Monday, October 27, 2014

The Gandhis can't Discover Key .... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/ October 26, 2014

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi

The Gandhis Can’t Discover Key to Post-Modi Politics Until They Rediscover Themselves

“A leader is a dealer in hope.”—Napoleon Bonaparte

Even after 193 years of his death, the great French Emperor’s words resonate with ageless truth. Napoleon’s bon mot fits the current Congress leadership to the last vowel. The 129-year-old party is not only in a state of political paralysis, but its leadership too is unable to raise the banner of hope proclaiming its relevance on the political battlefield. When even senior leaders like former finance minister and invitee to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) P Chidambaram feel desperation, it is evident that the High Command is losing control over loyalists.

A casual visit to the Congress website makes it obvious that the party is living in the past. The homepage opens with a video of a bearded Rahul Gandhi wishing the nation Happy Diwali. So far so good. Most other sections only speak about the NDA government’s shortcomings. Another section deals with the history of Congress, with each page talking about the sacrifices made by its leaders, including the Gandhis. The site offers no roadmap for the future. The party is oblivious to the fact that the current political war is being fought in cyberspace and not on the dusty warfront in various states. Its workers would find no worthwhile plan or agenda on the website which could enthuse them to fight for the party. They are waiting for Sonia and Rahul to change not only their style and substance, but also the political company they have been keeping for the past few months.
The Gandhis are not known for their easy accessibility. But no partyman ever questioned this exclusivity, as long as the Family kept winning elections for them. Now partymen are urging them to step out of their SPG-protected fortresses and mingle with the grassroots. Ever since Congress’ defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, party workers have been expecting a major organisational surgery to rid the outfit of those who occupy high posts without accountability. Most Congress leaders are saddened by the fact that Sonia hasn’t thought it proper to call an emergency meeting of state and district-level officebearers to review the causes for the debacle and chart the future course. Four months have passed since the defeat, but not a single satrap’s head has rolled so far.

In the cacophony of dissenting voices lies the urgency of creating a new Congress under a leadership which can ensure ‘Achhe Din’ for party workers and leaders who can’t exist without power for long. Party members at all levels are seeking the answer to just one question: “Can Sonia and Rahul bring Achhe Din for them?” Humiliating defeats in Haryana and Maharashtra also seem to have shaken their faith in the Gandhis who once appeared infallible. It is not for the first time that the Family is under attack for its failure to lasso voters for the party. When the Congress lost many Assembly and Parliamentary elections in 1998-99, Sonia was accused of shrinking the party’s national base. Of late, the Gandhis have been facing virulent attacks for winning the minimum number of Lok Sabha seats and losing major states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to the opposition.

Politics, too, has become a business for making profit by exploiting a premium brand. If over 100 ex-Congress MPs, MLAs and officebearers have left the party to join the BJP or any other party in the past six months, it reflects the plummeting faith in the High Command. The defectors forgot that it was Sonia Gandhi who brought the party to power in 2004 and 2009. Chidambaram’s comment made the headlines without making news. If in the past, many non-Gandhis could become party presidents, it could happen in the future too. But all matters regarding the authority and utility of the current and future leadership has to be resolved if Congress wants to survive in politics.
However, as usual, the Congress is all about the Gandhis and Gandhis alone. Chidambaram, too, spoke about them and expects that one day a non-Gandhi may helm the party. Technically, he is right. Constitutionally, he is absolutely correct. Of the 16 Congress presidents since 1947, 12 were non-Nehru-Gandhis. However, three Gandhis—Indira, Rajiv and Sonia— have occupied AICC presidency for 30 years out of 68. It is also a reality that the others were anointed party chiefs only after prior concurrence of a Gandhi or Nehru. It’s natural for Congress to be reconciled to the idea of a Gandhi-led Congress on a permanent basis, albeit with scary expectations. At the moment, both mother and son haven’t been able to provide either a slogan or an agenda to face the Modi juggernaut. The PM is flinging gauntlets by coining new slogans and announcing fresh schemes, whose merits cannot be opposed.

Veteran Congressmen are expecting the Family to deliver a brand new Congress. Each Gandhi created his or her own apparatus, apparatchiks and agenda soon after taking over as party boss. Indira got rid of the syndicate and coined ‘Garibi Hatao’. Even Sanjay Gandhi created an aggressive young brigade, which pushed his five-point programme that included family planning and environment. Rajiv Gandhi brought in his own team from the corporate sector and chose technology as his mission. But the Sonia and Rahul team haven’t come up with any inspiring epiphany to energise the party. Old loyalists remain entrenched in powerful bodies like the CWC. Out of its 40 members, over 20 have hardly ever won an election or carried the party to victory in their respective states. Most Pradesh Congress Committees have become centres of group rivalries. Unless the Gandhis rediscover themselves, their rediscovery of India’s post- Modi politics will never succeed. For the Congress, the Gandhi brand is like Reliance or Tata, which can go through many crests and troughs but will never vanish. They will always remain top of the mind. But like the Tatas and the Ambanis, the Gandhis have to sculpt a team which can repackage and market a 129-year-old brand, the Congress.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 20, 2014

Swadeshi PM fills gap by Banking ...... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/October 19,2014

Swadeshi PM Fills Gap By Banking on Videshi Men to Deliver Economic Idea of India

Humour has a habit of hiding truth by default. A remark made in jest by an economist friend resonated with reality. Can India’s Prime Minister or finance minister do without an Arvind in North Block? Lutyen’s Delhi is yet to reconcile to the disruptive political idea of Arvind Kejriwal. The eponymous syndrome has now affected even PM Narendra Modi, so much so that he simply could not ignore the talents of an economist with World Bank connections for running the Indian economy. North Block has been, of late, grappling to find an Arvind with the appropriate degree and connectivity to act as an accelerator or at least a stabiliser of India’s growth trajectory. Both economic and political observers are keenly monitoring the movements and appointments of key advisors and officials at the Centre. They expect a bureaucratic establishment with a significantly new look in line with the new dispensation’s thinking. Last week, Modi decided to import from Washington DC, Arvind Subramanian as India’s 12th Chief Economic Advisor (CEA). The chair has been lying vacant ever since the UPA government appointed Raghuram Rajan as the RBI governor.
(From left) Arvind Subramanian, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Kaushik Basu and Shankar Acharya
But all Arvinds do not lead such a charmed life. On the same day, Modi shunted out Finance Secretary Arvind Mayaram from North Block to the little known Patel Bhawan as Tourism Secretary. It is for the first time that a Finance Secretary has been transferred to such a relatively insignificant ministry. At the same time, the PM overlooked the claims of Arvind Panagariya, a fellow Gujarati and a foreign-educated economist who is the toast of the saffron chatterati class. Panagariya was the frontrunner for the CEA’s post and was backed by credible economists like Jagdish Bhagwati. But the PM chose a South Indian Arvind instead, whose spoken language is listed as Hindi over others. Earlier, Arvind Virmani had served as CEA from 2007-09.

On a serious note, Subramanian’s appointment raises an issue about the essential qualifications for the appointment of a key government advisor. Modi is the first homegrown leader to wear his Swadeshi credentials on his sleeve. He speaks in an Indian language and promotes Indian ideas and icons. But the compulsion of global connectivity has forced the Swadeshi politician to depend on a World Bank/IMF-pedigree economist to carry forward his growth model. So far the PM has shown a different style and approach in running the government. When it came to putting together a team for economic reforms, however, he has followed the formula set by predecessors, from Rajiv Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, of looking for external experts.

Subramanian is one of the most respectable global economists. It is not a coincidence that Modi decided to limit his choice to a group which has been connected with the Brentwood institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). In fact, barring Bimal Jalan, the former RBI governor, and Deepak Nayyar, the former V-C of Jawaharlal Nehru University, all the CEAs who came later were actively associated with the World Bank or IMF. Even Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who served as CEA to Manmohan Singh (a former CEA himself) when he was P V Naransimha Rao’s finance minister, was a nominee of Washington-based banks. Later on, economists like Shankar Acharya, Ashok Lahiri, Kaushik Basu and Raghuram Rajan, too, were associated with the Fund banks before being appointed as CEA. The process of borrowing people from overseas started in the early 1990s, when the finance ministers of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh were chosen from among economists who had worked for the IMF, World Bank or other international financial institutions. As one of the desi Leftist economists put it, “It appears that we have an unwritten agreement with the World Bank and IMF that India would keep one of their representatives in North Block to keep a watch on things. Afterwards, they all return to Washington after retirement.”
Subramanian is not an exception. An author of numerous books, the 54-year-old is currently working as a Dennis Weatherstone Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Earlier he was associated with the IMF as an assistant director in the research department. He is known more as a trade economist than one with the expertise needed to manage the macroeconomic issues confronting India. He has written extensively on WTO matters and India’s policy on World Trade. He has been critical of India’s stand in the WTO on food subsidy. He had also chastised NDA’s first interim budget. Modi has shown magnanimity in appointing him in order to get a contrarian view on his own economic philosophy. But some economists have raised questions about Subramanian’s suitability for India, which needs to put its internal monetary and fiscal policies in place. If Modi’s eyes are set on increasing the nation’s share in international trade, then Subramanian is perhaps the best bet. But the question is, why were macroeconomists like Subir Gokarn, the former RBI deputy governor, and Urjit Patel, the current deputy governor, ignored? Though both have foreign degrees and IMF and World Bank connections, they were found not wired enough abroad. According to government insiders, Subramanian was picked because Modi is looking to play an important role in dictating the direction of the global economic agenda, like Manmohan did during his first tenure as Prime Minister.

The appointment of Subramanian and Rajiv Mehrishi as the new Finance Secretary, along with a new Coal Secretary indicate that Modi is not only shaking up the Civil Services, but is also giving it a new shape. During the past four weeks, he has ordered the reshuffle of over 40 joint secretaries and about a dozen secretaries. He has even overturned Manmohan’s directive, which made it mandatory for the Cabinet Secretary to consult the minister concerned before appointing any secretary or joint secretary in his ministry. Now the PM alone chooses the secretaries. He even holds regular review meetings with them. He wants them all to communicate with him directly. Since Modi has made development his mission, he is discovering the tools and personnel who can deliver his idea of ‘Swachh and Swasth Bharat’ (A Clean and Healthy India). Perhaps he is not able to get indigenous people qualified enough to serve as his companions in Vikas Yatra. Modi appears to be filling the talent deficit gap by importing skills for now. So far he has been a campaigner, not a crusader. In the next few weeks, India may see a fully constructed Modi Sarkar in place, with or without the help of videshi men and material.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 13, 2014

By Winning Assemblies, PM aims, ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/October 12, 2014

Modi addresses a rally at Pimpri in Pune

By Winning Assemblies, PM Aims to Decimate Regional Chiefs and Capture Rajya Sabha

Normally, after winning a war, losing a few minor battles shouldn’t bother a warrior. But PM Narendra Modi and his trusted party chief Amit Shah are treating the upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana as yet another war to be won in order to consolidate their control over India’s political market. If the colour and character of their campaign are indications, it is a fight between Modi and the rest—it’s Lok Sabha election redux, with the BJP projecting NaMo as its only candidate in all the 288 and 90 Assembly seats in Maharashtra and Haryana respectively.
Never since Independence has a PM become the lone star of a local election. Starting from the Delhi border with Rajasthan on one side and Uttar Pradesh on the other, all roads, walls and hoardings carry only Modi’s redoubtable visage. The name and picture of the local candidate is hardly visible or advertised. The BJP’s election slogan has also been chosen thoughtfully. If the war cry in the 2014 General Elections was Abki Baar Modi Sarkar (It’s time for a Modi government), it has coined an extended slogan, Chalo Chalein Modi Ke Saath (Let’s move with Modi) for the states. The party and its leaders, whether it is Shah or any Cabinet minister, never disclose the name of the CM candidate in a state poll. Instead they ask voters to vote for a government, which will work with Modi. Modi promises a Team India comprising CMs from his party alone. This is contrary to his announcement during the Lok Sabha election campaign that all CMs, irrespective of their political affiliations, would be co-opted. But the tone and tenor of Modi’s speeches during the Assembly poll campaigns reflect a resolve to establish his control over a large swathe of political India. His discourse sounds exactly like Indira Gandhi’s, who promoted a strong Centre and weak states during her reign. Modi himself was as a chief minister for 12 years. Now that he is India’s PM, he would like his model to be implemented unchallenged. If the Congress sans Indira or any other Gandhi is like a vehicle that has run out of fuel, the BJP without Modi is like a fish out of water. Modi has credibility and vigour to be numero uno, while the BJP lacks any of these virtues. The party couldn’t find winnable candidates in over 30 per cent of the constituencies in Haryana and Maharashtra. When the public simulacrum reflected a massive defeat for the BJP minus a charismatic local chieftain, it decided to invoke Moditva. It is for the first time that a PM is addressing such a large number of rallies during any Assembly poll.

Modi is aiming at more than a decisive victory in the two states. He sees an invincible opportunity. If he wins both, it would be the beginning of the BJP seizing better control not only in the states but also in the Rajya Sabha, where it is in a hopeless minority. Moreover, a victory will also provide him with the authority to impose CMs of his choice in Maharashtra and Haryana. Currently, barring Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel, the previous establishment had chosen the remaining three CMs in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Modi decided to take charge of the Assembly campaign after the party suffered humiliating defeats in the by-polls held in Bihar, UP and Rajasthan in July. Soon after his return from a highly successful trip to the US, Modi decided to defy the convention of the PM’s minimum participation in regional elections. He sent clear signals that he would be available for any number of rallies in any part of the two states, even at the cost of getting a sore throat.

NaMo is neither a compromiser nor a reconciliator regarding his principles or mission. Contrary to general belief, it was only after his nudge and nod that the party broke its 25-year-old alliance with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and a decade-old relationship with Haryana Janhit Congress led by Kuldeep Bishnoi. Modi wanted to send a clear message to his (diminished) detractors in the party that he doesn’t need them and that his dependable party chief can deliver the states without the help of allies. Its political divorces have left BJP without any significant ally in all the major states. Earlier, it had broken ties with Nitish Kumar in Bihar. At the moment, it has picayune parties like the Akali Dal and Ram Vilas Paswan as partners, along with Chandrababu Naidu. The viciousness of the speeches being made in Haryana by saffron leaders against the Akali Dal is an indication of BJP’s strained relationship with the Punjab party.

Modi’s road map is clear. He wants the BJP to jettison needling regional allies and capture as many states as possible alone. His real purpose is to improve the BJP’s strength in the Rajya Sabha, which can happen only if it gets a majority on its own in the states. If they continue to remain under non-BJP control, the party wouldn’t be able to increase its current number of 43 MPs to 60 in the next 10 years. Maharashtra sends 19 members to the Rajya Sabha, the second highest after Uttar Pradesh, which has 31. At the moment, the BJP has only three members from the Maratha state. Modi wants to treble his party’s tally. Before his five-year term expires, 20 states would have gone to the polls. Modi has targeted Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Karnataka, which account for over 90 seats while the BJP has just about a dozen from these states. Once he captures Maharashtra and Haryana, no party would be able to stop the Modi juggernaut from capturing the other states. NaMo has already set new records in politics. But for him, even the sky is not the limit. When challenged, Modi’s posture becomes even more determined. His current endeavour seems to be to decimate regional leaders and become India’s most feared and adored national leader.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla