Parl Session Starts June 17, Budget July 7

The first session of the 17th Lok Sabha will be convened from June 17 to July 26 during which the Union Budget will be presented by the new government on July 5.

Announcing this, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said the Election for Speaker will be held on June 19.

He said first two days of the session will be earmarked for members to take oath. Followed by the speakers election next day.

The President will make his customary address to parliament after elections on june 20 followed by discussion and present vote of thanks to the President.

An interim budget with a vote on account was passed during the budget of the outgoing house in February-march.

This was decided in the first meeting of the new Union Cabinet today chaired by Prime Minister Modi.


BJP Leaders Vote Of Thanks

NDA 2.0: Shah Gets Home, Rajnath Defence

BJP President Amit Shah, who has made a seamless transition from party to government, was on Friday made the new Home Minister by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who shifted incumbent Rajnath Singh to Defence and gave the crucial Finance Ministry to Nirmala Sitharaman.

Expectedly, former foreign secretary S Jaishankar has been given the coveted External Affairs portfolio which was held by Sushma Swaraj who is out of the government after she opted out of the electoral race.

Sitharaman, who was Defence Minister in the previous government, steps into the shoes of Arun Jaitley under whom she had served as Minister of State for Finance for sometime before she was made Commerce Minister with Independent Charge in the earlier years of the Modi government. She has also now been given charge of Corporate Affairs Ministry.

The portfolios were disclosed in a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique ahead of the first meeting of the Council of Ministers in the evening.

Shah, with a reputation of having delivered successive victories in elections topped by the massive majority secured in the Lok Sabha polls, was widely expected to land an important portfolio which has resulted in the shifting of Rajnath Singh, a former party president, to Defence.

The four occupants of the North and South Blocks comprising Home, Finance, Defence and External Affairs, are expected to be part of the prestigious Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) along with the Prime Minister.

Another heavyweight and a former party president Nitin Gadkari retained the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and has been given the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) in addition.

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, re-elected from Rajasthan and promoted as a cabinet minister, has been put in charge of the newly-created Jal Shakti Ministry, about which the Prime Minister had spoken during the election campaign. It has been created by reorganising the earlier Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, which was held by Gadkari in the previous government, and the addition of Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to it.

D V Sadananda Gowda, elected from Bangalore North and hailing from the dominant Vokkaliga community, has been given Chemicals and Fertilisers, a portfolio that was held for long by H N Ananthkumar, also from Karnataka, who died last year.

The new minister for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare will be Narendra Singh Tomar, who has come in the place of Radha Mohan Singh, who has been dropped. Tomar will also look after Rural Development and Panchayati Raj.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, who has now become a Lok Sabha member from Patna Sahib after defeating Shatrughan Sinha, will continue to hold Law and Justice, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology ministries.

Former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, now elected from Haridwar, has been made the new Human Resource Development Minister from where Prakash Javadekar has been shifted to Information and Broadcasting. Javadekar has also been given Environment and Forest where he had worked as a Minister of State with Independent Charge before he came to HRD.

Smriti Irani, called the ‘giant killer’ after her victory over Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, has been put in charge of Women and Child Development, held till now by Maneka Gandhi, who has been dropped. Irani also retained Textiles, which he had held earlier in the outgoing government.

Piyush Goyal has retained Railways and has been given charge of Commerce and Industry which was held by Suresh Prabhu, who has been dropped.

Harsh Vardhan has been given Health and Family Welfare, which he had held in the initial years of the Modi government. In addition, he retained Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, which he held in the previous government.

New Minister Pralhad Joshi, a third-term member from Dharwad in Karnataka, has been given Parliamentary Affairs, Coal and Mines ministries, while Mahendra Nath Pandey has been put in charge of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Former Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda, who belongs to a tribal community, has been put in charge of Tribal Affairs.

The ministers who retained their portfolios from the earlier government are Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (Minority Affairs), Thaawar Chand Gehlot (Social Justice and Empowerment), and Dharmendra Pradhan (Petroleum and Natural Gas) in addition to Steel.

The BJP allies who have joined the government have been given the same portfolios the parties had in the earlier government. Ram Vilas Paswan of LJSP got to retain Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, while Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal retained Food Processing Industries with an elevated rank as a cabinet minister. Arvind Sawant of Shiv Sena, who replaced Anant Geete, who lost the elections, has got Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprise held by Geete earlier.

Giriraj Singh, who defeated Kanhaiya Kumar of CPI in Begusarai, has been given the newly-created Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, about which also Modi had spoken during elections.

In the Ministers of State (Independent Charge) category, veteran parliamentarian Santosh Gangwar retained Labour and Employment; Shripad Naik retained AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) besides being put as MoS in the Defence Ministry.

Jitendra Singh, another MoS with Independent Charge, will continue to be in the Ministry of DoNER, PMO, Personal, Public Grievances and Pensions, and Atomic Energy and Space.

Kiren Rijiju, who was MoS Home in the earlier government, has now been given Independent Charge of Youth Affairs and Sports Ministry and will be MoS in Minority Affairs.

Rao Inderjit Singh has been put in charge of Planning, Statistics and Programme Implementation, while Hardeep Puri, who lost from Amritsar, got to retain the Housing and Urban Affairs in addition to Civil Aviation as MoS Independent Charge. He will be MoS in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

Bureaucrat-turned-politician RK Singh will continue to hold Power and New and Renewable Energy ministries as MoS Independent Charge and will be MoS in Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.

Mansukh L Mandaviya will be MoS with Independent Charge in Shipping Ministry and will be MoS in Chemicals and Fertilisers ministry.

Debutant Prahalad Singh Patel will be MoS with Independent Charge in the Ministries of Culture and Tourism.


Gandhi Or Godse – Kindly Choose One

The BJP leadership has to make a clear choice between Mahatma Gandhi and Nathuram Godse because the two are mutually incompatible

Now that dust has settled on the most contentious election India has ever had, it is time to look at a sensitive issue that cropped up during the campaign: demonization of Mahatma Gandhi and deification of his assassin, Nathuram Godse.

It is important because it has figured in public discourse in the past, even before the election and will likely recur since there seems no last word on it. It is even more important since some of the Gandhi-baiters and Godse acolytes (not necessarily the same lot) have won in the election and all belong to the party that has received an overwhelming popular mandate.

ALSO READ: Pragya Calls Godse A Patriot

It is nobody’s case that there should be no debate on the respective roles the two played and their place in India’s contemporary history. What one would hope is a bit of perspective and a semblance of grace, since Gandhi is acknowledged as the Father of independent India.

An alternative view on Gandhi’s role has always existed. His portrait in Indian Parliament’s Central Hall sits next to that of V D Savarkar, the foremost Hindutva proponent, who was tried for conspiring Gandhi’s murder, but was eventually acquitted for want of evidence.

Gandhi has been criticized for various things he did or did not, said or left unsaid during his half-a-century long public life. A decade back, for instance, then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati had derided him as a “natakbaaz” who was insincere about improving the lot of the Dalits. For her, Gandhi was and perhaps remains, a ‘manuvadi’ who only paid lip service to the Dalits’ cause.

More recently, Malawi rejected installing a Gandhi statue. In Ghana, another African nation, the one unveiled by then President Pranab Mukherjee was removed some months later because a part of the Ghanaian academia felt that Gandhi was a ‘racist’ who worked for the European colonizers and had no empathy for the black Africans.

ALSO READ: Modi 2.0 Brings In Majoritarian Agenda

If he can be criticized abroad, viewing him critically at home is fine. But the recent criticism has come couched with praise for Godse.  It is much more than just offering the other cheek for a slap as Gandhi would have advocated.

Contesting the Lok Sabha polls as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee, Pragya Singh Thakur, who has since won, triggered a firestorm when she praised the man who murdered the founder of free and democratic India. She called Godse a “deshbhakt (patriot) and will remain so forever.” Supportive statements came from more BJP candidates and members, including union minister Ananth Kumar Hegde and lawmaker Nalin Kateel. 

A hassled BJP asked Pragya to apologize which she did. It followed up by initiating disciplinary steps against other as well. Hegde claimed that he had been misquoted and that his social media handle had been hacked.

However, there’s a larger problem here pertaining to Pragya. She is currently on trial in a terrorist bombing case, on bail on health grounds. Her nomination for the election was vociferously endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. The latter called it ‘satyagrha’ against Pragya’s branding as a “Hindu terrorist” as a result of cases pending against her.

Subsequently, Modi criticised her view and said he would not be able to forgive her for it. (“Dil se kabhi kshama nahin kar paunga”). This was his rare criticism of a party nominee, and that too, during the election campaign.

ALSO READ: Watch – The Battle For Bhopal Seat

But politics is not about personal sentiment. There can be two ways of looking at Modi’s action. It could be construed as an attempt at damage control to quell protests. But Modi must also be credited with adopting during his first tenure as the prime minister some significant Gandhian ideas in the shape of “Clean India”, advocacy of toilets for everyone and protection and education for girl child. Not paying mere lip service, from his powerful office, he initiated several measures to push the schemes nationwide.  The extent of success of the two campaigns (most likely to continue in the Modi 2.0) can be debated, but not the intent behind them.  

However, Thakur is known to hold radical views. She had courted controversy earlier during the campaign by claiming that her ‘curse’ had led to the killing of Hemant Karkare, the police officer who had been interrogating her and had allegedly tortured her. Karkare was gunned down by Pakistani terrorists who stormed Mumbai in November 2008. He has since been feted and awarded and is avowedly viewed by the society as a hero. Pragya’s remarks caused universal revulsion.  

Therefore, it was untenable for Modi and Shah to defend her candidature. But then, in an election many wrongs do get righted and vice versa. One can only pose the question at this stage if Pragya will go through the trial process.

But the larger question is for the BJP to make a clear choice between Gandhi and Godse. The two are simply incompatible – which is why Godse murdered Gandhi in the first place. This is a fact of history that is recorded, investigated, tried and concluded in conviction and punishment. Nobody, not even the BJP leadership can change this since it was confessed by Godse himself, as also others who were part of the murder conspiracy.

Pragya’s candour has opened up a vital debate on the core values of Indian polity. This puts BJP in a tricky position.  Thakur has won and so have others who are part of the parliamentary party that Modi leads. Will the party act against Pragya and like-minded others?

The issue received further currency when actor-politician Kamal Haasan called Godse “independent India’s first terrorist, who was a Hindu.” It invited protests and a Tamil Nadu minister threatened to gouge Kamal’s eyes. Undoubtedly, the issue raises extreme reactions. The threatened actions go well beyond civilized discourse.

BJP is today India’s most dominant political party having just won a huge mandate to govern the nation. Its members and affiliate organisations have political beliefs. Hence, it is both important and essential for Modi and Shah to clarify the position on Gandhi and Godse, and not leave an obvious conflict hanging and festering. Doing that would stretch the thinking in opposite directions, harming both the party and the nation as a whole.

The writer can be reached at


Narendra Modi Takes Oath As 15th PM

Capping a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections, Narendra Modi, along with his Councils of Minister, on Thursday took oath as the 15th Prime Minister of India in the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The 68-year-old stalwart took oath as the Prime Minister for the second consecutive term.

Top leaders and guests were invited from around the world and across the nation to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.

President Ram Nath Kovind administered the oath of office and secrecy at the function which was attended by Heads of government and representatives from BIMSTEC countries, besides Prime Minister of Mauritius and President of Kyrgyzstan.

BJP President Amit Shah was also sworn in as a cabinet minister in the new government. Shah was the third in line, after Modi and Rajnath Singh, to take the oath, administered by President Ram Nath Kovind.

Portfolios of the new council of ministers are yet to be announced.

Speculation over Shah getting a cabinet berth was rife ever since the resounding victory of the BJP and its allies in the Lok Sabha elections. From a party worker to a cabinet minister, Shah has had a meteoric rise in the BJP.

Born in Mumbai in 1964, he was brought up at his paternal village in Maansa, Gujarat till the age of 16.

Several overseas friends of the party from 15 countries, including the US, Australia, Germany, and the UK, were also invited.

Riding high on the planks of muscular nationalism and anti-Congressism, BJP, which had won 282 seats in 2014, improved its tally by notching up 303 seats. Along with its NDA allies, the number swelled to 353 in the 543-member Lower House of the Parliament.


ED Grills Robert Vadra Again

Expressing belief in the country’s judicial system, Robert Vadra on Thursday said that he will comply with all summons by the government agencies until his name is cleared of “false allegations”.

The statement by Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law came hours ahead of his appearance before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) as a part of the probe into alleged illegal property deals.

The case is related to land grabbing in Delhi-NCR, Bikaner in Rajasthan and purchase of properties in foreign countries.

“Till date, I have deposed 11 times with questioning of approximately 70 hours. In the future also, I will cooperate as always, till my name is cleared of all false allegations and accusations. I maintain my belief in the Indian judiciary is unshakeable I have and will adhere to all summons/norms of the government agencies,” he wrote on his Facebook wall,” Vadra said in a Facebook post.

The son-in-law of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi also posted a photograph of himself alongside. Dressed in a white shirt and light green pants, Vadra stands beside a picture of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Vadra, the husband of Priyanka Gandhi, appeared before the Enforcement Directorate office in the national capital hours after he put the post on Facebook – a platform often used by him to make statements.

Wearing tinted sunglasses, Vadra was swarmed by media persons on his arrival, he, however, refrained from making any statements and made his way through with folded hands.

On May 24, the agency had requested the Delhi High Court for custodial interrogation of Vadra for questioning him about the source of funds used for the purchase of a London-based property worth 1.9 million pounds and ascertain the role of certain other people, who allegedly helped him launder the money.


BIMSTEC Invites: New Delhi's Pragmatism to the Fore

Invitation to BIMSTEC, outlines Modi government’s strategy of ignoring Pakistan and proceeding ahead with a cooperative attitude in the South Asian region

Narendra Damodardas Modi is set to be sworn in for a second consecutive term for five years as the Prime Minister of India on the 30th of May 2019 with a massive mandate from the electorate. In terms of Foreign Policy, the last term was defined by a sustained emphasis on the South Asian region through the ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy. The phrase was outlined after his invitation to the South Asian Association for Regional Coopertation (SAARC) heads of state during the inauguration of his first term.

The second inaugural ceremony will see heads of state from the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). This has significance for India’s Foreign Policy for three reasons: a) India’s stance on its immediate neighbourhood/ South Asia has been marked by tentativeness, which is set to change with continued focus under PM Modi. b) BIMSTEC members include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand which geographically and geopolitically compliment India’s Look/Act East Policy. c) China’s mammoth Belt and Road Initiative and the Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI) can be gradually countered through such steps of creating close multilateral partnerships.

The SAARC as a regional organization has regularly faced troubles in becoming a functional organization, owing to differences between India and Pakistan, its largest and most influential members which are also neighbours. To overcome this state dismal state of affairs and to avoid a situation where India’s regional ambitions become hostage to Pakistan’s nefarious designs, perhaps, a focus on BIMSTEC could be a sound strategic move.

On the one hand, India can afford to ignore Pakistan in the region and on the other, keep continuously isolating it elsewhere in the international fora on the issue of terrorism. A sustained strong willed stance on Pakistan combined with astute diplomacy can provide India with a definitive direction to its policy in the South Asian region.

The BIMSTEC has an eastward component for India. For the last 15 years and more New Delhi has indicated a shift towards the east in its foreign policy orientation, initially calling it the Look East Policy and during Modi’s first term as the Act East Policy. The BIMSTEC invitations include the geographic gateway states (Myanmar and Thailand) to South East Asia.

The long-standing cultural links with the Southeast Asian countries only enhance the strategic validity of such overtures to Myanmar and Thailand. These linkages help India’s domestic policies towards India’s Northeast as a major component of BIMSTEC is the connectivity network it is supposed to create to link the member countries. Thus, the BIMSTEC could work as an initial major step towards operationalization of the Act East policy.

Moreover, the strategic relevance of the BIMSTEC cannot be underestimated vis-à-vis the Belt and Road Initiative of China. Though the scale, scope and coverage of the BIMSTEC is smaller than that of the BRI and the MSRI, India can only match the Chinese financial capacity through investments in such ventures. In the long run, it may prove to be more effective than even the BRI and the MSRI in which projects have already faced difficulties and the Chinese intentions have come under scrutiny with allegations of ‘debt trap diplomacy’.

Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal which border India, through land or water are participating in the BRI and MSRI by allowing the Chinese to create transport infrastructure and availing hefty loans. As mentioned above, creation of a transport network, a vital aspect of the BIMSTEC can serve the important purpose of providing connectivity and cohesion in the South Asian region as well as benefit the Indian economy.

Therefore, the benefits of such gestures of inviting the BIMSTEC heads of state are many fold both for India and its neighbourhood.  This also makes geopolitical sense as majority of scholars in geostrategy have advocated for consolidation of a regional power’s position in its immediate vicinity before embarking on projection of power at a larger geographical scale say the continental scale or in the case of India, the Indian Ocean Region, which is a huge expanse.

The author earlier in the same column had indicated that ignoring the rogue neighbour’s negative work in the region and moving forward with a positive intent should be New Delhi’s approach. Invitation to BIMSTEC, outlines Modi government’s strategy of ignoring the western neighbour and proceeding ahead with a cooperative and developmental attitude in the South Asian region. It is with only such an attitude and approaches that China’s forays in the region can be overcome and path for a peaceful South Asian region can be forged.