Will Mamata, Maya and Priyanka spoil party of Modi-Shah-led BJP?

When West Bengal Chief Minister and firebrand leader, Mamata Banerjee made a show of strength at Parade grounds in Kolkata where 20 political parties joined hands and subsequently her ‘dharna’ against the CBI, eliciting support from most of the opposition parties, the message was clear that she has arrived on the political firmament. But the big question remains. Will she be able to pose a serious challenge to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in 2019? Various pre-general election surveys that sum up the mood of nation suggest that Modi still remains the tallest leader. Any “mahagathbandhan” minus Congress may not cut much ice.

Another scenario suggests that three powerful women leaders-Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, and Priyanka Gandhi may come between a win and Narendra Modi. These three women leaders thus pose a big threat to the chances of Prime Minister Narendra Modi winning a second term in Lok Sabha elections 2019 due by May.

Mamata Banerjee, who defeated a 34-year-old communist government in West Bengal in an election in 2011, is known for her streetwise political skills and portrays herself as a secular leader in a country.

Then there is former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, who drew a blank in 2014 general election. However, in recent elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand, she has proved that she is a leader who cannot be ignored. In 2014, when her party drew a blank and after the death of her mentor, Kanshi Ram, political leadership had written obituary of her party — Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But she has emerged like a phoenix riddle. 

In fact, Mayawati is a contender for prime minister. Her tie-up with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh is a wake-up call for Congress, which was projecting Rahul Gandhi as the prospective prime minister. Her solo fight in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and partnership with Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh was a warning to the Congress.

Mayawati has partnership with Gowdas in Karnataka, Jogi in the Jharkhand, Chautalas of the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana. In Uttar Pradesh, she has alliance with Akhilesh Yadav and Ajit Singh leaving just two seats for the Congress. Her politics is unpredictable. One safe conclusion one can draw is that with Mayawati joining hands with SP, the next election may not be Rahul Vs Modi but Mamata, Mayawati vs Modi with Priyanka Gandhi queering a pitch. By giving 10 percent quota in jobs and higher education to the upper caste poor months before the next Lok Sabha elections, the Narendra Modi government has played a masterstroke that few among the opposition parties can criticise. 

When Mayawati rode to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2007, she demanded reservation in jobs for the poor belonging and her ploy of emerging as the leader of all castes sailed her through. The SP-BSP combine will probably back Mayawati for prime minister in New Delhi, and Akhilesh Yadav for chief minister in UP in the next 2022 state election. That division of power will satisfy the ambitions of both. Their combined share in the 2017 UP state election exceeded that of the NDA in assembly seats adding up to 57 of 80 parliamentary constituencies.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, joined the struggle in January when the opposition Congress party made her its face in Uttar Pradesh. Tehelka editorial mentioned this reality that Priyanka Gandhi’s formal entry into politics and assertion by Rahul Gandhi that the Congress will not play on the back foot anywhere. It shows that the grand old party wants to capitalise on the charisma that she exudes. It also wants to capitalise on Priyanka’s resemblance to her grandmother to encash upon Indira Gandhi’s enduring appeal.

Rahul has done well in the recent past but the party was still missing the ‘X factor’ which has been key to its previous electoral victories. Priyanka has been ushered in to end that deficit. The parachuting of Priyanka Gandhi into the 2019 battlefield has caused a flutter with BJP president Amit Shah introducing a new version of OROP or One Rank One Pension targeting Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi.

Former Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah retorted with the acronym ODOMOS-Overdose of Only Modi Only Shah. However, Priyanka has a stiff challenge at hand. On the one side is the fully entrenched trios of Modi-Shah-Yogi and on the other the formidable SP-BSP-RLD. While the former has well-oiled machinery to rely on, the latter has proved its mettle in two recent crucial by-elections. Little doubt that this combine left just two seats of Rai Bareilly and Amethi for Congress, considering Congress worthy of as many seats. For Priyanka, it would not be an easy dynastic transition but trial by fire. How the party performs post-Priyanka’s entry would be watched with interest. 

Will the shift in the Congress strategy upset applecart of Mayawati and Mamata who were hoping to be major players to make a bid for the PM’s post?  For Priyanka Gandhi, there are roadblocks aplenty and on top of all comes the lack of organizational apparatuses. For sure, Priyanka’s formal entry into politics could help rejuvenate the party in Uttar Pradesh, where it is a marginal player. Coming from what is India’s first family, she could appeal to upper caste voters in the state who typically vote for the pro-business BJP. 

A Congress leader close to the Gandhis said she would attract women, young people, and floating voters. Priyanka is far from a political neophyte, having supported her brother and mother during previous election campaigns. She has also experienced political and personal tragedy. The Congress’ victory in three state elections that is Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has greatly improved morale, leading some of its stalwarts to predict anything from 120 to 150 seats in the Lok Sabha election. That would enable it to come to power at the head of an anti-BJP coalition being the largest party amongst opposition parties.

Yashwant Sinha, the former finance minister who quit Bharatiya Janata Party last year opines that “the opposition has more powerful women leaders than the NDA, and therefore they will be able to carry conviction with voters generally, and with women voters, in particular.”

The BJP should be worried, especially after the defeat in the three major Hindi heartland states. The entry of Priyanka into the political fray has drawn a gushing reaction from much of the media. There were pictures of elated supporters dancing, a lot of talk of the 47-year-old’s resemblance to her grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and comments about her connect with voters. That contrasts with her brother, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who in the past has been criticised for lacking the common touch.

Mayawati and Mamata are seen consolidating their grip on voters as they have a lot more experience than Priyanka, and both could be seen as potential prime ministerial candidates in a coalition government.

Mayawati, is a 63-year-old former teacher who enjoys base among Hinduism’s lowest castes and the Dalits. The 64-year-old Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress is a firebrand leader and her dreams of capturing the top slot are known to everyone. BSP spokesman Sudhindra Bhadoria said Mayawati has managed a party from scratch to this level.

The important fact is that she has organised large numbers, both men and women, Dalits, other backward castes, the poor, minorities. She is a national leader. The strength of Priyanka, Mayawati, and Banerjee as a potential opposition alliance is that they can appeal to different parts of the electorate.

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Priyanka’s arrival re-invigorates Congress on the national scene

It is natural for the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the non-Congress oppositions outfits to pause, rethink and revise their poll calculations following the surprise entry of Priyanka Gandhi in active politics, just a few months before the Lok Sabha elections. In spite of being the daughter of India’s first family, the legendary Nehru-Indira Gandhi and followed by Rajiv Gandhi, she has taken up a non-descript position of general secretary in the UP state unit of the Indian National Congress (INC).

For her admirers, she resembles Indira Gandhi, who had led India during the tumultuous Bangladesh crisis in 1971. Her father Rajiv is admired for injecting information technology and upgrading the country’s communication systems amidst criticism both from the right wing, BJP, and the left parties. Both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv were martyred. The ultimate sacrifices of her family blended with her polite, but regal poise, Priyanka, is feared by all the non-Congress political outfits across the country as a great vote catcher.

The INC’s master-move with a surprise element could not have been better timed. She arrives on the political scene immediately after the clear victory of the party in the three states, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Many believe that since Rahul has already proved his leadership in the recently held polls, Priyanka should not join the active politics.

The INC could have reconciled in the much trumpeted alliance between Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) with a third position, but it had to distance itself amidst the reports  that it may be given only three-four seats in the 80-strong Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. With Priyanka leading the campaign for the INC, many predict it may trigger off an avalanche giving huge number of seats to the party, which used to dominate the politics of the state.

The electoral impact of this in the forthcoming polls is yet to be calculated, but her entry has not only upset the BJP, it has sent shocking waves among the non-BJP and the non-Congress political parties. The BJP concern is natural, because it has failed to win its two strongholds of Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where the INC lacked strong political organization. In the case of Rajashtan, BJP apologists assert that the electorates change the government in every five years. However, in private conversation they concede the waning of the Modi charisma. There is also disenchantment among the volunteers of Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS). The party debacle is also attributed to the neutral role of the senior party leaders comprising L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. If some hush-hush talks could be believed, even the three states where BJP suffered political debacle, a large number of the distraught RSS volunteers did not campaign in support of the BJP.

Temple issue relegated

Priyanka’s arrival on the national scene accompanied by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to concede the demand to rebuild the Ram temple in Ayodhya through an ordinance route bypassing the on-going Supreme Court hearing has shifted the electoral agenda to the development and economic issues. However, the on-going hearing before the Supreme Court is being keenly followed. Even if the hearing is completed before the elections, it is difficult to predict the final order of the apex court or whether it will be pronounced before the polls.

A 574-page Archeological Survey of India or ASI report consisting of written opinions and maps and drawings were submitted in a sealed envelope before the full Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court, which was later made public, but Muslim Personal Law Board and Babri Mosque Action Committee rejected that a temple existed before the Mir Baqui had erected the mosque. It had disclosed that there was archaeological evidence of a massive structure just below the disputed structure and evidence of continuity in structural activities
from the 10th century onwards up to the construction of the disputed structure.

The dispute has psychological issue being faced by the Hindus and Muslims. It is true that if left to themselves both Hindus and Muslims could have resolved the ticklish temple-mosque dispute of Ayodhya, but the political agenda for electoral gains has kept it alive all these years. An agreement was almost arrived in late nineties, but the then RSS chief rejected the initiative of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, claims Shitla Singh , a veteran journalist from Ayodhya. Unfortunately, the RSS decided to follow the colonial narrative of the history of Indian sub-continent that promoted an idea that the Hindus suffered Muslim repression for 900 years. Similarly, Muslims fed with the theme that Holy Koran inspired them to conquer Hindus, the infidels.

In this era of competitive politics, where the rivals are pitted against with each other, have adopted no-holds bar approach, but in this process they are endorsing the colonial narrative that the Hindus were tormented during the reigns of Muslims kings and emperors, and it also fed the Muslim masses that they have been ruling India for a millennium and Hindus are just cowards. The colonial narrative of the Indian past has been presented as the British restored the Hindu honour, which suffered and violated by the Muslim invaders. Therefore, Hindus must realize that the British have emancipated them from the Muslim tyranny. On the other hand, Islam was used in such a conspiring agenda that the civil society among Muslims succumbed to the much pronounced logic that Islam is in danger.

The twin strategy of colonial era, thus convincing Hindus that they suffered Muslim tyranny, and also projecting followers of Islam as an aggressive group, which got partitioned India in 1947, and will reassert when its population is adequate to oust Hindus. Both journalists and practicing politicians must trace India’s social-political challenges to the British historiography. Charles Napier, the British General, deposed the Talpur Mirs, in Sind in 1843. He described the Sindh rulers as great ruffians and imbeciles, who possessed zennanas filled with young girls torn from their friends and treated the women with revolting barbaric insult of 800 years…”.

Further, Edward Ellenborough, the then Governor General of India, dramatically brought back the “gates of Somnath  temple” from Kabul to show that the company was there to counter the Muslim tyranny. He even claimed that the return of the spoiled remains of the temple to India has avenged the insult of Hindus”. Even today, a large number of the Hindu intellectuals, including RSS and BJP leaders subscribe to this theory. Unfortunately, the Indian historians trained at the Universities of Calcutta, Aligarh, Baroda and Osmania have not cared to expose this mischief of the colonial rulers.

Initiative endorsement

India’s two epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were telecast on the national television channel Doordarshan, during the Rajiv Gandhi reign. They received worldwide attention, but the BJP-led NDA governments headed by Atal Bihari Vajpeyi and Narendra Modi, could not produce any such television serial based on Indian mythology, though Vajpeyi ruled for six years and Modi is now at the verge of completing his five-year tenure.

A section of academia having science and technology backgrounds has offered a temple comprising the spiritual components of all faiths. The initiative has been taken by a group of academia comprising Hindus and Muslims, who have been working for making spiritualism a component of scientific researches. With their successes in this pursuit, they have now emboldened to resolve the tackling the perennial temple-mosque dispute in Ayodhya.

It is a non-political secular initiative comprising former Nagpur University vice-chancellor S.N. Pathan and Pune-based Dr. Vishwanath Karad, the courageous founder of the Maharashtra Institute of Technology, MIT. They had submitted a proposal to Dr. Manmohan Singh during his tenure as the Prime Minister, has embarked upon their mission. It remained a non-starter, though they held a number of meetings from Ayodhya to Pune.

These enlightened sections hope that Priyanka may finally end this controversial issue, if she is convinced that the Pune experiment of constructing a huge place of worship, the temple of harmony, may be replicated in Ayodhya.

Karad’s experiment to blend spiritualism with science for the past more than two decades awaits political endorsement. He is convinced that the science reflects the human yearning to know the Unknown. The religions too were complementing this quest with spiritualism. He and his team comprising many eminent people of academia, including Dr. Vijay Bhatkar, a well-known computer scientist, Maulana Wahidulla Khan Ansari, an Islamic scholar, and many others are actively campaigning for a temple of harmony. They point out that the huge land already with the Union government in Ayodhya should take the initiative for the temple construction. The apex court may allow this initiative.

These enthusiasts have already succeeded in reconstructing a temple of Lord Rama at Rui (Rameshwar) with the help of local villagers, comprising Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and many others. The temple was destroyed by the invading forces of Nizam 275 years ago. Similarly, an aggressive mob of Hindu zealots had destroyed the Jumma Masjid and the Khawaja Zainuddin Dargah in 1940 too has been restored to become a centre of pilgrimage for every one irrespective of their faiths as a Temple of Harmony. In this context, the teachings of India’s great saints, Dnyaneshwara, Tukaram and Vivekananda guide us to the right path through spiritualism.

The Christian card

Priyanka’s critic may take up the issue that she is married to a Christian, Robert Vadra, but it may not be able to adversely impact on her political career. Her marriage was solemnized by a Kashmiri Pundit, Iqbal KIshen, the grandson of Pundit Shamlal. Shamlal was the high priest of Jawaharlal Nehru’s marriage with Kamla. Similarly,  Indira Gandhi’s marriage with Feroze Gandhi amidst chanting of Vedic hymns had taken place under the supervision of Pundit Laxmi Dhar, a well-known Sanskrit scholar.

Asked why this traditional Kashmiri pundit wedding was never publicised, RC Ganju, a senior journalist asserts that the family has always kept these personal engagements as private affairs. A lot of malicious campaign against them is in the social media, but the family never responds to the wild allegations. Maybe, they are convinced that the people would never believe in such campaigns against them.

A Congress insider confides that the BJP-RSS propaganda, in fact, re-invigorates them politically. The prolonged malicious personal propaganda has enabled both Rahul and Priyanka to occupy the centre-stage of the campaign for 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In this backdrop, Priyanka’s arrival on the political scene unleashes new prospects for the INC in UP, where its existence is negligible, but has a rich past.

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Are new players replacing old ones in Haryana politics?

The state politics is seeing a sea-change in the recent times with the emergence of some new parties and an old party going into oblivion.  Two new parties came into existence recently. One is the Jananayk Janata Party (JJP) led by Hisar MP Dushyant Chautala. The other is the Loktrantra Suraksha Party founded by rebel BJP MP Raj Kumar Saini.

In the recent Jind by-election the main opposition party in Haryana, the Indian National Lok Dal’s (INLD) candidate Sumedh Singh Redhu suffered an ignominious defeat. The ruling BJP candidate Krishan Midha  won the seat from Jind, while, JJP’s candidate Digvijay Singh Chautala put up a spirited performance and gave a challenge to the BJP before losing to the ruling party at the political hustings after presenting a creditable performance.

Interestingly in the 2014 assembly elections the INLD candidate Hari Chand Midha had won the Jind seat beating the BJP rival. The Jind by-poll was necessitated due to the death of Hari Chand Midha. Later his son Krishan Midha joined the BJP and was even alloted  the ticket from Jind. Now it is for the first time in th history of Jind that the BJP has won an election there.

The Congress on the other hand suffered a loss of face when the Kaithal MLA and AICC Media Coordinator Randeep Singh Surjewala suffered a humiliating defeat in the Jind by-election and stood third behind the eventual winner Krishan Midha of the BJP and Digvijay Chautala of the JJP. Randeep Surjewala’s reputation had been at stake. He was even considered a threat to former Chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda for the postof chief minister in case the Congress came to power in the Vidhan Sabha elections later this year.

But the humiliating defeat has put paid to all that. So bad was Surjewala’s loss that he barely managed to save his deposit by a mere 900 votes. Howver, the worst was in store for the INLD candidate Umed Singh Redhu. Such was the impact of the disastrous sperformance of the INLD candidate in the Jind by-poll that the BSP broke its alliance with the INLD. The alliance between the two parties lasted for just 9 months.

After breaking its alliance with the INLD, the BSP announced to forge ties with LSP, an outfit floated by rebel BJP MP Raj Kumar Saini. In fact this development came just a few days after Om Prakash Chautala-led Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) suffered a humiliating defeat in the Jind bypoll, with party candidate Umed Singh Redhu forfeiting his security deposit, amidst the ongoing family feud in the Chautala family.

Now the BSP has forged an alliance with the newly formed Loktantra Suraksha Party formed by Raj Kumar Saini of the BJP. The BSP and the LSP will contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and Haryana Assembly polls.

In Haryana, the BSP will contest on eight and the LSP on two Lok Sabha seats. According to Meghraj, BSP president of Haryana, his party would contest on 35 seats and the LSP on 55 seats in the Haryana Assembly polls later.

Earlier the BSP had hinted that it might soon call off its alliance with the INLD. It had earlier also said that it would part ways with the INLD if it failed to get united. Raj Kumar Saini is the rebel BJP MP from Kurukshetra, who last year floated his Loktantra Suraksha Party (LSP) and the candidate Vinod Ashri fielded by him in the Jind by-poll had put up a better performance than INLD’s Redhu. Vinod Ashri polled more than 12,000 votes to remain fourth in the Jind by-poll behind the winner Krishan Midha, Digvijay Chautala and Randeep Surjewala of the Congress.

Interestingly the INLD and the BSP had forged an alliance in April last year. At that time both ruling BJP and opposition Congress had described it as a “marriage of convenience: which they entered into just to “grab power”. That has proved true as the BSP has now severed its relations with the INLD. Last year after the alliance, the two parties had announced to jointly contest the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, but all that is a forgotten promise now.

In fact a day after the Bahujan Samaj Party talked about snapping of ties with Om Prakash Chautala-led INLD, his grandson Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) also hinted that it was open to having an alliance with Mayawati’s outfit.

At that time Nishan Singh, state president of the JJP had said that the BSP as well as the JJP had similar ideologies — working for the betterment of the poor and downtrodden. “The BSP works for the welfare of poor and those who have been left behind in matters of development. We have also launched the JJP on the ideologies of Chaudhary Devi Lal, who always worked for such sections,” Nishan Singh had said.

Nishan Singh said that the INLD was fighting a battle to save its very existence. People of Jind had given the task of ousting the BJP from power to the JJP by giving 30 per cent of votes to Digvijay Chautala, he added. Nishan Singh had said the JJP was open to having an alliance with all like-minded parties except the Congress and the INLD.

On the other hand to the question whether there was any chance of sinking differences with the INLD and Leader of Opposition Abhay Chautala, Nishan Singh had said there was no such possibility at all. Digvijay Chautala, who contested the Jind by-poll supported by the JJP, also ruled out the possibility of any rapprochement with his uncle and the INLD.

Now Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has hinted at continuing the alliance with the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) in Haryana, saying that there was a need to save the country and the people so all good persons must join hands for the purpose.

Kejriwal refused to elaborate on the subject while interacting with media persons. According to Naveen Jaihind, AAP Harysana president. AAP was likely to have a tie-up with the JJP for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as well. Kejriwal had extended support to the JJP-backed candidate Digvijay Chautala in the Jind bypoll.

Meanwhile even as the INLD is fighting a battle for survival, party supremo Om Prakash Chautala, out on a 21 day furlough, is trying to save it by holding rallies in all the districts  of Haryana to infuse new life into the party. The first rally of Chautala was held in Ladwa. In the coming days a spate of such rallies and party workers meetings have been chalked out.  

The buoyant ruling BJP is now confident of doing well in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, as well as the Vidhan Sabha elections later this year. “The party will go to the polls
confidently on the basis of the all-round development works carried out in the state’’, says Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Media advisor to the CM Rajiv Jain says the opposition parties are a dispirited lot. “They just want to grab power for their personal sake without thinking about the people and the state,’’ he said.

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If extradited, good times may get over for Mallya

It is poetic justice as liquor baron Vijay Mallya is one step closer to being shipped back to India. British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has signed the order for his extradition giving him two weeks to lodge an appeal. And already he showed his intention to appeal with a tweet on February 5, 2019, which read, “After the decision was handed down by the Westminster Court, I stated my intention to appeal. I could not initiate the appeal process before a decision by the Home Secretary. Now I will initiate the appeal process”.

Notwithstanding the fate of his appeal, the government is closer to bring back him back. And Mallya’s extradition would offer a huge win to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the eve of the general election by May 2019. In December, ahead of the court ruling on the extradition order, Mallya had offered to pay back the entire principal amount of the loans that he owes several banks. He had tweeted that he would repay “100 per cent of the principal amount to the banks. The “King of Good Times”, Mallya had left India in March 2016 with debts of more than 9,000 crores hanging over his head from his shuttered carrier Kingfisher Airlines.

The Enforcement Directorate also said on February 5, 2019 that extraditing fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya to India from the UK, for multicrore loan recovery cases by several banks, would pave way for a speedy trial in the country. The ED said if the 63-year-old businessman is brought back, he will be lodged at Arthur Road Jail where a barrack has been readied.

The ED wants Mallya’s presence to ascertain the full particulars of his assets and complete disclosure about the financial trail. The ED wants him to disclose the relevant facts pertaining to receipt and disbursement of loans to Kingfisher Airlines Limited (KFA) along with other financial transactions. “This will set a right example and other economic offenders would desist from leaving the country.”

Commenting on Mallya’s intentions to appeal, ED would defend. “If the appeal is admitted, we will defend. We will apprise the court about the Fugitive Economic Offender tag,” said an officer of ED. It is a major setback to fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya. On December 10, 2018, a UK court ruled Mallya guilty and ordered his deportation to India. Now, the UK Home Office has upheld the lower court ruling.

A UK Home Office statement said that “On February 3, the Secretary of State, having carefully considered all relevant matters, signed the order for Vijay Mallya’s extradition to India. Mallya is accused in India of conspiracy to defraud, making false representations and money laundering offenses.”

The development comes at a time when the government faces the Opposition’s wrath following the CBI raids in Kolkata against the city’s police commissioner. Taking a jibe at political opponents, Union Minister Arun Jaitley said, “The Modi government clears one more step to get Mallya extradited.”

Official sources had earlier said what helped push India’s case was PM Narendra Modi taking up the issue personally with his counterpart Theresa May. In a related development, the Enforcement Directorate has told a special court that it had no objection to the restoration of fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya’s properties to a consortium of banks, but the banks should give the undertaking to return the amount claimed by them to the court in the future.

The central probe agency submitted its affidavit in response to an application filed by the consortium of banks, led by the State Bank of India (SBI), seeking restoration of properties of Mallya, who is accused of defaulting on loans worth over 9,000 crore. According to the consortium, the amount claimed by the banks was around 6,200 crore.

In its affidavit filed before special PMLA judge MS Azmi, the ED said it had left the matter to the best judgment of the court to grant the prayer made by the applicant (a consortium of banks). “However, in case the court deems it fit to allow the application, it shall take an undertaking from them (consortium of banks) to return the said amount with interest, in case the court at any point deems ‘fit and appropriate’ in the ‘interest of justice’ to deposit the amount before it or to the complainant without delay,” the affidavit said.

The agency further said that since all the applicants, except one, were public banks, the money sought to be recovered was public money, restoration of assets in their favour was in public interest.“In light of these facts and circumstances, it is prayed that the court may graciously be pleased to allow the instant application in the interest of justice and/or pass any such order that it deems fit in the interest of justice,” the ED submitted.

Earlier Mallya (63) last month became the first businessman to be declared as a fugitive economic offender (FEO) under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, which came into existence in August, 2018. A special court in Mumbai had declared absconding liquor baron
Vijay Mallya a fugitive economic offender on a plea of the Enforcement Directorate. With this, Mallya has become the first businessman to be declared EFO under the provisions of the new Fugitive Economic Offenders Act which came into existence in August last year.

The ED had requested the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court that Mallya, who is currently in the UK, be declared a fugitive and his properties be confiscated of about
12,500 crore worth of assets.  It is a second major setback for erstwhile liquor baron. This means now the government can initiate to confiscate his properties in alleged 9,000 crore loan default case. The Special Prevention of Money Laundering (PMLA) judge MS Azmi in his oral order declared Mallya, a fugitive economic offender under Section 12 of the act, on a plea of Enforcement Directorate (ED).

“Section 17 of the FEO act provides from the challenge of the proclamation in the High Court within 30 days and I am very sure that Mallaya’s lawyers will want to explore the option,” said Zulfiqar Memon, managing partner of law firm MZM Legal. “More than anything, this order could mean that his properties can now be confiscated and sold by the Government, which may be most detrimental to Mallaya.”

In July 2018, the ED had filed an application before the court, seeking to declare Mallya a ‘fugitive economic offender’ under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 and had also sought to immediately confiscate his assets of over 12,500 crores.

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Centre’s skill development scheme points to a scam

It was launched as an ambitious skill development scheme by the Narendra Modi government to enhance competitiveness, train and provide grants-in-aid, to establish Ranchi-based PSU Heavy Engineering Corporation’s Common Engineering Facility Centre (CEFC) Pratham Foundation. Three years later, this is also being put forth as one of the famous projects linked with CNIITMASH, Moscow. The facts, however, tell a different story.

The project seems to have crashed before it could yield result. This happened soon after HEC Director (Finance) Arundati Panda questioned legal validity and transfer of money to Pratham Foundation and CNIITMASH. Next, Department of Heavy Industry issued order winding up this CEFC causing a huge loss to the state treasury.

The service record of Arundati, 1985 batch P&T Accounts and Finance Service Officer, who blew the whistle in this case, has been officially dubbed as ‘not satisfactory.’

Investigation revealed that lack of skill was adversely affecting the competitiveness of the industry. As per the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises notified the Scheme on “Enhancement Of Competitiveness in the Indian Capital Goods Sector” on November 5, 2014, HEC was eligible to set up Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to implement the scheme as per the website of DHI.

Soon, HEC CMD Avijit Ghosh and Department of Heavy Industry acted quick and fast. He visited CNIITMASH, Moscow. An agreement was signed by him with CNNITMASH on December 24, 2015. Although he ought to have floated a tender to enter into agreement with this foreign company,no tender was floated.

On January 28, 2016,after HEC sent a proposal for setting up SPV in the form of CEFC. The proposal,describing its total outlay of 50 crore (with Department of Heavy Industry’s contribution of 30 crore),was approved and HEC was directed to set up SPV. Next, HEC approved placement order on CNIITMASH on February 8, 2016. A week later, HEC signed another agreement with CNIITMASH for $4.45 million.

Less than six month later agreement was signed between DHI and HEC where this PSU was recognised as implementing agency for CEFC to be cancelled later. Days later a private company called CEFC Pratham Foundation was registered under the Companies Act, 2013.

Instead of located inside the HEC complex, the registered office of Pratham Foundation was at House No-4652, Sector 23A, Gurgaon, Haryana the residence of one of the shareholders. Not the least, CMD Avijit Ghosh became its CEO and first Director of this private company.

In consequence, an agreement was signed between HEC (Supervising company) and CEFC Pratham Foundation (Implementing Agency) with a joint boss HEC CMD Avijit Ghosh. In fact, Ghosh dared to be self-appointed CEO of CEFC Pratham Foundation and CMD of HEC.

Further, an agreement was signed between DHI and CEO CEFC Pratham Avijit Ghosh for transfer of grant to CEFC Pratham by DHI and HEC for implementation of the scheme wherein it was falsely stated by him that “CEFC Pratham Foundation is a company founded by HEC”.

In any case, DHI released first instalment in the form of 4.47 crore on January 10, 2017.Following this HEC released its first instalment of 1.12 crore. Subsequently, Arundati noted in her official file on 23 March 2018 (a copy of which is with the Tehelka) that CEFC Pratham Foundation is not a company founded by HEC as per the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises’s notified CEFC scheme guidelines.

In her letter of December, 2018 to HEC Board Members, Arundati wrote that she had scrutinised additional documents (agreement of CEFC Pratham Foundation with DHI) and found the fraud committed by CMD HEC. She also apprised the DHI that this “CEFC has not been able to comply with milestone clause 2.2 and output clause 3.1. In all,only 69 members of participants have been trained” (by this Pratham Foundation).

About 23 crores have been given by DHI and HEC to this private company and only 89 people have been trained in these 2 years by them. How much public fund was transferred by HEC and or CEFC Pratham Foundation to Russian company CNIITMASH is not known. However, in response to Arundati’s report dated March 23, 2018, exposing multi million rupee skill development scam, HEC CMD Ghosh, who perpetrated it, had put his hand written statement at its end stating —“Detail discussion is required on the above subject.”

Months later, three consequences were on official records. One,Ghosh had retired. Two,Ministry of Heavy Industry has acted against CEFC Pratham Foundation. In his letter dated January 11, 2019 to HEC CMD, MHI’s Under Secretary Sanjiv Kumar Gupta wrote: ”You are therefore requested to take necessary action for winding up the CEFC Pratham Foundation after transferring the available funds and other assets and liabilities to HEC.”

Three, instead of getting award for her whistle blowing work, Arundati, known as an upright civil servant, who was deputed as HEC Director (Finance) for 5 years in 2017,appears to have been badly axed to the extent that she can be transferred anytime.

Tehelka has learnt that before retiring Ghosh had yelled against her in an official meeting. Now, in the HEC’s Special Performance Report, which is in possession of Public Enterprises
Selection Board which had deputed her at HEC for five years in 2017, Arundati’s service was rated as far from ‘satisfactory’. She was recently given lower rank -37.5 out of 50 points and her report forwarded to Public Enterprise Selection Board.

Noteworthy is no action was taken by DHI or any other higher authority against the exposed HEC’s ex CMD cum CEO of private company CEFC Pratham Foundation Avijit Ghosh.

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Environment ministry in tight spot over rift between Maneka and AWBI chief

Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi and Animal Welfare Board of India’s (AWBI) Chairman SP Gupta are at loggerheads with Gupta reportedly submitting his resignation on January,25, 2019, which is yet to be accepted by the government. Although Gupta says that he had resigned as he was unable to devote time to run his cow shelter (Kamdhenu Gowdham and Arogya Sansthan) in Mewat district in Haryana, but it is believed that he was unhappy due to alleged interference in the board’s functioning by Maneka Gandhi.

However, Maneka Gandhi claims that Gupta have been removed from the post due to corruption charges and the ministry had evidence. Talking to Tehelka, she denied the charge of interfering in the functioning of the Board. She challenged Gupta to prove his charges.

S.P.Gupta — who is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre having wide connections in RSS as his Gowdham in Mewat in Haryana — has been visited by almost every prominent RSS and BJP leaders of Haryana. He said that allegations of corruption are rubbish. But the correspondence between Maneka Gandhi and Union Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and SP Gupta speaks volumes about the sharp difference between Maneka and AWBI chairman.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan neither responded to SMS messages of Tehelka, asking about the reported resignation of SP Gupta and Maneka Gandhi’s allegations against him nor did he respond to repeated calls made on his mobile phone. His assistant said that he was busy and promised of reverting back.

Ever since Gupta joined as first chairman of the Board a year ago, Maneka Gandhi has been raising doubts about the functioning of the Board accusing it of having failed in discharge of its duties. Maneka Gandhi had shot about dozen letters to Harsh Vardhan and even to Prime Minister’s Office questioning the functioning of the Board.

Gupta claimed that the Environment Ministry had sought the Board’s reply on the allegations of Maneka Gandhi which was submitted and ministry was satisfied with their submissions.

On 23rd July, 2018, Maneka Gandhi wrote to Harsh Vardhan that she had repeatedly requested not to allow this person to continue in office ass his actions are causing nothing but damage to the Board and to the Ministry. Maneka Gandhi has further written that the latest communication issued by him, in the garb of addressing the illegal slaughter of animals during upcoming Eid and Dussehra, undermines the law and the directions of Supreme Court and attempts to grab undue authority in the most fraudulent manner.

On August 23, 2018, Gupta wrote to Harsh Varddhan denying the allegations of Maneka Gandhi. Accusing Maneka Gandhi of using defamatory, unsubstantiated and filthy language against him and Board members, Gupta wrote that it is astonishing to have so much interference of Maneka Gandhi in the affairs of the Board for the ulterior motive by “making false, baseless, unwarranted, unsubstantiated, scandalous and defamatory remarks against the Board members and against me as I have refused to succumb to the unlawful demands of Mrs Gandhi and her associates.”

In an unprecedented development Board convened its special meeting on July 30, 2018, to discuss the situation arouse out of allegations of Maneka Gandhi. It passed a resolution expressing serious concern over an alleged fake letter written by someone which was made part of allegations against the Board by Maneka Gandhi in her complaint to Harsh Vardhan.

Maneka Gandhi has alleged that the Board has issued letter granting permission for transportation of animals .Board passed a resolution copy of which was sent to Union Environment Minister making a request for taking up with Maneka Gandhi for not interfering in the effective and smooth functioning of the Board.It wrote that the Board is in the process of lodging of an FIR against unknown person for the offence of forgery and to initiate other appropriate remedy.

It was requested that if in future the Ministry requires Board’s comments on basis of such documents having baseless allegations it may be sent to Chairman or Secretary of the Board in confidential so that image of Board doesn’t get tarnished.

The Board resolution says, “We the Honorary members of the Board, condemn the act of Maneka Gandhi and Gauri Maulekhi (an animals right activist enjoying confidence of Maneka) and request the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to take appropriate necessary action at the earliest in view of the contiguous interference by Maneka Gandhi and Gauri Maulekhi in the affairs of the Board and also making false, baseless, unwarranted, unsubstantiated and defamatory remarks against the board members and specially its chairman.

The allegations levelled by Maneka Gandhi and Gauri Maulekhi in letters written to Enthronement minister on July 20, 2018, and July 17, 2018, are not only baseless but also lessen the status of the Board in the eyes of the public at large apart from maligning the reputation of board which is one of the biggest statutory bodies in the entire world constituted under the Act of Parliament i.e the prevention of cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 looking after the prevention of cruelty to animals and their welfare.”

It further said that Gauri Maulekhi is not only the adviser to Maneka Gandhi but also one of the trustees in the ‘Peoples for Animals.’ an NGO whose chairperson is Maneka Gandhi.Both have been writing identical letters to Environment Minister levelling false allegations against Board and its chairman. The resolution said that it is most unfortunate that completely false and baseless allegations have been made by the Minister Smt,Maneka Gandhi against the board members without having any kind of factual backing and it is unacceptable that such unsubstantiated allegations have been made by holder of such a high constitutional office in the most causal manner.It further alleges that Gauri Maulekhi is misrepresenting at various forms to be representative of the board. Gauri Maulekhi neither responded to SMS messages of Tehelka nor picked up the phone made to know her version.

Both Gupta and Maneka Gandhi had sharp difference on several issues ranging from ban on Circuses, snake charmers and cattle marketing and use of elephants by tourism departments of various states for tourists. While Maneka Gandhi is bent upon pushing her agenda aggressively, Gupta feels that views of all stakeholders should be taken before taking any decision keeping in view of our culture and traditions besides livelihood of thousands of persons.

It is interesting to mention here that such was the fear of board that billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani has sought its permission for use of animals and birds in marriage of his daughter. Anand Mohan Sharan, senior IAS officer of Haryana, recalls an old incident when he was DC, Faridbad.

Sharan told that he got call from Maneka Gandhi that a train loaded with cows was just to pass from Faridabad station which did not have proper proper arrangements of water and fodder for the animals and warned of any lapse in hard tone. Maneka was Minister in the cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee at that time. And the district administration followed the guide lines set by Smt Menaka Gandhi. This way Maneka was in a position to call DC and asked him to look into the matter and take cognizance of the situation as well as feeding the animals!

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In Centre versus West Bengal face off, both claim moral victory, but lose face

At least for now, the confrontation that was building up between firebrand Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee and Centre has diffused with the intervention of the Apex Court and Police Commissioner, Rajiv Kumar joining investigations at a neutral place.  The decision allowed both sides in the face-off to claim “moral victory.” The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has climbed down from the aggressive posture she took in denying the Central Bureau of Investigation room to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar. She has ended her sit in “dharna” rarely resorted by a sitting chief minister.

The Supreme Court while ordering Rajiv Kumar, the Kolkata Police Commissioner to cooperate with the CBI in “neutral” Shillong, has at the same time restrained the CBI from taking any coercive action against the police chief.

The face-off between the Centre and the Mamata Banerjee government took place on February 3, 2019, at a time when the Lok Sabha elections are almost a couple of months away. When the Supreme Court is already monitoring the CBI probe into the issues, where was the need for such confrontation?

It so happened that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee found herself on a collision course with the centre after a huge showdown between the state police the CBI when the CBI officials, came to question Kolkata police chief Rajeev Kumar on two Ponzi schemes. The CBI officials were temporarily detained by the West Bengal police.

A furious Ms Banerjee started an overnight dharna to “save the constitution” prompting the BJP leaders to call for President’s Rule in West Bengal. The opposition leaders rallied around Mamata Banerjee. In one fell swoop, the action led to opposition unity and put Mamata Banerjee at the heart of the opposition. Was this a self-goal by Centre or a victory? The question will be debated for times to come. t was advantage Banerjee as the Congress, AAP, Samajwadi Party, BSP, NCP, and even the National Conference rushed to support Mamata Banerjee. Alas, public memory is short. But not short enough to ignore this incident that united the entire opposition. Mamata Banerjee called it a “total constitutional breakdown”. “How dare you come to a police commissioner’s home without a warrant?” she questioned. She said that “This is a Satyagraha and I’ll continue till the country is saved.” She spent the night at the designated spot for protests in central Kolkata, accompanied by city police chief Rajeev Kumar skipping meals and remained awake the entire night. She went on quip “We have full confidence in the judiciary, media, and the people… If they want to impose President’s Rule, we are ready for it.”

The roots of confrontation lay in probe into the Saradha and Rose Valley Ponzi schemes that were probed by Rajiv Kumar. There were allegations that several documents went missing later. Rajiv Kumar was summoned for questioning. The court had restrained the CBI from arresting Kumar and asked Kumar to cooperate with the agency in its agency. This was after an unprecedented showdown between the CBI and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who prevented a CBI team from interrogating Kumar in Kolkata. Trinamool Congress’s Meghalaya coordinator and Rajeev Kumar’s counsel Biswajit Deb said he is “cooperating and complying” with the CBI.  Kumar’s role is under the CBI’s scanner because he was heading the special investigation team (SIT) that was formed by the West Bengal government to investigate the Saradha and Rose Valley Chit Fund scams. The investigation was later handed over to the CBI. The CBI alleges that when the investigation was handed over to it, Rajeev Kumar withheld some crucial and incriminating documents that the SIT had collected in the chit fund scams probe. The BJP alleges that these documents raise fingers at various TMC leaders and people close to Mamata Banerjee. The CBI may confront Rajeev Kumar with Kunal Ghosh. But a final call on this will be taken by the investigating officer present in Shillong. The CBI is relying on a 91-page letter from Ghosh, who was expelled by TMC, to the Enforcement Directorate, detailing the role of Kumar in handling the ponzi scam probe after the main accused, Sudipta Sen and Debjani Mukherjee, both promoters of Saradha Group of companies, had fled to Kashmir.

The row erupted when about three dozen officers of the CBI went to confront Police Commissioner but were refused entry by the police guards posted there and the team was taken to a local police station. Mamata Banerjee said the trouble flared up after her mega rally of 23 opposition parties in Kolkata last month as the Centre was rattled over its success.

That the confrontation was brewing could be gauged from the developments of the past. The Prime Minister had claimed the West Bengal government was killing the aspirations of the middle class through “Triple T — Trinamool Tolabazi Tax”. The state’s BJP lawmaker Babul Supriyo tweeted: “President’s Rule should be imposed on West Bengal to control this ‘Rogue’ #TMchhi Govt under a corrupt CM Mamta Banerjee. This is a constitutional crisis ‘created’ by Mamata to shield her corrupt & tainted accomplices “.

The outcome of the confrontation was that opposition leaders — including Arvind Kejriwal, Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu Yadav, Omar Abdullah, and HD Deve Gowda tweeted their ire and stood by Mamata Banerjee. Congress President, Rahul Gandhi tweeted

“Spoke with Mamata Di tonight and told her we stand shoulder to shoulder with her. The happenings in Bengal are a part of the unrelenting attack on India’s institutions. The entire opposition will stand together & defeat fascist forces.”

Intervening in the stand-off between the Central and West Bengal governments the Supreme Court has de-escalated political tensions, at least for now. The decision allowed both sides in the face-off to claim “moral victory”. However, while ordering him to cooperate with the CBI in “neutral” Shillong, the Court restrained the CBI from taking any coercive action against Kumar. While Mamata Banerjee may have reason to believe that the timing of the CBI’s operation was politically motivated, State police detaining the CBI officials was shocking and illegal. In attempting to obstruct the CBI action in a Supreme Court-monitored investigation, the West Bengal Chief Minister has once again demonstrated that she is better suited to sit on dharnas than a chief minister. A chief minister resorting to holding a dharna in aid of an officer who is required for questioning does her no credit or to the august office of the chief minister of a state. Similarly, trying to overawe a senior police officer’s residence on a Sunday evening with a large team of officers too does not seem the right course of action for the CBI. Mamata has accused that the CBI was being misused against the opponents and she has asked the premier investigating agency to conduct its probe into the theft of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel medal with the same urgency with which it had tried to corner Police Commissioner without valid documents. The BJP, in turn, alleged that Mamata was shielding Kolkata police chief Rajeev Kumar as he probably possesses evidence that could prove damning for the ruling Trinamool Congress Party. In the current scenario when tensions were mounting high, it was bound to be interpreted as a high-handed attempt to encroach upon the federal spirit of the constitution.

 The apex court has done its job by putting the inquiry back on track, but allegations and counter-allegations continue to fly thick and fast. The new CBI Director, Rishi Kumar Shukla, has taken charge at a time when the agency’s reputation is in shambles. He faces the Herculean task of restoring its credibility in the public eye and ensuring that the CBI functions without any pressure, even as the power tussle on the national stage is set to intensify in the next couple of months.  The impending elections are sure to intensify the heat.

However, the Supreme Court directive may bring only a temporary truce between the West Bengal Government and the Centre. Sources said that the Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi sent his report on the Mamata versus CBI standoff to the Centre. Then followed a notice from the Union Home Ministry to West Bengal Government. Union Home Ministry has issued a notice asking the Bengal government to take action against DGP Virendra of the 1985 IPS batch, ADG Vineet Kumar Vital of the 1994 IPS batch, ADG (Law and Order) Anuj Sharma of the 1991 IPS batch, Bidhan Nagar Commissioner Gyanwant Singh of the 1993 IPS batch, additional commissioner Supratim Sarkar of the 1997 IPS batch.

The Centre is also considering initiating further action against these officers, including withdrawing medals and honours conferred on them under the All India Services (Conduct) Rules. Sources say the Rajnath Singh-led Home Ministry may also bar these errant officers for a certain period from serving in the central government.

The MHA letter dated February 5, 2019, mentioned that as per information received by the MHA, Rajeev Kumar sat on a dharna along with some police officers with the chief minister, at the Metro Channel in Kolkata. The behaviour is prima facie in contravention of the provisions of AIS (Conduct) Rules, 1968/AIS (Discipline & Appeal) Rules, 1969.

Not to be cowed down, chief minister, Mamata Banerjee retorted that “I will give these five senior officials the highest state honour, if the Centre takes away their medals. Also, I will send a strongly-worded letter, if they send me one,” she said. Banerjee also described the Centre’s plan as a part of “campaign” before polls, and said the Centre cannot take action against them. “This is about campaigning. Police officers are under the state government. They have no moral authority to say all this. They cannot take any action against my police officers. Law and order lie with the state government. With all this, it is clear that the Supreme Court has brought in a temporary truce between the Centre and the State Government, but confrontation continues on the eve of general elections.

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Divisional status for Ladakh splits J&K

On February 8, Governor’s administration granted a divisional status to Ladakh taking everybody by surprise. Though the demand for the division status for the province is a long-standing one but so is the one from Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley regions of the Jammu province.

But while the administration ignored the latter’s demand, it addressed the one from Ladakh without  taking the state’s political opinion on board. The State Administrative Council issued the order with little prior indication of the move.

This has run into a massive controversy ahead of the upcoming Parliament and possibly Assembly elections. The government has been accused of playing favourites by picking one region over another for grant of the status.

“After the elections of 2019, should the people of J&K repose faith in [National Conference] , our government will grant division status to Chenab valley [and] Pir Panchal regions as already laid out in our regional autonomy promise,” the National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said in a tweet soon after the state government announced the division status for Ladakh.

Similarly PDP also demanded a division status for Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley. “We hail the Governor’s administration for according divisional status to Leh, but ]Governor SP Malik should also look into the genuine demands of people of Rajouri-Poonch and the Chenab Valley districts who have been demanding divisional status for their areas since long,” PDP vice-president Choudhary Abdul Hamid said at a press conference.

Also, the current arrangement hardly benefits Kargil, one of the two districts in Ladakh region, other being Leh The Government has permantently headquartered the division at Leh. Kargil is nearer to Srinagar than Leh. So Kargil has little reason to celebrate despite being the district with the bigger population. Now, political parties and the civil society groups from the district have threatened to launch an agitation and even  hold protests in New Delhi.

In response, the state administration has formed a committee of secretaries which will look into the issue so that Kargil gets justice. But this hasn’t helped the matters.

In fact, the government’s approach has only added  to the contentious nature of the move and lent it a communal colour in popular perception. Leh is Buddhist majority district and Kargil has a Muslim majority. Similarly Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley whose demand  for the division status have been overlooked have also Muslim majority. So, people in the Valley see a design on works in the government’s  decision to privilege Ladakh over the other two regions.

“The members said that the  grant of separate divisional status to any area of the state including Ladakh comes under the powers and jurisdiction of only  the genuine representatives of the state  who may take such decision after  serious and sustained  debate and discussion on available data of district developmental indices,” Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), a civil society group, said in a statement. “The Governor has once again proved that he has been religiously following the dictates and fascist  ideology of his masters in Delhi and Nagpur against all constitutional norms and propriety”.

The issue is threatening to become a major electoral plank in the run-up to the polls, with Kashmir based parties like the NC and the PDP promising to grant divisional status to Pir Panjal and Chenab should they be elected to power.

On the other hand, the issue has already started driving politics in these two areas with the people  protesting for a division status.  And its intensity is likely to increase as elections draw nearer. At the same time, the issue is likely to figure prominently in Kashmir Valley where the move is perceived as an attempt “to implement the RSS agenda in the state”.

“If anything the state government’s decision to grant divisional status to Ladakh region has once again stoked the fears that there is a premeditated hidden agenda that is being systematically implemented in the state,” read an editorial in a Kashmir daily. “The point at issue here is not that Ladakh has been given the divisionl status, it is that this fraught and major decision was taken by a Governor’s administration as a matter of course. And that too without taking the state’s political parties on board, let alone start a public debate”.

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‘I won’t join separatists but I acknowledge their space and respect their politics’

Edited Excerpts from an interview •

Why did you quit bureaucracy?

I have been thinking about quitting for the past two years. This struggle has been going on within me. Harvard gave me an opportunity to detach myself and think about it.

I think bureaucrats do enjoy lot of power in the state because of the political instability. But the fact of the matter is that the power doesn’t belong to bureaucrats, power belongs elsewhere. Their power is derived from the exigency of the circumstances.

But you also say that bureaucrats wielding excessive power is part of the problem in J&K?

Yes that, in fact, is the part of the problem. When bureaucrats try to appropriate power from the politicians and they try to fill in a political space, that doesn’t auger well. We have seen a kind of depoliticization of the political space. By which I mean, people do not want to associate themselves with the politics and politics doesn’t provide any solutions.

But politicians also aren’t doing their job?

You have people who are dying. You have youngsters taking up gun against the state. There is open rebellion against the state. But this part of the problem is being addressed through a military operation. This is a political problem. You are telling the politicians this is not your job that you focus on repairing roads, culverts and laying of the electricity poles. There is a fundamental problem here: Military is dealing with political problem and the politicians have been restricted to addressing civic problems.

Governor Satya Pal Malik has urged you to return to your job?

It is not because of not getting good postings that I left the service. There were reasons which were completely exogenous. I see a huge political challenge and I wanted to contribute.

You have also said that the mainstream politicians do not represent the sentiment?

Yes. People who are in the electoral arena do not earn their mandate on the basis of the sentiment. They should be honest about it.

We are winning elections because just one percent of people vote for us and we feel we are not accountable to them. The day this mandate is real and people vote for us, that day we will assert ourselves. That this space belongs to us and we are not going to let it go.

They should not make loose statements about the realities they do not have mandate to do anything about. That space belongs to Hurriyat. We should respect their space.

Is this what you want to change?

Yes. Mainstream politicians have chosen to be daily wagers. Because they feel there is no other option. It’s a politics of convenience. You want to be in politics. You don’t have any ideology. You don’t have any motivation to change the system. I want to tell politicians that look, I had a huge career here and that I am giving it up to contribute and change the system.

But you say power lies somewhere else, not with the politicians in the state?

I don’t think power has been taken away. I think it has been given away. We want to take that power back. We are a very special state. We have a very unique legislative and legal status. We could have been very self-sufficient when it comes to maintaining things which we have. Problem is we have given away something. We have delegitimized the political space.

But this lack of power and accountability is less a failure of individuals and more the result of the structural nature of the conflict in the state. This has denied agency to the people and the politicians alike.

That is true. We don’t have agency. So somebody comes and takes a risk and tries to change the things. Finally, India and Pakistan have to recognize that Kashmiris are the primary stakeholders.

But isn’t problem in Kashmir too complex to be approached in literalist terms?

Every conflict zone is complex. Kashmir is not the only conflict zone. We have this misunderstanding that we face something or we are doing something which doesn’t happen anywhere else.We have seen leaders finding it difficult or getting discredited among their people elsewhere also.

But it is not that earlier the people have not tried to change the things. They have ended up getting discredited.

I completely agree with you. It is all about how much conscious you are to the lessons of the history. I am not a career politician as of now. And I am new to this field. And who has a little bit of understanding of the history and who is ready to make sacrifices. Somehow, I think I will be able to take lesson from the history.

You say Kashmiri lives matter. But you are now a part of the same political space which has presided over the killings of Kashmiris.

I am a part of the same political space but I am not the part of the same political parties. I think I have made it very clear that I will not be joining any of the mainstream political party.

Suppose you win an election tomorrow, you become a minister and people die under your watch. Would you resign?

I would. Why not. Not a big deal. At the same time, you have to understand who has the primary responsibility to address the political situation in the state. It is the central government. The state governments are interim administrations. They are there for governance. They are not there to resolve the conflict. They should not put on the facade and say that look we are here to solve the Kashmir issue. And then when killings happen and say we are powerless to stop them. They should stand for one of the two things.

But they can have a political position on the state as they claim to represent the people?

It is not that mainstream politics don’t have a representative character. They do stand for something. But I believe mainstream politicians never exerted. They have always agreed to work for the previous day’s wage. They don’t resign.

If this continues to happen, twenty years down the line you will see absolute decimation of the mainstream politics in the state.

How can you not become one of them?

My point is we have a political space. Let us not abandon it. Let us have good people who get elected. I am not somebody desperate to fight elections and get elected. I am ready to struggle in the field.

Would you like to be a part of the separatist politics which you say represents the sentiment of the people?

There is electoral politics and there’s separatist politics. I acknowledge and respect the separatist space and what they stand for. But I am not operating in that space. I am not here to provide solutions to something I can’t. We are saying we are going to operate in governance space and when it comes to politics we are going to tell the truth.

How do you perceive the politics of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti?

I think it is very hard to do politics in a conflict zone. People do not judge you by your intentions. They judge you by your actions. And you have little control over your actions.

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Here is what you have to pay for cable services now

However, as per the global analytical company CRISIL report, TRAI’s new regime is likely to cost a customer more than what they were paying earlier. According to the report, the monthly bill can go up by 25 per cent from 230-240 to 300 for consumers who will subscribe to the top ten channels in terms of viewership.

When contacted Secretary TRAI, S.K.Gupta told on February 12 that the TRAI had in March 2017, notified the ‘New Regulatory Framework’ for Broadcasting and Cable services. The new framework came into effect on 29th December 2018. However, to provide sufficient time to subscribers for exercising subscribers to exercising their options, the Authority provided time up to 31st January 2019. All the Distribution Platform Owners! (DPOs) were required to migrate the subscribers as per their choice with effect from 1st February 2019.

There are approximately 100 million cable service TV homes and 67 million DTH TV homes in the country. As on February 12, 2019, approximately 65 per cent of the subscribers of the cable services and 35 per cent subscribers of the DTH services have already exercised the options. S.K.Gupta observed that it was brought to the notice of the Authority that as the system of selecting channels/bouquet by the subscribers had been introduced for first time in the country, some subscribers are facing difficulties in selecting the channels/bouquet of their choice. In some cases, LCOs have not been able to reach out to subscriber to create awareness among them and collect the options.

Some subscribers may be required to go to nearest Point of Sale (POS) for exercising their option as they did not have access to IT facility or are not comfortable in using IT system to exercise their options. A few cases have been reported recently where pay channels of the subscribers who have not exercised the options have been deactivated.

Such incidences are causing hardship to the subscribers. He informed that the Direct To Home (DTH) service providers, Multi System Operators (MSOs) and Head end Into The Sky (HITS) operators are collectively referred as Distribution Platform Owners (DPOs).

The Authority was of the view that though the new framework promotes consumer choice and enables the subscribers to pay for what they wish to view but ‘non-exercise of the option’ should not create any inconvenience to the subscribers. Accordingly, the Authority requests all DPOs to create ‘Best Fit Plan’ for its subscribers who have not exercised their options yet.

The ‘Best Fit Plan’ shall be designed based on Consumers’ usage pattern and language spoken. It should preferably be a blended combination of various Genres, while making ‘Best Fit Plan’ for a subscriber, DPOs should ensure that payout per month of the ‘Best Fit Plan’ generally does not exceed the payout per month of existing tariff plan of the subscriber.

The DPOs should continue to provide various user-friendly methods to subscribers to exercise their choice. These methods may include personal contact by Local Cable Operator, calling on Call Centre Number, using Mobile Apps or through Website. DPOs should also continue to generate awareness among the subscribers regarding new Regulatory framework, its benefits and methods to exercise the option to choose the channels of their choice.

The subscribers who have taken long term packs will continue to avail the services for the contracted period. However, they have freedom to choose the channels of their choice under the new regulatory framework and in case if they exercise this option, money for the remaining period shall be adjusted for their future use. In view of the larger public interest, the subscribers who do not exercise their options shall be migrated to a ‘Best Fit Plan’. The subscribers’ old plan shall continue till either subscriber exercise his or her option, or he or she is migrated to the ‘Best Fit Plan’.

March 31 new deadline

The TRAI has extended time up to 31st March 2019 for exercising the option by such subscribers who have not exercised option yet. Subscribers will be free to change their ‘Best Fit Plan’ at any date and time on or before 31st March 2019 and DPOs shall convert their ‘Best Fit Plan’ into the desired pack (channel/Bouquet) within 72 hours from the time choice exercised by the Subscriber. There will be no ‘lock-in period’ for the subscribers till 31st March 2019 who have been migrated to ‘Best Fit Plan’ by DPOs. 10.

It is learnt that broadcasters have fixed the maximum retail price for each channel, while cable TV or DTH operators like Airtel and Tata Sky have created their own package deals for customers. All network operators and broadcasters are required by TRAI to have a base package with 100 standard definition channels. Customers can choose these free-to-air (FTA) channels from a list of several bouquet offers. This will cost the viewers a maximum of Rs 130, excluding Goods & Service Tax (GST). You can buy a pay channel separately over this package at its individual cost. There are 330 pay TV channels and 535 FTA channels, according to TRAI.

The TRAI has listed the price of all pay channels as well as bouquet deals provided by all broadcasters. No broadcaster can charge more than the MRP of a channel, although they can offer a discounted prices to sweeten their offer. To add pay channels to one’s list, the customer will first have to remove the same number of FTA channels.

The overall number of channels in a base package cannot be more than 100. Customers can add channels by paying 20 for every 25 extra channels. For instance, if you pay 150, excluding GST, you get access to 125 channels.

With this, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s new regulatory regime for cable operators and DTH companies has come into play from the month of February 2019. The new rules seek to make it easier for customers to choose what they wish to watch on television, and pay only for the channels that they prefer, rather than be bound by packs decided by the cable operator or DTH company. It also appears that despite TRAI’s directive of a smooth rollout, some customers of Airtel DTH did face a black out of their TV channels. It is learnt that the cost of paid channels will be extra in your bill. It will be 130 (NCF) + price of paid channels + 18 per cent GST.

Switching from the earlier modes to the new tariff guidelines by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has not been an easy affair for the customers and service providers. However, TRAI has said that the move to the new mode is halfway through with 90 million homes — 65 million cable TV and 25 million DTH users — registering their choice with the operators.

The new tariff regime was implemented on February 1, before which the regulators had urged subscribers to take their pick of the channels on offer. The new tariff regime has been brought about with an intention of reducing subscription bills for TV and DTH connections. However, consumers are still splitting hairs on whether that has been fulfilled.

“Out of the total 170 million TV homes (which includes 70 million DTH homes and 100 million cable TV homes), about 90 million homes have already registered their choice with the operators, which is a big number. According to TRAI’s new rules, subscribers will have to choose their own monthly channels or packs. It has not been a seamless process as it left a lot of people wondering how to make the switch, or what the selection process is or the amount that’s required to be paid. The regulator then said that they would roll out awareness programmes on social media as well as advertise about the same.

Additionally, TRAI also clarified that network capacity fee (NCF) is not mandatory for subscribers with multiple connections. It also clarified that the regulation also provides a capping of 130 as NCF for 100 standard definitions (SD) channels and 20 for the next 25 SD channels.

However, as per a CRISIL report, TRAI’s new regime is likely to cost a customer more than what they were paying earlier. According to the report, the monthly bill can go up 25 per cent from 230-240 to 300 for consumers who will subscribe to the top ten channels in terms of viewership. If one chooses the top five channels, then the bill would be less.

You will have the option of choosing HD or SD channel when creating your pack. However one HD channel will count as 2 SD channels in your pack. So if you have chosen 10 HD channels in your list of 100, then it will actually be 80 channels, because 10HD=20SD channels. Eventually a subscriber ends up paying more than what he or she has currently been paying.

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