Third Front gathers steam, but will it work?
Cong slams Modi's Chai pe Charcha
Hazare to meet Didi on Feb 18
Partap Singh Bajwa gurdaspur
HP hills to see aggressive campaigning
Poll expenses: LS candidates can now spend Rs 40 lakh
Mirza Mehboob Beg aNANTNAG
SC relief for Sushma in election case
Karuna rules out alliance with Cong, DMDK
Third Front gathers steam, but will it work?
New Delhi, February 13
The underlying factor is the growth of regional parties that continue to have a presence in successive Lok Sabha and tilt the balance in favour of the party that leads the coalition. After the failure of the 1977 experiment — when parties with different sets of ideology merged to form the Janata Party — political parties adopted an alternate route: a string of alliances and seat adjustments to maximise presence in the Lok Sabha and then form a bloc based on common understanding.
This trend has resulted in reduced pre-eminence of the Centre, rise in the power of regional parties that have a role in national politics and in moulding policy while running a state government. The altering political scene has led to arguments of instability, inadequate governance and inconsistency in policy-making vis-à-vis national interests.
Inherit contradictions, soaring ambitions of leaders and the need to address the concerns of respective social bases led to the dismantling of the coalitions both in 1977 and 1989, even though attempts were made to create a formal mechanism for greater devolution of powers to the states, an argument that continues to resonate in Delhi.
These experiences led to refinement in strategy with two pre-eminent national parties — Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party — deciding to take the lead in weaving a fabric of regional parties that injected stability and managed competing agendas. That is the reason that since 1999, first the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and then the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, have steered a coalition government. As for the regional satraps, it presented them an opportunity to share power at the Centre and voice regional aspirations.
The National Front
In 1989, Vishwanath Pratap Singh stood against then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi against the backdrop of the Bofors kickbacks controversy. He managed to fire the imagination of the people as a crusader against corruption and successfully marshalled political forces from the Hindi heartland (Lok Dal), South (DMK) and Assam (AGP) to form a National Front government.
The coalition till date retains the unique distinction of being propped up by two distinct streams at either end of Indian politics — the right-off centre BJP and the Left parties.
The Janata Dal, which was formed after merging parties such as the Jan Morcha, Lok Dal and the Congress (Socialist), went on to win 143 seats but was way behind the magic number of 272. The Indian National Congress won 197 seats but declined to form the government.
With help from regional players such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), VP Singh's coalition government came into being. Those in the government and supporting it from the outside formed a Steering Committee to work out policies and programmes.
The BJP pulled the plug after LK Advani was taken into custody and prevented from carrying on with his 'Rath Yatra'. Subsequently, Chandrashekhar walked out with 64 MPs to float the Samajwadi Janata Party that was supported from the outside by the Congress till early 1991.
The United Front
After a spell of Congress rule from 1991-96, the ensuing General Elections resulted in a hung Lok Sabha. Then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao famously remarked that the people had voted for every party to sit in the Opposition.
The BJP under Atal Bihar Vajpayee emerged as the single largest party. It was invited to form a government, but could not muster majority. In the meantime, the Congress with 140 MPs decided to support 13 parties whose collective strength in the House stood at 192.
Thus, the United Front came into being with Janata Dal's HD Deve Gowda as Prime Minister after the CPM vetoed the offer to Jyoti Basu, who as Chief Minister ran a successful coalition in West Bengal. The CPM opted to support the coalition from the outside while CPI joined the government.
Differences between Congress president Sitaram Kesri and Gowda forced the UF to change leadership with Inder Kumar Gujral given the wheel.
The Third Alternative
In the run up to the 2014 General Elections, the four Left Parties — Communist Party of India, CPI(M), All India Forward Bloc, Revolutionary Socialist Party —along with AGP, All India Anna Dravida Muneetra Kazhagam, Biju Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United). Janata Dal (Secular), Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and Samajwadi Party have formed a bloc in Parliament that is expected to be converted into a political alternative.
The formation emerged from the October 30, 2013 Convention Against Communalist attended by these 11 parties as also the Republican Party of India (Bahujan Mahasangh) of Prakash Ambedkar and Manpreet Singh Badal People's Party of Punjab.
The announcement on February 5 that a bloc was formed led to an immediate attack from BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, clearly indicating that these parties had the ability to act as spoilers.
The Federal Front
On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress — which cannot be seen on the same side as the Left — floated the idea of a Federal Front. It sent feelers to BJD's Naveen Patnaik, but the response can at best be described as lukewarm. There is a lurking suspicion that TMC could eventually join hands with the BJP in the post-poll scenario since Mamata had served as minister in the Vajpayee government.
In the next few weeks, and probably after the announcement of the poll schedule, the pace of negotiations and bargain will pick up pace to give the electorate a clear picture.
New Delhi, February 13
"An estimated sum of Rs 200 to 250 crore was spent on a programme of Modi. Could this money not be spent in a better manner to directly benefit the same people? There is another contradiction and paradox. On the one hand, he is giving lectures to tea vendors. On the other hand, BJP and NDA obstructed the Street Vendors Bill in Rajya Sabha yesterday, which directly affects the working classes, including a large number of tea vendors. This exposes the real face of BJP," Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.
Modi yesterday interacted with the common man across 1,000 places through video conferencing, sipping tea and attacking the Congress over governance and black money.
The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2013, was listed in Rajya Sabha both yesterday and today, but could not be taken up due to disruptions in the House. — PTI
Kolkata, February 13
Roy, who called on Hazare at his native village of Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district today, told PTI that Hazare would have a meeting with TMC chief Mamta Banerjee in Delhi on February 18.
"We feel proud that such a senior mass leader has hailed the leadership of Mamta Banerjee who had replied to his 17-point economic programme which is being incorporated in the party election manifesto," the former Railway minister added.
Roy quoted Hazare as saying that Mamta was an "honest leader committed to root out corruption". — PTI
STOCK-TAKING: Partap Singh Bajwa gurdaspur
Says several of his prestigious projects were shelved at the insistence of the Punjab Chief Minister
Tribune News Service
Gurdaspur, February 13
He claims to have persuaded the Congress-led UPA government to pump in thousands of crores for projects such as Shahpur Kandi Dam (Part-2) and the Railway Coach Factory (RCF) at Kalanaur. But at the same time, he throws the ball back in the court of the state government by claiming that it was at the "insistence" of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal that many of his "prestigious" projects, including the Kalanaur RCF and the Beas-Qadian rail line, were shelved.
Two years ago, he had persuaded the then Rail Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal to establish the RCF, on the lines of the one set up in Kapurthala, on 1,200 acres of prime panchayat land in Kalanaur, 20 km from Gurdaspur.
He said he had got all spadework done at the Rail Ministry's level and had even made Bansal speak to the CM about the "economic feasibility" of the project. However, he claimed that the CM, after promising Bansal that the state government would hand over the Kalanaur panchayat land to the Rail Ministry within 48 hours, backtracked.
"The RCF was to come up at a cost of Rs 1,500 crore and would have given 15,000 jobs to the youth of the area. Ancillary units, too, could have come up and these small scale industrial entities could have rejuvenated the already ailing Batala industrial units. However, the CM threw a spanner into the works, following which the project was consigned to the backburner," Bajwa said.
He said Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had been successful in convincing the Rail Ministry mandarins to shift the project to Sonepat. "See how the RCF changed the face of Kapurthala and see what the venture has done for Sonepat. Thousands of jobs have been generated and the economy of both these cities has got a boost. The Punjab CM played politics and now thousands of unemployed youth are bearing the brunt,” Bajwa said.
Likewise, Bajwa blames the state government for playing politics over re-laying the Qadian-Beas rail link. "I got the project sanctioned in the 2010-11 Budget from the then Rail Minister Mamata Banerjee. It would have jumpstarted the stagnant economy of the area. However, despite repeated reminders from the Rail Ministry, the state government is not letting the district administration complete the initial survey, which is mandatory for such a project. Here again, the CM is playing politics," he claimed.
“Bajwa had brought in Rs 350 crore from the Ministry of Textiles to provide oxygen to the ailing 150-year-old Egerton Woollen Mills, popularly called Dhariwal Mills. This is definitely a feather in his cap," said local resident Gurmeet Singh Pahra.
The MP also talks highly of bringing in Rs 2,500 crore from the Union Government to initiate the 205-MW Shahpur Kandi hydel project. "When commissioned, 805-MW electricity will be made available from both the Ranjit Sagar Dam and the Shahpur Kandi Project," he said.
His achievements notwithstanding, Bajwa is being criticised for not doing enough for foundry units in Batala. "I tried my best to do something for Batala," is all he says. It was from the Batala Vidhan Sabha seat that Bajwa took a lead of more than 18,000 votes during the 2009 General Elections when he had beat three-time MP and former Union Minister Vinod Khanna.
Batala residents claim the MP has done absolutely nothing for the ailing industry, particularly the foundry units, 80 per cent of which have closed down in the past decade.
"The livelihood of thousands of people depends upon the working of these units. With the Congress-led UPA government in power, the MP should have brought in an industrial package for border areas," said Iqbal Saimi, a Batala-based businessman.
Bajwa claims he had put up more than 500 questions in the Lok Sabha. "I have put up the maximum number of questions among Punjab MPs," he says. However, residents are not impressed with his rhetoric in Parliament as they say that they need jobs and not questions.
Bajwa's voters said they had brought him to power hoping he would do something to curb the drug menace. "Drug de-addiction centres in the constituency stand testimony to the increasing number of addicts. The MP should have made efforts to create job avenues to wean students of drugs," said Upma Mahajan, a school principal.
Documents procured through RTI reveal that Bajwa had doled out more than 70 per cent of his MPLADS funds on his wife Charanjit Bajwa's Assembly segment Qadian. "In the process, he neglected the other eight Vidhan Sabha seats which are represented either by BJP MLAs or by Congress legislators," said a former Akali minister.
Bajwa is not sure whether he will contest the next elections. "I am the PPCC chief. If the top leadership starts contesting elections, who will canvass for the Congress candidates in all 13 seats?" he asked.
He has not even filed his application for the MP ticket so far.
HP hills to see aggressive campaigning
Shimla, February 13
Having suffered defeat in the 2012 Assembly elections, the Opposition BJP is hoping to bounce back by repeating its 2009 Lok Sabha poll performance when it had triumphed in three of the four parliamentary segments in Himachal. The BJP — which has the Kangra, Hamirpur and Shimla seats in its kitty — knows it is not going to be an easy task with the Congress in power in the state. The Congress, on the other hand, is hoping to improve its tally of only one seat of Mandi held by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh's wife Pratibha Singh.
During the 2009 elections, the BJP had polled 50 per cent of the votes with the Congress being a close second at 46 per cent and BSP polling two per cent only. The situation has not changed much as the principal political players will be the Congress and the BJP. The Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) that has one MLA in the state is expected to support the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, too, could make its presence felt marginally.
The stakes for the two-star campaigners Virbhadra and Dhumal are even higher. While Pratibha will be contesting the election from Mandi, Dhumal's reputation is at stake as his son, Anurag Thakur, will be contesting for the third time from Hamirpur. Pratibha is likely to be the lone woman candidate in the fray.
The Congress is plagued with infighting as there is no consensus between Virbhadra Singh and state Congress president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu on the selection of candidates. Barring Mandi from where there is single name of Pratibha Singh, Virbhadra and Sukhu are at loggerheads to get the ticket for their nominee in the remaining three. This has clearly given an advantage to the BJP, which is likely to field all its three sitting MPs. It is only in Mandi where the party is in a dilemma on whether or not to repeat Jai Ram Thakur or field someone new that a decision is yet to be taken.
Both the Congress and the BJP are taking back rebels who had either been expelled or had left the party before the 2012 Assembly polls. While the BJP has already taken back most of the senior leaders, the Congress is expected to follow suit with the Pradesh Congress Committee favouring a homecoming of expelled leaders.
The equations in Kangra seat seem to have totally changed with Shanta Kumar, who had announced his retirement from electoral politics, deciding to try his fortune once again. The Kangra seat was won by Rajan Sushant in 2009 by 20,777 votes. Now after quitting the BJP, he is all set to contest as a rebel. Shanta has won three Lok Sabha polls from here in 1989, 1998 and 1999, losing only once in 1996. It was Congress nominee Chander Kumar who won in 2004.
Traditionally, Shimla has been a Congress bastion with the BJP winning it in 2009 when Varinder Kashyap trounced Congress nominee Dhani Ram Shandil, who had earlier won as Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) candidate in 1999 and as Congress nominee in 2004. Hoping to cash on Virbhadra's popularity in the three districts of Shimla, Solan and Sirmour, the Congress is confident of wresting the seat. Congress MP Krishan Dutt Sultanpuri won this seat six consecutive times from 1980 to 1998.
The Congress seems to be pretty confident in Mandi where the BJP's is still searching for a formidable candidate. While Virbhadra won the seat with a slender margin of 14,000 in 2009, his wife repeated the feat with a convincing margin of 1.36 votes in the bypoll held in June 2013 after he became Chief Minister. Prior to this, the Mandi seat was represented by former Communication Minister Sukh Ram in 1985 and 1994. Maheshwar Singh, who now heads the Himachal Lokhit Party won it thrice in 1989, 1998 and 1999.
Anurag Thakur, a two-time young MP, is toiling to hit a hatrick as the Congress is working overtime to make him bite the dust. He made his successful political debut in a bypoll in 2008 after his father quit after becoming Chief Minister. He repeated the feat in the 2009 polls when he won by 72,732 votes. Dhumal has won three parliamentary elections from Hamirpur in 1989, 1991 and 2007.
There are a total of 47.39 lakh voters in the state with the number of women being a little less than half at around 22.84 lakh. The four Lok Sabha segments have 17 Assembly constituencies each with Mandi being the largest in terms of area while Kangra has the highest number of voters.
Kolkata, February 13
Joint Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal Saibal Barman said the raise was effected in 2011 and came in force for Lok Sabha by-elections ever since. "But for the first time it will be effective in the General Elections this time," he said.
He said contestants for Lok Sabha seats were allowed to spend a maximum Rs 25 lakh for electioneering purpose in 2009. "However, different political parties are still not happy as they demanded further rise of this ceiling of poll expenditure for the coming Lok Sabha polls during a meeting with the Election Commission in Delhi in last week of January," Amit Roy Chowdhury, Officer on Special Duty (OSD), Poll Expenses, in the EC office here said.
Chowdhury said the Commission was also stepping up its surveillance against poll expenses by candidates. "The EC will deploy Flying Squad (FS), Static Surveillance Team (SST) and Video Surveillance Team (VST), which will work under Expenditure Observers appointed by the Commission," he said.
The observers would also help create awareness against misuse of poll expenses, while a campaign would also be launched through media, he said.
Talking about the probable date for the Lok Sabha polls notifications, Barman said the election body was scheduled to hold a meeting of all CEOs in Delhi on February 20 in this regard.
"The Lok Sabha poll-2009 was notified on March 1, but we are yet to receive any indication from the Commission," Barman said, as speculation went up about notification of the Lok Sabha poll-2014 taking place by the end of this month or the first week next month.
"Model Code of Conduct will be in force immediately with the announcement," Chowdhury said. The CEO office is mulling over holding a meeting with all recognised political parties in the last week of February, he said.
Simultaneously, the CEO would also hold a meeting with the representatives of the media, they said.
As Opposition Congress and BJP has demanded deployment of central forces in West Bengal from the date of notification to create a conducive atmosphere for Lok Sabha polls, the EC has maintained that it would depend on the availability of such forces, though all options are open.
“Polls will be held throughout the country. Such deployment will depend on the availability of central forces. But all options are open," Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi said. — PTI
STOCK-TAKING: Mirza Mehboob Beg aNANTNAG
Says will ask voters to compare his work with his predecessors and rate him on performance
Tribune News Service
Srinagar, February 13
He has reportedly spent much of the funds granted to him in his home town, Anantnag Assembly constituency, ignoring most parts of his parliamentary constituency.
Beg, 64, youngest of the four parliamentarians from Kashmir division, also spoke the least during the 15 sessions of Lok Sabha held in last five years, asking only 26 questions as compared to the national average of 292 and state average of 95.
Beg was elected to the state Legislative Assembly from Anantnag in 2002 and lost to PDP's Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in 2008. He was elected to the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009 after he defeated PDP candidate Peer Mohammad Hussain by 5,224 votes.
A trained doctor who has had a lifetime association with National Conference, Beg wants to be judged on his performance. "I will ask voters to look at what I have done during my tenure and compare it with my predecessor. Compare my five years with theirs’ (opponents’)," Beg told The Tribune.
Since PDP's formation in 1999, South Kashmir has remained its stronghold and its patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and president Mehbooba Mufti have represented the area's constituencies in the state Assembly and Parliament.
The PDP has already announced that its president will contest the upcoming parliamentary elections from Anantnag, which will put Beg's performance during the last five years to the test. Beg is National Conference's nominee for the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha.
Beg says he has "fully utilised" the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds to upgrade electricity infrastructure and health services. "I helped upgrade four district hospitals and other hospitals along the highway with better equipment and facilities," he said.
“There were no power generators in hospitals. From my MP funds, I arranged this facility in all district hospitals," Beg said.
Beg said nearly 250 electricity transformers were also installed in his constituency with MPLAD funds. "Test me on my performance," he challenged.
Anantnag parliamentary constituency, which includes 16 Assembly segments, had 11.76 lakh electors during the 2009 elections, out of which 27.10 per cent exercised their franchise. Of the 16 constituencies, 12 are represented by the PDP.
According to the official website, Beg was entitled to Rs 19 crore, out of which Rs 18.98 crore was sanctioned with a utlisation percentage of 83.33.
Beg received Rs 4 crore in 2009-10 and 2010-11, and Rs 10 crore in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
As many as 357 development works, under Beg's Local Area Development funds, were recommended in Anantnag, 30 in Bijbehara, 23 in Kokernag, four in Devser, 12 in Dooru, 22 in Pulwama, 20 in Kulgam, 17 in Shangus, 17 in Shopian, three in Homeshali Bugh and two in Pahalgam. The figures show an imbalance in expenditure of funds as most of the works have been recommended in Beg's hometown Anantnag.
Out of 115 works sanctioned in 2009-10, 107 have been completed, 68 out of 80 sanctioned in 2010-11 have been completed, 56 out of 146 in 2011-12 are complete and 11 out of 164 sanctioned in 2012-13 are complete, according to official documents.
Performance in Parliament
According to PRS Legislative Research, an independent research initiative of New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, Beg's attendance during the 15th Lok Sabha has been 84 per cent, higher than the national average of 76 per cent, while he has participated in 55 debates, also higher than the national average of 36.8.
However, Beg asked only 26 questions as an MP, which is lower than the national average of 292 questions. The questions which Beg asked during his five years as a parliamentarian were on passport issue clearance, declaring Srinagar airport as an international airport, dialogue with Kashmiri groups, airport facility in Anantnag and setting up a medical college in South Kashmir.
In 2009, Beg also asked the Information and Broadcasting Ministry whether or not the government had issued any guidelines to select (or) allot TV serials (and) programmes. PDP's Peer Mohammad Hussain, who lost the 2009 elections from Anantnag constituency, however, remains unimpressed with Beg's performance.
Hussain said: “He has been my rival and also my friend, but I neither saw him working anywhere nor coming to the rescue of anyone. If I heard his name in the past five years, it was only in Anantnag. Outside Anantnag in 15 constituencies, I never heard his name.”
Beg, who last month toured several areas of his constituency, said: “Let people take a call. I will reach out to them and tell them how I had utilised the funds for their benefit and how I performed in Parliament."
He said among the major issues which he had raised during his tenure were regarding tourism, political stability in the state, recommendation of working groups and interlocutors.
“I made an effective representation of the Kashmir issue in Parliament. Nobody from South Kashmir has ever done it so effectively and aggressively," he added.
SC relief for Sushma in election case
New Delhi, February 13
A Bench comprising Justices SS Nijjar and AK Sikri also issued notice to Raj Kumar Patel, a former state minister and Congress leader who has filed the election petition, seeking his response within four weeks to the BJP leader's plea.
Swaraj has come to the Supreme Court challenging the HC's rejection of her plea against entertaining the election petition. The BJP leader had contended that Patel, whose grievance pertained to non-acceptance of his nomination paper for the 2009 Lok Sabha election in Vidisha, had no right to challenge her election. Only those who had contested the election in the constituency could challenge the election result, she maintained.
Patel's counsel opposed Swaraj's plea, but the SC rejected it, observing that he did not bother to pursue his case in the HC for five years.
The HC had recently reserved its verdict in the case after watching a video recording relating to the filing of nominations in Vidisha.
Patel claimed his nomination was not accepted though he had reached the office of the returning officer in time.
Chennai, February 13
Asked if it was true that there was a possibility of a DMK-Congress-DMDK alliance, he said: "The media is trying to do it. There are no indications of such an alliance getting formed. A situation leading to such formation has not arisen." DMK had been openly wooing the DMDK, headed by actor-politician Vijaykant, for an alliance, but the latter was yet to make clear his choice.
Before leaving for Tiruchirappalli for the party conference on February 15 and 16, Karunanidhi said: "There is no question of making changes to an alliance that has [already] been formed." DMK has already finalised alliance with the Indian Union Muslim League, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, Manithaneyaneya Makkal Katchi, and Puthiya Tamizhagam. On winnability, he wondered if his party would fight polls without expecting victory. — PTI