The ascension of K. Siddaramaiah, the agnostic-socialist who visits not temples and mutts upon becoming the chief minister of Karnataka but writers and intellectuals, as seen through the words and eyes of S.R. Ramakrishna and Satish Acharya of Bangalore’s Talk magazine.
Posts Tagged ‘Congress’
“Back in November 2010 I had gone to Siddaramaiah‘s Mysore house with Mysooru Mithra editor M. Govinde Gowda to invite him personally for my second son’s wedding.
“As expected, the house was full of people spilling over to the road with many vehicles parked around. His aide took us to the dining hall where he was sitting at the head of the table alone, probably for our meeting.
“After the initial courtesies and platitudes I gave him the invitation and requested him to bless the groom in a customary way. As is his wont, he was expressionless and silent for a while and said that he would come.
“I did not believe him.
“I asked him about the political mess the BJP was in at that time and he mumbled something that I don’t remember now. However, I told him that it was good that he joined Congress and Congress never disappoints its loyal members in the matter of rewarding them suitably.
“He lifted his inclined head in slow-motion, looked at me and smiled. Who would not like to hear a positive prognosis of oneself?
“I continued. I said in Karnataka, in the past many years of Congress rule, I had seen that senior Congress members who were ministers and aspired to become chief ministers had realised their aspirations even if it was only for two or three years, and gave the recent examples of Bangarappa, Veerappa Moily and S.M. Krishna (who was deputy chief minister like Siddharamaiah).
“Therefore, you too will become the Chief Minister,” I told Siddaramaiah.
“Now I could see his lips turn elastic revealing his teeth from right molar to left molar with a twitch of his snubby nose. Eyes too twinkled for a fleeting second.
“I am happy to tell my readers, Siddaramaiah indeed kept his words and attended my son’s wedding held at Mysore Race Club premises.”
Photograph: Siddaramaiah gestures to the crowd after being elected as the leader of the Congress legislative party, at the KPCC Office in Bangalore on Friday (Karnataka Photo News)
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Tomorrow, May 8, is results day for the Karnataka assembly elections. Since I am not going to be in front of a camera, here are five talking points I bet you won’t hear on your favourite news channel, but five points I sincerely wish TV anchors and analysts would use.
First, despite what everyone has said in the last month, there hasn’t been any discernible change in the fundamental poll dynamic since the elections were announced. What this means is that despite the month-long campaign and all that comes along with it (read money and other gifts to the voters), nothing much changed that actually altered the political climate.
What are the fundamentals that I refer to here?
The anti-incumbency of a largely ineffectual, scandal and dissension-ridden BJP government had created a small undercurrent of support for Congress. However, that advantage has been difficult to quantify and that’s because politics these days, especially at the state level, is local and very competitive. Further, political advantage doesn’t mean a wave in favor of a political party.
I am tempted to say the era of waves is over.
Congress stuck to its strategy, didn’t recruit too many outsiders (especially those who had ties with BJP), and focused mostly on consolidating its base.
True, its ticket distribution strategy seemed chaotic and the party took too much time to complete the process. There seemed to be much dissension, with ticket aspirants and activists demonstrating regularly in front of the party office. But much of this is media-driven to make the elections more interesting, and generate some stories.
BJP somehow managed to stop its bleeding just in time when its leaders managed to convince the four Lingayat ministers (Umesh Katti, Basavaraj Bommai, Murugesh Nirani and V. Somanna) not to leave the party.
This action enabled the state BJP leadership to save some credibility with its national leaders but more significantly increased its competitiveness in 12-15 constituencies and dealt a crushing blow to Yediyurappa’s dreams of consolidating his hold over Lingayats in north Karnataka.
Second, I want to submit that all the predictions, including the exit poll based ones, are bunkum.
I haven’t looked at the methodology and sample size closely. Yet, I suspect that extrapolating results from voting percentages is not accurate. The Janata Dal (Secular) and BJP are not strong in the same areas, which means that there are fewer triangular fights.
Hence, if Congress is competing strongly everywhere, even if its vote share goes up, it may not win a commensurate number of assembly segments.
This complementary nature of JD (S) and BJP’s support base introduces an element of uncertainty and I don’t know enough about our pollsters to believe they take into account all these variables.
My scepticism about predictions leads me to my third point: that the political culture in Karnataka (in fact, this is also a broader argument that could be made nationally too) has changed dramatically. Hence, history is not a good guide not only to make predictions but more importantly to assess political strategies.
What has changed in the last decade?
In a nutshell, Karnataka has seen a new breed of politician, who has had substantial business interests and is willing to plough back huge amounts of money back into electoral politics. This new politician is in politics to manipulate public policy, further his business interests and secure maximum profits.
He doesn’t have any ideological commitments or a substantial notion of public good.
His political strategy revolves around using his personal fortune (often ill-gotten from real estate, mining or some such natural resource owned by the state) to secure the loyalty of his constituents to himself and this has been the basis for a new form of populism in Karnataka.
There have been many consequences but let me list here only two.
First, the political space available for other kinds of politics, especially the ones inspired by ideology, socio-political movements and a substantial notion of public good, is entirely absent. Be surprised if any candidate who has spent less than five crores actually wins.
Second, even old-school politicians have reinvented themselves along the same lines. In order to understand the truth of this, you only have to look at Yediyurappa and the Deve Gowda family.
In this new political culture, we need a different theory of political strategies, especially in the electoral realm. But we haven’t even had a decent explanation until now about BJP’s own electoral success in 2008. So, I am not very hopeful that we will get a good theory in tomorrow’s shows when Ramachandra Guha and Yogendra Yadav hold forth on our TV screens.
There is much to say on this topic but in brief what we need to recognize is that BJP and JD(S) have recognized the changing tides very quickly and hence have been very nimble in making their strategies.
On the other hand, Congress is burdened by its past and seems like an elephant in its efforts to maneuver around the more nimble, more tiger like opponents. It still has to accommodate all the social classes and its base is largely made up of old time loyalists. The party continues to look to its high command for guidance.
Thus Congress continues to rely on its 20th century political culture/strategizing in what has been a dramatically different 21st century political reality. Most of the stories about Congress bungling (especially this OPED piece by James Manor in the Indian Express) its poll strategy do not recognize this simple fact: it couldn’t have avoided these pitfalls and the magical wand called leadership doesn’t exist.
So, if any analyst tells you that Congress lost because S.M. Krishna was ignored, consider that a load of bull crap. Active participation by Krishna wouldn’t have increased Congress’s total vote tally in the state by 100,000 votes. His counsel wouldn’t have made ticket distribution any more efficient.
If anyone says wrong ticket selection contributed to Congress losing, take that with some skepticism.
For example, at a constituency level there might have been mistakes but Congress had a larger goal. For example, giving tickets to C.K. Jaffer Sharief’s grandson in Hebbal and Shamanuru Shivashankarappa in Davanagere might have been problematic but if the goal is also to send a message to specific communities, then Congress will have succeeded.
This is where BJP, KJP and JD (S) are more nimble in picking candidates and they can afford to make tactical decisions in each constituency.
For example, former minister A.Krishnappa was fielded by JD (S) in Hiriyur after Congress refused to give him ticket in K.R. Puram. Krishnappa, a Golla (cowherd), is likely to win this constituency where his community is in large numbers and who along with Vokkaligas form a potent combintion. His opponent, D. Sudhakar, former minister who joined Congress just before the elections, was seen as a sure shot winner in this contest when elections began.
Here is the takeaway. Politics is extremely competitive and resourceful newcomers are ready to enter the electoral arena. They are trolling different parties in search of opportunities. Nobody can take elections easily these days.
