No third RS term for Yechury, fissures deepen in CPI(M)

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury will not return to Rajya Sabha for a third term after party’s Central Committee (CC) on Tuesday rejected a demand to get him elected from West Bengal with the support of Congress.

Four hours of acrimonious discussion in Central Committee and subsequent voting exposed deep fissures in the party after Bengal unit vociferously brought the issue to CC even as Polit Bureau (PB) twice rejected the proposal.

While around 45-50 CC members “raised their hands” against fielding Yechury in the Rajya Sabha polls during an unprecedented voting, around 25-30 supported the idea after Bengal leaders argued that if they do not use this opportunity, the party would go unrepresented in Rajya Sabha from West Bengal after three years.

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They also argued that if Yechury is elected unopposed, then there is no question of taking Congress votes. Another argument was the prominence Yechury getting in Opposition politics and they believed that his presence in Parliament would further enhance the party’s position nationally.

A senior leader described the decision not to field Yechury as “another historic blunder”, alluding to Jyoti Basu’s description of the 1996 decision not to allow him to take the Prime Ministership in the United Front government.

A section led by Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat was adamant that they should not go ahead with getting Yechury elected with the support of Congress. They argued that it was also not proper that the party General Secretary himself getting elected with Congress support, violating Party Congress decision not to have electoral understanding or alliance with that party.

Yechury, whose term ends on August 18 along with five other MPs from West Bengal, told both the PB and CC hat he is not willing to contest as it is against the party norms of not allowing more than two terms. On Sunday, the Polit Bureau had again rejected the proposal of Bengal unit to renominate Yechury for a third time.

Elections to six Rajya Sabha seats would be held on August 8 in which Trinamool Congress can win five seats but CPI(M) does not have enough MLAs in West Bengal Assembly to win the sixth seat on its own. Congress has expressed its willingness to support if CPI(M) fields Yechury.

Sources said leaders like Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar were of the view that even if it is necessary to send Yechury to Parliament, it should be from Kerala or Tripura where the party is in power.

Asked whether the Left would fight the Rajya Sabha elections, a senior CPI(M) leader told DH that the Left Front leaders in Bengal would take a call.

Sources said what stand the party would take if the Left decides not to field a candidate and Congress choose Meira Kumar, the joint Opposition candidate the party, as its nominee from West Bengal. “After voting in favour of Kumar in Presidential polls, how can we not support her if we are not fighting?” they said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 26, 2017)

Will Yechury get a 3rd term in RS?

Renomination of General Secretary Sitaram Yechury to Rajya Sabha will come up in the CPI(M) Central Committee meeting on Tuesday after the party’s Polit Bureau refused to endorse the Bengal unit’s recommendation for him.

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An acrimonious discussion is expected in the central panel where the Bengal unit will forcefully push their case, which may even see an unprecedented voting in the Central committee.

The Bengal leaders are of the view that if they don’t jump on this opportunity, they would go unrepresented in Rajya Sabha from 2020.

Sources said the Bengal unit may get more support in the Central Committee compared to the meeting when the issue of electoral alliance with Congress in the state Assembly elections.

On Sunday, the Polit Bureau had again rejected the proposal of Bengal unit to renominate Yechury for a third time. It is expected to inform the Central Committee about its rationale for arriving at such a decision though Congress has offered support to the party in case the General Secretary is fielded.

Yechury, whose term ends on August 18 along with five other MPs from West Bengal, has already said in Polit Bureau that he is not willing to contest as it is against the party norms of not allowing more than two terms in Parliament and may communicate the same in the Central Committee.

The CPI(M) does not have enough MLAs in in West Bengal Assembly to win the sixth seat and Congress has expressed its willingness to not field any candidate for the August 8 polls. The last date of nomination is on Friday.

One of the contentions by a section of central leaders in Polit Bureau led by Prakash Karat is that the party should not take Congress support to win a seat in Rajya Sabha. Leaders like Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar are of the view that even if it is necessary to send Yechury to Parliament, it should be from Kerala or Tripura where the party is in power.

