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: “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.
After threatening to leave the Bharatiya Janata Party virtually every fortnight since he resigned from office in disgrace under a haze of sleaze and corruption in July 2011—and after making a mockery of two wonderful Kannada words sthana (position) and maana (respect) since then—former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa has finally mustered the strength and the courage to say that he has had enough with the BJP and will call it quits from the party.
By all indications, Yediyurappa will announce his new party in November or December, in time for the assembly elections due in the first-half of 2013.
Yediyurappa has ruled out joining any other political party although he has been singing paeans of Sonia Gandhi‘s Congress party over the last few weeks, and although Nitish Kumar‘s JD(U) and Mulayam Singh Yadav‘s Samajawadi Party, both avowedly secular parties with little presence in the South, are both said to be toying with the idea of joining hands with Yediyurappa, who cut his teeth in the RSS.
But the questions remain: Has Yediyurappa delayed his exit too long? Has BJP neutralised his influence by allowing him to drag on with his antics? Will Yediyurappa on his own be even half the force he was with the BJP? Will the BJP split help the Congress in the assembly polls? Will Yediyurappa’s new party result in a four-way race in the State and thus make it easier for the BJP?
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?
Yet, in 2011, when Elliott’s prescience seems to be coming true for Modi’s drumbeaters after this week’s Supreme Court ruling, the veteran journalist writes in The Independent, London, that despite his leadership and record, Modi might not quite make the cut as the leader of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
“The BJP has little support in parts of India, particularly the South, where it has just squandered a chance to expand by running a spectacularly corrupt oligarchic state administration in Karnataka. It therefore always needs to attract coalition partners, which it finds difficult because of its Hindu-chauvinist policies.
“It did however manage to build a coalition for its 1998-2004 governments by agreeing a policy programme that avoided anti-Muslim and other hard-line measures. Indeed those were years of relative communal harmony – a record ruined by the Gujarat atrocities.
“The chances of it being able to rebuild that trust with Modi as leader has seemed remote ever since 2002. It remains so today, unless Modi is prepared to apologise for the riots. He is trying to move on by staging a three-day “social harmony” fast this weekend, but he still rejects all allegations against him, so seems unlikely to readying an apology.
“When 2014 comes, Nitish Kumar, the development-oriented chief minister of Bihar and a BJP ally, could emerge as much more acceptable and moderate coalition candidate for prime minister. However, the BJP might be tempted to portray Modi as the sort of strong though divisive leader that India needs, especially if the Gandhis don’t smarten up the way that the current government operates and is run.”
Photograph: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at an NDA rally in Punjab in 2009. Nitish Kumar was to later say that he had no option but to shake hands with Modi because he came and stood behind him.
The end of the world’s longest democratically elected communist regime in Bengal, and its defeat in Kerala by a narrow margin, has been met with unrestrained glee by sections of the media and chatterati. From “good riddance” to “well deserved”, a variety of expressions have been used to celebrate the momentous occasion.
But is the decline of the Left parties—they are in power only in tiny Tripura—and the dimunition of what the Left stands for, necessarily such a good thing for India and its democracy?
On the face of it, the Left’s singleminded opposition to “progress” and “development” as understood by the consuming classes is not very appealing. But in a post-liberalised polity populated by the Congress tweedledum and the BJP tweedledee and with nothing left to choose between them, the Left has consistently shown that its heart is in the right place: on the left.
In its commitment to secular values, in its fight for basic human rights, in its battles against price rise, in the austerity and decency of its leaders and their general incorruptibility, in the conduct of its parliamentarians, etc, the Left has stood up and batted for the man on the street, providing a voice to the voiceless, the poor and the marginalised.
Above all, the Left parties provided an effective safety valve, asking unpopular questions and preventing governments from riding roughshod be it in pushing through the Indo-US civilian nuclear bill or in privatisating valuable public assets built with taxpayers’ money.
“Left’s influence on the evolution of modern India has neither been confined nor can it be measured by its electoral presence alone…. In today’s conditions, with the neo-liberal reforms creating two Indias that continue to be detached from each other and mega-corruption that robs India as a country and as a people of its true potential, it is the Left that steadfastly and consistently has kept a straight bat.”
“The real value of the Left was that it stood in the way of Indian politics being polarised around the Congress and the BJP. Despite electorally being a regional player, largely confined to Kerala and West Bengal, the Left saw itself ideologically as a national force.
“Consequently, unlike powerful regional parties like Naveen Patnaik’s BJD or the Kazhagams or even Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) that willy-nilly allied with one or the other pan-Indian party for political leverage and money, the Left constantly tried to create alternative alignments. In this, it was chronically unsuccessful but it did, in its awkward, perverse way, try to create a social-democratic space in Indian politics.”
The Left parties may yet bounce back, or they may not, but is the obliteration of what the Left stands for, a cause for celebration?
Meantime, the findings of the NDTV opinion poll done in conjunction with GfK-Mode to chew on. Sample size: 50,000.
UPA 205-215, NDA 160-170, Third Front 120-130.
The veteran political observer Sheela Bhatt paints some post-poll scenarios on rediff.com:
1. If the Congress gets 20 seats more than the BJP the momentum to form the next government will be with the Congress.
2. If the Congress is in the lead position on May 16, the day of counting, and if the Left has 35 or more seats, then post-election the first tussle will be between them.
3. If the combined strength of the Congress and BJP does not touch 272 seats then the Third Front will grab the leadership in negotiating new alliances and will try to present a cohesive facade. In that case the Congress will be surely the kingmaker.
4. If and when the Congress sees that it is not in a position to form the government it may try to play kingmaker. The BJP can also enter the ring and sponsor Sharad Pawar, Jaylalithaa or Nitish Kumar.
5. If the BJP becomes the single largest party with some 25 or more seats than the Congress it will be a big surprise of this election.
6. Even if Mayawati gets 35 to 45 seats, she will be the most opposed leader after the election.
Meanwhile, as Indian States are busy with “The Great North-South Divide”, E.R. RAMACHANDRAN reports that officers of the BHiMARU special attaché landed at midnight last night at Santa Cruz airport in their own chartered aircraft.
The BHiMARU officers were received at the airport by the BHiMARU military wing with Z++ security. The team was whisked away to their headquarters in BHiMARU Nagar.
The governments of Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Prades recently started a joint operation to protect their citizens working in Bombay.
I had a chance to meet the BHiMARU charge d’affaires. After passing three security check points, the last one blindfolded, I was inside a 5’ * 5’ conference room.
“How will you take care of BHiMARU citizens?” I asked.
“Hamara Army will escort the workers wherever they go .The UN peace keeping force has also extended their support to us by sending their troops from Rwanda and Congo. We have parked them just off the Gateway of India. Governments of Pakistan and China bhi hame support karenge. They will fly their forces whenever there is a need.”
“What about Government of India? Will they send their central reserve police if you need them?”
“You mean GOI? Since state governments are not under their control any more, their area of operation does not extend beyond Qutub Minar and Red Fort in Delhi. Their leaders have no work and hence need no protection either. They function in small pockets of Delhi like Chhota satraps and are protected by Indian Army. Indian Air force jets accompany their leaders when they fly out of Delhi. But that is very rare.”
“Do you feel the governments in the South, especially Maharashtra, are unable to give protection to your citizens?” I asked the deputy charge d’affaires.
“We don’t need protection from anybody. Our BHiMARU forces will crush anybody taking panga with us. Jo hamse takrayega, unhe aise sabak sikhayenge, ki, unhe unki naani yadaaayenge. Our naval gunboats are anchored in Bandra. We can launch an attack on Maharashtra government, police, MNS, SS or anybody from our naval base off Shivaji Park. Hamara submarines sabko paani piladenge.”
“How will the UP bhaiyyas run their taxi service in Bombay?”
“In the paan shops near each traffic signal, we will have our pailwans in mufti. Dara Singh will be training all these chhote ustads. Amitabhbhaiyya and Amar Singhbhai are financing the whole thing. Troublemakers ko dho dalenge.”
“Who will give protection to the Biharis?”
‘The Patna Division of BHiMARU is funded by the government of Bihar. Laluji, NitishjiaurPaswanji are our fauj ke leaders. Those doing lifers in Bihar jails have been drafted into the Patna divison. MP has sent its dacoits from the Chambal.”
“Who is helping UP division?”
“Her Highness BMW is directly involved in this. These forces will be used in Bombay as well as Amethi and Rai Barelli before the elections. She feels, of late, goondas from the ruling party are seen moving around there suspiciously.”
“What does the Home Minister want to do?”
“You are again talking of GOI? Unka home minister is pestering us to offer him protection whenever he comes to Maharashtra.”
“Is there a chance for India to become united and live as one country again?”
“It is difficult to say. Dekho bhai, Southern Governments have also formed a union called GoMaTKKA. These are formed by the Governments of Goa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra. They say they will protect south Indians in North. GoMaTKKA’s Army is supported by LTTE which run camps for the GoMaTKKA cadre in Colombo. They teach how to mix cyanide powder in sambar-rice and sabudana-khichhdi and things like that.”
“What will happen to India?”
“The way it’s going on, I doubt whether India as a country that you and I know of, will exist in future. It will all be replaced by satraps of MNS, SNS, DK, Ka Ra Ve, Mu Ka, Vaiko, Bajrang Dal, Naxal, Ulfa, Indian Mujahideen and SIMI,” concluded the charge d’affaires.
M.J. Akbar, the former Asian Age editor widely believed to have lost his job due to his opposition to the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, continues with his relentless assault on prime minister Manmohan Singh in Khaleej Times:
“There is enough evidence that the voter punishes corruption and rewards probity. Leaders like Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi have won support because they are believed to be personally honest. It may not be the only reason for re-election, but it is a primary reason.
“The Congress had that advantage in the image of Dr Manmohan Singh. That reputation has self-destructed….
“The Prime Minister cannot hold his nose above the stink anymore. He was personally involved in the purchase of MPs…. The mask of morality used to fool us for four years now lies in that great receptacle called the dustbin of history.”
Do Indians in America all vote for the Democratic Party? Will they all do so only if an Indian politician they trust certifies the candidates? And only if the politician belongs to the Janata parivar?
In January, when it seemed Hillary Clinton‘s star was on the ascendant, newspapers were deliriously reporting that Clinton’s campaign managers had approached Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and former minister of state for external affairs Digvijay Singh to canvass for the former first lady among Indians settled in the United States.
Kumar said: “We support the Democratic Party presidential nominee.”
“We have all sympathy for the party,” Singh added helpfully.
Well, the epidemic is spreading.
P.G.R. Sindhia, the former Janata Dal minister in Karnataka who left the party to join the Bahujan Samaj Party only to be summarily expelled by Mayawati last week, has announced that he is going to the United States to campaign for the Democratic Party nominee, Barack Obama.
The Hindu reports that “as he was a fan of the Democratic Party, he had informed the party in advance that he would campaign for Obama.”
Sindhia will be addressing meetings of the Indian community in the US for two weeks during July and August to seek votes for Obama. His itinerary will be finalised in a couple of days, please note.
Photographs: Nitish Kumar courtesy UNI via rediff.com, Digvijay Singh courtesy The Tribune, Sindhia courtesy Karnataka Photo News
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, you would assume, has plenty of problems on his plate. And we aren’t even talking of the “people-friendly gravy train” he has to roll out this month-end.
In Maharashtra, Raj Thackeray is a doing a Bal Thackeray. From Assam to Karnataka, competitive chauvinism is putting a spoke in the Bihari railway recruitment wheel. The muse has deserted the master of the bon mot (above). With Nitish Kumar sending his partymen to canvass for Hillary Clinton, Lalu has to despatch Rabri Devi to do duty for Barack Obama (just kidding).
You could assume, but you could be wrong. Because, what really gets the son of the soil hot and het up in the midst of all this is, well, a cold lunch.
According to a report in The Hindu today, the rail mantri‘s one-day trip to Bangalore on Monday has resulted in the careers of three senior railway officials being cruelly derailed. Reason: the three were seen to have failed to take proper care of the VIP, i.e. they served Lalu cold aloo. The minister was in town to inaugurate a renovated railway station (Yeshvanthpur), flag off of an extended train service (Ajmer-Mysore), attend to a function (Tumkur) and a Yadava convention (Chitradurga).
“During his hectic one-day visit… the Minister did not have time to have lunch and when the food was served in his special train on his way back to Bangalore, he found it served cold… A senior railway official denies the food served was cold, saying it was prepared at the General Manager’s carriage attached to the special train.”
So, the Bangalore divisional railway manager Mahesh Mangal, the senior divisional commercial manager Anwar Hussain, and the Indian railway catering and tourism corporation area manager Suresh Chandra have been shunted out to Bhubaneswar, Mysore and Lucknow respectively.
PATNA: The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar has passed 23 new Acts in the past two years, a record of sorts. While other States have been pondering over new police legislation, Bihar became the first state to pass a Bihar Police Act, 2007, to comply with the Supreme Court directives. Some of the Acts passed by the government have showed positive results — leading the way is the Bihar Apartment Ownership Act, 2006, which has provided a constant revenue source.