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.
The Congress candidate for the Davanagere Lok Sabha constituency, S.S. Mallikarjuna, walks over somewhat smouldering, somewhat dying coal embers during a pit stop as part of campaigning in the central Karnataka town once renowned for its textile mills, on Monday.
In true Congress style, which Rahul Gandhi says he wants to overthrow but cannot quite come around to doing it, the constituency was earlier represented by Mallikarjuna’s father, the education magnate Shamanur Shivashankarappa.
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.
“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.
During his recent whistle-stop tour of Kerala, Rahul Gandhi jumped out of his security cocoon and clambered on top of a police vehicle. But it is not just the Congress vice-president who feels compelled to do these “mass” numbers on the eve of an election.
Exhibit A is former Union minister H.N. Ananth Kumar of the BJP and Exhibit B is the former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular). The former taking part in an event to promote use of bicycles in Bangalore; the latter flagging off a party rally.
VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Ever since AAP came to power in Delhi, they seem to have become the favourite punching bag of the media, intellectuals and politicians.
Arvind Kejriwal was declared a threat to Indian democracy — an ‘Anarchist.’
Yes a dose of criticism is healthy, but to speak in a tone suggesting that voting for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was a mistake and that they have become a menace is not only unfair, but also a disservice to a nation that is in the threshold of change. It also reeks of fear and propaganda.
All this sudden blaming and name calling of AAP by many Indians makes one wonder if most Indians really want a corruption-free India?
It seems many want AAP to fix just enough corruption to make life convenient?
Convenient enough that they don’t have to bribe to get a Driver’s License, but then not so efficient that it becomes impossible to bribe a Policeman when caught riding without a helmet or jumping traffic lights. Is that what it is? Selective anti-corruption options.
First, the Congress and BJP called Arvind Kejriwal’s two-day protest an anarchist movement. Really? For starters, where was this fear of anarchy when L.K. Advani took his chariot of fire all the way to Ayodhya and the BJP lotus bloomed from 84 seats to 183 in 1999?
Where was this fear of anarchy when Bajrang Dal ran amok beating up young girls across the nation on Valentine’s Day teaching them lessons in morality?
As for Congress, where was their fear of anarchy when Sikhs were massacred? Has any party even apologised for these acts? Where was the Indian upper middle class and intellectuals’ fear of anarchy then?
Now, a party very different, has come to power in the capital. It feels helpless as it is unable to control its own Police force and stages a peaceful dharna because the Union Government is unwilling to even discuss the issue and every one calls it ‘anarchy.’
Yes may be there may have been a slight traffic inconvenience to the Delhi citizens, but can’t a citizen handle being inconvenienced a little by a protest which will give him better policing?
We always want someone else to fight out fights, to make our lives better, without inconveniencing ourselves. How selfish is that?!
Indeed we want AAP to work within the framework of the law, but isn’t peaceful dissent within this framework as well? Yes, when it comes to politics, everyone suffers from amnesia. Indeed two wrongs don’t make a right, but still, to call AAP’s protest in Delhi ‘anarchy’ is just plain unfair.
While they say Kejriwal is turning India into a Banana Republic why is no one asking about the Bill to bring Delhi Police under the Delhi Government which has been pending for 15 years? What is waiting for? Is it on purpose?
After all ‘timing’ of passing certain laws or bills is in fact a political strategy. More than to benefit the citizens it is meant to win elections. This what creates a Banana Republic, not a government that sits in peaceful dharna.
The Delhi CM wants to give good governance to his people and good law and order is part of it. So he wants control of law and order, which he is not being given, so the protest. Is that wrong?
In that case, when H.D. Deve Gowda, a former PM of this country sits in dharna on Mysore-Bangalore road to get us Cauvery water for agriculture, drinking and cooking, does it make him an anarchist?
Now the Delhi Police say they act only upon issue of a warrant, but still when a crime is underway do they need a warrant?
Everyone in Delhi knows the area between Saketh and Malviya Nagar has had issue of prostitution. The residents of Hauz Rani which lies between these areas, had complained repeatedly for months and no action was taken.
Finally when a Minister goes to have a look, orders the Police to act, it is termed ‘vigilantism.’
How would the upper middle class “cultured” citizens react if they had a “Service Centre” next door? We are sure, they would have called the Home Minister and warrant or no warrant it would be cleared in a jiffy.
The details of the Delhi incident of course were made murkier and louder by now what seems like an anti-AAP media.
The same media which went hyper and showed us doctored tapes of AAP reportedly accepting cash, which some say cost Shazia Ilmi of AAP her seat, who lost by just 326 votes. But then once it was proved the tapes were doctored the raw footage was never shown.
The man who made it, earlier was given ample screen, but was never brought back to be grilled. In the Delhi incident a media that gets a sound byte from all and sundry did not get too many residents’ opinions. There was also no clarity and consistency in reports, why?
So while the media says the AAP Minister Somnath Bharti has brought bad name to India internationally, maybe selective journalism did too?
The same media just before the elections said AAP will not get more than 6 to 10 seats, in a way encouraging voters not to waste their vote and stick with the winning horse, the BJP, only to be proved wrong.
Is the Corporate owned media with other varied interests suddenly scared that too much anti-corruption may come knocking on their own doors or are they trying to play ball with BJP which is sure to win many more seats than any other party right now?
Also interesting is the fact that as one watched the AAP Minister wagging a finger at the Policeman, the Policeman too wagged his finger right back! Wonder if he would dare to do so at a BJP or a Congress Minister?
He knows very well what will happen. It seems it has not sunk in the officialdom that an aam aadmi has come to power, because AAP does not project power like traditional politicians do, which can be brutal and leave one in a perpetual vindictive legal limbo.
In fact, our politicians follow the same principle as that of the British. Independence ushered in only a change in management and not swaraj. No wonder the laws that British used to suppress us is still in use and no party wants to change it.
Forget the laws and attitudes; even the residences did not change. Soon after independence Nehru moved into Flagstaff House (Teen Murti Bhavan), the palatial residence of the former British Commander-in-Chief, our President moved into the palace built for the then Viceroy of India.
This is why it is said, “Democracy did not adopt India, Indians usurped democracy because it could be moulded to fit earlier structures without threatening them. It caught the popular imagination not for the new values it symbolised, but for the possibilities it opened up for the consolidation of the old. The miracle of India is that the practice of democracy has flourished within its boundaries for over six decades in the absence of a democratic temperament.”
AAP, it seems is here to rewrite democracy and they must be critiqued but not shouted down into oblivion and death.
True, AAP is in a hurry to become a National Party without getting its structures in place. They are advised to prepare well, for they need to survive, grow and deliver us not just from corruption, but help us rewrite our democracy, that will allow us to transcend into pure patriotism.
(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of Star of Mysore where this piece originally appeared)
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?
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.
At the ‘Khaas Durbar’ during Dasara in Mysore, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar ascends the golden throne for the rituals
During Dasara in Mysore, Mr Wodeyar wears the royal attire and is escorted to and from the rituals with the pomp and glory of bygone days
During Dasara in Mysore, Mr Wodeyar wears the royal attire and is escorted to and from the rituals with the pomp and glory of bygone days
During Navaratri, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar himself conducted some of the poojas in the main Amba Vilas Palace
Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar poses in front of the Bangalore Palace in this file picture
Mr Wodeyar, with his rival turned friend Brijesh Patel (second from right) after his election to the Karnataka State Cricket Association recently
Mr Wodeyar with his wife Pramodadevi Wodeyar
churumuri records with deep regret the passing away of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the scion of the erstwhile royal kingdom of Mysore, in Bangalore on this the 10th day of December, 2013. He was 61 years old, and is survived by his wife, Pramodadevi. The Wodeyars have no natural heir.
Mr Wodeyar, was the son of Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, the last maharaja of Mysore. And as the “erstwhile prince”, he remained the last tangible link with the City’s royal past, playing a key role in the conduct of the ten-day Dasara celebrations each year.
A two-time former Congress member of Parliament from Mysore (who also fought and lost on the BJP ticket), Mr Wodeyar had been elected president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) only last week. He played cricket for Mysore University during his college days.
Mr Wodeyar, who suffered from weight problems, had been unwell and greeted KSCA members upon his election, sitting down.
“Vinaasha kaale vipareetha budhdhi,” is a saying which captures the mood of the Congress-led UPA government very well. As it swerves into the final lap of its second term in office, as bad news swirls all around it, as the foreboding gets grimmer with each passing day, the 128-year-old party has turned its eyes, well, on opinion polls.
“Opinion polls during election are neither scientific nor is there any transparent process for such polls… our party fully endorses the views of the Election Commission of India to restrict publication and dissemination of opinion polls during the election.”
Random surveys “lack credibility”, and could be “manipulated and manoeuvred” by persons with “vested interest”, is the Congress’ conclusion, which is broadly in line with attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati‘s legal opinion to the law ministry in which he said a ban on opinion polls would be “constitutionally permissible”.
For a government which has consistently trained its guns on free speech, the latest move is par for the course.
There is no question that many opinion polls are dubious exercises undertaken by fraudulent agencies with little no field presence; sponsors, sample sizes, date of polling, margins of error (all pre-requirements in reporting a poll) are opaque. There is also no doubt that many cash-strapped media houses are happily carrying polls with an eye on the future.
Still, is a ban the only solution? Would the Congress and UPA be in favour of a ban on polls if the Congress was doing well in them? Do polls really influence voters, who chose just the opposite of what opinion polls advised them in 2004 and 2009? Whether dubious or not, does a ban on polls restrict the media’s fundamental freedoms?
Above all, wouldn’t Indian democracy be healthier if a voter is exposed to what his co-citizens are thinking in other parts of the country, rather than being denied access to it?
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 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.
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.”
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.
“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?”
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?
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)
With the economic downturn threatening to turn into a full-blown recession and with the finance minister reduced to going around the world with a hat in hand, the Congress-led UPA government last week increased foreign direct investment (FDI) in telecom, defence, petroleum refining, etc, but…
But, not the media.
On the issue of enhancing FDI in media from 26% to 49% under the automatic route as proposed by a finance ministry panel, two separate ministries swung into action. First, the ministry of information and broadcasting sought the views of the telecom regulatory authority (TRAI) and the press council (PCI).
And then, the home ministry opposed the hike, favouring control of media houses by Indians. The Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted official sources as saying:
# “Opening up of current affairs TV channels, newspapers and periodicals dealing with news and current affairs may lead to meddling in India’s domestic affairs and politics.
# “Increase of FDI in broadcasting and print media may also allow foreign players to launch propaganda campaign during any national crisis as well as when interests of any particular country is harmed through any government decision.
# “Big foreign media players with vested interests may try to fuel fire during internal or external disturbances and also can encourage political instability in the country through their publications or broadcasting outlets.”
These reasons have been touted for 22 years now and will surprise nobody. Last week, The Hindu (which was initially at the forefront of the opposition to FDI hikes in media) reported that the industry was divided on the FDI issue:
“While certain big networks like Times Television Network, Network 18 and NDTV are broadly supportive, others like India TV, Sun, Eenadu and Malayala Manorama group have objected to an increase in FDI caps.”
The Centre’s decision to not go-ahead with FDI in media in an election year will not surprise anybody. After all, it wouldn’t want to rub promoters and proprietors on the wrong side, especially when powerful corporates (potential election donors) have substantial stakes in the media.
Still, the question remains whether the media can be given this preferential treatment and, if so, for how long? Will the home ministry’s fears ever vanish? Or, will the media which talks of competition and choice as the great leveller in every sphere of life, seek the protection of politicians in power to protect its turf?
The Centre’s food security ordinance passed hurriedly recently, and the Karnataka government’s Anna Bhagya scheme launched last week, have, in their own ways, provoked a fierce political reaction that is beyond bizarre.
While non-Congress governments and parties are understandably apprehensive that the Congress-led UPA might be rolling out a “game-changer” ahead of the elections, others see in the Centre’s move, an attempt to infringe upon state’s powers.
Other critics see trademark signs of profligacy at a time when the fiscal deficit is soaring although many of them seemingly have no problem if rich corporates and business houses get way-bigger incentives and write-offs.
Any populist measures of the government, especially those benefitting the poor, are looked at suspiciously by a section of the media. It does not matter if poor people rightly deserve such benefits from schemes as they have only the government to come to their aid. However, why should any help done to the distressed be seen only as a means to win elections? Isn’t it the government’s moral responsibility to side with the poor and work for their welfare?
Be that as it may, lost in the back and forth is the moral argument. The fact is there are millions of Indians going hungry. The fact is millions of tonnes of food grains go waste. And the fact is, regardless of what it costs, no civilised country can shut its eye to either.
As this picture of women queueing up to pick up their allocation of 30 kilos of rice at one rupee a kilo, at a fair price shop in the supposedly prosperous, post-liberalised “IT” city of Bangalore—in J.P. Nagar 2nd stage no less—demonstrates, parties and governments have much to be afraid of if the hunger pangs of large numbers of people who vote with their feet are suddenly sated.
The ascension of K. Siddaramaiah, the agnostic-socialist who visits not temples and mutts upon becoming the chief minister of Karnataka but writers and intellectuals, as seen through the words and eyes of S.R. Ramakrishna and Satish Acharya of Bangalore’s Talk magazine.
“Back in November 2010 I had gone to Siddaramaiah‘s Mysore house with Mysooru Mithra editor M. Govinde Gowda to invite him personally for my second son’s wedding.
“As expected, the house was full of people spilling over to the road with many vehicles parked around. His aide took us to the dining hall where he was sitting at the head of the table alone, probably for our meeting.
“After the initial courtesies and platitudes I gave him the invitation and requested him to bless the groom in a customary way. As is his wont, he was expressionless and silent for a while and said that he would come.
“I did not believe him.
“I asked him about the political mess the BJP was in at that time and he mumbled something that I don’t remember now. However, I told him that it was good that he joined Congress and Congress never disappoints its loyal members in the matter of rewarding them suitably.
“He lifted his inclined head in slow-motion, looked at me and smiled. Who would not like to hear a positive prognosis of oneself?
“I continued. I said in Karnataka, in the past many years of Congress rule, I had seen that senior Congress members who were ministers and aspired to become chief ministers had realised their aspirations even if it was only for two or three years, and gave the recent examples of Bangarappa, Veerappa Moily and S.M. Krishna (who was deputy chief minister like Siddharamaiah).
“Therefore, you too will become the Chief Minister,” I told Siddaramaiah.
“Now I could see his lips turn elastic revealing his teeth from right molar to left molar with a twitch of his snubby nose. Eyes too twinkled for a fleeting second.
“I am happy to tell my readers, Siddaramaiah indeed kept his words and attended my son’s wedding held at Mysore Race Club premises.”
Photograph: Siddaramaiah gestures to the crowd after being elected as the leader of the Congress legislative party, at the KPCC Office in Bangalore on Friday (Karnataka Photo News)
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Tomorrow, May 8, is results day for the Karnataka assembly elections. Since I am not going to be in front of a camera, here are five talking points I bet you won’t hear on your favourite news channel, but five points I sincerely wish TV anchors and analysts would use.
First, despite what everyone has said in the last month, there hasn’t been any discernible change in the fundamental poll dynamic since the elections were announced. What this means is that despite the month-long campaign and all that comes along with it (read money and other gifts to the voters), nothing much changed that actually altered the political climate.
What are the fundamentals that I refer to here?
The anti-incumbency of a largely ineffectual, scandal and dissension-ridden BJP government had created a small undercurrent of support for Congress. However, that advantage has been difficult to quantify and that’s because politics these days, especially at the state level, is local and very competitive. Further, political advantage doesn’t mean a wave in favor of a political party.
I am tempted to say the era of waves is over.
Congress stuck to its strategy, didn’t recruit too many outsiders (especially those who had ties with BJP), and focused mostly on consolidating its base.
True, its ticket distribution strategy seemed chaotic and the party took too much time to complete the process. There seemed to be much dissension, with ticket aspirants and activists demonstrating regularly in front of the party office. But much of this is media-driven to make the elections more interesting, and generate some stories.
BJP somehow managed to stop its bleeding just in time when its leaders managed to convince the four Lingayat ministers (Umesh Katti, Basavaraj Bommai, Murugesh Nirani and V. Somanna) not to leave the party.
This action enabled the state BJP leadership to save some credibility with its national leaders but more significantly increased its competitiveness in 12-15 constituencies and dealt a crushing blow to Yediyurappa’s dreams of consolidating his hold over Lingayats in north Karnataka.
Second, I want to submit that all the predictions, including the exit poll based ones, are bunkum.
I haven’t looked at the methodology and sample size closely. Yet, I suspect that extrapolating results from voting percentages is not accurate. The Janata Dal (Secular) and BJP are not strong in the same areas, which means that there are fewer triangular fights.
Hence, if Congress is competing strongly everywhere, even if its vote share goes up, it may not win a commensurate number of assembly segments.
This complementary nature of JD (S) and BJP’s support base introduces an element of uncertainty and I don’t know enough about our pollsters to believe they take into account all these variables.
My scepticism about predictions leads me to my third point: that the political culture in Karnataka (in fact, this is also a broader argument that could be made nationally too) has changed dramatically. Hence, history is not a good guide not only to make predictions but more importantly to assess political strategies.
What has changed in the last decade?
In a nutshell, Karnataka has seen a new breed of politician, who has had substantial business interests and is willing to plough back huge amounts of money back into electoral politics. This new politician is in politics to manipulate public policy, further his business interests and secure maximum profits.
He doesn’t have any ideological commitments or a substantial notion of public good.
His political strategy revolves around using his personal fortune (often ill-gotten from real estate, mining or some such natural resource owned by the state) to secure the loyalty of his constituents to himself and this has been the basis for a new form of populism in Karnataka.
There have been many consequences but let me list here only two.
First, the political space available for other kinds of politics, especially the ones inspired by ideology, socio-political movements and a substantial notion of public good, is entirely absent. Be surprised if any candidate who has spent less than five crores actually wins.
Second, even old-school politicians have reinvented themselves along the same lines. In order to understand the truth of this, you only have to look at Yediyurappa and the Deve Gowda family.
In this new political culture, we need a different theory of political strategies, especially in the electoral realm. But we haven’t even had a decent explanation until now about BJP’s own electoral success in 2008. So, I am not very hopeful that we will get a good theory in tomorrow’s shows when Ramachandra Guha and Yogendra Yadav hold forth on our TV screens.
There is much to say on this topic but in brief what we need to recognize is that BJP and JD(S) have recognized the changing tides very quickly and hence have been very nimble in making their strategies.
On the other hand, Congress is burdened by its past and seems like an elephant in its efforts to maneuver around the more nimble, more tiger like opponents. It still has to accommodate all the social classes and its base is largely made up of old time loyalists. The party continues to look to its high command for guidance.
Thus Congress continues to rely on its 20th century political culture/strategizing in what has been a dramatically different 21st century political reality. Most of the stories about Congress bungling (especially this OPED piece by James Manor in the Indian Express) its poll strategy do not recognize this simple fact: it couldn’t have avoided these pitfalls and the magical wand called leadership doesn’t exist.
So, if any analyst tells you that Congress lost because S.M. Krishna was ignored, consider that a load of bull crap. Active participation by Krishna wouldn’t have increased Congress’s total vote tally in the state by 100,000 votes. His counsel wouldn’t have made ticket distribution any more efficient.
If anyone says wrong ticket selection contributed to Congress losing, take that with some skepticism.
For example, at a constituency level there might have been mistakes but Congress had a larger goal. For example, giving tickets to C.K. Jaffer Sharief’s grandson in Hebbal and Shamanuru Shivashankarappa in Davanagere might have been problematic but if the goal is also to send a message to specific communities, then Congress will have succeeded.
This is where BJP, KJP and JD (S) are more nimble in picking candidates and they can afford to make tactical decisions in each constituency.
For example, former minister A.Krishnappa was fielded by JD (S) in Hiriyur after Congress refused to give him ticket in K.R. Puram. Krishnappa, a Golla (cowherd), is likely to win this constituency where his community is in large numbers and who along with Vokkaligas form a potent combintion. His opponent, D. Sudhakar, former minister who joined Congress just before the elections, was seen as a sure shot winner in this contest when elections began.
Here is the takeaway. Politics is extremely competitive and resourceful newcomers are ready to enter the electoral arena. They are trolling different parties in search of opportunities. Nobody can take elections easily these days.
If Siddaramaiah has sleepless nights caused by a political nobody, whose sole claim to fame is that he was Yediyurappa’s former aide and his sole strategy to secure political loyalty is to distribute large sums of money to all comers, then no leader is safe.
Fourth, I really, really wish our analysts would display a better understanding of the caste-politics equation. We really don’t have a good 21st century theory of caste loyalties inspire electoral politics. It is grating to see Yediyurappa described as the “sole leader” of Lingayats and Deve Gowda characterized as the Vokkaliga “strong man”.
Please internalize this: caste support to political parties and leaders is tactical and local; it is not strategic and translocal. I know this claim demands a research paper and not simply an assertion.
However here is the simple takeaway: Subcaste and matha-influence is more important than the kind of translocal caste loyalties that I referred to.
In Hiriyur, Kunchatiga vokkaligas are in large number but they are not strong supporters of the Gangadakara-dominated JD(S). If they vote for JD (S), it is not because of some caste loyalty to Deve Gowda. In fact, if you do a survey of Vokkaligas, most actually very strongly dislike the Gowda family, even if they vote for JD (S) most of the time.
In the same way, Lingayat solidarity across the state is a myth.
Surely, it is possible to secure broad based support from the community in favor of a party like BJP if someone like Yediyurappa is at the helm. But such a strategy would be predicated on finding the right sub caste candidate in each constituency.
Picking a Jangama candidate in a Sada or Panchamasali dominant area will result in huge electoral backlash.
Similarly, backward castes are also not a uniform entity. Siddaramaiah is a backward caste leader but unlike the 1970s and 80s when one could claim that mantle fairly easily these days all the backward castes have become highly politicized and do no want to be represented by someone from outside.
So, Siddharamaiah found himself challenged frequently by backward caste opponents, especially Nayakas, who are a large backward caste community spread across the state, just like the kuruba community to which Siddaramaiah belongs.
So, dear analyst, please do not speak use caste as an analytical category if you don’t understand the local dynamic. You will only sound like a fool.
Fifth, Karnataka saw the emergence of some new political outfits. B. PAC or the Bangalore Political Action Committee represented an alliance of new age entrepreneurs who wanted to influence electoral politics and public policy. This seemed to be inspired by American PACs, which play an enormous role in electoral politics.
Then there was Loksatta, which fielded several naïve, well meaning but political neophytes in urban areas.
All these efforts to build an alternative politics appeared half-assed, pretentious and frankly, quite insulting to the voter. It is not enough to claim that the political class is corrupt and inefficient. It is not enough to claim their own personal cleanliness, educational qualifications or industry experience.
What they lacked is a substantial movement or a public project that they could claim ownership over. Or if any of the candidates had even been a bureaucrat, something that would have brought them in contact with the public, where their conduct would have been monitored by people, such a person would have some claim to seek public trust.
A politician once told me: “What matters is not incorruptibility when you don’t have an opportunity to take a bribe. If you are incorruptible when you actually hold a public office and then work for public good, then you have a claim over public trust.”
The new, middle-class political aspirants seem to miss that simple truth.
ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from San Francisco: A week is a long time in politics; it’s even longer in the film industry, where reputations are made and marred over a weekend. But in Boxoffice Bharat, the fortunes of politicians and filmstars happily and conveniently comingle and collide at the turnstile, come election time.
And so it is in Karnataka, in the year of the bhagwantha, 2013.
As Ambarish, the Vokkaliga leader, contests the elections in Mandya on a Congress ticket, Darshan, his supposed “successor”, is at hand, lending his voice to Sumalatha‘s. And this one picture conveys all there is to be said of the “forgiving nature” of our largely illiterate, star-struck electorate, which can barely make out the difference between art and life and probably doesn’t care.
Meanwhile, Nikita Thukral provides the opium to the unwashed masses on “Bigg Boss“.
Whether it was his power-is-poison speech at the Congress chintan shivir in Jaipur earlier this year, where he was elevated to the post of vice-president, or at the CII meet in New Delhi two weeks ago, where he used the beehive analogy to describe India, Rahul Gandhi has shown a very sophomoric, spreadsheet understanding of realpolitik.
He makes all the right NGO-style noises about cutting out power brokers, of rewarding talent, of creating new leaders, about database management, about empowering the grassroots in ticket distribution, etc. But are they really workable in the Indian context, especially in the Congress context?
The elections to the Karnataka assembly, shortly after his elevation, have provided an opportunity to test how ready his party is, and how insistent he is that his writ runs. In the Hindustan Times, Aurangzeb Naqshbandi shows the yawning gap between precept and practice, between Rahul rhetoric and Congress reality:
1.Rahul theory: “Leaders from other parties parachute in just before the elections and fly away after getting defeated.”
Congress in Karnataka: Party has given tickets to those who came from the Janata Dal (Secular). Shivaraj Tangadgi, who was till recently a minister in the BJP government, has been given the ticket from Kanakagiri reserved constituency.
2.Rahul theory: “No person with a criminal background should be given party ticket.”
Congress in Karnataka: Candidates facing criminal cases such as D.K. Shiva Kumar, M. Krishnappa and Satish Jarkiholi have been accommodated.
3.Rahul theory: “Party will not not field candidates who have lost two previous elections with a margin of 15,000 votes and above.”
Congress in Karnataka: Basavaraja Rayaraddi, Kumar Bangarappa and Siddu Nyamagouda, whose defeat margin was much higher than 15,000, have been considered.
4.Rahul theory: “The kin of of senior leaders should be given the go-by.”
Congress in Karnataka: Former chief minister Dharam Singh’s son Ajay Singh, union minister Mallikarjun M. Kharge’s son Priyank M. Kharge, former minister C.K. Jaffer Sharief’s grandson Abdul Rahman Sharief and son-in-law Syed Yasin, Shamanur Shivashankarappa and his S.S. Mallikarjun, M. Krishnappa and his son Priya Krishna have all been given tickets.
5.Rahul theory: “Youth Congress should to get its desired share of candidates.”
Congress in Karnataka: Of the list of 20 names forwarded, only a few have got in. Even state Youth Congress president Rizwan Arshad has been denied a ticket, prompting him to offer his resignation from the post.
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: IPL is here but the most competitive activity in Karnataka is getting a ticket. Not a railway ticket, as the summer travel season approaches, but a party ticket to contest in the Assembly or a B Form as it is technically referred to.
To make a mark, the least one could do is to get a B form from some party. Any party. The aspiring politician has arrived if he or she can get a ticket and fight the honorable fight. Because that ensures relevance and longevity in public life. Not to speak of the ability to get things done in government offices.
So we read stories on aspiring candidates and supporters threatening to commit suicide unless their wishes are met. Or protesting in front of party offices. Women politicians of Congress have asked to consider their application for tickets as their resignation letters if the party isn’t issuing them the B forms.
Then there is private lobbying, from which even sitting central ministers, who are seeking tickets for their kids, aren’t immune. Private or public, the lobbying for tickets has no logic other than the self-aggrandizement of the ticket-seeker. In Mandya for instance, an unknown demands that he be given ticket over a stalwart like Ambarish.
SINGAPORE GOVINDU: Vijaya Karnataka reported on an unusual ticket seeker earlier this week.
In his most recent Delhi Diary column, D. Umapathy writes on the quixotic quest by Pamula Govindu alias Singapore Govindu, who belongs to the Hakkipikka or Kurrumama caste, a wandering (alemari) caste of fortune-tellers.
Govindu himself is an accomplished fortune-teller in many languages, including English; in his youth, a woman from Singapore was attracted by his fortune telling skills and took him with her. He has traveled extensively, has bought land and isn’t the destitute that many in his community still continue to be. He has been a member of the KPCC (Karnataka Province Congress Committee) and this election cycle is the seventh time he has applied for a Congress ticket.
No political party has given its ticket to someone from the Hakkipikka community thus far. Not only does Govindu wants to change that by seeking a ticket from the Mulabagilu constituency in Kolar, note that he is up against the daughter of Union Minister K.H. Muniyappa’s daughter, Roopakala.
Not flustered by this, Govindu wants to show to his people what it means to be an MLA.
There have been others from a humble origin (including from politically suppressed backward castes) who have had meteoric rises in the past decade but their success has been facilitated largely by either real estate or mining.
Reading about Govindu, my thoughts turned to Devaraj Urs, the former Chief Minister and the architect of backward caste politics in Karnataka. There is significant anecdotal evidence to show how Urs would often pick someone like Govindu and promote him politically.
For Urs, the fact that Govindu comes from a caste which has never had any political representation despite being a significant numerically would have been an important factor. Despite his numerous political compromises, such political sensitivity made Urs perhaps the most significant politician in post-independence Karnataka.
Urs thrived in an era when electoral politics was less intense and less competitive; when political consciousness of other backward castes was rather dormant. Moreover, he himself was a charismatic mass leader and possessed the political backing of an unparalleled vote-gatherer in Indira Gandhi.
In today’s political environment, perhaps even he would have struggled.
Case in point. Consider the allegations made yesterday against Siddaramaiah, who is quite progressive and perhaps the tallest backward caste leader in Karnataka today. His opponent in Varuna constituency and JD (S) candidate, Cheluvaraj accused Siddharamaiah of being opposed to Nayakas, a sentiment reiterated by his supporters.
If Siddaramaiah can be turned into the leader of a caste (a Kuruba leader in other words), then his commitment towards and appeal to other castes can be minimized.
Don’t see this simply as a political strategy. Rather this is also a product of the deepening of democracy, as part of which each caste seeks representation in its own name. More on this new caste and politics dynamic some other time.
VOTER ALERT: Until the elections, we will ask churumuri readers to share their knowledge when we come across incredulous claims made by politicians. Here is the first installment.
A. Ramdas, the medical education minister, who represents the Krishnaraja constituency, claimed yesterday that he has never distributed a bottle of liquor (henda is the term he used) to sway voters in his constituency. Appealing to the youth of his constituency to not consider money or caste and religion as considerations while voting, he said: “If I give a bottle of alcohol during the elections, then I turn a voter into an alcoholic for five years”
So, churumuri readers especially from the Krishnaraja constituency: Is this true? Will you share what you know in the comments section?
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.”
Political reporters in India can hope to be only slightly more scientific than punters peering into OriginalVel‘s cards at the race course. Nothing—not access to the “corridors of power”, not those schmoozy lunches and dinners, not off-the-record briefs, not poll numbers, nothing—ever turns up anything more reliable than bazaar gossip, regardless of how artfully the “narrative” is spun using the same sources.
The problem is even more acute if the subject of investigation is the Congress party, whose secrecy and opacity rivals that of the Priory of Sion. So, given the scale of the problem and the delectability of the contest, The Economist “newspaper” did the next best thing recently to know how a two-trick pony might fare at the 2014 Derby:
Sitting cross-legged on a white plastic mat at the entrance to a Delhi metro station, rattling a tambourine to lure business, Radha Raman Tripathi boasts of nearly half a century reading palms. Given an enlarged photo of one 42-year-old man’s open hand, he peers at it through his magnifying glass.
He sees much to please the (anonymous) subject: a kind heart, appealing “brain line”, the promise of long life, children and wealth. A dot on the palm, he says reflects a tragedy in the man’s past. And, crucially, power beckons: “he will reach the topmost post”.
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?