Monday, December 28, 2015

Instal A Genuine Modi Government... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ December 27, 2015

Instal a Genuine Modi Government to Restore Your Image as Vikas Purush

If wishes were horses, the best wishes of millions of Indians, including mine, would be with you to seize the reins of a happy and productive 2016. You surprised the world by signing off 2015 with a unique Modi stamp, landing in Lahore to greet your newly acquired “friend” Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. Your creative diplomacy and perseverance have paid dividends abroad. In 2015, you also broke many records in setting the agenda for India’s social, economic and political discourse. You launched many new schemes and shook the bureaucracy out of its deep slumber. You may be disappointed with the limited success your government has achieved in legislative business, but disruptive politics is now an unfortunately unavoidable ingredient of the Indian democratic narrative. You will have to deal with an even more vicious and confrontationist Opposition in 2016.

Your government and politics will come under greater public scrutiny than in 2015. Every gesture and move of yours will be questioned both inside and outside Parliament. Emboldened by their success in Bihar, Delhi, and successful verdicts in several byelections and local body polls, the non-BJP opposition will target you personally as the father of failure. They will try to erase your image of a Vikas and Loh Purush. After all, in the demolition of the Modi icon lies the hope for the revival and survival of leaders without a message, mantra or mission. Even some of your colleagues, including a few trusted ones, are waiting in the wings for you to slip so that they can strike and bargain for more powers and crumbs. Despite political reverses in a few regions, your popularity is intact. Your admirers swear by your ability to deliver. So, you will be judged in 2016 by your ability to deliver on the initiatives you had announced in the past 20 months. For a new government, its first year is considered the year of understanding the system and setting new goals. The second is of delivery. The third is for consolidation, the fourth for expansion and the fifth for setting new targets to be included in the election manifesto. For your government, 2016 is a combination of the second and third year, and hence will be more demanding. Since the Opposition is itching to remind you of your myriad poll promises, you need to draw a feasible and credible road map for delivery on the following fronts:
• Black money: There is no doubt that the generators of black money fear the government is almost stealthily invisible in its investigations. The finance ministry, however, has met with limited success in bringing back black money. Even at home, little of the parallel economy has been revealed. Your detractors do not leave any opportunity to remind voters about the failure of your strong pitch against black money. Your stance against black money and corruption was one of the key factors which moved young voters in your favour. Most of them, however, are aghast with the meagre amount unearthed by agencies. The Congress is sure to exploit in every Assembly election this paltry action as one of the most visible signs of electoral betrayal. Your fight against corruption should assume a decisive turn in 2016.
• Make in India: Your call to foreign investors to open shop in India and make goods to be exported was one of the most innovative ideas to spur the manufacturing sector. According to statistics, FDI has shown a spectacular rise in 2015. But the MNCs are hesitating to invest in core manufacturing sectors. Barring e-commerce and services ventures, they have shown little interest in setting up new units, because their focus is on quick profits. You have magnanimously offered a flexible and attractive tax regime, but they are only interested in taking out more money from the country than they bring in. From 2009 onwards, foreign companies have repatriated more money out of India in the name of brand royalty fees, technology transfers, research and development support, expert advice etc. than they have invested in their Indian subsidiaries. Your colleagues in other ministries must ensure that all MOUs signed during your visits abroad are converted into production licences. Otherwise, your foes will use the same statistics to run your government down.
• Swachh Bharat: Never before has any national leader put so much emphasis on keeping India clean as you. You realised it is urgently needed to promote tourism and create a healthy nation. You rightly thought that a variety of iconic personalities and institutions would charge the mindset of ordinary citizens when used as ambassadors for your mission. The time has come to review their contributions to check whether all of them actually took part in spreading the message or just used the idea as an instrument of self-promotion. Most of them have vanished after their photo-ops. Your detractors are likely to use its less-than-expected success to mock what they call your adventurist ideas.
• Construction of toilets: If the numbers, which are being touted by various agencies, are any indication, your directive to construct toilets in villages has been a resounding success. But a reality check is required post-haste. Government agencies have spent the allotted funds to complete their targets in many districts. But a large number of toilets are either non-functional or have disappeared, since no accountability was fixed for maintenance. Already, visuals of newly constructed but filthy toilets are being shown on TV channels. Since they are facilities, which influence the voter directly, you will need the power of your authority to make this scheme work.
• Housing for all: Providing affordable housing was one of your initial promises. As you are aware, the real estate sector is going through its worst-ever crisis since Independence, with demand having nosedived to abysmal depths. Various government agencies have not taken enough initiatives to construct new houses under Centrally sponsored schemes. Over 700,000 residential units constructed by private companies remain unsold, since the ability of buyers to pay has been considerably eroded.
There are many such areas, which need your personal attention. As you know, politics is about perception. Success has many fathers, but failures have none. Those who voted for you would like you to lead from the front in 2016. You were given the mandate to rule with a mind of your own. So far, you have been depending on a team, which are assets for themselves than for the nation. Time has come for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to instal a genuine Modi government, which would complete all work under construction in an effective manner.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, December 21, 2015

By Seeking Bail, the Gandhis ..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ December 20, 2015

By Seeking Bail, the Gandhis Have Taken Baby Steps Towards Political Sainthood

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi address a press conference after the hearing

Stone walls do not a prison make, but a stint in prison stonewalls, by default, all doubts about the stature of political leaders. The symbiosis between prison and politics creates living heroes. Historically, jails and courtrooms have served as incubators, which nurse budding leaders to become future customers for the tenacious tailors of populism, who will measure them for new suits to fit their newly acquired political height. Last weekend, the national political discourse and narrative centered on the question whether jail instead of bail would be the best option for Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to vitaminise their leadership and boost the shrunk cachet of the Congress. They have taken their baby steps towards political sainthood by presenting themselves before the court and seeking bail. Both belong to a pedigree whose members have spent long or short stints in gaol before becoming national leaders. Their bloodline trend began with Motilal Nehru and ended with Indira Gandhi. It was only Rajiv Gandhi who couldn’t get the political opportunity to gatecrash jail in spite of the Bofors calamity, leaving voters to judge his case instead.
The paradox is that Mahatma Gandhi’s prison days led to his Experiments with Truth as the patriarch of the Congress and Independence, who only had the national interest in mind, while the Gandhi family’s evocative experiments with jail had little to do with public causes. This time, they have converted a mere court attendance into an opportunity to hit back at PM Modi. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has accused them, along with five others, of illegally grabbing assets of the defunct National Herald newspaper. A local court summoned both mother and son to appear before it to legally argue against the allegations. Since it was for the first time that both were called to appear by any court, the party saw it as a golden opportunity to catapult them as victims of Modi government’s “politics of vendetta”.
The Congress strategy is in tune with the age-old conduct of leaders in India and other democratic societies, who seek revival of their relevance. For Sonia and Rahul, it was just an act of picking a page from the history of political battles fought by the Gandhis. Indira Gandhi converted the punitive action initiated by the Morarji Desai-led government in 1977 to re-establish herself as the populist queen who would rather fight than bow before the might of the state. On October 4, 1977, a day after she was arrested for political corruption by the Janata Party government, the court released her unconditionally. Her feisty offspring Sanjay Gandhi chose to face a lathi charge along with his Youth Congress followers. It was their ‘jail bharo’ strategy that brought the family back to power within 30 months. Ironically, the Gandhis succeeded in voting out a government, of which most ministers, including PM Desai, had spent over a year incarcerated during the Emergency. Even today, many national leaders and Union ministers have acquired their current elevated moral status by going to jail accidentally or by design. Many current and former CMs carry the proud tag of jailbirds. If Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar, Parkash Singh Badal and Karunanidhi have become leaders of note, it is partially thanks to their brief landings in jailyards.
The romance between gaol and politics has been a most effective method to rocket many leaders to power in other countries as well. In Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif became PM again because he was exiled by General Musharraf. Benazir Bhutto’s party won a massive mandate because her father, Zulfikar Ali, was jailed and executed by another general, Zia-ul Haq. The post-mortem charisma of Quaid-i-Awam—beloved of the people—Bhutto Senior acquired after his hanging rubbed off on his daughter’s popularity. In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi—who spent two decades in jail at the instance of the junta—scored a political victory when her National League for Democracy won the parliamentary elections last month. Though Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from holding any top political office, she had the mandate to influence the choice of Myanmar’s next president, because of  her stature as a living symbol of political martyrdom. Nelson Mandela was elected the first President of apartheid-free South Africa after his release from jail, where he spent 27 years. Mandela had said prophetically, “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Since politics is supposed to be about public service and protecting the marginalised, politicians find jail as an effective habitat to learn about poverty and criminalisation. Learning from history and experiments in various countries, Indian parties from the Left to the Right have been encouraging their cadres to adopt issues and tactics, which would lead to agitations, in turn leading to short jail terms. There is hardly any protest in the country in which agitators do not violate laws and land in the lockup. Applications sent to party headquarters by various candidates seeking nominations to the state legislatures and Parliament prominently mention jail terms as a sterling qualification. The joke is that many accidental Emergency prisoners are still lobbying with Modi to accommodate them in lucrative government assignments on the strength of their stay in jail between 1975 and 1977.
For the Gandhis, however, courting jail is not a tactic to seek any office. Both are Lok Sabha members and hold the first and second position in the Congress respectively. If the thought of spending some time in prison ever struck their minds, it would be purely prompted by the strategy to kill two birds with one stone. If either or both had been denied bail, it would have diverted popular attention from the National Herald case and rallied the dispirited party behind the family. The Gandhis also expect Congressmen to bury their factional fights and save their moribund political enterprise as well as dent the PM’s popular image. The Congress is not leaving any opportunity to hit the NDA government. From the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh to corruption in DDCA, it is determined to convert every visible slippage by any NDA leader into a cause for hitting the streets. Since the next general election is 40 months away, the Gandhi gameplan will unfold soon. Its basic contours revolve around agitational politics, which will provide enough chances to Rahul to be photographed behind the bars. A stay in jail is the only prized qualification missing from his resume. He is itching for symbolic handcuffs to give both the Congress Hand and himself a hand.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, December 14, 2015


The Vajpayee years

Perhaps the first leader in the South Asian region to create a patent ideology, Vajpayeeism, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was, and will remain, the Great Connector in Indian politics. He believed in an India where the common man triumphed by example.

Charismatic connector Atal Bihari Vajpayee at a Janata Party rally in Chandni Chowk IN Delhi, in November 1979

Prabhu Chawla @ 1987
If Politics is an exercise in the rhetoric of posturing, it is also the art of forgetting the lessons of history. In NDA's hour of conflict over the intolerance debate, it would serve the government and the BJP to remember the lessons of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era and adopt his Idea of India. His style, substance, intellectual and aesthetic depth, and the wry sense of humour with which he handled victories and defeats alike hold lessons to follow. After retirement from politics, Vajpayee spends his time in a quiet, leafy enclave of Lutyens' Delhi. But his presence and vision continue to be relevant at a time when the BJP's first standalone government is trying to find its feet in governance and the adversarial arena of statecraft.

Vajpayee believed in an India where the common man triumphed by example. Almost two decades before Prime Minister Narendra Modi
spoke of a tea-seller's son becoming the nation's supreme leader, Vajpayee had spoken on August 15, 1996, "It is a symbol of strength and the potential of the Indian democracy that the son of a school teacher hailing from the dusty and smoky environs of a village has the privilege of unfurling the Tricolour from the ramparts of the Red Fort on this auspicious Independence Day."

He can be called India's most secular Hindu, history's most inclusive nationalist, or the greatest leader the country has ever had who could reconcile geopolitical contradictions with astute diplomacy and elegant intelligence. In an interview in January 2004, Vajpayee had explained to me 'swaraj' in a nutshell: "Yes, I am (a swadeshi). But the difference between swadeshi and videshi has narrowed considerably." Yet he has been always conscious of being an Indian first. His motto-"a sense of oneness, a sense of Indianness, requires to be created among our youth to halt the mad rush towards an imported five-star video culture"-can direct his party to reconcile India with Bharat.More than a decade after he stepped down as the Prime Minister, Vajpayee is still known as the "Great Connector". Connectivity is the essence of harmony, an ancient law that has helped the evolution of cultures and civilisations. It has been Vajpayee's signature-in politics by achieving consensus and respect from both allies and opponents; in governance through linking India by creating a vast new network of highways and envisaging linking the country's rivers; and for the common man by heralding the telecom revolution engineered by his Lakshman, Pramod Mahajan. The India he envisaged is a celestial allegory of the cosmos, where different galaxies existed without conflict, each one containing its own solar systems, where planets orbited the Centre, obeying natural laws. It is also an allegory for different intellectual universes of varied cultural and socio-political opinions, which he enjoined with the quiet charisma of his paternal presence.

Vajpayee's greatest virtue is to have become the connector who created an image of India in the world as a harmonious whole. He also connected the world with India, through his visits to the US, Russia, China as well Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia to ink economic deals and push neighbourly ties. Integrating India is Vajpayee's main legacy. But India had to become a power by itself, breaking away from its moribund socialist past which made the poor poorer and the rich richer, where the economy and society were controlled by a cabal of the rich and powerful, who influenced government policies.

Connectivity is part of ancient Indian heritage, achieved by glorious empires like Ashoka's and Chandragupta's, which made Bharatvarsha the hub of commerce by building a vast grid of roads, rivers, canals and ports and helped commerce and industry. Determined to upgrade the country's infra-structure, destroyed by years of colonialism, Vajpayee pulled General Khanduri out of retirement and appointed him the minister in charge of road transport and highways in 2000. The Golden Quadrilateral-the largest highway project in India-came into being in 2001, and was finished under the budget with 21 km of roads having been built daily. Mahatma Gandhi, who said India lives in its villages, was an inspiration for Vajpayee-both as a selfless emancipator and reformer. The Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana linking 5 lakh villages to cities took off. The connectivity that followed increased immigration from the hinterlands to cities, offering millions of villagers a dream. Prosperity and semi-urbanisation helped in obfuscating entrenched prejudices such as caste and backwardness in education. The Sarva Siksha Abhiyan gave education a much-needed impetus.
The Delhi Metro, which began under Vajpayee, changed the way the common man travelled in the Capital, connecting slums, non-glamorous colonies and upscale areas, thereby becoming the great equaliser. The modern is being replicated successfully all over the country: SEZs flourished, connecting expansion with results. The NDA 1 government lowered interest rates to boost the economy. The foundation Vajpayee's economic policies laid enabled Manmohan Singh to claim the title of India's Reform Man.

This is because Vajpayee understood his connection with India as a holistic covenant. He grew with India. He didn't become the Prime Minister because of hierarchical reason, heading a state or an important Union ministry. He is India's true face even today. At the age of 35, his admirers called Vajpayee Hriday Samrat. Even before the age of India's television blitzkrieg made its brash entrance, he had acquired a mass following in major parts of India-I remember walking for three miles to listen to Vajpayee's speech in a trans-Yamuna area in Delhi. He is a man who wins both the mind and the heart-a symbol of power, rarely feared but always revered.


January 12, 2004


    Vajpayee has never been a favourite of Nagpur, the headquarters of    the RSS. He is not Hindu enough for the swayamsevaks. The prime      minister knows that confrontation is not the way out, but              containment  is. The grand old man of the saffron parivar is smarter. Madan Das  Devi, RSS joint general secretary, at 59, and M. Venkaiah Naidu, the  BJP president, at 55, are former ABVP colleagues and get along  smoothly. In the early 1970s, Devi was the ABVP organisation  secretary and Naidu the general secretary. The Class of 70 is in  power in the states as well as the Centre. The rise of Devi and Naidu  has provided Vajpayee with a politically useful link between Reshmi Bagh in Nagpur and Race Course Road in Delhi. The patriarch uses the generational shift in the family as a personal source of consolidation-and peace.

Neither break nor bend

Over the last decade, Parliament has become a battlefield of invective and noisy grandstanding, to block development to score political points. As a parliamentarian, Vajpayee's record has been unparalleled both as a resplendent orator and an uncompromising democrat. He is still known for his generosity cutting across political lines. Although he had clashed with Jawaharlal Nehru over Jammu and Kashmir when he was still a young MP, Vajpayee's speech after Panditji's death was perhaps the most moving tribute anyone has paid him, saying "a flame has vanished into the Unknown." Later, Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi would throw him in jail during the Emergency. He underwent surgery and suffered from extreme back pain but refused to be released on medical grounds. "Hum toot sakte hain jhuk nahi sakte (we can break but cannot bend)," he would say.

Vajpayee's belief that India should neither break nor bend is the thrust of his personal and political philosophy. He realised that consensus is the key to economic reform, considering that he ran a smorgasbord of a government, populated by colleagues with divergent opinions. Coalition dharma was his mantra. "We are not the initiators of reform. We are carrying forward a process that was started by the Narasimha Rao government, and continued by two United Front governments. But we do take the credit for having broadened, depended and accelerated the reform process," he told me in an interview. Three senior politicians who became Prime Ministers-Narasimha Rao, Chandrashekhar and Vajpayee used to confabulate often on national issues, exchanging views and advices. The spirit of democracy and gentlemanly conduct was one of Vajpayee's traits.

 One morning, sometime in mid-July 1998, I had gone to 7, Race Course  Road to meet him. Vajpayee was with four of his ministers, who were  forcefully advocating action against Sonia Gandhi. He sat silently like a  contemplative Buddha, his chin sunk on his chest and his eyes partially  closed. When they finished, he raised his head and looked at me,  ignoring his companions. "Editorji," he addressed me by the nickname  he used for me. "Aise karenge toh phir Congress aur BJP mein farak kya  hoga (If we do this, what is the difference between the Congress and the  BJP)?" It provided a window to Vajpayee's thinking: no vindictiveness,  but adhere to the letter of the law.

 The five qualities of Vajpayee can form the manifesto of today's political   conduct-one who inspires, delegates but also takes charge,  accommodates, gives respect where it is due, and has a great vision.  Even if he had strong reservations on any issue of policy or politics,  Vajpayee was a magnanimous leader, never insecure about his position,  always refraining from personal attacks on his adversaries. These are  marks of a true visionary.

 Vajpayee was as comfortable with foreign policy nuances as he was with  domes-tic political challenges. When the post of the Indian ambassador  to the WTO fell vacant in 1999, foreign minister Jaswant Singh pushed  Hardeep Singh Puri's name, little knowing that the decision rested with  the Commerce ministry. When commerce minister Murasoli Maran  protested. Vajpayee did not take a moment to withdraw the decision and  allow Maran to appoint K.M. Chandrasekhar instead. His respect for  women power is evident in a different instance. In 2001, Lalit Mansingh  was to retire as foreign secretary and Kanwal Sibal, then India's  ambassador to France, was one of the front-runners for the post and  Jaswant Singh's first choice.

 Singh got his appointment cleared by Vajpayee, although it meant  superseding over half-a-dozen others senior to Sibal. An officer from  Vajpayee's trusted circle pointed out that the Chokila Iyer's claim for the  job in New Delhi had been ignored. Vajpayee called for her file to study  her profile. Iyer got the posting, and India its first woman foreign  secretary.

A dramatic defeat but a moral victory

Vajpayee is perhaps the first South Asian leader to create a patent ideology of his own Vajpayeeism. While Marx and Mao may have provoked the masses to start bloody revolutions, Vajpayee could work wonders by steering a government comprising 25 parties which had hardly anything in common barring a noun: NDA.

The correct use, instead of its misuse, of power was ingrained in Vajpayee. When his government fell in 1996 after 13 days in power, Vajpayee told his political foes in Parliament, "We bow down to the strength of majority. We assure you that till the time the work that we started in national interest is not completed, we shall not rest. Respected Speaker, I am going to the President to tender my resignation." It was a democratic defeat, but a moral victory. And Vajpayee was vindicated when the BJP formed the government after winning the next elections in less than two years. In May 1998, the Vajpayee government pulled off nuclear tests in Pokhran, named Operation Shakti, catching the big powers by surprise.

 An uncompromising patriot, he declared India a full-fledged nuclear  state, emphasising that there is "no compromise on national security; we  will exercise all options, including nuclear, to protect security and sovereignty". He took Lal Bahadur Shastri's slogan 'Jai Jawan Jai Kisan' forward by adding
 'Jai Vigyan'.

As with all Indian prime ministers, Vajpayee's dream was also to leave behind everlasting peace with Pakistan as part of his legacy. Between July 14 and 16, 2001, he met Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf in Agra to resolve long-standing issues between the two countries. On the last day, the general told assembled editors that no accord was possible without including Kashmir: "Kashmir pehla mudda uthaayenge (the first issue we will raise will be Kashmir)," he said.
When I informed Vajpayee, he sound-ed incredulous. "Aise bola usne (Did he say that)?" he asked. When I replied in the affirmative, he refused to issue the joint statement planned at the end of the summit. This was after he had initiated the historic Lahore bus journey in 1999, meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and urging an end to Pakistan's covert activities. "Friends can be changed but not neighbours. We either live as friends or we keep fighting, making ourselves the butt of ridicule before the world," he said.  The nationalist message of Vajpayee is that a powerful neighbour should act with restraint even in the face of blatant aggression. He would always send out the message that India has the power to crush its enemy but was mature enough to wait and diplomatically push Pakistan towards a pariah status on the global stage.

On the morning of December 13, 2001, five terrorists stormed Parliament and killed nine people before being shot by security forces. Parliament was sacrosanct for Vajpayee - he was the only Prime Minister since the 1980s who had never missed a single day of session. Vajpayee's kindred spirit, L.K. Advani and Army Chief General S. Padmanabhan were for decisive action. It almost brought the two countries to the edge of war. Vajpayee's "speak softly and carry a big stick" policy paid off globally, with international leaders condemning Pakistan's hospitality towards terrorists.
In April 2003, during a visit to Kashmir, he mooted friendship with Pakistan. A cease-fire agreement along the LoC and Siachen was signed in November the same year, but Vajpayee was firm that Pakistan should stop sponsoring terrorism and violence before dialogue could proceed. He responded to sceptical Indian diplomats by saying, "Plane to khada hi hai (The airplane is ready)."
Kashmir held its first free and fair elections in decades when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, changing the narrative of the debate.

Vajpayee has often been called "the Prime Minister the Congress never had" and "the right man in the wrong party". His gift of the gab was always self-deprecatory, but it won the day. During the BJP's 1992 session in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, asked whether he was being marginalised in the party, Vajpayee replied, "No, but usually corrections are done in the margin." As the BJP grew in stature during the 1990s, its leadership fell on the shoulders of two old comrades in arms, Advani and Vajpayee. They complemented each other-the warrior and the poet-philosopher. Ayodhya was a defining point in the life of the BJP, and of both the leaders. The Rath Yatra made Advani the new Ram. The pluralist in Vajpayee was not for aggressive Hindutva, although he remained a loyal member of the party. Yet, on December 6, 2000, the eighth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Vajpayee told the Lok Sabha that the Ram Mandir issue was a "nationalist movement", and "kaam adhura reh gaya hai (the mission is unfinished)."

The Opposition exploded. The next day, at an iftaar hosted by minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, Vajpayee explained that what he meant was not that no temple construction would begin but that the dispute continues. Vajpayee chose to stay enigmatic over the demolition. After the 2002 Gujarat riots, which lowered the BJP's ratings as a modern Hindutva party, Vajpayee was unsure whether Narendra Modi should stay on as chief minister.

After the riots were brought under control, various meetings were held in Delhi between George Fernandez, Nitish Kumar and senior Opposition leaders, who felt that Modi should quit arguing that it affected the NDA's image. At a meeting at 7-RCR, attended by Advani, Venkaiah Naidu and allies, the non-BJP leaders urged Vajpayee to sack Modi. He conveyed to the RSS leadership that Modi had to go, or else he wouldn't go to Gujarat to campaign for the party. Eventually, the RSS persuaded Vajpayee to change his views in the party's interests-for he was the Prime Minister, not just any politician, and moreover it would send out the message that the PM was protesting against the riots because Muslims were killed.

As long as Vajpayee was in power, however, the extreme right gunned for him, using the deadly troika of RSS boss V. Sudarshan, VHP's Ashok Singhal and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh's leader Dattopant Thengadi. They even roped in ABVP to attack Vajpayee-who had dropped out of school to edit an RSS magazine-for what they said were his faulty educational policies. They were so upset that an RSS leader even told a cabinet minister that they would not mind if the government fell. He also candidly admitted that Vajpayee became PM not because of the RSS, but in spite of it. Vajpayee, however, never abandoned any of the lessons he learnt as an RSS pracharak. He remains an open book, which, if read between the lines, can guide leaders present and in future to learn the art of keeping the gigantic entity that is India together.

Magical, magnetic, large-hearted In January 2004, I met Vajpayee to interview him for the third and final time, when he was the Prime Minister, for India Today, an honour not given to any other Indian journalist. Rumours about midterm polls were flying thick and fast. Advani had already announced the slogan 'India Shining'. Jaswant Singh was on a publicity binge even though the elections were due only later in the year. I asked Vajpayee whether the BJP would go for early elections. "Prashan hi nahin uthta. Chunav samay per honge (The question doesn't arise. The elections will be held on schedule)," he answered. But later on, BJP leaders such as Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Venkaiah Naidu, Pramod Mahajan and others persuaded the Prime Minister to cash in on the goodwill and feel-good factor they believed the government had generated. Vajpayee agreed, although he knew he was signing off as India's most magical, magnetic and large-hearted leader. He is known for creating institutions and healthy connections, thus defining the fine contours of India's political dialogue.

This is the essence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, even in retirement, he remains above any party or organisation. Ultimately he belongs to India. It is Vajpayee Shining. It always will be.

Only a New Age Leader Can Drive Change ... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/December 13, 2015

Only a New Age Leader Can Drive Change to Break the Politics-Auto Industry Nexus

Luxury vehicles at Parliament/Shekhar yadav

Politics and pollution are made for each other. Politicians breed pollution, which in turn makes them prosperous. World leaders are trying to resolve climate change issues in Paris, but if the earth has become an unsafe habitat for humanity, the fault lies squarely at the door of rulers and their accomplices. There is hardly a leader in any part of the world who doesn’t groan and moan about environmental degradation. All of them meet at salubrious venues and adopt resolutions to save Mother Earth from the devastation created by her wayward children. Yet they forget about taking any serious action after they get off their Gulfstreams—the carbon footprint be damned—and issue sophistry-laden, cunningly drafted statements listing pseudo-initiatives, which only make matters worse and complicated. Their passion to possess four-wheelers of all shapes, sizes and shades has blinded their thinking about the damage their transport choices are causing to the health of ordinary citizens. A survey of the vehicles, which India’s ruling elite drives to Parliament, government offices and state Assemblies, indicates their apathy towards public health. Last week, Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal became India’s first CM to impose restrictions on the use of cars in the city starting January 1, 2016. Since Delhi has become one of the world’s most polluted cities, its most popular Chief Minister decided to implement what he thought is a game-changing idea. But his peer group questioned his action. His resolve to allow odd and even number vehicles on alternative days was dismissed as a knee-jerk reaction to judicial scrutiny and intervention. 
On the face of it, it is a good beginning. But Kejriwal’s order wouldn’t solve the menacingly rising number of vehicles on Delhi roads. According to reports, Delhi, with a population of about 15 million people, has over eight million motor vehicles on its roads. Over 0.5 million are added every month. In addition, about 80,000 trucks and half a million other motor vehicles enter the capital from other states every day. For the past decade, the city has been a hell for its citizens and motorists. The state allowed an unrestricted boom in vehicles, but hardly took any interest in making roads better for traffic. The length of road per vehicle has shrunk in the past 40 years—from 844 km for 2.25 lakh vehicles in 1971 to 27,000 km for over 75 lakh vehicles in 2014—causing nightmarish traffic jams throughout the day in almost every part of the capital. Unless the number of motor vehicles is restricted, Delhiites will have to work either from home or walk to work wearing masks.
Delhi is not the sole victim of the automobile invasion. There is hardly any city in India with a population of more than a million, which is not congested by the growing number of motor vehicles on the limited length and breadth of civic roads. Ever since India opted for economic reforms, it has become a paradise for the global automobile industry. Our ever-obliging leaders looking for laurels abroad have not only made the entry of multinational motor companies easy, but have also formulated taxation and monetary policies, which make it easier and cheaper for Indians to buy cars than homes to live in or fertilisers to improve agricultural productivity. An analysis of the road tax regime shows India imposes one of the lowest road and registration taxes on new vehicles. In Singapore, sometimes the registration tax exceeds the cost of a new car. No other country apart from India formulates its tax regime or banking operations keeping in views the interests of the automobile industry. Here, banks and carmakers have joined hands to make vehicle loans the best method to maximise profits. It is bemusing to find a bank manager promoting car sales to his saving account holders than opening new accounts or helping a small or medium-scale entrepreneur, or a house buyer. It seems as if banks have been given a political mandate to help motor companies achieve targets.
It is partially because of indulgent state and Central governments that India is one of the top 10 manufacturers of automobiles. In an environment clouded by global recession, India’s passenger vehicle production rose by over 7 per cent this year alone. Economies like Russia, Australia, Brazil and Canada posted a decline. According to reports, India is the most lucrative market for passenger vehicles since the past 10 years. While the sales of such vehicles rose from `1.22 crore to over `2 crore during 2010-15, production grew by nearly 90 per cent. Global carmakers such as Daewoo, Toyota, Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz (later changed to DaimlerChrysler), Fiat, General Motors, Opel, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Toyota and Volvo raced into the Indian commercial vehicle industry, which was dominated by local manufacturers such as Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland and Bajaj Tempo.
The excessive influence of car-makers dissuades politicians from bothering about the development of public transport system in the country. Modernisation and upgradation of the railways was royally ignored by successive ministers so that the polluting trucking industry could flourish. The vehicle lobby has been influencing infrastructure planners so strongly that they have ignored the planning and expansion of a pan-India road network. It took them over six decades to realise the importance of the Metro rail system in easing traffic and providing a clean transport system. Surprisingly, while our rulers speak about tackling pollution, none of them have ever spoken in a state Assembly or Parliament about making car journeys prohibitively expensive. Imposing maximum tax on cars and luxury automobiles makes better politics since the extra revenue raised could be used to create an affordable public transport system and improve roads. Even the Metro model needs a review. At the moment, it is very inexpensive, not having been planned as a mode of transport for the middle and upper classes. Even after 40 years, the rich and mighty of Mumbai do not take the local train, preferring to get stuck for hours in their pricey SUVs and limousines. Since Indian leaders and decision-makers take pride in acquiring four-wheelers and private aircraft, they are unlikely to annoy the billion-dollar global automakers. Only a new-age politician like Kejriwal may be able to break the flirtatious nexus between politics and an industry that lubricates the turn of wheels on the avenues of power.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, December 7, 2015

State Must Pay its Representatives ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ December 06, 2015

State Must Pay its Representatives Well to Keep Both Politics and Politicians Clean

Politics is an expensive proposition. Good governance and pragmatic politics come with a hefty price tag. Last Friday, when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal got Delhi MLAs a 400 per cent salary hike, he made governance a tad costly. The ostensibly exorbitant emoluments, however, means just an addition of `15 crore to the state’s annual budget of `36,776 crore. Post the increase, Delhi’s lawmakers have become the second highest paid legislators in the country. According to the new legislation, the monthly pay of Delhi MLAs will go up to `2.10 lakh, which includes a basic salary of `50,000, a constituency allowance of `50,000, conveyance allowance of `30,000, communication allowance of up to `10,000 and a secretarial allowance of `70,000. The demand for increasing the salaries and allowances for MPs is still pending in the House. A vocal section of opinion-makers also feel that the Indian president, Prime Minister, and chief ministers deserve better pay packets. Contrary to perception, not even one rupee out of `1,000 spent on the salaries of all state and Central government employees goes to pay our MPs and MLAs.

On the face of it, Delhi MLAs have got away with a fortune at the cost of the aam aadmi, who the ruling party claims to represent. But the question arises whether Indian lawmakers should be paid handsomely to minimise corruption and provide both clean politics and governance? Keeping in view the nature of their political obligations, the compensation Members of Parliament and state Assemblies get is monochromatically measly compared to the disunited colours of their responsibilities. They deserve an increase in perquisites and salaries, so that they can be insulated from the corrupting influence of corporate lobbyists.
Unlike in the West and other democracies, Indian politics is the most expensive vocation for its elected stakeholders. The cost of doing public service itself is quite prohibitive. Our MPs and MLAs are expected to meet hundreds of visitors who land up at their doorstep without appointments. Each one has to be properly attended to if the legislator has to win the election again. The size of the electorate and the constituency is so huge that a politician has to spend the ransom for a king on nurturing his career by opening local offices, hiring handlers and travelling extensively on a regular basis. They are expected to offer gifts at childbirths, weddings and social and religious ceremonies. Our MPs and MLAs are also forced to write numerous letters and make innumerable phone calls to various officials to resolve even minor issues plaguing their constituents such as the payment of pensions, repairing roads and seeking police help among others. Finally, after the end of the term, they have to fight an election and spend huge amounts all over again. No such activity is mandatory for any lawmaker in any other country.
Frankly speaking, Indian politics has been corrupted because our civil servants and politicians are not paid reasonable salaries that commensurate with the prevalent standard of living. Since a minister or a secretary in a state or at the Centre has the power to give the nod on matters, which can help an entrepreneur make millions, they have to be insulated from seeking rewards from the beneficiaries. There was a time when a joint secretary couldn’t even offer a cup of coffee to corporate Caesars like Ratan Tata or Mukesh Ambani, let alone the middle-level executives who would visit their offices to get pending issues expedited. Undoubtedly, MPs and MLAs get subsidised housing, medical facilities and other freebies. However, all these put together comes to much less than the salaries paid to business managers who come to them seeking favourable decisions. The average take-home salary of a mid-cap company executive in India is over `5o lakh a year, while a secretary to the Government of India earns just about `18 lakh. An MP may cost the exchequer more than `1 crore annually, but he deals with an electorate of over 1.5 million people occupying over 50 sq km on an average.
But the public protest against any increase in the monetary benefits to legislators appears to be a bit misplaced, considering the amount of money lawmakers and heads of government of other countries get. For example:
• Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s annual salary is $1,700,000 (`12 crore), which is more than 30 times an average Singaporean earns. Till 2012, he was getting paid $2,856,930 (`18 crore), which was reduced by 28 per cent following public protests.
• The annual pay of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who heads the government of Hong Kong, is $530,000 (`4 crore)—nearly 12 times more than that of an average citizen and more than 27 times the salary of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who earns just $19,000 per annum.
• US President Barack Obama’s annual salary is $400,000 (`2.65 crore), nearly eight times that of an average American.
• Narendra Modi receives an annual salary of $19,000 (`16 lakh) and President Pranab Mukherjee’s pay is around $24,000 (`18 lakh).
It is evident that contrary to public perception, Indian political leaders are worse off when in office. None of the CMs who handle budgets worth billion of dollars make more than `15 lakh a year. There is no doubt that they enjoy luxurious lifestyles at public cost, which, however, do not enhance their personal wealth. Moreover, over 70 per cent of MPs and MLAs are poor or belong to the middle class, and need enough money to perform their political obligations. According to various studies, there is a direct relationship between the index of political corruption and the official earnings of Indian politicians. Surprisingly, over 70 per cent of corruption cases are against relatively richer politicians as they control the decision-making process. Over 30 per cent of MPs still use official bus transport to attend sessions.  In Delhi, a substantial number of AAP MLAs belong to the lower middle class and have entered politics for the first time. By raising their salaries, Kejriwal has emphasised the principle that the state must pay its representatives well to keep both politics and politicians clean for the sake of the dignity of its people.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla