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Showing posts with label Congress. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Congress. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Let’s Set the Record Straight

Peeling the onion of political ideology in India is an assault on reason. You have rabble-rousing Hindutva hordes, which held sway from 1998 to 2004 and were booted out. Then there is the intellectually bankrupt Left that met its Waterloo on the Indo-US strategic partnership agreement. Sitting on the Opposition benches, their one-point agenda is to defeat (difficult) or cause problems (easy) for the Congress. It is a matter of wonder how closely these two so-called inimical forces, the BJP and the Left, have combined time and again to oppose the Congress for short-term political gain.

There also are 1960s-style anarchic groups that include the Anna Hazare autocratic clique and Mamata Bannerjee’s socially and intellectually challenged Trinamul Congress. Plunk into the mix the personality cults of Mayawati; the dynastic setup of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Karunanidhi and Naveen Patnaik; the slippery appeal of Jayalalitha and the holier-than-thou stance of Nitish Kumar. These are mercenary formations that will sway whichever way the wind blows, depending on the political advantage they can derive.

It is not clear what any of these groups stand for except opposition to the Congress. In 1974, the great anarch Jayaprakash Narayan talked of “total revolution” and called on the army to revolt against the Indira Gandhi government; today Hazare has subverted his fight against corruption into an anti-Congress political movement. Talk about déjà vu.

The foolishness of the Hazare band of civil society buccaneers was exposed when the moving spirit, candle-in-the-wind Arvind Kejriwal, was forced to issue a statement they are not anti-Congress. Earlier, when cornered by thinking people on a television show, Kejriwal said that India’s much-admired parliamentary democracy is a fraud. Such increasingly shrill utterances suggest he is completely out of his depth on the national stage. His natural audiences are low-level bureaucrats and politicians in the central, state and local government.

Meanwhile the BJP’s jack-in-the-box leader L K Advani led a “rath yatra” against money in Swiss banks in a none-too-subtle bid to cash in on the Hazare’s teacup storm against corruption. He is of classic RSS vintage in that he believes no one remembers his other  1990 “Ram temple” effort that left thousands dead in communal riots. So where is the “glorious” temple he promised? He served as home minister and deputy prime minister for the six years the BJP-led coalition was in power. Advani’s confusion was complete when he went to Karachi and lauded Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a secular leader.

There are many ideological fig leafs that political formations wear in their relentless grasp for power: socialism, casteism, social justice, identity, chauvinism, Hinduism. Scratch the surface and it all turns out to be an anti-Congress position. As such, political analysis in India is best conducted on a dyadic presumption: there is the Congress and there is everyone else.

So let’s look at the Congress record. It has been the default option for the electorate. In the past quarter century, it suffered seminal defeats in the elections of 1989 and 1996.  In each case, it was voted of out of power on allegations of corruption. Each time, a coalition of parties was hastily put together that stood for nothing except opposition to the Congress. In both those defeats, any objective analyst could conclude the Congress lost because its governments undertook significant reforms that hurt the status quo.

In 1989, an agglomeration of forces came together to restore the status quo of inequity and discrimination that Rajiv Gandhi had challenged. The motley crew of  political parties that formed the Opposition put together a makeshift government that that did not last the full term; nor did they pursue the charges of corruption that brought them to power. In the ensuing decade, the BJP’s unbridled appeal to communalism brought it to power: first, for 13 days in 1996; then in two desperate coalitions in 1998 and 1999.

The saffron dispensation lasted until 2004 and was then showed the door because of its misplaced nationalism that saw India conduct nuclear tests that were replayed tit-for-tat by Pakistan and because of its insensitive “India Shining” hype.

Since then, Congress has held sway. The key difference is the Congress’ approach to social harmony and economic development: the phrase “inclusive development” was introduced to the political vocabulary. In the interim, India, warts and all, grew to be a big player in the global dialogue; most important, economic growth was accompanied by the largest-ever reduction in poverty. Today, thanks largely to the growth of the middle class, the Indian voice is heard in world forums.

Unmindful of these achievements, the anti-Congress brigade has spread several falsehoods: the Prime Minister is opposed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi; Manmohan Singh is weak; Sonia Gandhi is the real power.
The truth is different: both Singh and Gandhi are on the same page as they have always been. There has been in the history of the Congress no better combination. The one pushes reform in foreign and economic policy; the latter is the conscience to ensure there is a local sensitivity to these reforms. That is the operational definition of “inclusive growth.”

Ironic that the anti-Congress formations should denigrate Singh and Gandhi: Singh is a highly respected economist  who forsook academic achievement to serve the country first as a bureaucrat, then as finance minister and Prime Minister;  Gandhi who adopted this country as her home, foreswore the office of Prime Minister in 2004 and became the conscience of the government.

An edited copy of this article appeared in The Times of India on January 10, 2012.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Gujarat election 2017: BJP rattled, Rahul Gandhi has one-upped Modi in his backyard

A spurious debate about the legitimacy of Rahul Gandhi’s elevation, undoubtedly fuelled by the BJP, did not play too well. The BJP’s star campaigner Narendra Modi sought to amplify it in a campaign speech in Gujarat. He certainly couldn’t have believed his intervention would influence the Congress party’s choice. In any case, it did not set the Sabarmati on fire.

Despite Modi’s futile name-calling, the issue is finally and firmly settled. Gandhi will become president of the Indian National Congress, the 60th person to hold the office.

Not content to have lowered the dignity of his office by giving credence to the legitimacy debate, PM Modi made another attempt to denigrate the election of Gandhi. In a dog whistle address seemingly directed at his Hindutva base, he compared the elevation to the coronation of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, whose very mention is a red flag to the bigots who have and have been championed by Modi.

As such, Modi unwittingly reinforced the Opposition’s charge that during his stint in power, he has never conveyed a sense of unifying India, never once rising above the level of a BJP partisan, a prime minister for BJP supporters.

For some reason, Modi and the BJP find it difficult to accept Gandhi as president of his party. Saffron loyalists may well cast aspersions and kick up a fuss, but it’s a done deal.

Meanwhile, Gandhi has shown his ability to lead the grand old party by running a spirited campaign in Gujarat. He sewed up unconventional alliances with grass-roots activist movements; he delivered powerful speeches criticising the BJP’s “development” story. He may have made a huge impact on the BJP’s fortunes in a state where most believed victory in the Assembly elections would be a cake walk.

His success has the BJP rattled in its fortress where Modi perfected his “Hindu Hriday Samrat” appeal and concocted the story of the “Gujarat model” of development. It was this latter story that seemed to appeal to a broader section of people than the Hindutva manifesto. This presumably enabled the BJP to increase its vote share in 2014 to 31 percent, and by virtue of the first-past-the-post system, emerge with the first-ever absolute majority in Parliament since 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi won 400-plus seats for the Congress.

Rahul Gandhi went hammer-and-tongs after the Gujarat model. He accused Modi of running a “suit-boot sarkar” that only catered to the needs of big business. Coming on the heels of the controversy over Modi’s penchant for luxuries, including prohibitively expensive monogrammed-pinstripe suits, striking watches and designer glasses, the charge had the impact of a right hook.

That’s not all: in an early speech, Rahul minced no words in a full-scope attack on Mr Modi, who spoke before him during the winter session of Parliament in 2015:

“...while I listened to the Prime Minister’s speech I could see how profoundly we differ in our thinking. For Modiji, the people he mentioned (Gandhi, Patel, Ambedkar, Prasad, even Nehru) were intellectual heroes to be worshipped and placed on a pedestal. They had all the answers to India’s problems.

“For me what was heroic about the people he mentioned was their ability to listen to the people of this country. They are my heroes not because they had all the answers but because they had the humility to ask the right questions… to listen to what India was saying. They allowed India to speak.”

During the Gujarat campaign, he picked up on this theme to scoff at Modi’s “Mann ki Baat” radio addresses. He said he wasn’t here to tell people what he thinks but to listen to what they have to say.

In the event, he managed to strike a chord with diverse audiences: youth, women, backward castes, tribals, dalits, students, parents, professionals, traders and merchants. He talked about the need to offer, in addition to private options, government alternatives in healthcare and education. His message clearly resonated with audiences whether delivered in a speech or in townhall-style interactions.

Gandhi hit out at demonetisation as a cunning attempt to help cronies launder black money, calling it a “fair and lovely” scheme. He excoriated the government’s messed up GST scheme, calling it “Gabbar Singh Tax”; he offered examples of misplaced priorities saying the Rs 33,000-crore subsidy for the Tata Nano plant was the amount the UPA government had spent in an entire year of the national employment guarantee scheme that gave hundreds of thousands jobs and changed their lives forever. “How many Nanos have you seen?” he thundered.

Gandhi’s earnest exertions in Gujarat seem to be paying off. A recent survey has the Congress running neck-and-neck with the BJP. This was simply unthinkable a few weeks ago. The Modi-Shah duo was presumed unbeatable in their home state.

Now the game’s been thrown wide open and the Congress is in with a better-than-even chance in next week’s election. Almost as if in recognition of the effort, the Congress party nominated him president.

(This article appeared in Dailyo.in, December 7, 2017)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Saffron Sleaze by the Sabarmati

Talk about up the creek without a paddle. The BJP is in a blue funk in Gujarat. It has come unhinged by the successful Congress campaign that has sealed a de facto alliance with the Patidars, the Dalits, OBCs, the working class, and farmers. Then there is the corruption factor involving Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah, and also Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, who has been fined by the Securities and Exchange Board of India for manipulative (fraudulent and unfair) trading on the stock market.

Like the “vikas” it touts, the entire saffron gang seems to have gone crazy. The Congress has disparaged the “Gujarat model” as one built on wacky priorities. To understand just how puerile this “vikas” is, you need to visit the soul-less Sabarmati riverfront: miles of sterile walkways and patches of lawns on concrete blocks stacked on its banks while the river bed copes with stagnant water channelled from the Narmada Dam.

The BJP seems totally flummoxed as its mother lode slips from its grasp. What to do, what to do, what, what…as Manna Dey sang for Mehmood in the rip-off song “Aao twist kare” from the B-grade film, Bhoot Bangla. But at least Mehmood did the twist with some amount of grace.

By contrast, the saffron party is all jerks and twitches as it seeks a response to the maelstrom of bad news. Sources say it turned to the huge dirty tricks machine Amit Shah built during his stint as home minister. This is the notorious network he used to stalk a young female architect for his “saheb.” It is reflective of the sleazy reputation that has haunted Shah and even put him in jail for his involvement in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter.

Result: a “sex CD” that purportedly features Patidar leader Hardik Patel in a hotel room with a woman.

What the BJP geniuses utterly failed to comprehend is that Patel is single and young, and in his own words, not impotent. He can have sex with whomever he likes; there’s no law against it. It is not an issue at all. Nevertheless, an incensed Patel has gone to town, denying it is him on the disk and taking the fight to the BJP camp, saying things were happening just as he had predicted.

To add to the BJP’s woes, another video went viral; in it, the man who leaked the “sex CD” is shown in the company of BJP Gujarat general secretary, Mansukh Mandaviya, who is a minister in the Modi government. The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the BJP is behind the sleaze.

Clearly, the hullabaloo is much ado about nothing. Patel’s personal life is his own business. The circulation of the “sex CD” is a violation of his privacy. He would be well within his rights to sue the man who leaked the CD for defamation; then in public meetings going forward, he would be fully justified to link him loudly to Mandaviya, the BJP minister.

This sorry episode is evidence the BJP leadership, in Gujarat as well as at the center, lacks maturity when it comes to dealing with adversity. Faced with a possible setback, the amateurish bunch that runs the party seems to have lost mental balance.

It is a measure of the party’s intellectual bankruptcy that when the second video was circulated, the implicated minister made a disingenuous attempt to distance the party, saying it is “unfair” to drag the BJP into the controversy. But of course nobody believes this.

In fact, Rahul Gandhi, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani have all backed Patel and charged the BJP with “playing dirty politics.” So the essential objective of the “sex CD” has not been achieved: the four leaders have remained united, more determined than ever to uproot the BJP in its bastion.

Gandhi took the battle straight to the saffron crew, saying it was trying to suppress the voice of the Patidars while Dalit leader Mevani said sex is a fundamental right. Meanwhile, OBC leader Thakore asserted that the fake CD would not save the BJP in Gujarat.

This show of solidarity by its four adversaries has made the BJP look foolish and inept, completely incapable of handling its own affairs, leave alone affairs of state. In its effort to discredit Patel, it has egg on its face.

Game, set and match to the vigorous foursome.

Post Script 1: Not content at being shown up to be infantile, the Gujarat BJP seems to have purveyed another video showing Patel “drinking” with friends including a woman. In it, Patel is depicted with a shaven head. The idea behind that is incredibly stupid; the producer sought to defame Patel in the dry state and also to answer his charge that the first “sex CD” was a fake because at the time it was made, he had shaved his head to protest a Modi visit to Gujarat.

Post Script 2: In the ultimate denouement of its clumsy crisis management, the BJP has appealed an Election Commission decision to disallow the use of character called Pappu in a campaign commercial. Hoping to gain some public sympathy, the party mindlessly leaked the story to a television channel so it featured on a prime time debate. Oops!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Goa Journal: A sense of liberation

Tainted Congress is Turfed Out.

Driving in from the airport on the day of the election results, we passed caravans of pick-up trucks, cars, scooters and motorcycles. Draped in BJP colors, the caravans were celebrating the clear victory of the BJP in the recently-concluded Assembly elections. As they whizzed past towns and villages, people gathered on the edges of the highway, cheering them on. Like Woodstock, it appeared to me “everywhere there was song and celebration.”

I was struck by the sense of liberation that was palpable on the streets and squares. It was as if a dictator had been felled. “Sir, we are free from the corrupt Congress raj,” the owner of a shack on Morjim Beach told me as we walked in the next morning to laze a few hours away, swimming in the blue-green Arabian Sea and savoring the shack’s basic wares: shrimp curry and rice with fried fish and chips, washed down with fresh pineapple juice and Goa’s own King’s beer.

To get to this picturesque beach, you have to drive east from our house into Mapusa and then head north through Siolim across the bridge on the spectacular Chapora River. The drive from Mapusa, an ugly, Indian-style market town, to Siolim is over a forested hill with gorgeous valley views. The road is superb like most of Goan roads, except that over the years it has become a garbage dump. Mounds of garbage line either side of the road, detracting from the sheer natural beauty.

Even along National Highway 17, the major artery that crosses Goa north to south en route to Kerala, you see similar sights: piles of garbage on both sides. This odious development has come about in the past five years. The years from 2007 have seen Goa assaulted by real estate developers; exploited by illegal mining and stalled by crumbling infrastructure: no waste management, acute power and water shortages, traffic jams, eroding beaches and the growth of Bombay-style slums. Then there are drugs, the Russian mafia and vastly increased crime.

This has happened on the Congress watch. Clearly, these problems were building up over the years but neglected because of political instability. Between 1963 and 1990, there were just four chief ministers; since then, there have been 15. In 2007, the Congress formed the government and lasted the full term until March 3, 2012. It appeared as though a stable government might address the mounting problems. Well, it didn’t; what’s more, it was seen as a beneficiary of these ills. On March 3, Goans voted with a vengeance and turfed the Congress out.

One of the major causes of the Congress defeat is the defection of the Christian vote. Though they form just a little more than two percent of the Indian population; strikingly, Christians in Goa number nearly 30 percent of the state’s inhabitants. They have traditionally shunned the BJP because of its insular Hindutva agenda; this time they overcame their distaste for the saffron party and voted against the Congress.

There is euphoria in this bucolic little corner of India. The BJP has won handily so there should be no trouble for the next five years. Manohar Parrikar, the likable former chief minister, is set to run Goa again. Peoples’ expectations are high; but clearly it more an anti-Congress than a pro-BJP mandate.

Parrikar is a soft-spoken man, educated at the exclusive Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. I happen to know him because he asked me to help publicize the first International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa in 2004. In the course of the project, I met him several times and found him to be focused on outcomes. In the event, we worked together to make the festival a success and to make Goa a permanent home for it.

At the time, I was a member of the Congress Media Advisory Board but that didn’t make a difference to Parrikar. He wanted professional public relations support and so was happy to work with me and my firm. The brief was to make it into a South Asian Cannes.  The IFFI public relations project went south after he was ousted. Subsequent Congress governments had an opportunity to build on the national and international notice the festival attracted. Instead, as a former senior official of the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), the unit that ran the festival, told me: “It has become a den of corruption.”

I learned it the hard way when my firm responded to a tender for public relations support for IFFI 2011 put out by the ESG. We made our submission and I undertook a trip to Goa for the opening of the bids. The entire procedure was opaque. Three bids were opened: two firms including mine, made similar financial proposals. Within minutes, the bureaucrat, who read out the numbers (and he looked every bit vile and corrupt), dismissed us and awarded the project to a firm that bid one-fourteenth of the amount that we proposed.

This is the way Goa functioned under the Congress. Even though I am a supporter of the GOP, I found the party’s Goa dispensation less than transparent. I am not surprised they were booted out.
(This article appeared in The Times of India on March 14, 2012.)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Mindless activism is the root of Goa’s political stasis

Contemplating the election just completed in Goa, my mind wandered to a Sunday afternoon a few years ago. At lunch in a friend’s place near Panjim, I found myself under assault by an “activist”. He challenged my assessment that the “India against Corruption” protest, then in full flower, was just another anti-Congress formation. My interlocutor was the well-spoken scion of an influential Goan family and he took umbrage at my assertion that Anna Hazare, the figure head of the protest, was a congenital publicity hound.

Sadly, the conversation degenerated into a diatribe with the activist scolding me for my views on politics, economics and society. There was not much subtlety in his charge that people such as I must be held responsible for the state of affairs in India, tainted as it is with political corruption, skewed economic priorities and consumerist societal norms.

Fast forward to 2014, post the Hazare protest: A group of “activists” led by Arvind Kejriwal emerged to form the Aam Aadmi Party. Kejriwal’s group did surprisingly well in the ensuing elections to the assembly and was able to form a government with support from the Congress. The rest is history.

Last year, when AAP announced it would contest elections in Goa, which is a particularly fecund political environment for activism, I was not surprised. All these years of living in the haven, I was witness to the mindless activism that challenged the long-reigning Congress on any and every development scheme or project. Bringing to bear their networking skills and media clout, activists went hammer and tongs after the Congress on often unsubstantiated charges of corruption. In the event, they did not change the fluid and corrupt politics in the state or root out corruption; they ensured the rise of the BJP.

The entry of AAP to Goa politics has been made possible by the cosy fit with local activists. Coasting on word-of-mouth publicity, AAP brought to bear its propaganda skills to project a victory in the just-completed election to the assembly. Many people, with a foot in both places, Delhi and Goa, are understandably appalled. In their view, Goans have regarded them with hostility as outsiders spoiling the Goan environment with their South Delhi ways. But Goans see no contradiction in embracing a Delhi-centric political party with roots in the rough-and-ready exurban areas of the National Capital Region.

This election was held against a national backdrop in which there is a massive pushback against the BJP and a growing disenchantment with the politics of AAP. Sensing this, the Congress put in place ambitious revival plans. It opted for a seat-sharing arrangement with: Two seats for Goa Forward, a year-old party pledged to defeat the BJP; one for Atanasio Monserrate’s United Goan, a party sworn to keep the secular vote from splitting; and it has decided to support an independent candidate.

Aside of the seat sharing arrangement, the Congress is likely to benefit from a split in the BJP vote. This is because of an alliance between Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Shiv Sena and Goa Suraksha Manch, a new party floated by a rebel RSS member, Subhash Velingkar, head of the influential Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch. This Right-wing alliance, which had been instrumental in the BJP victory in 2012, threatens to jerk the rug from under the BJP.

The Congress sources in Goa and Delhi say they have long believed Kejriwal’s AAP was a front floated by the saffronistas to divide the Congress vote, especially in two-way contests as in Punjab and Goa. Their response to the split in the BJP vote in Goa is a nudge and a wink to suggest the Congress stands to make a huge gain because this split will take more votes from the BJP than AAP will from the Congress.

Though polls predict a hung assembly, the mood in the Congress camp is upbeat.

(An edited version of this post will appear in http://hindustantimes.com, February 6, 2017.)