Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Letter to Advaniji

Dear Advaniji,

At the outset, I offer my sympathies at the performance of the BJP lead NDA in the 2009 General Elections. We all saw it coming but not to the extent that it decimated the pride of the party to such an extent that you had to tender your resignation. Sir, it is a courageous decision to put in your papers and I strongly believe that this is the right step ahead for the party.

Atalji and you have presided over the fortunes of the BJP from the days of the Jan Sangh and taken it to new heights and acted as the only national party that could challenge the hegemony of the Congress. As an Opposition party, you can take pride in the spirited and decisive stands taken by the BJP for many years. But there comes a time, when the top brass has to make way for a new leadership – somebody who can steer the party in the new millennium.

You took it to the top; now let someone take the responsibility to take it ahead and challenge the resurgent Congress. Don’t get conned by Rajnath and the rest when they say that they need you to stay back; they are just too scared to elect a new leader, in the midst of the expected infighting (sycophancy is also no longer only a Congress prerogative). Fortunately, like Mr. Rahul and Priyanka, you have not warmed the seat for Jayant or Pratibha to take over the mantle – democracy is still an integral component of the Left and the Right in India.

In 1996, when the youth and the middle class started believing and looking at the BJP as a credible National Alternative, they saw the party as a party with a difference. Leaders like Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj and a large number of leaders in their prime constituted the second rung of the party and initiated a wave of popularity for the party among people, who were tired of being ruled by a family that considered itself the natural family for governance in India.

However, now when I look at the party, I ask myself where is the leadership? Where is the second rung? Scores of septa and octogenarians preside over the party and this is the party that is supposed to represent the youth???? Demagogues like Arun Shourie and Arun Jaitley are intellectuals but they do not have any electoral presence – a mass leader like Atalji acted as that bridge between the public and your various think tanks.

For a media savvy party like the BJP, it seemed incomprehensible that your strategy has backfired twice in a row. Campaigning as a strong leader and Loh Purush may be fine but pitting yourself against a non-electoral entity like Manmohan Singh as an election strategy was probably not such a bright idea (in hindsight, I must admit). Manmohanji is only a professional CEO who is running the company that has been given to him by the owners of the company and one fine day, he will be asked to step down so that the younger Gandhi takes over (The Congress would like to call it the ‘natural transition’).

Did people vote for development as most analysts claim? Maybe many just were tired of the Third/Fourth/Fifth….Nth party props who were working for their own interests and wanted a stable single party at the top. So, all the nth party losses were absorbed by the Congress while you stood helplessly at the deck seeing the NDA sinking gradually and then, so much more rapidly later on.

Your future candidate for PM is supposedly Narendra Modi – a man whose ability to polarize votes is probably greater than his ability to bring in votes (something tells me that people like you and Atalji are yourselves not too comfortable with the Modi brand of politics). In an era of coalitions, it will be difficult for you to sell this man as your unanimous leader; after all, even your close friends are a bit wary of him.

The Congress made significant gains in West Bengal and the South and the anti-Congress votes went to other splintered groups and you made practically no headway there despite the people voting to give a mandate to a National Party. For a National Party, you need to figure out how you can break through the Southern regional citadels – something that you did in Karnataka, surprising many. It is still a surprise to me why the BJP is non-existent in a state like Kerala, where the RSS has such a strong presence?

TN and AP represent huge electoral blocks where the BJP has no sway at all – not something that a party which strives to win Delhi can afford to do. People junked the Commies in WB and Kerala and voted for what they believed was the next option and you do not feature in even the Top-3 of that list. Time to think about that.

Hope you stand by your decision to quit the scene and spend quality time with your family that has been with you throughout many such difficult periods. You could still be the Chief Mentor like NRN is in Infosys- but give the reins of the party to a new and younger group that has a Vision – India needs not just a strong government but a robust constructive Opposition too.

Thanking you.

Your well-wisher.

P.S. The 2009 Election was a watershed because of the kind of results it threw in, surprising pollsters and psephologists. Possibly, no one understood the ground realities and did not realize what was happening; but this is also because of simplistic general assumptions made by most analysts. Voters do not vote en masse – please stop looking at us like a homogeneous group that votes for a party on grounds of regional/caste/religious considerations only.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Jaagore… Aur Phir Kya???

(Original Source:

When the Election Commission mandated that the indelible ink in Maharashtra was to be put in the middle finger instead of the forefinger, it did not quite realize the irony of the situation. The Mumbaikars also responded by showing their middle fingers –no better symbol to demonstrate what you always felt!!!

Circa Oct 30th 2009 – the day of the elections in Mumbai ; after all the hype created by the Jaago re campaign, the exhortations by the media and celebrities; it turned out to be quite a damp squib, even worse than the Knight Riders cacophony. The final city turnout was a pathetic 41% -the majority showed their middle finger to the Great Indian Election. The way the English press was gung ho about the entire event, you realize how much out of touch they are with the mood of the millions of people who felt – Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

There were other reasons too for the low turnout here – the simmering heat, the long weekend (4 days from Thursday to Sunday) and the standard problem of missing names in electoral rolls. But whether you choose to call it voter apathy, voter fatigue or indifference, you cannot ignore the role it plays in an electoral poll. In the initial enthusiasm, you vote for a party and if you are dissatisfied, you give another party a chance and then the ring-a-ring-a-roses goes on and on till you give up on this Divine Thought of making a difference.

When you try to sell a product and do a marketing overkill, sometimes it falls flat and makes it more repulsive. Let me be honest – I did feel a bit cheesed off at being told to Shut Up and Vote and being repeatedly told by the media and country loving celebrities that I need to contribute and make a difference. See, SRK came all the way down from South Africa just to cast a vote – I wish he’d fund my trip to Hyderabad; I’d love to visit my parents and make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a strong votary of the right to universal adult franchise – after all, that’s the only thing I can do which can, at least theoretically, make a difference to the polity running this place. We all agree that as a functioning democracy, the Right to Vote is a fundamental right that has been bestowed on us by the governing fathers of this nation and the Election Commission, under T N Seshan and his successors, has actually done its best to ensure that the polls are as free as they can be.

In the late 70s, buoyed by the call for Sampurna Kranti Aandolan by Jayaprakash Narayan against the regime of Indira Gandhi, people voted, rather revolted, in large numbers and overthrew the perpetrators of the Emergency. But what did they get –a ragtag group of Janata Party jokers, who made such a fool of themselves that it took just 3 years for Mrs. Gandhi to come back to power with a thumping majority. What we witnessed was truly the victory of adult franchise, when the voters brought back the same leader whom they had deposed a few years back.

When Rajiv Gandhi swept into power with a brutal majority, thanks to the tidal wave of sympathy after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination, a lot was expected from the man – a Clean Leader they said, who would make a difference. He started with all the right notes before running out of steam; the smile faded, the hair deserted him and everything else that had endeared him to the masses disappeared– a mandate given on a platter and thrown away in a span of about 2 years.

Over the years, there were many others who have come and the BJP was supposedly The Alternative and when you heard them on TV, you felt that there had the energy to make a difference and sure, they did. They managed to make themselves another caricature (mukhauta) of the Congress and so we are now stuck between 2 rudderless entities. With an octogenarian leader and a rather weak second rung, the party looks lost in this electoral sea and is solely banking on Modi’s charisma to win the Centre.

The Third Front was always a joke – a group of individuals with their own private agendas and no illusions about making a difference. The Commies never got out of their comfort zones of Bengal, Kerala and Tripura (someone tell them that Mao and Che are no longer with us) while the regional parties stuck to their regional tantrums. Thanks to years of Congress misrule, they were wiped out of India’s largest Electoral College state – UP- only to be replaced with leaders like Mulayam and Maya.

The Right to Choice was given to us and it still exists but where are the bloody choices? I am thankful that I have the right to vote and protest about it but that’s the most I can, is it? So, I am told join the polity and make the difference that you want to see but then everyone cannot get into such a role, can he? I am thoroughly disillusioned and at 28, I wonder whether my vote can make a difference but I am stuck with my choices – after all, when I whine, I am told – Shut Up and Vote.

All said and done, I am glad that we have organizations like the Janaagraha, which are making the right noises and trying to bring about a change in the electoral system (among several other things). The change may just be too small but possibly (and I am trying to be an optimist), it could give something to rally around, during these trying times. After all, it’s so much easy to be a cynic and lambast everything around but so much more difficult to MAKE A DIFFERENCE…

P.S. Despite all exhortations, my family did not vote. I had relocated to Mumbai for my job and my registration was in Hyderabad, so no vote for me. My parents, despite living in Hyderabad for 30+ years and the same house for more than 15 years and voting in every election so far, realized that their names had suddenly disappeared from the voting lists. All for the Right to Make a Difference, which does not even exist!!!