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Showing posts from October, 2019

What's behind rise and rise of Girish Chandra Murmu, Gujarat cadre IAS official

Girish Chandra Murmu. The very name amuses me. A 1985 batch Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat retiring next month, I still remember, during my interaction with him as the Times of India (TOI) man in Gandhinagar, his rather huge laughter (a loud “ha ha ha”) after he would frankly tell me what all was going on in the government. Now, the very same Murmu, 59, has been appointed the first Lieutenant-Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
It has been widely reported, not once, but several times over, the role Murmu is said to have played as in the chief minister’s office (CMO) during Narendra Modi’s tenure in Gujarat – that his name came up during investigations into the 2002 riots and Ishrat Jahan encounter; and that he was "deputed” to tutor the witnesses who were to depose before Nanavati Commission in 2004, a charge leveled by RB Sreekumar, a 1971-cadre Gujarat cadre IPS officer.
But here I don’t want to talk about all this; nor is this about how Murmu – who looked after…

India’s cyclical slowdown severe, downturn sharp: Now World Bank contradicts itself

For the powers-that be, surely, it is but natural to consider this a proud moment: That the World Bank’s new “Ease of Doing Business” report has shown India jumping 14 points; and that India is one of the two countries across the globe out of 190 economies analysed among the 10 top “improvers” which have shown climbed so sharply – the other country being the tiny Djibouti in the huge African continent.
Further, if the report is to be believed, out of total of 11 business regulatory reforms in the past two editions of Doing Business, India made 14 sizeable improvements during 2017-18, while Djibouti improved on 11 counts; and overall, it was important that two economies with “the largest populations, China and India, demonstrated impressive reform agendas.”
So far so good. But after reading through the report today, I decided to read another report, also by the World Bank, which I had meticulously downloaded and kept in my computer for a closer perusal on some other day, at leisure. Th…

World Bank wants you to believe: Delhi, Mumbai doing so well in border trade!

Today, after I took my morning stroll as part of my daily routine, my search for online news led me to a tweet by friend and colleague, whom I have for long considered an honest and sincere journalist, Abhishek Kapoor, currently executive editor, Republic TV. Formerly with Indian Express and Times Now, he loudly, perhaps proudly, proclaimed that India has jumped 14 points in the Ease of Doing Business (EDB) in a World Bank ranking.
Ease of doing business, for some strange reason, has always attracted me. The first time I came across this was in 2004, when a report by Bibek Debroy, a long-time pro-Modi “economist”, and Laveesh Bhandari, came up with a report comparing Indian states in ease of doing business. The report became quite famous, because it was published post-2004 Congress-led UPA victory by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, of which Debroy was then a part.
While Gujarat under chief minister Narendra Modi made a big show out of the report, Debroy was, I presume, was forced to resi…

Jignesh Mevani: Cadre building amidst atmosphere of fear; in search of alliances

A few days back, I met independent MLA Jignesh Mevani, one of those who has been regarded in some circles as an iconic Dalit leader of Gujarat. He had come for a meeting in Gujarat Vidyapeeth, organized to remember a truly iconic Gujarat High Court advocate, late Girish Patel, known to be the founder of public interest litigations (PILs) in India, and one who firmly stood by the underprivileged. After listening to several speeches, including that of Mevani, I came out of the hall along with a journalist colleague, Darshan Desai.
I murmured in Desai’s ear a strange rumour I had heard a few weeks earlier – that Mevani, known for being a long-time opponent of BJP, had “possibly” met Union home minister Amit Shah, or maybe he have asked for an audience. Desai immediately advised me to ask Mevani. I never believed in the rumour, though I thought there was nothing wrong in meeting Amit Shah. After all, he is India’s home minister, and if one has to make a representation or a complaint, one …

Three years on, mystery surrounds as to who advised Modi on demonetization

Recently it was reported that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has stopped printing Rs 2,000 notes. The report said that the “slowdown” in printing the notes – which were widely proclaimed (for unknown reasons, and from unknown sources) as high security because it was claimed they contained a hidden chip which would help the powers-that-be to trace their whereabouts – began about two years ago. Fewer and fewer notes were being printed, and now the printing has just stopped.
Several reasons are being advanced for the “withdrawal”, something that was in the air for quite some time – one of them being it is “easier” to hoard high denomination notes. It was also rumoured that fake Rs 2,000 notes – printed with much fanfare alongside the by now infamous demonetization days of November-December 2016 – are taking rounds in the market. Meanwhile, the ATMs across the country appear to have stopped offering these notes; they mostly offer Rs 500 currency notes.
There was, of course, a positive im…

Why can't welfare NGOs think beyond doles, learn to empower vulnerable sections?

This is what happened near Ahmedabad the other day. I am deliberately not revealing the name of the person or the spot where the incident took place. This gentleman, a seasoned trader having unassuming aura, also runs a “welfare” NGO. Driving a large-sized car with two of his team members sitting next to him, he was stopped by traffic cops, who saw his license, and wanted to know what exactly he was carrying in the car. This gentleman explained that he had collected old, used clothes, blankets, toys, shoes etc. from those who were associated with the NGO and was on his way to distribute them in a slum area. Unconvinced, the cops demanded a few thousand as fine.
Revealing his identity as head of the NGO, this gentleman said, there was no question of giving the fine, as he was carrying used clothes for welfare activity, and if the cops wanted they could accompany them during their distribution among the slum-dwellers. Still the cops remained adamant and sought the fine. Finally, the gen…

What was wrong with Rahul Gandhi's Chowkidar chor hai campaign?

A few days back, I came across an interesting Facebook post by Vinod Chand, an FB friend. I always read his comments with great interest. This one was on Rahul Gandhi launching what he called “a broadside on Narendra Modi” during the initial phase of the campaign during the last Lok Sabha polls -- “Chowkidar chor hai.” However, during the later phase of the campaign the slogan appeared to have been dropped, not because it seemed derogatory, but perhaps because it was not having the “desired impact.”
Be that as it may, supporting Rahul’s “Chowkidar chor hai” campaign, Chand said, “His Congress colleagues watched from the sidelines, not many joining in, not many chipping in.” He added, “They thought, if this clicks, we will form a government, if it does not, then this fool will get all the blame. It did not click. And Rahul Gandhi realized that his 'friends' and 'colleagues' were just leeches, hangers on, those who wanted to benefit from the legacy of a Gandhi surname. S…

Tree-felling for greenery? Gujarat govt 'accepted' proposal; awaits implementation

The other day, I went to Nadiad, a town in Central Gujarat, about 55 kilometres from Ahmedabad. For a change, I took an alternate route, which falls between two toll roads – the Expressway and the National Highway. What surprised me was, I saw truckloads of wooden logs moving to and fro on this state highway soon after I left Ahmedabad. I was immediately reminded of a "tree enthusiast" I had met in 2007. Introduced by former chief secretary PK Laheri, who was then chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), Jayantibhai Lakdawala came to my Times of India office in Gandhinagar with a unique proposal, which, he said, he had put up before the Gujarat government to grow more trees.
And what was the proposal? Allow tree felling to grow more trees! It sounded strange, but his logic seemed interesting and new, hence I wrote a news story in the paper. He called the 50-year-old Saurashtra Tree Felling (Prohibition) Act “a black law”, urging the government, through a pro…

Surprised? Communist candidate in Ahmedabad bypoll in a Hindutva bastion

On October 11, 2019 morning, as I was scanning through daily news online (I don’t read papers now), I found that both BJP and Congress candidates from Ahmedabad’s Amraiwadi assembly constituency, which fell vacant following the victory of its BJP MLA in the Lok Sabha polls, have been asked to explain as to why they had cash in hand for election campaign, and why they did not deposit their money in a bank account. Fighting the bypoll, BJP’s Jagdish Patel and Congress’ Dharmendra Patel had declared they possessed Rs 1.81 lakh and Rs 1.70 lakh as cash in hand, respectively, for election expenditure.
The Election Commission notice reportedly said it is mandated for candidates to first deposit their expenditure funds in a bank account and then spend from their bank account money for various purposes. Interesting, but who cares for Election Commission, which has no teeth now, I thought. As it was Amraiwadi, what interested me more was (surprise of surprises), CPI had put up a candidate in t…

When Gandhi said Congress can 'only die with the nation'; warned of its weedy growth

I don’t recall when, why and how, but I have been under the impression for decades that Mahatma Gandhi wanted the Congress dissolved after India attained Independence. However, a few days ago, I was pleasantly surprised on seeing a Facebook post by Hari Desai, a well-known Gujarati journalist and a Sardar Patel expert, putting on record and claiming that this, indeed, was never the case. Desai released the photograph of “Harijan”, edited by Gandhi himself, dated February 1, 1948, which carried an article by Gandhi written on January 27, 1948, three days before he was murdered, clearly stating that the “Indian National Congress ... cannot be allowed to die”, and that it can “only die with the nation.”
I was a little bemused, tried to look up the Gandhi Heritage Portal, set up by a top Gandhi expert, Tridip Suhrud, former director, Gandhi Ashram, to see a copy of “Harijan” dated February 1, 1948. I was surprised: The top portal, which claims to carry impressions of nearly all the Gandhi …

A top Gujarat High Court lawyer who lived and worked for the underprivileged

When I came to Ahmedabad to join as assistant editor of the Times of India in 1993, I didn’t know Girish Patel was a senior advocate of the Gujarat High Court. Apart from assisting the then editor, Tushar Bhatt, my job was to specifically look after the editorial page, which also meant I should be selecting from among the letters to the editor that we would get, edit them appropriately, and put them in the Letters to the Editor column.
Apart from those who would genuinely write letters, reacting to, particularly disagreeing with, this or that story or comment that appeared in the paper, there were what I would then call “professional letter writers”, too. They would regularly write letters to the editor always profusely praising the paper, just to see their name appearing in the paper. I found this annoying, and the first thing that I did to give them regular space.
Among these regular letter writers was Girish Patel, too. Initially, I would looked at his letters skeptically, but I fou…

Attack on Gandhi: Where diehard Left and extreme Right appear to meet

Another Gandhi Jayanti has come and gone. Several of the top comments – some which we also published in www.counterview.net – on this occasion hovered around US president Donald Trump calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi “father of India”. Perhaps things wouldn’t have taken a turn that it did had not Modi’s “diehard” followers like Union minister Jitendra Singh going so far as to say that those who “do not feel proud” of Trump’s comment that Modi is the “father of India”, do not consider themselves Indians.
As this time happened to be the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birthday, Modi went global with his oped opinion piece in the “New York Times”, dated October 2. While full of praise for Gandhi, Modi singularly avoided calling him Father of the Nation, something which my friend and journalist colleague Hari Desai, a keen Sangh observer, has told me several times over (I am sure he has written about it too). He says, this is characteristic of all Sangh leaders.
There is nothing new for S…