Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Narendra Modi and the Tamil Nadu Factor

Narendra Modi’s election as the Indian Prime Minister has added a new element to the Indian political arena. Modi, a Hindu nationalist, is a hard bargainer than earlier Prime Ministers. He has the added advantage of a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha. Therefore, he has the ability to adapt a internal and external policy of his liking for the next five years.

In the Lok Sabha (LS), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alone controls 283 seats and with its allies has the control of 336 seats. Meanwhile, Jayalalithaa Jayaram’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party won 37 out of the 39 LS seats within Tamil Nadu. This near clean sweep by AIADMK in Tamil Nadu has led some analysts into believing that Jayalalithaa would still have a say in India’s Sri Lanka policies.
Narendra Modi (Pic from Narendra Modi's Flickr photo steam)

This argument is based on the experience of Rajiv Gandhi’s government in 1984-89. Despite controlling 414 seats in the LS, the Sri Lanka policy of this government was heavily influenced by the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR).

However, the political equation is totally different today. Narendra Modi is no Rajiv Gandhi and Jayalalithaa is no MGR. Furthermore, there is no Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to deal with.

In the 1980s, MGR had developed a working rapport with the LTTE leadership including its leader, Velupillay Prabhakaran. Therefore, MGR had considerable leverage over the LTTE militants, irrespective of who controlled the LS in New Delhi. Also, MGR was a seasoned politician while Rajiv Gandhi was a comparative novice in politics.

During the decade long premiership of Dr. Manmohan Singh, especially during his second term, Jayalalithaa and Tamil Nadu politicians influenced India’s Sri Lanka politics. The Congress Party did not have a comfortable majority in the LS and had to bow down to the pressures of Tamil Nadu politicians. The central government was susceptible to Jayalalithaa so much that she actually developed a overestimation of her prowess and was said to be even contemplating on reaching even a higher office through the so called ‘Third Front.’ However, the Indian government lost its credibility by repeatedly bowing down to the Tamil Nadu politics. The government’s weakness was exploited by Modi in the election campaign.

Speaking to this author in October 2013, Prof Madhav Das Nalapat of Manipal University, India, stated that, “We should have an India centered policy towards Sri Lanka, not a Tamil Nadu centered policy. Whenever we had an India centered policy it is a good policy and when you have a Tamil Nadu centered policy it is a bad policy.” This is precisely the basis of the Modi camp as well. Narendra Modi is not a politician who is bound to be influenced regional politicians. He is much more experienced and much more rigid as a leader.

This is precisely the reason for Narendra Modi’s invitation to the South Asian Association of Regional Corporation (SAARC) leaders to participate in his inauguration as Prime Minister. Despite the displeasure of the Tamil Nadu politicians including Jayalalithaa, Modi stood by his decision. What has to be understood is, Modi would not have extended this invitation if he was not ready to face the Tamil Nadu displeasure. Once he had taken the decision, it was final.

Dr. Manmohan Singh’s weakness in decision making was seen in the last years of his administration. He was silent on whether he was attending the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting in Colombo, finally bowing to Tamil Nadu leadership. He was unsure as to what his government would do in United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka this year, finally choosing to abstain. No wonder Jayalalithaa thought high of her power to influence New Delhi. But she is making a grave mistake of political immaturity if she thinks that she can do the same with Modi.

This is not to say that Modi’s foreign policy will be advantageous to Sri Lanka. Modi has the interest of India in his mind first and foremost. Therefore the interests of the two countries are bound to clash at some point. It will be advantageous for both countries to manage the questions that may arise due to the differences of interests. One advantage that both India and Sri Lanka will have is that Modi would not bow to undue pressure from Tamil Nadu. This may help the two countries to come to a reasonable agreement on the possible questions of interest.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

India remembers Rajiv Gandhi

India commemorates its former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on the country’s Anti-Terrorism Day, just days after the Congress Party was routed in the general elections.

Rajiv Gandhi, the son of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by a LTTE suicide bomber at an election rally at Sri Perumbudur, a village close to Chennai in Tamil Nadu, on May 21, 1991. He was 46.

Gandhi became the Prime Minister of India on October 31, 1984, when his mother was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in Delhi. He called for snap elections and achieved the best Lok Sabha majority in Indian history in December that year when the Congress Party won 414 of the seats.

Rajiv Gandhi was engulfed in several controversies which undermined his administration. These included the anti-Sikh riots, Indian involvement in Sri Lanka and the Bofors scandal. The Congress Party lost its majority in the 1989 election despite ending up as the largest single party in the Lok Sabha.

The Indian Supreme Court judgment found that the killing was carried out due to personal animosity of the LTTE chief Prabhakaran towards Gandhi arising out of his sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka and the alleged IPKF atrocities against Sri Lankan Tamils.

On 18 February 2014, the Supreme Court of India commuted the death sentence of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan who had been convicted of the assassination, to life imprisonment. The following day, Tamil Nadu government decided to release all seven convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The Union of India challenged this decision before the Supreme Court.

Friday, May 16, 2014

India is "Modified"

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won a record breaking landslide victory in the 2014 Indian General Election. The results show that the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has swept the polls with over 330 seats out of 545 in the Lok Sabha (LS). The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the Congress Party has received a crushing defeat and will end up with less than 60 seats.

Meanwhile, the BJP alone has control of more than 273 seats. Therefore, the party is in a position to control the Lok Sabha on its own.
Narendra Modi (Pic by Mayur Bhatt, Ahmedabad)
The election has been described as a personal victory for the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. He has served as the Chief Minister of Gujarat for nearly 13 years. A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist paramilitary group, Modi was criticized for the events surrounding the 2002 Gujarat Riots, where some of his aides were implicated. On the other hand, he is known as a doer, who has transformed Gujarat into an economic power within India. He is known as an uncorrupt, workaholic individual.

The BJP has ridden the “Modi wave” which has helped the party record its best performance in its 30 year history. Furthermore, this is the first time when a party other than the Congress has won a majority in the LS.

The Congress led UPA was in power for 10 years from 2004. Its administration was being attacked for rampant corruption and dynastic rule. The emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) an anti-corruption party is one result of this. With his anti-corruption tag, Modi was the best BJP leader to challenge the AAP.

The BJP has overwhelmingly neutralized the AAP even in its strongholds. In Delhi, where the AAP won a recent Assembly Election, BJP won all seven LS seats. Meanwhile, Narendra Modi has won the Varanasi seat, where AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal also contested. The significance of this victory is increased by the fact that Varanasi has a large Muslim minority. Indian Muslims have been traditionally pro-Congress but this election seems to have shown a change in this trend.

Meanwhile the election result is also a personal loss to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty which has dominated the Indian Congress Party politics for decades. Congress Party Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi accepted responsibility to the party’s dismal performance.

The election has also proved to have been a setback to the third parties except in Tamil Nadu and Odisha. In Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has swept the election and the Biju Janata Dal has done it in Odisha. However, the overwhelming performance by the BJP has denied these regional parties any possibility in the role of kingmakers.

The BJP has swept the election in several states which had been their main strong points, including Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Meanwhile, it has soundly routed the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajawadi Party and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. Only 2 years ago, the BJP had won only 47 out of 403 seats in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly Elections. But the general election has seen the BJP winning over 70 of the 80 LS seats in the state. This shows a clear mandate to the BJP in a state which was not one of its strongholds. Almost all commentators can agree on the fact that this has been made possible by the Modi factor.

Narendra Modi will have several challenges to face in the future. Although the West had had a friendly relationship with the outgoing Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, it has shunned incoming Modi, especially for his role in Gujarat riots. However, with this election victory, the West will have to change its stance. Modi had largely avoided debate on his past and had focused more on the economical performance. Modi believes that economic development will reduce many problems in the country. In the election just concluded, a majority of Indian voters have shown faith in his ability by giving him and his party a large mandate.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

“Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers”

The former British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which was renamed Rhodesia in 1964, gained independence on April 17, 1980. The country was renamed Zimbabwe, the name of an ancient African Empire which once ruled these lands. The newly independent country’s new leaders invited Bob Marley, the reggae legend, to perform at the Independence Ceremony. It is said that the first official words spoken in the newly independent country were, “ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers.”

Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley) was born in Nine Mile, Jamaica, on February 6, 1945. In the late 1950s, he moved to Trench Town, a low income community of squatter settlement and government yards developments. Despite its bad reputation as a center of unsavory trades, Trench Town was a cultural hub. This helped the early music career of Bob Marley. The Jamaican music industry was also in its nascent stage, giving rise to an indigenous Jamaican musical style named ska. The poor youth of the country found solace from their harsh lives in this music.
Bob Marley live in concert in Dalymount Park on 6 July 1980 (Pic by Eddie Mallin)
The mid 1960s were a significant period in Bob Marley’s career. In 1963, along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, Marley created a music group. They experimented with music as well as a name to their band, ultimately ending up with “The Wailers” as its name. Members came in and went out, but the band remained and produced reggae music over the years. Initially they were not very successful, but in the 1970s their music broke into the world stage, especially after their first album with Island Records, “Catch a Fire” was released in 1973.

It was in the mid 1960s that Bob Marley started to follow Rastafari Movement, an African based spiritual ideology. Its adherents worship Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I and believe that Africans living elsewhere should return to Africa. It seeks a way out of Babylon, the term given by Rastafai believers to oppression, materialism and other evils of society. They hope to return to Zion, which is Ethiopia, where they believe to be the original birthplace of humankind.

Bob Marley’s songs are abundant with reference to evils of materialism (e.g. Concrete Jungle), belief in the Living God (Jah) Ras Tafari the Ethiopian emperor (e.g. Forever Loving Jah), his past experiences is Trench Town (e.g. No Woman No Cry), African unity (e.g. Africa Unite), the oppression to which the African people were subjected to (e.g. Buffalo Soldier), slavery (e.g. Redemption Song) and peace (e.g. One Love).

Marley practiced what he preached and this is one reason why his songs attracted millions of people. He was the single most effective Ambassador of Rastafari Movement in Jamaica and elsewhere. It had a profound impact, not only in Africa but elsewhere. One event which clearly showed the Marley effect was in New Zealand in 1978 when the Maoris greeted him with a dance reserved for foreign dignitaries. Bob Marley’s manager Don Taylor later stated that it was “one of my most treasured memories of the impact of Bob and reggae music on the world.”

In the 1970s, Jamaica was a politically divided society with the rivalry between the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) and opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) resulting in many political deaths especially at election time. In December 1976, a Bob Marley concert named “Smile Jamaica” was organized to ease tension. Two days prior to the event, on December 3, an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on his life. Assailants shot at his home, injuring Marley, his wife Rita and manager Taylor. Marley’s injuries were not severe but the other two had to undergo surgery. Taylor’s wounds were critical but he survived. However, Marley reportedly said that “the people who are trying to make this world worse aren't taking a day off. How can I?” and the concert was held as planned.

However, several months later, Marley went to London. It was there that both Exodus and Kaya albums were released. Exodus transformed Marley into an international star. The title song “Exodus” remained in UK Charts for 56 weeks. His songs “Running away” and “Time will Tell” from Kaya album were stark, haunting reminders of the assassination attempt.

Back in Jamaica, Marley held another political concert titled “One Love Peace Concert” on April 22, 1978. The concert’s most memorable scenario was when Marley summoned JLP leader Edward Seaga and Prime Minister Michael Manley onstage. As the Wailers pumped out the rhythm to “Jamming”, Marley urged the politicians to shake hands. He raised their arms aloft for all to see, and chanted “Jah Rastafari!” Despite this act, a look of reluctance was seen in both faces of the politicians. The 1980 election was marred in violence, in which more than 800 people died. JLP recorded a landslide victory and Seaga became Prime Minister. Jamaica has moved forward from that age and today the political environment is much more peaceful.

Bob Marley was a victim of cancer, and died on May 11, 1981. Earlier, Marley turned down his doctors' advice to have his toe amputated, citing his religious beliefs. Despite his illness, he continued in his work till the end. He was given a state funeral and was buried at Nine Mile, his place of birth. “Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation” Prime Minister Seaga stated in a fitting eulogy.

Bob Marley Quotes

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but our self can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.”
(From: “Redemption Song”)

“Time alone, oh, time will tell
Ya think you're in heaven, but ya living in hell”
(From: “Time Alone”)

“Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned
Everywhere is war”
(From: “War” Adopted from a speech by Emperor Haile Selassie I at the UN General Assembly)

“Open your eyes and look within
Are you satisfied with the life you're living?
We know where we're going; we know where we're from
We're leaving Babylon, we're going to our fatherland”
(From: “Exodus”)