Pranab thought he would become PM in 2012: Book

In a new revelation, former President Pranab Mukherjee says he had a “vague” feeling that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi wanted to nominate Manmohan Singh as UPA presidential candidate in 2012 and make him the Prime Minister.

In the third and final volume of his autobiography ‘The Coalition Years: 1996-2012’ released on Friday evening, Mukherjee also says Gandhi was inclined to make him the Home Minister after Mumbai terror attacks but the then Prime Minister Singh’s advice against it led to P Chidambaram replacing Shivraj Patil.

Recalling the days of hectic negotiations ahead of 2012 Presidential polls in July, he says that Gandhi told him on 2 June 2012 that he was “eminently suited” for the top post but said he “should not forget the crucial role” he plays in the government. She asked him to “suggest a substitute” to which he told her that he have acted as per the leadership’s decision.

“The meeting ended, and I returned with a vague impression that she might wish to consider Manmohan Singh as the UPA presidential nominee. I thought that if she selected Singh for the presidential office, she may choose me as the prime minister,” Mukherjee remembers.

The next fortnight days saw hectic political negotiations and Gandhi informing him that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had suggested the names of the then Vice President Hamid Ansari and Mukherjee for the post. Banerjee then consults Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and in a surprise announcement names A P J Abdul Kalam, Singh and Somnath Chatterjee in that order as their choice.

The drama ended after a slew of meetings on 14 June 2012 and Singh informed Mukherjee about his discussions about the issue and their “joint decision” to nominate Mukherjee.

Pranab Cover

He also refers to Sharad Pawar who went to create his own party was irked with Gandhi because she relied more P Shiv Shankar on all important issues. “This sense of alienation and disenchantment may have been responsible for his statements on Sonia’s foreign origin and his subsequet exit from the party in 1999,” he adds.

Mukherjee also remembers that P Chidambaram was “stridently vocal” against Patil at a Congress Working Committee meeting, three days after the Mumbai attacks. He says he tried to bring the “sentiment down a bit”. On 1 December 2012, Singh calls him for a meeting where he was told Patil had resigned and tells him about Gandhi’s preference.

Singh said he told Gandhi he could not change Mukherjee at that time and “hence it was decided” that Chidambaram would replace Patil.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Oct 14, 2017)

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BJP leaders giving slip to Pranab book launch?

Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s third volume of autobiography will hit the stands with its launch on Friday in the presence of ‘who-is-who’ from the Opposition.

None from the ruling dispensation will be on the dais, as the invite from the publisher reads that ‘The Coalition Years: 1996-2012’ will be released in the “presence of Manmohan Singh, Sitaram Yechury, Rahul Gandhi, S Sudhakar Reddy, Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Satish Chandra Mishra and M K Kanimozhi”.

Sources said Mukherjee’s office had approached some government leaders but they did not confirm their presence at the function and that was why their names did not appear on the invite.

The Coalition Years e-invite

Mukherjee, before becoming the President in July 2012, served as minister under Manmohan Singh-led Congress government while CPI(M) General Secretary Yechury was part of a number of efforts since 1996 when coalition governments were formed.

Whether it is CPI (General Secretary Reddy), Samajawadi Party (National President Yadav), BSP (General Secretary Mishra) or DMK (Kanimozhi), all these parties had played significant roles in the making and breaking of coalition governments since 1996.

The final volume of his autobiography, which comes three months after he demitted the office of President, would deal with the experiments in coalition governments . However, it would not deal with his years in Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The book is likely to have inside stories of the formation of these stories and the UPA experiment, the pulls and pressures of running a coalition government and Mukherjee’s views on such dispensations.

The book will deal with the Congress’ defeat in 1996 Lok Sabha elections and the rise of regional parties like TDP and Trinamool Congress. It would also throw some light into the reveal the compelling factors that forced Congress to withdraw support to the I K Gujral government.

It will also have Mukherjee’s vivid recollection as a Union Minister in Defence, External Affairs and Finance from 2004 and details of a meeting with Henry Kissinger in 2004 that is said to have altered the course of the Indo–US strategic partnership.

The first volume ‘The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years’, which “chronicle the politically tumultuous 1970s”, was out in December 2014 while the second volume ‘The Turbulent Years’, which “opens in mid-1980s and end at 1996”, was released in January 2016.

In the book dealing with Indira Gandhi’s time, which was written while he was the President, Mukherjee had said the infamous could have been an “avoidable event” and Congress and Indira Gandhi paid a “heavy price for this “misadventure”.

The second volume tries to correct a picture of Mukherjee wanting to succeed Indira. He said in this book that he did not aspire to become interim Prime Minister after Indira Gandhi’s assassination but such “false and spiteful” stories created misgivings in Rajiv Gandhi’s mind that soured their relationship.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Oct 11, 2017)

Callous attitude towards farmers in Yavatmal: NHRC

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Monday castigated authorities for their “callous and negligent attitude” that led to the death of 18 farmers in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal due to infection caused by spraying a pesticide on cotton crops.

Seeking reports from the Centre and Maharashtra government, it said due to lack of proper awareness about a complicated technology for spraying pesticides on cotton crops, the farmers’ Rights to Life and Livelihood have been “grossly violated”.

Quoting media reports, the NHRC said several farmers had to be hospitalised in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra due to an infection caused by spraying of a pesticide on the cotton crops. Many have died while others are serious, it said.

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(Pesticide poisoning: Over 100 farmers are recovering at a district hospital in Yavatmal. Pix courtesy: NDTV)

“The Commission has observed that most of the farmers in the country are not adequately literate and are relying on the government agencies for the safe use of the agricultural products and the ancillary techniques. The victim farmers have fallen prey to the callous and negligent attitude of the government departments,” the NHRC said.

It has asked the Union Agriculture Secretary and the Maharashtra Chief Secretary to submit detailed reports within four weeks. The action came after the NHRC tool suo motu cognizance of media reports about the deaths.

The Chief Secretary has also been directed to ensure that the best treatment is provided free of cost to the farmers, who are either admitted to hospitals or taking treatment as an out-patient.

He has been asked to inform about the steps taken to stop recurrence of such incidents and the action against the guilty officers. The Commission also expects the details of the ex-gratia relief paid to the victims and rehabilitation of the aggrieved families along with the policy perspective on the issue, a statement said.

Maharashtra government has announced an inquiry into the deaths of 18 Yavatmal farmers and farm labourers. The reports said that the state Agriculture Minister has said that the farmers have not been following the directions for wearing gloves and protective clothing.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Oct 10, 2017)

Hate speech: Expert panel for strengthening IPC

Acknowledging the need for regulation of internet content as an “emerging necessity”, a government panel has recommended strengthening of existing penal provisions to deal with hate speech rather than re-introducing the controversial Section 66A.

The emphasis of the report of the nine-member expert committee led by former Law Secretary T K Viswanathan is to strengthen the Indian Penal Code (IPC) “instead of re-introducing a renovated” Section 66A in Information Technology Act, which was annulled by the Supreme Court for being unconstitutional.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development had argued before the panel for reintroduction of Section 66A, which was notorious for its misuse, but it felt that the IT Act was “essentially commercial in nature and therefore, any act invoking punishment, a specific provision must be inserted in the IPC which is more competent to tackle criminal affairs”.

The panel was appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to prepare a roadmap to address the “existing vacuum” caused by the annulment of 66A and provide an alternate formulation in law to deal with problem of “harmful content radiated over the electronic media” that will stand scrutiny of the Courts.

hatespeech

In its interim report, it has recommended inclusion of a new section to the IPC to deal with “content regulation on social media or other internet platforms used for articulating unpleasant opinions”.

The panel said Section 153C is aimed at prohibiting incitement to hatred and invites punishment of two years, and fine up to Rs 5000, or both. Section 505A aims at punishing the act of causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence with imprisonment of one year, fine up to Rs 5000 or both.

Besides, amendment to CrPC is recommended to create State Cyber Crime Coordinator and District Cyber Crime Cells. An amendment to the IT Act is envisaged to allow a police officer not below the rank of Sub Inspector to investigate any offence under this Act.

Before finalising its recommendation, the panel studied the practices in other countries, including the United States, Germany, European Union and Australia among others. “In consonance with the global developments in this arena, the need for regulation of internet content has likewise become an emerging necessity in India,” the panel said.

Quoting from UK House of Commons’ report on ‘Hate Crimes: Abuse, Hate and Extremism Online’, the panel said there is a great deal of evidence that social media platforms are being used to spread hate, abuse and extremism.

“That trend continues to grow at an alarming rate but it remains unchecked and, even where it is illegal, largely unpoliced. Women in particular have become targets for abuse and misogynistic harassment on social media, particularly on Twitter,” it quoted from the report.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Oct 9, 2017)

Pix Courtesy: theodysseyonline

Book AIADMK cadres: NHRC

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Monday asked Tamil Nadu Police to book AIADMK supporters who pierced cheeks of children as part of a ritual for speedy recovery of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

The directions, which included seeking a report from the state government on steps taken to stop such rituals, came after the Chennai Police Commissioner confirmed that such an incident took place on 3 October 2016.

The NHRC also wanted to know from police about the disciplinary action taken against “erring” policemen, who were present at the site and “did nothing to stop the criminal act”.

The police came in for severe criticism from the NHRC after the Commissioner suggested that children participated in the event with the approval of their parents and were not forced to do so. However, the officer accepted that the incident was a gross violation of child rights and that the police personnel who were at the spot “had been severely warned”.

Rebuffing the Commissioner, the NHRC said that it “fails to understand” how the consent of the parents or that of the children for the ritual “can justify the criminal act of piercing children’s cheeks” with rods. “Admittedly, the police officials, present at the site of the incident did nothing to stop it. Therefore, a simple warning to the erring police personnel is abysmal considering the gravity of the incident,” it said.

Armed with the police report, NHRC said AIADMK supporters forced around 20 children to pierce their cheeks with two metre steel rods as part of a ritual for the then ailing Jayalalithaa’s speedy recovery.

The children were made to walk from Murugan Temple in R K Nagar to Seniamman Temple in Tondiarpet by the supporters of AIADMK and that the children were “very small” and their cheeks were forcibly pierced,” it said.

“A photograph reveals that the children were made to wear a cap with a photograph of Jayalalithaa and with slogan written on it — ‘long live Amma’. One girl is seen caught by some persons for the purpose of piercing her cheeks. The incident makes it a clear case of violation of human rights of children,” it said.

The NHRC directed Additional Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) in North Chennai to register the case under sections of criminal conspiracy, common intention, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons and wrongful restraint against AIADMK supporters who organised the programme.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Sep 27, 2017)

Inaction led to BHU protests

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Tuesday sought a report from UP government and the Banaras Hindu University Vice Chancellor over “inaction” on a complaint of eve-teasing and harsh police action against agitating students.

The NHRC felt that students, who were protesting the eve-teasing and inaction by security guards, were subjected to “inhuman treatment” by police personnel and it amounted to violation of their human rights.

“The university authorities should have acted sensibly as the matter related to the dignity of a woman. The police authorities resorted to rather harsh steps than the situation, perhaps, warranted,” an NHRC statement said.

Taking suo motu cognizance of media reports, the NHRC asked the Chief Secretary and the Vice Chancellor to submit reports within four weeks and provide details about action taken against miscreants and precautionary measures taken to ensure that such incidents do not recur in future.

The NHRC said the media reports are “indicative of lapses” on the part of the university authorities, including the security guards. Instead of taking a quick action into the complaint of eve-teasing, it said, they allegedly indulged in sarcastic comments towards the victim girl.

Students were lathicharged by police on Saturday night after they protested against an eve-teasing incident and response of BHU authorities to it.

Quoting media reports, the NHRC siad when the matter was brought to the notice of Hostel Warden, she instead of taking up the issue with her superiors, asked the girl why was she returning late to the hostel.

This response angered the students who sat on a protest at the main gate of the university demanding round-the-clock security, making security personnel accountable, adequate lighting on roads to girl’s hostel, CCTV network and proper checking at the gates.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Sep 27, 2017)

‘Modi has a modest rise in assets’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assets grew by around Rs 27 lakh in 2016-17 compared to previous fiscal, according to assets details made public.

Besides Modi, only 16 of the 76 ministers in the Union Council of Ministers have submitted the details of their assets so far though the deadline set by the Prime Minister has passed on August 31. Of these, nine ministers were sworn in earlier this month only while six had quit following reshuffle.

According to the details, Modi has assets a little above Rs two crore as on March 31, up from Rs 1.73 crore reported in 2015-16 and Rs 1.41 crore in 2014-15.

He has Rs 1.49 lakh as cash in hand while his fixed deposits rose by around Rs 39 lakh in the last fiscal. His savings account showed a decline from Rs 2.09 lakh to Rs 1.33 lakh.

An interesting disclosure is that the Prime Minister did not earn a single penny as royalty on books in the last fiscal compared to Rs 12.35 lakh he earned in 2015-16. Otherwise, his jewellery collection (four gold rings weighing 45 grams) remained the same.

The assets details of spouse Jashodaben is marked “not known”.

** Modi did not get royalty for any books in 2016-17

** Ashok Gajapathi Raju still owns a 1982-model jeep

** Sadanand Gowda has licenced weapons

**Ramvilas Paswan’s family owns a petrol pump in south Delhi

Asset details of several senior ministers like Rajnath Singh (Home), Nirmala Sitharaman (Defence), Piyush Goyal (Railway), Ravishankar Prasad (Law), Ananth Kumar (Chemicals and Fertilisers) and Smriti Irani (Information and Broadcasting) are yet to reach the public domain. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was one the early birds in declaring assets.

Most of the ministers have invested in jewellery with Jaitley reporting that he and his wife own jewellery worth around Rs 1.5 crore. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj owns jewellery worth Rs 27 lakh while Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has gold and silver worth 52 lakh.

Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju still owns a 1982-model jeep now valued at Rs 15,000 and a Nano car of Rs 1.30 lakh while his cabinet colleague Sadanand Gowda has declared that he has licenced weapons. Gowda in one of his earlier declarations had said that he has a .32 revolver he bought in 2002 for Rs 55,000 besides a gun he bought for Rs 5,000 in 1989.

Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan, a doctor, has shown his clinic’s assets at Rs 9,399 while Consumer Affairs Minister Ramvilas Paswan has said that his family owns a petrol pump in south Delhi. 

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

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