The Rs 1.5-lakh-crore cut in plan expenditure, which represents productive investment, will impoverish the infrastructure and affect growth. But even more unkind is the 31-percent reduction in the current financial year’s allocation to schemes which benefit the poor and address long-neglected areas like health and education. Indian society will pay dearly for this artificial state-induced automobilisation—through greater road congestion, slower commuting speeds, horrendous levels of air pollution, widespread health damage, and increased fatalities and injuries from road accidents.
India’s Left parties, among the world’s biggest parties belonging to the Communist tradition, face formidable challenges as they approach the 2014 national election. The election will play a major role in deciding if they can reverse the setbacks they recently suffered, or go into a steep decline, with a fall in membership, decreasing political influence, and growing organisational dissonance.
The Aam Aadmi Party has made a shrewd, calculated, well-planned move by quitting the Delhi government and taking a plunge into national politics. The issue on which it ostensibly precipitated its action was the Delhi Assembly’s vote against the tabling of AAP’s Jan Lokpal Bill, its trade-mark platform, based on the ground that its introduction wasn’t approved by the Central government.
Is the Aam Aadmi Party sinking into the same mould as our “normal”, cynical, mainstream parties which routinely use doublespeak and venal means to make short-term gains? Recent developments suggest the answer is yes. Take how former diplomat and founder-member Madhu Bhaduri was heckled at AAP’s national executive for moving a sober resolution rightly calling for an apology to the African women in Khirki who were racially profiled by Somnath Bharti and subjected to degrading medical tests. When Bhandari reminded Arvind Kejriwal of his professed insaniyat (humanism), and pleaded that rape shouldn’t be linked to prostitution, she was humiliated.
“India makes a power point”, announced a front-page Times of India headline with triumphant finality when Hyderabad-born Satya Nadella was named the CEO of the global software giant Microsoft, referring to the company’s well-known “Power Point” programme. “India on the move!” and “India raises its toast”, exulted other major papers. What this crass self-congratulation and nationalist hype exposes is the middle-class Indian’s willingness to suspend critical judgment and read the success of a handful of individual non-resident Indians (NRIs) as a tribute to the Indian nation’s collective virtue, merit and accomplishment as a “talent machine”.
One hopes the higher courts take the extraordinary steps needed to secure justice for the victims. The Gujarat carnage demands nothing less because of its unique nature and sponsorship by the State, argues Praful Bidwai.
Gujarat-2002 was much worse than Delhi-1984, when some Congress leaders incited anti-Sikh violence and the state indulged them. The Congress-led government’s responsibility was constructive, not direct. In Gujarat, the BJP-led government planned, authorised and organised the violence and allowed it to continue into May. Its responsibility was direct – and far graver. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi have at least apologised for the Delhi carnage. But Modi, boasting of a “56-inch chest”, doggedly refuses to show any remorse for Gujarat’s pogrom
A vitally important issue that has altogether fallen off India’s economic-political discourse is growing economic inequality. In part, this is because of the continuing hangover of the euphoria generated by economic liberalisation, and the growth of social-Darwinist ideas and moral indifference towards the poor within our burgeoning middle class. In part, this also reflects India’s Rightward political drift, and the declining ideological-political influence of the Left and its own retreat from egalitarianism.
A month after storming to power in Delhi following a spectacular electoral debut, the Aam Aadmi Party has tarnished its image by taking three false steps. First, its law minister Somnath Bharti and women and child welfare minister Rakhi Birla indulged in obnoxious vigilantism. Second, AAP’s top leadership, including Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, defended their conduct and even commended Mr Bharti’s actions. Third, AAP’s official Hindi organ “Aap ki Kranti” on January 24 recorded on its website “shortlisting of Bangladeshi infiltrators” as one of the 15 achievements of its government. Although not widely noticed, this was disturbingly reminiscent of the Hindutva forces’ past attempts to illegally expel or summarily deport Bengali-speakers by branding them Bangladeshis.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s maverick ways, especially its 36-hour-long Rail Bhavan dharna led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal himself, have drawn unprecedented flak from its political opponents, the middle class, and the media: “utterly irresponsible”, “political posturing”, “descent into anarchy”, “anti-constitutional”, “holding Delhi to ransom”, “threat to the Republic”… Some commentators believe AAP has either “lost it” altogether, or has larger, devious plans for the national elections. AAP’s supporters however see the dharna as an audacious means of citizen mobilisation to change the rules of India’s political game and bring governance down to earth (literally!)—a confrontation from which AAP has emerged a “clear winner”.
What AAP will do with its growing leverage remains unknown. Its character is as yet somewhat hazy and fluid. AAP is India’s first political-party product of a civil society mobilisation since the 1970s. NGOs. AAP’s leadership (or political base) is strongly middle class and dominated by technocrats and professionals. But its social base, which voted for it, is “a coalition of extremes”.
AAP claims to have no ideology or affinity to doctrines like socialism, secularism, liberalism or Hindutva. Ideology, it says, is “for the pundits and the media…” AAP is itself content to be “solution-focused”. It deplores the “tendency to pin down political parties as Left, Right, Centre…”
In an optimistic scenario, the BJP’s “three-state” gamble may pay off. More realistically, it may not. The BJP has the advantage of having emerged as an urban winner in a few states. For instance, in Gujarat, it bagged 58 percent of city votes, to the Congress’s 28 percent. But Gujarat is 40-percent urbanised. The BJP can’t replicate its performance in Bihar and UP, with their 11 and 22 percent urbanisation rates.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s dizzying ascent to power in India’s capital should make all political parties revisit their long-held assumptions about what platforms and strategies succeed in elections and how they shape the equations underlying national politics.
It speaks poorly of India’s public discourse that the slightest perception or allegation of “hurt” to “national prestige” instantly produces a disproportionate, indeed hysterical, reaction.
Within days of making a stunning electoral debut in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party finds itself in a dilemma. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have offered to support AAP if it forms a government with 28 members in the 70-strong Legislative Assembly. Should it accept the offer and assume governmental responsibility? Or, should it, in keeping with its “idealism” and the popular mandate, stay out of power until it wins a majority?
Praful Bidwai, speaking in September 2013 on the need to reduce the power of military and militarism in India. (Audio recoding via sacw.net audio archive)
'The Congress can't return to power unless it reins in prices, lowers interest rates, taxes the rich,' says Praful Bidwai. 'If this means sacking those most responsible for the UPA's pro-big business policies including Finance Minister Chidambaram, so be it!'
Three recent developments should jolt all thinking Indians into introspecting on the colossal harm that blind faith is inflicting on this society.
''The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress has emerged triumphant in the just-held municipal elections in West Bengal, and reduced the Left Front to insignificance. The TMC’s victory run, from the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the 2011 Assembly elections and rural panchayat polls last July, has established it as Bengal’s pre-eminent party, ahead of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM). ''
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