From the time Narendra Modi has become Prime Minister for the first time in 2014, his speeches on Independence Day have gone beyond listing the achievements of the government and walked into a territory where a very strong reformist streak comes to the surface, with the aim being to reform Indian society for the better—a push that can come only when someone has had a very close connect with the grassroots, which the PM has had throughout. Before 2014, who would have thought that an Indian Prime Minister could pick up issues such as sanitation, cleanliness, and even the problem of single use plastic during the most important speech that he delivers in a year—on Independence Day? But he has been doing so over the years—picking up various issues, seeking reform, promising action, and eventually making policy and getting them implemented on the ground. Take the Swachh Bharat movement for example, a promise, which when translated into policy has resulted in the world’s largest toilet building exercise, and notwithstanding the carping by critics, a very successful one too. This single campaign has been a life changing exercise, for the better, for a huge swathe of the population, something many of us used to a modern, urban lifestyle may not always realise. What we are witnessing is a constant push towards development, where incremental steps will not suffice, but quantum leaps have to be taken for sabka vikas with sabka saath and sabka vishwas. It is in this context that the Prime Minister’s vision of India in 25 years, when India completes 100 years as an Independent nation has to be seen—the vision that he spoke of from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day. It’s the beginning of Amrit Kaal that will culminate into 15 August 2047. He spoke of the “paanch pran”—roughly translated as five pledges or five vows—that will take India towards this goal. These are: making India into a developed nation; removal of the slavery of the mind; feeling proud of our heritage and legacy; unity in the form of Ek Bharat, Shresth Bharat; and the citizen’s duty towards the nation.
To pick up the point of the goal of becoming a developed nation, it is not every day that such a challenge is given to a country with a population as huge as India’s, with a per capita income of $2,227 (World Bank, 2021). Certain economists take $12,000 per capita income for a country to be considered as developed. By that standard, China, with a per capita income of $12,556 (World Bank, 2021), has achieved developed status. In other words, India has to reach China’s current economic status ($17.7 trillion GDP) in another 25 years to be called a developed nation.
Tough? Yes. Impossible? No.
It is all about taking quantum leaps—of making “huge resolutions”—which the Prime Minister believes can be taken given the way India has achieved vaccinating 200 crore people in little over a year, the way electricity has been given to a record number of people in record time, the way the work towards renewable energy is going on, etc.
If we look at India’s growth trajectory, there is reason to hope. It is after all the fastest growing major economy in the world, in spite of the setbacks it has faced in the last few years because of Covid and because of the fallout of the Ukraine-Russia war. India’s projected growth rate for 2022-2023 is expected to be in the range of 9%. Economists say that India needs to aim for a growth rate of over 10% for at least a decade to grow to at least a $10 trillion economy in another decade or so. Even otherwise, the $5 trillion target by 2025 does not look unachievable, given that India is hovering in the range of $3 trillion already. But it will not be an easy task, because of the resistance to reform that comes from certain sections of the political class and from vested interests within the bureaucracy and others who are part of the system. Think of the farm laws and how misinformation and disinformation scuttled a huge opportunity the country had to increase the income of the marginal farmers. In fact, reforming the agriculture sector, which employs around 50% of the country’s workforce, will automatically fast-track our growth trajectory. Let’s also not forget manufacturing, another area where India can grow at a much faster pace. The need of the hour is decoupling from China and creating the right kind of environment for businesses that are looking to shift out of China and go to countries that have the potential to absorb the humungous investments that they have to offer.
If these two core issues start getting sorted out, almost everything will start accelerating in the right direction. And this is where India believes that the Prime Minister’s innovative governance has planted the seeds to actualize the vision of India becoming a developed nation in this Amrit Kaal.
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Elections, emotional exploitation and emotional intelligence
Our political leaders focus on instigating voters on sensitive issues and go to the extreme stage to exploit voters’ emotions.
It has been our history that emotions always override pragmatism in the matters of politics and elections. An Indian election is the greatest stage for political leaders of all ideologies to court their people on a variety of issues using emotional appeal and approach. Emotions have always played a vital role in Indian elections. The origin and growth of the Dravidian political parties are closely linked to the emotions over linguistic nationalism. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s rapid rise in national politics would not have been possible without the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. M.G. Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu and N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh continue to live in the hearts of people there due to the emotional undertones in their politics. The sympathy wave that followed the assassinations of former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi helped the Congress win general elections in 1985 and 1991.
Even in Kerala, emotional issues have cropped up where, normally, politics and elections were always fought on ideological and social issues. An allegedly fragile 116-year-old brimming dam, which has been a bone of contention between Kerala and Tamil Nadu for years, had become an explosive and sensitive political issue in the state.
Emotions are powerful source which mobilize very fast in politics. They frame ideologies, build up opinions and can drive the specific agenda. It is observed that political campaigns recognise the centrality of emotions in shaping voter perceptions and strategically leverage voters’ emotional vulnerabilities to fulfil electoral goals. Keeping the power of emotion in mind, our political leaders focus on the interplay between ethics and emotions such as fear, hope, anxiety, anger, hatred, betrayal for electoral success. They also instigate voters on sensitive issues and go to the extreme stage to exploit voters’ emotions in many cases.
Emotional exaggeration is harmful for any ecosystem, not just for politics. It can lower the credibility of a fraternity, an institution, a society or even a family. Repeated emotional exaggeration might diminish the system’s sensitivity. It might lead to decreased trust and dependability in those who exaggerate their emotions.
Elections should be fought on issues of public welfare and development, not on emotions. Of course, our leaders talk about it but in practice, they flout the model code of conduct and polarise voters in the name of religion, caste and many kinds of emotional issues. We are the largest democracy in the world. Instead of developing and evolving to become more mature after 75 years of independence, the democratic ideals are rapidly vanishing in our country. (Political parties should recognise that their organisations are intended to remain forever, while individuals may exist for a limited time. Promoting impolite political behaviour and reinventing politics for short-term political gains may do irreversible harm to not just their particular parties, but also to public discourse, state institutions, and the nation’s political ecology.)
This is now time to recognise and acknowledge the importance of emotional intelligence in everyday politics.
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to perceive, control, use, evaluate and handle emotions. People with emotional intelligence can recognise their own emotions and those of others, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, and adjust emotions to adapt to environments.
Unfortunately, in today’s politics of deception, exaggeration and hyperbole, emotional intelligence is the farthest thing one can anticipate from the present political scenario.
Politics is a democratic institution, not dramatic platform. It enables self-government via people’s representation; it is not a system that should be mocked on a regular basis to the point where it becomes an ugly comedy soap opera or a C-grade TV series.
Sudhir S. Raval is a veteran journalist and columnist from Gujarat and Consulting Editor with iTV Network, New Delhi.
Western democracies on a negative trajectory
The Ukraine war may have distracted the West from dealing with some fundamentals to making democracy more attractive, bettering fundamentally, the West’s economic health at large.
Win, lose or draw on the war in Ukraine, the West, overall, is in trouble—or at least on a negative trajectory, even if it were to find a mecca of a cheap energy source. Why?
You could focus on identity politics, wokism and the creepy ever-growing creep of the highly technologically advanced security state ever widening its net. But I am more into basics like long term growth trajectories, labour stability and availability, productivity, GNP growth, business and commercial friendly regulatory environments. And secondarily, I focus on popular sentiment about the future and government.
Let us look at some good examples. Some come from Professor Graham Allison in his lecture at Harvard University (on YouTube) on whether there will be war between the West and China. He gives a whole lot of statistics demonstrating the overall fast growth of the Chinese economy. For 1978, he shows that 90% of the Chinese people were living on two dollars or less a day—and the remarkable degree to which mass deep poverty in the 1980s has become a very small part of the China of today. In fact, by 2014, and no doubt beyond, only one in a hundred are living in extreme poverty.
As implied by Allison, such fast paced progress was due to the serious goals and time frames, Xi Jinping the Chinese leader, his officials and his post Mao predecessors set for the country on the long term. But even a clip from his lecture shows how serious the Chinese are about fulfilling short-term goals. Allison showed a time lapse video of a small bridge being reconstructed in Beijing done entirely in 43 hours—all while a small bridge near the Harvard campus has taken years to renovate.
I will add the famed doomed California fast train system. The Gaurdian (UK) headline says it all: “Despite 14 years of work and about $5bn spent, the 2008 promise of quick transport between Los Angeles and San Francisco has not materialized”. Contrast over the same period, as according to Xinhua news, “The total length of high-speed rail lines in China came in at about 37,900 km at the end of 2020 and was up about 2,900 km from 2019 and almost twice that of 2015.”
And what do we have in the UK. In Britain, speaking of train service, it has been on strike. Only an intermission due to the passing away of the late Queen Elizabeth II, interrupted the work stoppage. Several years ago in a famous report, the current UK Prime Minister Liz Truss derided the lack of work ethic and devotion to aspiration by too many native Britons. Many today, as polls show, are very uncertain of their future. She even went as far as praising the greater commitment and ambition by many Indian immigrants to get ahead. Truss seems worried that England has been in a too low productivity situation for way too long which undermines economic growth. Piers Morgan, one of England’s most famous talk show hosts, goes further in a recent YouTube clip. He categorizes Britain as essentially a basket case.
An Ash Center poll underscores the important contrast between the US and China. From the Harvard Gazette: “Survey team found that compared to public opinion patterns in the US, in China, there was very high satisfaction with the central government. In 2016, the last year the survey was conducted, 95.5% of respondents were either ‘relatively satisfied’ or ‘highly satisfied’.” It goes on and says only 38% in America were so.
And speaking of India, it has seen extremely fast growth, registering well over 6% over recent years and up to around 12% in recent quarters. Its technology sector has been fast developing and its major companies have been important sources of investment capital for England. In fact, exogenous capital from countries of the South has been an important lifeline for British manufacturing, not only the Premier football league. Main brands like Jaguar to Range Rover are owned by Indians. It is hard to think how worse off the UK would be without immigration and investment from such, so-called developing or newly developed countries. Some of these patterns of low or insufficient growth and productivity and labour issues hold up on the continent.
My view is that it becomes increasingly hard to have stability without economic fundamentals in order. For Asia, this has been the practical focus—wealth and stability. Economic growth is intricately connected with fairness. A priority that cannot be (overly) subordinated to western values of pro-identity politics and beyond, even if a country does not meet the US definition of democracy, exceptional or not?
To be fair, the West has reached a very large GNP for their population size. So, there may be increasing limits for high growth rates when compared to India, Southeast Asia if not China. India is said to have an overall GNP that has surpassed that of the UK. But the UK has a much smaller population and China whose economy is fast approaching a size or bigger than the US’s. So, what to do to clearly boost the economic prospects of the West with its poor growth prospects and negativity among its populations about government. All of which is giving a bad name to democracy or at least western forms.
There needs to be a culture change in the West (and Japan). That means welcoming more entrepreneurship and the skilled from places like the Commonwealth, yet in a more orderly way than the madness at the Mexican border, Channel or Mediterranean crossings of illegals in rickety boats. Many more resources should be put forward to accelerating legitimate and functional immigration from the South to vitalize “rusty” regions of the West. This should be done sensibly, not in panicky manner. As well, the diversification as seen in the Liz Truss cabinet should be a signal that rewarding meritocracy goes hand in hand with anti-racism. Achievement should not be overly tied up in quotas but pushing and supporting excellence and productivity through all layers and regions of society. Varied sources of foreign investment can help, too. Educators have important roles in this including raising the economic and investment IQ among students.
The Ukraine war has not only been sad given all the deaths of the innocent, refugees and physical and environmental destruction. But it may have also distracted the West from dealing with some fundamentals to making democracy more attractive, bettering fundamentally, the West’s economic health at large.
Peter Dash, an educator based in Southeast Asia, has written for many years on development and international affairs issues. He was a researcher at Harvard University in the Africa Research Program.
AN OPPOSITION ON THE MOVE, FINALLY
It’s the season for political yatras what with Rahul Gandhi’s 3570 km Bharat Jodo yatra, Arvind Kejriwal’s countrywide Make India No 1 mission and Prashant Kishor’s 3500 km padyatra in Bihar. The one unifying narrative here is that all these are opposition leaders who have taken to the streets, so in a way what we are getting is the optics of an opposition on the move. Finally. Because for the last eight years we have largely been treated to the visuals of a somnambulant opposition, giving the BJP a walk-over.
Of the three it is Rahul’s yatra that seems to be getting the maximum headlines. Which by itself is no mean feat given the cold shoulder the Gandhi scion has been getting from the media in recent times, due to a variety of reasons. However, now and especially on social media, Rahul seems to have upped the ante. What helps is that a yatra provides for some great visuals, of interactions with the public, of him addressing a rally in the rain or just some playful exchanges with some of his colleagues. All of which makes for better TRPs than his preachy, finger waving sermons at rallies. Some credit must be given here to the party’s media department lead by Jairam Ramesh and fellow ‘yatri’ Pawan Khera who have keep the social media blitzkrieg alive with interesting snippets along with Supriya Shrinate; not to mention colleagues such as DK Shivkumar, Srinivas BV, Madhu Goud Yaskhi, Surendra Rajput to name a few.
Ironically Arvind Kejriwal’s mission was launched on 6 September in Hisar, around the same time as Rahul’s Bharat Jodo amidst great fanfare with the patriotic Rang de Basanti Chola playing in the background and Punjab CM Bhagwat Mann dancing in the foreground. Since then I am not quite sure if the mission is still carrying on in the form of a yatra or if it’s been transformed into the Gujarat and Himachal election campaign. But the AAP Chief has succeeded in making waves in both the states, specially Gujarat where more people seem to know his name than that of the sitting Gujarat Chief Minister (that’s the problem with changing so many CMs so often). But since this is Gujarat the votes for the BJP will be in Modi & Shah’s name, regardless of who the CM is, so that doesn’t matter. Will Kejriwal’s rallies translate into votes? While few doubt that the BJP will come back in the state, it would be interesting to see if AAP manages to replace the Congress in the second position.
As for Prashant Kishor, he has just embarked on his yatra a few days back. He clearly sees a void in Bihar’s leadership with Nitish Kumar doing one too many somersaults and the RJD still a faction ridden outfit. The BJP is trying to fill this same vacuum but it lacks a tall regional leader to take on Nitish, Lalu and Tejashwi. From Prashant’s rhetoric he is targeting the youth, talking about jobs and education more than caste arithmetic. Will it work and will the election strategist be able fashion a win for himself the way he has done for his clients?
Sometimes, even in politics, it is not the end but the journey that matters. And it is a healthy sign for our democracy to see opposition leaders walking their talk.
As Sindh struggles, Imran Khan rolls on
With Pakistan witnessing its worst floods, several questions have risen, both inside the country and worldwide. Before the floods, Pakistan was already going through political, economic, and social turmoil, with tensions visible through recurring protests, news of ethnic persecutions, human rights violations, and dire living conditions for Pakistanis in many regions. The southern province of Sindh has been the most affected. According to Sindh’s Information Minister, more than 600 people have died in flood-related causes, and the province is set to face unsurmountable losses in agricultural production. Ironically, before the floods, Sindh faced an acute water shortage. The situation was so grave that Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali had appealed to farmers not to cultivate rice. Sindhi leaders blamed Punjab’s provincial administration for stealing Sindh’s water and creating a water crisis.
Floods and failures
The floods have exacerbated underlying tensions in Pakistan, which the leaders have tried to bury for a long time. The indifference toward human rights and ethnic minorities came under the spotlight as floods’ devastating effects started mounting. In one such incident, Sindh police arrested journalist Nasrallah Gaddani after he covered the story of Hindu flood victims who were expelled from the flood relief camp.
In many ways, Sindhis are waking up to the realisation of having been docile with their government for far too long. Several recent videos circulating over social media platforms like Twitter highlight that the worsened situations are being blamed not on floods but the government’s mismanagement and the pursuit of selfish political interests.
Pakistani politicians have not helped their case either. While surveying the region on a boat, a viral video showed senior Sindh government leaders comparing the flooded areas of Sindh with Italy’s Venice. A few days later, the same leader was seen running away in a video when flood victims blocked roads and surrounded him, demanding accountability.
In another instance, hundreds of protestors came to bring to notice to the visiting PM Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and Sindh CM that they haven’t been provided relief materials even after multiple assurances. In response, Sindh police lodged cases against over 100 unidentified persons on terrorism charges for allegedly inciting flood victims outside a relief camp and attacking police personnel.
Shifts in Sindh
A lot of Sindh’s turmoil has its roots in the ongoing political discourse. The dynamic between the three biggest political parties in Pakistan—Imran Khan’s PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf), Sharif’s PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-N), and Bhutto’s PPP (Pakistan People’s Party)—can be seen at play in Sindh.
After successfully removing Imran Khan from the helm through a no-confidence motion in April this year, PPP and PML-N formed a coalition government, electing Shehbaz Sharif (former PM and party founder Nawaz Sharif’s brother) as the PM and making Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (son of party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari) the foreign minister.
PTI is the largest opposition party in Sindh, which is ruled by PPP (with Syed Murad Ali Shah as CM). In the 2018 general elections, the PML-N lost its stronghold in old Punjab province, with the PTI coming to power through a coalition government. Now, it looks like Bhutto’s might also lose their stronghold Sindh to Imran Khan’s PTI in next year’s general elections.
Several reasons contribute to shifting tides in Sindh. Firstly, the floods have anguished Sindhis to a great extent. It has been highlighted over social media that Sindh police created hurdles for trucks and vehicles loaded with relief goods, especially those arriving from Punjab. It has been alleged that police allowed vehicles to pass only after taking bribes. Other videos showed Sindhis complaining that they have not received the 25000 rupees aid promised to flood victims by the PPP government while underlining that people in PTI ruling provinces have received the aid. For Sindhis, while the PPP and the Bhuttos are falling short of their promises, Imran Khan is exceeding expectations.
Secondly, political backlash against PPP is now coming from multiple directions. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Karachi head (another Pakistani political party) condemned the Sindh government over rampant street crimes. He warned that the party would assemble masses for protests in front of police stations if the government and police department failed to put an end to the increasing number of mugging incidents and robberies. As floods recede and the exact toll on livelihoods comes to light, the after-effects might worsen the law and order situation in Sindh cities even more.
Thirdly, as the flood worsens Pakistan’s economic and food security, Sindh, an agricultural hub, will be significantly affected. While prices of essential commodities were already soaring, a shortfall in crop production will affect both exports and domestic availability. This can lead to more protests in the coming months.
Finally, the Imran Khan factor is set to play a big role in Sindh. Since his ouster, he has gained immense popularity among the masses of Pakistan, who now see him as a beacon of hope for democratising Pakistan and standing up to the Pakistani army and China. Asif Ali Zardari (the PPP co-chairman) is said to have been the chief architect behind the no-confidence motion in April. In a recent interview, Imran emphasised that the ‘Zardari mafia’ has kept Sindh undeveloped through loot and plunder and said that Zardari’s days were numbered. Highlighting the ‘system of injustice’ installed by Zardaris, Imran urged the youth to fight and defeat him in the coming elections. He also vowed to raise donations for Sindhi flood victims through his international telethon (fundraising event). He had already collected 5 billion rupees worth of donations successfully through these telethons.
What lies ahead?
It is expected that it will take years to rehabilitate and rebuild Sindh and other affected areas in Pakistan. But while these regions struggle, Pakistani politics will not slow, especially with next year’s general elections. Meanwhile, Imran Khan is making all the right noises and reaching out to people in ways that have not been seen in Pakistan in the last several decades. Sindh provides a glaring example of these developments. As Imran rolls on, the shaping dynamics will be monitored closely in Washington, Beijing, and New Delhi. The ongoing floods might bring some significant changes to Pakistani political discourse.
(Divyanshu Jindal is a Research Associate at Centre for Air Power Studies)
Frailties of University Ranking
World Rankings of universities are fraught with frailties. They serve no real purpose but to trigger a mindless rat race. Their efficacy of signalling excellence is suspect as well.
Fads are not as much bothered about comfort or utility as they are about looks and appearances and this is no more limited to the fashion industry alone.
Universities, probably the last bastion to buck the trend, have been pushed out of their ivory towers and have been made into the rat race for rankings.
They are made to believe that their survival, growth, funding, faculty, and students, now depend upon their ability to make it into the league table at the highest echelons.
Barring a few exceptions, most ranking agencies fan the fad, for it serves a substantial commercial interest. Most governments and higher education regulators lapped up the idea for it provides them with a tool to tame universities.
Governmental and peer pressures notwithstanding, no more than 10% of higher education institutions presently participate in the global ranking.
The most coveted and widely used Academic Ranking of the World Universities (ARWU), for example, had 2,500 universities participating in it.
QS World Ranking of Universities too had 2,500 participants in 2023, whereas the Times Higher Education (THE) Ranking had only 1,600 in 2022.
Taken as a whole, at least 28,000 of the 31,000 universities in the world do not participate in the global ranking process. They are happily reconciled that they lack the lustre to compete for this luxury that the ranking offers.
They have also realised that even without ranking, just on the strength of their accreditation, they attract the students and faculty that they need. They are, thus, self-assured of their relevance to seeking a third-party certification for their relative prowess in performance.
To them, the ranking serves no real purpose and it is just a euphemism for being elite. But the top 100 higher educational institutions could educate only a minuscule proportion of the higher education enrolment.
Thus, no more than 3,000 higher educational institutions in the world are trapped in the ranking rat race. Ranking enthusiasts call them aspirational.
They commit a lot of their time and resources to get included in the league table. Some unscrupulous ones may, in fact, fudge or manipulate their data to get a higher rank.
Consultants with little exposure to teaching and research have sprung up in large numbers to help universities realise their aspirations. Many universities fall for them even though they might charge heftily.
They are engaged for their competence to steer steering the ranking process, but also for their contacts at appropriate levels and places.
Commercial and unethical aspects aside, rankings suffer from some inherent deficiencies. The choice of the agency, for example, could make a university rank higher or lower. Such examples are aplenty.
It is commonplace to find that universities ranked amongst the top 1000 by THE find no mention in QS or ARWU. There are also cases where a university is ranked by a world-ranking agency even though it could not by the national ranking.
Significant variations in the ranks of universities by different ranking agencies are also very common. Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, for example, is ranked 155th in the world by QS, whereas THE places it in the rank category of 301-350.
This could simply be because the three ranking agencies use different parameters, data sources and methodologies. However, since they claim to measure quality and excellence, such wide variations in their ranking comments adversely on the consistency, reliability and validity of the ranking.
They obviously err in measuring what they claim to measure and report. The policy planners who promote the participation of universities in the ranking or base their critical decisions on the ranks conferred by different agencies, ought to be majorly concerned. Sadly, they seem oblivious to these frailties of higher education ranking.
Interagency variations apart, exogenous and extraneous factors too seem to influence the ranking of a university. Quite often, the geographic location and its demography play a more critical role than the policies for promoting excellence.
A university located in a populous country with a high unemployment rate like India has a huge disadvantage as compared to a country, say the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is scantily populated, has a near-full employment rate and has a large expatriate population.
Universities in UAE with much lower scores in parameters like citation per faculty and academic reputation were ranked much higher. This was simply because universities in UAE had scored a hundred out of a hundred in parameters like international faculty and international student ratios. This has obviously jacked up their overall scores and the consequent ranking.
The Indian university, on the other hand, with a significantly higher score on citation and academic reputation were ranked much lower, ostensibly because they had scored abysmally low on the count of international faculty and international student ratios.
UAE Universities had an inherent edge due to the demographic characteristics of their country. With 89 per cent of its population comprising expatriates from 200 different nationalities, it is an extremely diverse place to work and live in. This diversity is, undoubtedly, reflected in their faculty and student population.
International faculty and students are important indicators of diversity. They can, however, be swayed by the location and the context in which an institution exists and operate. These are but only a few examples that point out the flaws in the ranking system.
Ranking costs money and time. It takes a toll on the precious faculty time, which could have otherwise been used for improving teaching and research. University administration spends innumerable hours to ranking related activities rather than focusing their attention on improving quality and promoting excellence.
But isn’t it time to ask why being excellent, the best, very good and good, as indicated by the accreditation, is not sufficient? Why must we insist to know how an institution compares with the rest? Why should we go through the ranking rituals annually? Wouldn’t a quinquennial cycle serve the purpose better?
Furqan Qamar, former Adviser for Education in the Planning Commission, is a Professor of Management at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
The road ahead will be difficult for Kharge
Mallikarjun Kharge will become the 98th National President of the Congress on the 18th of this month. There is no apprehension about his victory yet, as he has the full support of the Gandhi family. However, the Gandhi family was missing on the day of nomination. The candidate is definitely there, but only for formality. Congress has set him up so that this message can be given to the country that there is democracy in the party, that it is the only party in the world where the president is elected in a democratic manner. Such narrative only has an entertainment value. But the truth is that the whole world knows the status of a non-Gandhi president. This is a matter of great debate. Let’s talk about the President. The Congress is a 135-year-old party. It was formed in 1885 to fight for independence. The first president was Womesh Chandra Banerjee. In 135 years, after leaders like Subhash Chand Bose, Lala Lajpat Rai, Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, Madan Mohan Malviya, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and Sitaram Kesari, in 1998, Sonia Gandhi took charge of the party. Since then, in a way, she has continuously remained the president and has set a new record of being the president continuously for 24 years. Between 2017 and 2019, her son Rahul Gandhi had become the president for two years. But after the crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, the party has been running without a President. The thing to note is this. The Nehru family got the chance to remain in the post of President for the longest time or the Gandhi family got the chance. Jawahar Lal Nehru became the President six times. His daughter Indira Gandhi became the President for a year in 1959. But in 1978, a new party named Congress I was formed, which still exists. In 1980, the Election Commission declared the Indian National Congress. After the death of Indira Gandhi, in 1984, her son Rajiv Gandhi took charge of the party. After his death in 1991, P.V. Narasimha Rao became the Congress President and Prime Minister. During the five years of Rao’s tenure, it was felt that the Congress was out of the shadow of the Gandhi family. But the result was that the party was divided into many factions. After Narasimha Rao, Sitaram Kesari had taken command in Kolkata in 1996 as a non-Gandhi, but he was humiliated and removed from the post after two years. After that, Sonia Gandhi entered politics in 1998 and took charge of the party. Since then, the Gandhi family has been in control of the party.
Now in 2022, the Gandhi family has given a chance to non-Gandhi Mallikarjun Kharge. Talking about experience and stature, the 80-year-old Kharge has been in many positions in government and organization. Before independence and after, till 1978, big prominent people held this position and enhanced the dignity of the party, but 14 years after Indira Gandhi’s formation of the new Congress, for three years in 1992, Narasimha Rao was such a leader whose stature is counted among the big leaders. It is worth noting that after Rao, Kesari ran the party amid much infighting. Then he was forcibly removed. Since then, the Congress Gandhi family is running the party. In these 24 years, under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, the party came to power in 2004. It ran the government for 10 years without a majority. This phase of the alliance was very costly for Congress. The party is unable to emerge from the crushing defeat in the election. The process of defeat continues. The Congress, which is going through its worst phase, had to make a lot of effort to choose a non-Gandhi president for itself. The Gandhi family first gave the green light to the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, then suddenly he was refused. The Gandhi family was so confused by the meeting of MLAs in Jaipur that their most trusted leader, Gehlot, was taken away from them. The Gehlot episode has created many challenges for the new president. Kharge is definitely a senior leader, but he does not fit the stature of the leaders who have been becoming the president. Whatever one may say, it is out of compulsion that the Gandhis have made Kharge a candidate.
Kharge also knows what being the Congress President means in today’s situation. Perhaps Kharge was also sad about what happened in Rajasthan. He must have been definitely sad about the kind of “conspiracy” that is being done with a leader who has been loyal to the party for 50 years. But he was not in a position to do anything. Kharge may even become a non-Gandhi president. But his authority will not be like that of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Priyanka Gandhi. The real high command will be the Gandhi family. Kharge will definitely sit at 24 Akbar Road, but it has to be seen how much the office bearers of the Gandhi family will listen to him. Kharge has nothing to get now. He will get the highest post in Congress on 18 October. If Kharge is successful in showing the door to those people who kept the Gandhi family in the dark for their own interests and brought the party to the worst of times, then perhaps he will find a place in history.
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