The few ideas that Congress can still use to come back to power

No, it’s certainly not Priyanka. I have nothing but utter contempt for her politics, perhaps even more than the contempt I have for the politics of her brother.

Since May 23, most people have treated India essentially as Congress mukt because it really does look that way. Recently, NDTV held a “Big Fight” on whether India is heading for one party rule.

The funny part: I remember that almost exactly ten years ago, NDTV had held another “Big Fight” on whether India is heading for one party rule. Just the name of that “one party” has changed.

Remember. The BJP looked totally down and out after 2009. But it made a comeback in 2014 and how… Of course, there are differences between BJP of 2009 and Congress of 2019. In 2009, the BJP was left with several assets in regional leaders like Shivraj, Raman Singh, Vasundhara Raje and of course Modi himself. Even though the BJP’s top leadership had fallen apart after 2009, the states still held.

In 2019, Congress is left with nothing. No leader at state or central level. Okay there’s Capt Amarinder Singh, but Punjab is pretty tiny. And the captain will be 82 by the time of the next Lok Sabha elections, before which he is sure to lose the Assembly election in Punjab itself. Also, the BJP, down in the dumps in 2009, still had well over 100 Lok Sabha seats, far from the wipeout that Congress is staring at now, where it cannot even appoint a Leader of Opposition.

Given these differences, I have mostly been quite certain that it is all over for Congress. And because it will take a very long time to create another national party, the BJP will now rule by default for a very long time to come.

Today, just for fun, I am considering the counterfactual. Could the reverse happen? Could it happen that the BJP collapses in 2024 and Congress makes a blazing comeback?

After all, there is something we can never overlook. The Congress still got 12 crore votes. No other party can even come close to challenging the BJP. If there should be sudden wave of anti-incumbency, could the tide turn?

What could cause the tide to turn? I believe the Congress still has one Brahmastra. Again, not Priyanka. See, the NYAY idea may have fallen flat this time, but that weapon can never lose its bite completely. At the end of the day, it’s free money. And there’s always going to be an audience of people willing to believe they can get free money. The idea was very simple and very powerful as a political slogan. Perhaps in the whole world, only Congress could have been lazy and incompetent enough to make it fail.

I already admitted this before: the day the Congress announced NYAY, I thought the election was over. You can go back and read my post now from March 25 : you can practically feel the nervousness in my writing. Honestly, I really thought it was over. I messaged some RW friends that day secretly and asked if they thought it was over as well. I asked them to be frank with me. I will not give you the names, but yes, they thought it was over too.

So NYAY could make a comeback.

What if the Congress begins a nationwide movement demanding a minimum income for all? Perhaps directly, or through some front organization of “activists”?

Of course they cannot demand that BJP fulfill the manifesto of the Congress Party. But the slogan of a minimum income is attractive enough that you can begin to agitate independently for it.

What if there is a Jan Lokpal like “made in media” movement for a minimum income? In the election, it was Rs 6000. If that’s not attractive enough (it already is), they can up it to Rs 10,000. What do they care? Surely at some number they can entice enough people to join.

The most slippery part here is that the groundwork for a minimum income has already been laid all across the country. PM Modi laid it himself when he brought in “PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi,” giving Rs 2000 to every small farmer every 3 months. So direct cash giveaway is already happening on a national scale.

This was the first year of PM-Kisan and people were happy to get anything, even if just Rs 2000. But, sooner or later, somebody is going to ask for that amount to be hiked.

States like Telangana already have schemes in place like Ryuthu Bandhu, where farmers receive an amount proportional to the land they own.

So the ground for a minimum income is already in place. Somebody is going to demand it very soon. The BJP better be prepared.

Right now, this may seem like strange flights of fantasy and I agree that they probably are. But five years is a long time. There is already a sense of restlessness among the “base” who think their concerns are not being addressed quickly enough.  This time the BJP government is left without any excuse whatsoever : they are entering Modi 2.0 with incumbent governments in most states as well.

What if the base decides to sit at home the next time? And you never know, other parties could start decisively moving into the “Hindu space” that BJP considers its own. The politics of regional parties, with their caste identity and dynastic structure, is collapsing. Some regional leaders at least are going to be canny and pivot : from a caste driven model to a Hindu driven one.

Right now, any idea of a threat to BJP dominance seems way too far fetched. But it is when you feel the most assured that you are really most under threat. When Rajiv Gandhi won over 400 seats, did it occur to anyone that this would be the last time India would give Congress a majority? In the forest, only the paranoid survive.

 

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[Guest Post] – The question of Indic Identity – by Avatans Kumar

Mitron,

I know that the guest blog this week has come one day early, on Saturday, while it is usually reserved for Sunday. That’s because I am going to be in Chennai for the day, which makes it hard to blog something by myself. So I decided to post the guest blog on Saturday and I will be doing my usual blogging on Sunday.

Today’s post is particularly thought provoking and is written by Shri Avatans Kumar, who is the US convener of the Indic Academy. By now, I suppose many people on the Hindu right would know about the work done by Indic Academy in promoting an Indic worldview.

I cannot speak for them, but I suppose the fundamentals are quite simple. For the last 400 years, we the Indians have been studied like lab mice by colonial and then Marxist historians. Our history, our traditions, everything has been dissected, picked apart, hung out to dry. We have always been described in the worst possible terms and the worst has always been assumed about us.

Tell me how many people know that control over Vatican City was a gift from Mussolini to the Pope in return for the Pope’s support to the Fascist Party? Or take the matter that hardly any Western publication cares to clarify that the peaceful Hindu swastika has literally nothing to do with Nazism. Okay, so the Nazis stole our symbol. But wait, the Nazis also used a host of Christian symbols, including the cross. The Nazis wrote “Gott mit uns” or “God with us” along with the Christian cross on the belt of each Nazi solider.

But the reputation of the Christian cross did not suffer. The reputation of the Vatican was rescued despite it being a gift from Fascist Mussolini. The only symbol that was left sullied due to the crimes of the Nazis was  the Hindu swastika.

Why?

Because we Indians let other people tell our stories. I believe the Indic Renaissance is about reclaiming our right to tell our own stories.

As usual, the guest blog disclaimers apply. The words and views in the guest post are solely those of the guest blogger and not mine. I have in fact edited some of the passages though. However,  this still does not mean that I agree with everything that is written in the guest post. Please read, consider, discuss and let me know what you think:

— Guest post by Avatans Kumar  — 

Life is all about connecting dots, making sense out of the webs of complexities. This making sense is an eternal journey of the human race, a journey that makes an Adi Shankara leave the comfort of his Kerala house at a tender age of 8. From Gautam, the Buddha to Swami Vivekananda, there are numerous similar examples in the Indic Tradition as ‘Self’ exploration is the ultimate goal of human existence. But what happens when dots don’t connect and the path one has been made to follow turns out to be a hoax, not a ‘satvik’ one?
Connecting the dots may not be child’s play, especially when it comes to navigating Indic/Hindu identity. Identity is usually how individuals or groups in question chose to define themselves. However, in case of Indic/Hindu identity, others defining them takes precedence. This phenomenon, what Arvind Sharma calls “outsider to outsider” view in the academic world, has reached to a level where a Hindu scholar’s views have not only been marginalized but they have also been rendered useless. A Wendy Doniger or Sheldon Pollock have more validity in the academic circles that the Hindu thinkers such as a Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, or Ramana Maharshi, themselves.

In the last 200 years or so, the foreigners and the Marxists have dominated the study of India, its culture, traditions, texts, religions, etc. The emergence of Indology as a field of study of India can be traced back to neo-Protestant theology and their debates over scriptures. Their prejudices were applied to the study of Indian textsThese foreign Indologists believed, according to Vishwa Adluri, that “Indians lacked access to the “true” meaning of their texts… for Indians never developed scientific critical thinking”. The University College Chapel, Oxford monument of Sir William Jones is a prime example of this attitude. The monument shows Sir Jones comfortably sitting on a chair and writing something on a desk. The monument also shows three Indians squatting in front of him. The inscription underneath reads: “He formed a digest of Hindu and Mohammedan Laws”. Post-independence Marxists, on the other hand, consciously hid and denied any reference to India’s past achievements. They also picked up from where the colonialists and missionaries left in demonizing almost each and every facet of Indian society.

This question of identity gets further complicated due to some of the markers used for this process. These markers have, over time, changed our own perception of ourselves. Religion is one such marker that is fundamentally flawed and inadequate when applied to describing Indic faiths. The predominant Abrahamic notion of religion is utterly incapable of describing and nuancing the Indic ‘religions’.

Similarly Dharma, the modern Indic equivalent used for ‘religion’, comes nowhere to describing a ‘religion’. Even in terms of history writing, the indigenous Itihasa has been replaced by the “study” of the past. SN Balagangadhara (Balu), a professor of Comparative Science of Cultures at the Ghent University in Belgium, calls the modern Indian history writing “an old knee-jerk reaction to the Protestant critique of Indian culture and tradition”.

It was the 2014 Maulana Azad Memorial Lecture (November 11) organized by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), an autonomous body under the aegis of the Ministry of Human Resource Development of the Government of India. Balu, while delivering the Lecture, was recounting his 40-year journey of academic research. Very soon in his research he discovered that there were many problems in his understanding of European as well as Indian history. Most of the knowledge about India that makes it to Indian textbooks is a description of India by foreign traders, travelers, and the Christian Missionaries, he noted. He further said that the description of India these textbooks gave based on those accounts “was not the India I lived in.”
What Balu described in his ICHR address is the kind of disconnect we have all experienced in our lives and can easily relate to it. These are the kinds of dots that don’t connect and make sense at all. As Indians, we are constantly reminded of how horrible our society has been,  how we not only worship ‘idols’ but how we also worship thousands of ‘gods and goddesses’, how we cannot take care of our places of worship, so on and so forth. The list is endless.

 A modern parallel can be found in the narratives of ‘intolerance’ and ‘lynchistan’. Such narratives based on isolated events have been built, albeit unsuccessfully, to derail the Narendra Modi government’s reelection campaign as well as the Hindu renaissance sweeping the Indian sub-continent.

It is now time for Hindus to overcome the disconnects and connect the dots to make their civilization a ‘vishwa guru.’

BJP needs to urgently recalibrate its strategy in Gujarat

So that’s an image of Alpesh Thakore joining BJP. Smiles all around.

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This image is not from a state like West Bengal, where the BJP is a new entrant and seeks some form of “merger and acquisition” to buttress itself. This is not Karnataka, where BJP was strong in some parts but totally absent in others. This is not even Goa, where the BJP needs some help to keep its shaky government afloat.

This is Gujarat, supposedly the saffron bastion. That the BJP has to take in people like Alpesh Thakore shows that the party needs a reboot in its strongest home base. Will Alpesh Thakore be making reprehensible remarks against migrants from Bihar and UP any longer? Very unlikely. But the real alarm bells here are for the BJP in Gujarat.

The last five years have shown that the toughest assembly election the BJP faced was in Gujarat. Yes, the party made it past the majority mark and scored a remarkable double hat-trick of wins. This was phenomenal, but what does it say about the future? Had it been anything less than PM Modi’s personal prestige on the line, who knows how the Gujarati voter would have gone in 2017? A defeat for BJP in Gujarat 2017 would have broken the morale of every BJP voter and sympathizer in the country.

As a BJP supporter, I have celebrated lots of victories and grieved over lots of defeats. But when the results of the Gujarat election were finally out, there was only one thing I felt : relief. The stress of the election showed on the faces of the top leadership as well.

