Sunday, February 5, 2023

Delhi Durbar

Delhi Durbar
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Shah’s Shadow

It seems that opinion poll results for the forthcoming elections to the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assemblies, scheduled for November, have given the BJP and its president, Amit Shah, the added aggression they needed for pushing their agenda of simultaneous provincial and general elections. A recent ABP-CVOTER survey has predicted a Congress resurgence and BJP rout in these three states. It is thus no surprise that the survey result coincided with Shah writing an eight-page letter to the Law Commission unambiguously backing the simultaneous polls proposal. The Election Commission, which in principle has backed simultaneous polls, has maintained that implementing the proposal would require a slew of amendments to various laws, and also the Constitution. However, Shah seems to have found a way to bypass the need for these amendments in the short term.

Sources say Shah and Narendra Modi are contemplating asking MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, his Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan counterparts—Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje, respectively—to resign as chief ministers as soon as their tenures end. The centre can then impose President’s Rule in these states and lift it just before the Lok Sabha polls in April-May 2019. Telangana, Andhra and Odisha, as per schedule, go to polls along with the Lok Sabha. States like Maharashtra, Haryana, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Jharkhand—all BJP/NDA-ruled—are scheduled for Ass­embly polls in the months following the Lok Sabha elections. These states could be asked to dissolve their Assemblies and bring the polls forward to April-May. As a result, Shah believes, no amendment to the laws would be needed for effecting simultaneous polls for at least 11 states and the Lok Sabha.

Robin’s Return

Delhi DurbarOne single American diplomat was responsible for the sharp slide in Indo-US relations in the early ’90s. Her name was Robin Raphel and she was posted in New Delhi as Political Counsellor. She had influential contacts in diplomatic, military and ISI circles in Pakistan from the time her first husband was ambassador in Islamabad, along with her background as a CIA analyst dealing with South Asia. She made her pro-Pakistan leanings known in controversial fashion when she labelled Kashmir “a disputed territory”–a first in the annals of US diplomacy. Raphel’s outspoken advocacy for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue led to pressure from India for her to be removed from her post. She did leave the State Department in 1997, only to become a lobbyist for Pakistan. She is now back in the Great Game. She has been revealed as a key player in back channel talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which again, should make India wary. New Delhi’s plans for Afghanistan, post a US withdrawal, is still a work in progress and now that Raphel is once again calling the shots in the State Department, it could revive nightmares of her earlier stint in the region.

Keeping Fact Checkers Busy

Tall claims flow easily off the tongues of PM Narendra Modi and his party colleagues. While they continue to paint BJP-ruled states as shining models of good governance, the truth, based on statistical evidence, points to the contrary. According to the Public Affairs Index (PAI) 2018, while the BJP alone, or along with its alliance partners, rules 18 of the 29 states, only one BJP ruled state is among the list of five best-governed in India. The PAI was prepared by the Public Affairs Centre (PAC), a Bengaluru-based think-tank, on the basis of detailed study over several parameters like law and order, economic freedom, environment, transparency, delivery of justice, social protection, human development, women and children, among others. As per the study, four of the top five states are from the south with the CPI(M)-led Kerala heading the list, followed by Tamil Nadu (AIADMK), Telangana (TRS) and Karnataka (JD-S-Congress). The only BJP ruled state to figure in the top five is Himachal Pradesh. The top 10 list includes all the southern states–none of which are governed by the BJP. Andhra Pradesh, ruled by the Telugu Desam Party, is placed ninth. Bihar (JD-U) is at the bottom of the list while Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (all BJP states) are just above Bihar. Moral of the story: When Modi starts boasting, fact checkers go into overdrive.

The Irani Shuffle

Delhi DurbarThe textile ministry seems to have a revolving door. The ministry, headed by Smriti Irani, has had three secretaries in the past two years, since Irani was shifted from I&B. Rashmi Verma was replaced by Anant Kumar Singh who lasted under a year, and he has now been replaced by Raghavendra Singh. Earlier, Irani upset staff and bureaucrats in I&B with her autocratic ways and proposed hiring of outsiders in Doordarshan. Textiles seems to be no different, with Anant Kumar Singh resisting efforts to retain a senior official who had been transferred under his orders but Irani wanted retained. The stand-off eventually found its way to the PMO which ruled in favour of Irani—the official was transferred but so was Anant Kumar.

Show of Strength

The government has given the go-ahead to shift the annual Indian Aero Show from its traditional venue of Bengaluru to Lucknow, which has no facility for staging such an event involving a battery of civilian and military aircraft and related products. The decision is purely political. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been putting pressure on Modi and Amit Shah to push his state as a destination for business and he believes the Aero Show will be an attractive addition to his wooing of industrialists.

It has caused great consternation in Karnataka, a Congress-ruled state, with Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy speaking to the defence minister and informing her that Bengaluru has the infrastructure in place at the Yelahanka air base and asking why the Centre has taken such a decision. Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara tweeted: “We have been India’s defence hub since Independence, but under the NDA, we are constantly losing key defence projects and flagship programs.” It will be the first time since its inception in 1996 that the Aero Show is being held out of its home venue in Bengaluru.

Test Case

The Palika Services Officers’ Institute in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri, a club for bureaucrats, is under the scanner after a CBI raid unearthed some unsavoury goings-on. Two 1980-batch IAS officers—a former NDMC chairman and an additional secretary—are being quizzed for their involvement in what appears to be hawala transactions worth thousands of dollars. The probe started after an FIR was lodged against Rakesh Tiwari, who used to run the canteen at the CBI headquarters. He has been accused of receiving money from Mumbai-based Neeraj Kochar through hawala transactions to influence a disproportionate assets case against Vivek Batra, an IRS officer. The arrests of Tiwari and Kochar unearthed luxury watches, Rs 80 lakh in cash, jewellery worth Rs 1.6 crore and documents on hawala deals. It is a test case for the recent amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act which seeks to protect serving and retired bureaucrats.

Wedding Bells

Delhi DurbarSaddam Azad, son of Congress veteran and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, got married on August 11 to fashionista Gauri Karan of Gauri & Nainika fame. While weddings in political families and of celeb couture designers are generally high on pomp and show, this do saw nothing of the sort. Saddam and Gauri—whose pedigree is as impressive as her hubby’s (she is the daughter of former CBI director and member of the erstwhile Hyderabad nobility Raja Vijay Karan) got married at a low-key ceremony attended by only close friends and relatives. The ceremony and a Havana Nights-themed pre-wedding bash were organised at the sprawling farmhouse of the Karan family in south Delhi’s Chattarpur. While Ghulam Nabi Azad was busy with his political obligations through the pre-wedding festivities, which coincided with the last few days of Parliament’s high-octane monsoon session, sources close to him revealed that the Congress veteran is now inviting his colleagues and friends in batches to his residence for post-wedding feasts. These very personal dinners will also give Azad Senior a chance to introduce his political heir, Saddam, to the who’s who of Indian politics.

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