Opinion polls are crawling out of the woodwork in Karnataka. While most previous surveys have predicted a BJP downfall, a new one by the little-known Prabodhan Research Group, published by The Pioneer, Delhi, suggests it is going to be a hung assembly in the State: Congress 95 , BJP 81, JD(S) 27, KJP and independents eight each, BSR-Congress five.
Narendar Pani of the national institute of advanced studies (NIAS), in Mail Today:
“There are also signs of aggressive Hindutva being a vote loser. Long before the BJP came to power in Karnataka it had a strong cadre-based stronghold in coastal Karnataka.
“When it came to power this area became the laboratory for its strong Hindutva methods. Churches were targeted, young couples of mixed religions were attacked, and moral policing took on a new momentum. But far from attracting fresh support, the BJP appears to have lost ground in this region.
“In the recent elections to urban local bodies in this region the BJP lost several ULBs, including one that it had not lost for 40 years.
“If Narendra Modi were to step in now and deliver Karnataka to the BJP he would be able to present himself to the nation as the political superhero India was waiting for. And within the BJP all challenges to his leadership will fall by the wayside.
“Which makes it all the more interesting that Narendra Modi has not shown any inclination to take over the leadership of the Karnataka battle. He was not among the national leaders who launched the party’s campaign in the state. Is it that the situation of the BJP in Karnataka is too adverse for even the Gujarat strongman?”
THE POLLS SO FAR
Suvarna News-Cfore (April): Congress 115-127 out of 224; BJP 50-60; JD(S) 25-35
In politics, like in cricket, nothing is in the realm of the impossible. And it is not over till the last ball is bowled (and sometimes not even that, if it is a front-foot no-ball). So, what was projected to be a head-to-head faceoff between Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi for the 2014 elections is showing signs of becoming anything but.
In other words, it’s time to dip into the Kuala Lumpur Police Department manual.
On the one hand, the “young yuvaraj” seems to have presumptively developed cold feet about wanting to take over the mantle, as if the people of democratic India were dying to hand it over to him. Result: prime minister Manmohan Singh feels emboldened to answer hypothetical questions on a third term, if Congress wins, if UPA comes to power, if….
But it is what is happening in the other corner that is even more captivating.
After prematurely building himself up as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Modi is coming to terms with reality outside TV studios. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar‘s comment, among others, that “only one who can carry with him all the diverse sections of people can become the leader of the nation” is proving to be the spark.
Suddenly, a bunch of people within the BJP are finding virtue in L.K. Advani.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has realised that he is without doubt “our tallest leader“. Former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh finds him the “seniormost“. And former finance minister Yashwant Sinha says, “if Advani is available to lead the party and the government, that should end all discourse.”
So, could Modi vs Rahul in 2014 become a Manmohan vs Advani battle?
Does Advani have the backing of the RSS or of larger BJP for the top job? Is the “man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred“—the brain behind the bloody rath yatra that led to the demolition of the Babri masjid—really “more secular” than Modi? Or, are his BJP colleagues and NDA allies firing from his shoulders against Modi?
Could Advani, 84, gracefully make way for a younger aspirant, like say Sushma Swaraj (who has the OK of Shiv Sena), or will he throw his hat in the ring? Does he have the carry that Modi enjoys?
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
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: “Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi“: It makes for a sexy headline. And for an audience drawing shouting match on television. But as an analytical frame to understand the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, it just doesn’t make any sense.
Let me explain.
Neither Modi nor Rahul is on the ballot in Karnataka. They aren’t likely to lead the government if their parties are voted into office. Nor will they be difference making vote gatherers, and to say otherwise is to misread democratic politics.
Narendra Modi’s spectacular success in Gujarat is neither unique nor is it solely based on claims of good governance and absence of corruption allegations. In fact, Shivraj Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Nitish Kumar of Bihar and Naveen Patnaik of Orissa too claim similar track record of both electoral success as well as efficient administration.
If anything, all four of them (Modi, Singh, Kumar and Patnaik) may have in common is the social alliance they have managed to create in their states, which has enabled them to triumph in the electoral arena. Sure good governance and a clean image always help.
But elections are fought and won based on caste equations, finding the right candidate and moving the right pawns. Modi has done exceptionally well in building that combination, in addition to economic development of Gujarat.
Astute political observers have always pointed out that the secret of Modi’s success in Gujarat is not that he is a practitioner of Hindutva politics; but he has rebuilt the old social alliance (of Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim known popularly as KHAM) Congress relied on for electoral success until the 1980s.
Admittedly, Muslims aren’t a key element of Modi’s social coalition but there is evidence to suggest that he has secured significant Muslim support in the last few years.
Yet the point is Modi has turned out to be an exceptional political strategist within Gujarat, and his administrative acumen has only helped in consolidating these political gains.
Does that make him a star campaigner outside Gujarat, especially among people who haven’t benefited from good governance? No one is suggesting that BJP invite Shivraj Singh or Nitish Kumar to campaign in Karnataka!
This is where Rahul Gandhi may start out with a small advantage, which accrues to any Gandhi-Nehru dynast, and that gets him the initial name recognition nationally as well as some loyalty of Congressmen. That may have been enough in the past even until the 1980s when his father entered politics. But Indian democracy has changed and has become more competitive since then.
Political loyalties are only skin-deep these days even in a High Command centric party like Congress.
Rahul gives the impression of being a reluctant politician, who given a choice would do something else. He hasn’t shown the commitment or stamina of a professional politician who will breathe politics every waking moment.
Can he be the adept strategist and star campaigner that Congress party, and indeed even the media expect him to be?
I remain skeptical. The voter has gotten better at seeing through masks and evaluates his self interests in ways that media or political scientists do not recognize.
What Rahul and Modi will accomplish, if they campaign vigorously in Karnataka, is bridge and/or raise the enthusiasm gap for their parties. That is their appeal will be limited to committed supporters of Congress and BJP respectively, who will be energized to vote for their candidates instead of staying home.
A recent survey by Suvarna News and Cfore media bears this out: more than two thirds of likely BJP voters admit that Modi’s support will make them vote for BJP.
What neither will be able to do is to convert the undecided voter or the opponent. Hence their impact will be limited and marginal at best.
Is it because the media is lazy and cannot come up with better explanations?
IAS – KAS conflict: Are only direct IAS recruits efficient and capable of running fair and impartial elections?
The Karnataka Election Commission seems to think so and has replaced twelve deputy commissioners, who are IAS officers but promoted from Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS). Sashidhar Nandikal reports in Vijaya Karnataka on April 1 that this has created a rift among direct recruits and promotee IAS officers.
Majority of the direct recruits into IAS are non-Kannadigas and therefore lack deep roots in local caste politics or personal / family connections to leading politicians. That’s the not case with KAS recruits, whose initial selection will largely be because of their powerful connections.
Still, we must file this question among the inexplicable mysteries!
On Actresses and Politics: Recently, I was asked to explain why actresses are getting into politics in Karnataka. While the elders in the business, like Umashri, Tara and Jayamala relied on MLC nominations or an Academy chairmanship to launch their political career, the younger lot like Rakshita and Pooja Gandhi is sweating it out, traveling across the state and taking part in party conventions.
Lest the reader mistake their political activism to the tireless campaigning of a Mamata Banerjee or a Mayawati, I hasten to add that these actresses haven’t offered a compelling reason for entering politics. In fact, we don’t hear much about their political commitments or track of social service.
The talk in Bangalore revolves around the money they are being paid. Pooja Gandhi is supposed to have received Rs 2 crore for joining BSR Congress and when asked by Vijaya Karnataka, she strongly denied that rumour. Yet in a political career spanning a little over a year, she has been a member of JD (S) and KJP.
To my questioner, a journalist-friend, I suggested that for someone like Pooja Gandhi a political party is no different than a product or a business she endorses. I suspect she looks at herself as a brand ambassador for a party, and taking a fee for that work isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Even as BJP fans and fanboys go ecstatic at the re-entry of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi into the party’s parliamentary board, CPI(M) leader and member of Parliament, Sitaram Yechury, strikes a note of caution in the Hindustan Times:
“It is fairly certain that any government that will emerge following the 2014 general elections cannot be anything except a coalition. The question, however, remains over its composition and leadership.
“This context throws up the irresoluble contradiction that will plague any coalition led by the BJP.
“If the coalition has to be strong enough to command the numbers of a majority, then the BJP would have to put its core communal agenda on the backburner.
“On the other hand, unless the communal agenda is aggressively pursued as directed by the RSS, the BJP would not be able to either consolidate or expand its own political base.
“This contradiction is already reflecting itself in the choices being considered by the BJP for its prime ministerial candidate based on its illusory hopes of winning the forthcoming election.
“The BJP’s illusions remind me of a Telugu saying which loses its punch when translated but means: ‘Neither do I have a house nor a wife but my son’s name is Somalingam‘.”
On rediff.com, Vicky Nanjappa speaks to the psephologist Sandeep Shastri and asks him about the impact of Modi in the Karnataka assembly elections:
There is a lot of dependency on Narendra Modi. Will he be able to change the prospects of the BJP this time?
I have my doubts if Modi will actively take part in the Karnataka assembly election campaign. Modi is well aware that this is a losing campaign. He did not take part in the Uttar Pradesh campaign for the very same reason.
