Monday, February 23, 2015

AAP’s Kejriwal still has a way to go

The stunning success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi Legislative Elections is still being digested by most observers in India, but that has not stopped a wave of triumphalism from the group’s supporters.

‘BJP Juggernaut derailed’, ‘Delhi rebuffs Modi’, ‘a message from above’ — just some of the slogans that have been bandied around in the wake of the AAP winning 67 of the Legislative Assembly’s 70 seats against three for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

AAP, or Common Man’s Party, was formed just over two years ago and is led by the charismatic Arvind Kejriwal. It did well in its first electoral test, the Delhi election of 2013 and formed a short-lived minority government in a hung Parliament.

Unable to get his legislative program through Kejriwal resigned, bringing on the latest poll.

In between AAP made little impact in the 2014 national election, winning just four seats as the BJP swept to power.

As commentator Rajdeep Sardesai has pointed out, Delhi is not India and an election for 70 Assembly seats in a city-state cannot be compared to the conquest of the country.

“It would be a grave mistake to expect Kejriwal to become a magnet for anti-Modi forces, or for the AAP to now challenge the BJP in other parts of the country,” Sardesai says.

The AAP must also try to shed the image that it is a one-man band. Beyond Kejriwal it contains few well-known political figures and in the days since the poll newspapers and television channels have constantly referred to “Kejriwal’s victory” mentioning his party almost as an afterthought.

Having said that, a healthy democracy needs an effective Opposition and that is not being mounted by the Congress Party, which Modi and the BJP ousted so comprehensively from Government last May.

As an example, up to the 2013 election Congress was the Government in Delhi. Today it is shut out of the Assembly, failing to win as single seat. As the AAP matures it is clear it will be occupying a centre-left position in Indian politics, once the preserve of Congress.

It is not the BJP that has the most to fear from the emergence of Kejriwal and AAP as a new force on the political scene.




Saturday, February 7, 2015

Peace or war? The tipping point is near

These are grim days for Europe. Increasingly observers are seeing parallels between what is happening in Ukraine today with the Austrian Anschluss and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Indeed, just like Neville Chamberlain 77 years ago, we have French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel scuttling around European capitals with yet another peace plan, yet another proposal for a ceasefire.

They are good people, honestly working to extract the continent from the deepening mire which Russian President Vladimir Putin has fermented in Ukraine – but just like the German Fuhrer of past times Putin will likely accept the plan, promise to do everything he can to end the fighting, and then continue on the same course he has been pursuing over the past months.

That is to ensure enough Ukrainian territory is captured to provide a land bridge between the Russian mainland and the Crimean Peninsula which he seized last year as the next stage in his long-held dream to rebuild the old Soviet Empire.

And of course he will continue with the fiction that his invasion is actually an internal popular rising of eastern separatists determined to shake off the oppressive yoke of the ‘illegal Nazi regime’ in Kiev.

Separatists who have somehow obtained so much sophisticated weaponry that they are able to smash their way through the professional Ukrainian army; separatists whose offensives always seem to coincide with convoys of Russian ‘humanitarian aid’ in unmarked, covered trucks.

Yet when this is pointed out to Russia’s representatives in international forums, the faked outrage is worthy of any melodrama. It has been said the grim Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, is in the job because he is the only one able to keep a straight face when delivering his risible messages.

There is, however, one major difference between events of 1938 and today. All those years ago the United States was a neutral observer, the feeling there that it was Europe’s problem to solve.

Today the American attitude is very different and in Washington over the weekend the debate is shifting, probably decisively, towards supplying the Government in Kiev with the weapons its forces desperately need.

As the invaders rollup more territory – around 500 square kilometres in the past four months by most accounts – and as Ukraine’s under-equipped defenders face an armoured assault which includes Russian-built T-80 and T-72 tanks, the tipping point is fast approaching.

Washington is holding off for the moment, giving the Hollande-Merkel peace initiative one last chance, but if the White House sees that plan is going the same way as September’s failed Minsk Agreement it will act, and the heavy transports will be taking off for Kiev carrying the means that will enable the country’s beleaguered forces to properly fight back.