Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Rahul-Chidambaram team v/s Modi and Modi alone....

There is no particular reason to write this piece today. But an article written by Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi in today’s ET “Modi & India’s Bell Curve” brings out excellently the kind of leadership a party requires to have in today’s fractured political environment. It also explains why the Manmohan Singh – Sonia Gandhi style “diarchy” is actually the smarter way to run a party; quite different from the Modi and Modi alone kind of commentary one hears from the BJP.

Mustafi starts off his hypothesis with “More than any other time in its democratic history, India is now ready for a dose of center-right economics”. He then builds his argument “Think of India’s voters as a normal distribution: a bell curve with thin margins and a bulging middle section. Modi cuts a strong wedge on the right margin: he energizes BJP’s base, who would have voted for the party anyway. Now from the right flank, he will have to move to the middle of the bell curve (where most votes are), by hard-selling his development performance. But this is a difficult manoeuvre: what endears him to voters on the right margins also makes him undesirable to most voters who are at the center”. Bang on!

Giving an example from the recent US Presidential polls, he says “Mitt Romney’s rhetoric moved too far right in the US primaries last year. He won the Republican nomination, but he could not track back enough towards the center to beat Barack Obama”.

And then this gem of a recommendation, “To solve this margin-versus-center conundrum, political parties often come up with a tag team: two leaders who address the two different constituencies. Examples abound: Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, George W Bush and Dick Cheney and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Inevitably, in such partnerships, the centrist becomes the ceremonial top dog, while the ideologue stays in the shadows and wields considerable power. This gives a party a bigger range on the bell curve: it consolidates one margin, but also pushes it towards the center of the curve”.

Fabulous analysis! So true when he mentions Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi in this context. Sonia is a centrist (even Leftist by some reports), while Manmohan Singh would be called an out-and-out Rightist (he opened up the economy for god’s sake!). It’s the combination that gives the Congress the strength, not either of them taken individually.

So true also about Vajpayee-Advani as well. Vajpayee was the moderate, the one who “won allies and hearts” as Mustafi writes. Without Vajpayee, there was no NDA. But it was Advani that appeased the right winger supporters of the party. He was the chief architect of Ayodhya, and by supporting Narendra Modi, of the post-Godhra riots, the fake encounters, and in general, the aggressive Hindutva that his party practices. It was this duo, rather than any one of them alone that won power for the NDA. Over a period of time, with Vajapyee retiring, Advani has tried to move towards the center. Mustafi writes “Advani has worked hard to moderate his image over the years”. Narendra Modi on the other hand is the Advani of yesteryears, the ultimate right winger. A combination of Advani and Modi would have been the right prescription for the NDA at this time. But as Mustafi concludes “Such has been the hubris surrounding the elevation of Narendra Modi that hard calculation about his winnability has been ignored by the party”. Indeed!

This piece should also push the Congress to do some soul searching. Digvijay Singh in particular needs to read it a few times over to understand its meaning (unless his diatribes against the 2-power-center model is to waylay the BJP. Anything is possible in politics!). Rahul alone is inadequate. He is a centrist-grudging rightist (he did support FDI in multi-brand retail, but his appearances on such subjects are few and far removed). Today’s India “wants jobs, not sops” as Mustafi writes. Rahul needs a strong Manmohanesque right-winger (on economics). Who better than Chidambaram?

In the past, in my dealings with hard-core Modi supporters, I have found that they would also be willing to support Chidambaram. He’s the guy who can “get things done”, a toughie. For those who want “decisive governance”, Chidambaram is the answer. But for the allies, it has to be Rahul and his socialist beliefs.

To end, Mustafi gives this wonderful simili: “If politics was soccer, Modi is an adroit right winger who gets the home crowd on their feet. But to score a decisive goal in 2014, the BJP needed a moderate center-forward who could tap in Modi’s cross. By projecting their winger as their center-forward, the BJP has scored an unfortunate own-goal.”

The real truth is that in the complicated politics of India, there is very little room for an aggressive, dominant, Hitlerish Narendra Modi all by himself. If he had had a little less megalomania, he would have put his party ahead of himself and paired up with one or more centrists. But he wants the glory all for himself. He is egged on by the loud shouts of the “small margin” on the right of the bell curve. To end, a Rahul-Chidambaram combination is a far better fit for India….

Aakar Patel blows the lid off Narendra Modi’s “strong governance” hype….

A few weeks back, Manohar Parrikar, the Goa CM and visible Modi backer, offered an impossible explanation on why Modi failed to control the mobs during the post-Godhra riots. Back then in 2002, Modi was a newcomer to governance apparently; he had just taken over as CM. He thus did not have a grip on the state machinery, he said. Well, in the background of a different piece, Aakar Patel yesterday recalls a natural disaster wich took place in 2006 to show how Modi mishandled the situation even then. In doing so, he throws Parrikar’s theory out the window.

Aakar refers to the 2006 floods in Surat. I am reproducing a few parts of his passage which was printed in The Mint yesterday:

In August 2006, Surat was flooded by the release of water from an upstream dam. A report on the Unicef website describes the state of the city: 3.5 million people, including women and children in Surat, were marooned on Monday by the swirling waters of the Tapi river, which flows in the middle of Surat city. There was no drinking water, no food, no milk, no electricity and no telephones”.

He continues “There was also no state…..My parents lived in Surat, by the edge of the river, and their phone was dead. There was no transport going into Surat…..There was no access to the city and I spent the night outside. The next morning I swam and waded my way to the bridge on the Tapi just across from where our house was

For the next three days, every day, I came and stood by the end of the bridge hoping to be able to aget across by there was no means to do so. There was nobody from the government around. On the fifth day, as the water went down of its own, I made my way and met my parents walking the other way. They had been on their terrace without food and water all this time

And then he takes the jab “This was remember in the middle of Surat, the second largest city of Gujarat”. Further “In that year, 2006, Narendra Modi was himself Gujarat’s minister of finance, home, industries, the giant irrigation projects of Narmada and Kalpsar, mines and minerals, energy, ports petrochemicals, administration, besides others. Now he has also taken on the task of saving north India from the disaster” (!). Continuing “I have no problem watching him strutting around Uttarakhand spewing his gospel of micro-management and pretending his touch fixes everything”….and then “I wonder if he remembers his performance in Surat”.

Though Aakar’s piece was on a different subject titled “How we respond to the pain of others” in which he basically focuses on how painless we Indians can be in dealing with others (in the context of how so many people extorted money from hassled victims), he narrates this story towards the end to bust the pompous claims that Modi is wont to making.

When Parrikar gave that explanation for Modi’s handling of the riots, I thought to myself: How strange, for Modi’s claim to fame (before becoming CM) was his good organizational abilities. In his biography on Modi, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes this “Modi proved his mettle while doing risky underground work during the 1975-77 Emergency, often travelling in disguise and on a motorcycle. Seniors in RSS soon realized his excellent organisational skills and analytical mind.” (reproduced from Mukhopadhyay also writes that Modi was credited with the win that Modi landed the BJP in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation elections in 1986. If anything, he was well versed with the administration when he took over the state. The post-Godhra riots did not even require Modi to do anything. All he had to do was let the police do their job. If that had happened, the casualties would have been in the hundreds, not thousands, and the attacks would not have been so muslim focused as they were. Modi was hyper-active, and fully in control, not the other way. Besides, this was not the sole incident which makes us think of Modi the way we do. The spate of encounter killings in his state, spread over a longer period of time, tells us that he was the key driver of many of these activities, not just a poor administrator who was still to come to grips with his administrative machinery.

But even if we were to believe Parrikar, what about 2006? By 2006, Modi had been CM for 5 years. Surely in five years, he had become as good an administrator as he claims to be now? Surely, he could have rescued millions of stranded people a little faster, deployed the state machinery a little more effectively, and in short provided better governance in the face of tragedy and challenge? The Surat disaster was small fry compared to the Uttarakhand one, and yet he mishandled it. The Center did a much better job eventually in deploying all available resources, rescuing people, air dropping food packets and medicines etc. It took a week to control a vastly higher order disaster in which thousands even died. And in a much more difficult terrain than Surat. Yet Modi had the audacity to play with the sentiments of the people with his Rambo-like rescue act. Pathetic.

Like his development hype (for which he has earned the #feku tag!), Modi’s governance hype is all just that….hype. Had he been so good in governance, his state’s HDI indicators would not have been so pathetic. He would have appointed a Lok Ayukta in his state as soon as the position fell vacant. He wouldn’t have messed with the RTI set-up the way he has done. Modi has usurped all the success of his state, creating an illusion that he is responsible for its success, forgetting (or wanting us to forget) that most development in Gujarat pre-dates him by decades. Modi is a good CM, but he is hardly the development and governance poster boy he is made out to be.

The real truth is that Modi is as much a feku on governance as he is on development matters. His Rambo act in Uttarakhand has left a very bad taste in the mouths of even his most ardent supporters. Besides, his refusal to apologize for 2002, and to make amends in a tangible manner, cannot be explained away by the likes of Parrikar….

Saturday, June 29, 2013

EC should listen to Gopinath Munde…..not disqualify him

Gopinath Munde, senior leader of the BJP in Maharashtra made a rather candid admission the other day in Mumbai. He said that he had spent Rs 8 crores four years back on his LS election. The Election Commission is now starting an enquiry to establish if this statement was actually made by him. It will disqualify him if it finds he really said all that. Rather than disqualifying him, the EC would serve the country better if it listened to him and took a pragmatic view at the point he made. It would help clean politics up, and reduce the scourge of corruption.

The EC allows a ridiculously low spend of Rs 40 lacs per LS seat. Rs 40 lacs? The EC’s got to be kidding right? 40 lacs wouldn’t get even be enough for a low-key brand marketing campaign, spread over a short period of time. Election campaigns take place over an elongated period of time, and are far more intense. The competitive intensity in most LS seats is far higher than what most brand marketers face; and if 40 lacs is inadequate for brand marketing, surely its inadequate for elections right?

That’s the bitter truth that the EC doesn’t want to acknowledge. It has drawn this ridiculous line and it wants politicians to tow it. So politicians do that – only officially of course. In reality, they spend far far more than that – Rs 8 crores as Munde said. The moment they do that, they have become some sort of criminals, who should be disqualified. Their spends become branded illegal. Further, this leads to instantaneous generation of black money, as illegal spends can only be justified by illegal generation. The sourcing of the funds goes underground. This is the starting point of corruption in India. It is estimated that politicians spend a combined of Rs 1 lac crores every five years for their LS and assembly elections. If 90% of this spend is beyond what the EC allows, then Rs 90,000 crores of illegal money has to be generated every five years. To facilitate this, a parallel banking system (parallel to the RBI) has come about in the country. This parallel system is what is under attack from civil society activists. But all of them only attack the symptoms of the malaise; none wants to go after the root cause of the problem, which is this bizarre EC specified election-spend limit. Such large spends are not possible to generate very quickly, and so large “chit funds” of various hues and shapes have come about (SEBI/SC is hounding the biggest of them these days).

The biggest generators of these illegal sums are of course “land banks” of all forms. They are called “real estate” in the urban context of housing and commercial properties, and cities like Mumbai and Delhi become the biggest generators of this type of black money. They take the form of “mines” in the context of coal and iron ore mining. And now, if the CAG is to be believed, then our politicians have become even more innovative and started making money off “virtual” landbanks – airwaves/spectrum (2G, S-band etc) etc. We’ve seen alleged scams in mining/2G over the last few years. The only reason why a full scale real estate scam hasn’t broken out yet is because all politicians (of all parties) are in on it, and they have agreed to a code amongst themselves (the “Omerta” code) to split the booty rather than to croak on each other.

The EC has to recognize these ground realities. But the EC wants to fool itself and continue with some cocky figure set in a bygone era. Rather than being pragmatic, it is happy to put a blindfold on itself. It’s this unwillingness to address the elephant in the room that corruption has risen so much in the country. Along with encouraging legal contributions to political parties, it is essential that we also encourage the declaration of the correct spends. The EC should get confidence from studying what happened when we reduced our Income Tax rates. Declarations improved; and black money generation from tax evasion reduced significantly.

Why should there be any shame if large amounts are spent on elections? We are a democracy and everyone knows that in a democracy, politicians need to undertake extensive “people contact programs” which can cost a lot of money. No one complains about nearly a billion dollars being spent by the two US Presidential candidates because those monies were collected (and spent) legally. Imagine if there was an arbitrary limit of, say, $25 million imposed on each candidate there. All the legal monies would turn illegal in no time! That’s effectively what the EC is guilty of doing here.

Wrong laws and policies are the one of the major reasons for corruption in India. Wrong laws such as the 25-year age requirement for consuming hard liquor. It’s almost impossible to identify who a 25-year old is (in contrast, it is possible to identify an 18 year old) and this law almost encourages a youngsters to “pay and sway”. Wrong laws on FSI (floor space index) make builders do illegal things (build non-existent flower beds for instance!) and allows politicians to access the booty so generated. Wrong traffic laws (speed limit of 50 Kmph on the Bandra Worli sea link for instance) make people bribe policemen. Wrong laws are not made accidentally in India. They are made intentionally. So as to help unscrupulous elements make money. And fund the politicians. We need practical laws to remove corruption…..and it’s a good time for the EC to make a start.

The real truth is that we should pay heed to what Munde said; and make amends in the spend limits. We do need limits, so that it doesn’t become a purely money game. Having practical limits will make election spends legal. And reduce election-related corruption…..

Thursday, June 27, 2013

CBI reforms – Congress acts with confidence….

By changing the process of appointment of the Director of the CBI, the Congress has put its money where its mouth is. It has displayed confidence in its position that the CBI has never been under any unethical or undue influence of the government. The Director, hitherto appointed by the Government by itself, will now be appointed by a collegium comprising the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India, a process identical to the one adopted for the appointment of the CVC. This is a bold and confident step; perhaps exceeding the expectations of most….

I am not in agreement with this new appointment process. It’s my worry that if governmental responsibilities are shared in this way with the opposition, then what’s the point of having two different political set-ups or ideologies? Tomorrow, there may be a demand that the financial budget must be first agreed with the Leader of the Opposition and the CJI. This sounds bizarre? But many such bizarre things are already starting to happen. For eg., various ministries of the Government are now seeking to get a “pre-approval” from the CAG and the CVC before formulating a new policy. They don’t want any problems later….goes the logic. But if the Executive starts engaging the auditor and taking his “permission” in advance (in a way), both the institutions (of Executive and Auditor) will get compromised. The Executive will get hamstrung in decision making; and the Auditor will be neutered. In a similar way, if the ruling party starts agreeing (colluding?) with the main opposition party on everything, we will never get to see what this party really stands for. The consequences of this can be disastrous, as both would be incentivized to plot to share power without bothering about the interests of the citizens. Want evidence of this? There is a widespread rumor that in Mumbai, all political parties are in on the real estate racket, and so, no one squeals on anyone. The racket continues….

Now some amount of consultation between parties is necessary and is in fact, pre-ordained in any democracy. Getting the support of the majority of the House requires that opposition parties be consulted. But hopefully, the main opposition party – in this case the BJP – would have highly divergent views. There should be no attempt made by the ruling party to get alignment with the main opposition party. Alignment must be sought with coalition partners, and other parties who are not aligned with the two major formations. What should matter to the Congress are views of the JD(U), SP, BSP, BJD etc, but not of the NDA block.

Not that in this case the BJP wanted more independence in the appointment of the CBI Director. That as everything else, was just plain rhetoric, meant for TV cameras. After all, when it ruled for six years, the BJP did nothing to free up the CBI. And it was right. No investigation authority, no police set-up, no armed force can ever be made fully independent or autonomous in a democracy. The right of the civil authority – represented by the elected government – over all such bodies is supreme. We can see the results of a fully “autonomous” military in Pakistan; it has staged several coups in that country. Making the CBI fully autonomous would make India into a “police state”, with the cops under no one‘s control. This was the demand only of the activists, many of whom have long forgotten what activism means and have become full fledged politicians.

So like I said, I disagree with the changed CBI Director appointment process. However, I do agree with the concept of an “oversight panel” comprising ex-judges keeping on eye on political investigations. A judicial panel would give confidence to the nation for the judiciary still retains a certain degree of trust with the people.

One point that the government doesn’t appear to have relented on is this “prior permission from superior authority” rule for every bureaucrat above a Joint Secretary and for every MP. I think this is required to be retained. The bureaucracy comprises mostly good officers, most of whom want to do good work. Unfortunately, it is the fear of unnecessary victimization at a later date that makes most of them drag their heels. If we have to encourage them to take bold and quick decisions, a prior-permission mechanism that protects them to some extent is required. One is not saying that bureaucrats and politicians should get immunity from investigations; only that someone should first find out if the charges are politically motivated or genuine. A tight time limit for this should be specified though.

So those who had an honest complaint with the Congress over the CBI’s abuse will be a little happier now (though I doubt anyone can ever be completely happy with any government!). Those who complained purely for political reasons will continue to complain. They need to, since many of their leaders are soon likely to land into the clutches of the CBI. As per a report in NDTV, the CBI has found evidence that both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah “might have been informed” (source: by the Gujarat cops and the IB joint Director (who till then was “under the thumb” of the BJP government at the center) before Ishrat Jahaan was murdered in a fake encounter. Narendra Modi has unsurprisingly shouted “abuse”! Abusing the CBI is the only option left for him to avoid jail….

The real truth is that the CBI reforms are indicative of the Congress’s confidence in itself. It’s a mixed bag really, not all of which I agree with, but it’s reflective of its confidence. Like the hangings of Kasab and Guru did, this move will also silence the perpetual wails of the opposition and political activists….

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Now a proposal from the right-wingers to rename Malabar Hills Ramnagari!

The right-wing lobby, this time led by the MNS, but otherwise dominated by the BJP/Shiv Sena, has had another brainwave. It wants to rename Malabar Hills – probably one of India’s proudest business addresses, perhaps the very epitome, the very nerve-center, of India’s booming economy – as Ramnagari. Renaming places and cities is common in India. Usually, old British names are replaced with names of freedom fighters or leaders. But Malabar is not even a British word (it’s a region in Kerala). And replacing it with something so religiously orthodox, so overtly Hindu is typical of right-wing politics.

But such “basal” thinking is what right-wing parties have traditionally been known for. Right-wingers (read: BJP and its ilk) base their political strategy on the most basic of human values, the most private of them all: religion. And they do so brazenly. After bringing down the Babri Masjid, the BJP never apologized; nor offer to re-build it (quite the contrary – it persists with its demand to build a Hindu temple right there). Nor did Narendra Modi, the BJP’s extreme right-winger, offer to re-build the hundreds of mosques destroyed by his cohorts during the post-Godhra riots. In fact, he found the thought “unconstitutional” (something the High Court of Gujarat disagreed with). Yet the same Modi merrily offered to re-build the floods-destroyed temple of Kedarnath. This is typical of right-winger politics of religion.

Religious bigotism is what the right-wing parties like the BJP find most appealing for attracting votes. So the ludicrous claim of Modi personally (it’s now called “micromanagement”, a term no doubt coined by his US publicist, APCO) ferrying 15K Gujaratis (all Hindus, no doubt!) from the devastated terrain of Badrinath-Kedarnath to safety (do read Abheek Barman’s piece – “Modi’s Himalayan miracle” – in today’s TOI: its an extremely well written piece on the mathematical impossibility of this act!). I wont be surprised if soon there are T-Shirts distributed in Gujarat schools picturing Narendra Modi as Hanuman, lifting the whole of the affected Himalayan range out of danger! Then of course, there is this other crazy thing of BJP politicians in Karnataka spending crores (of tax payers’ monies no doubt) on “pujas” to appease the rain gods when they failed to appear. Then again, all BJP leaders touch the feet of all types of Hindu godmen; even the pseudos. And oh, not to forget, the “mards” (for that’s what the orthodox Hindu man is called) of the party go about blaming the dresses liberal women wear for rapes. And oh, one more: suggesting that unmarried women mustn’t be allowed to carry mobile phones or wear jeans! This is what  right-wing politics is all about.

But renaming Malabar Hills as Ramnagari? Why “Ram”nagari? Well, apparently, there is some story that Ram stopped there for a bit before proceeding towards Lanka to rescue Sita. Super! But isn’t it a little bizarre for India’s most progressive part to be named something so orthodox? Besides, haven’t the times moved on? And isn’t the area a typical Mumbai melting pot with lacs of non-Hindus staying there as well? But then that’s the whole point of right-wing politics. The acts have to pinch the “others”; others who have a lesser claim on India than the Hindus. Ramachandra Guha’s article on Golwalkar, the 2nd “sarsanghchalak” of the RSS, in The Hindu (“The Guru of Hate” available at was an eye-opener on classic RSS thinking. Golwalkar believed that the biggest internal threat India faced was that of Muslims (the 2nd unsurprisingly: Christians). Well, Golvalkar would be happy today if he was alive. His followers, his descendents, his organization’s brethren outfits like the BJP, Bajrang Dal, Durga Vahini, Vishwa Hindu Parishad are all sticking to the job cut out for them by him.

In yet another example of “basal” politics, the Shiv Sena this time, supported amply by its ally, the BJP (how many parties today call the BJP an ally?) wants to convert the iconic Race Course of Mumbai (some 225 acres of it) into a Thackeray memorial. They are not saying this openly yet. In public, they are saying that they want to make it a public garden. Why should so much land in land-starved Mumbai be reserved for the rich and the famous? This is why I call it basal politics. They forget that India is a heterogeneous country, with the rich and poor co-existing. Being rich is not a crime in India. Besides, the Race Course symbolizes what India wants to be. Mumbai is the financial capital of the country, and when global business folks come visiting, it’s good for us to be able to flaunt this rather modern aspect of Mumbai. But no, in a lowest-common-denominator kind of politics, the BJP-Shiv Sena run BMC wants to erode this symbol of India’s modernity. The idea of ridding Mumbai of its showpiece is repulsive enough; secretly aspiring to make it a Thackeray memorial is despicable.

The real truth is that right-wing politics (BJP-Shiv Sena-MNS variety) is regressive and unfit for a progressive nation like India. India needs to become socially and culturally liberal in line with its economic progress. Right wing parties are an anachronism in that sense. It’s time they changed their thinking…..because new India’s thinking does not align with their’s.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Rambo act by Modi???? Or just cheap, dirty politics….

It’s interesting the way Modi jumps into the middle of every incident where the media is present in large numbers! His US based PR agency, APCO, is doing a wonderful job. Much better for sure than the CM himself is doing, considering that he has done pretty much nothing except generate publicity for himself.

Imagine this. The devastation of the floods is in the hills. The roads have been destroyed. Vehicular movement is proving to be impossible. The Army has been deployed like never before (more than 8500 in number). More than 60 army helicopters are being used in a never-before scale rescue operation. There is a food and drinking water supply problem. There is the fear of an epidemic break-out. All that can be done is being done. Yet, what does Modi do? He reaches the fringes, where there is no problem in any case. He deploys 80 Toyota Innovas (Vans….for god’s sakes!) to ferry 7 people per van = 560 people out. But out from where? From where they are already safe! After they have already been rescued! After all the army bravehearts have done their job, the Gujarat CM and PM aspirant of the BJP comes to the spot with his IAS, IPS and GPS officers in tow – and oh yes…. his PR agents as well – to corner the glory!

In the process, he creates enough and more nuisance for the real workers; those who are risking their lives to save those stranded. The TOI reports this: “In the two days that Narendra Modi has been in Uttarakhand, he has managed to completely rile not just the Congress government of Vijay Bahuguna but also the administrative staff involved in rescue operations at Kedarnath, Badrinath and Uttarkashi”. But it’s the Congress government that Modi is after. Had it been a BJP government, I doubt if Modi would have shown so much enthusiasm! Then he would have undertaken the usual aerial survey (like the PM has done), and given the usual verbal re-assurances (like the PM has done). The effort on the ground would have been the same – it’s just that the opportunity would have been different!

But even in doing what he did, Modi’s focus was on “his” people – the Gujaratis, who incidentally, are more than capable (financially) of taking care of themselves, once rescued. The need of the hour was to rescue them from the troubled hills to a safer place; where Modi had no role to play. However, the PR stunt makes it appear as if Modi was in the middle of the action on the hills! No wonder he has been called Rambo by the TOI.

And what does our Rambo do next? He announces that he will re-build the Kedarnath temple! Now this is truly a terrific idea. Someone should indeed re-build the temple; what with so many millions having so much faith in it. So why not the “charismatic” Gujarat CM? Or should we say, the “Hindu Hriday Samrat” Narendra Modi? Yes, the same man who said his government wouldn’t re-build the mosques in his state demolished during the post-Godhra Gujarat riots, because his government did not believe in spending government funds on religious matters. In its appeal against the Gujarat HC order to repair and rebuild religious structures, the Gujarat government had then said (as reported in the TOI back then): “the state objected to the high court order on the ground that it was contrary to the constitutional principle of secularism where no government could favour a particular religion. It said compensation to repair damaged religious structures could be akin to state's help to a particular community.”). What happened suddenly? Why this flip? Well, what happened is that an opportunity to show off his magnanimity to crores of Hindus emerged; and Modi needed only a second to break his imaginative understanding of the Constitution. Modi had done another Radadiya Act – first attacking him for threatening a toll-booth staff worker with a gun – when he was in the Congress – and then admitting him into his party and giving him a ticket to contest.

But this is politics, and this is the season for politics. Even a national disaster is not spared for petty political gains. Decency in politics is not something the BJP is particularly known for; so one shouldn’t have expected anything different here. But one hopes that the party could be a little more even handed in its treatment of religious issues. But the party that has not even apologized for the Babri demolition, and in fact tied up the whole issue in legal challenges, nor for the Godhra riots is not playing favorites with Hindus by chance. Hindutva is its core strategy; and it will latch onto it at every opportunity. The whole essence of Modi is also not development, which many have rubbished, but aggressive Hindutva, which is intended to polarize the country. It is not for nothing that Modi is called a polarizing personality. Not polarizing on the development or governance axes, but on the religious axis. If Modi is not doling out saffron uniforms to Ahmedabad Municipality school students, he is out teaching them sarasvati Vandana, or showing them how yoga is practiced, or….or (now) re-building temples. This is his understanding of the Constitution!

Politics has been made so petty that the BJP has attacked Rahul Gandhi because he is abroad. Now, lets just wait a second here. This government is run by the PM, and the state is run by a CM. Both of them have done all that was needed, and no one has said anything that could be done has not been done. Rahul could of course have cut short his trip, indulged in politics, become a nuisance for the relief workers…..but in the absence of a good PR agency to advise him, he is guilty of not doing all this!

There have been natural disasters all around the world. The US has witnessed several in the recent past, where hundreds have died. But never has any national disaster been reduced to such low levels. There is a time for politics, but it’s surely not while the relief work is on. And in the country in which Rambo was invented, no politician has done this kind of a cheap act!

The real truth is that with Modi’s ascendancy to the top of the BJP, even the last shards of political decency have been sacrificed. Now, anything goes in politics. If tomorrow, there is an earthquake (god forbid) in Gujarat, it would be alright for the Congress to come and play similar dirty politics. If this is what the election process in a democracy entails, we truly don’t deserve it….

Friday, June 21, 2013

Will Modi induct Yeddy….or ally with his party?

An interesting story in today’s Indian Express suggests that Yeddy’s KJP is OK to align with the BJP under Modi. It believes that the charges against its leader were trumped up by Advani to support his protégé, Ananth Kumar. With Advani out of the way, the party sees no reason to stay away from its alma mater of sorts. If this happens, it will be the first positive sign that the BJP will receive after Modi’s ascendance to the top. But it will also challenge the party’s anti-corruption stance against the Congress.

Yeddy’s departure from the BJP had not been a happy one. The BJP tooks months to act “decisively” against him (the party loves to show itself as being decisive!). The charges against him were framed by the noted ex-Lok Ayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde. They were not mere political charges. They were charges based on years of investigation. And yet, the BJP had tried everything possible, strained its every nerve, to avoid the unhappy separation. Unhappy because it knew that without Yeddy, Karnataka would be lost for good. There would be the ignominy of losing the lone foothold in the South. When after months of dithering, the party did ask Yeddy to leave, it tried to claim the moral highground of “zero tolerance” towards corruption. The public did not buy this. And the party was punished severely in the state elections.

The Karnataka results were seen and analyzed nationally. BJP’s anti-corruption platform was delivered a brutal (but no knock-out) blow first when it dithered on sacking Yeddy, and then when it lost the state elections. But even as it failed to convince the Karnataka public, maybe, just maybe, it did manage to enthuse its loyalists. Its spokespeople, who were getting hammered every day on TV, got something to talk about.

If Modi now embraces Yeddy, it will be a knock-out punch for the party. Suddenly, the zero-tolerance-towards-corruption policy will be torn to shreds. With a pre-election pact signed, the BJP will have no grounds left (not that it has any at the moment) to claim to be a “party with a difference”. It will have to rely solely on the unsustainable claims of development (see the several stories written on how “feku” Modi is claiming credit for the work of his predecessors) and of good governance (which again is mostly a bogus claim). Or of course, it can go back to its pet positioning of being India’s only Hindu-focused (sorry, make that Brahmin-focused) party.

But Modi has shown that he is a pragmatist. He brought in ex-Congressman and public-bully Radadiya into the party fold in Gujarat (ignoring all the moral lectures his party leaders had given when Radadiya was still in the Congress). Modi is street smart; his maneuver paid off. Radadiya and his son both won their respective Lok Sabha and assembly seats in the recent bypolls, boosting the party’s position, and Modi’s personal credibility. It’s entirely within Modi’s political wisdom to take Yeddy back into the party, or do a pre-election alliance deal with him.

There is one other temptation for the party to sign up with the KJP. It is terribly short of allies. After the loss of the JD(U), it is now down to just two allies – the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena. Even the Shiv Sena is making unhappy sounds, upset with Modi’s dalliance with its bête-noire Raj Thackeray’s MNS. Everyone knows that 2014 is going to be about alliances; each party contributing its bit towards ensuring a majority at the center. Without allies, the NDA is a non-starter. Even if the BJP under Modi does better than in 2009, there is no way it can hope to do as well as the Congress did in that year – reach 200+ seats. Without allies, there is no way Modi can come to power. Principles can wait. It’s time for some serious dog-fight in the streets!

Honestly, when one looks at the developments of the last few months, several things emerge about the party with a difference. First, it is so divided within its folds, that it perhaps cannot even claim to be a single party any longer. There is a very real chance that the Advani-Swaraj-Ananth Kumar-Yashwant Sinha-Arun Shourie camp may split the party. Second, the party’s claims on corruption are just a matter of convenience. When it comes to brasstacks, those issues are brushed under the carpet. This is why a Kejriwal has found a little, a teeny weeny space to stand on. Third, the party is as clumsy in handling its allies and as “disrespectful” of their leaders, as it has accused the Congress of when TMC and the DMK left the UPA. And fourth, it will do anything it takes to “rid the country of the Congress”!

When one peels off the layers, political parties start to display their true colors. The BJP – shorn of the rhetoric – has Hindutva at its core. With RSS as the mentor, there can be nothing else more fundamental to its existence. This also explains why the BJP’s two most stable allies are the religion-minded SAD and Shiv Sena. The Left has its economic ideology and anti-US ideologies at its core, and no matter how the whole world changes (including China and Russia, the two biggest patrons of communism in the past), it will hold steadfast. Most regional parties cater to caste aspirations – the BSP of the dalits, the SP of the Yadavs, Yeddy of the Lingayats and so on. Shorn of all fluff, the Congress is still the biggest battleship, representing all sections of the country. It’s focus is more on the rural poor; explaining why it often falls on the wrong side of the urban middle-class and the rich, who accuse it for its social schemes. This section of the population has little understanding of, or sympathy for the teeming under-privileged.

The real truth is that for a second time, Yeddy is going to pose a challenge for the BJP. In my estimation, the party realizes it made a mistake the first time (blame it on Advani!). This time around, it will make the politically correct decision (thank Modi for it!). Yeddy is BJP-bound; make way for the return of the prodigal son!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

IB’s role in Ishrat Jahaan fake encounter could show BJP’s involvement at national level….

Recent developments in the Ishrat Jahaan fake encounter case, which the CBI is investigating, point to a possible role the central government, then led by the BJP, might have had in furthering the anti-Muslim stance of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat government. There is no other possibility, considering that the BJP has itself always cited the IB as being a hand-maiden of the central government. If this is true, then the IB officer who “generated” the intelligence report around Ishrat Jahaan, which led to her death, must have been “instructed” by the BJP bosses in Delhi.

This is the problem with random allegations. They come back to bite you someday! When the NCTC was being discussed, the BJP took took offence to the fact that the NCTC chief would have to report into the IB, which was under the central government and which was “unaccountable” to anyone except the central government. If the BJP’s allegation about the IB being used by the central government for political purposes is true, then surely the same must have been true when it was ruling at the center. It is in this context that the politics around the investigation of the IB official by the CBI should be seen.

What has been established as a fact is that the encounter was a fake encounter, and the accused were butchered in broad daylight by state cops. This proves that the state government was complicit in the act. But what is now coming out is that the IB official, Rajinder Kumar, had supplied the intelligence input that a “group of LeT terrorists” was coming to Ahmedabad to kill Modi (source: today’s TOI). How the Gujarat cops linked that to Ishrat Jahaan is unclear, nor has it been proven that she was indeed the mentioned terror suspect. Even so she was gunned down. Today however, the issue is no longer about whether she was a terrorist or not. It is about the way Narendra Modi’s government and possibly, the central BJP government handled her case. Does the BJP support shooting them in broad daylight, under an assumption that they are guilty?

This obviously is not the only case in which Modi’s government has behaved in this manner. The same DIG who killed Ishrat Jahaan – Vanjara of the Ahmedabad Police – was also involved in another fake encounter – the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh – for which he has in fact been arrested. Vanjara’s – and by extension – Modi’s style was simple. Assume a muslim to be guilty, take the law in your own hands, and bring instantaneous justice to the alleged culprits.

Modi has been panned enough for this. And he is unrepentant. His attitude is that this is the right way to handle matters. He is unapologetic about his style, and in fact pushes such stories to underline his “iron man” image. What is surprising – and damaging to the BJP nationally – however is that the central government – headed by the “moderate” and “strong” leader Vajpayee – could have been complicit in Modi’s disastrous pattern of murders. Does Vajpayee even deserve the moderate tag if this is found to be true? Would a moderate leader allow such killings? And considering that the killings took place over an extended period of time (Jahaan was in 2004; Sohrabuddin in 2005), is it at all possible that this was a mere one-time slip on Vajpayee’s part? Or is it that Vajpayee could never control Modi? That in spite of all the “raj dharma” talk, he could not prevent his own CM from acting in this wayward manner? Is this evidence of Vajpayee being a strong leader? The CBI’s investigation into the IB official is to be seen in this context. It’s ramifications go way beyond Gujarat, and smear a person no less than the BJP’s only “statesman” Vajpayee. It’s surprising that the political connection to the investigation has not yet been brought out in the media.

The BJP – when it realizes what is going on here – will no doubt claim that the CBI is acting on the Congress’s behest. As is its wont, it will coin a few more abuses for the investigating agency. But it can not square this against its insistence during the NCTC debate that the IB is part and parcel of the central government, and officially takes instructions from it. Nor will it be able to explain why the IB officer was present during the investigation of Ishrat Jahaan in Ahmedabad – proving that the centre was completely on-board with the way the matter was being handled. Besides, with Modi now the almost-certain PM candidate of the BJP, it hardly matters whether the issue stays limited to Gujarat and Modi, or extends to the center.

I would like to do a little bit of “connecting the dots” as has become fashionable in India these days! The IB’s intelligence inputs happened in 2004, the only time when the BJP was ruling both at the center and in Gujarat. Everyone knows Modi is a hardliner. Everyone also knows that Advani was the Home Minister at the center, and he had defended Modi and saved his skin on the post-Godhra riots matter. It is also a known fact that Advani was a hardliner as well, being most responsible for the Babri Masjid demolition. Connecting the dots would imply that the complicity of the central government is obvious. It’s truly an open and shut case. If one were to go by the BJP’s style, one should declare Advani and Modi as convicts. But we’ll not do. We’ll wait for the courts to decide!

The real truth is that the BJP’s central government probably supported Modi’s hardline practices with respect to Muslims. Ishrat Jahaan is a possible instance of this. This would indicate that the reign of terror perpetrated by the BJP against the minorities in general, and Muslims in particular, was spread throughout the country. It was part of the party’s political strategy, egged on and supported by its parent RSS and siblings VHP and Bajrang Dal. It would hardly be surprising then if its seniormost leaders – including Advani and Vajpayee – were found to be part of the terror reign….

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Modi hands Congress a UP-like opportunity in Bihar….

JD(U)’s formal split from the NDA has presented the Congress with an interesting UP-like opportunity in Bihar. If it gets to form the UPA-3, it is now a distinct possibility that both Laloo’s RJD and Nitish’s JD(U) will end up backing the Congress at the Center, a situation remarkably similar to how both the SP and the BSP support the UPA-2. It’s amazing that while the recent rhetoric would suggest that anti-Congressism is the over-riding factor at the moment, the reality is that it is anti-BJPism that is the stronger factor.

Nitish is facing the heat as his government has failed to live up to the expectations of his people in his second term. There are still no jobs in Bihar, the corruption is sky high, and even electricity is a problem. I have said this for at least a year now (much before this current crisis with the BJP erupted) that Nitish will have to struggle to retain power for the 3rd time or to win a large number seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014. It’s clear now that Nitish is driven by the need to acknowledge the presence of the 18% Muslims in his state. Suddenly, he realizes that secularism is what is a better and more lasting strategy in India. Suddenly, he finds the BJP communal. It’s a little kinky for Nitish to find Advani – the one who actually led his team to the Babri Masjid demolition – to be secular and Modi – who merely winked an approving eye towards his party’s mass murderers in Godhra  to be communal. Both are the same. But be that as it may, Nitish and the JD(U) have no option but to support the Congress in Parliament now and post 2014.

Laloo’s RJD is on a come-back, as his vast rallies, and the recent bypoll results have shown. It is likely then that Bihar will get cut-up 4-ways like UP traditionally has been with the biggest two (RJD and JD(U)) supporting the 4th party in the state (Congress). Neither see the Congress as a major local threat, and hence have no qualms in supporting it at the Center.

The recent overtures by the Congress also point to a re-allignment of political forces; and a concerted Congress attempt to break the back of the BJP. This is politics, Congress style! The Congress presents a moderate face – with its concomitant “weak”, “soft”, “undecisive” style notwithstanding – and becomes a natural magnet for all and sundry. The UPA may have suffered the loss of two allies – the DMK and TMC – but none of them left because of any ideological political reasons. For the DMK, it was a political statement to make on Raja; for TMC, it was mostly an economic affairs issue. The DMK for sure will return back to the UPA – if not now, then after 2014.

The BJP’s style however – since the end of the Vajpayee days – has been to remain a bit of a bully; an isolationist; and one who focuses on negatives. In many ways, the entire existence of the BJP is thanks to the Congress. Hypothetically, if the Congress didn’t exist, the BJP wouldn’t either. By making it’s politics all about anti-Congressism, the BJP has been forced to take a niche, hardline alternative, something that makes it a smaller option and works to the Congress’s advantage. The BJP succeeded only once at the center – that too, because it managed to bind Hindus into one large voting community, thanks to Ayodhya – and it is unlikely to succeed again. Look at Maharashtra, where the same story has panned out. The BJP-Shiv Sena government, for all the aggressive noise it makes, has so far ruled just once in the state. And going by what one sees on ground, it has very little chance of winning a 2nd term any time soon. The BJP really needs to re-invent itself. It needs to ask itself the existential question: What does it really stand for?

Does it stand for aggressive Hindutva? Does Modi’s elevation signify that? If so, why doesn’t it come out and say it clearly? Why doesn’t it openly embrace its saffron colors? Give prominent positions to Togadia and Singhal and co? The BJP is caught in a “half-cock” position (as in cricket); neither here nor there. In marketing lingo, its called “caught between two stools”!

The BJP’s hope that 2014 will be about corruption and governance looks misplaced. Everyone knows that corruption is a political malaise, not restricted to the Congress. People are realizing that the 2G scam was just a political scam. The CAG’s wildly exaggerated claims have been shown to be faulty. If the Congress can be accused for anything, it is of following zealously the SC prescriptions on auctions, and killing the telecom industry. The CAG’s bizarre claims on coal are even worse. It was the Congress that thought of and implemented coal auctions. How can the party be held responsible for what was going on for 20 years before? Take 2G and Coal out, and add the mining mess in Karnataka, and it becomes clear that both parties are equally corrupt. It’s the same with governance. Narendra Modi’s tall claims of better governance in Gujarat are thanks to the solid majority he has there. But governance is hardly a BJP preserve. Congress governments in Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra and AP are all doing a fine job as well.

The real truth is that 2014 will instead be about alliances. It will not be about magnetic individuals; but about magnetic alliances. It’s here that a Rahul beats a Modi hollow.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The irrelevance of the BJP (2nd time now)….

It happened first when the Anna struggle was blazing all over India. The BJP had lost all relevance then. It was like Anna and Kejriwal and all their units nationally were the challengers to the ruling Congress. In fact, Kejriwal had rubbed ample salt into the wounds of the BJP then by calling it it’s Team B (meaning it was the Team A). Today, with the JD(U) severing a 17-year old relationship with the BJP, the BJP again risks becoming irrelevant in the political firmament. Suddenly, Mamata’s (or anyone else’s) 3rd front suddenly looks more like a 2nd front, and the BJP/NDA looks relegated to the 3rd position.

I am wondering if this is what the BJP’s top leadership had anticipated when it went ahead with nominating Narendra Modi as it’s campaign chief. Bravado aside, the BJP must know that it cannot win as many seats in Bihar as it won in 2009, if Nitish is not with it. It’s a different thing that Nitish’s party itself may suffer by parting company with the BJP. What good leaders focus on is collective good, not individualistic glory. Top leaders in the BJP must consider what good they have achieved through their actions.

In contrast of course, the Congress appears to be a party with a plan. It’s suffered from no leadership struggles, even though others accuse it of being dynastic. Whether it is dynastic or not, the point is that the party looks far more battle ready than the BJP. The advantage of having a pre-ordained leader is that there are no internal skirmishes or bickerings related to that. It settles issues of hierarchy within the party – after all, there can be only one top-dog, but there can be several equally important 2nd-rung leaders – so many more leaders can be “accommodated”. On the other hand, the leadership issue in the BJP was always known to be a problem; only its play-out has been far worse than anticipated.

If the Congress represents dynastic culture, Narendra Modi has started being equaled with a highly personalized, almost cult-like and dictatorial way of functioning. Clearly, there are the chosen favorites of Modi, and his efforts have been to increase the club of such followers (“chamchas”???). Those who are not overtly supporting him, or are expressing a divergent point of view, become part of the “opposite” camp, to be cut to size in due course of time. It’s now emerging that this style of leadership has been around for some time. People are asking who the number 2 in the Gujarat party unit is, and hardly any names come to mind. Amit Shah is there, but again, he was part of the Modi coterie. Besides, he’s been removed from state politics – thanks to the judiciary. I cannot even think of another name from the state. If that’s what Modi’s style is, that’s already becoming visible at the centre also. An Advani – forget his age, one has to give him his due respect, even tolerate his idiosynchrasis – has been humiliated. A Nitish Kumar has been ignored. An Uddhav Thackeray’s views have been looked past. Not to add, a whole bunch of “adversaries” have been cut to size.

So if the BJP has been reduced to almost a 3rd front, how does it hope to emerge as an alternative to the Congress? What plan of action does it have to win at least 200 odd seats for itself? For nothing less will do. I have a feeling that the BJP will split into two. With Sushma, Advani and co forming a 2nd unit, which will then act as the nucleus for several Congress-opposing parties. This unit – with a more secular agenda – could become a viable alternative. Advani has attempted to smoothen his earlier rough image, by praising Jinnah (I still cannot understand what the RSS found wrong in this – after all, protocol demands that you praise a country’s leaders when you go visiting it). Jaswant Singh, Arun Shourie, Sushma Swaraj, are relative moderates. This grouping also has the added advantage that it can rightly own Vajpayee’s personal legacy – after all, even today, most people refer to the NDA era of rule as a “Vajpayee-Advani” era. Modi for sure cannot do that. If the BJP were to be split up this way, Narendra Modi’s hardline image will be the reason for the split. Surely, the BJP’s top leaders considered all these factors.

And the signs are already there. A whole bunch of leaders excused themselves out of the Goa summit. Advani was heckled outside his house by Modi supporters (or were there paid for by his PR agency??? Such things are known to be done by PR firms). He quit from several party posts; but the party managed to bring him back. But just see what’s happened in just a few days. With Nitish backing out of the NDA, Advani has again asked whether authoritarian leaders should lead the BJP. The simmering tensions within the party are very much there, irrespective of what leaders publicly proclaim. At the right time – and politics is all about timing – Advani can spring a surprise. A Sushma is not going to take it lying down. Nor will a Gadkari, Shourie and Sinha.

The real truth is that the BJP/NDA has effectively been split. And neutralized. The Congress was right. It didn’t even have to do anything. It just had to wait for the power-hungry “principal” opposition party to implode – and become a virtual “3rd front”. Modi has indeed been good news for the ruling party!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Yet another political front with no positive agenda….

The Congress has long benefited from the bankruptcy of ideas within its main opposition front, the NDA/BJP. It is now looking like it will benefit from this bankruptcy in the other parts of the opposition as well. For if one were to consider the “centripetal” forces that could possibly bind Mamata’s imaginary third front together, one would see that they are nothing but negative forces – anti Congressism and anti-BJPism. As if this were enough to get people to vote!

Maybe the 3rd front leaders should look at the condition of the BJP to understand this better. The principle opposition party, the BJP itself appears to have no positive agenda. I still don’t know what the party offers to us as an alternative to the Congress. All we hear is “better governance” and “faster decision making”. Understood, but what kind of decisions, and what form of better governance? Should we expect the BJP to be right-of-center on economic policies? Because that is not what the party is saying clearly. Actually, the party is saying nothing at all. Should we expect them to scrap “burdensome” subsidies like the food security bill? No way, for the BJP is in fact, crooning from the rooftops that its state governments run even more expansive food security programs. Should we expect the party to support FDI – at least in sectors other than multi-brand retail? But again, that’s not what we are hearing, for they seem to be opposing the Congress’s plans of the same nature. This same lack of clarity continues from one sector to another. We simply don’t know what the BJP stands for. Except of course that it is anti-Congress!

Maybe this is indeed the real picture of the state of affairs within the BJP. Maybe the party genuinely doesn’t know what it stands for. Maybe that explains why during the first NDA rule (all of six years), the GDP growth was lower than in the preceding and following six years. If this is what the BJP can be expected to give us economically, then that would justify their singular focus on generics like governance and decision making, and absence of clarity on specifics like economic preferences.

Unfortunately, faster decision making and better governance are functions of Parliamentary strength; and not of a leader’s vision or character. There is no dearth of visionary ideas in the PM and Chidambaram. Both know exactly what has to be done. Both want to liberalize, and unleash the “animal spirits” of the country. But both are held back by political forces. The Congress is being restrained by its “friends”; leave alone the foes. Mamata Banerjee, the perpetual nay sayer eventually left the alliance because she simply couldn’t agree with anything that the Congress proposed. It’s the same with governance as well. Remember it was Manmohan Singh who thought of, and eventually implemented, the auctions policy for the coal sector. In the interim period, when existing laws had to be changed, no one supported his zest. Most of all, the opposition refused to co-operate. This interim period  - this long period – is the genesis of the CAG’s misinformed “Coalgate” report. Surprisingly, the one who sought to bring in the changes suddenly found himself politically accused of corruption.

If governance is going to depend on political strength, then what can we expect from the BJP? For, by no calculation is the BJP (as a single party) expected to get more than the Congress. In the big six states which account for nearly 2/3rds of the seats in Parliament, the BJP barely manages 20 odd seats. It is not even present in some of them. In fact, it is not present in most of the country itself, save for the West, and partially the North.

What is true for the BJP is also true of the front proposed by Mamata. What is its agenda going to be, once the rhetoric of anti-BJPism and anti-Congressism is taken out? Apparently, the eastern states have a set of “common problems”. What are those problems? What kind of policies will this front make that are different from what the Congress and BJP government have made? I find it difficult to believe that this front can out-do the Congress’s “inclusive” socialist agenda; and that is precisely what the East requires – more socialism. It could of course drift towards complete communism; for that’s what would politically appeal in these states. But can the leaders of this proposed front please tell us this upfront? And if that is true, how will they be able to keep the Left out? Not that the Left wants to be any part of any Mamata formation anyways. This is the tragedy of the third front. It simply doesn’t have the cohesion to stay together. This is the kind of lazy political gimmickry that gets my goat. This is irresponsible politics. This is harmful politics. This is just a blatant display of the hunger for power.

The Congress in the meantime is gloating over the prospect of the NDA being cut down from its already inadequate size. The JD(U) is almost certainly out. The Shiv Sena surprisingly also doesn’t seem excited with Modi’s dalliance with the MNS. The UP parties are unlikely to tie-up with Modi, though the BSP is unpredictable. None of the Andhra parties want any piece of the NDA. With Advani sidelined, and Modi at the fore, whoever the fence sitters were, are now clear. They will have to choose between supporting the Congress or go with the 3rd front. The UPA could actually end up getting a lot more than it got in 2009! If that doesn’t happen, and if the NDA somehow cobbles together a majority, or if the 3rd front does the same, then we should be looking at fresh elections in 2016. (a view that Sandipen Deb of the Mint first offered in one of his rare political pieces).

The real truth is that negativity drives Indian politics. To the extent that it starts to harm the very proponents – the opposition parties – of such politics. The ruling party has to do nothing….but sit smugly, waiting for the others to implode. For all of those who curse the Congress’s sustained rule over the country for so many decades, now you have the answer! There really is no alternative to the Congress….because there really is no party with an agenda of its own.

Monday, June 10, 2013

On Modi’s big day, 3 things that we should remember about him….

Modi has wrested control of the BJP. Forget what the immediate elevation relates to – being made the head of the election committee. In reality, he has de-facto been made the PM candidate of the party. Modi is a shrewd politician, and he has clearly out-smarted Advani & Co. What that does to the party is extremely relevant, but this post is not about that. It’s about knowing the man – once again.

Three things that define Modi are:

1)    His development credentials: Modi has been striving to stress his growth oriented policies, and his extreme passion for development. However, as many have pointed out, including his own partymen, the growth in Gujarat predates Modi by a long way. I have written several times on this, but perhaps the most interesting read was on 17th September, 2011 titled “Modi’s growth story is a sham…..” which clearly shows that growth was higher during the Congress regime before Modi, and that growth in Gujarat was just about comparable with other major states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Andhra. Modi’s loud claims are a tad unbelievable, and often mistaken with the general well-being of his state. Modi claims to have grown agriculture a lot, but he forgets to mention that most of it is thanks to the Narmada waters coming to his state, in which he had absolutely no role to play. He talks of great roads, but fails to point out that the National Highways – including the expressway between Vadodara and Ahmedabad, as well as the new one planned between Vadodara and Mumbai – are the results of the central government’s work. Modi’s grandiose exaggerations have earned him the “feku” tag in the virtual world, which he has so far managed to control using his Americal PR firm APCO. Modi’s growth has been panned by many others, but most of all by Dibakar Gupta – read his piece in the TOI of October 6th, 2012: “Telling the Whole story”). Modi’s development claims also ignore the severe problems his state suffers in the Human Development indicies – pointing towards very uneven growth in the state. It’s important we know this man – one who usurps the claims of others with absolutely disdainfully
2)    His governance credentials: Modi says he is a man who takes fast decisions. He likes to contrast this with the generally perceived sloth in Delhi. But he likes to ignore the reality of politics – that he has a solid majority in his state, while the center suffers from a severe condition of “coalitionitis”. We will see the reality in this when (and if) Modi does become the PM. How he will balance the different needs of divergent political parties will need to be seen. Modi also likes to ignore that all other state governments which have clear majorities – be in Delhi or AP or Haryana or TN or Bihar – have also been known for quick decision making. Modi likes to show his governance record as a genetic blessing of his; in reality it is anything but. Modi’s governance record also includes the several cases of anomalies pointed out by the CAG, the absence of the Lok Ayukta for more than 9 years now (and his pushing through a weak selection process after he was shamed by the Governor recently), and the terrible record of responding to the needs of the RTI. Modi doesn’t like to draw attention to all this. He just goes mum, and an indulgent media spares him the blushes – like it did when he refused to take the “high ground” on the IPL-CSK mess.
3)    His communal record: Be it the post-godhra riots, or the Ishrat Jahaan murder or the several other encounter killings, or the saffronisation of education, Modi is best known for his communal credentials. It’s interesting that today’s papers carry a story that suggest that Modi’s top cops may have been personally involved in the murder of Ishrat Jahaan. Not only may they have given the orders, it is possible that they actually witnessed, first hand, the murder. It’s pathetic, to think that Modi claims his state has no communal riots, when the reality is that the Muslims are a terrorized lot in his state. There was also a story a few days back, about how a municipal school in Ahmedabad had chosen saffron as the color for the childrens’ uniforms. It’s not just the uniforms that have turned saffron in the state; even the curriculum has. My biggest fear from Modi comes from what a shrewd, clever, determined man like him can do in a state like UP – where tensions start to simmer at the smallest provocation. With trusted aide Amit Shah in charge of UP, expect a huge amount of induced communal tension – induced so that the majority Hindu population comes together to vote for Modi in one unified block, rather than divide itself along cast-based lines as it has done so far. Modi is trouble. Make no mistake.

The real truth is that Modi’s not good news for India. He is communal, and he is a “feku”. He is also bad news for his party. Wait and watch the fun that unfolds now!