The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 19-03-2023 | 12:45 pm
It is acknowledged even by Narendra Modi’s harshest critics that when it comes to playing the game of politics, he is the master. He has managed always to turn all attacks on him into boomerangs that he keeps stowed away to be used when the time is right. A BJP cartoon that popped up on YouTube last week is proof of this. In it we see Modi dressed as a simple man with a cloth bag slung on his shoulder marching up endless flights of steep stairs that go higher and higher as he walks calmly on leaving Sonia and Rahul Gandhi gasping for breath on the sidelines. The cartoon’s commentary reminds them pointedly of comments made long ago about him being a ‘chaiwallah’, a ‘merchant of death’ and of ‘lowly’ breeding. Modi the hero strides on higher and higher. It is corny this cartoon but effective.This is why the recent hysteria that he has personally instigated over Rahul Gandhi’s comments in England is so puzzling. It indicates that perhaps he is not as skilled at playing the game of politics as is generally believed. I am no admirer of Rahul Gandhi but concede that in the needless brouhaha about what he said and did not say on his foreign tour he has behaved with more dignity and maturity than the Prime Minister or the senior ministers he chose as his attack team.Parliament’s Budget Session remained stalled all week because of the hysteria whipped up by Modi’s ministers and MPs in their determination to make Rahul apologize for what he said about Indian democracy on ‘foreign soil’. He responded correctly by saying that he had not said what they say he said and so the question of apologizing did not arise. A fair remark since nobody can be ordered to apologize for something they have not said.It is true that Rahul chose his words incautiously when he said that democracy had died in India and that it was for democratic countries to sit up and take notice because ‘Indian democracy is a public good.’ But he did not ask Western democratic leaders to intervene in India’s internal affairs and he did not say anything that can be considered an insult to India.Anyone who gets elected to Parliament should be fully aware that there is a difference between India and the Indian government. You would not know this from the unbalanced and frenzied comments that came from the most senior ministers in the Modi government. Rahul was critical of the government and the policies that he believes have weakened democratic institutions. He has a right to say this, and it does not make him a traitor or anti-India which is what he was made to sound like by the ministers who ranted and raved against him. If they were so upset by his remarks, surely the best course would have been to debate the matter in Parliament instead of making both houses dysfunctional? And over what?Rahul has said similar things before many times. In his attacks on the Prime Minister, he has gone so far as to call him corrupt and a thief, but our ‘nationalistic’ ministers appear to be most offended by the fact that this time his criticism of Indian democracy was on ‘foreign soil.’ Is the BJP so digitally illiterate that it has not yet discovered that the Internet has blurred geographical boundaries so totally that what you say in one country can be seen and heard in other countries in real time? The whole issue is absurd and childish. For a change, the man that the BJP has for eight years dismissed as Pappu or a goof came across as the only grown-up in the room.What puzzles me as an ex-Modi Bhakt is why a man who is believed to have the highest approval ratings of any world leader should behave in so insecure a fashion. The Congress Party’s spokesmen have said openly that the reason why it is the government that has been responsible for stalling Parliament this time is because the Prime Minister is afraid that the financial dealings of his close friend, Gautam Adani, will somehow spill mud on his shining image. If this is truly what has shaken his confidence and his political timing, then the Prime Minister should have no hesitation in ordering a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate. The history of JPCs tells us that this parliamentary device is where burning issues go to die or at least be buried for a very long while.One way or another, it is time to allow Parliament to function. If we are, as the Prime Minister says proudly, the ‘mother of democracy’, then it is wrong to make the instrument of parliamentary democracy dysfunctional. With a Lok Sabha election just over a year away it is vital that voters are reminded that the people they send to Parliament are there to speak about their problems. There have been too many parliamentary sessions in recent times in which the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have become arenas for shouting, screaming, leaps into the well of the house or angry walkouts. There have been too many sessions that have been wasted on screeches and howls over issues of little consequence. It is the business of government to run Parliament so please do your job.
The Shiv Sena (UBT), which had warned Congress leader Rahul Gandhi against “insulting” Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar, said on Wednesday that the issue has been resolved and they were “firmly united” with the Opposition parties in their fight against the BJP and the Narendra Modi government.“The issue has ended for us…The matter has been resolved,” MP Sanjay Raut, Uddhav Thackeray’s close confidant, told The Indian Express. “I have spoken to Rahul Gandhi about the issue,” he added.In his speech in Malegaon on Sunday, Uddhav Thackeray had warned Rahul Gandhi that the Sena (UBT) would not tolerate any insult to Savarkar. “Savarkar is our deity…we will not tolerate any insult to him,” Thackeray had said.Asked whether Gandhi had promised not to raise the Savarkar issue again, Raut said, “We do not want to speak about it anymore. As I have said, the matter has been resolved.”When asked what the party’s stand would be if Gandhi raises the issue again, Raut said, “If Rahul Gandhi raises the issue again, we will see what to do… But we are confident he will not raise the issue.”Raut said the Shiv Sena (UBT) will be attending the meetings convened by the Opposition or the Congress. The Sena had on Monday night skipped a meeting convened by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge. “We are firmly united with the Opposition to save democracy and dislodge the BJP from power,” Raut said.On Tuesday, Congress communication head Jairam Ramesh said 19 parties were saying in one voice that democracy was in danger and “we have to unitedly face and fight the dictatorial government”. The Shiv Sena (UBT), he said, was one of the 19 parties.“There were 18 parties last night. Today, I have said 19. The number will go up from 18 to 19 when Shiv Sena is part of the group,” Ramesh said at a press conference in Delhi on Tuesday. To this, Raut said, “We are with the Congress and the Opposition…We will be attending all their meetings.”
With Karnataka polls just around the corner, a video showing state Congress president DK Shivakumar showering currency notes on crowds during a roadshow has stirred a row.In the video, Shivakumar, during the ‘Praja Dhwani Yatra’ organised by the Congress in Bevinahalli in the Mandya district Tuesday, was seen flinging Rs 500 notes from the rooftop of a bus.#WATCH | Karnataka Congress Chief DK Shivakumar was seen throwing Rs 500 currency notes on the artists near Bevinahalli in Mandya district during the ‘Praja Dhwani Yatra’ organized by Congress in Srirangapatna. (28.03) pic.twitter.com/aF2Lf0pksi— ANI (@ANI) March 29, 2023Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai hit out at Congress, accusing the party of resorting to different tactics to garner votes. Slamming Shivakumar, Bommai said, “He (DK Shivakumar) does everything and blatantly uses all kinds of power. Congress thinks that the people (of Karnataka) are beggars but the people will teach them. People are the real owners,” news agency ANI reported.Bommai has also accused the state Congress chief of luring BJP MLAs by offering them tickets in constituencies where the party is yet to announce its candidates.“KPCC President D K Shivakumar since the last two to three days has been making phone calls to our MLAs in 100 constituencies where they are yet to announce candidates. He is stating that if you (BJP MLAs) come (to Congress) we will give you the ticket,” Bommai was quoted by news agency PTI as saying.Shivakumar is set to contest from his traditional seat of Kanakapura, according to the Congress’s first list of 124 candidates. The party is yet to announce tickets for 100 seats in the 224-seat Assembly.
