Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Socialist Rahul !

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

 Socialist Rahul !

Rahul Gandhi may be inexperienced in the art of mesmerising audiences…… but he is the newest flag captain of a powerful line of socialist thinking

Every election produces its crop of smart Alec in political parties. One of them in the BJP, which always has a surfeit of them, has compared Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi with Rip Van Winkle, the fictional American Dutchman who slept through the twenty years that included America’s independence, to wake into a changed world with the portrait of George lll at the local inn replaced by George Washington’s. Smart Alec’s quip draws from the fact that Rahul is allegedly living in the world of his grandmother Indira Gandhi, and, like her, he is making poverty alleviation the main plank of his election speeches. He says big roads and ports and railways are welcome but he’d make sure that their benefits travel all the way down to the poor labourers who build them. He asks the poor to dream big, like thinking of his son flying in the plane that he now only watches gliding across the sky. The opposition strategists are saying this is rehash of Indira Gandhi’s garibi hatao lines, aimed at the Great Unwashed who can’t see the line separating grand promises from what is on the ground.

Rahul’s speeches are certainly not the best of his attainments. They are often rambling, and have metaphors that tend to go off a tangent. But, with his increasing public exposure, what is indeed visible is his consistent focus on the Congress party’s unvarying socialist ideology. In this context, I’d emphasise the word “socialism”. It was Indira Gandhi who got the word inserted into the preamble to the Indian Constitution.  When she promised to eradicate poverty, she had action to match her words, like nationalization of banks, coal mines and insurance and a massive expansion of the public sector. But that was more than four decades ago. The poor of that era are no longer so poor, and there is a vibrant private sector of the economy to match, if not outgrow, the public sector. But socialism is a creed. It is a philosophy of governance. It does not become outdated from grandmother to grandson. Be it in the US or Europe, socialist thinking is accepted in the West as a non-negotiable principle of governance. That’s the reason why the NHS in Britain or Social Welfare in the US has survived periodic changes in governments. Even Margaret Thatcher, venerable icon in the church of capitalism, did not aim at dismantling NHS. Moreover, she expanded the reach of Britain’s state-funded schools.

Between Rahul Gandhi’s pro-poor stance, and that of his grandmother, there are similarities as well as differences. Indira’s socialism was of an aggressive kind. It had to demolish the legacies of colonialism, like banks that financed only their owners, and coal mines that exploited labour. But neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul promoted aggressive socialism. None of the four pillars on which Sonia Gandhi’s Congress presidency rests—Right to Information Act, MGNREGA, amended land acquisition law and Food Security Act—aims at dismantling any existing institution. The underlying philosophy of such legislation is not populist, nor even socialist in its classical sense; it is closer to the modern European form of socialism which is generally about redistribution of wealth and creation of a welfare state.

Rahul Gandhi may be inexperienced in the art of mesmerising audiences with the choicest invectives aimed at the political opponent, but there is no doubt he is the newest flag captain of a powerful line of socialist thinking that has marked the Indian political system after Independence. It left its mark on the Constitution itself, despite the word “socialism” not being there in the beginning, as I have explained earlier. But its wide popular support is evident from the fact that the Congress has remained in power in all but 10 years since the first general election in 1952. Nor was socialism challenged in the six years of NDA rule under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His party, the BJP, in fact calls itself a believer in socialism, of some kind.

Rahul, in his speeches, is reassuring his people that the Congress under his stewardship will neither move away from its historic brand-identity nor leap backward in time when, to be a socialist, it was necessary to slay the demon of private enterprise. When he talks of “dream”, he is not selling a fantasy; instead, all he is doing is to urge people to demand that their dreams, or desires, are realized. Some time back, when he described poverty as “a state of mind”, there were outcries of protest from BJP trolls in the social media. They should think again. Is poverty entirely measurable in calorific terms, or in terms of daily income expressed in a constant currency? Certainly not, for that would make the search for an equitable society quite meaningless once everyone has been fed up to the required calorie mark. Even after everyone is adequately fed, as in the Western world, socialism survives as there is need for redistribution of wealth.

Rather than worrying about Rahul’s speeches, smart Alec should now pay attention to the threat to India’s socialist tradition implicit in the New BJP. Its ‘thinking brigade’ now argues that the welfare legislations of the past ten years were a disaster, though their party, wary of losing the votes of Joe Public, dared not oppose any of these four legislations. It shows that BJP’s support to the Food Security Bill, for example, was not from its heart. It obviously raises reasonable fear about what will be the future of welfare in a nation under its rule.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Watch, minefield ahead

Modi decided to buy Bullets two months before the Assembly polls. Can he get 4 states to BJP ? Those in the BJP who sincerely wish Narendra Modi to lead the nation after the 2014 poll have no reason to celebrate the announcement of his name as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in such tearing hurry, more than six months before the general election is due, and with a couple of months still to go for the bellwether assembly elections in four mainline states and in the north-eastern state of Mizoram, where the Congress is in power.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Might is Right

Summons to Sonia Gandhi by a New York court proves that judiciary in the US is also over-steeping its jurisdiction with US emerging as “Globoscop”. In issuing summons against Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of India’s ruling UPA and president of the Congress party, during her recent short visit to the US in connection with her medical treatment, the district court in New York has shown a rare arrogance of power and a singular lack of sense of the limitations of the law that it was brandishing. The Alien Torts Statute (ATS) is an 18th century law was aimed at recovering Americans’ dues from British businessmen after the colony’s independence in 1776. In the post-Cold War era, with America’s emergence as “globocop”, this law, in combination with Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA), is being touted as a statute that allows foreign citizens to seek remedies in US courts for crime allegedly committed outside the US. Sikhs for Justice, an advocacy group in the US, obviously had its political motive to file a petition against Mrs Gandhi, a person who was not at all in public life in November 1984, when the atrocities against Sikhs took place in India. The group is remnant from the Pakistan-inspired Sikh separatist movement that had led to the tragic Operation Blue Star, the subsequent assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi in the hands of her Sikh bodyguards, and the retaliatory mob frenzy in which 3000 plus Sikhs were killed . Sonia Gandhi reluctantly joined politics a generation later, in 1998. Of the three main targets of Sikhs for Justice, Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath and Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, the last two were denied party tickets by her in 2009. Nath, on the other hand, was absolved by the Nanavati Commission, instituted in 2000, of the charge of instigating a mob to attack a gurdwara on November 1, 1984. Therefore, with no case pending against him in any Indian court, it is but natural that Nath, regarded as an efficient executive, is continuing in the Union Cabinet during the entire UPA rule. It is true that the police and CBI had botched up the investigation of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots which led to the questionable acquittal of Tytler and Kumar in a lower court. However, the proverbial long arm of the law is showing the firmness of its grip in higher courts. But Sikhs for Justice seems to have objectives other than mere justice. In recent times, it has exhibited an unusual zeal to drag to the US courts not only Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Kamal Nath but even the Akali Dal Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Badal and others. Congress and Akali Dal are political adversaries except in one respect—that both are signatories to the 1985 Punjab Accord that put an end to the separatist movement. But Sikh extremists did not accept peace. Soon after signing of the accord, they assassinated its Akali signatory H. S. Longowal. Even now, the embers of separatism have kept glowing in the Sikh diaspora, Sikhs for Justice being one example, and the fire is diligently stoked by Pakistan, particularly the cloak-and-dagger wing of its army. However, apart from joining the brigade of American ambulance chasing lawyers by pinning summonses on visiting Indian dignitaries, a section of the Sikh diaspora seems to hold distorted views on how much their community is integrated with modern India. If there has been a delay in bringing perpetrators of the 1984 riots to book, it is attributable more to the country’s notoriously tardy criminal justice system than string-pulling at the highest level. However, Alien Torts Statute (ATS) is a laughably one-sided device that no international law, which is based on all participants’ acceptance, can go along with. If the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, for that matter, puts something similar to ATS on its statute book, and its court summons a visiting US dignitary on a complaint that the US Army had committed genocide in that country, will Washington stomach such an insult with a beaming face? In 1987, three years after Bhopal gas tragedy, Warren Anderson, CEO of the Union Carbide chemicals factory from where gas leaks took a toll of 3,000 lives, refused to comply with the summons issued by an Indian court to appear before it. If India had its ATS, could it enable the activists still fighting for more than the token damages paid by the US to bring before court some official of Dow Chemicals, the present owner of UC? Can an aggrieved person in Baghdad get an Iraqi court to summon ex-President George W. Bush for bathing his land in human blood on the cooked up ground of possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)? Being without a rival, the US is thinking that might is right. No wonder President Obama has called Russia’s President Vladimir Putin a “jackass” at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg. The world is now realizing that Cold War had a positive side after all. (Harish Gupta is National Editor of Lokmat Group of newspapers based in Delhi)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why RSS betting on Modi ?

The rise of Narendra Modi, an outsider to Delhi, as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, which is almost certain to be announced this month, is RSS’ revenge on BJP, its prodigal son. It is precondition of healthy democracy that the incumbent party must be keen to repeat its victory but prepared to leave, if leave it must after a fair election. Similarly, the opposition party must be self-confident; it must put its own house in order and be in shape to helm the ship when required. While the Congress-led ruling UPA seems just keen to pay to Aam Aadmi to buy votes despite an economy that has gone belly-up, the BJP is facing an internal turmoil unprecedented in its 33 years’ history. Election 2014 is becoming odd-maker’s nightmare. Trouble in the BJP originates from its external obligation to RSS, which, though a “cultural organization” on paper, governed BJP, or the Jan Sangh, its earlier avatar, much like how the USSR under Lenin or Stalin had ran the world communist movement—through remote control, that is. However, though regarded as the paterfamilias of the Sangh Parivar, RSS, over the last few decades, was losing grip over BJP, its political son. Democracy was making BJP create its own stars—Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani—who shone way beyond Nagpur’s limited sky of Hindutva philosophy. While Vajpayee led a government for six years, both he and Advani became stalwarts of Lutyen’s Delhi. RSS smarted under it. The rise of Narendra Modi, an outsider to Delhi, as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, which is almost certain to be announced this month, is RSS’ revenge on BJP, its prodigal son. Modi could rise in national politics as much as he has with the support of RSS and a couple of other factors. These developments are severely impacting on BJP. The party today is a perilously divided house. It is divided between a cautious group, obviously led by the octogenarian Advani, which is of the view that, by declaring Modi as BJP’s ace up its sleeve, the party is slamming its door, forcefully and finally, on several potential allies who are “Modi negative” but “BJP positive”, like Naveen Patnaik, Jagan Reddy, Mayawati, and, who knows, Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar. The Advani groupies want NDA, and not BJP, to decide who’d lead the government. But the new RSS wants its cards to be shown without delay. The man who started the process of direct supervision was late RSS chief K. Sudarshan, who madly envied prime minister Vajpayee during the NDA regime. The present RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat installed Nitin Gadkari as the BJP chief and wanted a second term for him too. When Advani torpedoed it through what is known as Lutyen’s Establishment. The IT department swung into action and Gadkari shown the door. Bhagwat was left with no choice but steamrolled all internal opposition to Modi by making him chairman of the party’s campaign committee, which is actually the penultimate step to his being declared the party’s candidate as prime minister. This step is likely to be crossed this month, after the monsoon session of Parliament ends and Election Commission notifies the dates for assembly elections in five states. Nowadays, the party’s new brigade of Modi supporters brusquely remind followers of Advani: chadte sooraj ko salam karna seekho (learn to salute the rising sun). Modi’s stenciled face has begun appearing on walls across northern and central India, with the words: nai soch aur nai ummeed (New Vision and New Hope). It is possible that BJP, with Modi leading the charge, will end up with more seats in the next Lok Sabha than what it could with Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley or even Advani (assuming his age will permit contesting). But, so deeply etched in public memory is Modi’s image as a man of little commitment to democratic values, that it will be extremely difficult for his party to bridge the gap between its tally, and the number required to form government, unless he is able to swing votes in a big way. Whether Advani and his ardent supporters spread over in every state like it or not, Modi is a reality. He is BJP’s mascot for 2014. As Arun Jaitley aptly put it: The hand of destiny has touched Modi.” It’s a different matter that none in the BJP is able to put the number of seats party’s new mascot will be able to deliver in 2014. But is RSS bothered ? RSS is a complex organization as it has a world view entirely different from that expressed through the Constitution of India. Realizing that the rules of democracy, as set by the 1950 Constitution, could be alien to it, it allowed a party of its making, Jan Sangh first and BJP later, to pursue it independently. But now a powerful group in RSS has decided that its ideology should no longer be segregated from the political fortunes of its protégé. And no one in the BJP comes closer to RSS’ own thought process—its patriarchal views, and its inherent dislike of pluralism—than Narendra Modi. Nor could it be better timed, as UPA-2 government’s policy paralysis, bordering on helplessness, has driven popular faith in democracy to its nadir. Viewed from Nagpur, India in 2014 is a political laboratory, rather than a government to be won. It would be too happy to get back its political son who had been hijacked by Atal-Advani duo. (The author is National Editor of the Lokmat group of newspapers based in New Delhi)