Monday, April 20, 2009

Not the Congress or the BJP, India needs an alternative

Not the Congress or the BJP, India needs an alternative
By Susenjit Guha

As the campaigning gets more bare knuckled, there is little likelihood that the Congress or the BJP---the principal national parties---would muster enough votes to form a government on their own.

While the Congress party has morphed from what it was a few decades ago, the BJP is trapped in a demonising ideology from which it does not want to wriggle out.

Instead of being a truly national party that it was earlier cutting across regions, castes, creeds and religion, the Congress ideology does not resonate anymore across the length and breadth of India . And the BJP’s obsession with building a Ram temple at Ayodhya as the defining issue of India and her identity does not have many takers.

Come poll time and the BJP will rake up the issue hoping the majority Hindus will take up the bait. And for the Congress, this election is all about making Manmohan Singh Prime Minister if the party or the UPA can win enough votes to form a government at the centre. His job would be to keep the seat warm for a member of the Gandhi family.

Dynasty and the politics revolving around a family have made the Congress what it is now.

Failing to work up the magic of yore, it has to play second fiddle nowadays to regional parties from different states and bank on their support in the event of emerging as the single largest party to form a government, way short of a two-thirds majority. It has been a slow process of slithering down the popularity charts as the party got increasingly bogged down with the urban middle class electorate. They form just 24% of India ’s population and the recent foreign as well as economic policies do not find favour with the majority of the population outside the ambit of 24%.

Taking for granted that the electorate or the people never mature politically---a common analogy of kings, queens and courtiers---the projection of a member of the Gandhi family as a future Prime Minister, comes naturally. There are venerable as well as far more accomplished Congress leaders who cannot aspire for the Prime Ministerial chair. If the primary aim is to keep the seat warm, then Manmohan Singh may be the last Prime Minister from outside the family every tine the Congress forms a government at the centre on its own or with allies. That is why criticizing ‘him’ is downsizing the nation.

Both the Gandhi siblings being young can outlast most present leaders who are under the sun. A mature electorate knows were the real power lies.

Is the Indian electorate not averse anymore to the medieval ideology of a family based supreme leadership as the majority is young and wouldn’t mind a young member of the Gandhi family taking over as PM in the election after this one? We don’t know yet, but will have to wait for the results of this election.

The TV channels favoring the Congress may show an audience of early 20 something’s with hands up when asked if they favored a young member of a Gandhi family as a future PM, but they all belong to the 24% electorate. And they are the ones synonymous with the shine and glitz of India . Having a large population, India ’s upper 24% is more than the total population of many developed countries and eclipse the reality that lies in the 76%.

Neither the N-deal nor the specter of a strategic relationship with the US can be taken for granted as the new US President is toying with a real time relationship with China . India had lost the initiative it had after the Mumbai attacks and it might be forgotten as the Taliban inches closer to Islamabad .

And if security is the issue, then the Mother India concept of a majority of the people got rattled. It was not that her sari was not long enough to drape her, but she was caught unclothed during the Mumbai attacks. Despite some pinpointed intelligence reports, security could not be ramped up. Kandahar hijack involved hundreds of innocent Indian lives that required saving.

And the fond obsession of the majority of India ’s middle class with the US may wane when job prospects in the IT sector in mainland US evaporate.

Coming back to the BJP, demonizing minorities will continue to be the principal lodestar. The basis of the agenda is about mobilizing Hindu votes. It is about division not inclusion as we heard the estranged member of the Gandhi family speak. And if it is towards inclusion, it has to be on ‘Ram’s’ terms.

Can Indians really stride the 21st century with either of them? Should not a far more egalitarian society emerge after all these years?

Indians require an alternative not concentrated to the 24%, and a little here and a little there. It should be all encompassing and an attractive option for also those on whom the reflected light of urban India does not shine. And its foreign policies should not be intertwinned with a large power's interests.

And neither medieval dynasty politics nor a culture potion reflecting Dark Age instincts can provide that.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Master, Queen and Slave

Master, Queen and Slave
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Is the Congress only party which works on the basis of master-servant relationship? Sonia Maino Gandhi has challenged that assumption by breaking the sound of silence. All these years, her long and stoic silence was being considered as a sign of acquiescence. Sonia has proved that she is indeed the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, who dealt her opponents with an iron fist.

So, is Lal Krishna Advani, a slave of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as Sonia Gandhi has termed at a poll rally in Margao? Anybody who is aware of India’s political history will bear witness that L.K. Advani has indeed been a ‘slave’ of the RSS. There is nothing new in this utterance but yet it will find a unique place in the political history. Sonia’s lips have given it Congress affiliation. The vacuum left behind by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has finally found an echo in the voice of his grand daughter-in-law!

If Congress is a budiya (old lady) then RSS is by no means a gudiya (doll). Congress was born in 1885, an old political party indeed. RSS breathed life in 1925. If one applies Narendra Modi logic, RSS too will fall under the category of budiya! What more, this ‘budiya’ has given birth to ‘gudiyas’ legitimate as well as illegitimate. BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal can claim to be legitimate while Abhinav Bharat, Ram Sene will be ‘branded’ as illegitimate although both have been begotten by RSS, the gudiya-in-chief of Sangh Parivar!

RSS was founded in September 1925 at Nagpur on Dussehra day by Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a medical doctor. Hedgewar was a disciple of Balkrishna Moonje who had sent him to Calcutta in 1910 to pursue medical studies. His unofficial mission was to learn terrorist techniques from the Bengal secret societies. He joined Congress after returning to Nagpur, following in his mentor’s footsteps. Both the master and servant were “disenchanted” with the Congress soon.

In their book The Brotherhood in Saffron, Walter K. Anderson and Shridhar D. Damle record how Hedgewar began to lay intellectual foundations of RSS at a time of escalating Hind-Muslim animosity in Nagpur. They write, “Hedgewar began to develop the intellectual foundations of the RSS. A major influence on his thinking was a handwritten manuscript Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s Hindutva, which advanced the thesis that the Hindus were a nation. The central propositions of Savarkar’s manuscript are that Hindus are the indigenous people of the continent and that they form a single national group.”
RSS was succeeded by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar after the death of Hedgewar on June 21, 1940. RSS did grow under his leadership but yet remained on the margins of Indian politics. It was known as a militant Hindu group notorious for its role in communal riots.

An understanding was reached between Golwalkar and the Hindu Mahasabha leader S.P. Mookerjee which led to the formation of the political arm of RSS, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh on October 21, 1951. Jana Sangh merged into Janata Party in 1977. After the fall of the government in 1979, Jana Sangh broke away with Janata Party and renamed it as The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on April 5, 1980.

After the shameful defeat of BJP in 1984 general election, BJP was given a new lease of life by Rajiv Gandhi government when it opened the locks at the gates of Babri Masjid in February 1986. BJP adopted a resolution on Ayodhya on June 11, 1989 at Palampur which demanded that “the sentiments of the overwhelming majority in this country – the Hindus be respected and the site in dispute must be handed over to the Hindus and a mosque built at some other place.” The resolution did not specify what will happen to the Babri Masjid; it was demonstrated only on December 6, 1992.

Construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya is one of the first demands of a ‘cultural’ and ‘fascist’ RSS ‘budiya’. BJP is the 29-year old ‘gudiya’ of the same ‘budiya’!

RSS, as it claims, is apolitical cultural organisation but it has floated its political arm in the form of BJP! The BJP policy has always been dominated and influenced by RSS agenda. Immediately after Palampur resolution, L.K. Advani said, “I am sure it will translate into votes.” After the November 1989 election, he expressed satisfaction that the issue had contributed to the success of BJP. In 1991 election, Advani was confident that Ram Temple movement will influence voters. On June 18, 1991 he proudly said, “Had I not played the Ram factor effectively, I would have definitely lost from the New Delhi constituency.” And immediately after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and subsequent riots that followed, he wrote that if the Muslims were to identify themselves with the concept of Hindutva there would not be any reasons for riots to take place. In July 1992, he argued in Lok Sabha speaker’s chamber: “You must recognise the fact that from two seats in Parliament in 1985 we have come to 117 seats in 1991. This has happened primarily because we took up this issue (Ayodhya).”

From 1999 to 2004, BJP had convened many meetings just to convince the RSS top brass their helplessness over Ram temple because numbers in parliament didn’t add up to pass legislation for the same. Anderson and Damle put it thus, “It is questionable if the BJP could survive politically without the RSS cadre, and the cadre will not stay unless the leadership of the party stays firmly in the hands of the ‘brotherhood’.”

The Italian scholar Marzia Casolari has documented, on the basis of archival evidence, the RSS’s links with and admiration for Mussolini’s fascist regime.

Doesn’t this brief Advani pattern resemble that of a slave of the master? The sole job of a slave is to serve the interests of his master no matter how despicable and abominable the assigned job is. All through his life Advani has tried his best to please the RSS top brass.

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who once proudly said – the Sangh is my soul – had worked hard to woo Sanghis. On his visit to Nagpur on August 27, 2000, he had literally surrendered the post of prime minister to a swayamsevak. He had said, “The post of (prime minister) may go tomorrow, but I will always remain a humble swayamsevak.”

Sonia Gandhi, the queen of Congress, has highlighted the BJP-RSS relationship though there are RSS-sympathisers within the Congress as revealed by RSS general secretary Ram Madhav recently.
Slavery was officially abolished in Britain in 1833 but it is still prevalent in Indian politics.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A weak Singh 'Remote Control'

A weak Singh 'Remote Control'
By Seema Mustafa

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh always gets visibly irritated and angry when opposition leaders at home describe him as ‘weak’. During these elections particularly Singh appears to have been under instructions from his “guardian angel” Sonia Gandhi to hit back, and has been doing so with uncharacteristic ferocity that actually sounds a little strange, and even woebegone, coming from him.

But lets get back to the charge that so angers our Prime Minister. Is he weak? The five years in office have provided sufficient indicators that he is. It starts with this gushing praise of the Nehru-Gandhi Family that he has maintained through the years, making it clear that he might be Prime Minister for the ordinary mortals of the country but not for Sonia Gandhi and her family. The Congress president is the one person he looks up to, who his not just his guardian angel but also his mentor, who he owes everything to, and who he can never contradict let alone question.

Is this being strong or weak? In accepting an authority outside the government, Singh has debased the office of the Prime Minister, a constitutional position that has immense sanctity and authority. It is no secret to the Congress party that the Prime Minister can be reined in at a moments notice, and that he is not in position to direct other ministerial colleagues and extract serious work from any. It is true that a Prime Minister is the first among equals in a government, but it is also true that he is expected to provide the direction free from outside intervention. This is one of the many reasons why a Prime Minister of India is required to be an elected member of Parliament, and not seek his authority from the Rajya Sabha. Not only did Singh refuse to contest the elections for the five years in office, but even now is making a stake for the top job without even venturing into the fray.

Singh recently justified the fact that the Congress president was more powerful than him by saying that it had been a good arrangement, the “division of labour” as he liked to describe it had worked well. Well for whom? Not for India whose people had to get used to a Prime Minister without authority, and who had to exhibit extreme diffidence and servility even in public to keep the job that circumstances had catapulted him into. Even now, both Sonia and Rahul have given the distict impression in their election campaigns that Manmohan Singh is their choice of Prime Minister, and his tenure in office is dependent not on the people directly but on the Family. This is a dilution of democracy, where the most important constitutional authority has beensystematically worn and torn down in the past five years of UPA rule.

Singhs writ did not carry with his ministerial colleagues who carried their problems, and issues to Sonia Gandhi. He showed the same gushing subservience to the US, and strangely enough has still not realized how badly this impacted on sovereign and independent India. His expressed “deep love” for former US President George W.Bush surprised his enthusiastic champions in the media---and there are many of them---as the body language of a confident Bush and a virtually cringing Singh were captured for posterity in photographs the world over. He has done the same with President Barack Obama, using his first meeting to describe in gushing tones India’s appreciation and love for him, and then sealing the interaction by asking for an autograph.
Humiliating for India, but not for the Prime Minister who has not understood in the five years of his tenure that he represents the country and not the Nehru-Gandhi Family.

Singh has got so used to sycophancy to keep himself in power at home, that he uses the same to attract world leaders from the West. He does not realise how strange it must have seemed to even Obama, when the head of a big country asks him for an autograph. One would have expected that the few minutes the two had together, would have been used by Singh to stress not his love for the US and the US President but to highlight the problems that India would face, and is facing, given the Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And that instead of listening without comment to the US plan that does not take into account Indian sensitivities he would have gone for the bilaterals on the sidelines of the G-20 summit with an Indian initiative, and what we think should be done in the region to bring back a level of stability and peace.

Instead he is now waiting, by his own admission, for the plan to unfold and if it tackles the question of terrorism to “cooperate.” Strange words from the Prime Minister of a country, that had placed itself in the world arena to formulate and direct regional policy, and not accept US thinking for its neighbourhood.

Russia has tried to initiate some talks with India through the Shanghai Corporation Organisation, and even bilaterally on Obama’s Af-Pak policy and the repercussions for the region. By all accounts we have not shown much interest, citing the ongoing elections as an excuse. But since when have elections stopped the ministries from working, and from officials exacting their duties. This is an urgent problem for which some ground must be prepared, but clearly the political masters are not keen to move into a dialogue that might not involve the US.

Singh worked with a certain desperation to get the US Indian civilian nuclear energy agreement through. He used every trick in the book to sign this deal that commits India to a strategic partnership with the US as a junior partner that is now required to follow a foreign policy “congruent” to that of Washington. When Parliament rejected it, Singh by his own admission now threatened to resign, and got the Congress clearance to go ahead and sign it regardless of Parliament and public opinion. Where is the deal now? Singh barely talks of it, and certainly no one in his party is out in the field now asking for votes on the basis of this highly controversial agreement. The US nuclear reactors industry has been out of business for decades and was expected to revive through this deal but like the French has been hit badly by the global melt down. But that does not seem to bother Singh, for he had his hour in the sunlight when Bush embraced him and described his as a great Prime Minister and a true friend.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Diagnosing Dr. Manmohan Singh

Diagnosing Dr. Manmohan Singh
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

How will history judge Dr. Manmohan Singh, India’s non-political prime minister? Will he be remembered as an opportunist who agreed to become prime minister when Sonia Gandhi’s ‘inner voice’ prevailed over her outer voice? Will he be remembered as a ‘night watchman’ performing his nocturnal duty and waiting for the daybreak? Will he be remembered as Madam’s appointee and yes-man-prime minister? Or will he be remembered as a credible man who lost his credibility in political dealings of July 2008 trust vote? Will he be remembered for his do-or-die threat to Leftists over Indo-US nuclear deal? Will he be remembered for reciprocating a measured and sensible response to Pakistan over 26/11? Will he be remembered for not uttering a word over Sikh protests against Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Singh? Or will he be remembered as India’s only minority prime minister who gave Indian Muslims Sachar Committee report? Or will he be remembered for buckling under political pressure and happily allotting time to L.K. Advani to explain his government’s stand on Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thankur?

Dr. Manmohan Singh’s five years of power cannot be diagnosed with the help of above questions alone. Doctor’s dissection must be supplemented by his connivance and silence.

Manmohan Singh, no doubt, is a wearer of many hats. He is not only a sharp bureaucrat but also an astute economist who performed an economic ‘bypass’ to a dying Indian economy and dared to do the unthinkable: open gates of India to foreign direct investment (FDI) and ending an era of license raj. In a stirring speech he had predicted the days of a rising India. Manmohan Singh’s historic budget of 1991 changed the course of India’s economic history. Singh’s radical economic shift was not like Harry Potter’s magic wand but it gradually saved India from extending a begging bowl to IMF (International Monetary Fund). PC Chidambaram’s 1997 “dream budget” was nothing but a legacy of Manmohan Singh. NDA capitalised and strengthened the basic policies of Manmohan Singh. It was only in 2006-07 Time and New Statesman portrayed India on their cover pages and recognised the potential of India’s economic march. Manmohan Singh had said the same 15 years ago: an idea whose time had come.

Political sincerity and commitment cannot be gauged from speeches but it reflects in the legislature. The two most prominent decision of Manmohan Singh government are passing of RTI (Right to Information Act) and NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme). UPA’s common minimum programme is indeed praise-worthy but Manmohan Singh government has failed to fulfill aspirations of the common man. As activist Aruna Roy has rightly remarked, “In a strange schizophrenia, the Manmohan Singh government remembered to bring the non-shining India to the table, but forgot to serve it.”

Manmohan Singh has spent his early days in a village (now in Pakistan) but his heart only beats for the rich and the corporate India. NREGS was passed after much deliberation and discussion while SEZ (Special economic zone) bill was passed without any debate.

It has been rightly said that Manmohan Singh was in office but never in power. His tenure as a PM has been dominated by his ministers. PC Chidambaram never listened to Mannohan Singh. Just one example of the union budget would suffice. In a letter dated November 24, 2006 just after the submission of Sachar committee report, the Prime Minister’s Office directed to the finance ministry that “wherever possible, 15 per cent of targets and funds be earmarked for the minorities in the schemes included in the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme.” Finance Ministry completely ignored this directive. The post-Sachar Union budget was a major disappointment for minorities. After acknowledging that only a ‘modest’ contribution of Rs 16.47 crore was made to the equity of the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC), Finance Minister (FM) said, “following the Sachar Committee report, NMDFC would be required to expand its reach and intensify its efforts”. So a paltry sum of Rs 63 crore was added to its share capital. And Rs 108 crore was allotted to the districts with a concentration of minorities. FM did not mention the actual number of those districts to avoid the embarrassment. There are a total of 155 such districts. You need not be a mathematician to figure out that only bureaucratic leftovers will be bestowed to the minorities. Out of the Union government's total expenditure of Rs 680,521 crore, the total allocation for minorities (it includes Sikhs and Christians too) was less than Rs 320 crore. The total number of minorities in India is 200 million (Muslims 150m, Sikhs and Christians 50m).

Rs 320 crore for 200 million people? Manmohan Singh, who himself belongs to Sikh minority, didn’t utter a single word over this. He must have felt guilty but he didn’t have political will power to raise this issue. Swapan Dasgupta has rightly said, “His total inexperience with electoral politics and his awareness that he was just a proxy made him adaptable.”

This is what happens when a fine economist is turned into a politician.

Manmohan Singh government’s foreign policy has been dominated by America and Israel. If Indo-US nuclear deal took place in full public view then the recently concluded arms deal with Israel worth 10000 crore was a closed door affair. Manmohan Singh was the face of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Why didn’t he publically acknowledge the arms deal with Israel? That would have certainly increased his ‘credibility’ ratings because PM is known for his honesty!

Honesty is a commendable trait but it is not enough to run a country of more than a billion aspirations. To quote Tarun Tejpal would be apt, ““Decency and efficiency are laudable traits, but they are also routinely found in army officers and swayamsewaks. In the leader of a billion people you may want to look for more.”

Dr. Singh will go down in history as the mutest prime minister of India. He has only asserted his authority only once when he had threatened to resign if Indo-US deal doesn’t sail through. That was only time he reminded the politicians that he is the prime minster of India.

Manmohan Singh is not even taken seriously in his own cabinet perhaps because he has never won a parliamentary election. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta he is “not an actor in his own cabinet.”

Apart from running a coalition government, Manmohan Singh doesn’t have leadership skills. Tarun Tejpal is right when he wrote, “Without the PM’s tag he would lead a procession that would scarcely fill a corridor of South Block leave alone Ramlila Maidan.”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Old Men of Indian Politics

The Old Men of Indian Politics
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Why do we Indians – whose half population is under 25 – have prime ministers and political leaders on the wrong side of the age?

Old age may be equated with wisdom but in politics wisdom evaporates with old age. “The older I grow”, wrote American journalist and writer H.L. Mencken, “the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.” So is there any similarity between Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani apart from their prime ministerial ambition? Yes, both the politicians have tuned grey. Manmohan Singh is 77; Advani is 82. That brings us to an interesting question: Why do we Indians – whose half population is under 25 – have prime ministers and political leaders on the wrong side of the age?

Consider this: Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first and longest serving prime minister, was 58 when he took charge of the country in 1947. Lal Bahadur Shastri was 60 when he became prime minister in June 1964 after the death of Nehru. Indira Gandhi was only 49 when she became the first and the only woman prime minister of India in 1966. Rajiv Gandhi was barely 40 when he became the prime minister following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Vishwanath Pratap Singh was 58 when he succeeded in becoming prime minister in 1989. Chandra Shekhar was 63 when he took over prime ministership in 1990. H.D. Deve Gowda was 63 when he became prime minister in 1996.

So what were Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani thinking when they exchanged verbal volleys? Was this an attempt to distract public attention? Nobody disputes the fact that Manmohan Singh is a meek prime minister. But is L.K. Advani a strong candidate for prime ministership as advertisements portray him to be? (A point worth-noting: L.K. Advani is the only Indian prime minister aspirant who is perhaps spending millons of rupees on advertisements) L.K. Advani may not have undergone heart surgery like Manmohan Singh but in essence he is weaker than the prime minister. In a press conference recently, he flexed his muscles by lifting a pair of dumbbells! This strategy was to diffuse the public perception that Advani is an old man. But wrinkles on his forehead cannot be straightened with a shot of botox injection! Advani is essentially a week man although he has been billed as India’s “iron man”. Why is Advani silent on Varun Gandhi’s communal outburst? It is not the first time that he has adopted the conspiracy of silence. Is that a sign of an iron man? Or has he become a man of irony?

If Manmohan Singh underwent a heart surgery then Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a knee replacement in the year 2000 as a prime minister. It was a replacement of the knee of nation! Can we imagine that the “heart” and “knee” of nation are so weak that it requires an operation to fix them?

Then there are politicians who can’t even walk: Arjun Singh (79), our HRD minister, walks on a wheelchair. A.K. Antony (69), defence minister, recently fainted while attending a parade in Pune. Pranab Mukherjee (74), who still dreams to become prime minister, can be seen catching forty winks at campaign rallies. BJP stalwarts Jawant Singh and Yashwant Sinha are above the age of 70.

Jyoti Basu, the longest serving chief minister of Bengal, was part of the CPI (M) Polit bureau till April 2008, at the age of 94! Karnanidhi is 85 but still heads DMK! M.K. Naraynan, our National Security Advisor, is 75! What kind of security can we expect from him?

Why can’t we have a legislation to put restriction on the age of politicians? We already have a legislation by which bureaucrats retire at the age of 58. Although both politicians and bureaucrats are public servants but we treat them with a different yardstick. Alas, no such legislation is going to come forward from any political party because all parties are united on this: they intend to rule India till the last breath! India will not witness the dawn of professional politics as long as this “democratic freedom” is curtailed. Perhaps this tradition of rewarding old men of politics is borrowed from Joint Hindu Family Firm (JHFF) where ‘Karta’ remains the head of the family as long as he is alive!

One cursory look at other democracies reveals that the politicians are far younger. Barack Hussein Obama, president of United States, is only 48; Gordon Brown, prime minister of United Kingdom, is 58. Nicholas Sarkozy, French president, is 54.

The Indian politicians will rebuke the idea of political retirement because politicians never ‘retire’; they are only ‘tired’! There must be an age for political retirement, say, 65. Politicians will have 7 grace years as compared to bureaucrats! Isn’t this a good hypothesis for politicians? For those who don’t agree on 65 as the age of retirement, consider this:

After 65, Alzheimer’s disease is very common in developed countries like America. Indian politicians have been victims of Alzheimer’s disease as well. From Ranganath Misra to Sri Krishna to Sachar Commission, Indian politicians have literally “forgotten” the real issues of Indian Muslims.

Isn’t this a result of Alzheimer’s disease?