Tuesday, 20 May 2014


    Ever since independence, when Sardar Patel cajoled and coerced more than 400 princely states to join the Indian union, our politicians have been assiduously trying to undo his work. They have been carving up this great country into personal fiefdoms based on caste, class, language, religion, the ubiquitous " cultural identity", unapologetic regionalism and so on, widening and exploiting fissures that have always existed in Indian society. The smarter ones-like the Congress and the Samajwadi party-CREATED fissures where none existed in order to manufacture constituencies for themselves. The most odious example of this in the recent past has been the Mandalisation of an already fractured society by VP Singh, a failed Prime Minister best forgotten. The Muslim community, whose thread is so interwoven into the fabric of India or Hindustan, call it what you will, that it is colourless and incomplete without it, has been driven into a ghetto from where it is milked for votes every five years and then left to fester in poverty , ignorance and fear.
   These scavengers have done their job well. For the last twenty years India's unitary and federal structure has been progressively weakening. Regionalism had begun to threaten the very basis of our constitutional stucture and the Central government had ceased to exercise control even over subjects that were its exclusive domain. Powerful Chief Ministers began to dictate foreign policy and defence strategy, sabotage central programmes, even defy the Center on matters of internal security. One aging ex-Chief Minister of a border state who himself borders on senility even threatened that his state would cede from the Indian Union if a particular party won the elections!
    Opportunistic coalitions based on the sole ideology of grasping power further fragmented a crumbling polity. Governance was replaced by corruption, malfeasance, financial profligacy, appeasement and the politics of entitlement, not responsibility or accountability.
   In a democratic India the vehicles of its democratic aspirations-the political parties-have themselves ceased to be democratic or representative. They have been appropriated by a handful of fat cat families-the Gandhis, Karunanidhis, Pawars, Abdullahs, Mulayam Singhs, Paswans, Laloo Yadavs, Hoodas, Badals. There is little to distinguish them from the Mughal satraps except that  even the latter had to possess some competence to survive whereas the former need nothing more than the bank balances  and the network of cronies built up over the years. The priority of these feudals has always been their own advancement, not that of the country.
   This is the backdrop against which the results of the recent elections has to be seen. Their biggest triumph is not the ascension of Narender Modi but the coming of age of the Indian voter, long regarded as expendable cattle who could be led by the nose. ( refer to my earlier article IS THE INDIAN VOTER A MORON?). In one sweeping verdict he has reaffirmed his identity as an Indian and rejected the labels the politician had stuck on him. He has proclaimed that he wants to be governed, not diminished by appeasement or blandishments. He now expects his politician to be chosen on merit, not dynasty. He wants to re-define the two most distorted and falsified words in the Indian political lexicon- " secular" and " communal".
   This metamorphosis of the Indian voter's mind set is evident from an analysis of the voting patterns in the 2014 Parliament elections. Let us consider a few of them.
*  The two deepest faultlines in the Indian psyche have been the minority( read Muslim) and Dalit identities. These cultural cracks have been exploited by generations of politicians who have widened them into what appeared to be unbridgeable chasms. Mayawati claimed one, Mulayam claimed the other and the Congress claimed both. Modi claimed neither as Muslim or Dalit, but asked for their votes as INDIANS-and succeeded. Out of 34 seats( all India excluding J+K) with more than 20% Muslim voters BJP won 19( against 11 in 2009) whereas the Congress got only 2( down 12) and the Samajwadi party only 1. The BSP and the RLD got none. Even more telling, in UP the BJP won in ALL 25 seats where Muslims constitute 25% or more of the voters( except Badaun).
   A desperate theory is being floated by the self-appointed gatekeepers of the Muslim vote that the BJP won these seats because the Muslim vote got fragmented and dispersed over a number of parties in multi cornered contests- in other words " the index of opposition unity" was low. While this is a fact it is not the whole truth. For one, the Muslim vote has always got divided; this time, in fact, the Modi fear factor was hyped up so much by all non-BJP parties that it should have, in theory, got consolidated like never before! This obviously did not happen. Secondly, at the national level the BJP's share of the Muslim vote has actually GONE UP- from 4% in 2009 to 9%. Thirdly, this is further confirmed by the figures for Delhi: in the 9 Assembly segments where Muslims dominate the BJP's share of the Muslim vote has increased by 106490 votes as compared to the 2013 polls, from 256686 to 363173, an increase of 40%.
   There can be no doubt that the Muslims are beginning to accept the BJP under Modi, are willing to try him out and are moving away from the parties that have utilised them for decades. One wall that divides India has become to crumble......
*   Another bank where divisive political parties have traditionally put their ill-gotten electoral gains is the Dalit vote " bank" (which constitutes 14% of our population) and the OBC bank, an artificially created repository of votes post Mandal. Whereas Dalits Inc. has reached a saturation point and no fresh capital can be infused into it, the OBC is a growing business for the politician-in fact the shameless opportunism of the Congress plumbed new depths when, just days before elections, it notified Jats- the most feudal, prosperous and expolitative community in western UP and Haryana- as OBCs! But a tethered falcon can never fly, no matter how many crumbs it is fed- this was Modi's message and it appears to have got through to both these communities. In these elections the BJP has garnered 26% of the Dalit votes, highest of all parties, not excluding even the BSP which received 20%. Further confirmation that the Dalits are breaking out of their stifling mould is provided by the fact that out of 84 seats reserved for the SCs as many as 68 have been won by the NDA, and of 43 ST seats 30 have gone to the NDA! Continuing this trend the BJP also claimed 45% of the lower OBC votes and 33% of that of the upper OBCs.
*   Modi is beginning to do the unthinkable- he is consolidating the Hindu vote across India. A pan-Hindu consolidation across caste and class lines is taking place and the space for the Mulayams, Mayawatis, Ajit Singhs and Laloo Yadavs has shrunk rapidly. Nothing else can explain the 9% increase in the BJP vote share, the 73 seats won in UP, the decimation of the four worthies mentioned above, the fact that the Congress has not won even one seat in 9 states, that 178 of its candidates have lost their deposits.
   Modi has reawakened and united a Hindu psyche that had somehow, by some twisted political logic, been bludgeoned into a state of self reproach and self-denial by mercenary politicians , an effete, English speaking, ersatz liberal intelligentsia and secular fundamentalists. He has rekindled a pride in Hinduism as a way of life and culture, not a religion. He has brought about a realisation that India cannot survive as one nation if its Hindu constituents continue to fight each other. He has gone a long way in convincing the minorities that his version of secularism will deliver them the safety and progress that sixty years of Congress secularism has not.
*  Modi has decisively breached another citadel-that of regionalism, which had increasingly been putting narrow, parochial interests above that of the nation. ( I have written about it earlier in a piece titled WHO WILL SPEAK UP FOR INDIA?). ALL regional parties, with the exception of three- AIADMK, TMC AND BJD- have been reduced to insignificant rumps-all non-NDA  parties( except  Congress and the three above ) have a combined vote share of just 22.8%. The combined vote share of AIADMK, TMC and BJD too comes to just 8.8%. Regionalism survives now in only a handful of states and even there Modi and the BJP have now made in-roads for the first time: Nagaland, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir. This can only be regarded as a positive development, one that has reversed the destructive trend of the last few years. It can only make us stronger as a nation.
*  Concommitent with the decline of regionalism has been the withering away of dynasties, that scourge of our democracy. The Maran/ Karunanidhi family of Tamil Nadu, the Yadavs of Bihar and UP, the ( Ajit) Singhs of western UP, the Pawars of Maharashtra, the Abdullahs of Kashmir, even the Gandhis- all have been dealt mortal blows, and it needs only five years of good governance by Modi to ensure that they will go the way of the dinosaurs. A few still remain, some of them allied to Modi-the Thackerays, the Badals, the Paswans- but even their days are numbered and they too will have to change their ways or perish.
   It took only a tea-seller to change the course of a nation. We now have a strong hand on the tiller, one that can perhaps take us into the future with greater confidence. Yes, he has faults and perhaps weaknesses, but at least they are visible and can be improved upon, unlike our previous rulers. Remember these lines from King Lear:
             " Through tattered clothes small vices do appear; Robes and furred gowns hide all."

Monday, 12 May 2014


    Campaigning has now concluded for the most fractious, abusive and divisive elections this country has witnessed. Belying all expectations, our politicians have just done the impossible- they have plumbed new lows in human behaviour and language. Standing in the middle of all this carnage of values and moral standards has been the Election Commission of India, ostensibly a redoubtable referee, but actually an unwitting, though active, participant in the gross devaluation of the basic principles of civilised debate that has just taken place. Never before has the authority and impartiality of the Commission been challenged in this manner, never before has it been WARNED by a candidate to behave itself, never has it been defied by a state government to do its worst, never before has it been warned of retribution by a state govt, rarely has its officials been obstructed as this time. It will take a long time for the Election Commission to recover from the mauling it has been subjected to in the last month or so. And the saddest part of it all, for me, is that the Commission has no one to blame but itself for the most part.
   Merely being a " constitutional authority" is no guarantee of immunity from political slander in this country, as even our Presidents and Supreme Court judges have discovered in the past. Excessive demonstrations of one's powers, without backing it up with equally demonstrative action on the ground, also does not generate respect. Complete and arbitrary distrust of other constitutional authorities, such as state governments, only erodes one's own effectiveness. And maintaining a monarchical silence when all kinds of half-truths and allegations are being bandied about on all TV channels is, simply put, stupid and self defeating. The Commission has been guilty of all these in this election.
    The Commission's first mistake was the stretching of the election process over an interminable sixty days. This betrays nothing but the classic bureaucratic addiction for power( remember, all the three Commissioners are dyed-in-the wool bureaucrats or they wouldn't be where they are, after all!), regardless of the mayhem it causes to governance generally. The longer the election period, the longer the Commissioners remain all powerful-combining the powers of the President, the Union govt., ALL state govts.,even the Supreme Court! The reason always given- Security considerations- is simple balderdash and nonsense.
    Other than the Naxalite affected districts, where the central para-military forces could have been concentrated exclusively for two days and polling in them completed in that period, all the other states could have gone to the polls in one day itself under security provided by the state police itself, supplemented again by the central police in the " sensitive" booths or constituencies. The whole polling process could have been completed in two phases spread over a week only.
    By over hyping the security situation successive Election Commissions have done a great dis-service to the image of the country, making us look like a tin pot republic where voting can only be ensured under the barrel of a gun. By stretching the period over two months the Commission has only made its own job, and that of millions of govt. employees in the field, more difficult. The Commission may claim that a long period enables it to marshal its resources better( doubtful, in my opinion); what is indisputable, however, is that it certainly enables the trouble makers to marshal their resources even more effectively! A single day polling all over the country would tie down these people to their own constituencies, and limit the scope of their mischief or potential for creating trouble. But a nine phase polling( as we have had) enables them to move from one state/ constituency to another, optimising their nuisance value. And so we have thousands of party workers landing up at Amethi one day and then moving en mass to Varanasi three days later, and so on. This provides a multiplier effect for trouble, making life that much more difficult for the law and order agencies.
    A modified Murphy's Law will also be at work here- the longer the time allowed, the more the chances that something will go wrong. We have seen this happening all too often. Given the abysmal standards of our politicians, more time can only mean more abuses, more intimidation, more cocking the snook at authority, more attempts to generate hatred and instigate violence. Nine phases may give you a power trip, Mr. Sampath, but it doesn't work for the rest of us ordinary folks.
    The Commission's second mistake stems from its showpiece notification-the Model Code of Conduct which is actually an archaic, unenforceable piece of officialese that creates ninety percent of the controversies it gets embroiled in. By seeking to muzzle and edit candidates' speeches it intrudes into the realm of free expression and lets loose the genie of disaffection which cannot be shoved back into the bottle. Consider the comments of Azam Khan( that Kargil was won by Muslim soldiers), Amit Shah( that voters of Muzzafarnagar should take revenge through the ballot box), Giriraj Singh( that those who do not vote for Modi should go to Pakistan), Kejriwal( that voting for BJP or the Congress is a betrayal of the country and of God). Now, these statements can be insensitive, untrue, in bad taste, even scandalous: but are they of such a criminal or felonious nature that warrant issue of notice by the Commission? Should it not be for the voter to judge these utterances and their speakers and make up their minds? In an election all kinds of opinions will be expressed but so long as they don't openly incite violence should the Commission play the role of moral policeman, especially in this age of 24X7 news channels and the internet? By unnecessarily trying to do so the Commission has descended into the messy pit whereas it should have kept itself aloof from this daily wrangling.  By lying down with the dogs it has acquired their fleas too.It has exposed itself to allegations of favouritism, selective interpretation, timidity, and lost its credibility. Most of its time has been taken up by dealing with these controversies, at the cost of real issues such as booth capturing and distribution of money and liquor.
   When Antony was leaving with his armies to conquer Egypt he was advised by Caesar: Look after your army for it is what makes your laws legal-sane advice the Commission too could have benefited from. The Commission has lots of laws but not the resolve and determination to enforce them in an even-handed manner. Having descended into the lion's pit it should have acted acted more firmly in dealing with politicos who broke them: it should have ordered the immediate arrest of the TMC MLA and his goons who assaulted EC officials in Bengal. It should have defended its beleaguered field officers with more boldness: initially backing the DM of Varanasi ( for an impeccable administrative decision, in my view) it quickly developed cold feet and appointed a Special Observer to monitor him, instantly branding him as untrustworthy. Mr. Sampath and co. certainly did not get any brownie points from the BJP for this spinelessness, but the damage done to the morale of field officers was incalculable.
    This timidity( Mr. Arun Jaitley's words) was further exhibited in the response to  large scale complaints of booth capturing and rigging by the TMC in some constituencies of Bengal. Every single party-Congress, BJP and the Left- other than the TMC made this charge-they also added that the Commission's Observer was not available on the polling day, refused to answer his phone, took no action on their complaints and should be immediately shifted. Given the TMC's earlier lawless conduct this near unanimous complaint should have been taken more seriously by the Commission, but it dismissed them in less than twenty four hours, basing its decision on the report of the same Observer who was derelict in his duties in the first place!
   This widespread impression of the Commission's faint-hearted and timorous ( if not also partisan) conduct gets further strengthened by other instances of inexplicable inactivity on its part. Mamata Bannerji has openly threatened and challenged the Commission which maintained a Sphinx like silence. Rahul Gandhi was photographed in the EVM enclosure of a polling booth talking to a voter, an absolute no-no: the Commission did nothing for four days and then came out with a statement exonerating him on the grounds that the EVM was not working! Priyanka Gandhi's PS was caught loitering within the polling area without any authorisation but not even a notice was issued to Priyanka.
   Once a body like the Election Commission, which for two months dons the mantle of God, loses its credibility and respect it also loses its effectiveness. I suspect that has happened with this Commission-major political parties are challenging it on a daily basis, some are sitting on dharnas against it, the TMC goons are back to bashing up EC officials in Bengal, Mulayam Singh is daring the EC to take action against him, Arun Jaitley is openly saying on prime-time TV that the EC has compromised itself.
   The Commission has not helped matters by generally maintaining a Delphic silence. It was only two days ago that the Chief Election Commissioner appeared on TV to explain his position, but by then it was almost too late. A poorly done job was made even worse by failure to communicate or to explain. In an election of such a massive scale there are bound to be flash points every day, incidents, charges and counter charges, violations, controversies. Their impact is amplified by TV and social media, which political parties have learnt to exploit to their advantage. At the centre of it all is the Election Commission, maintaining an imperial reticence and making things worse by its speechlessness. Why can the Commission not hold A DAILY PRESS CONFERENCE and share with the nation all news related to the election process? This would immediately scotch mischievous rumours, answer charges against the Commission on a real time basis, keep the public informed of the Commission's decisions and the reasons for them, and so on. The Commission should have learnt from Mr. Manmohan Singh's experience the damage that silence can do.
    To conclude. We have never had an election where the relationship between the Election Commission and the major political parties has  been so adversarial as in the current one: this does not bode well for the future. The two have to work together. Times, politics, voters-all are changing very rapidly and the Commission has to reinvent itself. It cannot work with an adversarial relationship with state govts either( which is the case presently) and cannot order them about peremptorily - the Commission has to realise that state govts. are equal partners in the exercise. The Code of Conduct should be consigned to the same dust bin where Rahul Gandhi threw the MPs' Disqualification Amendment Bill, and should be rewritten. The Commission should not be God anymore but should restrict its role to a manager of elections-not Commander-in-Chief, Mother Superior, Daniel and Moses rolled into one. And it should learn from Arnab Goswami how to have the last word!