SC Farm Committee: Distrust of centre grows
It’s a non-starter. The Supreme Court’s four-member committee has already hit a roadblock. Not only is it not trusted by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee but one of the members has promptly recused himself. So, the apex court putting the three farm laws on hold on Tuesday last and naming a committee to “assuage” the farmers’ “hurt” and creating space for dialogue, as contemplated is of little help, to either side in Delhi. The AKSCC won’t participate in the panel’s process as its members “are people known for their support to the three Acts, don’t support their demand for repealing of the bills, as they believe these will benefit the farmers immensely.” They aren’t wrong. For former MP and National President, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Mann) Bhupinder Singh Mann, recused himself from the committee on Thursday last saying: “As a farmer myself and a Union leader, in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general, I am ready to sacrifice any position offered or given to me so as to not compromise the interests of Punjab and farmers of the country…I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab.” So it’s back to square one—the rickety dialogue table.
Be that as it may, realistically should one have hope? Unless there is a miracle, the stand-off gets terser. Punjab and Haryana farmers have upped the ante. The festival of Lohri was aptly used to express anger and anguish. Union activities and ordinary folk burnt copies of the farm laws across villages and towns in solidarity with the over 50-day-long protest against a stubborn Centre. Terming the committee as just ‘hogwash’, supporters accused Modi’s government of being ‘authoritarian and promoting crony-capitalism’. The ambers are igniting pressure on Khattar’s government in Haryana as the party has put on indefinite hold its awareness programmes on the laws to ‘avoid confrontation’. But there is more than meets the eye. Khattar is trying to keep its alliance partner, the JJP in good humour. With Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala meeting Modi and Home Minister Shah, all doesn’t seem well. Chautala is under pressure from his MLAs, as they sense people turning against them. Worse, the State Congress claims some are even in talks with them. It has written to Governor Arya, urging an emergency session of the Vidhan Sabha, where it proposes to move a no-confidence motion on the first day. Wishful thinking alright, but miracles can happen. New Delhi shouldn;t miss the woods for the trees.
Vaccine Roll Out
Today, the big vaccination drive begins across States. Three lakh-odd health workers will get the first shot, first day, to be inaugurated by Modi through video conference across 3006 vaccination sites. The Centre has rolled out Covishield, Oxford vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin in 12 cities for the first phase. While it will spell out the proportion it will provide the States the vaccines, it’s for them to distribute these as per their ‘priority groups.’ But it has sent clear instructions that sites for the vaccine, mustn’t be changed, for booths cannot mix the vaccines, as whoever is inoculated at a site will need to come back for the same vaccine second shot on Day 28. Clearly, the States need to be prepared and must do their homework. However, there is a nagging question, how many will willingly come forward to take the shot. Will there be a choice offered of which vaccine they want to opt for? Both are shrouded in controversy, but Covaxin more as no data of phase 3 trials is available for it. The urgency of going ahead with the vaccination drive is to make a political statement to the world that India is not behind. But confidence is critical. Perhaps the Prime Minister or Health Minister taking the first shot would help!
Panchayat Seats Auctioned!
Grassroot democracy takes a severe beating, it’s too for sale! The Election Commission has cancelled elections of two gram panchayat seats in Maharashtra –Umrane village, Nashik and Kondamali, Nandurbar, following complaints and videos of their auction. The two fetched Rs 2 crore and Rs 42 lakh respectively. But should this come as a surprise, given that the role of both money and muscle power in elections by now is no secret? Nirvachan Sadan has to act nevertheless as the auctioning is “contrary to the spirit of democracy’. It ordered the district collectors to investigate and take legal action against those involved. Not easy, as Nadurbur DC reported back saying the people seen participating in the auction never filed their nominations! The trick being those who win the auction don’t normally contest the polls but field family members or other proxies. Plus, there’s no money trail as influential villagers take a call on candidates and ask them to contribute funds for a common cause, be it a school or a temple, or whatever is not covered under government schemes. The one who commits maximum money gets the go-ahead to contest while others are managed. Perhaps this explains why many of the panchayat seats go uncontested. It’s time for law makers to seriously push for electoral reforms, which sadly continue to be in cold storage.
Heartburn Over Expansion
Karnataka finally gets its Cabinet expansion. The delay has not helped ease matters for Chief Minister Yediyurappa, who finally undertook the tightrope walk, given there were far too many aspirants, including old guard and those from Congress-JD(S) who crossed the fence. The expansion on Wednesday last, after nearly a year and a half of his government, has triggered heartburn and suspicion in the party and the aspirant MLAs on various counts: One, why 3 MLCs, not elected by the people, were inducted. Two, why regions are under- represented as most ministers are from 2 districts–Bengaluru and Belagavi. Three, why seniority was not given priority? Fourth, the CM has succumbed to blackmailing and why promises to those who switched sides were not kept! Will the resentment grow and reach party headquarters is a question doing the rounds. Unlikely, as the yardstick adopted by Yediyurappa in expanding his team would have been run over with the party top brass. This southern State is known for its political upheavals and with the BJP mastering rebellion, it must know plan to contain it.
Puducherry’s infamous battle royal between the highest functionaries refuses to ebb. Chief Minister V. Narayanasami and his Congress-led SDA have upped the ante against Lt Governor Kiran Bedi, accusing her of ‘blocking’ welfare schemes meant for the needy. Welfare Minister Kandasamy, has since January 10 been on an indefinite dharna on State Assembly premises, and shot off letters to the President, PM, Union Ministers Home Affairs and Social Justice and Empowerment focussing on her ‘sitting on files’ and ‘deliberately delaying approvals for 15 bills.’ These include release of clearance for increasing housing subsidy from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, pending Rs 12 crore for civic amenities, fund distribution for residential schools, and 10,000 plus additional beneficiaries under old-age pension scheme. Bedi be recalled, is the obvious demand as she is “unfit for the office, is functioning in an autocratic/undemocratic manner, blocking welfare measures and stalling Cabinet decisions – all in total violation of constitutional guidelines.’ The pow-wow is going on for past near five years. Will there be a resolution? For now Bedi gets a breather. Protests are put on hold till Pongal festival. All eyes will be on whether the signature campaign on January 22, demonstrations across constituencies (January 29), hunger strikes (February 5) and a bandh in 2nd week of February, is forceful enough for New Delhi to change its mind.
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