A dilemma for many: From Modi Modi to AAP..?

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This is my first blog post after Aam Aadmi Party won a symbolic victory in the Delhi Assembly elections and on the shaky crutches of outside support from the Congress, formed a minority government. Before the December 4 election, I had gone to Delhi for a couple of weeks to campaign for the AAP. At the outset, I feel proud to have played a role in the historic election campaign that catapulted an ordinary man to the Chief Minister’s post. My time in Delhi was memorable and I would love to share my experiences as a political activist working in another city. However, all of that can wait.

Since yesterday I have been receiving a certain WhatsApp message about AAP from some people. Perhaps they sent it to me to seek an ‘answer’ or ‘explanation’ on the charges made in it. Generally, I do not react to most of the misinformation and allegations thrown about on AAP’s ‘intent.’ The fact that this text was forwarded to me by a fairly apolitical friend of mine however has provoked me to write this piece. To be fair to both sides, I am posting a copy of that message, exactly as I received it:

Arvind Kejriwal is more dangerous than congress. This is a big game plan of congress to keep BJP out of power in the next LS election. See:

1) Kejriwal will fulfill all the promises of AAP like reducing power tarrif and giving 700 litres of water at least for two months…so that he can develop a image of most developing PM candidate and the can overpower the image of Modi..

Any govt can easily run the govt for three months even if its bankrupt. Giving free water and reducing power tariff will affect the Delhi state exchequer badly but this is something is hidden charges carried by the AAP govt.

2) The aim of AAP is not to win in the LS election but [to take a] chunk of  large portion of Anti-congress votes….which will go to BJP..even if AAP succeed in getting 30‚000 votes in urban areas this will reduce the chance of BJP getting win on at least 30 seats…on the contrary this will increase the congress seats by 30-40.

3) now the calculation will go like this if LS election is declared today and AAP doesnt contest election than BJP will win on 200+ seats and Modi will surely become the PM..congress will win on 90-100 seats….but as explained above there will be a decrease in BJP and increase in congress seats by 30-40. Now the seats share is congress 125-135 and BJP 160-170…

4) Though BJP is still the largest party like in Delhi it won’t be able to form the govt as all the parties except Shiv sena and akali dal will support to congress in the name of psedu secularism including the newly Patriotic party AAP as they did in Delhi now and BJP will sit in opposition…it will be a Delhi picture….

5) now what next congress will nominate Kejriwal as PM and will be part of govt just as happened in Delhi…..

This is because the aim of congress is not to win but to clean the image of congress and wat can be a better process to nominate newly so called immandaar Arvind for PM and the aim of AAP is not to win but stop BJP from win..

6) Arvind talks good just like Mahatma Gandhi…it is Gandhi who stopped Sardar Patel in becoming PM and made Nehru as the PM. History repeats itself Arvind is next Nehru and Modi is Patel…

It is after 60 yrs people realized the mistake of 1947 now it will take another 60 yrs to realize who Kejriwal is?

Hats off to congress politics.

Unfortunately for the BJP, the Kejriwal/AAP fever has gripped a large chunk of those, who were once Modi cheerleaders. Quite a few of my friends are in a dilemma; they looked up to Modi and the BJP to provide some relief, but now they can see an AAP that may be able to do the same without the additional baggage of corrupt politics and a controversial past. Sensing the genuine challenge AAP poses to mainstream political parties, the BJP’s SM team seems to have begun this campaign against AAP.

First, I must compliment the genius, but wicked logic and lucid explanation of a very complicated scenario in simple words. I wish whoever has written this had gone ahead and explained why BJP lost the 2009 elections also, because this message seems to suggest that only an Aam Aadmi Party can stop BJP from winning elections.

Second, the subsidy that the AAP Government in Delhi has given is only on essential commodities like water and power. Delhi’s finances are strong enough to afford a subsidy of this nature and it will not ‘affect the exchequer badly’ or result in bankruptcy. Do you know what would really affect the exchequer badly?  In last year’s Karnataka assembly elections, BJP had promised free laptops on being elected to power. Had BJP won in Karnataka, it would definitely have ‘affect[ed] the exchequer badly.’ The fact is, todays BJP is very much like the Congress party when it comes to economic policies. Those who study manifestos closely would know how both Congress and BJP promise freebies in order to get elected to power. They are the real threat to this country’s finances.

Third, I am an active volunteer of the AAP and the aim of the party is to win as many seats in the Lok Sabha elections as possible. I have had long, private conversations with the senior leadership of the party in Maharashtra. I am confident about their intent and capabilities. Hundreds and thousands of people are giving all their time and resources to AAP to do something for this country. There is no hidden agenda of ‘defeating Modi’ or ‘defeating Congress’ either. AAP has set out to destroy corruption in politics and governance. Congress and BJP are part of this system of money-through-power and power-through-money which AAP aims to fight. For the first time we have a party that has managed to amplify the voice of the common man.

Fourth, this argument that ‘if AAP doesn’t contest, this will happen and that will happen’ is childish. In the 2009 elections, where was Aam Aadmi Party? Why was BJP still not able to defeat Congress? The BJP does not own the ‘anti-Congress’ vote share. If it wants votes, it should ask for a ‘pro-BJP’ vote. Crying foul because there is a better Opposition party that is taking away opposition votes is lame.

Fifth, let’s take a look at the allies this message talks about. 1. Shiv Sena – the party that is running the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)  for the last 17 years. The BMC’s budget is around Rs 20,000 crore every year. Where does this money go? The BMC runs some of the worst schools in the country. Mumbai has some of the worst roads in the country, with hundreds of crores being spent in ‘filling up pot holes’ annually. Meanwhile the average assets of BMC corporators rose three times between the 2007 and 2012 elections. 2. Akali Dal – This party has overseen one of the most corrupt Governments Punjab has seen since Independence. The state’s economy is in shambles as a result of 6 years of BJP-Akali Dal rule. The terrible economic condition has made unemployment figures peak and recent statistics shows that Punjab’s jobless youth has been pushed into drugs. The Government has failed to curb this menace. (Read this Washington Post article for more details: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/drug-epidemic-grips-indias-punjab-state/2012/12/31/092719a2-48f6-11e2-b6f0-e851e741d196_story.html)

These allies will support Narendra Modi’s NDA government. Yes, they may not be pseudo-secularists like the Mulayams and Lalus this country has seen, but does that make them clean, non-corrupt, non-criminal political parties? “Coalition compulsions” Part II?

Finally, I have a few questions, that I have been kind enough to answer for you.

1. Who exposed Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra? Arvind Kejriwal.

2. Who exposed Union Minister (from the Congress party) Salman Khurshid? Arvind Kejriwal.

3. Who targeted Sharad Pawar in the MCA scam in Mumbai? AAP’s Anjali Damania.

4. Who defeated 3-time Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit? Arvind Kejriwal.

5. Who is challenging Rahul Gandhi in his own bastion of Amethi? AAP’s senior leader Kumar Vishwas.

6. Which are the next two states AAP is supposedly targeting? Congress-ruled Haryana and Maharashtra.

Friends, the time has come to look beyond Modi, Rahul or even Kejriwal for that matter. We have replaced Congress with BJP, BJP with Congress for decades. A historic opportunity has been presented to us where we have one chance to uproot the traditional criminal politics and install a new clean, progressive political system. Are we going to fall for these conspiracy theories? Or are we going to seize this great opportunity to free ourselves from an oppressive system? We keep saying ‘Ye system hi kharaab ho chuka hai!’ System badalne ka mauka mila hai toh badlenge nahi? Zara sochiye..

Re-Post: Arvind Kejriwal, the leader

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Arvind Kejriwal became Chief Minister of Delhi on December 28, 2013. I had written a piece about him in June 2012, at a time when there were no indications of the erstwhile Team Anna going political. Here is a re-post of that article to commemorate the beginning of a new regime in the state of Delhi. 

 

This week Team Anna claimed that fifteen Cabinet Ministers of the Central Government were corrupt and released detailed documents containing evidence of their ‘misdeeds.’ Some Ministers questioned Anna’s integrity as he impugned their honesty, while others went as far as to threaten legal action and filed defamation suits! Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, thus far has been seen as the lone ranger in the UPA Government, the only clean face of the party leadership. With Arvind Kejriwal’s thorough explanation to the media (on June 1, 2012) as to why the PM could be found guilty of corruption himself, for the first time, a dark cloud of doubt hovers around the PM’s shield of ‘honesty.’ Dr. Singh defended himself by saying, “If any of these allegations are proven, I will give up public life.” This might sound like a very noble sentiment, but ‘giving up public life’ is a very lame argument when an ordinary citizen would have to go to jail if found guilty and won’t be allowed to take ‘sanyas’ as our PM aspires.  All these events have heightened the smug mood that had become characteristic of the past year and has continued in this year as well. The reason I write about this pessimistic scenario is that amid all the negativity, I found a ray of hope today when I was watching a press conference.

When I hear Arvind Kejriwal speak about his opinions and ideas about India’s democracy and the problems plaguing it, I am inspired. It is the kind of inspiration that I imagine may have been generated when great orators like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke. I feel a sense of security, which tells me – “All is not lost! India hasn’t yet run out of worthy leaders.” His clarity of thought, ability to express his views and a knack of convincing the listener of his perspective can sway anybody (except the corrupt Ministers of course!). It is my firm belief that his place is not in the Civil Society. He is too fiery and popular to remain out of politics. He should set aside all his reservations about taking that leap and till the 2014 election, build a party of his own.

Although the thought of building an election campaign and a party network from scratch sounds like a daunting task, it might not be that tough for Arvind. In every town and city of India, there exists an active network of ‘India Against Corruption (IAC)’ volunteers. All he has to do is form a political organization and invite membership across the country. My hunch is that if he does that, people will throng to him because, albeit an invisible lot, I have always felt that there is a decent number of people today who are just waiting to be a part of an honest effort to make change from within. Obviously there are such efforts already going on – the best example of which is the Lok Satta Party – but none of them has a nationwide appeal and have no face with potential to attract the masses. Arvind Kejriwal, on the other hand, with his control over Hindi and inspiration-infusing qualities can easily woo the voters. Through IAC, he has a ready, on-field network of activists and in himself he has an intelligent and popular face. What more does a political entity require? Funds, of course! Fortunately for him, the IAC has already attracted large donations for his cause. If he pitches himself in the upcoming General Election, the flow of donations would begin once again. Large business houses would be one of the largest benefactors of a clean Government with an IITian at the helm. They would ‘invest’ enough funds in him to finance his campaign if approached in the right manner. I wish Arvind considers this option some day, if not today.

When he was asked whether he would enter active politics at some point in time, Arvind had answered in a firm negative saying that he and the team were fighting for ‘systemic changes’ and not for running the Government. Arvind, who is a firm believer in participatory democracy, runs another NGO Parivartan that promotes this cause. A great advocate of the concept of ‘power in the hands of the people,’ his NGO’s goal is “to ensure that our society becomes more inclusive and that real power rests with the common citizens of India.” In one of my previous articles, I had written about how India needed a visionary and I think we have one in Arvind Kejriwal. What he chooses to do with regard to politics is completely his choice, but at the moment along with Team Anna he will continue the fight against corruption.

As the Lokpal Bill has been purposefully buried into another one of the ‘Parliamentary Procedures’ by referring it to the Select Committee, Team Anna is rightfully crying foul all over again and this time, instead of an aging Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal is going to fast in Delhi from the 25th of July this year. I wonder how long the campaign for a Lokpal is going to go on and just how much patience the Team has.

Population control & Food Security: Can they go together?

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Note: This article was written by me on November 19, 2011, when the Food Security Bill was still being worked on by the National Advisory Council. I had posted this in 2011, but since the Bill has recently been passed by the Lok Sabha, I thought I should share it again. The Bill has changed a bit from what was being reported about it in 2011, but the larger question of balancing food security with population control remains. 

 

The National Food Security Bill is getting the final touches from the National Advisory Council, headed by UPA President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. From various media reports and Government statements, I gathered that the Bill guarantees food at nominal prices to the poor. To be precise, it promises 35 kg of grains at Re 1/kg for millets, Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 3/kg for rice. One would say that it was high time such a law was made that is equivalent to a ‘Right to Food!’ I say this because a majority of India’s rural and urban poor get hardly enough food to remain alive. It seems odd that the world’s fourth-largest and second-fastest growing economy is still facing problems like large-scale hunger and malnourishment. India suffers a severe problem of malnutrition among children & mothers. As of today, a staggering 47% of children show signs of being undernourished. Much as we try to wish them away, these problems are set to intensify and worsen in the coming years because our population is growing as fast as ever.

The annual growth rate of population is as much as 1.3%. While this figure might appear diminutive, it actually means that about 1.61 crore people will be added to India’s population within the next year! The growth of India’s resources can never match the rate of growth of her population. In such times, I wonder, shouldn’t the emergency (pun not intended) measures involve family planning and other population control measures rather than guaranteeing that to the poor, which is going to act as catalyst to further growth of population? When you provide a forest fire with fuel wood unconditionally, it results in the complete destruction of that ecosystem. The problem at hand though is not as simple as I have put it.

The country is facing a crisis of priorities. Provide a catalyst to the growing population at the cost of India’s future development or urgently check population growth at the cost of public support? In a patriarchal society like India’s, an orthodox family’s yearning for a male child often results in more than five offsprings per family even in modern times when the norm in cities is about two children per family. Oftentimes, a child is considered to be a bonus as he may prove to be an extra hand to earn for the family. So, how, in a democracy, can even responsible Governments ask the poor to procreate less, without antagonizing a sizable population of the country? But I do not think at this stage we have any option but to do what is absolutely necessary.

The other problem I have with this Bill is that the amount of grain it promises and the price at which it is promised does not look like a sustainable option to me. For how long can Indian land produce large amounts of grain, if each year it has to feed more than a crore people more? Indian agriculture is in a mess today. Farmers in the Central India region especially, are suffering major land issues and have sunk deep in debt. Farmer suicides are rampant. Middlemen freely exploit them, buying very cheap and selling very high in the markets. In short, there is very little impetus to agricultural growth and no clear sustainable plan for growth of agricultural produce. There does not seem to be any vision on the Government’s part to conserve agricultural land and protect it from being converted to industrial and housing area. The next best option, when domestic production fails is to import the required food. But, when there is global food shortage, where will the food come from?

The National Food Security Bill is therefore, a disastrous step. I am not against feeding the poor, but it has to be done in a different way, through various non-Government channels (but through Government funding). At the same time however, the need of the hour is to expand our population control measures and not give ‘guarantees’ of food to the poor for eternity (simply, because it is not viable).

With this, I want to raise the larger question of political shortsightedness that has prevailed in this country for the second time in our independent history. The consequences of the first such wave of shortsighted political decisions were averted by the 1991 liberalisation as it brought millions of dollars of foreign investment into the country. Actions like repeated loan waivers, food security Bills and the siphoning off of billions of rupees of public money is some day going to cost us heavily. Not only am I worried because there may not be a saviour this time, but also because mass starvation and malnourishment in future seems inevitable!

Rape in India: Selective uproar?

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Last week, Mumbai witnessed a gang rape of a young photojournalist, who had ventured into the deserted Shakti Mill compound with a colleague, to take pictures of the dilapidated building, late in the evening. What happened to her inside the mill building has been adequately reported by all sections of the media, so I do not want to elaborate on it. The evening after this particular rape was reported, prime time debates on news channels, spent an hour or more ‘outraging’ over the unfortunate incident. A Times of India report, quoting the National Crime Records Bureau says that every 20 minutes, a woman is raped somewhere in India. If that figure is accurate, while our channel editors and ‘experts’ spent an hour trying to get to the bottom of the rape menace we face today, four women in India were raped from 9 pm to 10 pm.

The media had covered the Nirbhaya gang rape extensively and since then, this rape case has got comparable media coverage. If between Nirbhaya and the Mumbai gang rape, there have been a few hundred rapes in India (perhaps more), why do we find that this particular rape has found the media’s constant attention? The Jaslok Hospital held a press conference in which journalists asked all sorts of personal questions about the victim’s injuries and surgeries, which was covered live by many news channels. NDTV also conducted a ‘We The People’ discussion show at Bandra’s Taj Lands End on the issue, with Pooja Bhatt, Farhan Akthar and Priya Dutt among others.

Only ten days ago, a thirteen year old girl in Greater Noida, was gang raped by three men, according to a Firstpost.com report. Why did the same media not turn up the volume, make that case front page news? In the same Mumbai where the photojournalist was raped by five men, a woman was raped by a certain Dr Soonawala in his clinic. A few newspapers carried the story for a few days. Some even reported how the police aided the accused in escaping from police custody. The police was involved in helping the accused escape! Why was there no media uproar when this drama was playing out in Mumbai only a couple of months back?

The media is guilty of selectively playing up a rape case. Of course the plight of women in the country must be brought out and a campaign must be carried out, in which the media plays a constructive role. But what has the media done instead? It has picked up one incident of crime (from the many that may have happened this week itself!), and is serving as a pressure group to force the State to act against the perpetrators of this crime as soon as possible. What next? What about the next rape victim who goes through this ordeal? Or what about the one who underwent this torture before this photojournalist? Is the media doing justice to them?

What the media is doing to ensure justice for the photojournalist is commendable. But on a broader level, by selectively making a big deal out of some rape cases, it is not doing the cause any favour. In fact, I strongly believe that by such a selective uproar, the media is misusing the power it enjoys over the State today. The clout the media has must be used wisely and channel it in a way that treats every citizen equally. One rape victim cannot be treated as more important than the other. This is not to say that every time a heinous crime is committed, there should be a loud campaign, as then there would be no other reporting! When the consequence of an uproar is such that it makes one rape case the priority of the police force and State in general, it becomes a discrimination of sorts.The media is failing in its duty, which is to report incidents in an unbiased manner and serve as a tool of social change. Justice for one girl is not social change.

 

Bytes & Debates: Is this news?

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Last week, prime time TV news channels witnessed a flurry of cacophonous and pointless debates. The subject, invariably was ‘Communalism vs. Secularism’, where representatives from Congress, BJP, SP, BSP, etc made allegations and counter allegations about the ‘communal’ activities of the other party. What sparked off this aggr?essive and loud debate? In an interview to Reuters, CM of Gujarat, Narendra Modi was asked a question about his feelings with respect to the riot victims. His answer included an analogy to the accidental death of a puppy under a car (which he may not even be driving), where he meant ‘puppy’ as the tiniest of living beings and that even if such a creature is harmed, he would be pained by it. Even a critic of Modi like me could understand what he meant by the analogy. How is it then that the Indian news media made such a big deal out of it? One explanation is that they are low on intelligence to confuse an analogy with a comparison (“Modi compares riot victims to puppies”, some anchors shouted). The ‘secular’ brigade got their opportunity to cash in on the controversy and the Modi brigade got a chance to expose the Congress’ lack of ideas for tackling the Opposition.

All news channels played Modi’s statement over and over again and made ‘Breaking News’ out of every politician’s reaction to this so-called ‘controversy’ that was ‘raging all over the country.’ In the days that followed, Modi made a direct reference to the Congress’ misuse of the word ‘secularism.’ “Every time Congress is cornered by the Opposition with real issues it raises the bogey of ‘communalism’ and hides behind its ‘burqa of secularism’,” Modi said. Frankly, I believe the Aam Aadmi of this country has stopped caring about the ‘Communalism’ debate long ago. When neither of these parties can provide basic necessities to every citizen of this country, of what use is their ideological posturing? Modi made a lot of other points in his speech which were debatable, points which actually concern the problems we face today. The media still chose to focus on the one line that could allow them to create an atmosphere of polarisation, at least in their studios, if not in the real world. This exposes a very alarming trend in the media.

Who benefits the most by the rejuvenation of a religion based polarization in India? I think both Congress and BJP have a lot to gain. These are times when Congress has nothing to take to the people after two terms in Government, and parties like SP are stealing its minority vote. The Congress only stands to benefit when Modi accuses Congress of minority appeasement as the minorities are given the impression that the Congress has done something for them, when it actually hasn’t. The BJP also gains as it leads people to believe that the Congress has been ‘appeasing’ Muslims, while the reality is that the Congress has, in recent times, been too busy scamming the country, to appease anyone else. Both parties hope to consolidate their traditional voters, who have lately been deserting them for regional parties. This explains why a motivated media is picking up a small line in Modi’s speech and is holding national debates over it for days together.

This situation is very alarming as it raises serious doubts about the integrity  of Indian democracy’s fourth pillar, that is the media. I do not believe the media is entirely corrupt. I think Indian media is facing a shortage of talent at the moment, where mediocre reporters, who can speak fluent English get a platform that they may not necessarily deserve to give their wise opinions on a wide range of issues. The definition of ‘national news’ has been distorted to such an extent that more than the event itself, a politician’s reaction to it makes ‘Breaking News’. And once they decide to track a story, they make it appear as if the entire country, apart from that one place, has come to a standstill!

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Arnab Goswami, anchor of the Newshour, on Times Now.

Ever since Arnab Goswami created his own style of anchoring the prime time debate, all channels except NDTV 24×7, have tried to emulate him. Headlines Today’s Rahul Kanwal, who used to be bearable once upon a time has turned into a poorly executed copy of Arnab. Despite being heavily pro-Government, I believe NDTV is doing a good job of reporting news. NDTV India’s (Hindi news channel) prime time debate, anchored by Ravish Kumar is also a cut above the rest.

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Ravish Kumar, from NDTV India.

What I have also noticed is that news reports are limited to urban and semi-urban areas. Even during Maharashtra’s terrible drought this year, reporting from the ground was extremely poor. How will India’s urban population find out what goes on in rural India if the mainstream media decides to black out huge parts of the country? I think the media is partly responsible for a growing disconnect between India’s urban and rural populations. Blinded by the din of ‘national news’, news editors have forgotten that a majority of the country’s populace lives in villages.

I think it is important for responsible journalists from the old school and the new school to put a stop to the plummeting standards of Indian television news media. The industry is relatively new and is still to mature, but the time has come for veterans to change the way television news is functioning.

 

 

Political system must be replaced, not parties

Indian Polity Today has served many purposes. It has been an outlet for my anger against the system. It has been my platform for expressing opinions & views on various issues apart from it being my venture into what I believe can be called political analysis. I realize today that this blog has been more than just that. This blog has been a record of the transformation of my thoughts and beliefs over the last two years. Writing for Indian Polity Today, has often made me think about subjects I would not normally have thought about. As I wrote articles, I kept working on ideas, provoked myself to take stands on issues; pushed myself to think: which side is right? Is there a side to this that has not yet been brought out? All of this has resulted in my understanding of politics and democracy improving to some extent over the last two years.

The research I did for this blog made me realise how India’s political parties are all just one family. This family runs a firm that makes money by siphoning off public funds. Sometimes the husband dominates and at other times the wife does; the other members usually pick one side and sometimes choose to be equidistant from this principal couple. I understand now that it will not matter whether the husband has the upper hand or the wife, because both of them (Congress and BJP) are running the same business of looting the people. What can change my country’s prospects is a complete overhaul of the system – Sampoorna Vyavastha Parivartan.

This family’s behaviour has given rise to a new power in this country, the Aam Aadmi Party. As an Aam Aadmi, I have been volunteering for this new political party. I have been with AAP for the last three months and I have certain observations to share with you:

1. Brijlal, from AAP Lalitpur (a rural area of Uttar Pradesh) was recently murdered in cold blood by an ex-MP of the Congress. His goons ran a car over Brijlal multiple times until he breathed his last. Despite receiving threats to his life, Brijlal tried his best to expose the corrupt former MP in question and actually ended up losing his life. Santosh Koli, an extremely fearless RTI activist who was part of Arvind Kejriwal’s Parivartan NGO and was recently selected as AAP’s Seemapuri candidate for the Delhi Assembly elections, suffered the tenth attempt on her life earlier this week as she was knocked off her motorbike by a speeding car. What do these two events tell us? The two events clearly reflect the degree of paranoia spreading within the family of Indian politicians because of this new power, AAP.

2. Some Indians today consider certain politicians to be their ‘saviours’ after ten years of UPA rule. For example, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi is hailed by many as India’s future Prime Minister. Many people in Maharashtra hope Raj Thackeray will change their fate. In Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav is seen as the young maverick who will solve the problems of the people. We at AAP see it like this. All those MPs who will elect a Narendra Modi for the job of PM will have won the Lok Sabha elections after investing crores of rupees of black money (as Gopinath Munde recently admitted), as is the norm. Assuming Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister, will he be able to stop his MPs from seeking returns on those investments? If he tries, they simply will not support him! What this means is, anyone who is a part of this present political set up which runs on the basis of ‘money through power and power through money’ cannot possibly make our lives better. If contractors fund these political parties, who will be the priority for them: the Aam Aadmi or the donors?

3. One of my friends once asked me, “Why did they name this party Aam Aadmi Party? Will this not suddenly exclude a number of rich businessmen who may want to be a part of the movement, but could also feel that they aren’t exactly Aam Aadmis?” I believe many of you feel the same way. Lets take a look at the definition of ‘Aam Aadmi’. Does it refer to the middle class and economically weaker sections of the country? If yes, does it mean rich people in this country are Khaas Aadmis? No. Aam Aadmi means any individual in this country who does not have access to state or non-state sponsored privileges and special treatment. Simply put, anyone in this country who can get caught by a traffic policeman for violation of rules, and can not get away without bribing him or coughing up the fine, is an Aam Aadmi! Is that not inclusive enough?

4. For months now, I have been told by people that they are not sure about voting for AAP because they seem to have a one-point agenda of fighting corruption. We do not know their stands on most other issues. I must say that this is not true. Aam Aadmi Party is not campaigning on a one-point agenda. This is the perception of people because of an unfortunate lack of information, as the mainstream media has almost blacked out the party and its leaders’ speeches (ever since the expose on Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance). For your convenience, here is a video of Arvind Kejriwal (AAP National Convener) addressing the nation at a Leadership Conclave in Mumbai, through a video link. This 18 minute video will answer most questions about AAP’s agenda.

If you have been avoiding voting so far because of the lack of good candidates, now is the time to come out and vote for an Aam Aadmi. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will? Your vote matters more than you think (especially if you are a non-voter, read http://www.politypathshala.com/2013/04/government-of-non-voters.html ). Please think about what I have said in this blog and feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding the same.

The God, the Bad and the Greedy

Indian Polity Today began as a comment on India’s politics and society. For a while, I have focused on the politics and written very little about social issues. I read a very interesting article written this week by a very close friend of mine, Ipshita Adhyapak, about the role of God in our lives and how human greed has trumped everything else.

Full disclosure: I am an atheist. But as a majority populace of this country has faith in the Almighty, this article is relevant in today’s times. 

It all started a couple of days ago,when my grandparents decided they wanted to go to the Siddhivinayak temple. Dad and I decided to accompany them, and we set off early in the morning.By mid-day, we not only went to Siddhivinayak, but also to two other temples and the Haji Ali masjid. I couldn’t help but wonder, what was the purpose behind doing so much – offering flowers, sweets, incensed sticks besides offering money? Every time we visit such famous temples, I see people offering ridiculously high amounts of money!

I don’t doubt anybody’s devotion and faith in god, butaren’t such offerings insignificant? It all finally goes to the trash bin!Its bizarre that we offer pure ghee,gold ornaments and even sacrifice animals to these deities. Why would they possibly need such things-supposedly their own creations?

There are millions of people who aren’t privileged enough like us to get a decent meal into their bellies. Anyone wants to give them a thought? How about offering that 500 rupee note to a beggar,at leas they’ll have some use for it!

I’m a student of science and my mind is supposed to work in the most logical way,but I still believe in god because I have been raised to do so. Much as I hate to admit it,my faith in god is fast eroding. I have witnessed too much of bad in the recent few years. Our country is probably in its worst state possible since independence.Politicians can’t get enough of filling their own coffers;scams after scams are exposed on national TV but the only thing you can expect from the political class (most of whom are a bunch of uneducated, uncivilised, irresponsible’leaders’) is the blame game. And still we can only blame ourselves for voting the same old gone-cases to power each time.

We can’t expect much from the people we elected and our solution to all public problems is blaming the government. Guess what, that’s not providing any solution! On taking a closer look, I found the culprit to be GREED.

Greed is the root cause of most of our problems and this brings me back to my original topic, which is our belief in the existence of a higher power-God. If god were really existed, would he not have realized what I did? Would he not see that millions are suffering unimaginable torture? Would he not see that we really aren’t capable of managing our lives? That our greed has gotten the better of us and the only future now is downhill? That there is nothing like punishment  for our previous life’s sins? If karma existed, the corrupt should not have lasted this long right? Does God not see that the sincere people rarely get anywhere in life? That on their way to success humans usually Have to give up on their values?

Where is the universe’s ‘balance of good and evil’ that we have all heard about since childhood?

These thoughts provoke me into doubting the existence of God. I’m 18, appearing for various entrance exams, going through one of the most crucial periods of my life. I would love to believe in God, but I can not, simply cannot turn a blind eye towards the most obvious facts thrown at me every morning via the newspaper. Take for example the severe drought that has hit Maharashtra and the southern states since last year. The fields have lost all its plantations, cattle are being sent to slaughter houses, farmers are committing suicide or are looking for labour. They are the source of our basic requirement-food, yet no relief is provided to them.

So what exactly is happening? I’m as clueless as you are. I know one thing for sure, our world lacks balance. Our greed has overcome every emotion and we have turned a blind eye to our fellow beings When the Mayans predicted 2012 to be the end of mankind, they probably meant the end of humanity.

Isn’t this where our ‘God’ should have stepped in and done something? Restore some sort of balance or justice in our world? Or does He still think we are capable of saving ourselves from this mess. If that’s the case then I’m sure we still have some goodness in us.

I can’t talk much about Gods existence, but I firmly believe that -we homo sapiens,are the most successful story of evolution; that we, have been gifted with this most powerful tool-intelligence; that if God exists, He didn’t make us humans just to provide for ourselves, but  to work for others.

We are all always complaining about not having enough. Take a look round, you might just thank your God for being this kind to you. We think too much about ourselves. I wrote this piece with a simple and earnest request to all of you to take a minute out of your hectic lives and just contribute towards the betterment of our cracked and decaying society. Be it in the form of a donation, social service or just using your resources responsibly. Every bit counts. Your God doesn’t need your money or offerings as much as that old lady you ignore on your way to the temple does.

We all have our own beliefs, but the need of the hour is what holds utmost importance. I think we’ll earn more blessings from God if we do for others rather than mindlessly wasting precious resources. As I type, my extremely god-fearing,god-adoring grandparents are making yet another plan of visiting a famous temple. Had they known that they have earned enough blessings and goodwill by doing for others to last them more then a lifetime of happiness, we would save a few litres of fuel. Shouldn’t we convey this more effectively to our countrymen that ‘Service to mankind is service to God’? Food for thought. 

-Ipshita.

 

 

Personality over Ideology

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The Parliamentary system of India allows for multiple political parties, catering to multiple aspirations, to take part in any election and represent varying ideologies and beliefs. Indian politicians and political analysts as well, often celebrate the vibrancy of India’s multiple party politics. Various parties have been formed out of and merged with existing ones, for reasons ranging from personal rivalries, factionalism and ideology. 

Ideally, a multi-party system is democracy in its true form, as it means that every sizeable voter group’s aspirations can be represented. One or two parties can never do justice to the needs and wants of all sections of society, especially in a country as diverse as India. Let’s take a look at a few parties that launched after Independence to cater to specific sections of voters who needed some kind of representation or voice at the time. 

Party

Purpose 

Shiv Sena 

To fight for the pride of Mumbai’s Marathi population and ensure employment for locals 

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) 

To stand for Tamil pride and fuel secessionist demands for a South Indian Nation 

Bhartiya Jan Sangh (now Bhartiya Janata Party) 

To promote Hindu nationalism and oppose minority appeasement politics of the Congress 

 
The parties mentioned above are few political outfits which actually started out with a mission in mind. This is not to justify their ideologies, but to point out that they were indeed committed to their beliefs. Now lets have a look at other parties that launched after Independence because of personal rivalries and factionalism, sometimes under the garb of ideology. 

  1. Shiv Sena was split by Raj Thackeray to form a new party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, because Bal Thackeray chose his son Uddhav, over Raj to lead the party. Image

  2. Indian National Congress was split by Sharad Pawar to form the Nationalist Congress Party, under the pretext of not allowing a foreign born (Sonia Gandhi) to lead the INC. Clearly Mr Pawar wanted more importance in the party which was denied to him by the elevation of Sonia Gandhi as party President. Image

  3. M.G. Ramachandran split the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam because of his differences with M Karunanidhi, then CM of Tamil Nadu and leader of the DMK., to form the All Indian Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Image

The Shiv Sena & MNS have the same ideology , the same voter base and a similar party structure. The same goes for DMK & AIADMK and INC & NCP. 

This shows that many of the multiple parties are products of inflated egos of disgruntled party leaders who had ambitions which could not be satisfied inside the parent parties. This splitting business has only resulted in a fractured mandate in elections and increasingly difficult-to-handle coalition governments, without any real representation of the people. What is worse about these personality-based splitting factions is that because the background of their formation, the leader can make the new party his or her family business.  

As a result of this mess, the multi-party system has turned on India’s democracy and made it a Quasi-monarchy, with each political family running its own fiefdom. These parties use their goons to solve petty, local problems and buy the loyalty of the poor voter using either money or muscle power. They win regional elections and also Lok Sabha seats which arms them with a bargaining power over the Central Government. They become what I call small scale Kingmakers. In a Federal Union, there is nothing wrong with having a weak centre and strong state units. The problem arises when these states begin to lose sight of national interests and the greater good.  

To my mind, there is no doubt that a multi-party system is the true form of democracy. However, when we allow personality-centric parties to flourish, rather than ideology-based, true representation of the people goes for a toss. The leader is portrayed as the solution to people’s problems, rather than policies.  

One way to ensure that parties are not split by disgruntled leaders is to make sure that every political party has a functioning intra-party democracy and intra-party anti-corruption mechanisms. To some extent, this will prevent elected representatives from being bought over by a rebelling leader and also allow him a democratic way of expressing his discomfort within the party. Presently, these measures can only be written about in articles like these as the political class is happy with the way things are run in this country. As they are the ones who have the power to change the system, it would be foolish to expect them to destroy their own comfort zones. 

Modi growth story – Fact or Fiction? (Part 1 of 3)

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by Akshay Marathe and Mayank Gandhi

The Gujarat growth model, being marketed by Narendra Modi is being seen by the middle class as a solution to all the problems of the nation. We intend to understand its strengths and weaknesses and indicate a constructive alternative model of growth. This article is Part 1 of a three part series on Narendra Modi’s Gujarat model. While it cannot be denied that Gujarat has seen growth in terms of water, electricity and good roads, there are some aspects of growth that need to be analysed.

One of the argument for the Modi growth model is the legitimacy it gets due to 3 consecutive electoral victories. Congress has been ruling India for 60 years, CPM had been ruling WB for over 30 years, Lalu had won 3 terms. We do not subscribe to electoral success begetting good governance.
 
Historical perspective
 
Gujarat has seen high growth rates for the last 20 years, even before Modi came into the picture. So the high growth in recent years is a continuation of the sound growth in the past. The Chimanbhai Patel era (1990 to 1995) was one of extremely high investments. Owing to these and subsequent investments, growth rates for the period 1995-2000, were around 8.01 per cent. From 2001 to 2010, that is, under Modi’s leadership, this number has risen to 8.68 – a marginal increase of 0.67 per cent.
 
Gujaratis have been known to be excellent tradesmen and entrepreneurs for centuries. We concede that a business friendly atmosphere has been continued by Modi, which has resulted in this marginal growth. Fortunately for Gujaratis, there has been good rainfall and almost no drought in recent years. What must be noted though is that Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have also experienced growth at comparable rates. In either period, Gujarat was not at the top (as is being made out by Modi supporters). In 1995-2000, it was at second position, and in the 2000-2010 period it was third after Uttarakhand (11.81 per cent) and Haryana (8.95 per cent). Industry has grown in Orissa and Chhattisgarh at 17.5 and 13.3 per cent respectively during 2005-09, higher than Gujarat’s 12.6 per cent. Gujarat ranked sixth among major states in per capita income in 2011, with Rs 63,996, after Haryana (Rs 92,327), Maharashtra (Rs 83,471), Punjab (Rs 67,473), Tamil Nadu (Rs 72,993) and Uttarakhand (Rs 68,292).
 
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The Sardar Sarovar Dam has been one of the key components of Modi’s growth story. During his tenure, the dam was instrumental is reaching water to distant parts of the state. However, the dam was first proposed during the Janata Party Government and work on it was continued by all subsequent governments, including Congress ones.
 
So, was the slight acceleration in growth due to Modi’s policies as he claims or could it also have been a result of the completion of the Sardar Sarovar project, and an almost drought-free (except for Saurashtra region) ten years?
 
Non-inclusive growth
 
The 2002 riots, which were probably a reaction to the Godhra massacre, have nonetheless put a big blot on Modi’s record. At every opportunity it gets, the Congress uses the riots as its ammunition to label the BJP and Modi as ‘communal.’ The BJP then counters it by telling anyone who would listen that since 2002 there have been no riots in the state. We want to go beyond the communal angle and consider the riots from a purely security-centred perspective. For a moment if we ignore the religion of the Indians who died, a question arises: How can Modi be an ideal leader when he failed so miserably at protecting the lives of over a thousand of his subjects from rogue elements of the society? It is the State’s principal responsibility to ensure peace and protect its citizens – Mr. Modi failed in this Rajdharma (a primary duty of the government to protect all citizens, regardless of their castes or religion).
 
He is alleged to have encouraged, if not engineered the riots, but so far has been cleared by courts and tribunals. Coincidentally, Headlines Today, a television news channel ran a story on the riots this week. The report shows that the Modi administration neglected warnings and refused to impose a curfew in the city – “Despite the flurry of ground reports and advance warnings, no curfew was imposed in Ahmedabad till noon the next day. The BJP government supported the VHP called bandhs that, as events turned out, proved to be the pretext under which violent mobs were mobilized.” By the time curfew was imposed, the damage had been done.
 
The bloodshed has created lots of misgivings about the intention of the government in a significant number of the populace. Today, a large chunk of the national electorate, namely OBC (32%), SC (16.2%), ST (8.2%), Muslims (13.4%), Christians (2.3%) – Total (72.1%) of the people tend to look at him with suspicion and  distrust. They may not be willing participants in Modi’s development model as they feel insecure because of his reputation. The development model heavily favours the urban middle class.
 
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Urban and industry bias
 
In the last 12 years, there has been a shift from focus on rural development towards an urban and industry bias. Land acquisition is rampant in Gujarat (as is the case in other parts of the country as well). One of the authors (Mayank Gandhi) once led a rally in Surat of over 25000 farmers near the industrialized Surat-Hazira belt.Their land had been taken away by the Government to make way for large industries owned by Reliance, Adani, ONGC, Essar etc. The farmers were given a reasonable price for their lands, but the loss of livelihood was much too severe for them. Their cattle suffered because area of grasslands in that region was reduced to less than one-fifth of the original area! So while industry benefited greatly, locals were displaced and unemployed. The smoke spewing, gas guzzling plants have destroyed the entire ecology permanently. Is this the model of development that the nation needs?
 
Modi has spoken at length about how he convinced the Tatas to open their plant at Sanand in Gujarat, when their West Bengal venture did not work out. He makes a case that the people of Gujarat will benefit by automobile companies setting shop in the state. It is interesting to note that the BJP lost the Sanand seat to the Congress in the 2012 election! Had this industry really benefited locals as Modi claims, would they not have voted in his favour? By providing low interest rates, cheap rentals and waiving stamp duty, the Government did persuade Tata to set up its plant, but was this in the interest of the people? No, it wasn’t. To further add to the problems faced by the locals, the state government policy of ensuring 85 per cent recruitment for locals was also waived for the project. The fact is the citizens of Gujarat were directly or indirectly paying around Rs 60,000 for each Nano sold by the Tatas – this is a criminal misuse of authority by the Government.
 
If one analysed the latest Gujarat election result, one could notice that in the rural areas, BJP and Cong won almost equal seats, while in tribal areas, out of 21 seats, 18 were won by Cong and 3 by Cong.
 
Poverty and malnutrition
 
While poverty has reduced in the state in general, it has done poorly in this respect when compared to other states. According to the Planning Commission, Gujarat’s rank in poverty alleviation is 11th among a list of 20 major states. In fact, the tribal population (17% of the total) in the state has actually seen an increase in poverty in the last decade. What is worrying is that Gujarat’s under-five mortality rate has stagnated and is far behind that of its peers. Child mortality is significantly higher among girls than boys and that difference hasn’t narrowed over the years. Malnutrition is very severe among Gujarat’s children and women, and the only defence that Modi could come up with was an unfortunate diversion of the issue to the dieting habits of Gujarati women. It is no surprise then that in a recent study by UNDP, Gujarat ranked 8thamong major Indian states in human development and the Planning Commission’s Human Development Index has placed Gujarat as low on the list as 18!
 
One conclusion that can be drawn from these facts is that the high growth has apparently benefited only a select segment of the population. This means that Modi’s Gujarat model is far less effective than it is being made out to be and shows that growth’s implicit ‘trickle down’ effect is absent in the Modi regime.
 
On this note, we end Part 1. Part 2 of the series will include issues of corruption, centralization of decision making and governance problems in the Modi administration. The next installment will be out in about a week.

State of the Nation

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I haven’t written much lately because I have been busy with my ISC 12th Board examinations. I have been meaning to write something for quite a while now. Since my last article, which was on Rahul Gandhi, a lot has changed in Indian politics. The two main political parties saw a few changes in their leadership situations. Rahul Gandhi was finally made the official second-in-command, second after Mrs Gandhi, and BJP elected Rajnath Singh as their National President after a turbulent week of politicking around Nitin Gadkari’s candidature for the post. One politician announced his entry on the national stage by addressing some of India’s brightest students at the Sri Ram College of Commerce. Narendra Modi, fourth time Gujarat Chief Minister, outlined his vision for India through a narration of his work in Gujarat, to much applause from the young men and women.
All those who believe that 2014 will see a Narendra Modi v/s. Rahul Gandhi battle should prepare for some major disappointment. Rahul Gandhi has indeed shown the country that since Motilal Nehru, the Nehru-Gandhi family has exhibited an exponential decline in the capacity of their successive generations to lead a nation. Not unlike his mother, the Gandhi scion has probably realised that it will be more comfortable to run the Government from outside it, than as a part of it. He could lead his mysterious life the way he is leading it right now and allow his mother and the Congress’ sycophants to run the country the way they want to. Of course, any of this will matter only if the Congress is re-elected in the 2014 General elections.
The other major development has been a decline of many regional satraps. Nobody seems to be talking about this decline, possibly because there is a lot more drama in the two main parties to consider the smaller parties. Since Bal Thackeray’s passing away, the Shiv Sena has become weaker, with quite a few leaders defecting to rival parties. The Samajwadi party has gradually been losing popularity since they got elected last year. Mamata Bannerjee is arguably the biggest loser of them all, with a huge population becoming disillusioned with the whimsical leader. The reason this weakening is of significance, is that it makes the 2014 election even more complex than people believe it is going to be. It greatly increases the likelihood of an incredibly fractured mandate, with no political party crossing even 150 Lok Sabha seats.There is another event that took place in the last two months, that few Indians are aware of. People wonder why Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party has suddenly become invisible and inactive. They have reason to be curious because ever since Mr Kejriwal’s Swiss bank account expose that involved big names like the Ambanis, he has virtually disappeared off TV screens and newspapers. What people are clueless about, is a legal notice that Mukesh Ambani sent to media houses that ran Mr Kejriwal’s presser threatening them that he would take them to court for playing his expose on Live television, without ‘substantiating his claims’ and as a result defaming Reliance and Mr Ambani. The funny part is that Mr Ambani threatened the people who conveyed the AAP National Convener’s allegations and not Mr Kejriwal himself. The media’s role is to convey what is happening and what significant people are saying, regardless of the veracity of the things spoken. By threatening the media, Mr Ambani has seriously hampered the media’s independence. If his argument is assumed to be correct, the media should never play a clip of politicians denying their roles in corruption scams, because their denials are ‘unsubstantiated.’For well wishers of Mr Kejriwal and the AAP, you will be happy to know that his political revolution is taking place in New Delhi in a big way. Every single day he holds a rally (Jan Sabha) in a different Assembly constituency to create awareness among the people about Congress and BJP’s corruption. He explains what changes he wishes to make, if elected, and runs his campaign on the promise of decentralization of power. His rallies attract huge crowds of genuine supporters (who are not brought to the location by buses from surrounding villages) cheering him throughout his speeches. The Delhi elections in October this year would be very interesting even if the AAP were to win a third of the seats, as Delhi is usually a two-way battle between Congress and BJP. Assuming the rest of the seats are shared by the two national parties, there would be a hung Assembly! This is not to say that the party is active only in Delhi. Local leaders of the party in Maharashtra like Mayank Gandhi and Anjali Damania are raising very important issues and campaigning in the state against massive corruption in the Maharashtra Government, most importantly in the irrigation sector (the irrigation scam has hit the farmers very hard).

Maharashtra’s politics has been disappointing as ever. Bhaskar Jadhav, an NCP Minister from the Konkan region spent crores of rupees on a lavish wedding ceremony for his son’s marriage. He invited over one lakh people for lunch, including hundreds of ‘VIP’s for which he used around 22 helipads to ferry the important men to the location. The fact that he has the money to organise such an event is no longer appalling because everybody has accepted that politicians make big money through corruption and nobody can do anything about it. The appalling part was that this comes at a time when Maharashtra is facing its worst drought in its post-independence history. I am unable to understand how a person who claims to be an elected representative dares to be so insensitive to his people. Having said this, I appeal to my readers to choose their representative wisely and save this democracy from going to the dogs.