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A new chapter in the saga of the Ram temple

The test will probably encompass the “nationalists” as well, including Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and other minorities, in the House.

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Babri Masjid Ram Temple Supreme court

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the two “non-electables”, to use Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s term, are among the Hindutva groups which are pushing for immediately starting the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

While the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has called upon the government to bring an ordinance to facilitate the work, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP is introducing a private member’s bill in the Rajya Sabha on the subject, presumably to test the faith of all the Hindus, especially those who claim to be secular — such as those in the Congress.

The test will probably encompass the “nationalists” as well, including Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and other minorities, in the House.

Since the Narendra Modi government itself has not been noticeably proactive on the matter, the efforts of the RSS and others are apparently intended to create an atmosphere about the inevitability of the temple being built, which is expected to be electorally helpful to the BJP.

However, the government’s reticence does not mean that the RSS and the others do not enjoy the ruling party’s tacit support. But the government cannot but lie low because the matter is sub judice. If it joins the clamour for the temple, it may fall foul of the law.

At the same time, the government probably secretly welcomes the upping of the ante on the temple because it will divert attention from its inadequacies on the economic front, especially where the availability of jobs is concerned.

The government will also hope that if the cry for the temple becomes louder, it will push the controversies relating to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Reserve Bank of India, which haven’t shown the government in a favourable light, out of the front pages of newspapers.

But it also cannot be unaware that it is playing a dangerous game, for any raising of the communal temperature carries the possibility of riots or create a tension-ridden atmosphere which will deter investors despite the improvement in the ease of doing business index from 100 to 77.

What is more, the risks of raising the temple pitch may not be as electorally effective as the Sangh parivar believes because it is now widely recognised that religiosity does not have as much to do with the issue as politics.

It is for this reason that the temple did not figure in the BJP’s electoral campaign in 2014. Moreover, the party’s success was based on the secular plank of development for all enunciated by the “sabka saath, sabka vikas” slogan. A return to the temple, therefore, is a virtual admission that the “sabka saath” endeavours have not worked.

However, for the RSS and the VHP, who do not have to contest elections, and have a single-minded focus on ushering in a Hindu rashtra — a nation of, by and for Hindus — it is apparently now or never. They appear to have realised that this will be their last chance in a long while of building a temple of their dreams because the BJP may not secure a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha in 2019 although the alliance led by it may do so.

If that happens, as seems likely, it will be extremely difficult to enact a law for constructing the temple because not all of the BJP’s allies — the Janata Dal-United, for instance — will not be eager to support it for fear of alienating the Muslims. The BJP’s weakened position will also prevent it from asserting itself.

It has been argued that the BJP raises the temple issue — or allows it to be raised — before every major election to consolidate the Hindu vote. Since the party has never been as politically strong as at present, the belief in the saffron brotherhood apparently was that all that was needed was one final concerted effort.

The party also expected a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court, enabling it to “sweep” the elections, as BJP MP Subramanian Swamy said. However, the court’s decision to defer the hearings till next year has disappointed the Hindutva camp.

It was already unhappy with the apex court on several counts, including the verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala when “tradition” prohibits the women of a reproductive age from being in the temple precincts.

On the Ayodhya temple, too, the saffron lobby used to say during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1990s that the courts can have no say in a matter of faith. After its ascent to power, the BJP has softened its stance on Ayodhya (though not on Sabarimala), but the RSS and VHP are not willing to wait for a judicial pronouncement.

It is obviously a tightrope walk for the BJP between constitutionalism represented by the judiciary and its belief that the Ram temple is the “soul” of India. Since the BJP has been engaged in this balancing act ever since the temple issue was raised in the party’s Palanpur resolution in Gujarat in 1989, the latest initiatives are probably no more than a new chapter in an ongoing saga.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Rajnath: I pray for early release of Abdullahs & Mehbooba from detention

Rajnath Singh drew accolades in Kashmir while he was the Home Minister in the previous government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for his uprightness and kindness.

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New Delhi, Feb 22 : Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday said that he is praying for the early release of three former chief ministers of Jammu & Kashmir from their detention and hoping that they will contribute to normalizing situation in Kashmir.

Dozens of politicians, including three former chief ministers — Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah of National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — were placed under preventive detention soon after the Modi government reorganized and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union Territories on August 5 last year.

Though most of the politicians have been released since then, the three chief ministers and a dozen politicians remain detained. While Farooq Abdullah was booked under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) in September, Omar and Mehbooba were also recently detained under the same law. The government cited their provocative statements and threats issued before the nullification of Article 370 of the Indian constitution which granted special status to Jammu & Kashmir state.

In an exclusive interview to IANS on Saturday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, “Kashmir has been peaceful. The situation is improving rapidly. Along with the improvement, these decisions (release of politicians from detention) will also be finalized. The government has not tortured anyone.”

Defending the government’s decision, the Defence Minister said that certain steps had been taken in the interests of Kashmir. “Everybody should welcome it,” he said.

Singh said he will pray for the early release of the Abdullahs and Mufti from their detention. “I also pray that once they are out, they work and contribute towards improvement of the situation in Kashmir,” the Union Minister said.

Rajnath Singh drew accolades in Kashmir while he was the Home Minister in the previous government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for his uprightness and kindness.

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Research and development activity to get hit as WD benefit to cease from FY21

According to experts, R&D activity is a key proponent of the ‘Make in India’ strategy and to further expand the manufacturing sector in the country.

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Research and development activity

New Delhi, Feb 19 : India Inc’s R&D activity might get adversely impacted as weighted deduction (WD) benefits, including those on capital expenses, stand withdrawn from the next fiscal.

Till now, the Income Tax Act allowed for weighted deduction for all R&D activities.

However, four years back a sunset provision was introduced in the Budget on the availability of weighted deduction from April 1, 2020.

This deadline was expected to have been extended in this year’s Budget. However, that did not happen.

“The weighted deduction was a key reason for entities to invest in R&D infra. This withdrawal will impact future investments in this area,” said Amarjeet Singh, Senior Partner, International Tax and Regulatory, KPMG in India.

According to experts, R&D activity is a key proponent of the ‘Make in India’ strategy and to further expand the manufacturing sector in the country.

Besides, R&D investments into India have grown with many MNCs establishing their research bases here.

“The ‘Make in India’ programme has got the booster of a reduced tax rate. Similarly, had the government continued with the weighted deduction for R&D, it would have surely ensured that India marched ahead both in manufacturing and in the corresponding R&D,” said Gukul Chaudhri, Partner, Deloitte India.

“So, while India may not lose its tag as the R&D lab of the world, the availability of weighted deduction would have ensured that India continued as one of the most attractive destinations for R&D in the world,” Chaudhri added.

The Finance Act, 2016, restricted the availability of expenditure incurred on scientific research to 150 per cent from April 1, 2017, and no weighted deduction from April 1, 2020.

“Globally, most countries are encouraging R&D activity as it generates new ‘intellectual property’ (IP), which in turn creates sustainable revenues. Such IP or new product gives rise to a new industry and other supporting activities,” said Samir Kanabar, Partner, Tax and Regulatory Services, Ernst & Young.

“In India, several sectors like auto, pharma etc. have invested substantially in R&D facilities to develop new IPs, patents and hence, a new tax regime to boost R&D was a major expectation,” Kanabar added.

However, Suman Chowdhury, President, Ratings, Acuite Ratings and Research, said that the reduction in weighted tax deduction will not have any significant effect on India Inc’s R&D activity.

“India’s R&D activity has held steady at 0.7 per cent of GDP over 5 years and no visible signs of positive outcomes were seen emanating from private enterprises despite such benefits,” Chowdhury said.

“Nevertheless, corporates now enjoy a reduced effective corporate tax structure, which should more than compensate for the loss, at least for the manufacturing sector. Service oriented enterprises, whose business model thrives on innovation, do not require incentives to do R&D in our opinion,” Chowdhury added.

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at [email protected])

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AGR risk for GAIL, OIL and Powergrid stays: Fitch

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New Delhi, Feb 19 : India’s telecom-related regulatory dispute still is event risk for GAIL, OIL and Powergrid, Fitch Ratings said on wednesday.

Fitch Ratings continues to treat any payments that three India-based companies – GAIL (India) Limited (BBB-/Stable), Oil India Limited (BBB-/Stable) and Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (BBB-/Stable) – may have to make under a demand notice from the Department of Telecom as an event risk for the companies’ ratings.

Fitch is not taking immediate rating action on the three companies, as the Supreme Court of India allowed the companies to withdraw their clarification applications on February 14, 2020, and resolve their dispute with Department of Telecom outside the court.

This is in stark contrast to the court’s decision to demand immediate payments from the telecom companies that are also involved in the dispute, Fitch added.

“We expect the three companies to eventually resolve the dispute, although resolution timing is uncertain. A speedy solution is important to prevent disrupting the companies’ investment plans and damaging their performance. The three companies are considering an appeal against the demand notices. We understand that they have the option to resolve the matter through alternate dispute-resolution mechanisms available to state-owned enterprises. This is in addition to the legal options available to telecom license holders in general,” it said.

The Department of Telecom has issued demand notices to GAIL, OIL and POWERGRID for Rs 1,831 billion, Rs 480 billion and Rs 220 billion, respectively.

The notices include license fees on non-telecom revenue and additional interest and penalties on the license fees. However, the three companies’ telecom-related revenue is insignificant, at around Rs 0.5 billion, Rs 0.01 billion and Rs 23 billion, respectively, for the same time period as the demand notices.

The three companies have created telecom infrastructure for internal use and have obtained national long distance and Internet service provider licenses to rent out spare capacity. They maintain that their licenses differ from the unified access licenses held by telecom companies, hence, the court’s decision on adjusted gross revenue for telecom companies does not apply to them.

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