Sunday, March 29, 2015

The idea of ATal is in Danger .... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ March 29, 2015

The Idea of Atal is in Danger, and a Bharat Ratna Alone Can't Bring Another Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Normally, it is the throne that raises the stature of the ruler. But the capacious connector and counsellor of contradictions, Atal Bihari Vajpayee belongs to that unique pantheon where the ruler raises the prestige of the chair—in his case, of the Prime Minister. Last week, President Pranab Mukherjee, a stickler for protocol, drove to 6A Krishna Menon Marg, where Vajpayee lives, to confer the Bharat Ratna on the 90-year-old ailing doyen of democracy. The President had a solid justification for ignoring the rulebook for he was honouring a personality who kept India politically and socially united during his six-year regime. He proved the Cassandras wrong with his philosophy—chehra, chal, chalan and charitra (visage, walk, comport and character). In spite of his saffron grooming, Vajpayee’s face was acceptable to all. He wasn’t just a leader of leaders; he was the darling of both the classes and masses.

The presence of so many leaders belonging to different parties at his coronation as a Bharat Ratna reflected Vajpayee’s unique place in Indian politics. He never found conviction a matter of convenience. He would only bend in the national interest and rise up like a lion if his integrity or loyalty were ever questioned. Mukherjee was conferring a great honour on not just an individual but on India itself by presenting Vajpayee the beetle-shaped, coveted medallion. Vajpayee is the first PM alive to receive the Bharat Ratna. Inexplicably those who are now singing his paeans of praise had ignored his merit for mercenary reasons for over a decade. They felt he was nurtured in a nursery which was producing experts in dividing India along communal and caste lines. That allegation has never stuck on Vajpayee. As PM not only was he a unique unifier, but also has been contemporary India’s most tolerant and transparent political leader. During one of my numerous interactions with him, I sought his reaction to some BJP leaders’ grouse of not taking any action against Congress leaders, including Sonia Gandhi. Promptly came the retort: “Editorji, agar hum bhi wahi karenge, to hum mein or Congress mein kya faraq hoga? (If we do the same what the Congress did to its opponents, what will be the difference between the two?)”. Many Cabinet colleagues like George Fernandez and others were always pushing him to appoint commissions or file cases against Congress leaders but Vajpayee’s instructions to his investigation agencies were clear—no action against anyone without solid evidence. Vendetta has never been his weakness. He was large-hearted enough to bestow key portfolios on staunch haters and baiters. He placed a premium on merit rather than sycophancy. He ran a coalition of 22 parties but never blamed ‘coalition compulsions’ for unpopular decisions like his successor. Vajpayee had a flexible approach unhindered by ego. For example, a senior IFS officer was able to wrangle an important foreign posting through Jaswant Singh, the then foreign minister. In this case, convention dictated that it was the commerce minister, then Murasoli Maran, who would approve such assignments. When Maran protested, Vajpayee didn’t take a second to reverse his own order and appoint an officer of Maran’s choice, who later went on to become the Cabinet Secretary.
Though his stature was taller than his party’s, Vajpayee always accepted the command of his party structure. Once, a decision was taken to shift a minister to take over some party responsibilities. The RSS top brass wanted to know Vajpayee’s choice since they wanted a cordial relationship between the government and the party. But he told them they had the freedom to choose anyone they liked. He always gave the party chief full respect and accepted his decisions. He never used his authority or the power of his institution to consolidate his personal control or damage anyone. Vajpayee became an institution around which the narrative of Consensus, Continuity and Connectivity was not only written but also put into practice. The three Cs have been his article of faith. He thought only through them can a country as diverse as India not only remain united but also become a world power.
Vajpayee was India’s Captain of Connectivity. If India boasts of over a billion mobile phones, it is due to the telecom policy formulated during his regime. Though the foundation of mobile telephony was laid during Narasimha Rao’s time, it was Vajpayee who nudged ministers and babus to ensure that India’s connectivity grows faster than the world’s. He also felt that connecting cities by air and road would diminish the growing social and economic chasm between the rich and the poor, the communalists and the secularists, and rural and urban India. He provided liberal funds and a sound policy for laying the Golden Quadrangle, which made the journey between India’s four directions faster. During the NDA regime, 11 km of new roads were built daily—an unbeaten record.
If Vajpayee was committed to connecting India, he was equally passionate in his endeavor to connect with the world, but on his terms. Knowing fully well the negative fallout of the 1998 nuclear tests, he went ahead because the rest of the world understood only a nation’s power and not just its wealth. In less than a year, the entire world was vying to do business with India. Vajpayee also practiced continuity in foreign policy by talking to Pakistan even after the Kargil War. Peaceniks and Indo-Pak dialogue hawkers became his worshipers. But Vajpayee never looked for an endorsement for a foreign-sponsored constituency. For instance, when all the English TV channels were pushing for an agreement with Pakistan through motivated and sponsored debates, the silver-haired, ruddy complexioned gentleman PM proved them by wrong by packing Gen. Pervez Musharraf off, empty ended from Agra in 2001. Vajpayee believed any paper signed by two heads of state was better off in the dustbin if it destroyed the credibility of the PM who was entrusted with the nation’s prestige. Vajpayee may still be around but the idea of Vajpayee is in great danger. And a Bharat Ratna alone cannot bring forth another Vajpayee.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Sunday, March 22, 2015

BJP must devise a marketing mantra ... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standrad/ March 22, 2015

BJP Must Devise a Marketing Mantra That Trains its Executives to Sell PM's Dreams Well

Modi with Cabinet ministers
                                                                                      Modi with cabinet ministers

“The secret to successful communication is about saying the right thing in the right way in the right place and moment. However, the opportunities to do it right (and wrong) increase dramatically in the more complex and individualistic world.” Sue Elms, head of global brands, Millward Brown.
Success is strategy, while its perpetuation is through perception. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Prince of Perception, has followed this premier principle, but not Team Modi. It is yet to acquire the art of political marketing of its ‘pradhan sevak’s’ ideas to the masses. Last week, when Parliament closed for recess, the image of the government was bruised for no valid reason. It was the most successful session in terms of business. Productivity of the Lok Sabha was 123 per cent and that of the Rajya Sabha 107 per cent. Fourteen bills by the Lok Sabha and seven by the Rajya Sabha were passed despite the most bellicose opposition. Yet the government appears to have lost the battle of perception. It is for the first time since 1989 that parties with polar ideological convictions closed ranks to protest against some of the decisions and legislative business of the government. A few years ago, it would have been considered surreal if the CPI(M) and TMC together joined a march led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to the Rashtrapati Bhawan and presented a memorandum signed by all. The Land Bill had a rough landing. The ruling dispensation floundered in the use of the social media to swing the pendulum of perception away from its political foes. Very few saffron satraps used the social media to counter adverse propaganda. Technology, which was patented by Modi and his legions as the Brahmastra of political annihilation, was this time wielded by his adversaries.
Such a political conspiracy and need-based alliance against Modi happened because the government’s savvy marketers and strategists couldn’t market legislative bills on mines, minerals, coal and land to the people properly. All of these were meant to be rocket fuel for the growth story, which Modi has been promising as the new national narrative. All of them were improvements over the laws passed by the UPA government. It is another matter that the NDA finally succeeded in cracking the code on a few issues; but on the whole, the first round has gone to the Opposition. Despite deputing over a dozen ministers and party functionaries, the BJP couldn’t effectively counter the allegation that the government was working for the rich and the industry instead for the common man. Of the 350 NDA MPs, hardly two dozen took part in defending the government’s decisions inside and outside the House. Most BJP-ruled state governments were missing in action because they could sense the mood of their constituents better.
The entire Opposition had been itching for a fight and any perspicacious politico would have seen it coming after the government issued ordinances to improve the previous bills on land and other sectors. In reality, all these bills amended through ordinances would provide more money to the states, better compensation to farmers, create more employment opportunities and provide world-class infrastructure. Yet none of NDA’s laggardly leaders chose the right medium and time to convey the positive aspects of their actions to the people who had voted for them. On top of it, they encouraged corporate honchos and the urban elite to support the government, which further sharpened the attack of Modi-baiters who were basking in pro-poor ideology.
The Opposition chose the perfect time and medium to disseminate its point of view. Since most of it comprised regional parties, their access to local media and the masses was better than the BJP’s, whose leaders were seen engaged in narcissistic TV debates and giving facetious interviews to English newspapers. While NDA ministers and their advisors were sitting in air-conditioned boardrooms and preparing notes filled with technical gobbledygook, Sonia Gandhi opted for a more direct approach. She reached out to villages to tell the farmers that the Modi government was out to take away their land without taking their approval. While the Opposition was promoting this view, most of the BJP ministers were competing with one other in histrionic hysteria by shouting down their opponents in Parliament, as if sycophantically impressing their boss was better than selling his dream.
If marketing the image of the government is now an integral part of any ruling party’s strategy, the BJP has ignored the basic principle of a successful campaign. Significant policy decisions are made only after taking into consideration the effect they would have on the target audience. With steps regarding mines, minerals and coal targeted at states holding minerals stocks and big business, the government could defeat the perception saboteurs and make its target audience happy. But when it came to the Land Bill, it underestimated the resistance from farmers who are emotionally attached to their land. In marketing, every product needs a unique catchline and sales pitch. The idea to hawk the bill to the farmers as a choice between holding land or future growth was too vaporous. They opted for land because the Opposition had sold their message more realistically. For the NDA it is a lose-lose game. It was left with a Catch-22 situation, in which it had to save the face of the government as well as stick to its view, however unpopular.
For the BJP, which has to both retain its market share and increase it in the future, it is imperative to formulate a marketing mantra, which takes care of its sales executives as well. To paraphrase the words of Starbucks boss Howard Schultz, perhaps it is time for Modi to train and reorient his wordsmiths and spinmeisters to experience the heat and dust of India’s eternal heartland. Unless he does this fast, his best products will not grab the consumer’s attention.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Swine, not Swaraj ..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard / March 15, 2015

Swine, not Swaraj, Dominating the Discourse Among Beef-eating Elitists is in Bad Taste

Religious discrimination is the latest buffet of our cuisine commandos, who have a beef with majority sensibilities. This has led to delirious debates on the sanctity of secularism. The malady of their imagination interprets any law they deem to be a threat to minority culture as a threat to freedom of faith and caste apartheid. As the Communalism vs Secularism debate reaches idiosyncratic heights, the vertigo over the choice of meat to be eaten in India is spinning out of control. Any restriction of an individual’s gastronomic preferences is perceived by Westernised cosmopolitan secularists as an attempt to curb freedom of food. The recent ban on cow slaughter by the Maharashtra government has outraged the secular sympathies of those who consider the colour of cuisine dearer than the sentiments of the majority. They miss the point that the law was passed by a government that was voted in by the people of the state. They choose to ignore that banning cow slaughter was part of its manifesto, which was decisively endorsed by Maharashtra’s voters. True, the prohibition could be debated and those who have lost the freedom to trade on the religious sentiments of 80 per cent of the population can raise their objections. It’s a free for all society after all.

The maturity of Indian democracy is revealed by the fact that the food habits of a minuscule but outspoken minority have been allowed to influence legislative processes. The BJP has never concealed its resolve to ban cow slaughter if voted to power. Most states under its rule have already prohibited it, and a few others like Haryana have started the process. The Sangh Parivar has been campaigning to save the cow for the past five decades. In the 1960s, a massive march towards Parliament House by members of the Jan Sangh and other Hindu organisations to protest cow slaughter ended with over a dozen people falling to police bullets.
It is a perverse violation of democratic norms to spray-paint a legitimately approved legislation with communal colours. Beef-eating Indians rose as one to damn the government’s move as autocratic. Some even went to the extent of terming the ban as anti-poor and anti-Dalit. The most surprising comment came from Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Tushar Gandhi, in the form of the tweet “beef ban in Maharashtra is anti-Dalit, Christians and Muslims”. Self-appointed secularists attacking the government on the social media started following his tirade. All of them, including Tushar, forgot what the Mahatma felt about cow slaughter when he wrote, “My religion teaches me that I should, by personal conduct, instil into the minds of those who might hold different views, the conviction that cow-killing is a sin and that, therefore, it ought to be abandoned.”
It took the state almost two decades to get the Centre’s approval for the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, which took 19 years to become a law. It was passed by BJP-Shiv Sena government in January 1996. It is surprising that an NDA government that ruled India for six years couldn’t clear the legislation due to coalition compulsions. The prohibition of cow slaughter is a Directive Principle of State Policy contained in Article 48 of the Constitution. It reads, “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”
One may disagree with many decisions taken by the Modi Sarkar—economic and otherwise. But Modi has never concealed his preference for a total ban on cow slaughter during his Lok Sabha election campaign last year. It was one of his major weapons against the UPA government. Launching an attack against those who supported the killing of bovines in 2012, Modi wrote in his blog, “It saddens me that the present UPA government led by Congress is promoting the slaughter of cows and export of beef to bring ‘Pink Revolution’. Gujarat is the only state to enact a law that bans it. The UPA seems unbothered about our rich ethos and culture. It wants to make India the biggest exporter of beef.” Modi wasn’t far off the mark. India is the second largest exporter of beef in the world. According to official forecasts, Indian beef exports are likely to hit close to two million tonnes in 2015—second only to Brazil. The value of India’s red meat exports has nearly doubled from $1.9 billion in 2011 to $3.2 billion in 2013, according to the government’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority. That’s about 1 per cent of India’s $300 billion annual exports in the last financial year. BJP leaders feel that some Western and Middle-Eastern countries have been encouraging Indian beef exporters. Many nations have banned the slaughter of numerous animals for different reasons. Ethical eating campaigns have prevented the sale of foie gras in the West. Jews abhor horse meat. Pork is banned in all Islamic countries. Recently Communist Cuba banned the sale of cow meat. But Castro’s ideological desi brethren are at the forefront of the protest against the beef ban. Ridiculously, pro-beef promoters are seeking a ban on pork now. To achieve it, our liberal gourmands will have to create a group of swine worshippers. Over a billion people worldwide worship the cow, but few consider a pig clean or lovable. The Gadarene swine never got the vote in the Bible.
Secular rhetoric argues that the ban is meant to consolidate the majority vote and ensure religious polarisation. Inarguably, the ban came about through democratic means. The writers of the Constitution didn’t think it appropriate to include the Right to Eat Anything (including cannibalism) as a fundamental right. They championed the right to freedom and happiness but not of the privilege of those who cannot survive a day without beef. Ironically, many Modi worshippers and votaries have joined his adversaries because the ban has adversely affected their wine-paired palates. It is dismal that a Swine and not Swaraj is dominating the discourse among the beef-eating elitist minority of India.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Sunday, March 8, 2015

India's Daughter Needs Respect .... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ March 08, 2015

India's Daughter Needs Respect, Not Ugly Display of Violations by Western Media

Women protest against the rape of a student in Dimapur
                                                               Women protest against the rape of a student in Dimapur

In history, the elitist determines the obsolete. After the cathartic cacophony over stopping the broadcast of the BBC documentary India’s Daughter, perhaps the word ‘ban’ should be erased from all lexicons, since India’s liberal regiment is outraged that the ban interferes with the freedom of choice, taste, expression and the entertainment predilections of the social aristocrats. Hence ‘ban’ should be banned because it takes away the right to abuse, insult, humiliate and mutilate. Any ban on filming a perverted parent, who brutally raped his three-year-old daughter, should be lifted to enable the socially enlightened to understand the artistic freedom of this gory act.
The deafening din over telecasting India’s Daughter indicates that banning the maniacal monologue of a rapist humiliating womanhood through his savage statements is an unpardonable sin. Their rage is not because gang-rapist Mukesh Singh has put the blame on Nirbhaya and women’s conduct, but because his satanic sermons (paid ones) reflect the ugly face of Indian society. So did the venal verbosity of some legal eagles who spoke disparagingly about the modern Indian woman. Strangely, the elitist club of candle carriers and Anglophiles has forgotten its own mass protests in December 2012, when they bayed for the blood of the rapists and sought instant Old Testament justice. Now, they seem to be indirectly justifying the rapist’s right of expression. Strangely, none of them has so far uttered a word on the lynching of another rapist in Dimapur, Nagaland, perhaps because the demographic composition of the crowd and the alleged rapist doesn’t fit into the ideological moorings of our soldiers of freedom of expression.
The protest against the BBC ‘ban’ is aimed at painting the saffron government at the Centre as dictatorial, intolerant and crass even though permission to shoot was granted by the Congress-led UPA government. It is the court that has imposed the current ban. But a section of Indian society would like to dictate judicial verdicts according to its social yardsticks. It would oppose any court that ‘dares’ to take away its right to access uncensored porn sites, defile Indian deities, and demonise Indian icons. Ideally, it would like the government to lift the ban on the filming and broadcast of ruthless murders of innocent people, followed by panel discussions by them and their types. Rooftop orators demand bans and jail terms for fringe and loony elements, which use inflammatory language against a section of society. Ironically, they would film communal riots in which the same leaders would be fomenting communal violence. They would support separatist elements in Kashmir who speak the language of treason, while demanding the heads of those who want to abolish Article 370 and enforce a uniform civil code. They would fight for a total ban on the activities of those who encourage ‘ghar wapsi’, but abjure seeking a similar one on those who convert poor tribals in remote villages with allurements. They roar like drawingroom lions against those who question Mother Teresa’s charitable intentions, but become lambs when Akbaruddin Owaisi spouts hate speeches. They would pounce on any media organisation that supports the majority cause, but they are happy to create class-based social media platforms, which support foreign media outfits like the BBC. They are convinced that the Indian masses are living in some primitive age where age-old family traditions that have kept India and its families together are Stone Age habits. They exclusively borrow opinions of foreign authors and intellectuals to bolster their case for the Westernisation of India. For them, banning Professor Amartya Sen from holding a much-misused chair in the Nalanda University is a gross attempt to muzzle academic freedom because he is part of the Oxbridge elite that tutors the fight for the unbridled freedom of the individual, mores be damned. The ban on Sen, they argue, must be lifted because it is a government, which chooses nationalists over internationalist Indians, that imposed it.
The imperialist hangover has not dissipated from the BBC’s mindset because it is famous for making documentaries on the ugly side of India and other developing countries. It has never documented the social sores that infect Britain. Rapes recorded by the police in England and Wales have risen by 31 per cent to 24,043 in 2014—the highest ever for at least 10 years, according to the Office for National Statistics. In January 2013, the UK Ministry of Justice, the Office for National Statistics, and the Home Office released its first-ever joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence, which claimed that approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales annually. Last week, Mail Online disclosed that daily more than 35 women are raped—a record high. A tiny country of just seven crore people tolerates the rape of about two women every hour while in India, a nation of 1.25 billion people, three women are reportedly raped every hour. The Western media, including the BBC, have rarely recorded the ugly side of their own societies. How many times has the BBC visited British prisons to film the humiliating existence of Britain’s Daughters who live in perennial fear of perverse predators?
The outcry against the ban of India’s Daughter exposes the escalating social confrontation between those who want to guard their individual voyeuristic privileges and those who are fighting to protect the Indian ethos. The elitist manifesto wants India’s poverty and social disabilities to become an excuse for imposing Western culture and commerce on the country. The caterwauling over the ban on India’s Daughter is not just about the freedom of expression but concerns the prestige of the Indian State and its constitutional duty. India’s daughter needs respect and security from an illuminated society rather than an ugly display of violations by the Western media reaping commercial gains from the poverty industry.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Any Delay in Taking a Final Call ..... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ March 01, 2015

Any Delay in Taking a Final Call will Make or Mar Gandhi Parivar and Congress Party

