Rajnath’s next 365 days

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After completing one year in office, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is now bracing for more challenges in the next 365 days with a raging confrontation with AAP government in Delhi over its powers while Maoists and terrorists are looking for an opportunity to change their fortunes.

The immediate challenge before him would be to lead the war of wits against Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government, which has upped its ante against the central government over who would hold the reigns of the capital.

A deft politician, it is to be seen how Singh handles the issue, which has snowballed into a controversy at a time the central government is celebrating its first anniversary and AAP its 100 days in power. The AAP government may raise the pitch for full statehood and even take the Centre to court over a controversial notification clipping its wings though Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about cooperative federalism.

Though the Minister may not have many feathers in his cap in the first year, he could heave a sigh of relief as Maoist violence was on the wane and there was no major terror attack during these days.

On the Maoist front, the Ministry noted that it was “worth mentioning” that naxal violence has “significantly declined” but Singh is repeatedly warning against lowering the guard in tackling the “biggest threat” to internal security.

However, Singh is yet to get a draft policy prepared by the Ministry on tackling the Maoist menace finalised and notified.

With Islamic State becoming a force, the security establishment also need to be on its toes though the terror outfit could manage to get large number of recruits from the country.

Another challenge before the Minister would be to contain fringe elements and ensure that minorities are not losing confidence.  With Bihar elections slated for later this year, official statistics showed that the state is witnessing a surge in communal incidents. Before Lok Sabha elections, Uttar Pradesh also witnessed such a surge in communal violence.

Singh will also have to fight for funds with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, his perceived archrival in BJP, to ensure that the Ministry gets enough funds to carry on projects under modernisation of police forces. The Ministry has already found support from a Parliamentary panel in this regard and expects that the Finance Ministry increase its funds.

*****

Naxal: Violence may be decreasing but Maoists have not lost their sting yet. Will have to have clear strategy

Terror: Improve security system, including coastal security

Communal: Will have to control fringe elements

Modernisation of Police: With funds transfered to states, Centre will have to work hard to ensure that states utilise funds properly.

Centre-State: Idea of cooperative federalism may be impressive but will have to work it out.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on May 26, 2015)

Govt under attack on changing status of bills

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CPI(M) MP K N Balagopal has shot off a letter to Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari, accusing the government of “undermining” the Upper House by classifying certain bills as money bills so that it could clear it even if the Upper House opposes it.

The letter came amid opposition crying foul over the government repeatedly naming certain amendment bills as money bills so that could clear the Upper House hurdle where it is in a minority.

The Constitution gives Lok Sabha Speaker the power to classify a bill as money bill and once it is declared so, it does not require the clearance from Rajya Sabha. A money bill is deemed passed if the Rajya Sabha does not return it within 14 days.

Balagopal, a Rajya Sabha member from Kerala, has raised the issue with Ansari, seeking a “very serious introspection” on the matter.

“It is very important at a time when the ruling government is trying to bypass the Upper House because of their apprehension about the lack of numbers for passing every law as per their wish,” he said.

If the “wrong tendencies” to bypass Rajya Sabha for passing bills through the ‘nomenclature’ of Money Bill is not checked, it will affect the very basic structure of our Constitution and values, he said adding the Upper House “should not be helpless”.

In his letter, Balagopal said provisions of some legislation, which were cleared by both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha earlier, were changed in the just concluded Budget session by bringing in amendment bills that came as money bills.

He cited the Finance Bill, which carried amendments to some independent acts, which were passed in earlier years, as an example for this. Also, the government named the Blackmoney Bill as a money bill.

Amendments in Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act 1952, Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act 1956, Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999 and Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002 were made part of this Finance Bill, which is a money bill.

He said these four legislations passed by both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha earlier were amended through this Finance Bill, thus curtailing the scope and power of Rajya Sabha.

“Thus by putting some independent legislation hidden inside in the Finance Bill, the members of Rajya Sabha are denied their democratic right to vote and pass or defeat this legislation,” he said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on May 15, 2015)

Police, Women and Promotions !!!

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Policemen misbehaving with women could end up on the losing side if state governments accept a Central advisory to link their promotions to their attitude towards the fairer sex.

Advocating a “comprehensive and holistic” approach to tackle crime against women, the Union Home Ministry on Tuesday also asked the states to develop a gender-sensitivity index and apply it appropriately while taking decisions on posting of police officers in the field.

With the recent incident of Delhi Traffic Police personnel hitting a woman with bricks making headlines, the Ministry’s advisory also want the mention of gender sensitivity in the Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR) to be included to ascertain the conduct of personnel.

“Attitude of police personnel towards women should be considered for their posting or promotions,” it said.

Besides the suggestion for organising gender sensitisation programmes, the advisory has asked for strict action against police personnel, “who exhibit discourtesy or bias against women or neglect their supervisory responsibilities”.

Another concern related to rise of cyber crimes targetted at women and children. The Ministry wanted police to “periodically” check internet content to see whether pornographic videos on women and children. The advisory suggested setting up of specialised cyber-crime cells.

The Ministry also brought the attention of the states police personnel are not registering crimes against women under “appropriate” sections of IPC “leading to suppression of heinous crimes and misrepresentation in crime data”. “Proper sensitisation of lower level functionaries is needed to make optimum use of existing legislations,” it said.

The advisory observed that in some cases, acid attack victims were not given Rs three-lakh compensation as mandated by Supreme Court. Same is the case with the mandatory registration of FIR in missing children case.

The Ministry warned that these “deficiencies need to be rectified immediately” to avoid contempt proceedings.

Citing official statistics that 94.3 per cent of rape cases are committed by people known to victims, the advisory noted that this has “some serious social connotations” as it points out a deep-rooted social malady. It wanted states to encourage Universities to undertake research on the causes of “such criminal psyche and possible solutions” besides deterrent punishment through legal trial.

“Police is a state subject and hence it is the duty of the state government to modernise the police with respect to societal aspirations, sensitivity, gender and operational needs,” the advisory said.

“The government of India has already greatly enhanced the state’s share of central taxes from 32 per cent to 42 per cent. In view of the same, the states are requested to take immediate and effective measures,” it added.

Advisory on Women

**Increase women personnel in police

**Increase number of beat constables, police booths on crime-sensitive roads

**Increase no. of telephone booths for easy access to police

**Mention whether personnel is gender sensitive in his appraisal report

**Attitude towards women should be considered for policeman’s promotion or posting

** Deploy policemen in the field on the basis of gender-sensitivity index

** Need for specialised investigative apparatus on crime against women

** Maintain database of criminals having history of sexual crimes

** Ensure crime against women registered under appropriate sections of IPC

** Set up cyber cell for dealing with cyber crimes against women

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on May 14, 2015)

The selfie session with Rekha

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Actress Rekha has completed three years as a nominated MP but every time she walks into Rajya Sabha, Parliamentarians seem to be excited and would not let go an opportunity to chat up with her.

It was the same on Monday, her only 12th appearance in 202 days of Parliament’s working days after she took oath in May 2012, as some of the MPs utilised a 15-minute adjournment during Question Hour to take photos with her.

The actress, who came to Parliament for the first time during the second leg of Budget session, was chatting up with another nominated MP Anu Agha when Congress members Kumari Selja and Rajani Patil walked to Seat No 99, Rekha’s designated seat.

Soon HRD Minister Smriti Irani and another Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury also joined them.

However, the unscheduled “photo session” started when Patil asked Selja to click her photo with Rekha. Soon a few women MPs like Vijayalakshmi Sadho and Wansuk Syiem went to her seat with their mobile phones and sought help from other MPs like Chowdhary to click their photos with Rekha.

Some of the MPs, apparently not satisfied the first images they got, also forced the actress to pose again for them.

Congress MPs Digvijay Singh and Rajiv Shukla also had a brief chat with Rekha, who was in the House for less than 30 minutes.

Her erratic presence in the House was subject of criticism by MPs. She has company in cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, who had attended 10 out of 198 sitting after he took oath.

According to PRS Legislative Research, both the MPs have around six per cent attendance while the average attendance of MPs is 78 per cent. None of them have raised a question, attended a debate or moved a private member’s bill, it said.

Also Read https://sheminjoy.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/seat-no-99-rekha/

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on May 12, 2015)

Modi takes ‘Time’ for the perfect click

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If three ‘Time’ reporters took two hours to elicit an over 7,100 word interview of Narendra Modi, their photographer took almost an hour to get the right clicks of the image-conscious Prime Minister to feature in the cover as well as inside pages.

Peter Hapak, a contract photographer for Time magazine, got a “lengthy” and “unusual” photo session with the Prime Minister, who loves to take ‘selfies’ with his mobile phone.

Hapak, a known name for portrait photography, said he had “very fortunate session” with Modi.

“I had a full hour with him, which is very unusual because most of the time I only have 10 minutes for a portrait session. For portraiture, it is very important to make your subject forget that you are here, that somebody is watching him. It was enough time for him to get comfortable,” he was quoted by Time as saying.

The shoot was the culmination of a three-day visit to New Delhi. Hapak said on the second day, they were granted access to the Prime Minister’s 7, Race Course Road residence.

“We made a complete scout. We were able to go through his office, his lounges and his garden, where he spends a lot of his time when he’s alone,” Hapak, who has shot more than 15, covers for Time, said.

On the day of the shoot, Times report said, Hapak spent 30 minutes shooting Modi’s portrait for the cover.

“I was shooting a wide range against different backgrounds. After the cover shoot, he took a walk outside, and I told him to do what he would usually do if I were not there. It was only the two of us. He was giving me a lot, which is what also defines a good portrait. The subject feels so comfortable that he can open up in his private moments. I was trying to see the things that we do not see. How is it living? How is it spending his time alone?” Hapak said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on May 9, 2015)

Sitaram Speaks

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Sitaram Yechury, the new CPI(M) General Secretary, has a tough job at hand at a time his party is electorally or organisationally healthy. He knows it more than anyone else does. On May 3 evening, I sat up with him in AKG Bhavan, the CPI(M) headquarters, on Bhai Veer Singh Marg, for a chat.

Modi government is completing one year. How do you see the government’s performance? Has ‘Ache Din’ come?

No. On the contrary, people are now yearning for ‘ache din’. The burden on people is continuously growing. You have seen the increase in prices of diesel and petrol once again when the international prices are much lower than what they were Modi assumed office. So, I mean, inspite of that, your manufacturing, industrial growth is stagnating. You industry is now saying that they have inventories piled up for another two to three years. The FICCI is making that statement. So all these efforts Modi making to attract new investment, foreign investment, what will they produce and who will they sell? International situation has not improved. Your exports have declined by 26 per cent last year. So you cannot sell abroad what you produce. In India, people’s purchasing power is declining. That is, people who have money do not require buying what this production will produce. People who need to buy, do not have the money, they do not have the disposable income because of price rise. This strategy can never work in the present situation. What needs to be done is not being done but by this government. That is you should mobilise all the tax resources, legally and legitimately. Instead, you are giving huge concessions to the rich and cutting subsidies to the poor. Now these concessions to the rich in the name of encouraging investment cannot produce results for the same reasons. Instead of this, the government should collect these resources and it should invest in the much-needed infrastructure, both social and economic, build our roads, irrigation facilities etc. That will create more jobs. And the youth who are employed in new jobs will spend their salaries. That will be the growth in domestic market, which will be the impetus for manufacturing and industry to grow. That is the growth strategy we require.

There is criticism from within BJP. Arun Shourie has questioned the government’s achievements.

The source of the criticism, I am not willing to comment. The person who is now mounting criticism publicly lobbied to be the Finance Minister, publicly lobbied to be the head of now defunct Planning Commission, publicly wanted to be heading the new Niti Ayog. Now this criticism can be explained, as he has not got anything he wanted. So that there is their internal business. But there is a point in what is being said and that point is what we are saying about the path being followed by Modi. The point we are saying is very clear that India today do not have a lack either of resources or of youth power. Our youth is eager to contribute to creating a better India. What they require is good health, good education and job opportunities. These three and nothing are required. Instead of doing that, what the government is doing is expanding opportunities for foreign and domestic corporates to maximise their profit. That is not going to benefit India.

CPI(M) always faces the question of who is the bigger enemy. Let me put it a different way. So, is Narendra Modi the bigger enemy or Rahul Gandhi?

Politically, the Congress’ economic policies created the discontent, which the BJP utilised for its coming to government. The BJP   today is more aggressively pursuing the same policies. So there is no difference between the two. In addition, the BJP is also patronising a very rabid, communal polarisation. It is providing the cover and protection for the RSS and its affiliates to launch all what they are doing like ghar wapsi, love jihad and all. So, this BJP government led by Modi has welded both these into one. Because they are in power, because they have welded both these objectives, they are big danger. But that does not mean, we can have an any alliance or front with Congress because it is their policies that have brought BJP to power. So our attitude is going to be, we have to face this challenge that the BJP is now mounting by welding both these aspects communalism and neo liberal economic policies.

Rahul Gandhi is now making right noises. How do you see his recent activities?

What we have said and done is on issues, which we think are anti-people and anti-country. On these issues, on issue to issue, we will join with all the political forces, which are willing to fight at the level of Parliament and then take it forward. On the Land Bill, for example, we are on the same side with the Congress and other parties. On many of the anti-people issues, we are opposing in the Parliament. On some of the issues, the Congress has supported this government like in Insurance FDI, Mines and Minerals and Coal allocation bills. We have opposed but they have supported. So it depends on which one they are willing to come.

You referred to Land Bill. CPI(M) is raising the issue of land for quite some time. Do you repent the Singur/Nandigram fiasco, which led to party’s defeat in West Bengal?

There were mistakes in the handling of Singur. That we have already accepted. In Nandigram, not an inch of land was acquired or contemplated to be acquired. That was mere propaganda. In Singur, we said there was mistake, we identified them. So that is all on record. But you must remember that we raised the issue of new land acquisition law even before Singur. We were the first political party in the country to say that 1894 act was an antiquated Act. That has to change. Many of the issues we raised have been accepted in the 2013 law. But some were not accepted. For example, we had said that the peasant whose land has been acquired, for 20 years, he will be a stakeholder in the escalation of that land’s value. We had even suggested concretely when the discussion were on with the then UPA government that you give 1/16th of the share of the new project to those who held the land you have taken so that price escalates and they get benefits. That was not accepted. Both BJP and Congress joined to defeat our amendment in Parliament then. The point is in Singur, in retrospect, there were mistakes that could have been avoided. It was wrong that we bypassed it. But there were objective reasons. We won the 2006 election in Bengal. We won it on the slogan of industrialisation. We presumed people supported that because we got a two-third majority. And therefore, we did not do the homework that was necessary to do. Because Singur is not the first or the last land acquisition in Bengal. It had happened before and it is happening subsequently. But in every case, there is a certain homework that was done. The people whose land was being acquired were involved in the process, issues of compensation, rehabilitation. They were all discussed thoroughly. Only with their cooperation and enlistment, the land was acquired. This was bypassed because of the circumstances of those elections. That created a certain resentment, which the opposition used fully.

So electorally, Bengal is your first priority.

Yes, in the sense to revive in Bengal. Now we are happy with the current municipal election results. We are not really happy but we are satisfied. Our slogan was arrest (the decline) and recover. Now, first time since 2009, we have arrested the decline in our vote share. 2009 Lok Sabha elections, 2010 municpal polls, 2011 Assembly polls, 2013 Panchayat polls, 2014 Lok Sabha elections — our vote share declined. This time, the vote share has marginally increased. So that the decline has been arrested. Now, we are concentrating on recovering lost ground and that will be our priority.

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Another area of concern seems to the expansion plans in Hindi heartland.

We have plans for Hindi heartland. That will be concretised only after the party Plenum that will be held by the end of year. In the Hindi heartland, we will have specific programmes that on which we reach out to people, on issues like social oppression. On these, there will be special programmes. We will take up these issues and try to forge unity between the struggles on economic issues, which are increasing by the day along with these issues. That is the only way we think we can advance in these areas.

You spoke about youth earlier. CPI(M) is looking at attracting youth. How are you going to do that?

Our USP to the youth is first recognition that the youth today are eager to play an important rule in a national resurgence to create a better India. As I said earlier, that can be only done through alternative policies that can provide the youth. Now, who is the one offering such an alternative? It is only the Left. So that is our basic appeal to the youth. We think and this is borne out by recent developments. Increasingly, the youth are feeling betrayed by Modi government where their aspirations were exploited for BJP’s victory but nothing has been done in that direction. And this is already finding a reflection in anti-incumbency. Within one year, they lost the Delhi elections in such a way. In the last 40 years, I have not seen a government becoming so unpopular within one year and with such a massive mandate, losing Delhi polls the way the lost. And every by-elections, local elections, their vote percentage is on the decline.

You referred to the Delhi polls. There is an argument that AAP has taken over CPI(M)’s space.

To be fair, it appears that they taken over our space. I should not be saying they have not taken over. That is they have been more effective in taking up the issues that we have traditionally championed. That is a fact. Recognising that, we also supported AAP in (Delhi Assembly) constituencies where there were no Left candidates. But the point is that we have seen such waves of new parties coming in and forming state governments. That happened in Assam. It happened in various parts of north India after the JP’s Total Revolution. But none of them sustained. In order to sustain, you require a certain vision and alternative policies. We have been saying that the AAP today lacks that clarity on economic policies and on fight against communalism. And infact, I think we have been vindicated because all the reality shows on the inner AAP problems is actually a reflection of this point. There is no clarity. There is one section talking of something else, another section talking about something else. That is a big problem. They will have to decide on policy direction. We have seen such instances in the past. It is not the first time it has happened.

Janata Parivar is also coming together.

At one level, it is a positive development. But the Janata Parivar coming together only for as an electoral alternative in the face of Bihar and UP polls also cannot sustain. What is their alternative policy? After all, remember, the Left’s contribution to India, from freedom struggle, has been based on two components — the Communist Left and the Socialist Left. This got totally disarrayed from BJP to Congress. The socialist bloc got divided. But they must reunite on an alternative programme. Temporarily, yes against BJP they coming together may be of big help in UP and Bihar. But that also cannot sustain unless they have an alternative, programmatic vision.

What are your organisational worries as party General Secretary? Factionalism, is it worrying you?

These sorts of worries you mention are not the real worries. In our party, you must understand, there is a vibrant inner party democracy. We will have different views always. We are happy that we have different views, otherwise there will be no life. Finally, we come to a common understanding. Even in Vishakhapattanam, the final decision came unanimously. We come to that position. That is a different aspect. Organisationally, the main worry is organisation today is not in a position to reach out to the people, the way it should reach out. Secondly, the organisation today is not attractive to younger generation, the way our ideology should be attractive. After all, Marxism is a modern ideology. We do not talk about India in the past and mythology and all. We are a party with a modern outlook. Why is that we are not attractive to youth? Because our organisational ability to reach the youth, there are some defects obviously. For us, the organisation is our biggest weapon. It is the vehicle between the party and people. Now that has to be vastly improved. That is my biggest challenge and worry. How to overcome that? That is why we decided in the party Congress to have an organisational plenum. Once we have this plenum and set our organisation right, as our links with people expand and our influence starts growing, many of these problems, which you think are major problems, like factionalism etc etc automatically will go into the background.

(Edited Excerpts of this interview was published in Deccan Herald on May 4, 2015)

NDRF in Nepal/DG speaks

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Sixteen Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are deployed in earthquake-struck Nepal and working round-the-clock with sophisticated equipment. This is the second time the NDRF, which is established in 2009, is deployed on a foreign soil, the first being in Japan in 2011. The NDRF teams are spread across quake-hot localities like Kathmandu, Balaju Bypass, Chaumati, Gongbhu, Maharajganj, Brijeshwari, Basundhra Namunatol, Tilganga, A D Artillery Balaju and Shobha Bhagawati Bridge. NDRF Director General O P Singh is in Kathmandu leading the operations. I spoke to him over phone about the rescue and relief operations.

Excerpts

The NDRF has worked in several missions in the country. How different is this Nepal mission for the NDRF?

It is quite different because the pattern of the earthquake is slightly different. Here the structures are falling in pan-cake fashion. Some of the buildings have fallen are in a different pattern. Most of the buildings have gone off in tilted form. All these patterns are visible here and that is why the operations are different at each locations. That is why we are employing more of technical equipments, sniffer dogs rather than doing it in a very traditional way. Technical equipment like life detectors and cutters are being used in a very big way and it is very handy for us in rescuing people.

Your teams have gone to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for rescue and relief work following the quake originated in Nepal. How difficult was the operation in Nepal compared to these states?

In Bihar, the situation was entirely different. Bihar is a plain area, flattish land. There what happened was due to earth quake, more than 60 people were killed. There, the structures have collapsed in a different fashion. In mountainous region like in Nepal, the scene is different. Here (in Bihar) the rooftops are very strong and in the recent past, people are building earth quake resistant structures. The quake-bearing capacity of buildings in Nepal is very weak and because of that buildings have collapsed. They are building structures in a very casual, in a very unprofessional manner. There is lack of structural engineering part (in structures in Nepal) and that is why the buildings have collapsed.

You have gone to several quake-hit areas in Nepal. Can you describe the devastation you saw? Is it because of the building structure that the damage to life and property is huge?

Yes. That is why we often say earthquake does not kill you but the collapse of buildings, falling structures kill you. Due to this, people are trapped inside the debris. It is very difficult to take them out live. In the initial two to three days, we try to rescue people. We were successful in taking out around a dozen live victims. Now, getting live victims is very very remote.

How long your teams will be there in Nepal?

We are here. The rescue operations are almost over because now what we are getting are dead bodies. We have suggested to the authorities (in Nepal) that they should now go for heavy earthmovers and equipment so that the debris is cleared. It is not possible to manually clear the debris. No rescue team can go on indefinitely looking for bodies. We are employing heavy equipment. We might graduate into medical emergency services by establishing medical camps with our medical component, including doctors, paramedics and nurses. We have sufficient stock of medicines. Medicines are coming from India. We can utilise these, establish camps in affected areas and give relief to people and victims.

India, it is said, is better equipped in dealing with disasters compared to its neighbouring countries. But what do you think, India should learn from this disaster?

We should sensitise people about construction policy. We need go for earthquake resistant structures and it is equally important for certain parts of our country also, those parts which are seismic zones.

Is it the biggest mission NDRF has undertaken? Is Nepal mission the first foreign assignment for NDRF?

We are the first to reach and the largest deployed in Nepal. Around 800 rescuers are part of the Indian team. You may say so (that this is the biggest NDRF mission) as this is the first biggest earthquake which we have experienced since the inception of NDRF. And that too, we are deployed in a foreign land. This is our second international exposure. The first was in Japan in 2011 when it faced triple disaster (earthquake and tsunami leading to Fukushima nuclear disaster).

(An edited version appeared in Spotlight section of Deccan Herald on May 3, 2015)

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