Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mulayam in the political Akhara- why 2012 could well be his year!

During the coverage of the Tamil Nadu Vidhan Sabha elections, Professor Yogendra Yadav observed that there is a tendency to underestimate Jayalalithaa while she is in opposition and overestimate Karunanidhi while he is in government. Taking the argument to Uttar Pradesh, I would argue that we could say the same for Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati respectively. Today, Mayawati is perceived to have a great edge over Mulayam notwithstanding the anti-incumbency sentiment, the slew of corruption cases and of course the building of statues and monuments for herself. Mulayam on the other hand is seen as down and out heading a party whose best is behind it. Yet, one need not be surprised if the elections deliver a verdict that is contrary to what the perception is. In all probability, Mulayam Singh Yadav could not only return as the Chief Minister but also play an important role in national politics.

In many ways Mulayam has been an unlucky politician. Cutting his political teeth in the JP movement, he is no doubt the senior most politician from UP today. But, his growth both in the state and at the Centre has been rather curtailed. He has not been able to complete a full term in office (no CM for a long time has done so but arch rival Mayawati will) and from being the strongman who could take on the might of the BJP during its heyday he has become (to borrow Inder Singh Namdhari’s phrase during the Lokpal debate) a ‘circus lion’ who can be easily blackmailed through the CBI. The top job missed him in 1996 when he had to settle for the defence portfolio. The opposition benches beckoned in 1998 and 1999, when he famously prevented Sonia Gandhi from becoming Prime Minister. In 2004 and in 2009 he has substantial MPs but it was a clear case of being all dressed but heading nowhere as the Governments of the day did not need his support till 2008 after which he was politically dumped until Anna happened. Thus, while a Ramadoss or Shibu Soren could become a minister with 4-5 MPs, Mulayam got nowhere with over 20 MPs! He even suffered a crushing defeat in 2007, which has put his party out of any political office for the last 5 years.

But then 2012 could be different. Yes Mayawati does carry the mass support of the Dalit community but there is an anti-incumbency sentiment that exists on the ground. Her regime is seen as a disappointment with a large gap between the expectations and the delivery. As the case of DMK has shown, even strong Governments get weakened as time goes by and the people do yarn for change. Today if the people of UP need change, Mulayam is best suited to deliver it in terms of pan-Uttar Pradesh reach and party machinery. The BJP is nowhere close to its peak in the 1990s while the Congress is plagued by ‘parachute politics’ courtesy Rahul Gandhi. Even the Anna and Ramdev factor could have ramifications in UP that could put the Congress on a sticky wicket. In any case it will not repeat its stellar performance of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

It is in this context Mulayam enjoys a great advantage. There is no doubt both the Congress and Ajit Singh would be more comfortable dealing with Mulayam than a maverick Mayawati. A SP-Congress-Lok Dal government seems the most plausible combination in UP (the other is a BSP-BJP government). The departure of Amar Singh has helped Mulayam Singh in ways more than one. While he successfully retains the contacts he made with Amar Singh, he has also been able to win over the old SP stock that felt isolated with the arrival of Amar Singh on the political scene.

It also helps that the party seems in very safe hands. Mayawati remains a one-woman show while the BJP has no tall leader either young or old in the state. This is where Akhilesh Yadav enhances the chances of his father and the party doing well. Young (by political standards of course) Akhilesh displays none of the trappings Rahul Gandhi does or is he a minor player as Jayant Chaudhary is. He has inherited strong party machinery from his father and he is someone who has been among the people of UP, not making dashes to Dalit homes when elections approach. In Akhilesh the people of UP may see a future which could possible make them vote SP. In an Akhilesh vs. Rahul contest, Akhilesh surely enjoys greater political credibility, which he could turn into administrative excellence too, if he acts prudently.

One must also note that 2014 is the last election for the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Pawar to fulfill their national ambitions. Both of them would be too old to lead the nation in 2019 or onwards making this their final chance. For Mulayam a third front could be a blessing in disguise and unlike in 1996, Lalu Prasad Yadav (who single handedly vetoed his shot at PM ship) is a largely inconsequential leader both in his state and at the Centre. Apart from being the undisputed Yadav leader he will also command a good number of seats in the Lok Sabha elections, whenever they happen. With an unpopular government and a principal opposition that does not enjoy much national credibility the Third Front could be back in business. Needless to say it would be impossible without SP participation.

This optimism does not mean Mulayam will surely win. Mayawati remains a formidable leader with an excellent strategic mind. In terms of age, she has at least a decade in politics. Mulayam may not be the same leader who has the courage to fire at Kar Sevaks nor can he take risks such as the Rampur Tiraha episode of 1994 or the Guest House episode of 1995 but he has that much fire in his belly to be the only force that can stop the Mayawati march. 2012 will be crucial for both he and his son. He realizes better than any of us the stakes of both victory and defeat- the political climate suits a possible comeback but will he be able to do it? Wait for 4th March 2012 for that answer…

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Before you begin reading this small article, let me make it very clear that I am not a blind supporter of Anna Hazare’s fast and his demands for a Jan Lok Pal Bill. I do not completely support the tactics used by Team Anna be it his demand to have HIS rather than A Lok Pal Bill or the absolute lack of knowledge his ‘team ‘ members on what the bill is about or a lack of knowledge on the discourse around corruption, its roots and possible ways to solve it. Yet after having read Arundhati Roy’s article in one of the dailies, I thought it was appropriate to give a fitting answer to person who has by now made a decent living by giving a list of problems, using loaded adjectives to prove her point, display a hatred towards groups she calls ‘fascists’ and taking up for sections of society who need empowerment not her patronizing write ups on how the state has exploited them (which no doubt it has).

Among the principal arguments Arundhati Roy places is that there is a difference between the means of team Anna and their demands and modus operandi. Now coming from an individual who has in the past called the Maoists ‘Gandhians with Guns’ this is wishful thinking. For one, there is little need to place so much importance on the writings of a person who has got her definition of the word ‘Gandhian’ totally wrong. For Arundhati Roy, the Maoists are Gandhians with guns while Anna Hazare a representation of a bourgeoisie urban agitation with little or incorrect direction.

Any observer of contemporary India would know that there is a vast difference between the Maoists and the agitation behind the Jan Lok Pal Bill but Arundhati Roy has not been able to recognize this difference. She argues that the ‘common’ aim of these two teams is the overthrow of the Indian state. Now the fundamental question is where does she get her facts? Can she produce even one piece of evidence to suggest that Anna Hazare and his team of supporters have attempted to dislodge the Indian state and establish a parallel state with their own men and women as ministers? On the contrary Anna Hazare has repeatedly stated that his aim is not to cause political instability at any given point. Can this compare with the activities of her Maoist Gandhians who have explicitly killed, looted and shown no respect towards dialogue or democracy that we are and will remain proud of?

It is essential to call the bluff of ‘activists’ such as Arundhati Roy who have now made a handsome living by repeatedly abusing the Sangh Parivar and the RSS. For her to write that among the answers one will get would be ‘Vande Mataram’, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Jai Hind’ and then use this as a means of ridicule is most unfortunate. If Ms. Roy can give the title of Gandhian on her Maoist friends she must also know what the Great Soul thought of Vande Mataram and that Jai Hind and Bharat Mata Ki Jai need not be interpreted as something that is majoritarian or against sections of Indian society. By planting such lies in the minds of people, Arundhati Roy and her ilk are going a great disservice not only to this country (towards whom Ms. Roy’s respect is also limited) but also displaying a very poor reading of the history of India and its culture.

Like any person belonging to her profession of deploring the Indian Right, she cites Anna Hazare’s support towards Raj Thackeray and Narendra Modi. Now if Ms. Roy can cause immense pain to sections of our society by unleashing her half baked views on India then why cant she tolerate people who hold views that are not in accordance with hers? And while she often accuses sections of India of being completely unaware of the ground realities where her Gandhians operate, let me also tell her that her views on Narendra Modi are completely out of sync with how the people of Gujarat be it Christian, Muslim or Hindu view it. She needs to be reminded that a predominantly Muslim seat has recently given its thumbs up to Narendra Modi’s work in Gujarat. If she was so concerned about free speech and truth why was she silent when Maulana Vastanvi was sacked in the nation of Gandhi for speaking the truth? Are her principles of free speech, honesty, and compassion for the poor selective? Does she only look at the truth the way she wants to? And why does she have to mention Narendra Modi in an issue that does not involve him? Does she not know that his is the only government to voluntarily set up investigation against the charges put by the Congress party?

Her calling the Jan Lok Pal ‘draconian’ and creating 2 oligarchies instead of one is fair enough but then the problem comes in when she goes on about the defects of Anna’s bill without actually giving a list of tangible solutions on how the problem can be solved. This again is typical Arundhati Roy- list out all the problems under the sun, use adjectives, smell a fascist hand but just fall short of giving any solution. What Roy also does is rightfully questions the failure of both the bills to identify what is the cause of corruption- is corruption only something that needs to be policed? Moreover can there be an all-encompassing definition on corruption? Agreed that the answer in both cases lies in the negative but then comes another question- why does Arundhati Roy assume that the mall opening and the hawkers being banned is mutually exclusive? Why cant we have a government or a set up where hawkers are given the opportunity to rise and finally set up shop in malls or dream big rather than the energies of the government only going to ensure that neither do the hawkers evict themselves nor do new innovative establishments spring up. It is this thinking of keeping the poor poorer so that people like Arundhati Roy find ‘objects’ to patronize that is painful and very cheapening.

Arundhati Roy may have issues with this issue being transformed into one on a right to protest rather than corruption but the issue is a very valid one. When one sees the same Ambica Soni who was as involved in 1975 as she is now, we do know there is something really wrong with how things are working today. Similarly, when she is charged of sedition or faces other charges she and her followers are very quick to invoke freedom of protest and dissent then why not now? Even beyond that, no part of the hunger strike has been devoted to protest the arrest. When the issue was to protest freedom to dissent it was done- now again the issue has shifted back to the prevention of corruption and having a strong Lok Pal Bill, irrespective of who authors it. And can anybody agree with Arundhati Roy that there exists an Afghanistan like situation in India? Again, adjectives are being used and hype created to illustrate a point and who does it better than Arundhati Roy?

Finally, let it be made absolutely clear to Arundhati Roy that anything to do with the RSS is neither vulgar nor criminal. The Sangh Parivar retains full right to protest or be a part of protest on issues they feel are lacking both inside and outside the country. She also conveniently forgets that her own Gandhians with Guns are supportive of an ideology or individuals such as Stalin and Mao, about whose evil deeds we still do not know. It becomes a crime to receive any money from the West or corporates but it is fair to invoke Mao, Stalin, kill innocent servicemen and receive money from elements that are working against atleast what we proudly call India. To conclude, Arundhati Roy argues why she would rather not be Anna- let us tell her we too are thankful she is not Anna Hazare or anybody of that eminence. We can showcase Arundhati Roy as an example of our speech (her dearer countries would have long silenced her) but to give her so much importance and respect as many have done for Anna Hazare or even elected governments would signify the real Kaliyug of Indian society.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stephanian Politicians- To the Glory of Whom?

My alma mater, St. Stephen’s College has always boasted at having a rich history of producing leaders of tomorrow be it Cabinet Ministers or Chief Secretaries. I have often heard that more than a quarter of the History honors class made it to the IAS and there was a network of Stephanians working in the corridors of power be it in Delhi or in the states. Leadership, integrity and strength of character are qualities we are still taught in the College. Yet, the recent episodes of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev have made me very weary of the kind of leaders College is producing.
On of the people I was following on Twitter posted a tweet where he compared what he called the ‘Oxford-Harvard’ nexus to a rustic Anna Hazare and how the latter has got the better of the former. What he did not point out is that two out of the three leaders mentioned in the ‘Oxford-Harvard’ nexus also belong to St. Stephen’s College namely Kapil Sibal and Salman Khurshid (the third being Chidambaram). It is their actions vis-à-vis an Anna Hazare which provoked me to think on the sort of leaders St. Stephen’s College has produced in the past few years and whether there is something to be proud of when Cabinets are formed and we learn of Stephanians becoming ministers.
To begin with, let us see our College history after 1947. We have taken great pride in stating that we have produced three heads of states. But what we have not taken in to consideration is who these heads were and what were the consequences of their actions. I am stating the obvious when I say that the actions of at least two of them have adversely affected the democratic fabric of their respective countries. The conduct of a Stephanian, Fakruddin Ali Ahmed was heavily questionable in 1975. The second leader, Zia ul Haq needs little mention in his lack of commitment to democracy and secularism in Pakistan. A lot of mindless terror in the region, rampant hostilities could well be traced back to his period in the seventies and eighties. Thus, despite my hesitations I have to state that the two Heads of State Stephen’s produced have been disastrous.
Coming to more recent times, there has been a great representation of St. Stephen’s in the executive ever since the UPA came to power that has only increased since UPA 2. If the NDA rule was characterized by the dominance of SRCC (another Delhi University College- alumni are Ranjan Bhattacharya, Arun Jaitley, Vijay Goel, Sudhanshu Mittal) the Stephanian dominance was the hallmark of a Congress – led government. But, have Stephanians been worthy of the responsibilities that were given to them? Sadly we cannot reply in the affirmative.
Back in 2005, the first resignation of a Congress minister happened when Natwar Singh resigned. Singh, a Stephanian was also the first elected President of the College back in 1950. The charges against him were very serious in the wake of the Volcker report. He eventually had to resign in disgrace, shift parties before political wilderness awaited him.
Next comes the case of Shashi Tharoor. The hype with which he entered public life matched the height surrounding his exit and the repercussions thereafter. Once he became a minister his statements in the media showed just how much out of tune he was with the pulse of the ‘aam admi’ his party swears by. Then came the controversy surrounding the IPL when it was proved beyond doubt that sweat equity was given to Sunanda Puskhar once a team was allotted to Kochi. Such a conduct was not only unbecoming but also prompted Shashi Tharoor to issue a series of denials before he was asked to quit office by the Prime Minister. The consequences of his actions were the standoff with Lalit Modi and attempts to reign in the BCCI by the UPA (read Congress vs Sharad Pawar). As things stand today, Tharoor is happily married but without the ministry, Lalit Modi has fled to London and Shashank Manohar has to appear before the ED officials time and again. Again, this is not quite the conduct one expects from a Stephanian, atleast if the legendary Morning Assembly in College is to be believed.
Coming back to the talk on the Oxford-Harvard nexus, it is the actions of these two individuals leaves very little to be desired. Ever since taking over as an important trouble shooter of the Congress, all Kapil Sibal has done is adopt a confrontationist tone be it by offering a shallow excuse of blaming the NDA or being involved in negotiations with Anna Hazare and Ramdev. Let me also make it clear that I am not saying the actions of Anna and Baba were completely correct but the counter action of the UPA think tank, which had two Stephanians, is intriguing.
The allegation that they may be out of touch with the ground realities of the day may well be correct. From the very beginning, they did not understand the impact of the campaign against corruption, however middle class or bourgeoisie it may be. Ramdev may not be a good politician but he is surely a very popular yoga guru on whose tunes Indian families dance to every morning (literally). First to receive him at the airport and then arrest him in a midnight swoop is not so called Stephanian intelligence. Even in the current (which can safely be called Anna 2 vs UPA 2) this clique has demonstrated its different wavelength with the rest of the country. They failed to realize that those protesting were not supporting Anna’s Lok Pal or any other measure, it was just an expression of dissatisfaction against what has perceived to be the most corrupt government in the history of the country. Rather than bring out the flaws in Anna’s protest (there are no doubt many) they preferred to arrest him. They failed to understand that the power of articulation can only get them till a point after which reason; logic and popular aspirations also play a major role.
Even within College, the conduct of elected representatives of College gives little solace to those around. A few months ago, Sandeep Dixit went on a personal tirade against the College establishment even labeling it was communal. The usage of such a loaded word against the College was evidently more a product of a lack of understanding of the word ‘communal’, the Constitution of India and a consequence of a historic bias against select individuals in College. Neither did his appearance on national television inspire any confidence.
The point I am making is not to attack what College has stood for or reduce it to a factory of producing irresponsible politicians but an introspection and the need to think twice before we celebrate the culture of leadership among ourselves. Let us ask ourselves is this the kind of leadership we look towards or can be proud of? At various points of time the Stephanians I have mentioned have done the unthinkable- they have made the likes of Janata coalition, Lalit Modi and Baba Ramdev see sensible (a remarkable feat). Thus, the next time we laud the number of Stephanians making it to office, do see whether they are just another addition to the ‘babalog’ or people who are actually going to bring back sense and logic to public life as what one would expect. Perhaps it is actually time to open the doors of College for some fresh air before it is too late.
PS- I am reminded of an anecdote when Natwar Singh said “All I am is because of the College” to which Mani Shankar Aiyar replied “Why blame the College?”
Yash Gandhi


The state of Gujarat has been witness to heated political activity over the ‘complaints’ of three senior IPS officers against the Chief Minister and the subsequent action taken by the Government against these officers. The battle was not restricted to Gujarat as Home Minister Chidambaram upped the ante against the Gujarat government. Not taking things lying, Narendra Modi quickly retorted and used the principle of Centre-State relations as the centre of his argument.

