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Showing posts with label rahul gandhi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rahul gandhi. Show all posts

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)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why the Congress Party was destroyed

It’s a bit of a long story, so you will have to bear with me.

In November 1981, I met Rajiv Gandhi, who had just given up his job in Indian Airlines because he had “to help Mummy” somehow. I lived in the US then but managed to get an interview with him. On a crisp November afternoon, my first-ever trip to Delhi; I walked into One Akbar Road.

The meeting was set for 2 pm. I waited in the outer office for a few minutes. He came out wearing a blue-checked shirt and the most perfectly-tailored blue jeans I’d ever seen. Used to buying jeans from the racks of Levi stores, I was struck…what a perfect fit!

“Hi,” he said. It was the beginning of a relationship that eventually brought me back to India after spending the most part of the 1970s and 1980s in the US. We became good friends. In 1987, when he came to the US, I met him.

“So are you a millionaire?” he asked me.

“Huh?” I responded.

“Well, you come to Delhi so often. Just come back and stay,” he told me.

So we moved lock, stock and barrel to Delhi in December 1987.

He was the Prime Minister then and I was giddy at 38 years of age to have unfettered access to the Prime Minister of India. Over the years, he was good to me, taking me on trips abroad and in India on his prime ministerial plane. I saw the world and India from rarefied heights.

And there were more such amazing privileges, including meeting world leaders, being personally introduced to them by India’s dashing new Prime Minister: Ronald Reagan, Hafez Assad of Syria, big guns in Germany, France, Hungary, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union.

Heady times for a 40-year old.

Two decades later, I sit and worry that the saffron party with an absolute majority might make life difficult for me and my family. As a Gujarati, I never bought into Narendra Modi’s impressionist painting of Gujarat as some sort of an El Dorado. And have said so in the newspapers and on television.

Should the new dispensation seek to hound opponents, I am a sitting duck
But what is sad, and which explains why they were destroyed, is the Congress, in the past year, has practiced what a perceptive journalist called “bad faith politics.” The leadership remained inaccessible, surrounded as they were by the palace guard.

From 1997 through 2004, I met Mrs Sonia Gandhi regularly, sometimes even every day, not for any political purpose but simply for professional inputs on how to run an election campaign. She put me in charge of the advertising campaign and at my instance, set up a media committee to address the editorial part of the print media. Later, when television came to the fore, I persuaded Mrs Gandhi to revamp the press conference room into a television-friendly venue.

We struggled through losses in 1998 and 1999. In 2004, I thought I was in the thick of things until some Congress apparatchiks orchestrated a coup to take over. In the American way of saying things, I was shafted.

Even after the 2004 verdict in favor of the Congress, I insisted that that the BJP lost not because of its “India Shining” campaign but because of abundant evidence of bad governance, including the idiotic nuclear blasts in 1998 and the Pramod Mahajan machine of corruption.

The apparatchiks convinced Mrs Gandhi that a “pro-poor” policy was the lesson learned from the 2004 victory.

After that, the Congress lost the plot. Instead of capitalizing on the gains of UPA policies in their first term, they began this errant, arrogant program brought in by Rahul Gandhi, who the apparatchiks saw as their ticket to power for the next decade or more, given he was young.

Trouble was Mr Gandhi brought into his team, bright young sparks from Ivy League universities who had a post-modern view of the world. Imposing policies such as the food security bill, the tribal rights bill, the land acquisition bill that won kudos on highfalutin campuses the world over, Mr Gandhi and his team thought India’s pre-modern voters would buy it and vote the Congress to power again.

It is true that in the West, there is growing intellectual movement against corporate capitalism and questions are being asked the motives and practices of large corporations. In bringing such post-modern issues to the election campaign against the simple message of aspiration Mr Modi purveyed, Mr Gandhi now presides over the ruins of the 130-year old Indian National Congress.

Mr Gandhi and his Ivy League acolytes have presided over the utter decimation of the Grand Old Party founded by Allan Octavian Hume in December 1885.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Has Rahul's AICC speech redefined political discourse?

