Friday, December 28, 2012


This man has already achieved what no other non-member of the Gandhi family has ever done. The closest to his record is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was Prime Minister for six consecutive years between 1998 and 2004. P. V. Narasimha Rao is another non- Gandhi who completed 5 uninterrupted years as the Prime Minister. The next best is a Gandhi family member Rajiv Gandhi, who led the government between 1984 and 1989. No other Prime Minister – except Jawaharhal Nehru and Indira Gandhi – has survived five uninterrupted years as Prime Minister. Nehru was PM continuously from 1947 till his death in 1964. Indira Gandhi was PM between 1966 and 1984, except for a two and half year exile between 1977 and end-1979. The way things are changing in Indian society and economy in terms of aspirations and expectations, even die-hard supporters of Congress will snigger at the suggestion that Rahul Gandhi could be Prime Minister for 10 consecutive years beginning 2014. So there is absolutely no doubt that, in a factual context, Manmohan Singh has already secured his place in history. It is a different matter that an ‘unelectable’ bureaucrat completing 10 successive years as Prime Minister reflects on the quality and the depth of Indian democracy. But credit must be given. Manmohan Singh will almost certainly complete 10 years as PM. But will history talk about him and his lengthy tenure the way it will keep dissecting the track record of Nehru and Indira? For that matter, forget Nehru and Indira, will he ever acquire the stature that even Vajpayee has assured for himself? Let’s look at it in another, more blunt manner: will history ever talk about the legacy left behind by Manmohan Singh? Quite frankly, history books will confine him to a supporting role at best as they analyze the legacy of Sonia Gandhi. Sad, but Dr. Singh will leave behind no legacy: faceless bureaucrats who selflessly do the bidding of political masters never do so. And yet the man, the economist, the bureaucrat, the courtier and the reluctant politician knows that he has achieved something phenomenal by becoming Prime Minister for two consecutive terms. And even faceless bureaucrats have egos and dreams. There is no doubt whatsoever that Dr. Singh knows his days as Prime Minister are numbered. He knows that even if the UPA manages to win another term in 2014 and Rahul Gandhi decides he is better

off enacting the role of Sonia Gandhi by pulling the strings from behind the scenes, it is another courtier who would be anointed Prime Minister. He also knows that fawning Congressmen will instantly delete him from even contemporary footnotes the moment another courtier takes his post. I mean, if they don’t care a fig about him even now when he is the Prime Minister, what chance would he have as an elderly statesman without even the fig leaf of perceived power and authority? Surely, it must be rankling. It would rankle any normal human being with normal feelings and human emotions. And Dr. Singh is undoubtedly the embodiment of middle class normalcy. This is where India begins to enter very dangerous times. Dr. Singh would be determined to leave at least some legacy behind. He is not a fool. He knows there is no chance of a political legacy of the kind left behind by Nehru, Indira and Vajpayee. He also knows that history books will credit not him, but Narasimha Rao as the architect of economic reforms. In fact, in terms of economic performance, his long tenure as PM would be torn to shreds by objective historians. Do remember, he was aware of all this even back in 2008 when it was not certain that the UPA would be voted back to power.

So he sought to leave his personal legacy behind through the Indo-US nuclear deal. His crowning moment was the George W. Bush visit to India and the signing of the controversial deal. So determined was he to leave at least this legacy behind that the normally diffident and reticent man staked everything on the deal. He literally left his party bosses, including Sonia Gandhi, with no option but to cobble together a majority in the Parliament when the Left, which supported UPA-1, withdrew support over the nuclear deal. We then had the disgrace of the cash for votes scam, something that is yet to be honestly investigated. His deal with Sonia Gandhi was clear: he would chase a foreign policy legacy al la Nehru and not murmur as Congress politicians unleashed economically dangerous populism like farm loan waivers and assorted welfare schemes that now look like bottomless holes. The deal worked. But not even partisans can say yet if the Indo-US nuclear deal is a success. The fact is, it will probably be at least 2020 before even one nuclear power plant as envisaged by the deal comes up. And post the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan, and the stubborn resistance – motivated or not – to the 25-year old Kundakullam nuclear plant, it is anybody’s guess if all the hype about nuclear energy solving India’s power sector problems will actually come true.

Like his tenure was coming to an end in 2008, Dr. Singh knows that 2013 will be the last year of his tenure; this time for good. He still can’t leave a political legacy behind. There is nothing in the domestic arena where he can leave a mark: that would be reserved for the Gandhi family. So out of compulsion, Dr. Singh is again looking through the foreign policy prism to ensure that he leaves behind at least a modicum of a legacy.

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out which direction he is headed. It has been clear for quite some time that Dr. Singh is eyeing Pakistan as his enduring legacy. I mean, if a Prime Minister can actually mend relations with Pakistan to the point where even the Kashmir issue would appear solved, his place in history would be doubly assured. It is that temptation that is driving him and his government to adopt policies and take postures that will do incalculable damage to India’s long terms interests and security.

