Rajat Sharma

My Opinion

Controversy over Rafale deal should now be put to rest

aaj ki baat_frame_71699 (002)The Supreme Court, in a lengthy hearing, in two sittings on Wednesday, heard the Attorney General and counsels for petitioners the pros and cons of the French Rafale jet fighter aircraft deal, and later reserved its order. Senior officers from Defence Ministry and Indian Air Force also came to the court to reply to technical queries from the bench headed by Chief Justice of India Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

The entire controversy that has gripped the nation for the last several months is now fast moving towards a final conclusion. But there are points which needs to be pondered over.

In an exclusive interview to an Indian news agency, French company Dassault CEO Eric Trappier demolished most of the charges levelled by Congress President Rahul Gandhi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Reliance ADA owner Anil Ambani in the Rafale fighter deal. Trappier clearly said that it was his company’s decision to select Reliance as offset partner. Moreover, there is not only one offset partner in this deal, but thirty companies who are offset partners.

The Dassault CEO also revealed that his company has initially invested Rs 40 crores in the joint venture formed with Reliance, and the entire investment would come to Rs 360 crore in the next five years. This goes completely against Rahul Gandhi’s charge that the Prime Minister “benefitted” Reliance to the extent of Rs 30,000 crore. Nobody knows from where Rahul Gandhi got this figure. He seems to be the best person to reveal his source.

Eric Trappier also revealed in the interview that Indian Air Force has bought 36 Rafale aircraft from his company at a price which is 9 per cent less compared to what was decided during UPA regime. Thirdly, it was the public sector company HAL which declined to become an offset partner in the Rafale deal. In other words, there was no pressure from the Indian government on Dassault to give the offset partner contract to Anil Ambani’s company.

The Dassault CEO also disclosed that the first Rafale fighter aircraft will be handed over to the Indian Air Force by September next year, and it would be equipped with radar warning system, helmet mounted signal, radio altimeter and Doppler radar, while the missiles that will be fitted to the fighter aircraft are part of a separate deal with missile manufacturers.

Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders had been demanding to know the exact price at which each Rafale aircraft was bought. The government has already conveyed the price in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court.

Rahul Gandhi has been saying in public in most of his rallies and press conferences that the Modi government has not replied to his charges. The Prime Minister chose not to react, but the Finance Minister, Defence Minister, and even the IAF chief, have replied to most of his charges in public.

Now that the ball is in the Supreme Court, it would be better if this controversy is now put to rest, in the national interest.

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PM Modi is changing the face of Varanasi

aka_frame_69283 (002)Varanasi, the eternal Indian city, has attracted pilgrims and tourists from across India and other countries of the world for centuries. The city is considered a seat of learning for the ancient Hindu way of life. The Adi Guru Shankaracharya visited Kashi in the 8th century for a rigorous religious debate over Hinduism and philosophy.

However, since independence, this ancient city always remained neglected as far as civic amenities and modern infrastructure were concerned. Things have changed for the better in the last four and a half years, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi nurtured his parliamentary constituency with gusto. Nowhere are the cobwebs of live electric wires in the lanes and bylanes of Kashi. In a concerted action, electric cables were laid across the city, and the cobwebs of electric wires, that presented an ugly face of the city, have vanished. There were perennial problems related to potholed roads and erratic power supply. Most of these problems have been solved on a war footing.

The ghats of Varanasi, on the banks of the holy river Ganga, which used to present an ugly sight, have been cleaned up, and the smiles are back on the faces of the people of Varanasi. Kashi was selected four years ago as the partner city to the ancient Kyoto city of Japan. Kashi may not have become Kyoto, but it can claim to be well on the path towards modernity.

Changing the face of a holy city is not easy. Faith and religion come in the way, and there are obstacles at almost every point. Yet, the march towards progress goes on. On Monday, the Prime Minister dedicated a four-lane highway to Babatpur airport, and inaugurated a multi-modal terminal, which received a container ship from Haldia, West Bengal. This container ship was the first to arrive via Ganga river from Bengal to Varanasi.

The holy river Ganga is being cleaned up on a war footing, and flyovers and highways are being built. It is not easy to preserve the ancient heritage of Kashi, and yet march towards modernity and progress. What matters is: if intentions are clear, and one has a strong will, the picture can change. The only question that remains in the mind of the people is: if so much could have happened in four years, then why nothing much was done in the last 50 years?

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No sympathy should be shown to Maoists and their sympathisers, Urban Naxals

Aaj-Ki-Baat_frame_1123 (002)On Friday, the Chhattisgarh police reported that Maoists have dug up numerous spike hole traps fitted with iron rods inside, to stop polling staff and security personnel from reaching polling booths. Several such spike hole traps have been found by the Cobra battalion of CRPF which is carrying out anti-Maoist operations in the state.

Normally, questions would arise as to why the Maoists laid spike hole traps instead of mines. The answer is simple: security personnel are now equipped with land mine detectors, and to avoid these, the Maoists have resorted to traditional methods of tribal hunters by digging up spike hole traps. Such spike hole traps are difficult to detect. The victims are not only security personnel, but common people who are unaware of such traps.

Since Maoists do not have sympathy for the common man, and they do not bother killing innocents and even photojournalists, there is no need to show sympathy towards them. Security forces should mercilessly carry out operations to eliminate these Maoists. Moreover, no more sympathy should be shown to ‘urban Naxals’ sitting in cities and universities, armed with laptops, and carrying out anti-national conspiracies. They too should be shown their right place.

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Effects of demonetization

akbFinance Minister Arun Jaitely has rightly said that demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes on November 8, 2016 by the Modi government has resulted in widening of tax base. More than twice the number of people are now in the tax net. It is also true that large amount of currency notes lying in homes returned to banks. Huge amount of cash that was being transacted in trade, entered the formal banking system. The demonetization move boosted the finances of banks. It is also true that with the expansion of digital economy, it has become easier for authorities to keep track of most of the transactions. These are matters which economists and financial experts understand very well.

From a political perspective and from a common man’s point of view, demonetization raised the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi among the poor masses. The poor felt that Modi has struck at those who were sitting on piles of black money in cash. When poor people saw rich farmers, real estate owners and moneylenders scurrying to exchange their currency notes, they forgot their own problems and appreciated Modi’s move.

The result was: in the assembly election that followed in Uttar Pradesh, Modi and his party swept to power. In subsequent elections too, Congress and other opposition leaders raised a lot of hue and cry against demonetization, but the campaign lacked fire.

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Why Yogi Adityanath restrained himself from speaking much on Ayodhya temple dispute

AKB (1)Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, for the second year in a row, organized a fabulous Diwali celebration in the holy town of Ayodhya on Tuesday. The difference this year was: South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-Sook took part in the celebration, dressed in a gorgeous saree. More than three lakh diyas were lighted on the banks of the holy river Saryu, and the entire town of Ayodhya wore a festive look, with roads cleaned up and widened, and the entire town was illuminated, with a water laser show thrown in.

Addressing a gathering on the occasion, Yogi Adityanath announced the setting up of an airport in Ayodhya to be named after Lord Ram, a medical college to be named after Lord Ram’s father King Dashrath, and renaming of Faizabad district as Ayodhya. He did not speak about the installation of Ram statue, but on the issue of building a temple on the disputed site, he spoke in measured tone.

Yogi Adityanath said, everybody knows what the entire nation wants (a Ram temple at his birthplace), and no force on earth can do injustice to Ayodhya.

Yogi is a constitutional functionary, and he spoke to the extent he was expected to, in his constitutional capacity. Yogi maintained the gravity of his position, but the most important part of his speech was that he has sought to bring Ayodhya on the world tourist map.

If the streets of Ayodhya are cleaned up every year before Diwali, grand Diwali celebrations are held every year, if there are good hotels and a world-class hospital and an airport, nobody can stop Ayodhya’s march towards progress and modernity. There could be no bigger gift than this for the people of Ayodhya. Let there be good governance on the lines of Ram Rajya. The building of Ram temple at his birthplace is a foregone conclusion, which nobody can prevent, and that is what the chief minister wanted to convey.

Happy Diwali!

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Taj Mahal is not a religious place, it is a mausoleum

Aaj Ki Baat 5th NovThe Archaeological Survey of India has barred offering of namaz at the mosque inside the world famous Taj Mahal premises, except on Fridays, in compliance with a Supreme Court order given in July this year. Since the Taj Mahal is closed for public on Fridays, local Muslim residents are allowed to offer namaz at the mosque only on Fridays between 12 noon and 2 pm, without any entry fee. On other days, any visitor, who had bought an entry ticket, could offer namaz at the mosque until now. On Sunday, the ASI officials locked the ‘vazu tank’, where namazis clean themselves before offering prayers.

The local Imam and the Taj Mahal Intezamia Committee has questioned the ASI order saying that namaz was being offered for the last many years, and there was no reason why it was being stopped. The ASI has said that it was only complying with the Supreme Court order.

The apex court, in its order, has clearly stated that the Taj Mahal was one of the seven wonders of the world and the monument should be preserved. The bench of Justice A K Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan had then questioned, “Why for such prayers, they should go to Taj Mahal? There are other mosques also. They can offer their prayers there.”

One basic fact should be noted. The Taj Mahal is not a religious place, it is a monument, a mausoleum. Hence the issue should not be viewed from a religious point.

Secondly, the Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful monuments of the world, it needs to be carefully preserved. It is part of our national heritage and it is the responsibility of all Indians to ensure that this heritage is preserved. The Supreme Court, after due consideration, had given the order and the ASI is only implementing it. There is no point in opposing this order.

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Installation of Ram statue in Ayodhya could be a symbolic beginning

Aaj-ki-baat_frame_9387Uttar Pradesh state BJP president Mahendranath Pandey on Friday said that chief minister Yogi Adityanath would be making an important announcement on Diwali day in Ayodhya during the festive celebration. There are reports that Yogi may announce the installation of Lord Ram’s statue in Ayodhya, its location and specifications. This could be a political masterstroke.

The title dispute over Ram Janmabhoomi is still pending in the Supreme Court. The apex court has postponed the hearing to January, and there is no definite time frame when the verdict would be delivered. This has caused unease and impatience in the minds of devotees who desire to see the early construction of a grand temple at Lord Ram’s birthplace.

Already political slugfests have begun over the temple issue, and Yogi’s announcement could be timely. It could provide temporary relief to the devotees of Lord Ram. This could be a good symbolic beginning towards building of Ram temple in Ayodhya.

On Friday in Mumbai, the RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi, at the end of a 3-day meeting of RSS front organisation heads, clearly said that the postponement of hearing on Ayodhya issue in Supreme Court to January has caused disquiet in the minds of devotees of Lord Ram. “We had expected a verdict before Diwali, and the court should have taken into consideration the sentiments of Hindus before adjourning the matter to January”, he said. Joshi added that the Centre had power to issue an ordinance to build the temple, and if the dispute lingered on, it could trigger a 1992-type agitation in Ayodhya.

The problem lies with the politicians. Every politician, big or small, is looking at each other on the temple issue. While the Congress says it supported the building of Ram temple but would wait for the apex court’s verdict, BJP says it is ready to bring an ordinance, but the bill has to be supported by the Congress in Parliament. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray says, it had been demanding the construction of Ram temple since long, but the Centre did not take any concrete step in the last four and a half years. Questons may be asked of Uddhav Thackeray why his party remained silent on the issue all these years.

The Ayodhya dispute has been a bone of contention between Hindus and Muslims for the last 500 years, and for the last 150 years, the dispute has been lying in courts. The people cannot wait any longer. A decision has to come, whether from the court, or from the government.

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Why Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje may not retain power

Aaj-ki-baat_frame_4968India TV-CNX opinion poll on Rajasthan assembly elections has predicted a clear win for the opposition Congress party and a severe drubbing for BJP. Several other poll surveys have made similar projections. This is not surprising.

Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s popularity is waning fast. Her own partymen are not happy with her style of functioning. The Rajput community is unhappy. The Gurjar community had been unhappy with Vasundhara since long.

On the other hand, Congress leader Sachin Pilot had been toiling hard visiting almost all the assembly constituencies for the last two years. Sachin Pilot has been rarely seen in Delhi’s power circles lately. He has been giving Vasundhara a tough time over local issues and this is clearly showing in opinion poll projections.

However Congress workers should not underestimate the potential of former CM Ashok Gehlot. Gehlot is a silent worker and he is popular among the public. Therefore, it would be too early to predict the name of the new Chief Minister.

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Why Supreme Court asked for pricing of Rafale deal in a sealed cover

AKBThe Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to furnish in sealed cover, details of pricing of the 36 Rafale fighter jets, and its advantages, within the next 10 days.

When Attorney General K K Venugopal told the bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice U U Lalit and Justice K M Joseph that the government may not be able to provide details of the fully loaded version of Rafale jets to the court, since most aspects of the Rafale deal, including pricing, weaponry and technical advantages, are covered under the Official Secrets Act, the bench asked him to file an affidavit about this in the next 10 days.

The apex court however directed the government to place in the public domain details about the process used for the induction of offset partners, and also details about the decision-making process.

Congress leaders and other PIL petitioners may express happiness over the Supreme Court’s latest order, but the fact remains that the pricing and details of weaponry will not be shared with them, as of now. These will be submitted to the Supreme Court in sealed cover. The pricing and other weaponry details shall remain shrouded in secrecy.

Pricing and weaponry details of fighter jets are confidential issues that are directly related to national security and disclosure of these in public could harm national interests. That is why the apex court has sought these details in a sealed cover, and it will not be shared with the PIL petitioners.

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