At the bottom of this struggle is a prolonged battle between the Congress Party and the Gujarat Chief Minister. In one sense, neither side has achieved a total win. In both the Lok Sabha elections fought under Modi’s Chief Minister-ship, the BJP and Congress were almost neck-to-neck with 14 and 12 seats respectively while Modi took a clear lead in the Assembly elections. It is a known fact that Modi ranks among the most popular and efficient Chief Ministers in the country today virtually beating all Congress Chief Ministers if recent surveys are a bit of an indication. It is also no secret that if there is one leader who can take on the Gandhi family, the Congress and the larger UPA it is none other than Narendra Modi. This is not only on the basis of rhetoric or Gujarati pride but also on the basis of solid developmental work that is for everyone to see and experience in any corner of Gujarat.

It is in this context that the outburst of the three police officer- Sanjeev Bhatt, Rahul Sharma and Rajnish Rai need to be analyzed. More than the cause of justice for the 2002 victims, these three very esteemed officers must ask themselves whether their cause is honest or not. It is difficult to digest that Sanjeev Bhatt, who claims to have been present at virtually every high-level meeting in 2002 (a mere fourteen years of his joining) and party to every high level decision taken at the top most levels of Government and Bureaucracy. He must also answer the people of Gujarat and the nation as to why was he mysteriously silent for so long. The exposure of Sanjeev Bhatt to the media has been by all means a recent phenomenon. Thus, if his heart bled for truth and justice why did it not bleed when there was a need for the same rather than now. And if not attending work for ten months is acceptable then yes, the Gujarat government has made a terrible mistake by suspending Sanjeev Bhatt. If you are an employer, will you tolerate absenteeism among your employees and if you are working somewhere will you employer tolerate it? Moreover, is it even feasible?

What is actually happening is a division of labour- a clear allocation of work on the part of a team of very committed ‘activists’ who have striven to make Gujarat a supposedly better place than what it was a few years ago. First came Teesta Setalvad- her tirades against the Chief Minister and the BJP won her fame and a place in every TV studio but it is for the larger public to see what the Supreme Court has written about her. If there is a killer of the Best Bakery Case we need not look around to see who that person is. It is also important to know that in the Best Bakery and Bilkis Bano cases, it was the Charges Sheet of the Gujarat government that was used in order to bring the culprits to task while the CBI charge sheet was proven to be a damp squib. The claims of the Bannerjee Commission Report proved just like the claims of the man who appointed the Commission and his ‘turnaround’ of the railways- absolutely false. Mallika Sarabhai very bravely contested the Lok Sabha elections against LK Advani but was unable to retain even her deposit at the hustings. Thus it is awkward and embarrassing for us to hear of Sanjeev Bhatt and Mallika Sarabhais being the representatives of the people. If they were so, why would it be that Ms. Sarabhai even lost her deposit?

The other issue that has been used to target Mr. Modi has been that of the Sohrabuddin fake encounter. In 2007, the Congress president used the phrase ‘maut ka saudagar’ to describe the Chief Minister. This charge was indeed serious but coming from the leader of a party who has been in power when Sikhs were mercilessly killed on the streets of the national capital or a party that has been in power during almost every riot after 1947, this is indeed wishful thinking. Anyways, this outburst not only failed to boost the chances of the Congress but also made Narendra Modi a far more popular mass leader. As a matter of fact, he has been the only Chief Minister in the nation to form a detailed commission of inquiry in to charges leveled by the Opposition. If anybody can say a Prithviraj Chavan or a Kiran Kumar Reddy or Ashok Gehlot would do the same?

The outbursts against arguably the prime mass leader of the principal opposition party bring out the clear double standards the Congress party. For one, a party that is grabbing land in Haryana is attacking the others in Karnataka or Orissa. The party of the ‘aam aadmi’ recently unleashed a wave of police firing in Maharashtra, a state it has ruled since 1999. Not only that, it has arrested Anna Hazare under Section 144 but warned against the arrest of their crown prince under similar circumstances in Uttar Pradesh a few months ago.

As the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha said- power is not immortal. The sooner those in power learn it the better for them. The NDA learnt it the hard way in 2004 and so did dozen other state Chief Ministers. The UPA is on the verge of doing so now. Specially in Gujarat, it is highly recommended that the Congress contribute constructively to the debate on governance be it my cooperating in appointing state functionaries or speaking for the interest of Gujarat. If they do not, a similar fate awaits them in December 2012 as it has since 1990.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Summer of 2011

When I was seeing the violence and protests unfold in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and other Arab nations sitting in my room in Wolfson College, Oxford little did I know that a similar pattern of violence would occur in the United Kingdom months later. By most counts, the violence, its spread and the official reactions have been shocking and produce some very interesting realities about life in Britain in the 21st Century. Forget the Empire, this is a Britain battling simultaneously a series of cuts, an elitist government, corruption at the highest places and now a wave of discontent that’s being sorted on the streets. Paradoxically, the violence which was part caused by the series of unpopular decisions taken by the Conservative government may lead to many more such decisions. It may also spell disaster for immigrants thus affecting Indian aspirations and the already settled diaspora.

