Indian Prime Minister

The Prime Minister Whose Work Speaks Louder…

As many ask if India, under its current dispensation’s ‘majoritarian’ agenda, can have a ‘minority’ prime minister like British premier Rishi Sunak, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rightly, but rather conveniently, has named its long-time target, Dr Manmohan Singh, a Sikh.

He is the only top Congressman not attacked these days. At 90, now that he holds no office, he is being praised, grudgingly or genuinely, by BJP ministers. And they are neither mavericks nor dissidents in the Modi team.

Singh’s ‘qualifications’ that suit their political peeves must include not being a Nehru-Gandhi scion. He is their convenient mascot as they demonize everything Nehruvian.

Union Minister and former BJP president Nitin Gadkari recently said that the country is ‘indebted’ to Singh for ‘liberal’ and “pro-people” economic reforms. Citing his own experience of the 1990s, he said he was able to raise millions from the public and from the institutions to lay roads and bridges in Maharashtra. With them, he had gained national limelight.

Singh’s contribution is big enough to attract sugar-coated negative jibes. Another minister Mansukh Mandeviya has alleged that Congress had blocked Singh’s plans to introduce the goods and service tax (GST) for ten years. The minister needs to remind that Modi as Gujarat’s Chief Minister had refused to cooperate. The BJP had opposed the GST at the ministerial council, although that body was headed by one of their own men. Indeed, GST had become a political football for long years.

Singh criticised Modi’s dramatically introduced demonetisation, precisely six years ago. He was called “anti-national” in the House for predicting a fall in the GDP. He proved right, but none showed the grace to acknowledge it. Recalled last week was Modi’s seeking 50 days’ time for demonetisation to succeed, failing which, he had said: “Zinda jala dena” (burn me at the stakes).

Singh’s low-pitched voice of sane economics that the likes of George Bush Jr. and Obama respected is being missed at home amidst a plethora of claims of achievements.

Occasionally, he speaks his mind. Conferred an award last week, he asserted that India “will continue to rise and show to the world the way forward by blending tradition with modernity.”

But there are caveats. Economic growth, social change and political empowerment have brought in their wake “new aspirations of an entirely new generation of Indians.” They must be fulfilled.

He had tackled two such generations at the turn of the century. As the prime minister in 2004, a surprise choice of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi who chose not to take the post herself, Manmohan Singh recalled, “I took on that responsibility with diligence as my tool, truth as my beacon, and a prayer that I might always do the right thing. As I have said on many occasions, my life and tenure in public office are an open book. Serving this nation has been my privilege. There is nothing more that I could ask for.”

Today, people forget that the automobile and aviation revolution was really unveiled under Singh. Cars and plane tickets became affordable for the Indian middle class and two-wheelers for the larger masses.

Asked to assess his own performance as the premier, Singh had once modestly rated himself 6/10. Perhaps, he had left room for future criticism, allowing for re-assessment to fluctuate with time — and political changes.

Unsurprisingly, some of the criticism has come from latter-day critics who once praised his reforms. Among them is NR Narayan Murthy, the Infosys czar, who recently called Singh ‘extraordinary’ as the prime minister, but maintained that he had ‘blocked’ reforms.

Murthy is not alone. Switching sides after the surprise defeat of the Vajpayee Government in 2004, much of India’s corporate sector supported Singh as the prime minister. But they had tempered their praise with caution against spending too much on poverty alleviation schemes. Singh did not play the ball on that score.

In the 1990s, Corporate India gingerly recognised Narasimha Rao’s political backing that had enabled Singh’s reforms. Rao had wanted that they must have “a human face.” But they did not appreciate Singh’s political compulsions as the prime minister of allocating billions, even if he had reservations, for the anti-poverty programmes that formed the Congress’ political plank.

They dealt with Singh like they had done with Narasimha Rao earlier. Impatient during the political turmoil in the latter half of Singh’s second term, they accused his government of “policy paralysis.” They switched their support to Modi’s promise of graft-free reforms that placed earning with dignity over doles.

But while the wisdom of welfare-ism has been questioned, none has recognised the fact that Modi has continued with many of those schemes, ‘sinking’ more billions, albeit under different titles.

Times have definitely changed, and so has media-driven public perception. Those who criticised Rao and Singh’s ‘silence’, called “mauni-baba” in their times, have no problem with Modi’s one-sided discourse, full of rhetoric, on economic management, or, his silence on myriad contentious issues. His claims of achievements go unchallenged, even as he blames the past governments, from Nehru to Singh (Vajpayee’s period included).

ALSO READ: Is Rahul The Last Mughal of Nehru Dynasty?

Singh is a misfit in the present times. Even when he was in the government, he was a misfit on many counts. Rao had thrown the economist/bureaucrat-turned-reluctant minister, to the wolves, they being full-time, hard-core politicians, unlike Singh. He had let him prioritize the reforms, but also let him face the music.

Singh’s reforms, when introduced, were difficult to digest. At least two of his cabinet colleagues, now dead, had told me privately, “Bhai, yeh toh hamein dubayega” – he will sink the government and the party. Eventually, Rao lost the 1996 elections, only partly due to the scams – sugar, share market, and telecom — but mainly due to his political miscalculations, ranging from Babri demolition to wrong electoral alliances.  

A political non-entity who became the prime minister, Singh was without Rao-like political backing. With iffy support from Sonia Gandhi, he had to bear pressures from his party men, some of whom flaunted greater proximity/loyalty to the party chief. Some alliance partners not just chose their nominees in the council of ministers, but also demanded specific portfolios.

Yet, he had kept the economy going during the global depression and ended his decade at a higher growth rate than the present-day figure. His jugular for the civil nuclear treaty with the US surprised his supporters and frustrated his critics.

The Left-influenced schemes such as MNREGA won the Congress a second term despite vicious propaganda that the nuclear deal with the US had made India a ‘satellite’ of the US-led western bloc.

He may have succeeded in making the India-Pakistan border irrelevant and reducing tensions if India’s ‘nationalists’ had displayed vision and Musharraf had survived his own follies. And a Sikh premier had apologized to his community for the 1984 violence.

Thirty-one years back, he had said that the emergence of India as an economic powerhouse was “an idea whose time has come”. His contribution to that tryst during half of that period needs a calmer assessment.

Manmohan Singh had once expressed the hope that pilloried by the present, history may judge him “more kindly”. For now, that will have to wait.

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Kharge Officially Takes Charge As Cong Prez

Veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday officially took charge as the party president at the All India Congress Committee headquarters in the national capital.

Congress Central Election Authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry handed over the certificate of election to the top post.
“I hope other parties draw a lesson from the Congress and hold polls for the presidency by secret ballot,” said Mistry.

Former party president Sonia Gandhi, MP Rahul Gandhi, and the party’s General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra along with other senior leaders and MPs were present at the occasion.

Ahead of the event at the Congress headquarters today, Kharge met former prime minister Manmohan Singh at his home yesterday. This morning, he paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi at his memorial, Rajghat. He also visited memorials of former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi, besides former deputy PM Jagjivan Ram.

Kharge, who was elected the first Congress chief outside the Nehru-Gandhi family in 24 years, has his task cut out as the party faces several electoral and organizational challenges.

A man of vast organizational and administrative experience, Kharge entered the electoral fray for the party’s top post after Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot opted against contesting.

Kharge, 80, was seen as the “establishment’s candidate” against Shashi Tharoor and polled 7,897 votes against 1072 received by his rival.

A leader who has risen from the grassroots, Kharge belongs to the Dalit community and will be the second leader from Karnataka to hold the top party post after S Nijalingappa became the Congress president in 1968.

In over five decades of experience in active politics, Kharge has been a union minister, and Congress leader in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and has held several portfolios in Karnataka where he was MLA nine times.

A combative, articulate, and accessible politician who is comfortable both in Hindi and English, Kharge has been a strong critic of the BJP-led government.

He faces major challenges to work out strategies in terms of Congress revival in the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as also in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. The Congress has seen an erosion in its base in some other states including in the northeast. AAP is also seeking to emerge as a challenger in some states.

While Kharge’s immediate challenges are the assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat which will go the polls later this year, several other states including his home state Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan will go the polls next year before the crucial battle in the 2024 general election.

Many senior party leaders have left Congress in recent months and years and the Congress debacle in Punjab and Uttarakhand assembly polls earlier this year has been blamed on the choices party leadership made in these states.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is on Bharat Jodo Yatra, indicated that Kharge will decide his role.

Kharge will take over as party chief from Sonia Gandhi, who was serving as interim chief after Rahul Gandhi stepped down following the party’s debacle in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Sonia Gandhi had earlier steered the party for 19 years and played a pivotal role in the formation of two UPA governments.

A former union minister of Labour and Railways, Kharge resigned as Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha to contest the presidential polls in accordance with the one person, one post norm.

Born on July 21, 1942, Kharge was active in student politics and was general secretary 1964-65 of the Students Union in Government Arts and Science College in Gulbarga.

He was vice president of the Students Union Law College, Gulbarga, in 1966-67 and became president of the Gulbarga City Congress Committee in 1969.

Kharge served as MLA in Karnataka nine times between 1972 and 2009 and held several portfolios as minister including education, revenue, rural development, and large and medium industry, transport, and water resources.

He was president of the Karnataka Congress from 2005 to 2008 and also served as Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly from 1996-99 and from 2008-09.

He was elected to Lok Sabha in 2009 and 2014 and elected to Rajya Sabha in 2020. As Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha, he raised various issues vociferously.

Kharge was seen as a top contender for the CM post in Karnataka several times but never got the role. Kharge did not protest and continued to work as a disciplined party worker.

Congress leaders said Kharge will be the second Dalit president in the party’s long history.

Kharge is credited with several initiatives in his ministerial tenures. As Union Minister, he revamped the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, extended insurance and benefits for workers in both organized and unorganized sectors, and ESIC hospitals throughout the country were modernized.

As Railway Minister, he gave emphasis on funding projects in the northeastern states in the railway budget and initiated reforms such as the creation of the Rail Tariff Regulatory Authority.

With Kharge’s election as the new party chief, the Congress will seek to blunt the BJP’s attack on it over “family-oriented politics”. (ANI)

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New Congress Chief

Cong Prez Polls: Kharge vs Tharoor, Contest On Monday

After 22 years the Congress is all set to witness a contest for the president post on Monday with senior party leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor pitted against each other to lead the party with new vigour so as to fulfil the aim of defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The voting will be done between 10 am and 4 pm, with the results will be declared on October 19.
“The delegates from all states will vote at their respective polling stations with a ‘tick’ mark for the candidate they support. Arrangements have been made for smooth polling,” said Central Election Authority Chairman of Congress Madhusudan Mistry.

“Ballot boxes will reach Delhi on Oct 18 & counting of votes will be done on October 19. A polling booth set up at AICC as well, where over 50 people will vote. The whole polling process will be fair & free, no doubt about that,’ he added.

It is not the first time that a non-Gandhi leader is contesting for the party presidency post-Independence, Jitendra Prasad contested for the post of the president about 22 years ago against Sonia Gandhi which Sonia emerged as a winner holding the mantle of the party for 20 years.

Sonia Gandhi is the longest-serving president of the party, having held the office for over twenty years from 1998 to 2017 and since 2019.

This time no member of the Gandhi family is contesting for the post of President.

This is the sixth time in its nearly 137-year-old history that polls will be held to elect the President of the party. In the 2017 elections, Rahul Gandhi became the president unopposed.

“There’s no problem with our ideology but I want to bring a change in our way of work… Mallikarjun Kharge is an experienced leader, if he wins, we’ll work in cooperation naturally,” Congress Presidential candidate Shashi Tharoor said ahead of the polls tomorrow.

Kharge, “It’s my duty to strengthen the org & fight vindictive policies of BJP-RSS, they’re dividing the country on basis of religion; they’re dividing the backwards, scheduled castes, minorities. They see everything through an election point of view.”

“We’ve to fight from parliament to street. It’s difficult as unemployment& inflation are there, GDP growth is falling, the value of rupee is going down, petrol-diesel & essential commodities’ prices are going up,’ he added.

More than nine thousand delegates will vote in this election. The state from which the delegate belongs will have to go to the Congress headquarters of that state and vote.

Apart from the Congress headquarters in the states, the voting facilities will also be available at the party’s central headquarters at 24 Akbar Road.

In Delhi, those delegates can cast their vote who have obtained prior permission from the Central Election Authority to cast their vote in Delhi instead of their own state.

Congress Working Committee members including Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Priyanka Gandhi and some senior leaders will vote in the booth at the Congress headquarters.

About 40 delegates involved in the Bharat Jodo Yatra, including Rahul Gandhi, will be able to cast their vote in the camp itself.

A polling station is being set up at the Sanganakallu campsite in Bellary.

While the two contestants Shashi Tharoor and Mallikarjun Kharge will cast their votes in their respective state’s headquarters Trivendram and Bengaluru

After voting, the ballot boxes from all the states will be brought back to Delhi where the results will be announced after the counting of votes on October 19. (ANI)

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When Economics Nibbles At Politics

Two of India’s most credible voices spoke as if in unison on November 29 and 30 at events organized by major media houses. Their well-meant, well-timed warnings are that the economy is in bad shape, something the government of the day is doggedly denying.

The oft-repeated phrase, “it’s the economy, stupid!” comes to mind, but it will not suffice. Bad economic management has combined with widespread perceptions of fear in political and social arenas.

The TINA (there is no alternative) factor that had emerged only six months ago after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the alliance he leads won a bigger mandate than 2014 is sliding.  

Both, former premier Manmohan Singh and veteran industrialist Rahul Bajaj linked economic governance to a vitiated social climate. Fear, they said, was generated, not by those in power alone, but also by those who draw inspiration and support from them and act with impunity.

Singh’s warning was confirmed the very next day, doubly more than he had expressed last year. India’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen to 4.5 percent, the lowest in over six years, when Singh and his government, accused of policy paralysis, were in office. The GDP growth then was 8.5 percent. It had crossed ten at one time during his tenure.   

When Singh had last year darkly predicted a two percent GDP fall, then Finance Minister, late Arun Jaitley, had hinted at Singh’s going senile. Lawmakers and leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been more direct in using harsh words.

Singh has been spared abuses this time – not that anybody in the government is taking his words kindly. The counter-response is only more resolute since the government apparently sees Singh straying into political arena by alleging that a “toxic combination of deep distrust, pervasive fear” is “stifling economic activity and hence economic growth”.  

More ire has been reserved for Bajaj, who has pierced through the bubble of India Inc.’s silence. To be fair, he was in the past critical of Singh’s economic management as well. And Singh, braving doubting Thomas all around in those early years, had been dismissive of that criticism. India’s entrepreneurial class is grateful to Singh, the reforms’ pioneer, whether or not they would admit it.

With formidable ministers Amit Shah (who is also the BJP chief), Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal on stage, Bajaj spoke of corporates afraid to criticize government, of an environment of impunity for phenomena like lynching and of terror-accused Pragya Thakur’s political journey to Parliament with the BJP’s full backing and support.

The ministers, particularly Shah, denied or defended it all. He compared his government’s record with that of the Singh Government, of all things, on cases of lynching of Muslims and Dalits by vigilantes belonging to his party or its affiliates. Official figures prove his claim hollow. Shah has got to deny this since RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat who guides his party has decried the very term ‘lynching’ as something alien to Indian culture.  

While building its industrial base, the Bajaj family has a history of speaking up against the government of the day, especially that of the Congress. Rahul B. dared fellow-captains of trade and industry at the conclave to speak up, but none responded. Only leading woman entrepreneur Kiran Shaw Majumdar has taken the cue from Bajaj.

Come to think of it, India Inc. hails most Budgets and praises most finance ministers, as long as its purpose is swerved. It has always moved cautiously, sensing the political climate before speaking out on economic issues. In recent memory, the year 2013 was one such time when the Singh Government was besieged with political protests.

Behind this new churning, unmistakably, there is the Maharashtra factor. Sharad Pawar has sewn together government of an unlikely alliance of known ideological adversaries united to keep the BJP out of the richest state. His emergence, like Bajaj (incidentally, both have their respective bases in Pune) has confounded many calculations and put some life into a beleaguered Opposition.

New Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has taken some decisions responding to public concerns like environmentalists’ pleas against felling trees in Mumbai’s wooded area and has announced withdrawal of cases against the Maoists imprisoned under stringent anti-terror laws. The controversial Indo-Japanese Bullet train project, half-way through, is slated to slow down, if not ended. The latter two issues are bound to cause friction with New Delhi.

But he has compulsions. By reinforcing continued adherence to Hindutva that he shares with the BJP, Thackeray has had to keep future political options open. He cannot afford to shed his ideological moorings strengthened along with the BJP over the last three decades. Friction with secular allies is in store.             

Significantly, the BJP slide in recent elections is not because of, but despite, a weak Opposition. It remains divided and has nothing to offer to the people. The recent months have witnessed the rise of regional forces, Pawar being the best and the most promising of the lot. 

The Congress remains in deep slumber, as if running on autopilot. It merely reacts to events, unsure at times about its stand, only to be bashed back by the BJP and its voluble social media supporters. The Gandhis are seen as doing a holding operation, ineffective in office and indecisive about their own role, even as the party gets reduced to third or fourth position.

There are other fears surrounding enforcement of law to detect ‘outsiders’ or ‘infiltrators’. Everyone but the die-hard BJP supporters (read Shah supporters) think this would open the Pandora’s Box. Potentially, just about anyone among the millions who migrate for work or due to a natural calamity can come under suspicion for lack of documents that prove his/her domicile status.

The Modi Government faces long-term decline in economic growth. The latest GDP numbers merely certify what has been experienced on the ground for a long time now. What is striking about the slowdown this time is that it hits the most vulnerable sections of the population. Agricultural distress combined with the disastrous demonetization experiment, has hurt those that serve as the real economic engine.

How far the Singh-Bajaj-Majumdar observations reflect and impact the public mood remains uncertain. It would be premature, if not naïve, to expect anything radical. It is a long grind.

Truth be told, Modi remains popular among large sections and his government/party wield greater money and muscle power than all opponents combined.    

But message is clear: National pride and religion certainly have their own place. But people want jobs and basic necessities first, over everything else. To revive the economy, Modi will have to review the social and political ethos and philosophy. Nothing less will help him and the country.

The writer can be reached at

The Real Reason Why State Of Indian Media Is ‘Pliable’

Disclosure: this author landed one of the first interviews with Mr Modi a year after he became prime minister for a leading Indian newspaper in English; and Mr Modi’s answers to questions in person over breakfast at his official residence were supplemented by detailed printed copies of the responses). Such an arrangement for interviews (as most Indian journalists and editors are aware) isn’t something that is exclusive to Mr Modi. Prime ministers who have preceded Mr Modi, including Dr Manmohan Singh, have, in the past, agreed to be interviewed only via email. Editors of publications usually agree to print such responses, and, in most cases, mention the fact that it is based on written or e-mailed responses to questions, letting readers know the format that was followed. Obviously, such interviews tend to skirt controversial issues: I can’t recall an interview in which Dr Singh was asked whether he was in any way constrained in his decisions as prime minister by the president of the Congress party (in the circumstances, it would have been a legitimate question to ask him). The issue of interviewing India’s chief executive or prime minister was recently in the news after the Congress’ current president Rahul Gandhi critiqued an interview of Mr Modi by the editor of a news agency. Mr Gandhi implied that the interviewer was “pliable” and that “she was questioning and also giving the prime minister’s answers”. His comments set off a maelstrom of protests. The ruling alliance’s spokespersons attacked him and invoked memories of his grandmother, the late Indira Gandhi, who as prime minister had promulgated Emergency in 1975 during which the media was gagged, censored and controlled by her government. Journalists too were angered. The Editors Guild of India, an organisation comprising leading Indian editors that aims to protect press freedom and raise the standards of editorial leadership of newspapers and magazines, issued a statement in which it said Mr Gandhi’s criticism of the interviewer was offensive. The Congress party responded by defending its president’s statement and said: “Pliable isn’t offensive; it is the state of the Indian media today.” There are two issues that derive from this latest controversy involving India’s media and its politicians. The first is specific to the Congress president himself. For much of the 14 years since 2004 when Mr Gandhi, now 48, formally entered politics, he has largely been leery of the media, rarely agreeing to interactions with journalists and nearly never agreeing to grant interviews. In one-on-one interactions, which have almost always been off the record, his responses to controversial or uncomfortable questions have attempted to obfuscate the issues, and in the extremely rare on-the-record interviews that he has granted he has often seemed baffling. It is only now after his party suffered a humiliating loss in the general elections of 2014 that Mr Gandhi has seemed to have come into his own, speaking more coherently about things such as Mr Modi, his government, and now, the media. But has he agreed to free, no-holds-barred media interviews where questions aren’t previously vetted or the journalist or the publication not screened? You’ll be hard put to recall any. That takes care of issue No. 1. But it is the second issue that is more disturbing. In India, senior politicians, particularly those occupying high offices such as the prime minister or senior leaders of the Opposition, unless they are accused, charged or convicted of high crimes, are usually given the kid glove treatment by traditional media publications. It is common to find publications and the journalists working for them treating India’s politicians with a sort of polite submission and respect. Such is the deference that, unlike in the UK or other western markets, it is rare to find even “tabloid” publications trying to unearth scandals, salacious or otherwise, about Indian politicians—although it won’t be wrong to assume that such peccadillos, involving Indian politicians, exist in abundance. But the bigger issue is the reason why India’s mainstream (or traditional) journalists go soft on its politicians, leaders, and ministers. The real answers lie in the way India’s publications are owned and managed. Most of India’s big newspapers—in English or other languages—are proprietorial establishments. It is not uncommon to find that some of these proprietors also have other large business interests. It is also not uncommon to find links between some of these owners and political parties. In many large newsrooms, the professional, hired editor may seem to call the shots but the interests of the publication’s owner always influences the decisions. Sometimes it is a simple case of advertising revenues. Like everywhere in the world, India’s print publications are facing a squeeze on revenues—print ads from erstwhile mainstay sectors are fast migrating online—and the dependence on advertising from government agencies has increased. Or it is about vested interests. The owners of a media group may need the approval of the government of the day to set up a new business, acquire land in a state for expansion or diversification purposes, or just stave off prying governmental investigations into their own business discrepancies. Much is made of the existence of crony capitalism in India—the nexus between the business class and the political class.  The thing is India’s mainstream media business is not outside such a nexus. With very few exceptions, India’s media barons are pretty much linked to the political class—and instances of media owners crossing over to the other side are not uncommon. If pliable is the state of the Indian media as the Congress party and its president have alleged, then it may be time to take a close hard look, not at those who work in the newsrooms but at those who own them.]]>


#MyVote2019 – ‘Youth Connects With Modi’

I am a member of various social media groups and keep abreast with political developments. I debate and take part in several political discussion on my Facebook account and on Twitter. I respect valid arguments of all kind and keep my sanity while placing my views on these forum. I consider myself an aware youth with respectable knowledge about political parties, leaders, policies, etc. Even though I am still studying, I have my views on jobs, infrastructure, road connectivity, safety, women empowerment etc.

These are the issues that I believe concern first-time voters like me. I am proud of our country’s growing ranking and image on global platform. This feeling of pride and recognition is what makes me look towards our current leadership with respect. My choice for the next prime minister is definitely Narendra Modi. I cannot see a better option at least till the time I get to cast my vote again (after five years).

The reason is: ever since I have started following the political course of our country, I have seen only two leaders – Manmohan Singh and Modi. I find Modi a far more energetic, interactive and effective leader of the two. Critics say it is about his media management but I counter that projection of your image is also a key factor for a leader. As Nehru said, a government not only be doing the right things but also must be seen as doing the right things.

When I look around myself, I see the change is taking place gradually. For example, I often hear my uncle (a government employee) murmuring that ever since Modi came to power, he has reach office on time, work more etc. But even he is a Modi supporter. I faced little difficulty due to GST or rising petrol prices as I am still dependent on my father.

However, I think, these issues are not permanent. When the dust settles down, they will eventually be of some benefit for us in the long run. Rahul Gandhi is hopeless; he will take at least 10-15 years to have the aura of Modi. My views are not based on the memes and jokes circulating on the social media – that is BJP media cell’s job – but what few speeches of his I have seen and heard.

He lacks depth. In spite of being younger than Modi, he does not connect with the youth today. In my view, there should be a live debate between political leaders running for a particular post, like they have in many western countries and also in some of our universities, on the eve of election. This will give the voter a clear chance to make up his mind, especially the young voter, and the country will give a decisive mandate.

#Election2019 – Gear Up For The Tamasha

Deepak Pant   Is it any wonder that ever more actors are moving to the political stage in India in recent years and decades? The phenomenon is not unique to India – remember Ronald Reagan – but there is something distinctive about politics and powerplay in India. Think about the cliché: change and continuity. The change is the all-pervasive efflorescence of the media since the early 1990s and the continuity is something rooted in the Indian psyche: ‘tamasha’, or spectacle. Put the two together and you get a semblance of understanding contemporary Indian politics. To be a successful ‘neta’ (leader), you have to be something of an ‘abhineta’ (actor). If elections can be won by tapping into the age-old attraction of ‘tamasha’ (remember 2014), the corollary is that the opposition can also play the same game and win an election using counter-‘tamasha’. The environment today is such that only those who can play the performance game through the media can hope to survive and thrive in electoral politics, and who better than actors to do this: Kamal Haasan, Smriti Irani, Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, Jaya Prada, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, NT Rama Rao, MG Ramachandran, J Jayalalitha…the list goes on. In other words, the situation in India resembles what an academic might call ‘the politics of permanent performance’; you need to be constantly seen to perform, even if you don’t actually do so in work, to sustain support of the people. It works for some time, until another – better? – ‘tamasha’ takes over. Those who gain power by and through the ‘tamasha’ route in the media face the prospect of losing by the same route. It was Neil Postman, who tellingly argued in 1985 that television has transformed culture into one vast arena for show business in which all public affairs – politics, religion, news, education, journalism, commerce – have been turned into a form of entertainment, or ‘tamasha’. His main contention is that the form of the media includes or excludes the quality of content: rational argument has long been central to print typography, but the form of television and television news excludes rationality since it is essentially a form, medium, devised for entertainment programming. Thus, politics and religion are diluted, and ‘news’ becomes a packaged commodity. Television de-emphasises the quality of information in favour of satisfying the far-reaching needs of entertainment, by which information is encumbered and to which it is subordinate. ‘Tamasha’ has long been one of the defining principles of political communication in India. It took various forms: such as staged satire and poetry in ‘mushairas’ and ‘kavi sammelans’, gossip, ballads, announcements of visits by leaders, processions (perfected by L K Advani’s ‘rath yatra’), street theatre, puppet shows, political verse set to popular Bollywood songs. These forms gained exponential reach and power with the proliferation of the media, including the internet and social media. Claims and counter-claims were equally able to disseminate quickly. Thus, it is no surprise that the opposition Congress also takes to similar idioms to attack the BJP in power: for example, Rahul Gandhi’s description of GST as ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ after the popular villain from ‘Sholay’, as well as his amusing, funny and entertaining quick-on-the-uptake posts on Twitter on issues of the day. During the 2014 elections, the Narendra Modi act – or, ‘tamasha’ – was highly effective. Here was a leader who spoke very well (compared to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh), promised the moon, seemed confident of cutting through bureaucratic and political cobwebs, was immensely entertaining, had tremendous confidence in his abilities to transform India, which the youth found attractive. It was a stellar performance across various media forms: radio, mobile, television, print, newspapers as well as holograms that enabled him to appear at public meetings at various locations simultaneously. Cut to end-2018 and the attraction of his ‘tamasha’ has waned. There are already reports of BJP candidates during recent elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan complaining that people no longer come to his rallies in large numbers. The same confident television appearances that attracted many in 2014 don’t seem to have the same pull now, if not a put-off. The key question now is: is the opposition capable of putting up a bigger, better ‘tamasha’ than the BJP during the 2019 elections? In 2014, it was claimed that the taciturn Manmohan Singh was ‘Modi’s most effective election agent’; the former’s persona was a contrast reference point that helped sell the Modi brand. In 2019, will Modi be ‘Rahul’s most effective election agent’? Rahul Gandhi’s stall of an inclusive, less-charged and less-divisive India will be pitted against the polarizing and polarized India symbolized by Modi and the BJP. The Nehru-Gandhi has long exploited the ‘tamasha’ in an India where feudal impulses are still influential. The outcome of the elections remains to be seen, but it is certain that ‘tamasha’ in various forms and media will reach a new high.  ]]>

#AccidentalPrimeMinister riles Congress

The Accidental Prime Minister, starring Anupam Kher as Manmohan Singh, is BJP’s propaganda against their party, Congress leaders said on Friday as the former PM evaded comment on the growing controversy over the film on him. Congress leaders said propaganda against the party would not work and the truth shall prevail. The trailer of the film, based on the book of the same name by Sanjaya Baru who served as Singh’s media advisor from 2004 to 2008, was released in Mumbai on Thursday. The trailer shows Singh as a victim of the Congress’ internal politics ahead of the the 2014 general elections. Riveting tale of how a family held the country to ransom for 10 long years. Was Dr Singh just a regent who was holding on to the PM’s chair till the time heir was ready? Watch the official trailer of ‘TheAccidentalPrimeMinister’, based on an insider’s account, releasing on 11 January,” the BJP said on Thursday night.

Responding to the BJP, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said on Twitter that such fake propaganda by the party would not stop it from asking the Modi government questions on “rural distress, rampant unemployment, demonetisation disaster, flawed GST, failed Modinomics, all pervading corruption . Asked by journalists to comment on the film at the Congress’ foundation day function at the party headquarters on Friday, Singh walked away without saying anything. Congress leader and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said propaganda against the Congress and its leaders would not work and the truth shall prevail. His colleague, Congress leader PL Punia, accused the BJP of evading answers on its misgovernance after having failed on all fronts. This is the handiwork of the BJP. They know that time has come to give answers after completion of five years and they are now trying to divert attention by raising such issues and evade answering to the public after its government failed on all fronts, he said. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah also tweeted on the film, saying, “Can’t wait for when they make The Insensitive Prime Minister. So much worse than being the accidental one.” Directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte, the film stars Kher as Manmohan Singh and Akshaye Khanna as Baru. (PTI)]]>