They also argue that if there are only six candidates for six seats, then the question of voting by Congress would not raise. They also flagged the coordination one sees in Parliament at present and the Left support to UPA to keep the BJP.

A senior leader said it would be a repeat of the “historic blunder” committed in 1996 when Jyoti Basu was not allowed to become Prime Minister if the party now decides not to field Yechury.

Another argument put forward by those who support the idea of a third term is that Yechury has managed to push its candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi for Vice Presidential polls. His presence in Parliament would further enhance the party’s position nationally.

(July 24, 2017)

Law and Order much better: JK to Centre

The law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir is now “much better” than the previous year, the state government has told the Centre citing official figures of incidents.

However, the attempts to create trouble in the Valley is on a rise as infiltration attempts have more than doubled and terror incidents this year have not decreased compared to last year.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed the Parliament last week the government is keeping a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India’s security and takes all necessary measures to safeguard it.

“As reported by the State Government, the law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir is much better than the previous year as 583 cases have been registered during the current year till date against 2897 cases of previous year,” Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir replied to a written question in Lok Sabha last week.

It also noted that the number of civilians killed this year was 21 while last year saw 85 civilian deaths. In comparison, it was 112 in 2010.

The state government told MHA that 12,650 miscreants or separatists were either arrested or bound down under substantive and preventive laws since year 2016. Separatists and trouble mongers have been kept under close surveillance to check their activities.

According to statistics provided by the MHA, there were 664 incidents of stone-pelting incidents this year till July 9 while there were 2,808 in 2016 and 2,794 in 2010. Stone-pelting and other protests had intensified in Kashmir after the encounter killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani in July last year.

While there was a decrease in terrorist incidents in the past couple of years but it rose to 322 in 2016 and this year till July 9, there were 172 incidents in which 12 civilians, 38 security personnel and 95 terrorists were killed.

There were 42 infiltration attempts on the Line of Control during the past six months of this year as against 19 during the same period last year.

The MHA said the government “regularly reviews” the security situation in Kashmir and necessary directions are given from time to time.

In Parliament, the MHA made it clear that government’s policy on Kashmir is “same as was unanimously adopted by Parliament” on 22 February 1994 through a resolution, which said Jammu and Kashmir “has been, is and shall be an integral part of India and any attempts to separate it from the rest of the country will be resisted by all necessary means”.

“India has the will and capacity to firmly counter all designs against its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity and demands that Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression and resolves that all attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of India will be met resolutely,” the 1994 resolution had said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 24, 2017)

‘With a tinge of sadness, rainbow of memories’, Pranab leaves Parl

President Pranab Mukherjee turned nostalgic in his last speech in Parliament on Sunday, which he made exactly 48 years and one day after he first attended a session in “this living institution”.

In his farewell speech to Parliamentarians in the Central Hall, he remembered that he was only 34 years when he first entered the portals of this “hallowed institution” as a member of Rajya Sabha from West Bengal.

“My election to Rajya Sabha took place on 4 July and the first session I attended began on 22 July, 1969,” he said as he travelled back in time.

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However, he said, “as I retire from the Office of the President of the Republic, my association with the Parliament also comes to an end. I will no longer be a part of the Parliament of India. It will be with a tinge of sadness and a rainbow of memories that I will be leaving this magnificent building today.”

He remembered that when he entered Parliament at a time when Rajya Sabha was full of experienced parliamentarians and leaders of the freedom movement, many of whom were brilliant speakers. He referred to MC Chagla, Ajit Prasad Jain, Jairamdas Daulatram, Bhupesh Gupta, Joachim Alva, Mahavir Tyagi, Raj Narain, Bhai Mahavir, Loknath Misra and Chitta Basu and many more.

“In fact, Bhupesh Gupta was truly a legend in the Rajya Sabha. Dahyabhai Patel and Maniben Patel, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s son and daughter, represented Swatantra Party in the Parliament,” he said.

He said he was further enriched by the wisdom of P V Narasimha Rao, who brought back him into prominence after political wilderness for some time. He also acknowledged the oratory skills of BJP stalwart A B Vajpayee, cryptic one-liners of socialists Madhu Limaye and Dr Nath Pai, wit and humour of Piloo Modi, poetic discourses of Left leader Hiren Mukherjee, razor-sharp repartee of CPI’s Indrajit Gupta, calming presence of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, mature advice of BJP stalwart LK Advani and passionate support of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on social legislations.

Though his Parliament membership ended in July 2012 after he took over as President, he said, he still continued to have a “tenacious link” with this institution and became an integral part of it as the President of Republic, as per the Constitution.

“In these five years, my principal responsibility was to function as the guardian of the Constitution. As I had said on oath, I strived to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution, not just in word but also in spirit,” he said.

As he took leave of the MPs, he said, “I leave with a sense of fulfilment and happiness of having served the people of this great country through this institution- as their humble servant.”

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 24, 2017)

CAG raps MoCA for Kingfisher Airlines’ dues

The Ministry of Civil Aviation has got a rap on its knuckles from the government auditor for “failing” to take steps to recover Rs 9.19 crore from Kingfisher Airlines.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said in a report tabled in Parliament that the Ministry has “failed to ensure” that Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) collect dues from the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines.

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BIAL was to collect Passenger Service Fee through airlines and deposit with the government.

In March 2014, BIAL had sought the approval of the Ministry to write off the dues recoverable from the airline.

“The proposal of BIAL is not tenable as it would be an undue favour to the defaulter and condonation of faikure of BIAL to fulfill its fiduciary responsibility,” the CAG said.

“As a result, outstanding dues against airlines accumulated and recovery of Rs 9.19 crore from Kingfisher Airlines was rendered doubtful,” it said.

The matter was reported to the Ministry in April last year but the CAG was awaiting reply till January this year.

As of March 2914, Kingfisher Airlines had an outstanding of Rs 16.77 crore out of which Rs 9.64 crore was outstanding for more than one year.

It further increased to Rs 17.44 crore as on March 2016 of which Rs 10.12 crore was outstanding for more than one year, the CAG said. Out of this, Rs 9.19 crore was outstanding from 2012-13 onwards from Kingfisher Airlines, which ceased operations in September 2012.

Though the Ministry received periodic accounts of BIAL, the CAG said, at no time the Ministry directed the airport operator to collect and remit the dues. As per an agreement, BIAL has to deposit dues within 21 days of a request from the government.

“The SOP also did not provide for levyif penal interest for non-payment of dues by the Airlines. In the absence of such a clause, non-recovery of dues constituted an interest-free loan to Kingfisher Airlines,” it said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 21, 2017)

Nitish does not oppose for the sake of opposing: KC Tyagi

The Grand Alliance in Bihar is in news after Nitish Kumar’s support to NDA Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind and the CBI case against Deputy Chief Minister and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav. Speculation was rife that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will break ranks with the alliance. I spoke to JD(U) senior leader K C Tyagi on the developments.

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Is the alliance united? Or is it breaking?

The alliance is intact and united. There were some strains when the names of (Deputy Chief Minister) Tejashwi Yadav or (Health Minister) Tej Pratap Yadav appeared in FIRs or allegations. There were ED notices, IT raids and CBI case. Nitish Kumar wanted that it should not have any impact on the alliance government. Particularly, he wanted Tejashwi should come clean. The Chief Minister was of the view, which he said in a meeting of Ministers, MLAs and MPs, that there should be clarity. When their names had come in Jain hawala diary, leaders like Sharad Yadav and L K Advani had resigned. This was the tradition. Earlier, three ministers were removed by Nitish Kumar. If Tejashwi was in JD(U), he would have been removed. But this is an alliance government. For 15 days, the RJD was adamant that Tejashwi would not resign saying communal forces are targeting them and all. Finally, Tejashwi met Nitish Kumar. Tej Pratap also met him.

Can we infer that Nitish Kumar has backtracked from his demand on resignation of Tejashwi Yadav?

As the Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar never asked for Tejashwi’s resignation. If the Chief Minister had asked a Minister to resign, he has to. Otherwise he will be sacked. There was a perception.

There is a perception that RJD calls the shots. Is it an overbearing ally?

It was running smooth. RJD had 22 MLAs earlier. With JD(U), it has risen to 80. But one has to understand, JD(U) had given its winning seats to allies RJD and Congress. One has to understand in that process, we have contested lesser seats. One can say that Congress had a better strike rate as most of its candidates won the elections. The issue is that there is a systematic attack on Nitish Kumar. Leaders like Raghuvansh Prasad and some MLAs use whatever opportunity to target the Chief Minister. However, one should remember that not a single JD(U) leader attacked (RJD chief) Lalu Prasad.

Were you upset with Congress’ reaction to Nitish Kumar after JD(U) decided to support NDA Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind?

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s statements on Nitish Kumar were unwarranted. But how did JD(U) end up supporting Kovind? As there was wider consultation on Vice Presidential polls, JD(U) and BJD have also come together with the other Opposition parties. We are of the opinion that if Gopalkrishna Gandhi was declared the candidate for Presidential polls earlier, there was no question of JD(U) going out. Then it would have been a close contest. Most of the parties were for a non-Congress, civil society person to contest. But then also, for the JD(U), the support for Kovind was a one-time, isolated incident.

There is a perception that Nitish Kumar always keep his options open. Is it so?

He doesn’t. He is a staunch Lohia-ist and had gone to jail during Emergency but he never hobnobbed with Congress then. When he and George Fernandes joined the NDA, they entered into an agreement that the coalition will not go ahead with BJP’s policies of abrogation of Article 370, Uniform Civil Code and Ayodhya issue. Then Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes had said court will decide the Ayodhya issue. For 15 years, we were in NDA but fringe elements were not allowed. It is not the case now. The NDA in which JD(U) was part is not there anymore. It is different. Earlier, it was not a bad thing to be in NDA but it is a bad thing to be in NDA now because the NDA has changed its character. Then it is the same Nitish Kumar who first opposed the idea of banning triple talaq when the Law Commission sought opinion. Nitish Kumar does not oppose for the sake of opposing.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight on July 23, 2017)

77 votes invalid, 21 of them MPs!

They were supposed to write ‘1’ (one) against their choice of Presidential nominees but 77 MLAs and MPs could not do just that in the Presidential polls.

The votes of 21 MPs and 56 MLAs from across the country, which has a combined value of 20,942, were rendered “invalid”.

The big surprise is that this happened despite Election Commission and parties taking extra efforts to make the MLAs and MPs, who comprises the electoral college, learn how to properly mark their preference.

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The highlight is that the trend of decrease in invalid votes has been reversed. While the number of invalid votes in 1997 Presidential elections was 171, (32 MPs) it rose to 174 (42 MPs) in 2002. In the last elections of 2012, the invalid votes was 69 (15 MPs).

While 21 MP’s votes with a value of 14,868 were rendered invalid, the highest figure from the states was from West Bengal where 10 MLAs (valued at 1,510) did not cast their votes in prescribed format.

West Bengal was followed by Delhi where the votes of six MLAs, probably from the AAP, were declared invalid. BJP, which has four MLAs, had got six votes in Delhi.

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Invalid Votes

21 – MPs

10 – West Bengal

6 – Delhi

4 – Jharkhand, Manipur,

3 – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Punjab

2 – Goa, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh.

1 – Haryana, Mizoram, Sikkim, Puducherry

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Three MLAs in Karnataka also could not mark their preference properly while neighbouring Andhra Pradesh has three invalid votes. Other southern neighbours Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana did not have a single invalid

There were no invalid votes from 12 states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tripura and Uttarakhand besides the three southern states. 

(An edited article appeared in Deccan Herald on July 21, 2017)

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