Monday, January 27, 2014

Given their political DNA, to segue RaGa and NaMo's..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/January 26, 2014

Given Their Political DNA, to Segue RaGa and NaMo's 'I' into 'We' Will be a Tall Order

The slogan is impressive in its modesty. It seeks votes by invoking the team spirit. This week, all newspapers carried a Congress advertisement with the slogan, “Main Nahi, Hum (Not Me, but We)” with a picture of Rahul Gandhi as the fugleman in front of a group of young voters from all communities. It was a straight lift from a NaMo Chintan Shivir of 2011. Perhaps the ad agency, which planned RaGa’s high-voltage promotional blitz, failed to do its homework. But the sheer similarity between the thinking of the two prime ministerial aspirants underlined their compulsion to project themselves as the sole team leaders. Both have been perceived as loners who inhabit vertiginous eyries perched high above anyone who garners votes and mobilises public opinion. Both extol the virtues of ‘We’ but practice the ‘I’ mantra. Of late, NaMo has been a mixed mass metaphor, grandiloquent in his humility, choosing to extol his modest background and OBC caste status than his impressive track record as Gujarat chief minister. Yet, hardly anyone knows the names of Team Modi members. His team begins with NaMo and ends with NaMo. RaGa is no different. He has confined himself to a fortress-like residence populated by unknown and inexperienced techies from affluent families, whose association with the reality of politics is anything but accidental. In Ahmedabad too, BJP officebearers and even ministers are rarely allowed entry to Modi’s well-guarded house.

It’s the ‘I’ in these individuals which dominates political discourse, narrative and choice of compadres. Both aspire to become the Prime Minister of a billion-strong India but ignore those who could facilitate their victory better. All promotional material are dominated by their pictures, sans those who have also achieved success and a reputation through performance. The BJP owes its over half-a-dozen governments to the sterling reputation of charismatic chief ministers and state party chiefs. It would have been nowhere in the reckoning if leaders like Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Raman Singh, Manohar Parikkar, Sushil Kumar Modi, Harsh Vardhan, Rajnath Singh et al had not displayed their organisational and administrative acumen. Yet, none of them find a place of prominence in Modi’s election strategy, which has been left to marketing agencies and a few others. If Modi is today the country’s most favoured PM candidate, it has much to do with the good governance provided by other BJP chief ministers. Their popularity drives the all-circumjacent popular embrace of Modi. Except calling them for customary meetings of party forums, none of the chief ministers are involved in planning Battle 2014. Even at the recently held National Executive Council Meeting in Delhi, none of them were asked to move any resolution. CMs like Chouhan and Parrikar have performed much better than Modi in many areas. If Modi means Hum (We) as his mantra, all election material would have carried a combined picture of the CMs. Imagine the impact it would have on voters, if Modi, in the company of a phalanx of saffron heroes, sought the vote in the name of all BJP CMs and showed India that he could lead a team of movers and shakers with proven track records. The BJP ranks have many highly successful former ministers like Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, but both are ignored by the party. The party’s decision-making bodies are filled with either geriatrics or honchos who have never won an election, let alone lead a state unit to victory. The seniority or financial clout of an individual in the BJP gets priority over merit and the ability to win an election. They are the ones who claim to be the invisible part of Team ‘Hum’.
The situation in the Congress is worse. It has the largest attroupement of stellar CMs and Cabinet ministers, but they are not portrayed as part of the ‘We’ team which Rahul swears by. Chief ministers like Oommen Chandy, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Siddaramaiah and Tarun Gogoi are known for their responsive governance and better delivery mechanisms on many parameters than their BJP counterparts. They also know how to win an election and carry their teams along. Chandy, for example, leads a precarious coalition government in Kerala, which could collapse if just two MLAs choose to defect. He has been able to keep UDF allies and warring Congress factions together. However, when it came to giving the CMs due credit at the recently held AICC session in New Delhi, the Congress party focused only on Rahul. Most of the present Congress CMs have got rave reviews about their performance by various government and non-government agencies like the Planning Commission and Reserve Bank of India. While the BJP and other parties don’t lose an opportunity to assail the Congress, the ruling party has never exploited the success of its state governments. The Congress rarely projects its CMs as the ones who have fulfilled most of the party promises in the state elections. Most of them are only used for fundraising and not for mobilisation of voters and workers. They are summoned to New Delhi as vassals to be given orders or to be gibbeted for the party’s bad performance in their states. But they are never patted on the back for keeping the party’s pennant flying in their states. Rahul appears to be in a hurry to change the Congress culture of sycophancy. But he is still sticking to the age-old Congress system of stateless and rootless leaders deciding the fate of popular state leaders. He has taken charge but hasn’t yet been able to jettison those who have lost their relevance and utility in the party. As the stopwatch for the Lok Sabha elections unwinds in an inexorable cycle of political karma, both NaMo and RaGa suffer from an existential dilemma. How to segue ‘I’ into ‘We’? Keeping in view their political DNA, it’s a tall order. As Othello said, “to beguile many, but be beguiled by one”, but both politicians are beguiled only by the idea of themselves.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, January 13, 2014

US must realise that India can be a Friend ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/January 12, 2014

US Must Realise that India Can be a Friend, Only as an Equal and Not as a Follower

Agonised apologists for America are in angst over the angry objurgation against American arrogance over L’affaire Devyani Khobragade. Ever since the Indian government showed some spine by retaliating against the US government, America’s Indian megaphones are rising in fortissimo to counter the orchestra of domestic disgust. For them, money is more important than national pride. The class that adores the colour of the greenback over respect for the Tricolour are asking fustian questions like “Is Devyani more important than the Indo-US relationship?” In their lucre-driven bombilations, they have chosen to forget that Devyani, a Dalit diplomat, was representing her country and was not just some individual the Indian government had dispatched to the US. Forget amor patriae, an obstreperous campaign is on to undermine her reputation and underplay the colossal insult to the prestige of Indian state by a petty American official. As Devyani returned home in disguised disgrace, the government hit back by asking a US diplomat to be recalled. He was the one instrumental in getting Devyani’s maid Sangeeta Richard’s family ‘evacuated’ from their own country—India.

While Devyani was declared persona non grata, US authorities remained silent about the behaviour of her nanny and her family members who entered the US to avoid facing Indian courts. The inexplicably imperious US posturing on Devyani hides more than what it reveals. Otherwise both countries wouldn’t have adopted an eyeball-to-eyeball stance. It is perhaps for the first time that both India and the US have expelled diplomats in concert. Such an exceptional row comes at a stage when they were perceived as allies in global economic and strategic issues. For the past two decades, India has been bending backwards to mend its ways and means to suit American corporate and strategic interests. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the only Head of State who has made the maximum number of trips during his two terms to the US than any of his peers. American diplomats in India were given exceptional waivers to open schools, clubs, import luxury goods and even employ Indians without following Indian laws. The American Embassy in New Delhi was shown the magnanimity of blocking the road behind it in the name of security, while the Indian Embassy in Washington was even denied two parking spots. American diplomats have been enjoying special facilities at various airports in India, unlike Indian diplomats in the US. American Embassy staff were given passes to enter official areas where even senior civil servants, ministers and chief ministers could not tread. The Indian Prime Minister and Union ministers have been liberal in granting visiting US junior diplomats an audience. But for our ministers, getting an appointment with even a Secretary in the US government, let alone President Obama, would be unthinkable. The UPA has been so eager to oblige America that it even risked a fall by getting the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement passed, facing charges of political misconduct.
If that wasn’t enough, the Indian government went out of its way to save American companies from sinking during the economic recession by placing huge orders on capital equipment. America has been treating India as a bespoke colony, expecting Indians to surrender their self-respect. Since India opened up its economy to become a global player, it has been granting American companies preference over multinationals from other countries. During the past 10 years, India has placed orders worth `50,000 crore with US corporations for defence equipment and aircraft. India is America’s largest but unreciprocated trade partner. It has invested over $60 billion in US treasury bonds, thereby becoming America’s 17th largest investor. Even on international issues, the UPA would invite the ire of its domestic constituencies by supporting US policy on Sri Lanka and Iran. Indian corporate Caesars have been liberal in funding American academia with millions of dollars, which they rarely do for Indian institutions. In America they perceive a natural ally who would fight against terror, dictatorships and communist expansionism for mutual benefit. Indians of American-origin contribute bounteously to parties during the US elections.
The Devyani episode has proved that America preaches democracy and peace but practices dictatorship and exclusivity. Anyone who questions their arbitrariness and arrogance would be treated as an enemy. Even after extracting maximum economic flesh from India, no American company or the US government has shown even a minor interest in protecting India’s dignity and security. In reality, they have been supporting the anti-India forces in our neighbourhood, closing their eyes against terror camps in Pakistan and imposing strict conditions on the immigration of Indian skilled labour to the US. They are tight-fisted while investing in India. According to official records, the cumulative FDI equity inflow into India was just $2 million until September 2013. About 20 per cent of it went to the services sector. Americans have refused to transfer technology and invest in immovable assets but are insisting on extremely liberal tax policies for their FIIs so that they could fatten their coffers by playing the markets.
Yet India has been magnanimous towards America. But the way they treated Devyani proves beyond any doubt that US policymakers are uncomfortable with India’s rise as an economic and military super power, which could challenge their supremacy one day. They have perhaps forgotten former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who always showed them their place, whether it was over China or Pakistan. The US may have infiltrated the Indian establishment but it has wounded the heart of India. For Indians, protecting the prestige of the Tricolour is a matter of faith, which cannot be compromised by showering a bounty of dollars on a chosen few. The time has come for America to realise that India can be a friend, only as an equal and not as a follower.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, January 6, 2014

History will Record Singh as King .....Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/January 05, 2014

History Will Record Singh as King Who Couldn't Do Justice to Stature of Chair He Occupied

All’s well that ends well, goes the adage. But in PM Manmohan Singh’s case, it has lost its original meaning. He claimed history would judge him differently and mercifully. Instead, he found a place in contemporary chronicles of independent India as the first incumbent PM to announce his retirement, six months ahead of the end of his term. There is no last date in the calendar of a political leader. Manmohan is an exception. He is the second PM to complete two consecutive terms in office after Jawaharlal Nehru. His other record is holding only three press conferences during these terms. He is also the first PM to survive two terms without his party having a majority in Lok Sabha. When during his press interaction he claimed that surviving in office for 10 years in a coalition era was one of his achievements, he wasn’t far off the mark. But he skirted mentioning the cost he and the nation paid for the compromises struck to keep his allies on UPA’s ramshackle raft. The speech, however, made it evident that Manmohan is not one of those leaders who would give credit for his success to teammates and take blame for failures. He blamed every institution, individual and ideology for his government’s dismal record. His voluntary retirement as CEO of one billion-strong India is the tragic saga of the fall of a puissant prophet who promised a mountain but couldn’t deliver a mole. A darling of the middle class and an iconic messiah for India Inc in 2004, Singh is now seen as foe in 2014. If the tone and content of his media meet were any indication, the PM came across an angry old man. His personal attack on BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi reflected his personal hurt and frustration.

If Manmohan’s 75-minute encounter with journalists was meant to salvage his and his government’s sagging image, it failed to achieve the objective. The impression given was that the nation is left with a caretaker PM who wouldn’t be able to take any firm decision for the rest of his term. Even while recounting achievements, the PM was studiously selective with facts. For example, he claimed the UPA government was able to deliver a record GDP growth during the past nine years. As an economist, he knew what sort of statistics would paint a rosy picture. But he forgot that when he took over, the economy had grown by over 8 per cent during the last year of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime. But when Manmohan would demit office, India’s economic growth would be less than 5 per cent. On every other sector, UPA’s performance is disastrous. The agriculture sector has plummeted to 4.80 per cent against 9 per cent during the last year of NDA government. Worse, manufacturing growth rate has fallen from 7.32 per cent to 1.50 per cent. Much more ridiculous was Manmohan’s justification for his government’s bad economic performance. He blamed global factors for influencing Indian economic indicators. The same PM had claimed that it was due to his government’s robust policies that India ducked global recession in 2008. If India was insulated in 2008, why did it fail in 2013? The PM and his foreign-educated economic advisers couldn’t explain. Even on inflation, UPA’s track record is worse than that of NDA. It was just 3.8 per cent (CPI) in 2004 as against nearly 10 per cent in 2013. Despite massive expenditure on welfare schemes such as MGNREGS, aimed at creating assets in the rural sector, the rate of capital formation fell drastically from 13.6 per cent in 2004 to 2.5 per cent during 2013.
Consistency has never been a  virtue of our politicians; even less so for an accidental PM like Manmohan. The only consistent factor has been his personal integrity and nothing else. But Manmohan has been seeking scapegoats for the collapse of his decision-making process. His first tenure, though controversial, had a mission. He stuck his neck out on the Indo-US nuclear deal, which, however, is yet to yield the fruits it promised. His second tenure could well be defined as a government sans an agenda, vision, mission or message. It has been a period during which retaining power at any cost was the only objective. In his endeavour to hold on to office, he had the Gandhi Parivar’s full support. When Manmohan made the frank confession that he was willing to reverse government decisions if instructions—or even a suggestion—came from any Gandhi family member, it was only to retain his seat for the rest of his term. The Gandhi Parivar has realised that Manmohan as the post-2014 PM candidate would further destroy the Congress’s ability to save itself from a predictable rout. Just a few weeks ago, Sonia Gandhi had declared that the party would announce its PM candidate before the General Elections. It was a clear signal to Manmohan; one which prematurely forced him to announce his withdrawal from the A-list while he was still in office. Rahul Gandhi had summoned all Congress CMs and key Union ministers to discuss future administrative and policy decisions to be taken by the Central and state governments, but the PM wasn’t even invited. All these moves were aimed at formally anointing Rahul as Manmohan’s replacement before the countdown to the elections formally begins. By paving way for a smooth succession, the PM would go down in Indian political history as one who faithfully kept the throne warm for the scion of a family that chose him over others who were much better qualified than him. Manmohan has left it to posterity to judge his stint as India’s PM. But history would be as cruel to him as his party and fair weather friends have been. Many of his detractors speculate that in the annals of time, Manmohan’s name would be recorded as the king who diminished the stature of the chair, which he occupied for a decade.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla