Columns/Op-Eds, Politics / Globalisation

Six Silent Sins

When the family loyalist was summoned to the sanctum sanctorum by the “High Command” there must have been trepidation and unease in his mind. The organisation after all had just been humbled, humiliated and vanquished at the hustings. As Madam Gandhi asked A.K Antony to introspect and dig deep to find the causes of the Congress Party’s crushing defeat in the 2014 general elections, he must have recalled the string of fallen angels who preceded him, like Azazel and Lucifer. These angels were, as Milton describes them in Paradise Lost, “brighter once amidst the host of Angels, than the sun amidst the stars”. Their fault however was stepping out of line and questioning and defying god.

Clearly then, one implicit parameter for Saint Anthony (if he knows what’s good for him) was to avoid Lèse-majesté when talking of the Holy Trinity – Mother, Son and Daughter. While one has access to his report outside of the usual gossip one hears, it doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out who and what was left out under the garb of “collective responsibility”. With a great deal of certainty, one may assume that the following seven reasons never made it into the “introspection” report.

The first reason for the loss has to be the undue influence, in party matters, of people like Mr Anthony himself. Some of them clearly irrelevant to contemporary Indian politics, many just sycophants whose raison-d-etre’ were the favourable whims of 10 Janpath, most lacking organisational credibility and legitimacy, and all, so far divorced from ground reality that their influence on party strategy was recipe for failure. Party politics was managed by the extended household of the former first family, not by those with personal political weight and credibility among the people.

By the end of his second term in office, the former Prime Minister was the second reason for what unfolded. He broke his own promises though he never broke his silence. He sold India the hope of reforms and inclusive growth – of a market oriented liberal democracy. By the end of 2009 India was back to the 80s’. All corporates were once again thieves, market based reforms were passé, licence raj had been replaced by regulator raj and corruption was rampant. The Prime Minister who reformed India in 1991 as its Finance Minister presided over a period that destroyed the country’s entrepreneurial spirit and scarred its enterprising soul.

Following from this a dated approach in responding to contemporary needs was the third reason for failure. The infatuation with ‘doles’ to the poor, as against offering ‘agency’ to them, represented a re-institutionalisation of feudal thought. India of 2014 is not the India of 2004. It is younger, low-income and seeking opportunities. What was on offer was continued state patronage and welfare schemes, which may have appealed to a poorer and older demography of the past. India today, is young and aspirational and has dreams that transcend promises of lifeline existence. The poor were the target vote-bank and the approach seemed to imply that the party would thrive because of incessant poverty.

The mediocre branding of the protagonist-in-chief, Rahul Gandhi was to be the next reason. He could not relate to the people, and his moral renunciation and episodic political participation was disingenuous. His contrived anger against corruption, his feeble remorse for the riot victims of 1984, his convoluted commitment to a progressive India and his role as an ‘outsider’ was poorly thought through and badly executed. There were limited takers for the “RaGa” proposition.

The fifth, reason would have implicated ‘Madam’ herself. Democracy seldom allows power without responsibility and even when it does, it remains a fundamentally bad equation. Maybe the Philippines could accept an Imelda Marcos, Egypt a Suzanne Mubarak and Argentina an Eva Peron, but India persistently rejected quasi-democratic authoritarian regimes that those three were. The leadership may very well have been benign. The leader may not have hoarded shoes like Imelda; or stolen money like Eva; or adopted a “country be damned, my son first” attitude like Suzanne. Yet ‘Madam’ was ultimately responsible for everything and refused to accept that this comes attached to the immense power that she enjoyed. India was fooled once, by the buffer that the Prime Minister offered, but they were not willing to be fooled a second time round.

The communication and engagement with the electorate has to be the sixth reason. Spokespersons were patronising and arrogant, hectoring and often aggressive, even as they justified by the unjustifiable. They were masters of phrase and prose and so proud of their glib talk they forgot political communication is a dialogue. They said what they wanted to, and were willing to hear only their own voices. They criticised the feedback from Social Media as being sentiments of enemies and irrelevances. Well-meaning advice was rejected as coming from those who had made a pact with the devil. The cries, the pleas and the anger were ignored. The government spoke to itself even that was with discordant voices.

The last and most important reason for the defeat is that the preceding six paragraphs will not find their way into the report. To win one needs to accept the truth – no matter how bitter. If one cannot or deliberately refuses to understand what really went wrong, one cannot fix things – expect superficially. But the fact remains that that the “high command” wishes to guard its position and that of its progeny. The fact remains that everyone in the Congress core committee wish to hide their de-facto irrelevance and that spokespersons like bad singers do not want to hear that they are bad at what they do.

So what would St Anthony’s concluding paragraph be? Presumably that the incumbent too would be “led astray” by those who surround him and their lust for power. Ultimately his conclusion would be that nobody in the congress was wrong, and all they need to do for the next ‘sonrise’ is for the current dispensation to falter, and inevitably it will.



Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, November 4, 2014

Original link is here 


Nehruvian strong handed centralization coupled with bureaucratic despotism will be the future of India under the newly elected Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Despite being, what many would say, the antithesis of a secular Jawaharlal Nehru, Modi has demonstrated several tendencies of Nehru-like micromanagement during his first hundred days in office. These thoughts were expressed by Sameer Saran, Vice President and Senior Research fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, while delivering an emphatic talk on ‘Narendra Modi and his Foreign Policy Objectives’, hosted by the Centre of South Asian Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs onOctober 2, 2014.

Restoration of a strong executive space and empowering of the bureaucracy, characteristic of Nehru’s India, will mark the return of the Babu – a metaphor for technocrats that historically constituted India’s bureaucratic steel framework. Saran holds the belief that Modi’s superstar persona (as seen in his recent drawing of several thousand members of the Indian Diaspora at the Madison Square Gardens), will suffice to press the ‘reset button’ on the prevailing negative investor confidence surrounding India. This can be largely accredited to Modi’s approach towards ensuring neo-liberal economic space, creating market access and ensuring a creation of jobs – a far cry from the garland of communal Hindu nationalism he adorned during his time as the Chief Minister of the Indian State of Gujarat.

A larger section of Mr. Saran’s lecture centred around India’s Foreign Policy aspirations given its role as an emerging regional and global power. Modi’s drift towards realpolitikin internal governance is also manifested in his external relations strategy. The policy of ‘India First’ – implying a clean up the internal mess first – however has not curtailed India’s global ambitions. A recent visit by the Chinese premier opened several new avenues of cooperation. Moreover, India has begun to see its neighbourhood in an extended sense. Enhancing investment in the ASEAN region; conceding to Bangladesh in an old water dispute; recent visits to Nepal and Bhutan; and newfound enthusiasm in interacting with Japan and Australia, are all parts of Modi’s efforts to have India assert itself regionally. India, under Modi, has also demonstrated flexibility in dealing with the BRICS, by understanding the value of accepting Shanghai as the economic headquarters. Modi’s Pakistan policy however remained ill-defined, with a seemingly unchanged plan to maintain the status quo. Some of the greatest anti-Pakistan vitriol emanates from his own party, and if Modi is to challenge the bilateral stalemate with Pakistan, a shift in opinion within his own ranks is necessitated.

Mr. Saran’s lecture portrayed Narendra Modi as the provider of much needed salvation for India. While Modi’s dynamism and pro-business and anti-corruption attitude may provide India some impetus after nearly half a decade of stagnation, transforming a country of 1.3 billion people may not be a task as easy as making populist electoral promises. With just over a hundred days in office, whether Narendra Modi can make a Nehru out of himself is yet to be seen.

-written by  S. Taha H. Shah, a third year student in the Contemporary Asian Studies Program

This article is part of  a series of articles written by undergraduate students affiliated with the Asian Institute about events hosted by the Asian Institute.