When India’s ruling Congress party asked ministers and bureaucrats to cut down on needless expenses at a time of recession and deepening drought, many in the country had one question on their lips: will the austerity drive work?Rahul Gandhi tried to set an example by travelling by train as an ordinary passenger. His mother, Sonia, abandoned her private army plane and flew economy class on a commercial flight for a party rally in Mumbai.But there is still a great deal of scepticism among people. Some of the doubting was fuelled after the train Rahul was travelling in was pelted with stones. Experts said Rahul’s train trip was a security risk, which could cramp the austerity drive.But it’s not just the security concerns alone. The austerity drive also drew ridicule following a controversy over two senior government ministers staying in luxury hotel suites priced at $1,000 and $1,500 a night until their official residences were ready.Both ministers said they’d paid for their suites themselves, but stung by criticism amid the government’s austerity drive, they moved to more modest temporary homes.However, it was too late to change the mind of ordinary Indians who over years of Nehruvian socialism had begun to associate Congress politicians as leaders in simple hand-spun cotton, or khadi, clothes who drove around in old-fashioned Ambassador cars.Now, the question many are asking is: will the austerity drive last with election campaigns for Maharashtra and Haryana about to begin?True, with the economy in trouble, the government is making an effort with the finance ministry appealing for fewer overseas trips and smaller entourages as well as a ban on conferences in luxury hotels.But it isn’t easy: one minister protested he was “too tall” to fly economy while another said their positions demand they entertain in style.So, will the government’s austerity drive last? The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doesn’t think so. A BJP spokesman said it was just an “election gimmick” and they would go back to their usual ways once the state elections were over.Will they?
He’s been called the “Quiet Revolutionary“. And India’s prime minister-in-waiting. But does Rahul Gandhi, a virtual novice in the rough and tumble of Indian politics, have what it takes for the country’s top job?
He didn’t exactly set the house on fire during his first five years in parliament. And until this election, Rahul’s only USP was that he belonged to India’s first family, the Nehru-Gandhi family which has given the country three prime ministers.
He’s only 39, and has no experience with complex subjects such as Pakistan or the economy.
With 8071 candidates contesting 543 seats – that’s an average of 15 candidates for each seat — the 400 million Indian voters who chose to vote sure looked spoilt for choice.
But were they?
Though democracy means choosing who our rulers are going to be, many say there is a crucial missing link in Indian democracy — the lack of inner-party democracy.
It is a resemblance that Sonia uses to her advantage on the campaign trail ahead of the election, frequently referring to the contributions and sacrifices made by the Nehru-Gandhi family, particularly Indira and husband Rajiv, who were both assassinated.
Sonia, dragged into politics after a stunning defeat for the Congress party in 1998, is clearly the party’s star campaigner, speaking at three or four rallies everyday, criss-crossing the country in a chopper which holds as much fascination for people in rural India as a glimpse of the nation’s “bahu” or daughter-in-law, as Sonia is called.
Indian political parties and leaders are courting young voters for the upcoming general elections and the age of political leaders like L.K. Advani and Rahul Gandhi is being made into an electoral issue.
After all nearly two-thirds of India is below 35 years of age, the cut-off for ‘youth’ according to the National Youth Policy.
A number of surveys and studies seem to suggest otherwise.
One nation-wide survey reported in the ‘Mint’ newspaper shows voters may not quite prefer “fresh and young” candidates, with two-thirds of the 17,640 people sampled preferring experienced candidates.
Rahul Gandhi spoke at a news conference in Amritsar last month. Somewhat predictably newspapers and TV channels covering the event focused on his comments on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and his defense against being called a rookie by a seasoned political rival.
They ignored the context of his visit — to review preparations for the local youth Congress elections, being conducted with greater involvement of party workers at the grass-roots level. It’s a practice he apparently wants to replicate across other states.
If Gandhi is serious about it and succeeds in doing so, it will further the cause of internal party democracy, which is a major blind spot in the working of our democracy.
As the dust settles on a two-year-long election campaign that has now given the United States its first African-American president in Barack Obama, I do wonder if there is a message for Indian politicians from the messenger of change… at least from the way he ran for the White House.
Obama aka ‘the digital candidate’ left no stone unturned in the race to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For a man who managed to draw crowds in tens of thousands wherever he spoke, Obama realized early in his campaign that his message of ‘change’ had to spread well beyond Democrats and the undecided voters. He wanted America’s youth to be on board and he ensured they did.
He reached out to them by making himself accessible online. Obama used Web 2.0 with a passion, engaging and interacting with them on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter and also used new platforms like podcasts, online video and text messages to get his message across.
Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh criticised last week how decision-making within Congress was made in a “narrow context” — meaning the Gandhis. He quickly backtracked by swearing loyalty to the family, but only after being publicly snubbed by Sonia Gandhi.
This came amid a controversy over Rahul Gandhi’s very public trips around India — leading to him being called “Crown Prince”. Some said he was overshadowing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.