Monday, May 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

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

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

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi

Dear Soniaji and Rahulji,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

As Messenger Becomes the Message ...... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ May 08, 2016

As Messenger Becomes the Message, Media Must Scrutinise Itself to Retain Reliability

The media is under threat from within. It is no longer seen as a credible medium. Its messages are massacred mercilessly. Never before has its credibility and dependability been under so much scrutiny. Profanities like crooks, paid media, sponsored news brokers, and ‘bhakts’ are heaped on journalists. As competitive and confrontationist politics, coupled with valuation and TRP-driven media organisations, dictates political engagement, the entire tribe has been tarred unilaterally with the black brush of scepticism. Numerous news outfits and prominent journalists are being exposed for their coloured ideological views instead of being lauded for earth-shattering news breaks. They are known for what they speak and not by what they write. Agenda-driven opinion and biased news peddled by some of us as ‘exclusive’ or explosive stories drive the print and electronic media. This has provided political parties and their promoters tactical tools to destroy the fourth pillar of democracy. Are newspersons the most preferred targets because they are asking too many inconvenient questions? Or because some of us do not mind our own business and meddle in someone else’s?

For the past few months, it is not political leaders but the media, which has been targeted by the social media and rampant rumour-mongers to tar and test the image of the journalists as a genre. Last week, over half a million references were made on myriad Internet platforms to unnamed scribes, who are suspected to be involved in defence deals in the past few years. According to media reports, one of the journalists was called for interrogation by investigative agencies. Another is under their scanner for receiving prodigious payoff from defence dealers. The agencies are yet to come to any conclusion. By not naming and shaming the journalists, the ruling establishment and power-seekers are shifting the blame from the real culprits to the fringe players. Journalists involved in shady criminal deals should be treated at par with other suspects. By revealing their names in public interest, the profession’s credibility as a whole will be rescued from ignominious insinuations. Jurists and legal luminaries are convinced that by going public with the names of those summoned for questioning on their role in the AgustaWestland and Rafale deals would only strengthen the case of the agencies and save various institutions from becoming victims of a sinister scheme.

Defence procurements are a major source of tainted money worldwide. Many global leaders have been named in scandals involving defence deals. It’s been proved that loot stashed in tax havens was from purchasing hardly required defence equipment. Over the past four decades, a multitude of dirty deals on Bofors guns, Scorpene submarines and fighter aircraft have been exposed. Since the Congress ruled India for over five decades, most such deals were signed on its watch; hence its leaders and followers have always been perceived as the suspects or beneficiaries. As India spends over $12 billion annually on importing defence hardware and software, this provides enough scope for middlemen, senior officials and their political masters to tailor specifications according to the highest bidder’s wishes. As the market for weapons, including fabulous flying machines, grows, multinationals hustling them use sophisticated skills to influence the decision-making process in the government. Some in the media and defence analysts and security experts have become the most sought-after influence peddlers. These corporations fund a multitude of well-funded think-tanks in the US, Europe and the UK to enrol prominent journalists, opinion writers and retired defence officials as faculty members or visitors. Many of these think-tanks have opened shop in India to camouflage their real mission. According to reliable sources, the government has already started the scrutiny of Indian frequent flyers, who spread their carbon footprint to participate in seminars dealing with defence and strategic issues. The inquiry is also aimed at unearthing the financial supporters of the think-tanks to discover if the defence industry is supporting any of the big fish. Some Indian civil servants, journalists and opinion-makers have been part of these institutions for short or long durations. 

Undoubtedly, there are some bad apples in the media basket. But that doesn’t give the enemies of freedom of expression the right to kill the medium through the massive and ominous use of state machinery, corporate muscle power and a malicious whisper campaign through the social media. With the rise of trolls as the most effective agents to counter propaganda-driven dissemination of views and news, the mainstream media is under pressure to mend the way it reports news. Some of us have gone cyber-active not to give news but unpalatable views against the established political and corporate order. Once journalism was an institution, which encouraged hard news rather than advertising the faces behind it. Young journalists were told to report facts and carry both sides of a story. Now many credible civil society leaders feel that numerous journalists draw conclusions first and use convenient facts to bolster their predetermined views. Many journalists express their opinions on the social media in a way that exposes their ideological or personal predilections. Some names are associated with a leader or a party. As journalists and media owners claim to be serving the  public cause, they are entitled to all the facilities and courtesies available to other institutions performing similar responsibilities. But if the media has to retain its reliability, it has to subject itself to robust scrutiny. All mediapersons should follow the same rules and regulations, which elected representatives do. The declaration of assets, contacts, corporate and political affiliations and sources of income by leading journos and editors would definitely help in restoring the people’s faith in the profession. So far, the media had the monopoly of seeking accountability in others. Times have changed. Now readers and viewers—the real patrons of the media—are asking it to be accountable or perish.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 2, 2016

UP in Arms to Dig Ugly Past of Enemies ...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard / May 01, 2016

Up in Arms to Dig Ugly Past of Enemies will Endow no Party with Brighter Future

Poison kills poison, as Duryodhan discovered to his chagrin. When used in ignorance, it kills both the dispenser and the dispensee. Parties assume that poisonous attacks are the only method to flummox foes. Today, past acts of omission and commission have become lethal weapons to neutralise opponents. For the last two years, no party has refrained from digging up the past of adversaries and flung the unsavoury parts into the political abattoir. Promises made during the elections, in 24 months, are not even a remembrance of things past. None of them have taken out peace marches, candlelight processions or walkathons to the Human Rights Commission office to protest the fact that 300-odd drought-struck districts are being denied even basic facilities like drinking water. Instead, defence acquisitions meant to protect the country have become public pantomimes of poisonous projectiles.

Undoubtedly corruption, bribery and nepotism are major threats to the survival of democracy and good governance. But they need to be tackled by investigative agencies. Let the law take its course. But, like the rapacious Indian rivers in flood, Indian laws, too, have deviated from their original course, thanks to the massive encroachment and erosion on the polity by politically pushed probes. None of the well-connected bribe givers or takers in the Bofors scandal have been brought to book, even after 30 years. Shouldn’t Indian leaders be worried about the saboteurs within who derail the legal process? Isn’t the fact that those named in the AgustaWestland scam continue to perambulate through Lutyens’ Delhi’s charmed circles a cause of worry? This shows that the caucus of corporate cartels, middlemen, political leaders and civil servants who paint files and proposals in the colours of the cocktails and cuisine served at coterie dinners is alive and well.

It is a deserving topic for a doctoral thesis as to why not a soul has been convicted for over a dozen major corruption scandals in the past 40 years—the Bofors affair, the Scorpene deal, the Airbus payoff, the Barak Missile scam, stock market manipulations etc. If scandal-ridden Italy, where probity in public life is under a shadow, can conclude the `3,546-crore helicopter scam trial and jail important officials, including the chairman of tech-giant Finmeccanica, how come all key players in the scam, whose names have popped up in India, are roaming around freely in the corridors of power and are VIP guests at political and corporate weddings? An FIR was registered in 2013 and only a Delhi-based lawyer was arrested. The grilling of star suspects was a farce. They were invited for a ceremonial trip to the offices of the investigative agencies. Letter rogatories were dispatched to a couple of countries, routinely seeking details of the transactions. It is only after the Italian trial was finished and its contents made their way into the Indian media and Parliament that the agencies decided to summon the suspects or witnesses.

It is evident that all such scandals remain unresolved, only to be later used by parties to their advantage during and after elections. Undoubtedly, the chopper scam is one of the dirtiest defence deals in recent times. The UPA government signed it under pressure from lobbyists. It was cancelled after the media exposed the role of powerful middlemen. The Italian court has concluded beyond doubt that dirty dealings dominated the sign off. But in India, the issue has turned into a fight between the ruling BJP and the Congress. The government is copiously quoting from the verdict to expose the role of Congress leaders in helping middlemen make money. The party is hitting back for the delay in nabbing the real perpetrators. Ironically, the papers were signed during the UPA regime, though the process to acquire the helicopters began after NDA came to power. In the absence of any visible and credible action against the Indian suspects, the Congress has decided to brazen it out. It has adopted a similar approach, as the Bofors strategy. Since NDA I failed to prosecute any of the suspects during its six-year rule, the Congress has given itself a clean chit. It has challenged the BJP to prove any of the allegations against it or its leaders. Mysteriously, some of the accused were acquitted because investigative agencies failed to produce any original document in court. Curiously, successive Central governments led by either party never approached the Supreme Court to appeal against the lower court orders. Even in L’affaire AgustaWestland, the Congress is trying to turn the tables on its foe. It asked the NDA to explain the reason for the defence ministry’s U-turn over banning Finmeccanica in August 2014, and then diluting the decision a few weeks later.

The moral of the current political slugfest is that parties are still in an election mode. Both the text and subtext of the debate are written using negative adjectives. By spotlighting the past sins of the Congress, the ruling dispensation is giving a fresh lease of life to the demoralised and decimated party. Voters had peremptorily shrunk its tally in the Lok Sabha to just 44—the lowest since Independence. The BJP must keep in mind that double jeopardy prevents anyone from being punished twice for the same crime. Indira Gandhi was ejected by voters for imposing the Emergency. But she was back in 30 months because the ruling Janata Party was obsessed with sending her to prison instead of providing a better government. But the Modi government is not Morarji Desai’s. It has provided a corruption-free system. It has ensured economic stability and decisive leadership. Despite a few flip-flops on Pakistan, India is considered a prominent player in international diplomacy. It has become a superbly attractive and glamorous destination for foreign investors. Instead of projecting its achievements to put opponents on the back foot, NDA strategists have chosen the path of aggressive confrontation. They are convinced that revealing the ugly past of its enemies will endow it with a brighter future. But it shouldn’t forget that the mandate the people gave it, is not to harp on murky antecedents but to cleanse politics and provide a clean and productive present and future.

The moral of the current political slugfest is that parties are still in election mode. By spotlighting past sins of the Congress, ruling BJP is undermining its own achievements and giving a fresh lease of life to the decimated party Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 25, 2016

Nitish's ATOM Politics .... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ April 24, 2016

Nitish's ATOM Politics May Well Set Contours of Confrontation for the Next Election

PM Narendra Modi (left) with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar

The road to good intentions is paved with hellfire. Any foolproof planning in Indian politics missing a clear roadmap promises more chances of failure than fortune. Slogans can ignite riots but cannot deliver victory in war. Without even waiting for the outcome of the recent Assembly polls, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has announced his vision and mission with sass and sauce. PM Narendra Modi wants a Congress Mukt (Congress-free) India, but Nitish has blown the bugle for all non-BJP parties to gather under his banner to establish a Sangh Mukt Bharat (RSS-free Bharat) to save the democracy.

Nitish began his first stint as the JD(U) chief with the ideological intention to polarise the two national parties along political groupings. His clarion cry appears to have united all non-BJP parties to oust Modi in 2019. But both his admirers and detractors are baffled about this hurry in going public. Is he convinced that Modi is losing charisma and acceptability faster than anyone expected? But Nitish’s moves clearly reveal that he has declared war on the Saffron Parivar. He has projected himself as the only credible alternative to Modi. His promoters are convinced that he is as clean as the PM. They feel his Vikas Purush tag is equally convincing if not more than Modi’s.

Since Nitish has the advantage of rallying the minorities behind him and attracting a load of liberal and secular middle class votes, they have decided to demolish the PM’s core credentials. He had venomously said, “Management is more important than event management.” It is evident that Nitish has drawn up his field guide well and formulated a strategy for a long-drawn-out battle. He had made an attempt to forge a Bihar-type Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) in Assam, but failed after the Congress refused to surrender its space.

The timing and tone, however, of the Bihar CM’s declaration are interesting. He, along with RJD chief Lalu Prasad, sprang a surprise by stopping the Modi juggernaut in the state by scoring a decisive victory over the BJP in 2015. While the BJP’s defeat raised questions over its invincibility and Modi’s popularity, it also emboldened Nitish to extend the Bihar experiment to other parts of the country. He is aware of the ground reality that almost all the non-BJP parties, including the Left, are feeling insecure under Modi’s dispensation. The Congress dreads the lethal use of government apparatus to not only topple its governments in smaller states, but also to dig up dirty pasts of many of its senior leaders and former and current CMs. To add fuel to the fire, the Modi government is moving at bullet train speed to dismantle all the institutions controlled by the Left and anti-RSS elements.

In reality, Modi’s direct confrontation with non-BJP parties, including some of its regional allies, is creating a favourable environment for the creation of a political alternative. Historically, credible substitutes have emerged against powerful personalities and their actions, which their opponents projected as a threat to democracy. Nitish’s plan is to portray Modi as an intolerant and arrogant leader, who along with the RSS, his ideological mentor, poses a serious threat to the nation’s unity and secular character. In 1977, Jaiprakash Narayan brought all non-Congress parties together to oust Indira Gandhi after she imposed the Emergency and suspended fundamentals rights.

Parties, from the north to the south, sacrificed their partisan interests with the singular aim of defeating the Congress and demolishing Indira’s leviathan leadership. The experiment lasted for less than 30 months, as the elements, which came together to challenge her, started to squabble. The first ever anti-Congress initiative died an untimely death with Indira’s triumphant return to power in 1980.

For the next nine years, the Congress once again acquired total control over national politics. It won most of the state polls in 1980 and later harvested a record number of over 400 seats in the Lok Sabha after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Rajiv Gandhi was seen as an agent of change for a better India. But his charm faded even earlier than his promoters expected. Once again, corruption emerged as the ubiquitous glue to bring all the non-Congress parties, from the CPI(M) to the BJP, occupy a single platform to remove Rajiv and his coterie. There was a difference though. Unlike 1977 when the Janata Party plunged into the electoral battle without a PM candidate, the Opposition fought the 1989 election under the leadership of Congress rebel V P Singh who enjoyed a reputation for impeccable integrity. Their motto: defeat Rajiv, who was leading a corrupt government.

For the next decade, Central governments were formed on the basis of opportunistic alliances in which individuals, not ideology, played a decisive role. But Modi changed the rules of the political battle. Soon after winning the Gujarat elections in 2012, he planned his move in advance to take over 7 Race Course. He tried to bring smaller parties together, with the weak Manmohan Singh—who was protecting and leading a corrupt government—as his target. It was for the first time that a Lok Sabha election was turned into a Presidential election by another name, in which Team Modi converted the war into a struggle between the indomitable, clean development man Modi versus Manmohan. Modi won without even a symbolic fight.
Today Nitish wants to convert the next Lok Sabha election into a conflict between two individuals backed by distinctive ideologies. He tried to lead the anti-BJP coalition when he left the NDA in 2013. It failed to take off. Even now, his resolve to forge an ATOM (alternative to Modi) has run into hurdles posed by leaders like Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav, a section of the Congress and other regional leaders. At the moment, Nitish enjoys the full backing of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. But they can also put spanners in his works in progress, and both are unacceptable to the Congress. Moreover, the Congress wouldn’t like anyone to give the impression that it has accepted Nitish over Rahul to lead the anti-Modi campaign. Rahul has the advantage over Nitish since his party and family are still a draw across the country. Nitish, however, has defined the contours of confrontation for the next election. The Opposition not only wishes Modi would lose his sheen, but also expects 900 million voters to give a chance to another individual, ignoring the absence of an ideological identity. For now, however, it is an uneven battle between the omnipresent Modi, the vaguely visible Nitish and the occasionally visible Rahul Gandhi.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 18, 2016

Celebrating Messiah of Mhow way to ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 17, 2016

Celebrating Messiah of Mhow Way to Revive Those Forgotten by Nehruvian Plutocracy

125th birth anniversary celebrations of Dr B R Ambedkar at Parliament

Social reincarnation is often the opportunistic face of politics. Hence, it is no surprise that a leader, born 125 years ago, in a family of ‘untouchables’ in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, is being reborn as a 21st century prophet of competitive politics for 125 crore Indians. Last week, hardly any leader worth his salt failed to remind ‘We, the People of India’ about Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s overwhelming contribution in restoring social equilibrium in a caste-infected nation. PM Narendra Modi flew down to Mhow last Thursday. Sonia Gandhi addressed a massive rally there a few days earlier. Needless to say, the media was predictable beneficiary of the government’s largesse unlike the target audience that represented an unsung Indian class revolution.

Undoubtedly, Dr Ambedkar was of a different league. He was an elitist in attire but a sanguine social reformist in words and wisdom. Ideologically, he wasn’t a Congressman. After participating in the freedom struggle, he floated the Independent Labour Party and contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1952. But he lost to the Congress candidate Narayan Kajrolkar. PM Jawaharlal Nehru had included the Dalit firebrand in independent India’s first Cabinet. In the pecking order, however, Ambedkar wasn’t perceived as the cardinal leader of Dalit interests. Babu Jagjivan Ram, a low caste Congressman from Bihar, was placed three notches above him. For the next quarter century, the Congress went on to project ‘Babuji’ as the messiah of the socially discriminated until 1977, when he broke away to float his party, Congress for Democracy, which later merged with the Janata Party.

Today, the political panorama, including the Congress and BJP, has appropriated Ambedkar as its ideological deity. For more than 50 years, none of them thought of him as a personage who deserved the Bharat Ratna—21 awardees came before him until he was conferred with the award in 1990, when VP Singh was the Prime Minister. Ironically, both the national parties have today scored ahead of the smaller parties, including the BSP, which thrive and survive in his name in the National Ambedkar Worship Exhibition. 

Ever since Modi became the PM in 2014, he has made Ambedkar the fulcrum of his strategy of political expansionism and vote acquisition. Since the BJP was perceived as a party dominated by Brahmanical moorings, Modi conceived an idea to transform the untouchables as India’s most touchable of identities. He directed all ministries to plan special events throughout the year to celebrate Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, forcing other parties to become also-rans. He led his ministers, chief ministers and party cadres on the social media to project Baba Saheb as India’s most revered statesman.

The revival of the Ambedkar cult reflects the growing realisation among all political parties that the Messiah from Mhow continues to be the most powerful figure in winning electoral battles. None of the political parties in the west or north of the country can complete its electoral manifesto without dropping Ambedkar’s name. Even the RSS is competing with parties in promoting Ambedkar as a reformer, forgetting the fact that he was against Hinduism and also favoured Muslims. Sadly, the Ambedkar legacy is being exploited only in the name of reservation. If one devotes the time to scan through his speeches and books, Ambedkar was much more than a mere promoter of caste quotas in Parliament, state Assemblies and government jobs. His admirers are only minimising his stature as the person who believed in the modernisation of Indian culture and reducing large land holdings so that poor farmers could prosper. He argued for a larger role for big industry. He also warned the Congress leadership and Nehru against supporting China’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Instead, he wanted India to fight for herself—a battle which India is now fighting to lose.
Ambedkar’s idea of reservation was aimed at making Dalits stakeholders in the national narrative rather than existing as ornamental glyphs of socialist symbology. Though India has just about 15 per cent Dalits among its legislators and babus in its ranks of governance today, they are hardly equal partners in running the affairs of the state. Even 66 years after the establishment of the Constitution drafted by Baba Saheb, Dalits are treated as outsiders even if they have become, in name, insiders through reservation. The vested interests in the current political system dangle the reservation policy as a carrot to Dalits, thus denying them the right to become part of the real establishment. For example, no Dalit has ever become the PM, finance minister, external affairs minister or education minister of India. Jagjivan Ram almost became the PM in 1977, when Morarji Desai had to resign. 

But a combination of Brahmanical forces within the Janata Party, along with the Communists, opposed his elevation. 

Not more than a dozen Dalit leaders have risen to the post of chief minister in the past six decades. Though Dalits in the Indian Civil Services form just 15 per cent, very few of them have became chief secretaries or Director Generals of Police. Not a single Dalit has made it to the post of Union Cabinet Secretary. Above all, Dalits are unwanted companions or guests at social and private functions hosted by upper caste liberals and eidolons. Rarely is a Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan or Jitan Ram Manjhi invited to cosy dinners organised by the chatterati and corporate caliphs.Inexplicably, while the deification of Baba Saheb is becoming a glamorous hobby, his idea of egalitarian India is being lacerated. As the Father of the Constitution, Ambedkar has acquired a much bigger stature than the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who is remembered less and less as a Dalit champion. Ambedkar’s excessive dominance in the political credo, however, has eclipsed Nehru more than Gandhi. Hence, most Nehruvians have refrained from hailing him as the reformer who influenced the course of modern India. The Festival of Ambedkar, being celebrated by Modi and his party, is definitely meant to revive luminaries, who have been forgotten or dumped by the Nehruvian plutocracy.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 11, 2016

Modi's message is Loud and Clever ..... Poweer & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ April 10, 2016

Modi's Message is Loud and Clever: While in Govt, Work for India and Dream for India

 PM Narendra Modi at a rally in Nagaon district in Assam on Friday

Advice is just a pseudonym for infiltration, especially in administration. There was a time when videshi was considered the most effective panacea for all ills plaguing Indian governance. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi perceives anyone with foreign connections in ministries as a devious influence peddler. Last week, following instructions from the PMO, the Health Ministry embarked on a purge of over 150 consultants who were advising it on various health-related issues. Most of them have been working in the government for many years, and are handsomely financed by prestigious global organisations like WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

 A large number of these have been involved in programmes that monitor the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in India. Modi’s choice of the Health Ministry as his first arena to sweep away foreign influence in the government has upset and disrupted a well-knit system which permeates government agencies, influence policies and whose final beneficiaries are its financiers. The PM may be talking about Invest-in-India to Make-in-India, but he is not in a mood to take any advice from anyone other than those he feels has only India’s interests at heart. During the past 23 months in office, he has welcomed the largest number of foreign entrepreneurs, professionals and other icons than any of his illustrious predecessors at 7 Race Course. Yet, he has refrained from inducting foreign-educated advisors or experts sponsored by the West in key positions. 

He has been closely monitoring the role of foreign-funded NGOs and other consulting agencies, which were counseling various ministries on myriad social, economic, environmental and health issues. He instructed trusted officials in the Ministry of Home, Finance, the CBI and RAW to review the role of over 100 such outfits, which had found ingress into the government. According to Home Ministry sources, foreign-sponsored consultants were not only feeding data and exclusive information to other international agencies through their participation in global seminars and conferences, but also through various research-based NGOs in India. Some of these individuals and organisations were also directly or indirectly involved with those who have been hounding Modi since 2002. To add fat to the fire, key officials of these bodies were the ones who lobbied in the US and the West to deny Modi a visa. 

 Now, the government has drawn up for special scrutiny, a list of over 700 foreign-linked or -funded consultants working with ministries such as Power, Finance, Environment, Education, NITI Aayog, Roads and Transport, Agriculture, Non-Conventional Energy, Mining, Petroleum and Natural Gas and Defence Production . Even some of the prominent PSUs have been identified for special screening, thanks to their association with foreign consulting firms. The PMO is convinced that most development and infrastructural projects have been delayed for a decade and more, only because of the convoluted spins given by these firms to ensure that India will continue to depend heavily on imports. For example, during the early 1980s when Indira Gandhi was prime minister, a blueprint to make India fully self reliant in petroleum products by 1990 was finalised. Yet, even after 35 years, the country spends billions of dollars on importing crude oil. Even though the Health Ministry has the largest number of foreign-affiliated advisors, India still suffers from the maximum number of diseases and reels under an inefficient health administration. The environment ministry was home to consultants from the World Wide Fund of India, while experts from Britain’s DFID worked for both ministries of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation until December. Yet both the ministries haven’t been able to get rid of parasites. During one of the numerous ministerial reviews by the PMO, it was discovered that outside experts were hanging on to their jobs much beyond their contractual terms, on one pretext or the other. None of the senior officials or even the ministers could offer credible excuses for those still clinging on to the government. It was decided that the Home Ministry will do a thorough review of each one of them. 

The Ministry later on hinted that most of these consultants are tailoring their reports for ministers and bureaucrats to influence policies in such a way that it promotes the commercial interests of their parent agencies. For example, the government suspects that the quantum of the HIV/AIDS infected population in India was artificially raised to get, not only more funds from the Indian government but also to help specific pharma companies manufacturing medicines that treat AIDS. Highly exaggerated statistics on HIV victims has brought India a bad image in the world. What upset the Modi government was the inability of these consultants to reverse India’s negative image on hygiene, environmental protection, clean energy and inclusive education. Instead, the very institutions, which had drafted these experts into the government, have been playing anti-India roles on international platforms. 

The reality is that the Indian political leadership has been suffering from an inferiority complex since Independence. Since various prime ministers from Nehru to Manmohan Singh saw it as their mission to establish their imprints and road maps for faster economic development, they laterally inducted large number of experts hired by international agencies to assist the government. Manmohan even packed the Planning Commission with a record number of foreign consultants soon after taking over as prime minister in 2004. This led to furious protests from the Left, forcing him to abandon the move. The Finance Ministry has always been the preferred destination for foreign-educated economists. They have been following the revolving door principle. Almost all its Chief Economic Advisors have sometime or the other been on the rolls of foreign institutions that include universities. They come to serve India and go back to the West after the government, which appointed them was ousted. Numerous Parliamentarians and others have raised questions about the undesirable influence of these money mandarins on India’s fiscal and monetary policies, which they think are guided by the ideological fancy of their permanent habitat—the US. The ongoing purge of foreign elements from the government and other institutions appears to be part of Modi’s nationalist agenda. His message is loud and clever: while in government Work for India and Dream for India. Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 4, 2016

Any Attempt to Kill the Spirit ... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 03, 2016

Any Attempt to Kill the Spirit Behind the Slogan Bharat Mata ki Jai is Anti-national

Members of the Muslim community chant Bharat Mata ki Jai in Meerut
India’s first PM Jawahar Lal Nehru discovered real India when he wrote his 595-page book Discovery of India in 1946. Written during his four-year stay in Ahmed Nagar Fort Jail, Nehru spoke about India’s ancient civilisation, culture and the greatness that was polluted by invaders from outside. Four decades later, Shyam Benegal, a genuine liberal, wrote and directed the historical drama Bharat Ek Khoj based on Nehru’s book in which Roshan Seth, a Nehruvian and Doon school alumnus, played the role of the former PM. The first episode was titled Bharat Mata ki Jai (BMKJ). The first scene showed a group of villagers welcoming Nehru to a public gathering with chants of BMKJ. When Nehru asked his audience if they knew the meaning of the slogan and whose victory they were aspiring for, initially no one had an answer. Finally, one of the young farmers said Bharat Mata meant the dharati (land), which was their mother. But Nehru refused to accept that it was just the earth beneath their feet; he said Bharat Mata referred to the whole country, to its mountains, rivers, sky and seas and, most importantly, to its people. It was the only in the victory of its people that Bharat could find its victory, he said. 

But having said that, he chose to end his famous Tryst with Destiny speech at Red Fort in August 1947 with Jai Hind, not Bharat Mata ki Jai. Despite being one of India’s leading freedom fighters, Nehru chose to ignore the fact that the slogan had been coined by those seeking freedom from British rule under the leadership of the Indian National Congress, and that people of all faiths proudly chanted it during protests against the British. Powerful freedom fighters like Liaquat Ali had to face the wrath of brutal British controlled police for shouting BMKJ and Vande Matram.

That was then. Seventy years after Nehru wrote his book, his disciples and progeny are still engaged in an exercise to discover the idea of India and define the space and importance of BMKJ. Not only political parties, even civil society leaders, Bollywood icons, writers, social media-savvy religious gurus and organisations are fiercely fighting to either own or disown BMKJ. For every champion of Bharat Mata, there is one who feels pride in declaring himself or herself anti-national by refusing to chant the slogan. Indeed, it has become the biggest issue dividing the country along communal and political lines. 

With elections becoming a permanent feature of every calendar year, India’s idea- and issue-starved political parties have made nationalism (ours vs theirs) the main plank for the coming polls. While the Sangh Parivar led by PM Narendra Modi has made the chanting of BMKJ the only credible test of one’s loyalty to India, its adversaries insist that undiluted faith in the Constitution of India is the solitary symbol of patriotism. Perhaps, it is the over-enthusiastic imposition of BMKJ by the Sangh Parivar that has contributed to the equally-aggressive opposition of its detractors.

The battle for grabbing a nationalist trophy acquired religious overtones last week when leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband issued a fatwa asking Muslims not to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai, calling it un-Islamic. The same seminary also advised madrasas across the country “to hoist the Tricolour and celebrate Independence Day and teach students about the Indian freedom struggle and the country’s original spirit of unity in diversity”. Earlier, sensing growing resistance to BMKJ, the RSS had clarified that people should not be forced to participate to chant the slogan. But now, with the anti-BMKJ missive emanating from the Islamist organisation, hard-core Hindu outfits have been quick to question the nationalism of the minorities. 

It’s ironic that a slogan like BMKJ, which was created to unite the nation, is now polarising the country. Ever since Independence, political parties, social organisations, NGOs and RSS-affiliated outfits have chanted Bharat Mata Ki Jai at their functions, without any interference or protests from any quarters. Over a decade ago, there was some brouhaha over the singing of Vande Mataram, which was met with recriminatory (and what some would call threatening) responses like “Agar is desh mein rahna hoga, Vande Matram kehna hoga (If you want to live in this country, you shall sing Vande Mataram)”. But never have we seen such a confrontationist atmosphere in the country as we see today. Indeed, Vande Mataram is sung at many official functions without any protest from the audience.
This leads one to believe that the current opposition to BMKJ is aimed at bringing all Sangh Parivar forces to one platform and converting the debate into an issue of threat to freedom of expression. Those who oppose the slogan claim that nowhere does the Constitution provide for the invocation of BMKJ. A coalition of liberals, neo-communalists and Leftists has been formed to defeat any attempt by the ruling political dispensation to dismantle the current eco-system which hardly recognises the importance of national flag, national geographical identity and judiciary. This group invokes selective and subjective use of the Constitution to protect its political perks and imposes its personal choices on the rest of the country. It swears by the Constitution when it serves its ideological convictions. It has no problem if the National Anthem is sung at every function attended by the President of India, or at the beginning and end of the Parliament session. 

But when the Constitution talks about prohibition, the same people see it as a threat to their fundamental right to consume what they will. They support a judicial verdict that’s aligned to their choices but hit the streets if the courts deliver judgments based on constitutional provisions that disrupt their lifestyle. Undoubtedly, the foreign-educated current crop of intellectuals, media stars, political leaders and elitist business leaders have brilliant minds. But they are only half educated when it comes to the idea of the motherland. BMKJ was not a gift from any narrow-minded sectarian Hindu leader or organisation. Bharat Mata ki Jai was the most successful non-violent verbal weapon forged by a freedom-starved crowd which helped end the 200-year-old British rule and sent the English packing. Any attempt to kill the spirit behind the slogan runs the risk of being labelled anti-national. BMKJ is just an assertion of independence from slavery of every colour and nothing more.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, March 28, 2016

As Parties UP the Glam Quotient ...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard / March 27, 2016

As Parties Up the Glam Quotient, Ideology May Become Fading Star of Indian Politics

BJP named former pacer Sreesanth as its candidate for Thiruvananthapuram
Politics and entertainment have long been brothers—both require a measure of magnetism, a talent for self-promotion and an instinctive feel for media manipulation. No wonder, come election time, the world of politics likes to pull in the stars and the trappings of stardom. Ideological icons fall by the wayside as glamazons from the world of cinema and sports clamber onto political bandwagons for electioneering, and political campaigns morph into entertainment shows. This year promises to be no different. For the elections in five states, even mighty leaders like Narendra Modi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi have despatched their best hunters to scout for cine stars and sports icons as well as literati and chatterati who can expand their share of the political market. In situations where the party has no more than a symbolic presence in the region or state, local celebs, who’re au courant with regional politics, have been roped in to move the electorate.

Last week, the BJP announced that it was fielding former cricketer S Sreesanth as its candidate for Thiruvananthapuram. Since Sreesanth has become known more for match-fixing and dancing than for his medium pace bowling, he was banned for life from playing cricket by the BCCI in 2013. But, clearly, the ruling party at the Centre believes that he is still capable of bowling out its rivals in a state where it’s struggling to open an account.

Now, Tamil Nadu has been dominated by screen stars for the past 50 years, as was undivided Andhra Pradesh (with NT Rama Rao, who was as successful in the political arena as he was in cinema, along with Jayaprada, Chiranjeevi, Mohan Babu, Kota Srinivas Rao and, more recently, Pawan Kalyan). In Tamil Nadu, the state’s biggest film stars created political parties for personal ambition rather than ideology. It was easy, as the charisma of MG Ramachandran, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa easily moved the masses to bring them to power even as many others turned out to be also-rans. Of late, both the Congress and BJP have been struggling to persuade Tamil filmstars like Vijaykanth, who formed the DMDK in 2005, to join them as an ally to increase their political share, but with little success.

In West Bengal and Assam, too, the parties have identified famous persons from sports, art, culture, cinema and society to help them with their electoral mission. The BJP, for instance, has decided to field a member of the Subhas Chandra Bose family against CM Mamata Banerjee. This despite the Bose family having nothing to do with the Sangh Parivar except for the fact that Modi went out of the way to make some secret documents public and hosted the Bose family at 7 RCR.

But then, all political parties without exception have been diluting their declared ideology over the past few decades. The process began with the catapulting of Indira Gandhi to the top in 1969 when she took over the Congress after the first split. The khadi dhoti- and Gandhi cap-wearing leaders were purged and a new crop of people bearing personal loyalty to Indira was drafted into the party. Though the Congress still swore by secularism and Garibi Hatao, Indira was seen as the Congress. Later on, Dev Kant Barooah, the portly and balding party president, redefined the party’s ideology by giving a slogan: Indira is India. Congress leaders of the time insisted that the personality of their leader reflected what the party stood for: socialism, secularism and democracy. Indira Gandhi, for sure, didn’t depend on glamour or corporate leaders to win an election. In fact, the joke at the time was that even a lamp post could win an election if it was backed by her.

It was Rajiv Gandhi who introduced glamour and a corporate culture into the Congress. A natural charmer, he inducted technocrats Arun Singh and Arun Nehru into politics, took India into the 21st century through technology and responsive government, and gave a new twist to Congress’ ideology. But he also relied on glamour from sports and Bollywood. He brought his friend Amitabh Bachchan in to defeat the formidable Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna. Later on, biggies like Rajesh Khanna, Sunil Dutt, Raj Babbar, Govinda and Ramya from Karnataka too came in to fight elections on behalf of the party. The Congress was also the first to field former cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi as its candidate from Bhopal (but he lost). The trend continues till today, with over a dozen filmstars and sportspersons holding key positions at the Centre or the states.

With Congress using the glam quotient (GQ) to maul its powerful leaders, the BJP also decided to fall back on its fair and lovely supporters. Lal Krishna Advani, a film buff and cricket enthusiast, opened the party doors for both film and sports stars. He brought in Dharmendra, Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini from Bollywood and cricketers Navjot Sidhu, Chetan Chauhan and Kirti Azad for their vote-catching capacity. Now the Modi-Shah duo is taking forward the strategy of using GQ to bolster the party’s electoral chances.

The GQ bug has even hit regional parties like the Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and, specially, Aam Aadmi Party, which has mastered the art of roping in the maximum number of local and national icons for expanding its base.

With each party fighting to maximise its GQ, the Indian political establishment has the globe’s largest number of movers and shakers from the glamorous world working for it. With over 40 prominent film personalities and some 20 sportspersons, India is leading the world followed by the Philippines and the US. The UK, the mother of democracy, has been able to absorb less than a dozen leaders from non-political background.  In Europe too, political parties rarely rope in film stars or sportspersons to win elections for them as they feel that the shelf life of the bold and beautiful paratroopers is limited.

Back home in India, however, the story is quite different. This despite the fact that, with the exception of some regional parties, the nation has seen all its ‘political celebrities’ vanishing without leaving any trace of an ideological contribution. If this continues and parties fail to create credible, acceptable leaders from their shrinking base of committed cadres, ideologically led Indian politics will be replaced with musings of egoist leaders and ideologically bankrupt-but-highly successful stars from the film and sports arena rather than the real world of the politics of heat and dust.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, March 21, 2016

Development Card BJP's best Bet..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ March 20, 2016

Development Card BJP's Best Bet to Stop the Kashmir Valley from Drifting

Mufti (left) and Abdullah

Experiments in political engineering can throw up strange results, as seen in Jammu and Kashmir. In January last year, keeping aside its ‘non-negotiable’ nationalistic ideology, the BJP decided to strike an experimental deal with the pro-separatist Peoples’ Democratic Party of the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Now, after 14 months, the BJP seems to have discovered something rotten in both the taste and odour of the power it has consumed in the state. The experiment of fusion politics, mixing nationalism with separatism, has proven to be a recipe for disaster. Ever since the Mufti died two months ago, his successor Mehbooba Mufti and the BJP leadership have been holding both public and secret parleys to revive the dead alliance. Officially, they have been exuding confidence about the formation of the new coalition government, and yet both have been talking about the lack of a confidence-building road map for a political reunion.

Any alliance made on the basis of convenience rather than conviction, collapses sooner than later. In a state like Jammu and Kashmir, where a love for money and romance with extra-territorial ideas dictate the political narrative, any formation which threatens established social and political order is bound to fail. The BJP has been unsuccessful in imposing its brand of politics and societal practices on the PDP, which survives by supporting and feeding those who oppose the Valley’s integration with India.
The tug of war between the PDP and BJP is not just for grabbing proprietary right to a few power plants or any special package. It is a confrontation of two ideologies and the idea of India. Mehbooba wants J&K to remain emotionally separate from India while the BJP wants to erase all legal, social and economic hurdles and make the Valley a part of the national mainstream.
By joining hands with the PDP, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP Chief Amit Shah expected to restore the secular character of the Valley. They thought they could push the state government to facilitate the safe return of the Kashmiri Pundits, with full liberty to do business and participate in the electoral process. The Centre linked the entire economic package and phased withdrawal of the armed forces with the rehabilitation of the Kashmir Pundits and the tightening of the noose around separatists. But Mehbooba is no Mufti, who could survive on his own charisma and credibility. Indeed, she has acquired political legitimacy only by pandering to the sentiments and tears of those whose relatives have died while participating in attacks on civilians and Indian Army personnel. She has realised that by staying with the BJP, she will lose her traditional support base.
The current constitutional crisis in the Valley is also a manifestation of the confrontation between two political dynasties led by Mehbooba and Omar Abdullah. Both of them are competing with each other in painting the BJP as a threat to the autonomy and welfare of the Kashmiri people. Both of them are determined to marginalise the role of national parties such as the Congress and BJP. While the Abdullahs have been a part of national politics, Mehbooba has always confined herself to the Valley. The Abdullahs also enjoy the support of a small section of the Hindu minority in the Valley and Jammu region while Mufti survives only on Muslim backing in the Valley.
It is, however, the complete failure of both the Congress and BJP to erode the core constituency of the National Conference (NC) and PDP. Even after 69 years of Independence, a substantial majority of Kashmiris are hostile to the idea of calling themselves Indian. The Congress has ruled the state for 12 years alone and over 50 years as part of a coalition or with the support of a regional party. The Abdullahs ran the state for over two decades. If one includes 10 years of Congress-backed NC rebel Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the NC was in command of the sensitive state for almost 30 years.
Pakistan has never accepted the reality of Jammu and Kashmir as part of the Indian Republic, and till 1990, has supported and financed the separatists. When it failed to destabilise the state, it started armed infiltration and used local operatives to bomb and kill civilians and army personnel. The Centre’s attempt to use governors for neutralising extreme elements also failed. Even the current governor Narendra Nath Vohra, a favourite of every party, has not succeeded in diluting the impact of the separatists by ensuring proper development of the state by using his charm over the local government. On the other hand, Pakistan’s objective was to halt the economic development of the state and sow the seeds of terror. It has succeeded. In spite of liberal money flow from New Delhi, the state’s GDP rose by less than 1 per cent during 2014-15 down from over 13 per cent the previous year. The lack of development and misuse of funds have generated more unemployment and have pushed the youth into the hands of anti-national elements.
But development has never been a glue that’s bonded ideologically opposed political parties. With Pakistan in a mood to talk, the best solution open for the BJP is to play the development card, treat separatists as enemies of the state, and appoint a governor who bothers far more about greater governance rather than his own survival. In the past seven decades, instead of coming closer to India, the Valley has drifted into the black hole of politics of opportunism and convenience. If matters remain the way they are, the black hole will seal itself and darkness will endlessly prevail. 

PS: Last week I wrote about why Modi adores Sri Sri. Last week, Art of Living Guru took to Twitter to prove his worldwide acceptability. He tweeted twice as follows:
19/03/16, 1:35 am: The World Culture Festival had 767,436 locations in 188 countries viewing the webcast according to our webcast partner, Livestream’s report.
The social media partner reported 1.4 bn impressions on Twitter & 30 mn engagements on Facebook during the World Culture Festival.
For Modi, visibility on social media is an accelerator that keeps him going.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, March 14, 2016

For Brand Modi, Endorsing ..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ March 13, 2016

For Brand Modi, Endorsing New Age Gurus Tiny Price to Win Over Classes and Masses Alike

There’s no business like the godmen business, they say, with no fixed working hours, exotic travel, much public adulation, and no need for a shave every morning. 

No wonder, saints and self-styled godpersons have been around from time immemorial, most of them symbols of sacrifice and wisdom. Some made mountains and caves their natural habitat. Others lived in palaces and forts, as advisers to the throne, with kings and queens running to them for salvation and solutions. 

Today, in the 21st century, we still have gurus and preachers of all shades and faiths, and with solid community, caste or religion support. If yesterday, they were courted by royalty, today they enjoy the patronage and protection of the kings of polity. For, they represent vote banks and mould public opinion. From Punjab to Kerala, from Gujarat to Assam, the nation is dotted with men and women who act as spiritual advisers to the ruling classes and a source of inspiration for the masses. In the process, some of them acquire the image of kingmakers or influencers of government policies.

Consider Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev, who have done some admirable work in their respective fields. Their ever-growing visibility and clout in the current political dispensation is an indication of the renewed importance of the guru in the establishment. Both have easy access to the nation’s high and mighty; both have followers across political parties. Corporates, Bollywood stars, even diplomats, stand in awe of them and touch their feet. 

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not indifferent to their lure. Indeed, the duo provides him easy access to two extreme ends of the Indian social milieu and a huge audience that the Prime Minister loves to engage with. Last week, when Modi chose to attend, and address, the World Cultural Festival (WCF) on the banks of the Yamuna in New Delhi, it reinforced the relevance, effectiveness, acceptability and credibility of India’s saintly symbolism. By spending over three hours at the venue, Modi left no one in doubt that his faith in Sri Sri and his Art of Living (AoL) foundation was unshakable. Not only did Modi and his ministers dismiss with contempt all criticism of the event, they ensured that the entire might of the state was mobilised to make WCF a grand success. Modi, in fact, called WCF a Kumbh of all cultures. Harking back to history, the Prime Minister addressed Sri Sri as Parampujniya Guruji (most revered) and said, “This is the Kumbh Mela of culture. Through Art of Living, the world has got to know about India. I remember a reception by the Art of Living family in Mongolia. We are all linked not only by economy but also by culture.” 

Much like the maharajas of yore, Modi clearly understands the utility of the new-age gurus. Known for his attention to detail, the Prime Minister knows that both the AoL chief and Ramdev represent the pulse of two major social groups. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar connects him with an upmarket, global following. Indeed, among Sri Sri’s disciples and admirers are the chatterati and upper middle class of all parts of India as well as leaders from the Western world and Muslim-dominated West Asia. He also has a huge following in South India. Above all, his organisation possesses huge skills and expertise in mobilising large numbers of people in many parts of the world. Given that Modi has been targeting the Indian diaspora and people of influence during his foreign visits, he finds in AoL a natural ally.  Ever since Modi took over as Prime Minister in 2014 (when Sri Sri was one of the few spiritual leaders to come out in his support), AoL has been connecting him with many international leaders. Though Ravi Shankar’s posturing on Indo-Pak relations may be at variance with that of the Prime Minister and Sangh Parivar, Modi has allowed the AoL guru to pursue people-to-people contact with Pakistan. AoL also has powerful connections in Jammu and Kashmir, where it is considered to be the most secular link with the ruling party at the Centre. 

If Ravi Shankar is useful to the Prime Minister owing to his connection with the world and liberal India, Baba Ramdev delivers to Modi the rural and urban poor and middle class. The Baba, who belongs to a backward class and has made ‘Everything Desi’ his mantra for success, is one of the rare spiritual leaders with hardly any formal education and training. The 50-year-old guru started his Patanjali Institute to bring yoga to the common man and, within a period of two decades, has acquired over 25 million followers across the country. His yoga camps are attended by over 10,000 people daily. While Sri Sri promotes breathing as an instrument of wellness, Ramdev emphasises on physical exercises. In the past few years, Modi has been a frequent visitor to Ramdev’s ashram in Haridwar and has always invited the Baba for any important official function held in connection with spirituality. 

There may be a connection of conviction between Ramdev and Sri Sri and the Prime Minister, but critics believe the relationship is based on an understanding of mutual advantage. Modi detractors have already charged the NDA government with doling out huge financial and other concessions to both the gurus. For the New Delhi event, they point out, the Union government not only gave a massive grant, but it also deployed the Army to create the infrastructure at the venue. Now, with AoL beginning the sale of daily use products like mineral water and toothpaste, their suspicions are even more heightened. On his part, Ramdev has never hidden his commercial interests. His swadeshi Pathanjali has taken on well-established multinationals selling FMCGs and hawks energy drinks, beauty creams and yoga DVDs. Various government agencies, including the defence ministry, are among his clients. 

Given their huge fan following and resources, both AoL and Patanjali’s dependence on the government is quite baffling and erodes their credibility. But for Brand Modi, it is a tiny price to pay for the endorsement of Sri Sri and Ramdev who mesmerise a substantive section of Indians, here and abroad.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, March 7, 2016

Assembly Polls will decide ...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ March 06, 2016

Assembly Polls Will Decide Which Way the Fortune Cookie Crumbles for the Big Five

(From left) Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, J Jayalalithaa, M Karunanadhi and Mamata Banerjee
(From left) Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, J Jayalalithaa, M Karunanadhi and Mamata Banerjee

Opportunism trumps ideology, come election time. The axiom appears to be metamorphosising into a fact in the ongoing countdown for the Assembly elections. During the next few weeks, over 170 million voters in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry will vote and elect 824 new leaders. But, even before a single nomination has been filed in any of the states, political parties and their supreme leaders have begun looking for new allies and causes for seeking a legitimate mandate. Since politics is the art of converting symbolic-egotistic impossibility into a remunerative possibility, the leaders are working on a negative agenda, where the others’ defeat is more important than their own victory.

In Tamil Nadu, the Karunanidhi clan wants to dislodge current Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa by forging an alliance with those who have hardly anything in common with the DMK, including caste or religion. In West Bengal, the Reds have gone forth and merged with the tricolour to defeat Mamata Didi. Never before has a formal alliance between the Marxists and Congress taken place in the state just to trounce a ruling political deity. In Kerala, the BJP is out to cohabit with caste-led small parties only to stop both the United Democratic Front and the Left Democratic front from grabbing power. The BJP doesn’t and can’t become the ruling party in the state but, in anticipation of a photofinish outcome, it wants to win at least a couple of seats and thereby play kingmaker. In Assam too, the BJP is confident of forming its first legitimately elected government in the Northeast by polarising the entire electorate along regional and communal lines. It has been able to instal a rebel Congress government in Arunanchal Pradesh by breaking it. In Assam too, the BJP has split the Congress by admitting a large number of partymen during the past few months.

A prerequisite to winning the battle for ballots is a meticulous deployment of logical contours and formations. Hence, breaking parties matters more than projecting an alternative leader or an agenda for governance. From Thiruvananthapuram to Guwahati, thus, political parties have unleashed deal-makers to strike visible and invisible deals with caste dons, religious gurus, corporate promoters and local opinion-makers to market their parties. But none of them have put forth even a strategy that’s synchronised with its ideology or leadership for seeking the mandate.

The outcome of the coming elections has serious implications for five individuals: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, DMK chief Karunanidhi, and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. All of them have points to prove. But the stake is especially high for the BJP, which is still battling the dilemma of whether or not to fight the elections in the name of the Prime Minister. Of the 824 Assembly seats, the BJP won less than double digits during the 2011 state elections. Riding on the massive Modi wave, however, the party led over its rivals in 114 Assembly segments in the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Currently, the BJP has the highest number of about 1,000 MLAs in all the states put together; that is some 100 more than the Congress. 

But the BJP doesn’t expect to form the government in any of the states except Assam. It is neither a ruling party nor an influential group in any of these states. After its ignonimous defeat in Delhi and Bihar, Shah and his team need to reverse the downward turn in the electoral fortunes of the party. The beating in the two northern states was seen as a mark of the diminishing appeal of the Prime Minister and the fallibility of Shah as master strategist. 

But the saffron party doesn’t have a single local leader in any one of the four states, much like Bihar and Delhi. In fact, it is confronted with formidable local leaders. Even a 79-year-old chief minister like Tarun Gagoi is giving the BJP a serious fight in Assam after remaining in power for just over a decade. Though the BJP has formally forged an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad and appointed a new state party chief, it is still depending on the Congress rebels to give it a majority. Buoyed by winning seven of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, the BJP is confident of forming a government on its own. The party led in 79 of the 126 Assembly segments during the Lok Sabha elections although it had won barely five seats in 2011. Its share of popular votes rose tremendously from 11.45  per cent in 2011 to 36.50 per cent in 2014. 

According to party managers, both Modi and Shah have decided to move manpower and resources to Assam and win it at any cost. Though it has indirectly projected Union Minister of State for Sports Sarbananda Sonawal as its chief ministerial candidate against Gogoi, it dreads an unprecedented backlash from the Muslim community, which determines the outcome in about 30 seats. The Muslim-dominated AIUDF won 16 of the minority seats and led in 24 segments in 2014. The Congress party is already trying to strike a strategic alliance with the Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF to defeat the BJP+AGP combination. West Bengal’s case is more dire. There, the BJP is faced with the same threat of polarisation of votes along religious lines to prevent the division of anti-Mamata votes. The party has only one MLA in the current Assembly and has not been able to groom a state-level leader even after leading in 24 Assembly segments. In southern states, the party is conspicuous by its token presence outside the state Assemblies. 

Well, 2016 is not 2014 when Narendra Damodardas Modi was taller than all the other leaders put together. In 2016, he may still be the tallest leader individually, but the BJP has failed to create anyone who can stand up to the likes of Mamata, Jayalalithaa and Nitish Kumar. Going by the early signals, both Mamata and Jayalalithaa are likely to romp home with handsome victories while the Left may stage a comeback in Kerala. For the BJP to prove to the country that the Modi-Shah partnership wasn’t a one-knock wonder, it needs to beat or at least repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha performance in terms of vote share.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla