Welcome Back to Government, Mr. SM Krishna!

[This piece was written before the allocation of portfolios. SM Krishna has now been appointed as the Foreign Minister of India]

Mr. SM Krishna, Foreign Minister of India

Mr. SM Krishna, Foreign Minister of India

Today, I am elated to learn that Sonia Gandhi has finally decided to rehabilitate SM Krishna to his rightful place in the power hierarchy. He could well make a mark as India’s Foreign/Commerce Minister (whichever is eventually offered to him), what with his vision for technology, reformist mindset and more importantly, having a better understanding than most in the Congress party of India’s emerging place in the new global order — be it globalization or the war on terrorism.

My secret wish is to see him at the helm of Foreign Ministry, enlightening Barack Obama why shipping Bangalore’s jobs to Buffalo would spell doom to Silicon Valley, CA. Of course, I am mindful that I have no voice in 10, Janpath. It is a no-brainer that he’ll get along well with Hillary Clinton given his polished and suave personality and openly-expressed admiration for her husband. I’m not so sure how he’ll deal with China or Pakistan, but he deserves a chance to prove himself on the world stage.

Let me give you a quick brief about SM Krishna, for those of you not aware of him. He was the Chief Minister of my native state Karnataka in the early 2000’s. Karnataka, and especially Bangalore, was fortunate to have such a personality during the height of DotCom boom across the world. He brought global attention to the then-sleepy and unknown city of Bangalore overnight. Bangalore boomed as the Silicon Valley of India, creating IT jobs for youth from every nook and corner of the country. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he is single-handedly responsible for what we know of Bangalore today — for others who occupied Karnataka CM’s chair before and after him have done precious little; some have even actively engaged in destroying the good image of the city. While there is some merit to the argument that his focus on Bangalore came at the cost of rural development, one cannot deny that Bangalore’s economy has had a spill-over effect on Hyderabad and other second-rung cities like Mysore, Mangalore, and rural Karnataka.

After Krishna’s defeat in Karnataka Assembly 2004, the treatment meted out to him over the last five years, on the pretext of keeping Deve Gowda and his rivals in Karnataka Congress mollified, was quite unbecoming of Congress High Command. He was demonized for being ‘elite’ and ‘urbane’, and made solely responsible for the defeat. As a punishment, he was unceremoniously dispatched to Mumbai’s Raj Bhavan — despite his clear indication that he had many more years left in active politics. After his stint in Maharashtra, he was sidelined in Karnataka politics too, for the fear that he would drive away rural voters. As a matter of fact, ever since his departure, it is the Congress party that has been sidelined by voters all across Karnataka, both urban and rural.

Let bygones be bygones; there is little to gain by crying foul over sour grapes of the past. Except that we should recognize that — Bangalore, hence Karnataka, and India to an extent, failed to use the services of a visionalry administrator for five long years, when age and energy was on Krishna’s side. I am nevertheless relieved that in 2009, Manmohan Singh and Sonia-Rahul duo have finally come to appreciate that Krishna would be a welcome addition to the Indian cabinet, especially after a historic mandate for Congress party, which has come with the additional burden of responsibility to deliver and live upto the immense expectations of aam aadmi.

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Return of the Economist: My Reflections on Indian Elections 2009

Front-page photo in Indian Express on May 16, 2009

Front-page photo in Indian Express dated May 17, 2009

[If you are unfamiliar with Indian politics, you may want to skip the details!]

To mark the culmination of the Indian elections 2009 today, I thought it appropriate to share with you some of my reflections on this mammoth exercise. These are purely my personal opinions, and you are welcome to disagree.

I should confess that I am not a dispassionate observer of Indian politics; I take sides based on an issue at hand — but have no particular political affiliation by-and-large. From the beginning of this election process, I had been passionately rooting for Manmohan Singh till as recently as a week back. To a slightly lesser degree, I was against LK Advani, mainly because of his opposition to Indo-US Nuclear deal (which seemed opportunistic to me) and the recent Varun Gandhi blunder.

That was when I read this article by Razeen Sally, “Congress deserves to lose India‚Äôs elections,” Financial Times. It made me see Indian politics with a different eye at least for a week before the counting day. On the hindsight, I think it is important for us as responsible citizens and voters (unfortunately I could not vote!) to open our ears to the issues raised by both sides of political divide.

All said and done, I am delighted (and hopefully you are too) that a stable government is returning to New Delhi, with perhaps most-respected middle-class economist politician that India has produced at its helm. However many grouses we may hold against the last five years of UPA government, we can be reassured that Manmohan Singh will neither take Indian governance in a terribly wrong direction, nor will represent a repelling face that can leave India vulnerable as a whole.

Perhaps, the defining statement of this election is that the days of fooling people with:
  • identity politics of caste or
  • using religion as a political tool or
  • ideological rigidity or
  • sheer incompetence and corruption

are over, hopefully forever. It is upto the politicians concerned to read the writing on the wall: To survive in Indian politics today, you need to show some progress in your report card on development. Manmohan Singh, Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Shiela Dikshit, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh, and let me stick my neck out, Narendra Modi represent the face of an Indian politician today, much more than the stereotypical caricature with a Nehru-style topi and a suitcase making hollow promises.

This, to me, is the sign of a maturing democracy. It gives me immense satisfaction to see such a thriving democracy in India, surrounded as it is by countries prone to dictatorships, military takeovers, communist monarchies, and worse, terrorist regimes. This election says there is a reason and a sound chance for an Obama-style Hope in India.

May God bless India!