Monday, April 28, 2014

Difference between Modi wave and Anti-Modi Sentiment is ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/April 27, 2014

Difference Between Modi Wave and Anti-Modi Sentiment is About 100 Seats

The Indian meteorological department is a whimsical prognosticator, failing to predict the weather—including storms—quite often. Fierce arguments break out over its efficacy, but with fewer loyalists than cynics. A similar battle is on over political forecasting, with fewer takers for contrarians. Fair weather birds have started migrating to safer climes, so that they can be sighted and counted, while prancing and preening in the changed weather. From boardrooms to newsrooms, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi is seen as manna from heaven; one who can redeem India’s miserable millions, including the richie rich, from despair. The media has already crowned Modi India’s next PM. Ironically, those who vilified him as a monster a decade ago are now scrambling to either sit next to him or bask in his shadow. Undoubtedly, Modi is one of the most successful and effective CMs who have delivered on many fronts without facing a single corruption charge in the last 12 years. Nevertheless, his marketing skills, coupled with schisms in the BJP, made him the most sought-after leader in the world’s largest democracy.

In the age of instant data creation and ready-to-offer opinion, political astrology has never been so easy. If there are 10 people in a drawing room, at least seven are willing to wager their last paisa on Modi as PM. Most of them hate the BJP, but they feel India deserves Modi. If one calls it a Modi Wave, another terms it an impending tsunami, which will uproot evil outfits like the Left, AAP and Congress. According to various opinion polls, self-appointed pollsters and academicians, Modi would gather a maximum of 280 and a minimum of 225 seats. No logic, however, is offered for this calculation. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s most popular non-Congress leader ever, couldn’t win more than 183 seats for the BJP. Even in 1977, when the entire north and west India was united against the Congress, the rookie Janata Party couldn’t seize more than 285 seats. In 1989, V P Singh, riding the Bofors scandal, could muster just 140 seats; that too with the support of the BJP and Left. In 2004, the same oracles had written off the Congress, which made a triumphant comeback. Now, traumatised, it is paying a heavy price for non-governance and scams. Nor does it have regional satraps who can swing an election its way.

The anti-Congress vote is making Modi India’s most probable PM. Predicting seats, however, is more difficult that winning them. Since Modi appears to be contesting all the 400 BJP seats, the outcome will be decided by his popularity and acceptability. If there is a wave, it should be visible in all the seats and get converted into winning numbers. A close analysis of around 50 constituencies reveals that Modi is a premier brand name. The numerical difference between a Modi Wave and the anti-Modi sentiment is about 100 seats (see graphic). The BJP would undoubtedly emerge as the single largest party. But its capacity to form the government on its own is the real issue. The BJP is likely to snatch seats only from the Congress and not from any major regional party. It is in a direct fight with the Congress in less than 250 seats, out of which it already holds over 100, and the Congress around 150. In order to cross the 200-mark, the BJP has to gain at least 100 seats from the Congress, which could lose around 20 of its 116 current Lok Sabha seats. The BJP is in no position to take seats away from Mamata, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa, the Left and from the Northeast parties. This can happen only if Modi can break caste, community and regional barriers, which his promoters are confident about. If the Modi wave is able to demolish traditional voting patterns, the BJP alone could cross over 240 seats. But if Modi fails to successfully exploit anti-incumbency disgust and convert his personal popularity into votes, the BJP may not even cross its current record of 180 seats. If he fails to break Vajpayee’s record, he will be seen as leader with more hype than substance. His detractors and even some of his current companions would turn around and say the NDA lost in 2004 because of the Modi factor and has failed now because he converted the battle into Modi vs the Rest.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 21, 2014

Battle 2014 is between visible Modi ...... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/April 20, 2014

Battle 2014 is Between Visible Modi and Invisible Club of Other CMs 

May 16 will mark an inglorious rite of passage. The top-down economic model of an outgoing Prime Minister will fade into a lugubrious sunset. It could also, perhaps, signal the debut of a bottom-upwards political model in Indian parliamentary democracy. If opinion polls and media hype are proved right, India would have a PM who is not the nominee of any New Delhi cabal. For the first time, the power to choose a head of government appears to be shifting from Lutyen’s Delhi to state capitals. For the first time, no political party can stymie the anointment of a grassroots leader as India’s 15th Prime Minister. It is certain that either a sitting or a former CM would move into 7 Race Course Road. Though Narendra Modi is the only CM who has been officially declared as a PM candidate, others like J Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee and former CMs such as Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Chandrababu Naidu consider themselves credible candidates for the catbird seat. In the new political taxonomy, old is gold and experience is bliss. Instead of powerful party forums like parliamentary boards, it will be a formidable club of current and former CMs who would not only choose the next PM from among themselves, but will also dictate the colour and size of the next government.

Modi is not the only CM in the fray who aspires to be PM, but he is the only CM to contest without quitting his post. Twenty-nine other former CMs are seeking entry into Parliament from various states. Karnataka, with six former CMs in the ring, tops the list followed by five from Uttar Pradesh. Three are from Uttarakhand; two each from Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand. Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Northeast, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh have one each. Of these, there are three former women CMs. The JD(U) has chosen Ram Sundar Das, a 90-year old former CM from Bihar, to fight under its standard. Arvind Kejriwal, 49-year-old and 49-day CM of Delhi, is Modi’s challenger in Varanasi—he is not only the youngest but also has the least governing experience among former CMs. Sushma Swaraj had served in the same job for less than 100 days. In Karnataka, H D Devegowda and elder son H D Kumaraswamy have been CMs. Since Lalu Prasad is barred from contesting elections, his wife Rabari Devi—a former CM—is engaged in her maiden contest for the Saran Lok Sabha seat. The other former CMs in the fight are Purno Sangma, Babulal Marandi, Shibu Soren, Farooq Abdullah and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The maximum number of this fancy fellowship belongs to the BJP with 10 former and sitting CMs. The Congress has put up eight former CMs. Undoubtedly, the former is totally committed to installing Modi as the next PM, but two former saffron CMs Rajnath Singh and Sushma are considered to be powerful alternatives in case Modi fails to make it. Others in this genre are Uma Bharti from Uttar Pradesh and Shanta Kumar from Himachal Pradesh. The BJP has also chosen three former CMs from one picayune state, Uttarakhand, to join the MODI4PM battle. In Himachal Pradesh too, the situation is the same. In Karnataka, Sadanand Gowda and B S Yeddyurappa are fighting to secure their seats. The beleaguered Congress has also chosen former CMs to bolster its electoral prospects. It has asked Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan to contest from Maharashtra, Dharam Singh and Veerappa Moily from Karnataka, Amarinder Singh from Punjab, Giridhar Gomango from Odisha, Ghulam Nabi Azad from Jammu and Kashmir, and Shankersinh Vaghela from Gujarat.

It is not just mere coincidence that the two national parties have made their old and tested former state satraps pick up the poll gauntlet. Ironically, both outfits have been verbosely vehement about the role of new voters and young leaders, but when it came to selecting crucial candidates, over 70 per cent of party tickets were granted to leaders 65 years old and above. Most of the contesting former CMs are in their late 60s; some even in their 70s. Both Modi and Rahul are convinced that by fielding these venerables, their outfits would not only win their own seats but also ensure the victory of their favourites elsewhere. And their spheres of influence would come in useful in determining the formation of the next government at the Centre.

In case none of the contesting former CMs make it to South Block, one of the running CMs would claim the Prime Minister’s chair. Only two regional parties—the TMC and AIADMK—have formally announced the candidature of their respective liege ladies, Mamata and Jayalalithaa, because both leaders can capture over 30 seats each in their states. Prominent non-BJP and non-Congress leaders have already started informal power parleys with various current and former CMs, including Mulayam Singh and Mayawati. Their objective is not only to stop ‘Ab ki Baar, Modi Sarkar’, but also to promote a third alternative. Now it appears that Modi was aware of the combined power of the Chief Ministers’ Club. While unfolding his model of governance, Modi promised that he would constitute a council of chief ministers, which would take decisions in the national interest and protect the stakes of all states. But so far, he hasn’t found any traction as other CMs feel that their experience in dealing with PMs is superior. Almost all other former and current CMs, barring Naidu, have spurned Modi’s indirect overtures. In the next couple of weeks, it would be evident that the battle of 2014 is not between Modi and Rahul. It is not even between the Congress and BJP. It is between a highly visible Chief Minister like Modi and a wily, invisible club of other chief ministers. Who will make it to New Delhi? The jury is still out.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bread and Butter have expiry dateds ....... Power & Politics/The New Indian Express/April 12, 2014

Bread and Butter Have Expiry Dates, But Divide and Rule is Forever

Azam Khan

It’s a battle between two paladins belonging to two political potentates jousting bitterly to capture the throne room in 7 Race Course Road. Azam Khan and Amit Shah have nothing in common by way of ideology, culture or governance. Amit is known as the Hanuman of BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Damodar Bhai Modi. Azam is famous for doing malevolent communal combat on behalf of Netaji Mulayam Singh Yadav. Both Modi and Mulayam have given complete freedom of expression to their cohorts to the extent that both liegemen are able to alter national political discourse and dictate the agenda for Elections 2014. If there are individuals who can define and rewrite ideologies, there are others who can erase them with equal aplomb.

Azam and Amit have come to symbolise the politics of hate and revenge. While the latter is facing legal scrutiny for his alleged role in the Gujarat riots, Azam is under investigation for making communal remarks against the Indian Army. Ironically, both have held preponderous positions in party and government. It is not a coincidence that neither of the two is known for providing good governance. Their expertise lies in the art of intimidation using all available instruments of power and persuasion. With Azam and Amit engaged in a combat of epithets, Uttar Pradesh is the only state in which elegies for issues like development and good governance are already being composed. Other parties are parroting the divisive discourse discharged by the differing duo by offering a slightly refined version of their minatory monologues, which are dividing voters along communal lines. Two weeks ago, Akhilesh Yadav, perhaps India’s youngest CM, was holding forth on technology, highways, metro rail and hospitals as his agenda for governance. All the political parties hawked women empowerment, health, education, law and order and child welfare as the main attractions of their manifesto bazaar. But A&A brought the focus back on themselves and delegated their leaders into mere poster boys.

For the past two weeks, A&A have successfully altered the contours of political debate. As Uttar Pradesh with 80 seats would decide the nature of next government, the divisive duo is leaving little to chance to polarise the electorate. As Amit’s electoral road map upholds, it is evident that he was chosen not to just set up and revive a highly divided and demoralised BJP in UP, but also to convert the battle ground into They vs Us. From the choice of candidates to the selection of talking points, Amit has successfully ensured that the UP elections be fought using emotional issues riding the hardcore Hindutva gestalt. According to party insiders, he played a key role in persuading Modi to fight from Varanasi, the undeclared capital of hardcore Hindutva. It would be for the first time that an outsider—and that too a backward caste individual like Modi—would be contesting from a Brahmin-dominated constituency. After touring the state for over a month and confabulating with various middle-level BJP satraps, Amit convinced his leadership, including Modi, that UP could be won only if the party is able to revive the Hindutva forces, which gave it 58 seats in 1999 and brought the BJP to power in the state in 1992. Amit had done his homework well. Even in 1967, the Jan Sangh won over 90 seats in UP because of the police firing against Hindu saints who were protesting against cow slaughter in Parliament in 1966. BJP has always performed miserably in UP whenever it didn’t play up core issues like Ram Mandir, Uniform Civil Code etc.

For Amit, Muzzafarnagar came as a Ram-sent opportunity to reap a huge electoral harvest. A fiery orator and a master strategist, last year’s riot was the glue he used to unite Hindutva forces. Read the subtext of his speech carefully, which was carried by both the electronic and print media. He told party workers, “The election is about voting out the government that protects and gives compensation to those who killed Jats,” and used the words badla (revenge) and izzat (honour), perhaps deliberately. He followed it up with yet another provocative remark—“By voting for Modi, you will be doing two things. You will bring him to the Centre and you will uproot Mullah Mulayam from Lucknow.”

If Amit was determined to unite his hardcore base, how could Azam drag his feet? After all, he was given the mandate to ensure that minorities came out in full force to vote for his party. He even invoked minority supremacy in the Army’s role in the Kargil war. Of course, it was for the first time that a minority leader was asserting that Muslims were as powerfully nationalist as the saffron brigade. Claimed Azam: “Those who fought in Kargil weren’t Hindu soldiers. In fact, the ones who fought for our victory were Muslim soldiers.”

Azam and Amit wouldn’t have taken to confrontationist communal posturing unless their promoters gave them the nod to change the direction of political engagement. During the past few weeks, there has been a competitive bid by leaders of almost all the parties to acquire Muslims leaders as magic mascots at any cost. If Modi and his brigade were displaying retired Muslim civil servants and disgruntled Muslim leaders from Bihar to dispel the widely believed perception about Modi’s unacceptability among the minorities, Congress president Sonia Gandhi invited Imam Bukhari to her home to seek his support for her party. Interestingly, the Election Commission received more complaints from various political parties on religion being used to influence voters than it did in the last two elections. The maximum numbers were from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It is clear that over 250 million voters in 120 seats of both heartland states were being wooed not to make them more prosperous but to preserve their religious identity as vote blocs. For Indian politicians, issues like bread and butter have expiry dates. But what lives forever is the policy of divide and rule. The next few weeks will see more and more Azams and Amits who will excoriate and dominate the political markets.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 7, 2014

Manmohan is History....... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/April 06, 2014

Manmohan is History, but Last Leg of Advani's Run Begins May 16

It’s a spellbinding tale of two titans riding into the sunset. One has a record for being the third longest-serving PM. The other has an unfulfilled dream of making it to 7 RCR even after two elections. PM Manmohan Singh and L K Advani, the titular chairman of the inactive NDA, have become pariahs in their homes. Even the claqueurs they promoted and protected during their shining days treat them with disdain. In 2009, both were star campaigners for their parties. Both were declared their party’s PM candidates in advance. Congress never missed an opportunity to market Manmohan as India’s consensus builder and global leader. Advani was hailed as strong and decisive regnant—the real inheritor of Sardar Patel’s legacy. Every piece of publicity material of both parties carried their pictures proclaiming their seigniory.

Come 2014, and their own parties do not want them. As Bob Dylan sang, “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, the coup de théâtre is that both LKA and MMS—hailed as architects of a resurgent BJP and a prosperous India respectively—are now perceived as destroyers of the edifices they raised. The names of neither leader appear on the list of their party’s key campaigners, submitted to the EC, even as a mere formality. There is no demand for either of them to address rallies. If Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have spoken at over 200 meetings each, Advani and Manmohan aren’t expected to address more than 20 each.
The reasons for the ignominy of each leader are different. Advani has been in politics for over six decades. He led a movement, which brought his party to power in 1996 under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He groomed the current leadership of the BJP by appointing them CMs and giving them national responsibilities, even at the risk of ignoring the claims of senior satraps. The BJP’s Iron Man of Yesterday holds the world record of undertaking the longest-ever yatra for the purpose of uniting his party and carrying the Hindutva message through the country. Advani, along with Vajpayee, made BJP what it is today. Advani was, in fact, its soul and body; Vajpayee its moderate face. But the party’s poor performance in 2009 and Vajpayee’s infirmities forcing him to opt out of tasks of politics led Advani’s position to become vulnerable. The first sign of his plummeting acceptability was visible during the recent Assembly polls in which most BJP chief ministers were unwilling to invite him to campaign. Moreover, portraits of both Advani and Vajpayee, which used to hold permanent pride of place in the party’s publicity material started to vanish from electoral horizons of saffron states. Now, one can hardly find Advani’s picture on a poster or a hoarding put up for a BJP candidate.

Modi’s supporters have ensured that his bête noire doesn’t share any platform with Gujarat’s lord of the ascendant in any part of the country. So far, the old warhorse hasn’t been invited onstage to any rally in which Modi is main speaker. In a cruel irony, Advani—BJP’s leader, ideologue and philosopher—has been reduced to being just another name in the list of over a dozen members of the parliamentary board. The sanguine suzerain who carried BJP out of political untouchability and brought over 20 parties to its fold is today not even consulted or informed about alliances with other parties, which still respect him more than any leader in BJP. His inability to anticipate and understand the winds of change within his own party led to erosion of his supremacy. Never did he expect that his followers would stab him in the back one day.

A leader who once had the veto over the selection of even a member of a state Assembly has been denied the right to choose his seat. Advani, however, still commands a following among the old guard and a sizeable section of middle-level cadres who see in him a leader to admire—one with frugal habits and simple living. Prominent leaders like Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and over a dozen state party paladins still regard him as the symbol of BJP’s ideology. It is thanks to them that he has survived in the party and is still seen unleashing his oratory at rallies. It was the small but formidable support Advani commands within the rank and file that forced Modi to accompany him when he went to file his nomination from Gandhinagar. To the dismay of detractors, Advani continues to be an institution and not just an individual.

On another front, it is Sonia Gandhi and Congress which made MMS what he is today. The PM has never been seen as a person with political mettle to lead his party. Sonia appointed him PM because he was apolitical and wouldn’t pose any challenge to the Gandhi Parivar. During the UPA’s 2004-09 reign, he delivered on governance not because of his administrative prowess but primarily due to the effect of the global economic upsurge. MMS provided multinationals an easy market for making fast money and gave them concessions to create services and invest in markets instead of manufacturing. As the winter of global recession set in 2009, India’s vulnerability was exposed; the national growth rate plunged to a decade’s record low of less than 5 per cent. His introverted paralysis led to his failure in leading the government. Yet, his pickthank megaphones never missed an opportunity to blame the Gandhis and dual centres of power for the massive failures and scams hobbling the UPA. For the past few months, many of his ministers have been defying him. They found excuses for not inviting him to any of their ministries’ functions. Now portraits of him—so prominent in 2009 posters of the Congress—have vanished. If Advani still holds a place in his party, the Congress is eagerly waiting for MMS to make a graceful exit. The party had been dropping myriad signals, which forced the PM to announce his retirement way before the elections. While it is certain that MMS will be history after the polls, the writing of the last chapter of Advani’s 60-year-old political Yatra will begin only after May 16.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla