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February - March 2008

Political News

From Far & Near: Topics of Interest

by Bhupendra Gandhi

Modi’s victory! Is it the end of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty appeal?

The 2007 Gujarat Assembly elections will go down in history as the most bitterly fought elections Gujarat has ever witnessed. It became a personal battle between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Congress supremo Sonia Maino Gandhi.

The Congress Party was in jubilant mood with the defection by some BJP stalwarts who were willing to sabotage BJP from within and revolt of several sitting BJP MLAs and two MPs. Congress was aided by BJP turncoats of the stature of former Chief Ministers, Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta, who were expecting to give BJP a close shave, if not replace BJP as the governing party.

It is encouraging to note that the trend to vote on the caste system, Patels, Rajputs voting for a candidate from their own caste, was confined to dustbin in this election. Most Patels voted for BJP in Saurashtra, against Kashubhai’s appeal, thus marginalizing the old stalwart. This is a feather in their cap for voting intelligently and positively for the right candidate and the right policy.

The seats captured by each party are as follows:

2002 2007


BJP 127 117

Congress 51 59

NCP - 3

Others 4 3

Total 182 182

BJP managed to secure a respectable 49% and Congress 39% of the total votes but both the parties were down by 2% compared to 2002. For Congress, it was due to their partnership with NCP while for BJP, it was due to bad result in Central Gujarat where they lost 19 seats.

The anti-incumbency factor could have tilted the balance towards Congress if it had a master strategist in the mould of Arun Jaitley. Instead Sonia-Singh alliance was no more than the last ray of the extinguishing divo(Candle). It was a mere tokenism.

Although anti-incumbency factor so often works for the opposition but in reality it is the corruption and the arrogance of the sitting legislators that brings down the ruling party. Modi wisely removed so many of the sitting MLAS with questionable reputation, replaced them by fresh faces with clean record and Modi’s own record of efficiency and integrity nullified the incumbency factor.

Congress attacked BJP as a one man show, Modi being bigger than the party. It was rich coming from the Congress who is under the thumb of one woman who is not even an Indian by birth.

Fortunately for Modi and Gujarat, Congress chose wrong candidates, depended too much on the rebels, outsiders, defectors, losers and traitors who were all rejected by the wise and learned voters of Gujarat. Moreover Congress did not have a single leader of the calibre of Modi in their bare cupboard nor the policies to take Gujarat forward.

As a last ditch effort to throw Modi on the scrap heap, Sonia and the heir apparent Rahul Gandhi, along with several Congress supremos, descended on Gujarat like a pack of vultures ready to pick the last bone dry. But what conspirator proposes, nature disposes.

As it was difficult to fault Modi who has a clean image and the enviable title of Mr. Incorruptible, on economic development, inward investment, industrial output, education and law and order, Sonia had only one weapon in her sparse, near empty armoury, to bring up Godhra and throw mud, hoping that some may stick. But it backfired badly. What a tragic mistake it proved to be, for Sonia and in particular for the Gujarat Congress! Modi, after all, has been acclaimed the best Chief Minister for two years running by none other than Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Excellence.

In her haste to condemn Modi, Sonia called him “Maut ke Saudagar” (merchant of death), to the horrors of the local Congress politicians, thus giving Narendra Modi the opportunity to bring in Hindutva, spread the spirit of cultural nationalism along with ideology of development and anti vote bank politics, dhirti ka beta (Son of motherland) versus bahar se ayat (Imported from outside) referring to Sonia’s Italian ancestry, as well as UPA Government’s softly softly policy towards terrorists and terrorism. The vicious character assassination campaign by Sonia proved to be a blessing in disguise. It speaks volumes about the leadership of Modi.

The election turned into a battle between Sonia versus Modi and Modi’s appeal to the people of Gujarat to restore pride and punish a foreigner worked wonders. It became a personalised politics, pitching Modi against Sonia. According to various newspapers, Sonia’s speech calling Modi a merchant of death cost the party at least thirty seats, thus effectively handing over the victory to BJP and Modi.

Kashubhai Patel, as usual, sent the message of best wishes to Modi. Although it is the tradition to be magnanimous in victory, cunning and conniving person like Kashubhai who played every dirty trick in the trade deserves nothing better than a kick on his backside. His best wishes could be nothing less than a poisoned chalice. Wisely he was not even invited for the swearing-in ceremony, along with his co-conspirator Suresh Mehta who even failed to get a Congress ticket. They will soon be thrown out of BJP. It is better to have an honest enemy than treacherous friends like Keshubhai Patel.

The year 2007 has brought BJP an unparallel success, winning Punjab, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and last but not least Himachal Pradesh. They missed capturing Goa by a whisker, mainly due to defection and internal fighting.

One positive outcome of Gujarat election is the marginalisation of RSS and VHP whose leader the fire brand Dr. Pravin Togadia was an outright opponent of Modi. The Sangh Parivar refused to back BJP. What a short sighted organization RSS is turning out to be, betraying its founding principle and the wise leadership it enjoyed at one time.

In the end it had no effect, although many grassroot workers from these organizations worked tirelessly for BJP and Modi. It is time to ask the question what good RSS has done on the ground during its existence stretching back more than one hundred years. Have they built any hospitals, schools, Universities, clinics, social centres, cottage industries for the poor and the neglected or run any TV channels, control any national papers? With its organizational autumn and bulging bank balance, RSS should have become an international organization, ten times bigger than SHM or ISKCON, but it is a marginalized organization with declining membership and influence.

The newcomers like SHM, ISKCON, SEWA INTERNATIONAL and many more organizations are much more effective than RSS and VHP which in any case hardly exist outside Gujarat and a couple of Northern States.

Now that Modi has won handsomely, it is time for BJP and Modi to mend and heal the wounds of Godhra and encourage Muslims, especially Muslims from the Daudi Bhora, Ismaili, Ahmedia and Shia Ithna-Asheri communities to be part of economic progress and share the fruits of Modi’s wise policy on economic development. It was most regrettable that BJP did not put forward a single Muslim candidate, not even in Muslim dominated Khanpur area of Ahmedabad where, surprisingly BJP office is situated. The Gujarat BJP is rightly seen as a monolithic organization, the tag BJP needs to shed by giving tickets to Muslims and Christians party members, especially in their heartland.

These minority Muslims and Indian Christians already share most of our goals. They are as peaceful, law abiding, well educated and in well paid jobs here in Britain like many Hindus. There is no reason why they could not repeat this success in Gujarat. Let us make BJP an all- inclusive and forward thinking party we can all be proud of, whether we are Hindus, Muslims or Christians.

I must admit that our jubilation and celebration at BJP’s victory in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh was muted due to the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto. Whether one may agree or disagree with her political views, there is no doubt that she was a courageous person, in the mould of Indira Gandhi. She has left a political vacuum in Pakistan, a country that is in turmoil. It must also be said that the President Pervez Musharraf badly failed to provide the security that Benazir needed and deserved.

Bless Bharat, Bless Modi, Bless Gujarat

India’s only real secular party that does not indulge in vote bank politics or the appeasement of the minority, the party popularly known as Saffron Brigade swept to an impressive victory in the Western State of Gujarat, on Sunday 23rd December 2007.

The supporters started gathering at the party’s modest headquarters, surprisingly in the Muslim dominated area of Ahmedabad, the Khanpur district.

Ahmedabad is not only the textile capital of Bharat but due to its thousands of mills, factories and industrial estates that unceasingly pour filth in the atmosphere, it has also the unenviable reputation as the most polluted city in Gujarat.

It was not yet 8am early in the morning. The sun never rises in this part of Gujarat before 11am at the earliest. No one would like to venture out so early in the morning, unless absolutely necessary, that is to go to work.

The flow started as a trickle but as the news spread like wild fire that BJP is on its way for a thunderous victory, putting opinion polls to sword, the trickle became a flow and then turned into a flood.

The road was soon jam-packed with thousands of men, women and children, dressed in their Sunday best, women in colourful saris and the young and the shapely ones in their Punjabi dress that is fast replacing saris, especially in work places.

It was a cosmopolitan crowd at its best with occasional Muslims in their tradition skull caps as well as colourful scarves wrapped over their heads by women of all denomination, partly to follow the tradition and mostly to protect against cold early in the morning.

By midday the crowd was in a party mood, wearing by now the traditional Modi Mask, to symbolise their devotion to Modi, sprinkling rose water and singing patriotic songs like Vande Matram, Mere desh ki dharti, and Dhirti hei balidan ki (the land of sacrifice) calling Modi a Chote Sardar, a reference to Sardar Patel, the most famous son of Gujarat after Gandhiji.

As the tally of BJP seats was rising fast, so was the festive mood of the crowd, distributing ladoo, penda and various type of Indian sweets, hugging and congratulating every one, irrespective of caste, creed, colour or religion.

Now the sun was out in force as well and the early morning mist, fog and haziness were melting fast in the atmosphere, under the onslaught of the fierce rays of the midday sun. Suddenly there was silence, then a buzz and then spontaneous cheering as the crowd learnt that Modi was about to arrive? How did they know? Well mobile phones are a wonderful instrument for spreading news, more so than radios that once dominated such gatherings. India is, if any thing, well ahead of most Western world countries when it comes to information technology.

Modi arrived at 3:30pm and the crowd went wild, reminiscing the jubilation of the British crowd when the Second World War was officially won! Well, this is India and here people do know how to celebrate, go wild and enjoy themselves.

It took some ten minutes for Modi’s car to negotiate the milling crowds, by now delirious with relief, joy and jubilation. Modi’s car entered the ground, over the collapsible gates; Modi came out, with pride and satisfaction, a welcoming hero and a conqueror,

Modi’s beaming personality, a beacon of hope and aspiration for the young made the young boys and girls scream in delight. The crowd went mad, chanting Modi, Modi, Modi. Every one wanted to touch Modi, some even wanted to fall at his feet, a traditional respect shown to one’s elder. It took Modi ten minutes to enter the BJP headquarter building, the hall where the world press was waiting patiently, to greet, welcome and ask questions.

But Modi was not in a mood to give a press conference. The electioneering was over. Instead a prepared statement was read out that thanked the learned and the matured people of Gujarat from the bottom of his heart and promised to work for the wellbeing of all Gujaratis.

Development was his mantra before the election and will remain so during the next five years of his term. Gujarat is one of the second richest states in the Indian Union. But it may reach the top as the waters from Narmada dam is turning Gujarat greener by the day.

All in the hall were served a hefty celebratory meal to remind them of this joyous occasion that gave Modi a third term in office. Let us hope that history repeats it self as far as development, economic progress is concerned in Gujarat.

US House of Representatives recognises Diwali

Diwali, the Hindu festival of light that celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his capital city of Ayodhia after spending 14 long years, banished to forests to please his step mother Kaikai, is now acquiring an international reorganization and widely celebrated throughout the Western world, some may say on par with Christmas and New Year.

This is mainly due to the recognition of Hindu religion as one of the most peaceful and culturally rich religion and the Hindus as the most law abiding, highly educated and enterprising people in the world. No wonder Hindus are welcome with open arms in most Western countries, like Canada, USA, European Union, Australia, New Zealand and even in Israel, a staunch Jewish state that needs entrepreneurs with zeal and dedication, who would observe the laws of the Jewish state and mingle with the society, the indigenous people. Hindus fit the bill perfectly.

So it does not come as a surprise that the US House of Representatives passed the resolution recognising the religious, social and historical significance of Diwali, with a thumping majority of 358 to Nil, with 66 members abstaining.

It was a triumph for Joe Wilson, the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-American who are setting the trend, giving the lead on how to be loyal Americans and contribute politically, socially, academically and financially for their adopted country. Like here in Britain, there are hardly any Indian-Americans behind bars in America and Hindus are recognized as the most peace loving Americans to migrate to this land of hope and opportunity in the entire history of America.

Joe Wilson, one of the sponsors from South Carolina expressed his delight at the near unanimous support the resolution was accorded and said that Diwali is celebrated by the people of India and some two million Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains scattered throughout USA.

The religious festival signifies the triumph of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and light over darkness with symbolic lighting of Divas (candles) outside every home that believes in Diwali.

Joe Wilson’s father was stationed in India during the Second World War who enlightened him about India, her enterprising citizens, the religious, cultural and economic diversity that enriches the country. It was now his turn to acknowledge the tremendous contribution Indian Americans as well as the Indian nation is making in the world.

According to BBC World Service, Mukesh Ambani is now the richest person in the world, with a fortune of $60 billion, overtaking Bill Gates, the computer wizard.

It is time for the politicians and especially this government to recognize the tremendous contributions British Indians are making for the economic success of this country.

Should Councillors receive parachute payments?

The latest Government-commissioned report recommends that councillors who lose their seats should receive a one off payment of up to £10,000 from the public purse to tie them over. Some extra perks and pay rise is also proposed for local councillors.

It seems on most part the press is hostile, against any pay increase or even the notion of the parachute payment for Councillors who are thrown out by the electorates, as it is deemed to be a voluntary service, a gesture of goodwill meant for dedicated politicians who would like to serve the community they live in, rather than see it as a political career. What a nonsense, as so many serving members of Parliament are former councillors and council leaders, that include Barry Gardiner, Tony McNulty, Sarah Teather, Steven Pound, Gareth Thomas and many more.

This is indeed an outdated concept, the thinking that prevailed before the Second World War when the council had a minuscule budget without much responsibility and Councillors were required to attend, perhaps one or two sessions a month, putting in no more than twenty hours a month at the most.

It was indeed a part time profession without pressure, either on time, knowledge, expertise or autumn. The time and the definition of their job and responsibilities have drastically changed, beyond recognition. Many Councils have budgets of more than £500 million, which is more than the national budgets of many small African, South American and Asian countries. Surely we have to move forward with the time.

It is no longer a part time job, a perk for the retired, unemployed and super rich who are attrcted to the prestige of being called a Councillor. Last year the local politicians took home, on average £9300 rising to £20,000 for some inner city councillors with special responsibilities. Can any one honestly live on this remuneration? Surely this is a peanut pay for highly motivated and so often well qualified councillors who devote from 20 to 70 hours a week of their time on Council business, often holding executive portfolios and Chairing important meetings that give lucrative planning permissions, licences and grants that may run into millions.

It is no longer a part-time job that could be done while holding a demanding, well paid full time professional position that would pay his or her mortgage and provide a comfortable living. These dedicated Councillors whose jobs are not that dissimilar to the job of Members of Parliament who are not only well paid but receive perks, pensions and redundancy payments that most of us can only dream about.

Paying peanuts is a recipe for disaster and would unavoidably lead to a culture of corruption, dishonesty and indifference. Such a culture is already on the rise with so many councillors ending up in court on various charges. Yet it is the tip of the iceberg. In so many inner city boroughs, planning permission for ordinary residents can only be granted without hassle if the application goes through certain well connected professionals whose fees reflect the inbuilt commission?

Town Hall allowances, at the moment, are so confusing with leader, deputy leader, Cabinet member, Chair all getting special allowances, in addition to Childcare and Subsistence allowances, travel expenses and so on. It is time to streamline these allowances, perhaps in three simple categories, ordinary or backbench councillors, active councillors chairing various committees and the cabinet members holding responsible portfolios.

They should also be paid a living wage, comparable to private sector in order to attract well educated and experienced people who could become full time councillors. Councils need brain, business acumen and integrity of the highest standard to handle these multi million pound budgets. It is totally unfair that a long serving leader of an inner city council, earning up to £60,000 should be thrown on a scrap heap penniless, the day after losing the election.

Legal Robbery

In a democracy, so often a well intended but not well thought legislation may drastically go wrong, leaving the public angry, helpless and frustrated. Technically, they are on the wrong side of the law, having trespassed the law, however unintentionally but the red tape and bureaucracy are too rigid to fight back.

One such draconian legislation is the clamping of our cars by private firms operating under licence. Most such companies are there to make a fast buck, to squeeze unsuspecting motorists as much as they can get away with, so often the total charges may touch a thousand pound, that include parking fine, tow truck-call out charges, storage and the removal of the clamp; beyond reach for most old age pensioners who are so often the unintended victims.

With parking space at a premium in London, motorists are often tempted to park their vehicles on a deserted private land for a few minutes, or on a yellow line, to pop in a bank, a pharmacist or even to drop a letter.

The profitability in this unethical business is such that so often businesses with parking facilities, such as pubs, restaurants, mini-markets and garages are approached by Clamping Companies, paying the owner a sizable retainer to enable them to operate on their land. It is too tempting to say no to these financial vultures; especially as some of the businesses do suffer from illegal parking on their premises that may deny their genuine customers a parking space, not to mention fly-tipping and stolen, abandoned cars that litter our cities.

Some of these unscrupulous operators employ every trick in the trade to trap an unsuspecting motorist and that include the display of notice in a dark, unlighted corner, away from the parking space.

Most clamping companies demand cash, so often with menace when more than one bulky operators approach the sole car driver demanding the cash on spot, often willing to take the victim to the nearest bank to draw out the cash.

Some times the venerable victim is unable to raise cash and as a result, the car is towed away with mounting charges and in a few cases the loss of the vehicle that may deprive the sick and the elderly their only means of mobility.

The public should know that they have the right to demand an official receipt when paying cash and that it is illegal to clamp a car displaying a disable badge.

But it is time that the government should reform the act, making it difficult for the rogue firms to enable them to milk the public on the slightest pretext, laying down the maximum fine, giving the motorist the time and the facility to pay it by cheque or a credit card and if the total bill is more than £500, to pay it by instalment. But no motoring parking offences deserve such a hefty fine, unless the motorist is a habitual law breaker and a danger to other road users.

It is nice to know that some local news papers have launched a campaign to make clamping firms operate within new set of rules and that they are there to keep roads clear, discourage illegal parking and not to make money out of inflicting misery and financial hardship that bear no resemblance to the guilt of illegal parking.

The leading councillors from Harrow and Brent have lent their support to this campaign. Councillor Navin Shah, the Leader of the Labour Group in the Harrow Council said, “There should be a legal limit to the maximum charge the clampers can demand and also a clear legal guideline through the ACT of Parliament about the procedure and the ability to appeal against the charge.

Bary Gardiner, Member of Parliament for Brent North echoed similar sentiment and said “British people are fair minded and most are willing to pay a reasonable fine if they see that they have broken the law, provided that it is fair and the breach is transparent. The Council has responsibility to ensure that the companies which operate in their name are behaving fairly. All too often the council seems to wash their hands of any responsibility. Citizens have the right to expect their council to monitor these contracts and keep them under proper control.”

It is a comfort to know that the local print media is so alert and on the look out for any injustice that the public have to endure due to faulty legislation or any other cause.

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