Rajat Sharma

My Opinion

Let’s learn some lessons from baseless social media rumours over Sridevi’s death

UntitledOn the intervening night of Saturday-Sunday when news came around 2.30 am that actor Sridevi had died of cardiac arrest, it shocked and jolted the entire nation. Sridevi was only 54 and she had no previous history of cardiac problems. There was outpouring of grief on social media, but soon the atmosphere was vitiated by slanderous speculations. On Monday, when Dubai police announced that the actor died of ‘accidental drowning’,the rumour mills went on overdrive, and baseless motives were attributed to the grieving husband Boney Kapoor. There was practically no end to wild speculations on social media.

On Tuesday, the Dubai Prosecution Office finally issued a report ruling out any foul play and the body was handed over to the family, who heaved a sigh of relief as the mortal remains of Sridevi were brought to Mumbai. Naturally, those who had been raising questions for nearly 60 hours on the actor’s death, are now silent, because of the conclusion reached by Dubai Police. Nobody can allege that the Dubai Police can be manipulated. Had this accidental drowning took place in India, innumerable questions would have been raised, fingers would have been pointed.

Even when the mortal remains were lying in Dubai, there were baseless reports on social media saying that Boney Kapoor has been arrested, Sridevi was murdered, signs of injury were found on her body, and that there would be a second round of post-mortem. All these reports later proved to be hoax. Those who circulated such baseless reports should now learn a lesson: never trust speculative reports based on conjectures. Let’s hope that no other personality should ever face a similar problem in future.

Finally, I want to tell our viewers that there are still questions remaining in the mind of people as to how Sridevi fell in the bathtub, what was the cause of drowning, how much water was there in the tub, why alcohol was found in her body though she never consumed alcohol regularly, etc. But these questions in themselves do not point to the conclusion that her husband was the murderer, or that there was any foul play. Those who know Boney Kapoor closely can vouch that he was deeply in love with Sridevi. One can only imagine the pain that Boney may have endured because of this calumny.

This is not the first time that such calumny was heaped on big personalities. I remember there were baseless rumours circulating about Indira Gandhi’s hand behind her son Sanjay’s death in an air accident, about R. K. Dhawan’s hand behind the gruesome assassination of Indira Gandhi ( I still remember Dhawan literally weeping because of such rumours), about Sonia Gandhi’s hand in the assassination of her husband Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur (alleging that she was a beneficiary).

There was no social media during those times. Such rumours reached only a handful of people and died their own death. And yet, such rumourmongers need to be condemned. In today’s social media scenario, the person circulating the baseless rumour is himself/herself a detective, plays the role of investigator and like a judge, delivers the verdict. Such a tendency is dangerous for our society and our nation.

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Speculations over Sridevi’s death must be avoided

aka_frame_6874The Mumbai film industry lost one of its best female actors when Sridevi suddenly passed away in a hotel in Dubai. It shocked and jolted an entire nation. Sridevi was 54 and the death was sudden. Dubai police has said that her death was due to ‘accidental drowning’ inside a bathtub in her hotel room. Soon thereafter, there was a barrage of wild speculations over her death.

Millions of fans are saddened over such unnecessary speculations. There were baseless rumours circulating on social media. Politician Amar Singh, a close friend of the Kapoor family, has rightly said two things: One, most of the speculations being made about Sridevi’s death are baseless. Sridevi and her family members were not in any financial crisis. Two, her relations with her husband Boney Kapoor were normal and they were awaiting the release of their daughter’s movie. To sum up, Sridevi was happy and contented with her family life.

Amidst all these speculations, one should not forget that Sridevi was one of the most accomplished actresses of her times. The late Yash Chopra had once remarked that Sridevi was a ‘switch on, switch off’ actress. When the camera was off, she used to withdraw in her shell, and the moment the camera was rolling, she acted impeccably. Sridevi had no formal education, because she had started acting in movies from the age of four. She was not an extrovert and she never gave too many interviews. Her films used to become hits solely on the acting prowess of the lady. Her very persona exuded each and every nuance of acting. Sridevi should be remembered not for unnecessary speculations about her demise, but for her sterling contribution as a great female actor to the Indian film industry.

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Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat has said nothing objectionable

akb 2Addressing a seminar organised by the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS) and the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) in New Delhi on Wednesday, Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat said Pakistan and China were behind the influx of Bangladeshi migrants in Northeast, because their aim was to bring about a demographic shift.

There was a controversy of sorts on Thursday when newspapers reported the General’s remarks in which he compared the electoral fortunes of Jana Sangh with AIUDF, to indicate the consequences of a demographic shift. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi promptly objected saying it was not the Army Chief’s job to comment on political parties. All India United Democratic Front chief Badruddin Ajmal said the Army Chief has overstepped his role by commenting on political parties.

I have gone through the entire speech and I do not find anything objectionable. Gen Rawat was trying to explain how our neighbours, particularly Pakistan and China are conspiring and interfering in our domestic affairs. In order to explain this, he produced demographic facts, and spoke a few lines on the political situation in the North-East. He did not say anything which was secret or confidential, or about which people are not aware of. In concluding, the General spoke on the need for “amalgamating” different sections of society, so that people are not discriminated against on grounds of religion, caste, region or language.

There is nothing political about this. All facts are nowadays available in the public domain through internet, and if the Army Chief mentioned a few facts, there seems to be nothing wrong in it.

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Nirav Modi’s swindle has struck at the rich legacy of Punjab National Bank

aaj ki baat (002)Diamantaire Nirav Modi swindled Rs 11,400 crore from Punjab National Bank through fraudulent transactions and then fled India alongwith his family members. People of India who feel sad over this loot of public money should know about the rich legacy of PNB.

Punjab National Bank was founded by Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia, a well-known philanthropist, real estate and diamond trader of his time. It was Dyal Singh Majithia alongwith Lala Lajpat Rai and other Indian businessmen, known proponents of “Swadeshi’ economy, who founded PNB in the year 1894 in Lahore, then in undivided India. Lala Lajpat Rai was the first person to open his account with PNB. Soon after thousands of Indians opened their accounts with PNB, and notable among them were Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Govind Ballabh Pant. In those times, it was a nationalistic badge of honour to open an account in an Indian bank, wholly owned and run by Indians.

And today, we are witness to an Indian, who robbed the bank and fled the country to hide in foreign lands.

National Organisation of Bank Workers has expressed concern over the large-scale transfer of nearly 18,000 employees and officials of PNB, soon after the scam broke. Those employees and officers who had completed five and three years of posting in a single branch, have now been transferred.

It is true that such mass scale transfers, done on orders from RBI, could pose numerable difficulties to the affected employees and their families , but considering the huge scale of the scam, this decision was unavoidable.

This scam could have been detected earlier if the culprit deputy manager in the Mumbai branch had been transferred. I hope employees and officers of the bank will bear with this critical situation, and work unitedly to give the bank a firm financial footing again.

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AAP MLAs in Delhi have done a shameful act

aka_frame_70322Never in India’s history since Independence was a Chief Secretary of senior IAS rank assaulted in Delhi by ruling party MLAs in the presence of their Chief Minister at the latter’s official residence. This shameful incident took place around midnight on Monday, when the Chief Secretary was summoned for a meeting by AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal.

The Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash is an experienced civil servant who has served in many positions. There had been no complaints against him. The Chief Secretary wrote a written complaint to Delhi Police alleging that he was abused, heckled and assaulted by AAP MLAs. His complaint should be taken seriously. Summoning a senior bureaucrat to the chief minister’s residence at midnight and then assaulting him is an act that cannot be condoned in a democracy. Kejriwal is on record of having once said that he cameto power, he would teach BJP and Congress leaders how to run a government. If this is the manner in which he wants to run his government, then God save Delhi.

Contrast this with Kejriwal’s predecessor Sheila Dikshit, who was Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years. Out of these 15 years, there were six years during which the BJP was ruling at the Centre. There was not a single incident of misbehaviour with any officer of Delhi government during her tenure. At one cabinet meeting, one of Sheila Dikshit’s ministers spoke to a bureaucrat loudly, and the Chief Minister promptly took the minister to task in front of all. She then called the minister to another room and explained to him how to behave with bureaucrats. The erring minister came out of the room and apologized to the then Chief Secretary. What happened on Monday midnight was sordid. Such acts have no place in a healthy democracy.

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PNB scam points towards serious systemic flaws in public sector banking

akb_frame_37729The arrest of three senior officers of Punjab National Bank – Bechhu Tiwari, chief manager incharge of Forex dept, Yashwant Joshi, Manager of Forex dept, and Praful Sawant, Officer, Export – by CBI in the Nirav Modi fraud case, on Monday clearly points toward a serious malady in the banking system. A handful of officers skimmed Rs 11,400 crore from the bank to favour jeweller Nirav Modi, who alongwith his family, has fled India.

In my Aaj Ki Baat show, I have shown how Rs 280 cr worth Letters of Undertaking were issued within a span of three days in favour of Nirav Modi’s companies. This fraud was going on in the bank since the last seven years. Nearly 150 LOUs worth Rs 6,000 crore were issued from the bank between 2011 and 2017, whereas after April 2017, 143 LOUs worth Rs 3,500 crore were issued.

The initial report prepared by the Income Tax department on Monday clearly shows the trail of Rs 515 crore worth initial transactions. It has also been revealed that fake sales were shown in documents instead of actual sale of jewellery. For the first time, Nirav Modi’s Hong Kong-based sister firm’s name has emerged as a beneficiary.

As far as the aam aadmi is concerned, the common perception is that while he or she has to submit various documents and collaterals to get loans for cars, homes and business, and has to face constant threats and intimidation from collectors whenever an EMI is missed, here is a case where Rs 11,400 crore credit is given to firms based on dubious transactions by a gang of officials in league with the businessman.

The common man is asking questions about how a businessman can wangle Rs 280 crore credit from a public sector bank within a span of three days with the help of corrupt officials.

The documents that I produced in my show point to one thing. Normally the government tries to ensure that no entrepreneur suffers because of lack of funds, because if a business gets stuck because of lack of funds, it can render thousands of people unemployed. The government, therefore, always tries to help business and industry to carry on with their work without hindrance. To prevent frauds, there is a strong check and balance system in place, but when the guardians and keepers of public money start eating through the fence, nobody can help.

This is exactly what happened in the case of Nirav Modi. The system was in place, those officials sitting at the system were committing outright fraud, the corrupt bank officials were in cahoots with Nirav Modi, all secret passwords were being passed on, Letters of Undertaking were being freely issued bypassing the system, so that the theft could not be traced immediately. Finally, when the ship started sinking, Nirav and his family members had fled the country, taking away Rs 11,400 crore of hard earned money deposited by the aam aadmi in the public sector bank.

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Find out the black sheep in PNB scam

akb 2On Friday, the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department further tightened the noose on the uncle-nephew duo of Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi, by raiding their homes, offices and showrooms, and the I-T deparment seizing all bank accounts of Nirav Modi and his family members. The overall picture that emerges is disturbing. The losses due to LOU frauds could escalate from Rs 11,400 crore to Rs 20-30,000 crore, as details of more such dubious transactions emerge.

The details clearly show that Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi, the owner of Gitanjali gems, had been skimming off money in connivance with public sector bank officials since 2011. A former director of Allahabad Bank, Dinesh Dubey, had openly complained about dubious transactions by Mehul Choksi in 2013, but instead of taking action on his complaint, the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram took his resignation.

These matters relate to the previous UPA government, but the most worrying aspect is that there are still black sheep working in PNB, who are acting as informers to Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. These black sheep had been informing them about the internal enquiry that has been launched in the bank. It was because of this inside information that Nirav Modi, his family members and Mehul Choksi fled India, even as the internal inquiry was in progress.

The internal enquiry shows that a deputy manager in the PNB branch, Gokulnath Shetty, was hand in gloves with Nirav Modi. Gokulnath Shetty disappeared from his home in Mumbai six days ago, leaving behind his wife, children and brother. CBI teams are still trying to trace his location.

The immediate step that is required is to identify those employees and officers in PNB who had been helping Nirav Modi. The next step should be to identify those officers in the UPA government who did not take any action despite receiving complaints and were helping the absconding jeweller.

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Why people’s trust in PNB lies in shambles ?

Pink_Aaj-KiBaat_frame_478 (002)It was a major scam that had been going on for the last 10 years. Jewellery merchant Nirav Modi’s companies had been taking undue advantage of the banking system to swindle away Rs 11,400 crores from Punjab National Bank. Senior banking officials were conniving with the swindlers and the can of worms opened up early this year.

Till now, nearly 150 fraudulent Letters Of Undertaking have been traced. Nirav Modi, his wife and brother left India in January. The speculation is that they are staying in Antwerp, Belgium. As CBI and ED carried out raids today at 20 locations across India, Nirav Modi’s group sent a letter to PNB stating that it was willing to repay the entire sum. But PNB officials are wary about this offer, and the ball is now in CBI’s court.

As reports of the scam snowballed across the country, the Congress came out with a January 23 official photograph of Nirav Modi standing with Indian CEOs and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Davos summit. The Congress went to town with the photograph, and charges flew thick and thin between the BJP and the Opposition.

In public life, dignitaries and politicians get their photographs taken with thousands of people, and it is next to impossible for any dignitary to check the credentials of each and every individual. It is not proper to make an issue out of this. Even Congress President Rahul Gandhi had attended a jewellery exhibition of Nirav Modi in a Delhi hotel, and pictures of Rahul with Nirav Modi may surface too. What wlll the Congress do in such a situation?

Secondly, Nirav Modi left India on January 1. At that time, there was no case against his company. Even on January 23, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the Indian industrialists, there was no case against his company till then, nor was he an accused. The CBI registered a case on January 31. Therefore, it is not proper to make his picture with the PM a controversial issue.

After the scam came out in the open, the shareholders of PNB will be the biggest losers. Within two days, the PNB stock price fell from Rs 160 to Rs 127 at the stock markets. The investors lost nearly Rs 6,000 crore. But the investigation agencies have speeded up their work in the last two days, and till today, they have seized Rs 6,400 crore worth assets belonging to Nirav Modi. One should hope that the loss would be recouped by the PNB, sooner or later, but it will be difficult to compensate the losses faced by investors.

Overall, the trust reposed by the people in PNB now lies in shambles. Though Nirav Modi has fled India, and the government will be taking action to extradite him, the legal tangle may linger on. Till the time Nirav Modi is not brought back to India, politicking on this issue will continue.

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Why not name army regiments after our great heroes?

rajatsharma_frame_1148AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi on Monday had questioned why the leadership was silent about praising five of the seven martyrs in Jammu attack who were Muslims. On Wednesday the Northern Army commander Lt Gen Devraj Anbu gave a brief reply: “Don’t communalize martyrs. There are no castes, no religions in army”.

Watching the visuals of thousands of mourners, both in Kashmir and Bihar, flocking at the funerals of martyrs, Owaisi may have realized his mistake.

In the Indian army, there are no distinctions based on caste or religion. A jawan lays down his life for the motherland. Everybody is an Indian. However, some Islamic clerics have been questioning why a Muslim regiment has not been raised in the army. Their argument: we have Rajputana Rifles, Gorkha Regiment, Maratha Regiment, Sikh Regiment, then why not a Muslim Regiment? The British rulers had raised these regiments based on social identities.

I think this should now end. We do not have dearth of national heroes, known for their bravery and valour, like Maharana Pratap, Rana Sanga, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Subhash Chandra Bose, Abdul Hamid. If the army starts naming regiments after our national heroes, nobody will raise such questions.

