Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Delhi verdict says development and liberal India

It is an interesting time in Indian politics: Aam Admi Party, formed barely over a year ago recorded a decisive victory in the Delhi state elections.  So big has been the victory that it has spelled disaster of proportional scale for the two national parties the BJP and the Congress.  Congress has been totally eliminated; BJP won just 3 seats in a seventy-member assembly.

This is at a time, when just eight months back, the BJP came to power with an overwhelming majority at the national elections. The party has been on a victory mode since in other bigger states. The face of the party and India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is seen to bring in dynamism and leadership not witnessed in Indian politics for long. He is also keen to promote economic growth and rapid development.

Delhi’s voters make up the urban poor and rich. They come from different parts of the country and are reasonably well informed. Delhi represents the pan Indian ethos: a class of voters that have aspirations. Those originally from the city want it to be a place of opportunity, those coming from outside want to rise here. They have migrated and opted for a new life. It is place, where for most people the issues of caste, race, language are even religion are irreverent. Delhi has a vast young population and it reflects how India is going to be in years to come.

This Delhi election saw 11 million new voters. The AAP party promised them free WiFi.  In AAP they saw a renewed optimism. The party’s leader Arvind Kejriwal is an engineer from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. He has worked with a big corporate firm and has been bureaucrat.  In their highly effective campaign, they spoke about real issues confronting the voters like water, sanitation, women’s security, electricity, and jobs - issues that haunt India at large. It had a well-defined programme.

A BJP cadre who didn’t want to be identified said, “they did their homework well. It was a great campaign.”

Apart from the poor poll strategies there are other issues that may have been a factor for BJP’s defeat. These factors have also been a concern in the rest of the country. Modi’s overwhelming mandate hasn’t seen him cracking down on the Hindu fundamentalist forces that have asserting themselves lately. Religious intolerance in the country has on been rise with a  renewed call to promote “Indianess” based on one language and Hindu religion.

On one hand, Modi has successfully projected himself to be globe tottering leader  aligning  and reinforcing India's founding values with other major democracies.   He is seen taking selfies with world leaders and even charming the US president, at home young people fear of reprisals and humiliation by the Hindu fundamentalist groups if they are out to celebrate Valentines’ day.

 A postgraduate student of Jawaharlal Nehru University says (with anonymity) , “ as women I know what it means to vote for BJP. I will be humiliated if I hold the hand of by boyfriend. They are a patriarchal lot.”

Anna Vetticad a writer and a journalist says in her Facebook post  “ I fear those whose stated ideology is to declare India a Hindu rashtra and relegate both women & minorities (religious minorities, linguistic minorities, sexual minorities) to a subordinate position in this country... people who say gay people are "abnormal", people who object to us holding hands in public, people who tell us it's "against our culture" to have silly fun like buying Valentine's Day cards and teddy bears for our partners/spouses. This is as much a vote against hate politics as it is a vote for development.”

By voting AAP to power the voters in Delhi have sent a clear message to all political parties. People in India want strong leadership, not a ruthless personality driven politics, they want development but not division in the society, they want policies based on reality and not ideology (replacing Sanskrit with German in 21st century makes little sense). More importantly, they want a harmonious India that is liberal, multicultural, progressive and secular. This has been the verdict of the day.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Reinforce the values of modern India

India certainly feels endorsed  as a emerging global power after Obama’s visit , but at home it needs to reinforce the  values that are significant to the idea of India itself to sustain its global image.

Now the dust has settled after president Barak Obama’s much celebrated visit as a chief guest for India’s republic day parade, it is imperative to look at how the new found friendship between president Obama and prime minister Modi resonates amongst the ordinary Indians.

It is a little secret that despite India’s subdued relationship with the US during the Cold War era -which began with Nehru’s discomfort  with the US’ capitalism; the subsequent tilt towards Soviet Union and disagreements over wide ranging issues from Nuclear Non –Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to CTBT – for ordinary Indians, however, the United States has always been a country of awe and land of opportunities. Throughout the last six decades millions of Indians have migrated to the US, and today it is a home to as Obama puts it: “3 million proud American Indians.”  They make up the richest ethnic community in the US with a considerable political clout. 

Whilst at political level USSR and now Russia have been India’s all weather friends, this relationship has fallen short of translating into people - to- people contact. The reasons for this are many: a communist USSR was not very welcoming to outsiders, nor their economy was commercially vibrant and diverse as the US.  The fact that Indian’s readily integrated with the American way of life speak volumes about inherent value system of Indians that probably found a stronger expression in America’s identical but much advanced democratic ideals.  Indian Americans naturally prospered and today playing an important role in warming up the US- Indo ties.

 The word “natural” in the context of the US- Indo relationship has never found more symbolic expression then it did last week when the two leaders stressed that relationship between the two democracies can be a defining force in the 21st century.

In many ways the visit by the US president was special: as a global hero with an inspiring background, Indians were happy to see him as country’s chief guest on the occasion of its republic day.  Political deals apart, prime minster Modi did well to engage the popular leader with ordinary Indians on radio. Discussing common topics about their personal likes and dislikes and reinforcement of the democratic values surely touched the chord of ordinary Indians.  Such things were never seen before but it largely underlined the encompassing significance of this relationship.  Symbolically, it also indicated US’ courtship with India - something Indians love.

 Equally significant was Obama’s speech in the Town Hall which reinforced the shared values of the two nations and an observation that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith, along lines of anything, and is unified as one nation.”

The shared values of the world’s oldest and largest democracies find the deepest roots in India. This country is not just multi-race,  multi lingual and  multi religious but in effect a civilisation of  breath-taking contradictions that is moving forward with a sea of humanity.

Obama in his speech mentioned about his contradictions  “right now, in crowded neighbourhoods not far from here, a man is driving an auto-rickshaw, or washing somebody else’s clothes, or doing the hard work no one else will do,” he told a crowd of about 1,500 people at Siri Fort Auditorium, a performance venue that hosts art and cultural events.

India is a country that is on the course of becoming a major global power, but and also there are regions in the country where a section of the population still cut off from the modern world and there are other divisions of caste, class and extreme overty. Clearly India’s challenges are unique and it requires great understanding of history to understand Indian society.

Does Indians need to be reminded of this? Clearly yes, many affluent Indians have no idea about these contradictions. A respected television news editor recently frowned on me for the stories I was covering for the international media. He said issues like human trafficking and modern –day slavery is not news. “We have internalised these issues”, he said. 

For India to find a respected place in the world India will have to uplift its poor and change its attitude towards people who are not that privileged. For this to happen, a strong leadership is needed that can stand up and defend the supreme values of the country’s constitution premised on justice , equality , liberty and fraternity.

It is in safeguarding these values and promoting the fundamental rights can India ensure an all round development for its citizens and find its glory in the world.