Columns | Insider
Clean Bill of Health
Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has been a steadfast backer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies
10 Mar, 2023
The political and policy battles over India’s growth story continue to rage dividing experts, but Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has been a steadfast backer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies. A recent photograph of his meeting Modi underscores the government’s interest in cementing support in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, with Gates penning a lengthy note endorsing India’s Covid vaccination programme and noting that he and the prime minister have been working for years on pressing issues like climate change. Modi, said Gates, was generous with his time. Meanwhile, Modi has also been meeting ‘influencers’ from the fields of cinema, sport, business and those active on social media. He met some of them in Bengaluru recently where he is being seen with increasing frequency as the state goes to polls in a couple of months. Those he met included Rishab Shetty, the director and lead actor of the megahit Kantara, a story rooted in tribal traditions.
In the days following the big news of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction losing its claim to the name and symbol of the party, something peculiar was noticed on the hoardings that popped up in Mumbai. It started when a hoarding came up outside the residence of NCP state president Jayant Patil on his birthday, calling him a future chief minister. Days later, another hoarding, this one outside the party’s office in Mumbai’s Ballard Pier area, described NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit ‘Dada’ Pawar as a future chief minister too. Not to be outdone, a third hoarding came up almost immediately after, this time referring to Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule as chief minister-to-be. The party dismissed these hoardings as work of mischief-mongers. But each leader is known to be ambitious and believe they have the credentials to lead the party in future. The Thackeray-led faction of the Sena may be hurting but its apparent decline seems to have sparked ambitions in the ranks of its ally. While there is a sense that non-NDA leadership is up for grabs, the hoardings are another indicator of the unease in NCP over the future leadership which is also quite a problem for Pawar.
A Handpicked CWC
Congress’ plenary session in Raipur passed without elections to the Working Committee (CWC), putting paid to another key demand raised by members of the dissenting ‘G23’ group. The group has slowly fallen silent, with some like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal no longer part of Congress. Elections to at least a part of CWC were seen as a measure that would help make the party’s top deliberative body more representative and lively. But the signals that emanated prior to the plenary, with predictable arguments about how this is not the time for elections since the party needs to prepare for state and national contests, meant CWC would be entirely nominated. There are caveats on women, youth, Dalits, tribals and OBCs, comprising 50 per cent of CWC, but the panel can well be expected to be handpicked. Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, an old-style politician, certainly has an equation with most party seniors but it remains to be seen how they and other aspirants can be accommodated.
There is some early cheer ahead of what is being predicted as a hotter summer. The National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories (NFCSF) has said that the crushing season has proceeded well and a net sugar production of 334 lakh tonnes is estimated which is in addition to the almost-45 lakh tonnes being diverted for ethanol production. Gross sugar production in India is estimated to be 379 lakh tonnes. After deducting the annual local consumption of 275 lakh tonnes and taking into account opening stocks of 62 lakh tonnes at the beginning of the season—and even export of 61 lakh tonnes—there will be about 60 lakh tonnes of sugar left at the end of the current season. Why is this important? Because it will be able to meet domestic requirement of two-and-a-half to three months after October 2023, or in other words the ‘festive season’ when demand for sugar goes up and a rise in prices can make the government of the day unpopular. With elections to major states due around that time, the Centre will not have a ‘sweet tooth problem’. Meanwhile, the rabi crop has survived the vagaries of a shorter winter and official estimates point to record foodgrain and oilseeds production that will be a relief as inflation, particularly in food items, remains a key worry for the government.
A Political Letter
A letter written by a group of opposition parties protesting the arrest of former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia as a “political witch hunt” made for Page One headlines and further fuelled the debate on the role of investigative agencies. BJP has defended the government, stating that a coalition of the corrupt was protesting the action of agencies doing what they are supposed to do. Congress’ absence from the list of signatories sparked another controversy but the party, while also accusing the government of misusing agencies, has supported the CBI’s action against Sisodia. The twist in the tale is that the prime mover behind the joint letter is the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS, formerly Telangana Rashtra Samithi) which is in office in Telangana. A senior BRS leader is being investigated in the context of the Delhi liquor scandal and the party’s activism with the letter to the prime minister has hardly escaped notice for obvious reasons.
Left In the Doldrums
After the CPM-Congress tie-up failed in Tripura, Left leaders said that although the BJP vote dipped, a division in opposition votes helped the saffron outfit win. But CPM leaders have no explanation as to why their party’s tally fell and why it has not regained any traction among Bengali or tribal voters. This is not the first time that the Left-Congress electoral pact has come a cropper as it is clear that voters in Tripura had no wish to return the Marxists to office. It would seem they have not forgotten the high levels of violence and sectarian tensions along with a Leninist approach to governance. The newbie Tipra Motha Party (TMP) came second and its leader Pradyot DebBarma may be more on point when he told an interviewer that the Bengali Hindu vote has shifted towards BJP. Worrying for the Left, BJP’s Hindutva-plus-development agenda is becoming a solid vote bank for the party, reducing the prospects of CPM’s return in Tripura where it won five consecutive state polls till 2018.
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