Should Obama expect a masala tea party in India?

Given last night’s blow to President Obama in the mid-term elections, where a handful of the much talked about ‘Tea Party’ were elected, it strikes me that his visit elsewhere, other than India this weekend, may have been (more) politically beneficial to his Presidency.

Let me explain:

1. Despite being a minority leader, Indian’s are huge fans of the Clintons. In fact, on a recent visit to the US, the sentiment expressed by several prominent persons of the diaspora pointed to their hidden hope that Hillary may consider ratcheting the pressure on Obama in the remainder of what they felt was his only term in the White House.

2. On bilateral relations, it may surprise you, but India really loves George W. Bush. For it was Dubya’s administration that allowed India to participate in the restricted super club of nuclear nations, despite their not signing important treaties on non-proliferation.

3. The civilian nuclear partnership was heralded as bringing a ‘paradigm shift’ to US – India relations – a true game-changer, if there ever was one!

Given that this is the case, what can Obama achieve:

4. Like Nirupama Rao said in her press conference, don’t expect too much apart from a structured dialogue that’s a continuation of interaction between the two sides. She’s trying to manage expectations, and did so effectively.

5. During the US elections, Obama suffered from rhetoric flourish which is going to bit him on his back side on this visit. India’s self perception as a confident, global player is partly attributed to her prowess in the IT / BPO sector. For Obama to promise to increase taxes for companies who take away jobs from America was a mistake in international terms.

6. America needs Indian IT firms. I don’t wish to teach you to suck eggs, but simply put Indian IT firms make American corporations efficient. Simple. So, why put this at risk. We already know that India’s Opposition Party, the BJP, intend on vocalising their views on this subject during the visit. Thankfully for Obama, they’re simply not a threat to anyone nowadays in the politics of New Delhi.

7. Given all the evidence that India’s on the rise, I don’t think that the Indian’s will treat this visit like they did David Cameron’s. The UK does struggle to make its case to India effectively. Many captains of industry have often said that their focus, which was once on good ol’ Blighty, has switched to other places. In Obama’s case, America remains an important market today, and importantly, in the future. You can be rest assured that none other than Sonia Gandhi and heir apparent – Rahul Gandhi will roll out the red carpet for President Obama, unlike her absence on Cameron’s diary.

My prediction for this visit – apart from policy announcements on issues like defence cooperation, counter-terrorism, pacts to do with economic matters etc, unlike back at home in the US, he needn’t get upset when he’s invited to a tea party, or two.

Does the BJP have what it takes to steal a victory?

So, what’s the latest thinking on the Indian elections:

1. Voter turnout has been poor in Mumbai, pundits say this is down to two things: (a) generally, middle class and urban populations don’t vote and (b) abstaining due to the Mumbai terrorist attack of last year.

2. Lower caste commuity in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati’s back-yard – where she was expected to clean up, it seems are not as enthusiastic as she is about broadbasing the Bahujan Samaj Party by providing upper caste people berths in the party. As a result, voter turnout has been low in some parts of UP.

3. Given Mayawati’s slowdown, people are talking up the possibility of the BJP picking up seats whereas this seemed improbable previously.

4. There’s been a continuous campaign to create a split in the NDA with suggestions that partners like Nitish Kumar in Bihar are going to gravitate towards the third front. In all honesty, he hasn’t made it easy for himself either by being vague in a key TV interview.

5. It seems likely that the BJP will emerge as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. Whether this guarantees them the numbers required to form a government is opaque at the moment. It all comes down to the level of horsetrading they want to get down to.

Who's going to be the next Indian PM?

With India on the verge of general elections, I thought it may be useful to look into my crystal ball to find out who may become India’s next Prime Minister. In most democracies, elections come down to a couple of major political parties, but, as with everything in India, it’s not as straight forward as that (what a surprise!).

As a result of coalition politics firmly embedded in India, we not only have to keep our eyes on the national parties, but also on regional outfits that can return spectacularly low numbers of MPs to New Delhi but hold the sway of power.

So, who’re the main contenders:

Representing the grand old party of India, the current Prime Minister – Dr Singh – has just had heart by-pass surgery – but hopes lead the next election campaign, seems unlikely to me. There are two other options for the Congress – ‘Madam Sonia’, or her son – Rahul Gandhi – who’s an unknown & untested entity, but given the Congress Party’s adulation for the Gandhi family, I wouldn’t be surprised if either name came to the fore after the election.

India likes nothing more than someone who’s made a sacrifice – think about Buddha, Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi and other illustrious persons, to which you can add Sonia Gandhi’s name. For she, sacrificed the position of PM last time around (on the issue of her Italian origin) to install Manmohan Singh as PM and win over a new fan base and acceptability.

