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On the Strongman Myth

The Kashmir Monitor




By Ali Ahmed

At the recent Sardar Patel memorial lecture, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, moving outside his mandate as an official, made a case for a strong government in India for another ten years. Given the way institutions have been hollowed out over the last four years by the cultural nationalists’ infiltration and brazen undermining by the right wing government, the strong government Ajit Doval had in mind was certainly not one based on strong institutions.

Doval was no doubt indulging in a bit of electioneering on behalf of his boss, with an eye perhaps with assuring his own longevity at helm of national security.


Doval’s questionable proposition has been taken apart elsewhere; it has been pointed out that so called weak governments, including weak coalitions, have taken tough decisions in the past. What still needs interrogating is the Doval thesis that Narendra Modi, is the strong man lending strength to a government.

PM Modi’s record over the past four years is not inspiring. Just some months ago year he made a dash for Wuhan, buying peace with China lest another Doklam like crisis with its attendant uncertainties upset his shy at another lease on Lok Kalyan Marg (formerly named Race Course Road). On the Pakistan front, it is by now exposed that the surgical strikes were politically overhyped, with India having conducted these periodically under earlier ‘weak’ governments, including Manmohan Singh’s.

As for the demonetisation decision, given its vacuity, strength would have been in Modi telling off his unknown advisers. No one has yet claimed ownership of that idea.

On India’s acquisition of a rudimentary triad, it is the outcome of a natural progression over the past three decades, encompassing the tenures of weak governments.
Nor has PM Modi been able to restrain his followers from micro terrorism in pursuit of their cow protection duties. As for his home minister’s oft repeated claim for having suppressed riots and terrorism, it is only proof that these were the handiwork of the right wing, which with the attaining of power can dispense with them as a strategy.

There is therefore little to show for Modi as a strongman prime minister. It now remains to reappraise the strongman illusion from his years in a provincial capital, whence he ascended to power.

The Prime Minister has attempted to reinforce the image at a photo op by the side of the tallest statue in the world, made at his behest with public money. Pushing it through in time for elections can hardly be seen as strength, for it obscures the pushing out of the vulnerable tribal community with ownership of the land now occupied by hollow steel.

The statue project exemplifies the contrast in the values to which strength is attached by PM Modi and Sardar Patel, whose Iron Man moniker the Prime Minister wishes to appropriate. He tried similarly to appropriate the Netaji mantle, at the recent observing of the 75th anniversary of the Azad Hind government’s formation in exile under Subhash Chandra Bose.

The image held by PM Modi believers rests on his early showing in power as newly minted chief minister of Gujarat. He allegedly held a meeting at his official residence on February 27, 2002 in the wake of the burning of coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express in which close to three score kar sevaks died. At this meeting, he reportedly approved the procession from Godhra to Ahmedabad carrying the victims’ remains, against senior officials’ advice, and the handing over of their bodies in Ahmedabad to the extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal.

This was meant to incite mass violence by majoritarian extremists. The state administration and police were allegedly warned to allow Hindus to vent their feelings and give them time to put Muslims in their place.

It is interesting that believers in PM Modi believe in just this: his demonstration of strength in holding off the Indian state. His aura stands heightened in the manner he fended off the half-hearted admonishing by his party superior and then prime minister, Vajpayee. He also overturned the attempt to remove him from office at the ruling party conclave, and returned to power in early state elections.

Not only did the Prime Minister escape accountability, he provided impunity for hatchet men and foot soldiers of the right wing such as DG Vanzara and Babu Bajrangi. He employed the now infamous police officer Rakesh Asthana, of CBI vs CBI fame, to provide post facto justification for the pogrom, by having him furnish a report that the Godhra coach burning incident was a premeditated one.

PM Modi’s strongman image was embellished with a few notches added by the murder of supposed Muslim terrorists with Pakistani links who it was claimed were out to get him in vengeance for the Gujarat pogrom. One such terrorist was a girl still in her teens, Ishrat Jahan. His then home minister – and now party president – has seen the inside of jail in the case.

Modi was the Hindu hriday samrat (king of Hindu hearts) on the make, taking a leaf out of the book of the likes of Bal Thackeray, the Mumbai supremo whose notoriety rested on similar credentials, of association with showing Muslims (and south Indians) their place through like means: largely one-sided mass violence. Since all this happened on the watch of the rival Congress-led coalition at the centre, which could or would not expose it even though the investigation agencies’ levers were in its hands, it further burnished the strongman image.

But the chickens are coming home to roost, ironically when PM Modi is at the zenith and prospecting a second term, and his strength is up for querying.

The Zakia Jafri case is due for a hearing at the Supreme Court. Jafri, widow of the former parliamentarian done to death in the massacre at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on the first day of the Gujarat carnage, has stayed the course, maintaining that the SIT was wrong in exonerating PM Modi. The subtext is that the Prime Minister’s holding back was not due to powerlessness or incompetence, but complicity, and the deliberate provision of cover for the perpetrators – the very reason for Modi idolatry by bhakts.

The second case is that of the political murder of Haren Pandya, who was then Chief Minister Modi’s home minister at the time of the Gujarat carnage. A witness in the case of the killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauser Bi and associate Prajapati, has alleged a connection between the policeman acolyte of thetime, DG Vanzara, and the alleged ordering of the killing of Haren Pandya.

Then there are the revelations in the recently released memoirs of former lieutenant general Zameer Uddin Shah. ‘Zoom’ Shah relates how the army, which had flown into Ahmedabad late on the night of February 28 on aid to civil authority, was tasked with sitting out the whole of March 1 on the tarmac of the airport, as the state authorities did not provision magistrates, vehicles, police liaison and logistics support for 34 hours.

Only on March 2 was assistance from the state government forthcoming, though the defence minister had been on hand since February 28 pleading for the same.

This timeline lends credence to the dissenting narrative that the mobs were given 72 hours’ leeway between February 27 and March 1.

Strength under prevailing circumstances in the republic can be interpreted in two ways. One is in taking PM Modi as a strong man, albeit in a certain perverse way. The questionable nature of such strength, specifically the ethics surrounding its acquisition and its deployment, is the Achilles heel.

The other way to look at it is strength being in the right wing forces, which have overtaken society and taken over the state. PM Modi’s unwillingness and inability to contain and control these forces then represents the opposite of strength. Having got on the tiger, he is unable to hop off.


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Brazen statements on job shortage

The Kashmir Monitor



By Mihir Swarup Sharma

Back when Narendra Modi was just a candidate for the post of Prime Minister, he seemed to understand what India’s biggest problem was: jobs. He promised tens of millions of jobs would be created if he were voted to power – India’s unemployed young people would be transformed, he promised, into an army for development.

Four years later, this promise has turned into a weapon for the opposition. His predecessor, Manmohan Singh, pointed out last year that young Indians were “desperately waiting for the jobs that they were promised.”


The Modi government’s response has been typical: not harder work, not economic reform, but bluster. Two recent statements from senior ministers who should know better stand out. Piyush Goyal said that the large number of people who are lining up for jobs in the Railways that he oversees – over 15 million applied recently for a minuscule number of vacancies – did not in any way mean that there is a shortage of jobs in India. And Human Resources Minister Prakash Javadekar, whose job is indeed to prepare the Indian workforce for employment, has insisted that each and every sector in India has witnessed job opportunities. “We have to find out why people with post-graduate degrees apply for sweeper jobs in the government,” he said.

Well, minister, the answer is staring us all in the face: that there simply aren’t enough high-quality jobs available. Yes, even low-skilled government jobs provide security; but in a growing economy, the private sector should also be creating enough and better-paid jobs in such a way that security would be rendered irrelevant.

The fact is that when millions of Indians turn up for jobs that they are manifestly overqualified for, it cannot be seen as anything other than a failure of economic management on a massive scale.

There was not even the slightest remorse expressed by the ministers for whatever combination of circumstances may have arisen in the economy to cause this sort of desperation on the part of job-seekers. Nor was there an iota of compassion for these young job-seekers or a comprehension of the lack of choices they face.

Mr Javadekar even said that “people who do not work out of choice cannot be called unemployed”. Is it possible that Modi Sarkar imagines that everyone without employment prefers to watch things on their Jio phone rather than earn a living? It is impossible to overstate how out of touch that sentiment is. Even in the best case scenario, which is that the minister was referring only to the worrying decrease in the labour participation rate of women – fewer women in India are working, while in the test of the world more women worked as development progressed – it still reveals an inability to understand the real problems faced by job-seekers. If women are not going out to work, it is not out of “choice”. It is because neither law and order nor their social relations in their community have allowed them to do so. Is this not something a government should be concerned about – if, that is, it values half of India? Or should it just dismiss the crushing of womens’ aspirations as “their choice”?

The ministers complained that there was not enough data to prove that jobs were not being created. This seems to undercut various other claims made by government apologists that jobs are indeed being created – on the basis of the pension records kept by the provident funds, for example. Many economists have poked clear holes in this theory. At best, that reveals that under pressure from demonetization and the GST, some jobs are coming into the formal sector – but it does not reveal whether or not jobs are being created overall. While it is amusing to discover that not even the Modi government ministers believe its own propagandists, the politicians’ statements are still important. Their complaint about the lack of official data is shared by many.

Yet data is scarce, of course, for a very specific reason: the survey of unemployment in the country, conducted by the Labour Bureau every year from 2010 to 2016, was discontinued by the Union Labour Ministry – in a strange coincidence, the Survey showed sharp job losses after the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in 2014. So when the ministers – and earlier the Prime Minister himself – complain that there is no data on employment, what they should instead explain is why the government chose to stop collecting data on employment.

The reason, of course, is that this government does not want the release of any data that would reveal the true state of the economy. The manipulation of the backseries of GDP data revealed exactly how desperate it is to whitewash its unusually poor record.

The Modi government seems to believe that voters are comically stupid. That they will not only believe that jobs are being created, but also that mobs of people applying for a few government jobs is a sign of how many other jobs there are. That they will also believe that a lack of data that the government has itself organised can be replaced by earnest assurances from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet that large numbers of jobs have indeed been created.

The most reliable independent source for jobs data are the reports from the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, or CMIE. Their latest report, issued earlier this month, indicated that 11 million jobs had been lost in 2018. Think about that – 11 million jobs were lost, not created. This comes at a time when most economists believe that we need to create between 6 and 12 million jobs a year just to keep pace with the number of people entering the job market. Nor were previous years better – demonetization in particular wreaked havoc, costing millions of jobs.

There is little doubt, therefore, that Modi has failed to keep the promises that he made before being elected. The question is whether he will be held accountable for those promises. Perhaps if the Prime Minister or his colleagues had been open about their failures and accepted that they understood where they had gone wrong and how more jobs could be created going forward, they might have been able to retain some credibility. Instead, they have chosen to deny that a problem even exists and to pretend instead that the promises have been fulfilled. This is brazen even by the standards of Indian politics.

There are good reasons for greater urgency. India’s window to create high-quality manufacturing jobs – the sort that helped countries like China move up the income ladder – is closing. More and more processes are being automated, and the scope for mass manufacturing that takes in lower-skilled workers and gives them solid secure employment is narrowing. But the World Bank has insisted in a recent report that there is still enough time. Given its vast numbers of young people, it is India that should be benefiting from these last decades in which manufacturing will matter. But instead the government has failed to undertake genuine economic reform, relying instead on adulatory press handouts and ministerial statements – managing the headlines and not the economy, as Arun Shourie put it. India’s young people, lining up in their lakhs in the hope even of a job as a government sweeper, deserve better than this callous indifference to their fate.

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Is Rahul Gandhi emerging as a reliable brand?

The Kashmir Monitor



By Shuchi Bansal

The Congress’s recent victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have put the spotlight on its president Rahul Gandhi.

While an earlier column spoke of brand Modi and whether he has lost some of its sheen, little has been said on Rahul Gandhi and if he, as a brand, has come of age. Or whether, despite his party’s recent wins, it is too early to think of him as a dependable brand.


Interestingly, the resurgence of the Congress and that of Rahul Gandhi in particular seems to represent an almost textbook example of a challenger brand.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) unexpected poor performance is also perhaps a classic case of what a market leader should avoid—complacence, overconfidence and petty-mindedness being on top of the list.

“While it’s true that Rahul Gandhi has a long way to go before he can match the perceived stature and the personal popularity of Narendra Modi, he has certainly been able to narrow the gap between them. I would say this is an outcome of some of his bold initiatives helped to a great extent by the missteps of the latter,” says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.

Dheeraj Sinha, managing director (India) and chief strategy officer (Asia) at Leo Burnett, agreed that Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a viable challenger with the recent wins in the Assembly elections.

However, he argues that challengers don’t win the game in India, leaders do. “Will Rahul be able to position himself as a viable leader of the country is the question. Just being a challenger won’t make it happen for the Congress,” he says.

Advertising veteran Sandeep Goyal who has done his doctorate in human brands, says that a challenger brand is defined by a mindset. It has ambitions larger than its conventional pool of resources and is prepared to do something bold. The most common narrative associated with the challenger brand is that of the underdog.

However, challenger brands are today more often focused on “what” they are challenging rather than “who” they are challenging.

“Rahul Gandhi is, therefore, by definition, truly a challenger brand. The important thing that everyone seems to be missing out on is that he is cleverly not really challenging Mr Modi but challenging incumbency, unfulfilled promises, growth agenda, and the performance of the current government, ‘mistakes’ like demonetization and GST (goods and service tax). In politics, these are really the ‘category drivers’. Rahul is also focusing on disenchantment/ unhappiness with jobs/economy, which is really challenging the ‘user experience’ with the current government,” says Goyal.

Sinha feels that Rahul’s underdog image helps him. He began his political career as a fumbling novice, which earned him the Pappu sobriquet.

“It’s because not much was expected of him is why his stock goes up every time he exceeds expectations, even for accomplishments that are less than extraordinary. On the other hand, his rival suffers a huge disadvantage for having set unrealistically high expectations, and whatever be his achievements, they are bound to fall short of the promise. This has no doubt negatively impacted both his credibility as well as popularity, which has helped Rahul Gandhi seize the narrative. When one starts at the bottom, the only way is up. The converse is equally true,” points out Sinha.

Brand Rahul seems to be gaining some traction. “His speeches have improved both in form and content. He is more consistent, more combative.

The hesitant, reluctant brand Rahul of yore is slowly but surely transforming into an astute leader who has pedigree and lineage,” feels Goyal.

Of course, none of this guarantees a defeat for the BJP, or a victory for the Congress, in this year’s general elections. Goyal says that as of now, brand Modi is stronger and better resourced, but beginning to fray at the edges.

Also, a bit hurt, if not bruised. In 2014, brand Modi epitomized “hope” and “progress.”

“In 2019, he cannot stand for Hindutva or Ram Temple or The Cow. That would be a big mistake. In 2014, brand Rahul was untested and nascent. In 2019, he is portraying himself as progressive, secular, empathetic and pedigreed… Both brands have their own appeal,” he says.

As Leo Burnett’s Sinha says, leadership brands need to appeal to the whole market.

Will brand Rahul be able to cover this distance from being a challenger brand to the leader brand in the next few months remains to be seen.

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Your waste: someone’s taste

The Kashmir Monitor



By Zeeshan Rasool Khan,

While we every other day listen to boastful claims that the country India is developing fast. It has become very difficult for most of us to accept the brute reality that here the people die because of hunger. Yes, death due to starvation is the unthinkable, reality of India. According to sources, about 14.9% of the Indian population is undernourished. Half of the world’s hungry live in India. Thousands are those who do not know if the next meal would be availed or not. Reports say, everyday 20 crore people have to hit the sack with an empty tummy. In the year 2018, many cases of hunger-death were reported in India. This bitter truth is being cloaked with bragging. Global Hunger Index 2018, which has placed India at a 103rd place out of 119 qualifying countries, is a testimony to this fact that India is not what media shows i.e., all is not well within the nation with respect to common masses. Howbeit, it is not any matter of berating the nation. There is no question of cutting anyone to size in connection with this issue. Instead, it demands serious contemplation from everyone irrespective of our positions in society.

One of the root causes of hunger is poverty that has been challenging to every developing country and India is no exception. Despite the reports of GHI, which says, the poverty level has reduced by 0.9 % since 2011 we must accept that our efforts have been too meagre to achieve any feat in this direction. Let us accept we have failed in defeating poverty. But, that does not mean we will rest on our laurels and let poverty-stricken die. If we cannot eradicate the gigantic issue of poverty but we have immense potential to secure poor. If we cannot build palaces for indigents, however, we can provide them shelter to hide at least. If we cannot raise their standard of living but there is no doubt that, we can mitigate their problems. Likewise, if we cannot provide them with sumptuous food, at least we can make sure that they will not sleep hungry, die due to hunger and starvation.


There is no dearth of food. Credible reports suggest that India produces sufficient food to feed its population. However, access to the available food is lacking. And this inaccessibility is partly due to low income of people and mostly due to our behaviour of wasting food. It has been estimated that nearly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted every year. This wastage starts from processing continues up to packing, supply management, and consumption.Due to imperfect packaging methods and inefficient supplying system, a considerable amount of food is lost. According to one estimate, about 40 percent of fruits and vegetables and 30 percent of cereals are wasted and do not reach the consumers because of improper packaging and supplying techniques. Prevalent ways of processing and subsequent supplying of paddy and other grains result into wastage of a part of it. Common Fruit growers know it better, while packaging, what quantity of fruits is wasted. Fully ripened fruit is often discarded as ‘rotten’ because of apprehensions about its transportation. Same is the case with vegetables and other foodstuffs.

These squandered grains, discarded fruit and vegetables make a large part of wasted food. Imagine if these grains, ripe fruit, and vegetable reach any poor, how great it would be. At the consumption stage, significant levels of food wastage occur. The gluttony, most people are indulged in is itself a form of wastage. Some people eat like a horse without thinking about health risks that overeating leads to. They keep on inviting ailments rather than getting any benefit but never cogitate, how by exercising moderation in eating we can help others. The excessive food that we take can easily become a morsel for a destitute.

Our weddings, events, restaurants, hostels, and houses are a major source of food wastage. At weddings, a huge amount of food is wasted. A large amount of food including multiple dishes are served, which results in leftovers that finally finds a place in trash bins. It would have been far better to have control mechanism at our weddings for prevention of food-wastage. However, even in absence of a mechanism, we can play a significant role in reducing wastage of food by best use of leftovers. Leftovers from weddings and even from our homes, restaurants, hostels, and hotels are often thrown away. But there is an option for us to make better use of it. We can recycle leftovers. We can make many other dishes from it, which can be used for the next meal. Massimo Botturra of Italy – the world’s best chef has come up with this innovative idea. He has founded the association namely ‘Food for Soul’ with the motive to fight food waste. He uses surplus food /leftovers productively to tackle food wastage and nourish poorest people of the city. Most of Hoteliers and restaurateur, across the world particularly India, have followed suit that is a good sign. Others, who are not aware of this idea, should imitate the same .So that more and more necessitous are benefited. In fact, using leftovers to feed the poor living in our vicinity would be one of the finest uses of leftovers. By this way the uneaten edibles from our homes, restaurants, etc. can fill the bellies of many and eliminate their hunger.

Efforts are on throughout India and fortunately, in our state too, to reach out the hunger struck population. No doubt, some NGO’s are working to utilize extra cooked food and give it to needier. But, the challenge is big and efforts are small. Broad-gauge efforts are required that must be started from the individual level. While processing, packaging, supplying, and consuming, utmost care needs to be taken to check the frittering. Through this mindfulness, we can preserve lot of food and can make it available to the poor. In addition, if everyone would refrain from wasting food and take care of penurious people of respective communities, we can ensure food availability for a maximum number of deprived people.

It is worth to mention, feeding hungry cannot obliterate hunger as it is related to several problems. However, we cannot deny the fact that hunger itself is the root of various other troubles. Hunger deprives a person from growth. It increases the vulnerability of a person to a myriad of complications, which can have an adverse impact on social, behavioural, emotional, and physical health of a person. Satisfying one’s hunger can make him eligible to earn livelihood otherwise his destiny is elimination. So, we must think logically to gain the best of both worlds.

(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])

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