Monday, June 20, 2011

Indian Politics at the Crossroads

Full Version

The past few weeks have seen a saga unfold like never before. The government, the opposition, representatives of civil society, competitors to representatives of civil society, the judiciary, investigative agencies, and of course, the press - all part of a series of actions and reactions which have brought us here today. The situation today is so muddled up that people have either lost interest, or are looking at a certain part of the mosaic with such passion that the entire picture is just not visible.

Let us take a minute and look at the beginning. It started with a series of scams that shook the nation – 2G, CWG, Adarsh etc. At that time, many questioned whether the anger of the common man would result in structural changes for the betterment of the nation. The opposition called for a joint parliamentary committee on the 2G scam and ensured the parliament did not function for an entire session. The government responded with unprecedented action – asking the accused ministers to resign, and not interfering when they were put behind bars. Finally, they even conceded to the JPC demand.

Then there was the wave of civil society representation. Team Anna Hazare decided to sit on fast till their demands on the Lokpal Bill were accepted. The country rallied around Anna, a gandhian with an impeccable image, and rejoiced when the government accepted the demand for representation from civil society. There were some lone voices concerned about building an all powerful organization with draconian powers. But they were ignored. Why? Because the government bowing down to simpletons of civil society soothed the anger in the common man, and that is what mattered.

And, then, finally, there was Baba Ramdev. Baba Ramdev did almost everything right. He brought the government to its knees and played his part as the people’s champion. He had everything going for him, including the government’s actions, until he mentioned something about raising an army against the government. That made the country pause, and think. The government used the mistake to its advantage, dealt with the baba and tried to use to momentum to get back at Anna Hazare & team. Anna promptly promised to go on fast yet again.

So that was a brief synopsis of what happened in the past few weeks. There is something for everyone to learn from what has happened.

For the Common Man

This government has been caught with a number of scams since it has been elected for a second term. But we need to accept the fact that this government has done more about corruption than any other government ever has. There are many who claim to represent civil society. The main reason why they exist is because we have lost trust in our elected representatives, not because we trust these unelected ones. We need to spend more time understanding every issue they take up and what their views are, rather than rally behind them because it helps us vent our anger.

For the Government

The government has not got its due for the action it has taken against corruption, and it can only blame itself. There is absolutely no leader in the government who attempts to connect with the masses and explain its stand on issues. For example, the government today seems like a villain who wants to quash the Lokpal Bill, irrespective of whether it brings about good. They have not even attempted to explain their stand to the people. This is the main reason why the people are turning to the representatives of civil society. At least, they explain what they intend to do. The biggest strength in Baba Ramdev’s fast was that he was in front of the masses, discussing every action with them. That is something the government needs to think about.

For the Opposition

The government has made its mistakes and the opposition has benefited from them. But the opposition too suffers from the same problem that the government does. In the eyes of the people, they are no better than the government. There is no leader who actually tries to explain its party’s position on the Lokpal, or Baba Ramdev, or black money and how it seeks to reduce it. They are too busy disagreeing or agreeing with the views of the government or civil society to take the lead on issues. Also, it does not help that the only major accomplishment of the opposition in the recent past is that they ensured that no discussions were held in the parliament for an entire session, which is one of the primary reasons we are having representatives of civil society standing up today.

No one can really foretell how things will pan out, but one can say with some certainty that the next few weeks will have a strong impact on India’s history. While the optimist hopes that it may result in decisive structural reform, the pessimist can be fairly certain that it will ensure enough ammunition for numerous political battles ahead.


Abridged Version - Article on
the Free Press Journal
Sunday, 19th June 2011 on

Please feel free to comment, discuss and debate. Thanks.


Priyanka Mehta said...

The psychology behind the happenings is brilliantly brought out in this post. Only if the Government enjoyed Anna Hazare's image and Baba Ramdev's popularity combined with both their ends to eradicate corruption would we see a better nation.

Sreejit Nair said...

You have impressively condensed all the drama on the political scene .But I do have a few points that I disagree with or want to add on..
1.The way you have put it, seems to say that the government had an OPTION not to go ahead with letting a few star DMK politicians jailed in Tihar. I would say that the UPA was merely cutting its losses in the face of intense media spotlight on its actions in the wake of the CAG report on the 2G scam. Anything less than allowing a JPC probe and alienating the DMK would have resulted in serious loss of face for the government.
So when you say,"not got its due for the action it has taken against corruption, and it can only blame itself." I'd rather say it hasn't covered up its(or its coalition allies) tracks perfectly.And it shouldn't blame itself. That is a truckload of shit that can't easily be shoved under the carpet.
2. You accurately pinpointed the lack of communicators within the UPA. Here I'd add,No communication is slightly better than misdirected ,irresponsiblea and ungrounded statements to the media. Mukherjee da(his statement on" the civil society can't dictate terms to the government" )and the irrepressible Digvijay Singh who routinely churns out gems of Political incorrectness and randomly beats up reporters who ask uncomfortable queries , are just two of many in the Congress(Singhvi looks like a saint compared to these two) who have had the congress scurrying for cover in the past months.
3. "He had everything going for him, including the government’s actions, until he mentioned something about raising an army against the government. That made the country pause, and think. The government used the mistake to its advantage, " -> I'd want to remind you here that Ramdev's message on raising an anti-corruption sena , if you could call it that, came way after the Government/Delhi police swooped on his congregation on the Ramlila ground. So they had no basis, least of all an irresponsible statement by a baba, to something of that sort to a defenceless crowd. Comparisons to Jallianwala Bagh were unwarranted, but still...
4. The importance of a strong opposition cannot be stressed enough. For a party like the BJP which boasts of politicians like Arun Jaitly, Arun Shourie within its ranks,it is a case of the absence of a charismatic leader like Vajpayee behind whom the entire party can rally. Present leaders like Advani and the president Rajnath Singh simply have too many blots of "communalism" on their resume(unfounded or otherwise, their reputation isn't entirely untainted.) Ego clashes within the party certainly do not help.
5. On a side-note these are a few points you missed out->
a) The star of the moment , Rahul Gandhi trying to amend the Land Acquisition Bill, while having tea with a few dalits outside Noida, whereas the real paperwork is with his mother and her cronies.
b) Diggu's statement on the heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi being ripe for plucking for the post of PM. God save us-the apocalypse is on us.
c) While the DMk is sulking due to the government's apathy towards the state of their chief's daughter in Tihar, Amma is trying to flirt with the Congress in the corridors of power , trying to obtain a favourable alliance for her daughter, the AIADMK.
d) Finally, You missed another G-> the KG scam with reliance as the hesitant costar. The G list seems to be never-ending.
I am sorry if the way I have put my points sounds a little combative. I haven't yet learnt to debate without bias, an unforgivable weakness. But you should look at it as a ranting of just another citizen, who is just as disgruntled with these happenings if not more,than the layman. We can discuss solutions to these issues facing us, but that I will add on another comment. Cheers :)

Aditya Nair said...

PM- Thanks for following the blog. I'd rather if the government had Anna Hazare's ethical character...everything else would follow, I think :-)
Sreejit- Thanks for the comment. It is always great to have a discussion on politics with people following it keenly.
Regarding your points:
1. I do not think you understood the context in which I said the government deserves credit for its actions.
In the history of Indian politics, there has never been such unprecedented action against cabinet ministers and MPs of a ruling government - not only have they been made to vacate their thrones, but have also been put to jail. Historically, there has even been blatant disregard for the independence of investigating agencies and the judiciary, by the government. It wasn't the case this time. This is why I think the government deserves credit.
And when I wrote it is the government's mistake, I meant that if they would have had a coordinated campaign highlighting these facts to the people, rather than portraying an image of a government that doesn't give a damn, the situation would have been much better for them.
2. While I agree that lack of coordination in the statements made by various Congress persons, I daresay I believe that there is more to it than meets the eye. The Congress has always portrayed that their top people are intellectuals of the highest order and that the government and the party are separate entities. I have a feeling that they use the likes of Digvijay Singh to test the waters and reactions before the people at the top take a stand. For example, Digvijay Singh and the party took a strong stand against Baba first, there was hue and cry which the government could gauge and measure, and then take a view. It is just an opinion I have though, and has no factual backing.
Oh, and now that we are discussing congress spokespersons, how many people, like me, find Manish Tewari one of the most irritating people on camera (along with the likes of Tusshar Kapoor etc) ?
3. I don't think I agree with this point. Let us look at how the Police functions. Generally the amount of police persons are less than a tenth of the actual crowd it seeks to disperse. Hence, the police clearly use fear and intimidation as its most important tool to disperse crowds. I think it is even mentioned in their manual clearly.
It is a fact that Ramdev had registered the place for a Yoga camp and did not have permission to hold any peaceful demonstration. It is also a fact that he made insinuating statements against the government. I completely agree that the protest was non violent, but the government had every right to disperse the crowd because Ramdev did not have the appropriate permissions. It is also a fact that the government tried to talk to Ramdev for many days, and make him stop. That said, I do empathize with the number of people injured. But I cant really think of anything else the government could have done.
The action by the government only made the Baba more popular (akin to noble David taking on Goliath), and the nation more angry. It was Baba's statement on the army that was the point of change, which the government used well.
4. I agree completely
5. Too many valid points with too little space to discuss :-)
You should try blogging. I think there would be interesting articles to read.

Sreejit Nair said...

1." there has never been such unprecedented action against cabinet ministers and MPs of a ruling government". If that is the case , it certainly deserves credit, but then, the scale of the scam also has no predecessors.
2.Suggestions for spokespersons could include the likes of Sagarika Ghosh, Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai,for they already peddle the government's line on most issues and Ms Dutt has already been exposed for her shady connections with the Congress. She would an ideal "official" mouthpiece for the Gandhian party-(Can we still call them that?)And yeah, Manish Tewari does get on my nerves, but not more than the aforementioned lady and the hooligan in Congress clothing-Digvijay Singh
3.Yes, he didn't have permission to stage a demonstration of the kind he started out to do. But , in that case, couldn't the congress high command and the now-renowned "four ministers who went to show him the red carpet at the Indira Gandhi airport" have acted less obsequiously? Throughout the course of that day, the congress sent out mixed signals, at one moment-" Look at us, we are entertaining discussion on black money,corruption , yadayadayada. and the other moment " Hell, this guy has got a million followers lined up at Ramlila. Let's get him out of here, before this gets out of hand". They could have benefited greatly from not changing their stand from the very beginning. Also, I don't think the congress was naive enough to think Ramdev would be doing Anulom-Vilom the same day they had closed-door talks with him in a five star hotel, following which Ramdev had made his intentions pretty much clear. Couldn't they have detained him beforehand, or did they need a crowd of the magnitude we saw, to , say, "catch him in the act of treason(harsh, but that is the what Congress would like us to believe Ramdev is committing)?
Also, thanks for the encouragement dude. I do have a blog, but I am too lazy. Hopefully this discussion spurs me! :-)

Aditya Nair said...

1. I doubt that it is true that it is of unprecedented magnitude. I concede that it is a scam detected that is of unprecedented magnitude. But that does not mean that scams like bennet and coleman in the 1960s, bofors, UTI in 1990s, defense related scams in 2000s did not have a similar disastrous impact. But in those cases the government was nowhere near as proactive. They used an iron fist and that was that. We can keep Congress bashing forever, and this debate will have no end, so I can only say it my point of view that they did more than ever before when they could have chosen not to. I believe they had a choice rather than they were forced by the magnitude of the scam. So, I believe they deserve some credit.
3. I don't know what the Congress could have done. If I was in their place, after the Anna Hazare fiasco (and given that Ramdev has a far, far larger following), I would have gone out of the way to negotiate with him. The Congress did the same. When he continued nonetheless, I would have tried to negotiate with him again. The Congress did the same. He did not agree to any committee or panel. He wanted a law before he stopped his fast, which meant bringing the government to its knees and setting a dangerous precedent on how Indian democracy functions. I would have then used greater means to destabilize the campaign. The Congress did the same, questioning the sources his finances. It backfired. Then, finally, the Congress decided to use a technical glitch by the Baba to remove the crowd.
The way I see it, if the Congress wouldn't have listed to him from day 1, we would have been blaming them. Now that they tried all alternatives, we are blaming them for trying.

Sreejit Nair said...

When you say we should give them "some" credit, I agree because such a soap opera has never played out on a nationala stage before,and solely for not stooping down to declaring an "emergency" , i would give them some benefit of the doubt. But seen in isoation, this is an incident , even the congress would feel it could have handled better. Yup, you can call me a congress basher, for reasons I would not like to go into right now. But,their tempered stand on certain issues, placing reputed people(even if they are stringed to an Italian puppeteer, or haven't won an election in the first place) in the cabinet and finally, Jairam Ramesh's handling of the environment ministry(that is something I find adamirable) have my begrudged respect.