Posts Tagged ‘Indian democracy’

Anna dictates to Indian Polity – & the Voter

December 17, 2011 1 comment

When a lightweight like Anna Hazare starts dictating terms to Indian polity, the issue is no longer the Indian Parliament. It is the irrelevance of current political leadership.

India's bankrupt polity is allowing Anna Hazare to take the high ground - and get away with cacophony as agenda and ideology |  Cartoon by Manjul; source & courtesy - | Click for source image.

India's bankrupt polity is allowing Anna Hazare to take the high ground - and get away with cacophony as agenda and ideology | Cartoon by Manjul; source & courtesy - | Click for source image.

The Great Disconnect

No Indian political party has won a majority in the last 30 years based on merit. Not after Indira Gandhi’s win in 1980.

This is all the more remarkable as it takes just 15 crore votes to win a majority. From more than 70 crore voters. The size of the electorate in the last two elections has grown to 71.4 crore eligible voters (2009), up 6.4% (4.33 crore) from 2004. The number of votes polled increased to 41.72 crores against 38.75 crores in 2004.

Voting percentages have come down by 25% – from nearly 80% in 1960’s to around 55% now. Though improbable, lower voter turnouts could also be due to the better enrollment – compared to previous elections. Does this mean a disconnect between Indian leadership and Indian voters?

Or more ominously, between the political system and its users.

It is rather interesting to note how the Left players are trying to take centre stage, as they are losing relevance and votes across India.  |  Cartoonist - Ajit Ninan; Posted On Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 05:20:44 AM; source & courtesy -  |  Click for source image.

It is rather interesting to note how the Left players are trying to take centre stage, as they are losing relevance and votes across India. | Cartoonist - Ajit Ninan; Posted On Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 05:20:44 AM; source & courtesy - | Click for source image.

Featherweight Champ

In such a vacuum, a light-weight like Anna Hazare has become the ‘conscience’ of India.

Anna Hazare’s empty idea of using super-policemen, raises an important question.

Who will guard the guards?

Anna Hazare has camouflaged his Talibanic idea of punishment, prisons, flogging by using Indian props like anshan (fasting) and satyagraha (protests).

And using a huge poster of Gandhiji as backdrop.

Going in … or coming in?

An Indian political analyst, draws interesting parallels between JP’s movement of the 70s and Anna’s protests now (highlights extracted below).

Similarities apart, there are big differences, too.

For one, JP’s movement was rooted in a stagnant Indian economy, recovering slowly from the depredations of the British Raj – unlike India of today, which is a more robust economy. Without contest or argument.

For another Indira Gandhi dominated Indian politics – like no one does today. BJP and Congress are at parity today – unlike in the 70’s. In fact, at the State level, BJP is today a stronger party than the Congress.

BJP is jobless after the 'Anna-baba" combo became the main opposition - feels cartoonist Ajit Ninan  |  Posted On Friday, June 03, 2011 at 06:06:10 AM in  |  Click for source image.

BJP is jobless after the 'Anna-baba" combo became the main opposition - feels cartoonist Ajit Ninan | Posted On Friday, June 03, 2011 at 06:06:10 AM in | Click for source image.

JP, as a leader cut his teeth against the British Raj – and steeped in the development of Indian polity and power systems. Unlike Anna Hazare, who is greenhorn. Ideologically or otherwise.

And that is one thing that puzzles me.

Why is a politically strong party like BJP, trying to find shade under Hazare’s banner?

Now for the similarities.

Anyone watching the one day fast of Anna Hazare on Sunday would have been struck by the image of him sitting on the dais with prominent politicians around, as if he was holding a darbar.

Flanking him, on either side, were two senior politicians from polar opposite ends of the ideological spectrum: Arun Jaitley of the BJP on his left and Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) on his right. Other politicians, such as Sharad Yadav, A.B. Bardhan, Yerran Naidu all became just supporting cast in this theatre.

Some of those who have long memories about the Indian political scene, however, will not be particularly shocked, or even surprised. We have been here before. In 1977, after the lifting of the Emergency, both enthusiastically joined the campaigning against Indira Gandhi. The CPI(M) never formally merged with the Janata Party, but were willing followers of Jayaprakash Narayan, who was the mentor and guide of the Opposition.

Indira Gandhi’s suspension of democratic and fundamental rights for a year and a half had traumatised the country and when the elections were announced, all that suppressed antipathy burst forth. The people were not so much supporting the newly formed Janata Party but opposing her and her son. Jayaprakash Narayan, with his saintly image of being above mere party politics, emerged as the spearhead of the anti-Congress movement and helped form the Janata Party, consisting of socialists, Jan Sanghis and disgruntled Congressmen. The CPI(M) had a lot of misgivings about both JP and the Janata Party, but such was its hatred of Indira Gandhi that it went along.

That Opposition unity did not last long — the inner contradictions were just too powerful — and the Janata Party government collapsed two years later, paving the way for the eventual return of Indira Gandhi. But the concept of the joint, anti-Congress opposition had taken root.

Exactly 10 years later, the CPI(M) and the BJP got together again. They formed the two crutches of support to V.P. Singh who had walked out of the Congress. His agenda was also corruption-related, since the Rajiv Gandhi government was being accused of receiving kickbacks in a defence deal. In his rallies, he used to pull out a piece of paper and proclaim that he had the number of Rajiv Gandhi’s secret Swiss account where the kickbacks were deposited. The gimmick worked with the crowds, but when it came to voting, Singh’s Janata Dal got only 143 seats compared to the Congress’ 197. Rajiv Gandhi declined to form the government and with the help of the BJP (85) and the CPI(M) (33) and others, Singh became the Prime Minister. His government too fell after a year.

In both the above cases, the central anti-Congress figure — JP and Singh — had a few things in common. Both appeared Gandhian, in their demeanour and body language. Both were regarded as clean and both were seen as uninterested in political office and the loaves and fishes that come with it. JP had never contested an election and Singh, though a politician, managed to carve out an aura as being above the common fray. Indeed, soon after he was invited to form the government, when the Janata Dal met in the Central Hall of Parliament, he proposed the name of Devi Lal as the Prime Minister. India loves those who spurn power — they may harbour ambitions, but these ambitions should never be publicly aired. Singh became the hero of the moment.

Mr Hazare, too, fits that mould. He is a social worker who appears to have “Gandhian” traits — simplicity, no apparent lust for power, a willingness to fast etc. He has never stood for elections. He speaks in moral aphorism. The optics are also Gandhi-like: see him sitting at Rajghat, alone in his struggle. It is made for television. Never mind if he proposes public flogging of those who drink alcohol or is prone to the occasional gaffes; his followers don’t care. It is also quite possible they agree with him and his worldview wholeheartedly.

The fragmented Opposition, which finds it difficult to stick together and take on a government even as incompetent as this, has latched to him as not merely a mascot but also the man who will show the way. The BJP has not been able to put the UPA on the mat, but it has the cadre and the organisation skills; the CPI(M) is shaken by the drubbing it got but it has workers. Mr Hazare suits them both.

Who can forget BJP president Nitin Gadkari asking Mr Hazare to lead so that his party can follow? There is a good chance that some of the smaller parties, such as the Janata Dal (United), Telugu Desam Party and even the Akalis have misgivings about him and his programme, but for the moment they are keeping their counsel. Sunday’s event was a good opportunity for them to come and attack the Congress and they jumped at it. It was like a pre-election rally, with Mr Hazare too going for Manmohan Singh’s jugular. Janata Party, Janata Dal, Jan Lokpal Bill; the broader agenda remains the same.

Major state elections are to be held in the coming year and soon after that preparations for the general election will begin. (via Everyone’s invited to Anna theatre | The Asian Age).

2ndlook posts

External posts

Rahul baba is coming – Drumbeats get louder …

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment
Trial by media - on an unprecedented scale. 3 senior politicians scalped. Corruption being made a hot-button issue. Rahul baba wins with his 'clean' image. (Cartoonist - Ajit Ninan; courtesy - Click for larger image.

Trial by media - on an unprecedented scale. 3 senior politicians scalped. Corruption being made a hot-button issue. Rahul baba wins with his 'clean' image. (Cartoonist - Ajit Ninan; courtesy - Click for larger image.

Drumbeats get louder.

It is Rahulbaba’s footsteps that you are hearing. An unprecedented media campaign based on the ‘corruption’ hot-button.

Kalmadi resigns on CWG issue. A.Raja resigns on the 2G scam. CBI arrests CWG officials. CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) report criticizes Telecom Minister. Supreme courts questions PM on 2G scam.

2ndlook had outlined the following situation nearly 2 months ago – post linked above. The projections seems to be getting real …

What if …

Manmohan Singh takes moral ‘responsibility’. Resigns. Congress veterans beseech Rahul to ‘save’ the country, ’empower’ the youth, and ‘renew’ the Congress party structure with its glorious tradition.

A ‘reluctant’ Rahulbaba immediately rejects the idea. He expresses full confidence in Manmohan Singh’s leadership – and his moral stature.

The charade

Manmohan Singh submits his resignation to his party’s president. She urges him withdraw or at least reconsider his decision. Manmohan Singh refuses.

15 days later, after repeated requests from Manmohan Singh, and under ‘great pressure’ from party workers, Sonia accepts Manmohan Singh’s resignation and Rahulbaba accepts the post of Prime Minister.

Rahul-baba must save the country! (Cartoonist - Ajit Ninan;

Rahul-baba must save the country! (Cartoonist - Ajit Ninan; Click for larger image.

A plausible scenario …?

The Indian Voter does it – again

May 17, 2009 9 comments
Complacent Congress was jolted by the Left VoteThe Indian Voter does it – again

March 18th 1957 Cartoon by RK Laxman - Complacent Congress jolted by the Left Vote

The Indian Voter has again shown that he has a mind of his own – an independent mind. In spite of various allegations, which come in very superior sounding tones, the Indian Voter has displayed a few common patterns.

1. Risk Taking

The Indian Voter has not stepped back from electing new parties and leaders. The 1956 election, saw the Indian Voter challenge Nehru himself. The Left gained nearly 20% of the popular vote – and became the first Communist Government to be elected to power in the State of Kerala. Leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia, JB Kripalani and Jaya Prakash Narayan became legends in their own life time – in many ways, with greater regard and respect than Nehru himself.

These worked outside the system’ – and pioneered land reform, proved to be a check on the Nehruvian onslaught on Indian languages (along with the Dravidian parties) and sensitized the indifferent colonial-cadre bureaucrats to be more responsive and caring. To many this looked like Western Socialism (including the practitioners themselves), but it was nation building at a different level.

This election verdict is again a risk – that a victorious Manmohan Singh and hard working Rahul Gandhi may revert to the imperial ways of the old Congress Party. Earlier, the Indian Voter cured this imperiousness by underwriting the rise and use of regional parties. Purpose served, these regional parties have been sent back to the drawing board – to reinvent themselves.

Jayaprakash Narayan gave up electoral politics

Jaya Prakash Narayan gives up electoral politics

2. Power and hubris

Time and again, the Indian Voter has chastened political leaders – whose hubris and power overwhelmed them. Nehru in 1956, Indira Gandhi in 1977, Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, BJP in 2004 at a national level and many at the state level.

In this election also, the hubris of the regional parties was broken. Sharad Pawar with a few MPs projected himself as Prime Ministerial candidate, as did some other bit players. Film stars like Chiranjeevi thought they could make a power grab by just announcing their candidature.  In Maharashtra the Shiv Sena /MNS goons also got their comeuppance. To all these players, went out a clear message, from the Indian Voter.

The national alliance of BJP /NDA did not do too badly! It was the ‘Third + Fourth” Front that has been decimated. Possibly, this election was also about BJP hubris – with LK Advani appearing at every website. Similarly, the use of Varun Gandhi was also in bad taste – if not bad strategy.

3. No sops and no bones

To many, brought up on the Western schools of political understanding, the Indian Voter will vote for cash, sops, caste and allurements. This displays a profound disrespect for the Indian Voter – and greater ignorance.

The Indian State has been gradually and steadily retreating – and the Indian Voter has been at the forefront of this retreat. For all practical purposes health care in India has been privatized over the last 70 years. The vestigial State support for health care can also go, if the State cuts away its exclusive dependence on Western medical systems – and the complete collapse of Indian medical systems. The Western Voter will not let go of the subsidized health care system – while the Indian Voter has been gradually shifting the the private sector.

Similarly, the dependence on subsidized grain has been steadily decreasing. Inflation may give a false impression of increasing food subsidy bills. However, fact is that from about 75% of the population in the 1960-1970 decades, the dependence on subsidized food grains has reduced to 30%-40%.

Similarly, in other sectors too, the reduction of the role of the State is becoming apparent and welcomed – by the Indian Voter. The resistance is from the bureaucracy and the vested interests of Big Business.

In this election, Chandrababu Naidu in AP promised a cash transfer scheme to all families – even middle class families. His welfare stat-ism has been soundly rejected.

NTRs Chaitanya Ratham

NTR's Chaitanya Ratham

4. Hard Work

Similar to Gandhiji’s Dandi march, which galvanised the nation, NTR Rama Rao’s epochal ‘Chaitanya Ratham’ rewrote politics in India. His 180 day campaign,  in 1982, covering an estimated 75,000 km, across Andhra re-wrote Indian politics. For the first time, a political party of a few months, unseated a century old party.

It provided the inspiration for LK Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ in 1989 – which saw BJP gain a national following. YS Rajasekhara Reddy, the Andhra Chief Minister’s padayatra, which was ignored and ridiculed by the then TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu, (‘as Budabukkalodu, a village jester who wears outlandish clothes and asks for alms during Sankranti festival’) was patterned along similar lines. Covering 1500 km in 60 days, YSR’s padayatra saw Congress re-capture power in Andhra Pradesh after 20 years.

Rahul’ Gandhi’s 2009 campaign was no less. With limited use of helicopter’s and low media  coverage, it was  a combination of courage and the sheer drudgery that saw Congress come out on top – winning in 60 constituencies out of the 106 in which Rahul campaigned”.

5. Negative campaigns

The 1967 election came closest to breaking the Congress rule in the pre-1977 India. In 1969, further, a significant group of senior leaders, split from the Congress, and formed the Congress (O). A highly negative campaign, saw Indira Gandhi come back with a stunning victory in the 1971 election.

Her party program was summed up in the simple but highly appealing slogan, “Garibi hatao” (Remove Poverty). The old Congress, led by Desai, responded with the unimaginative, inane campaign slogan, “Indira Hatao “ (Remove Indira). (from The making of India By Ranbir Vohra)

The opposition to Indira – the ‘Grand Alliance’ consisting of the Congress (O), the Jan Sangh, Swatantra and Samyukta socialist parties – all knew that she was the issue in 1971, and they made the mistake of choosing a personalized campaign slogan to reflect this: ‘Indira Hatao’ (Remove Indira). Indira retaliated with the simplistic but effective battle cry of ‘Garibi hatao’. (from Indira By Katherine Frank).

Her speeches had simple logic. “Main kehtin hoon garibi hatao. Voh kehten hain Indira hatao. Ab faisla aap keejiye.”

LK Advani’s anti-Manmohan Singh campaign made the same mistake that Congress (O) made 40 years ago. PM Singh, who is seen as a well meaning, honest, ‘politician’ started looking better – after Advani’s attacks. Rahul Gandhi’s riposte, “have you ever seen a weak Sardar?’ killed this line of campaigning.

The legal processes against Indira Gandhi, by the 1977 Janata Party Government, was again seen as a vindictive and negative campaign, which started off Indira Gandhi’s comeback campaign.

Indira Gandhi’s own negative campaign and ouster of NT Rama Rao, by engineering the split in TDP with Nadendla Bhasker Rao, ensured that Congress was out. The tidal wave of Voter solidarity with Rajiv Gandhi, in post-Indira Gandhi’s assassination elections of 1984, still saw the angry Andhra Voter shun the Congress Party. Varun Gandhi’s abrasive campaign, in contrast to Rahul Gandhi’s inclusive agenda, was albatross around the BJP neck.

The Indian Voter will simply not accept negative campaigning.

Fractured Verdicts ...

Fractured Verdicts ...

Cause for optimism

LK Advani (?) and Manmohan Singh are possibly going to be the last colonial-era Prime Ministers of India. The next generation of political leaders will be Indians who have grown in the post colonial India. This vote is vote for consolidation – for the national parties and for performing administrations.

Colonialism is hearsay, propaganda, exaggerations – a second hand experience, to most young post-colonial Indians. Brought up on a diet of nation building, socialism, (opportunistic) English education, limited exposure to the rest of the world, they have seen rapid change. From an India, which was a ship-to-mouth basket case, to an emerging power, seems to be have been a facile and an easy experience – with little credit being given to Indian political leadership for managing the post-colonial Indian system.

India’s successes have been built on Indic elements retrofitted on Western models. Renewing an Indian model – how will India’s young leader’s face up to this challenge? Will they ‘fall into the trap’ of copying successful countries or take the (really) easier path of renewing the Indic model, which may initially, seem difficult.

The continuity will be provided by the Indian Voter, who has seamlessly handed over political power – to tested and untested, to the imperious Indira Gandhi and the humble LB Shastri.

Similar to Gandhiji’s Dandi march, which galvanised the nation,

Voting your caste

March 16, 2009 5 comments

When Yumm-Rika votes as Latinos, WASPS, Blacks, Asians, Gender, Age it is demographics. In India it becomes caste-system..

As Bal Thackeray once said, Indians don’t just cast their vote.

As Indians prepare not to cast their vote but “vote their caste”, as Bal Thackeray once said, our sadhus and sanyasis, mahants and maulvis, pundits and preachers must be rubbing their hands in glee.

