Narendra Modi and Indian Democracy

India has had seven prime ministers in the last 25 years i.e. VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, PV Narsimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, HD Devegowda, IK Gujral and Manmohan Singh since 1989. Of these seven PMs no one except Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the PM candidate before elections for the next ruling party/coalition. It means people had no clue about whom they were voting as Prime Minister when they voted for the ruling party in the respective Lok Sabha elections.

The circumstances in which VP Singh became Prime Minister sowed the seeds of his dethronement within a year. After the 1989 Lok Sabha election, both Chandrashekhar and VP Singh wanted to become Prime Minister. Apparently a compromise was reached and they both agreed on Devilal’s name. In the Parliamentary Board meeting that was convened to elect the leader of the Janata Dal, VP Singh proposed the name of Devilal and it was seconded by Chandrashekhar. However Devilal proposed the name of VP Singh which was then accepted by the Parliamentary board. Chandrashekhar felt that this was a conspiracy hatched by VP Singh and he deserved to be the Prime Minister. This, despite the fact that VP Singh had become a bigger mass leader than Chandrashekhar, because of Bofors issue. VP Singh could not even complete one year of his term when Chandrashekhar split Janata Dal and became Prime Minister with outside support of the same Congress Party, against which he had won elections. All this probably could have been avoided if the Janata Dal had gone with a Prime Ministerial candidate in the elections and there would have been no confusion within the ranks of the party and common voters.

After 1991 election results, when Congress emerged as single largest party and Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the party chose P V Narsimha Rao to become Prime Minister. Again, people of India had absolutely no say in who would become their Prime Minister. It was decided after the election results by the Congress Party. In 1995, BJP declared that Atal Bihari Vajpayee would be its Prime Ministerial candidate. This decision was actually taken unilaterally by Lal Krishna Advani without even discussing with top leaders of BJP. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee was shocked to hear LK Advani’s announcement from stage in the party’s Mumbai adhiveshan. Till then it was widely believed inside and outside the party that if BJP ever comes to power, LK Advani would be the Prime Minister. LK Advani could take such a decision and announce it without discussing it with anyone as he was at the peak of his power within BJP. Since then no other leader, not even Vajpayee, has enjoyed so much power and confidence within the party.

The announcement was a positive milestone in Indian democracy. Though the decision of nominating Atal Bihari as PM candidate was not a result of any democratic exercise and Vajpayee was probably not even among the top two most popular leaders within BJP, at least the voters had a clear idea who would be India’s Prime Minister if BJP comes to power. After the elections which were held less than a year after the announcement of Vajpayee’s PM candidature, BJP came into power for the first time, though only for thirteen days, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was made the Prime Minister.

After BJP could not prove its majority as no other party apart from Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and Samta Party supported it, H D Devegowda became Prime Minister with the outside support of Congress. Other leaders who were in fray after the elections to become Prime Minister were Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Yadav, Biju Patnaik etc. Again, H D Devegowda was not a Prime Ministerial candidate before the elections and he could become PM because there was least resistance to his name among top Third Front leaders and CPI (M) had committed the ‘historical blunder’ of not making Jyoti Basu as Prime Minister. H D Devegowda’s main opponent in Karnataka was Congress and he found nothing wrong in becoming Prime Minister with Congress support. Sitaram Kesari who became Congress president after PV Narsimha Rao withdrew support from the third front government led by HD Devegowda and made it clear that he would support third front only if they replace Devegowda with someone else. The third front meekly agreed and chose IK Gujral as their leader. The reason for Devegowda’s replacement is still a mystery today. Sitartam Kesari did not bother to give any strong valid reason for his withdrawal of support.  After 1998 election Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was NDA’s PM candidate before the election, became Prime Minister. By now he had become the most popular leader in the country not only among BJP supporters but was also rated as top PM choice across all parties.

In 2004, when UPA came into power Manmohan Singh was made Prime Minister just because he enjoyed confidence of Congress President. There was no discussion about his name even among top Congress leaders let alone UPA. Sonia Gandhi just decided on his name and the rest meekly accepted. Before 2009 elections, Sonia Gandhi announced that Manmohan would continue to be Prime Minister if the party comes back to power. However there were also talks that there would be a smooth transition and Manmohan would be replaced by Rahul Gandhi.

Circumstances other than popular public support have made six of India’s last seven Prime Ministers. In a mature democracy, people should know who all could become Prime Minister as a result of their votes. The argument that India is a Parliamentary democracy does not hold water any more. Britain too is a parliamentary democracy and India has adopted its West Minister model but in the last British general elections not only the three major parties announced their PM candidates but also had pre election debates among them.

Narendra Modi has emerged as the most popular candidate for the post of Prime Minister in every Opinion Poll conducted in the last few months. He is not only the most popular BJP leader but the most popular leader across all political parties. This despite the fact that he has been a state Chief Minister since last ten years and has not held any national position within the party or the government since 2002. In 1996 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was declared the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, he was not even the most popular leader in the party (forget being the most popular leader across all parties). Lal Krishna Advani was the most popular leader at that time and one can argue that Murli Manohar Joshi was not less popular than Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It took three years, a disastrous performance by a third front government and most importantly projection by BJP as PM candidate for Vajpayee to become the most popular leader in the country. Narendra Modi has achieved almost the same level of popularity as Vajpayee had in 1998 & 1999 despite the fact that he has not yet been named as party’s official PM candidate. One can only imagine his support when he is officially declared so.

If that happens, it would be another milestone for Indian democracy. For the first time, a national party would have to appoint someone its PM candidate who has risen from grass roots and is not a Delhi based leader, someone who has earned this position not because of circumstances but because Delhi based leaders had no choice but to adhere to popular public choice. It would be better than what BJP did in 1995 by declaring Vajpayee as PM candidate because this time BJP would be backing someone who is already the most popular choice in the country.

If India’s next Prime Minister is someone who is the most popular leader in the country and does not owe his position to circumstances and palace intrigues, it would be a great leap forward for Indian Democracy.

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Raajneeti – Movie Review

Raajneeti was one of the most awaited movies of the year for many reasons. Very few Indian movies have an ensemble cast; Prakash Jha has made some very good social-political movies like Mrityudand and Gangaajal and as the title suggests, this movie was expected to be an out and out political drama unlike his earlier movies where Politics was not the main theme but just one of many backdrops.  Prakash Jha had been active in politics and even contested two Lok Sabha elections from his home state Bihar; once as an independent (2004) and once from Lok Janashakti Party (2009). All this had raised my expectations from the movie.

The story is inspired from Mahabharat. All main characters are from one single joint family and fight each other for the political legacy after the family patriarch is paralyzed. Surprisingly for a political movie, not much attention is paid to other parties but the story revolves around different members of one family trying to take over the party. We have seen this happening in many political parties (in Congress after the death of Sanjay Gandhi when a feeble attempt was made by Menaka Gandhi to inherit the poilitical legacy of Sanjay only to be rebuked by Indira Gandhi and more recently in DMK). Of course the real life clashes were not as bloody as it is in the movie. Most Indian political parties are controlled by families where head of the party treats the party as his/her fiefdom to be passed on to some family member. Jha has successfully portrayed this aspect of Indian politics.

Mostly the movie is good. Surprisingly even Arjun Rampal has pulled off his character of a politician from the Hindi heartland really well and as expected Katrina Kaif is unconvincing because of her accented Hindi. They should definitely have used voice over dubbing for her. Or maybe Prakash Jha subtly wanted us to think of Sonia Gandhi when we see Katrina. In fact the scene where Katrina tries to evoke sympathy in her voters by reminding them of sacrifices made by her family, reminds us of Sonia Gandhi. No wonder Congress forced Prakash Jha to change the dialogue Vidhwa vote le jaayegi (The widow will take away the votes) to Bitiya Vote le jaayegi (The daughter will take away the votes). All characters are well etched and believable. Full marks to Prakash Jha for this. Many Hindi movies have tried to show state of Indian Politics in recent times. As far as closeness to reality is concerned Raajneeti is the best so far though it is not perfect. The story though inspired from Mahabharat is indeed hatke.

Of course the movie has some flaws. And the biggest being the failure to use Mahabharat as a backdrop convincingly. Some sequences inspired by Karan’s birth & Arjun’s hesitation to kill Karan in the climax just did not click. Thankfully, Jha restrained himself in showing Katrina as modern day Draupadi. He had clarified in his many publicity interviews that the movie is not inspired from Mahabharat but the characters are. By this he implied that there is no hero or villain, as we generally have in Hindi movies, but the characters have Grey shades. This sounded good as it is indeed difficult to adapt the epic in a 3 hour movie (the movie is a little less than 3 hours) but Jha has tried to do so and this is the movie’s biggest undoing. In fact one may wonder whether the movie is on Indian Pilitics and Mahabharat is used as backdrop or Jha intended to make a modern day Mahabharat and Indian Politics is used as a backdrop.

Despite its flaws it is one of the better movies in recent times and the best in its genre so far. It definitely deserves a watch.

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Sports and Politics

Sports and Politics are different and both should not be mixed, is the most cited argument in favor of sporting ties with Pakistan. People argue that not playing with Pakistan or Pakistani sportsmen would not serve any purpose as it would not end cross border terrorism. The fact is that Sports since the time of Gladiators has affected politics and shaped public opinion. The two just cannot be separated. Sports, like war is used as a tool to achieve political objectives. Of course it is non violent and not as affective as war.

Last month, a senior official of Iran Football League had to resign. His crime? He accidentally sent an email to Israeli Football federation wishing new year!! Israel and Iran have no sporting ties and the reason is purely political. None of the two countries have ever been on war with each other. And it is not just about the Arab world, where many countries have no sporting ties with Israel; Politics has even affected Sports in other parts of the world.

South Africa was not only banned from Olympics from 1962- 1990 but the UN also maintained a list of people who participated in sporting events in South Africa to put a moral pressure on athletes not to appear in South Africa. The UN and other countries did this so that the country ends it apartheid policies. South Africa could play its first cricket world cup in 1992. Many sportsmen who visited South Africa on private tours were banned by their respective sports federations. In 1976, 28 African nations, boycotted Olympics to protest against tour of South Africa by New Zealand’s Rugby team. The Sports boycott in itself did not put an end to the apartheid in South Africa. But, the boycotts put across the point that it wont be business as usual for South Africa and it would have to mend its ways.

Olympics were not boycotted only in 1976. In 1980 around 45-50 countries boycotted Moscow Olympics including US, Japan, China & West Germany as a protest against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The boycott triggered a debate in US that it could be percieved as a sentimental rather than a strategic reaction. However, the counter argument prevailed, that the boycott would be an effective symbolic protest because of its dramatic visibility to the citizens of the Soviet Union, regardless of whether or not the action provoked a response. In retaliation the Soviet Union along with fourteen countries boycotted the 1984 Los Angles Olympics. Superpowers like US & Soviet Union clearly did not believe that Sports and Politics can be separated just because Sports alone could not achieve any political objective. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did not end after the Olympics boycott and the US had to fight a proxy war for eight years.

On the other hand, the argument that Sports and Politics should not be mixed prevailed during 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Berlin Olympics marked the return of Germany on International stage after World War 1. There was a huge debate in US over boycotting the Olympics to protest anti Semitic policies of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee, stated: “The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict participation by reason of class, creed, or race.” Brundage opposed a boycott, arguing that politics had no place in sports saying “The Olympic Games belong to the athletes and not to the politicians.” Many Afro Americans favored participating arguing that victory of Blacks would undermine Nazi’s “Aryan Supremacy” theory and foster Black pride in US. Thus there were political reasons as well for not boycotting the games.  The issue was settled by a vote and the Amateur Athletic Union defeated the proposal to boycott the Olympics by two-and-a-half votes. However many Jewish players personally boycotted the games.

Hitler initially held the Olympics in low regard because of their internationalism, but he became an avid supporter after Joseph Goebbels, his Minister of Propaganda, convinced him of their propaganda value. Goebbels stated in 1933, “German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence.” Germany won most medals in that Olympics and won praises from most of visitors for its hospitality and organization. Hitler even had plans to take over the Olympics forever. He said, “In 1940 the Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo. But thereafter they will take place in Germany for all time to come, in this stadium”. Many observers believe that boycott by western countries would have bolstered international resistance to Hitler’s expansionist designs.

In the context of India Pakistan relations, Cricket has played an important role many times in the past. In 1987, when the Indian and Pakistani army were in an eye-ball-to-eye-ball confrontation on the border, General Zia invited himself to watch an India Pakistan match at Jaipur and eased the tension. Before India’s tour to Pakistan in 2004, when ties between the two countries were improving, opponents of the Pakistan tour within the Govt argued that an attack on Indians on Pakistani soil would destroy the sense of well being whereas supporters of tour argued that it would help to ease the tensions. The successful tour by the Indians further created a false sense of normalcy. Prior to the tour, cross border terrorism had reduced in 2004 and Pakistan for the first time had said that it would not allow its territory to be used against  India. This has since proved to be a false promise.

Today the situation is much different from the one in 2004. Despite evidences against 26/11 attacks, Pakistan has not taken any relevant action against terrorist groups acting against India. Yesterday, Pune was attacked barely a week after JuD said that Delhi, Pune & Kanpur were its targets. The current circumstances demand isolating Pakistan on international forums and exerting diplomatic pressure, if not a limited war, to dismantle terrorist infrastructure. The recent unofficial boycott of Pakistani players by IPL has once again demonstrated the importance of cricket diplomacy. Isolating Pakistan in cricket and not just IPL would go a long way in exerting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan.

Shivaji spoke but would we listen ?

You are solely responsible for your situation

You are solely responsible for your situation

It is very rare for a movie to give a social message, without getting preachy and entertain at the same time. Mee Shivaji Raje Bhosale Boltoy (I am Shivaji Raje Bhosale speaking) is one such exception. The movie is based on grievances of Marathi Manoos (Marathi people) in Mumbai. The issue raised is same as the one raised by Bal Thackeray in 60s and recently by Raj Thackeray. However the solution suggested is different than what is being propagated by Raj Thackeray today or was espoused by Bal Thackeray in the past.

The movie starts off by introducing the main protagonist, Dinkar Maruti Bhosale, a clerk in a bank, as Damn Marathi Bhosale. Dinkar feels that Marathis are neglected and disrespected in their own state and “outsiders” are making hay at the cost of locals. Till here it seems as if the movie is espousing Raj Thackeray’s  agenda.  However, when Dinkar curses himself for being a Maharashtrian, Shivaji’s spirit, a la Munnabhai, comes to the rescue and the movie takes a turn for good. When Dinkar Joshi rues the fact that Gujaratis dominate the busuines landscape in the city, South Indians dominate the hotel industry and North Indians dominate the bureaucracy, Shivaji asks him that had anyone stopped Marathi Manoos to do any of these ? Dinkar then decides to take charge of his life and with the guidance of Shivaji reclaims self respect and sanity back in his life.

The movie has  exaggerated the plight of Marathi Manoos at some places. For example, Dinkar’s daughter wants to change her name as a film director, who himself is a Maharshtrian but hides this fact, believes that Marathi girls have no future in Hindi movie industry. But the plus point is that “outsiders” have not been vilified. The corrupt BMC employees and Policeman in the movie are Maharashtrians and so is the corrupt minister. This was probably a subtle reference to the fact that Maharashtrians dominate BMC and Policeforce in the state. Two North Indians help Dinkar Bhosale a la Jiva Mahale when he goes to meet his Afzal Khan. The movie does not end before making a point that political apathy is not the solution to corruption in politics and only by participating in the political process can one make a difference.

Locals v/s outsiders is the backdrop of the movie. However, the movie succeeds in driving home the larger point that people themselves are responsible for their situation and nothing would change unless they take steps to change the status quo in a positive manner.