video went viral on social media featuring him making derogatory remarks against Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath

video went viral on social media featuring him making derogatory remarks against Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath

Jabalpur : The headmaster of a government school in Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur was suspended on Thursday after a video went viral on social media featuring him making derogatory remarks against Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath.
Jabalpur District Collector Chhavi Bharadwaj suspended Mukesh Tiwari, the headmaster of Kanishta Buniyadi Middle School after few Congress workers complained about the incident.
In the video, Tiwari can be seen calling Kamal Nath as ‘Daku’ (decoit).
The Congress workers had reportedly asked the Bharadwaj to take strict actions against Tiwari.


2019 will belong to farmers

2019 will belong to farmers

Even as this column is being read, most of you have already started preparing for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. We all wish to welcome the ensuing year with a great hope and expectations. Like last year and the year before and many many years before, we celebrate the arrival of the new year with great enthusiasm. This is because as it is said, ‘the hope is eternal!’ We do have pain and distress every year in one form or the other. However, life moves on because all of us and all philosophies in the world do believe in ‘better tomorrow’. That’s the only ray of hope that keeps us alive and moving. We bear the pain, sorry and distress today only because there is a ray of hope for tomorrow. On the same lines, people in most parts of the world are readying themselves to sing and dance to fare good-bye to the setting 2018 and welcoming the emerging 2019.

In Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and many other metropolis of India, special arrangements are being made to facilitate the citizens to gather together and welcome 2019. In Maharashtra particularly, the state government has promptly bowed to the demand of Shiv Sena Youth Leader Aditya Thackeray to allow restaurants, pubs and bar to remain open all night. It means the celebrations will continue unabated tonight without the fear of police interference. This is a welcome change in the mind-set of the government. So far, these facilities were withdrawn after stipulated time of 10 pm. However, this restriction never prevented the bars and pubs to run their business overnight. The main shutters were seen to be down but inside the business ran as usual. This had only paved way for illegal and unauthorised business that often invited troubles. Let’s hope, this year the entire civil society will be able to enjoy the onset of the new year without the meaningless fear of police intervention. The police force would also find this a welcome change as they would also be able to enjoy instead of keeping the vigil on the ‘law-breaker’ without a meaningful purpose.

Election fever

The year 2019 is important and significant for the nation also as this year will witness the test for the new mandate for political bosses of the nation. In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snatched the power from the Congress that was reduced to less than the number required to be considered as the official ‘Opposition Party’. In other words, there was no opposition party in Lok Sabha after the 2014 elections. The mandate granted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, expires in 2019 and thus the nation will face fresh elections at union and state levels this year.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge in the last five years and going by the observations of various political pundits and opinion polls, the war of 2019 would not be as easy for the BJP as the party spokespersons speak. The party has already lost three major states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the recent assembly elections that preceded its defeat in a few important states like Punjab and Karnataka. This is only an indication that the charisma of Modi that the nation witnessed in 2014, hardly exists now. On the other hand, the new Congress President Rahul Gandhi has come out of his derogatory and insulting image of being ‘Pappu’ to an able ‘Young Leader’. He has been able to establish himself as a ‘Rallying Point’ for the opposition unity – Mahagathbandhan.

Now that the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner, both sides have begun to chalk out and execute their strategies to woo the electorates singularly and collectively. The new ‘pro-people’ policies of the government have started coming in, while the opposition parties have started looking for the obvious and strategic loopholes in that. Realising that the religious issues, like Ram Mandir at Ayodhya or Gow Raksha have failed to mobilise the mass opinion, the BJP and its right-wing allies are concentrating on addressing the farmers’ issues. The recent assembly election results proved that the agrarian problems matter and farmers have the capacity to turn the tables. As a result, within days after wresting power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the new incumbents there promptly announced mass-scale agro-loan waivers putting intolerable fiscal burden on the state exchequers.

In the chain and obvious reaction, the BJP-led state governments are also forced to toe the line and address farmers’ issues actively. The government is reported to be studying a couple of options to address the distress. One proposal under consideration is an upfront income support which will be disbursed straight to a farmer’s bank account ahead of sowing. This model was pioneered by Telangana government as an investment support which comes with no conditions attached. The farmer is free to make the choice on what to grow based on price and other signals. This option has two distinct advantages. One, it does not introduce distortions in the agricultural market. Two, it’s easy to implement.

Niti Aayog’s proposal

A few other options are also under consideration such as Niti Aayog’s proposal to provide price support in the event of a glut. Experience suggests that it is best avoiding complicated schemes on account of limited state capacity in execution. A scheme which rests on the bureaucracy having to work out price differences is almost sure to run into implementation problems. One of the causes for the agrarian crisis is not the lack of effort but the choice of tools which overestimate state capacity and funnel support through India’s infamous bureaucracy. This has led to a complex web of cross-subsidies that trigger large-scale distortions and consequent distress. While there’s no denying that farmers deserve a more sophisticated level of government intervention which provides support without inducing distortions or anti-competitive mechanisms, the most durable solution is an economic environment which absorbs surplus agricultural labour into labour intensive manufacturing.

In all, it looks like ‘2019 will belong to farmers’ for obvious political reasons. Hopefully, the peasants and agro-workers would be benefitted for long term due to the various schemes those would be offered in a platter for the ‘sons of the soil’.

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).


Triple Talaq prey to vote bank politics

Triple Talaq prey to vote bank politics

With general elections in the country just months away, practically every move of principal political parties is motivated by vote bank politics. Whatever their pretensions, the Congress, the DMK, the AIADMK,  Samajwadi Party, the Trinamool Congress,  among others, are wary of risking the loss of Muslim votes and would rather reject a social welfare measure that would provide succour to oppressed Muslim women but would anger the men in their community. The BJP too, having realised that it could carve out a vote bank among Muslim women, is cultivating them assiduously, being conscious that the party is anathema to Muslim men.

The triple talaq bill which had even earlier been passed in the Lok Sabha has been passed again in an amended form amid heated protests from the opposition including a walkout. This is in anticipation of the ordinance promulgated by it on the issue lapsing. The opposition led by the Congress, on the other hand, is on the time-honoured path of appeasing the Muslim men who call the shots even if this alienates a section of Muslim women. The result is a dingdong battle in which the bill faces an uphill task in the Rajya Sabha in which the UPA and its fellow travellers are on the opposite side of BJP’s fence with the latter being short of numbers to pass it.The Congress and its allies are resisting any attempt to divide the votes polarising men and women on an adversarial plank.Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who brought forth the amended bill meeting some of the objections to the earlier bill is adamant that violators would be imprisoned if found guilty. This is as it should be otherwise there would be no real deterrent against the pernicious practice of triple talaq.

For the detractors, seeking to refer the bill to a joint select committee of parliament and opposing any punishment for the violators are ways to delay and if possible scuttle the bill. The Congress and its allies also argue that with the Supreme Court having passed an order in favour of abolishing triple talaq, there is no need for a separate law. And so the jockeying continues, marking a new high in expediency and a new low in the level of politics being played in parliament. All said and done, the whole controversy has taken a political turn and gender justice which had earlier been cited as the cause for the new legislation has been relegated to the background even as political jockeying becomes paramount. Considering that as many as 22 Islamic countries have enacted laws to outlaw triple talaq it is time that the social reform be brought about in the interests of gender justice.

It would indeed be in the fitness of things if the Rajya Sabha too passes this reform without delay and the tendency to view everything through vote bank tinted glasses be eschewed. Is that too much to expect from our elected representatives? In August last, the government had brought amendments to the bill after conceding some of the opposition’s demands to prevent misuse of the proposed law. That these were considered inadequate by the opposition is hardly surprising because it was manifest that there was no sincere intent on the opposition’s part to allow the bill through. It had cleared provisions that complaints in cases of triple talaq could only be filed by the victim (wife) or her blood relatives and that a magistrate could grant bail with certain terms and conditions. It has also been provided in the amended bill that the case could be withdrawn if the man and his estranged wife reached a compromise. Evidently, the Modi government is keen to encash the benefit of Muslim women’s favourable response in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. The Congress, on the other hand, along with other opposition parties wants to ward off any ill effect of the new proposed law until after the poll. The key would lie in the current parliament session. The government could also invoke the option of a joint session of parliament to get through with the legislation. This is indeed a time to watch.

written by FPJ Bureau 

Recapitalise banks and unchain them

Recapitalise banks and unchain them

Not unlike the periodic debt relief to farmers, we have to come to terms with the provision of equally large sums as relief to distressed bankers, er…sorry, to banks. When bankers lend irresponsibly under pressure from the political masters without proper due diligence, the effect is the same: banks can go kaput, just as farmers face penury and worse due to a lost crop or a usurious money-lender. In neither case would the government undertake structural reforms to ensure that the problem of debt-stricken farmers and NPA-stricken banks does not recur at regular intervals. Band-aid solutions are no answer to the crisis but, unfortunately, ruling politicians of all stripes cannot bring themselves up to see beyond the next election.

Modi was one politician who did start out well as prime minister with all the right intentions to break the mould of cheap giveaways and a reckless management of the public purse. Endemic problems in the banking sector has dogged the country for decades, with the crisis acquiring a particularly sharp edge when Indira Gandhi nationalised 14 big banks in 1969 for political reasons. Space does not permit to list all the steps the Modi government has taken to reorder things in a more systematic manner with an effort to weed out wasteful subsidies and expenditures and to ensure that the targeted groups actually receive the benefits. But, alas, Modi too strayed from the path of economic prudence some weeks ago when, following the sharp rise in the global fuel prices, which mercifully are back to tolerable levels again, he cut the retail price of petrol and diesel and also obliged the oil marketing companies to bear an equal burden. It was the first big concession to populism. Since then, the floodgates seem to have opened, with the recent electoral losses in the states, and a general election looming large on the political horizon. It has instigated a wave of competitive debt write-offs for farmers. Now, any hope of the government undertaking structural reforms in the agri sector must await till after the next Lok Sabha poll, and that too only in case Modi wins another five-year term.

Meanwhile, in the banking sector the price of gross mismanagement and reckless lending, particularly between 2008- 13, is still being paid. Last week, the centre sought Parliament’s nod to infuse another Rs 42,000 crore into the public sector banks (PSB). This would take the total amount for recapitalisation of PSBs to Rs 83,000 crore. In the main, the eleven PSBs which were restrained by the central bank’s Prompt Corrective Action framework would now get the relief in order for them to be able to start lending yet again. The government is expected to ensure that the PCA–hit banks do not return to the old ways and that they follow prudent lending practices. Whether they will actually do so would depend on a number of factors, but it can be safely said that since the advent of the NDA government political pressure to direct lending by PSBs has more or less ended. It is also because the government discontinued the earlier practice of appointing political nominees on the board of PSBs who would invariably curry favour with the managements to lend to their own favourite parties.

Pressures, if any, to relax lending conditions on the eve of a parliamentary poll too ought to be resisted. Overall, the banking sector is once again ready to resume normal operations after the huge debt overhang from the 2008-13 period which had virtually emptied their treasuries. The gross non-performing assets of the banks at one time were over Rs 10 lakh crore but thanks to a recapitalisation plan these had been pared down to nearly Rs 4 lakh crore last year. Credit growth in the banking sector is now at a healthy 15 per cent, especially when extraneous factors no longer influence lending decisions. But the renewed wave of farm sector debt reliefs is bound to pressure the bottom-line of banks unless the government immediately compensates the affected banks. Recapitalisation of banks cannot be an unending exercise. For banks to be run on sound managerial lines, these need to be freed from day-to-day governmental control and assigned firm financial objectives the achievement of which must be incumbent on top professional managers. Autonomy is required to ensure that the banking sector is not forced into sickness yet again. And if farm sector write-offs cannot be avoided, at least banks should be protected against its downside.

BJP should urgently refocus its agenda

BJP should urgently refocus its agenda

Even the most ardent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporter will have to admit that the just-concluded assembly elections have yielded a disastrous return for the party. Across the spectrum, the euphoric mood among the supporters of the Congress can be well understood too. The overwhelming sense among the Congress of prevailing in a “semi-final” contest appears to have taken hold. Yet with the general election still about five months away, there is time yet for a change in fortunes. Any signs of over-confidence from the Congress or utter despondency from the BJP party at this stage would be unduly premature.

To be sure, the collective verdict from the Hindi-speaking hinterland in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan has delivered a spectacular rebuff to the BJP. Almost five years ago, it emphatically won these states, setting the scene for a landmark general election victory to follow. Putting this into numerical context, in the last assembly elections for these sates, the BJP secured 376 seats. The party’s tally has plummeted to about 197 assembly seats which is a calamitous drop.

Crucially, the party swept the last Lok Sabha elections in these states winning 62 seats out of a potential 65. In Uttar Pradesh, the other major Hindi heartland, the party won 71 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats. Given the recent Lok Sabha (LS) by-election defeat in Kairana, Uttar Pradesh and chief minister Adityanath’s lacklustre performance, replicating the 2014 result there may be a tall order.

Away from the Hindi hinterland, the BJP failed to make inroads in Telangana. That too will hurt. An important part of its ‘southern strategy’ after the Karnataka elections earlier in the year was to expand its regional influence and canvas new allies. That hasn’t translated into electoral gains. Nor has the party expanded its reach in the Northeast as the result in Mizoram shows. As the Modi government ponders over the scale of the challenge that lies ahead in 2019 for a renewed mandate to govern at the centre, the trends from these assembly elections should certainly send alarm bells ringing. These elections took place at a regional level but their impact at the national level cannot be ignored.

What should the Modi government reflect on? After such a disappointing performance, the usual noises about the need to “listen and learn” were made. But the party needs to probe deeper. Granted, anti-incumbency was an important factor that contributed to the result. Yet putting this down solely to voter fatigue with an incumbent state, BJP government would be erroneous.

The larger truth is that voters have expressed dissatisfaction at the perceived gap between the rhetoric and reality of the Modi government’s agenda. Importantly, this disaffection cut across rural and urban constituencies. The results speak to a perceived failure of governance and lack of confidence in the party’s economic prospectus.

Agrarian voters were able to vent their frustration at the BJP’s inability to stimulate sectoral growth and provide greater access to credit. Moreover, the vast gap between the government’s minimum support price to farmers for certain produce and the actual rates offered due to ‘intermediary leakage’ has hurt them considerably. Urban voters also expressed disappointment at the levels of bureaucracy they continue to face and at the slow pace of reforms. In particular, an error strewn GST implementation prompted anger. Modi’s Diwali bonanza for small and medium sized enterprises failed to change the tide.

Looking ahead, the Modi government should relentlessly focus on demonstrating its economic competence and developmental credentials. The temptation to veer into polarising socio-religious issues should be firmly resisted. Against a background of higher oil prices and rupee depreciation, the government will need to be extremely determined about its priorities to stimulate the economy. Politically, it needs to encourage lending to farmers and small enterprises and promote capital infrastructure. Yet it needs to achieve this with some fiscal restraint too.

An unhinged frenzy of public spending risks spooking international markets, creating inflationary pressures and could be counter-productive. What is therefore needed is a policy of ‘responsible populism’ to square the circle.  What might be said for the Congress party? Undoubtedly, these results will contribute to a sense of momentum with Rahul Gandhi as its leading voice. Yet it would be a mistake to attribute its success solely to his leadership.

The truth is that the Congress party’s regional gains were also due to a combination of anti-incumbency and its local leadership which had done the hard work of cultivating a grass-roots base. The challenge for the party will be to develop a coherent national manifesto for change with a credible economic vision. Merely opposing the BJP isn’t the same as framing a convincing alternative governance agenda.

Ultimately, with the general election still about five months away, much can change. The complex and unpredictable dynamic of electoral alliances need to be factored too. What is clear though is the latest assembly election results have opened the door to a dynamic general election campaign where nothing can be taken for granted.

—Rishabh Bhandari is a London-based lawyer and political commentator.

FPJ written by Rishabh Bhandari 

Rafale clean chit: Noise persists

Rafale clean chit: Noise persists

At the outset, the Supreme Court order in the Rafale case has left us a little confused. For, the reference by the apex court to the CAG report is puzzling because such a report has not been seen by anyone, not even by those who are supposed to get it as a matter of right. Again, we can straightaway dismiss the thought that the government wrongly pleaded before a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S K Kaul and Justice K M Joseph that such a report had been readied by the CAG when in reality it was not. Yet, only a clarificatory order from the apex court can end the confusion.

However, the clean chit given by the court on a PIL filed by a clutch of anti-government activists may not put a lid on the controversy. Having seized upon some half-baked information, Rahul Gandhi is unwilling to let go of the charge with the sole objective of denting Modi’s clean image. He may not succeed but his daily parroting is likely to sow doubts in the minds of the prime minister’s critics. Without for a moment questioning Modi’s intent and integrity, it needs to be said that the government has not been forthcoming in setting at rest the Rafale controversy.

The most controversial part is not that anyone in government or in the ruling party took commission like Quattorrocchi  and his Indian partners did in the Bofors and several other deals for over two decades when the Italian thug was located in New Delhi. No. The thrust of the charge centres around the selection of Anil Ambani’s company for executing the offsets contract. It is his entry into the deal which has become most contentious.

Rahul Gandhi repeatedly using the junior Ambani’s name to paint Modi corrupt ought to persuade the not-so-successful brother of Mukesh Ambani to either come forward to explain his role, or, in the larger interest of the country which has been denied the latest fighter aircrafts for nearly two decades, he should voluntarily opt out of the contract. Given that he has been obliged to shut down several businesses, it should not be difficult for him to step aside for the French manufacturers to be able to partner another Indian party for offsets.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court judgement provides relief to the Government. It can now take the battle of perception into the Congress camp. It is ironic that Rahul Gandhi should be levying charges of corruption in defence deals given that the Congress party, especially after coming back to power in 1980, had virtually institutionalised bribe-taking in defence procurement. Bofors was but only one of the several multi-crore deals in which commissions were paid to people close to the ruling politicians.

It is a matter of fact that without having any known sources of income, several generations of the Nehru-Gandhis have lived in the lap of extreme luxury. Who pays the bills of foreign travel, foreign studies, extravagant lifestyles, all-paid holidays in exotic locales, premium schools and colleges, plush private houses and farms, etc., does not call for an inquiry by a joint parliamentary committee. People know how the extended Gandhi parivar has gained enormously from its lien on power.

On the other hand, the Chowkidar whom Rahul Gandhi has the temerity to call ‘chor’ has a proven record of financial honesty. His mother, brothers, sisters and the extended Modi family live in the same lower-middle class conditions as they have all along long before Modi first became the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Generally, a one-term member of a municipal corporation wipes out his and his family’s poverty, but not Modi.

Therefore, Rahul Gandhi’s audacious bid to tar the image of Modi is bound to fail. Yes, Modi can be unilateral, can cut through the red-tape to take decisions which seem arbitrary, but he is incorruptible. If he is corrupt, we need more than Rahul Gandhi’s word to be convinced. Yes, we too find that there is something that does not meet the eye in the way the Rafale deal was signed.

Given that the process to procure the fighter jets had begun in 2003, and A. K. Antony did not have the courage and good sense to sign the deal for a decade even for a single jet, though they talked of getting 126 of them, Modi did no wrong in getting 36 in a fighting-fit condition. The choice of the offset partner was ill-considered. And if Anil Ambani opts out he can effectively silence the noise over Rafale even after the apex court clean chit.

Editorial FPJ

Rafale verdict a big vindication for Narendra Modi

Rafale verdict a big vindication for Narendra Modi

The verdict of the Supreme Court dismissing all petitions seeking a detailed probe into the multi-billion dollar Rafale fighter jet deal and its complete endorsement of the decision-making process followed by the government is a major shot in the arm for the Narendra Modi government. The categorical manner with which the demand for a court-monitored probe has been turned down is doubtlessly a huge embarrassment for the Congress party in particular which had notched up impressive victories in the recent elections in three BJP-ruled states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh — with Rafale as their main campaign plank. Considering that Congress president Rahul Gandhi, in particular, had repeatedly called the prime minister a ‘chor’ (thief) during the campaign, there is reason enough for the BJP to demand an apology from him personally and from the Congress as it has done. It goes without saying that Rahul’s grave charge against the country’s prime minister displayed how irresponsible and condemnable utterances had vitiated the atmosphere and lowered the level of discourse at the highest levels in the country.

There is such crass sycophancy and subservience in the grand old party that every act of indiscretion and regrettable behaviour is passed over and even applauded by partymen. Rahul is virtually unlettered in politics and such blatantly irresponsible talk would only get worse unless he is reined in, which in current conditions seems unthinkable. Parroting the leader’s line, Congressmen are already contending that the apex court judgement is no setback for Modi and the BJP. They will intensify their campaign for a joint parliamentary committee to be appointed to go into, among other things, the so-called corruption in the Rafale deal in support of which they have not been able to produce even a shred of evidence. For people who talk of Modi’s assault on institutions to cock a snook at the highest court in the country is the highest form of assault on an institution. Loose talk on the pretext of democracy cannot go to a point where the judiciary is mocked at and its sanctity trampled underfoot. That other Modi-baiters like West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee are joining the Congress chorus is doubly unfortunate.

The Supreme Court bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, said in the unanimous verdict in the context of Rafale that the need for acquiring aircraft and the quality of Rafale aircraft were indisputable. “We don’t find substantial matter to interfere with the issue of procurement, pricing and offset partner in the jet deal,” said the Supreme Court order. This is as clear an enunciation of and endorsement of the government’s dealings in the matter as can be. The petitions had alleged irregularities in the NDA government’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from French company Dassault Aviation which the court has clearly rejected. On the issue of offset partner, the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, said there was no substantial evidence of commercial favouritism to any private entity. That should put to rest speculation that there was favouritism shown to Anil Ambani by Modi. It is widely accepted that there was ‘policy paralysis’ during the erstwhile UPA regime and some vital defence deals were put on the back-burner by then defence minister A K Antony. Undeniably, the country’s defence preparedness suffered during that time. The apex court was evidently alluding to this when it said that the country could ill afford to be under-prepared. The reference was to the Indian Air Force being short on the number of aircraft it must have. Its assertion that perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a roving inquiry by the court was well-meaning and the apex court bench made it clear that it had “no objection to any part of the deal.”With the court having delivered a clear verdict absolving the Modi government of blame, the Opposition that swears by protecting vital institutions must gracefully accept the verdict and not go on the path of agitating for the appointment of a joint parliamentary committee to probe Rafale. The credibility of the Congress and other like-minded parties is at stake. They must wait for another issue to put the Modi government on the mat and move on.


RBI: In and out in a snap

RBI: In and out in a snap

The suddenness of the resignation of Urjit Patel as RBI Governor was matched by the government when without lingering for a moment it filled the vacant post. It can be praised for this, though it ought to have avoided the circumstances which force Patel’s exit. Shaktikanta Das, a key Finance Ministry secretary when demonetisation was sprung on the nation, has obviously been picked up to man the sensitive charge in the hope that he would carry to Mint Street his low-key, order-taking bureaucratic persona. Experience, however, belies that hope. Before Das, several IAS officers have become RBI governors, but all ceased to be pliant on stepping into Mint Street.

D Subba Rao, who was P Chidambram’s Finance Secretary, before being made the RBI head had a running battle with his former boss over repo rate and other things. He refused to buckle under pressure. So much so, Rao recorded in his book how Chidambaram angrily snubbed him at a dinner when the two were in Washington for the annual IMF-World Bank meeting. This is not to suggest that Das would be, or should be, confrontational vis-à-vis the government, but merely to put in perspective the vastly different nature of the responsibilities of the RBI Governor as against those of the ruling politicians who always have one eye fixed on the popular pulse. In the immediate, of course, some easing of liquidity, funds for the micro, small and medium entrepreneurs, and even a small cut in the basic lending rate can be expected. The government wants these ahead of the parliamentary poll early next year. The share markets gave Das a huge thumbs-up on Wednesday believing he would do the needful. We will keep our fingers firmly crossed.


Let MLAs pick CMs

Let MLAs pick CMs

Rahul Gandhi may not yet have acquired the power and status of Indira Gandhi. But his party men, so used to crawling when expected only to bend, cannot help being, well…Congressmen. Why we say this, especially when it is supposed to be the finest hour for the Congress boss? We have good reason to. The report that both in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the newly-elected Congress MLAs are to leave the choice of the leader to Rahulji leads us to our conclusion.

That is, the ‘high command’ culture is still alive and kicking in the party, even if it has long lost its grip on the popular pulse. Death of internal democracy in the Congress was a direct outcome of the high command culture. Strong provincial leaders were humiliated in favour of the handpicked nominees of the coterie surrounding the party chief. Now, the question whether Sachin Pilot or Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, or Jyotiraditya Scindia or Kamal Nath in MP should head the respective State Congress Legislative Party should be left to the MLAs. And in no case to Rahulji. It is natural for them to be ambitious for becoming chief minister. The right way, nay, the democratic way is for the MLAs to elect the new leader through a secret ballot.

The stratagem that the Congress chief would arrive at a consensus after consulting each MLA personally before nominating the lucky winner leads to avoidable bitterness and dissidence. A transparent contest between rival contenders in the best democratic traditions not only reflects the free will of the MLAs but allows the winner and the loser(s) to reconcile their differences and accommodate one another. Of course, as things are, it is almost certain that Gehlot is set to be nominated for chief ministership in Rajasthan while in MP the chances of Nath seem to be greater. This is also because both Gehlot and Nath are seen to be able to manage the numbers game better. In both, Rajasthan and MP, the Congress was short of the half-way mark. Political skills of the unspoken kind are needed to bolster the CLPs and for this favour Gehlot and Nath are considered better operators than their challengers.

Meanwhile, Shivraj Singh Chouhan deserves praise for resigning instead of trying to cobble together a majority with a few footloose legislators. Given how fickle politicians’ loyalties are, the soft-spoken Chouhan made no effort to ‘manage’ six MLAs he needed to stake claim for government formation. Maybe he realizes he may not have to wait long, given the ways of the Congress Party and its reliance on independents and others for simple majority. It is one of those vagaries of the electoral system that though the BJP polled a slightly higher percentage of votes, it fell short of the Congress tally of MLAs. Despite running a good administration, greatly boosting farm output, improving rural infrastructure and urban areas, Chouhan paid a price for the police firing last year on agitating farmers in Mandasur, a region where the BJP suffered major losses.


Infrastructure spending has been great under NDA government

Infrastructure spending has been great under NDA government

One of the major achievements of the BJP led NDA government is the huge step forward it has made in respect of central sector infrastructure projects. CARE Ratings recently brought out a report on such projects that cost the national Rs 150 crore or more.

The report, thus, deals with the status of 1,361 such projects that have been gleaned from the Quarterly Status Report of Central Sector projects published by the Infrastructure and Project Monitoring Division of MOSPI. The most commendable performance indicator is the surge in the number of projects under implementation — from 727 in April 2014 to 1,361 in August 2018. That represents an average compounded average rate of growth (CAGR) of 20% during the past four years (see chart).

Out of these, as many as 400 are mega projects. They have an individual outlay of over Rs 1,000 crore (77% of total project development outlay). The number of projects delayed has been kept under check at 296. But what is worrying is the large number of projects which are under implementation, but have no timeline specified against them (71% of total projects).

Maharashtra has been the biggest recipient for such projects — accounting for 9.2% of projects by value being implemented in India. (This does not include value of projects which are a part of the multi-state projects). The state has 129 projects being implemented at a total original cost of Rs 1.72 lakh crore. The other State beneficiaries are Uttar Pradesh (6%), Tamil Nadu (6.5%), Andhra Pradesh (5.1%) and Odisha (4.3%). Together, these five states account for 30.2% of the total projects being implemented by value and 29% of the total number of projects being implemented.

Steel, power & transmission, atomic energy, petroleum & petrochemicals and urban development projects were the major sectors which witnessed most completions during the year. 34 major projects have been completed between April-July 2018.

Time overruns have been kept under control. In fact, they have declined tremendously when compared to the projects implemented by the previous government. But there have been attendant cost overruns — of around 20% — a bit higher than the cost overruns during the previous government. The anticipated cost for completion of these projects has grown from an original cost outlay of Rs 16.78 lakh cr to Rs 20.16 lakh crore.

The biggest challenge for the government will be meeting the residual cost for completion of projects under implementation. According to the CARE report, the costs incurred as of February 2018 was Rs 7.86 lakh crore or 38.1% of the total anticipated cost of all projects. That means that the cost for the balance — of around Rs 12.3 lakh crore (Rs 20.16 lakh crore less Rs 7.86 lakh crore) will have to be provided for. It remains to be seen how much of the cost will be left for the next government to take care of.

The best record for containing both time and cost of projects must go to the roads sector. This sector accounts for as many as 543 or 40% of the total projects. It suffered a cost overrun of just 1.7% of the total outlay. One wishes that other ministries could have been equally diligent and painstaking about meting time and cost deadlines.

The railways accounted for 32% of the number of projects and 32% by value as well. Most of the projects in the sector are for doubling of lines especially in north-east, laying of new lines and addition of 3rd and 4th line for network decongestion. Interestingly, certain projects under implementation for extending routes and laying new lines, date back to as far back as 1981 like (eg Nagal Dam-Talwara line, Guna-Etawah (1986), Muzzaffarpur-Sitamarhi  (1991). These projects are still under implementation and not yet completed. As many as 185 projects or 53% of the projects in the sector are facing cost overrun. Time overruns afflict 65 projects are delayed.

In terms of breakup of costs, the largest share was grabbed by the railways (32%), followed by power (18.7%), roads (18%), petroleum and gas (11%) and coal (4.5%). Other miscellaneous projects accounted for 16% of total costs.

Clearly, one is left with two lingering thoughts. First, why can’t more ministries be run as efficiently as the roads sector (run by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari)? Second, how will the government rustle up the additional Rs 12.3 lakh crore? It is possible that a few more major projects may get announced. That could be a big albatross round the neck of the next government.

RN Bhaskar is consulting editor with FPJ.