Tag Political Party

Rethinking BJP 5

Aug29

Three months back Pritish Nandy wrote a hard hitting article ” The irrelevance of BJP” lamenting on its state of affairs with a view to bring it out of its stupor. On the other hand Rajesh Jain, India’s numero uno digital entrepreneur and also a leading light of the ‘Friends of BJP’ has long maintained that it would be too much for us to expect the rise of another National Party in our lifetime, so we are stuck with the choice between the two mainstream political parties -  Congress and BJP. Both got me thinking on what would it take to revive BJP. BJP after all is not just a Hindu nationalist party of right leaning individuals. Its our only hope for creating a bipolar polity in out country. It is almost 30 years old (if we disregard its previous avatar of ‘Janasangh’), yet it has just managed to cross the Vindhyas to form a government in Karnataka. There are still many regions and states where it does not have a presence and several others where it had a  dominant position earlier, but is now in decline. Hoping another new, emergent party to match the national presence of Congress might be  nothing short of asking for a miracle.

Indian Politics BJP Lotus

That BJP is in shambles, there is no doubt. Loosing two elections in a row seem to have brought it down to its knees and  exposed all the chinks in its armour. From being a party of youthful leaders most of its youthful leaders have shown themselves to be made of clay. They specialise in bringing down each other while giving a walkover to the ruling party. It has miserably failed to be an effective opposition even though they have been handed price rise as an issue on the platter.

Its time, BJP rethinks its vision as a party right of centre that aspires to dominate Indian Politics as one of the two major national parties.  While its roots and ascendancy did lie in being a pro-Hindu, anti-Muslim party, going further it may need to do a rethink.  In a country where a large majority (almost 90%) of politicians are all hindus, being pro-Hindu does not count for much. Whatever boost it got from the Ayodhya issue can hardly ever be replicated again,as people tend to quickly return to their normal state after the aberrations of agitations like L. K. Advani’s Rath  Yatra subside. As for being anti-Muslim, they needs to do a dispassionate analysis of the baggage that it brings and its advantages, if any. It may have helped them consolidate their position in Gujarat to successfully ward off the challenge from Congress in successive elections. But while they won the battle in Gujarat, they lost the war of India. From Trinamool Congress to Biju Janata Dal, they lost critical allies as a result of their stance on Gujarat issue. Even now, this issue remains the sore point with their only remaining major ally, Janata Dal United (JDU) in Bihar. Its longest standing pro-Hindu ally, Shiv Sena on the other hand is turning more and more into a liability rather than an asset. In the process, BJP has failed even to become the epicenter of the non-Congress, non-left opposition. The biggest worry for BJP should be that even in opposition, anti-BJP-ism is a bigger draw than anti-Congress-ism. For those who think that Gujarat can be replicated in India, they need to draw lessons from the Communist plight in West Bengal. Indoctrination such as Gujarat or West Bengal, only has a limited shelf life and can never be replicated nationally. Every party can have a set of moderates and hawks, however its important to reign in the hawks or they will eat up the party itself.

In its desperation to play the Hindu card BJP might have failed to notice another virtue within its fold – its track of ‘Good Governance’ . Most BJP governments have provided clean and efficient governance. Even in states where its government was ousted due to defections such as Goa and Jharkhand, its earlier performance is remembered fondly.  So too in coalition governments, the BJP ministers normally come out in flying colours. It was also the first one to use BSP – Bijlee, Sadak, Panee (Electricity, Road, Water), issues of everyday concern to win elections in M.P.. Its Golden Quadrilateral road project is still acknowledged as one of the most ambitious infrastructure project of modern India. Its decisive nuclear action has had far reaching implications stretching long beyond their reign. It needs to draw upon all these experiences and consolidate them to appeal to an electorate that is tired of mere identity politics and is looking for real solutions to real problems.  While its earlier claim of ‘a party with a difference’ may have withered off, it should now re-brand itself as the party with governance.  The coming elections in Bihar where its ally Nitish Kumar is attempting to put governance as the central issue, may turn out to be a test case for the entire country whether governance can take on the more emotive issues. If he succeeds, he might become a trend setter. Therein might lie a ray of hope for BJP too.

Anatomy of a Strike 3

Aug11

Strikes are still the weapon of choice for political parties to drive home their point. Yet a look under the hood of a typical strike, fails to reveal anything distinctive or hope inspiring.
Indian Politics Image

The strike date is notified well in advance (so much for spontaneity).  It is then publicised through all means available. Media picks up the announcement and features it prominently, giving it further publicity. At local levels threats and innuendos are used freely to forewarn everyone.  On the day of the strike, hooligans and muscle power is used to force shops & offices to close down. Many though stay away on their own, fearing violence and commotion.  Trains and other modes of transportation are obstructed, with least concern for those caught in the middle. Many a times those in urgent need of hospitalisation are unable to get their, those traveling for work, interview or examination are also made to suffer for no fault of theirs. The more the hardship to the public, the more successful the strike is considered to be. At the end of every strike, supporters always claim that the strike was spontaneous, voluntary & a grand success while the opponents claim it to be a flop show.  No quarters gained, none lost. Net result is loss to the public exchequer and public misery.

Apart from general strikes that are ignited by occasional events, there are the ‘habitual’ strikers. Every year at the start of festive season the municipal workers strike work, the teachers & the non teaching staff go on strike during the admission season, Doctors strike work even when the ICUs are full of critical patients, bankers go on strike just before a long weekend. The intent clearly is to maximise the impact. The apparent success of the strike is again measured by the amount of public hardship.

While it is natural for us to blame the strikers for all the public hardship, the Government is equally to blame. One could understand if occasionally there was an issue that was complicated and could not be solved solved easily, leading to agitation. But strikes have become an integral part of our lives. So much so that first one agitates for constituting pay commission, then agitate if recommendations are not to one’s liking, then on to enforcing its implementation. Once the central Government implements the recommendations, as if on cue, one by one the state Government employees start seeking parity with central employees. On and on the cycle keeps repeating itself. Worst part of the process is that Government frequently goes back on the settlement reached at the end of a strike. There are strikes and agitations to simply get Government to keep its word and sometimes for payment of salary for the previous strike duration.

The frequent agitations are symptoms of a deep malaise in our system. They show that our grievance redressal mechanisms have all collapsed. While the judiciary takes ages to resolve complaints, everyone else is too busy protecting their own vested interests to spare time for problem resolution. Take for example the 3 – 4 PM slot that is normally reserved by bureaucrats to meet public for grievance resolution. Most officials make it a point to be away from office during the time period. Even meeting a public official does not lead to a solution. Things have come to such a pass that even problems referred by the Chief Minister in his Janata Durbar need multiple petitions before they get redressed by the officials down below. Even the courts have to get their judgments implemented by using the ‘contempt’ stick. Officials use every ruse for not implementing decisions that are not to their liking starting with appeals to simply delaying their implementation . Every organ of the state needs to be dragged by the scruff of their neck into doing anything. Often Government becomes the biggest law breaker when it tries to brow beat individuals and smaller groups with its size and power. All this leads to a general environment of non compliance and encourages people to agitate for their just as well as unjust demands . Things can only improve if problems are redressed at appropriate levels and judicial intervention is available in a defined time interval.

Part: 1 2

Persistence beats Perfection 9

Dec29

One of the most redeeming qualities of Nitish Kumar is persistence. Most politicians have a tendency of launching something with much fanfare, only to fade away in a whimper once the public gaze shifts. Nitish on the other hand has an inclination for following up on his initiatives. One of the best examples of his persistence is the ‘Janta Durbar’ program. Every Monday morning, he along with his key ministers and top bureaucrats meets complainants who approach him.
New Bihar Janta Durbar
Such programs had been in fashion with earlier administrations too, but then they were primarily used for either dispensing favours to select groups, patronizing sycophants (ala ‘Lalu Chalisa’), or most importantly for earning useful publicity news bites . However, more often than not they quickly lost their utility and were slowly relegated to the back burner. One of the first significant changes that Nitish made to this program was to change its name from ‘Janta Durbar of Chief Minister’ to ‘Chief Minister in Janta Durbar’. The change though symbolic, epitomizes Nitish’s approach to governance. Another important improvement that he brought in was to connect all the complaints to an online tracking system. This online system assigns a ‘ticket number’ to every complaint that is logged in. The complaint is then followed up through the maze of bureaucracy till its resolution. He also experimented with ‘Janta Durbar’ on specific topics such as cases related to Police or to other departments and schemes. After assuming Office, Nitish Kumar has meticulously stuck to his ‘Monday morning’ schedule of ‘Janta Durbar’. The only time he makes an exception is when he is unwell, away for some important business or any other extenuating circumstances ( like the period of mourning after his Wife’s demise). Another time when he changed his schedule was when he took the program to the electorate’s door steps during his ‘Vikas Yatra’ while campaigning for the Parliamentary Elections.

This is not to suggest that all the complaints that land up in the ‘Janta Durbar’ get redressed. While many complaints are frivolous in nature, many seek personal favours and some are even antagonistic and require investigation of the contrarian point of view also. However still many genuine problems too face bureaucratic resistance in spite of the direct intervention of Chief Minister. Moreover one of the unfortunate offshoots of persistence has been that that those whose problems get redressed are less likely to return for expressing their thankfulness than those whose problems do not get redressed. This has led to several publicity disasters with complainants turning to the Janta Durbar multiple times unable to get redressal even after repeated attempts. Anyone else would have given up on this program if not for anything else, then for the bad publicity it generates when complainants recount their horror story of bureaucratic apathy and expose the inability of even the CM to cut through the red tape. Yet he has steadfastly stuck to his guns and refused to shut the program down. Four years down the line, different people may have different take on the efficacy of the program, still its regular continuance is an achievement in itself. That people continue to flock his Monday morning sessions and are allowed to approach repeatedly if their problems are not resolved, is no mean achievement at all.

In conclusion, Nitish Kumar has turned out to be an honest politician who has sincerely worked hard to put the state back on rails. He however, does not just bring good intentions and hard work to the table but also actively engages in realpolitik to ensure his political survival. He may not be a perfect politician, but his persistence scores well over his lack of perfection. Yet it may not be desirable to have him at the helm in perpetuity. On the contrary, we need many more such politicians so that we can rotate power among them and be sure that one takes off from where the other left. Only then, the people’s work can finally get done .

Part: 1 2 3 4 5

Shades of Chanakya 3

Dec18

It is for not for nothing that Nitish Kumar was called ‘Chanankya’ of undivided Janta Dal in the early ’90s. In his present avatar too, he has mixed up a fair dose of realpolitik with his developmental plank. From the very beginning of his term he strategically targeted the vote banks of his two chief opponents in the state – Lalu Yadav (RJD) & Ramvilas Paswan (LJP).
New Bihar Graphics
He began by assiduously wooing the Muslim Community to break the Muslim-Yadav (MY) axis of Lalu Yadav. Apart from symbolic gestures of admitting a large number of Muslim Leaders to his party (JDU), attending Muslim festivities, drafting a Muslim bureaucrat for the critical Home Secretary position ( rarity for a BJP ruled/partnered state) etc., he also has also launched several schemes for the Muslim community (such as ‘Hunar’) and recruited ‘urdu’ teachers in bulk . He took credit for finally convicting the main accused of Bhagalpur riots of 1989 and distributing relief to its victims on the lines of Delhi 1984 Sikh riots. He has cleverly positioned himself as a ‘doer’ versus Lalu who he says, only provided ‘lip service’ to the community. His recent decision of allocating 250 acres of land for establishing a center of Aligarh Muslim University in Bihar too, has been a step in the same direction..

At the same time he also targeted the ‘Dalit’ vote bank of Ramvilas Paswan. He first broke off a large chunk of the community by branding them as ‘Maha-Dalits’ as they had not received the benefits due to them while all their benefits were being cornered by the more well off communities among Dalits. A separate “Mahadalit Vikas Mission‘ was founded under his supervision and a flood of schemes have been launched to directly target succour to this community. To add injury to salt, he has slowly expanded the ambit of ‘Mahadalits’ leaving only the ‘Paswans’ in the dalit community. This move has been greatly resented by Ramvilas Paswan who has seen his electoral fortunes dwindle.

He has even tried to neutralize Congress with his demand for a special state status for Bihar. He strategically voiced this demand just before the declaration of the results of General Parliamentary Elections, at the time when Congress was fishing for more allies. The Congress was initially sympathetic but backtracked later after they were able to cobble up a comfortable majority on their own. Nitish now periodically uses this demand as a stick to beat Congress apart from his usual lament of insufficient central assistance. He has not even spared his partners in the government – BJP. Starting off as junior partners with BJP in the undivided Bihar, he has slowly pushed them to a corner and assumed the role of big brother in the state. He also asserts his authority clearly in matters of protecting his secular credentials such as the recent land allocation to AMU.

Internally he has moved swiftly against detractors in his own party. Early dissenters like Upendra Kumar Kushwaha were promptly shown the door. ( He has recently rejoined Nitish after unsuccessfully trying his luck with NCP for past 4 years). Even the party patriarch, George Fernandis who was also the convener of NDA, was kept at bay. Fernandis was denied a Loksabha ticket on grounds of ill health, though he was later accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. Other detractors such Nagmani were thrown out or the ones like Prabhunath Singh were neutralised through election defeat.

However despite all his brilliant strategies, Nitish received a body blow in the last bye-election for 18 assembly seats in September 2009. He along with BJP could only manage to win 5 setas whereas RJD+LJP won 9 and Congress 2. This has exposed his razor thin lead in the deeply divided caste equations of Bihar. While the marginalisation of Ramvilas Paswan has pushed him firmly into the Lalu camp, the rejuvenation of Congress nationally and the decline of BJP (his partner in the state) together have the potential of stinging him badly in the next assembly elections slated for late 2010. Only saving grace for him is that there is still another year to go and if he heeds to the warning signals of the recent bye-election defeat, he can still re-work the magic next year.

Part: 1 2 3 4 5

MP – ‘M’ for Murder, ‘P’ for Politics 0

Oct18

Note: This is the concluding part of the three part series on Next Generation Electoral Reforms (other two –   Intership for MPs & MLAs , Inner Party Democracy) .

Indian Electoral System today is at a point of inflection. What started in early ’90s as a  lone struggle by a maverick (T. N. Seshan) to cleanse the cesspool of Indian Elections, has now transformed into a well oiled election machinery that has won acclaims for the  successful conduct of several difficult electoral battles. Indian Elections are unique because of the number of people that vote, the varied geography it covers as well as the specter of violence that hangs around them. The real game changer has been the speedy roll out of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). From trial runs to all EVM Elections, they have even caught the fancy of the world community.  The somewhat checkered implementation of the Voter ID Cards, and the mandatory affidavits by candidates have  also contributed to the credibility of Indian Elections.  But where do we go from here?

To be sure, there are still problems galore. There is the problem of increased Naxalite insurgency and the violence inflicted by them during elections. Beside that the role of money power too has come in for sharp focus. Around 300 present MPs are known to be Crorepatis, giving rise to the feeling that in near future, being a millionaire might become a pre-requisite for the job.  However the most serious problem of them all is the twin issue of increasing Criminalisation of Politics and the lack of good people joining politics.  Both these are essentially two sides of the same coin.

Criminals in Indian Politics

For our democracy to enter the next level of maturity, we need to usher in a new generation of Electoral Reforms. It is customary in the election season to run campaigns for increased voter turnout. There have been other ideas that have come to fore such as public funding of Elections, option to reject all candidates, provisions for recall of candidates etc. However many of these ideas can only take us thus far. Increased voter turnout will only have an impact if there is a wide choice of good candidates and detailed information about their performance is available. Even though public funding is being touted as a solution to the rising influence of money power, it may end up becoming up another channel for large scale waste of public money.

The problem of the criminalisation of politics needs to be tackled head on. We have for too long, dithered on the premise that any law to debar under trial criminals before they are finally convicted by the highest court, will open the door for falsely implicating innocent persons and will be against the laws of natural justice . However such arguments have become fallacious after more and more MPs & MLAs are being convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape & sedition. We need to bite the bullet now and make the law applicable to criminals convicted of serious crimes by any court of law. Once convicted they should not be allowed to contest even if their appeal is pending in a higher court, till the time their conviction is annulled by a competent court. Besides this ‘Fast Courts’ should be mandatory in case of MPs & MLAs being accused.

The problems facing our nation are serious and the rapid degeneration in the quality of our MPs and MLAs will reverse whatever progress we have made in the past decades. An intense debate on Next Generation Electoral Reforms is the need of the hour and the denizens of Social Media Network should take a lead in this direction. These discussions will hopefully throw up some ideas that will help shape a new dawn.