Monday, May 30, 2016

Assessment that doesn't rely on ....... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ May 29, 2016


Assessment that doesn't rely on lutyens' and corporate cosy clubs but on performance


Bias is boss. The recent ratings of Modi’s ministers by various agencies show unanimity is subverted by subjectivity. Accessibility, visibility, connectivity and maneuverability of ministers dictate perception. As a result, those with access to huge funds, elevated social status and high visibility in appropriate forums, including the media, ranked high while ministers with less accessibility, media patronage, financial lebensraum to oblige favour-seekers and are targets of corporate ire tanked.

Frankly speaking, this rating too is affected by personal biases. But with a difference. It is based more on my reporting experience of over 35 years, and not by how many times I wined and dined with powerful but discreet ministers, tycoons and diplomats. It is based on speaking to bhakts, karyakartas and foes and friends of the ministers. Making an objective job card of all the 26 Cabinet ministers and 12 MoS holding independent charge is a tough call. I have restricted my assessment to the top ten, by using the cardinal principle of ‘Sirf Kaam Machaye Shor’ (only performance makes a noise).

1. Nitin Gadkari, 61, Minister for Road Transport and Highways, and Shipping
Spends more time on the road than at work. The minister who thinks most out of the box. A risk-taker who changes the rule if it obstructs his agenda. Has activated jammed highway projects, cleared new ones and upgraded existing ones— a spend of over Rs. 2 lakh crore till 2019. On an average, about 20 km of road being added to the network daily. Changed road taxation policy, toll collection laws, made waterways transport a viable business. Established better coordination with state governments.  (9/10)
2. Dharmendra Pradhan, 47, MoS (Independent Charge) for Petroleum and Natural Gas
Low profile. Spends more time researching his portfolio than making aluring promises. Implemented many of the PM’s social schemes by exploiting rock-bottom crude oil prices. Ensured gas conections for the maximum number of rural folk. Was able to implement the Give It Up campaign, thus saving over `12,000 crore in welfare. Over two million gave up subsidised connections. (8.5/10)
 3. Sushma Swaraj, 64, Minister for External Affairs
 Despite frail health, the most frequent flier in Modi’s cabinet, and not just to glamorous destinations.  With 5.1 million Twitter followers, one of the few mantris who remain cyber-connected with not just diplomats but also with ordinary Indians. Resolves issues instantly. Created a world record by safely getting back the most number of captives from countries in IS-occupied territories. Though it is the PM who calls the shots on global affairs, Swaraj is his most effective ambassador. (8/10)
4. Rajnath Singh, 65, Minister for Home Affairs
 This low-profile ministry lands in the news only when terror attacks or Naxal violence happens. Gets no credit since secretive tactics make victories classified. Using a comprehensive information network, has aborted many terror conspiracies hatched across the border. Infiltrators prevented from striking in India. Brought down Naxal attacks. Police reform process, stuck in budget constraints, restarted. Made Centre-state relations smooth. Most accessible minister to BJP workers. (7.5/10)
5. Smriti Irani, 40, Minister for Human Resource Development
Despite modest educational background, the youngest-ever HRD minister is the government’s most effective communicator, compared to most predecessors with degrees and pedigree. Purged the educational system and other government-sponsored think-tanks of Leftist elements. Stuck to agenda, unconcerned by attacks from elitist elements within the party and outside. Introduced sweeping reforms and finalised the New Education Policy, which will send Macaulayputras on the run. (7.10)

6. Prakash Javadekar, 65, Minister of State (IC) for Environment, Forest
   and Climate Change
 Transformed the political and bureaucratic ecosystem. Created a record by clearing over 2,000 languishing projects. By interacting with stakeholders, including the states, transformed an anti-growth ministry through a Jack the Beanstalk approach. Mojo: Grow with Green. Darling of both big biz and environmentalists. (6.5/10)


7. Piyush Goyal, 52, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal, 
    New and Renewable Energy
NDA’s Great Innovator. USP is a robust monitoring system. Revived most PSU power utilities. Mission: Green Energy. Distributed a record number of LED bulbs. Garnered maximum bids for coal mines, most of which are yet to start production. Power reforms sluggish with state companies chalking up huge losses. (6/10)
 

8. Suresh Prabhu, 62, Minister for Railways
 Has used every trick in the book to bring railways on track and convert it into a corporate-style public sector entity. Mantra: use technology over human resources to make the infamously accident-prone Indian Railways safe. His Swachh Rail emphasis on selected, high-traffic stations paying off. The ministry has given big orders for new rolling stock and other equipment to private entrepreneurs. No safe clean rail journey for rural travellers. Instead of finding new sources of revenue, resorted to raising passengers and freight fares. (5/10)
9. Arun Jaitley, 63, Minister for Finance, and Information & Broadcasting
Modi’s most well-connected, visible and ominously influential minister. The din he makes speaks louder than actual work done. Most successful in diverting attention from ministry’s failure. Status quo-ist. No fresh ideas to tackle the economy. Raised revenues by taxing the poor and middle class, while keeping the interests of rich and corporates intact. Achieved revenue generation boost from increased indirect taxation rather than inventive thinking. Deficit under control primarily due to plunge in crude oil prices and reduction of budget allocation for various social sectors.  (4/10)

                           10. Radha Mohan Singh, 66, Minister for Agriculture
 NDA’s worst performer. Despite India’s growth of over 7 per cent, agriculture growing at less than 1 per cent. No proper administrative and fiscal system for farmers. Over 35 per cent of the country is drought-stricken, but this farmer is wandering in the wilderness. No new reform introduced. No future road map. This list may be disagreeable to those for whom publicity, and not perception, decides the parameters of performance. But then, that’s what objectivity about subjects is all about. (3/10)

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Sunday, May 22, 2016

If the Gandhi brand has to regain sheen....Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ May 22, 2016

If the Gandhi brand has to regain sheen, two power centres must make way for one


Sonia and Rahul Gandhi



Dear Soniaji and Rahulji,

I can appreciate the pain and disappointment you are experiencing after the Congress party’s recent debacle in the state polls. In market-driven politics, the shelf-life of a leader as a brand is tenuously linked with the ability to attract eyeballs. Under your leadership, the Congress has lost two more states—Kerala and Assam. Its performance in Tamil Nadu is lamentable. Apart from Karnataka, it rules just six picayune states as against the BJP’s nine important ones. The Congress has barely managed to retain its old numbers in the West Bengal Assembly, doomed by an alliance with its ideological opponent, the CPI(M). The Left’s loss in West Bengal, however, was handsomely compensated by its gigantic gains in Kerala. Both were at the cost of the Congress. 

Most of your loyal leaders and workers, for whom the Congress is a meal ticket, doubt its ability to provide a secure political future. Some among them are alarmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission to achieve a Congress-mukt Bharat may become a reality sooner than later. The party has maintained its mirage of unity, without a whisper of disloyalty from important leaders or ordinary workers, who are yet to air their doubts about your ability to win elections. I’m sure millions of unsolicited advisories have landed on your desks. I’m equally sure that neither of you have given them a dekko, because only you can comprehend the reason your party was decimated. While you, Rahul, made a valiant attempt to turn voters around by touring poll-bound states extensively, your mother Sonia was conspicuous by her absence in many crucial areas. Soniaji, you must realise that the invisibility of the Gandhis during a campaign renders the rank and file sightless. Millions of Congress workers were missing you both, since there was no one else to energise voters who are disenchanted with the current cult and culture of the party. 

I’ve been covering elections for over three decades. For the first time, I discovered that Congress candidates were not invoking Brand Gandhi to tilt the electoral battle in their favour. In the past, they chanted slogans eulogising Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Today it is you they would hail. In the last polls,  however, the usually unflinching blind faith in the Gandhis was missing. Candidates looked for leaders and slogans according to their discretion. I could spot the dilemma churning their minds. The cadre and leaders were split through the middle. They were unsure about who among either of you should be chosen as the party’s current and future face to lead it and rule the country. 

Soniaji, you have been at the helm of the Congress for 18 years. It’s a record. Rahul, you have been in active politics for over a decade and have held important party positions for over five years. But total confusion prevails in the workers’ mind about the role you play in the party. There is no division of power or responsibilities. The Congress is visibly divided between the Sonia Congress and Rahul Congress.  For the past few years, party leaders all over India have not been able to discern which one of you calls the shots. Even chief ministerial candidates, senior leaders, chief ministers and important office-bearers of the party are frustrated over the absence of a clear policy-making structure in the party. Most committed workers believe that more than the party’s infirm image, it is the existence of two power centres that is causing the Congress, which had ruled India for five decades, to lose its way. 

Whenever a new satrap took over the Congress, they gave it a novel look and vision. Indiraji created a new Congress by purging the Syndicate. Sanjay introduced aggression with a Right-of-Centre ideological shift. Rajiv brought in young blood and modern minds. P V Narasimha Rao tried to dismantle what he thought was the Rajiv Congress, but lost the plot. Sitaram Kesri was the only aberration in Congress history. In you, Soniaji, the Congress found a leader rooted in the Gandhi Parivar culture. You, however, refrained from any significant surgery though the body was ailing. You carried the old guard along and ensured that the party came to power in 2004 and 2009 by forging alliances even with those who had made personal attacks on you. You re-invented the Congress as India’s ruling party. But during the party’s decade in power, its credibility decayed as numerous scams erupted at regular intervals. The Opposition held you responsible. Some leaders charged you both of encouraging corruption or being personally involved in some of the scandals. The jury is still out since no evidence has surfaced against any either of you yet.

Predictably, perception is precious in political power play. It is not for the first time that your party has suffered electoral reverses. From 1977 onwards, its fortunes have passed through hills and valleys. The Congress had always bounced back because a leader with national appeal held the rudder. The party is still a national brand. Even during the 2016 elections, its vote share rose compared to its performance in the 2014 general elections. But its USP, the Gandhis, got a battering. The password to victory used to be ‘Gandhi’. Now it is seen as a firewall. 

When Modi talks about a Congress-free India, he actually means India sans Gandhis in politics. He and his party have projected you as the symbols of all that was wrong in the UPA government. Today, both of you have to decide not just your own political futures, but also that of your party. India needs a strong and constructive Opposition led by credible leaders. One of you has to opt for VRS, so that there is only one Gandhi in charge. In new age politics, individuals personify ideology. The idea of the Congress is immortal. But if the Sangh Parivar acquires the domains of the pre-Independence Congress, the fault lies with the Gandhi Parivar. It is between you two to decide which Gandhi has the chutzpah to revive the sinking and shrinking Congress.    

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 16, 2016

Executive's assault on Judiciary .... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard / May 15, 2016

Executive's assault on judiciary will only kill the essential spirit of the constitution



It is the destiny of men to pass into the great beyond one day. But the institutions created by mankind are meant to survive to promote and protect the system. Though their arbitrary misuse of power causes critical confrontations. The Indian Constitution—the world’s longest—strongly emphasises the division of power between the executive, judiciary and legislature. The wise men and women who wrote it anticipated a conflict between politicians and judges. They, however, hardly foresaw the depth of animosity that could rise between the two pillars of democracy.

The oppugnancy between the executive and judiciary is not new. But today, it has escalated into a turf war rather than a civilised disagreement in the spirit of the Constitution. Rattled by the rising number of judicial verdicts against various actions of the executive and legislature, politicians across the spectrum have unsheathed their swords against the judiciary. Legislatures, including Parliament, have been turned into platforms to launch diatribes against the judiciary.

During the last session of Parliament, the judiciary was targeted sans serious provocation. None other than Finance Minister Arun Jaitley led the attack. The House was discussing financial issues, but he chose the occasion to hit out at the judiciary, accusing it of destroying “step by step, brick by brick, the edifice of India’s legislature”.

Jaitley was echoing the views of not only PM Narendra Modi, but also of former PMs like Manmohan Singh, as well as a number of powerful leaders across parties. Last year, Modi lamented the rising tendency of judicial activism. Addressing a conference of Chief Justices and CMs, he had said, “It is never too difficult to deliver justice within the boundaries of the law and Constitution. But it is very difficult to find the truth between perception and reality. It must be pondered over whether five-star activists are driving the judiciary today… if havoc is created to drive the judiciary. It has become difficult to deliver justice in an atmosphere of perception”. He also criticised the long vacations enjoyed by high court and Supreme Court judges, especially the month-long summer break in the apex court. His predecessor had expressed his annoyance with the judiciary by warning, “The judicial family must consider the ills that face the judicial system with concern and find quick solutions for it. Any further delay in finding such solutions will only jeopardise the integrity and efficacy of judicial institutions”.

India is not alone where the political leadership is concerned about what it perceives as judicial encroachment. In the 1800s, America’s Founding Father and president, who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson had noted, “Judicial activism makes a thing of wax in the hands of judiciary which it can give the shape as it wishes.”Apart from politicos, the judiciary is also under attack from agenda-driven civil society. There are numerous examples of activists attacking judicial pronouncements, which went against their ideological convictions.

If political leaders have been acerbic in their criticism, judges have not kept schtum either. In April, Chief Justice T S Thakur, while sharing a platform with the PM, made it clear that his fraternity cannot be blamed for the executive’s mistakes. Speaking in a voice trembling with emotion, he clarified, “It is not only in the name of a litigant or people languishing in jails but also in the name of development of the country, that I beseech you to rise to the occasion and realise that it is not enough to criticise. You cannot shift the entire burden on the judiciary.” He responded on judicial vacations by saying, “Do you think we go to Manali or some other hill stations to enjoy ourselves? If he (the PM) thinks we have long vacations, he is entitled to hold on to his views. But only a judge, his wife and children can tell you how much judges enjoy in the vacations.”

Behind the verbal duel between the judiciary and executive lies the reality of various arms of the latter abandoning their basic duty of providing responsive and clean governance. During the past two decades, the courts have rapped the executive’s knuckles on various issues by:

• Quashing the National Judicial Accountability Act, which would have given decisive role to executive in the selection of judges
• Striking down caste and religious reservations by various states
• Barring politicians from contesting polls after conviction and vacating seats
• Taking serious view of scams and ordering court-monitored probe
• Preventing state governments from playing with environment
• Striking down imposition of Article 356 in Uttarakhand
• Giving freedom to investigative agencies to probe politicians and civil servants without seeking approval of any authority
• Cleansing the corruption-ridden BCCI, which is largely dominated by political leaders.
It is not the judiciary, which is becoming more involved in the administration of the state, but the rising number of citizens who are approaching various courts for the redressal of their grievances after they failed to get justice from government departments. The state is the largest litigant in India. According to legal luminaries, the judiciary has stepped in whenever the executive has failed. But politicians assert that unelected persons cannot be given the power to reverse decisions taken by an elected government in the public interest.

A prominent jurist fired a robust rebuttal, maintaining that the Constitution was written on behalf of the people while it is only one-third of the voters, which elect a government. Fortunately, the judiciary enjoys far more credibility than the executive. Any attempt to damage its reputation through insulations and legislations will only kill the essential spirit of the Constitution. At a time when the nation is witnessing the growth of confrontationist politics, any attempt to weaken the judiciary will strike at the roots of Indian democracy and its Constitution.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 9, 2016

As Messenger Becomes the Message ...... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ May 08, 2016

As Messenger Becomes the Message, Media Must Scrutinise Itself to Retain Reliability





The media is under threat from within. It is no longer seen as a credible medium. Its messages are massacred mercilessly. Never before has its credibility and dependability been under so much scrutiny. Profanities like crooks, paid media, sponsored news brokers, and ‘bhakts’ are heaped on journalists. As competitive and confrontationist politics, coupled with valuation and TRP-driven media organisations, dictates political engagement, the entire tribe has been tarred unilaterally with the black brush of scepticism. Numerous news outfits and prominent journalists are being exposed for their coloured ideological views instead of being lauded for earth-shattering news breaks. They are known for what they speak and not by what they write. Agenda-driven opinion and biased news peddled by some of us as ‘exclusive’ or explosive stories drive the print and electronic media. This has provided political parties and their promoters tactical tools to destroy the fourth pillar of democracy. Are newspersons the most preferred targets because they are asking too many inconvenient questions? Or because some of us do not mind our own business and meddle in someone else’s?

For the past few months, it is not political leaders but the media, which has been targeted by the social media and rampant rumour-mongers to tar and test the image of the journalists as a genre. Last week, over half a million references were made on myriad Internet platforms to unnamed scribes, who are suspected to be involved in defence deals in the past few years. According to media reports, one of the journalists was called for interrogation by investigative agencies. Another is under their scanner for receiving prodigious payoff from defence dealers. The agencies are yet to come to any conclusion. By not naming and shaming the journalists, the ruling establishment and power-seekers are shifting the blame from the real culprits to the fringe players. Journalists involved in shady criminal deals should be treated at par with other suspects. By revealing their names in public interest, the profession’s credibility as a whole will be rescued from ignominious insinuations. Jurists and legal luminaries are convinced that by going public with the names of those summoned for questioning on their role in the AgustaWestland and Rafale deals would only strengthen the case of the agencies and save various institutions from becoming victims of a sinister scheme.

Defence procurements are a major source of tainted money worldwide. Many global leaders have been named in scandals involving defence deals. It’s been proved that loot stashed in tax havens was from purchasing hardly required defence equipment. Over the past four decades, a multitude of dirty deals on Bofors guns, Scorpene submarines and fighter aircraft have been exposed. Since the Congress ruled India for over five decades, most such deals were signed on its watch; hence its leaders and followers have always been perceived as the suspects or beneficiaries. As India spends over $12 billion annually on importing defence hardware and software, this provides enough scope for middlemen, senior officials and their political masters to tailor specifications according to the highest bidder’s wishes. As the market for weapons, including fabulous flying machines, grows, multinationals hustling them use sophisticated skills to influence the decision-making process in the government. Some in the media and defence analysts and security experts have become the most sought-after influence peddlers. These corporations fund a multitude of well-funded think-tanks in the US, Europe and the UK to enrol prominent journalists, opinion writers and retired defence officials as faculty members or visitors. Many of these think-tanks have opened shop in India to camouflage their real mission. According to reliable sources, the government has already started the scrutiny of Indian frequent flyers, who spread their carbon footprint to participate in seminars dealing with defence and strategic issues. The inquiry is also aimed at unearthing the financial supporters of the think-tanks to discover if the defence industry is supporting any of the big fish. Some Indian civil servants, journalists and opinion-makers have been part of these institutions for short or long durations. 

Undoubtedly, there are some bad apples in the media basket. But that doesn’t give the enemies of freedom of expression the right to kill the medium through the massive and ominous use of state machinery, corporate muscle power and a malicious whisper campaign through the social media. With the rise of trolls as the most effective agents to counter propaganda-driven dissemination of views and news, the mainstream media is under pressure to mend the way it reports news. Some of us have gone cyber-active not to give news but unpalatable views against the established political and corporate order. Once journalism was an institution, which encouraged hard news rather than advertising the faces behind it. Young journalists were told to report facts and carry both sides of a story. Now many credible civil society leaders feel that numerous journalists draw conclusions first and use convenient facts to bolster their predetermined views. Many journalists express their opinions on the social media in a way that exposes their ideological or personal predilections. Some names are associated with a leader or a party. As journalists and media owners claim to be serving the  public cause, they are entitled to all the facilities and courtesies available to other institutions performing similar responsibilities. But if the media has to retain its reliability, it has to subject itself to robust scrutiny. All mediapersons should follow the same rules and regulations, which elected representatives do. The declaration of assets, contacts, corporate and political affiliations and sources of income by leading journos and editors would definitely help in restoring the people’s faith in the profession. So far, the media had the monopoly of seeking accountability in others. Times have changed. Now readers and viewers—the real patrons of the media—are asking it to be accountable or perish.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 2, 2016

UP in Arms to Dig Ugly Past of Enemies ...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard / May 01, 2016

Up in Arms to Dig Ugly Past of Enemies will Endow no Party with Brighter Future



Poison kills poison, as Duryodhan discovered to his chagrin. When used in ignorance, it kills both the dispenser and the dispensee. Parties assume that poisonous attacks are the only method to flummox foes. Today, past acts of omission and commission have become lethal weapons to neutralise opponents. For the last two years, no party has refrained from digging up the past of adversaries and flung the unsavoury parts into the political abattoir. Promises made during the elections, in 24 months, are not even a remembrance of things past. None of them have taken out peace marches, candlelight processions or walkathons to the Human Rights Commission office to protest the fact that 300-odd drought-struck districts are being denied even basic facilities like drinking water. Instead, defence acquisitions meant to protect the country have become public pantomimes of poisonous projectiles.

Undoubtedly corruption, bribery and nepotism are major threats to the survival of democracy and good governance. But they need to be tackled by investigative agencies. Let the law take its course. But, like the rapacious Indian rivers in flood, Indian laws, too, have deviated from their original course, thanks to the massive encroachment and erosion on the polity by politically pushed probes. None of the well-connected bribe givers or takers in the Bofors scandal have been brought to book, even after 30 years. Shouldn’t Indian leaders be worried about the saboteurs within who derail the legal process? Isn’t the fact that those named in the AgustaWestland scam continue to perambulate through Lutyens’ Delhi’s charmed circles a cause of worry? This shows that the caucus of corporate cartels, middlemen, political leaders and civil servants who paint files and proposals in the colours of the cocktails and cuisine served at coterie dinners is alive and well.

It is a deserving topic for a doctoral thesis as to why not a soul has been convicted for over a dozen major corruption scandals in the past 40 years—the Bofors affair, the Scorpene deal, the Airbus payoff, the Barak Missile scam, stock market manipulations etc. If scandal-ridden Italy, where probity in public life is under a shadow, can conclude the `3,546-crore helicopter scam trial and jail important officials, including the chairman of tech-giant Finmeccanica, how come all key players in the scam, whose names have popped up in India, are roaming around freely in the corridors of power and are VIP guests at political and corporate weddings? An FIR was registered in 2013 and only a Delhi-based lawyer was arrested. The grilling of star suspects was a farce. They were invited for a ceremonial trip to the offices of the investigative agencies. Letter rogatories were dispatched to a couple of countries, routinely seeking details of the transactions. It is only after the Italian trial was finished and its contents made their way into the Indian media and Parliament that the agencies decided to summon the suspects or witnesses.

It is evident that all such scandals remain unresolved, only to be later used by parties to their advantage during and after elections. Undoubtedly, the chopper scam is one of the dirtiest defence deals in recent times. The UPA government signed it under pressure from lobbyists. It was cancelled after the media exposed the role of powerful middlemen. The Italian court has concluded beyond doubt that dirty dealings dominated the sign off. But in India, the issue has turned into a fight between the ruling BJP and the Congress. The government is copiously quoting from the verdict to expose the role of Congress leaders in helping middlemen make money. The party is hitting back for the delay in nabbing the real perpetrators. Ironically, the papers were signed during the UPA regime, though the process to acquire the helicopters began after NDA came to power. In the absence of any visible and credible action against the Indian suspects, the Congress has decided to brazen it out. It has adopted a similar approach, as the Bofors strategy. Since NDA I failed to prosecute any of the suspects during its six-year rule, the Congress has given itself a clean chit. It has challenged the BJP to prove any of the allegations against it or its leaders. Mysteriously, some of the accused were acquitted because investigative agencies failed to produce any original document in court. Curiously, successive Central governments led by either party never approached the Supreme Court to appeal against the lower court orders. Even in L’affaire AgustaWestland, the Congress is trying to turn the tables on its foe. It asked the NDA to explain the reason for the defence ministry’s U-turn over banning Finmeccanica in August 2014, and then diluting the decision a few weeks later.

The moral of the current political slugfest is that parties are still in an election mode. Both the text and subtext of the debate are written using negative adjectives. By spotlighting the past sins of the Congress, the ruling dispensation is giving a fresh lease of life to the demoralised and decimated party. Voters had peremptorily shrunk its tally in the Lok Sabha to just 44—the lowest since Independence. The BJP must keep in mind that double jeopardy prevents anyone from being punished twice for the same crime. Indira Gandhi was ejected by voters for imposing the Emergency. But she was back in 30 months because the ruling Janata Party was obsessed with sending her to prison instead of providing a better government. But the Modi government is not Morarji Desai’s. It has provided a corruption-free system. It has ensured economic stability and decisive leadership. Despite a few flip-flops on Pakistan, India is considered a prominent player in international diplomacy. It has become a superbly attractive and glamorous destination for foreign investors. Instead of projecting its achievements to put opponents on the back foot, NDA strategists have chosen the path of aggressive confrontation. They are convinced that revealing the ugly past of its enemies will endow it with a brighter future. But it shouldn’t forget that the mandate the people gave it, is not to harp on murky antecedents but to cleanse politics and provide a clean and productive present and future.

The moral of the current political slugfest is that parties are still in election mode. By spotlighting past sins of the Congress, ruling BJP is undermining its own achievements and giving a fresh lease of life to the decimated party

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 25, 2016

Nitish's ATOM Politics .... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ April 24, 2016

Nitish's ATOM Politics May Well Set Contours of Confrontation for the Next Election

PM Narendra Modi (left) with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar


The road to good intentions is paved with hellfire. Any foolproof planning in Indian politics missing a clear roadmap promises more chances of failure than fortune. Slogans can ignite riots but cannot deliver victory in war. Without even waiting for the outcome of the recent Assembly polls, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has announced his vision and mission with sass and sauce. PM Narendra Modi wants a Congress Mukt (Congress-free) India, but Nitish has blown the bugle for all non-BJP parties to gather under his banner to establish a Sangh Mukt Bharat (RSS-free Bharat) to save the democracy.

Nitish began his first stint as the JD(U) chief with the ideological intention to polarise the two national parties along political groupings. His clarion cry appears to have united all non-BJP parties to oust Modi in 2019. But both his admirers and detractors are baffled about this hurry in going public. Is he convinced that Modi is losing charisma and acceptability faster than anyone expected? But Nitish’s moves clearly reveal that he has declared war on the Saffron Parivar. He has projected himself as the only credible alternative to Modi. His promoters are convinced that he is as clean as the PM. They feel his Vikas Purush tag is equally convincing if not more than Modi’s.

Since Nitish has the advantage of rallying the minorities behind him and attracting a load of liberal and secular middle class votes, they have decided to demolish the PM’s core credentials. He had venomously said, “Management is more important than event management.” It is evident that Nitish has drawn up his field guide well and formulated a strategy for a long-drawn-out battle. He had made an attempt to forge a Bihar-type Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) in Assam, but failed after the Congress refused to surrender its space.

The timing and tone, however, of the Bihar CM’s declaration are interesting. He, along with RJD chief Lalu Prasad, sprang a surprise by stopping the Modi juggernaut in the state by scoring a decisive victory over the BJP in 2015. While the BJP’s defeat raised questions over its invincibility and Modi’s popularity, it also emboldened Nitish to extend the Bihar experiment to other parts of the country. He is aware of the ground reality that almost all the non-BJP parties, including the Left, are feeling insecure under Modi’s dispensation. The Congress dreads the lethal use of government apparatus to not only topple its governments in smaller states, but also to dig up dirty pasts of many of its senior leaders and former and current CMs. To add fuel to the fire, the Modi government is moving at bullet train speed to dismantle all the institutions controlled by the Left and anti-RSS elements.

In reality, Modi’s direct confrontation with non-BJP parties, including some of its regional allies, is creating a favourable environment for the creation of a political alternative. Historically, credible substitutes have emerged against powerful personalities and their actions, which their opponents projected as a threat to democracy. Nitish’s plan is to portray Modi as an intolerant and arrogant leader, who along with the RSS, his ideological mentor, poses a serious threat to the nation’s unity and secular character. In 1977, Jaiprakash Narayan brought all non-Congress parties together to oust Indira Gandhi after she imposed the Emergency and suspended fundamentals rights.

Parties, from the north to the south, sacrificed their partisan interests with the singular aim of defeating the Congress and demolishing Indira’s leviathan leadership. The experiment lasted for less than 30 months, as the elements, which came together to challenge her, started to squabble. The first ever anti-Congress initiative died an untimely death with Indira’s triumphant return to power in 1980.

For the next nine years, the Congress once again acquired total control over national politics. It won most of the state polls in 1980 and later harvested a record number of over 400 seats in the Lok Sabha after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Rajiv Gandhi was seen as an agent of change for a better India. But his charm faded even earlier than his promoters expected. Once again, corruption emerged as the ubiquitous glue to bring all the non-Congress parties, from the CPI(M) to the BJP, occupy a single platform to remove Rajiv and his coterie. There was a difference though. Unlike 1977 when the Janata Party plunged into the electoral battle without a PM candidate, the Opposition fought the 1989 election under the leadership of Congress rebel V P Singh who enjoyed a reputation for impeccable integrity. Their motto: defeat Rajiv, who was leading a corrupt government.

For the next decade, Central governments were formed on the basis of opportunistic alliances in which individuals, not ideology, played a decisive role. But Modi changed the rules of the political battle. Soon after winning the Gujarat elections in 2012, he planned his move in advance to take over 7 Race Course. He tried to bring smaller parties together, with the weak Manmohan Singh—who was protecting and leading a corrupt government—as his target. It was for the first time that a Lok Sabha election was turned into a Presidential election by another name, in which Team Modi converted the war into a struggle between the indomitable, clean development man Modi versus Manmohan. Modi won without even a symbolic fight.
Today Nitish wants to convert the next Lok Sabha election into a conflict between two individuals backed by distinctive ideologies. He tried to lead the anti-BJP coalition when he left the NDA in 2013. It failed to take off. Even now, his resolve to forge an ATOM (alternative to Modi) has run into hurdles posed by leaders like Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav, a section of the Congress and other regional leaders. At the moment, Nitish enjoys the full backing of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. But they can also put spanners in his works in progress, and both are unacceptable to the Congress. Moreover, the Congress wouldn’t like anyone to give the impression that it has accepted Nitish over Rahul to lead the anti-Modi campaign. Rahul has the advantage over Nitish since his party and family are still a draw across the country. Nitish, however, has defined the contours of confrontation for the next election. The Opposition not only wishes Modi would lose his sheen, but also expects 900 million voters to give a chance to another individual, ignoring the absence of an ideological identity. For now, however, it is an uneven battle between the omnipresent Modi, the vaguely visible Nitish and the occasionally visible Rahul Gandhi.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla