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No-confidence motion: No confidence within the opposition

Shehzad Poonawalla

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Lok Sabha; AIADMK; bill

The No Confidence motion was meant to be an attack against the Modi government instead it ended up looking more like a motion of no confidence in the idea of a larger opposition unity against the prime minister! Nobody doubted that the Modi government would win the vote ( the BJP had 273 and NDA including Shiv Sena had 312 odd votes in a House that has 533 members with the halfway mark pegged at 267) but the final numbers ( 325 against the motion and only 126 for it )reveal how floor managers of the Modi government managed to outwit and outsmart the opposition strategists! To have managed to surpass the tally of NDA (312 including Shiv Sena) despite the Shiv Sena abstaining was certainly no mean feat!

The No Confidence motion that was aimed at showcasing opposition unity ended up displaying opposition disunity! It was expected that they would muster at least 140 votes but ended up with merely 126!  Instead of putting the Modi government on test it ended up like a political “Sanjeevni booṭi” that now provides an already popular PM Modi with a cloak of immunity to carry out his agenda inside and outside Parliament as we head into election year 2019! This leads me to ask whether the opposition read too much into the results of a few bypolls and the friction between allies within the NDA? Did it miscalculate both the political mood and political maths by pushing for this Trust vote? What does the result mean for the larger opposition unity? What does it mean for the final showdown in 2019? And how does this translate in terms of leadership and popularity quotient for the possible principal protagonists of 2019 namely Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi?

Political Harakiri

In April 1999 Sonia Gandhi had declared ‘We have 272 and we hope to get more,” outside Rashtrapati Bhavan as she attempted to dislodge the Vajpayee government.

She was unsuccessful in that attempt! Nineteen years later both her words and fate sound eerily similar! “Who said we don’t have the numbers” she asked rhetorically two days before the crucial floor test! As the day unfolded, it was clear that she had miscalculated. By raising expectations on this front Mrs Gandhi missed an opportunity to turn this battle into one between “majority and morality”. Had her articulation laid more emphasis on eroding the moral authority of the government rather than challenging its numerical strength, at the end of the No Confidence exercise, she and the Congress could have drawn some “moral victory” despite the defeat. Clearly, it is not just Rahul Gandhi but perhaps even Sonia Gandhi who seems to have lost her innate political instincts. This reflects at the very least political disconnect and perhaps at the very worst a sense of political delusion.

Modi government’s floor managers also outwitted the opposition by calling their bluff and immediately going in for the Trust Vote. Nobody in the opposition was expecting the motion to be admitted so quickly. They were banking on playing up the rhetoric that the Modi government was running away from a No Confidence motion! Buoyed by the results of the by-polls in Gorakhpur, Phoolpur and Kairana the wider opposition seemed to have a spring in its step and had found its voice! Little did they expect that the tables would turn so quickly! In the hurly-burly of TV sound bites and political rhetoric, often dominated by disgruntled NDA allies voicing their angst against the BJP, the opposition forgot that usually what you see isn’t necessarily what you get, especially in politics! They seriously underrated the ability of BJP President Amit Shah in bringing and keeping the NDA allies together on the same page when push comes to shove!

 

Rahul’s Hug-plomacy 

Rahul Gandhi’s almost hour-long speech ended with him giving PM Modi an unsolicited hug! Many thought it was a smart move to garner much-needed media attention but serious questions on jobs and agriculture raised by Rahul lost out due to his histrionics. The Speaker too disapproved of his behaviour. What made it worse is that Rahul returned to his seat and winked to a colleague which was captured by all the cameras and gave an impression that his entire antics were pre-planned and scripted! Another gaffe committed was him quoting out of his private meeting with the French President while speaking on the Rafale deal! Rahul accused Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of lying when she said a “secret pact” existed between India and France! Rahul claimed the French President had told him personally that no such pact existed! The Foreign Office of France immediately clarified that Rahul’s claims were not accurate! This left the 48-year-old looking like he was misleading Parliament and also attracted a Privilege Motion against him! Eventually, that entire exchange with Nirmala Sitharaman dented the credibility of his claims. It also gave the BJP and the PM to launch a scathing attack on Rahul Gandhi projecting him as “arrogant” and “untruthful”.

Modi’s Point by Point rebuttal 

The PM speaking last delivered a detailed almost two-hour presentation on jobs, agriculture, his government’s commitment against corruption and spiced it up with his rhetorical and oratory skills! His digs were primarily aimed at Sonia and Rahul Gandhi even as the dismantled the shaky project of “opposition unity” trying to be forged against him. By the time his speech ended, not only did he manage the numbers in Loksabha he also managed to garner back all the media attention and more importantly moral and political authority entering into the countdown for 2019! Whatever little symbolic value it could have had in reducing the Modi government into a defacto lame duck administration was lost in the comfortable manner in which the treasury benches managed to sail through the floor test!

Rahul Kapoor

Reservation on the basis of economic backwardness: A positive step, if implemented well

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reservation

In 2014 when the BJP managed to cross the 272 mark on its own and secure an absolute majority in the parliament, it was not only an indication of the Modi wave which definitely was one of the factors in the party’s landslide victory but also a reflection of the disappointment of the people from coalition governments in the center without much spine to take concrete actions. The country was tired of the blame game which the coalition partners used to play and the inability of the single largest party in the coalition to meet the aspirations of the people citing the compulsions of coalition politics. The atmosphere back then was different and the people of India decided to vote for a stable government in the center and the rest is history.

In the last 4.5 years the people of India have seen both the pros and cons of a stable turned all powerful government at the centre, demonetization was one of the much-debated moves which only a stable government at the center could have taken. It is evidently clear that demonetization and GST have not gone down well with the people of this country and no matter how much the BJP defends the long term benefits of these moves; the short term losses were too big to be neglected and forgiven. The 150 human lives lost and the distress faced by the workers in the informal sector during demonetization will not be forgotten and forgiven for long.

However, finally the Modi government has realized that it was given an absolute majority by the people of India to take pro-poor and pro-development measures minus the crony capitalists and that is what the government has done through the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019 that shall award 10 per cent reservation to economically weaker sections in the general category. Never ever before have I seen a bill being passed by the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and getting the Presidential assent in a matter of four days. This is true, the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Jan 8th, in the Rajya Sabha on Jan 10th and approved by the President on Jan 12th and this was not the end, it has already been implemented by the state of Gujarat, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh so far and I so wish that the central, as well as government in the states, start acting like this for their entire tenure of five years instead of waking up during the election season.

While the timing and intentions of the ruling party must be questioned, the purpose of the bill to give 10 % reservation to economically weaker sections in the general category is definitely a step in the right direction and therefore should not be politicized. To set the record straight, it is important for everyone to understand that this reservation is not being awarded to economically backward sections in the upper caste. In fact, there is no upper caste in the society and there is no more a lower caste either, all these categories have been outlawed with the abolition of untouchability by article 17 of the Indian constitution. Yes, there are categories which club different castes together and these categories are Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backwards Classes and the General category but being clubbed in one category does not make a caste lower just like being clubbed in any other category does not make a caste upper or privileged. All these connotations of lower and upper caste are historical and not constitutional in nature.

The reservation granted to the people in SC, ST and OBC category so far by the constitution has been on account of both social and economic inequality faced by them in a historical context and aims at fighting that social inequality of the past and developing a more egalitarian society in the future. Reservation in India to any category will always be a positive step until and unless we become a truly egalitarian society and that will not happen any time soon. A report by Oxfam in 2018 found that India’s 1% elite hold 73% of the total wealth of this country leaving only 27 % of wealth for the rest 99 % people. Therefore any reservation on the grounds of economic backwardness is the need of the hour and the only category which was deprived of such benefits were the poor in the general category and with the implementation of the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019 they will have their due. For those who argue that the basis of reservation should be social backwardness and not economic backwardness, the reality is that both of these are complicated interrelated concepts and more often than not one ends up having an influence on the other. Also, with the introduction of reservation for poor in the general category, the longtime debate on the issue of the reservation will end as effectively every category will now enjoy the benefits of reservation.

The tricky part I believe will be the righteous implementation of the bill so that the reservation reaches to those who are last in the queue in the general category. The government has for now introduced the Bill in a hasty manner and is unclear on many aspects of the Bill which will evolve with time. For example, the cap of Rs 8 lakh or 5 acres of land is being considered as too high for giving the benefits of reservation but this is not a problem which cannot be solved. A thorough analysis of data on poor in the general category and a bit of honest help from economic and social think tanks will rectify these issues. Eventually, if implemented well, the Bill will ameliorate the lives of poor and the downtrodden in the general category and at the end the aim of any society should be to assimilate and bring to fore those who have been left behind socially, economically or historically because only then the aim of having an egalitarian society will be achieved.

 

 

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Manoj Tandon

What do we want from our next PM?

Manoj Tandon

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Since 1990, India embarked on a fantastic growth journey. Our GDP grew like never before, from almost nowhere we are now within the world’s top 10 economies, on PPP basis we are at the fourth spot and according to a reputed global consulting company’s report, we will be the world’s third largest economy – almost equal to the US – by 2050.

Are you excited? Delighted? Ready to say “Cheers”? Just wait….hang on there.

Let me take you on another journey…

 

  • As of November 2016, India is the 12th most unequal country in the world. The richest 1% of Indians own 58.4% of the wealth, while the richest 10% own 80.7% of the wealth. This trend is going in the upward direction every year, which means the rich are getting richer at a much faster rate than the poor.
  • Agriculture employs more than half of India’s population while it contributes only 14% of the GDP
  • Our agricultural productivity is 30 % of international standards despite the fact that our arable land as a % of total land is one of the highest in the world, second only to the US.

Let me summarise the mumbo jumbo mentioned above for you in simple English, or as I like to say let’s smell the salt….

 

  • The wealth generated by the growth that we have achieved has gone in the pockets of only the top 20% of Indians (largely the top 1% of the Indians).
  • The agriculture sector which employs half of India has grown at just 2.4% – a snail’s pace.

 

Have you stopped saying “Cheers”? Good – now let me stick the knife in even further…

But before I take you further into this sticking the knife fun, let’s first convert these percentages into numbers. So we have roughly 65 crore Indians who survive on agriculture. Out of these 65 crore Indians:

  • 6 crores have landholding of more than 10 acres
  • 6 crores are small to medium farmers
  • 10 crore are small farmers
  • Around 43 crores (i.e. roughly 2/3rds) are marginal farmers

 

Time to twist the knife some more….

Various studies have shown that the breakeven point in agriculture comes at around 10 acres of land i.e. around 60 crore Indians engaged in Agriculture are making losses.

Sorry, twisting the knife always hurts…..

There are many reasons for the state we are in, let me list a few of the main ones:

Problem 1: Size of Agriculture landholdings

Problem 2: Non-diversified crops

Problem 3: Lack of reliable information on latest agronomic practices and availability of cheap technology

Problem 4: Farmer gets nothing while middlemen make merry

All the above add up and create a massive financial problem for the farmer.

If it is so obvious, why has this problem not been solved?

  • Agriculture reforms have always been considered to be political hot potatoes
  • One possible reason why this is not done is because somewhere in the whole food chain some set of people stand to gain majorly (I won’t divert your attention by going into that in this article)

Now, the solution:

Land consolidation – we have to have larger farms as it allows farms to become financially sustainable, while at the same time, surplus income gives leverage to induct better quality seeds, better and appropriate inputs like fertilisers etc. and gives farm owners the bargaining power to get better deals for their crops.

How to achieve the above:

  • Learn from Amul, the cooperative model. However, cooperatives cannot be run by the Govt. They have to be run by the farmers themselves.
  • Allow private sector players to buy large tracts of lands and create a model of corporate farming. One of the typical fears that naysayers have is “What will happen to the poor farmer?” Well, our experience with liberalization on the Industry has shown that instead of creating problems, it has actually created more jobs and more income for people. After all, even big corporate farms will need people to work for them in the fields. Any farmer will prefer an income (salary) which is regular and allows him to feed his family and save for the rainy day than a piece of land which fails on both counts.

 

Result – high supply, lower food inflation, happier farmers and a stronger India.

By the way, did the facts make you despondent? Pessimistic? Lost faith in India?

Don’t be, we have achieved the impossible on the industrial front (I grew up in the decades of 60s to 80s – I assure you, what we have achieved today is stunning). All it will take is a similar kind of “different” thinking to achieve the same in the Agriculture sector. And we will truly be a giant on the world stage, with happier people.

Our future PM to be sworn in the summer of 2019 – Please listen…you will go down in history as a game changer, a person with a legacy, a person always remembered in the history who converted a “potentially” great nation to “a” great nation called India.

Jai Hind.

 

⁰Figures given in this article are approximate

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Manoj Tandon

Rafale – A soldier’s perspective

Manoj Tandon

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Rafale deal

04:00 hours – Somewhere on India-China Border……Wing Commander W gets a message to scramble; Chinese multi-role attack aircraft were spotted intruding into Indian air-space….

 He immediately takes off with his wingman in his old warhorse Mig 21 knowing fully well that his aircraft with old technology was no match for the latest state of the art Chinese attack planes but then duty is duty and Indian Air Force never waivers when duty calls….

 Soon they had the Chinese formation in their visual range….Wing Commander engages the Chinese plane, due to superior air mobility; soon the Chinese plane is at his 6’O clock. His wingman shouts….Sir, Bandit at 6’O clock….wing commander goes into a sharp G turn….but it’s too late and too little, with missile lock in place the Chinese fighter releases its missile, W goes into a sharp G turn to avoid the missile, his Mig 21 shudders but slowly starts to turn…..W realises in his desperation that this plane has been flying since 1970s (since  40 odd years) and he is up against a plane with the latest technology. But then he is a typical Indian Armed Forces brave soldier…..how can he accept defeat….

 He watches in horror, as the missile comes at his plane with a loud whine….it’s like death approaching…..a loud bang……fragments exploding all around…..and then…..complete silence…..

 48 hours later….a beautiful ceremony, in full Armed Forces tradition, is going on…..W’s body is being cremated with full military honours…

Don’t worry I am not doing storytelling, I am just telling you the future….

While our politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, friends, social media friends (yes, this is a new category in this digital age), family members….are all busy jabbering at/with each other NO ONE and I repeat NO ONE is bothered about the implications of this waste of time.

And why should we, we are sitting in our cosy heated or AC’d drawing rooms, a nice cup of tea in our hands, enjoying the kebabs…..how does it matter if a highly trained, dedicated, committed fighter pilot of Indian Air Force loses his life, his wife becomes a widow, his kids orphans…..

Let me help you smell the salt:

The Current Situation

The Indian Air Force has an effective strength of 31 combat squadrons, although it has 34 combat squadrons in total. These include

  • 11 squadrons of the Su-30MKI
  • 3 each of the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 (currently undergoing an upgrade)
  • 6 of the Jaguar (at the initial stage of an upgrade process) and
  • 6 of the MiG-21Bison.
  • In addition, two upgraded MiG-27 squadrons serve with the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE).
  • It is believed that 3 squadrons continue to operate older MiG-21s and non-upgraded MiG-27s they are in the process of being phased out.

The Challenge

The IAF desires strength of some 42 combat squadrons by the period 2027-32 in order to meet the contingencies of a two-front war.

Assuming a current practical strength of 31 squadrons, there is an immediate requirement for 11 more to meet its desired force levels by 2027. However, 6 more squadrons of MiG-21Bison and the 2 MiG-27 will be phased out by 2025.

This leaves a short fall of anything between 13 to 17 squadrons out of the total desired number of 42 squadrons….

i.e. IAF will be operating at 30 % less fighting capability then it requires to be an effective fighting force…….and this will happen in less than a decade

Hope I have shaken you up a bit, hope some of you have now realised that we are carrying a time bomb, hope some of you have realised that there is a need for vigorous action rather than debates….

Else, our brave soldiers, our brave military personnel will keep giving their lives, more families will lose their sons, husbands, fathers…..while we while away our time in meaningless discussions…..

Wing Commander W’s wife, grief stricken, is sitting in the lobby of her house, …hoping to somehow trying to normalise life in her home….she switches on the TV…..a debate is going on…..in Lok Sabha

 My deal was better than yours, No No mine is better…..you are corrupt, no no your party is corrupt….

 She changes the channel, a TV anchor is shouting, the panellists are trying to talk over each other…..no you don’t understand….Rafale is this, Rafale is that…..

 She wants to scream…..NONE of you even know what a plane is, what Air Force is, what a fighter plane is, you all know NOTHING but discuss as if you THE expert……

 And worst still you don’t know how it feels to be sitting in a cockpit with a missile tearing down towards your plane, you know you are going to die because of people, we voted for,  were too busy in scoring points with each other……

 She screams, picks up a paper weight lying on the side table and throws it towards the TV screen….the missile hits the target…….again…..

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