Modi’s challenge: Transforming from an Advani to Vajpayee

narendra_modi
Vivek Kaul
Tavleen Singh in her very interesting book Durbar recounts one of her earliest reporting experiences in Delhi. The year was 1977 and the state of internal emergency declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was still in effect. The opposition leaders had come together to address a rally at the Ram Lila maidan in Delhi.
The leaders started to arrive in their white Ambassador cars by around six pm in the evening. The ground was full. And the boring speeches started one after the other. As Singh writes in Durbar “I thought people might start to leave unless somebody said something more inspirational. It was past 9 p.m. and the night had got colder although the rain had stopped.”
But nobody had left. They were all waiting for a certain man called Atal Bihari Vajpayee to speak. By the time Vajpayee rose to speak it was well past 9.30 pm. The crowds clapped chanting ‘
Indira Gandhi murdabad, Atal Bihari zindabad‘. As Singh puts it “He acknowledged the slogans with hands joined in a namaste and a faint smile. Then, raising both arms to silence the crowd and closing his eyes in the manner of a practiced actor, he said, ‘Baad muddat ke mile hain deewane.’(It has been an age since we whom they call mad have had the courage to meet) He paused. The crowd went wild. When the applause died he closed his eyes again and allowed himself another long pause before saying, ‘Kehne sunne ko bahut hain afsane.’ (There are tales to tell and tales to hear). The cheering was more prolonged, the last line of a verse that he told me later he had composed on the spur of the moment. ‘Khuli hawa mein zara saans to le lein, kab tak rahegi aazadi kaun jaane.’ (But first let us breathe deeply of the free air for we know not how long our freedom will last). The crowd was now hysterical.”
Such was the connect Vajpayee had with the masses. Having heard him give speeches to a large audience of over a lakh, I can safely say his pauses which became a butt of jokes later when people saw him make speeches on television, would mesmerise the entire audience when he spoke to them live.
In the Lok Sabha election that followed the leading opposition parties came together to form the Janata party. Vajpayee’s party Jan Sangh was also a part of it. The Janata experience was soon over and by the 1984 Lok Sabha elections Jan Sangh in its new avatar as the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was down to two seats.
From there on Lal Krishna Advani built the party on the ideology of hardcore 
Hindutva, taking the number of seats that the party had in the Lok Sabha to 88 in 1989 and 120 in the 1991. This fast rise of the party was built on slogans and ideas like “saugandh Ram ki khaate hain mandir wohin (i.e. Ayodhya) banayenge” and “ye to kewal jhanki hai Kashi Mathura baaki hai”. Vajpayee took a backseat for a while. It is one thing to instantly connect with the masses when you address them and entirely another thing trying to build a political party from scratch. And this is where Advani flourished.
In the 1980s and the early 1990s the BJP espoused causes like making temples in Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura. It talked about banning cow slaughter, having a uniform civil code, and doing away with the Article 370, that gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. All this was music to the ears of voters across Northern and Western India and the party catapulted from being a political front of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to having some identity of its own.
In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections the BJP won 187 seats in the Lok Sabha and was invited to form the government. At that point of time it was Vajpayee and not Advani who had played larger role in reinvigorating the party, who became the Prime Minister of the country.
While Vajpayee may have been a taller leader there was practical considerations at play as well. The BJP on its own did not have the strength to form the government. It needed other parties to support it either by joining the government or supporting it from the outside. And the chances of that happening were better with a moderate Vajpayee at the helm of things than a hardcore Advani who by then was looked upon as a man who had played an important part in bringing down the Babri Masjid. At least, that was the perception among a host of political parties.
So Advani had to make way for Vajpayee as the Prime Minister. BJP’s first tryst with power lasted less than three weeks and even with Vajpayee leading, it could not attract the support required to prove its majority in the Lok Sabha. But things changed in the years to come and Vajpayee was the Prime Minister from March 1998 to May 2004.
His moderate image and larger than life persona helped him rule the country with a rag-tag coalition of more than 20 political parties.
Narendra Modi is now trying to convert his image from that of a hardcore Advani of the 1990s to that of a more moderate Vajpayee who ruled the country. At least, that is the conclusion that one can draw from the speech he made at the Shriram College of Commerce in Delhi, yesterday.
In the speech he said several things that tried to project an image of a moderate ‘Modi’. Lets sample a few lines.
– The youth of the nation has its finger on the mouse of computers and is changing the world. India’s journey has gone from snake charmers to mouse charmers
– The ambassador of a nation asked me what major challenges India faces and I said the biggest one is that how we use opportunity. When asked what the opportunity was, I said the youth. 
Europe buddha ho chuka hai, China budha ho chuka hai.
– This nation is being ruined by vote bank politics. This nation requires development politics. If we switch to politics of development, we will soon be in a position to bring about lasting change and progress
– We need P2G2. Pro-People Good governance
– Why shouldn’t we make the ‘Made in India’ tag a statement of quality for our manufactured products?
If the above statements are viewed in isolation Modi does not come across as a hardliner that he is typically made out to be. He comes across as a man who has some vision for India.
Politically this makes sense for both BJP as well Modi. If Modi is able to soften his hardcore image in the days to come he might start to appeal to people beyond his home state of Gujarat and votaries of hardcore 
Hindutva. He might also start to appeal to political parties who currently won’t touch him with a bargepole given his hardcore pro Hindutva image.
This is very important in this era of coalition politics where no single political party can form a government on its own and sticking to any ideology becomes a burden beyond a point. If this strategy of projecting a softer Modi does work, it would mean that the BJP would be going back to its soft 
Hindutva strategy that it followed during the reign of Vajpayee. As we all know this strategy worked wonders for the BJP till it was abandoned in favour of the India Shining strategy.
A softer Modi will continue to appeal to the traditional supporters of the BJP and at the same time appeal to those who currently have doubts about him. That seems to be the idea behind the new Modi that India saw for the first time in Delhi, yesterday.
Whether that happens remains to be seen. As marketing guru Seth Godin writes in 
All Marketers are Liars “Great stories happen fast. They engage the consumer the moment the story clicks into place. First impressions are more powerful than we give them credit for.”
Given this getting rid of first impressions in the minds of the voter is very difficult unless you are the Congress party, and do not stand for anything. So it remains to be seen whether people of India will buy the new story that Modi is trying to project at the national level. But then we all have to start somewhere.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on February 7, 2013

(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected]
 

Cong trying to do a Romney in Gujarat by attacking Modi


Vivek Kaul

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])
 

What Karnad just found out: India is a nation of holy cows

 
 
Vivek Kaul
Two-thirds of the way through singing Kolaveri Di, Dhanush sings a few words which you notice if you are the kind who listens to the lyrics of songs very carefully. He sings “cow-cow holy cow, I want to hear now”.
These few words can be used to best describe the situation which prevails after Girish Karnad said “Tagore was a great poet but a mediocre and second-rate playwright.” Not surprisingly the Bengali bhadralok are up in arms.
There are five holy cows that the bhadralok have and it’s best that people stay away from criticising or critiquing them. Here is the list.
Mohun Bagan is the best football club: This is not much of a holy cow now but in the eighties and till the mid nineties any criticism of this football club could have got you lynched. Then came ESPN-Star Sports and Bengal realised that their football is a slow motion version of the real football played in Europe.
Rossogulla/Sondesh is the best sweet: This can lead to minor battles especially if you have a bong girl friend who loves her food. She will never come around to appreciating the pleasures of eating Mysore Pak. Another version of this debate is whether the Hilsa is the best mach i.e. fish in the world?
Sourav Ganguly is the best cricketer: I realised how strong this holy cow was when in the late nineties India was struggling to find a good wicket keeper and a Bengali colleague of my father suggested that “Sourav se wicket keeping kyon nahi karata hai?(why don’t we get Sourav to keep wickets?” In a land of few heroes Sourav could do no wrong.
Manika Da is the best director: Manik Da was the daak naam or nickname of the great Satyajit Ray. I have watched almost all of what Ray directed and watching his movies has been a brilliant experience. But Pather Panchali isn’t my favourite Ray movie (Now did I do a Karnad here?).
In fact I loved the sequels Aparjito and Apur Sansar much more. My favourite Ray movies are the ones he made in the seventies. The Calcutta trilogy of Pratidwandi (1970), Seemabaddha (1971) and Jana Aranya (1976), and Aranyer Din Ratri (1970) remain perennial favourites. And I can watch Shatranj ke Khiladi (1977) over and over again.
Ray was a rare director whose movies were much better than the books and stories he based them on. Anyone who has read Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Pratidwandi and Aranyer Din Ratri and watched Ray’s movies based on the books would realise that. The same is true for Sankar’s Seemabadha and Jana Aranya, and Prem Chand’s short story Shatranj ke Khiladi. Also I am not getting into the debate of whether Ray’s Charulata was better than the original novel written by Rabindranath Tagore.
Nevertheless, a lot of what Ray directed after Hirok Rajar Deshe in 1980 was very mediocre and nowhere near his best. But I wouldn’t recommend you say anything like that in and around Kolkata.
Rabindranath Tagore is the foremost intellectual: This is the holiest of holy cows for the Bengali bhadralok. Tagore cannot be criticised. Any criticism of Tagore, reasonable and unreasonable, is totally unwelcome. Girish Karnad is finding that out now. A stream of Bengali intellectuals and politicians have queued up to criticise Karnad. The basic argument is that what does Karnad know of Bengal? Even the criticism on Twitter and Facebook has been scathing. A struggling actor who happens to be a Bengali had this to say on his Facebook page “Karnad calls The tagore a second rate playwright!!coming from a mediocre actor and a boring playwright..I have said it..!moving on..”
Another interesting comment that I came across on my Facebook page was “Even Poonam Pandey and Sherlyn Chopra know how to seek attention. Girish Karnad would do better in taking a lesson from them.”
The backlash on Karnad’s comments raises several questions. Is any creative person above criticism? Even Tagore. Also Tagore was not a one dimensioned intellectual. He was a poet. A novelist. A playwright. A musician and even a painter. His interests were not limited to one particular domain. But that does not mean he was the best at all the things he did. And that’s precisely the point that Karnad was trying to make.
As he said “He was a great poet certainly, one of our greatest. And he got the Nobel Prize in 1913 when most of our modern literature was still in the state of formation. His greatness as a poet is there, his greatness as a thinker is there… he wrote plays, he certainly was a pioneer in breaking away from the unexciting commercial plays…he didn’t direct great plays. The point is he was a mediocre playwright.”
And Karnad does know a thing or two about writing plays having written several plays himself. He also won the Jnapith award in 1998, which is the highest literary award conferred in India.
Tagore was a great poet. But whether he was a great musician, painter or playwright remains debatable? And this debate or discussion one cannot have with the Bengali bhadralok. As George Soros’ Theory of Reflexivity states “People’s understanding is inherently imperfect because they are a part of reality and a part cannot fully comprehend the whole.”But why blame only the Bengalis. India as a nation is full of holy cows who cannot be critiqued. And here are some of the bigger holy cows whose criticism can get you into trouble.
Narendra Modi is the best leader:  There are three ways to get people to read things on the internet in India. Criticise the Congress party and the UPA. Praise Narendra Modi (or NaMo as his fans like to call him). And the third and the best way is to criticise NaMo. That will unleash a barrage of negative comments on the website, with a lot of them bordering on abuse. But yes the website will get a huge number of hits, something that it has never seen before. The broader point being that any criticism or even an objective evaluation of his persona is immediately run down. But there are chinks even in NaMo’s armour starting with an abandoned wife and the fact that he doesn’t really come across as a team man and likes operating on his own most of the time.
Mahatma Gandhi: The father of the nation was a great man. But he had his weaknesses. The Mahatma did not have a great family life. And his eldest son Harilal converted to Islam. His opinions on sex for a family man were slightly weird. As an article in The Independent points out “It was no secret that Mohandas Gandhi had an unusual sex life. He spoke constantly of sex and gave detailed, often provocative, instructions to his followers as to how to they might best observe chastity. And his views were not always popular; “abnormal and unnatural” was how the first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, described Gandhi’s advice to newlyweds to stay celibate for the sake of their souls.”
But any discussion or debate which does not show Gandhi in positive light is likely to create trouble.
Jawahar Lal Nehru and his relationship with Edwina Mountbatten: As Ramachandra Guha wrote in The Hindua few years back “The Indian public in general, and the Indian press in particular, has shown a keen and perhaps excessive interest in the relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten. That they were intimate is not to be doubted — but did the bonds ever move from the merely emotional to the tellingly physical?”
Universal Studios was supposed to make a movie on the relationship but they later shelved the project. As The Telegraph reported “The Indian government had given permission for the movie, Indian Summer, starring Cate Blanchett and Hugh Grant, to be filmed on location there but only if physically intimate scenes were removed.” This is another holy cow which cannot be questioned.
Shivaji Maharaj: In the state of Maharashtra any critique of the great king who fought the Moghuls like no one else did can get you into a lot of trouble. As James Laine who wrote the book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India found out a few years back. Those who wanted the book banned felt that the book insulted Shivaji. Those who read the book felt that it was not a book about Shivaji but more a book about how Shivaji’s legacy has been hijacked by various castes and communities in Maharashtra to further their own ends.
Sachin Tendulkar is the best cricketer:  This for a very long time was even holier than the holy cow. Any criticism of the great man was likely to attract trouble irrespective of the fact whether you were in Mumbai or Muradabad. But things have changed over the years and people are more open to the God being criticised. Nevertheless, any criticism of Sachin can get you a lot of abuse, as I found out when I wrote this.
Islam: Any criticism of the religion can create major trouble as Salman Rushdie found out. Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was released on September 26, 1988 in the United Kingdom. Madhu Jain, a journalist working for India Today reviewed the book for the magazine. As she wrote in a recent column in the Openmagazine “It all began with my review of The Satanic Verses, published on 15th September 1988 in India Today­ (probably the first review of the novel.)…Unfortunately, the editor of the books pages of the magazine at the time, who later went on to edit a national daily, plucked some of the more volatile extracts from the novel—those about the Prophet’s wives—and inserted them into the book review. Not too long after the IFS bureaucrat-turned-politician Syed Shahabuddin read the excerpts (not the book as he admitted ) and demanded that The Satanic Versesbe banned. Protests erupted in India and Pakistan. In Karachi, a few protesters died when they were fired upon. It is believed that Ayatollah Khomeini watched this on television and ordered the fatwa.”
India became the first nation to ban the book on October 5, 1988, after Syed Shabbudin, a member of parliament, petitioned the government to ban the book. Rajiv Gandhi, the political novice that he was, banned the book immediately.  Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa on Feb 14, 1989, Valentine’s Day.. Rushdie had to go into hiding after that and his been unwelcome in India since then. He had to pull out of the Jaipur Literature Festival last year.
MF Hussain: This is an interesting story. Hussain had to live a large part of his later life in exile given the large number of court cases pending against him in various parts of the country for hurting the sentiments of Hindus through his paintings. This included drawing several Hindu gods and goddesses in the nude. Those in his favour say that artists need to have their freedom of expression, which is true.
But let me reproduce a paragraph from a piece  that Shobhaa De wrote on him in The Times of India during his exile in Qatar. “Dressed in traditional Emirati gear, the painter is wearing socks , but no shoes. Mustafa, his handsome third son explains this is to respect local sensibilities regarding bare feet,” wrote De. Hussain had always walked bare foot but he was respecting the local sensibilities in Qatar and wearing socks. If he could respect local sensibilities in Qatar, couldn’t he do that in India as well? But any criticism of Hussain can get the so called intellectual class in Delhi and Mumbai ganging up against the person who dares to criticise Hussain.
The Gandhi family: During her peak any criticism of Indira Gandhi was unwelcome. Nayantara Sahgal, her first cousin, wrote a book Indira Gandhi: Tryst with Power, which was   very critical account of Indira’s tenure as India’s Prime Minister. The book written in 1982 was only released in India earlier this year. This trend has continued and any criticism of the Gandhi family is largely unwelcome. Arvind Kejriwal recently broke this trend by taking on Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law headon.
Rajinikanth: Try criticising India’s highest paid actor anywhere south of the Vindhyas and see what happens. Manu Joseph the editor of Openwrote a column on the superstar in which he said “He has no talent, an unremarkable body, and has had no hair for much longer than we realise. When he puts his right elbow on his left palm and the left elbow on the right palm, he demands that everyone accepts it as dance. And his ability to toss a cigarette in the air and grab it with his mouth is attainable even to my mother. Have no doubts, even to Tamilians he looks grotesque in leather shirts and pants and previously unseen shoes. I have watched his films in the cheapest theatres in Madras and know exactly what happens when he makes his grand entry, boots first. The screams and whistles in the theatre are not the awe of respect, but an expression of love for a beloved clown. Nobody in those theatres knew why they were reacting in that manner to him.”
Almost all of what Joseph wrote is true but read the comments that followed his article to see how the people reacted to his critique of the star.
Ambedkar and reservation: BR Ambedkar and the reservation policy first initiated first by VP Singh and then carried forward by the United Progressive Alliance government is a bigger holy cow than even Rajinikanth. You might get away by critiquing Rajinikanth but expect no such mercy if you get around to criticising Ambedkar or the reservation policy.  Arun Shourie, wrote a book titled Worshipping False Gods in which he challenged. Ambedkar’s contribution to Indian Independence. As Shourie wrote “There is not one instance, not one single, solitary instance in which Ambedkar participated in any activity connected with that struggle to free the country. Quite the contrary–at every possible turn he opposed the campaigns of the National Movement, at every setback to the Movement he was among those cheering the failure.”
Of course this did not go down well with people. As Rediff reported “Some Congress MPs did, however, burn copies of the book outside Parliament House, and called for a ban.”
The Holy Cow: Yes. The holy cow is the ultimate holy cow in the country. And every few years close to the elections the issue is resurrected with demands to ban their slaughter. Ironically enough India is set to emerge as the largest exporter of beef in the world.
The moral of the story is that India as a country has too many holy cows that one cannot critique and criticise. We make heroes, we worship them but we never get around to analysing them. As the Channel V ad went in the good old days, we are like this only.
The article first appeared on www.firstpost.com on November 10, 2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

If Modi is Goebbels, what does that make Digvijay?


Vivek Kaul
Digvijay Singh, currently one of the powerful general secretaries in the Congress party, was born in February 1947. Given this he must have been in his late teens when the Yash Chopra directed multi-starrer Waqt released in 1965.
While I am not sure whether Singh is a movie buff or not, chances are he might have seen the movie. We all do when we are in our teens.
There are two things from Waqt that have survived the test of times. One is the qawali “ae meri zohra jabeen” sung by Manna De, set to tune by Ravi, and written by the great Sahir Ludhianvi.
Another is a dialogue written by Akhtar-Ul-Iman and spoken by Raj Kumar in the movie, which goes like this: “Chinoi Seth…jinke apne ghar sheeshe ke hon wo dusron par pathar nahi feka karte (Chinoi Seth…those who live in glass houses don’t throw stones at others).”
If Digvijay Singh hasn’t seen this movie its time he did. If watching a 206 minute long movie doesn’t fit into his scheme of things, he can at least watch this 18 second YouTube clip, to realise that those who live in glass houses don’t throw stones at others.
Singh has accused Narendra Modi of being well trained by the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS) in the “Nazi tradition” of false propaganda. He tweeted twice on this to say:
1. “Sangh trains it’s cadre in disinformation campaign. Obviously Modi has been trained well! Sangh has modeled itself in the Nazi tradition.”
2. “Sangh training to its cadre. Jhoot bolo zor se bolo aur baar baar bolo (Tell a lie, tell it loudly and tell it hundred times). Doesn’t it remind you of Hitler’s Goebbels?
These tweets came after Narendra Modi accused the government of having spent Rs 1880 crore in the treatment of Sonia Gandhi’s mysterious illness. Modi claimed to have got this number from a media report.
Singh has compared Modi to Paul Joseph Goebbels who was a German politician and Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany. There is no denying that Modi might be wrong with his Rs 1880 crore claim but the fact of the matter is that the Congress leaders including Digvijay Singh have been doing the same thing that they have just accused Modi of i.e. false propaganda, over and over again.
Let’s take a look at something that Digvijay Singh said in the context of the coalgate scam sometime back. “The way the CAG is going, it is clear he (i.e. Vinod Rai) has political ambitions like TN Chaturvedi (a former CAG who later joined the BJP). He has been giving notional and fictional figures that have no relevance to facts. How has he computed these figures? He is talking through his hat,” said Singh.
The CAG put the losses due to the government giving away coal blocks for free at Rs 1,86,000 crore. Singh would like us to believe that the figures put out by the CAG were notional and fictional and had no relevance to facts. As I explain here it was Singh and not the CAG who was talking through his hat.
Singh’s esteemed colleague, the finance minister P Chidambaram, also tried to tell the nation that there had been no loss in coalgate. “If coal is not mined, where is the loss? The loss will only occur if coal is sold at a certain price or undervalued,” said Chidambaram.
The union Finance Minister wanted us to believe that since almost all companies which got free coal blocks have not started to mine coal till date, hence there have been no losses. This is like saying that I gave away my house for free, but since the person I gave it away to is not able to sell it, hence I did not face any losses.
Chidambaram was basically trying to confuse us by mixing two issues here. One is the fact that the government gave away the blocks for free. And another is the inability of the companies who got these blocks to start mining coal. Just because these companies haven’t been able to mine coal doesn’t mean that the government of India did not face a loss by giving away the mines for free. (You can read the complete argument here).
Kapil Sibal the union telecom minister wanted us to believe that the government hadn’t faced any losses by giving away licenses to telecom companies on a first come first serve basis rather than auctioning them. The CAG had put these losses on account of this at Rs 1,76,000 crore. What these examples clearly bring out is that Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh are indulging in false propaganda of the worst kind, something they have just accused Narendra Modi of.
Another interesting point is that there can be a clear difference of opinion when it comes to the losses suffered by the government on account of coalgate. The assumptions that CAG worked with put the losses at Rs 1,86,000 crore. As I showed in an earlier piece with some more aggressive assumptions the losses could have even shown to be at Rs Rs 13.5 lakh crore (You can read about it here).
But there can be no such variation when it comes to the amount of money that the government has been spending on the treatment of Sonia Gandhi’s illness (if at all it has). A very simple way to puncture Narendra Modi’s argument is to just tell the nation, how much money has really been spent.
Modi claims that the government has spent around Rs 1880 crore or around $356 million on Sonia Gandhi’s illness.  That’s a lot of money. If that is not the right amount, what is the right amount? All it needs is a simple clarification from the government.
And that hasn’t come. What has come is a comment that accuses Modi being a Nazi. As an earlier piece on this website pointed out that there is an RTI application pending before the UPA government asking for details of her visits, the amounts spent and for what purposes. What Singh’s comment also shows is that the Congress doesn’t know how to tackle Modi in Gujarat. Sonia Gandhi in 2007 had labeled him maut ka saudagar. Singh has now labeled him a Nazi. By trying to tarnish Modi’s image the Congress is only helping Brand Modi become much stronger at least in Gujarat. And that can’t be clearly good for a party which claims to be secular.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on October 3, 2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/if-modi-is-goebbels-what-does-that-make-digvijaya-477800.html
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

Media and the art of misreading LK Advani’s blogpost

Vivek Kaul

Sunday evenings are normally difficult days for newspaper editors. There is not much happening politically. Businesses are shut and so is the government.
So unless there is a rail mishap somewhere or India happens to win bronze medal at the Olympics, bringing out the Monday edition is a major challenge in comparison to most other days.
Unless, someone like LK Advani happens to write a blog which smells of the foot in the mouth disease, and can be read between the lines.
Newspapers have gone to town highlighting that Advani has conceded to the possibility of a non BJP-non Congress government emerging after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. “A non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister heading a government supported by one of these two principal parties is however feasible,” wrote Advani. This has become the headline point.
But the truth is a little more complicated than that. The word to mark in Advani’s statement is “however”. The context in which he uses the word however has been missed out by the newspapers while reporting on the blog.
Advani starts the blog with an informal chat he had had with two Senior Cabinet Ministers in the current United Progressive Alliance at a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister(PM) Manmohan Singh, for the outgoing President Pratibha Patil.
As he writes “In an informal chat with two senior Cabinet Ministers belonging to the Congress party before the formal dinner, I could clearly perceive an intense sense of concern weighing on the minds of both these Ministers. Their apprehensions were as follows: a) In the Sixteenth Elections to the Lok Sabha, neither the Congress nor the BJP may be able to forge an alliance which has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. b) In 2013 or 2014, therefore, whenever the Lok Sabha elections take place, the Government likely to take shape can be that of the Third Front. This, according to the Congress Ministers would be extremely harmful not only for the stability of Indian politics but also for national interests.”
The blog then goes on to address the concerns of these Congress ministers. “My response to the anxiety voiced by these Congressmen was: I can understand your concern, but I do not share it. My own view is: i) The shape which national polity has acquired in the past two and a half decades makes it practically impossible for any government to be formed in New Delhi which does not have the support either of the Congress or of the BJP. A third Front Government, therefore, can be ruled out. ii) A non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister heading a government supported by one of these two principal parties is however feasible. This has happened in the past also. But, as the Prime Ministership of Ch. Charan Singh, Chandrashekharji, Deve Gowdaji and Inder Kumar ji Gujral (all supported by Congress) as also of Vishwanath Pratap Singhji (supported by BJP) have shown, such governments have never lasted long.”
Essentially Advani is saying three things in a very direct way. The first and foremost is that the Congress is worried after having been in power for nearly eight years at a stretch. The second thing is that he does not expect the third front to come to power, as a certain section of experts has been widely speculating. The third and the most important point is that no government in the country can be formed without the support of either the Congress or the BJP. Hence even if the Congress or the BJP do not form the government they will run the government. Given this, such a government is not expected to last long.
While Advani has said that a non-BJP non-Congress PM can emerge in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, he has also said that such a PM cannot last long as has been the case in the past. This is a very important point that has been missed out on by the media while reporting on the blog and thus creating an incomplete picture.
As expected the Congress leaders are shouting from the rooftops that Advani has already accepted defeat. “Advani has conceded defeat by saying that there can’t be a BJP prime minister in 2014. It means he has conceded defeat… After this blog, how will a BJP candidate win?” said ex journalist and now BCCI office bearer and Congress leader, Rajiv Shukla.
That feeling does not come out anywhere through a proper reading of the blog. In fact Advani clearly says that “it may be the first time when the Congress Party’s score sinks to just two digits, that is, less than one hundred!” Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but the statement does make it clear that Advani hasn’t accepted defeat in any sort of way.
Shukla’s statement should also be seen in light of the fact that Advani attacked the Gandhi family in his blog. As he wrote “The party’s (the Congress party) miserable performance in Rae Bareilly, Amethi etc. which have long been regarded as pocket-boroughs of the first family, in the U.P. Assembly polls held recently and its dismal record in the Corporation elections of Uttar Pradesh where as against the BJP’s score of ten out of twelve Corporations, the Congress drew a big blank are clear indices of the party’s collapsing fortunes.”
The main job of any spokesperson of the Congress party is to keep the flag flying for the Gandhi family and that’s what Shukla was basically doing.
Another cocktail party theory going around is that Advani has basically used the blog to make a veiled attack at his own party, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), and the senior leaders who are busy projecting Narendra Modi as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2012 elections. The logic being that Narendra Modi cannot lead the BJP to a win in the Lok Sabha elections and so he (i.e. Advani) still remains the right candidate, his age notwithstanding.
Now that is something only Advani himself can throw light on and we can only make speculations on the same.
To conclude, let me throw in some lines from a popular reggae song called “Games People Play” first released in 1994 and sung by this group called Inner Circle. As the lines go:
All the games people play now,
Every night and every day now,
Never meaning what they say, yeah,
Never say what they mean.

Politicians are a tad like that.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on August 6,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/media-and-the-art-of-misreading-lk-advanis-blogpost-406759.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])