Monday, November 30, 2015

PM Must Adopt Atal's Magnanimity ... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ November 29, 2015

PM Must Adopt Atal's Magnanimity and Indira's Firmness to Sustain his Leadership

PM Modi with Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi

With power comes great responsibility. Just in time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has woken up to the implications of being the most powerful man in the country and realised he cannot afford to leave governance to others. The buck stops at his desk. Last week, the standoffish saffron sultan used the dialogue device to power parliamentary politics, which had been derailed in the past few sessions. For the first time in 18 months, he invited his predecessor Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi for a chai pe charcha at 7 Race Course Road. Ostensibly, the 40-minute meeting appeared to be just an official parley between the head of state and the principal Opposition party to clear the GST logjam. They have been at loggerheads since Modi became Prime Minister. But their body language after the meeting signalled that Modi had made the first move to dispel the impression that he had any personal animosity towards the Congress leadership. He also indicated that he was willing to give the party the importance it deserves and take its concerns into consideration. Deftly, the PM had projected the fact that in a democracy, governance is based on consensus and not on majority muscle, even before the meeting happened. For the first time, Modi became an active participant in Lutyens’ Delhi politics, which he had so far vowed to shun. He had confined himself to diplomacy and pushing innovative schemes to earn him the laurels of being India’s most successful Prime Minister.
When he understood that his credibility as ‘the leader who delivers’ was being pummelled in India and abroad, he decided to abandon his majestic aloofness to mingle with those whom he ideologically abhorred the most. Myriad Modi promoters and supporters were dismayed that the government couldn’t get important legislations like the GST and Land Bill approved by Parliament. Modi has pushed his colleagues to open up the economy, so that investors look and feel visibly at ease in doing business in India. During the past few months, the NDA government has liberalised rules for foreign investment in important sectors like real estate, defence, banking, e-commerce, media and retail. Modi ignored protests from some sections of the Sangh Parivar. Despite many structural and growth-oriented reforms, his government was seen as non-performing amateur on the economic front. Additionally, its image got besmirched by irresponsible statements from some fringe elements in the Sangh Parivar. To add to this dismal dilemma, the award-wapsi campaign by prominent Leftist and secularist intellectuals fuelled negative publicity both at home and overseas. Finally, a humiliating defeat in Bihar dented Modi’s image of an invincible vote warrior, though it was the failure of state leaders to connect with the local electorate that had more to do with the debacle.
That didn’t deter his detractors to gleefully connect his parliamentary softening with BJP’s Bihar debacle. True, it is not a coincidence that he decided to engage with the Opposition only after the Bihar elections were over. According to PMO insiders, he was being given the impression that many interlocutors, including senior ministers, were in constant touch with all parliamentary stakeholders to ensure the smooth passage of crucial bills such as GST. The truth is, none of the intermediaries dealing with the Congress had ever discussed the possibility of a powwow between the Congress leadership and Prime Minister to resolve existing conflicts. Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi made it publicly clear that no BJP minister ever discussed GST or any other pending legislative issues with them. A large section of the party’s top guns and some senior ministers are opposed to a dialogue with the Congress. They want punitive action taken against Congress leaders—including sitting and former chief ministers—and hammer through cases in various courts. Various investigative agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and CBI have been instructed to dig up dirt on every Congress politician who matters. Undoubtedly, many of them were involved in financial irregularities when in power, but their party leadership is splenetic over the speed with which the government is pursuing the cases. Additionally, some prominent ministers were ranting against Congress leaders at a time when the PMO was initiating an inter-party dialogue.
Modi’s personal initiative, however, is going to change the way Delhi politics is being managed. Modi is a networker par excellence. He was one of the most active BJP general secretaries during the mid 1990s. He enjoyed immense personal rapport with leaders across the political spectrum. But he became a political pariah after the Gujarat riots. Most national leaders, corporate honchos and Bollywood stars became his cacophonous critics. He was spurned by the goliaths of the social and political hierarchy. For 12 years, he had to confine himself to Gujarat. As a result, his confidence and capacity to deal with formidable opponents suffered much. Then he surprised all by rising like a sphinx during the Lok Sabha elections and captained a record-breaking electoral victory for the BJP. He was in no mood for a political dialogue with his detractors. Ever since he became the Prime Minister, Modi had refrained from entertaining any of the Opposition leaders on a personal level, meeting them only at all-party meetings. He did conceive NITI Aayog, where he could interact with chief ministers. But it wasn’t Chanakyaesque enough to give him the sly, silky skills needed to negotiate New Delhi’s viciously tortuous political labyrinth. His experience of the past few months in the capital has made him realise that he can’t confine himself to the Zen of just being the Prime Minister, leaving political punditry to others. Modi’s conclave with Congress leaders last week is just the beginning of a series of encounters, which he is planning with other political protagonists too. So far, he has stuck to meeting foreign dignitaries, celebrities from India and abroad as well as his trusted aides. His success as the supreme national leader will depend on his ability to adopt the mellow magnanimity of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the unalloyed firmness of Indira Gandhi.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, November 23, 2015

National Interest will be the Biggest Casualty ...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ November 22, 2015

National Interest Will be the Biggest Casualty in the Politics of Personality Clashes

Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi; Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley

Positive politics is fuelled by an obsession for change, while a political obsession is often fuelled by a confrontation between relentless rivals. Often, it strays into the treacherous territory of vicious verbosity banishing all logical debate and dialogue, thus placing democratic institutions in danger of moral destitution. Last week, the Congress and BJP were locked in a Waterloo of Words, the worst-ever since the NDA government assumed power. Usually political parties settle down to the serious business of governance and legislation as soon as an election gets over. But the two mainstream parties, which have been engaged in a fusillade of fulminations since the Bihar polls, were expected to engage each other in resolving many legislative issues pending in Parliament. Personal attacks on personalities rather than on ideologies, however, are likely to paralyse the process of governance. The Bihar polls were fought around the calculus of personality power. All contesting parties spewed the worst invectives against their opponents. The political warfare was confined to two central personalities—PM Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. It was evident that both the parties expect that all future battles would be fought around personas, not policies. India’s new politics now revolves around crafting strategies, which aim at building, promoting, demolishing and tarring leaders. Ideology is dead. Individuals with high-calorie egos wrote its obit. The breaking down of dialogue is contaminating democracy with the warring egos of leaders, an ominous sign for the people who have elected them in the hope of a better India.

The BJP set the tone of the tension-torn talkathon with its firebrand leader Subramanian Swamy firing the first salvo at Rahul, alleging he floated private companies in the UK, declaring himself as a British citizen. The Congress refuted this vociferously. (Previously, Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar had announced that Robert Vadra would be flung in jail within six months.) The BJP leadership joined the anti-Rahul tirade and demanded an explanation. The Congress, emboldened by its Bihar success, retaliated with abounding aggression. Young Mr G led the counter-attack. Instead of the BJP, it was the PM he had in his cross hairs. Rahul went ballistic, “I want to say this Modiji, it’s your government, you have all the agencies. Set them after me. Show your 56-inch chest. Launch an investigation against me and if you find anything in six months, put me in jail. But stop using your lackeys to throw dirt at me or my family.” He also added, “Our Prime Minister doesn’t take interest in Parliament. He and his government don’t take interest in the questions raised by the Opposition.” Taking the cue from Rahul, other Congress loyalists opened fire on Modi. Mani Shankar Aiyar, a Gandhi loyalist, showed his venomous side in the Pak media. According to TV reports, he said, “First, it is required to remove Modi, otherwise talks will not move forward. We’ll have to wait for four years. These people are very optimistic about Modi, they think that talks will move forward with Modi’s presence, but I don’t think so.”
The Congress obsession with Modi can be well understood because he has broken its political monopoly by singlehandedly getting the BJP a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha. He is perceived as the most popular and effective PM since Indira Gandhi. The Congress fear is that as long as Modi’s credibility and acceptability remains intact, it doesn’t stand any chance of regaining power at the Centre. As a well thought-out strategy, Mr G has always kept Mr M in his firing line. To begin with, he termed the government a suit-boot ki sarkar. Later on, he made fun of the PM’s alleged proximity to corporate czars. Rahul has made it clear to his party leaders that the Congress shouldn’t mind sacrificing its interests in a couple of states if it means damaging Modi’s image. It entered into an alliance in Bihar only to ensure that the PM’s image as an invincible leader was damaged. According to party insiders, Rahul, Nitish and Lalu ensured the Battle for Bihar was converted into a fight between Modi and the rest. The Congress has drawn up a detailed plan to track Modi’s performance as PM and his dealings with various state governments. Rahul’s own mandate is to hold Modi responsible for all the failures of the government and the BJP. The Congress will not hesitate to make more personal attacks on the PM. Its high command is convinced that with the economy performing poorly, Modi’s image as a Vikas Purush will be eroded, making it easy for them to diminish him further. Moreover, the party and its promoters have decided to focus the limelight on Rahul, since they feel he is the only leader with pan-Indian recognition. Though his organisational skills and ideological moorings are yet to be established, the Congress continues to believe only Rahul can take on Modi effectively because age is on his side.
Ironically, if the Congress is determined to swim or sink with Rahul, the BJP has also decided to focus on Mr G. Soon, India will witness a direct fight between the BJP and Congress in more than half of the coming state polls. Hence, the ruling NDA would like to minimise the Rahul impact. During the next 12 months, elections will be held in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, etc. The BJP is unlikely to perform well in any of them. A humiliating defeat would adversely affect the image of the BJP and PM. The BJP’s strategy would be to prevent Rahul or the Congress from becoming the leading player in forging an anti-BJP alliance. Since Mr G has almost taken charge of the Congress party, the BJP would like to rein him in before he blossoms into a nationally acceptable leader. Some BJP leaders have already been assigned to dig as much as dirt as possible on him.
The major victim of the burgeoning bitterness between the two major parties is going to be the forthcoming Parliament session. The government was expected to extend an olive branch to the Congress to push through its agenda for good governance. It has to revive the feel-good environment in the country so that domestic production and employment can pick up. A constructive cooperation between the ruling party and the Opposition could also facilitate implementation of some of the innovative schemes launched by the PM. Unfortunately, negative elements in both the parties are determined to keep personal feuds alive to prevent losing their relevance and utility in their outfits. In the clash of personalities, it is the national interest, which will be the biggest casualty.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, November 16, 2015

Frankenstein's Monsters will grow.... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ November 15, 2015

Frankenstein's Monsters Will Grow if Sophistry Over Good and Bad Terror Doesn't End

Policemen carry an injured to an ambulance after the attacks in Paris

Irony is the sub-text of mankind’s evolution through millennia. Today, liberalism appears to have become the scourge of the survival of civilised society. Various cultures practising diverse faiths have existed together and persevered for centuries. After market and money considerations began to dominate the global narrative, an unnatural spurt in the index of religious intolerance can be seen. Terror has become the biggest enemy of development and a cohesive world order. The mind-numbing massacre of over 150 innocents in Paris on Friday has exposed the lethal implications of promoting a naively inclusive social structure. The bloody evening in Paris has exposed Europe’s utopian liberals dismissing the actions of religious fundamentalists as social aberrations. Eight fully armed, highly trained killers in suicide vests murdered the spirit of peaceful social cohabitation in the continent. They died after quenching their thirst for blood. But their brutal actions have further exposed and weakened the Utopians who have been treating such acts of extreme terror as mere expressions of anger against capitalistic domination. Over the past decade, more than 100,000 people have lost their lives in direct or indirect terror attacks internationally. It is not a coincidence that over 99 per cent of the attacks were led by Islamic groups. According to published reports, during 2014 alone, there were over 33,000 casualties in 13,500 terror attacks worldwide. It is significant that of the 95 countries targeted, more than 60 per cent of attacks took place in five countries—Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria; 78 per cent of terror fatalities happened in six—Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and India. In terms of numbers, developing and under-developed nations are the worst victims of terror than the West. The Paris incident indicates that the stage is set for a decisive war between a savage, radical arm of Islam and the rest of the world.

For the West, the blood spilt by terrorists outside its borders is none of its business. Extremist pogroms in Africa, Asia and the Middle East do not shake the conscience of urbane Western leaders. But when it hits luxurious cities like Paris, Madrid and London, the entire world is united in its alarm about the escalating threat to humanity. Last month, two major terror attacks took place in Egypt and Beirut, killing more than 400 people. The West shed the ritualistic crocodile tears with a few condemnatory statements from its leading statesmen, who promised to fight the menace more effectively. But when Paris was bloodied, the whole world rose as one to mourn the victims. In reality, European and British liberal politicians and Leftist bleeding hearts are responsible for fomenting and encouraging fundamentalists, both at home and in East Asia. Most European countries have been financially and politically supporting dubious NGOs and religious organisations, which are engaged in promoting extremism. Many petro-governments have turned a blind eye to its billionaire citizens financing extremists groups targeting secular societies. Young people from educated families in England, the US and other developed economies have been seduced and indoctrinated by the Islamic State’s violent ideology and taken up arms in the name of a religion, which hardly ever espouses violence.
If Europe is today the prime target of Islamist radicals, the blame lies purely on its own doorstep. Most members of the European Union have been hyper-sympathetic towards indiscriminate Muslim immigration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been the most outspoken proponent of letting refugees from West Asia into European nations. The UK and Europe have encouraged large-scale Muslim immigration in recent times by ignoring the possibility of a demographic time bomb exploding, which many experts feel will change the nations beyond recognition over the next two decades. For example, in 1998 only 3.2 per cent of Spain’s population was foreign-born. It rose to 14 per cent in 2010. According to recent studies, Europe’s Muslim population has more than doubled in the past 30 years and will have doubled again by 2015. Yet another study found that in “Brussels, the top seven baby boys’ names recently were Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine and Hamza”.
Of late, various scholars and opinion-makers have been warning about the growing influence of Islamic extremism in European politics. Bestselling novel Submission by Michel Houellebecq published in France this year expresses the possibility of a docile French state reeling under rampant immigration and a rising Muslim birth rate, enabling Islamists to capture political power and replace French laws with Sharia. Many other frightening opinions predict that the majority of the population of over half of France’s cities will be Muslim by 2050.
It is not the question of demographic transformation that poses a serious threat to a civilised society. The non-Muslim world is caught in the crossfire between radical Muslim elements and feudal Arab and Islamic elitist establishment. The West has been promoting extremist factions in various Muslims countries to keep monarchies and dictatorships under control to promote their business interests. The US and its allies have been ignoring terror outfits in the Middle East and certain parts of Asia because they hardly pose a threat to them. The developed world is responsible for the growth of religious fundamentalism. Now, with all the resources and technology at its command, the superpowers are unable to plug the jihadi financial pipeline. Since most terror organisations possess modern weapons, communications equipment and mountains of foreign currency, it is obvious that innumerable clandestine warlords and unscrupulous tycoons have created enough channels for terrorists to acquire lethal power. Ironically, ever since the superpowers and other emerging economies came together to evolve a mechanism to deal with the terror menace, the messengers of death have acquired more legitimacy and viability. Global liberals have been treating terror as a canvas of philosophical romanticism. But sooner or later, they are the ones who are going to be the victims. It was New York earlier, Mumbai later and Paris now. If the illiberals do not abandon their cynical sophistry over good and bad terror, who knows which city or capital of ‘inclusive culture’ will resound next with the sound of bombs exploding, the ominous chatter of gunfire, the cries of the dying, and the silence of the dead.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla