Monday, October 28, 2013

In I vs I battle, it won't be ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/ October 27, 2013

In I vs I battle, it won't be easy for RaGa, NaMo to convince India of their worth

Indian politics is no more an Armageddon of ideologies. Electoral verdicts no longer define political ensigns of those who follow the bugle of the ballot. As ideological divides get blurred, elections are fought around personalities and not performance. The current clash of the Titans—Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi—defines the evaporation of a structured model or mantra for governance. The national discourse revolves around faults and faculties of RaGa and NaMo. Even the age difference between the two doesn’t deter critics and admirers from shifting the debate beyond the known and unknown skills of both leaders. Modi is 64 and Rahul 43.

If their demagoguery during the past two weeks is any indication, the election is being turned into I vs I. Their campaign tells a tale of new politics. Both talk more about themselves and less about what they represent. Rahul has convinced himself that invoking the Gandhi name, family culture and their sacrifices will sway the national Weltanschauung. When he talks about the assassinations of his grandmother and father, he is drilling the point that it is his family alone which can keep the country united and that he is not afraid to meet his Hamletian fate to save India. His speech writers are following the golden principle that an oration delivered with a correct mix of emotional charge and personal anecdotes is capable of carrying the target audience than words full of lofty ideas and dreams. Rahul’s clear strategy is to make himself, and not the Congress, his opponent’s target. He seems to have picked a leaf out of his grandmother and mother’s political strategy. Both Indira and Sonia have been primary targets of vicious personal campaigns. Indira was called a goongi gudia (dumb doll). Sonia’s Italian connection and her association with an Italian businessman has been the subject of barbs. But both staged comebacks. Indira recaptured the throne in 1980 with two-thirds majority, barely 30 months after she lost it in the spindrift of Emergency. In 2004, Sonia’s silent campaign led to the ouster of the government led by Atal Bihari
Vajpayee. Within two decades, she nearly doubled her party’s strength in Lok Sabha from 112 to 206. The Gandhi Parivar feels that the last two victories were appropriate rebuffs to those who indulged in personal attacks. Rahul is just experimenting with history. He is undeterred by the ridicule he invited for some of his recent politically incorrect utterances, including the one on Muzzarffarnagar riots.
Not to be left behind, NaMo has made his indigent origins his selling point. He doesn’t miss any chance to tell audiences that he used to sell tea and couldn’t attend a good school. He wants people to elect him the guardian of India’s treasury to prevent corruption. Without naming Rahul, Modi paints him as a leader born with the proverbial silver spoon. He calls Rahul “Yuvraj” and now “Shehzada”, who is thriving because he was born into the right family but failed to acquire any skills for dealing with ordinary Indians. Modi’s electoral aria is based on his own brand of politics and the Modi Mantra, which revolves around his style. Through gestures and choice of idioms, NaMo paints himself a victim of a campaign of hatred launched by a cabal of elitist social activists and NGOs. His promoters make the point that despite maintaining communal harmony and a spectacular performance in Gujarat, NaMo is being branded the Great Divider because he is a threat to votebank politics. Modi considers himself an outsider and a serious challenger to the class-oriented establishment. These sustained and dangerous personal attacks on NaMo have only made him one of the most popular political brands. He has converted Poll-2014 into a battle between pedigree vs performance; rich vs poor.
But there appears some method behind this personality-driven madness. RaGa’s political genealogy reminds one of Indira’s hyperbolic speechcraft on Garibi Hatao and whatever went in the name of a welfare state. Economics was hardly the central theme of her politics. Sonia adopted the Indira Doctrine, ignoring economic transformation brought by her late husband Rajiv. RaGa represents the aggressive and confrontationist politics of his grandmother and the socialist inclinations of his mother. For him, using state funds to provide freebies makes better politics than creating a favourable climate for markets and foreign investments. Rajiv ignored his mother and grandfather by dumping the mixed economy model by following P V Narasimha Rao who disowned Nehruvian Mantra. History has come full circle with RaGa pleading for a dominant role for the state. Unlike his father for whom good economics made better politics, RaGa is reinventing the grammar of good politics, which would lead to better economics.
Modi flies the banderole of good economics. The villain of 2002 is the new hero of 2013 because he is talking about delivery, development and dialogue. NaMo is the real follower of both Rajiv and Rao who created oligopoly. Rao opened up the economy for industrial houses, which were denied access to state patronage by Nehru and Indira. NaMo has promoted and created powerful corporate leaders in Gujarat and won over traditional Congress supporters even if it meant compromising with those who are opposed to his core ideology. NaMo talks technology, uses technology and swears by the markets. Like RaGa, the BJP’s PM candidate rarely dwells on international issues.
In what appears to be an apocalyptic confrontation between a declared PM contender and a scion of India’s perennial ruling family, their plights and delights have become bazaar babble. Political strategies and weaponry are being honed and polished. But for both leaders, it will not be an easy task to convince a self-righteous and argumentative India united by a 5,000-year-old cultural heritage of unity in diversity, of their true worth.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Teekhi Baat with Dr Harsh Vardhan / IBN 7 / October 26, 2013

PC: What medical area do you specialise in?
HV: Ear, nose and throat.

PC: But Delhi has a problem of heart…
HV: I pray to god that you don’t get it…

PC: I have a problem, can’t hear properly. Speaking about you, a doctor has been chosen to solve Delhi’s problems.
HV: As far as Delhi is concerned, I think it is ill. At this moment, it is in the Intensive Care Unit. I feel it needs a healing touch.

PC: Since you are an ENT specialist, you will have to open up ears of the people of Delhi first. People here don’t believe in BJP. They have made you lose for 15 years.
HV: How can you say that people are making us lose for 15 years? In these 15 years, we have won 7 Lok Sabha seats. In 1999, we won all seven Lok Sabha seats of Delhi.

PC: And 2004, after which you were left with only one seat?
HV: In 2007 and 2011 we won municipal elections in Delhi. Hence, you cannot say we have been losing for 15 years.

PC: Dr. Saab, you have been here for a long time. Your Sangh-age is more than others. You have been winning corporation elections since 1998, but not Lok Sabha elections. It means your party is a corporation level party in Delhi.
HV: It is not so. If we have not been successful in assembly elections, we feel that the Congress and its leader may have had better fortune than us.

PC: But your vote percentage has decreased over a decade due to issues of credibility.
HV: What are you saying Prabhuji? BJP has good credibility not only in Delhi, but in the whole country and the whole world. Though Atalji did not win the second time in 2004, if you go abroad even today, people ask about Atalji first. They praise the work done by Atalji’s government. 

PC: Why don’t they vote for Atalji’s party? Even now Atalji is way ahead in popularity. It is true according to opinion polls.
HV: A year ago, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, her whole cabinet had put all their might, but Congress was not able to win even one of the three municipal corporations in Delhi.

PC: Dr Saab, you have come back to municipal level again. We are talking of national level party.
HV: It is the same public which votes.

PC: Last time you won the municipal elections, but lost the assembly polls.
HV: See in December, 2013, we will form government in Delhi and in 2014 under Narendra Modi’s leadership. He will become India’s Prime Minister, and will make India’s name all over the world.

PC: Just one month before the elections. BJP has found the ENT specialist. But you have been around for a long time. Why did they remember you now?
HV: From the time I am in politics, I have been given important responsibilities. In Delhi, I have been city president three times, national vice president, and today I am central election committee member that chooses candidates across the country. Hence, the party has given me all kinds of responsibilities. I have served as Haryana in-charge.

PC: Why didn’t they announce the CM candidate earlier?
HV: The question is not why it is done now or why it was was not done before, or should it have been done or not. Our senior party leaders have a lot of experience—of 50-60 years. They have made people contest so many elections. And you are asking why it was not done earlier… Yesterday, it was announced. Today, ask any child in Delhi who the BJP chief ministerial candidate in Delhi is. He will tell you.

PC: Everybody was waiting. Vijay Goelji said he wanted to be the CM candidate. Now, there are people opposing you in the party. They say that a man under whose leadership we have lost elections has been made the CM candidate. But they don’t talk about image. You have a good image.
HV: In politics, everybody has the right to make every type of comment. And there is no necessity for a counter comment to every person who comments on you.  I do not need to say anything about myself. In our party, we work for ideology and policy, not for individual person. But if you want to listen what I have done, I will tell you that during the last 20 years, I have won awards, which many would not have won in India in past 50 years.

PC: People say these days that RSS decides everything and you have been RSS swayamsevak. They have trust in you. You have been named because of RSS. Otherwise it could have happened earlier. You are RSS’s candidate not BJP’s.
HV: Please understand, RSS for us is a centre of ideals and inspiration. We get inspired and derive energy to good work from RSS. BJP and I get the culture of good work from RSS. We feel proud about it. Even in 2008 and before that, I was a Sangh swayamsevak. Sangh never interferes in BJP’s affairs. I am witnessing politics for 20 years actively.

PC: Are you not RSS nominee.
HV: There is no question. In our parliamentary board, Advaniji decided, Rajnathji decided, Nitinji decided, Dr Joshiji decided, Venkaiahjidecided, Sushmaji, Ananth Kumarji, Ramlalji, all of them decided together.

PC: But all these are RSS people
HV: Everybody is from RSS, and I think those who are not, should be. If those who are outside (RSS) come and see it, they would wonder why they didn’t join it all these years. 

PC: It seemed that Vijay Goel would be the candidate. What did people see one month before the elections that they felt you could give better results than him? 
HV: Vijay Goel is a very good and a hard working leader. He works with innovation. And I like him from within my heart and he too does the same. For any post, in your channel, if anyone has to be made the chief, it is only one person, it cannot be two. No A would become, if B had become. You would have said that you have been president for five years, then why weren’t you appointed.

PC: In Sangh-age you are the senior…
HV: There is no issue of seniority. The experienced leaders of the party decide. Till now, we have not thought about an individual. We give work the importance.

PC: Why does Harshvardhan have to take BJP to victory? Now it is personality contest. On one side is Sheila Dikshit, Arvind Kejriwal and Dr. Harshvardhan.
HV: It is not a question of about Harshvardhan. Our party karyakartaswork for the party. Through the party, for the country and the society, we are inspired by Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Dr Shayama Prasad Mukherjee. Atalji and Advaniji have followed this path.

PC: Are you confident the party will win?
HV: I have 100 per cent confidence in our party workers, on people’s trust, love, and our leaders’ guidance and on God’s wishes.

PC: Not on oneself…
HV: What is an individual? My party and its workers are with me, people of Delhi, guidance of leaders....

PC: Last time, people voted you to power and trusted you. But you changed three chief ministers in five years. Then you brought Sushma to the forefront and lost elections. Will you get a magic box at the last moment?
HV: It is our party, when a false allegations was levelled against Lal Krishna Advaniji and Madan Lal Khurana, we adopted the highest ideals of probity in public life.

PC: Yes, they resigned.
HV: Both showed what it is to practice high ideals and now you ask why one replaced the other...

PC: What was the charge on Vermaji?
HV: There are many things in a party.

PC: But by taking a late decision, like during Sushma’s time, there are many drawbacks. 
HV: It is a party of strategy, but in politics, you may have the best possible strategy, even then it is not necessary that you would win the elections. I want to tell you today. Since the time nation got Independence, the work that our beloved Atal Bihari Vajpayee did during the six year NDA rule, I can take a challenge and debate. That much good work has not happened under the tenure of any prime minister. Unfortunately, we lost elections in 2004.

PC: But you lost the elections in 2009 as well.
HV: It is unfortunate for the nation. But this does not mean that there was any shortcoming in the work, or strategy.

PC: Why did you lose in 2009?
HV: I have said that there are many factors in an election. Only one person wins. This is not a fight.

PC: But you lost the fight that happened before Advaniji and Manmohan Singh…
HV: An experienced leader like Shri Lal Krishna Advaniji, who has an unblemished character, he has such a long political career, if this country did not make him Prime Minister, then it is not unfortunate for him, it is unfortunate for the nation.

PC: But you are talking about people.
HV: I am giving you a broader perspective. If people would have taken benefit of his 50 year experience in 2009, it would have been great for the nation.

PC: I agree with you. Be it Advaniji, Atalji or Dr Harshvardhan, image is good, clean and honest. There has been no statesman like Ataljisince Independence. There would have been before, but not after. Advaniji has a clean image, and you too have a clean image. Your performance as the  health minister was very good. But even then the party lost.
HV: You are repeating the same thing…

PC: I am repeating, because you didn’t give convincing answer. Why don’t people believe in you at the time of polls?
HV: Tell me, all you people, for so many years, did such a big wrong information campaign for so many years against Gujarat chief minister, so many things were said in newspapers and media, but he won consecutively and is winning. Even in Madhya Pradesh we are winning. In Delhi if you see the past 15-20 years, BJP has won, Congress also has won.

PC: Don’t you feel there are internal fights? Or leaders like Madanlal Khurana, Vijay Kumarji, Sahaniji, Advaniji were chairmen of metropolitan council. Everybody became national leaders, nobody became local leader.
HV: We have good party workers in every lane. Look at our Mandal presidents, even good workers at polling booths. There is no fight or quarrel but media cooks up things…

PC: There is new disease in the political class. They start blaming the media for everything.
HV: I am not blaming the media, I respect the media very much, and you’re a very senior journalist, I know you from many years. I am such a person that if anybody writes anything against me, I call and thank him. I get to learn after that. But I feel the way things are played in the media many times shows a lot of exaggeration. There may be differences in thoughts among us. But there is no difference in the minds.

PC: Sheilaji says her work is seen, development is seen, that is their slogan. Arvind Kejriwal says that he is fighting against corruption, there is proof and image. What slogan does Dr Harshvardhan have?
HV: I don’t know what development does Sheilaji talks about.

PC: Roads.
HV: Roads in which thousands of crores have been spent, and there are potholes on roads after a spell of rain. Don’t you remember the picture before the Common Wealth Games? A road was made near the Yamuna and it had potholes on the third day. What development you are talking about? Go to the slums. People don’t get a square meal to eat. There are no toilets in Delhi. Read their Delhi human development report— 84 per cent people do not get adequate water. The water they get is dirty. In schools, there is shortage of 15,000 teachers even today. There are no essential medicines in hospitals.

PC: You mean there is no development…
HV: Will there be any accountability? In GB Panth hospital, 50 per cent fatalities are being recorded since the last 10 years. Who will take responsibility? Can you tell me?

PC: Flyovers were made, metro was developed, green cover increased.
HV: The decision of metro was taken by us in the Madan Lal Khurana cabinet. The development model was prepared till the last phase. Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji had kept the foundation stone during our govenrment’s tenure. When he became the PM, Atalji inaugurated the Shahdara to Kashmiri gate route. Today, in the city, children have no schools, there are no teachers. A child gets 90 per cent, but cannot take admission to a college.

PC: What will you do, what is your slogan?
HV: We say that this government has treated Delhi very casually. We want to govern Delhi professionally with modern ideas, with assistance of best possible experts, with 500 per cent transparency. We will not make a government that does corruption and scams, but find solutions so that people can’t do corruption.

PC: Dr saab, you may feel bad, but your party has not done any big protest against corruption in Delhi, in the past five years. Like Arvind Kejriwal does daily.
HV: The gentleman you are naming, we don’t have a nature of abusing everybody like he does.

PC: He speaks from the heart.
HV: If any person gets obsessed with the idea that except for him, the whole world is dishonest and thief, I do not subscribe to that kind of mechanism.

PC: He says you should debate with them.
HV: Nobody has a problem in debating with anybody. But there should be some debating standards for debate, it does not mean that you dotu-tu-main-main and start abusing.

PC: Are you ready to debate with Sheilaji?
HV: I am ready to debate with everybody. But its agenda, its mechanism, all should be decided in a transparent manner. There should be no tu-tu main-main, or nuisance. Today, you see what is happening in politics, we do not accept it.

PC: I asked whether you are ready for debate with Sheilaji and Arvind Kejriwal
HV: When did I refuse? I am telling in your program, decide norms, and maintain its sanctity. I have said get any person to debate with me on the work done by Atalji’s government in six years.

PC: When you go to demand vote, you have projected Modi’s name for Prime Minister’s post. Sheila Dikshit is for 15 years and hence has a charisma and halo around her. Like your old leaders also had a halo around them. Harshvardhan does not have that much halo but has an image. Hence, will you use Modi’s name?
HV: It is not a issue of use. Modiji’s name is such a name today. A child who is not eligible to vote also gets excited by Narendra Modiji’s name. That’s because he has made a name due to his work, integrity, governance and vision.

PC: I have asked whether you will demand votes on Modi’s name or your work…
HV: On the name of BJP, all its governments, and its work in Delhi and across the country, states, our ideology, vision.

PC: Not on Modiji’s name, you said that you will win 2014 elections. 
HV: We will win this election and Modiji will become Prime Minister. You media have doubt, but the people of country don’t have any doubt. See, has any person addressed rallies of 5,7,10 lakh people in the past 50 years?

PC: I have seen Jaiprakash Narayan’s rally…
HV: Narendra Modiji’s rallies today are much bigger than Jaiprakash Narayan’s rallies…

PC: Before that we had seen Atalji’s rally, we walked 3-4 kms to see it.
HV: There is no comparison with Atalji, but today Narendra Modiji’s rallies have beaten all records.

PC: Who is your political fight against?
HV: It is against Sheilaji. Enough is enough, if you cannot deliver in 15 years, we want to gracefully show you the way out. People are forced to buy onion at Rs. 100 per kilo.

PC: But they are expensive even in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat…
HV: In the old days, when onions was sold at Rs. 30 per kilo for three weeks, Congress people were wearing onion garlands, now why don’t Sheilaji and others wear garlands.

PC: You feel Arvind Kejriwal is not relevant in the election?
HV: I do not want to rubbish anybody. My brain and focus now are preoccupied with thinking the best for the people of Delhi. There are 1300 parties in the country, and one more is added. Many parties are formed before elections and wither away. See election commission record, there are 1300 parties.

PC: But none of those leaders have popularity of 18 to 20 per cent.
HV: I am not questioning the sanctity of any opinion poll. I fully trust the people of Delhi.

PC: How many times will Modi come to the field here to make your image?
HV: Modiji is campaigning all over the country today. He is our future prime minister of India. When elections happened in the next 3-4-5 months, he will become prime minister. He is campaigning in the whole country.
Why wouldn’t he campaign in Delhi if elections are due here?
He will devote as much time as possible. We will request him to come, also other leaders in Delhi, we will do 100 meetings. Arun Jaitleyji has asked us to do as many meetings as we want to do. Advaniji said that they would come to as many places where they do the meetings. All leaders are our national president. But you have no other question than this. Narendra Modiji is an institution today. He is a phenomenon that has never been seen in India before.

PC: Will it benefit the Delhi election?
HV: His image is not because you people wrote some certificates. It is because of his work.

PC: But Congressmen are raising questions over his claims now.
HV: Even United Nations is praising the work he has done, he is getting awards. His name and Atalji’s name is taken respectfully by people.

PC: If you win, who will you give the credit? Modiji? BJP? Harshvardhan?
HV:  See, the work of our party workers, who work selflessly, have limitless potential, are honest, take inspiration from Pandit Deendayal Upadhyayay and Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.

PC: And who will be blamed if you lose?
HV: This is not an important issue for us, this is an imaginary question. There is no necessity of answering this question. Winning and losing happen in politics. There is no meter for that. These are your questions.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Manmohan's air miles ... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ October 20, 2013

Manmohan’s air miles add up to little in way of India’s diplomatic success in nine years

The success of diplomacy is not measured in terms of the air miles showing on the odometer of official peregrinations. Nor is it determined by hours spent gabbing during salubrious breakfasts, lunches or dinners. Such ceremonial visits are like climbing trees that have no fruits to pluck. Manmohan Singh is perhaps the most travelled Indian PM since Rajiv Gandhi. According to estimates, he has flown over a million miles covering 50 countries since he was handed the keys to 7 Race Course Road. In the last nine years, he has spent every 10th day in some foreign city. Since wooing superpowers is his only global mission, over half the visits have been to the US, China, Japan, UK and Russia, with US leading the charts with 11 visits. As Manmohan prepares for his 36th sojourn abroad—possibly the last of his second tenure as PM—diplomacy-watchers have started assessing the real impact of his 80 visits over nine years. On the face of it, relations with neighbours have worsened. Both China and US are showing no concern for our security and economic woes. Even India’s most trusted ally, Russia, is suspicious of our growing proximity to the American establishment. Europe, which used to look up to our economist PM for guidance, is ignoring us.
From being the most successful and sought-after PM, Manmohan is no longer one of the movers and shakers of international affairs. Perhaps our only achievement appears to be a change in adjective to define today’s India —from a developing economy, the country is now an emerging economy struggling to acquire a wannabe superpower status. Manmohan’s India is confined to the margins of the playfield of high-powered diplomacy, which defines and determines fortunes of the world. 
Even after a decade of extensive lobbying, Manmohan’s dream of India acquiring a permanent seat in the Security Council remains a mirage, despite doling out many economic concessions to those who count in New York. None of the beneficiaries of India’s economic liberalisation and munificence in terms on unrestricted access to Indian markets have gone beyond the written speeches they deliver at formal dinners, expressing sympathy for India’s claim for a permanent place at the UN high table. In spite of making over a dozen visits to the US, the PM has failed to force the American president to move an inch away from his empathy with Pakistan. Daily incursions and killing of jawans along the LoC does not bother any of the superpowers who continue to flirt with the democratically-elected but ISI controlled Pak premier, Nawaz Sharif. Ever since he assumed power, the number of border violations has risen enormously. He shows no regret. When Manmohan visits China and Russia this week, he will have to remind his hosts about the unfulfilled promises on border issues and civil nuclear cooperation. Russia is determined to rake up religious issues like the construction of a Russian orthodox church in Lutyen’s Delhi in exchange for letting a Krishna Temple function in Moscow. According to foreign policy experts, it is mandatory for every head of government to keep visiting friendly countries for the sake of visibility and impact. Since India has gargantuan stakes in the global economy, the PM and colleagues like the finance minister, commerce minister and external affairs minister keep making customary visits to numerous foreign capitals to revive dialogues and engage the hosts in building new relationships. But to succeed, objectives of economic and strategic diplomacy should be well defined. Going by our failed initiatives in the neighbourhood, it is clear that India hasn’t been able to hone the contours of its engagement with countries like Sri Lanka or even bantamweight Maldives, which was once considered India’s most trusted ally in the Indian Ocean. Last week, even a high-level visit to the island by the articulate Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh failed to yield results. She could not bring Maldivian warring factions around so that elections could take place again. In Bangladesh, PM Sheikh Hasina is jittery because South Block couldn’t consolidate her position at home by addressing her issues with India. India may have become a trillion-dollar economy, but is still not in a position to influence political kinetics of a tiny island. So much for the vast carbon footprint of our frequent-flier PM.  
The perennial fight for turf between the IFS and IAS almost assumed confrontationist contours recently over the appointment of a chief of mission to ASEAN in Jakarta. The PM, during his visit to Indonesia, had announced that India would soon have a full-fledged mission headed by an ambassador to deal with growing economic relations between ASEAN countries. All other members have already posted diplomats in Jakarta. Before the PM made his decision public, a serious fight erupted between the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Department of Economic Affairs (DEA). The DEA felt that the post should go to an IAS officer as they are the ones who have acquired expertise in handling international trade and economic issues. But MEA wouldn’t let the post go. Finally, the PM used his veto power and directed MEA to appoint a senior diplomat. Now the fun has begun in South Block as many diplomats are chasing newly created sinecures which perhaps may carry more powers and perks.
It is not for the first time that IAS and IFS have been locked in turf war for important posts abroad. Ever since India decided to open its markets and introduce economic reforms, the IAS lobby has been staking claim on any assignment which is remotely connected with economic and financial issues. Actually the fight began with the appointment of India’s Ambassador to World Trade Organisation. The IFS wanted one of its members to be chosen, but IAS won the battle. But IFS fraternity continued with its fight. An attempt was made by MEA during the NDA regime to snatch the coveted post from the IAS. PM Vajpayee succumbed to the pressure and appointed an IFS officer as India’s ambassador to WTO. But IAS clan struck back through then commerce minister Murasoli Maran who resigned in protest. Vajpayee reversed his decision and the post was restored to IAS by sending K M Chandrasekhar who later became Union Cabinet Secretary.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 14, 2013

By Redefining Role ..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/October 13, 2013

By redefining role, interventionist President proves he is no rubber stamp

Is it a constitutional catastrophe or a constitutional crisis? Or is part of the constitutional mechanism, which has accidentally been set in motion to prevent the collapse of democratic institutions? For the first time, the President is seen as the saviour of democratic traditions; sensitive to public emotions in the wake of Cyclone Phailin, he cut short his West Bengal visit during Pujo. On the other hand, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet which advises the President portray themselves as bulldozers of ethical governance. The spotlight has shifted from a non-performing PM to a pro-active President.
For the past few weeks, Pranab Mukherjee, India’s 13th President, has been active in restoring a semblance of balance in the age of confrontationist politics. As the countdown for the crucial General Elections begins, he is formulating his role and reactions to various surprises, which elections may throw up. If his recent actions are any indication, Mukherjee is emerging as the President who doesn’t confine his role to ceremonial talks, but also speaks forcefully. He nudged the UPA leadership to reconsider the ordinance on criminals in politics. He changed his pre-scheduled Bihar programme to avoid being caught in a conflict between the JD(U) and BJP over Narendra Modi’s visit to the state at the same time. Mukherjee’s recent weeklong sojourn to Denmark and Turkey left his signature mark on diplomacy, which led to the signing of many agreements pending for over a decade. Before launching the premier visit by an Indian President to Belgium, he told all ministries to prepare a proper agenda so that his visit doesn’t turn out to be just another junket. Just before he left, the Rashtrapati sprang a surprise on diplomats by almost blaming Pakistan directly for cross-border terrorism by remarking, “terrorists don’t come from heaven”. Of late, Congress managers have been sifting through Mukherjee’s speeches and comments to decipher his frame of mind. They suspect that he is acquiring the role of both a titular Head of State and an invisible influence on the institution of PM. The buzz in the corridors of power is that President is now doing what he would have done as the Prime Minister of a coalition government.
If Mukherjee continues with his assertive constitutional agenda, he would perhaps earn a place in history as the best prime minister the Congress party failed to choose.

It is too early to define his definitive identity, but Mukherjee seems to possess massive energy to shake and shape the future contours of Indian politics and governance. If Dr APJ Kalam earned the sobriquet of “People’s President”, Mukherjee is carving out his own niche of an interpositionist President who wouldn’t mind asserting his constitutional rights to correct any impropriety in governance and misuse of Constitution. L K Advani, the National Democratic Alliance chairman, embarrassed the President when he gave full credit to Mukherjee and not Rahul Gandhi for the premature demise of the ordinance. Mukherjee seems to be finding ways and means to provide face-saving devices to ruling establishment at the Centre and in the states to bail out of ugly situations. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was determined to use the President’s visit as a ploy to prevent crowds from reaching the venue of Modi’s rally on October 27, but Mukherjee understood the trap and decided to return to Rashtrapati Bhavan the same day. Such politically correct moves are indicative of Mukherjee’s attempt to redefine the role of the Head of State, since his purpose is not merely to avoid being stereotyped as a rubber stamp or an activist President.
Mukherjee asserts himself with authority and dignity. Since he is the first President who has held all the important portfolios of defence, finance, commerce and external affairs previously, he knows better than most about how decisions and policies are formalised in a Cabinet system. For example, when the PM sent him the file seeking his approval for the ordinance, Mukherjee didn’t return it after signing on the dotted line, as most of his predecessors would have done. He summoned three important ministers—Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath, Law Minister Kapil Sibal and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde. All of them have been his colleagues in the party for decades. They weren’t expecting his probing questions. Never before has a President asked ministers to produce minutes or records of Cabinet discussions or political confabulations. Mukherjee asked them to produce the proceedings of both the Cabinet meeting and the all-party meet where the decision to promulgate the ordinance was taken. He discomfited them by asking for the reason behind their hurry. They did not return with answers. Instead, the Cabinet approached him to withdraw its request for his approval.
It is quite evident that Mukherjee is arming himself with infallible arguments to face any situation. He is marshalling his facts to disarm those who challenge his formulations. As an avid reader of history, the Rashtrapati has already retrieved the files from the archives concerning the formation of various past coalition governments. Three previous Presidents—R Venkataraman, Shankar Dayal Sharma and K R Narayanan—had taken different positions on how to choose a party to form the government. Mukherjee has found inconsistencies in each. According to Rashtrapati Bhavan watchers, the President has been interacting with numerous legal luminaries, including former chief justices, social activists and even sane political leaders to seek their views on many complex issues concerning security, political stability and economic crises. The limitations of the geographical boundaries of Raisina Hill haven’t deterred its latest incumbent from reaching out to those whose voice is gagged and who are denied access to India’s high and mighty. If Mukherjee continues with his assertive constitutional agenda, he would perhaps earn a place in history as the best prime minister the Congress party failed to choose or spot after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla