Ambition Versus Unity
West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is on a roll. Having tasted a spectacular victory in the Assembly elections, her eyes are now set on playing the national turf, a potential Opposition leader. And in the process, if its’ upstaging the Congress, so be it, seems the mantra. The latest hit for the grand old party being Meghalaya, where she got 12 of its 17 Congress MLAs to merge with TMC, becoming the main opposition party there. Rebel MLA and former CM, Mukul Sangma had a telling comment on why the decision: “There’s a need for a strong pan India alternative political party.. the INC is failing to respond to its call of duty as the main Opposition party…” Indeed, the writing is on the wall. TMC is making strident forays into Goa, Tripura and Assam with units there and has some understanding in UP with SP’s chief Akhilesh Yadav. Plus, senior leaders being weaned: Congress’ Kirti Azad, former Haryana Congress President Ashok Tanwar and former JD(U) MP Pavan Varma being the latest entrants after Congress’ Sushmita Deb joined from Assam. Predictably, more will follow and even though Mamata says her aim is not to weaken the fight against the BJP, the question doing the rounds is whose side is she on? Ties with the Congress and opposition unity at the national level may well become a casualty of didi’s ambition!
North East Pitch
Winds of change are blowing in the North East? “Please look at it with a different view once. It’s right time to invest there.” An appeal made by the ome Minister Amit Shah Thursday last to the industry chiefs, with statistics of how peace has been established (land boundary pact with Bangladesh, Manipur blockades ended, Bru refugee problem solved, Bodo peace agreement etc) and political stability ensured (BJP-led NEDA is heading all 8 governments there); the region was known for violence, extremism, controversies, floods, corruption and narcotics but today it’s talking about connectivity (airports, railways, national highways), employment, power generation, increasing forest cover and ending floods; Between 2007-2014, 385 citizens died every year but in 2019-2021, the average has been two citizens a year; before 2014, attempts were made to create ‘a division of hearts’ between the NE and rest of India, but the gap stands bridged today, etc. Sounds familiar? Kashmir comes to mind instantly. Recall, Modi speaking of bridging Kashmir’s ‘dil ki duri’ with Delhi and Shah appealing to industry to invest there. Sadly, little has moved there. Doubts may linger given recent Assam-Mizoram boundary issue erupting, Manipur having a deadly militant ambush, peaceful settlement to Naga political issue remaining, etc. Will industry oblige here?
‘To be or not to be’, is no longer a question finally for the Andhra Pradesh government. On Monday last, its Assembly withdrew the controversial three-capital bill, and young Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy assured of a “comprehensive, complete and better” Bill. His justification: government’s intention of a decentralised development has been twisted, distorted and misinformation launched; court cases filed. Thus, the repeal is to ‘protect larger interests of people’. Recall, 2020 Bill was meant to trifurcate the State’s capital into three — executive at Vizag, legislative at Amaravati and judicial at Kurnool. However, many saw it as upstaging predecessor Chandra Babu’s Amaravati project as Capital. But legal hurdles and farmers’ long drawn stir against the Bill eventually led to a rethink. There’s another backtrack. A day later, the Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution to withdraw an earlier one of January 2020 seeking abolishment of the Legislative Council. The reasoning being ‘prevailing ambiguity and dilemma over House functioning’ as the Centre has failed to respond. But remember the resolution then moved was to ‘remove intentional and avoidable delays in passing of Bills,’ given the then dominating TDP in Council refused to pass the 3 capital Bill. Whatever be the explanation and interpretation, its better to be late than sorry.
Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh has run into rough weather with the Centre. The Bhupesh Baghel government will lose out on development work worth over Rs 11,000 crore annually, as Ministry of Rural Development has withdrawn the State from PMAYG on grounds it hasn’t paid its share of expenditure on 60:10 ratio and performed poorly. The State, which is the first to face such action, has in response said it was due to pandemic-related expenditure and it seeks more time. But, the Ministry is unwilling to heed, knowing well that if the target to build 7,81,999 houses in rural areas in 2021-22 is withdrawn the aam admmi will be deprived of a roof over his head. Is it a price a non-BJP pays? For incidentally only last month, Baghel was declared as ‘best performing Chief Minister’, by an IANS-C Voter governance index, with 94% of his people happy with his performance and various welfare schemes introduced, including Mahatari Dular Yojana, which offers free education to kids studying in private schools, who lost their guardian/parents to Covid-19. Centre ensures it’s short lived glory!
Jewar Airport Boon
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s ambitious flight for a second term, amidst nagging uncertainty, had a well-timed take off on Thursday last. Prime Minister Modi laid the foundation stone for Noida International airport at Jewar, slated to be the 4th largest in world. It was a perfect tarmac to take the usual dig at the Opposition before the ensuing Assembly polls. UP, said Modi ‘was kept in deprivation and darkness earlier but it’s now getting what it always deserved and is making its mark internationally under a double-engine BJP rule’. Not only shall it provide new job opportunities to thousands in the region, benefit crores of people of Delhi-NCR and western UP, but added the State is now a focal point for investments by MNCs. But what caught attention was the farmers getting a special mention. The BJP, it was said takes its decisions ‘on famers’ betterment’ and unlike others, had paid due compensation to them for their lands. Yogi too thanked over 7,000 farmers for giving consent for the acquisition without any dispute and went a step further saying the country needs to decide ‘if the sweetness of sugarcane will grow’ or followers of Pakistan founder Jinnah (read Samajwadi Party) will cause mischief in the state? Guess, the farmers, a key vote bank will need to take that call–whether Yogi’s flight should have a smooth landing after all.
Railways New Track
The Indian Railways gets a brand new track. Bharat Gaurav, a scheme was launched on Tuesday last, for tourists to partake the country’s rich cultural heritage. It entails private tour operators taking trains on lease and run these on any circuit of their choice–with a free hand to decide routes, fares and quality of services’ under the scheme. Anyone, be it societies, trusts, consortia and State governments can apply online by registering with a one-time payment fee of Rs 1 lakh, for these trains. Tourism circuits based on a theme, say as Guru Kripa which goes to places related to Guru Nanak or a Ramayan-themed train related to Lord Ram, appear to be a thrust. The railways has earmarked 3,033 ICF coaches i.e. 150-odd trains, to be given out from 2-10 years. Operators need to give Rs 1 crore security deposit per rake and offer a complete package: food, sightseeing, local transport (taxi etc), hotels at stopover places, onboard entertainment among others. Time will tell how many join the bandwagon.