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Monday, September 29, 2014

Maharashtra Assembly Elections-2014: Anybody’s Game!

Even the end of Pitru Paksha fortnight which is considered inauspicious on 24th September could not inspire the great politicians of Maharashtra to come together and be sincere to voters. They fought between themselves with greed for power being the driving force and things came to such a head that the raging anti-incumbency wave became a joke giving the earnest voters the biggest dilemma in their so-far-so-good democratic existence. Now, whoever they vote for would hardly decide who would finally form the government. In every constituency the voters will have at least five main candidates contesting (Congress, Nationalist Congress Party or NCP, Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena or MNS and any of them could win in view of the split vote syndrome. There are still more political parties who could be big factors on specific areas. 

As the fortnight of the Goddess Durga began things happened in a great hurry putting this poor writer in a hyperactive flurry and making him unable to carry on with his wordy curry. Still, he hardly has the time to ponder, wonder and render. So then, only a quick look-through on the main events for some of the loyal readers of these pages. 

September 25, The Maha Break-Up: Maha of the Maharashtra also means big and it was big indeed on this eventful day.  Mahayuti (Yuti means pair, when it became more than two it is mahayuti) has been riding on the anti-incumbency wave for the last about one year and more political parties joined in to be on the winning side. The alliance had swept Lok Sabha polls in Maharashtra and when it was almost certain to be voted in overwhelmingly in the Assembly Elections they broke up reportedly fighting over sharing just 4 or 5 seats either way. Anybody could see the basic reason though. Since they were sure to win the question of who gets the supreme seat of power, Chief Ministership, became overpowering and finally they could not decide. So the BJP and the Shiv Sena ended their 25-year-old alliance making their small allies scurry around for shelter.
On the same eventful day one more much perplexing break-up occurred. Here you cannot put the finger on the right spot. The ruling alliance had apparently no chance of coming back to power and yet they fought over seat sharing. More ridiculously one ally offered to share the post of the Chief Minister equally for two and half years each after coming back to power. Maybe the powerful local leaders just thought of retaining at least that much power of continuing to be the elected representative. So the Congress and the NCP ended their 15-year-old alliance. Not only that, the NCP withdrew support making the Congress a minority in the Maharashtra Assembly. 

September 25-27: Almost no major political party had their list of candidates out and the last date of filing nominations was 27th September. So followed the most chaotic and ludicrous process of filing nominations. Candidates filed once, twice or even thrice as they did not know finally which side they would end up. Political party bosses did not know about which member of theirs filed where. Someone of some political party filed nomination and did not finally manage a ticket, and so s/he filed again from a different party hoping to get a ticket this time. This unprecedented chaos and mockery of democracy is likely to regain some sense only after 1st October—the last date for withdrawal nominations. In the process the exodus from the NCP to either BJP or Shiv Sean has been the biggest.  

September 26: Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan resigned as his government was reduced to a minority after the NCP withdrew support post break-up. The BJP raised the demand for imposing President’s Rule in the state with just about 20 days left for polling. 

September 27: Governor of Maharashtra accepted the resignation of Prithviraj Chavan and sends his report to the Centre for President’s rule in the state. Union Cabinet recommends clamping President’s rule. 

September 28: Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India, signs the proclamation for imposition of President’s Rule in the poll-bound state of Maharashtra. Congress objects to the decision. 

Of course, you must vote, this is your most precious democratic right and you must inspire others to do so. In all, this Maharashtra Assembly Elections-2014 is going to be the most remembered state assembly election of the century. All for the wrong reasons. Much more yet to come.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Politics of Seat Sharing: Irony of Ironies!

Normally in a democracy, India in particular, the numbers become all important after the results of elections are out. This in terms of one particular political party or alliance falling short of the majority number or in the extreme case of a hung verdict that requires desperate number measures. But for Maharashtra Assembly Elections-2014 the numbers have become all important even before a candidate of the major political parties happened to file a nomination. The numbers being rolled out, negotiated, debated and bargained are just not proving to be right for anyone. 

While almost everybody has given the BJP-Shiv Sena (Mahayuti) alliance a green signal for its best ever chance to coming to power in Maharashtra the two parties have failed so far to arrive at the right seat sharing formula. The Shiv Sena has decided to fight not less than 150 seats of the 288-seat house and the BJP after its overwhelming success in the General Elections wants much more than the 119 seats it had in 2009 assembly elections. If the Shiv Sena had realized that it got a new lease of life after the Modi wave in Lok Sabha elections and perhaps might have prepared for adjustments the losses suffered by the BJP in the recent by polls  gave the party a new platform to bargain with a somewhat embarrassed BJP. While maintaininfg that by poll results are insignificant the BJP never wants to let go of the Lok Sabha advantage. Apart from the basic Chief Ministerial issue between the two it has been a battle of superegos of the top leaders as all of them see their best chance this time. But ironically, they are depriving prospective voters who could have wanted an alternative after 15 years. Now even the minor partners of Mahayuti are threatening to leave the alliance. 

Congress and Nationalist Congress Party
Despite suffering heavy losses and charting out their worst ever performance in the General Elections-2014 the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance in Maharashtra instead of learning from the experience and trying to regroup is fighting as hard for equitable seat sharing. The Congress wants to stick to the formula tried in last elections, but the NCP wants equal share—144 seats each out of 288. As if both parties have sensed some divine signal that they are poised for a resounding victory this time too despite the palpable anti-incumbency mood. Well, anything is possible in a democracy or in India! However, it is ironical no doubt. 

The voters could find themselves at a disadvantage with the elections possibly becoming an at least four cornered contest in the eventuality of all four major political parties fighting it alone. The vote split implied by such a situation could make anybody come to power. While single party majority is considered impossible in the present circumstances the most feared post-poll coalitions with the usual bargaining and horse trading could make the confusion confounding. 

Pitru Paksha is going to end on 24th September. Maybe still a chance for alliances and the right numbers for seat sharing after that? You never know with politics as the last date of filing of nominations is looming large on 27th of September.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Politics: Election Commission Announces Maharashtra Assembly Election Schedule!

Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath

The Election Commission of India (EC) on Friday, the 12th of September 13, 2014, has announced the poll schedule for Maharashtra Assembly Elections. It is a single-phase polling on Wednesday, the 15th October covering whole of Maharashtra including the Naxal affected Gadchiroli region. This means more than 80 million voters will exercise their democratic right in more than 90,000 polling booths spread across 288 constituencies of the state on a single day which reminds us of the single day polling done in the long past when the whole nation voted. With a gap of just 3 days the counting will be taken up on Sunday, the 19th of October which is set to reveal if the opposition alliance of Mahayuti (BJP+Shiv Sena+others)  could finally end the 15-year-old rule of the Democratic Front (Congress+NCP). This will be the first major election for the new Modi Government formed on 26th May, 2014 after BJP thundered to victory in the Lok Sabha General Elections-2014 reducing Congress to its worst ever performance in history. In Maharashtra too the Mahayuti made a clear sweep and it is eagerly awaited if the General Election anti-incumbency trend and the Modi wave would continue to impact the Maharashtra Assembly Elections. The EC also announced a single phase polling and counting for the state of Haryana on the same dates.

The EC notification will be on 20th September and the last date of filing nominations for candidates is 27th while the last date for withdrawal of candidature is 1st of October. This effectively means that the number of days for registration of new voters is greatly reduced. The electoral rolls close 10 days before the last date of filing nominations and therefore in Maharashtra new registration will be over on 17th September. Potential voters thus have just 5 more days to register themselves. The NOTA option will be available on all EVMs and a new experiment called VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) system is to be tried this time in some selected constituencies where the voters can confirm if their votes have been cast correctly. This system thus could also detect and eliminate possible election fraud or malfunction.

This Maharashtra Election has been the much awaited one both in terms of ultimate winners and announcement of dates. The ruling alliance here has a scam infested background of 15 years like their counterpart UPA alliance at the centre which was finally thrown out of power after its rule for 10 years. Analysts rate this election as a golden chance for the Mahayuti to come into power. On the flip side both alliances irrespective of their chances are still fighting for an elusive seat sharing formula. The Congress-NCP fight over seats has led to a few of their leaders and former ministers shifting loyalty by joining the opposition alliance. The ruling alliance rates their chances high sticking to the development agenda and also has several Chief Ministerial aspirants.  

The BJP-Shiv Sena bickering over seats has several basic reasons: Shiv Sena has been the main regional party in Maharashtra and so it wants to be treated like the major partner; however the results in General Elections-2014 and Maharashtra Assembly Elections-2009 show that the surging BJP had won more seats than the Sena by contesting less number of seats; Shiv Sena was considerably weakened by the formation of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) by Raj Thackeray prior to 2009 and was almost marginalized before sort of being rescued by the BJP in 2014 riding on the Modi wave with the MNS now getting marginalized due to confused stands; so BJP wants more or at least equal number of seats; both parties have Chief Ministerial aspirants and therefore  have to have more seats than the other so that their respective aspirants could eventually   become the Chief Minister.

The EC announcements had been expected since the last week of August. Maybe due to the festive season with the biggest event of the state—the 11-day Ganesh Festival—concluding only on 8th September or maybe due to more festivals coming up in the near future or maybe due to the political indecisiveness regarding declaration of candidates the EC perhaps had a tough time scheduling the most important event. At the moment there are still no official lists of candidates declared by any of the major political parties. Interestingly it is also speculated widely that the on-going fortnight of Pitru Paksha  when funeral rites are performed for the souls of ancestors and which is considered inauspicious for any new initiative is playing its part in confounding the indecisiveness of the political parties.

Finally, the winners would emerge before Diwali festival and if there is a clear majority the new government could even be formed before the big festival of lights. In all eventuality this Diwali is all set to illuminate a whole lot of people.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Credit Card Frauds: A Real Close Shave!

Only the other day we were discussing with a few bankers about the fact that online frauds or crimes are still very low in India compared to advanced countries. We justified this with another fact that millions of Indians are still ignorant or have no online presence. And just the next day I had a close shave from a potentially serious credit card fraud. We have heard a lot about card protection in terms of safeguarding against phishing or seemingly genuine emails asking for personal information, dubious text messages, stolen or lost cards, taking care while shopping or at the ATM machine, skimming and so on. But to find out what exactly defines my experience I had to surf the net for a while finally resting on a term ‘Tele Phishing’. 

During a very busy day in office I received a call from a lady who identified herself as a bank executive of the private bank with which I had multiple and most frequently used credit card accounts. As I had been used to getting such calls from very similar sounding lady executives I took the call casually while going on with my work. The lady informed me that as per the RBI guidelines the bank had decided to issue a new card replacing my multiple accounts and the new card had a host of benefits with no payment liabilities. 

I had three weak points at that point of time: 1. I was attending the call in a casual way not disturbing my office work; 2. I did not suspect her identity as a bank executive while noticing that she had called me from a mobile number, and 3. I in fact wanted a single account since I was using only one particular credit card all the while and did not need the other cards. And the smart lady capitalized. 

I started giving all information as she wanted including date of birth, card number and the three-digit CVV (Card Verification Value) number on the back of the card. The executive informed me that there will be such amount of reward points and a onetime payment that would be reflected in the statement but would be adjusted against the reward points. One part of the reward points would be paid by the bank in cash. I was also told that a business firm would call me for my confirmation so that the gifts could be couriered to my home address. Indeed, the supposed business firm called immediately and gave the list of my gifts like T-shirt, credit card pouch, wrist watch and so on. Then the lady called me again that the bank has sent me a text message containing a six-digit number the last three digits of which would be the CVV of my new card. I saw the private bank name in the sender ID of the text message and so assured read out the number to her. 

Maybe the lady executive and her accomplice had one weakness at this point—they were becoming too greedy. 

She called again asking for my second credit card details. I was piqued at that time and asked her how many cards were going be issued since she earlier told me that one single account would replace all others. She quickly told me that two cards were being issued. I was not convinced, but at that time the office peon came in with a bunch of papers for signature and so I went on with her while doing my work. The same process was repeated including the bank text message containing the second six-digit number. 

Suddenly I developed cold feet realizing that I had given all crucial information of my cards. Immediately I checked the text messages sent by my bank and to my horror I found that those contained OTP (One Time Password) numbers which are generated during online transactions. 

Fearing that transaction alerts amounting to God-knows-what figures might come any time I panicked and with trembling hand dialed the bank customer helpline. Luckily I got to speak to a customer service executive immediately. I asked him if the bank was going to issue new cards rushing through my experience. The executive was not sure and so I immediately requested him to block all my cards and not entertain any transaction that could come any moment. 

I got one more text message from the bank containing another OTP. The smart lady called up next requesting me to tell her the number informing me that the earlier number was invalid. I wanted to make sure one final time. I asked her ‘Where are you calling from?’
‘From …. bank’.  She replied, a little surprised.
‘Prove that you belong to the …..  bank.’ She fell silent.
‘Prove or I’m giving your number to the police right now.’ The line was cut instantly. 

I think credit card protection is hardly enough even now. The banks should adopt preventive measures, issue regular notifications and should announce that their executives will call customers always from authorized office landlines and not mobiles. In my experience real executives did call from mobiles at times. 

I had a close shave. You should learn from this and prevent such frauds. Be ready anytime to thwart tele phishing or any other attempts to fool you. The numbers that were used in this fraud are, 08459490706 for the bank executive and 08130486175 for the trader. Seem to be purely Indian and this means fraudsters are trying to make it big in India now. Beware!
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