Kolkata is set to witness parallel protests by the Trinamool Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress on Wednesday.While the TMC is protesting against the Centre’s “discriminatory attitude” against the state, the BJP is holding a day-long sit-in to protest against alleged corruption by the state government. The Congress in the state, meanwhile, will continue its protest against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from Lok Sabha.Here is everything you need to know:West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday began her two-day sit-in demonstration in Kolkata against the BJP-led Central government’s alleged “discriminatory attitude” towards the state. Banerjee will begin the dharna in front of the B R Ambedkar statue at Esplanade in Kolkata, which will go on till March 30.#WATCH | West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee sits on two days Dharna in Kolkata, starting from today against the Central government for not clearing funds for several schemes including 100 days work. pic.twitter.com/tfI45NFZ1u— ANI (@ANI) March 29, 2023The chief minister alleged that the Centre had not released funds for the MGNREGA project for the state and other initiatives of its housing and road departments. On Tuesday, she said, “The Centre has stopped releasing funds for MGNREGA and Indira Awas Yojana (Grameen). Besides, it has also stopped scholarships for OBC students”.While launching the ‘Pathashree-Rastashree’ scheme ahead of panchayat elections due later this year, Banerjee had said the expenditure for constructing the rural roads would be borne by the state and not the central government.“The Centre has not released over Rs 7,000 crores pending under the MGNREGA scheme and has not given work to our people despite West Bengal topping the list of states in completing the work under the initiative… We believe jealousy or politics may be the reason behind this,” she said.Coinciding with this, Trinamool Congress MPs are holding a protest in Parliament against the Centre in solidarity with Banerjee.Simultaneously, TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee will address a rally against the “anti-people” policy of the Centre and its “stepmotherly attitude” towards the West Bengal government. The stir was to “save” democracy, federalism, Constitution and the Parliament, news agency PTI reported.In a rare display of unity, TMC MPs had a few days ago, attended a meeting of Opposition parties called by Congress president and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, and also participated in the protest against Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha disqualification. State Congress workers too will also continue its protest against the same issue.Meanwhile, the West Bengal BJP will also stage a protest in Kolkata, with its leaders holding a daylong sit-in against the ruling state government over “corruption allegations” at Shyambazar today. The party had on Tuesday protested in Kolkata alleging that the TMC government in the state was not doing enough to mitigate the losses being faced by potato farmers due to bumper harvest this year. Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari led a rally from College Square to Rani Rashmoni Road over the issue.— With agency inputs
EVEN in West Bengal where political leaders have been jumping sides with rapid frequency to stay on the right side, this was an unusual development. Last week, a leader of the Trinamool Congress from North Bengal, Udayan Guha, came out against his own father Kamal Guha, saying that as a Forward Bloc leader and minister, the latter too “gave many jobs illegally”.Udayan, who joined the TMC before the 2016 Assembly elections, said: “He (his father) also committed corruption for the sake of the party.”The amount may not have been much, Udayan was quick to specify, but it was still corruption. “If you take Rs 5, it is not corruption, but if you take Rs 50,000 or Rs 5 lakh, that is corruption? It can’t be like that… My father also employed many people.”Trapped in a corner over mounting corruption allegations against her government, particularly over the job recruitment scam that hits the people where it hurts, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee appeared to pull this card out of her sleeve.And it’s not the only one. As the clock starts ticking for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Mamata is employing several tactics, from targeted wooing of her Muslim support base to fighting the corruption taint to rolling out more schemes. In 2019, the BJP had stunned the TMC by winning 18 Lok Sabha seats in the state where it was not too long ago a nobody, and the TMC knows it can leave no chinks in its armour.The re-focus on the CPI(M) as the target of its attack is also calculated, as it plays down the significance of the BJP (which has lost many of its leaders to the TMC). Plus, the TMC is still reeling from losing its Muslim-dominated stronghold of Sagardighi in a recent bypoll to a Congress candidate, backed by the CPI(M).Over the weekend, in a little-noticed but worrying sign for the TMC, the Congress and CPI(M) swept all 19 seats in a closely fought battle for the Haldia docks management committee, in Purba Medinipur district. The TMC had won all but 1 seat last time, and had held control of the committee for 13 years.The corruption battleThe 2021 Assembly poll win had been a commendable achievement for the Mamata-led TMC, bringing it to power for the third time in the state against an ascendant and aggressive BJP. However, within a year, the blows started.It began with then Industry Minister and Mamata aide, Partha Chatterjee, being arrested by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) along with his confidante Arpita Mukherjee. The case struck headlines for successive days as more than Rs 50 crore in cash turned up at Mukherjee’s flats.Hardly had this furore died down that another top TMC leader, Anubrata Mondol, along with his bodyguard Saigal Hossain, was arrested in a cattle-smuggling case. Then came the school job scam, in which many officials of the school education department and TMC leaders were arrested.Against this backdrop came Udayan Guha’s charges against the Left regime that preceded the TMC’s – a surprising turn of direction given that it has been more than a decade since the Left Front lost power and the TMC has brought this up now.After naming his father as among those who gave out jobs as quid pro quo, Udayan shared documents which he claimed show how close relatives of CPI(M) leaders got employment in government sectors without proper recruitment examinations. He named the wife of CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, Mili, who was employed by a government college in 1987 and worked there for 34 years before retirement, and relatives of former CPI(M) minister Sushanta Ghosh as among them.“A HORRIFIC example of deceiving the public!” tweeted Udayan.Chakraborty fired back telling Udayan to submit proof if he had any. “We are ready to face an investigation. If he does not have any proof, the TMC must apologise at an open forum.”The minority voteThe bypoll to Murshidabad’s Sagardighi seat – which had been held by the TMC since 2011 — was necessitated by the death of sitting TMC MLA Subrata Saha. Stunning the ruling party, the Congress’s Bayron Biswas won the bypoll, defeating the TMC’s Debasish Banerjee by 22,986 votes. Apart from the Left Front, Biswas was backed by the ISF, or Islamic Secular Front, a rising Muslim outfit that the TMC sees as a challenger for Muslim votes.In the postmortem done after the result, the TMC is said to have zeroed in on minority votes shifting to the Left-Congress, the corruption taint attached to it, and a decline in Mamata’s popularity as among the reasons.Sagardighi was also bad news coming so close to the panchayat polls, expected to be announced anytime soon in Bengal, given the fluid party loyalties at the grassroots level.While Mamata publicly asserted that “minorities are with us, like before”, a series of steps since indicate that this confidence is shaken.Firstly, the faces in the committee set up by the TMC to introspect on the defeat in Sagardighi. It included ministers Siddiqullah Chowdhury, Sabina Yasmin, Akhrujjaman and Jakir Hossain. Chowdhury was also given the responsibility of Malda, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur districts, along with Yasmin.Chowdhury used to be a leader of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, an organisation with a strong base among Bengali-speaking Muslims of West Bengal.Alongside this, Firhad Hakim or Bobby Hakim, identified with the Urdu-speaking Muslim population of the state, saw his wings being clipped. Previously, it was Hakim who looked after the TMC organisation in Murshidabad, along with Howrah and Hoogly.The president of the TMC’s Bengal minority cell, MLA Haroa Haji Nurul, was replaced next, with another young Muslim leader, Mosaraf Hossain, the MLA of Itahar.On Monday, in yet another change, Md Ghulam Rabbani was removed from the state’s Minority Affairs Department, and moved to Horticulture. Mamata herself has taken charge of the Minority Affairs Department for now.Simultaneously, the Mamata government announced the creation of separate development boards for minorities and migrant labour. A senior Cabinet minister said, “Earlier, there was a finance corporation for minorities. Mamata Banerjee has now decided to create a Minority Development Board and a Migrant Labour Development Board.”The new schemes, financial situationAlthough the TMC government has been able to increase revenue collection in 2022-23, the state’s revenue deficit has increased to nearly Rs 7,000 crore. Simultaneously, according to the Budget proposals placed by Minister of State, Finance, Chandrima Bhattacharya in the Assembly Wednesday, the state’s outstanding debt will rise to about Rs 6.5 lakh crore by the end of the 2023-24 fiscal.The Mamata government has several popular welfare measures such as Lakshmi Bhandar, Kanyasree, Rupasree, Sabuj Sathi which require huge outflows. The Lakshmi Bhandar programme alone needs more than Rs 20,000 crore per year.Recently, state government employees held a strike – the first under the TMC tenure – demanding a hike in dearness allowance.Mamata has accused the Centre of not paying Rs 1 lakh crore as its dues, including for wages of MNREGA. On Tuesday, she said it had been a mistake on Bengal’s part to join the GST, given the outstanding money to the state. From Tuesday, she is sitting on dharna at Kolkata Esplanade for two days over the issue.A nervous partyA section of the TMC leaders admit they are not too sure if these measures will achieve their objective. A senior TMC leader said: “Everybody knows that the CPI(M) gave jobs to party workers when in power. Congress leader Ghani Khan Choudhury, our leader Mamata Banerjee, and Mukul Roy also gave jobs when they were Rail Ministers at the Centre… But they did not give jobs taking money from aspirants; that is corruption.”The leader fears that the TMC might face counter-questions such as, if it knew about these corruption allegations against the Left government, why had these not been investigated in the last 10 years. “And lastly, just because they were corrupt, does it mean we have the permission to be corrupt ourselves?”CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “This strategy will not work anymore, as the credibility of Mamata Banerjee is finished and she cannot fool the people further.”BJP leader Samik Bhattacharya said, “The TMC is now trying to project the CPI(M) as the Opposition. But, the people already know who the Opposition is.”He added that even the TMC’s bid to regain Muslim confidence won’t work. “We are also reaching out to them, telling them that in Mamata Banerjee’s regime, most people belonging to minority groups have been killed, and the areas inhabited by them have remained undeveloped.”With the TMC projecting the BJP as an “outsider”, Bhattacharya insisted: “Our DNA and heritage are the same, and they (the Muslims) should march with us for the development of the whole Bengal.”
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi purposefully throws mud at others without any authentication despite being cautioned by Supreme Court once, and it is his “arrogance” that has led him to this point where he stands disqualified from Lok Sabha, according to BJP leader and Union Minister Anurag Thakur.“There are seven ongoing defamation cases where Rahul Gandhi is out on bail, including the one where he called RSS the killer of Mahatma Gandhi, and the 2009 case in Patna court again where he called the Modi community thief,” Thakur told The Indian Express on Tuesday.He said that in 2018, Rahul had given a written apology to the Supreme Court, and the court had categorically told him to exercise caution in the future. “But he has not learnt from the Supreme Court order,” Thakur.“In this particular case, he had the opportunity to apologise (in court) and get away. But it is his arrogance and high-headedness that have led him to this point where he stands disqualified today,” the minister said, referring to the criminal defamation case in which the Congress leader was convicted last week.On the Opposition’s allegations that Rahul has been disqualified purposefully to stop him from raising the Adani issue in Parliament, Thakur said, “The moment an MP or MLA stands convicted and gets a two-year jail, he gets disqualified. It is not for the Lok Sabha to decide and issue any order, it happens by default, he is immediately disqualified.”Rahul had the remedy to go to a higher court to get a stay on the conviction, but again, he showed arrogance, Thakur said. “Despite being disqualified, you (Rahul) think you are bigger than the nation, Parliament, and law.”Thakur further said that Rahul was always unfit for Parliament. “Ab yeh ayogya ho gaye hain (for Parliament), par yogya to yeh pehle bhi nahi the. His attendance is below average, and he has hardly participated in debates or raised questions for the common people,” he said.“To top it all, he raises questions about the country on foreign soil. He called the Indian Army in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh an occupation force,” the minister said. “Those who need help from international forces go to foreign soil and tarnish India.”The BJP leader said Rahul was convicted for something he said, a crime he committed, and this had nothing to do with the Adani issue that the Congress is trying to raise. “Tomorrow, he might be jailed for the National Herald case, or in any other defamation cases that he is out on bail for, his own offences can’t be connected to other issues, be it Adani or something else,” he said.Thakur said the Congress would pay the price for Rahul’s arrogance and his comments after disqualification. His own party’s OBC (Other Backward Classes) leaders are refusing to stand up for him, fearing they will lose their vote bank while his Savarkar comments have upset the Shiv Sena, and even threatened their alliance. “Now, if Uddhav (Thackeray) is back in the same frame as Rahul, people will question his ideology and intention,” he said.“Rahul’s own party’s MPs and MLAs in Maharashtra are upset with the Congress party,” he said.On Priyanka Gandhi invoking Hindu deity Ram to counter BJP’s allegations of dynastic politics, Thakur said, “Those who never believed in Lord Ram and Ram Setu, and were against Ram Mandir, today they have the audacity to compare their own family with Lord Ram.”On the Opposition’s accusation that the government is using agencies against their leaders, Thakur said, “They should not create political pressure to stop probe against them; if there are complaints, there will be an investigation, be it Lalu Prasad or K Kavitha or Manish Sisodia.”On how his party is going to clear the air on the Adani issue, which has created a logjam in Parliament, Thakur said the government has nothing to hide. “The SBI made a statement, so did RBI, SEBI … even the Finance Minister made a statement,” he said, adding categorically that a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe remains out of question.With the current Parliament session heading for a washout, Thakur said, “Budget has gone through, other Bills will be passed, but what Parliament stands for – debate, discussion, deliberation – that has not happened.”