Rajat Sharma

My Opinion

Mamata Banerjee’s dilemma

Probably Prime Minister Narendra Modi never expected such a strong opposition to demonetization from Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee. The Prime Minister had expected that most of the opposition leaders would never oppose any strong action against black money hoarders, but on Tuesday, when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee came on a single platform to oppose demonetization, it surprised even a seasoned politician like Modi. It is, however, coincidence that the CBI on Tuesday sent notices to two Trinamool Congress leaders, Sudip Bandopadhyay and Tapas Pal, summoning them for questioning related to chit fund scam. Among the public, Mamata has carefully cultivated her image of an honest leader, a fighter and aggressive leader. But in the last few years, several of her party leaders including MLAs and MPs have gone to jail on charges of being involved in chit fund scams. Mamata Banerjee has to openly defend her leaders, and there lies her dilemma.

Mayawati may now question donations made to BJP, SP

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati deposited more than Rs 104 crore in her party bank account in Delhi, and with this disclosure, it will now be her turn to raise questions about other parties. Out of Rs 104 crore deposited in a single bank account of her party in Delhi, nearly Rs 101 crore were in Rs 1000 old currency notes, now no more legal tender.

Mayawati may now come forth with the explanation that this money was raised through small donations collected from party supporters before elections, and were duly deposited in the bank.

As per law, political parties can accept cash donations from each individual for a maximum of Rs 20,000, and there is no necessity of maintaining records of such donations. Mayawati may also allege that this leak was deliberately made to tarnish her party’s image before the polls. She is bound to ask questions about how much money was deposited in the bank accounts of BJP and Samajwadi Party.

There is another angle to this. The Income Tax department has sent notices to Mayawati’s brother Anand Kumar about benami properties. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already announced that his government would now launch a campaign against benami property owners. One should hope that action will now be taken on this front.

Do not play politics over West Pakistan Refugees

My earnest request to the politicians in Kashmir valley, both mainstream and separatists: For God’s sake, please do not play politics over the issue of West Pakistan refugees. They are not outsiders. After the Partition in 1947, nearly 6,000 families came over from Pakistan and settled in Jammu and Kashmir. At that time, their number was less than 50,000. After staying here for 70 years, several generations have passed, and their present number is roughly 1.5 lakhs, most of them poor Dalits. It would be incorrect to say that the Centre is planning to change the demography of Jammu & Kashmir. These West Pakistan refugees can vote in Lok Sabha elections, but they cannot vote in state assembly polls, since they are not considered subjects of the original princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. These refugees can apply for recruitment in central paramilitary forces, but cannot apply for jobs in J&K government. They are Indian citizens, but they have no rights in Jammu & Kashmir. It was for their benefit that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a Rs 2000 crore rehabilitation package, and the current process of issuing them identification cards is towards that end. After Partition, millions of people came over to India, and resided in Delhi, Punjab, UP, Bihar, Bengal and Gujarat, but there was no discrimination against them. If we fail to give equal status and rights to West Pakistan refugees, then we cannot morally raise our voice over atrocities on minorities in Pakistan. It would be better if politicians in the Valley understand this, and stop playing into the hands of Pakistan.

Rahul Gandhi should have refrained from levelling charges against PM

It was not merely the subject matter of allegations, but the manner in which Rahul Gandhi first created an atmosphere to level charges against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that he has now become the butt of ridicule and jokes.

It was Rahul himself who first said, if I disclose the “personal corruption” charges against Modi, there will be an earthquake, and that “the balloon will soon burst”. But the charges that he levelled against Modi were nothing new.

These charges were already levelled by Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan. That is why nobody has taken Rahul’s charges seriously. It was because of this, that on Thursday, Prime Minister Modi, in Varanasi, joked and joked about Rahul, and deflated Rahul’s balloon.

It would have been better if Rahul had refrained from levelling old charges against the Prime Minister if he had nothing the substantiate the allegations.

Rahul actually depended on some documents which are already before the Supreme Court and the court has observed that these were not sufficient even to order and inquiry.

I am told some senior leaders did advice Rahul to refrain from making such unsubstantiated charges but he did not pay any attention.

Rahul Gandhi’s corruption charges against PM are not new

On Wednesday, Rahul Gandhi levelled charges of corruption against Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally, but there is nothing new in these charges. The charges, based on some diary entries, were first levelled by Trinamool Congress two years ago in Parliament, later by Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi Assembly, and lawyer Prashant Bhushan in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in course of its hearing, remarked thrice that there were insufficient evidences to prove these charges, and no inquiry can be ordered based on these papers. The apex court, in another case, had clearly observed that levelling of charges against persons in higher, constitutional posts, can lower the dignity of the post and sully the nation’s image. One should keep the court’s observation in mind. Now, coming to the charges levelled by Rahul Gandhi, let me share that the papers, from which he quoted Prime Minister Modi’s name, also has names of many political leaders, even from Rahul’s own party, and several chief ministers. There is hardly any big political party, whose leaders have not been named. To put it in brief: Rahul revealed less, and concealed more.

Fresh restrictions on deposits creating confusion

There were millions of people across India who did not rush to banks to deposit their demonetized Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, since there were long queues at almost all banks soon after the announcement. Many of them were waiting for the queues outside banks to lessen. On November 8, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared Rs 500 and Rs 1000 as no more legal tenders, he had clearly told the nation to keep calm and not rush to banks to deposit their old currency notes, as the 50-day deadline given was to end on December 30. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had also told public that there was no need to rush to the banks to deposit old currency and people should wait for the rush at banks to reduce. But on Monday, the RBI came up with fresh instructions saying anyone depositing more than Rs 5000 will be questioned on record, in the presence of at least two officials of the bank, as to why this could not be deposited earlier. This is not fair. Similarly, the government on November 8 had promised that no questions would be asked of individuals depositing old currency notes upto Rs 2.5 lakhs, but four days ago, it was notified that such individuals will also be questioned. By constantly changing regulations and announcing fresh restrictions frequently, the government is creating confusion in the minds of people, and people’s trust is being gradually eroded. This is causing unnecessary woes for people who had accumulated savings through honest means.

Much needs to be done for a cashless economy

It is true that the 10-year UPA rule was infamous for a string of big scams, it is also true that the UPA government did not take any step to curb corruption and black money, it is also true that a cashless economy will be beneficial for the nation, but the fact remains that in large parts of our country, villages do not have electricity, what to talk of wi-fi and bandwidth. Until and unless these things are in place, digital payments will not be possible in rural areas. It is good that raids are being carried out in Navi Mumbai, Thane, Guwahati, Faridabad, Gurugram, Churu, Bhopal, Vadodara to seize old and new currency notes, but this also creates suspicion in the minds of bonafide customers queuing in for long hours to get a paltry Rs 2000 from ATMs. One suggestion that has been given is that the new currency notes that have been seized in raids should be put back in circulation, by securing court orders, so that people can get much needed relief.

People supporting demonetization, but facing cash crunch

The only silver lining in the current demonetization scenario across India is from Bihar, where cash is available at most of the ATMs and there are fewer queues. People of India had been supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization move, but even after 34 days they are facing cash crunch in most of the cities and towns. The RBI had sent adequate amount of new currency notes to the banks, but all of it, did not reach the common people, standing in queues at banks and ATMs. Due to the three-day break in bank work due to holidays, the situation had become acute. It would have been better if other chief ministers had followed the Bihar CM in asking banks to keep open on holidays. In another interesting fact, Rs 242 crore in new currency notes have so far been seized since November 8. This seized cash could have filled at least 141 ATMs across the country. The decision of government to set up a task force headed by a CBI officer to probe all currency seizures is thus welcome.

Why are new currency notes in short supply?

It is more than a month since the government decided to withdraw Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes from circulation, and yet the queues at ATMs and banks continue. Bank officials say they are short of cash, and ATMs also face the same cash crunch. The government has been claiming that the RBI has provided adequate number of new high-denomination currency notes to the banks, but the common man standing in the queue is now asking: where have the new currency notes vanished? People who had been supporting Prime Minister Modi’s demonetisation move have started suspecting that a huge quantity of new currency notes have been siphoned off from the banks to well-connected people and the common people have to stand for hours in queues. This perception could cause problems for the government in the long run. The government has now started scrutinising the transactions of banks and those hoarding new currency notes are being raided and nabbed. Yet the government has to give a convincing answer as to why new currency notes have not reached the common people in sufficient numbers.

Estimates of huge amount of black money going out of circulation proved wrong

On November 8, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes will no more be legal tender, most of the experts had estimated that a big part of Rs 14.17 lakh crore rupee in old currency notes will go out of the banking system as black money. The State Bank of India had pegged its estimate at nearly Rs 2.5 lakh crore, which would go extinguished out of the system, and this would have been a windfall for the RBI and the government. The liabilities of RBI then would have reduced. But the deputy governor of RBI on Wednesday gave figures to say that nearly Rs 12 lakh crore old currency notes have already been recovered as of December 5. There are 25 more days left, and it is now incumbent on the government to explain how it will benefit from the demonetization move. A senior Finance Ministry official explained that mere depositing of huge amount of currency notes into bank accounts does not mean that black money has been converted into white. He said, the Income Tax department would now go into all big transactions, which, in itself, will be a Herculean task. One estimate is that out of Rs 12 lakh crore deposited, nearly Rs 7 lakh crore have been deposited in accounts where more than Rs 1.5 crore in old currency notes have been deposited in one go. Transfer of huge amounts in old currency notes in bank accounts, and exchange of huge amounts of old currency notes with new ones could not have taken place without the connivance of senior bank officials. The government now needs to take action against such errant officials too.

Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa

Jayalalithaa was a great fighter throughout her life, she never conceded defeat. An able administrator, a great orator, she understood the travails of her people.

Those in the opposition were her political rivals, but she always accorded them respect. Jayalalithaa’s personality was a mystery wrapped in enigma. When her party leaders visited her at home, she used to stay on the first floor, and spoke to them on an LED screen, but her hold on the party was complete.

Her ministers used to take oath keeping her photograph in their pockets, they used to lie protstrate in front of Amma, and yet Jayalalithaa’s magic among the masses worked wonders, only because she adored her people, and the masses, in turn, adored her. That is how Jayalalithaa became Amma for the masses.

Many people have raised questions about why Amma was not cremated according to Hindu traditional rites, but laid to rest. The reason being, the father of the Dravidian movement C N Annadurai had specifically wrote in his will that his body should be laid to rest, and not cremated.

Jayalalithaa’s mentor and political guru M G Ramachandran was also laid to rest. Taking this tradition forward, Amma was laid to rest on Tuesday.

And now, looking to the future, Jayalalithaa’s closest aide Sasikala, who had been her companion for the last two decades, barring a brief period of quarrel, will now be looking after the day-to-day affairs of AIADMK.

Amma herself met and spoke to few people in her daily life, and most of the conversations were done through Sasikala. So, those in Tamil Nadu politics do know what had been Sasikala’s role, and what is going to happen in the years to come.

The legacy of Selvi Jayalalithaa

Many, many years ago, in 1987 to be precise, I had watched the massive funeral procession of Jayalalithaa’s political mentor, the great M G Ramachandran. I saw thousands of his fans and supporters weeping, running barefoot behind the cortege. There were incidents of self-immolation and arson in several cities of Tamil Nadu following MGR’s death. I fervently pray this will not happen this time, and the people of the great state of Tamil Nadu will face the tragic news with stoic forbearance. In essence, the politics of Tamil Nadu had been coagulating behind single personalities over the last several decades, and ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa was one of them. The future of the entire party AIADMK is dependent on Jayalalithaa’s image. The baton of governance may have passed over to O. Panneerselvam, and that of the party to Sasikala Natarajan, but the future yet lies in the realm of conjectures. My deepest condolences to the innumerable supporters of AIADMK in their hour of grief.