Monday, February 16, 2015

Individuals, Not Ideologies ....... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ February 15, 2015

Individuals, Not Ideologies, Dictating Poll Verdicts Show Changing Contours of Democracy

There are punctuations in history that signal shifts in political idiom. Democracies are expected to vote for or against an ideology. By definition, the democratic process involves confrontation between distinctive ideologies represented by different parties. Today, individuals have replaced ideologies. Even in mature democracies like the US and UK, individuals such as Barack Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher et al turbo-charged electoral energy rather than                                                                           
                                                                                 (From left) Kejriwal, Chamling, NTR and Mahanta)

In Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi has seen the kinetic rise of an individual instead of an alternative political philosophy to the BJP and Congress. For the political pundits, Kejriwal’s triumph has been an exceptional electoral enigma. Since it is for the first time that a newborn party has secured over 50 per cent of votes in Delhi, AAP’s victory has been projected as an unprecedented mandate. This is not entirely true. The Kejriwal Charisma is just yet another endorsement of the changing contours of political verdicts. Fed up with established parties and lethargic leaders, voters have been desperately looking for individuals who not only seem different but also behave differently. Kejriwal didn’t defeat the BJP or the Congress. He trounced the expired or confused ideologies of the national parties. The massive turnout at his second swearing-in was an indication of his personal popularity and not that of his party. Self-appointed political stargazers and opinionated intellectuals are busy predicting the impact of Kejriwal’s victory in other parts of the country. Besides bringing a broad smile to the face of Modi-wounded rivals, the Delhi declaration may not cause serious upheavals unless more Kejriwals emerge in the poll-bound states. If this happens, it may turn out to be a major headache for Modi bhakts and the BJP. But none of the local leaders have the capacity to neutralise the Modi Mantra as Kejriwal could in Delhi.
Kejriwal’s rise is as spectacular as that of Modi. People from all over the country chose Modi not because he was leading the BJP but because he looked different from the usual caricature of the political campaigner. His delivery of rhetoric was more convincing than the discipline and devotional colours of his saffron party. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani could not retain their following. Gandhi Parivar members have also lost their charismatic copyright. In the past decade, many individuals have risen at the cost of their own parties or have floated smaller organisations to take on the national or local parties. Earlier, when the Congress, led by Indira Gandhi, marginalised local leaders and ran the states like personal fiefdoms, the backlash resulted in the birth of regional satraps who ejected the Congress from their states. Some examples:
• During the early 1980s, the Congress in Andhra Pradesh became a symbol of arrogance and corrupt governance. It was run from Delhi. The local leadership had to take instructions from the private secretaries in the PMO for even appointing senior officers. As the Congress became ineffective in Andhra, it was left to film icon NT Rama Rao to take on the ruling party. NTR was the first homegrown leader who stormed to power within months of floating his party. In 1983, the TDP won 201 of 294 seats and polled 54 per cent votes. The Congress couldn’t digest its humiliating defeat. The High Command tried to break the TDP and imposed a dummy CM after dismissing NTR. But the Union Government had to yield to public pressure and order fresh elections in 1985. Once again the TDP polled 54 per cent votes and won 202 seats. But it wasn’t a vote for the TDP. It was a verdict in favour of an individual who lacked ideology but was seen as a person who would provide a clean and responsive government. Andhra became the first large state to hand over its destiny to a political novice. NTR wielded so much clout that the subsequent coalition government at the Centre couldn’t choose its PM without his approval.
• In the Northeast, another rising star demolished the might of the national party by floating his own outfit to become India’s youngest CM at 33. In 1983, student leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, along with half a dozen other student leaders, launched an agitation against illegal immigrations to Assam. Over 400 people died in the agitation and Mahanta became the saviour of the Assamese identity. Since the All Assam Students’ Union became a rallying point for all Assamese people, PM Rajiv Gandhi was forced to sign the Assam Accord following which the Congress government headed by Hiteshwar Saikia was dismissed. Fresh elections were ordered. Mahanta floated the Asom Gana Parishad in 1985 and won an absolute majority the same year and became the CM.
• In the tiny state of Sikkim, Pawan Kumar Chamling, 44, created history in 1993 when he floated his own party, the Socialist Democratic Front (SDF). He announced on his official website that “serving the people of Sikkim is our duty and religion”. In 1994, his party won an absolute majority. Since then he has been winning all the elections in Sikkim. In 1999, his party polled 52 per cent votes, which rose to 71 per cent in 2004. In 2009, the SDF won all the 32 seats in the Assembly.
Kejriwal’s victory is just a rekindling of the people’s desire to support those with fire in their belly. Even leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik and KCR have defeated the national parties not because their parties were seen as better alternatives but because they are perceived as better administrators. Constitutionally, India may still be a parliamentary democracy. But on the ground, the monumental triumphs of individuals like Modi and Kejriwal have transformed the country’s political ethos into a presidential form of democracy. From now on, individuals with an agenda and attitude, who do not necessarily have a defined ideology, will decide the fate of their own parties and the populace.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Opinionated Obama ..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ February 08, 2015

Opinionated Obama Must Realise He's Dealing with a PM Who's as Responsive as Ruthless

Narendra Modi and Barack Obama
                                                                                              Narendra Modi and Barack Obama

“A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.”—Confucius
For the chief executive of a global superpower like America, verbal modesty literally exceeds his intent and actions. President Barack Obama is reputed to be one of the world’s best orators. His Demosthenic dexterity can demolish even dedicated dissentients. Obama, however, is no exception when it comes to using words as weapons to target and tarnish other democracies. Every US president applies the US model of culture and democracy, which is used as a patent yardstick to measure the quality of cultural and religious harmony of other nations.
Last week, Obama displayed the diplomacy of arrogance by questioning the idea of a genuinely secular India. He even linked the country’s survival with its capacity to keep people of all faiths together, as if Indians are constantly engaged in bloody confrontations on the streets. His sermons came as a shock to even those who avoid seeing any evil in American acts of misadventure and malice.
In India, POTUS was not just given an unprecedented welcome, but PM Narendra Modi broke protocol to turn the Obama visit into one of the most productive sojourns compared to past presidential landings. It was considered one of the Modi government’s most stellar achievements and the PM and his team were least prepared for the unexpected and unsolicited advice from their otherwise affable guest. But Obama is a helpless victim of his domestic vote bank politics. After all, Democrats have never been genuine friends of India, preferring to give precedence to Pakistan. They have been backing Indian secularists, who have fought relentlessly against the saffron surge. Yielding to their pressure, the US had treated Modi as a pariah for over a decade. Once he became PM, Indian opinion-makers expected a change in both the mind and heart of the US establishment. Some early signs were visible during Modi’s US visit, when Obama, the American leadership and the corporate world bent backwards to woo the leader who controls one of the biggest markets for the US defence industry and other services eight months after Modi took over the reins. The Americans seem to have reverted to type, playing blow hot, blow cold with India. It surprised many of Obama’s Indian admirers when he said at the National Prayer Breakfast address in Washington, “Michelle and I returned from India—an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity—but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs—acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.” Coming a week after a similar statement in New Delhi, Indian diplomats were scrambling to find a plausible justification behind his sudden emphasis on India’s communal situation. A careful reading of Obama’s speech reflects that he was determined to send a strong message to his hosts. His critics were unkind to him for his selective praise of achievers from the minority communities, leaving out outstanding players from other states and faiths. Yet he went on to say, “Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear of discrimination. Nowhere is that more important than India, nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith, along lines of anything, and is unified as one nation.”
Such uncharitable remarks have upset all those lobbying hard to forge strong business ties between the two nations. It is no surprise, therefore, that not one member of the chambers of industry has bothered to raise the issue of US interference in Indian domestic affairs. It is quite possible that some serious communal flare-ups may have upset the US establishment, but it is presidentially immature of Obama to have gone public with his disapproval and veiled warnings.
Obama, it seems, has not understood the might and mind of Modi. The PM is not a leader who would take an attack on his ego and purpose lying down. His ministers have already given a strong rebuttal. But Obama’s politically incorrect opinion may cost the Americans hugely in terms of both trade and ties. India has already started rebuilding bridges with Russia and China. It may again restrict imports from the US and go slow on various promises Modi had made during POTUS’s visit. America has already been reminded that future arms imports would depend on it staying away from India’s internal affairs. As per official figures, India is the largest importer of US arms. Of the $16 billion spent on importing weapons over the past three years, over $6 billion went to the US, followed by $4 billion to Russia. This is the first time that the US has emerged as India’s largest arms supplier, displacing Russia. India has acquired a variety of US defence equipment in the last three years, including C130J Super Hercules aircraft, Harpoon anti-submarine missiles and the C-17 heavy lift transport aircraft. India is also the 17th largest holder of American debt. It has invested over $6 billion at relatively low returns in the US treasury debt bonds. Despite India being heavily tilted in favour of building a better relationship with the US, the latter’s politicians remain hostile towards India’s business and strategic interests. For example, some of the active members of US establishment have launched a tirade against the Indian pharma industry. On February 26, an open campaign called ‘Harmful Indian Medicines’ began in Washington against the Indian generic drugs industry. US agencies have been holding public hearings in Washington as part of its investigation titled ‘Trade, investment and industrial policies in India: Effects on the US economy’. Various industry associations from India have been forced to appear before these agencies for clarifications.
Even in the past, Americans have resorted to similar pressure tactics and flip-flops to extract favourable decisions from India. But they haven’t realised that they are dealing with a PM for whom personal dignity and national interest are non-negotiable. If he is capable of being an expansive host, he can be ruthless opponent as well.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Modi Couture Sign of the Times .... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ / February 01, 2015

Modi Couture Sign of the Times that India is Not Ashamed to Wear Style on its Sleeve

Clothes make the man, goes the adage, but the chutzpah to choose the right costume defines the power and personality of the person. PM Narendra Modi is the world’s new sartorial icon, his carefully chosen wardrobe in full display during the recent visit of US President Barack Obama. There was much discussion in the media and Lutyens’ Delhi’s salons that perhaps the PM was overdoing power dressing like wearing his name literally on his bespoke £10,o00 pin-striped suit. Even some of his Anglophile toadies thought it was a vulgar display of dress sense. But anyone who has examined Modi’s actions would know that he doesn’t do anything randomly. Every word is carefully chosen, every modulation of voice is deliberate, and every gesture is calculated to prove a point. His choice of clothes follows this thought process. Decades ago, he started as a fashion trendsetter with the half-sleeved kurta, which became a hallmark that set him apart from other leaders. It was as if he was getting dressed for destiny. Obama even joked, “I was thinking about wearing a Modi kurta myself.”
Dress conveys a sense of self, what a person is about and wants to be perceived as. It can be a sign of defiance, surprise or even reconciliation. The first Indian leader to make a fashion statement was Mahatma Gandhi. His white half dhoti and simple cotton shawl projected inverse nationalist snobbery, and when he went to meet the Queen of England, he chose to wear the same, standing out among the Savile Row row of British leaders. Winston Churchill, in his pin-stripe, three-piece suit, cigar and bowler hat disparagingly described Gandhi as the “naked fakir”, but eventually it was the Empire that fled India with a tattered Union Jack on its back. Gandhi’s disciple Jawaharlal Nehru’s knee-length bandhgala, a rose worn jauntily in its buttonhole became such a fashion hit that the Nehru jacket was named after him. His daughter Indira Gandhi was a sartorial delight in her subdued, starched handloom saris chosen carefully with Usha Bhagat, which communicated a simple yet haughty sense of power. Her daughter-in-law Sonia follows the matriarch’s style, with similar saris and high-necked blouses with long sleeves. Both cultivated distinctive hairstyles—Indira’s hair had a carefully nurtured white streak while Sonia wears a bun at the nape of her neck. Their heads would be covered at public events, emphasising their Indian-ness. Indira even chose her clothes according to the state she toured. Similarly, Sonia chooses to wear Chanderi saris while addressing rallies in Madhya Pradesh and a Sambalpuri ikat in Odisha. Like Indira, she too wears a man’s wristwatch with a thick strap on her right hand. Mrs G wore a rudraksha mala, while Sonia sports a red sacred thread on her wrist. Rajiv Gandhi, followed by Amitabh Bachchan, wore a long shawl across the torso instead of over it, leaving the right hand free, setting a fashion trend. The break from tradition signified that a change was in the air. And it was. V P Singh’s fez cap, L K Advani’s three-button, long-collared Nehru jacket and A B Vajpayee’s round-neck Nehru jacket were deliberate image identifiers that mixed personality and traditions.
Modi has never been a traditionalist. He changes clothes five times a day, dresses for the occasion and personalities he is meeting. At the banquet given by the President for the usually stiff Vladimir Putin, Modi was a casual contrast in a tie-less jacket and a woollen scarf. Sometimes, his dress code is smart casual even for formal occasions. At ease in both Indian and Western clothes, Modi’s message is that India is a globally pluralistic society. His love for Movado watches and Bvlgari sunglasses, and his vast collection of hats signify that he is a man corporates can identify with, unlike Manmohan’s monotonous blue turban. Modi wears saffron a lot, signifying his nationalist ideology. Unlike earlier leaders, he is flamboyant even in silk kurtas paired with matching vests that signal India has changed colours from black and white, and is a vibrant democracy willing to engage with the world. Speaking to students recently, he wore a classy black cashmere jacket with a silk pocket handkerchief, and an open-necked blue shirt. The message of Modi couture is that India is no longer apologetic about its pursuit of prosperity, leaving the homespun hypocrisy of the Socialist era behind.
While Obama, Cameron, Putin, Abe and Xi wear expensive conservative clothes at state meetings, Modi ambushes world leaders with his extravagant sense of style, as if it is a mind game meant to distract them and pull off surprising coups. His colourful turbans signal that he is very much Indian—not the drab caricature of the yesteryears’ politician but a PM who represents the united colours of India.
Worldwide, political couture defines personalities and cultures. Etonian David Cameron, known as Britain’s exponent of political chic, loves bespoke Savile Row suits. Obama’s personal style is subtle but expensive with his trademark wool-cashmere-blend Hartmarx suits: the fashion house even put out an ad that said “Dressing Presidential. Pick your power suit.” Mark Rutte, the PM of the Netherlands, sports rimless glasses and a youthful hairstyle, like the gemstone-loving Laura Chinchilla, the President of Costa Rica, whose shoulder length hairdo makes her look youthful, according to haute fashion magazines. Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s president, loves to match conservatively bespoke pinstripe suits with colourful striped ties. A decade ago, Hamid Karzai’s exotic ensemble made him the fashion darling of global media.
Standing out among the crowd, while at the same time identifying with it, is the hallmark of a true leader. Modi couture is a sign of the times, indicating that India is not ashamed to wear style on its sleeve. Ten thousand pounds pack one helluva punch. One just can’t take out Modi out of PM Narendra Modi.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla