Thursday, March 28, 2013

Modi’s PR agency spins another yarn….this time using US lawmakers

If the PR stories put out by Modi in the newspapers are to be believed, it would appear as if the US has come down on its knees apologizing to Narendra Modi for having denied him the visa; and promising to make good by putting billions of dollars in investments into the next Vibrant Gujarat summit! In reality, as this post will show, it is nothing but a typical Modi PR stunt.

First of all, who came down visiting? Some unknown Republicans who are probably the lightest weight of all Republicans. Their party lost the Presidential race, so Republicans occupy the opposition space in the US. So the equivalent of these people would be someone like Bal Kumar Patel or Pakauri Lal of the Samajwadi Party (even heard of them???) going to the US and saying “You are doing a great job, Mr Obama. The US is the best place in the world to do business in”! And then the newspapers in the US carrying an Obama-planted PR story about the praise lavished by these Indian MPs on him!

It’s all PR. Modi’s strongest suit is PR. Less work. More publicity. Take credit for things that are not his. But ensuring that the work is publicized as his own. This must have been the brief Modi gave his US based PR firm, Apco Worldwide. As per reports, the firm is paid (a relatively small amount of) $25000 per month to manage “Brand Gujarat”. In reality, it manages “Brand Narendra Modi”. In reality, the sums paid to APCO might be higher, supported through Modi’s network which goes by the name of “Overseas Friends of the BJP”. It’s all a racket. After all, what else can one expect from a PR agency that also has had clients such as former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and President-for-life of Kazakhstan Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev. Modi fits in brilliantly as a client in the agency’s roster of clients!

The following is taken from the internet and is accessible on the following URL: ( Admittedly, it is not the official website of the PR agency, but it nonetheless serves as a good site for a little grime on the agency! Here are some extracts from this source:

“Doing public relations for dictatorships is perhaps the more charitable part of Apco’s activities. Apco has a battalion of pro-war lobbyists under its wing. The firm is also a strong advocate of expanding armaments and the US military role in world affair”

“In the name of war against terror, Apco helped to coordinate government communications to convince the public of the necessity of war. Its job also included manufacturing public opinion and feedback in supporting the war efforts. Basically it exploited Islam-phobia in Western society to sell aggression as the solution to regain security in the West.”

“Apco is described as a lobby firm that “specialises in helping corporations advance their goals by manipulating legislators, and drafting and advancing model legislation and regulations. Key tools include the creation of business coalitions and fake, corporate-funded ‘grassroots’ groups tailored to specific issues.”

It is very likely that APCO organized the trip of these three US lawmakers by paying them for their services (isn’t that what “manipulating legislators” means?). In the US, lobbying is a legal activity and lawmakers are often schmoozed to support or oppose certain causes. There is really nothing remarkable about three such lawmakers coming to Gujarat and extolling the virtues of Modi. In fact, a condition of the tour contract would have been to sing paeans of Modi.

It’s a shame that the US continues to deny Modi visa. That puts him in the company of leaders from countries like Iran….and members of known terrorist outfits. Modi is obviously trying all he can to get rid of this stain, but the fervor against Modi continues to remain strong, as the recent Wharton denial of even a chance to speak via Video Conferencing showed. As recently as in December 2012, the US government’s decision on denying Modi a visa was re-inforced when “a group of 25 American lawmakers urged the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to continue denying visa to the BJP leader, stating that his government has not adequately pursued justice of the 2002 riot victims.” (source: India TV website: Twenty five lawmakers urged he be denied the visa. What’s three lawmakers, who APCO is no doubt lobbying with, saying that they will “speak” to the US administration to give Modi a visa?

Sure, most countries worldwide are keen to do business in Gujarat (just as they are about doing business in Maharashtra, Haryana, AP and TN), and they are bound to meet Modi for that purpose. The UK’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs also visited Gujarat a few days back, but when asked if he would invite Modi to the UK, he was dodgy. Visiting foreign dignitaries routinely meet Indian leaders, but that doesn’t make noise. After all, most Indian politicians cannot afford a PR firm like APCO Worldwide.

The real truth is that the visit of 3 lawmakers from the US to Gujarat, and their saying good things about Modi is just a PR exercise, orchestrated by Modi’s PR agency. Such exercise don’t mask the fact that Modi remains a pariah, who people are forced to deal with only for business reasons (and credit for that goes to Gujaratis, not Modi). Rather than focusing his energies at PR, it would be better if Modi just corrected his steps….and atoned for the mistakes of the past….

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Now we know why the DMK moved out of the UPA….and why it will come back

The DMK is on a sure path back to the UPA. It may not formally join the government for now, but it will surely support it from outside. Maybe later, if things calm down in TN, it may even join the it again. More importantly, it is now quite certain that the party will be part of UPA-3 if that chance arises.

Consider the following:

It is now clear what the DMK’s compulsions were in exiting the UPA-2. The politics in TN had gotten far more tumultuous than most of us outside of the state realized. It was a brilliant chess move that Jayalalitha had made, sensing correctly the opportunity the Sri Lanka vote in the UNHCR offered her party. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to deliver a body blow to the DMK. She moved stealthily; almost un-noticeable till the very end. And then all of a sudden, in a rapid leap, she went for the kill, escalating the issue sky high. I think the center was caught by surprise; I also think the DMK was caught by surprise.

The DMK was forced into its desperate decision to quit the UPA. Knowing fully well that the central government would not be able to go the whole hog on the issue, the party decided to turn that to its advantage. By quitting the government, it showed that its concern for the Tamilian people was far more than any quest or desire for power. Clearly, the move worked. Not only has the party managed to thwart the AIADMK’s move, it has probably scored one over its rival. After all, the AIADMK only made noise. The DMK actually proved its commitment by actually resigning and sacrificing power. I think in the minds of the public, that’s a bigger proof of commitment.

Jayalalitha has now been forced onto the backfoot. Not surprising then that she increased the temperature a little more by first demanding that the Sri Lankan cricketers not be allowed to play in Chennai, and then taunting Karunanidhi for not sacking them from his grand nephew Kalanithi Maran’s IPL team, the Sunrisers Hyderabad. This battle is far from over, and more turf grabbing can be expected in the coming days. Already, Jayalalitha has used her brutal majority in the TN assembly to pass a resolution demanding that India should insist on the UN intervening in Sri Lanka, unmindful of the reciprocal demand that Pakistan is sure to make with respect to J&K. In the heightened political climate now prevailing in TN, how and why should Jayalalitha bother about J&K. She gets elected by voters in her state, not those in the rest of the country.

How will the DMK respond? It is more than likely that its Hyderabad IPL team will drop its captain Sangakkara. It may also take up other routes – like asking its cadres to attack Sri Lankans in the state and elsewhere. This is a typical battle of egos – there is going to be no stoppage for at least some time.

The incidents show what intense compulsion the DMK faced in doing what it did. The decision to quit the UPA was nothing to do with the 2G scam, nor was it because of any disenchantment with the Congress as many in the media alleged. It was not a reflection of the Congress’s attitude towards its allies. The DMK never loved the Congress. It was a political necessity that made the party stick to the Congress, even after the party patriarch’s own daughter was hauled into the 2G cauldron. That necessity still continues; only it has been temporarily overtaken by the other necessity of countering Jayalalitha’s move.

Once the matter subsides, the DMK’s original necessities will re-emerge. The party is already keeping its doors open. From “we won’t have a pre-poll alliance with the Congress in 2014”, it has already moved to a much more nuanced position, even thanking the central government for sanctioning several infrastructure and social projects in the state. And before this, the party made it clear that it didn’t intend to topple the government. How could it? If early elections followed as a result of its actions, the DMK would be routed in its home state. Maybe a year later, the tide will turn against Jayalalitha – already there is a degree of dissent against the massive power cuts, the rising power bills, and the rising cost of transport in the state. The DMK would rather that the elections happen a year later, on schedule.

Even in 2014, what options does it really have? Will it be smarter for it to fight against both, the AIADMK and Congress, or get into an arrangement with the Congress. At the state level, the Congress also has no option, but to tie-up with the DMK. The AIADMK is too mesmerized by Narendra Modi, and any association with the Congress is difficult, at least at the pre-poll stage. The Congress’s worries are profound too; with its most visible face from the state, Chidambaram, sure to be feeling the blues. On the one hand, Chidambaram realizes that there is a chance that his party would make him the PM if the UPA got inadequate votes in 2014; on the other hand, there is no surety that he will even be able to retain his seat given the general anti-Congress mood. Chidambaram will make sure that the DMK and Congress join hands – yet again.

There is also this truth about time being the best healer. A few months back, the NCP was apparently furious with the Congress. It felt hurt, blah blah. Media jumped the gun and claimed that the government would fall. Today, the party is back to being the Congress’s “most reliable” ally. This is all too common in politics. Regional parties feel the need at times to assert their independent identity, but then cold logic takes over. In a coalition era, that cold logic drives everything.

The real truth is that nothing dramatic should be expected from TN. Do not expect a political re-alignment. Do not expect the central government to fall. And do not be surprised if the DMK and Congress start to tango all over again in a few months time….

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

As Chennai loses (IPL’s top games)….so will Jayalalitha

Upended by the DMK’s determined grab of the Sri Lanka game, after she had started it, Jayalalitha has been forced to play catch up. Yesterday, she pole vaulted up the populism scorecard by demanding that Sri Lankan cricketers not be allowed to play in Chennai during the forthcoming IPL season. Those of us who live in Mumbai have gone through similar treachery by the Shiv Sena – being denied the fun of watching Pakistani cricketers playing in the city. It would help Jayalalitha if she first studied the Shiv Sena’s experience before embarking down the same path.

The Shiv Sena has managed to capture power in Maharashtra only once; that too for only 4 years between 1995-1999. That period of rule was attributed to the heightened religious sentiments prevailing in the aftermath of the Babri demolition and the 1993 riots that followed in Mumbai. The party has since used every divisive trick possible, but to no avail. The more it tries to divide Maharashtra on linguistic and cultural identity, the less it works. It has also sunk with it, the BJP, whose agenda is in any case, only slightly different from that of the Shiv Sena’s. Collectively, both parties have learnt that parochial issues work only partially; and only temporarily. In the long run, people remain unimpressed; in fact, they turn against such parties.

Agreed the temptation to pander to Tamil sentiments is high. But is Jayalalitha forgetting how much theTamilians love their cricket? Isn’t it a matter of great pride for Tamilians that the Chennai Super Kings has occupied the top 2 slots four times out of five and has actually won the tournament twice? Isn’t it remarkable that even in the scorching Chennai summer (which is worse than the dry summer seen in other Indian cities), the finals have been played there so many times? The Tamil population has basked in the glory that Dhoni and his team has brought them. Dhoni, Raina….and even Sri Lankan Kulasekara are heroes. In a city known largely for its conservatism, IPL has given it a progressive feel. Will the people like it if that changes – all for petty politics?

As currently scheduled, two of the top four games are scheduled to be held in Chennai – the 1st Qualifier on the 21st of May, and the Eliminator round on 22nd. Since the teams that will get to play in those matches are not known at the moment, it is impossible to predict if Sri Lankan players will be involved or not. The safest way for the IPL organizing committee to toe Jayalalitha’s line is to re-schedule the games outside Chennai. After all, how can the organizers request a team to drop its SL players for important games only because the matches are happening in TN? There is already some news in the papers that the IPL is planning this. If that happens, Chennai will lose. The IPL will go ahead without a blink. I want to know what Jayalalitha will tell her people then. That they should feel a moral high about their sacrifice; that it is in support of  fellow Tamilians in Sri Lanka (most of whom do not even hail from India. They owe their descendence to Sri Lanka based Tamil kingdoms which existed hundreds of years back)? This is akin to the dogmatic Left parties urging their followers to shun the US, capitalism and prosperity in support of their downtrodden brethren. Well, the Bongs have rejected the Left! Will Tamilians now do the same to Jayalalitha?

Politics should be restricted to small, confined spaces and not allowed to invade everyday lives of people. Or sports. I have always maintained that even if India has a hundred problems with Pakistan, stopping Pakistani cricketers from playing in India makes us look small. And it doesn’t solve our problems with that country. We don’t need to support such moves to prove our nationalistic credentials. The people of India have said as much several times. They want progressive thinking. They want to move forward from traditional viewpoints. This is one reason why the people voted the UPA-2 back to power; because they supported the Congress’s move to sign the Indo-US nuclear deal. Petty politics forced the BJP (an otherwise avid US supporter) to attack the deal. It boomeranged. The BJP’s vote count was pushed down.

People wouldn’t mind if Jayalalitha demanded that the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) scheduled later this year in Sri Lanka be canceled. They don’t care for that event. They wouldn’t mind if the AIADMK government demanded the cancelation of the 1970s agreement with Sri Lanka over the island of Kachchateevu. And on issues that directly concern the people – like demanding that the Sri Lankan navy stops killing our fishermen – the people will even support Jayalalitha. But when politics enters a space held so sacrosanct as cricket, they will give her the boot. Jayalalitha has to realize how fraught such moves are with political risk.

The Congress is hoping that Jayalalitha succeeds in scrapping the Chennai games. It will give the party a chance to show itself as the most moderate amongst the options available. In the long run, such “moderatism” always wins in a country as heterogeneous as India. Being moderate is the Congress’s real trump card. It is this moderate image that makes it attractive to allies. Radicalism has no place in India. Even an act as extreme as the demolition of the Babri masjid; or a CM allowing his goons to massacre thousands of Muslims got the BJP no long term electoral benefits. If any, such acts condemned it to becoming a regional party (with a presence in only a few states in the West) where such extreme ideology works. Jayalalitha’s party is already a regional one; but if it wishes to play a bigger role nationally, a moderate image will be helpful.

The real truth is that Jayalalitha has no idea what kind of emotions cricket generates in Chennai. If the city loses its two top games, the people are going to be terribly upset. And people have a way of getting back. They simply stop voting for the ruling party. Jayalalitha is forewarned….

Monday, March 25, 2013

Whats wrong with our politicians??? Demand for Sanjay Dutt release, suspension of Mumbai cop unacceptable….

I am usually nice to politicians. I think we malign them too much; fail to understand their contribution to society. All of us armchair critics simply cannot get it that many of them are genuine leaders of our society; people who stick their neck out to make things better for us. There are the black sheep of course, but we tend to paint all of them with large simplistic brush strokes. However, two recent incidents have made me join the chorus of politician bashers. One, the demand that Sanjay Dutt’s sentence be pardoned, and another, the suspension of the Mumbai cop (Suryavanshi) who dared to book an MLA for speeding on the Bandra Worli sea link.

The politicians have behaved in the most shameful manner in both these cases. Take the Sanjay Dutt matter. On what grounds can he be condoned? Or his sentence remitted? Is it not true that he was in possession of three AK-56 rifles? Isn’t it true that these guns are not mere toys, but full-fledged assault rifles, used by terrorists to assassinate large numbers of innocent people? Isn’t it also true that he acquired these guns from noted criminal Abu Salem? Why was he even keeping Salem’s company? Whatever his grounds may have – immaturity, recklessness, a wasted childhood, stress – whatever…..the fact remains that he was arrested for a wretched act of crime on which two courts – the TADA court and even the SC – have confirmed jail sentences for him. On what grounds can an appeal of pardon even be considered by the Governor? How can the Governor condone an act of crime which is linked to terrorism?

By no stretch of imagination is this a case of celeb victimization. Sanjay Dutt is not being harassed. He is being mollycoddled. Outlandish reasons are being floated for his pardon. Apparently, because he played the role of a lovable goon-turned-doctor, Munnabhai, and extolled the virtues of Gandhigiri, he must be spared. Really? So an actor who plays the role of a criminal in a film should be arrested right? And how many such people wont take to Gandhigiri if they can escape the prospect of going to jail? A Bollywood veteran said that “Sanjay has suffered enough”, hence he must be pardoned. Really? What about the lacs of similar people who suffer for decades and for whom no one cares? And its appalling that a generally sensible person like Justice Markandey Katju should join the brigade of such wayward people – in fact, he was the first one off the block. Can he first answer the questions I have raised? Those who still have doubts about this subject should read Shekhar Gupta in last Saturday’s editorial page piece “Our poor little Sanju” in the Indian Express, and their minds will be cleared.

In the beginning, when a few voices demanding that Sanjay Dutt be pardoned emerged, I thought they would die down. But the clamour for his release has only grown. The movement is snowballing; forcing me to write on this subject today. Almost all of Bollywood is crooning for his release now. Most politicians – at the state and central levels – are asking for the same. Most media outlets are going along as well. In this bizarre scenario, I am delighted that the BJP (and now, also the Shiv Sena) have decided to support the rule of law. Whatever their reasons – maybe it is Sanjay Dutt’s Congress connections which motivates them – it is good that the BJP has decided not to join the demand for his release. By standing out, the party has demonstrated that no matter how big or small the convict, the same rules apply.

Then the other incident in which an ordinary traffic cop dared to intercept the vehicle of an MLA in Mumbai for speeding. Apparently, some sort of a verbal duel ensued. The MLA probably thought that he was some sort of a privileged god; that he was above the law. He and others of his ilk summoned the cop to Mantralaya and thrashed the daylight of this poor soul. To the extent, that the poor cop is struggling in a hospital. As if this was not enough, the cop has now been suspended, for his “rude behavior”. I find it impossible to believe that an ordinary, simple cop on the road would start off by being rude; especially with a politician, who must without doubt have been flashing his “red beacon”. Apparently, RR Patil, the Home Minister came under pressure from the opposition, because in another incident in the state a year back, no action had been taken against some cops who assaulted an MNS MLA in Aurangabad. As if two wrongs can make something right, Patil went ahead and suspended this Mumbai cop. What can be more vindictive than this? What can be more evidence that the Maharashtra government – and all politicians belonging to all parties – care little for the law? What can be more unacceptable than politicians demanding they be treated as the privileged class? That the laws be set aside for them?

These two incidents should be panned across media. We are the ones who make celebs, celebs. We are the ones who make politicians, politicians. Even if we cannot make them answerable to us, we should make sure that they don’t take us for granted. If ever there was a movement – a street demonstration, a hunger strike – needed, it is now. This time in Mumbai. I don’t particularly like Anna Hazare, but if there is one way he can regain his credibility, it is now. Mumbai and Maharashtra are his “karma bhoomi”; its time he or someone like him came forward and took these goons on.

The real truth is that politicians have challenged us by seeking a privileged status for themselves. Ditto, the celebrities. It’s time we put together a fight. In whichever way we can. I have done so by writing this post. You can do so by starting a viral campaign online. Others who feel up to it can take to street demonstrations. Whatever, lets not take this lying down….

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A status update on various recent “scams” shows it was mostly froth….

Since a lot of so called “scams” have “broken” on media in the last few months, I think it’s a good time to look at their current status. How much of all was this was just hot air (or gas), and how much was the honest truth. The update will help the sift the politics out of the business of scam mongering.

1)    The Agusta Westland chopper deal: When the story first broke, it started off with a simple allegation that there were agents involved in the deal. This was a violation of India’s defence policy, but there was no direct involvement of any politician. As the story quickly snowballed, the truth got buried, and political allegations started flying thick and fast. While there was a case made out that Air Chief Marshall’s three cousins had received commissions, and that ACM Tyagi himself was perhaps a beneficiary, there was no hint of any ministers being involved. Later however, the BJP’s focus shifted to alluding to a “massive” corruption in the Congress. The party even called it “Bofors 2”. And then there was this ridiculous charge that since it was a deal with Italy, Sonia Gandhi was a recipient of the bribe! Current status: Initial facts look like they were correct. Latest CBI findings suggest that the Tyagi brothers were indeed involved; there is also a possible link-up with ACM Tyagi (today’s papers), though a money trail to him is still to be found. There is ZERO linkage to any Congress politician, leave alone Sonia Gandhi. In fact, Defence Minister Antony has been on the offensive, pushing the BJP onto the backfoot. If he has his way, the chopper deal will be canceled, pushing the country behind by a decade. To his credit, Antony has stayed head and shoulders above any wrongdoing.
2)    Private banks’ “money laundering” sting: Two weeks back, a “huge” sting operation was conducted by Cobrapost, which alleged that top private banks were helping dubious clients convert black money to white. So much was alright, but to add a little masala, the whole thing was converted to a political story by the BJP making the claim that “the government was not serious about curbing black money”. Where the BJP got the idea to link what was essentially the handiwork of a few bank managers to the government’s anti-black-money struggle, no one knows and the party doesn’t deem it necessary to explain. Current status: the RBI conducted a full inquiry and has cleared the banks of any wrongdoing. Whatever happened was at a local level. The banks in turn have suspended a few officials. Is this a cover up? Well, it was a regulator who inquired, not a government official. Make up your own mind.
3)    Rs 1.76 lac crore 2G scam: The CAG triggered this off by hinting at a “notional” loss. The BJP converted it to a “national” loss. The basis of the figure was a benchmarking with the 3G auctions, which for different reasons, had priced spectrum very high. It’s a different story that those prices were so unsustainable that the 3G business has become a huge loss making proposition for the telcos. The government mis-handled the situation by distancing itself from the “low price” formula it had adopted, shunning Kapil Sibal’s rightful assertion that it was a policy decision and there was zero loss. Current status: A series of 2G auctions – modeled on the “successful” (in reality, failed) 3G auctions – have shown that the value of 2G spectrum is far lesser than the CAG pronounced. In fact, the high auction pricing policy – directed by the Supreme Courts and CAG’s activism – is the reason why the auctions are failing. The subscriber base has started crashing. Telcos are bleeding. A witchhunt against the telcos has started. The sector is in a mess. Subramaniam Swamy tried his levellest best – going right up to the SC – but could not prove Chidambaram’s involvement. In the meanwhile, the main accused Raja is the only one who looks guilty (though not proven yet). The amount of corruption is of the order of a few hundred crores (if proved). Truth. Just plain truth.
4)    The CWG scam: Now remember this was touted to be a Rs 70,000 crore scam. I thought after 2 years we would at least have a trace of that sum. Current status: Truth is that the only case filed against Kalmadi is something about a Rs 90 crore loss suffered by the country in a TSR order placed on a Swiss firm rather than a Spanish firm. Remember, this is only a chargesheet. The case is still to be proven. Those who handle business know that often the cheapest quote is not the best because there are conditionalities attached or the vendor’s credentials are suspect. But leave that aside. The actual corruption would be much lower than the Rs 90 crores loss. So yes, Kalmadi is in the dock, but the Rs 70,000 crore number was just a sensationalist story.
5)    Robert Vadra’s Haryana land deals: A lot was made out of this. Vadra had reportedly made sweetheart deals with DLF, and DLF had allegedly been “taken care of” somewhere else by the Haryana government. The activist IAS officer Ashok Khemka was the flavor of the TV circuit for a few days for having the guts to cancel Vadra’s deals. Current status: Here’s an update by CNN IBN quoted in a story: “Haryana’s deputy commissioners have found no irregularities in Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s land deals. A panel of four Deputy Commissioners has given Vadra’s deals a clean chit. Four Haryana deputy commissioners conducted inquiries into Vadra’s deals after IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s order, dated October 12,” CNN-IBN said in a report.” The only thing which stays is that Vadra made good profits, but then is that a crime? Kejriwal who leveled the allegations (whats new about that?) hasn’t yet filed any case against Vadra. Why?
6)    Salman Khurshid’s NGO: Since the time the “scam” broke in Oct 2012, not much has happened. Strange, considering this is the Union Foreign Minister (highly vulnerable) and the case is being run in UP, an opposition run state! Current status: The latest is that the Allahabad Bench of the UP High Court has issued notices to the Zakir Hussain Memorial trust….. When the story broke, Kejriwal and several media outfits had already concluded that Khurshid was guilty.

The real truth is that all this shows that we must wait for the froth to subside to get to the facts. In a country with politics as effervescent as it is, it is the froth that attracts our attention. But the froth is just that. Froth. Its not the truth. And that is the real truth!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Swapan Dasgupta needs to declare his BJP leanings….

Last Sunday, I wrote about a celebrated editor, MJ Akbar’s unwavering anti-Congress mindset and how it affected his ability to be a professional journalist. This Sunday, I am writing about another celebrated journalist Swapan Dasgupta whose  known – and intentionally unpublicized – BJP leanings often force him to make severe compromises with his otherwise brilliant skills as a journalist specializing in politics. I am referring specifically to his article in today’s Sunday TOI “Burning Lanka doesn’t always work out well”.

Almost all of Swapan’s analysis of the Lankan issue is correct. And almost all his political attacks are wrong. I agree with his statement “India’s foreign policy — a field that is the sole responsibility of the Centre”. That’s how it should be. I also agree when he says “The ire of Colombo will not be directed at the US which sponsored the resolution. Washington is too powerful and too remote for Sri Lanka to even attempt any meaningful retribution. The blow will fall on India. India’s economic and strategic interests in Sri Lanka will suffer and the beneficiary will be China” and “More to the point, India’s foreign policy will be perceived as wildly erratic and susceptible to sectional pressures, even of the disreputable variety.” So far so good. All this is indeed correct. China will benefit. India’s policy will be seen as being erratic. I also am with him when he asks “Would the Government have dared contemplate a resolution attacking China for its assault on Tibetan identity? Why did Parliament contemptuously repudiate the Pakistan National Assembly’s gratuitous resolution on Afzal Guru?”.

This far, it’s the noted journalist Swapan Dasgupta writing an analysis of how India mishandled the Sri Lanka issue at the UNHRC. But from this point on, Swapan goes downhill. He suddenly remembers that he owes it to his masters in the BJP that he write something denigrating the Congress. He cannot be seen as having lost an opportunity to attack the Grand Old Party in the country’s biggest English newspaper. So he suddenly changes tracks. Suddenly, his analysis goes haywire and his political obligations take over. Here are some bizarre statements from the piece

This cynical grandstanding, aimed exclusively at preventing Congress stalwarts from losing their Lok Sabha seats at the next election, made India a laughing stock in the region.” Why was this just the Congress’s grandstanding. Why has he not called his favorite BJP leader, Narendra Modi’s great friend in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha’s demands also as grandstanding? Why has he not mentioned that actually both the Dravidian parties – DMK and AIADMK – were responsible for India becoming the laughing stock; that the Congress’s hand was really forced by their positions? For before the two parties raised the ruckus, the Congress had already decided to dilute the motion against Sri Lanka.

I would expect Swapan to appreciate the reality of politics in India; the compulsions that coalitions put on the principal party. What would he suggest the Congress should have done? Ignored its ally and done what it thought was best? In that case, wouldn’t Swapan have written a piece on how the Congress didn’t know how to handle allies, and how it mis-treats them? Is it Swapan’s point that the Congress should have sacrificed its government? Is that the way he suggests India should be governed in the future as well, when similar coalition structures are expected to continue? Should India go the Japan or Italy way with constantly changing governments? All so that the leading political party can claim that it “wont succumb to ally pressures”???

Swapan then goes completely political “That the UPA leadership chose to unsuccessfully placate the DMK which used the Sri Lankan Tamil issue as a ruse to sever an alliance that had otherwise become a liability is revealing.” And “It suggests that there already weak central command structure of the Government has become almost non-existent. The Government gives the appearance of being a replica of the later-Moghul Empire where a nominal badshah in Delhi lacked authority and was buffeted by different regional pressures.” Come come Swapan Dasgupta. You are sounding like an ordinary Indian who wanted India to take a more thoughtful stand at the UNHRC. But when this ordinary Indian reads your piece, he seeks enlightenment. An appreciation of the political challenges before the country, and your suggestions for how things could be better handled. But no where in your piece have you written about that. No where have you suggested what the Congress should have done. Should it have resisted pressures from the DMK and sacrificed its government? You will argue that the DMK has anyways walked out of the UPA, so what difference would it have made? Let me tell you – though I am no one to tell a shrewd analyst like you – that the Congress continues to woo the DMK not because of its present compulsions, but because it knows it will be forced to partner it again in 2014. Its chances of allying with the AIADMK are remote, given that party’s strong affinity for Narendra Modi. That’s why the Congress did the flip flop. I would have liked to read you analysis of the Congress’s compulsions, and admitted that your favorite party – the BJP – would have done no different.

And when you end your piece with “Elections may be a year away but more than ever India needs a government with a mandate. And, if possible, a Prime Minister with clout.”, you expose your real agenda. That you are writing on behalf of the BJP. That you are always on the lookout for a way to attack the PM. The PM’s clout has been demonstrated amply, but you choose to ignore it. You would rather say Vajpayee had clout, though he was unable even to restrain his own party’s hangman, Narendra Modi in Gujarat, and had to be satisfied by merely reminding him of his “raj dharma”. That was a resolute, powerful PM, but the present PM is a weakling for you. Why? Because he is not as good an orator as Modi? Or because he keeps a low profile? C’mon Swapan Dasgupta. Pull the wool out of your eyes and remove the wax from your ears… will become a better journalist….

The real truth is that Swapan is cheating his readers (and admirers….like me) when he allows his independence to be taken over by his political ambitions. He has a right to choose his politics. He has a right to write about them. But in a blog. Not in a newspaper. As a “friend of BJP”, not a noted editor. But if he insists on continuing, he should put out a disclaimer “This is the piece written by a BJP-supporting Swapan Dasgupta, not the noted journalist and editor”.  That’s all….

Friday, March 22, 2013

Italian marines return – Jaitley and BJP forced to eat crow….

A few days back when the Italian government stated that their marines would not return – in a blatant disregard of their sovereign commitments made to India’s Supreme Court – Arun Jaitley, leader of the BJP, had stated mockingly that India’s clout in international affairs had been drastically reduced. He was of course mocking the Congress, forgetting that the coverage of such a statement by the international media would harm India’s standing in the world. Well, today, Arun Jaitley has no option but to eat crow. He wont apologize, because politicians seldom do that.

Newspaper reports indicate that the marines have returned precisely because of India’s clout; not because they had a turn of heart. They are still disputing India’s territorial jurisdiction in the case, and even their counsel, the illustrious Harish Salve, has stated that they had a good case. After all, the incident happened outside of India’s terrirtorial waters, and hence international laws could be made to apply. But that’s not the issue of today’s post. The issue is whether India managed to use its clout or not; and whether Jaitley was right in mocking the government.

The clout India used was perhaps most related to business, something that should give us a sense of pride. It re-affirms India’s standing in the world of business. The Italian corporate sector apparently weighed in on the government, asking it to resolve the issue diplomatically; and not scoot from a country as important as India. Obviously the Italians were concerned about their business interests, especially given the condition of their economy. If this is not clout, then what is?

The other clout India must have used – and not everything emerges in the public domain – is its relationship with other countries in the EU, as well as the US. There was in fact a small mention in between that the EU wanted the matter to be resolved diplomatically even though it also thought that India didn’t have jurisdiction. Surely, India used its diplomatic muscle.

There is a new controversy that a few grumpy people are trying to create about what “assurances” the Indian government has given to the Italians. They claim India has surrendered to the Italians and conceded many terms that would not normally have been done. Such people are unstoppable. They will never let go. They will attack no matter what! So lets look at their new charge.

Apparently, India has promised to Italy that the death penalty would not be given to the two marines. The Indian government says that it has only clarified, that in its wisdom (meaning its not really its decision, but the courts’), this case would not attract the death penalty. Just for the records, more than 30,000 murders take place in India every year (yes….can you imagine this shocking number???), but the number of convicts given the death penalty is usually in single digits. So surely the marines are undeserving of the death sentence. That’s what Khurshid clarified.

However, here’s the other thing that no media outlet has commented on yet (shows how shoddy our media is). A cursory search of the net shows that India has no extradition treaty with Italy. It just an extradition “arrangement”. But had it had an extradition treaty with it, just like it has one with the UK, the treaty would have forced India to drop the death charges. Article 16 of the treaty would have come into play. Article 16 states that “If under the law of the requesting state – India, since it is requesting Italy to extradite the two marines – the person sought is liable to the death penalty for the offence for which his extradition is requested, but the law of the requested state – Italy – does not provide for the death penalty in a similar case, the extradition may be refused unless the requesting state – India – gives such assurance as the requested state – Italy – considers sufficient that the death penalty wont be carried out”. India would not have been allowed to award the death penalty because Italy doesn’t allow capital punishment in its country. In other words, had this incident concerned a person from the UK (or US/Canada/HongKong/ Netherlands/ Russia/ Switzerland/UAE/Spain/Turkey/Germany/ France/Poland/Korea/South Africa – a total of 28 countries with whom India has an extradition treaty), India would have been forced by law to give the assurance of no capital punishment. Surely a savvy lawyer like Jaitley knows that! This latest controversy is purely political!

The other thing we must remember is that all extradition treaties (or arrangements) are reciprocal in nature. If an Indian is arrested in Italy – and there are many who are – the same laws of extradition would apply to them as well. Italy would be prevented from giving an Indian convict a sentence that would be not permitted under Indian law. An extradition treaty demonstrates mutual respect for each other’s law, and allows citizens of the two countries to be tried in accordance with the laws of their countries. An extradition treaty allows – in fact that is the focus of the treaty – for the citizens of a country to be sent back to that country for trial and serving of sentence. What’s the big deal with the assurances India has given to Italy????

And what about all the mocking the BJP leaders did of Sonia Gandhi simply because she was born in that country? Does every issue that concerns Italy have to be seen in the context of Sonia’s Italian origins? Sonia was forced to issue an unnecessary (because it was so obvious) statement warning Italy that India would not tolerate such intransigence.   
So now Jaitley must eat his words. But will he? Has he got the statesmanship required to accept that he bluntered? That his enthusiasm to put the government in the dock got the better of him? Will he acknowledge that he perhaps spoke too soon?  And embarrassed the country, and not only himself? If only our politicians could be a little more circumspect, they would do themselves and India a whole lot of good.

The real truth is that India has shown Italy and the world what heft it has. The government has shown the BJP what heft it has. The SC’s dignity has been protected. The rule of law has been implemented. An errant has been brought to toe the line. Now its India’s turn to be fair and try the case without any pre-meditation. If international laws – have to apply, then so be it. Politics, especially jingoistic politics, has no role in either the enforcement of law, or international diplomacy….

Thursday, March 21, 2013

If the government really controlled the CBI, would the raids on Stalin have happened????

Everyone is talking about Sanjay Dutt’s 5-year jail sentence as if that is the most important issue before the country. For me, the issue lost relevance the moment the judicial system took 20 years to settle the matter. Will the SC please set its system in place? So I’ve decided to stick to my favorite subject – dirty, grimy, messy Indian politics! Yesterdays raids on DMK leader, MK Stalin’s premises, bring to the fore yet again, the important issue of who actually controls (abuses actually) the CBI. After the raids yesterday, the BJP was back to its standard charge – that the government controls the CBI and uses it to terrorize its opponents. But the government – including the Finance Minister and the PM – said they were themselves embarrassed by the timing. So who’s right? The government or the BJP?

The background to this, as everyone knows, is that the DMK recently walked out of the UPA alliance. That decision clearly upset the UPA and reduced it to a minority. There is thus reason to believe that Congress wants to hurt the DMK. Hence it ordered the raids. This conspiracy theory was the talk of the town yesterday. Now in a political environment as pregnant as it is these days, what is more likely: that the government orders a very public, high profile CBI raid on a senior DMK leader and risks public scorn, or it actually asks the agency to keep off? That is, assuming the government does indeed control the agency’s operations as alleged by the BJP.

To answer the question, let me take a parallel example from the corporate world. Let’s say there is a woman employee whose performance is not up to the mark. Under normal circumstances, she would be given her due notice and asked to leave when the time came. Now just imagine if it was found that this under-performing woman was pregnant and due to deliver in a few months. That would change everything. What was an easy decision earlier would suddenly become complex. Most organizations would not sack woman under such circumstances. Why? Not because they particularly cared for her, but because they would be afraid of being accused of being unmindful of her condition. Suddenly, her non-performance would become a non-issue; in fact it would become her savior. So timing is everything. The right move at the wrong time is in reality a wrong move….

Coming back to yesterday’s CBI raids, did it help the Congress, or embarrass it? Going by the PM’s and FM’s discomfiture, its clear that the Congress was embarrassed. The media raised a storm. The BJP got the whipping rod to beat the Congress with. More importantly, the relations between the Congress and the DMK soured further. And worst of all for the Congress, the general perception that it uses the CBI for its political end got strengthened. None of this helped the Congress, and surely if the party knew the CBI was going to conduct the raids, it would have tried to stop them. But it had no inkling. So what does it look like? That the government controls the CBI’s day to day functioning or not?

Then take the other point. The PM and FM complained and to the extent they could, “ordered” the CBI to stop the raids. But did it? No (the raids lasted the full day). It went ahead and raided several premises, recovering some 33 imported cars in the process. So what are we saying here? That the CBI ignored the orders of its bosses? Does this look like the body language of an agency that takes orders from the government?

But then politics being politics, the issue gave the opposition something to talk about. But look at how contrasting the accusations were!

The BJP was smart. It changed its usual stance – that the government uses to CBI to conduct raids. It suddenly walked away from this usual position. It now attacked the government for ordering the stoppage of the raids; for interfering in rightful raids! Now there are two layers to the BJP’s politics here. First that by attacking the Congress in this way, the BJP suggested that the Congress does in fact control the CBI. After all, control implies both – being able to order a raid as well as to stop it. Second, the BJP sent a signal to the AIADMK, it’s “almost-ally” that any overtures to the Congress would sting the party, since this is the way the Congress treated its allies. The party was eager to nip any new alignments in the bud. Smart!

The SP however took the opposite line. As per the papers, the SP said that the raids were ordered by the Congress. Ditto the DMK and BSP. How interesting!

But here’s more. The CBI Director himself mentioned that the raids were legal, but perhaps wrongly timed. The raids were conducted not only at Stalin’s premises, but at 18 places in all. Most of the cars recovered were from a motley mix of people, not politicians. Stalin was just one small piece in the entire exercise. He apparently had bought a Hummer from the person who the CBI was really targeting. What’s wrong with that?

But why then did the CBI Director call the timing wrong? What is his concern for the political situation that he said this? Why is he creating this problem for the government?

My belief is that the CBI – like many other governmental bodies – is used to looking at ways to satisfy its bosses. Like happens in several offices where subordinates “suck up” to their bosses, to get their attention. But its not fair to just blame subordinates for such behavior. The boss is equally guilty. For if the boss wanted, he could put a stop to such a practice. The fact that he does not proves that he is happy with such sucking up. In the same way, the government does hold responsibility for a subservient CBI. It may not be asking it to do something or not, but the CBI still attempts to read its master’s mind. The government is guilty of not instructing the CBI to stop doing this.

The solution to this is not to make the CBI independent. I am very wary of any police-like institution becoming independent of civilian authority. The hara-kiri it can cause is unfathomable. We would turn into a police state very soon. Just look at Pakistan, where god only knows who controls the Army and the ISI. The solution is to usher in changes in governance; the kind that the PM wanted to bring in early on in UPA-2. Where ministers and bureaucrats are reviewed every 3 months for performance. Where targets are set and professionally reviewed. Where performance is rewarded and sychophancy discouraged. We need a change in the rules that govern our bureaucracy. A lot more accountability. That’s what will make bodies like the CBI more effective. And shield the government from random attacks.

The real truth is that the CBI may be sucking up to the government, and the government may be guilty of not stopping this, but there is no evidence that it actually abuses the CBI. It doesn’t actually instruct it to do or not do something. In fact, it is quite ineffective in “controlling” the CBI at times. We see that every now and then when the CBI deposes in the court, causing embarrassment to the government…..

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Even in this UPA “crisis”, there is no role for BJP….

Two things were clear yesterday. One that the UPA was in a slight spot of trouble after the DMK walked out. Only a slight spot mind you. And in my mind, as I mentioned a yesterday, the UPA will sort out the stress shortly. The second thing is that the BJP is no where in the reckoning. SP, BSP, TMC, DMK, AIADMK, JD(U) – everyone has a voice, but there is nothing for the BJP. Strange, considering that the BJP fancies itself as the primary opposition party and the alternative to the Congress.

But first onto the Congress and the UPA. Multiple messages coming out yesterday point to the fact that the UPA is safe. Mayawati has assured the UPA of her support. That’s 21 safe votes for the UPA. Then there is the surprise overture from Mamata which is 19 more, though honestly, the Congress is best advised to leave her out. Then there is this new warmth in relations with Nitish Kumar and at the very minimum, the JD(U) can be expected to abstain or stay neutral. In fact, it is a little difficult to imagine it siding with the BJP, even though the party has said that it won’t support a country-specific resolution in Parliament. Then this rather interesting new development with the AIADMK and some letter that Jayalalithaa has reportedly sent to the PM. Wonder what that letter says, but it appears to have got the media abuzz! And finally the SP. After all the drama that Beni Prasad Verma did, it is more than likely that he will be forced to apologize and the SP will be back to supporting the UPA. So clearly, while the UPA may have become weaker (temporarily), it is more than safe.

Why temporarily? Because the media has a habit of exaggerating political developments. Remember the NCP scuffle with the Congress a few months back when, as per media reports, the party was expected to withdraw support and the UPA was expected to become “lame duck”? Apparently, Sharad Pawar had been badly miffed; and Praful Patel was all over TV expressing his deep feeling of hurt? Just like the DMK is doing right now? Well, what happened? The NCP is solidly with the Congress through this crisis; the “snub” that the Congress delivered to the NCP yet again a couple of days back by “ignoring” his worries on the Food Security Bill notwithstanding. Media – especially TV – has this need and hence the habit of exaggeration!

The DMK will return back to the UPA fold. It has no option. Karunanidhi has already said that he will not engender the UPA’s fall. How can he? Does he want to be routed in the state elections? Does he want to lose the slight leverage he enjoys in the 2G investigation because of his ability to pressurize the Congress? And more importantly, does he want his 18 MPs to count for just 18, or many times that number which his proximity to the Congress allows? Mamata’s offer today to support the UPA must also be an attempt to enhance the power of her 19. She may have 19, but her 19 are way weaker than DMK’s 18 – as long as the DMK remains a part of the ruling coalition. Who understands this better than TN parties? Forever, they have chosen to align with whoever rules Delhi!

Now coming to the BJP. The BJP is like a dog that never bites. Or as the PM recently said, its like the cloud that thunders but never brings rain. The only thing the BJP has been able to do as a result of this crisis – and in any case, that is all that the BJP is good at really – is crowd every TV studio and spit more and more vitriol on the Congress. Apparently, the Congress is crumbling. The government will fall on its own. Its in the ICU. It’s a lame duck government. Blah blah blah. But when questioned what it planned to do to capitalize on the situation, it turned shy. When asked why it wasn’t moving the No Confidence Motion, there was some weird answer that it wasn’t necessary. In fact, a suggestion that the Congress should demand a vote of confidence. Why? No answer. Actually, the BJP realizes that it has no support for its opportunistic politics. Today, the anti-BJP sentiment is stronger than the anti-Congress one. Which is what prompted Kumar Ketkar (a known Congress supporter, though he doesn’t declare this openly) to ask why the term lame duck was always used only for the ruling party and not the opposition. Well said!

The BJP’s poor state of affairs becomes clear when indications emerge that Nitish Kumar is deserting the NDA and Jayalalitha (who shares such a cozy relationship with Modi otherwise) is also making overtures to the Congress. This is after the likely beneficiary of the Congress’s troubles in AP, Jagan Congress has categorically stated that it wants to have nothing to do with the BJP. And the TMC has said the exact same. So think about where the BJP stands. It has a reducing strength of its own (it will lose Karnataka shortly), and it has no natural allies. The only way it can hope to come to power is if a few parties join it’s coalition after it has somehow secures a large mandate. But how does it secure the large mandate in the first place? With Modi at the helm? Impossible! Every now and then, the people get to see what the party stands for. Whether it is their MLA in Maharastra who was suspended yesterday because he attacked a cop, or their MP who describes women in the most pathetic manner possible. The BJP exposes itself more and more as the days go by. There is a huge disconnect between its spokespeople who speak fluent English and look polished, and its cadres which are largely made up of orthodox and regressive sadhus, sants, pujaris, and brown chaddi wallas.

The real truth is that no matter what happens to the Congress, the BJP is not gaining from it. No one wants to join in. That is why it is not moving the No Confidence Motion. It accuses the Congress of not being to handle its allies; but it is under threat of losing its own. This state of the opposition augurs well for the Congress. It will survive, with or without the DMK….

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Now it’s the Drama Munnetra Kazhagam’s – sorry DMK’s – turn for drama….

As widely expected, the DMK yesterday withdrew support to the UPA government under the pretext that the government was not being tough enough on Sri Lanka. Why do I call it a pretext? Because it is just that. The real reason is something different. It is to counter Jayalalitha’s attacks on the party that it didn’t care for Tamilians. As usual, it is local, petty, state-level politics that is being played out at the national level. But can the DMK really pull off its threat? In my opinion, it cannot. The DMK’s latest drama is just another case of a petulant child throwing a tantrum – and as always happens, this child also will be silenced with a candy.

Actually, even a candy may not be required. The DMK is really in no position to go ahead with its threat. If it were to force early elections on the country, it would lose very badly in TN and become even more marginalized. How can it forget the rout in suffered in the state elections in 2011? I doubt if the mood in the state (notorious though it is for replacing its government every five years) has changed so much that the DMK can fancy itself benefitting from early elections. In my mind, even retaining its 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha will be difficult. Besides, in the Rajya Sabha as well, it is slated to lose clout with 2 of its MPs retiring in July 2013 and another 2 in April 2014 (that’s 4 out of 7 that it has). Given the AIADMK’s strength in the TN legislative assembly (203 seats to DMK’s 31), it is unlikely that the party will manage to get any of these Rajya Sabha members re-elected. If the DMK has to stay relevant, it will have to hold on to whatever it has right now and wait for the anti-incumbency against Jayalalitha to deepen in the next year. That is a more surer bet for the DMK to coming back to power than fighting for the cause of Tamilians in Sri Lanka.

It’s not like the Congress has not indulged the DMK enough in the last few years. The Congress has had a lot of grief thanks to the DMK. The whole 2G “scam” (if it can be called that; in my view the Rs 1.76 lac crores comedy figure was not a scam at all – it was a kind of “telecom subsidy” for the poor, just like fuel, fertilizer and food subsidies; Raja’s “last mile” corruption though looks more plausible) was wreaked on the UPA by the DMK. It is Raja – who reportedly has personal ties with Karunanidhi’s family (some even call him Kanimozhi’s paramour) – who is the primary accused in the corruption charges. It is Raja who first refused to quit (taking advantage of the strength his party has thanks to coalition politics) but later had to go to jail. The Congress stood by Raja and the DMK all throughout (not that it could afford to dump it). Later, it was Dayanidhi Maran who embarrassed the UPA with his unstoppable penchant for mixing political power with business interests. The DMK has gained a lot from being a part of this coalition; managing to protect itself to whatever extent possible. It is not about to give all this up anytime soon. If politics is about emotions, it is as much about cold calculations. Right now, it is the turn of the emotions; in a few days, the cold calculations will return.

The DMK saga has however given another opportunity to the opposition to rant against the Congress. The BJP found it cozy to needle the Congress (its primary target) and said that the DMK realizes the Congress is a sinking ship and hence is jumping out. And that the government is already in the ICU. Well, the problem for the BJP is that it suffers from the “crying wolf” syndrome – if we trace the BJP’s statements on the Congress’s condition since UPA-2 started (maybe even since UPA-1 started), it is clear that the party has been saying the same thing from the beginning! The truth is that the BJP is not sure where it stands. It has no presence in the state; so it has nothing to gain or lose. Its only wish is to embarrass the Congress. When pushed by Rajdeep Sardesai, the BJP’s Nirmala Seetharaman refused to answer why the BJP was not moving a no-confidence motion against the UPA government. Her only answer: The government will fall on its own! Clearly, the BJP itself has no confidence in its own no confidence motion.

The TMC’s Derek O’brien couldn’t contain his enormous happiness at the “plight” (in my opinion, no plight at all) of the UPA and took the opportunity to attack the party. The Congress doesn’t know how to handle allies….blah blah blah. Derek also has this unique god gifted ability of knowing the future, and he has predicted that the Congress will get routed in 2014. As if his party will survive!

One of the more common refrains (taunts really) in media – this time from the redoubtable Barkha Dutt – was whether the Congress was driven by its urge to survive its term. I think this is a wrong question to ask. Because there is nothing wrong in any government trying to survive its term. The government owes it to the people to try everything under the sun to ensure its stability. If every government started quitting every 2nd month (since such crises develop every 2nd month in India!), there would be no options left in no time. And what are we saying here? That the NDA would have behaved differently if they were in power? That they wouldn’t have tried to protect their government? Balderdash!

One of the comforting factors for the UPA will be the situation in UP. The SP is suddenly not that sure about its popularity in the state – considering how much criticism it’s government there has received in the last one year. At the same time, the BSP would like the situation to crystallize a little more against the SP. So both parties are on tenterhooks, none wanting to go in for immediate elections. Not surprising then that both rushed to clarify that the government would not fall even if the DMK withdrew support. This is probably what gave the Congress (both Kamal Nath and Satyavrat Chaturvedi) so much confidence about its survival.

But politics aside, it would be better if India cut Sri Lanka a little slack in the UN, while putting pressure in bilateral talks. The country’s long term interest would dictate this approach. For some strange reason, Subramaniam Swamy is actually talking sense this time – the only one to do so mind you! And he’s breaking ranks with the BJP, his party of choice, and Jayalalitha, whose lapdog he is.

The real truth is that we should expect more such drama in the run up to the general elections. But its just drama, nothing else. In my opinion, the government will survive its full term. Elections may be advanced by a few months (maybe early 2013), but it is unlikely that elections will happen now or even in the next few months….

Monday, March 18, 2013

The scourge of the regional parties….why we need an anti-defection law for alliance partners

The DMK yesterday threatened to pull out of the UPA unless it agreed to the DMK’s terms on Sri Lanka. Not only does the party want the country to vote in favor of the US resolution, it also wants the Indian government to negotiate with the US to make the resolution itself tougher. So this is arm twisting twice over! The DMK couldn’t  care two hoots about whether this is in India’s interests or not – the chance that a similar resolution might force the UN to look into Kashmir, or that China could get in deeper into the island nation. All it cares for is its local politics. And for that, it is ready to destabilize the nation.

Another story shows the SP threatening to quit supporting the UPA (externally) because one of the UPA’s motormouths and known morons Beni Prasad Verma attacked Mulayam. I thought politicians had tougher skins! But I was wrong.

The main opposition party is hardly insulated from such threats. Nitish Kumar has more or less bulldozed his way out of the NDA thanks to a man inappropriately acronymed NaMo (why inappropriate? Because, the word indicates humility; but the person doesn’t). The NDA is not in power, but the reasons for Nitish’s threats to withdraw are unacceptable. The right to choose the PM if the NDA wins should be the BJP’s. The Congress has latched onto Nitish wooing him with meeting his demands. Again, a regional satrap is dictating terms to the supposed “big brother”. Who’s big and who’s small is clear!

Clearly, there is a need to rein in the regional parties. To bring a degree of accountability to their conduct. Power tussles are part of politics alright, but at what point do they become detrimental to even basic governance? What is that point at which a line just has to be drawn? The line drawn should be “by law”. In all cases, the ruling dispensation’s right to rule for 5 years must be protected.

The anti-defection act – which controls defections of MPs from one party to another – is a good model to follow for controlling the scourge of the regional parties. Passed originally by the Rajiv Gandhi government (which was lucky enough to get 401 seats), the 52nd Constitutional amendment provided for the disqualification of MPs, under certain circumstances, if they defected to another party. The amendment was intended to stop members from threatening their own parties with quitting and joining the rival grouping. Certain exemptions were provided; for example, if more than 1/3rd of the members quit and merged with another party, members would not be disqualified. Since this rule was considered too lax, in 2003, the 91st Constitutional amendment increased this to 2/3rds. Has this curbed the “ayaram gayaram” culture in Indian politics? I think it has, though loopholes do exist.

Should we not have a similar law regulating alliances, now that we are fairly and squarely in a period where there is no escape from them? The restrictions should apply to pre-poll and post-poll alliances; basically to all parties who are responsible for running the government. The restrictions must also apply to “outside supporters” since they are equally responsible for the sustenance of the government. The objective clearly is to bring stability to the ruling group and allow it to complete its fully 5-year term. And to protect it from the constant threats of the so called “allies”.

There will also be a need for constitutional prescriptions for intra-alliance working mechanisms. The All-party coordination-committee meetings must be made mandatory with meetings fixed at regular intervals. A mechanism similar to a “whip” must be created, so that on issues where the alliance partners cannot agree on a unanimous opinion, the whip ensures that the majority opinion prevails. The definition of “majority” here is important. It has to be kept at 75% or some such high number, since the single largest party typically has more than 50% of the alliance’s numbers by itself. Since the majority view is being carried, its not like democracy is being throttled or something. An “aggrieved” party cannot quit the alliance simply because its views were not considered. The position of the “Convener” of the alliance thus becomes crucial and should be vested with constitutional authority.

On the one hand, I think this will ring fence the ruling alliance from the tantrums of the regional satraps. Had this law been in place, Mamata Banerjee would not have been able to force her hand so many times – like on relations with Bangladesh. The DMK would not be able to do so now as well on the Sri Lanka issue. Genuine democracy would prevail, since the DMK would have to “convince” a majority of the others in the alliance to back its position.

On the other hand, this provision will also make life easier for the regional parties. The DMK is doing what it is doing simply because its opposition, the AIADMK, has upped the ante and is demanding that India vote with the US. The AIADMK has nothing to lose; for it is not in governance at the center. If the central government toes its line, it can claim credit for the action. If it doesn’t, it can raise a jingoistic banner of protest. Assuming the DMK is doing this because of local political reasons, the anti-defection act would give it a chance to say “We tried…..but the law doesn’t allow us to quit”. It would help them go to their people fretting and fuming against the center, and yet the government would not come down.

The flip side of such an anti-defection act is that government formation in the first instance would become more difficult. Today, post-poll alliances are patched together quickly, with parties knowing that they has enough levers in their hands to protect their interests (the main one being to threaten to withdraw their support). In a post anti-defection law era, the party would have to think ten times before signing up. Will this impede government formation? Or will this lead to a solid “Common Minimum Programme” being agreed upon before the alliances are committed? Given the poor condition of politics right now, I think its worth a shot.

The real truth is that tantrums and arm twisting have become the mantra of governance in today’s world of fractured verdicts. Regional parties have become too powerful for anyone’s good. Even foreign affairs are being trifled with; maybe one day the country’s defence and its nuclear policy will become victims of regional chauvinism. It’s definitely time to consider an anti-defection act for alliance partners….

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nitish rattles BJP….makes the Congress drool

Everyone comes to Delhi for their rallies. Whether it is Narendra Modi, or Nitish Kumar, or the farmers protesting against the land bill, all of them come to Delhi. All major national political parties of course hold their rallies in Delhi. The activists also hold their rallies in Delhi (but for them, its because of the force multiplier – the TV cameras that are on the ready!). Delhi rewards everyone will huge numbers. It’s a politically active city. Nitish apparently got 50,000+ supporters at his rally yesterday. But large numbers is not something that Nitish Kumar should feel smug about. What he may however rightfully feel smug about is his unique position in Indian politics.

The BJP surely realizes that there cannot even be a beginning for its 2014 campaign without Nitish. The party is largely absent from the six biggest seat contributors – UP, Maharashtra, Bihar, WB, TN and AP – having merely 32 MPs from these states, which together account for 289 seats between them. And of these, as many as 12 are from Bihar, courtesy Nitish. If Nitish gives a kick to the BJP, the party will be reduced to a regional party, with presence largely in Gujarat, MP, Chhatisgarh and (maybe) Rajasthan. Add to this, the losses in Karnataka and the picture for the BJP is grim indeed.

What makes it truly difficult for the BJP of course is that no party wants to align with it – at least at the pre-poll stage. Bihar was the best hope the BJP had. If even Nitish walks away, the party will stand isolated (remember Jaitley’s “splendid isolation” in a different context??!!). The BJP is a spent force in UP and it is not even present in WB, TN and AP. Its sole hope is Maharashtra, but even here its record has been checkered at best. So Nitish’s importance in the NDA constellation cannot be overstated. He knows it and he is not going to keep quiet about it. The BJP knows it too, but the various factions in the BJP make it impossible for it to acknowledge this openly. For the section that croons for Modi, Modi’s charisma will be enough to win the party enough seats in Bihar even without Nitish. For those who know the ground reality, it will be suicidal to let Kumar go.

Another worrying fact for the BJP is that even in states where the Congress is in trouble, it doesn’t benefit much. But in states where it is in trouble, the Congress benefits directly. Take Andhra. The Congress is in trouble. But the beneficiary would be the Jagan Congress or the TRS, both of whom consider the BJP to be a pariah. Take Kerala. If the Congress loses, it would be the Left that would win, not the BJP. Ditto Assam and the entire North East where non-BJP parties occupy the opposition space. Now add Maharashtra to this list. Given the slump in the Shiv Sena after Sr Thackeray’s demise, it is more than likely the MNS will benefit if the Cong-NCP suffers a setback. And the MNS doesn’t want to join the BJP bandwagon. Now take Karnataka. If the BJP loses, as it did recently in the local elections, the Congress will gain. Take the other core BJP states named earlier – Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP, Chhatisgarh – wherever the BJP loses, the Congress gains directly. It is because of this that Advani stated recently that though the people are disillusioned with the Congress, the BJP isn’t gaining.

So one thing is clear. The BJP is not even a serious contender for power if Nitish parts company. Its own seats position can hardly improve beyond where it is right now. Its only hope at striking power is via its allies and JD(U)’s prime place should be clear to everyone in the party. Even to Modi.

But its not as if only the BJP is dependent on Nitish. The Congress is too. If it has to cover up for losses in AP, Rajasthan and in general, all over the country, it will need new allies. Who better than Nitish, who in spite of everything, is likely to rule Bihar for another few years. Nitish can make a UPA-3 possible and he knows it. That’s why the Congress has been making overtures to him. That’s why the Congress is seriously considering giving the state the “special status” tag.

Even ideologically, the JD(U) is better aligned with the Congress than the BJP. Bihar has 16.5% Muslims, and nowhere in the country, where the share of Muslims is more than the national average of 13% has the BJP done well; that is why it is the BJP that is dependent on Nitish and not the other way around. Nitish also believes in secularism, and for whatever it is worth, so does the Congress. Both Nitish and the Congress talk of “inclusive” growth. There is commonality of purpose here. However, the alliance is easier said than done.

For the Congress still nurtures hopes of its own revival in the state. Besides, its long term partner, the RJD, has been drawing big crowds in the state, indicating some degree of frustration with Nitish. My own visit to the state a few months back had indicated that Nitish’s best is over. People appreciated him in his first spell because he improved the law and order situation, but now as they demand jobs and power and economic development and lower corruption, he is starting to flounder. When people get frustrated, they go for a change. Who else will they vote for but the Cong-RJD alliance?

So when it comes to the Congress, the wooing is bound to be both ways. The Congress will keep its options open – partly to keep Laloo in check. But Nitish will woo the Congress as well, just in case BJP persists with Modi. Surely Nitish knows his popularity is on the wane. If that is true, he will need the Muslim vote. And who better (in Bihar) to ally with than the Congress. Bihar is indeed interestingly poised!

The real truth is that Nitish has rattled the BJP with his rally. He has reminded the BJP just how important he is for them. How they should not ignore his views on Modi. And Nitish has made his views clear – he doesn’t like Modi; the real Vikash purush is he, not Modi; Modi will take away Muslim voters; and Modi is a loud mouth and a bully – now it is for the BJP to decide. In the meanwhile, the Congress is eyeing the juicy possibility of a third term in power….