Questionable Power Play


By B.G. Verghese

It would be premature to conclude that the recent power play within the BJP has ended to NarendraModi’s advantage.  He has won a couple of game points but the match is not yet over. His appointment as chief of the Party’s 2014 election campaign committee, over the head of Advani’s threats and sulks, is being glibly seen as his anointment as its prime ministerial candidate and, ipso facto, the country’s next prime minister.  This is vaulting ambition.

Modi had the backing of the RSS, which seeks a return to the Hindutva line against the likes of Advani, who fell from grace in 2005 when he praised Jinnah for preaching secularism in his inaugural speech to the Pakistan constituent assembly in 1947 (but from which the Quaid retracted when he found himself totally isolated). The RSS was alarmed by this spark of liberalism in one who had earned impeccable Hindutva credentials through his rathyatra, his “sad” satisfaction over the Babri demolition and his staunch protection of Modi during and after the 2002 Gujarat holocaust. Modinow seems a better bet with his 2002 credentials and his sterling opposition at every stage to bringing the guilty to justice, partly on the horrendously hypocritical plea of not reopening old wounds.  However, despite his efforts, the wheels of justice are turning, even if very slowly, and the net may yet close on him.

Any return to Hindutva- which has nothing to do with Hinduism –  would be a disaster and a return to pre-medievalism and right wing chauvinism, with Hindutvajihadis doing to India what the Pakistani jihadis have done to that country. No nation can grasp the future by moving backwards and becoming prisoners of ancient shibboleths.

Modi’s development record, as Manmohan Singh has said, entailed leading an entrepreneurial, market-oriented state forward rather than have to struggle with a more backward state like Madhya Pradesh. Yet, without detracting from his industrial development and infrastructural achievements, Gujarat’s social and HDI indices remain poor. So the “developmentneta” has a very mixed record. His “acceptance” speech after appointed election strategist was no more than a harsh tirade against the Congress and had surprisingly little positive content on larger issues of economic and social policy, foreign affairs and security. The world’s largest “Statue to Unity” in memory of Sardar Patel in “an India free of the Congress” is all that he could promise!

Despite a seeming patch-up, ideological and personality divides within the BJP stand more starkly exposed. Modi has further divided the Party and the NDA and it cannot be assumed that he will be the favoured candidate to lead the NDA or any new variant of it if the BJP comes anywhere near striking distance of leading a new coalition. Advani’s comment was damning. He felt the party was moving in the wrong direction with most leaders engrossed in personal agendas. Yet, if Modi cannot deliver, Advani may still play the patriarch.

Congress expectations of a miracle from Rahul Gandhi are equally misplaced. He has postured rather than performed and nobody knows his mind on critical national issues. The talk about a third front or a federal alternative built around Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Bannerjee and, perhaps, Nitish Kumar, also appears a non-starter, with Jayalalithaa preferring to stand aloof for the moment. No one is ready for an early election. This provides the UPA an opportunity to move forward, by Ordinance and executive order if necessary, to push through essential and progressive pending legislation long blocked by preventing parliament from functioning.Parliamentary ratification, where required, could follow. Those who would cavil at such “undemocratic” conduct will have to explain why they protest after thwarting parliament for so long. Such a stance could be the UPA’s best election platform and would help restore some credibility to its leadership after three wasted years of drift.

Yet the UPA continues to drift, witness the ham-handed handling of the Telengana issue and the unprofessional handling of the latest Maoist train-kidnap in Bihar. Once again, the State Government did not heed the Centre’s warnings and an inexcusably ill-trained, under-staffed and poorly equipped Railway Protection Force meekly surrendered. Security is being diverted to “protect” all manner of fatuous characters at the cost of essential priorities. The NCTC remains a political football that is periodically kicked around while national security remains at risk. The new Congress Government in Karnataka is now busy irresponsiblyundermining the recently-won autonomy of the Police Establishment Board to undo the limited progress made in police reforms and retain the police as its handmaiden.

Unfortunately, Indian politics is at low ebb with a huge loss of moral authority at top levels. The nation is changing and newly empowered cohorts of hitherto marginalised and exploited sections of the population are impatient for change, seeking the dignity, opportunity and rights so long denied them. The anger is palpable and manifest in incidents of violence and social upheaval of which left wing extremism is only one example. Therefore India must hurry and not dawdle and blunder along as is the style across parties. This is the challenge and the parties will be put to the test in 2014 or earlier.  Modiand Rahul Gandhi are non-issues.

The United States has meanwhile been found indulging in more dirty tricks – spying on foreigners through global internet providers like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter. Details of the US Prism programme were leaked in Hong Kong by a CIA operative determined to expose American “criminality” in sweeping user data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The four major service companies have sought official permission to reveal the quantum and nature of national security requests in the interests of transparency. The US administrationhas however defended the practice and reasserted its legality.

The UShas been described as great society but a dangerous state. The latest episode merely underlines the point. US nationals are spared this latest invasion of privacy even as internet and related global traffic facilitated by major service-providers are comprehensively trawled and sifted to patch together messages that portend potential homeland terror.Europe is up in arms and the Government here is worried over India being a major target of such snooping.

This is all part of the skulduggery unctuously practiced by the US Government in Guantanamo Bay’s illegal and utterly reprehensible torture chambers and in sundry “rendition” centres scattered around the globe so as to evade US human rights laws and standards through such outsourcing. The message is that might makes it right.


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