Sunday, May 31, 2009

Congress must not waste this mandate!

I was happy to see the possibility of a stable government which is essential to provide a clear direction to our country in these times of economic uncertainty. Though my party has taken a beating in this election, but I was happy nonetheless and hoped that Congress will use this mandate to push forward the economic and inclusive development agenda, given that they will not have worry about the left and opportunistic allies.

However, the drama which unfolded prior to and during government formation is worrying me. DMK washed their dirty family linen in public and shamelessly jockeyed for ministerial births for family members. They also made brazen attempts to include inefficient ministers who had serious corruption allegations against them. Balu and Raja were amongst the worst performing ministers in the previous government. National Highway program was brought to a halt under inefficient Balu and Raja gave away GSM spectrum causing huge revenue loss to the exchequer.

I had hoped that Mr. Manmohan Singh will not relent to pressure tactics of DMK and will keep such non-performers out of the cabinet, but that wasn't to be. Raja is back with a bang in the same ministry. We all can only hope that PM will make him perform this time around.

Another disturbing aspect of this cabinet is it's dynastic nature. One in every 4 minister comes from a political family and has been accommodated to placate the father, uncle or mother. Nothing wrong in having capable MPs as ministers who happen to come from political families, but making them ministers because they come from political families certainly does not augur well for efficiency and accountability.

One family inclusion, which I am happy about, is young Agatha Sangma, daughter of NCP leader and ex-speaker Mr. P Sangma. A 28 year old becoming a minister is a good first step towards inducting young and energetic MPS into the government. As MoS in Rural Development Ministry, I sincerly hope that she performs well. I would like her pay special attention to the development of the North East and set a good example for other young MPs who aspire to become ministers.

Arjun Singh and Shivraj Patil's exclusion are certainly worth mentioning and PM must be congratulated for doing the right thing.

We hope that HRD Ministry under Kapil Sibbal will bring about fundamental change in the mindset of HRD ministry mandarins. Access and Quality continue to be the major challenges as far as Primary Education is concerned. In higher education, we have been trying to maintain the quality by controlling the supply side, which is counter intuitive in this era of open and competitive economy. Hope Foreign Universities are allowed entry to India and are encouraged to offer quality education given that huge number of our bright students struggle to go abroad for education putting tremendous financial strain to their parents.

Another area of concern has been stalled infrastructure projects. Under Kamalnath, we hope that this sector get required policy direction and time-bound delivery of infrastructure projects is ensured.

Finance ministry has got an able administrator and hopefully they will be able to push ahead with pending reforms given that left will no longer be breathing down their neck.

Judicial reforms, police reforms and internal security overhaul are other areas of concern.

Overall, Dr Singh has done a reasonable job of picking his ministers and now we look forward to results. First 100 days will give a fairly good idea on where they are headed. Lets hope they deliver and don't disappoint the electorate who have voted for a stable and performing government.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Long Live Indian Democracy!

Now that elections are over and we will have a stable government in place, it is a good time to do some analysis of national mood and trends - what worked and what did not work for various political parties and alliances.

First of all, I would like to talk about the victor - The Congress.
Rahul Gandhi is being credited for this victory and rightly so, as he led the campaign from the front. Everyone in Congress is celebrating the arrival of Rahul. He is being hailed as a visionary and an astute political brain. All this praise & jubilation is also a result of long wait and frustration of Congressmen, who had been waiting to offer legitimacy to Rahul's leadership and stature in the Congress party.

I wish him luck, as I believe that he is genuinely trying to bring a change in the Congress party. I would also credit him for legitimizing the genuine need for young and fresh faces in Indian politics. Though most young congressmen are sons and daughters of politicians but that's no reason to complain, they are young nonetheless. His much publicized effort to induct and promote young people in Indian politics are specially laudable as it is forcing other parties to think on similar lines.

I also congratulate Indian electorate for a brilliant performance by giving a clear mandate to a national party. By doing so, they have saved this country from vagaries of regional parties, the opportunistic political outfits disguising themselves as various fronts and alliances.

Congress however needs to look deeper and realize that this victory is not necessarily a national mandate in favor of congress but a combination of several factors, alliances and sheer luck in some cases.

Lets look at UP, which is the most talked about turnaround story of these elections. The decision to go alone was not a considered strategy but a forced consequence of SP's reluctance to part with seats. Kalyan Singh joining SP was a lucky break as minority community strategically voted for Congress in areas where Congress had winnable candidates. Rest of the congress candidates in UP could not even save their deposits. Moreover people in UP are really fed-up with SP-BSP misrule for the past 20 years. The real test will be 2012 assembly polls and I wish both national parties luck in UP as UP must be developed. Hopefully BJP would have got it's act together by then.

Bihar too was supposedly the part of the same 'Go Alone' strategy of Rahul Gandhi(though we all know that Lalu-Paswan duo forced it). No such electoral dividends accrued here, because people voted for good governance and inclusive agenda of JD(U)-BJP government.

So while Rahul is and should be given credit for working hard and leading from the front in UP (which boosted the morale of cadre and brought discipline), UP victory can not be solely attributed to 'Go Alone' strategy, as it wasn't a strategy but forced consequence.

Delhi & Rajasthan victories of Congress comes on the back of successful assembly wins in the recent past. 0-7 wipe out of BJP in Delhi is most disheartening for the only national alternative to Congress. BJP had not learned from it's defeat and mistakes in assembly polls in these 2 states and paid a heavy price. Hope they put their act together before 2014.

UPA's WB and TN victories should be attributed to allies. Rejection of left policies in WB and Mamta's Singur triumph were solely responsible. Congress just retained it's tlly of 6 in WB and in fact dropped to 8 (from 10) in TN. Vijayakanth's DMDK played a spoiler for AIADMK led alliance in TN as most anti DMK vote ended up going to DMDK. Mamata made spectacular gains in WB by cloaking 19 seats (from just 1 seat in 2004). BJP made a blunder by not being able to forge an alliance with Mamta, the erstwhile partner of NDA.

Left will be in real trouble in assembly elections in 2011, after 30 years of political supremacy in WB. This may not be a bad thing for people of WB who have suffered underdevelopment and violence by left cadre for decades now. Though Mamta too is not a good news for industrial development of WB after her tantrums in Singur.

In AP & Maharashtra, MNS and Chiranjeevi's PRP came to UPA's rescue. YSR's development and welfare schemes were also positives for Congress in AP. BJP/Shiv Sena got it completely wrong in Maharashtra by underestimating MNS effect. Their 6-0 tally in Bombay is really something to worry about.

BJP did well in MP, Gujarat, HP and Chattisgarh, primarily due to good governance of incumbent BJP governments. Though 16-10 tally in Gujarat is worrying for BJP. MP victory too wasn't very convincing. Jharkhand victory of BJP must be attributed to the mess created by Congress, RJD and JMM combine. BJP needs to really work hard to hold these states as anti-incumbency will be the main factor in all these states when they go to polls in next 4 years. Hence BJP can not count on these states for 2014 Lok Sabha elections as given.

Karnataka needs special mention as it gave maximum (19) MPs to BJP. Incumbent BJP swept the polls due to it's organizational strength and committed grass root cadre. Congress camp was chaotic with too many top leaders. Rahul effect was absent in Karnatka.

Kerala voted for UDF and LDF was routed, as they do every 5 years.

Coming to the under performers -

BJP was not able to perform to it's potential. While Congress exceeded it's own expectation on the up-side, BJP did the same on the down. BJP highlighted UPA's failures but failed to communicate their agenda effectively. This wasn't appreciated by the voters, as they did not want to take chances with the unknown. BJP did not talk enough about their progressive manifesto as well, which itself came very late. Some pre-poll incidents and speeches also hurt BJP's prospects in several constituencies, primarily in urban India. While Rahul Gandhi symbolized and projected youth agenda of the Congress, BJP could not counter it effectively.

Overall, it would seem that in the case of BJP, there was a disconnect from the expectations of the electorate. This is the second time in a row and needs serious thinking and remedial measures.

As far as other parties are concerned- Left, SP, BSP and other regional parties, this election has clearly demonstrated that only thing electorate cares for, is the DEVELOPMENT & GOOD GOVERNANCE. This is a great change in post Mandal politics of India.

Left paid for it's opportunistic politics, which believed in enjoying the power without shouldering the responsibility. This was a fitting reply to the arrogant & non-electable red brigade which controls the power strings sitting in cool comforts of Delhi while preaching supposedly pro-poor agenda.

Poor governance and under performance of BSP government in UP paid rest to the Prime Ministerial ambitions of Mayawati, who believed that being Dalit-ki-Beti is the necessary and sufficient condition for being the Prime Minister. This will be a fitting lesson to other non-performing regional Satraps of Indian politics. Similarly Lalu ji is still paying for his sins of keeping Bihar poor for 14 years.

This result has done good to our democracy and country. It showed that non performing regional outfits which survive only on caste and social engineering will not survive, while performing will be rewarded, as in the case of Bihar and Orissa. It would seem that Post Mandal caste politics is on it's last leg.

Overall, these elections are a victory for our democracy. The electorate has given a decisive verdict and expects the government to perform. Indian democracy is maturing much faster than our political parties. In all recent elections, the electorate had been wiser and has voted only on development & governance agenda. We must salute our electorate for displaying this discerning ability to make the 'Right Choice'. Our democracy is in safe hands.

Long live Indian Democracy!

CREDITs- Outlook has made this argument - Please see the link below-

Friday, May 1, 2009

"Low Voter Turn Out" - No longer an urban aberration - It reflects nation's apathy towards 'Opportunistic Politics'

May-1st, The proverbial heartland of Indian democracy, UP polled just 45% in the 3rd phase of polls on 30th April. It seems that most politically active and significant state, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, is slowly but steadily loosing interest in politics.

The high profile constituency of Lucknow voted just 34.5%. I spoke with few friends and family in Lucknow, who went to vote early fearing long queues but were surprised to see empty polling booths. Second largest city of UP, Kanpur voted just 39%.

The ssituation is same in neighboring Bihar where average polling in the first 3 phases has been 44%, 45% and 49% respectively. Compare this with average 58% in 2004 Lok Sabha elections. This is despite all round praise for Nitish Kumar who brought Bihar back on developmental map of the country.

Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat which went to poll on development & good governance agenda of their respective chief ministers too failed to excite the electorate with MP polling just 45% (48% in 2004) and Gujarat 50% (45% in 2004).

Maharashtra too is averaging 45% compared with 48% in 2004. Greater Bombay (10 seats) was 43.5%, even lower than 47.5% in 2004. This is really shocking given high decibel celebrity campaigns, voter awareness programs and emotionally charged environment post 26/11.

The above trend shows that in all large heartland states of the country, voters have lost interest in elections due to their apathy towards political class, which pursues corrupt and criminal brand of politics devoid of issues which concern the average citizen.

Political parties are responsible for this apathy as they field criminals and moneybags as their candidates, as these are supposedly winnable candidates. Party loyalists on their death bed are give tickets, sons and daughters of political families are other favorites apart from cine stars and venom spitting religious blokes. These worthy souls might win the election, but political class looses the respect and confidence of genuine voter who wants to believe in democracy and cares for the nation.

Current election distinctly lacks focus and debate on pressing national issues of worsening economy,crumbling infrastructure, security threats and most importantly governance and development.

Instead of educating and informing electorate about their manifesto and development agenda, political parties are busy snapping at their opponents and digging their past. They are more interested in highlighting what their opponents have not done, rather than discussing what they will do, if elected to power.

In my opinion, media is the biggest culprit, given that people expect them to be the voice of the civil society. In the race to garner TRP ratings, they have resorted to highlighting only sensational and meaningless issues.

Late evening talk shows (they call them debates) on national news channels have become a joke where anchor seems to believe that his decibel level is directly proportional to the TRP rating of his channel. Developmental and governance agenda is rarely discussed in the media, which is obsessed with quotable quotes from Varun, Priyanka, Maya and Modi.

Media has let civil society down and has completely failed in its responsibility to highlight pressing issues and force the debate among political class.

Low voter turnout is no longer an urban educated elite phenomenon, it is a reflection of all pervasive apathy of voters across the country towards political class. This is the biggest threat to our democracy which relies on the participation of the informed electorate to choose the best among available options. People have lost faith in the elections because they don't see any merit in the process.

Political parties need to work at the grass root level, engage with the civil society, grow their cadre and practice internal democracy if they want to regain the faith and confidence of the electorate.

Media too needs to introspect and stop insulting their viewers/readers by dishing out sensational and silly make-believe stories in the garb of the news.