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Archive for December, 2013

It’s time to get back to basics for the Congress

Posted by chimeki on December 12, 2013

Now that the election results of four states are out, the Congress party needs to rethink its strategy for future. The mandate is anti Congress and there is no reason to think otherwise. The first thing the Congress should do immediately is to change guard and bring new faces at the helm of the affairs. It means it is time that the party President and Vice President are given rest and let other take the responsibility. There is no harm in thinking in this line. No individual should be above an institution as old and as big as the Congress. Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi can contribute to the party by saving in their respective constituencies.

Besides this makeover the party should let its regional satraps decide. In other words they should be allowed nature ambitions. A political party in a parliamentary democracy cannot grow or live if it stops its leaders from cultivating ambitions. The Congress since Indira Gandhi had suppressed the culture of competition.

During its initial days after independence, there was a culture of competition in the party. Leaders could speak their minds without fear. Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Vallabhabhai Patel, Kamaraj, and others were never afraid to suggest contradictory and often opposite opinions. Many a times, leaders of stature of Nehru and Patel had to give up on the pressure of the party. Even, during the party’s presidential election Nehru and others never had an easy go. They competed to remain relevant. After Nehru’s death, the principle of collective leadership was further emphasized and acted upon. In India After Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha narrates how then Congress President Kamaraj discussed the issues of succession with then chief ministers and members of parliament. After Lal Bahadur Shastri’s sudden demise, the same method was applied.

But Indira Gandhi changed the whole system collective leadership in the party upside down. It wasn’t less than a coup d’état. She made the party a family’s business.  It is true that the Gandhis have played an important role in keeping the Congress together but the opposite view also holds the truth that the most revolts in the party were against the Gandhis’s leadership! If during Indira Gandhi things had begun to fall apart, it has aggravated during Sonia Gandhi’s reign. The follow up of what Indira did is what we see now! Sonia Gandhi has never been much accommodating to the idea of openness in the party. Though she had for the better part of her reign has kept herself low profile but she has also, simultaneously, didn’t allow other leaders to be seen as equal! Like in open economy, competition and greed are the locomotives of a parliamentary party.

Compare this state with the other national party BJP the difference is obvious. With all its faults, it has let its members and supporters grow ambition. This had led to the growth of leaders with immense potential and mass appeal. Leaders like LK Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Murli Manohar Joshi, Narendra Modi, Sushma Swaraj, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh, Uma Bharti and other are the result of such competitive spirit. Kill this spirit and the BJP will be in tatters.

This equally applies to other parties as well. Those refusing to abide by the principle of inner party competition had faced, facing and will face the fate of the Congress. Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, AIADMK and even Mayawati’s BSP will find it difficult to challenge this proven law of parliamentary democracy. They either have mend their ways or perish. There is no mid way.

Coming back to the Congress, it is urgently need for it to let regional and national leaders take the lead in its affairs. Let them compete and prove their worth. The more people have eye on the top seat the better. Without giving them opportunity to grow the party is in the suicidal mode. The Gandhis cannot always carry the party on their shoulders. They don’t even have strength required to do so now. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to suggest that the Gandhis have come close to their journey and what is the better way to honour them by making one of their folks the president of India!


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Shoma, Sita and Shikhandi …and also a Tehelka story

Posted by chimeki on December 8, 2013

Photo courtesy: Indian Express

Photo courtesy: Indian Express

Bhishma couldn’t be defeated. He had a boon of living as long as he wished. He was a great warrior too. He had humbled the mighty Parasurama, the warrior Brahman. Later, he nearly made Krishna break his vow not to hold weapon in the 18-day long war.  So, to disarm him the Pandavas brought Shikhandi, half female warrior in the battle field of Kurukshetra. Shikhandi in fact was the reincarnation of Princess Amba who in her early birth was abused by Bhishma! Seeing Shikhandi on Arjuna’s chariot Bhishma felt his sin and dropped his bow. Arjuna pierced his body riding on Shikhandi’s back! The Pandavas won the battle.

Men in India, like in every civilization, have often used women to achieve their purposes. Duryodhan found reason for a war in Drawpadi’s snub in the palace of illusion. Ram decimated Lanka on the pretext of getting back Sita. Similarly, Shoma Chaudhary of Tehelka was cut into pieces by the people who wanted to avenge Tarun Tejpal and Tehelka.

In Tehelka’s story, the survivor girl is Shikhandi, who was used to ‘kill’ Tehelka. So, in the end Shoma and the survivor girl became the real victims of power politics.

The girl needed justice, and rightly so, but what she got was Tarun’s ‘head’. The people who she fought in her Tehelka’s days actually are the winners in this battle which was/is fought between the girl and the system which tried to take advantage of her social weakness.

Like peasants, women in India don’t have a second chance. For peasants one bad season is enough to take away their accumulation of years. So is with women, a mistake can minus their achievements of years. Shoma Chaudhary and Barkha Dutt are best examples of this formulation. Both the women, like Sita, had to undergo a trial by fire for the sins of others.

In the Radia Tape case Barkha Dutt was scrutinized more severely than the co-accused males. An editor of a magazine lectured live and in print ethics of journalism to her. Barkha is still working, which is very good, but is she now what she once was – fierce, articulated and crusader. She has toned down.

In a civilized society weaker sections are given more chances than the stronger ones. However, in India it is just the opposite. Here the males or powerful can make a thousand comeback while a woman is accepted to be faultless. Hence, it shouldn’t surprise us if Shoma finds it very difficult to make a comeback.

A Tehelka Story

By the way, I have a story to tell. In the year 2011, when I was working with a monthly magazine, a young Tehelka journalist came to meet my editor. He was doing one of his first stories for Tehelka. The discussion continued for more than the anticipated time. The editor offered him a ride back to his place but he didn’t agree. He believed it unethical to take favor from the person or institution he was doing story on. It was impressive.

Whatever Tarun did should not become a reason to kill the Tehelka culture. The journalists, like the one I met, shouldn’t let Tarun’s act change their philosophy of journalism. Tehelka couldn’t teach Tarun but has taught many the meaning of true journalism and this shouldn’t discontinue.


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Nepal: Back to Square One

Posted by chimeki on December 4, 2013

With the defeat of the Maoist party in Nepal’s Constituent Election the hope for a peaceful-democratic solution of its political and social crises too has suffered a dent. Although the results can hardly be considered as surprising, the outcome will, for sure, have a long term impact on the transformational politics of the Himalayan country. The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (UML) emerging as the first and the second largest party once again sent Nepal back to square one. This might not impact the making of the Constitution, rather it may even accelerate the process. However, the results will be a setback to those who thought that a Maoist victory through democratic means would bring about a radical transformation of the society.

The arrival of the Maoist in Nepal’s political map was a watershed event. Ten years of ‘People’s War’ thoroughly changed the power equation at the grass-root level. The movement brought in front the issues hitherto considered irrelevant in the country’s political manoeuvring.

However, post 2013 CA election the political situation has gone back to that of the 1990s because it is the same two parties which had then played the major role in the drafting of the Constitution have taken the lead this time too. And there is no reason to believe they have changed their views in the period between 1990 and 2013. Unlike the Constituent Assembly of 2008, the current one is far from being called a representative Assembly. The facts so far available suggest that the women’s representation in the current Assembly has come down to 10 under FPTP which was 29 in 2008. Overall, the Constituent Assembly of 2008 had 47, 196, 192, 191 representatives from dalits, madhesis, janajatis and women respectively. The madhesi parties, at present scenario, will have no more than 40 seats.

With Maoists losing badly their agenda too will be put on the back seat. Oneo f their major demands was that of the land reform. During the people’s war the Maoists redistributed the land to the poor under the slogan ‘land to the tiller’. This was generally considered a step in the right direction because this was essential for economic development of any kind. After joining the mainstream the Maoists tried to legalise the redistribution process but failed due to lack of political support. On the contrary in the name of abiding by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed between the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance, they were even forced to give back land ceased from the big landlords. While doing so the Maoists had assured that once the Constitution is written they would ensure revolutionary redistribution of the land. It is generally agreed that without the land reform Nepal will never be able to increase productivity.

According to the available data, 26 per cent of the Nepalese population is landless. Moreover, 10 per cent rich peasants of Nepal own 65 per cent of the Nepal’s total agricultural land.

The next important question that the Maoists tried to address was the question of federalism. Nepal, although a small country situated between two giant neighbours, India and China, consists of many nationalities. The Maoists have proposed creation of 11 autonomous provinces based on ethnic identity, language, economic interrelations, infrastructure development, availability of natural resources and administrative accessibility.  Had they succeeded, Nepal would have moved into an era of inclusivity.

Now that the parties which have often discarded the idea of Constituent Assembly for Nepal have become the largest and the second largest parties the whole idea of an inclusive constitution is shattered. The Nepali Congress and the UML, which was then the biggest party in the collation called United Left Front,  which led the 1990’s movement against the absolute Monarchy have gained almost a two-third majority in the current assembly. Then also these two parties broadly negotiated the constitution’s clauses with then King Birendra. To clear any doubt what so ever, the former Prime Minister and senior leader of UML Madhav Nepal has already suggested that the 1990’s constitution might be issued without the clause for monarchy in it! More or less this is also the position of Nepali Congress.

In this complex time, if the two big parties allow themselves to be swayed by numbers then they are not only ignoring the people’s aspiration but also sowing seeds of future troubles. It is now fallen onto the Nepali Congress and the UML to show that they are committed to the aspiration of Nepalese people for failing to do so will not be healthy for the future of the fledgling democracy. Though the Maoists did not repeat their performance but their agenda of inclusive and participatory democracy is still valid. Likewise the major demands of a revolutionary or land reform and representative federalism shouldn’t also be ignored.

There are several reasons for the Maoists defeat. They lost because they tried to negate the consensual politics. They could not hold hands and walk together. Or perhaps they lost because they did not listen to their own constituency. And if the Nepali Congress and UML act as the Maoists did, they too might meet the same fate in the next Constituent Assembly election!


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Maoists: Down and Out in Nepal

Posted by chimeki on December 2, 2013

Courtesy: www.newagebd.com

Photo courtesy: http://www.newagebd.com

In the recently concluded Nepal’s Constituent Assembly (CA) Election, the Maoists were routed. The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (UML) reversed their performances, while the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), UCPNM, the biggest in the previous CA, came a distant third.

The Maoists cannot blame anyone but themselves for the loss. They fell victim to their own doing or not doing anything at all. The leaders turned their backs on the warnings boldly written on the walls. Instead, they painted the walls of unfulfilled promises with new and eloquent slogans. In the process they forgot that they were trying to fool the same people who they themselves trained not to be fooled during the decade long People’s War.

Broadly, there are three main reasons for their poor performance. Firstly, they overestimated their influence in the Terai (plains). In 2007, the region witnessed a big movement for Terai people’s rights. The major force behind the movement was Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum led by its charismatic leader Upendra Yadav. Upendra Yadav was trained in the Maoist school of politics. A protégé of another big leader of the Madhes, Matrika Yadav, he rose to higher echelon of the Maoist leadership before his sudden fall. In the last phase of the Maoist Movement, he was charged with leaking information about the top leaders’ to Indian intelligence. Nevertheless, he survived the chase. In 2007, Yadav emerged from oblivion as an undisputed leader of the Madhesi people. When the Maoists dropped their arms, his Forum took up arms against them. Same year in March, the Forum activists murdered 27 people, including women, in Gaur. Those killed were mostly the Maoist sympathizers. The massacre served its purpose when the then government sent an invitation for talk. The talk concluded with 22 point agreement which included martyr status for people killed during Madhesi Movement (Forum activits) and closing all the cases included the Gaur massacre case.

The Madhesi movement which, as is believed broadly in Nepal and elsewhere, emerged on Indian support, started degenerating quickly.  For India it had served its purpose and considering the geopolitics pros and cons India could not afford to feed another LTTE. The Forum began to shatter and in five years nothing remained of its 2007 avatar.

The Maoists fancied their chances on the ruins of the Forum. They thought they could fill the void left by the Forum. However, the Madhesi people thought otherwise. Instead of showing confidence in the Maoists they chose their old friends. The Nepali Congress was able to win back its lost territory. Baring a small period, the Madhes had always been a stronghold of the Nepali Congress. Hence, the Maoists’ gamble in Madhes didn’t pay.

Secondly, the Maoists tasted defeat because they ignored their own cadre. In Nepal, it is the cadre who win election for a party. The Maoists completely sidelined their cadre’s aspirations. They traded tickets for money and might. Thus, the alienated cadre didn’t whole heartedly campaign for the party. In few places there were news of revolts too.

Lastly, the split in the party was the most important reason for its defeat. In 2012, a strong faction of the party led by senior leader Mohan Baidya ‘Kiran’ split to revive the old ideals of the party. They named the new party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPNM). The new party ably united all those who either felt that the old party had deviated from its goal or who felt ignored by its leadership. The majority of the people who extended their support to the new party were the same people who formed the main base of the People’s Liberation Army of the Maoist party and worked in the ground during the Maoist movement. These people know nothing but to ceaselessly work, as they claim, for the people. Since 2008 there were very few leaders who visited their respective constituencies. The people were outraged with their representatives. Sensing the opportunity, the new party immediately began to fill the leadership gap. In less than a year the party became a force to reckon with. It organized many successful bands (shut downs) and forced the government to initiate dialogue and later it led the election boycott movement with relative success.

It was not that the UPNM did not know the ground reality. It did. Based on the reports from its members it decided to concentrate on the Madhes instead of its old stronghold in the hills. Many big leaders filed their nomination from more than one place. Even big shots like Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai contested from two places. And wisely so, because both of them lost one of the seats they contested. Prachanda lost from Kathmandu 10 and Baburam failed to win from Rupandehi 4.

Post election, it is too early to predict anything for UCPNM. During its long existence in Nepal’s political theater it has seen many ups and downs. However, in the present crisis it is without its old guards who have always sailed it through. The present leadership mainly consists of those who either joined the party in the middle of the movement or after. Of course there are people who fought the battles but they still don’t actually possess the political depth required to deal in the time of crisis. Hence it will be wise to just say that after the election the battle of survival for the Maoists has just began.


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