Tag Archive for 'Mayawati'

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:

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

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


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:

Barb for barb: Mayawati vs Assange

Compiled from the Wall Street Journal:

Kumari Mayawati, the chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, launched a scathing attack on WikiLeaks a day after a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable claimed she once sent an empty private jet to Mumbai to fetch her favourite brand of sandals.

She said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be “sent to mental asylum by the country he belongs to and in case if there was no place for him, he should be sent to Uttar Pradesh. We will put him in the Agra mental asylum.”

Assange lashed back and asked the chief minister to “admit her error and apologise.” “Should she fail to do so, she is welcome to send her private jet to England to collect me, where I have been detained against my will,” he said. “I would be happy to accept asylum, political asylum, in India–a nation I love. In return, I will bring Mayawati a range of the finest British footwear.” More here and here

State of the sisterhood

Do India’s women leaders prove to be game changers for the women who vote for them? With four women chief ministers, not to mention the head of the Congress party, the president of the country, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and leader of Opposition, women are at a historic level of representation in political life. But women in India still have a long way to go, writes Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times.

The headlines are euphoric. Mamata Banerjee, J Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Sheila Dikshit, just four women now rule over 400 million Indians. Three cheers for gender justice. Yet, there is no skirting the big question: are they about to swing a new deal for India’s women? Some would argue, don’t hold your breath.

The four women chief ministers are pictures in contrast. In her elegant saris, Sheila Dikshit is the silver-haired patrician who calls journalists beta, especially when they are asking tough questions. The unyielding Mayawati rules Uttar Pradesh by diktat, transferring officials who displease her faster than you can say ‘statue’. Jayalalithaa encourages full ashtang namaskars by genuflecting party members. Only Mamata is the untried, untested chief minister who comes to power with zero ostentation and enormous expectation for single-handedly demolishing 34 years of unbroken Communist rule. more

Maya’s shiny shoes (and how she gets them)


Does this picture make your blood boil? Deputy Superintendent of Police Padam Singh stoops (no doubt) to conquer as he whips out his hanky to clean Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s mud-stained sandals. On TV channels where the video was broadcast, Mayawati — who had just stepped into a mound of mud as she emerged from a chopper during a visit to Auriya district — makes no attempt to stop him, or even acknowledge the favour: an imperious wave of her hand, perhaps, or an approving pat on the head. A President’s gallantry medal winner, the unfortunate Padam Singh (he has since clarified that the act was voluntary and that, yes, he would do it again) was captured on camera and before you could say ‘breaking news’, TV channels were holding forth on (a) sycophancy (b) megalomaniac Maya memsaab (c) feudalism in Indian politics.

Bizarrely, the state’s senior-most bureaucrat, chief secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh thought it fit to issue a clarification. Cleaning the chief minister’s shoes was ‘part of his duty’. Also, Padam Singh acted on humanitarian grounds. And finally, the chief secretary said, cleaning the CM’s shoes was a security necessity: who knows what harm could have been caused had she tripped or fallen on a nasty piece of mud stuck on her sandals?

Mayawati had other unlikely defenders. On NDTV 24×7 Congress leader Salman Khurshid saw Padam Singh as a later-day Sir Walter Raleigh, though to be fair to him he also said that the issues — rising crimes against women, for instance — in Uttar Pradesh were so serious, that the shoe cleaning incident was trivial in comparision. Qasim Ali Khan (NDTV tagged on his title, ‘nawab’ on the super) said such incidents were common — why that very morning during a tour of his own Rampur , someone had bent to clean his mud-splattered pyjamas and shoes.

Let’s not mince words. Padam Singh’s act, apparently voluntary, is reprehensible.

But equally let’s not mince words, Mayawati is not alone.

Sycophancy and a sense of entitlement have come to characterise India’s political class. Already it’s clear that we function more as an oligarchy than a practicing democracy. Those who get elected are likely to be the offspring of entrenched politicians. Those who get the big contracts are likely to be friends of those who are elected.

Also, sycophancy is not limited to our politics even though it does form a big part of it. You have only to see something like the Filmfare awards (where much foot-touching and puke-inducing forms of flattery were on display) to understand how deeply ingrained it is in Indian society. But in politics, rare (if not extinct) is the person who can look at the Dear Leader in the eye. From the outlandish (full shashtang namaskars so beloved of southern leaders like Jayalalithaa) to the more subtle (open use of titles, quelling dissent, falling within the party line), Indian politics seems to be absent of any sense of democratic functioning.

What do you make of Congress veteran G Venkataswamy’s recent criticism of Sonia Gandhi? Or, more important, what do you make of the party faithfuls shameless leaping to Soniaji’s defence? Andhra Pradesh textiles minister P Shankar Rao declared that colleagues who did not condemn criticism of Sonia Gandhi ought to be removed. Fine example of inner-party democracy, right?

Mayawati-style sycophany is considerably less sophisticated. She is not shy of turning her birthday into some sort of public occasion, complete with birthday cake cutting and diamonds on display. She has been lavish about having her statue put up in nearly every mohalla of the state she presides over.

But at the end of the day, Mayawati is not alone. Her methods are cruder, but rare is the politician in India who doesn’t rule like some minor potentate, who doesn’t stop people from touching his (or her) feet, who allows open and fair criticism from within the party, who understands that dissent is a part of democratic politics.

Mayawati seems to be an easy target. She always is. Her megalomania is disgusting. But with the exception of Left party politicians perhaps, who isn’t guilty?

Let him cast the first stone.

Only in India are the incorrectly born poor denied benefits

Ashok V. Desai in The Telegraph:

Ms Mayavatiji, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, is a unilingual extremist; she never speaks a word but in Hindi. She outdoes even Narendra Modi, who has a good turn of phrase in Gujarati, and who managed some broken English in the last Vibrant Gujarat celebrations. Her verbal parochialism has earned her the indifference of the anglophone media, and her singleminded love of statues a rebuke from the anglophone Supreme Court. As I drive into her kingdom from Delhi, on the right there is a graveyard of stone elephants, strutting dead politicians, and a Taj-like mausoleum. They have been standing half-built for years following the Supreme Court’s order to her to stop. Now she says that these ruins are amongst the many memorials, museums, statues and parks being constructed in honour of the saints, gurus and other great men — but only provided they were born untouchable or backward — and that she spent less than one per cent of the budget of her public welfare and development department on the monuments. I tried to find out how much that one per cent would come to. The National Informatics Centre runs a website for the budgets of each state. I went to the Uttar Pradesh website. It said that it could provide information for years between 2002-03 and 2006-07, but I could not access data for any of those years. The Reserve Bank is luckier; since it is the governments’ banker, the UP government cannot refuse to give it budget documents. According to it, UP’s social expenditure in the five years to 2009-10 was Rs 140,000 crore; one per cent of it would be Rs 1,400 crore. I guess that even her biggest statues would have cost lakhs rather than crores; so she may be right about the total cost of her army of statues. Now all those monuments need to be saved from vandals and squatters, so Mayavati has recruited an army of ex-servicemen to guard them. More:

Mayawati’s royal face on television

Vandita Mishra in The Indian Express:

His party swears by its contempt for the media. But Nawab Kazim Ali Khan of Rampur claims to be filling in a gap when he appears on news channels; after all, there’s no one to speak for BSP in English

He is the Nawab of Rampur who isn’t bashful about calling himself by that name. He studied urban design at the Columbia University in the US, came back home to plunge into UP politics, and is currently a BSP MLA. He is also on his way to becoming the BSP’s new face on TV, holding up one end of the studio debates on behalf of a party that swears by its contempt for the media.

Nawab Kazim Ali Khan is not the official spokesperson of the BSP. But the former UP minister of Minority Welfare & Haj, who claims to be the first Indian to win the German ‘Order of the Griffin’ and the Greek ‘Order of the Trabizond’ for promoting Indian culture and heritage abroad, increasingly appears in TV discussions for Mayawati’s party because “the BSP has no one to speak for it in English TV debates”. So far, he says, there has been no feedback from the BSP. The party has not yet told him what it thinks of his TV appearances. More:

Among the world’s ugliest statues…

When bad art and bad politics meet. From Foreign Policy:

Woman of the people: Kumari Mayawati, chief minister of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is best known as an advocate for the rights of Dalits, the historically marginalized caste also known as the “untouchables.” But Mayawati’s populist image took a hit last year when India’s Supreme Court rebuked her for spending $425 million in public funds to build statues of herself and other famous Dalits. Mayawati remains popular among Dalits, but the scandal over this lavish public expenditure in one of India’s poorest states continues to dog her.

The full list here

A monumental mistake

Instead of building meaningless bronze and stone statues of herself and other Dalit leaders, Mayawati could have made the leap in imagination to commission a world-class memorial that could have put Lucknow on the world map, writes Amrit Dhillon in the Times of India.

mayawatistatue_lucknow248Standing beside the dirty Gomti river in Lucknow, looking at the structures Mayawati on its bank in her quest for immortality, is enough to make you weep. Not over the hubris behind the self-aggrandisement. Nor over the idea of building memorials to honour Dalit leaders such as B R Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. Nor even the colossal cost or the efforts of an army of poor workers labouring under a pitiless sun.

It is the way she has squandered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With acres of land and billions of rupees at her disposal, this was Mayawati’s chance to go down in history as the woman who gave birth to a piece of architecture rivalling anything that has come up in the past 60 years. It was a chance to be bold and daring, to create something beautiful and unique. A chance to hold a nationwide competition of architects and order them to let their imaginations soar. The competition would have animated Lucknow residents. A lively debate would have ensued on what they desired for themselves and future generations. What did they want in the city? A stadium, a museum, a university, a hospital, a park or a monument?


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:

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)

Mayawati: A player who makes her own rules

Posted by Namita Bhandare: My column in Hindustan Times tries to understand why India’s chattering classes don’t like BSP leader Mayawati especially when all the charges levelled against her (corrupt, arrogant, fickle, casteist, etc) can be used against at least a dozen other leading politicians. Is it because she’s a player who makes her own rules or is it because she just doesn’t give a damn about what the Delhi drawing rooms think about her?

There’s a story, most likely apocryphal, relating to Mayawati’s visit to a posh beauty parlour at a five-star hotel. There, the Bahujan Samaj Party boss spied a glamorous politician’s wife having her weekly pedicure. Mayawati is said to have turned to the hair-dresser attending to her: “Mujhe aise hi latein chahiye (I want my hair to look like those).”

The story, when I heard it sometime in the mid nineties, was accompanied by much tittering in that particular Delhi drawing room. But the subtext was clear: the one-time school teacher daughter of a lowly clerk might have made her mark on the Uttar Pradesh scene but as far as New Delhi was concerned she was still an arriviste.


A new Dalit social contract

The new government — regardless of who forms it — must focus on integrating Dalit entrepreneurs and Dalit employees into the mainstream. The solutions are fairly easy, writes Chandra Bhan Prakash, a leading thinker on Dalit issues, in Mint

A consensus on issues of national concern can sometimes be hard to reach, particularly in a democracy of more than a billion people, and one that has countless social markers. In India, there seems to be a consensus of an exceptional order on the question of economic reforms. The country’s two main political blocs—the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance—are closer to each other on economic reforms than not. Even the Left-ruled West Bengal is embracing economic reform despite its ideological pretensions. At the same time, however, there are a few dissenting voices that question the process—as well as benefits—of the economic reforms that were initiated in 1991 by then finance minister and current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.


The greatest show on earth: Indian elections, 2009

Between April 16 and May 13 the world’s most populous democracy will begin the process of electing its next government. Some 714 million people will be eligible to cast their vote for 543 seats in five phases.

AW will try and demystify the process for you and, hopefully, provide you with a resource guide to Elections 2009. We’re going to be updating as we go along, so please feel free to suggest links/stories.

First, our headline story of the day looks at the hot topic of the moment: now that the Third Front alliance has been formed, who’s the Front’s Prime Ministerial candidate? Atiq Khan weighs the options in The Hindu.

pollsIn the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mayawati’s invitation to the Third Front leaders for a dinner meeting in New Delhi on March 15 has focussed attention on the issue of the Prime Ministerial candidate.

The issue assumes importance in the light of the success of the Tumkur rally. The Bahujan Samaj Party president, who was not present in the rally deputed party general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra to represent the party. But her absence has not deterred Ms. Mayawati from being a strong contender for the top job.


In BBC News, Ramachandra Guha explains just why these elections are so important, and takes a look at likely scenarios

In the first weeks of 1967, the Times of London dispatched a reporter to cover the Indian elections. Travelling around the country, he saw – or thought he saw – a mood of apathy and helplessness.

Some Indians he talked to had expressed a “readiness for the rejection of parliamentary democracy”. The journalist himself was dismayed by the conflict and the corruption. He could spy “the already fraying fabric of the nation itself”, with the states “already beginning to act like sub-nations”.


Click here to link to the official Election Commission of India website.

To register as a voter online, find your name on the voter list or get general election information, check the Jaagore site here.

You’ll find the official websites of major political parties below:

Congress / BJP / Communist Party of India (Marxist) / NCP / Bahujan Samajwadi Party / Samajwadi Party

Telugu Desam / AIADMK / DMK

Obama and India

Some front pages:






And below, from Pakistan:


Obama presidency to pose challenges for Indian diplomacy

Siddharth Varadarajan in the Hindu:

Some fear the “re-hypenation” of India and Pakistan in American foreign policy and renewed activism on the question of Kashmir. Others worry about protectionism and curbs on outsourcing. The third set of concerns revolves around arms control issues. With Barack Obama reiterating his commitment to the early U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the early conclusion of a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), there is a feeling that India will soon find itself under pressure to forswear nuclear testing and the production of weapons-grade nuclear material forever.

The fact that India has unhappy memories of some of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy advisers – Anthony Lake, Strobe Talbott, Robert Einhorn and Richard Holbrooke (the last two backed Hillary Clinton but later made their peace with the new President-elect) – is also contributing to a sense of unease on Raisina Hill. To be sure, there are more benign names and influences too – Vice-President-elect Joe Biden, for one, or the former State Department point man for South Asia, Karl Inderfurth. But with the unabashed lovefest which the George W. Bush administration produced for India, especially since 2004, this seems like pretty slim pickings.


How an Indian Republican supporter was won over by Obama

Jaithirth “Jerry” Rao, currently in Boston as entrepreneur-in-residence at the Harvard Business School, in the Indian Express:

It has been a strange experience for me personally. I have been staying in the US watching live TV for all the three Obama-McCain debates and for the Palin-Biden debate. And now I am here on election day. I am again glued to the TV switching from one news channel to another as they “call” the results.

I have been a traditional Republican supporter. My first mood change happened while watching the debates. McCain was simply not very convincing. He certainly did himself a considerable degree of disservice by not keeping his cool. Obama did not have all the answers, but he appeared more thoughtful. On balance, he came across as a more reasonable leader. Unlike many of my friends, I did not react negatively to Palin. I thought that she held her own pretty well. And despite the hyper-aggressiveness of her critics, I was left with the distinct impression that Palin is a leader who we are going to see a great deal more of in the years to come. I think of the impressive women leaders in India: Jayalalithaa, Mamata and Mayawati – who are looked down upon by self-styled fashionable intellectuals, but all of whom in my opinion are quite impressive.


Maya to Obama, signs of the new millennium

Gail Omvedt, an America-born sociologist whose essential work has centred on Dalit empowerment movements in India, in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

I was in the US in May 2007, when Mayavati became chief minister of UP, and Obama was coming forward in the US primary. With my daughter’s friends, mostly young and radical South Asian Americans, and all Obama supporters we celebrated Mayavati’s achievement. After years of depressing Republican presidencies, war and neoliberalism, something new was happening in the world.

An African American was aiming for the presidency, while a Dalit (and a woman!) was heading India’s largest state and promising to become Prime Minister in 10 years. Old barriers of caste and race were being not only challenged, but surmounted. Obama has made history: will Mayavati?


Spitting image: Obama and Mayawati

One is a Black Presidential candidate, the other a putative Dalit Prime Minister-in-waiting. What else in common do Barack Obama and Mayawati share, asks G Sampath in DNA

Barack Obama and Kumari Mayawati have a lot in common. One is a Black politician who represents the great liberal hope in the US. The other is poised to usher in a new political order where the oppressed castes will finally get their due in a polity traditionally dominated by upper castes.

Or so we are told. If one day either of them assumes the mantle of the highest executive post in their country, it will mark a victory for democracy, with historically marginalised minorities finally getting their turn at the helm of power. Really?


India’s ‘Dalit Queen’ Mayawati wants short tribute £500,000 taller

From The Times:

She may be an “untouchable” and only 5ft (1.5m) tall but Mayawati – India’s “Dalit Queen” and would-be Prime Minister – wants people to know that she is a giant among politicians.

The chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh has ordered officials to tear down her 12ft (3.7m) bronze statue and replace it with a larger one at a cost of almost £500,000.

Diwakar Tripathi, a spokesman for Mayawati (who uses only one name), said that the statue was removed this month – 45 days after its erection – because it was 3ft shorter than others in the centre of Lucknow, the state capital. The new one was 15ft tall and weighed 20 tonnes – the same as the others, he told The Times.


Previously in AW: Mayawati: Untouchable and unstoppable

Tiger burning bright

Last week, Bal Thackeray announced his disdain for the ‘Modi pattern’ and the ‘Mayawati pattern’, and reiterated the Shiv Sena’s special relationship with Sharad Pawar. What did he really mean, asks Kumar Ketkar in The Indian Express 

A roaring tiger with menacing eyes is a symbol of the Shiv Sena. But the Sena supremo has the mind of a fox. The BJP leadership is often in awe of Balasaheb Thackeray — not just the state leadership but also the high command. Balasaheb knows this and enjoys outwitting them. So it was no surprise to Balasaheb watchers when he suddenly announced last week that Maharashtra will have ‘only the Shiv Sena pattern’ and not the ‘Modi pattern’. To drill the point home, he declared that not even the ‘Mayawati pattern’ will have any relevance in the state. Actually, he need not have brought Mayawati into this matrix.


Mayawati and Musharraf among 10 leaders to watch in 2008

Eurasia Group, a global political risk advisory and consulting firm, released on Wednesday its list of 10 leaders to watch in 2008. The list, published in Mint, includes leaders whose performance will have global implications.


“The first four leaders on our list-from Iran, France, Russia, and Pakistan-will be making decisions for their countries that have powerful geostrategic implications,” said the Eurasia Group.

Iran’s conflict with the West and Pakistan’s internal conflict could have dramatic implications for global security in 2008, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Pervez Musharraf are key players in these struggles,” it added. The list also includes those who will exert considerable influence on their own countries which, in turn, have important roles to play in the emerging global order.

The list includes Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.


Confidence and pride beyond political class

Indian self-confidence is despite and in spite of its political class writes Namita Bhandare in Mint
 Politicians aren’t known to be thin-skinned. Yet, even the thickest of this amazing breed must have noticed a serious image problem that just got worse this past one week.
In no particular order: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Maya memsaab had a birthday party—her own symbolic “let them eat cake” moment, with diamonds and a helicopter as gifts. Even as a shocked nation watched senior bureaucrats feed behenji her favourite cream cake in a spectacle of sycophancy came the news that one of New Delhi’s most awaited, and needed, expressways (to Gurgaon) was ready to roll but that the aam aadmi (common man) would have to wait.
The reason? No VIP was available to inaugurate this “very important road”. Despite a “people’s inauguration”, the expressway remains shut—it is now to be inaugurated by Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit and other significant politicians later this week.
Then there was the absolutely unedifying hullabaloo over the Bharat Ratna.