If Siddaramaiah has sleepless nights caused by a political nobody, whose sole claim to fame is that he was Yediyurappa’s former aide and his sole strategy to secure political loyalty is to distribute large sums of money to all comers, then no leader is safe.
Fourth, I really, really wish our analysts would display a better understanding of the caste-politics equation. We really don’t have a good 21st century theory of caste loyalties inspire electoral politics. It is grating to see Yediyurappa described as the “sole leader” of Lingayats and Deve Gowda characterized as the Vokkaliga “strong man”.
Please internalize this: caste support to political parties and leaders is tactical and local; it is not strategic and translocal. I know this claim demands a research paper and not simply an assertion.
However here is the simple takeaway: Subcaste and matha-influence is more important than the kind of translocal caste loyalties that I referred to.
In Hiriyur, Kunchatiga vokkaligas are in large number but they are not strong supporters of the Gangadakara-dominated JD(S). If they vote for JD (S), it is not because of some caste loyalty to Deve Gowda. In fact, if you do a survey of Vokkaligas, most actually very strongly dislike the Gowda family, even if they vote for JD (S) most of the time.
In the same way, Lingayat solidarity across the state is a myth.
Surely, it is possible to secure broad based support from the community in favor of a party like BJP if someone like Yediyurappa is at the helm. But such a strategy would be predicated on finding the right sub caste candidate in each constituency.
Picking a Jangama candidate in a Sada or Panchamasali dominant area will result in huge electoral backlash.
Similarly, backward castes are also not a uniform entity. Siddaramaiah is a backward caste leader but unlike the 1970s and 80s when one could claim that mantle fairly easily these days all the backward castes have become highly politicized and do no want to be represented by someone from outside.
So, Siddharamaiah found himself challenged frequently by backward caste opponents, especially Nayakas, who are a large backward caste community spread across the state, just like the kuruba community to which Siddaramaiah belongs.
So, dear analyst, please do not speak use caste as an analytical category if you don’t understand the local dynamic. You will only sound like a fool.
Fifth, Karnataka saw the emergence of some new political outfits. B. PAC or the Bangalore Political Action Committee represented an alliance of new age entrepreneurs who wanted to influence electoral politics and public policy. This seemed to be inspired by American PACs, which play an enormous role in electoral politics.
Then there was Loksatta, which fielded several naïve, well meaning but political neophytes in urban areas.
All these efforts to build an alternative politics appeared half-assed, pretentious and frankly, quite insulting to the voter. It is not enough to claim that the political class is corrupt and inefficient. It is not enough to claim their own personal cleanliness, educational qualifications or industry experience.
What they lacked is a substantial movement or a public project that they could claim ownership over. Or if any of the candidates had even been a bureaucrat, something that would have brought them in contact with the public, where their conduct would have been monitored by people, such a person would have some claim to seek public trust.
A politician once told me: “What matters is not incorruptibility when you don’t have an opportunity to take a bribe. If you are incorruptible when you actually hold a public office and then work for public good, then you have a claim over public trust.”
The new, middle-class political aspirants seem to miss that simple truth.
2013 election coverage
ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from San Francisco: A week is a long time in politics; it’s even longer in the film industry, where reputations are made and marred over a weekend. But in Boxoffice Bharat, the fortunes of politicians and filmstars happily and conveniently comingle and collide at the turnstile, come election time.
And so it is in Karnataka, in the year of the bhagwantha, 2013.
Twenty months ago, when “challenging star” turned challenged star Darshan Toogudeep alias Darshan, beat up his wife, stubbed a burning cigarette, tore her dress, bit her ear, threatened their son, and pulled out his revolver and landed up in hospital like a wimp feigning asthma and jaudice, an obnoxious face of the Kannada film industry was revealed.
Homas were conducted, buses were stoned, processions were taken out for his release from police detention. The angels of the industry (including ‘Duniya‘ Vijay, whose own extraordinary marital life recently played out on live TV) put pressure on his wife to withdraw her damning complaint.
The scandal took on a visibly casteist tone, as Vokkaligas jumped into the picture. The “other woman”, Nikita Thukral, was “banned” from acting in Kannada films.
Compromise ensued after “rebel star” Ambarish intervened.
It’s payback time.
As Ambarish, the Vokkaliga leader, contests the elections in Mandya on a Congress ticket, Darshan, his supposed “successor”, is at hand, lending his voice to Sumalatha‘s. And this one picture conveys all there is to be said of the “forgiving nature” of our largely illiterate, star-struck electorate, which can barely make out the difference between art and life and probably doesn’t care.
Meanwhile, Nikita Thukral provides the opium to the unwashed masses on “Bigg Boss“.
Photograph: Karnataka Photo News
2013 election coverage
Whether it was his power-is-poison speech at the Congress chintan shivir in Jaipur earlier this year, where he was elevated to the post of vice-president, or at the CII meet in New Delhi two weeks ago, where he used the beehive analogy to describe India, Rahul Gandhi has shown a very sophomoric, spreadsheet understanding of realpolitik.
He makes all the right NGO-style noises about cutting out power brokers, of rewarding talent, of creating new leaders, about database management, about empowering the grassroots in ticket distribution, etc. But are they really workable in the Indian context, especially in the Congress context?
The elections to the Karnataka assembly, shortly after his elevation, have provided an opportunity to test how ready his party is, and how insistent he is that his writ runs. In the Hindustan Times, Aurangzeb Naqshbandi shows the yawning gap between precept and practice, between Rahul rhetoric and Congress reality:
1. Rahul theory: “Leaders from other parties parachute in just before the elections and fly away after getting defeated.”
Congress in Karnataka: Party has given tickets to those who came from the Janata Dal (Secular). Shivaraj Tangadgi, who was till recently a minister in the BJP government, has been given the ticket from Kanakagiri reserved constituency.
2. Rahul theory: “No person with a criminal background should be given party ticket.”
Congress in Karnataka: Candidates facing criminal cases such as D.K. Shiva Kumar, M. Krishnappa and Satish Jarkiholi have been accommodated.
3. Rahul theory: “Party will not not field candidates who have lost two previous elections with a margin of 15,000 votes and above.”
Congress in Karnataka: Basavaraja Rayaraddi, Kumar Bangarappa and Siddu Nyamagouda, whose defeat margin was much higher than 15,000, have been considered.
4.Rahul theory: “The kin of of senior leaders should be given the go-by.”
Congress in Karnataka: Former chief minister Dharam Singh’s son Ajay Singh, union minister Mallikarjun M. Kharge’s son Priyank M. Kharge, former minister C.K. Jaffer Sharief’s grandson Abdul Rahman Sharief and son-in-law Syed Yasin, Shamanur Shivashankarappa and his S.S. Mallikarjun, M. Krishnappa and his son Priya Krishna have all been given tickets.
5. Rahul theory: “Youth Congress should to get its desired share of candidates.”
Congress in Karnataka: Of the list of 20 names forwarded, only a few have got in. Even state Youth Congress president Rizwan Arshad has been denied a ticket, prompting him to offer his resignation from the post.
Read the full story: Cong flouts Rahul Gandhi‘s guidelines
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: The pre-monsoon showers are bringing relief from the summer heat but the escalating political heat is showing no signs of abating in Karnataka.
A month is left in the poll calendar for the completion of voting. It was only yesterday that the major parties, Congress, BJP and JD (S) released their first list of candidates. But that hasn’t stopped the media from already getting into the prediction business.
Consider this. While we know that BJP’s path to reelection is filled with obstacles and the election fundamentals appear to favour the Congress at the moment, we do not know much about the micro factors and other such variables, which determine election results.
# We do not know the full slate of candidates in each constituency.
# We do not know the caste calculations particularly how a specific candidate might take away votes from others.
# We do not know the expenditure threshold (the upper limit of money to be spent) of a given candidate.
# We do not know about variables such as migrant workers who are away in cities seeking work because of drought.
So, what determines the elections then is who has a better ground game, as the American psephologists say.
For example, consider the case of migrant workers who have gone to Bangalore, Mysore, Poona or any one of the cities seeking employment.
We are already hearing reports of agents who will verify the voters list, compile the names and mobile numbers of those who are away for employment, contact them, provide them with the right incentives and bring them back to their native place the before the elections and get them to vote.
All this for a fee. This is an election management issue and the ones who have actually booked the most efficient agents will have an edge in a massively competitive election.
To be sure, if you ask any competent follower of Karnataka politics, he will quite possibly reach the same conclusions as both these polls. Thus Congress will probably secure 100-125 seats, whereas BJP might win in 55-70 constituencies, with JD (S) coming third, winning 30-45 seats. Others might get 20-30 seats.
So what’s the value of these polls? You tell us.
If you want to get fairly reliable election prediction, ask the bookies who run betting syndicates. But as the early reports indicate even there betting seems to be focusing more on who actually might get tickets and so on.
That should tell us elections are far off. And the factors that determine the elections aren’t set yet.
The summer is about to get hotter despite the occasional showers.
THE POLLS SO FAR
Suvarna News-Cfore (April): Congress 115-127 out of 224; BJP 50-60; JD(S) 25-35
Headlines Today-C-Voter (March): Congress 114-122, BJP 48-56, JD(S) 32-38, KJP 10-14
Tehelka-C-Voter (January): Congress 133, BJP 63, JD(S) 19, KJP 5
Suvarna News-CFore (Decamber 2012): Congress 113, BJP 58, JD(S) 31, KJP 14
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: IPL is here but the most competitive activity in Karnataka is getting a ticket. Not a railway ticket, as the summer travel season approaches, but a party ticket to contest in the Assembly or a B Form as it is technically referred to.
Democracy has deepened, as E. Raghavan and James Manor point out in their book, Broadening and Deepening Democracy: Political Innovation in Karnataka. And indeed, electoral politics is extremely competitive.
To make a mark, the least one could do is to get a B form from some party. Any party. The aspiring politician has arrived if he or she can get a ticket and fight the honorable fight. Because that ensures relevance and longevity in public life. Not to speak of the ability to get things done in government offices.
So we read stories on aspiring candidates and supporters threatening to commit suicide unless their wishes are met. Or protesting in front of party offices. Women politicians of Congress have asked to consider their application for tickets as their resignation letters if the party isn’t issuing them the B forms.
Then there is private lobbying, from which even sitting central ministers, who are seeking tickets for their kids, aren’t immune. Private or public, the lobbying for tickets has no logic other than the self-aggrandizement of the ticket-seeker. In Mandya for instance, an unknown demands that he be given ticket over a stalwart like Ambarish.
SINGAPORE GOVINDU: Vijaya Karnataka reported on an unusual ticket seeker earlier this week.
In his most recent Delhi Diary column, D. Umapathy writes on the quixotic quest by Pamula Govindu alias Singapore Govindu, who belongs to the Hakkipikka or Kurrumama caste, a wandering (alemari) caste of fortune-tellers.
Govindu himself is an accomplished fortune-teller in many languages, including English; in his youth, a woman from Singapore was attracted by his fortune telling skills and took him with her. He has traveled extensively, has bought land and isn’t the destitute that many in his community still continue to be. He has been a member of the KPCC (Karnataka Province Congress Committee) and this election cycle is the seventh time he has applied for a Congress ticket.
No political party has given its ticket to someone from the Hakkipikka community thus far. Not only does Govindu wants to change that by seeking a ticket from the Mulabagilu constituency in Kolar, note that he is up against the daughter of Union Minister K.H. Muniyappa’s daughter, Roopakala.
Not flustered by this, Govindu wants to show to his people what it means to be an MLA.
There have been others from a humble origin (including from politically suppressed backward castes) who have had meteoric rises in the past decade but their success has been facilitated largely by either real estate or mining.
Reading about Govindu, my thoughts turned to Devaraj Urs, the former Chief Minister and the architect of backward caste politics in Karnataka. There is significant anecdotal evidence to show how Urs would often pick someone like Govindu and promote him politically.
For Urs, the fact that Govindu comes from a caste which has never had any political representation despite being a significant numerically would have been an important factor. Despite his numerous political compromises, such political sensitivity made Urs perhaps the most significant politician in post-independence Karnataka.
Urs thrived in an era when electoral politics was less intense and less competitive; when political consciousness of other backward castes was rather dormant. Moreover, he himself was a charismatic mass leader and possessed the political backing of an unparalleled vote-gatherer in Indira Gandhi.
In today’s political environment, perhaps even he would have struggled.
Case in point. Consider the allegations made yesterday against Siddaramaiah, who is quite progressive and perhaps the tallest backward caste leader in Karnataka today. His opponent in Varuna constituency and JD (S) candidate, Cheluvaraj accused Siddharamaiah of being opposed to Nayakas, a sentiment reiterated by his supporters.
If Siddaramaiah can be turned into the leader of a caste (a Kuruba leader in other words), then his commitment towards and appeal to other castes can be minimized.
Don’t see this simply as a political strategy. Rather this is also a product of the deepening of democracy, as part of which each caste seeks representation in its own name. More on this new caste and politics dynamic some other time.
VOTER ALERT: Until the elections, we will ask churumuri readers to share their knowledge when we come across incredulous claims made by politicians. Here is the first installment.
A. Ramdas, the medical education minister, who represents the Krishnaraja constituency, claimed yesterday that he has never distributed a bottle of liquor (henda is the term he used) to sway voters in his constituency. Appealing to the youth of his constituency to not consider money or caste and religion as considerations while voting, he said: “If I give a bottle of alcohol during the elections, then I turn a voter into an alcoholic for five years”
So, churumuri readers especially from the Krishnaraja constituency: Is this true? Will you share what you know in the comments section?
Also read: KARNATAKA ELECTION 2013: Poll Diary
When he was first sworn in in 2004 after Sonia Gandhi reportedly heard her “inner voice”, the less-than-charitable view was that Manmohan Singh was merely warming the prime ministerial chair for her son Rahul Gandhi, who was decreed even by the prevailing feudal standards to be too young to be imposed on a captive nation. All his first term, they teased and taunted the Silent Sardar. They called him “India’s weakest PM since independence“, they called him nikamma. It didn’t work; he survived a pullout by the Left parties.
By 2009, when the Congress-led UPA won a second stint in office, Singh, a mascot of the middleclasses for his 1991 reforms and clean image, had emerged as one of the three faces in the Congress’ aam admi campaign, besides mother and son, but it was said he would be kicked upstairs as President in 2012. We asked if he would survive in 2010, in 2011, in 2012. They called him “underachiever“. It didn’t work; he survived a pullout by the TMC and DMK, and every scam and scandal swirling under his very nose.
Now in his ninth year in office, longer than other Indian prime minister bar Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh has provided fresh evidence that he may be “an overrated economist and an underated politician“. Even as Congressmen, P. Chidambaram downwards, count their 2014 chickens before they are hatched following Rahul Gandhi’s expressed reluctance for the top job, Singh has refused to rule out a third stint for himself in the event of the UPA coming back to power in the next general election.
On the flight back from the BRICS summit in South Africa….
In the 2014 elections, If the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and your party request you to accept third term, will you accept Prime Ministerial nomination for the third term?
These are all hypothetical questions. We will cross that bridge, when we reach there.
