Pinarayi Vijayan

Arnab’s arrest: And why it must concern us beyond BJP-Congress, Right-Left binaries

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

A case is filed on two deaths/suicides. The complaint is that the two deceased were driven to take the extreme step because some THREE didn’t pay up. After a while police gives up. Admits in court there is not enough evidence to incriminate the THREE. The case is closed.

A year later the case is reopened in May 2020 at state government’s behest. On November 4, 2020, that ONE is arrested. Manhandled and with policemen toting AK-47s in tow. A measure you and I would recommend for a dreaded terrorist.

But Arnab Goswami is no terrorist. He could be one in the TV news industry or for certain forces. He could have been an asset for the ruling dispensation in the Centre. You and I could be on one side or the other. But none of us would deny he is a media celebrity. Possibly the biggest name on our media firmament. It sends signals, right or wrong, across the country. It affects India’s millions and millions of citizens. If not now, then pretty soon.

I am for law to take its course. I am not here to argue Maharashtra government reopening the case. I am not too worried about Mumbai Police too. Arrests are made in India, there are courts who on the basis of evidence take a call. I am not worried too about missing Arnab Goswami in my evenings. I hardly watch him. But I have the option to go for remote. As everyone has. You want to watch him, watch him. You want to shut him out, do it.

I am not going hysterical on either of these two lines of arguments:

One says it’s a revenge for raking up Palghar, dogging the drugs-Bollywood connection, and pursuing the Sushant Singh Rajput case with relentless vigour. After months, Arnab didn’t let up on these themes. He also took Sonia’s original name with certain contempt which upset the Queen Dowager no end up. What more proof do we need against the fascist nature of present Maharashtra government when it beats up ex-soldiers, locks up ordinary citizens for social media posts and make a crane comfortable within the drawing room of a nationally acclaimed actress? And don’t we have multiple sting operations which reveal that “Arnab-would-have-no-option-but-to-commit-suicide”, such would be the ferocity from the state government? That you get Arnab and you take heat off Bollywood and Sushant Rajput?

The other side is driven to despair at Goswami not letting up on Palghar, Sushant Singh Rajput, Bollywood and Kangana Ranaut. They feel such attacks are motivated. That it’s Centre which is working overtime to sink the rather unholy alliance between Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress. They argue what’s so big about Arnab when journalists are being hauled up all around the country, including in a few BJP states.

You and I could differ. Hindus and Muslims could differ. Political parties could differ. Ideologies could differ. But there is something we must not differ. And that’s about the nature of our Republic. We won’t be a democracy if media is under a siege. There is no gain showing me International Press Index which shows India very poor in freedom of press. That India is turning fascist. If it was so, NDTV’s alleged financial scams would’ve been taken to logical conclusions. The Telegraph won’t be so openly abusive. If people were under fetters, there won’t be open threats to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, and more than just on their lives. Vilest language on social media goes unpunished.

A free media though doesn’t mean unfettered media. If Arnab is arrested or some journalist in Uttar Pradesh is, there are redressal mechanisms. One or the other would be shown up wrong. Law would take it’s call. But if you manhandle a media celebrity and bring in armed men toting Ak-47, this is more than justice pursued. This is criminal intimidation. The is State trying to send the message across: to media and to people. That even though we derive our power from you, our naked force is meant to terrify you. That if this could happen to arguably one of the 10 biggest names in the country, you could be the next.

There is no gainsaying that Mumbai Police has acted on its own accord. It’s answerable to State government who, by now, ought to have taken a public stand on the matter. I scanned the twitter-lines of Uddhav Thackeray (office), Sharad Pawar, Congress (Sonia Gandhi) and Rahul Gandhi. Blank. Shashi Tharoor? Blank. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra? Blank. Mamata, Pinarayi Vijayan, Ashok Gehlot? Blank. looked up for Shekhar Gupta and Rajdeep Sardesai. Bland. I could promise you they would be the next. And then you would go to town on the “fascism” of Modi government. And then you would be teased on your silence on Arnab Goswami. Be principled or drop the pretence.

In a jungle, might rules. Humanity was no better than jungle. But it was centuries ago. Since then, Magna Carta happened, Napoleon happened, Tocqueville happened, Voltaire happened. We all agreed to the way a society functioned. A cobbled-up state government today wants to tell us we were wrong. That a Genghis Khan or a Taimur still lives. No sir, they no longer do. Before long, your fate would be decided as its done every five years. You are too weak to fetter a billion voices. India would assert and show you your place.

Gold Scam: Vijayan’s best hope is his ex-principal secy. doesn’t turn hostile

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

If I was Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, I would be a very worried man today.

My principal secretary, M. Sivasankar, has been shown to have nexus with one Swapna Suresh (see pic) who holds the answer to the mammoth gold smuggling racket now unfolding in the state.

I mean I am in final year of my term, a good four-plus years in office now, and yet have been indifferent to gold smuggling which is more popular in the state than matadors in Spain.

My customs guys tell me the gold smuggling is doubling every year, for instance, what was 251kg seized in 2018 ballooned to 540kg last year. All my airports are competing in contraband gold hauls: Calicut (232kg), Cochin (220kg), Thiruvananthapuram (209kg) and Kannur (471kg) airports have provided a windfall in just over a year.

I mean I can fret that my opposition has chosen its moment to perfection, with state elections due in a few months, and the blow-off is to hurt my brazen projection as an honest foot soldier of my equally honest party, CPI-M, why would my voters believe me? After all, they gave me just a solitary seat out of 14 contested in the 2019 General Elections. What’s left now since Kannur, the den of contraband gold, is the constituency I am identified with.

Okay, there is merit when I say that the diplomatic baggage seized with Rs 15 crore worth of gold on Sunday was a question best answered by the UAE consulate in Kerala. But how do I now backtrack when I have publicly pronounced that Swapna Suresh was an employee on “contract” with the state IT department and the Opposition releases documents showing Swapna Suresh sending invitations to dignitaries for the “Space Conclave 2020” this January?

And my principal secretary? I mean how do I convince the people that he, Sivasankar, was a duffer acting on his own whims and fancies in stealing a job for Swapna Suresh as a business development manager in the IT department and not acting on my behest? I mean he had Swapna Suresh recommended by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the job, and the state IT department asserting Swapna was a graduate when her brother has conceded that she had not even completed the state school board exams? I mean you read layers and layers of this deeply embedded scandal in this piece to have an idea of its extent.

There is little denying that lakhs of Keralites work in Dubai. And that it takes just free air-tickets to find carriers of illegal gold to India for personal use in small quantity. I mean a kilogram of gold on a person’s body, carried by some hundred willing, could bring 100kg of unaccounted gold in the God’s Own Country.  The Corona pandemic has been a god-send for these enterprising. I mean you charter a plane for Rs 13-14 lakhs, put aboard dozens of distressed citizens, and bingo, the illegal gold is home.

The situation turns comical if you consider this situation: I board a Jet Airways flight from Dubai and am carrying 10kg of gold. I don’t embark at the transit airport of Delhi where a “carrier” boards the flight. We both land at Kannur airport, he picks my gold-laden bag as his own, and the parcel is home.

Still, you have incidents where dozens of people are caught carrying gold in their rectums. A nubile flight attendant hiding 13kg of contraband gold under her dress. A popular method is to melt gold into seed-shaped chips and hide it in dates; or converted into gold belt-buckles or torch batteries. Get this right: Over a thousand kilogram of gold is smuggled into India every day.

And why do you think people go to this length to smuggle gold into India? For one, 24 carat gold is negligible in India. Two, the import tariffs (12.5%) and GST (3 %) is prohibitive. Three, Indians love gold and festive seasons are boom time; Four, yes, you got it right—it’s so easy to bring contraband gold home.

Now, Vijayan’s best hope—his only hope–is that his principal secretary, now former, doesn’t point fingers at him. Centre of course is keen to get to the bottom of it, as asserted by Union minister of state, M Muraleedharan who also happens to belong to Kerala. If he could pin down Vijayan, the state could belong to him. Vijayan has a job to douse the flame leaping around him. Corona Virus and all can wait.

 

Paradise Papers: BJP MP hauls Indian Express up!

(This is a reprint from NewsBred)

Bharatiya Janata Party Rajya Sabha MP, Ravindra Kishore Sinha, has sought Privileges Proceedings against top brass of Indian Express, namely, (a) Vivek Goenka, chairman; (b) Rajkamal Jha, chief editor; (c) Ritu Sarin and (d) Shyamlal Yadav on its “motivated attempt to tarnish his reputation” via expose on “Paradise Papers” on November 6, 2017.

In a letter written to Venkaiah Naidu, Chairman, Rajya Sabha, published as an advertisement in newspapers on Wednesday, Sinha has accused Indian Express of “unethical journalism…in the name of freedom of the press.”

Indian Express had alleged that Sinha was “illegally associated with (a) an offshore company, viz SIS Asia Pacific Holding Limited (SAPHL), incorporated in Malta; (b) that his nomination papers of Rajya Sabha election in 2014 didn’t declare his interest in offshore entities.

In his detailed letter/advertisement, Sinha has pointed out

  • Malta has an approved jurisdiction of full Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with India and doesn’t amount to “tax evasion, money laundering or any malafide intent”;
  • His holding company recently underwent “in-depth scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)…covering all regulations, including the Companies Act, Income Tax Act, SCRA, Stamp Act, FIPB, FEMA etc…no deficiency was found in terms of compliance.”
  • Rajya Sabha nomination form requires only “provisions of details of Assets and Liabilities of which I am the owner or direct beneficiary” which is not true in Sinha’s case (see the full advertisement in pic).

Sinha’s anguish stems from a clearly “vested interest” of Indian Express in publishing the report—and a sneering a mocking version of it online—which he termed as “misleading and devoid of facts,” despite Sinha having shared the details with Indian Express !

Over to Sinha:

“These facts were transparently shared with the Indian Express team prior to publication of the news report. Despite that, they have carried the misleading report devoid of facts and indulged in reputation assassination for vested interests.”

“If the Indian Express claims to be the beacon of independent journalism, why are they not targeting other reputed public figures such as Sachin Pilot, P. Chidambaram, Pinarayi Vijayan etc who have all been named in the ICU Paradise Papers?”

“The Indian Express report is unethical journalism in the name of freedom of the press/freedom of speech and is motivated attempt to tarnish my reputation built over decades. It is extremely sad to see the high standards of neutral and independent journalism set by Ramnath Goenka being destroyed under the current editorial leadership.”

In one word: Damning!!!

One doesn’t know if Sinha tried to put this advertisement in Indian Express for it’s not in its today’s edition. Or, if he did and failed in his attempt. Still, the matter is now in public domain and Express would’ve to come up with an explanation.

At least the Privilege Proceedings against Indian Express is being sought for. Whether Editors’ Guild of India reacts to it is a guess as good as yours as mine. Press Council of India, a Central Statutory Authority, under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting—Mrs Smriti Irani being at the helm—surely should step in as Fake News in Mainstream Media—Lutyens’ Media—is more rampant than ever.