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The political metamorphosis of Rahul Gandhi

Arti Ghargi

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The question is whether the political brownie points scored in the parliament by Rahul Gandhi with a wink and a hug establish himself as a mature and serious leader?

 

Napoleon Bonapart had once said, “You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.” Watching the No-confidence motion debate in Lok Sabha yesterday, I couldn’t help but think how perfectly it fits India’s two leading politicians: PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Post-2014, every election be it Assembly election or by-poll, PM Modi made Rahul-bashing his winning Mantra. From Shehzada in 2014 to Naamdar in 2018 the strategy didn’t really change. Modi used Rahul Gandhi and Congress as a punching bag. Little did he know that the same Rahul Gandhi will knock him out of his wits on Friday.

Though Modi pulled off a smooth victory in yesterday’s No-Confidence motion, the man of the match went to Congress President Rahul Gandhi. The speaker had allotted 38 minutes for the Congress to speak. In those 38 minutes, Rahul Gandhi who is not a very affluent speaker pulled off a power-packed speech. His every statement destroying the fortress of Modi govt. brick by brick. He wasn’t even bothered by the pesky BJP leaders who kept hooting and interrupting him. Obviously riled up at the reference of Amit Shah’s son; at one point in the midst of Rahul’s speech parliamentary affairs minister Anant Kumar tried to interrupt him. Only to be shut down by the emphatic Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi hugging PM Modi in Lok Sabha

Rahul rose to speak again. He thanked the BJP and RSS amidst the uproars for attacking him constantly which made him realize the meaning of being a Congressman, Hindustani and Hindu. At the end of his speech, he said, “You can hate me all you want, you can call me Pappu and lots of names, but I have no hatred for you in me”.

But he did not stop at this. To prove his statement, Rahul Gandhi walked up to the Prime Minister’s chair. He politely asked him to stand up. Before PM Modi could realize anything Rahul Gandhi embraced Modi. The perplexed expressions on the face of Supreme Commander Modi who is known for his hug-plomacy were evident that he had tested his own medicine. After the historic victory of 2014 Modi had built an intimidating aura surrounding himself. With the hug, that will be recorded in the contemporary political history as momentous, Rahul Gandhi shredded this aura of invincibility to pieces.

Gaining his senses, the startled Modi called him back, shook hands with him and said a few words. As he returned to his seat, he exchanged few words with colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia and winked at him. The expression turned media into a frenzy with speculations about whether the hug was pre-planned. Planned or not planned, the message that Congress stands for love despite the BJP hating him was sent across the nation effectively as all TV Cameras were focused on Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi winks at Jyotiradity Scindia

Could anyone from the BJP have even thought of it? No. Nor did PM Modi. Rahul, who was on the offensive yesterday, left no stone unturned. He began with speaking about “The 21st Century political weapon” i.e. Modi’s “Jumla Strike”. Then he went on to deliver one of the highlight quotes of the day- “Chowkidaar hi Bhaagidaar Hai”. Minus the lack of data, Rahul Gandhi spoke about a range of issues; Rafael deal, Doklam, the hollow promise of 15 Lakh, Atrocities on Dalits, women issues and Suit Boot ki Sarkar’s crony capitalist friendlist. His speech certainly stole the show in the first half of the no-confidence motion as it completely took the wind out of Modi’s sail.

Rahul Gandhi

Shocked PM Modi after Rahul Gandhi’s hug

On the other hand, Narendra Modi’s almost two-hour long jeremiad centered around mocking Rahul Gandhi’s Prime Ministerial ambitions. Failing to seek a spirited response to Rahul Gandhi’s hug, the fuming Supreme Commander called Rahul Gandhi’s behavior as childish, almost 10 times in his speech. Modi then took out his best weapon: victimhood, claiming that the Gandhi dynasty cannot see anyone but itself in the power. He then went on to list the achievements of his government amidst the continuous jeering of “We want justice” by TDP MPs. The verbose delivered by Modi-an erstwhile champion of oratory skills seemed unimpressive missing the hits. His disinterested cadre inserted the intervallic laughter and animated bench-thumping.

The question is whether the political brownie points scored in the parliament by Rahul Gandhi with a wink and a hug establish himself as a mature and serious leader? His cadre definitely believes so. The ruling BJP may like to raise doubts on his credibility by calling him childish, but yesterday’s debate proved one thing quite certainly. Though Rahul Gandhi’s political stature is still not tall, he has learned a great deal from the best in the Field-Modi. Despite that, if we were to say that Rahul Gandhi equated Modi in one aspect yesterday, that has to be the spectacular theatrics which so far was the monopoly of PM Modi.

 

Opinion

Raghuram Rajan says coalition govt may slow down economy. Does history support his claim?

Arti Ghargi

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Raghuram Rajan

It was during UPA’s coalition govt. a tenure that India’s GDP growth rate touched the two-digit number for the first time.

“These days’ efforts are being made to popularize a failed experiment in the history of Indian politics by the name of Mahagathbandhan,” fired PM Modi from the podium at BJP’s national convention at Ramleela Maidan. His attack on the opposition came few days before the United Opposition rally at Kolkata’s brigade ground. “These people are trying to make a ‘majboor sarkar’ (a helpless government) and not a “Majboot Sarkar” (A strong government),” he charged further.

This notion that the coalition governments are weaker and not capable of delivering on their promises has been prevalent in the Indian electorate and media for a long time. On Thursday, former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan too expressed the possibility that the Indian economy may slow down if a coalition government comes to power after the 2019 Lok Sabha election. His comments took many by surprise as he has been critical of the demonetization and other economic policies launched by the Modi government-a majority government.

But, does the hysteria that coalition governments are bad for the economy, hold any water? Well, to answer that we first have to look at the history. India has had a long list of coalition governments. Since the time of Morarji Desai to Manmohan Singh’s UPA, in the last fifty years, India has mostly been under the coalition government. The only two elections when the political parties were able to get the majority were- general elections of 1984 and 2014.

Let us first go through India’s GDP growth figures over the years, as it is considered the core indicator of development. We will present the numbers since 1991, as the economy was liberalized in the year. Incidentally, the major economic reform was brought by the PV Narasimha Rao-led coalition government.

According to the World Bank data, in the year 1991, India’s GDP growth was 1.05%. The country was on the brink of an economic crisis when the PV Narasimha Rao government brought in measures to resurrect the economy. From ending license Raj, introducing LPG policy to opening up India’s equity market for the foreign investors, the government transformed the economy. The success of the government in bringing the required economic reform can be gauged by the sheer amount of Foreign Direct Investment. India grew from the minuscule US $132 million in 1991–92 to $5.3 billion in 1995–96. In the last year of the coalition government’s term, the GDP growth of India was recorded at 7.55%.

After the hung parliament in 1996 General Elections, 13 different non-congress, non-BJP political parties came together to form United Front with Deve Gowda as the Prime Minister. He held the office for a brief term before stepping down from the post and making a way for his successor IK Gujaral. During the United Front government, the GDP Growth rate for 1997 and 1998 were 4.5 and 6.1 respectively.

After the United front government, came the coalition government led by BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In his five-year tenure from 1999 to 2004, the GDP growth of India went through many ups and downs. While in 1999, the growth rate was 8.84%, in the subsequent years it fell to 3.84%, 4.82% and 3.80% respectively before taking a jump and hitting 7.86% growth rate in 2003. In the next year, it moved slightly upward and registered 7.9% growth rate.

In its term of five years, the Vajpayee government worked towards increasing foreign investment, modernisation of public and industrial infrastructure, the creation of jobs, rising the high-tech and IT industry.  The policy shift was focused on the salaried class urban and young people.

Then came the UPA government led by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. As many as 22 parties came together to form the United Progressive Alliance that ruled the country for 10 years from 2004 to 2014. During the first term and half-way through the second tenure, India’s GDP remained constantly rising, except in 2008 when it collapsed to 3.89%. It was during UPA’s tenure that India’s GDP growth rate touched the two-digit number for the first time. The 2006-08 was a period when the poverty fell down drastically.

There was a high rate of growth in manufacturing industries between 2004-05 and 2010-11. In 2012, the UPA government decided to disinvest in the public shares, if successful there would have been a receipt of 20,300 crores that would have provided some relief to the fiscal deficit. The aim of UPA was to bolster economic growth and make India an attractive destination for foreign investment. In 2013, it introduced 51% FDI in the multi-brand retail sector. However, it was met with a lot of opposition.

After 2014, when the Modi government came to power with an absolute majority, India’s growth rate was 7.41%. It rose to 8.41 the subsequent year and then plunged to 7.1% and 6.6% in 2016 and 2017 respectively. The major economic reform that the Modi government undertook was the introduction of GST.

Well, history does not lie but it gives us lessons. And even the former RBI governor YV Reddy agreed that the coalition government produce a better economic result. However, bringing major economic changes mostly depends upon how stable is the prevailing government- coalition or majority. As HW News Business Editor remarked that even if there is a coalition government, the dominant party should be strong enough to push through the economic policies. “A fractious coalition may lead to compromise on various Economic policy issues,” he said.

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Opinion

The Two Gandhi Theory

Arti Ghargi

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gandhi

The formal entry of Priyanka Gandhi in the party ranks may lead to the emergence of an alternate power centre in Congress.

 

“One should never say never in life — I really meant in life, I didn’t mean in politics,” said a resolute Priyanka Gandhi in an interview as she reiterated her decision to not venture into active politics.  That was in 2010. Nine years later, the “other” Gandhi scion finally entered the politics. There is nothing new about Gandhi dynasts joining politics, except, her entry was much awaited. The media persistently kept anticipating it over the years while the Congress cadre yearned for it. Even before the Congress’ debacle in 2014, the cadre seemed to have believed that it is the other Gandhi scion that can revive the party.

After the loss of 2014, the sentiment became even stronger. With her bob, cotton saree and skills to connect with people, she seemed a replica of her Grandmother. A shrewd politician with mass appeal.  How can one forget her riveting speech in 1999 against her uncle Arun Nehru-also a BJP candidate, which displayed her political acumen? Arun Gandhi, who was expected to win with a huge margin against the fresh political entrant Sonia Gandhi, lost badly.

At one point, she was even considered the successor of the throne of Congress party president over her brother Rahul who was tagged a reluctant politician. But, even after several requests from the Congress workers, she largely confined herself to the duty of campaign in-charge of her family’s traditional constituencies of Rae Bareli and Amethi.

priyanka gandhi

Image Source: Web

Priyanka Gandhi would largely remain low-key, behind the scene supervisor of the sort during elections. This changed on Wednesday. Rahul Gandhi, her brother and the Congress President made her an AICC General Secretary in-charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. Moving from passive politics and being a shadow to her brother and mother, she is now brought into the mainstream.

Talking about it, an assured Rahul Gandhi said, “My sister is capable and hard-working. I am personally very happy and excited that she will work with me.”

More than the news itself, it was interesting to see how many portrayed it as a “trump card” or “Brahmastra” of the Congress. For the starters, I believe it was more of a need-of-the-hour than a strategic move for the Congress party. Apart from motivating the cadre, it was also a message to SP-BSP and a move to stun the BJP. The cadre has already considered her 21st Century Indira Gandhi. With the slogans like “Indira Ka Khoon, Priyanka Gandhi coming soon”, the cadre might have known that it was a matter of time that she would be introduced to formally to politics. Besides, making her in-charge of eastern UP signals that the party leadership entrusts her with a big responsibility of penetrating the Modi-Yogi bastion.

Priyanka Gandhi

Image Source: Web

While this could very well be deemed as a clever move on the part of Congress, it might prove to be a short term gain for long term loss. It was in the 1970s that we saw two Gandhis- Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, reigning the party as well as the country. We all know how the political party was reduced to the family affairs of Gandhis. Moreover, the history stands witness, when there are two powerful forces at the same time in the same organization, it leads to the tussle between the two. The Indira vs Sanjay stories are still recounted in the Delhi circles.

Though, the Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were an exception to this, can the Rahul-Priyanka duo be the exception too? I think otherwise. As Congress President, Rahul Gandhi has revealed his aggressive side. We can no more call him the reluctant politician. Priyanka Gandhi, on the other hand, has always been the one with the political prowess among the siblings. Though she stayed away from the political limelight so far, now that she has entered the political scenario, she may even steal the thunder from her brother.

Priyanka gandhi

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There are already many Congress workers who believe that Priyanka is better than Rahul. Many top leaders of the party refuse to admit it on record but have accepted in private that Priyanka Gandhi can be a far better leader than Rahul for the Congress party. Her formal entry in the party ranks may lead to the emergence of an alternate power centre in the Congress. The coteries of yes men will surround the Gandhi siblings, which will eventually lead to a wider rift.  In this assertion of power, the one who will stand to lose is the Congress party. As they say, there is no congress without Gandhis and the Gandhis are nothing without the Congress. The two Gandhis will not only lead to the creation of alternate power centre but also may weaken the party. Haven’t we seen this already?

Having said that, I must also admit that it is just a possibility. As of now, the two Gandhis who are completely different from each other will be working together. Rahul Gandhi yesterday clarified that he hasn’t sent Priyanka to eastern UP for just two months. This hints towards the long term plan the party may have for Priyanka Gandhi. Being the high stake state, Congress cannot afford to be put on the backburner in the region. Thus, there must always be a Gandhi in UP. Would that also mean that Rahul Gandhi is making the arrangements to ensure that he smoothly shifts to Nanded to contest next Lok Sabha election?

Well, possibilities are all we can present in the uncertain world of politics. For now, the brother-sister duo is the new hope of the revival of Congress.

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Opinion

Is Modi government playing with fire with the Savarna Reservation?

Arti Ghargi

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We have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster.

 

On Monday, the Modi cabinet raised the heat amidst the ongoing winter session of parliament by clearing 10% reservation for the economically weaker upper castes. The cabinet decided to amend the Constitution so that the “economically backward” upper castes will get 10% reservation in direct recruitment in government services and admission to higher educational institutions.

The proposed reservation will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation enjoyed by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, taking the total reservation to 60 per cent. Among the major castes to benefit from the proposed law are Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, Kapus and Kammas among other Upper Castes.

As the news took over the TV screens and print columns, it was projected as a “Master Stroke” by the Modi government. Some even called it a “Surgical Strike” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Considering the Savarna backlash that the government received over the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (amendment) act, this might have been a last-ditch attempt by the ruling BJP to save its Upper Caste voters. Incidentally, the upper caste Hindus are its core vote banks. Thus, this move was being seen as vote bank motivated.

The question, however, remains whether it is actually effective or ground? Whether it will pay the electoral dividends the party is hoping for? Will the move achieve consolidation of both, Dalit and Savarna voters in favour of BJP?

BJP may hope the answer is in affirmative. But a quick scanning of pages of India’s political history can easily tell that it is otherwise. On the contrary, we have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster in the immediate elections.

Karpoori Thakur:

Karpoori Thakur was the first political leader to have felt the heat on the ballot box due to his decisions regarding the reservation policies. The socialist leader who was Bihar’s first non-Congress Chief minister first introduced the reservation for the economically backward upper castes in the country. His decision was based on the findings of the Mungeri Lal Commission. This commission had suggested a total 26% reservation in the state, of which 20% were for the OBC, 3% for the women of any background and 3% reservation for the poor Savarnas.

Karpoori Thakur decided to implement the reservation formula in Bihar in November 1978. However, he decided to divide the OBC category into two other sub-categories for the distribution of quotas, i.e. Extreme Backward Class (EBC) and Backward Class (BC). While EBC were allotted 12% quota, BC was allotted 8%.

Electorally, it proved to be disastrous for the leader. He had to endure major upper caste backlash for this move. Within a week, he had to vacate the CM chair. The reservation policy he introduced is popularly known as “Karpoori Thakur Formula”. The policy was halted in 1992-93 until the Supreme Court quashed it. However, with the Modi government’s new reservation card, the demand for implementing the formula in government jobs and educational opportunities has started gaining pace in Bihar.

reservation

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VP Singh:

Who can forget the political debacle VP Singh brought upon himself by announcing the implementation of Mandal commission report. Not only the country burned for months following violent protests but the controversial move proved to be a fatal blow to VP Singh’s political career.

In August 1990, seven years after the Mandal Commission report on the identification of OBC’s based on 11 parameters, VP Singh in his independence day address declared his intention of implementing the commission’s suggestions. The report proposed OBCs to be given 27% reservation making the total number of reservation go up to 49%.

This move sparked a series of student protest. The Self-immolation committed by more than 50 students across the country and suicide attempts by more than 100 people marked the end of the VP Singh’s minority government. Just 11 months after he took oath as the Prime Minister, VP Singh had to step down and was succeeded by Chandra Shekhar.

reservation

Image Source: Web

Bhupinder Huda:

Having witnessed the fire sparked by the controversial reservation policies, Congress (UPA) for most of its term kept the reservation off its priority. Until 2014, when it made a last-ditch attempt to win the election, touched the reservation issue.

On the face of elections, Congress proposed to include Jats in Other Backward Class category. The Jat reservation only resulted in violent protests and hartals in the state. The Supreme Court eventually rejected it. The Congress, as we know, was reduced to only 1 seat.

Image Source: Web

Prithviraj Chavan:

The Congress-NCP coalition government in the state of Maharashtra too followed the suite off Haryana government. The Prithviraj Chavan-led coalition government announced 16% reservation for the Marathas who have been demanding reservation since long. The move did not prove much fruitful as the coalition had to face dismal numbers in the immediate assembly election.

Image Source: Web

These and many other cases in the past prove that any decision with regards to the reservation is equal to playing with fire. Thus, it begs a question whether the Modi government has learnt the time and again tested lesson provided by Indian Politics. With the recent decision, it seems it hasn’t or perhaps, it has chosen to ignore it.

Will it turn out to be political suicide for Modi government as well? Or will he be successful in breaking the jinx?

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