Monday, December 24, 2007

What can the Congress learn from Gujarat 2007?

Note: The Hindi translation of this article was published in the Haribhoomi newspaper on 26-27 January, 2008.

I do not begrudge Narendra Modi, the three-time chief minister of Gujarat, his victory: personally, I think it would be foolish to do so. The last time he won in 2002, he taught the Congress party important lessons, without which ‘the cavalcade of history’ might never have been reversed and the UPA wrested power from the NDA in early 2004.

For one thing, the decision taken at the Pachmarhi Conclave was reversed when Congress leaders met at Simla in the aftermath of Mr. Modi’s second comeback. The party’s obstinate refusal to embrace coalitional politics and aim instead to form a government on its own at the Centre, which formed the crux of the Pachmarhi Declaration, was replaced with a resolution authorizing the Congress President ‘to play a leading role in forming a coalition of secular parties with the sole objective of overthrowing the NDA’. In my opinion, that historic decision marked the beginning of the end of the NDA. This time too, I believe that Mr. Modi’s third consecutive victory, though disappointing in the short term, shall teach us important lessons for the long term. What are they?

Nobody else but you
The most obvious lesson of course is the absolute necessity of developing regional leaders within the party, who can stand up to people like Mr. Modi. It is no secret that he presented himself as the embodiment of “Vandé Gujarat”: through a perverse alchemy of hate- for him, there's always somebody to hate (Pervez Musharraf, for instance) and somebody who hates him (Sonia Gandhi?)- and possibly even good administration, Modi became Gujarat, and Gujarat, Modi. Consequently, any attack on Narendra Modi was projected- and also, perceived- as an attack on Gujarati pride. The Congress simply had no one who could match his stature. That will have to change, double-quick. No wonder then that the media, in the absence of a Congress leader who could rival Mr. Modi, portrayed (wrongly) this election as a contest between him and Sonia Gandhi. Mrs. Gandhi’s ‘maut ka saudagar’ remark was misrepresented by him as a direct attack on him- and Gujarat. Indeed, nothing could have suited him more. (Thankfully, there was one community which didn't buy Mr. Modi's rhetoric: the tribals have returned to the Congress. For more, see this video.)

Rising regional aspirations is a fact that no national party can afford to ignore: in all but four states (Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh), there has been a regional party in power at some point or another. Coincidentally, the next round of elections are to take place in these four states. Much more important, the results of these four assembly elections will set the tone for the next General (Lok Sabha) Elections, which are scheduled to be held immediately afterwards. (Given the badgering the Congress- and the UPA- have taken in Gujarat and are likely to take in Himachal, a midterm poll can be safely ruled out, Nuclear Deal or not.)

An Elephant in a China shop

In this context, it becomes pertinent to mention the BSP supremo and Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mayawati’s “Mahajot” experiment: emboldened with her victory in UP, based as it was on a formidable inter-caste alliance between the Dalits and Brahmins, who constitute 14% of UP’s electorate (D+B), she now hopes to replicate the UP Model in other states as well. In less than four days, the result of the Himachal Pradesh election will be known. In all probability, the incumbent Congress government will not be returned to power. But anti-incumbency would be just one factor accounting for the party’s defeat. The damage done by Mr. Mankhotia, a one-time right-hand man of chief minister Vir Bhadra Singh who recently defected to the BSP, cannot be underestimated.

Similarly Ms. Mayawati’s lieutenants are in talks with Sibhu Soren, the tribal leader of Jharkhand, and Bhajan Lal, the former chief minister of Haryana who enjoys a considerable following among the non-Jat voters of that state. The idea is to strike alliances between the BSP’s core supporters, i.e., the dalits, and another dominant caste leader in other states as well, along the lines of the D+B combination in UP. Needless to say, Congress will be the worst-hit party should Ms. Mayawati’s Mahajot succeed. Lesson No. One, therefore, is the need to accommodate regional- and caste- aspirations within the party fold, lest people seek an alternative elsewhere.(For more on combating Mayawati's Mahajot, see here.)

Tryst with Destiny
In the broader analysis, that would mean returning to Pandit Nehru’s style of governance: despite his towering- almost dictatorial- stature, he saw himself as ‘primus inter pares’, or first among equals; consequently, his administration was based on evolving a consensus between powerful regional satraps, like Govind Vallabh Bhai Pant in UP, Mohan Lal Sukhadia in Rajasthan, B.C. Roy in West Bengal, and K. Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu, each of whom enjoyed relative autonomy in their respective spheres of influence. This changed during the time of his successor, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The old satraps gave way to leaders who owed their positions solely to her pleasure; consequently, they saw no compelling need to develop followings- mass bases- of their own. This new style of top-down governance was based on the very factual premise that people, irrespective of where they came from, voted for Mrs. Gandhi; not for her candidates per se. That premise can no longer be justified.

In today’s context, two important changes have taken place. One, local issues have gained ascendancy over national ones, the candidate matters as much, if not more, than the party. Two, in light of the growing threat-perception on members of the Family, all of whom are SPG protectees, the physical barrier between the Family and the masses has grown manifold. They are no longer as accessible to the people as they would like to be: it is yet another reason for developing regional leaders, who can act as a direct link between the people and the Family.

This is not to say that the Family’s following has shrunk in any way. If the crowds attending the rallies, road shows and public meetings of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi are anything to go by, then it would be safe to say that the Family is the only institution in India that can legitimately claim to represent all of the nation; indeed, it continues to be the sole embodiment of our unity in diversity. Now, while this is no doubt a great asset- perhaps the greatest asset- in helping us win people’s hearts- and elections- it cannot, of its own, guarantee an electoral victory. Gujarat and UP are two recent examples of this. This then brings me to my Lesson No. Two.

All about numbers

It’s one thing to have mammoth crowds come to catch a glimpse of, and listen to, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi, but completely another to get them to vote for the Congress. While they do the former on their own, the latter necessarily depends on the party organization. The single biggest reason why the Congress performed so miserably in UP was because there was no party organization to transform the crowds into votes. In my opinion, therefore, the greatest achievement to come out of Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s involvement in the UP election, is that at least now, the Congress has an organization, howsoever rudimentary, in that state: a beginning has been made.

A similar situation, although not quite as dismal, was faced in Gujarat. A frequent complaint among party workers, particularly the youth, was that they are asked to get involved only during elections. Indeed, that is true of the Congress party everywhere. The organization- or whatever little there is of it- seems to exist only between elections; in the interregnum, it does the customary ‘Zindabaad’ whenever a leader comes to town but beyond that, it has very little direct interaction with the electorate. Take the example of Chhattisgarh. Elections are due in less than a year. Final revision of electoral rolls ended two weeks ago. Now ideally the party organization should have been mobilized to ensure that names of party voters don’t get left out, particularly of those voters who’ve come of age. Nothing of the sort happened. On the other hand, the ruling BJP launched a massive statewide Mission 2008 campaign, in which its workers silently went door-to-door registering voters’ names (both real and fictional).

The reason for this isn’t hard to find. Unlike the left and right parties, the Congress doesn’t have a cadre. The traditional argument made in favor of not having a cadre is twofold: one, the Congress isn’t really a party but a movement; and two, given the large number of Congressmen, it is simply not economically sustainable. Unfortunately, neither argument holds water. Yes, Congress was a movement when it led the struggle for India’s freedom. No so anymore, especially when we’ve run out of Big Causes to fight for. To get the Congress to become a movement again, what is required is another Big Cause, along the lines of ‘Quit India’ and ‘Garibi Hatao’. But as pointed out earlier, when local issues have paramountcy over national ones, what we have today are a whole lot of small- but important- causes rather than any one all-unifying Big Cause. As far as the second argument- of financial viability- is concerned, well, if the Communists and the Sangh (BJP included) can do it when they’ve been in power a lot less than we have, then surely there is no reason why we can’t. Countless number of people have gotten very rich principally because of their association with the party- and its high time they gave something back to the party: let’s call it noblesse oblige.

The undeniable fact is that politics isn’t just about elections. It has become a full time occupation. Workers have to be on the field, interacting with the electorate, 24/7. To expect them to do so ex gratia would be, frankly speaking, absurd. Who will, after all, take care of their basic requirements, their bread and butter, if not the party? In any case, nobody is suggesting that each and every Congressman be reimbursed, but just a select few, chosen objectively on the basis of the quality of their work and the amount of time they can devote to the party. Something of the sort already exists for national level party office bearers; all that needs to be done is to extend it below, at least to block-level if not booth-level. Once a cadre is in place, I’m sure party leaders can think of plenty of ways to keep them both busy and productive. (Incidentally, this blogger has already suggested how this could be done.)

Which hill station is best?

A third lesson doesn’t come directly from Gujarat, but from the Congress’ first experience- call it experiment- with coalitional politics: the four years of UPA government. To put it simply, it presents itself in the form of a question: is it possible for the party to compete with its allies regionally while cooperating nationally? If the answer is a pure and simple ‘No’, then we’re back to Pachmarhi. What the UPA experiment has shown, however, is that the dilemma has begun to resolve itself.

The Congress was once the principal opposition to Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD in Bihar, Mr. Karunanidhi’s DMK in Tamil Nadu, and the Communists in West Bengal. Now, with the UPA, we’ve been reduced to playing second fiddle to them, especially since they constitute the Congress’ three main allies in the UPA. In all these three states, the role of the principal opposition has been taken by Mr. Nitish Kumar’s JD (U), Ms. J. Jayalalitha’s AIADMK, and Ms. Mamta Banerjee's Trinamool respectively, all of whom are naturally predisposed towards the NDA. The reason is quite clear: people in these states believe that their interests are better served by supporting players who better represent their regional aspirations; the Congress, on the other hand, is seen as incapable of doing so, dictated as it is by ‘considerations from Delhi’.

Needless to say, Congress party workers in these three states feel, plainly speaking, let down; they feel that compulsions of UPA have encroached upon the Congress’ self-interests in their respective regions. I believe that it was for them that the Congress President, in her address to the AICC Session at Delhi last month, specifically mentioned the need ‘for workers in Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal’ to revive the party. The idea, it would appear, is to reduce the Congress dependency on its allies.

Strangely enough, this brings the end back to its beginning: the only way to do so is to promote regional leaders within the Congress, who can take on both the Laloos and the Nitishes, the Karunanidhis and the Jayalalithas, the Communists and the Mamtas, not to mention the Modis, and in the process, provide a space of nurturing growing regional aspirations within the party itself.

Simla is all very well, but Pachmarhi still remains the goal towards which the Congress ought to strive. If the past is anything to go by- after all, he did teach us our most valuable lesson the last time he won- then the Congress has more to be thankful for to Mr. Modi than even it can imagine.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Art: Untitled, c. 2007

This is my first oil in almost half a decade: it took ages to conceive and less than three hours to paint. Despite the obvious dissimilarity, this is the closest, I guess, the males of our species shall come to experiencing Birth.

The unchristened work now belongs to my father's political secretary, Mr Shailesh Nitin Trivedi, for whom it was painted: a labor of love.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Video: Ajit Jogi on Gujarat 2007

In less than twenty four hours, the uncertainty about Gujarat- whether the coalition of secular parties has succeeded in ousting Narendra Modi's government?- shall end. My father, who led the Congress party's campaign in the tribal belt, remains hopeful about the party's prospects in that region: he says that there was 'a strong undercurrent' in the Congress' favor; as far as the various 'exit polls' are concerned, all of which seem to predict a mandate for Mr. Modi, he believes that they do not account for the large number of 'silent voters', who for one reason or another, preferred not to speak. In this video clip recorded on 4th December 2007 shortly after he released the Congress Manifesto in Surat, he discusses the Congress party's election strategy.


Today's election result have shown that the tribals of Gujarat, in particular central Gujarat, have returned to the Congress. The real question, then, is this: why not others?

December 23, 2007 Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Chhattisgarh 2008 (1): मिट्ठलबरा पारटी

हाल ही डाक्टर रमन सिंह ऐलान करे हे ते ओखर सरकार गरीब मनखे तीन रुपया चाउर देहीकाबर ते अवय्या साल चुनई होही अउ ओखर कगरा कोनो दूसर मुद्दा नई बाचे हवे

भाजपा पारटी जेला मे हर मिट्ठलबरा पारटी कथौं, पहिली घलो किसम के लबारी मार के हमला ठगे हवेएखर पहिली चुनई हर कहे रहिस के जब हमर राज आही, हमन सब्बो नौजवान मन कामबूता देबो अउ अगर नई दे सकन उमन घर बैठे पांच सौ रुपया बेरोजगारी भत्ता देबोरमन राज चार साल पूरे हो गिस, भलुक एक घलो नौजवान पांच सौ रुपया दूर, पांच ठन रुपय नई मिले हवे

मिट्ठलबरा पारटी बोले रहिस के भाजपा का कहना साफ, किसान का करजा माफ़सिंचाई अउ बिजली घलो मुफत देके गोठ कहे रहिसचार साल एक ठन किसान के करजा माफ़ नई होईस, भलुक छत्तीसगढ़ के किसान मन जरूर साफ हो गिसएक देरी मिट्ठलबरा पारटी के सेठ मन गरीब के भाटा के चाउर, सकर अउ माटी तेल के कालाबाजारी करेके अउ पोटावत हन, अउ दूसर देरी किसान के लइकामन भूख ले मरत हनबालोद एक आदिवासी दाई, जेखर नाव फोटो बाई हवे, के दू नोनी बाबू मन भूख ले मर गे

आदिवासी मन घलो छले हवे, मिट्ठलबरा पारटीचुनई के पहिली बोले रहिस के जम्मो आदिवासी परिवार एक-एक जरसी गैया देबोफेर कहिस के गैया के जगह सांड देबोफेर कहिस के सांड के जगह बैला देबो गैया मिलिस, सांड मिलिस, बैला मिलिसहमर भोले-भाले आदिवासी मन ओखर गोठ सच मान के गैया बांधे बर गेरवा रस्सी अउ ओखर दूहे बर बालटी पहिली ले ही खरीद लिस

गाढ़ा रमन राज कुछु आदिवासी मन चरण पादुका जरूर मिलिस, जेला हमन छत्तीसगढ़िया मन पनही कथे पनही के साथ का करे के हे, हमन अच्छी तरह जानत हन, अउ टेम आने पे मिट्ठलबरा पारटी के मनखे घलो जान जाही

अमित जोगी
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Sunday, December 02, 2007

THE ADVENT: Goodbye, Undertrial

I. Found in translation
Under Trial, the name of my blog, has, in the wake of my acquittal last May, become something of an anachronism; consequently, readers have repeatedly told me to rechristen it. Quite frankly, to paraphrase Peiter Geyl, the Dutch historian, there are arguments, both for and against.

The ‘Against’ argument is twofold: one, the expression never really applied to me, the author, but to the entire corpus of writings posted on this blog. They have, I believe, cumulatively taken the form of an extended essay. If only to further buttress this premise, I cannot resist the urge to mention Michel de Montaigne. That erudite essayist had famously reminded us that the etymological root of the world essay comes in fact from his native French ‘essai’, which means ‘trial’. Given that he was after all, a Frenchman, his rather vain assertion can hardly be deemed surprising.

Two: for me, the Age of ‘Angst vor etwas’- Freud’s classical definition of anxiety, which when translated from the German, would mean ‘anxious expectations’- hasn’t quite ended. Much as I would like to believe otherwise, my future still hangs in a balance. I am still a prisoner of ‘Der prozess’, Franz Kafka’s title for his novel, which those of us conversant with the English tongue (not to mention its cinematic and Americanish variations) more commonly know of as ‘The Trial’ (with at least one version, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins).

The ‘For’ argument is apparently simpler. Following my acquittal, I am, technically speaking, no longer an Under Trial. Also, if one were to subscribe to what Harold Bloom collectively labels the School of Resentment’s views (for the record, I don’t), the writer and the writing cannot be divorced from each other, and both in turn cannot be divorced from their Socioeconomic Context, which must, under all circumstances, remain paramount: it is a sort of double-marriage made in heaven. Or hell, depending on one’s point of view.

II. From half-empty to half-full
I believe they are both, very strong arguments. To resolve this dilemma, I have sagaciously followed Buddha’s advise- and quite happily, decided on a Middle Path. Henceforth, Under Trial shall be known as 1/2 Freedoms; true to fashion, that is neither here nor there. Another way of looking at it is that the glass in no longer half-empty; it is, for better or worse, half-full. Discerning readers will no doubt see a significant difference: a veritable reincarnation of sorts.

For me, the real reason for this decision is a little less philosophical. It would certainly appeal to the pragmatist in all of us. Blogspot, Google’s website that has hosted Under Trial for over one and a half years, is, for all its merits, rather constraining: for instance, it doesn’t offer the option of podcasting. Hacking its code can only go so far, and the only real option for today’s blogger is to host his own site.

Behold, then, the birth of 1/2 Freedoms.

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

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CONTACT ME. मुझसे संपर्क करें

Amit Aishwarya Jogi
Anugrah, Civil Lines
Raipur- 492001
Chhattisgarh, INDIA
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