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May 19, 2004

India-Flickering Not India-Shining

Foreigner, Gandhi, Inexperienced And add Reluctant to that list which characterizes Sonia Gandhi, according to all her critics. There is lot of Sonia-worship. Sonia-bashing and Sonia-mania going on in India right now. Having gone through few intense discussions with friends (who are in India) this topic of whether she-should or should-not become PM has acquired a life of it's own. Now that she has rather melodramatically stepped down from that contention. It begs a deeper scrutiny of this strong outpouring of Sonia-bashing. And later in the day when ex-colleague asked for my 2 cents on Yahoo news related to the same topic , I thought of elaborating on this topic bit methodically.

There is intense cynicism and frustration in India right now specially among the segment which you can safely label as "better off and better educated " about how Congress and other "retro" parties have spoiled the "India-shinning" party. This has caused so much anguish that even rational voices have started dreaming of benign dictatorship and some people are nursing their bruised nationalistic pride on anticipating the possibility of some Italian-born lady becoming their prime minister.

Though not everything is as clear as one would like it to be. Frustrations are coming along two lines, first one relates to the lack of confidence in the "India shinning" project. Though there is no strong indications to that effect except some careless remarks by the pathetic Communist party members, market has already zig-zagged to make some historical dips. Second one relates to the growth in conservative political ideology among "better off and better educated" which is used largely to justify their economic goals. Though this second phenomena is ironically more global in nature.

Suffering a stunning defeat on these two fronts and finally seeing (as if to rub it in) the prospect of having yet-another-Gandhi acting as a PM really made all the political fence-sitters run to their online petitions and blog sites to vent out. Though I agree to some of the arguments related to shameless investment in Gandhi-name and Sonia's political inexperience. what really bothers me is the utter silence of these same Sonia-bashers and other India-shinning advocates on the issues of Gujarat riots, economic disparity within India and the actual reasons why voters went for this result. Why are some states still caught-up in the class-struggle which in Indian setting invariably means caste-struggle ? Who is paying the price of their neglect of social and political reality. It makes for a lame excuse to just say that few Indian states don't get it because of their caste based political inclination.

There are no easy solutions, no matter how you spin it all parties are similar in their power grab struggles. Only way they differ is in the definition of their core audience. Though it's extremely difficult for all BJP supporters to do (I would say impossible !) but if they really want their party to come out as a national party with national issues then they need to act on following points -

- Close all RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP operations and make a clean separation from their divisive ideology
- Invest in issues based politics built on the secular platform
- "Steal" class/caste initiatives as currently championed by state level parties by convincingly building a diverse support base
- and develop a portfolio of deep-impact projects comprised of primary education (this is most important, atleast it will stop all intellectuals to stop acting as if they know too much about the illiterate masses), infrastructure, and secular social fabric.

Problem with this model is that it calls for investment in future. With less than 20% of Indian population now plugged into the global market - which is extremely impatient of slow moving political and social processes (their patience is a function of their bandwidth speed !) - for them future is getting invented at breakneck speed. It seems nobody has patience and political capital to push these big rocks.

On the Congress party side, Sonia Gandhi factor will be exploited by few spineless politicians. Her stand on most of the issues is still enigma to me. If they really want to come back as the Congress party of yesteryears then they need to act on few areas -

- Give complete autonomy to Manmohan Singh. He is the true initiator of this India-shinning project and has good macro-level economic understanding to solve pressing problems
- Parties which are supporting Congress should make sure Manmohan Singh has enough "operational freedom" to do the right thing and not get pushed around by vested interests from within Congress party

In a situation where every party is focused on the short-term goals, you get India-flickering not India shining.
If it has to shine then India needs to make sure that the beacon lights are angled at a fairly high height so that the majority can see it's light not just those who are plugged-in.

May 19, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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