Monday, April 17, 2017

Modi Proves a Right Mix of Religion .... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 16, 2017

Modi proves a right mix of religion and economics is the new recipe for growth

Money multipliers survive by promoting the belief that good economics is bad politics. Now Lobbyists for Cuckoo Liberalism are hawking the slogan that good religion is bad economics and worse politics. They conveniently shy away from mentioning the negative aspects of those religions, which are pushing numerous countries back to the Stone Age and into the maw of terror. Stunned by the mass acceptability of nationalism and welfarism, status quoist illiberals are projecting the rise of Hindutva as a major threat to development. During the past three years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proved beyond doubt that the symbols, songs and syntax of faith make real Vikas Mantras. Saffron is no longer the colour of communalism.

                                  UP CM Yogi Adityanath with PM Narendra Modi

Ever since Modi anointed Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the Cassandras of communal connivance are on hyperdrive to eviscerate social and ideological concepts and configurations that remotely resemble Hindutva. They have chosen to be selectively vocal against religion. They prefer not to acknowledge that Yogi, during his three weeks in office, has taken many decisions empowering the minorities and women, enforced law and order, tamed corruption, improved infrastructure and ensured continuity rather than embarking on actions to embolden hard core communal outfits.
The distortion of the ban on illegal abattoirs and brutal attacks on meat shops by fringe elements did spread fear among the minorities. However, course correction by the unflappable Yogi has made it clear that inclusive administration and not political Hindutva is his raj dharma. It shows the sanguine sanyasi hasn’t deviated an inch from the Modi Model of governance and development. All the 13 BJP Chief Ministers, too, have tried to keep their distance from fringe elements.
Taking a dvaitik cue from Modi methodology, they wear religion on their sleeves while ensuring good governance. Most BJP-run states perform better on numerous economic parameters than their adversaries.

Despite the stressed international economic environment, India’s economic performance in many sectors has been better than the world’s best. Motivated by Moditva, many neo-believers are inspired by the epiphany that a nationalist makes a better ruler than a leader who follows radical religion or La-La Liberalism. Today, three heads of states—Xi Jinping, President of China, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, and Modi—have placed their flag and country above all. Donald Trump won the presidency seeking a mandate for America.

In Europe, nationalism is the new liberalism. Many mass leaders have come to the conclusion that nationalism subtly tempered with religion ensures peace and prosperity, empowered by self-belief. This is a slap in the ugly face of Islamic fundamentalism in West Asia, which is infecting the civilized world through senseless lone wolf attacks and bombings.
Modi’s successful nationalism appears to be a heady mix of religion and economics. He feels Ram rajya represents the best model of economic growth where accountability, transparency and equality decide the contours and culture of governance. Modi has rescued many castaway icons of nationalism, social reforms and the Independence movement from abandoned islands of political partiality.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 10, 2017

Opposition parties seek grand unity ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 09, 2017

Opposition parties seek grand unity to be relevant in presidential election

They should have paid more attention to the proverb right at the beginning. But they refused to stand united and, so, divided they fell and got bruised, if not battered. Now, after the last Assembly elections, with political extinction staring them in the face, some Opposition leaders are trying to regroup and put together at least a symbolic challenge to a seemingly unstoppable-Modi machine. 
Indira Gandhi with V V Giri
Truth be told, there is no leader who can even pretend to be an alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in popularity and power at the moment. The geographical and ideological boundaries of the Modi-baiters don’t extend beyond the walls of the offices they occupy. But politics is an unpredictable game of impossibilities and dreams. And they say there’s victory where there’s unity. Which is probably why Rahul Gandhi, Congress President-in-waiting, has suddenly become accessible to those with whom he has rarely exchanged pleasantries in his 13 years of parliamentary politics. Last week, he invited Communist leaders to his office for coffee and discussed the possibility of forging an alliance against the NDA government in Parliament.
It’s time, you see, to choose the new President. 
Both the machinery and mathematics of elections are stacked in favour of the ruling dispensation. And Modi is keeping his choice of candidate close to his chest. He can afford to: he enjoys a legitimate monopoly over every administrative and political decision, and his political power exceeds that of even Indira Gandhi, who could make even a lamp-post win, they said. However, if the entire non-BJP political spectrum puts its resources together, it can perhaps bruise the Himalayan halo of the Prime Minister and set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. For, remember, despite enjoying a brute majority at the Centre and states, even India Gandhi couldn’t ensure an unopposed win for her candidate. In 1969, her candidate VV Giri defeated the official Congress candidate N Sanjiva Reddy. But in 1977, Gandhi (now in the opposition) couldn’t find a credible candidate to fight Reddy who was eventually elected unopposed. 
While Modi maintains a royal silence, the entire opposition has begun hunting for a credible Presidential candidate. Before the assembly elections, Modi was expected to go in for a consensus and force a hardcore Hindutva personality as his choice. But Modi hasn’t started consultations even within his own party so far, leave alone with any known or unknown foes. A few weeks ago, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar was considered to be the consensus choice as he was also honoured with India’s second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan. Pawar has strong credentials as a member of the Rajya Sabha and as former president of the Janata Dal (U). But after his unprecedented electoral gains in UP and elsewhere, Modi is unlikely to accept anyone from the opposition ranks as the next president. 
Nevertheless, structured and informal parleys on the matter have already begun in Lutyens’ Delhi. The idea among the Opposition leaders is to bring together some 35 political parties which have more than a 50 per cent share of the Electoral College. Since none of them enjoys a pan-India image or visibility, premium has been put on integrity, seniority and social background of a potential contestant.  While Pawar appears to still be in the forefront, the Opposition is also toying with the idea of asking President Pranab Mukherjee to run for a second term. By all indications, he is unlikely to agree, unless requested to do so by both sides.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sinking Congress awaits coronation...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 02, 2017

Sinking Congress awaits coronation of inaccessible RaGa to survive and challenge Modi

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi (File | PTI)
Will he? Won’t he? Once, that million-dollar question used to be aimed at Prince Charles, heir-in-waiting to the British throne for the last 65 years. But with many more heirs now in line for what is largely a titular position, the old question has become largely academic. The more crucial question that begs an answer concerns India’s erstwhile ‘first family’, the Gandhis. What the nation really wants to know is when the 46-year-old Rahul Gandhi will formally take over the reins of the 132-year-old Congress party from his ailing mother Sonia.
Rahul’s uninformed spin doctors try and routinely spoon-feed the media with some titbits about his imminent coronation. But seeing is believing, and with the young Gandhi more conspicuous by his absence than his accomplishments, it’s difficult to take those pronouncements seriously. Because, truth be told, neither the active nor inactive members of the country’s second-largest political party know when they will get a fully functional chief. Only the occupants of 10, Janpath are privy to that secret.
It’s been seven years since the Congress last held formal elections to choose office-bearers at the central and state levels. Sonia took over as AICC president in 1998 after unceremoniously booting out Sita Ram Kesari in a mid-day coup. She was re-elected in 2001 and 2005. She became party president for the fourth time in 2010, and has remained boss since. Fresh elections were due in 2015, but didn’t happen. Last week, the  Election Commission served the Congress a final warning to hold organisational elections by July 15, 2017, or face the possibility of losing recognition.
Since the Congress has survived under a Gandhi banner for over four decades, this is perhaps the last opportunity for the family to prove its political utility and acceptability. Many fair-weather leaders are already hopping off the sinking ship, and the family is under tremendous pressure to stop the party spinning out of its control. Survival lies in forcing Rahul to pull it out of the dangerously choppy sea. But the question being asked by both old and new Congress leaders and elitist opinion makers is this: Forget capturing power from the Mighty Modi within the next decade, can a Gandhi (Rahul) even drum up a credible opposition to him?
Sonia pushed Rahul into politics and asked him to contest Lok Sabha elections in 2004. He has won from Amethi thrice since then. But the inheritor-in-waiting still needs to erase the public impression of him as a part-time, reluctant leader who performs more vanishing acts than Houdini. As the target of a powerful section of the ‘liberal and secular’ media who hold him responsible for the rise of Hindutva and its icons in India, Rahul also needs to prove that the Congress is not an ideology whose time has gone but, instead, an idea that can never die.
Rahul was appointed party vice-president in 2013 so that he could lead the party during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and eventually replace his ailing mother. He was billed as the youngest challenger to Narendra Modi’s bid for power, but the truth is his road shows and rallies delivered fewer seats than the public meetings that he addressed with his mother.
And that could be one of the reasons for delaying the transition from one Gandhi to another. If Sonia could be credited for bringing Congress back into power twice, Rahul has been held responsible for the party’s plummeting acceptability in various parts of the country. During the past decade, the Congress has shrunk from controlling two-thirds of the country to less than one-fourth. Even if Rahul does take charge of the organisation, it is going to be a daunting task to put life into an outfit that’s gasping for breath.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 30, 2016

Assessment that doesn't rely on ....... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ May 29, 2016

Assessment that doesn't rely on lutyens' and corporate cosy clubs but on performance

Bias is boss. The recent ratings of Modi’s ministers by various agencies show unanimity is subverted by subjectivity. Accessibility, visibility, connectivity and maneuverability of ministers dictate perception. As a result, those with access to huge funds, elevated social status and high visibility in appropriate forums, including the media, ranked high while ministers with less accessibility, media patronage, financial lebensraum to oblige favour-seekers and are targets of corporate ire tanked.

Frankly speaking, this rating too is affected by personal biases. But with a difference. It is based more on my reporting experience of over 35 years, and not by how many times I wined and dined with powerful but discreet ministers, tycoons and diplomats. It is based on speaking to bhakts, karyakartas and foes and friends of the ministers. Making an objective job card of all the 26 Cabinet ministers and 12 MoS holding independent charge is a tough call. I have restricted my assessment to the top ten, by using the cardinal principle of ‘Sirf Kaam Machaye Shor’ (only performance makes a noise).

1. Nitin Gadkari, 61, Minister for Road Transport and Highways, and Shipping
Spends more time on the road than at work. The minister who thinks most out of the box. A risk-taker who changes the rule if it obstructs his agenda. Has activated jammed highway projects, cleared new ones and upgraded existing ones— a spend of over Rs. 2 lakh crore till 2019. On an average, about 20 km of road being added to the network daily. Changed road taxation policy, toll collection laws, made waterways transport a viable business. Established better coordination with state governments.  (9/10)
2. Dharmendra Pradhan, 47, MoS (Independent Charge) for Petroleum and Natural Gas
Low profile. Spends more time researching his portfolio than making aluring promises. Implemented many of the PM’s social schemes by exploiting rock-bottom crude oil prices. Ensured gas conections for the maximum number of rural folk. Was able to implement the Give It Up campaign, thus saving over `12,000 crore in welfare. Over two million gave up subsidised connections. (8.5/10)
 3. Sushma Swaraj, 64, Minister for External Affairs
 Despite frail health, the most frequent flier in Modi’s cabinet, and not just to glamorous destinations.  With 5.1 million Twitter followers, one of the few mantris who remain cyber-connected with not just diplomats but also with ordinary Indians. Resolves issues instantly. Created a world record by safely getting back the most number of captives from countries in IS-occupied territories. Though it is the PM who calls the shots on global affairs, Swaraj is his most effective ambassador. (8/10)
4. Rajnath Singh, 65, Minister for Home Affairs
 This low-profile ministry lands in the news only when terror attacks or Naxal violence happens. Gets no credit since secretive tactics make victories classified. Using a comprehensive information network, has aborted many terror conspiracies hatched across the border. Infiltrators prevented from striking in India. Brought down Naxal attacks. Police reform process, stuck in budget constraints, restarted. Made Centre-state relations smooth. Most accessible minister to BJP workers. (7.5/10)
5. Smriti Irani, 40, Minister for Human Resource Development
Despite modest educational background, the youngest-ever HRD minister is the government’s most effective communicator, compared to most predecessors with degrees and pedigree. Purged the educational system and other government-sponsored think-tanks of Leftist elements. Stuck to agenda, unconcerned by attacks from elitist elements within the party and outside. Introduced sweeping reforms and finalised the New Education Policy, which will send Macaulayputras on the run. (7.10)

6. Prakash Javadekar, 65, Minister of State (IC) for Environment, Forest
   and Climate Change
 Transformed the political and bureaucratic ecosystem. Created a record by clearing over 2,000 languishing projects. By interacting with stakeholders, including the states, transformed an anti-growth ministry through a Jack the Beanstalk approach. Mojo: Grow with Green. Darling of both big biz and environmentalists. (6.5/10)

7. Piyush Goyal, 52, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal, 
    New and Renewable Energy
NDA’s Great Innovator. USP is a robust monitoring system. Revived most PSU power utilities. Mission: Green Energy. Distributed a record number of LED bulbs. Garnered maximum bids for coal mines, most of which are yet to start production. Power reforms sluggish with state companies chalking up huge losses. (6/10)

8. Suresh Prabhu, 62, Minister for Railways
 Has used every trick in the book to bring railways on track and convert it into a corporate-style public sector entity. Mantra: use technology over human resources to make the infamously accident-prone Indian Railways safe. His Swachh Rail emphasis on selected, high-traffic stations paying off. The ministry has given big orders for new rolling stock and other equipment to private entrepreneurs. No safe clean rail journey for rural travellers. Instead of finding new sources of revenue, resorted to raising passengers and freight fares. (5/10)
9. Arun Jaitley, 63, Minister for Finance, and Information & Broadcasting
Modi’s most well-connected, visible and ominously influential minister. The din he makes speaks louder than actual work done. Most successful in diverting attention from ministry’s failure. Status quo-ist. No fresh ideas to tackle the economy. Raised revenues by taxing the poor and middle class, while keeping the interests of rich and corporates intact. Achieved revenue generation boost from increased indirect taxation rather than inventive thinking. Deficit under control primarily due to plunge in crude oil prices and reduction of budget allocation for various social sectors.  (4/10)

                           10. Radha Mohan Singh, 66, Minister for Agriculture
 NDA’s worst performer. Despite India’s growth of over 7 per cent, agriculture growing at less than 1 per cent. No proper administrative and fiscal system for farmers. Over 35 per cent of the country is drought-stricken, but this farmer is wandering in the wilderness. No new reform introduced. No future road map. This list may be disagreeable to those for whom publicity, and not perception, decides the parameters of performance. But then, that’s what objectivity about subjects is all about. (3/10); Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Sunday, May 22, 2016

If the Gandhi brand has to regain sheen....Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ May 22, 2016

If the Gandhi brand has to regain sheen, two power centres must make way for one

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi

Dear Soniaji and Rahulji,

I can appreciate the pain and disappointment you are experiencing after the Congress party’s recent debacle in the state polls. In market-driven politics, the shelf-life of a leader as a brand is tenuously linked with the ability to attract eyeballs. Under your leadership, the Congress has lost two more states—Kerala and Assam. Its performance in Tamil Nadu is lamentable. Apart from Karnataka, it rules just six picayune states as against the BJP’s nine important ones. The Congress has barely managed to retain its old numbers in the West Bengal Assembly, doomed by an alliance with its ideological opponent, the CPI(M). The Left’s loss in West Bengal, however, was handsomely compensated by its gigantic gains in Kerala. Both were at the cost of the Congress. 

Most of your loyal leaders and workers, for whom the Congress is a meal ticket, doubt its ability to provide a secure political future. Some among them are alarmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission to achieve a Congress-mukt Bharat may become a reality sooner than later. The party has maintained its mirage of unity, without a whisper of disloyalty from important leaders or ordinary workers, who are yet to air their doubts about your ability to win elections. I’m sure millions of unsolicited advisories have landed on your desks. I’m equally sure that neither of you have given them a dekko, because only you can comprehend the reason your party was decimated. While you, Rahul, made a valiant attempt to turn voters around by touring poll-bound states extensively, your mother Sonia was conspicuous by her absence in many crucial areas. Soniaji, you must realise that the invisibility of the Gandhis during a campaign renders the rank and file sightless. Millions of Congress workers were missing you both, since there was no one else to energise voters who are disenchanted with the current cult and culture of the party. 

I’ve been covering elections for over three decades. For the first time, I discovered that Congress candidates were not invoking Brand Gandhi to tilt the electoral battle in their favour. In the past, they chanted slogans eulogising Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Today it is you they would hail. In the last polls,  however, the usually unflinching blind faith in the Gandhis was missing. Candidates looked for leaders and slogans according to their discretion. I could spot the dilemma churning their minds. The cadre and leaders were split through the middle. They were unsure about who among either of you should be chosen as the party’s current and future face to lead it and rule the country. 

Soniaji, you have been at the helm of the Congress for 18 years. It’s a record. Rahul, you have been in active politics for over a decade and have held important party positions for over five years. But total confusion prevails in the workers’ mind about the role you play in the party. There is no division of power or responsibilities. The Congress is visibly divided between the Sonia Congress and Rahul Congress.  For the past few years, party leaders all over India have not been able to discern which one of you calls the shots. Even chief ministerial candidates, senior leaders, chief ministers and important office-bearers of the party are frustrated over the absence of a clear policy-making structure in the party. Most committed workers believe that more than the party’s infirm image, it is the existence of two power centres that is causing the Congress, which had ruled India for five decades, to lose its way. 

Whenever a new satrap took over the Congress, they gave it a novel look and vision. Indiraji created a new Congress by purging the Syndicate. Sanjay introduced aggression with a Right-of-Centre ideological shift. Rajiv brought in young blood and modern minds. P V Narasimha Rao tried to dismantle what he thought was the Rajiv Congress, but lost the plot. Sitaram Kesri was the only aberration in Congress history. In you, Soniaji, the Congress found a leader rooted in the Gandhi Parivar culture. You, however, refrained from any significant surgery though the body was ailing. You carried the old guard along and ensured that the party came to power in 2004 and 2009 by forging alliances even with those who had made personal attacks on you. You re-invented the Congress as India’s ruling party. But during the party’s decade in power, its credibility decayed as numerous scams erupted at regular intervals. The Opposition held you responsible. Some leaders charged you both of encouraging corruption or being personally involved in some of the scandals. The jury is still out since no evidence has surfaced against any either of you yet.

Predictably, perception is precious in political power play. It is not for the first time that your party has suffered electoral reverses. From 1977 onwards, its fortunes have passed through hills and valleys. The Congress had always bounced back because a leader with national appeal held the rudder. The party is still a national brand. Even during the 2016 elections, its vote share rose compared to its performance in the 2014 general elections. But its USP, the Gandhis, got a battering. The password to victory used to be ‘Gandhi’. Now it is seen as a firewall. 

When Modi talks about a Congress-free India, he actually means India sans Gandhis in politics. He and his party have projected you as the symbols of all that was wrong in the UPA government. Today, both of you have to decide not just your own political futures, but also that of your party. India needs a strong and constructive Opposition led by credible leaders. One of you has to opt for VRS, so that there is only one Gandhi in charge. In new age politics, individuals personify ideology. The idea of the Congress is immortal. But if the Sangh Parivar acquires the domains of the pre-Independence Congress, the fault lies with the Gandhi Parivar. It is between you two to decide which Gandhi has the chutzpah to revive the sinking and shrinking Congress.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 16, 2016

Executive's assault on Judiciary .... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard / May 15, 2016

Executive's assault on judiciary will only kill the essential spirit of the constitution

It is the destiny of men to pass into the great beyond one day. But the institutions created by mankind are meant to survive to promote and protect the system. Though their arbitrary misuse of power causes critical confrontations. The Indian Constitution—the world’s longest—strongly emphasises the division of power between the executive, judiciary and legislature. The wise men and women who wrote it anticipated a conflict between politicians and judges. They, however, hardly foresaw the depth of animosity that could rise between the two pillars of democracy.

The oppugnancy between the executive and judiciary is not new. But today, it has escalated into a turf war rather than a civilised disagreement in the spirit of the Constitution. Rattled by the rising number of judicial verdicts against various actions of the executive and legislature, politicians across the spectrum have unsheathed their swords against the judiciary. Legislatures, including Parliament, have been turned into platforms to launch diatribes against the judiciary.

During the last session of Parliament, the judiciary was targeted sans serious provocation. None other than Finance Minister Arun Jaitley led the attack. The House was discussing financial issues, but he chose the occasion to hit out at the judiciary, accusing it of destroying “step by step, brick by brick, the edifice of India’s legislature”.

Jaitley was echoing the views of not only PM Narendra Modi, but also of former PMs like Manmohan Singh, as well as a number of powerful leaders across parties. Last year, Modi lamented the rising tendency of judicial activism. Addressing a conference of Chief Justices and CMs, he had said, “It is never too difficult to deliver justice within the boundaries of the law and Constitution. But it is very difficult to find the truth between perception and reality. It must be pondered over whether five-star activists are driving the judiciary today… if havoc is created to drive the judiciary. It has become difficult to deliver justice in an atmosphere of perception”. He also criticised the long vacations enjoyed by high court and Supreme Court judges, especially the month-long summer break in the apex court. His predecessor had expressed his annoyance with the judiciary by warning, “The judicial family must consider the ills that face the judicial system with concern and find quick solutions for it. Any further delay in finding such solutions will only jeopardise the integrity and efficacy of judicial institutions”.

India is not alone where the political leadership is concerned about what it perceives as judicial encroachment. In the 1800s, America’s Founding Father and president, who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson had noted, “Judicial activism makes a thing of wax in the hands of judiciary which it can give the shape as it wishes.”Apart from politicos, the judiciary is also under attack from agenda-driven civil society. There are numerous examples of activists attacking judicial pronouncements, which went against their ideological convictions.

If political leaders have been acerbic in their criticism, judges have not kept schtum either. In April, Chief Justice T S Thakur, while sharing a platform with the PM, made it clear that his fraternity cannot be blamed for the executive’s mistakes. Speaking in a voice trembling with emotion, he clarified, “It is not only in the name of a litigant or people languishing in jails but also in the name of development of the country, that I beseech you to rise to the occasion and realise that it is not enough to criticise. You cannot shift the entire burden on the judiciary.” He responded on judicial vacations by saying, “Do you think we go to Manali or some other hill stations to enjoy ourselves? If he (the PM) thinks we have long vacations, he is entitled to hold on to his views. But only a judge, his wife and children can tell you how much judges enjoy in the vacations.”

Behind the verbal duel between the judiciary and executive lies the reality of various arms of the latter abandoning their basic duty of providing responsive and clean governance. During the past two decades, the courts have rapped the executive’s knuckles on various issues by:

• Quashing the National Judicial Accountability Act, which would have given decisive role to executive in the selection of judges
• Striking down caste and religious reservations by various states
• Barring politicians from contesting polls after conviction and vacating seats
• Taking serious view of scams and ordering court-monitored probe
• Preventing state governments from playing with environment
• Striking down imposition of Article 356 in Uttarakhand
• Giving freedom to investigative agencies to probe politicians and civil servants without seeking approval of any authority
• Cleansing the corruption-ridden BCCI, which is largely dominated by political leaders.
It is not the judiciary, which is becoming more involved in the administration of the state, but the rising number of citizens who are approaching various courts for the redressal of their grievances after they failed to get justice from government departments. The state is the largest litigant in India. According to legal luminaries, the judiciary has stepped in whenever the executive has failed. But politicians assert that unelected persons cannot be given the power to reverse decisions taken by an elected government in the public interest.

A prominent jurist fired a robust rebuttal, maintaining that the Constitution was written on behalf of the people while it is only one-third of the voters, which elect a government. Fortunately, the judiciary enjoys far more credibility than the executive. Any attempt to damage its reputation through insulations and legislations will only kill the essential spirit of the Constitution. At a time when the nation is witnessing the growth of confrontationist politics, any attempt to weaken the judiciary will strike at the roots of Indian democracy and its Constitution.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla