Modi vs. Gandhi

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Andrew North, BBC

“We’ve come to see the helicopter,” said two friends matter-of-factly as they waited for Rahul Gandhi to arrive at a political rally in Ghaziabad, near Delhi, this weekend.

The atmosphere was a little flat, with the warm-up speakers struggling to provoke much return volume from a crowd that contained more than a few dozing heads.

It was in stark contrast to an open-air rally in Delhi a few days earlier for Mr Gandhi’s main challenger, Narendra Modi, where supporters chanted his name with frenzied devotion for hours before his arrival.

But as the first thwack, thwack of the rotors sliced through the warm afternoon over Ghaziabad, there was a surge of excitement.

Congress party supporters leapt onto chairs for a better view. Nearby rooftops filled with local people straining to see the helicopter descend.

They were all empty again though by the time Mr Gandhi started speaking.
Discouraging start

In his defence, he was on opposition turf in this mixed urban constituency – the incumbent is a senior figure in Mr Modi’s BJP.

But it was a discouraging start for the latest scion of the Gandhi dynasty to front the Congress party, already weighed down by the perception that it is on the ropes after a decade in power.

The party is gambling on making him the sole face of its campaign, in effect airbrushing out the people who have actually been running the country and are most associated with the corruption scandals and wheezing economy that have brought the Congress low.

Why India’s election could be close

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Soutik Biswas

No single party has won a majority in India’s parliament since 1989 and governments since then have been formed with the support of smaller, regional parties.

Observers say the country’s 16th general election – to be held in nine phases in April and May – will be no different.

There has been a welcome – and sometimes chaotic – deepening of democracy in the six decades since Independence.

There were an average of 4.67 candidates per constituency in India’s first elections in 1952; in 2009, the number had risen to over 10. In the 1952 polls, the difference between the winning party (Congress) and its closest rival (Communists) was 348 seats. In 2009, the difference (between Congress and the BJP) had shrunk to 90 seats. The current parliament has 39 parties.

Yet, the 2014 election is being spun as a vote against the beleaguered ruling Congress party and for Narendra Modi, the controversial leader and prime ministerial candidate of the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Observers say a slowing economy, high inflation, a string of high-profile corruption scandals, and a jaded government are likely to sink the Congress party at the polls; opinion polls predict a debacle with the party winning fewer than 100 seats (it currently has 206).

Many say the two-term government, which has been responsible for some landmark entitlements-based legislation – rights to information, food and education, for example – frittered away its goodwill because of the mishandling of the economy and corruption scandals.

Under the leadership of Manmohan Singh, whose authority seems to have eroded rapidly, the Congress government has often resembled a rudderless ship. Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as the man to lead the campaign also appears to have come a bit late in the day.

On the other hand, the BJP, under Mr Modi, appears to be in the ascendant. In recent elections, the BJP swept to power in three of the five states and emerged as the single largest party in Delhi.

With his muscular nationalism and promises to replicate the high rates of economic growth Gujarat has enjoyed under his rule, Mr Modi appears to be the favourite of a large number of young voters. Yet, in a twist of irony, Mr Modi could turn out to be both an asset and a liability for the BJP.

An observer says the 2014 elections could have been a “slam dunk” for the BJP – but for a polarising prime ministerial candidate like Mr Modi.

Though his supporters credit him with being a canny and efficient leader, his critics – and there are many – say he did not do enough to stop India’s worst anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. Muslims, who comprise 13% of India’s population, are not likely to vote for Mr Modi. The new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made a spectacular debut in Delhi polls, could also play a spoiler in some seats.

That could mean a very closely fought contest, in which the BJP may have to reach out to, yes, the smaller, regional parties to cobble together a winning alliance and form a government. Whether the regional parties – mostly run by popular, mass leaders – would accept Mr Modi as a prime minister will possibly depend on how many seats the BJP can mop up on its own.

That could make it one of the most exciting elections India has seen for years.(BBC)

Huge and Complex Exercise: Indian Elections

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900,000 polling stations, 814 million voters: Welcome to the world’s largest democracy

India’s Election Commission has announced that the nation’s much anticipated general elections will begin in a little over four weeks on April 7.

Voters in the world’s largest democracy will go to the polls to elect members of the next Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament, in nine phases from April 7 to May 12. Votes will be counted on May 16.

The polls will be held across India on April 7, 9, 10, 12, 17, 24, 30, May 7 and 12. (Here’s a voting map.) Several states will hold their legislative elections during the same period. One of those could be the capital region of New Delhi, which recently came under President’s rule after its chief minister stepped down from office.

With approximately 814 million eligible voters, India’s elections are a vast and complicated exercise. At over 900,000 polling stations around the country, voters will choose lawmakers from the incumbent Congress Party, which has led India’s ruling coalition since 2004, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the new anticorruption Aam Aadmi Party and a variety of small but powerful regional parties.

For the first time in general elections, voters will also have the choice to record their displeasure with all the candidates, with the introduction of the “none of the above” option on the ballot.(Time Magazine)

What’s in a book? A lot!!

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Shobha De

For starters : Am I offended by Wendy Doniger’s book? Hell, no! Am I surprised by what happened this week? Naaaah! Is it the end of the world? You must be joking. Do I think Hinduism is under threat…or that Wendy set out to insult a great religion? Frankly, the answer is ‘no’ to both. Wendy Doniger is a professional scholar.  This is her interpretation. She is entitled to it. Those who find the book objectionable , need not read it. There are many Wendys in the publishing space. They do what they have to – spend years decoding ,  dissecting, analyzing material. It is their chosen vocation. A lot of what is deconstructed is necessarily subjective. After all, it is the effort of one academic searching for explanations and answers. So be it. If you choose to read the material -  and react – do it. Go ahead and write your own book. Or,write to the scholar/author and refute the thesis.

Hold a peaceful meeting and state your perspective. There are ways and ways to respond – passionately and spiritedly – without converting your views into an ugly, self-defeating pitched battle. Which is precisely what has happened with Doniger’s ‘The Hindus : An Alternative History’.
Now, let’s see it from the Publisher’s point of view ( I have to state here that I am a Penguin author). But this battle does not begin or end with Penguin Books and Wendy Doniger . Nor with those who asked for the book to be withdrawn and pulped – the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. The SBAS has been at it for years (remember how 75 paragraphs were removed from several NCERT textbooks?). They will be at it for several more. The thing is, this time their victory appeared easy. Was it really a ‘victory’? And how easy was it? What about the Publisher? The rather facile argument is that Penguin should not have buckled under pressure. That in ‘the old days’

Publishers were bold enough to stand by authors and books, regardless. Well, it’s time to state the bald truth and say it like it is (sorry, intellectuals!). Those old days are over. And the world of publishing has changed. Knock off all the romantic notions surrounding the book business and what do you get? A business under financial threat across the world. A business trying to stay afloat in the face of competition coming at it from unexpected directions and in entirely unknown forms (come on, who could have anticipated e-books and free downloads?). Survival itself is at stake given these daunting developments. Besides, let’s be candid, at the end of the day, publishing IS a business. And every publisher in the universe is a ‘baniya  publisher’ ( a term that has been thrown around a lot these days). And hello! which publisher would actively back a book that has a zero  sales’ potential? Which publisher is willing to lose money on a book? Which publisher wants a book/author to get into trouble? Not one. Every book is a gamble. It is published in good faith.

Publishers don’t consciously court controversy. They don’t enjoy facing criminal charges (as in this case). And they certainly don’t like losing money! A great deal of it. If that makes them ‘baniya publishers’, that’s okay. And yes, in today’s aggressive environment in which everything is potentially a ‘product’ that has to be flogged in the marketplace, there really isn’t that much of a difference left between selling a book and selling a bar of soap. If that sounds awful, it is a reality one has to accept. Authors and public intellectuals taking a lofty view of the publishing industry, should climb down a few notches and smell the coffee. It is likely to get still worse by the ‘old’ standards, as decisions whether or not to publish a book are taken by marketing mavens crunching numbers and not visionary publishers willing to back a tome they believe in. Yes, it’s that grim. Publishers with a book like Wendy’s on their list, are particularly vulnerable. It is not about having financial resources to fight it out in court. It is about asking basic , practical questions : is it worth it?

Wendy’s controversial book will do just fine . More people will read it now that it has become a hot potato. The SBAS will no doubt, look for other soft targets and gloat over this particular win. The ‘scholar dollars’ won’t dry up. So, relax. Hinduism has survived worse . And will continue to thrive  -  book or no book. Our various freedoms are definitely under threat. Make no mistake about that. It’s just a question of figuring out whose freedom scores in such wars. And whether there is something called absolute freedom in the first place .A difficult decision needed to be taken .And it was taken. It was not ‘fear’ alone ( despite the rumoured death threats ) that dictated Penguin’s decision, I imagine. It was a question of  not hurting public sentiment. There really are no winners here. Least of all the much loathed SBAS.

Has Rahul Gandhi come of age?

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Soutik Biswas

Rahul Gandhi says he is sure about wanting to change the system, empower women, deepen democracy, open up politics to the young and make India a world-beating manufacturing hub.

That’s going by his first formal interview on Monday night, a decade after becoming the latest member of the India’s fabled Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to enter politics.

What the leader of India’s ruling Congress party appeared not to be sure of was how he – and his party – should deal with leaders touched by the taint of corruption or even those who were allegedly involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that happened under the watch of his father, then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

“All said and done, that was brave of Rahul Gandhi,” tweeted journalist Tunku Varadarajan about the 80-minute interview on the Times Now channel. “How many Indian PM candidates have offered themselves up for prime time interview?” (Mr Gandhi will lead the party’s campaign in the forthcoming general elections.)

Mr Gandhi even chose India’s most aggressive prime-time anchor Arnab Goswami to grill him.

Having said that, the media-shy leader’s first proper interview on TV turned out to be a mixed performance.

Mr Gandhi was composed and reasonably articulate – if slightly pedantic – while setting out his vision for much-needed reforms in his party and for India’s development.

He was less than impressive when questioned about why his party had failed to crack down on corruption.

He avoided direct comments on his arch rival, Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and the leader of the new anti-corruption party, Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party made a spectacular debut in the polls in Delhi and now rules the capital with the minority support of Mr Gandhi’s party.

There were also what many say were tired platitudes which couldn’t have won Mr Gandhi new admirers. Some examples: “Innocent people dying is a horrible thing”; “Anybody who is corrupt should be punished”; and “women are the backbone of this country”. He occasionally lapsed into rhetoric and regurgitated lines.

Mr Gandhi’s agenda for development is unexceptionable.

He used the words “empower” and “empowerment” interchangeably 22 times. He mentioned the word “system” – the existing one, which is broken, and the need to change it – 70 times.

He mentioned women – and their key role – 17 times. Many found it a bit odd that he spoke about himself in the third person seven times.
Systemic problem

Mr Gandhi laid the blame on the obvious devil – the system – for all India’s ills.

He quite rightly said the system had to change in order to remould India’s politics, which shuts out outsiders.

But then he also said he had seen his family members, people he loved, “destroyed by the system”. It was not immediately clear how the tragic killings of his grandmother Indira Gandhi and his father Rajiv Gandhi could be attributed to the system.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal Can Rahul really rival Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for pole position as the rebel of Indian politics?

He said the 2002 Gujarat riots also happened because of the system, “because people don’t have a voice in the system”. Again, it was not clear how.

Mr Gandhi also surprised many by curiously painting himself as a rebel of sorts.

He said he was being attacked by his opponents because he was “doing things dangerous to the system”. He said he was not “superficial and thinking deeply and long term”.

Observers say that Mr Kejriwal had already taken pole position as the rebel of Indian politics with his unpredictable and unconventional politics and Mr Gandhi may have arrived late to the show.

Some analysts say Mr Gandhi also betrayed his inexperience in politics.
Misplaced confidence?

He accused Mr Modi’s government of not doing enough to stop the Gujarat riots in 2002, but floundered when asked to back that up with evidence, even forgetting that a minister in Mr Modi’s cabinet had been sent to prison for her involvement.

When asked about Congress’s prospects in the election, he declared confidently that his party would win – despite opinion polls pointing to a heavy defeat – and then declared he was a “serious politician” who was not interested in power for power’s sake.

So has Rahul Gandhi now truly come of age?

The former editor of Outlook magazine, Vinod Mehta, said Mr Gandhi emerged as a “sincere, candid and passionate person, seriously interested in changing India” in the interview.

But, Mr Mehta said, he had “no answers to specific charges of corruption”. Mr Gandhi, he said, was “half a leader”.

Other analysts like Siddharth Varadarajan said though Mr Gandhi did a decent job of sketching out a future vision for his party, he did badly when it came to “defending the indefensible” – corruption and the alleged role of party leaders in the 1984 riots.

“When things got hairy,” says Mr Varadarajan, “he spoke about [the] system and empowerment.”

In the end, analysts say, Mr Gandhi proved – once again – that though his heart is in the right place, he remains a prisoner of his dynastic party’s legacy. (BBC)

Why I joined AAP?

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Why did I join politics? Ever Since I left IBN7 as managing editor, almost everyone is asking me this question. I was the head of the news channel and at the pinnacle of my journalistic career.

For a journalist, these are exciting times with the parliamentary elections just a few months away. Old politics is making way for new, new faces are taking over from the old ones, new issues are dominating the political scene and above all, change is the underlying theme of the socio-political discourse.

There is too much to understand, too much to report and too much to analyze.

News channels are back to news and to debates and discussions. It, therefore, seems the most opportune time to be working in news.

Still, I decided to move on to an uncertain terrain leaving behind a cushy job, a rather handsome salary and a reputation of being a fearless journalist and jumping into the most cursed profession without any source of income, literally unemployed, dependent on my wife’s moderate salary.

I was never a copy-book journalist who always strove to be an editor who maintained neutrality and tried to seek a middle path without being blamed for a tilt or bias. I always had strong views and never minced my words in expressing them. For me journalism was a passion, an emotional connect to people and issues, and that was the reason I never hesitated in taking a stand and vocalising the truth without worrying about the consequences. For that I was both praised and despised in my peer groups.

The Anna movement came as a breath of fresh air and in no time it caught my imagination. I felt that something was changing fundamentally and Indian politics was breaking new ground. The response to the movement was magnetic and electrifying. I could suddenly see the national discourse changing and the fight against corruption became the most talked about subject but the stubborn old-style politics refused to give way and let it succeed.

It was then that the idea of changing the character of politics by entering it caught the imagination of agitators.

The Aam Aadmi Party was formed and they proved in no time that the impossible was possible and formed the government. During this time, after interacting with scores of people I came to the conclusion that this political movement needs to be strengthened from the inside.

Journalism has its limitations, its own boundaries, it does not let anyone support from beyond a point. I got thinking. This is the historic moment, time to contribute by direct participation and I should not just be a bystander.

But the bigger question was how to earn the daily bread without any salary and meet other expenses? A tough call made easy by my wife. She said “don’t worry we will manage” and will live comfortably in her modest salary.

The urge to be part of a revolution and make some contribution to history and to help make the nation better got the better of me and I decided to quit. Journalism became history for me.

Whenever I will look back, I will remember those fascinating days of journalism with pride and happiness but that is the past and I have to move into the future on a different path.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this blog are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this blog. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing on the blog  do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

(Ashutosh, a prominent journalist, quit as Managing Editor of IBN7 to join the Aam Aadmi Party in January.)

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