News

Two Men; and One Leader

By Sanjay Jha

Two political leaders dominated the airwaves ( one was given a disproportionately higher share though) ; Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s PM-candidate Narendra Modi and the Vice-President of the Indian National Congress, Rahul Gandhi.  Interestingly, there could not be two more contrasting personalities; while Mr. Modi preached an aggressive brand of Hindu nationalism , Mr. Gandhi expostulated a dream of a modern, inclusive India . While Mr. Modi used development as a marketing subterfuge to camouflage a controversial track record on communal politics , Mr. Gandhi remained consistent; the India story could not ignore anyone, irrespective of caste or religion, poor or middle-class, rural or urban. While the BJP allowed Mr. Modi to create a personality-driven campaign, Mr. Gandhi focused on empowerment of the common man, and more importantly, criticized the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual.

It is evident that the political future of India will indeed be impacted by the personality, philosophy, politics and programs of the two leaders. The media periodically played out the Mr. Modi vs Rahul debate as it invariably made for animated discussions with polarized positions from both sides. But one thing was amply clear, that India was asking tough , hard questions, and no amount of propaganda or public relations would wash away past sins, even  one of “ looking away as Gujarat burnt” that Mr. Modi has been accused of.  Mr. Gandhi , who has been criticized for not interacting enough with media and communicating enough, seemed ready for the battle.  And although not as vocal or loud like his competitor Mr. Modi,  Mr. Gandhi ‘s innate roadmap  and a vision for India stood out even before the summer dust-storms of electioneering had begun.

Why does BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi not apologize for the killing fields of Gujarat 2002 riots, widely criticized to be a reprehensible cold-blooded communal bloodbath, India’s shameful hour when as many as 2000 Indians died as an elected government nonchalantly ignored their pleas for help, thus becoming accused of sponsoring the ghastly pogrom? And why, perhaps, he never will ! Well, that requires painstaking examination.  Especially if the gentleman concerned is a clever, manipulative person with brazen, indubitable ambitions who has masterfully seduced an otherwise inimical and penetrative media with his beguiling imagery. Since Modi gives speeches regularly,  with a curious conflicting mix of exasperation and expectation, I switched on to watch the India Today Enclave’s live relay on the Headlines Today TV channel where he appeared as a chief guest in Y2013.

When Javed Ansari, a veteran correspondent with the host media group asked him about his role and responsibility or the lack of it in the Gujarat riots that Modi looked gob smacked, as if hit by an inebriated bully in a dark alley . Ansari is actually an endearing, gentle guy with the inherent dedication of an old-school journalist. Modi for the umpteenth time ducked and dodged, swerved and sidestepped a question on which everyone wanted an answer. Or at least a pretension of acknowledgement; did he take responsibility as a Chief Minister for what went horribly wrong after the Godhra train carnage? In a hugely televised event watched by many Indians I presume, this was an opportunity to establish connection. He faltered, failed and flopped. In the process, his rating nose-dived, and despite genuinely wishing to be charitable, I shall have to give him an F grade for being just so boring in pushing his singular agenda of a development spin ( completely overlooking the flaky human and social economic indicators of Gujarat which punctures his whole hypothesis) . And worse, disingenuous and shifty when on slippery ground on the aftermath of Godhra . Modi in fact visited the relief camps in his own state after several days and made the objectionable  statement that they had become child-breeding centers. This is hardly the hallmark of a leader that a great country like India deserves. Something tells me Modi must have been an angry man that night. He had reasons to be upset with his self-inflicted voice embargo when confronted with the truth.

1 Narendra Modi, the Gujarat chief minister, might have won the elections but he quickly realized that his claim to legitimacy was threatened by the riot victim, the witness, the survivor, the courage of the protestor and the ruthless interrogation of the lawyer. Each, through his performance, transformed the Modi regime into a mosaic of unsettled and unsettling questions. Each of these encounters with a Zahira Sheikh, Cerdric Prakash, Mukul Sinha was stark, public and commanded huge audiences. Modi, master of the media, managed to contain virtually all of them.

 

2 Narendra Modi proved particularly adept at manipulating television. In fact, manipulating the media and using it as a ‘force multiplier’ was a crucial element of his drive to paint himself as the ‘Hindu Hridyasamrat’ [King of Hindu Hearts]. As Darshan Desai has pointed out, his strategy was simple: just remain in the news by constantly issuing controversial statements. It worked. The more the national media blamed him for the riots and deplored his views, the more heroic he appeared to his constituency.

Throughout his Gujarat Gaurav Yatra (Gujarat Pride Journey), across towns and villages, across every nook and cranny of Gujarat, he ensured that the media chased him everywhere. Despite the fact that he repeated the same rhetoric: the media followed him—in case he said something controversial. And he did not disappoint them. It made news when he referred to Sonia Gandhi as ‘Italy ki bete (the daughter of Italy). It made news when he spoke of ‘miya Musharraf to refer to Muslims in general. It made news when he called [Chief Election Commissioner] ‘James Michael Lyngdoh’ by his full name to let people know that he (Lyngdoh) is a Christian, to insinuate that therefore he is close to Sonia Gandhi. It made news when he said, Hum paanch, hamare pacchis’ (We are five, and we have twenty-five) [the insinuation being that Muslims who were allowed four wives are breeding fast and would soon swamp Hindus]. For those who had not heard it, he repeated, ‘Hum panch, hamare pachis, pachis key chhe-sau pacchis’ (We are five, we have twenty five and they another six hundred and twenty five) and told the reporters to note it properly.

Television provided Modi a national pulpit and an arena for mass mobilisation. Much of the coverage was negative, but Modi used this to underline the radicalism of his political message and play to his constituency. The opposition Congress, under Shankersinh Vaghela, found itself on the wrong foot. The Congress campaign was based on moving the focus away from the riots to long-term livelihood problems like the drought and water shortage, but Modi’s tactics ensured that he—and the riots—remained at the top of the news agenda.

Mehta explains how the Indian media prevented what could have been a worse, terrible bloodbath in Gujarat. 3 At the heart of the government’s criticism of media coverage of the Gujarat violence was the notion that reports about systematic killings of Muslims should have been balanced with accounts of the Godhra killings or incidents where Hindus had suffered. Siddharth Varadarajan repudiates this accusation of bias, however: There is no major newspaper or TV channel which did not extensively cover the Godhra incident when it happened, criticize the attack in the strongest possible terms, and interview the survivors and victims’ families. Had the BJP not ‘retaliated’ for Godhra, it is likely that much of the media space devoted to the killings which ensued would have been and exclusively devoted to the Godhra tragedy. In any event, it is significant that Advani and other BJP leaders like Arun Jaitely criticized what they said was graphic TV coverage of the violence only when this coverage started reflecting badly on their party. They did not object .,vhen the Godhra victims were identified as ‘Ram sevaks’ and their burnt corpses were turned into an undignified, inflammatory public spectacle by the Modi government and shown repeatedly on TV channels, including STAR News…I am personally convinced that it was the accurate coverage of Gujarat by the Indian print and electronic media which forced the BJP to finally stop the violence. Some 2,000 people died but had the media not cried murder, perhaps many, many more would have fallen victim…

Update on 13-03-2014

Thus, just why doesn’t Mr Modi apologize? Because the truth is that the moment he does so, he assumes moral responsibility for the hapless, innocent 2000 people who died even as Mr Modi snored in his air-conditioned comfort. He cannot pretend anymore that he hadn’t “ looked away” while a bloody carnage ripped Ahmedabad’s blustering soul and spread to the rest of the state of Gujarat under state-sponsorship.  Hosni Mubarak, the former President of Egypt was sentenced to life imprisonment for similar disinterestedness. And the other pertinent point , can a verbal regret expressed with such deep reluctance after 12 years actually ever absolve you of such a brutal massacre? It is an absurd hypothesis as the law of the land , which has convicted Mr Modi’s confidante Maya Kodnani of causing several deaths by provoking hate and violence during the riots  , must finally rule.  Should Kodnani have been let off scot free if she had chosen to shed crocodile tears? Had Adolf Hitler said sorry for Auschwitz should the world have applauded the apology and pleaded for rehabilitation and resettlement for the Fuhrer ?? If President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka seems rueful should the United Nations tone down the tenor of its resolution on war-crimes? Mr Modi knows that an apology will trigger a fresh massive inquisition into his palpably dubious role, besides being trashed as synthetic tokenism , and that too eleven years later and one year close to a general election. This stunt will not fly, the time for even a fake fictitious APCO ( his public relations firm) directed apology is over for Mr Modi. The other compelling reason is the oxymoronic “public secret”, Mr Modi knows that his fanatical followers who are usually in a high feverish state of rhapsody will abruptly desert him. For them an apology from the Hindutva hardliner will be akin to blasphemy; then what is left of the Gujarat model? Isn’t religious bigotry and communal divisiveness an integral part of his model? He knows he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, hence the stubborn status quo.

If Mr Modi apologizes it will open a Pandora’s Box with irrefutable charges hurled at him. Did he ignore the call for help from the brutally murdered ex-MP Ehsan Jafri when a frenzied mob had entered Gulbarg Society?  Why did he allow the dead bodies of the tragic Godhra victims to be paraded in Ahmedabad? Why was he remarkably inert when Tehelka’s Operation Kalank demonstrated the barbaric acts of Babu Bajrangi & Co? Why is it that the entire state apparatus, consisting of IPS/IAS officers like Rahul Sharma, RB Sreekumar, Pradeep Sharma, Sanjeev Bhatt etc were slapped with charges because they were whistle-blowers? The list is never-ending.

There are those who mistakenly keep referring to BJP’s former PM Vajpayee famous line of “ raj dharma”as a hallmark of his reconciliatory predisposition. I believe most have a charitable proactivity towards the ailing Vajpayee, because facts do not portend a generous tolerant man. Govindacharya, the RSS office-bearer once called him a mukhauta ( mask).

Renuka Narayanan exposes the double- speak of the so-called moderate Vajpayee. 4 When I heard what Mr. Vajpayee said at the BJP rally in Goa last week, I experienced the same contaminating, stomach-churning sensation of being present at a crime scene that I felt when I saw the photograph of Geetaben. Though the PM now insists he was misquoted, whichever way his word are parsed, what he told his party faithful at Goa was bone-chilling. “Wherever Muslims are”, he said, painting a broad brush to describe not just the followers of Islam around the world but the one-fifth of India’s citizen who happen to be Muslim, “ they do not want to live with others peacefully.” Narayan is critical of Vajpayee’s condescending and disingenuous portrayal of Muslims.  5 At the best of times, such a statement would be unforgivable. But when you consider that he was talking about the killing of as many as 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat – and to an audience which believed this genocide was justified – one can only react in horror. Already, the Sangh is enforcing an economic boycott of Muslims. There is not a single Muslim business left in Gujarat. Photocopying stalls near Gujarati courts turn Muslim lawyers away. Men with beards are not served in restaurants and shops in the state. Muslim mothers pray their children won’t call them ammi on the street. Instead of speaking out against this, Mr. Vajpayee actually had the gall to say Muslims do not wish to live in peace.6 For tens of millions of Indians, including those who might have flirted with the BJP, Mr. Vajpayee’s remarks have served as a wake-up call. At the Shah-e-Alam camp, he said the riots had shamed India. But what he said at Goa has shamed India even more.   7 For all his fulminations against jehad, Mr. Vajpayee’s ideology is equally jehadi. His party does not believe in people living in peace, in ensuring that the citizen of India – whether Hindu, Muslim or other – have the wherewithal to live as human beings. The BJP does not respect the rights of citizens or of the nation as a whole. Instead, a bogus, hallow ideology of ‘Hindutva’ has been erected to cover up their utter contempt for the right of the people of India. Remember that this is the same BJP where 8Uma Bharti sang ‘Ek dhakka aur do/babri Masjid thod do’ to save the Babri Masjid. Where 9LK Advani said, Mandir Kahan Banayenge?

10 To most Indian Muslims, the dispute is not about a specific mosque – which had in fact lain disused for half a century before its destruction, most of Ayodhya’s Muslim minority having emigrated to Pakistan upon the partition of the country in 1947 – but about their place in Indian governments had guaranteed their security in a secular state, permitting the retention of Muslim financing Haj pilgrimages to Mecca. Two of India’s first five Presidents were Muslims, as were innumerable cabinet ministers, ambassadors, generals, and Supreme Court justices. Till the mid-1990s India’s Muslim population exceeded Pakistan’s. The destruction of the mosque seemed an appalling betrayal of the compact that had sustained the Muslim community as a vital part of India’s pluralist democracy,” says Dr. Tharoor.

So was Vajpayee ever a benchmark, or just someone who uttered moderate statements ( he did nothing to stop the riots as PM) for public posturing even as he never really strayed from the RSS dogma’s? Anyway, Mr Modi needs a reconciliation with himself. Political ambitions are fine, but public morality and sincere honesty and decency precede it. No leader can escape searching scrutiny. And no leader can say , Why don’t you just see my old video tapes for an answer ?? Because the truth is , Mr Modi has none.  Dr. B R Ambedkar once said, 11 “The sovereignty of scriptures of all religions must come to an end if we want to have a united integrated modern India.”

Update on 14-03-2014

Public relations is a legitimate promotional tool, more so in a chaotic democracy where cacophonous imprints seem to dominate dialogue; mind-share is at best transitory but the insane desperation for it is befuddling. In the maddening conundrum, even highly suspect products make a momentary killing. Modi, is a perfect manifestation of this brazen hard-sell, in the luminous hope of somehow surviving a thorough scrutiny of his questionable attributes behind the dazzling razzmatazz. Ambition is an individual’s prerogative, absurd obsession with it can be egregiously embarrassing. ” The 15000 Himalayan miracle by Modi ” is an apposite example, even if a convenient denial emerged from the media company later.

The brazen , bizarre 15000 number Rambo rescue act at Uttarakhand is got to be the boilerplate case-study in PR snafu , which has completely demolished the carefully manufactured image of Modi, palpably a victim of severe megalomania, buffered by a desperate party plagued with no grass-root leaders.  But even in a banana republic , a cold-hearted leader would not perhaps exploit a human tragedy for political profiteering. This was downright scandalous, like US Republican Mitt Romney’s contemptuous dismissal of ” the other 47%”. Understandably, Modi’s social media army sounded awkwardly sheepish, and like in the case of the brazen lie propounded by him that Jawaharlal Nehru never attended Sardar Patel’s funeral, the list of Modi’s mendacity is reaching illimitable levels.

It perplexes me about how our national moral pendulum has swung so dramatically, or perhaps conveniently. In 1975, the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi had to face the wrath of a “total revolution” no less from a massive organized political coalition , amongst other things, because of the Allahabad High Court judgment for misuse of official machinery. Fair enough!! But what exactly was her personal misdemeanor? None! They were, as historian Ramachandra Guha puts it (India After Gandhi) “trifling offences” that can best be described as a secretarial oversight done by external parties ! Her election manager Yashpal Kapoor’s resignation from his official government services although tendered on time received a belated approbation, and the second “electoral malpractice”   referred to the “height of the rostrum”  . On this technicality, Mrs Gandhi faced incessant acerbic criticism. She rightfully moved the Supreme Court which reversed the judgment.  The tragic irony is that after the historic 1971 war win, forget Raj Narain, no one stood a chance against her in her home bastion of Rae Bareli. But notwithstanding that, Mrs. Gandhi followed the legal process and yet was severely criticized. Now let’s compare that with Narendra Modi’s political conduct, the poster-boy of the Sangh Parivaar and the media’s latest 24×7 stand-by escort service.

Modi was the Chief Minister when Gujarat conflagration subsumed 2000 human lives, leaving charred bodies and a wrecked humanity. He did nothing to stop it. He “looked away”, an abrogation of duty in the midst of a gory bloodbath makes a leader a willful accessory. Human lives was just collateral damage;  Modi actually has the audacity to wax eloquent on ” governance” after his contemptible,  deliberate indifference to a brutal pogrom within miles of his personal official residence. And yet, Sunday champagne brunch columnists, foreign university professors with suspicious twangs and sundry corporate czars think he is an administrative genius; that’s frankly laughable. Even his perennial bete noire LK Advani acknowledged that Modi inherited a high trajectory state but could not give it a vertical lift. Other states have registered extraordinary growth; their leaders possess none of the obsessive compulsive disorder called “give me PR , please”.  Fake encounters, conviction of close aide Maya Kodnani for instigating murder, the arrest of Amit Shah, police officers in cahoots with political masters , trials shifted out of state for fear of intimidating witnesses ,  Mr Modi is in a laundry-list of legal and criminal alphabet soup. He has even clearly protected a convicted corrupt politician called Babubhai Bokhiria, (alleged to have been involved in RS. 54 crore illegal limestone mining) while he sermonizes the universe on the perils of corruption. Purshottam Solanki, despite being indicted by the Gujarat High Court for a Rs. 400 crore fisheries scam continues to be in Modi’s cabinet, who did not allow his prosecution to go ahead. And yet, he is cunningly projected to be above it all. And unlike Mrs Gandhi, no one believes that Modi should have resigned on moral grounds or taken political hibernation till legally cleared (he is a principal co-accused in the Zakia Jafri case in which hearings are on) Why?? Why the moral and ethical ambivalence?

But the StalkGate affair completely nails Modi’s diabolical methods, and intimidating tactics.  As Gujarat cop GL Singhal’ alleged recordings show, a man referred to as “Saheb” ( BJP President Rajnath Singh confirms that it is Modi) directed his Home Minister Amit Shah to maintain 24 hour surveillance (it was more wilful spying) on a personal woman friend utilizing the state machinery ( employing the Anti-Terror Squad, state intelligence and the Crime Branch) without following the legal processes.  It smacked of an Orwellian, chilling, fascist Big Brother is watching you syndrome, ostensibly done for providing “security and protection” to the individual.  Frankly, the sordid episode is the final nail in the coffin of a beleaguered Modi, whose questionable credentials have got further stigmatized.  As the case unravels, expect Modi’s carefully constructed façade to crack up. Modi violated the Indian Telegraph Act, and usurped democratic norms of functioning, making Gujarat into a personal fiefdom.  Stalking, under the IPC act has serious, punitive, legal consequences. Is this end-game for Modi as his basic style reminiscent of the former German chancellor, has landed him in serious trouble?

12BJP claims that this is a private matter. It would indeed be a private matter if it was just a question of the playing out of consensual relationships, whatever their nature and regardless of who is involved. But this is not a private matter precisely because the most sensitive wing of government, the anti-terrorist squad under the Gujarat government, was involved in the snooping. Thus it appears to be a clear violation of the Indian Telegraph Act for which those involved should be prosecuted. The newly amended Indian Penal Code in relation to sexual offences against women includes the crime of stalking which includes “to follow a woman”, “to monitor the use by a woman of the internet, mail or any other means of electronic communication”. The punishment for such a crime is “not less than one year but which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine”. This is the first known case of state-sponsored stalking of a young woman reportedly on the orders of top government leaders, says Brinda Karat, member of CPM.

The harassment meted out to the former IPS officer RB Sreekumar who served as a DGP in the Gujarat government is damning.  Sreekumar was hounded for enclosing one of Modi’s hate-speeches in an affidavit submitted to the Nanavati Commission probing the Gujarat riots.  13 For Sreekumar, Modi’s speech was not just cynical and inflammatory. What worried him was its logic, its particular use of symbols. The speech was a triptych of appropriations where in frame one, Gujarat becomes the centre of a sacred geography. Within this context, BJP is a constructor of sacred complexes and others of unholy edifices. In frame two, the speech creates a different pedigree for nationalism. Delhi becomes the residence of the Nehrus, the Congress and Sonia Gandhi, while Gujarat becomes the home of Gandhi and Sardar Patel. Yet Gujarat’s contribution to nationalism and contemporary politics remains unrecognized. Modi complained that there is a samadhi for Sanjay Gandhi in Delhi but none for the Sardar who guaranteed the unity of India and Kashmir. He added ominously that five crore Gujaratis are witness to this injustice and warned, ‘We are here to sacrifice our lives to keep the flag of Sardar on a high pedestal’ says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan.

Update on 18-03-2014

Modi’s shrewd, duplicitious attempt to hijack the great Congress leader Sardar Vallabhai Patel revealed his calculating, malevolent mind. The world’s proposed largest statue of Sardar Patel was to essentially marginalize India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and to play to local sentiments and pride, by disingenuously distorting history, a standard strategy, akin to fascist-like propaganda. Modi believes in Amazonian Hindi symbolism, but he forgot to tell the people of India that Sardar Patel banned the RSS for creating an environment that  led to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and called Hindu Raj “a mad idea, it will kill the soul of India.” BJP has deceitfully made the secular, universally tolerant of all religious beliefs Swami Vivekananda appear otherwise to suit their ‘Hindu nationalist’ agenda. His eloquent silence on Muzzafarnagar riots and the felicitation given to the accusedBJP MLA’s allegedly responsible for the communal conflagration tells its own story.

The real intellectual subterfuge is the adroit packaging of a fuzzy concept sold as Modi’s ” Gujarat Model”; pray, can someone tell me what that is??? Honestly, no one knows. But if you look at it carefully, it is baloney, non-existent.  Modi repeatedly talks of ” less government and more governance”; while governance is a non-negotiable universal truism for all dispensations,  it is on “less government” that Modi tumbles downhill. This is standard credo of modern capitalism, but Modi has been clearly oblivious of global economic happenings. Even rabid practitioners of free-markets have welcomed the return of state; how else can you explain Occupy Wall Street, the popular uprising against rising global income inequalities worldwide?  Mere growth in developing markets is not enough, redistributive justice will need active state intervention given poverty challenges . In India, even more so . Consider malnutrition, farmer suicides, poverty ratios, woeful education levels, and other social and human development indicators in Gujarat, and you know that it needs more government, not less. For example, the CAG report slammed the Modi government for deplorable implementation of ICDS scheme, resulting in one in 3 Gujarat kids being malnourished. Incidentally, public-private partnerships have gathered acceleration under UPA, it is not Modi’s unique panacea. Corruption rages in Gujarat, but is skillfully averted through dexterous media handling , even as CAG reports talk of corruption of Rs 17000 crores , a delayed Lok Ayukta is given a toothless force after spending Rs 65 crore of tax-payers money on legal battles and convicted Minister Babubhai Bokhariya is retained in the cabinet despite taking bribes of Rs 54 cr,  which make intermittent headlines. Modi has been  abjectly inadequate on core performance, his irrational lopsided economic logic is pro-rich and lacks political vision. Surprisingly, few political commentators have challenged this fragile thinking. As for  Modi, he is flying 36000 feet above ground realities.

14  In Modi’s speech, the nation-state and sacred geography are contoured to suit a certain regional mind. Delhi is now conceived of as being ‘outside’.  For him, it is about exploiting an average Gujarati’ sensibilities by making Delhi seem like a hostile central government that wishes to inhibit Gujarat; a vitiated campaign to play on a Gujarati asmita by appealing to the impressionable. It is dangerous politics at best, anti-national in essence. 15   Modi appears not as a communalist but a classic fascist, as an atheist who cynically or rhetorically uses Hindu symbols for propaganda.

For Modi, his development model is wasteful symposiums, hyped investor road-shows, subsidized cheap freebies to super-rich corporates and crony capitalism. His frequent sojourns to CII/FICCI etc is to hoodwink the middle-class by his close proximity to corporate talking heads; the fact is that he is robbing Peter to pay Paul. The ordinary middle-class tax-payer is making the fat sugar daddy fatter. It is by far the cleverest ruse because he wants to position himself as the messiah of the middle-class, his action are totally to the contrary. He is actually pro-industry and the rich and the affluent. Some corporates with deep pockets like a man susceptible to their grand plans and it also coincides with Modi’s personal goals. A perfect symmetry.

As per RBI’s published data, total FDI into the country since 2000 amounted to $297 billion. The highest FDI of $63.9 billion came into Maharashtra, followed by Delhi (including NCR region), which got FDI worth $36.65 billion; Tamil Nadu got $11.7 billion and Bangalore got $11.8 billion. “Compared to these states, Gujarat got FDI worth $8.6 billion only. When Keshubhai Patel was replaced (by Modi in 2001), Gujarat had public debts to the tune of around Rs 45,000 crore, which galloped to 1.38 lakh crore in 2012. Modi has made Gujarat the third most indebted state in India after west Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

The truth is that there is no Gujarat Model. There never was. At business forums what you get is another ” fake encounter with facts”. Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote is germane when thinking of Modi’s so-called ” Gujarat model”; ” You can fool some of the people all of the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time”.  Truth usually prevails, even if belatedly. And that by itself restores , reassures sanguine faith in our great democracy.

Update on 19-03-2014

The idea of India has not only risen above passing political divisions, it has also risen above the racial, linguistic, cultural and religious diversity of the country. Every ethnic group, howsoever defined, deeply believes-and with confidence asserts-that is part of the larger identity called India. Equally, each ethnic group, ranging from overwhelming religious majorities like the Hindus to numerically small minorities like the Zoroastrians, finds it natural to co-exist with the other ethnic groups.’ 17 ‘Secularism is our answer to those who seek religious domination, to those who demand a position of privilege for the dominant religious community as the quid pro quo for letting the minorities even exist.’

For a party that indulges in disingenuous propaganda of creating a phantom of minority appeasement, the BJP has no compunctions in baring open its chosen ideology of absolute majoritarianism. The most flagrant revealing statistic of UP elections 2012 that reveals BJP’s communal agenda leaves us  flabbergasted. Let me elaborate. The party had just one Muslim candidate among its 403 for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh where there live 37 million Muslims. Isn’t it symptomatic of the party’s parochial agenda and vote bank politics?  In Gujarat, Modi did not give a single assembly seat ticket to a Muslim candidate amongst 182 seats.

UP would qualify as the fifth most populous country in the world based on its 200 million inhabitants. Larger than Brazil, with approximately 37 million Muslims residing in it (about 19 per cent of UP’s denizens), more than in Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Morocco. And yet, there is one glaring revelation; the BJP has found just 1 Muslim candidate suitable for a ticket amongst 403 Vidhan Sabha seats. Isn’t that an amazing expression of BJP’s “exclusive politics”? 18 The establishment of a Hindu Rashtra clearly remains their core agenda.

Incidentally, while BSP and SP fielded 85 Muslim candidates, the Congress had  59. Communalism is not just about cosmetic minority appeasement, it is also about practicing absolute majoritarianism. Does the BJP believe in a multi-cultural, widely -ethnic secular society where political formations need to ensure broad-based representation ? Does it practise principles of fair representation? It is a question that the Sangh Parivaar can best answer. Sais Annie Besant,19 “A common religion is not possible for India, but a recognition of a common basis for all religions, and the growth of a liberal, tolerant spirit in religious matters, are possible.”

20 A major deficiency and weakness of Indian parliamentary democracy is the inadequate representation of Muslins and women. Only five percent of the elected members of Parliament are Muslims. The number of Muslims MPs has declined from 35 in the 114th Lok Sabha to 30 in the 15th Lok Sabha. These are no Muslims MPs from 19 states and six union territories. As Zoya Hasan has rightly stated, “The legislative under-representation is due to a combination of institutional and political factors, especially the first-past-the-post electoral system, which favours minorities such as Muslim who are demographically dispersed. In addition, Muslim representation is likely to be effected by the fact that some of the constituencies in which Muslims are concentrated are reserved for schedule caste which means they are denied the opportunities of contesting elections from these constituencies in they form a large proportion of the population… Political representation is valuable not only in itself . . . but also has instrumental value because it can help them influence policy decisions that can decrease marginalization of minorities, says Madhav Godbole.

It is expected that Muslims can significantly impact results in 130 of the 403 Assembly constituencies  in Uttar Pradesh. After all, they comprise 20 per cent of the electorate in about 70 seats. In some others (roughly 30 seats), that percentage rises to a staggering 30-45 per cent. The Muslim vote has unfortunately become a manipulative arithmetical tool, but to ignore Muslim representation is virtual hara-kiri and sends out a categorical message. Given BJP’s salient communal Hindutva brand of politics, isn’t it guilty of playing religious blocks by consolidating Hindu vote banks through dubious manifesto commitments such as a Ram temple at Ayodhya, when that matter is sub-judice as it is in the Supreme Court? Isn’t that a clear model code of conduct violation as well, even if shrouded in legal niceties?

Unfortunately BJP has become more orthodox, obscurantist than before when it was actually expected to absorb a modern and flexible approach in its political philosophy in a fast-changing India. If indeed Mr LK Advani and other distinguished members of the saffron faith did not shed bucketful of crocodile tears post the Babri Masjid demolition, then two decades later was a time for atonement. The truth is that the Babri Masjid demolition was an unbridled hideous act of hooliganism done by religious fanatics assiduously masterminded by the Sangh Parivaar in Orissa that ruptured our social fabric. 21  And Father Graham Staines’ and his sons brutal murder in Orrisa was the inevitable outcome of the hateful propaganda poisonously spread by Bajrang Dal members and their  ilk. Leaders of the VHP like PraveenTogadia regularly make hateful speeches targeting the minority community.

The fact that 21 years after Babri Masjid demolition later, the BJP had only a lone candidate amongst 403 is a manifestation of its continuing anti-minority (essentially defined as Muslim) obsessions, and inability to build bridges with a clear conscience with them. Narendra Modi remains unrepentant, remorseless and unsympathetic despite his commanding negligence over a brutal pogrom under his own surveillance in Y 2002.

Update on 20-03-2014

The Planning Commission, on the basis of data collected in 2009-10, pointed out in 2012 that in urban areas the percentage of Gujarati Muslims living below the poverty line was 42.4 per cent. Not only is this higher than the national average — by 10 percentage points — but it is also higher than the comparable figures for West Bengal (34.9 per cent) and Rajasthan (29.5 per cent).  In the villages of Gujarat, the poverty of Muslims is largely due to the fact that they own little land — 70 per cent of rural Muslims own less than 0.4 hectare, against 55.5 per cent of Hindus.

Tragically, the frosty, feared but feisty Modi is BJP’s trump card which accentuates their problems in assimilating with the disaffected Muslims, which Modi’s spin-doctors try to assuage by purchasing skull-caps in bulk orders. Quite simply, Modi and the BJP are masters of merchandise and mendacity.  Modi magnifies BJP’s woes, whatever the legal outcomes of the innumerable investigations against him, he is universally perceived as the perpetrator of the ghastly post-Godhra genocide in Gujarat.  He can never ever live it down.

The fact that Modi has now expressed prime ministerial ambitions will propel all into taking a moral stand on the kind of leadership India wants, devoid of amorphous claims and counter-claims. His “ burqa of secularism” remark,  the impertinent “ puppy came under the car” observation and the emphatically delivered “ I am a Hindu nationalist”  tells a lot about his mental constitution. As the Congress caustically observed, it is the RSS which has entered the political fray, the BJP is a mere ornamental surrogate. Nagpur calls the shots. The BJP’s alienation from large sections of India looks comprehensive even as it attempts to fracture society along religious lines.  In UP elections, the discomfiture of the BJP with the electorate was so apparent, it reflected in the meager 48 seats it won in the assembly.

The Gujarat government’s abysmal, repugnant attempts to pressurise the EC was evident in the infamous JM Lyngdoh fracas during Y 2002 when it was alluded that he was  postponing the elections because he was a “ Christian”.   Thus, in the light of several damaging circumstances, it seems rather odd that the BJP puts on that hypocritical mask and creates a deceptive spin around “development” to divert attention from its core fundamentalist religious obsessions. .  Is there any Chief Minister in India who says development is not his primary agenda??  Modi serenades corporate houses and is awaiting opportunistic coalition partners. Mani Shankar Aiyar draws a parallel of corporate-BJP news with Hitler’s reign and alignment with Big Business. Remember, 23  “Krupp and Daimler backed Hitler. It is only an unprincipled that brought the BJP –led NDA six years of power at the Center. There were many who were willing to  sleep with the enemy. But for the Congress, there would have been no stopping the BJP,”

Therefore political representation (which gives a legitimate public platform for elected representatives) becomes a germane factor, hence, BJP’s solitary candidate for the UP elections is tragic.  A myopic judgment that reflects its real ideology. The fact that the Gujarat government has challenged the Sachar Committee as “unconstitutional” nine years after its formation because it helps “Muslims only” is  testimony to BJP/Modi’s prediction for polarization. The fact that Amit Shah, BJP’s commander in UP talked of building a temple at Ayodhya sent out an unequivocal message of its intent to create religious fissures in a vital state for testing electoral fortunes.

Modi’s  laundry list of gaffes have raised guffaws, prompting most to question his leadership credentials. He called Mahatma Gandhi as Mohanlal (Mohandas) Karamchand Gandhi, and referred to the founder of his own Jan Sangh party by another name. 18 He claimed he and Nitish Kumar shared the same table at a lunch hosted by the Prime Minister in 2012. The Bihar chief minister described the claim as imaginary and said the referred lunch never took place. He claimed that public funds worth Rs 1,800 crore were spent on  Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s travel and treatment abroad, quoting an RTI activist from Haryana as source. The activist denied receiving any figure; the govt responded by saying only a few lakhs had been spent by her personally on her treatment abroad.He said “Rupee was worth a US dollar at Independence.” Wrong. It was worth 30 cents.

24 He said “I ensured the laying of a 700-km pipeline to reach Narmada water to the Indo-Pak border because of my love and respect for armymen.” Kutch got Narmada water on May 18, 2003, and Modi had thanked Rajiv Gandhi for initiating the Kutch drinking water project in 1985.He said he had information that Sir Creek was being handed over to Pakistan on Dec 15, 2012. He claimed India had referred Sir Creek to India-Pakistan Western Border Tribunal—neither country has referred it to the tribunal.He accused Muslims of breeding more and said, ‘Ame panch, Amara pachees’ in 2002. Muslim population in Gujarat was 8.4 per cent in 1961, it went up to 9.1 per cent in 2011. Modi made the absurd claim that China spent 20% of its GDP on education (fact,4%) and compounded matters by several such bizarre notations. For instance, Taxila was in Bihar (Pakistan), Chandragupta belonged to the Gupta dynasty (Maurya) and that Alexander the great was defeated by the Biharis (he never crossed the Gangetic plains). His attempt at fact-foolery was deservingly pummeled when he said that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not attend Sardar Patel‘s funeral, factually misleading.

The fact is that the politics of polarization is a double-edged weapon. In an aspirational young country looking for rapid ascension, perhaps we Indians might get momentarily blinded by our self-serving selfish agendas, by the iridescent glitter of gold, the dazzling SUV’s and calorie burn-outs at shopping malls. But somewhere India’s collective conscience does rise, like at the time of the Delhi gang-rape incident. Or as it did at the Ferozeshah Kotla when India pulverized the once formidable Aussies in cricket. We were one as a nation , and in MS Dhoni we had a leader. Someone who ironically enough does not indulge in characteristic exhibitionism and boastful talk , but one who had led quietly as his team wreaked havoc. Yes, no apologies were necessary. Modi can learn a few lessons from Dhoni.

Modi , who is known for his prompt, trenchant repartee  to regale audiences, has displayed extraordinaryily deafening silence on Sec 377 ruling by the Supreme Court which recriminalized homosexual relationships; a retrograde, repressive and regrettable verdict which is against not just the LGBT community but also endangers fundamental rights and personal liberties in a tolerant, modern, liberal and progressive society of India.

Modi is toeing the BJP/RSS rigid viewpoint that the term gay sex is “unnatural” and “ against “Hindu culture.” Clearly, the so-called Messiah of the urban Facebooker middle-class truly lives in an antiquated, obscurantist and Jurassic Age. Decisive?? Not really.

25  Jawaharlal Nehru, as the new president of the Congress, proclaimed his secular credo at a public meeting in Delhi on Gandhi Jayanti, 1951: “If any person raises his hand to strike down another on the ground of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life, both as the head of the Government and from outside.” His great grandson, Rahul Gandhi has demonstrated a similar passionate commitment to uphold India’s secular character, its unity in diversity. Despite BJP’s evident divise politics, the core secular character of India will be hard to vanquish.

Update On 21-03-2014

RAHUL GANDHI: THE MARATHON MAN

[Mr. Rahul Gandhi is a marathon man, a long-distance runner, who is drastically changing society and lives, and adopting the Shepherd principle of leadership.]

Mr. Rahul Gandhi is a long-distance runner, and as all marathon men know, it is a lonely experience.   It consists of a hard grind, relentless practice, frequent breaks for introspection and an unflagging self-belief towards reaching a destination not visible to the ordinary or to the naked eye, as it exists beyond the discernible horizon. In early 2009, a revolutionary breakthrough, unprecedented in India’s democracy was quietly unfolding in Punjab. But Congress MP Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s team looked discombobulated ; their unique mammoth exercise for grass-root participation of young aspirants interested in a political career had found little media support.  No one had carried their press release , barring a few regional papers , as it obviously did not have the  sexy feel to it ; after all, this was just an internal election process of the  youth wing of the Congress party being championed by a young leader  perennially accused of being touted as a beneficiary of India’s  dynastic politics.  But Congressman Mr. Digvijaya Singh’s utterances on Rahul’s 41st birthday about his future prospects as India’s Prime Minister predictably stirred a hornet’s nest. A bedlam followed. The media was expectedly focused on what made for stirring news; five years earlier when Mr. Gandhi had made his political debut, all looked lost.

10, Janpath, wore a disconsolate, deserted look in February 2004 when I drove past its long stretch of barricaded compound. Barring the Black Cat commando-led high-security and birds sitting in a disciplined pattern on its imposing walls, there was a perceptible silence around it, with none of the pre-election fervor that you would expect. It housed a simple woman, the late Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s widow, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, on whom the great Congress party founded in 1885 had now bestowed their rapidly dwindling hopes. In a few months, India’s general elections beckoned.

Just a day earlier, a popular TV channel and a regular national daily’s joint opinion polls had indicated  that the venerated Congress would achieve an ignominious distinction; a new historic nadir comprising of a paltry two-digit 99 seats in Indian Parliament. Rumors abounded in high circles that there would be a serious internal party revolt if and when the Congress catapulted into oblivion following a calamitous rout. “India Shining”, was uttered in a collective resonance by pin-striped business czars and eager-beaver media anchors, smiling ear to ear. The ruling BJP-led coalition NDA was preparing for a rampaging onslaught, to bury their “pseudo-secular” rivals into the pit of total annihilation. Mr. Pramod Mahajan, BJP’s Doctor Spin and photo-shop man looked disappointed, dismissing electoral prognostications of 330 seats for NDA as chaff, puffing away on a five-star treadmill.  “ We will do better”, he boasted. While the NDA was celebrating its glossy shine, the Congress indeed looked down a deep dark hole.

Frankly, tell me, which perspicacious political analyst expected the Indian Shining hyperbole to be so rudely terminated ? The BJP had swept key states in central India such as Madhya Pradesh,  Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan  in the just  concluded assembly elections, and  practically all were resigned to a fait accompli of the lotus party returning with a bigger majority. It was against such massive odds that Mr. Gandhi made his political entry, fully aware that opposition benches perhaps beckoned. It was going to be a long hard journey.  But when the then PM Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee called millions of mobile numbers with his pre-recorded sales pitch, however, India disconnected . Even today, as UPA 2 ends its second term in Y2014, that’s how he looks at it. Mr. Gandhi has an inherent inner strength to take the bull by the horns; a fact, many conveniently overlook, or inadvertently ignore. They shouldn’t.

It was in these circumstances that one witnessed the quiet arrival of a young man on the treacherous terrain of Indian politics. Mr. Rahul Gandhi was joining India’s undisputed leading political family in fulfilling its pre-destined course maybe, yet in an unknown, uncharted, and unfamiliar territory and future for the first time. Unlike his father Mr. Rajiv Gandhi who had reluctantly transported himself from the plane’s cockpit into  party corridors, Rahul was taking a bold step of his own volition. It was a big moment. And a poignant one. He knew the past legacy; he was also aware that he was not getting a red carpet cake-walk as organizationally the Congress was in doldrums, waiting for a miraculous resuscitation.  The Congress had been in the Opposition benches for several years, and the predictions about election results were dreary and dark.  But just a few weeks later , India would see the most stunning reversal of fortunes that had professional psephologists flushed with deep embarrassment providing flaky explanations for their failed statistical models. The Congress was back as the leading party of the United Progressive Alliance ( UPA). The BJP was rejected outright. Rahul’s political journey had begun in deadly earnest.

The BJP which committed harakiri borne out of either misplaced optimism, absurd logic or plain hubris in 2004 elections, was given a classroom lesson on cutting out its penchant for excess. Again in 2009, despite dodging world-wide recession and recording stunning GDP growth averaging 8.5% during its first tenure, Mr. Gandhi stated the obvious truth: India is not shining. Because for him India had to look beyond just BPO jobs, FII investments, SUV sales ,shopping malls,the world’s biggest IPO and the super elite on the Forbes billionaires list. Too many Indians still exist precarioulsy on a survival help-line. For Mr. Gandhi, that is a high priority. It is difficult to argue with that economic rationale in a country where roughly 300 million live below the poverty line, equivalent of the USA as a whole.

Update On 24-03-2014

Indian democracy, despite a bizarre flirtation in 1977 with odd assortments in the Janata experiment (the CPM and Jana Sangh were on the same side), has always been dominated by magnetic personalities from one single family: the Gandhis. A Mr. Morarji Desai, Mr. Charan Singh, Mr. Jagjivan Ram etc were national leaders but with limited pockets of influence. Even Mr. V P Singh and Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee were not pan-Indian leaders in terms of their mass appeal, they were more products of the electorate’s brief experimentation with somebody new, following disillusionment with the Congress. India has always lionized an inspirational leader they can trust and believe in. Mere oratory, as Mr.  Vajpayee discovered in 2004, is not enough.

In an election campaign Mr. Rahul Gandhi said, “My father died long before 1991 for us.” Twenty-two  years ago, during the last days of the summer elections on the night of May 21, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was brutally assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber in Sriperumbudur. Rahul had just about crossed his teen years, and was studying in the USA. A disturbing shrill call at an unusual hour by his mother’s assistant Madhavan was enough to tell him that something had gone terribly wrong. His father’s philosophy is integral to his own; 1  ‘. . . we, in India, are the inheritors of a great historical experience in organizing a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-caste, multi-regional society. The global village of the new technology has to learn from our experience the basic lesson of how humanity is to live together not in segregated States but as one human family. ‘The chief characteristic and strength of our civilization have been its unity in diversity.

After Rajiv’s tragic, untimely demise, the clueless Congress had no Plan B. The rudderless uninspiring Congress leadership that followed was the principal reason behind the subsequent rise of coalition politics, much more than caste arithmetic and religious polarization unleashed by the Mandal-Masjid fiery combination, as is otherwise assumed. Because no single towering national leader truly dominated the Indian political landscape thereafter, who could cut across inherent rigid barriers, a confused electorate began to increasingly bite the comfort zone of personal parochial interests in close proximity, often misunderstood to be “local factors” by over-zealous commentators. Mr. Narasimha Rao had been dramatically catapulted into 7, Race Course Road but his mass appeal had for long been obsolescent. Suddenly new political entities surfaced, like the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with no clear social or economic agenda but with carefully constructed vote-banks and began to slice away into niche communities  for electoral consolidation. It altered India’s political dynamics dramatically.

Rahul is aware that his father was hugely handicapped when taking on the big job, as he had had little political experience in either handling internal affairs of the party or a cabinet function. The golden age of India politics which commenced after that incredible landslide of 1984, alas had an ephemeral stint as relative inexperience was to affect Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s ultimate judgment in crucial moments, the avoidable Mr. Zail Singh fracas, Bofors probe, Mr. Shah Bano case, Mr. V P Singh’s elevation, the shilanayas ceremony , propping up Mr. Chandrashekhar as PM etc. It was simply Rajiv’s limited pre-exposure to the complex web of Indian politics which did him in, whereby he lost a massive public mandate in a disastrous fall in 1989, when the Congress was reduced from 414 seats in Parliament to a mere 197. Rahul is resolved not to repeat the same mistakes again. Hence the hands-on approach and personal visits and meetings with leaders from all levels in all the states; there is nothing to substitute your own personal instinct and hunch.  Since he has become Vice-President, he has travelled even more extensively and listened to the ordinary grass-root worker attentively, He takes genuine interest in people , none of that plastic righteousness that others effortlessly portray.

Update On 25-03-2014

When he went traversing the country over the last few years, the BJP made sarcastic digs at the man, saying Rahul was on a “discovery of India” tour, alluding that he was like a foreigner , a political novice groping around to unravel his own native turf. The truth, in fact, is elsewhere. They have failed to discover the man. Society columnists whose political education begins at the Taj hotel and whose graduation ceremony concludes at The Trident , continue to be cynical about his initiatives, but then what can one expect from those who believe the cow-belt to be the latest fashion accessory with an animal skin ?

Rahul spoke candidly. “I have an advantage of my celebrated surname. It has guaranteed me an easy entry into the highest echelons of political power. I have greater access and an easy induction. But I know that there are many amongst you who do not have the same advantage. I want to give you that opportunity, no more political patronage and parochial favoritism. It will be fair and equal”. It was refreshingly honest; when have you heard politicians speak that language of simplicity, uncomplicated candor? For a man accused of being a beneficiary of dynastic politics, Gandhi is now challenging the same inequities prevalent in our political framework.

Thus, what has gone quite remarkably unnoticed is the extraordinary political reformation that Mr. Rahul Gandhi has introduced , almost subtly and without the fanfare that you would normally expect; the democratisation of the Indian Youth Congress and NSUI, which is almost a precursor to the transformation of the big GOP itself in the future. It is certainly a game-changing landmark in the Congress traditions of the past. Mr. Gandhi has personally ensured an open- house selection policy, rigorous interviews are held, past political and family contacts have been made irrelevant, with a transparent jury doing the final selection. The entire screening process is audited by former election commissioners. The result has been an overwhelming response from young hopefuls who are keen to join Rahul’s burgeoning band-wagon. It has been a quiet, under-stated ground revolution at the grass-root level, which when it assumes national proportions, could transform Indian politics forever. While an odd rotten apple can still sneak in, they are quickly purged when discovered.

Rahul is looking for young people with their feet on the ground and their head on their shoulders who can think. One typically finds Indians perpetually blaming the “political system”, we hear endless lamentations about how it is intrinsically corrupt, extremely closely-held, where seats are auctioned to the highest bidder, highly caucus-like which leaves a genuine committed public worker no scope for making a political career. Mr. Gandhi is in a great hurry to address this genuine problem, just like he aggressively championed the MNREGA. And the RTI Act which is perhaps the most revolutionary breakthrough legislation in post-Independent India against corruption. Not to mention his from-the-heart talk during the nuclear deal in Parliament pioneered and pushed by a Prime Minister pugilistic in his beliefs,  which has given India serious international recognition amongst nuclear nations. And of course, the Land Acquisition bill and the Right to Food, legislations that are tectonic and impact large sections of our society in an extraordinary way. The democratization process of the youth wing of the party is path-defining, unprecedented and the ultimate in political detoxification. Just like his father understood fairly early the strange ways of power-brokers in the party and the powerful social apparatus of Panchayati Raj which needed a great fillip, Rahul has sensed the need to strengthen the Congress bottom-up. He is following upon that with a missionary zeal.

Mr. Rahul Gandhi narrated an enlightening personal experience at his talk to CII, 2 “It was a dark night some years ago when my team and I got on the Gorakhpur Lokmanya Tilak Express and travelled across India’s heartland. We wanted to understand how young Indians were building their future and I spent a large part of the Thirty Six hour journey moving across the train and talking to travellers – youngsters, weary families, and migrants moving from the dust of Gorakhpur to the glitter of Mumbai. Took us Thirty Six hours. It is called an Express!

I remember a young boy from Purvanchal, Girish, who painted the outside of skyscrapers. There were two carpenters, one of them travelling from his village to Mumbai for the very first time. Imagine the feeling of a young fellow, getting on the train coming out of his village, going to Mumbai. I spoke to a young Muslim boy setting out to start his life. He had no idea what work he was going to do. I asked him, “Boss what happens if you reach Mumbai and there is nothing for you to do?”

“If I reach Mumbai and there is nothing for me to do, I’ll get on a train, I’ll go to Bangalore.” That is the spirit of this country. Forward moving; brave.

What struck me about that train was the optimism. These were poor people, weak people but not one of them was pessimistic. They were sitting there, saying Bhaiya Kaam ho jayega, naukri mil gayegi and they were all struggling. And this optimism for me is just like India – it is bursting with dreams and fearless ideas. Brave ideas. And as it hurtled towards Mumbai I sat there looking at this train and wondering how many of those dreams would actually be fulfilled. By the time we reached Mumbai, we had made friends with Girish, the painter. And he told us, come and see where I live. And we thought that’s an interesting thing to do. We had come all the way from Gorakhpur and we thought let us see what this young migrant is doing. 4’o clock in the morning, we walk off in the galis of Bombay, monsoon season, feet were going into puddles. And then he opens the door. Little room, probably twice the size of the table. Six people sleeping inside. They get up. All of them are migrants. All of them have done that little journey. All of them have that dream.”

Rahul, who is known for replying instantly on his BlackBerry, is finally a people’s man. The grand Indian election of 2009 had thrown an electrifying paradox; while the 82-year-old BJP’s Mr. L K Advani was all over global websites and mobile text campaigns, Rahul was conspicuously engaged in direct people-to-people contact. And although being a financial analyst, he candidly criticized Gujarat Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi for providing sops to Indian industrialists while the poverty-ridden in the state were given a paltry pittance. He avoids unnecessary media interaction, though he is fully aware that it is a necessary date in his appointment schedules of the future.

In a country whose “demographic dividend” indicates youthful adrenaline, there are two key factors that could change the future of coalition politics in India. Remember, it was Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s watershed decision to bring the youth into mainstream politics by lowering the voting age to 18 years. ; 3 “Another major milestone in India’s journey on the road to parliamentary democracy was the lowering of the voting age from 21 years to 18 years in March 1989. The number of voters went up from 17.32 crore in 1951 to 72 crore in 2009”.  The young of India are looking forward to Mr. Gandhi being their lodestar. Firstly, Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s ascension to the top at the appropriate time , and second, some solid groundwork by the Congress in the Hindi heartland of UP and Bihar, the two states that inevitably decide the final groupings in parliament. The latter is a Herculean task, but will be considerably impacted by the first. I foresee the return of single-party dominance of the Congress or a more direct two-party  confrontation ahead as the middle-class in particular, has seen the perils of coalition politics. Even in rural areas a mature electorate will segregate the national subjects from the local issues. Although it appears a virtual improbability today looking at their dominance in 2009 and subsequent assembly elections since, 2014 could yet spring a surprise.  Actually, it is the proverbial chaos reigning before the impending doom of parochial regional leaders, for example.  I foresee people getting increasingly restless with the interminable squabbling in Delhi that is deleterious for our democracy. Also, as the electorate matures and its profile alters, fragmentation will wane at the national level as stability with growth will become the default mantra for success. In the next five years, we will witness mergers and consolidation amongst various political constituents as new young talent emerges to take charge across different ideologies and formations. Leadership, integrity, inclusiveness and governance will be the deciding factors for the next Prime Minister. For Rahul it has been baptism by fire in the cauldron of internecine coalition politics, but it will be a great asset for the future.

Update On 26-03-2014

4 “Democracy and technology have triggered a non-reversible chain reaction in India. This reaction is unstoppable. Nobody can stop it. We have to channel this reaction. We are now sitting on an unstoppable tide of human aspiration, a tide so great that it is going to move forward, regardless of what we do. But for this massive movement of people and ideas to be truly transformational, we need to nurture it. We need to make it harmonious. We need to make this happen smoothly. We need to use the energy generated by this movement of people and ideas, the force this movement is generating, and we need to use it to empower everybody. Not one person, not almost everybody, but everybody, ” says Mr. Gandhi

Rahul assiduously refrained from making political capital on his famous cousin Mr. Varun Gandhi’s shockingly acerbic outbursts on the Muslim community in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections stating, “hate blinds us all”. And that “life is full of surprises”. It is indeed ironical that while Mr. Varun Gandhi becomes the new Hindutva poster-boy, a fully-converted RSS-type religious hardliner, Rahul religiously follows his great-grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s tolerant secular philosophy. A few years ago, Ms. Priyanka Vadra, Rahul’s immensely popular sister had personally visited her father’s killers and conspirators in jail, and sought forgiveness for them. They may be first cousins, but Rahul and Priyanka are as different from Varun as chalk and chewing gum. Rahul possesses a healing touch, and his greatest asset is his listening ability.

In Jagdishpur, which is part of Rahul’s Amethi parliamentary constituency, one has to see the Gandhi family’s emotional bond with the common man to understand and experience the goodwill and love that the people have for them. It is got to be experienced to be believed. Rahul has painstakingly persevered over the last five years to give his people his full attention. By May 2014,  the Indian election results will be finally out. For some, it will be the end of their political career. For others, another opportunity to redeem themselves. And yet for the remainder, hope. For Mr. Rahul Gandhi though, it will be just the beginning of another journey to getting India on the fast-track.

Update On 27-03-2014

The new buzzword post-2009 was the Rahul Doctrine (fuelled by an international media intrigued by Mr. Gandhi’s  unconventional ways , like shunning media publicity even in the moment of election victory)  , but frankly Mr. Gandhi is not in any hurry to create private labels. He has a singular, uncomplicated agenda-national resurgence can only happen if economic polarization , communal  threats and political purification ( removing  seedy and corrupt elements)  is addressed . For him, income redistribution is India’s paramount challenge, not dividend pay-outs to corporate shareholders alone. Even per capita GDP conceals lopsided wealth concentration.

Mr. Gandhi understands the changing landscape of an aspirational India. 5 “The Indian experience will give the world a number of non-threatening and inclusive paradigms for the rise of a nation out of large-scale poverty. India’s transition is often viewed as a homogenous process applying to a billion people. This is wrong. The reality is that the major states of India are building their own unique paths to transformation. Our pluralism has multiple resonances. Punjab and Haryana owe their rise to success with irrigated agriculture, while Karnataka relies on the IT economy. Kerala depends upon tourism and expatriate inflows while Tamil Nadu emphasizes industrial production. While there may be no global parallel to India in terms of complexity and scale, there are several parallels to each of our states. Their experiences with socio-economic transformation within a democratic framework will provide lessons for other emerging nations. The tide of human aspirations lifts a boat in Hamburg just as is does in Mumbai. It will create opportunities and challenges in Hamburg, as it will in Mumbai.”

The Bharat and India divide has many manifestations, say Mr. Shrivastava and Mr. Kothari.   6 That we have come to live in two countries, India and Bharat, has long been widely recognized. And yet, it is a fact whose full implications remain undigested, even as the schism between the two gets wider due to the policies of the past several decades. While the two countries are joined at the hip – like Siamese twins – they continue to drink at different waterholes. While one grapples with problems of obesity, the other is malnourished. While one shops in dazzling malls, the other finds it every day more difficult to buy what is sold in local bazaars. If one speeds down the new expressways in luxury sedans, the other gets packed into rickety buses headed for very different destinations.

The Youth Congress, for several years carrying cash-rich bullies with nefarious reputations, had to be promptly revitalized, re-ignited. For Mr. Gandhi, when he was General Secretary of INC the transformational drive was a mission; Congress must go back to the people, like in pre- 1947 Mahatma Gandhi and Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru days. Of course, there have been sporadic mischievous oddballs who have infiltrated the massive democratic exercise, but that hardly detracts from its substantial ground impact. The democratization of the Youth Congress is a bottom-up process of change, it will create values-based principled- political leadership in the future, is Mr. Gandhi’s fervent hope. To expect an overnight metamorphosis is being naïve, but its long-term impact could be significant. In 2014, the demographics of India will favor him by a wide margin. There will be close to 120 million first-time voters exercising their adult franchise. Says Mr. Gandhi, 7 “It doesn’t matter how much wisdom you have. If you don’t have position, you have nothing. That’s the tragedy of India.”

By shunning cabinet positions, Mr. Gandhi has sent an unambiguous message; the Congress needs grass-root resurrection and that cannot be achieved by winning televised evening debates against animated lawyers on a vituperative roll from the saffron brigade. Or merely hitting punches on social media. The real electoral battle is in the dusty interiors of rural India where electricity transmissions are still deemed as divine intervention.  As is clean water, healthcare facilities and proper education. India’s expenditure is less than 2% of its GDP on health-care.

Says Mr. Rahul Gandhi, 8 “Democracy, and the right to choose have created a sense of

entitlement among our people. They know that equal opportunity is their right. Armed with this knowledge, they are intent on joining a world that is prospering but lack the infrastructure, skills, tools and opportunities to do so. Despite our achievements, we are still left with hundreds of million of people with unfulfilled aspirations. The pressure of these aspirations is unrelenting.

We started 60 years ago with a poor India. Our next step is to transition once again to a single India, but one which is no longer poor. The heart of our politics is about managing the balance between the two Indias.

As politicians, the first part of our task is to maintain and rapidly expand the growth in connected India. The second part of our task is to ensure that the wealth generated is efficiently used to build the physical and social infrastructure that will merge the two Indias into one.

For over 60 years since Independence, our poor have borne the burden of poverty on behalf of the nation. They have done so stoically and patiently waited their turn to join in the nation’s progress. It is their generosity and tolerance that has allowed us to build a strong and prosperous nation.”

The UPA has been saddled with heavy baggage; corruption charges on coalition partners, price rise, Maoism, antiquated laws inhibiting infrastructural investments, and some  faux-pas such as legitimizing self-appointed civil society members on an insatiable public relations drive. The fine line between party objectives and government compulsions becomes blurred; in an aggressive media world circumspection is seen as circumvention, silence is misconstrued to be guilt. Neither is true.  PM Mr. Manmohan Singh in his most effusive state is intrinsically laconic; Mrs Sonia Gandhi has consciously abstained from interfering in government issues as is appropriate.  Hence the media focus is always on Mr. Rahul Gandhi.

Update On 28-03-2014

Bhatta Parsaul was a manifestation of the larger critical national issue of land acquisition (not just a western UP electoral ploy) one that Mr. Gandhi champions with passionate zeal. I think Mr. Gandhi’s critics are essentially flabbergasted at his steadfast adherence to larger complex issues as opposed to power-grabbing. The problem with vociferous armchair critics with intellectual pretensions is that they cannot decipher the term “charisma” (it is not easily quantifiable in statistical charts). They believe it is mere synthetic gloss/ruse borne out of congenital blue-blood; an erroneous conclusion. Rahul’s great-grandfather Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru was a freedom fighter who graduated to be a world statesman in a troubled global era, Mrs Indira Gandhi may have made a monumental blunder in proclaiming Emergency, but the emphatic victory in the Pakistan war in 1971 made her a Durga incarnate. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s much-caricatured laptop was a precursor to India’s IT revolution. Rahul is aware of his charismatic lineage. In a world prone to cosmetic confabulations and instant assessments, he knows the power of magnetic appeal. It increases responsibility enormously on his young shoulders. But the India of today, he knows, wants solutions; not merely a promise of hope and change. He needs to deliver.

Mr. Rahul Gandhi believes that India has lost patience with incremental changes; this is an era of shock and awe changes. 9 “As we have moved forward to meet these challenges we must remember that we have a tendency in India to think about solving all our problems incrementally. This is a mistake. There are some problems, which require exponential solutions. Whenever India has done well it has done so not by incremental steps but by radically transforming its structures. Look at our successes – from the Green Revolution to the White Revolution to the IT and Telecoms Revolution. All those successes were the result of exponential thinking. We’re a brave, young country. Let’s break out of the mode of incremental improvements and get into the mode of generational shifts. Let’s stop wondering how many colleges we can build and let’s start discussing what we can do so that the very idea of a college, the very idea of a university, is transformed. This might sound idealistic to you but I’m speaking very seriously from India’s experience – look, if we went about the telecoms revolution in the 1980s by distributing telephones one by one and going slowly house by house, Mr. Sam Pitroda wouldn’t be sitting here with us, he would still be somewhere in Kalahandi distributing telephones. He wouldn’t have that wonderful white hair. He’d be bald.”

He is aware of the tricky territory of Indian politics; his father Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s cataclysmic collapse from 414 seats in 1984 is an irrefutable reality. The handling of Shah Bano case and the shilanayas ceremony in Ayodhya  , created a fluid situation that was politically exploited by the Sangh parivaar that were to jeopardize Congress and help a non-existent BJP (2 seats in 1984 to 182 in 1999) into becoming a monstrous nemesis. Hence, he has relied heavily on self-introspection and first-hand discovery of the real India that he stands for.  As a Vice President of the Congress party, he has traveled to all the states and taken a first-hand report from state leaders.  If anyone has imperceptibly dismantled the prevalent myth of the Delhi high command in the Congress, it is Rahul. Things have changed.

He has candidly admitted often that India has a “rotten system”, and that public disenchantment with politicians is disconcerting. Mr. Gandhi is not just helping Congress, but attempting to bring respectability to the abused political class commonly perceived to be a vulpine lot. Politician bashing is assuming dangerous proportions, which several interest groups are craftily exploiting as was evident at the Ram Lila grounds in 2011 and surfaces religiously on social media daily. His singular act in trashing the Ordinance on convicted politicians contesting elections has doubtlessly changed Indian politics forever. It’s impact on the Indian political system will be profound and salutary beyond the pale of one’s contemplations today. No one can ever take away that from Mr. Rahul Gandhi. He defied not just the Congress party or the UPA, but the entire political establishment.

The world’s most sophisticated democracy elected two of Mr. Bush and almost two Mr. Clinton’s to the White House. In India, we are flogging a dead horse by the ad nauseam reference to political dynasty. Rahul openly acknowledges his political head-start, but is himself attempting to break that asphyxiating stranglehold by bringing in new faces in a free democratic environment shorn of ancestral privileges. He deserves the country’s fullest support in that genuine endeavor. Funnily, the BJP that frequently raises the dynasty issue has two members of the Gandhi family deeply entrenched in their organizational hierarchy, Mankea and Mr. Varun Gandhi.  There are a host of other such related luminaries in their fold.

RTI, MNREGA, Right to Food, Aadhar, Right to Education,  transparent dealings with civil society, arrests of corrupt corporate chieftains and political colleagues, voluntary disclosures of assets, have been extraordinary successes of the excessively criticized UPA. At its optimum, never a great marketing organization but this Congress-led UPA government has voluntarily executed democratic process of dialogue and transparency like no other before. The freedom of the press has never been curtailed despite the Indian media’s own voluntary acceptance of suspect practices like paid news and financial kickbacks. The Congress needs to take the wind out of the sails of those who ridicule authentic accomplishments of UPA by a stronger counter-propaganda and a positive narrative.  The gathering whirlwind of speculation about leadership vacuum needs to be smothered, as the BJP tries to reduce an issues-based election into a personality driven one.

The MNREGA, that Rahul and the Congress party propounded has tremendously ameliorated economic conditions in the rural interiors of India. 10 Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, or MGNREGA law guarantees 100 days of paid work each year to any household that wants it. That makes the government of India the largest employer in the world, if not in history. MGNREGA enshrines the right to work in India’s constitution. People tell local officials that they want to work, and the parties come up with community projects that will benefit everyone. Since it was first rolled out in 2006, MGNREGA wages have increased an average of 81%. The law has helped stem forced migration and reduced child labor. 11MGNREGA mandates that a third of its beneficiaries be women 12 “It has potentially changed the contours of democracy at the grassroots.”

Finally, if and when the Congress finally asks him to take the big plunge, I guess he will. The drive from 12, Tughlaq Lane to 7, RCR is a short one.

Update On 31-03-2014

The global weekly Newsweek called him the “quiet revolutionary “ after the 2009 Lok Sabha results showed that the Congress party had returned with its best performance since 1991.  The Congress party had unquestionably recaptured their old glory, continuing with their triumphant consolidation of Y 2004, even if there was still a long journey ahead. Currently, one man is, judging from interminable media scrutiny, holding center-stage; Mr. Rahul Gandhi.

Not surprisingly, everyone is heralding it as the coming of age of Rahul-they are wrong. He came of age the day he took that serious plunge in 2004. He has never looked back since. Rahul has fought skeptical elements and endless cynicism, following his clearly defined goals without letting transitory distractions and criticism derail him. Mr. Fareed Zakaria, former Editor, Newsweek pointed out, correctly so, how the Indian media has failed to fathom his intrinsic simplicity, and yet, an inflexible determination to get things done.

Sure, the 2009 victory marked a stupendous comeback for the Congress, but rest assured, Rahul did not let the exhilarating adulation and euphoric success get to his head. For him, this was like a close quarter-final victory in a grand slam tennis tournament. The Congress has a great opportunity, but in the light of mounting expectations, the task gets even more challenging. The margin of error gets lower, the bar for performance, and the benchmark of achievement quietly and quickly rises. In every sphere, there is a clamor for change, and a call for improvement. And the clock has already started ticking. For 2014, he looks more resolute than ever.

It takes courage for a young man to tell the Gujarat Chief Minister that he was playing to the gallery in blatantly serenading self-serving industrialists, even when the state had a huge task of reducing unemployment, lopsided growth and a vast below- the- poverty line- population. The genuflecting industrialists wanting freebies were all in the Forbes billionaire list, with abundant market capitalizations. For a country where over 300 million are earning a measly 75 rupees a day, it looked like an incongruous contradiction for them to seek cheap subsidies. So Rahul spoke his mind. Interestingly, no one else did.

I visited Jagdishpur in Rahul’s Amethi constituency a few years ago. As we landed at Lucknow’s airport in cold, foggy conditions, there was a massive crowd outside, excitedly awaiting Rahul’s arrival, sunshine gleaming on their faces. I understood then why the then Chief Minister Mayawati looked profusely troubled when Mr. Rahul Gandhi comes visiting her charming capital city. We met all sorts of interesting people; grass-root workers, in particular, belonging to a delectable social mix; it was a colorful congregation. The goodness was palpable. The energy, unbridled. Their commitment, unshakeable.

Everyone wanted resurgence, a self-respect they felt the Congress really deserved. “We need to bring Congress back, we will not give up”. Their stories of hard work were touching, their determined resolution to persist with their mission, laudable. And they all believed in the big dream of their young leader. The hurt was deep, though. This was the state of Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, no less. Allahabad was the the party’s ancestral home. Mayawati’s caste – card, BJPs religious divide, and Mr. Mulayam Singh’s brazen political maneuvering had check-mated the Congress. Of course, the Congress had itself allowed it’s downhill slide to continue unabated for long, unchecked and unhindered. But now they were united in the belief that they would emerge stronger, their time would come.

As we left the guest house at the end of an incredible trip, I went up to give the cook at the guest- house a small nominal tip. He steadfastly refused; there was no way he would accept even a token of appreciation because he thought that the constituency challenges were the main issues, and he had his own personal contribution to make. It was his duty to do what he did; period. He did not budge. There was gratitude in his eyes, and warmth in his hand as we said good-bye. The goodwill for Mr. Rahul Gandhi in his constituency is got to be seen to be believed. I was humbled beyond description.

As the UP Lok Sabha results rolled in 2009, I recollected Khan saab’s magical poetry recitation, the young man’s tactical ploy at a tug of war contest,  Mr. Pandey ji’s charming hospitality, the enigmatic indefatigable Mr. Sharma ji working tirelessly into the night, the simplicity of the inspirational speech given by the rising local panchayat leader and the camaraderie.  And finally, the loud boisterous chorus, that reached a crescendo with,” Hum honge kaamyaab, hum honge kaamyaab, ek din”.  To succeed in politics, it was obvious, passion predominates.

I saw Rahul on TV on the day the results flashed, his innate modesty apparent through the camera lights. When he said he would have been on the same development agenda and bring- the- youth- into- the- forefront course, irrespective of election results, he meant it. When Mr. Narendra Modi won a huge landslide victory in the Gujarat assembly elections of 2007, many in the Congress camp were downbeat, dejected and disheartened. Not Rahul. “You win some, you lose some. But what is correct and has to be done, must be done”.

Update On 01-04-2014

At an unearthly hour of 4 am as India slept, one man was awake in the cold desert state of Rajasthan, in its spectacular capital city imbibed with tales of stunning history called Jaipur. In a few hours dawn would crackle through the dark blanket interspersed with stars, heralding a new day, Sunday, January 20th 2013. But for the young man it was to be an extraordinary day, one of his life’s most embellished. In a few hours he would be addressing a congregation of the brightest minds of a political party that fought for India and its freedom, and barring a brief hiatus, has shaped its political history. And he, 42 years, had made his debut in its dusty undulating terrains of enormous dimensions just nine years ago. But today would be different. In a few hours, he was going to address the Indian National Congress, and through the amplified medium of modern technology, the people of India as well as its Vice-President. He was fully aware that every word he uttered, every sentence he framed, the half-smile or a spontaneous thought, even an instinctive or an inadvertent stutter would be a subject of animated confabulation. But he was ready. Because he knew that beyond the perfunctory inspection of drawing room analysts, kinetic TV anchors, carping opposition and the constant pessimist, lay the real India, buoyant, young, restless, angry, impatient and yet, hopeful. The resilience of India was not just a fictional story born out of its multiple crisis, but ingrained in its character, the DNA of India. That then would be the quintessential theme that he would talk about, hope. A country of a billion and more people, getting younger by the day, battling explosive economic growth with rising economic inequalities and social tensions concomitantly, by no means an easy task. The world’s most populous democracy, complex and indecipherable at most times , needed to hear the stark truths, not the usual homilies, the empty platitudes. Hope, is the beginning of change, he thought. Mr. Rahul Gandhi was ready.

Just a few weeks ago in the maddening cacophony of an election campaign in Gujarat, Mr. Gandhi had said something that had got lost amidst more colorful provocations like a ” 50 crore girlfriend”. He had said that we needed the “politics of love”. In a world that measures and evaluates everyone daily on materialism, statistics, valuations and appearances, it sounded grotesque, out of place, and as someone said to me, “soft”. But practically all missed the point; Mr. Gandhi was in Gujarat which had seen a sinister state-sponsored attack on vulnerable minorities just a decade earlier. And for him, it was about reconciliation over revenge, remorse over retribution. Societies need to heal, and for that they need reassurance, strength and caring, not a policy of arithmetical calculation of religious communities populating the state.

At Jaipur, his politics of love took on an emotional scale, interspersed with a rare candidness about what lies ahead for the Congress, and more importantly, for the country. He knows that to resurrect the Congress to its halcyon days of heady single-party dominance of the Indian psyche would mean some sacrifices, adopting newer ways to overcome the lassitude and lackadaisical attitude that can invariably set in over years of governance. Status quo can cause an irreversible decline, Mr. Gandhi knew that. The intent is good, the talent is enormous, and as a leader he recognized that the Congress party needs to seize the moment, given its prodigious experience, landmark initiatives and bustling youth power. He called a spade a spade, a shovel a shovel, noticing with a tongue-in-cheek smile that despite their success the Congress sometimes did not know how it happened, lacking as they did on an organized cadre and smart internal party processes. It was refreshing, a in-your-face self-examination fearless of the consequences of sharing some inner fragilities with the people of India. It was cathartic, the absence of cosmetics , the presence of truth. Everyone even in their households and corporate and government offices connected with him, don’t we sometimes wonder how it all works for us daily, as if by some divine intervention? And yet, the need to reduce heavenly blessings for our success is primordial, isn’t it?

When he shared his deepest personal sorrow on the tragedies he saw when so young, I think he unloaded himself of a mighty emotional weight that he has carried, the pain of loss. We can empathise with someone’s anguish , but the sadness and pain is usually deep, personal, beyond reach. This was not a calibrated outpouring of grief, but a desire to let us know that we are all human. That hidden behind the power, fame and success lies hearts and heads that experience the same feelings we do. Mr. Gandhi is no exception, he is one of us.

Predictably, everyone branded it as Rahul’s “Obama moment”, but in fact, it was India’s “Rahul moment”; simple, down-to-earth, honest and straight from the heart. For a man whom many think is media-shy and communication averse, he involuntarily just stated the obvious, that to connect with the people, you sometimes need to go beyond a script, beyond fears, beyond the politically correct. There is no need to be avant garde or alpha, just be yourself.

Mr. Gandhi is a marathon man, never too thrilled with wins, and rarely to slump when down. He is aware of the loneliness of a long-distance runner, but what the heck, the journey is one to always look forward to. On your marks, get set and go…

Update on 03-04-2014

In 2004, when the Congress-UPA stunned the world, stock markets collapsed in a downward spiral but in 2009 there was a circuit-breaker on the BSE to prevent an upward leap in stocks from sky-rocketing. The corporate world is recalculating financial plans; the bulls are snorting after a long snooze as the stock-markets breach the 20000 barrier repeatedly in 2013 despite it being a modest year.  But as India’s young leader has insisted all along, India is yet to shine. He said the same at his first formal interaction with industry bigwigs.

Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s speech to the vast assembly of industry leaders at CII (Confederation of Indian industry) was expectedly keenly awaited. Everyone was curious to see the mental milestones and visionary roadmap of a leader of the future. From the moment he began his talk many thronged their small screens to hear his vision of a modern, evolving India. In certain subterranean offices, bleary-eyed members of the trained BJP social media team ( a well-oiled paid army) began their preordained ridiculing of him as if in effortless tandem. Some veteran media analysts well past their prime time perhaps wrote their critical report a day earlier, to meet newspaper deadlines. TV screens carried slug-shots with breaking news on every new sentence of Mr. Gandhi. And soon everyone was an expert on Mr. Gandhi’s speech, even before he began his Q&A session. At the end, the discerning (including several CEOs) gave him a standing ovation, while the cynics carped and complained characteristic of their character, with profuse relish. Reams of newsprint and the bottomless blogosphere were extravagantly consumed by rigorous analysis of his speech. But it is still good news for Mr. Gandhi- whether an orchestrated downpour of negativity on social media or unbiased editorial assessment, he had hit the right buttons.

His speech worked because he was not making a party or personal pitch or a program-specific talk. It was a talk on the changing economic and social fabric of India and the role of the various stakeholders; corporate India being a crucial component of that emerging India story, the other being the political establishment and the role of transparent governance. Interestingly, the morning headlines of that day was inescapable- Sterlite, part of the multi-billion Vedanta Group which Mr. Gandhi had protested against in Orissa, was fined Rs 100 crore for causing pollution. The Economist had talked earlier in the week of India becoming a great military superpower in a global security context. Understanding the larger ecosystem needs sensitivity, but sensibilities are normally scarce. Mr. Gandhi picked up the gauntlet.

He assuaged apprehensive CEOs sporting deep frowns at the very beginning, that an anti-poverty focus would not be enough, that a public-private partnership model was imperative in several sectors if India needed to keep its growth rate going northwards. Industry and business are indeed key stakeholders in the fast-growing India story. For a usually cribbing India Inc, that was a message favoring “participative liberalization” that would encompass areas beyond hard physical infrastructure to soft power like education. Without saying so in so many words, Mr. Gandhi hinted that the demographic dividend stood to becoming a non-performing liability, with harmful social consequences if not properly channelized. His critics perhaps wanted him to talk about the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) and financial investments, but this was not a cabinet minister talking shop. To get to the prescription, first you have to know the panacea, hinted Mr. Gandhi. His speech mirrored his philosophy, and that of his party; there is no alternative to Congress’s inclusive growth agenda. Equity must be integral to our economic progress.  That is India’s best and only alternative development model. Prof. Amartya Sen would probably agree with that.

A less mature person or the conventional political leader would have rattled some compelling statistics of the UPA- strong GDP growth second only to China in the ‘great recession’ era post-2007 comprising of the US fiscal cliff and a dark Euro vision, doubling of per capita income, RTI, Lokpal Bill, FDI in multi-brand retail, Direct Benefits Transfer, Food Security, MNREGA, Anti-Money Laundering Bill, Companies Bill, RTE, Criminal Amendment Bill, Whistleblower’s Bill, Aadhar, reduction in poverty etc. But instead of indulging in self-congratulations, Mr.  Gandhi bit the bullet. A true leader lives in the moment, he does not bask on past adulations. His main focus seemed evident; beyond the explosive GDP growth numbers, could we afford to be nonchalant about rising social and economic inequalities just because they did not make for TRP worthy debates? Or because it sounds monotonous and drab to dark suited CEOs sermonizing on India with the Swiss Alps in the background? Free market capitalism is fine for growth, but can that enterprising engine fuel concentration of resources leading to a lopsided nation on a tilt? Almost 300 million people have no electricity yet and approximately the same number receive supply for just 4-5 hours per day.

One thing was obvious, not many CEOs in that audience or I dare say as many parliamentarians, have known India as much as Mr. Rahul Gandhi has, at least since his political debut in 2004. Even our media only does its annual India darshan rituals come elections. When was the last time you saw a well known media personality comment on a communal conflagration in Pratapgarh or Muzzafarnagar, Uttar Pradesh or farmer suicides in Gujarat’s Saurashstra region or the tribal violence in Kalahandi, Orissa? It is far easier to hang around in Lutyen’s Delhi with a crestfallen countenance making lengthy lamentations. Mr. Gandhi is rewriting India’s script. A friend’s son studying MBA at Cornell, USA said he was overwhelmed. “This is the kind of leader India needs,” he called to say. Young students I know, said he talks and thinks about India with “care and concern. We trust him completely”.  But you have to see Mr. Gandhi in the heart of a fighting, determined, aspirational India in its woeful interiors to understand his deep engagement with the aam aadmi. Knowing the real India gives you a different quality of confidence, far beyond the cool aplomb of a sound byte manufacturing machine. On that day at CII, it showed. You know the people that you need to lift up the income and quality of life curve, whom you represent, whose lives depend upon your delivery.

Update on 04-04-2014

There are those prejudiced urban commentators who sit in five-star hotels over camembert soufflé and mock “Mr. Rahul Gandhi and his discovery of India”. But the truth is that they will probably collapse in the sweltering heat if they go beyond the Bandra-Worli sea link. India is a complex country in a fascinating stage of its breakneck speed evolution. That’s why people like Mr. Patrick French, Mr. William Dalrymple, Mr. Mark Tully, Mr. Amartya Sen, Lord Meghnad Desai and Dr Shashi Tharoor, and a host of other authors try and demystify it. Mr. Gandhi knows that the real India story is an endless quest, and its discovery is never ending. Even if you feel you have figured out the intriguing puzzle, it will be an ephemeral sighting, because by the time the geographical peregrinations are over, the country would have mutated into another dimension altogether. With 800 million people living in the villages, it will be foolhardy to pretend that India can afford to be complacent.

His most telling observation was that India needed exponential solutions, not incremental ones given its extraordinary issues. The age of insouciant gradualism in effecting change was over. It was not about reforming India anymore, it was about transforming it. Implicit was the admission that governments (including his own) have a gigantic task ahead. So be it. On Centre-state relations Mr. Gandhi  hinted at the devolution of power, on the growing impact of the institution of panchayati raj, because the budgetary allocations of the Centre has little meaning if state governments do not energize their systems of delivery to the last mile for parochial political reasons. Instead of talking about the NCTC, he went on to explain the philosophical and the realpolitik tangle that cripples equations in our federal structure and impacts the common man. He avoided the bland cliché of the tiger versus the elephant analogy that is often used to describe us as a nation; the beehive instead has that restless, indefatigable, kinetic passion about it, and a buzz too.

Fact is, all over the world it is recognized that decentralization in terms of transferring power to local councils is important for development.  13 Lastly, rights approach plays an important role in improving implementation for development programmes. Right to food, right to health, right to education, right to employment, right to information, etc. put pressures on governments to deliver the services to citizens. Basically we have to go beyond supply side and focus on demand side. Social pressures are needed for public action. Better monitoring systems have to be developed at central at central, state, district, and village levels to realize right. Justifiability is one aspect of rights. In this context, recent Supreme Court Orders in India to have mid-day meals in schools is in the right direction. However, one (particularly the poor) cannot go court every time right is violated. It is the responsibility of citizens and NGOs to organize campaigns for better functioning of the programmes. Public accountability is crucial for the success of right to food. Also you cannot have legal aspect for every right. For example, rights of a girl child to have a food within a household cannot have legal aspect. It is the responsibility of the parents to treat boys and girls equally,” says Mr. S Mahendra Dev

Mr. Gandhi could happily let Congress take credit for young India’s remarkable journey since Independence. A few stats will suffice: 90% lived below the poverty line in 1947 (22% now), life expectancy was 27 years (70 years currently) and a tele-density of 1 as late as in 1994 (India has 970 million mobile connections). But he is perhaps the last man standing who wants cheap applause.

Mr. Gandhi believes power is about responsibility and accountability not just powerful ceremonial titles 14 “I want to talk to you about Power. Last night everyone congratulated me. Many of you came and hugged me and congratulated me. Everybody congratulated me. But last night my mother came to my room and she sat with me and she cried. Why did she cry? She cried because she understands that the power so many seek is actually a poison. She can see it because of what it does to the people around her and the people they love. But most importantly she can see it because she is not attached to it. The only antidote to this poison is for all of us to see it for what it really is and not become attached to it. We should not chase power for the attributes of power. We should only use it to empower the voiceless. Today India is not like it was in 1984. We are no longer seen as worthless. Today the entire world is courting us. Today we are the future. And as I said before, nation’s are not built on schemes and plans. They are raised on a foundation of hope. I am standing here because I believe that the Congress Party is a symbol of this hope andhas the potential to embody it. I’d like to end again by saying that for me the Congress Party is now my life. The people of India are my life. And I will fight for the people of India and for this Party. I will fight with everything I have.”

The bottom line is that solutions only come to those who are first aware of the problems that exist and are willing to acknowledge it. Usually, a majority of mankind takes things at face value, happy with cosmetic solutions. Not for Mr. Gandhi. In him, India has a leader with responsible hands and a thinking head. He seems to believe in leading India forward like a shepherd, one who keeps the flock together, watches their trajectory, strengths and movements, helps those struggling to climb uphill and brings those back into the fold who may have gone transitorily astray, but always giving equal time to all under his watchful guidance. He does so from behind, leading quietly and steadily but with unflagging commitment, never hesitating to run ahead and give some cautionary advice or a brief sermon if that is required. The shepherd thus lets his flock choose direction and become a part of the solution, part of the journey. For him the journey only ends when the entire flock reaches the comfort of home, ensured by his comforting presence and guidance. There is no discrimination or favor to any amongst his flock, the inclusiveness is ecumenical. Mr. Gandhi is a shepherd who clearly walks the talk.

To be continued…

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