Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is getting the rap for the high tax in this year’s Budget on the super-rich. But Sitharaman may be merely a scapegoat for what was essentially a political decision. It is believed that the BJP top leadership pushed for the richest Indians to be taxed higher, even though Finance Ministry officials fought against the proposal, pointing out that this would send wrong signals to the business community and stall foreign and domestic investment. The leadership seems to have been inspired by Indira Gandhi, who, half a century ago, enforced bank nationalisation and abolished privy purses to demonstrate to the poor that the government would not spare the rich.
The government’s success in getting through amendments to the RTI Act and passing the triple talaq Bill, despite the BJP’s lack of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, is at least partly due to the tireless efforts of party general secretary Bhupendra Yadav, who is Amit Shah’s right-hand man for floor coordination. Yadav was in constant touch not just with BJP MPs but with parliamentarians from other parties. Which was why he displayed supreme confidence several days before the Bills were taken up in the House. Yadav, a Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan, is one of four MPs from the state who played an important role in the smooth functioning of Parliament this session. The others in the Rajasthan quartet are: Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, BJP whip in the Upper House Narayan Lal Panchariya and MoS for Parliamentary Affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal.
The BJP is veering round to the view that to abrogate Article 35(A) of the Constitution, which allows the J&K Legislature to define permanent residents of the state, getting through an amendment in Parliament is not necessary. It can be done simply by an executive order by the Law Ministry, in conjunction with the Home Ministry. Even a Cabinet approval is not required. The legal opinion given to the Narendra Modi government is that the amendment itself is illegal since it was passed merely by a Presidential Order in 1954, when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister. (A PIL has already been filed in the Supreme Court along these lines.) However, the government may delay taking any action on Article 35(A) until after the Jammu and Kashmir elections, which could be held simultaneously with the Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly polls.
Usually, key jobs in the President’s secretariat are co-terminus with the President’s tenure. But in the case of the low-key Ram Nath Kovind, his press secretary Ashok Malik and his joint secretary Bharat Lal quit Rashtrapati Bhavan last month after two years in the job. Both men were reportedly handpicked by the PMO to assist Kovind at the start of his tenure. Malik is keen to return to journalism and work at the Observer Research Foundation, while Lal has already joined as Additional Secretary in the Water Ministry, a ministry in which the PM takes special interest. Lal was Modi’s point person in Delhi during his years as Gujarat Chief Minister.
Out of closet
The absence of so many opposition MPs during the passing of the triple talaq Bill in the Rajya Sabha was because of a secret understanding between the BJP and party bosses of allies AIADMK and JD(U) that their MPs would walk out of the House. While the BJD came out in support, parties such as the BSP, TDP and TRS did a no-show. Some degree of arm-twisting was evident in the exercise with most politicians apprehensive of Central government agencies. But the absence of six of the 12 Samajwadi Party MPs and both the PDP MPs was not because of a call from their leaders but because the BJP reached out to individual MPs directly. In fact, except for the BJP, Congress and Trinamool Congress, parties do not generally issue whips since they do not want to reveal the cracks in their camp. Sanjay Sinh from the Congress came out of the closet on voting day and others could follow suit. The absence of four Congress MPs was also puzzling.
Pulling no punches
Mary Kom is an unattached nominated MP and hence under no obligation to follow any whip or support the government. Just before the triple talaq Bill was to be taken up in the Rajya Sabha, a senior Central minister spied the sportswoman, nominated by the Modi government, quietly leaving the House. He quickly stopped her and reminded her of the important vote ahead. Kom tried to excuse herself, explaining that she had a sports practice scheduled, but the minister was adamant and even made BJP office-bearers speak to her. In contrast, senior lawyer K T S Tulsi, nominated by the UPA government, was not present during voting.