on the phone to Narendra Modi, reassuring him that the press had misquoted him.
On hindsight, Sirisena’s move made complete sense. He wanted to tell his domestic audience that New Delhi, a friend of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, was ready to remove him from the scene. Soon afterwards he sacked the prime minister and swore in Mahinda Rajapaksa, the man he had earlier back-stabbed, as his prime minister. He also decreed that Parliament would meet on November 16, over a fortnight later. This was to allow enough time for him and Rajapaksa to induce lawmakers to switch sides.
But the best laid out plans can sometimes backfire. There were 12 lawsuits filed before the Lankan apex court, challenging the President’s removal of the PM. Ranil Wickremesinghe also dug in his heels. He refused to vacate Temple Trees, the official residence of the PM. The Court ordered a vote to be taken. Parliament was convened and Rajapaksa lost. Sirisena immediately dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections in January. But this has again been challenged by the UNP, who say that the President cannot dissolve the Parliament at will. The 19th amendment of the Constitution, which is being used by Sirisena, has many loop holes and a good lawyer can argue both ways. But the long and the short of this is political instability in India’s neighbourhood. The first ambassador to call on Rajapaksa after he was sworn in was the Chinese envoy.
China’s 1.4 billion Colombo Port City Project, which was initiated during Rajapaksa’s tenure, the opposition UNP and civil rights groups protested vehemently saying it would affect the environment, stays in place.
Everybody expected the project to be scrapped when Sirisena and Wickremesinghe came to power. But it was not. Sri Lanka and China have had excellent relations from the days of Sirimavo Bandarnaike. China cannot be wished away, whoever is in government in Colombo. However, Wickremesinghe did not give permission for Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo port last year. Wickremesinghe had assured India that he would be sensitive to India’s security concerns. When Rajapaksa allowed the Chinese submarines and a warship into Colombo port in 2014, alarm bells went off in Delhi.
At the moment the political situation in Colombo remains fluid. Delhi is keeping a close watch. Rajapaksa too has been trying to reach out to India. He had visited India several times when he was out of power and is said to have called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during one of his visits.
Finally, if and when elections are held in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa is expected to sweep in the south, home to the Sinahala Buddhist majority. The Tamils will certainly not want him back. Ranil Wickremesinghe is also being challenged in his own party by younger elements, including sons of former UNP stalwarts like Gamini Dissanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Perhaps Sirisena’s constitutional coup will help Ranil Wickremesinghe to stave off the challenge from the younger elements in the UNP, because of the sympathy generated by his sacking.
Like India, China is also closely monitoring the latest political developments in Sri Lanka. It is perhaps getting a taste of the uncertainties of democratic politics. Earlier China had consistently stayed away from interfering in domestic politics of countries where it aimed at winning over just the people in power. It has done so across Africa, tangoing with dictators. But as its power and influence grows, China is getting into the domestic power play. In Nepal it has succeeded. In the Maldives there is a setback. And Sri Lanka there is uncertainty.
But in the days to come, both India and China will continue to back their chosen leaders. In South Asia, India will look to regaining lost ground, while China would want to dislodge India.

Mystery Of “Ease Of Doing Business”

The World Bank suddenly blessed the Modi government with a high rank on ease of doing business index, despite back-breaking demonetisation and GST that has crippled businesses

mystery-of-ease-of-doing-business
Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

The latest World Bank report on Ease of Doing Business 2019, released last week, must have warmed the cockles of the Indian government. The report put India at a rank of 77, the highest in South Asia and up from 100 last year. “India, with six reforms, is among the top-ten improvers for the second consecutive year,” the report said.
What has made India jump 23 places up in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index? No, it’s not poverty alleviation measures or bringing a significant percentage of people above the poverty line or making a robust growth on the industrial index. On the contrary, India, according to World Bank, has made it easier to undertake a business, deal with construction permits and could now facilitate quick cross-border trade.
The ranking evaluates countries on ten parameters – starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. A higher score on each one adds to improvement in overall rankings. India has shown an improvement in six of the ten parameters, with the most being on ‘construction permits’.
Realty Unreality
India’s ranking in dealing with construction permits—one of the ten benchmarks the World Bank evaluates—jumped to 52 from 181 last year. “India streamlined the process of obtaining a building permit and made it faster and less expensive to obtain a construction permit,” the World Bank report said. “It also improved building quality control by introducing decennial liability and insurance.” According to the Bank, the Modi government has overhauled the country’s indirect tax structure by introducing the Goods and Services Tax, brought in a new real estate law and consolidated the numerous bankruptcy laws into one.
The other factor which contributed significantly towards improvement in ranking was in trading across border which improved by 66 places to 80, owing to various initiatives taken to reduce the time and cost to export goods.
Finally, the most notable (controversial though in view of what former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan had described) improvement has come through the Goods & Services Tax (GST), which did not figure in last year’s ranking, and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. The GST made it easier to start businesses as it integrates multiple application forms into a single general incorporation form, World Bank said, adding that this speeds up the registration process. India, the report said, has not only made paying taxes easier, but also made it less costly by reducing the corporate income tax rate and the employees’ provident funds scheme rate paid by the employer. “Secured creditors are now given absolute priority over other claims within insolvency proceedings,” the report maintained.
WB’s Clay Feet
Many would feel or might claim as well that the improved ranking is likely to boost the sentiment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ahead of the general elections slated sometime next year; more so, because the BJP government has been facing flak for rising fuel prices and falling rupee. But a closer look will reveal that World Bank’s perception of doing business might not always provide the real picture.
First, the assessment is based on the feedback from enterprises of only two cities, Delhi and Mumbai. Among the Indian metros, Delhi is just an average performer and Mumbai is little higher on the scale so far as the ease of doing business is concerned. According to an annual ranking done by World Bank itself for the Government of India, the top five states in terms of ease of doing business are: Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Haryana, Jharkhand and Gujarat. And there has been no mention of either Delhi or Maharashtra!
Secondly, questions have been raised over the methodology adopted by the Bank for arriving at the rank. In fact, its former chief economist Justin Sandefur had expressed his reservations over the methodology to rank nations on the Doing Business Index. According to Sandefur, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who made an in depth analysis of the historical rankings, India’s extraordinary jump in rankings was only visible due to a change in methodology.
Thirdly, from its inception, civil society organisations (CSOs) have been critical of this influential publication for promoting one-size-fits-all solutions to development. CSOs argue that the Bank and sometimes, International Monetary Fund(IMF) use the DBR (Doing Business Report) to promote deregulation and neo-liberal reforms, based on the unfounded claim that more ‘business friendly’ regulations play a key role in lowering income inequality; because it does not take into account the social or economic benefits of regulation and costs of de-regulation.
Crucial Contradictions
According to Simeon Djankov, the creator of the Doing Business series, “Reforming in the areas measured by Doing Business can be particularly beneficial to employment creation when those reforms take place in the areas of starting a business and labor market regulation.”
Responding to this claim, Matti Kohonen from Christian Aid, UK stressed that, “This micro-level view is often at odds with a macro-level perspective, where something that may be beneficial at an individual firm owner level (e.g., lesser labour regulation), may hurt macro-economic objectives – such as greater labour productivity through upskilling of committed employees”. He also added: “Recent macro-economic perspectives on women’s labour market participation, and tackling inequality may be at odds with the entire DBR.”
Some of the top economists feel that the DBR’s ranking of nations tends to be based on narrow business interests over those of citizens and countries. For example, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), eight out of the DBR 2017’s “top 10 improvers” had poor or worsening performance on workers’ rights. This is clearly the case in India with the ruling party’s own labour union calling for a major strike on the issue of more jobs being marked “temporary”. “The government’s labour policy has hugely damaged the interests of the working class,” says its labour union leader.
According to UK-based charity CAFOD’s research, the DBR failed to match the priorities needed for small private sector enterprises to grow. These include ensuring adequate funding for small enterprise support programmes and public services, as well as recognising informal workers’ organisations and collective bargaining processes.
Two Demons
Everywhere in India today, traders are ruing the welcome they had offered the GST and demonetisation, which has ruined them totally. The Indore trading community says it sees no reprieve.
“We are all long-term BJP supporters, but this time most of us will vote against Modi,” said a trading community leader. And in south India, Tirupur’s once Rs 42,000 crore textile hub is facing a wipeout. An Indian Express report says: “Before November 8, 2016, K S Ramdas, 48, the small stitching unit he has run next to the Old Bus Stand near Tirupur town for 20 years, employed around 15 women workers and made an average of Rs 20,000-25,000 every week. Now, he and his wife, the only remaining workers at the unit, struggle to make Rs 2,000 in two weeks.” Ramdas is not afraid to tell the authorities he can’t pay the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the raw material he uses, Ramdas says. “There is nothing left after stitching, transportation, buying other materials and paying our loans.”
Peter Bakvis of ITUC commented on Inequality.org that, “giving better scores to low-tax venues is in clear contradiction with the World Bank’s stated objective of giving governments the means to provide essential public services, especially to the poor, and reducing inequality”. Despite a series of methodological changes in 2015 after extensive criticism of the report from the Bank’s own Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), these civil society critiques still stand.
The DBR itself noted, “Economies with poor quality business regulation have higher levels of income inequality on average.” Hence, cautioning against the Bank’s jump from correlation to causation, Bakvis pointed out that the 20 top DBR countries are almost all advanced economies while the bottom 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Venezuela, Somalia and Yemen, are in severe civil or political conflict.
Poverty Paradigms
It may be true, as the report claims, that “economies with better business regulation have lower levels of poverty, on average”. The fact is that China and Vietnam’s significant progress on poverty reduction was accomplished without DBR promoted policies. And this naturally brings into question the report’s implicit link between deregulation and decreased poverty.
For example, while India has improved significantly in the DBR rankings, according to a 2017 research by Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty, income inequality in India is at its highest since 1922. The DBR is overlooking the importance of gender equality. It’s not possible for India to become a global economic power if half of its population is ignored, and not given more economic opportunities. This claim has been supported by data from the World Economic Forum (WEF), which showed that India fell 21 places to 108 in the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report index even as its DBR ranking improved.
Cracked Arguments
What is amazing is the DBR gives points to Modi’s India totally falsifying ground reports, like the ‘huge improvement’ in the realty sector. Going by the World Bank report itself, in some areas, India’s rank has worsened. In registering property, the country’s ranking fell to 166 from 92 when Modi took over. It takes over two months in India to register for property and the procedures end up costing almost 8 percent of the property value. India’s rank with regard to protecting minority investors fell from fourth in the world to seventh, with very little improvement in reforms. Similarly, in paying taxes, the ranking slipped by two places to 121 this year. Then, enforcing contracts still remains a huge problem, with the country’s rank at 163. As per the World Bank report, enforcing contracts takes more than three years to mature and it ends up costing a third of the claim value itself.
“Registering property and enforcing contracts have been two major challenges in the last four years,” Ramesh Abhishek, secretary of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, admitted. Conceding that it is one of the more difficult reforms which is being put in place, he claimed that the government `is on track and it is just a matter of time before they show up in the ranking.”
According to him, the government is in the process of drafting an industrial policy which will become a roadmap for sustainable growth of all business enterprises in India.
However, the World Bank has since defended its stand; the practice of calculating the rankings based on the data culled from two cities of each country, stands without a change and for India, these are Delhi and Mumbai. The only change that has taken place is rechristening of the “distance-to-frontier score” into “ease of doing business score” to reflect its “main purpose of measuring the absolute progress”. This, the bank claimed, happened without any change in the actual calculation.
Modi’s Machinations
The Huffington Post in an incisive report says: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unhealthy obsession with the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking hijacked India’s reform agenda over the course of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s four-year tenure, according to hundreds of pages of meeting minutes, interviews with key players and official correspondence reviewed by HuffPost India.
“The documents reveal how the Modi government first sought to lobby the World Bank into changing its methodology to reflect a better rank for India. When that didn’t achieve any significant success, the government prioritised minor institutional and procedural tweaks to game the ranking system, rather than embark on a bold agenda of economic reform as promised.”
India, on its part, has also been pressing for inclusion of more Indian cities for assessment of the ranking in order to make it more representative of business conditions across the country. If cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Ahmedabad were included, it would have improved this year’s rankings by a much higher margin. But the measure, if taken, could spell another trouble for India: the formula of inclusion of more cities will apply to all the other countries ranked and may benefit them too.
And at the end, India might run the risk of slipping to lower ranking in the ease of doing business index.

The Inspiration For The Book Came From My Travels Across India’s Hinterland

The author explains how he was driven to write the impressive tome on rural India and the woes of Indian agriculture

the-inspiration-for-the-book-came-from--my-travels-across-indias-hinterland

You have authored a book on rural India - so what is the book all about?
The book titled “A Rural Manifesto” explores the feasibility of an Indian village as an independent socio-economic entity, capable of sustaining itself independent of external linkages. It delves into the lives of a rural Indian citizen by analyzing various aspects of their lives – be it agrarian conditions, provision for healthcare and education, non-farm incomes and labour conditions. It seeks to explore what it means to be a marginal farmer these days, and the role non-farm income plays in supplementing oneself below the poverty line.

What is the inspiration behind the book? What made you write this rather difficult book?
The idea or inspiration for the book came from my travels across India’s hinterland. Be it campaigning and conducting field visits across India, including my constituencies Sultanpur & Pilibhit, or more simply, meeting students of universities in states often forgotten by national media, the cause of marginal farmers and their current dismal condition struck in a chord for me. This issue, once proudly espoused by all up and coming politicians, was at once an intellectual and emotional problem, and one with no easy solutions.

What have been the main learnings while you wrote the book?
One of the main learnings when we explore the socio-economic feasibility of an Indian village is that small and marginal farming is largely unrewarding – rising input prices, unsustainable water usage, inadequate energy access and failure to take any advantage of economies of scale makes farming a difficult proposition each day as landholdings continue to diminish. To compound matters, quality healthcare and education continue to be out of bounds for most citizens. With farm incomes proving insufficient, we need to improve non-farm incomes for a village to sustain. Besides, we need policy interventions to retailor and revive Indian agriculture.
How are our water policies unsustainable?
Our tubewell subsidy culture, entrenched through political patronage, has contributed to unsustainable extraction and misuse of our groundwater resources. Subsidies have hurt our groundwater levels – the interplay between farmer crop choices (cultivating improper crops i.e. water intensive crops in water scarce and water sensitive regions) and our energy subsidies for irrigation needs makes for difficult choices.
Such subsidies have placed a massive burden on state exchequers – the associated fiscal deficit between 2008 & 2009 was $6 Billion in the energy sector. Most State Electricity Boards operate at a loss, leaving nothing for investments in new infrastructure for generation and transmission purposes. Energy subsidies, such as these, are increasingly crowding out investments on higher education or health care, while farmers still wait for quality power supply.
What is your view on farmer suicides?
This is primarily because of rural distress. With the average land holding size decreasing and average input prices rising, the cost of cultivation has increased and with it, margins associated with farming have reduced. A farmer now typically earns Rs 2,400 per month per hectare of paddy and about Rs 2,600 per month per hectare of wheat, while farm labourers earn less than Rs 5,000 per month. Nearly 31.4% of all rural households remain indebted, with average debt of Rs. 1.03 lakhs. When we consider poorer rural households, their debt levels even exceed the amount of assets owned. As much as 44% of rural households still prefer informal sources of credit (among poorer households, 72% of credit is informal) which may highly likely be usurious in nature. This condition results from an interlocking of the credit market with imperfect markets (land, input, output, labour and land-lease markets), which is a pathway to peasantry pauperisation. With almost 60% of loans in rural areas being utilized for non-productive purposes (not directly contributing to raising household income), household debt becomes permanent in nature. Amidst such indebtness, even a sickness in the family can have disastrous consequences – an estimated 39 million people are pushed back into poverty annually in trying to avail healthcare.
Agri-distress has persisted for far too long. Even colonial officers have observed that the “The Indian peasant is born in debt, lives in debt and dies in debt.” (Malcolm Darling, 1925)
The situation is getting increasingly desperate with most farmers wishing that their sons do not take up farming. Effectively, about 30.5 million peasants quit farming between 2004-05 and 2010-11, seeking employment in the secondary and tertiary sectors. Furthermore, the size of this agricultural workforce is expected to shrink to ~200 million by 2020. Meanwhile, the average growth in minimum support prices of kharif crops has been ~4%, compared to the ~13-15% growth seen between 2010 and 2013. The consequence is farmers committing suicides.
Does the book offer any remedy to correct rural indebtness?
Aside from farm loan waivers, which remain necessary, there are other ways to mitigate their plight. Greater subsidies could be extended on the purchase of agricultural equipment, fertilisers and pesticides, while medical insurance coverage could be expanded through the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana. In addition, the scope of MNREGA could be increased, allowing marginal farmers to be paid for tilling their own fields could reduce their input costs – they can’t afford other agricultural labourers and find it socially awkward to till someone else’s field. Such measures could increase their net income, reducing the scope of rural distress. Small steps like these can make a meaningful contribution to their lot. Even more so, we need a national conversation on rural distress. Unlike the Champaran Satyagraha, national attention has been curiously lacking. With empathy for India’s marginal farmers, we must make the right choice to support them.

In this era of social media, do you think rural distress remains ignored?
One cannot say that rural or agrarian distress remains ignored – but inadequately represented for sure. While few movements have highlighted the plight of our farmers, the issue warrants critical attention. Few measures have been taken to aggravate the situation, but much remains to be achieved. With small and marginal farming proving increasingly uneconomic (at a time when ~72% of our farmers are small and marginal), agrarian distress can cause large scale social unrest and needs to be addressed on a priority basis.

Do you think agricultural income should be taxed as well? Many policymakers increasingly seek to target the rich farmer?
Wealth and Income (the Raj Committee) (1972) sought to institute a progressive agriculture tax on agricultural income in a norm based manner, with regional average crop yields defining levy rates in a universal manner. The recommendations were not accepted, given limited political and grassroots support.
However, there remain significant pitfalls with this demand. Given the level of informal occupation prevalent in agriculture, implementing an agricultural tax will not be easy. Any agricultural tax system would have to evolve crop specific norms of return to the land, while accommodating external shocks like droughts, floods or pests. Furthermore, for imposing tax on value of goods produced, the mechanism would fail to take individual farm economics into account, thereby presenting a case wherein a farmer would be taxed even if he makes a loss on sale. It shall require administration to ensure exact estimate of crop productivity and realized sale price per crop harvested – a seemingly humongous task for all farmers.
Further complications arise if farmers suffer from multiple crop failures followed by one successful crop, for the income in that period may be subjected for tax payment. In addition, any crop specific taxation would have to be traded-off against input subsidies, which are nationally uniform for fertilisers and vary on a state wise basis for water and electricity. Instead of raising agricultural income, we would trend back to age-old farmer pauperisation. Amidst all this, it is hard to determine if there would be net benefit to taxing agricultural revenues, even for rich farmers (defined on local thresholds), compared to cost of monitoring and rolling out such a system.
What solutions does the book provide to rural distress?
Let’s take the case for farmer income. One would expect that ideally the market, and if not the market, the government, would ensure that the farmer receives good value for all his work. The price spread, between what the farmer earns and what the end user is charged remains stark. A study in 1972 in Kolkata found that just 2% of the end user price of an orange reached the farmer – such marketing channels have taken to consuming the majority of the value. The regulated marketing system, despite its optimistic intentions, has also induced significant downsides. Consider postharvest losses – about 15%-50% of India’s fruits are lost during marketing. Roads inside such regulated markets are usually unpaved, with auctions conducted in open spaces, while being prone to congestion.
What are your thoughts on basic income? Can India pursue such a radical policy idea?
India has tried basic income, in pilot studies. A pilot in eight villages in Madhya Pradesh provided over 6000 individuals a monthly payment (Rs 100 for a child, Rs 200 for an adult; later raised to Rs 150 and Rs 300 respectively; Guy Standing, 2014). The money was initially paid out as cash, while transitioning to bank accounts three months later. The transfer was unconditional, save the prevention of substitution of food subsidies for cash grants. The results were intriguing.
Most villagers used the money on household improvements (latrines, walls, roofs) while taking precautions against malaria – 24.3% of the households changed their main source of energy for cooking or lighting; 16% of households had made changes to their toilet. Before moving ahead, we would need more data to prove its applicability in the Indian context.
A regular unconditional basic income, scaled up through pilots, and rolled out slowly and carefully, seems ideal for India. It can help improve living conditions including sanitation in our villages, providing them with access to better drinking water, while improving children’s nutrition. It could cut inequality; grow the economy; all while offering the pursuit of happiness.
Is rising non-farm income truly a panacea for rural India?
Typically, agriculture forms the basis of any non-industrialised economy. When industrialisation does occur, the higher productivity of the non-agricultural sector leads to the share of agriculture declining in the economy. Labour typically moves away from agriculture towards industry and services, while a boost in machine led agricultural productivity helps narrow the wage gap. When countries develop, their agricultural sector approaches a “tipping point”, one where agricultural income rises but most of the agricultural labour heads out of the fields and into towns and cities.
Non-farm diversification is typically an important pathway for empowering landless labourers and marginal farmers. While agriculture remains the dominant source of income for rural households, non-farm sources are increasingly contributing a larger share of the pie. While this share does decline with landholding size, diversification towards it can serve as a mechanism to making the village economy resilient and stemming urban migration. Our policies should help create sustainable long term rural non-farm employment options which can aid the rural poor in overcoming barriers to economic prosperity. India’s rural development policies should increasingly focus on developing markets, infrastructure and institutions that can help sectors like livestock and construction grow. While India’s post-independence rural policy has primarily been about flushing people away from agriculture and towards cities, we now need to incentivise job creation at their doorstep.

Shadow Boxing?

The real issues were how much reserves the RBI can have, and the growing non-performing assets of the mammoth public sector banks, for the excess reserves are largely accounting entries

shadow-boxing
S.A  RAGHU
S.A RAGHU

SA Raghu is a banking and economics commentator based in Chennai. He is an economist and CFA by training and his professional career of over 30 years has spanned central banking, project financing and banking technology. He writes for financial newspapers on banking, economics and finance

The limping curtains on the tussle between the RBI and the government should hopefully put an end to the hype around the issues, because the overtones of turf supremacy and autonomy have obscured and even exaggerated the issues at stake. There are several, but it is useful to consider two which got the most attention the reserves of the RBI and the issue of dealing with non-performing banks.
On the RBI’s reserves, the simplistic view can be that of shareholders demanding higher dividends from the company they own, except that in this case the reserves did not represent accumulated profits and payouts have greater significance than for a private shareholder. But now it is clear that the so-called excess reserves are largely accounting entries (unrealised gains), which makes it all the more mysterious as to why a bid was made in the first place.
A difficult fiscal situation in an election year is reason enough, but it would have also been obvious that encashing the RBI’s foreign currency assets or printing money through its Issue Department – the two ways it could have generated cash – would have been counterproductive, with the latter course akin to financing the fiscal deficit.
Apparently the current revaluation reserves (which form over 75 per cent of the total) are not in contention now and the issue has moved on to determining the mechanics of how future reserves can be shared, which in turn will depend on what is considered an appropriate level of reserve for the RBI.
Unclear Levels
The government thinks this should be in the range of 12-18 per cent of assets, against the present level of 28 per cent, which gives out the magic number of about Rs 3.6 lakh crore that is being bandied about. But the mechanics of sharing – whether assets will be sold off or new money printed – will continue to be problematic.
Thus, without appearing to yield, the government seems to have reserved its right to a portion of the future reserves by getting the RBI to agree to refer the issue to an expert committee, the surest way to postpone a decision on the problem. The problem relating to the Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework is on a different footing and needs more explaining. Briefly, eleven distressed public sector banks were put under a regime of PCA by the RBI, based on capital erosion levels, asset quality and profitability, with the objective of “preventing further deterioration” in their position.
The measures included, amongst a host of measures, restrictions on lending and business expansion, which is what came to bite. The debate now seems framed as a tradeoff between financial stability (the health of banks) and economic growth, which makes it difficult to find a middle ground, although the government seems to think that it is too high a price to pay for sacrificing economic growth. Again, the political compulsions of an election year cannot be ignored.
The RBI’s defence that it was not as harsh as, say the US PCA norms, appears to be a response to the government’s contention that the restrictions exceeded international norms.
If viewed purely as a ratio management exercise, the programme could succeed, simply because lower business growth is seen as translating into lower NPA ratios as well as better capital ratios.
But that would be like claiming air safety record had improved after restricting flying! The merits in the opposite argument arise only from the fact that the financial position of these banks has not improved while restrictions had cramped both credit and liquidity, at a time (read election year), when government was hoping to revive the economy.
Credit Growth
But the RBI disputes this argument too, stating that overall credit growth has risen with healthier non-PCA banks more than making up for the PCA banks, as should rightly be the case. Further, the credit problems that NBFCs and small and medium units faced came more from a reluctance of banks to lend to these sectors than from any shortage of funds.
The government wants the RBI to bring at least a few banks out of the PCA, based on criteria other than profits (which was the RBI’s criterion), but this issue has also been referred to the RBI’s Board For Financial Supervision which is reviewing the performance of the PCA programme. But the latest financial results of these banks do not hold much hope as all the banks continue to incur losses and the aggregate losses of the eleven banks in fact have doubled (from around Rs 9,500 crore in September 2017 to over Rs 20,000 crore in September 2018), bad loans have jumped by over 15 per cent in spite of a decline in lending by 8 per cent.
Clearly, drop in lending did not reduce NPAs. The problems with bank profitability run deep, which the RBI seems to acknowledge but pleads a lack of power to administer harsher medicine, such as selling or merging banks or even replacing their management. But this does not also mean that these banks could be set free to lend as in the past. The causes behind NPAs, losses and poor return on assets of public sector banks are not all addressed by the PCA framework.
It is also ironic that while at one level, the RBI stuck to its guns on the PCA, citing banks’ capital ratios, it yielded to the pressure on another capital issue, by agreeing to postpone the increased capital requirement mandated to kick in by March 2019, only because the government would not be able to find the money to fund the banks’ capital (estimated by some at Rs 1.2 trillion).
Deficit Quagmire
The problem of capital for banks becomes a problem of the government’s fiscal deficit, because banks simply will not be able to raise capital from the markets on their current strength. Herein is the rub - the problems of the banking sector are really those of the public sector.
Consider this: The government owns, on an average, over 70 per cent of the equity of public sector banks, which constitute over 70 per cent of the total financial system. But public sector banks account for over 90 per cent of the NPAs in the system (Rs.10 lakh crore at last count) not to speak of the loan scams and frauds, and also clocked an aggregated loss of over Rs 85,000 crore last year.
The fragile health of our banks, especially public sector banks, has been a recurring theme in every discussion of the state of the economy. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that any government will be keen to privatise banks not just because its borrowing programme has traditionally depended on public sector banks who hold a 45 per cent share of the G-sec market, but also because it will be a near impossible task. Public sector banks employ over half a million workforce, hold over half of the 140,000 bank branches in the country and most importantly, are the only banks willing to finance large industry, medium and small units, infrastructure and agriculture, since private banks traditionally have shunned these sectors, preferring retail and consumer credit.
Even in the case of the mandated priority sector lending, many private banks have gotten over the hurdle by the soft option of investing in priority sector lending certificates rather than lend directly to these sectors.
It is this aspect that is at the crux of the forbearance sought for public sector banks from the PCA norms, because while overall credit may have grown, as the RBI states, it was more of consumer and retail financing, while the key segments of the economy such as industry or NBFCs, which were dependent on public sector banks, were starved of credit.
Unconcerned Owner
It thus looks like the public sector cannot be wished away in a hurry, even if it also happens to be the source of the problems. But ownership need not matter if it can be reformed and that’s the larger issue by being blasé about its inability to run banks efficiently, the government creates the perception of being an unconcerned owner, which in turn fosters a lack of accountability that seems all pervasive in the system. Clearly, larger reforms are required and Basel norms or PCA norms only scratch the surface.
There were a few other decisions that raised eyebrows, simply because it marked a departure from the past. One relates to the management style, with RBI appearing to have agreed to being more board-led with separate board committees looking after different aspects such as banking regulation, risk management, supervision and so on; this is viewed by many as the government getting a toe hold into RBI’s decision-making process.
The other decision on the proposed MSME debt restructuring scheme to help distressed small and medium units is also somewhat surprising, coming as it does at a time when the RBI had itself wound up all forms of debt restructuring for large borrowers, virtually pointing out the insolvency route to them.
The mechanics of the scheme will be watched with interest but this seems more a token relief measure than anything substantial.

Sabre-rattling peaks in Ayodhya

The temple question would be a test case for the BJP, whether it is a political party like any other, or it is like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

sabre-rattling-peaks-in-ayodhya
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

Does the BJP have the strength to resist the pressure from the RSS, VHP and the ochre-robed folks?
The Ayodhya dispute has been on the boil from 1989 onwards, when the ‘shilanyas’ took place in the final days of Rajiv Gandhi’s term in office. In 1990, there was LK Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ from Somnath to Ayodhya, with Hindu-Muslim riots in its trail. In 1992, the ostensible ‘kar seva’ turned into a criminal act of demolition of Barbri Masjid, followed by Hindu-Muslim riots. Even as riots broke out in Gujarat in the wake of the burning of the coach in Sabarmati Express carrying VHP volunteers from Ayodhya on February 28, 2002, the VHP and the rest of the ochre-folk were agitating for another ‘shilanyas’ and they were allowed to do so.
In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, with the BJP under Narendra Modi seeking a second term, the RSS, the VHP and the ochre-folk are raising their voice, and indirectly their fists, threatening an agitation to force the government to bring a law to build the temple, and showing a clear unwillingness to wait for the Supreme Court verdict.
It is quite evident that the trouble-mongers of the temple are not willing to accept the Supreme Court verdict if it were to go against the building of the temple. What the RSS and the rest expect the BJP government of Modi to do is to enact a law overruling the Supreme Court if the need arises for that. It also means that the RSS, VHP and the rest are not willing to persuade the Muslim community and win their consent for the temple to be built at the site of the illegally demolished mosque. They want to assert the brute strength of numbers. They want to intimidate the Muslims, disregard Muslim opinion and build the temple.
The old animal instinct of might is right governs the Hindutva crowd. They scream about ‘dharma’ in the so-called Dharma Sabha and the Dharma Sansad but they don’t care two hoots for dharma or righteousness. The man for whom they want to build a temple, Rama, was described by astronomer-poet Valmiki in his kavya (a literary creation) Ramayanam as “ramo vigrahavan dharma’ (Rama the embodiment of righteousness)’, and here we have the lawless and irreligious mob baying for blood over a temple for Rama.
There is a feeling that the BJP and the Modi government are quite complicit in the noises that the RSS and the VHP and the rest are making, and that the BJP is not averse to using the temple plank to win the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Modi wants to fall back on the temple plank because he has failed to fulfill the development agenda about which he boasted for the last four-and-a-half-years. He is nervous and anxious that he may lose the election, that he may not get the majority.
Perhaps, he need not fear, need not tremble. Perhaps he will win and he will get more numbers in 2019 than he got in 2014. But he is not sure. He does not want to take the risk of putting aside the temple issue. He is not sure, however, when to jump on to the temple bandwagon.
He is now referring to it as a way of criticising the Congress’ attempts to stall the temple construction, but he has not so far made any commitment of his own that his government will build the temple if it is returned to power. Perhaps he will assess the situation and make that fatal – it would be fatal because it would show India as a country of brute majority with no respect for law – commitment when he stares defeat in the face, and the temple would be his weapon of last resort. The temple question would be a test case for the BJP, whether it is a political party like any other, or it is a politico-religious party like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and it would force the Hindu agenda on a multi-religious and multi-cultural country like India.
India will survive the Hindutva nightmare because she will continue to live on for centuries and millennia after the BJP is buried in the debris of history. It is indeed a difficult time for the BJP. It cannot pretend to be a nationalist party if it become a party for temple construction on a disputed site, and it would not abide by the rule of law.

BJP’s Faustian Pact – Ayodhya Temple

The right-wing party caught in the cleft of religion and nationalism

bjp-faustian-pact-ayodhya-temple
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

The real question is whether the BJP is in the hands of its own genie, the Ayodhya temple issue, or whether it can make use of it for a rich political dividend. In 1990, then BJP president L K Advani saw it as an opportunity to ride on an emotive issue for electoral gain. He later rationalised his tactic to say that whereas then prime minister V P Singh had divided the Hindu society through his announcement about implementing governments jobs – when there were only about 45,000 – for Other Backward Classes/castes (OBCs) based on Mandal Commission recommendations, his temple movement had helped in uniting the Hindu society. Of course, like all rationalisations it was false and self-serving. When the Sangh Parivar mob destroyed the more than 400-year-old mosque on December 6, 1992, Advani was not too sure whether it did any good to Hindu society. His comment that it was the saddest day of his life, which his critics dismissed as sheer hypocrisy, was a moment of introspection for him. The BJP wanted to direct the agitation for a temple, but it did not like the mob taking over. Advani knew that a political party just cannot take credit for the mob’s vandalism. The committed followers of the Sangh among the Hindus, and they were insignificant as a proportion of the Hindu society, had hailed it, but Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and others knew that it was political hara-kiri for the party to accept it as fait accompli. The political sensitivity displayed by the party brass did not arise from morality or idealism but from a sense of realpolitik.
The construction of the temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya has been listed as part of its core agenda, along with Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and Article 370 of the Constitution giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir. But the BJP has been quite guarded about pressing its core issues. It has not ever made them election issues. The party has worked with pro-BJP Muslim women groups to move the Supreme Court and getting a favourable verdict but it cannot really claim direct credit for it. The ordinance making triple talaq a cognisable offense is a sorry attempt to show that the BJP has been pro-active in the matter. The party’s stated position of wanting to abrogate Article 370 remains a dead word. It is not due to a change of heart but more political tactic.


The temple question is a little more complicated, and no one is more acutely aware of it than the BJP itself. Whatever the consanguineous links of the party with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the saffron-clad members of the group called Dharma Sansad, the BJP just cannot afford to be a front-organisation of the Sangh Parivar. The political costs appear to be dubious. That is why, after the Somnath-Ayodhya Rath Yatra of Advani in 1990 and the demolition of the mosque in 1992, the party has always ducked the temple question. It did not make it a poll promise in any of the national elections it has fought ever since, including the 2014 contest under Narendra Modi. It is interesting that Modi maintained silence over the temple issue and stuck to the monotonous note of development in 2014 and after. Amit Shah has spoken about how a grand temple in Ayodhya is to be built but with the caveats of a legal verdict or mutual agreement between the contesting parties.
The secular opponents of the BJP want to push the party into the temple corner, and argue with some amount of credibility, that there is not much of a difference between the BJP on the one hand and the RSS, VHP on the other. The zealots among the BJP’s rank and file would also want the party to bite the temple bullet because they think that it would enable the BJP to remain in office for ever. But the BJP knows better than to be carried away by irrational exuberance of the religious kind. It might appear a case of splitting hairs but the BJP wants to use religion to serve its nationalist agenda but it is not willing to subordinate nationalism to religion, even if that religion happens to be Hinduism. For the BJP, Patel’s statue is more important than a Ram temple because of the political imperatives of the party’s nationalist discourse. Poet Mohammed Iqbal could cast Rama as a national and cultural hero in his poem, ‘Ram’, by saying ‘ahl-e-nazar samajhte hain ise imam-e-hind (The wise consider him the virtuous leader of India)’. But the Sangh Parivar does not have the intellectual wherewithal to make the ‘Maryada Purushottam Ram’ into a national icon. The saffron-clad mendicants have imprisoned Rama in the iron-clasp of religion. The BJP finds itself in an unenviable situation over the issue.


The general speculation on the part of the unrelenting ideological opponents of Modi and his BJP has been that he would indulge in subterfuge to get the temple built in Ayodhya or trigger a war with Pakistan to shore up his sinking political fortune before going into the 2019 election. The zealots in the Sangh Parivar too want Modi to do exactly that. But Modi cannot oblige either his critics or his supporters. Politics is a different ball game and Modi and the others in the BJP know it only too well. The noisy chorus of the RSS, VHP and the mendicants will continue. Modi would like to derive as much political mileage from it as he can without committing himself to more than what is the stated position of the party. The BJP would have made political strides without the crutch of the Ayodhya issue. Now it is struck with it.

March of the Apples

Kinnaur’s famous apples are not growing well below 10,000 feet any more due to growing heat

March-of-the-Apples
Dr. Archita Bhatta
Dr. Archita Bhatta

The author is a senior science journalist and working as Chief Editor of the Department of Biotechnology’s communication cell. She has worked with Down To Earth and has an M Res degree from Leeds University, UK

For those who visited the high altitude villages of Tokto and Asrang about a decade ago, the sight is pleasant: there are now terraces full or apple trees which, when the bear fruit, brings in a kind of colour and aroma the villagers had never experienced before. And they are told that this change has been ushered in by climate change.
That bane of 20th and 21st century is known to have melted glaciers, shifted vegetation and displaced people from the coast due to sea level rise. But for some villagers high in the hills in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district, it has brought smiles, at least temporarily.
People in these areas, at a height of more than 10,000 feet which was earlier covered with snow in winter, are smiling all the way to the bank with their growing apple production.
Paradigm Shift
“Even Chilgoza (pine nuts) would not ripen here earlier, may be a decade ago, so we had never thought that apples would ripen here,” said Kedar Singh a young shopkeeper in the village called Tokto.
Even in this remote area, a few villagers had heard of the word ‘global warming’ but most were unaware of it. Yet all of them have felt the temperatures rising and noticed the subsequent changes. “In the winters, the snow is not that thick, an in summers the snow does not come down to the level it used to,” said Balwinder Negi a retired postmaster from the village of Asrang.
He added that earlier, oil applied on the hair used to freeze in winter. But now that rarely happens.
India Meteorological Department has recorded a rise in the maximum temperature in the hills, and this according to horticulturists has pushed apple cultivation into higher areas.
Ripening of apples need a warmer temperature, but also more than six weeks of cold weather. This combination is becoming increasingly rare in the lower-lying valleys of the state which is known for apples and other fruits. Earlier, what sellers called Kinnaur apples came from a height of about 6,000 feet. But now those orchards are not producing quality apples. Instead, the good apples have marched uphill to Asrang and Tokto. This has resulted in the shift.
Factors of Change
How did the villagers of Asrang and Tokto, hidden in the folds of the mountains, where the mobile network does not reach, change from their lifestyle of subsistence farming to a thrust on fruit farming?
Traditional cereals like *** and sweet peas were their main crops. In contrast, their relatives living in the lower hills grew apples and earned substantially from it. The village authorities saw an opportunity in the rising temperatures and tried to encourage them into more revenue generating livelihoods.
“The gram sevak used to come to our village very often. He encouraged us to grow apples. He even gave us some saplings,” Negi told Parliamentarian. He was one of the first three villagers to plant apple trees.
Negi used to work in the post office in Lippa village 10 Km from Asrang. He along with his colleague from the post office started planting some of the saplings the gram sevak had given them. Later, however, his colleague got more saplings from lower altitude villages. All the first three planters said that since they had seen people in lower altitudes grow and sell the fruit and they wanted to take a chance. They thought that even if they could not get a good income from apples, at least, they could eat the fruit. When the apple trees of the first three planters started growing, a few more joined the trend.
“We planted our saplings when we heard that a road joining our villages to town would be constructed. This gave us the confidence that we would be able to take the apples to town and sell them as and when the trees started bearing the fruit,” said KK Rana, a farmer in Tokto.
Road Benefit
“When there was no road we used to carry the boxes of apples on our mules and take them to Lippa at a lower altitude, from where there was a road connection. But we got very low prices for our apples there,” Negi recalled.
Once the road was built, they began taking their fruits to sell in the town and started getting good prices. After this more and more people started planting apple trees as a future source of income.
The construction of the road led to two trends. Traditional sweet peas earlier grown by the villagers began to be replaced by hybrid sweet peas and this became a major source of income too. The newly constructed road helped in sending the sweet peas to the market. So people started replacing their traditional crops with hybrid sweet peas, while they planted apple saplings in parts of the same fields.
This was an interesting change. People started concentrating on sweet peas because it brought immediate income. But they soon found that continuous production of sweet peas brought about a decrease in productivity of the land after five to six years. Soon the trend to switch to apples became the better option for them. More and more of the villagers saw that the money they got from apples helped them buy goods available from the market and they were no longer restricted to their traditional consumption patterns which offered them very few choices. “Our traditional cereals which were subsistence crops did not bring any income. I used to take the apples of one farmer to town and saw the price he was getting. This helped him buy food and clothes from the market. He could buy oil, spices and other things that could not be grown here. It was then that I decided to plant saplings,” Rana pointed out.
Future Fears
However, the excitement of this decision may be all but short lived. Climate change is affecting the water resources of the villages. The streams are drying up because not sufficient snow is melting upstream in the glaciers. Besides, the streaks of snow that come down from the glaciers are retreating. As compared to the traditional cereals grown in the village, apple is a water intensive crop. To provide for the water, the villagers have to get up early and walk two to three hours up to the hills for sources of water or snow, which they can direct to their fields. They have an arrangement in which each part of the village gets water once a week.
“The arrangement was decided at the Panchayat and has worked well till now,” says Rana. But climate change opportunities are a funny game. The earlier system of growing sweet peas saw a more equitous distribution of wealth in this peaceful villages Now, the switch over to apples has been a higher advantage for the rich farmers and left the poor farmers with less resources and land behind, increasing income disparity in the village. “We have to tend to apple saplings like children for 10 to 12 years before they give any income. In contrast, sweet peas would give us immediate returns,” said Kedar Singh, a farmer from Tokto village. He added that while this can be afforded by the rich farmer, the poor with limited land cannot wait that long for his income. Besides, to supply markets in towns and cities, apples must be transported promptly. This is something difficult in the mountainous terrain. Landslides, which are not uncommon, can cause delays that make the fruit rot.
Costly Affair
An additional challenge is that while pea shrubs grow well enough on slopes, apple trees need flat plots of land. “In this hilly area, we have had to construct terraces to plant apples trees, and this costs us about 250,000 rupees per bigha of land,” Rana, pointed out. Terracing requires new skills and is much harder work than cultivating subsistence crops like peas, farmers said.
According to Tejwant Negi, a local politician, rich farmers plant a variety of annual crops while waiting for their apple trees to mature, while some others depend on goats and sheep. Making the transition is easiest for those who have substantial wealth and money, he added. Apples may have paved an easy road to the bank for the wealthy farmers of these villages, but for how long is the million dollar question.

Ease Of Doing Business: Has India Really Made It?

A closer look at the World Bank report and you may learn that the perception of doing business might not always provide the real picture

ease-of-doing-business-has-india-really-made-It
Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

The latest World Bank report on Ease of Doing Business 2019, released last week, must have warmed the cockles of the Indian government. The report put India at a rank of 77, the highest in South Asia and up from 100 last year. “India, with six reforms, is among the top-ten improvers for the second consecutive year,” the report said.
What has made India jump 23 places up in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index? No, it’s not poverty alleviation measures or bringing a significant percentage of people above the poverty line or making a robust growth on the industrial index. On the contrary, India, according to World Bank, has made it easier to undertake a business, deal with construction permits and could now facilitate quick cross-border trade.
The ranking evaluates countries on ten parameters (like ease of paying taxes, resolving insolvency, getting credit, enforcing contracts), and a higher score on each one adds to improvement in overall rankings. India has shown an improvement in six of the ten parameters with the most being on ‘construction permits’. India’s ranking in dealing with construction permits – one of the ten benchmarks the World Bank evaluates – jumped to 52 from 181 last year. “India streamlined the process of obtaining a building permit and made it faster and less expensive to obtain a construction permit,” the World Bank report said. “It also improved building quality control by introducing decennial liability and insurance.” According to the Bank, the Modi government has overhauled the country’s indirect tax structure by introducing the goods and services tax, brought in a new real estate law and consolidated the numerous bankruptcy laws into one. The other factor which contributed significantly towards improvement in ranking was in trading across border which improved by 66 places to 80 owing to various initiatives taken to reduce the time and cost to export goods.
Finally, the most notable (controversial though in view of what former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan had described) improvement has come through the Goods & Services Tax (GST), which did not figure in last year’s ranking, and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. The GST made it easier to start businesses as it integrates multiple application forms into a single general incorporation form, World Bank said adding that this speeds up the registration process. India, the report said, has not only made paying taxes easier, but also made it less costly by reducing the corporate income tax rate and the employees’ provident funds scheme rate paid by the employer. “Secured creditors are now given absolute priority over other claims within insolvency proceedings,” the report maintained.
Many would feel or might claim as well that the improved ranking is likely to boost the sentiment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ahead of the general elections slated sometime next year; more so, because the BJP government has been facing flak for rising fuel prices and falling rupee. But a closer look will reveal that World Bank’s perception of doing business might not always provide the real picture.
First, the assessment is based on the feedback from enterprises of only two cities, Delhi and Mumbai. Among the Indian metros, Delhi is just an average performer and Mumbai is little higher on the scale as far as the ease of doing business is concerned. According to an annual ranking done by World Bank itself for the government of India, the top five states in terms of ease of doing business are: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Jharkhand and Gujarat. And there has been no mention of either Delhi or Maharashtra!
Secondly, questions have been raised over the methodology adopted by the Bank for arriving at the rank. In fact, its former chief economist Justin Sandefur had expressed his reservations over the methodology to rank nations on the Doing Business Index. According to Sandefur, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who made an in-depth analysis of the historical rankings, India’s extraordinary jump in rankings was only visible due to a change in methodology. Thirdly, going by the World Bank report, in some areas, India’s rank has worsened. In registering property, the country’s ranking fell to 166 from 92 when Modi took over. It takes over two months in India to register for property and the procedures end up costing almost eight per cent of the property value. India’s rank with regard to protecting minority investors fell from fourth in the world to seventh, with very little improvement in reforms. Similarly, in paying taxes, the ranking slipped by two places to 121 this year.
Enforcing contracts still remains a huge problem, with the country’s rank at 163. As per the World Bank report, enforcing contracts takes more than three years to mature and it ends up costing a third of the claim value itself.
“Registering property and enforcing contracts have been two major challenges in the last four years,” Ramesh Abhishek, secretary of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, said. Conceding that it is one of the more difficult reforms which is being put in place, he claimed that the government “is on track and it is just a matter of time before they show up in the ranking”. According to him, the government is in the process of drafting an industrial policy which will become a roadmap for sustainable growth of all business enterprises in India.
However, the World Bank which has since defended its stand, maintained that it hardly affected any change whatsoever in the way it calculates the score. The practice of calculating the rankings based on the data culled from two cities of each country, stands without a change and for India, these are Delhi and Mumbai. The only change that has taken place is rechristening of the “distance-to-frontier score” into “ease of doing business score” to reflect its “main purpose of measuring the absolute progress”. This, the bank claimed, happened without any change in the actual calculation.
India, on its part, has also been pressing for inclusion of more Indian cities for assessment for the ranking in order to make it more representative of business conditions across the country. If cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Ahmedabad were included, it would have improved this year’s rankings by a much higher margin. But the measure, if taken, could spell another trouble for India; the formula of inclusion of more cities will apply to all the other countries ranked and may benefit them too. And at the end, India might run the risk of slipping to lower ranking in the ease of doing business index.

Power Sector NPAs

A story of all-round mismanagement, miscalculation and inefficiencies

power-sector-npa
S.A. Raghu
S.A. Raghu

S.A. Raghu is a banking and economics commentator based in Chennai. He is an economist and CFA by training and his professional career of over 30 years has spanned central banking, project financing and banking technology. He writes for financial news papers on banking, economics and finance .

One of the more important issues on which the RBI is shadow boxing with the Government is that of the power sector NPAs, which turns out to be more a story of all-round mismanagement, miscalculation and inefficiencies rather than one deserving forbearance. Irrespective of which side wins, the economy stands to lose – the NCLT route (which the RBI prefers) will find few takers for these assets, while keeping them in suspended animation will only hurt the banks without adding to power capacity.
In fact the stances of both sides indicate pessimism on any meaningful revival. The RBI feels that liquidation is the cleanest solution while the Government is toying with acronyms such as SAMADHAN (through the SBI) and PARIWARTAN (through REC) both variations of past restructuring schemes which the RBI had abolished in February.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report on the stressed power sector offers enough evidence of the all-round failures. The data, first- 34 power plants are classified as stressed, involving a capacity of 40,000 MW and bank debt exposure of over Rs 1.74 lakh crore. Of this, about 60 per cent of capacity (24,000 MW) has already been commissioned which may sound like good news, until we discover that over a third of this capacity had no power purchase agreements (PPAs) or coal linkages in place, while another 16 per cent had disputed coal block allocations. As for the remaining capacity under construction (15,725 MW), the story is almost the same – about 60 per cent had no PPAs while about 30 per cent had no coal linkages.
Effectively, this meant that about 44 per cent of the capacity (which included fully commissioned plants) had neither fuel supply nor selling arrangements in place, but banks had fully disbursed their loans! A sure fire prescription for non-performance from the word go! As for the remaining 56 per cent, the causes of stress were not linked to absence of coal or PPAs, but to other factors such as the non-honouring of PPAs by distribution companies (discoms), aggressively bid projects, time over-runs and the inability of promoters to bring in additional funds.
At the heart of the problem was an overestimation of power demand and a reckless asset chase wherein, between FY2010 and FY2017, thermal generation capacity expanded at an annual average rate of 11.4 per cent while annual power demand grew by less than 5 per cent. Saddled with excess capacity and muted offtake, discoms preferred to buy power through short-term contracts or from the open market rather than contracted PPAs. But then it was never clear whether the discoms were dishonouring PPAs because of poor financials or because demand was low, although the net effect was to squeeze the power plants.
While externalities like the Court intervention in coal auctions or regulatory hurdles were beyond banks’ control, basic credit appraisal hygiene was lacking – disbursal of loans in full when raw material and selling arrangements were not firmed up, the overestimation of demand for power, amongst others. But to give them credit, perhaps banks were only been trying to fill the space vacated by the specialised development financing institutions such as the IDBI, ICICI and IFCI, which, coincidentally, began disappearing around the same period.
In any case, the unsuitability of bank loans and the lack of project appraisal skills are nowhere better brought out than in power sector funding. The Government also cannot escape blame for the mess. Its policy of favouring state-owned utilities by protecting them from the bidding process led to a pre-emption of PPAs in favour of utilities like NTPC, leaving private power producers stranded when it came to PPAs, a fact that RBI itself had pointed out in the past.
The Government’s tariff policy is another case in point – in the case of a central/state PSU, the tariff could simply be determined by the regulator, but for all other projects, the price of power had to be discovered through bids, which probably explains the ‘aggressive’ bidding of power suppliers, one of the factors blamed for the crisis.
Finally, the issue of forbearance also seems to ride on another perception, that the RBI’s asset classification rules were excessively harsh and needed moderation for specific sectors. In fact, the Parliamentary Standing Committee seemed to suggest the NPA guidelines were an “exercise in sophistry” when viewed against the constraint of “sectoral issues”.
There is a general misunderstanding of the purport of asset classification norms – their real purpose is twofold – one, to prevent banks from overstating the value of their loan assets (and thereby overstating their net worth) and two, to prevent them from booking fictitious income from non-performing assets and overstating their profits. In a financial system, where share prices and executive compensation are market valuation driven, there is even more reason to ensure that accounting rules are not diluted.

The Post-Modern Politician

He is what in chemistry called ‘free radicals’... unconventional, honest, witty and dedicated to his constituency

the-post-modern-politician
G Ulaganathan
G Ulaganathan

The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT

India is not an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.”
That is from Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram. A man of great wit, wisdom and words — probably three things that do not suit a modern-day politician.
Is he an anachronism in the world of Indian politics? Many think so and he is also a favourite child of controversies, both on personal and professional fronts.
But the city of Thiruvananthapuram is proud of its representative in the Lok Sabha. Talking to a cross-section of the voters gives us the feeling that he is the best man for the job. They have elected him two times — in 2009 and in 2014, and if one senses their mood, they may elect him again in 2019. As an MP, his performance has been quite impressive. He has been a regular to the house when it is in session with an attendance percentage of over 70 and a regular contributor to the proceedings – be it concerning his state, Kerala, or the country.



Ease of Access
There is no doubt that he is a brilliant speaker, both in English and Malayalam besides a couple foreign languages. But the one significant factor that endears him to the people of Thiruvananthapuram is easy accessibility to him. He meets everyone either at his office in Pulimodu or at his residence whenever he is in town.
The staff at his office is courteous and give a patient hearing to anyone who approaches them with a problem or an issue. And, Tharoor is in constant touch with his office staff, almost on a daily basis.
Tharoor is also a pioneer in using social media as an instrument of political interaction. He was India’s most-followed politician on Twitter until recently Tharoor once said that when he began his political career soon after coming back from the United Nations, he was approached by the Congress, the Communists, and the BJP. He chose Congress because he felt ideologically comfortable with it.
In March 2009, Tharoor contested the elections as a candidate for the Congress in Thiruvananthapuram. His opponents included P Ramachandran Nair of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Neelalohitadasan Nadar of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), MP Gangadharan of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and PK Krishna Das of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), all of them well-known figures in Kerala politics. Despite criticism that he was an “elite outsider”, Tharoor won the elections by a margin of about one lakh votes. He was then inducted as a minister of state by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On 28 May 2009, he was sworn in as Minister of State for External Affairs, in charge of Africa, Latin America, and the Gulf, including the Haj pilgrimage, and the Consular, Passports and Visas services of the Ministry.
IPL Rumours
He re-established long-dormant diplomatic relationships with African nations, where his fluency in French came in handy. He initiated new policy-planning activities on the Indian Ocean and represented India at various global events during his 11-month tenure as minister. In April 2010, he resigned from the position, following allegations that he had misused his office to get shares in the IPL cricket franchise. Tharoor, of course, denied the charges and, during his resignation speech in Parliament, called for a full inquiry.
Between 2010 and 2012 Tharoor remained active in Parliament and was member-convenor of the Parliamentary Forum on Disaster Management, a member of the Standing Committee on External Affairs, of the Consultative Committee of Defence, the Public Accounts Committee, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Telecoms.
In the special debate on the 60th anniversary of the Indian Parliament, Tharoor was one of four members of the Congress, including party President Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee, to be invited to address the Lok Sabha. In 2012 Tharoor was re-inducted into the Union Council of Ministers by Manmohan Singh with the portfolio of minister of state for HRD. In this role, he took a special interest in the problems and challenges of adult education, distance education and enhancing high-quality research by academic institutions.
Unique Reports
As Member of Parliament, he is probably the first elected representative in India to issue annual reports on his work as MP, including furnishing accounts of his MPLADS expenditure. In 2012, he published a half-term report followed in 2014 by a full-term report. All the details are in the public domain. And one can access them from www.shashitharoor.in, both in English and Malayalam. Through FB and Twitter, he has been in constant touch and his photographs and videos are instantly uploaded to www.flickr.com/photos/shashitharoor, www.youtube.com/user/shashitharoor In the highly literate state of Kerala, he is the most tech-savvy politician and instantly appeals to the youth and common man. In May 2014, Tharoor was re-elected from Thiruvananthapuram, defeating the BJP strongman O Rajagopal, but by a reduced margin, 15,700 votes, and that at the height of Modi mania.
But this time, unlike in his earlier stint, he had to sit in the opposition benches, both in the state and centre. While Left Front government took charge in Kerala, at the centre Congress lost power.
But Shashi Tharoor has friends in all parties and says his work as an MP is not affected. He was named Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs. But he has dropped from the post of Congress spokesperson on October 13, 2014, after he praised some statements of Narendra Modi.
Surprise Politician
Says N Muraleedharan, the former regional bureau chief of wire service PTI: “Tharoor stands out in the rough and tumble of Kerala politics as he was the only person to quickly move to the centre stage without being a career politician before he entered the electoral arena in 2009. When he was nominated by the Congress as the candidate, many an eyebrow was raised in the party in Kerala, known for perennial factionalism and intense lobbying for spoils of power.
“In the initial phase of the campaign, he did not receive the total support from the local leadership. But he outwitted his adversaries and doubting Toms by meticulously organising the electioneering, largely by himself. He easily adapted himself to the new role and carried out a well-crafted campaign, touring every nook and corner of the sprawling, predominantly rural constituency. He also proved wrong those who thought that he would not be able to communicate with his voters in Malayalam since he had spent much of his life outside the state and abroad.
“Tharoor soon enough evolved a lingo of his own, unpretentious and understandable, and told the people what he could do for them if elected. On the other hand, the rival camps (The LDF and the BJP) mostly harped on his ‘outsider’ tag, which only boomeranged on them.” Analysts have attributed the outcome to Tharoor’s success in steadily expanding his appeal beyond the traditional Congress support base, especially among the less privileged, says Murali.
Despite his penchant for controversies, Tharoor has in 10 years, as an MP and as Union minister under the UPA regime, has grown into an astute politician even as he retains his distinct persona. Over the years, he has also integrated himself with the state party set-up, and, his inclusion as a member in the central manifesto drafting panel shows his standing with the high command.
Eloquence Personified
Tharoor is notable for his eloquence while speaking, as demonstrated by the popularity of his speeches on online platforms such as YouTube. For instance, his speech decrying British Colonialism, delivered at the Oxford Union in 2015, got over 3.9 million views on one site alone, while simultaneously being praised as ground-breaking in various educational institutions in India.
Says Talitha Mathew, a senior journalist in Thiruvananthapuram: “Tharoor seems to be a person of integrity. He elevates the level of discourse whenever he takes part, both in terms of sense and style. Tharoor is seen as more of a theoretician than a doer, but then again, being in opposition, he has not had much of a chance to show his mettle. On a lighter note, when Shashi Tharoor speaks in public, there is a dilemma, whether to concentrate on looking at him or on listening to him! Both actions call for equal focus and attention!” In the last eight or nine years, he has taken care of the constituency well, learnt his mother tongue better and performed as one of the best parliamentarians from the state. He also spent his constituency fund well and even had lined up Barcelona for a twinning arrangement, which apparently fell through because of the non-cooperation of the CPM-ruled civic body.
Surviving Kerala
Shankar Menon, a retired Navy officer and long-time resident of the city, says: “Surviving Kerala was not easy. First of all, he came with the huge baggage of an elite UN under-secretary general who contested for the secretary general’s post with no knowledge of grassroots politics or social work; and second, there were local politicians who were threatened by his presence. But, he overcame both the weaknesses and almost became a seasoned politician.
“However, his wife’s untimely death four years ago became a huge blow to Tharoor both personally and politically. Many even wondered how a grief-stricken Tharoor will be able to survive the gruelling campaign and if he will be fielded by the Congress at all. “Besides the bad publicity of his wife’s death, this time he had two more factors playing against him the “Nadar” caste card played by his left rival, and the candidature of BJP’s O Rajagopal, who apparently was the favourite of the “Nairs”. All the media reported that undercurrents favouring Rajagopal were strong and in the end, he might romp home.
On the counting day it was Rajagopal who kept a healthy lead almost throughout the day, but in the end, Tharoor won in a photo finish. With the result, Tharoor has yet again proved that he is a tough survivor.”
Home Page
Born in London in 1956, Dr Tharoor was educated in India and the United States, completing a PhD in 1978 at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. While there, he received the Robert B Stewart Prize for Best Student and also helped found and served as the first Editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs, a journal now in its 39th year. Tharoor was also awarded an honorary D.Litt by the University of Puget Sound and a Doctorate Honoris Causa in History by the University of Bucharest. In 1998, the World Economic Forum in Davos named him a Global Leader of Tomorrow.
Interestingly Tharoor has been a strong proponent of the Presidential form of Government for India. Why? In one of the interviews, he had said “I believe our parliamentary system has created a unique breed of the legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only to wield (or influence) executive power. It has produced governments obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance.
“It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions. In a Presidential system, on the other hand, you have an executive that is not victim to the shifting sands of the legislative support and thus, you would have a government focused on governance rather than on extending their tenure in power. And India, as you will agree, is in urgent need of steady governance more than anything else.”
Fierce Independence
Tharoor has also been fiercely independent in his views. On praising Modi, he says “Merely because I am an Opposition MP does not mean I should not praise the Prime Minister. When Mr Modi says something that sounds right, I acknowledge it. When he says something wrong, I criticise it. Like the day I signed up for Swachh Bharat, I had written a piece... my position is the same. Cleaning up India is a national objective. I don’t see this as a political objective. When the PM reaches out and says let’s do this together, it seems to me that it is entirely appropriate for us to do it. When it comes to political convictions, I don’t agree with many of the things Mr Modi stands for.”
Kerala Works
During the recently unprecedented floods, though Thiruvananthapuram was not affected, he volunteered to be the goodwill ambassador for his state and mobilise aid from abroad.
But there are charges that he did not do enough for the affected people and instead stayed away, travelling abroad. But it must be said though as an MP representing an opposition party his hands were tied and the ruling Left Front cold-shouldered him and did not make use of his international contacts and goodwill.
Apart from this, over the years his performance has been quite impressive.
“The Kazhakkoottam-Karode NH bypass road has been my most satisfying achievement as an MP. This project had been lying dormant for over 40 years and had been constantly written off. This 4 lane connectivity to the state capital offers tremendous development possibilities to this region,” he says
Detractors Say...
This has been a dream project but mired in controversies. “My involvement began in 2011 when the UDF government in the state nominated me as a director in the board of VISL and entrusted me with the task of finding the right development model.
After much dilly-dallying, the project took off on December 5, 2015, but the BJP had come to power in the Centre and the project execution was handed over to the Adanis. Though Tharoor says a lot of work has been completed and he is “eagerly looking forward to the see the first ship would dock at Vizhinjam in 2019”, not many are impressed.
M Vijayakumar, who is presently the chairman of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) also criticises Tharoor for not doing anything to Thiruvananthapuram city or to promote tourism in the state. “There have been two main demands still lying unfulfilled—one is to set up a bench of the Kerala High Court here. It is at present in Kochi unlike in other states where High Courts are in the capital cities. And, secondly, we need a separate railway zone for Kerala. At present, it is in Southern Railway zone with its headquarters in Chennai. This has been pending for the last 20 years. A separate zone here would help to create employment potential. Tharoor could have easily made it possible when he was an MP of the ruling party and also a minister but he has not done anything.
“And, when he was a minister in charge of Human Resources Development he did precious little to establish an IIT or AIIMS here, which are long pending,” charges Vijayakumar.
MPLAD Transparency
There are details, to the minutest level on his website, and it runs to several pages, on how Tharoor has spent his MP Lad funds. Besides his responsibilities as an MP, privately also Tharoor has been contributing to the society through The Chandran Tharoor Foundation (CTF), set up in the memory of his late father, Chandran Tharoor, “a noble and selfless individual whose generosity was legendary among friends, family and strangers”
CTF aims to help the weaker sections of society through modest grants in the areas of relief for persons in distress, educational and health care assistance, and miscellaneous services to improve the quality of life of vulnerable groups. Based in Thiruvananthapuram, its activities are mainly centred in south Kerala.
It has also given free Onam and Ramzan ration kits to poor families, cooking utensils to flood-affected families, so on.
“CTF intends to initiate a campaign to provide good quality toilet facilities for girls in government schools to ensure that no child has to abandon her education merely because of the want of a basic amenity at school. The CTF has accordingly identified “e-toilets” as the way forward. These toilets operate electronically using solar power and flush economically, gauging the quantity of water required by the amount of time the user spends in the facility.
With such an impressive record, Shashi Tharoor is confident of getting renominated in 2019 and making it a hat-trick. But the BJP is trying to desperately unseat him and is looking for a strong candidate against him.
The recent meeting between superstar Mohanlal and Modi gave rise to the speculation that Mohanlal could be a possible BJP candidate against Tharoor. But the latter has strongly denied that he is contesting for or joining the BJP.
Even if he contests, he can only give a close fight but the Keralites may not be swayed by cine glamour, says a political analyst. As of now, Shashi Tharoor seems to be going strong.

Tampered

tampered
Atul Pandita: Lifeographer
Atul Pandita: Lifeographer

A Realtor by profession, I call myself “Lifeographer”. Ever since my first encounter with a Kodak DC 215 Zoom camera, almost 20 years ago...I have thoroughly engaged myself in drawing life portraits with the help of my ever so faithful shutterbug. Portraits full of life...full of positivity... portraits teeming with infinite energy. Portraits that are like a beautiful poem...that, which transcend the space-time continuum. It is these very portraits that I intend to present before you all on a beautiful spotless canvas...thus, sharing my vision with you all... “These faces...these lives...that I paint, They’re so silent...so weak...so very faint. And yet, they leave an indelible mark on my soul, Those seething eyes...tend to burn me from within...they create an infinite hole. These are attributes that I can never ever forget, Freezing them in time...is what I love...is what I never regret. I have the ability to find happiness...in this world that, which is filled with sadness, That beautiful quantum of solace...that hides away in all of that ruckus...all of that madness. For, I am a Lifeographer...portraits of life is what I paint, My existence...well, it is exciting, positive and definitely very quaint!!! Power to this beautiful world...power to every human being...Live your life...live your dreams...and stop never ever!!”

RBI Vs The Government

The problems between North Block and RBI cannot afford to get out of hand for the sake of the India growth story

rbi-vs-the-government
Chandra Mohan
Chandra Mohan

The writer is an economics and business commentator based in New Delhi. He is an economist by training and has worked in most of the leading newspapers of the country for the last 34 years. He also teaches economics and international business in MBA programmes for the last seven years and has been involved with various think-tanks in the capital.

There is an uneasy truce between North Block and Mint Steet. The union finance ministry has mulled invoking a rare Section 7 of the RBI Act – whereby “public interest and the requirements of the India economy” have to be kept in mind – in its ongoing consultations with the Reserve Bank of India. Although its statement issued on October 31 underlined that “the autonomy of the RBI is essential”, whether this mollifies RBI’s top officials is a different matter altogether.
All eyes will now be on the central bank’s board meeting on November 19 as how the government’s directions will be met. North Block’s differences with RBI stem in good part from the latter’s firm and unyielding response to dealing with debt-ridden public sector banks that account for 70 per cent of the country’s banking assets and 87 per cent of its losses. Out of the 21 PSBs, 11.are now part of the RBI’s Prompt Corrective Action regime that imposes operational and lending restrictions to nurse them back to banking health. The finance ministry has been exerting tremendous pressure on the RBI to dilute these norms that so that atleast 3 out of the 11 PSBs can resume lending. The central bank, for its part, has resisted doing so. The seeds of the PSU bad loans problem date to the mid-2000s when the India economy boomed in line with global trends. The bullish mood of the those times triggered what the Economic Survey termed “over-exuberant investments” by India Inc especially in infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships. India’s banks, led by those state-owned, financed this investment boom. The ratio of credit to GDP rose sharply from 25 per cent in 2001-02 to 52 per cent in 2016-17. Yet by 2010, many such investments stalled for various reasons including slower growth. PSBs were left holding the can.
The enormity of this problem surfaced in 2015 when the RBI asked banks to recognize bad loans and clean up their balance sheets. The provisioning for deteriorating asset quality sent these banks’ operating earnings into negative territory. Contrary to popular perception, the central bank consulted with North Block every step of the way when it announced revised PCA norms on April 13, 2017. The government was in “broad agreement” with its proposals. But in July this year, North Block has been pushing the RBI to relax this framework for weak PSBs so that they can resume lending. The government is worried that the ongoing travails of PSBs casts a troubling shadow over the India growth story. Although it registered a robust GDP expansion of 8.2 per cent in April-June 2018-19, sustaining it critically depends on more credit flows to revive investments. PSBs, for their part, cannot lend as they are burdened with a mountain of non-performing loans that were advanced in the go-go years, especially 2006 to 2008. Ahead of national elections in early 2019, it is keen to ensure that more PSB bank lending kickstarts investments by India Inc and small and medium businesses.
In contrast to the government’s electoral–driven short-termism, the RBI has taken a longer term view on dealing with crisis-ridden PSBs. Hitting out against the former’s relentless pressure to relax PCA lending norms, a deputy RBI governor, Viral Acharya, in his AD Shroff Memorial Lecture forcefully said: “Sweeping bank losses under the rug by compromising supervisory and regulatory standards can create a façade of financial stability, but inevitably causes the fragile deck of cards to fall in a heap at some point in future, likely with a greater tax payer bill and loss of potential output.”
Besides PCA norms, there have been other flashpoints between North Block and RBI this year. In April, the RBI governor sought more powers to regulate PSBs. In the current dispensation, the RBI cannot change the board of PSBs while it can do so for private sector banks. The finance ministry responded that the central bank has adequate powers to do so. In August-September, the government appointed part-time, non-official members to RBI’s board like S Gurumurthy of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The RBI was upset that Nachiket More was removed 2 years before his term ended. At the board meeting, Gurumuthy made a forceful pitch for relaxing PCA lending norms and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises ‘forbearance’ that would ease the criterion for banks in recognizing loans to this segment as non-performing and accordingly step up credit flows. According to the Indian Express, it was this sort of unrelenting and persistent demand that triggered Acharya’s outburst in his AD Shroff lecture. Then there was a dissent note submitted by the RBI in October over North Block’s proposal to have a separate payments regulator bypassing the central bank.
Looking back in time, the government of the day – UPA and NDA for instance – sparred with the RBI over interest rates. While finance ministers preferred lower to higher rates to reduce costs of capital and boost economic growth, RBI governors were more hawkish on raising them to bring down inflation once and for all. This is a classic instance of “public interest and the requirements of the India economy” being perceived differently by the government and the central bank. The question of growth versus inflation is related to the differing time horizons for decision-making in North Bloc and Mint Street.
However, a big difference then and now was that such frictions were rarely aired in the public domain. This is not so today. A finance minister in the UPA regime famously declared that if the government had to walk alone to face the challenge of growth, then it would walk alone! Why is the RBI obsessed with inflation? Does it have the mandate to target only a particular rate of inflation? Not at all, as central banks have the flexibility to respond to various problems of the economy. So, if India’s growth remains uncertain, the RBI does have the mandate to boost economic expansion without worsening inflation. The big question is how will RBI respond to the threat of Section 7? Will Governor Urjit Patel put in his papers after the November 19 board meeting? It bears mention that the central bank’s autonomy is constrained unlike, say, the more independent US Federal Reserve. The finance ministry has the upper hand as it is the one that appoints the RBI governor. More consultations between RBI and North Block to arrive at a middle ground are certainly par for the course. If Governor Patel had no problem in implementing demonetisation, there is no reason why the RBI cannot respond to ensure more lending.
However, if the rift continues to widen, as is probable, there will be serious costs for the Indian economy and its international image as a favourable destination to do business. When rumours of Governor Patel putting in his papers roiled markets, the rupee was hammered down. The more dismal prospect indeed is that “governments that do not respect central bank independence will sooner or later incur the wrath of financial markets, ignite economic fire and come to rue the day they undermined an important regulatory institution” as Acharya warned in his speech. The problems between North Block and RBI thus cannot afford to get out of hand for the sake of the India growth story.

Silver Screen, Saffron Hue

The past glory of Bollywood, when films spoke of issues of the common man, is fast fading in the lust for lucre by a comfortable slip into political opportunism by signing up the RSS register

silver-screen-saffron-hue
Geeta Singh
Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian

Namaste Sadaa Vatsale Matribhume” prayer of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) became public recently on YouTube as a trailer of a mega-budget saffron film – “Bhagwa”. This is a major break with the past 93 years when the RSS’ Prayer became visible publicly via social media.
The RSS will celebrate its centenary in 2025 and showcase its history, ideology and achievements. The saffron organisation is making a feature film on RSS with a whopping budget of Rs180 crore. A year back at Raheja Galaxy Club in Mumbai, the work on the film started and its banner and director were introduced. However, at that time no big name associated with the project met the media. The film is produced under SSAN Films banner and directed by AR Sarkar. But after that, many cine celebrities have shown interest in it. It is believed that Akshay Kumar will play the role of the protagonist. Media baron Subhash Chandra, who is also Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha, and Motion Pictures head Raj Singh will promote and distribute the ambitious film of the Sangh.
Noted writer Koduri Viswa Vijayendra Prasad, the father of SS Rajamouli, the celebrated director of the “Baahubali” series, who wrote that story, and also Bollywood’s superstar Salman Khan’s film “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, has penned the script. As per sources, the vital inputs in the script have been given by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat himself along with S Gurumurthy.
The film “Bhagwa” will showcase the history of RSS and its achievements through the struggles of its leaders, including Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar. It is believed that to finance the film, Kannada Cine audio tycoon Lahari Velu Thulasi Naidu, who came up with the idea of the film, and his younger brother Manohar Naidu will produce it. Naidu is also a member of the saffron wing of the RSS, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now, the producers are trying their best to release the film before the upcoming general elections in 2019.
This is not the only example where BJP and RSS will put forward their beliefs and thoughts through the strong medium of the silver screen. Cinema is a mirror of society and it emerges as an inevitable and vital medium to showcase the artist’s ideology through his films and individual opinions. And intellectual change can be brought about by it. At the same time, the film is a powerful medium, which can be developed through better social values, and it can transfuse values in today’s younger generation. Therefore, the saffron ideology is slowly moving forward in this direction.

Rushed Agenda
The Sangh wants to push its political beliefs to percolate speedily in Indian society. So fiery dialogues and a strong script are the best platforms to take that forward. Earlier, the Sangh used to give its comments on contemporary cinema but now it is foraying into it. Not only Bollywood, but RSS is also spreading its wings to the theatre, regional cinema and film festivals.
Earlier in Kerala, BJP was protesting against the regional certification office for not providing a certificate to documentary film – “21 Months of Hell”. Made in Malayalam, the documentary deals with RSS workers who fought against Emergency. To showcase the achievements BJP, Suresh Jha produced the feature film “Modi Kaka Ka Gaon”. In the film, Vikas Mahante played the role of the protagonist who transforms India through his policy decisions, including demonetisation.
Bharatiya Chitra Sadhna is a film festival that the Sangh has started to showcase Bhartiyata (Indianness). With this festival, the Sangh wants to spread its cultural values. As an experiment, two such festivals have been held in Indore and Delhi. The festival had four categories comprised of short films, campus films, animation and documentaries. And the themes were nationalism, women, folk art, environment, Indian family system, Indian cultural values, and so forth.
Many Bollywood bigwigs such as Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Kangana Ranaut, Preity Zinta, Arjun Rampal, Madhur Bhandarkar, Subhash Ghai, Jackie Shroff, Sonu Nigam, Abhijeet, folk singer Malini Awasthi and others have aligned themselves with saffronisation of their previously neutral turf.
Last year, the RSS supported and promoted the biopic “Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi”, directed by Gul Bahar Singh starring Hema Malini, who portrays Vijaya Raje Scindia, from the erstwhile royal family of Scindias. The film was made on the Rajmata on the basis of the BJP leader and now the governor of Goa Mridula Sinha’s biography ‘Rajpath se Lokpath Par’, which traces Vijaya Raje’s journey from the palace to the public, but it did not get much success.
The successful film of Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma, “Sui Dhaaga”, is a recent example. Released just before Gandhi Jayanti, it became the model of the Modi government’s aspiring project Make in India. Prior to the promotion of “Sui Dhaaga” at first glance, it was a bolt from the blue for everyone about its name.
Neither the name has created any curiosity nor has it any glamour quotient to pull the urban audience. Therefore, why did a pure professional banner like Yash Raj need to make a film with such a name and a social message? From when did this production house start doing such risky jobs? Is the situation commercially ripe?
Indeed, yes, as this movie is based on Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ slogan, in which issues like skill development are raised. Hence, it was released just before Gandhi Jayanti, because the true inspiration behind the Make in India is the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. This is not a documentary, but a pure feature film, which was released like other films.
Like Yash Raj Films, now, many production houses like Dharma and Excel want to sail their boats on the saffron waves and make films that will depict rightist ideology.
Gold Rush
Before “Sui Dhaaga”, Akshay Kumar’s “Gold”, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s “Raag Desh”, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s “Mere Pyare Prime Minister” and John Abraham’s “Parmanu The Story of Pokhran” are other ideal examples that suit the present government’s taste. Actor John Abraham produced “Parmanu” in Rs 44 crores to acclaim the achievements of former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. During the promotion of film, John gave a statement: “I have never been in a hurry to produce films, I have been reading and searching for subjects that are disruptive yet engaging, stories that must resonate with current social, political and economic mood of the country, and finding stories that reflect this takes time. This film fits perfectly with my pursuit.”
“Parmanu” was directed by Abhishek Sharma who had directed “Tere Bin Laden”. But the story and facts of the film were intermingled with Parmanu-1 tested during the Indira Gandhi regime. Which is quite in keeping with Modi government’s unabashed usurping of all Subhash Chandra’s Zee Studio was also associated with John as one of the prime producers. After “Parmanu” John is coming up with “Batla House”, the controversial slaying of some Muslim students as ‘terrorists’ in Jamia Millia University.
The 45-year-old actor took to social media to unveil the poster, writing, “95 mins that took 8 yrs to be resolved and changed his life forever.” The story of India’s most Decorated/Controversial Cop. #BatlaHouse.” In the film, John is portraying the role of the cop inspired by DCP Sanjeev Yadav who led the controversial encounter of Batla House decade back in Delhi.
Tamed Tigers
Farhan Akhtar, who used to put out rebellious thoughts through his twitter handle earlier, has changed tack for business. He came together with Akshay Kumar and produced the Rs 100 crore mega-budget film “Gold”. Produced by Excel Entertainment and directed by Reema Kagti, in the film, actor Akshay Kumar portrays the flag-waving Bengali team manager of a novice hockey team. Although the story of “Gold” is fictional, it took snippets from the inspirational life of pre-independence sports star Kishan Lal from Madhya Pradesh.


Excel Entertainment co-producer and director Reema Kagti stated in an interview that it is a fictional take on what happened. “Also, it is not just the golden victory in 1948 we will be looking at, but it encompasses 12 crucial years in India’s history”.
“Gold” that narrates Akshay’s hockey love, is actually inspired by Kishan Lal who used to play hockey. He was regarded as the greatest right winger in the history of Indian hockey who played with another great player Dhyan Chand. Kishan Lal was considered as an influential contributor in developing powerful Indian Railways hockey team. But the place and circumstances are changed in the film from central India to Eastern India i.e. Kolkata.
Akshay Kumar, the poster boy of saffron ideology has come into a new avatar of Bharat Kumar. He has done “Toilet Ek Prem Katha” earlier, which promotes PM Modi’s cleanliness drama, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, along with other films that promote nationalism in a jingoistic way. Under the present government, Akshay Kumar also received the national award last year for his film “Rustom”. In the coming two years movie buffs will see maximum films of Akshay Kumar, approximately 12 films out of which most are based on either biographical or period genre.
Changing Times
Akshay’s entry after a decade in Yash Raj camp, has been possible because of changing times. Known for making romantic and youth-oriented films Yash Raj Films and Aditya Chopra has collaborated with a blue-eyed boy of BJP, Akshay Kumar and making for a mega-budget film on Prithviraj Chauhan. Scuttlebutt is that Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, who is in the good book of RSS may direct this film. Akshay Kumar will play the role of Prithviraj Chauhan.
The story will chronicle the life of Prithviraj along with his love story with Sanyukta. The pre-production and research of the story have started and the shooting may start from mid-July next year. Akshay Kumar will be seen again as a historical character Havaldar Ishar Singh of 36 Sikh Regiment, who fought against Afghans in Saragarhi in the movie “Kesari”. Karan Johar and his production house Dharma Production also join up for this period film. Parineeti Chopra will be seen in the female lead. The shooting of the film is in its last phase in Jodhpur and it is expected to release in Holi next year.

On the same subject, Raj Kumar Santoshi is also making film Battle of Saragarhi in which Randeep Hooda is playing the character of Havaldar Ishar Singh. This historic battle will take you 120 years back. Both films tell the story of the war fought on September 12, 1897, where 21 Sikh soldiers fought until death to 10,000 soldiers Afghan army.
Muddying Indira
These days creativity is also overpowered by the politics in Bollywood. To please the Modi government, many filmmakers have made films on the Emergency and put a critical eye on Congress rule under Indira Gandhi in the last two years. Movies like KK Menon’s “San Pachattar”, Madhur Bhandarkar’s “Indu Sarkar”, Rajkumar Gupta’s “Raid” and Ajay Devgn’s film “Badshaho” are some of the examples.
In the coming year, viewers will witness the same trend in full swing. To promote the saffron ideology and its choices, big banners and known faces are coming up with historical stories. “Rashtraputra” is a film based on Chandrasekhar Azad. The film will narrate the important events of Azad’s life. But as per sources, in the movie, Azad may be portrayed as a staunch opponent of Mahatma Gandhi.
Kangana Ranaut will be seen as Rani Laxmibai in “Manikarnika”. Ajay Devgn will play the role of Chanakya in the period film “Chanakaya”, directed by Neeraj Pandey, who has noted films like A Wednesday and Baby in his kitty as a director. As the name suggests the film is based on the teachings of a great political thinker and philosopher Chankaya during the Maurya dynasty. Ajay Devgn will be seen as another historical legendary Maratha warrior Taanaji Malusare, who was the commander of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s army, in the period film “Taanaji: The Unsung Warrior”.
Another superstar, Salman Khan will bring “Bharat Kumar”, the Indian adaptation of a Korean film, “Ode to My Father”. Ashutosh Gowariker, who made the historical mess “Mohenjo Daro”, is also coming up with another historic battle movie “Panipat”, with Sanjay Dutt and Arjun Kapoor. In the film, Arjun plays the role of Maratha army’s leader Sadashivrao Bhau, whereas Sanjay essays the main antagonist, Ahmad Shah Durrani, who led the Afghans to victory.
Over time, Bollywood producers who abandon the ideological movement and moved forward to commercialisation with romantic and action stories, are now changing their attitude with the BJP in power. Big producers and directors of Bollywood like Yash Chopra, Karan Johar, Farhan Akhtar and Subhash Ghai made films more about romance and less about social justice. But now these bigwigs want to butter up the Modi government.


They perceive that this is a beneficial time for patriotic and historical themed cinema. Many feel it is a good phase for those stories that incline towards a saffron ideology that normally went unnoticed. Hence, in the present period, movies will attract your attention not only because of their name, but also the story, the themes, the atmosphere and the message.

New-Fangled Fascism

Hindu Fascism is not the typical Euro-centric Fascism, unlike what moribund Leftists in India think. It is “aestheticisation of symbols of power in fascist regimes” – such as the exquisitely choreographed columns of the faithful hailing Hitler in the Nazi propaganda film, ‘Triumph of the Will’

new-fangled-fascism
Sankar Ray
Sankar Ray

Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazines, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad

India at the present historical juncture has been inebriated by an increasingly toxic chauvinism, a populist drug, aptly identified by the Pakistani journalist and political commentator Zarrar Khuhro as an activity ‘increasingly and actively being radicalised by a right-wing ruling elite, which has its divisive messages amplified by a shrill right-wing media owned by corporations that are close to the ruling party” - Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) . Each arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), including the BJP, is unmistakably Fascist, notwithstanding the stupidly obstinate (if not intellectually naïve) assertions by ideologues of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and his predecessor Prakash Karat that it’s ‘fascistic’ and not Fascism.
The problem with hoary-headed ‘Marxist’ ideologues is their parrot-like understanding of Fascism. They blindly adhere to the definition of Euro-centric Fascism, defined by Georgi Mikhailovich Dimitrov, secretary-general of the Communist International in the late 1930s, as the “open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” Let’s not get into the labyrinthine lemma or an etymological eerie in the nightmarish crisis facing us. But India is yet to witness an open terroristic dictatorship of finance capital, although we are constantly encircled by a semi-dictatorial ruling combine which is extremely reactionary and Hindu chauvinist, and instead of finance capital, a few crony capitalist groups are committed to demolish the self-reliant economic endeavour that kept Indian economy alive and inching ahead.
The tragedy is that India’s largest Leftist (official Marxist, rather Stalinist) political Party, the CPI(M) fails to realise the aesthetic dimension of Fascist – or, more generally, authoritarian – regime and becomes irrelevant to get lost in a plethora of absurdities. Its cerebra fail to see that the clog in the wheel for all who confront Fascism, or whatever, is a sanguinary reality. For the increasingly decimated comity of armchair revolutionaries, it is futile to suggest to them to widen the barricade by maximised mobilisation, as felt by those in Europe and America.
Fraught Analogies
Daniel Bessner and Udi Greenberg’s essay, “The Weimar Analogy” in Jacobin magazine is an eye-opener. They draw a parallel between the US President Donald Trump and the Third Reich. Permit me to quote from it.
“Trump’s support, after all, comes in large part from postindustrial dislocation, a socioeconomic condition completely alien to the industrial, class-based, and war-traumatised Germany of the 1920s and 1930s. More substantially, Trump’s ideology — if one can call a smattering of contradictory claims a coherent ideology — excludes some of Fascism’s classic features. Trump, after all, rarely invokes the language of blood and soil, the transcendental and rejuvenating experience of war, or explicit opposition to electoral institutions and politics. The debate over whether Trump counts as a fascist may seem pedantic, but its consequences for progressive thought are anything but. When we see America as Weimar and Trump as Hitler, we risk repeating past mistakes.”
Eric D Weitz, distinguished Professor of History and the former Dean of Humanities and Arts at The City College of New York appropriately noted: “Historical analogies are always fraught.” It will be suicidal to be oblivious of the Nazi horror. The new feature is “the process by which traditional and radical conservatives came together through a common language”, plus “numerous warning signals “ that bucks up “ the surge of right-wing populism from Poland across the continent, on to the United Kingdom, and across the ocean to the United States,” quipped Weitz, adding a cautionary note: “free nations must view all dictatorial movements as existential threats. Democracy, they argued, cannot coexist with the enemy; extremist radicals have to be actively destroyed. According to Weitz’s logic, “our generation must embrace these sentiments to resist Trump’s fascist takeover”.
Indian Fascism
The dress rehearsal of Fascism, neo-Fascism and far-right extremism, being witnessed today in the largest segment of the South Asian subcontinent is ‘non-Eurocentric’, formidably argued Benjamin Zachariah, faculty of the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg and formerly with the Presidency University, Kolkata, in a paper, ‘A Voluntary Gleichschaltung? A non-Eurocentric Understanding of Fascism’. This is mutated further from what Jawaharlal Nehru described as ‘majoritarian communalism’, the vehicle of Indian variant of Fascism. In his Autobiography written when he was imprisoned at the Ahmednagar Jail in 1936, he slammed organised religion:
“The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere has filled me with horror, and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seems to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation, and the preservation of vested interests.”
But Nehru did not spare minority communalism either. He found in communalism “a striking resemblance to the various forms of Fascism in other countries’ while in the Indian version of Fascism he spotted “evils and disasters that have resulted from the communal conflict. A combination of these two is thus something that can only bring grave perils and disasters in its train”.
Gleichschaltung
May be, the humanimalistic nature of State and its increasingly aggressive pose is beyond the Nehruvian imagination, amply reflected in the menacing cow-vigilantism in the social life and academic barbarism which is virulently exhibited at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, but all this happens under the juggernaut of majoritarian communalism.
Gleichschaltung, (bringing all political, economic, and social institutions under a single command under an authoritarian state to stamp out dissent or freedom in all areas of life alike the Nazi ideology.) appropriately elaborated by Zachariah, carries “very specific normative overtones that are associated with the Nazi state in particular; it is a process of appropriation from above by means of special legislation and through the use of state power”.
A ‘voluntary Gleichschaltung’, Zachariah added,”might seem like a contradiction in terms; but the use of the oxymoron indicates that an international recognition of the affinities and possibilities of working together predated the existence of Fascist states”. He suggests alternatives like ‘fascist Zeitgeist” that disseminate conspiracy theories and promote right-wing libertarian political ideology and diverts people’s energies and attention away from solving real problems in the real world. Together they develop the ‘fascist syncretism’ as discrete strands and movements to one another.
Christopher Bollus, British psychoanalyst and author of “Meaning and Melancholia: Life in the Age of Bewilderment”, has provoked a debate on the new features of Fascism in the frame of the world order of neo-liberal finance capital that has been engulfing India, Myanmar and many other countries.
Assam Trauma
The treatment meted out to at least four million inhabitants in Assam, rendered worse-than-persona non grata in the name of updating of the National Register of Citizens under the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, tabled in Parliament on July 2016, is a direct assault on the libertarian basics of our democracy. Pitiably enough, the entire invasion against the universal human rights is patronised and supervised by the Supreme Court of India. The social fabric of the sensitive and strategic northeastern state of India is torn apart as these hapless people, whose patriotic commitment was proved repeatedly, are pushed to a penumbra of insecurity, uncertainty and trauma, and most of them belong to Franz Fanon’s definition of the ‘wretched of the earth’. A parallel barbarism has been the protracted traumatising of the Rohingyas in neighbouring Myanmar.


The ferocious rightism is an international phenomenon, the neo-liberal totalitarian power, escalates the world over, with a mammoth strategy to rake up colonialism hybridising with barbarism to create a regime of enslavement. Like Fascism, the ascendant rightism aims at confusion and simplification of the ideological, theological, and cultural perceptions as a sequel to the failure of the Enlightenment view of man to comprehend human existence.
State Supreme
While the Enlightenment had partly emphasised the integrity of individual man, twentieth-century Fascism extolled the virtue of the state, an organic creation driven by the militant will of the masses in contrast to ‘the federal republic encumbered by checks and balances dividing power so that the people remained individually free to speak their minds in a pluralistic society’.
Which is why in the Middle-East, Africa, South and Central America and elsewhere the principal aim is to exploit vast populations, turning a blind eye to continued colonial activities. Bollus states with a sense of self-abnegation: “I liken us to the Nazi occupation of Europe. The US and Western governments are hated by most of the rest of the world population and hated for good reason. My point is that we have destroyed people. The destroyed, driven mad by us — and their own leaders who are our puppets — are now the return of the oppressed. We are now to pay a huge price for more than 50 years of such oppression.”
Torture is outsourced – a glaring instance being Guantanamo— along with a wide variance of criminal activities. Islamophobia is unquestionably blameworthy in no uncertain terms but in practice, it is an alibi for unleashing torture without bounds.
Islamophobia is not just a Western phenomenon. It has been whipped up to unimaginable levels in India by the RSS-BJP combine. “When the cartoons stirred up Islam, they did indeed rouse the insane. If we are not responsible for the entire history of their descent into madness, we discovered them in this condition and we have exploited them, which is a very grave crime against tens of millions of people,” the social psychoanalyst puts it ingenuously.


Hindutva Psychophobia
The ‘teeming millions’ are compressed in psychophobia; a fear of the mind and a rejection of depth psychologies even in the West, the reflex of which are the victory of Trump in America and Brexit in the United Kingdom. Literary giants such as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Franz Fanon had envisioned this as they felt deeply disturbed by this traumatisation.
Rohit Chopra, associate professor of communication at Santa Clara University, University, USA, and author of “Technology and Nationalism in India: Cultural Negotiations from Colonialism to Cyberspace” in a commentary in the Hong Kong-based morninger South China Morning Post, strongly indicted the World Hindu Congress in Chicago, ostensibly held as a homage to Swami Vivekananda for his historic speech 125 years ago, a speech that set the space for a civilisational dialogue between Hinduism and the West.
Professor Chopra cautioned that the intention of the global Hindutva jamboree was “aestheticisation of symbols of power in fascist regimes – such as the exquisitely choreographed columns of the faithful hailing Hitler in the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will – is to make violence palatable, comprehensible, and even attractive of such regimes. Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Robert Mugabe all fit this bill, so did a gathering of Hindus from around the globe at the World Hindu Congress”.
Ever since the hukumat of BJP-led federal government came to power with Narendra Modi as the premier in 2014 “an unofficial government scheme of targeting minorities has been well under way in India. Lynching of Muslims by vigilante Hindu groups on the pretext of possessing beef, a crime in numerous Indian states given the sacred status of the cow for many Hindus; assaults on Dalits, in the lower rung of the caste hierarchy of Hinduism, and a strident jingoism stoked by openly partisan state officials and media persons, have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissenting voices in the academic, artistic, and activist communities”, Chopra asserted.
Shankar Gopalakrishnan in an essay in Monthly Review, published a decade ago, identified the rise of the aggressive right alongside the “simultaneous rise of two reactionary political projects, Hindutva and neoliberalism, to a position of dominance in India”, an allotropic manifestation of hyper-nationalism of the ‘bureaucratic-authoritarian’ dictatorships in Latin America, the implicit racism and jingoism of Thatcher and Reagan, etc. ”The distinctive feature of Hindutva,” he rightly spotted, is “a predominantly cultural-ideological phenomenon” in order to “to divert attention from class conflict, to divide and weaken the working class struggles and to deflect class-driven anxieties on to minority communities”.


Hindutva Eugenics
Four decades ago, the then RSS sarsanghchalak, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, penned, “We may have to use sanctions of force also in our endeavour.” For ‘outsiders’ (meaning the minorities) he dictated an option: “They can swear allegiance to Hindutva and join the society, or they can retain their beliefs, thereby confirming their foreignness, as if fit for self-destruction.”
Mind you, Hindutva is not mainly an elite offensive but an antidote to the subaltern mobilisations of Dalits or regional parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party. It has considerably delegitimised class and caste struggle and instead promoted notions of’ ‘harmony’.
If the BJP returns to power in the parliamentary elections in 2019, Hindu Fascism will be far more devastative. Remember the patronisation of eugenics during the Nazi era in Germany and various antisemitic programmes of euthanasia and death camps, having resorted to the reduction of non-Aryan children, through injection with genetic diseases and disorders.
‘Eugenics’ was coined by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and an accomplished scientist in his own right, with the motto of improving the human race by getting rid of the “undesirables” and multiplying the “desirables.”

Blue-Eyed In Saffron Den

The RSS is not a monolithic organisation. There are differences. There are internal dissensions, promotions and demotions. It is a fascinating matrix within which bloom a handful of blue-eyed boys

blue-eyed-in-saffron-den
Bhavdeep Kang
Bhavdeep Kang

Bhavdeep has worked for publications like The Times of India, The Telegraph, The Indian Express, India Today & Outlook. She has authored a book ‘Gurus: Stories of India’s Leading Babas’. She is presently freelancing for several publications -both print and digital

Invisible in the public discourse for the better part of its existence, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is now an important force in shaping public attitudes and policy. The impact of sarsanghchalak ‘PP’ (param pujniya) Mohan Rao Bhagwat’s landmark lecture series at Vigyan Bhawan in October, 2018, is a testimony to its growing influence.
With wry humour and blunt speaking, Bhagwat dispelled the hoary construct of a maleficent organisation, pulling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strings from a shadowy den in Nagpur. He projected the RSS as open, flexible and accommodative, thereby leaving its detractors stumped, at least for the nonce.

As always, when the BJP is in power, there are dire prophecies – invariably by outsiders with little knowledge of its internal dynamic – that it will subsume the RSS. The fact is that the RSS is the mother ship and the BJP a member of the fleet, captained and navigated by RSS-trained personnel. That Narendra Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, considerably diminished the clout of other RSS organisations in the state is true. But it doesn’t alter the fact that he is himself an RSS pracharak, on deputation to the BJP.
The top rungs of the party are packed with pracharaks and functionaries drawn from the RSS and its other frontal organisations. To say that the RSS has put its ‘stamp’ on the BJP is facile. The BJP, like all the other members of the sangh parivar, is organically linked to the RSS in the person of the pracharak. The pracharak, literally a disseminator or propagator, is thus an influential figure in our current political landscape! The RSS organisation has expanded to keep pace with its growing influence and reach. Obviously, the sarsanghchalak is the pivot. A word from him can make or break an election, or shape the broad contours of public policy. He is not an elected head and does not dabble in the day-to-day affairs of the sangh parivar, but enjoys a moral authority rarely matched in any organisation, social or political.

The Operators
Executive power vests with the sarkaryavaha or general secretary. Suresh ‘Bhaiyyaji’ Joshi has emerged as a hands-on number two, in close touch with the party and government. His appointment, or ‘election’, as sarkaryavaha in 2008 came as surprise to journalists, who had fully expected Suresh Soni to get the post. Nor was he expected to last more than a couple of three-year terms, largely because he was hampered by dodgy knees.
Certainly, the 2014 election campaign – the first in which the RSS pro-actively threw its full weight behind the BJP – was physically and mentally taxing. It was widely rumoured that Bhaiyyaji would retire and hand over the reins to Dattatreya Hosabale or V Bhaigaih. Rejuvenated by surgery and considerable weight-loss, however, he is now in his fourth term and at 70, is more active than ever.

Bhaiyyaji administers the RSS and supervises the activities of the 4,000-odd pracharaks across the country, some of whom are deputed to the main frontal organisations. Transfers and postings fall under his purview and by all accounts, he takes an interest in appointments right down to the level of tehsil pracharak. His primary concern, and one he shares with Bhagwat, is a robust shakha network. As of 2018, the number of shakhas stands at a shade below 60,000.
In addition, he is a great believer in social outreach. Sewa Bharti, which is actually a ‘sewa samooh’ comprising over one lakh organisations of varying sizes, has always been a hobby horse of his. Through this network, the sangh reaches out simultaneously to contributors and beneficiaries. Last heard, the ‘Sevadisha’ App had been developed to facilitate regular updates on their activities and workshops held to disseminate it.
Bhaiyyaji is also held to have popularised the sangh prarthna, which is now recited at all meetings and not just in shakhas! His pro-active approach extends to interactions with the BJP and government. He has reportedly presided over meetings featuring senior (kshetra and prant) pracharaks and party president Amit Shah, in the context of the 2018 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Interventions in public policy are limited to big-picture issues, but the concerns of organisations such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union are forcefully conveyed. As for appointments which are within the purview of the government, particularly in the education sector, the RSS naturally draws from its own pool.
The Interface
Technically, the interface between the RSS and government is Dr Krishna Gopal Sharma, one of the six sah-sarkaryavahas. In the Vajpayee regime, Madan Das Devi handled the job with great aplomb, but persistent health problems rendered him less active thereafter. During the UPA years, the RSS-BJP interaction was handled by Suresh Soni. For a pracharak, Soni displayed exceptional political acumen, but effaced himself after some of his hangers-on fell foul of the law.

The tricky assignment then passed to Krishna Gopal, who was earlier stationed in the North-East and played a role in the BJP’s success in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. He is respected for his intellectual depth and grasp of complex issues. However, realpolitik is not his forte, which might explain why Bhaiyyaji exercises oversight. The most charismatic face of the RSS is unarguably Dattatreya Hosabale. Long regarded as the number three, it was believed that he was being groomed as a future sarsanghchalak and would, therefore, take over as number two. This expectation was belied at the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Nagpur earlier this year. It is now widely rumoured that if Bhaiyyaji bows out, it is V Bhaigaih who will succeed him.
Hosabale has a committed following in the RSS, particularly in the ABVP, but insiders are mystified by media efforts to portray him as being ‘close’ to PM Modi. Of late, he has confined himself strictly to affairs of the sangh and displays no interest in politics. He is believed to have been the motive force behind the highly successful three-day lecture series by Bhagwat, titled “Future of Bharat: An RSS Perspective”.
The Executive
The third tier of the RSS now has six members, up from two just a decade ago. Apart from Hosabale, Soni, Bhaigaih and Krishna Gopal, there are Manmohan Vaidya and Mukunda CR, who were elevated earlier this year. Vaidya’s inclusion is interesting, given that he has never seen eye-to-eye with Modi. Mukunda’s is even more so, because he is from the same state as Hosabale (Karnataka). It would have made sense to elevate him if Hosabale was taking over from Bhaiyyaji, but that has not proved to be the case.
Another senior pracharak worthy of mention is the venerable Suhas Rao Hiremath, former Sewa Pramukh, who enjoys Bhaiyyaji’s confidence. Also noteworthy is Madhubhai Kulkarni, who is not important in the hierarchy but has the ear of the sarsanghchalak. Like Vaidya, his equation with Modi has not always been comfortable.
Then there’s Arun Kumar, who was recently designated spokesperson and is expected to be as discreet, but more communicative, than his predecessor. Not too long ago, Bajrang Lal Gupta, sanghchalak of Delhi, exercised considerable influence but his star has waned of late.
More than 30 RSS pracharaks and functionaries have been deputed to the BJP, a measure of the importance the sangh now attaches to its political wing. Ram Lal has been a general secretary (organisation) for nearly a decade, but has kept a low profile. In the past, general secretaries from the RSS, such as Khushabhau Thakre and KN Govindacharya, were more vocal and influential.
Ram Madhav, the face of the RSS on TV channels for over a decade, was deputed to the BJP as general secretary in 2014. His domain expertise in foreign affairs and the diplomatic network has come in handy for the government. He has also enjoyed success as election in-charge of Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East.
However, the buzz in the party is that he is no longer a blue-eyed boy, although he continues to have Bhagwat’s confidence.
The third RSS general secretary is P Muralidhar Rao, who is not a pracharak but was something of a wunderkind in the sangh parivar, handpicked by Swadeshi Jagran Manch founder Dattopant Thengadi to helm the organisation. He became political attache to BJP president Rajnath Singh after joining the party. Rao supervised the Karnataka assembly elections and has recently been asked to look after Rajasthan. The word in party circles is that the two general secretaries from erstwhile Andhra Pradesh do not get on. Among the more prominent of the joint general secretaries from the RSS are V Satish, who is believed to be close to Hosabale, and Shiv Prakash who was a kshetra pracharak before the RSS loaned him to the BJP. Along with Sunil Bansal, another of the joint general secretaries, he is credited with the party’s success in UP and Uttarakhand. Saudan Singh, who was once very close to Soni, is not as influential as of yore.

Fractious Opinions
The RSS is not quite the monolith it appears to be. There are many shades of opinion, and heckling the government and its policies at meetings is par for the course. Members of strong frontal organisations have no compunction in taking the government and party severely to task, albeit behind closed doors. Friction between top functionaries is also not uncommon, but rarely gets out of hand. Whatever the internal differences, after the core committee of the Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal takes a decision, everyone falls in line.
Occasionally, there’s disaffection in the ranks, as in the case of Praveen Togadia, who was recently ousted as VHP working president. Breaking discipline is uncommon but by no means unprecedented. Earlier casualties were Govindacharya and Suresh Joshi, both former pracharaks. The notable fact here is that although they are no longer part of the hierarchy, they continue to command a large following among swayamsevaks across the country and are treated as members of the RSS family. The former in particular is frequently invited to deliver talks and lectures at various RSS events, shares the stage with senior functionaries and is called upon for advice.
A swayamsevak, once and for all
The RSS today is more active and interactive than it has ever been. The approach to its stated goal of social transformation is now both bottom up (through the shakhas) and top down (through state power). Whatever ‘control’ the RSS exercises in the public sphere is through the individuals it has trained. The trouble is, humans are notoriously imperfect and this holds true for pracharaks.

Con-frontation!

The arrogance and self-promotion of Narendra Modi – anathema to the Sangh credo – has cut him off from those very frontal organisations through which the RSS had created the Modi Wave of 2014

con-frontation
Chandrani Banerjee
Chandrani Banerjee

Chandrani Banerjee has studied at the Columbia Journalism School, and covered the US elections, 2016. She has also filed an experience report for UN office of Drug and Crime about the Indian migrant workers, and worked with Outlook

When the ground rumbles, everything above it trembles. And the bigger the statues, the sooner they collapse. This is no idle philosophising, for this could be the emerging reality of the Modi-Shah duo, and they are alarmed.
Are the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) backed frontal organisations dissatisfied with the current ruling party, which they brought to power five years ago? Is the rising NaMo phenomenon of arrogance and ruling without consulting also a cause of concern? Amidst all speculations, RSS says sharing feedback with the top leadership is a part of a routine process and there is no dissatisfaction. Political pundits, however, disagree.

The RSS backed frontal organisations Bharatiya Kisan Union, Akhil Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, etc., have apparently placed on record their opinion about the top BJP leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is learnt that the feedbacks were mostly negative and the party was alarmed about its disgruntled constituents.
This has left two major questions unanswered:
• How are the frontal organisations viewing the upcoming 2019 general elections and its ramifications on the ruling party? After all, these organisations had actually created the ‘Modi wave’.
• Is there a simmering dissent among these frontal organisations about the ruling party? Do they disapprove of the ways and means of the functioning of the Narendra Modi government?
Speaking to Parliamentarian, Manmohan Vaidya, appointed as one of the Sah Sarakaryavahs, among the top echelon of RSS, said: “This is incorrect. Sangh is different from the party. We have nothing to do with them. The party will decide if they are unhappy with the functioning, we have nothing to say.”
Buzz: Dissatisfaction
There may not be official word on the dissatisfaction from RSS, which is expected. But the buzz is doing the rounds since the Samanvaya Baithak (a very critical coordination meet) in 2017. It is believed that the RSS at length discussed the feedbacks on the working of the government.
During the meet, the RSS warned the government about the negative opinion building up among the people. The RSS pointed out to the top leadership, which was present at the meeting, that the common man is in distress over economic policies. The BJP bosses have also been told that the heightened expectations of the common man have not been met.

“See, people will never admit that something like this was discussed in the Samanvaya Baithak. But those who were there are aware that all the issues that are plaguing the government had been raised and discussed,” said an RSS leader on condition of anonymity. Samanvaya Baithaks are annual meetings of all top RSS and BJP leaders. The meetings are meant to discuss strategies and devise plans for the future. In the last Samanvaya meeting, the top leadership were briefed and alerted about the upcoming 2019 elections.
The RSS leadership keeps talking to various frontal organisations and keeps an eye on the feedback on the governance and party functioning. Uncomfortable questions, failures and criticism are usually discussed in the Samanvaya meetings.
“The dissection of issues is a part of the Samanvaya Baithaks. So there were uncomfortable questions. They (grassroots organisations) pointed out that despite Vajpayee’s popularity, BJP lost the elections in 2004, and so one should not be complacent about the popularity of Narendra Modi. That is just one factor or part of the whole process, the entire process of winning elections cannot be defined by that”, said Yojna Gusian, covering Sangh over a decade now for The Asian Age, while speaking to the Parliamentarian.
Uneasy Feedbacks
Frontal organisations have been preparing the ground report for quite some time. The uneasy feedbacks show how the government’s failed economic policies have created dissatisfaction among voters. Dissenting views and general feedback about the party and policies have always been gathered through the grassroots-level RSS functionaries, and even from well-known sympathisers.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh’s (BMS) constant call for nationwide agitation against the Modi government’s reforms last year, which it says have led to “extreme exploitation and harassment” of the labour sector and led to increasing unemployment in the country, had raised eyebrows. So, the speculation about the dissatisfaction grows among the political fraternity. CK Saji Narayanan, National President, BMS, one of the largest trade unions in the country, says: “We were absolutely unhappy and that has led to several protests last year. However, now the situation is different. There is an assurance that there will be consultation with the trade unions before introducing any reforms in labour laws. There are many issues that we were agitating for, which have been addressed. The only issue left unattended is ‘fixed-term-employment’. We are working towards it.”
FTE Thorn
The BMS has planned several programmes regarding ‘fixed-term employment’, demanding scrapping of the system. BMS earlier decided to stage protests in all the districts demanding scrapping of fixed-term employment, which the organisation thought was destroying the labour sector. “Currently, 67 per cent of the organised sector workers belong to this category. The trend of contract labour has increased with the elimination of permanent posts in private and public entities as well as government departments,” Narayanan added.
He stressed the fact that ‘contract labour system’ in every sector has taken away the scope of permanent employment. It is just benefitting the public sector and leaving the labour high and dry. “We have a string of events planned on fixed-term employment. We believe that this is an important issue to be considered by the government. A large section of the working class belongs to this category and they are vulnerable. Everyone looks for security and this is basic.”


The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government had first allowed hiring fixed-term workers in 2003. This was scrapped by the Congress-led UPA in 2007 following intense protests by trade unions.
After coming to power, the Modi government in April 2015 again mooted the concept by issuing draft rules for amending the Industrial Establishment (Standing Order). But the move was deferred following opposition from trade unions.

Extending All Across
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech this year announced extending the facility of fixed-term employment, applicable so far only in the apparel manufacturing sector, to all sectors.
Under the rules, a “fixed-term employment” workman is one who has been engaged on a written contract of employment for a fixed period. The new rules, which provide that a temporary workman can be terminated without being given any notice has been widely condemned by all trade unions and they have been demanding its rollback. The BMS has been loudly deriding the government’s labour and economic policies and stridently opposing many of the labour reforms, which it says has led to continuous unrest in the labour class.
Narayan sited the examples of Maruti Udyog at Manesar, Hyundai and Honda industries. He said that there were intense labour unrests. Highlighting the plight of contract labour, the BMS said these workers were denied any social security, pension, medical benefits, gratuity and leave. “Social security and wage code are two issues still to be considered. I hope that will be addressed.”

labour Unrest
RSS backed frontal organisation Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh’s (BMS)constant call for nationwide agitation against the Modi government’s reforms that it says have led to “extreme exploitation and harassment” of the labour sector and led to increasing unemployment in the country last year raises eyebrows. So, the speculation about the dissatisfaction grows among the political fraternity.
Outsized Namo
Meanwhile, it is also rumoured that there is serious concern about the rising status of Narendra Modi. It is believed that the RSS cadres have been told not to chant NaMo slogan to project Modi as PM candidate.
Speaking about all the differences former ABVP president of Jawaharlal Nehru University and an RSS follower Sandeep Mahapatra said: “The media speaks from the information they have. I am not saying that they have false information but that could not be claimed hundred per cent truth. RSS has always shared inputs. And we have a way to function and that is there till date. There is nothing wrong in sharing information. Also, it should not be viewed as differences. Party functions as they would want to, and RSS works in its own way to contribute positively towards the growth of the party and members”.
Within RSS, Modi has not enjoyed very cordial relationship with Sanjay Joshi former RSS pracharak in Gujarat and Praveen Togadia, formerly of Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Modi may have forced Joshi to resign, but the Sangh is fighting hard for its own larger-than-life image.

Big Boss Is Here To Dictate

Under Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS has started asserting that it will not just write the script, but also direct, and even chose who the actors will be, upstaging the upstart duo: Modi-Shah

Big-Boss-Is-Here-To-Dictate
Shiv Visvanathan
Shiv Visvanathan

Shiv Visvanathan is an academic best known for his contributions to developing the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). He is currently Professor at OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat

The BJP narratives now sound like a long drawn out novel, predictable in its ¬plot and the stereotypical nature of its characters. At the individual level, the novel found in Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, two individuals who become central to the story. One was once an oppressor who could play party boss; the other was a shakha pracharak who could think of India as a mosaic of shakhas. Between two sets of petty tyranny, BJP’s idea of electoralism found the model for majoritarian dominance. The BJP’s juggernaut is in place by chapter four. The North East has been captured and the South is open. By this time, the reader tires of the obsession with the BJP and looks for subplots and side characters with cameo possibilities.

He will be disappointed because the opposition has failed. The Left as an imagination was too diffused or too Stalinist to be relevant. When it aligned with the Congress, it seemed lost. One did not know whether it was Rotarian or Leninist. Liberalism was too weak, too individualised to have a sense of institution building. A centrist consensus was no longer available, as the BJP appropriated the very discourse of democracy. By playing up the adolescent nature of Rahul Gandhi, the media made Modi appear a potential giant, masculine, managerial and decisive.
No Centrist Consensus
The opposition, if it existed, belonged to regional groups who were too parochial to think of the nation. Whether it was Stalin, Naidu, Chandrashekhar Rao or Mamata, they preferred to play to regional audiences.
The prospect of a centrist consensus swinging neither to right nor to left eluded the Indian imagination. It did not work even as a patchwork of coalitions. The electorate believed that only a pendulum swing from left to right would restore harmony to history. As a result, 2019 seems inevitable, a fait accompli with little excitement and politics was at an impasse. Media made Modi-Shah and company seem almost glacier-like in their inevitability. Journalists and social scientists sense disquiet on the ground, a sense of unease but doubt and critique had little place in the media.

The attention now shifts to the conglomerate called the BJP, to a sense of its internal dynamics.
When the BJP first emerged victorious in 2014, the party found its double, its vertebra in the RSS. Everyone felt that it was the RSS working at the grassroots level that created the possibility of electoral victory. No nukkad was too small for the RSS. It focused on the lower levels of the bureaucracy, working away like a termite through the interstices of the middle-class mind.
BJP-RSS Dichotomy
The BJP’s ambition was to stay in power. The RSS ambition was to use power to change India in its own image. The strength and weakness of the RSS centered around the image of its self. As a shakha, it ran splendidly. The RSS, in fact, was brilliant at disaster management. It made Communist Party cells look weak, even dubious. Such was the hold of its ideology.
The RSS could put a Kumbh Mela of campaigners on the ground. Superbly indoctrinated, they were at home at the ground level.
While efficient as organisations, both BJP and the RSS suffered from historical envy. As deeply nationalist parties, they discovered they were not part of the national movement. The RSS-BJP duo felt like Rip Van Winkles who had arrived too late in history. They were brilliant in domesticating India, but oddly, they were never at peace with the image of themselves.
It was their image of themselves that was to prove problematic, along with the sense of hierarchy. The RSS felt it was the nursery from which the seedling called the BJP emerged. It claimed a tacit sense of policy and ideological priority. Delhi might seem the centre of the party, but Nagpur was the source of origin of ideas, ideologies and the codes which determined politics.
As an argument for the sixties, it was adequate, but the RSS did not realise that time was crippling them. Nagpur felt like an old age home rather than a safe retreat. The RSS ideology, like its (now abandoned) Khaki shorts, seemed medieval before the modernising thrust of Shah and Modi. The RSS spouted a Victorian dialect. It appeared a period piece. Its leaders like Mohan Bhagwat were revered but seemed outside the mainstream to the new generation. Shah and Modi were more muscular, more immediate, the RSS tended to move from backstage to backdrop. Nagpur seemed to lose out to Delhi as a Centre both for power and ideas. Modi and Shah conveyed a sense of here and now.
Beating the Retreat
The RSS leadership often found themselves as critics and spectators in the show. Suddenly the political tension was no longer with the opposition which was passive. The jugalbandi between RSS-BJP had lost its rhythm. Once the taken for granted rhythm, the much-advertised discipline, the ideological blending breaks, Bhagwat looked like a symphony conductor waving a wand which had lost its magic. His musicians had found a new beat in the Modi-Shah show. It had immediacy, it was topical, the media loved it. Suddenly BJP-RSS politics looked like a long lasting serial that had taken a new turn. It was almost as if an all-powerful mother-in-law had lost out to a new generation. It is only within such a background that recent reports of rites and alignments make sense. Mohan Bhagwat’s recent speeches have to be read in this context. What Bhagwat indicated was that the RSS was not just a huge organisational network or even an ideological frame. He wanted to show that RSS shaped the India out of which BJP emerged. Bhagwat in his speeches wanted to show that RSS was the prime force.
Saffron Glasnost
He decided to announce a Glasnost of ideas to proclaim RSS was as dynamic as the BJP. This surge of speeches has to be read both for their understanding of ideology and power. At one level, the RSS is responding to the cockiness of Shah. At a deeper level, it is showing that new rules of the game are emerging and that BJP-RSS, instead of celebrating the present, must plan for the changes of emerging India.
The combination of knee-jerk responses and the vision of a long run, revealed a psychodrama that was fascinating to watch. In this essay we will consider two sets of presentations; the first the outreach speech by Bhagwat to the nation and second his performance at the International Hindu Congress.
At Bhagwat move like a tactic in a chess game itself has drama. The ideologues of RSS rarely step into the limelight. Their pearls of wisdom are ritualistic and occasional. The gurus of RSS always worked indirectly. They corrected course, checked deviance. This time they stepped into the limelight to say they not only write the script but that they direct the play and determine who the actors are or can be. One has to look at the text, context and the nature of performance.
Bhagwat is saying the RSS can speak directly to the nation, set the trend and then step back to watch their scenario. But there are differences here. It is like Nestor or Bhishma playing Hector or Yudhisthir. It is an attempt to redefine the world the RSS shaped.
Discarding Modi
The RSS is creating a new definition of itself. It is a unique creation, and Bhagwat as head of the biggest NGO in the world is now both civil society and regime. His speech is also a reflection of his vision of a changing India and RSS’s changing role in it. Suddenly a petty power struggle fades, and what one sees is a more imperious notion of power. It is a prelude, a ritual cleansing and a ritual distancing from old habits. Bhagwat dissociates himself from Modi’s personal dream of a Congress-Mukt Bharat. Modi’s hangover about the Congress seems as irrelevant as the RSS’s Khaki shorts.
Bhagwat wants a new vision of unity which goes beyond the identity of Golwalkar era. M S Golwalkar believed in a secondary citizenship for minorities and offered them at best a second-rate sense of citizenship. RSS is not admitting fallibility but is coming close to saying that by admitting a need for modernisation. This goes beyond the faintest dreams of Modi and Shah.
It is a Glasnost movement and one wonders whether RSS is ready for it. One wonders whether RSS would cry Glasnost and then return like Russia to the days of Putin. Bhagwat, like Boris Yeltsin, would be a forgotten figure or is a miracle happening which is difficult to believe that the organisation is moving into the age of transparency.
Modi must be kicking himself for not thinking of such ideas and Amit Shah sounds like a head of a dreary tutorial college. Bhagwat has stuck his neck out. The question is having announced the possibility will he move to denial and play the ostrich? As a vote gathering strategy, going beyond the Hindutva catchment area, the idea has immense possibilities.

There is a pragmatic side to the RSS. After all, it did this when it helped Jayaprakash Narayan oust Indira Gandhi. Is it now planning to oust its old self, and Modi and Shah along with it as a side benefit? Sadly, 2019 might be too early to tell the everyday implications of a society where Muslims are no longer forced to sing Vande Mataram or Akhlaq and Shopian murders look improbable has a touch of utopia to it.
Changing Mentor
Bhagwat has been a gentle mentor to the BJP. People, in fact, think he is too soft. Maybe the alchemy of these new ideas will change both the imagination and the power dynamics which recognises India’s diversity and the dreams of constitutionalism.
Pragmatically, one senses a possibility and a cynical joke on the nation.
Bhagwat’s outreach speech had as its dramatic counterpart his speech to the International Hindu Congress. The Congress was convened to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, where Vivekananda created history. Bhagwat’s speech is more dog-eared. One senses he is not quite a Vivekananda, and his attempt to match that role looks pretty futile. Sadly, he gets texts wrong. He becomes defensive about Hinduism, while Vivekananda makes Hinduism sound like a philosophical invitation, an awakening for all humanity.
Hindutva seems defensive before Vivekananda Hinduism. The parochialism of Hindutva becomes apologetic before the Hinduism of Vivekananda’s imagination. The BJP has a chance to redeem itself if it withdraws its stand on Babri Masjid. Then, what Bhagwat said at the two sites acquires new authenticity. India becomes a civilization of Hinduism and Islam. One cannot see such an electoral plank for 2019.
But the doubt has been planted and suddenly Shah and Modi look like petty peddlers of politics before Bhagwat. As an act of philosophical one-upmanship, the two speeches upstaged anything Modi and Shah could produce. The tragedy is tha they may become parallel worlds to each other. An ethical opportunity will then be lost.

Philosophy and Politics
The essay so far talks about Bhagwat’s speech. Philosophical power cannot do much without petty politics. The downside of Bhagwat’s trip was that Nitin Gadkari was not allowed to accompany him. The presence of the twosome was upsetting, and the Modi government cancelled his visit.
Beyond philosophy, there is the making of the political battle. Gadkari is seen as RSS’ ideal choice to replace Modi. The battles that have preceded have been many. There is a sense that if politics is to be changed, Modi has to be replaced by Gadkari. Yet, Modi is shrewd enough to realise this. He has waged a quiet battle to upstage this move and make RSS buy peace, remain the consultant to the politician in power.
There is a gossip of unease here and rumour shows that the tension between RSS and BJP might be the real dynamic of the 2019 election. India’s politics has a way of picking unthinkable ambushes.

Jet Airways Caught In Financial Turbulence

Once bitten, twice shy; the Indian banks that already have an exposure to Jet, have developed cold feet, having suffered severe setbacks after heavily lending to failed Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines

jet-airways-caught-in-financial-turbulence
Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

Is Jet Airways, India’s premier private airlines, wobbling midair, looking desperately for an urgent fuel (cash) injection? Reports trickling out of a thick veil of corporate cloud reveal a grim tale that could very much trigger apparition of now bust Kingfisher Airlines. On the one hand, Jet Airways has sought a moratorium on loans from the banking consortium, it has even asked for fresh funds on the other, to urgently tide over a cash crunch, people familiar with the inside developments say.
The urgency for a cash infusion is fraught with trouble because, already, the airline has grounded a dozen aircraft as part of a thorough review of its existing network; the measure is obviously aimed at reducing unprofitable domestic routes. The Mumbai-headquartered carrier, part-owned by Etihad Airways PJSC, is understood to have undertaken an exercise to identify and lay off people from non-core areas to prevent itself from sliding deeper into trouble.
Once bitten, twice shy; the Indian banks that already have an exposure to Jet, have developed cold feet, having suffered severe setbacks after heavily lending to failed Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines. The banks have become extremely cautious now as the country’s first and the biggest full-service carrier has reported no profit for nine out of its past eleven years of service.
Secondly, the depreciating value of Indian Rupee coupled with a diehard competition from the domestic budget carriers have put the Naresh Goyal-led Jet Airways on a warpath, where it has to raise fund at any cost, for survival. The Rupee has been extremely volatile and the Reserve Bank of India has already issued strong guidelines to the major banks on trimming their NPA (non performing asset) levels. Plus, a general election is close on the horizon, putting tremendous pressure on banks to either perform or perish. The lenders, loathe to inject cash, have asked for a detail action plan from the airlines board for a turnaround even as the shares of the airlines tanked 75 per cent this year, shrinking the market value of the company to around Rs 2,384 crore.
Shares of Jet Airways fell as much as 2.3 per cent. They have tumbled about two-thirds this year, headed for their biggest decline since 2011, and are trading at their lowest level since June 2015. The airline has been making desperate moves to bolster its finances after reporting a loss in the year ended March 31, 2018. Jet’s struggle for survival stems from the introduction of two-cent fares where the rising price of jet fuel is perfectly negating the gains despite a surge in number of domestic passengers. Rising jet fuel prices have eroded cash and inflated its total debt to 55.4 times of its earnings before interest and tax as of March.
According to a statement issued by the carrier in August last, the audit committee did not recommend financial results for the board’s approval, “pending closure of certain matters.” The National Stock Exchange of India sought clarification from the company on why the results had been delayed and advised Jet Airways to disclose the fresh date for its earnings.
State Bank of India, HSBC Holdings Plc and Axis Bank Ltd. are among the lenders to the Mumbai-based carrier, which owes a total about Rs 9,400 crores ($1.4 billion). It had cash and equivalents of Rs 320 crores at the end of March this year. Querries seeking details of loan exposures in HSBC, SBI and Axis Bank have so far elicited little response on the plea from lenders that client-sensitive issues are not disclosed. Jet Airways has Rs 3,120 crore worth of loan repayments due in the year through March 2019, ICRA Ltd. said in May last.

The local unit of Moody’s Investors Service also lowered the airline’s rating a notch to BB+ with a negative outlook, a score that signals moderate risk of default regarding timely servicing of obligations. Moddy’s had cited Jet’s inability to pass on increasing fuel costs to its consumers in view of cut-throat competition.
According to aviation insiders, the Jet Airways board unveiled some sketchy details of a turnaround plan sometime in August after the banks have begun prodding it with proposals to sell shares. The bankers prefer that the company raises money from a share sale before they could commit to any fresh credit.
“The board approved turnaround strategy is under implementation. The strategy encompasses various cost-reduction and revenue enhancement initiatives including working on restructuring of our balance sheet via debt-reduction, streamlining cash flows, payroll optimization, exploring funding options such as capital infusion, monetization of company’s stake in its loyalty program, and several other measures, to realize higher productivity and operational efficiencies,” Jet Airways said in a statement. That the carrier is continuously evaluating commercial viability of its operations, is obvious from its statement. Following this, shares of the company jumped as much as 4 percent on the stock market in Mumbai in October based on optimism that any successful arrangement with bankers could help the carrier get its finances back in order. But it was just a flicker and Jet stocks have continued to tumble in the stock market.
Incidentally, Jet Airways has the highest portion of short-term debt to total debt, compared to its Asian peers, at 46 per cent. The carrier was one of the first to take off in the early 1990s after India opened up aviation to non-state carriers.
Among other proposed measures it had announced were the sale of the carrier’s stake in its frequent-flier programme, capital infusion, paring of debt and trimming costs by as much as Rs 2,000 crores ($271 million) over the next two years. While Blackstone Group LP and TPG Capital were reportedly in talks for an undisclosed stake in the loyalty program, JetPrivilege, the carrier is yet to make any announcement or provide any indication which confirms that it is anywhere close to a deal.
Jet Airways owns 49.9 percent of JetPrivilege, with the rest held by Etihad Airways PJSC, which separately owns 24 percent of the Indian carrier.
Cash and equivalents at Jet Airways crashed to Rs 320 crores as of March, from as high as Rs 2,080 crores three years earlier. Net debt was at Rs 7,360 crores as of June 30, 2018, 65 per cent of which would require to be denominated in dollars, Chief Financial Officer Amit Agarwal said in August. The rupee’s 13 per cent slide against dollar is making matters worse by threatening to drive up plane financing costs, signalling the urgency to raise capital and tide over any squeeze.
According to SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar, Jet Airways is among the companies which together owe Rs 24,600 crore in debt and might be finding it tough to repay. But he declined to reveal further details citing client confidentiality agreement. The SBI chairman’s disclosure promptly triggered a reaction from Jet Airways which claimed that there had been no delay in meeting any of its loan obligations and no loan amount was overdue.

Globally, the picture is not quite encouraging either. A sharp spike in crude oil prices leading to a rise in jet fuel costs, have hurt other carriers in the region as well. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., which is in the midst of a three-year overhauling program, reported a surprise loss for the first half of the year, while Singapore Airlines Ltd. said profit dropped 59 percent in the quarter to June.
While rising fuel costs are pushing some airlines like JetBlue to look for cheaper and potentially more environmentally friendly fuel options, Wall Street analysts have said higher fuel costs could actually be a benefit for airlines.
“There has been a level of debate amongst investors around the implications of higher oil on Airline shares, and in our opinion, higher is a good thing,” analyst Rajeev Lalwani of Morgan Stanley observed earlier this year when oil prices began to increase. “This is because it instills: 1) Pricing and capacity discipline; 2) Financial constraints on costs and capex; and 3) Margin and multiple expansion.” For every 10 dollar hike per barrel, airline margins can contract 1-2 percentage points, according to an estimate by the bank. Because fares tend to move in step with fuel prices, airlines will have reason to raise fares again and recapture the 5-10 points of lost pricing from recent years.
India, which is one of the world’s fastest growing aviation markets, is also one of the toughest to operate in; because, carriers are being compelled to sell tickets below cost to attract a fast-growing middle class. Kingfisher Airlines, started by Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya in 2005, was one of the nation’s leading carriers until it folded its operations in 2012 amidst mounting debt. Air India Ltd. is surviving though on repeated bailouts of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money by successive governments in New Delhi.

Indian Railways: Moolah Derail

There is a popular perception that the merger of the Rail Budget with the Union Budget since last fiscal has led to worsening of its finances, since the oversight due to an independent budget has lessened

moolah-derail
Sindhu Bhattacharya
Sindhu Bhattacharya

As passengers continue to choose other modes of transport over the Indian Railways and haulage of most commodities except coal decline or remain flat, the state of India’s largest transporter and its finances continue to be precarious. The IR has been falling short of its own revenue targets for many years now as it spends nearly all that it earns and continues to depend on extra-budgetary resources to meet its financing requirements. In the second year after the Rail Budget was merged with the Union Budget, rising expenses and not enough increase in revenues continues to define the IR. The operating ratio – which measures how much of a rupee is spent to earn that rupee – has crossed the 100 per cent mark some moths back and is expected to be the highest ever by the end of the fiscal.
So IR’s finances continue to cause worry. Between April 1 and October 20 this fiscal, the only bright spots were passengers who travel on reserved tickets and increased loading of coal – both these factors helped the IR increase total gross earnings by almost 9 per cent year-on-year. In this 203-day period of 2018-19, gross earnings jumped by almost Rs 39 crore each day, on an average.
But a closer look at the traffic patterns and earnings shows why there is a lot to worry despite the increased earnings. First, the increase still did not fulfill the earnings’ target the IR had set itself at the beginning of 2018-19. In the first six months of the fiscal (April 1 to September 30), gross earnings fell short by almost Rs 24 crore daily, on an average. The IR has not provided the difference between the target and the gross earnings for the first 20 days of October. And the daily shortfall of Rs 24 crore is correct if we take the IR’s gross earnings while also including coal haulage due to NTPC. But if the NTPC haulage is excluded, the gap between actual gross earnings and the target widens considerably, by almost Rs 47 crore daily.
Here’s the other worrying bit. Although there was surge in total number of passengers travelling by trains between April 1 and October 20, by almost 9 crore, this was almost entirely due to an increase in suburban passengers and those who travel on a reserved ticket. The unreserved, non-suburban segment – which accounts for the largest share of train travelers – declined year-on-year.
The IR has been falling short of its earnings target for some years, year-on-year, as it witnessed an exodus of passengers to other modes of transport and lost its considerable share in the country’s freight market due to skewed tariff policies in the past. This skew was corrected to some extent in the last two years with a host of incentives being offered to freight customers, which is why haulage and earnings from freight are showing an upswing. But this improvement has obviously not been able to bring the IR anywhere near its annual earnings target. Besides, even though there has been an increase in passengers in some categories of travel, the overall passenger earnings continue to show moderate growth and this too is largely on account of reserved category of passengers. Remember, almost 66 paise of every rupee earned by the IR comes from freight and is used to subsidise passengers, where the national transporter continues to bear a loss on each seat. So not only is the IR unable to harness its massive potential to haul freight (outside of coal), it has been losing money on each passenger it transports. How will it then be able to meet any annual revenue generation target?
There is a popular perception that the merger of the Rail Budget with the Union Budget since last fiscal has led to worsening of its finances, since the oversight due to an independent budget has lessened. Remember, now that the IR no separate Budget, it is exempt from paying dividends to the government, which could be to the tune of Rs 9000 crore. The very purpose of being free of dividend liabilities is being defeated, however, since the IR continues to cross subsidise passengers through freight earnings.
A look back at the 2016-17 Rail Budget shows why being merged with the Union Budget may not have changed the IR’s fortunes either way. The shortfall between the revised estimates of total receipts in 2016-17 and actual total receipts was a staggering Rs 6,922.52 crore. That means a shortfall of almost Rs 19 crore each day of the fiscal, in an year when the IR presented its independent Budget. In the next fiscal, when the merger of the budget happened, the target for total receipts was increased by a little over Rs 24,000 crore to Rs 189,498.37 crore. But in the revised estimates for 2017-18, this was brought down to Rs 187,425 crore, or by a little over Rs 2,000 crore. What is the actual total receipt figure is yet to be known.
So despite falling massively short of targeted receipts for at least two years in a row, the IR again set itself an ambitious target of Rs 20,1090 crore gross receipts for the current fiscal. It is anyone’s guess whether this over optimism will be realised.
It is obvious that there is a crying need to raise passenger fares for the IR’s overall finances to improve. Besides, the need to eliminate cross subsidization of passenger fares through freight earnings has also been highlighted by a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways, chaired by TMC’s Sudip Bandopadhyay, which tabled its report in March last year. Some subsequent Parliamentary panel reports have also exhorted the IR to raise passenger fares, but all such exhortations have fallen on deaf ears. If anything, passenger fares are being rationalised. Take for example the flexi fare scheme, which was started in 2016 on a minuscule number of premium trains. This fare policy earned the IR incremental revenue as seats filled up – it was demand based. But persistent criticism and teh perception that occupancy on certain routes was getting affected since passengers were falling off the IR map due to steep fares, led to the IR scrapping/diluting this policy.
Anyway, in an election year, there is little chance of the government approving any move to raise fares. So consequently any chance of a dramatic improvement in the finances of the IR remains remote. Here’s another institutional exhortation to raise fares: The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) said in its audit report for FY16 that “Ministry of Railways needs to revisit the passenger and other coaching tariffs so as to recover the cost of operations in phased manner and reduce losses in core activities. Operational losses on running suburban train services and on account of facility of free/concessional/complimentary passed to various classes of passengers need to be curtailed.” The CAG found that the IR earned a profit of Rs 38, 312.59 crore from freight services in FY16 and used 88.28 per cent of the profit from freight traffic to underwrite the loss on passenger services and addition of coaches. This practice has continued since.
Meanwhile, the Standing committee had noted that for 2016-17 the extent of cross subsidization was thus: The cost of transporting freight only 99 paise per 10 km but the charges the IR levied were Rs 1.60 per 10 km. On the passenger side, charges were 50 per cent of the cost of service – 36 paise per 10 km against the actual cost of 70 paise per 10 km.
According to IR’s own data, the transporter earned Rs 2,541.21 crore (Rs 2,511.82 crore) from passengers between April and October 20 this year, a growth of 1.17 per cent. And from freight, gross earnings were higher by 10.42 per cent to Rs 65,139.73 crore (Rs 58,994.34 crore). It is interesting to see that almost the entire earnings boost in the freight segment could be coming in from coal, as haulage and therefore earnings from almost all other commodities are either flat or declining during the first half of this fiscal. Coal accounts for nearly half the total freight basket of IR and it earned incremental revenue of over Rs 5000 crore between April and September this year vis-a-vis the same six-month period of 2017-18. Iron ore declined, cement was flat.
As for the passengers, the IR suffered a significant loss in passenger numbers during the first quarter (April-June) as it undertook massive maintenance works – which had been pending from earlier years and were seen causing more deadly accidents if left unattended. This had led to significant train delays as sections of the network remained closed to traffic for many hours at a stretch. At one point, almost three in four passenger mail/express trains were facing a delay. This situation has improved dramatically now, with the network reporting at least 70 per cent trains on time and this, in turn, has boosted passenger numbers on the second quarter. But despite trains adhering to better timings, there has been no dramatic surge in either the passenger numbers or earnings.
So it is clear from the earnings so far that IR’s finances for 2018-19 may need a further boost. The total earnings target in the Budget for this fiscal is a little over Rs 2 lakh crore which means IR will have to generate an incremental revenue of almost Rs 22,000 crore by the end of this fiscal. It is eyeing about Rs 10,000 crore additional earnings from freight but that still leaves a gap of Rs 12,000 crore in the earnings target. Stats:


Total passengers booked (million)

April 1 and October 20, 2018: 4696.95

April 1 and October 20, 2017: 4608.70

Total freight loaded (in million tonnes)

April 1 to October 20, 2018: 650.73 million tonnes

April 1 to October 20, 2017: 616.55 million tonnes

Gross passenger earnings (Rs crore)

April 1 and October 20, 2018: Rs 2,541.21 crore

April 1 and October 20, 2017: Rs 2,511.82 crore

Gross freight earnings (Rs crore)

April 1 to October 20, 2018: Rs 65,139.73 crore

April 1 to October 20, 2017: Rs 58,994.34 crore

Total gross earnings (includes passenger, freight, sundry and other coaching in Rs cr)

April 1 to October 20, 2018: Rs 97,816.98 crore

April 1 to October 20, 2017: Rs 89,917.65 crore

The Middle Men

The media complains of ‘curtailing freedom of press,’ but it has also done itself in by indulging in power broking and profiteering, as the two worst examples of recent times show

the-middle-men
Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

The news came as a bolt from the blue. Director (News) of one of the leading Hindi News television channels, Hemant Sharma, resigned in August first week. Sharma was a very high profile journalist, whose daughter’s wedding a couple of months earlier was attended by who’s who of the country from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely, BJP president Amit Shah, a spectrum of opposition leaders to a bevy of jurists, bureaucrats and law enforcement officers besides, of course, fellow journalists.
The celebrations had continued for over a fortnight, with friends like India TV promoter Rajat Sharma and Director, Aster Group of Educational Institutions, VK Sharma, throwing parties at five star hotels. A day after Sharma resigned came the news that CBI had arrested four persons on charges of ‘trying to influence government recognition to medical colleges by bribing unnamed people’.
Among the four arrested was VK Sharma, and the arrests had been made from his residence itself. The arrested confessed to the CBI that the money was to be sent to unnamed government officials through a senior journalist. While media circles were speculating on the identity of the journalist, Rajat Sharma dropped a bomb by claiming that Hemant Sharma had been asked to resign because “I have zero tolerance towards allegations of corruption.” The fog had been cleared and the dots had been joined.
Though the name of Hemant Sharma was not mentioned in the FIR, his name figured in the questioning of the accused persons. That is why India TV asked him to make an honourable exit for the sake of the channel, with which he had been associated for a long time, Rajat Sharma told the media.

Comet Cometh
Hemant’s ascent had been spectacular especially during past four-five years. His proximity to Amit Shah was an open secret. He claims that he not only influenced Modi to contest for Lok Sabha from Varanasi Sharma’s hometown but swung BJP tickets for at least a dozen persons in Uttar Pradesh.
He was reportedly instrumental in the appointment of a retired bureaucrat, Nripendra Mishra, as Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister one of the most powerful posts in the country, along with those of the National Security Advisor and Cabinet Secretary.
His story exemplifies how media persons use their access to the corridors of power in gaining proximity and swinging deals. Politicians want to be showcased positively in the media. A favourable media avoids their warts and presents them as clean as the Ganga. The politicians use their power and influence to pay back the ‘favourable media’ through favours, subsidised accommodations, government posts, advertisements or other such means. There are a large number of journalists staying in subsidised government accommodations for 25 to 30 years, even long after their retirement.
The mutual coexistence of these journalists and the politicos also explains how some scribes survive after being rendered unemployed for whatever reason. Politicians and bureaucrats too want trusted conduits, and having known journalists over the years, use them as middlemen mostly in transfers, postings, awards of contracts and distribution of tickets.
The practice often starts at the grassroots district or block level where politicians and bureaucrats start their careers, and journalists too work part-time, doubling up often as advocates or teachers. They swing deals for people with money, often taking a cut. The magnitude grows with the rise of the journalist to bag bigger deals at state headquarters; and mega-deals in metropolises. With their modest salaries, those wanting to push their ways up the socio-political ladder often take recourse to dangerous shortcuts. No wonder, it is said that Delhi has more power brokers than in the rest of the country put together.
A journalist was once offered a fortune by an upcoming businessman for arranging a meeting with a Union Minister. Cutting an assured deal with a Minister or Secretary obviously gets the journalist an assured commission as well. No wonder names of some journalists have been cropping up from time to time in various mega deals, especially in petroleum, construction and defence sectors. Couple of them have also been named and detained by law enforcement agencies.
There are many journalists who own swanky farmhouses, luxury cars and a lifestyle far bigger than their salary would allow. But, like tainted bureaucrats and politicians, tainted journalists also manage to avoid the long arm of the law, precisely because of this unholy nexus with the politicians.
Jindal & Zee
Two incidents in particular highlighted how journalists work, network and then use their ‘contacts’ for personal gains. One was the ‘Nira Radia Tapes’ case, and the second one was allegations of blackmailing Jindal Steel owner and Member of Parliament Navin Jindal.
“Jindal plays CD, claims Zee editors demanded Rs 100 crore” was the boldly displayed four-column headline at the top right hand of the first page of The Hindu of October 20, 2012. The amount was said to have been demanded by Zee TV editors Sudhir Chaudhury and Sameer Ahluwalia in the form of advertisements worth Rs 25 crores per year for four years for not airing incriminating stories of involvement in coal block allocations of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. (JSPL).
Zee denied the allegation, counter-charging JSPL with attempting to muzzle it first with a bribe of Rs 25 crore to one of its editors, and, when that failed, coming up with the advertising deal on its own to stop the TV coverage of JSPL’s role in the ‘coalgate’ scam. JSPL purported to show the Zee editors pointing out in the course of negotiating the deal that it was not unusual for media outlets to strike similar deals.
India, during the days of the freedom movement and the early years of Independence, the field of journalism, in general, and the media, in particular, comprised editors and publishers who were nearly equal in stature and professional and personal integrity to the heroes of the freedom struggle. Some of freedom struggle heroes were themselves editors of newspapers as well. There was mutual respect between them. The tale of National Herald editor M Chalapathi Rao often standing up to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also chief trustee of Associate Journal Limited owning the newspaper is a legend young journalists used to be fed almost compulsorily.
But, there has been a precipitous fall in the quality and calibre of both individuals and institutions in all spheres of activity. It is unrealistic to expect in this situation that the media will be an exception and somehow will live up to the exalted standards that it stood for once.
There is, however, one factor which distinguishes the media from the other institutions even today. It appropriates for itself the lofty role of a conscience-keeper, custodian of norms, and guardian of the rights and entitlements of the citizenry, insisting on propriety and integrity in public life, upbraiding in harsh language those who do not shape up in these respects. It is only right for people to expect that such self-appointed mentors keeping a critical eye on the conduct of everybody else should themselves excel in their sense of accountability and trustworthiness and be exemplars to the other sections of society.
Unfortunately, the black sheep in India’s media are leading people to believe that its scruples and principles are inversely proportional to its pretensions and claims. Even a lay reader’s eye is often able to spot where its product — whether in the form of a newspaper, journal or TV programme — does not meet the strictest tests of accuracy, fairness and responsibility.
Radia Radar
The point about the Nira Radia tapes is not just that they provided stunning evidence of some iconic anchors and columnists being ready and willing to act as political power-brokers and go-betweens; they also laid bare the tendency of the black sheep to emulate the worst types of politicians in aggressively seeking to extricate themselves with specious pleas. In similar circumstances, if some others outside the media were involved, it would have bayed for their blood.
“The complete blackout of the Radia tapes by the entire broadcast media and most of the major English newspapers paints a truer picture of corruption in the country,” wrote G Sampath, then deputy editor of the Daily News & Analysis (DNA). The then telecom minister, A Raja sold mobile telephone licenses at incredibly cheap prices, costing the Indian government a whopping Rs 2,58,812 crore while pocketing huge commissions. As part of the investigation, Income Tax department tapped the phone of a corporate lobbyist Nira Radia whose clients were global business tycoons like the Tatas and Mukesh Ambani.
In October 2010, recording of the phone conversations was published by Open magazine. The transcript depicted India’s prominent journalists, Prabhu Chawla, Barkha Dutt, MK Venu, V Shankkar Aiyyar, Vir Sanghvi besides others, lobbying to get Raja the job of the telecom minister after the 2009 general elections.Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an independent journalist, believes that the notion of such a power was merely an apparition. He said, “Journalists suffer from what psychologists call, ‘Delusion of Grandeur’. They meet the rich, powerful and strong. Just because they meet influential people, they tend to think that they are as influential as them.”
The public-spirited elements in the media know who the black sheep among them are and what they are up to. They should remember that by not exposing and condemning the black sheep, they are only making willing accomplices and abettors of themselves.

The Chameleon’s Back

Like the rules of grammar change only marginally, but the language remains largely the same, corruption stays on, with new rules creating newer players

the-chameleon-back
Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

Corruption, especially, in politics and governance comes in different hues. For example, some politicians make money for themselves, others for party funds. There are those, who only earn it for the party. Then they are the rare and rarified ones, those who are against corruption, but wield power and control everything through a system of patronage. In the past 70 years, the readers will recognise leaders who fit the various bills, though they may sometime seem like the proverbial round pegs in square holes. Although the patronage kind is similar in many ways to the benefaction of the kings and emperors, the new institutions have distinct flavours. Apart from being modern and strategic, the aims are to retain, perpetrate and expand the zones of power.
Although all kinds of corruption is black, the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key or Black) compositions are different. In that sense, there are as many contours of corruption as they are corrupt people.
There is another interesting facet about political corruption. This is true of every country, and not just India. Each time a leader arose, and came to power on the plank of anti-corruption, he or she never eliminated it. Such leaders merely, and deliberately, changed the rules of the corrupt game. They only ensured that the old system collapsed, and a new one was born, one that they controlled and managed. This is especially true of patronage.
Corruption Chameleon
Most critics and reformers wonder why corruption in India hasn’t come down. The same is asked in developed nations like the US, Britain, Italy and Japan. The reason is that corruption is like a chameleon, which is attached to the biggest supercomputer – the mind of a newly-corrupt person. The latter can manage it, twist it, and massage it. Corruption itself can undergo changes depending on the situation. It’s a politico-ecosystem that’s a changing constantly.
This is the reason why the scandals in the US are far larger than in India. In the latter, the figures were exaggerated in recent times by a new term, notional loss or purely theoretical loss, which had little connection to the actual loss and little relation to the present value of a future loss (10 years from now) that’s much lower because of inflation and other reasons. The developed countries merely ensure that petty corruption, like the payments to the public authorities by the households, are restricted, even eliminated.
As we all know, corruption has existed since the emergence of human beings and civilizations. The foundation of modern political corruption in India was laid down by Robert Clive. He also laid down the groundwork for the British Raj. He came to India, when he was 18, as a clerk in the East India Company. When he left, in 1767, he had amassed a wealth of Pounds 400,000. He was the master of the ‘Loot & Scoot’ scams, as he stole from the princes and kings.
Clive Model
Looting was common in wars, before and after Clive. His achievement was to institutionalize it; everyone got a share, which depended on the rank and military hierarchy. He introduced a system so that everyone involved could make money. Does this remind you of how money is shared from the top to bottom in the Indian political and bureaucratic system? For over 250 years, Indians have assiduously followed Clive’s model of corruption. In 2004, we got a hint of Clive’s wealth, when his descendants sold some of his looted items. There was a 17th century jewelled jade flask which sold for Pounds 2.9 million. According to media reports, “a flywhisk of blended agate and studded with rubies fetched Pounds 901,000; a unique dagger adorned with jewelled floral sprays was sold for Pounds 733,000. After active bidding, a ‘hookah’ with blue enamel and sapphires brought Pounds 94,000 and a pale green nephrite jade bowl went to a bidder for Pounds 53,000.”
After Clive returned to England, he gave a speech in the House of Commons in 1772. In it, he beautifully explained the patronage system. He said that it was a common practice for every inferior to approach a superior with presents. Every Englishman, whatever his status, was inundated with them. Parents sent their sons to India with examples of how so-and-so and so-and-so had amassed a fortune in the East. Youngsters, who left England at the age of 16, had a specific timeframe to make specific sums and return.
Corruption Coil
“At its height, the house of Fateh Chand Jagat Sheth acted as the (Bengal) nawab’s treasury and considering the geographic extent of the Nawab of Murshidabad’s influence, operated much like a central bank. It loaned money to zamindars, collected interest, dealt in bullion, had seignior age rights and minted coins for both the state as well as foreign traders, financed trade, exchanged money, controlled exchange rates, collected and retained two-thirds of the revenue from the Bengal-Bihar-Orissa province on behalf of the nawab, made remittances to the emperor, etc…. Because of the monopoly he enjoyed and the political influence he wielded, Fateh Chand was among the most illustrious, powerful and influential of the Jagat Sheths.”
However, once Mahatma Gandhi