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Capital Matters

Capital Grapevine   

Virendra Kapoor

A huge Rs. 4,500 Cr scam, but conspiracy of silence by politicians and media

The new leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, Vijay Wadettiwar, -- the old leader left for BJP and is now a minister in the  Devendra Fadnavis Government  --- a few days ago did something not expected of  a  Congress leader. He publicly alleged that the Ambani-owned Reliance Jio had duped the State Government of Rs. 4,500 Cr. Yes, four thousand five hundred crores. This report appeared in Mumbai Mirror, the large selling afternoon paper of the Times of India Group, on July 13th.

  Incidentally, neither the Times of India nor any other paper of significance reported the charge, though the media is free to report fully the proceedings of the State and national legislatures. And, mind you, the above report was based on what the Leader of the Opposition said on the floor of the State Assembly.

Yet, no other politician took note of it. Of course, there was no question of Wadettiwar’s senior leaders raking it up in Parliament. What if true, is without doubt, a huge scam. Worse, the media which jumps at the minor and not-so-minor scams of politicians too ignored it. The conspiracy of silence only spotlights the double standards of the media --- it is ready to abuse the people in government for even a well-meant restraint on its wayward or fraudulent conduct but chooses to look the other way when corporate houses are accused of  broad-daylight loot and plunder.

“The Congress leader made the allegation during the discussion on the budget in the State Assembly. The LoP said three years ago, Jio gave handsets to consumers by taking a deposit amount. Then the company had said that the deposit amount would be refunded to the consumers after three years. However, the said amount has not been returned. If they had sold the handsets instead of taking a deposit, they would have had to pay 12.5 percent tax to the government,” Wadettiwar was quoted in the above report.

Further, he went on to say that “the company has cheated the government of Rs. 4,500 Cr. The Government should recover the tax amount.”

Yeah, you have some hope of making corporate dons accountable. Who will pay for your elections which cost tens of thousands of crores? But the question is why is the entire media  silent? Whatever happened to the warriors of the freedom of the press who can be seen daily ranting and raving against the Modi government for this or that infringement of their constitutional right to report, inform and analyze national and international affairs? Is it because most of them drink from the same trough which politicians, including, of course, those of the ruling party, draw sustenance?

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Karnataka mischief handiwork of a senior Congress leader

Why should anyone be surprised at the on-going meltdown in the Congress Party? When the Centre crumbles, the branches are bound to feel the tremors. But we seem to have forgotten how early last month twelve of the eighteen Congress MLAs had crossed over to the Telengana  Rashtriya Samithi. And we are told of the remaining six, some are looking at the BJP as their next abode, with one of them describing the Congress as a `sinking ship.’  In Goa, ten of the fifteen are now in BJP, with the leader of the defectors assured of the deputy chief minister’s post.

But it is in Karnataka where the big game is afoot. It has its roots in the Congress’s top leader, Siddaramaiah. He never took kindly to the foisting of HD Kumaraswamy as chief minister, especially when he had quit the JD(S) against him being nominated by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda as his successor, and not Siddaramaiah who had set his gaze on the chief minister’s post. Even when the Congress hurriedly ceded the CM’s post to  Kumaraswamy in order to keep BJP out, though the latter was short of the half-way mark  by a mere six seats, Siddaramaiah had indicated at the time that the alliance was necessitated by the then forthcoming Lok Sabha election. It was an unjust arrangement that the JD(S) tail with 36- seats should wag the Congress which had won more than double the JD(S) tally.

However, the main inspiration for the cross-over from the ruling alliance to the BJP came after the total wipe-out of the JD(S)-Congress alliance. Of the 28 seats in Karnataka, the JD(S) managed to win a lone seat. Zero was the Congress score. This coupled with Siddaramaiah’s encouragement is the main cause for the churn in the Karnataka politics. Some of the Congress MLAs headed for the BJP are his close associates. Despite the Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar resorting to all sorts of stratagems to pronounce the resignations, there is no way the uneasy coalition which has survived on edge from the day it was formed thirteen months ago can survive any longer. BJP holds all the winning cards.

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Rumblings in media over new restraints

The capital-based media is up in arms against the ban on accredited journalists from entering North Block which houses the key Ministry of Finance. Probably, its grievance is justified. Why should bona fide journalists without an iota of dishonesty in their bones, be penalized for the racketeering of others who misuse the PIB accreditation to liaison and to fix appointments for their rich clients? They are essentially touts, not journalists and must be weeded out.  But an outright ban is wholly uncalled for. Press plays an important role in any democratic system. And it is not that it is always animated by hostility towards the incumbent government. Even anti-BJP newspapers and TV channels feel obliged to take note of major governmental decisions and announcements. So, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Thoroughly screen the list of accredited news persons and oust those against whom you find credible evidence of wrong-doing.

Meanwhile, we hear that there could be a blanket ban on the entry of journalists to the Central Hall of Parliament as well.  Of course, not unlike government offices, the Great Hall of Gossips too teems with fishy journalists who have somehow got PIB accreditation by dint of sheer number of years they have had this door-opener card. They are invariably there to hustle ministers and MPs to do favours for their clients or to attend a function in the family or to simply grant liberal DAVP ads for the media group they are accredited to  .

There being no limits on the power of patronage, some journalists think nothing of ingratiating themselves openly in the Central Hall. They too should be barred but a number of them who use this freedom to meet politicians to better understand and analyze news events and policy purpose and direction ought to be spared the axe. If you ask me, everyone in the media and the political world fully knows the identity of `serious’ journalists interested only in their professional work. We don’t know how the weeding out process can be evolved so that it meets the test of judicial scrutiny. But evolve it must -- especially if the rumour of a blanket forfeiture of journalists cards for entry to Central Hall is true.