Friday, September 30, 2016

The Bully and the Cilly

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Going over the social media networks, my eyes got stuck at a news video from Massachusetts in the USA, the home for a slew of world-famous universities and regarded as one of the cradles of the country"s culture. The video shows a procession of SUVs snaking through the road with the Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump"s pictures mounted on the top of their cars.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

UP: Odds favour BJP?

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Election to the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly is months away but its prelude is on. If Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's on-going "Khat Pe Charcha" in the state giving him confidence to comment, "we are winning", the ruling Samajwadi Party is struggling to overcome biggest ever feud in the Yadav clan. The drama has considerably eroded whatever chief minister, Akhilesh Singh Yadav, had earned through his massive campaign. 

Akhilesh actually began canvassing several months ago, when the cash-strapped state government began to shower advertisements on newspapers and television channels blustering its achievements. The public spat between Chacha-Bhatija (uncle Shivpal Yadav and nephew Akhilesh Yadav) has shaken the very foundation of the 54 month old SP government. For BSP's Mayawati, the moment of action arrived apparently by accident, with scenes of bare-bodied Dalit cow-skinners being welted by supposed 'cow protectors' going viral on social media. Since then, on the question of who could be the best bet for the Uttar Pradesh sweepstakes, public attention is re-directed to Mayawati, the state's previous chief minister. And of course BJP is the looming omnipresence; only two years back, in the Lok Sabha elections, it captured 71 of the 80 seats and 42.30 per cent votes. 

But the 2014 parliamentary poll is different. At that time an atmosphere was created in which the nation thought it got itself in the vortex of a terrible economic and moral crisis, and Narendra Modi was projected as the saviour. The billion-rupee BJP campaign hit the country in 2014 like a thunderstorm that has blown away to a large extent. 

But has it? Or could it be that, in the state's vast caste cauldron, some changes that were simmering long since did reach the boiling point during the LS election? 

Before brushing aside BJP's 2014 victory in the state as purely one-off, it is necessary to consider the extent of Hindu polarization it witnessed. According to a BJP internal analysis, between 2009 and 2014, in Uttar Pradesh, BJP increased its vote-share percentage among various Hindu caste groups in the following order: Brahmin-57 to 72; Thakur-49 to 79; Yadav-6 to 27; Kurmi-26 to 56; Jat-21 to 81; Other OBC-20 to 60; Jatav-2 to 23; Other Dalit-8 to 60. 

It is clear that BJP was hugely successful in stitching up a common umbrella for all Hindus, not just for the upper caste, though its grip on Brahmins and, in particular, Thakurs, much strengthened. But what is nothing short of startling is the phenomenal rise in BJP's acceptability among Dalits and OBCs. From within Jatav, Mayawati's own Dalit sub-caste, support to Modi and BJP grew over 11 times in five years. Looks like a miracle, yet it has a background. 

After Independence, the dalit-upper caste antipathy raged so high that the former saw its destiny with Muslims rather than the Hindu community. "Jatav Muslim bhai bhai, Hindu kaum kahan se ayee?" This was the dalit clarion call in the post-Ambedkar years and it remained so for decades. Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the Hindutva party in its earlier avatar, saw this wall standing ahead but had no clue how to scale it. 

It began changing in the 80's, with RSS under the late Balasaheb Deoras holding all-caste dharma sabha across the state, and the Ramayan tele-serial helping forge a psycho-social sense of togetherness between upper caste and Dalit/OBC. However, it was not BJP but Mayawati who reaped the benefit of Dalits readying themselves to intermingle with others. In the 90's, she gave her BSP party, with elephant as its poll symbol, such memorable slogans like: Pandit shankh bajayega, Haathi badhta jayega. Her campaigns were a glorious exercise in what sociologist M. N. Srinivas called "Sanskritization". The 2007 Brahmin-Jatav alliance brought her to power. 

The magic failed in 2012 due to BSP losing the Brahmin support, and, with that, OBC and other social groups lost confidence in Mayawati. In Uttar Pradesh, Dalits including Jatav are 21 per cent of the population. As upper castes drifted to BJP, even Mayawati's Dalit constituency became wobbly. Or else it is difficult to explain her miserable performance in 2014 Lok Sabha poll in which she could not win a single seat. Besides, no caste is frozen in a static social frame. The state has 2.5 crore first-time voters. In every constituency, there are around 90,000 voters under-30. Rather than looking at life through the prism of caste, younger voters generally look for aspirational figures. In 2009, Rahul Gandhi was an aspirational icon. In 2012, Akhilesh Yadav was aspirational. So was Modi in 2014. And that causes cross-osmosis of voters across caste and community lines. 

In the run-up to the 2017 Assembly election which is very vital for the BJP for various reasons, Akhilesh's SP is not only weighed down with incumbency. Even its loyal followers, Yadav and Muslim, are baffled. As 2014 poll showed, even Yadavs leaned towards BJP. And Muslims are none too sure about the SP- SP-BJP secret ties. Moreover, there is very little in either SP or BSP that attracts the imagination of new voters. SP is perceived as backseat-driven by a bunch of old patriarchal fogeys, with Akhilesh as its deceptively smiling face. And BSP has lost its mojo after the upper-caste desertion. It stands lifeless, like Mayawati’s stone elephants. 

It is arguable that BJP too has lost its aspirational fervour. And, after its debacle inBihar, it has proved vulnerable, which is a major negative for getting support of fence-sitters. It may have succeeded in the North East and Assam. But it is facing waterloo in Goa and Punjab. Even in Uttrakhand, the BJP has internal problems. Therefore, Amit Shah has entrusted Goa to Nitin Gadkari and put his eggs in UP’s basket. Secondly, Modi still rules at the Centre, a fact that carries weight in the thinking process of ordinary voters, particularly in rural areas. Surveys have shown Modi’s own ratings are intact though party is unable to create leadership in states. If it failed in Bihar, it was because of strong leader. The same problem exist in UP too. The polarizing agenda being pursued by some of its wings may help in consolidating its upper caste vote bank. BJP may have the edge. But election in the state is still a far cry. 

In the run-up to the 2017 Assembly election which is very vital for the BJP for various reasons, Akhilesh's SP is not only weighed down with incumbency. Even its loyal followers, Yadav and Muslim, are baffled. As 2014 poll showed, even Yadavs leaned towards BJP.

Four-pronged strategy to deal with Uri attack

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Four-pronged strategy  to deal with Uri attack
NIA collects DNA samples of 4 JeM terrorists

Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Sept. 20

A four-pronged strategy is under consideration of the Central government to deal with the situation arising out of the Uri attack by the Pakistan-trained terrorists.

As part of the decision taken on Monday at a high-level meeting chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to isolate Pakistan globally, foreign secretary S Jayashankar cut short his visit to Vienna and returned home to help in executing the action plan. 

The on-going UN General Assembly where external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will speak, may be the first global test for India. Minister of state for external affairs M J Akbar would raise the Uri attack at a meeting of foreign ministers in New York on Wednesday. It has also been decided to isolate Pakistan in South Asia as well. Since Afghanistan and Bangladesh have already lent support to India, it is yet to be seen if other SAARC nations agree to join India's cause. The SAARC conference, to be held in Pakistan, would be important from India's perspective.

India is also considering option to seek economic sanctions against Pakistan though strong direct evidence will be required to convince the world leaders. India has succeeded in persuading the USA to a large extent to reduce financial aid to Pakistan if not cut it altogether. Another proposal mooted during informal discussions is to consider if India should withdraw the Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) status granted to Pakistan. Though Pakistan never returned the gesture, Modi's policy makers are toying with the idea to call the bluff. But there is no unanimity on this issue so far.

The policy makers are also wrestling with the question of responding to the Uri attack without falling into the Pakistan trap of "internationalising" the Kashmir dispute. This apart, the home and defence ministries have also been directed to put their own house in order. The PM has directed that infiltration from the Uri border was an impossibility unless there is local support. Therefore, all out efforts be made to plug this deficiency. Secondly, the all-out efforts be made to prevent "Fidayeen attacks" particularly in cases where there is advance information. Those supporting the terrorists from across the border be dealt with a heavy hand, is the sermon. 

The government is of the view that Uri attack will help forces clamp down on separatists and Pakistani elements in the Kashmir Valley. The killing of eight terrorists on Tuesday is an indication of the new offensive launched by the forces in the Valley.  One option for the military is to activate the LoC, attacking Pakistani posts with artillery and mortars. The army can inflict disproportionate punishment on the Pakistan army. However, the military has been advised caution on this score.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has collected blood and other samples from the four terrorists who attacked the army base at Uri. The NIA is also examining the weapons, GPS ammunition and maps -- which terrorists carried with them -- to identify and retrace the route they took to infiltrate into India. All this will help India expose Pakistan at the world fora.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

'Jayam Dehi'

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

It is certainly not the way that an eminent party, having gone to seed lately, should give itself a makeover. Last week, when Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi gave kick start to his four-week-long, 2,500-kilometre flamboyant travel in Uttar Pradesh, a clever strategy went for a toss in the most unexpected manner. It was the idea of strategic planner Prashant Kishore, engaged by the Congress, to focus the campaign on farmers" distress, particularly their rising indebtedness, and get Rahul to hold close meetings with villagers seated on "charpai", or wooden cots, instead of addressing the usual rallies. That was supposed to make the Gandhi scion re-emphasise his earlier charge that Prime Minster Narendra Modi"s administration is "suit boot ki sarkar". Charpais, it was thought, would set the intimate tone for Rahul"s "kisan yatra" covering 223 assembly segment across the state"s 39 districts.

Fate of 2 guvs uncertain

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Govt wants new faces in J&K, Arunchal

Harish Gupta
New Delhi, Sept 9

The fate of two governors of border states – Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir – is uncertain now. But reasons for the delay in changing both the governors are different.

The delay in changing Arunachal Pradesh governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa is due to technical reasons as President Pranab Mukherjee has raised some issues with Union home minister Rajnath Singh. The home minister had called on the President on Wednesday to convey to him the intention of the government in removing Rajkhowa who had violated the spirit of the Constitution in handling the affairs of the state when it faced political crisis. 

The governor had come in for a rap from the Supreme Court as well. But the President is reported to have raised some important points. Firstly, the Union Cabinet had approved in toto whatever the governor had recommended then. Secondly, there has to be some reasons in writing from the government rather than simply asking the President to withdraw the governor at his pleasure.

The home minister is reported to have told the President that on one occasion Rajkhowa had misled even the PM when he had put some query. It's a lack of trust between the governor and government and his removal is the only way forward. It now transpires that an amicable way is being found to get rid of Rajkhowa.

Meanwhile, in changing or removing N N Vohra in Jammu & Kashmir, the situation is rather sensitive and ticklish as well. Vohra is a seasoned bureaucrat and there is nothing against him. But he is 80 years old and doesn't have new ideas given the alarming situation in the Valley. Modi government retained him for more than two years after coming to power. 

But it wants a new person in place of Vohra who was re-appointed as governor for second term in 2013. In a way, its more than eight years that he has been governor of the state. The Modi government is reported to have zeroed on Anil Baijal, former home secretary in the Vajpayee government, who is a seasoned bureaucrat as the new man in the Valley. The problem being faced is should Vohra be transferred or removed altogether.

It transpires that Rajnath Singh may have been asked by the Prime Minister to discuss with the President who is an experienced administrator and politician. It is pertinent to mention that Vohra was the first person without Army or intelligence background to occupy the gubernatorial post in the state after a gap of 18 years. Jagmohan was there for a brief period who demitted office in 1990 and was replaced by army & intelligence officers like former RAW chief Girish Chandra Saxena, Gen. K V Krishna Rao (retd) and Gen. S K Sinha. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Come back oh, charkha

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

If you are running marathon but joined the race an hour or so late, it is likely that you will reach the final post 26 miles away some time. But the competition will certainly close before that. A similar fallacy is staring India. When government"s financial data were released last week, and it was found that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had grown 7.1 per cent in the April-June quarter, against 7.9 per cent in the last quarter of the previous fiscal, there was dismay and consternation all around.