Monday, November 10, 2014
Monday, November 3, 2014
Monday, October 27, 2014
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.
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Monday, October 20, 2014
Swadeshi PM Fills Gap By Banking on Videshi Men to Deliver Economic Idea of India
Monday, October 13, 2014
By Winning Assemblies, PM Aims to Decimate Regional Chiefs and Capture Rajya Sabha
Monday, September 29, 2014
No PMO's Parrot, Swaraj Stands Tall with 'Maximum Outcome, Minimum Visibility'
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.
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