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A Realistic Assessment of A.B. Vajpayee’s Tenure as Prime Minister, India

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Given all the whitewashing by a media largely accustomed to carrying scripted pieces by the powers-that-be, the BJP/RSS sponsored PR blitzes & the hagiographies pouring forth about A.B. Vajpayee soon after his passing away, after spending well over a decade in a totally faded out, vegetative state almost, it may be necessary to take a dispassionate, hard-headed look at his tenure as the Prime Minister, India. This piece is an attempt to do so.
He was the genial, supposedly accommodating, consensus building ‘mukhauta’ or mask for the hardliners. While he was bogged down with the realities of a coalition government where he needed to seemingly make compromises & forge consensus just for the sake of survival of his ministry, various hardliners like Togadia, Uma Bharati, Modi were given a largely free reign to carry out the unpalatable Hindutva experiments, some of which are described in the attached article linked just below.
Hindutva Experiments during Vajpayee’s tenure
His regime was characterized by quite a few missteps & disastrous decisions. Foremost among these was the decision to release several hardline terrorists incarcerated in various Indian jails and getting Jaswant Singh to fly them out to Afghanistan & exchange them for a planeload of passengers held hostage by the Taliban. These released terrorists were in the forefront of major terrorist activities against India  in the coming years and went on to head organizations like the JeM & LeT. Some of them were involved also in the planning for 911.
While Advani, the party chief was all set to become the PM after the BJP’s electoral victory, Vajpayee had to be made the PM by the BJP/RSS because a hardliner like Advani was not acceptable to most coalition partners of the NDA whose support was critical to the survival of Vajpayee’s government. Advani never quite let him forget the favour & given his unshakeable hold over the party then, Vajpayee had to defer to him on several matters as he knew full well that the party was largely with Advani & not with him on these issues. He was quite adept at going with the flow and not upsetting the RSS bosses unduly. Many of his detractors say that he had the spine of a jellyfish.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan,Aishwarya Rai,Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Nowhere was this more apparent than in his various utterances and postures post the Gujarat riots. Much is made of his ‘Rajdharma’ remark in public with the C.M. Modi sitting beside him and smiling away. In a constitutional democracy of a secular nature, the person responsible for the administration is meant to follow the constitution he has sworn allegiance to and not some ‘Rajdharma’ typically defined for kings & monarchs centuries earlier. Thus Vajpayee’s comment can be taken as an inane & vacuous one meant to appease the listeners at large. Later, during the party meeting, he kept quiet when, after the scripted & orchestrated drama, it became clear that the majority of partymen were quite against Modi resigning and that they had the full backing of the party top brass, led by Advani. Soon after, during the party conclave in Goa, Vajpayee made an outrageously communal & inflammatory speech, possibly to show the party rank-and-file as well as the RSS bosses that he was totally in sync with their thinking. Check out the full text of the speech below:
Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and weddingVajpayee had his set of media favourites whom he cultivated and often confided in. While his media management and manipulation was nowhere near as overt and as strident as Modi’s, some of his favourite journos included Shekhar Gupta, Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod Mehta & Karan Thapar among several others. Thus, Vinod Mehta’s biography of Vajpayee may be taken as a mellow, largely positive evaluation of A.B. Vajpayee as a politician, as the P.M. of India and, above all, as a human being. Click on the link below to read select excerpts:
Excerpts from Vinod Mehta’s Biography of Vajpayee
Given below is a more objective obituary of Vajpayee by another veteran journo, Sankarshan Thakur.
Obituary of A.B. Vajpayee by Sankarshan Thakur
It is widely known that Vajpayee, at least during the last years of his Prime Ministership, had left governance almost totally to his old buddy and the erstwhile bureaucrat he had appointed as his Principal Secretary and National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra. Mishra acted as a gateway to Vajpayee and what he decided on any issue was often the final word on the topic. So much was Vajpayee’s dependence on Mishra that he is said to have rarely read files forwarded to him and would sign on the dotted line after Brajesh Mishra gave him a summary and told him what his recommendation in the matter was.
Image result for Vajpayee Advani and Modi
Much is said about Vajpayee’s oratory, particularly in Hindi. During his heydays, Vajpayee’s gift of the gab and his debating and oratorical skills as a parliamentarian were indeed much admired and commended on. Unfortunately, during the later years of his Prime Ministership, his style had become a rather grotesque caricature of what it used to be during his heydays and was the subject of much merriment and stand-up comedy. Most likely due to the onset of dementia, he came across as someone who was finding it difficult to gather his thoughts and talking points and string them together, coherently and convincingly. He would utter a sentence or two during his speeches, pause for far too long while he kept blinking & looking around as if trying to recollect what he was planning to say next and then, after a pause that stretched on for far too long, utter another couple of sentences. The likely onset of dementia was possibly one of the prime reasons for leaving governance matters almost totally to his Principal Secretary during the last years of his Premiership.
Vajpayee was always a genial, courteous and civil man who could get along amicably with his colleagues and his political opponents without too many problems. His ability to do so contributed to his presiding successfully over a multi-party coalition for a full-term of five years. When faced with a difficult or a potentially explosive situation, he could defuse it and often disarm his opponents with a quip and  with humorous one-liners. His term as the P.M. of India had very little to distinguish it by way of notable achievements and major milestones contributing to the development of India and can largely be considered as an unremarkable one.

— Raja Mitra

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The Politics, Populism and Downsides of Surgical Strikes Against Cash Transactions

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There’s no doubt that there is a good deal of anger at the ground level, against tax evaders and people who are making merry and enjoying the luxuries of life based on unaccounted funds. This anger & resentment is particularly strong among the salaried classes, wage earners and even the ‘have-not’ sections of society. Given that this anger has built up over many years, it is easy to tap into this and exploit it, using a mixture of tall promises, popular fables built up over the years ( ‘ will bring back all the unaccounted funds parked in Swiss banks & distribute it among the people’), jingoism and hyper-nationalism.

I find that the support for this has been coming from sections of NRIs, the salaried classes and wage-earners and of course the bhakts across all sections of society. Some of them, like the NRIs are of course not affected at all. The salaried classes, particularly the urban middle classes are among the least affected immediately as they have recourse to privileged treatments in banks (relationship banking is still active ) and a variety of electronic transfer of funds and transactions which is what I gather the dusted-out and much-hyped term, ‘cashless economy’, refers to .

You lost the war, the battle and me

Prof. Prabhat Patnaik on Demonetisation

Some of the support is based on brainwashing, deluded thinking and sheer hypocrisy even. For example, I find several folks I definitely know to be dealing in substantial ‘unaccounted funds’ and ‘tax evasions’ routinely as an integral part of their businesses extolling this ‘courageous and radical’ step taken by Modi-ji. They are possibly doing so because a) it is the right thing to say during these times b)they owe their allegiance to the right-wing, conservative, Hindutva proponents who are in power and have taken this step, soon after surgical strikes of a different kind against public enemy no.1, Pakistan.
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I have little doubt that they have found a way to convert their ‘unaccounted cash funds’ already, using mules who have been apparently costing around 10% and hosts of ‘convertors’ who have seized on this business opportunity and who started doing business initially for 30 – 40% of the amounts put up for conversion and are now operating even at 20% – 25%, owing to heightened competition among their ranks. Shaking up the stocks of ‘unaccounted cash funds’ one-time, which as per every informed estimate is a relatively small percentage of the total ‘black money’ in circulation, achieves little other than mindless populism. The pain, by all informed estimates, far outweighs the gain.

Why Demonetisation Won’t Help to Minimise either Black Money or Corruption

Modi’s Money Mess

India’s Strange Cash Problem – NYT

Demonetisation is a Large Shock to the Indian Economy with Little Impact on ‘Black Money’ Generation

Economics is a nuanced and rather complex subject and many experts & analysts have weighed in on the pros & cons of this move and the way it has been implemented so far and the net impacts, almost invariably, are quite negative according to almost all of them. Besides the shock-and-awe to farmers, traders, small businessmen, retailers, daily wage earners and the poorer sections of society is real and very visible even now. If some folks are blinded by ‘bhakti’ and choose not to take cognizance of these realities which does not tie in with their beliefs and ‘bhakti’ that is their problem, and not ours.

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I am not sure about the political gains & losses of this move either. Leaving aside all other sentiments & political angles, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in recent times make little or no sense economically, among other things. Yet the proponents of Brexit, Trump and Erdogan have managed to tap into some deep-seated resentments, fear, anger and below-the-surface prejudices and biases even for stunning electoral gains in the short-term at least. Modi’s politics & promises are pretty much in the same vein.

Narendra Modi Takes A Great Leap Backwards – Mao Would Approve

Apna Paisa Funny Money

Demonetisation Has Turned India into the World’s Fastest Slowing Economy

Modi Has Brought Havoc to the Indian Economy – The Guardian

Cash is King (Facebook Post)

Why Demonetisation Will Not Eliminate Black Money or Corruption

There’s heightened consciousness & debate now, particularly after the victory of Donald Trump against all odds, about ‘fake news’ and the need to flag them off as such and curb them. While Facebook, Google and some others are trying to come up with a technology and AI based solution to the problem, no safeguards are possible I suppose against fake promises and lemons sold by ambitious politicians to their base and to large sections of the unsuspecting masses, for votes and for grabbing the levers of power, of course.

P. Chidambaram on the Demonization of Cash

Raja Mitra

 

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India Adrift

 

 

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The observations and comments here are derived from my several posts and comments on the issue in various social media networks. 

The first para largely pertains to a discussion about the TMC’s and particularly Mamata Banerjee’s time in power since her victory in 2011.

Politics is as much a game of building up perceptions (even illusions for that matter) and communications as it is of actually ushering in good governance and delivering on promises made. Mamata falls quite short on at least the first count and matters haven’t been helped in the least by her periodic outbursts, loose comments, whimsical and knee-jerk reactions to events and propensity to put her foot in her mouth on several occasions. Her media managers have done a pretty poor job so far and if at all she has a P.R. agency managing affairs for her, either she needs to replace it with one far more competent and adept or pay greater heed to their suggestions & recommendations.

I can’t help drawing comparisons with someone who has capitalized on the masterplan laid down by his high-powered, expensive, U.S. based P.R. agency and adroitly turned around a disastrous situation which stared him in the face in 2002 to one where he has become a cult-guru of sorts for a section of the middle-class urban Indians who have started believing the carefully cultivated hype that he will return India to double-digit growth days in a trice and solve most problems of governance with a wave or two of his ‘lathi’.

Consider some of the following inconvenient facts, even in Modi’s home state which has been relentlessly touted as a model of development.

  • Gujarat ranked 17th overall within India in terms of literacy when Modi took over. Currently, after more than a decade of Modi-rule, it ranks 18th.
  • Gujarat’s fiscal deficit a year back was the 3rd highest in India, behind W. Bengal & U.P. While W. Bengal & U.P. have never even remotely claimed that they are model states in terms of fiscal management & development, Modi has built his whole reputation on those premises.
  • Hunger & malnutrition are worse in Gujarat than several other large states and the U.N. development Index report of 2011 (which uses govt. data) indicates that 45% of children in Gujarat are malnourished.
  • No political pundit or veteran columnist seems to have qualms about the fact that a man who has little formal education, a family life which is murky (Is Modi married or divorced? Why doesn’t he answer questions about the woman, supposedly his wife, languishing in some village) and whose background largely includes being an on-again, off-again RSS ‘pracharak’ and  tea stall owner previously may not quite be the right choice to run a country as large and as diverse as India and tackle the economic complexities, foreign affairs and social media exposures & inquisitions which are a given in 2014 and beyond.

Check out details about some of these ‘facts’ and issues in these reports:

Deccan Herald – Fact-checks & Statistics about Gujarat

TOI report based on the U.N. Human Development report 2011 pertaining to Gujarat

A word cloud of Narendra Modi’s speeches over the years (most of them used to be in Gujarati & Hindi to the unwashed masses in his early years) would surely show up streaks of his personality and governance style which may not be quite palatable to the discerning. The almost indisputable fact that his P.R. agency and media managers gamed the system by pushing in over 50% fakes to build up his 1 million plus followers on Twitter also doesn’t quite indicate a man who can be ‘trusted’ to lead India in 2014 & beyond.

Some unpalatable truths about Modi’s social media strategy

Ramachandra Guha’s piece in The Hindu about the implications and fallouts about Narendra Modi as PM in 2014, makes some incisive and well-argued observations. Here is the link to the full piece.

Ramachandra Guha piece on Narendra Modi in The Hindu

The alternative to Modi, Rahul Gandhi, attempted to be projected by the Congress, is largely a non-starter too. Rahul Gandhi is widely perceived to be well-meaning but vacuous with no vision or original ideas for governing India.  He is also perceived as someone who has achieved little or nothing during the years that he has been in politics. He seemingly lacks the drive or the decisiveness needed to provide effective governance. While he may come across as charming, he also comes across as someone who has been unwilling to roll up his sleeves and get hands-on when it really matters. As a friend mentioned, had he really wanted to turn things around for the Congress in U.P., he should have shifted base to Lucknow for a couple of years at least and gone about the task with gusto and singlemindedness, rather than the fleeting visits, periodic speeches and occasional photo-op moments that happened to be part of his U.P. campaign over the years. He has also often been silent or even absent when visibility was the need of the hour and hasn’t given any indication over the years that he has either the political instincts or the panache to ‘seize the moment’ which is so important for a politician to position himself in the perceptions of the people.

Ramachandra Guha again touches on several of these points in this interview with IBN

Ramachandra Guha on Rahul Gandhi as a Prime-ministerial candidate

Surely India, a country of 1.22 billion people, with its great diversities and complexities as well as its huge talent pool and major potential, needs someone at the helm, other than these two gentlemen who don’t quite have the attributes to measure up to the task,  who is potentially capable of steering the ship safely past the icebergs after the general elections in 2014!

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The Case Against Mr. Teflon, Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

Why is Narendrabhai Afraid of the Indian Media

I am reminded of the erstwhile CPM MP & Lok Sabha speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, who, as a minister in the late Jyoti Basu’s cabinet, used to brag about signing millions & billions worth of MOUs for industries to be set up in W. Bengal. Unfortunately very little, if any of it, was visible on the ground or ever became a reality.

The problem with a lot of reporting in India is that there is little checking & analysis of facts on the ground before commentators and anchors start spewing rhetoric & opinions which, more often than not, are scripted & pre-decided.

If some of Modi’s ‘facts’ are more like ‘imaginative pieces of fiction’, his biggest project till date has been a failure and despite his claims to the contrary, corruption at every level in the bureaucracy is very much a fact in Gujarat even today (this I know based on first-hand accounts of friends who operate there), then this man is indeed an impostor who has successfully managed to project himself as a ‘doer’ and as a viable alternative for the position of PM of India.

Gujarat was never an impoverished state by any stretch of imagination and Gujaratis, who happen to be counted generally among the most enterprising Indians, had always seen to it that their home state happened to be among the top 5 most prosperous Indian states economically.

If the UPA loses power after the next general elections, a coalition like the NDA is most likely the alternative. A man with Modi’s megalomania & arrogance will just not be able to function in a coalition where the regional chieftains have a lot of say and wield a lot of power.
(Disclaimer: I have nothing against this man personally; neither do I have anything for him. It would be interesting to read about alternative points of view based on hard facts, reason & cold logic but shorn of empty rhetoric and pointless rants )

The Emperor Uncrowned – Caravan Magazine

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The Travails of Buddho

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A little bird tells me that Buddhadeb – yes, you’re right, the ex-CM of Paschimbanga and a stalwart of the CPM – is in agony these days and needs some quick relief.
Now Buddho, as his cronies, party comrades & well-wishers refer to him, is an endearing sort of chap. He is an honest, unisexual homo sapien, who traces his lineage to the poet Jibanananda. He even had literary pretensions and penned several dramas which were completely plagiarized from obscure East European, Russian & even Chinese works and which, fittingly, failed to find either readers or an audience when put up as a play. The first night, almost inevitably, became the last night.

But failures are the pillar of success and while Buddho’s literary ambitions were pretty much stillborn, he still achieved great success by becoming the C.M. of W. Bengal and serving out a decade in that position. Getting there wasn’t easy, as it involved sucking up to a double-agent like P.K. Madhavan (known to the hoi polloi as Karat for some reason) and bending low before his one-time mentor & subsequent bete-noire, the formidable Jyoti Basu. Now, for a good cause, what’s a few compromises here & there and a few shortcuts as well.

Buddho’s decade in power is now definitely known as the lost decade for W. Bengal. Buddho remains unfazed because he possibly knows, in his heart-of-hearts, that his illustrious predecessor was the major contributor to at least two lost decades for the state, so adding one to the count shouldn’t make much of a difference anyway.

But I digress. Buddho’s soulmate, sounding-board and occasional guide during this decade was a specimen known as Biman generally. This creature, who can trace his lineage to levels couple of notches below the Homo Erectus in the Darwinian totem-pole of evolution, ran the local branch of the thuggery, generally known as the CPM Alimuddin Street office while Buddho literally fumed, fretted, postured and polluted in very many other ways, that sanctum sanctorum of local administration in W. Bengal, Writers’ Building.

Towards the end of his unmentionable reign, Buddho increasingly felt his crown jewels bunching up with tension. The carefully built-up citadel of the CPM was crumbling all around him and both his mentor, Madhavan and his soulmate, Biman, seemed to have little or no idea about how to stem the rot. It was during one of these tete-a-tetes at Alimuddin Street that he finally confessed to Biman about how his crown jewels felt diminished and missing even and Biman assured him that he just had the answer to his problem.

What transpired subsequently within the confines of Alimuddin Street is not too well known. Neither can one speculate at length on what may have happened since this is a family blog. All that can be said is that by the time the citadel finally crumbled and fell away altogether, Buddho was in dire need of a colon cleansing because there were things that were stuck way up his nether region where the sun has no hope of shining ever. What exactly was the object that was firmly lodged up there is not too well known either, though popular rumour has it that it possibly was one of Buddho’s cojones, manoeuvred into place by the member of the senior comrade who also served as his soulmate. No one, least of all this writer, can vouch for the veracity of these rumours. All that one can confirm is that while the colon cleansing could have proved cathartic for this troubled and pained soul, it is yet to take place. Every passing day is increasingly agonizing and since sitting for any length of time can be sheer torture, Buddho, who spent half a lifetime occupying various chairs and plotting how to occupy others, is found to be increasingly on his feet these days.

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Ten Reasons Why I Went to The Ramlila Grounds To Attend The Anna Show Currently On

Anna Hazare - Delhi

Anna Hazare

X.  I don’t like Manish Tiwari of Congress. I thought that Anna, being an ex-army driver, can drive Manish Tiwari into the ground.

IX.  I heard that this year there were going to be two Dussehras and in the first of these, which would be a live event, the new Rama, Anna that is, would be taking care of the new Ravana, Kasab that is.

VIII.  I was told that from now onwards there would be this new supreme being for the country known as Lokpal whose word would be law. I went to have a look at this new supreme Lokpal, Kisan Baburao, whom people lovingly call Anna.

VII.  I was told that there is this new belly-dancer in town, Anna Kejriwal, who will be giving free shows at the Ramlila grounds for two weeks, four times daily. Since I have never seen a belly dancer perform, I was curious.

A Belly Dancer in Marrakech (Morocco)

Belly Dancer

VI.  I heard that someone named Anna was conducting walk-in interviews at the Ramlila grounds for two weeks, starting on the 19th of August,  for a variety of positions like truck drivers, cooks, driver’s assistant and flogger (a newly created position). I wanted to be considered for ‘flogger’, I think I’ll be good at it.

V.  I seem to have read a poster somewhere which said ‘feast’. Now, you don’t want to pass up a ‘feast’ specially if it is one on the house. Only after I landed up I realized that the interim ‘e’ was a figment of my imagination and what was on here was actually a tele-evangelized ‘fast’.

IV. I saw some posters & banners proclaiming, ‘India is Anna, Anna is India’. I went to see how India actually looks like.

III.  Some of my friends were going there to spend the better part of the day and it would have seemed quite boorish if I refused to go along, so I went.

II. My company’s HR was only granting ‘fasting leave’ to those who promised to furnish subsequently a certificate obtained from the Ramlila grounds, stating that they had attended & fasted also to force Mannu Sardarji to adopt the Jan Lokpal bill, no questions asked.

A Ramlila actor wears the traditional attire o...

Ramlila

I. We heard from our associates that they had great ‘pickings’ working the crowds outside Tihar jail while Anna was inside. Given that Ramlila grounds is a much bigger venue and Anna is now outside, we thought we would have a real bonanza working the crowds and ‘picking pockets’ there.

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The Fall of The Print Media and The Rise of Digital Media, Including Social Media

An archived article from the New York Times about the steady decline of the print media in recent years. This appeared towards the end of 2008. The situation, if anything, has considerably worsened since in the markets that this report refers to.

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NY Times article on print media Nov. 2008

The precipitate fall of conventional print media at the hands of digital media, including social media, continues as this archived piece from the NY Times states. The trend hasn’t been reversed in the last 3 years at least as this archived article from CNN will show http://is.gd/VrIiAG . Recent studies point to a consolidation among print media. Thus large national & international groups like the NY Times or the Washington Post will survive this onslaught and possibly even gain temporarily owing to the decline and closure of smaller print media. Some recent data & metrics suggest that social media may actually be helping to cushion & stall the decline of players in the print media to an extent.

The situation is no different for print magazines as this archived study from as far back as 2009 will show http://is.gd/B0d2pL

The big print media players are now heavily leveraging on social media to remain relevant and alive. Here’s a recent article that describes the various ways that this is happening. http://is.gd/4bc485

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In India the situation is somewhat different owing to the following factors
1.The low penetration & reach of land broadband networks (ref. piece from the Economist on this issue, shared earlier in this group http://econ.st/iNvNXj ) together with the relatively low availability of relevant hardware to access broadband networks, specially in semi-urban and rural areas.

2. The grossly delayed introduction of 3G mobile services which has also helped to stunt the growth of digital and social media together with other content available digitally.

These don’t seem to be by design but rather owing to the lack of focus and inefficient implementation by the national and several state govts. This situation will hopefully reverse and resolve itself in the coming months and years and hence the trends mentioned above will become very evident in the Indian market too in the foreseeable future. Its not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

Finally a word about Twitter, one of the major planks in the social media universe currently. It is amazing how the twitter platform, whose initial usage was largely restricted to people tweeting their friends about where they were planning to have lunch or go shopping or holidaying has expanded in scope with brand extension & usage diversification largely being defined and driven by its ever-growing numbers of users globally. Twitter today is getting to represent more of a news network than being merely a social network as this article so appropriately details http://is.gd/dSCviY .

Masthead - New York Times

In fact this ever expanding usage of Twitter is making the organization seriously contemplate launch its own news network as mentioned by one of its co-founders recently. http://is.gd/aNUkkt . While by default much of this is already in place and operative what is left to Twitter is to enter into the necessary tie-ups & partnerships formally and find ways to monetize the whole idea.

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