Friday, February 24, 2017

Does Pak army chief's "democracy advice" indicate some change of narratives?

Often pushed to the corner due to repeated terror strikes and under pressure to deliver 'peace', the Nawaz Sharif regime in Pakistan is reportedly keen to "change the narratives" about its relationship with India especially on problems in Jammu and Kashmir, claim Pakistani sources. Perhaps Mr Sharif wants to go down in history as a leader who delivered what he promised during 2013 general elections - that is an improved relation! 

The Sharif regime's stint ends in 2018 and according to Pakistan Constitution elections are to be held within the 90 days after June 5, 2018. 
According to observers of Indo-Pak relations especially from the Pakistani point of view, the Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa's unusual advice urging top officers read an American academic’s book on how India has succeeded in keeping the military out of politics - is a pointer.
"Our army general has urged top officials to read about Indian democracy. This is not without good reason," said a source. 

This reference is significant as according to media reports, General Qamar Javed Bajwa urged the officers to read 'Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence' written by Steven I Wilkinson. One vital take away from the book is that the Indian civilian establishment has successfully managed to keep its soldiers in the barracks. The army has to be an apolitical organisation and not the one dictating politics.

Gen Bajwa

"We are waiting for the stalled talks to resume. But not to have formal talks is not the end of the world," a Pakistani source said here suggesting that Islamabad has Plan-B in place and would try to improve relations and especially ensure people-to-people relationship irrespective whether the formal parleys begin or not. In fact during 2013 election campaign, Mr Sharif had made a point to suggest that his government would be promoting trade and investment with India. This was not the first time that Sharif had gambled electorally trying to say that he would work to improve relations with India. He had made similar appeal even in 1997. Nawaz Sharif first became Finance Minister of Punjab province in 1981 and later the Chief Minister in 1985.
A former army corps commander who served in northeast India, once said, “Sharif surpassed Z A Bhutto’s popularity and in 1997 perhaps had emerged as Pakistan’s most popular Prime Minister since Muhammad Ali Jinnah".On a different plane, like most dynamics society, Pakistan too is at crossroads. It has many things of past, which it wants to avoid - may be. Pakistanis were part of the anti-communist bandwagon. In the words of columnist for Pakistani newspaper Dawn, Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, "The irony of history is that at least some of the same proxies that we (read Pakistan) cultivated to wage holy war against the Soviet Union metamorphosed into terrorists that we want to hunt down now". 

While Pakistanis think it is debatable whether any substantive gains have been made in weakening the material and ideological infrastructure that sustains the terror elements - that is the right wing militancy, from the perspective of outsiders there is little to convince that Pakistan is sincere about curbing the right wing militancy. 

None other than Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who jointly inaugurated the annual Ministerial conference along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Heart of Asia at Amritsar, directly hit out at Pakistan for “launching an undeclared war” against his country and demanded an Asian or international regime to verify Pak-sponsor terror operations.
"We need aid to fight terrorism", said Ghani adding, 
"We need to identify cross-border terrorism and a fund to combat terrorism. 

Pakistan has pledged 500 million dollars for Afghanistan's development. This amount, Mr. Aziz, can be spent to contain extremism," Ghani said
directly addressing Pakistan's foreign policy chief advisor Sartaj Aziz, who also attended the conference.

According to some informed information from across the border, recently, Mr Sharif has also given indications that those personally close to him or those who have worked in his office (PMO) may be assigned India-related works. One serving official in Pakistan army has already gone on record to suggest that the new boss of Pakistan army does not have “visceral hatred” of India -- as probably used to the case in the past.
However, Indian strategic observers remain skeptical. They say Pakistan Prime Minister's gestures are to be taken "with a pinch of salt" as continued terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistani involvement in the valley unrest continue to create hurdles and raise questions about the "sincerity" of the Pakistani claims for peace with India. 
It took Pakistan about 70 years to get here, at least making the right gestures! But  the factors that were responsible for delay in this realisation have not disappeared, caution those in the know of things.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

It's not anti-climax: But Shurhozelie's election as new Chief Minister-designate augurs interesting days in Naga politics

Neiphiu Rio had made a significant leap towards power in the state, but finally had to bow down to the political machinations of 81-year-old Shurhozelie, a seasoned politician also known for anti-Congress stance.

The final endorsement from the central BJP leadership allowing Nagaland People's Front (NPF) chief Shurhozelie Liezitsu to take over as new Nagaland Chief Minister replacing an embattled T R Zeliang has many facets. 
One simple interpretation is the BJP wants to hit many birds with its 'Nagaland move' endorsing Shurhozelie. 
The decision that is seen as a setback to state's lone Lok Sabha MP Neiphiu Rio, also a former Chief Minister who led NPF to victory in three consecutive polls 2003, 2008 and 2013, is also linked to BJP's ambitious electoral game plans in Manipur.

The NPF has fielded 15 candidates in Naga tribal dominated hilly region in Manipur, that goes to the polls on March 4 and March 8. In 2012 assembly elections in Manipur, NPF had emerged as a force to reckon with and has won four seats out of 12 it contested.
The on-going socio-political turmoil in Nagaland over demand for Chief Minister T R Zeliang's resignation and violent protests to women quota in urban local bodies had definitely harmed NPF's election campaign in Manipur. Mr Shurhozelie himself had said the "confusion" in Nagaland had affected party's election campaign.
BJP is not ready to part away with the possible victory of NPF in 6-8 seats in Manipur hills.
Moreover, the BJP leadership in Delhi after initially agreeing for a tough political player like Neiphiu Rio to replace T R Zeliang in the last moment again decided to back Shurhozelie as that would save any legislative and organisational split in the NPF.
"A split in NPF at this juncture would have spoiled NPF's electoral prospects in Manipur immensely. All issues were considered in details and now the NPF leaders and Nagaland ministers after swearing in on February 22 can focus on elections in Manipur," said a BJP source from Nagaland.
The BJP for that matter has a tough election battle to fight in Manipur as the local state unit of BJP is focused on "pro-Meitei politics" in the valleys chiefly against Congress led by a tough campaigner and incumbent Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh.
"BJP's politics in Manipur is pro-Meitei who are Hindus," the source said but NPF, which paradoxically remains a decade old ally of the BJP in neighbouring Nagaland, is pro-Nagas and also pro-Christians.
"Few extra seats in 60-member assembly can always give BJP a mileage after the elections," the source said.

In Manipur, however, the division of Naga areas by the Ibobi Singh ministry in December 2016 has threatened to divide the tribal Nagas, Kukis and other smaller hilly tribes.
This division – between Nagas and Kukis – could play spoilsport to Prime Minister Modi's ambitions to capture another northeastern Indian state for BJP - after Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Interestingly Manipur, which has substantial Naga (tribe) population- who are essentially practicing Christians- in the run up to the polls are largely perceived to be soft towards 'pro-Hindu BJP'.

''The Nagas could be inclined to support BJP or its ally Naga People's Front, primarily because the Modi government at the Centre has entered into an agreement with Naga rebel group NSCN (IM)," the source said.
According to NPF sources, a factor that probably also tilted the balance in favour of Shurhozelie is, while he is the party chief, Mr Rio was "suspended" last year for anti-party activities.
For his part, Mr Rio has, however, denied the charge.

Another source suggest the outgoing Chief Minister T R Zeliang played the ultimate spoilsport to Rio's chance of getting back to the post, as he solidly pledged his support to veteran Shurhozelie.
Moreover, a section of Prime Minister's trusted aides working in the northeast feel Neiphiu Rio as a tough mettle with an independent mind would be difficult to handle, when it comes to dealing with NSCN(IM)'s "greater Nagaland" demand.
When Rio was at the helm of affairs in Nagaland, the NPF had started making foray into other states like Arunachal Pradesh and even Jharkhand.
Such a high ambitious game plan may not suit the Central government and also the BJP, which have assured people in other states like Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh that - contrary to Naga insurgent group's demands- no bifurcation of their states would be allowed


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Naga MP Neiphiu Rio set to go back as Chief Minister: But a 'Rising Star' could not strike good rapport in Lutyens'

Having served Nagaland as its chief minister for more than a decade, soft-spoken Neiphiu Rio had shifted base to Lutyens' city. But he hardly could make a difference or a mark in Delhi politics and is now set to return home! 

Politics is also an art that cannot be predicted mostly. The adage, the beginning does not know our end seems to work in perfect harmony with politics.
My first memories of Neiphiu Rio were his stint as Minister for Youth Affairs under illustrious Congress politician, S C Jamir. The students of Science College in Kohima were at strike. This was early nineties, we had joined hundreds raising slogans against the then Education Minister I K Sema, a known bete-noire of Nagaland chief minister Jamir. 
When I accompanied student leaders of All Nagaland College Students’ Union and Naga Students’ Federation for talks with the chief minister, Rio was already summoned. By then Rio had given his inputs to Jamir and the chief minister was in his best of persuasive skills and slowly the agitation fizzled out. While we were coming out, some of us overheard Jamir telling softly, “Neiphiu you did a good job”.

Rio rose in Jamir’s estimation slowly and by 1998 was made the cabinet No. 2 and given the key portfolio of Home. Some of us aware of Jamir’s style of functioning, then a ruthless task master, almost wrote political obituary for Rio suggesting in the past too Jamir has ‘ended’ careers of many Naga politicians by making them number 2 in his cabinet: I K Sema, K L Chishi, T A Ngullie and Shikiho Sema.

But in Rio, Jamir met his nemesis. By the time Jamir’s second term as chief minister unhindered 10th year in rule and a record in Nagaland came to an end in 2003, Neiphiu Rio and K Therie had ‘deserted’ Jamir camp. They floated a regional outfit NPF with other regionalists like Shurhozelie and in 2003 assembly elections humbled Jamir-led Congress.
Neiphiu Rio became chief minister. That was beginning of a new leaf in the career graph of Rio himself and also Naga politics. Rio has not looked back since then. And the ‘greater Nagaland’ debate had persisted with Rio’s crusade for it.
But in 2014, when Rio decided to plunge into central politics ‘giving up chief ministership’, certainly, many raised their eyebrows. My animal instinct reading was Rio could be trying to avoid the saturation point that comes rather easily among Naga voters. Perhaps he needs to ‘rehabilitate’ himself effectively before he is voted out or shown the doors as veteran Jamir was humbled. Politically, the ‘regional’ hat should have helped Rio especially at a juncture when the voters in India have voted out Congress and reposed faith in the leadership of Narendra Modi. 

It started well. For Rio, junior to the Late veteran parliamentarian P A Sangma by years, it was truly an honour when the NDA in its first meeting at the Central Hall of parliament provided him an opportunity to felicitate Narendra Modi on his election as NDA group leader. A man of few words and very soft spoken, Rio made his intent clear when he said, he is ready for a ‘bigger’ role in national polity to serve the northeast region and the country.
Said to be enjoying good rapport especially with the then BJP president Rajnath Singh, it is said Rio almost made it into the Modi cabinet on May 26, 2014. Apparently a former Chief Minister - Rio was offered Minister of State, Rio had declined the offer. But later Rio denied any such offer from Prime Minister Modi. Other version is Ajit Doval did not favour a man with independent mind in the cabinet. Doval wanted to control entire Naga peace talks -- often with his Mizoram prism -- something not workable in Nagaland. But these are only heresays and no way to confirm or deny these conjectures.

In the meanwhile, another interpretation was Rio was being egged to the ‘national politics’ also by National Socialist Council of Nagaland Isak-Muivah (NSCM-IM faction) to pursue strongly with the central government to make forward movement on the Naga Peace Talks. The negotiations with Naga rebels had started in 1997 during I K Gujral time but the negotiations are almost stuck there where it used to during Vajpayee regime. “The progress made under Manmohan Singh government on Naga peace talks was frustrating. They simply did not show the will. Worse , Dr Singh never bothered to visit Nagaland in last 10 years although he is an MP from Assam,” Rio had told me in an interview.
Rio and Rajnath: Good rapport

Some BJP leaders including Rajnath Singh despite their limited knowledge on northeast – seemed to concur that presence of a Naga leader in the union cabinet would also help push the talks forward. But that was not to be. 

This section of BJP leaders also hint that the ‘idea’ to Rio to move to Delhi was given by the BJP, which wants to work hard on the Look East Policy and penetrate beyond Myanmar region. There are significant numbers of Nagas in Myanmar. Modi wants to play his well known ‘out-of-box’ game ball. In fact, Modi reportedly told a meeting of closed door experts from northeast that he could bring in major reforms in the functioning of the Ministry of External Affairs itself and encourage ‘greater engagement’ with South Asian neighbours and other smaller countries.

Even otherwise, emergence of Modi regime in Delhi and preceded by change of governments in Pakistan and Nepal, democracy taking strong roots in Myanmar and Sheikh Hasina returning to power in Bangladesh, in diplomatic parlance we already see ‘winds of change’ blowing across Asia. Today, there is a growing realization that South East Asia actually begins with North East India and rightly so. Some babudom in PMO or people around him might have wasted few years. 

File snap: Protagonists PM, Guv, TR Zeliang, Rio

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The curious case of Meghalaya Governor and 'women': Thy Shall n’t err Your Excellency!

Guest Column

(from Swati Deb)

What comes to the fore due to Shillong Raj Bhawan-vis-a-vis molestation charge is many of the Sanghparivar elements are unable to handle fame, glory and power. With regard J P Rajkhowa, then Arunachal Praesh Governor, the debate was constitutional - mainly about the powers and responsibilities of the gubernatorial post, but with Shanmuganathan episode the issue is around morality. And that's sad!
The Guest Blogger
In 2015 just a few days before his appointment as Governor of Meghalaya, V. Shanmuganathan, then a secretary in BJP parliamentary wing, said softly that he would like to read ‘The Statesman’ and other newspapers from eastern India more seriously as soon he would be traveling to the east. Little did anyone realize that within two years, the press will be up his throat. Shanmuganathan is the second Governor from northeastern region under the Modi government to hit headlines - all for wrong reasons.

In fact, the 67-year-old politician, also a bachelor and a former RSS 'pracharak' joins the illustrious (sic) league of past Governors in northeastern states who had their share of controversy. In the past Romesh Bhandari had made news in Tripura while the likes of Oudh Narayan Shrivastava and M M Thomas had their share of the blame in Manipur and Nagaland respectively. Lok Nath Mishra and his ADC ‘Captain Raina’ also made news in the Raj Bhawan of Kohima in 1992-93.  

Shillong Raj Bhavan
For the Modi government, in 2015-16, the then Arunachal Pradesh Governor J P Rajkhowa, who ultimately was replaced, had hit the headlines when he made way for a BJP-backed dispensation. The move earned the Modi government a strong rebuke. With regard Rajkhowa, the debate was constitutional - mainly about the powers and responsibilities of the gubernatorial post, but with Shanmuganathan episode the issue is more revolving around morality; and that’s pretty embarrassing for Modi, BJP and RSS – as all three from time to time do not mind playing moral police to Indian citizenry.
At one point of time, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had sought to describe the Governor's post as that of a 'Raj Rishi' -- the moral guiding force behind the seat of power in states. That way, Shanmuganathan episode is certainly a strong anti-thesis to what Vajpayee had propounded. This is only to re-establish a fact that moderate Hindutva progressive views of Atal Behari Vajpayee probably do not have enough space in today’s world under the incumbent regime – fondly called NDA-2.

One would not like to make a moral judgement on the former Governor Shanmuganathan, who had to resign rather unceremoniously as the Raj Bhavan staff in Shillong had written to the Prime Minister on the questionable conduct of his.
Among a series of charges against Shanmuganathan, the Raj Bhavan staff complained that: "The Governor's immoral activities in relation to women is well known and can be verified from the Staff of Raj Bhawan....".
Acting quickly and avoiding controversies, the BJP top leadership ordered him to tender his resignation. 

The BJP sources, without doubt, admit the episode has left the party red-faced.
However, slowly a few twists in the tale are also unfolding. Perhaps to the surprise of many, the 'molestation' charge against the Governor had surfaced at a time when the Congress government in the state is on the receiving end of a similar if not worse sex scandal against Meghalaya Home Minister HDR Lyngdoh.

Not quite surprisingly, the Congress party is on denial mood. In Delhi, several Congress leaders say they do not know anything involving their Home Minister. In fact, one leader reportedly told a Shillong-based journalist to send him media clippings on charges against Home Minister Lyngdoh.

In Shillong, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, who has to face a stiff  electoral battle in early 2018, said there was no question of dropping the Home Minister from the Cabinet. Lyngdoh, for his part, feigned ignorance on what’s happening at the said ‘guest house’ at Rilbong area of Shillong run by his family. BJP spokesperson and in charge Meghalaya Nalin Kohli said the Mukul Sangma-led government should be sacked for shielding the Home Minister in whose guest house the 14-year-old girl was repeatedly raped.

Members of the Thma-U Rangli Juki (TUR) and the Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO) have filed FIR against owner of the guest house and also sought the demand for the resignation of Home Minister HDR Lyngdoh.

But police action on the case has been slow and tardy. Surprisingly, things do not end at these only. There’s another twist in the tale. There’s a typical RSS and Christians confrontation episode now revolving this case too. The allegation that Shanmuganathan molested a woman has angered the Tamil Nadu BJP and RSS leaders but their grievance apparently is not against the former governor. They blame “vested interests” – instead.
In Chennai, the Raj Bhawan-molestation episode has been thus easily linked to anti-Christian stance of RSS and thus against Mr Shanmuganathan himself. The outgoing Governor is also a RSS pracharak.
Thus, they see definitely a “Christian conspiracy to malign” the RSS and the BJP and also a former RSS organizer, who reportedly has been in the forefront of anti conversation activities. A section of BJP and RSS leaders now feel, Shanmuganathan is a victim of Christian conspiracy as Meghalaya also happens to be a Chrsitian-dominant state. But the former Governor has his detractors as well within Sanghparivar in Chennai. Even if, step by step, Shanmuganathan’s political career has not been not a very bright spot to envy, certainly it does have a characteristic of its own. 

Shanmuganathan’s rise in Brahmin-dominant RSS has been quite fast as he belonged to Saiva Pillamar community (a forward community) but not Brahmin. The RSS-BJP leadership has a double edged problem to handle – one legal case against one of their respected members and from a high position as Governor and the other of course in term of real polity.  

A non-Brahmin Tamil, Shanmuganathan has been a cause of discomfort for many in the RSS circle. In the past he had particular differences with a local Brahmin leader L Ganesan and Shanmuganathan’s shift of base to Delhi in 1999 was only to avoid a Brahmin-non Brahmin conflict within Sangh in the Dravidian-ruled state.

In Tamil Nadu, the death of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalitha has created a vacuum and both BJP and RSS feel there can be an opportunity to expand base. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is particularly keen to strengthen BJP-Sangh grip in Tamil Nadu as that would be living testimony as endorsement of his government’s policies. Modi will score a victory within Sangh family as BJP’s last South Indian domination has been in Karnataka and due to corruption charge that saga ended in disaster and the party first split and then in May 2013 elections, BJP was ousted and Congress wrested power. 

The BJP wants to play a Karnataka-game of 2008 and wants to capture Tamil Nadu and thus Shanmugannthan’s episode has thus come at a wrong time.

 In any case, what comes to light of Shillong Raj Bhawan-vis-a-vis molestation charge is many of the Sanghparivar elements are unable to handle fame, glory and power. On this backdrop, the top BJP leadership has only counseled for effective coordination between the party and the Sangh. 

There is a need to come out of a rather abrasive relationship  shared between RSS and the Vajpayee-led government. The convergence is definitely better now. A successful three-day coordination meeting was held between RSS leaders and Union Ministers. 

But more than mere coordination, Prime Minister Narendra Modi must tell RSS leaders that there should be qualitative selection criteria before RSS leaders are deputed to the BJP. Shanmuganathan is not alone. Earlier, in Gujarat, Sanjay Joshi, also a RSS man, had suffered a similar set back when a CD surfaced showing Joshi in poor light.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Namo's Sweet Revenge: Quake jibe at Rahul; 'Raincoat' mock at Dr Manmohan Singh

Not someone to take things lying down, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today carefully made use of his glib talk ability and took dig at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi by making optimum use of last night's earthquake in parts of north India. 
"......finally the earthquake came. I was wondering why the quake came. A threat of earthquake was given a long time ago. There must be some reason that Mother Earth was also angry," Mr Modi said in his signature style beginning his reply to the debate on Motion of Thanks to President's address in the Lok Sabha. 
Mr Modi said, "Yesterday there was an earthquake. We will do whatever we can to aid those affected. The Centre is in touch with the states".
Perfect Timing
The Prime Minister began his speech with taking potshots at Mr Gandhi, who had in December during winter session of Parliament accused the government of running away from a debate and has said "There would be an earthquake if they allow me to speak."
Referring to last night's quake at Rudraprayag in Uttarakhand and other parts of North India, Prime Minister told the House amidst thumping of desks by treasury bench members:  "This only shows that when people link scam to national service, not only mother, even Mother Earth gets disturbed and thus comes the tremor".

The Prime Minister also said in December during winter session of Parliament, the Opposition parties did not allow smooth functioning because everyone seemed to think that the long queues in front of banks and ATMs after demonetisation could result in some major problems in the country.
Mr Gandhi's reference to "earthquake" is understood to be linked to Prime Minister's name allegedly figuring in the Sahara and Birla diaries.
However, the episode of ''ill-gotten payment'' vis-a-vis diary controversy was almost laid to rest after a Supreme Court ruling.
Mr Modi defended his government's decision on demonetisation and said it will be wrong to suggest - as was alleged by Opposition parties - that his government had not done enough home work before making the major announcement of ban on high value currency notes.
At this when a number of Opposition parties tried to question him, Mr Modi said almost in tongue-in-cheek fashion, "iske liye aap ko Modi ka adhyan karna hoga (''For this you will have to study Modi more closely)". 
He said, "Don’t think that such a step can be taken in haste. The time was carefully chosen as it came after Diwali festival and the economy was strong".
After Diwali, Mr Modi said, there was a period of lull in normal trade and commerce. "So I utilised the time calculating that things will be alright in 50 days. And I can now see things happening as per my calculations,'' the Prime Minister asserted only to leave the Opposition members annoyed.
Mr Modi also wondered why in 1988 when the Benami Transactions law was enacted, the then Rajiv Gandhi government with majority in both the Houses of Parliament did not notify the same.
"In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi had majority in both Houses of Parliament. Congress controlled panchayat to Parliament all across, but what had made the then government not notify the law....," he said adding, "it will be interesting to know, who all thought that more than the law, suppressing its implementation will be more beneficial".
Once a Powerful Duo

On Feb 8, 2017, Modi directed his tirade against MMS

With one sentence, Modi virtually exposed "country's most underestimated politician.....and an overestimated economist"

Modi took a dig at former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and described him as an expert in taking bath with a raincoat on. The reference was on Dr Singh - remained untainted even when his government was allegedly ‘neck deep’ in corruption.

Politicians could learn from Dr Singh how to maintain a clean image even after 35 long years of public life dotted with scams under his stewardship, Modi said, "Bathroom mein raincoat pehen ke nahna....yeh kala doctor sahab (Dr MMS) sirf jante haen"

The unusually sharp attack by the Prime Minister for his predecessor predictably evoked furious response from Congress members, who first almost trooped into the Well in Rajya Sabha and later staged a walkout in protest, rejecting the kind of language used for the former prime minister. 
         As calm returned to the House with Opposition benches being empty, Modi resumed his attack, saying that when a person who was holding such a post used the words like "loot" and "plunder", he should also have courage to listen its response.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Biju Janata Dal to target Dharmendra Pradhan for "misinformation" in Presidential address

Accused often for playing as a soft ally to the BJP, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Odisha is gearing up to attack the Narendra Modi-led dispensation in the centre during the debate on Presidential address to the joint sitting of
Parliament and highlight issues wherein the government has allegedly tried to "misinform" the nation. The BJD's tirade would target Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan in particular as Naveen Patnaik-led outfit has always had not-so-smooth relation with Mr Pradhan, perhaps only prominent BJP leader from Odisha. Despite acceptability among a section of electorate, politically BJP remains a weak contender in Odisha politics.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

".....the winds favour me and I fly", says Arun Jaitley: Budget 2017-18 woos farmers, middle class and industry in Please-All Fiscal proposals

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today sounded optimistic more than once and in his spirited speech, waxed eloquently, highlighting measures aimed to augment investment and also improve rural economy, but at the same time, ensure upholding of economic prudence.

"It is said when my goal is in sight, the winds favour me and I fly. There is no other day more appropriate than this," Mr Jaitley said in his concluding remarks. Earlier, he said he began the budget speech stating, "Spring is a season of optimism".

Constrained by code of conduct in view of assembly elections in five states including Uttar Pradesh while the government could not announce major sops for these poll-bound states, the Budget 2017-18, however, sought to target the agrarian community with enhanced budget allocation for major schemes focusing on farmers.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today announced a whopping Rs 1 lakh crore hike in the credit target for the next fiscal to Rs 10 lakh crore as part of the government’s efforts to double farm incomes. 
The government's commitment to double farm income by 2021 was announced in last year's budget.
Mr Jaitley while presenting Budget in the Lok Sabha, said, the target for agricultural credit in 2017-18 has been fixed at a record level of Rs 10 lakh crore and added: "We will take special efforts to ensure adequate flow of credit to the under serviced areas, the eastern states and Jammu and Kashmir". Moreover, the Finance Minister said a  dedicated  Micro  Irrigation  Fund  will  be  set  up  in  NABARD  to achieve the goal, ‘per drop more crop’. "The Fund will have an initial corpus of Rs 5,000 crore". 

Jaitley at his sarcastic best: Mocks at citizens' tax evading habits

New Delhi, Feb 1 (UNI) A good orator that he is, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today made optimum use of his glib talk ability and was at his sarcastic best hitting out at the common citizenry for what is generally given out as the national habit to evade tax payment. 

"I  place before  you  certain  data  to  indicate  that  our  direct  tax  collection  is  not commensurate  with the  income  and consumption pattern of  Indian economy," Finance Minister said in budget speech presented in the Lok Sabha. "The  number  of  people  showing income more than Rs 50-lakh in the entire country is only 1.72-lakh.  We can contrast  this  with the  fact  that  in  the  last  five  years,  more  than 1.25-crore cars have been sold, and number of Indian citizens who flew abroad, either for business or tourism, is two crores in the year 2015.  From all these figures we  can  conclude  that  we  are  largely  a  tax  non-compliant  society," Mr Jaitley said even as a number of members were seen giggling or whispering to each other. India’s tax to GDP ratio is very low, and the proportion of direct tax to  indirect  tax  is  not  optimal  from  the  view  point  of  social  justice, Mr Jaitley said. 

Finance Minister elaborated that  as  against  estimated 4.2 crore persons engaged  in  the organised sector employment, the   number of   individuals filing return   for   salary income are only 1.74 crore. "As against 5.6 crore informal sector individual enterprises and firms  doing  small  business  in  India,  the  number  of  returns filed by this category are only 1.81 crore".

He said out of the 13.94 lakh companies registered  in India  upto  31st March,  2014; 5.97  lakh companies  have  filed their  returns  for  Assessment  Year  2016. He said of  the 5.97  lakh companies which have filed their returns for Assessment Year 2016-17 so far, as many as 2.76  lakh companies have  shown losses  or  zero  income. About 2.85  lakh companies have  shown profit  before  tax  of  less  than Rs 1  crore, while  28,667 companies  have shown  profit  between 1 crore to 10  crore and  only 7781 companies have profit before tax of more than Rs 10 crores.

Trying to put an argument in justification of the need for citizens to pay tax, he said, "When too many people evade taxes, the burden of their share falls on those who are honest and compliant." "I appeal  to  all  citizens  of  India  to  contribute  to  Nation Building  by  making  a small payment of 5 percent tax if their income is falling in the lowest slab of Rs 2.5 lakhs to Rs 5 lakhs," Mr Jaitley said.

Budget gives a push to digital economy, note ban to ensure bigger GDP: FM

New Delhi, Feb 1 (UNI) The Budget 2017-18 presented in Parliament today seeks to give a major push to the digital economy and weed out corruption and black money, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said here even as he asserted that the demonetisation drive announced in November will ensure a cleaner economy and bigger GDP.
"Demonetisation seeks to create a new ‘normal’ wherein the GDP would be bigger, cleaner and real.The exercise is part of the Government’s resolve to eliminate corruption, black money, counterfeit currency and terror funding," Mr Jaitley said in his one-and-half-hour long speech.
Giving digital economy as envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Finance Minister said the government has decided that no transaction above Rs 3 lakh will be permitted in cash.

This decision has been taken by the government following the recommendation of Special Investigation Team on black money to ban cash transactions above Rs 3 lakh, the Finance Minister said.
On this there will be a necessary amendment to the Income Tax Act in the Finance Bill.
"Promotion of a digital economy is an integral part of Government’s strategy to clean the system and weed out corruption and black money.  It has a  transformative impact in      terms   of   greater formalisation of      the economy  and  mainstreaming  of  financial  savings  into  the  banking  system," he said amid thumping of desks by treasury benches.
"This,  in  turn,  is  expected  to  energise  private  investment  in  the country. India  is now  on the  cusp  of  a  massive  digital revolution," said Mr Jaitley.