Congress leader and sometime rebel Shashi Tharoor met the incumbent Congress President Sonia Gandhi recently, and has apparently got her “nod” to contest the party’s presidential polls slated for 17 October. This line itself is pretty revelatory about how the Congress runs, if candidates need the High Command’s nod to throw their hat in the ring. Having said this, the said nod could lead to the party’s first election (as opposed to a selection) in over two decades. The buzz is that Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot may also be contesting, and if he does, he will have the Gandhis’ blessings along with the official “nod”. However Gehlot is not too keen to relinquish his current job so his candidature is still a work in progress. In the meantime, we have state unit after state unit issuing resolutions asking that Rahul Gandhi should step in as the party chief. Rahul, however, has not shown any interest to ride this Trojan horse as he treks across South India, taking part in boat races and selfie sprees with a public that seems ready to engage. Clearly, before a takeover, he has a makeover to do.
Shashi Tharoor’s candidature has stirred media interest for he always makes news, both domestically and internationally, both in the mainstream media and on social media. He certainly knows how to coin the right phrase, but what the Congress needs right now is not just an articulate voice but also a strategist’s mind.
While Tharoor does not have enough experience to craft a Congress comeback, he could stymie the exodus and build the optics of a party trying to do the right thing. For there is little doubt that whether it is Tharoor or Gehlot as the party chief, the Gandhis will remain in control. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is already handling organisational affairs from an office at Ten Janpath with K.C. Venugopal, General Secretary (Organisation) and a key Rahul aide by her side, while Rahul is busy with his Bharat Jodo yatra. In the meantime, they need someone to fill the gap and both Tharoor or Gehlot will fill the billboard quite nicely.
Sonia Gandhi has come a long way after P.V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri tried to hijack her husband’s party. She will put in enough checks and balances to ensure that whoever wins the election is not given a free hand and will also be aware that this is a temporary placement.
Given that this is the job criteria, Tharoor may fit the vacancy better than Gehlot, for the former is not an organisational man. Like Dr Manmohan Singh, he is a professional with global recognition and has a life beyond party affairs (think of all those Lit Fests and seminars that would be lost without the Tharooresque presence).
Gehlot, on the other hand, may not have the ambition to take over the party, but he has enough organisational connect and street smarts to feed an inclination if it strikes him at any point. Yet the Gandhis trust him more than Tharoor for don’t forget that the latter is part of the G-23 group.
Moreover, they need Gehlot to shift to Delhi so that Rajasthan can be handed over to Sachin Pilot as has been promised to the young turk by Priyanka. The catch here is that it not easy to make Gehlot do something he doesn’t want to.
And he clearly does not want to see Sachin succeed him in Rajasthan. All in all, it’s not going to be an easy ship to steer but at least, the Congress making some moves instead of anchoring in very shallow waters.
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At last, Asha Parekh, a woman actor conferred the Dada Saheb Phalke Award
The long wait has ended and the Centre after many years decided to honour a woman actor for her life-long achievements to the celluloid world. Asha Parekh, yesteryear’s heartthrob who made her debut as a teenager in Nasir Hussain’s Dil Deke Dekho’ was finally conferred the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award. Asha Parekh has acted in multiple block-busters and her movies were known for their outstanding musical scores. She paired with some of the most popular male actors of her time and was regarded as a big box-office draw. In real life also, she had innumerable fans and as the story goes, a Delhi based Industrialist was so smitten by her that he would send car loads of flowers in his air conditioned Toyota to Jaipur every day where the actor was shooting for a film. A well-known politician of the 1970s was also amongst her greatest fans and never made any attempt to conceal his admiration for her. Asha Parekh’s most famous starrers include Mere Sanam, Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, Teesri Manzil, Kati Patang and Caravan. It is significant to note that there are many other women actors whoso contribution to the world of cinema are second to none and should in the future be considered for the same award which was first won by Silver Screen’s first lady, Devika Rani. Kamini Kaushal at 97 is the oldest living actor from Bollywood perhaps. There is Waheeda Rehman, who was known both for her histrionics as well as her charm. She is amongst the very few women actors who paired with Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, the big three of her time, besides doing some memorable roles for Guru Dutt films. Vyjantimala is another big star who was considered one of the most exceptional dancers of her time. Her performances in multiple films,Sangam,’ Suraj’ ,Amarapali’ and `Jewel Thief’ are deeply etched in the minds of her innumerable fans. There is Mala Sinha, who was known for her musical timings and starred in few of the biggest block busters of her time. She featured in Guru Dutt films as also for B.R.Chopra and starred opposite Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor in several films. Helen, the dancing sensation, who on many occasions overshadowed all her co-stars is another name which needs to be considered besides a whole lot of others from the regional cinema. In the past, many male stars have been conferred the honour, more for their proximity to the powers that be, rather than for their contribution to Cinema. This should not ever happen and only the best should be honoured. Interestingly, three members of the Kapoor family have won this award and all of them—Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor were deserving winners though Shammi Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor fans felt cheated that they did not get this honour. Asha Parekh had a long innings in the film industry and should be congratulated by her fans and movie-goers. One hopes that more women are bestowed the Dada Saheb Phalke award in the future.
The reason Mahatma Gandhi travelled third class
On this Gandhi Jayanti on 2 October, also known as the International Day of Non-Violence following a 2007 resolution passed by the UN General Assembly, let’s pause to remember the Mahatma in a less serious, almost light-hearted fashion.
Anyone familiar with Gandhi’s life and writings would know that he possessed a great sense of humour, and he also did not mind it overmuch when others made fun of him. On a certain occasion, Sardar Patel called him a true ‘bania’ when despite being unwell, he got up from his sick bed in order to meet with industrialists who came to attend an event with the idea of making a possible financial contribution to the coffers of the Indian National Congress. Gandhi, the Sardar joked, had been roused because the ‘bania’ in him at once caught the scent of money.
The Mahatma had a witty side to his personality and once remarked that he would have committed suicide long ago if he did not have a sense of humour. In 1931, he met King George V, grandfather of the recently deceased Queen Elisabeth at Buckingham Palace. Gandhi was dressed in his usual simple and modest attire, and after his meeting he was asked by a correspondent if the king had anything to say about his attire. ‘What could he say?’ joked the Mahatma. ‘He was wearing enough for the two of us.’
Sometimes though, Gandhi was also unintentionally humorous. The image of goat’s milk being brought in for him from the palace kitchen while King George V sipped tea in his study, still makes us smile. It would considerably humanise the Mahatma and make him more relatable to the younger generation, were more to be written about these aspects of his personality. Experts on Gandhi, and others who claim to have been influenced by him, should consider writing a book on him specially targeted at children and young adults.
An example of unintentional humour can be found within the pages of Hind Swaraj. Gandhi is determining how to respond to an imaginary situation where a robber has entered his home and he pauses to consider the possibility that the thief was his father.
‘I fancy,’ he writes, ‘that I should pretend to be sleeping whether the thief was my father or that strong armed man.’
At this point, a reader might imagine that Gandhi would pretend to be sleeping in the case of his father owing to traditional Indian reverence for the elderly. After all, how distressing would it be to find one’s own father a thief, and that too in one’s own house! This is not at all what the Mahatma means to say, however.
‘The reason for this,’ he writes, with unintentional humour, ‘is that my father would also be armed.’
Gandhi does not explain anywhere why he is so certain that his father ‘would also be armed’ but the observation raises a chuckle in the mind of the reader.
The humour exists partly because Gandhi has reversed the unexceptional scenario where a son tries to rob or steal from his father. In today’s times it would surprise no one, if a son stole money from his father, especially if he was young and short of money. In a lighter vein, and without in any way endorsing theft, in families and nations where there has been advancement in women’s rights, daughters too may steal from their fathers and even mothers – although such progress in gender equity may be considered highly dubious.
