Sam recommends ‘Don’t play it safe’ August 12, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , Comment
First published in the Hindustan Times on 12 July this year, Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief , IBN 18 Network, assessed that “Salman Khurshid is easily among the brightest politicians in the country: a former Oxford don, he became a union minister at 38. When he speaks, it is with a certain elegance and intellect that is all too rare in public life today. Which is why when Khurshid suggests ‘Rahul Gandhi has only been seen in cameos of his thoughts and ideas, but he has not woven it into a grand announcement. This is a period of waiting,’ his remarks must be taken seriously. Khurshid has since been forced to clarify his statement, claiming he was only urging the Congress’ younger leadership to play a more central role, but his reflections lie truly at the heart of the UPA’s present dilemma.
A fortnight ago, in these very columns, I had written on the NDA’s leadership crisis: who will be their leader in the next general elections in 2014? What is true of the NDA is equally applicable to the UPA. If the battle between Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar threatens to open a chasm within the opposition, Rahul Gandhi’s seeming reluctance to take greater responsibility within the Congress, has left the ruling alliance in a state of growing uncertainty.
What are the options if Rahul were to decline to take up the challenge of being the UPA’s prime ministerial nominee? Manmohan Singh will be 82 in 2014, and while being an octogenarian is no disqualification in the ageing world of Indian politics, there is a general belief that after two full terms as prime minister, Singh may finally be ready for voluntary retirement … ”.
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India’s churning democracy: future directions February 27, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Nelson, Barbara , Comment
Barbara Nelson and Assa Doron
This article appears in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Ideas from India‘.
Indian democracy continues to puzzle many foreign observers. But for most Indians, democracy — however imperfect — is a matter of practice, something they grow up with. Indian democracy may not be perfect — which democracy is? — but it would be safe to say that debates that raged until at least the 1980s about whether it will survive are now firmly in the rearview mirror. Millions are going to the polls this year as elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur begin this January. Most attention is focused on the Uttar Pradesh poll, India’s most populous state and the sixth largest in the world, a state so large that the logistics of ensuring security for voters affects the election; the poll must be conducted in seven distinct phases.
That India has survived as a democratic nation since independence in 1947 has, until recently, remained an anomaly to social scientists. According to the view that democracy requires economic development, a common culture and high levels of literacy, India’s claim to be democratic has rested largely on the fact that it holds elections, has universal suffrage, and transfer of power occurs without trouble. Rather than viewing India as an anomaly, democratic theory now accounts more comprehensively for the Indian case.
Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls February 16, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , Comment
State legislative assembly elections are being held in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s largest state, over seven phases between 8 February and 3 March. UP elections are notoriously difficult to call because of the state’s size and the complex interplay of region, caste and religion. But what can be said with some certainty is that no party is likely to win a majority on its own, and this will lead to a scramble for post-poll alliances.
Given its size, with a population of around 200 million, the UP elections always assume greater significance than those in other states. This time it has taken on additional importance for two reasons. First, the two dominant national parties – the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have fared poorly in the state in recent times, so the current elections will be a test of strength for both. Second, the Congress is desperately shopping for allies at the federal level, since its largest coalition partner, the Trinamool Congress, has been persistently blocking major policy initiatives and voting against it in parliament. The two main players in UP – the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) – have both lent some ‘issue-based’ support to the government. Thus, in the likely event of a fractured mandate in UP, the Congress could ally itself with either the SP or the BSP – and in return bring either into the federal government, ensuring the marginalisation of the Trinamool Congress.
2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and the future of UPA January 13, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , 1 comment so far
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been paralyzed among other things due to the populist politics of Mamata Banerjee, the leader of All India Trinamool Congress (Trinamool). Dr Manmohan Singh’s historic Bangladesh visit was almost derailed, when mercurial Mamata vetoed the agreement on water sharing. The list of domestic legislations and policy initiatives that have been delayed or even mothballed to keep Mamata in good humour is long: Lokpal Bill, FDI in retail sector, disinvestment of public sector undertakings, and rail fare rationalization. To add insult to injury, Mamata now seems to be keen to get rid of Congress. There can be four reasons why Trinamool may want to change course. First, it does not make sense to contest the next local and parliamentary elections as an ally of a corruption-tainted party. Second, Trinamool is trying to monopolize the non-Left vote in West Bengal. Third, Trinamool now faces a weakened Left Front in West Bengal and is no longer critically dependent on the support of a national party. Fourth, Trinamool is trying to strike roots in other provinces like Uttar Pradesh and Manipur. But Trinamool may postpone its exit from UPA in order to get extra-financial support from the centre for West Bengal and even continue to ‘support’ UPA if an utterly humiliated Congress continues to tolerate Mamata’s populism at the expense of the central exchequer.
Ironically, Congress has no one to blame but itself. Mamata’s assembly election campaign should have alerted Congress long ago that Trinamool will out-left the Left Front. But to get rid of the Left Front, a key ally of UPA-I (2005–2009), Congress promoted Trinamool at the cost of national security. For instance, in the run-up to West Bengal assembly election (2011), the central government extended half-hearted support to the Left Front government’s police campaign against Maoist extremism, the biggest internal security threat according to Dr Singh. Dr Singh also overlooked the misuse of the Railway ministry by Trinamool’s campaign machinery. More importantly, as I have argued earlier, Congress has ignored its long term interests in its single-minded quest to weaken the Left.
Reddy and able: Congress problems in Andhra August 29, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , Comment
As the UPA struggles through the Anna Hazare uproar and the continuing fallout from the Commonwealth Games as well as the 2 G matters, all of which have an impact on the government’s composition and fortunes, its potential political nightmare in Andhra Pradesh is taking clearer form. A few days ago a serious number of MLAs resigned from the state parliament, among them 24 Congress members who also indicated to Delhi that they would also leave the party. Given that the strong Congress cohort from Andhra has been central to the UPA’s power, this is potentially devastating.
The ostensible reason may be even more so. The recusants say that they have been moved primarily by the Delhi moves, via the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), to investigate what are said to be financial irregularities in the vast array of companies created by former Chief Minister the late Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) and now inherited by his son, Jagan Mohan Reddy. Jagan has already resigned from Congress to lead the newly formed YSR Congress in frustration at not having been made Chief Minister to succeed his father. In the polite parlance of some of the commentary, it is suggested that the considerable wealth inherent in these companies sprang from “donations” by other companies seeking preferential treatment in development project tenders put up by the YSR government. In less polite terms, of course, the suggestion is that corruption helped YSR and his family build up a massive fortune.
Telangana redux July 15, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , Comment
It is now approaching two years since Home Minister P. Chidambaram, clumsily, at least seemed to offer up the idea that the Union Government would sanction formal recognition of Telangana and carve it out of Andhra Pradesh, India’s first specifically linguistic-based state. All round uproar surrounded the announcement: Telangana supporters wanted immediate action, the Rayalaseema region inside Andhra Pradesh reprised its case; the all-Andhra groups protested. From the Manmohan Singh government’s viewpoint there was immediate political fallout because Andhra Pradesh provided a key electoral base for its very existence, and now several of those members were compromised by this development.
The immediate response was to hive the issue off to the inevitable inquiry, this one headed by Justice B. N. Srikrishna who had earlier led investigations into the Mumbai riots and the Madras High Court riots. While his committee worked away, on the ground demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and the full range of oppositional political activities developed.
The Fifteenth Prime Minister of India January 24, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , 2comments
The Left Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the only non-dynastic, national, and ideological competitors of the Indian National Congress, are struggling with leadership and ideological crises. BJP’s national defence credentials have been compromised due to allegations of Hindu terror whereas the pro-poor credentials of the Left have been compromised in Singur and Nandigram. Regional parties like Shiva Sena and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) are in disarray due to succession struggles within reigning families headed by ageing patriarchs. In contrast, the Congress, with a transparent succession policy and a bland centrist agenda, seems to be a safe bet for voters. Also, in this age of Raja of Niligiris, no Raja of Manda can credibly leave the government. So, barring bizarre developments, Manmohan Singh will complete his second term, the Congress will return to power in 2014 with a clear majority, and Rahul Gandhi will become India’s fifteenth prime minister.
But is the next general election indeed going to be a cakewalk for the Congress? Not if a reasonable number of opposition parties join hands. I have argued earlier that in the next general election young, inexperienced leaders of provincial parties are likely to shy away from the uncertainty of coalition politics and play the son-of-the-soil card. However, the coordination problem can be surmounted if the opposition can choose its leader in advance. The prospective leader should have the right age and good governance credentials to challenge Rahul Gandhi. Otherwise, the leader of a coalition of provincial parties cannot afford to raise particularistic issues.
Let us have a look at the probable candidates. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (Left Front, West Bengal) is stuck in Singur and Nandigram. Narendra Modi (BJP, Gujarat) has mounted a tiger and is unable to dismount. Chandra Babu Naidu (Telugu Desam Party, Andhra Pradesh) is a spent force. B.S. Yediyurappa (BJP, Karnataka) is besieged in his own province. V. S. Achuthanandan (Left Front, Kerala), Parkash Singh Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal, Punjab), Prem Kumar Dhumal (BJP, Himachal Pradesh), M. Karunanidhi (DMK, Tamil Nadu), and Navin Patnaik (Biju Janata Dal, Orissa) will be more than 65 years old in 2014. Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland People’s Front, Nagaland) is constrained by his province’s cartographic rhetoric. Raman Singh (BJP, Chhattisgarh) is vulnerable due to his support for Salwa Judum. Ramesh Pokhriyal (BJP, Uttarakhand) and Omar Abdullah (National Conference, J&K) lack experience.
Pawan Kumar Chamling (Sikkim Democratic Front, Sikkim), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (BJP, Madhya Pradesh), Nitish Kumar (Janata Dal United, Bihar), Kumari Mayawati (Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Uttar Pradesh), and Manik Sarkar (Left Front, Tripura) are the only leaders who have the baseline qualifications: developmentalist credentials, optimal age, and substantial public experience. However, a prospective leader of the opposition alliance should have additional qualifications, listed below.
|National level experience||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Access to a national political network||No||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Large (primary) support base||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Acceptable to BJP as well as the Left||No||No||Yes||No||No|
At present, Chamling lacks additional qualifications, which leaves us with four contenders, belonging to four different parties.
India after 2014 General Elections December 10, 2010Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , Comment
Mamata Banerjee, the union railways minister, is brazenly courting extreme left insurgents, who according to the Indian Prime Minister are the single biggest threat to the Indian state. The Congress Party that leads the coalition government at the Centre is overlooking these overtures because, in the forthcoming provincial assembly elections, Banerjee’s regional party is likely to end more than three decades of Left-rule in West Bengal. Also, the Congress is selectively using investigation agencies in terror cases purportedly involving close affiliates of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By trying to incapacitate its national competitors, BJP and the Left Front, the Congress is jeopardizing its own interests as well as the Indian federal system, even though inadvertently. Its myopia is particularly puzzling given its comfortable electoral position. The Congress is all set to stage a comeback, howsoever modest, in Uttar Pradesh, the state which is crucial for BJP’s return to New Delhi, and West Bengal, the citadel of the Left. Also, provincial/ethnic parties will not be able to marginalize the Congress any further while the latter is quite likely to improve its tally in future assembly elections. Moreover, unlike the Congress, which has a stable leadership, other parties are struggling with leadership crisis due to either intra-party ideological struggles or succession struggles within reigning families headed by ageing patriarchs. Even the recent mega-corruption scandals have not seriously dented the brand Congress. In short, barring some bizarre development, the Congress will return to power in 2014 with a clear majority and that is when the Indian federal system will be severely tested.
One is reminded of the early 1980s, when provincial and ethnic conflicts erupted across the country after the Congress returned to power with a thumping majority following a brief spell of non-Congress rule. Lack of effective opposition drove people towards particularistic organizations to counter the threat of centralization under the Congress. This efflorescence of parochialisms severely strained Indian federalism and ended with the end of the Congress rule at the Centre. History is likely to repeat itself. (more…)
Corruption in India: bad or worse? December 1, 2010Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India , Comment
Corruption in India is, of course, nothing new. But the recent accusations appear to put the country into the category of one of the worst African ‘cleptocracies’. They have also paralysed the Indian parliament and gravely damaged the reputation of the hitherto successful Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh.
The following account of some recent cases gives a sense of the scale and cost of corruption in India.
Social audit of NREGA in Rajasthan, The Hindu, 17 August 2009
Cricket, money and politics April 27, 2010Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , Comment
Chennai Super Kings might have beaten the more fancied Mumbai Indians in the final of the Indian Premier League (IPL), but the match was a sideshow to the real battles now faced by cricket bosses, industrial barons, political leaders and even movie stars.
The problems began just a few short weeks ago with the auctioning of two new franchises in what had become the IPL money-mill. A consortium bidding $333 million to have Kochi in Kerala host a team was successful. Shortly after Lalit Modi, the IPL Commissioner, posted a note on his Twitter site that the bid was flawed, and that the flaws were associated with junior External Affairs Minister Shashi Tharoor, the former UN diplomat and prominent writer who was already struggling in his post. Tharoor struck back with the suggestion Modi wanted the Kochi bid voided so that his more favoured Ahmedabad franchise might then slip in. (more…)