Folk faith was common in the West too until the Age of Enlightenment and then the new economic order introduced by the Industrial Revolution led to mass education and material advance. That precursor of mental development encouraged the masses to aspire to elitist heights of thought and culture. In contrast, our elite is sinking to the level of the masses. India may lead the world in Information Technology and be able to send a man to the Moon, but the influence that the successors of Dhirendra Brahmachari and Chandra Swamy are increasingly gaining suggests that the intellectual revolution that is the essential key to modernity has passed us by. (via Sunanda K Datta-Ray: Voting your caste).

Caste by another name ...

Caste by another name …

Advanced West vs ignorant Indians

Now the US votes on the basis of gender (more women voters do vote for democrats), color (more Hispanics and African Americans generally vote Democrats), age (younger voters are traditionally democrats in larger numbers), religion (only one Catholic has become a US President), race (only WASP – White Anglo Saxon Protestants allowed real power).

Now Sunanda Datta K. Ray is a bad case of vacillation – sometimes pathos and sometimes bathos. Some of his columns (Have you eaten?) is memorable for its breadth – and then you see this kind of ignorance.

In US societal divisions are called demographics and is a matter of high academic interest.(click on this link to see an interesting device to gauge demographic effects in US elections). In India, the West uses a pejorative called the caste system. The US system has ensured that the US voter gets more (Republican) or less (Democrats) of the same swill. What choice does the US voter have? The Indian voter has created a choice for himself by voting for a wide range of issues, agendas and parties.

But then the Indian voter is unlettered, ‘uneducated’ and does not speak English – and Sunanda K. Datta Ray is possibly vernacularly challenged!!

Change in Voting-Age Population (VAP), 2000-2007: Selected Battleground States in 2008

State Total VAP increase Hispanic VAP increase
Share of Total VAP Increase
Selected racial/ethnic groups Metropolitan areas
Traditionally Republican States
Colorado 15% 32% Hispanics: 32% 47% in Denver
North Carolina 12% 53% African Americans: 23%
Hispanics: 18%
29% in Raleigh-Durham
25% in Charlotte
Virginia 10% 51% Hispanics: 21%
African Americans: 21%
Asian Americans: 15%
47% in Northern Virginia
(including exurbs)
Traditionally Democratic States
Pennsylvania 3% 44% Hispanics: 38%
African Americans: 24%
Asian Americans: 20%
40% in Philadelphia suburbs
Swing States
Florida 15% 40% Hispanics: 42%
African Americans: 19%
19% in Miami-Fort Lauderdale
16% in Orlando
14% in Tampa-St. Petersburg
Missouri 7% 48% African Americans: 15%
Hispanics: 13%
35% in St. Louis
20% in Kansas City
15% in Springfield
Ohio 3% 34% African Americans: 26%
Hispanics: 18%
Asian Americans: 14%
43% in Columbus
34% in Cincinnati
Note: Data for African Americans and Asian Americans are for non-Hispanic members
of these groups who did not identify with another racial groupSources: Population Reference Bureau, analysis of data from U.S. Census Bureau,
"Annual State Population Estimates with Sex, 6 Race Groups (5 Race Alone Groups
and One Group with Two or more Race Groups) and Hispanic Origin: April 1, 2000
to July 1, 2007," accessed online at on
May 31, 2008; and "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Selected Age Groups
and Sex for Counties: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2007,"
accessed online at,
on Aug. 31, 2008.

1.2 million Indian women in positions of power

March 9, 2009 2 comments
The Western woman had a really tough time getting her rights - unlike Indian women!

The Western woman had a tough time getting her rights - unlike Indian women!

she is one of 1.2 million. That’s the number of elected women representatives in rural India, the largest anywhere in the world.

It’s not just about numbers. Village women appear to be genuinely empowered by election to panchayats. Or so says the first AC Nielsen-ORG Marg study commissioned by the ministry of Panchayati Raj. The study has found that 15 years after the 73rd Amendment Act of the Constitution reserved one-third of all panchayat seats for women, they are a force to reckon with. Even more encouraging, it found that they have emerged from the shadows of their male patrons. (via Agents of change march on-View From Venus-Sunday TOI-The Times of India).

Is this a success of Indian democracy or a cardboard cut out of success? While this figure may not prove actual empowerment (to use a modern phrase), it does show acceptance of women in positions of authority and power – in significant numbers.After all, 1.2 million in positions of elected positions of power is something significant!

All those arrivistes, who are awaiting the bra-burning, Western denominated women lib, as signs of arrival and the true coming, should take a 2ndlook at what real feminism is – or at least, what the oldest feminist civilization looks at the feminine.

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