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India unwrapped: Poll dates leak, Air India sale takes off, Mallya getting hitched

30 March, 2018

India, it appears, is in the throes of a season of leaks. If l’affaire Cambridge Analytica caused more than a storm in India’s politics in the last couple of weeks, the discourse in the past few days was about two very different kinds of leaks.

First, on 27 March, just minutes before the Election Commission was to announce the poll dates for assembly elections in Karnataka, the dates were leaked to TV news channels and also tweeted out by the head of the information technology cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party, almost around the same time.

While officials at the poll panel were left red-faced, prompting them to launch a probe into how the dates were leaked, the development set off a political slugfest, with the opposition Congress party accusing the commission of being partisan towards the BJP.

But it was the leak of two exam papers—of classes 10th and 12th—being conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) that could prove to be a bigger hot potato. Lakhs of students and parents alike were in for a shock after the CBSE admitted that the class 10 math paper and the class 12 economics paper had been leaked and that it would conduct a re-exam in both cases. While this is not the first time exam papers have been leaked in India, this leak has had a pan-India impact as students across the country attend CBSE-affiliated schools and will now have to take these two exams again.

This could also have a bearing on the admission processes of universities and degree courses, which kick off soon after the board exams, and may even potentially impact the BJP in a pre-election year. Little wonder, then, that following the leak Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself got into the act, directing human resources development minister Prakash Javadekar to take immediate steps to check any such leaks in future.

Separately, the government invited initial bids to sell a 76% stake in national carrier Air India. The government’s previous efforts to divest the debt-laden and loss-making airline have failed. But if Modi manages to sell Air India, it will strengthen his record as an economic reformer.

Meanwhile, the stock markets ended a three-week losing streak, with the BSE Sensex rising a tad in a truncated week that had two holidays. But Indian banks weren’t as lucky, with new allegations of fraud surfacing even though the ones related to diamond merchants Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi’s alleged Rs 13,000 crore scam at Punjab National Bank have yet to die down.

While Union Bank of India has filed a complaint against Hyderabad-based Totem Infrastructure, IDBI Bank has reported a Rs 772 crore fraud in which suspicious loans had been issued for fish farming in Andhra Pradesh.

But the person in the eye of the storm was Chanda Kochhar, the chief executive officer of India’s largest private-sector lender, ICICI Bank, and one of the country’s most celebrated women corporate executives. Old allegations, first made as far back as 2016, resurfaced, as investigating agencies reportedly were closely looking at some deals her husband and businessman Deepak Kochhar had had with Venugopal Dhoot, the promoter of the Videocon Group.

Both ICICI Bank and Videocon have denied any favoritism or, for that matter, a quid-pro-quo, speculation in the media was rife that the Kochhars could be quizzed by law enforcement agencies in coming days.

Even as other fugitives continued to make news for all the wrong reasons, it appears that former Kingfisher Airlines boss and liquor baron Vijay Mallya could soon tie the knot for the third time. Several news reports during the week said that Mallya, who is in the United Kingdom, and has had his Indian passport revoked, will marry former Kingfisher airhostess Pinky Lalwani.

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India unwrapped: Poll dates leak, Air India sale takes off, Mallya getting hitched

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