BENDING THE RULES
Politics around land has always been problematic, especially in post-Independence India. Maharashtra’s Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse was plain unlucky when his get-rich-quick deal was exposed even before the ink could dry due to his tiff with a Pune builder, but over the years a legion of senior politicians have gone on to become billionaires, appropriating and misappropriating public land in urban Maharashtra, especially Mumbai and Pune.
Before words like RTI and transparency entered the popular lexicon, politicians exercised near absolute powers to allocate public lands the way they pleased. Aside from giving it to family and friends, they changed land use at whim, distributed acquired lands to crony capitalists without any questions being asked. And not just politicians, all sections of society gained from this free-for-all policy. Members of the higher judiciary, bureaucrats, even journalists and artists, all got prime pieces of land at throwaway prices in Mumbai and in other urban conglomerates.
In fact, Maharashtra politicians had exercised such untrammelled powers that until the early 1980s they were requisitioning plum flats in the priciest South Mumbai buildings and allocating these to themselves or anyone else in the name of public interest. And eventually they came to own them. Almost every well-known politician in Maharashtra has thus made a huge fortune, Sharad Pawar, of course, being the biggest “landlord” of them all.
But Pawar only fine-tuned what had begun in right earnest during the time of Chief Minister V.P. Naik. In league with Rajni Patel, the high-living Mumbai Congress boss, Naik forked out plots of land in what is now Nariman Point to hand-picked parties. A mere piece of paper authorising one to reclaim, say, three acres of land from under the sea was enough to turn a pauper millionaire overnight. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Naik-Patel duo made many such paupers multi-millionaires, names of some of them adorning various multi-storey towers that dot the concrete jungle on the tip of south Mumbai.
So, if a Khadse, or, for that matter, a Robert Vadra is now embroiled in messy land transactions, you have to thank the growing power of ordinary citizens. Contrary to the general impression that corruption has grown manifold in recent years, the truth is that till the advent of the institution of Public Interest Litigation, till the enactment of the right-to-information, and a watchful 24x7 media, ruling politicians in the early decades after Independence had got away with a lot of unwholesome stuff.
And should you think only politicians lust after land, think again. A former Chief Election Commissioner got not one but two plots of land from the Chief Minister’s discretionary quota against the rules, which specifically bar anyone getting more than a single plot from such quotas, and sold one to construct a bungalow on the other. He now pontificates to the world about probity. A former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court got two plots out of the same quota, one for self another for spouse, and promptly sold both and made a huge killing. It does take an extraordinary man to resist temptation, given that everyone else is bending the rules to make a quick buck.
STATISTICS DO NOT LIE
Critics of the Narendra Modi government will go to any length to question its performance. Even raise doubts about the GDP numbers, with the Modi detractors suggesting that the numbers are rigged to show that growth has picked up in the last two years.
But the truth is that even the critics are completely in the dark about the best way to measure growth. On its part, the Congress is silent because under the new system of measuring growth, GDP in the last year of UPA too was revised upwards than it was originally estimated.
Now, in a most effective rebuke to the critics, Pronab Sen, who recently retired as Chief Statistician of India, justified the new method of estimating national income and explained why it is the best under the circumstances. Sen’s sharp riposte to a business daily, which incessantly spews venom against Modi should at least shut up the critics of official data. Yes, in purely academic terms it could be debated whether the output of small and medium industries, particularly in the unorganised sector, was being computed for estimating final numbers. But to suggest that the data are wilfully distorted is to insult the intelligence of widely-respected experts manning the Central Statistical Organisation.
KAMAT FIRM ON QUITTING
Last Thursday, at a prayer meeting for someone who died, there were a large number of senior Congress leaders. But as soon as the meeting ended, A.K. Antony grabbed Gurudas Kamat by the hand and pulled him aside. A few days earlier, the AICC general secretary had threatened to quit politics in disgust at the doings of the Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam. A number of Mumbai corporators too had threatened to leave the Congress with Kamat. Within minutes, Ahmed Patel joined Antony and the two tried to persuade the former Mumbai Congress boss to withdraw his resignation but to no avail.
When a journalist asked Kamat whether he had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi or vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the answer was no.
Clearly, the mother-and-son duo stay above the fray, wanting Antony and Patel to do the work and then produce Kamat for them to bless the reconciliation.
RAJAN SET TO LEAVE AFTER 3 SEPTEMBER
Apropos of the ongoing controversy over RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, it is more or less pukka that the NDA would appoint someone of its own as the next boss in Mint Street come 3 September. And this despite the fact that Rajan and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley are on the most cordial of terms. Unlike the time when P. Chidambaram’s sneering ways and his domineering attitude generated nothing but tension between North Block and Mint Street, or, for that matter, between him and everyone else in the Finance Ministry, there are no bad vibes between Rajan and any member of the Modi government.
Also, it is wrong to exaggerate the role of the RBI Governor, especially now that a monetary committee with equitable government representation is being constituted to fix the repo rate. Even without such a committee, the long-established processes and precedents govern the policy rather than the arbitrary writ of the RBI Governor. In short, to hold Rajan responsible for not reducing the lending rates is wrong. The government understands it as well. But if he is not getting the second term, it is simply because the NDA would want to have its own man as RBI chief, an understandable concern, after all.