The results of the four Assembly elections have reinforced what most had predicted – that the Congress is in a perceptibly irrevocable spiral downwards. They have been swept aside by the Bharatiya Janata Party in all four states. In Rajasthan they could manage just 21 seats in an assembly of 199. Eighty percent of the seats went to the Bharatiya Janata Party. In Madhya Pradesh too Congress has been decisively routed. In Chhattisgarh it was a closer contest and sometime on that Sunday afternoon the Congress was leading in 49 seats and BJP trailed with leads in 39 seats. By evening the tally had interchanged and BJP won 49 to Congress’s 39. For the BJP this has come as a major boost to their chances in 2014 general elections.
In Rajasthan the Ashok Gehlot government faced the ire of the people and sops thrown at the populace were rejected with utter contempt. The people wanted governance and development and when they did not get what they wanted they threw out the Congress government without a thought. This should be a lesson for Vasundhara Raje Sindhia who will take up the mantle of the Chief Minister. She will be the third women CM in India,which is remarkable indeed.
Both Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Dr. Raman Singh showed that there is nothing called anti-incumbency if you administer well enough. Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s humble demeanour and his ability to connect with the people has given him and his party rich dividends. Dr. Raman Singh’s success is even more commendable as Chhattisgarh is facing Maoist threat. Parts of the state are almost no-go zones where the writ of the Maoists runs. Here there is little voting and Ajit Jogi of the Congress has clout. Yet to win decisively shows how the man has worked for the state and has managed development. The good work of the BJP governments has been appreciated and rewarded by the people. The mainstream media fails to appreciate pro-incumbency of the BJP governments and it is indeed unfortunate that these states and their governance is not studied closely.
It is Delhi elections that came as a big surprise. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won 28 seats and the Congress was left with just 8 seats. BJP with 32 seats emerged as the single largest party. The Modi effect was evident in Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh but it was Delhi that benefitted the most from Modi rallies. I am not sure BJP would have emerged as the party with maximum seats if Narendra Modi had not campaigned in Delhi. There is a Modi wave and that must be accepted. The complete annihilation of the Congress in MP and Rajasthan is a direct result of a Modi wave sweeping the country.
Poor showing by Congress and Rahul Gandhi is the big news in these elections. The complete rejection of the Congress style of politics and economics is very clear from these results. The bad news is that the Congress has not realized the gravity of the problem that is facing them. The rise of the fledgling AAP is the other big takeaway from these elections. The problem in Delhi is that no party has a clear majority and BJP is a political pariah. AAP is posturing a saintly equidistance from both the Congress and the BJP. The truth of the matter is that while with the BJP there is a real problem of finding suitors with the AAP there is no such problem. They can command the Congress to support them. The fact is that the AAP is shying away from taking responsibility. Their game plan is to spread out in the rest of the country on an anti-corruption, inflation plank and then grab power directly at the Centre. This is negating the mandate that the people have given them. They should be confident about their policies and programs and with the kind of talent that they claim to have they should not find it difficult to give a government that functions.
The AAP performance has been spectacular by any yard stick. Arvind Kejriwal defeated Sheila Dixit in her own backyard and that was as stunning a result as any that the nation has ever seen. This victory by a political upstart is being compared to Raj Narayan’s victory against Indira Gandhi in the ‘70’s. Other candidates of AAP also won against political heavy weights of the Congress Party. I agree that there was a political fatigue and people wanted a change, but even so, such a stunning result was never expected. Clearly people are fed up of price rise and corruption and want a clean administration. The skyrocketing of prices of basic vegetables hurt every household and that contributed to the massive reaction against the Congress government. AAP positioned itself as the messiah of the poor and the down trodden. The Middle Class too voted for them as basic essentials had become out of reach for them. It was also their style of campaigning that helped them win. AAP did not go in for huge rallies rather they organized small street corner meetings where they said what they had to say and more importantly listened to what the people had to say. This close people to people contact helped them win confidence of the masses and they voted for the AAP decisively.
AAP’s reluctance to form government should not be construed as them limiting to Delhi alone. Kejriwal and his storm troopers have national ambitions and they make no bones about it. They already have a presence in 306 districts with a well organized hierarchy. The Left of the Centre space that the Congress has always held maybe slipping out of their hands. There is every possibility that AAP may be a bigger threat to the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections than the Congress. I know that Congress has roots and it may not be very easy to completely obliterate the party, yet to ignore the ambitions of the AAP will not be prudent either.
The rise of the AAP is because of the lack of decision making by the Congress government at the centre. This also means a big setback to industrialization and development of the country. AAP is overtly anti-business. AAP may elbow out the Congress in the years to come and that does not bode well for the country. This may well happen as Rahul Gandhi’s statement post the electoral debacle lacked the understanding of the situation staring his party. He seems to be clueless of the challenges and how to tackle them. Already there are calls for his sister Priyanka to take the lead. Sonia Gandhi, it seems has left the day today running of the party to Rahul Gandhi. If the top leadership is rudderless one can imagine where the party is headed. Congress may be writing their own obituary if they do not come out of their slumber.
The massive BJP victory was celebrated at the bourses with a jump in the Sensex of more than 2%. Clearly the nation is looking forward to a BJP government post 2014. The question remains whether this Manmohan Singh government has any moral right to remain in power after such a drubbing. No one is asking this simple question.
Repeated surveys have shown that the BJP led NDA will do better than Congress led UPA. The latest CNN-IBN and The Week magazine polls have given the NDA between 175-195 seats and the UPA between 115 to 140 seats. Surprisingly it is the remaining parties which can be termed as the Third Front that is getting more than 200 seats according to these polls. The survey was limited to these four states that are going to the polls but do give an idea of which way the wind is blowing.
From the various polls conducted it is clear that the BJP is sweeping in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan. Congress tally will dip considerably. But are these states sufficient to bring the NDA to power in the centre? The answer is a resounding NO! BJP and NDA will have to do much better than last time in other states, most critically Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar. If they can ally with Prafull Mahanta and make a dent in Assam it will be an added bonus. Andhra will vote for regional parties whether it is the TRS (Telangana Rashtriya Samiti) or Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress. Telugu Desam Party will chip in with a few seats and it appears that Chandrababu Naidu already has a pact with the NDA. Jagan Reddy is also in touch with the BJP although the Hindu party is anti-thesis to his ideology, yet his angst with Congress is such that he will not hesitate to ally with the BJP if it ensures a Congress defeat.
There is a wave in favour of Narendra Modi. Where ever he has gone he has managed good response. He is a good communicator. Contrast that with Rahul Gandhi’s innumerable faux passes and it adds to the Modi aura. People compare what options they have. The electronic media has brought Modi to the homes of millions of Indians. People are flocking to his rallies.
The CNN-IBN/The Week polls have shown the tally of around 180 seats to the NDA when the campaigning has not even begun. Once the campaigning is in full swing the national mood should shift more decisively towards NDA and Modi led BJP.
People are not fools. They observe and then they decide. The biggest help that Modi has received has been from the UPA itself. Their non-performance has forced the electorate into the lap of the NDA. The government is just not functioning. Ideologues like Aruna Roy may counter that massive welfare schemes have been started with a view to benefitting the poor. The question remains, do the people want to live on doles or do they want jobs and a fair price for their produce. From the kind of tumultuous response that Narendra Modi has got it appears that these welfare schemes have left the common Indian dissatisfied. Nothing else can explain the fanatical response that Narendra Modi is receiving.
The good news from NDA’s point of view is that in Uttar Pradesh which sends some 80 MP’s to the Lok Sabha there has seen mis-governance by the Samajwadi Party. People are absolutely dissatisfied with the way this government in Lucknow is functioning. Riots, which had become a thing of the past have again taken place and more than 50,000 people have been displaced while hundreds have lost their lives. There is no developmental work and people are not sure who calls the shots in Lucknow – whether it is Akhilesh Yadav or his father Mulayam Singh Yadav or their close confidante Azam Khan. This dissatisfaction has led to a vacuum in Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati and the Congress may have a pact in UP. But if they don’t then BJP should gain. It must be remembered that people vote differently in Assembly elections and in Lok Sabha elections. If the people feel that BJP led NDA is winning in other states they may decide to vote for them rather than for a regional party like the BSP or the SP. The Modi wave in the Hindi heartland should extend to Uttar Pradesh too. If the BJP organizes well, and with a man like Amit Shah at the helm, the BJP could very well win anything between 30 to 40 seats in Uttar Pradesh.
Bihar is another important state. The parting of ways between the JD(U) and the BJP has been a blow to NDA but all is not lost. People are realizing that while Nitish Kumar is doing a better job than Lalu Yadav, it was Sushil Modi who was behind the good governance in Bihar. It is the two Modi’s that will fetch votes for the BJP in Bihar. There is every possibility that JD(U) might ally with the Congress. Alternatively they may not. The bloopers galore from Rahul Gandhi may make them do a re-think. Nitish Kumar has reiterated in his speeches that their anti-Congress stance is intact. If Congress finds an obdurate Nitish-Sharad team difficult to pacify then they might go along with Lalu Yadav. If such a development takes place Lalu Yadav may get bail and start campaigning in right earnest. If there is a three cornered fight between the BJP, JD(U) and Cong-RJD combine I reckon JD(U) and Cong-RJD will split votes and the net gainer should be the BJP. People have not liked JD(U) parting ways with the BJP. There is a simmering discontent within the JD(U) and the party may split before the elections. BJP should do better in Bihar than most psephologists are predicting.
Maharashtra has become an extension of the Hindi heartland. The kind of response that Narendra Modi got at the Mumbai airport showed which way the wind is blowing. Corruption charges and lack of governance have been the bane of Congress-NCP rule. There has hardly been any development and successive chief ministers have failed to deliver. There is an anti-Congress-NCP mood in Maharashtra but the question is – will the Modi led BJP and their allies the Shiv Sena be able to capitalize on it. The question veers to the role of Raj Thackrey’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and how it will impact the chances of the saffron brigade. Gopinath Munde of the BJP has been trying hard to tinker a reconciliation between the two cousins – Udhav and Raj Thackrey. If at all the Congress-NCP alliance wins some seats it will be because the two brothers pulling in opposite directions. Modi has a good equation with Raj Thackrey. He can barely stand Udhav. But the political compulsions are such that Shiv Sena has a very deep rooted organization while MNS is still trying to carve a niche for itself. The success or failure of NDA in Maharashtra could be the decisive factor as to whether there will be an NDA government at the Centre.
Odisha and Naveen Patnaik are synonymous now. Yet, it will be foolish to think that there is no room for other parties. Naveen Patnaik has no love lost for the Congress. The problem with Congress is that they do not let regional leaders to consolidate. The times of JB Patnaik are over. Congress needs to cultivate credible leadership in Odisha but now there is no time left. Naveen Patnaik is a three time Chief Minister and people are looking for change. BJP has some regional leaders but none can match Naveen Patnaik’s stature. It will be interesting to see how the people of Odisha vote in the 2014 elections. BJP should do better than what they did earlier.
Assam will be critical too. Can Asom Gana Parishad and BJP chip in with a few seats. Varun Gandhi has been given the onerous task of overseeing Assam. Will the Modi magic extend to Guwahati? If NDA does well in Haryana and Uttarakhand they can gather another few seats. Jammu should send a BJP MP. Punjab with Akali’s should see NDA get most of the seats. Congress is a discredited lot in Punjab.
In Karnataka the Karnataka Janata Party of BS Yeddyurappa is keen to have a regional alliance with the BJP. Efforts are on to get BSY back into the party, but he may not want to go back to his old foes in New Delhi. Besides BSY reckons that in the next election he will be able to gobble up the state unit of the BJP and should emerge as the largest party. He will want to wait and watch. If there is no alliance between the KJP and BJP in Karnataka then Congress should do well. Modi wave without BSY will have little electoral meaning.
I have a hunch that the BJP might win a seat or two in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The Modi effect could be felt there. If the BJP as much as opens an account in either of the two states, it will mean a lot to the NDA.
Is there a Modi wave or is it disillusionment with the Congress. It could well be one because of the other. Regional parties from the North East may also reach out to the BJP though it must be admitted that the role of the Church could mean that they may decide to stay away. Manohar Panniker’s Goa will be another BJP strong-hold and we might see a few BJP Goan Catholics in the parliament.
It is too early to predict the final outcome of the 2014 elections. Security for BJP leadership including Mr. Modi is a cause for concern. Patna serial blasts have been an eye-opener. Better security must be provided to all leaders including Narendra Modi.
It will not be a sweep by the BJP led NDA and a lot will depend on how they manage alliances within different states. What is clear is that there is a perceptible anti-Congress mood in the country and the one hope for people is Narendra Modi. If that translates into votes the BJP should cross the 200 seat mark and with their allies, some of whom may not be in the open as of now, the NDA should be able to cobble together a government that should last its term.
- Big gains likely for BJP, NDA in Lok Sabha polls; big drop for UPA, Congress (ibnlive.in.com)
- Yeddyurappa rules out merger with BJP (thehindu.com)
The political discourse in India is around Narendra Modi. His followers swear by him and his detractors swear at him. What is it about the man that makes him the centre of attraction? The man is honest, even his worst enemies accept that. The present UPA government has failed to perform. There is no doubt that those who feel that UPA will come back to power are decreasing by the day. There seems to be a tsunami for Narendra Modi. The political discourse is that of status quo versus development, about welfare economics versus developmental economics, between huge expenditure on social schemes vs jobs that will give Indians a sense of pride. The two approaches to run the nation are poles apart. Socialism has failed to arrest poverty. Whatever little progress that has been made is after liberalization of the economy. There are some who want to perpetuate license/permit raj. There are some who want more of government while Modi extols the virtues of less government but efficient governance. Narendra Modi believes that the 2014 elections will be fought on the development plank. The liberals and the secularists want to divert the political agenda away from development and on to secularism and then to social welfare. There is a tug of war going on and it is getting more intense by the day.
People have become fed up with doles that are these welfare schemes. They want development, they want jobs. The developmental model of Narendra Modi seems to have caught the imagination of people. Every day figures are thrown around as to how other states are doing better than Gujarat. They say that Gujarat model cannot work in the rest of India. Others who are on the far Left are more blatant in their anti-Modi rhetoric and claim that they do not want development on the dead bodies of minorities (referring to 2002 Gujarat riots) failing to point out the fact that the riots started when 56 kar sevaks which included women and children were burnt alive in a train.
The present UPA government is between a rock and a hard place. They have something called NAC (National Advisory Council) that is a hub of socialists and communists. They propound welfare schemes which their president Sonia Gandhi must listen to and implement. Then the reality check forces them to take a few hesitant step s towards reforms, which again is resented and rebuked by the Left lobby within UPA. Manmohan Singh, a proponent of reforms finds it difficult to justify such expenditure on welfare schemes which he knows are a drain on economy. He is moving in one direction and the decision makers within the government move in another direction. The situation has come to such a pass that the PMO is hardly noticeable and Manmohan Singh is made to look small again and again. The coal scam where he was the coal minister was a major embarrassment for the prime minister.
Rampant graft has been another problem for the UPA government. The credibility of this government is at an all time low. The most audacious and perhaps the ugliest case was when a former railways minister sold a plum board of director’s position for money. That was such a rude shock to the nation that whatever little credibility that remained with the UPAII government vanished. The prime minister was again embarrassed. The most amazing part is that all these graft charges seem not to affect the PM at all and he still continues.
The conflict within the government between the socialists and the reformists is so acute that nothing seems to be moving. The misuse of the RTI has meant that bureaucracy has come to a grinding halt. No decisions are being taken and those taken are being reviewed post haste. The icing on the cake is that laws, especially tax laws are being applied in retrospect which has given a bad name to the nation. Investment climate is so bad that almost $10 billion of investments have been scrapped by Arcelor-Mittal and South Korean steel giant Posco. The sharp fall in Re has been a major setback for the economy. India is no more a part of trillion dollar market cap. Imports are expensive and this is a drain on the economy. Inflation is unabated and rising. India is on a down swing.
The fight between those who want to see India move forward and those who want to remain in the pre-liberalization era is what is at the crux of the matter. And this is where Narendra Modi comes in. The importance of Narendra Modi lies in the fact that he is seen as the anti-thesis to all that ails this nation. Gujarat welcomes investment – the Centre shuns it. Gujarat model of development is aimed at job creation, the UPA model is that of socialism and massive government spending. Narendra Modi is seen as an incorruptible leader and stands as a stark contrast to the rampant graft in the UPA .Narendra Modi is seen as a go getter while Manmohan Singh government is seen as a sermonizer. Narendra Modi seems to be the answer to all that is wrong with the present administration.
There is another sharp contrast between the UPA leadership and Modi. None of the top leaders in the UPA have communication skills as good as Modi. Modi can silence a crowd with his oratory – Manmohan, Sonia and Rahul can’t match him. It is with much thought that Rajnath Singh has taken the bold decision of pitching Narendra Modi in the forefront. Not many would have taken the risk of putting forth Narendra Modi as their campaign leader – for this Rajnath Singh must be commended.
Expectedly, there has been a hysterical backlash from the Congress. There have been some voices from within the BJP too. It is the Congress and their Leftist allies that are shrieking from every roof top that amazes many. They fail to realize that the more they try to run down Narendra Modi the more gaffes they will utter and it will be Modi who will have the last laugh. With the Leftist their angst is more fundamental. They have to serve their masters from across the border. Contain India is their mantra. They do not want to see a resurgent India. They have therefore floated the Aam Admi Party. There are others like Nitish Kumar who want to play it safe and are vying for the elusive Muslim vote bank.
It seems that the way Narendra Modi has become the centre of political discourse will ensure that he is catapulted to power. BJP has announced a series of committees in the run up to 2014 elections. The challenge for Modi will be to oversee that each one of these teams works as per schedule and their targets are met. In modern day elections, it is as much about management as it is about policies. Modi micro-manages everything and that is his strength.
The challenge from within his own party may stunt his chances of leading his party to victory. There are many leaders senior to Modi and some of them have shown their displeasure at Rajnath’s decision to give Modi the mantle. The names are many. The latest outburst by Shatrughan Sinha is not an innocuous observation. He has been asked by members of his own party to say what he did. Even if Modi does manage to get the BJP and its allies the maximum number of seats there is no guarantee that he will become the PM. Elements from within the party will try till the very end to see to it that the man is denied the top job.
Whether Narendra Modi succeeds or fails in 2014, the fact of the matter is that the tug of war between the reformists and the rightists and those who propound a socialistic, Communist way forward for the nation is a very real one. For now, Narendra Modi and his doctrine seem to have caught the imagination of the nation. Will that translate into votes is another matter. The success or failure of Modi could be decisive for the future of India. I am not sure common Indians realize the high stakes in the elections of 2014.
There has to be an occasion to venture out. This time it was the visit of my kid sister along with two of her children that made us venture out. She has come all the way from California and we wanted to show her the very beat. The obvious choice was the famed tourist triangle of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur.
From Delhi we took the Yamuna Expressway. It cut our journey by an hour we were told. The smooth ride on the Expressway did brighten our spirits. The by-lanes of Agra are like any other town. The road leading to the Taj Mahal was relatively good. An electric car dropped us o the ticket counter. There were camel carts and tongas or horse drawn carriages too. I was just a bit excited as I had never seen the Taj. We were inundated by guides whoi wanted to show us around. It was difficult to ward them off. I finally hired a guide Mohammad Reza to show us around. It was a good decision. Reza made our visit to the Taj a smooth one and told us some rudimentary history of the monument. The visibly old architecture around us as we moved to the ticket counter was a prelude to the things to come.
The huge gate to the Taj with Arabic inscriptions and eleven domes on the outside was a sight to behold. We were overawed by the beauty of this red sandstone structure that stared at us. The hot oven like pathway found us sweating profusely. The Taj was nowhere to be seen. I clicked around furiously. I did not want to miss anything at all. Reza told us about how it took 22 years to build the Taj and how the progeny of the artisans of those times still can be found in the back lanes of the Taj.
We walked through the huge gate and the Taj seems to appear out of nowhere. It was like a rising sun as we walked towards it. The first sight of this beautiful monument of love was unforgettable. The famed domed structure ensconced in the middle and the minarets flanking on both sides.
It is true that the Taj is a cemetery of Emperor Shahjehan and his wife Mumtaz Mehal, but there is no gloom surrounding the place. On the contrary this is a place of joie de
vivre. Perhaps the Emperor wanted it this way. The Taj is a celebration of love and that is how he wanted it to be.
It is truly an architectural marvel.The calligraphy intricate and the carvings deserve a closer look. This is not painted but stones carved to the exact precision and inserted into the white marble. This is craftsmanship of the highest order.
At the back is the Yamuna quietly flowing down – her serenity a contrast to the audacity of the Taj – perhaps the right foil to the majesty of the marble structure.
Flanking the Taj on the left is the Jama Masjid where the faithful still pray on the day of Juma or Fridays.
A similar structure flanks the Taj to the right, to maintain balance, our guide Reza told us.
As we headed to the back of the Taj we could see the Red Fort from where Emperor Shahjehan used to watch his beloved Taj when he was imprisoned by his son. We were engulfed by history around us. The walls of the Taj seemed to be whispering to us. The Red Fort seemed to beckon us. It was the serenity of the place that subdued us a bit. The heat of July was another reason for our sobriety.
Having seen the Taj up close and around we finally entered the magnificent structure. It was dimly lit inside and there was an unmistakable stench.
Was it the stench of the milling crowds or of death, I never could discover. What I did realize was that the two tombs in front of us were those of Shah Jehan and Mumtaz Mehal. The grander one was that of the Emperor and the lesser one that of his beloved wife. The intricate carving of the marble mesh was the one striking feature of the Taj from inside. The crowds inside drove us out and the fresh air that greeted us was rejuvenating.
An hour and a half from the Taj is the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri that was built by Emperor Akbar.
A city bus took us to the gates of this famed but desolate city. A Rs 20 ticket got us through. I had heard a lot about Fatehpur Sikri. The place did not disappoint us at all. There are some 42 structures in this abandoned city which once was a hub of activity. The palace of Jodhabai, one of the wives of Akbar stood proudly. There were courtyards upon courtyards with beautifully carved lawns in the middle. Ponds and water storage tanks which sustained life gave the lace an aura of its own. The red sandstone structures were delightful. The Diwan-e Aam and the Diwan e-Khas made us imagine how life would have been in times past. I must compliment the Archaeological Survey of India for maintaining the place so well. Fatehpur Sikri was a delightful experience.
We had limited time on our hands and we tried to make the best of it. It was clear to us that exploring the whole of Fatehpur Sikri was well nigh impossible. Jaipur beckoned us and we had to move on. We got on to the city bus and to our car. Another few hours and we would be in Jaipur.
An uneventful ride to the Pink City till the rains lashed in. And then there was tedious search for our hotel in the dirty by-lanes of Jaipur when we finally reached Umaid Bhavan (http://www.umaidbhawan.com/) This little period haveli (small palace) of the Rathores was such a beautiful refuge from the heat and dust of North India in the month of July that nothing could have been more welcome.
The ornate architecture of the hotel with each room having a unique ambiance was a respite. Th
e food in their restaurant was just right – not too spicy and neither was it bland. We could do little else. We hit the sack.
Come morn and rains greeted us again. The ladies of our group could not care less. They headed for the bazaars of Jaipur. A few hours later while we lazed in Umaid Bhavan they came back with tons of clothes and ethnic stuff that they thought was dirt cheap. But then when have I heard women complain about the prices. They always get the best deals, don’t they. Sightseeing was the last thing on their minds. We were too tired to venture out. The rains did not help either.
By evening we decided to have a look at a village resort called Chowki Dhani. It was miniature Rajasthan. There were tribal dancers, there were magicians, puppeteers, food stalls, ethinic clothes and footwear and a lot more. The Rs 500 coupon entitled us to a typical Rajasthani meal. We sat down for dinner. We had expected a spicy platter but were just not ready for what was served. It was authentic Rajasthani fare but just a bit too spicy and oily for our taste. What stood out was a churma (sweet mishmash of a crushed wheat ball with jaggery and lots of clarified butter) which was just right. A quick getaway and we were back to the comforts of Umaid Bhawan.
A hasty breakfast (tariff includes breakfast) of curd, milk and cereals, an omelet, fruits, pancakes and some luscious lemon drink saw us back on the road to Delhi. The seven hour ride to Delhi was nothing to write about except that it was extraordinarily tiring. We were happy to be home. Would I do the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur tour again? Oh! Yes!! But will make sure we have more time at our hands.
Acknowledgement: Most of the photos were taken by my 15 year old niece, Avni Vaid with a rudimentary Nikon Coolpix AW100.
John Kerry has been in the sub-continent quiet a few times but it is the first time he is coming to India after taking office as the Secretary of State. With the deadline of 2014 for the exit of American forces looming large he has little time to sew things up. After war and acrimony the US has decided to talk to the Taliban including the Haqqani group. This has raised the hackles of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He has also objected to Taliban claiming to represent the people of Afghanistan and calling his nation Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, in effect making his office inconsequential. Karzai sees his nation as secular and any such overt expression of religious moorings does not go down well with the present setup. Besides this is what the Taliban want Afghanistan to be and if such nomenclature is accepted then it will in effect be an acceptance of the radical Taliban point of view which is anathema to duly elected Karzai.
For the Americans, they couldn’t care less. Their priority is to get their troops back home safely. To John Kerry and President Obama, the safety of their troops is of utmost importance. The Doha office of the Taliban was set up precisely for this purpose. Some 20 warlords with their families live in the palatial Doha office of the Taliban. They claim that the Qataris are paying for the Taliban office. I would not be surprised if the Americans are found to be footing the bill for the Taliban office and the upkeep of the leaders living there. Americans have come around to the fact that this is a war they cannot win. They cannot annihilate the Taliban or overpower them. So the best bet is to make a deal with them. But this is nothing new. Such backdoor dialogue with the Taliban has been going on for some years now. The difference though is that the Taliban have been given an official sanction and are being courted openly. Their amazing chutzpah in offering a swap of Afghans in Guantanamo for an American Sergent they captured in 2009 is an indicator of how far back the American are ready to bend to accommodate them.
The incredible part is that while the Taliban are enjoying American hospitality their fighters are putting the pressure on the American forces and the Afghan security-men trained by the Americans. Americans are returning the favors by unleashing drone attacks. A recent attack in Kabul where suicide bombers attacked Baghram Airbase was thwarted by the Afghan forces while the Americans remained in the background. This was seen as a great achievement – the way they repulse d the attack. But the crucial factor was that the Americans remained in the background. How would have the same attack panned out had the American forces not been there is what experts are asking
Hamid Karzaai made his displeasure clear when he found that the Americans had included the Haqqanis in talks. The al-Qaeda link with the Haqqanis is well known. Americans had vowed not to talk to the Haqqanis. But now they have made a U turn and invited them as well. Clearly, it is a desperate situation. The mess in Afghanistan is as bad as it can get. The question for Kerry is – how to ensure that the American forces make a quiet exit and his president’s words are honored. John Kerry knows that if Karzai will listen to anyone it is the Indians. His trip to India is to make sure India uses its leverage to ensure Karzai is a willing participant in the talks. Already Karzai has toned down his rhetoric. Karzai is looking at a post 2014 American withdrawal scenario. In public he postures that the Taliban can never return. But clearly, the man is on the edge. He is suspicious of all and sundry and has few friends. For him an American end game is as much an end game for him too. His posturing therefore has to be seen in a context. The fate of Najibullah is still fresh in the minds of many Afghans.
There are two lacunae in the Johan Kerry and Obama administration’s game plan. The first is that they have not made it clear as to what kind of commitment they plan to have in Afghanistan post 2014. What they have said is that American forces will be in non-combat role post 2014. They are increasingly giving charge to Afghan forces. It is the number of forces that will remain in Afghanistan post 2014 that is the critical question. If there are enough forces to ward off any insurgent attack then there is a credible deterrence against the Taliban. It is the numbers that matter. And lets be clear – any force worth its salt should be ready to fight if they have to. This American posturing that their forces will remain in Afghanistan as non-combatants is pure baloney. Afghanistan is not an American base as in Okinawa or in Germany. This is an outpost in a volatile region that will see combat from time to time. America may have called for an end to war in Afghanistan but the critical question is whether Taliban have called for an end too. And therein lies the reason for a frantic urge for negotiations with the Taliban. The question is – can the Americans buy peace. Anyone who knows South Asia will say that Americans are being naive. But what other choice do they have? The answer is – none.
The other gap in this equation is the absence of Pakistani Taliban – the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. It is true that the ISI and the army hold the key to TTP and it is also true that the US has influence with the ISI and the Pakistan Army. But what they are under-estimating is the will of the Pakistan army to have sway in Afghanistan. If we are to look at the history of Pakistan-US relations we find that invariably US has been able to get its way. Yes they have had to pay a price but they have always managed to arm-twist Pakistan into submission. They understand that they may have to negotiate with Pakistan separately but they also know that the Pakistan conundrum is comparatively a predictable one. It is the Afghan Taliban that they need to work on. I am sure they are aware that the one non-negotiable from Pakistan point of view is that once Americans withdraw Pakistan will be free to do as they wish in Afghanistan – which in effect means they will unleash TTP and Afghan Taliban and try and over-run the country. Americans may let Pakistan have a free hand post their withdrawal, which is exactly what India would not like. I will not be surprised if Americans ignore India’s pleas and let Pakistan do as they wish.
For John Kerry and his team a trip to India maybe to make sure Karzai comes around. India will negotiate. They may want David Coleman Headley for a couple of years to sew some terror related cases that are pending in our courts. India understands Obama’s sense of urgency as far as the closure to the Afghan operations is concerned. India will try and make sure Afghanistan does not fall into the hands of Pakistan sponsored Taliban. Karzai and India are keen to get some kind of commitment from Kerry as far as post 2014 troop deployment by the Americans is concerned. The US and their European allies in NATO have indicated to a security cover for Afghanistan till the year 2021. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen had clearly stated NATO’s resolve to have adequate forces in Afghanistan so that the developmental work done in this critical nation does not come apart. Besides, NATO would hate to leave a vacuum in Afghanistan. The law of nature is such that vacuums are generally filled in no time. This mineral rich nation must not be abandoned just quiet so quickly. John Kerry has a handful on his plate. We might see a lot more of John Kerry in the run-up to the 2014 withdrawal.
Note: The insistence of the Taliban to call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with the Afghan flag during the talks has not gone well with the Americans either. They have told the Taliban that they shall be called just the Office of the Taliban and if they insist on representing the people of Afghanistan then the talks shall be suspended and their Doha office closed. Its an intractable situation.
In his article (link below) The Doha Initiative, Brig Samson Sharaf of Pakistan army has argued for handing over the power to the Taliban by the Americans as they are the most credible representatives of the people of Afghanistan. That will be a bloodless coup. Elections in Afghanistan are due in 2014. Will NATO go ahead with elections as they withdraw – that is something that the world will be watching. India will hate to see the Taliban back in power by design or by force. As I said earlier Secretary of State John Kerry’s job is unenviable. This is far from being a simple operation of withdrawing troops.
Like so many things in India, the recent Jamata Dal (United) split from their allies in Bihar, the Bharatiya Janata Party was a reaction to media reports rather than any political exigency to part ways. The over-riding concern of the JD(U) was their refusal to give the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Yadav a safe passage to Muslim votes and the return of the MY (Muslim-Yadav) factor in Bihar politics. Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav understood the need to marginalize the RJD and keep Lalu Yadav , politically in check. The recent defeat in Maharajganj bye–elections could have been a factor that may have forced JD(U)’s hand. The one smiling at the political developments in Bihar must have been the Congress, because any set-back to the NDA helps Congress exponentially.
The politics in Bihar may have its moorings in the internal politics of the BJP. It could be that the close ties between Advani and Sharad Yadav may have lead to this extreme pressure to withdraw Narendra Modi as the Chairman of the Campaign Committee of the BJP. It could be that Advani may have withdrawn his resignation in the hopes that such extreme pressure from the JD(U) will ensure a rethink on Modi’s name as the Chairman of the Campaign Committee. The point blank refusal of the BJP to rethink on their decision came as a surprise to the JD(U). The extreme posturing by the JD(U) left them with no alternative but to announce the decision of a split with the BJP. Can the alliance be retrieved yet – it seems unlikely.
The pressure had been building on the JD(U). I must say the JD(U) made a hash of media management. Strong statements from their leaders like Devesh Thakur and others further pushed them into a corner. The JD(U) should have put a blanket ban on anyone from their party making any comments. What happened was to the contrary. That gave fuel to the fire. A 17 year old alliance came crumbling down. Did the media honchos open the bubbly, I do not know. What is clear is that an avoidable rift put a spanner in the NDA. A time-honored alliance between two parties that had respect and chemistry between their leaders said goodbye to each other in a rather acrimonious parting of ways. It was surprising to hear Nitish Kumar lament as to why the BJP ministers including the Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi refused to attend office. It was political propriety that BJP ministers stopped attending office once it was known that there was a chance of the alliance falling apart. It would have been unethical of them had they continued to attend office and perhaps distribute largesse to their faithful at the last minute before demitting office. I know for sure that some Congress ministers have done this but the people watch everything and it would have been against the grain of decency for the BJP ministers to continue till the last minute. The news reports that Nitish Kumar had sacked had little meaning as the BJP ministers had stopped working anyway.
The decision to part ways with the BJP has the Nitish Kumar stamp all along. Sharad Yadav was reluctant to call it quits. He reckoned that JD(U) and BJP alliance was unassailable in Bihar and that if they split both would suffer politically. Nitish Kumar on the other hand was very keen to prove his ‘secular’ credentials. He remarked at the press conference that he was ready to pay any price to uphold his party’s secular values. It is said that Sharad Yadav was unconvinced till the very end but Nitish’s insistence left him no choice but to go with the popular mood in the party.
The splitting of the JD(U) from the BJP in Bihar has been a definite set-back to the NDA. The other NDA partners like Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiv Sena voiced their disappointment at the developments in Bihar. A winning combination has been dismantled. This does not bode well for the NDA at least in the short run. But should the BJP be despondent? The popular mood in Bihar is that it was opportunistic of Nitish Kumar to break the alliance which had got the people’s mandate. The BJP has gone a step further and said that the JD(U) should go to the people and ask for a fresh mandate. They say it is unethical of the JD(U) to manage the 5 odd seats that they require to prove their majority. The Congress has 4 MLA’s but I would be surprised if the JD(U) would ask the Congress for support. Independents will do the job for them.
The question that begs to be answered is – how does the common voter in Bihar perceives the political situation. Nitish’s popularity has gone down. Even in the last elections it is the BJP that won more percentage of seats as compared to the JD(U) though the JD(U) won more seats in absolute terms because they had more candidates in the fray. Sushil Modi, of Bihar BJP has gained in popularity. People find him more responsive to their needs. Other BJP caste leaders like C.P. Thakur and Nandkishore Yadav have also much respect among the people. The BJP will now be the principle opposition party in the Bihar assembly with Sushil Modi as the Leader of the Opposition. He knows the bureaucracy and the Nitish style of functioning inside out. He can attack the government at every juncture, which I guess he will. Nitish may find his friend Sushil Modi a formidable foe.
The BJP may be down but not completely out. They have reason to cheer. The elections in Bihar are in two years time. The good news for the BJP is that all three major parties – the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress are vying for the same pie. All are looking at some caste backing along with the Muslim votes to get them back to power. Nitish is hoping for the Kurmi-Koeri votes plus the Muslims, while the RJD is looking at Yadav-Muslim combine. The Congress is banking on traditional forward caste votes and the Muslims to get to power. The common denominator is the Muslim votes. BJP has no such baggage to carry. Their following in Bihar is more broad based. The Muslim pie will be divided among all the three parties while the BJP has a vote bank intact with a mish-mash of forward castes and the backwards and even the Dalits voting for them. It helps in a way that their main leader – Mr. Sushil Modi does not necessarily belong to any caste – he is an outsider. It is the dogged pursuit to win the hearts of the people of Bihar and his work ethics that catches the imagination of the people. They will vote for the BJP because they believe that Sushil Modi can deliver. Lately, the people of Bihar have become disillusioned with the style of functioning of Ntitsh Kumar. The Maharajganj verdict was not a one-off aberration. It does mirror the sentiments of the people of Bihar. I will be surprised if the JD(U) could repeat its performance in 2015 when the elections are due.
But it will be the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that will be decisive in many ways. JD(U) will field its candidates as will other parties. The ‘secular’ parties will fight it out for the secular votes. I concede that the Muslim voters will vote with one aim in mind – to defeat the BJP. But I have a lurking feeling that the secular agenda is past its expiry date and now the discourse is ‘development’. In that the people of Bihar reckon that it is Sushil Modi, the other Modi, that can deliver. His credibility will help the BJP. In this JD(U)-BJP divorce, the Bihar politics has become a mish-mash of sorts. It is the people of Bihar that may surprise us all in 2014.
Update: Post JD(U) – BJP split Advani has issued a statement that it would be wrong strategy on BJP’s part to go to the polls under one individual’s leadership. Clearly, the JD(U) – BJP split is not an issue based move only, there was internal politics of the BJP that did play a role.
As for Bihar BJP the task at hand will be to win the confidence of the people and to create a niche for themselves. The message from the BJP to the people of Bihar should be that they will give a government that works and has development as its main agenda. BJP will need to work really hard to make the cut.
- JD(U) breaks its 17-year-old alliance with BJP (ibnlive.in.com)
The BJJP conclave in Panji, Goa had one critical agenda – the declaration of Narendra Modi as their chief of election campaign for the 2014 elections. This was a very clever ploy adopted by the BJP top brass to declare Narendra Modi as their de facto Prime Ministerial candidate. They have had their cake and eaten it too. But the anointment of Narendra Modi as their chief of election campaign was predictably not without drama. The protagonist –in-chief of this drama was none other than their mentor and the man who built the party from scratch – Mr. L.K. Advani. The patriarch of the BJP and the NDA refused to attend the Panji conclave on the first day. Rajnath Singh, the president of the BJP said that Advani was unwell and would attend the conclave on the second day. The man did not show up on the second day either. Narendra Modi was declared chief of the election committee amidst much fanfare and hoopla – Indian style. Some over enthusiastic Modi supporters had in the meanwhile demonstrated in front of Advani’s house much to the embarrassment of the party and Mr. Modi in person. Modi distanced himself from these demonstrations.
The culmination of Modi’e elevation as the chief of election committee was the resignation by Avani from all posts of the BJP. He had refrained from resigning as the Convener of the NDA, which was the clue that the man was not serious about his resignation. Voices from all over, especially from the NDA partners urged the grand old man of Indian politics to take back his resignation. It is believed that when Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the Sarsanghchalak of the RSS talked to Advani did he back down. It was needless posturing and definitely an avoidable move. Advani knew the die had been cast and it is Modi time now – the RSS had made it very clear, yet he behaved like a petulant child only to come around later. The RSS had again shown their clout. Not that anyone had any doubts about it.
It is the Congress and their paid media that has played a very comical role in the whole drama that unfolded within the BJP. Congress spokespersons like Renuka Chaudhry and unofficial spokespersons like Digvijay Singh ranted copiously how Advani had been wronged and how ‘communal forces’ had taken over the BJP. Advani was being portrayed as the secular face of the BJP by the Congress. Omar Abdullah tweeted about this unexpected summersault by the media and the Congress. The man who was compared to Sardar Patel and had led Rathyatras was being feted as a martyr by the Congress. It was mischievous of the Congress, as they usually are, but the irony of the situation did not escape many. They would begin by saying that it was the internal matter of the BJP and go on to voice their concern for the way Mr. Advani was being treated! It was chicanery at its best or maybe it’s worst because people could understand Congress’s naughty barbs. It always helps to create schisms in the rival camp, right Mr. Digvijay Singh?
There has been a clamor in the media as regards BJP/NDA’s prime ministerial candidate. Again and again the ‘secular’ media has been asking the BJP leaders as to who would be their PM candidate for 2014 general elections. They refrain from asking the same question to the Congress leaders. Congress has been trying hard to wean away the JD(U) from the NDA. They therefore want the BJP to name Modi as their PM candidate which will then make the position of the JD(U) untenable within the NDA. It is a mischievous question to make life difficult for the BJP and to split the NDA. They have been using other methods too. A magnanimous Rs 15000cr package for Bihar was accepted by the Center. Then they asked for their pound of flesh but the retort they got from Nitish Kumar was that this was Bihar’s right and the Center had done them no favors.
It was the BJP president Rajnath Singh’s resolve that was most surprising. He understood that Modi is the most popular leader in the country as of now. He also knew that Modi at the helm of the campaign trail would be a vote catcher. It was also clear to him that Modi could make some allies uncomfortable. But Rajnath had to take a gamble and take a gamble he did. By anointing Modi as the chief of the campaign committee he has in effect thrown the dice for the 2014 polls. Rajnath Singh reckons that the first challenge for the BJP is to emerge as the single largest party in the 2014 elections. If the BJP can manage to win 30-40 seats more than the Congress, political parties will automatically converge towards the BJP. He knows that getting a complete majority is well nigh impossible, what he is aiming at is to emerge as the single largest party in 2014. That will be a decisive step towards forming the government. He understands that soft Hindutva reduces the BJP as the ‘B’ team of the Congress nullifying any chances of beating the grand old party of Indian politics. He accepts the charisma of Modi and wants to cash in on it, and understandably so. Modi of today is quiet on the lines of Vajpayee of years past, the eloquence perceptible. Rajnath insisted that Modi speak last at the Panji conclave – which was magnanimous on his part.
Rajnath Singh, the wily Thakur from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh is banking on a wave that will be Modi in 2014. The recent sweep by the BJP in the bye elections in Gujarat where they won two parliamentary and four assembly seats by huge margins in constituencies that were traditionally Congress bastions reinforced his conviction that he had to give Modi the charge of leading the campaign. Remarkably and perhaps luckily for him the JD(U) lost the Maharjganj seat to Lalu’s RJD. That gave Lalu a chance to brag and Nitish was forced to explain the defeat. That put the JD(U) on the back foot and gave Modi breathing space while giving Rajnath a chance to justify Modi’s elevation as the chief of the election committee.
While Rajnath Singh must be given credit for the elevation of Modi it would be naïve to believe that it was his decision alone. Clearly the Thakur from Jaunpur had taken a cue from Nagpur and it was the backing of the RSS that gave him the strength to make this decision. Modi’s elevation as the chief of the election committee was a collective decision of the Sangh parivar with such organizations as the VHP and the Bjarang Dal chipping in with their inputs. The elevation of Modi had been decided in principle during the Kumbh at Prayag. Panaji was a culmination of a process that had started almost a year ago. The anti-Modi camp tried hard to deflect the issue and marginalize Modi but the back channel confabulations among the Parviar big-wigs saw Narendra Modi as the clear choice.
Narendra Modi is the face of hard Hindutva. In his speeches he seldom mentions religion, yet the image of the man is one of extreme right. Remarkably, the man who challenged him is not of the secular kind either, but there is a constituency that sees Modi as a hurdle in their larger game plan. Modi mentioned in his speech the constituency that dominates the NAC and those who have been at the forefront against him in Gujarat. These are the people that have hijacked the UPAII not allowing the government to function. The rightist Modi has found support from the Muslims in Gujarat. Rajnath hopes to replicate the Gujarat formula on the national scene. It is true that people tend to vote for the one who they perceive can win – they back the winning candidate. The by-poll sweep by Modi in Gujarat was a testimony to the fact, as was the success of Samajwadi Party in UP and the failure of Yeddyurappa in Karataka where he lost despite being popular just because people did not believe he could win. People do not want to waste votes, so they vote for the one whom they perceive is winning. Modi is riding a wave as of now. Congress’s job is to dispel the notion that Modi is going to be the next PM or that the BJP/NDA is winning anyway. Words will not be enough. they will have to give something tangible to the people. Food Security Bill and MNREGA may not past muster in today’s age of information boom. There is still time, they need to perform. As for Rajnath and the BJP Modi is the answer to Congress misrule. Perhaps rightly so!