Last time, the controversy over Twitter cost Tharoor his job as minister of state for external affairs. Will he come out unscathed this time?
Shashi Tharoor, the minister of state for human resource development (HRD) is at the centre of a cross-border tweet war between his wife and a Pakistani woman journalist who have attacked each other. This is the third time the minister has been surrounded in controversy due to Twitter. Last time it cost him his job as minister of state for external affairs, though.
Sunanda Pushkar, the wife of Tharoor, has accused Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar of stalking her husband and trying to 'break' her marriage when she was away for treatment for three to four months. Lahore-based Tarar is a mother of a 13-year-old son and an Op-ed writer and a contributor to a Pakistani daily.
Suananda also reportedly alleged that Tharoor was having an 'extramarital affair' with the journalist and that she would 'seek divorce'.
Sunanda said Tharoor and she are a 'very happily married couple' and accused the journalist of trying to berate her for some strange reasons. She further alleged that Tarar wanted to have a 'relationship' with her husband and asked her to stay away.
As the indecorous controversy surrounding Tharoor escalated amid exchange of some intimate messages, Tarar dismissed the allegations as untrue and said she was totally amused. She said Sunanda has gone out of her mind.
Tarar said she will file a defamation suit against Sunanda for defaming her by alleging she was an agent of Pakistan’s spy agency ISI.
“I have nothing to say to a woman clearly out of her mind. To be called an ISI agent, a stalker…I have nothing to add. Just shows who she is,” she tweeted.
“So I ‘stalk’ on bbm and phone. The last I checked it was a two-way thing, or maybe technology changed while I ’stalked’?
For a woman to trash another woman linking her w/her husband is the lowest form of sickness ever. It’s nauseous. No respect for her marriage,” the journalist said in a series of tweets.
Tarar said she had great respect for Tharoor and that everything about him on her Twitter account was on her timeline. She said Tharoor’s view on politics had always fascinated her. How can somebody stalk on phone? she asked, and added Sunanda’s tweets are crazy.
Sunanda claimed on Twitter that she was posting from her husband’s account, intimate private messages sent to him by Tarar, to show the world “how she is stalking my h ..”
Sunanda later said her information from Pakistan was that the journalist was 'wired' to suggest she had links with an intelligence agency.
The Twitter handle of Tharoor, one of the most popular Indian politicians on the networking site, was hacked on Wednesday and some wacky tweets were sent from it to Tarar.
The tweets instantly created a buzz on social media websites.
“Sorry folks, my @Twitter account has been hacked & will be temporarily deactivated. Bear with me while we solve this,” he told his followers in his page.
Most of the tweets from his hacked account were addressed to Tarar, who was taken aback by the flurry of messages from the minister’s handle.
Earlier in 2010, Tharoor found himself in a controversy due to his tweets in reply to Lalit Modi, the then chairperson of Indian Premier League (IPL). This also revealed Tharoor's relation with Sunanda Pushkar, who at that time had shown substantial interest for her miniscule stake in the Kochi franchisee in the IPL. However, it ended with Tharoor losing his job as minister of external affairs and later getting married with Sunanda.
Before that, Tharoor was attacked by the Opposition when in 2009, he tweeted that he would travel 'in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows'.
Last year, comenting on the Delhi gang rape case, Tharoor had tweeted that the proposed anti-rape law should be named after the victim, 'Amanat'. However, this was immediately rejected by Congress saying the opinion of the minister as personal view.
As of today, Tharoor had over 20 lakh followers on Twitter.
Pune’s traditional katta culture, wherein like-minded people gather informally to chat in public places, has now, RTI, as the new topic of discussion
Although Maharashtra is one of the states with a large number of users of Right to Information (RTI) Act, knowledge and information about the Act, is still found wanting. This is amply reflected during my RTI workshops or public lectures on this topic.
In an innovative and fun-loving approach, leading RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who is the founder president of Surajya Sangharsha Samiti, launched the `RTI Katta’ last fortnight at Pune’s premier public garden, Chittaranjan Vatika, in the upper crust Model Colony neighbourhood. More than 50 Puneites attended the meeting, out of which several of them came from across the city. Within a week, the ‘RTI Katta’ fervor has spread to five more public gardens, with the respective local residents taking initiative to host them.
The objective of the `RTI Katta’ is not to preach about the RTI Act, says Kumbhar, “but to empower oneself through discussions amongst each other. It is an umbrella where the attendees get an insight into various issues that crop during the informal chat. A person’s query or problem is answered by several people which results in a healthy and relevant solution than one RTI expert providing the answer. Moreover, it strengthens the belief in RTI movement which is time and again scuttled by the government through various circulars and amendments.”
Kumbhar has laid down some rules for forming an RTI Katta, one of which will soon be launched in Ahmednagar: RTI Katta should be formed in such a public place where no official permission is required, a public garden is the best bet; the name of any individual or organisation should not be added wherever the RTI Katta is being formed; the meeting should be purely a discussion forum and there should be no one-sided speech; any attendee is welcome to seek advice on his RTI applications; any attendee is welcome to give his opinion, however he or she should ensure that he is not misguiding the person; no one should object or scorn if an attendee, new to the RTI Act asks an irrelevant question – he/she should be enlightened through this forum; there should be no exchange of money for either asking a query or answering it; since this forum is all about individual empowerment, no person should try to solve the problem of the other but encourage the individual to fight his/her own RTI battle.
Shamala Desai, a noted social activist who had attended the maiden `RTI Katta’ stated, “there was tremendous curiosity and eagerness to be a part of the RTI movement. It also showed that many people put a RTI application but do not know how to follow up if they do not get a reply. Several youngsters too who attended it were keen to make this citizen-friendly law, stronger, by its constant use.”
Pune is the pioneer of the RTI Library, which was named after stalwart journalist-activist Prakash Kardaley and inaugurated by Arvind Kejriwal in 2008. Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is also the first city to introduce the 3pm to 5pm walk-in for citizens, every Monday, in all its departments. Pune was the first city wherein Inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act was conducted, the RTI activist being Vijay Kumbhar. With Pune having so many firsts to its credit in the RTI movement, its latest addition–RTI Katta–is sure to bring more people close to RTI.
Here’s wishing that many more cities, towns and villages start `RTI Kattas’ which is a real cool way of gaining knowledge about RTI and using it to good effect. For more details on how to start a RTI Katta get in touch with Vijay Kumbhar at [email protected] or call him on 09923299199
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
State-run companies need to help the Indian government to overcome fiscal deficit and still make an investment in a profitable venture
Regular readers of Moneylife know that Coal India is the world's largest coal producer, owning most of the coalfields in the country, and producing about 485 million tonnes of coal, with a target to reach 492 million tonnes this fiscal, though this is said to be a difficult proposition because of the troubles they experienced in Talcher.
Coal India is one of the few government-owned companies, where the private shareholding is less than 20%, and it has free cash reserves of over Rs62,000 crore! Last year, it distributed a dividend payout of Rs14 per share, on a face value of Rs10, and this year, its interim dividend was expected to be higher than this! At the same time, due to the government pressure, which has been trying to raise Rs40,000 crore to offset the fiscal deficit, a plan was afoot to go in for disinvestment.
Due to strong opposition from the labour unions, the disinvestment had to be shelved. The best alternative was to increase the dividend payout substantially! This is precisely what Coal India's Board did, this week, on Sankranthi day, by approving an interim dividend of Rs29 per share. The market price of this share was Rs250 on 29 August 2013, and it had closed at Rs328 on 30 May 2013. The share price had hovered around the Rs270 range before reaching the Rs292 range this week, just after the announcement of the dividend. In fact, it had planned to hold the Board meeting to mull the issue in February 2014, but due to the urgency, it was brought up to January 2014, and has cheered up the shareholders.
This interim dividend payment will cover Rs18,317.46 crore for the year ending 31 March 2014, as against Rs8,847 paid out last year. In addition, a sum of Rs3,100 crore will also accrue to the government in the form of dividend distribution tax, all of which will help in reducing the fiscal deficit.
As a matter of interest, government disposal of Axis Bank share holding has also brought relief. It is still possible for the final dividend to be "reasonable" when announced, but that would naturally go into the next year's account.
What can one do to take advantage of the dividend distributed by government-owned companies? To start with, they need to take the advice of their own financial consultants in choosing the companies to buy shares and be willing to hold out for a short duration only.
There are several such companies on the block that they may adopt this procedure to give substantial interim dividends. Take for instance, NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation); the share prices (CMP – current market price) has been ruling around Rs140-Rs142. NMDC is one of the few companies operating quietly in carrying out its iron ore mining operations, and it may be "persuaded" to give out a good dividend shortly. In fact, if there is no pressure and opposition from the Unions, they may also go in for a buy-back.
Other companies include ONGC, BHEL, EIL, OIL, MOIL and GAIL. A quick look at their balance sheets and free cash reserves will enable the reader to do some homework for self-satisfaction before embarking on this purchase, which must include expert advice from one's own consultant. Some other companies may also find a place in this list!
On general thoughts on the subject, why not these companies think in terms of buy-back programmes from the government only, and not necessarily the shareholding by private investors? They can also reward the employees by making the offer to sell the shares with conditions of no-sale for a minimum of three years?
They can also offer bonus shares to private investors, and, in lieu of this, to the government they can as well pay out the value of this allotment by cash, so that the government shareholding is reduced? Also, there has been talk of using pension funds being made "free" for investment. Why not make sale of the shares—government-owned blocks—to pension funds only, so that the public can get benefited?
Readers can also come out with their recommendations; we need to think out of the box, help the government to overcome the fiscal deficit, and still make investment a profitable venture!
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)