Tag Archive for 'Congress Party'

Interpreting Sonia Gandhi

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

In Zareer Masani’s recent memoir of his parents, And All is Said, he quotes a letter written to him by his mother in 1968. “Yesterday we went to Mrs Pandit’s reception for Rajiv Gandhi and his wife,” wrote Shakuntala Masani, adding, “I can’t tell you how dim she is, and she comes from a working-class family. I really don’t know what he saw in her.”

And All is Said was widely reviewed when it was published, but no reviewer seems to have picked up on this comment. Shakuntala Masani was the daughter of Sir J.P. Srivastava, once one of the most influential men in India, an industrialist with wide business interests and a member of the viceroy’s executive council besides. Shakuntala’s husband, Minoo Masani, was a well-educated Parsi from a family of successful professionals, who was himself a leading politician and writer. By upbringing and marriage Shakuntala Masani was a paid-up member of the Indian elite. Hence the condescending remarks about the working-class Italian whom Rajiv Gandhi had chosen as his wife.

The object of Mrs Masani’s contempt has, for some time now, been the most powerful person in India. How did she achieve that power, and what has she done with it? Sonia Gandhi’s rise in politics has been at least as unlikely as Barack Obama’s. Moving to Cambridge to learn English (but not at the university), she met and fell in love with Rajiv Gandhi. He brought her to India, where she lived a life of quiet domesticity, bringing up her children and attending to her husband. Through the turmoil of the 1970s, through the Emergency and its aftermath, Rajiv Gandhi stayed well out of politics. His stated ambition, at this stage, was to be promoted from flying Avros between Delhi and Lucknow to piloting Boeings on the more prestigious Delhi-Bombay run. More

Sycophants saffron and white

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

They say a writer is known by the enemies he makes. Earlier this week, I was alerted to an attack on me posted on the website of the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. “Ramachandra Guha’s impotent anger,” claimed Modi’s website, “is typical of a snobbish but vacuous intellectual who simply cannot tolerate a person from humble background attaining greatness by the dint of his own hard work, learning and persistence. But Ramachandra Guha, after more than 40 years of Dynasty history writing remains where he is while Narendra Modi has continues [sic]to scale up. Which is why Modi can speak about and implement well-considered policies on topics as diverse as governance, economy, environment, industry, infrastructure, solar energy, IT, and tourism while Guha is simply unable to look beyond the walls of 10 Janpath.” (http://www.narendramodi.in/the-will-of-the-people-always-triumphs/ accessed July 9, 2012.)

This paragraph contains a series of innuendos, half-truths, and outright falsehoods. To begin with the most elementary error, my CV as it appears on Modi’s website exaggerates my professional longevity. I have been a historian for a mere 25 years, and a political historian for only the last 10 of those years.

More importantly, Modi’s website names as my friends people I have not been in the same room with, and who, if they were to read my writings, would very likely consider me their enemy. I have never entered 10, Janpath, nor met any of its occupants. On the other hand, in books and essays written over the years, I have often criticized the public role of the Congress’s First Family. I have deplored the conversion by Indira Gandhi of a countrywide party with vigorous state and district units into an extension of herself. I have written of how the first Mrs Gandhi destroyed public institutions by encouraging politicians to appoint officials on the basis of personal loyalty rather than competence or integrity. I have turned a critical lens on Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministership as well, showing how his pandering to Muslim and Hindu chauvinists helped catalyze two decades of civil conflict. More:

The Priyanka Gandhi factor

Smita Gupta in The Hindu:

Earlier this week when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spent three days in Uttar Pradesh, drumming up support for the Congress in the 10 Assembly segments across the two parliamentary constituencies held by her mother Sonia Gandhi and brother Rahul Gandhi, there was the predictable speculation in the media: was the Gandhi-Nehru — acknowledged in the party as the most charismatic living member in the family — about to join active politics?

It wasn’t just the glamour quotient at work: Ms. Vadra triggered off some of the speculation herself when she was asked by journalists if she was planning to campaign outside the family stronghold, something she does in every election. “I have not decided yet… So far I am here in Amethi and Rae Bareli and my brother and I will talk to each other and decide on it,” she said, stressing, “I’ll do anything for my brother, whatever is required of me. I’ll do whatever he requires me to do.”

