Saturday, September 11, 2010

125 Years of the Indian National Congress [as sent to the Doon School 'Circle' magazine]

In December this year, the Indian National Congress turns 125 and this surely is a landmark period to witness for any organization. It also comes at a time when the party is going through its ‘finest hour’ in decades. It has won two Lok Sabha elections with the first one completing five years and the second one poised to do the same and the party has crossed the 200 seat mark for the first time since 1991. It is also unique as it is for the first time since Jawaharlal Nehru that a single pair [in Panditjis case an individual] that has led the party to victory in two consecutive elections. In between, the Congress won 1980 and 1984 but the leaders were different. Similarly, the entire organization that won under Mrs. Gandhi in 1967 was totally different as compared to the party under her in 1971. Infact, the party also split during this period. Therefore, one must give Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh for achieving this feat. Of course, Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the NDA to power in 1998 and 1999 but the period is too short as compared to the five years here.
But, as the Congress turns 125, it must be asked whether it is a moment to celebrate or introspect as ask ourselves is this how we want the state of affairs to continue. Lok Sabha elections in 2004 were a defeat of the NDA more than the victory of the Congress. In terms of seats there was hardly a difference but it was the swing states of Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where the NDA lost over 85 seats. But, the General Elections of 2009 clearly show that the people of India prefer the Congress as their choice to govern them.
There are no doubt things that one has to admire in the Congress Party. It has, to be fair a history of service and struggle which many keep in mind before voting. In every household, there would be some person who would have voted for the Congress at some point of his or her life. Secondly, the Congress has a very well oiled and efficient machinery which is good considering it is not a cadre-based or ideological party. Thirdly, the Gandhi factor is enough to unite and steer the party to victory. Therefore, the Congress satraps in Haryana many not have delivered in the 2009 Vidhan Sabha elections fearing Hooda becoming CM but they worked as a team to give the party 9 out of 10 seats only months earlier in the General Elections. The Gandhi family and working for it united the party like nothing else. This is something the Left always lacked and the BJP does after a stalwart like Atal Bihari Vajpayee quit active politics.
But, to say that the Congress deserves to celebrate at 125 is incorrect and a mean joke on the people of this country. Governance in these six years has been mediocre at best. The UPA gave the NREGA but cannot ensure effective implementation. It passed the RTI but still scores of RTI whistle blowers are killed in all the parts of the country. It is always tokenism that has worked in the Congress Party. The Women Reservation Bill was passed with fanfare in one house but has been shrewdly been sidelined by the party fearing reverses. Therefore, on one hand it can take ‘credit’ for doing the same without really bothering about the issue. Also, the landmark people-friendly legislation which the Prime Minister and his boss take credit for were the brainchild of the Left and not the Congress party and this is evident in the difference between UPA-I and UPA-II, whose only concern seems to amend and pass the Nuclear Liability Bill because a few people in USA will stand to gain from it. The Kashmir issue has been completely misunderstood by the powers that be. Omar Abdullah has age but he has proved to be a disaster as Chief Minister. Makes one wonder if Rahul Gandhi will also display similar tendencies at the national level. The Government is scam ridden be it 2G or 3G or any other aspect of governance. As far as Naxalism is concerned, it is ‘fortunate’ to have a Maoist supporter and an ineffective Home Minister on board who can blame civil society groups but cannot tackle the problem. It would be interesting to have seen a Chidambaram but Shivraj Patils’s level of articulation; he would have been sent off in days considering less people died in Shivraj Patil’s tenure as Home Minster for four and a half years as compared to the current occupant, who has not even completed two years on the job. In terms of foreign police, there is none and India has given up the leader status among BRIC and other emerging economies to other countries such as Brazil and South Africa. The other shame is the Commonwealth Games which have enriched Suresh Kalmadi and ruined Delhi.
Despite all these and many more ills why do the people still like a party that has kept mediocrity as its USP in every aspect from governance to even appointing a President of India in 2007. It is because opposition is virtually absent today. The Left does not exist thanks to Prakash Karat and the Right has no issue or leader to market to the people. This leaves us with Mulayam, Lalu and Mayawati who despite being anti-Congress need to dance to the tunes of the Congress because their fate lies not in the hands of the people but the CBI. Today, issues like Ram Mandir [which was handled pathetically anyway] cannot bring a party to power. There were many mistakes the BJP made which are costing it dear today.
Times are also that of change within the Congress party. To put it dramatically, the Queen shall now abdicate and pass the crown to the Prince but what to do about the Prime Minister remains an issue. Rahul Gandhi [only part Dosco and Stephanian despite we wanting to believe otherwise] is now ‘reforming’ the organization but with mixed results. The recent DUSU results clearly show the failure of the same. Moreover, reforming the Youth Congress or the NSUI does not mean one can make a good Prime Minister. And if things do not work out, there is always a Manmohan Singh somewhere in the crowd who is waiting to be lead. The blatant ‘separation of powers’ and ‘dual system of administration’ are two legacies of the two UPA governments. Rather than lead people would prefer to install others and run the show from behind. Yet, it does not take credit from Dr. Manmohan Singh, who has submitted himself to the Congress President yet shown independence in the USA Nuclear Deal. After a troubled 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Congress seems to be here for long with its effective tokenism and populism. For a party which can be Left by day and Right by night without losing its Centrist and opportunist nature, these are great times. The only thing which naturally worries then is the future and it would be interesting to see how things shape up prior to 2014. Personally, there is only one leaders today who is giving the Congress sleepless nights and he is Narendra Modi and it would be great to see a good opposition that can take on the government and bring some relief to the ‘aam admi’.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Elections Down the Ages...

My first brush with Student level elections was at the Doon School where we would elect members to the House Council and School Council every year among Form mates. I had the chance to serve in the House Council for all the 5 years in Tata House though the election was always unanimous. In 2005, Dr. Kanti Bajpai began the tradition of electing School Captains every year. The authorities would declare two candidates after which the students would vote and elect the school captain. I donot remember if they had time to speak but campaigning was surely not allowed. I remember voting for Sahil Batta then. In 2006, when we entered SC form [Class XII] there was a three way election during which I voted for Amritesh Rai but it was Avyay Jhunjhunwala who won and was a fine leader. At St. Stephen's College the elections were different and were Presidential style elections. In my First Year, 2007-08 I voted for Boban Varghese Paul and he won handsomely. The next two years didnt give me the same result though Adnan Asmi was the best President in my three years at College; Naveen Venna the being the worst. Coming to Campus Law Centre, the politics took a different turn and after seeing the DUSU and CLC elections, it struck me how different the politics of Doon School, St. Stephen's College and Delhi University was. Each had their own merits and demerits.
To begin with, the Doon School was hardly 'political'; there was no organized politics and the School Captain elections were fought hard and at the end of the day taken well. All the three nominees of my batch have done very well for themselves inside and outside school. The best suited candidate may not always have won [Shikhar Singh lost in 2007] but the process was good and worth continuing.
St. Stephen's College was very different. Here, elections introduced me to the politics of regionalism and also introduced me to street-level politics. College has always been dominated by Malayali community without whom it was tough to win the elections. I saw this most in 2008 and 2009 because the First Year vote was a landslide. But, College elections were relatively clean and ideological at the end of the day. The 'Open Court' was a great feature of the College elections. More than politics, it was ideology and issues which were also considered. Ofcourse, I donot talk of the Malayalis, who have plenty of ideology but failed to look at issues in College because if they did the results of 2008 and 2009 would have been different. Nevertheless, the elections were always fun filled affairs and I enjoyed watching them closely.
Campus Law Centre was an eye opener in many ways. It was my first brush with DUSU politics as our College was not a part of DUSU. The politics here is regional too but the stakeholders are different. Delhi University has long become a bastion of Jats and Gujjars, who hold the key to power here. Surprisingly, it is much easier to work with them as compared to our Mallu friends. Yet, the politics here is also very rough and tumble. When the DUSU elections took place, the security level really surprised me. Law Faculty was converted into a virtual fortress and entry severely restricted. The place was full of posters and there were small clashes too. Unlike College, there was no manifesto published and a culture of debate is also absent. But, this tradition mirrors the Indian polity much better then any other. It is also said that Lyngdoh Committee has improved the state of University politics. Yet, lots needs to be done here too even though I enjoyed the elections here despite not being able to vote.
It is very important there is constant student participation on politics and University is the best place to do so. At the same time, regional politics needs to end as soon as possible for which all the mainstream parties must take initiative. It was also shocking to see few women voters coming out to vote and this needs urgent change. The NSUI tradition of reserving seats is a good idea to integrate and other parties must also follow suit. ABVP is a cadre based body which solely rewards hard work and this really impresses me. Asa for SFI and AISA, it is great they are miles away from DUSU...I cant imagine what will happen in a SFI-AISA controlled DUSU. But, this seems very unlikely as I await the election results 2010 which are expected later this morning...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Visit to Hyderabad+ 11/07/2010-13/07/2010

11th July is a day usually spent in Ahmedabad. It came during the spring break at Doon and four days before College opened while in St. Stephen's. It is also the birthday of my father. But, this time was different as I set off for Hyderabad that evening. The previous evening was spent aboard the Lok Shakti Express from Mumbai. I also got a glimpse of Bandra Terminus which is very different from Mumbai Central or CST. I set off for Hyderabad to see the Hester Biosciences deopt and explore a very interesting city.
I landed at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at around six in the evening. The airport is a wonderfully built building which is quick and contemporary. The baggage does not take time which is always the opposite while landing at Delhi. The Arrival Hall was good and transportation was never a problem from there. The airport is located at a distance from the city but is connected by the PV Narasimha Rao Expressway that connects Shamshabad to Hyderabad. It is good Andhra Pradesh still remembers the first Prime Minister hailing from south of the Vindhyas though he could be remembered more prominently considering the work he did for India.
The hotel I was staying in was on Raj Bhavan road very close to the Raj Bhavan, whose notable occupants include Krishan Kant and ND Tiwari. The evening was spent at Paradise for Biryani which was delicious. I also had a view of the Hussain Sagar Lake and the Secretariat in that area. The park opposite the Secretariat on the lake is T Anajaiah Park named after the former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister. It is also where a bomb blast had happened. The lake and its surroundings were beautiful and so are the roads and general infrastructure in Hyderabad. The city now has many good flyovers that has made life easy for the people.
The next morning before going to the depot, I was taken to the High Tech City that was the brainchild of Chandrababu Naidu who was CM from 1995-2004 and began the process of modernizing Hyderabad. Infact, both Presidents Clinton and Bush visited Hyderabad during their India visits in 2000 and 2006 respectively. The complex is sprawling and well built. We also passed Jubilee Hills and Banjara Hills where the elite of the city live including Sania Mirza, Azharuddin, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, Chiranjeevi and Naidu to name a few. The area also houses the TRS Headquarters.
I had the chance to visit the Salar Jung museum. It has some great exhibits and things to display but there is something wrong in general in India as far as museum tourism is concerned. We have a great culture and heritage but cannt present it properly which makes our museums boring as compared to those in the west. Hope this is changed in the future. Later on, I saw the Charminar and the Mecca Masjid, once again a site ravaged by terror. The old city is very different from the new one and has its own charm. The later part of the evening was spent at the Birla Temple, which is on a hill. The place is very peaceful and offers a great view of the city. These were the landmarks I saw while in Hyderabad. It is a city that showcases the emerging India and marks changes that we have seen since 1991. What I loved about the city was its charm and a perfect combination of simplicity and modernity.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

News from St. Stephen's College

St. Stephen's College is once again in the news for the wrong reasons. If we thought this year would be peaceful after the dust of the previous years settled, we all were mistaken. The issue was the admission of the son of the Bishop of Delhi, who is also the chairperson of the College Governing Body and the Supreme Council. His son had marks lesser than the normal cut off due to which he was not liable for an interview call even through the Christian quota. But, he was finally called for interview and even granted admission through the 'supernumerary' category.
As a principle, there is no reason to write anything against the admission of the Bishop's son to College despite the dismal marks he has scored. The Bishop of Delhi heads the St. Stephens's College Governing Body and the Supreme Council and therefore is the head of the family. If the College can grant admission to other staff children with lower marks then there is nothing wrong in granting admission to this particular child. Also, the cut off for Christian candidates has been lower in the past. In 2008, the admission policy of Dr. Frank made a blanket 60% Christian cut off score which is much lower than what the candidate in question got.
But, the problem comes when other members of the Governing Body feel it is their right to get their children educated in College despite their horrible marks. Such use of clout goes against the religious foundation of honesty the same people preach. A substitute to the same is to tutor your child to work harder and get marks, which are anyways very low for Christian applicants.
It also brings the issue of minority education again to the forefront. The 'minority status' of St. Stephen's College has been a tool used by all those in power to enhance personal gains at the cost of the religious foundation of the College. The College has got freedom under Articles 29 and 30 not to allow Governing Body members to get away with admitting their sons and daughters with poor scores but to remind us the of the great work done by missionaries and the Cambridge brotherhood in the past. It is this abuse of privilege and power that shall eventually ring the death knell of a glorious institution.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tamil Nadu 2011- a curtain raiser

The political trend in Tamil Nadu is one of change and both the parites winning every alternative Vidhan Sabha election. In 1991, the AIADMK defeating DMK. The same result was fully reversed in 1996 when Jayalalithaa was routed and DMK stormed into power. Similarly, AIADMK won in 2001 and DMK in 2006. Therefore, by the current trend it should be the AIADMK winning the elections and forming a government in Tamil Nadu. But, this time it seems the trend will be broken and from what things are today, it is the DMK which will form the next government in Tamil Nadu and rule for 5 more years.
The populism of DMK is a major reason behind this wave. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and 2006 Vidhan Sabha elections, the populist schemes proposed by DMK were no match for Jayalalithaa, who was seen as unapproachable, corrupt and authoritarian. In 2004 she drew a blank and in 2006 her performance was averge. But, the populist rice and colour television schemes of the DMK have been a big hit among the voters in every region of Tamil Nadu. The political persona of Karunanidhi is far stronger than Jayalalithaa too. This also raises questions on the feasibility of populist schemes- infact, K Rosaiah has openly said he has no money to finance the populist schemes of YSR in Andhra Pradesh. But, it remains a vote catcher among the masses so it cannot be done away with.
The DMK has also scored better in the numbers game. In 2004, it was the BJP that dumped the DMK rather than the other way round and this was a big miscalculation. Since then, all the elections have been won by DMK at every level. The alliance arithmetic too suits the DMK. For one, it has the Congress as a part of the coalition. Since 1991, the alliance with the Congress as a part of it has always one. The presence of the party in Tamil Nadu has helped the Dravidian parties too. It has also got back the PMK which should help in pockets of north Tamil Nadu. As for the AIADMK, it is still without a strategy or an alliance partner.
In a personality clash, Karunanidhi beats Jayalalithaa hands down. At 87, Karunanidhi is seen as a patriarch and a seasoned politician. Jayalalithaa spends most of her time in the hills or away from the cadre and party workers. Her connect with the people seems to have gone down too. She has no credible allies and her party has lost every election since 2004. It is a tough task for her to regain lost ground in 2011 and she would have to work very hard for it.
But, DMK too has its share of problems. The dynastic war in Karunanidhi's family is touching new lows. There is a power struggle too with the major players being his sons Stalin and Azhagiri and daughter Kanimozhi coming distant third. There are the powerful Maran brothers wit their vast media empire and other business interests to be taken care of too. But, the charisma of Kalaignar should be able to overcome these. There remains a possibility of elections taking place in late 2010 itself but not much has been spoken on that front.
The final crucial factor is the Congress in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu has not seen a Congress government since the 1960's and the state is on the radar of Rahul Gandhi for a very long time. The membership drive was successful and Rahul Gandhi also realizes the imprtance of the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The Congress is on the comeback trail in Tamil Nadu and will remain a major player in Tamil Nadu politics in the decades to come. Unfortunately, the BJP remains a golden zero and it is high time the party develops a base here. Till then, it seems that M Karunanidhi will romp home and rule from Chennai till 2016 atleast.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rajya Sabha elections and the question of an identity

The recently concluded Rajya Sabha elections all over the country were disappointing due to a variety of reasons. The original concept of a Rajya Sabha or a Council of States was a chamber that represents the interests of the stats in the federal structure on the Indian polity. The House was also given more powers on the state list precisely due to this. However, anybody who saw the elections unfold this time could see the dubious nature of these elections. Tha Rajya Sabha has begun to serve a variety of purposes- it accommodates members who are defeated in Lok Sabha elections. This has been seen time and again and a notable case in point being Shivraj Patil, who lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections from Latur but was made Home Minister and given a Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra.
The Rajya Sabha has also become a playground for the rich industrialists and others who are not confident of winning Lok Sabha elections themselves. In the last round, Vijay Mallya easily won his election as an independent backed by the BJP and JD[S] from Karnataka and Rahul Bajaj won similarly in 2006 with BJP, Shiv Sena and NCP supporting him from Maharashtra. In the past, Lalit Surie and Sudhanshu Mittal also made Rajya Sabha bids from Uttar Pradesh. This is a problem because industrialists seldom enter the Rajya Sabha to serve the states they are elected from. The need that forum to further business interests and at the same time political parties back them in the wake of their money power.
But a very important drawback is that the entire concept of state representation has been washed away in this race for political representation. Out of the 6 Rajya Sabha berths from Jharkhand, only 2 are Jharkhand based MPs. Rest are not connected to Jharkhand at all. This is an extremely sad situation and parties need to ensure state voices are given preference over money and other vested interests. This also creates a 'chose a state' phenomena especially when ministers need to be accommodated when their term ends and their home state cannot give them that benefit. Most recently, Anand Sharma needed to get an extension to the Rajya Sabha but he could not be elected from his home state Himachal Pradesh, where the BJP was in power. He had to go 'seat hunting' and after the Maharashtra unit of the Congress objected, he was finally elected from Rajasthan. Such problems are serious and need to be solved as early as possible.
The most curious election was however that of Ram Jethmalani from Rajasthan. Ram Jethmalani has been in parliament since 1987 and has had close links with every party and many governments. He served as Law Minister in the United Front and NDA-I governments and later contested against Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lucknow in 2004. Why the BJP gave him a ticket is something only Nitin Gadkari can answer best. It is sad because he has not agreed with the party views on many things and also contested against Vajpayee. It is impossible to imagine anybody entering the Congress who bitterly fought the Manmohan Singh and the Gandhi family. The party high command should have considered these facts before nominating him.
In general too, there needs to be serious debate on the role and composition of the Rajya Sabha. It is not the states chamber it was envisioned to be earlier and nor are state aspirations addressed here. It was called the elders chamber the behaviour of the members proves otherwise. The BJP has developed a limiting term policy which is welcome but how will take shape in reality is a different issue. Until this issue is solved, we will continue having a second chamber that is completely off the mark as far as its aims and composition is concerned.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Maharashtra Vidhan Parishad Elections

The results of the Legislative Council in Maharashtra were eagerly awaited by many politicians in both Mumbai and Delhi. To different people and different parties it meant different things. It became a prestige issue for Chief Minister Ashok Chavan to deliver in order to appease the political bosses in Delhi. For Uddhav Thackeray too it was a litmus test of his control over the Shiv Sena and the NCP too wanted to test its strength in the state. The results gave the ruling Democratic Front 7 out of the 10 seats for which polling took place and the highlight of the elections was Vijay Sawant, a Congress backed independent candidate defeating Anil Parab of the Shiv Sena. The NCP and the BJP due to effective floor strategy and co-ordination got away with electing candidates more than the number of MLAs they had.
The political climate of Maharashtra in interesting and intriguing for a variety of reasons. While the Democratic Front enjoys a majority in the Vidhan Sabha, there are many smaller groups and independents that become very important in such elections. Leading the pack is the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena with 13 MLAs, who played a crucial role in ensuring victory of Sawant over the Sena. Also, the voting trends in the assembly do not indicate political equations across the entire state. For instance, the same MNS which has voted for the DF candidates has mostly allied with the BJP and the Shiv Sena at the local level, Ambernath being a case in point. Matters can get complicated when there are BJP- Congress understandings like in Aurangabad to weaken the Shiv Sena. There are also NCP-Shiv Sena-BJP alliances at the local level. Therefore, the political scenario there is complex where loyalties change at regular periods.
The Council elections also mark a continuation of a trend seen since 2004- the domination of the Congress-NCP combine in the politics of the state. There is no doubt that the alliance is far better as far as managing numbers is concerned and this was seen recently too. Not only did the fourth Congress candidate win, the NCP got almost 30 surplus votes to ensure their third candidate also wins. The NCP floor strategy was the handiwork of Ajit Pawar, a potential leader after Sharad Pawar retires. It also means a pro- incumbency advantage especially in terms of financial clout and granting favours- something that becomes crucial in wooing independents. Even the BJP could manage ten odd surplus votes to ensure the victory of 2 of its candidates even though it was marginally short of the numbers.
The real loser therefore was the Shiv Sena, whose demise is slow, steady and imminent. In a way, the elections also proved that the BJP is now in no mood to play second fiddle to the Shiv Sena. Currently, it holds the Leader of Opposition's post in the Assembly and the Council and it wants to continue this trend. Its alliance with the Congress to secure the Aurangabad Municipal Board for itself shows its desire to end the Sena dominance in this parivar. For Uddhav Thackeray, the timing could not have been worst. Despite all Sena MLA's being hidden at a resort and even made to take an oath by Balasaheb Thackeray, the goods were not delivered. Instead, the only candidate to lose was the Shiv Sena nominee. It also affirms another important truth of Maharashtra politics- Raj Thackeray and the MNS are here to stay. Such is his clout and need that the suspension of the 4 MNS MLAs was also temporarily revoked and they were allowed to vote in the elections. It is only a matter of time before the Shiv Sena further drops its tally and is confined to being a minor player in the politics of the state.
In the long run, there are very interesting equations that could work out. Eventually, the larger battle in the state would be between the Congress and the NCP with the BJP coming distant third. However, recent trends and local level results have given the party something to cheer about. The BJP also needs to realize that Maharashtra with 48 seats is a necessary counter to West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh where they are virtually absent. In the end, the divided opposition ensure the Congress-NCP continue their hold over the state and until an effort is made, it is unlikely the hold will weaken.