Narendra Modi

Why Indians need to see more of the country they live in

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi may not have nudged we Indians into travelling more often in India than we do abroad but he surely has invited attention and it’s a good enough Independence Day intervention from the man who is master in making you reflect.

Modi wants us to make at least 15 travels within India by 2022 when India would be a young 75. Figures of 2016 show Indians already travel more within (1613 million) than they do abroad (21 million) but that’s a coarse understanding. We all know we spend five times more abroad than we do while travelling within. There is a kick when you pack your bags for Sweden than when you do it for Sarnath. You feel equal, if not superior, within your family, friends and neighbours.

All of us who travel abroad screw up their noses at hotels, transport, infrastructure, squalor and surging humanity which surrounds our own popular tourist destinations—all this of course without visiting much of India!  Yet, they are right. Just imagine our religious (Mathura, Vrindavan, Tirupati, Vaishno Devi), scenic (Ooty, Shimla, Mussoorie) or Hilly terrains (Manali, Darjeeling) and a Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur begins to make much better sense. That surely is much better value for your rupee.

Yet, think.

India is a country which has all but Himalayas bound by Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. Amazing rivers (Ganga, Yamuna, Brahmaputra, Indus) are its rich veins. Incredible waterfalls dot our interiors. Wildlife like rarely elsewhere; deserts as daunting as Thar; forests as dense as Sunderban or Gir; caves carved like ones in Ajanta or Ellora; temples like Rameshwaram and Khajuraho which knock your breath out; forts like ones in Agra, Jaipur or Mysore; lakes in Nainital or Ooty; hill stations like Coorg and Shimla; snow-capped peaks which can soar young to do adventure as they do to meditate or brood over the profound for the elderly.

Come on, no less than 37 venues are World Heritage Sites authenticated by UNESCO in 2017.  These are parts of India’s rich cultural, historical and religious heritage.

Modi concedes India needs better infrastructure for its tourist destinations. And his solution offered makes so much sense. More footfalls would bring more investment; and better infrastructure would usher in more jobs for our young and restless. Technology would make inroads at so many levels. Administration would’ve much more funds to police as well as to beautify the location. Theatre and dance; artistes and artisans; local culinary and skills all get a fillip.

And if you think India is lightweight on matters of tourism think again. The World Travel and Tourism Council tabulated that tourism generated Rs 16.91 lakh crore (US$240 billion) or 9.2% of India’s GDP in 2018 and supported 32.673 million jobs, 8.1% of its total employment. The forecast is of 6.9% annual growth rate to Rs. 32.05 lakh crore (US $460 billion) by 2028 (9.9% of GDP). And we are not even talking of medical tourism which is already worth US $3 billion in 205. By next year, it’s expected to be worth US $7-8 billion.

While reflecting on India and its inbound travelers, Tamil Nadu is the most visited state. Just reflect on the names of Kanyakumari, Rameshwaram, Ooty and Kodaikanal and you would know why. Interestingly, Uttar Pradesh is the second most visited of all Indian states by domestic travellers. Be it religious sacredness of Mathura or Varanasi; Prayag or Sarnath; Ayodhya or Vrindavan, forts of Agra; the regal nawabi heritage of Lucknow, UP is far more richer than is given credit for.

Most southern states are in India’s top 10 tourist destinations but for Kerala which is surprising given God’s Own Country has Alleppey and Munnar to boast of, among others. Rajasthan, surprisingly, is on number 10 for it just doesn’t alone have magnificent forts but also Pushkar and much-revered shrines. And we haven’t come to talking of Goa, Andaman, Leh, Puri, Amristar, Bodhgaya and Shirdi.

And as Modi said, ever wondered on the magnificence of North East? Cherrapunjee, most won’t know, is in Meghalaya after all.

The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 ranks India 40th out of 136 countries. It’s air transport (32nd) is rated good and the one on ground (29th) is reasonable too. The country also scores high on natural and cultural resources (9th).

But let’s be grounded for the moment. Just think of the benefit domestic travel would do to bring different cultures, languages, food and customs closer within our own contours. It would improve brotherhood and remove alien-ness. Besides, as Modi said, we would only be deepening our roots in this sacred land. Generation next too would retain the bond.

“Mitti, paani, hawaon se nayi urja prapt karein (Gain new energy from the earth, water and winds of this land)” was the exhortation Modi made from the ramparts of Red Fort in the Capital on the Independence Day on Thursday. If all of us do it, we would be enriching both us and the country we live in.

Triple Talaq Bill: Are Indian Muslims now political orphans?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Indian Muslims, most of whom are political, have a difficult choice today.

They number most in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal and switch between SP and BSP; JD(U) and RJD; and CPI(M) and TMC. None of them stood by them on Triple Talaq Bill, not at least as a complete bloc.

They have been steadfast to Congress for all the independent years of India, ignoring few seats the party afforded to the community in Lok Sabha and promises which were never kept. This boat is close to capsizing now in the political churn whipped up by India’s dominant right-wing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Worse, in five desertions in Rajya Sabha, its Gandhis and Vadras have betrayed their poor hold on the flock.

Your newspapers are unlikely to tell you that between 1952 and 1977, when Congress and Congress alone mattered, the Muslim representation was never more than seven per cent in the Lok Sabha.

Political parties, specific to Muslim identity, such as AIMIM, the Indian Union Muslim League and All-India United Democratic Front—in all there are seven Muslim parties– have looked to fish in the troubled waters. They have caught little except that Asaduddin Owaisi makes an appearance in your drawing rooms, finger-wagging and presenting his report card in newly explored regions of Maharashtra, UP and Bihar. Truth to tell, AIMIM is confined to Hyderabad alone though West Bengal has lately figured in Owaisi’s radar. Imams and Bukharis are good only for religious and moral discourse; as a political influencer, they stay in the basement.

Ironically, your Muslim and my Muslim could be two entirely different human beings.

The community is geographically dispersed across the country and is not a monolithic group. They have never voted with a singular national Muslim aspiration. Language, caste and social hierarchy fragment them; the supposed composite glass never existed. Shards on the floor are visible to even naked eyes.

India’s Liberal-Leftist media, Lutyens Media per se, have worked overtime in conjuring up Hinduphobia with an exaggerated focus on stray lynchings and the narrative of “saffron terror”in forced rendition of “Jai Shri Ram” etc but on ground, it has had had no traction whatsoever. In 80 of Lok Sabha’s 543 seats, Muslim number more than 20 per cent Yet, BJP won 58 of these 80 seats in 2019 Polls. One-fifth of UP is Muslim; yet BJP claimed 325 of 403 seats in 2017 assembly polls without fielding a single Muslim candidate!

The propagandists are elephants gone wild who are crushing the very narrative they are looking to fabricate. The signs of Muslim consolidation is nowhere but one of Hindus is visible everywhere. In constituencies where Muslims pack a punch, Hindus are coming as one in polling counters. BJP worked it out long before the first vote was cast in 2019 polls.

An average Indian Muslim today knows that beyond rhetoric, SP or BSP, JD(U) or RJD have no interest of their community at heart. Their agenda is to keep Indian Muslims poor, uneducated and thus malleable. It’s true of their last plank of hope too, i.e. Congress. They would do better to pay heed to the words of Arif Mohammad Khan who exhorts the community to uplift from within instead of blaming others for their mess. The community needs to trust India and its cultural heritage which is too big to be put on a leash even by a million Modis. It must stop looking for reservations or suffer from a persecution complex. It’s time to give up on false prophets. Educate and reform are two mantras it can’t do without.

 

History could remember Modi as one who freed up Indian Muslims

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

What do I tell which all of you already don’t know?

Maybe to my Muslim brethren who fault the Triple Talaq Bill—still not an Act till President Ram Nath Kovind puts his pen to paper– on its (a) criminal; (b) maintenance; (c) interference; and (d) whataboutery aspects that  (i) cruelty against wife is a criminal offence; (ii) maintenance provided for by erring husbands is statutory; (iii) interference citing Islam is neither borne out by Quran nor by practice since most Muslim states, including Pakistan, have outlawed it;  nor (iv)  Hindus or other minorities could escape punishment for cruelty against wife.

Maybe to those who are still smarting at the betrayal of Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP), along with those avowed champions of “minorities” and “secular values” such as JD(U), TRS, RJD, TDP and NCP that when push came to shove, these parties didn’t want to be seen in the Muslim corner and stand against the overwhelming tide. Parties such as SP and BSP still have nightmares about BJP leading in 385 out of 403 assembly seats and why Muslims are no longer the vote-bank they espoused! Their personal brief honeymoon is over too.

Maybe to those who see Mehbooba Mufti as champion of Islam, a baffling fact that her two PDP members in the Rajya Sabha stayed away from the vote-count even as she kept scare-mongering that BJP was “entering into our (Muslim) homes” using the legislation. Her rival for favours in the Kashmir Valley, Omar Abdullah didn’t miss out in pointing out her double standards even as he himself kept his counsel to himself.

And then you have Arvind Kejriwal who bemoaned the loss of Muslim votes after the 2019 Polls but is now frozen to his spot on the matter of Triple Talaq Bill. This is the man who wants a survey done on government jobs to ascertain the percentage of Muslim employees and whether the low number is evidence of a deep-rooted prejudice by the system.

Maybe to those who know or don’t know the names of the Congressmen who absented themselves (namely, Vivek Tankha, Ranjib Biswal, Mukut Mithi, Pratap Bajwa and Sanjay Sinh), it may come as a surprise that they did so against the express whip of their party to be present in the Rajya Sabha proceedings. Sonia Gandhi and the two apples of her eye: Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra have cloaked themselves from the public scrutiny on Triple Talaq Bill and their writ probably doesn’t run large as it used to.

Today, the husband-wife duo of Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose; Shekhar Gupta and Barkha Dutt are like frogs in the well of silence. Gupta has donned the persona of a Sherlock Holmes as he delves into every grain of coffee that its founder, now unfortunately dead, VG Siddhartha ever managed for his enterprise, Café Coffee Day. Barkha Dutt has worked herself into a lather on the Unnao rape victim.  Sagarika Ghose is just a cryptic “I-don’t-support-Triple-Talaq” while her husband is just an anchor on the subject with no personal opinion. And you thought their calling was upholding “freedom” and “gender justice.”

All of them have been caught in a bind. You stand up for Triple Talaq Bill and you alienate the Muslim community which number over 9 crores. You rail against the Bill and earn the wrath of fair gender and not just of Muslim women.

It’s the larger picture which has left them shaken to the core. An empowered BJP would now find it easier to push for the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A.  The hoax of scare-mongering is exposed. BJP, in one stroke, has created millions of extra votes for itself. The Opposition has nothing better than a fig leaf to hide their shame. The injustice of Shah Bano has been righted after a generation’s gap.

Above all, empowering Muslim women could transform the community. It frees them up to express opinion and seek financial security, gain education and pass on the good word to their kids. It loosens the control of Mullahs and Owaisis who exert it through the boardroom of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) or the platforms of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM).

As for Modi, history could judge him as the leader who took the first steps towards emancipation of a community which were led up the garden path by Nehru-Gandhis; Muftis and Abdullahs; Bukharis and Owaisis without deliverance.  This would be the irony of the sweetest kind.

 

India runs on Railways; So please be mindful Ms. Sonia Gandhi

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Railways was in news for different reasons last week. It wasn’t rail-budget (that the NDA government did away with in 2017 after 92 years); any train accident or cockroach in your dinner tray. It was because Sonia Gandhi, the matriarch of Congress, had opened her mouth and become a butt of joke.

Sonia makes few public speeches. But the other day, she spoke in Parliament and accused BJP of clandestinely “privatizing” Modern Coach Factory in Raebareli, Uttar Pradesh despite it producing coaches beyond its capacity. Her heart beat for thousands of employees who could be laid off. In perfect sync, All-India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF), with 1.4 million members, echoed Sonia’s fears.

Little had Sonia known of the muck it would invite on her own Congress party. Railway minister Piyush Goyal rose in reply and the skeletons of Congress regime began tumbling out. In 64 years, between 1950-2014, Congress had added only 13,000 odd tracks to its network; that Modern Coach Factory produced not a single coach since it was set in motion in 2007; and some unfinished projects in West Bengal date back from the 1970s. We would come to “privatization” bit in a while for a bigger Railways story awaits our attention.

India runs on Railways. Passenger services (11 million passengers per day) account for two-third of its operations; the remaining one-third is freight (6 lakh tonnes daily). In terms of revenue though the role reverses. Freight accounts for two-thirds of revenue. By 2050, India would account for 40 per cent of global Rail activity.

This is just a starter. India is poised to become world’s most populous nation by 2024.  Most of it would be young, needing goods and that too in double quick time. India would’ve 829 million Internet users by 2021. It’s a prospect which salivates E-commerce biggies. It also has the government drooling towards its 5 trillion-economy goal. Transportation infrastructure, along with energy, is the biggest economic growth driver for the country. A 7% or 8% growth is impossible without an efficient Railways.

The worry is most of India’s transportation business still runs on land. That’s because our railway tracks carry both passengers and freight. It slows up the goods movement to a crawl. It makes transporters wary; and the investors reluctant. They have good enough reasons too. The account book of Railways show that out of every rupee it earned, 93 paisa was spent just to keep it chugging and alive.

In comes Dedicated Freight Corridor. Demand for rail freight movement is infinite. It’s government’s priority too. Two corridors under construction are expected to be functional over the next two years. The Eastern and Western Corridor covers a total stretch of 3,360 kilometres. The Eastern Corridor stretches from Ludhiana (Punjab) to Dankunj (West Bengal) and the Western one lasts from Jawaharlal Nehru Port (Mumbai) to Dadri (Uttar Pradesh). Visit any of its sites and you would be stunned by the speed of operations in sorting out locomotive and wagon specifications, energy maximization, freight logistics, track safety, commercial and marketing plans and skill-enhancement centres etc.

Freight is a game India can’t lag behind. While inland waterways, coastal shipping, air and road transport are doing their bit, Railways has to be the prime mover to prepare India for its next decade. The matter is not just of economy, it’s of environment too. While jobs and revenue are paramount, the matter of environment is one of life and death.

Fortunately, Indian Railways has pulled up its stocks. Nearly 45 per cent of all our rail nework is electrified today and rest are running on diesel locomotive. No longer we are reliant on steam engines which are run on coal and its fossil fuel lay our environment waste. Most, if not all, of our superfast trains hav electric engines. More and more tracks are being electrified. Varanasi and Chittranjan manufacture all types of railways engines. Coach factories in Perambur, Kapurthala, Raebareli etc produce the compartments on which India runs.

And talk of passengers. Since 2000, the growth of passengers using Indian Railways has gone up by 200 per cent. It would only grow further. India needs more and more short-distance trains which are electric and power efficient. Superfast trains, lampooned by opposition, are critical too.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off India’s first semi high-speed train, Vande Bharat Express, earlier this year.  This plush 16-coach air-conditioned, self-propelled train doesn’t have a locomotive. It runs between Delhi and Varanasi with halts at Kanpur and Allahabad. The 780-km long journey is completed in eight hours and slices off three hours from it earlier duration. This is India’s fastest train to date. The looks and interiors of the train have the feel of a commercial airplane. Hold your breath, 130 similar semi high-speed trains are in the pipeline.

Sure, all this needs investment. Government is doing its bid to attract private players (General Electric is already there). Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is being sought. Public-Private Partnership is the need of the hour. Corporatization plan is mooted, like the one of Indian Railway Rolling Stock Company to hive off seven of its production units and associated workshops which Sonia Gandhi mischievously termed as “privatization.” Modernization drive has so far fetched Rs 1.21 lakh crore of investment. Indeed, the estimation is of $190 billion investment by 2050. High-speed trains could save India up to $64 billion on fuel expenses. The diesel cost presently is Rs 15000 crores per annum.

After an existence of 176 years, Indian Railways is getting the attention it deserves. No longer those railway budgets which were only meant to announce schemes and new routes and never saw the light.  It desperately needs investment and India is exploring all its avenues. To run it down as “privatization by stealth” is ethical debauchery.

 

Prashant Kishor: Why this man has India’s political class in thrall

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has put Prashant Kishor on her burning deck. Everyone connected with the Trinamool Congress (TMC)—EVERYONE—would listen to the master poll strategist behind closed doors of Kolkata’s Nazrul Mancha auditorium on Thursday.

Just imagine: “Didi”, that giant slayer of Left in Bengal, would be all ears to a man who has lived fewer years than she has spent in politics. Not just she but all her generals—young or old, fair or dark, rural or urban—would look to know about their own Bengal from a man who wouldn’t move in Kolkata without a GPS. None of them is mindful that he, being a member of JD(U), is part of NDA-2 and thus from the enemy’s ranks. Who said politicians are cynical?

Mamata, like all of us, is beholden to Kishor’s track record. He drew Narendra Modi’s 2014 poll strategy and within six months had helped Nitish Kumar beat back the new Prime Minister from the gates of Bihar. He turned around Congress’ fortunes in Punjab as he has now done with YS Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, taking care of upstarts (Arvind Kejriwal) and seasoned (Chandrababu Naidu) as hounds do, completely impartial to their prey. There of course is Congress and Shame of UP in 2017 but this can wait.

We are all beholden to this spectacle where politicians, with all their hubris and enmity, treachery and ruthlessness, sit on stools like lions do to the crack of this ringmaster’s whip, tail between their legs. This ringmaster had never walked into a (political) circus before, was pathetic as a student, a poor reader of books, a self-confessed black sheep of the family, never stuck to a job yet now has these political animals on a leash.

And he does it on his own terms. He would only deal with the bosses—not even Amit Shah—and everyone must submit to his charter, no questions asked. He is least enamoured of any politician and could walk out of a room without as much as even a goodbye.  He calls out his own party head Nitish Kumar for not seeking a fresh mandate after dumping Lallu Yadav. He helped Capt Amrinder Singh only because he didn’t like Arvind Kejriwal mocking him in press. He would help Uddhav Thackeray and his Shiv Sena only if he is assured the security of migrant north Indians in the state of Maharashtra. He once didn’t answer the calls of DMK as he didn’t of political parties in Kerala.

It would surprise many to know that Prashant Kishor is almost disdainful of our governing class which includes both politicians and bureaucrats. It interests him little that he is snapped with high and mighty; that he is entrusted with hundreds of crores to put his plan in motion; that unlimited power could be his mistress.

What then drives this man?

We would have to go back to 2011 when a paper of his on malnutrition caught the eye of Modi’s government in Gujarat. He was invited to visit the state and correct his impression. One day, he contributed to a speech of Modi; another day he drew a sense of a data and soon he was drawn into the inner circle. 2014 polls beckoned, he drew up a charter, and if you have heard of “Chai pe Charcha,” credit our man for it.

He left Modi because he wanted his dream of CAG (Citizens for Accountable Governance) to happen overnight. This CAG has now metamorphosed into I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee). It’s this I-PAC which is key to understanding our man.

Prashant Kishor is troubled by the fact that only 7-odd per cent in India’s parliament are below 40. Almost 70 per cent of this small percentage belongs to political dynasties. This leaves only 2-3 per cent of bold and beautiful to chart their own cut. He is upset that a health secretary, previously in transport and due to be a telecom secretary tomorrow, could decide on technical matters and overrule professionals who have spent a lifetime in mastering the issue. He credits five biggest reforms of independent India–  food (M.S.Swaminathan), milk (Verghese Kurien), telecom (Sam Pitroda), space (Vikram Sarabhai) and atomic energy (APJ Abdul Kalam)—to the men who were not part of governance or bureaucracy.

I-PAC is one that dream where Prashant Kishor wants to draw tens of thousands of India’s young and competent , train them to take over panchayats, parishads, mahapalikas of the country,  practically draw a parallel political ecosystem and transform India. It made him impatient with Modi; it makes him dismissive of coterie—“Can’t be mindful of what the ecosystem thinks about me”—and it made him reject Rahul Gandhi post-2017 UP debacle.

The UP debacle still singes Kishor. He had drawn up a 14-point charter for Congress but only two were implemented—Sonia Gandhi launching the campaign from Varanasi; and Rahul Gandhi’s yatra from Deoria to Delhi on farmers’ loan-waiver issue. “I have no option but to accept the blame since I didn’t quit on not being followed,” remembered Kishor in an interview. He feels let down when politicians use his charter but don’t implement them when in power.

There are all telltale signs that Kishor wouldn’t do politicians’ bidding any longer. He would remain with JD (U) because he wants Bihar to be a top state on all indicators of progress.  Personally, Nitish Kumar has afforded him the freedom to nurture his I-PAC and make Bihar his political laboratory. So what accounts for his present engagement with Mamata Banerjee?

In all likelihood, Kishor might have been “loaned” by Nitish Kumar so as to send a not-so-veiled a message to Modi on denial of ministerial berths in the Union Cabinet. If Kishor could stop BJP’s juggernaut, it could lead to new alignments in Indian politics. It might allow Nitish Kumar to project himself as an alternative to Modi in 2024 polls.

In the last month or so, West Bengal has thrown up two rising political stars. New MP Nusrat Jahan, with her oath in the Parliament and participation in Jagannath rathyatra, has caught the eye even of Hindus. Then there is rabid Mahua Moitra who is lip-syncing Mamata Banerjee and appealing to Muslim and “pseudo-sickulars” of the country. Both, without doubt, are acting on Prashant Kishor’s script.

How BJP would love to eavesdrop on the closed-door auditorium on Thursday.

 

Manmohan Singh and the winter of public life

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

The winter of public life is setting upon Dr. Manmohan Singh.  By all accounts, it is doing no good to his feeble frame. Or self-esteem, never mind it wasn’t on rack under the canopy of the Gandhis in the first place.

The 87-year-old former Prime Minister, twice over, is battling on many fronts and it isn’t just the aftereffects of multiple cardiac bypass surgeries he has had to endure on self. He seems to have been let down by his own women and men, or mother-son duo if you may, though the news doing public rounds is his anger the ruling dispensation of BJP at the Centre.

The latest bit is Dr. Singh’s refusal to accept the trimmed numbers of his personal staff to five—two each personal assistants and peons and one lower-division clerk—against the 14 he perceives is his right. Dr. Singh has been pretty dogged in pursuing the matter and given the number of letters he has shot across to PMO, one could only say that his one lower-division clerk is worth every single penny.

It’s a cry in wilderness for nothing. A man who was used to 500 persons crowding PMO for a decade, is now left with just five. It’s a cut as drastic as the surgical strike he did on state-command economy in the 90s. The setback is as much functional as psychological. You need translators and stenographers; Photostat operators and dispatch riders, drivers, carpenters and even cook!  There are weekly offs, one or two on leave due to marriage in neighbourhood, and who pays for overtime in case the assistant is asked to stay back for second shift?

There are bound to be letters and invitations to a man who once presided over the destiny of 1.30 billion people, even if by remote.  Phones must be ringing incessantly. Door bells being pressed all so often. A posse of doctors and nurses pacing up and down the hall. Rent-a-quote journalists from The Indian Express and The Hindu spread on the couches of the living room. It’s a fair bit of nuisance.

A prime minister leaving his office is still worth the rank of a cabinet minister, says the rulebook. But it’s only for five years after he demits his office. It’s Modi’s second term now. Privileges aren’t for life, you see.

Can’t Dr Singh engage his own staff? But then he is no longer a Prime Minister drawing a salary of Rs 1.6 lakhs. He is no longer a Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha too which is worth a lakh of rupees every month. (How he must be cursing the mother-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi who moved heavens to get an Ahmed Patel elected to Rajya Sabha but didn’t twitch an eyebrow in dumping Dr. Singh’s candidature).

Don’t you believe that only because he presided over a scam-ridden UPA regime, Dr. Singh is cash rich. For many a years, he drove Maruti 800. If Khushwant Singh’s book, “Absolute Khuswant” isn’t as fake as his Sikh history, and he wasn’t under the influence of wine or women or both, Dr. Singh once borrowed Rs 2 lakhs from him to fight the 1991 Lok Sabha elections. Dr. Singh’s progenies are academicians like him. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are saving for the rainy days. Besides, what could you expect from a man who publicly tore your policy papers in front of whirring cameras? Or a Congress who saw him fit for no role during the 2019 General Elections even though the party was fighting for its’ life?

Modi doesn’t look a man who would junk the rulebook. On his person too, Modi has a cash of only Rs 38,750 even though the fixed deposit is Rs 1.27 crores (as per the details in his 2019 Poll affidavit).  How could the present PM help an ex-PM? Could Dr. Singh appeal to former vice-president Hamid Ansari and his Muslim brethren given how charitable he was in declaring Muslims to have the first right on India’s resources? Could Capt. Amrinder Singh listen to the wails of a fellow Sikh  and override his seething anger against the High Command who have unleashed a barking Navjot Singh Sidhu on his coattails?

Dr Singh has practically come to an end to his public life. Neither his own men and women want him, nor does the ruling dispensation have any affinity for him. Public base for Dr. Singh in any case was flimsy.  He flourished on the benign grants of Congress’ aristocracy. The plank has now been pulled from under his feet. And he doesn’t even have a straw to clutch on to. But then when Lutyens Delhi has been kind to even its own deities?

 

India has moved away from United States orbit for good

(This is a reprint from NewsBred ).

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, finishes his three-day visit to India today and a beaming him has made it to the front pages of all the dailies. Don’t be fooled by it.  India has moved away from the United States big time.

It’s not  a zero-sum game and hands would still be shaken and pictures clicked but the United States wants to swoop on India’s strategic autonomy while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to protect his own turf.

India won’t let go on five squadrons of S-400 missiles from Russia nor would it back down on Iran beyond a point as Modi looks to pivot India for 2050 when the United States would be just one of the great powers and confronted with the possible axis of Russia, India and China.

The United States sees Russia and China as rogue nations who are going broke to dominate Eurasia but neither sanctions against Russia nor tariff wars and threats against China are yielding much. Indeed, Russia and China are now joined at hips and enjoy a bonhomie not seen since the heady Communist days of 1950.

That India has firmly moved into the Russia-China orbit was tellingly visible in the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where Narendra Modi chose silence rather than condemnation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Modi’s India has been an unequivocal critic of BRI but he didn’t say a word in protest against the Bishkek Declaration which praised BRI and bore the endorsement of assembled heads of states.

Modi didn’t praise BRI but he didn’t criticize it either in his own speech. Indeed, he evoked “Wuhan Spirit” to charm the Chinese. Tellingly, it didn’t elicit any sharp barb either from Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin.

India, critically, has accepted Russia’s invitation to assist China in creating a “Polar Silk Road” in the Arctic Sea, a commercial shipping venture through Russia’s Northern Sea Route as part of the BRI. The project is worth trillions of dollars and would connect the two continents of Europe and Asia with sea. It would bring liquefied natural gas from central-northern Siberia to be delivered across Europe, Japan, South Korea and China of course.

Modi held bilateral meetings on the sidelines with Xi and Putin in Bishkek which is only one of many scheduled between the two leaders in the remaining months of 2019.  Modi and Xi would meet thrice, besides an informal summit in India, probably in Varanasi. With Putin, it’s twice as many times in rest of 2019.

That Modi has decided to thumb his nose at the United States is visible on the revival of RIC (Russia, India, China) dialogue which the three nations have decided to hold at the very summit where G20 nations are meeting from Friday—Osaka, Japan. It sure would raise heckles from the US president Donald Trump who would also be present in Osaka.

Modi has been given a mandate by millions of Indians to lead the country on the path of growth and security. It’s only feasible when India pursues its interest with autonomy and not as a stooge of the United States, more so with a whimsical president like Donald Trump at the helm.

Alice Wells of the US State Department has recently outlined the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States. Said Wells: “The US, alongside India, Japan, Australia and other trusted allies and partners will support the political and economic autonomy of the Indo-Pacific countries…We cannot allow China or any other country to subvert our partners through unsustainable push economies into unsustainable debt…” Yet, as far as India is concerned—as Modi outlined in Shangri-La Dialogue, “Indo-Pacific” is not a strategy.

The US is also offering the bait of including India in the US’ International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which would give India a status equal to one of NATO allies. Along with the status would come the export of high-level military technologies including ballistic missiles, drones, nuclear weapons simulation tools and energy weapons. It’s unlikely India would fall for it given how easily US dumps such pacts—sample TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), climate deal of Paris and the nuclear deal with Iran.

The United States knows what the alliance between Russia, China and India would mean. Even a casual look at the geographical map is enough to convey the control these three nations would exercise over the landscape of Eurasia. In wooing India, US is banking too much on the bond of democracy and a commitment to liberal international order which came into being after World War II and had rules and institutions dominated by the United States.

Kiron Skinner of the US State Department has already stated that the US perceives its strategy against China   as a “fight with a really different civilization.” India has no such issues. It understands that the global power balance and West’s control of it is on its last leg. China and India are coming on to their own as they have for most of human history. India would push for its strategic autonomy and it lies in opening up access to Iran, deepening military ties with an all-weather friend like Russia, bringing neighbours’ into its orbit and be China’s friend, now that the latter really needs it.

India also knows that it could no longer be ambivalent. The United States and China are polarizing the world and there is no middle ground left for anyone. It has to make a choice and one gets the feeling it already has. If the US wants to pass sanctions against those who go against its wishes, then so be it.

 

Hindi, Hindu or Hinduism, Congress always fluffs its lines

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury looks funny in the video. I mean buttoned sleeves of a tightly-fitted white shirt with matching trousers tucked under a jeans belt near his navel, dyed remnants of what were once hair, he looks every inch a babu (clerk) we meet in dusty government offices. Very few prefer such an appearance at 63, certainly very few politicians. He could learn from the likes of Digvijay Singh, Abhishek Sanghvi, Kamal Nath or MJ Akbar who reserve their flamboyance within private walls.

But Chowdhury is no one’s Keshto Mukherjee, the drunk-comic in yesteryears’ Bollywood. He has been of invaluable use to Congress since 1991 when he cut his teeth in politics under Rajiv Gandhi’s regime. In just one generation of Gandhi dynasty, he has risen to be the leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha. There must be something about the man who could question “Why Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi are sitting in the parliament and are not behind jail” or abuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi and still earn no rebuke from his Congress high command. All within a few hours of being asked to be the leader of his party in the Lok Sabha.

Chowdhury is in the news for he has blamed his Hindi for the abuse hurled at Modi. So did Sam PitrodaMani Shankar Aiyer or for that matter Congress president Rahul Gandhi himself who kept fiddling with his mobile while President Ram Nath Kovind addressed the Parliament recently. Gandhi’s ingenuous darbari (courtier), Anand Sharma guessed Rahul baba was looking at the English translation of Kovind’s difficult Hindi words. So be it.

I now bring Shashi Tharoor into my theme which is different from offering my shoulder to a tearful man who has been overlooked as Congress leader in Lok Sabha. If I needed to lend a helping shoulder, I would’ve gone for Manish Tewari. Both Tharoor and Tewari must be sheepish around their 10-12 or whosoever is left among lackeys. But then when has talent been rewarded in Congress? They could’ve learnt from the fate of a Sachin Pilot or Jyotiraditya Scindia who are answering to old fogeys such as Ashok Gehlot or Kamal Nath with a straight face. The drubbings in Rajasthan and MP have mattered little; they are still in the groove.

I bring Shashi Tharoor on the matter of Hindi which happens to be the one issue holding this piece together. The man under a cloud on his wife’s death once confronted Sushma Swaraj in Parliament when Hindi was being pushed to be an official language in the United Nations. There are six official languages in UN—Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Hindi, despite being the fourth most spoken in the world, is ignored. Nations such as Fiji, Mauritius, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana who could support Hindi, are fighting shy of expenses involved (The procedure, translations of files, letters, drafts etc would cost a few hundred crores). Tharoor objected to Hindi being pushed as a national language in the UN when it’s only an official language in India. (Talk of tomfoolery!).

Tharoor would’ve none of it even as Swaraj pointed out at least two prime ministers, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, for having addressed the UN in Hindi. That, when visiting dignitaries speak in their local language (other than English), Indian representatives too prefer speaking in Hindi. Tharoor was to argue: “Why should we put our future foreign ministers and Prime Ministers who may be from Tamil Nadu put in a (awkward) position?”

It’s only incidental that all the names who have had faux pas on Hindi are from Congress party. No, no, I am not trying to drive home the point that they have something against Hindi, Hindu and Hinduism. I am not a (Randeep) Soorjewala who would take a shot even if it is below the belt. Mine is a larger point: Why speak Hindi and later apologize if you are not good at it? Or even a Hindi translator around you would be a discredit to your “secular” pretensions?

The fact is you can’t avoid Hindi and hope to rule India. One/third of the country is Hindi-speaking. Over 45 crores in a population of 1.30 billion. Most Indians, even if they are from north east, south, east or west understand Hindi. Would the same be said about Tamil, what say Mr Tharoor?

So speaking Hindi is a compulsion for politicians, even the reluctant ones of Congress. It’s another matter they speak in haste and repent at leisure. Till they get better at Hindi, expect such gaffes and the entertainment that follows.

 

 

One Nation, One Poll: Why Maya, Akhilesh or Owaisi dread it

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

If you were to ask the majority of this country if they want “One Nation, One Poll” the answer would be an overwhelming yes.

People might not have the figures–Rs 6,000 crores on exchequer alone in recent Lok Sabha Polls and many times more by parties and candidates; Or  the numbers on manpower—one assembly seat in Lucknow alone has over 300 polling booths and engages 2000 men on polling day; Or the imagination to guess how many lakhs of police, para-military forces, bureaucracy are pressed into service. Yet, they can sense a gap in their daily lives like a drawn tooth.

The erudites amongst us offer debating points we exhale in the musty air of a bar amidst gathered gentry. So Akhilesh Mishra tells us in Indian Express how it affects Rajya Sabha; how parties can make outlandish promises (Like Arvind Kejriwal on free Metro for women); how at least 15 state elections anyway fall more within a year either side of a Lok Sabha poll.

So what’s the problem?

The likes of Congress, TMC, BSP, SP, AAP, DMK, RJD, AIMIM etc sure have a problem for they stayed away from the all-party meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon on Wednesday. They saw it as an attack on the Constitution, the “federal” character of our set-up; and blurring the local and national issues which could affect a voter’s judgment.

All this is humbug. Indian voters know how to choose in a state or in a Lok Sabha elections. Constitution is for people of India and any measure which is good for them, must come into force. Such Constitutional changes could be made between ad breaks on television. IT TAKES NOTHING. As for the scaremongering on President’s Rule by stealth; what-if-government-in-Centre falls, these are easily fixable issues: E.g get the no-confidence-motion out of the way at the start of a new Parliament. And if I may ask how it has helped democracy when sworn enemies—Congress and JD (S)—joined hands only to usurp Karnataka last year?

The reason likes of BSP or SP, Congress or RJD, TMC or DMK or AIMIM don’t want “One Nation, One Poll” is caste and religion. With national issues delinked, the ones of dalits vs suvarans (upper caste); Muslims vs Hindus; Tamil or Bengali asmita easily gain currency. Narrow parochial issues keep these parties relevant. The faces of Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Asaduddin Owaisi remain in circulation. The nation loses its steam on the tracks of targeted growth.

Just recall the incidents or speeches which happen around state polls. In Delhi, it was fake attack on churches in 2015, Una incident in Gujarat, Bheema Koregaon in Maharashtra: All were intended to sharpen the caste and religious divide. “Ramzaade” vs “haraamzaade” speeches surface. Quota politics come into play. What room is there left to discuss developmental issues threadbare?

In a paper to Niti Aayog last year, Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai offered an easy way out to the cacophony of whether state assemblies could be dramatically reduced or enlarged so as it coincides with the Lok Sabha polls. They pointed out that 15 state elections anyway fall in and around Lok Sabha dates.  The remaining states could be bunched together around the mid-way mark of a Lok Sabha term. So, one Lok Sabha elections and two for state assemblies in a span of five years, is the way forward.

It’s not to say the road ahead is easy. For, there is also this matter of panchayat elections and its 30 lakh representatives. The matter of getting all political parties aboard.

But then so was the issue with GST. It’s a reality now. There are examples galore around the world where simultaneous elections are held, including in US where a voter not only chooses his President but also 20 different representatives on a single ballot. Sweden has one election and so is the case with South Africa.

The fact is, in early years of Republic of India, elections were held simultaneously in 1951, 1957, 1962 and 1967. It fell into abeyance because assemblies began getting dissolved due to Centre’s interference. The dissolution of Lok Sabha in 1970 was the final nail which broke up the elections in India.

 

How Mamata is spared of allegations they level on Modi

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Millions of Indians today would term West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is arrogant. Or why she wouldn’t pick up the phone calls from Prime Minister Narendra Modi or returns call to state governor Keshari Nath Tripathi when crisis is as grave as Cyclone Fani or the state is sitting on a time-bomb on doctors’ agitation?

Tens and thousands of us would also call “Didi” a fascist. Or why she would jump out of her caravan and confront people who are merely chanting “Jai Shri Ram”, a matter of greeting among India’s masses?  Or why she would tell the agitating doctors to return to work within four hours or face the consequences?

Lakhs of Indians won’t deny either that she is communal in her approach, favouring Muslims and running down Hindus. Or why she would change “ramdhenu” with “rangdhenu” in textbooks? Pass the stricture that idol immersion in Durga Puja must be postponed on Muharram day?

An overwhelming numbers of us would also term Mamata Banerjee as an autocrat. Or why she would deny prominent opposition leaders, from Amit Shah to Yogi Adityanath, from landing on her turf for election rallies? Tear up the posters of BJP’s rallies? Pull up custom officials who have the temerity to stop her relatives at the airport?

A still bigger number of us would’ve no doubt that the only news emerging from West Bengal for so many days is violence.  Mamata Banerjee and her TMC must take the blame for violent politics. So rampant is the politics of blood that 34% of seats in Panchayat elections go uncontested. Or the lynchings which takes place regularly on Bengal’s streets.

None of us would also deny that Mamata Banerjee is undemocractic and unconstitutional. People (Priyanka Sharma) are jailed for posting memes on whatsapp; professors (Rakesh Sinha) is booked for inciting violence when all he has done is to visit a temple with his mother.

Millions would nod in affirmative that Mamata Banerjee resembles a dictator in Bengal. The bureaucracy is under her thumbs; police is an extension for her coercive politics and is shielded from investigations by Central agencies. She even resists interventions of Supreme Court.

Millions would’ve also heard about the ongoing Saradha, Narada and Rose Valley scams and the charges that Mamata Banerjee is corrupt. The corruption charges have engulfed her TMC party.

All too often we hear that terror network and jihadi forces are rampant in West Bengal. That terror-network Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen has taken roots in the state. The news that radicalization has taken place in madarsas in districts such as Bardhaman. That the dreaded Islamic State (IS) has named a new “emir” in West Bengal. How would Mamata Banerjee deny the allegation that she is a “secessionist” and one of India’s “tukde-tukde”gang?

Now please put all these adjectives together: arrogant, fascist, communal, autocrat, violent, undemocratic, unconstitutional, dictator, corrupt etc together. Name one person who has been called all this by India’s ecosystem in the last five years: Yes, you are right—Narendra Modi. And I challenge you to show one instance in our mainstream English media—Lutyens Media—who has ever accused Mamata Banerjee of such traits.

What is an ecosystem? Ecosystem isn’t the government in power. Ecoystem is a network of politicians, media, academicians, lawyers, bureaucrats, institutional heads, cultural czars etc who work in unison to push a particular agenda.

So think about the politicians (such as Rahul Gandhi, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati etc), journalists (Shekhar Gupta, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose, Barkha Dutt etc), laywers (Prashant Bhushan etc), academicians (Prof. Ram Chandra Guha, Faizan Mustafa, Rajmohan Gandhi etc) institutional heads (former Election Commissioners, Police Commissioners, Ex Chief Justices of India who occupy the edit pages), cultural czars (Javed Akhtar, Kamal Haasan etc) etc. Look at their twitter timelines to show me if they’ve ever accused Mamata Banerjee of being communal, autocrat, corrupt or instigating lynchings etc. How is that when rest of India has almost a similar opinion on Mamata Banerjee, these biggies who occupy our ears, eyes and minds have a completely different opinion?

It is easy for India’s ecosystem to do whataboutery. So when violence happens in Bengal, it’s both TMC and BJP who are guilty. If provocation happens, both TMC and BJP are at fault. If communal issues are flaring up, both TMC and BJP must take the blame.

But now the eco-system is in a bind. The doctors’ agitation can’t be blamed on BJP. It’s people who are rising up against Mamata Banerjee’s TMC in the state of Bengal. You can resort to propaganda against RSS and BJP, weave themes on lynchings and communalism but how do you face up to the wrath of millions. It’s the people of India who stood up to the ecosystem and showed it the mirror in the 2019 General Polls. It’s the people who are again exposing this network in rapidly deteriorating West Bengal.

As they say, you can fool some of the people all the time. But you can’t fool all the people all the time.