The Nowhere Man as Lalu’s Only Option

PR Ramesh is Managing Editor of Open
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The Overlooked Bureaucrat | Multibillion Dollar Blooper | Chief Minister Under Siege | The Curious Case of An Appointment


Guess who thinks he is in an ideal position to benefit the most from all of RJD supremo Lalu Yadav’s problems in Bihar? No, we’re not talking of the state’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The possibility that the Yadav chieftain and former state Chief Minister could soon land in jail—alongwith a family member or two—thanks to financial wrongdoings, could prove most beneficial to fellow clansman and former JD(U) President Sharad Yadav. Or so goes the speculation in non-RJD political circles.

As part of his plan to keep his supporters together and insulate them from poaching by the BJP, Lalu Yadav desperately needs a close ally to keep watch over the flock, someone who wouldn’t harbour designs of usurping his political legacy while he cools his heels in jail. With other party leaders already cut down to size to allow his sons Tejaswi and Tej Pratap to dominate the RJD, Lalu Yadav no longer trusts non- family netas who owe allegiance to the lantern symbol. Some of them are thought to be biding their time before switching over to Nitish Kumar’s JD(U). That could possibly leave the RJD chief with only one—and lousy—option: that of turning to Sharad Yadav, once an archrival and a man seen by many a socialist as a Grade A opportunist. The man’s reputation, Lalu is aware of. That he may actually have to consider the option only shows how bad things are turning out for him. Lalu’s son Tejaswi was grilled for a marathon nine hours by authorities this week for holding property and assets beyond his known sources of income. His daughter Misa Bharati and her husband have already been put to interrogation.

Sharad Yadav, sneered at by some as ‘the Solitary Reaper of politics’, seems to believe he can play the role of Lalu’s stand-in to perfection and is even said to be priming himself for the assignment. Being sounded out for it would be music to the ear’s of a man who was once rebuffed by both of north India’s top Yadav leaders—Mulayam Singh of UP being the other—when he sought to expand his influence from somnolent MP to regions where OBC politics was vibrant. He is currently a man without a party, a political base or following. He is now at risk of being exposed as the Nowhere Man that he actually is, despite all his chest-thumping and sabre-rattling against the BJP. Assuming leadership of Lalu’s massive Yadav following in Bihar is not a task he is up to, as he may discover. But word of his succession could be of help to him nonetheless. Sharad Yadav has been bargaining with the Congress over a Haryana seat for his son-in-law even as he tries to secure a political future for his son, and Lalu’s favour could give him the stature he needs for the brief period before reality hits.

The Overlooked Bureaucrat

The Overlooked BureaucratThe Narendra Modi regime has been finding post-retirement roles for its favourite bureaucrats. Rajiv Mehrishi was made CAG, former I&B secretary Sunil Arora was appointed Election Commission member, and sundry others have been accommodated on panels like the Central Vigilance Commission. But there appears a significant omission: that of Shaktikanta Das, whose name once topped the probables to replace Raghuram Rajan as RBI Governor. In mid-2016, the RSS- backed BJP MP Subramanian Swamy had attacked Das, then secretary of Economic Affairs, that there was a property case pending against Das for helping P Chidambaram ‘swallow prime locations in Mahabalipuram’ and that he should be sent back to Tamil Nadu to face the music. At the time, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had rushed to defend both Das and CEA Arvind Subramanian, also on the list of RBI candidates then, warning that politicians should desist from attacking good bureaucrats.

Both the November 2016 demonetisaton and the July 2017 GST launch happened under the watch of Das, who has defended both moves. He also said the RBI, which did not cut its policy rate, had “enough justification” to lower it. In his first interview since retirement, he rebutted criticism by former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha against demonetisation and GST. Das has been in sync with the Finance Ministry, which has also frowned at the RBI decision to keep unchanged its repo rate. “We need to disincentivise lazy banking. Banks cannot use NPAs as an excuse to shut off lending,” Das told a daily in October. Will those in power now put him back in the centre of action?

Multibillion Dollar Blooper

Multibillion Dollar BlooperCentrally set-up ‘think tanks’ should think first before sticking their foot in their mouth. It was a numbers blooper by NITI Aayog officials of the sort that the Government could ill afford at any time, least of all now. Coming from Amitabh Kant, the man who was the first to recognise God’s Own Country, the goof-up left many in the ruling establishment red-faced. On October 9th, Prime Minister Modi met with top oil-and-gas sector CEOs and global experts of the field. They included officials from Rosneft, BP, Reliance, Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Vedanta, Wood Mackenzie, IHS Markit, Schlumberger, Halliburton, Xcoal, ONGC, Indian Oil, GAIL, Petronet LNG, Oil India, HPCL, Delonex Energy and International Gas Union, apart from the World Bank and International Energy Agency. The global Who’s Who of the energy sector had lined up to meet Modi and offer their inputs for an upcoming energy policy. So, when NITI Aayog’s CEO Amitabh Kant briefed the media on this development, all ears perked up. Kant cited a whopping figure for Saudi Arabia’s proposed investment in India. “Saudi Aramco wants to invest in energy security and supply and become India’s investment partner. It will invest $300 billion in the next 4-5 years,” Kant told reporters. He also said Rosneft had already invested $65 billion and was planning to step that up fivefold. When reporters asked if that meant the two together had promised investments of $600 billion odd, Aayog officials fell over themselves to assert that the total sum could be much higher as Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell were also looking for a stronger presence in India, thanks to the Centre’s energy sector push. Embarrassingly, it later turned out that some of the investment figures were the global plans of these oil majors. In any case, the numbers being thrown around were many multiples of the entire sum of FDI that has come into the country. When this was brought to Kant’s notice, he rushed to summon an information officer and retracted the numbers. But the blooper isn’t going to fade away too soon.

Chief Minister Under Siege

Okay, so this could go down as one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of contemporary Indian politics: how a chief minister of an eastern state managed to run a government all these years although he didn’t know the local language and often read out speeches in his mother tongue written in Roman alphabets. This CM was yanked straight of his comfort zone of fine wine and highfalutin tomes and dumped in the thick of the state’s politics two decades ago. Known as a man of few words and a tightly-knit circle of uppah-class intellectuals for friends, he grew more reclusive over his years in power, trusting very few and whittling down his list of acquaintances. Observers maintain that with every state election and a further reduced margin of victory, the CM became increasingly nervous, even as the BJP, once an ally but now a rival, began snapping at his heels, Recently, a rumour ran across political circles that another of his high- profile MPs was bending the BJP way. Reason enough to be antsy. Little wonder the CM was seen gulping down peg after peg of an alcoholic drink and puffing furiously away at cigarettes at a party held recently in the Capital, to which he was a key invitee. Happens, when you know you’ve reached a political plateau and there’s no way to go but down.

The Curious Case of An Appointment

The Curious Case of An AppointmentThere was relief in the Sashastra Seema Bal when its chief Archana Ramasundaram retired on September 30th, with Rajnikant Mishra taking over. She had few admirers in the force. The uncharitable say this was because of her unhappiness about being passed over as CBI chief. Ramasundaram was a DGP with the Tamil Nadu Police when she was first spotted for her efficiency by the CVC and was the senior-most officer recommended for the post of additional director at the CBI. However, she was suspended by the Tamil Nadu government for obeying a Government of India order and taking up that post; it was alleged that she had joined without a clearance from the Jayalalithaa government. She had met the former Chief Minister twice before moving to the CBI, but her relieving orders did not come in time. Once she joined the CBI, though, her suspension order was issued that very evening.

Curiously enough, other than hers, the CVC had recommended only one name for the post, instead of the three names demanded under the rules. This, despite the DoP having suggested five names. The UPA Cabinet Appointments Committee had ignored the suggestions and elevated Ramasundaram to the CBI post. That led to a petition filed in the apex court against her CBI appointment. The court restrained her from duty, without commenton her competence, at the time. The CBI appointment had been a millstone around her neck all this while.