Thursday, May 31, 2018

Hands that work together- A narrative for the Opposition Coalition

Next summers, India will see a New Government at the Centre. It will either chose a monolithic single party Government and reelect an idea that destroys its civilizational values and Constitution or it will elect a motley group of regional parties led by a National party with conflicting ideologies and aspirations that may not be able to provide a masochisticauthoritarian and theocratic leadership but will definitely provide a way out of the conundrum that India is being pushed into. It is a difficult choice for the voter.

The first time voter which is mesmerized and easily won over by the use of ‘soft power’, aggressive propaganda, emotive ideas and tall promises hasn’t really witnessed  past coalition Governments in India, and will have an inherent tendency to go for a ‘Single Party rule’. On the other hand, mature voters who understand what ‘Freedom’ in its true sense means for a country like India may opt for the ‘coalition’.

Personally, I am all for a strong single National party leadership at the Centre, but in the present circumstances, that option is closed for liberals like me because, I do not want my country to disintegrate through bigotry, hatred and narrow mindedness. A lesser known fact that we tend to forget is that coalition Governments have delivered in the past. We tend to forget that the coalition Government under Dr Manmohan Singh lifted 14 crore people out of poverty and provided the best growth rate ever possible in modern India. We also tend to forget that, it was a minority Government of P V Narasimha Rao that banished the past practices of ‘License Raj’ and undertook the biggest economic reforms that India witnessed in the past century. Yes, some coalition Governments have failed too, but those were the 70’s.

Those political commentators who create this false equivalence between Indira Gandhi and present day Narendra Modi are living in a fool’s paradise. The Indira Gandhi Government was 11 years old, when due to a variety of socio-political movements the most flawed coalition of India – Janata Party led by Morarji Desai was installed and it crumbled with its own contradictions. On the contrary, Narendra Modi is only a 4 year Prime Minister. His series of self-goals like Demonetisation and Flawed GST, along with widespread mal-governance, cronyism, covered with a sugary outer shell of thousands of crores of propaganda cannot be compared to sound economic and historic measures of Indira Gandhi like the Nationalization of Banks, Ending Privy Purses or the 1971 War.

The object of this piece was not to make any comparisons between the two, but this has to be strongly underlined and stated. They are simply incomparable.

During the Plenary Session of the Indian National Congress, its political resolution mentions a very important dimension that might change the face of Indian politics in 2019.

“Congress will adopt a pragmatic approach for co-operation with all like-minded Parties and evolve a common workable program to defeat the BJP-RSS in the 2019 elections”

The Karnataka elections happened just after the Congress’ 84th Plenary Session. And the Congress did show a great ‘pragmatic approach’ and immense flexibility to work with ‘like-minded’ JD(S).

The recent bye-poll results are a copy book illustration of the ‘pragmatic approach’ adopted by the Congress party under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. Wherever the Congress needed to step back and provide a larger role to the regional ‘like-minded’ parties- it conveniently did. Wherever the Congress thought, it should pitch in- it surely did! Politics is all about pragmatism and no better than the Congress party knows this.

In the same Plenary Session, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, elaborated about the relationship between the People of India and the Congress party. He said-
“India expects much more from the Congress because it holds us, the Congress party on higher standard than any other organisation…”

Yes, the Congress party is extremely mindful of the fact that people of India will not let our Constitution be sacrificed at the mercy of the RSS-BJP. If the Congress does not use each and every tool left to its disposal to save the ideas, ideals and institutions that our forefathers so painstakingly built and nurtured, it will be failing in its Constitutional duty. Congress will fail the people of India, if it does not give an equal fight to the divisive forces of RSS-BJP. It will fail India, if it does not bring in the ‘like -minded’ regional parties on board to ensure that the coalition provides maximum damage to the theocracy of the BJP. It will fail if it does not provide an alternative agenda of Governance and Development which is Liberal, Progressive and Inclusive. It will fail if lets India plunge into the darkness of economic mismanagement. It will fail India if it does not protect its Farmers from distress, its Weaker Sections from persecution and it’s Working Class from exploitation.

Kairana can be a template- but it is mainly an electoral template. Panning Narendra Modi cannot be idea. Congress cannot be accused of “Modi Vs All” and ‘Anti-Modi- plank’ alone cannot be an idea that should attract the voters. There has to be a positive idea.

Congress is the only force which can also provide an ideological template- A definitive narrative.

Flashback 2004: The UPA and the Left Parties had a ‘Common Minimum Programme’ which was almost entirely implemented from 2004-09. Congress needs to provide a common ideological template to this coalition. The coalition should have something to ‘propagate’. Leaders don’t win elections—the battle of ideas is what matters

So what are the broad ideas which the coalition can find a common ground on and built its campaign around?

Let me attempt some broad ones-

1.  Preserving social harmony and fighting fundamentalism of all hues and shades

2.  Economic growth - creating jobs- realistic, doable, workable ideas for job creation.

3.  Implementation of the Swaminathan Committee for Farmers in letter and in spirit so that they get their fare prices and farm distress is alleviated.

4.  Education and Healthcare policy reforms- it’s a fairly non-controversial, non-debatable subject and can easily be implemented. The BJP in the past 4 years, has failed our Education system.

5.  Women Empowerment- political, economic, social & legal. Tangible solutions to enhance gender equality.

6.  Protecting Institutions

7.  Providing space to regional aspirations within the Indian Union. More say of states in economic policy making.

8.   Judicial Reforms – reducing the pendency of the cases.

9.  Welfare of the Weaker Sections- SC, ST, OBC and Minorities

o  Relaunching the Sub Plans that the BJP abolished.
o  Strengthening the SC-SC Act
o  Enhancing scholarships and welfare measures.

10.  Fast tracking Modernisation of Our Defence Forces- the BJP has totally neglected our External and Internal Security.

11. Transparency- RTI to be strengthened, Lokpal, Whistleblowers Bill.

12. Protecting Our Environment. Saving our rivers, coastal areas, wildlife, air and forests.

These are the 12 suggestive broad ideas that should be the Magna Carta of the coalition. There can be several more additions, but this can be a start. These are all non-controversial ideas and there cannot be any point of contention amongst the regional parties on these 12 ideas.

Now it is the Congress and the coalition to decide.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

How BJP is ensuring that India’s Democracy becomes more Superficial

India’s politics has truly changed under Narendra Modi’s BJP. The deepening roots of Democracy are being uprooted and are being smeared with a pesticide of superficiality.

As the dust settles on the Karnataka Elections and the dramatic turns of events thereafter, I wondered ‘What is it in the BJP’s narrative, which makes them win?  The Congress party might have clinched the Karnataka cliffhanger, but there are deeper questions which need to be answered. Since, I am student of Communication; the ‘Narrative’ part of it made me introspect. ‘Messaging’- is the key and how has the BJP been able to convince people through it?

The answer lies in a short personal story.

I may not come from a political family or lineage, but whenever we had any dining table conversations on current affairs and politics, my elders always made a point that never believe anything unless you apply your own mind, especially when you have certain doubts about it. Like all educated middle class homes, we were also taught to question and debate.

At our joint family bungalow in Kanpur, near the driveway, my great grandfather had built a temple with small marble idols; six of them- A Shivalinga in black stone, placed in a square-shaped recessed space, which could facilitate the ‘Jal Abhishek’ on Lord Shiva; whose drain internally reached to a ‘Kele Ka Ped’ (Banana Tree); Marble idols of – Lord Ganesha, Goddess Parvati, Lord Kartikeya, Lord Hanuman & Nandi.

Nobody can forget that day of 21st September, 1995, when the stone idols of Lord Ganesha started ‘drinking’ milk out of the spoon. 23 years ago, I was in Class fourth, coming back from school, I still remember it very clearly, I saw a long queue at our driveway; of people coming from outside with milk packets and glasses to offer milk to the idols in our temple and I could not believe my eyes. Lord Ganesha was sipping in the milk, I was told.

Since childhood, my grandmother inculcated this habit in us to take care of the idols, I used to clean up the temple, remove the dried flowers and leaves, daily wash it, ‘make them wear their clothes’ and even lay the idols to rest by placing a small blanket on them, in winters. I used to love it this daily ritual. Also, I developed a special bond with the Bhagwan. Praying to the God and carrying out the rituals were not binding on me and nobody ever forced to do it. Also, I made it a point to celebrate all festivals of all religions- Be it decorating the Christmas tree and having a joint family fete with games and goodies to celebrating Eid with delicacies gifted by our neighbours- Khan Sa’ab’s family; or be it national occasions such as Gandhi Jayanti or even paying tribute to Munshi Prem Chand on his Birth Anniversary. Believe it or not, I made it a point to celebrate everything.

Coming back to ‘Ganesha idol drinking milk- mass hysteria’, on that very same day, I saw on news, scientists attributing this phenomenon to capillary action and presenting detail theories of how this happened. I was satisfied by the explanation and many years later, I found out that this predominantly urban hysteria was created by the RSS. It was their first successful attempt on mass rumuor mongering.

The present day socio-political landscape of India is now much more advanced than this lone experiment. The mediums have changed, but the modus operandi remains the same. A ‘Whats App University’ has successfully (sic) been created, photoshop images, using social media, concocted videos, fake news, using even mass media to plant wrong stories- everything trick is being used.

Thousands of factories of lies are being now opened daily to spread rumuors and advance the RSS-BJP agenda. The success of the ‘Ganesha drinking milk’  experiment have made them to scale up their agenda, a zillion more times, using sophisticated means and technology to spread lies. However, one common thread still forms the basis of this propaganda machinery- Emotive Issues.

Each and every propaganda has to be ‘Emotion driven- Nationalistic emotion, Religious Emotion, Political Emotion, Societal Emotion….’ It has to touch one simple emotive chord and your message is through. It does not matter, how non-scientific, irrational, superficial, bigoted, communal, false, fake, denigrated or divisive your ‘emotional theme’ is. It has to just bring out a ‘Call for action’ in favour of the BJP-RSS. That is it! 

Narendra Modi’s politics is precisely based on this- Emotive issues. Issues that the BJP espouses do not have any deeper effect tangible effect in our lives, but our highly emotive in nature and are completely superficial and shallow in nature. 

Sample some of these gems (sic), only used in Karnataka are:-

§   “Congress politicians (Rahul Gandhi) should learn patriotism through the Mudhol dog (hounds) of Karnataka”;

§   “Jawaharlal Nehru and V K Krishna Menon mistreated General Thimayya, after the 1948 war with Pakistan”;

§  “ Congress party insulted Field Marshal Cariappa”;

§  “When Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Batukeshwar Dutt, Veer Savarkar, greats like them were jailed fighting for the country's independence, did any Congress leader go to meet them?”

§  Referring to a popular vector graphic made by a young artist from Kerala, PM Modi said “The Congress’ ecosystem doesn’t even tolerate the magnificent art of Karan Acharya whose Hanuman captured the imagination of the entire country. Unable to digest its success, the Congress tried miring it in a controversy. There is no iota of democracy in the minds of Congress members";

§  “For 15 minutes, without taking a paper in your hand, can you please talk about the achievements of your government in Karnataka. You can speak in any language as you please- English, Hindi or your Mother tongue (Italian)"

All these are full of vitriol, no real substance and are plain distortion of history. But Modi’s admirers’ love it. Many political commentators shower praises on Modi and call these as ‘intimidating’, ‘high voltage’, ‘passionate’ and what not. But the simple fact remains that Narendra Modi’s ‘messaging’ is purely based on the RSS brand of rumour mongering and spreading lies- camouflaged in an ‘emotive theme’.

BJP has made India’s political discourse utterly shallow and superbly superficial. If we carefully check the number of debates that happen on our television channels, most happen on emotive issues – Hindu-Muslim, India-Pakistan, Caste division, Communal Conundrums and so on. A deliberate design to feed India’s young minds into such superficial trappings is being fostered by the RSS-BJP.

Since attention spans are less, knowledge is trigger driven, books are becoming increasingly redundant and there is no sense of history left- this phenomenon is now at its peak. ‘Headlines Management’ is the key and ‘Spins’ attributed to ‘Sources’ fill up the news-cycle! Who cares about issues of women safety, when you have ‘Triple Talaq Bill’ as the greatest BJP achievement to showcase? *

No wonder, in a letter dated 7th December, 1947- India’s First Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote this about the RSS to his Chief Ministers:-

“Some provincial governments have taken against periodicals for promoting hatred between communities.  Probably the newspapers of the R.S.S. are more to blame in this matter than any other newspapers or periodicals outside Pakistan.  It is amazing how they carry on this communal propaganda in its extremist form”

“I have some knowledge of the way the Nazi Movement developed in Germany.  It attracted by its superficial trappings and strict discipline considerable number of lower middle class young men and women who are normally not too intelligent and for whom life appeared to offer little to attract them.  And so they drifted towards the Nazi party because its policy and programme, such as they were, were simple, negative and did not require an active effort of the mind.  The Nazi party brought Germany to ruin and I have little doubt that if these tendencies are allowed to spread and increase in India, they would do enormous injury to India.  No doubt India would survive.  But she would be grievously wounded and would take a long time to recover.”

Unfortunately, Pandit Nehru’s prophecy about ‘Superficial Trappings’ is soon coming true in BJP ruled India!

*Aside: Do you know that No BJP Government has ever brought a single reformative bill when it comes to Women Safety or Rights, ever? All Women Reforms Laws in this country are brought by the Congress! But no one cares about that!