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 Hey fellas. Let's talk some Indian politics

The recent past saw the "Hindu" religious right tying itself in knots over the issues of regionalism and communalism.  First Bal Thackery made those foot-in-the-mouth remarks over Sachin Tendulkar's "Mumbai belongs to India" comment, followed by eminently disgraceful violence. Then Balasaheb sought to "rectify" it by piously claiming that Islam is India's number one threat, not forgetting to list a grand total of four patriotic Muslims, except for whom all others were "working to destroy the country"

All through this the BJP did nothing except squirming quietly.

What I found striking is that the Congress said hardly anything while the whole thing was being played out (except the "belongs in the dustbin" remarks, or did I miss something?). Agreed the PM was on an overseas tour, but someone could have made a grand, statesmanlike statement that appealed to everybody. Really, everybody. Perhaps by being quite they were trying to show that they are a serious party concerned about governance only.

What's your take on the whole thing? Bonus point if you talk about the Liberhan report, which Sushma Swaraj said should be dumped in the interests of communal harmony (still no pigs flying?!!)

P.S.: We are considering adding more moderators. Stay tuned for criteria. Now go back to commenting.

A Legendary Friend who helped build the Indian Navy

By Cmde Ranjit B Rai (Retd)Published : September 2008

New Delhi. Admiral Gorshkov is known as the name of the aircraft carrier that India is acquiring from Russia.

But the legendary Admiral on whom the ship is named, was responsible for transforming the Soviet Navy from a coastal defence force into the world’s second-largest Navy, and a formidable power to project the Soviet might against the US and NATO naval power at the height of the Cold War.

He was clear that the Soviet Union – or Russia – was a maritime nation, and that its future lay in its control of the seas.

"But the largest share of credit for laying the foundation for Indo- Russian naval cooperation belongs to Admiral Gorshkov. He intervened adroitly at every impasse. His calibrated release of larger, better, and more modern ships, submarines and aircraft were not only in step with the larger objectives of the of Indo-Russian political, economic and defence cooperation but also in step with his growing confidence that the Indian Navy would cope with whatever Russia gave".

The Admiral vigorously assisted the Indian Navy towards becoming a blue water force, and assets built during his time contributed to the success of the Indian Navy in blockading Karachi as well as in effective action against the Pakistani Navy during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

One of the Soviet Union’s, and Russia’s, greatest Admirals, he was a good friend of India in the good old days of Indo-Soviet relations, and visited India a few times.

In the late 1960s, the Indian Navy got what it asked for; Petya class ships, Project 641 (or Foxtrot) Submarines, a submarine tender INS Amba, Osa class missile boats, and a host of associated weapons and P 15 Styx missiles. He helped lay the foundations of the Indian Navy. It is this inventory of ships that helped the Indian Navy to carve out a glorious role for itself in the 1971 war.

Three times during his visits to India, this writer had the privilege of being associated with him, and knowing him first-hand as a warm, good-natured person who made sure that everyone around him was comfortable.

Gorshkov admired how ingeniously the Indian Navy employed the missile boats off Karachi on 4th December 1971.

(In fact, besides the Indian Navy, the Indian Army and Indian Air Force (IAF) also used the Soviet equipment in ways that the Russians themselves had never envisioned. For instance, during the 1971 war, IAF used AN 12 transport aircraft to bomb Pakistani concentrations when they were just about to launch an offensive into Jammu & Kashmir. The IAF surprised the Russians once again when Gp Capt Ashok Goel (later Air Marshal) landed an IL 76 on a small runway of 1700 metres (about 5500 feet) at Thoise (height 3500 metres or 11000 feet) in Jan 1987 to deliver Soviet-supplied BMPs for the Army).

Admiral Gorshkov also agreed to lease a Charlie class nuclear submarine K-43, to India. Named as INS Chakra by the Indian Navy, it arrived in India in 1987, two years after he had retired. The old timers in the Indian Navy still recognize him as the architect who laid the foundations of today’s powerful Indian Navy.

Sergey joined the Soviet Navy in 1931 at the age of 17, and in 1956 at the age of 42 he became its youngest Supreme Commander. It took him just 20 years to turn the Soviet Navy into a formidable around-the-world power, and by 1985 when he retired, the Soviet Union matched the US might with a nuclear missile for every nuclear missile on the other side.

Some CIA experts believed that the Foxtrot submarines that Moscow had deployed off Cuba during the Bay of Pigs crisis in April 1961 carried nuclear missiles, but there is no confirmation.

The Soviet submarines, long-range bombers like the Tu-95 Bear, and other assets kept track of various US Navy Task Forces 24 x 7. There were many close-quarter situations, and the two opponents occasionally nudged each other. Fortunately, no nuclear crisis erupted even after Moscow shot down a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union or when the US tried to send a secret force into Cuba in the so-called Bay of Pigs crisis.

India had taken a principled stand not to join either the US or Soviet camp, but concerned over the massive US and western military aid to Pakistan, it relied on the Soviet Union for defence equipment.

He supported the Indian Navy generously, and established close friendships with Indian Admirals of his time including Admiral S M Nanda, Vice Admiral N Krishnan and Rear Admiral S G Karmarkar who corresponded with him through demi-official letters to cut the bureaucratic red tape. The Soviets supplied equipment against easy credits.

Gorshkov wrote a thesis on Sea Power which was shared with Indian officers, and they read it with admiration.

As I had learnt the Russian language as a cadet at the National Defence Academy (NDA), I was attached as the Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Gorshkov when he visited Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1964. Rear Admiral Karmarkar, who had given me the assignment, asked me to make sure that the visiting dignitary was comfortable.

I remember I made small talk, remained close to Gorshkov throughout his visit carrying his brief case and occasionally offered him refreshments. Every time he met an Indian Admiral, I would say, Eta Admiral Pyot or Eta Admiral Kharasho Pyot, or Eta Admiral Nye Pyot.

Pyot in Russian means drinks, and this updated Gorshkov on the drinking inclinations of his host.

If his host did not drink, after I had told him “Eta Admiral Nye Pyot”, Gorshkov would accordingly ask for Frukti (fruit juice). If I had indicated that his host would drink, Gorshkov replied Krahashaov (very well). He observed the protocol to make his hosts comfortable either way.

Such was the warmth that the Indian Navy had been instructed to offer vodka to the visiting entourage at all times of the day during visits to ships and establishments, and to exchange toasts with “bottoms up” in small goblets as is customary in Russia.

During evening functions, when naval wives were present and the Admirals were out of uniform, I would whisper in Russian and remind him which Admiral he had met earlier and where, and point out which lady was whose wife.

He found it difficult to remember Indian names and distinguish Admirals out of uniform. He confided in me that most looked alike to him, specially the Sikh officers. Nonetheless, he made an effort, and the ladies were particularly impressed he addressed them by their names. Later, he proved that he could recall the faces and names of several Indian officers.

No wonder that when he came to India in 1969, he asked the Naval Headquarters for me by name, to be his Liaison Officer and affectionately called me Sturman, the Russian for a Navigator. He told me to navigate him in various official and social engagements.

This was when he met my newly-married wife, Praveena, who asked him to bring Mrs Gorshkov on his next visit. He agreed if she promised to look after Babushka (grandmother) personally.

So it was in 1976 that Admiral Gorshkov came to India on his third visit, and my name was down for his visit yet again as his escort all over India.

Indeed, he had Mrs Gorshkov with him. As chance had it, my wife became the Lady in Waiting for her as the escort Rear Admiral Narpati Datta’s wife was unable to accompany the delegation.

The Ministry of Defence inquired if Mrs Praveena Rai knew Russian. I honestly informed the then Deputy Chief, the late Rear Admiral Datta, that she did not know Russian. In Nelsonic style, he asked me if she could say Dobri Utro, or Good Morning, in Russian, I said, of course. So he confirmed to the MOD on file, for sanction to travel in the IAF VIP 748 aircraft that Mrs Rai speaks average Russian.

The visit of Admiral and Mrs Gorshkov went off well and he visited Khajuraho, Vishakapatnam, Cochin and Bombay.

There was warmth all through, and of course, more Russian ships, submarines and aircraft joined the Indian fleet in the years to come by.

On his last visit to India in 1984, he visited the Western Fleet off Bombay and witnessed a missile firing. Recognizing me during the event, he hugged me on board INS Rajput, a new Guided Missile ship built to the designs of the Soviet Kashin class Destroyer, and asked: Karahshaov pyot, Sturman?

Or, are you drinking well, Navigator?

The Indian Navy will long remember the Tovarish (Comrade) Admiral who gave India Druzba (Friendship) and introduced missile power into the Indian Navy.

 © India Strategic
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Poll time again!

Since the members of this community are good at getting predictions right (the one on election results) and some of us might still be in the voting mood, I thought we should do another poll, this time related to the consequences of the results. 

Several people (analysts, exerts, editors...) have opined that the BJP needs an ideological shift to be able to revive itself. It is said that the BJP needs to discard its identity politics (hardline hindutva, demonisation of minorities etc.) and become a "responsible" right-of-centre party.

The question is will such the BJP bite the bullet and actually make such a change (assuming you think it is required)? What is your hunch?
Poll #1408223 BJP future after 2009 polls

Are we going to see and ideological course correction from the BJP?

There is nothing much wrong with the BJP's ideology already, the accusations made notwithstanding
Yes, a process of introspection will take place and the BJP will move away from its hardline hindutva positions
No, I don't see a significant course correction taking place
Only time will tell
Something left out in the above points (please explain in comments)
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On balance

Well it's ten days now since the "game changing" verdict was declared. In those initial days after the counting I found myself sharing some of the euphoria of news anchors and analysts about how this was a watershed moment in the country's democracy. But on calmer reflection I find that it is way to premature to uncork the champagne.

First of all the conclusion that this marks the end of identity politics. Vinod Mehta of the Outlook magazine says that this is the death knell for the BJP's brand of communal politics. Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express says that the poltics of grievance is giving way to the politics of aspiration. As much as I would like these conclusions to be true the fact is that Varun Gandhi has won in his constituency. The BJP has peformed well in Karnataka despite the activities of fundamentalists there. Raj Thakeray's regionalist MNS took a large chunk of votes in Maharashtra. Also some people have concluded that these results will make the BJP reinvent itself and become a more inclusivist party. The same kind of conclusions were being drawn when the BJP first came to power in the center but it caught everybody off guard with the Gujrat massacres. To expect the BJP to ditch its old inflammatory ways would be to credit it with too much statesmanship and courage.

The second is that Manmohan Singh with his hands strengthened will deliver on governance, that he will choose the ministers he wants and be tough with allies in this matter. We have already seen Congress tolerate the DMK's tantrums, ultimately ending in a tainted and inept A Raja being retained as cabinet minister and that too in the important Telecom portfolio. One can argue that one has to be realistic, but I think the Congress had the strength to call DMK's bluff this time if it really had the will to do so. Mamata has been made the Railways minister, which makes me shudder.

Then the implications for the economy. Some people expect the government, unencumbered by the Left, to go full steam on economic reforms. Nothing of the sort is going to happen. Despite the Prime Minister being the architect of India's econimic liberalisation, his party is too populist and socialist to bite the bullet on path breaking reforms that will bring about an industrial revolution and lift millions out of poverty. Instead it is going to continue with wasteful schemes like the NREGA. Montek Singh Ahluwalia's rejection as Finance Minister is a symptom of this mindset.

Then there are other conclusions drawn like weakening of caste-based formations, halting of fragmentation of Indian polity, emergence of youth and professionals in politics etc. All these are great signs, but the jury is still out on whether they will continue.

For me one great sign is Rahul Gandhi's attempts to foster intra-party democracy in the Congress. If what is reported is true, it will go a long way in correcting the lacunae in Indian polity, as I feel political parties are the weakest link in the Indian democracy. If he really does something that will make it easier for good people to rise in the party, (and force other parties to follow suit), it will be a huge blessing for the country's democracy.

I also have expectations from the government on education, infrastructure and administrative reforms. I will be super-glad if the government delivers on these fronts. Ultimately it is education that creates a population that can discriminate between the available options and is the best bet against fundamentalism and corruption. Improving infrastructure, executing administrative reform and strengthening democratic institutions will go a long way in shoring up the country's economy in the long term, besides being an end in themselves, even if big ticket economic reforms have to wait.

To conclude, I am glad that the country has been spared the nightmare of a chauvinist BJP governmet for five more years, but I am not as sanguine in my expectaions from the new government as several analysts. I am just hoping that the overall trends in the country's polity are positive and that the political parties will take the right message from these election results.

A perfectly happy ending to Lok Sabha Elections 2009 (and the lessons)

Singh is King was a blockbuster Bollywood film of 2008. Very few ever dreamt it would haunt us, in a very welcoming way, in 2009 and that too post a general election.

Never has an Indian election been so bitter, so debased and deprived of real issues. Never was an election fought sans issues. Never was a general election in India witness to deplorable personal attacks but the lesson has now been swiftly learnt. Where the parties got it horribly wrong was while their leaders were aging, the voter was getting younger and it is no surprise that hatred lost to hope. And progress and principles triumphed. The return of the Congress-led UPA is going to be a welcome signal but not without enhanced expectations and this is what should worry Manmohan Singh, who after India’s revered statesman, Jawaharlal Nehru will be the only ever person to become Prime Minister of this country twice in a row, throwing anti-incumbency to the winds.

To read the entire article, click here

Coming Up Soon : Horse Trading in India

Farce of yet another democractic exercise is at its fag end. And soon there shall be a high pitch drama in the Parliament and outside wherein India's top-most politicians will auction themselves in public view. All world leaders are invited to watch and know what Indian democracy really is and why it not be called DEMONCRACY. How peole of India treat them with their shoes has already been on display for quite some time.
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What is your reading...?

Poll #1384575 Mood of the community

The first phase of polling has started. Since opinion polls are not allowed this time, we haven't seen any concrete indicators to who is likely to win, although there have been analyses presented by some news channels. So we decided to do our own little poll to sense the mood of the community. Based on your reading of the straws in the wind, who do you think is likely to come to power after this general elections?

The Indian National Congress and its allies
Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies
A conglomerate of non-INC, non-BJP parties, possibly supported by the INC

Predictions and Opinion Polls for the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections in India

The month long general elections to the 15th Lok Sabha start from April 16, and there is wide speculation on which party, or coalition, will emerge the winner, when the results are announced on May 16th.

Here is a quick roundup of the pre-election predictions and the discussion around them in the Indian blogosphere. I'll update the post as new opinion poll predictions come in, with the most recent ones on the top.

The India TV opinion poll predicts a tie with the Congress wining 143 seats (187 with UPA allies), and the BJP winning an identical 143 seats (189 with NDA allies). Previously, India TV has predicted that the BJP will emerge as the largest single party with 144 seats (187 seats with NDA allies), ahead of the Congress, which will win 133 seats (178 seats with UPA allies).

According to the second Star-Nielsen poll, the Congress will win 155 seats (203 with UPA allies), while the BJP will win 147 seats (191 with NDA allies) (via TOI).

Arun Nehru at the Deccan Chronicle predicts that the Congress will win 157 seats (193 with UPA allies), compared to the 132 seats for the BJP (177 with NDA allies).

The Times of India predicts that the Congress will win 154 seats (198 with UPA allies), while the BJP will win 135 seats (176 with NDA allies).

According to The Week, the Congress will win 144 seats (198 with UPA allies), while the BJP will have to settle at 140 seats (186 with NDA allies).

India Today expects the UPA to win 196-205 seats, far ahead of the 172-181 seats for the NDA.

According to Reuters, the Congress with 139 seats will form the government, beating the BJP, which will win only 129 seats.

DNA predicts that the Congress-led UPA will win 184 seats, against the 177 seats for the BJP-led NDA.

Shreekant Sambrani at Business Standard predicts that BJP will emerge as the biggest party with 137 seats (184 seats with NDA allies), ahead of the Congress, which will win 119 seats (176 seats with UPA allies, including LJP/ RJD).

According to BJP's own survey, conducted by G V L Narasimha Rao, the BJP will win 160 seats (217 with NDA allies) compared to 135 seats for the Congress (180 with UPA allies) (via TOI).

The numbers for the UPA have come down in recent predictions as analysts aren't counting the numbers for Lalu Prasad’s RJD, Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP or Mulayam Singh’s SP as part of the alliance anymore.

Earlier, in March, the Star-Nielsen poll had predicted that Congress will win 144 seats (257 with UPA allies, including 47 for SP/ RJP/ LJP), compared to the 137 seats for the BJP (184 with NDA allies) (via Reuters).

The CNN-IBN poll had predicted that the Congress-led UPA will win 215-235 seats (including SP/ RJP/ LJP), compared to 165-185 seats for the BJP-led NDA (via Reuters).

In 2004, the UPA had won 234 seats (with 145 seats for the Congress) and the NDA had won 184 seats (with 138 seats for the BJP).

The Outlook Blog written by Sandeep Dougal, by the way, has emerged as my single most useful source of news and opinion on the Indian Lok Sabha elections. This is a great example of the value a traditional news organization can add by linking out to others.

Several Indian bloggers are also posting their own predictions.

Vijay at OffStumped, an overtly pro-BJP blog, predicts that NDA will win 184 seats compared to 108 for UPA.

Blogger Arvind Katoch predicts that UPA will win 230-240 seats where NDA can win 180-200 seats.

Promise of Reason is also doing a series of state-wise pre-poll predictions for the Indian elections.

Rajesh Jain, who is also a part of the Friends of BJP group, has also been sharing his assessment of how the elections might turn out and believes that we will see another election in two years.

My own assessment, based on all these polls, is that the Congress will emerge as the largest party with 150-160 seats, while the BJP will win 130-140 seats. In any case, fewer parties will ally with the BJP, and it will need 175+ seats to have a stab at building a majority coalition, so we can safely assume that the Congress will be a part of the coalition government. Most observers are predicting that a Congress-led UPA-Left coalition will form the government.

Cross-posted at Vote Report India.


Much has been said and written about the shoe that was thrown by a Sikh journalist at P Chidambaram, India’s Home Minister when he refused to address the concerns raised about the Congress Party nominating Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections from Delhi: where in 1984, these two gents were alleged to have masterminded a state-supported program which saw the death of over 10,000 Sikhs only because the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi had been assassinated by a Sikh bodyguard.

In this melee, history has been conveniently forgotten because in addition to what these two gents have supposedly been accused of, was also a statement by the slain Prime Minister’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, that when a large tree falls, the ground shakes.

To read more,
click here.

And now the ideological meltdown...

The Indian election scenario has always been predictable. And despite the any changes that one sees with regard to the rise and rise of regional parties, some of the fundamentals never seem to change. There has been enormous brouhaha over the manner in which some candidates have been handing out cash in blatant violation of the election conduct but that too is explained away on the altar of tradition, What however intrigues me, election after election, is the manner in which almost every political party makes such a song and dance of its manifesto. There was however, a time when there were some discriminators in these manifestos but in these parity driven ties, that too seems to have vanished and this is the biggest irony of the Indian political scenes. These are no longer manifestoes with plans and shared vision but instead documents which highlight freebies that parties promise but never deliver on. It is this ideological meltdown that should worry every aware voter.

To read more, click