The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 18-03-2023 | 11:45 am
In 2010, when the BJP government in Karnataka stood on the precipice of a collapse and was torn between the factions led by then Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa and another led by the Reddy brothers of Bellary, just a handful among the 117 BJP MLAs were considered loyal only to the party. One such MLA was C T Ravi, the BJP’s current national general secretary and four-time MLA from Chikmagalur constituency in the Western Ghats.One of the defining features of the political graph of the 55-year-old Ravi is this staunch loyalty – to both the BJP and Sangh Parivar. When Ravi speaks on a subject, he is seen as having the blessing of leaders right at the top.This is one key reason Ravi’s remarks indicating a limited role for Yediyurappa and his son B Y Vijayendra ahead of the Karnataka elections, are being watched with such interest.On March 14, Ravi, who is the BJP in-charge for the states of Tamil Nadu, Goa and Maharashtra, suggested that the former CM and his son were no longer dominant forces in the party. “Just remember one thing. The decision on candidates will not be taken in anyone’s kitchen. Nobody will get a ticket because they are somebody’s son. The decision on tickets will also not be taken at the home of an aspirant,” Ravi said, going on to specifically mention Yediyurappa’s son. “On the question of Vijayendra, the decision will be taken by the parliamentary board,” he said.While this might seem in step with the BJP’s efforts to provide 80-year-old Yediyurappa a golden handshake, the remarks set off alarm bells in sections of the faction- and caste-ridden BJP in Karnataka.Held a roadshow in Molakalmuru, Karnataka today. Your enthusiasm shows that you have decided ‘Ek Baar BJP, Baar Baar BJP’. The Congress promoted politics of corruption & dynastic rule but the people have placed their faith in the report card politics of the BJP. pic.twitter.com/u5FTRzN8lP— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) March 17, 2023They also seemed contrary to the BJP central leadership’s recent efforts to keep Yediyurappa in good humour ahead of the elections – his status as the foremost leader of the dominant Lingayat community in the state vital to the party’s ambitions of obtaining a first-ever, clear-cut majority in Karnataka. Among others, visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have made it a point to acknowledge Yediyurappa’s efforts.Vijayendra, 46, hit back, suggesting that nobody should take his father’s silence as a sign of weakness. “Those criticising him should be careful,” warned Vijayendra, whose political career Yediyurappa is seen as seeking to secure before he bows out.With Ravi a leader of the rival Vokkaliga community, Lingayat organisations threatened protests over Ravi’s remarks, even as he sought to quash rumours that he meant to imply that the BJP did not require the support of the community, which makes up 17 per cent of the state’s population. Yediyurappa too fanned the fires. “Nobody should speak in this manner. All communities are needed to win polls,” he said.The BJP central leadership is believed to have since advised Ravi to exercise caution while making statements.However, the matter might continue to fester as indicated by a seemingly unconnected incident, when Yediyurappa was forced to cancel a rally in Mudigere, a constituency in Chikmagalur district, on Thursday, after BJP workers staged a protest against re-fielding the sitting party MLA (M P Kumaraswamy).Yediyurappa left Mudigere in a huff, with Ravi’s advice to BJP workers to “not embarrass the party with these protests” likely to cut no ice.Apart from belonging to the Vokkaliga community that is the second most prominent in the state after the Lingayats, Ravi’s rise in Karnataka politics differs in another crucial aspect from Yediyurappa’s. In the communally tinged region of Chikmagalur, which lies adjacent to the polarised coastal region of Karnataka, Ravi first rose as a BJP youth leader in the post-Babri era (in the 1990s) in a Hindutva agitation for control of a shrine in Chikmagalur’s Bababudangiri Hills.The Datta Peetha shrine is revered by Hindus and Muslims alike, with the Hindu groups lately gaining control.Three decades hence, Ravi’s brand of politics remains hardcore Hindutva, contrary to the more moderate Yediyurappa, who doesn’t subscribe to some of the shrill language coming out of the BJP camp, including on Tipu Sultan. One of Ravi’s controversial coinages includes referring to former Congress CM Siddaramaiah as “Siddaramullah Khan”.This difference has often pitted Ravi and Yediyurappa against each other, since Ravi entered the Assembly for the first time in 2004 as a 36-year-old MLA.Initially allied with the Ananth Kumar group, which also had a big say in the central BJP in the pre-Modi era, Ravi is now considered close to BJP national general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh. The latter was earlier secretary (organisation) of the BJP in Karnataka.Ravi’s elevation in September 2020 – when Yediyurappa was the CM for a second term – came following the appointment