Thursday, February 9, 2012

India and the "Young Emperor"

I was doing some research into India's military modernization program and I started running across references to "the young emperor". That surprised me and got my attention so I thought I'd find out what that was all about. What I found impressed me. I really think India has a man about to step up into the Prime Ministers position who just may turn out to be a very good thing for India and for the world

They call him the Yuva Samrat, or young emperor. Yet Rahul Gandhi has so far shown no inclination to claim the throne of the world's largest democracy. The scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty could be prime minister if he asked for it, according to many members of his ruling Congress party. But instead he is focused on grassroots politics in Uttar Pradesh, the country's most politically vital state, which votes in local elections this month and where Congress struggles for support at the ballot box. "Rahul Gandhi's obsession is not to be PM," the 41-year-old told a news conference . "Rahul Gandhi's obsession is to work for the people."

Party insiders and confidants say Gandhi is looking beyond the government's present troubles, and his strategy of building support from the ground up guarantees a long-term future for Congress and, by extension, for himself. "Tomorrow if he gets up in the morning and wants to become prime minister, he will be sworn in," said a federal minister. "It will take a few hours, only the procedural time." But the minister added: "Rahul is not in a hurry, he does not want to grab any post, he wants to earn it. He is reluctant to do it any other way. He is a long-race horse."

Still, with the party mired in corruption scandals and in danger of being forced into an early general election or thrown out at the next scheduled poll in 2014, Gandhi may find he has no throne to ascend to. Pressure is mounting on him from within the troubled party to take charge because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is seen as a lame-duck and an electoral liability.

The Nehru-Gandhi family has ruled the country for most of its 65 years since independence, and many Indians seem to take it for granted that Rahul, the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers, will also one day be their leader.He has studied at Harvard and Cambridge universities, worked under a false name at a London management consultancy and has spent the last seven years as a member of parliament from a family constituency in Uttar Pradesh.

It has been a long apprenticeship, in the shadow of his Italian-born mother, Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party and - many say - the real centre of power in India. Sonia underwent treatment overseas last year, reportedly for cancer, and while she has resumed party duties there are doubts about how long she can maintain the pace. Given the risk of a leadership vacuum, it may soon be now-or-never time for her son.

But since 2004 when he first joined parliament, Gandhi has focused much of his political energy on Uttar Pradesh, which with 200 million people would be the world's fifth-most populous country if independent. It sends 80 members to the 543 elected parliamentary seats in New Delhi, making control of the state crucial to run the federal government.

Congress has not won a state election in Uttar Pradesh for 22 years, which largely explains its inability to take power on its own in New Delhi. It has won the last two federal elections with coalition governments, which have left it vulnerable to demands for cabinet posts and policy compromises. And it is seen losing ground. An opinion poll by the India Today weekly said that Congress would win only about 110 seats in parliament if national elections were held now, its lowest tally ever and against the 206 it won at the last elections.

"There is clear public dissatisfaction over the manner in which the government has responded to charges of corruption," one magazine said. "The government's economic mismanagement, reflected in stalling growth and persistent inflation, is also taking a toll on its electoral fortunes."

Gandhi's slowly-slowly strategy and his decision to stake so much on Uttar Pradesh could go horribly wrong if Congress fails to make a good showing in the state assembly elections and at least become part of a coalition government there.

No one in the family has been as good an orator as Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister. Still, they are perhaps the only politicians whose appeal cuts across caste and religious lines, which decide most elections in the country.

The political lineage, likened to the Kennedy's in the United States both for the power it has enjoyed and the tragedies that have befallen it, started with Motilal Nehru, a Brahmin from Kashmir who practiced law in Uttar Pradesh in the early 20th century and gave up a Western lifestyle to become president of the Congress party. His son, Jawaharlal, was independence hero Mahatma Gandhi's closest confidant and prime minister from 1947 until 1964. Jawaharlal's daughter, Indira, married a Gandhi who was no relation to the Mahatma, but the name was certainly no handicap in politics.

Indira became prime minister in 1966, but was voted out in 1977 after imposing a harsh internal emergency on the country, becoming the first of her family to lose a national election. But the mystique of the dynasty brought her back to power within three years and her son Rajiv took over after she was shot dead by two bodyguards in 1984. Rajiv

Those killings have made Rahul, his mother Sonia and sister Priyanka among the most protected people in the world. Armed men in suits and dark glasses guard them at public functions and, for security reasons, Rahul even used a false name at university and when he worked in London at the turn of the century.

But the family tries to balance the security constraints with campaigning and regular public appearances.

Sonia, who took over the presidency of the Congress some years after her husband's death but refused to become prime minister, gets much respect in public, for eschewing office, her faultless Hindi and conservative Indian dress and also for staying on despite the tragedies. Priyanka Gandhi attracts large crowds when she campaigns for her brother, partly because of her uncanny resemblance to her grandmother, Indira, but she is staying away from a wider role.

In the end, what Rahul Gandhi does or is able to do will be decided by the Uttar Pradesh elections. A poor performance by Congress may embolden the opposition and force an early general election; a good showing will give the party more space to put its house in order and allow Gandhi to take his time.

OK, yesterday I put up a You Tube Clip of Johnny Cash singing Danny Boy. Today I am going to share another slip of one of my old favorites -it came out back in 1968 while I was still in student government in school. I remember it being a hit at the time and played on the radio at lot for a short while, It always brings back found memories -both of those years and the years that followed....

Live Long and Prosper....

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