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Masood Azhar Episode: TRIUMPH OF INDIAN DIPLOMACY, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 10 May, 2019 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 10 May 2019

Masood Azhar Episode

TRIUMPH OF INDIAN DIPLOMACY

By Dr. D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

 

After 10 years of diplomatic endeavours by India, lately backed by France, UK and USA, Massod Azhar, the Jaise-e-Mohammad Chief was declared on 1st May by UNSC as a global terrorist. After JeM claimed they masterminded the 26 February Pulwama attack on our security personnel killing 50 of them, the three powerful permanent members of Security Council pressed for declaring him a global terrorist under 1267 Sanctions Committee. They diplomatically clobbered China to lift the technical hold on the proposal to the Committee. Remember, Beijing had vetoed the proposal to list Azhar as international terrorist and had put a technical hold on 1267 Committee proposal.

 

Notably, US threatened to move a resolution in UNSC, should the technical hold not be lifted by China. If a resolution was moved in UNSC, and if China were to veto it again, it would have been seen as supporting terrorism. This would have been detrimental to China’s insatiate ambition of being a global power. Besides, China is in throes of trade war with USA, and the vibes are, it is losing out to the latter. China took on the US too soon in haste to secure global dominance. Apparently, Xi Jinping did not realise that China was not yet ready for a trade war with America. He overshot. Anyway, this is topic for another discussion.

 

What does this declaration mean for the terrorist, Pakistan, India, and China, the main stakeholders in South Asian Security? For Masood Azhar, the terrorist, it would mean three things: his assets would be frozen immediately. He would be divested of all the bank accounts where he was perhaps receiving donations for sponsoring terror attacks. Second, there will be a travel ban imposed on him. His movements will be restricted, and monitored; he would be kept under house arrest. Third, there will be an arms embargo, which means he cannot acquire or supply arms to any terrorist outfits or groups. These conditions reflect the resolution that designated Azhar as global terrorist-- “Azhar is participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating acts or activities of terrorism, or supplying, selling or transferring arms or related material for the same.”

 

What does it mean for India? It is certainly a diplomatic victory of sorts. Some would say that it is symbolic as Azhar has reached the expiry date for Pakistan. He is ill and ineffective. But, as Syed Akbaruddin, India’s permanent representative to the UN said, “This is for us a significant outcome as we have been at it for years.” France, which is a go-to country for India in UN, replacing Russia, said, “It is a successful realisation of its (France’s) efforts for several years.” It should also be noted that France is advocating for permanent membership in the UNSC of India, Brazil and Japan.

 

India could claim the victory as it successfully mobilised three big powers and had the support of 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council. It also got support of UNSC’s current Chair, Indonesia, represented by Transyan Djani, who was supported for the post by India in 2018. He pushed for a decision by 1st May, as others had given Beijing a deadline of 23rd April to lift the hold or US would move a separate resolution by bypassing 1267 committee. China capitulated under pressure, although supposedly it managed some face-saving by dropping reference to Pulwama attack and so on.

 

The 1267 Committee decision would cast a shadow on Pakistan, which will come under increased scrutiny by the world as a haven for terrorists. Pakistan, expectedly, sought to play down the 1267 Committee decision as it claimed to have taken several actions against Azhar. This is a hoax. At any rate, the spotlight will now turn towards 138-odd UN listed terrorist sheltered in Pakistan. Further, the Financial Action Task Force, which monitors terrorist funding, will blacklist Pakistan, having been put in the grey list before. Pakistan will suffer heavily despite China’s calculated benevolence, as international funding will stop.

 

The third player in Azhar episode, China’s international credibility has nose-dived. It was seen supporting a wrong cause, even if it wanted to play Pakistan against India. Beijing has been plotting to hold India back, so that the latter does not ever question China’s hegemony in Asia or elsewhere.

 

The US played a significant role too. It wants to have India on its side, keep China on its toes. It wants India to help counter Chinese ambition to emerge as a super-power and challenge American supremacy. It took the initiative in moving a resolution after the Pulwama attack, which read: “The Security Council condemns the Pulwama attack and asks all States to cooperate with India and counter threats to international peace.” The US was adamant in putting 23rd April deadline. The 1st May episode has also confirmed that it is still the reigning super-power, and China has a long way to go.

