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...