Hypothetical yes, but certainly “India’s weakest PM since independence” has killed many birds with one stone. He has not ruled himself out of the race, if such a race were to take place. He has told his upstart colleagues to watch out. He has shown that the Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi race is one he isn’t watching on his television set. And he has shown that he has greater political stamina and acumen than people give him credit for, despite the scams and scandals that have enveloped his regime and the repeated pullout of various parties.
Question: Could the Silent Sardar become India’s first PM to get three consecutive terms?
The Indian Express, Delhi, uses the verdict of the urban local body elections in Karnataka, to make a larger point on the coming general elections:
“With a year to go, the general election is being painted and promoted as a Rahul-versus-Modi contest. It’s a tidy, appealing binary, given that Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi appear to have profoundly different political instincts and personality types.
“But while it may be tempting to think of Election 2014 as a two-horse race, the political field may be less settled or predictable in reality. In all probability, the real deciders will be regional forces whose support to one or the other pole, Congress or BJP, cannot be taken for granted….
“The 2014 election looks unlikely, therefore, to bring the satisfying resolution of the Modi-Gandhi choice. It will be an aggregate of what happens in Andhra Pradesh, in Karnataka, Bihar and other state arenas. Politics in India, in all its complexity and flux, cannot be reduced to the arm-wrestling of two individuals.”
Read the full editorial: Not Modi, not Gandhi
Cartoons: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu, E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express
Political reporters in India can hope to be only slightly more scientific than punters peering into Original Vel‘s cards at the race course. Nothing—not access to the “corridors of power”, not those schmoozy lunches and dinners, not off-the-record briefs, not poll numbers, nothing—ever turns up anything more reliable than bazaar gossip, regardless of how artfully the “narrative” is spun using the same sources.
The problem is even more acute if the subject of investigation is the Congress party, whose secrecy and opacity rivals that of the Priory of Sion. So, given the scale of the problem and the delectability of the contest, The Economist “newspaper” did the next best thing recently to know how a two-trick pony might fare at the 2014 Derby:
Sitting cross-legged on a white plastic mat at the entrance to a Delhi metro station, rattling a tambourine to lure business, Radha Raman Tripathi boasts of nearly half a century reading palms. Given an enlarged photo of one 42-year-old man’s open hand, he peers at it through his magnifying glass.
He sees much to please the (anonymous) subject: a kind heart, appealing “brain line”, the promise of long life, children and wealth. A dot on the palm, he says reflects a tragedy in the man’s past. And, crucially, power beckons: “he will reach the topmost post”.
So, whose palm print did the Economist produce?
Read the full article: Show your hand
The contours of the next general election are becoming ever more clearer with the expected “elevation” of Rahul Gandhi as the vice-president of the Congress. Given the repeated rumours on the state of Sonia Gandhi‘s health and her reported desire to retire from politics at the age of 70, it is obvious the leadership of the 130-year-old Congress party has passed on to a fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
But Rahul Gandhi is no Rajiv Gandhi. His father was 40 when he became PM, Rahul is 42. His father was thrown into the deep end all of a sudden, Rahul has been around for several years. And more tellingly, despite his travels across the country and his exertions in several election campaigns, Rahul Gandhi has not quite been the vote-magnet that Congressmen suspected he would be, having lost Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
But all that is in the past tense now. As the new, official No.2, the silence that Rahul Gandhi adopted as part of his mystique (he has only barely attended Parliament and spoken even more rarely on the issues of the day)—and the reluctance that he conveyed through his swift disappearances after parachuting into the rough and tumble, allowing lesser mortals to face the flak for his failed experiments—is no longer a luxury he owns.
For politics is a game played with a scoreboard, and push has come to shove for the scam, scandal tainted party that is facing diminishing returns across the country despite a slew of well-meaning social welfare schemes designed to fetch votes by the bucket.
Although the BJP is in no better shape, the word on the street is that Rahul Gandhi’s elevation will serve as an impetus for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to assume a bigger, larger role in the BJP before the next general elections. With his hat-trick of wins in the State and with his advertised record as an administrator, Modi has a headstart over Rahul Gandhi, nearly 20 years his junior.
Indeed paradoxically, Modi, 62, is seen as more of a youth icon than Rahul Gandhi, who was missing in action when, say, the Delhi gangrape was scorching the party or when Google, Facebook and Twitter were being clogged up by the Oxford and Harvard educated geniuses in Manmohan Singh‘s government.
However, elections in India is not a zero-sum game.
So, given all the imponderables that swing into play—caste, allies, secularism, communalism, etc—who do you think will come up trumps if it is Modi vs Gandhi in 2014? Does Rahul, who has the Gandhi surname, have the pan-national appeal that goes beyond the urban middle-classes? Which of the two could garner more allies, so crucial in a coalition era? Which alliance will triumph—UPA or NDA?
Like him or loathe him, there is no ignoring U.R. Anantha Murthy. As an academic, as a writer and as a public intellectual, URA has towered over the political, social and linguistic landscape for more than half a century.
In post-liberalised India and in post-IT Karnataka, Meshtru (as URA is known to friends, foes, friends turned foes and foes turned friends) has tilted bravely and unceasingly at the windmills, taking up unfashionable causes that Mammon had stubbed out.
Now, the indefatigable Anantha Murthy is penning his memoirs, throwing fresh light on a long and colourful life among letters. Excerpts:
We accept many beliefs without questioning them, and start propagating them. It is possible here to be a revolutionary and a part of the establishment at the same time.
When the Congress declared an Emergency, the CPI helped them along. One could simultaneously be a communist and a supporter of the ruling Congress.
Most Indian intellectuals are like that.
In those days (the 1970s), if you asked those talking revolution whether they would like to visit the US or the USSR, they would choose the first. That’s because there was no warm water in the Soviet Union. No room heaters either.
India’s biggest problem is hypocrisy. It has taken root deeper than we imagine.
When the Janata Party came to power in Karnataka in 1983, many of us found it possible to balance out our lofty principles with our proximity to authority. It is difficult to proclaim that our actions were free of selfish motives.
A good number who came looking for me, in the knowledge that I was close to Ramakrishna Hegde and J.H. Patel, no longer remain my friends. Thanks to my obliging nature, I became a vehicle for their vested interests.
I didn’t touch any money, but I am troubled that I watched corrupt acts without saying a word. A mind that hesitates to say what must be said becomes corrupt. The Janata alliance that took on Indira Gandhi was the creation of an affluent class.
Meeting George Fernandes
Before the Emergency was imposed, I had written a review of the novel Gati Sthiti (Progress and Reality) by Giri.
I received a huge envelope by post some days after the publication of my review. It contained another review of the book, and criticised some of my observations. I couldn’t figure out who had written it. The letter was in Kannada and English.
“Come and meet me in Bangalore at once,” it said.
I guessed it was from George Fernandes.
He had tried to organise a massive railway strike before the Emergency, and failed. The police were looking for him, but he had slipped away. All the other big leaders of the time were already in jail.
Shivarama Karanth told me: “Only those who have participated in the 1942 movement might know what to do in these difficult times. George is a follower of Jayaprakash Narayan, isn’t he? He must be active in the underground movement.”
It occurred to me that I should contact my friend Pattabhirama Reddy and Snehalata in Bangalore. They were inspired by the socialist leader Rammanohar Lohia, and had turned my novel Samksara into a film.
When I met him, Pattabhi took the envelope from me, winked, and said, “I will take you to George secretly”.
The two of us got into a car one evening. “Good not to know where you are going. Blindfold yourself. Even if the police torture you, you shouldn’t be able to tell them where you met George,” he said.
We drove for 45 minutes, and reached a decrepit church.
We walked into a dark room.
George was sitting on a cot. He was unrecognisable. He had grown his hair and beard long. I went up to him and touched him. He embraced me. George’s younger brother Lawrence came in. He looked older than George. He had a lunch box in his hand.
As we sat talking about his family and mine, worms kept dropping on us from the roof of the church. George was pulling out the palmer worms and scratching himself all through our conversation. He gave me a mission with these points:
Snehalata had to go to a rarely used lavatory in Vidhana Soudha. Making sure no one was around, she had to explode a bomb at night. I had to provide some young men to help her. The explosion had to bring down a portion of the Vidhana Soudha, but not kill anyone.
Our objective was to hassle the government, and not to inflict violence on anyone. The government was convinced it could get away with anything, and people wouldn’t protest. If such subversive incidents took place every now and then, the frightened citizens would feel reassured something was afoot to dislodge the government. It was our duty to protect the people’s will to resist. We had to find a bridge there, and a government building here, and bring them down with dynamite.
If none of this was possible, my friends and I had to undermine the government in the manner of those who had resisted Nazism in Hitler’s Germany. We had to drop burning cigarette stubs into post boxes. That would force the government, as it had in Germany, to post a constable at every post box.
We returned after this conversation. I blindfolded myself even on the way back.
A constable always stood guard at the toilet, making it impossible to place a bomb at the Vidhana Soudha. I returned to Mysore, and with friends like Devanoor Mahadeva, tried to drop cigarette stubs into the post boxes. The stubs burnt themselves out without causing any damage.
George showed the same courage as Subhas Chandra Bose, and is a big hero of our times. We believed he was fit to become prime minister. But what happened to him later is unpalatable.
He never became corrupt for money, but he went to Gujarat after the violence, and came away as if nothing had happened. I could never understand this. Perhaps the desire to remain in power had corrupted his revolutionary mind.
The central minister who refused police escort has now lost his memory, and lies in bed.
Esther and home tuitions
My wife was a little girl with two plaits when I saw her as a student in Hassan. She came over to my house for tuitions. When she sang a film song at some event, it brought tears to my eyes. She sings well even today.
I had given her class an assignment: ‘Describe someone you like or dislike.’ She had written about me, and made fun of my style of teaching and gestures. The girl with plaits who could write this way about her lecturer had ignited my curiosity and interest.
The first door of my romantic world opened when I realised she could speak about me with such abandon. I didn’t want a girl who’d adore me; I wanted a companion. I fell in love with the girl who came to me on the pretext of taking tuitions. She was then just 16 or 17. I developed no physical intimacy with her. She was at an age when she didn’t know enough about the world’s ways, or about rights and wrongs. She interacted with me in all innocence. When she invited me over to her house, I felt I was entering another world.
Esther was one among many students who came for tuitions. While the others paid me a fee, Esther gave me her guileless love.
In those days, I liked keeping fish. A student had brought me some fish, which I had placed in a glass bowl. I was often lost in watching their movements. This would make Esther livid. “What are you doing there? Can’t you come here and do some lessons?” she would snap. She was outspoken even in those days.
My sister wasn’t married yet. I knew it would be difficult to find her a bride if I married out of caste. I had to wait a long time even after I had decided to marry Esther.
I went to Mysore after teaching for some years in Hassan. My mother was with me then. When she came to know about my relationship with Esther, she was disturbed. She would suddenly lose consciousness and slump to the ground. She would also complain about some pain.
When we took her to a doctor, he diagnosed it as a mental illness. She was tormented during this period. As a little boy, when she went to the hills for her ablutions in the morning, I would scream, “Amma, are you dead or what?” and keep crying till she called back.
Her agony on my account was something I could not take. I was distressed.
Death of my mother
My mother died in September 1995. A month before her death, I had taken a break from my work, and shifted to my brother’s house in Shimoga, where she was bed-ridden. Initially, she was conscious, but towards the end, she lay unconscious most of the time.
I used to sit by her side, talking, while she was still conscious. Anil was her favourite son. Being a doctor, he had fitted her with pipes and tubes, and struggled round the clock to keep her alive.
One day, I told him, “Let’s not keep her alive this way. Take away those things.”
I had gathered the courage to tell him that, and Anil needed the confidence. He did as suggested. I sat by my mother, held her hand, uttered a prayer, and said, “Everything is all right. You may go.”
Since she knew about Esther, I guessed she was apprehensive I wouldn’t conduct her last rites, and said, “I will take the initiative and perform all your rites.”
She left us a couple of days later. I couldn’t sit on the floor, so I broke convention and sat on a stool. I performed her rites with my brothers, trying all the while to understand the mantras.
My mother treated everyone with affection, but had never given up her ritual sense of purity. She was not a modern shy about her Brahmin caste, or rather, her sub-caste.
When she heard the Pejawar swamiji had visited a Dalit colony, she was bewildered. I congratulated him as I felt he was capable of influencing my mother.
Oblivious of the depth of such beliefs, my fellow-writers ridiculed me. Such intellectuals have no desire to change the thinking of people like my mother. My mother wouldn’t give up her caste, but believed taking vows and praying to Muslim holy men would cure children of certain ailments.
The house that started a row
I didn’t have a house of my own. I applied for one in Mysore. Poet Krishna Alanahalli took me to someone he knew and said, “Give our teacher a site.”
He did. The site was like a lane. “I don’t want it,” I said.
Krishna took me back to the official and said, “Not this one, give him another.” I got another site. Krishna liked me a lot, and said I should keep the first one, too. Afraid I would give in to temptation, I wrote a letter returning the earlier site. Krishna laughed at my foolishness.
By then, I had decided to move from Mysore to Bangalore. Award-winners are entitled to sites, and I got one during chief minister Veerappa Moily‘s time. It was a good plot, opposite a park.
Since we were about to come away from Mysore, I thought it would be better if we could get a house instead. When I mentioned this to my friend J.H. Patel, then chief minister, he said he would allot me a house in a colony originally meant for NRIs who could pay in dollars. I live in this house now.
Once the house was sanctioned, I returned my site.
Several people, under P. Lankesh‘s leadership, pounced on me, ignoring the fact that I had returned the site. A story first appeared in Lankesh Patrike. My utterly emotional and dear friend G.K. Govinda Rao demonstrated against me.
I wrote to Patel, requesting him to take back the house and give me the site again.
He tore up my letter and said, “Everything is legal, whatever people might say. If you don’t want this house, there’s another in my name. Shall I get it registered in your name?” I declined. Many articles appeared in the papers.
After some time, my detractors began to see the truth. Lankesh called up my house one day and asked Esther, “May I visit you?” She said, “Ask him,” and handed me the phone. I called him over. He arrived with a friend.
Esther went out of the house the moment he stepped in. I got some tea made for him. “Saw the new house?” I said. He replied, without any embarrassment, “Never mind, Ananthamurthy. All that’s over now.” He didn’t say another word about it.
We try to show our integrity through our prejudices. I don’t like this practice, among Kannada writers, of flaunting their integrity. We must hide our integrity, like we hide our love.
My friend B.S. Achar was struck by cancer. Lankesh wrote about it in his paper and announced he was giving him some money. Achar was disgusted. He returned the money. It didn’t occur to Lankesh, whose aim was publicity, to reflect if it was all right to write in his paper about his own acts of charity.
The modernist debate
Our discussions at Coffee House with Gopalakrishna Adiga inspired many of my writings. We lived in a world of our own, amidst the shared coffee and cigarettes. We were busy ushering in modernism in literature when a juke box, which we thought of as a symbol of modernism, arrived at Coffee House.
Attracted by its loud music, young people thronged the cafe. Modernity had snatched away the comfortable cane chairs that encouraged discussions about modernism.
We went to the parks, looking for space under the trees. Without coffee, our discussions lost their charm. We didn’t have money for beer at the pubs. And in any case, Adiga wouldn’t drink even though he was a modernist!
Translated by S.R. Ramakrishna
Excerpted from Suragi, U.R. Ananthamurthy’s autobiography, due for release soon
Photograph: Karnataka Photo News
Also read: The U.R. Anantha Murthy interview
To nobody’s surprise, Narendra Damodardas Modi has secured a remarkable third, consecutive victory for the BJP in Gujarat. But to the shock of his fanatical drumbeaters and hype masters (and internet trolls), he has ended up with two fewer seats than what he had got five years ago: 115 in 2012 versus 117 in 2007.
The reduced margin does little to take away from the significance of the mandate, but it does throw a nice question mark over the expensive and relentless public relations campaign that had been mounted (through TV channels, magazine covers, newspaper ads) to erase the memories of 2002 and to create the self-fulfilling prophecy of the development giant towering over meek, inactive creatures populating the landscape.
The size of the victory also throws a small spanner in his grand design to swiftly move to Delhi and assume charge of his beleaguered party that is no better shape than the Congress, if not worse.
The fact that he has ended up with fewer seats for all that had been invested into his giant leap by corporates, business and media houses, means that many in the BJP and RSS (and not necessarily in that order), and the NDA, will now be emboldened to question what had been assumed for granted: that he would win a huge win on the scale of his persona, serve out a few months as chief minister, hand over charge to one of his chosen ones, and then move to Delhi to lead the BJP charge in the next general election against the hapless Rahul Gandhi.
He might yet do that, but there can be little denying that some of the air has slipped out of the blimp for the moment.
The BJP reverse in Himachal Pradesh (where he made a big song and dance over induction cookers) shows that he still doesn’t possess the pan-Indian appeal that his supporters thought he does. Sans an emotive issue (despite his efforts to spread a canard about Sir Creek or his derisive labelling of Ahmed Patel as Ahmed miyan), Modi is not the force he was expected to be.
Quite clearly, it would require a superhuman to retain the interest or sustain the hype for another five years. So, when exactly will Modi make his move to Delhi? Will it be smooth? Will he able to stomach a rebuff if his advances are spurned by his party colleagues and allies? And will the “former future prime minister” be given the opportunity to stand from Gandhinagar again?
Also read: How many seats will Narendra Modi get?–II
If elections were just a bunch of opinion polls and television shows and magazine covers and advertisements and 3D shows, it would seem as if Narendra Modi has already won the Gujarat assembly elections and the Congress and the other opposition are only there to help him do so—although polling begins only after ten days from now.
In a house of 182, the ABP News-AC Nielsen poll gives the Gujarat chief minister 124 seats, up seven from the current tally of 117; the Congress 51. The India TV-C-voter poll gives 120 seats; the Congress 55. The India-Today-ORG poll predicts a landslide. The CNN-IBN Hindustan Times poll says he is urban India’s most preferred choice to be PM. Etcetera.
In the face of such drum-beating about Brand Modi and Vibrant Gujarat, and against the backdrop of constant invocations of development and growth, key issues that help a voter make up her mind have been swept under the carpet. There is no talk of the three-cornered contest, even less of education, poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, pollution, law and order, etc—all very live factors in Gujarat as in other parts of the country.
Nonetheless, who are we to poop such a party? So here’s a simple question: how many seats do you think Narendra Modi and the BJP will walk away with?
Reading newspaper reports, columns and editorials on the magnificent reelection of Barack Obama—and listening to his reelection speech full of hope and promise—brings home the stunning similarities between the current plight of the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s biggest democracy, in the year of the lord 2012.
There, like here, a man seen to be a reasonable, transformational figure was reduced to a divisive caricature by constant denigration. There, like here, the opposition put every hurdle in the path of the ruling dispensation, not allowing it to pass key legislation even if some of it may have been for the good of the country.
There, like here, the opposition stuck its head in the sand and pretended every problem was one man’s creation with no part of theirs or of the global economy. There, like here, sections of the media were skillfully used to spread the canards and the cock and bull stories reeking of self-righteousness and sanctimony.
There, like here, the opposition party allowed its agenda to be dictated by fringe elements from outside the boundary. There, like here, the opposition thought that the people would be fooled by the negativism and resentment, the intolerance and hate that they have made their leit motif.
There, like here, it was the single-point agenda of the opposition to get the ruling party out. There, like here, the opposition had no solutions for the travails, only more problems. There, like here, the opposition believed the fiction it had happily spun for public consumption.
Questions: Considering the glorious fate of Mitt Romney‘s Republican Party, is there a lesson in this for the BJP as it eyes the general election?
Long years ago, when Doordarshan was the only TV option for the mango people, the weekly serial was the sole form of entertainment in the back of beyond. Each evening, thirsty masses waited with bated breath for what Hum Log and Khandaan, Ados Pados and Jaane bhi do yaaro would throw up that week.
That done, the waiting would begin again.
In the age of 24×7 news television, editors and journalists appear to have outsourced one hour of each week to Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan to allow them to air their libel-laden soap opera.
One week, they show the wheeling-dealing of Sonia Gandhi‘s son-in-law Robert Vadra; another week it is Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s son in-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya. One week, it is Salman Khurshid, another week it is Nitin Gadkari. One week, it is DLF, another week it is Reliance Industries.
And so it is, this Wednesday evening, when the producer-director duo behind India Against Corruption have merrily stated that it is RIL’s Mukesh Ambani, not Manmohan Singh, who is running the country. Using the cabinet reshuffle, in which the oil and petroleum minister S. Jaipal Reddy was shunted out to the lesser science and technology ministry, as the peg, the two have alleged:
# Reliance’s arm-twisting ways have caused a massive loss to the nation. Reliance has promised to deliver cheap gas for 17 years, but it has never delivered…
# Reliance has the contract to extract oil from KG Basin. Under an agreement of 2009 with the government, they are supposed to sell gas at $ 4.2 per mmBTU upto 31 March 2014. Midway now, RIL is demanding that the price be increased to $ 14.2 per mmBTU. Jaipal Reddy resisted that and he was thrown out…
# The then petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was replaced and Murli Deora was brought in to benefit RIL. Pranab Mukherjee gave undue benefit of Rs 8000 crore to RIL in 2007. Now, Jaipal Reddy has been ousted for objecting to raising RIL’s demand to raise gas prices.”
“The government is succumbing to the illegitimate demands of RIL. Even the PM was very sympathetic to RIL. And as a result, Reliance has gained more than Rs 1 lakh crore, that the country lost.”
Question: Are Kejriwal-Bhushan right? Do Mukesh Ambani and Reliance run the country?
In its 62nd year as a Republic, India presents a picture that can only mildy be termed unedifying.
Scams are raining down on a parched landscape with frightening ferocity. From outer space (2G, S-band) to the inner depths of mother earth (coal), the Congress-led UPA has had it all covered in its second stint. Meanwhile, Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of the first family of the Congress, has taken charge of scandals at or near sea level.
Salman Khurshid, the smooth-talking Oxford-educated law minister, thinks it is beneath his dignity to respond in a dignified manner to charges of pilfering Rs 71 lakh from the disabled. The Harvard-educated finance minister P. Chidambaram and his family is happily busy gobbling up parts of the east coast from farmers. Etcetera.
But what of the opposition?
The BJP’s president Nitin Gadkari is neckdeep in a gapla of his own, one that threatens, in fact one that is designed to deprive him of a second stint in office. “Scam”, of course, was the middle-name of party’s Karnataka mascot, B.S. Yediyurappa. From Mulayam‘s SP to Mayawati‘s BSP to Sharad Pawar‘s NCP, from Karunanidhi‘s DMK to Jayalalitha‘s AIADMK, money-making is the be-all and end-all.
The less said of the corporates who have pillaged the country since time immemorial the better but Vijay Mallya presents its most compelling side as he shuts down his airline while his son hunts for calendar girls. The do-gooders of Team Anna and now Team Kejriwal are themselves subject to searching questions on their integrity levels. And the media is busy getting exposed as extortionists and blackmailers.
Questions: Have we as a country completely lost our moral and ethical compass? Are we going through an “unprecedented” phenomenon or is this what the US and other developed democracies like Japan have gone through in their path to progress? Or does it not matter in the greater scheme of things? Is all this leaving the citizenry cynical and frustrated or do we not care because all of us are in it, in our own little ways?
Like a bad penny, the Cauvery “dispute” returns to the national discourse every few years with both the “riparian” States involved the story, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, making the same noises—the former of everlasting injury and the latter of arrogance, with the Centre acting like a traffic policeman with his hands tied.
Every time the dispute flares up, and that is usually when there is scanty rainfall, the same revanchist forces of linguistic chauvinism and parochialism dust themselves and utter the same threatening cliches.
The world’s topmost water resources experts—the moviestars of Gandhinagar—descend on the streets. Bandhs are called, roads are blocked, resignations are offered, the ruling party flexes its muscle, all-party delegations meet the PM, and the media beats the familiar wardrum that sends shivers down the spines of those who can remember 1991-92.
Lost in the melee is sense and common sense. A dispute involving a couple of districts in the deep south holds the rest of the State and its relationship with a neighbour hostage. Karnataka’s fair name as a law-abiding State and the reputation of Kannadigas as a decent, civilised lot is muddied in the eyes of the nation and the courts.
Here, a lawyer conversant with the intricacies of the dispute lists eight reasons why Karnataka is once again barking up the wrong tree in circa 2012.
1. When the agreement of 1924 was signed between the Maharaja of Mysore and Madras, the former diwan of Mysore, Sir M. Visvesvaraya, supported it unequivocally. The said agreement gave 80% of all the water to Madras, which is equal to 360 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) at the Border.
2. The Cauvery Tribunal, reduced the quantity from 360 TMC as provided by the agreement of 1924 to 205 TMC in its interim Order, or 192 TMC in its final Order, which is a reduction of about 50%. During the years of drought, the shortfalls are to be shared equitably by riparian states. How is this distress to be shared?
3. According to Tamil Nadu, if the shortfall in the flows is 40%, its share ought to stand reduced by 40%. On applying this simple mathematical reduction formula of pro-rata, the shortfall in the flows given to Tamil Nadu comes to 40 TMC as on 19 September 2012.
4. However, the Prime Minister rightly ignored the pro-rata formula when he passed the Order on 19 September 2012 directing Karnataka to ensure 9000 Cusecs till 15 October 2012 equivalent to only 20 TMC. This 20 TMC not only includes the arrears but also the monthly quota. Therefore, in real terms, the Prime Minister has only given 10 TMC towards arrears as against 40 TMC which ought to have been due to Tamil Nadu under the pro-rata formula.
5. Present storages is about 65 TMC. Even in the worst year of 2003-2004, 30 TMC flowed into the Karnataka reservoirs till December. So, in this year too, a similar quantum of water can be expected.
6. Cauvery is a political issue for the Vokkaligas. Historically, none from the Vokkaliga belt in Mandya and Mysore ever raised a word of opposition in 1924. Even after independence in 1947 or the re-organisation of States in 1956, none from Mandya or Mysore sought revision of the agreement of 1924. It is only after 1974, that the Opposition to the 1924. After 1974, the opposition in the Vokkaliga belt started but it is selective, targeting Non-Vokkaliga Government.
7. Mandya Vokkaligas opposed the Varuna Canal because it benefitted the Lingayats and Backward Classes in Mysore District. Mandya Vokkaligas do not bother when water is released from Kabini to fulfil the Order because Kabini caters to Lingayats, SC, ST and OBCs.
8. The ones who should really be complaining are Coorgis, since Coorg does not have drinking water though more than half the Cauvery water comes from there.
Photograph: Kannada movie stars (from left) Pooja Gandhi, Prameela Joshai, Shruti, Tara and Sudharani emerge out of the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on Saturday after submitting a memorandum to Governor H.R. Bhardwaj on Cauvery issue (Karnataka Photo News)
After threatening to leave the Bharatiya Janata Party virtually every fortnight since he resigned from office in disgrace under a haze of sleaze and corruption in July 2011—and after making a mockery of two wonderful Kannada words sthana (position) and maana (respect) since then—former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa has finally mustered the strength and the courage to say that he has had enough with the BJP and will call it quits from the party.
Yediyurappa has ruled out joining any other political party although he has been singing paeans of Sonia Gandhi‘s Congress party over the last few weeks, and although Nitish Kumar‘s JD(U) and Mulayam Singh Yadav‘s Samajawadi Party, both avowedly secular parties with little presence in the South, are both said to be toying with the idea of joining hands with Yediyurappa, who cut his teeth in the RSS.
But the questions remain: Has Yediyurappa delayed his exit too long? Has BJP neutralised his influence by allowing him to drag on with his antics? Will Yediyurappa on his own be even half the force he was with the BJP? Will the BJP split help the Congress in the assembly polls? Will Yediyurappa’s new party result in a four-way race in the State and thus make it easier for the BJP?
A week is a long time in politics; ten days is an eternity. Ten days ago, the Congress-led UPA government was weighed down by the scams and scandals that have enveloped it since its return to power in 2009. The economy was down, the fiscal deficit was up, the ratings were near-junk, the writing was on the wall.
It was deja vu 1991 in circa 2012.
But the partial rationalisation of diesel prices followed by the announcement of foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, aviation and broadcasting (followed by a slew of measures including one rank-one pension for Army wallahs, dearness allowance hike for government employees, etc) have changed the headlines.
Suddenly, the coal scam is off the front pages and nightly news.
Suddenly, the main obstacle to reforms (Mamata Banerjee) is out.
Suddenly, the “underachiever” prime minister is talking.
Suddenly, there is talk of a reshuffle of the Union ministry and Congress party apparatus.
And, on top of all that, the entire opposition from the left to right is united in its opposition to FDI in retail, citing the interests of everybody from the farmer down to the consumer, to dire warnings of economic slavery and colonisation of the mind. Even Narendra Damodardas Modi who has gone around with the FDI bowl in his hand to more countries than most chief ministers is warning of the “foreign hand”.
What last week’s Bharat bandh (in which UPA ally DMK too took part) and today’s BJP suggestion of a rollback of the FDI in retail should it come to power, have done is to willy-nilly paint the Congress as the only “pro-reforms” party in the country ahead of 2014, which is all the more surprising because this was the party which in the last few years had turned subsidies into an entitlement.
Questions: Will the reforms work in reviving the economy and will that in turn convince the electorate to plump for UPA-III? Or, is it just a desperate last-ditch effort by the Congress to revive its chances, one doomed to electoral failure? Will the aam admi see through the xenophobia, or will he let his wallet do the voting?
The New York Times: Reforms do win elections in India
The people get the government they deserve, is an old political cliche. By the same token, the people also get the opposition they deserve. And what “We, the People” of India have got from the 2009 general election has been obvious on our TV screens and the front pages of newspapers for all of three years now.
An arrogant, powerdrunk government which has utterly and completely cut itself off from the reality and blithely buried its head in the sands of scams, scandals and other shenanigans. And an opposition which is hellbent on functioning like the fifth column; turning the institutions and procedures of democracy on their head.
There is little to be said about the so-called coal scam that has engulfed the Congress-led UPA government that hasn’t been said before in the 2G scam. While the latter saw a noisy boycott of Parliament, it eventually resulted in a joint parliamentary committee, the matter went to court, a minister was jailed, etc.
However, in the coal scam, the BJP seems to have, in the manner of Anna Hazare and his silly cheerleaders, decided that such well-laid procedures are not to be trusted. It doesn’t want Parliament to discuss the issue, it simply wants a summary resignation of prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Guilty until proven innocent.
Questions: Is the BJP right in such conduct? Is “obstructionism” of Parliament a right of opposition parties, as averred by leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley? Do opposition parties have no responsibilities? Is the BJP performing its role of opposition appropriately?
Or, is it trying to stymie debate, wary of what skeletons might tumble out of its closet?
External reading: BBC: Deja vu hits Parliament
Watching the sudden, mass exodus of Northeast Indians from some of the most hospitable cities in the South is a bit like viewing the many formations of a kaleidoscope. Whoever holds it sees a different pattern and there is, seemingly, little that connects any of them; almost nothing that makes sense.
Are northeasterners in the mainland so insecure as to leave for home at the first rumour of possible violence? Is taking a long, much-advertised train ride through several States the best way of staying safe? Is “home” at this juncture safer than Bangalore, Poona or Hyderabad, no offence intended? Or, because of their distinctive physical features, do we fail to understand the vulnerability of northeasterners?
If the exodus is a testimony to the power of social media (which amplified the rumours), how come it didn’t have the power to dissuade them to stay? Does anybody seriously believe the government’s convenient explanation that the photos, videos and SMSes all emanated from Paksitan, like our fundamentalists are angels? And a country which has still not convinced Pakistan that it was behind 26/11 is going to prove that their websites did all this damage?
But, above all, the key question that the exodus raises is of “assimilation”, patronising as it may sound.
For long years, the “Seven Sisters” of the northeast have been treated by mainland India like step-sisters; starved, ignored, humiliated. It is only in the post-1991 era that their young men and women, with their proficiency of the English language, have ventured out to find jobs in BPOs, stores, malls, restaurants, etc.
Is the northeast’s Indian dream over? Or has it only just paused?
At the end of a long and distinguished career in politics, Pranab Mukherjee has finally ascended Raisina Hill to become the 13th President of India. Almost to a man, every politician, expert and analyst has doffed his hat to Mukherjee’s political sagacity and stamina, his knowledge of constitutional affairs, and so on.
Yet, there is an element of doubt about what his presidency is going to be.
Since 1984, Mukherjee has carried the accusation that he secretly coveted the prime minister’s post, which is why he earned Rajiv Gandhi‘s distrust, or at least of those close to him, with the result that he had to leave the Congress briefly. Although the Congress and UPA backed him four-square in the presidential campaign, some say he was never really Sonia Gandhi‘s first choice for the post (Hamid Ansari was the other); in fact, Sonia had snubbed an earlier attempt to become deputy PM.
More importantly, ever since he relinquished the finance minister’s post, a number of attempts have been made to tar-brush his record (his retroactive imposition of taxes on Vodafone, etc) and, although he was at the helm when NRIs were allowed to invest in Indian companies in the early 1980s, he is now being loosely called “India’s worst finance minister ever”.
Question: Will Pranab Mukherjee be a copy-book President, going strictly by the Constitution, or given his baggage with the Congress, is he likely to be a bit of an imponderable in 2014, when the time to swear in the next government comes?
T.J.S. GEORGE writes: Crippled by corruption, Karnataka is now brutalised by blackmail.
Corruption was the collective contribution of all parties. What the Congress carried on quietly, the JD(S) took up with gusto and BJP turned into a celebration. Blackmail is the exclusive contribution of the BJP.
Congressmen can’t think of it because they shudder before their High Command. In the BJP, the High Command shudders before B.S. Yediyurappa. Yediyurappa’s victory is BJP’s tragedy—and Karnataka’s misfortune.
Look at the misfortune first. Historically one of India’s best-governed states, Karnataka witnessed audacious misuse of power from the day BJP’s first chief minister took office. He and some of his colleagues focused on illegal land transactions as a major activity of government.
The principal financiers of the party, the Bellary lobby, took to plain plundering of the state’s good earth in violation of many laws. Wounded by its keepers, Karnataka bled.
When half a dozen ministers, including the chief minister, were jailed, prudence demanded a moment’s pause.
The BJP as a party and the state government as a constitutional entity should have re-looked at where they were going. They didn’t. Instead, they mounted a show of defiance, politicians looking for loopholes in the law and the Bellary Brotherhood making a suspected bid to bribe a judge. The judge landed in jail in a demonstration of the ugliness of today’s politics.
The neglect of governance could not have happened at a more inopportune moment. The state was in the grip of a serious drought, but water resources minister Basavaraj Bommai had no time to bother about it. Farmers were facing starvation, but agriculture minister Umesh Katti was busy with resignation games.
A grand show was held a couple of months ago to attract big-ticket investments to the state. Industrialists were upset that not a file moved since the show because industries minister Murugesh Nirani was in the plot to topple the chief minister.
All this to satisfy one man’s ambition.
So all-consuming was Yediyurappa’s passion for power that even after coming out of jail, he acted as though nothing untoward had happened. He spent his not-negligible resources to keep a few dozen MLAs on his side.
This support base was a weapon with which he threatened the party bosses in Delhi, knowing well that the bosses would go to any length to see that the BJP did not lose Karnataka. Although his threats were effective, Yediyurappa knew that he was too tainted to become chief minister in one go.
He had a solution to that problem too. He found in foe-turned-friend Jagadish Shettar the fittest person to become the Manmohan Singh of Karnataka, and let him, Yediyurappa, be the Sonia Gandhi of Karnataka.
The puzzle is that the BJP’s leaders in Delhi do not see that approving Yediyurappa’s scheme is equal to approving corruption. They are said to condone Yediyurappa’s record, including the jailing, so as to ensure the allegiance of the Lingayat community.
First of all, will the BJP really gain by doing what no party has openly done before, namely, split Karnataka into Lingayats (17 per cent), Vokkaligas (15 per cent) and others (68 per cent)?
Second, how do they know that the silent majority of Lingayats will accept the position that they have no leader other than the second most tainted politician in Karnataka’s history (after Janardhana Reddy)? This is a community that gave India one of its noblest philosophical creeds. It has a proud public record and several eminent leaders.
On the other hand, a principled stand against the threat politics of Yediyurappa could have given the BJP a swing in its favour. Yediyurappa’s flaunted support base is sustained by the feeling among BJP legislators that his bullying will put him back in power. Call that bluff and the support will melt away.
The Congress and the JD (S) are in a mess, which gives the BJP a reasonable chance to beat them at the next election. But the rivals have a propaganda plank that is powerful: that the BJP promotes corruption officially. The BJP could have demolish that plank. All it needed was some guts.
Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today
After weeks and months of speculation, there is finally some official activity in the race for the next President of India.
The Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee says the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has revealed two preferences: finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as the first choice and vice president Hamid Ansari as the second. In turn, Mamata and Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party have indicated their choices: prime minister Manmohan Singh, former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, and former President A.P. J. Abdul Kalam.
The announcements turn the political applecart upside down.
Mulayam and Mamata have effectively snubbed Sonia, Manmohan and Pranab, thrown cold water over the overweaning ambitions of Pranab Mukherjee, cast a big question mark over Manmohan Singh continuance as PM and the longevity of UPA-II as an alliance and advanced the prospect of an early election.
So, which of the five names in the air could make it, should make it, to Rashtrapati Bhavan?
Or, all things considered, is this just kite-flying and could we see a totally dark horse (or mare) ride up Raisina Hill? And who could that be: Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, Congresswomen Mohsina Kidwai or Margaret Alva? Or how about Sam Pitroda?