Sunday, November 19, 2017

Can Rahul Gandhi's revival derail Modi's BJP?

Is Nervousness apparent in the ranks of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it braces for a crucial state election in the Gujarat state in December?

The unease in the ranks of the BJP, which is seen as the party of choice for Hindu nationalists, stems from a feeling that its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may be losing his luster to rival Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi. Recent BJP campaigning is telling, said Congress general secretary Mohan Prakash. 

In Gujarat, a state considered to be Modi's stronghold and from which his political career was launched, the star campaigner is not the prime minister but another younger leader Yogi Adityanath. Other BJP national heavyweights have also taken to the Gujarat campaign trail, such as the finance minister.

"Does it mean Modi is no longer the best vote catcher in Gujarat?" Prakash asked.
The December poll, although only a state election, is a litmus test for BJP who won the federal government in a national landslide in 2014.
A defeat, or even a poor performance, in Gujarat will be hard for BJP to swallow. The party has been in power in the state since 1995, winning three consecutive elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012. Ever since Modi took over the leadership in Gujarat in 2001, the party has never lost a state election.

In the 2012 election BJP won 116 of the 182 seats, limiting Gandhi's Congress to only 60. Three other parties and an independent candidate won the remaining six seats.

This time, one leading opinion poll predicts BJP will easily hold its advantage, winning 118-134 seats. Congress, which has been out of power in the state for 22 years, might secure 49-61 seats, according to The Times of India poll published Oct. 25. 

The Gujarat election will help indicate how popular Modi's two major policies — the withdrawal of high-value bank notes and a new taxation system — have proved with voters, said G. V. Anshuman Rao, a socio-political analyst based in the southern city of Hyderabad.

Several factors are in favor of Congress, analysts have said. A backlash against the incumbents, popular anger over Modi's inability to deliver on his promises and growing discontent of lower-caste people with the high-caste dominated BJP, are all said to be working in favor of Gandhi's party.

However, Congress in Gujarat lacks BJP's political machinery and networking at the grassroots level.

Irrespective of the December result, the Gujarat election appears to have revived the Congress party. It has brought out leadership qualities in Gandhi, and the party's vice president has shown a new willingness to take on Modi and his pro-Hindu party at the national level.

Since his introduction into politics in 2003, Gandhi's political star has dimmed. He delivered confused speeches, mumbled in media interviews, sat shyly at political meetings and took a long leave from parliament in 2015 "for personal reasons" without telling his party leaders.

Even his detractors agree that Gandhi is now displaying proper leadership qualities.
"Three to four years ago, Rahul Gandhi was a pushover. Everybody could ignore him in the political arena. But now Congress seems to have discovered a genuine leader in him," said Sanjay Raut, a leader of the hard-line Hindu Shiv Sena party.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

BJP struggles to win over Christians: Can Image Transformation come in?

The Bharatiya Janata Party has decided to go soft on the beef ban in the northeast where Christian votes are key to winning seats 

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is treading a fine line in promoting its pro-Hindu nationalist agenda while trying to court voters in Christian strongholds in the northeast and south.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several of his BJP leaders have been criticized for creating policies that push for a Hindu cultural and religious hegemony. Among those are national laws to ban beef and restrict conversions, moves that will inevitably drive religious minorities away from the party.

But ever mindful of placating religious minorities, the party has adopted different strategies tailored to different areas, and embraced Christian politicians in key states.For example, the BJP has decided to go soft on the beef ban in the northeast and the southern state of Kerala where Christian votes are key to winning seats and the policy was unpopular. The mollifying strategy of the BJP is also visible in the Christian-majority Meghalaya state, which is due to stage provincial elections next February. The BJP only holds two seats in the  60-seat state legislature and must tap into the voter base of Christians who account for 83 percent of the state’s 3.2 million people.
The Indian National Congress holds half the seats in house, but both the Congress and the BJP will be relying on support from regional groups trying to garner support for local issues and ethnic groups.

Horse-trading with smaller parties and splinter groups is an old political trick the BJP has employed in the past. Since 2014, the BJP has successfully formed a ruling alliance in the Christian stronghold of Goa on the western coast through such a strategy. At one point, it even had a Christian deputy chief minister in Goa. Recently, Modi unexpectedly named Alphons Kannanthanam, a Catholic from Kerala, in his cabinet. Christian leaders were quick to note it was a vote-seeking move ahead of the 2019 general elections, when the BJP will need Christian votes to win seats in the state.

A week after Kannanthanam was made a minister, the BJP president Amit Shah appointed him as the party’s election chief for Meghalaya. The message was clear: the BJP promotes Christians.

Meghalaya is one of only three Christian-majority states in India, the other two being Nagaland and Mizoram.  With the clear support of Christians, BJP leads ruling alliances in Nagaland and in Goa, where a third of the population is Christian. They are looking to form more ruling alliances in states with large Christian populations.
The BJP is faced with multiple challenges in Meghalya where the state’s three major ethnic groups – the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos – are mostly Christians who consume beef as a dietary staple. "The move for a beef ban has affected the BJP immensely," said a local Khasi Christian leader, K. Barnabas. "The BJP will fail to capture power in Meghalaya. Unlike other northeastern states, people have not accepted the saffron party," he said referring to the BJP's political colors.

The BJP will face strong competition from the Congress party, which has traditionally  been popular in the state.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Without captors' goodness..............There is goodness in everybody," says Father Tom Uzhunnalil

There is goodness in everybody," says Father Tom Uzhunnalil
New Delhi, Sept 28  The Kerala-based Christian priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was released from ISIS captivity earlier this month, on his return on Thursday said "there is goodness in everybody" and had they been "not good" his return would not have been possible."I pray for everybody....there is goodness in everybody and had they not been good, my return would not have been possible," Father Uzhunnalil told a crowded press conference here.To a question, the 59-year-old priest said, he was not aware whether his captors were ISIS or not -- but hastened to add in the same breadth: "I feel God wants me to pray for my captors, for their change of heart and for peace in the world".

"I was confined to a room that had ventilation. I had a small sponge like mattress on which I used to sit and sleep. I had fever twice, but it did not persist. On another occasion I had severe shoulder pain. But that too disappeared in two days," he said.
Father Uzhunnalil, who hails from Ramapuram in Kottayam district of Kerala, declined to comment on the alleged of 'Islamic fundamentalist' forces in coastal areas of Kerala -- adding he hardly knew anything on those matters.

The priest, abducted on March 4, 2016 reportedly in an incident of terrorist attack in Aden by ISIS,  
on his return home was earlier received by Minister of State  for Tourism K J Alphons. 
Father Uzhunnalil also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj earlier in the capital.
"Prime Minister said he was very happy.....and asked to care of my health and work," he said taking a volleys of questions.
Asked to share memories or any anecdotes of his 18-month long stay with the alleged Islamic terrorists and abductors, Father said, "I firmly believe that nothing will happen to any one of without God's wish".
Father said, certainly there was "loneliness" in his life during the 18 months stay of captivity. 
"I never lost faith in God...I never feared death or shivered," he said.

Answering another question on whether ever he felt, he would "not make it", the priest said, "Thank God, I never felt like that...I never cried...I did not think that I am going to be killed in the next moment...I thank God for that".
To another question, the priest said, he was not aware whether any ransom has been paid for his release. But he said, "Initially they used to ask me....who will save you, whether your government help? Whether Bishop will help or Will Holy Father will help".
He said, "my captors spoke only in Arabic which I could not understand....They did not seem to understand much English".
Asked out of his 18-month stay with his captors, what did he feel about the organsiation ISIS or the abductors as individuals, he said: "I do not know whether they were IS or not......".
Whether he was getting "sympathetic" to his captors due to prolonged stay with them, Father Uzhunnalil said, "there's goodness in everybody".

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Congress Revival: Where are 'Out of Box' ideas?

When Rahul Gandhi launched an overseas trip eyeing to re-launch himself - just on the eve of his possible coronation as Congress president, some skeptics were surprised - where are the 'out of box' ideas to revive India's grand old party. 

In terms of perspective, the Congress party has turned too much predictable and this has weakened its fight for electoral revival. Incidentally, the tale is same both in BJP-ruled Gujarat or a regional party-ruled Andhra Pradesh. 

United Andhra Pradesh was the chief architect of Congress victory in 2004 and 2009 and look at the sad tale today. Hence, there are needs for trying some innovative steps. An attempt should be made to sound ‘more reasonable’ than mere loyalists to the leadership. Sam Pitroda and so on are only old faces and even the style of Rahul Gandhi's attack on the Narendra Modi government is on predictable lines. The main issues remain unaddressed. This suits the coterie but not the party or even Rahul Gandhi himself. To start with, if there is any disconnect between the party and the people, this ought to be discussed and should be addressed. It’s true, Rahul Gandhi is “already a leader and face” for the party. Hence, there need not any beat about the bush. The hereditary factor ought to be understood, accepted and appreciated. 

In terms of political emphasis, and something lacking in Congress thought process - the 2003-04 electoral victory showed that the socialist agenda or pro-people welfarism continue to dominate voters’ mind in India. Ten years later, nothing seemed to change as Narendra Modi also promised moon – including five crore jobs, Rs 15 lakh in each bank account and so son in 2014. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Congress MPs fight over Bofors, wants PAC to take up 'coffin scam' of NDA regime

The Bofors gun kickback controversy almost sparked off a major row - albeit politically- in the Congress party when senior Members of Parliament clashed among themselves on the powers vis-a-vis Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
To take the battle to the BJP-led NDA camp, the Congress is now planning to rake up the alleged 'coffin purchase' scam during Kargil conflict of 1999 when George Fernandes was at the helm of affairs in the Defence ministry.  "The CAG report in 2004-05 found fault with the NDA government on purchase of funeral caskets. Around 500 caskets worth $2500 each were purchased and each cost was thirteen times the original amount," a senior Congress leader said. 

The source maintained that the Public Accounts Committee and the sub-committee headed by Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab should also examine the purchase made during 'Operation Vijay' in 1999. Meanwhile, BJP sources said, with regard the coffin purchase scam - a special CBI court found no evidence and discharged the accused.According to sources, deputy Leader of the Opposition (Rajya Sabha) Anand Sharma took exceptions on why PAC headed by a Congress MP could rake up the high-voltage Bofors gun deal controversy "from the dustbin of history".

"It was a closed chapter. The High Court had ruled its closure in 2005, how PAC can raise Bofors again giving it a fresh life," Mr Sharma told some party leaders.
The incumbent PAC chairman Mallikarjun Kharge too was "definitely" not happy and tried to suggest that he could not be blamed for the flip-flop if any, "as I (Kharge) took over the charge of PAC as chairman only recently in the new financial year 2017-18".
The Rajya Sabha members also maintained that even summoning the CBI chief Alok Verma was "erroneous". "Only a panel like the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice can summon the CBI chief," another member said.
A few Lok Sabha Members in Congress apparently did not agree to the argument from their party colleagues in the Upper House.
The former PAC Chairman KV Thomas maintained that he could not be "blamed" as the decision to examine the non-compliance of the CAG reports including the Ministry of Defence was taken long back. 
In fact, the decision was taken by the PAC in the last Lok Sabha....the PAC under me only carried it forward. Moreover, in 2015 a conference of PAC chairpersons in Delhi attended by many PAC chairpersons belonging to Congress had insisted that this non-compliance was a serious lapse, Mr Thomas reportedly said.

In October 2015, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice TS Thakur had absolved the NDA regime led by Atal Biehari Vajpayee after the CBI informed that it could not establish the guilt of the accused persons in the Rs 24,000-crore coffin purchase scam. 
A six-member sub-committee headed by Biju Janata Dal member Bhartruhari Mahtab and comprising among others Gajanan Chandrakant Kirtikar (Shiv Sena), Nishikant Dubey (BJP), P Venugopal (AIZADMK), Ajay Sancheti (BJP) and Shivkumar Chanabasappa Udasi (BJP) felt that there was non-compliance of the CAG report on Defence Ministry and also that probe on Bofors scam of 1980s was not satisfactory.

Even CBI Director Alok Verma was summoned by the sub-committee and Mr verma told the panel that in 2005, the probe agency wanted to challenge the High Court order but was disallowed by the Law ministry under the then Manmohan Singh government to go to the Supreme Court.
The sub-committee has reportedly noticed "systemic failures" in the contract signed with Bofors and said the panel wants to pursue its work of looking into non-compliance of certain aspects of the Comptroller and Auditor General or the CAG report of 1986 on the Bofors howitzer gun deal.
"The PAC sub-panel is meeting in Delhi on August 16 and is likely to examine the letter from the CBI director....It will unravel some secrets," a BJP source claimed.
Last month, the Congress President Sonia Gandhi has expressed her unhappiness on how the high-voltage controversial Bofors gun deal scandal was allowed to return to the political discourse yet again. 

Number of Congress leaders have only blamed the BJP lawmaker Nishikant Dubey for blowing it up.
By convention the 22-member PAC is headed by an opposition leader as Chairman and in the present Lok Sabha, K V Thomas, Congress MP from Kerala, has been the chairman for three years while for 2017-18, party has nominated Mallikarjun Kharge for the post.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A king maker Ahmed Patel faces career's much talked about Rajya Sabha polls on Aug 8

In the history of corridors of power play in Delhi, Congress leader Ahmed Patel's name will be certainly in the pages of mortals anointed with some kind of immortality. The politicial secretary to AICC president - over the years - has emerged a key king maker and a master strategist in the art of backroom operation.

Master strategist Ahmed Patel now faces his moment of truth in RS elections

It is said during crictial parliamentary voting during UPA regime, the BSP leaders Mayawati or Satish Chandra Mishra or Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav actually used to wait for Ahmed Patel's phone. On one occasion - the high voltage late night debate
on Lokpal Bill --- one senior Samajwadi Party was frank to admit to newspersons "Ahmed Patel ka phone aa gaya, now you all can go" -- perhaps meaning the decision has been made.

In 2002 when Sonia Gandhi named Ahmed Patel as political secretary --- in effect he shared the responsibility with Ambika Soni. Many Congress leaders thought Congress chief had kept Ahmed Patel only for an interim period as she wanted to give subtle message to the minorities in Gujarat and in time to come Ambika Soni would survive of the two.

But just the opposite happened. Though Ambika interpreted Congress President's mind in off-record debriefing and also became Information and Broadcasting Minister in UPA-II -- slowly she faded away while a man who shunned media Ahmed Patel survived.

"He became virtual number three after Rahul Gandhi....This was more than a gatekeeper," says a former Minister in Manmohan Singh government. But over the years Ahmed Patel's rise also led to speculation that perhaps he also had nexus with a powerful section in the BJP as -- never in between 2002 and 2014 -- in as many as three assembly elections - Congress could actually give electoral contest to Narendra Modi.

The former Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela often complained that many a times his recommendations were overruled and candidates perceived "weak" were fielded. "None bothered Vaghela more than Ahmed Patel," used to be often a refrain in 2007 and 2012 assembly polls
in the state.

After Vaghela quit Congress last month, former cop Sanjiv Bhatt also flayed the Congress party for pushing his ouster.  Ahmedabad-based lawyer Yatin Oza in fact told a TV channel during last week's 'Gujarat MLAs' controversy that: "Ahmed Patel was the official liquidator of Congress party in Gujarat". 

"Vaghela's crime was that he wanted to fight the BJP in Gujarat against the designs of the coterie that has hamstrung Mrs Gandhi and Rahul," Mr Bhatt wrote in a series of tweets.

Mr Bhatt had often taken on Narendra Modi over 2002 mayhem and his wife Shweta Bhatt was fielded as Congress candidate in Maninagar Assembly seat in 2012 Assembly polls against Mr Modi. "Congress continues to be metastasized from within by the same coterie that brokered the bail of Amit Shah in Sohrabuddin Case during UPA-2," Mr Bhatt had written

The Congress strength in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly has slashed to 51 from 57 as six legislators have quit the party. The Congress claims to have the support of the requisite 45 MLAs required to ensure Ahmed Patel's victory, but the BJP camp has said that such attempts would fail.
“The BJP will win three seats and Ahmed Patel will definitely lose,” Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said in Ahmedabad.
BJP national president Amit Shah is more than keen to humble Sonia Gandhi's trusted aide in his home turf tomorrow.

Mr Ahmed Patel is seeking re-election to the Upper House for the fifth term.
A section of Gujarat BJP leaders are working overtime to ensure the defeat of Ahmed Patel, whose ascendancy as Sonia Gandhi's 'eyes and ears' coincided with the mayhem of 2002.

All said and done -- tomorrow's voting in Gujarat for Rajya Sabha would be able to settle at least a minor dispute -- in the power game between Amit Shah and Ahmed Patel - who among them is winner for the time being.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

BJP completes dream run ...Prez, VP, PM and Lok Ppr Lok Sabha Speaker -- all from Hindutva school !!

The huge victory margin of BJP nominee M Venkaiah Naidu in the Vice President elections is the highest in last three decades. Mr Naidu polled 516 votes as against 244 by his rival Gopalkrishna Gandhi making it a convincing margin of 272.
While Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma in 1987 and K R Narayanan in 1992 were virtually elected unopposed, in 1997, the Late Krishna Kant got a majority of 168 only. Krishna Kant had defeated Akali Dal leader Surjeet Singh Barnala in the vice-presidential election.

In 2002, another BJP leader Bhairon Singh Shekhawat won with a majority of 149 votes while Mr Naidu's predecessor Hamid Ansari in 2007 had humbled Najma Heptullah when he had secured 455 votes, and won the election by a margin of 233 votes. 
Mr Ansari was re-elected for the second term on 7 August 2012, defeating the NDA's nominee Jaswant Singh by a margin of 252 votes.

The BJP completed its dream run, that began in 2014, for having all the three top posts of the country, with NDA candidate M Venkaiah Naidu  defeating  joint Opposition candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi to become 15th Vice President of India.
       After Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Ram Nath Kovind became the first BJP-RSS figure to become President last month, and with today’s victory of Mr Naidu, the second highest Constitutional post of the country too will be occupied by a BJP-Sangh leader for the first time.

         During Atal Behari Vajpayee's tenure, another BJP leader Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was elected Vice President in 2002. Shekhawat had defeated the opposition candidate, Sushil Kumar Shinde by a margin of 149 votes out of the 750 votes polled.

Huge cross-voting today marked the election of BJP-led NDA nominee
M Venkaiah Naidu as the 15th Vice President of India. 
"Out of 771 votes polled, Mr Naidu got 516 votes as against 244 polled by opposition candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi," Returning Officer for Vice President polls Shumsher K Sheriff, who is the Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha, told reporters.
As per their numbers in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, the NDA nominee was expected to secure about 480 votes but the ultimately figures suggest there was cross-voting by as many as 36 MPs from the 18-party opposition camp.
Former West Bengal Governor Mr Gandhi, who gave a spirited fight, was present at the counting centre till the last moment and walked away from the venue minutes before the announcement of the results. His downcast look said it all as he smiled and folded hands skirting direct replies to media queries.
Mr Gandhi, however, said he was more than satisfied with the number of votes he garnered. 

In contrast, BJP leader and NDA representative at the counting centre Bhupender Yadav was in an upbeat mood.

In contrast, BJP leader and NDA representative at the counting centre Bhupender Yadav was in an upbeat mood.
The major highlight of the voting today was the absent of 12 MPs from the opposition camp. 
These included four from Mamata Benerjee-led Trinamool Congress.
Others included: Anbumani Ramadoss of the PMK, Tapas Pal, Pratima Mondal and Kunal Ghosh (all AITC), Ranee Narah and Mausam Noor (both Congress), UdayanRaje Bhosale (NCP), P K Kunhalakutty and  Abdul Wahab (both IUML), Anu Aga and Naba Kumar Sarania (Independent) and Sanwar lal Jat (BJP).

Significantly enough, Ms Banerjee's nephew and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee also skipped the voting process.