New on my other blogs

"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


16 June, 2018

Opposition Coming Together in UP Could Be the Game Changer in 2019

Recent by-election results show that even in constituencies where BJP polled more than 50% of the votes in 2014, it may not be in a position to withstand a combined opposition assault.
The most hopeful sign for the opposition as they prepare for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is the maturity and wisdom displayed by Bahujan Samajwadi Party’s Mayawati and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, who were the main rivals for power in Uttar Pradesh until the BJP staged a comeback in the state.

The BSP had won a majority in the state assembly in 2007, leading to Mayawati becoming the chief minister for the fourth time. In 2012, the SP secured a majority and Akhilesh became the chief minister. His father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, had held the post thrice earlier. Last year, probably riding what was left of the Modi wave, BJP obtained a majority and after a 15-year gap, Uttar Pradesh has a BJP chief minister in Adityanath.

The state with the most seats in parliament, UP made the biggest contribution to Narendra Modi’s win by giving the BJP 71 of its 80 seats and another two to its ally, Apna Dal. The party benefitted immensely from the SP-BJP rivalry. Its vote share of 42.63% was just a wee bit above the combined poll of SP and BSP, which was 42.13%.

With its 22.36% vote share, SP got five seats. The Congress, which polled 7.53% votes, won two seats – those of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. BSP had a vote share of 19.77% but it did not get any seats. It became the only recognised national party to draw a blank. This experience appears to have prompted Mayawati, who as a rule has stayed out of alliances, to re-think her party’s strategy.

BJP and its ally won 20 seats with less than 40% of the votes polled and 37 with between 40-50% of the votes. Several of the 16 seats it won with more than 50% 0f the votes were those of star candidates like Modi, Murli Manohar Joshi, Rajnath Singh, Adityanath, Maneka Gandhi and actor Hema Malini. Some others were from places in and around Muzaffarnagar where there was organised violence aimed at communal polarisation.

The opposition’s by-election successes in Gorakhpur and Kairana, which were among these 16, show that even in constituencies where BJP polled more than 50% of the votes in 2014, it may not be in a position to withstand a combined opposition assault.

Opposition unity in the by-elections was easy to achieve as BSP, which did not enter the contest, extended support to SP in Gorakhpur and Phulpur and to Rashtriya Lok Dal in Kairana.

From the time BSP was formed, it began putting up candidates on a large scale all over the country. In the initial phase, it was able to make a mark in a few northern seats. Later its influence shrank to UP, but it continued fielding candidates across the country. Although the bulk of its candidates forfeited their deposits, it gained recognition as a national party in terms of the norms prescribed by the Election Commission.

Apart from some symbolic acts, there has so far been no concrete step to forge opposition unity ahead of the 2019 elections. Some regional parties have been talking of a Federal Front. The Congress is said to have already come to an understanding with the Janata Dal (Secular), its coalition partner in Karnataka. A lot of work remains to be done at national and state levels to put in place a united opposition capable of taking on BJP and its allies.

Mayawati. Credit: PTI
Seat sharing will not become a problem if the parties approach the issue rationally. A rule of thumb could be to treat the 2014 vote share as the basis for allocation of seats. If the subsequent by-election or assembly election results indicate a significant improvement in the strength of a party, it can seek a change in the formula and the matter can be settled through negotiations.

In UP, SP was ahead of BSP in the Lok Sabha elections. But in the assembly poll, BSP, with 22.23% votes, was slightly better placed than SP, with only 21.82% votes. Whichever way one looks at it, they are equal forces with a common interest – keeping the BJP at bay, whose ideology is inimical to the interests of the social and economic groups who constitute their support base.

As parties which grew in opposition to the Congress, SP and BSP have a long anti-Congress tradition. However, at the moment, there is a concurrence of interests since all three agree that the constitutional principles of democracy and secularism are under threat and they must safeguard them at any cost.
The significance of the Congress outreach to Mayawati cannot be underestimated for a united opposition to take on the saffron party in 2019. Credit: PTI
The significance of the Congress outreach to Mayawati cannot be underestimated for a united opposition to take on the saffron party in 2019. Credit: PTI
A fair formula for seat-sharing in UP will be for the opposition parties to keep those that they hold in the present house and to allot the other seats to the parties which were runners-up in the last elections.

Under the first part of this formula, SP will get the seven seats it now holds (including two won in by-elections), the Congress the two it won last time and the Rashtriya Lok Dal the one it snatched from BJP in a recent by-election. Under the second part, BSP will get 33 seats in which it was BJP’s closest rival, SP 30, Congress six and RLD one. Thus BSP gets 33, SP 37, Congress eight and RLD two

File photo of Akhilesh Yadav. Credit: Reuters
This is not suggested as an inflexible formula. It can be seen as a basic framework which can be modified suitably through negotiations.

The Congress may seek a larger share of seats this time. Both BSP and SP are parties which have been trying to make a mark in other states. It may not be a bad idea for them to accommodate the Congress’s wishes in UP in exchange for its support for their candidates in other states.

Mayawati’s alliance with H.D. Kumaraswamy’s JD(S) in the Karnataka elections enabled BSP to get its first MLA in a southern state, one who is a minister in the state’s coalition government. This is a breakthrough for the BSP and should encourage Mayawati to look for more such opportunities elsewhere.

SP, BSP, Congress and RLD had a combined vote share of more than 50% in both the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 2017 assembly elections. It will be possible to severely restrict BJP’s strength in the new Lok Sabha and optimise their own position if BSP and SP can settle for 33 or 34 seats each and accommodate Congress and RLD in the rest. (June 16, 2018)

12 June, 2018

Banking sector's worrisome woes continue

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s largest public and private sector banks are grappling with problems arising from systemic weaknesses and their unhealthy consequences.

The State Bank of India, with a customer base of 420 million and balance-sheet of more than Rs 30,000 billion, is the only bank from the country among the world’s top 50. It reported a net loss of Rs 65.47 billion for the financial year that ended on March 31 as against a net profit of Rs 104.84 billion in the previous financial year.

It attributed the loss to “an increase in provisions for non-performing assets (NPAs) and mark-to-market investment portfolio”. In plain language, this means the bank had to take into account possibilities of non-recovery of some loans and fall in market value of securities.

NPAs, always a source of worry, have become a cause for increased concern in view of the ease with which high-profile borrowers like playboy-businessman Vijay Mallya and diamond merchants Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi have been able to slip out of the country.

Of the 21 state-owned banks, 19 were in the red when the last financial year closed. Their total loss was about Rs 873.57 billion.

The Punjab National Bank, which is at the centre of the Nirav Modi-Choksi scam topped the list with a loss of Rs 122.83 billion, followed by IDBI Bank with Rs 82.38 billion. SBI was in the third place.

At the end of 2017, the gross NPAs of all banks stood at a whopping Rs 8,409.58 billion. Industrial loans accounted for Rs 6,092.22 billion in NPAs, the services sector for Rs 1,105.20 billion and the agricultural sector for Rs 696 billion.

According to information provided to Parliament, the industrial sector led in delinquency with 20.41 per cent of the advances turning into NPAs, as against the agricultural sector’s 6.53 per cent and the service sector’s 5.77 per cent.

SBI, the largest bank, has the highest NPA figure of Rs 2,015.60 billion, and is followed by the Punjab National Bank with Rs 552 billion and IDBI Bank with Rs 445.42 billion. 

Among private sector banks, the ICICI Bank has the most NPAs: Rs 338.49 billion. A large loan it gave to Videocon Industries, a home-grown consumer durables company, is now under investigation for suspected quid pro quo as that company pumped money into NuPower Renewables, a firm owned by Deepak Kochar, husband of ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochar.

Videocon, which was once a highly profitable company, filed an insolvency petition before the National Company Law Tribunal last week. It owes about Rs 200 billion to a consortium led by SBI.

The steady rise in the growth of NPAs over the years raises the question whether the Reserve Bank of India has been diligent in the performance of its role as the central bank. 

Last February, while going through SBI’s documents relating to the financial year ending March 31, 2017, RBI found that it had understated its NPAs by 21 per cent and overstated its profits by 36 per cent. The standard RBI practice is to publicly report the divergence if it exceeds prescribed limits, which are quite liberal, with a view to naming and shaming the bank. No one is punished for misleading the regulator and the general public.

In April, RBI reportedly put 11 state-owned banks under its prompt corrective action framework which entails restriction on their lending activities.

Three days ago Piyush Goyal, who is officiating as Finance Minister, announced the setting up of a committee with instructions to submit recommendations for the formation of an asset reconstruction company for quick resolution of stressed bank accounts in a transparent manner.

When gross irregularities are investigated, bank officials get caught and are charged with corruption. But bankers do not always bend the rules for personal gain. Sometimes they do so at the behest of politicians who want to help their financiers.

Former RBI Governor YV Reddy has said that the government is pressing banks to lend to infrastructure projects, which are not an area in which they have competence, and to make depositors share the burden of bank frauds. 

A lasting solution to the banks’ woes cannot be found until the political overlords learn to respect the professional judgment of bankers.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 12, 2018

05 June, 2018

What by-poll figures foretell

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today
The Lok Sabha elections due in less than a year will not be a cakewalk for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, as their loyal followers imagined in the wake of the vast expansion of the party’s footprint across the country in the last four years.

When Modi led the BJP to power in 2014, winning 282 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, it ruled only in seven states. The Congress was in power in 13 states. The BJP now rules over 21 states either on its own or in alliance with other parties. The Congress is in power in just four.

The BJP did not secure power in all the states on the strength of its electoral performance. It got control over several states through post-poll alliances. In Goa and Manipur, it seized power by outmanoeuvering the Congress, which had won more seats, with the help of Governors the Modi government had appointed. 

With 21 seats the Congress emerged as the largest party in the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly in the elections early this year. The BJP which contested 47 seats won only two. Yet it is part of the ruling dispensation as a partner of the coalition headed by the regional National People’s Party, the second largest party with 19 seats. 

The BJP did run into some stumbling blocks. It had won all seven Lok Sabha seats from Delhi State in 2014. However, in the following year the fledgling Aam Aami Party (AAP) inflicted a humiliating defeat on it and grabbed 67 of the state’s 70 Assembly seats, leaving it with just three. 

Last year, in Punjab the Congress ousted the Akali Dal-BJP coalition which had been in power for 10 years. The AAP became the main opposition with 20 seats in the 117-member Assembly. The Akali Dal ended up with only 15 seats and the BJP with three. 

This year the BJP registered a big win in Tripura, where it seized power, putting an end to 25 years of unbroken rule by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

If the BJP’s fortune was a mixed one, with more good than bad thus far, it took a turn for the worse thereafter. Close on the heels of the debacle in Karnataka, where long-time rivals Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) joined hands and blocked its way to power, it suffered a string of by-election defeats.

Four Lok Sabha seats and 10 Assembly seats figured in the by-poll calendar. With the ruling coalition and the opposition winning two Lok Sabha sears each they may be said to have shared the honours but the wresting of the Kairana seat in UP from the BJP by a candidate backed by several opposition parties holds much significance. 

Kairana is close to Muzzafarnagar, which was a scene of violence, believed to have been engineered by Hindutva elements to precipitate polarisation on religious lines, ahead of the 2014 elections. The by-election was necessitated by the death of Hukum Singh of the BJP and the party fielded his daughter, Mriganka Singh, in the hope that a sympathy wave will carry her to victory. 

The Rashtriya Lok Dal, a regional party, put up Tabassun Hasan, wife of Munawar Hasan, who had served as a member of the UP Assembly and the two houses of Parliament before his death in a road accident in 2004. The Samajwadi Party, the Bhaujan Samaj Party and the Congress extended support to her. 

Kairana is the third Lok Sabha seat from UP which the BJP has lost in three months, the other two being Gorakhpur and Phulpur, which were vacated by Yogi Adityanath and Dinesh Sharma to become Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister respectively.

The three by-election results have demonstrated convincingly that a united opposition can hold the BJP at bay even in UP, where it had swept the polls in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

Assembly elections are due later this year in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The BJP and the Congress are the main contenders for power in all three. The Congress has stated that it is in talks for a tie-up with BSP, which draws support mainly from the Dalits.

The opposition’s unity efforts are in the preliminary stage and will take time to materialise. As the party in power, the BJP can, if it so wishes, advance the date of the poll. There is a possibility of the party exercising the option in order to deny the opposition parties time to come together. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 5, 2018

29 May, 2018

Spy talk makes sense

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Talking out of the box, AS Dulat, a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, suggested last week that the government should invite Pakistan Army chief Qamar Jawad Bajwa for talks.

Dulat’s suggestion may not fit into the protocol regime but it makes sense as the army has a decisive role in shaping Pakistan’s relations with India even when there is a civilian government.

Dulat headed RAW during 1999-2000 when Bharatiya Janata Party leader AB Vajapayee was the Prime Minister. When he retired, Vajpayee appointed him as his Advisor on Kashmir. He participated in Track II talks with Pakistan while in service as also later.

Vajpayee had made a bold bid to find a solution to outstanding problems with Pakistan, including Kashmir, through talks with President Pervez Mushaarraf and leaders of the Hurriyat movement. After his exit, Manmohan Singh tried to carry forward the process he had initiated. At a meeting on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Summit at Havana, he and Musharraf decided to set up a joint anti-terrorism institutional mechanism. It never took off because ground conditions were not favourable.

Three years ago, in a book titled “Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years”, co-authored with Aditya Sinha, a journalist, Dulat talked of missed peace opportunities. 

In an India-Pakistan Track II meeting in Berlin in 2011, he and former ISI chief Lt-Gen Asad Durrani jointly presented a paper on the need for intelligence cooperation between the two countries. In it they said, “When countries are faced with common external or internal threats, exchange of mutually beneficial information might not only be thinkable but also desirable, even prudent.” 