Sonia Gandhi with Rahul Gandhi

Dear Soniaji,
This is an open letter written with an open mind for an open mind. Everyone is fully aware that the Gandhi Parivar is passing through testing times. For a party, triumphs and defeat are cyclical. You win some, you lose some. But over the past few months, the winning record of the Congress has been abysmal. It is perceived as a family-owned outfit passing through an agonising rhythm of fluctuating fortunes. The absence of your party’s vice-president Rahul Gandhi—who also happens to be your son—from the cloak and dagger drama of the capital’s politics must be painful. Undoubtedly, he has the right to take a break from gruelling political acrobatics and spend quality time on aerobics with nature at an undisclosed, sylvan spot. Rahul is known for his frugal habits and obsession with health gadgets. But even his staunchest admirers feel that his sabbatical is not only badly-timed but is also bad news for the much-mauled party. I’m sure he would have taken your permission, and as the Congress President, you would have reluctantly given it so that he can reflect on the present and ponder over his past actions which led to the total rout of the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in the recent Delhi Assembly elections. While Rahul is engaged in vipasanna and introspection, you are confined to 10 Janpath to plan a strategy for a rejuvenated Rahul when he returns home next week. Will you pass on the baton to him, yielding to his conditions? Or will you carry on with the old leadership? The party is waiting impatiently for an answer.
Now the Congress has reached a terminal stage where any call taken by you can either remake it or let it die a natural death. The party is at war with itself. Various leaders are speaking in different voices. It is not a new experience for you. Whenever your party suffers a massive defeat, a section of its leadership gets impatient and seeks a scapegoat. They also find excuses to desert. It happened in 1969, 1989 and 1995. While individuals vanished, the party survived due to sudden rise of another Gandhi. Indira Gandhi survived the Syndicate’s machinations and created a new Indira Congress. In 1977, when the Congress lost the General Elections, many stalwarts left Indira and her son Sanjay Gandhi to fight the might of Janata Party government. Both of them took to the streets. Indira was sent to jail and Sanjay faced a lathi-charge. The Congress was back in power 30 months later.
In the early Nineties, your loyalists saw you as the password to victory. They first ejected Narasimha Rao and then Sitaram Kesari, and installed you as the Congress president. The party lost the first election fought under you in 1999. But you didn’t feel tired or wanted to retire. Instead, you brought many Congressmen who had once humiliated you back into the party fold. You decided to compromise on your Gandhian-Nehruvian ego and forge strategic alliances with your political foes. In 2004, the party threw the Shining India campaign into darkness and was back in Raisina Hill. Five years later, it won 206 seats, more than your late husband Rajiv Gandhi’s tally in 1989.
In 2004, you decided to politically baptise Rahul. Your intent was clear. Once you retired, the Congress couldn’t be left in the hands of any non-Gandhi. You were clear that the party needed a new face with a new message for the future. Rahul was projected as Mr Clean with a modern mind. He would build a party for the future, minus ideological baggage. In the past decade, however, he hasn’t shown any inclination to reinvent the party. Even Congress workers are confused about his philosophy and mission. He is seen as a young man without a mantra. On the other hand, if senior Congress leaders hold the reins, Rahul will be just a titular head without power. Like an obedient son, he stayed away from taking decisions on issues in your domain. The state of the party today is like a royal regime in which son differs with but would never defy his monarch-parent. The palace tremors, however, are being felt in the entire party, which feels that you both have diminished the party beyond redemption. Some feel that it is vertically divided between a small and young Rahul Congress and a top-heavy jaded Sonia Congress. The only positive factor in this factionalism is that your authority is acceptable to all. A battle, however, is raging between those who are unwilling to give up their perches and those who want to take over because their future lies in the success and survival of the 129-year-old party. Rahul has definitely failed to enthuse workers and voters. His unorthodox campaign style and vanishing tricks have raised questions about his ability to lead and keep the party together. While the sell-by date of the Congress is over, the idea of the Congress survives. You will find a person carrying a Congress flag in almost every Indian village. But you will hardly find a credible leader in more than 70 per cent of the over 600 districts of India. The Congress exists nationally, but has vanished locally. It is time for you take the final call. You can either follow the tried and tested Indian tradition of handing over the business to the heir and spending a peaceful life thereafter, or you can take charge once again, discharging your son of all political responsibilities. Any delay will make both the Gandhi Parivar and the Congress party irrelevant. Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla