What Modi can learn from Bernie’s response to Hillary

Bernie Sanders’ comments on the email controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton were seen by many as an act of political maturity. Back home in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi missed out on an opportunity to exhibit similar political sanity while addressing the Dadri lynching episode. (Image: Wikipedia)

Bernie Sanders’ comments on the email controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton were seen by many as an act of political maturity. Back home in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi missed out on an opportunity to exhibit similar political sanity while addressing the Dadri lynching episode. (Image: Wikipedia)

“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails… enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America,” said Senator Bernie Sanders as Hillary Rodham Clinton responded with the words, “Thank you, Bernie” during CNN’s first democratic presidential debate. The moment was one of rare political maturity.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s usage of private email while in office is quite a controversial issue. But senator Bernie Sanders, who is competing for democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton, made it clear that the real issues were concerning income inequality and employment as opposed to emails. Though Republicans would be far from satisfied on seeing Sanders’ exoneration of Hillary, the fact of the matter is that at least one American politician had the courage to talk about the bigger picture instead of falling prey to an easy political whip against a fellow competitor.

Back home in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi missed out on an opportunity to exhibit similar political sanity. We need to credit Modi for having directly addressed the Dadri lynching episode during a newspaper interview and terming the tragedy as “unfortunate and unwarranted”. It was encouraging to learn that PM Modi did not approve of the opposition to Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai. Unfortunately, that’s where the Prime Minister stopped!

Instead of going forward and sacking retrograde Hindutva hatemongers like Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma and BJP MLA Sangeet Som, both of whom passed insensitive remarks following Dadri lynching, the Prime Minister attempted self exoneration by stating that the buck did not stop at the central government. He further went on to score political brownie points by accusing rival parties of “pseudo-secularism” and practising “politics of polarisation”.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a shame that such a timid response is coming from the prime minister of India. Firstly, his response to Dadri is much delayed and incidentally two days after the first phase of elections in Bihar. The timing in itself is worth suspecting. Was the statement a damage control exercise? Or did the BJP think that it had milked the post-Dadri polarisation just as much as it had wanted to and decided to drag the issue out of headlines to prevent any further disrepute to the central government?

Secondly, while law and order in the state of Uttar Pradesh certainly doesn’t come within the purview of the central government, Modi does happen to be the boss of both Mahesh Sharma and Sangeet Som. What’s stopping Modi from the sacking the two? While Sharma tried to downplay the lynching episode by stating that since Danish had not incurred any fracture, it proves that the mob did not intend to lynch him, Som held a meeting in Bishahra in defiance of prohibitory orders and spoke of “Hindu retaliation”.

The phraseology which both the men had employed clearly hinted at their overt sympathy towards the mob responsible for killing Akhlaq and injuring Danish. If Modi felt strongly about Dadri then he should have made sure that these men ceased to be a part of the government and party, respectively.

Thirdly, BJP is the single largest party in Maharashtra. The Sena-BJP government is led by BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis and yet the past few days were a witness to unfortunate incidents involving Sudheendra Kulkarni and Ghulam Ali. What’s preventing Modi from communicating his reservations to Uddhav Thackeray? If the Shiv Sena is not in a mood to listen then Modi should call off the alliance. But he won’t since he has chosen the simple way out. Blame the opposition parties and raise hollow rhetoric.

In such testing times of rising intolerance, the leader of a country is expected to reassure citizens of the rule of law. But Modi chose to paint a helpless picture of his and left the blame at the door of the state governments. Ironically, he overlooked the fact that one of them was led by his own party.

Bipartisanship should be an essential element of politics. When an incident like Dadri happens, political leaders should come together and uphold the composite culture of our nation. It goes without saying that Modi is an excellent communicator. He should have chosen his words carefully and refrained from politicising Dadri and other incidents. If he had done so, he may have become another Bernie Sanders. However, he didn’t and instead resorted to centre-state jurisdiction and partisan politics! But then we must not forget that rising above politics is not in the DNA of our political parties. After all, the Congress also sacked Shashi Tharoor as its spokesperson for lending support to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.


(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

When Karan Thapar forgot about the Modi interview

The date was 18th November, 2013, and the world’s largest democracy was inching closer to holding its General Elections in the following year. At that time, I was an undergraduate student of Journalism at the University of Delhi. A couple of days back, while casually browsing on the web, I came across an important bit of information from the perspective of a curious media student. The famous Australian talk show ‘Q&A’ was coming to India and was scheduled to hold a programme to be telecast live on ABC and Doordarshan.

In order to participate in the programme, one was supposed to register with Q&A and forward their questions to their team via email. Six renowned public figures from India and Australia were chosen as panellists – Shashi Tharoor, Karan Thapar, Swapan Dasgupta, Shoma Chaudhury, Stuart MacGill and Pallavi Sharda. I had previously been to several talk shows, including NDTV’s much-celebrated programme ‘We The People’ ,but so far, I had never got an opportunity to participate in an international talk show. Hence, I prepared a set of questions and forwarded them to Q&A.

I prepared five different questions for the panellists. Thereafter, I received an email stating that one of my questions had been selected and I was supposed to come to Kingdom of Dreams situated in Sector 29, Gurgaon, on 18th November, 2013, to pose my question to Shashi Tharoor.

The day finally arrived and I decided to travel to Gurgaon via Delhi Metro. This was my first visit to Gurgaon and I must admit that I was impressed on seeing the infrastructural might of the buildings in the city on my way to Kingdom of Dreams. After reaching the venue, I was received by crew members of Q&A who handed over to me a cue card on which my question had been printed. It read the following: “For Shashi Tharoor — Unlike Indian democracy, Australia isn’t infected with dynasty-ridden politics as exhibited through realpolitik feuds between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. In your article, “Shall We Call The President”, you had advocated that a Presidential System would provide India with much needed political stability, but will it be able to institutionalize inner party democracy in India’s dynasty-plagued political system?”

After a brief interaction with the organizers, the audience was ushered into the auditorium much before the arrival of the panellists. The organizers saw to it that the ones whose questions had been selected were seated in different parts of the auditorium and that the boom mikes were well in reach of them and so were the cameras. The programme began at 3 PM with Tony Jones as the host. During the course of the programme, the panellists deliberated over a range of issues starting from the retirement of cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar, to the safety of women in India.

One of the most polarizing points of discussion was concerning the current India Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At that point in time, Modi was BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, and far from having achieved the tally which he did during the elections. A certain Mr. Ajoy Roy questioned the panel in regards to Modi and Rahul in the context of 2014 General Elections. He said, “What does this panel know about the credentials of Mr Rahul Gandhi and Mr Narendra Modi and its implications for the people of India and Australia if one of them is elected as the next Prime Minister?”

The question provoked sharp responses from the panel members. Reacting to this query, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor claimed that the “disregard for historical facts that Narendra Modi shows every day has rubbed off on his fans.” On the other hand, right wing commentator Swapan Dasgupta supported Modi and suggested that his emphasis on minimal government, high growth and honest leadership were the reasons why he happened to be “a favourite to win this election.” Dasgupta also drew comparison between Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot.

However, this did not go down well with Aussie spinner Stuart MacGill, who said, “You can’t go on criticising our Prime Minister and comparing him to a man that has been involved in something that was really quite offensive to a big part of your population.” Soon after, news anchor Karan Thapar too shared his views in regards to the subject. He declared that neither Modi nor Rahul deserved to be the Prime Minister. He said that Modi carried the “moral responsibility” for what happened in Gujarat during 2002. He added, “The Supreme Court had gone on record in April 2004 in a specific judgement — it wasn’t just a comment made in court — to call him and his government, modern-day Neroes.”

This statement was factually disputed by Swapan Dasgupta who claimed that “it was not a judgement” but “was a stray comment of a judge.” Dasgupta’s fierce opposition infuriated Thapar who went on to say, “Forgive me, April 12th, 2004, the Zaheera Sheikh judgement in the Best Bakery case. I assure you I am right. After the show is over, I will send you the judgement.”

The programme soon concluded and went off-air. I wasn’t able to pose my question as the show had run out of time, but I thoroughly enjoyed the lively discussion. Thapar and Dasgupta immediately left the auditorium, but I wanted to talk to them in regards to the subject which had generated a war of words between the two. I followed them on the way out and managed to tag alongside them as they were moving towards the main gate. I reminded Karan Thapar that in his famous Narendra Modi interview, wherein the then Gujarat Chief Minister made an unceremonious exit, Thapar had referred to the same quote of the Supreme Court wherein the Gujarat administration had been referred to as “Modern Day Neroes”. I, however, insisted that during the course of the interview, Thapar had claimed that that particular statement of the Supreme Court was an observation and not a part of the judgement.

Thapar disagreed with me and asked me to check the judgement online. He said that he referred to that quote as a part of the judgement of the Supreme Court, and that it was Modi who disputed it by claiming that it was an observation. I said that I would willingly do so but then I told him that I clearly remember him agreeing with Modi on the subject and saying that it was an observation. Thapar, being in a hurry, left early and so the conversation came to an end.

After I came back home, I once again saw the much talked-about Karan Thapar — Narendra Modi interview. On seeing the video, I realized that I was correct. When Thapar brought up the issue of the Supreme Court drawing parallel between Modi and Nero, Modi rebutted by stating, “I have a small request. Please go to the Supreme Court judgement and is there anything in writing, I’ll be happy to know everything.” Thapar responded by saying, “It was not in writing. You’re absolutely right, it was an observation.”

But the story does not end here. I researched further and tracked down the Supreme Court judgement Thapar was referring to. To my bewilderment, I realized that the Supreme Court judgement in the Best Bakery Case (2004) indeed makes certain crude remarks against the Gujarat government and said, “The modern day Nero’s were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected.” I was stunned. The pressure of delivering news consecutively for 24 hours and on all 7 days of a week is so huge that even iconic television news moments like Karan Thapar interviewing Narendra Modi end up being factually incorrect.

Who would believe that during the course of the interview, both Modi and Thapar were wrong on facts? Who would believe that Thapar doesn’t even remember what he said during that interview which won him so much of journalistic appreciation? Who would believe that Thapar would advocate to have said something else? I wouldn’t! Would you? The point over here is that both television anchors and politicians awfully get their facts wrong in today’s age of incessant media coverage. What is worse is that a couple of years down the line, they tend to claim that they had said something else!


(This article was originally published in Youth Ki Awaaz.)

India’s Parliamentary Democracy – The Way Forward

Recently MP Shashi Tharoor commented on the need for India to adopt a Presidential system of democracy in order to bring stability in the system. He further urged Indians to rekindle the debate on the kind of democracy we should have in India. I must say and clear at the very outset that I don’t agree with him. I feel that the parliamentary system of democracy which India has just now is best suited for it. I will support my stand with many reasoned arguments but before that we need to have a look on the arguments given by Mr Shashi Tharoor and on the contemporary system of governance.

All of us know that over the last few years, more precisely the last one decade, the amount of business transacted in the Union Parliament and the various State Legislatures has gone down. This has been because of the frequent adjournments which seem to have become an intrinsic part of our parliamentary proceedings. Terms like disruption, ruckus and pandemonium are quite often linked to the Parliament. A number of dissenting MP’s all of a sudden erupt, start speaking out of turn, resort to sloganeering, wave placards, march into the well of the House and ultimately force the Speaker to adjourn the House. This has become a very common scene nowadays. In some State Legislatures we have even seen MLA’s indulging in physical brawls, making use of filthy language and throwing shoes on one another. On one occasion we even saw a chair being flung on the Speaker. Thankfully the more violent scenes of House disruption have remained relegated to the State Assemblies and haven’t been seen in the Union Parliament till now.

Mr Tharoor argues that a Parliamentary form of democracy makes the Executive more responsible but doesn’t provide it with stability. He says that only a Presidential form of democracy can provide the highly pulsating Indian Polity with much needed stability but he doesn’t shy away once from saying that in a Presidential form of democracy there is stability but less of responsibility. Recently Mr Pranab Mukherjee, Union Finance Minister, in a statement issued on the floor of the House said, “Political instability leads to economic instability.” It is possible that Mr Shashi Tharoor wants to see India quickly get back on the road to recovery and therefore he is stressing on the need for political stability. Mr Tharoor writes in his article titled ‘Shall we call the President’ that in the era of coalition governments, governments stay in office not to govern but to ensure that they remain in office during the remainder of their term and are not forced into a premature exit. Mr Tharoor even elaborated on the fractured state of ideology in the political arena. He says that political parties in India keep changing ideologies and don’t stick to one. I do agree with him on this particular issue. I honestly feel that apart from the Left, I haven’t even seen a single political party which has stuck to its ideology all along. Mr Tharoor further added that it is because of no concrete political ideology that at all times individuals fighting elections become far more important than parties and the caste-communal factor seeps in and now it becomes important to know whether a person is a Dalit or a Muslim. Mr Tharoor believes that Parliamentary form of democracy has serious limitations because it doesn’t allow the Government to facilitate talent. In the sense that a Government cannot make any expert a minister until and unless he gets elected to either House of the Parliament thus making it imperative for an expert or a technocrat to be a politician whereas in a Presidential form of democracy one can develop a Cabinet independently as it does not require Ministers serving in the Cabinet to be Members of Parliament.

Mr Tharoor even stresses on the fact that the large size of the electorate in India makes it undesirable for India to have such sort of a democracy. He feels that the growing number of regional parties will worsen the situation and a Presidential system will give the Indian Executive much required stability and independence from the Legislature. In the longer run it will also help India in evolving as a mature democracy as Presidential systems usually yield a strong bi-party system where only the two fittest political parties vie for public offices. Mr Tharoor did not fail to mention that his idea wasn’t received with much anticipation by his counterparts as they are familiar with the current system and know how to make it work.

I do agree with Mr Tharoor that comfort lies in familiarity and MP’s or MLA’s will not be willing to tamper with the existing set up or system. I feel that there is no need for India to move towards a Presidential system because India’s strength is its pluralistic form of Parliamentary democracy but I don’t hesitate from saying that we need to revamp the existing system up to a considerable extent to make our Parliamentary system of democracy an ideal one. The first problem is in relation to House disruptions. Why does that happen? The answer to the question is that we are not electing the right individuals as MP’s or MLA’s. Now this in itself is based on another thing. Mr Tharoor says that in India during elections individuals take precedence over the party because of lack of political ideology. I differ with him. I think that in India, politics is party oriented instead of being individual centric. It is actually party affiliation which matters as all parties have a trademark trump card of theirs. For the BJP it’s the Hindutva agenda, for the Congress its Minority Appeasement and for regional parties like SP, BSP and RJD it’s the formula of Social Engineering. Voters choose parties and not candidates. They align with a particular party and vote for that party’s candidate, many a times voting without even knowing the name of the candidate they are voting for. It is this mentality and practice which we need to overcome. Parties do need to have ideologies but they need to be flexible on them. They cannot be caught up in the web of ideologies. Look at CPM, today they are forced to oppose many good policies just because of their ideological alignment. Even a sensible capitalist venture doesn’t make sense to them. So the important thing is to understand that ideologies are necessary but not paramount. The only necessary ideology is the one which is ‘pro-people’. A party can have an ideology at the national level and individual candidates do need to express them during election rallies as to what will his party strive to do if it comes to power but along with it they also need to elaborate on their personal ideologies and development agendas. What kind of plan of action do they have for the constituency which they may represent in the future? Where are the problems and how will they be overcome? Politics has to be centered on individuals. Elections have to be won by candidates not parties.

We have added a flavour of ‘president like leadership’ in our elections where we have star campaigners and party presidents coming and campaigning for their party’s candidates. Let’s take an example to understand this. Recently Aamir Khan asked his fans on Twitter to vote for his sister in a competition. He was accused of using his influence to make his sister benefit and ultimately he withdrew his comments following the outcry. Isn’t this what we are doing in the political arena? A very famous party leader whom the people know may come and persuade them to vote for their party’s third class candidate who may win just because of that star campaigning and may eclipse past sincere candidates fighting as independents, who may have a better vision for the constituency but may lose out to him just because they could not get political stalwarts to campaign for them. So the Election Commission needs to take cognizance of such kind of things. Individuals should speak for themselves and not get political heavyweights to endorse their candidacy. This will lead to the election of better individuals to State Assemblies and the Union Parliament. Now inside Parliament when we’ll have better individuals as MP’s then we’ll have lesser disruptions or maybe even no disruptions. To deal with disruptions the Speaker needs to react very strictly and comply with the code of conduct in the hardest possible manner. Misbehaving MP’s and the ones who speak out of turn need to be thrown out by the guards present, immediately on the instruction of the Speaker and they should be suspended. No apologies should be accepted from them. The Parliament is not an agitating forum or a demonstration spot.

The second issue which needs to be dealt with is stability. It’s true that Executives in India are purposely destabilized to score political points. It’s because of opportunistic and competitive politics. All parties intend to come to power desperately and indulge in power politics. The Opposition parties in India feel that opposing all the policies of the Government and thwarting all their legislations will help them politically. It will give them an opportunity to accuse the Government of inaction or misgovernance. Because of frequent or rather never ending opposition from the Opposition we are already witnessing a policy freeze or a policy paralysis, more famously referred to as governance deficit. I think that the solution to this problem lies in further fusion of the Executive and the Legislature, not in a clear demarcation between the two as in Presidential systems. A Presidential system is not the solution to the problem of instability. If the Opposition hijacks the Parliament (just like the Republicans in the US Congress) then they will resort to blocking every initiative of the President for the sake of their political fortunes. So what do we do? We need to empower the Parliament and at the same time take away some of its powers. In India the problem is that when a draft bill is prepared (usually by bureaucrats, politicians are involved only in a partial way) it is passed without even five minutes of debate. The Opposition has only two options, either to support the bill or to oppose it and in most of the cases they resort to opposing. The only constructive process that the bill goes through is the one relating to the Standing Committees but even their recommendations are not binding on the Cabinet. So what happens is that the Cabinet prepares the bill and gets it passed by means of its majority inside Parliament. Thus the Executive (having a majority in the Parliament) acts both as the Legislature and the Executive. We need to get the Opposition actively involved in the process of legislating but in order to bring about stability in the system we need to take away from the House the right to kill a bill. How do we do that? This can be done by empowering the Standing Committees. The Standing Committees should be constituted by members of various political parties and the representation of members from each party should be in proportionality to their representation in the Parliament. What does the Standing Committee do now? It examines the bill right from head to toe. Calls experts, intellectuals, stakeholders, MP’s and has everybody’s opinion on it. Then it needs to exercise power. It will decide whether the provisions of the proposed law are in consonance with the existing law or not. After this the Standing Committee decides whether to forward the Bill to the House or to kill it thereby sending it back to the Cabinet for redrafting. In order to give a nod to an ordinary bill or money bill a simple majority of the Standing Committee’s members shall be required and in case of a Constitution Amendment Bill the required majority shall be 2/3rd of the members of the Committee. Once the bill is cleared it’ll be sent to the House. Now the Standing Committee will not prepare a final draft but send a list of recommendations. Like in case of every clause, it will forward to the Parliament a number of alternatives and different approaches. The task of preparing the final draft shall be left to the Parliament. How does the Parliament do that? Remember the right to kill the bill has already been taken away from the Parliament. There are debates on each and every clause of the proposal in both the Houses. At the time of voting both Houses are summoned together. In case of money bill only members of the Lok Sabha shall vote. Now voting will not be in favour of or against the bill as the final draft bill doesn’t even exist till now. Voting will be on each and everyone clause. Suppose if provision 1 of a proposed legislation has four options then MP’s will have to vote for one of the four options. The option which will receive the maximum number of votes will be included in the draft bill. Similarly all provisions will be put to vote and the same exercise will be followed. The process will continue and finally we will arrive at a result. No party shall be allowed to issue whips. Each MP shall act independently. By doing so we will make the Opposition members as active participants in the process of legislating and the draft bill in the real sense will be prepared by the Legislature and not the Executive. After that it will be sent to the President for his assent. Such proactive participation from the Opposition in the process of legislating will help in strengthening parliamentary form of democracy and the Opposition term will cease to exist as they will be active stakeholders in the process of legislating.

Mr Tharoor said that Parliamentary form of democracy doesn’t allow the Government to facilitate talent as it is imperative to be a Member of Parliament to be a Minister in the Government. Such sort of a handicap can also be overcome. It is not always necessary for the Government to facilitate talent by making them Ministers as in Presidential systems. We can set up extra constitutional bodies like the National Advisory Council and undertake extra constitutional initiatives and exercises thus making use of the talent pool and facilitating it. Hectic consultations can be held with NGO’s, think tanks, independent organizations and corporations. They will emerge as partners to the Government and help them in effective governance. The ruling party can also make an offer to certain opposition members to serve as Ministers in their cabinet. This will further erase the line of demarcation between the Government and the Opposition and India will move towards a truly National Government. The last thing that I want to talk about is related to regional parties and bi-party system. I think that in a country as huge as India, in a country where you have such different kinds of people having different languages and cultures, you can’t have just two parties. The growth of regional parties can be viewed constructively as well. We have parties solely concentrating on certain areas. They’ll be far more aware of the ground realities than a party looking after the entire country. It is not necessary that we need to have a bi-party system in order to have stability. We can have that in the era of coalition governments and a multi-party system as well. We just need to put things into order. If we’ll do that then we’ll surely get stability. Elect the right people and you get the right results. Again I would like to mention that elect individuals not parties. Forget about the permutations and combinations inside Parliament while voting. The party which will field the best set of candidates will eventually come to power and this is what is required. Multiple-partners in the ruling coalition signify decentralization in the true sense. We don’t need an Executive President as it is hard to believe that a demi-god will all of a sudden fix all the problematic things in our country. The present pluralistic form of Parliamentary democracy is ideal, it just needs a bit of revamping. That’s all!