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Demonetisation: Rs 4,500 per day ATM limit is of little help when 2/3 machines run dry

ATMs will dispense a maximum Rs 4,500 per day per account holder beginning 1 January, said a circular from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Friday. Friday marked the end of the 50-day period Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised he will take to bring back normalcy after the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on 9 November. Earlier, daily limit was Rs 2,500 per day. An enhanced limit is a relief for citizens and will help to shorten queues further, but only in areas where ATMs are dispensing cash.

The problem is only a third of the total ATMs in the country (around 2 lakh) are dispensing cash and most of them are in urban centres with the periphery areas continuing to run dry, according to reports (read here and here). In other words, the enhanced ATM withdrawal limits would not help the people in non-metros much.

PTI file photoPTI file photo

PTI file photo

Banks are unable to fill their ATMs on account of an acute cash shortage, especially lower denomination notes that is persisting even after 50 days of demonetisation and the situation is unlikely to get better soon, said a few bankers this writer spoke to.

“We are looking at February-March before things become normal,” said one of the bankers. This is the reason banks have asked the government to extend the curbs on cash withdrawals beyond 30 December till the time there is adequate quantity of new currency infused in the banking system. Ultimately, it is the banker who has to face the angry customer.

The RBI has retained the weekly cash withdrawal limit of Rs 24,000. But, the problem is that banks are unable to honor even that amount and the customer is forced to often settle for what is available at the moment at the bank counter. Of course, this situation will ease further in the weeks ahead, but much depends on the ability of government mints to churn out sufficient units of new currency. Until 19 December, the RBI has infused Rs 5.92 lakh crore of currencies into the system, which is less than half of what the public has deposited in the form of invalidated notes (Rs 12.44 lakh crore as on 10 December).

On Friday, PM Modi launched a new payment app, BHIM, that allows anyone to transfer money to any bank accounts. The PM stressed on the need to embrace cashless payment modes at the earliest and elaborated on the incentives government planning to encourage individuals and merchants using electronic payment modes. A change into cashless economy is indeed good in an aspiring economy and government initiatives, such as UPI-supported BHIM app, are helpful to facilitate such a migration.

But, Modi’s immediate challenge remains to 1) normalise the cash situation in the economy; and 2) give a convincing cost-benefit analysis of the demonetisation exercise to 125 crore Indians. Modi has a major task of justifying his act that has pushed the economy into an economic standstill and has caused gross inconvenience to a large number of the population due to the lack of preparedness of the government to implement the currency swap.

When PM address the nation on the New Year Eve, there are questions he’ll need to answer on how did the note ban help the country to achieve the originally stated goals — black money, fake currency, corruption and terror funding. Also, most critically, the general public would expect clarity from the PM on when the cash crunch will end. The 50 days the PM sought has, for sure, eased the pain to an extent, but has not ended the cash crunch.

Another question the PM owes answer is clarity on the political funding. Though his government has repeatedly assured that rules will be same for all, there is lack of clarity on political funding since the government also says that provisions of existing laws will continue.

This would means that political parties will enjoy certain immunity from tax scrutiny since cash donations below Rs 20,000 do not require the source to be revealed. Can Modi score a point by stating that the government will work towards the necessary changes in laws to make all political donations through digital mode? If yes, that’ll be much bigger catalyst in the process of creating a cashless economy than announcing lucky draws.

For now, when the PM addresses the nation on the eve of new year, the big question common man probably would want to ask the PM is how long the current cash shortage will continue.

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 11:28 IST

Demonetisation: Four things Narendra Modi should do to take the economy out of the mess

For the Narendra Modi government, which stormed into power in May 2014, to come out of the demonetisation mess unhurt isn’t an easy task. This is despite what it promises to achieve in the future –an economy free of black money, corruption and fake notes, and no matter how good the latter-stated objectives are (including a shift to a cashless economy). And certainly not in the manner it has gone about scrapping 86 percent of currency in circulation all of a sudden on the night of 8 November throwing the economy into a crisis. The consequences so far have been disastrous — corporate profitability has taken a hit, lakhs of jobs have been reportedly lost in the informal sector, consumer ability to spend has been curtailed, farmers affected as prices have crashed, services and manufacturing sectors have been impacted and there is skepticism globally on the rationale behind Modi’s currency ban.

Not surprisingly, both government and private forecasters are competing to show lower India GDP numbers for fiscal year 2017. The estimates range from 7.1 percent (Reserve Bank of India) to an extremely pessimistic 3.5 percent by Ambit Capital, a private brokerage firm.  The available data–advance tax payments by corporates, PMI numbers, auto sales and slowdown in service-oriented sectors confirm the fear of a deeper impact to the economy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFPPrime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

Most economists have ruled the third quarter as a miss, but the real danger comes if the cash crunch-woes spill over to the fourth quarter since then there will be a cascading impact in the economy.

According to data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), unemployment rates fell to less than 5 percent in the week of 27 November, but has since risen to 6.1 percent in the week of 4 December to 6.6 percent in the week ended 11 December and then to 7 percent in the week ended 18 December. The impact comes with a lag and we need to wait for fresh numbers.

Need of the hour

There are a few critical tasks before the Modi-government that should be done urgently:

First, refrain from populist, non-productive expenditures such as promising the poor that the gains on black money will be distributed to them and that farm loans will be waived. The government should focus on boosting the capital base of banks on an urgent basis so that bank credit flow to productive sectors doesn’t suffer, and sell off the loss-making banks or consolidate a few if there is synergy amongst them. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has a good opportunity in the 2017 Union Budget slated for 1 February to announce some bold measures to take the reform process ahead in the public banking sector.

Presently, state-run banks are severely undercapitalized and the problem is worsened with their non-performing assets (NPAs) hitting the roof (nearly Rs 6 lakh crore as on September, 2016 or nearly 8 percent of the total bank credit), and total chunk of stressed assets (bad loans and restructured loans together) jumping to 12-13 percent of the total bank credit. Under the government’s Indradhanush plan, of the Rs 1.8 lakh crore capital needed by banks under Basel-III, the government has offered to infuse Rs 70,000 crore over four years till 2018-19 and wants the government banks to fend for themselves for the remaining Rs 1.1 lakh crore from the market. This is not enough. Also, it is almost impossible that weak state-run banks will find takers. This compounds the problem. So far, there is not much progress on the reform front. That is why the government, the majority owner in these banks, will have to think about infusing them with higher chunks of capital and push the reform button.

Two, offer a fiscal boost to the economy by ramping up infrastructure spending. A section of economists agree that the economy is in need of a strong stimulus to get back on track. This is warranted because several layers of economy have taken a hit post-demonetisation. One of the expectations from the demonetisation exercise was to get a ‘windfall’ of Rs 4-5 lakh crore provided that kind of money doesn’t return to the system as black money hoarders run for cover. The government was expecting to garner around Rs 10 lakh crore of the Rs 15.44 lakh crore demonetized on 8 November. But, that hasn’t happened yet. This, coupled with the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) clarification that there is no possibility of a transfer of surplus from the central bank to the government on account of reduced currency liability, has ruled out any immediate tangible gains for the government. Instead, the exercise has resulted in considerable damage to the economy.

Third, Jaitley should also announce reliefs to both individuals and corporations in Budget 2017 by offering substantial direct tax reductions to tide over the difficult phase. This will work in three ways—to make India still an attractive destination for companies when US president-elect Donald Trump’s administration rolls out massive tax cuts, reverse the negative mood on account of the artificially imposed cash-crunch and put more money into the household kitty to keep the consumption story going. Corporate tax incentives should be over and above the ongoing plan to bring down corporate tax rates to 25 percent over a period and gradually remove exemptions. But this hasn’t found much appeal in the industry since the effective rate is only about 23 percent after exemptions. This is the reason the marginal tax cut in the last budget hasn’t received much response. The government will have to act to regain losing momentum by offering industry a temporary stimulus.

Fourth, it is even more critical now to resolve the cash crunch as fast as possible and bring things back to normalcy. The government can’t expect a miraculous shift to digital payments in a few months replacing a world of cash. Estimates are that 70 percent of the economy still transacts in cash. Pulling out 86 percent cash in one go in a country like India and then facing a cash shortage could be compared to an act of removing blood out of a healthy human body to filling it again with better quality blood, only to realize that there is not enough stock!

Until 19 December, the RBI has infused only Rs 5.92 lakh crore into the banking system as compared with deposits worth Rs 12.44 lakh crore in old Rs 500, Rs 1,000 currencies. Of the total 22.6 billion pieces of notes of various denominations infused, only 2.2 billion belonged to higher denominations of Rs 2,000 and Rs 500. It is not clear how many of the 2.2 billion is in Rs 2,000 notes and how many are Rs 500 notes. Herein lies the problem. The ongoing cash crunch, according to bankers, is mainly due to shortage of the new Rs 500 notes. An end to the current cash crunch is possible only when there is enough Rs 500 notes coming out of the government mints.

But the tricky part for the Modi government will be to find the fiscal space to spend more simultaneously keeping the fiscal roadmap intact. It needs to meet a 3.5 percent fiscal deficit target for the fiscal year 2017. Given that demonetisation itself is unlikely to give any major fiscal boost, the only hope is for the taxmen to dig out substantial chunks of illegal cash from the system from the funds that reach bank accounts either through the black money declaration scheme or raids contributing to the exchequer. Handling a bigger budget, including that of the Railways, is another challenge. “There is a big monster called the Railway budget coming as part of the general budget this year. This can sharply spike numbers on the expenditure. How will the government handle the new situation is worth watching,” said Devendra Pant, chief economist at India Ratings and Research. The expected boost to tax kitty from more number of digital transactions will come, but only at the beginning of the next year.

The short point here is about balancing Union Budget 2017 with the much-required economic stimulus while keeping the fiscal deficit roadmap intact. This will be a trial by fire for the Modi-government.

First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 13:42 IST

Uddhav talks tough, says Sena to oppose demonetisation if common man continues to suffer

New Delhi: Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Thursday claimed his party has not softened its stance on demonetisation, hinting it could step up opposition if people’s sufferings continue after 30 December, a deadline set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to set things right.

Taking a cue from Akhilesh Yadav dispensation in Uttar Pradesh, Thackeray, whose party is second largest constituent of the NDA government, also suggested giving compensation to kin of those who lost lives allegedly in the aftermath of demonetisation.

“(When demonetisation was announced) I had neither opposed nor welcomed the move. I had only maintained that the common people should not be inconvenienced. 30 (of the 50) days have gone, but there is no sign that the problems have decreased. Rather, problems are on the rise day-by-day,” Thackeray told reporters.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

Asked his party’s move after remaining 20 of the 50 days Prime Minister had initially asked for, Thackeray said, “Let the period get over as ‘achhe din’ are in store.”

“Let’s wait for the 20 days, people will have something to say about it. We will talk about our stand after these 20 days,” he said.

To a question whether the Shiv Sena, which had joined a protest led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has softened its stand on demonetisation after a party delegation met Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month, Thackeray replied in negative.

“We are not economists. But some experts like Manmohan Singh, Amartya Sen have opposed it. They too have opined it is a wrong decision,” he said.

Asked which side Sena will be on if discussions are held inside Lok Sabha under a rule which entails voting, Thackeray evaded a direct reply to the question, saying “the party will remain with people”.

Expressing concerns over the repeated disruptions in Parliament, Thackeray said it was unfortunate and suggested taking views expressed by BJP veteran LK Advani “seriously”.

Thackeray also hailed the Allahabad High Court for holding triple talaq as “cruel” and “most demeaning” practice which “impedes and drags India from becoming a nation”, saying it is an important observation for the country.

“…the case should not meet the fate of Shah Bano case,” he said.

In The Shah Bano decision, the Supreme Court had overruled a Muslim personal law and granted a Muslim woman alimony. In response, a legislation was proposed by Centre in 1986 to prevent such a court decision in the future.

Referring to claims that terror attacks have stopped post-demonetisation, Thackeray said it meant the Prime Minister has shown a path to the world on combating terrorism. However, other countries are not following that path, he quipped.

“I was happy to know that terror attacks have stopped post-demonetisation. If the attacks on the country have stopped, then (it meant) Modi has shown a path to the world. Why cannot other countries resort to demonetisation (then)? How simple way Modiji had shown. But other countries are not taking that path,” he said sarcastically.

On whether the Shiv Sena will join hands with BJP, with which it is sharing uneasy relationship after they parted ways ahead of 2014 Maharashtra assembly polls, for the forthcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections, Thackeray said, “We still have time (to talk about it). Let the 20 days go, achhe din are on the anvil.”

The BMC elections are likely to be held in February next year.

Thackeray also stated that he will take up the issue of plight of farmers with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

The Uttar Pradesh government had on Wednesday announced compensation of Rs 2 lakh to families of those who lost lives while queueing up outside banks and ATMs following demonetisation.

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 20:16 IST

Mamata attacks PM Modi, says he has ‘no moral right’ to rule

Kolkata: Sharpening her attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over demonetisation, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday said he must resign because the move has led to “economic disaster” in the country and he has “no moral right” to continue.

Alleging the country’s growth and business have been hit due to demonetisation, she said the Prime Minister “doesn’t trust” anyone and he “doesn’t understand” what is good for the country.

“There is no teamwork. He did not consult experts. It is a one-man dictatorship. It is a one-man made disaster. It is a dangerous tendency,” she told a press conference at the state secretariat.

File photo of Trinamool Congress chief Mamta Banerjee. AFP

File photo of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. AFP

“After committing mistakes, he (PM) is showing chest and shoulder. What is this? Such figure is required in films. Ravana too had broad shoulder,” she said.

She said if she were the PM, she “would apologise to the people and talked about rectifying myself”.

“He must step down. He has no moral right to continue,” she said.

“I am sorry to say that the (central) government got derailed totally under the present PM. He is not saying what will happen tomorrow and the day after. He must clarify,” she remarked.

Describing her campaign against demonetisation a fight between Modi and the people, she said “the people wanted to know why he did it”.

“Who got the benefit of demonetisation. The PM and his associates are the beneficiary. The PM is protecting black money,” she said.

“Only the PM who stays at 7 RCR, will eat, others will not,” she said.

She said her party has been raising the issue on all platforms.

“We have met the President, raised the issue in Parliament, Assembly and in public meetings. All opposition parties are fighting together. I am in touch wit other opposition parties as well. I will fight even if I am alone,” she said.

Banerjee said, “If people raised voice, they will be dubbed as bad and holder of black money.”

On the land purchase by the BJP, she said, “They have amassed huge wealth. How did the fakir get so much money?”

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 18:53 IST

Will Kerala BJP pay political price for Modi’s refusal to meet people’s representatives?

The political storm over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to deny audience with an all-party delegation from Kerala refuses to subside, even a week after the incident.

The delegation, comprising the chief minister, finance minister and MLAs, had planned to submit a resolution that requested the Centre to allow co-operative banks to exchange demonitised Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes and accept deposits like other commercial banks.
The resolution was passed by the state legislative assembly during its special sitting, convened in the wake of crisis in the co-operative sector, on 23 November.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTIPrime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Leaders of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) have successfully kept the ‘Modi snub’ in the limelight for a long time to corner the BJP.
Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, had launched a scathing attack on Modi for not showing democratic values. “One cannot expect democratic values from a government led by an organisation that consider Hitler and Mussolini as their models.”

Former chief minister and senior Congress leader, Oommen Chandy, was equally harsh in his criticism of the prime minister. “Never before in the history of independent India had the Prime Minister declined to meet the delegation from a State. You had insulted Kerala by denying permission to this delegation. It was an insult to the federal structure of India.”

Dr J Prabhash, a prominent psephologist and head the of political science department at the Kerala University, opined that the prime minister has set a dangerous precedence. “It was an indication that Modi didn’t care about the state of affairs in Kerala. It would affect the centre-state relationship.”

War On Co-Operatives

The BJP began to train its guns on primary co-operative banks after the Reserve Bank of India imposed restrictions on them. The party alleged that co-operative banks are the hubs of unaccounted money and asked the Centre to take stern actions. It was a part of a carefully planned political game as most of the banks were controlled either by CPM or Congress (I).
The tough stand against co-operative banks, which are considered as the lifeline of rural economy, hasn’t gone down well with a large number of party sympathisers. Besides, Modi’s decision to deny permission to the legislators gave them the feeling that BJP is a predominantly North Indian political party.

“Many BJP sympathisers hold accounts in co-operative banks controlled by CPM and Congress. The party took a wrong decision to fight against the rural financial institutions. It eroded people’s confidence in the party. Besides, our rivals have succeeded in portraying BJP as an anti-Kerala party,” said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
App Vs People’s Representatives

It was an irony that the prime minister had asked people to express their views on demonetisation, albeit through his own app, a day before he denied permission to meet people’s representatives from Kerala.

Modi had urged the people to take part in a survey on the NM App as he wanted to get first-hand view on the demonetisation drive. A day later, he announced that 90 per cent of the respondents believed that black money existed in India, and supported the government to move to eradicate it. “I thank people for the historic participation in the survey. It’s satisfying to read the insightful views and comments,” the PM had tweeted.

Political analysts derided the exercise as a desperate attempt to shore up his waning public support.

Prabhash opined Modi would have understood the pulse of the people had he interacted with the legislators from Kerala. “How can he gauge the mood of the nation through an app survey? How many people in India use mobile phone and application? If he really wanted to know the pulse of the nation, he should have conducted a referendum,” he said.

Unconstitutional resolution?

Before Modi refused the audience with Kerala delegation, the BJP had even tried to term the resolution passed by the Assembly as unconstitutional.

Union finance minister, Arun Jaitley, fired the first salvo when he alleged that Kerala had breached the federalist structure by passing a resolution on a financial issue.

BJP state president, Kummanam Rajashekharan, echoed the sentiment while talking to journalists on November 24 in Thiruvananthapuram. “Only Centre has the right to decide on the country’s currency issues. No assembly in the country can pass such a resolution. So the Kerala assembly resolution is unconstitutional.”

However, legal experts found no substance in the allegation. They felt the accusations were politically motivated.

MA Rashid, co-founder, Live Law, India’s prominent legal news portal, said the Assembly has every right to express concern over issues that affect millions of people. “The assembly didn’t pass a law. The legislators expressed their concern about the crisis in co-operative sector. Expressing dissent on a decision by the union government is not unconstitutional or against the federal structure. Moreover, the constitutionality of demonetisation is yet to be verified by the courts.”

Advocate T Asaf Ali, former director general of prosecutions, opined that Assembly has not done anything wrong, “The assembly convened for a day to request the Centre to ameliorate people’s difficulties following RBI restrictions on co-operative banks. The BJP is trying to politicise the issue.”

First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 12:57 IST

Narendra Modi’s survey: Those who played fastest fingers first aren’t the ones suffering

The Narendra Modi government is really cute. It first announces a new game of football, makes it own rules, changes them several times in the middle of the game, asks every player to shoot the ball in the same goal and then announces it won 9-1. Congratulations!

The government can, of course, celebrate the results of the feedback on the demonetisation AAP. The results, the government claims, 90 per cent people are in favour of the ban on use of Rs 500 and 1000 currency notes.

In the history of democracy, nobody other than the North Korean government would have enjoyed better ratings.

But, if I were the government, what would really worry me is this: If the ground and rules were mine and everyone was playing for the same team, running towards the same goal, who scored that one goal against Team demonetization? When, like the North Korean elections, it had no room for dissent, who voted against it?

Questions on the Narendra Modi surveyQuestions on the Narendra Modi survey

Questions on the Narendra Modi survey

The prime minister’s App and its questions were actually similar to a famous advertisement of a pressure cooker. Jo biwi se suchmuch kare pyaar, woh Prestige se kare inkaar! His entire questionnaire was based on a similar argument: Jo desh se sachmuch kare pyaar, woh demonisation se kaise kare inkaar!

Do you think black money exists in India? Of course it does, not just in India but all across the globe.
Do you think the evil of corruption and black money needs to be fought and eliminated? Of course every evil needs to be fought and eliminated.

The entire quiz, as a friend quipped, was like asking who is the best prime minister of India? a) Narendra Modi, b) Himesh Reshammiya, c) Narendra Modi or d) Anupam Kher.

Considering that the government wanted to hear only what’s music to its ears, it is really a surprise that the government bothered to ask ten questions. It could have just asked us all to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and interpreted the response as our voice vote for demonetisation.

There are surveys and, well, there are surveys. We know what the prime minister said at a Delhi rally when opinion polls predicted a BJP defeat in the Delhi elections. But, since this one suits the government, let it enjoy the voices in its echo chamber.

Outside, of course, the demonetisation experiment is being panned as a policy quirk that could ruin the Indian economy and the lives of millions of people. Experts across the globe are predicting that it will derail the GDP, lead to enormous hardships and loss of livelihood for millions in the Indian unorganised sector. It has been pointed out that the plan will not address any of its stated objectives–wiping out black money, ending corruption, terror funding or use of counterfeit currency.

The experiment has Robert Mugabe written all over it. (You can read it herehere and here, in fact everywhere.)

And, for argument’s sake, even if the premise behind the demonetisation drive were logical and rational, the implementation has been a disaster. It has brought the entire country on the road, made everybody fall in line and lead to loss of lives, trade and jobs.

Every bank is out of currency. ATMs have become dry. Withdrawals through cheques are limited to Rs 2000. Traders and farmers are destroying perishable commodities because there are no buyers. From midnight (25 November), petrol pumps and medicine shops too will stop accepting cash. There are fears that wheels of the Indian economy will come to a grinding halt once transporters run out of cash to refuel.

Almost every Indian in a country of 125 crore is suffering. But, if the government thinks it has pulled off a miracle just because a few lakh Indians found enough time to get out of queues outside banks and ATMs and play fastest finger first, good luck to Modi ji and India.

Even Indira Gandhi was convinced Emergency was good for the grateful country would give her bumper votes for making their lives miserable.

Since this is the season of asking questions, here are two from me: Did Dharmendra Kumar of Tindwari village in Banda district respond to the prime minister’s questionnaire? Last heard, he was at his three-year-old daughter’s funeral who died after he failed to get money for her treatment in spite of queuing up for a few days.

Ghar main beti bimaar hai par paise nahin hai!

Now, here’s a quuestion for you:

First Published On : Nov 24, 2016 13:21 IST

Demonetisation poll: PM Modi’s survey is novel but could do with better execution

The prime minister connects to the people of India directly and tells them that they have a voice and that he wants to hear that voice directly. These voices are extremely important because it is the citizens’ opinion on probably one of the most important decisions that any Indian government has taken in decades – the demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes (issued before 9 November 2016).

Narendra Modi’s decision is controversial because we are now wading in uncharted territory and no one knows for sure as to how, when and where this will all end. The decision impacts each and every Indian citizen and hence it is critical to hear ‘Jan Jan ki Baat’.

It seems to me that while many (including me) believe that the decision has the potential to be path-breaking and positive in the long run, in the short run it is disruptive. The disruption to the purveyors of the parallel economy is welcome and a cause of joy for most, it is the disruption in the lives of the common Indian that needs to be addressed on a war footing.

Rating wheel on the demonetisation poll.Rating wheel on the demonetisation poll.

Rating wheel on the demonetisation poll.

Is the common Indian happy or sad? Does (s)he support the move or believe that it is draconian? What is the extent of damage even in the short run to the unorganised sector in India? What is happening outside urban India? These are questions that everyone wants answers to – including the government. Needless to say, the media has not provided unbiased answers. Most commentators are biased and hence the verdict is unclear — we seem to be so polarised that there can only be Modi bhakts or Modi haters…there is no middle path in most of the media discourse and that needs to change.

To try and come closer to the verdict and to counter the growing protests from the opposition, the prime minister launched a survey on his official app. I downloaded his application to take the survey and it set in motion a chain of thoughts.

Ever since Modi came to power in 2014 (and even before that), the prime minister has not only redefined how he uses media to further his cause but also created his own media outreach through ‘Mann Ki Baat’, social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, the GOI website and e-newsletters among others. Even his use of DD has been refreshingly different. So an app survey should not have surprised many. But…there is always a but. Will the app help in getting closer to a verdict?

As of the evening of 22 November, 2016, the app had more than 10 lakh downloads on Android. Given OS market shares in India, all other OSs including iOS cannot add more than another 10 lakh downloads.

The app is available only in six languages – English, Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada. Even when one changes language of choice, a lot of the content continues to be in English.

The survey is available on registration only. The registration form is in English notwithstanding the language you choose and it is tedious! One is forced to fill even the voter ID number though like most other forms one can get away with filling in junk data.

After one is done with the form, one can now take the survey. The banner for the survey is in English only. The survey is conducted both in Hindi and English but uses terms like ‘demonetisation’ in Devanagari script.

The survey is available only on the app (our understanding) and not even on the website. An app can be downloaded only by smartphone or tablet users in most cases. IAMAI estimated 371 million mobile internet users in India as of June 2016.

Some of the questions in the survey may be classified as leading. The filling in of the opinion wheel for rating is cool but may not be intelligible to all. The survey is not and cannot be representative of the voice of every citizen of India but is a first for sure and a worthy addition to the debate. Incidentally as a reminder, most surveys and polls that we use to make decisions, suffer from innumerable drawbacks and are not representative. The survey can however definitely be executed better. It will remain limited to a digital demographic given the medium but the reach will be extended and that is the need of the hour.

Here are five quick and do-able suggestions to improve the app:

Put up the survey on the website too.
Make it available in multiple languages – should be fairly simple to do.
Allow the survey to be taken without registration (or a shortened registration, if at all) with a Captcha check.
Some of the questions can do with re-framing – the idea is to get an honest opinion. Also on a scale of 1-5, 4 cannot be OK, 3 has to be OK. An optional question on nature of inconvenience is needed.
Maybe, just maybe, some questions can be made available on IVR…many more people will be able to participate though it needs more effort in execution.

The poll is undoubtedly a novel communication effort from the Government’s and prime minister’s perspective. It can do with changes to make a larger impact and herald change. Incidentally so can the overall communication on the demonetisation of old high denomination notes but that is another topic for another day.

Note: There is a troll brigade (opinion leaders?) that is also speculated by some to be a part of the BJP’s social strategy and hence the prime minister’s outreach. I have no way to establish the veracity of this speculation and hence I am referring to only channels of communication created, owned and operated by the prime minister and GOI and known as such.

The author has held leadership positions at the Tata Group (TAS), Citibank and Network18. She is now an independent business and strategy consultant and mentors startups.

First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 13:56 IST

Demonetisation: From Morarji to Modi, it is politics and volume that matters the most

When former prime minister Morarji Desai had demonetised currency notes in January 1978, he was accused of carrying out anti-black money exercise for political reasons. 38 years later, Narendra Modi is facing a similar onslaught from the Opposition about wiping out tainted money from the economy ahead of crucial elections in important states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab.

The Parliament debates of 1978 give an interesting peep into the politics of demonetisation. On 21 March, 1978, Lok Sabha archive accessed by Firstpost reveal, that CN Visvanathan, a member of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) from Tirupattur constituency, had questioned the Morarji government for announcing demonetisation on the eve of elections to six states including Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Visvanathan said while participating in the debate over the ‘High Denomination Bank Notes (Denomination) Bill.’:

“People are thinking whether this bill is intended to curb indirectly the funds of some particular political party before the elections in six states were held. So I ask: Why was the step taken before the elections in six states especially Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The Ordinance was promulgated on 16th January 1978, but actually instead of helping the illegal transactions to be stopped, this bill may help to stop the financiers of the political parties from contributing to them,”

And, the bitter historical fact were the election results Janata Party had to swallow in 1978 after executing demonetisation, which may be a cause of worry for the BJP.

The Congress which had become extremely unpopular and was decimated in 1977 made a comeback in the Andhra Pradesh state election, winning a clear majority. In Karnataka too, Janata Party came at a distant second, winning just 59 of 259 assembly seats that went to the polls. The only face saver for Janata Party was Arunachal Pradesh where its state leader Prem Khandu was able to form a government winning 17 seats out of 30 member state assembly and Assam where Golap Borbora, follower of Ram Manohar Lohia and JP became the first non-Congress chief minister of that state. The Janata Party riding high on demonetisation move could win only 99 seats out of 288 assembly constituencies of Maharashtra and had failed to form the government.

Is there a lesson for Modi who is exploiting his black money purging decision in his public meetings in Uttar Pradesh to harvest political gains out of demonetisation?

The volume may haunt Modi government

File image of Morarji Desai. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia CommonsFile image of Morarji Desai. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

File image of Morarji Desai. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Team Morarji Desai, who first visualised the idea of curbing the menace of black money through demonetisation, had a much easier task at hand than the team Modi, which embarked on the herculean task to withdrawing 86 percent currency floating in the market. Although, Morarji team comprising of then finance minister Hirubhai Mulljibhai Patel and Reserve Bank of India Governor IG Patel was more unsparing, the volume affecting households at that time was confined to just a few rich than the majority of 125 Crore population that Modi and Urjit Patel is facing today. And, the queue outside the banks and ATMs is not getting thinner by the day than the duo had anticipated.

With one announcement, Modi rendered Rs 14.2 lakh crore as useless, however, for Morarji the value was just 145.42 crore and the highest denomination note was limited to only 346 people (presuming that nobody had more than one note). Whereas for the present government, the task is to withdraw 633 crore high denomination 1000 rupee notes (Valued 6.3 lakh crore) that constitutes 38.5 percent of currency in circulation and 1,571 crore of 500 notes, constituting 47 percent of the total.

The debate that happened on 21 March, 1978 in Parliament gives indication of challenges Modi government could face. Morarji’s finance minister, Hirubhai Mulljibhai Patel while introducing the ‘High Denomination Bank Notes (Denomination) Bill had told the Parliament that, “the total number of high denomination bank notes in circulation as at the close of business on 16th day of January, 1978 was 13,05,899 notes valued at about Rs. 145.42 Crores. These included 12.69 Lakh notes of rupees one thousand denomination, 36,287 notes of rupees five thousand denomination and 346 notes of rupees ten thousand denomination.”

Morarji government while explaining that the high denomination bank notes were being used extensively for illicit transfer of money for financing transactions harmful to the national economy, only gave 3 days for exchange (January 17, 18, 19th 1978), Modi arguing the similar reasons though adding terrorism and fake currency, gave 50 days to the holders of 500 and 1000 rupee notes to deposit in the bank.

Is the comparison between Morarji and Modi government logical? Of course, as both wanted to get rid of black money choking country’s financial health. So, why is the Modi government is facing heat on the issue?

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTIFile image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Hukmdev Narayan Yadav, the BJP MP from Madhubani who sits in the second right row of the present 16th Lok Sabha, but then a socialist and active member of JP movement, in a discussion on 21 March, 1978, had reminded the lower house that “Demonetisation is not the only solution to tackle black money.”

Yadav while supporting the move had asked the government to adopt several other measures like covertly initiating a dialogue with big industrialists and businessmen to disclose the amount in cash to the government and that money could be used for setting up new factories and infrastructures to generate employment for youths of this country.

“Political Purification” Yadav had said that day, was still far away while supporting his own government move. And, what Shyamaprasanna Bhattacharyya, a Communist Party member of 6th Lok Sabha from Uluberia constituency, had said on demonetisation in that era still resonates now in political discourse.

Bhattacharyya said in the Parliament during the discussion:

“I have been informed that before our Minister passed the ordinance, the blackmarketeers in Calcutta ( now knows Kolkata) came to know about it and took sufficient precautions to go to various areas and asked the Panwallahs and other poor persons to go the banks and get them changed…and told them: you take something from me and give me the changed money. Thus, they have saved themselves… without the support from the people measures such as this will touch only the fringe of the problem.” 

Team Modi should also read the facts presented in the parliament by DMK member Visvanathan, who had said that out of Rs 140 Crore in higher denomination in 1978, thousand rupee notes worth about Rs 125 Crore ( Presently 6.3 lakh crore), five thousand rupee notes about Rs 13.6 crore and ten thousand rupees notes about 82 lakh were in circulation. The figure shows that only two percent of higher denomination notes were demonetised by Janata Party government in 1978 in comparison with over 86 percent of currency termed as paper by the Modi government.

No wonder, the public, which showed miraculous discipline, is now expressing discomfort.

Vayalar Ravi, now a sitting Congress member of Rajya Sabha, but was in Lok Sabha in 1978, had said:

“Black money is not stagnant in our country. It is generating economic activities. The policy of the government should be comprehensive. It should be aimed at plugging the loopholes which help in the generation, expansion and the investment of black money. There is no policy which I can see either in the budget or in the policy of the government. This is only a piece-meal measure which can never touch the fringe of the black money problem.”

First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 09:18 IST

Demonetisation: ‘VIP’ privileges should count as corruption too

I watched a clip online over the weekend. It showed a young woman carrying an infant, venting her anger while standing in a serpentine queue outside a bank. In the course of her tirade, she spoke of not having enough cash to buy vegetables. She was really angry.

A thought crossed my mind: If she were a ‘VIP’ living in a bungalow built by Lutyens, the young woman would have vegetables growing in a part of the back or side garden. She would even have an efficient maali (gardener) paid by the taxpayer to tend to those vegetables and the flowers in the flower beds on the side of the house and the lawn in front.

Come to think of it, the young woman would also have had the finest fruit, not to speak of nuts and sweets and cakes, brought as gifts by less important persons.

If she were a member of Parliament, she might even have convenient access to nicely priced fruit juice, coffee beans and tea leaves, not to speak of extremely nicely priced meals. But for that, she would have had to have had the wherewithal to get to become a very important person. But then, she would quite likely have been the son or daughter of one.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Of course I am all for rooting out corruption. I just wish we could also have a little less of the sort of nice little conveniences that very important people take for granted, and we don’t generally think of as corruption.

Misuse of free air and rail travel, for example.

Easy reservations too. I was to travel by train recently but, when I got to the station with my luggage, I was amazed to find that my booking was still on the wait-list, and so was to be treated as cancelled. I had been second on the waiting list when the ticket was purchased a couple of weeks before, and so I had presumed that the booking would have been confirmed by the time it came time to travel.

I went to the ticket inspector’s office to see if I could be accommodated. The man said it couldn’t be done. The coach was already chockablock with RACs (I had forgotten the category — reservation against cancellation). As I looked deflated, he said sympathetically that I should get a ‘VIP’ to help out next time, in case I knew one.

While it may be very laudable to get people to transact online or by plastic, it would be so very nice if we could also level the playing field for all citizens, including ‘VIPs’ and the owners of online operations. Could ‘VIPs’ also get into line please and pay like everyone else, the same prices and overhead costs as everyone else? Please? I was with a ‘VIP’ friend one morning recently and saw some houses that were all furnished, carpeted and set up. Apparently, that’s the way they are handed over to ‘VIPs’ — in the most swanky, easy-to-live areas of our otherwise polluted, congested cities.

Very nice.

But if we’re serious about cleaning out corruption, shouldn’t we take a brief moment to ask how much the taxpayer pays for all this?
Don’t get me wrong. I am, as I said, all for rooting out corruption. Let’s just expand our focus on what constitutes corruption a tiny bit.

First Published On : Nov 14, 2016 13:20 IST

Rs 500, Rs 1,000 ban: Paytm wallets claims 250% surge in transactions, 200% in downloads

New Delhi: Patym, the mobile payment and commerce platform, is registering massive growth across India within hours of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing his plans to have a corruption-free India. The Paytm platform saw an overwhelming 435 percent increase in overall traffic as millions of consumers across India have taken to using their Paytm Wallets to transact offline.

Courtesy: FacebookCourtesy: Facebook

Courtesy: Facebook

Within hours of the Prime Minister’s announcement, the company registered a 200 percent hike in number of app downloads and 250 percent surge in number of overall transactions and transaction value. The number of Saved Cards also grew by 30 percent, pointing at a strong set of repeat customers the platform has now acquired. The company has noted 1000 percent growth in money added to the wallet and 400 percent growth in transaction value of offline payments.

Madhur Deora, CFO – Paytm said, “This is the biggest and most ambitious step ever to crack down on black money and fake currency. We stand by the government in its efforts towards taking black money out of the equation and offering a major boost to the Indian economy. Since Paytm is fast becoming synonymous to all kinds of payments, we are happy to announce we have registered a strong surge in volume on our platform.”

Paytm users can pay virtually anyone who has a smartphone just by scanning their QR code or entering their mobile number in the Paytm app. Paytm Cash can be used to pay for local taxi/autos fares, paying at petrol pumps, grocery outlets, restaurants and coffee shops, multiplexes, local tea/vegetable vendors or other service providers who prefer Paytm.

The platform also allows users to do online recharges and bill payments, book movie tickets, do travel bookings and shop for products online among others. The safety and convenience of the process has triggered mass adoption across various categories, and has seen thousands of new users joining the Paytm cashless ecosystem within hours.

Paytm is charting the next chapter in the evolution of the country’s app ecosystem with the Paytm Super app, said a company statment.

Rs 500, Rs 1000 banned: Resale property market, small builders to be hit by PM Modi’s revelation

New Delhi: Unorganised builders and secondary (resale) property market would be adversely impacted following the government’s decision to demonetise Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes with effect from midnight, according to real estate developers and consultants.

Housing prices could witness downward pressure, helping revive demand in the sluggish housing segment, they added.

“We are moving toward the cashless economy which is a sign of maturing economy. It’s a step in the right direction,” DLF CEO Rajeev Talwar told PTI.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

“The blackmoney was mostly in land purchase. But in last 6-7 years, there has been no major land buying in this sector. Big builders and organised players are already using bank channel and they would gain from this decision. Unorganised players and the secondary market would be impacted,” he said.

Asked about impact on real estate sector especially housing, Talwar said: “There could be downward pressure on prices, which will boost demand”.

When contacted, JLL India Country Head and Chairman Anuj Puri said: “It will not have any impact on the primary residential segment as the buyer in this sector are driven by mortgage. The impact will be felt in the secondary market and the unorganised developers community where there were still cash dealing.”

Terming it as a very good move, Puri said: “This decision will help institutionalise the real estate sector”.

“Its a fantastic and bold move by the government. A lot of money will get into the banking systes,” CREDAI Chairman Irfan Razack told PTI.

“Listed entities and organised players will not be affected from this decision,” he said, adding that there would not be much impact on housing demand and sales.

Razack, who is chirman of bengaluru-based Prestige Estates, said there could be some impact on secondary market of big cities but primary market is largely through banking channel.

Realty industry body CREDAI President Gitambar Anand said that primary market will not be impacted but resale market will feel the pinch.

Rs 500, Rs 1,000 banned: How banks and ATMs will function in next few days

Taking the nation by surprise, on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes with effect from midnight, making these notes invalid in a major assault on black money, fake currency and corruption.

In his first televised address to the nation, Modi said people holding notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 can deposit the same in their bank and post office accounts from 10 November till 30 December.

In his 40-minute address, PM said the notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 “will not be legal tender from midnight tonight” and these will be “just worthless piece of paper.”

PM Modi announced, ATM withdrawals will be restricted to Rs 2,000 per day in the initial days and this limit will be raised to Rs 4,000 later. Withdrawals from bank accounts will be limited to Rs 10,000 a day and Rs 20,000 a week.

Banks will remain closed on Wednesday and some ATMs will also not function on Wednesday and Thursday as RBI stocks banks and ATM machines with lower denomination notes.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

This means that the public will have to visit ATMs which supply currency with lower denomination before Wednesday morning. Online transactions are unaffected as there are no restrictions of any kind on non-cash payments by cheques, demand drafts, debit or credit cards and electronic fund transfer.

Public can exchange their Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes with lower denomination currency notes at designated banks and post offices on production of valid government identity cards like PAN, Aadhaar and Election Card from 10 November to 24 November with a daily limit of Rs 4,000.

Those unable to deposit Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes till 30 December this year can do so in designated RBI offices till 31 March next year after filling a declaration form along with proof and reasons.

Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes will be valid for transactions related to booking of air tickets, railway bookings, government bus ticket counters and hospitals till the midnight of 11 and 12 November.

With inputs from agencies

Ease of doing business: India jumps just 1 notch up to 130 in disappointment for PM Modi

Washington – India continues to rank low at 130th position in terms of ease of doing business, with the country seeing little or no improvement in dealing with construction permits, getting credit and other parameters. The latest ranking comes as a far cry from prime minister Narendra Modi‘s aim to take the country to the top 50 ranks.

In the World Bank’s latest ‘Doing Business’ report, India’s place remained unchanged from last year’s original ranking of 130 among the 190 economies that were assessed on various parameters. However, the last year’s ranking has been now revised to 131 from which the country has improved its
place by one spot.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

The government has been making efforts to further improve the ease of doing business and aims to bring the country in the top 50.

Expressing disappointment over no change in India’s ranking in the World Bank’s index on ease of doing business, Indian government regretted that the report did not take into consideration 12 key reforms undertaken by the government.

When it comes to ‘distance to frontier’ — a measurement of the gap between an economy’s performance and the best practice score of 100 — India’s score has improved to 55.27 this year from 53.93 last year.

India is the only country for which the report has a box dedicated to its ongoing economic reforms.

The list of countries in the Doing Business 2017 is topped by New Zealand while Singapore is ranked second. It is followed by Denmark, Hong Kong, South Korea, Norway, the UK, the US, Sweden and former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Neighbouring Pakistan is ranked 144th in the list.

On the basis of reforms undertaken, the top 10 improvers are Brunei Darussalam, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Belarus, Indonesia, Serbia, Georgia, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

A record 137 economies around the world have adopted key reforms that make it easier to start and operate small and medium-sized businesses, the report said.

Developing countries carried out more than 75 per cent of the 283 reforms in the past year, with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for over one-quarter of all reforms, it added.

“What we have seen is a remarkable effort on the part of the government to implement business reforms. It looks like we are going to have to wait for another year or so. But the direction of change is fundamentally a very significant one,” Global Indicators Group Director Augusto Lopez-Claros told PTI in an interview.

The rankings are based on ten parameters — starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders,
enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.

India has improved its ranking with respect to various areas. In terms of getting electricity, the country’s position has jumped to 26th spot from 51st place last year.

When it comes to trading across borders, the ranking has moved up one place to 143, and in enforcing contracts the rise is of six spots to 172nd position.

However, with respect to starting a business, the ranking has slipped four places to 155th spot and in the case of dealing with construction permits by one rank to 185th.

As per the report, India’s ranking in terms of protecting minority investors dropped to 13th place from 10th position last year.

With regard to getting credit, the ranking has fallen by two places to 44.

Explaining as to why India’s reform efforts is not being reflected in the ease of doing business report, Lopez-Claros said it very often takes some time for the reforms implemented by governments about the regulatory environment to be felt on the ground by the business community.

Rita Ramalho, Manager of the Doing Business project said that there were in fact improvements this year.

“There are four areas of improvement this year in India getting electricity, trading across border, enforcing contracts and paying taxes,” Ramalho told PTI.

India’s ranking is based on the study of the system in the two cities of Mumbai and New Delhi.

“The reason why there is no real movement in the ranking is more to do with the fact that other countries are also moving. In absolute terms India, does improve significantly.

There aren’t many countries that improved more than India in terms of absolute number,” Ramalho said.

The ‘Doing Business’ project provides objective measures of business regulations for local firms in economies and selected cities at the sub-national level.

The World Bank is emphasising that countries pay attention to what it calls “distance to frontier” which is an absolute metric, Lopez-Claros said.

“There has been actually substantial increase in the last 12 months in India by couple of percentage points, which is quite large,” he noted.

Lopez-Claros said there are only 34 economies that actually improved more than India in the particular measure of distance to frontier metrics.

“You have to focus on distance to frontier metrics if you want to know what is going on India at this moment. The fact that it has gone up by couple of percentage points, is a reflection of the changes in Indian regulations,” he noted.

He stressed simply saying that “130th rank means that there is no change in the business environment in India is completely unfair to the government”.

“There is a small change in the relative measure, but in absolute measure which is a reflection of what is happening in India, there has been a remarkable improvement,” he observed.

“We have been impressed by the effort, the seriousness of the reforms being implemented. You can be sure, we would very much like to see this progress quickly reflected on the ground,” Lopez-Claros said.

According to Lopez-Claros, Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s ambition of bringing India within first 50 ranking in the ease of doing business is achievable.

“It is achievable. I do not think that it is unreasonable. We can talk about the time frame, but if you ask me does the government have the technical capacity the ability to implement and conceptualise reforms that could in the medium-term lead to substantial improvement in ranking, my answer is yes. I have full confidence. The effort has to be sustained. That’s all I am saying,” he said.

While noting that moving from 130 to less than 50 is not going to happen in 12 months, Lopez-Claros said what is important is direction of change.

“And we are comfortable that the direction of change is the correct one because we see improvement in the distance from the frontier score,” he added.

World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President Paul Romer said simple rules that are easy to follow are a sign that a government treats its citizens with respect.

“They yield direct economic benefits – more entrepreneurship; more market opportunities for women; more adherence to the rule of law,” he noted.

PM Modi bats for tribal rights, promises action against those trying to snatch it

New Delhi: Natural resources in forests should not be exploited at the cost of tribals living there, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said, warning those who “snatch” their rights of stringent action.

Inaugurating the first-ever national tribal carnival, Modi said natural resources are mostly in forested areas which are inhabited by tribals and, while pursuing development goals, mineral resources should not be extracted in a way which is detrimental to their interests.

File photo of Narendra Modi.File photo of Narendra Modi.

File photo of Narendra Modi.

“There is need to extract iron ore, coal but it should not be done at the cost of tribals,” he said. He said no one should get the opportunity to “snatch” away the rights of the tribals, and those who do, will face stringent action.

The Prime minister said, in the past, while iron ore and coal were extracted, tribal people of mineral bearing areas never benefited from it. He said following the introduction of a scheme to impose cess, the money so collected is now being utilised to expand facilities, including infrastructure, to benefit the tribals.

The government, Modi said, is now pushing for advanced technology which ensures that the environment is not severely affected in the process of mining. Gasification of coal in underground facilities at the excavation sites is helping control pollution and damage to the health of the people in surrounding areas.

Addressing the gathering, the Prime Minister also pitched for start-ups to brand and export tribal goods to domestic and foreign markets. He said once people start buying goods manufactured by tribals, it would help in their economic empowerment.

Modi in Himachal Pradesh: PM compares army’s surgical strike to Israel’s exploits

Mandi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday likened the army’s anti-terror surgical strikes to Israel’s exploits and said the Indian forces have shown they are no less than anybody.

“Our army’s valour is being discussed across the country these days. We used to hear earlier that Israel has done this. The nation has seen that Indian army is no less than anybody,” he said.

Israel is known for its targeted military strikes against enemy countries and militant outfits.

Modi was speaking at a rally in Himachal Pradesh where he inaugurated three hydro-power projects. The issue of surgical strikes has snowballed into a political row with the opposition accusing the BJP and its government of “milking” it for political benefits. The charge has been rejected by BJP which has insisted that it is taking the issue to the masses to boost the army’s morale and highlight the strong political will of the Prime Minister.

File photo of PM Narendra Modi. ReutersFile photo of PM Narendra Modi. Reuters

File photo of PM Narendra Modi. Reuters

Underscoring his commitment to the welfare of armed forces, Modi said his government had fulfilled its promise of ‘One-Rank, One-Pension’ for ex-servicemen, an issue which he said had been hanging fire for over 40 years. Previous governments, he said, duped the people by making tall claims and some of them even allocated Rs 200 crore-500 crore in this regard but never did an analysis of cost burden and how it could be executed.

“I did it and was puzzled to find that the economic burden kept rising. It worked to be more than Rs 10,000 crore,” he said, adding that it was difficult for any government to make such a big allocation in one go. Modi said he spoke to armed forces and offered to release the money in four installments to which they agreed.

“Over Rs 5,500 crore in first installment has been given. The rest will be too. A promise hanging fire for the last 40 years has been fulfilled,” he said.

At the ‘Parivartan Rally’, Modi also targeted Virbhadra Singh, the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh where elections are due late next year, saying BJP chief ministers dedicated themselves to causes like drinking water and roads while the Congress leader was concerned about his own welfare.

“Do I need to explain what the current chief minister is known for?” he said and then added, “When BJP gave chief ministers, somebody dedicated himself to water, somebody to roads but when others came they dedicated so many things for their personal welfare,” he said.

BJP has accused Singh of being involved in corruption but the Congress leader has rejected the charges and claimed that he was a victim of “political vendetta”.

People will demand that Virbhadra Singh government give an account of its work, Modi said, noting that the state was getting Rs 72,000 crore following the implementation of the 16th Finance Commission report instead of Rs 21,000 crore allocated earlier. Modi said BJP leaders were asking him to seek an account of the money sent to the state government. “Not only us, the people of Himachal Pradesh will demand an answer (from Singh).”

The Prime Minister recalled his old association with the hill state, which was under his charge as the then BJP General Secretary, and noted that the projects he was inaugurating were founded by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“I was also present as the organisation’s in-charge and who would have thought that I will get the opportunity to inaugurate them,” he said. A large numbers of people from Himachal were working in the armed forces, the Prime Minister said and hailed the state as the land of valiant people and stressed that similar respect should be accorded to ex-servicemen as to the serving
soldiers.

His government, he said, had begun executing projects stalled for decades and said wryly that he had never thought that he, as Prime Minister, would have to run in the PMO an “archaeology department” that would have to dug up “skeletons” of very old projects which never took off after their foundation stones were laid.

With New and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal in attendance, he said households in the state will collectively save almost Rs one crore daily with the use of LEDs and noted that the project could be executed more quickly.

Narendra Modi praises Indian Army in Bhopal rally but keeps mum on surgical strikes

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed ex-servicemen at the inauguration of the war memorial ‘shaurya samarak’ in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh on Friday, opened with chants of “Shahido amar raho” and “Vande Mataram“.

He said that our soldiers can not be associated only with war because they are a symbol of humanity as well.

Before him, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan addressed the gathering.

Parrikar said that the inauguration of the memorial is happening at a time when soldiers displayed extraordinary courage and valor on 29 September. He was referring to the surgical strikes carried out by the Indian Army across the Line of Control.

Chouhan too lauded the soldiers saying that the ‘shaurya samarak’ is not just a Samarak. “It is a temple of their [soldiers] bravery,” he said. He also announced that that the parents of the martyrs from the state will be given Rs 5,000 every month. He referred to this pension as samman nidhi as a mark of respect for the sacrifices of the jawans.

Meanwhile, Modi went on to cite examples of incidents when the army had helped civilians irrespective of having faced hostile conditions by the same lot previously. “During the floods in Srinagar, the army extended its help for the rescue and relief operation. While extending help, my soldiers did not think twice if these people has pelted stones at them,” he said.

Therefore, we must associate our soldiers with humanity as well because it is the “call of humanity” that inspires our armed forces. Not only that, the fact that the Indian Army also saved some Pakistanis while rescuing Indians from Yemen is an evidence of their humanity, he added.

Modi also referred to the UN Peacekeeping Force and said that India is one of the biggest contributors to it. Around 1.5 lakh Indians lost their lives during the two world wars and the world should not forget this, he said.

“The army, BSF, CRPF, Coast Guard jawans all sacrifice their lives so that we can sleep peacefully. They don’t complain but our soldiers will not forgive us if we keep sleeping even when the time demands us to be vigilant. So, we should stay vigilant and awake,” advised Modi.

“The Army draws its strength from the support of the people. No technology or arms can beat the power of motivation,” he said.

Modi also compared Parrikar to the army, saying that the two don’t talk but just show valour.

shaurya smarak is a pilgrimage for us and the coming generations, Modi said.

Modi also talked about the disputed One Rank One Pension and accused previous governments of only making empty promises on OROP. But when we came to power, we fulfilled our promise and implemented it, he said. However, he added that since the economic burden is too huge to be implemented in one go, the scheme will be implemented in a phased manner.

He also said that the government has opened training institutes to promote skill development and employment for ex-servicemen for the first time.

Madhya Pradesh: Security heightened ahead of PM Modi’s Bhopal visit on Friday

Madhya Pradesh: Security heightened ahead of PM Modi’s Bhopal visit on Friday

Updated: Oct 14, 2016 09:35 IST

#Bhopal #Madhya Pradesh #NewsTracker #PM Modi

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Bhopal: Security has been ramped up in the state capital in view of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s visit to Madhya Pradesh on Friday.

Modi is scheduled to arrive at the airport around 4 pm and thereafter will head to address an ex-servicemen (Sainik) Sammelan at Lal Parade Ground, an official of the Public Relation Department said.

He will meet the Jain saint Acharya Vidhyasagarji Maharaj at a Jain temple.

Later, the Prime Minister will inaugurate the Shourya Smarak built at Arera Hills spread over an area of 12.67 acre land and constructed with a cost of Rs 41 crore.

PM Modi. PTIPM Modi. PTI

PM Modi. PTI

He will remain in Bhopal for nearly three hours before leaving for his onward destination, the official said.

Bhopal Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Raman Singh Sikarwar said 5,000 policemen have been deployed at the airport, route and the venue of the three events.

He said police were keeping an eye at public places like stations, bus stands, hotels and hostels.

Sikarwar said vehicles entering into the district are being searched, while security drills are also being carried out.

Welcome to India, world’s fastest growing economy where 39% children are stunted

Prime minister Narendra Modi took a jibe at India’s perennially hostile neighbour Pakistan at his Kozhikode speech, just a few days ahead of the ‘surgical attacks’ conducted by army’s special forces at LoC. The Prime Minister said India is ready for a war with Pakistan, but a war on poverty, unemployment and malnutrition. Modi’s ‘war cry’ resonated well even in the Pakistani media. It seems we, Indians, are indeed at war with Pakistan on poverty and malnutrition.

As this Mint report notes, among Asian countries India and Pakistan are at the bottom of the rankings in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) report released by US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

AFPAFP

AFP

In the 2016 rankings of 118 countries, India is at 97th position and Pakistan at 107. All other Asian neighbours of India are doing relatively better — China (29), Nepal (72), Myanmar (75), Sri Lanka (84) and Bangladesh (90), the report showed, adding India’s GHI score of 28.5 is worse than the developing country average score of 21.3.

Brazil and Argentina have a GHI score of less than 5 and are ranked the best among developing nations, while countries like Chad and Central African Republic come at the bottom with a score of 44.3 and 46.1, respectively, the report says.

GHI is a multidimensional statistical tool used to describe the state of countries’ hunger situation. Updated once a year, it gauges the progress and failures in the global fight against hunger.

Take a look at the specifics. The IFPRI thinks we have a “serious” hunger problem with 15.2 percent of Indians undernourished and 38.7 percent of children under the age of five stunted on account of malnutrition.

One can always argue on the efficacy of such surveys in portraying the accurate picture with a decent amount of skepticism. But, facts are facts and the more you ignore it, a bigger joke you make out of yourself. The hunger index numbers indeed throw some serious questions on the course of ongoing government programmes to alleviate poverty and malnutrition in the country, and whether we have prioritised this problem the way it should be.

For a layman on the street, a logical question arises. With one in every 15 Indians facing near starvation and close to 40 percent below-5 children stunted for want of minimum nutritious food, what sort of China-beating economic growth and India’s emergence into world central stage are our politicians boasting of?

Yes, India has been struggling to cut down poverty. The level of poverty and malnutrition have come down over the past decade, but somewhere we are missing the sense of urgency when it comes to address the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

The IFPRI report isn’t a one-off.

Going by a United Nations annual report for 2014-15 released last year, India has the world’s highest number of hungry people in the world. Ironically, we have beaten China here too. India has 194.6 million hungry people compared with 133.8 million in China, of the total of 795 million people in the world. In other words, one-fourth of the world’s hungry population is in India. What does being the citizens of the world’s fastest growing economy mean to them?

Jobless economic growth

When we talk about poverty and malnutrition, it is necessary to look at what education and job market are doing to elevate India’s poor from the deadly grips of poverty. Since independence, India has progressed remarkably on giving basic education to the children. Though the quality of higher education offered in our universities is still a matter of debate, India continues to be one of the biggest exporter of human talent across sectors to the developed world.

That takes us to the next problem — joblessness in our country and why we continue to see a period of high growth but less number of jobs being generated (mechanisation and efficiency cannot be the sole excuses). The problem for the poor is lack of employment opportunities.

For a larger section of people at the bottom of pyramid, a 7.6 percent GDP growth is a mere number on the morning newspapers considering lack of employment opportunities. Even if one looks at the job data, the picture is disappointing. There has been no corresponding increase in the number of jobs in the economy to align with what the headline GDP numbers indicate.

Let’s revisit briefly a recent Firstpost article, which highlighted the unemployment problem in the country.

According to the Labour Bureau data, the country’s unemployment rate has shot up to a 5-year high of 5 percent in 2015-16. This figure is significantly higher, at 8.7 percent, for women as compared to 4.3 percent for men. About 77 percent of Indian households do not have regular wage/salaried person.
India’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in 2013-14, 4.7 percent in 2012-13, 3.8 percent in 2011-12 and 9.3 percent in 2009-10. There was no report from Labour Bureau in 2014-15. And the situation is not looking better going ahead.

A World Bank research has showed that automation threatens 69 percent of the jobs in India. With the use of more technology, the pattern of traditional economic path in developing countries could be fundamentally disrupted, the report noted.

That’s not all.

Asia-Pacific Human Development Report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) this year gives a strong warning on the level of unemployment in the country. According to the report between 1991 and 2013 India could provide employment only to less than half of the new entrants into the job market.

“The the size of the working-age population increased by 300 million (during the period), while the number of employed people increased by only 140 million — the economy absorbed less than half the new entrants into the labour market. A wider gap in India than China suggests a more limited capacity to generate employment — a serious challenge given the continued expansion of the workforce in India over the next 35 years,” the report said.

The bottomline is this: It’s perhaps time our politicians stopped weighing India’s economic growth only in GDP percentage figures and go for a broader set of parameters that reflect the actual growth of the economy/ real situation on the ground — something which depicts the level of poverty, unemployment and malnutrition rate, not just a measure crunching the domestic produce numbers.

Dussehra greetings: Narendra Modi, Pranab Mukherjee and Rahul Gandhi wish the nation

President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday greeted the nation on the eve of Dussehra and urged “to follow the path of moral and ethical rectitude”.

“Greetings and best wishes to my fellow countrymen in India and abroad on the joyous occasion of Dussehra,” Mukherjee said in a series of tweets.

“May this festival inspire us to emulate the righteousness of the Maryada Purush (Lord Rama) and loyalty of Bharath and Lakshmana (younger brothers of Lord Rama),” he said.

He also wished that may this festival inspire us to emulate the virtues of Sita and the valour as well as humility of Hanuman.

“Let each one of us resolve to follow the path of moral and ethical rectitude which has guided us for centuries,” Mukherjee said.

The President also stressed that may the celebrations bind the communities and regions of India in a true sense of brotherhood and the celebrations motivate us to make renewed efforts for the unity and progress of our country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted the nation on Vijaya Dashmi.

“Vijaya Dashmi greetings to you all,” Modi said in a tweet.

Dussehra is a Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. People burn huge effigies of Ravana across the country on Vijaya Dashmi. According to mythology, Lord Rama killed Ravana, the king of Lanka on this day.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday greeted the nation on the eve of Vijaya Dashmi.

“Warm greetings to every one on the eve of Vijaya Dashmi,” Gandhi said in a tweet.

Narendra Modi’s strategic restraint on Pakistan conceals his ambition to stay in power as long as possible

A lot has been said about how prime minister Narendra Modi’s speech in Kozhikode, a “master–stroke in strategic restraint,” has marked a “decisive turning point” in India-Pakistan relations following the recent terror attack on the Indian army in Uri.

But is this the only way to deconstruct the unchracteristically non-belligerent statement? Especially when they have come from a prime minister who has, over the years, crafted an image of himself as the ‘iron man’; a leader who has less faith in strategic restraint and more in delivering a ‘befitting’ reply to the ‘enemy’ across the border. It may be argued that to understand this policy about-turn we have to revisit the histories of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Prime Minister himself.

In his previous incarnation as Gujarat chief minister and a prominent leader of the hawkish BJP, Modi, time and again, attacked the then-ruling Congress dispensation for cowering before Pakistan. Recall, for example, how this party – he BJP – had turned the heat on former Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the aftermath of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. One of the slurs then repeatedly hurled at the Congress by BJP was that it was presiding over a “soft state” which recoiled from attacking an aggressive neighbour.

Now that it is ruling the country however, the BJP has started speaking a language similar to that of the Congress back then. Moreover, in its efforts to push the ruling party into a corner, the Congress is sounding more hawkish by the day. Political imaginations, it would appear, are not very fertile in the country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFPPrime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

It’s important to take note of the background against which Modi delivered his head-turning speech. At a time when large sections of the media as well as many major and minor players within the government and party are exhorting the government to unleash a retaliatory war against Pakistan, the prime minister has struck a different note. Modi has stressed that India’s strategic goal is to free the country from poverty and make it prosperous. In other words, war is clearly not on the government’s agenda. At least for the time being.

Now, like in 2011, it is the media which is playing the role of war-monger-in-chief. Day after day and night after night, journalists and political commentators tore into the Manmohan Singh government after 26/11 for not launching an eye for an eye style strike against Pakistan. That the government now, as then, has turned a deaf ear to incessant newsroom war drums is no doubt a welcome and positive sign.

It may however be interesting to probe the reasons that have contributed to the political and strategic continuity of shunning war, regardless of how sharp the provocation may be. While the commentariat in general has attributed Modi’s transformed language on Pakistan to a new strategic manoeuvre on his part. The real motivating spirit guiding the Prime Minister’s change of stance, in this view, is his ambition to continue in power for at least another term. And in this matter, the current PM is only human.

Like prime ministers before and after him, Modi is not impervious to the seductive pull of power. Prime ministers of all stripes have been known to travel extraordinary lengths to hold on to their high office. In their endeavour to do so, they play footsie with their beliefs and commitments. Ideologies are not abandoned for all times to come. They are just juggled with to suit a larger game plan of holding on to power.

Behind the high-sounding phrases explaining the prime minister’s speech in terms of a new found strategic restraint and the masterstroke he played at Kozhikode, lies a simpler and more basic explanation: the ambition to remain in the prime ministerial seat for as long as possible. War pales in significance when compared to the lure of leading the country for ten – maybe fifteen – years.
These differing compulsions of power goad political parties and leaders to change their minds – not some epiphanic revelation of strategic truth, or some philosophical claim to a higher form of politics. This is the basic reason why opposition leaders change colours and stances once they cross the aisle. There are no masterstrokes here – just plain and routine move of expediency that high profile leaders resort to when confronted with the dilemma of choosing political ideology over the ideology of power.

Does Narendra Modi want to keep India Congress-mukt till 2040?

How long does Narendra Modi think BJP will rule the country? “2040,” he said, in his interview with Arnab Goswami of Times Now and it could be read as plain humour or far-fetched hypotheticals to make a point. However, Modi’s words, tone and tenor didn’t particularly indicate that he was joking.

Answering a question on how the Congress was behaving, causing a non-stop logjam in Rajya Sabha were substantially higher than the BJP, he was in full bloom with all the seriousness that he is usually known for. First, Modi sought to differentiate between the Congress and rest of the Opposition and then drive home at a different point. “There are some parties in the Parliament which are not with the BJP or NDA, but are with the government on key decisions. So, to defame the Opposition by saying that all opposition parties are against us — when some people do this, it is wrong. There is one party which has problems. And the whole world knows that party.”

Second, he termed Congress’ argument against BJP: ‘when you (BJP) were in Opposition, you did it this way’, as fallacious. The Congress has run the government for 60 years and now they are in the Opposition, so they know the nitty-gritties of the government. They ought to know their responsibilities. They can’t behave in the way, a new Opposition party behaves. A party which hasn’t been in power or hasn’t seen anything, could behave in this way. For example, we are in power now, and consider in 2040 we become the Opposition party. So, in 2040 we can’t have the same conduct as the one we had in 2009 or 2010.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFPPrime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

In 2009-10 BJP acted as an irresponsible opposition, charging Congress led UPA government at everything, opposing just for the sake of opposing. Modi is talking about the future scenario when BJP could be in opposition in 2040, another 24 years from now. A die hard optimist like him could think just as the Congress has a virtually uninterrupted reign (barring 1977-79) in post-independence era for five decades, he too can have a go for another four-five terms. Modi is currently 65 and by 2040, he would be 89, a fair-bit older than the age at which Manmohan Singh demitted office in 2014.

There are two ways to look at the mention of 2040 for BJP to be mature in opposition – first as Modi’s humorous side; second, his internal belief that he as the first prime minister with an absolute majority in last 30 years, he should be there for another 30 years. No wonder why Modi’s confidante and BJP president Amit Shah is focusing in party’s expansion in coastal region states and eastern India.

And, even if it is just humour, it is interesting, Modi came across as someone human — someone who could crack a joke and laugh at it — this was one of the most talked about features of the episode. “I have a humourous side but these days humour can be a risky thing. In this era of 24×7 news channels, anybody can lift a small word and make a big issue out of it. But I will tell you the truth, the reason for the absence of humour in public life is this fear. I am myself scared. Earlier when I used to make speeches, I would make it so humorous but there would never be any issues,” he said.

To a query about whether the prime minister has become self-aware, he said: “I am not conscious. I am in fear, there is no humour left in public life because of this fear. Everyone is scared. I see it in Parliament, that humour is finished there too. It is a matter of concern. Even if you quote a proverb, they will connect it with something else and begin a conversation. The one who is saying the proverb does not know for what he is speaking.”

Modi took the 85-minute interview as a platform to explain as to why he toured abroad in the first two years in office: “The world didn’t know me. The world wants to know who the head of the state is. If someone would want to know Modi through the eyes of the media, then he would get confused as to what Modi stands for, which one is real Modi. If this were to happen, the country will be at a loss. Modi’s personality shouldn’t be a hindrance for the world to have faith in India. But for that unless I meet all those leaders and engage them, one to one, unless I speak to them frankly, they wouldn’t know about india’s head of state, so it was very important for me as I am not from a political family. I never had the opportunity to meet the world leaders earlier…More than foreign policy it was foreign relations. Yes, I was new to it. So for me, it was necessary to be pro active,” he said.

To constant criticism that India’s foreign policy was being built around his persona, by his whims and being guided by his emerging personal relations with world leaders, Modi described at length that it was not him alone but his team at work in the government, “We work as a team. Foreign ministry, Prime Minister’s Office, commerce ministry, finance ministry, defence minister, everyone works as a team, not as separate pieces. The impact that is now visible, is not just because of Modi, it is because of the team. All teams work in a particular direction. That is why the impact is seen, earlier these teams were splintered. We have seen instances (UPA) where the party would give a statement, the prime minister would say something else, party leaders would say something else. This disunity has had a negative impact,” he said.

Declare Kalpana Chawla’s birthday as Daughters’ Day, activists urge PM Modi

New Delhi: Urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare 1 July as Daughters’ Day in memory of astronaut Kalpana Chawla, the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) has launched a campaign #shakti4beti.

Kalpana, who had an illustrious career as an astronaut in the US, died along with six crew members of the Space Shuttle Columbia which disintegrated over Texas during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, just 16 minutes before landing. Her birth anniversary falls on 1 July. Even after her tragic death, Kalpana continues to be a shining example and icon for many girls around the world.

PRCI — the pan-India premier body of PR, Media, Advertising, HR professionals and mass communication academicians — embarked on a social media campaign to focus on communicating on the importance of girl security, culminating with Daughter’s Day events on the next Friday, 1 July.

Kalpana Chawla. ReutersKalpana Chawla. Reuters

Kalpana Chawla. Reuters

PRCI has petitioned the Prime Minister and tweeted to the Human Resource Development, Defence and Railway ministers urging for their help and support for #shakti4beti and declaring 1 July as Daughters’ Day.

Explaining the significance of the theme, BN Kumar, national president of PRCI, said: “Beti Suraksha (girls’ security) falls in line with the Union government’s campaign Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. We as communication professionals firmly believe that it is absolutely important to communicate to the society at large on the issue that bothers all — the security of the girl child”.

“The memory of Kalpana Chawla, whose glory grew sky high, remains as an inspiration and we as communicators are keen to ensure that the GenX remembers with a sense of pride,” said MB Jayaram, chairman emeritus and chief mentor of PRCI. “We at PRCI observe 1 July as Daughters’ Day each year and now we have urged the Prime Minister to declare it as a National Daughters’ Day,” he added.

PRCI has also launched a Twitter and Facebook campaign to focus on communication about girl safety and security, and proposed to schools and colleges to initiate self defence programmes for girls.

“We are happy that KJ Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research (SIMSR) at Somaiya Vidyavihar, Mumbai, has agreed to actively participate in the campaign. Students will be mobilised to communicate on the issue. A Navi Mumbai-based developer, Prajapati Constructions, has also given its consent to launch the drive at a school in Uran, near Mumbai,” said Kumar.

PRCI chapters across the country have also planned campaigns. The Bengaluru chapter planned a Beti Padhao programme.

Subramanian Swamy has to get past Jaitley to hurt Arvind, Shaktikanta Das

There is an old story.

Once, the house got filled with rats. Too many of them. Someone advised the family to get a cat to kill the rodents. After all, who knows the job better than a cat? The cat was brought in and it did the work meticulously. Within a few days, all the rats are gone but then a bigger problem arose. With no rats left to hunt, our fighter tomcat turned restless. It claimed the first right over food items in the kitchen and, when denied, focused on destroying the utensils in the house one by one, causing the family to lose its sleep. Finally, the family decided to drive the cat away, but it wouldn’t go no matter what they did. The cat, thus, became a permanent pain in their lives.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. PTI.BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. PTI.

Subramanian Swamy speaking in a Parliament session. PTI

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP leadership, who launched maverick leader, Subrmanian Swamy to Parliament to spearhead the attack on the Gandhis and gain a psychological advantage over other ‘obstructionist’ opposition leaders, the 76-year-old pro-Hindutva leader, today, is lot like the cat in the old story.

Swamy has now fulfilled his original mandate (causing a flutter in the house by attacking Sonia, Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald, Agusta scams) but is now largely jobless. But, he can’t sit idle and hence, has begun causing troubles to the same family which hosted it, giving them sleepless nights.

After the successful ‘Operation R3’, launched to ensure Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan wouldn’t get a second term, Swamy has now trained his guns at Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian and economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das. This is totally unlike the Rajan episode, where Swamy had the silent support of senior BJP leadership who too were upset with Rajan overstepping his mandate and speaking on political issues. Hence, Swamy was given a silent go-ahead. But, that’s not the case with Arvind Subramanian and Shaktikanta Das, who are trusted sentinels of finance minister Arun Jaitley and friendly figures to the Raisina Hill.

One could deduce a clear pattern here. Swamy is attacking the finance ministry (the CEA and the Economic affairs secretary) with a two-pronged strategy. One, to destabilise the finance ministry headed by his nemesis Jaitley and claim the right for what is long denied to him despite his credentials after he joined the party in August 2013 – the finance minister berth. Swamy feels his potential has not been recognised by the BJP.

Second, consolidate his position in the BJP leadership by questioning and exposing the mistakes of Jaitley (who appointed officials with a ‘tainted’ past). While Swamy’s Rajan move was timed to the expiry of his term at RBI, the attacks on CEA and Das are timed seeing the impending cabinet reshuffle in mind.

But, Swamy has totally missed the plot here. Both Das and Subramanian have kept a relative low profile and have never overstepped their mandate. Both have full backing of Jaitley, evident from his comments shortly after Swamy’s twin-attacks. Jaitley has expressed “full confidence” in Subramanian and said “his advice has been of great value”. In the case of Das, Jaitley has tweeted that “it is an unfair and false attack on a disciplined civil servant”.

