The Indian Express | 2 months ago | 16-01-2023 | 05:40 pm
The Bharat Jodo Yatra will culminate on January 30 in Srinagar, with a flag-hoisting ceremony on the anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. By then, the Yatra, which began on September 7, 2022, would have traversed the length of the subcontinent from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas. The Yatra has undoubtedly enthused the Congress cadre and infused new life in a party that was deemed finished. More importantly, it has replaced the earlier “Pappu” image of Rahul Gandhi with that of a mature individual and credible political leader. His message of removing hate and introducing love between communities in the nation has made a mark, igniting much debate on social media. Even Rahul Gandhi’s detractors agree that the difficult Yatra has earned him the respect and support of people in areas where it has passed. Attempts by BJP leaders to criticise the Yatra and Rahul Gandhi have not achieved much success.The seminal question is whether the Yatra can bring electoral success for the Congress. While senior Congress leaders have said the aim of the Yatra is not to capture power, there is little doubt that unless this happens, the goal of social harmony would be difficult to achieve. This is because the Congress is the largest opposition party in the country with a footprint in many regions — out of 403 Lok Sabha seats it contested in the 2019 general election, it won 52 seats, came second in 196, and obtained 19.5 per cent of the vote. The Congress is the main opposition party in 12 states — Punjab, Assam, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland. It is in direct contest with the BJP in seven states — Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand, which account for 102 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats. Regional parties do not have a significant presence or strength at the national level. Without a rejuvenated and transformed Congress, the Opposition cannot hope to dent the BJP’s fortunes in these states in 2024. The AAP won just one seat in the Lok Sabha in 2019 and was ranked third in most constituencies. The TMC won 22 seats in 2019 compared to 34 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections; the TRS won nine out of 17 seats compared to 11 in 2014. Opposition parties by not supporting/aligning with the Congress, where it is the major opposition force, will divide the anti-BJP vote.However, it is doubtful whether the Congress is capable of being the fulcrum of Opposition unity against the BJP in 2024. A party in decline since the late 1980s, it has three key problems: First, centralisation of power and decision-making at the top; second, organisational weakness; and third, lack of unity. Despite the election of a non-Gandhi as party president, the high command culture and the presence of the Gandhi family still continues — as a result of which decisions are taken at the top and local leaders are ignored. Elections to the Congress Working Committee have not been held for nearly 25 years, the last being in 1998. Organisationally, the strong federal structure of the party was destroyed by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s through centralisation and personalisation of power, creating a pyramidal decision-making structure. With the abandonment of the principle of representation, Congress committees and party offices were filled by appointment rather than through election. Centralisation of power led to dismemberment of the party at the grass roots.Without a clear line of leadership, factions have emerged that have destroyed the internal unity and coherence of the party. During the immediate post-independence period, factional groups provided the building blocks of the party ensuring a measure of internal democracy. Over the years factionalism has weakened the party leading to a loss of power. Being in office does not help, the party remains divided in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh between contending groups over the chief minister’s post. The G-23 group of senior leaders — who following a series of electoral defeats, demanded organisational reform and an inclusive and collective decision-making system — have further divided the party.The Yatra cannot reform the party. Yet there is an urgent need to do so as the Yatra does have a political thrust evident from the Congress inviting 21 “like-minded” political parties to join the concluding event in Srinagar. With this grand finale, the Congress hopes to make the Yatra a show of strength of the Opposition. The Trinamool Congress, Janata Dal United, Telugu Desam Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and BSP are among those invited; the AAP has not been invited. But the prospects of Opposition unity or opposition parties uniting behind the Congress seem remote.Given the poor organisational condition of the party, opposition parties such as the AAP and TMC do not view the Congress or Rahul Gandhi as capable of providing leadership to an anti-BJP alliance. However, several ambitious contenders have emerged to lead the Opposition — from Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal to K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR). The Bharat Rashtra Samiti rally organised by Telangana Chief Minister KCR in Khammam on January 18 is aimed at creating a non-BJP, non-Congress, national alternative. The BRS rally is likely to be attended by leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal.Clearly the Bharat Jodo Yatra, although it has created enthusiasm among party cadre and hope among its leaders, despite its good intentions and success, by itself cannot revive the Congress. Against the backdrop of the achievements of the Yatra, the real work needs to begin after January 30. There is an urgent need for the Congress to unite under a strong leader and reinvent itself organisationally to carry the message of the Yatra to the masses if the party is to retrieve lost electoral ground.The writer taught at JNU
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.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Monday directed the officers of Haryana Shehri Vikas Pradhikaran (HSVP) to develop a separate dashboard for all the properties of the state’s urban development authority.Details such as property location and owner’s name would be registered in the dashboard, he said. He also directed the officials that the entire record of the HSVP including the documents of the properties should be digitised.The chief minister, who is also the chairman of HSPV, was presiding over the 125th meeting of the authority here, according to an official statement.In the meeting, Khattar gave ex-post facto approval for the construction of multi-storey car parking and commercial complex by Faridabad Smart City Limited on about 4,000 square metre land in Sector-18A of Faridabad.Post facto approval was also given for the issuance of allotment letters of ownership rights to 131 shopkeepers and Antyodaya Market being constructed in place of the Rehri Market; as per the instructions of the Chief Minister, after the incident of fire in the Rehri market of Sector-9, Panchkula last year. Apart from this, pucca shops will be set up as Antyodaya Market in place of Rehri markets in Sectors 7, 11 and 17 of Panchkula.The chief minister said pucca shops should be constructed in the cities where Rehri markets are functioning.On this, HSVP Chief Administrator Ajit Balaji Joshi informed the chief minister that the HSVP has a proposal to set up Antyodaya Market in place of Rehri markets in Gurugram, Faridabad and Karnal.Khattar instructed the officers to constitute a committee to prepare a list of the cities where buildings or any other type of construction or activity has been done on the HSVP’s land or on the land of other departments. It was also apprised in the meeting by the officials that the HSVP has 5,418 residential, 2,688 commercial and 230 institutional properties, out of which 4,804 residential, 2,305 commercial and 205 institutional properties have been sold through e-auction.Khattar said that on the lines of the scheme for setting up cooperative group housing societies for MLAs, employees, journalists and lawyers in Panchkula, permission can be given to set up cooperative group housing societies for former MLAs as well.
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.