Thursday, April 30, 2015

TMC Sweeps Kolkata: Tale of Didi, Dada and Bhai

Didi Rules Bengal

The results of Kolkata and other Municipality Elections shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. This columnist may be tempted to say "I told you so" (Read previous DailyO article  BJP needs a new gardener in West Bengal) but truth be said, the results were a forgone conclusion. What may come as a jolt to many is BJP's total rout - which the Trinamool spokesperson rather unkindly - but not entirely without justification - called "a balloon gone Phoos !!".

That Congress couldn't put up a respectable show will not bother many. More significant is the total decimation of the Left with no signs of the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes.

Trinamool didn't need to indulge in any rigging or violence to achieve these results. Many political observers believe - the violence happened either out of local rivalries among lumpen elements or an "over-kill" following Mukul Roy's disengagement and fear of internal sabotage.The slogan #DidiRules, therefore, is meant as much for the opposition as it is for inner party constituents.

Congress is all but a spent force in Bengal. Even assuming the new improved RaGa 2.0 is able to breathe fresh life into the party - it will be a long time before it touches Bengal. In the coming Assembly Elections - therefore, it'll desperately seek alliance with either the Left or Trinamool - but both have little reason or incentive to grant it space. The coming months will no doubt see a a queue of dejected Congressmen outside Mamata Banerjee's Kalighat residence. In the longer term,  it would be reasonable to expect - the Left of Centre space in Bengal will be occupied by Trinamool or one of its off-shoots if it were to arise.

The just elected CPIM supremo Sitaram Yechury - who knows Bengal (and Bengali) well - has rightly placed the finger on the pulse - when he said the main challenge of the Left is get back the youth to its fold. But, he doesn't spell out what does the Left have to offer today's youth - who are looking for jobs and gainful employment - given Left's dismal track record on that economic front in Bengal. At least to that extent - though the jury is still out - Mamata Banerjee still holds out the promise of getting industry to invest in Bengal, create jobs and development of the state. Any such claims by CPIM  is bound to sound hollow.

The bigger issue for CPIM is it has lost its cadre base entirely. The dividends of Land Reform and Operation Barga have been milked dry. With fragmented land- holdings villagers prefer to move out to cities or other states for employment and the actual work of tilling the land left for non-agricultural farm-labourers.  With hardly any industries left in the state - the trade unions have also moved out of its ranks. The educated youth no longer want to stay back in the state - and the chatter of latest movies and TV serials dominate the air of Coffee Houses and College Canteens rather than talk of Marx and Lenin.

BJP's failure in these elections is not only that it could not mobilise even a "work in progress" organisation - losing the plot even before it got started with infighting and anarchy -  but the way it frittered away in less than a year the goodwill generated at the time of the Lok Sabha elections. It also can't be denied - however much one may argue local body elections are decided on local issues - the NDA governments performance so far has failed to inspire the Bengalis. It is, perhaps, also a commentary on people's increasing agnosticism towards scams and coruuption - that all the noise over Saradha and other Ponzi frauds didn't have any visible impact on the poll outcome. While it is certainly true - Mamata Banerjee and TrInamool have mastered the art of "election management" first perfected by the Left (perhaps, better than even her own "art") - it would be futile for BJP to seek an excuse in that - as some of their national leaders have already begun to do. instead, it is time for the party to look for a new leader and a central manager who can build the organisation from the grassroots and re engineer its image.

Till then - probably - the best bet for Bengal would be to live by the formula which Narendra Modi had suggested in his first election rally in Kolkata in February 2014 - "Didi in the State, Dada (Pranab Mukherjee) in Rashtrapati Bhavan and (Narendra) Bhai at the PMO.  It could well be a winning formula - at least in the short term - if Didi and Bhai can establish a working relationship may be with a little help from the Dada.

#BengalVerdict #Trinamool #DidiRules #BJPBengal #KolkataMunicipalCorporation #WestBengal

Article first published in DailyO_ Click here to read 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

This Lotus will not wilt as it hasn’t bloomed

BJP needs a new gardener in Bengal

Today Kolkatans are voting for their Municipal Elections. One needn’t be a political pundit or pollster to predict – it’ll be a clean sweep for Trinamool Congress – probably as impressive as AAP’s win in Delhi Assembly elections. BJP would be lucky to finish a distant (and, most probably, insignificant) second.

This is surprising since only a few months ago ‘Saffron’ was being hailed as the new ‘Red’ in Bengal and BJP was seen as a serious threat to ‘Didi’ (Mamata Banerjee). BJP’s membership in the state crossed the 10 lakh mark. Simultaneously, trouble was brewing within Trinamool – caught on a sticky wicket over ‘Saradha-Scam’ - there was also talk of internal dissension within the party, with a section ready to jump the boat  with Mukul Roy -  the General Secretary, ‘Master Strategist’ and organisation strong-man of TMC  (whom many, including this columnist, referred to as Mamata’s Amit Shah).

Buoyed by the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections – when BJP increased its vote-share to 16.8 % (from a measly 6.2 % in 2009) in the state and whopping 25% in Kolkata proper -  winning 2 and securing second position in 3 seats (and a clear lead in 23 assembly segments including Mamata Banerjee own  constituency, second in 40 others) the party’s state leadership declared Mission 150 + for 2016 Assembly Elections. At the famous – ‘Utthan Divas’ Rally in Kolkata on November 30th – held after a major tussle with the state government – Siddharth Nath Singh, BJP’s National Secretary – in charge of West Bengal – made that audacious call of ‘Bhaag Mamata Bhaag’.

The momentum continued for another 3 months or so giving people an impression that at last a credible challenger to Mamata was emerging. But, a sudden denouement followed Amit Shah’s Burdwan Rally on January 20th. First, there was an announcement of number of top TMC leaders crossing over to BJP on that day – which didn’t happen. Claims were made that around 40 TMC MLAs were ready to join BJP and simply waiting for a call. By way of explanation of the  “no show”, BJP functionaries said they had postponed the ‘welcome ceremony’’ to a later date as they didn’t wish to divert attention from the main purpose of the event. But, a certain loss of steam was apparent even in the bye-elections that followed in February – which TMC won with ease.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee – the street-smart fighter that she is – started to put her house in order. Making truce with some disgruntled elements – who were wielding veiled threats of en-masse defection – and craftily isolating Mukul Roy without expelling him from the party. Once again proving the old adage – a party is bigger than an individual.
Simultaneously, there were a few other developments – which many people refuse to dismiss as mere coincidence. One couldn’t but notice a slow-down in the pace of the Saradha Scam probe by CBI. 3 of the 4 main protagonists arrested were let out on bail – including a young Rajya Sabha MP (from a well known Stevedoring family also owning a pro-TMC media group) – who resigned from the party as well as his parliament seat the very next day. Mukul Roy – though called for interrogation after allowing him a long leash – was not taken into custody unlike the others who had been summoned before him by CBI. Thereafter, the spotlight of the investigation seemed to shift to another accused – political wheeler-dealer - Matang Sinh.

Perhaps, the most significant event was Mamata Benerjee’s meeting with Narendra Modi – the first in nearly 10 months after his assuming office as Prime Minister. Though the body language on camera was distinctly stiff – one doesn’t know what exactly transpired in the one-on-one interaction or subsequent off-line engagements with key members of Modi cabinet like Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari. While the shenanigans continued in Parliament and Trinamool refused to budge on the Land Acquisition Bill – some other Bills were quietly allowed passage by tactical ‘walk-out’ by TMC MPs during voting. The Centre too showed a great deal of grace and generosity in the budgetary allocations for West Bengal – keeping aside political differences.

But, the biggest challenge facing BJP in Bengal’s is the quality and calibre of State level leadership. There is not a single leader of stature, charisma or mass-base. Since the elections in May 2014 – all the leaders who had been para-dropped  from Delhi to contest like Chandan Mitra or even an S. S. Ahluwalia who won from Darjeeling – have been missing in action – with the sole exception of Babul Supriyo, who has little political standing or appeal beyond his Bollywood Rock-Star image. The few others – who are considered to be men of substance like Tathagata Toy or Dr Subhash Sarkar of Bankura have been sidelined and maintain a low profile. Siddharth Nath Singh – who was supposed to be the Central “Prabhari” of the state ( whose claim to fame is he is a ‘son-in-law’’ of Bengal by virtue of  having his ‘sasural’ in Kolkata) has become scarce – one doesn’t know whether due to party or –in-law issues. It was reported that – Nirmala Sitharaman has been given charge of looking after West Bengal affairs. But, perhaps, she too has been busy organising the Hannover Messe.

With the result – the ticket distribution for the KMC election turned out to be an embarrassing  mess – with in-fighting breaking out in public – seriously denting the party’s image. Rahul Sinha – the State Secretary appeared totally out of depth and control. In any case, he does not inspire either confidence or respect. People question his political credentials and even integrity. There are also insinuations of clandestine side-deals struck by the senior local leadership with TMC – hinting at possibilities of deliberate sabotage.  But, all this is here say – what is clear: BJP in Bengal is rudderless and leaderless. By frittering away the chances of scoring an impressive tally in Kolkata – where probably the anti-incumbency of Trinamool was the highest – they have dashed the hopes raised after the Lok-Sabha elections.

Now, only a strong leader can salvage the party from the dump it has dug for itself in less than a year, but none can be seen on the horizon. If Modi’s really wants to expand BJP’s presence in the East – he and Amit Shah might be better off going shopping outside the party and for that Mukul Roy is a prime prospect in waiting 

A party without a leader is as ineffective as a leader without a part. That probably makes a good – even if expedient – fit for Roy and BJP. But, will Modi-Shah bite the bullet ?

Artcle first published in the @DailyO_  Click here to read

#Bengal #BJP #BengalBJP #Trinamool #MamataBanerjee #MukulRoy #Kolkata Municipal Election #WestBengal #AmitShah #NarendraModi


Thursday, April 09, 2015

Book Review - The Great Indian Rope Trick: Complexity of Indian Democracy

The great Indian Rope Trick – does the future of democracy lie with India
Roderick Matthews
Pages 378; Price Rs 599
Hachette India

At the start one should make a disclosure. Roderick Matthews’ great grand-father was the private tutor of Jawaharlal Nehru and his wife the Governess of his sisters.  But, this is not to mean Matthews’ views are coloured by his connections with the Nehru family.  His is essentially a student of modern history specialising on India and if one may still use the old term “sub-continent’’.

It was important to set that background to give an idea of the author’s approach to the book. This is not yet another glib commentary on India’s post-independence history leading up to the epic elections of 2014. He takes a much a longer view and starts not just with the ‘’colonial beginnings’’ of Indian democracy but even its philosophical roots in “Dharma, Injustice and Pragmatism’’.  He takes in his sweep the evolution of Democracy in entire South Asia – Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The essential thesis of Matthews’ work is – Democracy in India has survived 67 years but is not a ‘’done deal’’.  In this time – it has witnessed a series of extraordinary events which has ‘’conferred a certain wisdom’’ – but could enfeeblement, retirement or senility be on the horizon, he asks? In doing so he has tried to examine the various threats to Indian Democracy : social (sexual violence, Khaps and the inevitable caste and religion) , political (Maoists, Separatist and Secessionist Movements) and Security (Terrorism), Economic disparities  and Corruption  and even Judiciary (backlog of cases  and  compromise by the senior judiciary).  But in doing so, he gets mired in the sheer complexity that is India.

In the ultimate analysis Matthews feels – like most do – Indian democracy for all its shortcomings is a success, even a triumph – discounting any concerns about creeping dictatorship. India is a country that has lived (and experimented) with democracy while retaining great many of its traditional social features.  The deficiencies if any are more of ‘’practice’’ (in certain specific areas – touched upon before ) but not of ‘’principle’’. He concludes – democracy contains (and even relies on) a large element of positive illusion – which he compares with the “The Great Indian Rope-trick’’.

Roderick Matthews is no Simone Denyer or Edward Luce. This is a work not of a political journalist but a scholar. Therefore, the book might be a bit out of reach for a lay reader but, perhaps, a little short of depth for a seasoned political scientist.

Review first published in Business Today Magazine, issue of April 26, 2015