Rahul Gandhi’s speech in the AICC meet on Friday has raised the bar in political campaigns. By his allusion to concepts such as freedom and liberty, values and ideas and trusteeship and aspirations, he left his opposition between a rock and a hard place. With its high tone, Rahul's speech cannot be condemned in the usual coarse terms used by the Opposition; else, it will show them up as small men bereft of ideas, steeped in the culture of vile abuse. We can only hope that they rise to the occasion and, finally, the political debate becomes substantive.

Rahul's speech also sought to lift the spirits of the Congress leaders and workers who had gathered to hear him. He laid out the achievements of the UPA government over a decade, talking about the dent made on poverty and emphasising on the empowerment and aspirations of men and women. In particular, he spoke of the new segment that has emerged in India of a socioeconomic group that is above poverty levels but below the middle-class lines. He spoke of the need to take lawmaking away from media and courts to return the function to legislators. He asked lawmakers to join hands to help steer significant pending legislation through Parliament in its final session.

Even when combative, Rahul used humour to put down his opponents; one of them, he said, has a good marketing strategy that can sell combs to the bald; the other specialises in giving haircuts to the bald. He said the complexity and diversity of India called for accent on enhancing democratic foundations, saying that the Congress has always faced such challenges with a zeal for revolutionary reform. Playing his favourite theme, Rahul said the challenges of the 21st century are such that there is no room for "oversimplified nonsolutions" championed by "a communal party led by an individual who is known for stoking communal fires to achieve political ends".

In the final analysis, Rahul achieved a remarkable objective: he asserted the constitutional convention of elected legislators choosing a prime minister and at the same time kept his supporters' hopes alive by promising he will accept whatever role they want him to play after the election.

(This article appeared in http://indiatoday.in, January 18, 2014)

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Bentley at the Red Light: Old Poverty, New Wealth

For the first time, the electorate faces a clear ideological choice. The Congress is the architect of liberalisation that unleashed the animal spirits of competition and innovation in the economy. The ensuing economic boom peaked in 2004; in the following decade, the economy grew at an average of 8% a year. This is evident as many sectors, including telecom, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and IT, became globally competitive.

Somewhere down the line, this growth story came up against some cruel facts: a large population afflicted by poverty and illiteracy, high malnutrition and abysmal public health. In stark contrast, world-class private schools, private hospitals, private estates, private planes, private roads and private banks blossomed.
There was always disparity, but never in your face. The pathetic picture of a car worth over a crore, waiting at a red light, besieged by begging children, is a new phenomenon. There have always been beggars, never Bentleys and Jaguars. Over the years, the rich became richer. This was not the outcome that Manmohan Singh, as finance minister, envisioned in 1991.

A year later, the BJP changed the debate with its sacking of the Babri Masjid. Suddenly, the debate was about Hindutva and the Ram temple. In the tumultuous decade that followed, the opened economy was hijacked by crony capitalists and middlemen. Mistaking this to be genuine reforms, the NDA government launched a highvoltage “India Shining” campaign. They even called an early election, hoping to cash in. In the event, a Congress-led coalition came to power in 2004 on an inclusive growth manifesto and was reelected in 2009.

Now, Narendra Modi, the new RSS mascot, has turned the BJP around to make it a US-style Republican party, stalling reforms in the legislature, promoting laissez faire and protectionist policies in the same breath, railing against government welfare spending, espousing a hardline but whimsical foreign policy. He speaks to an urban, upper-middle class audience and believes there are enough votes there to see him through.
Modi and his supporters believe he can form a government in 2014. It’s hard to believe, though, that his agenda of gated communities, luxury cars and conspicuous consumption will garner votes from the urban and rural poor, Dalits, tribals and Muslims who form the bulk of the young population. Meanwhile, the Congress has again arrayed itself in support of the excluded. More than his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who nudged the government into adopting a welfare-based legislative agenda, Rahul Gandhi is vocal about the skewed priorities.

The Indian business elite is up in arms against the Congress welfare agenda. They say India can’t afford it; they demand business-friendly policies that encourage growth, never mind the disparity. Senior ministers in the government are at pains to point out an inclusive agenda is not anti-growth and point to the national manufacturing policy that aims, in the next 10 years, to boost the share of manufacturing to 25% from 15% and, in the process, to create 100 million jobs.

In the face of heightened disparity, no political party can embrace trickledown economics and expect to form a government. Hence, the Congress lays emphasis on welfare along with its track record of growth. Modi’s noisy campaign, on the other hand, is based on disputable claims about growth and governance; the underlying message, however, is an unmistakable one of Hindu chauvinism.

Modi hopes to ascend on many contradictory platforms: authoritarian capitalism, muscular nationalism as a subliminal plank against minorities. In voting the Congress back in 2004 and again in 2009, the electorate turned its back on the BJP’s growth hype. The question now is whether voters will buy Modi’s high-voltage pitch. The idea behind the multilayered campaign is to fudge his track record that is sullied by allegations of his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

These charges have proved difficult to shake. Modi’s controversial role in the riots also attracted global concern. Major western countries instituted a diplomatic boycott; the US revoked his travel visa and is yet to restore it. Will the US presidential-style campaign help overcome the stain of 2002?

This article appeared in The Economic Times, November 5, 2013.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Halfway Point for the UPA

The Way Things Are Going…

When the Congress Party came to power nearly three years ago, middle class hearts were gladdened. Having supported the Neanderthal Democratic Alliance led by the BJP, many were dismayed by the 1998 nuclear tests, following which India became a pariah of the international community. In 2004, the Congress-led UPA won a mandate. Tragically, the Congress think tank, which consisted largely of people who played the role of the palace guard for 10 Janpath, interpreted the result as a vote against the BJP’s “India Shining” campaign.

The Congress continues to believe that Indira Gandhi was their talisman with her garibi hatao and her 20-point program. They see in Sonia Gandhi glimpses of Indira, when really she represents a continuation of her husband Rajiv Gandhi’s vision of ushering India into the 21st century. Many of us who worked closely with him remember when he met Jack Welch, the head of GE, who started the first BPO operation. The rest is history. Today, we are not just the world’s back office; we are solving complex business problems on the basis of our information technology expertise.

Yet the Congress rank-and-file believes that the socialist nostrum is the way forward. They now talk about “inclusive growth.” There can be no denying that the fruits of India’s screaming economic success, led by the BPO industry, should also include the poor and that the government must play an active role in ensuring that they are equally distributed. But that’s not why the BJP-led NDA coalition was defeated. The middle class that voted it into power in 1998 deserted them, frightened by the communal agenda and more so by their incompetence in governance.

The BJP sees things in black-and-white: they propagate that the Congress is an anti-Hindu party and seek votes by raising the basest communal passions that were tweaked by the Partition. The Congress also takes a similar zero-sum view and pits the rich against the poor, stoking the fires of class conflict. It is unable to shake the Soviet mindset of state control over all aspects of human endeavor.

Both parties tend to ignore the middle class. In the old days, the middle class was small and easily forgotten; today it is a substantial, creative force that chose to oust the communal die hards of the BJP. And this is the very group against which the Congress seems to have taken up cudgels, with its divisive agenda of class and caste differences. It has increased taxes, squeezed credit and supported irrational quotas based on caste.

Neither party has taken into account the aspirations of this fastest growing segment of the population. There is something abroad in the world; it’s called the India story. No political party seems to understand it. After Manmohan Singh, as finance minister, scrapped Soviet-style controls on private enterprise in 1991, the economy boomed. Unfortunately, the sacking of the Babri Mosque derailed the reforms the very next year. The economy began to drift and that saw the comprehensive defeat of the Congress in 1996 and the emergence of carpetbagger politicians, who slept in different political tents every night.

In 1996-1997, there were two weak Congress-backed governments under whose dispensation the bureaucracy was able to stall any further reforms. In 1997, when it was clear that the Gujral-Deve Gowda regime had run it course, the bureaucracy unleashed a series of demand management measures including a rise in interest rates that reined in the growing economy. The recession that followed lasted until 2003. In the interim, BJP-led coalitions came to power but proved unequal to task of reigning in the demand managers. It resorted to ad hoc measures such as the poorly designed national highway program. In the event, the BJP-led NDA crashed to defeat in the 2004 election.

For two years, the UPA government focused on setting things right. But the internal contradictions in the Congress and the nihilism of the Left saw its goodwill erode. The Congress is losing elections everywhere but its sycophantic leaders believe that Rahul Gandhi will deliver them from the morass of ignorance and intrigue that is sapping the party. Such complacency will cost them dearly.

from daily news and analysis april 18 2007

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Rahul Gandhi Icon

Wearing Garlands of Wilted Flowers

Rahul Gandhi has burst upon the Indian political scene with his well-publicized “Discovery of India” campaign. The name he has chosen is evocative of his great grandfather’s eponymous 1946 book; in it, Nehru introduced to the political lexicon three charged concepts: of nationalism amid cultural diversity, of indigenization to combat colonialism and of “unity in diversity,” a phrase to challenge the demand for Pakistan.

Trouble is the once-resurgent BJP exploited the divide between diversity and nationalism to advocate the chauvinistic concept of “cultural nationalism;” the Left expropriated indigenization to support and promote the corrupt and inept horror of license-permit raj and “unity in diversity” became a banal political slogan that provided air cover for cults and mafia formations based on caste politics.

This is the well-worn path of the Congress Party’s moribund ideology. There is no doubt that these ideas are well past the “sell by” date. And yet the Congress insists on garlanding Rahul with these tired old bromides. His two major forays into public policy have the makeshift look of photographs taken by a pinhole camera. To begin with, he led a delegation to the Prime Minister, asking for an expansion of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme; his latest was to seek a similar broadening of the government’s recently announced loan-waiver scheme for distressed farmers.

Noble in their intent, these initiatives nevertheless have a hare-brained aspect to them. They seem to be ill-conceived with hardly any thought given to the identification of beneficiaries and how to prevent leakages; their implementation plan has the nature of what enthusiasts of American football call a “Hail Mary” pass, in which a player throws the ball in desperation hoping someone will catch it and run it into the end zone to score a touchdown. Rahul’s push seems to be based on the Congress assessment that with populist schemes and a please-all budget, they have seized the political high ground.

As political strategy, the government’s latest moves may pay handsome dividends; in a few swift gambits, the opposition has been pushed against the ropes. Given the competitive populism that passes for politics, the government can rightly feel it has emerged triumphant.

However, the schemes will do with little for their intended beneficiary: the aam aadmi. The Congress line is that given the high growth rate, the government can afford to be generous with the “weaker sections.” Meanwhile, the government’s financial managers have, because their fear of inflation, succeeded in the reversing the growth story. The latest indices of production show a steep decline in manufacturing and a virtual collapse of the capital markets.

Analysts say the overall growth rate could come down to six percent over the year. That will reduce the amount available for populist handouts. Clearly, the schemes are unsustainable, especially if the economy tanks. I wonder if the mandarins of North Block have thought this through. Otherwise, the government’s shrewd populist move will devolve into just another time-worn ploy to buy votes with money.

Unless Rahul can shake off these wilted-flower garlands, he could find it difficult to accomplish what he let slip recently: to revive the Congress by ushering in inner-party democracy The party has not changed much; it is teeming with sycophants and fixers, and ambitious but clueless politicians, seeking to climb a rung higher. When Sonia Gandhi came upon the scene 10 years ago, the party was tottering, rent asunder by the wiles of petty men like the late Sitaram Kesri and Arjun Singh. She stabilized it, kept the flock together and went on to victory in the 2004 election.

Things have changed now and Sonia’s cautious, “don’t rock the boat” approach has passed the point of diminishing returns. The party rank and file stir themselves only to protect their turf and privileges. As things stand, it appears that for the Congress Party, we are still in the 1960s and 1970s when only state-approved voices were heard; the rest was ambient noise to be shut out by the sound-canceling earphones of ideology. From “garibi hatao” to “inclusive growth,” poverty still remains the dark side of what Nehru called the Indian adventure.

copyright: rajiv desai 2008