The Accidental Prime Minister, the book by Sanjaya Baru, media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2004-08, has become a sensational best-seller primarily because its release was timed to coincide with the election campaign. Unsurprisingly, the BJP seized upon it to repeat its pet charge about Singh being India’s “weakest-ever” PM, and otherwise malign the Congress.
When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975, the vast majority of Indian academics, intellectuals and media commentators protested. Barring a few publications like India Today, most newspapers carried sharply critical comments and truthful, horrifying accounts of the excesses perpetrated in the name of defending India against contrived “threats”—until censorship was imposed, and sometimes defying it.
Many Narendra Modi zealots are acting as if he had already been sworn in as Prime Minister, or as if that were only a matter of time. They have taken their cue from Mr Modi’s March 29 statement in Chandigarh, where he declared himself India’s future PM. He says the people have chosen the government even before voting; the national election is a mere formality to be gone through. Such contrived hype about a “Modi wave”, bankrolled by corporations, and propagated by much of the media, ignores four main trends which have emerged in the last couple of weeks. These suggest the election still remains open-ended. Mr Modi has doubtless established an edge, but it isn’t decisive, and cannot ensure the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s election victory.
India’s Left parties, among the world’s biggest parties belonging to the Communist tradition, face a huge crisis as the Lok Sabha election approaches. The election will largely decide if they can reverse their recent setbacks, or go into a steep decline, with waning political-intellectual influence and growing organisational disarray.
'AAP's real value must be measured not by the number of Lok Sabha seats it wins in the election
which may not exceed 10 or 15 and not even by the number of votes it takes from the BJP, but by its ability to deflate Modi's superhuman '56-inch chest' image and the charisma so assiduously manufactured around him by the corporate-controlled media,' says Praful Bidwai.
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.
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