Monday, May 26, 2014

Rahul's inglorious Past ....Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/May 25, 2014

RAHUL'S Inglorious Past Can be Forgotten 
if he Draws Roadmap for Congress' 
Sunlit Future

The ides of May have brought low India’s pre-eminent dynasty. But will the line of Caesar continue long enough in politics to bring the Congress party deliverance from damnation? India has decisively rejected the Congress, an outfit owned and controlled by the Gandhis since 1998. If in 2004, the dynasty re-asserted its appeal by dethroning the NDA government led by the hugely popular Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 2014 Hurricane Modi mauled it beyond recognition. Success has many fathers, but failure is always an orphan, shunted around in the hope of finding a convenient lap—an exercise happening currently in the 125-year-old Congress. Patrons of the Manmohan Singh government are holding mother and son responsible for the party’s abysmal rout, choosing to forget that it was India’s weakest ever Prime Minister who customised a grave for the Congress by leading an indecisive and tainted administration. Manmohan will go down in history as the unreturnable prodigal who hobbled his political materfamilias, who had elevated him from a mere Babu to the CEO of a 1.2-billion strong nation.
The Manmohan era is an unforgettably dismal chapter in Congress history. The party failed to even win enough seats to claim the position of the leader of the opposition. Its total tally of 44 MPs is just half the number of seats the BJP won from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar alone. The Congress won only one seat within the 325 km radius of the capital—Haryana Chief Minister’s son Deepinder Hooda’s. But instead of focusing on the UPA government’s lame legacy, the savage spotlight is on Rahul Gandhi alone. From corporate leaders to TV’s speaking classes, Rahul is seen as the only fall guy for the party’s pathetic performance. He is accused of depending on foreign-educated technocrats, ignoring Congress grassroots workers and being totally inaccessible to even senior leaders. Undoubtedly, he was the playing captain of his team, pitched against a supremely aggressive Modi riding an unprecedented popularity tsunami. Rahul’s campaign style was confused. He lacked a clear focus. He just kept parroting lines about work done by the government, insentient of the popular hatred towards it. According to Congress sources, he chose an ad agency which was clueless about Indian political idiom and grammar.  He had neither a credible message nor an effective medium to influence the verdict. To give new players executive campaign experience, he picked leaders like Jairam Ramesh and Madhusudan Mistry to manage elections in crucial states like Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. They lacked even a preliminary knowledge of local equations and issues. In other states too, unknown and untested leaders were sent to fight the Might of Modi.

 The knives are out for Rahul. Predictably, most of the Gandhi loyalists have come forward in his defence. But now, apart from accepting responsibility, Rahul also has to ensure accountability not only for his performance but of others as well. He has been in politics for a decade and in office for the past three years. The storm of 2014 has made it abundantly clear that the Gandhi name is no longer the password for a successful entry into the corridors of power. Both Rahul and Sonia are experiencing the phase of diminishing returns. The Congress has been a meal ticket party and if the Gandhis are unable to deliver, it will only shrink further. Rahul can’t get away with excuses such as he hasn’t been allowed absolute freedom to jettison deadwood in the party. Even his admirers feel that if he has to reclaim acceptability, he must take complete charge or get discharged. Since age is on his side, he can take chances an older leader can’t even think of doing. Congressmen expect Rahul to shed the image of a shoot-and-scoot politician who appears on stage and vanishes after delivering random punches. Now he has enough time to reinvent not just himself but also create a new Congress, which can fight as an effective opposition. His mother brought the Congress to power by compromising with regional satraps. His challenge is to get rid of most of them. Like fair-weather birds, most of the Gandhi Parivar’s former and current allies have started dumping it. Rahul started the Revive Congress Operation from UP five years ago and was credited with sweeping 22 Lok Sabha seats. But he failed miserably in the state Assembly elections both in UP and Bihar later. His real test now lies in his ability to ensure that the national status of the Congress remains. Though it rules in over a dozen states, it represents less than 15 per cent of the Indian population and 25 per cent of the total seats. Barring Karnataka, the Congress does not run any large state. Its base started shrinking first in late 1979 when it lost political space to Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu. After that, it started losing out in West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, UP, and also the smaller states. If Verdict 2014 is repeated during the state elections in Maharashtra, the party may not be able to earn the status of the leader of the opposition ever. For Rahul, the task is cut out. He faces the major challenge of replacing the reigning fossils of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Earlier, frontal organisations like the Mahila Congress, Youth Congress, labour and students’ outfits were major founts of strength for the Congress revival. Under Rahul’s leadership, neither did any of these grow nor did they make any impact on the election outcome. A study of over 300 Congress office-bearers of the AICC and PCCs reveals that over 70 per cent are either from various political clans or have never fought an election. The wrong people have captured the positions of power in the party. Rahul’s survival is tenuously linked with the aptitude to hone his communicative skills, the ability to define his vision, the authority to dump the derelicts and hardly working sycophants and promote the hard-working. His inglorious political past will only be forgotten if he can draw a roadmap along with his sister for a sunlit future of the Congress.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 19, 2014

Don't Forget Bharat Obliterated Gormandising India/The Sunday Standard/May 18, 2014

Don't Forget Bharat Obliterated Gormandising India

Dear Narendrabhai,
I must confess that I have been one of your few critics these past few months. I couldn’t come to terms with your grandiloquence and the way you positioned yourself as the Alternative Leader of India. I guess, you felt the pulse of the populace better than journalists like us, who could not see your connect with your audience. But I was also one of your few strident supporters from 2002 to 2010, when you were targeted by the same classes who are celebrating your victory today. They abhorred you for a decade. Now they adore you as the only leader who can save the nation from perdition. I don’t know whether this change of heart is emotional or led by monetary and social interests. You have created not only political history but also the way India will think from now on. You have decimated the conventional superstructure in which the elite establishment decided the nation’s fate for over six decades. Your persona defines the alternative idea of India. Bharat has at last pulverised arrogant and elitist India.
The results are a strong verdict against divisive secularism and crony capitalism. You have broken all barriers of caste and community by your relentless work with a clear mission and mantra. India has made you the curator of its karma. It has given you the democratic right to rewrite its destiny. You have successfully managed Gujarat for over a decade. But governing India, with its 30-odd states, is a different proposition. The Gujarat model was successful because it was conceptualised and implemented by a single person—you. But now you have to conceive an idea which can be accepted by all chief ministers and parties governing over half of the states. You have to now convert the “I” into “We”. Your first victory speech realistically emphasised the fact that the Indian people have given you enough numbers to form the government, but you need their support to run it. Your most original slogan was the promise, “Minimum government with maximum government”. As you are aware, if the mandate is unprecedented, the expectations are gargantuan. India expects you now to take your idea forward. Allow me to suggest a charter of ideas:
• Reduce the size of the Cabinet. The rules say the Prime Minister can appoint a maximum of 15 per cent (80 MPs) of the total membership of both Houses of Parliament as ministers. For the past 20 years, every PM, starting from P V Narasimha Rao, has been creating ministries and distributing them to various pressure groups. Their hands were tied by coalition partners. Each minister costs the exchequer over `10 crore yearly. India can do with less than half the number if ministries are rationalised. For example, why do we need separate ministries for railways, surface transport and civil aviation? After all, their functions are inter-connected. Similarly, corporate affairs and finance could be merged. Ministries like small and medium scale, heavy industry, and consumer affairs can be merged to form the Ministry for Industrial Development. Multiple departments delay decision-making and lead to turf wars. Each ministry should be given full functional autonomy.
• Shrink the bureaucracy. Reduce the number of secretaries from 150 to 50. For the past 10 years, babus have created over 200 jobs as post-retirement sinecures. They do little except push papers. Manmohan Singh appointed over two dozen academics and corporates to lead various commissions, gifting them Cabinet status. Most of them were nurturing the business interests of the sector they had served when in government. Scrap these posts immediately.
• You must ensure genuine secularism by exposing the fake secularists who have been dividing India for the past 50 years. Your party could not ensure a win for a single Muslim leader. But that shouldn’t deter you from shunning the politics of quotas and religion. You must implement the Gujarat model of social harmony, in which Muslims are part of the mainstream. Those who have won the people’s confidence should be given priority over those who have lost. You should sculpt a visible shape to the slogan that you learnt during your association with RSS—”Vividhata mein ekta, Bharat ki Visheshta” (unity in diversity is India’s unique identity). As a committed RSS swayamsevak, you have to practice it too.
• You are known to support a market-led economy where the government plays a minimum role. You must, however, tax the rich by making luxury cars, SUVs, private aircraft and import of luxury items pricier, and use the money raised to provide affordable and safe public transport.
• Your government’s economic policies should create capital for the nation and not just capitalists.  Impose capital gains tax to prevent market manipulators from becoming rich at the cost of gullible small investors.
• Make motorable roads in rural India. Provide clean and effective healthcare and quality education to rural India. Don’t give up Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream of linking rivers even if pressure is mounted by vested interest from within.
• Reform the education sector to produce responsible citizens and not just avaricious business leaders. Our education system is responsible for killing nationalism. Indian children now take pride in being global citizens, and don’t even want to call themselves Indians.
• Formulate a diplomatic ethic that puts India first and above other considerations. Its purpose should be to make India a global power and not one subservient to dominant American interests. Your government should seek a level-playing field in all sectors.
• Kashmir has been one of the most damaging issues for India. Since J&K has given you half of its Lok Sabha members, you have the legitimate power to bring the state at par with rest of the country. You should start the process of full integration of the state with India. The Indian constitution should be applied to it equally.
• Create 60 more cities so that the metros are saved from congestion and decay. Make life in villages much better than in the cities. Your model of development should also be the village and not Delhi and Mumbai alone. Bullet trains and laptops are proud symbols of modern India. But a healthy, educated and evolved Indian is an asset for the future.
Above all, a prime minister like you has to insulate himself from the manipulative machinations honed in the drawing rooms of New Delhi. Don’t look for endorsements from those who are uncomfortable with a person likely to shape an India of his own, rather than one for them. Don’t forget it is Bharat, which has obliterated gormandising India.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 12, 2014

Verdict 2014 ...... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/May 11, 2014

Verdict 2014 Will Lead to Another Battle, of Blame Game and Claims for Success

India’s corporate potentates who went AWOL from the country to avoid donation-hungry politicians are crowding departure lounges. They are the ones who cheered Change 2014, itching to see the transition from a paralysed power system to a dynamic and decisive government. They had already announced the results and spent big bucks on the future government. Political campaigners are back in their nests in opinioned cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata to engage in number crunching till the wee hours of May 16. Corporate czars would confabulate with leaders of the party they sponsored and supported to write the script for post-election speeches. Even the agencies which crafted ad campaigns and made millions are busy fashioning one-liners for their clients. As usual, three to four sets of speeches are being written, but only one would be used, depending on the poll outcome. Narendra Modi was not only the omnipresently visible hologram, he also had the maximum supporters from all walks of life working for his success. While senior BJP leaders were banished from his well-choreographed presidential style campaign, his promoters have hired wordsmiths to put together not only his victory speeches but also excuses in case he fails to muster a simple majority. His slogans like ‘Ab Ki Baar, Modi Sarkar’ and ‘Achche din aane wale hain’ (Good times are coming soon) were coined by foreign-educated media professionals. Senior party leaders, including some master strategists, have been eclipsed to prevent them from sharing the credit. Team Modi has been working on three different scenarios and is ready with explanations for each.
• In case BJP wins over 250 seats with over 30 per cent of the votes polled: Modi supporters would slip into a frenzy, the kind which India would have never seen. They would inundate the nation with Modi’s pictures, claiming Modi is India and India is Modi, saying he has upended all caste, community and religious barriers—it’s a vote for Modi, of Modi and by Modi; a positive verdict for a strong and prosperous India. Modi has purged the aura of the Gandhi Parivar, making them irrelevant. It is a mandate for the person who Fevicols India. Finally, Modi would claim that the people have pinned the charge that he was responsible for the 2002 riots. For 12 years, he has been facing various investigation agencies and legal scrutiny for the carnage. He has been a victim of international isolation and was denied a US visa. The West will now bring out the bubbly to celebrate the popular endorsement of the Modi model of governance and politics, which has brought the first-ever saffron government with a majority at the Centre. Modi will be given the full credit for creating an alternative pan-Indian national party.
• If BJP stops at 200 seats: Amit Shah would blame vote bank politics. Non-BJP parties would be accused of striking opportunistic alliances to keep Modi out of power at any cost. Delhi Durbar’s most virulent attack would be on the lack of a strong party organisation at the district level. His parachute regiments would castigate BJP state-level leaders for not giving their best. Since RSS had taken over booth management in all the constituencies BJP contested, Modiites will blame it for not taking others into confidence.
• If BJP is restricted to 180 seats: All hell would break loose in the BJP, with Modi supporters blaming it for under-exploiting his charisma. They would claim that Modi and Modi alone made BJP the single largest party in Parliament. They would hold the minorities responsible for voting with a vengeance against him. However, the party leadership will squarely blame Modi and his team. Advani and admirers would be the first to jump into the melee and say, “Didn’t we tell you Modi would become a polarising poll issue?” They would blame him for selecting wrong candidates, ignoring senior leaders for campaigning and encouraging defectors. He would also be blamed for choosing rootless caste-based parties as allies. As Modi and his megaphones withdraw into the background, it would be left to party president Rajnath Singh to defend BJP’s poor performance. He would perhaps say, “The people have voted against UPA. It is Modi’s popularity and development agenda that gave us so many seats. We are not happy with the final outcome. But overall, it’s a positive vote.” Modi bhakts would blame the Election Commission for its failure to ensure free and fair elections in certain parts of India.
While BJP would still have a cause to smile half-heartedly, Congress would find it difficult to structure a credible response to its dismal show. It is reconciled to one of the following scenarios:
* It gets less than 100 seats: Party leaders would blame Modi for polarising India, but never any member of the Gandhi Parivar. They will tweet that the Manmohan Singh government is totally responsible for the rout. In 1996, when the party lost power, the government was pilloried for not being able to take its reform policies to the people like Coca-Cola is sold in small towns. This time, most senior ministers would take the fall. Digvijaya Singh would claim that the results are a victory for communal forces supported by corporates. The spiel would be “the voters have faith that only the Gandhis can save the country from dictatorship. Congress has been defeated by dosh and not for its bad performance.
* If Congress gets between 110-120 seats: The war cry “Rahul has saved the party from total disaster and stopped Modi from acquiring a majority”, is ready. Sanjay Jha would go on TV saying, “The Indian people still believe in the Congress and Gandhi Parivar. We may be down but not out.” The ostrich council would assert “people have given us the mandate to contain crony capitalism and prevent the next government from dividing the country”. Septuagenarians would point out that the party has always bounced back after temporary setbacks. The Third Front and other non-BJP parties would face the flak from Jairam Ramesh for not joining the fight against communalism in Dalit and tribal villages. Congress would attack regional parties for letting anti-BJP votes become divided, protecting the interest of their leaders.
Worse would be the plight of the Left parties, which would get faces redder than their flags. Since AIADMK, TMC and BSP are likely to perform well, they would blame Congress for Modi’s victory. Campaign 2014 was one of the most expensive and abusive electoral battles ever seen. But the verdict will ignite a competitive and ridiculous kerfuffle among parties staking claims for success and passing the buck on failures.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 5, 2014

If Transition of Daughter into Political leader ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standared/ Mayn 04, 2014

If Transition of Daughter into Political Leader is to Go By, History Will Soon Repeat Itself 

 When Priyanka speaks, her voice is heard all over India and provokes even a puissant PM candidate and his party to sit up and take note. (PTI Photo) 

History’s predilection is to repeat itself. But in case of the Gandhis, a rerun at very short intervals is the norm. Verdict-2014 is not just a skirmish between Narendra Modi and the Gandhis. It is a fight for survival for the Gandhi Parivar, which is now pitched against a United Sangh Parivar. On test are the political pull, power and charisma of the ruling clan. The piercingly piquant Priyanka, the relentlessly roaring Rahul and the sanguine strategist Sonia are fighting a last ditch battle to retain their identity and authority over the 120-year-old Congress. Sonia delivered the power, Rahul took over the organisation, and now Priyanka is determined to change the political discourse by turning the Lok Sabha battle into a furious fracas of Gandhis vs Modi. As Sonia voluntarily and tentatively begins her journey into the political sunset, she has left it to the Gandhi siblings to either swim or sink in the political whirlpool. Priyanka is neither a candidate nor office bearer. She has confined her campaign to 200 km of the dynasty’s topography, covering less than half-a-dozen constituencies. But when she speaks, her voice is heard all over India and provokes even a puissant PM candidate and his party to sit up and take note. Mrs Gandhi Jr has little political experience, and few achievements to showcase. Her password to fame is her surname—Gandhi. For the past 10 years, she has been talking about local issues. But now she speaks on national issues with authority. She invokes her pedigree by saying “I am Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter. My father gave his life for the country and cannot be compared with anyone.” It was political retort to Modi’s claim that Priyanka is like his daughter.

It was evident that the Gandhi daughter has taken upon herself to deal with Modi, who has been targeting mother Sonia, brother Rahul and husband Robert Vadra for the past six months. Modi and BJP leadership have hardly castigated scam-ridden Manmohan Singh’s stupor and slide. Their target has been the Gandhis. BJP is aware that this election is perhaps the last chance to explode the Gandhi myth. Once their influence is diminished, the Gandhis will be reduced to being Minimum Leaders, which will in turn lead to disintegration of Congress. The Gandhis are the only source of blood and oxygen for the Congress. Their pedigree has kept the party going for over a decade.

But historically, only one member of the family has been responsible for the rise and fall of the party before. When Congress was in trouble in 1967, it was left to Indira Gandhi to win the elections. Two years later, when the syndicate challenged her, she split the party and survived. In 1971, not only did she trounce the syndicate and created Bangladesh, but also returned to power with two-thirds majority. But she was in trouble again for rising corruption and inflation. Jayaprakash Narayan led a silent revolution against her. She imposed Emergency in 1975 and lost election in 1977.  The party was out, but Indira and her younger son Sanjay were never down. Some senior Congressmen flew the coop. But mother and son returned to power in 30 months; first by dismembering the ruling Janata Party and then by winning two-thirds majority. Sanjay’s death in 1980 and Indira’s assassination gave India its first accidental PM, Rajiv Gandhi, who won over 400 seats for Congress, with almost 50 per cent votes polled in his favour.

Rajiv also was the only Gandhi who couldn’t win a second uninterrupted mandate for the party. His government was accused of corruption, and senior ministers like V P Singh left to become challengers. In 1989, the Gandhi name was no longer an election-winning talisman. He lost to V P Singh. But Rajiv, like his mother, could pull down Singh’s government and revive the party. Unfortunately, he was killed and the reins of the party passed to a non-Gandhi for the second time. P V Narasimha Rao was chosen to head both party and government in 1991. For the next eight years, Congress ruled five years; supported others for two years and then lost badly again in 1998. Saffron replaced the tricolour. In 1998, the Gandhis realised that they have to take over the party, otherwise both the fraternity and the family would become just another chapter in India’s history. The family sponsors made sure that party boss Sitaram Kesri was ejected from 24 Akbar Road and replaced by a Gandhi—Sonia took over as AICC president; fought her first election in 1999 from Amethi, and defeated sitting BJP MP Sanjay Singh by over three lakh votes. Within the next five years, she turned the tables on opponents within and outside by springing a surprise, forging an alliance with even those who campaigned against her. With 145 seats, she not only spurned the offer of becoming PM, but also ensured that her nominee Manmohan Singh became PM. Her objective was clear. Acquire authority without responsibility and revive the Gandhi line. 

In 2009, Sonia won a record 206 seats, its largest tally since 1989, and brought the BJP down to 116 seats. But a weak PM, massive scams, policy paralysis, dual centres of power, Vadra’s questionable deals and an economic slowdown left the party disastrously demoralised. Most ministers, senior Congress leaders and even the PM are once again passing the buck for the party’s collapse to the Gandhis. The G-clan, however, has chosen to pick up the gauntlet. This election, which started on a positive note of development vs corruption, has been reduced to a war between dynasty and an individual. While Modi doesn’t miss a chance to attack the family, the Gandhis counter him with, “Bahut ho chuka hum par var, ab hum karenge Modi par palatvar (Enough is enough. Let Modi beware of our counter-offensive).” From media reports and opinion polls, it appears that Priyanka is fighting a losing battle. If Modi’s high-voltage publicity putsch can make a difference of 100 seats in favour of NDA, Congress leaders are confident that the First Daughter’s onslaught can save the party from sinking below the three-digit mark. In a dangerously personalised struggle, it is the future of both the dynasty and Modi that is more at stake than the destiny of India. For Congress, it’s once again a woman moment. It was led by two women for 34 years as against just five years by a man (Rajiv). Is the transition of a daughter into a political leader an omen for the future? If so, history will repeat itself sooner than later.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla