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.