But you will see a lot of Modi during the elections in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, as the BJP will surely emerge victorious there. You will also see a lot of Modi in Karnataka during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
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.
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.”
Replying to the motion of thanks to the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, prime minister Manmohan Singh was unusually belligerent, invoking memories of 22 July 2008, when he spoke in a similar vein after the UPA had won a controversial vote in favour of the civilian nuclear deal on which he had staked all.
“The Leader of Opposition, L.K. Advani has chosen to use all manner of abusive objectives to describe my performance. He has described me as the weakest Prime Minister, a nikamma PM, and of having devalued the office of PM. To fulfill his ambitions, he has made at least three attempts to topple our government. But on each occasion his astrologers have misled him. This pattern, I am sure, will be repeated today. At his ripe old age, I do not expect Advani to change his thinking. But for his sake and India’s sake, I urge him at least to change his astrologers so that he gets more accurate predictions of things to come.”
Yesterday, days after Narendra Damodardas Modi said the PM was only a “nightwatchman“, the PM said:
“In 2009, they (the BJP) fielded their Iron Man Advaniji against the lamb that Manmohan Singh is and we all know what the result was. The BJP will lose again because of its arrogance…. I am convinced that if people look at our record, they would repeat what they did in 2004 and 2009.”
The PM’s “aggression” has caught many by surprise. Coming a day after Rahul Gandhi‘s admission that becoming prime minister was not his life-objective, there is even talk that this was as close as Manmohan Singh could come to bidding for candidacy for a third successive term as Prime Minister.
Questions: Is the prime minister’s charge of arrogance against the BJP valid? Or is he merely venting his frustration? Is it possible, just possible, that Manmohan Singh could be proved right again? Or is this just a pipe dream?
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?
“Narendra Modi is the UPA’s creation. Despite his vigorous self-projection and the propaganda, both strident and sophisticated, of acolytes, he would never have been considered prime ministerial material but for what Azim Premji called a “complete breakdown in public governance across the board” under the UPA….
“Just as a young woman slapped Mohan Bhagwat, Congress needs to slap down Modi’s pretensions, not to save Rahul Gandhi’s career but to save the secular democratic polity that alone can hold India together in a harmonious union worth living in.
“The only way it can do so is by attending to the “widespread governance deficit in almost every sphere of national activity covering government, business and institutions” that Premji, Deepak Parekh and others highlighted in their letter to the prime minister. Their assessment that “the biggest issue corroding the fabric of our nation is corruption” cannot have been news to Manmohan Singh.
“The decision by 83 senior retired bureaucrats to move the Supreme Court over the decline in administrative services was another warning of the “urgent need to depoliticize management of transfers, postings, inquiries, promotions, reward, punishment and disciplinary matters relating to civil servants”, to quote one of the petitioners, T.S.R. Subramanian, a former cabinet secretary.
“All this assumes crucial importance because the economic dynamo of Manmohan Singh’s dreams is running out of steam. There is already talk abroad that the “I” in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) should denote Indonesia. Prices, especially of food, are soaring. Despite a contrived market boom, India is plagued by high current account and fiscal deficits. The new one-rupee coin invites contempt….
“A nation with 200 million Muslims cannot be ruled by someone whose ascent recalls the Kampfzeit (time of struggle) that assailed Germany when military defeat, diplomatic humiliation and economic catastrophe (with a loaf of bread costing 80 billion marks) led to the death of public decency.”
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?
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 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?
The RSS ideologue M.G. Vaidya has kicked off a big storm in the BJP teacup ahead of the Gujarat elections, by alleging that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was behind the recent campaign of vilification against the party president Nitin Gadkari, which culminated in a demand for Gadkari’s removal from the post by the renowned lawyer and BJP member of Parliament, Ram Jethmalani, and his lawyer-son Mahesh Jethmalani.
“Needle of suspicion in the campaign against BJP president Nitin Gadkari points to Gujarat BJP and Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Ram Jethmalani had in one breath said he is seeking the resignation of Gadkari and that he also wanted to see Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister in 2014.”
In many ways, what Vaidya says is not particularly new; Modi’s alleged involvement (and of his lackeys) in hurling allegations at Gadkari over his business dealings through the media has been gossip in the political corridors and television studios in Delhi for days now. After all, Jethmalani senior (who represents the former minister of state for home, Amit Shah, in the encounter cases) was given a Rajya Sabha seat at the behest of Modi.
But the backroom buzz has been given a certificate of authenticity with Vaidya putting it on record and then reiterating it, although the BJP has been at pains to reject the insinuation. However, since nothing in the RSS happens without a pattern, Vaidya going public with his allegation at this juncture poses several questions:
Is the RSS conveying its displeasure of Modi’s tactics and his overweening ambition to occupy the national stage? Was Gadkari retained as BJP chief last week (after another RSS ideologue S. Gurumurthy gave a clean chit) largely to show Modi his place? Did Modi mount a subversive attack on Gadkari in the full knowledge that if Gadkari finished his first term or got a second term (as the party’s consitution now allows), he could prove a hurdle in his path given the backing he enjoys from the RSS?
More importantly, does Modi’s ascension look less assured even if he wins a third term, as he is slated to? And, if he is rebuffed in his prime ministerial ambitions should NDA get a majority, could Modi (as B.S. Yediyurappa aide and the president of his soon-to-be-formed party, Dhananjay Kumar, has said on TV) break away and form his own party as Yediyurappa is threatening to do?
And, does the recent turn of events indicate the kind of polarising figure Narendra Modi will be if he graduates to Delhi?
The BJP’s race of aspiring (and perspiring) prime ministerial contenders is growing long—and wagging. On top of the pile, as always, is the “former future prime minister” himself, Lalchand Kishinchand Advani, who as the default “elder statesman” still fancies his chances should the NDA end up ahead of the UPA in the next general election.
Then there is Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi who, through his artfully constructed PR initiatives in the last few years, has left no one in any doubt that he will well and truly be in the great race in Delhi after he has wrapped his third election victory in his home-state (provided the long arm of the law doesn’t trip him in his ambitious path).
Through the boycott of Parliament over “Coalgate” and through his magisterial demeanour on TV, the Rajya Sabha leader Arun Jaitley has conveyed that he is quietly climbing up the greasy pole, and that there might be very helpful people to lend him support from below like Bihar chief minister and NDA partner, Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar himself has delivered many thinly disguised messages in the past few months, but two statements stand out: the NDA’s next leader has to be “secular” (which means you-know-who is out) and that he himself is not in the race because he believes the biggest party in the NDA should get the shot (which means you-know-who is whom he wants).
To this list, a new name has been entered by another NDA partner, Shiv Sena “supremo” Bal Thackeray:
“At least today, there is only one intelligent and brilliant person. And that is Sushma Swaraj. She will be a superb choice for the prime minister’s post. She is deserving, (and) an intelligent lady. She will work very well.”
On top of which, there is the BJP president Nitin Gadkari, not to forget Rajnath Singh.
So, who amongst the lot might be best suited to head the NDA should an opening arise? Who amongst the lot might have national resonance? Or, as the Congress alleges, is the NDA counting its chickens before they are hatched?
There is nothing more disastrous than a PR drive gone awry.
For months and years, prime minister Manmohan Singh has pretended the Indian media doesn’t exist or that he doesn’t care if it does. He has given no one-on-one interviews to any Indian print, electronic or digital interrogator, and has opted to meet editors in groups where no supplementaries can be asked.
So as the scams and scandals enveloped his government, all he could do was lie low and hope his image and integrity would carry the day.
With the economy in the doldrums and Pranab Mukherjee out as the finance minister, the PM’s media mandarins have sensed that the time is nigh to pump up his image. Suddenly, there are stories all over the papers of how proactive Manmohan has become. He answered questions from Hindustan Times in an interview last week. And he even gave Time magazine access to 7, Race Course Road.
If his media advisors were hoping for a nice little plug, this is what resulted.
Not surprisingly, everybody in the Congress is hopping mad that the prime minister is being called what all except those who have read a newspaper or magazine or watched television in the last four years were calling him. Secretly, they are also pointing fingers at the glowing cover Time did of Narendra Modi.
Questions: Is Manmohan Singh an underachiever or is this Time magazine’s euphemism for “failure”? Should we really be bothered if the Indian edition of Time (the story doesn’t appear in the American edition) calls him or anybody else an underachiever or failure? Does the Indian thirst for a “white certificate” signify a colonial hangover?
What is the headline would you have given if you were in charge of giving headlines in Time magazine?
Yet another episode of the BJP’s non-stop nataka in Karnataka has come to an end—a quiet, wimpish end after all the fire-breathing over the weekend—but the big question still remains: is this really the end or just a temporary, mutually agreed cessation of hostilities before resumption of normal service?
On the face of it, it seems as if both sides—the B.S. Yediyurappa camp and the BJP high command—are buying time. Both are hoping the numbers of either side will whittle down. But deep down, both are afraid: Yediyurappa isn’t sure if he can be the force he is without the BJP; the party isn’t sure if it can ever win without him. Hence the repeated brinkmanship.
