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Column: Corona pandemic put the governance on test – Spy’s Eye

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Migrant workers plight

Addressing the nation on May 12 — in the backdrop of a loud demand for economic stimulus, criticism of the handling of migrants and the growing impatience of the people with corona prohibitions — Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an economic recovery package of Rs twenty lakh crore, acknowledged the importance of rebuilding the economy bottom-up without relaxing on the aim of achieving global supremacy and reminded everybody that “self-control” should be the weapon of combat against the pandemic even when “Lockdown 4” — the name he gave to the phase beginning next week — granted all possible relaxations.

What is remarkable about the address is that it confirmed that the Prime Minister was way ahead of his advisors and political colleagues when it came to taking big decisions. His image as a leader of personal integrity who was also a hard task master and whose policy decisions were generally deemed to be in national interest, remains intact. That is why even “demonetization”, that had resulted in traumatic hardship for the ordinary bank account holders, was ultimately accepted as something done with good intentions. The long corona lockdown declared by him on March 24 also met with public acceptance — notwithstanding its repercussions for the weak and the poor.

The turnout of vast numbers of migrant labour in large cities like Delhi to head back in panic to their village homes, hundreds of miles away, on foot with their children, became a saga of human suffering by the time the Centre took cognisance of it. It evoked a narrative in the opposition camp that Prime Minister Modi had shown an “authoritarian” streak in disregarding the reality of rural India sending out millions of people to urban centres for earning their livelihood as daily wage workers. This is an unfair personal criticism as Narendra Modi is a compassionate person who himself rose from a humble background to become the country’ s Prime Minister on his popularitybb ratings.

As the announcement of the lockdown on March 24 had not mandated that full payment will be made by the employers to the low paid workers for that period — with necessary aid from the government — the Prime Minister has now made up for it through a “quantum jump” that sets apart nearly ten per cent of India’s GDP as economic stimulus for different sectors, including MSMEs. Hopefully, this should enable a bulk of low salary employees and daily wage earners thrown out of employment, to get back to work. It is to be seen how this impacts the migrant labour scene.

Presuming that the BJP had the advantage of getting a feedback from its leaders from North India who were aware of the enormity of scale on which labour from there migrated to metropolitan cities for livelihood, the experts and administrators on whom Prime Minister Modi banked heavily, might have opted for a slightly nuanced implementation of the lockdown — allowing for mitigating arrangements to be made in time for the uprooted migrant labour. The handling of the pandemic on the whole has certainly earned appreciation for India in the world outside, primarily because Prime Minister Modi led the battle from the front. The fight against corona, however, tested the administrative machinery of the Centre and the states for quick decision making. Even after the authorities woke up to the humanitarian problem created by the unplanned movement of migrants in various parts of the country, the fumbling response seemingly fell short of issuing a firm mandate of the Union government to the state governments to appoint DMs as the nodal officers for micro-managing the food, shelter and travel arrangements of the distressed lot in their areas.

The Centre would have sorted out any issue of funding raised by them in this regard. Some needy being turned back from public distribution outlets for lack of ration cards when the country had enough food grain supplies or the Railways bureaucrats allowing the issue of sharing of the cost of tickets for special trains run for migrants, to become a public controversy — forgetting that the higher objective of the Centre was to be able to announce free travel for the affected people and ensure hassle-free but safe interstate movement for them — are two illustrations of flawed governance at the local and central levels . The angle of political morality of such actions was completely lost on the officials concerned.

Prime Minister Modi has done well to use his broadcast to the nation to explain how the strategy of economic recovery will have to follow India’s own model of self-reliance and local enterprise that took special care of the poor and the weak. Since the corona pandemic is a long-term challenge for us, its handling in the days ahead must take care of the three main inadequacies that had shown up earlier.

First, the national policy framed on a study of internal and global scene had to flow from the Union government and, therefore, the Centre should have no reluctance about ensuring uniform implementation of the principle-based relaxations allowed in different phases. Secondly, in what is now a rising unhealthy trend, the state governments have used the classification of zones in the country relating to the severity of corona spread to block inter-state movement on their own. This cannot be done since restrictiveness is around districts that are in red or orange zones — not around states and since all citizens of India had the same right of movement within the Centre’s Dos and Don’ts. No state can indulge in politics on this. Incidentally, some responsible Ministers with their single track thinking on the need of ‘labour for production’ wanted the migrants to be blocked by the states — missing out completely on the human side of the manpower-factory output equation. When the enterprises are ready to resume work, they have to be prepared to spend a little extra for getting their people back to the workplace.

Lastly, in a world devastated by the corona pandemic, where the known rules of global trade may not apply for a long time, India has to formulate its own strategy of economic restoration which will have to be a combination of highly automated production centres and smaller businesses that could work with affordable locally available manpower. The economic revival in India will have to be indigenous — Prime Minister Modi’s call of “vocal for local” is incisive and timely indeed. What will be of help in this is the noticeable trend of people seeking self-sufficiency within their townships, areas and comfort zones. India’s economy will always have the potential of making a global impact. The development model for India, meanwhile, has to reflect both — support for the “creators of wealth” and concern for the well-being of the common people.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)

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BJP treads cautious, unleash ‘3 musketeers’ to check out Pilot’s claim

With Gehlot releasing photos, flashing victory sign and his camp claiming there were 107 MLAs, BJP thinks its caution paid off.

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Sachin Pilot

As Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Monday flexed muscles during the Congress Legislature Party meeting, throwing the show open to media claiming around 100 MLAs still in his fold, sources in the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed, they too took Sachin Pilot’s assertion of “more than 30 MLAs” support” with a pinch of salt.

This is why no top BJP leaders met Pilot and instead deputed three BJP intermediaries to “keep a close watch” on the developments. Sources say, the three leaders are BJP General Secretary Bhupender Yadav, Pilots”s former colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia and BJP MP Om Mathur.

While BJP officially maintains that there has been no meeting between BJP leaders and Pilot and sources in BJP claim nor any have been scheduled, Yadav”s role is believed to keep BJP top brass “apprised” of the “developing situation”.

The choice of Yadav may surprise some, given he is incharge of Bihar and Gujarat. However, he hails from the desert state and knows the state”s politics very well.

The second choice was obvious — Jyotiraditya Scindia. While there has been no official confirmation of a meeting between him and Pilot, sources confirmed to IANS that the two had a detailed telephone conversation on Sunday, even as the sulking Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister remained “incommunicado” for the best part of the day to his party colleagues.

Sources who could not confirm what the two leaders — Pilot and Scindia — spoke about, added, “The two have worked together for years. But ever since Scindia joined the BJP along with his supporters, both Pilot and Scindia have been in regular telephonic contact.”

Late on Sunday, after they spoke over phone, Pilot asserted that he will skip Sunday morning”s legislature party meeting and openly announced that the Ashok Gehlot-led government in the state has been reduced to a minority government.

The third BJP leader who was entrusted with the job of “getting a sense” of things in the Gehlot-Pilot face-off, was BJP”s National Vice President and Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan — Om Mathur. Sources indicate that Pilot and Mathur met on Sunday. However, there has been no official confirmation of the same.

Mathur, who on Sunday attacked Congress leader Kapil Sibal saying it”s natural for anyone to look for greener pastures, without naming Pilot, tried to distance BJP from the Rajasthan political crisis on Monday morning. Mathur said: “It is unfair for the Congress party to blame its internal problems on the BJP. The Congress should rather keep its house in order.”

Senior BJP sources say, the party top brass were skeptical of the claim of more than 30 MLAs supporting Pilot. In fact, the job of the three BJP leaders was to get a sense of the authenticity of the claim. If BJP sources are to be believed, the party top brass decided against meeting Pilot unless convinced that he indeed has the numbers on his side.

With Gehlot releasing photos, flashing victory sign and his camp claiming there were 107 MLAs, BJP thinks its caution paid off.

With just 18 MLAs staying off the CLP meeting, Congress seems to have decided not to negotiate any further while BJP distanced itself from the political row. Reports of Priyanka Gandhi pitching in to find a middle path was also reported. With Pilot still dodging camera and microphones, the picture is yet to become clear.

(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at [email protected])

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GenNext leaders leaving party worrying sign for Congress

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PILOT and SCINDIA

New Delhi, July 13 : After Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot may be the next high-profile leader to leave the Congress unceremoniously at a time when the party is grappling to save its image and the government in Rajasthan, even as Congress observer Randeep Surjewala made a high-pitch appeal to Pilot to return to the party fold.

According to sources, Congress leaders have been asked to go soft on Pilot as the party wants to retain him.

Former Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam said, “The party doesn”t suffer if a person leaves, but if one by one everybody starts to leave, who will remain in the party? The prime responsibility of the party leadership is to resolve the differences between the leaders.”

Not just Scindia, who led a successful revolt against Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh by jumping ship to the BJP, now Pilot too seems to be mounting pressure on Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

Before Pilot, former Haryana Pradesh Congress chief Ashok Tanwar had announced his resignation from the party in October last year after being denied ticket in the Assembly polls. He even protested against the party at 10, Janpath but his grievances were not heard.

Tanwar, who was the party President in Haryana, was removed after pressure from former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Talking on the current crisis in the party, Tanwar said senior leaders don”t want young leaders to grow and sabotage their endeavours.

Tanwar, who is yet to join any party, said his political journey is on and he will take a decision at an appropriate time.

Scindia”s revolt led to the fall of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. After being sidelined by Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh and with the party high command not paying heed to his demands, Scindia joined hands with the BJP and is now an elected Rajya Sabha MP of the party. Chances are that he may soon be inducted into the Union Cabinet.

What”s common between Tanwar, Scindia and Pilot is that they have all been close to Rahul Gandhi. While Tanwar and Pilot were made state Presidents, the latter lost the CM”s race against Gehlot. Similarly, Scindia lost the race for the Chief Minister”s post to Kamal Nath.

There are worrying signs in the Congress, especially after former Union Minister Kapil Sibal said that he was worried for the party.

While senior party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi hoped that an amicable solution will be reached soon, nothing of that sort has happened so far. Pilot seems to be adamant and the trigger for his revolt seems to have come after the SOG sent a notice to Pilot in a sedition case.

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Rajasthan crisis: The story of a nose-diving Pilot and soaring Gehlot!

Pilot stood like a wall between Gehlot and his men and hence, it was expected that he will be shunted out as Rajasthan PCC chief.

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PILOT and SCINDIA

Jaipur, July 12 : The greed of Ashok Gehlot to keep his power intact and the hunger of Sachin Pilot to stay strong in the larger picture is the reason for the tussle which triggered the Congress crisis in Rajasthan.

Since the Congress party formed its government in Rajasthan, there were two power circles created, one being led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and other by Sachin Pilot.

While Congress stands at 101, the BJP and its alliance with RLD had 75 MLAs. Looking at the thin strength, Gehlot played his magic and brought 13 independents under his fold. Later, 6 BSP MLAs merged with Congress.

Surprisingly, Pilot, despite being PCC chief, was kept out and was informed about the developments the next day via the media. This was just the beginning. The files of his department (PWD) were sent back by Finance (under Gehlot) quoting reasons for fund crisis.

Even the ministers of his camp were facing challenges and were receiving back files from bureaucrats quoting “Please Discuss”.

During the Covid crisis, Gehlot was busy calling video conferences with health and other departments, however, Pilot was never part of the meetings.

Pilot camp sources said that the Deputy CM wanted the entire Congress team on ground, however, Gehlot was more interested in making his larger picture and hence centralised the operations during corona.

Even on his father Rajesh Pilot”s death anniversary on June 11, when Pilot and team was about to go to Dausa to pay floral tributes, the police officials called Pilot and asked him to stay away from visiting Dausa as section 144 was imposed in the town in the wake of covid-19.

“They were busy holding meetings, camping in Marriott to prevent MLA poaching, but Pilot was intentionally stopped from visiting Dausa as it could have been his show of strength as many MLAs wanted to visit there,” said an MLA from Pilot”s team. Even the home department is looked after by Gehlot.

Further, the challenge started appearing grave when Pilot wanted Congress grassroots workers to get tickets for ensuing panchayat and corporation polls while Gehlot wanted to favour his closest. Also for political appointments, the CM wanted the BSP and independent MLAs to get plum posts while Pilot wanted them to be kept for Congress workers.

Pilot stood like a wall between Gehlot and his men and hence, it was expected that he will be shunted out as Rajasthan PCC chief.

“However, Pilot wanted to continue his term as PCC chief but was not interested in reading files as minister. The deadlock continued and when he was defamed many times by Gehlot camp in one or the other way, he then decided to bring in the high command into the picture and show his strength and that”s why this is happening now,” said a source.

It”s more like a door-die situation for Pilot but hopefully the Congress high command wakes up from its slumber said a PCC worker who told IANS that the party seems to be crumbling in the state with the deadlock. “We look dead and if things don”t improve, our party will be declared dead.”

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