ABP Blog : Aspiration, Ambition, and the hunger to win Elections

The results of the UP state elections are finally out – and verdict is  Adityanath, the 5 time member of parliament,  is the chief minister. The BJP choose the most person it considers most appropriate, and most in line with it’s vision,  to run India’s largest state. Adityanath has a reputation of being a ruthless leader, who does not even make a pretence of liking or respecting minorities, women, or anyone else who is remotely liberal. He has take on not just these groups, at times with violence, but also his party – going as far as putting up rebel candidates to ensure that the BJP loses.

But, this column is neither about Adityanath or about the BJP. It is about ambition, aspiration and power, and why organisations are geared , at different points of time, to attract people who meet organisational goals. Parties win (or lose) elections, not just because of the top leadership (and that is very important) but also because the organisation is filled with ambitious people who believe in the same goals, and want to achieve them. The opposition parties are failing there. The question is very simple, if you were ambitious, and not aligned with Hindutva as a political philosophy, would you be interested in working for a Mulayam Singh Yadav, or take orders from a Digvijay Singh, or follow a Stalin, or be guided by a Deepika or jytotsna or whoever (Jayalalitha’s niece and husband ), or work with Ajit Pawar. Why did Suresh Prabhu have to quit the Shiv Sena ? Can you imagine someone as intelligent and sincere as him, reporting to Aditya Thackeray. On what basis ? The problem is less Rahul or Akhilesh or Stalin. The problem is a vapid party base that accepts these as lord and master, without any qualms, and  obeisance to all orders. Unless the parties themselves choose to survive and thrive, you are looking at someone like Adityanath becoming PM in the future, simply because the opposition has folded into various family groups playing out their own version of Mahabharat. (remember at the end of the Mahabharat there were less than 10 survivors. ) . When things are served up to you on a platter, there is little hunger to succeed. And, i believe that the parties have forgotten that.

 

My column for ABP

 

In the aftermath of the results of the state elections, one thing is very apparent. The BJP doesn’t just have the leadership, but also the party machinery to win elections. Mr Modi and Mr Shah provide the air cover, leaders at the local level, mop up the rest. The organisation is ambitious, and sees its goals being realised by victory at the polls. The problem with the fragmented opposition, is while they talk about winning, the will to win seems lacking. The lustreless party machinery seems so happy walking on a treadmill that goes nowhere, that the parties are going nowhere.

Today, most parties – INC, DMK, AIADMK, SP, BSP, Shiv Sena, MNS, SAD are facing the same problem, a mass exodus of talent, because organisations, that were once mass based, have concentrated all the power and decision making in the hands of a few stakeholders, their families and close associates. Merit has little place, and decision making is dependent on the whims of those at the top. As such, there is no reason, why someone who is ambitious would want to join any of the parties that have gotten rejected at the polls.  From the outside, it seems like they have not just lost their way, and are meandering without either a purpose or a goal; and they don’t have the will to find either. Regional parties, and the Congress, are facing a crisis, not just because of those who lead them, but because the organisation itself doesn’t have enough people, hungry enough to succeed.  The Modi wave washed away other parties, because the parties have ceased to have a solid foundation of ambitious leaders at the constituency level.

One of the characteristics that separates humankind from the rest of our cousins in the animal kingdom, is aspiration and ambition. Aspiration is when we hope for a better tomorrow, and use all our talents and resources to achieve it. Most, if not all, of humanities technological advances – since the invention of the wheel – have been about making life better. On the other hand, ambition is when we not just hope to be better than ourselves, but better than others. The desire to wield power, to do better – to bring about change is what has brought about monumental political change across the millennia.  It is a combination of aspiration and ambition that makes the world progress.

When we join an organisation or start one, both personal aspiration and ambition drive us. What we look for, in an organisation, in addition to income, is a sense of shared values, belonging, and whether it lets us meet our aspirations and ambitions. There are many for whom the meeting of personal aspirations is enough.  But, that there are those for who professional ambition is important. And, they are usually who lead organisations in troubled time to victories over competitors, or reduce the extent of loss by their very energy and drive. For every organisation it is important to have a mix of the two. Too many people who look for only personal aspirations to be satisfied, and you will have an organisation that stagnates, and dies. Too many with professional ambition, and the organisation will be torn apart under the strain of the competing ambitions. But, the need for a few good ambitious leaders is necessary. And, organisations will only get a good flock of those with professional ambition, and drive, joining them, when the individuals see scope of rising within the organisation. And, for that the organisation must be a meritocracy.

This is where all political parties in India face a challenge. Families, and their loyal retainers, have taken over parties, permeating every aspect of the political machinery. Where talent and merit are secondary, then there will be an exodus of both out of the organisation. Where promotion is based on a court culture, you will have decay, and unless the party organisations take serious action, they are going to implode into insignificance. To have a chance at winning, Parties must allow ambitious youngsters to join them, and nurture them in their career to the top. This is what any organisation worth its’ salt does. Because they know that organisations can only grow and thrive, when there is fresh blood to inject it with new ideas, and new energy. And, this is exactly what the losing parties need to do. Allow talent to rise. Allow merit to be rewarded. In 2017, it cannot be about the whims of ruling families. It must be about the organisation.

Elections and the hunger to win

picture source : here

The New Yorker endorses Clinton …..

…. but, it is one of the sharpest pieces of writing on what ails America, and the Trump phenomenon. Such precision is devastating.

If the prospect of a female President represents a departure in the history of American politics, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, the real-estate mogul and Republican nominee, does, too—a chilling one. He is manifestly unqualified and unfit for office. Trained in the arts of real-estate promotion and reality television, he exhibits scant interest in or familiarity with policy. He favors conspiracy theory and fantasy, deriving his knowledge from the darker recesses of the Internet and “the shows.” He has never held office or otherwise served his country, never acceded to the authority of competing visions and democratic resolutions.

If you thought that  being discriminatory, bigoted, and dogmatic, weren’t bad enough as characteristics, there is more …

It is not merely narcissism that leads him to speak about grabbing women’s genitals or to endorse the “Lock Her Up!” chants directed at his opponent. It is his temperamental authoritarianism—a trait echoed in his admiration of Vladimir Putin. …

The consistencies of Trump’s character are matched by the inconsistencies of his policy positions. Every politician is allowed to change his or her mind, but Trump abuses the privilege. His reversals on issues as fundamental as first-strike nuclear policy and our obligations to nato reflect not so much a thought process as the blunderings of ignorance.

I actually thought, when i read about Trump’s candidacy, that it must have been an evolved joke. And, when i realised it was not (a joke) , i began paying a bit more attention to what was going on. It is that kind of horrific fascination when you are about to see a terrible car accident. the conspiracy theorist part of me wonders if Bill Clinton planted the seed of running for presidency in this man’s head, the many times that they played golf.  If so, it would be two birds with one stone (maybe even 3) = Hilary as President, a devastated Republican Party, and Democrats in Congress.

 The combination of free-form opportunism, heroic self-regard, blithe contempt for expertise, and an airy sense of infallibility has contributed to Trump’s profound estrangement from the truth. He said that he saw “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the attacks of 9/11. When he was told that this never happened, he repeated the claim, mocked the disabled reporter who exposed it—a grotesque antic captured on video—and then denied having done so. He maintained that he saw a picture of Ted Cruz’s father “having breakfast with Lee Harvey Oswald”; no such picture exists. He boasted of conversations with Putin that never occurred; he said that Putin had not invaded Ukraine. He described climate change as a Chinese-perpetrated hoax, then said that he hadn’t. Day and night, Trump assembles and distributes these murky innuendos and outright lies through his Twitter account.

But, in the United States, as elsewhere, there is a backlash from, what i call, the “formerly privileged’ .  People who have been the backbone of the formerly left wing parties. Union members, workers, people who are seeing their futures rapidly diminishing with the onslaught of outsourcing of work to other countries, as well as the influx of cheaper labour into their own lands. But this is not just about jobs. It is about other things to. It is about equality – it is the resentment that some have about those who were servants and chattel, who can deal with them on equal basis. We are seeing this across the world.

We are in the midst of a people’s revolt, a great debate concerning income inequality, the “hollowing” of the middle, globalization’s winners and losers. If the tribune whom the voters of the Republican Party have chosen is a false one, we cannot dismiss the message because we deplore the messenger. The white working-class voters who form the core of Trump’s support—and who were once a Democratic constituency—should not have their anxieties and suffering written off. Their struggle with economic abandonment and an incomplete health-care system demands airing, understanding, and political solutions.

Oh, and they talk about Hilary Clinton too.

Read the full piece, here 

Cows, Lynching, and Exclusion

three very different stories

The first, from the Times of India, is about a couple of cattle traders lynched by “suspected cattle-protection vigilantes

The deceased, Muhammad Majloom, 35, and Azad Khan alias Ibrahim, 15, were cattle traders and related to each other. Their bodies were strung up with their hands tried behind their backs and their mouths stuffed with cloth.
“The manner of their hanging showed that the assailants were led by extreme hatred,” said Latehar SP Anoop Birthary.

and the second is  from the Indian Express – about the Ministry of HRD’s directive

The National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), which operates under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, has introduced a form which requires authors of books NCPUL acquires annually to declare that the content will not be against the government or the country.

And, just as a bonus, if these two stories don’t depress the hell out of you, read the interview of Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya in the Scroll

Bhattacharya: They asked me, “It’s understandable if Khalid is doing this, but what were you doing there?” Somehow it seemed that an unadulterated Khalid would have suited them better. My presence irked them. They couldn’t build up the story they wanted.

Khalid: I was targeted with a special hatred because of being a “Khalid”. But there was hatred for Anirban too. For simply being there and ruining a ready-made story. Now this didn’t fit their narrative, the narrative of terror they began in the media. If I was a traitor to the nation because of my Muslim identity, Anirban was a traitor to his nation, religion and caste.

A narrative is being built. And, that narrative is that of ‘who is a good indian’. That ‘good’ Indian lives by certain principles that are dear to a small, but vocal minority. And, that narrative is wrong. Because there are more than a billion ways of being a ‘good’ indian. The version put out of this non meat/beef eating, non urdu writing, non Muslim is not one of them. And even if the billion plus Indians, had the same view of what makes a ‘good’ indian, and one person does not abide by that view, it is still fine. that is the point of individual liberty.

We keep talking about majority rights and minority rights. Most of us will have a better life if the government was committed to protect individual rights.  citizenship rights. And the right to be ourselves.

 

There is a rather ugly genie out of the bottle, a genie built on exclusion, and suspicion. That genie either needs to be banished or put back in the bottle. Look at Pakistan, and see what we should not become. ever. People kept quiet trying to buy peace, there too. But, that does not work. You cannot buy peace from fundamentalists. They want it all, they are not going to let you your little space, where you can run your life without any interference from them.

India is built on diversity, and mutual tolerance. Each strand as vital as the other. I never thought i would quote Narendra Modi as defence for an argument, but he has said it well here

As a nation, we stood against colonialism and in our struggle for freedom At the dawn of independence some chose to go away; and, I believe, that it also had to do with the colonial politics of that time….  Now, India is moving forward on the strength of the struggles, the sacrifices, the bravery, the knowledge, the skill, the art and the pride of every member of every faith in our diverse and yet united nation.

Like the strings of sitar that each produces a note, but come together to create a beautiful melody.

This is the spirit of India. This is the strength of our nation.

All our people, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, the micro-minority of Parsis, believers, non-believers, are an integral part of India.

gandhi

(image courtesy : here)

DNA Column : Here’s why Anish Kapoor is wrong about India being ruled by a ‘Hindu Taliban’

After a long time, i wrote an opinion piece for the DNA. And, it essentially was on why India was not being ruled by the Hindu Taliban.

The Indian electorate makes informed and wise decisions – it may not be as literate or as sophisticated as its western counterpart; it may neither be as wealthy, nor as involved – but, the Indian voters have tended to surprise Indian politicians, political parties, and the world at large with their choices. We vote for a direction. We vote to teach rulers a lesson. We participate in the electoral process with joy and involvement. And, we vote because it is our right to do so. There are those who many not like the outcome, but that does not mean that the voters are wrong or have voted ‘fascists’ or ‘communists’ or whatever. Accepting the Indian voters’ choice is the first step of understanding and participating in Indian democracy. The political parties have to do so, in all humility. It is time supporters of those parties did so too.

Read the full piece here

DNA Column : Elections – The age of convenient truth

My column in today’s DNA

It is election season and, therefore, it must be the time for rhetoric, more rhetoric and even more rhetoric. Each party and its supporters are trying to pitch themselves to us, the voters, and each trying to get us to vote for them. While political leaders and party workers are traversing the length and breadth of India, trying to woo the masses in the blistering heat, their more privileged keyboard warriors are using their fingers to good effect, drumming up support on social media. And, it is social media, especially Twitter, with its concentration of journalists, editors, film stars, politicians, would-be politicians, policy makers, industrialists, media magnates, bankrupt tycoons, cricketers and the rest, that makes for the most entertainment. Because there is nothing as funny as serious, sanctimonious rhetoric in 140 characters, especially when you sneak some time to yourself to look at the phone on a tough working day. It is the sheer chutzpah in the pronouncements, the dauntless confidence with which people mouth inanities, the gumption with which inaccuracies and factual errors are put forward as ‘truth’ and the sheer pizzazz of the entire thing that makes you wonder if Twitter has taken its place in the sun as the provider of multiple streams of live commentary for what promises to be the greatest show on earth — the Indian elections. If only one could charge entertainment tax on the proceedings, the current account deficit would probably be wiped out.
So what are they fighting for? Politicians and political parties are fighting for power. They — especially the BJP and Congress — would prefer absolute power — 272 seats all to themselves, without their allies spoiling their party. Will they get it is anyone’s guess, but that doesn’t prevent them from projecting the confidence of being able to make that figure. But, to keep their options open, you do occasionally hear murmurs of a ‘larger NDA’ or “UPA III”.
While it is easy to figure what the politicians want, the role of their supporters on social media is slightly more complex. Their aim seems to be less about converting neutrals or voters who have not made up their mind into votes, and more on keeping the faithful gathered and motivated in the days leading up to the elections. It is a vital role that they play — the social media warriors — in terms of fact-checking, repudiating, muddying the waters, creating a ‘what if’ scenario in the mind of the public. While BJP supporters had the lead in the utilisation of social media for rallying and attacking, more recently the Congress and the AAP have joined in. As a result social media, in general, and Twitter, in particular, have become a battleground of ideas, allegations, innuendos and camaraderie. In my mind, the role of the partisans on social media is interesting because of the space that they occupy between the media and the party. They take corridor-level gossip from the party and drawing room chatter and blast them into a somewhat public space dominated by the traditional media, and when traditional media picks up this gossip, it gets carried back into social media for further conversations. Recently in a media conference, a point was made about mainstream media watching its audience (us), monitoring them via social media posts on shows and news, and using this instant feedback and chatter to fine tune content offerings But, a far more interesting phenomenon that we are observing in these elections is that a part of this audience, realising that it is being watched, are indulging in a sort of behaviour that feeds content to the media only to promote the former’s agenda. For a media professional, it’s a fairly fascinating phenomenon.

The other thing very clear in these elections is this: The mask of media neutrality has finally fallen off and is being left for dead. Journalists do not even pretend to have a lack of bias. When leading anchors don the political mantle, and prominent journalists push the agendas of political parties without joining them, then you cannot help but wonder, how much of the content that they put out is biased and how long ago did this begin? This is not about voting preferences. You can still vote for who you believe in and try and be balanced in content. It is about pushing political agendas in the name of journalism. In an ideal world the bias should impact ratings. But, as recent studies in the United States show, it is the ratings of those seemingly unbiased platforms that are falling when compared to those who take partisan views. Research also reveals that audiences are more and more looking for views that dovetail with their own. They don’t want the bland neutrality of Doordarshan. They much prefer the fire and brimstone of the evening news anchor who demands answers on behalf of the nation.

Way back in 1964, Barry Goldwater, the American Republican Party candidate for President, in a speech declared: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”. It seems that our media — mainstream and social — have taken this speech to heart. Except that liberty and justice are no longer absolutes but relative to whom they support. For example, outrage on suggested curbs of freedom of speech is not universal but defended by party supporters and opposed by detractors.

We are in for fun ride where truth is falsity, and falsity is truth. So who do we, the people, trust? The answer, surprisingly, is each other. According to a recent Zee Media Taleem Poll on the state of the nation, while 54% said that they relied on electronic media for their views and opinions, 30% still rely on friends and peer groups for ‘truth’. In a world where truth becomes an elusive commodity, it is little surprise that we are getting back to a more traditional way of making up our mind: our own personal social networks.