Thursday, September 15, 2011



There has been a debate on the respective leadership qualities of Shri Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, and Shri Rahul Gandhi of the Congress (I) in the wake of two recent developments. An objective of the debate is to assess which one of them stands a better chance of becoming the Prime Minister after the next elections to the Lok Sabha, which are scheduled to be held in 2014---unless the Congress ( I ) facing a series of political crises decides to go for an earlier poll or is forced to do so due to a re-alignment of the coalition headed by it.

2. The first development is a report dated September 1,2011, released by the USA’s Congressional Research Service (CRS) on India titled “India: Domestic Issues, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Relations”. The report discusses in detail on the basis of media reports India’s external relations---including ties with the US--- and the domestic political developments for the information of Congress members.

3. Three aspects of the discussion on the domestic political situation in the report are significant:

(a). Of the Indian political leaders discussed by name, only Shri Modi and Shri Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, come for positive mention. The references to Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh and Shri Rahul Gandhi are negative. The ineffective management style of Dr.Manmohan Singh and the faltering political image of Shri Rahul Gandhi are underlined. As against this, the report looks positively at the leadership styles of Shri Modi and Shri Nitish Kumar.

( b). The report has been impressed not only by the remarkable economic progress made by Gujarat under the decade-long Chief Ministership of Shri Modi, but also by his efforts to reduce corruption and red tape in the governance of the State. It says of Shri Modi: “Controversial Chief Minister Narendra Modi has streamlined economic processes, removing red tape and curtailing corruption in ways that have made the state a key driver of national economic growth.” In contrast, the references to Dr.Manmohan Singh’s role in the fight against corruption are negative. A perusal of the entire report would indicate the extent of the concern in the minds of the CRS researchers who drafted the report over the large-scale corruption in India as revealed by recent scandals. In this connection, the fact that Shri Modi has been judged positively and Dr.Manmohan Singh negatively could have a significant impact not only on Congressional opinion, but also on policy-makers in the Executive.

( c ).While judging Shri Modi positively for his post-2002 governance, the report continues to look upon him as a controversial political leader because of allegations of his inaction during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the State. While it has taken note of Shri Modi’s Prime Ministerial aspirations, it feels that the continuing allegations regarding his 2002 role might stand in the way of a concretisation of his aspirations. In one of its explanatory notes based on two articles written by Indian columnists, it says: “Modi continues to be haunted by the 2002 Ahmadabad riots, a topic he has never fully addressed in public. Although he is a safe bet to win a third term in 2012 state elections, his aspirations to be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate face significant obstacles, not least the likelihood that Muslims and liberal-minded Hindus would represent an anti-Modi bloc at the national level, and the BJP’s key ally in Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), could be expected to abandon the alliance in protest.”

4. The report thus draws the attention of Congress members to the post-2002 positive image of Shri Modi as well as to the lingering allegations about his negative role in 2002. Shri Modi is seen as a positively evolving leader with a negative historical background. Unless he is able to rid himself of the negative memories evoked by the ant-Muslim riots of 2002, any exercise mounted by his followers and party to rehabilitate his image abroad will be problematic.

5.In the short and medium terms, the CRS report could have two fall-outs in respect of US policy. Firstly, a dilution of the decision of the US State Department in 2005 not to issue a visa to Shri Modi and, secondly, a greater readiness on the part of the US diplomats posted in India to interact with Shri Modi, his ministers and officials. Some of the WikiLeaks documents already indicated a developing view in the State Department that the policy of avoidance of interactions with them could prove inadvisable. This view is likely to be strengthened in the months to come and before the next elections. Whether the US likes Shri Modi or not, he is there to stay. Better take cognisance of him.

6.The second development is the order passed by the Supreme Court of India in a case in which it had been monitoring investigation by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into allegations in a petition regarding Shri Modi’s role in the 2002 riots. The petition alleges wilful inaction by the administration headed by Shri Modi. The SIT investigation has not been able to find any substantive evidence in support of the allegations. At the same time, non-Governnmental activists carrying on a decade-long campaign against Shri Modi on this issue have not been able to produce any concrete evidence in proof of their allegations. Thus, Shri Modi stands in a position where he can neither be proved guilty or established to be innocent.

7. The Supreme Court has decided to discontinue the monitoring of the investigation in view of the completion of it and has referred the results of the investigation made so far to a trial court for further action as warranted in accordance with the law. It is doubtful whether the court will be able to come to definitive conclusions. The claims made by the supporters of Shri Modi and his party that he has been vindicated are premature.

8.If Shri Modi wants to pursue his Prime Ministerial aspirations, the only option available to him is to make public and sincere amends to the victims of the anti-Muslim riots and persuade them to forget and forgive. His continuing reluctance to do so is evident from his subsequent comments and actions. He and his supporters seem to believe that if they continue to stonewall the allegations against him, public memory would fade away. This may not happen as we had seen in the case of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi under the rule of the Congress.

9. This may please be read in continuation of my article of September 15,2011, titled “CRS OBSERVATIONS ON INDIAN DOMESTIC SCENE BASED ON MEDIA REPORTS. “ (16-9-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75)



The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the public policy research wing of the US Congress. It works exclusively and directly for Members of Congress, their Committees and staff on a confidential, nonpartisan basis.

2.It used to be known as the Legislative Reference Service. It was renamed as the CRS under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 which directed the CRS to devote more of its efforts and increased resources to doing research and analysis that would assist Congress in direct support of the legislative process.

3. The CRS makes no legislative or other policy recommendations to Congress; its responsibility is to ensure that Members of the House and Senate have available the best possible information and analysis on which to base legislative decisions. The CRS reports are based on open source information. It rarely does field research.

4. A review done in 1996 by the US Centre For Democracy and Technology described the reports prepared by the CRS as among the “10 most wanted Government documents” in the US.

5. In a report dated September 1,2011, titled “India: Domestic Issues, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Relations”, the CRS has made the following observations on the Indian domestic scene based on reports largely collated from Indian media:

“Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s Italian-born, Catholic widow, refrained from active politics until the late 1990s. She later made efforts to revitalize the party by phasing out older leaders and attracting more women and lower castes—efforts that appear to have paid off in 2004. Today, Congress again occupies more parliamentary seats (206) than any other party and, through unprecedented alliances with powerful regional parties, it again leads India’s government under the UPA coalition. As party chief and UPA chair, Gandhi is seen to wield considerable influence over the coalition’s policy making process. Her foreign origins have presented an obstacle and likely were a major factor in her surprising 2004 decision to decline the prime ministership. Her son, Rahul, is widely seen as the most likely heir to Congress leadership.”

“With the rise of Hindu nationalism, the BJP rapidly increased its parliamentary strength during the 1980s. In 1993, the party’s image was tarnished among some, burnished for others, by its alleged complicity in serious communal violence in Mumbai and elsewhere. Some hold elements of the BJP, as the political arm of extremist Hindu groups, responsible for the incidents (the party has advocated “Hindutva,” or an India based on Hindu culture, and views this as key to nationbuilding; Hindutva can at times take an anti-Western cast). While leading a national coalition from 1998-2004, the BJP worked—with only limited success—to change its image from rightwing Hindu fundamentalist to conservative and secular, although 2002 communal rioting in Gujarat again damaged the party’s credentials as a moderate organization. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was overseen by party notable Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee, whose widespread personal popularity helped to keep the BJP in power. Following its upset loss in 2004 and even sounder defeat in 2009, the party has been in some disarray. While it continues to lead several important state governments, its national influence has eroded in recent years. Party leader Lal Krishna Advani, who had served as Vajpayee’s deputy and home minister while the BJP was in power, apparently sought to transcend his Hindu nationalist roots by posturing mostly as “governance, security, development” candidate in 2009; the party’s loss likely ended his political career. At present, the BJP president is Nitin Gadkari, a former Maharashtran official known for his avid support of privatization. Although still in some disorder in 2011, there are signs that the BJP has made changes necessary to be a formidable challenger in scheduled 2014 polls. These include a more effective branding of the party as one focused on development and good governance rather than emotive, Hindutva-related issues, and Gadkari’s success at quelling intra-party dissidence and, by some accounts, showing superior strategizing and organizing skills as compared to his predecessors.”

“Yet among the party’s likely candidates for the prime ministership in future elections is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has overseen impressive development successes in his state, but who is also dogged by controversy over his alleged complicity in lethal anti-Muslim rioting there in 2002 (Modi has in the past been denied a U.S. visa under an American law barring entry for foreign government officials found to be complicit in severe violations of religious freedom).

“Despite his clear political and economic successes in Gujarat—in his ten years as Chief Minister the state has led the country on many development indicators—Modi continues to be haunted by the 2002 Ahmadabad riots, a topic he has never fully addressed in public. Although he is a safe bet to win a third term in 2012 state elections, his aspirations to be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate face significant obstacles, not least the likelihood that Muslims and liberalminded Hindus would represent an anti-Modi bloc at the national level, and the BJP’s key ally in Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), could be expected to abandon the alliance in protest. ( My comment: This assessment is based on the following two articles: (Geeta Anand, “Give Us Your Account, Mr.Modi” (op-ed), Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2011; Karan Shah,” Narendra Modi, Prime Minister?” (op-ed), Outlook (Delhi), April 5, 2011).

“Corruption has long been a serious problem in India .Pervasive, major, and high-level corruption and iniquity is now identified as a central obstacle to India’s economic and social development, and is seen as a key cause of a steep decline in foreign investment in late 2010 and early 2011. November 2010 witnessed a baring of two major Indian scandals that have left the national government largely paralyzed and unable to effectively govern to date. The first involves apparent corruption and gross negligence by officials overseeing the October 2010 Commonwealth Games hosted by New Delhi; the second relates to the government’s sale of broadband licenses at far below market prices, costing the government many billions of dollars. “

“While it has benefitted from the UPA’s woes, the main opposition BJP has not escaped culpability in recent corruption scandals. In July 2011, Karnataka’s ombudsman issued a report implicating the state’s BJP chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, in a $3.5 billion scandal involving the illegal mining of iron ore. Yeddyurappa, accused of receiving a $2 million illicit payment from a mining company and selling state land at an inflated price, quickly lost the support of his party and resigned. “

“In addition to the major incidents of graft and corruptions discussed above, reports of large-scale political bribery sparked much outrage in early 2011 when U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks reportedly described an American diplomat’s eyewitness mid-2008 account of being shown chests containing about $25 million in cash that a Congress Party aide allegedly said was to be used as payoffs to secure Parliament’s endorsement of the controversial U.S.-India civil nuclear deal. Although Prime Minster Singh himself denied that his party had paid any bribes or broken any laws, and described the account as “unverified and unverifiable,” the episode has led to at least two arrests in an ongoing probe and provided further fuel for opposition party attacks on the UPA government.179 Moreover, in the current year, new attention also has focused on hundreds of billions of dollars in funds illicitly stashed by Indians abroad. In July 2011, India‘s Supreme Court requested that the government find and repatriate this so called “black money,” adding new pressure on the Congress-led coalition to combat high-level corruption.”

“While Prime Minister Singh is not accused of personal wrongdoing, he has come under fire for an allegedly inattentive management style that, for some observers, facilitated an environment in which corruption could spread. In the face of mounting pressure to act, Congress President Sonia Gandhi acknowledged that problems existed “at all levels” of society, but she squashed rumors of any rift between herself and the Prime Minister, expressing full confidence in Singh’s leadership. Soon after, Singh himself offered to appear before any investigative body, declaring he had nothing to hide about his actions. Yet, as his government continued to be paralyzed by scandals and infighting into 2011, speculation about Singh’s status mounted, and in February the Prime Minister gave a nationally-televised interview in which he defended his own actions, promised to crack down on corruption, and called the related scandals the greatest regret of his term in office. Days later, Singh dropped his longstanding resistance and acceded to opposition demands for a parliamentary investigation of the telecom scandal in return for an end to their filibuster that had paralyzed the legislature for two months.”

“By the spring of 2011, negative emotions sparked by months-long revelations of high-level corruption reached the point where mass public mobilization could occur. Two figures were notable in initiating this development: In early June, prominent yoga guru Swami Ramdev—his television program attracts about 30 million viewers—staged a major anticorruption protest in the Indian capital, and launched his own mass hunger strike to demand government action to recover “black money.” That night, after apparently inaccurate reports that the government had acceded to Ramdev’s demands, hundreds of police swept through the protesters, using tear gas and batons to disperse them; at least 30 people were injured. Government officials explained that Ramdev’s permit allowed only for yoga and not a political demonstration; police said that permit was for a maximum of 5,000 attendees and some 40,000-60,000 showed up. Critics accused the government of using unnecessary force against peaceful protesters.”

“Over following days, Ramdev’s fast attracted thousands of participants across the country. Public officials were discomfited by the exercise of political influence through a perceived “publicity stunt”; other observers were alarmed that hardline Hindu nationalists were at times sharing the stage with Ramdev. There was thus relief felt across India’s political spectrum when, in mid-June, Ramdev called off his fast.”

“Yet a previously unknown figure has assumed far more influence at the national level. Two months before the Ramdev-led protest, social activist Anna Hazare, an uneducated 72-year-old from an indigent Maharashtran family, had set himself up at a New Delhi tourist sight and vowed to “fast unto death” unless the central government moved to toughen its anti-corruption laws, in particular by establishing a new “Lokpal” (ombudsman) post to review corruption complaints reaching to the highest levels of government. Less than a week later, after many thousands in cities across India had taken up his cause, Hazare ended his strike and declared victory upon the government’s announcement that it would form a committee to draft Lokpal legislation. The composition of that committee—five government officials and five nongovernmental activists—quickly became a matter of controversy, with critics questioning why members of civil society groups, with no standing as elected representatives of the people, should be involved in a process with major political implications. Moreover, the government representatives found themselves in serious disagreement with “Team Anna,” as the civil society members and other Hazare supporters came to be known. In the end, the government officials produced one version (the Lokpal bill) and civil society members produced another (the Jan Lokpal bill). Opinion surveys have found huge majorities (80%-90%) of Indians favoring the civil society version.”

“Top Congress Party leaders, including Prime Minister Singh, have argued that multiple tactics to combat corruption are required, and that no single group could claim to represent the whole of civil society. Still, the government has come under fire for failing to open lines of communication with alternative civil society groups, leaving an impression that Hazare’s movement speaks for the entire nation. Meanwhile, “Team Anna” itself has been criticized for allegedly dividing poorer minority communities, and for signs that Hindu nationalists are providing the bulk of its organizational muscle.”

“On July 28, 2011, 43 years after the first draft was conceived, India’s federal cabinet approved a Lokpal bill that did not include serving prime ministers or the higher judiciary under its purview.185 The bill did, however, incorporate some minor provisions of the Jan Lokpal bill and had the support of all but one of the Congress Party’s coalition partners. Nevertheless, Hazare called the bill “unacceptable,” and the opposition BJP joined him in expressing disappointment that the prime minister was excluded from oversight. To express his dissatisfaction with the government’s actions, Hazare vowed to begin another fast “unto death” in New Delhi on August 16. On that morning, as thousands of supporters began to gather at a city park, plain-clothes police arrested Hazare and took him away. At this point, his supporters released a pre-recorded videotape in which Hazare, anticipating his own detention, announced the start of a “second independence campaign” for India. By jailing Hazare, the government looked both inept and undemocratic, and united a wide range of otherwise reluctant actors in support of Hazare’s movement. In a further twist, Hazare refused an offer to be released until he was given permission to launch a 15-day hunger strike without any restrictions on crowd size at the anticipated protest site.”

“In late August, a parliamentary committee began considering the Jan Lokpal bill submitted by Hazare and his supporters, thus meeting a central demand of the protestors. Yet Hazare rejected a personal plea from the prime minister to end his fast until being guaranteed that certain key provisions of the bill would be enacted. On August 27, the 13th day of his latest fast, Hazare declared victory when negotiations among government ministers, opposition lawmakers, and civil society representatives resulted in an agreement.”

“Even before major corruption scandals broke in late 2010, the Congress-led UPA was under considerable criticism for drift and ineffectiveness. Since that time, the decline of the Congress Party’s standing has been precipitous: less than two years after the party won a convincing 2009 national reelection victory, opinion polls showed a majority of Indians believing the UPA coalition had lost its moral authority to rule. Many analysts identify the slow response to corruption scandals as having been particularly damaging.”

“In the face of growing public anger, Prime Minister Singh made changes to the federal cabinet in January, demoting several ministers who had been tainted by scandal or criticized for ineffectiveness. Yet the changes were relatively minor, leaving most commentators unimpressed, and the opposition BJP accused the government of lacking enough courage to remove the corrupt figures.”

“Over the course of recent political upheaval, Singh’s mild, nonpolitical bearing, once considered part of his appeal, has for many become a liability, especially as the Indian leader has appeared slow-footed in reacting to national outrage over increasing evidence of high-level corruption. In June, he publically denied charges that he had become a “lame duck” leader.”

“Meanwhile, Congress President Gandhi is suffering from an unknown illness, and in early August virtually disappeared from India’s political stage, having left the country for surgery at an undisclosed U.S. hospital. Moreover, as key Congress figures express support for the future leadership role of Sonia Gandhi’s youthful son, parliamentarian Rahul Gandhi, Manmohan Singh’s political authority is correspondingly undermined. The 2009 polls may have represented a coming out party of sorts for the younger Gandhi, who many expect to be put forward as Congress’s prime ministerial candidate in scheduled 2014 elections. Yet this heir-apparent remains dogged by questions about his abilities to lead the party, given a mixed record as an election strategist, uneasy style in public appearances, and reputation for gaffes.”

“Perhaps India’s best example of effective governance and impressive development is found in Gujarat (pop. 60 million), where controversial Chief Minister Narendra Modi has streamlined economic processes, removing red tape and curtailing corruption in ways that have made the state a key driver of national economic growth. Seeking to overcome the taint of his alleged complicity in deadly 2002 anti-Muslim riots, Modi has overseen heavy investment in modern roads and power infrastructure, and annual growth of more than 11% in recent years. The state has attracted major international investors such as General Motors and Mitsubishi and, with only 5% of the country’s population, Gujarat now accounts for more than one-fifth of India’s exports.”

“Another positive example in 2011 has been Bihar (pop. 104 million), one of India’s poorest states, where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has won national attention through his considerable success in emphasizing good governance over caste-based politics; he is credited with restoring law and order across much of the state, as well as overseeing infrastructure and educational improvements of direct benefit to common citizens projects.”

“Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) party, in alliance with the main national opposition BJP, won an overwhelming reelection majority in November 2010 state elections. The examples set in by Chief Ministers Modi and Kumar may have inspired the popular leader of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh (pop. 200 million). Chief Minister Mayawati, who is widely believed to maintain national political ambitions”

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )