Congress accused the Modi Government of “destroying” the economy and said growth can be achieved only if the country is rescued from “incompetent economic managers”. The party also adopted a resolution on the economy at its Plenary session with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking to know the fate of the promised two crore jobs. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram accused the Modi Government of squandering a golden opportunity to catapult India’s growth after economic gains during the previous UPA Government. Singh rued that at a time the world economy had grown from 2.8 per cent to 3.8 per cent from 2014 to 2018, the Indian economy had “decoupled itself ” from the world economy. He claimed India grew by 7.8 per cent under the UPA regime led by him. He lamented that only about 1.6 per cent of the country’s GDP was spent on defence expenditure, which, he said, could not meet the challenges that the security apparatus posed. He also alleged that there were many issues on the foreign policy front that had been poorly handled by the Modi Government. “The BJP Government has messed up the economy. When Modi ji was campaigning he made lots of tall promises. Those promises have not been fulfilled,” he said. Singh said the BJP claimed in 2014 that if it came to power it would provide 2 crore jobs. “But we have not seen even two lakh jobs,” he said. The “ill-thought and illconceived” demonetisation and “hastily put forward” legislation for GST had destroyed many jobs and created problems for the small and medium industry and the informal sector, both in terms of production and providing jobs, he said.
When the former prime minister spoke on foreign policy and defence, he was accorded a thunderous applause and a standing ovation by party leaders. Singh accused the BJP-led Government of having “mismanaged” the dispute in Jammu and Kashmir and said the Government’s talk of fighting two and a half wars was “yet another hollow promise”. On his part, Chidambaram said the crisis which the country faces can worsen in the last year of the Modi Government as the budget has provided no answers. “This budget is the handiwork of a government which is completely helpless, clueless and directionless. I am afraid, 12 months from today, whoever comes into the Government, will face a major crisis,” he said. The resolution moved by Chidambaram said that the tenure of the Narendra Modiled Government was replete with Governance and management misadventures and mistakes. “The most colossal failure has been its mismanagement of the economy,” said the resolution moved by Chidambaram. “The one party which can bring this country out of crisis is the Congress. Why do I say that? I say that not out of arrogance, not out of conceit, I say this because we have done it before and we can do it again beginning next year,” the former Union Minister said. “The Congress reiterates that the abysmal economic management of the Modi Government has resulted in lack of jobs for millions of India’s youth, stagnant real incomes for hundreds of millions of farmers, collapse of the manufacturing sector, destruction of micro, small and medium businesses, paralysis of India’s banking sector,” the resolution mentioned. “The economy is in the hands of ignorant and incompetent policy makers who have derailed economic growth through reckless and bizarre policies such as demonetisation and a hasty imposition of a flawed Goods and Services Tax regime,” it said. “They said we will abolish black money, we will put an end to corruption. We will stop fake currency. Have they put an end to black money? Every rally, every public meeting of the prime minister is financed by any money other than black money. Have they put an end to corruption, fake currency?” Chidambaram asked.
By Opinion Express News Services
Author Rajyogi Brahmakumar Nikunj Ji says that the three significant truths to give equality to all people in Indian caste system, irrespective of their caste, color and religion are that the human must have integrity and reason, characteristic value and dignity and they should act towards one another in a spirit of equality and brotherhood. This means that a person must have humanity to bring equality to the entire system as a whole.
The Indian caste system is historically one of the main dimensions where people are socially differentiated through class, religion, region, tribe, gender and language. Although this or other forms of differentiation exist in all human societies, it becomes a problem when one or more of these dimensions overlap each other and become the sole basis of systematic ranking and unequal access to valued resources like wealth, income, power and prestige. The phrase “without any discrimination, based on race, colour, caste, creed, sex and religious belief” is now commonly used when such part of any Act, Article or rule that puts emphasis on justice and equality is to be suitably worded. Thus, the phrase has been used in a number of Articles and clauses or sub-clauses in the Indian Constitution and also in other statutory laws. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, also has used this phrase with addition of words like property, birth, national origin and distinction of any kind.
However, Article 2 of the Declaration, which has this phrase, does not include the word “caste” because caste system, as it is prevalent in India, is not prevalent in most other countries. But the aforesaid article uses the word “social origin” and also the word “birth” and these words should jointly imply the distinction made on the ground of caste that is nowadays based on birth and social origin.
There is no doubt that the use of this or similarly-worded phrases is the right thing done to meet the requirements of law and legislation that make it mandatory for and obligatory on the citizens of a country or the world not to discriminate on the basis of anyone of these. The simple reason for this is that the discrimination results in inequality, based on extraneous factors, and also in injustice and inhuman treatment of some people and deprivation of certain classes. But an important thing that seems to have been missed all along in this connection is that legal luminaries, social scientists and public have, perhaps, never applied any serious thought as to why distinctions based on race, colour, nationality, language, gender, etc are sought to be set aside when these distinctions really exist and qualify or disqualify a person or certain worldly roles.
Also, why is discrimination, based on any one of these, considered as an obstacle to justice or roadblock to equality? Never have the legal experts who prepare the draft of a legislation, or the legislators who vote for or against a Bill introduced in the legislature, thought as to what, after all, is the real identity and nature of a person, divested of these distinctions of race, colour, nationality, sex and even of belief or creed.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “all human beings are endowed with reason and conscience” and it asks all “to act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood.” This forms the very basis of the Declaration and has been numbered as Article 1. The Preamble to the Declaration says that “the people of the United Nations have, in the Charter, reaffirmed their faith in the dignity and the worth of the human person.” These three important truths, namely that the human has reason and conscience, that it has inherent worth and dignity and that the human beings should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood, together mean that the human person is a soul and a child of Supreme, for then only can human beings act towards one another as “brothers” and then only do they have inherent worth and dignity.
All human beings cannot be termed as “brothers” on the basis of their physical relationships nor is their worth and dignity based on any physical consideration because the moral dimension is related to the non-physical soul. The soul has inherent dignity not because of any gross possessions but because it is a child of the Supreme Almighty who is the most exalted and illumined One. The soul has worth also because it is the inheritor of HIS treasures. So, in a way, the Human Rights Declaration and all the laws that declare justice an obligatory act of all human beings have a spiritual basis.
