A lot has been written about the BJP not being able to dismantle and prevent the Trinamool from romping home to victory in the recently conducted West Bengal assembly polls. First things first, going from 3 seats in 2016 to 77 seats in 2021 is a massive achievement, translating into an over 2400% rise in seat share. Don’t forget that the TMC was set up in 1998 and has no impact or presence outside Bengal whatsoever. Despite focussing only on Bengal, it took Mamata Banerjee 14 long years to dislodge an inept and corrupt CPI(M) from power in Bengal, before Trinamool struck gold in 2011. In the 2001 Bengal assembly elections, TMC won 60 seats. In 2006, that number halved to 30 seats. In 2011, the TMC won 184 seats, and in 2016, 211 seats. In 2021, the TMC’s tally was 213 seats. Jaded, hapless and largely irrelevant journalists like Pritish Nandy, for instance, who have been frothing in excitement at how Bengal managed to stave off the BJP juggernaut, fail to realise that what the BJP has achieved in just the last five years is incredible and exceptional. From a vote share of just 10.2% in 2016 to 38.1% in 2021 is not a mean achievement. The Lutyens’ cabal, driven by its visceral hatred for Narendra Modi, has always applauded Mamata Banerjee for managing to uproot Red terror from Bengal in a short span of 14 years, but is not willing to credit the Shah-Nadda duo for becoming the principal challengers to the TMC in a matter of just five years! Is that not rabid hypocrisy?
The BJP has made the Bengal electoral scenario from a four-party to a two-party affair. The BJP has also completely demolished the Congress and the Left to an embarrassing zero seats in the just concluded assembly polls. That most of the Congress-Left votes were transferred to the TMC this time is a different matter altogether that needs introspection. But to the BJP’s credit, it is the largest party in the world today, because it celebrates its victories but more importantly it learns from its defeats, dusts off the inadequacies, brainstorms, thinks hard, works harder and eventually wins the war! That Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda put in an incredible amount of effort, toiling day and night, is something that makes the BJP the disciplined, organisationally strong party that it has turned out to be, where not only is winning important, but playing by the rules is even more important.
The moot question then is: what about the “Modi factor”? The charisma, respect, ground-connect with the electorate, popularity and indomitable capacity for relentless hard work are all factors that make Prime Minister Narendra Modi a leader who is in a league of his own. PM Modi, the tallest leader in post-Independence India, has no competition. To even try and create a false equivalence between the indefatigable Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, a fascist, rabble rouser, limited to Bengal, is doing a great disservice to even the basic understanding of Indian polity.
The Congress has ceased to matter after a string of debilitating defeats, with Rahul Gandhi turning into a vacuous paper tiger on Twitter whom no one takes seriously. The Left, barring in Kerala, has been wiped out. Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav never had any national stature to start with and both their parties were almost reduced to nothingness in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in 2017, with SP winning only 47 seats, compared to the massive 312 that the BJP won. Even in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, while the BJP secured 62 seats in UP, Congress was reduced to 1 seat, Samajwadi Party merely 5 seats and Mayawati’s BSP to 10 seats. The “Khan Market Gang” has tried to resurrect the political fortunes of many failed regional satraps in a bid to checkmate the Modi aura, but these efforts repeatedly came to nought.
The recent efforts to portray West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as a challenger to PM Modi in 2024 is therefore both laughable and ridiculous. Outside Bengal, Mamata has no impact or credibility. At the Ramlila Ground in 2014, where Anna Hazare was supposed to speak but did not turn up, Mamata Banerjee had held the fort for Hazare by filling in for him, but no one turned up to hear her. She was greeted with an empty ground with rows and rows of empty chairs. Also, to be a national-level leader, a certain amount of empathy and compassion is a must and Mamata Banerjee, unfortunately, has neither. Mamata is the same lady who had mocked the rape of Suzette Jordan in Kolkata in 2012, saying that Jordan was a disco-going, alcohol-loving, club-hopping, partygoer, who probably deserved the ignominy of rape. Yes, womenfolk have been voting for Mamata in good numbers, despite her pathetic record in stalling crimes against women in Bengal. To that, let people be reminded that Rome was not built in a day. Womenfolk voted even this time for Mamata, more out of a fear of retribution, rather than any admiration for her brand of politics. The grim truth is that in the last ten years, the track record of Mamata’s governance has been shoddy: no new industries have come up in Bengal in the last decade, Central government schemes were stalled by Didi, driven by her hubris, and Hindus have been systematically marginalised at the expense of the Rohingyas and illegal migrants who have wreaked havoc in the state in terms of festering rampant lawlessness.
There are those who ask, if lawlessness prevailed in Bengal, why did womenfolk vote for her in 2021? To that, the simple answer is, “voter inertia”. The Sainbari massacre happened in 1970, followed by the ghastly Marichjhapi massacre in 1979. The brutal murder of Ananda Margi monks at Bijon Setu near Ballygunge in 1982 was followed by the heinous Nandigram massacre in 2007. Yet, CPI(M) ruled Bengal with an iron fist for 34 long years. From being invincible in 2001 to being reduced to zero seats in 2021, the Left has been completely routed. Hence, those who use Mamata’s 2021 victory to sideline her gross incompetence as a failed leader would do well to know that the TMC’s decline has started, and rather rapidly. It will take the BJP far less time to dislodge the TMC than it took the TMC to dislodge the Left.
The Left parties and the Congress have failed to win a single seat in the 2021 Bengal polls. This will be the first time since 1962 that the Left parties will have no representation in the legislative assembly. The CPI(M) registered an all-time low vote share of 4.73%. The other major partners of the Left alliance like the All India Forward Bloc registered 0.53 % votes and the CPI 0.20% votes. The Congress registered an all-time voting percentage of 2.93% in Bengal and lost its political clout over Malda and Murshidabad districts. In effect, the Congress is not a national party of any standing anymore.
The fact that the BJP in 2021 has made huge in-roads into a non-Hindi-speaking, non-Western, non-Central Indian state like West Bengal speaks volumes about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invincibility and credibility. Don’t forget, the BJP won Tripura in 2018 after 25 years of inept, Leftist misrule. The BJP increased its vote share in Assam in the 2021 polls from 29.5% to 31.5% with a thumping majority, for the second time in a row. The BJP raised its tally from zero to four in Tamil Nadu and from zero to six in Puducherry. In Puducherry, the BJP’s vote share went up from 2.4% to 11% while the Congress saw a decline in its vote share from 50% to a measly 6.7%. While the local leadership in Assam played a pivotal role, the fact remains that it is the overarching and indefatigable “Modi factor” that should be given credit for the spate of electoral successes that the BJP/NDA has witnessed in the last seven years, over and over again.
Bengal has, over the decades, always held on to the status quo before a complete electoral shift. The CPI(M) was in power for 34 long years before Trinamool took over and the first time Trinamool tasted the scent of an impending victory, it managed only 60 seats. In sharp contrast, this time around, the BJP looking to displace the TMC did far better, with 77 seats. True, the BJP had set a target of 200 seats. But does that give out-of-work political pundits the right to mock the BJP? In the Bihar elections in 2020, the BJP upped its tally from 53 to 73 seats and got just two seats lower than the RJD. Tejashwi Yadav was stonewalled and despite a 15-year-old anti incumbency, the NDA, led by the “Modi factor”, won! Even in the DDC polls held last year in Kashmir, the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 75 seats, checkmating the combined bunch of six parties aka the “Gupkar Alliance”. In the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections, the BJP raised its tally by 1100% from 4 to 48 seats, while the TRS came hurtling down from 99 to 55 seats. In the Gujarat local body polls a few months back, after winning 483 of the 576 seats, the BJP, boasting of a success rate of 84%, trounced the Congress, which had a measly strike rate of just 9.5%. The very media which fails to give credit to the solid 77 seats won by the BJP in Bengal was pontificating at the 27 seats won by the AAP in the Surat local body polls, despite the fact that the AAP lost deposits in Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar and Ahmedabad. The BJP-led NDA, under the fantastic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has had a string of noteworthy successes, despite a highly critical media that has exacting standards for the BJP, but handles the Opposition with kid gloves. The talk of “Godi Media” is plain hogwash.
While the media has been writing reams and reams about the BJP’s performance in the Ayodhya and Varanasi panchayat polls, there has been stoic silence about the fact that the BJP won the hitherto impregnable Pandharpur seat, Rajsamand in Rajasthan and Belagavi in Karnataka in the recent bypolls. Last year, the BJP audaciously snatched away the Dubbaka seat in Telangana, an erstwhile TRS bastion. And it is precisely this audacity of ambition that pushes the BJP to do the unthinkable and achieve the unimaginable. As they say, if you aim for the summit, you get halfway there. Next time, the BJP would be well on its way to scaling the summit and winning Bengal, with no ifs and buts whatsoever.
Some allege that Mamata’s vast and regular cash transfers to the Dalits and OBCs swung the votes in her favour, while others say that the turncoats who entered the BJP from the TMC played spoilsport for the BJP. Yet there are others who believe that the insider versus outsider narrative propped up by Mamata worked to her advantage. With the Muslim percentage in West Bengal more than double the national average, the Muslim vote was always going to be a huge advantage for the Trinamool if the community consolidated behind it. And by corollary, this would be a huge disadvantage for the BJP.
In 2021, the Trinamool painted itself as a nativist force,saying the BJP was a party of bohiragotos (outsiders). “Joy Bangla” overtaking “Jai Shri Ram”, “Bengali Nationalism” superseding “Hindu Nationalism” and Hindu votes getting splintered were the other reasons advanced by political pundits for Mamata’s victory. The elections are done and dusted. The key question now that begs a response is, is Mamata Banerjee worthy of taking on a larger national role? Is Didi capable of becoming a fulcrum around which the disparate Opposition unites for 2024? The answer to both these questions is a vehement “No”!
Mamata Banerjee is absolutely unfit and unworthy of a larger national-level role. She has peaked out. 2021 was her best performance ever, which she will not be able to repeat. Her loss in Nandigram to BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari signifies the many chinks in her armour. Even in 2016, Mamata’s victory margin in Bhawanipore had come down from over 60,000 votes to barely 25,000 votes. Mamata’s personal credibility amidst charges of massive corruption against her nephew have dented her immeasurably and going forward, the TMC could even split into two. While turncoats who came into the BJP may not have won this time, the exodus from the TMC shows that all is not well within the party and, for all her false bravado, Mamata has been unable to contain internal fissures.
Also, Mamata has a wildly maverick, fascist side to her. Rather than accepting her Nandigram defeat gracefully, she trained her guns on the Election Commission (EC), blaming it for the debacle. How can a leader who has scant regard for the EC, the apex court, the judiciary and the armed forces, be entrusted with a responsible role beyond Bengal? So consumed was Didi by her desire to win that she did not even spare the CRPF and CISF, who were repeatedly targeted by TMC goons. What a pity that those who talk about FoE and lecture Prime Minister Modi on the sanctity of democratic institutions have not once blamed Mamata Banerjee for the untold misery and mayhem that she has been a mute spectator to, even as TMC vandals unleashed a macabre chain of arson, loot, gangrapes, political killings and brutalisation of BJP karyakartas and supporters, largely Hindus, post the TMC victory. A large-scale exodus of Hindus (over 80,000) from Arambagh, Durgapur, Sitalkuchi, Karimpur, Bishnupur, Bolpur, Hooghly and Midnapore to Assam is a deliberate and mala fide attempt by Mamata and her goons to delegitimise the 2.28 crore voters, also largely Hindus, who voted for the BJP.
The national media which raised a stink over Hathras has completely avoided coverage of the horrific Hindu exodus from Bengal, which started with the exodus of Hindus from Raniganj in 2018 during the Asansol riots. How can Mamata Banerjee, who refuses to take action against large-scale communal violence, be even considered by the so-called secularati for a serious national role? Mamata Banerjee is a puny leader and her barbaric justification of political killings of those from the right wing ideology do her no good. Even as Bengal burnt, Mamata and her party, the TMC, rather than assuaging the victims of the Bengal violence, kept suggesting that the gruesome mayhem was a figment of the BJP’s imagination. The likes of a forgotten for good and irrelevant Yashwant Sinha and the out-of-work clubhouse chatterati played along with Didi. Yes, Mamata won the Bengal elections, but she lost her credibility, just as she lost that wheelchair magically the moment election results were announced!
She launched a personal attack at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah after a CBI team questioned her nephew’s wife in connection with a coal pilferage case. At a rally at Hooghly’s Dunlop Ground, Mamata took potshots at the duo without naming them.
“I don’t want to malign the post of the Prime Minister. But two men from Delhi are visiting Bengal and spreading misleading words. One is hodol-kutkut and the other is kimbhut-kimakar,” said Didi. “Two persons are running the country. One is Ravan and another is a danav (monster),” she added. Those who accuse Prime Minister Modi of leading a misogynist campaign against Mamata have completely missed the point. “Didi o Didi” is neither an abuse nor a catcall. ‘Didi’ is merely a colloquial term for fondly and respectfully addressing someone as “sister”.
I am a woman myself and I say this with complete responsibility that, if anything, it is Mamata Banerjee who needs to be castigated for repeatedly abusing the office of the Prime Minister in the most unworthy language and then having the nerve to play the victim. Modi has been viciously abused by Mamata and her goons but national and international media has conveniently chosen to be quiet. Why? Does being a woman give Mamata Banerjee the carte blanche to abuse the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of the largest democracy in the world repeatedly and then pretend to be sanctimonious under the garb of gender neutrality?
Last but not the least, the BJP has 77 MLAs and 18 MPs in West Bengal today, from virtually nothing a few years back. The growth trajectory of the BJP, thanks to the “Modi factor”, has been phenomenal and will only get better going forward. For Mamata Banerjee, the writing on the wall is clear. It is time for her to get her act together and behave like a Chief Minister and not a rabble rouser who gives in to bouts of bogey victimhood and criminal lethargy when dealing with lawlessness. And for all those who say that Mamata did not act against arsonists and marauders during the Bengal exodus due to the prevalence of the Model Code of Conduct need to know that the EC only oversees conduct of free and fair elections. The law and order and administrative machinery continue to be with the incumbent/outgoing CM till the new CM takes over. Since both the outgoing and incoming CM was Mamata in this case, she needs to take complete ownership of over 80,000 Hindus who were forced to flee Bengal in a gruesome reminder of why she can never aspire for a significant national role. The Bengal exodus will prove to be Mamata’s final nemesis politically, and rightfully so.
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Voters cheated, time to amend the defection law
The anti-defection law doesn’t provide for defection after a pre-poll alliance.
JDU leader and Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar is at it again. Nitish Kumar was sworn in as Chief Minister for the eighth time after resigning and then joining hands with RJD. In 2017, Nitish Kumar had dumped RJD after winning 2015 Assembly elections as part of Mahagathbandhan against BJP. In 2013, Nitish had snapped ties with BJP though he won the 2010 election mandate in alliance with the saffron party. It’s been a roller coaster ride for the Biharis considering the twists and turns of Nitish Kumar over the past decade. No ideology, no cause and no party seems sacrosanct for a thorough opportunist like Nitish Kumar. Sadly, the political system is indulgent of politicians like this for narrow short term gains even though clearly understanding that it wasn’t the voters’ choice. Voters have no say once elections are over and politicians like Nitish take advantage of it. The law has no recourse or restrictions to ensure this doesn’t happen despite the fact that this phenomena isn’t restricted to Bihar.
In 2019, the Shiv Sena and BJP fought elections in alliance as part of the Mahayuti. The incumbent Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis stayed true to his promise “Mi Punha Yein” when the voters gave a clear majority to the alliance. In the first press conference after election results, then Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray opportunistically declared that other options are open to him. In the following months, he completed the betrayal by forming an alliance with INC-NCP combine. A popular comedy show among Marathi manoos “Chala Hawa Yeu Dya” few months later would joke: “I distributed sweets after my son failed because most of the students in the class failed and we are therefore the majority.” While the joke was on Chief Minister sitting in audience, it’s the common man’s mandate which was humiliated when parties rejected by people formed government. There is a sickening level of apathy towards the common voters when politicians like Uddhav Thackeray and Nitish nonchalantly shift allegiance.
In a thriving democracy, every elected representative has rights to hold and act on his/her individual opinions. The allegiance to parties and interest groups should not be cast in stone. However, a free-run to individual interests, opinions and ideologies by elected representatives will only lead to chaos and anarchy. While an individual voter can be elusive in his choice of candidate and do shift their voting preference from one election to another, an elected representative should be subject to checks and balances to ensure he stays true to the role at least during the term of office. The Anti-defection law added to the constitution as the tenth schedule in 1985 was precisely to arrest the practice of legislators changing political affiliation. It was in response to the toppling of several state governments by party hopping MLAs after the election of 1967. As per the 1985 act, defection of one-third of the elected members was considered a merger which didn’t invite penalty. The 91st constitutional amendment act 2003 changed it to two-thirds. The anti-defection law has been remarkably successful in its purpose as no elected representative wants to lose his seat. However, the law doesn’t provide for defection after a pre-poll alliance. In short, retail defection of few MLAs aren’t allowed. Wholesale of MLAs by party leaders after misleading promises to voters is allowed. Horse traders will have a bad day while those selling the whole stable of horses like Uddhav Thackeray and Nitish Kumar are having a field day.
In the case of Bihar & Maharashtra, the biggest losers are the common voters who believed the pre-poll promise and accordingly transferred their votes to appropriate parties. Indian democracy has been deepening and successful evident from diverging patterns in State and National elections. The Indian voters even in less developed states have matured over the decades and vote strategically and also understand what they are voting for. We are today a largely literate country unlike the post-independence India where symbols where the only markers to distinguish party in a nation where illiteracy was the norm. The Indian political system has improved over the years to attract promising young men and women into the echelons of power. In a democracy, the classic voter dilemma is the choice between an individual candidate vs the choice of a political party, its ideology & its policies. In the elections of a village sarpanch or even a councilor, the preferred choice tilts over an individual and his work but the state and national mandate depends on the larger vision of the political party, their promise and their manifestos.
With increasing sophistication in the way elections are fought and won and higher awareness among the masses, the practice of opportunism needs to be curbed to retain the trust of the voters. An anti-defection law to ensure people aren’t cheated in pre-poll alliance is the need of the hour. Smaller parties with only handful of MLA’s or MPs who don’t have a reserved symbol nor recognition as State party or National party can be kept out for the purpose of greater autonomy. Every party with the requisite percentage of votes to be recognized as “National party” or “State party” should be brought under its ambit so that the likes of Uddhav Thackeray and Nitish Kumar aren’t allowed to steal the people’s mandate.
The author is BJP spokesperson, advisor to former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, and executive director of Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Foundation.
HISTORY WARS OVER JAWAHARLAL NEHRU’S LEGACY
While the 75th Anniversary of our Freedom was an occasion to celebrate, it has also unleashed a bitter round of legacy wars between the BJP and the Congress. With the BJP playing down Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and his contribution to nation building, the Congress has retaliated with a blitzkrieg of videos, panel discussions and articles on all that Nehru stood for. For good measure, they have added old interviews and footage of Indira Gandhi as well. There is a reason for this. During the Independence Day build up, the BJP had been talking about how Nehru was to be blamed for partition, how Jinnah would never have pushed for partition had Nehru and Gandhiji made him Prime Minister of a united India and so on. If you heard some of the spokespersons on TV the entire blame for the partition was heaped on Nehru’s shoulders while giving him none of the credit for our independence. As the debate raged on during TV studio debates, the Prime Minister did make it a point to mention Nehru during his Red Fort speech while naming all those who fought for India’s Freedom. But those looking for such signs also noted that he did so after mentioning many others including the Right Wing icon, Veer Savarkar. The PM noted that the people of the country are thankful to Bapu, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Babasehed Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar who gave their lives on the path of duty (“kartavya”).
There is a backstory to this. For long, the right wing academicians and intelligentsia have noted how textbooks and signboards under the Congress rule have focused mainly on the achievements of one family to the exclusion of all the others, except perhaps Mahatma Gandhi. The political implications of course was that this was the narrative that kept Nehru’s descendants in power and electoral relevance. So when PM Modi and Amit Shah talk about waging war against Parivar-vad (dynasty), then it’s not too difficult to see that the focus is primarily around one name and his legacy. There is also an argument that the course correction needed to be done. Why did the country have to wait for a BJP Prime Minister before we saw Sardar Patel & Netaji Subash Chandra Bose being honoured? During the Modi era, we have also seen statues of other forgotten legends such as Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan who was sent by Sardar Patel to Srinagar and got Maharaja Hari Singh to sign the Instrument of Accession to India at a time when the Maharaja was dithering in Pakistan’s favour. Justice Mahajan was also a member of the Radcliffe Commission that was set up to demarcate the border between India and Pakistan. It was he who convinced the Commission to allocate Gurdaspur to India. If Gurdaspur had gone to Pakistan, then there would be no way to reach J&K through India. Last month, the Jammu BJP unveiled a statue in Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan’s honour though one of his sons had been a member of the Congress for a brief spell. Again, it is the Modi government that has earlier released a stamp in Justice Mahajan’s name.
Ditto for Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh a Jat Leader and a freedom fighter who donated part of the land for the Aligarh Muslim University. Raja Mahendra Pratap was a reformer who worked in the field of education and also took part in the freedom struggle. He established India’s first provisional government in Afghanistan (1915). Ignored by the Congress, it was only in 2021 the PM and state CM Yogi Adityanath laid the foundation stone for a school to be named after him in Aligarh.
There are many other regional leaders who have been so honoured by the Modi government. One could argue that there is an electoral agenda behind these moves, but at the same time, one has to concede that these are gestures that are long overdue. If only the Congress had honoured others along with their own dynastic icons. But there is a catch here—while honouring others, the BJP is doing no service to the nation if it continues to pull down the contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru. The party should also caution some of its rabid elements against targeting Gandhiji. Both Nehru and Patel can co-exist in history books. That is the diversity of democracy and that is the legacy that each of our freedom fighters laid down their lives for. Besides, you cannot lay the foundations of a new India by pulling down its very roots.
India-China relations: The dangers ahead
While a war between China and India doesn’t look imminent, if war were to break out between the US and China over Taiwan, misunderstandings on the China-India frontier would rise, and pressure on India from the United States and other Quad allies would be intense.
The world, especially the West, is fearful of what Vladimir Putin will do next and any added fallout from the spreading Ukraine war. Then, there has been China prowling Taiwan’s defense zone with major exercises with live ammunition and missiles. However, could there be worse dangers elsewhere risking war and even global Armageddon? Try China going to war with India given a history of tensions between the two, including a border clash, last year. A serious collision of such nuclear powers could prove earth shattering.
Indeed, let us look at important recent statements, including from the Chinese leadership. Outlook India wrote of “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s exhortation to the military to “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war”. This is worrying. The same article by Saibal Dasupta adds that “Xi’s statement comes at a time when troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China have intruded 3-4 km into Indian territory in Ladakh.” Combine this with China’s encircling of Taiwan with major military maneuvers around the visit to Taipei, of Nancy Pelosi, second in line to the US president. China seems much more sensitive and assertive these days to backing its positions on territorial disputes, including with its military.
On the Indian side, the reaction by the government to the Chinese incursion last year and the resulting death of 20 Indian soldiers has been seemingly controlled. No belligerent statements have been declared by New Delhi on this, at least publicly and for now. But for the Indians, their actions may speak louder. According to CNN, “The United States is to take part in a joint military exercise with India less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the South Asian country’s disputed border with China.”
Furthermore, the Modi government had already participated in 2017 in a revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known as the Quad. As well, in 2021 joint patrols with Quad allies of Australia, Japan and the US were conducted with India’s navy. New Delhi has clearly not been standing still as Beijing expands its territorial claims in the South China Sea and beyond or in reaction over years to repeated Chinese incursions or “questionable” nearby activities into or near the territories of India or under claim of India. Further, Beijing shows more willingness to take stronger actions to encourage Taiwan’s full integration. So, in such contexts are India’s policies simply defensive to its giant neighbour?
Let us, however, look at Beijing’s perspective. I do this consistent with the concept put forward by Robert McNamara in the documentary, The Fog of War. McNamara, former US defense secretary, reflected in his retirement years about the need in war (or to prevent it) to have a certain degree of empathy for the enemy. After all, China feels evermore an existential threat from the West to its way of life and existence including the dominant position of the leading party, the CCP and its leadership. It watched with horror what played out in places like Ukraine, Iraq, Libya and Syria. And it watched its Marxist sister state, the Soviet Union disintegrate with added chaos from US neo-cons’ attempts to turn Russia into some parallel western model. China feels it is on the defensive to what it describes as the US- led hegemony.
While war between China and India does not look imminent, think about this. If war were to break out between the US and China over let us say Taiwan where would that leave India? As a member of the Quad security alliance and given its defensive worries about China, the pressure from the US and its other Quad allies would be intense. Misunderstandings on the China-India frontier would be at greater risk. Certain elements in the West among neo-libs or neocons might try to aggravate tensions between Beijing and New Delhi. With a conflict in the Taiwan Straits, Washington might wish to split Beijing’s focus to two fronts including the Indian-China border. After all, in the seas around it, China would likely have a superior military advantage against the US.
So, what to do? First, consider China and India have huge and fast-growing militaries. Both have many nuclear warheads, though China has twice as many, as reported by the Times of India. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported India as having the third highest military spending in the world. India is therefore no slouch militarily and if significantly or fully unleashed on China, would be highly destructive to Beijing. Strategic experts in Washington fully understand this. Do they think India, like Ukraine, would be another useful proxy to wear down another major rival? And such a clash would also stunt India from becoming too powerful for Washington and its allies, especially in its region.
Instead, India should provide signals that it is not going to be drawn into being used like Ukraine as a proxy battle ground for major powers. This means it should not engage beyond the October exercise of joint training with the US on the subcontinent. That is if it cannot cancel them. It should leave the Quad but if it cannot, then qualify its involvement by restricting its military presence to the Indian Ocean, and south of the latitude of the territorial waters off China’s Hainan Island. It should make it clear it will not get involved in the mainland-Taiwan dispute and strongly reiterate the pro-One China policy.
On the other side, China should show much more restraint of its military operations near the Indian border and even on road and other nearby developments. It should make more efforts to expand trade with India which has China as one of its top trade partners. A yuan-rupee exchange facility might be set up to further help India deal with the worsening exchange rate of the rupee against the US dollar. The two must also remember that they both have huge pockets of poverty or low-income individuals, so the imperative for peace is even more important to keep the steady economic expansion for both.
India and China suffered colonialism and neo-imperialism from the West and should be sharing more ideas consistent to South-to-South resuscitation than mutual, unnecessary battering to the bottom. Therefore, both have many reasons to avoid getting entangled or trapped into a war with each other. Can that be said of certain interests in the West and elsewhere? Washington and NATO should restrain themselves at looking at such an outcome of rapprochement between Beijing and New Delhi in zero-sum terms. The world would be better off and surely India and China would be to work concretely harder for mutual peace and development.
Peter Dash is an educator based in Southeast Asia. He has written for many publications and was a researcher at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs.
The fault, dear Bollywood, is not in our stars, but in our content
The performance at the box office of both Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha and Akshay Kumar’s Raksha Bandhan has been underwhelming to say the least. Producers, distributors, actors, cinema owners, everyone connected to the film industry in one way or the other are lamenting the successive box office failures of Bollywood productions. Star power seems not to matter anymore. A little while ago Ranveer Singh’s Jayeshbhai Zordar, Ranbir Kapoor’s Shamshera, and even Tiger Shroff’s Heropanti all fell by the wayside.
If you stop to think of it though, in a way, this could be a long overdue and very good lesson for the film industry because it must learn that in order to survive it has perforce to improve its content and not rely unduly on star power. Content in cinema includes choreography, screenplay, dialogue, direction, editing, proper casting and many other things, but what really matters can perhaps be summed up in one word: storytelling.
Nasiruddin Shah’s wife, the actor Ratna Pathak spoke last month, in an interview published in the Hindustan Times about the star system as it had existed in the seventies. According to her it was an obnoxious system ‘where the content of films was driven by the star involved and not by the idea of telling a story.’ She also spoke of how many stars were poor performers but were nonetheless cruising along. In an earlier era, directors like Bimal Roy and Mehboob Khan had held sway who saw a movie star as the carrier of a story and not the other way around.
Now we see the star system crumbling, slowly but surely. Actor Salman Khan also interviewed recently stated that he had been hearing talk about the collapse of the star system for decades now, but it wasn’t something that was going to happen. Stars, he maintained, would always exist. That may be so, but they will hereafter no longer command the kind of position in cinema that they have commanded till now. Some sort of balance will need to be restored if Bollywood is to survive. In Salman’s own case his inclusion in a film by no means guarantees box office success. In fact, his films have bombed time and again the most recent one being the unwatchable Dabangg 3.
In terms of timing, it is perhaps no coincidence that the actor Ranveer Singh decided to take off all his clothes and do a shoot in the nude last month. He went the Full Monty and although those pictures were not put on social media as they would offend censorship guidelines, apparently the fully nude pictures were circulating on WhatsApp.
When you reach a certain kind of stardom, it is easy enough to get people to endorse whatever you do. Praise came from various quarters about how Ranveer is entitled to do whatever it is he wishes to do as part of his creative self-expression. Wife Deepika Padukone too approved his decision, as his spouse and possibly also in the light of her own revealing performance in her latest film Gehrayian.
The fact that he has done a shoot in the nude now, and not some other time, may have something to do with the fact that his most recent film Jayesh Bhai Jordar went phuss at the box office. So Ranveer, tossing and turning from the snide remarks and taunts that would have inevitably followed, needed to do something to erase public memory of that flop and replace it with something else more noteworthy. A nude photo-shoot may have, to him, appeared to be the simplest and easiest thing to do.
Why was this lesson not taught to Bollywood earlier? One way of analysing this is to say that all of us in India need an entertainment fix once a week and till a few years ago there was no alternative to the big screen. Marx said famously that religion was the opium of the masses, which may well be true, but in India cinema also qualified as an alternative escape from the humdrum monotony of daily life. Everyone in the world knows of India’s obsession with cricket and the movies.
There was television of course, but it wasn’t really such an immersive experience and moreover most serials targeted the housewife with ‘saas bahu’ conflicts, not such an engaging subject matter for a male audience. What changed over the past few years, especially after corona, was the arrival of the OTT platform with its numerous web series, docudramas and cinema made for exclusive release on Netfix, Sony Liv, Zee 5, Voot or some such channel.
As a consequence, the cinema watching audience became more discerning and more demanding. It took the star struck Indian audience some time to get used to better content, but once that happened it wasn’t so easy to lure them back to the cinema halls. For one thing it would take an hour to drive to the movie hall in the traffic and sometimes as much time to find parking. A middle-class man realises that quite apart from spending money on movie tickets, he may need to spend over a thousand rupees on snacks such as popcorn, nachos, burgers what have you, for himself and his family. No, if it wasn’t good cinema, it was better to stay at home, watch the cricket or a Netflix series or film and get the wife or cook to rustle up some fritters or pakoras. What’s not to like there?
Will Bollywood change? Can Bollywood change? No question, it can and it will. Money talks as nothing else can. Star power itself was built on the making of money, and that power will lessen and dissipate once it is clear, as it should be, by now, that star power alone cannot make a movie succeed at the box office anymore. The times, they are a changing, as Bob Dylan sang.
Rajesh Talwar is the author of 34 books across multiple genres. He has worked for the United Nations for over two decades across three continents in numerous countries.
A LONG ROAD AHEAD FOR CONGRESS BEFORE 2024
The All India Congress has been aggressively pursuing its agenda against the Centre particularly on price rise. The party has been staging protests on the issue at the block level. There is a scheduled national-level rally on the issue on 28 August. Protesting against price rise is fine since the issue is of concern to the common man. But the big question is would the Congress be able to effectively use the issue against the Modi government.
Congress has raised such issues earlier too, but it has failed to take its campaigns on those issues to a logical conclusion. In not too distant a past, for instance, the party staged protests across many states against the three farm laws, which now stand repealed. In fact, it was the Congress which began protests against the farm laws, with Rahul Gandhi hitting the streets. However, the party lost the plot and the movement was hijacked and party found itself sidelined.
Now coming back to the price rise, the Congress has not raised the issue the first time. Eight months back, the party organised a national-level rally at Jaipur on 12 December 2021. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot put in all efforts to make the rally a success. If the huge crowds the rally drew were any yardstick, the rally was undoubtedly successful. Addressing the rally, Rahul Gandhi slammed the BJP saying that he was a Hindu but not a Hindutvavadi. His comments put the party in a tight spot as the BJP launched an all-out offensive on Hindutva, relegating the issue of inflation to irrelevance. The Saffron brigade won assembly elections in four states hands down. The party has once again made inflation a major issue to corner the BJP government at the centre. But nobody can deny the fact that Congress raked the issue, perforce, again to deflect the attention from the investigation in the National Herald money laundering case by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), in which the ED had summoned both Rahul Gandhi and Sonia for interrogation. The Congress staged country-wide protests against the ED interrogating the Gandhis. However, the party realised that it may boomerang on it, as the BJP retaliated by attacking the party on parivarvad (familial nepotism) and corruption. The party, however, managed to deflect the criticism by invoking issues like price rise and unemployment and putting them on its agenda in a forceful manner.
By bringing issues of nepotism and corruption back in public discourse in his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already set the agenda without naming the Gandhi family. It is clear that the BJP would once again take on the Opposition on these twin planks in coming elections. It is also clear from what Modi said that whosoever is involved in corruption will have to face the consequences. This stance may be worrisome not only for the Congress but also for leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Tejaswi Yadav, for nobody knows when the ED would come knocking on their doors.
But there is a silver lining for the Congress. It has been able to put pressure on the BJP government on an issue like inflation, which affects the commoners like nothing. The Congress was also able to put up a united front while staging protests against price rise and unemployment. The Gandhis hit the streets to lead party workers and leaders from the front. Encouraged by the response it has got from workers across the states, the party has drawn an ambitious plan to reach out to the people. The party will begin its “Bharat Jodo Yatra” on 7 September the success of which will depend on the support it receives from the common people. But if the party keeps pressing the issues it has been championing in recent times it is bound to find popular support among the masses, which may help catapult the Congress to become a force to reckon with in 2024.
Nitish’s move lacks credibility
Many have tried to depict Nitish Kumar’s as a result of the BJP’s alleged attempts to divide the Janata Dal United (JDU). But this is far from the truth. Nitish was guided by his own vaulting ambition to take a final shot at the top slot-the Prime Minister of India.
Nitish Kumar’s move to jettison trusted ally, the BJP, and align with forces he till recently considered inimical to the interest of Bihar, shows the new low in political gerrymandering. He has demonstrated to one and all that he cannot be trusted with words and his self-interest would govern his actions.
His opportunistic swing between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) reminds one of the hilarious Aaaya Ram Gaya Ram phenomenon that happened in 1960s and showed how personal interest guides political moves. Nitish is being described by many as ‘Paltu Ram’ of Indian politics which refers to a person known for changing sides without the slightest of moral compunctions.
At the first assembly election in Haryana in 1967, Gaya Ram had won as an independent candidate. Immediately after the results were out, he joined the Congress but within few hours he joined the United Front. The same day by the evening, he rejoined the Congress. Within nine hours he shifted loyalty thrice. Congress leader Rao Birendra Singh while addressing the media said, “Gaya Ram Ab Aaya Ram hai”.
Ever since then, frequent shift of political loyalty had become a joke for those who could not be trusted. The anti-defection law that seeks to prevent political defections is silent on the situation created by Nitish Kumar. This sobriquet of Paltu Ram for Nitish Kumar was given by none other than Lalu Prasad Yadav when Kumar walked out of the JDU-RJD alliance in 2017 on the issue of corruption by RJD leaders, particularly Tejashwi Yadav. “He has neither principles nor ideology but only greed for power”, Prasad had said.
Both the BJP and the JDU had contested elections in alliance in 2020 and Nitish became chief minister even when he had much fewer seats (43) than the BJP that had won 74 assembly seats. He has sunk and the alliance and joined forces with adversaries- the RJD and others. This cannot by any stretch of imagination be described as something that people of the State would want. People know that the mandate for the NDA was largely due to image and massive campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the personal guarantee he gave about Bihar witnessing unprecedented development under double Engine NDA Government.
Many critics and analysts have tried to depict Kumar’s exit from the NDA as a result of the BJP’s alleged attempts to divide the Janata Dal United (JDU) or create trouble for the chief minister. But these are far from the truth. Nitish was guided by his own vaulting ambition to play a larger role in Indian politics and to take a final shot at the top slot- the Prime Minister of India in 2024.
One should not forget that he had similar ambition in 2013. On 16 June he had snapped ties with the BJP when the party made Narendra Modi its campaign chief for 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Nitish had given the most venomous statement when Modi was subsequently named the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. “People of the country will not tolerate or accept a leader whose idea and policy is divisive” Kumar had said.
At the back of his mind somewhere, Kumar may have imagined that the BJP wound not get a majority and a hung parliament could throw up a possibility of someone else (read Nitish) to become the Prime Minister. If wishes had wings horses could fly. The entire country witnessed Modi’s personal charisma and trust translate into massive majority for the BJP. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014.
This happens if one stays on one post (here chief minister) for a long time and is unable to do much for development of the State. You cannot blame others if the State has failed to catch up with other more developed States of India. With nothing challenging to do, one gets bored and starts looking for a new role. This is more so when you are on the wrong side of age. He will be 73 when the country would witness Lok Sabha elections.
Anyone in Nitish Kumar’s situation would sense a great opportunity since the Congress is in disarray and regional leaders such as Ms Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, or other players such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, Sharad Pawar or other leaders are not taken seriously as a national player. Nitish Kumar who has won his image of ‘Sushashan Babu’ in alliance with the BJP may rake up Bihari pride to try to win most of the 40 Lok Sabha seats of the State.
Till now Nitish Kumar’s political moves in Bihar have paid dividends to him at the personal level. He has dumped allies with impunity and has retained his chief minister’s chair. But to try to judge Kumar from the prism of political morality would be wrong. He has created his own morality which is wherever he goes is the winning side and whatever justification he gives is the new morality in politically polarised Bihar.
Thus far so good, but no further. Nitish has played his last gamble. He has dumped a trusted partner that did not stake claim to the chief minister’s post despite winning more seats than the JDU. If Nitish had any sense of political morality he would not have become the chief minister and asked the BJP to nominate its own candidate. This is greatness of Modi that he forgot the personal angst of Kumar against him and supported his cause when he left the RJD alliance in 2017 on the issue of corruption and later when the JDU got less number of seats in 2020.
There are some who say that the BJP asked Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan to field candidates against the JDU to give the BJP a decisive edge. While the results may be true, it is a far-fetched conclusion that there was any such understanding between the two parties. The BJP did not share dais or any political platform with Chirag Paswan and even after he lost the polls in Bihar, he was not accommodated in the NDA government at the Centre. Kumar should look at his own reasons to know why Chirag opposed him so bitterly. The BJP did not change tack and stuck to its commitment that Nitish Kumar would be the chief minister.
Some critics often compare the situation with Maharashtra and argue that Nitish feared that the BJP would engineer the fall of his government. This is ridiculous. In Maharashtra the mandate in 2019 was for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance to form the Government. The alliance had won 161 assembly seats in a house of 288 of which the BJP had won on 105 seats, the Shiv Sena on 56. Other seats were won by the National Congress Party (54) and the Congress (44). If people’s verdict was to be honoured Devendra Fadnavis should have become the chief minister.
But Shiv Sena ditched the mandate and refused to be in the alliance unless it was given the post of the chief minister. After a long stalemate, the Shiv Sena formed an alliance government with the NCP and the Congress. The BJP called it betrayal of the mandate but could not do anything. Later, many Shiv Sainiks realized the folly of the decision and they took command of the Shiv Sena and came back to the BJP. The BJP’s decision to keep the alliance was obvious when it gave the chief minister’s post to Eknath Shinde and asked Fadnavis to become the Deputy. There was nothing unethical in it. The original mandate was for this alliance and political opportunists had made an unholy alliance that lacked ideological coherence. So far as Shinde is concerned, the Shiv Sena would decide who is their leader and not the BJP.
One can argue why the BJP supported Nitish Kumar when it split with partners with whom it had contested polls in alliance. The case of Bihar is completely different. Nitish came to be known as ‘Sushashan Babu’ in the company of the BJP. The vote in 2015 was largely in the name of Nitish Kumar and his image even when he contested against the BJP. So when he decided to part ways with the RJD on the issue of corruption, the BJP had few choices than to support him in the name of stability and good governance.
The present move of Nitish is not backed by sound logic. The BJP leadership was in touch with him and he had apparently given assurance that everything was all right. The BJP could not have disturbed its own government. Nitish had complete backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There was no justification and no provocation. If you reject the possibilities, the only possible reason is Kumar’s ambition to take a shot at the top job by exploiting the weaknesses of the opposition.
Besides the fact that Modi is going to be there for a long time to come and that he is the most popular leader in the country, Kumar has been exposed badly. The RJD has no love lost for him and when their parting had taken place in 2017 it had turned bitter with all members of Lalu Prasad’s family abusing Kumar for back-stabbing the RJD.
The Machiavellian brand of politics that Kumar has specialized makes strange bedfellows. Enemies become friends and friends become enemies with both showing that they are ready to forget the past and keen to rewrite a new future but none forgets. One point of time, the RJD was symbolic of the jungle raj in Bihar. It is clear that Kumar is no longer worried about people of Bihar. People would be scared of this alliance and may not bite the dust.
So far as the BJP is concerned, it has got a golden opportunity to strengthen its organisation and go to the people for a full mandate. This is likely to bring new energy to the party that has been working tirelessly to give representation to all sections of the society. This is a redefining moment for Bihar politics.
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