The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 19-03-2023 | 11:45 am
It is acknowledged even by Narendra Modi’s harshest critics that when it comes to playing the game of politics, he is the master. He has managed always to turn all attacks on him into boomerangs that he keeps stowed away to be used when the time is right. A BJP cartoon that popped up on YouTube last week is proof of this. In it we see Modi dressed as a simple man with a cloth bag slung on his shoulder marching up endless flights of steep stairs that go higher and higher as he walks calmly on leaving Sonia and Rahul Gandhi gasping for breath on the sidelines. The cartoon’s commentary reminds them pointedly of comments made long ago about him being a ‘chaiwallah’, a ‘merchant of death’ and of ‘lowly’ breeding. Modi the hero strides on higher and higher. It is corny this cartoon but effective.This is why the recent hysteria that he has personally instigated over Rahul Gandhi’s comments in England is so puzzling. It indicates that perhaps he is not as skilled at playing the game of politics as is generally believed. I am no admirer of Rahul Gandhi but concede that in the needless brouhaha about what he said and did not say on his foreign tour he has behaved with more dignity and maturity than the Prime Minister or the senior ministers he chose as his attack team.Parliament’s Budget Session remained stalled all week because of the hysteria whipped up by Modi’s ministers and MPs in their determination to make Rahul apologize for what he said about Indian democracy on ‘foreign soil’. He responded correctly by saying that he had not said what they say he said and so the question of apologizing did not arise. A fair remark since nobody can be ordered to apologize for something they have not said.It is true that Rahul chose his words incautiously when he said that democracy had died in India and that it was for democratic countries to sit up and take notice because ‘Indian democracy is a public good.’ But he did not ask Western democratic leaders to intervene in India’s internal affairs and he did not say anything that can be considered an insult to India.Anyone who gets elected to Parliament should be fully aware that there is a difference between India and the Indian government. You would not know this from the unbalanced and frenzied comments that came from the most senior ministers in the Modi government. Rahul was critical of the government and the policies that he believes have weakened democratic institutions. He has a right to say this, and it does not make him a traitor or anti-India which is what he was made to sound like by the ministers who ranted and raved against him. If they were so upset by his remarks, surely the best course would have been to debate the matter in Parliament instead of making both houses dysfunctional? And over what?Rahul has said similar things before many times. In his attacks on the Prime Minister, he has gone so far as to call him corrupt and a thief, but our ‘nationalistic’ ministers appear to be most offended by the fact that this time his criticism of Indian democracy was on ‘foreign soil.’ Is the BJP so digitally illiterate that it has not yet discovered that the Internet has blurred geographical boundaries so totally that what you say in one country can be seen and heard in other countries in real time? The whole issue is absurd and childish. For a change, the man that the BJP has for eight years dismissed as Pappu or a goof came across as the only grown-up in the room.What puzzles me as an ex-Modi Bhakt is why a man who is believed to have the highest approval ratings of any world leader should behave in so insecure a fashion. The Congress Party’s spokesmen have said openly that the reason why it is the government that has been responsible for stalling Parliament this time is because the Prime Minister is afraid that the financial dealings of his close friend, Gautam Adani, will somehow spill mud on his shining image. If this is truly what has shaken his confidence and his political timing, then the Prime Minister should have no hesitation in ordering a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate. The history of JPCs tells us that this parliamentary device is where burning issues go to die or at least be buried for a very long while.One way or another, it is time to allow Parliament to function. If we are, as the Prime Minister says proudly, the ‘mother of democracy’, then it is wrong to make the instrument of parliamentary democracy dysfunctional. With a Lok Sabha election just over a year away it is vital that voters are reminded that the people they send to Parliament are there to speak about their problems. There have been too many parliamentary sessions in recent times in which the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have become arenas for shouting, screaming, leaps into the well of the house or angry walkouts. There have been too many sessions that have been wasted on screeches and howls over issues of little consequence. It is the business of government to run Parliament so please do your job.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has been unseated from Parliament after his conviction and two-year sentence for defamation triggered Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, argued before the magistrate’s court in Surat that he had caused no personal damage to the petitioner, BJP MLA Purnesh Modi — and there was, in fact, no specific community called “Modi” in the country.At an election rally in Kolar, Karnataka, on April 13, 2019, Rahul referred to fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and asked, “Why do all thieves have the surname Modi?”The next day, Purnesh Modi filed a private complaint before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat, accusing Rahul of having defamed everyone with the name Modi.“Any person with the surname Modi across India belongs to the Modi Samaj-Modhvanik community and is found in the whole of Gujarat as a whole, and this community is also present in other states apart from in Gujarat… The accused by insulting the Modi surname of current Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has insulted the 13 crore Modi surnamed people by calling them ‘chor’ for political selfishness,” Purnesh Modi said.Rahul Gandhi’s lawyer Kirit Panwala argued in court that there is no “identifiable and determinate” community called ‘Modi’. “It is Purnesh Modi who terms the Modhvanik community as the ‘Modi’ community; there is [actually] no evidence of it (the ‘Modi’ community). If the ‘Modi’ community comprises 13 crore people, it is not an identifiable and determinate community,” he told The Indian Express.“Only one sentence should not be taken as defamatory. He (Rahul) has not insulted any community. The Modi surname [does not belong to] only the Modhvanik community but also to [people from] other castes. If proper identity is established, [only] then this case is maintainable…here, identity is not established,” Panwala said.Although many people use the surname Modi, it does not denote any specific community or caste. In Gujarat, the Modi surname is used by Hindus, Muslims, and Parsis. There are people with the Modi surname among Vaishnavas (Baniyas), Kharwas (fishermen from Porbandar), and Lohanas (who are a community of traders).Purnesh Modi, the complainant in the Rahul Gandhi case, belongs to the Modhvanik community of Surat, as does Hasmukh Lalwala, who was Purnesh Modi’s lawyer earlier, and Kirit Panwala, counsel for Rahul.Members of the Modhvanik clan worship Modheshwari Mata, whose temple is near the Modhera Sun Temple in Mehsana district. Prime Minister Modi visited the Modheshwari temple in October last year, ahead of the Assembly elections in Gujarat.According to Lalwala, there are around 10 lakh Modhvaniks in Gujarat. They live everywhere in the state, though mainly in North and South Gujarat.No, they don’t. In fact, there is no community or caste by the name “Modi” in the central list of OBCs for reservation in jobs and education.Entry no 23 in the central list of 104 communities of OBCs from Gujarat reads: “Ghanchi (Muslim), Teli, Modh Ghanchi, Teli-Sahu, Teli-Rathod, Teli-Rathore.” All these communities have traditionally engaged in activities related to the extraction and trade of edible oils.Members of these communities who live in Eastern Uttar Pradesh usually use the surname Gupta and often, Modi as well.In the 136 communities from Bihar listed in the central list of OBCs, there is no “Modi”, even though there is a “Teli” (entry no 53 in Bihar’s central list of OBCs). The most prominent BJP leader in Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi, has filed a separate case of defamation against Rahul.In the list of 68 communities of Rajasthan in the central OBC list, there is “Teli” as the 51st entry, but there is no community listed as “Modi”.Some were in the central list of OBCs from the beginning — when the first central list of OBCs was notified in 1993 after the implementation of the ‘Mandal’ reservations.On October 27, 1999, the Muslim Ghanchi community was added to the central list of OBCs, along with some other similar communities from other states. Subsequently, by a notification dated April 4, 2000, other communities from Gujarat such as “Teli”, “Modh Ganchi”, “Teli Sahu”, “Teli Rathod”, and “Teli Rathore” were added to the central list of OBCs.Thus, the caste to which Prime Minister Modi belongs — Ghanchi — was included in the central list of OBCs almost 18 months before Modi first became Chief Minister of Gujarat (on October 7, 2001).As mentioned above, there are Modis in UP and Bihar.This surname is also widely used by Marwaris, who are from the stock of Agrawals, who are said to belong to Agroha in Hisar, Haryana, and subsequently spread to districts like Mahendragarh of Haryana and Jhunjhunu and Sikar of Rajasthan.The grandfather of former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi, Rai Bahadur Gujar Mal Modi, moved from Mahendragarh to settle near Meerut, and the town was later renamed as Modinagar.The fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi hails from Gujarat’s Jamnagar, from a community that has been traditionally engaged in the diamond trade.The former chairman of Tata Steel Russi Mody, and the stage and film personality Sohrab Modi, were Parsis from Bombay (Mumbai).
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.