But before we come to that, let us look at the devastatingly dangerous implications of the deal he seems to have struck with his political bosses this time. Unlike 2008, when high growth rates and buoyant tax revenues had given the government enough resources to play Santa with, the situation is going to be alarmingly different in 2013. The India growth story is in a state of coma, if not already dead. The fiscal deficit is unsustainable. International ratings agencies are threatening to downgrade India’s sovereign debt to junk status. Indian entrepreneurs are voting with their money and feet by preferring to invest in overseas markets. In 2013, India will badly need good economic policy making to rescue it out of the current mess. But rest assured, Dr. Singh will not bat an economist eyelid as his political bosses unleash a tsunami of welfare schemes to ensure that the political odds will be stacked in favour of Rahul Gandhi in 2014. Believe me, he might have personal and private regrets and remorse, but he will not lift an eyebrow in protest as the Indian economy is sucker punched by populism in 2013. Nor will he protest when brazen forms of crony capitalism – FDI in retail, FDI in civil aviation style – will be pushed in the name of bold economic reforms. No Sir: Dr. Singh may know his economics, but he is currently obsessed with history and his shaky place in it. Do even die-hard supporters of the Dynasty and the UPA realize the massive damage all this will do to future economic growth in India? And how poor economic growth will kill dreams of tens of millions of poor Indians who are struggling to join the ranks of the lower middle class? And what would Dr. Singh gain through this Faustian bargain? Does he honestly think that the military establishment of Pakistan and the ruling elite of that country are genuinely interested in a genuine peace deal with India? Why, their very rationale for existence will wither away if India actually changes from being the eternal enemy to a friendly neighbour! To expect the ruling elite of Pakistan to willingly commit hara kiri to allow Dr. Singh an enduring legacy is so naive that it would be laughable, were it not so dangerous. Look at what Rehman Malik said during and after his “friendly” visit to India. He juxtaposed 26/11 with the demolition of Babri Masjid. He said Jundal is an Indian agent. He said there is no evidence against the LeT and its chief. He said that India is instigating separatism in Balochistan. He said everything that the ruling elite of Pakistan have been saying for six decades and more. I shudder to think if a desperate Dr. Singh offers a friendly gesture in Siachen.

And don’t forget the most viciously cynical political calculation behind this race for a Pakistan legacy. Mending fences with Pakistan will encourage Indian Muslims to vote for the UPA in 2014. Believe me, many Congressmen are actually thinking along those lines.

God help India.


Saturday, December 1, 2012


The so called mainstream media is at it again – making a fool of itself and displaying unending contempt for the native intelligence of the Indian voter. Once again, we are being told by pundits and sycophantic and servile courtiers masquerading as columnists that the Congress and the UPA have got their mojo back and look set to win the Lok Sabha elections due in 2014. The reasons offered are many. For one, the BJP is in a mess and has failed to capitalize on the serial scams haunting the Congress since 2010. Then again, the voter is wary of a rag tag Third or Fourth Front government propped up by outside support and will reluctantly vote again for the Congress. The most servile are writing about how Rahul Gandhi and his computer baba log are drawing up a “fool” proof strategy to woo voters. The pink papers have been screaming hoarse about the return of P. Chidambaram as the Finance Minister and how he will get the economy back on a high growth path. A related part of this delusional narrative is hailing the decision to allow FDI in retail and capping the use of subsidized LPG cylinders at six a year as proof that the UPA government is determined to push for “reforms”. Of course, the game changer is supposed to be what Jairam Ramesh so cutely described as “Aapka paisa, Aapke Haath”. Yes, I am talking about the decision to resort to cash transfer of subsidies to beneficiaries using the Aadhar scheme. So powerful is the alleged impact of this game changing decision that even mainstream media professionals who are critical of the Congress and the Gandhi dynasty are complaining that the ruling party is resorting to bribing the voters to win another election. In all of this, there seems to be a near unanimity that the Congress will pull off yet another stunning victory. They draw parallels with 2009 when the NREGA scheme was used as a bribe to the Indian voters to win elections. Of course, there are many who are still saying that the Indian voter is still so angry, so outraged and so pissed off with the corruption, hubris and arrogance of this government that they are determined to vote against the Congress. But such voices have been drowned in the cacophony of predicting yet another Congress victory.

I can only marvel and laugh at such malarkey and nonsense. For ages, the New Delhi-based mainstream media has utterly failed to read the intentions of the Indian voter. It has a habit of getting it wrong almost every time. And yet, it persists in such hogwash. Allow me to quote columnist Tavleen Singh who was a young reporter in 1977 when Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency and called for elections. She writes:

“It became clear that Mrs.Gandhi wanted to restore her image as a democratic leader and this could only happen if the coming elections were seen to be fair. Within days of the elections being announced, most of the opposition leaders who were still in jail were released. They were no longer worth keeping in jail since nobody, not even the opposition leaders themselves, thought in January 1977 that Mrs.Gandhi had the slightest chance of losing this election. Every report, even from her own intelligence agencies, indicated that she might lose a few seats; but that there was no chance of a total defeat.”

That was 35 years ago. Since then, in election after election, the mainstream media has almost always forecasted it wrong – the only notable exception being 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi won a historic mandate after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

It would be easy to conclude that most of the mainstream media is blindly and abjectly supportive of the Congress and the Gandhi dynasty when it comes to forecasting election results. A hell of a lot of our mainstream media is guilty of that. But the bigger crime is its failure to read voter intentions. Just go back to the spring of 2004 and you will realize what I am talking about. Let me give you just

one example. The much talked about research agency AC Nielsen was commissioned by NDTV and The Indian Express to conduct an opinion poll and make a forecast for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. In a largest of its kind survey, around 40,000 respondents were asked about their voting intentions. The forecast was that the then ruling NDA would win between 287 to 307 seats and rule India for another five years. The BJP was projected to win around 200 seats while the Congress was projected to win around 100 seats. Let me give you one more example from the same year when assembly elections were held along with Lok Sabha elections in Andhra Pradesh. A prestigious survey that featured in the Outlook magazine had the following forecast for the state. The then ruling Telugu Desam was given around 165 seats while the Congress and its allies were given around 125 seats. So NDTV said in 2004 that the NDA would rule India for another five years and Outlook said in 2004 that Chandrababu Naidu and his party would rule Andhra Pradesh for another five years. We all know what the actual results were.

Now, even a moron would not dare to suggest that the two prestigious mainstream media outlets are hostile to the Congress. In fact, many would suggest that their sympathies clearly lie with the Congress and that they have no love lost for the BJP. And yet, for all their sympathies and leanings, they failed to read or gauge the mood of the electorate in 2004. And I am not singling out NDTV and Outlook. Virtually the entire Delhi-based mainstream media had the same opinion.

Why did this happen and why does the mainstream media still fail to get it? The answer is two fold. The first, it is deeply rooted in the Durbar politics of Delhi and has no clue about what really is happening in the rest of India. Second, it is susceptible to smart spin masters and courtiers of the day who have their own axe to grind. This was sickeningly revealed during the coverage of the 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Just pause for a moment and think about the manner in which the mainstream media covered the election campaign conducted by heir apparent Rahul Gandhi. There was unbelievable talk about how the UP voter could actually give more than 150 seats to the Congress and possibly make it the largest party in the state assembly. The less hysterical and shameless parts of the mainstream media talked about how the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party would emerge as the largest party, but would need the support of a vastly improved and powerful Congress to be able to rule UP. I read some of the newspaper articles of that time and saw some TV stories on You- Tube. I tell you, it was embarrassing, downright embarrassing. For good measure, I read up many articles penned during the run up to the Tamil Nadu assembly elections in 2011. They were even more embarrassing, because many actually said that the ruling DMK-Congress alliance would actually negate voter anger against scams by bribing the voters with goodies and gifts. And we all know what happened when the results of the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh were announced.

And yet, the Delhi-centric mainstream media is back to its old tricks again by showing utter disregard for the voter, for contemporary history and for facts. Angry voters in India have always thrown out governments. When they are really angry, they don’t conduct stupid debates and ponder philosophically about the viability of alternatives. They just want to teach a lesson to the ruling party, the consequences be dammed. They did that in 1977, in 1980 when they were betrayed by the Janata Party, in 1989 and in 1996. It is both presumptuous and foolish of the mainstream media to think that the Indian voter was not aware of the possibility of unstable governments when she voted in anger.

Allow me to point out another silly thread in this drumbeat about revived Congress prospects. The pundits say that NREGA was a huge factor in the 2009 election victory of the Congress. They are plain wrong. It was the urban middle class aspirational vote that gave the Congress a mandate in 2009. The fact is – the Congress did poorly in rural areas and overwhelmingly well in cities and urban areas. Can we at least see the 2009 vote in perspective? Could it be that when a genuine crisis looms, voters across the world tend to vote for incumbents? Could it be that Kargil helped the NDA in 1999 and 26/11 helped UPA in 2009?

But sadly, there is no attempt to do any serious analysis. But I am quite clear of one thing. The Indian voter is about as angry as she was in 1977 and 1989. And this time, the manner in which inflation has derailed household budgets and dreams has further fueled the anger. I am also clear about another thing. The mainstream media will keep projecting Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister in waiting. Till the voter delivers her stinging slap in 2014.

Well, some things never change.