Rajat Sharma

My Opinion

Kashi Vishwanath corridor will change the face of Varanasi

A K B (007)Round-the-clock work has begun on a war footing to build Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘dream project’ of constructing Kashi Vishwanath corridor, right from river Ganga to the holy shrine.

The corridor, 400 metres long and 50 feet wide, will cover roughly 25,000 sq. metre of land, for which 270 old buildings are being demolished. An open auditorium will be built between Manikarnika Ghat and Lalita Ghat. A rest house for pilgrims, hospital, visual library, Vedic study centre, toilets, help desk, shops, etc. will also be built. A two-lane pathway will be built from the Ganga river ghat to Kashi Vishwanath temple. Prime Minister Modi has personally checked the model for the entire project.

Those who have visited Varanasi will know how this project will change the face of Varanasi and its river ghats. Till last year, the Kashi Vishwanath temple was not even visible to pilgrims from the ghats. Pilgrims, after taking a holy dip in the Ganga, had to pass through narrow alleys filled with mud and dirt. There were alleys where two persons could barely cross each other. The alleys were full of stray cattle and bulls. Pilgrims used to have a tough time walking through these alleys in order to reach the shrine.

Last week, I had asked the famous Ram Katha preacher Morari Bapu why he conducted his discourse at a crematorium ground in Varanasi instead of the holy Kashi Vishwanath temple. Bapu put a counter question: “Is there any space around Kashi Vishwanath temple to accomodate my audience?” I had no answer.

With the work going on the corridor at break neck speed, we should hope that PM Modi’s dream project will materialize at the earliest. Pilgrims can watch the holy shrine while taking a dip in Ganga, and they would not have to walk through dirty alleys. And there will be enough space near the Kashi Vishwanath temple to organize a Ram Katha, too.

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Let us all trust our Election Commission and our EVMs

aaj ki baat_frame_12087On Monday, a press conference was held in London by Indian Journalists Association (Europe) and Foreign Press Association, at which a person who called himself Syed Shuja, based in the US, alleged via Skype, that electronic voting machines used during 2014 Lok Sabha elections and during the assembly polls in Maharashtra, Delhi and UP were tampered with.

The hacker, partly covering his face and using a fake name, claimed he had worked for five years in Electronics Corporation of India Ltd, that manufactures EVMs. He also alleged that former Union Minister Gopinath Munde was murdered soon after 2014 LS polls, because he knew about EVM hacking. The man also claimed that EVMs, though not connected to internet, can be hacked using a military grade modulator on low frequency. He however refused to display the process live, citing security concerns.

Some Congress leaders may find substance in Syed Shuja’s allegations, but I believe the hacker’s claims are fraudulent. He failed to hack a single electronic voting machine before the media. He named two persons who, he said, got the EVMs hacked, but they are no more alive. Nobody can crosscheck the veracity of this man’s allegations.

The man went to the extent of claiming that BJP won several elections by tampering with the EVMs, but in elections where the Congress and other parties won, he claimed that he and his associates intervened to “stop” EVM tampering. This is totally untenable. Moreover, the presence of a senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal at the press conference in London raises more questions.

I fully trust our Election Commission of India, which had been using the EVMs manufactured by two public sector companies, ECIL and Bharat Electronics Ltd for the last several decades. These EVMs were used in many elections before 2014. The EVMs are not connected to internet, nor can they be intercepted during polling or counting in any manner. The best thing would be to ignore this man’s allegations altogether. His charges do not hold water.

 

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Centre should wait for SC hearing before taking any decision on Ram temple

aka_frame_71907The renowned Ram Katha preacher Morari Bapu was my guest in Aap Ki Adalat show (will be telecast on India TV this weekend) and I asked him several questions relating to some controversies. On the Ayodhya dispute, Morari Bapu was emphatic. He wanted a temple to be built at the Ram Janmabhoomi, and appealed to the Supreme Court to deliver its verdict at the earliest.

The RSS, of late, has been creating pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to bring an ordinance to acquire the disputed land in order to start building of the Ram temple. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has clearly said that the government must bring an ordinance soon, since the hearing in the apex court was dragging on and there seems to be no sign of an early verdict. The RSS chief is clearly not happy with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that the government would wait for the final SC verdict before taking any action.

For the government, there is no easy way out. BJP MP Dr Subramanian Swamy, while mentioning a cabinet resolution taken by former PM P V Narasimha Rao’s government, has suggested that the Centre can legally acquire the disputed land without waiting for the SC verdict, and compensation can be given at a later date if the verdict is to the contrary. This, he argues, will pave the way for early building of the Ram temple.

At a time when the issue is pending before the Supreme Court, any big decision on part of the government could anger the apex court. It would be better for the Centre to wait till January 29 when the hearing is expected to resume in the Supreme Court.

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SP-BSP alliance will pose a major challenge to BJP in UP

AKB_frame_9453 (002)The pre-poll alliance between the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh is going to pose a serious challenge to the ruling BJP. The combination of caste factors between Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits is going to make the alliance a formidable change, though BJP president Amit Shah said on Friday that in politics, chemistry matters more than mathematics.

SP supremo Akhilesh Yadav knows that his party on its own cannot achieve electoral success without the help of BSP. He is therefore ready to accept all the demands made by BSP leader Mayawati. It was on the insistence of the latter that Akhilesh Yadav agreed to keep the Congress out of the alliance.

Mayawati’s BSP had not won a single seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and yet Akhilesh has agreed to give 37 seats to the BSP. You can call it a strategy mixed with politics. If he had not done that, the forging of the alliance would not have been possible.

The BJP leadership understands the enormity of this challenge in UP, but in order to keep the morale of its workers high, its leaders have been saying that the alliance would turn out to be as hollow as the one Akhilesh had forged with Rahul Gandhi during the assembly elections. Time will tell.

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Why CBI chief Alok Verma was removed

AKB_frame_516Fifty four hours after the Supreme Court reinstated Alok Verma as CBI director, and left the matter to be decided by the Selection Committee headed by the Prime Minister, the CBI chief was removed from the agency again by the high-level committee on Thursday. The committee comprised PM Narendra Modi, SC judge A. K. Sikri representing the Chief Justice of India and the leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge. Kharge gave a dissenting note and sought extension for the CBI chief.

The selection committee, according to official sources, felt that a detailed investigation, including criminal investigation, was necessary in some cases”. Under such circumstances, the continuance of Alok Verma as CBI chief was untenable.

In the last two-three months, the premier investigating agency has been witnessing the strange spectacle of the CBI Chief and the Additional Director Rakesh Asthana levelling charges of taking bribes against each other. Both had gone to the extent of recording statements of middlemen and filing cases against each other. The allegations were widely discussed in newspapers, television and social media, and the image of CBI built over the last several decades had been sullied.

There was no option left before the government but to remove both Verma and Asthana from their posts. The Central Vigilance Commissioner went through the allegations and gave its report to the government. The matter went to the Supreme Court. Soon after being reinstated by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Verma took over and carried out large-scale transfers, bringing his own men to key posts. Clearly, the CBI was facing another round of charges and counter-charges, and the government had to wield the stick again.

The other important point was that Alok Verma appeared to have become a convenient tool in the hands of those opposed to PM Modi. Congress president Rahul Gandhi had given statements in his favour, and Modi baiters, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan had defended his case in the Supreme Court. These were the individuals who were, in the same breath, demanding autonomy and independence for CBI. The question is: how can CBI get autonomy and independence, when its two top officers level charges against each other in an atmosphere surcharged by politics?
It needs to be mentioned here that Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge had filed a petition in favour of Alok Verma in the Supreme Court. Hence he was actually an interested party in the Selection Committee. Contrast this with the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, who had heard petitions in the Alok Verma case, and therefore preferred not to go himself, but sent Justice Sikri to the Selection Committee meeting.

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Why Modi is hitting out at Gandhi-Nehru family over ‘Michel Mama’?

akb (007)Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday tore into Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s remark for saying that the he had made “a woman” (Nirmala Sitharaman) defend him in Parliament over the Rafale deal. Modi described this as an insult to Indian women. Rahul Gandhi had said at the Jaipur rally, that the ‘chowkidaar’ with a 56-inch chest ran away from the Rafale debate and told a woman, Nirmala Sitharaman Ji to defend him”.

After Modi’s remark, Rahul Gandhi had to later tweet in the evening and say “With all due respect Modi Ji, in our culture respect for women begins at home”.

After the Congress win in three states, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, Rahul Gandhi is in full cry and he is hitting at PM Modi at his election rallies. In the coming days, the barbs are going to fly thick and thin, from both ends.

Some sections of media had earlier thought that Prime Minister Modi will be on the defensive this time, as he would have to give an account of his five-year rule. Modi has belied this, and he is hitting at the Gandhi-Nehru family over the issue of corruption. In Agra on Wednesday, the PM said that all the thieves (chor) have joined hands to oust the ‘chowkidaar’, but he would never show leniency on the issue of corruption.

Modi has become aggressive at his rallies and he referred to what he called ‘Michel Mama (uncle)’ , the middleman arrested in connection with Agusta Westland helicopter deal. He said, ‘Michel Mama’ has revealed many things during questioning and has implicated Gandhi-Nehru family in other deals too.

The Congress will have to be ready with answers now that the PM himself is levelling charges at the Gandhi-Nehru family. The election campaigns in the coming weeks are going to be quite interesting.

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PM Modi has demolished the wall that had separated upper castes from others

akb_frame_7178The Lok Sabha on Tuesday night passed the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill seeking to provide 10 per cent reservation to people of economically weaker sections who had been kept out of the quota system till now. This is a landmark historic step in the annals of Indian history.

In one stroke, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demolished the wall of reservation that had separated upper castes from Other Backward Castes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Poverty does not chose castes at the time of anyone’s birth. Till this date, reservation was being given on the basis of castes. Once this bill is enacted, brilliant and meritorious students from economically poorer strata of upper castes can find a ray of hope while seeking jobs or applying for higher education. There are millions of families belonging to upper castes, who are poor, but had been deprived of the fruits of reservation.

It was left to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to answer the question as to why poor youths from upper castes are not given reservation in jobs and education. Most of the political parties, including Congress, used to promise reservation for economically weaker sections in their election manifestos, but they never had the political will to implement it. These parties and their leaders feared backlash from OBC and SC, ST vote banks.

The Constitution Amendment Bill is truly a revolutionary step and it is heartening to see most of the political parties supporting this bill. From now on, poor children from upper caste strata will never complain that they had been facing injustice on account of reservation.

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Upper caste reservation could be a game changer for Modi

aka_frame_71907Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet on Monday approved a Constitutional Amendment Bill which seeks to provide 10 per cent reservation in admissions to educational institutions and central government jobs for economically weaker sections from among upper castes and all other communities who do not enjoy quota benefits.

This move will have a far-reaching political significance in view of the upcoming parliamentary elections. On the face of it, this is a well-considered decision to give reservation in jobs to poor people from all those castes, which had been out of the purview of reservation till now.

There are however two major questions that arise. One, will the government be able to get the Constitutional Amendment Bill passed in both Houses of Parliament by a two-third majority, and can it stand judicial scrutiny? I think most of the political parties will not take the risk of opposing this measure, and the government may manage to get it passed in both Houses.

The second question: what will be the political fallout? Upper castes had been demanding reservation for their economically weaker sections for the last several decades in different states. This bill can serve as a game changer for Prime Minister Modi in winning over their support and give them relief.

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Why Rahul Gandhi is unwilling to listen to logical replies on Rafale deal

A_K_B (1) (003)Towards the end of her two-and-a-half-hour marathon reply on the Rafale debate in Lok Sabha on Friday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman turned visibly emotional and lashed out at Congress president Rahul Gandhi for calling her “jhoothi” (liar) and Prime Minister Modi “chor” (thief). Sitharaman said, ‘I don’t have a khaandan (dynasty) to boast of. I come from an ordinary background. I come with my honour intact. Our Prime Minister comes from an economically backward family. You have no right to call me a liar and our PM as thief.”
There were reasons for the Defence Minister to become emotional. I listed to her marathon reply in Lok Sabha. She had come with all facts and figures. In spite of continuous interruptions, she replied to most of the points raised by the Opposition.

On his part, Rahul Gandhi also asked direct and logical questions about the deal. It appeared as if the debate was going to be fruitful, but towards the end, the Congress president winked twice at somebody inside the House, and spoiled the seriousness of the debate on an issue that relates to national security. It looked as if he was out to have fun and had little interest in the reply being given by the Defence Minister.

Joking apart, I have said several times in the recent past that the Congress wants to make Rafale an electoral issue, and no matter how many times the government gives clarifications, it is trying hard to let the mud of corruption charge against Modi stick.

Rahul is continuously harping on his allegation that PM Modi has given benefit to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore to Anil Ambani. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had clarified in the Lok Sabha on Thursday that the entire Rafale deal was to the tune of Rs 58,000 crore, out of which 50 per cent, or Rs 29,000 crore comes under offset obligations clause. There are nearly 100 companies under offset obligations, out of which Anil Ambani’s company has got only Rs 870 crore worth business. From where did the figure of Rs 30,000 crore come?

But logic has no place in a setting where Rahul Gandhi has a set pattern of dialogues, which he used during the MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh elections, and which he is going to repeat during his campaign for the parliamentary elections.

As an opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi has the right to decide on issues that he intends to raise, he has the right not to accept the replies given by the government, but he should trust the Supreme Court’s verdict, which went through the entire procurement process, pricing and offset obligations in Rafale deal, and found no irregularities. All of us should respect the Supreme Court’s verdict.

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Why is Kejriwal trying to forge alliance with Congress ?

AKB_frame_454The Delhi Assembly on Thursday was witness to a sorry spectacle when Sikh MLA Manjinder Singh Sirsa was forcibly marshalled out from the House and his turban was forcibly removed. Sirsa alleged that Aam Aadmi Party MLAs egged on the marshals to manhandle him. Sirsa had given notice for removal of the Assembly Speaker, which the latter had rejected.

In his notice, Sirsa alleged that the assembly had on December 21 passed a resolution calling for withdrawal of Bharat Ratna from former PM Late Rajiv Gandhi for giving support to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Sirsa alleged that the sentence was later removed by AAP from the resolution. The Sikh MLA, who belongs to Akal Dal, but has won the Rajouri Garden seat on BJP symbol, yesterday demanded that the names of Gandhi family members be removed from all institutions, schemes and roads, and the House should adopt a resolution stating that “the late Rajiv Gandhi was an accused of 1984 carnage”.

You might wonder why Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his party men did this. Till last year, the AAP leaders had been demanding removal of Rajiv Gandhi’s name from institutions, schemes and roads, but now time has changed. Kejriwal wants to ally with Congress in Delhi and Punjab, since he and his associates have realized that they cannot win elections without Congress support.

Kejriwal and his associates know fully well that if they denounce Rajiv Gandhi, there will be no chance of forging an alliance with the Congress. Morality and principles have no place in such matters. It is a clear case of political opportunism propelled by the lust for power.

In a related development, senior Supreme Court advocate and AAP’s former leader of opposition in Punjab assembly H. S. Phoolka resigned from the party on Thursday opposing Kejriwal’s move for a tie-up with the Congress. Phoolka was the person who doggedly fought in courts for 34 years to give justice to the victims of 1984 carnage. The senior advocate had earlier believed that Kejriwal had sympathy for the 1984 riot victims, but he has now realized that the AAP supremo is guided only by the lust for power. He has now decided to part ways.

You may recall how Anna Hazare, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Kumar Vishwas left AAP one by one because of Kejriwal’s arbitrary style of functioning. H.S.Phoolka is the latest addition to the list. It will not be difficult any more for Kejriwal to join hands with Congress at the hustings.

 

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Rahul has nothing new to add to his allegations against Modi over Rafale deal

A K BThe Lok Sabha on Wednesday witnessed an acrimonious debate on the Rafale fighter deal, with Congress President Rahul Gandhi initiating the discussion. He tried to stir up a fresh controversy by offering to “play inside the House” an audio clip purportedly between the Goa Health Minister Vishwajit Rane and a local journalist, in which the former is said to have referred to the Rafale deal. Both Rane and Goa CM Manohar Parrikar have denied this.

Pointedly when asked by the Speaker whether he was ready to authenticate the audio conversation, Rahul Gandhi backed out. It seems he was not sure whether the audio clip was genuine or not. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley later rightly said that Rahul declined to authenticate because he knows that the tape is “false and fabricated”.

In his speech, Rahul repeated the same allegations that he had been making for nearly 600 times in the last six months. He repeated his allegation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a bounty of Rs 30,000 crores to industrialist Anil Ambani, after buying Rafale aircraft at, what he called, inflated prices.

In the last six months, PM Modi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have explained the Rafale deal in details both inside and outside Parliament, but Rahul continued to repeat his allegations. The matter went to the Supreme Court, where experienced luminaries like Yashwant Sinha, Prashant Bhushan and Arun Shourie took part in the hearing. After hearing all the parties, the Supreme Court gave a clean chit to the deal. And yet, Rahul Gandhi is persistently repeating his allegations.

Till Tuesday, Rahul had been alleging that the government was running away from a debate inside the House, but on Wednesday, he was given full freedom to make his points in the debate. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley later succinctly replied to each and every allegation levelled by Rahul Gandhi. In the evening, Rahul again addressed a press conference and repeated the same allegations. He had nothing new to add.

The question now is why Rahul Gandhi is doing this. There seems to be one valid reason. In the last 2014 parliamentary elections, the BJP had decimated the Congress at the hustings on the issue of corruption. Prime Minister Modi says, there has not been a single major charge of corruption against his government in the last four and a half years.

By repeating his allegations, Rahul is trying hard so that at least one corruption charge against the Modi government could stick. I personally know several senior Congress leaders who have confided to me in private that the Rafale controversy is having no effect on the electorate, and it would be difficult to make any corruption charge stick against Modi. They want a change in the party’s poll strategy.

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PM Modi has set the tone for Lok Sabha elections

Aaj-Ki-Baat_frame_1798 (002)Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his wide-ranging interview given to ANI, spoke on all major issues and did not duck a single question. He has practically set the tone for the crucial Lok Sabha elections that will take place after a few months. There were many who said that the PM did not look aggressive in the interview, but I personally feel that Modi was only giving an account of what his government has done so far. While doing so, he did not refrain from attacking the Congress, and his tone was certainly aggressive.

On Ram temple, Modi said, Congress should withdraw its lawyers from Supreme Court, who were delaying the hearing; on CBI, RBI and the judiciary, he explained how the Congress weakened these institutions in the last 70 years; on farmers’ issues, he alleged how Rahul Gandhi’s farm loan waiver idea was a fraud on farmers who are loaded with debts; on cross-LoC surgical strike, Modi reminded how Rahul tried to politicize the army action; on issue of corruption, the PM recalled how Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are out on bail. All these remarks were made aggressively.

In the next 100 days, the Prime Minister will be going to the people to explain how his government has provided LPG and electricity connections to poor families, gave lakhs of crores worth loans under Mudra scheme, held a tight leash on inflation and helped the middle class. In the same vein, Modi will be targeting what he called ‘doublespeak’ and duplicitous stands taken by the Congress. Modi already seems to have started his campaign with this wide-ranging interview and he will now be addressing 100 rallies to convey his message to the masses. His message to the anti-Modi opposition is clear: this is just the beginning.

And now, each of the major issues on which the PM spoke.

One, Ram temple. Modi’s supporters, BJP workers, RSS volunteers and devotees of Lord Ram had been asking, if the temple cannot come up with Modi at the Centre and Yogi in Lucknow, then when will it be built? RSS leaders Mohan Bhagwat and Bhaiyyaji Joshi had been demanding an ordinance to clear the way for building the temple. Their argument was: if an ordinance for banning Triple Talaq can be brought, then why not on the temple? Only Modi could have answered this question. He said, the law banning Triple Talaq was brought after the Supreme Court gave its verdict. And any step to fulfill the wishes of millions of Hindus can be taken only after the judicial process in the apex court is over. Modi made it clear that he would not be going to do things in a hurry, but he will keep the aspirations of devotees of Lord Ram in mind.

Two, on Pakistan and cross-LoC surgical strike. Modi did not speak on how to deal with Imran Khan’s government in Pakistan. Presently, this would have been certainly immature. What he said was, It will be a huge mistake to believe that Pakistan will mend its ways after one conflict, and it will take a lot of time to make Pakistan mend its ways. Modi explained in detail how the surgical strike decision was not taken in a hurry, though it was a huge political risk. The PM reminded how Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal tried to politicize the issue by raising doubts about the surgical strike and using language which suited Pakistan.

Three, on Rahul Gandhi’s favourite issue Rafale, Modi spoke. Rahul Gandhi had been going around the country levelling charges and challenging Modi to speak. The PM said, he had already given details about the Rafale deal in Parliament, and the Supreme Court went into the nitty-gritty of the deal before issuing a clean chit to the government. Modi said, questioning each and every defence deal tends to lower the morale of our jawans. He alleged that for the last 70 years, middlemen had been active in most of the defence deals, and this can end only with the ambitious Make in India plan.

Four, on demonetization and economic offenders, Modi said, the decision to demonetize currency notes in 2016 was not taken in a hurry. For one whole year, people hoarding black money were given opportunity to come out with disclosures, and the decision to demonetize was taken as a last resort. Modi said that prices of real estate fell drastically because of demonetization. On economic offenders, Modi explained how efforts are afoot to extradite Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallya, who had taken thousands of crores from banks as loans and had fled India. He described the extradition of Agusta Westland middleman Christian Michel as a big achievement, and pointed out that Michel’s sensational disclosures are surely going to hurt the Congress.

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