Archive for the ‘Indian Politics’ Category

I had planned to write on the Dr. Manmohan Singh’s selection of his cabinet to run the country for the next 5 years. But, TVR Shenoy’s article in rediff has brilliantly captured the muddle that is the new Indian Cabinet.

The Congress has won a surprising, yet decisive mandate. After a decade dominated by coalition governments and compromise politics, the current government has a great opportunity to set things right in India. However, the early indications are definitely not good. Dr. Singh and Sonia Gandhi have selected the same old uninspiring characters from the Congress party to man several key portfolios. Further, they have tried to balance regional, sectarian and caste aspirations of several groups. This has led to a large and unwieldy cabinet as well as sub-division of several ministries into smaller ones. This could turn out to be counter-productive as ministers are sure to step onto the toes of their counterparts quite frequently. We may encounter cold wars between ministers eager to protect their fiefdoms from encroachment by fellow ministers.

Manmohan Singh has not started his 2nd term on the right note. History will never forgive him if he squanders this golden opportunity to govern India the right way despite such a decisive mandate. Dr. Singh are you listening? Please pull up your socks and get going!!

The Swing States

Posted: May 13, 2009 in Indian Politics
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As I write this the 5th and final phase of polling for the general elections 2009 is drawing to a close. Among the chief states going to the polls today is my state of Tamil Nadu which has been the key game changer in the general elections over the last decade. If one analyses the results of the last few elections, one unmistakable trend which can be noted is the representation of Tamil Nadu in the ruling party or coalition. The main reason for this phenomenon is the fact that the entire state invariably votes for one party or coalition, thus giving it a huge edge in the final tally. The Congress & AIADMK swept the polls in 1991. DMK and TMC swept the 1996 polls thus helping form the short-lived Deve Gowda and IK Gujral govts. The NDA govts of 1998 and 1999 had key representation from AIADMK and DMK respectively while the 2003 elections saw the DMK coalition sweep all 40 seats contrary to poll predictions, helping form the UPA govt.

Similarly, the states of Andhra Pradesh with 42 seats, Uttar Pradesh with 80 seats, Bihar with 40 seats, and Maharashtra with 48 seats have been the “swing” states in the past elections. The reason being their size as well as their tendency to elect the combination which finally forms the govt at the centre. These states generally capture the nation’s mood. But local factors too play a huge part in the ultimate outcome.

The 2009 elections too promises to be no different. Due to the ban on exit polls, the predictions of most news channels and pollsters are a bit out-dated considering the long drawn process of the 5 phase elections which spans a little over a month. The latest indications are that the UPA which was predicted to be the early front runners have lost a bit of ground with the NDA gaining at their expense. With the election commission’s lifting of the ban on exit polls at 5 pm this evening a clearer picture is likely to emerge. However, I personally feel that all the major pollsters are in for a major surprise this time too like the last elections when everyone expected NDA to sail through only to be trumped by the people of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh who went against the ruling combine en-mass.

The final results are likely to hinge on which way the swing states are going to go. Pollsters have predicted a 25 – 15 edge to the AIADMK front in Tamil Nadu and a dead heat in Andhra Pradesh between the TDP’s mega alliance and the Congress. The NDA lead by Nitish Kumar’ JD (U) is expected to sweep Bihar while the Congress – NCP combine is likely to edge the NDA in Maharashtra. The state of UP is a big enigma due to its unique size and demographic nature. Further, a 5 pronged battle makes predicting its results a real hazard. No wonder the pollsters got it all wrong in the last state assembly elections, when they failed to spot the emergence of BSP.

I expect these Swing states to stump the pundits and pollsters alike this time around too, throwing up a thoroughly unexpected result. However, the winners as well as their margin of victory in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh is going to play a huge part in the ultimate formation of the next government at the centre.

I will be glued to the TV watching it all unfold. The results and the subsequent game of musical chairs is going to be gripping stuff!!!

The Drama King

Posted: April 29, 2009 in Indian Politics

Muthuvel Karunanidhi all of 85 years, is a wily old fox. He is a 5 time CM of Tamil Nadu, and a winner of every election he has fought in his political career spanning 60 years. He has achieved everything possible at the state-level in the course of his long political career.

MK was also a well known dramatist and film script-writer before he entered politics. Although I haven’t seen any of his works, I have heard from a few old timers that MK was quite a master of his trade. I have seen this one particular scene in the movie Parasakthi in which Sivaji Ganesan impressively delivers a famous dialogue penned by MK. However, my 1st experience of MK the dramatist was at the time of his arrest by JJ on corruption charges in 2001. MK with the help of Murosoli Maran and his son’s TV channel – Sun TV brilliantly stage-managed his arrest in the early hours of the day, capturing the arrest on live television. MK played the role of a suffering old man to the T. This stage-managed drama instantly earned MK, tremendous sympathy and portrayed his arch rival JJ as a vindictive and cruel lady. The public fell for MK’s drama like suckers.

This incident in 2001 happened when I was in school. I was glued to the TV the entire day as the JJ Govt declared a holiday for the schools fearing riots. It was gripping stuff as Sun TV played the arrest clips over and over in various angles. The clincher was MK himself, as he cries aloud that the police arresting him are trying to man-handle and kill him. It was my 1st experience of “reality” television. Similarly, MK has always been a step ahead of his rivals, having several tricks up this sleeve to outwit his opposition. The public invariably fell for his tricks each time. If nothing works, MK could always stage manage a big drama with the help of Sun TV and Kalaignar TV’s world-class production capabilities.

Like several times in his career, MK faced a severe challenge this elections. Madam JJ had cobbled up a strong coalition against him and he only had the limp Congress in his severely weakened team. All his old friends, including the turn coat Dr. Ramadoss had deserted him on the eve of the elections. MK’s health also started worsening, while his successors in the family did not have his authority or cunningness to run the party which has several power centers. Heir apparent Stalin was still not ready to command the troops, while Azhagiri’s writ ran only in Madurai. It is at this inopportune time, when his party was in disarray and allies mired in their own petty in-fighting that the Srilankan Tamil issue threatened to topple MK’s Lok Sabha election plans.

MK had wielded considerable power and influence in the out-going Lok Sabha. His rainbow coalition swept all 40 seats in TN and made MK one of the king-makers of the UPA Govt. However, similar plans for up-coming elections was in serious danger of being derailed by the wide spread uproar in certain circles over the TN and the UPA Govt’s in-action when Srilankan Tamils were being killed, caught in the cross-fire between the Lankan army and the LTTE. This charge was particularly damning for MK who saw himself as a protector of Tamil pride.

As the crisis in Srilanka worsened by the day, JJ spewed vitriol in her campaign trail, accusing MK of betraying the Tamil population in Srilanka. Her allies PMK, MDMK as well as fringe players like Nedumaran also did their bit to stoke the raging fire. Seeing things getting out of control, as a last throw of dice, MK played his final drama card on Monday, April 27th. The early morning fast was intended to force the Indian Govt to apply pressure on the Lankan Govt, to call a ceasefire as well as to earn public sympathy for MK.

However, things didn’t go according to plan.

The fast had to be short one due to MK’s health condition. Under severe time constraints, an under pressure Indian Govt got the Lankan Govt to issue a long and confusing statement, which it conveniently interpreted as a ceasefire, not withstanding categorical denials to the effect by the Lankan Govt. A satisfied MK called off his fast within half a day after setting up his bed by the Marina beach. However, the entire exercise was so farcical that even DMK sympathizers were hard pressed to defend his actions. The fast drama was condemned and ridiculed in equal measure in political and media circles.

I for one was extremely disappointed by the way MK’s latest dram turned out. I had really high expectations, hoping for a repeat of 2001 and for another griping saga on television. Probably age has finally caught up with the wily old fox. The scripting of this latest drama was really weak and the action came to a hasty conclusion even before the news of the drama reached enough people. However, it would be fool hardy to write the obituary of one of the most cunning politicians, India has ever produced. Even as I write this, I am sure MK is huddled in discussions with his large extended family, plotting his come back.

Come on MK!! Can you script another drama to remember you by? For old time’s sake …….

Tom, Dick and Harry for PM!!

Posted: April 26, 2009 in Indian Politics
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I was having dinner yesterday with a few of my old buddies. One of the heated discussions we had was on the on-going elections. Everyone agreed that the results will be too close to call. But nobody wanted the 3rd front to win, especially Mayawati. One of my friends even said that if god forbid, Mayawati becomes India’s PM then we could go back to the dark ages. Yeah, those were his exact words.

This set me thinking. Why can’t Mayawati aspire to be the next PM? She is the messiah of her followers who adore her. She has won several elections in the past. Isn’t her rise from obscurity against all odds a truly inspiring story? She also rules the most populous state in India. Doesn’t this count for nothing? She is only 53 and much younger than the other PM aspirants of other parties. If people like Deve Gowda can be the PM, why can’t Mayawati get her chance too??

In fact, looking at the way Manmohan Singh sleep walked through the prime ministership the last 5 years, anybody can be the next PM. Mr. Singh took orders from 10 Janpath, and through this subservience, devalued the office of PM. He did nothing of note as PM other than the Indo-US nuclear deal. Pranab Mukherjee ran the Govt and the coalition without getting any credit. Sonia Gandhi, after her grand renunciation, chose to use a puppet to run the Indian Govt, and boy did she succeed. At least Rabri Devi got to be the queen at Laloo’s home during the time she was Bihar’s proxy CM. Mr. Singh was never the King!!!

After the 26/11 attacks, when the country was looking for strong leadership, Mr. Singh came on TV and read out a thoroughly lackluster speech. When he got admitted to the hospital, nobody in the govt missed him even a bit. It was as though he was never there all along!! Today, Mr. Singh gets worked up when the BJP call him a weak PM. He says he is hurt by such comments. Yes Mr. Singh. The truth does hurt sometimes!!!

Mr. Singh has never fought and won any elections in his entire life. The only time he even dared to stand in an election in Delhi, he was routed by the BJP. How can somebody who has never won any elections be the head of our parliamentary democracy? He is not contesting this election too, apparently on medical grounds. If he is not medically fit to contest the elections, how is he fit to rule the country? The truth Mr. Singh is that, you are warming the chair for King Rahul. I am appalled that an honorable man like you has agreed to this farcical exercise.

The point I am trying to make here is that the PM doesn’t matter in the Indian Govt. The day to day running of the Govt is anyways done by the Babu’s. Life goes on irrespective of the nature of the Govt at the cente. Surely, Mayawati as PM cannot do worse than Mr. Singh. Her Home minister can definitely do better than the incompetent Sivaraj Patil. Does anybody want Chidambaram to be the next finance minister? At least Mayawati as PM, would fulfill the dream of the Dalit population. Who cares even if she does worse? We will adjust to life with Matawati as PM and life will go on just fine. The same for any other tom, dick or harry who goes on to become the PM.

After all, aren’t we masters of the “Chalta Hai” attitude!!