 

In March this year, at the behest of the US, P-3 of UNSC had moved the proposal in 1267 Sanctions Committee, which was created in 1999 to impose sanctions on Al Qaida. The Committee comprises 15 members including P-5 of the Security Council, and takes decisions on the basis of a consensus. Any member can put a hold for seeking more time or greater clarification, information etc. Invoking this procedure, Beijing has been blocking the decision. The hold can last up to six months.

 

What next for India’s diplomacy vis-a-vis China-Pak axis in South Asia? New Delhi has so far been targeting Pakistan. Even in the current Lok Sabha elections, anti-Pakistan rhetoric is the staple diet in the campaign of the ruling BJP. It is easier to build a nationalism narrative by declaring Pakistan as enemy number one. But, is that really the case? As I have argued in this column, it is China, not Pakistan that New Delhi should make the reference point in its foreign policy.

 

New Delhi must realise in its bones that by blocking our move for 10 long years to nail Masson Azhar in UNSC, China has demonstrated its unholy alignment with Pakistan, and that India is not its friend. Second, China has all kinds of fantastic claims on India’s territories, like it has with several other countries. The Azhar episode also has demonstrated that New Delhi will have the support of many other countries that are wary of China’s model of politics -- authoritarian, ambitious and aggrandising.

 

The move to clinch it in the Sanctions Committee was also hastened by the gruesome terror attacks in Sri Lanka. I have argued that New Delhi should have actively engaged with Sri Lanka in handling the aftermath of the attack. If India is leading in advocacy against terrorism in the world, it must fight against it in its neighbourhood.  On the other hand, China seen on the side of terrorists would alienate countries including India, which it is wooing. As some observes apprehend, if here is any quid pro quo between India and China, we will know after 23rd May when a new government will be in place.

 

Leaving those conjectures aside, the world wants India to replace China in Asia as the major power. It gave India the chance in 1950s which India scuppered. Will India be able to grab this opportunity now?---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

Voter Apathy: CAUSES & REMEDIES, By Dr. S. Saraswathi, 9 May 2019 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 9 May 2019

Voter Apathy

CAUSES & REMEDIES

By Dr. S. Saraswathi

(Former Director ICSSR, New Delhi)

 

Voter turnout in the four phases, where 2019 Lok Sabha elections were completed last week, is reported to be better than in 2014 when the highest turn out since independence (66.38%) was recorded. According to the Election Commission, voters comprised a little over 21.5 crore men and over 20.31crore women.

 

More interesting is the information that women voters outnumbered men voters in nine States and UTs in the four phases. Meghalaya in the North-East recorded the highest percentage of women voters (52.13) followed by   Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

 

Several deficiencies in the electoral system and functioning in India noticed over a period of seven decades already discussed several times are coming up once again perhaps because the present election is going through the most bitter fight since Independence. One of these is the low rate of voter turnout in many places due to various reasons. Voter apathy is a cause to worry if it is true as believed by many.

 

Apathy is often due to voter fatigue caused by frequent elections. In India political elections are held for Parliament, Assemblies, Corporations, Municipalities, and three tiers of Panchayati raj and any number of by-elections to fill up vacancies. Only Lok Sabha election is a nation-wide event. Somewhere some election is going on throughout the year making the election management bodies, once placed at second level in administrative importance, the busiest Constitutional body today.

 

Voting being a civic right and not a duty, voter apathy has to be tolerated. Treatment for it is to build contacts and conversations between members of elected bodies and voters. Just as freedom to speak includes freedom not to speak, freedom to vote includes freedom not to vote.

 

Simultaneous election to Parliament and Assemblies - seriously debated as an important electoral reform - is also considered as a remedy to address this sickening voter fatigue though not a panacea for electoral illness. But, there are many practical problems in adopting it.

  

Voter apathy is different from political alienation, which is caused by a feeling of estrangement from the system. It arises from dejection due to a feeling of being left out in the political process.  Generally, small minority groups cherishing strong feelings of separateness from the majority coupled with oneness within themselves, feel alienated. Such minorities are not necessarily social and cultural; they may even be political groups. Occasional reports of particular villages, areas or social groups advocating boycott of elections are coming, which are signs of political alienation which is different from normal voter apathy.

 

In most democracies, voting is a right and in some a civic responsibility. There are also democracies where voting is compulsory and regulated by national constitutions and electoral laws. Sanctions, penalties, or punishments are provided for non-voting as a civic offence. But, available reports point to lack of enforcement of compulsion in most places suggesting that compulsion is symbolic to enhance political participation.

 

The-First-Past-The-Post system, which permits winning people’s mandate on minority vote, further loses credibility as a democratic method by low voter turnout going even below 50 per cent. Compulsory voting is suggested as a remedy, but it is a rather drastic form of thrusting a right as a duty.

 

The oldest form of compulsory voting introduced in 1893 in Belgium National Assembly was extended to provincial elections in 1921, to communal elections in 1932, and to European Parliament in 1989. Introduced initially for men, it was extended to women in 1948 and the system is still in vogue. Those who fail to vote without proper justification may face prosecution and may be fined. Argentina introduced compulsory voting in 1914.

 

By 2013, provision for compulsory voting existed in 22 countries. Most of them are small countries except Australia where compulsory enrolment was introduced for federal election in 1912 and compulsory voting in 1924 for British subjects. Voting right was granted to indigenous population in 1949, but enrolment was not compulsory until 1984.

 

The Netherlands and Venezuela, which introduced compulsory voting reverted to voluntary voting. The last compulsory voting took place in The Netherlands in 1967 and in Venezuela in 1993. Voting rate drastically declined in subsequent elections conducted on voluntary voting basis. Chile enforced compulsory voting for some years, but abandoned it in 2012. In Brazil, except for illiterate, youth between 16 and 18 years, and the elderly above 75 years of age, voting is compulsory and failure carries fines.

 

In Singapore non-voters are removed from the voter register and are disqualified from contesting elections. They can be readmitted only on fresh application. In the US, voter turnout has been much less than in many developing countries, but there is no support for compulsory voting system. According to PEW research data, 56 per cent of voting age population voted in 2016 presidential election in USA which placed it in rank 31 among 35 countries covered in the study.  The Census Bureau recorded that that there were about 245.5 million Americans aged 18 and above, but only 157.6 million were registered voters. Voter turnout in 2016 was slightly higher than in 2012, but lower than 2008 record.

    

Compulsory voting is not a foolproof solution to low voting. Its intended effects may be nullified by high proportion of spoilt ballots or “donkey votes” as they are called in places where preference vote is permitted with compulsory voting system. In preference voting, a system of ranking candidates on the ballot paper is allowed. High proportion of “donkey votes” is an indicator of voter apathy, protest or ignorance. Such systems, which apparently look like providing more scope for choice of voters, only complicate voting procedure and encourage frivolous ranking, and blank or invalid votes.

 

In India, voting machines, after listing names of candidates, include NOTA (none of the above) for the benefit of voters not in favour of any candidate in the contest. NOTA votes may increase if compulsory voting is enforced.  

 

NOTA vote has gained popularity in India and is used by conscious voters who do not want to support anybody in the list, but want to prevent bogus voting. Even if NOTA votes constitute the majority of votes polled, the candidate securing highest number, however small, is declared elected.

 

Besides India, NOTA vote is permitted in Greece, Ukraine, Spain, North Korea, Columbia, and US State of Nevada. Russia had the system for some time, but abolished it in 2006. Bangladesh introduced it in 2008.

 

Given the size of the country and plurality of problems, it is impossible to enforce compulsion in voting in India. It may be argued that there is practically no incentive for average voters to vote whereas voting involves expenditure in travel and loss of income for the self-employed.

 

In several countries, vote buying campaigns are common on a massive scale. Model Code of Conduct in India prohibits providing vehicles to transport voters to polling booths. In this context, compulsory voting system may increase cases of “cash for votes” and flow of “election gifts” from candidates.

 

We have to stop thinking of impracticable suggestions and cleanse the election atmosphere mired in corrupt practices. This itself will lessen voter apathy. ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

                                                                                                                                      

 

Right To Health:NEW GOVT MUST REFLECT, by Dr. Oishee Mukherjee, 8 May 2019 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 8 May 2019

Right To Health

NEW GOVT MUST REFLECT   

By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee

 

Health care comes into sharp focus this General election. While the BJP already has its ambitious Ayushman Bharat scheme in place, the Congress has sought to counter it by promising ‘Right to health care’ in its 2019 manifesto. This is in continuation of the rights- based laws enacted under the Manmohan Singh government, such as Right to Education and Right to Information, which were milestones in the history of public welfare in India.

 

‘Three things we are considering for our manifesto’, had said Party Rahul Gandhi while interacting with health care professionals in Chhattisgarh, before the polls were announced. ‘Right to health care’ which will guarantee a certain minimum health care to all Indians, increasing the expenditure on health to 3 per cent of the GDP and training doctors and health care professionals”, he added was the party’s “top priority”.

 

Recall, Modi government had launched the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana, last September. However, health experts including those in public hospitals pointed out that this does not cover the cost of outpatient services (OPD), diagnostics and medicines -- the biggest source of patient expenditures. And so, the Congress seeks to improve on it and commits that health care professionals would work out an effective model for the right to health care. 

 

Its justification being in its belief that be it any government, it has to do three things -- “one, fix the problem, two, provide low cost, high quality education and three, ensure that people are protected as far as health care is concerned”. 

 

And while time will tell whether Congress will get an opportunity to fulfil its commitment, the Centre and some States are trying to improve the present health facilities. A decision has been taken to allow dentists to practice general medicine, in view of the acute shortage of doctors in the country. It is said that the first two years of MBBS and BDS courses are more or less the same, and the decision may to some extent help tackle doctors’ shortage, in rural and semi-urban areas.

 

Then there is Maharashtra government which has recently drafted a bill to create special reservation quota up to 10 per cent in undergraduate (MBBS) and 20 per cent in post graduate (MD) medical seats for those who give a commitment to work in tribal and rural areas. Candidates must serve for a period of 7 years immediately after completion of MBBS and for 5 years after completion of MD. 

 

The health care situation in rural Maharashtra is dire need of over haul. Though there is a huge network of 1816 primary health centres, 400 rural hospitals, 70 sub-divisional hospitals and 26 civic hospitals, these are largely rendered useless because of lack of manpower. A similar situation prevails in some North Indian States.

 

In Odisha, the situation in the tribal belt is worse. A new scheme of incentive policy has been introduced since mid-April in the 1750 government hospitals, wherein doctors posted in vulnerable and backward areas are being given maximum incentives.  

 

In Jharkhand, where 65 per cent of women are anaemic and cases of vector borne diseases like malaria, kala azar and Japanese encephalitis are above the national average, the shortage of doctors in rural areas remains. Though three new medical colleges have come up during 2017-end at Palamau, Dumka and Hazaribagh, of the sanctioned strength of nearly 11,000 doctors in State health service, 6000 are said to be vacant. Obviously, this is because doctors do not want to work in CHCs and even in district hospitals. Similarly, in Uttarkhand, medical students do not honour terms of the bond signed to work in rural areas. Recently, the State’s medical education department issued legal notices for recovery of money to 383 doctors for not keeping their commitment.

 

It is a well-known fact that resources allotted to health are quite meagre. While 10.6 per cent of the total amount in the Interim Budget is allocated to defence, only 2.2 per cent was given to healthcare. Funding need not be redirected from current allocations to preventive care, but surely India can make health spending a priority, much like defence? Despite several innovations in the healthcare sector in recent times, the Government remains woefully short of its ambition to increase public health spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP. At present, health spending is even below 1.5 per cent of GDP.

 

Last year, it was announced that nearly 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres would be set up under Ayushman Bharat, with the mandate of preventive health and community-based management of basic health problems. But this should have included health education and holistic wellness integrating modern medicine with traditional Indian medicine, which is not the case. Both communicable disease containment as well as non-communicable disease programmes should be included. An estimated ₹250 crore has been allocated for setting up health and wellness centres under the National Urban Health Mission while the National Rural Health Mission received ₹1,350 crore. The amount is undoubtedly meagre considering the increase in both population and diseases in recent years.

 

Malnutrition and under nutrition has added to the problem as directly or indirectly these relate to health problems. On the other hand, in urban India the over dependence on fast food has aggravated diseases like obesity, diabetes and even cancer. In 2017, dietary risks were the second biggest factor behind deaths and disabilities in 2017 in the country, close on the heels of malnutrition. Dietary risks also increased by 35 per cent in a decade since 2007 when it ranked fourth after malnutrition, air pollution and the risk of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). 

 

In spite of all this, the allocation for the non-communicable diseases programme of the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke has been allocated just ₹175 crore, which is much less, or as estimated by experts, to be even 50 per cent of the actual need. While the rich and the middle income sections have the financial means for treatment, the poor and even the low income sections cannot carry on with such treatment after a period of time, or some can’t even start it.

 

It is distressing indeed, to note that the policy makers of the country have yet to understand the importance of health in social and economic development of the country. The big question to ask them is whether they are even aware of the living conditions of the poor, the backward sections and do they have genuine concern for their welfare? Whichever government comes to power, must make a note that as the nation celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, it is critical to make health a fundamental right and thus ensure that in the next two years each sub-division should have a well-equipped hospital. It must realise that only a healthy people can ensure a healthy nation. ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Communal Speeches: SEASON OF POISON, By Poonam I Kaushish, 6 May 2019 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 6 May 2019

Communal Speeches

SEASON  OF POISON

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

Democracy is a conflict of interests masquerading as a contest of principles in this theekha-dhoondhar election season. A saying which aptly nails our politicians’ lies as they go about spewing vitriolic accusations, threats and coercion against their rivals spiced with the right caste and communal combinations. All depending on which side of the Hindu-Muslim coin one is. Swaying to the heady tinkle of money, cheap thrills and seetees, with the devil taking the hindmost!

The power of rhetorical public abuse by our candidates underscores political discourse is only rabble rousing, devoid of substance, spreading hatred and widening the communal divide on religious lines to garner votes. First of the mark was UP Chief Minister Yogi who asserted Hindu and Muslim voters are in an “Ali-Bajrang Bali” contest and then called an SP rival ‘Babar ka aulad’. Countered BSP’s Mayawati, “I want to make an open appeal Mere Muslim bhaiyoin apne vote humain de….Ali is ours, so is Bajrang Bali.”

Stepped in Prime Minister Modi, “Rahul is scared of contesting from constituencies dominated by the majority population and is taking refuge in places where the majority is in a minority….Hindus will teach the Congress a fitting lesson for coining the term “Hindu terror”. Adding fuel to fire BJP President Amit Shah wondered whether Rahul’s Wayanad rally was in “Pakistan or India” referring to Congress ally Indian Union Muslim League’s  green flags. Later tweeting: “We will remove every single infiltrator (Muslim) from the country except Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs”

More communal-speak. Union Minister Maneka Gandhi said she would be disinclined to help Muslims if they do not vote for her. “I am winning the election…But if I win without help from Muslims….Then when Muslims come seeking jobs, I will think let it be, what difference does it make? After all, jobs are a kind of trade. We are not like Mahatma Gandhi — that we will keep on giving, and then keep getting beaten in elections.”

Responded AAP’s Kejriwal, “BJP considers minorities as ‘infiltrators’….mob lynchings is taking place in the county under the guise of cattle theft which is actually organised murder.” Added Telangana Chief Minister Chandrashekar Rao, “These (self-proclaimed) Hindus are useless and disgusting…They want to stoke fire in the country and belong in the gutter.”

Punjab Minister Sidhu went a step further and brazenly solicited Muslim vote as did J&K Congress leaders who asked voters of a “particular religion” to vote for the Party. Topped by SP leader Azam Khan’s repugnant remark on BJP rival Jaya Prada, “she wears a khaki (RSS colour) underwear.” Sic.

Purely shock value? Scoring brownie points? Not at all. The nastier and hateful a speech, the better. In one fell stroke all trashed the Election Commission’s Moral Code of Conduct clause: “There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, churches, temples or other places of worship shall not be used for election propaganda.”

Unfortunately, instead of asking rivals what they bring to the table and their vision about India’s future all are falling prey to poll exigencies. Nobody wants to address questions on why discourses are becoming more venomous and toxic? Can such intemperate language which blatantly deepens religious cleavages by pitting Indians against each other be condoned as said in ‘the heat of the moment’ or dismissed as all is fair in love and war?

Clearly, the blame for this descent of political discourse lies squarely with Parties. Quick to crack the whip and complain to the EC all shy away from demanding the same discipline for crude and repulsive swipes at rivals. Barring a warning or ban on electioneering for two-three days the EC’s action against communal hate speeches totals a mere rap on the knuckles.

Who does one fault? Given our netas have perfected intemperate language to inject poison in society over the years. Namely, dangerous and diabolical machinations of vote-bank politics, pitting Hindus against Muslims, creating fissiparous tendencies resulting in a communal divide.

The Congress accuses the BJP for engineering a Hindu majoritarian communal style of politics in India by using tactics like attempting to electorally marginalise Muslims to patronising communal violence, especially around the emotive issue of cow protection and love jihad. The Hindutva Brigade slams its rival as a ‘Muslim party’ part of the “tukde-tukde gang” which protects terrorists and is “working on Pakistan’s agenda” and belongs there.

Undeniably, we are watching cut-throat communalism at work. Whereby, our netas have made nationalism and the Hindu-Muslim vote-bank the tour de force of politics. With every leader propounding his self-serving recipe of ‘communal’ harmony harbouring the same intention: To keep their gullible vote-banks emotionally charged so that their own ulterior motives are well-served. Never mind, the nation is getting sucked into the vortex of centrifugal bickerings.

Raising more questions: How does one control the hate mongers and blunt them? Has our polity realized the ramifications of their actions? Would it not only further divide the people on creed lines but is also antithetical to hope of narrowing India’s burgeoning religious divide, thereby unleashing a Frankenstein.

Clearly, in a milieu of competitive democracy, if caste politics ensures convergence of electoral booty, politics based on religion has better chance of polarising voters via vicious poison tongued speeches inducing raw emotions of hostility and hate. Who cares if it is destructive and stokes communal violence and sows the seeds of rabid communalism.

Importantly, no quarter should be given to those who fan hatred among people and communities. Be it a Hindu ‘messiah’ or a Muslim ‘mullah’. Both are destroyers of the State, which has no religious entity. Thus, our moral angst cannot be selective but should be just, honourable and equal.

In a mammoth one billion plus country there would be a billion views whereby one cannot curtail people’s political beliefs and rights. One is free not accepting another’s view as it is a matter of perception. A statement objectionable to one might be normal for another. However, no licence should be given to anyone to spread hatred or ill-feeling towards any community or against atheists who do not see themselves as Ram-Rahim-Jesus children.

In this dog whistle politics of surcharged communalised election campaign with dangerous ideas expressed in fissiparous and communal language which appeal to baser emotions and promises unapologetically sectarian and communal beliefs, the time has come for our petty-power-at-all-cost polity to think beyond vote-bank politics and look at the perilous implications of their insidious out-pourings which inject poison in society.

Today, the country is facing an existential crisis --- a pluralist, inclusive India is defending itself against communal divisive electioneering. Our new representatives in Parliament should adopt a zero-tolerance stance on offensive and disruptive language. The message has to go out clearly that no leader belonging to community, caste or group can spew hatred, and if they do, they lose their democratic right to be heard. Such rhetoric has no place in a civilised polity.

In the ultimate netas need to realize a nation is primarily a fusion of minds and hearts and secondarily a geographical entity. India is a big country with enough room for all to live in peace and goodwill. The aim should be to raise the bar on public discourse, not lower it any more. India could do without leaders who distort politics and in turn destroy democracy. They must desist from using caste and creed as pedestals to stand on to be seen. Will they heed? ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Modi Has No Opponent:WHERE IS THE NEW PATH?, by Shivaji Sarkar, 6 May 2019 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 6 May 2019 

Modi Has No Opponent

WHERE IS THE NEW PATH?

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

An election is not just about formation of government. Instead it is about aspirations, policies, performance and embarking on a new path. The discourse on Lok Sabha 2019 voting sadly lacks the discussion that had marked some of the significant previous campaigns such as 1971, 1977, 1984, 1989, 1996, 1998, 1999 or 2014. The people made epoch decisions.

 

To some extent, 1991 polls were on similar lines, but the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi changed the narrative. Government stability and the yearning for a new economy following a severe forex crisis was anchoring the discussion at political meets, following failure of a short period of instability caused by the Mandal social engineering of Vishwanath Pratap Singh, who rode to the crest in the wake of Bofors brouhaha and Chandrashekhar, heading a short-term government, pawning India’s gold to Bank of England.

 

It was a kind of repetition after the failure of Janata Party experimentation in 1980. The coalition crumbled as an ambitious Charan Singh broke away to form a government with his arch rival Indira Gandhi’s Congress, which withdrew the support in a couple of days.  

 

The 1980 polls were also about policy paralysis because except unseating Indira Gandhi, restoring the freedom of expression and the foreign minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s move to improve ties with Pakistan, the Janata Party regime could do little on people’s expectations on the economic front.

 

In the post-1980 poll, people found the Congress was closer to the ideologies of the erstwhile Jan Sangh, now re-emerging as Bharatiya Janata Party. Supposedly, socialist Indira Gandhi started the process of liberalisation and opening up to private capital, something she was found to abhor a decade earlier.

 

But the period of uncertainty in 1996, 1998 and 1999 saw continuity of policies and debate on how these could be sharpened. Three different shades of government in three years, first two with Congress support, did not dither from previous Congress Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s policy of liberalisation, globalisation, views on WTO, and rebuilding a national economy more with private capital.

 

But the public sector despite divestment by NDA-I continued to anchor the economy. The debates also led to strengthening of Navaratna public sector companies. After a decade-long Congress-led UPA rule, 2014 polls were of concerns of its failures, supposed scams and jobless growth.

 

The five years of BJP-led government under Narendra Modi has created a perception of probity and cleanliness, a vision propounded by LK Advani-led BJP in 1996. It anchored the subsequent 1998 and 1999 polls as well. The virulent campaign in these two polls again were on the issues of stability but obliquely gave two former Prime Ministers HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral of the United Front a clean chit on probity.

 

A new era had ushered. The UF and subsequent Atal Behari Vajpayee-led BJP government changed the polity, politics and economy. These were the happy periods for the people as prices stabilised, economy started growing and a long-standing solidity marked the country. Technological nationalism, following the 1998 nuclear device test at Pokharan, filled the emotions, though the government overtly did not promote it.

 

Post 2014, people’s aspirations grew. They found a dynamic person in Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and he dominates the national consciousness in 2019. It’s a phenomenon that even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi did not have. They had many stalwarts to contest within and outside the Congress.

 

There is a perception that Modi’s vote base is intact. While his critics accept this they say since he has overshadowed the BJP, it is now more a “personal loyalty” and number of supporters have “moved away from the party.” Even Congressmen agree with it in many conversations. Despite this, as one moves around, one finds a large section of the electorate perceiving him as strong, honest, decisive and having delivered on national security and rural and farmer’s welfare, as a true leader. They don’t like demonetisation and many facets of GST, but don’t fault him for such “surgical strikes”. The people see these as honest moves which may not have succeeded.

 

This poll process sees across the nation, including critical West Bengal and Orissa, Modi as the only emerging leader against a maverick Mamata Banerjee or cool Naveen Patnaik. In public discourse, or Opposition attacks, the BJP has taken a back seat and Modi is the party’s face.

 

This is significant. He is loved, is abhorred, perhaps feared at times but he is at centre stage, though he speaks less of the economy despite charting out his programmes at times to prop up his chant of ‘nationalism’. Whether people agree or not, he does exude hope. Why, is a question even his staunch supporters are unable to explain?  He is domineering, is the nation’s leader and his opponents are not worth a count in people’s perception.

 

The phenomenon is unique. But BJP per se has to counter the tall figure against weak local candidates, many of whom are unknown. Many incumbent MPs are unpopular. The BJP changed many names. Local issues dominate. Many opponents are formidable. The asset is Modi, but lack of a pan-national issue except him, may cause pockets of whirlwind.

 

Another equaliser is the coalition syndrome on both sides. Modi-BJP has alliances in Assam, Bihar, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. Opponents or ‘Mahamilavat’ as Modi calls the Mahagathbandhan of SP-BSP-RLD in UP, are not an easy force though overawed by Modi. Bihar is incarcerated with Laloo Yadav affecting his RLD-Cong alliance.

 

It is not that fine as it looks. The election is more regional, be it in TN, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra or J&K. Regional parties like AIADMK, DMK, TDP, TRS, YSR Congress, are making strides. Each State is having a different election, including in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. And thus Modi has changed his tack in every State.

Good. But personality-oriented politics is missing on policies. The country has not found a solution to joblessness, agrarian crisis, economic stagnancy or US belligerence on sanctions and shutting its doors on Indian exports. The Opposition lacks the acumen to raise these.

 

Populist doles, now in cash, dominate the scenario. Nobody debates whether India is heading for a revenue crisis or should it have high taxes and tolls or strong or weak public sector. Think tanks are missing. The next government will be saddled but sans policy prescription. Where is the new path? That is a challenge and a major concern.---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

 

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