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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

An Open Letter to the Congress President – On reviving Congress

Posted by RB Kollannur on May 19, 2014

Dear Mrs Gandhi

You have my deepest sympathies. You led a remarkable turnaround of Indian National Congress from the shambles of 1998 only to see it fall even more on your handover. Transition has always been a difficult period for Congress and most critics would say this time Congress will transit into nothing.

Unfortunately for India to be a healthy democracy, we need two national parties. So, time has come for a reboot of Congress. No other party has the pan India reach that you have and nor do anyone have truly national leaders.

And don’t worry you don’t need to bring your kids along for this.

By now you will have many reasons for why Congress lost, but only one for why the loss was this bad – that Congress, unlike BJP or the Left, is not a cadre party. Having a strong cadre is like having a stop loss in the stock market, keeping bad from going worse.

But building a cadre based party takes time, which you don’t have.

One of the main issues that has plagued Congress over the years is dealing with the ego of the regional satraps. Unless they inherit the role, national leaders have to work for it, from local to district to the state and beyond. Many will have national aspirations, bringing them in conflict with the national leadership and/or other state leaders, causing them to leave. Most of these breakaways fail and rejoin like K Karunakaran or BS Yeddyurappa. But like Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee have shown, some can survive outside the party pretty well.

The trick is to retain the regional satraps without splitting the party.

For this, you need to give decision making powers in the party to the voters.

No. Not just party workers, but the entire electorate.

This way no antagonism will be directed at the national leadership. A political leader’s success lies in his winnability, while a political worker’s success lies in his contribution to his party (Keep inner party situation as it is).

I understand that there has already been an attempt to do this in a limited scale but failed to receive any electoral success. The reason was that it was done internally. You needed to engage with the ordinary voter and not just the few who will vote anyway for Congress.

For the upcoming election in Maharashtra you have an ally in very much the same boat as you. Instead of sharing seats, invite candidates from your ally for each constituency and do the same with Congress. Open your party offices to anyone with a voter ID for the constituency to choose from the candidate palette and nominate the elected candidate for actual candidature irrespective of party.

Engaging more voters – Check.
Reduce intra party conflict – Check.
Reduce conflict with allies – Check.
Get more votes – Status Pending.

If it works well and good, but if it fails it will not drastically vary from the results you expect to get, considering the drubbing already received.


RB Kollannur
Unseen Ink
inperceptus resero


Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister from a non BJP voting Keralite

Posted by RB Kollannur on May 18, 2014

Dear Mr Modi

Thank you for bringing a stable government to India. I had expressly voted NOTA because I do not believe the current political setup of India can deliver stability, but you have shown me that I can be wrong.

I come from a state that is not sending any of your party colleagues (or allies) back to the Parliament. Even our neighboring Tamil Nadu is sending only 1 BJP MP.

I can assure you it is NOT because of your campaign slogan “Ab ki baar, Modi sarkaar”.

Most of us in Kerala understand Hindi pretty well.

I am sure some of your close confidantes have explained the uniqueness of our home state. We have a historic tendency to behave differently from the subcontinent. We already have the infamy of voting for Congress after the Indira Gandhi dictatorship. We elected the first Communist state government, that too freely and fairly.

Perhaps, it is your plank on economic development that failed to resonate with the voters in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Both states have sustained economies similar to Gujarat during UPA rule and grow at a pace similar to that of Gujarat. So, both states chose to stick with the ruling party in the state in order to align the centre with the state needs.

One worrying negative that I found in the economy of Gujarat was the remarkably low rural consumption numbers. It was indicative of a state government focusing only on urban development ignoring the rural area. However, this concern was laid to rest for me by Bharat Bala, who had produced a video on rural Gujarat earlier at your behest, at a recent CII conference. He saw rural Gujarat to be content the way it was. It also told me that you had your eye out for your entire populace, not just the urban ones.

While India has given you a mandate to rule freely, it is the Hindi heartland that has given you the resounding hurrah. They have complete faith in your ability to lead them out of BiMaRU. It would benefit our nation at a global level to have this core part of our nation delivering economically.

We often underestimate our ability at the international level, which is why we do very little at the UN. In 1939, MK Gandhi got SC Bose kicked out of Congress. The international repercussions of this event are largely lost on most historians. But suffice to say, the resulting alignment of Indians with the British in Second World War turned the tables on the Axis Powers in Asia and was crucial to an Allied victory in WWII.

The news from Ukraine is very bad. South East Asia is looking over its shoulders for China worried it may follow Russia. China needs more activity to sustain their economic growth. US and Europe are looking on, afraid that they may be forced to intervene. The world will look towards the newly stable India.

On 28 June 1914, the heir apparent of the 1000 year old French noble house of Metz was killed by a Bosnian freedom fighter. The world was at such a heightened state of alert that the assassination led to WWI.

The world is nearing that stage now. We will soon know when the die will be cast.

So, tread wisely.


RB Kollannur
Unseen Ink
inperceptus resero

Next  : An Open Letter to the Congress President – On reviving Congress

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Expect Heavy Mango Showers This Summer

Posted by RB Kollannur on February 25, 2014

It is election time once again at Lok Sabha. The results will not be remarkably different from the last. Neither national party will gain majority on its own and will need to rely on the clot of regional parties to govern the nation. But there will be one minor difference to the whole election story – the beginning of the emergence of a new national party.

Or not.

Entry into the elusive upper echelon of the Indian democracy is a difficult and arduous task. The Indian National Congress needed over six decades to reach a semblance of self rule. The Bharatiya Janatha Party needed close to five decades to achieve power in Delhi. But come this May, we will all be keenly watching for the national success of Arvind Kejriwal and his two year old Aam Aadmi Party.

The idea that Kerjriwal has raised is a remarkable one. The Indian populace is frustrated by the political class of the nation. So, Kerjriwal has given them a new one.

It has reached a stage where even Bharat Matha needs pepper spray to escape the rape of her Parliament. Most of us have been couch coaches in the Indian political ballgame, but now many have stepped on to the ground to engage in scrimmage. People from every walk of life, a writer here, a rickshaw driver there, the list of Indians lining up for candidature for AAP is many.

It is phenomenal the way AAP has raised the expectations of everyday man. It is amusing to see my father, a career Communist, despite being a noted businessman, to rave about a party he is still unlikely to vote for. Despite the support AAP has generated among the people, it can only be of any use if they can get it converted into votes.

It is likely that Kejriwal could win the election, if he competed in every single constituency.

But he cannot.

A nascent party lacks the mechanism of a national party to provide societal leaders needed to run for election in every constituency. It is here Horatius will stop an outsider from ruining the carefree lavish of the Indian Parliament.

Every candidate who is not Arvind Kejriwal will come with their own baggage, which will impact their losability.

For example, the front running candidate for my constituency is a writer of decent repute. But will she be able to fully inculcate the persona of Arvind Kerjriwal whom the electorate will probably be more ready to vote for? Will she be able to inspire people like my father, who have had no qualms for supporting a government against whom he had gone on a hunger strike twice, and get them to vote for AAP?

As for me, there will be only a slight modification this time to my vote in last general election, thanks largely to the Supreme Court of India.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

I voted 49-O

Posted by RB Kollannur on April 16, 2009

This is the first time I had the opportunity to exercise my vote for the country and I chose not to vote, as per the guidelines set by 49-O.

I went to the polling booth around 11:00 today and got my credentials verified by the authorities. I informed the person there I choose not to vote.  He informed me to go to the EVM and press the blue button. Surprised to hear that I went to the EVM to see no separate button for registering my refusal.

After some confusion, it was clear that the election officers did not realize I was refusing to vote, but thought I was not aware of the process and was helping me to vote. The Presiding Officer stepped in and when I informed of my intentions,  he informed the poll officer to write “Refused to Vote” against my name and asked me to sign.

That is the How. This is the why :

What am I voting for?

Representation in the legislature and the selection of the government.

Which is more important?

Selection of the government. It is better to have your say in governance, than none at all.

Anti Defection Act establishes the primacy of the political party over the representative. So, a representative cannot effectively represent his constituency, without his party’s consent.

An independent representative will be limited in his ability to perform effectively in the legislature and the government, given his lack of political affiliation within the legislature.

How do I decide who I want in the government?

By going through the manifestos of each political party and their past performance.

However, given that no political party can come to power on their own (No single party has gained majority in the Lok Sabha since 1984), manifestos are all subject to change and will be based on coalition performance. We do not have a coalition manifesto so far. But then there is no guarantee that a pre-poll coalition will stay true for the tenure of the legislature.

With manifestos subject to change and uncertainty looming over government at all time, it will be difficult to pin accountability on a political party for not meeting their manifesto as well.

How will I then decide whom to vote for?

Take a judgment call on who will serve my interests best in the next five years. Settle for the lesser evil.


Is this how I should decide on my choice of vote?

1) There is a lack of clarity on what the complete policy of the next government will be irrespective for whom I vote.

2) There is a lack of clarity on which set of parties will form the next government.

3) Any government formed will be inherently unstable given the nature of coalitions (Each government post 1989 has had to face many motions of no confidence, which few did not survive).

4) With inherent instability, policy making will be at threat, depending on the whims and fancies of allies.

5) Then there are the clichéd issues of hate politics and divisive politics, which gives smaller parties enough room in the legislature with which they can become king-makers and ensure their political survival.

When the next national elections come, in five years (hopefully) from now, these problems will be as true and valid as they are now. The political parties that form the legislature have a sufficient voter base to ensure their long term survival. Given the fractured nature of verdicts, it is likely that small parties will play a key role in government formation and provide good returns to their voters. However, at a national level this leads to uncertainty and instability.

These problems have now been ingrained into the current electoral system and it is unlikely that we will have a stable and confident government.  EVER.

In the long run, this augurs badly for the nation – to have unstable governments and indecisive leadership follow one after the other. It may seem okay for the next five years. But will you be okay with it for the next 20-30 years when you or your kids will have to bear the heat, as we compete with the rest of the world?

Should I compromise on my long term future by procrastinating electoral reform to make the Indian democracy effective?

By choosing to vote, I will be endorsing the current system of elections. I will be settling to meet my short term objectives sacrificing the long term ones.

So, I choose not to endorse an electoral system which brings unstable governments, indecisive leadership and  regional fragmentation of the nation.

I choose not to vote, till a day where we can have stable, decisive and a united government.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Re : The Lyngdoh Solution

Posted by RB Kollannur on April 8, 2009

I came across a proposal (via @b50) by former Chief Election Commissioner, J.M. Lyngdoh (The article was written by Karan Thapar), who has proposed a hybrid system for elections, combining First Past The Post system (FPTP) and the Proportional Representation system.

The candidate winning in each constituency needs to have 50% of the votes which, in most likelihood, will lead to a Presidential run-off sort of situation, where the top candidates in the first round are taken to a second round, if no one gains majority in the first round.

In such a situation, the smaller parties get marginalized because they are likely to get squeezed in a run-off. Hence, Lyngdoh has come up with the hybrid system.

These elected candidates will represent only half of the legislature. The other half will be decided by proportional representation based on what I assume is the votes of the first round of election. As per Lyngdoh (or Karan Thapar, I am not sure) if a party secures 1% vote in the legislature, they will receive 1% of the legislature thereby giving representation to these parties in the legislature.

I am not clear of the context in which Mr. Lyngdoh has made this recommendation, but Mr. Thapar has written it in the context of hate politics. Here is my concern :

Hate politics is not about a single constituency. It caters to people across constituencies. Consider a hypothetical scenario where a party manages to garner support from a section in every constituency in a large enough state like Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu, but do not have the ability to gain majority in a single seat by its own. In a proportional representation system, they may have the votes to get into the legislature, even if the effect is halved.

The issue with a proportional election system is that it tends to coalitions at a quicker pace than FPTP. So, by introducing proportional representation, the hybrid system may not be able to take away the market for hate politics.

Mr. Thapar sites the example of Germany which follows a similar system. Going by the information from wikipedia (which by no means can be considered 100% credible), this system has been successful in keeping the representation of small, extremist parties to two.

However, India is not Germany. With a considerably larger population and an even more diverse cultural, regional and religious backgrounds, the German analogy can get magnified in India. Also, Germany has a 5% threshold to keep parties with minimal votes out of the legislature.

On a personal note, my main concern in an election is the regional fragmentation of the nation and stability of the government. Given the history of India, neither bears well for the long term integrity of the nation. This system cannot tackle either problem. With regional parties having already established their base in India, they will not have difficulty in continuing status quo, which means fractured verdicts and unstable governments are just as likely with this system in comparison with the current.

My view for electoral reform is still the same. First, take away the power of a fractured house to decide the government and give it to the people. There will be clarity of leadership and the executive will need to have a national appeal to form the government and hence make use of divisive politics. Second, increase the power of the legislature to represent their constituency (and not their political party)  by repealing the Anti-Defection Act, which will give the public more freedom in judging the ability of their representative.

Correcting a system that is tending towards too much plurality should not be done by introducing further complications to the system, but by reversing the sentiment of the people.

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Spot the Differences – Manmohan Singh and Flavius Belisarius

Posted by RB Kollannur on April 1, 2009

Manmohan Singh was called upon by the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, to lead the India when Congress gained control of the House after 8 years. After successfully completing five years in office, Manmohan Singh gained popularity among the masses and within his party where he was seen as a political outsider. However, as the next national elections came, where he was projected as his party’s undisputed leader, he chose not to run for election, relying on his membership in the nominated upper house of the Parliament – a membership that would expire midway through the next legislature and can be renewed with the support of the Congress President. Though Manmohan Singh lacked political expertise prior to 2004 when he became the Prime Minister, his rule for the next five years gave him enough popularity and support to ensure his victory in an election.

Flavius Belisarius was called upon by the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emeperor, Justinian I, to lead the Eastern Roman army to conquer the erstwhile lands of the Western Roman Empire. After successfully conquering Carthage and Italy, General Belisarius gained popularity in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire and was given Roman Triumph, the last one ever. However, as he stabilized Byzantine rule in the Adriatic, at the height of his popularity,  he was called back to Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor. Historians see it as a move by Justinian I, concerned by the General’s increasing popularity, to remove the popular General before he became a threat to his throne.

Why did Manmohan Singh choose not to stand for election? Is it because Sonia Gandhi told him not to, so that three years down the road, Rahul Gandhi can step into Congress leadership with no danger of a popular political rival against him?

PS : For the readers familiar with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, General Bel Riose was based on General Belisarius, though the former suffers a much worser fate.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The unhealthy, but necessary dependence of Congress on the Nehru-Gandhi family

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 29, 2009

“Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight among themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles” – Attributed to Winston Churchill on the eve of Indian independence. (Disputed)

Sixty years on, neither India nor Pakistan have reached the stage suggested in the remark, though Pakistan has on and off teetered on the edge of collapse, but got a slight gasp of fresh air, after its division. One of the key reasons that India stayed put as a nation instead of falling into its former constituents was the singular and unambigous leadership at the centre in its initial years. Leadership skills not withstanding, by simply being there for close to two decades, any doubt regarding the unity of the nation was vanquished and a new generation of Indians were born (Reminds me of the transition of the Republic of Rome to the Roman Empire under Octavian).

However, this also meant that the question of what happens after Nehru remained unanswered.

One of the key characters of India is that the executive is selected by consensus, rather than by popular election. The elected representatives arrive at a consensus to select the executive from amongst themselves. This essentially leads to a situation where a person who has the most influence over this select group, like the leader of the political party with majority seats, is elected as the executive. If no such leader exists (In the case of coalitions), a compromise candidate will have to be selected.

But at the end of the day, it necessitates the political parties to have a definite leadership structure. (Anyone know who heads the Democrats or Republicans in US?)

Back to the mid 1960s now, when Nehru suddenly died with no clear succession planning in place. Now the question arises who will lead next. For normal persons like you and me, the answer will be obvious – Take a vote and let the majority decide. However, what will happen if the people who lost the vote chose to leave the party unhappy with the results. This is one of the inherent issues of intra party democracy, where there is a practically no exit barrier.

Among the early dissenters of the Congress leadership would be (the later Prime Minister) Charan Singh, who would create his own party in his home state of UP after differences with the Nehru administration. More would follow during the transition from Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi – Biju Patnaik, Ajoy Mukherjee and Indira Gandhi herself, in a reverse coup of sorts, leaving behind a nominal Congress (O) led by (the later Prime Minister) Morarji Desai. These frequent departures acted as a drain in the voter base, continuously weakening it.

The success of the dissidents shows how an intra party democracy can be the bane of a national party.

The same scenario would repeat itself after the death of Rajiv Gandhi, when there was an interregnum till Sonia Gandhi stepped in. Leaders, unhappy of losing out of primacy in Congress, floated their own parties. Though some of dissidents flocked back once Sonia Gandhi came to Congress, others left as well. Their initial rivals at a national level, the Janata Parivar, was always a divided house before collapsing into regional entities.

The dependence of Congress on the Nehru-Gandhi ensured a Janata like collapse would be prevented in Congress.

The other comparable national opponents to Congress – the Bharatiya Janata Party is still in its initial stages, with the clear leadership of veterans like Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani. It remains to be seen how BJP will be able to save themselves from falling into uncertain conundrum of leadership that Congress has become accustomed to, with leaders like Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and even Varun Gandhi (After his recent apparent increase in support) waiting in the wings.

The next decade will see the national parties attempt to put an effective succession plan (I wonder how) in order. The earlier they do this, the better. With the current leadership still having control over the party, it is easier to settle a dispute with minimum damage to their party. But as Diocletian found out after handing over power 305AD, even the most powerful man in the world may be rendered helpless by his quarelling successors and contenders.

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Nationals vs Regionals – Time for a BJP-Congress (I) combine

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 17, 2009

Another edition of national elections are upon us. As the political parties try to get the right coalition, there is a peculiar and concerning trend on the rise. There have always been a bit of hanky panky over seats by allies, but this year has seen a definitive rise among them.

On the NDA side, while trying to hold on to whatever ally they can get from their previous government, the exit of Biju Janata Dal was a bit of a shocker. The other main allies, Shiv Sena and Janata Dal (United), have also pushed their weight on the negotiation tables. On the UPA side, with the Left having left their fold, their replacement, Samajwadi Party, failed to commit to the coalition after differences of opinion over seat sharing. Even the reliable Rashtriya Janata Dal and Nationalist Congress Party, who have stood alongside Congress (I) for a while now, flexed their muscle during negotiations. Another newly acquired ally in West Bengal, Nationalist Trinamool Congress, took the bulk of the seats in a state where Congress (I) was the main opposition.

The last few weeks of the election negotiations have seen the regional parties push their limit and bargaining power against their national allies. Even the ragtag Third Front haven’t been without problems. No sooner was the alliance declared, tiffs in the state of Kerala, where the Left has been a strong presence, has brought reasons for embarassment.


In the latter part of my last post, discussing the different national elections in India, I mentioned the phenomenal growth of the regional parties over the last two decades. First, it came out as a part of a declining Congress (I) when the voters looked for another option. With the collapse of the Janata Parivar, the only other party at the national level was Bharatiya Janata Party. But with neither capable of earning a majority on their own, they grew dependent on regional parties – home grown like the various dravida parties and Telugu Desom Party, Janata breakaways like RJD and BJD or Congress breakaways like NCP. The regionals grew on the shoulders of the nationals as they ate into the chunk of their national rivals. And this has lead to the current dilemma.

Unless either break away from their coalition partners, Congress (I) and BJP will not be able to be free from these hassles over power. But without them, the nationals will not be able to form the central governement. The inablity to form a government at the centre attacks the very essence of a national party. With the bigger objective being the national elections, the bargaining power is firmly with the regional parties.

Though on paper the elections maybe viewed as a tussle between the Congress (I) and BJP with Third Front trying to play the kingmaker, the actual battle is between the national parties and the regional parties. And the nationals are losing.

In order to negate the growing effect of the regionals, the nationals need to combine their forces and counterweigh their opponents. A Congress (I) – BJP combine can offset the regional balance, but it is still the proverbial manna of the Indian political system. But with the growing differences of opinion and the increasing bargaining power of the regionals, their survival maybe dependant on just that.

2008 saw PML – N and PPP shake hands and fight together against Musharaff. Although it did not last long (though it can still be retrieved), let us see if their Indian counterparts can do better. Otherwise we can see a third front government formed with BJP support for two years and Congress support for another six months, just like in 1977, 1989 and 1996.

*** I’ve used the same graph as my previous post. The breakup of National, Idealogical and  Regional parties remains the same and so does the disclaimer.

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Reading Between the Election Numbers

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 15, 2009

Disclaimer: Vote share and seat data has been obtained from wikipedia. I haven’t been able to access the ECI website for confirmation, but I’ve confirmed the latter from Manorama Year Book. And please read through and think before you react.

Sometime in August 1947, two nations were born in the Indian subcontinent, leaving behind a century of hardships and the shackles of a colonial past. There were no silver spoons attached nor were there three kings visiting with mead (Or was it three kings visiting from Mede?). But it was still a momentous occasion in human history – the beginning of the end of European colonialism.

They did not get along too well to start off. First there was the bickering over Junagadh and Hyderabad, and then the battle over Kashmir. But the worst was the senseless riots over relocation; a sad event for humanity. In hindsight, it may have been better that they were separated at birth. Imagine Advani trying to sell Hindutva to the most populous Muslim country in the world*. The divisive politics prevalent in India these days would have exploded the nation beyond proportion, even before the Mahatma could have said “Hey Ram”.

While still learning their baby steps, both lost their fathers. In 1948, Gandhi was assassinated; while Jinnah would die of a long term ailment (Incidentally Jinnah’s only child is an Indian). India had Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel to fill in Gandhi’s sandals (Which, by the way, a beer baron has been trying to get his hands on), while Jinnah’s right hand man and Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, would be the key person in Pakistan. Tragically, fate intervened once again, though in reverse this time. It was Sardar Patel who would die of ailment, while Liaquat Ali Khan who would be assassinated.

Leaderless, Pakistan would soon fall into political instability. While the politicians bickered over the Constitution and who should form the government, military insurgency would develop in the Baloch regions (Balochistan) and the Pashtun regions (NWFP & FATA). Regional activism was on the rise in the East with the pro-Bengali Awami Muslim League entering the political arena. The East had the numerical superiority over their western counterparts but the industrial might and the economy was centered in the west. This posed a significant challenge for the west centered government structure of Pakistan.

With the departure of the Muslim League to Pakistan, there was hardly any opposition to the Indian National Congress, who had paved the way for her independence. Communist parties had a limited profile in the country, while the socialist parties, recently devolved from the Congress, were still making early inroads into the countryside. Congress also had Jawaharlal Nehru clearly at its helm, having consolidated leadership after the death of Sardar Patel.

In 1952, India would finally let go off the Windsor monarchy and the Dominion status to become a republic on its own stead, with its first general elections. Unsurprisingly Congress would win with 364 of the 489 seats and 45% vote share in their pockets. The main opposition would be:

1) Communist parties (CPI, Forward Bloc & RSP) – 20 seats and 5% vote share
2) Socialist parties (Socialist Party of India & Kizan Mazdoor Praja Party, who would later merge to form Praja Socialist Party) – 21 seats and 16% vote share.
3) Hindu right wing parties (Jan Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha & Akhil Bharatiya Rama Rajya Parishad) – 10 seats and 6% vote share.

With the stability of the civilian government confirmed and military firmly behind them, the path was set for India to move forward. Though military insurgency would subsequently develop in the North East regions and the East regions and regional activism would rise in the South with the pro-Tamil Dravida parties, who would later enter the political arena, neither had the resources to take on a united central government or its army, unlike in Pakistan.

Pakistan would finally become a republic in 1956, with a civilian government in place. But repeated instability in the government would lead a military takeover of the nation in 1958, under General Ayub Khan. In the meantime, Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru would be brought back to governance in India in 1957, with an even more resounding electoral victory than in 1952 getting 48% of the votes.

By 1958, both India and Pakistan had a level of political stability, albeit at the opposite sides of the freedom spectrum. Bilateral agreements were made. Both would sign the historic Indus Water Treaty in 1960 sharing the waters of the panch ab of Panjab. International diplomacy was in view as well. Pakistan allied itself with USA while neighboring Afghanistan, which had a historic claim over the Pashtun lands of Pakistan, had aligned itself with USSR. India would remain neutral attempting to organize a third front in light of the western / capitalist and the socialist / communist circles of power.

Nehru would be reelected in 1962, but with a mildly lesser majority. The liberal C Rajagopalachari and his nascent Swatantra Party would garner 8% of the electorate (Though only 18 seats in 494 member assembly). Pro Tamil Dravida Munntera Kazhagam would also make its debut in the Lok Sabha with 7 seats. Nehru’s regime would suffer a further blow when China established its presence in Aksai Chin, which connected the Chinese provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet, despite being claimed by India since independence.

General Ayub Khan would also suffer minor reverses winning a highly controversial Presidential election against Fatima Jinnah in 1965, amidst allegations of election fraud. The General needed to recover his losing grip over the populace.

Nehru died in 1964, leaving an open door for a power struggle in Congress. His daughter, Indira, had limited experience in governance, while party veterans like Morarji Desai were eyeing for the leadership. With elections still three years away, the soft spoken Lal Bahadur Shastri was ushered into Prime Ministership.

In 1965, Pakistan would launch a military attack to capture the disputed Kashmir from India. While over-hyped glorified reports filtered into the Pakistan media, the attack was countered by India proceeding to attack Lahore, one of the chief cities of Pakistan. The war would end in a stalemate, with neither party looking forward for a lengthy battle. Status quo was returned, which would precipitate into another crisis for the Pakistani dictator. One of his key ministers, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto would leave and start his own party – Pakistan’s People’s Party which would grow onto become the key opposition for the dictator in West Pakistan. The neglect shown towards East Pakistan during the war would worsen the relations between the East and the West Pakistan.

Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away in Tashkent while bringing the war to a close. Indira Gandhi would succeed as the Prime Minister. As the elections approached, Indira Gandhi would consolidate her hold over the Congress, albeit at limited cost. Regional party leaders like Ajoy Mukherjee and Harekrushna Mahatab would leave Congress to start their own regional parties. The major gainers in the 1967 elections would be the socialist and liberal parties, started by former Congressmen, while Congress would manage to hold on to majority with 283 of 520 seat assembly and 41% vote share – a throwaway compared to the results a decade ago.

Popular discontent would eventually force Ayub Khan out of office and General Yahya Khan would takeover as Head of State. He would call fresh elections in Pakistan that would be won by the pro Bengali Awami League which would gain 160 of the 300 seats, but no representation from West. The largest party in the West would be Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s PPP with 81 seats, creating lot of discontent between the two.

Internal politics would eventually force Indira Gandhi out of Congress and Morarji Desai would takeover as the Congress leader. However, Indira Gandhi would take along most of the party with her leaving behind only a rump party renamed Congress (Organization). Congress (I) would regain most of its lost vote share in 1971 having to deal with fragmented opponents. Incidentally, the socialist and the liberal parties would be the major losers. Indira Gandhi would finally consolidate her governance over India.

Uncertainty continued in Pakistan over governance. An attempted military takeover of East Pakistan would turn badly with the East declaring its independence as Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Liberation War would escalate into a subcontinent war, but Bangladesh would eventually be liberated with the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman as the President. Military rule would be ejected in Pakistan, with civilian government formed under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He would finally consolidate his governance over Pakistan.

As the next reelections came close, Indira Gandhi would declare a controversial national emergency, giving her despotic powers. The opposition – the socialist parties, the liberal parties, Congress offshoots like Utkal Congress, Bharatiya Kranti Dal and Jana Congress and the Hindu right with Jan Sangh, would combine to form the Janata Party and contest the 1977 elections after the emergency. They would go on to obtain simple majority with 295 seats in the Lok Sabha and 41% of the vote share. Congress (I) would only manage 35% of the votes while the communists, who stayed out of the Janata formation would capitulate to their worst performance since 1952 with only 8% of the vote share. However, differences between the various constituents of the Janata Party would cause the “coalition” to collapse and soon the nation awaited fresh elections.

The opposition – Pakistan Muslim League, the leftist Awami Party and the Muslim right wing parties would combine to form the Pakistan National Alliance and contest the 1977 general elections. They would be trounced by PPP who would manage 155 of the 192 seats. However popular unrest amidst allegation of vote rigging would encourage a military coup by General Zia ul Haq promising fresh elections.

The fresh elections in 1980 would yield power back to Congress (I). The fractured Janata contingent would garner only 28% of the votes, a drop of 13% over the last election.

The fresh elections that were promised never came, with General Zia taking over power. The growing Baloch insurgency, in the wake of Bangladesh freedom, would be tackled by martial law with General Rahimuddin Khan in charge of Balochistan.

The elections in 1989 would usher in a decade of political instability in India. No single party would gain the majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time. Congress (I) was the leading party with 195 seats, but well short of the 272 needed for majority. The Janata Party, reorganized as the Janata Dal, formed a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (erstwhile Jan Sangh) and regional parties to form the government. However, the coalition would not last long and another one, with the support of Congress (I), would be propped up, which also failed quickly.

Fresh elections in 1991 would bring Congress (I) to power, though they again failed to achieve majority. They would receive support from other parties to notch up the government. Though they saw through their time, another unstable coalition regime was propped up in 1996, after the next general elections, which would collapse and reorganize and then collapse, eventually leading to another quick election.


The decade of 1989 – 1999 saw Congress (I)’s vote share nearly half – from 49% in 1984 to 28% in 1999. Bharatiya Janata Party, the reorganized Jan Sangh, would steadily climb the party pyramid increasing from 8% in 1984 to 24% in 1999. However neither party would have the ability to form a government on their own.

The Janata contingent which gave opposition to Congress in the early years of the republic would collapse into state based regional parties. Their combined vote share would remain more or less constant through the decade, fluctuating between 12-15%, while the communist parties moved around 8-10%.

The period also saw the growth of home grown regional parties. The pro Tamil Dravida parties had been around since the 1960s, but more parties like the pro-Telugu Telugu Desam Party, pro-Mahratti Shiv Sena, pro-Assam Asom Gana Parishad & Uttar Pradesh based pro-Dalit Bahujan Samaj Party would gain headway within the electorate.

Congress (I) would have rebellion issues as well. After the quick assassinations of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi, the party lacked a proper direction for leadership, similar to the one after Nehru’s death. There would be many leaders who would distance themselves from the new Congress (I) regime like Arjun Singh, Narayan Tiwari, Madhavrao Schindhia and Sharad Pawar. Although many would eventually return, the last among them, Sharad Pawar, would form the Maharashtra based Nationalist Congress Party.


With the addition of the former Janata parties and the Congress offshoots, the regional vote pie would grow from 6% in 1980 to 34% in 1999. The national parties, Congress (I), BJP and the Janata (while they still a single party) would garner 70% of the votes in the 1980s, but this would fall in the 1990s to less than 50%, with the collapse of Janata and the steady decline of Congress (I).

One fall-out of the frequent changes of party by politicians was to put into word and practice, the Anti Defection Act establishing the primacy of the political party over the politician.

1999 would finally bring back a sense of stability with a seemingly stable coalition propped up by BJP. However, the stability was more on paper than in practice as the national parties grew more dependent on aid from the regional parties. The same scenario would repeat in 2004, though Congress (I) would form the government.

The elections in 1988 would usher in a decade of political stability in Pakistan, for Pakistan’s standards. With the death of General Zia, civilian government would return with Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, leading PPP to majority. However, the Pakistani Presidency, a remnant of the Zia regime which had sweeping powers over the legislature, would dismiss the government after allegations of corruption. Another government headed by the newly formed Pakistan Muslim League (N) headed by one of Zia appointed civilian government’s key ministers, Nawaz Sharif, would take charge. He also had to deal with a power struggle with the President leading to new elections in 1993 and the resignation of the President. PPP would gain majority with the help of independents and allies. That government would also be dismissed by the President later in 1997, leading to a return for Nawaz Sharif to the government. However a military coup in 1999 would change the political environment yet again and civilian government would be brought back only almost a decade later, after popular unrest and uncomfortable union between PPP and PML – N.

* Going by information from wiki, combining the Muslim population of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would give over 450 million Muslims in the subcontinent, (30% of the population of the combine) and considerably more than the population of Indonesia, the nation with most Muslim population, close to 200 million and even the entire population of USA pegged at a shade over 300 million. Incidentally India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have roughly the equal Muslim population.

Breakup of groupings used
Congress – Indian National Congress and after 1969 Congress (I)
BJP – Jan Sangh, Hindhu Mahasabha, Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad & Bharatiya Janata Party
Janata – Socialist Party of India, Kizan Mazdoor Praja Party, Praja Socialist Party, Socialist Party (Lohia), Samyuktha Socialist Party, Bharatiya Lok Dal, Janata Party, Janata Party (Secular), Janata Dal, Janata Dal (Gujarat), Janata Dal (United), Janata Dal (Secular), Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samata Party, Samajwadhi Janata Party (Rashtriya). Rashtriya Lok Dal
Left – Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), All India Forward Bloc & Revolutionary Socialist Party
Liberal – Swatantra Party
BSP – Bahujan Samaj Party
Dravida – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Pattali Makkal Katchi, Maraumularchi Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam, MGR Anna Dravid Kazhagam
Congress Rebels – Congress (O), Congress (U), Congress (S), Bangla Congress, Utkal Congress, Jana Congress, Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Nationalist Congree Party, Tamil Maanila Congress, Nationalist Trinamul Congress, Haryana Vikas Party, Himachal Vikas Party, Himachal Vikas Congress, Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress, Arunachal Congress, Manipyr State Congress Party, Karnataka Congress Party, Akhil Bharatiya Lok Tantrik Congress

Breakup of groupings used
National – Congress, Janata (1977-1991), BJP (1984- )
Idealogical – Janata (1947-1977), Left, Liberal
Regional – Political parties who derive their votes primarily from a single state.
Andhra Pradesh – People’s Democratic Front, Praja Party, Telengana Praja Samiti, Telugu Desom Party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Telengana Rashtra Samiti
Arunachal Pradesh – Arunachal Congress
Assam – Asom Gana Parishad, United Minorities Front Assam, Autonomous State Demand Committee, Natun Asom Gana Parishad, Plains Tribal Council of Assam
Bihar – Jharkhand Party, Chota Nagpur Santhal Praganas Janata Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United), Lok Janshakti Party
Goa – Different factions of United Goans, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party
Gujarat – Nutan Maha Gujarat Janata Parishad, Janata Dal (Gujarat)
Haryana – Haryana Lok Samiti, Vishal Haryana, Haryana Vikas Party, Haryana Lok Dal (Rashtriya), Indian National Lok Dal
Himachal Pradesh – Himachal Vikas Party, Himachal Vikas Congress
Jammu & Kashmir – National Conference, People’s Democractic Party, Panther’s Party (Only J&K parties in all cases)
Jharkhand – Jharkhan Mukti Morcha
Karnataka – Karnataka Congress Party, Janata Dal (Secular)
Kerala – Travancore Tamil Nadu Congress Party, Indian Union Muslim League, Different factions of Kerala Congress (incl IFDP)
Madhya Pradesh – Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress
Maharashtra – Different factions of Republican Party of India, Peasants and Workers Party of India, Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party
Manipur – Manipur People’s Party, Manipur State Congress Party
Mizoram – Mizo National Front
Nagaland – United Front of Nagaland, Nagaland People’s Council
Orissa – Utkal Congress, Biju Janata Dal
Punjab – Different factions of Shiromani Akali Dal
Sikkim – Sikkim Janata Parishad, Sikkim Democratic Front
Tamil Nadu – Different offshoots of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Tamil Nadu Toilers’ Party, Madras State Muslim League Party, Tamil Maanila Congress
Uttar Pradesh – Bharat Kranti Dal, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya)
West Bengal – Bangla Congress, Nationalist Trinamool Congress

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The Importance of Being Obama

Posted by RB Kollannur on January 21, 2009

Disclaimer : The following post is a leap of thought. I currently lack the data to completely support or deny it.

A few weeks ago, I came across an eloquent article by a New York Times columnist about a Polish immigrant (The author’s father) who came to US, leaving behind his life in Poland, and carved out a career for himself in the land of opportunities. Issac Asimov, in his autobiography, talks of how his father left behind his life in Russia for an uncertain life in US seeking a better future for his family and better education for his children. A common thread runs in both stories – people sacrificing a certain life for an uncertain one in the hope of a better future.

These are the hands that built America – Immigrants from around the world (though mostly Europe) who came seeking the land of opportunities. They had to start from scratch as they had to leave everything from their past life behind and work hard to make ends meet. And work they did. As Bill Clinton so aptly put in 1998, they proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative and the most industrious of the people. With the necessity to perform from the word go in order to survive, US evolved into a society driven by innovation and results.

However as the society stabilized, an inertia towards accepting new immigrants developed. Immigration was restricted during the boom of the 1920s and the Great Depression hence. World War II saw a revival in stronger immigration, but gradually the quantum of foreign born in the total US population dropped, from 20% in 1900 to 10% in 2000.

But the society kept its focus on performance and innovation. It was encouraged to invest heavily in the private sector and live off future earnings. In order to secure their future, people needed to innovate and produce to bring about these future earnings. It all went fine for a long time. Until…

The late nineties saw the dot com bubble and burst. The best of the innovative minds in US were attracted by the lucrative nature of the market and invested their time and intellect heavily in what turned out to be mostly frivolous internet startups that failed to monetize. Some worked, but most failed. Had the ability to innovate reached a peak?

The late ninties also saw a slight strategic shift of focus in the objectives of the compnay – from more revenue through better results to more revenue through lesser costs. India and China benefited vastly by the outsourcing and offshoring projects in services and manufacturing respectively.

Going by the historical trend of all out action that US has adopted, a step back or a slowdown is a regressive societal behavior. Over the course of the past half a century, the pioneering spirit of the early immigrants diminished as the immigrants became settlers and the settlers became natives. Though innovations are very much in vogue in US (as seen by the numerous Web 2.0 startups), many are still to develop a stable model for monetization their innovations.

So, the question is will US continue as the pioneer in innovation and technology? This is where Barack Obama comes in.

Born to an African father and a Hawaiian mother and grown up in Indonesia, Obama has the markings of an immigrant written on him. He has emerged from political obscurity to become the Head of State of his nation in a decade In the process he has shown he has a clear objective of what he wanted and how to get it. He has put forward his talents to the best of his ability for the betterment of his nation (and self). It is clear that he draws from the spirit that brought the immigrants to US.

Barack Obama represents the quintessential hands that built America. Though he may have been elected thanks to some misguided policies of his predecessor or the color of his skin, what he represents is certain. He can rejuvenate the dying pioneering spirit of America. He is kniting together a team taken from the new immigrants (who have migrated over the past two decades) and old “natives” with a view to bring about an all encompassing change to the foundation of the society he lives in. Though it is too early to comment on his success, he has put a system in place to revitalize the US society.

Going beyond his nation, he is seen as a beacon of hope around the world in these troubled times. A sign of unwavering leadership and a hopeful recovery. It is uncommon for anyone to face the trials that Obama will have to endure in the near future. But he will have to be resolute in his approach and placate any inhibitions still in the minds of any doubters. And it is expected he would come through. So far Obama has displayed the potential to come through adversity. His tasks are clear. He will need to rebuild the identity of his nation, while keeping an eye out for the rest of the world. It is a task not many would ask for and not many would want imposed on them, but it is his, for him to take care.

When he walks down to the take the oath at the US Capitol Building, he follows the path very few in history have taken before him. The path that led Leonidas and his thousand men against the armies from half the world, Hannibal and his army of elephants through the Alps against his mortal enemies, Spartacus in a rebellion against his masters, Octavian as he returned to Rome after vanquishing Mark Antony, Constantine as he summoned the Council of Nicaea, Joan of Arc to call on her countrymen to free themselves from the tyranny of England, Gandhi to Dandi to make salt and Hitler to the Berlin Olympics, among other people .It is a path that has graced the undivided attention of the world they lived in and cared for. Many faltered on the way, while many failed outright, but some continued on till they successfully overcome their travails, to be judged by history. And doing so, they changed the world they lived in. It is this challenge that awaits Obama as he sets out to establish USA 2.0.

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