Pressed on whether she would join active politics if Mr. Gandhi asked her to, she was deliberately ambivalent: “He knows to what extent he can require me.”

Since then, while the Congress confirmed that Ms. Vadra would be back for a second foray into Rae Bareli and Amethi, closer to the elections there next month, all that senior U.P. leaders have been willing to say is the extent of her engagement will be decided by the family, as the campaign progresses. More:

Brand Priyanka

Shobha John in The Times of India:

 She’s called a ‘reluctant bride’, a ‘seasonal variation’ and a ‘media lovely’. For the swish set, Priyanka Gandhi is a fashion icon or a socialite. But when she goes to the rural hinterlands, she’s appears wrapped casually in a cotton sari, reminding one of her grandmother. And now, she’s campaigning in UP for her brother Rahul. UP is the acid test for Brand Rahul. But it’s Priyanka that people are talking about despite her campaigning in the ‘family’ constituencies. Will Brand Priyanka work for the party and her brother? “Priyanka’s presence may have marginal impact at the ground level. She has Indira Gandhi’s looks, has more charm than Rahul and can draw people, but in today’s caste-based politics, these factors may only garner more audience, not votes. Often, people come to see her out of sheer curiosity,” says Mithileshwar Jha, professor of marketing, IIM-Bangalore. “She’s like a reluctant bride but people want to see what she will deliver.”

While she is visually appealing with Indira’s aquiline nose and charisma, ad gurus say that a premium brand needs much more than just beautiful packaging. “The Congress has not been able to create a mass leader after Indira,” says Sajan Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman of Creativeland Asia. “A brand needs sustained content and stature. I don’t know what the content here is. Rahul and Priyanka come across as tender newbies in front of hardened politicos like Mulayam and Mayawati.” More


Whose politics is it anyway?

Sunil Khilnani in the Times of India argues that recent movements exemplified by Anna Hazare, the battles over mining and land use and the opposition to nuclear installations challenge our definitions of political action.

The Anna Hazare meteor, as well as many other recent agitations and mobilisations roiling across the landscape – whether battles over mining, land or the siting of nuclear installations, whether about khap panchayats or over gujjar status – are not simply disaffected challenges to the particular party that happens to be in office. They go deeper than the issue of the Indian state’s ability to govern adequately. In fact, they display all the signs of a more fundamental disturbance that, periodically, unsettles our sense of the political domain.

Set aside for a moment the disparate individual figures and collective aspirations involved in recent protests, or even their actual substantive demands. The fact is that by resolutely refusing the existing party political channels in favour of direct action, they pose at once a practical challenge to our political routines as well as to our very ideas of what politics actually is. That is, they challenge the accepted definitions of political action and argument, and question the repertoire of acceptable political protest.  more

Get well soon, Sonia Gandhi

She isn’t particularly educated, secured her position because of whom she married and has compromised when needed. So what makes Sonia Gandhi India’s most powerful leader? In The Friday Times, Aakar Patel searches for the answers.

Sonia Gandhi, who has led India’s largest political party since 1998, is in a New York hospital after being operated on for cancer.

The Gandhi family has been secretive about her illness, and it came out only after being reported in the foreign press. Those in the Congress party who must have been updated about her condition, like prime minister Manmohan Singh and Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, have not spoken about it. We do not really know how serious the illness is, which organ is affected or even whether or not it is in fact cancer. London’s Daily Telegraph reported that Gandhi had been under treatment for eight months before flying out in secrecy. This indicates that the surgery was serious and not “routine” as described by the Congress party’s spokesmen. more

Congress’ crisis of leadership

One thing becomes apparent after ‘India’s carnival of direct democracy in Ram Lila’, writes Swapan Dasgupta in The Pioneer: the clear absence of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership potential. Confronted by the limitations of the heir apparent, the Congress is now in a state of denial.

It has been an entire week since Anna Hazare broke his fast and ended the carnival of direct democracy in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. Yet, a week has proved to be a woefully short time for the message of the 12-day August upsurge to sink in. From Lutyens’ Delhi to Chanakyapuri, there is consternation and confusion over the impact of the stir. Will it be the proverbial Indian storm when people let the legions thunder past and plunge to sleep again? Or, will India never be the same again?

The magnitude of concern can’t be underestimated. Over the past week I have heard pillars of the Establishment first express bewilderment over Anna’s appeal and then, as the evening progressed, seen tut-tutting give way to unrestrained fulminations. As for the political class, conspiracy theories centred on RSS involvement and the lavish use of ‘foreign money’ has evolved into a robust defence of what a quasi-political functionary described to me as “Constitutional fundamentalism”. In practical terms, this has not involved a discovery of Edmund Burke but base recriminations: Slapping privilege notices and tax demands on the infamous Team Anna. more

Stand up and be counted

Will Rahul Gandhi step forward and provide his party the leadership it so desperately needs now asks Akshaya Mishra in FirstPost.com

Extraordinary crises throw up extraordinary leaders. For the Congress, which is at present fighting almost the whole country with its back against the wall, the snow-balling Anna Hazare movement is no ordinary problem.

The group managing the party’s affairs in the absence of party chief Sonia Gandhi has messed up the situation by ill-calculated moves. The leadership vacuum at the top is glaringly apparent. It needs to find a leader who would connect to the masses and assuage hurt feelings all around, immediately.

Will Rahul Gandhi be that extraordinary one? This is his big political test. This is the moment for him to move out of the shadows of senior party leaders and make a statement for himself. If he refuses to take up the challenge now, he would end up being seen as any other non-descript Congress leader, a backroom manipulator with no guts to rise to the occasion. more

Gandhi dynasty: politics as usual

As Sonia Gandhi receives medical treatment in the U.S., foreign – and not Indian – media reported about the leader of the Congress Party. Can Indians hope that the party will have the maturity to elect one from amongst itself or will the limp Indian opposition cohere into a credible force, ask Neelam Deo and Manjeet Kripalani in Gateway House.

As the Indian television channels fell over each other to cover in minute detail, the unseemly succession drama of the Chief Minister of Karnataka, and the Comptroller and Auditor General’s naming of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in the graft and corruption surrounding the India-hosted Comomwealth Games, by 2.30 pm this afternoon (August 4), foreign television agencies the BBC and Agence France-Presse reported that Sonia Gandhi, head of India’s ruling Congress Party, has undergone surgery in the United States. The foreign news reports named Gandhi’s spokesperson, Janardhan Dwivedi, as the source of the information. Dwivedi stated that Gandhi would be away, recuperating, for up to three weeks.

The news of Sonia Gandhi’s undisclosed illness and secret departure has come as a shock to Indians, who of late, have been feeling distanced from their government and are reeling from disclosures of massive graft by politicians and a failure to control inflation. Democratic institutions like the media and the Parliament, which should have disclosed Gandhi’s condition as a matter of public knowledge, have kept silent. more

Sonia Gandhi’s health can’t be a state secret, it’s not about privacy

Ever since news of Sonia Gandhi’s illness and subsequent surgery, reportedly at Sloane Kettering Memorial Hospital, New York, broke there has been endless speculation about the state of her health. The Congress party, however, has been tight-lipped, saying only that she will return after recuperating for two to three weeks and that her family asks that her privacy be respected. In FirstPost.com, R Jagannathan questions the need for secrecy.

There are only questions, and no answers so far, on Sonia Gandhi’s illness that required a surgery.

One, how can the nation’s most powerful political leader, virtual chief executive of the ruling party, not let us know that there was something for us to be concerned about?

Two, how is it that when so many people knew about it—her immediate family, close political advisors, doctors and hospital staff, and personal attendants—the media never got a whiff of it? And if it did, why did it choose to keep so quiet about it?

Three, is news about the illness or medical condition of the people who run our country a state secret? When the main reason for keeping a PM out of Lokpal is that the top executive should not be distracted by nitpicking concerns, is it legitimate to have our No. 1 political leader being unfit through illness?

Four, what makes us—as a people—particularly afraid to learn the truth about our leaders’ medical condition, whether it is politicians or businessmen? Are we happier living in a state of denial?

Five, why is it that even when we do know something now, there is a strange reluctance to reveal the full truth. A Congress party statement merely said: “Sonia Gandhi has been recently diagnosed with a medical condition that requires surgery. On advice from her doctors, she has travelled abroad and is likely to be away for two to three weeks.” more

From fig leaf to banana republic

Nobody sheds a tear when the police harass ordinary citizens. But with the rich and powerful under the corruption scanner, the Prime Minister now fears a police state. Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

The Prime Minister and his advisors just don’t get it. At a time when the public is looking for an end to the loot of public money, the last thing they want to hear from their government is a bunch of excuses and alibis.

In his interaction with a small group of editors on Wednesday, Dr. Manmohan Singh made a number of arguments to justify the half-hearted action that has been taken so far against the politicians, officials and businessmen suspected of corruption in the telecom, hydrocarbon and other sectors.

First he said the decisions which the media and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) are citing as evidence of irregularities and graft were all taken in good faith under conditions of uncertainty. “If out of 10 decisions that I take, seven turn out to be right ex-post, that would be considered an excellent performance,” he said. “But if you have a system which is required to perform [in] 10 out of 10 cases, no system can be effective and satisfy that onerous condition.”

His second argument was to attack all bearers of bad tidings, accusing the CAG of going beyond the limits prescribed by Constitution and the media of being judge, jury and executioner rolled into one. The Prime Minister then invoked the spectre of India becoming a police state — a situation “where everybody is policing everybody else” and the entrepreneurial spirit of our businessmen is crushed — if the present atmosphere of “cynicism” about government decisions continued. Finally, he sought to puncture the popular demand for a strong and effective Lokpal, saying an ombudsman of that kind was not a panacea. Instead, he suggested the government’s Unique ID programme might be the magic wand people are looking for: “If … [we] can give unique ID numbers to all our residents, we would have discovered a new pathway to eliminate the scope for corruption and leakages in the management and distribution of various subsidies.” More:

The duet of prime minister and party president is not working

Rramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

Although Manmohan Singh is, in theory, head of government, he has absolute authority only in one sphere — foreign policy — and substantial authority in one other sphere — namely, economic policy. On matters such as relations between India and Pakistan, and the government’s position on nuclear proliferation, Sonia Gandhi has no wish to shape the government’s policy. We do have a foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, but on these questions he too is happy to defer to the judgment of the prime minister.

Before he joined the Congress, Singh was an economist, not a diplomat. His first (and most successful) assignment in politics was as finance minister of the government of India from 1991 to 1996. However, as prime minister, while he has complete autonomy in foreign policy, in the realm of economics he shares his powers with the finance minister and the Congress president. When it comes to macroeconomic issues such as trade policy and monetary policy, Singh has a substantial say. When it comes to welfarist measures such as food distribution and fertilizer subsidies, he has to often bow to the wishes (and political compulsions) of the party president.

As for Sonia Gandhi, it is now increasingly apparent that her public statements and public appearances are directly linked to their presumed electoral benefits. If she can appear as one who, by the grace of her personality, helps the citizens of India live a more stable and economically secure life, then she will speak and show herself in public. Thus, a scheme that puts money or foodgrains in the hands of the poor will be inaugurated by her, but so also a bridge or airport which facilitates travel for the middle class and the affluent. More:

Unlikely person at the heart of India’s scandal

Lydia Polgreen in The New york Times:

He was a small-town lawyer from a regional political party in a southern Indian state. By almost any measure, Andimuthu Raja, who had no background in telecommunications or in business, seemed an unlikely candidate to be the government minister presiding over the fastest-growing cellphone market in the world.

But he had the only qualification that mattered: the ironclad backing of the political chieftain of his party, a crucial ally of the governing Congress Party. Without his party’s 16 members of the lower house of Parliament, the government cobbled together from squabbling allies would collapse.

Mr. Raja is now at the center of what may turn out to be the biggest political corruption scandal in Indian history. He is accused of using his post to sell off valuable mobile telephone spectrum licenses in 2008 at rock-bottom prices. His decisions may have cost the Indian treasury as much as $40 billion, according to a government investigative report released last week. More:

India’s young and poor rally to another Gandhi

Jim Yardley on Rahul Gandhi in The New York Times:

Rahul Gandhi’s helicopter descends out of the boiling afternoon sky and a restless, sweat-soaked crowd of 100,000 people suddenly surges to life. Men rush forward in the staggering heat. Teenage boys wave a white bedsheet bearing a faintly cheeky request: We Want to Meet the Prince of India.

Mr. Gandhi climbs onto a special viewing stand in this isolated corner of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and offers a boyish wave. Not yet 40, Mr. Gandhi is the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, the grandson of India’s fourth prime minister and the son of India’s seventh prime minister. His audience includes some of the poorest people in India.

“I’m standing here with you,” he declared to loud cheers, speaking for about 15 minutes before he left, waving through the window of his helicopter. “I can come with you anywhere and everywhere to fight with you.”

India is Mr. Gandhi’s family inheritance. Seemingly the only uncertainty is when he will collect it. He holds no major post in government, yet rumors persist that the governing Indian National Congress Party — whose president is his mother, Sonia Gandhi — might install him as prime minister before the current government expires in 2014. The job’s current occupant, Manmohan Singh, recently had to bat away retirement questions.

Yet despite his aura of inevitability, Mr. Gandhi largely remains an enigma. India is an emerging power, facing myriad domestic and international issues, but he remains deliberately aloof from daily politics. His thoughts on many major issues — as well as the temperature of the fire in his belly — remain mostly unknown. More

Congress censors book on Sonia’s life

From The Indian Express:

The Congress’s censorship goes on. After objecting to certain parts of Prakash Jha’s movie Rajneeti, the party is now up in arms against Madrid-based writer Javier Moro’s novel based on its president Sonia Gandhi’s life.

The Spanish book is called El Sari Rojo (The Red Sari, subtitled When Life is the Price of Power), a reference to the red sari Sonia wore on her wedding day, “one that Nehru wove while he was in jail”. First published in October 2008, the book has already been translated into Italian, French and Dutch, and an English translation by Peter Hearn is ready for publication.

In an email, Moro, 55, said that Sonia’s lawyers, including Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, “have just written to my Italian and Spanish publishers to demand the withdrawal of the book from the stores. Nobody understands very well why, but that’s what they are up to”.

Moro thinks that the Congress leaders “did not like the recreation of her life in Italy as told in my book”. More:

The catholicity of Sonia

Aakar Patel in Mint-Lounge:

Born in December 1946, Sonia got her certificate at 18. She’s had no education since. Her important qualification is for English, but those who watch her on television are struck by how poor her English is. She cannot express complex ideas in it.

The Nehru-Gandhis were all dull students. Rajiv failed in Cambridge, Indira failed in Oxford, Sanjay failed in high school and Nehru didn’t shine at Trinity.

It’s unlikely Sonia knows much about world history. If she has read Seneca and Cicero she doesn’t show it. Those unburdened by education, like Sanjay Gandhi, find it easier to view things as either good or bad. How has this affected Sonia’s decisions? We shall see later.

Sonia is slim and fit. At the dining table, she is probably disciplined. She looks younger than 64. Her aesthetic sense may be seen in her understated saris. She dresses in neat perfection, like an Italian woman. Her manner isn’t brusque. With the press she’s polite, and listens before responding. Her tone rarely changes. When attacking BJP leaders, she uses the oblique unko or unhonein. This distances her from them, while BJP is crude and direct with her. Her Hindi is broken, but she persists with it through a sentence, unlike urban Indians who mix Hindi with English. More:

Reinvigorating the BJP

Swapan Dasgupta in The Wall Street Journal:

Barely 10 months ago, India’s elites agonized over the possibility that the general election would produce an unstable and fractious coalition government that would jeopardize the country’s economic growth. Today, with a stable government in place and the Congress Party having clearly established its political primacy, Lutyens’ Delhi resonates with whispered concern over the absence of a purposeful opposition.

The concern is based on a string of misgivings. The Manmohan Singh government is perceived to have grown utterly complacent. With inflation having crossed 8% and the price of food having registered a sharper increase, there is a feeling that the government is letting matters slide because it doesn’t fear political opposition and social unrest. There are fears that political considerations are preventing a robust response to the Maoist threat. Finally, in the aftermath of the Copenhagen summit and the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, there are concerns that the prime minister is obliging the Obama administration excessively.

Since it lost power in 2004, the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s principal opposition party, has lost its earlier appeal among the middle classes and the youth. This erosion of support was a consequence of a tired leadership, internal feuding, the pursuit of a policy of blind obstruction to all government initiatives and a failure to check sectarian hotheads identified with its Hindu nationalist ideology. From being a party of conservative Middle India, the BJP ceded its centrist space to the Congress Party. In recent months, it has been paralysed by a failure to counter the appeal of Rahul Gandhi, the Congress heir-apparent. More:

The Jinnah cap

The Jinnah cap has long symbolised Pakistan’s national ideology and the wearer’s political aspirations. Qurat ul ain Siddiqui in Dawn:

One piece of attire has long symbolised Pakistan’s national ideology: the Jinnah cap. Technically known as the Qaraqul cap, for it is made from the fur of the Qaraqul breed of sheep, the hat is typically worn by Central Asian men (presently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is rarely seen without his). But in Pakistan, the hat has been firmly identified with the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah for decades. This affiliation has ensured that others who sport the cap are understood to be making a political, rather than fashion, statement. Indeed, as Pakistan’s democratic fortunes have waxed and waned over the years, the choice by certain politicians to don the Jinnah cap has revealed much about political aspirations and the public mood.

The Jinnah cap was first initiated into national politics in 1937, when Jinnah sported it at the Lucknow session of the All India Muslim League on October 15. The cap was part of a complete change in Jinnah’s wardrobe; he surrendered his Saville Row suits in favour of a sherwani and Qaraqul cap meant to signify his commitment to the idea of a separate nation for the Muslims of South Asia.

Interestingly, at that point, many regarded the Jinnah cap as an answer to the hand-spun cotton cap which Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru used to wear, and which had come to symbolise the Congress Party’s ideals at the time. More:

The battle for the soul of the BJP

Samanth Subramanian in Foreign Affairs:

bjpTeen Murti Bhavan, a classical stone-and-stucco structure in the handsomest enclave of New Delhi, has long been identified with its most famous former resident: Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and the architect of the Congress Party. It took a biting sense of irony, therefore, to organize the book release for Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence at Nehru’s old house this past August. Over the course of 650-odd pages, the opposition stalwart frequently pins the blame for the 1947 partition of India on Nehru (and, by extension, the Congress Party) and largely absolves Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, of responsibility.

As one of the house intellectuals of the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Singh — a former minister of finance and external affairs — might have felt safe making such an argument. He was not. Two days after the release party, Singh was expelled from the BJP by a committee that, in all probability, had not even read his book. Where there had previously been only peepholes, his expulsion opened a whole window onto the most riveting political theater in India today: the precarious disarray of the BJP. And the disarray matters. For nearly two decades now, the BJP has been a contender, a semblance of a coherent alternative to the otherwise dominant Congress Party. A fragmented BJP would thus mean a tectonically different polity, one in which a single party would always form the core of the Indian government. More:

Indian election 2009: The verdict

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


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:

Cricketer Azharuddin bats for Congress

From The Indian Express:

azharuddinThe morning after his first public rally, a tired Mohammad Azharuddin was fast asleep in Rampur. An hour and a half away, hidden between two shops in a busy, local market, the Moradabad District Congress Committee office was still recovering from the hangover of the previous afternoon.

In this modest establishment, the walls are adorned with posters of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul, and in one corner – gleaming in all its newness – is a picture of Azharuddin in a sharp, pin-striped suit. “We would have preferred kurta pyjama but we couldn’t get any other suitable picture from the Internet. Even Bhabhi ji (Azhar’s wife Sangeeta Bijlani) was in that photo but we had to erase her on the computer,” says a smiling party worker handing out sugary tea. “This time we will win by 1 lakh votes,” he adds, with a flourish. More:

Assessing Manmohan Singh

As Indian heads for an election, Tehelka in a special issue analyses five years of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister:

The Shadow Warrior by Tarun J. Tejpal, Editor of Tehelka:

manmohansinghThe simple way for history to read the unusual Sikh is to say the Bible was right. The meek will inherit the earth – and sometimes the meek will also be decent and efficient. There can be no dispute about that – his decency and efficiency. Yet, laudable traits as they are, they are also routinely found in army officers, film technicians and swayamsewaks. In the leader of a billion people you may want to look for more. Vision, inspiration, courage, will, statecraft – the ability to articulate the soul of a people, to bend the arc of history to a higher note. Execution and implementation are indispensably wonderful things, but there are sound men to do that, bureaucrats and technocrats, economists and social workers – all of them excellent masons and carpenters constructing the edifice the architect has ordained. More:

The Turnaround Man by Sanjaya Baru who was Manmohan Singh’s media advisor:

Consider the facts. In 1991, India was on the verge of economic bankruptcy, and one of its key strategic allies, the Soviet Union, had just disappeared. There was domestic political turmoil, with the Indian National Congress forced to form a minority government after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. This came barely six years after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. No analyst would have regarded India a ‘rising power’ of the 21st century. Yet, presenting his first Budget to Parliament in July 1991, Manmohan Singh dared to predict that the idea of India as a rising economic power was “an idea whose time had come”. The rest, as they say, is history. More:

The Professor’s Empty Class, in which Swapan Dasgupta provides the view from the Right:

Any assessment of Manmohan’s stint must proceed with the recognition that India’s most non-political Prime Minister succeeded in the most politically daunting challenge before him: he carried his bat through the entire innings. It is conceivable that he succeeded precisely because he never deviated from his contrived unconcern with day-to-day politics. He was careful to never pose any threat to the politicians, and they, in turn, were happy to leave him undisturbed. Had he developed political ambitions midway – and it is so easy to acquire delusions of grandeur in a rarefied environment – he would undoubtedly have been a member of the other club of Prime Ministers who left prematurely. More:

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Congress gets “Jai Ho”

From The Telegraph, Calcutta:

jaihoThe Congress has acquired the rights to Jai ho, the Slumdog Millionaire song that won the Academy award for best song, from music distributor T-Series for an undisclosed sum.

The chartbuster, written by Gulzar, sung by Sukhwinder Singh and set to music by A.R. Rahman, will be “suitably amended” before being used as the party’s signature song in the election campaign. So- urces said Jai Ho’s “soul and spirit” would be retained.

The attempt will be to convey the song’s sense of “grit, optimism and hope”. The party will approach the trio behind the winning number to carry out the improvisations.


The Indian Railway King

Graeme Wood profiles Lalu Yadav in The American: [via 3quarksdaily]

lalu_yadavNEW DELHI-In his boyhood, long before Lalu Yadav became India’s most unlikely management guru, he sometimes strayed from his cows and scampered barefoot to the railroad tracks. Dodging crowds and porters, he made his way to the first-class cars and, for a few glorious moments, basked in the air conditioning that blasted from the open door. Then the police would spot him and shoo him away, into the moist trackside cowflap where he belonged.

The boy has grown up, but when I meet him in his New Delhi office, he’s still barefoot, and a headache for train conductors everywhere. Lalu Yadav, 61, is now the boss of all 2.4 million Indian Railways employees. When he wants air conditioning, he nods, and a railway employee hops up to twist the dial. As minister of railways, he rules India’s largest employer-one with annual revenues in the tens of billions-from a fine leather sofa, his sandals and a silver spittoon on the floor nearby and a clump of tobacco in his cheek.

Lalu is a happy man: happy to have risen to become rich, beloved, and reviled all over India; happy that a grateful nation credits him with whipping its beleaguered rail system into profitability; and happy that he’s managed to do all this and somehow stay out of jail. Under his leadership, Indian Railways has gone from bankruptcy to billions in just a few years. When Lalu presented his latest budget to Parliament on February 13, he bragged, “Hathi ko cheetah bana diya” (“I have turned an elephant into a cheetah”). What’s his secret?


The year of the rat is eating our vitals

In Mail Today, Manoj Joshi argues that the travails of the Congress seem to be deepening as the darkness descends on the political landscape of the country

JUST eight months or so ago, everything seemed to be going well for the world. The global economy was ticking along; the US, was headed for an election whose winner felt she was predestined; following a spectacular 2007 when its economy did even better than before, Beijing was readying itself for its coming out party, the 2008 summer Olympic games. In New Delhi there was a government which was beginning to believe that given the disarray in the ranks of the principal Opposition party, and the country’s buoyant economy, the next election was a cakewalk.

Then came the Year of the Rat and everything seems to be in turmoil. Things are not looking too good, not for the world, not for India. Super-billionaire Warren Buffet has declared that the US is now in a recession, one that could last for several years. Having managed to beat down the pro-Tibet agitation, China has been struck by a natural calamity of enormous proportions. The May 12 earthquake has taken 100,000 lives and caused widespread destruction and has brought a pall of gloom over the country which the Olympic celebrations will not lighten. As for India, it is gripped by a different kind of a crisis, a madness, if you will, that is impelling our political class to wantonly undermine, squander, and even destroy, every opportunity and advantage the country has been blessed with.