Spreading wings

With the election victory in the northeastern state of Assam, the BJP has now reached the corners of the country, converting from a Hindi-speaking, cow-belt party.

If this does not jolt the Congress leadership into action, then Rahul Gandhi and team may have to bow out sooner than later.

convinced last week that the oldest political party, the Congress, does not exist in the country any more.

That’s the kind of communication strategy that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unleashed as the results of the elections to the legislative assemblies of five states came in. The shock and awe doctrine used in military warfare was improvised to deliver a message to the people that the Congress party had been delivered the deadliest of political blows and people should simply put their eggs in one basket, meaning the BJP, henceforth.

The ruling party had won the northeastern state of Assam, the second largest among the seven sister states in the region. The anti-incumbency against the 15-year rule of chief minister Tarun Gogoi was high enough for the Congress to lose out.

To the uninitiated, Assam’s geographical location is such that it is physically the gateway to the other smaller northeastern states, some of which share international borders with three countries.

The BJP, it should be said to its credit, understood the strategic importance of this state to form a winnable social axis of communities to form the next government. The excitement in the BJP over its victory is understandable.

It started off as a party of the ‘cow belt’ - as the central and northern states in the country like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and neighbouring states are called. It has spread its wings now wide enough to touch the four parts of the country.

It runs a government in the western states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa, the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir as part of a coalition, the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, again in a coalition, and it has gained some percentage of votes in the southern state of Kerala and in the eastern state of West Bengal.

It was only in Assam, however, that the BJP was directly pitted against the Congress. In the states of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, it was the regional parties led by two powerful women, Mamata Banerjee and Jayaram Jayalalithaa, which returned to power.

It was only in the union territory of Puducherry that the Congress has won a majority in a 30-member house. Kerala, as usual, went back to the Communists-led front. But the BJP leadership felt so elated by the victory in Assam, after facing defeats in Delhi and Bihar last year, that it behaved as if its campaign for an India minus the Congress had already been achieved. But the facts were otherwise.

The Congress had, in fact, secured more percentage of votes than the BJP had in Assam though by virtue of the first-past-the-post electoral system the latter secured more seats than the former. On the political map of the country, however, the Congress has a meagre six states in the country of which the southern state of Karnataka is the largest. The BJP has a number of states in its control but the majority of the states are run by regional parties which have, over the years, eaten into the Congress’ share of votes.

But, it was the strategy adopted by the BJP that shook up the confidence levels of the common worker of the Congress who almost started questioning the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. There is little doubt in the country today that the Congress has lost its position of being the leader of the anti- BJP forces in the country.

The mantle has fallen on the regional parties. In fact, it is the regional parties which have proved to be tough challengers even to the BJP. Regional parties like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu or the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal have, in fact, fought off anti-incumbency by aggressively implementing welfare programmes. There is no doubt that the programmes have eaten into the vitals of the state economy but it has helped to retain political power.

The strategies of some of the regional parties to fight anti-incumbency is also a critical lesson to the Congress party. It is a bad reflection on the leadership of the party that it did not remove Gogoi in Assam when he had offered to resign after the BJP’s impressive performance in the 2014 parliamentary elections. If the party had done so, it would not have lost its strategist, Himanta Biswa Sarma, to the BJP.

This is not to undermine the role that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the mother organisation of the BJP, has played in building the social axis among communities to fight the immigrant Muslim at one level and the local Muslim at another. Nevertheless, the assembly results have given a chance to the Congress leaders to think aloud and tell the leadership, which fundamentally means the mother-son duo of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, to stop introspecting and to initiate action.

During the 2014 parliamentary elections, it was a wellestablished fact that the growth of Modi on the national political firmament from Gujarat was attributed to the silence or inaction that the then prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had maintained on important issues.

Last week, it was the turn of the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, to put across a similar message very succinctly, “Rahul Gandhi is the biggest USP of Modi.” The sting in her comment should bring Rahul Gandhi back with a thinking cap on to lead his party. Otherwise, he could well be proving the BJP correct, much ahead of its time, that it is time to ‘free the country of the Congress party’.

When Cook met Altafbhai

Apple CEO Tim Cook finally paid a visit and from all statements he has made, it appears he was quite impressed by the talent that exists in the country. He also opened the map development centre in the southern city of Hyderabad and gave enough indications that he plans to make more investments in India. It appeared as if he was looking around to make an assessment about the market possibilities for his product which does not seem to be the darling of customers as it used to be the world over. In other words, it is not doing much for the company’s profits. But, the social media was on a different trip.

Soon enough it was active with a serious sounding schedule. One of these with a schedule of his visit to the city of Mumbai spoke about how he would visit the Siddivinayaka temple followed by a meeting with the Ambani’s (which he indeed had) and the Tata group. His last meeting was with a Altafbhai in Kurla.

The purpose of this meeting, obviously, was based on his company’s battle with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over passing on the security code to find evidence against terrorists. The company didn’t but that’s what makes this supposed meeting interesting. It was ‘to understand how the iPhones are unlocked for R500!!!’

Carrying jewellery

For NRIs, there appears to be some good news in the making. It appears that the federal Finance Ministry officials have realised that some people carry jewellery into India to wear in weddings and take it back while returning. Why the realisation has suddenly dawned now is hard to guess at this stage.

The ministry is currently in the process of formulating rules which would allow Indians coming from abroad for a wedding or social event to carry jewellery into the country. The effort appears to be to ease the customs clearance so that NRIs do not feel harassed.

The major hassle in this proposal under consideration is that officials are wondering how to put stringent checks so that this facility is not exploited by those indulging in smuggling of gold. Here’s a word of caution: Please do not jump the gun and carry jewellery without a confirmation. Please wait for the new rules to come into force.

Tailpiece

It may be a shocking sight to see full-grown men and women prostrate before Amma. But such is the political subservience practiced in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. It is more common in the AIADMK than in its arch rival, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or the DMK.

The two parties have been alternately elected to power every five years except in the latest election, a record broken after three decades. The hold of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa over the voters is such that anybody elected on her party ticket is indebted to her. Until about 2006, it was a standard practice for everyone to prostrate at her feet with folded hands as a mark of loyalty.

But, over a period of time, the message went out that Amma or mother as she is popularly referred to, was to be shown respect only with a bow and a namaste, the traditional Indian way of greeting elders with folded hands.

The extent to which a member bowed depended upon the favour that he has received or is seeking from Amma. Journalists have now found an index to measure how subservient a member is. It is called ‘BendEx’!

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]

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