This is the autumn of their discontent.
I haven’t written on Indian politics for a while, so I suppose some of you may have imagined that nothing was happening worth commenting on.
Well, you were wrong.
One of the biggest problems I have in writing on Indian politics is that I have to lay out the groundwork on each article, explain the background, etc. This is tiresome and of necessity somewhat sketchy, and often seems to me to be not worth the trouble. As an analogy, imagine if those of you who are exercised over the Occupy Wall Street movement had to first write an explanation of the history of how the neocons and the speculators and bankers conspired to ruin the economy over the last dozen years, and how the Obama gang has compounded their sins – each and every time. Suddenly, writing your political articles doesn’t seem all that attractive any more, does it?
Anyway, to get to the point: the Indian political situation is getting rather...interesting. You know the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” That kind of interesting.
For those who came in late or don’t have any knowledge of India, here’s a recap; I will not keep repeating this information, so (as a certain French Resistance heroine said in the British comedy series ‘Allo ‘Allo), “Listen very carefully – I shall say this only once.”
India is currently ruled by an allegedly centrist alliance (in reality, a conglomeration of right wing family owned parties with nothing in common but the hunger for power and the money that comes with it) called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The chief among these parties is the Congress party, which is a family-owned firm where the only way to get ahead is to brown-nose the owner and her children. This owner is an Italian-born woman named Sonia Gandhi, who rules the party, and hence the alliance, and therefore the country, as an absolute queen and dictator.
This is nothing new in the Congress – except for a very brief period in the early 1990s, it has always been a fief under the absolute ownership and control of the Gandhi dynasty. Sonia Gandhi’s children, her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and especially her son Rahul Gandhi, are also extremely influential in the party, and hence the nation (for instance, Priyanka Vadra’s husband Robert has abruptly and mysteriously become one of India’s richest men within the last few years).
It’s common knowledge that Rahul Gandhi is being groomed to be the Prime Minister of the country, as the Crown Prince and Heir Apparent. However, at the age of 41, he is not ready (and for reasons to be mentioned in a moment, it’s likely that he never will be ready). In order to keep the chair warm for him, a nonentity called Manmohan Singh (a former bureaucrat who has never won so much as a municipal election in his life) was foisted on the nation as “prime minister” back in 2004 when the UPA won an election, displacing their Hindunazi predecessors.
This Manmohan Singh was chosen for the following reasons:
1. He has absolutely no political base, and is completely unelectable. Therefore he can never be a threat to the Gandhi dynasty. The dynasty does not tolerate any competing power centre in the party, because that would threaten its hold as absolute proprietor.
2. As an allegedly “eminent economist” and right wing ideologue, who kept bleating the word "growth" as a defence against any and all criticism, he was acceptable to the capitalist robber barons who assert their absolute right to loot and pillage to their heart’s content.
3. He was extremely acceptable to the Americans, to whom he has surrendered whatever still passed as a foreign policy. Among other things, he (who has never won an election in his life) informed the war criminal George W Bush that the people of India “loved” him; he went out of his way to sabotage relations with our old friend Iran, and has virtually handed over our nuclear policy to American control.
4. He was, and is, a tool of the International Monetary Fund, which had back in the early nineties specifically demanded that he be made finance minister as a precondition for granting loans, and in order to “liberalise” the economy (read, make the poor utterly voiceless and destitute but the rich richer than ever before).
5. He had a public perception as an “honest” man, a carefully constructed myth which only now is beginning to unravel.
6. He was a favourite of the Great Indian Muddle Class, for whom nothing mattered as long as it could get its bread and circuses.
This, then, is the creature which has occupied the position of Chair Warmer for the Crown Prince from 2004 to date, and has declared his readiness to abdicate whenever the Heir Apparent wishes to take over. But the chair isn’t getting any warmer, and the Heir Apparent seems to be destined to wait forever.
Before I discuss the reasons for this, it’s vital to remember one thing: in the Congress Party, as in all Indian family-owned parties (which means all but the parties of the Left and most of those on the extreme Hindu right), nothing really matters but absolute fealty to the Queen and her progeny. Ability is suspicious. A political base is a handicap. Sycophancy and obsequious loyalty comprise the only way to get ahead.
In the last two years, Manmohan Singh has gone from being an asset to the Congress to being a millstone around the party’s neck. There are many reasons for this, among which the foremost are these:
1. Corruption. Today, absolutely everything in India is so steeped in corruption that it is virtually part of the national DNA. This is, as even the Congress itself admits, the most corrupt government ever to rule this nation. It is so corrupt that even the Hindunazi government which had preceded it (and whose corruption had seemed mind-boggling at the time) looks like a paragon of virtue. This corruption has risen to proportions which no longer make sense – you can’t really comprehend that many zeroes. One reason (but far from the only one) for this corruption is the fact that the Congress is only one of several partners in a coalition, and in order to keep its partners from jumping ship, it has to let them loot enough to keep them happy. At the same time, it also has to loot enough to keep its own members, and the ruling dynasty, happy. Manmohan Singh has no answer to corruption but to say that his hands are tied by the “compulsion of coalition politics”.
2. Prices. The effects of “economic liberalisation” are finally coming home to roost. In the last few years, prices have shot upwards like an elevator and show no signs of ever coming down. Food prices alone are increasing at roughly 10% a month, and real incomes are stagnating or falling. The Great Indian Muddle Class is suddenly discovering that it can no longer afford its bread and circuses. And as for the rest of the people, the government has just declared to the Supreme Court that anyone who earns more than 32 rupees a day in the cities – or 26 rupees in the villages – isn’t poor and deserves no help. To put that in perspective, one US dollar equals approximately fifty rupees at this time. Could you survive on fifty cents a day? I’d like to see someone try.
3. The Hindunazi revival. Less than a couple of years ago, it seemed that the Hindunazis were finished. Now, mainly due to the troubles of the UPA, they are in the ascendant. It’s true that they have their own set of troubles, including savage internal power struggles, and that their rise owes more to the general anti-Congress sentiment than their own dubious merits. But the message is on the wall – they’re the coming power, while the Congress is sliding down the tubes. And since everyone wants to be on the winning side, the capitalist barons are switching teams while they still can, with all their billions in slush funds. After all, it’s no big deal; really, a simple choice between two ultra-right cabals for them.
4. Rahul Gandhi’s own irrelevance. More and more, it’s becoming clear that the Crown Prince is simply not leadership material. Apart from a few photo ops with poor people, including staged sleepovers in villages, he’s been pretty much invisible as the Congress party self-destructs. The last thing he would be capable of is holding a coalition together; even Manmohan Singh would look like a pillar of strength compared to him.
Therefore, the Congress is unlikely in the extreme to win power in the next elections, which are due for 2014 unless, as is more than possible, the UPA implodes before then. Even if, by some miracle, the UPA does manage to squeeze out a victory, it will be as another weak and divided coalition. This is the last situation the Crown Prince wants; he will only accept the throne if he can lord it over a government comprising only sycophants from his own party.
As we go into the next stage of this article, remember that.
The 2G scam and repercussions.
Among the best known of the corruption scams the UPA has perpetrated is the so-called 2G affair. It involves the sale of “spectrum” (bandwidth) to mobile phone providers at throwaway rates without the benefit of auction. The prime accused is one A Raja, a former minister in charge of telecommunications, who was most reluctantly dropped from the government by Manmohan Singh, and then jailed. He is, however, a member of an ally of the Congress, the DMK, and not of the party itself.
Now, at the time of the 2G scam, the finance minister was one P Chidambaram, a corporate lawyer with financial interests in mining corporations, whose interests he has always promoted. This Chidambaram is currently the Home Minister, and is in legal trouble over his “victory” in the last election, in which he allegedly won his parliamentary seat by fraudulent means. Despite all this, he is popularly supposed to be the Number Three in the official government, behind the so-called “prime minister” and one other person.
This other person is Pranab Mukherjee, the current finance minister and an old Congress warhorse, who has long (since at least 1984) nurtured prime ministerial ambitions of his own. Mukherjee, who is far more acceptable to other parties than Chidambaram is, has never got along with the corporate-lawyer turned politician.
It became known that Mukherjee’s ministry had issued a document in which he noted that Chidambaram was aware of the 2G scam but had taken no measures to stop it, though he could have. And this opened a can of worms.
The thing is, so far the (unelected) “prime minister” could hide behind what he called the “compulsions of coalition politics” – most of the people proved to be neck-deep in corruption happened to belong to allied parties, not to the Congress. He could therefore say that in order to hold the coalition together he had to turn a blind eye to their crimes. This isn’t an acceptable excuse, but it still is an excuse. But his hands aren’t tied inside his own party, are they?
Therefore, the choice before him was stark: he had either to dump Chidambaram or bury the scandal. If he dumped Chidambaram, the obvious next question would be, as prime minister, even a fictional one, how could he not have known what was going on? The Opposition would’ve been crying for his head next. And he didn’t have the Gandhi dynasty’s permission to resign.
With no other option, the dynasty forced a “compromise” in which Pranab Mukherjee claimed the words in the document referring to Chidambaram’s culpability weren’t his. This hasn’t really had any effect in calming the tensions in the party, just tamped them down for the moment. The floodgates are creaking.
Make no mistake: this is not a turf war or a battle over corruption. It’s nothing less than a battle for the succession. It’s clear that the unelected, so-called “prime minister” is finished. This is why I recently came across talk of kicking him upstairs to the President’s chair next year. The President’s position is ornamental, and there Manmohan Singh will continue to serve as a loyal servant of the Gandhi dynasty, rubber-stamping whatever he’s ordered to approve. That way, the dynasty can claim that it didn’t dump him. This is very important, because to be perceived as dumping him would be an admission of an error of judgement on the part of the dynasty (which, like the Pope, is infallible) in making him the prime minister in the first place.
To sum up: Nobody in their right minds will vote for an alliance still headed by this so-called “prime minister” when the next general election comes around. The Crown Prince and Heir Apparent is nowhere near ready to assume power, and probably never will be. Therefore, there is a space open for the post of “prime minister”, and there are two egoistical men competing for this space. Mukherjee and Chidambaram both assume that since one or the other of them is the logical choice for the job, they should each finish off the other to secure their own succession.
However, the requirements of the dynasty haven’t changed. The dynasty can’t risk the possibility of someone becoming a possible second centre of power in the family business, so it needs another spineless nonentity for the position, someone who can never be a threat.
Until then, the current so-called leadership will remain, fighting amongst themselves while the (unelected) “prime minister” waits out his days in office and the country goes down the tubes.
And, for tolerating this faux democracy, we deserve all this, too.