of Santhosh as national general secretary. He was a tourism minister in the Yediyurappa government at the time, and considered one of the young frontrunners after the BJP forced the veteran leader out as CM in July 2021. However, the BJP finally played safe and plumped for another Lingayat candidate to replace Yediyurappa, in the form of Basavaraj Bommai.At that time too, several social media posts by Ravi were widely seen as aimed at the Lingayat strongman. In one of these, he narrated the story of the fall of the Vijayanagar empire under the leadership of its last ruler, Rama Raya, after the battle of Talikota. “Without a leader to provide direction, the Vijayanagar army was routed. If somebody other than sycophants were leading the army, history would have been different… Can the story of the destruction of a great empire not teach us a lesson?” Ravi posted.With Yediyurappa’s term often battling corruption charges, Ravi also posted: “The BJP is a principled party which has zero tolerance towards corruption.”While Ravi continues to be seen as a future leader of Karnataka for the BJP, and hence one of the biggest obstacles in the way of Yediyurappa’s son Vijayendra, Ravi’s drawback is that he does not enjoy the mass support of any caste group, unlike Yediyurappa. He tries to justify this saying that he doesn’t play “casteist” politics.Ravi, who became a minister for the first time in 2012 under the BJP government led by Jagadish Shettar, has had his fair share of controversies too, with questions being raised in the past over the rapid increase in his wealth, including from within the party.However, these allegations and his recent controversal remarks aside, Ravi with his organisational skills is expected to play a pivotal role in the coming Karnataka polls. The BJP has set a target for itself of winning a majority on its own — after failing by a whisker in 2008 (3 short of the magic figure of 113 in the 224-member Assembly) and 2018 (finishing at 104), both times under Yediyurappa’s leadership.
THE committee under Finance Secretary TV Somanathan, announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week, to relook at pension may not recommend a solution where the gains made over two decades are reversed, The Indian Express has learnt.That’s the big-picture sense from conversations with officials who have to balance the imperatives of politics in a pre-poll year and a reform that has withstood the pressures of time — and partisanship.There are options.One, increase the government contribution to the pension corpus of its employees from the current 14 per cent to such a level that the employee can expect 50 per cent of her last drawn basic pay as pension upon retirement.Indeed, one of the models being looked at is the Andhra Pradesh government proposal which has a “guarantee” that employees will get 50 per cent of the last drawn salary as pension.Officials said the government may also explore ways to make good for the increase in payout (dearness relief announced twice every year increases the pension by a certain percentage taking care of the rise in living expenses) as it happens under the old pension scheme (OPS).The NDA lost elections in 2004, the year NPS was implemented. But the Congress carried it forward. After a decade, when NDA returned under Modi, it consolidated the gains. But in 2019, just before elections, NDA hiked government contribution. Now, a fresh review again just ahead of 2024 polls.Whatever the formula that’s worked out, one thing is clear.The committee and its mandate mark a sharp turnaround in the Modi government’s support of the new pension system (NPS) — where contributions are defined, and benefits market-linked — which came into effect in January 2004, just a few months before the Lok Sabha elections.“There was no question of any looking back when the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi returned to power. His political conviction in pension reforms and fiscal conservatism meant the NPS was there to stay,” said an official.And yet there was no escaping the politics.In fact, the BJP’s electoral loss in May 2004 may have nothing to do with pension reforms – the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was convinced of the economic rationale behind the move. But the party’s 10-year loss of power, between 2004 and 2014, is a memory that still stalks North Block.This when, in 2009, BJP’s loss in the Lok Sabha elections had not deterred the Congress from staying the course on pension reforms. With Manmohan Singh at the helm, and P Chidambaram as Finance Minister, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government earnestly implemented the NPS, exhorted states to follow suit, and also introduced a Bill to develop and regulate the pension sector. This was one of the many reforms that earned bipartisan support.There were four good reasons the government reformed the pension sector at the time it did: i) with increasing life spans, pension bills were ballooning, putting to risk future finances of the Centre and states, ii) a safety net for a very small percentage of workforce was being funded ironically by even the poor taxpayer, iii) inter-generational equity – the next generation footing the bill for the previous – presented a difficult-to-ignore moral hazard, and iv) India was at the cusp of a 50-year demographic dividend opportunity beginning 2005-05 with the best working age population ratio (workers or those in the 15-64 age group age/ dependents or those under 15 plus 65 and over).However, after the first five years in power, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre did not take any chances. Just before Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it increased the employer’s contribution to NPS to 14 per cent of the employee’s basic pay every month from 10 per cent earlier; the employee continued to contribute only 10 per cent of her basic pay.The timing was not lost on those keeping a tab on BJP’s economic thinking; this came into effect from April 1, 2019.Now with just a year to go for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is acutely aware of an altered economic and social landscape. The straws in the wind have been there for the past couple of years.Low growth that precedes the pandemic, job and income losses during Covid-19, stretched financial resources of people due to medical expenditure, and high inflation – which works like a painful tax on the poor, have highlighted the inadequacy of safety nets for a bulk of the country’s people. The political class cannot be blind to this. To discount the giveaways in recent Budgets by even fiscally prudent states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra as an election freebie will be drawing a wrong message.It is in this backdrop that government employees are demanding a return of the old pension scheme. At least five states (Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh, JMM-led Jharkhand, and Aam Aadmi Party-led Punjab) have done so, having already notified the old pension scheme.The Congress win of the Assembly elections in Himachal, which most attribute to its promise to bring back OPS, has made the BJP leadership anxious. In Maharashtra, protests by state government employees prompted the Eknath Shinde government, whose finance minister is BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, to set up a committee and address the NPS shortcomings. Some national employee unions continue to protest too, giving calls for rallies demanding restoration of OPS.Then, there is the insider bias. A section of senior IAS bureaucrats – who have the political executive’s ear – feel their juniors who joined service after January 1, 2004, can’t be left to the “mercy” of markets while seniors retire with the assurance of a continuously rising pension kitty.This conversation on NPS has been in the top echelons of power for a while now. Not that the Prime Minister is not aware of these noises around him. But if his preference for fiscal prudence is an indication, he will be happy only with a solution that doesn’t put the future of state finances in jeopardy.
Amidst deepening tensions between the ruling and Opposition parties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his party members on Tuesday morning that they should focus on spreading positive information about the central government’s social security programmes as the Opposition is indulging in a ‘below the belt’ attack against the government after their debacle in the Northeast elections.“The Prime Minister said the Opposition is nervous after the BJP’s impressive performance in the recent elections in the Northeast. They had a similar reaction after BJP’s Gujarat victory too,” said a source who was present in the meeting.“The PM told us that the Opposition will attack us more as they are rattled by the repeated victories of the BJP. The more we win, the harsher will be the attack. Now they are worked up because of our wins in Gujarat and Northeast,” said an MP who was part of the meeting.While the BJP won a simple majority in Tripura, it formed governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya with the NDDP and the NPP, respectively.Sources said PM Modi addressed the BJP MPs for the first time after the budget session resumed on March 13. The budget session has witnessed abrupt adjournments and acrimonious scenes with the Opposition protesting the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi and demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the Adani issue.The Prime Minister was referring to the ongoing tension between the Opposition and the ruling party over Gandhi’s disqualification after being convicted in a defamation case by a Surat court. The Opposition has closed ranks against the government over the issue. Both Houses of Parliament have been disrupted and no major business, except budget formalities, was transacted.The PM is learnt to have told the MPs that the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ campaign has helped improve the sex ratio in Gujarat and that they should focus on the implementation of social security schemes to win the hearts of people.The BJP MPs were also asked to focus on the 100th episode of Mann Ki Baat next month and the ninth-anniversary celebrations from May 15-June 15, sources said.
