During his heydays in the 1990s and the early 2000s, Lalu Prasad Yadav never organised political rallies.
He organised Railas.
These were very big political rallies held at the Gandhi maidan in Patna. And they were deemed to be so big by Lalu that the feminine sounding word ‘rally’ proved inadequate to describe them.
Hence a new word Raila was coined.
But time passed and the world went around, and in the end the old adage ‘you can’t fool all the people all the time’, came true in case of Lalu as well.
These days Lalu is a minor player both at the state and the central level. Given this, every few months you can hear him saying nice things about Sonia Gandhi, whenever the opposition parties choose to attack her.
A couple of days earlier Lalu went back to his favourite method of political engagement. He organised a parivartan (change) rally in Patna (and not a Raila). News reports suggest that Lalu hired thirteen trains to ferry his supporters to Patna for the rally.
This is a huge change from the usual. In the Bihar, that this writer grew up in, a rally would mean an open invitation to the supporters of Lalu to board any train that they wanted to.
Also like any good father would, Lalu used the occasion of the parivartan rally to soft launch his sons Tej Pratap and Tejashwi into big-time politics. Tej Pratap is a BA drop out and Tejashwi was a budding cricketer who played one Ranji trophy match for Jharkhand in November 2009. He was also a part of the Delhi Daredevils IPL team, warming his bum on the bench for a few seasons.
It is interesting if we compare this launch with that of Lalu’s own launch into serious politics which happened in the early 1970s. Lalu had quit student politics in 1970, after he lost the election for the post of the President of the Patna University Students Union (PUSU) to a Congress candidate. Before losing this election, Lalu had been a general secretary of the PUSU for three years.
As Sankarshan Thakur writes in Subaltern Sahib: Bihar and the Making of Lalu Yadav, “On the eve of elections of Patna University Students Union (PUSU) in 1973 non-Congress student bodies had again come together, if only for their limited purpose of ousting the Congress. But they needed a credible and energetic backward candidate to head the union. Lalu Yadav was sent for.”
The trouble of course was that Lalu was no longer a student. He was an employee of the Patna Veterinary College by then. But then those were the seventies and the state was Bihar, so not being a student was a small problem that could be fixed.
As Thakur writes “Assured that the caste arithmetic was loaded against the Congress union, Lalu readily agreed to contest. He quietly buried his job at the Patna Veterinary College and got a backdated admission into the Patna Law College. He stood for elections and won. The non-Congress coalition in fact swept the polls.”
And this set up Lalu for the big league as the agitation launched by Jai Prakash Narayan, against Indira Gandhi, gathered speed. The next year i.e. 1974, the agitation against Indira Gandhi spread throughout the country. As Thakur writes, “An agitation committee was formed, the Bihar Chatra Sangharsh Samiti to co-ordinate the activities of various unions and Lalu Yadav as president of PUSU was chosen its chief.” These events catapulted Lalu Yadav into the big league from which he never looked back. He became a member of the Lok Sabha in 1977 at a very young age of 29. He became the Chief Minister of Bihar in 1990.
But the fact of the matter remains that he if he wasn’t asked to contest the 1973 PUSU elections, Lalu might have never returned to politics and probably retired by now from the Patna Veterinary College.
Lalu was lucky because he was at the right place at the right time. His sons are lucky because they are his sons. The next generation of politicians(even those who are not a part of electoral politics) is always luckier to that extent. They already have a base that has been built to work from.
But the question does the next generation respect this base because of which they get lucky? And they answer seems to be no, as a spate of recent examples show. Robert Vadra, with his land dealings in Haryana and Rajasthan, has been a huge embarrassment for Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul and the Congress Party.
Sharad Pawar had to recently come to the rescue of his nephew Ajit, after he made insensitive comments in drought hit Maharashtra. Mamata Banerjee’s IIPM educated nephew Abhishek stands accused of running Ponzi schemes in West Bengal. News reports suggest that UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has been spending a lot of time trying to settle ‘who gets the government contract’ dispute between his step brother Prateek and his first cousins. Pawan Bansal, had to recently quit as the Union Railway Minister after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) caught his nephew Vijay Singla for running a jobs for bribes racket in the Indian Railways.
And there are examples from the past as well. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s spotless reputation as the Prime Minister of the country was marred by the dealings of his foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya. J Jayalalithaa’s weakness for her foster son V Sudhakaran tarred her reputation. The late Pramod Mahajan’s son Rahul was and continues to be an embarrassment.
The late Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao’s son Prabhakar was accused of being involved in the urea scam in the 1990s. If we go back a little further, Moraji Desai, the fourth prime minister of India, had to deal with allegations of graft against his son Kanti Desai. Kanti Desai had allegedly collected Rs 80 lakh for party funds misusing his position as the PM’s son. Raj Narain a minister in Desai’s cabinet, even came up with the slogan “Hamse kya parda hai, Kantike haath mein garda hai (Why hide it from us, Kanti’s hands are muddied).”
Jagjivan Ram could have become the first dalit Prime Minister of independent India if he hadn’t been embarrassed by his son, Suresh Ram. Nude pictures of Suresh were published in a magazine called Surya, which was edited by Maneka Gandhi. The pictures showed him in a compromising position with a 21 year old student of Satyawati College, Delhi University, called Sushma Chaudhury, who he eventually married (On a slightly different note Suresh’s sister Meira Kumar is the speaker of the current Lok Sabha). “If the Kamasutra has 64 poses of making love, this one certainly had 10,” wrote Khuswant Singh in a later column, with regard to these pictures.
As veteran journalist and editor Inder Malhotra has been quoted as saying “In fact, in many ways Suresh Ram tried to emulate Sanjay Gandhi and received the same shelter from his father which Sanjay got from her mother. It was a game of one-upmanship.”
And Sanjay Gandhi, among all the sons, daughters and relatives of politicians, was the biggest embarrassment of them all. His dictatorial ways ensured that the Congress party was thrown out of power for the first time since independence in 1977 (For a detailed study on this Vinod Mehta’s The Sanjay Story is an excellent read). Indira Gandhi who was known to be very stern otherwise continued to be a mother when it came to Sanjay.
The broader point is that the politicians’ weakness and love for their progeny (or even other close relatives) puts them in embarrassing situations. At times, the progeny are acting as fronts for the shenanigans that the politicians indulge in and at times they are on their own. But in either condition there is a cost that is to be paid for.
A major reason that Lalu Prasad Yadav finally lost in Bihar was because of the shenanigans that his saalas (brothers in law) Sadhu Yadav and Subhash Yadav, indulged in. They had the political patronage of Rabri Devi, who was the Chief Minister of Bihar. News reports coming out now suggest that Lalu’s two sons are also not the best of buddies. And this can’t be good news for Lalu Yadav whose political fortunes have taken a huge beating since 2005.
All the politicians who promote their progeny in politics and allied areas, need to thank Indira Gandhi. If it wasn’t for her, politics in India would have never become a family owned business. As historian Ramachandra Guha said in a lecture titled Verdicts on Nehru: The Rise and Fall of a Reputation (Second V. K. R. V. Rao Memorial Lecture, Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, 20 January 2005) “After Nehru the Congress chose Lal Bahadur Shastri to become Prime Minister, a post on which he quickly stamped his authority. Mrs (Indira) Gandhi herself may never have become Prime Minister had not Shastri died unexpectedly. She was chosen by the Congress bosses as a compromise candidate who (they thought) would do their bidding. But once in office Mrs Gandhi converted the Indian National Congress into a family business. She first brought in her son Sanjay and, after his death, his brother Rajiv. In each case, it was made clear that the son would succeed Mrs Gandhi as head of Congress and head of Government. Thus, the ‘Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’ should properly be known as the ‘(Indira) Gandhi’ dynasty.”
India is still paying the costs of this monstrous mistake as almost all politicians now want to pass on the baton to their progeny and other relatives close to them. Professor Pulin Garg of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad used to say with regard to family owned businesses in India “Haweli ki umar saath saal ( a family owned business lasts for 60 years).” It will be interesting to see how long political hawelis last on an average? That will be a big determinant of which way India goes in the decades to come.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on May 17,2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
The Congress campaign in Gujarat is getting desperate. Sample this.
“When it comes to GDP growth, Gujarat is lagging behind states like Bihar, Odhisa and Chhattishgarh,” the Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said while addressing a public meeting in Gandhinagar. “Narendra Modi says Gujarat is most progressive, but if you have been to other states, Bihar, Odisha and Chattisgarh are much ahead,” he added.
When Indian politicians start using terms like Gross Domestic Product growth with voters you know that they don’t have much else to talk about.
Data from the planning commission shows that the state gross domestic product (GDP) at current prices (which does not adjust for inflation) of Bihar, Odisha and Chattisgarh grew at the rates of 20.4%, 16% and 15.3% in 2011-2012.
In comparison Gujarat grew at 15.8%. So the economic growth (which is what the state GDP measures) of Bihar and Odisha was faster than that of Gujarat. But Gujarat grew faster than Chattisgarh.
But as the old saying goes we should be comparing Apples with Apples and not Apples with Oranges. And to add to that as one of my teachers used to say “percentages should be used carefully lest we draw the wrong conclusions”.
Let me deviate a little and give an example to explain what I am basically trying to say. Let us say you earn Rs 10,000 a month and your income jumps to Rs 20,000 a month, a gain of 100%. On the other hand let’s say you earn Rs 1 lakh a month and your income jumps to Rs 1.3 lakh a month, or a gain of 30%.
So even though the percentage gain in the first case is more, the absolute gain is more in the second case. Hence, when we are talking percentages it is important to keep the base number in mind. So Bihar did grow faster than Gujarat but it was because of what economists like to call the “base effect”.
Gujarat’s state GDP in 2010-2011 was Rs 5,13,173 crore. It went up by 15.8% to Rs 5,94,369 crore in 2011-2012. In comparison Bihar’s GDP for 2010-2011 was Rs 2,17,814 crore. And it grew by 20.4% to Rs 2,62,230 crore in 2011-2012.
The point being Bihar is growing on a lower base and that’s why the percentage growth is higher. The same argument holds for Odisha as well.
The other point that comes here is the population of the state. Bihar’s state GDP went up by Rs 44,416 crore to Rs 2,62,230 crore. This gain of Rs 44,416 crore was spread across a population of 10.38 crore people. This implies a gain of Rs 4,279 per individual who lived in Bihar.
Now let’s do the same calculation for the state of Gujarat. The GDP of the state went up by Rs 81,196 crore to Rs 5,94,369 crore. This gain of Rs 81,196 crore was spread across a population of Gujarat is 6.04 crore as per the 2011 census. Hence, this implies a gain Rs 13,447 per individual who lives in Gujarat.
This basically means that the growth in Gujarat at an individual level was three times that of Bihar in 2011-2012. Hence, Sharma’s argument that Bihar grew faster than Gujarat doesn’t really work.
And Sharma is not the only one attacking Modi. Ajay Maken, the youngest minister in the Union Cabinet alleged at a rally that the ruling BJP government was neck-deep in corruption in the name of development. Well that’s like the pot calling the kettle black. As has been proven time and over the last few years, India hasn’t seen a more corrupt government than the current UPA government ruling the country.
Mani Shankar Aiyer, a former minister in the UPA government, called Modi Ravana and asatya ka saudagar. He also called him a paani purush. Congress Rajya Sabha MP Hussain Dalwai, said “Modi is just a mouse before Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel”.
Bharat Solanki, Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation, decided to beat all the abuses being hurled at Modi and termed him as “Nathuram Godse” and alleged that “under the BJP rule in Gandhi’s Gujarat not truth but lies carry more currency”.
Elections campaigns can get nasty. But the Congress doesn’t seem to have learned from its 2007 blunder when Sonia Gandhi called Modi a “maut ka saudagar”. While it might have sounded like a brilliant turn of phrase to the Congress speechwriter who wrote Sonia’s speech, it clearly backfired on the party.
The issue here is what does the Congress attack Narendra Modi with? Economic development as I showed above is healthy in Gujarat. It is one of the few states in the country which has a power surplus. The roads are ‘just’ fine and the cities are largely clean. Modi doesn’t really have any big corruption charges against him unlike the Congress government as well as the party.
So what do you do in a situation like this? You get personal and attack on Modi’s big blip, the 2002 riots in the state, and hope that it creates enough fear in the minds of the voter and he decides to vote for the Congress.
But does the issue really matter to the major portion of the voters in Gujarat? The answer is no. As Aakar Patel, a known Modi baiter, recently wrote in the Open magazine “Gujaratis like to think they are great nationalists. It doesn’t occur to them that India suffers every time they triumphantly keep memories of the massacre alive, by backing the man first unwilling or unable to stop it, now too incompetent to prosecute its participants. They are voting Caesar(i.e. Modi) back to power.”
Hence, Congress’ negative campaign isn’t really going to work. In fact, it might work in favour of Modi, who will continue to espouse the cause of Gujarati Asmita and portray himself as a lone gladiator taking on the Congress baddies.
Also negative campaigns do not really work. Take the case of the recent Presidential elections in the United States. Romney’s attacks on Obama got too personal towards the end of the campaign. Donald Trump, a Romney supporter, wanted to see the college records of Obama. The insinuation here was that Obama may got into college in America as a foreign exchange student from Indonesia. Trump also wanted access to Obama’s passport. The insinuation here was that would allow him (i.e Trump) to prove something Muslim about Obama.
As marketing guru Al Ries told me in a recent interview on Firstpost “Mitt Romney spent most of his time attacking Barack Obama. That’s the wrong strategy. What a politician needs to do is to offer a positive concept first and then point out that his or her opponent lacks this concept.”
Some of the biggest state elections in India have seen winning parties run extremely positive campaigns. Akhilesh Yadav ran the umeed ki cycle campaign in Uttar Pradesh and Mamata Banerjee ran the poriborton campaign in West Bengal. While they are busy making a mess of the states after coming to power, but then that is a different issue all together.
In comparison. the Congress party doesn’t really have any strategy in place when it comes to taking on Narendra Modi. And what it is doing clearly won’t work.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on November 12, 2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])
Scandinavian crime writers have been fairly popular over the last few years. The likes of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson have taken the world by storm. The latest Scandinavian sensation is Jo Nesbo, who has been writing a series of novels featuring a very “disturbed” Oslo police detective, Inspector Harry Hole.
Hole has a drinking problem. He has done drugs at various points of time. And the love of his life has left him and disappeared after she gets embroiled in one of the cases that Hole is investigating. On top of this Hole shares a rather philosophical relationship with his father who is dying of cancer. Nesbo writes the following paragraph in the context of the relationship that Hole shares with his father in a novel titled The Leopard:
There were those who asserted that sons always became, to some degree or other, disguised variants of their fathers, that the experience of breaking out was never more than an illusion; you returned; the gravity of blood was not only stronger than your willpower, it was your willpower.
Nowhere is this truer than in the context of the Indian political scenario, when the sons and daughters take over the mantel of their politician parents. India is full of political scions who have taken over, or are taking over, or will take over from where their parents left or are likely to leave.
Let me try and make a random list of politicians who fulfill this criterion, starting from Jammu Kashmir in the north and working my way down south to Tamil Nadu.
Omar Abdullah, the current chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is the son of Dr Farooq Abdullah and grandson of Sheikh Abdullah, both career politicians.
Himachal Pradesh is ruled by Prem Kumar Dhumal whose son Anurag Thakur is a member of the Lok Sabha from Hamirpur and also a joint-secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India(BCCI).
The chief minister of Punjab is Prakash Singh Badal. His son Sukhbir Singh Badal is the deputy chief minister and the president of the Shiromani Akali Dal.
Sheila Dikshit is the chief minister of Delhi. Her son Sandeep Dikshiit is the member of Lok Sabha from the East Delhi constituency.
Orissa or Odisha as it is now known as is ruled by Naveen Patnaik son of the late Biju Patnaik.
Andhra Pradesh has scions of NT Rama Rao battling for political space. Jaganmohan Reddy the son of the late Y Rajshekar Reddy is giving the ruling Congress party a tough time.
Tamil Nadu has the Karunanidhi, his sons, his nephews, his grandsons, and so on, all hoping to stay relevant in a space which is getting a little too crowded for Karunanidhis.
Karnatka has BS Yeddyurappa the enfant terrible of the BJP. His son B. Y. Raghavendra is a member of the Lok Sabha from Shimoga. The state also has the Deve Gowda clan.
Maharasthra has too many political clans for me to start listing them here (that probably needs a separate piece in itself). But the latest political scion to join the bandwagon is Aditya Thackeray, son of Uddhav Thackeray and the grandson of Bal Thackeray.
This is a random list and is not complete in anyway. But it list remains incomplete without Akhilesh Yadav, the son of Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
The phenomenon of political scions is not limited only to the states.
Patrick French in his book India: A Portrait carried out a very interesting piece of analysis on the Indian members of Parliament. Every Indian MP under the age of 30 was a hereditary MP i.e. his or her family member had made a career out of politics. More than two-thirds of the MPs under the age of 40 are hereditary.
Twenty seven MPs were what French calls “hyper-hereditary” i.e. they had several family members who made a career out of politics. The Congress party leads the race here. All the MPs that the party has under the age of 35 are hereditary. 88% of the Congress MPs under the age of 40 are hereditary. Regional parties have a greater proportion of hereditary MPs, in comparison to the national parties.
So what does this tell us? It tells us that the Indian voter loves to elect political scions into positions of power. It tells us why Motilal Nehru’s great great grandson is leading the race to become the next Prime Minister of India. It tells us why Akhilesh Yadav, the son of Mulayam Singh Yadav, was elected the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
But that’s just one part of it. It also tells us that politicians like businessmen want their sons and daughters to take over from them. A businessman after having built a good business which throws up a lot of money wants his progeny to manage it. The same seems to be the case with the politicians. Having built a good business model over the years they want their sons and daughters to run it.
This leads to a situation widely prevalent in the Hindi film industry where it’s difficult for an outsider to make it big as a hero. Most of the current crop of heroes are descendants of people who have had something to do with the Hindi film industry. These “heroes” are jocularly referred to as “baba log”.
But it is difficult to separate cause from effect. The Indian voter likes electing political scions and that is why we see more and more baba log entering politics. But at the same time since baba log have cornered most of the space in Indian politics, who else does the voter vote for?
It is a chicken an egg question.
Nevertheless, expecting baba log to change things that their parents or uncles or aunts or grandfathers weren’t able to do, is expecting a little too much from them. The case in point is Akhilesh Yadav. He ran the “umeed ki cycle” campaign during the elections in Uttar Paresh. The campaign was produced by former Hindi film director Arjun Sablok, who directed flops like Neal n Nikki and Na Tum Jaano Na Hum.
The voter was taken for a ride thinking that all that had been wrong during the rule of Mayawati, and also during the rule of Mulayam Singh Yadav, would change in the days to come. That was not to be.
The question that one needs to ask here is why political scions enter politics. That should provide us an answer to why it’s best not to expect any sort of change from baba logs. A political scion enters politics to carry on the family tradition of being in politics. He also understands that at some level he will not have to struggle to make it on his own. Things will be handed out to him on a platter. In short he is taking the easy way out, in most cases. And anyone who takes the easy way out to make himself relevant in this world has his own interests on the top of the agenda and not of the voters who elected him in the first place. The top interest of a political scion is furthering the cause of the family and the people who support the family.
Hence Akhilesh Yadav is in the process of becoming what his father was and probably still is. To end, let me quote Jo Nesbo again:
There were those who asserted that sons always became, to some degree or other, disguised variants of their fathers, that the experience of breaking out was never more than an illusion; you returned; the gravity of blood was not only stronger than your willpower, it was your willpower
The bigger sucker saved Buffett. But Mallya may not have any such luck
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 5,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/babalog-prophecy-why-akhilesh-wont-ever-transcend-mulayam-368232.htmll)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
Chote Netaji Akhilesh Yadav is a concerned man these days. A man concerned for more than 400 MLAs of Uttar Pradesh. To help them he decided to increase the area development fund for the MLAs and MLCs of Uttar Pradesh to Rs 1.5 crore from the current Rs 1.25crore. And then he allowed the MLAs to spend Rs 20 lakh from the increased allocation of Rs 25 lakh to buy a car.
The media did not like the move. And went bang bang bang against it, forcing Akhilesh to withdraw the “free car” offer. “I take back the whole decision. The reason behind this is that most of the MLAs have decided not to take the offer after the media hype,” he told reporters after changing his decision.
When making the decision Akhilesh had said that a car will provide MLAs mobility and help them more effectively. Fair point. Once the electorate of this country has elected an individual to represent them, they need to provide him with the basic things that he needs to carry out his job of representing them, properly.
Given this a car is surely a necessity for an MLA. There is no arguing with that. So to that extent Akhilesh was right. But the question that crops up here is that why allocate Rs 20 lakhs to buy a car?
Cars in India can be bought for as low as Rs 2 lakh. I am no auto expert and won’t be able to tell you the difference between torque and horse power, but I do know that a decent comfortable car can easily be bought in this country from anywhere between Rs 5-8 lakh.
So why allocate Rs 20 lakh then?
Before I get around to answering this question, let me deviate a little and tell you about something interesting that I read in a book titled Spent — Sex, Evolution, And Consumer Behaviour written by Geoffrey Miller, a few years back.
In this book Miller points out that “Consumerism has deep roots in evolution.” He then explains it with an example. “Why would the world’s most intelligent primate buy a Hummer H1 Alpha sport utility vehicle for $139,771? It is not a practical mode of transport. It seats only four, needs 51 feet in which to turn around, burns a gallon of gas every ten miles, dawdles from 0 to 60mph in 13.5 seconds and has poor reliability. Yet, some people feel the need to buy it.”
The question is why would anyone want to buy a car which has such poor performance parameters. “Biology offers an answer. Humans evolved in small social groups in which image and status were all-important, not only for survival but for attracting mates, impressing friends, and rearing children. Many products are products are signals first and material objects later,” writes Miller.
The last sentence is particularly interesting: “Many products are products are signals first and material objects later.” Just keep this sentence in mind, and let us return to Akhilesh and his Rs 20 lakh car.
Why does an MLA need a car? The answer is very simple and Akhilesh has already explained it to us. An MLA needs a car to go around his constituency. It gives him better mobility. Allows him to meet more people. Travel faster. And spend his limited time in a much better way.
All the above mentioned things can be easily accomplished even by buying a Tata Nano or a Maruti Zen or any car in the range of Rs 5-8 lakh. So why allocate Rs 20 lakh to buy a car?
For an MLA a car is much more than mobility. It is a signal of “power”. It is a signal of the fact that he is an “important” person. These are things that are very important for an MLA to project to the constituency of voters. If he is visiting a particular area of his constituency there has to be a buzz “ke MLA sahab aa rahe hain”. And all these needs or “signals” as Miller calls them, cannot be accomplished by driving around in a Tata Nano with a ‘red-light” on top.
What an MLA needs is an SUV (sports utility vehicle). A bigger car which conveys a sense of “power” and importance. Driving around in a Tata Nano or any other cheaper car will not convey this. And SUVs are expensive. The good ones cannot be bought for a price of Rs 5-8 lakh. And so you UP MLAs need Rs 20 lakh to buy a car.
The logic is similar to that of politicians taking the risk of going around in “helicopters”, given that so many of them keep crashing and killing them. A politician flying in a helicopter and landing in an open field, dust flying around everywhere, thousands of people waiting to have a look at him and hear him speak, creates a sense of awe, power and importance among the voters.
So will Akhilesh now allow his MLAs to buy helicopters and bill it to the state? That of course won’t happen, given that the media has successfully nipped his “car for MLAs” scheme in the bud.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 4,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-the-upa-mla-needs-a-rs-20-lakh-car-367173.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])