Posts Tagged ‘Narendra Modi’

Can NaMo solve Bangalore’s garbage problem?

3 June 2014

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To the eternal mortification of the naysayers, Narendra Damodardas Modi has won an admirable election for the BJP and is now firmly installed as the 15th prime minister of India. As an example of one man single-mindedly pursuing his goal and achieving it against a mountain of opposition this is success nonpareil.

churumuri is happy to be proven spectacularly wrong—and humbled. Somewhat.

That said, the difficult part is meeting the ocean of expectations that Modi channelised into his victory. In urging voters to vote for him by voting for BJP candidates, Modi deftly turned a parliamentary election into a presidential one, in which all the nation’s hopes were somewhat irrationally invested in one man.

As if members of Parliament don’t count.

As if members of Legislature don’t count.

As if members of city corporations don’t count.

A good test of the new prime minister’s supposedly omniscient powers and abilities is in supposedly “high-tech” Bangalore, where sights such these is today commonplace in a City governed by the prime minister’s party; in a State governed by the Congress.

Is it reasonable to expect a “municipal” problem to be solved by the PM, whose MPs also represent the City? If yes, how precisely would Narendra Modi go about this? And how many days should it take for “Achche Din” to dawn on the hapless residents of Bangalore who voted for him and his party?

To Narendra Modi. From the Maharaja of Mysore

24 April 2014

As the words I, me and myself trip off the ads, lips and trolls of the man who thinks he will rule India soon, a sobering blast from the past. This, here, in his own hand, is a plaque commemorating Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar‘s note to his subjects upon completion of 25 years as the maharaja of Mysore.

Dated the 8th of August 1927, the choice of words is revealing. While the English part of the letter has the King speak of himself in the first person singular—four “I”s and four “my”s—the Kannada part is replete with the collective “namma” (our), with not a word screaming “main” as is now the wont.

The man who thinks he will rule India soon may like to remind himself that it was in Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s reign that Mysore became the first state to have a democratic system of governance.

And as the man who thinks he will rule India blithely watches his minions spew words of exclusion in 2014, it’s also useful to remember that Mysore, under Krishnaraja Wodeyar, was the first State to provide reservations for the weaker sections of society in government jobs.

Also read: Rama, Rama rajya & Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar

When the maharaja’s son failed an examination

Why the Queen sold her diamonds and jewels

CHURUMURI POLL: Who’s ahead in Karnataka?

16 April 2014

From a Karnataka perspective, the 2014 Lok Sabha election has been a roller-coaster ride.

After the Congress’s thumping return to power in the 2013 assembly elections, the party believed it would repeat its showing in the general elections, thus making up for what is certain to be a serious rout in the Seemandhra region, following the noisy creation of the Telengana state.

The populist decisions undertaken by the Siddaramaiah government was also supposed to help to add to the Congress tally in Karnataka (Congress bagged 8 of the 28 seats, against the BJP’s 18 and the JDS’s two).

But the return of B.S. Yediyurappa to the BJP, and the re-inclusion of B. Sreeramulu, has altered the conventional wisdom on top of the headwind that Narendra Modi brings to his high-voltage campaign. The opinion polls are divided in what is in store in the state, except to suggest that the Congress might not get as high as it thought it would and the BJP as low as many thought it would.

So, what do you think would be the final score?

Why your TV couldn’t show you this ‘mega rally’

25 February 2014

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Sitaram Yechury addressing the Left rally in Hissar, but without the “Jimmy Jib” cameras

The point has been made before, that the current political coverage, especially on television, is more than somewhat skewed, tilting unabashedly towards Narendra Damodardas Modi of the BJP vis-a-vis Rahul Gandhi of the Congress.

Now, the CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechuri explicates it a bit more in the Hindustan Times, comparing the TV coverage of Arvind Kejriwal‘s Aam Aadmi Party vis-a-vis the Left parties and unions.

“Two days ago, the Left held a Haryana-level people’s rally for a political alternative at Hissar. On the same day, AAP held a rally called much after the Left rally announcement at nearby Rohtak. The latter was widely covered by the corporate media while the former was hardly mentioned notwithstanding larger participation.

“This is not surprising. Earlier, when Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement was on in the Capital, over two lakh workers organised by the central trade unions had converged at Parliament against corruption and price rise. While the former hogged 24/7 media coverage, the latter hardly found any mention.

“Clearly, for the corporate media, a so-called ‘morally’ upright alternative that does not adversely affect profit maximisation is always better than an alternative that aims at improving people’s livelihood while not excessively promoting profit maximisation!”

For the record, though, Kejriwal launched into the media at the Rohtak rally, inviting a statement from the editors guild of India.
Photograph: courtesy Ganashakti
Read the full article: Sitaram Yechuri in HT
Also read: Is Modi media biased against Rahul Gandhi?

 How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18′s multimedia Modi feat, a promo’

NaMo, PaChi, chai, MaShAi and Mahabharatha

20 February 2014

Those who know Gujarat politics know that its chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s claims of having been a tea-seller at Ahmedabad (or was it Vadnagar?) railway station in his youth is a minor “fake encounter with facts”. Sonia Gandhi‘s man friday from the land of Amul, Ahmed Patel, has helpfully clarified that Shri Modiji was only a fafda-seller at his uncle’s shop.

Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped some Congressmen from revealing their upbringing.

Mani Shankar Aiyar with Doon school, St. Stephen‘s college and Cambridge in his curriculum vitae said Modi could sell tea at the Congress office, prompting the BJP (or its corporate sponsors) to do some “Chai pe Kharcha” to organise Modi’s “Chai pe Charcha“.

More recently, when Modi began doing some major fake encounters with economic facts, finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, with Harvard on his CV, stepped in to remind the world that what the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” knew about economics could be written on the back of a postal stamp.

The condescending comments revealed the class prejudice prevalent in Indian society and politics, writes P.M. Vasudev in Deccan Herald. But it is not something Aiyar and Chidambaram discovered with Modi on the horizon; we have grown up with it since the time of the Mahabharatha:

“With many of the negatives in contemporary India, it is possible to trace to the Mahabharatha the attitude underlying the statements of Aiyar and Chidambaram.

“At the display by the Pandavas and Kauravas on completion of their training in military skills, their guru, Drona, dared any person in the assembly to challenge Arjuna.

“When Karna rose to do so, Drona insulted and humiliated him about his lowly social position as the son of a chariot-driver and questioned how he could dare challenge a prince.

“Of course, in doing so, Drona brushed aside the main issue – namely, the skills of the contestants.

“Betraying deep-seated rank prejudices, he taunted Karna about his social position. It is a different story that Duryodhana, who had his own agenda to put the Pandavas down, stepped in and made Karna the prince of a small state, so he could compete with Arjuna ‘on a par.’”

Read the full article: Class prejudice, competence & spirit of democracy

Photograph: courtesy Daily Bhaskar

Also read: Do they teach this at Harvard Business School?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should RSS be banned again?

8 February 2014

The release of audio tapes and transcripts of four interviews conducted by a journalist of the monthly magazine, The Caravan, which show the terror-attack accused Swami Aseemanand in conversation with the RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat in 2005, virtually implicating him in targetting civilians, once again show the twice-banned “national voluntary organisation” in disgraceful light.

“In the last two interviews, Aseemanand repeated that his terrorist acts were sanctioned by the highest levels of the RSS—all the way up to Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS chief, who was the organisation’s general secretary at the time,” reads a press release. “It is very important that it be done. But you should not link it to the Sangh.”

While BJP and RSS spokespersons have questioned the veracity of the tapes and the ethicality of the journalist managing to enter the jail where Assemanand is lodged to record the interviews, they do not detract from the elephant in the room: the alleged involvement of RSS functionaries in attacks of terrorism, raising the spectre of “Saffron Terror” with the intent of political mobilisation.

For some the tapes will only confirm their worst fears: that the RSS, which was banned (by then home minister Vallabhbhai Patel, no less) after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 and the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992, is upto no good. That such an organisation should be playing a quite conspicuous role in shaping the future and fortunes of BJP in circa 2014 will please them even less.

Many others, though, will suspect the timing of the release of the tapes on the eve of a general election, and the rather candid admissions of a terror-accused who over the last three years seems to have somehow forgot to spill the beans to his custodians in jail and interrogators in court.

Obviously, the charges are still a long way from being proved. But if they are, on the strength of mounting evidence—Colonel Shrikant Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya Singh, Indresh Kumar—should the RSS be banned a third time? And if Narendra Modi, whose installation as the BJP’s  “prime ministerial candidate” was one of the RSS’s biggest successes last year, does end up becoming PM, will his government have the guts or the objectivity to take such a tough call?

Also read: Should the RSS be banned—part I?

Will an RSS-run BJP be more vicious in future?

How Karnataka is becoming Gujarat of South

A ‘strong state’ isn’t what you think it should be

14 December 2013

India often attracts the epithet of a “soft state“, whenever it is seen by right-wing and conservative hawks and hotheads as acting “weakly” on Pakistan, terrorism, China, Maoism, etc.  But the muscularity of the Republic cannot be judged from sabre-rattling or machismo, with blood as its signature.

The writer, scholar and academic Kanti Bajpai writes in The Times of India that a strong state is one that has decision-making, implementation, regulatory, adjudicatory, and enforcement capacity. On all these, he says, India is pathetically weak.

“India has 700 diplomats, the same as Belgium.

“The IAS has 5,000 officers, one per 250,000 people.

“We have 560 MPs, one for every 20 lakh people. Both Britain and Sri Lanka have one MP for every 90,000 people.

“There are 31 million cases pending in the Indian judicial system. The upper courts alone have a backlog of 4 million and the Supreme Court has 59,000. India has 1.2 judges per 100,000 people: the ratio in Australia is three times, and in the US nine times better.

“This is with 1.2 billion people; imagine the situation in 2050 when the population will be 1.7 billion!

“Indian commentators today are transfixed by the issue of corruption and whether Narendra Modi will become prime minister. In the larger scheme of things, neither corruption nor Modi matter. There are much bigger things to think about.”

Image: courtesy Mail Today

Read the full article: Imagine all the people

Also read: Jerry Rao: Neither soft nor hard, just flexible

***

External reading: The myth of India as a soft state

Joginder Singh, IPS: “Are we a soft state?”

UPenn: India between “soft State” and “soft power”

Manoj Joshi: ” Fumbling soft state”

Not yet MP, could Nandan Nilekani become PM?

11 December 2013

On December 8, as the results of the assembly elections in the four States showed that opinion polls are not always wrong, and as the clamour for clarity on the Congress’s “prime ministerial candidate” a la the BJP grew in overheated TV studios, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said:

“I think people need not worry. At the opportune time, the name of the PM candidate… the name of him will be announced.”

Despite the ungrammatical awkwardness of “him”, the invocation of the male gender in her response triggered instant speculation. Was it going to be son Rahul Gandhi, or could it finance minister P. Chidambaram, or could it be a totally new face?

The Times of India, which broke the news in September that former Infosys man and UID chief Nandan Nilekani was being thought of as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South, now reports that Nilekani could be Sonia Gandhi’s “him” with a boiler-plate denial.

When TOI called him, Nilekani’s immediate and only reaction was, “Complete rubbish. This must be a figment of someone’s over-active imagination.”

Obviously, Nilekani’s candidature is predicated on several imponderables. That Rahul Gandhi may not want the top job, should he by a stroke of miracle become eligible for it. That other potential candidates in the Congress will quietly acquiesce should Nilekani’s name come up. Etcetera.

But the Congress moves in mysterious ways, often with some fingers of the left hand not knowing what the other fingers of the same left hand are doing.

In an interview with Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, for NDTV’s walk the talk programme, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah takes a few questions on Nilekani’s predicted candidature. The responses are mighty revealing.

Is Nandan Nilekani going to contest one of the three Bangalore seats?

He has not discussed this with me, but it is news which has appeared… Don’t know whether he is contesting or not.

Do you think it is a good idea if he contests ? Will you be happy?

I don’t know because I have not discussed it with him. And he has also not discussed it with me. About 15 days back we met, but he did not discuss it with me.

As a friend, will you advise him to contest, or not?

It is for the Congress to decide. If he wants to contest, then the Congress has to take a decision now.

But will you recommend his name?

Let him say whether he is interested or not. I do not know whether he is interested.

That’s the problem with your party, everybody has to go and ask.

If he comes to the party, I will welcome him. But I don’t know whether he is ready to contest or not, he is willing to contest or not. But ultimately the high command has to decide.

So, not yet an MP, does Nandan Nilekani stand a chance of being PM?

Dream on.

Photograph: courtesy Namas Bhojani/ Forbes India

Also read: Can Nandan Nilekani win from Bangalore South?

Dear Nandan, quit Infosys, join politics, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: the six things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nilekani trounced NRN?

MUST READ: 12 things no one is telling us about namma Nandu

The four forms of Indian political populism

2 December 2013

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“Populist politics in India is of roughly three sorts: majoritarian, Mandalist and Congressite. Narendra Modi’s populism is clearly of the first sort. His appeal is founded on his ability to channel ‘Hindu’ grievance, his short way with minorities and his economic stewardship of Gujarat.

Nitish Kumar is a good example of the Mandalist alternative, which promises affirmative action, redistributive State action to help deprived and marginal communities, and stability of law and order.

“The Congress, once the grandmaster of a pluralist populism, finds its best lines stolen by the Mandalists. Weighed down by a dysfunctional dynasty and a clueless dauphin, it is an incoherent party with neither mass politicians nor an ideological position.

“One part of it wants the Chicago School to run the Indian economy even as the other part tries to legislate into being the right of Indians to education, work and food. Given its deserved reputation for corruption and incompetence, the Congress gets credit neither for economic reform nor economic welfare. Its political trump card, pluralism, is cast as the appeasement of minorities…

“The Aam Admi Party’s managerial populism consists of its promises of rational, incorrupt, technocratic governance is similar to one half of Modi’s appeal, his claim to being an efficient economic manager who minimizes sarkari corruption. The difference is that the AAP isn’t lumbered with the communal baggage of the other, unverbalized half of Modi’s charisma: his credentials as a Hindu ‘heavy’ earned a decade and more ago in Gujarat.”

Read the full article: All things to all voters

Should Indian TV introduce ‘equal coverage’?

31 October 2013

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The relationship between Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and the media, especially “English maedia” as he puts it, has followed two distinct trends over the last ten years.

The first trend was of unbridled distrust on either side. Modi had nothing but contempt for those who sought to buttonhole him on the ghastly incidents of 2002. He walked out of TV interviews or stared blankly at interviewers who reminded him of his role, if any. Ours was not to question.

The media, not surprisingly, responded with circumspection bordering on suspicion.

The second trend emerged in the run-up to the 2012 assembly elections in Gujarat, which Modi used as his launchpad, first to become the chairman of the BJP campaign committee and thereafter as the BJP’s self-proclaimed “prime ministerial candidate”. Suddenly, influential sections of the media were eating out of his hands.

International news agencies were getting soft-ball interviews, top journalists were asking if there was a middle-ground; media groups with corporate backing host tailor-made conferences; friendly newspapers were getting 16-page advertising supplements; “bureau chiefs” were finding stories that showed Modi’s detractors in poor light.

Why, the coverage of Modi seems to have been a key editorial driver in the recent change of guard at The Hindu, and—pinch yourself—Modi was launching an edition of Hindu Business Line.

The key player in the turnaround of the Modi-media relationship, however, has been television, which has unabashedly been used and turned into a soapbox for advertising the latest detergent from the land of Nirma that promises to wipe Indian democracy clean.

To the exclusion of all else.

As Modi—decidedly more macho, muscular, articulate and telegenic than the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi—drives his brandwagon around the country, most news TV channels have dropped any pretence of trying to stay non-partisan, covering every speech or parts of it, conducting opinion polls, setting up nightly contests, etc, as if the end of the world is nigh.

All this, of course, is before the Election Commission’s model code kicks in.

In the Indian Express, Shailaja Bajpai asks an important question: has the time has come to consider “equal coverage”—where all players, not just Modi and Rahul but even leaders of smaller parties get equal space and time—so that the field is not unduly distorted?

“Countries such as the United States try to follow the idea of equal coverage especially in the run-up to an election — and especially after a politician is declared as the official candidate, as Modi has been.

“Recently, the Republicans threatened that TV channels, NBC and CNN, would not be allowed to telecast the party’s next presidential debates because NBC had planned a TV series and CNN a documentary about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Indian news channels don’t let minor matters like equality trouble them. They’re obsessed with the man, to the point that Modi-fixation has become a clinical condition which may soon require treatment.”

Read the full story: The chosen one

Photograph: courtesy NewsX

Also read: Is Modi media biased against Rahul Gandhi?

How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18′s multimedia Modi feast, a promo’

For cash-struck TV, Modi is effective  TRP

Is ‘Modi Media’ partisan against Rahul Gandhi?

11 October 2013

In a cash-strapped election season which has seen “corporate interest and media ownership” converge, it is arguable if Narendra Modi is getting a free run. Every whisper of the Gujarat chief minister and BJP “prime ministerial aspirant” is turned into a mighty roar, sans scrutiny, as the idiot box ends up being a soapbox of shrill rhetoric.

In marked contrast, there is only grudging media adulation for the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi even on the odd occasion he does something right, like two Fridays ago, when he barged into a Press Club of India event to stymie an ordinance passed by the Congress-led UPA government, intended at shielding criminal Members of Parliament.

What’s up, asks Malvika Singh in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“The press and the Opposition leaders began to pontificate on the language used by Rahul Gandhi. They spent hours damning the use of the word ‘nonsense’, which only meant that something makes no sense.

“They were clutching on to whatever they could find to ensure they gave no credit for Rahul Gandhi. The bias was crystal clear and gave the game away.

“Why is the press distorting the simple truth? Is it because the press would have to doff its hat to Rahul Gandhi, about whom it has been rude and sarcastic? Why is the press being partisan? Why the double standards?”

Read the full column: Put an end to chatter

Photograph: courtesy Press Brief

Also read: How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18’s multimedia Modi feat, a promo’

POLL: Can Nandan Nilekani win Bangalore South?

18 September 2013

Kite-flying effortlessly replaces cricket as the nation’s favourite sport before every election, state or national, and so it is in the run-up to 2014, with “guided rumours” of Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani suddenly but not unexpectedly doing the rounds as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South Lok Sabha constituency.

For the moment, there is no confirmation from the man, but he has certainly not denied the report which first appeared on the website of the business newspaper, Mint. “It’s speculative,” is how the Sirsi-born software mogul has chosen to greet the unattributed reports which clearly emanate from his “camp”, and all of which uniformally talk of his candidature having Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi‘s imprimatur.

On the face of it, Nilekani has plenty going for him. He is young (58), has a demonstrated track record as an entrepreneur and a technocrat, has ‘written’ an ambitious book on how he imagines India, and is a past-master at charming the pants off the media. On top of that, his wife, the former journalist Rohini Nilekani has pumped in crores into philanthropic projects.

Nilekani’s role in crafting “Brand Bangalore” is not insignificant. It is Infosys that largely put the shine back into Bangalore and made it the country’s unquestionable IT capital. Nilekani was also the brain behind the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) during S.M.Krishna‘s tenure. So, the Congress’s, if not Nilekani’s, calculation is: this is payback time.

The preponderance of IT types in Bangalore South, the large sprinkling of Brahmins, and a five-time sitting Brahmin MP (Ananth Kumar) who is not on the right side of the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate”, Narendra Modi, makes the Sai bhakt’s candidature look all very rosy—on a spreadsheet.

But politics is not a zero-sum, page 3 game as the similarly qualified Captain G.R. Gopinath discovered not too long ago.

It is not only software engineers who go to vote, in fact they can barely get their backsides off a spa table on the weekends. Plus, Bangalore South has a sizeable Vokkaliga population, and who doesn’t know H.D. Deve Gowda‘s antipathy to urban, educated, rich, IT-BT types?

Above all, for all the friendly media coverage of Nilekani’s “Aadhar” card, the fact remains he has essentially presided over an unconstitutional scheme which does not have Parliament’s OK, and which has actually taken millions out of the welfare net, while precisely claiming to do the opposite, by stopping leakage and pilferage. These are the people who vote and, sadly for Nilekani’s and Aadhar’s backers, there are thousands of them in Bangalore South too.

So, does Nandan Nilekani, who can just about speak Kannada, stand a chance, if he gets the chance, or is he like so many billionaires deluded about what his billions can fetch? If he does, could he end up being a potential minister in the next UPA regime, if there is one? And, while we (and he) fantasise, could he even be the kind of quiet technocrat who could be Rahul’s Manmohan Singh? Just kidding.

(Or, tongue firmly in cheek, could Nandan Nilekani’s nomination papers get rejected because his date of birth does not match the DoB on his own Aadhar card?!)

Also read: Dear Nandan, quit Infosys, join politics, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: the six things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nilekani trounced NRN?

MUST READ: 12 things no one is telling us about namma Nandu

POLL: Do you believe Narendra Modi’s PM claim?

5 September 2013

The 2014 general election was supposed to be a head-to-head contest between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Damodardas Modi, the former ordained by the unspoken dynamics of dynastic politics; the other responding to the groundswell of popular support. Yet, could it be a no-show as the two conquistadors find one excuse more fantastic than the other to exit the ring?

The Congress vice-president reiterated in an interaction with the media in Parliament earlier this year (what he had privately maintained for a while) that becoming PM was not the sole ambition of his life. And now, the Gujarat chief minister has surprised even his fanboys by claiming that he was committed to serving his term till 2017.

“I never see such dreams (of becoming PM), nor am I going to see such dreams. People of Gujarat have given me the mandate to serve them till 2017 and I have to do this with full strength,” Modi said.

The charitable view to take is that both Gandhi and Modi are playing it safe, since neither Congress nor BJP looks likely, judging from opinion polls, to come anywhere near forming the next government. By seeming to be not interested in the race, they keep their options open, should the election verdict surprise them.

The less charitable view is that reality has hit home. Both Congress and BJP will require the support of allies to reach 273, and only Congress seems to be making moves as of now. Even if a non-Congress, non-BJP government comes to power, its longevity is far from certain. So 2014 could actually be a semi-final, with another general election around the corner.

Question: Is Narendra Modi being honest with his reluctance for the PM’s chair? Or is he being too clever by half and trying to exert pressure on his party to declare him the candidate?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL-I: Modi vs Rahul in 2014?

CHURUMURI POLL-II: Modi vs Rahul in 2014?

Why Narendra Modi will never be India’s PM

Modi vs Rahul? Nah, more like Rajiv vs Sanjay

Modi vs Rahul? Nah, more like Sanjay vs Rajiv.

27 July 2013

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Recently, I was caught in the rain and I took shelter in a teashop.

Wet, and sipping on tea, I couldn’t help but notice the chatter of two older gentlemen who were sipping, puffing and professing. They seemed involved in an animated and heated discussion and I couldn’t help myself but eavesdrop.

Just as I got close to them, the discussion ended with the older man claiming, “None of the Congress fellows today have the guts of Sanjay Gandhi. If Sanjay Gandhi was alive, India would have been in a better state. I challenge.”

All that I could think of was “If Sanjay Gandhi had been around, I doubt this man would be a father and may be the word ‘nasbandi’ would have triggered an involuntary action of cupping his crotch and running for cover. I challenge.”

But was there any truth in the old man’s claim?

This reminds me of what Sanjay Gandhi’s son Varun Gandhi said to the media: “Wherever I go people say, if Sanjay Gandhi was alive India would not be what it is today.”

What they obviously meant was that India would be in a better state.

Better, how and why?

Because Sanjay had his own vision of what India should be and was authoritarian in pursuing them?

Well… if that’s the case, then it seems like we have a modern and better version of Sanjay Gandhi in Narendra Modi. True?

Well, we’ll know after 2014; until then we’ll keep our fingers crossed… well, had it been Sanjay Gandhi’s 1977, we’d have to keep our legs crossed.

***

The Narendra Modi and Sanjay Gandhi comparison crops up because they both are known to “get things done.”

In fact, the legendary journalist Khushwant Singh put a picture of Sanjay Gandhi on the cover of Illustrated Weekly of India magazine with a headline “Sanjay, the man who gets things done.”

Today, Modi is in every middle class urban Indian’s mind, and every time they think of him they see the same hope Khushwant Singh saw: “A man who can get things done.”

Fears that Modi will become authoritarian like Sanjay and will take us to the Emergency days of gag and imprisonment could be far-fetched because they operated at different times in our democracy.

Sanjay Gandhi was trying to find quick and simple solutions to complex problems. Sanjay was a Political Rambo in a young democracy and in a hurry to see change even if it meant mowing down slums or squeezing out manhoods.

The best example would be the unplanned execution of the sterilisation programmes. People were not educated about what it was and rumours spread that it was an operation that would render women unable to bear children and men impotent.

No one came, so they were dragged out and the rest is disaster as recorded in history.

Sanjay Gandhi had a five-point programme for India: tree planting, abolition of caste and dowry system, eradication of illiteracy, family planning and eradication of slums. All of them failed.

Sanjay may have been known as a man “who got things done…,” but if only he had planned them… Unfortunately he didn’t and he became a “man who got things wrong.”

Journalist Vinod Mehta concluded his book ‘The Sanjay Story’ by saying: “Had Sanjay possessed more finesse, had he not been in such a tearing hurry, had he been slightly more intelligent, he would have become ‘the national leader’ he so wished to be.”

Seems like Modi possesses the above qualities.

Also, Modi is more educated; he has a Master’s in Political Science. Sanjay was 11th grade pass and earned a course certificate from Rolls Royce.

Modi is a smart operator who plans and delivers. Sanjay and Modi have many similarities — both obsessed with development, both inclined towards technology. Coincidentally, both helped start the first indigenous Indian cars, a venture of “Indian pride” — Maruti for Sanjay, Tata Nano for Modi. Both have an image bigger than their party itself.

More importantly, both have used their party ideology partly to put themselves in a place of power from where they can force down their own vision of development.

For example, while analysts say Modi is a Hindu fundamentalist, no one talks about how when it was brought to his notice that 310 religious structures in Gandhinagar had encroached on government roads hindering road widening, he demolished them!

First, he demolished temples. This he did in spite of VHP, his party BJP’s strong arm, taking offence. VHP formed a Mandir Bachao Samiti and screamed “development cannot be achieved by demolishing temples.”

It did not stop him. Roads were widened, to be used by all. May be he came to power on his party’s Hindu ideology, but delivered on his Indian ideology.

Yes, of course, both leaders obsessed over infrastructural delivery and industrial development model. But what about the social aspect? Can Modi handle that? After all, this is where Sanjay failed ever so miserably and Modi too is criticised for his dismal social development record.

What’s he going to do when he has to deal with the whole nation?

For now, he is the CM of Gujarat where the only distractions for its citizens are supposedly Bollywood and stock market, makes it easier to administer. He also has to ask himself if Gujarat is truly democratic, then why are people drinking stealthily in Gujarat?

Why do non-vegetarians have to go all around the town looking to buy meat?

Why have minorities suddenly huddled in silence on the outskirts of urban Gujarat?

He has to answer these questions because soon he may have to deal with the booze-enjoying Bangaloreans, bar dance-loving Mumbaites, Fenny-loving Goans, meat-loving Punjabis, all perceived as sins in the puritan Gujarat.

Then there is the Kashmir issue, not to forget environmental and mining issues where his industrial friends have been known to run riot displacing indigenous people.

All these are important social factors. So far, Modi has been enjoying a saucer of dhokla; can his political palate handle the plate full of socially psychedelic India? Only time will tell.

***

But is 2014 election really about Rahul Vs Modi? It seems more like Rajiv Vs Sanjay.

Rahul, like his father, was a hesitant entrant to politics whereas Modi, like Sanjay, relishes it. Rahul plays by the rules set up by the old fogies in the party; Modi, like Sanjay, is feared in his own party for having a mind of his own.

Rahul, like Rajiv, perpetually seems like a political misfit; Modi, like Sanjay, looks like he was born to be in it.

Unfortunately, both have a disturbing streak of authoritarian model of work. This is where fear sets in and that’s why Vinod Mehta, comparing Modi and Sanjay said: “Narendra Modi type of leadership has a tendency to descend into authoritarian one-man rule.” Warning taken.

But even if the dark side of Sanjay manifests in Modi, is it possible to execute it in the 21st century democratic India where we have a hyperactive media, huge young population and technology at our fingertips? We doubt it.

Sadly in a way, the Indian middle-class is actually looking for an authoritarian leader.

They have tolerated a muted, submissive, incommunicado PM heading a government of inaction for so long that they seem ready to risk an authoritarian leader who can “get things done.” They feel Modi will get things done and if he doesn’t, they can always go back to the good old Indian National Comatose Party.

(Vikram Muthanna is managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

PR kiya to darna kya: How Modi buys media

19 July 2013

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The request for proposal (RFP) document of the Gujarat government that sets ‘targets’ for the PR firm that wins the contract to promote Narendra Modi’s image

In the latest issue of Open magazine, Jatin Gandhi lays his hand on a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) document of the Gujarat government that shows how “almost every day, the Indian media—and sometimes the foreign media too—is tricked or influenced by Narendra Modi‘s public relations machinery”.

Exempli gratia: “Modi’s Rambo act, saves 15,000” (The Times of India, 23 June 2013) .

The RFP besides setting targets for the PR firm that bags the contract (see image, above) also lists what is expected of a PR firm if it bags the contract to manage the Gujarat chief minister’s image.

# The hired PR firm should ‘arrange for national and international media to visit Gujarat and attend various events organized by the different departments of the Government of Gujarat’.

# ‘The number of media personnel for any event shall be decided by the Commissionerate of information after deliberation on the scale of the event.’

# “It is the Firm’s responsibility to arrange for the visits of journalists to Gujarat, any other part of the country or abroad. The expenses for the same will be reimbursed by the Commissionerate of Information on the submission of actual bills.’

The story quotes sources as saying the state government has already borne the expenses of scores of journalists, paying for their flights, travel within Gujarat and stay on assorted occasions (and multiple visits in some cases).

“Senior journalists are usually assured of luncheon meetings with Modi, with seating plans drawn up to boost their egos. The current Indian PR agency (Mutual PR) has so far arranged meetings between Modi and a range of newspaper and magazine editors.

“Starting this year, the government also has a budget allocation for taking journalists abroad on Modi’s foreign visits….

“At the Vibrant Gujarat summit earlier this year, a list of 20 journalists was drawn for a luncheon meeting with Modi. On this list was Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi and a fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies, who has turned from being a critic to an advocate of Modi.

“Internal communication accessed by Open shows that the agency was wooing Kishwar, something she firmly denies.

She says that she is writing a book on Modi: “I am going to include a chapter, I think, on the myth and reality of Modi’s PR. There is no PR. I have written angry letters to the CM’s office asking for information for which I have been waiting several weeks now. They are so overburdened.”

“With Kishwar claiming she is oblivious to the machinery at work, the Gujarat government nevertheless gave her special attention because she was seen as one of the lone voices emerging from the ‘the Left liberal space’ favourable to Modi’s policies with ‘captive column space available to her in The Hindu, DNA and Manushi…’

Read the full article: The Modi mythology

Also read: ReutersModi interview: ‘sensational tokenism’

‘Network 18’s multimedia Modi feast: a promo’

For cash-struck TV, Modi is cost-effective TRP

Modi‘s backers, media owners have converged’

Will Yediyurappa return change BJP fortunes?

11 July 2013

What goes around, comes around. Barely months after he left the party fuming and fretting, barely months after the party thought it had seen the back of him, B.S. Yediyurappa and the BJP—both chastened by the defeat in the Karnataka assembly elections—are apparently eyeing each other.

In one sense, it is a reality check for the BJP, which likes to think of itself as a cadre-based party, and for Yediyurappa, who thought that his standing was alone enough to carry him to power. With both the party and the individual realising their limitations, they are thinking of mending broken bridges.

In another sense, it is also a reflection of the changed if not changing reality in the BJP. With “two-time former future prime minister” L.K. Advani, who apparently played a key role in Yediyurappa’s ouster, no longer calling the shots, Yediyurappa sees an opening in the new scheme of things under Narendra Modi. And vice-versa.

Both sides are now playing coy. The BJP wants him to formally “apply” to rejoin the party. Yediyurappa, for his part, says the majority of his followers only want a tie-up with the parent body, not a formal merger. Either way, the path is being paved for the return of the prodigal.

Still, there is such a thing as political morality. When Yediyurappa walked out, the BJP painted all the excesses of his government—the corruption, the scams, the scandals—to him and his cronies. Will facilitating Yediyurappa’s return impact Modi’s national ambitions? Will the BJP emerge stronger in Karnataka with Yediyurappa’s return, or is this too convenient an arrangement which voters will see through?

Modi was no Rambo, just Scambo, in Uttarakhand

26 June 2013

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After falling hook, line and dhokla for the PR fiction that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi had “rescued” 15,000 Gujaratis in Uttarakhand, The Times of India attempts a feeble course correction on its editorial page today.

Abheek Barman, the former Economic Times editor, does some elemental number-crunching of the sort TOI’s reporter Anand Soondas ought to have done, to show that Modi’s Himalayan miracle was a “barefaced, cynical lie”.

But without once mentioning that it was TOI which was responsible for the original, barefaced, cynical lie.

“Reports say that Modi pulled off this coup with a fleet of 80 Innovas. How did these cars manage to reach places like Kedarnath, across roads that have been washed away, over landslides that have wrecked most access routes?

“But let us assume Modi’s Innovas had wings as well as helicopter rotors. Including the driver, an Innova is designed to carry seven people. In a tough situation, assume you could pack nine passengers into each car.

“In that case, a convoy of 80 Innovas could ferry 720 people down the mountains to Dehradun at one go. To get 15,000 people down, the convoy would need to make 21 round trips.

“The distance between Dehradun and Kedarnath is 221 km. So 21 trips up and down would mean that each Innova would have to travel nearly 9,300 km.

“It takes longer to travel in the hills than in the plains. So, assuming an average speed of 40 km per hour, it would take 233 hours of driving to pull off the feat.

“This assumes non-stop driving, without a second’s rest to identify the Gujaratis to be rescued and keeping the rest of the distressed folk at bay, or any time to load and unload the vehicles. And forget about any downtime for the gallant rescuers.

“That is nearly 10 days of miraculous work. And Modi pulled it off in a day.

“Actually, in less than a day: a breathless media reported that by Saturday, 25 luxury buses had brought a group of Gujaratis back to Delhi. For some reason, four Boeing aircraft also idled in some undisclosed place nearby.”

Read the full article: Modi’s Himalayan miracle

Can Narendra Modi win friends, influence voters?

19 June 2013

A week is a long time in politics; a fortnight is an eternity. What seemed like, what was projected to be the penultimate stop in his march to his advertised destination, his elevation as the chairman of the election campaign committee of the BJP at the party’s national executive in Goa, has come quickly unstuck for Narendra Damodardas Modi.

On one level, the very public resignation of Lalchand Kishinchand Advani from all BJP posts the day after Modi’s anointment served to show that the divisions in the party on Modi’s acceptance wasn’t a media-created fiction, as the paid pipers on TV and the internet contend, but a reality.

That such senior leaders like Sushma Swaraj conspicuously absented themselves from the unctuous celebrations of Modi’s elevation was too obvious to be missed.

On another level, the withdrawal of support by the BJP’s partner, the JD(U), after 17 years of cohabitation showed that Modi’s acceptance within the NDA wasn’t assured either. And Nitish Kumar‘s dismissal of Modi as a “shortlived wave” created by “corporate houses” only underlines the obstacles ahead of the Gujarat chief minister.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, the aide of both former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, has today described Modi as an “autocrat” and a “self-centered leader who has shown that he cares two hoots for the party organization and long-time party colleagues in his own state“.

Even prime minister Manmohan Singh has suddenly found the strength to say that “Modi is no threat. People of India know what he stands for… People of India have to draw their own conclusion what they stand for.”

What the developments of the last few days have demonstrated is that the knives are now out in the open. There are some in Delhi who smell trouble for Modi’s Man Friday in Uttar Pradesh, the former home minister of Gujarat, Amit Shah, in the Ishrat Jahan encounter killing case, and indeed some read the urgency with which the RSS and BJP ensured Modi’s elevation in Goa (sparking Advani’s resignation and the JDU pullout), in conjunction with it.

In short, the odds are getting stacked and it is going to take a strong heart, a chhappan ki chhaati, to weather the current and future storms. Can Modi still pull it off and become the BJP’s face for the next election? If he does, will he able to provide the kind of thrust and throttle that the party requires to get close to 200 seats? And if he doesn’t, does his personality inspire enough confidence to woo parties and partners?

Or have all these cards been played by Modi’s detractors too early, giving him more than enough time to recoup?

‘Narendra Modi is test case of media objectivity’

14 June 2013

CNN-IBN editor in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai in his nationally syndicated column, in the Hindustan Times:

“The mainstream media has always had a more uneven relationship with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s acolytes would like to suggest that the mainstream media has always been anti-Modi and has hounded the BJP’s rising star with a ferocity that no other politician in this country has had to confront.

“Modi as victim of an English language media ‘conspiracy’ is a narrative that has been played out for over a decade now by the chief minister and his supporters, a narrative that aims to position Modi as a one-man army standing up to the might of the media.

“The truth, as it often is, happens to be far more complex….

“Journalism cannot be public relations nor can it be character assassination. Now, as Modi is poised for his next big leap, it is time for the media to maybe reset its moral compass: is to possible to analyse the Modi phenomenon by moving beyond the extremes of glorification or vilification?

“Can the media find a middle ground where Modi can be assessed in a neutral, dispassionate manner without facing the charge of bias or being a cheerleader? Or is Modi such a polarising figure that even the media has been divided into camps?

“My own personal experience suggests that it won’t be easy to avoid being bracketed as pro- or anti-Modi. But yet, we must make the effort. Because journalism in its purest form must remain the pursuit of truth shorn of ideological agendas. Modi has become a test case for the media’s ability to rise above the surround sound, unmindful of the rabid fan clubs or the equally shrill activists.”

Photograph: courtesy NDTV

Read the full article: With him or against him

Also read: ‘Network 18 multimedia Modi feast, a promo’

‘For cash-stuck TV, Narendra Modi is cost-effective TRP’

Modi‘s backers and TV owners have converged’

‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom’

CHURUMURI POLL: BJP better off without Advani?

11 June 2013

Hell hath no fury like an old man scorned. With Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s nomination as the chairman of the BJP election campaign committee in Goa on Sunday, 86-year-old Lalchand Kishinchand Advani‘s fate as a “two-time former future prime minister of India” was finally and firmly sealed.

But it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.

So, a dramatic resignation from the all posts held by him (except the crucial one of NDA chairperson), followed by the leak of the resignation letter, followed by the leak that he did not speak to Modi for six minutes after the nomination but merely 90 seconds. If age equals experience equals wisdom, Advani was showing little of it.

Indeed, the contents of the resignation letter showed a petty and bitter man, unable to come to terms with the reality that the party he had so artfully built on the trail of blood left behind by his rath yatras no longer found him useful. So petty and so bitter that he even seemed willing to destroy its immediate prospects.

So far, the BJP has refused to play ball. It wants him to stay on in his posts but has shown no indication that it will revoke its decision to elevate Modi. More resignations of Advani’s camp-followers may follow, but by all available indications, it appears as if the BJP and RSS (not necessarily in that order) have taken a calculated risk.

Questions: Is BJP better off without Advani? Will Advani’s absence impact the NDA and its prospects in the coming general elections? Is BJP’s (and India’s) future safe with Modi or has Advani shown the opposite?

Also read: Is Advani more acceptable than Modi?

‘The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred’

‘Diminishing returns from aggressive Hindutva’

17 April 2013

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

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 (December 2012): Congress 113, BJP 58, JD(S) 31, KJP 14

Prabodhan Research Group (April 2013): Congress 95 , BJP 81, JD(S) 27, KJP and independents eight each, BSR-Congress five

Read the full article: Karnataka elections

Also read: Why is corruption not an issue in Karnataka?

POLL 2013: Can the Karnataka opinion polls go awry?

POLL 2013: Has A. Ramdas not supplied ‘henda‘?

It’s unofficial: our democracy has a bribe future

POLL: Is Advani more ‘acceptable’ than Modi?

16 April 2013

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.”

The BJP’s allies too are piping in. Naresh Gujral of the Shiromani Akali Dal says “nobody can have any objection to Advani’s candidature. He is a senior and respected leader.” K.C. Tyagi of the JD(U) says, “We contested under Advani’s leadership in 2009 and will have absolutely no hesitation in doing so again.”

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?

Or 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—destined to become a two-time “former future prime minister of India“? And is the next general election a semi-final before another election in 2015 or 2016?

Also read: Who could be the NDA’s PM candidate?

POLL 2013: Can the Karnataka polls go wrong?

6 April 2013

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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.

Still the Suvarna News– CFore survey and the Headlines Today-C-Voter survey predict a substantial victory for Congress.

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

Also read: POLL 2013: Has A. Ramdas not supplied ‘henda‘? 

Will Narendra Modi lead the BJP campaign in Karnataka?

Will Narendra Modi lead Karnataka BJP campaign?

3 April 2013

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.

So, why do we still see stories like this in prominent newspapers?

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.

Modi, BJP and a Telugu bidda called Somalingam

2 April 2013

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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.

Cartoon: courtesy Surendra/ The Hindu

Read the full column: More than just a front


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