Archive for the 'Indian elections 2009' Category

Raj Thackeray: The nephew also rises

In Mint, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha profiles Raj Thackeray, whose fledgeling party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a breakaway faction of his uncle’s right wing Shiv Sena, won a dozen seats in the state election.

rajthackerayMumbai: There are two political events in Mumbai where crowds do not have to be hired and trucked in to create a false show of strength: the death anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar on 6 December and the annual Dusshera rally addressed by Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. These are the two days when loyalists come on their own in packed trains, alight at Dadar railway station and then walk another 15 minutes to reach the Shivaji Park area where the city’s big political rallies are traditionally held.

So old timers in Maharashtrian-dominated area took notice of the fact that this was happening all over again when Raj Thackeray held a political rally. It was an advance warning to other political parties that the leader of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had struck a chord with his growing band of supporters, even as his divisive political acts threatened Mumbai’s famed cosmopolitan culture and made him the man many love to hate. More:

Shashi Tharoor — author, columnist, journalist, diplomat, politician

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Shashi Tharoor is India’s minister of state for external affairs and a member of the Indian Parliament from the Trivandrum constituency in Kerala. He served as the UN Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information. In Mint-Lounge, a profile by Sidin Vadukut:

Most mandarins of the ministry of external affairs (MEA), including minister of state Shashi Tharoor, are housed in the South Block building, just downhill from Rashtrapati Bhavan, atop Raisina Hill.

Access to Tharoor – a one-time candidate for the post of UN secretary general-at the ministry, if one should get an appointment, lies past an assortment of guards in a multitude of uniforms and an X-ray machine. And finally, through a frisking station and metal detector manned by guards hand-picked for unfriendliness. Only to then get lost in the maze that is the MEA. Even the ministry’s website calls the building “an intricate labyrinth of vaulted staircases and high-ceiling passages”.

Which is why Twitter is a blessing for anyone trying to figure out what the real Tharoor is like. The micro-blogging service reveals that minister Tharoor is not averse to a mango, a pun and – brace yourself – both at once.
His tweet at 10.37am on 10 June: “Having lived abroad in places without Indian mangoes, have literally become aam aadmi this year, or at least aam ka aadmi -eat 6 a day!” More:

[Image: Shashi Tharoor home page]

Agatha Sangma, India’s youngest MP

At 28 years old, Agatha Sangma was the youngest member in India’s parliament when she was elected last year from the Tura constituency in Meghalaya in India’s Northeast. This year, she was re-elected and named minister of state for rural development in the new Congress-led coalition government. Ms. Sangma has studied environmental management in the U.K. and worked as a lawyer in Delhi before joining politics. She spoke with Jyoti Malhotra for The Wall Street Journal:

agatha-sangmaWSJ: I believe your parents named your and your sister Christie after the novelist Agatha Christie because they liked her novels.

A.S.: Yes, that’s right, my father named us because he’s very fond of Agatha Christie, so both his daughters ended up having the names Agatha and Christie.

WSJ: So you’ve led a life of romance and adventure ever since?

A.S.: Thriller, yes! No, just kidding…I personally I haven’t read an Agatha Christie novel…it always happens to me, when I hear too much of something I get (put) off by it.

WSJ: You’re the youngest member of Parliament and now you’re the youngest minister in Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers. How do you feel about that?

A.S.: It’s an overwhelming feeling, as if there’s a huge responsibility I have to fulfill. A lot of people are looking at what I’m doing and hoping I will do something good. For instance women, people from the Northeast and the younger generation.

WSJ: A lot of colleagues in your ministry are possibly your father’s age. Do you feel they patronize you and look at you as someone their daughter’s age?

A.S.: Mostly I’ve received very good responses from people who are far more experienced and wiser than me in politics and administration. I have a lot to learn from them and have never felt they’re trying to intimidate me or set any kind of rules for me. Everybody is quite happy and quite welcoming. I think all of us have our own roles to play and will be able to make a difference in our own (ways). So there’s really nothing to worry about. More:

Banking lessons from the campaign trail

Meera Sanyal, who contested the recent Parliament election from Mumbai South, in the Wall Street Journal:

meerahsanyalThe journey from banker to politician and back has been a rewarding one. Everything, from mapping out the strategy, putting together the team and the actual campaigning, was an inspiring and humbling experience.

We struck a different path from the start. My team and I decided to eschew the decorated chariots and buses (called rathyatras) adopted by our opponents and instead opted for a campaign on foot (popularly known as padyatras). This put us right into the private space of citizens – we had access to the narrowest by-lanes that intersect the slums and tenements of South Mumbai, and it allowed us interact face-to-face with the famous spirit of Mumbai.

In the process I learned a great deal about my city and its indomitable citizens. It also provided a unique insight into the numerous challenges and opportunities that businesses and banks can profit from when working with citizens. More:

Shashi Tharoor on ‘Indian strategic power’

Shashi Tharoor is India’s Minister of State for External Affairs. He won the recent Parliament election frlom the Trivandrum constituency in Kerala. Prior to this, he was the UN Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information under Kofi Annan. He is also a prolific author. Tharoor wrote this piece in Global Brief:

indiaAs an Indian, I have become a little concerned about the proliferation of those who speak of India as a future ‘world leader’ or even as ‘the next superpower.’ The American publishers of my most recent book, The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone, even added a gratuitous subtitle suggesting that my volume was about “the emerging 21st century power.”

Now, I appreciate that this is not entirely unreasonable. Many thinkers and writers I respect have spoken of India’s geostrategic advantages, its economic dynamism, political stability, proven military capabilities, its nuclear, space and missile programmes, the entrepreneurial energy of India’s people, and the country’s growing pool of young and skilled manpower as assuring India ‘great power’ status as a ‘world leader’ in the new century.

And yet I have a problem with that term. The notion of ‘world leadership’ is a curiously archaic one. The very phrase is redolent of Kipling ballads and James Bondian adventures. What makes a country a world leader? Is it population, in which case India is on course to top the charts, overtaking China as the world’s most populous country by 2034? Is it military strength (India’s is already the world’s fourth-largest army) or nuclear capacity (India’s status having been made clear in 1998, and last year formally recognized in the Indo-US nuclear deal)? Is it economic development? There, India has made extraordinary strides in recent years; it is already the world’s fifth-largest economy in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, and continues to climb, though too many of our people still live destitute, amidst despair and disrepair. Or could it be a combination of all these, allied to something altogether more difficult to define – the ‘soft power’ of its culture?

Much of the conventional analysis of India’s stature in the world relies on the all-too-familiar economic assumptions. But we are famously a land of paradoxes, and one of those paradoxes is that so many speak about India as a great power of the 21st century when we are not yet able to feed, educate and employ all our people. So it is not economic growth, military strength or population numbers that I would underscore when I think of India’s potential leadership role in the world of the 21st century. Rather, if there is one attribute of independent India to which I think increasing attention should now be paid around the globe, it is the quality which India is already displaying in ample measure today – its ‘soft power.’ More:

[Image: Global Brief]

Visible hands

Pankaj Mishra on the West’s fantasies of a free-market “New India”. From the National:

Last month India held its 15th general elections. Those who recall some of the previous 14 could only marvel at the great interest the recent round of voting aroused in the western media. Less than a decade ago India was typically depicted in the international press as a poor, backward and often violent nation. Its experiments with democracy may have been unprecedented for a large poor country – but in the West they usually appeared solely in the guise of photographs of peasant women in colorful saris lining up to vote (this ageless staple popped up again in recent weeks). India’s image received a dramatic makeover only in the early years of this century, when the country’s protectionist economy, which was first liberalised in 1991, opened up further to foreign trade and investment.

With its “turbocharged” economy and its glossy new consumer culture, India suddenly became the poster-child for globalisation among western politicians, businessmen and journalists. It seemed not to matter that India remains one of the poorest countries in the world, where more than half of children under the age of five are malnourished, and where failed crops and debt have driven more than 100,000 farmers to suicide in the past decade. In 2006, Foreign Affairs, the house journal of America’s foreign policy mandarins, crowned a series of ecstatic “India Inc” cover stories in Time, Newsweek and The Economist by declaring India “a roaring capitalist success-story”.

This new idea of India owed much to the post-Cold War ideological climate in the West. If the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions renewed a belief in the “magic of the marketplace”, the collapse of Communist regimes provoked a millenarian conviction among politicians and journalists alike that the world had little choice but to converge on a single model of government (liberal democracy) and single economic system (free-market capitalism). More:

The Hindu divided family

In Tehelka, Sudheendra Kulkarni, a key aide of BJP leader L.K. Advani and a member of the party’s 2009 election strategy group, on how the BJP failed to back Advani. If the party is to regain lost ground it must rethink its strategy on Hindutva, the Muslim minority, the poor and, even, the RSS.

hindFIRST THINGS first. Before I reflect on why the Bharatiya Janata Party lost the Lok Sabha elections and how it can revive itself, it must be said that the outcome of the polls is a resounding victory for India’s democracy. True, there are many glaring deficiencies in our democracy. But the people of India have shown once again to the world that it is they who decide the fate of governments, parties and leaders in this country, and also that their verdict is accepted by one and all in the polity. India is not like China, where its communist rulers fear that free elections with multiple choices before the people would destabilise their nation. Nor are we like Thailand, where warring parties recently laid siege to the airport and parliament building. We are not like many other countries in Asia and the world where the sanctity of elections is contested, where leaders are jailed or banished, and where the military replaces the independent judiciary and the election commission. Undoubtedly, the renewed recognition that India, inspite of its bewildering diversities and problems, is unshakable in its commitment to democracy has raised its prestige globally. Even as a person belonging to the defeated party, I feel proud of this triumph of India’s democracy. more

[Pic: Tehelka]

India’s first woman Speaker

Meira Kumar, a Dalit, is a former diplomat and a polyglot. Seema Chishti in the Indian Express:

meira_kumarIn an otherwise obscure by-election in Bijnor, a reserved constituency in western Uttar Pradesh, the seeds of a larger battle for Dalit imagination were sown. The year was 1985, a year after Indira Gandhi was killed. The three candidates then were a former IFS officer Meira Kumar, a young and emerging Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan and a 29-year-old Mayawati. In the end, the debutant Meira Kumar secured more than 1,28,000 votes, scraping through by about 5,000. Paswan came second and the young Mayawati came third, but interestingly, secured a significant number of votes-61,504.

The battle for capturing the Dalit mind, especially in north India, continues between the three ‘Bijnor-ian’ symbols. Meira Kumar, the winner then, is now India’s first woman Speaker and the bearer of an important Congress legacy-a reminder of the time when Dalit votes (nearly 15 per cent of the electorate in India) and minority votes (another 18 per cent, approximately) were the staple fare for comfortable Congress victories. More:

[Image: UNODC]

Past its blooming period

The BJP has lost its appeal amongst its traditional bastion, the middle class. In the Hindustan Times Rajdeep Sardesai tries to come to terms with why.

As a news anchor who lives in a television studio, and whose reporting days are rapidly becoming a fading memory, my one connection with the ‘real’ world is a morning walkers’ group in the neighbourhood park. The gathering includes senior citizens, service sector professionals and independent businessmen. Their viewpoints on most issues — be it POTA, uniform civil code, black money in Swiss banks, or even the Ram Mandir — are similar to a BJP manifesto. Yet, a majority of them voted for Sheila Dikshit in last year’s Delhi Assembly elections and Dr Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister this year. In their voting preferences lies the key to explaining perhaps the only nationwide trend of election 2009: The dominance of the Congress/UPA over the BJP/NDA across urban India.

As the comprehensive National Election Study done by Yogendra Yadav and his team has shown, the UPA has gained in votes and seats in urban constituencies. With the exception of Bangalore and Ahmedabad, the Congress and its allies have swept metropolitan India. The UPA won 34 of the 57 major urban constituencies, the NDA just 19. The UPA won an impressive 81 of the 144 semi-urban constituencies, the NDA only won 39. It’s not just the urban poor, the study shows that the UPA was 15 per cent points ahead of the NDA among urban middle class voters.

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Mrs Gandhi and her extra god

An open letter to the unlikely woman whose tenacity in staying the course has changed the contours of Indian politics. Tarun J Tejpal in Tehelka:

soniaDear Mrs Sonia Gandhi,

We all know the cliché that India moves on faith. We love our gods, and it is at their feet that we place all our successes and failures. It is in this department that those who oppose you – and perhaps even some of those who support you – will assert that you have an unfair advantage. Through marriage and masquerade you have acquired all the gods Indian politicians have, while also possessing one you brought along from your faraway home all those aeons ago.

Since we do not oppose you, we are happy that you have an extra god. As you know, India has so many gods only because it has so many problems. (Yes, there are men on the far left and far right who think god is the problem, to be banished or to be rescued – but let these men not detain us, since they’ve failed to detain the electorate.) So we are glad that you have an extra god. One more is always handy. Our gods are playful, multi-faced, philosophical. Often their moralities are slippery to grasp, sheathed as they are in the complexities of karma and dharma, moksha and maya. The one you bring along, the extra one, is more cut and dried. Quite clear about right and wrong, good and bad, sin and virtue, charity and compassion. We – who do not oppose you – welcome that. Amid the material excesses born of our religious abstractions, a little bit of clarity is not a bad thing. More

Also from the latest issue of Tehelka whose focus is the recent elections in India.

The hour of the untamed cosmopolitan

Bred on radical diversity and an epic culture, the voter makes a reckoning of Narendra Modi, Prakash Karat, Mayawati and the politics of excess. By Ashis Nandy, social scientist

After almost two decades, in many ways, the election of 2009 was a normal election. No overriding consideration drove the voting across the country. Diverse configurations in diverse places determined the fate of different candidates and parties. Different regions had different logic even within a given state. Still, underlying the diversity there were some common themes.
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First, I think people were looking for ways to lower the temperature of politics. High-pitched politics has reigned in our polity for nearly 15 years now. My suspicion is people were a bit tired of this. For example, the past two elections showed that in Uttar Pradesh, only one percent of the electorate was interested in Ram Janmabhoomi. The BJP probably played down the issue this year because their internal assessment showed the same thing. Except in West Bengal, nowhere did the election involve an emotional arousal of the kind we have come to routinely expect.

There are reasons for this. In our society, we live with radical diversities – diversity that is not based on tamed forms of difference. The US is a perfect example of tamed diversity. You get every kind of food and dress and cultural activity in America. You think you are very cosmopolitan if you can distinguish Huaiyang food from Schezwan food, or South Korean ballet from Beijing opera, or Ming dynasty china from Han dynasty china in a museum. This is diversity that is permissible, legitimate, tamed. More:

The vanquished in the rear-view mirror

For the BJP to survive as a national party and for it to remain politically relevant, it will need new leaders. By Swapan Dasgupta, political commentator

Among the more fascinating features of an Indian election is the fact that the writing on the wall isn’t apparent till after the event. This was as true in 1971 and 1984 as it was last week when the electronic voting machines revealed a clear mandate in favour of the Congress-led UPA. If the BJP didn’t expect to be mauled in two successive elections, the Congress never imagined the electorate would give it a firm thumbs up after five years of indifferent governance. But while the winner can afford the luxury of post-facto smugness, the loser suffers grievously from the hangover of miscalculated triumphalism.

It is natural for the defeated to get into a tizzy over what went wrong. It is also customary for the vanquished to focus less on what the other side did right and more on what it did wrong. Wisdom in hindsight, convulsions and recriminations are the inevitable consequence of political defeat. It happens in all democracies. More:

Mask upon mask in BJP

Kumar Ketkar in the Indian Express:

The Sangh Parivar is too broad a term. It incorporates the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Sri Ram Sene, Stree Shakti, Vyapari Sangh, Vanvasi Kalyan outfits and several other front organisations. It is a vast network of dedicated activists, stretching from Arunachal to Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu to Tripura and Gujarat to Kashmir.

In the past 30 years however, these outfits, and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the original gene, have ceased to attract the young. The shakhas have either disappeared or are virtually deserted. The top leadership is all above 70, the second rank is in the age group of 50-65. The third rank is thin and hovers around the age of 40. Then it gets emptier and emptier except in organisations like Bajrang Dal or Sri Ram Sene, where the lumpen join, because they get some kind of activity and identity. At one level, it is a reflection of rural and urban unemployment; at another, it is a manifestation of cultural frustration. More:

The sons and daughters of Indian politicians — and how they fared in the election

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Several family members of national and state political leaders contested the recent election in India. The Indian Express has the list of those who won — and lost. Among them:

Milind Deora (Cong.), Mumbai South: The 33-year-old Boston educated son of outgoing petroleum minister Murli Deora, retained his seat despite initial jitters.

Supriya Sule (NCP), Baramati: The daughter of NCP chief Sharad Pawar won from her father’s pocket borough with a thumping 336,000 margin.

Priya Dutt (Cong), Mumbai North Central: Sunil Dutt’s daughter and the sitting MP trounced lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani of the BJP.

Manvendra Singh (BJP), the Amherst-educated son of former external affairs minister and senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh, lost from Barmer in Rajastha.

Click here for the full list:

Obama must stop neglecting India

The president should reach out quickly to the government in New Delhi. Tunku Varadarajan in Forbes:

But the one part of America’s foreign policy that Obama can be argued to have flubbed so far is its relations with India. Since taking office in January, he has paid India scant attention. India–which for the first time in its history is in a position to regard the U.S. as its closest big-power ally, thanks to the evangelical efforts of George W. Bush–has noted Obama’s froideur. It noted, too, that the one time the American president made an India-related public pronouncement, it was a critical (and fatuous) reference to India’s role in the outsourcing of employment. (On May 4, he criticized the U.S. tax code for–in his view–saying that “you should pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, N.Y.”)

There are two ways to read Barack Obama’s neglect of India. The first reading–one that gives him the benefit of the doubt that he’s not keen, by disposition, on India–is that he was maintaining a prudent distance from New Delhi as India went to the polls. The country has been in election mode ever since Obama took office, and it may have been the case that Obama was waiting until mid-May to see which Indian government he’d have to deal with. After all, what would be the point in investing diplomatic energy in ties with Manmohan Singh (the prime minister at the time of Obama’s inauguration) if the elections were to bring a different Indian prime minister to power–L.K. Advani, say. More:

India finds the centre

Salil Tripathi at Far Eastern Economics Review:

What happened? Analyzing the decisions of some 700 million voters is not for the faint-hearted: All generalizations about India are wrong, because the opposite is also true. And yet there is a common pattern, a recurrent thread, which is this: in the end, Indian voters settle for the middle path. They abhor extremes. To paraphrase what V.S. Naipaul wrote in another context, Indians find their center. That center can be boring, predictable, and dull; but in a country where people must be prepared for all sorts of uncertainties (and then blame the adversities on karma) stability provides assurance. But this is not the kind of stability Indonesia’s Golkar, or Malaysia’s UMNO, or Singapore’s People’s Action Party, champion: ruling parties have often lost elections in India. Indians prefer the stability where MPs do not steer the country too far from its central ethos. More:

Landslide in India vote reshapes landscape

From the New York Times:

Eleven years ago, when she took over as president of India’s oldest political party, Sonia Gandhi was seen as India’s most improbable politician: a foreigner with a shaky command of Hindi, reclusive to the point of seeming aloof, a wife who had fought to keep her husband from joining politics and who lost him to an assassination.

Today, Mrs. Gandhi, 62, is credited with having scored a stunning political coup. Her Indian National Congress party made its best performance in 25 years in the parliamentary elections completed last week, picking up 205 of 543 seats on its own, and with its coalition partners coming only 12 seats shy of an outright majority. All it needs to do now to form a government is stitch up alliances with a handful of independents and small parties. More:

Dear Shri Advani

mallika_sarabhaiMallika Sarabhai, Gujarat-based social activist and performer who contested the election and lost, in Outlook:

I was asked to write about whether it was a daunting experience for me, an independent, to contest against you, a mighty prime ministerial candidate. I choose to write a letter to you instead. By the time you read this, the election results will be out. You will either have lost or won. Either way, what I have to say to you will stand.

I am a post-Independence Indian. I was brought up to value and treasure my unique Indianness, to value our Constitution, which gives equal rights to all Indians, irrespective of belief, culture, practice or language. I learnt to revel in the differences that made us a rainbow country. We are a salad-like melange of cultures and not a soup where all variations get reduced to a homogeneous pulp-this, to me, is our greatest strength. More:

A global election, victory for India

S. Mitra Kalita in the Wall Street Journal

His victory is a global one. Across the world, 30 million members of the Indian diaspora have largely come to see Mr. Singh as their symbol of a new India. There have been gestures small: his 2005 extension of “overseas citizenship of India” that allow Indians to freely live, work and travel between multiple homes. And the big: his stewardship of a nuclear deal that could mean a windfall of contracts to their high-technology firms.

But the main reason the turbaned Mr. Singh gained the world’s respect is for what he is not: corrupt, calculating, self-aggrandizing. And with admonitions like his plea for more austerity in corporate India back in 2007, when the country’s gross domestic product soared 9%, Mr. Singh kept an eye on what got him into office in the first place.

This recession has forced many countries to rethink the role of government in an economy. India though has been in this quandary for much of its existence-and the 76-year-old Mr. Singh and the leaders of the party that brought India to independence knew this better than anyone else. More:

Indian election 2009: The verdict

A selection of front pages, their lead stories, and comment:

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National, a forgotten idea, is reborn in the triumph of Congress

Manini Chatterjee in the Telegraph, Calcutta:

tallyThe idea of India – a vibrant, secular, plural, resurgent nation that can transcend its myriad differences and complexities to reaffirm an essential unity of purpose – received a resounding victory today as the world’s largest electorate shed the politics of extremes and delivered a decisive mandate to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

For the Grand Old Party, today’s verdict was, arguably, its sweetest victory in many decades. In terms of numbers, the Congress secured much bigger wins in 1984 and even in 1991. But those came in the backdrop of tragic assassinations and were harvested in abnormal times and soon became a thing of the past as the politics of identity and regionalism, of caste and creed left little space for the middle-of-the-road politics of the only truly pan-Indian party. More:

Mrs G & Mrs G: same score

From the Telegraph, Calcutta:

The original Mrs G delivered a second successive election victory for the Congress but before that she had to win a war in 1971. The reigning Mrs G has also led the Congress to a consecutive poll success but hasn’t had to go so far as to fight an external war, though there might have been many domestic battles.

At least on one count, Mrs G equals Mrs G. Both have now won elections back to back. Indira Gandhi never won a third one running.

Given the culture of worship in the Congress, no one would openly weigh Field Marshal Sonia against Indira but comparisons are inevitable if only because they share the name. More:

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Hands down

Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:

There are winners and there are losers in any election. But this is one election India can feel particularly good about. Not only because it’s been one of our smoothest ever – for which the Election Commission deserves the nation’s gratitude – but also because it confirms the positive trends that some of us, incorrigible optimists, have been flagging for a while. This newspaper has argued that the politics of grievance, rooted in our complex past, is giving way to the politics of aspiration. Or, as Thomas Friedman puts it, the weight of dreams is turning out heavier than that of memories. This election, powered by 60 crore voters, shows our democracy is firmly on that virtuous curve.

For, anybody who built a campaign on negativism, prejudice, victimhood and vengeance has been demolished. The voter has, in fact, been even less forgiving with victims of hubris, with those who loftily announce themselves as “next” Prime Ministers without being sure of even 40 seats; those who build their own statues; and those who with a fraction of seats in Parliament aspire to control the nation’s foreign and economic policies without, of course, being accountable for anything. More:

The headline says it all.

The headline says it all.

Red in the face

Jayati Ghosh in the Asian Age:

In West Bengal the picture is more disturbing. There is clear evidence of vote shifts against the ruling Left Front, and this message from the electorate cannot be ignored but must be addressed. The Left Front has ruled the state for more than three decades, providing not only stability but also many extremely positive measures for the improvement of conditions of life of ordinary people: not just the crucial land reforms that were the most extensive of any state government in the last 30 years, but the pioneering moves towards decentralisation and providing more powers to locally elected bodies.

However, in the past few years the state government of West Bengal, through its own actions or its inability to get its message across, has contributed to some loss of goodwill among the people. Three factors that have contributed to this and which must be recognised and addressed are:

The sense of alienation among the peasantry in the face of the events at Singur and Nandigram and the inability of the government to adequately justify its actions to the people or even to publicise its continuing land distribution programme;

The perceptions of discrimination among the Muslim community, even among those who have earlier been consistent Left supporters; More:

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Man who would have been king

Ashok Malik in Hindustan Times:

The May 16 verdict is not a mandate for continuity; it is a vote for change. People never vote for the status quo. They vote in hope, they vote for better times, they vote for change. In this election, in substantial swathes of India, Rahul Gandhi came to represent change.

Uttar Pradesh is the most striking example. The Congress made gains in the eastern part of the state and in Bundelkhand, where Gandhi toured extensively over the past two years. In Jhansi, he sat in dharna on a local issue. The Congress won the seat. More:

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Yesterday once more

Sunil Khilnani, author of The Idea of India, in Mint:

The demand in New Delhi for cars with opaque windows, and for large suitcases, has suddenly dropped. The extraordinary decisive victory of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) now gives it the opportunity to form a government without the usual, tortuous machinations-and with the nearest approximation to an electoral mandate that India has seen in 25 years. The victory asserts Manmohan Singh’s personal authority at the heart of government, and it vindicates his decision last year to dispense with dependence on the Left parties. He now has the opportunity to serve a historic second term, and Congress has that rare thing in politics, a second chance. After the UPA government came to power in 2004, it squandered-despite some golden economic years-many opportunities to develop infrastructure, to improve primary and higher education, to pursue financial reforms, to provide basic health, and to work towards stabilizing the region. More:

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Bharat Shining, Cong Smiling, Left Whining

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in the Times of India:

I was dead wrong in predicting a hung parliament with Mayawati having a kingmaking role. Yet, I cannot resist recalling the heading of my March 9 column, ‘India slumps, Bharat rises, Congress smiles’. Despite a global recession that has hammered industry, rural areas – called Bharat – have prospered, enabling Congress to win a smashing victory.

Indian voters throw out 80% of all incumbent governments, especially in bad economic times. The global recession has hit India hard – industrial production slumped into negative growth, and exports were down 33% last month. Rural consumer prices are up almost 10%.

For Congress to get re-elected in such circumstances is remarkable. The main reason is prosperity in rural areas, which have 70% of the population. The entire organized sector has barely 30 million workers out of India’s total workforce of 500 million, which is overwhelmingly rural. Industrial captains, trade unions and information technology may hog newspaper headlines, but are barely visible to the rural millions. More:

The Manmohan Singh impact

Harish Khare in the Hindu:

Three months ago some of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s friends and aides were not averse to expressing their sense of disappointment that the Congress seemed so reluctant to project him as its prime ministerial mascot. Their argument was that he was an asset to the party, and the electorate was bound to appreciate his honesty, integrity and efficiency.

Then the Bharatiya Janata Party did the good doctor a favour. The principal Opposition party took a strategic decision to convert the Lok Sabha elections into a kind of presidential contest between its “strong leader” L.K. Advani and the “weak” Manmohan Singh. Mr. Advani started attacking Dr. Singh as the “weakest Prime Minister,” ridiculing him for being subservient to the Congress president, taunting him as a wimp, and heaping scorn, saying: “I do not get angry with him; I pity him.” More:

A head start for India’s next premier

Aravind Adiga in Financial Times:

Visitors to India are dazzled by the chaos and unpredictability of life here, but those who observe its politics are bewildered by the opposite. Crises are visible from a distance and grow to size in full public view, yet still seem to catch the government by absolute surprise. We have to wait until May 16 – or perhaps even longer – to know whether India’s next prime minister will be the incumbent, Manmohan Singh, or his Hindu nationalist rival, L.K. Advani, or someone from a smaller party. But this much is already clear: the new prime minister will almost certainly have to deal with four emergencies in the course of his term.

Emergency One: Terrorism is a part of daily life in India now, but at some point during the new prime minister’s term there will be a spectacular strike – on a plane, temple, parliament or nuclear installation. When the strike takes place, it will be found that the local police did not have enough guns, walkie-talkies, training or manpower to fight back quickly. Co-ordination between local security agencies and elite commando forces in Delhi will prove to be poor. When the terrorists are overpowered, they will probably say that they received training and assistance from jihadists in Pakistan; they may even be Pakistani nationals. More:

A pocket-size leveler in an outsize land

Not since Americans and their automobiles in the 1950s, perhaps, have a people and a technology wedded as happily as Indians and their cellphones. Anand Giridharadas in the New York Times:

Sometimes a technology comes along and crystallizes a cultural moment. Not since Americans and their automobiles in the 1950s, perhaps, have a people and a technology wedded as happily as Indians and their cellphones – small and big, vibrating and tringing, BlackBerry and plain vanilla.

And neither India nor the cellphone will be the same after the pairing. India now adds more cellphone connections than anyplace else, with 15.6 million in March alone. The cost of calling is among the lowest in the world. And the device plays a larger-than-life role here – more so, it seems, than in the wealthy countries where it was invented.

Of course, in so vast a country, India’s nearly 400 million cellphone users still account for only a third of the population. But the technology has seeped down the social strata, into slums and small towns and villages, becoming that rare Indian possession to traverse the walls of caste and region and class; a majority of subscribers are now outside the major cities and wealthiest states. More

The degradation of the Indian National Congress

Ramachandra Guha in the Telegraph:

congressWhen Sanjay died in an air crash in 1980, Indira Gandhi immediately drafted her other son into the Congress. When she was herself killed in October 1984, this son, Rajiv, was sworn in as prime minister. One of his first acts was to bring his old schoolfriends into politics. Like his mother, he could not bring himself to trust his own partymen. While promoting his friends, he behaved arrogantly towards senior leaders of the Congress, and towards senior bureaucrats. At least one chief minister and one foreign secretary were sacked at impromptu press conferences. Meanwhile, his friends from outside politics gave him the most disastrous advice, persuading him to open the locks in Ayodhya and to upturn the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Shah Bano case.

Jawaharlal Nehru did not hope or desire that his daughter should succeed him as prime minister – a fact that is not as widely known as it should be. On the other hand, Indira Gandhi worked to make first Sanjay and then Rajiv her political successor. Sonia Gandhi has followed her mother-in-law scrupulously in this respect, for she has likewise ensured that her own son would head the party, and, perhaps in time, the government. The example set by India’s greatest political party has been followed by many lesser ones. Had Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi not acted in this fashion, perhaps Bal Thackeray, Parkash Singh Badal, M. Karunanidhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav would not so brazenly have treated their own political parties as family firms. More:

Indian Communist chic

Siddharth Varadarajan in Wall Street Journal Asia:

cpmAt first blush it may seem a paradox to some that India, the world’s largest democracy, is also home to one of the world’s most politically influential Communist movements outside of China. But India’s coalition of Communist parties, known as the Left Front, isn’t disappearing any time soon. They may very well gain influence after the results of India’s national election are announced May 16.

If they do, the Left Front could reshape Indian policy abroad as well as at home. The Communists can be expected to call for policies that India’s elites, who aspire to greater liberalization of the economy and closer corporate and strategic ties with the U.S., may well find unpalatable. They might seek to slow down the pace of military-to-military and nuclear cooperation between the two countries. The Left Front would also want the government to build closer economic and political ties with Russia, China and perhaps even Iran.

The Left Front has gained power not so much because of the popularity of its program but because it has positioned itself as a kingmaker between India’s two largest parties, the Congress Party of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party. Although the Left Front has never held more than 12% of seats in Parliament, it has wielded more influence over the past five years than ever before. More:

Hottest role in Bollywood: Politician

Neeraj Sheth the Asian Wall Street Journal:

Shatrughan Sinha, Shekhar Suman, Chiranjeevi

Shatrughan Sinha, Shekhar Suman, Chiranjeevi

On Thursday, Indian voters in Patna, capital of the unruly state of Bihar, will face a stark choice for the national Parliament: Will it be “Shotgun” or “Shaker”?

The two aren’t local toughs. They’re Bollywood stars. Shekhar “Shaker” Suman, an actor and TV talk-show host who models himself on Jay Leno, is running for the Indian National Congress, the party that now runs the ruling coalition. His rival from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is Shatrughan “Shotgun” Sinha, a movie star and a judge on one of the country’s most-watched TV talent shows.

The two men are part of a surge of Indian celebrities throwing their hats in the ring this year. Bollywood actors turned politicians have been around almost as long as Indian democracy. But this year, in a race with hundreds of competitors, parties are relying more on celebrity power than ever before, with at least a dozen movie stars and entertainers in the mix. More:

BBC India Election Train

election_train

A group of 25 BBC journalists are on a cross-country tour of India on a special train to “present to the world stories and personalities” involved in the Parliament elections. The reporters represent 12 languages across 14 services. The train left Delhi on 25 April, and will return to the city in time for the election results on 16 May.

Click here to follow the election train.

Interview: Priyanka Gandhi

Outlook magazine’s Sheela Reddy catches up with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on the campaign trail.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

How old were you when you gave your first public speech?

I think when I was around 16-17 years.

How are you so clued in to the political scene?

Because my family is involved in it, I’ve grown up in that atmosphere. I’ve always known what is going on. I meet them, I hear what’s going on.

You once described your husband, Robert, as “a good man”. What did you mean?

He is one of the cleanest people I have ever met. He is someone who is completely comfortable in his own skin; he does not get carried away by anything. And considering that this life (in a high-profile political family) was new to him-it has really been only 12 years since he has been in this life-I think the way he handles it is absolutely amazing. More:

And below, Sheela Reddy accompanies Indira’s campaigning granddaughter

A Nose For Politics

The woman dumps a three-month-old sleeping infant in my lap and squeezes forward towards the barricade separating us from Priyanka Gandhi. The woman-mother? grandmother? it’s hard to tell, when the skin is weathered into this ageless, parched brown-has been waiting for over two hours for this moment, oblivious to the heat-a blazing 45°C-compounded by a hot wind blowing fine mists of dust on us. It’s the 13th of Priyanka’s 19 poll meetings for the day, and she goes through her drill-how her family is nothing without people’s support; how Sonia Gandhi is merely a public servant whose duty it is to carry out the public will; and far from doing them a favour, it is the people who’re doing the family a favour with their unstinting support. Read the full story in Outlook:

Raj Thackeray on his politics and policies

Financial Times interviews the founder of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) or Maharashtra Renaissance Army:

raj_thackerayFT: Do you believe there has been too much immigration into Mumbai?

Raj Thackeray: Every city or state has a limited capacity with regards to its ability to provide adequate facilities. The taxpayer is entitled to some essential things. Families should be able to provide their children with playgrounds and find places for them in schools. There should be enough hospitals. Water should be provided to all. Surplus electricity should be available. The taxpayer should be comfortable. Today there is such an influx [of people] that 40,000 live in slums next to the pipeline that provides water to the city of Mumbai. Then there is the issue of terrorism. We do not know who is a terrorist and who is a migrant worker…

FT: You’ve stated that the city lacks the capacity to house an influx of non-Maharastrian people. Should these people be stopped from coming.

Raj Thackeray: You have to stop these people from coming in because we have reached the maximum capacity of the city of Mumbai. We do not have places [for them] to stay. And then these people coming from outside and encroach upon municipal and government lands and set up slums. In today’s Mumbai, can you take your children out safely? Is there a place? Is there an open garden where parents can safely take their children out in the evenings? And then we have this daily influx of families. How will we discover who is a terrorist and who is a normal person? More:

Latest in Indian footwear: Protest

Emily Wax in the Washington Post:

shoes“Joota: The ultimate nonviolent weapon,” a front-page headline in the Mumbai Mirror tabloid read Monday, using the Hindi word for shoe. An editorial cartoon in the paper showed shoes being handed back to hurlers on silk pillows with a new wristwatch inside, “to get around the Election Commission’s code against bribing voters,” the caption read.

The shoe-as-missile-of-discontent appears to have been inspired by Muntadar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who lobbed both his shoes at President George W. Bush in December. Zaidi became an international hero. But he also drew a year in prison.

In India, New Delhi journalist Jarnail Singh kicked off the “shoe bite,” as the gesture is known here, when he threw a shoe at the home minister during a news conference this month in the capital. He said he was frustrated by the minister’s reply to a question about riots in 1984 in which hundreds of Sikhs were killed. More:

The boatmen of Allahabad

Jawid Laiq in the Hindustan Times:

It’s been exactly five years. I am back at the holy sangam, where the waters of the Ganga and the Yamuna merge, in Allahabad. I am here yet again for the fifth time as a political pilgrim during a Lok Sabha election to garner the electoral wisdom of the nishads, the boatmen who ferry yatris from every corner of the country to the sangam. On the sandy beach by the confluence, after a lot of prodding, the boatmen reveal what they have gathered from the political comments of hundreds of pilgrims from every region, clan and caste. The boatmen have proved to be more accurate election pollsters than the professional ones commissioned by TV channels and newspapers.

Among a group of nishads, sitting on a rough wooden platform embedded in the sand, there is a definite consensus: the top two contenders for the vote in Uttar Pradesh are the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress. As they repeatedly put it in colloquial Hindi, “Haathi aur Panjey may takkar hai”. (The contest is between the elephant and the hand – the symbols of the BSP and the Congress). Ranjan Kumar Nishad, who remembers me from my last visit, echoes the general opinion that the Congress will do much better in the state in 2009 than it did in 2004. The Samajwadi Party (SP) will fare badly this time and the BJP will be in fourth place in UP with only a handful of seats. Ranjan Kumar’s colleagues suggest that nationally the Congress may emerge again as the single largest party with significantly more than the 145 seats it got in 2004. They are unwilling to guess the precise number of seats.

More:

The party man or the economist?

LK Advani and Manmohan Singh

LK Advani and Manmohan Singh

One wants to be the Prime Minister of India for the next five years; the other, the incumbent, has been PM for the past five. Aakar Patel on LK Advani and Manmohan Singh in Mint-Lounge:

He opposes the Indo-US nuclear deal. Why? Because America does not treat India as “equals”. He views strategic policy through honour and emotion.

Of his autobiography’s 48 chapters, not one is on economics. Muslims, Kashmir, terrorism, Pakistan, Musharraf, Kargil, Shah Bano, Naxalism, Godhra, Assam, Ayodhya. These are his concerns. His passion is all about what other people should not do.

Under Advani, the BJP’s three policy thrusts were all negative: Muslims should not keep Babri Masjid; Muslims should not have polygamy; Kashmir should not have special status.

He offers nothing creative, even to Hindus, only resentment.

There is one brutally tough man in politics, but it is not Advani. This man is cold and emotionless when you observe him talk.

If power means the ability to influence change, he is the most powerful leader in the history of India.
His policies, 18 years old, cannot be bent, forget changed, by leaders who came after he wrote them.

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The Priyanka Gandhi interview

Barkha Dutt speaks to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on her grandmother, Indira Gandhi, her father’s assassination and how Vipassana meditation helped her make her mind up about politics

priyankaThe media has one persistent question for Priyanka Gandhi. Will she join politics? Her answer, so far, has remained a steadfast ‘no’. But now, for the first time, Priyanka Gandhi, the charismatic campaigner for the Congress in Amethi and Rae Bareli, reveals that for many years of her life, she was sure that politics was “absolutely what she wanted to.”

Priyanka, I know you’ve been asked whether you will join politics a million times. We know you’ve said you don’t want to be in politics, but you’ve never said why you don’t want to be in politics.

Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve figured out why myself. But I’m very clear I don’t want to be in politics, I’m very happy living my life the way I am. I think there are certain aspects of politics which I’m just not suited to.

You’re saying that from experience?

Yes, from having seen a lot of it. I mean, there was a time when I was a kid, when I was about 16-17 when I thought this is absolutely what I want to do with my life.

Really, you were excited by it?

Yes, but I think I wasn’t very clear about my own identity.

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In India, politics is good business

TN Ninan in Business Standard:

So now we know that, while every fourth member of the Lok Sabha has a criminal record, virtually every member is a crorepati. Quite a few would even qualify for membership of the Business Standard Billionaire Club (those with assets of over Rs 1 billion, or Rs 100 crore). We also know that these standard-bearers of socialism (every political party has to swear to this creed if it wants to be registered with the Election Commission) have increased their wealth manifold in the last five years. All this suggests a range of possible hypotheses: that politics is India’s most lucrative profession, that those with criminal records make more money than honest tribunes of the people, that those who speak in the name of the poor and rail against capitalist excesses are actually plutocrats in mufti, that you can get fat on the “mammaries of the welfare state” (every member can ask for Rs 2 crore to be spent on his favourite project, every year; that’s Rs 10 crore in a five-year term), that members can and do make money by asking questions in the House, that members can and do get offered money to vote in a particular way… All this is true even when you do not occupy ministerial office (which brings with it access to more mammaries), and though you have to spend campaign funds vastly in excess of what the law allows…

[Note: one crore = 10 million]

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Poll profile: Milind Deora

Can this young MP from Mumbai carry his constituency’s upmarket voters and its workers with the same ease? Liz Mathew in Mint:

Milind Deora

Milind Deora

Actor Salman Khan has campaigned for him, Housing Development Finance Corp. Ltd chairman Deepak Parekh is endorsing him, but as he readies for his second election, 33-year-old Milind Deora, the son of petroleum minister Murli Deora, faces a tough task in his Mumbai South constituency, as it has changed dramatically in the delimitation process.

South Mumbai now has nearly 1.7 million voters, or more than double the number of voters it had on its rolls in the 2004 general election. In fact, it’s gone from being one of India’s smallest, most somnolent (it registered only 274,358 valid votes last time) constituencies to being among its largest. It goes to vote on 30 April.

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Political dynasties: The Scindias

From The Indian Express:

Jyotiraditya Scindia, son of Madhavrao Scindia

Jyotiraditya Scindia, son of Madhavrao Scindia

Reconciling their royal past with democracy, and having extended the winning streak for so long, the Scindias have done what few royal families can boast of. For over five decades, at least one member of the family has represented the erstwhile Gwalior kingdom in Parliament. They have won as candidates of national parties, as Independents, and even when they floated a regional outfit.

The family’s political history began with the late Vijaya Raje Scindia, known popularly as Rajmata, winning from Guna in 1957. Since then, five more members of her family – three children and two grandchildren – have won polls from MP and Rajasthan.

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Mister Maharaja

Business Standard has an extract from a new book, “Madhavrao Scindia: A Life” (Penguin), by journalists Namita Bhandare (of Asian Window) and Vir Sanghvi. Prince-turned-politician Madhavrao Scindia, father of Jyotiraditya (read the above story on the Scindia dynasty), died in an air crash in 2001:

scindia_bookRemembering what shikar had taught him about life, Madhavrao took his son with him to track animals – including big cat – at Shivpuri. “He tried to instill in me a sense of fearlessness,” says Jyotiraditya. “He didn’t want me to be scared of the unknown.”

Sometimes the lessons would be learnt the hard way. Jyotiraditya remebers an incident at the national park in Shivpuri. Madhavrao was driving and it was sunset and beginning to grow dark. As a joke, Madhavrao began pretending that his jeep had stalled. As he fiddled with the engine Jyotiraditya who, frightened by the possibility of being stranded in the wild with big cats lurking at night-time, promptly burst into tears.

“My father was simply furious,” remembers Jyotiraditya. “He told me to get out of the jeep, put on his headlights and made me start walking ahead alone in the wild.” After a few minutes, Madhavrao pulled up against his son, held out his hand and hauled him into the jeep.

“I don’t want my son to be a cry baby,” he said.

More: And click here to read a review of the book