“A woman and an elephant never forget an injury,” wrote Hector Hugh Munro better known by his pen name Saki. Wonder whether, Sharad Pawar, the sharp man that he is, has ever read Saki? (On a totally different note, the short stories of Saki are an absolutely delightful read).
The Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar resigned from the Union Cabinet last week. Media reports suggest that he was miffed by the fact that after Pranab Mukherjee decided to retire, and move to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he was not made the number two in the Union Cabinet .It seems that the defence minister AK Antony has been allocated the seat to the right of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where Mukherjee used to sit, making him number two in the government. And that’s a seat that Pawar had wanted.
The Congress Party has been trying to mollify Pawar and his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) since he quit a few days back. “In a Parliamentary democracy, all are equal in Cabinet. The Prime Minister is first among equals and there is no number two or number three,” Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh told the Deccan Chronicle.
That apart it would be rather stupid of Sharad Pawar to assume that the Congress would offer the number two position in the cabinet to him, assuming there was a thing like that. Pawar was one of the first to raise revolt against Sonia Gandhi by bringing her foreign origins to the forefront, after she had taken over as the President of the Congress Party in the late 1990s.
Even before that Sonia and Pawar never shared a great relationship. As Rashid Kidwai writes in Sonia-A Biography “When she (Sonia Gandhi) took over as the Congress chief, there was a certain unease between her and Sharad Pawar. Though Pawar concurred with the party’s decision to request Sonia to save the Congress, he later candidly admitted that he was never comfortable with her. Their conversations never lasted long and even that short duration was punctuated by long pauses.”
On March 14, 1998, the Congress Working Committee unceremoniously shunted out Sitaram Kesri, an elected President, and requested Sonia Gandhi to take over as the President of the Congress.
Kidwai in his book suggests that after Sonia took over as the President of the Congress, Pawar got an informal poll survey done. The results of the survey concluded that if he raised the banner of revolt against Sonia on the issue of her foreign origin, he would be the second Lokmanya Tilak. “The actual findings of the survey were never made public,” writes Kidwai. Things got nasty a little over a year and two months later on May 19, 1999, when Sharad Pawar, P.A.Sangma and Tariq Anwar raised a revolt against Sonia Gandhi on the issue of her foreign origin. Sonia resigned in a huff. But she took her resignation back after the trio was kicked out of the Congress party.
Therefore things went from bad to worse between Pawar and Sonia. “After revolting against her on the ground of her foreign origins, Pawar said that Sonia would never openly speak to him, but a CWC member who had tried hard to bring about a rapprochement between Pawar and Sonia said the same thing about him: ‘We encouraged him to have an open, heart-to-heart discussion with the Congress president, but he would just not open up,’” writes Kidwai.
So all this suggests that Pawar and Sonia share a very uneasy relationship and probably bear each other because of the compulsions of coalition politics. Also Sharad Pawar effectively ensured that Sonia Gandhi never became the Prime Minister of the country. Given that it is highly unlikely that Sonia would appoint Pawar number two in any union cabinet which she effectively controls.
Pawar of course understands this more than anyone else given the shrewd man that he is. So why is then all the drama of quitting in a huff happening? The major reason seems to be the fact that the Maharashtra chief minister Prithiviraj Chauhan is seen to be hurting the interests of the NCP. He has announced a white paper on the irrigation department which has been headed by Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar for ten years now.
The other major issue has been with co-operative banks. The Reserve Bank of India had dissolved the board of directors of the Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank which was controlled by Ajit Pawar in May last year. Pawar junior had come down heavily on the manner in which Chavan had implemented the RBI order in haste.
A few months back in March, RBI dissolved the NCP controlled Sangli District Central Cooperative Bank for violation of the Banking Regualtion Act. This move came a week after the NCP leader Dinkar Patel was elected as the Chairman of the Bank.
Chavan has also distanced himself from the refurbished Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi. Allegations are now being made that relatives and family members of public works development (PWD) minister Chhagan Bhujbal, a senior NCP leader, benefitted considerably from contracts that were awarded out at inflated costs.
The NCP is also unhappy with the fact Chavan is not giving Pawar enough respect. “”In the past, CMs would make it a point to call on him and give him the respect due to a tall leader,” Times of India reported sources as saying.
The other theory going around is that Pawar is worried about the increasing influence of his nephew Ajit among the party legislators. Hence this move of resigning from the union cabinet is also being seen as a pressure tactic to get a ministerial birth for his daughter Supriya Sule, who is a member of the Lok Sabha from the Baramati constituency. As the Times of India on July 22 “Congress sources feel Pawar is shrewdly leveraging his unhappiness with the CM to pressure the Centre on demands ranging from a say in governorships, appointments to various boards, a ministerial perch for daughter Supriya while invoking the coalition mantra. He is also seen to be pitching for a say in Rajya Sabha nominations.”
The game is all about drawing some concessions out of the Congress party. At the end of the day we must remember that Pawar is no Mamata Banerjee. The influence of the NCP is limited to parts of western Maharashtra (primarily in districts around Pune). Pawar and NCP cannot win an election in Maharashtra on their own, unlike Mamata can and did in West Bengal. They need the Congress party as an alliance partner as much as the Congress needs them. The elections in Maharasthra are due in 2014. NCP is a party of business barons who have huge stakes in co-operative banks, sugar co-operatives and education institutes. Given this, it is important for them to remain in government. And they won’t remain in government unless they have a seat sharing agreement with the Congress party.
So what Pawar is doing right now is throwing some tough deliveries at the Congress party to give them some batting practice and hoping that he is able to draw out some goodies from them in the process. In the meanwhile we will some serious rhetoric from the NCP continuing. The one that caught my eye was of Jitendra Ahwad, an NCP leader, recently telling CNN-IBN that Sharad Pawar was the best man to be the Prime Minister.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 23,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/pawar-is-no-mamata-di-he-is-just-giving-cong-batting-practice-386923.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
I remember reading an interview with Shekhar Kapur years back in which he described his experience with Javed Akhtar during the making of Mr India.
When Akhtar first recited the line “Mogambo Khush Hua” to Kapur, he wasn’t impressed. This was the main line of Mogambo, the villain of the movie. As Kapur recounts on his blog “Hmmm, I thought – there must be more to that.”
But Akhtar was convinced about the line. “Shekhar Sahib, when Kapil Dev hits a six over the grounds, people will shout Mogambo Khush Hua, and when people play three card brag (teen patti) and if they get three aces, they will shout “Mogambo Khush Hua.” “You trust me on that,” Javed Akhtar assured me,” writes Kapur on his blog.
Kapur ran with what Akhtar told him and the rest as we all know is history. Mr India was a huge hit. Such was the power of the line that people started to use it during the course of regular conversation, whenever they felt happy about something. As Kapoor writes “And some time later as I was watching Kapail Dev hit a six over the Sharjah grounds I saw a huge banner go up in the Indian supporters. It said : “Mogambo Khush Hua.””
“Mogambo Khush Hua” became one of the most famous one-liners that Hindi cinema had produced. But this wasn’t the best one-liner that Akhtar ever wrote. His best one liner clearly has to be “Mere Paas Ma Hai” from the movie Deewar. The line is simple yet so powerful.
Deewar was released on January 1, 1975. Around six months later on June 25, 1975, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India declared a state of emergency. During the 21 month period of emergency Indira’s younger son Sanjay almost ran a parallel government along with his cronies. One of his major areas of concern was overpopulation and the government under his instructions forcefully carried vasectomies all over the country. This phenomenon got Atal Behari Vajpayee all worked up to write a poem titled “aao mardon na mard bano”. Those were the days.
Sanjay Gandhi wouldn’t have been able to force vasectomies on thousands of Indian men without the “love” and the “backing” of his mother Indira Gandhi, who is said to have had a soft corner for her ill-tempered son. “Mere Paas Ma Hai” was a line written for Sanjay Gandhi rather than Ravi, the character played by Shashi Kapoor in Deewar , who speaks the line in the movie. Chances are that if Deewar had been released six months later during the emergency, the line wouldn’t have made it past the censor board.
India is at the same stage again. The love of a mother for her only son is holding the country back. The moves are already being made. Pranab Mukjerhee has been packed off to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The next decision that is to be made is who will replace him at the Finance Ministry?
Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, wants to run the ministry with his team of economists: Montek Singh Ahulwalia, the deputy chairman of the planning commission, C Rangarajan the Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economic Adviser to the government of India. He is also hoping that Raghuham Rajan from the University of Chicago, a former Chief Economist at the IMF, to join the team.
But will this be allowed to happen? The answer is no. Sonia Gandhi needs a politician as the minister of Finance. A politician who can like, P Chidambaram did, come up with schemes like the Rs 71,000 crore of farmers loans being waived off. A politician who can get the right to food act up and running.
A politician who can get onto a helicopter and drop bucket loads of money from it. Okay, not quite that. But a politician who can ensure that voters of this country have been bribed enough in the name of poverty and economic development, so that when Lok Sabha elections happen in 2014, they vote for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Congress. All this to ensure that Rahul baba takes over the reins of the world’s biggest democracy.
This means that the fiscal deficit of the government of India will continue to go up. The government will continue to borrow more and more. And interest rates are likely to remain high. Economic sense be dammed.
And in the next few months you might hear of an A K Antony or a Digvijay Singh or a Jairam Ramesh or a Kamal Nath or a Sushil Kumar Shinde or even the all guns blazing all the time, Kapil Sibbal, taking over as the finance minister of this country. The name doesn’t really matter because none of them have voices or ideas of their own. Even if they did they have long been put on the backburner because all that matters now is that “Rahul Gandhi has to be made the PM”.
Manmohan Singh is the only person who can stop a seasoned Congress politician from taking over as the finance minister of India and limiting the serious damage to the Indian economy that would come with it. The good “doctor” has got more and “much” more, than he would have ever bargained for. He can resist moves to appoint a politician as a finance minister by threatening to resign. That is one thing that the Congress won’t be able to handle. It would set the cat among the pigeons.
It’s time for Singh to payback to the country for all that the country has given to him. But the question is will he be as docile as he has been and allow a mother’s love for her son to takeover? Will Rahul Gandhi say “Mere Paas Ma Hai”? Or will Manmohan Singh by resisting a full time politician taking over the ministry of finance, give us, you, me and everybody else, an opportunity to say “Mogambo Khush Hua”.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 2,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/babalog-prophecy-why-akhilesh-wont-ever-transcend-mulayam-368232.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
Who is Sonia Gandhi?
Do we the citizens of this country really know her?
What are her views on various things?
What does she think about the current state of the Indian economy?
What does she think of the government which she runs on “remote control”, like Balasaheb Thackeray once did?
When she went abroad recently for medical treatment, what is it that she is suffering from? Does it bother her that her only son Rahul is in his forties now and is still unmarried?
Does she find time to be with her two grandsons?
Are her Hindi speeches written in Roman script?
Pardon me for being rhetorical, but I am just trying to make a broader point. The citizens of India don’t have answers for any of the questions asked above. They need not have answers for every question. But they definitely need to know her views on the Indian economy, the government she runs on remote control and the medical illness that plagues her.
The other questions are personal and answering them would just satisfy some curiosity and nothing else.
The fundamental question that arises here is why is there so much mystery surrounding Sonia Gandhi? Nobody currently influences the economics and politics of India more than she does. But when was the last time you read an interview with her and heard her interacting with the media?
The answer behind all her mystery might very well lie in the art of branding a product. As brand guru Martin Lindstrom writes in Buyology – Truth and Lies About Why We Buy “Mystery is a fascinating component as many brands leverage this in order to make us pay more for a brand.”
And so many big brands make mystery their selling point.
“Ye PSPO nahi jaanta,” went the catch line of an advertisement of Orient Fans. Towards the end of the advertisement it was revealed that PSPO stands for “Peak Speed Performance Output.” Now what does that mean?
Or take the case of “ZPTO yukt naya clinic All Clear.” What does ZPTO stand for?
Or take the case of Tata Xenon XT, the new car from Tata Motors. What does XT stand for?
Or Johnson’s natural baby oil with aloe vera? What is aloe vera?
Or products like Ariel Oxyblue and Opti-ThickTM Harpic?
All these abbreviations and terms stand for something. PSPO is a technology that uses lesser electricity to deliver more air, over a larger area. ZPTO is a microbiocide, which is supposed to kill microbes which cause dandruff. But dandruff can happen for a lot of other reasons as well.
The XT in Xenon XT stands for Cross Terrain. Aloe Vera is a plant with supposed medicinal qualities and has been often cited as being used in herbal medicines. It is even mentioned in the New Testament ((John 19:39–40))
Do most consumers understand what do these terms mean? The answer in most cases would be no. But do these terms matter to consumers when they make a buying a decision? Yes, they do. The mystery associated with such terms, makes the product more appealing to consumers. “Take the Sony Trintron TV for example. What is Trintron? No idea. It’s some technical mystery, which claims that the TV is better – it sounds technical and fancy and seduces us to believe this is something very special. This is mystery in action,” says Lindstrom
The case with Sonia Gandhi is very similar. The “mystery” associated with her along with her foreign origin makes her very appealing to the Indian voter.
And she goes out of her way to maintain the mystery. The recent “circus” in the run up to the Presidential election is a good case in point. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, went to meet her to discuss who would be the Presidential candidate of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Banerjee came out and told the waiting press that the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and the vice president Hamid Ansari, were the two candidates on Sonia’s mind. No one officially knew till then what was Sonia Gandhi’s take on the issue. The cat was suddenly out of the bag.
Banerjee then went to meet Mulayam Singh Yadav and put out three candidates of her own, the former President, APJ Abdul Kalam, the current Prime Minister, and suspended CPI(M) member and former speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee.
But pretty soon Yadav had backed out of the so called deal he had struck with Mamata. It is said that Sonia Gandhi had secret meetings with Mulayam Singh Yadav, and soon he was ready to support the UPA’s candidate for the President.
There are couple of interesting points that come out here. One is of course that you don’t play games with the President of the Congress party, who comes from the Nehru-Gandhi family. But more importantly it was a lesson to everyone about what happens when you talk to the press about what Sonia Gandhi is thinking on a particularly important issue. The “mystery” is important to her being and it must be maintained.
Maintaining the mystery behind a good brand goes a long way in maintain their selling point. Lindstrom provides a very good example of a shampoo launch to explain what happens when the mystery associated with a brand goes.
“When Unilever was getting to launch a shampoo in Asia, a mischievous employee with time on his hands wrote on the label, just for the hell of it, Contains the X9 Factor. This last minute addition went undetected by Unilever, and soon millions and millions of bottles of the shampoo were shipped to stores with those four words inscribed on the label. It would have cost too much to recall all the shampoo, so Unilever simply let it be. Six months later, when the shampoo had sold out, the company reprinted the label, this time leaving out the reference to the nonexistent “X9 Factor.””
The company was in for a surprise. “None of the customers had any idea of what the X9 Factor was, but were indignant that Unilever had dared to get rid of it. In fact, many people claimed that their shampoo wasn’t working anymore, and that their hair had lost its luster, all because the company had dropped the elusive X9 Factor,” writes Lindstrom.
With the mystery gone consumers thought that the brand wasn’t simply good enough as its earlier version. Sonia Gandhi seems to be working on the same principle in keeping her mystery going and keeping her publicity to the minimum.
She is rarely seen speaking unless it’s an election meeting, where her speeches are largely prepared in advance, unlike Atal Behari Vajpayee who spoke impromptu on a lot of occasions. I don’t remember ever reading and interview of hers. Even the few biographies written on her are largely about the days when she first came to India and was put up at the house of Teji and Harivansh Rai Bachchan. Her initial struggle to adjust to Indians ways. Her strong relationship with her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi. Her reluctance at Rajiv Gandhi entering politics, after the death of his brother Sanjay. And so on. None of them get into the political side of Sonia Gandhi.
And so the mystery continues. That’s what great brands are all about. If that means that Indian democracy is run out of a ‘backroom’ with a ‘remote-control’, then so be it.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on June 21,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/sonia-gandhi-and-the-art-of-mystery-branding-352184.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])