Tuesday, May 31, 2011

BJP turns a new leaf: Party president Nitin Gadkari is seeking to give the outfit a new image

IIPM Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri on Internet Hooliganism

BJP President Nitin Gadkari’s strategy to increase the party’s vote bank by 10 per cent in the forthcoming elections and wrest power from Congress is leading to a major revamp in the party’s focal policies. Gadkari’s eyes are set on Dalit and Muslim voters, traditionally been Congress supporters. The party is hoping to break free from its rabid Hindutva image and don a more liberal mantle. The BJP is no longer looking at Lord Ram as its saviour but has shifted focus to Ambedkar.

With the Ayodhya issue in deep freeze, the party is hoping to tell the Muslim voter that it is not inimical to the community. So, on December 6, the party chose to indulge in showy celebrations of Ambedkar’s death anniversary. The party’s Dalit MPs went as far as writing to the PM to accord national monument status to the birth and Mahaparinirvan sites of Ambedkar. This has helped the party send across two messages, one to the Dalit voters and the other to Muslims.

Gadkari wants to reach for the voters’ hearts through service and development activities. Hence instead of Mandir-Masjid the party is making electoral issues out of development and good governance. The BJP chief has given the party two slogans: “Politics for development” and “Antyodaya” (the development of the marginalised). For the latter he has set up a special cell in the party and directed workers to ensure the implementation of at least one development project through government agencies, in their areas.

To stop the Congress on the road to the Parliament, the party will be helmed by senior leaders in its attack on the UPA government on corruption and inflation. Party workers from various units and cells will play footsoldiers in the attack.

Gadkari wants the cells to reach out to the blocks and lower levels to make a connect with the public, especially the marginalised, through positive work. The BJP organisational set-up includes six fronts and about four dozen cells. These include fronts for youth, women, farmers and minorities. Of these, except the youth front, none had received special attention in the past while the cells were headed by loyalists of the party top brass. But under Gadkari not only are these been taken seriously, they are also being pressed into connecting with the public at the grassroots. Thus while the youth front has been handed an agenda to promote nationalism, the minority cell will run a campaign against terrorism. Similarly the farmers’ front will raise a hue and cry against what the party perceives as the “anti-farmer” policies of the UPA government. Naresh Sirohi, national general secretary of the Farmers Front, says, “Through dharnas, demonstrations and seminars we will caution farmers against the anti-farmer bills set to be introduced by the UPA so that farmers can teach the government a lesson in the 2014 elections."

Besides increasing the party’s vote bank, Gadkari is also looking to further the social and geographical reach of the BJP. Hence the party’s aggressive push towards uniting labourers, farmers, weavers, fishermen and artisans. After farmers, the greatest numbers of the marginalised are weavers while fishermen account for eight to 30 per cent of the voters in coastal areas. The party hopes to reap rich political dividends by uniting these disparate communities. To unite labourers the party has taken an historic step in the form of setting up the Bhartiya Janta Mazdoor Mahasangh while different cells have been set up for weavers, artisans and fishermen. The country has about 40 crore workers in the unorganised sector while 75 per cent of the country’s weavers live in UP, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Manipur: states where the party isn’t in a commanding position. Thus working amid these communities is sure to give a boost to the party’s vote bank.

P Murlidhar Rao, national secretary of the party, which has spent the last two decades campaigning against liberalisation and globalisation, has been given charge of the party’s fishermen, weavers, artisans and traders cell. Rao says, “Weavers, fishermen and traders form a large part of the country’s population. Yet after Independence the Congress has not paid any attention to them. Not only do we aim to unite them, we will vociferously raise their concerns and force the government to make favourable policies."

While Gadkari has seen some success in strengthening the party, groupism still dogs BJP. The animosity between the leaders of the Opposition in the LS and RS is not hidden from party workers. The party chief is now forced to have the two conduct joint press conferences in Parliament.

According to political analyst Dr Subhrakamal Dutta, “BJP has been considerably weakened by infighting. Differences among the top brass have prevented the BJP from playing the role of an effective opposition in Parliament. This has sullied its image.”

Gadkari is making efforts to capture power in 2014 though a large chunk in the BJP is miffed at him for having sidelined the party’s former core issues. He is however giving the party a new image and direction.

“We've connected with people on a large scale”

What are the party’s preparations for the 2014 polls?

The party is on the right track under Nitin Gadkari’s leadership. Through constructive work, we have been able to connect with people on a large scale. We are working for those who stand on the fringes of society: Dalits, farmers, weavers, fishermen and artisans. The party’s top leaders and functionaries are visiting suburbs and villages to enthuse workers. For the first time, report cards are being prepared for office bearers. We are presenting to the people a comparison of the UPA and NDA’s work.

What kind of comparison?

During the NDA regime, under Atalji, a transparent and effective mechanism was in place which put a check on both inflation and corruption. But in the UPA’s second term there has been a string of scams while prices have sky rocketed. While Atalji’s policies were pro- poor, the UPA is anti-poor. We are taking these differences to the public. It is understanding us, so much so that more than the Opposition it is the common man who is raising his voice against the government.

A charge that has stuck to the BJP is that thanks to the egos of top leaders, the party is unable to play the role of an effective Opposition.

This is a baseless allegation. There is coordination between the leaders of the Opposition in both Houses.

Groupism is weakening the party.

The leadership spectrum has grown. Earlier Atalji and Advaniji were supreme and they would take decisions jointly. The party’s growth has seen new leadership emerge. Things have changed. At the party forum there is an effort towards collective decision making. Under Nitin Gadkari’s leadership, the whole party is geared towards achieving its goal.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Congress losing the plot

IIPM Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri on Internet Hooliganism

Tathagata Bhattacharya

People are strange when you are a stranger. But even to a seasoned observer of Indian politics and its dynamics, the results of the latest TSI-CVOTER State of the Nation opinion poll may come as shocking and, often, inexplicable.

Let's start with the more predictable tunes. Most of the 30,000 respondents from across the country, invariably from urban India, seem consistently upbeat about improvements in their standard of living and seem convinced that the country is marching on as well. This trend manifests itself throughout the eight-month period of the survey i.e. from June 2010 to January 2011. There is a strong feeling among those surveyed that they will continue to benefit from India's stellar economic growth in the next one year too.

Amongst the pressing issues facing the country, rising prices of goods and services have the urban Indian in a tizzy. From petrol to onions, from lentils to fruits, the average urban Indian family has had to cut corners. July 2010 saw most people of the country bear the sudden brunt of it as fuel prices were decontrolled in the end of June. This spurred a hike in prices of everything transportable, culminating in the Rs-60-for-a-kilo-of-onions January.

While unemployment was a bigger headache in the first two months, August onwards, corruption started taking centrestage. Starting with revelations about financial irregularities in organisation of Commonwealth Games, which brought immense international disrepute to the country, to the multi-billion dollar 2G Spectrum scam, more skeletons are tumbling out of closet even as TSI readers read this issue of the magazine. While the Congress and the UPA-II dispensation were already on the ropes, the Adarsh Society scam and the WikiLeaks expose of the cash-for-vote episode during UPA-I should have enabled the Opposition BJP to land killer blows.

You would expect performance ratings of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to decline drastically in the face of rising prices and rampant corruption. But their ratings are surprisingly high and stable. Well, one can attribute this to the fact that in India oddities are a mass phenomena often verging on the lines of impossibility but a more plausible explanation should be the BJP's utter inability to present a new generation of leadership.

The BJP's old order has not been able to see through a smooth transfer of power to the new leadership. This has repeatedly come to the forefront in the last one year when the veteran L.K. Advani and Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj have voiced different opinions on the same issue. Their performance rating is stable but much below those of Dr Singh or Sonia Gandhi. The record of the Reddy Brothers and that of the Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yedyurappa, tainted by successive land scams in his state, have also not helped BJP's cause.

People are more disgruntled with their respective state governments though the percentage of people disenchanted with the policies of the Central Government is also on the rise. This is expected as both the Centre and the states are equally to blame for the fuel price rise. Many Indian states impose exorbitant taxes on petrol and diesel. The Centre's move to decontrol petroleum retail and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's ministerial duties taking a backseat in the face of his commitments to cricket has hit UPA-II hard.

While the performance rating of the BJP leaders have remained considerably less than the Congress top two, they have surprisingly closed gaps with the Congress over the last seven months in terms of people's choice to lead the government. In July 2010, the difference was 9.5 per cent in favour of Congress. It has come down to 3.2 per cent in January 2011.

Call it bizarre or whatever, the same set of people who returned the above-mentioned figures also returned the following voting preference results. The UPA and NDA's difference fall to a mere 0.7 per cent in February 2011. The UPA had a lead of 9 per cent in July 2010.

Poll forecasts for the four states going to polls in a few weeks' time throw up no major surprise. While the Mamata tsunami is poised to sink the Left Front in its Bengal citadel, the Left is also on the way out in Kerala. Assam is poised for a hung Assembly with the Congress having an edge over a resurgent Asom Gana Parishad. The J.Jayalalitha-led AIADMK's alliance with Vijayakanth should see them capture power in Tamil Nadu.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Burden of unused funds: Unused, misused & abused

IIPM Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri on Internet Hooliganism

Not only is India sitting on unused funds, but is paying fines too

Misuse of funds is a common phenomenon in India. However, the Burden of unused fundseven bigger one is underutilisation of funds. Every year during the budget session, the states and their respective ministers go ga-ga over allocations, – all of them demanding a raise in the sum of funds allocated to their respective ministries.

But the storm gradually calms down and a huge amount of funds is returned back to the Government at the end of the fiscal year. What is really embarrassing is that the funds borrowed from international agencies like IMF and World Bank remain shamelessly unused.

It’s rightly said that history repeats itself. But in our case, even before an issue can be termed as history, it is already repeated. In 2008, it was found that India was paying ‘obligation charges’ to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for unused sanctioned foreign assistance. The nation, then, was sitting on Rs 78,000 crores of unutilised foreign aid. The Government has had to pay Rs.124.54 crores to the World Bank and the ADB as commitment charges.

The biggest chunk of this unutilised foreign aid (about 37 per cent) was meant for infrastructure development like the urban road development, water and new energy sources.

Similarly, this year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that India has unutilised foreign aid of around Rs.1 lakh crore which actually boils down to around Rs.1000 per Indian. Most of these funds were meant for development activities and social welfare. Unfortunately, India had to pay commitment charges of Rs 86.11 crore to ADB and World Bank, besides others, during 2009-10 as penalty for not using aid. These unused funds were meant for urban development, road development, water & sanitation and power.

This implies that it was predominantly for development of facilities that would elevate and improve the lifestyle of the bottom of the pyramid. But alas! This aid later became a burden on the exchequer. Given the fact that the obligation and commitment charges are paid through exchequer money, the entire essence and core objective of foreign aid gets diluted.

It would have been better if the aid was directly disbursed to beneficiaries. At least, that would have saved the extra obligation charges. With India trying hard to control their budget deficit, such wastage of foreign aid and the related fines come as a big hurdle. Instead, investment and development initiatives using these aids would have bridged the deficit and development gaps between the different stratum of the Indian society.

For a country where 456 million people live under the global poverty line of $1.25 per day (estimates by World Bank), cities having no access to safe drinking water, and there is no clear focus on how the country is going to meet its future energy demand with the massive economic growth that its going to attract; paying such penalties is heinous and should be considered nothing less than a criminal offence.

It is only the minister's pocket that should pay the funds... and no one else! They have truly justified – India is the land of misused, unused and abused!

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Is war the price we all must pay for peace? Or is there another way that doesn't have to pass through the barrel of a loaded gun?

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Mohandas Gandhi might well have been the father of Mahatama-Gandhithe nation, but to many of his children in the east, especially in Bengal, he was a father who had betrayed one of their own – Subhas Chandra Bose. While growing up in a family displaced by the partition of Bengal and the terrible riots that followed in its wake, I was conditioned a fair bit by the anti-Gandhi sentiments that I overheard whenever family and neighbours gathered around food or festivities. Incidentally, my family had moved to Chittaranjan Park in South Delhi, a residential colony that was built to house refugees from East Pakistan. Next door were the ‘Punjabi colonies’ of Kalkaji and around, home to refugees from a Punjab torn apart by partition on the Western Frontier.

For these victims of partition, Gandhi was often the one to blame for their woes. I grew up listening to statements like “ Gandhi betrayed Subhash, he betrayed Bhagat…Gandhi favoured Nehru over Patel and Jinnah and it was Nehru’s obstinacy and Gandhi’s weakness for him that caused the partition…that’s why we lost our homes, our limbs, our loves; He sold us out to the Muslims…maybe a good man but he was a lousy leader…” and so on. Then, when I went to school, I was often mired in confusion and conflict. My school books spoke of how Gandhi’s ahimsa, more than anybody else, had found us our freedom, while friends and relatives in the refugee ghettoes back home told us tales of how selfless revolutionaries like Subhash, Khudiram, Bhagat, Azad, Udham Singh and Bagha Jatin had booted the British spirit out of this country long before Nehru’s tryst with destiny. The opportunistic Indian National Congress, I was told, was in fact promoted by the British, and came into prominence only because the Raj administration found Gandhi and the INC easier to negotiate with…apparently, he demanded far less, of himself, his followers, and most significantly, of the Empire.

A lot of sludge has flown under the Yamuna bridges since then. But Gandhian ideals had remained uncool for most people from my generation. In high school I was introduced to the romantic image of Che Guevara. An image that was further fortified during my studies at IIPM and the tales I heard from my teachers who are men of great learning, integrity and conviction. By now, Che and his writings had pushed me into asking questions of some other truths that I had hitherto deemed infalible. If Che was to be admired for saying ‘I believe in armed struggle as the only solution for people who are fighting for freedom, and I act according to this belief’, then why were those picking up arms in Kashmir any different? Eventually, I started teaching a subject called appreciation of literature and history, and there while discussing Che’s principles, we ended up discussing Kashmir. The class was shocked when I said I thought Kashmir deserved to be free because a people have the right to chose to be free, especially if neither history nor culture tied them to their current national identity. After all India would never have been one country if not for the British. So is it really wrong if a people want to be free, especially if they have the historical baggage that a Kashmir comes with?

But the more I read about Che, the more I wondered if his actions were as good as his intentions. Fox History’s series on terrorism tries to project Che as a global terrorist spreading death and destruction in countries as far apart as Bolivia and the Congo but that’s just propaganda. Che never intentionally had civilians in his crosshairs and had restricted almost all of his operations against armed soldiers of the establishment. But my doubts arose from the fact that his revolutions did not have the results he sought. In fact, armed revolutions rarely do. Lives were wasted for an ideal but ideals I have come to believe, are achieved, and more importantly sustained, through evolution, and not through a revolution. And that’s when Gandhi’s ideology became one that got me interested all over again. So was that man really relevant…
even today?

Yes, that frail old man in his loin cloth looked neither as brave, nor as inspiring a figure as the ruggedly handsome and macho figure of Che Guevara, but as I grew I got to learn that not only did Gandhi unarguably contribute at least an even share towards India’s freedom but also inspired a Martin Luther King Jr to have a dream and helped a Mandela, through his example, to guide a volatile new democracy to peaceful reconciliation. Gandhi’s Satyagraha inspired the Civil Rights movement, the demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The point is, a Gandhi gently, but firmly, asks for a change of heart, while a Che pushes, often violently, for a change of heads. The former, if achieved, will almost always bring about peace, perhaps even prosperity, but the latter often only ends up replacing one tyrant with another. Look at the Congo, Afghanistan or even Pakistan.

So, the question is, now that we stand in a world fragmented by faith and festering political wounds, where separatist movements and power struggles simmer all over the world, from Chechneya to Kashmir and from Spain to Sri Lanka, can the Gandhian path of Satyagraha and peaceful non-violent protests achieve what many a blazing gun and bleeding heart has failed to find – freedom, peace and prosperity? Or are these battles about something else altogether? Power, for instance, or wealth. Can Gandhian values overcome greed and lust someday? In the following pages, TSI goes into the tents of battle-scarred rebel leaders who share their angst and seem so human from up close, that it is difficult not to empathise…We talk to journalists who have reported from the faultlines of history seeking rationale and perspective to all this madness and finally we talk to those who still walk the path of Gandhian ideals. Their words will soothe and
give hope...

As for me, I wonder, if to be able to love and reconcile with the enemy is the essence of Gandhian values, then does freedom or ethnic identity really matter? Couldn’t we have accepted and learnt to love the English then as much as we want the Kashmiris to accept us today? And centuries later, there would have been a whole new race of Indians of mixed Indo-British ancestry, just like when the Aryans mixed things up with the Dravidians, thus giving us our sense of India today.

My final lesson in Gandhian values came during a martial arts class. My Aikido (a Japanese combat art that emphasises the idea of strength in harmony) instructor told me after a particularly hard session, that “if you refuse to be the aggressor, and seek not to win over your enemies but instead to win them over, the energies of the universe will never let you lose… if you (or your causes) are right, you’ll find the might. Right, is might, and not the other way round.”
Amen to that, and whenever you clench your fist in anger against a fellow man, may the futility of violence scream out to you from the words of those who have caused it and suffered it, and may the kind compassion of a Thich Naht Hanh and the gentle yet iron will of an Irom Sharmila calm your soul and give you strength.

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