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IANS Interview: Why INDIA bloc's 50 faces offer no challenge to BJP's 'one-man' show, Surjit Bhalla explains



New Delhi, April 29 (IANS) Surjit Bhalla, a well-known economist, author and columnist, in an exclusive interview with IANS, shared his views on a spectrum of issues ranging from economic, social and political issues besides also forecasting a whopping 325-350 seats for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alone, in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

Surjit Bhalla has served as India’s Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and was also a member of the Economic Advisory Council, during the second term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government.

Below is economist Surjit Bhalla’s exclusive interview with IANS.

IANS: Lok Sabha elections are underway. So far, two phases of polling have been completed. Recently, you predicted that the BJP could win 325 to 350 seats. On what basis, you estimated the numbers?

Surjit Bhalla: As you know, when the first phase of elections took place, there was much discussion about its impact because the voter turnout was low. This led to speculation whether the reduced voter turnout would harm the BJP or the Congress and INDIA bloc.

On the basis of studies and research I undertook on these issues, we will get to know how the BJP performed in each Lok Sabha constituency compared to the previous elections and how it performed in this election, after the elections are over. Then, we can correlate it with the voter turnout.

However, there are several Parliamentary constituencies where two percentage points in the aggregate have increased, while there are many others where it hasn’t seen any significant rise.

Though, much cannot be drawn from seven phases at this hour, my direct answer is that around 330 to 350 seats will go to the BJP.

IANS: What do you think is the reason for this? Is it due to the schemes of Modi government or BJP’s strong election machinery or are you anticipating ‘Modi wave’ in 2024, akin to what was in 2014?

Surjit Bhalla: The most important question is why people vote for any party or leader. We have had elections in our country for the past 50-60 years. From 1952 to 1962, Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister. He won all three elections, and at that time, our economy was poor. There wasn’t much choice among people for voting. After that, the most crucial determinant of voting was what changes occurred in your life.

The government’s policies, whether of the BJP or Congress, affect the lives of every individual. If you vote is based on this, you see what changes have come in people’s lives from 2019 to 2024.

You will see that the policies brought by Modi government, whether related to food, housing, or water supply, directly impacted people’s lives.

Though everyone earns their livelihood, the social services by this government is standing out as one of its hallmarks.

In India, the government is involved in social services. You should remember that in 1985, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had said that if the government spends Rs 1, only 15 paise reaches the poor. The rest goes to corruption and middlemen. The need of that hour was to devise a policy to plug that loophole and devise a mechanism to stop that pilferage.

As per my own research, even 15 paise is over-estimated. An amount lesser than 15 paise reached the poor.

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Global bodies like the World Bank and IMF admit today that the delivery is 90 per cent now. The money that government spends on the poor, goes directly to them.

Moreover, the Food Security Act came in 2013. At that time, 20-25 per cent of the poor benefited from it but now more than 90 per cent are benefitting from it.

Modi government has done commendable work in bringing hygiene and sanitation. Nothing happened on this front until 2014 for 60 years.

There were no toilets in villages for the poor.

PM Modi has worked on women’s safety. Even the toilets, in terms of safety and health, are a significant initiative.

The ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign is also one of key policy. Based on all the government’s schemes, it can be said that the BJP can win 330 or 350 seats in the elections, on its own.

IANS: The INDIA bloc, which is in the election arena against the BJP, says that inflation and unemployment are two biggest problems in the country. What is your opinion on this?

Surjit Bhalla: When was there no inflation? Does the Opposition or government go to the voter and asks them what the inflation rate is. Inflation keeps fluctuation, either upwards or downwards. There hasn’t been a year when there hasn’t been no inflation.

Elections have been going on for so many years, and I have examined that the inflation rate is empirical. It’s a matter of data. It stays in the voter’s mind what the situation of their income and employment was in 2019 and what it is now.

Young people discuss unemployment. The unemployment rate was 16 per cent in 2019, now it is 10 per cent. It’s not that unemployment has become zero or inflation has become zero, but whatever changes have happened, people feel good about them and they are happy.

So, the voter who votes sees whether something good has happened in their life during this time, and according to these figures, something has indeed happened.

IANS: What is your opinion of Rahul Gandhi, as a mass leader?

Surjit Bhalla: Leadership is a big deal. There is no evidence on whether Rahul Gandhi is an influential leader or not. In 2013, he tore apart his government’s ordinance in front of everyone. Leaders don’t do that.

At that time, it was Manmohan Singh’s government. He went against his own government then. Nowadays, the elections are fought based on face. At this time, who is the face of the Opposition? I don’t see anyone.

There are 50 faces in the Opposition INDIA bloc whereas the BJP has one face i.e. PM Modi.

This is another reason for BJP’s good show in these elections.

IANS: Do you think Rahul Gandhi has caused the most damage to Congress?

Surjit Bhalla: In today’s world, people have become aware of their rights, and nobody likes dynasty politics. After the elections, there should be a discussion within the Congress on whether they should field dynasts in the elections.

According to me, that era is gone. The dynasty has been ruling for 70 years. But now, the elections will be based on merit.

IANS: Do you think Rahul Gandhi has a chance to become Prime Minister, considering the fact that Congress has ruled the country for 60 years including Nehru, Indira and Rajiv?

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Surjit Bhalla: No… there are two leaders of Congress whose names you didn’t mention. P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. Now people have realised, that if you see these two leaders of Congress, no party member talks about them.

People feel that Congress shies away from taking their names despite both doing a wonderful job in their tenures.

Congress doesn’t take their name, this is not true leadership.

IANS: Is Congress a Muslim-oriented party?

Surjit Bhalla: I’ll answer this by saying, Congress today bats for a caste-based census and reservations in proportion to the population. This is quite an outdated idea, which does have any appeal now. The strength of India lies in its diversity. If you tell everyone to go by quota, as Congress leaders is proposing now, what will be gained from it? I think their campaign is not in right direction.

The book ‘How We Vote’ reveals another aspect. It shows that there are two parties that benefit from alliances and two parties that suffer losses from alliances.

Parties like Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) benefit from the alliance whereas JD-U and Trinamool Congress are parties that suffer losses from alliances.

IANS: Are people associated with INDIA bloc and Congress attempting Muslim appeasement? Will they benefit from it in elections?

Surjit Bhalla: The appeasement you are talking about, especially Muslim appeasement, started with Khomeini era, when fundamentalists became active in Iran.

In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi government came and shocked everyone with stand on Shah Bano case. Then, Salman Rushdie’s book was banned. The stand on Ram Temple issue shows another duplicity of the grand old party. Ram Mandir is among the most revered shrines for Hindus but Congress questioned its existence and opposed the construction of temple at the disputed site of Babri Masjid.

This hurt the party deeply. It is from there the Congress got into the trap of appeasement politics and dug its own grave.

There should be no appeasement or favouritism. There should be equality and diversity, which is our strength.

When I say ‘Let the data speak,’ you read that if there has been any benefit from this policy, then we should advance that policy more.

If there has been no benefit from the policy, then we should change it.

In 2011, the Congress conducted a caste census when they were in power. It was not published. They did it and decided not to publish it.

IANS: Besides caste-based census, Rahul Gandhi talks about conducting institutional surveys and financial surveys. Do you consider this a solution to any of the country’s problems?

Surjit Bhalla: I say look at the data but they don’t look at the data. They look at their ideology. There has never been an income distribution survey conducted in India. It should happen, in my opinion.

Whenever I am asked, I say definitely do it, and if done after the elections, it’s a good thing. This is a matter of ideology. Everyone has their ideologies. We should see what the data says and make decisions accordingly. This issue could weaken Congress.

IANS: PM Modi is consistently attacking Congress over inheritance tax. The inheritance tax is a kind of concept for America. Is it possible to implement it in India?

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Surjit Bhalla: See, there are 50 states in America, out of which inheritance tax is applicable in 6 states. The rate Sam Pitroda mentioned, 50 per cent, is also wrong. The tax rate there is 20 per cent. America is a rich country. It’s not necessary that what the US is doing, we will also do. It will be seen when we become a developed nation.

IANS: How do you view PM Modi’s statement about building a Viksit Bharat by 2047?

Surjit Bhalla: I have written about this and researched it. This goal can be achieved. If you take a proper definition of what a developed nation is, then, according to me, we need to reach this goal by 2045.

We need 6 per cent GDP growth for that. Today, we are at 8 per cent. We might come down a bit for a few years, but achieving an average growth rate of 6 per cent is quite possible for us.

I do not doubt Viksit Bharat. The goal and target of a Viksit Bharat will be achieved.

IANS: How do you view the work of PM Modi-led government over the past 10 years? While looking at it, what do you think about how easy it is to become a developed India?

Surjit Bhalla: India’s structural growth is much better. This is what the research figures say. So many policies and reforms have been implemented that we are seeing results.

There is no doubt that India will become developed, it will definitely become a developed country.

The entire world, national institutions, IMF, World Bank and our economists are providing evidence for this. Now is the time for India to be number one.

IANS: Congress leaders are quitting party due to its perceived anti-Sanatan stand while party like the DMK is making derogatory comment about the Sanatan Dharma. Will this create a more negative impression of Congress among voters?

Surjit Bhalla: Look at Tamil Nadu in this election, where the leader of DMK has attacked Sanatan Dharma. I think this will harm them. The BJP has not won a single seat in Tamil Nadu so far.

But, the BJP will benefit from all this and should win more than five seats there. This result will surely surprise people.

IANS: Will BJP accomplish its ‘400 paar’ target in this election?

Surjit Bhalla: If the BJP gets around 350 seats, the standard number for NDA would be 400 plus. If the election gets driven by ‘Modi wave’, then the NDA can even win 420 seats.

It will be easy to say something after the election. But, as I said, NDA could achieve ‘400 paar’.

IANS: How soon can India become world’s third-largest economy?

Surjit Bhalla: India could become the world’s third-largest economy by 2027. With certainty, one can say that it could be achieved by 2028. We need to see our growth rate and per capita income.

The strength of Indian economy is that growth has reached a good level. I think, in four to five years, per capita income will be more than 7 per cent.

The world has changed, and so have we. The country’s development is number one in the world, and I believe it will continue to be so.



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Raising 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' slogan has become wrongful act under Congress rule: K'taka LoP




Dakshina Kannada, June 12 (IANS) Senior BJP leader and the leader of opposition in the Karnataka Assembly, R. Ashoka, claimed on Wednesday that raising the ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ slogan has become a wrongful act in the state under the Congress rule.

Speaking to the media after visiting two BJP workers who were stabbed for allegedly raising the ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ slogan at a hospital in Dakshina Kannada, Ashoka said, “The Congress government has handed over the state to goons. If ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ or ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans are raised, people are stabbed.”

Stating that the BJP will ensure such incidents are not repeated, Ashoka said, “We will always stand with our party workers. The government should investigate the matter and also provide compensation to the victims.”

“Under this Taliban-like government in Karnataka, pro-Pakistan slogans are raised without any hesitation. The issue will be brought up during the Assembly session. Despite visiting the hospital, neither the Assembly Speaker nor the Minister for Health bothered to meet the stabbed workers,” Ashoka claimed.

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After the stabbing incident, the police lodged a case against some Hindu activists, alleging that they had issued statements referring to Pakistan.

“If this is true, let the police release the video or evidence in this regard. The attempt is being made to lodge a fresh case and hush up the case of stabbing,” Ashoka alleged.

The incident took place on the night of June 4 after the announcement of the Lok Sabha election results. The BJP workers were chased and attacked by a mob and later stabbed for allegedly raising the ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ slogan.



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Brothers in arms: Pawan Kalyan’s swearing-in makes Chiranjeevi proud




Vijayawada, June 12 (IANS) It was a moment Jana Sena leader and actor Konidala Pawan Kalyan had been waiting for years.

Taking oath as a minister in the presence of his elder brother and megastar Konidala Chiranjeevi in front of thousands of people was a big achievement for the actor-politician.

‘Power star’, as Pawan Kalyan is popularly known in film circles, was the first minister to take oath after Nara Chandrababu Naidu was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday.

There were loud cheers from his fans and supporters as the Jana Sena leader took oath.

Chiranjeevi, who was seated with superstar Rajinikanth and actor-politician N. Balakrishna on the adjacent dais, was seen clapping while his wife Konidala Lezhneva, who was present in one of the VIP galleries, was delighted.

Chiranjeevi, whose political tryst ended in a disaster 15 years ago, was proud to see his younger brother taking oath, and the centre stage of Andhra Pradesh politics.

After meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chandrababu Naidu, and Governor Abdul Nazeer, Pawan Kalyan headed to the adjacent dais to take the blessings of Chiranjeevi by touching his feet, as the megastar hugged his brother to congratulate him.

Pawan Kalyan, after the completion of the swearing-in, went to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and requested him to meet his elder brother. The PM obliged and held the hands of the siblings and raised them in a show of bonhomie.

Pawan Kalyan in a way gifted his win to Chiranjeevi. The victory came after his hard work of the last 10 years and the big setback of 2019 when he lost both the Assembly seats he contested.

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Jana Sena, which had fought the elections in alliance with the BSP and the Left parties, could win just one seat in the 175-member Assembly and even the lone MLA had later defected to the ruling YSR Congress Party.

This time, Jana Sena changed its strategy to strike an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By winning all 21 Assembly and both Lok Sabha seats it contested, Jana Sena had a 100 per cent strike rate in the polls.

Pawan Kalyan was elected from the Pithapuram constituency in Kakinada district with a margin of 70,000 votes to finally make it to the Assembly.

The Jana Sena led by Pawan achieved what the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) floated by Chiranjeevi could not in 2008.

The superstar had launched PRP amid much fanfare in 2008 when it was compared to legendary actor N. T. Rama Rao’s political plunge with the formation of TDP in 1982, which changed the course of Andhra Pradesh politics.

Pawan Kalyan was then the leader of the youth wing of PRP. The duo along with their brother and actor Naga Babu and other family members had actively campaigned during the 2009 elections. However, the party came a cropper, winning just 18 seats in the 294-member Assembly of united Andhra Pradesh.

Chiranjeevi himself suffered defeat from Palakollu in his home district of West Godavari, but was elected from Tirupati.

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The death of then Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash in 2009, a few months after retaining power, and the subsequent developments altered the political scene in the state.

In 2011, Chiranjeevi merged PRP with Congress and the latter rewarded him with nomination to the Rajya Sabha and induction into the Union Cabinet as Minister of State for Tourism (independent charge).

The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 triggered huge public anger against the Congress in the Andhra and Rayalaseema region as the party drew a blank in simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

The elections also saw the two brothers in rival camps. While Chiranjeevi was leading the Congress campaign, Pawan Kalyan had vowed to finish off the party which ‘divided’ the state. He did not contest the elections but campaigned for the TDP-BJP alliance, which stormed to power in bifurcated Andhra Pradesh.

After the Congress’ complete rout, Chiranjeevi distanced himself from politics and started focusing on films once again. However, Pawan Kalyan was determined to play a long innings.

The Jana Sena leader later parted ways with both the BJP and TDP for failing to deliver on the promise to accord special category status to Andhra Pradesh.

The maverick star vowed to continue his fight for new-age politics and took up campaigns on some major public issues. He, however, came under criticism from rivals for being a part-time politician. Unfazed by this criticism, he continued his efforts.

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After the disaster of 2019, he revived the alliance with the BJP. He became active about two years ago and started working to bring together the TDP and the BJP, which had snapped ties in 2018 on the issue of special category status.

This time, he vowed to end the ‘misrule’ of YSRCP and took the initiative to align with the TDP. He finally succeeded in bringing the BJP on board and even sacrificed a few seats to avoid a split of anti-incumbency votes.

He made it clear to his supporters that he is not in a hurry and that he remained committed to bringing about a change and achieving his goal of new-age politics.

As someone who does not fear defeat, the ‘Power Star’ was determined to carry on his fight. The actor-politician, who connects well with people, especially the youth, started gaining acceptance.

His strategy paid rich dividends not only for the Jana Sena, but also for the alliance which stormed to power with a landslide victory.

Pawan, who made his film debut in 1996 with ‘Akkada Ammayi, Ikkada Abbayi’ and has a string of hits under his belt, is seen as a person yearning for some higher purpose in life.

He admitted on several occasions that sometimes, he used to feel completely out of place in the movies.

Now with his entry into the Assembly and as the Deputy Chief Minister, he is set to play a new real-life role.



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Joshimath is now 'Jyotirmath', Uttarakhand government renames teshil in Chamoli




New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) Joshimath tehsil in Chamoli district will now be known by a new name ‘Jyotirmath’, the Uttarakhand chief minister office announced on Wednesday.

Jyotirmath is the ancient name of Joshimath and the state government’s proposal to effect a name change for the tehsil was approved by the Centre on Wednesday.

The move is being hailed by the local residents of Joshimath as they believe that the restoration of tehsil after its original name will not just showcase its ancient roots but will also honour its rich cultural and historical heritage.

Notably, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami publicly announced his government’s decision to rename the tehsil and restore its ancient glory at an event in Chamoli district last year.

The locals had been demanding the name change for a long time. Taking into consideration the sentiments of people, Dhami government moved a proposal to the Centre to rename the tehsil.

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This was approved by the Centre on Wednesday.

Locals believe that Adi Guru Shankaracharya visited this place in 8th century. He is understood to have practiced penance under Amar Kalpa tree and attained divine knowledge and light here.

The place was then known as Jyotirmath but as time passed by, it became popular by another name, Joshimath.



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Amaravati farmers end four-year-long protest as Naidu govt sworn-in




Amaravati, June 12 (IANS) With the formation of the Chandrababu Naidu-led government in Andhra Pradesh, farmers of Amaravati on Wednesday called off their four-year-long protest against three capitals move of the previous YSR Congress government.

Hours after Naidu and his Council of Ministers took oath at a ceremony at Vijayawada, the farmers removed their protest camps in villages.

The farmers, including women, had been protesting for 1,631 days, demanding the YSR Congress government to develop Amaravati as the sole capital.

The protest started in December 2019 after Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy announced that his government would develop three state capitals, reversing the decision of the previous TDP government to develop Amaravati as the only state capital.

The Jagan Mohan Reddy government planned to develop Visakhapatnam as the administrative capital, Kurnool as the judicial capital, and keep Amaravati only as a legislative capital.

The farmers of 29 villages, who had given 33,000 acres of their land under a land pooling system when the TDP was in power, came out on the streets. They had been continuing the protest in different forms.

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The Amaravati Parirakshana Samithi (APS), which was spearheading the movement against three capitals, undertook two padyatras during the last two years to mobilise public support for their demand.

Earlier in the day, the farmers watched on specially installed screens the live telecast of the swearing-in of Chandrababu Naidu and his Cabinet colleagues. At the meeting of newly-elected MLAs of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on Tuesday, Naidu declared that Amaravati will be developed as the sole state capital. He said Visakhapatnam will be developed as a financial capital and Kurnool will also be developed in all respects.

TDP’s allies Jana Sena and BJP are also for developing Amaravati as the sole state capital.

The return of Naidu to power has given new hopes to farmers and others, who were fighting for justice. The TDP chief had envisioned Amaravati on the banks of the Krishna river as a dream capital and a world-class city about a decade ago. The works on residential quarters and other components of the mega project had come to an abrupt halt in 2019 a few months after the YSRCP came to power.

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The foundation stone for Amaravati was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October 2015 when TDP was part of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre. Naidu had got the master plan for Amaravati prepared by Singapore. With nine theme cities and 27 townships, it was planned in an area of 217 square kilometres with the development in three phases – seed area or core capital, capital city, and capital region.



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UP govt to turn Ranipur Tiger Reserve into eco-tourism hub




Lucknow, June 12 (IANS) The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh will transform the Ranipur Tiger Reserve in Chitrakoot into a premier eco-tourism destination.

A detailed action plan has been devised to realise this vision, and the Forest Department has already commenced project implementation.

According to a government spokesman, the plan includes allocating an estimated Rs 38 lakh for upgrading tourist facilities within the reserve and enhancing infrastructure in the surrounding buffer zone.

To facilitate these efforts, directives have been issued by the office of the Deputy Director of the Ranipur Tiger Reserve/Divisional Officer in Chitrakoot.

Spanning over a 230 sq km area, Ranipur Tiger Reserve is the fourth tiger reserve in Uttar Pradesh and the 53rd nationwide.

Situated 150 km from Madhya Pradesh’s Panna Tiger Reserve, it serves as a haven for tigers and a diverse array of wildlife, including leopards, bears, sambar deer, and chinkara.

Recognising the significant tourism potential of this region, the Yogi Adityanath government has intensified development efforts in the tiger reserve.

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Adhering to stringent environmental standards, the area is being meticulously developed to ensure sustainable growth.

The primary focus of tourist amenities, currently under development in the Ranipur Tiger Reserve, is the luxury tent area. This space aims to allow visitors to immerse themselves in the unparalleled beauty of nature while enjoying top-notch amenities.

In addition to upgrading civic amenities within the forest, the plan entails developing lawn areas and designated parking spaces.



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