Ajay Bhushan Pandey, chairperson of the National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA), who was recently awarded the Yashraj Bharti Samman for ethical governance for reforms in the Income Tax Department, had an interesting story to relate when he received the honour from Minister of State (MoS) for the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Jitendra Singh and Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Recalling discussions held at the highest level to make income-tax processes transparent and reduce the department’s legendary red tape, Pandey said it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had suggested that the government adopt “faceless” assessment where neither the taxpayer nor the official examining the submission knows each other’s identity. A particular income-tax submission is allotted to an officer in a randomised manner. This seemingly simple but far-reaching measure transformed income-tax assessment as it ruptured the nexus that had developed between tax officials and accountants who ‘sorted’ tax claims and penalties on behalf of their clients. Tax assessments have become faster and the number of filings is steadily rising, too. Pandey was previously finance secretary and before that he had headed the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), or Aadhaar, when the programme was facing a trial by fire in the courts. Pandey, an IIT alumnus and a PhD in computer science, donated the cash award of ₹1 crore to the PM CARES fund.
Theatres of Tomorrow
The discussion in the government and the armed forces on the difficult issue of theaterisation and integration is proceeding with some deliberation. The advantages of “jointness” are not being doubted but several aspects involving the nitty-gritty of spatial commands under one commander are being considered in a threadbare manner. The ranks in the three services sometimes play out differently, with officers from the same batch or joining date being at varying levels of seniority. There is also the ingrained regimental culture and loyalties seen to be a crucial part of Army training and its strength in times of crisis, with soldiers and officers responding to the call of duty with exceptional valour. It has been argued that theaterisation would need to proceed in a manner wherein the existing structures are integrated and not disrupted. The reforms are now being steered by CDS General Anil Chauhan who keeps a fairly low profile as compared to his predecessor late General Bipin Rawat. The need for better inter-forces communication is well-acknowledged, particularly in the context of “friendly fire” incidents, such as the one that resulted in the deaths of an Air Force chopper crew due to a missile launch a day after the IAF strike on Balakot when nerves were stretched in anticipation of retaliation. But it seems the planned theaterisation will take a little longer.
A Googly and a Self-Goal
Last week, this column had noted NCP supremo Sharad Pawar wading into the Savarkar row in a manner critical of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s disparaging comments on the Hindutva icon and freedom fighter. Pawar followed up his comments with an interview wherein he strongly disagreed with Congress and Rahul for targeting the Adani Group over its finances and alleged connections with the Union government. He said that the era of treating big business as a legitimate political target was over. It is apparent that the shrewd Maratha leader’s remarks are not random and considerably deflated Congress’ campaign against the business group and the Centre. His much-quoted interview came at a time when a tweet by Rahul Gandhi lampooning Congress dissidents as Adani supporters has left many in his party shaking their heads in disapproval of what they feel is a very flippant act. Some of those targeted in the tweet are, however, not taking things lightly. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has reminded Rahul of graft cases that dogged Congress’ first family and promised to see him in court.
A final word on the new Parliament building that is coming up fast and should be ready soon. While Congress and some other opposition parties are busy targeting the project for being a “vanity” scheme, the proposal was floated when Meira Kumar was the Lok Sabha speaker during UPA’s tenure. At the time, although the need for a modern building was acknowledged, the proposal did not gain much traction. One of the reasons, officials familiar with the events said, was concern about the project being bogged down by graft allegations at a time when UPA was battling several scams. The doubts also reflected the lack of confidence that had come to grip UPA in its second term.
A few stray videos on social media about people in Pakistan finding reasons to praise India in comparison to the situation prevailing there have attracted comment here. In a speech in Bhopal, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat said people in Pakistan were considering the Partition a mistake. The comments were followed by some discussions within saffron circles and it was felt that drawing conclusions from a handful of social media videos, and that too at a time when Pakistan was experiencing a severe political and economic crisis, might be misreading the situation. India has scrupulously avoided any comment on the situation in Pakistan even as it promptly assisted Türkiye after an earthquake struck that country. The reason is clear enough. There has been no change in Pakistan’s backing for terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and its armed forces continue to push terrorists across the LoC. More recently, the Pakistan army and ISI sought to target the Jammu region when it found that it was not achieving results in the Valley. The targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits are more evidence of Pakistan’s malevolent designs. All in all, it was felt that the Sangh Parivar should steer clear of commenting on Pakistan or seeking to reach sweeping conclusions on the basis of social media activity.
Illegals Behind UK Protests
A careful scrutiny of protests organised by Khalistan supporters, which have often turned violent, in London has revealed a curious aspect about the participants. Videos of the protesters and inputs from local Indian and Indian-origin residents indicate that many in the mobs that gather outside Indian diplomatic properties are illegals, or persons who have overstayed in the UK. The organisers of the Khalistan demonstrations work through a handful of gurdwaras where they are able to bully their way. These elements are supported by Pakistan’s ISI, which uses Khalistani leaders roosting in Pakistan to mobilise funds and logistics. Usually, people whose papers are not in order have no interest in becoming visible and prefer to stay well below the radar of the authorities. In the case of the protests in London, the profile of many demonstrators has intrigued Indian agencies. It is felt that the individuals might be highly dependent on Khalistani organisers for their residence in the UK where they use certain religious places of worship as sanctuaries. The protests, and the attendant publicity, are seen to pose a risk to Indians abroad. Indian authorities are sharing the information with their British counterparts and are being insistent on demonstrable action against the vandals.