Monday, December 30, 2013

If Rahul Gandhi persists with Style and Substance ....Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/December 29, 2013

If Rahul Gandhi Persists with Style and Substance, the Indira Era Could Well Return

With the precision of a royal chronograph, history has repeated itself. While one Gandhi has chosen to take a backseat, another has started moving into not just his mother’s shoes but her chair as well. In the 1960s, Indira replaced Jawaharlal Nehru. In the ’80s, Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi took over from their mother. Each created their own political culture and slogans. Now, instead of reinventing itself, the 128-year-old Congress is resuscitating its past philosophy to grasp a better future. Every decade or so, it has been acquiring a new leader and newer ideology. Today’s revisionist renaissance is taking place under the leadership of Gen-3 of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Last week, Rahul Gandhi chose to redefine the economic philosophy of the Congress-led governments at the Centre and states, instead of changing it. He also established control as well as the superiority of the party over government. It’s rare for a Gandhi scion to summon all Congress CMs, key Union ministers and important party functionaries to deliberate and debate government issues while the PM was conspicuous by absence. Even Congress president Sonia Gandhi kept away from the conclave held in the aftermath of the party’s humiliating defeat in the just concluded Assembly elections. During his six-hour interaction with over a dozen CMs and half a dozen ministers, Rahul left no one in doubt that he has taken full charge of the ship. If deliberations are any indication, the days of the market-friendly government are dead. The decade-old slant in favour of an elitist economic environment will soon be reversed. Rahul has finally chosen to revive his grandmother’s election-winning clarion call, ‘Garibi Hatao’, by directing state governments and the Centre to strengthen pro-poor schemes.

He is convinced that a large number of Congress CMs and Union ministers preen in sunny eulogies of corporate leaders and foreign think tanks and ignore the common man’s voice. Rahul seems to have been greatly influenced by the means and methods adopted by AAP in Delhi, which succeeded in pirating away the Congress base. Since his own political future is at stake, he has chosen to set his own terms and delineate his role. His critics succeeded in fostering an impression that Rahul has neither the acumen nor vision to provide an effective agenda for governance. His decade-long active political career had been termed a failure sans any impact on even his own party. He is blamed by many Congressmen for the party’s poll debacle in UP and Bihar. A powerful section of the party leadership has been quietly pushing Sonia to take more interest in the affairs of the party and government.
But Rahul proved the political Cassandras who had written him off after the Assembly polls wrong by engaging Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Defence Minister A K Antony, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Law Minister Kapil Sibal, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and Food Minister K V Thomas in making governance and its delivery systems more accountable and responsive. In the past 15 years, never has such a large group of heavy-hitters been summoned, even by the Congress president. Indeed, Sonia has been holding party coffee klatches where CMs and Union ministers were part of the long invite list. But at Rahul’s conclave, direct interaction between ministers and CMs on issues which could revive the party’s sinking fortunes took place. The agenda was clear. The directives even clearer. Many speakers tried to raise other diversionary issues but Rahul put his foot down and told them to stick to predetermined subjects. However, to dilute offence with a mild charm offensive, he also told them to meet him informally after the event.
For the past three years, most Congress leaders have behaved like klaxons, blaring that the UPA and party are pro-active in fighting corruption and taking action against culprits. But they never owned up to the fact that they were losing credibility with the masses. For the first time, the party admitted to itself that both inflation and corruption were hurting it badly. Last week’s session was meant to establish not only Rahul’s unquestioned leadership but also to prove that he is a leader with a clear vision and mission. For the past few months, he has been taking a stand on issues opposing the majority view in the Congress. He received a lot of flak for his contrarian remarks on the law on preventing criminals from contesting elections. But his will prevailed. More recently, the party and government took an exceptionally strong anti-US line over the inhuman treatment meted out to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade after Rahul made his views public. His contrarian stand on the Adarsh Society scam in Maharashtra is an attempt to outline himself as a rebel and a leader who wields the stick and the broom within his party. He ticked off Andhra Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy who opposed the division of the state—fall in line or fall from grace, he was told. More recently, Rahul set the tone of the future course of UPA politics when he met the press with two senior ministers by his side to seek all-party support for the Lokpal Bill.
He has told many CMs to junk tainted ministers and civil servants, and ensure that the revised Lokayukta Act is passed before February 28 in all the Congress-ruled states. It was part of his strategy to prepare the Congress to counter the Modi wave perceived to be hitting various parts of the country. While NaMo has chosen to pull Brand Atal out of the saffron cupboard to win the 2014 elections, Rahul has opted to adopt the iconic tried and tested Brand Indira to revive his dismally demoralised party. Advisers have told Rahul that the Congress has lost elections even when the country experienced a higher GDP growth. In fact, the market share of the Congress has dwindled directly in proportion to the rise in market capitalisation of India’s top 20 corporate entities. Rahul’s choice is to increase the vote share of his ancient, doddering party even if it means the fall of a few of India’s rich and mighty who have been behaving like fair weather birds of late. If the young Gandhi persists with style and substance, the country could soon see the return of the Indira era.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, December 23, 2013

Not just Namo or RaGa..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/December 22, 2013

Not Just NaMo or RaGa, 2014's Wrestling Bouts Will be Between Many PM Aspirants

The PM copyright has expired. Copycats rule. Narendra Modi is no longer the only declared Prime Ministerial candidate of a political party. The liege lords and ladies of the AIADMK, TMC, SP and Congress have begun confabulations with their paladins to declare themselves as contenders for India’s top job. Surprisingly, NaMo’s monopoly was effectively challenged by none other than one considered his natural ally in the run-up to the 2014 elections. Last week, the general council of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) unanimously passed a resolution that the party would like to see its supreme leader, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, become the Prime Minister. Their justification in staking the claim was purely regional. The party claimed that only a Tamilian could protect the interests of other Tamilians. Though Jaya has been speaking extensively on national issues and taking on the UPA government even on international subjects, it was for the first time that the AIADMK invoked local sentiments to project her as the most suitable candidate to lead the nation. If the BJP leaders are to be trusted, Jaya’s surprise gauntlet has shocked the party. Tamil Nadu sends 39 MPs to the Lok Sabha as against 26 from Gujarat. Like NaMo, Jaya is also known for her decisiveness, economic liberalism and running her state with an iron hand. She believes in free market economy and single window clearances for all projects. Her second term has been the most effective, and she has been delivering on many fronts. The similarity between 63-year-old NaMo and 65-year-old Jaya doesn’t end there. Both have successfully decimated their opponents in the state. The Southern Queen may not be crisscrossing the nation and addressing choreographed rallies like her Gujarat counterpart yet, but she has been making the right noises about federal character, UPA’s faulty economic policies while keeping away from controversial issues.
It wasn’t just Jaya’s candidature, which disturbed the high stakes game of selecting India’s next Prime Minister. L K Advani left tongues wagging with his unilateral declaration to contest Lok Sabha elections again from Gandhi Nagar in 2014; and no one has, till now, advised him not to enter the fray. Of late, Advani is seen more often in NaMo’s company, but his presence in the next Parliament  would mean new partnership options would open for current and future allies. In case the NDA falls short of the magic number of 200 seats, Advani would be the front runner for Prime Minister, not NaMo.
While the NDA is busy putting its house together, the Congress and non-NDA parties have also started thinking in terms of how to challenge Modi. The buzz in political circles is that those who expect to win 30-plus seats will be the ones to declare their national intentions. They have already announced their distaste to partner with either the Congress or BJP. This triumphant trio is Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Jayalalithaa. Each of them is capable of winning more than 30 seats on their own in their states. Jayalalithaa’s singularity is that she enjoys the Left’s support and maintains good relations with Sharad Pawar, Naveen Patnaik and Chandrababu Naidu. Opposition to her will come from North Indian leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar and even Mamata. Jayalalithaa enthusiasts expect that she would need to muster the support of over 80 MPs from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to be Prime Minister. Odisha, Maharashtra and the NDA may extend support to her. In another scenario, the Congress and Left may prop her up to keep the NDA out of power. The nation may see over half a dozen visibly declared candidates on the oratorical skyline by the time the dates for the General Elections are announced. Some of them will try social engineering by forging caste and religion. Others could seek an ideological mandate. Once again, the choice of India’s Prime Minister is no longer limited to candidates from the two national parties. In 1996, regional outfits favoured the regional satrap H D Deve Gowda because none of the national leaders such as V P Singh or Jyoti Basu were willing to accept the responsibility of being a precarious Prime Minister.
But the Congress hasn’t given up on its claim to govern India for the third consecutive term. Since it has announced the date of the AICC session in advance, speculation is rife about Rahul Gandhi being formally declared as the party’s challenger to NaMo. The 41-year-old inheritor has decided to take the plunge and lead the party from the front. He may not be formally declared the party’s prime ministerial candidate before the elections. But the Congress could also project a Dalit or a woman with clean record as the party’s face for 2014. Rahul’s only objective and mission is to block the BJP from becoming the largest single party and stop the relentless advance of the NaMo juggernaut in its tracks. The young Gandhi and his team are convinced that their party’s future lies not in the gains it makes in 2014 but in its ability to demolish NaMo’s larger-than-life hologram. Hence, they are thinking of even supporting a non-Gandhi Congressman as Prime Minister or perhaps adopt one from a non-BJP coalition. Taking a cue from its mauling in Delhi and elsewhere, the Congress plans to retain and woo the minorities which stood by it in the Delhi Assembly polls. 2014 is as much a make or break opportunity for RaGa as it is for NaMo. Do not expect a war of ideologies. Welcome to the desi political ring of Indian-style wrestling between home-grown opponents. The one with the most innovative manoeuvres will be the victor.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, December 16, 2013

Like Caesar, Be Aware and Beware of.... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/December 15, 2013

Like Caesar, Be Aware and Beware of Your New Friends More Than Sworn Foes

Dear Narendra bhai,
We go back 40 tumultuous years. In those eventful decades, the Sun Tzuian maxim that has often come to my mind is that you should keep your enemies closer to you than your friends, of which you have a few, but are outnumbered by the former. Ten years of ruling Gujarat with a clear vision and mission, you have acquired a large congeries of enemies but a larger number of new admirers and friends. Those who once led the hate campaign against you after the 2002 riots and refused to share stage with you are now jostling to climb the Jacob’s ladder of Modi-for-PM. From media to money lords, all are clamouring to give you credit for something which even you would hesitate to own up to. Last week, these fair weather friends were annunciating their new-found confidence in you. Soon after Assembly election results were announced, these self-anointed megaphones grabbed every opportunity to declare the results as an endorsement of your ability to lead the country.

By giving you credit for their record performances, your faux-friendly foes aim to isolate you among your peer group

As you are well aware, there has been hardly any talk regarding your stellar performance as Gujarat CM. Despite the obloquy the riots brought you, and your subsequent social and global isolation, you led the state from the front and restored peoples’ confidence and even that of the corporate sector with your administrative acumen. You won elections twice after 2003. Now, the moneyed class, which lost fortunes at the stock exchange through the UPA’s infirm governance, are looking at Brand Modi as the fastest way to recoup losses and not as the man who created the Modi Model of statecraft.
But 2013 is not 2003. Now you are BJP’s official candidate for PM. It is for the first time that a state leader has been able to successfully topple an established Central leadership on the basis of performance and credibility. This has caused massive heartburn to those aspiring to be PM, thanks to their close ties to elitist opinion-makers dominating the national discourse from their lofty citadels. They have never been comfortable with your uncompromising style or persona. Until now, the idea of Modi and Moditva has been anathema to them. For the past few years, most of them have been mocking both your politics of exclusivity and assertive model of functioning. They wouldn’t want a person like you who is not influenced or dictated by others at the helm of India which finds itself in the stormy seas of policy indecision and political upheaval. You believe in firm action and decisive speech. But the new class of sycophantic Machiavellis are making you suspect in the eyes of other successful BJP CMs like Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh who have also registered spectacular victories. Be forewarned that by giving you credit for their record performances, your faux-friendly foes aim to isolate you among your peer group. They have encircled you to push their own agendas. They are out to make you the envy of your compeers. In this burlesque of the absurd, they would even give you credit for excessive rainfall in parts of India. Their mindless monologues would hail you as the rescuer of the American and Indian economies as they did during a short 24-hour surge in the Indian stock market last Monday.
Instead of taking your Gujarat story to every nook and corner, these members of the Permanent Ruling Party of India are looking to manufacture inane instances of success to promote you. By diverting the debate of the BJP’s unprecedented electoral success and Congress’s complete rout to the power of your charisma, they have damaged you more than the Congress ever could. Your adversaries were quick to point out the BJP’s failure to secure an absolute majority in Delhi. The news channel, India News, ran graphics co-relating your visits to various parts of the capital with the verdicts in constituencies where your rallies were held. Of the 48 segments you had targeted, your party won only in 19. This dismal show had nothing to do with your abilities. The faction-ridden BJP wasn’t able to put up its best candidates and failed to exploit the 15 years of anti-incumbency sentiment in its favour. The young voters and even the BJP’s middle class followers were angry with the party and chose to elect Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party in its stead.
It would have been laughable if it wasn’t so despicable, the attempt of the pro-Modi opportunists to glorify your skills in reviving the speculator-driven stock markets. While newspapers were full of stories on the Modi effect on the Assembly results, business TV channels went into overdrive. Conveniently ignoring the impact of global economic recovery, they started the day by giving you credit for the 2 per cent recovery in Sensex. Representatives of FIIs and Dalal Street firms were singing in fortissimo to project you as the messiah of markets and not good governance. I’m sure you don’t sneeze when the markets catch a cold. Unlike many UPA ministers and even the PM who consider the stock market as one of the barometers of policy success, you tom-tom the economic recovery of your state as the symbol of your successful governance. But the market-makers were determined to make you the Sensei of Sensex. Both BSE and Nifty closed at 20,996 and 6259 on December 6, just two days before the votes were counted. Nikkei and Hang Seng closed at 15,665 and 24,038 the same day. When the markets opened on Monday, the day after the counting was over, the stocks showed a worldwide surge and not just in India. But for the first time Indian tycoons and opinion-makers abjured giving credit to global trends and invoked the Modi factor as the succour of stocks. On Friday, however, the markets closed lower than a week ago; the Sensex ended up at 20,715 and Nifty at 6,168. Does it mean that Brand Modi is just a bubble? You must see through the sinister designs of these temporary cheerleaders. Your work speaks for you. Your conduct is both your asset and liability. For the next few months while your detractors lie low, your promoters will create scary expectations from you. Like Caesar, beware of your friends more than your sworn foes.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, December 9, 2013

An India Divided into 50 states.... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/December 08, 2013

An India Divided Into 50 States on Economic Lines Will Ensure a True Shining Nation

Activists protest in Hyderabad demanding separate Telangana

Expediency is the mot juste for the Congress credo. The party founded by Alan Octavian Hume exactly 129 years ago swears by its imperial inheritance from the Union Jack—the British policy of divide and rule. For a party that advertises inclusive economics and politics, its policies and actions have always been aimed at polarising the nation along casteist, regional and religious lines. It chooses to divide when it fails to unite through pressure, persuasion and power. For example, after stonewalling the creation of a Telangana state for over five decades, it has suddenly discovered that dividing Andhra Pradesh is its only option to capture a small sliver of the stormy state. It is rare that a new state is created, not for economic and administrative reasons but purely to improve the political prospects of a party. The economic necessity of bifurcating Andhra is as much relevant today as it was 50 years ago. But a clique of the high and mighty had for long sabotaged the midwifing of a smaller state, because it would have adversely affected their financial and political clout.

Ever since former CM YSR Reddy died, the Congress and the ruling elite have been orphaned in Andhra. To the High Command’s delight, the mercurial CM’s argumentum ad baculum policy was successful in gagging even legitimate dissent while keeping the state politically united. After his death in a helicopter crash, the Andhra Congress became a divided house as its control over castes and regions crumbled with Jagan Mohan Reddy deserting the party and floating his own.
Since the return of the Congress to power for a third consecutive term in 2014 also depends on its performance in Andhra, which gave it 33 seats in 2009, the leadership has decided to surrender a large part of coastal Andhra to Jagan while trying to retain and win Telangana, which sends 17 MPs to the Lok Sabha. UPA was fast and furious in completing almost all the administrative and legislative formalities necessary for the creation of a new state; this, however, exposed the Congress’s political compulsions. Never before has the Central government initiated the process of dividing a state, ignoring strident opposition from a large section of the state. When the NDA divided Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, it carried the state leadership along and the process was seamless and politically perfect. In Andhra, the Congress, buckling under local pressures, vacillated and agonised for two years. It swerved haphazardly at opportunistic U-turns. In the end, it reckoned that it was better to salvage whatever little support was left. The UPA surgeons finished the amputation exercise in eight weeks. The Group of Ministers headed by Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, a former Andhra Pradesh governor, went through the motions of talking to all political parties. They even brought on board civil servants from over a dozen ministries from the state and the Centre. Finally, the Union government has endorsed a draft Bill to be passed during the Winter Session of Parliament. 
The falsetto for the creation of smaller states has reached a high pitch in other states. But a powerful confederacy of political, corporate and social interests has sabotaged the genuine need to divide India into many economically viable smaller states. While the Congress is in a tearing hurry to be Telangana’s political obstetrician, it has not spoken a word about similar pleas emanating from other states. It is almost three years since Mayawati, Uttar Pradesh’s CM at the time, wrote to the Centre to start the process of dividing her humongous state into four smaller ones. Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh has been fighting for a separate Harit Pradesh, though his demand is confined to occasional speeches and letters, with no serious agitation attempted so far. In West Bengal, people from hilly regions around Darjeeling have been struggling for Gorkhaland, but ironically both the Trinamool Congress and arch enemy CPI(M) have pooled their political resources together to fight the division of the state. In Maharashtra, none of the national parties are backing the strong demand for Vidharbha, which has stayed a backward region for decades.
The demand for new states is the outcome of poor governance and economic and social benightedness of those parts of big states which are resource-deprived. Both Vidarbha and Telangana are significantly poorer on all economic parameters than other parts of Maharashtra and Andhra. Since the established political leadership fears loss of power if their fiefdoms are divided, they conspire with opinion makers, corpulent corporates and even social organisations to oppose such moves. For example, the opposition to Telangana is coming from the section of India Inc based in Hyderabad, which holds over 70 per cent of the assets of a dozen powerful families. Their nominees control the political and bureaucratic machinery. The Mumbai elite would feel insecure if Vidarbha is created because they will not be able to influence decisions in that region of Maharashtra to protect their business and social stakes. In the case of Uttar Pradesh, the Yadavs are opposed to division because their caste control is much less in various parts of Western and Eastern UP. Even the upper caste-dominated BJP fears the contraction of its political base if UP is quartered into four. It is surprising that the UPA leadership, which follows market economics, is opposed to creating more states like the US has. The raison d’etre for the Congress aversion to appoint a States Reorganisation Commission is expediently political. It makes sense to divide India on developmental lines as it makes both good economics and better politics. Even if the Congress adheres to its well-tested philosophy of divide and rule, it should do so without discrimination. An India divided into 50 smaller states, based on economic reasons and not caste or language, will ensure the birth of a true Shining India of tomorrow.
(; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla)

Monday, December 2, 2013

State Polls Verdicts will make.... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/December 01, 2013

State Polls Verdicts Will Make and Mar the Destinies of National Leaders like Modi

The heads may belong to different Caesars, but the Congress and BJP are two sides of the same mintage. That is, at least, the perception if not the reality. The ascendants and descendants of the electoral zodiac have erased the amorphous line that divides both national parties. Personality cults and sycophancy have always constituted the Congress party’s political charter. Its generalissimos are unfailingly unapologetic about expressing their unflinching loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. They remain convinced that while the Family’s Charisma seizes the laurels, losses in the battle of the ballots are entirely caused by the infirmities of the local leadership. This contagion of belief has now affected the BJP. With votes yet to be counted in the five states, leaders of both parties have, in advance, started apportioning the credit and blame for expected losses and wins. Leaders chased by TV channels for sound bytes are obsessed with offering morsels of banal opinion even if they have to dine on their words later. Last week, journalists quizzed senior BJP leaders about the possible consequences of the electoral verdicts in the party. While asked about whom the credit to victory or shame in defeat in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh should go to, a saffron luminary was emphatic in his response—it would be a victory of both national and local sentiments. The second rung leadership echoed his views, making it obvious that a section of the central leadership is unwilling to give full credit to the BJP’s chief ministerial candidates like Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Disremembering that the party has been projecting Chouhan as a model chief minister along with Narendra Modi, its wannabe leaders are competing with each other to give credit to the efficacy of the Modi as the Ace of Trumps. Modi acolytes have taken over the reins of the party, and have ensured that he gets more exposure in poll-bound states than local leaders. In Delhi, all posters, hoardings and TV promos carry much bigger visuals of Modi compared to CM candidate Harsh Vardhan’s. In contrast, the Congress, for the first time, has refrained from projecting the Gandhis or the Prime Minister as the face of their election offensive.

A divided and ambitious BJP leadership is playing a Sun Tzu-ian game of posturing and positioning. Diehard Modi followers feel that thanks to his magic, the party would win all the four states where the Gujarat Chief Minister has addressed over 50 meetings. Though the party had given a list of over 30 star campaigners to the Election Commission for these states, Modi topped the charts, followed by Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani. In case the BJP storms home in all the four, the spoils of war would go to Modi and not the chief ministers. He would be declared the sole hero of the 2014 electoral semi-finals. Statistics would spell the numerical narrative on crowds drawn by Modi and his fiery speeches, as having generated a massive wave in the BJP’s favour to throw out incumbent Congress chief ministers. In case the BJP retains Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh while snatching Rajasthan away from its foe, the credit would go to Modi because it would be projected as a mandate for him for leading from the front. Internal opinion polls will be pulled out of the party’s escritoires to show that it was Modi who converted a lost cause in Chhattisgarh into an emphatic victory. If local party scuttlebutt is to be believed, the BJP plans to organise a special victory procession in Delhi, with Modi as the monarch. If the BJP is trounced in Delhi, however, the absence of a charismatic local leadership and a divided party leadership would be blamed. In case of a tie where the Congress and BJP win two states each, party logicians would dissemble that the absence of local organisational skills and the selection of unpopular candidates were the main reasons for defeat. Meanwhile, another section of the BJP feels that if the party fails to win Delhi and Chhattisgarh, Modi would be held responsible for the electoral Waterloo blaming his aggressive style and personality for polarising voters and scaring off fence-sitters. Since Modi is omnipresent on the battlefields of all the states, his acceptability and political allure are under greater scrutiny than that of his immediate rival, Rahul Gandhi.
The BJP has taken victory for granted while the Congress has confined itself to projecting the state elections as a mandate for the local leadership. Both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi have addressed less than half the number of Modi’s public rallies. They have realised that the Family may keep the party together, but is in no position to ensure victory, doomed by the pathetic performance of the UPA government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Congress High Command’s singular objective is to ensure that the Modi Mantra is extensively erased with the use of massive election funding and by bringing together all warring factions together. The Gandhis and their guild of loyalists feel that if the Congress wins two of the four states (excluding Mizoram), it would paralyse the Modi juggernaut and pave the way for UPA III. In the endgame, a score of 4-all would make Modi the invincible captain, but a 2-2 would be advantage Congress. Hence, as the die is perched at the edge of the precipice of prediction, the BJP has much more to lose than the Gandhis by making Modi its commander-in-chief. Elections verdicts will not decide the fate of local governments. But they will make and mar the destinies of national leaders like Modi.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla