OUR WISE MAN KNEW MODI’S MIND
In this column on 11 June 2017, we had reported that in the sanctum of the saffron parivar, a view is emerging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may “pick one of his top ministers—Rajnath Singh (Home), Arun Jaitley (Finance & Defence), Sushma Swaraj (External Affairs), Nitin Gadkari (Highways) and M. Venkaiah Naidu (Information & Broadcasting and Urban Development)—either for the post of President or Vice-President.” We had based our report on the information coming from a “wise man in the parivar”. Well, we must thank this wise man, whose information has turned out to be hundred per cent correct as PM Modi has picked Venkaiah Naidu (68) as the NDA’s candidate for the Vice-President’s post.
Naidu’s native place is Chavatapalem, in Andhra Pradesh’s Nellore district. Since 1998, he has been a Member of the House of Elders from Karnataka. However, in 2016, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan.
Naidu was not expecting the gift of being nominated for the Vice-Presidential race at all. One of Naidu’s close aides in confidence told us that he was thinking of getting a Governorship in a big state, as he has not been maintaining a perfect health. Well, strange are the ways of life.
Naidu was the president of the BJP from 2002 to 2004. Earlier, he was the Union Cabinet Minister for Rural Development in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. No one doubts Naidu’s success in the Vice-Presidential poll against the united opposition’s candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, on 5 August. A Vice-President is also the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Naidu has earlier worked as the Parliamentary Affairs Minister. So, he is well-versed with the rules and administration.
The Rajya Sabha members are hopeful of witnessing good humour in the House from a witty Naidu, as he is a master of one-liners. When Naidu ran into some opposition leaders in the corridors of Parliament, after the BJP’s top leadership nominated him for the Vice-President’s election, they greeted him, “Welcome ‘Up-Rashtrapatiji.” True to his style, a smiling Naidu shot back: “Please call me Usha-Pati.” Asked why, he explained: “Because Usha is my wife.”
NAJMA HEPTULLA’S PRAYERS GO WASTE
Poor Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla! Her lifetime dream to become India’s Vice-President was once again shattered when PM Modi picked M. Venkaiah Naidu as the NDA’s candidate. Najma (77) had stationed herself in New Delhi to push her name. If one goes by information being shared by some of her trusted friends, she had met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who suggested that she should meet BJP chief Amit Shah. But Najma could not meet Amit Shah.
One of her friends says that Najma had confided that she had met PM Modi some months ago and that he had politely told her “not to do lobbying outside” and asked her instead to suggest a tribal leader’s name. But another friend said that Najma was upset as she could not meet PM Modi face-to-face and spoke to him over telephone. A top opposition leader from Maharashtra apparently suggested her name to the BJP leadership.
Najma’s rise in politics has been due to the claim that she is the grand niece of noted freedom fighter and scholar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was India’s first Education Minister. In 2004, Najma had crossed over from the Congress to its chief rival—Bharatiya Janata Party—with her supporters hoping that the saffron brigade would surely make her the Vice-President to establish its secular face. But it did not happen. Now with Naidu heading to be Vice-President, there seems to be no scope for a miracle to happen in future. Despite her age, from PM Modi’s point of view, he had made her the Minister for Minority Affairs. Recently, she was shifted to Manipur as Governor. In May, she also became the Chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central university.
Some political pundits believe that if she would have stayed with her first party, Congress, her ambition might have been fulfilled. She had quit the Congress alleging that Sonia Gandhi had humiliated her. They believe that she may have thought that the NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee would come back to power. But the India Shining campaign had failed to stop the Congress-led UPA capturing the seat of power.
Najma has been a five-time member of the Rajya Sabha—she stepped into the House of Elders for the first time in 1980—and its Deputy Chairman for 16 years. In the corridors of power, many see Najma as an “over-smart and over-ambitious” person. There have been charges of a 1958 photograph being morphed to show her with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in a publication of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR). The photograph was published in an ICCR publication titled Journey of a Legend, on the life of Maulana Azad. He was also the first chairperson of the ICCR and the publication came out when the council was headed by Najma. The photograph showed a young Najma with Maulana Azad. The caption read “Najma Heptulla with Maulana Azad after her graduation”. Official inquiries later revealed that Najma had graduated in May 1958, whereas Maulana Azad had died on 22 February 1958. The publication was later withdrawn by the ICCR.
GOLDEN TEMPLE PRIESTS UNHAPPY WITH GST
The high priests of Amritsar’s Golden Temple are upset. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has started hitting the sentiments of the religious bodies, including the Golden Temple and many other gurudwaras across the country. First, langar (free kitchen) purchases came under the GST. Now, the siropa cloth has come under the GST cover. The presentation of siropa (robe of honour) is a religious tradition to honour someone. Top Sikh organisations have urged Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to exempt the siropa cloth from GST.
Every year, the Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), the supreme Sikh body, purchases about 20 lakh metres of saffron-colour “Rubia” cloth for preparing siropas, costing over Rs 50 lakh, for the Golden Temple and the Akal Takht. This cloth cost about Rs 30 per metre in bulk purchases. “There is now 5% tax on the cloth,” the SGPC’s chief secretary Harcharan Singh told The Sunday Guardian. “Earlier,” he said, “it was tax-free.”
SGPC chief Kirpal Singh Badungar has decided to reduce the budget for siropas. “We will now be quite selective in choosing personalities to be honoured,” says Badungar.
Meanwhile, the SGPC has approached Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to waive the state component of GST on langar purchases. Before the GST coming into force, the Golden Temple, Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib, Takht Sri Anandpur Sahib and Takht Sri Damdama Sahib were exempted from paying VAT. Now, 12% tax is levied on desi ghee, 18% on sugar and 5% on pulses. “Our annual financial burden is going to shoot up by Rs 10 crore,” points out Badungar. In all gurudwaras, free food is served to devotees, without taking into consideration their caste, creed or race.
CHINESE STOP TOILET BUILDING ALONG LADAKH LAC
While the focus is on India-China standoff in Bhutan, the dragon continues to indulge in unwarranted interference in the villages along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh region. The Chinese have even objected to the Chota Kailash Yatra being undertaken by 60-odd people to the Demchok area—which is the main trouble area between the two sides.
An inhospitable cold desert and high altitude Ladakh region has a 225-km-long Line of Control (LoC) and 955-km-long LAC that includes some portion of the international border and 122-km-long Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) with China. According to Leh’s deputy commissioner, Prasanna Ramaswamy G., there is interference by the Chinese troops in “scattered areas” along the LAC.
The villages are dotted along the LAC, an undemarcated boundary between India and China. They have remained undeveloped because of continuous interference by the Chinese troops. There is virtually no development worth the name in four villages along the LAC—Demchok, Kouyal, Tsaga and Hanel—in the Nyoma constituency.
The Chinese troops even object to the construction of roads, toilets, schools, medical centres and other infrastructural projects that are being undertaken by the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) in Leh under the MGNREGA scheme.
When contacted, Thupstan Wangchuk, the elected two-time councillor of Nyoma Council constituency, told The Sunday Guardian that the civic body was not able to carry out activities smoothly because of China’s direct interference. “On several occasions, we had to stop development projects in the middle as Indian Army personnel asked us to abandon these following Chinese interference.”
Wangchuk says that massive development has been taking place on the other side of LAC. China has constructed helipads, metalled roads and large buildings which include well-furnished houses.
WWII SOLDIER WINS LEGAL BATTLE
One should salute the 93-year-old World War II soldier, Sowar Amar Singh, of Bhiwani in Haryana, for his patience. Because, after 75 years of struggle, he has won a legal battle that would entitle Indian soldiers to war injury pension for disabilities suffered in pre-Independence operations, although there are not many such men around. The war injury element of pension is double the regular disability element that such soldiers are paid.
Amar Singh was disabled during WWII, fighting the Japanese, while serving with the armoured corps on the Burma campaign in 1942. He had lost three fingers and suffered multiple fractures in his right arm. He had approached the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) pleading that despite having been injured during WWII, he was being paid regular disability pension admissible to cases of diseases incurred during service such as hypertension and heart disorder.
In a landmark order, Justice Bansi Lal Bhat and Lieutenant General Sanjiv Chachra of the Armed Forces’ Tribunal’s Chandigarh Bench have ruled that “discrimination cannot be perpetrated by distinguishing between injuries suffered in different wars”. Asking the government to show magnanimity, the AFT has said that similarly placed soldiers should be identified and their benefits released without litigation. A Ministry of Defence panel in November 2015 had also asked for resolution of this anomaly. But no order has been issued by the ministry till date.
After 75 years of struggle, Sowar Amar Singh has won a legal battle that would entitle Indian soldiers to war injury pension for disabilities suffered in pre-Independence operations.
In his petition, Amar Singh had pointed out that it made no difference that soldiers were fighting for the British Crown during those times since WWII and post-Independence, the same British Indian Army came to be known as the Indian Army.
His claim was resisted by the government on the ground that when war injury pension was initially introduced in 1996 (vide a letter issued in 2001), it was applicable only to post-Independence wars and disabilities in international “peace keeping missions”. As Amar Singh was a pre-1996 retiree, the said benefit could not be granted to him.
Over 2.6 million Indian troops had participated in WWII, which is double the strength of the current Army. In his petition, he had pointed out that India and Pakistan had assured the British government of taking care of all such cases and had also taken over the serving soldiers and pensioners of pre-Independence India. Many soldiers, who suffered disability during WWII, died in utter poverty, as they were released without pension on reduction of India’s military establishment. “I am glad that this judgement has come in my life-time,” says Amar Singh.
Man Mohan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org