But, by confronting Jaitley, Swamy is probably beginning a fight he cannot finish. To begin with, Swamy do not have a strong case against CEA and Das unlike Rajan, who irked the BJP leader ship with his ‘One-eyed King’ remark and refusing to toe the government line on GDP growth. This could very well end up as the Waterloo for Swamy.

The charges raised by Swamy against Subramanian — acting against India’s interests siding US and encouraging the Congress party to be ‘rigid’ on GST—do not hold much water as Firstpost explained in an earlier article. In the case of Das, too, Swamy hasn’t offered any strong evidence to prove that Das facilitated P Chidambaram’s land deal in Mahabalipuram. The barrage of attacks made on the BJP government’s top officials when PM Modi is away and crucial UP election is due next year, wouldn’t be taken in good humor by the BJP top brass and not even by the Swamy’s supporters in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who appeared to side Swamy in the Rajan case.

In the latest episodes, they would ultimately stand by Jaitley, who weighs much more than Swamy in the larger political canvas. Swamy has made the scene even worse on Thursday by openly refusing to acknowledge Jaitley’s displeasure on his attacks on the CEA and Economic affairs secretary.

“Jaitleyji, kya bole kya nahi bole iss se mujhe kya lena Dena. Will talk to the party president and PM when required, right now it’s not needed as I’ve said what I had to say,” Swamy said when reporters cited Jaitley’s remarks on the CEA issue to him.

The short point here is this. Swamy’s attacks on finance ministry have a vivid pattern that is ultimately aimed at FM Jaitley. Swamy is chewing more than what he could bite since PM Modi is not someone who would tolerate dissents within his party like former PM Manmohan Singh.

Especially, when the BJP has already entered its crucial third year and the whole events can potentially upset the BJP’s focus on the larger agenda of pushing the reforms process, mainly cornering the opposition to give in on Goods and Services Tax (GST), and preparing ground for 2017 UP polls and 2019 general elections.

Ironically, at this stage when the BJP has barely caught a breath from an array of controversies haunted it in the past (JNU, Rohit Vemula and intolerance episode) and the Congress-led opposition is at its weakest point post the recent Rajya Sabha polls, Swamy is filling the void with his repeated self-goals.

Both PM Modi and RSS are unlikely to tolerate the Swamy Raj this time.

Remove fear of harassment among taxpayers, PM tells officials

New Delhi – Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thrusday asked the tax officials to remove fear of harassment from the minds of taxpayers and focus on five pillars of administration — revenue, accountability, probity, information and digitisation (RAPID).

Prime minister Narendra Modi. PTIPrime minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Inaugurating the two-day Rajasva Gyan Sangam here, Prime Minister asked the officials to “move towards digitisation” in a bid to make tax administration better and efficient and work towards bridging the “trust deficit”.

Modi also suggested that officials should endeavour to remove “fear of harassment” from the minds of assesses and emphasised that their behaviour should be “soft and sober”, Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha said while briefing reporters about the meeting.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and senior tax administrators of Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) are participating in the two-day annual conference.

Prime Minister also underlined the need for increasing the number of tax payers to 10 crore from 5.43 crore, at present.

India-US relationship has overcome hesitations of history: PM Modi in US Congress

Washington: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Congress Wednesday that his nation and the US have overcome “the hesitations of history” and called for ever-stronger economic and defense ties between the two countries.

“Let us work together to convert shared ideals into practical cooperation,” Modi said in a speech that lauded both nations’ common democratic principles and hailed two heroes of nonviolence, India’s Mahatma Gandhi and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“In advancing this relationship, both nations stand to gain in great measure,” he said.

Modi’s address followed years of being shunned in the US because of religious violence in his home state. Underscoring the turnabout, it came a day after a White House meeting with President Barack Obama and preceded a lunch Modi will have in the Capitol with congressional leaders and a reception hosted by the House and Senate foreign affairs committees.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. APPrime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

“Today, our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history,” he said. “Comfort, candour and convergence define our conversations.”

Modi drew laughter from the lawmakers crowding the House chamber for the joint meeting of Congress with a tongue-in-cheek description of the rough and tumble politics of the US.

“I am informed that the working of the US Congress is harmonious. I am also told that you are well-known for your bipartisanship,” he said. “Well, you are not alone.”

When Modi evoked US-India cooperation on climate change, Democrats rose in applause, but most Republicans stayed seated.

He also emphasised the common cultural ties between the two nations.

Modi cited estimates that “more Americans bend for yoga than to throw a curve ball.” And he described the achievements of Indian-Americans, saying they are among the US’ best business executives, scientists, “even spelling bee champions.”

When Modi applauded the sacrifices of soldiers from “the land of the free and the home of the brave” in the service of liberty, he clapped his hands above his head, prompting a standing ovation.

Modi said his nation’s 1.25 billion people made India an “ideal partner” for US businesses. He said his goals include strengthening his country’s rural economy, bringing electricity to all of the country’s households and improving transportation systems, all achieved “with a light carbon footprint.”

Citing the rising threat from the Islamic State and other extremist groups, he said, “We have both lost civilians and soldiers in combatting it. The need of the hour is for us to deepen our security cooperation.”

At his meeting with Obama, the two leaders consolidated strong bilateral ties but fell short of major outcomes.

India, the world’s third-largest carbon emitter among nations, said it would strive to formally join a global climate deal this year — as the US and China have said they will do — but it gave no ironclad commitment.

There was also some progress on a landmark civilian nuclear agreement between the US and India that was reached in 2008. The two governments said that U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Co is preparing to build six nuclear reactors in India, but it has yet to finalise a contract.

Though the two countries’ ties are growing stronger, there’s also a sense in Congress that the relationship has yet to deliver on its promise and some lawmakers have criticised the Modi government’s record on religious tolerance and combating human trafficking and slavery.

Modi is the fifth Indian leader to make a speech to Congress since 1985. The last was by his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, in 2005.

Coincidentally, it was that year that Modi was denied a visa to visit the U.S. over suspicions about his possible role in religious riots that killed more than 1,000 Muslims in the western state of Gujarat, where he was then the top official.

American officials largely avoided contact with Modi until he became prime minister in the 2014. Since then, he has visited the US four times.

His tenure has seen an improvement in the bilateral relationship, particularly in defense. While India resists the notion of becoming a US ally, the two militaries conduct more drills with each other than with any other nation. They share concern over China’s rise and over freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific region.

Modi is also seen as a pro-business leader. There’s been some easing of foreign investment restrictions, and trade has grown at a fair clip in recent years, but lawmakers have complained about continuing bureaucratic hurdles and investment limits and over the halting pace of liberalisation in India.

From an outcast to close friend: Why Narendra Modi’s 4th visit to US has much significance

In 2005, one issue that kept Indian and foreign media occupied for long was the United States denying Visa to the then Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. The US embassy denied a diplomatic Visa under the 214 (b) of Immigration and Nationality Act citing Modi wasn’t coming there for a purpose that qualifies for a diplomatic visa. Modi was also denied a tourist-cum-business visa under Section under the 212 (a)(2)(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that makes any foreign government official who was responsible or “directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religions freedom” ineligible for the visa.

Without saying so in as many words, the US was holding Modi responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots that claimed over 2000 lives. The wounds of the massacre were still afresh.

Nine years later, when Modi rose to the national scene and became the Prime Minister post the 2014 general elections, the question yet again returned to everyone’s minds. Will the former Gujarat chief minister, now the PM, be given a Visa to world’s biggest economy? After two years of the NDA-Government’s rule, Modi has today begun a five-nation tour that would include his fourth trip to the US and seventh meeting President Barack Obama since he became the PM. What is even more notable is that Modi is visiting US, this time, as Obama’s closest international partners. Indeed a sweet revenge for Modi for the insult he had to receive from the same nation a decade back.

US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. APUS President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

To be sure, even now, there isn’t unanimity in the US for Modi’s policies on religious, communal tolerance and human rights. There are voices against Modi, including that of prominent US Senator, Ben Cardin, who is also on Senat’s foreign relations committee. Cardin has attacked Modi ahead of the latter’s US visit saying India still needs to address issues of extra judicial killings, human rights, religious intolerance, forced labor and human trafficking. These issues will be possibly taken up with Modi during the visit.

Cardin’s comments must be seen in the context of a US Commission on International Religious Freedom report accusing India with charges of rising occurrences of religious violence and a deterioration of religious freedoms in 2015. India is facing the threat of being portrayed as a hostile society on matters of religion and social conduct internationally.

Also, one should note that the US’s new-found love to Modi is also because he is the PM of India—an emerging democratic and economic power—that can no longer be ignored by the developed world as the global power shifts from the West to East. Having India on its side is both politically and economically crucial for US. Although not a formal ally yet, the US needs to have the backing of India to check the rising influence of China in the region besides to fight militancy in the middle-east. Modi’s growing acceptance in the US should be seen in this context not the Modi-Barack camaraderie. Personal relationships between leaders wouldn’t certainly be a deciding factor for foreign policy success, particularly given that Obama is on his way out. But, the broader signals for India are good.

There are multiple issues one should watch out for clues from Modi’s five-nation tour, mainly from the US. These include the bilateral military co-operations, progress on the 2005 civil nuclear agreement that hasn’t translated into material benefit for India yet, India’s prospects to join the nuclear supplier group–vital to the country’s interests and meaningful progress in the joint efforts to hunt down black money holders. It is unlikely that this visit, per say, will yield any major breakthrough in any of these matters, since diplomatic progress happens through continuous negotiations rather than through high-profile meetings. Till now, there aren’t any sign that India has accomplished major progress on most of the reached to the final lap on any of these issues. If this theory proves wrong, that will be big diplomatic victory for Modi. But big fireworks are unlikely.

Selling brand India

Undoubtedly, Modi has been the biggest brand ambassador of India in the recent times. It isn’t easy to recall any PM who has hard-sold the India story to foreigners as Modi did. The PM manages to pull large, loyal crowds, who chant his name in the Madison squares or Wembleys with the same ease he does it in a political rally at Varanasi or Kanpur, where he lists his achievements and promises even greater results in the following days.

This time, as Modi boards his plane on the five-nation tour, he is reenergized with the commendable victory of his party in Assam and progress in other states, where the assembly polls were held last month. The 7.9 percent GDP growth would be surely highlighted so is the reform-progress his government achieved so far—most notably the subsidy reforms and bankruptcy code passage. There will be more promises on the ease of doing business and claims on why India is a good investment-destination.

But, Modi’s claims will be countered with questions on how effectively the 7.9 per cent growth has percolated down to the grassroots in a country, which is still tagged as lower-middle income economy by the World Bank and where the unemployment is still major challenge. Going by the Labour Bureau data, the employment growth plunged to a six-year low in 2015 across the eight key labour-intensive industries and only 0.1 million jobs were created last year, compared with the 0.4 million jobs created in 2014 and even worse than the 0.3 million figure in 2012.It would be a mistake to boast the 7.9 per cent growth.

As Cardin’s speech signals, there is a sense internationally about the widening religious, social divides in world’s largest democracy, especially since Modi has taken over. Modi’s challenge is to convince the world that India has a firm intent to reinstate the sense of social security in the society, continue with the economic reforms process and that the country has the ability to play a bigger role in the civil nuclear space.

Modi government weakened fight against terrorism: Congress

New Delhi: Notwithstanding the denial by the NIA chief that he made any statement giving a clean chit to Pakistan on the Pathankot airbase attack, the Congress on Friday accused the government of deliberating weakening the war against terrorism by such remarks.

The opposition party also accused National Investigating Agency (NIA) chief Sharad Kumar of making a “preposterous statement” vis-a-vis Pakistan.

“The latest government statement giving a clean chit to Pakistan establishment, its Inter-Services Intelligence and military for the Pathankot terror attack has deliberately weakened the fight against terror that India has waged both nationally and internationally for many decades now,” said Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.

NIA investigators. AFPNIA investigators. AFP

NIA investigators. AFP

According to a TV channel, Sharad Kumar gave a clean chit to the Pakistan government but later denied making any such statement.

The Ministry of External Affairs on Friday asserted that the “involvement of Pakistan’s nationals in the Pathankot air base attack is an accepted fact”.

The government said “enough information” on the involvement of Pakistanis has been provided to Islamabad.

“Pakistan has sponsored terrorism and terror activities against India for decades now. This is a fact that is well known in the international community and various governments, including the previous one led by the Congress, have placed plausible evidence on record, shared with Pakistan and at various international fora multiple times,” said Surjewala.

The Congress leader said: “Post 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, the international pressure put (on Pakistan) at India’s instance now stands weakened by the successive statements made by the Modi Government and BJP – first Modi ji went on an impromptu visit to Pakistan to attend the birthday and marriage celebrations (in Nawaz Sharif’s family) — and the net consequence was the loss of seven lives of our army jawans and attack on the Pathankot airbase.”

“Modi ji then committed a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) of Pakistanis led by the infamous ISI to visit India, including the airbase. Despite caution from the Congress and other opposition parties as also security experts from time to time, the same JIT went back to Pakistan and instead of punishing the JeM accused India and the Indian government,” Surjewala said.

“Having not learnt its lessons, now NIA chief Sharad Kumar has made a preposterous statement and claim that the Pakistan government or military establishment or ISI was not responsible in any way or involved with Jaish-e-Mohammad or Maulana Masood Azhar in the Pathankot terror attack,” he added.

A Thank You letter from a crony-capitalist to PM Narendra Modi on Raghuram Rajan

Dearest Modiji,

At the outset, let me thank your esteemed colleague in the BJP, Subramanian Swamy, for his brave fight against the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

Thanks to you too for, in a way, letting Swamy loose to unleash such a historic tirade against Rajan. It has more credibility since Swamy is now a senior member in the party, a lawmaker and an influential voice in the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS).

Your silence on Swamy’s attacks on Rajan embolden me and my fellow cronies. It reinforces our faith in the system that not every day will be the same in the rest of our lives. We are fed up with constant threat calls from bankers to impose undesirable and unjust actions on us.

There is no justification in forcing us to repay money to banks (what is that word called? Oh, wilful defaulter), asking us to use the funds drawn for the intended purpose (for what? Ye koi tarika hota hai kya?), threaten us not to amass personal wealth, divert bank money abroad and, force our banker friends not to masquerade NPAs (non-performing assets) as standard loans.

Isn’t this aggression of the highest order on the nation’s wealth creators in a free-market economy? But, unfortunately, that’s how our life has been for a while.

I, however, have such faith in the establishment that once Rajan is out (who wants a Chicago school economist anyway. We have so many of them here), normalcy will be reinstated in our lives.

Frankly, Modiji, ever since Rajan took over as the RBI governor on that fateful day of 4 September, 2013 and especially for the last 2-3 months, I have never slept on my bed at my home in the serenity of Bharat. And guess why I amm haunted for defaulting a few thousand crores to some public sector banks! Phew.. Everyone does that!

I have been floating ever since at one of the swimming pools in my summer homes in UK or in one of my yachts ‘somewhere in the Mediterranean’ (only my captain knows the location, Yeah!!!) because anytime the banker or a investigating official can knock on my door asking me to pay back the money I owe them.

I can’t blame them though.

They narrate, with a heavy heart, that they have been given a deadline of March, 2017 by this Rajan to clean up the bank balance sheets (disclose the NPAs). These guys are unnecessarily panicking and asking me to pay back. Never have I done that in my life, mind you.

But I’m not afraid anymore. I have such immense confidence in our political system. I can’t express my joy seeing Swamy’s daily tirade against that ‘not mentally fully Indian’ guy.

I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with Swamyji. I don’t think he is even half-Indian. I have never seen Rajan wearing a North Indian kurta or South Indian lungi. He always in a western suit. Why? There is something seriously wrong with Rajan. I strongly suspect he is a double agent for ISI and CIA. Look at the way he utters all sorts of unnecessary words such as ‘intolerance’, ‘autonomy’, ‘one-eyed King’ and ‘Make for India’. Who does he thinks he is by the way? Well, if he predicted 2008 global financial crisis, even I did. Just that no one was around.

And what is this “I’m Rajan. I do what I do”. Is he Rajnikant of the Indian economy or what? Enough of this Bu***hit Modiji. I’m running out of patience.

Who will tell him to limit his gyan on what he is getting his salary for—‘macroeconomic stability’, ‘monetary policy dynamics’, ‘yield curves’ and ‘asset-liability mismatch’. There are the things he could talk on (I can get back on him after a short read. Bloody economics).

Swamy is again right when he accuses Rajan of leaking sensitive information through the use of unauthorized email ids. I strongly suspect, Modiji, that Rajan has already leaked last week’s sector-wise credit growth data to someone in the US treasury. Mind you, this data is not public yet. As for the allegation on deliberately destroying the economic growth and jobs, Swamy is again spot on.

In a country with Hong Kong-like infrastructure, with abundant supply of power and water, so much of foreign investments (Oh, God), and easy environmental clearance, high interest rate is the only thing that stands between us and economic growth.

Had Rajan cut interest rates by 300 basis points immediately in his first week in office, India would have attained minimum 10% GDP growth and millions of jobs (and mind you, this is a conservative estimate). One could always argue that inflation would have crossed GDP growth then. But, that’s only a lame excuse. Why shouldn’t someone mistrust an economist like Swamy?

Modiji, you have rightly observed that Rajan’s reappointment is not of media’s interest and is an administrative issue. I agree. In fact, nothing that impacts us crony capitalists should be of media’s interest. What you think is the reason for me closing down my airline, my resignation from companies which were my family jewels and my current plight—just imagine. I am forced to write to you even this letter from ‘somewhere in the Mediterranean’. This has never happened since Independence.

I urge you to continue to let our ‘Swamy and friends’ unleash their tirade against Rajan. I amm sure, after a point, Rajan would decide himself not to continue here, even if you approach him with the request.

I see  signs of that’s already happening. Already some are accusing us of supporting the ouster of Rajan. They have got it correct. Once Rajan is out and someone more acceptable to you and me and, more importantly ‘ek dam fully Indian’, comes to the post of RBI governor, at that point, I promise, I will come back.

With love and respects,

(From somewhere in the Mediterranean)

Crony-capitalist.

Chabahar port: Here’s why Modi govt deserves credit for signing the deal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Iran tour is turning out to be a historic one as he is expected to sign a contract to develop first phase of strategic Chabahar port.

PM Narendra Modi meets Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran. Twitter @MEAIndiaPM Narendra Modi meets Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran. Twitter @MEAIndia

PM Narendra Modi meets Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran. Twitter @MEAIndia

“We should perceive the agreement as an engine of growth, and I believe it is the beginning of a new era in the Indo-Iran relationship, which was started by Vajpayeeji and Modiji is opening the gate for it,” Minister for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari was quoted as saying in a report in ANI.

Here’s an all you need to know about the deal:

What is the deal all about?

Indian Ports Global Pvt, a joint venture between the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and the Kandla Port Trust, will sign a contract with Arya Bandar Company of Iran for developing two terminals and five multi-cargo berth in Phase-1 of the Chabahar port project.

Indian investment in phase-1 will be in excess of USD 200 million, including USD 150 million line of credit from Exim Bank, an agreement for which would also be signed during the visit.

An MoU to develop the port was signed in May 2015 between Gadkari and Iran’s Minister for Transport and Urban Development Dr Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi. Modi is now signing the contract to develop the port.

Why is the agreement important?

Chabahar is in South-East Iran and a port here will help India skip Pakistan and open up a route to land-locked Afghanistan with which New Delhi has developed close security ties and economic interests.

From Chabahar port, the existing Iranian road network can link up to Zaranj in Afghanistan, about 883 km from the port. The Zaranj-Delaram road constructed by India in 2009 can give access to Afghanistan’s Garland highway, setting up road access to four major cities — Afghanistan-Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

The port will be used to ship crude oil and urea, saving India transportation costs. India intends to lease two berths at Chabahar for 10 years. The port will be developed through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) which will invest $85.21 million to convert the berths into a container terminal and a multi-purpose cargo terminal.

Complementing the agreement is the signing of a trilateral agreement on transport and transit corridor among India, Afghanistan and Iran.

Sources told PTI that talks will feature Indian state-run firms securing rights to develop the offshore Farzad-B gas field, which was discovered by ONGC Videsh. The trilateral agreement is seen to significantly enhance prospects of Indias connectivity with Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond such as the North-South corridor.

What experts are saying?

C Raja Mohan says in an article in The Indian Express that the Chabahar project “has the potential to alter the hostile regional geography that Delhi had inherited in 1947”. According to him, the move deserves credit as it is a break from the past governments’ lack of political will “to pursue declared strategic objectives towards Iran.”

The UPA government had dilly-dallied with the idea for about 10 years as the the US wanted India and other countries to not “rush” into doing business with Iran as Washington was in the process of working out a deal with Tehran on the latter’s contentious nuclear programme.

“The Chabahar Port will be a game changer for India because it will provide connectivity to Afghanistan, Iran and Eurasia, strategically outflanking an intransigent Islamabad. It is also a counter to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),” says this report in The Hindustan Times.

PM travels abroad, but should spend a day each in drought-hit regions: Shiv Sena

New Delhi: Shiv Sena member Sanjay Raut on Wednesday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to spend a day each in drought-hit Bundelkhand and Marathwada so that his government can take steps to solve the problems faced by the affected people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

He also asked how can one expect thirsty and hungry people to raise ‘Bharat Mata ki jai‘ slogans.

“Our respected Prime Minister travels within the country and abroad. But I request him to go to Bundelkhand and Marathwada for a day each. I am sure he will go and after seeing the conditions of people he will take steps to alleviate the problems,” Raut, whose party Shiv Sena is  NDA constituent, said in Rajya Sabha.

In a hard-hitting speech during a discussion on drought, he said people hit by drought, even though they have ‘Bharat Mata’ in their hearts, have empty stomachs and are thirsty.

“I don’t want to link it with religion, but to hunger. Those who are famished and have become paupers, how do you expect ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ (slogans) from them, we will have to think,” Raut said.

Referring to the slogan of “Congress-mukt Bharat” given by the Prime Minister, he said “first we have to create a drought free and poverty free India. When the country becomes drought free, it automatically will become Congress free.”

“We believe that Pakistan is our greatest enemy,” but hunger and poverty are even greater enemies, he said. “We have talks with Pakistan, they can be held. But the poor, who are leaving there homes, discussions should be held with them also,” the Shiv Sena member added.

Referring to a statement by a bank official that farmers cannot live by farming alone and there is a need for them to have other sources of income, he said when even MGNREGA was not being implemented properly, such people were talking of additional income sources for the poor.

“(Vijay) Mallya escaped after taking away Rs 850 crore of State Bank and you can do nothing, but a farmer who owes a few thousands, you take action against him,” Raut said, adding that people in Maharashtra were living in grave difficulty.

“We talk of ‘achche din‘ but the responsibility of providing water to people is also ours,” he said.
Raut said the problem of drought was not of one state but of several states and added that over 200 districts were affected and many people cannot even get rice or pulses to eat.

They only care about their children: PM Modi takes a dig at the Congress in Assam

Campaigning for the BJP in Assam, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a rally in Roha on Friday, just ahead of the second and final phase of elections to be held on Monday.

Speaking at the rally, he said, “They (Congress) don’t care about your children’s future or Assam’s future, they only care about settling their children and how they can cater to their families. Those who live for their families cannot live for the country.” The Congress has had a strong presence in Assam since independence except for two assembly elections in 1985 and 1996, when the Asom Gana Parishad formed the government. 

He also took a dig at AAP government, stating that if they could not save Delhi, they will not be able to save Assam either.

PM’s Saudi visit: Modi must resist overplaying India’s hand on the Islamic State front

Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s tour to Belgium, US and Saudi Arabia comes days after the deadly bombings in Brussels, one theme of his visit is terrorism and currently its most virulent purveyor, the Islamic State (IS).

Brussels has emerged as a hotbed of IS in Europe, Washington leads the global war on the IS and Saudi Arabia very often finds itself in cross hairs of debate on terrorism.

A file photo of Narendra Modi. Getty imagesA file photo of Narendra Modi. Getty images

A file photo of Narendra Modi. Getty images

As such, the danger posed by the IS and the strategy to combat it will dominate the discussions that Modi will have in the capitals across three continents. India’s own experience, as a victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and its vulnerability to the danger posed by the IS will be on top of Modi’s mind during the visit.

Modi will be tempted to share India’s experience in Brussels and in Washington. International community would like to hear from Modi how India has largely managed to insulate its Muslim youths from the IS propaganda and recruitment.

Modi must share India’s experience but given his proclivity to take centre stage, he must avoid the temptation of committing more than India can afford. He may be tempted to occupy front seat in the war on terror, particularly against the IS, than desired.

Pro active role in war on terrorism

India has been under pressure from the US and global community to play a pro-active role in the war on terror in the Middle East hot-spots such as Iraq and Syria. Fortunately India has resisted that temptation despite being one of the worst victims of terrorism in the world.

Currently, there are two narratives at work in New Delhi on the role of India. First, there are those who think that India is uniquely poised to assume a pro-active role in the war on terror dominate the Modi dispensation.

They would like Modi to assertively convey to the world that India as a victim of terrorism must do more in the war against the IS. This narrative also fits in with India’s status as an emerging power and its aspiration to take a seat at the United Nations Security Council.

Secondly, there are those who believe that the current policy of focusing on management of internal dynamics and Pakistan-centric terrorism best serves the country’s interests. They feel India must avoid the temptation to jump into the minefield of global war on the IS that can put the country at the centre of volatile international Muslim politics.

This line of thinking suggests that India has managed the interests of its Muslim population better than Europeans and other nations with substantial minority population. India is too bogged down in dealing with terror problems emanating from the sources in the subcontinent to look outside.

Europe is paying the price for its pro-active role while mismanaging its internal contradictions arising out of alienation of Muslim youths. Europe’s failure to integrate its Muslim population is coming home to roost even as the European powers are bombing the IS in Iraq and Syria. India must avoid taking the European route.

India has been lucky that less than two dozen Indian Muslim youths have so far joined the IS against almost 400 from Belgium and over 1,500 from France. However, India can’t afford to overlook the IS threat.

The IS has been losing ground in Syria and Iraq. It has been ousted from Palmyra in Syria. Now the battle against IS headquarters in Raqqa is on the cards. In Iraq, the terror group is losing the battle in Mosul.

However, its loss in Syria and Iraq is forcing the IS to fan out in other countries and vulnerable areas. Europe is already feeling the heat from the IS fighters fleeing from Syria and Iraq.

The IS will be looking to spread its tentacles to the subcontinent with renewed vigour. It has got a foothold in Afghanistan. It will be looking to enter into partnerships with the Pakistan-based terror outfits such as Lashkar e Taiba and Jaish e Mohammad to target India.

Strategic partnership

When Modi holds talks with the King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud in Riyadh, the entire of gamut of developments in the Middle East and the subcontinent will come up for discussion. Saudi Arabia is at a crossroad today. It’s under pressure on economic, internal as well external fronts. It’s coping with a deficit budget after then crash in oil prices. With Iran entering the oil market, the Saudis will be looking to protect their share of export to India.

India and Saudi Arabia will also be looking to enhance strategic partnership based on 2010 Riyadh Declaration to next level. Much groundwork was done during the Saudi foreign minister Adel al Jubeir’s visit to New Delhi.

The enhanced strategic relationship will cover cooperation on terrorism, maritime security, Saudi-Iran spat and stability in the Middle East. Modi will also have frank discussions with the Saudi leaders on Pakistan. Given its influence over Islamabad, Saudi Arabia has a vital role to play. But as Al Jubeir said in New Delhi the kingdom’s relations with India and Pakistan are independent of each other. There is not much room for manoeuvre for India.

Saudi Arabia’s cooperation and sharing of intelligence can be of immense help to India in tackling threats from the IS too. But Modi must resist overplaying India’s hand on the IS front.

The man who ran the Parliament with a smile: PA Sangma passes away at 68

Purno Agitok Sangma, former Lok Sabha speaker and Meghalaya chief minister between 1988 and 1990 passed away on Friday after suffering a heart attack.

Lok Sabha was adjourned after paying tribute to the 68-year-old Sangma.

Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan said that she had learnt a lot from PA Sangma

Sangma was the co-founder of the Nationalist Congress Party and represented the Tura constitutency in the West Garo Hills in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly.

Born on 1 September, 1947, Sangma had worked as a lecturer, lawyer and journalist before joining politics.

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan announced the news of his death in the House, which was adjourned for the day.

PA Sangma. PTIPA Sangma. PTI

PA Sangma. PTI

While expressing deep grief over Sangma’s passing away, Mahajan said he knew how to run the House with a smile and “I learnt this from him.”

“A man of masses, Sangma strove relentlessly for the amelioration of the marginalised sections,” the Speaker said.

Condoling the death of Sangma, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “a self-made leader whose contribution towards the development of the North East is monumental.

Saddened by his demise.”

Sangma’s tenure as Lok Sabha Speaker “is unforgettable. His down-to-earth personality and affable nature endeared him to many,” he said, adding “Sangmaji was deeply influenced by Netaji Bose.”

Sangma was a nine-time member of Lok Sabha and the Speaker in the 11th Lok Sabha. He had also held important portfolios in the central government.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi also condoled Sangma’s death. He said that Sangma was a “self-made leader” and his contributing to the Northeast was monumental.

Rajnath Singh also tweeted:

Sagarika Ghose had written fondly about the Lok Sabha speaker in an article published in Outlook around two decades ago:

“Not just smiled, he grinned; in fact, he even chuckled. He rose lightly to his feet. “Come on, yaar,” he expostulated, the voice as musical as the guitars of Shillong. “Please, please, come on, come on.” The House giggled. “Can’t you see the chair is on its legs?” he enquired of a riotous member from across the Vindhyas. “Why are you worried?” he soothed a woman MP from the East. “Don’t worry.” Over a sea of bitter dispute, the Speaker’s face floated like the Cheshire Cat’s. Good humour poured down from the high chair onto the quarrelling benches. For a few moments hostilities were suspended as the guardian of the House unleashed a witticism. Purno Agitok Sangma had rescued the parliamentary spirit with a few good jokes.”

According to his profile page on the Lok Sabha website, Sangma had a keen sense of understanding of the political realities of the Northeast — especially of his home state, Meghalaya. In 1988, he was elected the chief minister of Meghalaya and headed a 48-member coalition government in a tumultuous period in the state’s political history.

In 1990, following the resignation of his government, Sangma became the Leader of the Opposition in the state legislative Assembly.

#KejriwalInsultsHanuman: Delhi CM lands in trouble after tweeting controversial toon

Everyone loves to hate Kejriwal! The Delhi CM tweeted a cartoon depicting how politicians deflect issues. The cartoon, originally published in The Hindu, by cartoonist Surendra has a flying man who looks like he’s set something ablaze with his tail with a speech bubble saying” Done Sir. All attention is on JNU” to Narendra Modi, who’s shown standing on the Make In India stage that caught fire.

While Kejriwal might have unintentionally re-tweeted this, twitterati got their pants in a knot. Their point of contention was this flying man bearing similarities to Lord Hanuman. Right-wing supporters took severe offence for insulting the bachelor god and even started the hashtag #KejriwalInsultsHanuman, said a report in India Today 

Here’s what Kejriwal tweeted –

And here’s how Twitterati reacted – 

Someone from Hyderabad had enough time to file a complaint against Kejriwal, because #cartoonsareseriousbusiness 

Global economic conditions favourable, but Centre unable to get act together: Manmohan Singh

New Delhi: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh has criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the centre for its economic policies, saying it has not been able to benefit from falling oil prices and “fortuitous circumstances” to boost the rate of investment in the country.

“The economy is not in as good a shape as it could be, despite the fact that the situation today is much more favourable than it was when we, the Congress-led UPA, were in government,” Manmohan Singh said in an interview to the weekly India Today.

This was his first wide-ranging interview since he demitted office after the Congress-led government he presided over for 10 years was voted out of power in 2014 general elections.

He told the magazine that the shrinking of the economy was worrying him as “the government is not able to get its act together to persuade the business community to take advantage”.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh. AFPFormer prime minister Manmohan Singh. AFP

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh. AFP

Manmohan Singh said oil prices had at the time (when the Congress was on power) gone up to $150 a barrel. “Today, they are close to $30 a barrel. This has significantly helped India’s balance of payments, the current account deficit has come down.”

It has also helped the government reduce its fiscal deficit, he said. “In the hands of a purposeful government, this could be an opportunity to step up investment in the economy in a big way.”

The former prime minister pointed out that the rate of investment in India now was “as low as 32 percent” – down three percent from 35 when the Congress was at the peak of its power.

“Yes, it did come down in the last two years of our government but as I said, we had the disadvantage of a sharp hike in oil prices which is not there today.”

He said in all this, India was “obviously missing an opportunity” because the country was a net importer of commodities and needed to benefit from low commodity prices.

“It helps the balance of payments. It helps the control of inflation as well as the fiscal deficit.” Manmohan Singh, who faced criticism over his purported silence when his ministers were accused of widespread graft during his rule, said the incumbent government was facing a “crisis of confidence”.

“People don’t believe the government. When they go and call on the ministers, they say the right things, but when they come out, all of them say that nothing much has changed.”

He said that it also happened because of a “growing view” that the BJP has not delivered “in areas in which it had made huge promises”.

“The PM (Modi) talks about ‘vikas’ but in the growth rate, there is no significant difference from when we left power. In our last year, the growth rate was 6.9 percent while the latest figures today show that it is hovering around 7-7.2 per cent.”

“So, despite the significant improvement in the balance of payments, the economy is not moving forward which was the aspiration and for which the government had made promises,” the former prime minister said.

IANS

Farmers allege they were asked to cut crops for PM’s event on new crop insurance scheme

Sehore, Madhya Pradesh: Farmers in Sherpur village here have alleged that they have been asked to cut their standing crops prematurely to make way for people to reach the venue where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to be felicitated for his new crop insurance scheme on 18 February.

However, the BJP has denied the allegation. “An official yesterday asked me to chop down my green blade and this will inflict lakhs of rupees loss to me,” farmer Suresh Parmar (45) of Sherpur village alleged while talking to PTI today.

Representational image. Image courtesy: ReutersRepresentational image. Image courtesy: Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“I am going to be left in penury,” he rued. Parmar’s brothers Dashrath Parmar and Rajesh Parmar said that the family owns more than five acres of agriculture land on which they had sown wheat. “We have laboured hard and were waiting to reap the crop, but the authorities have asked us to chop it off when it is not yet ripe,” they alleged.

Denying the allegations of the farmers, BJP vice president Vinay Sahastrabuddhe today said, “Nobody’s crop has been damaged”. He was asked to comment on the government officials’ alleged diktat to some farmers to slaughter their green blade. Madhya Pradesh Farmers Welfare Minister Gourishanker Bisen had told reporters yesterday that no farmer has been asked to chop off his crop.

Modi’s felicitation is scheduled in Sehore, the home district of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, on 18 February.

PTI

The birthday letter Narendra Modi didn’t write to Raghuram Rajan

Dearest Raghu, Heartiest wishes on your 53rd birthday!

You are, in my view, one of the two good things that have happened to the Indian economy after I took over as Prime Minister on May 26, 2014 (the other is oil).

Narendra-Modi-Raghuram-Rajan_PTI_380Narendra-Modi-Raghuram-Rajan_PTI_380My government and I are personally thankful to you and your team at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for the relentless efforts in steering our economy from the days of significant instability in 2013 (crashing rupee, fading investor confidence, cross-border capital exodus) to a much ‘higher, stabler footing than other nations’ today as my cabinet colleague, Arun Jaitley pointed out the other day.

Without doubt, I can say that a good part of the credit for restoring the investor confidence in the Indian economy goes to you. The quick, successive measures the RBI adopted since 2013 to check capital outflows and thus arrest the volatility of the rupee, have been of immense support to my government to get back economic stability in the country. The rupee has recovered from its all-time low of 68.85 on 28 August 2013 to 58.46 on 22 May 2014, although the currency is facing some pressure of late.

In my view, one of your important achievements as the RBI governor was showing the courage to set out on a long-drawn battle to control inflation even at the cost of risking growth by keeping interest rates steady for a prolonged period before you began the rate easing cycle.

During your tenure, for the first time, the RBI shifted focus to a retail-inflation-focused monetary policy approach. As I remember, until then, the wholesale price inflation (WPI) was the primary price indicator the RBI used for policy formulation. I’m excited to note that the consumer price index inflation (CPI) has eased substantially since then from 9.84 percent (old series) in September, 2013 (when you assumed charge as RBI governor) to 5.61 percent in last December.

Similarly, the WPI too has been in negative zone for 14 consecutive months. For sure, checking the high food inflation (which was last logged at 6.40 percent) continues to be a concern to the RBI and my government. But, I’m sure that with your support and policy guidance, my government is confident to arrest the spike in food prices with a combination of due supply-side measures and monetary policy adjustments.

My government has always strived to restore the investor confidence in the economy lost during the UPA years ever since I took over. But, I must confess that I haven’t had much luck to date. It was, and still is, a major task to me to convince international investors that things have indeed changed for good in India and the country is the best available investment option for them in today’s world. You would remember that during my recent visit to the UK, I highlighted this aspect.

“At this point of time, it is wiser to be in India,” I told a group of industrialists at Guildhall, offering them my personal care in making their dreams a reality.

Many described me as a seasoned salesman for hard-selling the India story to the world by making several foreign trips. But, Raghu, as you would understand, these trips have helped us to change India’s image in the outside world (yes, it has). I knew all those time that we have one of the most stable financial systems and conducive macro-economic conditions in the developing world to build a growth story and I gratefully remembered you and your team at the RBI for carefully calibrating the policy steps to create such an environment.

Dear Raghu, do know that my government has tried our best to bring in the ‘achhe din’ to the economy that I promised during the election days. I’m proud to look back and tell you with confidence that my government has indeed achieved several progressive reforms steps on financial inclusion-front — Jan Dhan Yojana, making the process of doing business easier, rationalising subsidies, encouraging foreign investment through relaxation in foreign direct investment rules and encouraging domestic entrepreneurship with my flagship schemes like ‘Start-Up India, Stand-Up India’.

But, as you know, creating this high growth environment through big-bang reforms is still a work in progress. On crucial reforms such as the passage of GST, my government hasn’t been able to do much even after 20-months of this government’s rule, I must confess.

As you know, a warring opposition is the curse of any proactive, pro-growth, pro-business government. As I myself have pointed out in the past, the Congress party’s obstructionist attitude has been disappointing to me especially given that my government needs their support in the Upper House, where our numbers are painfully low. I wish things will change in the next few years and we will have sufficient numbers to get the crucial reforms done, even without the support of Congress-party.

Raghu, I am also aware that we had difference of opinion on many critical issues, including on some of the initiatives launched by my government in the last one-and-half years. You have commented, cautioned, warned and criticised some of our policies in public forums, in turn, feeding the controversy-hungry media to celebrate the headlines for days on end. I remember you warning  me about the rocket-speed pace of implementation of Jan Dhan Yojana, raising doubts about the direction of Make In India , the need for tolerance  in the country and when you cautioned my government recently on fiscal deficit driven growth.

I fully understand and appreciate the constructive criticism from one of the brightest minds in the world economic landscape though some of my colleagues in the government seem to have developed uneasiness about your comments on growth and interest rates and in the running of fiscal policy . But, I have least doubts about and clearly sense your good intentions for the larger good of our economy and its long-term stability and growth.

Dearest Raghu, let me once again wish you, as the Prime Minister of this great country and in my personal capacity, on your birthday. Your vast experience in the areas of academics, economics and central banking have contributed immensely to our economy and I would go one step further to wish that one day you will join my government at some point to set right some of the crucial areas we are still struggling to deal with. It will be a great honor for me and my government to have you in my cabinet, in the larger good of our country.

Wish you many many more happy birthdays.

With best regards,
Narendra Modi

PM Modi declassifies 100 files relating to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday made public digital copies of 100 secret files relating to Subhash Chandra Bose on his 119th birth anniversary, which could throw some light on the controversy over his death.

The files were declassified and put on digital display at the National Archives of India (NAI) here by the Prime Minister, who pressed a button in the presence of Bose family members and Union Ministers Mahesh Sharma and Babul Supriyo.

PM Modi said process of declassification of Netaji files will begin on 23 January. AFPPM Modi said process of declassification of Netaji files will begin on 23 January. AFP

PM Modi said process of declassification of Netaji files will begin on 23 January. AFP

Later, Modi and his ministerial colleagues went around glancing at the declassified files, spending over half an hour at the National Archives. He also spoke to the members of the Bose family.

The NAI also plans to release digital copies of 25 declassified files on Bose in the public domain every month.

In October last year, the Prime Minister had met the family members of Netaji and announced that the government would declassify the files relating to the leader whose disappearance 70 years ago remains a mystery.

While two commissions of inquiry had concluded that Netaji had died in a plane crash in Taipei on 18 August, 1945, a third probe panel, headed by Justice M K Mukherjee, had contested it and suggested that Bose was alive after that. The controversy had also split members of the Bose family too.

The first lot of 33 files were declassified by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and handed over to the NAI on 4 December, last year.

Subsequently, the Ministries of Home Affairs and External Affairs too initiated the process of declassification of files relating to Bose in their respective collection which were then transferred over to the NAI, it added.

In his reaction to the declassification, Chandra Kumar Bose, spokesperson of the Bose family and grand-nephew of Subhash Chandra Bose who was present at the ceremony, said “we welcome this step by Prime Minister wholeheartedly. This is a day of transparency in India.”

Earlier in day, he told PTI, “We feel that certain very important files were destroyed during the Congress regime in order to hide the truth. We have documentary evidence to understand this. So we feel that the Indian government should take steps to ensure the release of files lying in Russia, Germany, UK, USA.”

Chandra Bose also said “We couldn’t go through all the files as of now. But as of now, what we could go through, there are only circumstantial evidence of the air-crash but no conclusive evidence of the air crash.”

“Even in one of the letters that we saw here which was written by Lal Bahadur Shastri to Suresh Bose that there is no conclusive evidence about the air crash, only few circumstantial evidence,” he told PTI after the files were declassified.

Chandra Bose said “there is a change in the attitude of the government from that of the previous ones.

Firstly, the attitude of suppressing the facts about Netaji has been negated. And this is the biggest thing in unraveling the truth about Netaji.”

Netaji’s nephew Ardhendu Bose, who was also at the ceremony here, said “the Bose family and the entire country has been waiting for this moment for the last seven decades nearly. We feel that these files would be able to throw some light on it.”

He also stressed that the files lying in KGB archives in Russia and those with Germany, UK and USA “will bring out more that what lies in those files. As we apprehend that certain files might have been destroyed.”

Just ahead of the declassification ceremony, an aged family member broke down in the presence of the Prime Minister.

An official said the National Archives placed 100 files relating to Bose in public domain “after preliminary conservation treatment and digitization”.

The digital copies of these files coming out in public domain meets a “long-standing public demand” which
would facilitate scholars to carry out further research on Bose, the official said.

Besides the controversy over whether Subhash Bose died in the 1945 air crash or not, those who believe he was alive after that have different theories about what happened to the leader.

While one of the theories says Bose fled to the former Soviet Union to continue to fight for India’s independence but was later killed there, the other says that Netaji returned to

India as an ascetic, named ‘Gumnami Baba, and continued to live in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad till 1985.

PTI