Monday, January 25, 2016

Raising Resignation Pitch ...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ January 24, 2016

Raising Resignation Pitch is Congress' Grand Strategy to Put NaMo on Backfoot

Youth Congress members protest over Rohith Vemula’s death, in Bengaluru

Predictability and politics aren’t made for each other. As consistency and conviction are no longer the virtues of political parties, leaders can swing elliptically exaggerated U-turns even wider than the letter’s shape permits. Of late, the netas have become surprisingly predictable. They have begun, at the drop of a topi, to demand the resignations or dismissal of ministers, both at the Centre and in the states. Since extravagant accusations against ruling party members as “tainted” or “corrupt” pay rich electoral dividends, all political parties have made “resign” or “sack” an integral part of their semantic strategy to stymie their opponents. From West Bengal to Kerala, with the Central government caught in the middle, the cacophonic chant of “Resign, Resign, Resign” is resounding over the political terrain. The BJP seeks the dismissal of West Bengal ministers. The TMC hits back by asking NDA ministers to quit. If Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal demands the sacking of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the BJP counters by importuning him to remove AAP ministers. When the BJP seeks the head of Himachal Pradesh CM for alleged corruption, the Congress mounts pressure in New Delhi asking the PM to show the door to some of his colleagues. New age politicians are replacing the art of ideological confrontation with the dogma of demolition of individual reputations.
Last week, the Congress led the charge, demanding the resignations of Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, alleging interference in the University of Hyderabad’s internal affairs, which led to the suicide of Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula. Rahul Gandhi cancelled all his appointments in the capital and grabbed a boarding pass to Hyderabad. His party organised nationwide protests against Irani and Dattatreya. Kejriwal followed, taking his political carbon footprint all the way to the south to express solidarity with Dalit student protesters. He even supported his arch-enemy, the Congress’s demand for the removal of the Union ministers. Even the normally reticent Tripura CM Manik Sarkar took a plane to Hyderabad. Almost all the non-BJP parties, from the Trinamool Congress to Janata Dal, tried to mount pressure on Modi to drop them. Even after a week since Vemula’s suicide, the Congress kept its foot on the gas, parroting its dismissal demand. According to Congress watchers, the party will use the ‘politically and socially unacceptable’ conduct of Irani and Dattatreya as an issue to neutralise PM Modi’s charisma and paint the BJP as anti-Dalit. The Congress has realised that Vemula’s death has provided a platform for its political reincarnation by providing leadership to unite non-BJP parties by using “Dalit oppression” as a weapon. The party has instructed all its state units and frontal organisations to organise protest meetings and display pictures of Irani as an anti-Dalit leader of the BJP. Its strategy is to focus on demanding her resignation, and preventing the debate from revolving around the merit of the case and the circumstances which led to Vemula’s death.
Buoyed by electoral successes in Bihar and local elections in other parts of the country, the Congress has tasted blood. For the past 12 months, it has never let go of an opportunity to demand the resignation of some BJP minister or chief minister. Last year, the Congress didn’t allow Parliament to conduct business, demanding that Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan should step down over the Vyapam scam. They paralysed the House by seeking the ouster of Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for their association with IPL founder Lalit Modi. Earlier, the Congress had vociferously targeted Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari for his alleged controversial business and corporate deals. At the end of the last session, the Congress-AAP combine chose Jaitley as its prime target, seeking his removal.
The Congress can’t be blamed entirely for whipping up the resignation hysteria. It borrowed the “ask-for-resignation” astra from the BJP’s quiver. In addition to Modi’s powerful personality, the BJP could trounce the Congress in 2014 because of its success in sticking the corruption tag on the Congress’s dirty laundry. For almost three years before the previous Lok Sabha polls, the BJP continued to find enough ammunition to demand the resignation of at least one Central minister in every session of Parliament. Union Minister A Raja was removed after investigating agencies found his culpability in corruption. Many other Central ministers and Maharashra CM Ashok Chavan had to pack up because of their objectionable official conduct.
The resignation spree’s origins are in the UPA I era, during which the BJP was able to extract Foreign Minister Natwar Singh’s resignation, after a UN panel report made adverse comments against him. During 2009-14, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, Railway Minister Pawan Bansal, Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai and the Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor were forced to resign under BJP pressure and media exposes on their inappropriate actions as ministers. The BJP went to the extent of demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Most of these mantris, however, have so far not faced criminal charges or been convicted. Yet by repeatedly raising the resignation slogan, the BJP successfully strengthened the general public perception that the UPA government was poxed with corruption. A series of CAG reports coupled with the CWG and coal scams bolstered the credibility of the BJP’s sustained resignation warfare against the Congress.
The Congress is now paying the BJP back in the same coin. In the 1980s and 90s, it lost two elections because of the clamour generated by the Opposition, demanding the resignations of Cabinet ministers, as well as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s, alleging corruption and non-performance. Incidentally, during UPA II’s ramshackle regime, the ‘Quit Government’ chorus began a couple of years before the parliamentary elections were due, either in important states or for the Lok Sabha. The main winner, then, was the BJP. By 2019, when the next general elections are due, over a dozen state Assemblies would have gone to polls and thrown up varying results. The Congress strategy is loud and clear. By continuously vociferating for the resignations of BJP chief ministers, Union ministers and even the Prime Minister, it hopes that by 2019, the energy of the ruling party and its most popular leader will be so hobbled that they will not be able to seize a second mandate.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, January 18, 2016

Distortionists and Distorians ...... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ January 17, 2016

Distortionists and Distorians Shouldn't be Allowed to Dictate Indo-Pak Diplomacy

Distortions and disinformation are the spicy ingredients, which define Indian diplomacy today. In the past, ideological conviction anointed with commercial interests would dictate the direction of diplomatic engagement. But now the two Ds of diplomacy—Distortionists and Distorians (DDs), sorry, I mean historians—have taken upon themselves to influence the Indo-Pak dialogue process. Last week, the DDs were conspicuous by their presence in the media, pleading for a resumption of the dialogue. Their prattling portfolio of Pak promotion was incorrect and incomplete news with a fabricated fantasia of history. The Pathankot airbase attack was a reason strong enough to give a temporary pause, if not abandon, the proposed foreign secretary-level talks. But the dialogue supari mafia was choreographing an act to give fresh impetus to the restoration of jaw-jaw. The action started in Pakistan with Geo TV flashing the detention of Masood Azhar and his colleagues. On cue, the DDs activated the Indian media to carry the footage prominently. For the next six hours, almost all Indian channels harpooned pro-dialogue peaceniks to build a case against the cancellation of talks. Even NaMo baiters joined the chorus to convince the PM that his Lahore mission had paid dividends and its benefits shouldn’t be diluted by the Pathankot incident. None of them bothered to check the facts from either Indian intelligence sources or their own Pak contacts. Only the external affairs ministry officials and National Security Agency were sceptical about the news of Azhar’s arrest. Even Pakistani agencies weren’t as confident as the Indian media about the “protective detention” of the most-wanted terrorist. Normally potential troublemakers are taken under preventive and not ‘protective’ custody. Sadly, 24 hours later, the phantasmagoria of falsehood, distortions and disinformation was exposed when the Pak Foreign Office stated that Azhar has not been arrested. As a natural reaction, India decided to postpone any further engagement with its nefarious neighbour until the nature of the action Pakistan had taken against the Pathankot perpetrators emerges from the fog of diplomatic smoke and mirrors.

Usually, it is the enraged Indian media that puts Pakistan on the mat over any terror attack, blasting the blubberers from the Pak establishment by questioning their ineffective insolence. The new game, however, that ensued last week showed the extent of Pak psychological penetration of the Indian media and its pet parakeets. For the first time, an attempt was made to influence the diplomatic narrative by planting incorrect stories on a gullible media, self-proclaimed opinion-makers and know-all experts on Indo-Pak relations. Undoubtedly, PM Modi has walked that extra mile to ensure peaceful co-existence between Pakistan and India. His overtures though have met with the same terror-torque contempt as Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s had, when he was PM. Then, India’s Pak policy was discussed around national interest and ideological justifications. Today, however, there is no shortage of professional prisoners of conviction lobbying for the continuation of dialogue irrespective of the number of terror attacks and Indian casualties. Many accept luxurious hospitality and junkets from across the border and then organise seminars and symposiums in India to promote Pakistan as a victim of terror, and terrorists as misguided mercenaries whose hearts bled copiously after the demolition of Babri Masjid and the 2002 Gujarat riots. The 2-Ds conveniently forget that the riots were also an unacceptable reaction to the burning of a train in which over 50 innocent pilgrims were reduced to cinders. As Modiplomacy takes some concrete shape, the PM will have to battle half-truths, blatant lies and distorted historical catechisms about India’s foreign relations, including J&K. 

Another diabolical design to shift the focus from the dismantling of terror camps is to confine the discourse to revolve around Azhar. Distorians are claiming that he turned to terrorism only after Babri Masjid fell. Some Distortionists even claim that he visited Faizabad before his arrest in Srinagar two months later. But web search doesn’t throw up a single reference to any Uttar Pradesh visit. Reports in the US and other Western media and think-tank websites reveal Azhar was fighting the US forces in Somalia and elsewhere at that time. Born in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, in 1968 as the third of 11 children of Allah Bakhsh Shabbir, a headmaster at a government-run school, Azhar studied at the Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia in Banuri town, Karachi. It was during his stay here that he joined Harkat-ul-Ansar and participated in the Soviet-Afghan War.
According to various reports, he later became the general secretary of Harkat-ul-Ansar and visited Zambia, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia, the UK and Albania. Reports say he came to India in early 1994 in the guise of a journalist travelling on a Portuguese passport. This visit had nothing to do with Babri Masjid as his only mission was to “liberate Kashmir”. His objective was to strengthen Harkat-ul-Ansar by sorting out tensions between its two feuding factions, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Indian intelligence agencies have enough evidence about his ISI connections. Pak state actors adopted Azhar soon after his release by India in 1999. Not only was he allowed to float Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) but also to roam around Pakistan and spew venom against India. Contrary to propaganda by Distorians and Distortionists, Azhar rarely mentioned Babri Masjid in his inflammatory speeches. He has always promoted jihad in Kashmir. Despite the US declaring JeM a terrorist organisation, Pakistan has taken little action against Azhar or his organisation. Since he is the most effective monster of mayhem in India and Afghanistan only, neither Pakistan nor the US bother to ensure his annihilation. Even after the 2001 Parliament attacks, he was detained for a year, but was soon travelling on the terror trail. Yet the 2-Ds treat him as a 3D aberration and are struggling to restore Pakistan’s credibility and prevent its international isolation.

Azhar is not the only blood and gore-covered irritant in the resolution of Indo-Pak disputes. He is the symbol of everything that is wrong with Pakistan’s DNA. Even after three wars and over 100 rounds of talks and summits, the situation on the ground hasn’t moved an inch. Yet, Indo-Pak diplomacy has always been influenced by glamorous adventurism. The past 14 Indian PMs have fallen into the trap of treating Pak as a respectable neighbour and not as a terrifying threat. Pressure is being mounted through distortions and disinformation on Modi, the 15th PM. He would, however, be well advised to deviate from the beaten path and chart his own course in history.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, January 11, 2016

Among Regional Satraps, Jaya the Only Queen ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ January 10, 2016

Among Regional Satraps, Jaya the Only Queen Who can Register a Second Win

Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.” Ernest Hemingway

The power of a political leader is judged by his/her capacity to dictate terms to both friends and foes in equal measure. Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa took the bull by the horns, challenging the Rajya Sabha-dependent Modi government to revoke the judicial ban on Jallikattu, the 1,500-year-old bullfighting custom of the Tamils. She won the political jallikattu to the huge approbation of her people. As the countdown for the TN Assembly polls begins, the CM has demonstrated that she is in control of the rodeo seat, proving to voters that she has the political and administrative clout to rule over both state and Central-level politics.

She understood that in her state, bullfighting is part of Tamil culture, having been the sport of warriors. She is also aware that the BJP would play the cow in the electoral manger, trying to gain foothold in Tamil Nadu. She also knows that Modi is an inveterate risk-taker. After sitting on the issue for months, he suddenly approved Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar’s proposal to allow Jallikattu. 

Metaphors apart, it was the power of Jayalalithaa that forced the Centre to relent, before the formal process for the polls began. The NDA government is depending on AIADMK support in the Rajya Sabha to get crucial bills like the GST passed. The term of the current TN Assembly expires in May. Not just Tamil Nadu, state polls are also due in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry and West Bengal between April and May.

Jaya is perhaps the only non-BJP CM whose maximum demands—from economic packages to speedy release of Tamil fishermen from Sri Lankan jails—have been agreed to by the NDA government. Over a dozen Union ministers and the PM himself have made visits to the state to address her concerns. It was perhaps the politics of usurping credit; after the floods, senior Cabinet members, from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu, camped in Chennai to supervise relief work on behalf of the Central government. The PM also announced a special grant of `1,000 crore during a trip to Chennai. But Jayalalithaa has mastered the game of powerplay for decades. Her promoters believe that her current term has been an impeccable one in terms of performance in social and economic sectors. The state remained free from communal riots. Not a single case of financial irregularity has been made out against any top AIADMK functionary. The mystique of her limited public appearances has only reinforced her aura in providing political stability in the state. On the other hand, the Karunanidhi-led DMK is a house divided and is reeling under corruption charges against its top leaders, including family members.

Polls prove power principles. Jayalalithaa is a living example of this maxim. Tamil Nadu’s neighbour Kerala goes to polls around the same time. Unlike Jayalalithaa, who has protected an ancient Tamil tradition, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was ‘disinvited’ by a local religious organisation from a function to be attended by PM Modi. NDA ally and Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu may get more appointments with Modi, but less financial indulgence than Tamil Nadu. Demands from states have been like rampaging bulls charging at Modi. The Centre, however, has turned down numerous demands of Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal. Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar have been applying for economic bailouts, to be greeted by frosty silence. Only Jaya has forced the Modi government to deal with her on her own terms, without showing any signs of a possible political alignment with NDA.

Pollsters are confident that she has nothing to worry since no powerful opposition personality exists to draw voters away from her magnetism. Moreover, with her Vision 2020 declaration, she has shown a road map for the development of her state. Her opponents are hopelessly divided. Even the social and caste equations are working in her favour. Smaller regional parties are yet to find a leader to bring them together. Tamil Nadu is also one of the major states where national parties like the Congress and BJP can play a decisive role in influencing the election outcome. Last time, AIADMK alone won 150 seats in a house of 234. It is for the first time that she will be seeking a second term on the basis of her performance and not by making uneasy alliances. She seems set to break a record by becoming the first CM in the state to win a second mandate after 25 years.

In every bullfight, the matador does not always win. The vote battle in the two southern states has many similarities. In last 25 years, neither state has returned the same party consecutively to power. Tamil Nadu has been a revolving door for both AIADMK and DMK. In Kerala, power has alternated between LDF and UDF. Both states are personality-driven. In TN, the choice is between Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. In Kerala, while pre-poll alliances have been the norm, the two picadors are CPI(M)’s old warhorse V S Achuthanandan and Congress’s soft-spoken Chandy, who have been alternately winning the game for 10 years.

This time, unlike Jayalalithaa, Chandy may not be that lucky. He is facing an anti-incumbency factor. The Congress-led UDF barely managed a thin majority in 2011 by winning 72 seats in a 140-member house. His party stands divided into various factions. Caste and religion-based outfits are feeling disillusioned with the Congress leadership and are making overtures to Left and BJP. Though Chandy’s performance on many fronts has been impressive, the Congress has failed in its social engineering tactics, which had led it to victory in the past poll. The Left is equally divided along caste and personality lines. At 91, Achuthanandan is still the most popular leader, but his acceptability is the party has been sabotaged by the Pinarayi Vijayan faction, which has taken full control of the organisation. While a defeat for the Left would put a question mark on the national status of CPI(M) and party boss Sitaram Yechury’s organisational prowess, a Congress win will embolden the Gandhis. Rahul has decided to campaign more extensively in Kerala than in TN. BJP is expecting to open its account by unleashing its top leaders, including Modi, into the campaign arena.

If the nature of players and parties is to go by, 2016 is the year of regional parties and leaders, who will decide the fate of national parties like the BJP in Assam and the Congress in Kerala. Only Jayalalithaa, with a second triumph under her belt, would be smiling all the way to Fort St George alone., Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, January 4, 2016

For Modiplomacy to succeed, ....... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ January 03, 2016

For Modiplomacy to Succeed, PM Should Either Include Pak Army in Talks or Neutralise  It

Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif (left)

Trust without verification invariably proves fatal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be ruing the day he was persuaded to trust Pakistan’s political establishment led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. To give innovative diplomacy a chance, Modi forgot the historical truth about the Indo-Pak peace dialogue. It keeps alternating between farce and tragedy in the space between one terror attack and another. In a blood-stained New Year message, Pak-supported terrorists massacred the budding friendship between the two leaders by attacking the airforce base station in Pathankot.  Coming barely a week after Modi’s bold landing in Lahore for Sharif’s birthday celebrations, the fidayeen attacks reinforced the harsh reality that the Pakistani political runway is obstructed by India-baiters whose only objective is to let its mammoth neighbour bleed. These saboteurs project the four meetings between Modi and Sharif in the past 20 months as a mere exchange of social pleasantries. They ignore the intent and content of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s discussions with Sharif during her Pakistan visit in December 2015. The movers and shakers of Pakistan’s parallel establishment have treated the decisions taken at a meeting between the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of the two countries in Bangkok as needless notebooks meant for waste paper basket. Above all, the images of Sharif and Modi holding hands in Lahore or whispering in each other’s ears in Paris are acts of betrayal of their idea of fundamentalist Islam. They have returned every handshake with hand grenades and gunfire, killing Indian security personnel and civilians. For the blood-thirsty jihadists, the survival of a fundamentalist Pakistan depends on promoting terror and not adopting good economics. Terror is their most lucrative business. It gets them weapons and women, money and mosques, and the authority to dictate terms to a democratically elected government. Cocking a snook at the growing bonhomie between the two PMs, the terrorists have slain over 50 Indian defence personnel in the past year.

It would be facetious to expect any element of surprise over the weekend’s terror attacks. For Modi, such an ugly response to his gestures couldn’t have come at a worse time. He has already defied his core constituency, which wants war and not words with Pakistan. He has sent clear signals to his ministers and diplomats that they should walk the extra mile to give dialogue a chance; like Atal Bihari Vajpayee had done even after being betrayed umpteen times. From all indications, it is clear that both domestic and external interlocutors had assured Modi that Sharif was capable of ensuring the successful continuation of a comprehensive Indo-Pak dialogue. Successive Indian Prime Ministers have been given similar assurances by the powerful US, which treats Pakistan as its crony colony and its ambivalent army as ally against any selective terrorism aimed at America. No Pakistani leader, however, could deliver on any of the promises made to India. In 2004, the duplicitous Pervez Musharraf gave a written assurance to Vajpayee that terrorists wouldn’t be allowed to use any part of the Pakistan-controlled territory to operate against India. It was a mockery since more attacks, including the devastating Mumbai strike, continued to happen. According to diplomatic sources, Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz, a confidant of Pak Army chief General Raheel Sharif, gave his word to the Indian NSA Ajit Doval in Bangkok that the Army will tame all home-based terrorists and cripple their capacity to damage India. The assurance was repeated during Swaraj’s Islamabad visit. It was in this atmosphere of accord that Modi decided to land in Lahore and strengthen Sharif’s capability to rally the Pak Army behind him.

Peril in Pathankot has not only diminished Modi’s resolve to dismantle the tangled skein of Indo-Pak relations, but has also proved again that Sharif is not the appropriate person as he doesn’t enjoy full authority and command over the armed forces. He doesn’t have a comfortable political majority in Parliament. He is perceived by the people as a symbol of the aristocracy, the elite and big business interests. Since he comes from Punjab, which is emotionally closer to India than the rest of Pakistan, Sharif doesn’t inspire much support in other regions, except among the rich and mighty in Lahore. During his earlier stint in power, he was effortlessly ousted by a military coup because he and his party were considered ineffective and slaves to the US. During the past four years, he hasn’t been able to contain the ever-growing influence of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan. The number of terror attacks has risen substantially during his tenure because he doesn’t have the army’s full support. Those opposed to dialogue argue that Sharif, who has failed to control jihadis in his own country, cannot be trusted to dismantle the terror establishment whose aim is to damage India.

For Modi the dove, however, hardly any escape routes are left to fly away to peaceful skies. He has too much at stake and can’t afford the rhythm of dialogue he has initiated to break at this stage. Peaceniks and ill-liberals will clamour that any interruption in talks will only strengthen the radicals. Modi will also be under pressure to disclose the content and contours of the dialogue, which he and his team have been holding with Pak leaders since the past few months. Since Modi practices unconventional politics, he will have to connect with the real power holders in Pakistan to take his mission forward. So far, all previous Indian leaders have stuck to conformist mediation by involving just diplomats and civil servants in engaging Pakistan. Perhaps, the time has come for the PM to co-opt Pakistan’s defence establishment, too, in open speak. India cannot ignore the reality that it is the Pakistan army, which dictates decisions in that country. If Modiplomacy has to succeed, Modi should either include the Pak Army in the formal dialogue process or neutralise it if it refuses to fall in line. After all, it is the Indian Army, which has borne the brunt of Pak-sponsored terror, along with innocent citizens. The presence of uniformed officers of both countries, sitting along with political leaders from both sides, will provide more than a photo-op and yield better results. So far, only meetings between the two unequals, Modi and Sharif, have taken place. While Modi represents the mandate of the Indian people and the might of the government, Sharif is merely the face, and not the force, of the government in Pakistan. Modi must verify Sharif’s credibility and clarity before reposing trust in him again. Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla