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The AAP conundrum: Steering clear of doctrines

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…”

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Floating On Anti-Politics Discontent: But can AAP deliver?

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?

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When Cronies Plunder Scarce Resources: Birla and Coalgate

On October 15, the Central Bureau of Investigation did something unusual in the coal block allotment scam—if only under the Supreme Court’s goading. It filed a First Information Report against top industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and former coal secretary PC Parakh for illegally allotting two coal blocks in Odisha in 2005 to the Aditya Birla group-owned Hindalco Industries to generate electricity.

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Theatrics isn’t leadership

As many Indians expected, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has succeeded in scuttling an odious ordinance which would have enabled lawmakers sentenced to jail for two years or more to hold on to their seats. It took the cabinet a mere five minutes to withdraw it.

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Rahul Gandhi: Neither fish nor fowl

If the Bharatiya Janata Party is deluding itself that Narendra Modi’s stormtrooping methods will miraculously ensure its victory in the next election, the Congress is no less dangerously mistaken in thinking that Rahul Gandhi will craft its return to power by assertively signifying his importance in the party—by bypassing it. Gandhi may have scuttled the odious ordinance that was designed to prevent convicted lawmakers from holding on to their seats pending legal appeal—as might have happened by the time these lines appear in print—but he has not brought the party or himself any credit by the manner in which he went about doing it.

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New offensive

Having tasted blood through the Anna Hazare campaign, the Sangh Parivar is launching an all-round attack on the Manmohan Singh-led government. The UPA cannot defend itself with weak-kneed Right-leaning policies.

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Anna’s problematic agenda: End of a grave crisis

Team Anna must show some humility instead of imposing its will on society. It doesn’t hold a monopoly on understanding how to make governance more inclusive, clean and people-responsive. It must recognise that, finally, it is Parliament that prevailed on the Lokpal legislative process, and that’s how things should be, says Praful Bidwai.

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Right-Wing Gains From The Jan Lokpal Campaign: The politics of Anna’s fast

No government in India has bent over backwards to please a civil society campaign as much as the Manmohan Singh government, in respect of the Jan Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill, drafted by a small group of people, including Anna Hazare, nominated by an NGO called India against Corruption (IAC). And no single individual’s act has recently attracted as much popular support as Mr Hazare’s fast for passing the Bill on terms dictated by him by an impossibly short deadline.

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Corruption and the Lokpal issue

Corruption doesn’t occur primarily, as Team Anna holds, because there’s a “lack of an independent, empowered, … anti-corruption institution”. The real reasons include a neoliberal policy regime that encourages privatisation of common property resources through sweetheart deals and a politician-bureaucrat-businessman nexus; the rise of greedy entrepreneurs; an increasingly compromised civil service; poorly monitored public service delivery; and a dysfunctional justice delivery system.

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Perils of Anna’s success

Hazare’s success in mobilising the normally apolitical middle class speaks of a strong revulsion against corruption and shows up huge flaws in the system. But it can also harm democratic politics.

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Strains In United Progressive Alliance: Wages of brinkmanship

By threatening to withdraw its ministers from the United Progressive Alliance government over a seat-sharing dispute in Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham sprang a stunning surprise on the Congress. DMK president M Karunanidhi assumed a self-righteous posture and charged the Congress with greed for raising its demand for tickets for the coming elections to the 234-strong Assembly from the 60 seats agreed earlier, to 63 seats.

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A Who's Who of Indian sleaze

Leaks of tapped phone conversations reveal how corruption propels India's booming economy

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Hit By Election Defeats & Countless Scams : Crisis time for the Congress

How the mighty have fallen! The Congress party was so exuberant and confident after its Lok Sabha election victory last year that it imagined that it would be only a matter of time before it returns to the glorious past of one-party salience when it used to call the shots nationally and rule in all but a handful of states. Barely one-and-a-half years later, the party is besieged by scandal after scandal, buffeted by defeats in the Bihar Assembly elections, Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls and various by-elections, politically confused, and organisationally demoralised. Suddenly, its return to power in 2014 no longer looks a near-certainty, as it did only some months ago.

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From 2nd-Gen Spectrum To The Fourth Estate: Deep rot in the system

As the 2G scam reverberates, shocking revelations have emerged of another, related, scandal involving collusion between big corporate houses, political parties and the media in influencing key policy decisions and ministerial appointments. Outlook and Open magazines have reproduced partial transcripts of telephone conversations between Ms Niira Radia, a corporate lobbyist for the Tata and Mukesh Ambani groups, and several top journalists, industrialists and politicians, which show journalists playing political roles well beyond the legitimate bounds of their profession.

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Little to build on

fter Ashok Chavan's role in the Adarsh Society scam was exposed, his continuation as Maharashtra's chief minister became simply untenable. His replacement by Prithviraj Chavan is premised on the hope that a person known for integrity and probity, and what some call a "process-driven management style", would help clean up the horrible mess that is Maharashtra politics. The new Berkeley-educated CM indeed has a reputation of a sober politician and administrator. Moreover, he enjoys the confidence of the Congress president and the prime minister — an advantage few Maharashtra CMs have had in decades. But whether he can clean the state's Augean stables is an open question that can't be answered by managerial styles. On it depend the fate of India's most industrialised state and, not least, the credibility of the Congress's apex leadership.

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After the Games, the Blame Game

The Commonwealth Games have proved the Cassandras right. Every single dire forecast and dismal prediction has turned out to be correct and every dark fear has come true. The mis-planning and mismanagement of the event was gross, the scale of corruption staggering, the profligate spending on the international sports bureaucracy unparalleled, and the brutalisation of Delhi and its suburbs complete.

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Brutalising A City, Unleashing Sleaze: The Games are India’s self-goal

The Cassandras have proved right. The Commonwealth Games have turned into a gigantic multi-billion rupee racket, under which Delhi’s landscape is recklessly ripped up, inappropriate and wasteful projects are shamelessly promoted, public funds massively looted, workers sadistically brutalised, the poor summarily evicted, and human rights egregiously violated—supposedly to enhance India’s global image in pursuit of hollow notions of prestige. The CWG, far grander than the Asian Games of 1982, will be monumentally irrelevant to the future of sports. But they will leave a toxic legacy of empty public coffers, disused stadia, and a battered mass of underprivileged people.

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Real costs of false prestige

A rash of scandals has broken out over contracts for the construction of infrastructure and sports facilities for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. This raises disturbing questions about transparency, accountability and governance failure and the existence of an Indian kleptocracy which sets no limits to how low it will stoop in looting the exchequer. But the Games must also be criticised on grounds other than corruption. They will be a hollow, tawdry 12-day spectacle, which does nothing to promote sports, or to earn India any goodwill or prestige, which the elite craves.

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Regulating the regulator

One of the greatest failures of governance in India lies in appalling poor regulation of entrepreneur activities in the public interest. This is as true of vehicular pollution—less than 200 inspectors for Delhi’s 5 million-plus registered motor vehicles—as it is of such diverse areas as natural gas, education, and the higher judiciary. It is often comfortingly thought that self-regulation is the answer given the near-impossibility of reforming our lethargic and corrupt bureaucracy. Alas, this is largely an illusion.

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Nuking democracy

Khaleej Times, 26 July 2008

by Praful Bidwai (India Vision)

INDIA'S United Progressive Alliance won the Parliament confidence motion, but lost credibility by buying votes. It has inflicted great damage upon democracy by weakening the people's trust in its integrity. This harm will prove more enduring than any gains from the UPA's victory.

During the run-up to the vote — one of the worst periods of cynical manipulation in India's politics —,every fear that the democratic process would be defiled and subverted came true. MPs were offered ministerial berths, election tickets, new states/districts, and cash.

The most nauseating episode was the display of Rs one crore (10 million) in banknotes by three BJP MPs, who claimed they were given it by Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh to secure their abstentions.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to exploit this episode by playing the innocent victim of manipulation, of the kind Amar Singh is known for. But going by credible accounts, it too played dirty. One of its three MPs was unhappy at the prospect of losing his constituency due to delimitation.

He was approached by the SP, which was unaware that he had already made up with the BJP. He deviously set up not a sting but an entrapment operation, roping two other BJP MPs. Then, the BJP's dirty tricks department took over. The three MPs, with a tainted history, deceived the SP. The SP offered them Rs 9 crores (nine million), and delivered Rs one crore.

Whatever the finer truth, there's no doubt that the SP bribed them. It's equally incontrovertible that they accepted the bribe, and were as culpable as those who offered it to them. The BJP was as Machiavellian as the SP. It also involved a television channel. (The channel didn't air the footage. This doesn't condone its collusion in an unethical act.)

The BJP is adopting a holier-than-thou posture. But its credibility is questionable: 8 of its MPs defied the party whip while taking bribes. So much for this disciplined "party with a difference"!

The BJP also bribed defectors from other parties. And so did the UPA-SP combine.

In fact, the whole premise underlying the UPA-SP's efforts to manufacture a majority was that it could engineer defections or abstentions. Triggering cross-voting was essential to the strategy of the UPA-SP and the BJP and BSP too.

Finally, the UPA-SP won by 275-to-256. Had all "rebel" MPs obeyed their respective party whips, the motion could have been defeated 261-to-277. When Manmohan Singh precipitated this confrontation on the nuclear deal, he was aware of the indispensable need to use defections to win. He encouraged his colleagues to play dirty. The confidence vote showed up most parties in a poor light-with few exceptions barring the Left.

The degeneration lies not just in the votes' unprincipled character, but in their non-representative nature. Party-based democracy isn't about individual choice, but about structured decisions which are representative because they refer to party positions.

The vote saw democracy diminished from governance based on the people's will to a system of power, without legitimacy or purpose. This only shows that India has failed to build democracy based on robust conventions and norms, which outlaw the buying of legislators and discourage the rule of money and muscle-power. The episode has set India's democracy back by a decade, if not more.

It also witnessed three disconcerting trends. First, all the major alliances that drive Indian politics in the near future will be unprincipled and opportunistic. True, all cross-party coalitions involve compromises on policies, programmes and priorities. But they needn't be as completely devoid of content as, say, the present Congress-SP arrangement, or that between the BSP and what's left of the UNPA.

Even the UNPA, a lose coalition of regional parties, had a distinct political identity until the SP deserted it. Yet more programmatically cohesive was the UPA-Left arrangement.

But that's now history. In his anxiety to be free of the constraints the Left imposes on the Centre-Right Congress, Singh hitched his party to the SP with which the Congress has nothing in common.

Similarly, the UNPA has tied up with the BSP and elevated Mayawati to a secular progressive heroine — a complete myth. This will blur lines of political demarcation and result in the BJP becoming disproportionately important as a party with a distinct identity.

This doesn't bode well for political diversity and plurality, which is essential in a one-billion plus country. India's numerous political subcultures must not get subsumed under a couple of blocs.

Second, the Congress has fatefully decided to move away from the Left, to a party which has pronounced pro-Big Business policies and is deeply compromised with the Sangh Parivar. This will spur the Congress to move Rightwards and alienate it further from the poor.

Already, corporates are salivating at the prospect of Right-wing shifts in health, education, insurance, banking, and organised retail.

As between the early 1990s and 2004, this is likely to accelerate the Congress' decline as a broadly centrist coalition of different social groups, amongst whom the urban poor, Dalits and Adivasis figured, as did Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. This shrinking of the Centre-Left space doesn't augur well for democracy.

Finally, the Left has gravitated towards supporting Mayawati as a future Prime Ministerial candidate. This ignores her narrow agenda, spectacular opportunism and corruption. By retreating from principle, and by having truck with tainted politicians, the Left can only lose the high moral ground which it occupies because of its probity and pro-people policies.

The Left is unlikely to regain in the short run the political leverage which it enjoyed with the UPA-even if it retains its 59 Lok Sabha seats, an all-time record. The BSP/UNPA won't be even half as amenable to Left influence as the UPA. After all, the UPA came to power on a secular, pro-equity platform-and on a strong popular rejection of the BJP.

If the Left's parliamentary representation decreases, as seems likely, its moral-political weight and influence will decline rapidly. That too is bad news for the prospect of inclusive participatory democracy aiming at popular empowerment.

Praful Bidwai is a veteran Indian journalist and commentator. He can be reached at praful(at)