Furthermore, the law, whether it is international or national, asks us to discard all kinds of distinctions, based on race, colour, nationality, sex, social origin, property, language, birth and so on because these are based on the body of a person and not on the person. This implicitly and explicitly means that the real human person is a soul in a human body. It makes distinction between body and soul and wants us to keep in mind the soul and forget his or her physical particulars while treating another person. Now this aspect of the law has been forgotten in course of time and it has become a mere ritual or a formality to say that there should not be any discrimination, based on body. The present-day deterioration in moral values is because of this.
It should not be difficult to understand that there are certain laws that govern our mutual relationships or human behaviour in general. These are known as moral laws or ethical principles. Based on these, are certain norms, codes of conduct or rules and regulations to be followed in life in an organised society. If we follow these laws, the quality and quantity of happiness in our life is enhanced and if we violate these, then we have to face so many problems and disturbances. The observance of these moral norms is of great value if we wish to be happy and build a society free from friction.
It is not that science and technology or management skills have caused our present sufferings. On the other hand, it is fall in the standards of morality that has prevented even technology from adding value to our lives. Moreover, it is not that people do not know that moral values are necessary to build a happy and peaceful society. People wish to have moral qualities in their life but they do not have that spiritual knowledge that should enable them to follow successfully these values in their life. Thus the need of the hour is to create a mass awareness among people for values like tolerance, humility and mutual respect where there is peace, happiness and harmony.
Writer: Rajyogi Brahmakumar Nikunj
Courtesy: The Pioneer
The blame for wrecking parliamentary proceedings goes to both, the Government and the Opposition. This wrecking may just lead to a loss in confidence of public representatives by the people.
No one should be surprised at the headlines in newspapers and prime-time television channels that the current Winter Session of Parliament is heading towards a washout. This is the 12th straight session wasted so far. In fact, we have been seeing almost the same headlines at the close of every Parliament session in the past two decades. People are becoming disenchanted with the MPs for not doing their duties.
What are the functions and duties of an elected Member of Parliament? There are four important functions: Budget scrutiny, protecting the interests of the constituents, function as a watchdog over the Government and above all, making laws.
Are they performing their duties for which they have been elected? This belligerence is not pertaining to the Congress-led Opposition now as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too was doing the same thing when it was in the Opposition.
While the Government blames the Opposition, the latter blames the BJP for not reaching out to them. Congress president Rahul Gandhi in a rally in Karnataka on March 25 said, “In Parliament, a no-confidence motion against the Modi Government has been moved. For the past 10 days it has been stalled because the Government is afraid”.
Hence, the blame-game continues. While political parties used to keep up pretensions that they were willing to work, it was clear from day one that neither the Government nor the Opposition had any intention of allowing the Parliament to function during this session.
Significantly, this is the first time the Narendra Modi Government is facing a no-confidence motion brought separately by the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is threatening to bring another.
Both the presiding officers had been pleading with the members to allow the House to function but to no avail. The Chairman of Rajya Sabha M Venkaiah Naidu lamented, “ I am filled with sadness at the disorder, indiscipline and inappropriate conduct in the House”.
Naidu made several appeals to the members, asking them not to further erode the “quality of polity”. He finally succeeded in making the Rajya Sabha bid farewell to 60 retiring members last week. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan had no such success.
The Upper House was only able to pass the Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill 2017, while the Lok Sabha cleared the Finance Bill 2018 without any discussion, including a Rs 89 crore spending plan for the next fiscal year in less than half an hour.
The House passed the 21 amendments for taxation proposals in the Bill by a voice vote and also the appropriation Bill containing the budgetary plans for 99 Government departments and Ministries.The Opposition blocked the Government in both Houses on various issues. Mainly, the four regional parties from the south — AIADMK, TRS, YSR Congress and TDS — supported by the other opposition parties stalled the business.
Every day as soon as the House began its proceedings, 37 AIADMK members trooped into the well of the House, demanding setting up of the Cauvery Water Management Board as ordered by the Supreme Court. The TRS wanted its 12 per cent reservation for Muslims in the State to be notified under Ninth Schedule.
TDS, an ally of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), after quitting the alliance last month, became more belligerent, demanding special status for Andhra Pradesh as promised at the time of the bifurcation of the State in 2014. Not to be outdone, the YSR Congress too is demanding the same and both parties have separately given a no-confidence motion against the Modi Government.
Politically, it is not unexpected in view of the upcoming Assembly election to Karnataka where both the Congress and the BJP are engaged in direct fight.
As for the AIADMK, it is competitive local politics which is playing out in Parliament. Same is the case with TDP and YSRC. The TRS is indeed playing to the tune of its home constituency. Losing one more Session does not auger well for the Government as well as the Opposition. There are many issues which are important, like the agrarian crisis, the Nirav Modi-PNB scam, Iraq issue, Cambridge Analytica data sale, Ramnavami clashes in West Bengal and Bihar and so on.
Certainly, it is for the Government to ensure that business is transacted in both Houses and it must reach out to the Opposition. But the Opposition too has a responsibilities to debate, discuss and expose the Government.
Right now, the relationship between the Government and the Opposition has completely broken down. The Government should also note the growing north-south divide, with the southern States complaining of a stepmotherly treatment.
If this continues, the people of the country may no longer have trust in politicians, who they believe, are taking them for a ride. They are already disenchanted with the political class with the increasing number of NOTA votes in the ballot paper indicating their anger. Parliament is a temple of democracy and if this breaks down, the democracy will also be shattered.
(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)
Writer: Kalyani Shankar
Courtesy: The Pioneer
If the next general election get summed up with all state-level battles, the opposition seems to succeed in dislocating PM Narendra Modi.
Unless my secular pundit friends are claiming that the forthcoming Lok Sabha poll is going to be a lamppost election — in the anti-Emergency wave of 1977 it was said even a lamppost would be elected if fighting on a Janata Party ticket — and there is little sign of that with even BJP-baiters conceding that Narendra Modi is still by far the most popular politician in the country, I can’t see how the Opposition is going to win a much talked about famous victory come 2019. Factoring in even a visceral hatred for the ruling party, surely most sober independent-minded professionals despite our varying views on the issues of the day and differing political assessments can agree on the following:
i) The Lok Sabha by-election wins for SP-BSP in Uttar Pradesh and RJD in Bihar, which followed a spirited Congress showing first in the Gujarat Assembly poll,then upsetting the BJP in two Lok Sabha by-elections in Rajasthan and last month retaining two Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh by-polls albeit with reduced margins are significant signs of an Opposition pushback;
ii) There is an articulation of a measure of anti-incumbency against the Narendra Modi regime on the ground and in professional/social media which was not the case six months ago. Both the Opposition’s messaging and anti-BJP groups’ cohesion has got much better;
iii) The BJP win in Tripura and improved showing in other North-eastern States’ Assembly polls, its gains in the Orissa local bodies poll mainly at the expense of the Congress and its emergence as the, if distant, second party in West Bengal shows clearly that the Amit Shah-led party is not in retreat in spite of the expectation versus delivery gap being apparent;
iv) Despite the sustained and at times viciously personal attacks on the Prime Minister by those enraged at the sheer audacity of the Indian electorate which dared elect a “Sanghi” to high office, the sense one gets is that the people still give him the benefit of the doubt. His intent is not yet suspect though his Government’s less than exemplary supervision of the banking sector and other sectors of the economy are coming in for criticism given that expectations were raised inordinately high;
v) The North Korean news television channels, to use a phrase reportedly coined by Arun Shourie, are doing the ruling party more damage than good;
vi) But this is more than evened out by the supercilious, in the main shallow and entirely entitled TV stations which despite their recent attempts to break into baba-log Hindi as an imprimatur of their massy credentials are guaranteed to continue turning off the neutrals and enraging those simpatico to a nation-first worldview;
vii) Social media narratives will likely continue to be an influencer for the younger demographic with FB/Twitter/WhatsApp 75:25 in favour of the ruling combine; professional media including print and digital platforms are possibly 65:35 for the Government with the skew in Hindi and regional languages particularly pronounced.
It is in this context that we need to look, as objectively as possible, at assessing the possible outcome of the forthcoming General Election. Arithmetically, backroom players on the Opposition side know exactly what needs to be done — to ensure, State-wise, that as far as possible there is only one Opposition candidate against every BJP candidate. For this to come to fruition, the country will have to be carved up into ‘spheres of influence’ of non-BJP political parties dominant in each State which will also have the final say in their respective States. Like everything in life, this is easier said than done.
Take a minute to think about the possible outcome of any negotiation for who is to be considered primus inter pares between Mamata Banerjee and CPI-M in West Bengal; K Chandrashekhar Rao and Congress in Telangana; TDP, Congress and YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh; Congress and CPI-M in Kerala; Congress and JD-S in pockets of Karnataka; Congress and BJD in Orissa; NCP, Congress and MNS in Maharashtra; AAP, Congress and BSP in Punjab; Congress, Goa Forward and MGP in Goa; Congress and AUDF in Assam; CPI-M and Congress in Tripura; AAP and Congress in Delhi; NC and PDP in the Kashmir Valley (we are assuming PDP will not go into the election in alliance with the BJP with which it runs a coalition in Jammu and Kashmir at the moment) plus Congress, NC and PDP in Jammu. And this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Yes, a BSP-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh and a RJD-Congress alliance in Bihar does seem on the cards but, especially in the case of the former, it is unlikely to be for all seats in the State. The just concluded Rajya Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh provide an early pointer to the number of problematic areas Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati will have to deal with despite the surface bonhomie.
Also, do remember that regional parties which are keenest on allying with long-standing adversaries in their States of operation are the ones not in power and so have no monies to keep their party relevant in the elaborate web of public exchequer-funded patronage which includes largesse to kinship groups and the like which has been their hallmark. An SP, BSP or DMK may, for example, be keen on such an arrangement as they have been out of power for five years or more but the same cannot be said of, say, a BJD, TDP or TRS. Lastly, apart from its ideological foes like the Communist parties or a Mamata Banerjee who governs a State where the Muslim population is large and electorally very significant, most of the other parties have no deep-seated ideological aversion to the BJP; in fact, many of them have been NDA constituents at some point or the other. Ergo, they will be free to choose which party and/or alliance to support post-poll.
For a real challenge to the BJP to emerge, it is the Congress which will have to revive and radically reinvent itself as the second pole of Indian politics. To do so, it must necessarily engage with the notion of a non-supremacist Indian exceptionalism and our nation-state’s Indic/Hindu civilizational ethos, address the issues of an entitled leadership and a lack of organizational meritocracy, and come up with an economic plan that works. Suffice it to say even in the unlikely event the Congress does as is being suggested, its efforts are unlikely to bear fruit before 2024.
It could gainfully occupy itself in the interim with coming to terms with the fact that a presidential, broadly two-party/alliance system is a more effective democratic system of governance for India than the Westminster parliamentary model. But those who look at the nation’s interests safely ensconced in their rent-seeking, ideologically blinkered positions, shifting their stance depending on who is in power or more pertinently whom they want to keep out, have refused to engage with the issue seriously till now. They are likely to have five years more to think about it, provided the Modi-Shah combine has the nous — and indications are it certainly does — to work out its weaknesses, ensure the index of Opposition unity is not too high, focus on delivery of development initiatives and explain much better the need for the structural reforms initiated and those yet to come.
The BJP will also have to pursue with far more finesse and less virulence then it has hitherto exhibited the project of providing an ambient environment in which an Indic cultural consciousness flourishes while simultaneously a folk multiculturalism — modes of prayer, sartorial choices, culinary preferences et.al. of bona fide Indian citizens — is celebrated without a de facto differential citizenship model such as the one we were quite casually slipping into pre-2014. Equally, curbing growing lumpen anti-intellectualism within the fold is nothing less than a categorical imperative in the construction of a modern state wherein individual rights are never trumped by group rights. Put the BJP Marg Darshak Mandal to some use, perhaps? Its members certainly have the credentials and experience to make a go of carrying out this balancing act leaving the Government to focus on governance.
At any rate, a lot can and will change over the coming year. But on the evidence available my money is on the BJP coming back. Not with 200-220 seats for itself and another 50-70 from post/pre-poll allies as the drawing room conversation consensus seems to be but with a decisive win. Either that, or it will be reduced to struggling in the 120-180 seats band which is where it was stuck in the pre-Modi era, effectively making it a lamppost election. I am convinced that an aspirational and very impatient India has neither the time nor the luxury for a fractured mandate which would inevitably give birth to an even more fractious polity than extant.
Modi remains the most popular and, something which is often not understood fully, the most recognizable politician across India.The latter is important to internalize because in a chaotic ecology sans a counter-narrative that can capture the popular imagination, the Centre tends to hold. It is more than just TINA. WB Yeats in The Second Coming is perhaps apposite on the alternative the Opposition presents as of today:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.
(The author is Consulting Editor, The Pioneer.)
Writer: Ishan Joshi
Courtesy: The Pioneer
India has set the red carpet for Nepal’s PM, KP Oli on his first official visit. India’s trust on Nepal’s government will be attentive of its sincere security interests that includes honoring nation’s traditional red lines.
Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli who lambasted India after the 2015 blockade, accused it of toppling his Government in 2016 and travelled to Beijing in the interregnum to sign Nepal’s first ever trade and transit treaty with China, will be on his first official state visit to India commencing April 7. The last time he was invited was in 2016 when he urged Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to do so and she obliged but only after he had passed the first amendment to Nepal’s Constitution, which only minimally granted rights to the Madhesis and other marginalised classes. On his last visit, he was ruling a shaky coalition Government.
Now Oli is a political colossus, following the strategic alliance with the Prachanda-led Maoist Center and will soon be heading a Government with more than two-third majority, having swept the local Government elections and captured six out of seven Provinces and also won a commanding majority in the new upper House. No one in Nepal’s tryst with democracy has amassed such infinite political power.
If this was not enough, he has concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office, all investigative, intelligence and enforcement agencies, making Oli the master of all that he surveys. If power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely? Whether we will see an authoritarian and dictatorial Oli, only time will tell.
In this column, on December 20 last year, after Oli’s dramatic political success, this writer had predicted that despite the pro-China and ultra nationalistic halo he had acquired, he would visit India first, before any pilgrimage to China as all elected Prime Ministers have done.
Despite teasing India with an interview to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and an invitation to Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, to which Kathmandu media attributed several creative reasons, including exploring the whereabouts of former Inter-Services Intelligence official, Lt Col Zahir Hussain who was kidnapped from Nepal ostensibly by the Research and Analysis Wing in 2017, the substance of the Oli messaging to India was China — that ‘it will enable deepening explore additional options and leverages in dealing with India’. In 2008, shortly before Prachanda became the Prime Minister, he told a Nepali TV channel that Nepal needed China to balance India. In later years, Prachanda had a change in preference.
The second issue raised by Oli in the interview was about the recruitment of Nepali Gorkhas in the Indian Army. Two connections China desperately wants broken in the high Himalayas are India’s special relations with Nepal and Bhutan.
Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj did some nimble diplomacy to woo Oli. Swaraj’s surprise visit to Kathmandu to congratulate and invite him to the Dilli Durbar was both spontaneous and an expression of regret over past misunderstandings, blockade et al.
Modi, meanwhile, worked the phone lines repeating his Mann ki Baat of forgiving, forgetting and looking at the future. This diplomatic coup, coupled with Oli’s missive to Modi on Republic Day, more than mad up for one of India’s greatest foreign policy blunders, pushed Nepal towards China. During Holi, while in Pokhara, Nepal, this writer learnt a new Nepali phrase. It goes like this: ‘Dukh payo Mangala le; afno hi dhang le’ (the pain India suffered was due to its own fault.) The Madhesi cause has been put on the back burner and the fractious Nepali Congress party marginalised.
China will extract maximum political, economic and people-to-people benefit from a pro-China Left alliance Government which it inspired and invested in putting together. China’s rise in Nepal is unstoppable. Nepal wishes to draw economic gains from the world’s two fastest growing economies. It also wants to reduce its dependence on India but realises that geography, culture, language and religion point otherwise. Still, Chinese presence, investment, involvement in domestic politics and creeping interest in the military and police have magnified rapidly. They have already bagged most of the rail, road, hydropower and airport projects. The new Pokhara and Bhairwa (Lumbini) airports and the expansion of the existing Tribhuvan International Airport are all with Chinese companies, financed by loans given by Exim Bank.
China has built a new $350 million Armed Police Force Academy for which Prime Minister Modi had laid the plaque. Now India is making the police academy instead. The 800 MW Buddha Koshi hydro project will also be restored to China. The Chinese are investing heavily in Pokhara lakeside area. Thirty five to 40 Confucian Centres have come up in Terai. Chinese tourists arriving by air are second only to those coming from India. There is an unconfirmed report that a Chinese General was conferred an honorary General’s rank like the ritual followed between the Army Chiefs of India and Nepal.
China seeks parity with India. The Belt and Road Initiative blueprint is at an advanced stage. Nepalese are worried about a Sri Lanka-like debt trap. No one understands how Chinese invest and construct their projects. There is never any criticism of China in Nepal — which is reserved for India — even if fraud is involved.
Nepal can look forward to Achche din. The two entities of the Left alliance — Unified Marxist-Leninist and Maoists — were to merge this month but the coming together has been postponed to April. Not everyone, especially among the Maoists, is happy with playing second fiddle, especially Prachanda who led the revolution of making new Nepal secular, democratic and a republic.
One senior Maoist leader told this writer that the merger could lead to ‘indigestion’! Nepal will be stable, for the first two years as no-confidence motion is not permissible by the new Constitution. This writer heard conflicting accounts on a gentleman’s agreement on power sharing — all five years for Oli; two-and-a-half years each; and three years Oli, two years Prachanda. It is inconceivable that Prachanda will be satisfied with co-chairman of the merged Communist Party of Nepal.
India will want political stability after 25 Prime Ministers in 27 years. Its focus is on geo-economics (the economic package for the current year has been doubled from Rs 375 crore to Rs 650 crore), people-to-people, especially outreach to the youth and timely delivery of projects. India trusts the Oli Government will be mindful of its legitimate security interests, including honouring its traditional red lines.
The red carpet is being laid out. No Nepali Prime Minister has been given the honour and respect Oli will receive, including being seted by Modi. It’s to make Oli feel respected and help him consider India as Nepal’s first neighbour.
(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the revamped Integrated Defence Staff)
Writer: Ashok K Mehta
Courtesy: The Pioneer
The Indian legislature many a times fail to conduct debates on serious issues to come to a solution which, in turn, can have consequential implications. This negligence can lead to the questioning of the existence of budget allocated to the Parliament and the Parliament itself and no justification could possibly justify its existence in such a case.
The dysfunctionality of India’s Parliament has been a matter of concern for many years now but even the worst sceptics would not have expected the institution, which is at the apex of the country’s democratic structure, to fall to such depths as it did during the passage of the Union Budget a fortnight ago.
Normally, the Budget Session begins with the presentation of the Railway Budget, followed by a detailed discussion on the working of the Railways and passage of the Railway Minister’s budgetary proposals. The passage of the Union Budget would fall into four stages and run through the Budget Session of Parliament from mid-February to mid-May every year. After the Finance Minister presented his Budget proposals, several days were earmarked in both Houses for a general discussion on the budget. Thereafter, the Demands for Grants of several Ministries would be taken up for discussion.
In the old days, these discussions, which enable MPs to speak on the performance of specific Ministries and departments, would be spread over several weeks. Finally, at an appointed date and hour, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha would apply the guillotine (closure to the debate on the Demands for Grants) and put all the demands to the vote of the House. But this would happen several weeks after the debate on the Demands began in the House. Thereafter, the House would discuss and pass the Appropriation Bill and finally, in the later stages of the Budget Session, the Finance Bill containing the financial proposals of the Government, would be passed after much deliberation.
These traditions have been built over the last several decades not merely to keep the two Houses active but also to fulfill an important Constitutional obligation. Parliament is mandated by the Constitution to diligently scrutinise the expenditure and taxation proposals of the Union Government. Articles 112 to 119 deal with the procedure to follow in respect of the annual financial statement of the Union Government, the Demands for Grants and the method by which Government can secure Parliament’s sanction for expenditure, supplementary demands and votes on account.
Thus, from the time the Budget is presented and till the passage of the Appropriation and Finance Bills to give effect to the Government’s expenditure and taxation proposals, MPs got at least four opportunities to address issues relating to the Union Budget. A table published in “Practice and Procedure of Parliament” by MN Kaul and SL Shakdher about the time spent by the Lok Sabha to discuss the Railway Budget, the General Budget and the Demands for Grants in 1986-87 in revealing.
That year, the Lok Sabha spent 19 hours discussing the Railway Budget and the Railway Demand for Grants; close to 20 hours on the general discussion of the Union Budget and 92 hours to discuss the Demands for Grants of the various Ministries. In all, the House spent about 130 hours debating various aspects of the Budget. The time spent in 1986-87 on various aspects of the budgetary exercise is fairly representative of how Parliament carried out this responsibility since the inception of the two Houses in 1952.
Contrast this with how the budgetary process went through the Lok Sabha this year. After the presentation of the budget on February 1, there was a general discussion on the Budget in the Lok Sabha on February 7 and 8, lasting approximately 12 hours. Thereafter, as is the practice, both Houses adjourned to enable the Departmentally Related Standing Committees to examine the Demands for Grants relating to various Ministers.
The Houses reconvened on March 5. Since then, both Houses have been unable to function because of disruptions caused by the MPs from Andhra Pradesh who are demanding a special status for the State; MPs from Tamil Nadu who are aggrieved about defilement of a statue and several other sundry protestors.
Since there is no sign of an end to this chaos and no indication of MPs wanting to utilise Parliament’s time for discussion on the Union Budget, the Speaker decided to put the Demands for Grants, the Appropriation Bill and the Finance Bill to the vote of the House on March 14.
On that day, the Speaker took up the passage of the Demands for Grants at 12.03 pm. She first put all cut motions to vote. These are motions given generally by Opposition MPs to show their displeasure in regard to a particular demand. It has an element of censure in it and, therefore, it is incumbent on the treasury benches to defeat these motions. The Speaker put all of them to vote in one go and they were rejected. At 12.04 pm, the Speaker announced that she was putting all the Demands for Grants to vote. The House adopted the motion. At 12.05 pm, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley moved the Appropriation Bill. The House passed the Bill after clause by clause consideration. At 12.06 pm, the Finance Minister moved the Finance Bill. This took a little longer than the other Bill because there were 21 Government amendments and three new clauses had to be inserted. Thereafter, after passage of another Budget-related matter, the House was adjourned at 12.38 pm.
In other words, the Lok Sabha devoted just one minute to give its consent to the Demands of all Government Ministries and departments — an exercise which took around 80 to 100 hours in the past. Overall, the Lok Sabha devoted just 12 hours and 35 minutes for Budget-related business which in the past took around 130 hours. This only means that Parliament has abdicated a primary responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The events of March 14 are even more disturbing because in the early days, at least 40 per cent of the Demands would be discussed in Parliament. Ten years ago, it dropped to about 25 percent. This year, not a single demand was discussed and the overall Government expenditure in this year’s Budget is estimated to be Rs 24.42 lakh crore.
Venkaiah Naidu, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and Sumitra Mahajan, the Lok Sabha Speaker have time and again appealed to members, but without much success. Naidu, with a tinge of exasperation, warned MPs that if the disruptions continued, people would lose faith in lawmakers. If Parliament does not have the time or the inclination to scrutinise the Union Budget, it will find it difficult to justify its existence and the huge Budget allocated to it. Will good sense prevail? We must keep our fingers crossed!
Writer: A Surya Prakash
Courtesy: The Pioneer
The Cambridge Analytica scandal is much more than a mere data leak. Finding this scandal a bit puzzling, a number of political reporters in India, especially those who have three decades experience in covering elections, did a little digging. It appears that Cambridge Analytica scraped, that is illegally acquired information of 50 million Facebook users in the United States.
This has gotten privacy activists, including the ‘destroy the Aadhaar’ crowd, up in arms about privacy and user rights and what not. But data, particularly user information, in itself does not matter for much — it is how Cambridge Analytica studied that information and used it for their clients that made all the difference. The advent of supercomputers and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse thousands of pieces of information has led to what marketers call ‘Big Data’. AI can analyse trends over millions of users and transactions, and can immediately red-flag any anomalies. This is what the tax authorities across the world are increasingly doing; and because linkages can be easily established, big data can go after tax evaders. It can also be used to better map traffic and population dynamics, helping city planners and policy makers. But AI can also be used to analyse the sentiments of users and drive them to a particular position or cause by feeding them information. This is not only limited to politics. Have you ever wondered why an e-commerce site often knows exactly what you want to buy and suggests it to you? Or when you do a series of searches, sometimes, a large search engine will suggest precisely what you are looking for. Suppose you are searching for a vacation, a search engine might already know your details without you ever explicitly informing them. Your information has already been put into various buckets. This can be creepy at times, there was a case of an e-commerce site knowing that a woman was already pregnant before she knew, based on her purchases. Another person was puzzled that a website knew that he wanted to acquire a dog without his even talking about it to anyone. AI makes large-scale behavioural analysis possible and when everyone puts their information onto a site, such as Facebook, it can easily be manipulated.
But in Indian politics, politicians and political managers have always had information. Electoral lists could and would be manually analysed for caste and economic data. Before the age of social media, local party workers often knew which buttons to press during campaigning. Social media and vulnerable data storage makes it much easier, AI removes the need for a comprehensive party machine, although not totally because the ‘get out the vote machine’ still needs to operate. That said, young voters with short-term memories and easily excitable have been manipulated by AI driven insights on often illegally acquired data. Have you wondered why so many strange electoral decisions have been made across the world? From Greece to Austria, from the US to New Zealand, AI is making it possible to better analyse data. The BJP and the Congress are both being hypocritical if either of them emerge as the party of ‘data protection’. This is a problem across the world and a global solution has to be found. But when power and politics get involved, it is doubtful if anything will be done, 2019 will still be a big data and AI driven election. Machines are truly taking over democracy.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Directed by their want of strategic partnership into decision making at the governmental level, India and France have taken a decision during Emmanuel Macron’s visit to become traditional partners. It’s the time for both the countries to take the hold and shape narratives and developing institutional agendas.
On the last day during his visit to India, Macron went to Varanasi to enjoy the cruise on River Ganga with Prime Minister Modi. This was the culmination of a visit with a difference.
Macron’s trip touched upon two aspects of the bilateral relations, the ancient and the modern (and strategic). Before the visit to the Ghats, Macron offered to Modi, an original copy of the Bhagavad Gita translated from Sanskrit into French in the early 20th century by the great French scholar Émile Senart. This symbolizes the first aspect of the relations, but perhaps more important in today’s world there is the ‘strategic’ angle.
Addressing the French community in Delhi, the young President explained: “geopolitical context is deeply changed. India rightly fears the reorganization of the world; she fears forms of hegemony in the region and in particular in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. And why not name it, she fears a Chinese hegemony”.
He reminded his countrymen: “France is a power of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans; we are present at the Reunion, we are also there in French Polynesia and New Caledonia. And we are a maritime power, it is often forgotten but France is the second maritime power in the world. We have a strong navy, we have nuclear submarines equipped like few other powers in the world; a maritime surveillance capability through our own satellites and technologies; it is obvious we are a military and intelligence power ranking us among the first nations in the world”. France is now ready to share this power with India.
Before concluding, Macron quoted the Australian Prime Minister, who spoke of “freedom of sovereignty”; he then added: “This renewed strategic partnership is reflected by the confirmation of a defense link that has already materialised in some very important contracts, be it in the naval or aviation domain, in the engine industry …a coming generation of a new partnership on development of engines (the Kaveri for the Tejas), but also enhanced cooperation in terms of spatial surveillance or in terms of intelligence”.
A vast programme, symbolizing the special relations between France and India, which celebrate 20 years of ‘strategic partnership’; the accord signed in 1998 by French President Jacques Chirac and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is the oldest such partnership.
Over the last two decades, it has grown steadily, no major political difference having darkened the sky between Paris and Delhi.
Between 1947 and 1954, the relations were often tense due to the issue of the French settlements in India which would only be solved with the de facto transfer of Pondicherry to the Union of India at the end of 1954.
What is less known is that despite differences, India and France continued to work together. This was perhaps one of the most trying times on the ground, particularly in Pondicherry. A contract had, however, been signed with Dassault in June 1953 for 70 planes; in October 1953, while another 35 were sent to the Dixmude aircraft carrier, four planes reached India by air. The remainder 32 aircraft would be delivered in early 1954. And those were the difficult days between the two nations!
Since the signature of the 1998 Strategic Agreement, France has constantly been supportive of India.
On his arrival, Macron stated that the visit would open a new era in the strategic partnership for the coming decades: “Our two democracies have common concerns, like terrorism, lots of common risks and common threats. But we have to protect this history and the state of freedom”.
The French President also said “I want my country to be the best partner in Europe. This is a strong message. I want Indian citizens coming to France for studying, becoming entrepreneurs and opening start-ups”.
Some 14 bilateral agreements were signed at Hyderabad House, strengthening the bilateral economic, political and strategic ties between the two countries. The joint statement affirmed: “Both leaders agreed to deepen and strengthen the bilateral ties based on shared principles and values of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for human rights”.
A message for China?
And on the emotive side, it recalled “the valiant sacrifices made by Indian and French soldiers during the First World War”. The Indian Prime Minister agreed to participate in the closing of the First World War Centenary celebrations, which will take place on November 11 in Paris.
And there is, of course, the Rs59,000 crore deal for 36 Rafale fighters in September 2016; it will soon prove to be a game changer, mainly due to the offset clauses forcing the French to reinvest in India 50 percent of the total deal’s amount, but also for India’s western and northern fronts.
Delhi also knows that it needs to diversify its diplomatic relations if it wants to play a major role in the world. Here too, France could be a crucial partner. According to the Joint Statement: “The leaders reiterated that this cooperation will be crucial in order to maintain the safety of international sea lanes for unimpeded commerce and communications in accordance with the international law”. It may translate into a logistics accord allowing India access to the strategically important French base in the Reunion Islands near Madagascar. Another possibility is the opening to India of the French facilities in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa where India’s rival China has already a military base. This is part of India’s new maritime strategy.
The shortest article of the Joint Statement is worth noting: “The leaders noted ongoing discussions between Defence Research and Development Organisation and SAFRAN on combat aircraft engine and encouraged necessary measures and forward-looking approaches to facilitate early conclusion”. The idea is to develop an M88 engine for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas with Safran, one of Dassault’s partners in the Rafale deal.
There is also a vibrant educational cooperation between Indian and French Universities and academic institutes; a host of agreements were signed during the Knowledge Summit, the first Indo-French conference on research and higher education in presence of the French and Indian Minister of education.
The Joint Statement spoke of increasing the number and quality of student exchanges, with the aim of reaching 10,000 students by 2020. An agreement for the mutual recognition of degrees should “facilitate the pursuit of higher education by Indian students in France and French students in India and enhance their employability”. The cherry on the visit’s cake was the co-hosting of the International Solar Conference (ISA). An alliance of more than 121 countries launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015, the ISA wants to create a coalition of solar resource-rich countries and address each participant’s special energy needs.
All this does not mean that the practical collaboration will be easy, but it is worth a try.
Writer: Claude Arpi
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Newly anointed Congress President Rahul Gandhi has the formidable task of rejuvenating the grand old party from its rather run- down present state into a lean, mean fighting machine in next few months. As it is the task is difficult but his political quirks make it even more daunting. For one, he still functions in the political paradigms of the 1980s. His politics remains tied to his grandmother’s apron strings. He still swears by 80s style failed socialist policies, reviles big businesses and indulges in homilies to pose as messiah of the masses. Rahul’s ‘killer blueprint’ of resisting BJP involves doing an extensive temple run in Gujarat and blocking the temple run in Ayodhya, contradiction that the BJP has been quick to latch on.
The impossibility of this position may not have occurred to the dynasty but in any case a Congress leader shall always be around, ready to be martyred in the larger cause of saving a Gandhi if matters get out of control. Sibal appears to be the ‘chosen one’ this time. Let us examine whether this is a superficial view or there is more to it than meets the eye. Could it be that the seasoned legal eagle, known both for the sharpness of his intellect and of his tongue, was prepared to lose the immediate battle in order to prepare well for the decisive war ahead – GE 2019?
Congress’ biggest problem is that of bankruptcy of ideas: A failure to find an ideological space or a political positioning. Consequently, it tries to occupy all sorts of spaces—liberal, conservative, subaltern, casteist, classist, rural, pro minority or majoritarian and often the inherent tension between these spaces makes its position untenable. It is evident that Rahul felt the need to delve in soft Hindutva ahead of Gujarat elections and went out of his way to do a round of temples and pose as a Brahmin poster boy.
Once Gujarat is over, however, Congress’s need for a soft-Hindutva positioning is exhausted, and it even becomes counter-productive ahead of the Ayodhya verdict where its ambiguity contrasts unfavourably with BJP’s clarity on Ram Temple. Hence Sibal’s submission in court that Ram Temple verdict should be postponed till after 2019 general elections. Two motivations prompted this act. First, deny Narendra Modi ahead of GE 2019 the fruits of Hindu vote bank consolidation that will inevitably result from any Supreme Court decision either way. If it is in favour of the temple the Hindu masses, irrespective of caste distinctions, will shower him with their votes out of gratitude; if not, then their frustration and angst will make them rally even more unitedly behind him. Second, buy time to decide on Congress’s own political position depending on the unfolding scenario.
Sibal has since issued statements that are easily refuted and are at odds with his stature as a senior, seasoned lawyer. He claimed that he never represented the Sunni Waqf Board in court. He told ANI: “The Prime Minister did not check the fact that actually I never represented the Sunni Waqf Board in the Supreme Court. And yet he thanked Sunni Waqf Board for a statement on the basis that I represented them. I request the prime minister to be a little more careful.”Documents widely avail- able in public domain clearly show that he was, in fact, representing the Sunni Waqf Board in Supreme Court. Other documents also surfaced that demolished Sibal’s defence that he wasn’t appearing for the Sunni Waqf Board. The events took a curious turn a day after when Zafaryab Jilani, convenor of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC), threw his weight behind Sibal and claimed: “Whatever Sibal has said has been stated with prior consultation with all advocates including leaders of the Muslim Personal Law Board. Sibal had discussed this. With full confidence, we can say that we completely endorse what Sibal said.”
The ANI report also quoted Haji Mehboob, who now seemed to be back tracking from his earlier statement. “If Jilani saab is saying that what Kapil Sibal said yesterday was right, then I agree with him. I don’t want to say anything else.”Finally on Thursday, the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Board chairman Zufar Ahmed Farooqi claimed Sibal wasn’t representing them. He was “representing one of the private parties involved in the suit.”
It is not difficult to imagine what may have conspired behind the scenes within a span of 24 damaging hours for the Congress. The protestations and denials issued since are designed to absolve Sibal of all responsibility for his statement, leading one to wonder whom exactly was the senior lawyer representing while making that submission. However, the political script in the court drama can tremendously boost Congress chance to take on omnipotent BJP led by Narendra Modi, RSS and Mumbai club on ground zero. Congress party led by newly elected Rahul Gandhi has limited chance to reclaim the lost territory. The political map is dominated by saffron and regional parties today because Congress’s biggest problem is that of bankruptcy of ideas: a failure to find an ideological space or a political positioning.
It is evident that Rahul felt the need to delve in soft Hindutva ahead of Gujarat elections and went out of his way to do a round of temples and pose as a Brahmin poster boy. This is after all is merely the cloning of BJP’s winning formula of Hindutva, albeit in a much milder form. But even then it has the ingredients of what it takes to alienate the Muslim vote bank that has traditionally been the party’s mainstay. It is precisely to preempt this dangerous circumstance that Sibal’s request to defer the case beyond GE 2019 was designed. In short, the compulsions of Gujarat assembly elections 2017 made Rahul Gandhi go on around of the temples; similarly, the compulsions of Lok Sabha GE 2019 made Sibal seek postponement of the case hearings. Congress can ill afford to lose its Muslim supporters which would have been inevitable in the event of a court verdict on the Ayodhya case.
Now the master stroke of Sibal has the potential to revive the party from being on the ventilator to the racing track by strategically attracting pan India 15% minority vote that can be the launching pad for RaGa with his newly acquired soft Hindutva persona. By a single action, the political landscape of the country can be altered but it needs better political articulation . RaGa Congress can be revived only when the party can snatch minority votes from the regional outfits namely SP, BSP, RJD, RLD, NCP, YSR Congress,TMC etc and it should be clubbed with soft Hindutva narrative to mount a serious challenge for Modi led BJP . The optimum polarization is possible by aggressive approach , the same is brilliantly provided by Kapil Sibal on a platter to the Congress party. The road-map to GE 2019 is scripted with brilliance and the pursuit of success will test the political acumen of the Congress president . Soft Hindutva with Sibal ’s taking up cudgels for the Muslim minority in the Ayodhya case can turn out to be the winning bet for the ailing Congress party in GE 2019.
(Prakhar Misra: Writer is political editor)
There was a time, when Modi Government came into power by winning 2014 Lok Sabha elections with massive mandate and a strong clear message, “We are not here for any positions but burdened by great responsibility”. Be it about strengthening the foreign policies, defense policy or the launch of welfare schemes for low income group in the country, team Modi has worked really hard to bring in new hopes and to mark their presence in the history. Modi led government has clocked over three years at the wheel; here are the five most important things that Modi Government has accomplished since coming to power.
Strengthened economy – The much anticipated foreign tours by the PM actually brought a lot of investment in India and India is the most favored FDI destination of the global capital today, the most prominent investment is first bullet train of the country with Japanese collaboration. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had proven himself to be a great supporter of economic reforms and he successfully proved that under his leadership the country will reach amazing heights.
Make in India and Digital India – Make in India was announced to ensure MNCs from across the world begin their manufacturing plants in the country that generates employment and contributes well to the economy. Make in India has gathered a lot of momentum and many countries have signed deals with different state and central governments. There are also, initiatives like Digital India which have completely changed the outlook of our country. It has paved way for millions of people to step in the mainstream economy.
Swachh Bharat– Prime Minister, Narendra Modi exhorted people to fulfill Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of clean India. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan seeks to create clean India. It was launched to eliminate open defecation and promote cleanliness in the entire country. However, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in the last two and a half years has been a great success: metro & tier II cities have started to realize the importance of cleanliness.
The mission contains two sub- missions: Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Gramin or Rural) and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Urban) both of these operate with different ministries and various NGos working towards the ideas of making India a better place to live.
GST– It is an indirect tax levied in India on the sale of goods and services. After implementation of the biggest tax revolution since independence, a recent report on rate of taxes on goods and services showed that majority of items have become cheaper after GST and this has infused trust in the government to make India a better country. Talking about the long term benefits, GST is expected to lower rate of taxes but also minimum tax slabs; the impact of GST on macro- economics has turned out to be positive in the medium term. However with the implementation of GST, inflation would be reduced as the cascading effect of taxes would be eliminated.
Tough stance on critical issues- With Modi government in power, the politics of appeasement is over. After a major initiative taken by Modi Government in the Supreme Court, Triple Talaq has become unconstitutional. Muslim women’s are coming in open support of this initiative.This is a small report on centre’s performance and crucial accomplishments of the Modi government in the last three years; it has insinuated the feelings of hope among people of India. This explains why Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains India’s most popular political leader.
(By Laraib Fatima Warsi: Writer is a freelance journalist)
Confident India and its leader deliver the opening speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Indian leader Narendra Modi has warned that globalization is under threat. Modi told delegates at the Swiss resort on Tuesday that “forces of protectionism are raising their heads” against international trade and commerce. “Bi-lateral and multilateral trade negotiations have come to a kind of standstill,” he said.
Modi, the first Indian prime minister to visit a WEF summit in more than two decades, called for reform of international institutions, continued comitment to a rules-based world order and greater focus on inclusivity in the global economy during his address.
The focus of this year’s edition of the annual Davos meeting is on creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World, according to the Geneva-based foundation’s website. Modi praised India, home to some 1.2 billion people, for its commitment to democracy and diversity. “For a society with diverse religions, cultures, languages, attires and cuisines, democracy is not just a political system but a way of living,” he said, adding that inclusion is the “main principle” of his government.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of international rights group Human Rights Watch, has accused Modi of failing to address the “growing populist intolerance and exclusion” occurring in a number of countries worldwide, including India. Critics of the Davos summits suggest the annual WEF meeting serves as little more than a “talking shop” for the global elite.
Meanwhile oxfam International in a report criticizes Indian government policy, suggesting that 1% of rich in India controls 73% of country’s wealth. WEF attendees “have had many years now of hand wringing about the growing gap between rich and poor, and very little to show for it … This is clearly because business as usual is good business for those at the top”, A report by oxfam, published in advance of the Davos summit, has revealed that half of the world’s population received no share of all wealth created globally in 2017.
Instead, billionaires increased their wealth by $762bn last year, enough to end “global extreme poverty seven times over”, the UK-based charity’s annual inequality report said. Off course Modi government has a task in hand to check this wealth concentration for select few and its distribution amongst over billion people equally.
Kapil Dudakia (UK Bureau Chief from Davos)
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