Monday, December 26, 2016

Politics Kaleidoscope 2016: Modi in eye of storm; opposition unity still a mirage

The BJP's coming to power in Assam, making its presence felt and entry in Kerala assembly and being part of the ruling coalition in sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir had all the reasons to suggest that the saffron outfit - essentially known for Hindutva tilt and pro-north Indian credential has come of age.  

In BJP's tumultuous journey emerging as a 'pan-India party' in 2016, the Congress party has been pushed to the second fiddle. In a year with highs and lows, Congress lost another key state of Assam to the saffron outfit. It also lost Kerala to the Left Front, generally compatriots at the national level.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP had their fair share of brickbats and bouquets for some major decisions in country's history which mobilised the opposition against them but a total unity of political forces against the ruling dispensation still remained a mirage.

The alleged chaotic handling of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, demonetisation and arbitrary dismissal of elected governments in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, Prime Minister was in the eye storm throughout the year. Meanwhile, despite repeated clarion call for opposition unity by key regional players including Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee,  a strong anti-BJP front still remained a "non-starter". The ban on high denomination currency on November 8 by Mr Modi was certainly the most striking political decision of the year if not the last decade. 

 Now the answer to the question - whether demonetisation turns out as a master stroke or the last nail in the coffin for political career of Narendra Modi - remains only in the womb of time.

The charge of "personal corruption" against Mr Modi by Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi at the fag end of the year generated much the political heat. Often slammed for trying to emulate Hitler or Indira Gandhi,  Mr Modi however gets the backing of party lieutenants and ministerial colleagues. "Do you mean to say, none in Congress ministry feared Rajiv Gandhi?," asked Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan informally once. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley says Prime Minister could have "played safe" and look the other way to  allow status quo vis-a-vis black money menace. "But he chose to fight it out". However, other players in the political game have started giving clarion call for anti-Modi crusade. Mamata Banerjee has called demonetisation a 'draconian move', Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has claimed Mr Modi received money during his stint at Gujarat Chief Minister from Birla and Sahara business groups. As the term "note-bandi" gained political legitimacy during the year, the immense inconvenience caused to the commoners during two last months has earned Prime Minister brickbats."Demonetisation will have a recurring affect to the rural economy and overall agri scene. Farmers have got a very raw deal from the Modi government," said RLD chief Ajit Singh -- who has in the past demonstrated his popularity among farming community in UP.
The continuous electoral defeats for Congress - in Delhi (2015) and states like Maharashtra and Haryana in 2014 and Assam in 2016 only provided optimism to regional players like Mamata Banerjee. Post-demonetisation, Mamata Banerjee's outfit has tried their luck for electoral expansion in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. 

While Mamata hopped between Delhi, Lucknow and Patna and even led foot march of leaders to Rashtrapati Bhavan with parties like Shiv Sena, in Parliament her MPs took principal role to disrupt proceedings in both the Houses. Leaders from other parties like Mayawati of BSP have also become vocal against note ban, but striking a major surprise, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has backed Prime Minister's move.
        All these suggest unity move among opposition parties not coming soon. "This is the best time to unite. But I do not see the unity happening. And if disunity prevails Mr Modi and BJP may able to sail through these challenging times," a senior opposition leader sums up the paradox. The unity move by Rahul Gandhi against demonetisation got another snub on December 26, 2016 - when parties like CPI-M, JD(U) and NCP declined to response to the Congress invitation.

The unity move against BJP was sounded earlier this year by Nitish Kumar also.
But former socialist colleagues in Biju Janata Dal (BJD) called it a "non-starter" and said there ought to be clarification on whether the proposed front would include Congress or it will maintain equi-distance from both the BJP and the Congress. In crucial assembly elections, while BJP wrested Assam from Congress, the grand old party lost hold of Kerala to the CPI-M led Left Front. For her party, braving onslaught of a Congress-CPI-M alliance and vitriolic attack from BJP, Mamata Banerjee led her party Trinamool Congress to a record victory winning 211 seats in 295-member assembly.  The vote share too shot up to 44.9 per cent - a swing of almost six per cent improvement from the 2011 performance.
         In Tamil Nadu, while Jayalalaitha too had led her party to a crucial victory retaining power, her death on December 5 brought curtains down to an eventful life and political career. 

But the state was put in a new flux and apparently a political vacuum has been created in the southern state. For, BJP victory in Assam came as a blessing and answer to the critics who questioned electoral strategy of PM Modi-Amit Shah duo for their failure in Delhi and Bihar in 2015. While much of the credit goes to Sarbanand Sonowal for BJP's historic victory in Assam,  it is also the 'tribal' factor which catapulted the saffron party to power.
BJP generally perceived as a 'north Indian' Hindu party, was able to cobble up support of the tribals --- Moran, Muttock, Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Sootea and the tea tribes, besides the Kachari tribe to which Mr Sonowal belongs.
The new foothold in Assam gave the saffron party new hopes to venture into states like Manipur and put up a spirited battle for Uttar Pradesh where elections are due in early 2017.
 But BJP's political machinations in 2016 also saw resulted in loss of face in Uttarakhand and in Arunachal Pradesh. The Supreme Court's strong worded verdict in both the cases where President's Rule were imposed only gave strength to the argument that BJP's actions vis-a-vis smaller states were only a throwback to the Congress culture.Dismissing Harish Rawat's regime in Dehradun and Nabam Tuki-led government in Itanagar under Article 356 were two additions to the catalogue of alleged constitutional sins.
Worse, a few BJP leaders have tried to build up an argument that the Congress had no business to talk about constitutional decorum as the grand old party had several times dismissed non-Congress governments across the country.  "Congress is forgetting how many state governments it has dismissed in the last 60 years," said BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya.
         The apex court's orders restored both the state governments. But political machinations continued unabated in Arunachal Pradesh and on September 16,  as many as 43 Congress MLAs headed by Chief Minister Pema Khandu quit party and joined PPA, a regional ally of the BJP.
       The beginning of the year 2016 also saw the Jat Reservation Agitation - that kept BJP-ruled Haryana paralysed and also plunged it into a cycle of violence. The 10-day stir from February 12 to February 22 is said to have caused an estimated loss of ₹340 billion.
The total loss suffered by Railways on account of damage to property and cancellation of tickets during the agitation was about Rs 55.92 crore.  By 26 February, 30 people had been killed in the violence. Within BJP, in a major decision, the Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, handpicked for the job by PM Modi in 2014, was shown the door this year.
       Patel presumably had to be shifted owing to the 'Patel or Patidars stir' in 2015 - when a 22-year-old Hardik Patel had ignited the agitation.
       Many ponder about the wisdom behind the agitation. Was the agitation anti-Mandal (reservation) cult of politics ? Or Is it just a tip of ice berg of ‘well to do’ Hindu upper caste community’s latent anguish against the Quota raj system?
         Sensitive to ground reality, PM Modi and Amit Shah have now placed a hitherto low profile Vijay Rupani in-charge of Gujarat - a state that goes to polls in December 2017 - and for the first time in two decades without Modi as an 'aspiring Chief Minister'. The family feud in Samajwadi Party coming to light was seen as a major political episode of the year.

 UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav fought in public against his uncle Shivpal Yadav while another uncle Ram Gopal Yadav, Rajya Sabha MP, had backed the young nephew. After a series of developments, Ram Gopal Yadav - was expelled once and then taken back by the party. The year also saw return of an estranged Man Friday of Mulayam Singh Yadav - Amar Singh back into the think tank for the party.

Another political highlight during the year was BJP's ally Telugu Desam Party (TDP) often trying to sustain pressure on the Modi government for the Special Category status for Andhra Pradesh. At the three-day TDP-Mahandu at Tirupati in May, the state Chief Minister said,  “We are not asking any undue favour from the centre. The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act was brought by the Congress party, but it is also true that all parties supported it. So it is the responsibility of centre and also all political parties to resolve the problems of Andhra Pradesh". On August 2, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured the agitating TDP members in Parliament that the government would stand by the commitments it has made "in supporting Andhra Pradesh to the fullest". Meanwhile, Telugu actor-turned-politician and Janasena Party founder Pawan Kalyan has alleged that the BJP has gone back on its promise over the special category status.

Other salient features of political developments this year include Prime Minister's Independence Day speech - where in from the ramparts of Red Fort for the first time - an Indian Prime Minister waxed eloquently in favour of the freedom movement of Balochistan.
"The world is watching. People of Balochistan, Gilgit, Baltistan and occupied Kashmir have thanked me a lot in the past few days. I am grateful to them," Modi said in his customary address to the nation on the occasion of 70th Independence Day.

"In thanking an Indian Prime Minister, they have thanked the whole population of my country", Mr Modi had said. But PM's reference to Balochistan evoked strong reactions from senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid, also a former External Affairs Minister.
"Balochistan is a different thing from PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). We have every right to speak about PoK because it is our matter. Balochistan is not," Khurshid had said. The former external affairs minister said Balochistan was an internal matter of Pakistan. "When the question is about a sovereign nation, we should maintain a sense of restraint."Do we allow Americans to speak about atrocities in our country?


Friday, December 23, 2016

2016-Agriculture: Drought, pulse crisis mar game changers e-trading, crop insurance

The year gone by for the Indian agriculture sector posed serious challenges as the country confronted the drought yet again due to poor monsoon even as the Modi government took a number of steps like new crop insurance scheme and also a trading platform for agri products trying to bring in a few 'game changers'.
In circa 2016, those managing the country's food and agri sector also had to deal with the shortfall in the pulse production. In the budget speech for fiscal 2016-17, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pledged for the government to "reorient its interventions in the farm and non-farm sectors to double the income of the farmers by 2022".

Even as the government kept talking about keeping farmers in focus, the demonetisation drive announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November also triggered controversies that the decision was taken "unmindful" of winter planting season.

In between, during the year, there came up in public discourse a contentious debate on whether agriculture income would be brought under the tax net. On May 5, replying to a debate in the Lok Sabha, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley ruled out possibilities
to bring agriculture income under the tax net. However, he cautioned strict action will be taken against those passing off income from other sources as agriculture income. 
"One is honest agricultural income. You may have a large income which is a separate case. That is a rare case. But there are some cases where people are passing off income from other sources as agriculture income. This is a case of evasion. That will be dealt with under the law," Mr Jaitley said.

The announcement of the New Crop Insurance scheme - popularly touted as Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yozana-- was made on 13th January, 2016. Under the new scheme that would cost government Rs 8,000-9,000 crore annually, the farmers' premium has been kept at a maximum of 2 per cent for foodgrains and oilseeds, and up to 5 per cent for horticulture and cotton crops.

  The new Crop Insurance scheme is in line with ‘One Nation – One Scheme’ theme. “It incorporates the best features of all previous schemes and at the same time, all previous shortcomings/weaknesses have been removed,” an official announcement said. 

It also highlighted the end of the cob of complexities the farmers had to face earlier.
       Similarly, in another ingenious step, on April 14, the 125th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar, the Prime Minister launched an electronic trading platform,- eNAM for farmers. The e-NAM trading mechanism initially had 21 Mandis covered but had a target to integrate 585 regulated wholesale markets or agriculture produce market committees (APMCs) within a couple of years. The new platform was to help farmers sell their produce to the highest bidders.

Launched with a budget allocation of Rs 200 crore, as many as 25 key commodities, including wheat, paddy, maize, onion, jowar, bajra, groundnut, potato, soyabean and mustard seed, were selected 
for e-trading. The e-NAM platform on first phase covered crucial agrarian states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana,  Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh. 
The initiative was lauded by various stake holders. Even private sector seemed to endorse the move. 
Krish Iyer, President & CEO Walmart India, found the eNAM initiative forward looking and said his company “will continue to strengthen our direct farm programme to complement government vision to make a difference to the lives of farmers”. On June 20, in another far-reaching step, the government allowed 100 per cent FDI in Animal Husbandry (including breeding of dogs), Pisciculture, Aquaculture and Apiculture.

The pulse shortage and high prices often kept government under pressure. Both the Ministries of Food and Agriculture besides government crisis managers like Mr Jaitley were on their toes most often holding conclaves to deal with the situation. On June 15, 2016 the central government in a major move decided to enhance buffer stock of pulses from 1.5 lakh tonnes to 8 lakh tonnes. The Prime Minister himself kept an eagle's eye views on the developments as growing prices of essential item potatoes grew dearer by 60 per cent in wholesale markets and pulses getting costlier by 36 per cent over the past year. These pushed up India's annual wholesale inflation for the second month in May to its highest levels in nearly two years.
        In July, the decision on pulse was reviewed and the ministerial committee decided to increase the buffer stocks to whopping 20 lakh tonnes from the 8 lakh tonnes.
        The government had also set up a committee headed by Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian to consider reasonable increase in Minimum Support Price for pulses and bonus for the farmers for producing pulses.The Centre also decided to provide additional pulses to the states at Rs.66 per kg  for Tur and at Rs.82 per kg Urad for retail distribution. During the year, the government also decided to import of pulses from countries like Mozambique and Myanmar.

       With pulse shortage remaining an issue as the domestic demand was around 23-24 million tonnes, in September, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh urged states to promote pulses even in the winter or Rabi season, beginning October. 
       But breakthrough in developing a new “short duration variety of Arhar Dal” developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) is expected to be a game changer vis-a-vis pulse production. On October 31, 2016, after the Finance Minister and the Agriculture Minister visited IARI, it has been announced that the new pulse variety, PUSA 16, is currently undergoing field trials in eight locations across the country. This variety matures in around 120 days against at least 175 to 220 days taken by other Arhar varieties. 
       The Finance Minister also announced that this variety of Arhar will be released commercially in the next kharif season 2017. “We will put this new Arhar variety for commercial use soon. Once we put for commercial use, certainly it will have great impact,” he said.

       According to scientist with IARI, this variety is likely to encourage farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh to shift to pulses cultivation from water intensive paddy. 
       As regard drought management, the Prime Minister himself held a series of high-level meetings with state agriculture ministers and also at the central level and in May a series of measures were advised for the states. 
He also met Chief Ministers of drought affected states like Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra and said action ought to be taken for short term and long term mitigation. 
States were also asked to prepare an Action Plan on a weekly basis to tide over challenges like shortage and scarcity of drinking water, conservation efforts and usage of existing water resource optimally. They were requested to undertake a major drive for construction of farm ponds, adopt micro irrigation and diversify into crops requiring less water.

The year also saw government pushing yogic farming. The government said yogic farming will be promoted via Parampragat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY), under which organic farming is also being given an encouragement. Asserting that positive thoughts yield rich dividends even on nature and livestock, Mr Singh maintained that the NDA regime's target of doubling the farmers' income by 2022 remains a feasible target and yogic farming can play a major role in this.
      In order to achieve higher yields for farmers and help them double the income by 2022 as envisaged by government in the budget, Mr Singh said the government will promote the idea of 'yogic farming' to increase the country's farm production.
      "Positive thoughts have an impact on nature and even livestock and people around. Some people don't believe in it but there is a scientific truth. ...We are going to support this idea of yogic farming," Mr Singh said addressing an event on traditional organic farming.
      This year also saw Sikkim emerging as the country's full fledged organic state.
(Source - UNI)

Friday, December 16, 2016

When Indira Gandhi snubbed YB Chavan for mooting note ban in 1971

Quoting from former bureaucrat Madhav Godbole's book 'Unfinished Innings: Recollections and Reflections of a Civil Servant', Prime Minister Modi said, when YB Chavan had advised Indira Gandhi to implement the Wanchoo panel recommendation for note-ban in 1971, Indira Gandhi had snubbed Chavan with her question, "Will Congress party never contest any election again."

Under attack by political detractors for his demonetisation drive, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Dec 16, 2016 made blistering attack on the Congress and the Left parties for what he said coming in defence of the "dishonest" people and asserted that the new decline in the standard of politics was a matter of "deep concern".
 "....beimano ke saath dene ke liye ikkathey ho rahen haen (It is as if they have all decided to join hands to defend and take side of the dishonest and corrupt people)," the Prime Minister said in his over half-an-hour speech at the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting here.

Despite market talks: Namo remains defiant
The Prime Minister asserted that the currency ban drive he launched on November 8 mid night in effect should have been brought way back - forty five years back - in 1971. "What we did today (ban on high currency notes) actually should have been brought in 1971," Mr Modi said.    Mr Modi also did not spare the Left parties and making a broadside attack on them charged the communists with compromising their ideological standing.
    "When the Left aligned with the Congress for West Bengal polls, I presumed it was solely to fight the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee. But what they did now in Parliament on demonetisation shows they have also given up on their ideological beliefs," he said.
    Mr Modi said noted Marxist MP Jyotirmoy Basu, stating that on August 26, 1972, the CPI-M had said that: "Indira Gandhi had won elections with black money in 1971 and thus she did not implement demonetisation scheme and had even kept the report of the Wanchoo committee under carpet".
Clean Politics?
  The Prime Minister also flayed Dr Manmohan Singh and said it appears that the former Prime Minister is now more concerned for the party than the country. "Unko Dal ki chinta hae, desh ki chinta nahi (It appears, he is more concerned about the party and not the country)" he said.
   He said the new low as being seen in contemporary politics is a matter of deep concern.
"Today is December 16, Vijay Diwas. In 1971, Indian Army crushed Pakistan and helped Bangladesh attain independence. There was a strong opposition then also. But none expected the Army to provide proof of their actions. Today even if soldiers are braving deaths in discharge of their duties, they are asked to provide proofs of their action against the enemy," he said.
    "This decline in standards of politics is a matter of big concern," Mr Modi said.

(UNI story on L K Advani's 'Marg Darshak' role)

Advani finally in 'Marg Darshak' role for ruling BJP

New Delhi, Dec 15 (UNI) Veteran BJP parliamentarian L K Advani today finally donned the role of 'Marg Darshak'.
   In dramatic developments, the former Deputy Prime Minister today aired his anguish to the Home Minister Rajnath Singh on continued disruption of Parliament proceedings.
"I feel like resigning,’’ Mr Advani said, according to Trinamool Congress MP Idris Ali. Two other members, including one from the ruling BJP were also with Mr Ali when he was talking to the BJP leader.
     The angry remarks from Advani, who was sidelines in the party pushed to the advisory role post-2014 Lok Sabha polls, came on the penultimate day of the almost washout winter session.
The Leader with his Fan
   While Advani's outbursts generated heat at the fag end of the winter session, these have have definitely embarrassed the ruling dispensation and especially the floor managers in both the Houses.       
    On December 7 too, Mr Advani had given a vent to his pent up anger first when he had expressed displeasure both at the Opposition behaviour and at the way the Speaker Sumitra Mahajan
and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar were running the House.
    The Trinamool MP Ali said what when he asked about Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee’s health, Mr Advani said the former prime minister would have been very unhappy over what was happening in Parliament.
    The remarks certainly gave a fodder to the opposition camp to direct their ire against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government.
    Welcoming the comments by 89-year-old Advani  that he felt like resigning over the continuing  disruptions in Parliament, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said he was thankful to the senior MP for fighting for democratic values within his party.
     "Thank you Advani ji for fighting for democratic values within your party,’’ Rahul said in a tweet on which he also posted the report quoting Mr Advani as having made the remark.

Search of an issue?

  During the day, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan also shared Mr Advani's anguish over continuous disruption of Parliamentary proceedings saying this was "sad" and a matter of "regret".
       "Advaniji dukhi hain ...waise sabhi dukhi hain (I know Mr LK Advani is unhappy about this. Everyone else is also unhappy)," Ms Mahajan said at a book release function on Parliament premises.
     Speaking at the release of two commemorative volumes on Parliamentary speeches of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and ex-BJP leader from Karnataka Jagannathrao Joshi, the Speaker, however, said, "In any case whatever is happening is happening."
     The winter session of Parliament that began on November 16 is slated to end tomorrow (Dec 16) is heading for a washout.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Now Manipur CM's SURGICAL STRIKES on Hills; 'social engineering' to throw spanner to BJP's journey

(I have often compared Okram Ibobi Singh's politics with that of Narendra Modi. Both shrewd, ruthless and great survivors)
Modi and Ibobi: Artful dodgers!

(This piece was run by United News of India - UNI)

In what is being touted as a major social engineering - vis-a-vis the sensitive socio-politics of Nagas and Kukis residing in Manipur, the incumbent Congress Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh sought to throw a major political challenge to the BJP, which was banking on its newly created support base in the hill districts.
The state cabinet presided over by Chief Minister in Imphal decided to form seven new districts making it a total of 16 districts in the state. 
The new districts are Tengnoupal (from Chandel), Kakching (from Thoubal), Pherjawl (from Churachandpur), Kamjong (from Ukhrul), Noney (from Tamenglong), Jiribam (from Imphal East), Kangpokpi (from  Senapati). 

The state government has also appointed all the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendent of Police for the new districts. Sources in Manipur Congress and also the BJP unit say both the parties have taken cognizance of the decision of the Chief Minister Ibobi Singh, who in power since 2002, this time probably could face a tough competition from the BJP.

The saffron party ever since installation of the Modi government in office in 2014 and electoral victory in Assam in May 2016 has been nurturing ambitious plans to capture power in Manipur -- a state with majority of Meitei Manipuris and various tribal groups from amongst Nagas and Kukis.

The hill districts in Manipur has 20 seats while the valleys - the stronghold of Meitei Manipuris - have the remaining 40 seats in the 60-member assembly. Traditionally, the valleys (with 40  seats) have been the strongholds of Congress and thus BJP has been trying to make inroads into the hills through Naga leaders - from Manipur as also from neighbouring Nagaland.

"But the split in hill districts would complicate the political chess board as the new districts as announced on December 9 would fulfill long pending demand of the Kukis, who always felt cornered and ignored by the Nagas in the hill districts," a senior BJP leader told UNI.

The political reading as of now suggests the newly carved districts -Tengnoupal,  Kakching, Pherjawl, Kamjong (from Ukhrul), Noney, Jiribam and Kangpokpi would help the Kukis immensely.

Kukis and Nagas of Manipur - like the smaller tribes including Poumei, Ukhrul and Maran have been sharing love-hate relationship for decades and often the oneupmanship leads to violence.

The 1990s saw worst of crisis of confidence between Kukis and Nagas when the militant group National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-Isak Muivah) was trying to expand its base.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Demonetisation: Politics in Contrast - Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee

In its idiosyncratic mixture of sentimentality and hypocrisy, for the politicians like the rest of humankind, self-justification is only natural. No human being would like to conclude that his or her actions brought about the opposite effect from what was intended. Moving beyond these, it ought to be appreciated with little difficulties that demonetisation and the inconvenience caused to the people are the flavour of the town.

According to journalist Manu Joseph, the protest to the demonetisation moves has many tales to attribute. “One strand of the moral outrage against demonetisation has been led by the refined urban class that dislikes Modi. They are excited by any story that assures them that Modi has made a catastrophic mistake, Jospeh wrote in Hindustan Times. So we have Mamata Banerjee initially calling currency ban as 'draconian'; while Congress leader P Chidambaram (also a former finance minister) stating that had no differences on the 'objective' of the demonetisation move.
The Gambler PM and his adviser 

Things changed at a later stage, Chidambaram had to follow Rahul Gandhi line and hence told a TV interview, "I would have resigned if cabinet over ruled my objection and brought in demonetisation". Mamata Banerjee crossed normal boundaries and have started sensing 'coup' and 'threat to life' in a delayed landing of a flight or army conducting a patrol not very from her office - Nabanya (Trinamool name for one time the historic Writer's Building). Talking about the merits or the demerits of demonetisation actually revolve less around the economics of it than the politics of 'hating Modi' or admiring him.
A mocking campaign has started on social networking sites -- he says 'Desh Badal raha hae' ---actually Modi 'dress' badal raha hae'. In short, the hate campaign continues.

But in this blog the issue is neither Modi nor demonetisation - both are great polarizing factors. With regard the doggedness of Modi's mind: one can say - in the ultimate here was a leader shrewd enough and a tactful demagogue who judged people's resentment against a monotonously wrong doing - the black money - and thus he leaped ahead ought to use them for a popular victory -- the biggest gamble of his life!

But the comments from a Congress MP, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury adds a slightly new twist to the tale. 

"It is the crystallization of a personal dream. Mr Modi wants to see himself as a revolutionary. So he has tried to bring in a 
cashless economy. Indira Gandhi had nationalised the banks. Rajiv Gandhi brought in computers, so this Prime Minister thought of something new and people are suffering today," he told me -- as the West Bengal Congress chief awaited outside SBI at Parliament House more than keenly to collect his 'new currency notes'.

Now, let us focus the debate on the theme - we proposed. The reactions to demonetisation by two Chief Ministers -- Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik -- both regional chieftains in their own right.

First let us take up the mercurial Didi from West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee - the Trinamool Congress.

BJP leader Sidharth Nath Singh presented a Chronology of Mamata Banerjee’s rattled mind (Nov 8, 2016) to "hallucinating mind"
- Step by step - amid much confusion these were:

- First calling currency ban "a financial emergency" and demanding complete roll back.

- Saying united opposition will march to President of India, however few takers in the opposition ranks. 

- Threatening of riots in the country and giving 72 hours deadline to the Prime Minister.
 - Holding of dharnas in UP and Bihar, although poorly attended.

- Conspiracy of her being eliminated by not allowing aircraft to land on a low fuel and the worst is creating a "panic" that there is an attempt of an "army coup".

"The unnerved mind has given way to hallucination, which certainly requires medical care," the BJP leader said.
Blogger in Corridors of Parliament

There was more drama attached to the Trinamool tale. The conduct of Mamata’s ‘elected lawmakers’ in Parliament has been like the cheer boys and girls  screaming and yelling at any B-grade soccer match of Calcutta league. Sadly. 

But the other story of Naveen Patnaik in Odisha vis-a-vis demonetisation move is more interesting and perhaps more penetrating.

"This is certainly a challenging time. But always it is imperative to turn challenges into opportunities. This is the time to
bring about massive improvement in institutional banking and ensure deeper penetration of banks," BJD floor leader in the Lok Sabha Bhartruhari Mahtab told me.

The Odisha government led by their party leader Naveen Patnaik has exactly done that. "The inconvenience caused to the people due to demonetisation is a reality. Our leader (Naveen Patnaik) has made it clear that instead of attacking the centre for the same, the state government has to do its part to help rural masses. Accordingly, in our state even helicopters have been pressed into service to reach new currency notes to the rural areas," he said.

Odisha did not have effective banking network especially in rural areas as there were about 4600 panchayats which were not covered by the banking system. "So, it is time, we have focused on making necessary arrangements for both reaching cash and also opening new branches," he said.

Mahtab said on the appeal from the state Chief Minister, most nationalised banks operating in the state have also responded positively and organisations like State Bank of India, Allahabad Bank, Bank of Baroda and Punjab National Bank have started opening new branches or at least depute one official in the villages which had no banks.
A Writer-politician: Means Business

"In many places, the panchayat halls are being turned into temporary banks. It is working and the villagers are also responding overwhelmingly".

In fact, he said officials from the Union Finance ministry have visited Odisha and appreciated the efforts being made by the state government, the Reserve Bank of India and the banks at the local level to improve the situation.

To a question whether cashless economy as being emphasised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a pragmatic agenda, he said, "To my surprise people have liked the idea of cashless transaction. In many places in Bhubaneswar ordinary roadside 'gol goppe wallahs' have started installing machines to swipe debit cards. Banks are also providing the tool either at cheaper rates or in installments. We should take these as very positive developments". 
Need for a ground work
 Let us go back to the principal theme of the debate where we started from. What makes Mamata Didi so annoyed that - as according to Babul Suprioyo, Asansol MP and Union Minister, she is herself harming her own reputation. 

Well, anger and bewilderment can be easily detected in Mamata Banerjee's words and actions since November 8 mid-night.
It is no secret -- politics of Sharada chit fund scam and syndicate politics rules in the backyards of West Bengal. And it is she who thrives there !

A tragic hero or for that matter HEROINE - in the classical definition is one, who causes his or her own undoing at the moment of greatest potential. 

Has Mamata Banerjee - in search of a national space and what is romantically often called Singrur-2 - walked into that trap of scoring self-goal?

She has provoked anguish even among Janata Dal (U) leaders.

Woh didi ke roop mein bahut achchi lagti hain, unhe dada ke roop mein vyavhar nahin karna chahiye (she looks good as anb elder sister and should not behave like a bully)," JD(U) spokesperson K C tyagi said. 

Didi, thus, as of now needs some political corrective steps.

Mamata Banerjee, who pulled the carpet underneath the feet of Marxists in West Bengal, otherwise certainly has all the qualities to emerge as a giant stature in national politics with few parallels. 


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Demonetisation Debate: 'No Hero' of the Zero Hour in the Lok Sabha

##Apparently, there was 'no hero' of the zero hour in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. Or the opposition members gave it a miss deliberately?

Speaker #SumitraMahajan on November 30 made an unprecedented offer to the members urging them to end 
the deadlock and commence the debate on the high-voltage demonetisation scheme at the earliest.

"Shunya se hum brahmand tak ja saktey haen (We can start from zero and reach up to the entire universe)," she said referring to the Zero Hour proceedings - a time which is under her discretionary disposal.
Playing Universal game with 'zero' !

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Obit Fidel Castro: Revolutionary icon who shaped healthy India-Cuba bond

In terms of assessing Fidel Castro’s role as a revolutionary figure, Fidel often insisted that "revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction".
He also gave famous quotes to cherish and perhaps also ponder and debate about: "Men do not shape destiny, destiny produces the man for the hour".

Castro was truly a man who shaped destiny, and someone who completely changed the way human beings look at the western world of capitalism.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz --- known to millions of admirers as Comrade Castro or Commandante Castro - born on 13 August 1926 will be best remembered for bringing the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere and for surviving at least 10 American presidents. 

The revolutionary icon to millions of people and political class around the developing world in leading his fight against the Batista regime in 1959, Castro is actually credited for scripting a new anthem of defiance against the American hegemony. 
No doubt, in his memorable words Castro had defined revolution as a 'dictatorship' of the exploited against the exploiters.
Senior Indian Marxist leader Prakash Karat is right when he says Castro was not only a leader of Cuba, he was truly a world leader for the developing nations in 1970s and 1980s.

He was also one of the world’s best-known controversial leaders allegedly  survived countless US assassination attempts and - as they say - several premature obituary notes. 

In his death truly, the developing world has lost a soldier-politician and a champion of socialism and Non Aligned Movement (NAM) but was ironically also flayed by his detractors for brutally suppressing opposition and pursuing policies that crippled the Cuban economy. 

A trained lawyer, Fidel was born as ‘illegitimate son’ of a wealthy farmer, Angel María Bautista Castro Argiz, who had emigrated to Cuba from Spain. His mother, Lina Ruz González was a farm servant.
In the context of India-Cuban relations over the decades, Castro’s role was iconic. To the Indian government in 1970s and also to the foreign policy experts, Castro was “the star at the NAM summit” in 1983. Importantly, the famous 'Castro hug' of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and him has now almost become one of the most memorable photographs of the global polity of 1970s. 

The strong Cuba-India relations survived and actually thrived even after this period.

India was in fact among the first countries to recognize Cuba after the 1959 Revolution. Both the countries have maintained close contacts with each other in various international fora, such as the UN,   NAM, and WTO. While India has supported resolutions in the UN General Assembly calling for lifting of US sanctions against Cuba, for its part Cuba also backed India’s entry as a permanent member in the restructured UN Security Council. 
           Castro believed : Revolution is a 'dictatorship' of the exploited against the exploiters
India provided Cuba with 10,000 tonnes of wheat and 10,000 tonnes of rice in 1992 when Cuba was undergoing hardship. Fidel Castro termed the donation as the “Bread of India”, because it was sufficient for one loaf of bread for each one of the then Cuban population of eleven million people. In 2008 yet again, Government of India wrote off the principal and interest of US$62 million,   equivalent to Rs. 1.28 billion debt owed to India. The donation was a measure of   solidarity towards the friendly people of Cuba. 

Old timers in Kolkata would fondly recall that in September 1973 Jyoti Basu, not yet the Chief Minister of West Bengal, received 'revolutionary' President Fidel Castro in 'Calcutta'. Basu ironically had to wait for four more years to become the Chief Minister of the state that he ruled for next 23 years.
"The picture of that encounter has now become very famous and it was part of a very relevant photo exhibition, organised on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of Fidel’s visit to Calcutta, which highlighted the spontaneous outburst of sympathy towards the Cuban leader that flooded the Dum Dum airport," wrote Miguel Angel Ramfrez, Cuban Ambassador to India, in his tribute for Basu in Frontline, Feb. 2010.

He also thanked Basu with "great appreciation" for Jyoti Basu’s personal contribution to Cuba in Cuban years of hardships in the 1990s, when, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the socialist countries in Europe. 
Basu with the likes of Harkishan Singh] Surjeet embarked upon the task of helping Cuba and carried out a campaign in 1992 to send a ship to Cuba with rice and wheat. The Rao government in Delhi obliged and the offer was later described by none other than Fidel as the “bread from India”.

Cuba released an official postage stamp in 2010 with Fidel Castro and Nehru on it, to celebrate 50 years of friendship with India

Monday, November 14, 2016

Surgical Strikes against ‘Parallel economy’ : North East Militants, others "left high and dry"

(Guest Column)

This blog piece is from Swati Deb on the impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's unprecedented currency ban and fight against black money and terror funding

Indians by nature find it distasteful to admit that anything has gone wrong. Thus drastic changes to the status quo as a phenomenon are anti-thesis to basic Indianness. This applies to the people of north east also – where either life so far has been preferred to be ‘Lahe Lahe (take it easy)’ in Assam or indifference – with the local maxim (“Na jaane ho – How do I know”) as in Nagaland.

So in this land of status- quoists – it was taken for granted that corruption and black money are part of life. But courage is perhaps not the mere absence of fear. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has again displayed the mastery over it. It’s a true gamble.

As a hardliner ‘Hindutva’ leader and successful Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi has been always known for his “decisiveness”.  He also has a knack of making most of his decisions powerful weaponry by mixing the same with good timing and unconventional style. But besides ‘decisiveness’, despite that time and again he has been a loner, Modi has displayed some ‘courage’. This synthesis of “courage and decisiveness” often leads to a few drastic outcomes – good, bad and somewhat grey.
Of all his major decisions so far as Indian Prime Minister, the decision to outlaw currency notes worth Rs1000 and Rs 500 with immediate effect from Nov 8-9 (2016) mid-night by Modi would be regarded as the most significant game-changer.

“These notes will not be acceptable for transactions from midnight onwards. The five hundred and thousand rupee notes hoarded by anti-national and anti-social elements will become just worthless pieces of paper,” Modi said in his rare and hurriedly convened television address to the nation on Tuesday evening.

His admirers have called it “surgical strikes” against Black money. He said the move was to “break the grip of corruption and black money”. All these actually linked to the fake currency and terror funding. In effect, in the wilds of north east – where too besides ‘corruption’ – cash dealings are way of life – the Modi Sarkar has dealt the severest blow to the numerous insurgent groups those who survive and thrive with the ‘extortion’ industry.  
'Guest writer' 
According to French scholar and columnist Christophe Jaffrelot,  
as Gujarat Chief Minister, Modi was perhaps “less a politician than a manager”. 
In the context of Modi’s latest moves to fight black money menace, thus it can be safely said that his government has acted against the prevailing intellectual consensus and middle class indifference. Prime Minister has acted more like a super-CEO. True, the courageous moves have always fascinated Modi. Even unlike his one-time mentor LK Advani, in the past too Modi did not pretend to be a ‘secular’. 

In fact, he has never been shy of his hardcore Hindutva background. This has fetched him dividends.

Now what lies ahead both in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh or states like Manipur remains to be seen. But the impact of ‘surgical strikes’ against fake currency and black money would certainly hit the north east militant groups rather adversely.
There are ample reasons for this. Firstly, banking system came to some of these ethnic tribal communities only as a post-Independence phenomenon. Originally, the tribal groups like Nagas believed in barter system. 
Old timers still recall the hill native tribes used to come down to valleys and exchanged chicken, raw meat, vegetables and fruits with salt and some money and rice with the plains dwellers in Assam. 
But when the hard cash or money came in to the system, it virtually came with a vengeance into the political system. Thus the electoral politics was slowly polluted. Wealth and Wine became two major weaknesses of the locals and the same has been well exploited by Indian system and intelligence sleuths.Moreover, use of swipe machines and debit or credit cards are still not popular enough in the north east. 

The menace of greed for money – precisely the easy cash flow - passed onto other areas of tribal life including the insurgents quite swiftly. In states like Tripura, the fascination for money even sought to legitimize ‘kidnapping’ of senior government officials and traders by militant groups. Extortions slowly became an order of the day in Manipur, Assam and Nagaland.

But as the Biblical belief goes, the ill-gotten money – thanks to the pro-Hindutva leader - has been now rendered “worthless piece of papers”.
Often we get to hear that for simpleton tribals and others in the region, the issues of corruption or greed revolve around the traditional ‘chicken and egg’ theory – on what came first. Many locals often also relate corruption in northeast as ‘a menace imported from India’. But can people be trapped into a gimmick of easy money, if they do not want to be?
In fact, the ‘love or greed’ for money have led to metamorphosis among some militant groups. Not long ago in hubs like Dimapur, from profit oriented EXTORTIONS, a few militant groups also wanted to have a monopoly control on business of most saleable items like chicken and mushroom. For them, Modi’s demonetizing decisions are nothing less than ‘surgical strikes’. For them, the decision could not have come as a most effective method of leaving some people high and dry.