Propaganda has always been a key instrument of war and therefore it is not surprising that it is being extensively used by both sides in the wake of the Russian intrusion into Ukraine. The Americans and the NATO forces have no counter arguments to the assertions made by Vladimir Putin regarding their “unjustified’’ invasion of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and many other countries. However, the Russian leader is being painted as the real villain of the situation that has emerged in the present context. What is on test is whether the US or its allies are in any position to intervene effectively to defuse the current crisis by deploying their armed forces.
This appears to be not happening since the repercussions of any such action could not only escalate the conflict but could lead to the commencement of a war outside the borders of Europe. India has displayed immense maturity by not taking sides; New Delhi is more concerned about getting its citizens back to safety instead of reacting in favour of one party or the other. Washington seems to be very upset with the Indian leadership and is understood to have sent out a cable, later withdrawn, which sought to put New Delhi along with some other countries in the Russian camp. This is an unfortunate development which could come at a time when both the largest and oldest democracies of the world are looking forward to further strengthening their relations. It is difficult for any Nation to forget that during the time of its worst crisis, which country stood by its side.
In the present case, Russia, earlier Soviet Union, had come to India’s rescue multiple times by taking a position in the United Nations as well as sending a clear signal to the United States when its seventh fleet was all set to enter the Bay of Bengal with the intent of helping Pakistan which had unleashed genocide in what is now Bangladesh. This time, the United States, is evidently caught up in a dilemma of dealing with a country it has always considered as its number one enemy. In 1991 when American troops attacked Iraq to apparently liberate Kuwait, people all over the world watched the military operations live, thanks to CNN, which revolutionized the TV world. The CNN provided the Americans with a great propaganda advantage and many of its reporters who were embedded with the troops gave a view of the going ons from an American perspective.
The same happened when the second time America and its NATO allies, invaded Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction which were never found. At that point of time, the CNN and BBC often presented contrary pictures though it was extremely difficult to ascertain the truth from the distorted versions that were put out in public domain. This always happens when the conflict is seen from the eyes of the superior forces. However, while NATO countries have been able to convey their positions effectively in the past, it is increasingly becoming difficult for them to state things when the war is happening in Europe. The supreme irony is that most of the allies expect Germany, that was conquered by them in the two world wars, to attack Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. The war has to stop and some sort of ceasefire should be brought about through pro-active and hard-core diplomacy. It is in nobody’s overall interests. And this is where India can perhaps play a major role since it has relations with both the Americans and Russians that can be utilized to bring about peace in the region.
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PM Modi’s governance style: Seen through the eyes of a military veteran
While watching the “Modi@20: Dreams Meet Delivery” book release function on a news channel, it occurred to me that I was perhaps one of the few retired senior officers of Indian military who had the opportunity to observe Narendra Modi closely for nearly four years in Gujarat when he was Chief Minister there. It was in 2010. I was sitting through the interview of potential civil servants at the UPSC, when I was head-hunted by a polite senior technocrat to advise the government of Gujarat on an exciting infrastructure project. Having been at sea most of my naval career and having had enough to do with the bureaucracy in Delhi, I politely declined the offer. However, the bureaucrat was persistent and, with a broad smile, asked me to check the details of the project. Mesmerised by the sheer audacity of the thought behind the project, which was to be built across the Gulf of Khambat, I set conditions for my acceptance. The first thing I told him that I would not report to any bureaucrat but the adviser to the Chief Minister. I knew next to nothing about him then.
Within the month I was in. The following four years were perhaps the most rewarding from the point of view of submitting reports based on interactions with the best experts in about 100 different areas who directly contributed to the preparation of a detailed project report. I resigned the week Modi decided to head to Delhi only because the project had completed about 90 percent of the compilation and I knew that without the firm hand of the Chief Minister at the wheel, it was doomed to be consigned to the bins of the bureaucracy. To those who may doubt the intent of my piece, in the preceding 8 years neither have I met Modi nor interacted with him in any which way. So, here is my take on his leadership as seen through a military lens.
While I was determined to make my team work in a timely and disciplined manner, I noticed that the bureaucracy had gotten used to arriving on time and submitting reports as scheduled. The progress of files was monitored through an app at the CM office. In all my decades of dealing with the MOD, I had rarely, if at all, seen disciplined and time-bound progress of files. For a change, decision-making was swift in this case. Most senior civil servants, who were not used to computers, were struggling to make power point presentations to the CM. I needed to submit my work to the technocrat, who was experienced and senior and the decisions of the CM were recorded before I returned to Ahmedabad in 10 days. For the first time in a long career, I did not have to wait outside anyone’s office. Seemingly controversial recommendations against “conventional wisdom” of governance were not questioned except on one occasion in four years.
The CM, while fully au fait with the project, was dealing with multiple issues of governance, including live video conferences with Panchayat-level leadership. The style of leadership is a favourite military theme. Having seen many top leaders of our own military, I was able to observe the leadership traits of the CM Modi from the side-lines without being hagiographic.
Consequently, the question that arose in my mind is how could a person not exposed to formal education and experience with governance be so well versed with data, facts and ask all the right questions on the subject? So I began to compare his style with the best military leaders of my time – about 40 years – and was able to find answers to most questions. Ironically, however, the military officers were all trained and exposed to styles of leadership before they ascended the ladder, step by step. Ergo, what then was this Modi model all about?
It has taken many years of observation after he took over as Prime Minister and despite the fact that I had predicted that Gujarat was not Delhi and that the bucket of crabs in Delhi would soon pull him down, I have had to eat my hat!
The only logical answer to my question is that serving as a pracharak gives one a rare opportunity to watch and study while working with the common man. I looked for documentation on how a pracharak is selected for grooming and traveling overseas. Modi grabbed every opportunity to watch and learn. I am yet to see a document on moulding a pracharak. Service before self, India first, welfare of the citizen (read soldier) are all military values, too. The pracharak learns how to be a professional and disciplined and not to look for gains both material and financial. Dedication to the cause that has served the Indian Military through the decades is a very similar model.
Have you wondered why Modi walks like a soldier and more importantly salutes like one? Is he a complete package with no flaws? Of course not, but neither did I meet one in the military, even as I adored just a few.
(The author is a retired C-in-C, Southern Naval Command.)
ANIL BAIJAL’S TENURE AS DELHI LT GOVERNOR WAS INSIGNIFICANT
Anil Baijal was always rated by his peers as one of the most competent bureaucrats of his time. Considered extremely close to Mr L.K.Advani at one juncture, he was appointed as the Home Secretary by him. It was said at that time that if and when Advani would become the Prime Minister, Baijal would be his first choice for the position of principal secretary. However, that did not happen and the 1969 batch IAS officer occupied key assignments at the Centre. After Najib Jung decided to resign suddenly as the Delhi Lt. Governor, the Union government brought him as his successor. Surprisingly Baijal maintained a low key and other than getting into showdowns with the Aam Aadmi Party dispensation in Delhi, he was virtually not accessible. When Shaheen Bagh protests were happening, he chose to take a back seat and it was the Home Minister himself who had to take the lead. It was unthinkable that Baijal by choice was perhaps just bidding his time. Finally earlier in the week, he tendered his resignation citing personal reasons. The speculation remains that he could be given an important assignment by the Centre. However, the point is that the post of the Lt.Governor, especially for Delhi is vital and the LG acts as the agent of the Centre in overseeing both the police and the land management. The DDA is headed by him and he is the nodal functionary for many important decisions. Delhi has over the years had several Lt. Governors but there is a near unanimity that there has been none better than Vijai Kapoor who held the office during the tenure of Atal Behari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister. The advantage which Vijai Kapoor had was that he had served the city in almost every capacity from ADM, SDM, Municipal Commissioner, Head of Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking to Chief Secretary. Therefore, no one knew the city better than him. He did not require the assistance of any aide to guide him on how to tackle a problem. He himself knew what it would be and could solve the most complicated issues with great ease. Vijai Kapoor had very cordial relations with then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and also enjoyed the confidence of the Centre. He could delicately balance the relationship and deliver. This quality has been lacking in many of the other Lt. Governors who essentially served as “Laat Sahebs’’ rather than servers of the common people. Other than Vijai Kapoor, Delhi has also some notable LGs such as Jagmohan, who held the position twice, H.K.L.Kapur, Tejinder Khanna and Najib Jung. In the 1970s, the late AN Jha became the city’s first LG. One of his successors, Kishen Chand, served during the emergency but later on being hounded by the Shah Commission, allegedly committed suicide by jumping into a well near Shahpur Jat village in South Delhi where the Asiad Games complex later came up. DR Kohli was also a very distinguished bureaucrat who was the LG during the Janata Party rule. The point is that it is the prerogative of the Centre to appoint the LG but it is equally up to the chosen person to deliver and leave a mark on the city’s history.
Explaining India’s neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war
The Russo-Ukraine conflict not only tells us about the grave challenges to the liberal international order, but tellingly indicates the weaknesses inherent in the nation-state system that has become the standard model of state formation since the post-War era. Born out of the Westphalian treaty of 1648 signed at the aftermath of a thirty-year conflict between the Catholics and Protestants, the nation-state model is not only a product of the Western modular form unsuited for universal application but having roots in the principles of power politics and competition, it is also unequipped to address the problems of security and identity. In other words, the roots of the present Russo-Ukraine conflict are entrenched in the nation-state system that exacerbates power competition and at the same time fails to address the deep-seated security issues that embeds a country’s identity. What Russia is doing today is simply redrawing its national boundaries to address the problems of security posed by the West and NATO but that which is challenging the sovereign equality based international order. In fact, Russia is behaving typically like an empire. Tellingly, Russian aggression suggests the failure of nation-state based international order in safeguarding the territorial boundaries and securing global stability. It is in this context, India’s neutral position to the Russo-Ukraine war should be understood.
Newly appointed Ambassador of India to Ukraine Harsh Kumar Jain hands over 7,725 kg of humanitarian aid to Ukraine Deputy Health Minister Oleksii Yaremenko, in charge of Humanitarian Aid and EU Integration, in Kyiv on Friday. ANI/ India in Ukraine Twitter
India’s primary security threat emanates from its northern periphery where China is posing the greatest challenge. It must be noted that China has always behaved like an imperial state and has nationalised its periphery in Xinjiang and Mongolia well before the conclusion of the Second World War. With the foundation of the Communist China in 1949, it appropriated the Westphalian sovereign state system to formalize its national boundaries by invading and occupying Tibet in 1950. This brought India face to face with China on its border for the first time in history. And thus, began the protracted dispute on the India-China border which today has become a principal threat to India’s national security and territorial integrity. The border settlement has remained elusive not simply because of Chinese irredentism but more so because of the nature of the Westphalian state system that measures power of a state in terms of strictly demarcated borders. Clearly then, for India, standing up to China is not simply a matter of national security but also of identity and power.
When territorial integrity is the essential basis of national power in the Westphalian based nation-state system, then the national interest of a country demands that its policies should be squarely based on addressing the threats posing to its national borders. Arguably, it is the China factor which has principally led India to pursue neutrality instead of aligning with the liberal world order led by the US. It, however, does not mean that New Delhi has the guarantee of Moscow’s support in the event of a plausible Chinese aggression on the border. In fact, a mutual hatred for the West has brought Russia- China much closer to each other than it had been in any time in history. But given the predictiveness of India-Russia relations which has had a long saga of relationship based on mutual trust and support and given the underlying deep-seated mutual mistrust and clash of interests that has historically characterized Russia-China relations and that which has brought them into a collision in 1969, Russia’s neutrality, if not support, in any India-China war can be reasonably expected. Regarding the question of Western support for India, there is clearly a consensus in the West in the post-pandemic era of a rising China threat. And that should be enough ground for sustaining the Indo-Pacific security architecture.
But beyond the simple logic of realism that prompts India to adopt a neutral position, there is a deeper rationale premised on the civilizational value of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. This concept basically means viewing the world as one family, making no distinction between the self and the other (abheda). It means then a clear absence of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ binary in India’s philosophical tradition which otherwise defines the Western perceptions and thoughts and that which also undergirds the nation-state narrative. Prime Minister Modi has alluded to the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakamright from the time he assumed leadership of this country in 2014. One may brush it aside by calling it a utopian concept untenable in the international system characterised by realism and power-politics and the presence of a military threat from across the borders.
Arguably, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam points to the notion of a non-bifurcated world view, where one has an independent space not tied to any binaries. In this context, India is neither comfortable in identifying itself squarely with the liberal order defined by the West because first, universalism and pluralism embedded in the notion of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam are not same as Western liberalism, and second, Western liberalism is embedded in the binary of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ which naturally views the world as a divisive and conflictual arena. Nor India is comfortable with Russia or China whose world view is largely imperialistic and hegemonistic. Russia’s invasion was clearly to pre-empt the loss of Ukraine as a buffer against NATO. The same is with the Chinese whose irredentist approach is aimed at expansion and encroachment upon the territories of the ‘other’. Therefore, India whose territories are not secure in the sovereign state based international order, the best policy option is found in the concept of neutrality.
Seen in this perspective, the neutrality option is not a continuation of the non-alignment approach. Nehru’s non-alignment was formulated when India was weak and confronted grave security challenges domestically. Therefore, he advocated distance from power-politics which was indeed a façade of freedom of action in the realm of foreign policy. Prime Minister Modi’s neutrality opens doors for a multi-alignment and proactive foreign policy approach that imparts greater maneuverability and leadership capability. This explains the Prime Minister’s just concluded tour to the European continent. This allows India’s criticism of the massacre in Bucha. This gels with India’s abstention on votes at the United Nations condemning Russia. This also, and quite significantly, explains India’s disapproval of the use of force in unilaterally changing the status quo. And above all, this allows a greater security option for India to operate in the nation-state based international order. Neutrality then, clearly flows from the position of strength and the belief in the ideal of a non-bifurcated world order embedded in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as an alternative vision for global order and peace.
Abanti Bhattacharya is a professor in the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi.
Will Finland and Sweden joining NATO lead to peace in Europe?
Finland and Sweden’s decision to join NATO is a wise one. It will assist the smaller nations in deterring Russian plans to attack Europe.
Finland and Sweden which share democratic values are among the most innovative, peaceful and happiest countries in the world. After decades of abstaining from military alliances, the two Nordic countries, Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO. There are two opposing viewpoints. Some experts believe it will be a historical catastrophe that will cause chaos throughout Europe. However, some experts believe it will make Europe more secure and united than ever before. The big step by both the countries will set an example for small Baltic Sea countries like Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia for their peace and prosperity. In the event that Finland and Sweden join NATO, Russia would wind up its military ambitions in Northern Europe.
Finland and Sweden have maintained their NATO neutrality for over 75 years, throughout and after the Cold War. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, public opinion in both nations was overwhelmingly in favour of nonalignment. In fact, this pillar of foreign policy was so well-established and revered that the term “Finlandisation” was coined many decades ago to describe when a country is induced to favour or refrain from opposing the interests of a more powerful nation, despite not being politically allied with it.
However, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has thrown everything into question. An opinion poll conducted in Finland in early May found 76 percent support for joining NATO, with only 12 percent opposition; this represents a significant shift toward membership since the invasion. The majority of the Finnish Parliament voted in favor of NATO membership in a recent vote, with 188 in favor and 08 opposed.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
President Putin has frequently cited the potential expansion of NATO into Ukraine as justification for his invasion. Therefore, the addition of Sweden and Finland to the alliance would be perceived as provocative.
According to the Russian foreign ministry, both countries have been warned of the “consequences” of such an action. Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally of the Russian leader, has warned that Moscow’s deployment of nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania, may be precipitated by NATO membership. Former Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb does not discount these threats, but suggests that cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, and occasional airspace violations pose a greater danger from Russia.
ERDOGAN’S TOUGH TALK?
Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and is a very important part of the group. It has the second-largest military in the group of 30 countries, after the United States. Turkey shares good ties with Russia and using this momentum as a bargaining tool to block NATO membership for the two Nordic countries but it seems that it would be short-lived.
WOULD NATO MAKE FINLAND AND SWEDEN SAFER?
Both Finland and Sweden will make Europe safer after joining NATO. The small Baltic Sea states will be surrounded by NATO nations, rendering it hard for Russia to conduct military operations in the Baltic Sea and surrounding regions. Swedish and Finnish Navy would have an equal chance against the Russian Navy.
In addition to the tactical and technical advances in military and logistical cooperation, the general consensus is that it would bring more stability to the region and would halt Putin’s ambition.
WHAT IS RUSSIA’S REACTION?
In the short term, there is speculation that Russia might attack Finland and Sweden as it has already warned all the European countries to maintain the status quo. The Prime Ministers of Denmark, Iceland and Norway have issued a joint statement welcoming the decisions of Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership. The joint statement said that “Should Finland or Sweden be victim of aggression on their territory before obtaining the NATO membership, we will assist Finland and Sweden by all means necessary.”
The geopolitical experts are assessing potential “retaliatory steps” as cyberattacks and hybrid attacks in the long-term goal on Finland and Sweden. The Cyber retaliation from Russia, which sees the expansion of the alliance as a direct threat. Such attacks would not have the severity that Moscow launched against Ukraine amid the Russian invasion of the country.
The energy sector could be another potential arena for Russian retaliation and punishment against NATO’s expansion. As it has traditionally supplied approximately 40 percent of the EU’s gas imports, Russia holds a strong position in this field.
Overall, Finland and Sweden’s decision to join NATO is a wise one. It will assist the smaller nations in deterring Russian plans to attack Europe. Additionally, it will preserve peace and stability in the region. The Baltic Sea states would be encircled by NATO nations. It will aid in preserving the status quo in border regions. The nations will once again feel secure and unite for their prosperity. Their joining NATO will further motivate the Ukrainian cause and strengthen the NATO and Europe alliance.
Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant and columnist working on market entry, innovation and international affairs. Neeraj Singh Manhas is a Director of Research, (Indo-Pacific) at Raisina House, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.
Digital colonisation: A warning bell for India
If India does not take concrete steps on digital colonialism soon, we will have to face dire consequences in the future.
You must have heard the name of the demon ‘Bhasmasura’. Bhasmasura was a demon who earned a boon from Lord Shiva that whoever lay their hand on his head, should be consumed. Later Bhasmasura misused this power and he tried to burn Lord Shiva himself. Although the story is mentioned in Hindu mythology, do you know that ‘Bhasmasura’ is still alive among us?
For the last few years, foreign social media and microblogging apps used in our country are sharing among themselves user data from India for commercial gain and auctioning in the International market for their profit. These exotic microblogging apps are the bane of the modern age. They have the boon of your data and these app companies are using your data against you and giving birth to a new kind of digital colonialism.
Today digital colonialism is being carried out by global social and microblogging app companies. Through the data of the consumers, these companies understand their search patterns, and through this algorithm use this data of the consumer to fulfil their interests or auction them in the International market. These companies also provide some free facilities to the consumers, so that the use of the company’s service becomes a habit and then a compulsion for the consumer.
If we explore India’s colonisation methods by the East India Company, it will be known that this company first came to India for trade. When the trade was established, the Company became financially strong, and later it used its military to establish dominance with a monopoly. And then gradually the company ruled the whole country. In the meantime, people were also provided with facilities like education and railways, so people continued to consider this control of the company in their interest. It took a long time for people to believe that they were citizens of a slave country. Later, feelings like Swaraj and Swadeshi were awakened in the country and our entire freedom struggle was recorded in the pages of history. No one can understand the lessons learned from the East India Company better than in India. The modern era of social and microblogging apps are also taking their digital colonialism throughout the world through the internet and are slowly capturing your thoughts through your mobile phone.
After the end of World War II, Winston Churchill said at Harvard University that “the empires of the future will be the kingdoms of the mind”. This statement of Churchill is being realized today after looking at these new platforms.
Does your mobile spy on you? This question must have come to your mind several times. What you are saying, what are you listening to, what are you watching from your mobile? There is someone who is monitoring these activities of yours. For example, if you have to get admission of your child to a private university or your hair is falling fast or you have to buy a mobile and you asked a friend about all these, you will see that after a few hours advertisements related to this information will start appearing on your screen. So the question arises who is he/she? who is spying on this information of yours? How do search engines know what’s going on in your brain?
On 29 June 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology convened a meeting on the misuse of social media platforms in which the members of the committee raised the question of whether Google was listening to us? In response to the committee’s question, the Google representative admitted that yes Google does listen to a few things.
THE THREAT LOOMING LARGE
If we look at the risks of digital colonialism, it is the theft of intellectual property as it allows easy access to communication. The second risk is related to national security. Because the country’s strategists, leaders, and army officers are sharing data on these platforms and discussing strategies and plans. Its biggest risk is related to religion, this will make foreigners come to know about the religious weakness of the country. They will learn about the trends of people of different religions so that they can implement dangerous tactics like spreading false news and promoting religious fanaticism.
INDIA’S CHALLENGES IN DIGITAL COLONIZATION
Local languages extinction: The Internet is dominated by the English language which is making the local languages slowly disappear. The main reason for this is the availability of content in English on the Internet. Countries like Japan and China have largely conquered the situation. There is a severe lack of adequate infrastructure for the collection and management of data in India which has to be filled. There is also the issue of data security in our country, we will have to take the necessary steps to solve it. There is also a lack of digital literacy in our country. At the same time, there is also a lack of a strict law regarding data protection in India.
How can digital colonialism be stopped in India? Our mind is being controlled through digital colonialism. Now we have to face this fight. There can be four effective models of preventing digital colonialism in India.
The first model: The creation of strict laws like the European Union; if a company collects the data of the people of Europe, it has to follow the strict rules there. Companies violating these rules can be fined up to 4 per cent of their earnings. The European Union has also imposed a fine of about 70 thousand crore rupees on Google since the year 2017. A penalty of Rs 890 crore was also imposed on Facebook and these companies are scared of these fines. Users in Europe can demand the destruction of their data whenever they want.
The second model: China to stop the bullying of microblogging apps companies; China has not allowed foreign companies to enter its technology industry. According to their law, the data of the people of China cannot be stored abroad. Under this rule, companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter were blocked in China. The local companies got the full benefit of this effective move of China. These companies understand China’s civilization and culture very well. Now it has reached the global level and due to the laws there, the data of the citizens of China are safe within their country only.
The third model: America tried to implement the third model of avoiding digital colonialism; Trump put pressure on Tiktok so that the owner would sell his company to a big technology company in America. This was done so that the data of the people of America present with Tiktok is safe in the US itself.
The fourth model: We have to create Indian champions of tech knowledge. The promotion of the indigenous apps like ‘Koo App’, ‘Chingari’ etc. as an alternative to the foreign microblogging app Twitter can be a good example of this. Today, the native app ‘Koo App’, operating on the lines of self-reliant India (Atmanirbhar Bharat), is available in regional languages, using which we can avoid such problems. ‘Koo App’ has been launched as a multilingual, micro-blogging platform for Indian languages, to enable Indians to express themselves in their mother tongue.
Now is the time to become aware of our digital identity and the future of our generation. If India does not take concrete steps on digital colonialism soon, we will have to face dire consequences in the future. The data of millions of our people will go to micro-blogging platforms, whose sole goal is to make money by using it for commercial purposes or selling it. No such platform in this country should have such a discount that it collects your information and converts it into a profit of lakhs and crores of rupees by giving you free service.
Today our government and we need to avoid using microblogging apps operating from abroad as well as promote indigenously made microblogging apps under self-reliant India.
For the last few years, foreign social media and microblogging apps used in our country are sharing among themselves user data from India for commercial gain and auctioning in the International market for their profit.
THE ROAD AHEAD FOR THE GRAND OLD PARTY IS FULL OF POTHOLES
It was the month of June. The occasion was another Chintan Shivir – the brainstorming camp of the Indian Youth Congress held at Pragati Maidan in Delhi. Present on the high podium was the scion of the Gandhi family Sanjay Gandhi, accompanied by the effervescent Ambika Soni, head of the youth organization. ‘The future of Congress is the future of the country’ was the call given from the podium amid high decibel sloganeering by the congregation. This was way back in 1976. I was working as a correspondent with a major media organization, then. I wrote a long cover story on the event which was published in the weekly. The Chintan Shivir, which was held in the scorching heat of Udaipur between May 13 and 15, was similarly called Sankalp Shivir after it was over, typical epiphanous moments the Congress then had experienced.
The difference this time around was that Ambika Soni was there in the first row on the stage along with other senior Congress leaders and there was Rahul Gandhi, the second-generation member of the family, who was telling us that Congress was indispensable for India’s future. Despite all the cacophony and tall talks of the Chintan Shivir, Sanjay Gandhi received a sound drubbing in the parliamentary elections held a year later in 1977, so did the Congress Party. Both Indira Gandhi and son Sanjay found themselves behind bars, leaving the party high and dry, even leading to its disintegration. Pushed to the wall, the mother-son duo, however, clawed back by fighting a real fight on the grounds, reaching out to the people, and rode back to power in 1980. That was a different era. But in present times, would the ‘walking alone’ policy and launching Bharat Jodo Yatra – Unite the Country Campaign – help the party achieve its goals and lead it back to power? I wonder.
In a democracy, it is natural for a political party to adopt an adversarial role against the ruling power of the day and dream about coming to power and make all-out efforts to realize that dream. The Congress Party, after the three-day-long brainstorming sessions, resolved to remove the BJP from power and adopted some programmes to realize that goal. However, many of those things were voiced in various camps and conferences of the Congress Party in the past, as well. Those resolutions, however, were never implemented when the party was in power. The team of advisors of Rahul Gandhi may, perhaps, be completely ignorant of those resolutions, as Google may not be having details of those decisions taken in that Indira-Rajiv era.
In a democracy, however, having been identified with an ideology at the national level may help a political party. For Rahul, the journey ahead may bring bouquets and brickbats, as the road he has to negotiate is full of potholes. Then, is Congress the only party from Kashmir to Kanyakumari? There are regional parties that have stopped the BJP juggernaut in their respective states. The Congress Party has no significant presence there either. Yet, for Rahul, those parties neither have any ideology nor any real strength as they depend on caste and caste equations. The million-dollar question is: can the Congress Party under Rahul’s leadership remove the BJP from power in the coming assembly and parliamentary elections in 2024 on its own after undertaking this yatra? You are expecting a miracle, isn’t it?
The agenda of Congress Chintan Shivir changed during its course. The unease over Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan which is palpable must have certainly tampered the dreaming. During the course of the Shivir, senior leader Sunil Jakhar, who has been with the party for the past 50 years, openly accused Ambika Soni of playing along Hindu-Sikh lines and Harish Rawat of playing Dalit card. Gujarat is going for elections this year, for instance. Hardik Patel, Working President of the State Congress Committee did not turn up for the Shivir. Surprisingly, Raghu Sharma, in charge of Gujarat, had this much to say, “I have no idea why Hardik did not turn up.” Disillusioned with the approach of the party, Patel left it three days after the Shivir concluded on Sunday. Whether the popular youth leader joins the BJP or another political party, or not is an entirely different issue. But wouldn’t his exit dent the party?
Should party leaders adopt such a method to establish connect with their workers and the people? What fruit would the call to establish connect and dialogue with the people made by Party President Sonia Gandhi and her heir apparent bear? Gujarat is hardly a few hours drive from Udaipur, and Sachin Pilot, if not Rahul Gandhi or Raghu Sharma, could have gone there and brought Hardik around to attend the camp. Infighting in the party was too apparent to go unnoticed. Sachin Pilot was cold-shouldered by the top brass of the party. He did not find any mention as a leader from Rajasthan in the concluding address by Rahul Gandhi, though he is considered close to both Rahul and Priyanka. Pilot was not given a place, either, in the front row during the three-day-long programme, whereas turncoats of all sorts, who have never fought an election and are rather found currying favour with the BJP, were found enjoying a place of prominence there. A leader like Ambika Soni had deserted Indira Gandhi in 1977. Not only that, those who are known for writing and speaking against Sonia Gandhi for the past so many years are now part of the core team of the party. Sachin and his father Rajesh Pilot never deserted the Congress Party and Gandhi family. He was being slighted and his patience tested. It is well known that both Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot are grassroots leaders who have their fingers on the pulse of the people of Rajasthan. As the political sagacity demanded, one of them could have been appointed as the Working President at the state level and the other could have been appointed to the national executive, striking a fine balance of power between the two factions to the benefit of the party. But nothing of this sort happened.
As usual, Rahul Gandhi attacked the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues of inflation, corruption, unemployment, and mishandling of the Corona pandemic. But he forgets that Congress governments in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Punjab too have failed in delivering on similar promises they made to the public there – providing employment, reforming the healthcare system, and economic development. The Congress Party is part of the coaling governments in Jharkhand and Maharashtra. And if these Congress-ruled states are not better off, then what sets them apart from the rest of the country? The party failed to underline the achievements of the governments of the Congress-ruled states and the cooperation from the central government.
It was an irony to see Ajay Makan talking of connect with the people from the podium, for the leader has no connect with the people of Delhi. How many people Rahul Gandhi himself meets for that matter? Contacting the people on a regular basis, identifying with their pain when they face problems and are in crises, helping the party workers and introspection are far more important and effective tools than spouting resolutions and declarations and talking on Facebook and Twitter. Even the BJP and perhaps the Prime Minister may wish them good luck. But when the opponents are strong, every player and the leader in the ring enjoy fighting the fight.
The author is the Editorial Director of ITV Network, India News and Aaj Samaj. Views espressed are personal.
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