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Big turnout at slain army jawans’ funerals in Kashmir is a good sign

rajatsharma_frame_61349Large number of local Kashmiris turned up at the funerals of army jawans in the Valley on Tuesday and after a long time, people spontaneously shouted ‘Pakistan Murdabad’ slogans.

The message that has gone out to the rest of the world is that the common man in Kashmir is fed up of continued mindless violence by terrorists. It is nearly 27 years now that the Valley has been thrown in the cauldron of violence by a proxy war unleashed by Pakistan on India.

Till recently there used to be incidents of local youths pelting stones at army jawans in order to shield terrorists. No more. Times have changed and the thought process of the common man in the Valley has changed. People want to free themselves from the scourge of mindless terrorism. The common man in the Valley wants peace, and the army has emerged as their protector. People turning up on their own at the funerals of jawans is therefore a good sign.

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Why Nirmala Sitharaman said, Pakistan will have to pay for this misadventure

aajkibaat_frame_51090The early dawn attack on an Army station in Jammu by three terrorists led to the martyrdom of five jawans and a civilian, and ten people, including women and children, were injured. On Monday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited Jammu and said that the attack was perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists who were controlled by their handlers based in Pakistan. Sitharaman clearly said, from evidences gathered from the slain terrorists, it was clear that Pakistan planned the attack. The Defence Minister issued a warning to say that ‘Pakistan will have to pay for this misadventure.’

Three things are clear from the Defence Minister’s statement. One, India has concrete evidence to establish Pakistan’s hand behind the attack, and because of this, Sitharaman had to say that the evidences will be shown to Pakistan and the whole world. Naturally, the Defence Minister was not going to reveal at the press conference as to when and how ‘Pakistan will have to pay for this’, but one thing is sure. Pakistan will have to face the consequences .

Secondly, it is now clear that the Pakistan army has changed its overall strategy. Terrorist attacks are being carried out in places close to the border, and in those places, which have civilians or families of armymen in large numbers. During such attacks, it becomes difficult for the army to retaliate, keeping in mind the prospects of collateral damage in the form of civilian casualties. In such situations, the lives of innocent people are at stake.

The third and most vital thing is, these terrorists could not have carried out such brazen attacks without the support of some local people. Such fifth columnists will have to be identified and action must be taken against those who provided refuge and support to these terrorists.

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How Sri Sri toiled hard to bring Muslim ulema to agree to a formula on Ayodhya

AKB 1 (002)For the first time, a senior member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board Maulana Syed Salman Nadvi has supported the construction of Ram Janmabhoomi temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. He has also said that the mosque can be built on an alternative land near the disputed site. Maulana Nadvi alongwith some other ulema had been in talks with spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to break the logjam on Ayodhya dispute.

In reality, the breakthrough was not achieved in a single day. Sri Sri toiled hard in bringing the Muslim scholars together to resolve this vexed issue. Sri Sri first spoke to more than 100 Muslim ulema and maulanas in Lucknow via video conferencing on January 19. He persuaded them to accept building of the temple on the disputed site and a mosque elsewhere. He then invited nearly 60 prominent Muslim leaders of South India to his Bengaluru ashram and persuaded them.

On February 3, Maulana Salman Nadvi called more than 100 Muslim scholars to Lucknow and Sri Sri spoke to them via Skype. On February 8, the Muslim ulema approved Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s formula to break the deadlock. There are several hurdles ahead. One one side is the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and on the other side is Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and both the organisations need to agree.

One should appreciate Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s efforts to find a breakthrough despite several difficulties. Most of the leaders were of the view that there could be no way out, and the Muslim Personal Law Board went to the extent of questioning Sri Sri’s credentials as a mediator. Undeterred, Sri Sri continued with his efforts and a formula is being thrashed out to address the concerns of both sides.

It is unfortunate that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has rejected the formula. However, there is still time to reconsider and if a breakthrough emerges which respects both the faith of Hindus and the sentiments of Muslims, it will be good for the nation as a whole.

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