A second reason why the example given by the Mahatma’s tickles the funny bone is because of the image it conjures up. Eventually, Gandhi came to live in such simplicity that even a robber would have felt ashamed and turned away. This is, after all, the man, who was eco-friendly much before it became fashionable, who used a pencil till the very end, rather than throw it away when it became less comfortable to grip. Rather than buy a new pair of frames for a pair of damaged spectacles, the Mahatma would carefully consider, much before the concept became a management buzzword, if any ‘jugaad’ was possible by tying some string. A hypothetical robber may have departed Gandhi’s home with a feeling of pity, and even considered leaving a brand-new pencil to replace the pencil stub the Mahatma made do with.
Unintentional humour apart, Gandhi’s discussion of non-violence in Hind Swaraj is simple, yet brilliant. What stands out in his analysis is that there is no one size fits all solution he advocates while using nonviolence. He would handle a robber differently if he were unarmed and differently if he were armed. He would also handle a robber differently if he and the intruder were somehow related, such as when the intruder happened to be his father.
If you stop to think of it, given our shared cultural heritage with Pakistan, in the violence that followed the terrible Partition of 1947, which broke the Mahatma’s heart, brother was pitted against brother, father against son, and vice versa, so perhaps Gandhi’s example should be taken in that context. Warfare between groups who share ethnicity, culture, language and religion often takes place whenever nations break up anywhere in the world, and also when neighbours go to war.
Closer to present times, millions of ethnic Russians who are citizens of Ukraine, are embroiled in the present conflict with the Russians. There too brother is pitted against brother, and father against son, and there does not appear, thus far, to be any end in sight. Leaving aside the issue of cultural, ethnic and other affinities, are all humans not brothers and sisters in a sense? Even if we discount the biblical Adam and Eve story, many scientists believe we all descended from a common African ancestor.
To come now to the reason why Gandhi travelled third class. Ostensibly, it was to express solidarity with the poor and downtrodden. His own response, though, to a reporter’s question on the issue was: ‘Because there is no fourth class.’
(Rajesh Talwar is an author of 34 books across multiple genres. He has worked for the United Nations for over two decades across three continents in numerous countries.)
The emblem debate and new India
With this verdict, the Supreme Court, with a single stroke of the pen, also laid to rest frivolous allegations by many in the Opposition who had alleged that the Modi government had changed the character and nature of the said Lions.
On 30 September 2022, the Supreme Court dismissed a plea by two lawyers who had moved the Court, saying the Lions in the bronze cast atop the roof of the new Parliament building were deliberately designed to be “ferocious and aggressive”.
“It all depends on how you look at it,” said a bench of Justices M.R. Shah and Krishna Murari. “It cannot be said that the State Emblem of India installed in the Central Vista project is in violation of the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005.”
With this verdict, the apex court, with a single stroke of the pen, also laid to rest frivolous allegations by many in the Opposition, including likes of Jairam Ramesh who had alleged that the Modi government had changed the character and nature of the said Lions. Remember, the Congress called the “deviation” in the design, an “insult” to the Emblem. Thankfully, the apex Court called out the bluff of these propagandists.
Sunil Deore and Romiel Moses, who designed the 9500 kg bronze Emblem, have categorically said that there is “no deviation” in design. “We’ve paid attention to detail. The character of Lions is the same. There may be very minor differences. People may have different interpretations. It is a large statue, and a view from below may give a distorted impression,” Deore said. It is obvious that the new structure which is at a height of 33 metres from the ground, compared to the original structure which is almost at ground level, will look much bigger in dimension. Does the law of the land permit the government to amend the national Emblem? The relevant law to be considered with regard to the State Emblem would be the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005, and the State Emblem of India (Regulation of Use) Rules, 2007, which specifically deal with State Emblems. The schedule of the Act states that the State Emblem of India is an adaptation from the Sarnath Lion Capital of Asoka which is preserved and shall conform to the designs as set out in Appendix I or Appendix II.
Section 6(2)(f) of the same Act further, specifically states, “Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Central government shall have powers to do all such things (including the specification of design of the emblem and its use in the manner whatsoever) as the Central government considers necessary or expedient for the exercise of the foregoing powers.” Therefore, to cut a long story short, as advocate Radhika Roy, lawyer at the Delhi High Court, says, the 2005 Act, grants the Central government the power under Section 6(2)(f) ato institute changes in the specification of the design of the Emblem which is described and specified under the schedule and regulate manner of its use. The only caveat is that, the State Emblem of India must conform to the designs set out in Appendix I or II. Roy adds, “What flows from this is that not only does the Central government have the power to stipulate the specification of the design of the Emblem, but there is nothing that prevents the Central government from changing the State Emblem completely by way of an amending Act. That is, of course, subject to approval by both the Houses, but at any point of time, some of the national symbols can be changed at discretion of the legislature. Basically, the law authorised the Central government to regulate the use of the Emblem, subject of course to some caveats. Hence the hue and cry by the Opposition, even from a legal stand-point, is nothing but mere noise from an electrically debilitated group, that is desperately trying to gain relevance after being booted out in election after election, by the electorate.
“The Emblem atop the new Parliament is meant to be viewed from at least 100 metres away.” In a series of tweets, Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister, Hardeep Puri, further added that one needed to appreciate the impact of “angle, height and scale when comparing the two structures” as the standalone Emblem atop the new Parliament building is 6.5m tall, while the original is only 1.6m in length. He added that there will be no difference in design if the Sarnath Emblem was to be scaled up or the Emblem on the new Parliament building is reduced to that size. Except for the size, the adaptation of the Emblem is an exact replica.
The first big construction in the Parliament complex took place post 1970. Then President of India, V.V. Giri laid the foundation of the Parliament Annexe Building on August 3, 1970. But the Sansadiya Soudha building was eventually inaugurated by then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, on 24 October 1975.
The second big construction in the Parliament complex, too, had the Prime Minister of the day occupying the center stage. On August 15, 1987, PM Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation of the Parliament Library building. To cut a long story short, there have been umpteen instances in the past, where neither the Speaker nor the President, but it is the Prime Minister of the day, who has unveiled portraits, monuments, statues, buildings et al. Going by past convention therefore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with PM Modi inaugurating the cast of the Emblem atop the new Parliament building. Articles 74 and 75 of the Indian Constitution give sweeping powers to the PM with respect to a wide variety of functions. Similarly, Articles 93,94,95 and 96,talk about powers of the Speaker. Reading all these “Articles” parallely, give ample reason to believe that PM Modi was absolutely right in unveiling the new Emblem. As for the Lions in the new Emblem looking aggressive and not gentle, suffice to say that the Opposition’s mendacity on this issue has been embarrassing. Lions roar, they do not meow. Lions are meant to be fierce, fearless, determined, invincible and majestic; they defend their territory against predators with characteristic fortitude and unwavering zeal. For decades, under a decadent Congress Party, India could not harness its true potential, shackled by a timid & imperialist mindset. The Lion Emblem atop the new Parliament building is therefore, in many ways, a symbol of “New India”, whose majestic rise under the fearless and indefatigable PM Narendra Modi, is unstoppable.
Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’.
Unlike U.S., Indian Supreme Court upholds Women’s Rights for Abortion
In a landmark judgment on Thursday, the Supreme Court provided enormous relief to all women, upholding their right to medically terminate their pregnancy, if they so willed. This is in sharp contrast to what happened in the United States, a few months ago where the Supreme Court of that country reversed the Roe vs Wade ruling of 1973, thereby making abortion illegal in several states. This ruling was described as regressive by women groups there and several protests were held in multiple cities of the country, which is looked up to by people around the world for freedom of individual rights. Roe was the legal pseudonym of Norma McCorvey, a 22-year old mother of two children, who wanted to medically terminate her foetus of the third child, which was the result of her rape. The Texas court had decided in Norma’s favour and against the pleadings of Wade, who was the Attorney General. The US Supreme Court reversed this decision. The Indian Apex court while providing a detailed interpretation of who all were legally eligible for an abortion, also included in its decision, the right of even single women to go in for abortion, if they so wished. The Supreme Court also made very significant observations regarding marital rape and held that it was not legal, thus leaving the wider interpretation open for the future. This is the first time that the highest Court of the land, has talked about marital rape and has stated that any pregnancy caused because of force or pressure by the husband, came under the purview of an abortion, if it was against the will of the wife. The historic judgment widely welcomed by women rights activists seeks to tilt the balance in favour of pro-choicers as against pro-lifers. Many religions do not permit abortion and it is considered to be a sin, if a woman chooses to terminate her pregnancy. However, there is no ambiguity in the Supreme Court order which seeks to give the women, an option to go in for abortion. In case of single women, the Court has opined that they could use their choice till the first 24 weeks. Importantly, the order shall allow women, many of them victims, to seek medical assistance at all authorized hospitals instead of risking their lives by going to quacks for the termination of pregnancy and make this act legally valid. This order can also be a boon for women in live-in relationships where their partner may try to dump them once they were pregnant. Abortion in other words would no longer be a taboo, at least constitutionally and as per the law of the land. Many women have to bear a child, even if it is known that he or she was going to be medically unfit or may suffer from some sort of physical or mental disorder following his or her birth. The order has further vindicated the faith of the common man in the topmost court and is a tribute to the wisdom of the Judges. The Order should also serve as a warning to bully husbands and overbearing in-laws who may wish to impose their will on helpless women for being pregnant a multiple-times. It is a decision which favours family planning and welfare and needs to be universally hailed.
For RBI, not much space left to be restrictive
Global externalities weigh on MPC decision
The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) expectedly raised the policy rate by another 50bps for the third consecutive time, with the repo rate now at 5.90%. The decision had a 5-1 split, with one of the members Prof. Ashima Goyal voting in favour of a 35bps hike. The supposed stance has been kept unchanged at “focus on withdrawal of accommodation”, albeit with consistent dissent from Prof Jayanth Varma, another member. The broad underlying narrative is in line with our expectations: the world order is changing, and outsized Fed hikes will lead the synchronized global monetary-tightening cycle. To that extent, global externalities and financial conditions override domestic dynamics. We had argued that the fast-evolving global dynamics and consistent repricing of Fed’s massive hikes are strong-arming Emerging Markets (Ems), indirectly pressing their assets to offer higher risk premia to the world. India has not been spared here, with concerns on the external front continuing to simmer despite easing global supply chain issues. The instability inherent with the classic EM central bank trilemma is exposed: one cannot have a stable currency, unfettered capital flows, and independent monetary policy all at the same time. This painful adjustment has also impacted RBI’s reaction function, which realised the net cost of a supposed soft signalling via a shallow hike could be higher than the explicit cost of a higher 50bps hike. Else, the avoidable noise in financial asset classes would have made the steady state equilibrium even more far-fetched.
INR and external debt pressures seem manageable
The Governor noted that INR weakness has been orderly and in the middle of the EM pack. He again asserted that INR is market determined and pre-determined by RBI, with the central bank only intervening to curb excessive volatility and anchor expectations. He also noted that of the near $70bn loss in spot forex reserves FYTD23, about 67% loss is owing to valuation changes from surging USD and higher US bond yields. This, of course, does not include the run down on forward position. He also added that the umbrella of adequacy of forex reserves continues to be strong and external financing requirements will be met comfortably.
Inflation-growth outlook little changed
The broad narrative on inflation and growth remains unchanged. The tone on the inflation assessment was cautious; the press release again highlighted the risk that sustained high inflation could unmoor inflation expectations and lead to second round effects in the medium term. Even with mild easing in input cost of production, the inflation outlook is fraught with considerable uncertainty, given the volatile geopolitical situation, global financial market volatility and supply disruptions, while demand side resilience could also keep core inflation high. The inflation forecast has been kept unchanged at 6.7% for FY23. On the growth front, the sectoral value-add should be boosted by broad-based gains in agri, industrial and services sectors, while the demand side could be buoyed by rural and urban consumption in H2FY23. However, net exports could be a drag to growth. Keeping that into consideration, the RBI cut the growth forecast to 7% with balanced risks.
RBI unlikely to go too restrictive
We think the conscious front-loading of policy rates gives the MPC some breather on shallow hikes ahead. With inflation likely to be largely in line with RBI’s estimates, today’s 50bps hike will make the ex-post forward real repo rate positive, albeit still lower than the RBI’s estimated real neutral rate of 0.8-1%. At this point, we still think that the RBI would not go too restrictive and terminal rate could hover near the estimated neutral real rates, implying not more than 50bps hikes ahead.
However, the extent of global disruption will remain key to the RBI’s reaction function ahead. The situation globally is still fluid, and macro assessments might require frequent adjustments from the policy perspective. With Banking liquidity now closer to deficit levels, and comfortably below the threshold of 1.5% NDTL (which is seen as inflation-pressing), the policy focus will now also be on to transmission of past rate hike actions, in case of some calm in global asset classes. The system liquidity may improve ahead only at the margin as government spends may be partly offset by higher currency in circulation and consistent high C/D ratios. This liquidity tightening also tantamount to another estimated 25bps+ of rate hike, implying less pressure on conventional repo hikes to take place.
Madhvi Arora is the Lead Economist with Emkay
A fine balance between external headwinds and domestic inflation
The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on expected lines increased the repo rate by 50 basis points to 5.90% with a cumulative rate hike of 190 basis points during this rate hiking cycle starting with an off-cycle 40 basis points hike in May. From the Governor’s message it was clear that the MPC was decisive to act swiftly to minimise the spillover impact of “the third major shock” of aggressive monetary policy tightening of advanced economy (AE) central banks post Covid-19 and Russia-Ukraine crisis. Increase in policy rate was needed for a few factors.
India’s retail inflation measured in terms of consumer price index (CPI) remained higher than RBI’s upper tolerance band of 6% for the eighth straight month till August 2022. Food inflation is expected to stay higher due to higher cereal prices. Wheat production got affected due to heat waves in the northern part of India earlier this year and now lower rice production during the kharif season will weigh on prices. Uneven spatial distribution of monsoon adversely impacted prices of perishable items such as tomatoes. Moreover, with the service sector getting back strong, the pricing power is coming back that could fuel inflation. Nonetheless, lower commodity and crude prices will cool off inflation a bit. These factors will keep inflation above MPC’s target of 6% for most part of FY23 and thus a 50 basis points increase in repo was appropriate.
On the growth front, India’s economy is resilient. Credit growth of SCB’s remained robust and increased by 16.2% in the earlier fortnight. GST collections remained above INR 1.4tn for the sixth consecutive month till August. Manufacturing PMI stayed resilient at 56.2 in August with increased capacity utilization in manufacturing. Service sector indicators such as rail freight traffic, domestic air passenger traffic, toll collection show strong resilience. Moreover, kharif sowing being higher by about 1.7% of normal sowing; agriculture remains resilient. Both consumption and investment demand are showing signs of traction. Vehicle sales increased by 20% in August and now on a 3-year CAGR basis up by 1.7%. The rate hiking cycle will not have a very significant adverse impact on India’s growth outlook which allows MPC to deliver bigger hikes.
Real repo rate that is adjusted for inflation is still negative and that will dwindle household savings. Gross household financial savings decreased to 10.8% in FY22 from 15.9% in FY21. It is expected that the MPC will continue to increase the repo rate to take it to neutral level to boost savings.
MPC retained its stance of “withdrawal of accommodation” despite banking system liquidity remaining in deficit on some days recently. This is the correct approach since the government is expected to spend higher on capex and subsidies, liquidity will come to the banking system and RBI will have to mop-up excess liquidity to bring it to neutral level. Government has about INR 3.5tn cash balance with RBI.
Going forward repo rate is expected to become the operating rate since eventually RBI will go in liquidity injection mode. This will see market rates moving higher across tenures. RBI is expected to continue its forex market intervention to stabilize volatility in rupee and outflow of funds. Forex reserves even though decreased but still remain favourable compared to the peer economies which gives RBI the room to do forex intervention.
(Dr. Sudarshan Bhattacharjee is currently the Principal Economist of Yubi (CredAvenue). He has 15 years of professional experience cutting across different domains like banks, ratings, regulator, think tank, etc. In his previous role he worked as a Senior Economist in ICICI Bank. Dr. Bhattacharjee has published various research papers in national and international journals. He holds a PhD from University of Mumbai)
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