Monday, November 10, 2014

Modi will Create History .......Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ November 09, 2014

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Modi offers prayers at the Assi Ghat in Varanasi

Modi Will Create History if he Succeeds in Making People of Uttar Pradesh Accept a Gujju as Saviour


Poverty is often the petri dish of power. Uttar Pradesh is one of India’s most deprived states, but politically, the most powerful. Every seventh Lok Sabha MP is from there. Before Narendra Modi became the PM, eight of India’s 13 PMs were from UP. Since Independence, they have collectively ruled the nation for 47 years. For Modi, the ninth PM to be elected from UP, the state’s political numerology is significant. Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the BJP’s first PM, because one-third of BJP Lok Sabha members came from UP. In 2014, the party won a record number 0f 71 seats. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first PM, and Modi, the present PM, are both from the state. Other PMs who were launched in UP were Indira Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Rajiv Gandhi, Charan Singh, Chandrasekhar and Vishwanath Pratap Singh.

Last week, various parties and leaders, including Modi, initiated moves aimed at acquiring dominance over UP. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, fearing the total decimation of his outfit, decided to bring the ossified Janata Parivar factions together, hoping that it would keep their traditional vote bank intact. The RSS has also scaled up its activities in UP, with its top leadership spending more time in the state, deploying additional forces to consolidate its base and capture new pastures. Last week, the PM chose to stay overnight in his constituency, Varanasi, as part of an unfolding plan to consolidate his grip over the state. He chose to represent the holy city because it is a symbol of Hindu heritage and one of the most sacred of Gangetic destinations. Aware of the fact that he is the first non-UP leader to become the PM after getting a handsome mandate from Varanasi’s voters, Modi has decided to return the favour. He doesn’t belong to any of its dominant castes such as Brahmins, Thakurs and upper caste Kayasthas like Shastri, but it hasn’t stopped Modi from getting the new Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar (who is likely to be elected to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh within 24 hours of his swearing-in). This reflects his intention to raise the level of UP’s participation in his Cabinet. It is for the first time that the PM, the home minister and the defence minister, all represent Uttar Pradesh in Parliament. Though both Modi and Parrikar aren’t from UP, along with Rajnath Singh, they make a formidable troika that can demolish all hostile political combinations. 

With the induction of Parrikar and other ministers, UP will have the maximum representation in the Central government—Uma Bharti, Kalraj Mishra, Maneka Gandhi, Santosh Gangwar, Gen. V K Singh and Sanjeev Kumar Balyan. Previously, such a situation had happened only during Morarji Desai’s reign, during which he inducted four Cabinet ministers from UP, including Chaudhury Charan Singh as the home minister. Rajiv Gandhi ensured that powerful leaders like Narain Dutt Tiwari, V P Singh, K C Pant and Mohsina Kidwai were given prominent positions. Barring G B Pant, who was India’s first Home Minister from UP (then the United Provinces), it was only Charan Singh who held the honour. Additionally, for the first time, three of the five members of the all-powerful Cabinet Committee on Security represent Uttar Pradesh. It is not just a coincidence that they enjoy the full confidence of the RSS leadership. Although Modi has his eyes fixed on Bihar and UP since almost half the Lok Sabha seats the party won are from these two states, it is the only in UP where his twin mantra of Hindutva and development can deliver handsome dividends. On the face of it, UP is caste-ridden, communally polarised and is bereft of any national leader. But for a large number of aspirational UP-ites, Modi has projected himself as the messiah of modernisation, a liberal Hindu and a leader with nationwide appeal.

If the future contours and content of BJP’s Operation UP is an indication, Modi would be spending about 20 days every year in the state. He has already established a full-fledged office equipped with state-of-the-art technology to monitor not only Varanasi but also the entire state. A special cell is to be set up in the PMO under a senior officer who would keep a real time watch on all developments in Uttar Pradesh. But Modi’s trump card appears to be the Ganga. By putting Uma Bharti, a Ganga devotee, in charge of the river rejuvenation project, he expects to influence the voters of 45 Lok Sabha seats and of over 200 Assembly seats situated along and around Ganga’s path. UP is the only state in which the RSS, the Union government and the state BJP work in perfect coordination. While RSS workers identify relevant issues at the ground level and present their wish list to their leadership, the state unit of the BJP forwards it to Om Mathur, the Central leader in charge of Uttar Pradesh.
It was Amit Shah who chose Mathur, who had assisted him in the Gujarat and Maharashtra Assembly elections for the job. He is supported by a few trusted political aides from Gujarat and other states. In addition, all the infrastructure ministries have been instructed to pay special attention to pending projects in UP, give them the extra push to take off, and also pump in generous funds. Both Bharti and Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari have done a detailed study of various water- and road-related issues and will be spending their maximum time in the state. Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu has been pushing for the development of the maximum number of smart cities in UP. If Gujarat was the laboratory for the Hindutva experiment, Modi is turning Uttar Pradesh into an exhibition venue to showcase his development agenda, while retaining Hindutva as the core ingredient. His plan is to restore the state’s national status it had lost in the churning of regional politics. Team Modi is now marketing the PM in the state as a leader who would replace titans like Nehru, Indira and Vajpayee. Modi will create political history again if he succeeds in making the Hindi-speaking and god-fearing UP bhaiyyas accept a Gujju as their saviour.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, November 3, 2014

Blackmail by Regional Parties would end..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/November 02, 2014

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Blackmail by Regional Parties Would End If Both Gandhis and Modi Stick to Going it Alone

The Congress is out. But its High Command is not down yet. The BJP is in full command of national politics and its High Command is aiming very high. If the signals and posturing of the leadership of both the parties are indications, it is clear that they want to marginalise and manacle regional parties and caste satraps. According to insiders in both the parties, regional outfits in the election-bound states of Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand would not be invited to join as poll partners. Last week, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi decided to assert his authority, as he is wont to sporadically. He directed his team to inform the Shibu Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha to take a walk or fall in line. At the same time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his A-Team told Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to show up at Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ swearing-in ceremony or stay indoors forever. Now, by all indications, both national parties will fight the J&K polls without local allies like the Abdullahs-led National Conference (NC) and the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed-led People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The signs are very clear that India is heading towards bi-polar politics in which regional parties would neither be able to dictate government formation nor dominate the agenda for governance. Modi took the lead by asserting his authority and advising his political operators to ensure that regional leaders did not decide the terms of engagement. Soon after winning an unprecedented mandate in the Lok Sabha elections, he snapped ties with ally Haryana Janhit Congress in Haryana and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra in the state polls. His idea was to test the winnability and acceptability of national leaders and parties in states where local castes and parochial parties played decisive roles. Taking a cue from the BJP, the Congress followed the same principle of setting terms and offering unacceptable deals to local partners. As the BJP dumped its 25-year ally in Maharashtra, the Congress made it impossible for the NCP to continue as a coalition partner. The past state polls turned out to be a battle between regional sentiments and national aspirations. The voters chose Modi and his mission. For the first time in history, the BJP formed the government, both in Haryana and Maharashtra.

Presently, the Congress’ decision on Jharkhand has far-reaching political consequences. By all indications, the tiny state is poised to vote for the saffron party, which has decided to fly solo. Perhaps, the Congress is imitating this principle in order to recapture its number two position and decimate the two regional outfits—JMM and BJP rebel Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. Jharkhand has been most unstable since it became an independent state, carved out of Bihar. Of the three new states, it is the only economically regressive one, while Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh are performing superlatively.

The decision to marginalise regional parties appears to have been taken in the spindrift of the Modi Wave in the Lok Sabha elections. Before that, NaMo was on a binge to forge alliances with anyone and everyone to prove his growing acceptability. He encouraged defections. He struck deals with caste-based parties in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, even making tainted leaders a part of the grand alliance. Soon afterwards, he realised that the NDA won not because of these alliances but solely due to his charisma and promises. Similarly, the Congress felt that none of the regional parties could bring it additional votes, since it had lost its traditional bases already.

According to a recent review done by some prominent Congress leaders, it was found that the party has been shrinking ever since Rajiv Gandhi chose in the late 80s to partner with local parties in the north and the west. The trend started in 1990 in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress struck an alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav, and later with Mayawati. Since then, it has not won even 10 per cent of the total Assembly seats. In each state where it had local frenemies, its vote share and seats nose-dived. The loss of Maharashtra, a traditional Congress bastion, to the BJP has come as big shock. After its recent electoral reverses, the Congress has lost almost all the big states except Karnataka. It rules Kerala as part of a shaky alliance. The party cannot think of returning to power in any other southern state in the immediate future. In the east, it rules in picayune states, while regional parties control the major ones such as West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar. In the north, the forecast is grim. It has no hope in hell to return to power in Uttar Pradesh. It is pitted in a direct fight with the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat. If one surveys India’s political colours, no Congress rainbow shines over 300-odd Lok Sabha seats even though the party rules over a dozen tiny states. On the other hand, the BJP has gained access to over 100 seats, which it had never won in the past. Modi has already chosen a potent and dangerous slogan, which asks voters to vote for the party in the state, which is in sync with the ruling party at the Centre. The voters of both Haryana and Maharashtra fell for this promising postulate.

The Congress has now chosen to mimic the Modi Mantra. After two decades of flirtations with regional leaders to keep the BJP out of power, the Gandhi Parivar has realised that the strategy has boomeranged. Not only has the Congress been forced to vacate its political base for local parties, it also faces the danger of being reduced to a regional party led by a national leadership. Its High Command is not yet reconciled to the idea that a regional leader has acquired a pan-India status with a national following. National leaders like the Gandhis are about to become stateless leaders. The fear of losing their iconic halo has compelled the Gandhis to go it alone. Meanwhile, Modi’s aspirational mission to become a global leader is driving him to decimate his adversaries. If both the Gandhis and Modi stick to their guns, the country would be rid of the pox of political blackmail by regional parties and caste calculations. To achieve this, the Gandhis on their part will have to show the patience of a Sphinx.

prabhuchawla@ newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Gandhis can't Discover Key .... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/ October 26, 2014

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Sonia and Rahul Gandhi

The Gandhis Can’t Discover Key to Post-Modi Politics Until They Rediscover Themselves


“A leader is a dealer in hope.”—Napoleon Bonaparte

Even after 193 years of his death, the great French Emperor’s words resonate with ageless truth. Napoleon’s bon mot fits the current Congress leadership to the last vowel. The 129-year-old party is not only in a state of political paralysis, but its leadership too is unable to raise the banner of hope proclaiming its relevance on the political battlefield. When even senior leaders like former finance minister and invitee to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) P Chidambaram feel desperation, it is evident that the High Command is losing control over loyalists.

A casual visit to the Congress website makes it obvious that the party is living in the past. The homepage opens with a video of a bearded Rahul Gandhi wishing the nation Happy Diwali. So far so good. Most other sections only speak about the NDA government’s shortcomings. Another section deals with the history of Congress, with each page talking about the sacrifices made by its leaders, including the Gandhis. The site offers no roadmap for the future. The party is oblivious to the fact that the current political war is being fought in cyberspace and not on the dusty warfront in various states. Its workers would find no worthwhile plan or agenda on the website which could enthuse them to fight for the party. They are waiting for Sonia and Rahul to change not only their style and substance, but also the political company they have been keeping for the past few months.
The Gandhis are not known for their easy accessibility. But no partyman ever questioned this exclusivity, as long as the Family kept winning elections for them. Now partymen are urging them to step out of their SPG-protected fortresses and mingle with the grassroots. Ever since Congress’ defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, party workers have been expecting a major organisational surgery to rid the outfit of those who occupy high posts without accountability. Most Congress leaders are saddened by the fact that Sonia hasn’t thought it proper to call an emergency meeting of state and district-level officebearers to review the causes for the debacle and chart the future course. Four months have passed since the defeat, but not a single satrap’s head has rolled so far.

In the cacophony of dissenting voices lies the urgency of creating a new Congress under a leadership which can ensure ‘Achhe Din’ for party workers and leaders who can’t exist without power for long. Party members at all levels are seeking the answer to just one question: “Can Sonia and Rahul bring Achhe Din for them?” Humiliating defeats in Haryana and Maharashtra also seem to have shaken their faith in the Gandhis who once appeared infallible. It is not for the first time that the Family is under attack for its failure to lasso voters for the party. When the Congress lost many Assembly and Parliamentary elections in 1998-99, Sonia was accused of shrinking the party’s national base. Of late, the Gandhis have been facing virulent attacks for winning the minimum number of Lok Sabha seats and losing major states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to the opposition.

Politics, too, has become a business for making profit by exploiting a premium brand. If over 100 ex-Congress MPs, MLAs and officebearers have left the party to join the BJP or any other party in the past six months, it reflects the plummeting faith in the High Command. The defectors forgot that it was Sonia Gandhi who brought the party to power in 2004 and 2009. Chidambaram’s comment made the headlines without making news. If in the past, many non-Gandhis could become party presidents, it could happen in the future too. But all matters regarding the authority and utility of the current and future leadership has to be resolved if Congress wants to survive in politics.
However, as usual, the Congress is all about the Gandhis and Gandhis alone. Chidambaram, too, spoke about them and expects that one day a non-Gandhi may helm the party. Technically, he is right. Constitutionally, he is absolutely correct. Of the 16 Congress presidents since 1947, 12 were non-Nehru-Gandhis. However, three Gandhis—Indira, Rajiv and Sonia— have occupied AICC presidency for 30 years out of 68. It is also a reality that the others were anointed party chiefs only after prior concurrence of a Gandhi or Nehru. It’s natural for Congress to be reconciled to the idea of a Gandhi-led Congress on a permanent basis, albeit with scary expectations. At the moment, both mother and son haven’t been able to provide either a slogan or an agenda to face the Modi juggernaut. The PM is flinging gauntlets by coining new slogans and announcing fresh schemes, whose merits cannot be opposed.

Veteran Congressmen are expecting the Family to deliver a brand new Congress. Each Gandhi created his or her own apparatus, apparatchiks and agenda soon after taking over as party boss. Indira got rid of the syndicate and coined ‘Garibi Hatao’. Even Sanjay Gandhi created an aggressive young brigade, which pushed his five-point programme that included family planning and environment. Rajiv Gandhi brought in his own team from the corporate sector and chose technology as his mission. But the Sonia and Rahul team haven’t come up with any inspiring epiphany to energise the party. Old loyalists remain entrenched in powerful bodies like the CWC. Out of its 40 members, over 20 have hardly ever won an election or carried the party to victory in their respective states. Most Pradesh Congress Committees have become centres of group rivalries. Unless the Gandhis rediscover themselves, their rediscovery of India’s post- Modi politics will never succeed. For the Congress, the Gandhi brand is like Reliance or Tata, which can go through many crests and troughs but will never vanish. They will always remain top of the mind. But like the Tatas and the Ambanis, the Gandhis have to sculpt a team which can repackage and market a 129-year-old brand, the Congress.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 20, 2014

Swadeshi PM fills gap by Banking ...... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/October 19,2014

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Swadeshi PM Fills Gap By Banking on Videshi Men to Deliver Economic Idea of India

Humour has a habit of hiding truth by default. A remark made in jest by an economist friend resonated with reality. Can India’s Prime Minister or finance minister do without an Arvind in North Block? Lutyen’s Delhi is yet to reconcile to the disruptive political idea of Arvind Kejriwal. The eponymous syndrome has now affected even PM Narendra Modi, so much so that he simply could not ignore the talents of an economist with World Bank connections for running the Indian economy. North Block has been, of late, grappling to find an Arvind with the appropriate degree and connectivity to act as an accelerator or at least a stabiliser of India’s growth trajectory. Both economic and political observers are keenly monitoring the movements and appointments of key advisors and officials at the Centre. They expect a bureaucratic establishment with a significantly new look in line with the new dispensation’s thinking. Last week, Modi decided to import from Washington DC, Arvind Subramanian as India’s 12th Chief Economic Advisor (CEA). The chair has been lying vacant ever since the UPA government appointed Raghuram Rajan as the RBI governor.
(From left) Arvind Subramanian, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Kaushik Basu and Shankar Acharya
But all Arvinds do not lead such a charmed life. On the same day, Modi shunted out Finance Secretary Arvind Mayaram from North Block to the little known Patel Bhawan as Tourism Secretary. It is for the first time that a Finance Secretary has been transferred to such a relatively insignificant ministry. At the same time, the PM overlooked the claims of Arvind Panagariya, a fellow Gujarati and a foreign-educated economist who is the toast of the saffron chatterati class. Panagariya was the frontrunner for the CEA’s post and was backed by credible economists like Jagdish Bhagwati. But the PM chose a South Indian Arvind instead, whose spoken language is listed as Hindi over others. Earlier, Arvind Virmani had served as CEA from 2007-09.

On a serious note, Subramanian’s appointment raises an issue about the essential qualifications for the appointment of a key government advisor. Modi is the first homegrown leader to wear his Swadeshi credentials on his sleeve. He speaks in an Indian language and promotes Indian ideas and icons. But the compulsion of global connectivity has forced the Swadeshi politician to depend on a World Bank/IMF-pedigree economist to carry forward his growth model. So far the PM has shown a different style and approach in running the government. When it came to putting together a team for economic reforms, however, he has followed the formula set by predecessors, from Rajiv Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, of looking for external experts.

Subramanian is one of the most respectable global economists. It is not a coincidence that Modi decided to limit his choice to a group which has been connected with the Brentwood institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). In fact, barring Bimal Jalan, the former RBI governor, and Deepak Nayyar, the former V-C of Jawaharlal Nehru University, all the CEAs who came later were actively associated with the World Bank or IMF. Even Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who served as CEA to Manmohan Singh (a former CEA himself) when he was P V Naransimha Rao’s finance minister, was a nominee of Washington-based banks. Later on, economists like Shankar Acharya, Ashok Lahiri, Kaushik Basu and Raghuram Rajan, too, were associated with the Fund banks before being appointed as CEA. The process of borrowing people from overseas started in the early 1990s, when the finance ministers of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh were chosen from among economists who had worked for the IMF, World Bank or other international financial institutions. As one of the desi Leftist economists put it, “It appears that we have an unwritten agreement with the World Bank and IMF that India would keep one of their representatives in North Block to keep a watch on things. Afterwards, they all return to Washington after retirement.”
Subramanian is not an exception. An author of numerous books, the 54-year-old is currently working as a Dennis Weatherstone Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Earlier he was associated with the IMF as an assistant director in the research department. He is known more as a trade economist than one with the expertise needed to manage the macroeconomic issues confronting India. He has written extensively on WTO matters and India’s policy on World Trade. He has been critical of India’s stand in the WTO on food subsidy. He had also chastised NDA’s first interim budget. Modi has shown magnanimity in appointing him in order to get a contrarian view on his own economic philosophy. But some economists have raised questions about Subramanian’s suitability for India, which needs to put its internal monetary and fiscal policies in place. If Modi’s eyes are set on increasing the nation’s share in international trade, then Subramanian is perhaps the best bet. But the question is, why were macroeconomists like Subir Gokarn, the former RBI deputy governor, and Urjit Patel, the current deputy governor, ignored? Though both have foreign degrees and IMF and World Bank connections, they were found not wired enough abroad. According to government insiders, Subramanian was picked because Modi is looking to play an important role in dictating the direction of the global economic agenda, like Manmohan did during his first tenure as Prime Minister.

The appointment of Subramanian and Rajiv Mehrishi as the new Finance Secretary, along with a new Coal Secretary indicate that Modi is not only shaking up the Civil Services, but is also giving it a new shape. During the past four weeks, he has ordered the reshuffle of over 40 joint secretaries and about a dozen secretaries. He has even overturned Manmohan’s directive, which made it mandatory for the Cabinet Secretary to consult the minister concerned before appointing any secretary or joint secretary in his ministry. Now the PM alone chooses the secretaries. He even holds regular review meetings with them. He wants them all to communicate with him directly. Since Modi has made development his mission, he is discovering the tools and personnel who can deliver his idea of ‘Swachh and Swasth Bharat’ (A Clean and Healthy India). Perhaps he is not able to get indigenous people qualified enough to serve as his companions in Vikas Yatra. Modi appears to be filling the talent deficit gap by importing skills for now. So far he has been a campaigner, not a crusader. In the next few weeks, India may see a fully constructed Modi Sarkar in place, with or without the help of videshi men and material.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 13, 2014

By Winning Assemblies, PM aims, ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/October 12, 2014

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Modi addresses a rally at Pimpri in Pune

By Winning Assemblies, PM Aims to Decimate Regional Chiefs and Capture Rajya Sabha


Normally, after winning a war, losing a few minor battles shouldn’t bother a warrior. But PM Narendra Modi and his trusted party chief Amit Shah are treating the upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana as yet another war to be won in order to consolidate their control over India’s political market. If the colour and character of their campaign are indications, it is a fight between Modi and the rest—it’s Lok Sabha election redux, with the BJP projecting NaMo as its only candidate in all the 288 and 90 Assembly seats in Maharashtra and Haryana respectively.
Never since Independence has a PM become the lone star of a local election. Starting from the Delhi border with Rajasthan on one side and Uttar Pradesh on the other, all roads, walls and hoardings carry only Modi’s redoubtable visage. The name and picture of the local candidate is hardly visible or advertised. The BJP’s election slogan has also been chosen thoughtfully. If the war cry in the 2014 General Elections was Abki Baar Modi Sarkar (It’s time for a Modi government), it has coined an extended slogan, Chalo Chalein Modi Ke Saath (Let’s move with Modi) for the states. The party and its leaders, whether it is Shah or any Cabinet minister, never disclose the name of the CM candidate in a state poll. Instead they ask voters to vote for a government, which will work with Modi. Modi promises a Team India comprising CMs from his party alone. This is contrary to his announcement during the Lok Sabha election campaign that all CMs, irrespective of their political affiliations, would be co-opted. But the tone and tenor of Modi’s speeches during the Assembly poll campaigns reflect a resolve to establish his control over a large swathe of political India. His discourse sounds exactly like Indira Gandhi’s, who promoted a strong Centre and weak states during her reign. Modi himself was as a chief minister for 12 years. Now that he is India’s PM, he would like his model to be implemented unchallenged. If the Congress sans Indira or any other Gandhi is like a vehicle that has run out of fuel, the BJP without Modi is like a fish out of water. Modi has credibility and vigour to be numero uno, while the BJP lacks any of these virtues. The party couldn’t find winnable candidates in over 30 per cent of the constituencies in Haryana and Maharashtra. When the public simulacrum reflected a massive defeat for the BJP minus a charismatic local chieftain, it decided to invoke Moditva. It is for the first time that a PM is addressing such a large number of rallies during any Assembly poll.

Modi is aiming at more than a decisive victory in the two states. He sees an invincible opportunity. If he wins both, it would be the beginning of the BJP seizing better control not only in the states but also in the Rajya Sabha, where it is in a hopeless minority. Moreover, a victory will also provide him with the authority to impose CMs of his choice in Maharashtra and Haryana. Currently, barring Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel, the previous establishment had chosen the remaining three CMs in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Modi decided to take charge of the Assembly campaign after the party suffered humiliating defeats in the by-polls held in Bihar, UP and Rajasthan in July. Soon after his return from a highly successful trip to the US, Modi decided to defy the convention of the PM’s minimum participation in regional elections. He sent clear signals that he would be available for any number of rallies in any part of the two states, even at the cost of getting a sore throat.

NaMo is neither a compromiser nor a reconciliator regarding his principles or mission. Contrary to general belief, it was only after his nudge and nod that the party broke its 25-year-old alliance with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and a decade-old relationship with Haryana Janhit Congress led by Kuldeep Bishnoi. Modi wanted to send a clear message to his (diminished) detractors in the party that he doesn’t need them and that his dependable party chief can deliver the states without the help of allies. Its political divorces have left BJP without any significant ally in all the major states. Earlier, it had broken ties with Nitish Kumar in Bihar. At the moment, it has picayune parties like the Akali Dal and Ram Vilas Paswan as partners, along with Chandrababu Naidu. The viciousness of the speeches being made in Haryana by saffron leaders against the Akali Dal is an indication of BJP’s strained relationship with the Punjab party.

Modi’s road map is clear. He wants the BJP to jettison needling regional allies and capture as many states as possible alone. His real purpose is to improve the BJP’s strength in the Rajya Sabha, which can happen only if it gets a majority on its own in the states. If they continue to remain under non-BJP control, the party wouldn’t be able to increase its current number of 43 MPs to 60 in the next 10 years. Maharashtra sends 19 members to the Rajya Sabha, the second highest after Uttar Pradesh, which has 31. At the moment, the BJP has only three members from the Maratha state. Modi wants to treble his party’s tally. Before his five-year term expires, 20 states would have gone to the polls. Modi has targeted Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Karnataka, which account for over 90 seats while the BJP has just about a dozen from these states. Once he captures Maharashtra and Haryana, no party would be able to stop the Modi juggernaut from capturing the other states. NaMo has already set new records in politics. But for him, even the sky is not the limit. When challenged, Modi’s posture becomes even more determined. His current endeavour seems to be to decimate regional leaders and become India’s most feared and adored national leader.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 29, 2014

No PMO's Parror, Swaraj stands tall... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ Setpember 28, 2014

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No PMO's Parrot, Swaraj Stands Tall with 'Maximum Outcome, Minimum Visibility'

Sushma Swaraj

Diminutive she may be, but indomitable she certainly is. External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, perhaps the shortest in terms of height in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet, has been setting an example for the rest to look up to, as she charms the world with her tireless but discreet diplomatic missions to various international capitals. While Modi has positioned himself as India’s most effective leader, Swaraj seems to have adopted the principle of maximum outcome with minimum visibility. In advance of Modi’s Madison Avenue address, the Big Apple had acquired saffron hues; Modi’s cut-outs were giving the skyscrapers competition and banners adorned with his smiling visage became the leitmotif of what promised to be a historic visit by a leader, once demonised by the same hosts who are hero-worshiping him now. But it is Swaraj’s persuasive iron hand in the velvet glove diplomacy—she chastised Pakistan for spoiling the talks by meeting with separatists—which reveals her training as a lawyer and educationist with the motto that the more you speak, the more attention you get. In Manhattan, Swaraj graciously allowed TV channels and photographers to capture her on camera with foreign guests, but refused to deliver one-liners to reporters hungry for sugary or bitter bytes. She is one of the five women ministers in Modi’s Cabinet. Yet Swaraj is following the leader in creating records.
She is India’s first female foreign minister since Independence, with the exception of Indira Gandhi, who for a brief period held the portfolio when she was the Prime Minister. Swaraj is also the first Indian woman foreign minister to lead her country’s delegation to the United Nation General Assembly, as well as being part of the Prime Minister’s team during his entire stay in the US.
In fact, for the first time, two women, Swaraj and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who appear to be made for each other, lead the Ministry of External Affairs. They also seem to be perfect partners in delivering perfect diplomacy. Most of the time, they have been travelling together, strategising against India’s foes and partnering to project Modi as a global leader with a ‘vision and mission’, causing much dismay to those South Block mandarins who pose as walking encyclopedias of global statecraft.
Modi landed in New York with a purposeful agenda and a list of targets to achieve, while Swaraj had a clearly defined assignment. Unlike the previous foreign ministers, who were cocktail party captives of pin-striped diplomats, spending more time sightseeing and raising toasts with the high and mighty in global financial capitals, Swaraj’s meetings were restricted to those who matter and can contribute in helping her restore India’s stature in international politics and the global economy. Modi’s unspoken objective is to acquire the global status, which India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru enjoyed. Nehru, along with Marshal Tito of undivided Yugoslavia, forged an alliance of non-aligned nations to engage the contradictions of a bipolar world divided between the US and USSR. But now the world is divided by money and not ideology. Since India is where the fast buck starts, Modi is leveraging his economic ecology to place it in a better position to dictate international economic and strategic narratives. He has wisely chosen his political colleagues to aid him in this, instead of superannuated and supine babus or inane intellectuals sponsored by dubiously funded think tanks. Swaraj’s mandate is to network with both powerful and not-so-powerful nations. During her 10 days in the US—the longest ever visit by any foreign minister in recent times—she was expected to meet over 100 ministers from over 40 countries. While Modi spent his time impressing his fans and half-a-dozen heads of states, Swaraj was sorting out thorny issues with smaller but politically significant countries. For Modi, it was a visit to establish his superiority and triumph over a country that had treated him as a pariah. Hence, both leader and follower had defined their itinerary and objectives to achieve the maximum impact with minimum labour.
Swaraj was spending almost 10-12 hours every day to meet her official commitments. It was not a coincidence that she met foreign ministers from other nations, who could help further India’s current and future interests. Within a few hours of her arrival in New York, she met with seven of them. She had longish parlays with Philip Hammond, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende, and Greek deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos among others. She didn’t leave out India’s neighbours and African leaders either. She met her counterparts from Sudan and Maldives. Her idea was to cover all continents and regional economic groups like BRICS, G4, IBSA, the Commonwealth and SAARC. She met ministers from West Asia to understand the contours of the ongoing conflict in the region. Her confabulations with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at the UN headquarters ended the military stand-off on the Indo-China border following intrusions by PLA soldiers. During all her meetings, she chose to speak extempore except on occasions when formal introductory speeches were required. Those who attended her events confided that they were yet to come across another person who could pick up the subtle nuances of complex diplomacy in such a short time. Since the Prime Minister always sets the tone and tenor of diplomacy, it was left to Swaraj to articulate Modiplomacy, at the same time without sounding like the PMO’s parrot.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla