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The Chicken Tikka Masala election

Submitted by on May 15, 2014 – 3:45 pmNo Comment

By Anuj Kapoor, CJA-UK Associate Member

Right ingredients in the Indian election .. ?

Right ingredients in
the Indian election .. ?

The three main alternatives in this 2014 Indian election seem like a choice between the three ingredients of the much-loved Indian dish:

‘Chicken’ – Rahul Gandhi, who failed to stand up on issues even as he tried desperately to distance himself from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-2 only to then recount the UPA’s successes during his campaign;

The ‘tikka’ (also means the Hindu mark on the forehead) – Narendra Modi, who is more than anything a Hindu nationalist from the far religious right, steeped in saffron no matter how much any of his supporters present arguments claiming his secularism;

The ‘masala’ is undoubtedly Arvind Kejriwal (of the Aam Aadmee Party). He has provided most of the excitement and zing. No contest in this election is as mouth-watering as the one in Varanasi. The masala has been a tad muted though because of the extremely obvious shift of the Indian media that seems to have turned instantly against him after his dharna (sit in) which gridlocked the national capital before Republic Day in January.

The choice may seem to be between the above, but in actual fact it isn’t. It’s a very strange assortment of dishes laid out on the table to choose from.

You have a party that has delivered very strong legislation for uplifting the poor, some of which has borne fruit and others will perhaps take time to come to fruition, that is the left-leaning Congress-led UPA. Their MNAREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), RTI (Right To Information Act), AADHAAR (a Government of India Initiative under the Unique Identification Authority of India to create a database of all Indians to form the basis of, among other things, targeted poverty alleviation programmes focused on Below Poverty Line Populace) are some schemes that are certainly very deep and hard-hitting.

However the UPA suffers from an extraordinary level of fatigue and shoulders the weight of enormous corruption that makes it a particularly unpalatable dish that everyone has already had an excess of. Its welfare programmes have increasingly looked like appeasement of the largest vote bank, the rural and the poor.

It has not shown conviction in implementing much needed economic reforms. Rahul’s politics seem on the surface to be stuck in this transition between the UPA-2’s excesses and his own slightly idealized reality, which doesn’t really connect with Indians.

Then you have the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which has suffered forever from being on the ‘wrong right’. Rather than championing policies from the economic right, offering a real alternative to a left-leaning economic environment, it has always managed to focus more on the religious right of the spectrum. Cap that with the BJP’s Narendra Modi, whose awareness of economics, and therefore of the economic right, seems limited to giving mindless sops to industry, be it land acquisition or pricing.

What is worse, his lack of economic nuance is hidden behind a façade of the ‘Gujarat Model’, which state he is Chief Minister of. Study after study has shown that Gujarat had been doing well long before Modi arrived on the scene. In fact during his tenure, other states have shown a higher rate of improvement than Gujarat – Maharashtra being the most touted example.

This doesn’t even include things like the UN Human Development Index performance, where Gujarat’s performance is at best average and at worst quite poor, as amply clarified in many of Caravan Magazine’s recent articles through April and May 2014. Nirma, Reliance, Amul (all model businesses started by Gujaratis) and a large expatriate Gujarati population thriving in the West all predate Modi.

These are significant facts that are overlooked by the popular media. His involvement in the 2002 riots is itself sickening to say the least. There aren’t enough cleverly worded court judgments in the Indian history books to hide what happened in Gujarat in 2002.

Arvind Kejriwal, is the masala man in Indian politics. He is by far the closest to popular Indian sentiment, with almost no baggage weighing him down. Corruption is undoubtedly the biggest issue in India, but I am not sure even Arvind Kejriwal understands it in its truest sense.

His almost religious belief in the morality of the Aam Aadmee is either opportunistic politics or extreme naïveté. Kejriwal’s position is strong however as having no skeletons in the cupboard is a big bonus in politics. He has also captured the imagination of the youth in the country, but may have miscalculated the power of the urban middle class.

The urban middle class that he gradually alienated controls the media. That, coupled with the economics behind the ownership of the media which are the big businesses he has been targeting, means that the mightiest wind that filled his sail, that is the media, has started blowing in the opposite direction.

Kejriwal also lacks a team with depth and clarity on policies. It is really hard to imagine his team hitting the ground running in a meaningful direction. That they will come and work hard is probably true but whether they will be able to grapple with the issues of global politics and economics is another story.

Also, having read the Jan Lokpal Bill that they drafted, I am skeptical about the ability of the team to create real deep-rooted legislation. The Jan Lokpal Bill (the Bill proposed by the popular anti-corruption movement under Anna Hazare that was spearheaded by Arvind Kejriwal) was an idealistic document without any real process to anchor it to the ground.

AAP lacks structure, though it certainly is a very welcome development in Indian politics, and can only be good for the country if it goes from strength to strength. It almost seems to be at the receiving end of the idealized handing of the torch from the Gandhi clan to the common man that Rahul Gandhi seems to talk about.

The composite dish, a reformist mildly right-of-centre Government with Kejriwal’s energy and sense of purpose and Congress’s structure, would probably be the ideal formulation for India. That is a near impossible dream to reach in this election. Also, the many regional parties and their ever-mutating DNA are always capable of throwing up a mutant-strand like HD Deve Gowda (A one-time prime minister of India who was thrown up by a freak election result in 1996 that produced no single party or coalition as the winner).

I do think that the polls being put out by the popular press and broadcast media in India are too ambitious in favour of Modi. For whatever reason, they seem to have thrown in their lot with him. Soon, the truth will out. One can only hope that the brightest feather in India’s cap, that of soft power and appearing to be an alternative model for an inclusive social system, doesn’t get forever withered if indeed the country does gamble on the vacuous holographic man.

May the least bad man win.

You can read Anuj Kapoor’s personal views on the outcome of the election in this blog: http://occamchakoo.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/the-two-prime-ministers/ 

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