They also mentioned a few occasions when the two sides had exchanged information to avoid any moves by the other side based on misreading of events.

Dulat made his suggestion for talks with Pakistan’s Army chief in the presence of a distinguished New Delhi gathering which included Manmohan Singh, former Vice-President Hamid Ansari and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. No one associated with the Narendra Modi government was present.

The occasion was the release of a book, “Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace”, based on a series of recorded conversations between Dulat and Durrani in the presence of Aditya Sinha. The three had met at different locations outside India and Pakistan. 

According to the publishers, another volume with more extracts from the conversations will follow.

Durrani could not attend the book release as India did not give him a visa. After media circulated reports based on its contents, the Pakistan Army summoned him to its headquarters “to explain his position on views attributed to him in the book”.

In a panel discussion that followed the book release several speakers criticised the Modi government’s Pakistan policy.

Farooq Abdullah said India and Pakistan were still carrying the baggage of partition. Former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon saw double-standards in India holding talks with China after its border transgressions and not having talks with Pakistan after the Pathankot and Uri terror attacks.

Former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha, who recently quit the BJP after criticising Modi on a range of issues, said, “Muscular policies are brainless policies because muscles don’t have brains.”

Apart from making some gestures, like inviting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in and making a visit to Lahore to greet him on his birthday, Modi has not taken any meaningful step to improve bilateral relations. His muscular responses have led to escalation of violence.

According to an official press release, Pakistani cease-fire violations along the Line of Control in Kashmir rose from 152 in 2015 to 228 in 2016 and 860 in 2017. In these incidents 83 persons were killed, 41 of them civilians. This year, in January alone, there were 192 cease-fire violations, resulting in the death of 16 persons, including eight civilians. 

Each side routinely attributes all truce violations to the other and describes its own actions as fitting responses. The cycle of violations and reprisals continue partly because it suits the interests of certain sections on both sides.

Apparently spies are able to talk sense because, unlike politicians, they don’t have to fight elections. 

There is a precedent of 1955 which can help overcome the protocol issue involved in inviting Gen Bajwa for political talks. In that year India had invited Communist Party chief Nikita Khrushchev to visit the country along with Prime Minister Nicholai Bulganin in recognition of his place in the Soviet hierarchy. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 29, 2018

27 May, 2018

When Surjeet’s nominees became Governor and Union Minister

Harkishen Singh Surjeet

Now that trolling of Kerala BJP President Kummanam Rajasekharan who has been named Governor of Mizoram has subsided, here is a recall of how the CPI(M) General Secretary’s nominees became Governor and Union Minister without the party being in power at the Centre.

After the defeat of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections of 1996 and the failure of BJP leader A B Vajpayee to muster the numbers needed to form a government, CPI(M) General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet emerged as a key player at the national level. As is well known,  the Third Front parties were ready to have Jyoti Basu as the Prime Minister but the CPI(M) Politburo turned down the suggestion. Thereafter Surjeet brought about a consensus, first in favour of H D Deve Gowda, who was PM for about a year, and then in favour of I K Gujral, who also occupied the chair for about a year.

Among the Governors appointed by the Deve Gowda government was Justice S S Kang (Picture on the left) . A former Judge of Punjab High Court and Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court, he was serving as a member of the National Human Rights Commission when Surjeet recommended his name for the [ost of Governor of Kerala.

Justice Kang discharged his duties as Governor fairly and did not attract any charge of impropriety.

When I.K. Gujral formed his Cabinet, he included in it Balwant Singh Ramoowalia (Picture on left), a member of the Rajya Sabha from UP, as Minister for Social Welfare.

Ramoowalia did not belong to any party at that time. He owed his place in the Cabinet to Surjeet.

Ramoowalia began his colourful career as General Secretary of the Students Federation of India in the 1960s. He later went over to the All India Sikh Students Federation and became its President. Still later he became General Secretary of the Akali Dal.

He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Punjab on the Akali Dal ticket twice. Thereafter he quit Akali Dal and got elected to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh as an Independent. That was when Surjeet got him into the Union Cabinet.

After the ministerial days Ramoowalia started his own party, named Lok Bhalai Party. It later merged in Akali Dal (Badal).

In 2015 Ramoowalia joined the Samajwadi Party  and became a cabinet minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government in UP.
Although  Ramoowalia was an Independent member of the Rajya Sabha when he became a minister in Gujral’s Cabinet, Wikipedia lists him as a CPI(M) member.. see below.

 The cabinet ministers in I. K. Gujral ministry were as follows.[1]
office Took
office Left

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

1 May 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998
Minister of Social Welfare

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998
Minister of Forests and Environment

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998

21 April 1997
19 March 1998