However, the larger issue is the use of political blackmail as a form of statecraft while the affairs of the State take a backseat with painful periodicity. The Yediyurappa gang blackmails the incumbent D.V. Sadananda Gowda with its ultimatums; the high command returns the favour.
The latest episode has come to an end only because the presidential elections are around the corner and the BJP would not like to be seen as a house divided in the eyes of the nation. As it is, it is having to counter the negative publicity being generated by Keshubhai Patel‘s antics against Narendra Modi in Gujarat.
Question: Could Yediyurappa’s nataka start all over again?
Tehelka magazine has a cover story on Karnataka this week. With the cover reading “Hindutva Lab 2.0“, the story asks if Karnataka is becoming the new Gujarat, the second laboratory for the BJP and the larger sangh parivar, following the right-wing Hindu attacks on Muslims and Christians.
“A greater cause for concern for Karnataka’s liberals is the attempt to inject communal polarisation even in the cosmopolitan environs of Bengaluru, India’s IT hub. A casual visit to the Satyam and Infosys complexes makes for some disturbing observations.
“Umesh Hegde (name changed to protect identity) talks about the infiltration of the Hindutva groups into the IT sector: ‘Initially, we were asked to come to the shakha to rejuvenate ourselves and learn yoga. Within a month, my colleagues and me were shown a map of Akhand Bharat, and told how Bharat needs to be cleansed of Muslims. And believe me they have managed to find sympathisers.’
“In five years, the number of RSS shakhas in Karnataka has gone up by 50 per cent, helped by public funds and facilities….
“The unfortunate part in the process of communalisation of Karnataka has been the concurrence of the media. Newspapers in Karnataka have encouraged the polarisation for pecuniary benefits. For example, the Mangalore-based daily Hosa Digantha has been accorded “state newspaper” status although its circulation does not meet the required criteria. Its editor, Chudamani Aiyyar, is an RSS activist.
“While Gujarat newspapers played up the supposed threat to Narendra Modi from Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists, Karnataka too witnessed such attempts. Rashid Malbari, an underworld figure and regarded a foil to Hindutva gangsters like Ravi Pujari (also from Karnataka), was put behind bars for allegedly plotting to assassinate Modi and senior RSS men in Karnataka.
“Local dailies played up the story just like they did in 2005 when Udayavani reported that madrassas were hoisting Pakistan flags. It had to issue a retraction when the police gave a clean chit to the madrassa. Other newspapers like Vijaya Karnataka too sedulously promote the idea of Muslims and Christians as “members of other religions.”
But Rahul Gandhi‘s personal life has not been the bed of roses that pathological Congress-haters with Subramanian Swamy on their Twitter timeline think it is: he was 10, when his uncle crashed to death; 13 when his grandmother lay soaked in blood in the family garden; 20 when the call came from Sriperumbudur.
His political life, though, is not as touching.
Seven years since he set foot in the cesspool, few know where he stands on any issue. He speaks for FDI in retail after the bill has been torpedoed. He speaks for Nandan Nilekani‘s Aadhar project after the parliament standing committee has torn into it. He looks ashen-faced when his suggestion to make Lok Pal a constitutional authority is noisily defeated.
If the Congress wins anything, bouquets are laid at his door; if it loses, partymen magnanimously bat the bricks. If he speaks in the Lok Sabha, he is cheered; if he remains silent, his critics are jeered. For a digital generation politician, he seems to loves playing a stuck LP on his strange two-nation theory of India.
Yes, has heroically (and admirably) made the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections a test of his prowess, unlike his presumed rival from the BJP—Narendra Damodardas Modi, to give him his full name—who cannot even step out of his Vibrant State, but what after that?
“The question that has never been sincerely posed is what will he have to do to earn the right to lead the nation or even the party? Even the scions of established political dynasties have had to earn their stripes in recent history.
“While it was always a guaranteed outcome that Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew’s first-born son would become the prime minister some day, Lee Hsein Loong was battle-tested in critical ministerial portfolios and successfully led the country’s monetary authority during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s before he got anywhere near the leadership chair.
“Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the Democratic party’s favorite president, John F. Kennedy, and descendant in a long line of family members who served in senior leadership positions in the government, failed to get the nod from her party for a US Senate nomination despite her legacy and support from a sitting president. North Korea may well be an exception to the rule, where the only criterion for the new supreme leader seems to have been that he happened to be the son who was not a full-blown lunatic.
“For Rahul Gandhi to earn the right to be the leader that he may be destined to be, he must prove his mettle on many fronts.
“Can he articulate a philosophy of political and social change that is compelling enough to chart the policies of the Congress for the next 20 years? Can he create a political strategy that is rooted not in the vote bank politics of the past — slicing and dicing communities and castes — but in appealing to the aspirations and energy of constituencies that have traditionally not even bothered to vote? Does he have the intent and the ability to reform the party’s governance structures? Can he win elections for the party? Can he build and sustain coalitions? Does he have the management ability to lead and govern a party as diverse as the Congress, or a country as complex as India?”
The food security bill, masterminded by the Sonia Gandhi-headed national advisory council (NAC), that seeks to guarantee that 63.5% of India’s population don’t go hungry and translate the Congress party’s 2009 election manifesto promise, has drawn plenty of criticism on either side of the political divide.
In other words, the bill is unlikely to face fair weather in Parliament, which means the onus of feeding India’s poor, destitute, disabled, elderly and homeless will continue to be on religious charities, which are sporadic, not very hygienic or wholesome, and often test the dignity of the receiver.
NAC member Harsh Mander, who chaperoned the food security bill, says only 4% of homeless persons depend completely on these religious charities for food.
# Feeding the hungry is deeply valued in all Indian religious traditions. But we found these traditions eroded, mutated or abandoned in shining 21st century Delhi. We were surprised to find no destitute feeding centres run by churches in Delhi….
# Many Hindu temples serve food, but this is usually oily, sweet and served only on fixed days. (There are fine exceptions, like the Hare Krishna temples.) The ‘giver’ seeks divine merit, but is not interested in serving the receiver’s needs….
# We found dignified forms of charity in the Nizamuddin Dargah and the Sai Baba Temple. Here food tokens are purchased by donors from hotels, with a validity of a month, and distributed to the destitute. A person can later exchange these coupons when hungry and in need at the eatery, and is served food worth the cost of the coupon. Less dignified, in Jama Masjid, we found many people seeking food charity patiently seated on their haunches outside dhabas which line the mosque, waiting for persons who pay the dhaba owner for the number of people they want to feed….
# Traditionally, the most wholesome food served with greatest dignity has been in the langars in Sikh gurudwaras. People are seated together on mats laid out on the floor in single lines, and food is served in this dining space in unlimited quantities.
However, we found that these egalitarian traditions abandoned in the capital’s main gurudwaras. Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib in Chandni Chowk, at the centre of the largest concentration of homeless people, actively bars the ‘dirty poor’ from entering the langar.
Bangla Saheb, near Connaught Place, also blocks them from entering the temple and eating at the main langar, but it has a separate langar for them at the rear, outside the temple precincts, serving the same food but without the same respect. We enquired from the managers about this departure from the core of Sikh teachings, and they justified it by claiming that the homeless defile the temple, because they smoke and drink.”
Plenty of pre-electoral chickens are being counted after the Supreme Court directed the trial court to proceed in the Gulberg society carnage case in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. And leading the charge is Narendra Damodardas Modi and his drumbeaters in his party and the media, who interpret the SC ruling as a licence for the Gujarat chief minister to now conquer the Centre. (Mercifully, L.K. Advani had announced his anti-corruption yatra three days earlier, else Modi’s prime ministerial candidacy would have been signed, sealed and delivered by now.)
Nevertheless, there is no denying that depending on which way the trial court goes in the Ehsan Jafri case, how the corruption charges against Modi’s government stick, what happens in the Gujarat assembly elections due by December 2012, how the other aspirants in the BJP (including Advani) react to Modi’s ambitions, and how the allies in the NDA take to him, Narendra Modi is now well and truly eyeing a role in Delhi, a suspicion confirmed by a US thinktank report which sees him as a “likely candidate for prime ministership”.
Should that happen, it opens up a delicious prospect. That of a State satrap with a much-touted record of corruption-free governance against the Congress’ heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi, whose record both as parliamentarian and as a party general secretary has at best been patchy. With the Congress president Sonia Gandhi not in particularly great health and with Manmohan Singh‘s reputation in tatters after all the scams under his charge, it is daunting challenge ahead of Rahul Gandhi, should he lead the charge in 2014.
There is nothing more revealing in politics than a old, doddering politician who buries his head in the sand and tries to gauge the prevailing wind of public opinion. And so it is with the “former future prime minister of India“, Lalchand Kishinchand Advani who has announced what many are derisively calling his “AntimYatra“.
At one level, Advani’s impromptu announcement of a nationwide tour at the age of 84 is proof that the flame of ambition has flickered feverishly despite the renunciation of key posts (like leader of opposition and party president) at the less-than-gentle nudging of the extra-constitutional knicker lobby that really wears the pants in the BJP.
At another level, the “AntimYatra” is proof that the BJP is now officially bereft of both ideas and leadership. That it took the success of Anna Hazare‘s campaign for the lead opposition party to take up corruption as an issue reveals plenty about what it has been doing these past two and a half years since the 2009 electoral defeat.
And that the BJP leadership thinks that it has the credibility to talk about corruption, when its own governments and leaders in Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttaranchal and Chhatisgarh are battling (or stalling investigation of) serious charges of corruption shows the hypocrisy of it all.
Above all, Advani’s announcement of a yatra throws cold water on the aspirations of almost the entire second generation of leaders in the BJP, all of whom privately envision themselves as national leaders and almost all of whom entertain dreams of becoming prime minister.
Questions: Will Advani’s “Antim Yatra” evoke any response? Is Advani’s “AntimYatra” merely to save his skin now that the reprehensible cash-for-votes scandal has landed squarely in his court? Notwithstanding the Congress’s plight, does the BJP have the credibility to talk of clean, corruption-free governance? Will Advani be acceptable as the face of the BJP in 2014, when he will be 86?
The loss to the exchequer between 2006 and 2010 is estimated at over Rs 16,000 crore; the loss between March 2009 and April 2010 itself at Rs 1,827 crore. The chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa has been named, as indeed as his predecessor H.D. Kumaraswamy despite their “tearful” performance every now and then.
More to the point, the report indicates that the CM of god’s own party who spouts “development” like a stuck record, was a direct beneficiary, his family having been paid by cheque by the mining companies. Yet, while the BJP attacks the Congress in Delhi on corruption, its “gateway to the south” seems to be rotting to the point of decay.
What is the one question you are dying to ask Yediyurappa and the BJP?
Like, could Yediyurappa’s defiance cost the BJP on the national stage, just like Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s? Like, could Shobha Karandlaje as a potential successor to Yediyurappa mean it’s “all in the family”? Like, is it true that the silence of key members of the BJP and RSS, in Delhi and Bangalore, was purchased for a price?
Or, were all those visits to temples and mutts eventually of no use? Or was it a licence?
The Bharatiya Janata Party increasingly resembles a franchisee operation like Nirula’s or McDonald’s. Its flag flies high in a number of States, but each of its regional satraps—be it Narendra Damodardas Modi in Gujarat, Shivraj Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh or Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh—scripts his own story.
Prof Narendar Pani of the national institute of advanced studies (NIAS), Bangalore, extends the argument to Karnataka, in Mail Today:
“When the BJP formed its first government in Karnataka it was seen as a victory of the party’s ideology and the first step in a deep ideological push into the South. Halfway through its term that beginning seems a distant memory. The State government is in the news more for stories of corruption and defections rather than anything more positive.
“While this could be dismissed as a part of the preoccupations of the media, it is difficult to miss the defensiveness on the part of the party’s usually aggressive national spokespersons when talking of the Karnataka government. And, what is even more significant, the national leadership of the party appears to be unable to do very much about it. What began as a BJP government has somewhere along the way been turned into a Yediyurappa government.
“This apparently incomprehensible transformation may well have a very simple explanation. If we look at what has happened in Karnataka from the perspective of local grassroots politics, rather than national ideological concerns, it does seem that the BJP and others in Delhi may have exaggerated the ideological content of their electoral victory in the State.”
Why did the government terminate Baba Ramdev‘s fast-unto-death in the dead of night after noisily receiving him at Delhi airport and talking to him at a five-star hotel owned by a shady arms dealer?
Was it because Ramdev’s camp was a cover for an RSS campaign and it could have all gone out of hand a la 6 December 1992?
Au contraire, writes R. Jagannathan in First Post:
“The Congress wined and dined him precisely because he was close to the Sangh Parivar. It was not something they discovered later, when Sadhvi Ritambara turned up at the Baba’s fast-fest.
“In the Congress book of dirty tricks, this is old hat. Whenever the Congress sees a looming political threat, it backs a rival in the same camp to break away and undercut the original threat….
“The Congress won the last elections in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu precisely because a third player (Praja Rajyam in Andhra, and Vijayakanth’s DMDK in Tamil Nadu) ate into opposition votes and brought the Congress (or the Congress alliance) victory. But for these spoilers, Chandrababu Naidu and AIADMK would have won in 2009.
“So who do you need to fix before 2014 in the same way? While there are obviously a whole range of regional and sectarian parties who are local threats to the Congress in various states, the only national threat is the BJP, which, despite being rudderless over the last seven years, is the only party capable of upsetting the Congress’ apple-cart.
“Within the BJP, the biggest threat is Narendra Modi, who has shown that he can get the measure of the Congress, and has the potential to galvanise the party and the majority community to action — given the right political circumstances, which, admittedly, don’t exist for now. But who knows what will be the scenario in 2014?
“It explains why the Congress is using activists like Teesta Setalvad and the National Advisory Council (NAC) and other one-dimensional secularists to fix him – whether in court or through a blatantly communal Bill to tackle communal violence. The Bill is specifically targetted at Hindu organisations, and no one else. It will never see the light of day, but that does not stop undemocratic NAC members from trying to force it down our throats.
“But, at another level, the Congress has a problem in the north, where the BJP is a potent threat everywhere, except Uttar Pradesh. This is where the Baba comes in handy.
“How? In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and also in the rest of the Hindi belt, the Baba could cut into BJP votes if he floats a political party. He doesn’t have to win any seats. If he merely takes away 4-5% of the BJP vote, it is enough for the Congress to win.”
PRASHANT KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: It is three weeks since the results of the assembly elections in the five States tumbled out, signalling change in four States (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal and Pondicherry) and continuity in one (Assam).
Of the many post-facto buzzwords that I have heard on TV since May 13, one word stands out: asmita.
Asmita, loosely translating into pride.
Asmita, loosely meaning self-respect, self-esteem.
Several times over the last three weeks, the Janata Party gadfly Subramanian Swamy has invoked the A-word to drive home the presumed wisdom of the Tamil voter in kicking out the DMK family concern of M. Karunanidhi, and in ushering in Jayalalitha‘s AIADMK.
Dr Swamy’s point: the Tamil voter, urban and rural, was angry and disgusted with the bad image that the 2G scam that (as of now) is mostly populated with Tamil protagonists (A. Raja, Kanimozhi, Sadik Batcha and now Dayanidhi Maran, C. Sivashankaran & Co ) and Tamil outfits (Kalaignar TV, Sun TV) was bringing to the reputation of Tamil Nadu and Tamilians.
In other words, the Tamil asmita was in danger.
So, goes Dr Swamy’s reasoning, in spite of the elitist belief that country bumpkins are more tolerant of corruption, Tamilians voted to restore their asmita. And, by extension, have managed to do a damn good job of it by stumping pundits and pollsters and consigning DMK to less than a 10th of the size of the Tamil Nadu assembly.
The scoreline: Asmita 1, Arrogance 0.
Compelling as Dr Swamy’s contention is, the invocation of asmita—an oft-used word in the political vocabulary of the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi—has left me both confused and angry. And, frankly, as a proud Kannadiga, I have been tearing my hair out.
Reason: if the 2G scam and the accumulated loot was cause enough for Tamils to boot out the DMK in the name of their asmita, how come Kannadigas seem to be so much more insouciant of B.S. Yediyurappa‘s BJP government which has had more scams and scandals in its three years in office, albeit not of the same size?
How is it that Kannadiga asmita seems be unaffected by all the puerile antics of the BJP on display in the last three years—Operation Kamala, the resort and spa politics, the mining mafia, the rigged up confidence motions, the roadside dramas, the shameless samaveshas, the sex scandals of ministers, their financial transgressions, the church attacks, the attacks on pub-going girls—and all of it playing endlessly on televison?
And how is it that Kannadigas seem to hide their asmita and vote for the BJP in election after byelection, to the assembly, to the civic bodies, to the gram and zilla panchayats? On the day Karunanidhi was being booted out, the BJP was winning three by-polls held on the rotting carcass of Operation Kamala?
What do so such BJP election victories in the face of BJP non-performance tell us?
That the Kannadiga voter—numbed by silly TV megaserials—has lost the ability to think?
That the rural Kannadiga voter is wiser than we urban, educated Kannadigas think?
That she is is unaware of the damage that three years of BJP rule has caused to the image and reputation of Kannadigas and Karnataka on the national and global stage?
To Karunanidhi’s credit, at least his government could boast of some semblance of governance. Tamil Nadu ranks high on most indices and is easily among India’s developed States. Yediyurappa’s only achievements are in the mighty advertisements his government releases to keep the media happy.
So, what accounts for the easy run BJP is getting, around a mountain of corruption and comical inefficiency that it has erected in the “Gateway to the South”? Is it simply that Kannadiga asmita is unmoved and unattracted by the kind of alternative that the Congress and JDS present?
Or has “progressive” Karnataka been collectively brain-washed? Has it entered the hallucinatory Hindutva zone as Gujarat, whose denizens too seem completely blase about the damage that Modi’s regime is causing to the image of Gujarat and Gujaratis on the national and global scene?
Is it just possible, to take Subramanian Swamy’s argument forward, is it just possible that Tamilians value their asmita more than us, Kannadigas?
Or them, Gujaratis?
File photograph: The daughters and daughters-in-law of chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa perform arathi on him, after he won the vote of confidence in the legislative assembly, in October 2010 (Karnataka Photo News)