Category: Politics

There is fire in facts; Congress will get burnt.

Why did Congress use its grip on power to curtain the truth about Netaji? Why did Congress order surveillance over Netaji’s family? What was Congress afraid of?

Last week, West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took an important step towards resolving this enigma by releasing 64 files in the possession of the state government. It is too early to comment on content, as I have not had access to it. But there is good reason to discuss the mystery: why did Congress and its allies use their continued grip on power to curtain the truth about Netaji? Why did Congress order sustained surveillance over Netaji’s family for decades? What was Congress afraid of?The alleged death of our iconic hero, Subhas Chandra Bose, more familiarly known as “Netaji”, in an air crash in 1945 remains, to adapt his contemporary Winston Churchill’s phrase, a classic “enigma wrapped in a mystery”. The official narrative, accepted all too easily by the first Indian government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, claiming instant death, was challenged almost immediately. For seven decades now, doubt has disturbed the conscience of India.

Congress has never answered such questions, so speculation is inevitable. People believe that Nehru collaborated with foreign powers to keep an alive Netaji out of the country. There could have been many reasons for this. In popular discourse, the reason is not complicated: Netaji was the only leader who could have displaced Nehru and Congress from power in a general election, perhaps as early as in 1957, and probably certainly by 1962. This raises an interesting thought. The 1962 general elections took place before the war with China. Would China have provoked a war with India if Netaji had been Prime Minister? But that is another story.

If Netaji was deliberately kept out of India, then where was he? He could not have been hidden; he could only have been imprisoned. Where?

We might have clearer indication from the Bengal files, but, according to some members of the Bose family, one extremely sensitive file — or, more plainly, papers that contained truth unpalatable to Congress — was destroyed in 1972 when Siddhartha Shankar Ray was Congress Chief Minister of Bengal and Mrs Indira Gandhi was Congress Prime Minister of India. If correct, then this destruction of evidence was done at the specific command of Mrs Gandhi, for Ray was famous for craven obedience.

There is, however, another clue, which, surprisingly, has not been pursued with any seriousness. The Left Front, dominated by the two important Communist parties of the country, CPI(M) and CPI, ruled Bengal for three and a half decades before Mamata Banerjee. Two Marxist Chief Ministers, Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, had supreme power. Why did they hide the Bose files? Congress CMs would obviously have to protect their partisan interest. But the Marxists were vehemently opposed to Congress. What prevented them from revealing the Bose files?

According to some members of the Bose family, one sensitive file – papers that contained truth unpalatable to Congress – was destroyed when Indira Gandhi was PM.

One constituent of the Left Front was the Forward Bloc, a party started by Bose. Its flag bears the famous Bose logo, of a leaping tiger. The Forward Bloc has consistently rejected the position that Netaji died in 1945, and acted as a pressure group both within the administration in Bengal and from its limited space in Parliament for declassification of all secret Bose files, whether in Calcutta or Delhi. The Congress response was to project the Forward Bloc as a bunch of weird romanticists at best, or marginal and irrelevant at worst. But why did the Communists collaborate with Congress over Bose?

Who were the Marxists protecting? Were they protecting the Soviet Union’s role in this disturbing episode from our history? We know that Nehru’s IB shared information on Netaji with British intelligence agencies. Does this mean Bose was kept in British custody after 1945? No: Britain is a democracy, and British law would have compelled the British government to prosecute. It only suggests that Nehru probably kept the British informed.

Netaji could not have been in Japan, which fell to America, either; or China, where Chairman Mao Zedong would certainly not have played any pro-British games after he seized power in 1948. So where was Netaji, if he was alive? No answer yet, maybe; but enough questions. Was Netaji imprisoned in Stalin’s Russia? Officially, CPI(M) remains a Stalinist party.

In the current television debates on the Bose files, Marxists have been noticeable by their absence despite the fact that passions in Bengal are far higher than anywhere else in the country, and Bengal is where Communists must revive if they are to survive at all.

Silence, of course, is far better strategy in such a dilemma than the bluster which Congress has adopted. One Congress spokesperson, in an amazing tongue-twister, actually argued that these long years of intense Intelligence Bureau watch over of Netaji’s family, and seven decades of double-talk over files, amounted to mere “surveillance” instead of “snooping”. But the time of such silly semantics is getting over. There is enough fire left in these facts, and someone will get burnt.


M J Akbar
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M J Akbar

A debate between sentiment and logic in Bihar

Bihar’s youth are voting heavily for logic. They will be the biggest losers if things remain what they are. Their lives are at stake. Their future is linked to the state’s economy.

The Bihar Assembly election has become a powerful debate between sectarian sentiment and economic logic. The bookends of sentiment, caste and community, are familiar. What is the logic?

Everyone agrees that this election is about development. Development is impossible without good governance. Good governance needs stability. Evidence proves that Nitish Kumar cannot possibly lead a stable government. He has cobbled an opportunistic mismatch with Lalu Prasad Yadav and Congress, with a history of mutual character assassination and barely concealed resentments at both the personal and base-support levels. The BJP-led NDA is evidently on firmer ground, and gives more reason to believe that it is ready to govern. QED: Quod erat demonstrandum, or proof through demonstration.

Voters are responding hugely to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s consistent message of “development for all”, backed by specific schemes aimed at the development of Bihar. The “Bihar Package” was a game-changer because it burst the old and stale bubble of caste and creed as the critical variants in electoral preference. Roads do not have a caste. Electricity does not have a creed. Poverty does not have a religion. National initiatives like the Jan Dhan Yojana and insurance initiatives aimed at social security for the impoverished add to the demonstration effect.

Bihar’s youth are voting heavily for logic. This is not surprising. They will, after all, be the biggest losers if things remain what they are. Their lives are at stake. Their future is linked to the state’s economy. For those born between 1990 and 1995, five years add up to a quarter or fifth of their lives. The next five years are also the most crucial part of their future, for this is when job-anxiety will peak. If Narendra Modi is their lodestar it is because he speaks the language that they want to hear. Even rebels — in-house heartburn cases who thought they could bully their way to preferment — have begun to concede that the youth vote in Bihar has shifted overwhelmingly towards Narendra Modi. The young have created a new demographic, which is beginning to register on some, but not all, opinion polls. In comparison, Lalu Prasad Yadav is stuck in a mental and oratorical groove that has not changed in a quarter century. The jaded phrases, jokes and mannerisms echo through a canyon of lost time. His humour is as flat and heavy as bread without yeast.

The only comic role in this election drama is being played by pseudo-liberals desperate to revive, through occasional op-eds and drawing room conversation, the fading relevance of

caste and creed simply because their standard-bearers have nothing else in the armoury of ideas. They are insisting that Bihar remains where it was two decades ago, only because Narendra Modi is fighting these elections on the basis of economic logic.

It is not as if the old parameters are totally dead; but they are no longer decisive. Their market has shrunk. The mainstream is shifting. A shrinking stream tends to consolidate around the bank on the far side. This is another phenomenon we will witness in this election.

Moreover, the absence of credibility at the core always encourages fragmentation at the edges. Voters that Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav took for granted on the assumption that they would never go to the BJP, are now travelling away from them in the other direction. In other words, their core voters do not believe in the leadership of Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar anymore, and hence seek other leaders. No one purchases an illusion. The process will intensify as we get closer to polling day. Even the AAP mascot Arvind Kejriwal, who grandly volunteered to campaign for Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav has now discovered that he has better things to do.

Obviously, my view on the Bihar elections will be treated as partisan, and as a member of a political party I am ipso facto partisan. All you have to do is take a trip to Bihar and see the churn for yourself; or, more accurately, hear the churn. Indian democracy is famous for the silent voter. Bihar this time is quite vocal. No one shouts, for there is no need to; voices are generally raised in either excitement or anger, and the public mood is cool. People know what they want, and are waiting to express their preference when the ballot opens. The mood is not argumentative but calm.

What is exciting is a status reversal that may reflect something deeper than the possibility of a mere change of government. The debate is no longer being controlled by the hierarchic elder. It is being shaped by the young. The young are tired of gimmicks. They want a life.


M J Akbar
An article by:
M J Akbar

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually

The fault line in Bihar’s recently cobbled ‘Grand Alliance’ is obvious: it was too grand for its own good. It had so many artificial legs it could not walk.

A name is a tricky thing. You never know when you might have to live up to it.
Political parties, wisely, choose to be safe rather than sorry. Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian National Congress or Samajwadi Party are minimalist definitions of maximum objectives. You might wonder what precisely is Marxist about CPI(M), but that is a trivial quibble. Wisely, there is similar plain-speaking when a moniker is needed for those fluctuating realities called alliances. National Democratic Alliance and United Progressive Alliance are both a reasonable statement of intent.
The fault line in Bihar’s recently cobbled “Grand Alliance” between Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi is obvious: it was too grand for its own good. It had so many artificial legs it could not walk.
Memory is short, but not that short. The starting point was a “grand merger” of what is nostalgically called the old “Janata Parivar”, with Mulayam as its patriarch. It was announced to the wild beating of drums, and collapsed even before the echoes had faded. A less than sublime alternative was offered: they would contest the Bihar elections together. Then, on an otherwise calm day, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar announced the allotment of seats: 100 each to the Big Two, 40 to a meekly quiet Congress, and three left to any ally who might care to pick them up. No one thought Mulayam or Pawar were worth consultation. Talk of putting a cat among pigeons: this unleashing a lethal carnivore into a coop of some very furious birds. At the moment of writing anger management is underway. Mulayam has asked for 10 seats from the Congress list, which is as wily a finesse as there ever was.
We shall see what happens, but as far as the voter is concerned, the message is clear: this is patchwork, not unity. It cannot offer the basic requirement of good governance, stability.
For those who want to check the direction of electoral behaviour, here are some relevant indicators.
1: Watch the migration. There is no perfect distribution of seats in either a single party or alliance; but note on which side the turbulence ebbs, and where it induces a switchover. Frontline leaders have begun to exit the principal parties of the “Grand Alliance”.
2: Watch the opinion polls, but not quite in the way they are advertised. Leave space for scepticism when seat projections are announced. The world’s most sophisticated psephologists are in Britain, and they got this summer’s general election so wrong they are still picking up little pieces of ego lying in television studios. Opinion polls are meant to reflect opinions of voters, but quite often indicate only the bias of analysts. What you should note carefully, however, is the graph of support for any political party through the many polls that are done in an election season. The periodic fluctuations may be slight, but they will register. There will be upward mobility on one side, and downward slide on the other. The party that inches up has the winning breeze on its tail.
3: Watch the language. Not your own, which one hopes will always be calm and collected, but that of political leaders. Leaders who start to lose their cool are suffering from heat on the ground. Nitish Kumar got irritable and cantankerous at a public meeting; the clip showing this went viral on social media. This dangerous invention called a mobile camera has removed deniability as an option.
4: Watch the eyes. The size of crowds at a rally of course matters. Voters do not generally go to jeer an opponent; they go to cheer their man. The numbers, mostly made of the young, at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meetings were massive, but that was only a part of the story. The real story is in the eyes. Their eyes were alive with belief; the spark was contagious.
5: Watch the marginals. Of course you need to be a bit of a political junkie to get into such detail, but this is where true revelation lies. Check what is happening in those constituencies where the past difference between victory and defeat was 5,000 votes or less. A swing of 1% will be sufficient to change the result. When the force is with you, a seat that would have been lost by 5,000 votes, will be won by 3000.
I could add a sixth, but this would be entirely for candidates: Watch your pocket. Yes, you need money to fight an election, but money does not win an election. Candidates under pressure begin to chase a chimera with their wallets. All that happens is that lots of hangers-on benefit; ground reality remains unaffected. People do not vote for one day’s high jinks, they vote for a better life. And make sure you represent an alliance with a simple name.

Intellectual Post
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Intellectual Post