Sunday, October 26, 2014

Indian National Congress Party

As PM Modi's 'Congress Mukt Bharat' (India free from Congress); gathers momentum, a quiet revolution seems to be taking within India. It is the gradual and so far certain demise of India's Grand Old Party - Congress. 

Normal run down in electoral fortunes of a political party prompts resignations of leadership, perceptible turns in policy postures and ascension of new leadership. None of that is happening and very unlikely to happen in case of Indian National Congress Party. So far as the question of leadership goes, clearly neither Sonia / Rahul Gandhi want to relinquish the hold nor rank party members are sure whether they will stick together if there is no Nehru-Gandhi person at the helm. 

By and large there are two reasons for Congress Party to exist - one to enjoy spoils of being in power (corruption) and the other reason of having a secular regime which does not try to ignite the specter of religion based sectarian conflicts. As possibilities of gaining any power back at Central or important State level start receding, rank and file party members will start exploring corruption avenues with other parties. Possibly over years, in general most body politics of India will go away from direct corruption and as a result 'entering politics' with the aim of 'making money' might not remain a viable business model. Definitely Narendra Modi's persona, his policies as well as rise of anti-corruption parties like Aam Adami Party; all point in that direction.

Narendra Modi ruled Gujrath for over a decade without any religion based riots after infamous Godhara. As he fashions a soft cultural Hindu Nationalism without hard edges of violence and without abuses of human rights, crying need of Secular Political Options decreases. It is not only Congress which has suffered due to diminishing need of asserting Secularism, decline of Left Parties also confirms that. Primary selling point of these Left parties had been Secularism. Indian Public tolerated administrative incompetence, myopic socialistic policies and corruption of Congress and Left; all for reasons of literally getting saved from religious bigots. As Modi brand of Politics reduces religion based bigoted politics, Indian voters are getting viable choices and the fertile ground for 'Congress Mukt Bharat' is prepared.[1]

Victory of MIM in Maharashtra Assembly shows that Muslim voters in India no longer have to hitch their wagon to the secularism of Congress. Established alternatives like Samajwadi Party and upcoming choices like MIM (who are vitriolic but with shades of authentic nationalism) are very much reducing need to depend on Congress.

Given all this, survival of Congress Party comes down to Sonia and Rahul Gandi. In my lifetime, I remember Congress was 'written off' 3 times but it came back - first when Indira Gandhi was kicked out after Emergency in 1977 and then she romped back in 1980. Subsequently Rajiv Gadhi lost power, then was killed and India came on the brink of bankruptcy due to Mandal Masjid Mayehm; again Congress came back. More recently after the NDA rule, Sonia and Dr. Manmohan Singh again brought Congress back to the power. Increasing tendency of Indian voters to deliver 'decisive mandate' is at play also. Knowing this history, it is understandable that no Congressman is going to come forward and rebel against Nehru-Gandhi Family. That is not how Congress works and it is a recipe of disasters for individual political ambitions of a Congressman given the internal power dynamics. In other words, more are electoral losses for Congress party; more loyal coterie encircles the leadership of Nehru-Gandhi Family.

So then are we talking here Titanic going all the way to the bottom? Once upon time there was a party called Hindu Mahasabha. Jan Sangh and subsequent mutant BJP came out it and Hindu Mahasabha essentially died. Are we looking at some such possibilities with Congress? This is because Rahul Gandhi is simply not showing any leadership here, Sonia Gandhi is more interested in protecting him and none of them have any willingness to hand over party reigns to many other capable leaders (P. Chidambaram, AK Antony, etc.).On Policy front, Congress is simply not getting the message that its brand of Government led Development is not working nor it is realizing how much hunger is there in India for administrative competence as well as corruption free State. Besides, Congress may be too late to turn to anti-corruption politics as there is AAP already claiming that mantle. However, Congress will have to submit for corruption free politics as a necessity. One is not sure whether Rahul Gandhi gets all this. In absence of that, we are looking at a real possibility of demise of Indian National Congress because in the end Gandhi-Nehru Family decides to let it die. 

What is heartening is, not just because of Narendra Modi; but in general today's Indian body Politics is for sure strong enough to withstand the demise of Indian National Congress Party.

[1] One of the weakest links of PM Modi's promise of reform has been the division of Center-State power in contemporary India. For all the talk of reforming India, Indian constitution awards primacy to State when it comes to land holding, water management, education, policing population, legal system and energy distribution (not literally but because how the system evolved). What that means is unless and until Modi Government in Center finds friendly State Governments, his agenda of true reform and economic growth would not go anywhere. PM Modi needs Narendra Modi in State Houses and hence his  national success necessitates Congress Mukta Bharat.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Angela Merkel - Subdued Style with Subdued Results?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel overshadows American President Barack Obama who tends to 'over promise under deliver' in her eyes. Having assumed chancellery 3 years earlier than Barack Obama and definitely outlasting him in office as well, Angela Merkel is a powerful politician on planet earth; one of the most powerful. That is why it matters what she does and she does not.

During the early years of 2008 recession, she only gave in partially by allowing limited bank guarantees collectively. Contrary to advise of many Keynesians for Debt Relief, she remained unenthusiastic for such prospects. On the strength of American Economy, Global Financial Markets bought into a belief that worst is over for Europe.

But worst is not over for Europe. We do not know how much structural reforms of consequence, countries in Europe have adopted. With persistent high unemployment, France and Italy; rightly so; are on the verge of busting deficit band allowed by EU. With continued economic contraction, Europe is on the verge of 3rd recession in last six years. Needless to say Europe has done badly.

When the right prescription for getting out of this funk is both QE as well as stimulus by government / EU; Angela Merkel is precisely resisting and triangulating the policy of substantive economic intervention by Government. Neither she has taken pains to expend her political capital in educating German voters nor she has given free hand to Euro wide policy makers. At the heart of it is the same thing as what Rick Santelli purported at the dawn of Tea Party in USA - resentment in giving anyone free hand. Germans are acutely vigilant about anyone trying to ride on their success as they naturally feel it is all 'earned by them' and by their discipline. There is some truth in that, but one cannot ignore the downward draft exerted by non-German economies on Euro exchange rate which essentially benefits German Export. In other words, poor Spanish and Italian economies keep Euro down which makes BMW and Audis cheap enough in China in turn soaring the German Export. Those export gains translate to welfare of German workers (all credit to German system) at the expense of essentially Italian or Spanish workers.  All this, of course Angela Merkel, wants to forget conveniently. 

That is why one wonders what judgement History would render - a feckless, over promising American President having delivered, having used all his political capital or an immensely popular German Chancellor having been at the heart of European power allowing Rome to burn while she plays the fiddle of keeping intact ideological misunderstanding of her voter base? 

There are forces in German which are unsettled with this prospect and there are political forces which are pulling Germany towards extreme policy positions. Essentially German equivalent of Tea Party is campaigning further right of Merkel by demanding introduction of Duesche Mark in liue of Euro. May be Germany should indeed get out of Euro. That way not only the fantasy of AfD will be exposed but failure of Merkle regime will be exposed too while liberating Spaniards and Italians of Europe to pursue a sensible economic policy along with French. In that sense, a failed regime of Barack Obama is far positively consequential in the longer term than 'sooth talking', ideologically driven Merkel era in Europe.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


As the case of second Ebola infection comes to light, suspicion in minds of Americans grow - that bulky, expensive American Health Care System is 'not' geared to handle spreading Ebola cases, that we are getting empty promises from public officials, that these officials and elected representatives are actively misleading Americans when they claim everything is under control. Very likely American system will not be immune from the usual problem of lack of co-ordination among various local, state and federal agencies. When officials insist that 'the system has worked', that seems like a joke when in reality the second patient was not even on the watch list in Texas! The infected health worker was undertaking self-monitoring and reported possible infection on her own. Given this, it is clear that:
- procedures used by American health worker are not full proof and
- CDC directed procedure of identifying possibly impacted patients and monitoring them, that all seem inadequate as well.

The Texas Hospital already lost the credibility when first it blamed its computer system to hide the incompetence of its staff. Now more details are coming about how the first patient was treated for sinus while completely ignoring possibilities of Ebola early on! This is a poster symbol of 'stupidity of American Health System'.

But it might not remain only about incompetence of American Health System when serious allegations are hurled about knowing negligence of the first patient because of his skin color or African origins. If this 'meme' gets hold; it can quickly become a ugly political football given that we are in the last stretches of mid-term elections.

Already racial tensions are showing up in America. When you have a tone deaf white police officer wearing 'I am Darren Wilson' bracelet in support of the policemen who killed the African American in Saint Louis, when another African American is killed there after; we have a charged environment.

Given this background, President Obama and White House need to show alertness in being pro-active. Already President Obama has been criticized being indecisive and the danger is real that President Obama remains passive and his Administration would exhibit dereliction of duties. His order for more federal help is a start, but he needs to keep the focus on sustained basis, have his cabinet sectaries take follow on actions and more importantly keep Americans informed with facts. We need leadership which will neither hide lack of competencies nor spare anyone from holding accountable.

Longer term, America needs explanation in terms of why it is taking time to develop vaccine for this disease and how it will not be caught in racketeering by American Pharmaceutical companies. Creating vaccine is one thing, but putting in place a system which distributes it quickly and in affordable manner to masses is another. (Hopefully, Americans will not be held at ransom for such medicines when other nations successfully force American Pharma to sale drugs at affordable prices.)

Americans also need to be politically educated to understand the importance of helping other countries battling Ebola since in the end it comes to our shores. Inspection of Airline passengers is one response (why did it take so long and why did it not start at many ports simultaneously?); but helping those affected countries earlier and effectively should have been America's response.

In a globalized world America cannot be an isolated island and educating Americans about that is the job of our political leadership. American public will trust our leadership only when the leadership is alert and is effective in executing the job it is expected to do - protecting Americans. So far Ebola saga in Texas is anything but that. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Hong Kong and People's Republic of China

Typically a closed authoritative political system like China changes when it gets sympathetic top leaders. Mikhail Gorbachev comes to mind. But the Chinese boss Xi Jinping is in no mood to entertain any kind of political reforms. Under the name of 'fighting corruption' (which is good) Xi seems to be very busy in removing his political opposition without much legitimate, coherent ideas about how to advance China further and make China at ease and at peace in comity of nations. There is a real danger, now that his honeymoon period is over, that he simply becomes a tool of a powerful faction of PLA and in some sense 'keeper' of vested interests of Chinese Crony Capitalism - the businessmen enriching themselves on the largesse of State or hyper nationalists who preserve their own fiefdom / profit sources under the veneer of Nationalism. Given all that, political freedom of any kind will be the last thing on his mind regardless of what Beijing spin masters say.

Now, it is true that everyone knows what happened after Gorbachev undertook perestroika. Soviet Union joined History Books and suddenly you got more sovereign states in former USSR. Xi Jinping does not want to preside People's Republic of China (PRC) as the man who allowed Uighur to become independent. Of the 3 immediate 'centrifugal forces'  vibrating in Chinese System - Uighur separatism, Tibet resistance and unfinished business of peaceful assimilation of Hong Kong - only the Uighur problem is serious one (and Beijing is not on a right track there). The province of Xinjiang has substantial native Uyghur population - around 40+% - which mostly are Sunni Islamic. Ethnic identity among Uyghur is strong with checkered history of independence. Given that background, it is a right question among Communist Party Leaders in Beijing that what kind of autonomy would establish a political equilibrium? So from a Communist point of view, any concession in political freedom will be a slippery path culminating in dangers of Xinjing or parts of it sleeping away from PRC. And that is the danger Communists in Beijing do not want to feed into, whether it Uighur or Tibet or Hong Kong.

But the problems of Tibet and Hong Kong are different. With Tibet, Dalai Lama has maintained to work within the framework of PRC Sovereignty (even though his own people might not be with him at times as well as PRC would not be buying his argument). It is more the question of retaining autonomy, cultural identity and most important demographic balance within Tibet. What PRC is failing is to find a viable path here, the necessary step of which is to engage with Dalai Lama and his cohort and avoid chauvinistic Sinicization of Tibet

The problem of Hong Kong is even more clear. PRC absorbed Hong Kong on the basis of an international accord where PRC signed that it will allow universal suffrage. China and Xi Jinping are simply reneging on their legal commitments here. To blame protesters being non-patriotic and anti-China is simply Mao-style propaganda. Nethier the argument that Hong Kong never had full democracy under British rule nor Hong Kong needs to wait until entire PRC gets universal suffrage; are valid arguments. Why not Hong Kong be the leading light in bringing true democracy to entire China? Clearly Xi Jinping is too busy to entertain any such thoughts. (*)

The question for protesters is what can they do to change this situation? They have shown clearly that they can bring millions of Hong Kong residents on streets. But this will not be sustainable. As it starts damaging local economy, sympathy among Hong Kong mainstream residents (parents of kids on street) will dry up. That is exactly Hong Kong's current rulers and Beijing want. Given that, these protesters have to find a rhythm in keep bringing crowd on the street at regular interval while minimally disrupting livelihood of Hong Kong People. Every resistance movement needs to find creative ways in keeping the political pressure because the very nature of such conflicts is asymmetric - there are no channelized ways to register the opposition in authoritative closed political systems and the whole point of such resistance is to change the very system suppressing people's freedom. On this background advice from veterans 'to take break' is appropriate; least it ferments social tensions and violence.

Equally, these Hong Kong protesters need to become more cohesive from an organizational perspective given that their fight is for a long haul. Xi Jinping and Beijing Bosses are with thick skin and a stick (and with a gun and a tank as Tienanmen Square incident demonstrates vividly). No political movement can achieve substance unless structurally it is organized coherently and tightly, especially against such a behemoth adversary. There are many in Beijing who are in glee looking at this Hong Kong protest as they see how Hong Kong pulls itself down in its economic interests (and as a result opens door for Shangahi to further itself as the premium global financial center; though many argue that the real winner will be Singapore). So Hong Kong protesters need to navigate their longer term resistance in a manner which is not perceived as detrimental to Hong Kong's business. Some price these businesses have to pay (and those with weak heart may indeed flee Hong Kong too); but these protesters will have to be mindful of these bread and butter issues.

The more these protests portray how Beijing is subverting an international treaty, more are chances that rest of the world (and Taiwan in particular) becomes more vigilant in dealing with PRC. That is the price which these protesters can make Beijing to pay (unless Xi Jinping adopts the dirty and cheap path of Vladimir Putin - hell with international laws). May be when the price becomes sufficiently high, Xi Jinping would come around and may open the path of political freedom for Hong Kong residents.  Till then a smart and sustained resistance is what these protesters have to undertake.

* - One argument nationalists are forwarding is what is wrong in insisting vetting of candidates by Beijing before hand, after all Beijing intends good for Hong Kong? But similarly any freedom loving person can argue that why Beijing needs to have then any such insecurities? If a freely elected Hong Kong chief does not behave in accordance to PRC's national interest, PRC can simply prosecute the chief on charges of treason and even remove that chief in extreme situations in the name of national security.