Here is a sobering thought for BJP as well as its supporters. BJP taking in people like Alpesh Thakore may seem like the usual political opportunism of netas and a typical case of one party squeezing its opponent dry, but it’s really not. Remember that just before the Gujarat Assembly election of 2017, the Congress saw mass defections from its ranks. But the Congress nearly knocked the breath out of the BJP when the actual election happened.

This suggests that the BJP is now facing deep anti-incumbency in Gujarat. Defections are only a band-aid solution to stave off the anti-incumbency. Worse, they may actually make the public more angry.

There are at least three deep problems with BJP in Gujarat. To some extent, both are unavoidable. Yet the sooner the BJP and its supporters begin to admit them, the better. And the search can begin for real solutions.

First, the BJP is facing a problem of leadership in Gujarat. It’s not like Vijay Rupani is particularly to blame. It’s more of a case of who he is destined to be compared to all the time.

Where is the Gujarat BJP going to find another Narendra Modi? The RSS machinery is good at producing leaders but you simply don’t get talent like that on demand.

Second, the electorate that used to vote for the BJP in Gujarat is simply no longer around. Winning six elections in a row means that most young people in Gujarat quite simply have grown up with nothing other than BJP rule.

Young people are going to rebel against the way their elders used to think. This has been happening for thousands of years. People naturally crave “change” in their lives : you can only go on so long by promising to keep things exactly the way they are. Before people start yawning and stop paying attention.

In the 2017 Gujarat election, the BJP ran ads reminding people about the Congress’ KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi & Muslim) formula and how caste politics had harmed the state. The KHAM formula comes from Madhavsinh Solanki, who ceased to be Gujarat CM in 1990! To most voters, that’s ancient history. By 2022, that history will get five years older. Where is the room left for BJP to campaign?

Third, Gujarat is finally beginning to run up against the limits of the “Gujarat model.” Much of the “Gujarat model” is that of last mile delivery of basic amenities, creating contacts between the government and the public and then using an extensive network of karyakartas to knock on each door and convert these contacts into votes.

This part of the “Gujarat model” was replicated on a massive scale nationwide between 2014 and 2019. No other way to get an 8% positive swing in Uttar Pradesh. (The other part of the Gujarat model was a pro-business approach to economic policy, which was not pursued nationwide with much zeal.)

While the Gujarat model is delivering India to Modi, the model has hit saturation point in Gujarat. Modi recalls that when he became CM in 2001, people requested him to make sure they would have electricity at least in the evening when they sat down to eat.

That was a long time ago. Homes in Gujarat have had 24 x 7 power for well over a decade now. People are used to the good roads, the infrastructure, the power and the irrigation. These things have ceased to be political issues.

The BJP therefore is caught in a triple bind when it comes to Gujarat. It cannot praise itself for roads and electricity because people now take it for granted. They cannot attack the Congress because nobody in Gujarat even remembers Congress rule. And they don’t even have someone at the regional level to deliver their message because there is no replacement available for Narendra Modi.

And party jumpers can’t help. They can make the optics worse, though, when the public is already unhappy. And when there is simmering public discontent, election results can go very very bad. Of the 3 BJP ruled states that went to polls in Dec 2018, the BJP had the most stable settled leadership in Chhattisgarh. The Congress was in maximum disarray, most leaderless and rudderless over there. And it was in Chhattisgarh where results were the most disastrous for BJP. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP was disappointed, but hardly devastated.

The BJP needs to return to the drawing board in Gujarat as if starting off all over again. Shake off the ruling party mentality. Reimagine everything. Offer the young voter something that their parents, uncles and aunts have not voted for. This is much easier said than done. But it is the only way to last another 20 years in government in Gujarat.

 

Yeddyurappa got 24 hours to prove his majority, how many weeks will Kumaraswamy get?

I had initially planned to write today’s blog post *after* the result of the trust vote in the Karnataka Assembly. After all, reports said that the trust vote would be sought at 11 AM.

It’s closer to 2pm now and there’s no sign of any actual voting taking place. And I read somewhere that first there is going to be a “discussion” on the trust vote. This “discussion” may take a long time, stretching till the end of Friday. But then there would be no time to hold the actual vote, because there would be the weekend. So it’s possible that nothing definitive would happen before Monday!

Now, before I go on, I must say that I am not a fan of party jumping of the sort being seen in Karnataka. The ruling JDS-Congress govt would have collapsed on its own due to internal contradictions sooner or later. Fresh elections would have been the best. But that said, the politicking of the sort seen in Karnataka has happened in multiple states for decades. These are legitimate political moves; in fact our Constitution expressly allows for such moves because we have a parliamentary system.

About a week ago, I wrote a post about how the Karnataka speaker is going through “dozens of Constitutional books” trying to decide on the resignations of rebel Congress and JDS MLAs. Apparently, he still hasn’t finished reading, because no decision has been made yet.

So yesterday, the Supreme Court delivered a verdict related to this matter, something that they called a “Constitutional Balance.” While the Speaker was given all the time he wants to decide on resignations, the rebel MLAs were exempted from appearing in the Assembly during the trust vote.

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What amazes me is that despite all this, our “Constitutional experts” are still complaining. Here is just an example.

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This is hardly everything. Ravish Kumar had on his show Faizan Mustafa, the VC of NALSAR (one of India’s topmost law schools) who also made some incomprehensible arguments about how the SC judgement is problematic. Other Pidi journos and intellectuals had similar things to say.

Now, I am no Constitutional expert. However, I do own a working time keeping device. And these devices tell me that H D Kumaraswamy has by now enjoyed nearly 2 weeks to prove his majority in the Assembly. This seems to be a little more than the 24 hours that BJP’s B S Yeddyurappa got last year.

Are we looking at the same Constitution here?

I mean, what is the contention of these experts? That 2 weeks is not enough for H D Kumaraswamy? That he deserves even more time to prove his majority?

I mean, it would be interesting if the Constitution specifically requires BJP Chief Ministers to prove their majority within 24 hours, while giving an unlimited amount of time to Chief Ministers supported by the Congress.

That would be interesting, although not surprising. Given that we live in a country where courts can give bail on condition of distributing copies of the Quran.

Incidentally, a very eminent and very secular lawyer appearing on Times Now made the argument that it was Richa Bharti who was at fault for accepting the condition set by the court in the first place. In fact, he went to the extent of saying that Richa Bharti was not keeping her word, which is wrong, because : Raghukul reet sada chali aayi, pran jaayi par vachan na jaayi.

Yes, he actually quoted that line.

I wonder if this kind of argument can be stretched further.  Suppose that some court somewhere had given a person bail on “condition” of depositing Rs 10,000 in the personal bank account of the judge. Would that be fine too? If the person refused to comply with that condition after coming out on bail, would you taunt them with Raghukul reet sada chali aayi, pran jaayi par vachan na jaayi?

Sorry I digressed. But the point I tried to make is that nothing surprises me any more when it comes to constitutional questions in India.

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking. The drama keeps going on, as you can see here on Firstpost’s Live blog.

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45 minute speech on a point of order? That’s some serious scholarship on display on the floor of the house. Seems Speaker K R Ramesh’s decision to read dozens of constitutional books has inspired others to do the same.

My “point of order” is only 1 sentence long. Which is longer : 24 hours or 2 weeks?

And are the supreme lords and masters of the constitution watching?

 

Sorry about today : back tomorrow (some quick notes from Bengal)

Hi folks,

I have been saying for a while that I want to turn this into a 7 day blog without any unannounced absences. So I thought I would quickly say  a word today. I have been on a super hectic tour around Kolkata and some parts of interior West Bengal in the last few days. It must be the heat and dust, but I am down too sick to blog today.

Nothing major. I’ll be back tomorrow for sure. I guess I am just getting older … LOL and unable to handle hectic traveling as easily as I could.

I also have two small observations to share. Of course everyone knows by now that BJP has penetrated deep inside Bengal. But it’s only when you hit the ground that the enormity of the achievement hits you in the face. When it comes to counting flags, I would say BJP flags match TMC flags in 1:1 ratio.

And I am not talking about Kolkata. I am talking about interior places like Halisahar and Agarpara that nobody has ever heard of. Driving through, you see kilometer after kilometer of Ram portraits on lamp posts, with “Jai Shri Ram” written below them. Every few hundred meters, you see temporary sheds with placards that say “BJP membership drive.”

The full magnitude of what Amit Shah has achieved begins to dawn on you once you hit the ground.

In fact, it was only in Kolkata proper that it seemed like the TMC was sort of fighting back. One thing that is remarkable and must be acknowledged is that I could not find a single mosquito in Kolkata. I have been coming to the same house in Kolkata since I was 2 years old. I know just how terrible the mosquitoes were. But Mamata Banerjee has covered up every single drain in the city and now …. not even 1 mosquito!

The one ugly thing I saw in Kolkata was a sudden rise of language as a divisive issue. There are banners all over the city with Amartya Sen’s racist words about “Bengali culture” and “Jai Shri Ram” and saying that his granddaughter sees Durga as her favorite god and not Ram. It is sad when relatives tell you that their friends from Assam were humiliated by shopkeepers in Kolkata for trying to communicate in Hindi.

This ugly element is obviously being encouraged by TMC, but there is no doubt they are losing. And losing badly. Come 2021, not more than 50 seats for Mamata Banerjee out of 294. That’s for sure.

Richa Bharti is the free speech hero that India needs

Sometimes when everyone from government to courts to political parties fails in protecting the basic free speech of citizens, it takes a first year college student to speak the truth.

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So Ranchi girl Richa Bharti asked aloud why “one community” is disproportionately represented among terrorists. From what I have heard, she was responding to a viral TikTok video where some “seculars” ask  what if Tabrez Ansari’s son decides to “avenge” his father’s death by becoming a terrorist?

By the way, the answer to the second question is quite simple. If anyone becomes a terrorist, they deserve to be neutralized by law enforcement.

The answer to the first question is actually simple as well. The only difference is that it would take a lot of courage to answer it honestly.

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For instance, Richa Bharti wanted to know why we have never seen a Kashmiri Pandit become a terrorist?

Again, everyone knows the answer, but nobody would dare to say it. Not the vast majority of Hindus who would rather believe that the moon is made of cheese and that all religions are exactly the same. Even fewer would bear to hear it. Least of all the BJP government in Jharkhand, which arrested her for asking the question.

What followed next is chilling as the court agreed to give her bail on condition that she would distribute five copies of the Quran.

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A Hindu being asked to buy her freedom by paying an Islamic tribute? An act that brings back the worst of the civilizational memories of Hindus and Sikhs who have lived in India.

In Delhi, there is the Gurudwara Sheesh Ganj Sahib, where Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh guru, laid down his life.  I suggest the court to go read up on the history of the site before asking a Hindu or a Sikh to buy their freedom by paying a tribute to Islamism.

What happens if Richa Bharti refuses to submit? Will Richa Bharti be asked next to convert to Islam? The learned and Honorable Court should answer the question posed by the first year college student.

Rarely do we have moments such as this when the farce of India’s pseudo-secularism lies brutally exposed. Do Hindus have free speech rights or not? The Courts must answer.

Here is why every Hindu should learn from Richa Bharti. She was just a college student, she was not set up by anyone. She did not care about petty partisanship. Spontaneous and unscripted, she has thrown a question before India’s pseudo-secular establishment.

And so assured was the establishment in its pseudo-secular ways that they have tied themselves in knots. The beauty of the whole things lies in its simplicity.

