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Behind the scenes: How BJP got upper hand in Parliament

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Modi Amit Shah

The BJP government proposed the resolution to revoke Article 370 in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, but it was over three months ago that the party started preparations to ensure smooth passage of the legislations in the Upper House. The responsibility for ensuring this was given to several senior leaders considered close to party chief Amit Shah, said sources.

A senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader related to the development told IANS: “There were many ambitious Bills that the BJP wanted to pass in its first term (Modi 1.0 government). But due to a lack of majority in the Upper House it could not be passsed.”

The party leader said referring to the Triple Talaq Bill, which got stuck in Rajya Sabha as the NDA did not have a majority in the House.

Thus, keeping in mind the numbers in the Upper House, a strategy was made to convince the top leadership of the opposition parties like Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and the AIADMK to vote on the side of the government.

Among the top leaders who were part of this project were Dharmendra Pradhan, who hails from Odisha, Piyush Goyal, who was made the in-charge for Tamil Nadu, Bhupendra Yadav and Om Mathur.

He said the task of reaching out to key opposition leaders started sometime in late April. They spoke to a number of regional party leaders and tried to convince them how the decision on revoking Article 370 was important in national interest and for the benefit of the people of Kashmir.

The party leader said that the discussions with the opposition parties went on for over a month before a consensus was built.

The numbers went into NDA’s favour as four of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Rajya Sabha MPs on June 20 resigned from their party and joined the BJP.

Meanwhile, some opposition members dumped their parties in the middle of the crucial session and announced they were joining the BJP, which has returned to power with a thumping majority in the Lok Sabha.

On August 5, the day the resolution to revoke Article 370 came for adoption and also the bill for reorganising Jammu and Kashmir, Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu announced resignation of three opposition members — Surendra Singh Nagar and Sanjay Seth of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bhubaneswar Kalita of the Congress.

Days earlier, Neeraj Shekhar of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Sanjay Sinh of the Congress had quit from the Rajya Sabha and joined the BJP.

According to BJP leaders, the BJP which has 78 members along with three Shiv Sena and three Akali Dal (SAD) members, had a field day as many non-NDA parties such as the BSP, the AIADMK, the AAP, the YSRCP and the BJD supported the government on revoking Article 370 and bifurcation of the state.

The AIADMK has 11 members in the Upper House while the BSP has four and the AAP, BJD and YSRCP have three, seven and two members each in the Rajya Sabha.

In the end, it was a cakewalk for the ruling party benches when it came to the passage of crucial legislations.

(Anand Singh can be contacted at [email protected]ians.in)

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Education and its economic outgrowths

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73rd Independence Day PM address
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the Nation on the 73rd Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, in New Delhi on Aug 15, 2019. (Photo: IANS)

In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the issue of population explosion in the country and the need to address it. He added education as a means of both moderating the trend of rising population and making them productive as well. Development trends throughout history have shown that as literacy levels go up, fertility rate falls and economic growth is easier to achieve. The latter is due to the fact that with education, child progress takes place at a faster rate making the future generation of workforce more productive.

Keeping this in view, the National Education Policy (NEP) is updated regularly to ensure equitable access to high quality education to the children of the country. The most recent, NEP 2019, is still in the public domain for wider consultations. Since the country’s independence in 1947, Indian government has always sponsored a variety of programmes to address the problems of low levels of literacy rates in rural and urban India alike.

The first NEP was formulated in 1968. Based on the reports and recommendations of Kothari Commission (1964-1966), the Indira Gandhi government called for radical restructuring and equalizing educational opportunities to achieve national integration along with greater cultural and economic development. This policy laid the groundwork for all the other education policies that followed it.

Focusing on compulsory education for all children till the age of 14 years and introducing the policy which promoted the three-language formula (promoting learning of regional language), it gave way to the next educational policy, National Education Policy 1986. This policy, under the Rajiv Gandhi government focused on the inclusivity of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) by promoting scholarships, incentives to poor families, and recruiting more teachers from the backward classes.

Due to such initiatives, India has been on track of an improved and inclusive educational condition that our society requires to provide to our next generation. Literacy rate since the time of Independence has increased from 18.33 per cent (Census 1951) to 74.04 per cent (Census 2011). In the decade between the last two Census’ alone, the country’s literacy rate shot up by 14 percentage points.

On the other hand, gender disparity has still been an area that the existing policies have not significantly influenced. As reported by Census 2011, there is a wide gap between the literacy rates of males (80.9 per cent) and females (64.60 per cent). This gap is also a leading cause for the population explosion that the country has experienced through its impact on family planning. Despite the best government efforts through initiatives like ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, the trend has persisted.

Along with such issues of basic literacy, India’s education system will also need to address the problem of employability. Each year the Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) reveal the learning deficit of Indian students beginning at the level of elementary schools. The last report found that more than half of Class V students can only read texts meant for Class II. Such deficiencies will impede the country from achieving optimum productivity levels in the long run.

The NEP 2019 emphasises on these as well as many other obstacles in achieving a better education system and looks to achieve a plethora of goals in the next decade. Starting from early childhood care and education, NEP 2019 aims to achieve quality education for children between 3-6 years and ensures that every student in Grade 5 and beyond would achieve literacy and numeracy by 2025. The policy also aligns itself with the Goal 5 of SDGs by aiming to achieve universal Gross Enrolment Ratio in schools as well as universal youth and adult literacy by 2030 after extending the Right to Education Act from pre-school till Grade 12.

Along with these, NEP 2019 also considers that the government bodies and policy makers do have a huge role to play. First, it emphasizes on increasing school governance by organizing schools into school complexes ensuring availability of infrastructure, resources and people. Second, it plans to establish an apex body, the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog, which would act as the custodian of the vision of education in India headed by Prime Minister. Third, the higher studies institutions would have autonomy on academic, administrative and financial aspects of their institutes. Finally, the policy would also catalyse research and innovation across the country through the formation of a National Research Foundation.

The implementation is still key in deriving the desired outcomes through the NEP, but it sets the required agenda on achieving child progress and, through it, a moderation in population growth and robust economic growth in the future. By increasing the importance of co-curriculars as well as vocational training, for instance, it would provide a child with a multi-disciplinary background, which might be the need of the hour in an increasingly mechanised world. The effect of these initiatives will only be realised over the long run but a timely shift in narrative towards better education outcomes was necessary and a commensurate policy shift is welcome at this time. The India of the future demands it.

(Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness. He can be contacted at [email protected] and tweets @kautiliya. Abhinandan Menon, researcher, Institute for Competitiveness, has contributed to the article)

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Rajendra Sethia: Acquitted after 34 years in a trumped up case

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Rajendra Singh Sethia

New Delhi, Aug 16 : In many ways, Rajendra Singh Sethia — the world’s biggest bankrupt in the 1980s, long before the insolvency and bankruptcy code emerged in India, or the US saw its share of Chapter 11 bankruptcies — represents the archetype of a Greek tragic hero. The Nigeria and Sudan experience meant that the wheel of fortune had taken a dive, a death spiral which plunged him to depths of despair.

Overnight the king had become a pauper. He lost his two-storeyed $225,000 ‘White House’ in Hendon, north London, three Rolls Royce, two Mercedes and even a Boeing 707. He lost his businesses in Nigeria and Sudan. His Holland hotel in mid-Manhattan, his tea company in India Jokai and his family (as some members chose to desert him). Yet karma, God and yoga have kept him alive.

Sethia is the same man who once paid $3.6 million for his Boeing aircraft and spent another $600,000 to install a boardroom, bedrooms, sauna and jacuzzi in the plane. The high flier who belongs to Sujjangarh, near Bikaner, became a Londoner after spending his childhood in Calcutta where his great grandparents moved to just before Partition in 1944.

Here is the second part of an incredible tale where imponderables and vicissitudes have strewn Sethia’s path, he tells us about India and his interminable expedition to clear his name. He may have lost his hair, what is left is tied up in a pony tail, but not his mojo, the moustache remains as fierce as ever, the Marwari in him defiant:

INDIA: The CBI arrested me on March 1, 1985. The questioning tack was how much bribe did you pay Pranab Mukherjee? My response was that I had never met him or spoken to him. All the money I made was from official banking transactions. I didn’t realize that this agency’s built up and propped up case would haunt me for 34 years. It was clear that V.P. Singh, an icon of virtue and anti-graft crusader of the time, had got me arrested.

Two top journos of the time (names withheld) told V.P. Singh here was this criminal and embezzler who was living slap bang in Delhi’s Maurya’s Presidential Suite cocking a snook at the government. No bank ever filed any complaint against me. In 1991, the PNB in a sworn affidavit said it has no complaint against me as everything was fully secured.

Mr Clean V.P. Singh labelled me the world’s biggest bankrupt (September 1984) and at the same time, London banks filed a case against me. I want to go back to England to clear my name. This was an eerie time in India, after Mrs Gandhi’s assassination, Pranab Mukherjee had thrown his hat into the ring and that had put paid to his chances, V.P. Singh was the new poster boy till he too fell out. V.P. tried to make an example out of me at the behest of two journos who are now my friends.

On February 13, 1987, after serving my term in Tihar Jail, Amod Kanth had me re-arrested for financing Charles Sobhraj’s escape. One of the inmates was Madan Bhaiya (who became a politician), he is still my friend. Charles and I became friendly. It took me three to four months to understand I was the No.1 prisoner among the 8,000-odd inmates. After all, I was supposed to be the biggest criminal the world has seen — one who embezzled crores and millions.

I now slept on the floor, solitary first four and last six months and those months are embedded in my memory recesses for they teach you nothing is permanent. Money and power mean nothing, God and understanding him and his ways means everything.

PRESENT: Since 1987, I am stuck here, I make the best of what I can. My first wife divorced me, the second divorced me, the third Sonia died in a car crash. I have two children (daughter and son live with me), I have had four heart attacks, five stents, but I still do two hours of yoga everyday and continue to believe in exercise as the bedrock to keep you going.

I am broke, yet my kids have financially supported me — son 48, daughter 45 — they are really protective of me. So many unbelievably fantastic people in Delhi who have supported me till day. Nobody from London helped and supported me. I have a moderate liquor business and it keeps us going. I don’t care if people call me Delhi’s bootlegger.

I had to clear my name, all of us are going to die one day and maybe God has kept me alive for this purpose, it is a mission for me. Money is useful as a tool. I have no love or attachment for it, good if you have, good if you don’t, cant allow it to take over your life.

I have spent 10s of crore since 1984-85 to clear my name. Almost 30 to 40 millions of dollars were spent in London itself. Lawyers don’t charge me anymore, they have become my friends, they know my harrowing tale, how I have been wronged. I didn’t travel for 25 years. Aryama Sundaram took my case to Supreme Court. He is a friend, the court agreed to hear, they finally gave me permission to travel overseas.

I remember the court asked for Rs 1 crore cash surety. Sundaram said he has no money, he is a friend, not a client — Rs 1 lakh — asked to provide and I got my passport back.

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Iranian tanker Grace 1 freed by Gibraltar

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London, Aug 15 : Gibraltar on Thursday allowed a detained Iranian supertanker Grace 1 to leave the British overseas territory despite eleventh-hour efforts by the United States to halt the move, thus potentially defusing the  tensions between London and Tehran.
The Supreme Court in the British territory of Gibraltar approved the release of the Grace 1, which was impounded off the country’s coast by authorities on July 4.

Tanker was detained by authorities in Gibraltar with the help of Royal Marines on the suspicion that it was ferrying over 2 million barrels of crude oil to Syria in violation of European sanctions.

Gibraltar said Iran has assured that its cargo would not be taken to Syria.Gibraltar is a British overseas territory on the edge of southern Spain.

Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement issued to the press, “investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar and that it couldn’t comment further.Gibraltar’s legal proceedings and the steps Gibraltar’s authorities have taken to prevent the ship’s cargo from reaching Syria in contravention of EU Syria Sanctions.UK Government noted that  Gibraltar has received assurances from Iran that the Grace 1 will not proceed to Syria.”

Two weeks later, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz and accused it of “violating international regulations.” There have been six attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region and  the U.S. has blamed on Iran.

UK issued a statement, “There is no comparison or linkage between Iran’s unacceptable and illegal seizure of, and attacks on, commercial shipping vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and the enforcement of EU Syria sanctions by the Government of Gibraltar. Freedom of navigation for commercial shipping must be respected and international law upheld.”

All 24 Indian crew members who were aboard the Grace 1 have been freed, Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan tweeted today.

“Spoke to our High Commission @HCI_London on VLCC Grace 1. They confirmed that all 24 Indian crew aboard VLCC Grace 1 have been released by Gibraltar authorities and are free to return to India,”  Muraleedharan tweeted.

Arti Bali

Sr Journalist 

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