A single-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court on Monday dismissed the bail plea of BJP MLA Madal Virupakshappa, 72, in a bribery case filed earlier this month by the Karnataka Lokayukta police. The BJP MLA was arrested by the Lokayukta police a few hours after the bail plea was dismissed.The case was filed by the Lokayukta police after the MLA’s son Prashant Madal was caught red-handed on March 2 while allegedly receiving a bribe of Rs 40 lakh from a businessman for awarding a tender for the supply of raw materials to the state-run Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Ltd (KSDL), which was then headed by Virupakshappa.The Lokayukta police told the high court that the KSDL managing director had given a statement which revealed the active participation of Prashant in the tender process at KSDL at the instance of Virupakshappa despite Prashant not being connected to the KSDL and being an employee of another government department.“If the company pays crores of rupees as commission or bribe, one cannot expect good quality raw materials to be supplied and the very process followed by the tender accepting committee of accepting the lowest price and good quality of raw materials will be frustrated,” Justice K Natarajan said in his order.There was no question of Prashant approaching the complainant with a demand for a bribe if there had been no demand from Virupakshappa, the then KSDL chairman, the court said.The single-judge bench of the high court had on March 7 granted anticipatory bail to Virupakshappa on the grounds that there was no mention of the demand or acceptance of bribe by the MLA in the police complaint.On Monday, the bail plea was dismissed after the Lokayukta police produced material to show Virupakshappa’s direct involvement in the bribery and corruption at KSDL, which he headed till March 3. The Lokayukta police also told the court that Virupakshappa needs to be interrogated in police custody since he was evasive in his replies during regular questioning.The MLA’s bail plea was dismissed even as a hearing began in the Supreme Court on an appeal filed by the Lokayukta police against the anticipatory bail order.Businessman Shreyas Kashyap, who is a partner in a firm named Chemixil Corporation, allegedly told the Lokayukta police in February this year that he was asked by Virupakshappa to pay a bribe of Rs 1.2 crore to be cleared for a contract to supply 5,100 kg of Guaiacwood oil, and 29,520 kg of Abbalide, as raw materials to KSDL.Kashyap allegedly struck a deal for payment of a bribe of Rs 81 lakh for the supply contracts by Chemixil Corporation and Delicia Chemicals, with an initial payment of Rs 40 lakh to Prashant. The negotiations for the bribe payments with Prashant were reportedly recorded on a smartwatch camera by the businessman to prove that it was a genuine case of corruption.The Lokayukta police laid a trap on the basis of the businessman’s complaint and Prashant, who is a Karnataka Administrative Services official and the chief accounts officer of the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board, was allegedly caught red-handed by the police on March 2 while accepting an initial bribe amount of Rs 40 lakh.A total amount of Rs 2.02 crore of bribes from KSDL suppliers was found in the possession of Prashant when he was caught at his private office in central Bengaluru while an amount of Rs 6.10 crore was seized from the residence of Virupakshappa, a close associate of former Karnataka BJP CM B S Yediyurappa.The Lokayukta police investigation has found that KSDL awarded contracts for the supply of raw materials at over 50 per cent profit margins to firms run by friends of Prashant.The Lokayukta police have also accused officials of a firm identified as Karnataka Aromas Ltd of paying bribes to the tune of Rs 90 to be given supply contracts by KSDL. Two field employees of Karnataka Aromas Company, Albert Nicola and Gangadhar, are among the six people named in the bribery case against Virupakshappa and Prashant.
Union Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday came down heavily on Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi over some controversial remarks about her made by Youth Congress President BC Srinivas during a recent event organised by the Congress.“Shabd Rahul Gandhi ke hain, sanskaar Sonia Gandhi ke hain, bas zuban Yuva Congress ki hai (The words are Rahul Gandhi’s, the values are Sonia Gandhi’s, only the mouth belongs to Youth Congress),” she said.“Shabd Rahul Gandhi ke hain, sanskar Sonia Gandhi ka hain bas zubaan Yuva Congress ki hain” says Union Minister Smriti Irani on the reported “gungi-behri” remark on her by the President of Indian Youth Congress Srinivas BV pic.twitter.com/AIX1CLXfaB— ANI (@ANI) March 28, 2023“I am saying this because he’s not the first Youth Congress chief who is making indecent comments… Jab tak ye do hain, tab tak Congress ka neta jo promotion chaahega, woh is praakar ki abhadra tippiniya karta rahega (Till the time these two are here, any Congress politician who wants a promotion will continue making such indecent comments),” Irani added.The remarks in question were made at the Congress’ ‘Sankalp Satyagraha’ on Sunday (March 26). In a purported video clip of the speech, he can be heard saying in Hindi, “The BJP means inflation. These same people in 2014 used to say that there is inflation witch which has been made to sit… Smriti Irani has become a little mute and deaf. That witch (Daayan)… Inflation witch (Mehengaai Daayan) has been made a darling and made to sit in the bedroom.”Congress has become a cesspool of misogyny , hatred for women especially if she comes from a humble background & defeats an entitled dynastFirst abuse OBC, then courts, then throw papers at Speaker; abuse journalists now abuse women!Time & again, Congress has abused those… pic.twitter.com/8KwU01a9tH— Shehzad Jai Hind (@Shehzad_Ind) March 27, 2023The BJP has come out strongly to attack Srinivas over the clip. Party spokesperson said that Congress has become a “cesspool of misogyny”.“First abuse OBC, then courts, then throw papers at Speaker; abuse journalists now abuse women! Time & again, Congress has abused those who have risen up to the top by strength of their hard work – they called Rashtrapati as Rashtrapatni; they said Draupadi ji has evil mindset; they abused even the mother of PM; they chanted ‘Modi ki Kabr’ khudegi. The words are from BV Srinivas but the soch (thought) is of Rahul Gandhi. Will Priyanka & Sonia ji take action on him? Is this ‘Ladki hoon lad sakti hoon’ or a party of such disgusting misogynists?” he tweeted.Meanwhile, the Youth Congress has reacted strongly to the charges, claiming BJP leaders were sharing a doctored video of he speech made by Srinivas to tarnish his and the party’s image. “It is nothing but a disinformation and fake news campaign initiated by BJP supporters and office bearers,” it said in a statement.
The first session of the newly elected Meghalaya Assembly is set to conclude on Tuesday without a consensus among the non-treasury benches on who will assume the role of the Leader of Opposition.This deadlock is a result of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the two largest Opposition parties, insisting on the position. Both parties, with five legislators each, have written to Speaker Thomas A Sangma to put forward their claims.The recently concluded Assembly elections threw up a fractured mandate but the National People’s Party (NPP) led by Conrad Sangma emerged as the single-largest party with 26 seats in the 60-member House.After a few days of uncertainty, the NPP formed the government by stitching up a coalition with the BJP and several other regional parties, including the United Democratic Party (UDP), which was the second-largest party with 11 seats.Andrew Simons, the commissioner and secretary of the Meghalaya Assembly, said the final decision rests with the Speaker. “Since both sides have claimed, it will be taken up soon,” he said. Simons said that since the two parties had the same numbers, factors such as seniority would be considered by the Speaker before making a final call.The other alternative is for the parties to come to an understanding with each other and make an arrangement. However, both the TMC and the Congress are, for now, refusing to relent.Congress Legislature Party leader Ronnie Lyngdoh said, “At the national level we are not together with them. If they reach out to us, we can approach the high command, but they haven’t.”Meghalaya TMC vice-president James Lyngdoh also put the ball in the court of his party’s high command. “Our president has already written to the Speaker. We will discuss with the party leaders.”The other Opposition party is the newly formed Voice of the People’s Party that has four seats. The regional outfit has said it will not align with either the Congress or the TMC as it wants to be “independent”.