On December 1, 1955, a bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama asked a black woman to stand up so that a white passenger would have her seat. This was common in the United States at the time and people of color would have to submit.

But something incredible happened that day. Something powerful and yet so simple. The woman refused. That black woman was Rosa Parks, who began a civil rights movement that ended racial segregation in America.

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things, even make history. IF we lend our voices to her and support her.

At the moment, the young Ranchi girl has a lot of odds stacked against her. We cannot say how long she can sustain by herself. But her simple act of defiance has the potential to make history. IF she gets the support of hundreds of millions of Hindus.

The importance of RSS not formally entering politics has never been so great

What is the biggest concern of BJP supporters today? I believe I speak for many when I say that they are alarmed at politicians from other parties flooding in, trying to join the winning side. Many of these people bring with them a history of anti-Hindu politics, along with dynastic, corrupt or criminal backgrounds. Now it is not entirely fair to put all of these in the same sentence, but I did so anyway.

Will the BJP stay a party with a difference? Of course everything erodes over time.  But the BJP does have a magic armor, which does cut it off from the worst temptations and faults that power brings.

That would be the RSS.

The RSS rarely gets any credit. Suffice to say it is the most maligned organization in India.

Everyone knows that the RSS and its historic role has been maligned by intellectuals of the Nehruvian establishment. But even BJP supporters rarely give the RSS enough credit. The most curious fact is that while the BJP’s electoral success has attracted several intellectuals and journalists of the migratory variety, the RSS is rarely praised even by them. Then there is media like Republic or Zee or Times Now that is considered very friendly to BJP : when was the last time you found them singing praises of the RSS?

Forget pointing fingers at others, how often do you see me talking about the RSS? In general, how often do you see online right wing talk about them? In fact, I suspect many “urbane” and “suave” BJP supporters would actually shake off the RSS with some mild embarrassment.

And that’s not right. Because, now, more than ever before, the RSS is relevant in both what it does for BJP and what it does for the nation, considering that the BJP will now be the dominant party in India for a long time to come.

I will make three straight points here. Two of them positive about the RSS. The third will be a very strong criticism.

(1) “Anyone” can join the BJP, but not everyone can join the RSS*

Of course as a political party, the BJP should be open to every citizen of India who agrees to follow its philosophies. When I say “anyone can join the BJP” in a negative way, I am referring to opportunist party jumpers who are bringing their criminal backgrounds and record of anti-Hindu politics.

It is here that the BJP has a saving grace: the RSS.  None of the unwholesome party jumpers would have been allowed to join the RSS. The “steel frame” of the party remains firmly with RSS. From the party president down to small morcha heads, almost every link in the BJP system is supplied by the RSS.

The BJP cannot supplant the committed RSS cadre even if it wanted to. Think of a man like Sunil Deodhar. Came to Tripura on a mission, fulfilled it. Took nothing for himself as he went on his way to his next mission in Telangana. They don’t make them like that just anywhere. It is this kind of talent that gives BJP a near unassailable lead over other parties in India today. The other parties are constrained to their Pappus. Where would the BJP find leaders if not for RSS?

The only exception to this that I can think of is Himanta Biswa Sharma. But there are not that many of such gems around.

So while there might be opportunist MLAs coming in from here or there, the core of the BJP, which makes all the decisions, remains quite secure.

(2) The RSS is not in direct electoral politics 

Obviously, the RSS and the BJP are in a deeply interconnected symbiotic relationship. Nevertheless, because the RSS does not contest elections, the incentives for getting promoted within the RSS system are different from the criteria in BJP.

There are historical reasons for why this split happened, but I am glad it did.

And never has this been more important. The Hindu right is now lucky to have two distinct wings : one with a relatively short electoral horizon and the other with a longer ideological horizon. Of course every party would have some version of this within its ranks, but the official separation helps.

Such a separation has its risks as well. An “ideological wing” with no direct stake in elections always suffers from the danger of becoming an “unclejis’ club,” discussing stuff that nobody cares about. Like the Communist Politburo. But so far the BJP and the RSS have avoided this trap. Because the RSS has its own cadre and its own system of feedback which is different from that of the BJP. The RSS has its own boots … and therefore its own feet on the ground.

What I am saying that the RSS keeps the BJP insulated, just not from reality.

(3) The RSS needs to involve women in its top leadership

Like I said, my third point about the RSS is actually a strong criticism of the RSS 🙂

Yes, I do know that the RSS has a women’s wing of sorts, even one that claims to be an independent organization. But I wonder how many BJP supporters can even tell me the name of that women’s organization (without using google, that is). Let alone name any of its leaders.

The RSS does have its ears to the ground, but it definitely suffers from one big flaw: it has minimal participation from women.

Ironically, in this sphere, the BJP has done a fantastic job of empowering women politicians. The outgoing Modi Cabinet had 2 women ministers in its top four (Finance, Defense, External Affairs and Home), which must be some sort of record.

However, the low participation of women within the RSS system means that the BJP is losing out on a much bigger supply of capable female leaders to take the party forward.

Both the RSS and the BJP are changing. Everyone changes and everyone needs to change. But going forward, much of the onus will be on the RSS to make sure that the BJP remains a party with a difference.

*As pointed out to me by an alert reader, there is no official way to “join” or “leave” RSS. I am referring mostly to leadership positions within the RSS. 

[Guest Post] – Maharashtra Politics : Silence before the storm – by Mandar Sawant

Mitron, I continue with my new tradition of getting guest posts every Sunday and today we have a particularly juicy one. Now Maharashtra is a state whose politics has always fascinated me. On the one hand,  Maharashtra is a deep saffron state, at par with Gujarat. On the other hand, until 2014, there was perhaps no other state in India that had been as steadfast in its support of the Congress. It never ceases to amaze me that Congress has always ruled Maharashtra straight since independence till 2014, with 4 years of BJP-Sena government in between.

And in 2014, Maharashtra flipped to the saffron party. And flipped in a way that the state has become “Congress mukt” at a pace comparable to Andhra Pradesh. Basically, it is the Congress evaporating in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra that ruled out the possibility of a 2004 like result in 2019.

Behind this miracle is master blaster Amit Shah who pulled off not one but two flips: first overturning the Congress boat and then overturning the antiquated BJP Sena power equation. And I have never hidden my admiration for CM Devendra Fadnavis who followed up with a political innings comparable to the VVS Laxman / Rahul Dravid partnership in the famous Eden Garden Test against Australia. Fadnavis has negotiated everything: a difficult ally, detractors within the party and some of the most vicious attempts at starting a caste war in the state. Had he made even one political mistake, the BJP could have been clean bowled in Maharashtra. But at no stage did Fadnavis even give the opposition a chance. So much so that by 2019, it was clear that BJP would have a cakewalk in Maharashtra.

This is more of an overview, perhaps the best I can do as an outsider. But for a real understanding with facts and numbers, I am happy to fall back on true Maharashtrian Mandar Sawant. Mandar is an IT professional living in Mumbai. He runs his own blog (https://www.mandarsawant.com) and is interested in politics, infrastructure, sports, passive income and personal finance. And you should definitely look him up on Twitter @MandarSawant184.

Among other things, here is a chance to read more about the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), which I would say is the political startup to watch from the 2019 elections.

Again, usual guest blog disclaimers apply. All opinions below are those of the guest blogger and have not been edited by me in any way.

Maharashtra politics is currently going through a phase that can best be described as the silence before a huge storm. The assembly elections are scheduled for mid- October this year, the notification for which would be issued in September. This means that there are two months to go for active campaigning to start for the assembly elections in Maharashtra. Currently all the parties and alliances are trying to micro-analyse the results of the recent Lok Sabha results and plan the strategy for the upcoming assembly elections. A lot of things are yet to fall in place for the final line-up to be drawn for the assembly elections.

On one side are the BJP and Shiv Sena (Sena) who bickered for five years, even though they were in government in state and centre. They buried the hatchet just before the Lok Sabha election and retained their tally of 41 out of 48 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Incidentally the seat tally of the BJP and Sena stayed the same as in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, at 23 and 18 seats respectively. Given the magnitude of the Lok Sabha election, a win in the assembly election is a foregone conclusion for the NDA alliance. But there is a big catch in this game. BJP has emerged as the big brother in Maharashtra, upstaging the Sena in the 2014 assembly elections. The oldest alliance of the BJP had broken down and both parties fought the 2014 assembly election bitterly against each other. The BJP managed to win 122 while the Shiv Sena got 63 seats of their own. For the 2019 assembly polls, they have decided to fight together but there is likely to be some acrimony, till they seal the seat sharing agreement.

In principle, it has been decided that the BJP and Sena would fight 135 seats each in the assembly polls. The smaller allies like the Republican Party of India (Athavale), Rashtriya Samaj Paksha of Mahadev Jankar and the new outfit Rayat Kranti Sangathana launched by Sadabhau Khot would contest on the remaining 18 seats. The actual seat sharing is going to be a difficult task. This is because BJP and Sena won many seats which were traditionally fought by the other ally as part of the NDA alliance. For example, the Goregaon assembly seat in Mumbai was always represented by the Sena till 2009. In 2014, Vidya Thakur of the BJP defeated Sena veteran Subhash Desai to win this seat. Ironically both Thakur (state minister) and Desai (cabinet minister) are ministers in the Fadnavis government. Sena which is likely to elevate Subhash Desai as the Deputy CM after the polls might ask for the Goregaon assembly seat.

The BJP could be in a dilemma as leaving seats they had won would upset the party workers and leaders. BJP had swept 8/8 seats in Pune and 3/3 seats in Nashik city. Leaving any of these seats for the Sena would be tough for the BJP. But the BJP might have to do some seat transfer as well. Some of the incoming leaders in the BJP from the Congress and NCP, want to fight seats that have traditionally been in the Sena quota. BJP would have to get these seats from the Sena. How well the NDA handles this bargaining of seats will decide if it could emerge victorious in the assembly polls and the margin of the victory. On the other hand, the Congress and NCP are still licking their wounds after a resounding defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

This defeat rankles them more because no less than Sharad Pawar led their charge in Lok Sabha polls. The fact that even a wily politician like Pawar could not stand against the Modi tsunami, bodes ill for the UPA alliance. The assembly polls have always been won by the party or alliance which won the Lok Sabha since 2004, given the short period of time between these polls. Also, the extent of internal haemorrhage in Congress and NCP is not known as of now. Many Congress and NCP leaders and MLAs are waiting to desert their parties and join the BJP or the Shiv Sena depending on the seat they want to fight from. They would join the party whose quota has their desired seat. Already MLAs like Abdul Sattar, Jaikumar Gore, Kalidas Kolambkar are waiting to ditch the Congress party. The Congress LoP Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil has jumped camp already and landed a cabinet ministry in the Fadnavis government.

Congress which was almost annihilated in the Lok Sabha (just about managed to win the Chandrapur seat with a candidate imported from the Sena) is reduced to be the Muslim league in the crucial Mumbai-Thane belt. This belt has 60 seats and plays an important role in government formation in the state. The NCP led by Sharad Pawar is a loose conglomeration of powerful local chieftains. The spectre of sitting in the opposition for five more years may cause many of these chieftains to jump ship. Pawar thus faces an existential crisis.

The recent judgement by the Bombay High Court upholding the Maratha reservation has come as a big boost to the CM Devendra Fadnavis. He has managed to do what no Maratha Chief Minister from the Congress-NCP could do in the last 15 years. The agitating Maratha community organisations that blocked his entry in Pandharpur in 2018, plan to do a public felicitation of the Chief Minister this year during the Ashadi Ekadashi.

The larger import of this development is that many Maratha leaders have started moving to the BJP and slowly the Maratha voters have started deserting the Congress-NCP for the BJP (and the Sena). This could deal a death blow to Sharad Pawar’s Maratha politics in the long term. The Congress faces demands of increased seats from the NCP, following its better success than the Congress in the Lok Sabha election. The NCP won four seats on its own and it’s supported independent won one seat. The Congress could win only one seat.

A good monsoon or lack of it would have an influence on the voting in key areas like Marathwada, Vidarbha and North Maharashtra. The Lok Sabha election already gave an indication that drought situation led to erosion in support for BJP and Shiv Sena in Vidarbha and Marathwada. The Prakash Ambedkar led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) in alliance with AIMIM of Owaisi brothers hit the Congress-NCP on seven seats, giving a helping hand to the NDA. These seven seats were in Marathwada, Vidarbha and erstwhile bastions of Cong-NCP in Western Maharashtra. If not for the VBA, the NDA alliance could have lost these seven seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha.

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Muslims largely voted for the Congress except in Aurangabad, where they voted overwhelmingly for AIMIM candidate. However, with the Congress in a very bad shape post the Lok Sabha election it is likely that the Muslims will look at other options across the state and especially in urban centres like Mumbai, Thane and Nagpur. This is bad news for the Congress-NCP. The BJP-Sena have already garnered upper caste, OBC and non-Mahar SC voters. The VBA got most of the Mahar (neo Buddhist) votes in the Lok Sabha election and the same thing is expected to happen in the assembly polls. Now the loss of a sizeable chunk of the muslim votes could aggravate their situation. Already the loss of a chunk of Maratha votes is a foregone conclusion.

Prakash Ambedkar has already slammed the door shut on the Congress which was ideating about an alliance with the VBA. Prakash Ambedkar recently said that in case of an alliance, he would offer 40 seats to the Congress.

His intention was to humiliate the Congress which fights 170 odd seats in Maharashtra in alliance with the NCP. Ambedkar is eyeing the neo Buddhist and muslim votes, which would make him a major player in Maharashtra. That explains his sticking with the AIMIM though it did not quite help him with the muslim vote in the Lok Sabha polls.  Ambedkar expects that the muslim voter would see the weakened Congress not capable to challenge the BJP-Sena juggernaut and could flock to the VBA-AIMIM.

This leaves the joker in the pack, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by Raj Thackeray. The MNS sat out of the Lok Sabha election and Raj actively campaigned for the Congress-NCP but to no avail. Sharad Pawar is positive towards having an alliance with the MNS, but the Congress cannot be seen to have aligned with the MNS. The MNS history of violence towards the Hindi speaking working class people in Mumbai could drive the rest of that vote bank away from the Congress (rise of Modi and Yogi already has affected the Congress support among this demographic).

Thus, the MNS is condemned to fighting the assembly election alone in selective urban seats and they may be very fortunate to get a single MLA elected. Personally, I see them at zero seats in 2019 and no signs of revival till 2024. With the once mighty Congress and powerful regional satrap like Sharad Pawar struggling before the BJP storm, Raj does not stand a chance.

In conclusion, the Maharashtra politics would come to life in the next 45 days when alliances start firming up and seat distribution is discussed. The migration of leaders from the Congress and NCP towards the BJP-Sena would start in right earnest. The two main players who would drive this election cycle and impact the results are Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray. They share a great chemistry and how well they handle the seat sharing would ensure whether the NDA government wins 160 or 220 seats (out of 288 assembly seats).

As for the Congress-NCP they need to settle their own seat sharing first, tie-up with a lot many small sub-regional parties and hope that the BJP-Shiv Sena screw up their seat sharing talks and face the elections disunited or separately. Prakash Ambedkar is in a win win situation as currently he has only one MLA in the Maharashtra assembly. Everything is a gain for him. But one thing is clear that Modi-Shah-Fadnavis-Uddhav would not allow a Congress revival in a revenue rich state like Maharashtra.

If Nirmala Sitharaman believes 42.7% tax is “not ideal,” she should reduce it!

So I read very carefully the interview that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman gave to the Hindustan Times.

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It is never a good sign when government ministers sound subtly apologetic about their own policies. By that I am not referring to the headline that Hindustan Times chose, which clearly refers to the $5 trillion target.

Indeed, the $5 trillion target is quite achievable, with 8% growth and 3% inflation. Sure, growth could slip a bit … say to 7% at which point the RBI and the govt will let inflation go up to say 4%, keeping the nominal GDP growth the same. From what I have read, the arithmetic says that this way we get to $5 trillion in FY 2024-25, which isn’t exactly the same as 2024. But it is close enough for the Modi government to claim victory on this front during the 2024 General Election.

By subtly apologetic, I am referring to this terse response from the Finance Minister at the end of her interview.

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Wow! That response is “not ideal” at all. It sounds like something that a Nehruvian era babu would say with a sigh, sitting behind a stack of dusty files, holding a dirty teacup in one hand, even as they contemplate ways to send their kids to America.

Assuming that HT transcribed her words perfectly, the very fact that the Finance Minister used “Ideally” twice while starting two successive sentences, reveals a sort of helplessness.

There is always a proper time to cut taxes. The best time is the budget. The second best time is right NOW.

This response likely reveals that the top tax rate of 42.7% has become an embarrassing headline for the government. More than an embarrassment, it truly and deeply affects investor sentiment and business confidence. Now is the time to roll it back. By even the government’s own estimate, the money that would be mopped up is a pittance.

I found the same attitude of Nirmala Sitharaman during her budget speech, where she presented this absolutely wonderful piece of wisdom from Tamil Sangam literature.

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Advice to the king that the government is like an elephant that can survive on few mounds of rice harvested from the field. But when the elephant enters the paddy field, everything is destroyed.

What a beautiful metaphor explaining that the economy flourishes when government intervention is kept to an absolute minimum. That’s Milton Friedman and ideas of the so called “Austrian school” of Economics almost 2000 years before there was an Austrian school of Economics. Or an Austria, for that matter.

But, sadly, the rest of the taxation proposals hardly kept up with the spirit of these 2000 year old words of wisdom. The corporate tax rate cut was good, but drowned in the negativity surrounding the new 42.7% top tax rate.

A similar sort of apologetic sounding theme appears in the words of Finance Secretary Subhash Garg.

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As a bureaucrat, Garg does not make policy, he merely implements it. But you can see how he suggests alternatives to people who are looking to get out of the tax on buybacks. And points out that grandfathering some of the gains can be “discussed” with the Revenue Department.

It is worth noting that these words were said at a CII meeting on Budget discussion. Why do I get the feeling that the Finance Secretary is unable to look industry captains in the eye?

This is the time to rollback all those new taxes introduced in the budget. To get those favorable global headlines back.

Now, to be fair, the Finance Minister is mostly right when she says that negative sentiments over the Indian economy are mostly a domestic feature. India does remain the world’s fastest growing economy. Especially with Chinese growth down to historic lows. So we in India can bask in the glory of being the only game in town. Where would the global investors go, if not to India?

But the problem with that is the US economy is doing magnificently well. The global investors can just go home!

It is easy to see where the government is caught in a trap. On the one end, it has a very classic right wing approach to fiscal prudence. It insists on keeping the fiscal deficit to an absolute minimum. It is good that Nirmala Sitharaman brought up the FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budgetary Management) Act. The FRBM was one of the many great economic legacies of the Vajpayee government, which required the Govt of India to bring fiscal deficit under 3% of GDP. In fact, India’s economic problems in the UPA era began the day the UPA government decided to throw this law to the winds.

Since money is finite, there are only two ways to keep the fiscal deficit down. Either raise more money in taxes or cut government spending. In India, cutting welfare spending can hurt people who are the most vulnerable. So the focus should be on eliminating inefficiencies, leakage and corruption in the delivery of those schemes. The government has gone as far as it could on this : linking everything to Aadhar and Direct Benefits Transfer proved to be the answer.

The government now feels that in order to maintain/reduce the fiscal deficit, there is nowhere to go except raise taxes. The problem with such thinking is that it is heavily counterproductive. Because high taxes lead to lesser investment, shrinking the pie and ultimately lower revenues at the end of the day. And in the Indian context, tax evasion as well. Now the government may feel they have the will to curb high level corruption and stop tax evasion. But what do you do about the much deeper problem of high taxation dissuading investors, becoming a crushing weight for private business?

It is time for Nirmala Sitharaman to listen to the 2000 year old words of wisdom she herself quoted from ancient Tamil Sangam literature.

 

Karnataka speaker is going through ‘dozens of constitutional books’ to decide on MLAs’ resignations

As a raucous democracy of loud and argumentative Indians, we tend to argue over everything. However, I suspect one of the things we can all agree on is that reading is a very good habit to cultivate. In fact, it is good for democracy when leading political figures demonstrate their erudition in public in times of crisis.

Such as Karnataka speaker K R Ramesh Kumar, who is going through “dozens of constitutional books” in trying to make a decision on the resignation of rebel Congress and JDS MLAs.

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Fascinating. I suggest to the Karnataka speaker that he should start a Facebook page and post cliff notes about all the stuff he is learning from dozens of constitutional books. The political crisis in Karnataka thus has the potential to become a great learning opportunity for the general public.

Now, I know that the Karnataka government has been through so many crises in the last thirteen months that I doubt anyone is still paying attention. The rebel MLAs have now been waiting almost a week for their resignations to be accepted. Karnataka Speaker and wannabe constitutional scholar K R Ramesh Kumar has been trying to decide during this time if the resignations are “voluntary and genuine.”

His scholarly approach to the situation has already been attracting some fanfare from local media. The Deccan Herald has a piece out by a learned “Bengaluru based political commentator” who praises how the Speaker is going by the rule book, complete with a Raghuram Rajan like photograph of scholar and speaker K R Ramesh.

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It has been found that eight of the resignations of the MLAs were not in the correct format! This is what happens when public representatives don’t read enough of constitutional books.

The only thing missing now is source based reports that Karnataka Speaker is likely to become a judge on the International Court of Justice, alongside other source based reports that Raghuram Rajan is winning the Nobel Prize, becoming Chair of the US Federal Reserve, the UK’s Central Bank, the World Bank and the IMF.

Meanwhile, the Hon. Supreme Court has been acting swiftly and decisively to safeguard democracy in Karnataka.

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And what did the Supreme Court have to say on this matter?

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Wonderful! The Supreme Court has ordered the rebel MLAs to appear in person before the Karnataka speaker and give their resignations if they want to. During this process, the rebel MLAs will receive “adequate protection” from the Karnataka police, which can only help the speaker arrive at a fair and just conclusion.

At this point, the resignations have been pending for almost a week. This is roughly the same amount of time as the 24 hours that B S Yeddyurappa received from the Supreme Court to prove his majority last year.

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Meanwhile, our much respected civil society, which is always at the forefront of protecting our constitution, is also silent.

The people of Karnataka are waiting.

I must clarify something here and very categorically so. Am I saying or implying that the supreme lords of our country, the moral lords and the secular lords are treating the Congress differently  from how they treated the BJP?

I am definitely NOT saying that. Nor implying it in any way.

I am just enjoying the thrill of learning about constitutional conscience and how it is applied to different parties. To steal a line from The Simpsons:

It’s the differences, of which there are none, that make the sameness exceptional.