What began as an outbreak in a London suburb over the death of a youngster actually turned in to a national crisis and even spread outside London to other places. Many have seen the violence as a response to the unpopular decisions taken by the Cameron government and the manner in which they have been executed over the past one-year. When Cameron took office last year, he undertook the most unpopular decision of introducing cuts. The decision was noteworthy because of the fragile coalition and the fact that the country was facing a terrible deficit due to thirteen years of Labour rule. Subsequently, the cuts were extended to universities, the health care and other things. While the rationale behind the cuts was sound, the situation has changed drastically over the past one year. Except for the Referendum on the AV and the Royal Wedding, there was nothing Cameron had to cheer about while the list of problems went on and on.

More than anything else the riots show just how out of touch the political establishment of Britain, especially in the Conservative Party are out of touch with the reality of the day and age. Today the Prime Minister, his Chancellor and colleagues from the Conservative Party, the Deputy Prime Minister and the two tallest Leaders of the Labour Party studied at either Oxford or Cambridge. With the resignation of Andy Coulson the top levels of government has nobody who studied in state school or has a background that is working class. It is precisely this disconnect that has repeatedly cost the government very dear. Even as the violence spread the top political establishment seemed either aloof or holidaying abroad. It was not till the escalation of the violence that all decided to fly back to London. Considering Boris Johnson faces an election next year and Cameron is already unpopular this is not promising news.

On a different note, the violence is a part of the transition Britain is facing after years of ‘pampering’ on the public money. Apart from discontent, it shows the refusal to imagine life without the social security system and the NHS, arguable the most inspirational system for developing countries such as ours. In hindsight, it makes one wonder whether the British government could have dealt with the cuts slightly differently. But the jury is still out on these questions and it will take while before we can find answers on the same.

The implications of the riots are many- for one it leaves the government in a very unpopular shape. Cameron will have lots to answer for. What I fear most after this violence is the impact on immigration and the old debate of multiculturalism in Britain. As of now immigrants have not been directly involved in the waves of violence but one never knows what could happen in the future. The discontent over economic opportunities in the country may mean a back clash against overseas Indians, both professionals and students who have gone there. This will not only be harmful for those targeted but also for the UK itself as it will lose arguably more intelligent and dedicated professionals. Yet, considering the current situation one must understand their anger. Sitting far away in India, all we can hope is that normalcy is restored soon and the Government wakes up before it is too late.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Murdoch, Media and Manipulation

Ever since he took over as Prime Minister in May 2010 it has not been a very easy time for David Cameron. Firstly, his party was not able to secure an overall majority despite an unpopular Prime Minister, even more unpopular former Prime Minister and a war-ravaged nation. In the process the Conservatives had to form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats who were totally opposed to Tory policies before and even after the election. Since then the coalition faced numerous challenges be it the cuts, NHS reforms, the AV referendum and now the phone hacking scandal which has damaged the already low credibility of David Cameron and once again brought to the fore the delicate relationship between power brokers, the media and the political class.

For all those who thought India was the only place in the world where dealmakers and the media assumed extra-constitutional power then think again. It is the same in Britain where Rupert Murdoch and NewsCorp have had complete access to the corridors or power. It began from the time of Margaret Thatcher and continued till May 2010. No party of Prime Minister has been able to capture and subsequently remain in office without the backing of Murdoch. Infact, John Major’s surprise 1992 victory was attributed to the media houses under Murdoch, specially ‘the Sun’ tabloid. Murdoch mania spread even to opposition leaders. Both Tony Blair and David Cameron shamelessly courted Murdoch while in opposition and it paid for both in 1997 and 2010 respectively. Infact newspaper reports in UK through the year brought out repeated instances of Cameron’s willingness in the BSkyB deal and his private dinner with Rebekah Brooks while in office.

At the cost of sounding prescriptive and holier than thou, I will state that this nasty relationship between politicians and the media must end as soon as possible. It is very scary to think of our voicemails, text messages, phone, and health records being tapped and used by TRP hungry newspapers and TV channels so that they attain a large viewership. The problem in India is greater simply because we have far too many TV channels, especially in the vernacular languages and a large population that thrives of the production and spread of such news. India had its own share of troubles when the Nira Radia tapes broke out. The tapes, though different in nature form the News of the World tapes bring out a similar problem that’s plagues the two countries, even more in India. It showed how vested interests, corporate rivalries and political calculations affect ministry formation. In Britain, Cameron also appointed Coulson has his close aide despite his News of the World past and his close association with Murdoch. To make matters worse, the rot is so deep that it crosses all political lines- if Murdoch jumped to prominence due to Blair and received continued patronage under Cameron, it must also be noted that Nira Radia owed her spectacular rise due to her proximity with ministers in the NDA government which only continued during the UPA reign (one does not need RK Anand to state these facts). Fixers and power brokers can easily cross the thin line of party politics and thus influence policy irrespective of the party in power. All this is aided by a completely sold media that can go till any extent if TRP and revenue collections are at stake.

Here I do not wish to compare Murdoch with Radia (it would be a great disservice to Murdoch in doing so) and nor do I wish sound prescriptive, I only seek to bring out what the problem is and how deep and consensual it has become. In all fairness, Cameron’s response has been muted and mature to the scandal. In India, the Prime Minister and the Congress President too were muted in their response but it was far form mature. It is high time they wake up and reform the Information and Broadcasting Ministry so that it passively regulates news production rather than splurge crores of rupees to remind India when Rajiv or Indira Gandhi were born.

It is also important to understand that corruption, money laundering, wheeling dealing will not end merely with safeguards in place of a tough Lok Pal as Anna Hazare would like us to believe. Nor will fraudulent Yoga training camps help remove the ill of corruption. There is no fast food service as far as corruption reduction is concerned specially in a country like ours. The Americans also realized the problem and its magnitude very early thus they developed the unique institution of lobbying and lobbyists. Though a sugar coated name to denote wheeler dealers (is Sant Chatwal any different from an Amar Singh?) what it does is institutionalizes lobbying and favour seeking. This way a Senator or Congressman can be approach by lobbies but it is done more publically- I feel doing this in India would make our MPs cautious and more guarded before they sell their soles to corporates and the fear of any possible electoral swing against them will always be on their mind. This method is notable because it recognizes the problem and indirectly minimizes the damage it can do to a system. Paralelly, India and Indians at home and abroad need to move towards a direction where policy is dictated not by the bribe you pay or the phones that are moved during cabinet formation but on basis of merit and a larger good that could benefit the weaker and marginalized.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Year 2010 Gone By...

All that is political and shall be : Reflections of 2010.
By all standards, 2010 was a very active year as far as Indian politics was concerned. This came as unexpected, considering there was no major election for the larger part of the year and a recently concluded Lok Sabha election, whose coattails rolled into the Maharashtra and Haryana where the same parties retained power. In December 2009, Jharkhand went to the polls but there too, the verdict was hung and it was only after much political dealing that BJP was able to form a government with JMM. This was also in the backdrop of an impressive BJP performance in the Lok Sabha polls and it being the favourite to capture power in the state.
In general, the Opposition seemed absent, even demonstrating very high nuisance value, both inside and outside the legislature. Yet, as the year ended most of these assumptions have changed. Suddenly, the UPA coalition seems vulnerable and the Opposition seems to be making sense in their attack on the government. After all, is the cost of disrupting Parliament anywhere close to all the scams put together or even a quarter of it? Sadly, no. In November 2010, the Bihar election results came out which delivered a historic mandate to the NDA under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. Lalu Prasad Yadav was wiped out and worst affected was the Congress, which lost its deposit in as many as 220 out of the 243 despite hectic campaigning by the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. For the first time in ages, development seemed to have won over archaic forms of caste and communal arithmetic.
But, whether this means any tangible electoral success for the Opposition, on the Left and the Right is the major question that will be on the minds of the top political leadership across party lines. It is true that this has become the worst period for the UPA in its six years in power. Nothing seems to have gone right for the UPA and even governance has been relatively weaker and restrained if one considers the exclusive mandate it received in 2009. The absence of the Left and 206 seats for the Congress may have meant much more space for the Congress but this has not been the case as can be seen. Instead, it has fallen prey to different coalition pressures as Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and Karunanidhi continue to create havoc in the states and at the centre. The fact that each of these three allies has different interests from becoming CM to managing world cricket does not make things easier for the Congress. It is also for the first time in two decades corruption has come back to centre stage- be it Adarsh, CWG 2010, 2G or even the fact that a 38 year Jaganmohan Reddy can become one of the country’s highest advance tax payers, the Congress surely has lots to answer for.
Ironically, the Opposition can claim no better. Few can deny the messy situation in Karnataka where the Chief Minister refuses to leave office, protects elements who have continuously refused to play the game correctly and a governor who has taken over the Karnataka Congress. Few can deny the rampant corruption and strong arm tactics of the Reddy Brothers in the state. The vote of confidence brought haunted memories of Uttar Pradesh in 1997, where everything but a stable parliamentary democracy was at play. The 2G scam has also taken the sheen off the NDA’s campaign when it has emerged that it was during Pramod Mahajan’s tenure that this flawed policy was first executed. Moreover, its own track record in the telecom saga has little to boast and the favours for a particular telecom company are very well known. The Left, too has its own share of problems, most notable being the absence of a pragmatic political leadership, which it had when Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu were in active politics.
Therefore, the fundamental question is where does this chaos (equally affecting all fronts) take us politically? 2011 will witness state elections in four crucial states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam apart from Puducherry but none of which may drastically alter political relations across India if the results are on expected lines. The picture for the Congress too seems pleasant in Kerala and Assam and an alliance with Mamata Banerjee may prove successful at the hustings. In Tamil Nadu, even if the AIADMK is able to come to power, the Congress always has the option to take within the UPA fold leaving the DMK out in the cold. The good news may also continue in early 2012 when the first election is for the Bhrihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and Raj Thackeray may virtually hand the Corporation to the Democratic Front. Lok Sabha trends in Punjab and Uttarakhand also suggest a Congress comeback, making things very easy for the party till the UP elections in April 2012. This picture is hypothetical and may be wrong but it surely indicates a big gap between macro-level unpopularity and state level picture. It also gives the Congress a lot of time to recover lost credibility.
The current political scenario has made the NDA a virtual political untouchable. It is ironical that during the days when it was more open about Hindutva, it had many more allies. All those parties who refuse to share stage with NDA today were part of it in the 1990s and during Gujarat 2002- Mayawati even campaigned for Narendra Modi in 2002 and it took six more years for Naveen Patnaik to sever ties with the BJP. The recent NDA rally had only three parties sharing the dias with BJP leaders and if the NDA wishes to be a serious alternative to the UPA, it will need a makeover and a more open agenda with a credible leadership.
All these factors suddenly make the prospects of a Third Front government sky high. Today, the Third Front, if properly chanelized and led could be a very serious contender for power in 2014. It has many more parties that can join and leave it. What would be interesting to see is which of the two major parties will play ball with it- current scenario makes shows more chances it would be the BJP. This also means the real political arena is in states where BJP and Congress are not in direct contest. In 2004 and 2009, states where a direct BJP-Congress contest was seen favoured BJP in 2004 and was a close race in 2009. It is the other states, most of which have negligible BJP presence is where the politics is unfolding. It is no coincidence therefore, that Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal decided governments in 2004 and 2009 in favour of the UPA. Meanwhile, we must attempt to rebuild our moral universe, which has shrunk long long ago.
[This article was put on the CSDS-Lokniti January 2011 monthly Newsletter]

Saturday, September 11, 2010

125 Years of the Indian National Congress [as sent to the Doon School 'Circle' magazine]

In December this year, the Indian National Congress turns 125 and this surely is a landmark period to witness for any organization. It also comes at a time when the party is going through its ‘finest hour’ in decades. It has won two Lok Sabha elections with the first one completing five years and the second one poised to do the same and the party has crossed the 200 seat mark for the first time since 1991. It is also unique as it is for the first time since Jawaharlal Nehru that a single pair [in Panditjis case an individual] that has led the party to victory in two consecutive elections. In between, the Congress won 1980 and 1984 but the leaders were different. Similarly, the entire organization that won under Mrs. Gandhi in 1967 was totally different as compared to the party under her in 1971. Infact, the party also split during this period. Therefore, one must give Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh for achieving this feat. Of course, Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the NDA to power in 1998 and 1999 but the period is too short as compared to the five years here.
But, as the Congress turns 125, it must be asked whether it is a moment to celebrate or introspect as ask ourselves is this how we want the state of affairs to continue. Lok Sabha elections in 2004 were a defeat of the NDA more than the victory of the Congress. In terms of seats there was hardly a difference but it was the swing states of Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where the NDA lost over 85 seats. But, the General Elections of 2009 clearly show that the people of India prefer the Congress as their choice to govern them.
There are no doubt things that one has to admire in the Congress Party. It has, to be fair a history of service and struggle which many keep in mind before voting. In every household, there would be some person who would have voted for the Congress at some point of his or her life. Secondly, the Congress has a very well oiled and efficient machinery which is good considering it is not a cadre-based or ideological party. Thirdly, the Gandhi factor is enough to unite and steer the party to victory. Therefore, the Congress satraps in Haryana many not have delivered in the 2009 Vidhan Sabha elections fearing Hooda becoming CM but they worked as a team to give the party 9 out of 10 seats only months earlier in the General Elections. The Gandhi family and working for it united the party like nothing else. This is something the Left always lacked and the BJP does after a stalwart like Atal Bihari Vajpayee quit active politics.
But, to say that the Congress deserves to celebrate at 125 is incorrect and a mean joke on the people of this country. Governance in these six years has been mediocre at best. The UPA gave the NREGA but cannot ensure effective implementation. It passed the RTI but still scores of RTI whistle blowers are killed in all the parts of the country. It is always tokenism that has worked in the Congress Party. The Women Reservation Bill was passed with fanfare in one house but has been shrewdly been sidelined by the party fearing reverses. Therefore, on one hand it can take ‘credit’ for doing the same without really bothering about the issue. Also, the landmark people-friendly legislation which the Prime Minister and his boss take credit for were the brainchild of the Left and not the Congress party and this is evident in the difference between UPA-I and UPA-II, whose only concern seems to amend and pass the Nuclear Liability Bill because a few people in USA will stand to gain from it. The Kashmir issue has been completely misunderstood by the powers that be. Omar Abdullah has age but he has proved to be a disaster as Chief Minister. Makes one wonder if Rahul Gandhi will also display similar tendencies at the national level. The Government is scam ridden be it 2G or 3G or any other aspect of governance. As far as Naxalism is concerned, it is ‘fortunate’ to have a Maoist supporter and an ineffective Home Minister on board who can blame civil society groups but cannot tackle the problem. It would be interesting to have seen a Chidambaram but Shivraj Patils’s level of articulation; he would have been sent off in days considering less people died in Shivraj Patil’s tenure as Home Minster for four and a half years as compared to the current occupant, who has not even completed two years on the job. In terms of foreign police, there is none and India has given up the leader status among BRIC and other emerging economies to other countries such as Brazil and South Africa. The other shame is the Commonwealth Games which have enriched Suresh Kalmadi and ruined Delhi.
Despite all these and many more ills why do the people still like a party that has kept mediocrity as its USP in every aspect from governance to even appointing a President of India in 2007. It is because opposition is virtually absent today. The Left does not exist thanks to Prakash Karat and the Right has no issue or leader to market to the people. This leaves us with Mulayam, Lalu and Mayawati who despite being anti-Congress need to dance to the tunes of the Congress because their fate lies not in the hands of the people but the CBI. Today, issues like Ram Mandir [which was handled pathetically anyway] cannot bring a party to power. There were many mistakes the BJP made which are costing it dear today.
Times are also that of change within the Congress party. To put it dramatically, the Queen shall now abdicate and pass the crown to the Prince but what to do about the Prime Minister remains an issue. Rahul Gandhi [only part Dosco and Stephanian despite we wanting to believe otherwise] is now ‘reforming’ the organization but with mixed results. The recent DUSU results clearly show the failure of the same. Moreover, reforming the Youth Congress or the NSUI does not mean one can make a good Prime Minister. And if things do not work out, there is always a Manmohan Singh somewhere in the crowd who is waiting to be lead. The blatant ‘separation of powers’ and ‘dual system of administration’ are two legacies of the two UPA governments. Rather than lead people would prefer to install others and run the show from behind. Yet, it does not take credit from Dr. Manmohan Singh, who has submitted himself to the Congress President yet shown independence in the USA Nuclear Deal. After a troubled 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Congress seems to be here for long with its effective tokenism and populism. For a party which can be Left by day and Right by night without losing its Centrist and opportunist nature, these are great times. The only thing which naturally worries then is the future and it would be interesting to see how things shape up prior to 2014. Personally, there is only one leaders today who is giving the Congress sleepless nights and he is Narendra Modi and it would be great to see a good opposition that can take on the government and bring some relief to the ‘aam admi’.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Elections Down the Ages...

My first brush with Student level elections was at the Doon School where we would elect members to the House Council and School Council every year among Form mates. I had the chance to serve in the House Council for all the 5 years in Tata House though the election was always unanimous. In 2005, Dr. Kanti Bajpai began the tradition of electing School Captains every year. The authorities would declare two candidates after which the students would vote and elect the school captain. I donot remember if they had time to speak but campaigning was surely not allowed. I remember voting for Sahil Batta then. In 2006, when we entered SC form [Class XII] there was a three way election during which I voted for Amritesh Rai but it was Avyay Jhunjhunwala who won and was a fine leader. At St. Stephen's College the elections were different and were Presidential style elections. In my First Year, 2007-08 I voted for Boban Varghese Paul and he won handsomely. The next two years didnt give me the same result though Adnan Asmi was the best President in my three years at College; Naveen Venna the being the worst. Coming to Campus Law Centre, the politics took a different turn and after seeing the DUSU and CLC elections, it struck me how different the politics of Doon School, St. Stephen's College and Delhi University was. Each had their own merits and demerits.
To begin with, the Doon School was hardly 'political'; there was no organized politics and the School Captain elections were fought hard and at the end of the day taken well. All the three nominees of my batch have done very well for themselves inside and outside school. The best suited candidate may not always have won [Shikhar Singh lost in 2007] but the process was good and worth continuing.
St. Stephen's College was very different. Here, elections introduced me to the politics of regionalism and also introduced me to street-level politics. College has always been dominated by Malayali community without whom it was tough to win the elections. I saw this most in 2008 and 2009 because the First Year vote was a landslide. But, College elections were relatively clean and ideological at the end of the day. The 'Open Court' was a great feature of the College elections. More than politics, it was ideology and issues which were also considered. Ofcourse, I donot talk of the Malayalis, who have plenty of ideology but failed to look at issues in College because if they did the results of 2008 and 2009 would have been different. Nevertheless, the elections were always fun filled affairs and I enjoyed watching them closely.
Campus Law Centre was an eye opener in many ways. It was my first brush with DUSU politics as our College was not a part of DUSU. The politics here is regional too but the stakeholders are different. Delhi University has long become a bastion of Jats and Gujjars, who hold the key to power here. Surprisingly, it is much easier to work with them as compared to our Mallu friends. Yet, the politics here is also very rough and tumble. When the DUSU elections took place, the security level really surprised me. Law Faculty was converted into a virtual fortress and entry severely restricted. The place was full of posters and there were small clashes too. Unlike College, there was no manifesto published and a culture of debate is also absent. But, this tradition mirrors the Indian polity much better then any other. It is also said that Lyngdoh Committee has improved the state of University politics. Yet, lots needs to be done here too even though I enjoyed the elections here despite not being able to vote.
It is very important there is constant student participation on politics and University is the best place to do so. At the same time, regional politics needs to end as soon as possible for which all the mainstream parties must take initiative. It was also shocking to see few women voters coming out to vote and this needs urgent change. The NSUI tradition of reserving seats is a good idea to integrate and other parties must also follow suit. ABVP is a cadre based body which solely rewards hard work and this really impresses me. Asa for SFI and AISA, it is great they are miles away from DUSU...I cant imagine what will happen in a SFI-AISA controlled DUSU. But, this seems very unlikely as I await the election results 2010 which are expected later this morning...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Visit to Hyderabad+ 11/07/2010-13/07/2010

11th July is a day usually spent in Ahmedabad. It came during the spring break at Doon and four days before College opened while in St. Stephen's. It is also the birthday of my father. But, this time was different as I set off for Hyderabad that evening. The previous evening was spent aboard the Lok Shakti Express from Mumbai. I also got a glimpse of Bandra Terminus which is very different from Mumbai Central or CST. I set off for Hyderabad to see the Hester Biosciences deopt and explore a very interesting city.
I landed at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at around six in the evening. The airport is a wonderfully built building which is quick and contemporary. The baggage does not take time which is always the opposite while landing at Delhi. The Arrival Hall was good and transportation was never a problem from there. The airport is located at a distance from the city but is connected by the PV Narasimha Rao Expressway that connects Shamshabad to Hyderabad. It is good Andhra Pradesh still remembers the first Prime Minister hailing from south of the Vindhyas though he could be remembered more prominently considering the work he did for India.
The hotel I was staying in was on Raj Bhavan road very close to the Raj Bhavan, whose notable occupants include Krishan Kant and ND Tiwari. The evening was spent at Paradise for Biryani which was delicious. I also had a view of the Hussain Sagar Lake and the Secretariat in that area. The park opposite the Secretariat on the lake is T Anajaiah Park named after the former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister. It is also where a bomb blast had happened. The lake and its surroundings were beautiful and so are the roads and general infrastructure in Hyderabad. The city now has many good flyovers that has made life easy for the people.
The next morning before going to the depot, I was taken to the High Tech City that was the brainchild of Chandrababu Naidu who was CM from 1995-2004 and began the process of modernizing Hyderabad. Infact, both Presidents Clinton and Bush visited Hyderabad during their India visits in 2000 and 2006 respectively. The complex is sprawling and well built. We also passed Jubilee Hills and Banjara Hills where the elite of the city live including Sania Mirza, Azharuddin, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, Chiranjeevi and Naidu to name a few. The area also houses the TRS Headquarters.
I had the chance to visit the Salar Jung museum. It has some great exhibits and things to display but there is something wrong in general in India as far as museum tourism is concerned. We have a great culture and heritage but cannt present it properly which makes our museums boring as compared to those in the west. Hope this is changed in the future. Later on, I saw the Charminar and the Mecca Masjid, once again a site ravaged by terror. The old city is very different from the new one and has its own charm. The later part of the evening was spent at the Birla Temple, which is on a hill. The place is very peaceful and offers a great view of the city. These were the landmarks I saw while in Hyderabad. It is a city that showcases the emerging India and marks changes that we have seen since 1991. What I loved about the city was its charm and a perfect combination of simplicity and modernity.