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Category Archives: Anti-Corruption

The Rise and Rise of Narendra Modi

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I have long resisted the temptation to put down my views on Narendra Modi. It is common knowledge that the electronic & print media in India have consistently projected a perverse and dismal image of Modi, notwithstanding the fact that he has been unequivocally cleared of any wrongdoing by a special investigating team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India.

In the midst of this polarization manufactured by a very powerful section of electronic and print media,  a well informed and intelligent discussion becomes impossible. However, even at the risk of being ignored, I want to highlight some key issues that have not been widely discussed by mainstream political pundits.

India is witness to a huge transformation that is sweeping the country as a result of three simultaneously occurring and evolving phenomenon. This transformation will influence future course of events in India and will in due course determine who the next PM as well as impact decisions beyond 2014. Narendra Modi has fully understood these forces and has used them to his advantage. This has paid him handsome dividends already – as seen from the massive following at his rallies and the stunning electoral success in the recently concluded regional elections. The three forces are the people’s expectations to deliver on development, India’s ‘demographic dividend’ and the skillful deployment of technology and internet – specifically social media,  in governance and mobilizing the people. Let me elaborate;

Many so called pundits have us believe that using development as an election plank is a new phenomenon. They in fact accuse Modi of starting a new expectation cycle from the people on economic development. This is far from the truth.

For six long decades Nehruvian-socialist shibboleths were peddled as panacea for removing poverty.  Keen observers have always been aware that the political parties – all of them – have been guilty of keeping large sections of society poor and underprivileged. Their logic was that these sections were susceptible to enticements and could be won over with trinkets, gifts and cash disbursals that came in handy to win elections. This, arguably though, is one of the reasons why we find slums dwellers in every city across India. That this has become an uncontrollable eye-sore is another matter.

To cover up incompetent governance and rank corruption, they raised a host of phony issues  and engendering  what Nehru would have called ‘fissiparous’ policies  – like appeasement politics – that did not have any real mass approval  and ultimately ended up against India’s interest.  But today there is widespread anger and demand for governance from every section of society.  Modi has shown the courage to change the narrative from rigmarole sloganeering to execution & good governance. What Modi has done in Gujarat is not unique; he delivered what a reasonable leader in a democracy is expected to deliver and his government performed the duties expected of it.  The time has come where anyone with a good record of governance will win the heart of India. This expectation has taken deep roots and Modi  has positioned himself  at the right place at the right time to encash his good work. .

Secondly, Indian political class today is a genre of senior citizens desperately clinging to office. With over 65% of Indians below the age of 35, the gerontocracy has long lost its connect with people. Overwhelming incompetence and corruption have accentuated disconnect. On the other hand, this demographic segment has played a very significant role so far in independent India in courting and influencing public opinion on a range of issues that  have shaped national discourse – from the gang rape in Delhi to exposing a media personality’s sexual indiscretions or drumming up support for a transparent administration.

Modi has smartly influenced this segment by showcasing his record of governance in Gujarat and offering the ‘India First’ theme. The Gujarat government’s efficient delivery of basic service to the people of the state and the attendant transparency has attracted millions to his fold. From there on he has shown superb leadership in keeping and growing this following by reporting to them at huge rallies the accomplishments in Gujarat and his dreams for India. This has captivated the under-thirty fives as well as larger sections of middle class.

Thirdly, Modi is tech savvy and has not shied away from using IT to enable development. He has an overwhelming following on Twitter – over 3 million followers. His YouTube videos are a big hit.  He is creatively engaging this group by crowd-sourcing new ideas for the 2014 election. The India272 website is an outstanding example where he has requested his fans to suggest campaign slogans, new ideas for development and electioneering. On the contrary the UPA regime and other parties have not only not courted them, but angered them by censoring social media. Winning the hearts of this massive segment is the biggest win for Modi.

Modi has definitely won the hearts of the people in his fight to capture Delhi. He is the hot favorite and is all set to become the prime minister. However, it would be naïve to conclude that the battle is won. There are any numbers of inimical forces that are determined to keep him away from taking charge of India. These are both internal and external forces that are working in tandem to stop him in his tracks. These forces will mount as many challenges as possible – legal, constitutional, political etc to block him.  So his path to Delhi is not exactly a bed of roses and he is fully aware of it. But the most heartening thing is that he has awakened an India that was long suppressed and emasculated by a perverted political model that defied logic for six decades.  If the British divided and conquered India, the Nehruvian socialist perfected a new art of appeasement to further splinter India. Both have greatly damaged the soul of India, but have not succeeded in destroying India. Modi will have his hands full in cleaning up the mess in 2014.

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Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal – a puppet on a string?

Like most Indians, I have been following the anti-corruption movement that has taken center stage in India over the past few months. Anna Hazare and his Friends have been staging protests seeking a tough anti-corruption law. I must confess that the attention that this movement has commanded is indeed remarkable – I would say too remarkable for comfort to be a spontaneous venting we are used to seeing all these years in India. The speed and professionalism with which Anna Fast I and Anna Fast II have been organized has not missed anyone’s notice.  Further, many have also noticed the ultra-professionalism with which the media has been handled. Contrast this with Baba Ramdev’s fast at Ramlila maidan and the chaos that descended there when police sought to disperse the gathering.

Given the fact that Anna Hazare has risen up from humble beginnings and his work has largely been in rural Maharashtra, the display of slick organizational and media management skills stands out.  Let’s face it – in India only a large national political party – either the Congress or the BJP – has the muscle and means to pull off a national event like this.  Some regional parties – for example DMK or even the AIADMK – have shown their mettle in organizing such events but that skill is limited to the state level only. The fact that Anna Hazare with a handful of his notable friends could pull this off astonishes me.

It is this feeling of astonishment that bothers me.

The more attention I pay to Anna’s movement, the more reluctant I am to endorse it. Not that I do not support anti-corruption laws.  Far from it. A dynamic democracy like India periodically needs new laws for better governance. But that need cannot be a show stopper. The very fact that senior politicians have been arrested in 2G and Commonwealth Games scams and face possible convictions under existing laws shows that India’s problems has more to do with lack of political will than inadequacy of laws.  Most reasonable Indians know and understand this.  A real anti-corruption movement should seek to provide autonomy to the enforcement agencies to go after the corrupt.  Team Anna on the other hand has been silent on this and this bothers me.

Team Anna seeks to undermine the legislative authority of India’s Parliament and arrogates to itself powers to dictate the enactment of laws.  In other words, Anna and his Friends are now dictating to Parliament what laws should be enacted, when it should be enacted – and all on the terms and conditions it has dictated; Parliament may debate, but is not at liberty to even modify the Bill!!!!  However, well-meaning the intentions of Jan LokPal may be, undermining Parliament’s legislative powers is unacceptable.  Luckily India’s MPs are not easily outdone. They have summarily rejected the deadline set by Anna and his Friends for passing the Bill. This is correct and needs to be commended.

Team Anna is not accountable to the electorate or any parliamentary committee or for that matter anybody. They are setting a dangerous precedent for any group with money and muscle to bring people to the streets to dictate their own set of laws. This would be jungle democracy.

Unlike the banana republics and paper democracies of the world, India and its citizens have enjoyed a liberal albeit poverty stricken democracy since 1947. A consequence has been that any major and contentious legislation in India is a time consuming process because diverse views and opinions have to be heard and accommodated – a fact that has only made India a vibrant democracy. Hence I do not understand the haste and urgency in passing the Jan Lokpal Bill.  Fighting corruption is one thing but setting a deadline for the legislation in our plural society will deprive the many smaller and weaker sections of society – through their elected representatives – a say in the process. This has not gone down well with many Indians. For example, see the deafening silence and hesitation of many prominent non-political Indians (especially former Justices) who are otherwise eloquent.

Negotiation is the heart of politics. Often compromise is the happy midway meeting that resolves contentious political issues.  But the Anna’s intransigence and often belligerent posturing has cast a doubt on their seriousness to negotiate. All negotiations – whether intended or otherwise – seem to predictably breakdown.

One cannot but notice the complete lack of statecraft by  Dr.Manmohan Singh’s government.  This is not the first fast-unto-death protest in India.  Probably no other government in the world has more experience in handling such agitations that India’s Central and State governments. But the amateurish handling of Anna’s protest points more to dissent within the government than real incompetence. This has only compounded Dr.Singh’s woes.

The more I look the more disquiet I get.  I am all for rooting out corruption but, Anna’s movement seems to be manufactured. I am not sure if Anna and his Friends are fighting corruption or using corruption as a weapon to fight India’s democracy. Their reluctance to submit to a Parliamentary committee, their undue haste, their insistence on having only Magsaysay Award winning Indians in the Jan LokPal Bill ( at least in the early days)  – just to name a few– definitely do not point to the former.

Their agitations, albeit peaceful and non-violent – has come at a time when the Supreme Court has been cracking down on political corruption and has ordered the CBI to investigate major scams of recent times. The 2G scam comes to mind not only because of the huge monetary loss to the national exchequer, but also because of the galaxy of important political honchos that have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  Never before has India seen so many powerful netas, babus and corporate leaders crowded in the damp cells of Tihar for corruption. I am not sure if it is the intended or unintended consequence – the show put up by Anna has surely diverted national attention away from the court rooms where major scams are unraveling.

It is true that Anna and his Friends have attracted a huge crowds – many of them young twitterrati.  Anna’s protest has provided millions of Indians – who have been enraged by the scale of corruption in the UPA government – a forum and a meeting place to vent. It would be naïve to assume that all or most of them are committed Anna followers. They would continue to support and hit streets for anyone who calls then to fight corruption. Baba Ramdev has also attracted huge crowds. They will disperse as quickly and quietly as they gathered.

Anna’s fixation in passing his pet Jan LokPal Bill reminds me of a puppet on a string.

25th August 2011

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