Monday, April 25, 2016

Nitish's ATOM Politics .... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ April 24, 2016

Nitish's ATOM Politics May Well Set Contours of Confrontation for the Next Election

PM Narendra Modi (left) with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar

The road to good intentions is paved with hellfire. Any foolproof planning in Indian politics missing a clear roadmap promises more chances of failure than fortune. Slogans can ignite riots but cannot deliver victory in war. Without even waiting for the outcome of the recent Assembly polls, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has announced his vision and mission with sass and sauce. PM Narendra Modi wants a Congress Mukt (Congress-free) India, but Nitish has blown the bugle for all non-BJP parties to gather under his banner to establish a Sangh Mukt Bharat (RSS-free Bharat) to save the democracy.

Nitish began his first stint as the JD(U) chief with the ideological intention to polarise the two national parties along political groupings. His clarion cry appears to have united all non-BJP parties to oust Modi in 2019. But both his admirers and detractors are baffled about this hurry in going public. Is he convinced that Modi is losing charisma and acceptability faster than anyone expected? But Nitish’s moves clearly reveal that he has declared war on the Saffron Parivar. He has projected himself as the only credible alternative to Modi. His promoters are convinced that he is as clean as the PM. They feel his Vikas Purush tag is equally convincing if not more than Modi’s.

Since Nitish has the advantage of rallying the minorities behind him and attracting a load of liberal and secular middle class votes, they have decided to demolish the PM’s core credentials. He had venomously said, “Management is more important than event management.” It is evident that Nitish has drawn up his field guide well and formulated a strategy for a long-drawn-out battle. He had made an attempt to forge a Bihar-type Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) in Assam, but failed after the Congress refused to surrender its space.

The timing and tone, however, of the Bihar CM’s declaration are interesting. He, along with RJD chief Lalu Prasad, sprang a surprise by stopping the Modi juggernaut in the state by scoring a decisive victory over the BJP in 2015. While the BJP’s defeat raised questions over its invincibility and Modi’s popularity, it also emboldened Nitish to extend the Bihar experiment to other parts of the country. He is aware of the ground reality that almost all the non-BJP parties, including the Left, are feeling insecure under Modi’s dispensation. The Congress dreads the lethal use of government apparatus to not only topple its governments in smaller states, but also to dig up dirty pasts of many of its senior leaders and former and current CMs. To add fuel to the fire, the Modi government is moving at bullet train speed to dismantle all the institutions controlled by the Left and anti-RSS elements.

In reality, Modi’s direct confrontation with non-BJP parties, including some of its regional allies, is creating a favourable environment for the creation of a political alternative. Historically, credible substitutes have emerged against powerful personalities and their actions, which their opponents projected as a threat to democracy. Nitish’s plan is to portray Modi as an intolerant and arrogant leader, who along with the RSS, his ideological mentor, poses a serious threat to the nation’s unity and secular character. In 1977, Jaiprakash Narayan brought all non-Congress parties together to oust Indira Gandhi after she imposed the Emergency and suspended fundamentals rights.

Parties, from the north to the south, sacrificed their partisan interests with the singular aim of defeating the Congress and demolishing Indira’s leviathan leadership. The experiment lasted for less than 30 months, as the elements, which came together to challenge her, started to squabble. The first ever anti-Congress initiative died an untimely death with Indira’s triumphant return to power in 1980.

For the next nine years, the Congress once again acquired total control over national politics. It won most of the state polls in 1980 and later harvested a record number of over 400 seats in the Lok Sabha after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Rajiv Gandhi was seen as an agent of change for a better India. But his charm faded even earlier than his promoters expected. Once again, corruption emerged as the ubiquitous glue to bring all the non-Congress parties, from the CPI(M) to the BJP, occupy a single platform to remove Rajiv and his coterie. There was a difference though. Unlike 1977 when the Janata Party plunged into the electoral battle without a PM candidate, the Opposition fought the 1989 election under the leadership of Congress rebel V P Singh who enjoyed a reputation for impeccable integrity. Their motto: defeat Rajiv, who was leading a corrupt government.

For the next decade, Central governments were formed on the basis of opportunistic alliances in which individuals, not ideology, played a decisive role. But Modi changed the rules of the political battle. Soon after winning the Gujarat elections in 2012, he planned his move in advance to take over 7 Race Course. He tried to bring smaller parties together, with the weak Manmohan Singh—who was protecting and leading a corrupt government—as his target. It was for the first time that a Lok Sabha election was turned into a Presidential election by another name, in which Team Modi converted the war into a struggle between the indomitable, clean development man Modi versus Manmohan. Modi won without even a symbolic fight.
Today Nitish wants to convert the next Lok Sabha election into a conflict between two individuals backed by distinctive ideologies. He tried to lead the anti-BJP coalition when he left the NDA in 2013. It failed to take off. Even now, his resolve to forge an ATOM (alternative to Modi) has run into hurdles posed by leaders like Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav, a section of the Congress and other regional leaders. At the moment, Nitish enjoys the full backing of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. But they can also put spanners in his works in progress, and both are unacceptable to the Congress. Moreover, the Congress wouldn’t like anyone to give the impression that it has accepted Nitish over Rahul to lead the anti-Modi campaign. Rahul has the advantage over Nitish since his party and family are still a draw across the country. Nitish, however, has defined the contours of confrontation for the next election. The Opposition not only wishes Modi would lose his sheen, but also expects 900 million voters to give a chance to another individual, ignoring the absence of an ideological identity. For now, however, it is an uneven battle between the omnipresent Modi, the vaguely visible Nitish and the occasionally visible Rahul Gandhi.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 18, 2016

Celebrating Messiah of Mhow way to ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 17, 2016

Celebrating Messiah of Mhow Way to Revive Those Forgotten by Nehruvian Plutocracy

125th birth anniversary celebrations of Dr B R Ambedkar at Parliament

Social reincarnation is often the opportunistic face of politics. Hence, it is no surprise that a leader, born 125 years ago, in a family of ‘untouchables’ in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, is being reborn as a 21st century prophet of competitive politics for 125 crore Indians. Last week, hardly any leader worth his salt failed to remind ‘We, the People of India’ about Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s overwhelming contribution in restoring social equilibrium in a caste-infected nation. PM Narendra Modi flew down to Mhow last Thursday. Sonia Gandhi addressed a massive rally there a few days earlier. Needless to say, the media was predictable beneficiary of the government’s largesse unlike the target audience that represented an unsung Indian class revolution.

Undoubtedly, Dr Ambedkar was of a different league. He was an elitist in attire but a sanguine social reformist in words and wisdom. Ideologically, he wasn’t a Congressman. After participating in the freedom struggle, he floated the Independent Labour Party and contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1952. But he lost to the Congress candidate Narayan Kajrolkar. PM Jawaharlal Nehru had included the Dalit firebrand in independent India’s first Cabinet. In the pecking order, however, Ambedkar wasn’t perceived as the cardinal leader of Dalit interests. Babu Jagjivan Ram, a low caste Congressman from Bihar, was placed three notches above him. For the next quarter century, the Congress went on to project ‘Babuji’ as the messiah of the socially discriminated until 1977, when he broke away to float his party, Congress for Democracy, which later merged with the Janata Party.

Today, the political panorama, including the Congress and BJP, has appropriated Ambedkar as its ideological deity. For more than 50 years, none of them thought of him as a personage who deserved the Bharat Ratna—21 awardees came before him until he was conferred with the award in 1990, when VP Singh was the Prime Minister. Ironically, both the national parties have today scored ahead of the smaller parties, including the BSP, which thrive and survive in his name in the National Ambedkar Worship Exhibition. 

Ever since Modi became the PM in 2014, he has made Ambedkar the fulcrum of his strategy of political expansionism and vote acquisition. Since the BJP was perceived as a party dominated by Brahmanical moorings, Modi conceived an idea to transform the untouchables as India’s most touchable of identities. He directed all ministries to plan special events throughout the year to celebrate Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, forcing other parties to become also-rans. He led his ministers, chief ministers and party cadres on the social media to project Baba Saheb as India’s most revered statesman.

The revival of the Ambedkar cult reflects the growing realisation among all political parties that the Messiah from Mhow continues to be the most powerful figure in winning electoral battles. None of the political parties in the west or north of the country can complete its electoral manifesto without dropping Ambedkar’s name. Even the RSS is competing with parties in promoting Ambedkar as a reformer, forgetting the fact that he was against Hinduism and also favoured Muslims. Sadly, the Ambedkar legacy is being exploited only in the name of reservation. If one devotes the time to scan through his speeches and books, Ambedkar was much more than a mere promoter of caste quotas in Parliament, state Assemblies and government jobs. His admirers are only minimising his stature as the person who believed in the modernisation of Indian culture and reducing large land holdings so that poor farmers could prosper. He argued for a larger role for big industry. He also warned the Congress leadership and Nehru against supporting China’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Instead, he wanted India to fight for herself—a battle which India is now fighting to lose.
Ambedkar’s idea of reservation was aimed at making Dalits stakeholders in the national narrative rather than existing as ornamental glyphs of socialist symbology. Though India has just about 15 per cent Dalits among its legislators and babus in its ranks of governance today, they are hardly equal partners in running the affairs of the state. Even 66 years after the establishment of the Constitution drafted by Baba Saheb, Dalits are treated as outsiders even if they have become, in name, insiders through reservation. The vested interests in the current political system dangle the reservation policy as a carrot to Dalits, thus denying them the right to become part of the real establishment. For example, no Dalit has ever become the PM, finance minister, external affairs minister or education minister of India. Jagjivan Ram almost became the PM in 1977, when Morarji Desai had to resign. 

But a combination of Brahmanical forces within the Janata Party, along with the Communists, opposed his elevation. 

Not more than a dozen Dalit leaders have risen to the post of chief minister in the past six decades. Though Dalits in the Indian Civil Services form just 15 per cent, very few of them have became chief secretaries or Director Generals of Police. Not a single Dalit has made it to the post of Union Cabinet Secretary. Above all, Dalits are unwanted companions or guests at social and private functions hosted by upper caste liberals and eidolons. Rarely is a Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan or Jitan Ram Manjhi invited to cosy dinners organised by the chatterati and corporate caliphs.Inexplicably, while the deification of Baba Saheb is becoming a glamorous hobby, his idea of egalitarian India is being lacerated. As the Father of the Constitution, Ambedkar has acquired a much bigger stature than the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who is remembered less and less as a Dalit champion. Ambedkar’s excessive dominance in the political credo, however, has eclipsed Nehru more than Gandhi. Hence, most Nehruvians have refrained from hailing him as the reformer who influenced the course of modern India. The Festival of Ambedkar, being celebrated by Modi and his party, is definitely meant to revive luminaries, who have been forgotten or dumped by the Nehruvian plutocracy.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 11, 2016

Modi's message is Loud and Clever ..... Poweer & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ April 10, 2016

Modi's Message is Loud and Clever: While in Govt, Work for India and Dream for India

 PM Narendra Modi at a rally in Nagaon district in Assam on Friday

Advice is just a pseudonym for infiltration, especially in administration. There was a time when videshi was considered the most effective panacea for all ills plaguing Indian governance. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi perceives anyone with foreign connections in ministries as a devious influence peddler. Last week, following instructions from the PMO, the Health Ministry embarked on a purge of over 150 consultants who were advising it on various health-related issues. Most of them have been working in the government for many years, and are handsomely financed by prestigious global organisations like WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

 A large number of these have been involved in programmes that monitor the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in India. Modi’s choice of the Health Ministry as his first arena to sweep away foreign influence in the government has upset and disrupted a well-knit system which permeates government agencies, influence policies and whose final beneficiaries are its financiers. The PM may be talking about Invest-in-India to Make-in-India, but he is not in a mood to take any advice from anyone other than those he feels has only India’s interests at heart. During the past 23 months in office, he has welcomed the largest number of foreign entrepreneurs, professionals and other icons than any of his illustrious predecessors at 7 Race Course. Yet, he has refrained from inducting foreign-educated advisors or experts sponsored by the West in key positions. 

He has been closely monitoring the role of foreign-funded NGOs and other consulting agencies, which were counseling various ministries on myriad social, economic, environmental and health issues. He instructed trusted officials in the Ministry of Home, Finance, the CBI and RAW to review the role of over 100 such outfits, which had found ingress into the government. According to Home Ministry sources, foreign-sponsored consultants were not only feeding data and exclusive information to other international agencies through their participation in global seminars and conferences, but also through various research-based NGOs in India. Some of these individuals and organisations were also directly or indirectly involved with those who have been hounding Modi since 2002. To add fat to the fire, key officials of these bodies were the ones who lobbied in the US and the West to deny Modi a visa. 

 Now, the government has drawn up for special scrutiny, a list of over 700 foreign-linked or -funded consultants working with ministries such as Power, Finance, Environment, Education, NITI Aayog, Roads and Transport, Agriculture, Non-Conventional Energy, Mining, Petroleum and Natural Gas and Defence Production . Even some of the prominent PSUs have been identified for special screening, thanks to their association with foreign consulting firms. The PMO is convinced that most development and infrastructural projects have been delayed for a decade and more, only because of the convoluted spins given by these firms to ensure that India will continue to depend heavily on imports. For example, during the early 1980s when Indira Gandhi was prime minister, a blueprint to make India fully self reliant in petroleum products by 1990 was finalised. Yet, even after 35 years, the country spends billions of dollars on importing crude oil. Even though the Health Ministry has the largest number of foreign-affiliated advisors, India still suffers from the maximum number of diseases and reels under an inefficient health administration. The environment ministry was home to consultants from the World Wide Fund of India, while experts from Britain’s DFID worked for both ministries of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation until December. Yet both the ministries haven’t been able to get rid of parasites. During one of the numerous ministerial reviews by the PMO, it was discovered that outside experts were hanging on to their jobs much beyond their contractual terms, on one pretext or the other. None of the senior officials or even the ministers could offer credible excuses for those still clinging on to the government. It was decided that the Home Ministry will do a thorough review of each one of them. 

The Ministry later on hinted that most of these consultants are tailoring their reports for ministers and bureaucrats to influence policies in such a way that it promotes the commercial interests of their parent agencies. For example, the government suspects that the quantum of the HIV/AIDS infected population in India was artificially raised to get, not only more funds from the Indian government but also to help specific pharma companies manufacturing medicines that treat AIDS. Highly exaggerated statistics on HIV victims has brought India a bad image in the world. What upset the Modi government was the inability of these consultants to reverse India’s negative image on hygiene, environmental protection, clean energy and inclusive education. Instead, the very institutions, which had drafted these experts into the government, have been playing anti-India roles on international platforms. 

The reality is that the Indian political leadership has been suffering from an inferiority complex since Independence. Since various prime ministers from Nehru to Manmohan Singh saw it as their mission to establish their imprints and road maps for faster economic development, they laterally inducted large number of experts hired by international agencies to assist the government. Manmohan even packed the Planning Commission with a record number of foreign consultants soon after taking over as prime minister in 2004. This led to furious protests from the Left, forcing him to abandon the move. The Finance Ministry has always been the preferred destination for foreign-educated economists. They have been following the revolving door principle. Almost all its Chief Economic Advisors have sometime or the other been on the rolls of foreign institutions that include universities. They come to serve India and go back to the West after the government, which appointed them was ousted. Numerous Parliamentarians and others have raised questions about the undesirable influence of these money mandarins on India’s fiscal and monetary policies, which they think are guided by the ideological fancy of their permanent habitat—the US. The ongoing purge of foreign elements from the government and other institutions appears to be part of Modi’s nationalist agenda. His message is loud and clever: while in government Work for India and Dream for India. Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 4, 2016

Any Attempt to Kill the Spirit ... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 03, 2016

Any Attempt to Kill the Spirit Behind the Slogan Bharat Mata ki Jai is Anti-national

Members of the Muslim community chant Bharat Mata ki Jai in Meerut
India’s first PM Jawahar Lal Nehru discovered real India when he wrote his 595-page book Discovery of India in 1946. Written during his four-year stay in Ahmed Nagar Fort Jail, Nehru spoke about India’s ancient civilisation, culture and the greatness that was polluted by invaders from outside. Four decades later, Shyam Benegal, a genuine liberal, wrote and directed the historical drama Bharat Ek Khoj based on Nehru’s book in which Roshan Seth, a Nehruvian and Doon school alumnus, played the role of the former PM. The first episode was titled Bharat Mata ki Jai (BMKJ). The first scene showed a group of villagers welcoming Nehru to a public gathering with chants of BMKJ. When Nehru asked his audience if they knew the meaning of the slogan and whose victory they were aspiring for, initially no one had an answer. Finally, one of the young farmers said Bharat Mata meant the dharati (land), which was their mother. But Nehru refused to accept that it was just the earth beneath their feet; he said Bharat Mata referred to the whole country, to its mountains, rivers, sky and seas and, most importantly, to its people. It was the only in the victory of its people that Bharat could find its victory, he said. 

But having said that, he chose to end his famous Tryst with Destiny speech at Red Fort in August 1947 with Jai Hind, not Bharat Mata ki Jai. Despite being one of India’s leading freedom fighters, Nehru chose to ignore the fact that the slogan had been coined by those seeking freedom from British rule under the leadership of the Indian National Congress, and that people of all faiths proudly chanted it during protests against the British. Powerful freedom fighters like Liaquat Ali had to face the wrath of brutal British controlled police for shouting BMKJ and Vande Matram.

That was then. Seventy years after Nehru wrote his book, his disciples and progeny are still engaged in an exercise to discover the idea of India and define the space and importance of BMKJ. Not only political parties, even civil society leaders, Bollywood icons, writers, social media-savvy religious gurus and organisations are fiercely fighting to either own or disown BMKJ. For every champion of Bharat Mata, there is one who feels pride in declaring himself or herself anti-national by refusing to chant the slogan. Indeed, it has become the biggest issue dividing the country along communal and political lines. 

With elections becoming a permanent feature of every calendar year, India’s idea- and issue-starved political parties have made nationalism (ours vs theirs) the main plank for the coming polls. While the Sangh Parivar led by PM Narendra Modi has made the chanting of BMKJ the only credible test of one’s loyalty to India, its adversaries insist that undiluted faith in the Constitution of India is the solitary symbol of patriotism. Perhaps, it is the over-enthusiastic imposition of BMKJ by the Sangh Parivar that has contributed to the equally-aggressive opposition of its detractors.

The battle for grabbing a nationalist trophy acquired religious overtones last week when leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband issued a fatwa asking Muslims not to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai, calling it un-Islamic. The same seminary also advised madrasas across the country “to hoist the Tricolour and celebrate Independence Day and teach students about the Indian freedom struggle and the country’s original spirit of unity in diversity”. Earlier, sensing growing resistance to BMKJ, the RSS had clarified that people should not be forced to participate to chant the slogan. But now, with the anti-BMKJ missive emanating from the Islamist organisation, hard-core Hindu outfits have been quick to question the nationalism of the minorities. 

It’s ironic that a slogan like BMKJ, which was created to unite the nation, is now polarising the country. Ever since Independence, political parties, social organisations, NGOs and RSS-affiliated outfits have chanted Bharat Mata Ki Jai at their functions, without any interference or protests from any quarters. Over a decade ago, there was some brouhaha over the singing of Vande Mataram, which was met with recriminatory (and what some would call threatening) responses like “Agar is desh mein rahna hoga, Vande Matram kehna hoga (If you want to live in this country, you shall sing Vande Mataram)”. But never have we seen such a confrontationist atmosphere in the country as we see today. Indeed, Vande Mataram is sung at many official functions without any protest from the audience.
This leads one to believe that the current opposition to BMKJ is aimed at bringing all Sangh Parivar forces to one platform and converting the debate into an issue of threat to freedom of expression. Those who oppose the slogan claim that nowhere does the Constitution provide for the invocation of BMKJ. A coalition of liberals, neo-communalists and Leftists has been formed to defeat any attempt by the ruling political dispensation to dismantle the current eco-system which hardly recognises the importance of national flag, national geographical identity and judiciary. This group invokes selective and subjective use of the Constitution to protect its political perks and imposes its personal choices on the rest of the country. It swears by the Constitution when it serves its ideological convictions. It has no problem if the National Anthem is sung at every function attended by the President of India, or at the beginning and end of the Parliament session. 

But when the Constitution talks about prohibition, the same people see it as a threat to their fundamental right to consume what they will. They support a judicial verdict that’s aligned to their choices but hit the streets if the courts deliver judgments based on constitutional provisions that disrupt their lifestyle. Undoubtedly, the foreign-educated current crop of intellectuals, media stars, political leaders and elitist business leaders have brilliant minds. But they are only half educated when it comes to the idea of the motherland. BMKJ was not a gift from any narrow-minded sectarian Hindu leader or organisation. Bharat Mata ki Jai was the most successful non-violent verbal weapon forged by a freedom-starved crowd which helped end the 200-year-old British rule and sent the English packing. Any attempt to kill the spirit behind the slogan runs the risk of being labelled anti-national. BMKJ is just an assertion of independence from slavery of every colour and nothing more.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla