Monday, March 24, 2014

Admitting anyone in Party poses a Threat .... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/March 23, 2014

Admitting Anyone in Party Poses a Threat Not only to Moditva But Also Modi Himself

Colonel Sona Ram surely doesn’t belong to GenNext. At 71, the former Congress Jat general has been chosen by Team Modi to replace 76-year-old BJP Rajput warhorse Major Jaswant Singh. For the BJP, former finance, external affairs and defence minister is a loser. But Sona Ram who lost his Assembly election as a Congress candidate from Rajasthan just six months ago is suddenly an asset. It is true that he has excelled himself in acquiring assets. As a Congress MP in 2004 from Barmer, Sona Ram’s election affidavit revealed assets worth Rs 1.53 crore which had, presto, risen to Rs 3.11 crore when he filed his nomination as the Congress candidate for the Baytoo Assembly segment. As a member of the ruling Congress, his assets saw a behemothic rise when he was re-nominated in 2013, having zoomed vertically to Rs 17 crore. Next, let’s take Jagdambika Pal, a Congress defector from Uttar Pradesh to the saffron bandwagon. He was elected from Domariyaganj twice in 2004 and 2009. His assets were just `10 lakh in 2004 but crossed almost Rs 5 crore in 2009. He holds the world record for being the only UP leader to have perched briefly on the chief minister’s seat for just 24 hours. Ironically, both Atal Bihari and L K Advani had sat on dharna in front of the Rashtrapati Bhawan against his midnight installation as chief minister.

The dilemma of debate begins here. Does the BJP’s hearty welcome extended to Sona Ram and Jagdambika Pal punctures its claim of a Modi wave sweeping the country? Or does it signal its growing acceptability among various sections of the political spectrum?  Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes. Accepting defectors from the Congress does betray the BJP’s tremulous state of confidence, since this would mean it is not sure that its own trusted and loyal workers would ensure a win in these constituencies. Already, the party has bolstered this impression by letting its leaders choose ‘safe’ seats for themselves at the cost of even replacing those who had earlier won these constituencies. Now the race is on to hug, kiss and make up with anyone and anybody. The BJP’s witenagemote is snooping around to sniff out for any form of dissident and disgruntled elements in other parties and admitting them into their fold. Horse-trading and party hopping is unfortunately de riguer on the eve of every election. Since the Ruling Party of India (RPI) is perceived as a sinking ship, many of its members are making a beeline to the BJP headquarters—former diplomats, army officers, senior retired civil servants, culture vultures, cine stars and opinion writers; all expecting some crumbs in case the saffron flag comes to fly over Delhi. Most of them have been the UPA’s megalomaniacal megaphones and have competed to paint Modi as the monster for most of the past decade. It is because of the choreographed entry of fair weather birds that the original development thrust of the Modi-for-PM campaign is getting diluted. On top of it, the BJP is now even brokering electoral weddings with those parties which are opposed to its ideology of nationalism and a united India. Even committed party cadres feel sandbagged by the recent decision to align with five Dravidian parties, which have been associated with the LTTE. But in its endeavour to erase its stigma of untouchability, the BJP leadership doesn’t mind embracing them to prove its adversaries wrong. Undoubtedly, the party cannot expect to win a single seat in the south unless it finds a credible confrere. The party won both in 1998 and 1999 because L K Advani was able to add trustworthy allies like the DMK or AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, BJD in Odisha and TMC in West Bengal. Later, the BJP also forged alliances with Ajit Singh’s RLD and JMM in Jharkhand. It was for the first time that over a dozen regional parties with formidable local clout accepted Vajpayee’s leadership and unconditionally supported his government.

In its desperate search for winning friends and influencing people, the BJP appears to be changing both colours and contours. For the first time, it is undergoing a massive metamorphosis. The new BJP would not be a party led by ideology-led leaders. It is facing a serious threat of a takeover by those who had no connection with the Sangh Parivar. The speed with which former Congressmen are being admitted in the BJP, the day is not far when people may find it difficult to tell one from the other. So far, only economics had erased the difference between the two national parties. Soon, they will also physically look alike. The BJP sees leaders like Advani, Jaswant Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, Kalyan Singh, Arun Shourie, Uma Bharti and more as liabilities, while defectors like Sona Ram and Jagdambika Pal are perceived as the most productive assets. The party has sidelined many veterans in various states to accommodate opportunists. Even an indirectly favourable statement made by Mehbooba Mufti, a highly vociferous supporter of separatist tendencies thanks to her political compulsions, is interpreted as an endorsement for Moditva. A few inaudible and disjointed words spoken by M K Alagiri, Karunanidhi’s rebellious son, are projected as rising support for the saffron party. These are good omens for the BJP but it also means that it doesn’t mind making deals for the sake of acquiring power at any cost at the Centre. The art of making compromises was so far the monopoly of the Congress. It did not hesitate to strike an accord with Sharad Pawar, who had resigned from the Congress over the issue of Sonia’s foreign citizenship. It welcomed the DMK, which was accused of supporting Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins. The Congress, however, has never been as liberal in admitting BJP leaders to its fold as the BJP appears to be, getting tainted and infamous Congress leaders into its clasp. It is now time for Modi to assert himself. Does he want a party of committed cadre, which believes in his development agenda and decisive leadership? Or will he allow the party to admit anyone who would pose a threat not only to Moditva but also challenge the authority of Modi himself.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, March 17, 2014

Only way Messenger won't be shot.... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/ March 16, 2014

Only Way Messenger Won't be Shot is if the Message Delivered is Truthful

The message is increasingly becoming irrelevant. Now messengers are targets. Political parties will welcome any herald as long as the words brought are the ones that cheer. The political narrative of the General Elections has become a saga of ugly confrontation. Now leaders not only insist on choosing the messenger, they also dictate the message. Arvind Kejriwal, the progenitor of a novel politics of change, has set a precedent by announcing his intention to send all renitent media to jail. His anger may have been well placed. After all he is new to politics and has also been a media darling, unused to improbation. Most of us saw little wrong in his style or substance because he was fighting to engender a clean and transparent establishment. The press gave him maximum exposure before and after he joined politics. He and his party were cynosures of the media’s adoring eyes. Once Kejriwal stepped into active politics, each and every move came under the media’s unforgiving lens. As much as his questioning of pedestal pendragons were given prominence, queries raised about his party also got equal billing. The same yardsticks applied to probing his adversaries were used on his effervescently successful political outfit too.
But the gap between conduct of crusader Kejriwal and the rest of the political class seems be diminishing fast. As leaders acquire clout, acceptability and legitimacy, they start behaving like monarchs. They forget arrogance brings agony. Once Kejriwal became part of the system, his party adopted the same tactics as mainline parties of intimidating critics. His mission may be diametrically different, but his methods are the same as of his opponents. He perhaps believes that if other political outfits can dictate terms to the media, why can’t he with a clean track record. The media is now confronted with a situation in which the establishment has forged a coalition to defame, deter and decide its survival.
With the enormous growth of the media forcing it to adopt the perilous path of competitive journalism, parties have acquired the monopoly in deciding content of not only the electronic media but also of print. They now decide which anchor or club of reporters should be obliged. They also dictate kind of analysts to be invited for discussions. Should any channel exhibit defiance, they would spread the word that it should be boycotted. Moreover, parties have made it almost impossible for journalists to cover events unless the content provided by them is used without raising questions—a trend started by BJP’s PM candidate whose team understood the economic weakness of the Indian media. The BJP was the first to provide controlled feeds of rallies addressed by Modi to be telecast live for hours. For months, viewers were not informed that the ‘live’ footage was in reality provided by the party. When Rahul Gandhi learnt about the practice, a copycat Congress hired dedicated camera teams and asked the channels to carry footage the party provided. Even a regional leader like Mulayam Singh Yadav could persuade the electronic media to broadcast his rallies live using a captive system. But Kejriwal’s meetings received coverage without a penny being spent. Thus, by laying out their terms, political parties escaped the usual media scrutiny on their functioning.

Earlier, interviews of those who were herded to the rallies would be carried; empty spaces in the audience shown; and the focus would be on the hidden aspects of choreographed election events. Now the spotlight is only on the leader’s speech followed by a debate by a panel that includes collaborative columnists. Kejriwal perhaps has a point when he alleges that the media has become uncharitable to him because he is questioning the role of tycoons in the elections and the influence of big business on media coverage. For decades, the Indian media has been quite charitable towards India Inc. Barring a few exceptions, the media has abjured following corporate shenanigans and malpractices, in contrast to the vigour it brings to any dissection of the political system. But Kejriwal and supporters feel journalists have been partial towards select leaders; at the same time running a campaign against political parties.

Most newspapers and channels treat some leaders as sacrosanct compared to others even in the same party, and have unknowingly carried stories fed by them without questioning their intentions. According to media researchers, three individuals—Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi—have been given over 60 per cent prime time coverage by channels and over 50 per cent space meant for political news in the print media. According to a TV analyst, for the past seven months, Modi directly or indirectly has grabbed over 600 hours of TV space, against over 450 hours by Kejriwal and less than 300 hours by Rahul. Interestingly, the media has given extensive coverage to AAP’s second-rung leaders and a few BJP satraps while ignoring stalwarts like Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari.  In spite of getting such extensive publicity, none of them have spared the media. If Kejriwal has now chosen it as his latest target, the media must also share the blame. The Indian media has survived many sinister attacks on its independence. It will overcome many more if it places less emphasis on bytes, speeches, selective opinion, collusive debates and promoting class leaders at the cost of grassroots leaders. The messenger, too, would then survive the might of any political nemesis if the message delivered is truthful, irrespective of colours and contours.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, March 10, 2014

India's next PM likely ....Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ March 09, 2014

India's Next PM Likely to Be Anointed Because of Deal-Makers, Not Popular Mandate

Ideology is dead. Long live personae. A myth waits to be exploded. Arrogant leaders will only devour ideologies. Self-proclaimed national satraps who avoid facing the electorate hide in opulent strategy rooms. Sons, daughters, sisters, sons-in-law and even cousins will decide poll strategies and candidates. Manifestos will be written not by party leaders but by ad agencies and unemployed intellectuals in search of an identity. Poll 2014 began with the lofty slogan on inclusiveness combined with decisive leadership. But as the brangle over seizing winnable seats get uglier, the elections could end up as a fight between feuding family members and rootless snobs who are determined to destroy the future of popular leaders and replace them with sycophants, or even superannuated lickspittle babus. Almost all political outfits—BJP, Congress and regional parties—are once again placing their confidence in glamour, networking and pedigree as the criteria to choose candidates.

For the past three months, BJP’s premier candidate has been spreading his carbon footprint all over the country, selling his idea of India. He has never missed an opportunity to unfold his action plan for India’s growth to make it one of the most prosperous global powers. At all his 70-odd rallies attended by over 30 million people, he spoke about Swaraj and providing clean candidates. But last week, his party was involved in turf battles over seat allocations. For even BJP insiders, the confrontation between the supporters of Murali Manohar Joshi and Narendra Modi over the Varanasi seat came as a shocker. For almost a week before the meeting was held in New Delhi, poster wars and verbal scrimmages had broken out in Varanasi between both factions. Joshi has won the seat twice with comfortable margins. His performance as the HRD Minister in the NDA government might have been controversial, but he is still the BJP’s most acceptable Brahmin face in Uttar Pradesh after Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The acrimony over Varanasi brings to spotlight BJP’s dilemma on finding a seat for its PM candidate. Undoubtedly, Modi is the most popular political leader in the country. His rising acceptability in large parts of India should make the party confident of his victory from any seat in the north. But both Modi and BJP feel he should contest from Uttar Pradesh, and that too from Varanasi. The idea of Modi standing from Lucknow was dropped because of the considerable number of minority votes in the constituency. But the fight over Varanasi is an indication that even PM candidates are looking for safe seats, betraying faith in their own achievements and capacity to win from any part of the country. Another BJP leader whose name has always been advertised as a possible PM candidate appears to be backing out again, along with other rootless leaders on the plea that they have to manage the polls, which they unsuccessfully did in 2009 and ensured that the party lost the election under Advani’s generalship. Moreover, some senior party leaders have also questioned the wisdom of replacing a senior candidate with Modi—who could easily win from one of the many other seats in Uttar Pradesh. If Joshi can be asked to shift to another constituency, why can’t Modi be asked to fight from any other seat, they ask.

The saga of an individual becoming more important than an ideology doesn’t end with Modi alone. The BJP is striking deals with varied leaders with dubious track records. Ignoring the views of prominent party palatines in Bihar and Karnataka, the BJP gave Ram Vilas Paswan the saffron handshake. It legitimised caste chieftains like former Karnataka CM B S Yeddyurappa only to show that Modi was attracting allies, even those who face criminal cases and are known party-hoppers. Elsewhere in the country, BJP hospodars have been engaging the progeny of even picayune regional political padrones to extend their support for Modi’s legions.

In the meantime, within the Congress, Rahul has been losing grip over the selection process. He has been told that individuals are more powerful than a dynasty’s nationwide allure. The selection of candidates like Ashok Chavan’s wife proves that the Gandhi cognomen is not powerful enough for the Congress to ensure the victory of its party candidates. Rahul has been vocal about dropping tainted candidates but is now left to accommodate some of the party’s most notorious leaders who could easily demolish its electoral prospects if not given tickets. His experiment of choosing 15 candidates through primaries seems to have backfired because some controversial candidates appear to command much more grassroots support. The situation is much worse in the household of Lalu Prasad, who leads the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar. He chose family members over other clean, acceptable leaders. He promises to fight Nitish Kumar’s non-performing government only by putting up his wife and daughter as Lok Sabha candidates from safe seats. In the east, even Mamata Banerjee, considered to be a down-to-earth leader who believes in simple living, has fallen victim to the glamour quotient by sponsoring political novices as candidates. She feels Kollywood glitterati, sports personalities and novelists are best suited to carry forward her alternative agenda for good governance. She has been picking up former corporate lobbyists, journalists and ad honchos to compensate for the absence of thought leaders. But none of her protégés are known to have revealed any knowledge about Mamatanomics and Didipolitik.

Most constituents of the failed Third Front depend more on individuals and relatives to boost their chances. Mulayam Singh Yadav has never given up his right to nominate half-a-dozen relatives as SP candidates in the coming elections. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, India’s most powerful leaders are looking only for individuals who can add a few votes; track records be damned. Tragically, India is likely to get a PM whose anointment was managed through visible and invisible affidations with individuals and opportunistic parties and not because of a mandate from Maximum India.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, March 3, 2014

In Race to 7 RCR..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ March 02, 2014

In Race to 7 RCR, Maximum Leaders Depend on Minimum Fuglemen to Succeed 


The trend of corporate mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances are experiencing a sunset moment. Instead, the season for political mergers and acquisitions has opened. Such opportunistic deals are occuping primetime news hours more than corporate alliances of the past. With market leaders like BJP and Congress exhibiting zetetic zeal in acquiring new caste and community markets, the price of picayune political outfits have hit the roof. The market capitalisation of sinking political organisations has exceeded their net worth, thanks to massive demand from national parties. Prominent brand masters like Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi are desperately seeking alliances to either retain their market share or expand it by gobbling up small players. Neither national party holds more than 40 per cent of the electorate market. In spite of pan-India visibility, neither has a significant presence in states that send over 250 MPs to Lok Sabha. Even some regional parties are scouting for trophies as window displays to attract fence-sitters. As the countdown to battle 2014 begins, it has dawned on all that battles of the ballot cannot be won on banal ideological and individual-driven charters. The new mantra to win the Lok Sabha polls seems to be ‘Forget Development, Welcome the Caste and Community Coalition’.

After acting pricey, both Rahul and Modi have realised that any dream of capturing 7 RCR will remain a mirage unless regional satraps and caste/community leaders join them in selling their brands. Surprisingly, BJP initiated the first move. It was under the illusion that Modi will move the market like Dhoni, Bachchan, Salman or Priyanka do for brands they promote. After addressing 70-odd rallies from Kerala to Tripura, Modi and his sponsors seem to have realised that he alone is not enough to convert visible popularity into votes. BJP needed local leaders and vote mobilisers to go that extra mile to the booth. After having failed to win over any of the big leaders such as Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Chandrababu Naidu, BJP decided wooing failed caste leaders is the only option to erase impression that the party isn’t able to garner new allies. The total worth of BJP’s new acquisitions and mergers is unlikely to create a winning tally. For the past four months, it has hawked Modi as the panacea for all ills that plague Indian politics and economics. Through expensive tech campaigns, Modi was projected as the leader who would pull India out of a mess. The feedback from huge rallies and small groups of targeted audiences had given Modi and sponsors the impression that BJP and its PM candidate don’t need alliances. Rajnath Singh told me in an interview that NDA needs no allies to form a government because Modi’s leadership was enough. The next day, however, he and his messengers were striking deals with all and sundry. Nitin Gadkari wooed Dalit leader Ramdas Athawale to join the NDA bandwagon. For the sake of a fading Dalit satrap, the party denied Rajya Sabha re-nominations to dedicated leaders. The best joke of all was the induction of Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar, which the BJP claims to be its new bastion. The two leaders collectively do not count for more than 4 per cent of the total vote. In Tamil Nadu, BJP has been panting to get Vanniar caste-dominated PMK to join NDA, ignoring pending criminal cases. It brought back former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa to regain Lingayat votes. The clear fiat to BJP’s state leaders is to spot fringe parties to be shanghaied to NDA.

Both national parties have used corporate and NGO interlocutors to bring SP, TMC, AIADMK, BJD and TDP closer, but none of the regional outfits have bothered to return calls. Instead, Mulayam Singh Yadav took the lead in corralling most of the non-national parties on one platform to forge a pre-poll alliance. None of them are in competition in any state. It is only the Left, which stands to gain if such an alliance is midwifed because it would then get seats in states where it lacks a chance. Since forward and dominant castes in the big states show no interest in either national party, BJP is randomly picking up leaders known not for their achievements but for their caste or symbolic value. The party readmitted backward class leader Kalyan Singh not for his track record but considering his caste pull. It is an irony that the party which began its campaign as one that stood for decisive leadership and good governance is now chasing tainted and failed leaders.

Meanwhile, Congress and its supreme leaders don’t mind giving tickets to those whose reputations are sullied by judicial action and investigation. They represent only caste and community and are not responsible for transparent governance. BJP to prove its USP, has embraced superannuated controversial civil, police and army officers. If those who do not honour democracy and transparency become prominent instruments of a party’s growing acceptability, it reflects badly on its popular commitment. In the past few months, over half-a-dozen retired babus have joined the party. All the state mongers are beneficiaries of UPA’s liberal munificence and even got plum postings. Unlike AAP, which is recruiting and co-opting those who have rebelled against the system, BJP and Congress prefer the brotherhood of compromisers and opportunists. While the former nets fair weather birds, the latter has so far failed to acquire new parties or even discredited caste and community leaders. The trend is clear. The maximum leaders now depend on minimum fuglemen to succeed.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla