Monday, February 17, 2014

Behind Powell-Modi Handshaeke Lies US need .... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/February 16, 2014

Behind Powell-Modi Handshake Lies US Need to Capture Money Market Called India

Politics and diplomacy are poles apart. The former is the art of saying nothing while doing something, the latter practices the game of expatiating more than necessary. While politicians shout at each other to make their point, diplomats score victories through unspoken words and visible postures. This maxim was quite evident when US Ambassador Nancy Powell, of tomboy coiffure and pugnacious build, drove to Gandhinagar to meet CM Narendra Modi, who her country had been treating like a pariah for a decade. She didn’t utter a word to the media. Nor did Modi. But political supporters and opponents exchanged high-decibel verbal fire. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid dripped sarcasm while observing he would “be interested in knowing what Powell tells Modi. In the past, countries on human rights have lectured us. It would be interesting to know what the US makes out of what happened in Gujarat”. The Congress appears to be convinced that the Powell-Modi handshake at this crucial juncture would swing the mind of voters in favour of the saffron party.

Plenipotentiary tourism to India proves that even diplomacy has no permanent friends or foes.
It was clear that diplomatic expeditions to Gandhinagar were acquiring legitimacy and significance. For the first time, political parties are gloating over foreigners endorsing their policies and personalities. Though there is hardly any commonality between politics and diplomacy, both swear to protect national interests. If Powell and other envoys before her had flown to Gandhinagar, it was meant to protect and project only the interest of nations they represent and not to promote their host or his political philosophy. The BJP leadership was vertically divided over the impact of Powell’s visit. Only those who directly or indirectly represent the interests of Dollar Power projected her sojourn as a victory for Modi. It is true that Modi has been resisting meeting the US representative at a place and time of her liking. According to party insiders, some Delhi-based Modi acolytes attempted to arrange a meeting between the two in Delhi. The idea of hosting a dinner where Modi would “just drop in” was proposed. But the Gujarat satrap torpedoed the plan, which led to panic in the US establishment. Finally they instructed Powell to fly to Ahmedabad. Though Modi has been seeking endorsements from Western powers and global corporations, he never allowed them to dictate terms. Tech-savvy campaign managers surround him. He has been enjoying the company of corporate czars. Besides attending packed, choreographed public rallies, Modi has not thrown away any chance to be seen schmoozing with the chatterati, who would dump him the moment he doesn’t make it to 7 RCR.
But the Americans also didn’t want to give the impression that Powell had exclusively gone to meet Modi. Before and after her visit, the US government made it clear that Powell has been on many pre-poll exploratory visits to many states and Gujarat was just one of her many halts to meet leaders of political parties. Interestingly, the Indian media made a big splash of the Modi-Powell parley but ignored a similar pow-wow she had with Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela. If she spent 45 minutes with Modi, she gave 40 minutes to Vaghela, having driven down to his home as well. He was much more forthcoming in his interaction with the media, saying “she had questions about the human rights situation in Gujarat and also wanted to know the probable scenarios in the event of either a BJP-led NDA or a Congress-led coalition winning elections”. Obviously, Powell had treated both leaders as equals. The US also announced that it looks forward to working closely with any government that the Indian people would choose. It announced that its ambassador would be meeting West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. It is tragic that both the foreign establishment and Indian elite believe that voters can be swayed by green room interventions of a foreign hand. They seem to have forgotten that the power to influence the democratic verdict has moved away from metropolises to the caste-infested small towns and villages of India. It is obvious that foreign countries, particularly the West, are taking extraordinary interest in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. While tourist traffic may have stagnated, there has been a sharp spurt in the number of known and unknown diplomats and lobbyists from many nations descending on India. Earlier they were totally dependent on local missions, which would confine interactions to a select group of opinion-makers with savoir vivre. The Delhi-based ambassadors are finding it difficult to gauge the mood of the people as a new class and breed of leaders have sprouted in various parts of the country. For Powell and her ilk, the rise of AAP and its leadership was an unforeseen miracle. Similarly they were living under the illusion that Modi and other regional leaders could be manipulated through self-appointed promoters in Delhi. Americans and their camp followers have been spending resources and efforts on sending some Indian regional leaders to Washington to be brainwashed, but these captive megaphones failed to deliver except for organising a few seminars and chatfests. Now, they are under pressure from their leadership and business lobbies to capture the real on-the-ground situation in India, which is a big money-making market. For America, it is more important to capture markets than territory. For this, it can go to any extent. If the US is willing to talk turkey with the Taliban, which is responsible for killing 3,000 American soldiers, it can walk the extra mile in any part of the world to protect its economic interests. Plenipotentiary tourism to India proves that even diplomacy has no permanent friends or foes. The only constant factor is getting more bucks using a fleeting fake smile accompanied by a tepid handshake.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, February 10, 2014

Erosion of Parliament's Credibility ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/February 09, 2014

Erosion of Parliament's Credibility Reflects Weakening Control of Ineffective Leadership

In the dust storm of demagoguery, is the truth that our politicians are making Parliament an irrelevant institution, lost? Or is it the leadership’s lack of will which is paralysing parliamentary democracy? If the amount of business conducted in both Houses of Parliament during the past five years is any indication, it is evident that both the treasury benches and Opposition have ignored legislation in favour of filibustering and chaos. In a democracy, it is the ruling party’s right to govern. It is the Opposition’s fundamental right to be heard. But Indian Parliament has set new trends in democracy by replacing debate with cacophony and aggressive but absonous arguments. As the curtain falls on the current Lok Sabha, it will go down as the worst performing House in the history of independent India. It will earn the infamy as an institution that failed India by tow rowing over petty issues, scoring brownie points sans substance and converting the temple of democracy into an obstreperous laboratory to breed vote-banks. In the past five years, the House has sat for merely 350 days approximately during 15 sessions, as against the 500 days it was expected to assemble for the purpose of transacting business. Never before in its history has almost half of its time been lost on disruptions. The current Lok Sabha will also set the splenetic record of boasting the lowest rate of achieving legislative targets in five years. Perhaps it will be remembered as the House where the Prime Minister spoke the least, along with 100-odd MPs who were either politically aphonic or spoke rarely.
Parliament is expected to be a forum for healthy debates and discussions on issues of public interest. But can the government or the Opposition use its last sessions to merely push the individual electoral agendas of each? On the eve of the last session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi made fervent appeals to the Opposition to cooperate with the government in pushing pending bills. Sure enough, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, and other political paladins responded positively. But they forgot their promise the day the session began. While the Congress dissidents were determined to disrupt the House with the objective of preventing the creation of Telangana, other parties used the platform to push their own agendas. The bills on Communal Violence, Corruption and Women’s Reservation have been pending for the past few years and have been brought to the House in every session. Expectedly, Parliament’s first week was washed out without any significant business being carrying out. If one goes by the mood of the political parties, the Lok Sabha is unlikely to pass any important bill except vote for an interim budget. The UPA and opposing soapbox oraters will keep blaming each other for making lawmaking hors de combat.
The growing election-eve confrontation between the ruling party and Opposition raises another important question on the partisan profanation of Parliament. Should the last Lok Sabha session be allowed to become a theatre to do business, which will help the ruling party to reap a harvest at the hustings? Wouldn’t it be prudent and politically correct to let the last session of every Lok Sabha transact minimum business and legislate only on emergency laws? Historically, last sessions have always been politically volatile, never ending without acrimonious debates and confrontations between the ruling and opposition benches. In a parliamentary democracy, the government gets five years in office. It spends its first year understanding the system, its second in policy formulation, the third implementing its policies, the fourth on consolidation and the fifth year distributing doles to win the next election. It is this final year which leads to the total breakdown of the legislative process.
But degeneration of parliamentary democracy hasn’t been confined to the last session. Ever since the nation slipped into the coalition era, in which even a single-member party plays an important role in the government’s survival, Parliament has failed to stick to its agenda for governance and legislation. The current Lok Sabha has sat for over 2,000 hours in five years. But it has lost over 800 hours in disruptions, which means four out of 10 hours have been wasted in bobbery and attacking one another on the floor of the House. If the disruptions were based on real issues, they would have served the purpose of healthy democratic discussion. But most have been confined to insignificant issues. In an era of competitive politics, each party has been disrupting Parliament in order to address its own constituency. For example, the first week of the last session was lost because regional parties weren’t allowing the House to take up any national issue. With the Congress unwilling to rein its members, just half a dozen MPs in the 542-member House could force presiding officers to adjourn Parliament for a full day. As a result of frequent adjournments and bombilations, even the number of starred questions to be answered by ministers has shown a sharp decline from 87 in the third session to just 11 in the Winter Session. The number of unstarred questions fell from over 7,000 to just 3,500. According to Lok Sabha sources, the disruption is thanks to the deteriorating quality of questions submitted by various MPs to the secretariat. Indian Parliament has defied the natural biological law of maturity. Instead of turning into a wise and mature institution, it is being converted into an instrument of destroying faith in the parliamentary system. The fault lies not only with picayune leaders with mighty egos but also with the voters who elect its members. The erosion of Parliament’s credibility reflects the weakening control of an ineffective leadership. After all, people are getting the government they deserve.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, February 3, 2014

In Singles Match for TOP JOB ..... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/February 02, 2014

In Singles Match for Top Job, Only Mixed Doubles Will Decide Government Formation

Who will become the Prime Minister in May 2014? No prospective aspirant has an answer. But one thing is indubitable. Only the singles at the helm of states will anoint one among them as Indian democracy’s next Moghul. If opinion polls and drawing room gossip are any indications, only a single by status will become India’s Prime Minister. If one goes by the list of probables and others who would matter in the finals, not a single married politician’s name figures, even as a dark horse. The BJP was the first party to announce NaMo, a single man, as its choice for the top job. It was for the second time that the saffron party opted for a singular single after Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Other singles such as West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar (widower) and even BSP President Mayawati are projected as likely occupants of 7 Race Course Road. Finally, the 120-year-old Congress party has also chosen its young, single inheritor Rahul Gandhi to pick up the gauntlet on its behalf. Indians are looking for single saviours among its politicians. Since over 60 per cent of voters are single, the names of leaders reflect their natural choice. Earlier, too, three other singles—Jayalalithaa, Mamata and Naveen Patnaik—decided the fate of India’s first single PM. While they were instrumental in Vajpayee being elected the PM, they were equally responsible for his fall.

Both the BJP and Congress are convinced that their single leaders will make it to South Block’s best-appointed room. But as the line from Macbeth goes “to make assurance doubly sure”, both parties are busy wooing other singles to support their bachelor leaders. There is no doubt that the combination of singles is awesome. Opinion polls and surveys project that they will collectively or individually dictate the choice and character of the next government in Delhi. The arithmetic is arresting: between the four of them, they are likely to garner around 130 seats. Modi-led NDA is expected to get a maximum of 210 seats. Unless two of the four singles with over 50 seats support Modi, he can’t become the PM even if his charisma earns the BJP the largest single party tag. Only a mixed doubles will decide the game of government formation. The BJP and its supporters are heavily dependent on Jayalalithaa to bail them out. The AIADMK legion has already announced that it would like to see its leader installed in 7 RCR. Last year, TMC had announced that Mamata cannot be ruled out as India’s supreme ruler. If Modi can’t achieve his mission, Rahul would have to turn to the same singles for escorting him to the swearing in at Raisina Hill. This can happen only if the Congress wins enough seats to attract an ally after the election. Surprisingly, Rahul and Modi may have caught the imagination of new and young voters to a certain extent, but both have miserably failed to charm the powerful singletons who control the keys to the PM’s office. Both contenders have hardly been in direct touch with members of the singles club. Barring a few photo-ops that NaMo got with Jayalalithaa, the two leaders have not been seen even making political overtures to other singles together. According to political analysts, it is for the first time in India’s democratic politics that personal egos and their vice-like grip over their respective organisations has made Indian political calculations unstable and unpredictable. With Mamata, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Patnaik keeping their cards close to their chests, Indian chatterati and foreign market manipulators are hedging their bets on the contours of the future dispensation.
The problem with foreign-educated and FII-funded experts is that they have failed to understand the political mindset of those who have risen from the grassroots, or through massive and traumatic inner party struggles, or simply nurtured in an elite-dominated social hierarchy. Mayawati and Mamata were ignored by the highly class and pedigree-conscious establishment. The two singles were the original architects of the aam aadmi paradigm, raising their outfits from scratch to acquire the status of queen or kingmaker. Jayalalithaa was humiliated by rootless satraps of her party after MGR’s death. She revived the AIADMK through sheer hard work and ideological differentiation. Only Patnaik entered politics with a degree and pedigree. But he learnt faster than his father Biju Patnaik and decimated his opponents with beguiling charisma. All of them are leaders of the parties they created themselves, which sustained their acceptability. While there is no ideological commonality between these four singles, each has his or her own political priorities and views on the political Carte du Tendre and would like to dictate not only the choice of the next PM, but the agenda for governance as well. At the moment, they have not been in dialogue with one another about any future coalition. But they have made it clear that they would like to instal a non-NDA and non-Congress government at the Centre. But consistency has never been a politician’s virtue.
In contrast to self-made regional satraps, both Modi and Rahul have inherited huge organisational support from their respective parties. Modi has added value to BJP with his outstanding performance as Gujarat chief minister. But without the BJP he may not get even one-fourth of the votes, which the party is capable of winning. Rahul’s situation is a little better as the Congress sans a Gandhi is an old Ambassador car without fuel. But a single difference—neither leader possesses the disarming charm or the smiling silence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to win friends and influence enemies. Even Vajpayee was ejected from his office by the force of these singles.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla