Tag Archive for 'Congress'

What about 1984?

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

1984 had two major consequences. First, it radically undermined the Congress’s claim to being a secular party that respected the political tradition of pluralism pioneered by its colonial avatar and consolidated by Nehru in the early years of the republic. The willingness of the Congress under Indira Gandhi to use sectarian issues for political ends had been evident before 1984 but the party’s willingness to sell its pluralist soul for immediate political advantage was most vividly illustrated in the days and months after her death. The Congress, after 1984, stood out more and more clearly as a party that couldn’t even be accused of not having the courage of its convictions because it didn’t have any convictions at all. Pluralism and its traditional opposition to majoritarianism became labels that the Congress used for brand management in particular political contexts, not as principles that shaped its political agenda.

The second consequence of 1984 was that Indira Gandhi’s assassination sealed the Congress’s long transition to dynastic rule in blood. The rhetoric of martyrdom that debases the political utterances of the Congress faithful dates back to that time. From being a great pan-Indian party that made a subcontinent cohere into a republic, the Congress after 1984 regressed into a de- natured dynastic rump.

Let us return to our question, namely, “What makes Modi and the BJP worse than the Congress and its dynasts, given the horror of 1984?” The answer is simple and unedifying. The Congress, by a kind of historical default, is a pluralist party that is opportunistically communal while the BJP is an ideologically communal (or majoritarian) party that is opportunistically ‘secular’. The difference between the Congress and the BJP doesn’t lie mainly in the willingness of the former to express contrition about pogroms it helped organize; it is, perhaps, best illustrated by the fact that twenty years after the 1984 pogrom, the Congress assumed office with a Sikh at the helm who served as prime minister for two terms. More:

Politics after President Pranab

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

Based on these dynamics, there are four possible outcomes of the 2014 elections. (1) Re-election of the UPA under Rahul Gandhi; (2) Victory of the NDA with the BJP in a strong but not commanding position within the alliance; (3) Emergence of a Congress-supported centre-left ‘Third Front;’ (4) A BJP-supported centre-right ‘Fourth Front’ led by someone like Nitish Kumar.

Going by the current state of play at the State level, the last option — of the ‘Fourth Front’ — seems to have the edge over 2 or 1. Option 3 becomes viable if the SP and the Trinamool, which today have around 45 seats, are able to more than double their tally, but without the Communists providing the ideological glue is unlikely to take off.

The corporate sector’s preference would be for 1, 2 or 4. Options 1 and 2 promise them “stability” and the possibility of pushing reforms. Option 4 will be unstable but offers the greatest opportunity for primitive accumulation through resource rents. More:

Why the Congress represents Indian values best

Aakar Patel in Mint Lounge:

We are a Congress-minded nation.

In saying this, I don’t mean we’re a nation of Congress voters, though that also is not inaccurate. Other than in one election, 1977, Indians have always voted for the Congress more than for any other party.

What I mean is that Indian values are best, and I would even say, only represented by the Congress. These values are religious accommodation, comfort with racial and linguistic diversity, acceptance of caste in politics, comfort in dynasty and a preference for compromise over principle. This flexibility has kept India democratic, and it is a Congress trait. The party also represents the middle-class consensus which views India as a great civilizing force, and seeks a nurturing of India’s cultural aesthetic.

In Pakistan’s The Express Tribune, Khaled Ahmed wrote on 8 April: “The Indian Constitution informs the attitude of the Indian middle class, which is tolerant of secularism.” This is true, and as an idea it is owned by the Congress.

Unlike the Tories and Labour in the UK or Republicans and Democrats in the US, we don’t have division by ideology in Hindu middle-class society. More:

Rahul Gandhi’s U.P. strategy

Aakar Patel in The Express Tribune:

Though he managed to increase vote share, Rahul Gandhi was able to deliver only a handful of more seats. Since he had campaigned very heavily in the state, he is thought to have lost face here. Is he a loser?

I would say that he has been judged too soon. The fact is that in both 2009’s general elections and this year’s state election, the Congress has been adding voters. It has not been able to do this fast enough to satisfy the media, but a trend is visible. If it continues, the Congress may be able to challenge UP’s two big parties. Of these, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party has a core of Dalit voters. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party counts on votes from the Yadav peasant community and from Muslims. For the last two elections, these parties got between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of the total votes. Rahul Gandhi’s UP strategy directly attacks these two parties. If, by the next election, he is able to soften enough Dalits and Muslims to add another five per cent to the Congress’s vote share, success will be at hand.

The fourth party in the state is the BJP. Its upper-caste Hindu vote bank is secure, but stuck at 15 per cent. Except for the Congress, no party has the flexibility to take on voters from the other parties. More


Lesson of UP polls

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

To say that the election results for five state assemblies came in on Tuesday is true but misleading. One of those five states is more like a country — a large, backward country — than a state. According to the 2011 census, Uttar Pradesh is home to roughly 200 million people which makes it, demographically, a political unit slightly larger than Brazil.

More to the point, UP accounts for one-sixth of India’s population and is central to its politics. Since the turn of the century, though, the two major national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have been reduced to bit players in the politics of this crucial state. This impression was confirmed by Tuesday’s election results: the Congress ‘improved’ its seat share by winning 28 seats (37 if you count the nine seats won by its ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal) while the BJP won 47 seats even as its vote share declined.

The pattern of provincial elections in UP over the past 20 years has two principal features. First, anti-incumbency strictly defines election results: the ruling party is voted out each time. Second, while the alternation between the ruling party and the principal opposition party remains a constant, the parties playing these roles have changed.

In the 1990s, boosted by the Ram Janmabhoomi mobilization and the communal polarization created by the razing of the Babri Masjid, the BJP was one half of the incumbent/anti-incumbent minuet, but over the last three elections, two ‘provincial’ parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, have taken over the dance floor. More:

Mandate for a dream

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express:

India is stirring in ways that confound political analysis. Uttar Pradesh was, by all measures, a remarkable election: intense, youthful but at the same time peaceful, civil and substantive. To the superficial eye, these elections seem like old wine in new bottles: intense local bargaining, equations of caste and community, candidates tinged with corruption or criminality. However, underneath, there is almost a social revolution in the making. Voters are showing a remarkable capacity for making fine distinctions. The strategy is, first and foremost, to search for the party most likely to form a stable government. These elections confirm a growing trend that knee-jerk anti-incumbency is a thing of the past. Performance can be rewarded as much as punished.

In UP, voters were called on to make very sophisticated strategic judgements. But strip away the too-clever-by-half analysis. And they are choosing empowerment over patronage, the future over the past, performance over rhetoric, sincerity over cynicism, rootedness over disembodied charm, measured realism over flights of fantasy. They are carefully assessing alternatives through the prism of local circumstances. Identities still matter, but voters are no longer prisoners of those identities. Despite the occasional clumsiness of the Congress, the election in UP was without a trace of community polarisation: no one felt on the edge or under siege, all could exercise options without being unduly burdened by the past. In a democracy, where you are going should be more important than where you are coming from. These elections have redeemed that promise. More:

They just didn’t get it

Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express:

So, what else is new about this verdict, in UP, and elsewhere too? First of all, it has again highlighted to us the perils of contemptuously stereotyping communities and ethnicities as dumb vote banks. Muslims, in particular, have been treated shoddily by political intellectuals of the left and religious right. In 2008, both said that any party supporting the Indo-US nuclear deal would lose the Muslim vote. As if our Muslims somehow put their anti-Americanism above their nationalism and issues like bijli-sadak-paani, jobs, what kind of schools their children go to and whether there are any doctors or medicines in their hospitals or not. Mulayam Singh defied the protesting maulanas to weigh in for the nuclear deal. Now, he has this stunning endorsement by his Muslim voters to show for it. Similarly, Rahul’s ill-advised reminder of the BJP’s Israel connection left his Muslim audiences utterly unimpressed. Definition of identity is complex in India. Modern Indians, rural or urban, have common needs and shared concerns that cut across barriers of caste and religion. More:


A million mutinies again

The Economist analyses the five state assembly results

THOUGH details must yet be filled in, the broad sweep of India’s five state assembly elections was evident by midday on Tuesday March 6th. In brief, neither Congress nor the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), could cheer much, while regional parties, and powerful regional figures, thrive. Judging by leads in counting rather than final results, a local force, the Samajwadi Party (SP), has romped to victory in Uttar Pradesh, a huge state of 200m people. It may just fall short of being able to rule there by itself, but will either form a minority government (probably supported, even if informally, by Congress) or cobble together a ruling alliance. more

A PM in peril

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

When he assumed office in 2004, Manmohan Singh was by some distance India’s best educated prime minister. He was the most widely travelled since Jawaharlal Nehru. He was the most honest since Lal Bahadur Shastri. He had a wide range of experience in government, having served as, among other things, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and finance minister.

There were great expectations of Singh as prime minister; few of which have been fulfilled. Those who thought that the co-author (with P.V. Narasimha Rao) of the first generation of economic reforms would further free entrepreneurs from State control have been disappointed. So have those who hoped the experienced administrator would modernize the civil service by encouraging the lateral entry of professionals, those who believed that the former secretary general of the South Commission would adopt a foreign policy independent of Western (more specifically, American) pressures; and most of all, those who imagined that a person of rectitude and personal honesty would promote probity in politics and administration.

This last failure explains, among other things, the appeal of Anna Hazare, a man whose intellectual vision is as confined as Singh’s is large. In the early part of 2011, as the evidence of cabinet collusion in the Commonwealth Games and 2G scams accumulated, the prime minister continued to shield his corrupt ministers. After Anna Hazare’s fasts, a popular, countrywide movement against corruption began to take shape. Singh still would not act. In the popular imagination, the prime minister was now seen as indecisive and self-serving, his fellow septuagenarian, Anna Hazare, as courageous and self-sacrificing. It is a mark of how disappointing Manmohan Singh’s second term has been that it has allowed an authoritarian village reformer — with little understanding of what Mohandas K. Gandhi said, did, or meant — to claim the mantle of the Mahatma. More:

The reinvention of Rahul Gandhi

Liz Mathew in Mint:

Rahul Gandhi: Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Last week, driving through central Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi took an impromptu roadside break in Farrukhabad—India’s largest potato-growing district. Addressing farmers reeling under the impact of a glut in the potato crop, Gandhi launched into a spiel for more foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail.

Not only was he touching on a subject that has become politically taboo—an overwhelming political consensus forced the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to withdraw a proposal to liberalize FDI in retail—Gandhi was also exhibiting a facet of his personality not witnessed earlier.

Having already taken considerable political risk in deciding to lead his party’s campaign for the state assembly elections due next year, he was showing uncharacteristic panache to publicly back a politically controversial reform measure. Pointing to the rotting crop of potato, he argued that this would never have happened if a retail network backed with a supply chain had been in place.

Earlier, addressing a rally at Dataganj, he sought to tap the growing aspirations of the populace by promising more change if the electorate chose the Congress. “The labourers from Uttar Pradesh have constructed the Delhi Metro… How many of you have visited Delhi now? Did anyone of you travel in it? Why can’t people from UP (Uttar Pradesh) work for themselves in their own state?” he said before taking a swipe at his principal rival by referring to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as a “magic elephant that eats currency notes”. The BSP’s election symbol is an elephant.

His rhetoric seems to be gaining traction with the public. More:

I am ready: Rahul Gandhi

In Mint:

Rahul Gandhi on Monday threw his hat in the ring for the top job in Uttar Pradesh (UP), signalling his intent to move out of the back office in a move that could cause a stir in national politics.

“Sometimes I think I should come to Lucknow to fight for you myself,” the Congress general secretary told around 30,000 people who had gathered at Phulpur in UP to hear him launch his party’s campaign in the state that goes to polls next year.

By making himself the face of the party in a state where the Congress is starting out behind the principal contenders, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), Gandhi has also raised the stakes for himself and the Congress.

Some analysts say the scion of the family that has called the shots in the party for at least seven decades is testing the waters to see how people respond. Others say it is a statement of political intent that signals his readiness for the top job in the state, as a sort of stepping stone to the top job in the country. Either way, it is the first time Gandhi, 41, has said something that even remotely seems to suggest a willingness to take on an elected constitutional post. The son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi has consistently rebuffed reports about his prime ministerial ambitions. He is currently in charge of the party’s youth and student wings. More:

What ails them?

In India, not just Sonia Gandhi, but political leaders from M.A. Jinnah to Indira Gandhi have been loathe to be forthcoming about their ailments writes Samanth Subramanian in India Ink, NYT’s new India-specific blog

In the tempestuous latter half of August — marked, in India, by a prominent activist’s public fast, pop-up protests, debates about corruption, and even debates about the debates about corruption — the Congress Party seemed to flounder like a dinghy in a maelstrom. Perhaps it was because no one was at the tiller. Earlier in the month, a spokesman had announced that Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, had left the country for three weeks for surgery, and that the party would, in her absence, be run by a four-man committee.

Then even that trickle dried up; the party released no official word on what she was being treated for, where she was being treated, or when precisely she would return. When presented with rumors — of cancer, of a visit to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, of an Indian-origin oncologist being mysteriously called away from holiday — the party replied with grim silence. (She’s back now – or so we were told, in an equally laconic vein.) more

Why the Indian middle class is furious and why the Congress has only itself to blame

Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express:

At least, two things about Anna Hazare’s movement are indisputable: its dominant anti-Congress impulse, and its distinctly middle-class character. It is evident that middle India has turned against the Congress. Of course, the Congress apologists will say that it doesn’t matter. That middle classes do not vote governments in or out, the poor in the villages do. Also, those voters in villages think differently. These Congressmen are wrong on both counts. Because it is a new India in a new, hyper-connected world. The size and the power of the middle class, after 20 years of reform, is enormously greater than the old-school Congress politician (which is how, funnily, you would now describe most of today’s younger Congressmen) would imagine. The Congressmen are also the least likely to acknowledge that the anger that they now face on the urban street is a calamity they have themselves worked so assiduously on inviting upon themselves.

In its seven years in power, the Congress shunned the urban middle classes so much it has even stopped being on talking terms with them. The party can be forgiven for reading the 2004 verdict wrong, believing that the poorest Indians, irritated by the BJP’s India Shining, voted the NDA out. But its refusal to read the 2009 verdict for its aspirational impulse was not merely poor political judgment. It also resulted from a cynical and intellectually lazy thought process. Inevitably, it developed into an auto-immune syndrome where the party has been busy preying on its own government and its own new vote-base among India’s growing aspirational classes. More:

Collapse of India’s Left

The front page of The Telegraph, Calcutta

Ashis Chakrabarti in The Telegraph on Mamata Banerjee’s victory and the collapse of Marxists:

Friday afternoon, Mamata Banerjee’s long march to “liberate” Bengal from the world’s longest democratically elected communist rule ended in a green revolution that was reminiscent of the revolutions — velvet, orange, rose, et al — that once felled the Berlin Wall and one communist regime in eastern Europe after another.

The big difference is this: none of those revolutions, except perhaps the one led by Lech Walesa’s Solidarity in Poland, was the making of a single leader the way the one in Calcutta has been Mamata’s very own.

It was in the making for several years, but the way it gathered momentum in the last few weeks was nothing short of a blitzkrieg that knocked the supposedly mighty edifice of the CPM down without the party leaders having a clue to what was about to hit them.

She began her campaign to end the CPM’s rule with the slogan: “Now’s the time” — that became the call to action in Prague’s Velvet Revolution. It proved illusory in 2001 but it has happened now.

But the slogan will take on a completely different meaning now. From now onwards, her years of street fight will be yesterday’s story. Both for Bengal and for Mamata, the story that unfolds from this morning has to be about her vision and work to create a tomorrow. It is not the ordinary change of government that comes and goes with every election, changing little in people’s lives.

For everything that she plans to do, she may have to undo plenty of things. The historic turnabout of the traditionally Leftist Bengal to her side is clear evidence that she has to reverse many of the supposedly irreversible legacies that have led to Bengal’s economic and social decline. More:

Ladies script sweep show: Sankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph

In The Times of India: Almost one-third of Indians will now be ruled by women. With Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa storming to power on Friday in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, they join two other women chief ministers, Mayawati and Sheila Dikshit, to administer 368 million, or around 30% of India’s 1.2 billion population.

But the day didn’t belong to just the women. It also belonged to the wise Indian voter who punished the corrupt and the arrogant with ferocious intent. CPM’s impregnable bastion of Bengal, increasingly working more for its cadre than the people, was blown to bits and its 34-year-old hegemony ended, while a corruption-tainted DMK, running Tamil Nadu like a family profit centre, was consigned to the dustbin.

The outcomes in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu dwarfed Tarun Gogoi’s hat-trick in Assam, the Congress’s shock defeat in Puducherry and the Left’s better-than-expected performance in Kerala, where it fell agonisingly short of the finishing line — 0.7% of the votes and four seats were the difference between the two fronts, UDF and LDF. More:


The Last Lear

Can the aging patriarch of India’s most fractious political dynasty hold his family together—and continue to cling to power in Tamil Nadu? Vinod K Jose in Caravan:

O n the scorching Friday afternoon of 11 May 2007, at Chennai’s Island Grounds, Muthuvel Karunanidhi had some important business to settle privately with Sonia Gandhi.

Gandhi, the Congress party president, had come to Chennai—along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and two former prime ministers—to join the celebrations marking Karunanidhi’s 50th anniversary as a legislator, an unprecedented milestone in Indian politics. But on this humid summer day, as thousands of his followers from across the state converged on the burning sands to celebrate their leader’s longevity, the then 83-year-old chief minister of Tamil Nadu had something else on his mind.

“It was like a thorn for him, and he had to remove it with as little damage as possible,” said an associate of Karunanidhi who described the conversation to me.

Minutes before the golden jubilee celebrations began, Karunanidhi took Gandhi aside. “Daya has to be dropped,” Karunanidhi said, referring to his grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran, then the Union minister for communications and information technology. “He’s failed us.”

“Don’t worry,” she assured him. “Your wish will be fulfilled.” The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government, then as now, required the support of Karunanidhi and his party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Gandhi, as chairperson of the ruling coalition in the Lok Sabha, was unlikely to take issue with his request.

Dayanidhi Maran, then 41 years old, had served three years as the communications minister, a plump portfolio in New Delhi that Karunanidhi had personally requested for him. Maran quickly became the sophisticated face of the DMK in the capital: he spoke in fluent English to the national press and wore designer shirts and trousers—a marked departure from the dhoti-clad DMK politicians who had preceded him.

But back home, tensions had been rising between Karunanidhi and his grand-nephews—Dayanidhi and his elder brother, Kalanithi, who had leveraged party connections to build a powerful media empire that included Sun TV, India’s largest television network. Karunanidhi was convinced that his own family had been shortchanged by Kalanithi Maran, who had aggressively bought back the family’s shares in Sun TV for well under the market value before taking the company public in 2006. And now, Karunanidhi believed, the Marans were intent on fomenting discord among his own children, his chosen political heirs. More:

The true story of one of the biggest scandals in recent Indian parliamentary history

Ashish Khetan in Tehelka:

This is a story that stands to turn contemporary discourse on its head. It is a dark story of how three mainstream political parties—and sections of the media—have fooled the nation. It is a story of how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) willfully set out to entrap its opponents in the cash-for-votes scandal. It is a story of how the Samajwadi Party voluntarily fell into the trap. It is a story of how the Congress covered it all up. It is also, unfortunately, a story of how sections of the media muddied the truth.

This is how the story goes.

As everyone knows, the two-year-old cash-for-votes scandal is back to haunt the UPA government. Parliament has been in uproar over the past few days as outraged Opposition parties, led by the BJP, have demanded that the government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh step down on moral grounds. “A government which survived on such a political sin has no authority to continue even for one minute. We demand this government resign immediately,” thundered Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. BJP veteran LK Advani reiterated this position, saying, “We would like the Prime Minister to come to the House and announce that he has decided to resign in the light of the new revelations.”

As everyone knows too, this political storm was triggered by a secret diplomatic cable published by The Hindu , in partnership with WikiLeaks, on 17 March. In this cable sent by the US Embassy in New Delhi to the State Department of the United States on 17 July 2008, the US Charge d’Affaires Steven White wrote that five days before the Manmohan Singh government was to face a crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008, Nachiketa Kapur, an aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma, had showed him two chests containing cash. According to Kapur, the cash was part of a larger fund of Rs 50 crore to Rs 60 crore that was lying around Satish Sharma’s house to purchase the support of MPs to clinch the vote.

According to this cable, Kapur also claimed that four MPs belonging to Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had already been paid Rs 10 crore each to ensure they voted in the UPA’s favour on the floor of the Lok Sabha.

There were several inaccuracies in this cable that made it problematic. Nachiketa Kapur was not a formal aide of Satish Sharma but a Congress hanger-on who was sacked from service in the past by Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury for corruption. The RLD had three MPs at the time, not four. And the Lok Sabha records show that none of them voted in favour of the UPA government. More:

India’s poorest state shows the way

Sankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph:

Bihar has emphatically endorsed its tryst with a new destiny whose crafty author is a bestseller called Nitish Kumar.

He has alchemised, with political cunning and workmanlike diligence, a winner weave in which Biharis have glimpsed the rare glimmer of a better tomorrow.

They’ve embraced it wholesomely and with unprecedented unanimity, shaking off calcified loyalties, making nonsense of the arithmetic of caste, creed and class, announcing, full-throated, that Bihar is now moulting out of its disabling stereotypes and raring to catch up with the rest.

It’s a verdict that stunned the victors more than it did the vanquished: a 200-plus blizzard for the Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine in a House of 243 that immediately put Nitish in the record books and a deep furrow on the grinning visage.

“Huge,” he gasped in a private moment on what was mostly a hectic public day. “Huge, baap re (my God)! This is not a victory, this is a responsibility, the people have placed on me a huge burden of responsibility. The victory is theirs, what I have got is a tough job.”

The losers gasped even louder, but they were having to suck air rather than savour it. As triumphal troupes began to trickle past Nitish’s 1 Aney Marg bungalow kicking up confetti clouds, a surreal silence closed in on Lalu Prasad’s 10 Circular Road residence just round the bend. More:

…as the Hand plucks at the Lotus, one petal at a time

In Tehelka, Swapan Dasgupta on the BJP’s strategy and Narendra Modi’s political future:

On his part, Modi never had the slightest doubt that the Supreme Court had unwittingly handed the Congress Party a deadly weapon of political combat by directing the CBI to investigate the ‘encounter death’ of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a criminal who shot to national fame after his death became the issue of a Modi-Sonia Gandhi sparring match in 2007. From early May, coinciding with the arrest of IPS officer Abhay Chudasama, he had been alerting the national leadership of the BJP to what he believed were the real intentions of the CBI inquiry: to drag Shah into the case and pave the way for a legal-cum-political assault on the Chief Minister himself. Those puzzled by the BJP’s unrelenting assault on the “Congress Bureau of Investigation” throughout last May and June were possibly unaware of the sub-text of the counter-offensive. Equally, those mystified by the BJP’s eccentric choice of senior criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani for the Rajya Sabha may now gauge that the Gujarat Chief Minister was in the process of ‘capacity building’ for what promises to be a long and bitter fight. Ironically, the Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed gave some of the game away when he demanded last Sunday that Modi answer various questions about the transfer of IPS officers linked to the case.

Whether the “Delhi Sultanate”, as Modi derisively describes the Union Government, will opt for a frontal assault on the man who worsted Sonia in the 2007 ‘maut ki saudagar’ electoral encounter or prefer the death by a thousand cuts approach isn’t clear as yet. For the moment, the political message of the CBI against Shah is that, far from being a doughty protector of national security, the Gujarat Government used robust patriotism as a cloak for running a protection and extortion racket with Shah as the mastermind and compliant policemen as foot soldiers. It has been suggested that Sohrabuddin was eliminated not because he was involved in a plot to kill Modi but because Shah had taken a supari from some frightened marble traders of Rajasthan.

A more ridiculous version of events suggests that it was Sohrabuddin who was the ‘actor’ in the sex film of the discredited BJP general secretary Sanjay Joshi. As such, or so the argument goes, he had to be eliminated to prevent the sordid truth of the BJP internal feuds from coming out in the open. Mercifully, this fanciful version of political intrigue, attributed to a prominent human rights activist, doesn’t find a place in the CBI version of events. More:

The perils of political paratrooping

In Shashi Tharoor’s rise and fall, a Congress attempt to woo middle class. Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

The petit-bourgeois mind is superficial and fickle. It is awe struck by the accumulation and consumption that go on in the highest echelons of society, even if outside the borderlines of legality and good taste. But it is repulsed and outraged when forced to confront the tawdriness and venality on which the life it aspires to is built.

Framed by these two extremes, the long-shot and the close-up, the rise and fall of Shashi Tharoor is a cautionary tale about the dangers of entering public life through the constituency of the middle class. The ‘perils of political paratrooping’ is how a former colleague of the erstwhile junior minister pithily described Mr. Tharoor’s fate when asked for his assessment by The Hindu. What made his jump even more dangerous was that it was made without the safety net that grassroot experience or backroom goodwill provides. By the standards of Indian politics, his impropriety in the IPL affair was relatively minor; but unlike others whose warts catch the glare of the arclights from time to time, there was nobody willing to pad up for him when the media drew blood. Fatally injured, he stood his ground just a moment too long. Had he walked back to the pavilion unprompted, he might have survived to play a second innings. But he didn’t do that. Which is why his political career is today at an end. More:

Also read: Tharoor’s IPL googly is hat-trick for Manmohan: From Hua Hin to Riyadh to Washington and Brasilia, Shashi Tharoor has always brought bad luck to the Prime Minister on his foreign tours. By Siddharth Varadarajan

The Thackerays’ primitive charisma

Aakar Patel in Mint-Lounge:

Bal Thackeray

Politicians respond to constituencies. Their positions are deliberate.

What is the Thackerays’ constituency? Mumbai’s Marathis, whom the Thackerays speak for.

Congress does not represent Marathis in Mumbai, and they have surrendered this space politically to the Thackerays. This can be seen in their organizational structure

Neither the Mumbai regional Congress committee’s president Kripashankar Singh nor its treasurer Amarjit Singh is Marathi.

Of Mumbai Congress’ 18 vice-presidents, 12 are not Marathi. Of its 19 general secretaries, 13 are not Marathi. Of its 13 secretaries, eight are not Marathi. Of its seven executive members, none is Marathi.

Of Congress’s seven members of Parliament from Mumbai, six are not Marathi.

Of its 17 MLAs, 12 are not Marathi. Of its two housing board chairmen, neither is Marathi.

This surrender hasn’t come because Congress does not want Marathi votes, but because it cannot get them. Congress is inclusive by nature and cannot offer Mumbai’s Marathi what the Thackerays can, which is anger and resentment. More:

From INC to Congress Inc.

It was a party of educated professionals once, and Rahul Gandhi wants to make it so again. But his father before him had tried, and he will succeed only if he finds a new way to do it. Jatin Gandhi and Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

Indeed, as an organisation, the current Congress faces the same challenge any family-run business faces—how to bring about greater professionalisation while retaining control. The need to do so is not in doubt, spelt out as it is by the first of Ramachandran’s working hypotheses: family businesses with a higher level of professionalism practised both in business and by the family are likely to perform better and perpetuate their success over a longer time frame.

This, though, is easier said than done. Within the Congress, the idea has been in the making since Rajiv Gandhi’s ascent to power. But what was then a limited initiative to bring in a few friends with professional qualifications has now given way to a far more ambitious approach. Already, in the transition from Rajiv to Rahul, Sonia Gandhi has managed to implement an important step. She has placed a ‘professional CEO’ such as Manmohan Singh in charge of what managers call a ‘key result area’ (KRA): governance. Since 22 May 2004, Manmohan Singh has wrought professionalism across several governance functions, but his party itself has remained much the same. More:

[Image: Open]

Advani: No burning desire to be PM

Veteran Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani relinquished his post as the leader of the opposition in Parliament. An interview in the Hindustan Times:

advani2Many people are saying your exit is the end of the ‘Advani era’?

How many people can feel as satisfied as I am today after such an eventful life? I got the support and affection of so many people. My years may have been spent more in the opposition than in the government, but I have had a satisfactory innings. As I told the MPs, there cannot be an end to a yatra that began for me when I joined the RSS at 14, which was to see India emerge as a great country. I mean it.

But were you not pressured by the RSS to leave?

Not at all. A point comes in a person’s life when one ceases to be pro-active on account of health reasons — as it happened in the case of Atalji, who is three years elder to me, and George Fernandes, who is three years younger to me. I do not want to use the word “retire”. More:

Is there life after democracy?


Activist and writer Arundhati Roy in Dawn:

So, is there life after democracy?

Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defence of democracy. It’s flawed, we say. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than everything else that’s on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: ‘Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia . . . is that what you would prefer?’

Whether democracy should be the utopia that all ‘developing’ societies aspire to be is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn’t meant to suggest that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. It’s meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy-too much representation, too little democracy-needs some structural adjustment.

The question here, really, is what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasised into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the Free Market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximising profit? Is it possible to reverse this process? Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used to be? More:

The fall and fall of India’s political leviathans

As India braces for another fractured verdict in the forthcoming general elections, analyst Mahesh Rangarajan looks at the decline of the country’s national parties in BBC

keralaNeither of the premier parties, Congress or the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is confident of leading their respective alliances to full power.

India is completing a decade in which coalitions dominated by one or the other have held power.

After five years at the helm, the alliance headed by Dr Manmohan Singh has much to smile about. For four of these years, growth rates were well over 8% and even now, amid a global slump, India will be the world’s second fastest growing economy.


(Image attributed to Bryce Edwards’ photostream under the Creative Commons license)

Amethi’s discovery of Rahul

Even as Gandhi junior logs in frequent flyer points during his country-wide ’discovery of India’ tour, constituents in the family pocket borough, Amethi — which Rahul Gandhi visited days before the crucial no-confidence vote that could well pull the United Progressive Alliance down — wonder what, if anything, he is going to deliver to them, writes S Mitra Kalita in MInt

If Rahul Gandhi wanted to better understand India’s ills, why bother leaving his constituency?

The question looms in Amethi, a seat that has passed hands from one family member to another, down four generations and six decades. And so over the last few months, as Gandhi traversed the nation to “discover India”, as the media dubs it, in planes, trains and helicopters—to Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka—many here watched bitterly.
“Rahul is the name and fame of Amethi but the ground level work is zero,” said Ram Singh Raghuvanshi, an advocate and mango farmer. “Rahul Gandhi is making a tour of India, playing cricket with children, distributing toffees. It is all a political drama. That will not help the people of Amethi.”