Monday, August 30, 2010

UPA-2: My Picks

As suggested by Shambu the unique, I am breaking the last post into multiple pieces. It was too much in a single plate to swallow and digest. It was all the more messy as it was garbled like noodles. Let me try to bring all the discussions around personalities to this post with little more clarity.

Would love to talk about as many personalities as possible across parties. But, Congress being the single largest party that is part of the ruling coalition, we may restrict our discussion only to the top Congress leaders. May be, later on a different post, we shall talk about the others also. So, how many in the current government are promising leaders? In my opinion, it is worth talking about only these leaders below. Most others are mediocre or below average politicians, just politicians not leaders. I am surely open to revisit my thoughts based on your feedback, if I have missed out any.

Obviously, the first and foremost is Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the all rounder. He is the only efficient person that has remained meaningful from his batch. When I say ‘his batch’ it means the Arjun Singhs, N D Tiwaris, Shivraj Patils, Natwar Singhs, and so on. Wouldn't be surprised if he becomes the prime minister next. From his party's perspective, he also needs to be paid back for all he has done to help his non-political boss without becoming over-smart overnight to outgrow the boss, which is what usually such performers do in all offices. Coming from the state that has forgotten Congress as a party, it may not be possible for him, too. However, being a good subordinate is an art that many bosses have not mastered. It’s not too long back that Arjun Singh tried to act too smart and burnt his fingers.

Mukherjeeji has bailed out the government every time it needed such assistance. He has also won the trust of his party high command. The talks about making him the president and then dropping the idea considering his importance in the government and party clearly talks about his credibility. It also looked like he is the most liked Congress man for both Left and Right. Most people believe that Rahul will succeed Mr. Singh. But, we also hear a lot about Congress’s efforts to wipe out its dynasty image. If it is true, they should make Mr. PM (I mean, Pranab Mukherjee) the PM. Even then Rahul could assume office safely as Mr. PM wouldn’t want to be holding the position for too long considering his age.

Next comes in my list our home minister Mr. Chidambaram. He is one leader I have admired like mad. I also had the opportunity to observe him more closely even during his thin times, just because we come from the same region. There was a time when his honesty was unquestionable. He was the best find by Rajiv Gandhi for a long time. He never had to depend on politics to make money. When he is not in power, he just goes to practice in Supreme Court. He has a terrific command over both English and Tamil, which made him a perfect politician from the state where its politicians mostly speak more than required. His speeches are absolutely sensible. That may be the reason why he is still not able to get the mass appeal. People only want fire in political speeches, not any substance. Even today he does things in his own style. But, I also feel that during the course he has changed a lot. He is not the same PC that was introduced by Rajiv Gandhi. Perhaps, he has realized through his failures that he can never serve the country if he doesn't become street smart. May be, his ability to learn things quickly has also helped him learn the bad tricks of the trade. Even after hearing so much about him, I strongly believed that he was a good PM material. Looks like he has become someone who would do things that any ruler would do to retain his power intact.

In my opinion, he suited more as finance minister than as home minister. Rajdeep Sardesai calls him the best home minister after Patel (I thought it would be Advani!). Naxals are killing security forces in bulk week after week. Mr. Dig Vijay Singh talks about his intellectual arrogance, which also makes sense. May be, a better mix of compassion with intelligence would have worked wonders with Naxals. There was a time when he was the obvious choice for any educated Tamil to be the chief minister of the state. But, now, he can't think of that even if the miracle of Congress coming back to power happens in the state. The positions of planets have changed. As he himself admitted once, may be he doesn't have some qualities that are required for state politics.

He would have become popular if he had stepped down when the Indian government joined hands with Rajapakse. People would have at least spared a thought for him if he had decently walked off when he lost in Sivaganga. I have argued with many people in support of him. Now I realize that it is all meaningless. I have even decided to make some changes in this post. I said sometime back that writing sharpens the writer's thinking if not the readers. It has happened to me now. Because of this post and because of him. After lengthy discussions with many friends, I am convinced that I should make those changes. So, finally, I remove him from list of potential leaders now. Thanks to all those who made their points (including those who yelled at me!).

I also admire A K Antony for his simplicity from his chief minister days. Coming from his neighboring state, I had the opportunity to hear about his simplicity more often than about that of our own politicians. For a simple reason that there was no chief minister as simple as A K Antony in our state! However, he doesn't make news on performance front. I can hear what my Malayali friends are saying. I know that is the way you guys work. But, still Mr. Antony is not very effective in Governance. He is more like a communist. Clean but lazy! Unfortunately, you need to build a strong image of a development friendly, dynamic, and charismatic leadership to shine in national politics besides being a leader of extreme integrity. It may be tough for Mr. Antony. As one of my Malayali friends put it, Antony is very clean but he is not very dynamic whereas Karunakaran may be corrupt but he was very dynamic. What I have seen in politics is that most of the corrupt politicians are very dynamic unlike their clean handed friends. May be because they have a motivation to work!

I loved Krishna in Bangalore. He was very dynamic. He made the city and state more IT-savvy. He promoted performance everywhere. He maintained the highest level of dignity as chief minister. I remember Times of India conducting a poll asking if our chief minister was too decent to be in politics. When the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalitha was attacking him with unmanageable words day after day, he was just proving that he was more decent than her day after day. As far as I have seen in the inter-state politics, he was the first chief minister to listen to the Supreme Court. That is exactly what made him unpopular here. He had to bend to the sentiments of people eventually. Plus, the nature was not in his favor. The rains failed the farmers in both the states, which eventually failed him also in his state. Would have loved to see him continue his second term with Gowda’s support. But, what happened was heart-breaking. Such a great leader had to be victimized by substandard politics. Even now, I think Congress should have stood by him and told Gowda, “Either support him or get lost”. It is easier said in a blog than done in high value political deals. A friend of mine says Krishna is a leader of classes whereas Gowda is a leader of masses. So, it is natural that the leaders of classes spend their later years in the upper house in Delhi when the leaders of masses keep rising like phoenix irrespective whatever evil they do.

Last time, when he was made the governor of Maharashtra after being shown the door in the state on Mr. Gowda's demand, I prayed for him to get some key cabinet portfolio in central government instead. It didn’t happen then. But, it did happen eventually in UPA-2. I felt as though my prayers were overheard by someone. Having said that, how good is Krishna in Delhi now? I am not sure. Haven’t heard of any great news. I only hear a lot of criticism often on the functioning of MEA. I really don’t know how good or effective he is in his current position. May be, due to the age or bigger politics being played in the super capital which he is not used to or something else, he is not able to make his presence felt as he did in Bangalore. There was a time when I used to have him also in my wish list of prime ministers though it is nowhere close to possibility. Now, I can no longer keep him in that list. But, would surely like to try him with different portfolios (certainly not the kinds of finance, home, defense, etc.) to see if that makes things better. May be, he is not suited for MEA. I don’t see any other reason for his mediocrity.

This post wouldn’t be complete without talking about Mr. Kapil Sibal. My opinion about him was not that great until he proved his mettle in HRD. I only thought of him as a very talented lawyer with a powerful tongue, who is just capable of justifying anything that his party does like any other good lawyer does. I have seen him convincingly win many arguments at ease in most of the English channels, but they somehow failed to convince me about his abilities as a leader. But, today, I think, he has a great role to play in the Indian politics. He has been extremely successful as HRD minister. From ‘Right to Education’ to getting rid of public examinations, he has been extraordinary in everything that he does. He is surely one of the best performing ministers in UPA-2. It is so good to watch some people's performance speak instead of they doing it, even if they are great orators. We make them so ineffective in action by making them having to speak too much. Mr. Sibal is one such leader about whom I only want to hear news, not to watch him in talk shows. I sincerely think the Congress party should make the best use of his brain than his powerful tongue. Education being the beacon of all our hopes, it is more than critical for us to move in that direction.

Next in list is Mr. Controversy. Was so happy when I heard that Mr. Shashi Tharoor was joining politics. It was a similar feeling like the one that I had for Manmohan Singh. As I said in the last post, we need more and more people of this sort to make our politics better. The happiness doubled with his victory from Trivandrum. Was expecting that he would become the senior MEA. It would have been great for someone who has contested for the post of general secretary in United Nations. But, somehow Congress had a different plan. He became the junior MEA. That wasn’t bad too. But, he kept on getting into controversies one after the other. He may be justified in whatever he did. But, you surely need to play differently in the Indian turf. I think, it is the problem of his western connections. He is too westernized to be in Indian politics. He couldn’t learn to be Roman in Rome. When you don’t behave like the rest of the crowd, they start biting you from the back. Our politicians are no exceptions (Rather, they are the best examples!). Had high hopes until the IPL controversy burst out. Don’t know if he was at the wrong side. But, he was surely getting into unwanted issues at wrong time. The last nail was hit when he had his third marriage. It may have no relevance to his abilities as a politician. But, I don’t think it (three marriages) is received so well in our culture unless you are a mass leader like MGR. We could still hope that he won’t be let down by his people as the electorate in Kerala is different from that of the rest of the country. But, I am not very sure about Congress’s plans. May be, we have lost a great talent and a potential national (he is more than that indeed) leader because of his own limitations in adapting to the system that he is not best suited for or the one that is not best suited for him.

Then, though he is not part of UPA-2, I like Mani Shankar Aiyer’s courage and intelligence. He doesn’t mince his words when it is coming to criticizing the wrongdoings, even if it is Congressmen. He has never tried to be ‘goody goody’ with anyone, be it his own party men or alliance partners or opposition. He has made remarkable remarks against both Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha without being worried about anything. Would love to see him as some minister as soon as possible. We can’t afford to keep him in the pavilion for too long when his party is ruling.

Jairam Ramesh is another intellectual, whose presence in the government makes its average intellect higher. The country is lauding him for the change he has brought to the Indian outlook on environmental issues. I am sure at the end of his five year term in office he would have made an unprecedented impact as an environment minister. I wish for his promotion at the earliest.

I like both Scindia junior and Pilot junior. I am very impressed with their intelligence and the ability to clearly communicate their views. They will have great roles in Rahul’s team as their fathers did in Rajiv’s team.

I am not very impressed with the rest, i.e. people like Sharad Pawar (NCP), Veerappa Moily, Gulam Nabi Azad, Jaipal Reddy, Kamal Nath, etc. It's time Congress comes out with retirement plan for these people, either voluntary or forceful, according to their convenience.

Shall cover leaders from other parties in another post when time permits. And, shall also write about the Gandhis in a dedicated post, as they are larger than life in our politics. Isn’t their presence in our politics literally larger than a life… continuing generation after generation!?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Left, Right and Center!

Irrepective of how much ever irrelevant they have become in Indian politics today, having grown up in a Left background, the inclination towards them is still alive to some extent. The background usually makes you blind towards the bads and retains only the goods in mind. It reflects in all thoughts and discussions. But, in recent times, the reasons to hate the communist parties are becoming stronger than the ones to love them. Even today, they are the most self-less, least corrupt, and probably the only group that has the ability to talk about all national and international issues irrespective of which side they are in (may be being Left is naturally about not being at the right side!). Though they have done nothing to eradicate hunger, they are the only ones that think about it and built all their philosophies based on that. A real communist understands a fellow human being's "material" problems better than anyone else. May be, the safron group might claim now that they are the ones that understand the "immaterial", sorry, "spiritual" needs of the people better than anyone else. Then, what does Congress have to claim? May be, they can claim that they understand the nation's priorities better. According to them, it is they who gave birth and life to this nation called "India". If communists are Left and safrons are Right, is Congress party left right at the Center? It has mostly been a party that was sliding towards Left in policies and Right in practices. May be, post reforms, it has become a non-Left party, not necessarily a Right wing one. In fact, Left doesn't mean communists or socialists. It just means liberals. At that time when Left and Right were coined the liberals happened to be the socialists. But, today, it is not the same. In fact, the Left is more adamant with the century old, failed model, which is about conservatism. They are hell bent on conserving communism in its original form, though it did not achieve its intended purpose. With all these confusions, Congress could well be called Center for two reasons. One, their idealogical balance depending on the context or situational idealogy so to call (like situational management) or having no clarity on idealogy at times. Two, they seem to be the obvious choice to be in power in Center most of the times. :)

Coming back to the comrades, the simplest leaders of all times mostly belong to this group. The density of simple and honest leaders in any other group may be no way close to that in the Left. Every single party man lives like a Gandhi when it comes to simplicity. Unlike in any other political party, none of these party men may have any expectation from their parties to run their families. The power has never corrupted them. At the max, it has only made them arrogant and violent. They were just born to realize the dream of revolution that is never going to happen. Their political adamance is killing them. They are okay with it. They don't want to get saved at the cost of a philosophical compromise. Right or wrong? They choose wrong. Because, they are Left. They are strong on wrong even if it means going to hell. They don't understand the opportunity cost nor the opportunism. They are here to perish. No point wasting the time on an irrelevant entity. That too, when they have come to an extent that they would support any third-class immoral regional leader to keep a Manmohan Singh or Vajpayee away, though they call it a decision based on philosophical grounds.

Let's leave all the regional shit for a moment. Between the two big elephants my mind is slightly tilting towards the old elephant. BJP is certainly more democratic and less corrupt than Congress. Like in Left, here too, the birth certificate doesn't help. You can grow only the right way. But, their problem is the exclusivism. I don't like it. I grew up in a Muslim street where I was an odd boy out. I have seen my friends celebrating a Sachin's century or Kapil's wicket louder than me, even against Pakistan. I should admit that I sadly don't get to see that kind of spirit today. This country has somehow become something else to them. It's just not their problem. Our problem too. And, to repeat differently, it's their problem too. It's a major sensitive subject. Let's keep it for some other day and get back to our mainstream politics. However corrupt you are, waste you are, only inclusive politics is a sustainable model. Because, politics as a profession is about inclusivism. You may gain friends by creating enemies, but people may not want to live in a world of enemity forever. Knowing that, the old elephant continues to be inclusive at least on the face if not whole heartedly. That's why it becomes the obvious choice for anyone who wants to join politics from nowhere. Why does a Shashi Tharoor joins Twitter, sorry, Congress instead of BJP? Why does BJP not have as many intellectuals as Congress does? It may be debatable. But, I don't see so much intellect in the Right wing. May be, I am carried away by the mainstream belief that intellection is an intellectual property of Left, and hence the Right doesn't possess it.

You shouldn't be mistaking a pseudo-secularist for a secularist, but that may not mean that communalism is better than pseudo-secularism. They are hypocrats, but you are not. Hypocracy is better at times. They at least keep the values alive in paper and air, which keeps people in harmony. Whereas, your business sows hatred to reap short-term benefits, which will surely not make this land a safer place. Divisive politics may work at the level of state politics and it may relatively be a sustainable one too. Because, there you have a bigger enemy, i.e. the rest of the people. A country like India that has so many divisions and so much problems may not be able to appreciate the religion-based division, because that is "one" of the many divisions, which may not be the most appealing division for all or most, especially those who belong to the majority. And, this "we" versus "they" business doesn't work with any majority group that has the share of as large as 80% of the total population. Only unity in diversity works with them. Unity within a division works only for those less in number. That may be a reason why Hindutwa is not working here. It worked to grow from 2 to 80 and from 80 to 194. Why not from 192 to 267? A politician should talk about (not necessarily act on) people's problems. For most of the Indians, is religion an issue of personal or national interest? Is it as critical as hunger or education? For some, it is not even as worth as the notes given for votes, or for that matter the stupid-idiot-nonsense boxes (color televisions) given to turn blind and dumb towards what is happening outside their house (which is hall, kitchen, bedroom and every thing for them, for decades to come).

That leaves with the following people to support communalism in politics - 1. Those who can't play caste card in politics any longer and can get better returns with the religion card, 2. Those who believe that only this form of politics can safeguard their interests from the hard-hitting, anti-national, opponent groups, 3. Those who think that the 50 years of sick politics by Congress has failed the people and country, and can't digest the populist policies of Congress, which they think won't be given an ear if BJP is in power, 4. Those who heard the unheard - other version of the history, which is just opposite to whatever we studied in schools, and think only BJP understands the values of the land, 5. Those who are from the geographies that always had communal tension or cross-border threat as their biggest problem, 6. Those who can't stomach the mass entry of lower-caste 'ordinaries' (not my view, but of those who think so) in mainstream politics.

Having said all these, am I a supporter of Congress? Not at all. I was more than happy to see BJP in power in Karnataka, because the silly games played by Congress-JD(S) duo made the state more and more sick, with no lights in streets and at the end of the tunnel. Only now things have fallen in place here, after charismatic Krishna left the office in 2005. He was a victim of cheap, low class politics too. With BJP in power here, infrastructure projects are on fast track. Even in center their performance was good. Highways works got completed in high speed. But, economics as a subject didn't seem to be their cup of coffee. Talked something before coming to power and did something else after. Needless to say, good they didn't walk the talk. Reversing such a major economic 'U' turn would have been a major debacle, for we were nearing the end of the road. There was only a steep valley after that. HRD also was getting into unwanted controversies when there are plenty of not-so-controversial reforms that could have been done. Coalition golmals were happening even then. Either DMK or ADMK has been making the lives miserable for both the elephants. Overall, Congress as a party seems to have a stronger think tank to rule a country as they are not pre-occupied with other controversial issues (other than making money for themselves and their children, which has become a priority for both the elephants now). Their experience for 50 years might be coming in handy at times of need.

Personally, there is another reason for me to hate Congress. It went ahead helping the barbarian Sri Lankan Government despite the pleading and bleeding of god-forsaken innocent children, women and elderly, who solely depended on this holy nation for their survival. Survival as a word seems to have lost its weightage, but I do not have any better word at the moment to explain what kind of fight for lives they went through. BJP in power might have changed the equation. More than Congress, it is an old Tamil fox that would do anything including eating the waste while hungry (this is a different hunger), who is responsible for all the bloodbath that took place some nautical miles away from where he was collecting votes, which are nothing more than human waste given in exchange of hot cash. So, blaming Congress is not a meaningful thing when the self-declared saviour of the entire race himself was least bothered. I don't have to be an LTTE supporter or an anti-national to hold this view.

Leaving all that, Congress has done an unthinkable in politics. It has given the highest office to a completely non-political, highly educated, efficient, clean, middle-class visionary. Will it ever happen in Indian politics? May or may not. Such a clean man in politics was an accident caused by another political accident. Is Singh a weak King? May be. Someone who has faced the election only as a voter cannot be any stronger. It is not his problem. It is a shame on us the people. In a land where criminals win by large margins, if such a qualified leader is scared to contest elections, it only means that our democracy has not matured yet. If we feel happy about it as it gives a second opportunity to put down Congress, who is the best person to play the role then? Is it Pranab Mukherjee or PC or Arjun Singh? Don't we honestly think Singh is better than all of them? If you agree with Advani on his remark about Singh that he has brought down the dignity of the office by listening to his party chief, I can assure you another thing - anybody other than him would have been worse in Sonia-worship, as they are all hardcore politicians, who have mastered that art from childhood. Advani surely cannot head a Congress Government. Is it Rahul Gandhi then? Then, when to get away from tryst with dynasty politics? But, which PM was strong in coalition politics? We have seen the same DMK or ADMK bully around and embarrass both the elephants time and again. Even the second Iron man of India never failed to meet the madam at garden, even at the peak of her corrupt political career. So, one request to those who hate Congress - scold the party leadership, scold every general secretary in the party, scold any full-time politician who makes bread, butter and gold buiscuts in politics, not a gentleman like Singh. It's an unprecedented attempt in an immature (may be the biggest or oldest, but we have enough case studies to prove that maturity doesn't come with age or size, right?) democracy like ours. Let it get encouraged. Let us have more and more educated, qualified, effecient and clean leaders at top.


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