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Showing posts from October, 2019

India's policies 'erratic': Raghuram Rajan doubts WB's Ease of Business ranking

By Rajiv Shah
Top economist Raghuram Rajan, who resigned as Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor in 2016 ahead of the Modi government’s controversial demonetization move, has taken strong exception to the World Bank seeking to show India climb up the East of Doing Business indicators, saying these do not match “the actual conditions in India” that “prevent businesses from working easily.”
In a lecture he delivered at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, US, Rajan, who is professor of finance at the University of Chicago, referring to issues of trade and investment, doubted if these have received the much-needed ease of doing business in India for firms that “produce both for the domestic economy and internationally.”
According to Rajan, “One would want a slashing in some of the old regulations that holdback firms and focusing on improving the ease of doing business. There's been some attention, but largely focused on the World Bank indicator…

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

By Rajiv Shah
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 – wh…

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

By Rajiv Shah
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, …

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

By Rajiv Shah
Today, after I took my morning stroll as part of my daily routine, my search for online news led me 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 for…

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

By Rajiv Shah
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 com…

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

By Rajiv Shah
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 …

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

By Rajiv Shah
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. Fin…

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

By Rajiv Shah
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 Gandh…

Muslim elite 'promote' English, regional languages: Just 0.8% enroll in Urdu schools

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, “A New Agenda For The Education Of Indian Muslims in the 21st Century”, claiming to be independent and non-sponsored, has said that the ascendancy of regional languages and English, both in education and in general use, has seen a corresponding decline of Urdu, which is particularly sharp among school-going Muslim children.
Pointing out that the number of people declaring Urdu as their first language has declined in 2011 to only 4.2% of the Indian population, suggesting that only about 30% of Muslims declared Urdu as their first language, the report, authored by Dr John Kurrien, says that even Maharasthra, which has the largest proportion of students studying in Urdu medium schools, only 6.7% get enrolled in Urdu medium sections.
Pointing out that even the 6.7% figure is misleading, the report says, “Less than 2% of all students were enrolled in ‘complete’ Urdu medium schools, i.e. those that had all the sections/ stages from primary to higher secondary”, a…

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

By Rajiv Shah
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, …

Untold story of Jammu: Business 'down', students fear lynching, teachers can't speak

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released report, seeking to debunk the view that people in Jammu, the second biggest city of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after Srinagar, people had gone “out celebrating” abrogation of Article 370 which took away the state’s special status, has reported what it calls “abominably high levels of fear” across all sections in the town.
Psychiatrist Anirudh Kala, academic Brinelle D’Souza, journalist Revati Laul and human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi, who were in Jammu on October 6-7, who were as part of a fact-finding team in J&K, have said in the report that more than half the people they contacted in Jammu “froze” when they heard they wanted to meet them.
“They refused outright to meet us or even engage with us on the phone, even when we made it clear we were not going to mention any names”, says the “citizens’ report”, titled “Kashmir Civil Disobedience: Trauma, Resistance, Resilience Two Months On”.
Pointing out that “the centre of this terror is located in …

Surprised? Communist candidate in Ahmedabad bypoll in a Hindutva bastion

By Rajiv Shah
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 ca…

Gujarat CM aide 'doubts' authenticity of Gandhi article published in 'Harijan'

By Rajiv Shah
A top aide of Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani has doubted the authenticity of the article written by Mahatma on Gandhi January 27, 1948, three days before his death. Hitesh Pandya, who was assistant public relations officer (PRO) under Narendra Modi’s chief ministership in Gujarat, and is currently serving as PRO of Rupani, has said, there is “reason to doubt”, since the article appeared on February 1, 1948, two days after Gandhi’s assassination.
Pandya’s reaction has come in the form of a response to a Facebook post, where well-known Gujarati journalist and Sardar Patel expert, Hari Desai, has released the impression of “Harijan”, which published Gandhi’s article “Congress Position” dated January 27, 1948, and published in “Harijan” on February 1, 1948. The article, in English, says the “Indian National Congress ... cannot be allowed to die”, and that it can “only die with the nation”. Gandhi says, “The Indian National Congress which is the oldest national political …

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

By Rajiv Shah
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 al…