Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A 'Modi Wave' and the Muslim vote could stop Jayalalithaa's Delhi dreams

In Tamil Nadu, religion has seldom been a poll issue. Caste-based issues, regional and linguistic hegemony (the anti-Hindi agitations), the Lankan Tamil issue, water-sharing disputes (be it the Cauvery River problem with Karnataka or the Mullaiperiyar Dam row with Kerala), have dominated the Tamil Nadu political-scape for decades now. Another reason is the dominance of Dravidian parties, which in principle aim for social reforms through ending religious beliefs.
However, in this election things have changed with the BJP forming a five-party alliance in the state. Though in the past the BJP has contested from various seats in Tamil Nadu, it is for the first time that the national party has headed an alliance in the state. The NDA along with the Congress and AAP — both the parties are fighting the election alone in the state — has made the contest multi-cornered in many of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu.

J Jayalalithaa with Narendra Modi (File photo)
The telling presence of the BJP in the state has made religion an important poll issue. The NDA has given the BJP a presence in the state like never before. There is a palpable ‘Modi Wave’ in the state. It is not clear if this ‘wave’ will help the BJP win a number of seats but it is likely to adversely affect the AIADMK in mainly two ways. First, traditionally, the upper caste Hindu votes have gone to the AIADMK. With the BJP in the poll scene, these votes are likely to split.
Second, it is likely that many of the voters apprehensive of the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi have voted against the AIADMK, fearing that the party will support the BJP at the Centre in a post-poll alliance.
A BJP campaign, led by Modi, has brought into focus the Muslim community. There are about 4.5 million Muslims in the state or 6% of the state population. In an election where the margins are slender, 6% cannot be ignored. This has seen many regional parties wooing the community.
However, the disillusionment among the Muslims, especially the youth, with many regional parties is an important issue. “The bulk of Muslims have been with the DMK since the 1960s. But, the younger lot of Muslims are increasingly moving towards the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazagham and Tamil Nadu Tauheed Jamaat,” says S Anwar, a film-maker who has documented the history of ‘Muslims of Madras from 1600 to 2000 CE’ for the Madras Gazetteer Project. The inability to win the confidence of this section will prove crucial for the parties.
KM Khader Mohideen, president of the Tamil Nadu State
Indian Union Muslim League with DMK chief M Karunanidhi
(File photo by The Hindu)
The Muslims are unlikely to turn towards the Congress because of an anti-incumbency wave and it does not have a commanding presence in the state. AAP would like to believe its stand against corruption and the fact that a sizeable number of its 434 candidates all over India are Muslims may act in its favour. But AAP has failed to create a buzz in Tamil Nadu.
In such a scenario, it is the DMK, AIADMK’s arch-rival, which will benefit. The corruption charges against some of its leaders and the Alagiri-Stalin sibling rivalry is not likely to have an impact. Also, its vote base remains largely intact.
Though the AIADMK was leading in opinion polls initially, towards the final days before polling, the DMK witnessed a surge in its favour. A similar pattern was witnessed in 2009 — the AIADMK was expected to win a large number of seats but the DMK alliance surprised pollsters by winning 27 seats. In 16 days it will be clear how much of an impact the BJP-led alliance has made in Tamil Nadu. It will be clear how the Muslims has responded to the ‘Modi Wave’, and, most importantly, how these developments have affected J Jayalalithaa’s ambitions of playing a crucial role in government formation at the Centre.
(This appeared in the Hindustan Times on April 30, 2014)

Monday, 28 April 2014

Indian Navy: The good and bad in store for Admiral Dhowan

Admiral Robin Dhowan
The Indian Navy has been in choppy waters in the recent past. A string of 14 mishaps in the past 10 months, including the sinking of the INS Sindhurakshak, killing 18 personnel onboard, and the fire and resultant smoke in the INS Sindhuratna that killed two and injured seven, has led to a resignation, a promotion and a voluntary retirement. Owning up moral responsibility for the accidents, Admiral DK Joshi resigned on February 26. The Vice Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Robin Dhowan, was named the new navy chief. He superseded Western Naval Commander Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, who, upset over the defence ministry’s move, opted for voluntary retirement.
Admiral Dhowan, after taking charge as navy chief, has said that his priority will be to see that there are no more mishaps. This is an uphill task, given the challenges the navy is facing. Some of which are: An ageing fleet of warships, some nearing obsoleteness, like the INS Viraat; a depleting submarine fleet and the delay in adding new ones; a force that is stretched threadbare — from the coastal security of the nation to anti-piracy patrols, the force is overworked, and insufficient manpower training — the personnel are not kept up to date with the latest equipment. The man-machine integration is not at its optimal level.
INS Vikramaditya
That said, there are positives to look forward to. The induction of the INS Vikramaditya makes India the only country in Asia to have two aircraft carriers in its fleet. INS Arihant, India's first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine, went critical in August 2013. With the launch of the GSAT-7 in August 2013 the navy no longer has to depend on a foreign satellite for communication purposes and the induction of Boeing P8Is to the navy's aviation wing will help maritime patrolling.
Over the months the image of the navy has taken a beating and it will have to be built from here. The professionalism and high work ethic of the navy, and the armed forces in general, will help it in overcoming this phase. However, as pointed out by Admiral Sinha in his farewell address, it is important to find out ‘what went wrong’ rather than ‘who went wrong’ and there was a need to introspect the HR policies and training processes to select and train the right people. The Indian Navy has to overcome these glitches, look ahead and keep its personnel and equipment fighting fit. Then only will it be considered a true blue-water navy.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Is there a NaMo wave south of the Vindhyas?

Till now the BJP has not been able to make considerable gains south of the Vindhyas, except in Karnataka. In 2009, from the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which together have 129 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP won only 19 seats, all from Karnataka. The BJP-led NDA marked its presence in 1999 in other southern states through regional parties like the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the TDP in Andhra Pradesh. The South has been a blind spot for the party for quite some time but this time round, the BJP is focusing extensively on these states and hopes to do much better. BJP president Rajnath Singh has said that the party’s performance in Tamil Nadu will surprise poll pundits and some senior leaders even claim that the BJP will win 50 seats from the South alone. Many top BJP leaders, including its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, and senior leaders like LK Advani have toured the South to boost the party’s electoral prospects.
In Karnataka, the return of BS Yeddyurappa and B Sriramulu to the BJP fold is a shot in the arm for the party, which lost the 2013 assembly election to the Congress. The BJP hopes to win more than half of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state. In Tamil Nadu, where the BJP has got into an alliance with five regional parties, the saffron party might upset the poll equation. The AIADMK, with which, it is likely to enter into a post-poll alliance, is expected to win a majority of the 39 seats in the state. However, the BJP may eat into the AIADMK’s upper caste vote share and this will help the DMK. In Kerala, the BJP has an outside chance of winning in Thiruvananthapuram and Kasargod. In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP has pinned its hopes on N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP. There is anger against the Congress for its mishandling of the bifurcation of the state and that might help the BJP-TDP alliance.
The BJP has big expectations from these four states. There is a ‘Modi Wave’ in the South, where many people are aware of the Gujarat chief minister and his development agenda. This might increase the BJP’s vote share but it is to be seen if this will result in an increase in the number of seats the party will win. However, for a party that has not seen an active presence in the South, this is in itself an achievement.

Monday, 21 April 2014

It's not harvesting time for AAP in Tamilnadu

Yogendra Yadav (right) speaking to AAP volunteers in Chennai, Tamilnadu
Elections in Tamil Nadu this time are different from the previous years. For almost four decades the state has seen predominantly a bipolar contest between the DMK and the AIADMK, with the national and regional parties being in coalition with the big two Dravidian parties. This time, the Congress has decided to go alone in the state. The BJP has cobbled up a five-party alliance of regional parties, which failed to hitch a ride with either the DMK or the AIADMK. The entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has made it a five-corner contest in many seats.
The AAP, after its success in Delhi, has stretched its arms to other states in India and is contesting 434 Lok Sabha seats this election. In Tamil Nadu it is contesting 24 of the 39 seats.
AAP has many positives to its campaign — candidates with a clean background, a vehement stand against corruption and above all, no tall promises. While on paper this would seem good, the truth is that in the jigsaw of Indian politics where religion, caste, gender, region, etc play deciding factors, good intentions and promises alone won’t do.
However, AAP leaders are upbeat about the reaction the party has been receiving. “I am encouraged by the large number of volunteers who have joined this movement,” Yogendra Yadav told the Hindustan Times during a fundraiser dinner in Chennai. “It has been the hallmark of AAP that the spirit of voluntary work has been restored to politics. In the face of professional paid political workers who dominate all political parties, this is quite a relief and a matter of honour for someone like me working for the party. There is an excitement among the youth, minorities, middle class professionals and disadvantageous groups.”
AAP was slow to begin its campaign in the state. Many of its candidates have been campaigning for only two months and that’s too short a time for a new party taking on established parties like the DMK and the AIADMK. This is an observation David Barunkumar, AAP’s convenor in the state, agrees: “In Tamil Nadu, we took some time in the selection of candidates and so the time available for the candidates to campaign was very short.”
Raja, a vendor next to the Gandhi statue in Chennai, has not heard of AAP. “It must be a party in Karnataka or Bombay (sic).” Give a hint about the white Gandhi topi and he recollects the “thodapam” (broom in Tamil). “I have seen them,” is all that he can say about the party and does not know the name of the AAP candidate.

The AAP office in The Nilgiris, Tamilnadu
AAP has fielded candidates against A Raja in The Nilgiris and against Dayanidhi Maran in Central Chennai. The opposition has highlighted the scams in which both the DMK leaders have been accused. “Corruption becomes an issue when there is an alternative which seems to be viable. If people have two corrupt parties to choose from, corruption does not become an issue. That is why the DMK and the AIADMK have gone about doing what they do. Moreover, how can Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi talk about corruption? In Pune they [Congress] could not give a ticket to Suresh Kalmadi. Here [in Tamil Nadu] they think they can get away with murder and it is our job to show that they can’t,” Yadav said.
However, AAP is not really a factor in Tamil Nadu in 2014. But AAP could upset the chances of the top contender in a few constituencies. For example, Maran is the sitting MP and principal contender in Central Chennai. All other candidates, including AAP’s J Prabhakar, are targeting Maran. In such a scenario, where the votes are split, the winning margin will be considerably reduced. It is here that parties like AAP can make the difference.
It is unlikely that many of AAPs 24 candidates in Tamil Nadu will emerge victorious. One of the seats the party is hopeful about winning is Kanyakumari. AAP’s candidate SP Udayakumar, who led the anti-Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project protests, has got tremendous support — but so has BJP’s Pon Radhakrishnan and Congress’ H Vasanth Kumar is not a pushover.
As far as AAP’s expectations and strategy in Tamil Nadu this election is concerned, Yadav succinctly summed up: “We are planting seeds right now. This is not harvesting time for us (in Tamil Nadu). Every seed counts because in the long term it can be decisive.”
(An abridged version of this appeared in the Hindustan Times)

Thursday, 10 April 2014

NRIs: Govt needs their money but won't give them a vote

That more than 10 million Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) will not be taking part in the ongoing general elections is a shortcoming of an otherwise efficient electoral system.
It is in this vein that the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Election Commission (EC) to explore options to facilitate NRIs to vote over the Internet.
The court was hearing a petition by a UAE-based NRI doctor who challenged the clause in the Representation of the People Act (RPA) that insists that NRIs must be physically present in their constituency to cast their vote. Rules that deny or make it difficult for a group of citizens, NRIs here, to vote must change so that we are a representative democracy in letter and spirit.
The importance of NRI voters becomes evident in the fact that in 2009 there were more than 200 constituencies in which the winning margin was only around 43,000.
Also, the remittances by Indians overseas were $67 billion in 2012-13, or about 4% of GDP, and it is alarming that their opinion in choosing the next government does not count. At present, the RPA must be amended if postal ballots are to be sent to NRIs.
The elections in the United States is often criticised for the complex voting arithmetic it uses to choose the winning candidate — remember the 2000 Florida election recount?
However cumbersome the voting system is, the US has ensured that every citizen, irrespective of where he or she resides in the world, is given a chance to exercise his or her suffrage.
US citizens living outside the country and who have informed their local election office receive blank ballots electronically — depending on the state it could be a ballot, an email, a fax or an Internet form. It has to be filled and send back to the election office. More than 100 other countries follow similar practises.
Non-resident citizens of Japan, Brazil, France and 17 European Union states are allowed to vote at the embassies consulates around the world. In Britain, expats lose their right to vote after staying overseas for more than 15 years.
The apex court has asked the EC to file a reply by Friday and it is hoped that the franchise rights of the NRIs will not go in vain. And if it means that the laws must be amended, the next government should not hesitate in doing so.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Naidu doesn't think that Modi will hamper TDP's chance this time

The return of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader Chandrababu Naidu to the BJP-led NDA alliance, a decade after partying ways, does not come as a surprise. Recent opinion polls have suggested that if the TDP were to return to the NDA it would boost the chances of the alliance both in Telangana and Seemandhra. The confidence exuberated by leaders of both the BJP and the TDP on Sunday, when the tie-up was announced, reflected this. However, many would say that this deal will not be a game changer in the two would-be states. The BJP will be contesting 13 Lok Sabha seats and 62 assembly seats from undivided Andhra Pradesh, though the final plan is yet to be chalked out.
Mr Naidu is no longer the ‘hi-tech’, reformer chief minister he once was. The 1999 Time ‘South Asian of the Year’, who had the United States president and the British PM as guests to witness the IT revolution in Hyderabad, has been out of power for a decade and a lot has changed during this time. The Congress, which routed the TDP in 2004, may be a pale shadow of what it was, but other parties have moved into that political space. The K Chandrashekar Rao-led TRS and the Jaganmohan Reddy-led YSR Congress have gained where the two national parties and the TDP have lost. The alliance has also seen discontent within the TDP and in the state BJP unit — TDP members staged a protest outside Mr Naidu’s house and the BJP’s Telangana and Seemandhra unit chiefs were not present during the Sunday announcement. Mr Naidu, in an interview in November 2004, might have blamed the TDP’s poll debacle in the state on its alliance with the BJP — he even attributed the communal riots in Gujarat to have negatively impacted the TDP’s chances — but today political necessities have forced him to sing a different tune.
The TDP-BJP alliance is symbiotic in many ways: It gives the BJP an important ally in the southern state and the TDP a presence at the Centre, if an NDA government comes to power.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Reaching the youth through Facebook and Twitter

Over the next 35 days, 814 million Indians are expected to vote in the general elections. Of this number, around 7.2 crore are voters in the age group of 18-23 years. These first-time voters, or ‘born frees’ as The Economist describes them because all of them were born after the Indian markets opened to the world in the 1990s, are an important bloc every political party is addressing. Armed with mobile phones and tablets, this group is technology-savvy and highly informed. The high level of awareness among first-time voters can be attributed to improved access to information and technology — through television, broadband Internet and mobile phones. According to the I-Cube 2013 report, by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IMRB International, by June this year India, with close to 250 million users, is expected to overtake the United States as the second largest Internet base in the world. With a year-on-year growth of 40 %, India by 2015 will have the largest incremental growth in Internet connectivity.
Several parties have set up IT teams to focus on online campaigning on the Internet, especially on social networking sites. With close to 250 million Internet users, of whom 93mn have Facebook accounts and around 35mn have Twitter accounts, this is a big a segment for any party to tap. The advantages here are that while it is easier to reach the target groups the feedback is also quicker. The intended message reaches a greater audience in less time with lesser effort. The flip side is that the easy access to technology has also been misused to spread mischief and hatred, as was seen in the case of a video going viral before the Muzaffarnagar riots in Uttar Pradesh.
Of the many reasons that make this general election a landmark one, perhaps the most significant of them is the way political parties have relied on technology to reach the electorate. Along with massive rallies, televised debates and door-to-door campaigning, this election has seen contestants and parties focus on social media and other Internet platforms, like blogs, advertisements, podcasts, clouds and analytics, to reach the voters and gauge their performance. Whatever be the outcome of the elections, one thing can be said with certainty: Technology has helped more people take an informed decision before voting than any previous election in the history on India. In that sense, technology has empowered and enabled ever single voter.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Is NaMo reaching out to the Muslims? Not in Uttar Pradesh

Rajnath Singh (left) and Narendra Modi
The importance of Uttar Pradesh in India’s electoral politics needs no elaboration. With 80 Lok Sabha seats, no party that wants to form a government at the Centre can ignore the state. Elections over the decades, with a few exceptions, have shown that the party which wins UP either forms the government at the Centre or becomes a major ally in a coalition running the government in New Delhi. Another reason that keeps UP in the spotlight is that it is home to many high-profile constituencies, like Rae Bareli, Amethi, Varanasi, Lucknow, etc. Varanasi, in UP, will probably be the most-talked about constituency as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal are contesting from here. That Mr Modi chose Varanasi as one of the two seats he is contesting from reflects the state’s importance to the BJP.

Narendra Modi with Muslim leaders
With Muslims forming about 18% of the state’s population, their importance cannot be overlooked. Given this, it is surprising that of the 75 candidates the BJP has announced in UP, there is not even one candidate from the Muslim community. On the face of it an analysis on religious lines is not always the right approach, but, for a party that is claiming to be more ‘inclusive’ and keeping a distance from the hardline Hindutva it has been associated with, this void is glaring. The BJP, especially under Mr Modi, has made an effort — or it seems — to reach out to the Muslim community. Party president Rajnath Singh’s “try us once…” comment was widely perceived as an effort to bring the minority community closer to the BJP and thereby boost its chances in the elections. The party was quick to clarify that Mr Singh’s comment was not an apology for the 2002 riots in Gujarat, but an assurance that it will not shy away from apologising for any future mistake. Its list of candidates from UP, however, tell a different story.
The BJP is counting on the upper caste votes and is building on the support of the OBCs. Back-of-the-envelope estimates predict around 40 seats for the party in the state. In the state’s crowded electoral pool this is a commanding figure. But the party will have to put its money where its mouth is. This also gives other parties, especially the Congress that has fielded 11 Muslims from the state, a stick to beat the BJP. This is a criticism the BJP cannot wish away.