India knows Mr Advani very well. He’s been around for half a century or so and until the last election played an effective no2 to Mr Vajpayee, who’s since bowed out of politics. Being the numero uno, he’s finally the contender, but it seems the Obama effect has resulted in his chances being drastically reduced. A lot of people I speak to all say they want someone younger (Obama effect) to lead the BJP.

With the increasing acceptability of Narendra Modi, it seems the pressure on Mr Advani is that much greater. It’s lucky for him that he’s already been nominated as their Prime Ministerial candidate! I witnessed the tension just a few weeks ago when I attended the Vibrant Gujarat Investors Summit and on the following day, read in the newspapers the furore his success has caused within party ranks. After all, it’s not often that a politican receives the backing of India’s biggest businesses in such a visible manner. At the risk of saying something obvious, I have no doubt that Mr Modi will ascend to the national stage after the next election, however I don’t think he’ll take the post of Home Minister if the BJP win.

In my view, any one of these could determine the next election, if not become the next PM. Mayawati’s increasing reach is unnerving everyone. She’s the Chief Minister for Uttar Pradesh, which returns the largest number of MPs and as she’s ruling, her chances of success are huge.

Prakash Karat’s monumental miscalculation of withdrawing its support to the Congress over the US – India Nucelar Deal has provided Amar Singh’s Samajwadi Party a huge advantage in the run-up to the polls. The Communists haven’t been able to extend their reach outside West Bengal & Kerala, but enjoy huge loyalty in these two states.

The Samajwadi Party lead by Amar Singh, as always, could upset Mayawati’s coronation. You can expect the unexpected when it comes to these two. Amar Singh, after years of hurling abuse at the Congress, decided to jump into bed with them and extend unconditional support to the Congress.

The Maratha vote, lead by Sharad Pawar, who’s NCP is a current coalition partner could also emerge as a victor. A former Congress leader, he split and formed his party focusing on his home state of Maharashtra. With charismatic operators like Praful Patel, I wouldn’t rule him out of the running. Of course, as President of the cricketing board, he’s used to taking on heavy weights in battle.

Elections in any country are interesting to watch. In India, you’re assured a fantastic contest in which a billion people make their way to the polling booths to cast their votes electronically over a six week period. India’s faith in democracy, itself, is worthy of celebration.

As for my crystal ball, it tells me that despite Congress winning the most seats, it see someone like Mayawati at the helm for a couple of years.

Will Congress Fall?

The outcry on the streets of Mumbai, the public outrage at the news that the Government may have had prior relevant intelligence on the attachs makes the resignation of Shivraj Paril too little, too late. The Governments of Manmohan Singh and Vilasrao Deshmukh, the Maharashtra Chief Minister, are both on the back foot. In politics, perception is everything and sadly, both these Governments are being seen as soft on terror with nothing more than political speeches and a rearranging of the cabinet chairs.


The ever growing calls for a firm Government and a secure India should see the opposition win a vote of no-confidence in parliament before the year end, and a new CM in Maharastra. Nothing else will do if we are to save the markets, tourist industry and faith in India as a safe destination. 

The next 48 hours are crucial. Watch this space.

UK Outreach of the Communist Party Of India (Marxist)

At a time of political turmoil in India, where the Communists withdrew their support for the Congress led UPA Government in Delhi – which could lead to the rapid decline of the UPA and trigger a general election, we organised a private dinner for Comrade Biman Bose, Chairman of the Left Front, Member of the CPI (M) Politburo, and West Bengal Secretary of the CPI(M) with key political commentators and other opinion formers in London.

Regardless of what one makes of his party’s position on crucial subjects like the India – US Nuclear Deal, it was refreshing to hear him speak, and you had to appreciate the simple fact that he knew that he’d be in for a hard time on the evening but was nevertheless keen to engage. 

Despite the meeting being billed as ‘off-the-record’, he reversed this by agreeing to speak ‘on-the-record’, and since then has been at the centre of a story that’s found wings in which the journalist reports that the CPI(M) is willing to work with the BJP. A scoop!

Knowing political culture, both parties are sworn enemies but it doesn’t surprise me that they’re willing to speak with each other. One only has to look back at the toppling of the VP Singh Government in which both played a significant role in toppling that Government. For this reason, we shouldn’t be surprised.

With elections scheduled for early next year, If I were Sonia Gandhi, I’d be tempted to call an election sooner rather than later. Right now, they can make mischief by casting the BJP as the stumbling block to the country’s development by their objection to the nuclear deal. Later on, the effects of the slowing economy, double digit inflation etc are going to hit them for six. They’ve already lost key states and with several other key elections scheduled across India this year, which they’re guaranteed to lose – they don’t stand a hope in hell in returning back to office.

It was great to organise the Communist outreach in London. One of our guests even commented that it was good to hear Comrade Bose’s views at such an eventful time in Indian politics.

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