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The Hindu Notes for 29th March 2019

Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 29th March 2019

An Opposition narrative for 2019

Its challenge is to foreground economic and social issues without getting diverted into national security concerns

  • Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, several political parties opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have rallied around the idea of forming State-level coalitions to block the party’s reelection. The first phase of polling for the 2019 election is barely three weeks away, some of the alliances, especially in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) camp, have been sealed, while alliances in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and Opposition camp are still taking shape. The Congress has sealed alliances in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bihar, and Maharashtra but failed to do so in the crucial States of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The Congress not joining Opposition alliances in these two States and Delhi gives an advantage to the BJP, which is striving to polarise voters by playing its nationalism card after the Balakot air strikes.
  • Ground reality

  • Opposition parties have allowed short-term considerations to come in the way of alliances which can make a serious dent in the BJP’s seat tally. Opposition unity is necessary because in ‘India’s first-past-the-post electoral system, aggregation of votes at the constituency level is vital for winning seats. The majority of the BJP’s Lok Sabha seats are very disproportionately based on an unprecedented sweep in the Hindi speaking northern States, two western States and Union Territories in 2014. Replicating such a strike rate in the 2019 elections would be highly improbable’.
  • Given this improbability and given that the BJP’s popularity is diminishing, the odds of the BJP beating the Opposition at the national level seems no better than even. Hence, the unease in the BJP camp is apparent. It is not surprising that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah have derided Opposition unity and the efforts to form what Mr. Modi called a “milavati sarkar” (adulterated government). Coalitions or “khichdi sarkar” will not deliver goes the common refrain. But there is no evidence that coalition governments are bad for the country; in fact decisive shifts have occurred under coalition governments and not one-party domination. The 1991 reforms and the UPA-I’s landmark rights legislations were pushed through by minority and coalition governments respectively. At the State level, coalition governments have dominated Kerala and Tamil Nadu and several other States which are among the better governed and more developed States, whereas despite winning a massive majority in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the BJP’s single party government has not been able to ensure development or governance or social peace.
  • For a decentered polity

  • These last five years raise important questions about the effectiveness of governments where power is concentrated in the hands of a centralised leader with a single party majority, particularly when it comes to their ability to represent India’s diverse regional interests or to deliver development benefits for everyone. Coalitions, on the other hand, represent a more decentered polity and the ability of India’s political institutions to reinvent and embrace the diversity of regional and social identities in the country and the different needs and interests of various sections, often suppressed under a centralised system.
  • But even as the limitations of strong leadership and single-party dominance are becoming evident, alliances and coalitions can only be a viable proposition if they offer an alternative politics. Exposing the government’s failings which is the job of the Opposition (and the media) makes good political sense but it is not enough. Also, elections are not merely about arithmetic. The last five years lay bare the incompatibility between hate politics and economic growth. Going from State to State, it is clear that people are concerned primarily about livelihood issues that cut across all barriers, and not emotive issues. Even so, there are concerted efforts to deflect this concern through jingoistic nationalism by politicisation of the fight against terror, by sharpening communal polarisation, and by creating conflict situations over emotive issues.
  • Jobs are the really big issue for people and there is evidence of considerable discontent and restiveness over it. The problem is that the Opposition has not paid enough attention to it. The government is on the back foot which is obvious from the suppression of official jobs data (the Periodic Labour Force Survey of the NSSO) cleared by the National Statistical Commission. The government claims have been exposed and hence the refusal to release official data.
  • The failure of the Opposition parties to weave all this into a cohesive narrative is certainly a matter of concern, but in all fairness it is not easy for State-based Opposition parties to offer a unified and consistent narrative. Still, the overarching narrative is clear. Pushing this narrative are two larger concerns. The first is the politics of hate and unprecedented ascendancy of right-wing communal discourse which appears grounded in division and negativity legitimised by the top leadership of the country. However, this volatile rhetoric cannot trump disappointment over the lack of jobs and rural distress. The latter narrative has been built up over the last few months and has gained traction. But after the Balakot air strikes the BJP managed to disrupt it. Foregrounding, once again rural distress, unemployment, the demonetisation fiasco, the goods and services tax impact, allegations of corruption and cronyism, and the subversion of state institutions, is thus crucial.
  • What the metanarrative is

  • Underpinning these issues is the metanarrative of an inclusive democracy based on communal amity, social justice and economic equity. However, such a perception of social justice cannot serve as the basis for any long-term vision unless it focusses squarely on distribution and common citizenship by instituting a set of fundamental socio-economic rights.
  • This can be done. One month after Balakot, the political build-up over air strikes might not be working on expected lines; hyper-nationalism may not sway voters except those in the BJP’s bastions. The Opposition’s challenge is to foreground economic and social issues without getting diverted into national security concerns even while the BJP’s redoubtable propaganda machinery will play up the last in a bid to quell the first.
  • The Opposition parties have to respond to the palpable public disquiet. Congress President Rahul Gandhi has finally done so with the promise of a guaranteed minimum income for the poorest quintile of the population, a move that has rattled the BJP. The big question, of course, is whether the Congress government, if it comes to power, will substitute Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) for existing social welfare programmes, which it musn’t, in order to pay for it. So far there is silence on this. The workability and affordability of NYAY have to be debated, but, as an idea, it signals justice for the poor; it is at least an acknowledgement that the poor and not just the corporate sector need stimulus. The BJP knows the scheme has poll potential, it can develop into an effective counter-narrative which will take the spotlight away from the national security focus that the BJP is trying to push. Moreover, it could help the Congress to build its 2019 campaign around this issue, somewhat like the right to employment in the run-up to the 2004 parliamentary elections.
  • It would be surprising, if despite its poor track record, the present government is voted back to power on the basis of exaggerated national security concerns, air strikes and testing new space missiles. To avert this possibility, it is important to remember that howsoever necessary it is for parties to revive and rebuild and defend their social base from encroachment by like-minded parties, it is even more important for them to defend India’s secular and democratic republic.
  • The shape of an urban employment guarantee

    Such a programme will not only improve worker incomes but also have multiplier effects on the economy

  • India is in the midst of a massive jobs crisis. The unemployment rate has reached a 45-year high (6.1%) in 2017-18 as per leaked data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). According to the PLFS report, the unemployment problem is especially aggravated in India’s cities and towns. Aside from unemployment, low wages and precarity continue to be widespread. In urban India the majority of the population continues to work in the informal sector. Hence, India cannot ignore the crisis of urban employment.
  • Reviving India’s towns

  • Both State and Central governments tend to treat towns as “engines of growth” for the economy rather than spaces where thousands toil to make a living. Programmes such as the Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (1997) that included an urban wage employment component have made way for those focussed on skilling and entrepreneurship.
  • India’s small and medium towns are particularly ignored in the State’s urban imagination. As per Census 2011, India has 4,041 cities and towns with an urban local body (ULB) in the form of a Municipal Corporation, Municipal Council or Nagar Panchayat. However, national-level urban programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) only benefit a fraction of them. Most ULBs are struggling to carry out basic functions because of a lack of financial and human capacity. Further, with untrammelled urbanisation, they are facing more challenges due to the degradation of urban ecological commons.
  • Hence, we need new ways to promote the sustainable development of India’s small and medium towns. In the context of the present employment crises, it is worthwhile considering to introduce an employment guarantee programme in urban areas. Along with addressing the concerns of underemployment and unemployment, such a programme can bring in much-needed public investment in towns to improve the quality of urban infrastructure and services, restoring urban commons, skilling urban youth and increasing the capacity of ULBs.
  • The idea of an urban employment programme is gaining traction in political and policy debates. According to multiple reports, it could be a key agenda of a possible Common Minimum Programme of the Opposition parties for the 2019 general election. In Madhya Pradesh, the new State government has launched the “Yuva Swabhiman Yojana” which provides employment for both skilled and unskilled workers among urban youth.
  • What shape an urban employment guarantee programme should take can be widely debated. We have offered one proposition in the policy brief “Strengthening Towns through Sustainable Employment” (, which was published recently by the Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University. Such a programme would give urban residents a statutory right to work and thereby ensure the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. To make it truly demand-driven, we have proposed that the ULB receives funds from the Centre and the State at the beginning of each financial year so that funds are available locally. Wages would be disbursed in a decentralised manner at the local ULB.
  • Given the State’s relative neglect of small and medium towns and to avoid migration to big cities, such a programme can cover all ULBs with a population less than 1 million. Since it is an urban programme, it should have a wider scope than the the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA); this would provide employment for a variety of works for people with a range of skills and education levels. We emphasise that it would not come at the expense of MGNREGA but rather the two would go hand-in-hand.
  • Urban informal workers with limited formal education would benefit from this programme. They can undertake standard public works such as building and maintenance of roads, footpaths and bridges for a guaranteed 100 days in a year, at ₹500 a day. We have also proposed a new set of “green jobs” which include the creation, restoration/rejuvenation, and maintenance of urban commons such as green spaces and parks, forested or woody areas, degraded or waste land, and water bodies. Further, a set of jobs that will cater to the “care deficit” in towns by providing child-care as well as care for the elderly and the disabled to the urban working class have been included.
  • Skilling and apprenticeship

  • Another novel aspect is the creation of a skilling and apprenticeship programme for unemployed youth with higher education who can sign up for a contiguous period of 150 days (five months), at ₹13,000 a month for five months to assist with administrative functions in municipal offices, government schools, or public health centres, and for the monitoring, measurement, or evaluation of environmental parameters.
  • While the first category of work is aimed at providing additional employment opportunities and raising incomes for those in low-wage informal work, the second category is to provide educated youth experience and skills that they can build-on further. We estimate that such a programme will cost between 1.7-2.7% of GDP per year depending on design, and can provide work opportunities to around 30-50 million workers. In light of the 74th Amendment, this programme should be administered by the ULB in a participatory manner by involving ward committees.
  • Our proposal provides strong transparency and accountability structures — proactive disclosure of information based on Section 4 of the RTI Act, proactive measures through mandatory periodic social audits, public hearing and reactive measures through a “Right to Timely Grievance Redressal” for workers.
  • An urban employment guarantee programme not only improves incomes of workers but also has multiplier effects on the economy. It will boost local demand in small towns, improve public infrastructure and services, spur entrepreneurship, build skills of workers and create a shared sense of public goods. Hence, the time is ripe for an employment guarantee programme in urban India.
  • Dangerous precedent

    The U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is in bad faith

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights hardly came as a surprise given his administration’s blatant pro-Israel stance. It may sound ironic that a President who promised to facilitate a deal between Israelis and Palestinians has turned out to be the most pro-Israel President in U.S. history. Mr. Trump has already recognised as Israel’s capital Jerusalem, a city it captured in parts in the 1948 and 1967 wars and which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. Before he announced his intention to recognise Israeli sovereignty over Golan, a State Department report had dropped the word ‘occupied’ in references to Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, hinting at where the administration stood on the issue. Israel captured Golan, a strategically important plateau beside the Sea of Galilee, from Syria in the 1967 war. Among the territories it captured in the war, Israel has returned only the Sinai Peninsula, to Egypt. It annexed East Jerusalem and Golan Heights and continues to occupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 1981, as it passed the Golan annexation legislation, the Security Council passed a resolution that said, “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect”.
  • Unlike Egypt in the 1970s, Syria has had neither the military ability nor the international clout to launch a campaign to get its territory back. President Bashar al-Assad tried to kick-start a U.S.-mediated peace process with Israel during the Obama presidency, but it failed to take off. And now, the Syrian government, after fighting eight years of a civil war, is debilitated and isolated, and the U.S. move is unlikely to trigger any strong response, even from the Arab world. But that is the least of the problems. Mr. Trump’s decision flouts international norms and consensus, and sets a dangerous precedent for nations involved in conflicts. The modern international system is built on sovereignty, and every nation- state is supposed to be an equal player before international laws irrespective of its military or economic might. The U.S., by recognising the sovereignty of Israel over a piece of land that the latter captured from Syria 52 years ago, is challenging this and normalising occupation. The decision also overlooks the wishes of the inhabitants of the territory. Most of the Druze population that has been living in Golan for generations has resisted Israel’s offer of citizenship and remained loyal to Syria. This they did even amidst Israel’s settlement activities. This is a conflict that needs to be settled between Israel and Syria at some point of time under international mediation. Mr. Trump is making the possibility of any future peaceful settlement difficult by recognising Israel’s sovereignty, just as he made any future Israeli-Palestinian settlement complicated with his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
  • Power in space

    Mission Shakti might have had one message for India, and another for the world

  • India has entered an elite space club with the Defence Research and Development Organisation blowing up a satellite in a Low Earth Orbit into smithereens. Such Indian capability to take out moving objects has never really been in doubt: the DRDO announced it as early as in 2011. Indeed, India has been in the business of testing long-range missiles for years, although public attention on the space programme has been mostly on its civilian and scientific aspects. The military dimension, though always latent, had not seen a verifiable demonstration as in the case of Mission Shakti, the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test. The display of technological prowess through the test accentuates the military dimension and brings into play an overwhelming assurance of what the Ministry of External Affairs describes as a ‘credible deterrence’ against attacks on India’s growing number of space assets. Although only three other countries, the U.S., Russia, and China, have previously demonstrated this capability, it is possible to surmise that countries with long-range missiles could do the same with equal effectiveness. But India, surely, is staking a forward claim as a space weapons power.
  • While the country celebrates the test as a scientific achievement, it must also dwell on the possibility that this might goad its none-too-friendly neighbour Pakistan into a competitive frenzy. Also, in the absence of a credible threat to India’s space assets from China or any other country with Anti-Satellite missile capabilities, whether the ‘deterrence’ sought to be achieved by this test would lead to a more stable strategic security environment is not certain. There are other questions, too. Will the test spur space weaponisation? Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while announcing the success of the test, was clear that India wanted to maintain peace rather than indulge in warmongering. And, by targeting a low-orbit satellite, the missile test did the utmost possible to minimise space debris, which is an issue of international concern. But, within India, the timing of the test, when the country is already in election mode, does raise concerns whether this was aimed at the domestic constituency. The Election Commission is now seized of the question whether the Prime Minister might have violated the Model Code of Conduct. If it does find the timing amiss, the Modi government could be in for some serious embarrassment. Ideally, the test should not have been a matter for a partisan political debate, but given the hypernationalist political plank of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mission Shakti might have more reverberations on the ground than it has had in space.
  • Is Modi the best communicator of them all?

    A comparison of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategy with some of his predecessors

  • Whether it is his monthly radio broadcast programme, Mann Ki Baat, or his tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach is unlike anything seen before. Sudheendra Kulkarni and Pankaj Pachauri analyse Mr. Modi’s speeches and compare his communication strategy with those of previous Prime Ministers in a conversation moderated by Anuradha Raman. Excerpts:
  • Has Mr. Modi’s strategy of reaching out directly to people been effective?
  • Sudheendra Kulkarni: Mr. Modi is an amazingly effective communicator. I do not agree with his politics, but it must be said that he is a tireless communicator. Perhaps he has communicated more to the people of India than any Prime Minister did in the past. He’s been using every available channel of communication, whether radio, Twitter, or public speeches. He’s been firing on all cylinders, so much so that he is also using the Prime Minister’s Office’s Twitter account, and not his personal account. Using the PMO account for political propaganda is not right at all. But having said that, his communication strategy has been extremely useful to him and to the BJP in setting the agenda in the past five years in a way that no previous Prime Minister was able to do.
  • Pankaj Pachauri: Mr. Modi’s communication strategy is a total flop because if you look at the indicators of this country’s development — its economy and its relationship with its neighbours and the world — everything is a flop. The Prime Minister’s communication strategy, as I found while working with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, if the idea is to do good, is to reach out to people and take them along to evolve a consensus. What we are seeing is an advertising strategy. This has been a flop because the exalted PMO has been reduced to scoffing at Opposition leaders and calling them names. The country has paid taxes which have gone into the making of the Prime Minister’s communication paraphernalia. So, it’s a propaganda strategy. It’s propaganda driven by government machinery, which includes Doordarshan and all the departments which come under Mr. Modi’s control. Communication is a two-way process. You tell a narrative and the people respond. In this strategy, the response of the people has not been taken into account.
  • But there was a lot of criticism of Dr. Singh for being silent.
  • PP: The Prime Minister is chosen by a country not to regale or lampoon them. The people of India choose their Prime Minister to deliver on the promises made in the manifesto. Dr. Singh remained quiet and told me clearly, ‘Let my work speak for itself’. His work is speaking now. If you look at the indicators then, in terms of trade or even in terms of the money spent on the defence force, all of them were better than the current government’s. He told me when I joined him, ‘I do not want to say too much than required’. And when he spoke, he measured his words. I remember on January 3, 2014, we held a press conference which had more than 200 journalists. It was a no-holds-barred question-answer session. He took 62 questions in more than 97 minutes and answered everything. None of the questions were planted. In that press conference, someone asked him about the candidature of Mr. Modi for prime ministership and Dr. Singh used the word ‘disaster’. Five years later, Dr. Singh said he had uttered harsh words. Mr. Modi’s communication strategy could win elections by propaganda, but cannot win people. We have seen in the recent Assembly Elections how effective this has been.
  • Sudheendra, you said that Mr. Modi’s communication strategy is very effective. Having worked with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and having been a part of L.K. Advani’s team, how concerned are you by the fact that Mr. Modi has never held a proper interaction with journalists?
  • SK: This is certainly a blot on Mr. Modi’s record — that in the last five years, he has not addressed a single press conference. Why is the press conference important? Because it gives an opportunity for members of the press. India can take pride in the fact that we have an independent, free press which can ask tough questions, inconvenient questions, which the Prime Minister has avoided all these years, though he has a lot to answer for. It not only shows that he doesn’t want to take tough questions, but also shows a certain lack of respect for the media.
  • At the same time, let me go back to this point about the effectiveness of his communication. There is a lot in his communication that is propaganda; I agree with Pankaj. Yet, is it effective? If we’re objective commentators of this phenomenon, we will see that Mr. Modi has achieved something that is remarkable. There have been very few politicians who have had a pan-India visibility and appeal. In the past, it was members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Subsequently, Vajpayee achieved that feat. But what is remarkable about Mr. Modi is that just in five years, he has achieved that kind of visibility and appeal because of his communication strategy. He’s a tireless communicator and here I am referring to the quantitative aspect of his communication, not so much the qualitative aspect. There is a lot to be said about the qualitative aspect. Much of Mann Ki Baat is informative, not inspiring.
  • I would like to contrast his communication with that of Jawaharlal Nehru. That was in an era when even television wasn’t there. But look at the visionary communicator that Nehru was. Every fortnight he used to write letters to Chief Ministers, and there are 400 such letters compiled in five big volumes. Through Chief Ministers, he communicated to the people of India. Mr. Modi has never addressed Chief Ministers even though he said, soon after becoming Prime Minister, that he believes that India is equal to the Prime Minister plus Chief Ministers. But he has not shown this faith in the federal structure. Nehru, on the other hand, used to take all the Chief Ministers into confidence and through letters, he used to convey his policies, his vision, and everything from foreign policy to domestic policy, secularism, communal harmony, cleanliness and sanitation.
  • Pankaj, would you agree that Mr. Modi is ahead of his predecessors?
  • PP: I remember launching the social media outreach of the PMO when there was nothing. Now India is the second-largest subscriber base for all the social media platforms in the world. You talk about this quantity because the platforms of communications have increased immensely. We didn’t have that many TV channels in every language back then. The Prime Minister is basically an RSS pracharak. He is an expert pracharak and a good communicator. But people want to see him speak on the issues that concern them. People want to hear how he addresses the issue of joblessness, the benefits of demonetisation, why we are unable to live in peace with our neighbours. Mr. Modi may have had 82 outreach meetings abroad, but with each country he has visited, our trade is falling. What is the result of these meetings? Communication should be accompanied with accountability. Look at achhe din. It was a good idea that was communicated to the people. But to what end?
  • Sudheendra, how concerned are you that the role of the media has been diminished?
  • SK: I think the kind of democracy which Mr. Modi envisages is one where he wants to convert our system into a kind of a presidential system where it is him versus all others. He is not talking to the Chief Ministers or to the Opposition leaders. Even after the recent crisis between India and Pakistan, he did not address the Opposition parties, which has been the tradition all along, because he considers himself above everyone else.
  • Having said that, I have great regard for Dr. Singh. He was and he is one of our most erudite leaders. But he proved himself to be the least communicative Prime Minister.
  • PP: The trouble in today’s world is that communication has come to be identified with sensation. Dr. Singh was never a sensational person. He just released a six-part compendium of books of what all he said during those 10 years. It is an academic exercise. There were 1,000 speeches in 10 years. Dr. Singh will never say anything which is not substantiated in his speeches in Parliament. He was very rigorous — data were rigorously examined before he spoke. Mr. Modi is a public communicator. The difference is that Dr. Singh is an academic and Mr. Modi is a political pracharak. Mr. Modi has been communicating what he’s learned from life. The nature of communication has changed, the person who is heading our country has no respect for anyone. Im 2019, it can win him elections, but not the people.
  • SK: Pankaj proves my point that Mr. Modi’s communication has been effective in mobilising support of a section of society which may give him another mandate in the coming elections. But winning elections is not the only achievement that a great leader should aspire to. Again, I go back to a comparison between Mr. Modi’s communication and Vajpayee’s and Nehru’s. One thing you will notice in Mr. Modi’s communication is that he does not like criticism, nor does he address criticism. There was a time when Jayaprakash Narayan criticised Nehru for being less of a socialist. Around the same time, C. Rajgopalachari criticised Nehru for being too much of a socialist. So what did Nehru do? He wrote elaborate letters, which are in the public domain. Has Mr. Modi done anything comparable? Has he engaged his critics? Has he engaged in a democratic dialogue?
  • Coming to Vajpayee, who did not make full use of all the communication channels which were then available, his forte was his public oratory. That won over even his political adversaries. He spoke about his dil ki baat, not just mann ki baat. So, when Vajpayee was asked by a reporter how he proposed to solve the Kashmir issue within the framework of the Constitution, his instant response was, ‘Within the framework of humanism’. It won the hearts of all sections of Kashmiri people. He may have lost the 2004 elections and Mr. Modi may win in 2019, but a crucial point remains: In a nation so diverse and quintessentially democratic, the Prime Minister must act as the leader of the nation and not the leader of the party.
  • PP: I recall talking to Mr. Modi. We were discussing the Delhi-Lahore bus in 2000 and he was not very happy with what Vajpayee was saying. Mr. Modi said, ‘PMtoh bolte rahte hain (The PM keeps talking)’. Now I can say with conviction, ‘Mr. Modi toh bolte rahte hain’. Lalu Prasad Yadav was an effective communicator too and won elections. But he will be remembered for his social engineering, for the social revolution for lower classes.
  • When cacophony sounded like music

    Recalling the days when the election season had a festive air

  • Elections in India are political festivals. However, the Election Commission’s restrictions during campaign season, though needed, seem to have robbed elections of their charm.
  • In the 1980s in Tamil Nadu, what was dismissed by many as cacophony used to be music to the ears of children. Voices of popular leaders would blare through the streets, film songs loaded with political messages would play, and professional speakers would visit every nook and corner of towns and villages in megaphone-fixed vehicles. They would address the voters with the familiar phrase, “Periyorkalae, Thaimarkale (Elders and Mothers)”.
  • We would run after the vehicles, sometimes hanging on their tailgate. All we wanted was a jolly, free ride, and to collect as many as pamphlets printed in colour paper. Some boys loved chewing the pink-coloured papers that would make their lips pink, like lipstick does.
  • Walls were a priced possession during elections. There used to be stiff competition among partymen to book them in advance. The political affiliation of the owner of the wall decided who got to use it. Besides serious messages, nasty comments and unparliamentary words adorned the walls. At night, rival camps would deface them by throwing handfuls of cow dung. Sometimes the messages would result in retaliations and altercations.
  • In the evenings, we would march on the streets holding the flags of the parties we were affiliated to. Children would be treated to sukku coffee (dry ginger coffee) and paruppu vada (dhal vada) as a reward for their participation. Tea and coffee were considered as great treats because white sugar was scarce and families used only karuppukatty (palm jaggery) to make coffee. These rewards regularly resulted in defection among children from one party to another. Defectors earned the title ‘Pachonthi (chameleon)’.
  • At night, All India Radio would broadcast the speeches of local and national leaders. The DMK would get excited when M. Karunanidhi would start his speeches with the words, “Singa Tamil Nadaiyum, Singara Thendra Nadaiyum thannakathy konda pooman Arignar Anna. (Anna, the scholar, your Tamil is as majestic as a lion and flows like a breeze).” AIADMK leader M.G. Ramachandran did not campaign in the 1984 election as he had gone to the U.S. for medical treatment. The AIADMK election camps would play all day the MGR film song, “Andavany un pathangalai naan kanneeril neeratinen (Oh god, I washed your feet with my tears).” The Opposition sought to capitalise on MGR’s absence, but R.M. Veerappan, a member of MGR’s Cabinet, took the wind out of their sails by releasing a poster in which MGR was seen without his trademark cap, reading a newspaper while lying on the hospital bed. The poster proved a game-changer for the AIADMK.
  • What remained enjoyable during childhood proved irritating when I became a journalist and was assigned to cover the public rallies of political leaders during elections. PMK leader S. Ramadoss and MDMK general secretary Vaiko would start their speeches invariably after midnight and wind up only early in the morning. When he became Chief Election Commissioner, T.N. Seshan ensured that meetings ended by 12 midnight. Subsequently the deadline was further moved forward to 10 p.m. And the two leaders changed their campaign styles subsequently.
  • What the world thinks

    A brief analysis of the Pew Research Center’s study and findings on India

  • There are many ways to assess a country’s role in the world. Outcomes are one of them, including economic exchanges, political decisions, and military cooperation. Resources – whether economic, military, diplomatic, or cultural – are another. But public perceptions should not be discounted. While the attention devoted by other countries’ leaderships and the growth of the Indian economy since 1991 suggest that India’s standing in international affairs has improved, what do the public think?
  • On March 25, the Pew Research Center released a study of India, based on surveys conducted over the past year. Among the findings were 27 countries’ public views on India’s rise. The U.S. (40%), the U.K. (46%), France (49%), Japan (48%) and Australia (40%) thought that India played a more important role in the world compared to 10 years ago, and only a minority (4 to 17%) felt it was less important. Similar patterns were discernible in Canada, Germany, South Korea, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The perception of India as a rising power in North America, Europe, Northeast Asia, and Australia should be little surprise, given that these are the places with the most active Indian businesses, diasporas, and government-to-government relations.
  • On the flip side, very small numbers in Southern and Eastern Europe and Latin America perceived India playing a more important role, with respondents more likely to see India’s position declining. Only 17% in Poland, 21% in Brazil, and 14% in Mexico saw India’s role as having enhanced over the past decade. This too is not surprising. India’s presence is less likely to be felt in Latin America. Southern and Central Europe is also a more crowded space, with the U.S., the EU, Russia, and (increasingly) China jostling for influence.
  • Somewhere in the middle of the pack are Russia (where 22% saw India playing a more important role, and 21% less) and Africa, where the numbers are mixed in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. This should be expected, given their priorities and the vector of relations with India, particularly relative to other powers.
  • From an Indian perspective, there are two points of concern. One is Israel, where only 27% saw India playing a more important role and 31% less. This is surprising only because that relationship has appeared to be on a positive trajectory over the past decade. Defence ties, technological relations, and political links have been consolidated. Recent years saw the first presidential and among the first prime ministerial visits by Indian and Israeli leaders to each other’s countries. India also remains a popular destination for Israeli tourists.
  • The other, more minor, surprise concerns South-East Asia, particularly Indonesia. That only 21% of Indonesians and 15% of Filipinos perceived India as a rising power means that India’s Act East policy remains a work in progress.