India Insight

Narendra Modi: First we take Gujarat, then we take…?

Who was the Bharatiya Janata Party politician who posed this rhetorical question? “I want to ask the Congress and the Prime Minister, would he like to face (a Special Investigation Team) now on the Coalgate scandal?”

It’s what you might expect from a national leader of the BJP, challenging the Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a countrywide controversy as a verbal volley before the parliament polls scheduled for 2014. But it was just Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi stirring the pot for this December’s assembly elections.

That is unusual for a state election campaign, which normally focuses on state problems. Though Modi did tie all this in to Gujarat with allegations of unfairness toward his state, you could be forgiven for thinking that he was waging a national campaign to be prime minister.

Many people think so too, though Modi, who has won attention in the international media for his pro-business, pro-development stance for Gujarat since becoming chief minister in 2002, has denied it.

Instead of responding to criticism – namely the 2002 communal riots that killed over a thousand people as per government records – Modi has spoken out on topics ranging from illegal immigration from Bangladesh to policy paralysis in the Manmohan Singh government.

Congress strikes two birds with one stone

Why so much euphoria over the presidential polls? Shouldn’t the government concentrate on the economy; it’s a ceremonial post after all, we thought.

However, the way the election process panned out might be the boost the Congress party needed ahead of the 2014 general elections, not only politically, but even for the economy.

With Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee all set to be India’s 13th president, the party has every reason to cheer, at least for now. The Congress will have the benefit of having one of its most loyal ministers at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, and he can come in handy in 2014.

Congress reshuffling an empty deck?

The clock is ticking for the ruling Congress party. Ever since the national auditor’s report blew the lid off the 2G spectrum scandal, the second term of the UPA government has been clouded by incessant talk of premature general elections or who will lead India in 2014.

As rumours do the rounds of a possible reshuffle of the Congress party after the Budget session, one gets the sense that India’s grand old party is starting to prepare for national elections, even if they are two years away. And rightly so, especially after its disastrous performance in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the largest number of lawmakers to parliament. While no political party is likely to secure majority if national elections were to be held today, regional parties could hold sway.

The Congress’ present situation is a throwback to the 1960s when the party was trying to revitalise its functioning in the face of declining popularity and vote share. Indira Gandhi ruled India for eleven consecutive years, followed by another term later that was cut short by her assassination. After her son Rajiv came to power and his destiny followed his mother’s, the Congress returned to power for only one term until the UPA government came to power in 2004.

Indian politicians and the art of the tell-all memoir

Along with the likes of Shakespeare, Britain has a longstanding literary tradition of a different kind — the explosive political biography, memoir or diary.

An employee poses with the political memoirs of Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair, "A Journey", in a bookshop in London September 1, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/FilesBritons can gorge on countless books of their lawmakers who wash their dirty linen — and other people’s linen — in public. The diaries of Alan Clark in the 1980s gave readers a glimpse of the tears and infighting in Margaret Thatcher’s government as well as his own amorous conquests.

The diaries of Alastair Campbell, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s press man, were a sensation, and were followed by the memoirs of Blair himself where he described his relationship with Chancellor Gordon Brown as like being “a couple who loved each other, arguing over whose career should come first”, then calling Brown a “strange guy” with zero emotional intelligence.

Congress’ 2007 leadership whispers underscore 2011 election dangers

Rumblings within the ruling Congress party that suggested the “jettison” of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the party’s electoral failures in state elections in 2007, cited in a secret diplomatic cable published on Monday, are a timely reminder of the dangerous implications of failure for Congress in elections this month.

India's ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi watched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) fills nomination papers seeking to retain her post as the party chief at her residence in New Delhi September 2, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

The electorates of Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will go the polls this month to elect new state legislatures, in the first tests of public confidence in India’s ruling party that has been implicated in a string of multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals over the past nine months.

Singh, a 78-year-old technocrat and economic reformist, had his leadership questioned by senior aides to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who mooted a more politically sellable replacement following electoral defeats in Punjab and Uttarakhand, detailed a U.S. state department cable accessed by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper.

Wikileaks cash for votes allegations implicate India’s Congress

India’s ruling Congress party offered cash for votes to pass a crucial 2008 confidence vote in parliament, a secret U.S. state cable released on Thursday said, embroiling Manmohan Singh’s beleaguered government in yet another corruption scandal that risks further opposition attacks on the graft-smeared coalition. File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

The secret U.S. state department cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper on Thursday details a conversation between a senior Congress party member and a U.S. Embassy official surrounding the payment of almost $9 million by a government facing a crucial confidence vote to members of a regional political party to secure their support.

Sonia Gandhi faces rare criticism of her leadership

Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi smiles as she addresses the media at her residence in New Delhi May 16, 2009. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

In her nearly 13 years as the all-powerful chief of the Congress party which heads India’s ruling coalition, Sonia Gandhi has, of late, rarely faced criticism of her leadership.

If anything, she has appeared to tighten her grip on the party since her early days as its leader when her authority was challenged by a trio of senior Congress leaders, who were subsequently expelled.

So when G. Venkataswamy, veteran Congress leader from southern Andhra Pradesh state, questioned Sonia’s ability to lead on Tuesday, going so far as to even suggest that she step down, it received wide publicity in the Indian press.

The ‘Manmohan’ factor reins in the Congress

Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi(L) with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is accused of looking the other way while murky deals were on in the telecom ministry.

He has drawn flak from the opposition and his personal integrity was questioned in what may be India’s largest corruption scandal.

But with few alternatives for his role as a fill-in for the Congress heir apparent, it is no surprise Singh is being stoutly backed by his boss, powerful party chief Sonia Gandhi.

Adviser’s attack on Congress shows party tensions

Appearing to signal dissent in the ranks of India’s ruling Congress party, the Prime Minister’s media adviser told reporters last night that the “status-quoist” party was only concerned with winning elections.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (C), Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi (R) and India's Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel (L) attend the inauguration ceremony of the newly constructed Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi July 3, 2010 REUTERS/B Mathur“The Congress is by nature a status-quoist, pragmatic party,” Harish Khare, media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was reported by the Hindustan Times as saying on Tuesday.

“It does not believe in any conviction. (Its) only conviction is to win elections,” the Indian Express added.

A rare news conference by the PM

NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/INDIA“The prime minister of India rarely gets to speak, face-to-face, with the people of India,” writes historian Ramachandra Guha.

We might add the next-best-possible substitute ‘the media’ to this plaint.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will indeed have a rare conversation with the media on May 24, while presenting a report card on his government’s first year in office.