Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Elasticity of Democracy

Of the numerous forms of government and governance that have taken shape in the modern world, the two most prominent have been Communism and democracy. While the former took the world by storm in the twentieth century, it withered under some of its own ideological contradictions and due to the lack of realization of people’s free will to own property and wealth. The latter has proved to be more successful in terms of acceptability and admiration amongst most nations of the world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, democracy has become the norm to the modern world akin to what the monarchy was to the Middle Ages – accepted and unchallenged. However, if the American War of Independence in the eighteenth century is taken as the birth of modern democracy, in the intervening three centuries has democracy proven to be the fool proof model of governance, a form of governance acceptable to all races, classes and sections of society. Furthermore, is democracy a strict form of government, much like theology, or can democracy in the words of King Abdullah of Jordan mean “different things to different peoples”. There are four telling examples from the past seven years that outline how democracy has been stretched to its limits, where leaders and governments have come to the helm and governed against what could be called the people’s mandate.

The principal example of this stretch of democracy is from the United States of America, the oldest democracy in the world. In 2000, the Presidential campaign saw the incumbent Vice President, Al Gore square off against the Republican contender George Bush. Both men gave a meaty fight which polarized the country down the middle. The results from Florida were contested and for the first time in Presidential elections did the Supreme Court have to intervene and declare George Bush the winner. It was also the first election where "hanging chads" saw more airtime than policy initiatives from both candidates. While the 2000 Presidential election results have been dissected ad nauseum by political pundits, journalists and politicians alike, the majority of the American population that voted for Gore felt that democracy had cheated them. How can democracy be representative when such a major section of society vehemently opposed the candidate that was elected? The ‘first past the post’ style of democracy was truly stretched in this election and many argued whether the “majority wins” model is truly representative in such cases where the verdict could have gone either way. Proponents of democracy argue that while some of the arguments against first past the post may hold merit, ultimately it is not possible for a democratic system to fulfill the desires of everyone; rather, it is the elected leader who must unite his country. The reason why this polarization has been so exacerbated in case of the US is simple. One, George Bush failed to unite his country even in his second term in office and second, more cynically, this sort of a result in the developing world would have been labeled as a sham, but because it happened in the cradle of democracy, the debate raged rather than calls for a re-election.

The merits and drawbacks of the system aside, an important question also arises from the very source that ensures democratic norms – the electorate. If one leaves the debatable 2000 elections aside and considers the 2004 Presidential elections the role of the electorate is clearly in question. If the country was outraged by the manner with which Bush used his money and political influence to win the presidency why was he not removed in 2004? There again, the proponents of democracy argue that the Bush beat John Kerry in real voting numbers and hence democracy cannot be faulted as a system. However, if one were to again leave the 2004 results aside and blame the real threat that the US faced post the September 11 attacks and also the lackluster campaign that Kerry ran, once can safely say that Bush cannot be faulted for stretching democracy. Having said that, 2007 is a telling example of the stretch of democracy. With approval ratings being the lowest for any president in living memory and a war that has turned the nation against the White House, how can democracy be truly representative if a majority of people are against the man who is in charge. Surely, by voting out a Republican held Senate and Congress will not fundamentally change the policies of the President, as has been demonstrated recently with the Presidential veto on two important bills. The right to impeach a President too lies with Capitol Hill, but if a large swathe of the electorate have lost trust in the administration why is the Hill not moving an impeachment motion? Is there not a disconnect between the public sentiment and the policies of their elected representatives. Further, how can the people complain against the President, when a majority amongst them has voted for the incumbent?

The second example is that of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a few days time the most successful Labour Party prime minister will make way for his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. Having won three elections, he finally had to make way for his closest rival Brown. But here again is there not a stretching of democratic norms. For the people in 2005 voted for Tony Blair for a full term as Premier. Infact, during the campaign Blair talked about a possible fourth term. He neither indicated a date to leave or whether he will be quitting in the months or years to come. While it would be naïve to deny the likelihood of Brown taking over from Blair, democratic openness should have allowed for fresh elections in case of the incumbent stepping down. The British media has used words like ‘coronation’ and ‘anointment’ for Brown’s succession to 10 Downing. That to most observers that seems like a leaf out of the dictionary of monarchs rather than a modern democracy. So, both examples do highlight the shortfalls inherent in both forms of democracy – the Presidential and the Westminster model of governance.

The third example is that of the Palestinian group Hamas. In an election in 2006, Hamas won with overwhelming majority in what were called free and fair elections by most Western governments. What followed was a total subversion of the mandate with the Western world imposing sanctions on the newly elected government. While for decades the West talked about the welfare, freedom and dignity of the Palestinian people, why could the West not accept the voice of the electorate? It would be dangerous to defend the actions and policies of Hamas, a known militant group hell bent on destroying Israel, but then there are countless examples of democratically elected governments that have waged wars against their neighbors. Further, in all fairness, the West never let the Hamas led government take charge of the Palestinian territories with immediate economic sanctions crippling the virtually non-existent Palestinian economy and radicalizing youths against the West. The relevant question that comes up is this – is democracy only considered credible if the person in charge is friendly with the West or a section of the developed world? Does the people’s mandate lose its significance because of the elected government’s non – conformity with the foreign and economic policies of the West? By systematically removing the Hamas government from power, the West has further reduced the chances of heralding democracy to the Middle East anytime soon.

The final example comes from our own politics. 2004 is considered a watershed for the Congress party in India. They not only strengthened their position as a party, they left political pundits red-faced by bucking the trend and coming to power in the general elections held that year. The campaign and the run-up to the elections saw a clear division of all political parties into the NDA camp and the then non-existent UPA. The NDA had projected Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the nominee for the premiership. The Congress on the other hand projected, albeit unofficially, Sonia Gandhi as their prime ministerial candidate. Today, the Congress party may deny any such move to install Mrs. Gandhi as prime minister; history though, exposes their lie. In 1998, after mid term elections, the Congress Party went to the President where Mrs. Gandhi proclaimed that she had the required 272 to form a government and become premier. The proclamation fizzled out due a variety of reasons and Sonia lost her chance to become Prime Minister. The 2004 campaigning saw the Congress actively looking to project Mrs. Gandhi for the top post in case the party came to power. Most Congress voters voted for them in the hope of installing Mrs. Gandhi as the premier. Had the debate on a foreign born becoming the prime minister not gained considerable ground as it did during the campaign, Mrs. Gandhi would have become India’s prime minister. However, her now famous “inner voice” spoke and she decided to hand over the premiership to Dr. Manmohan Singh. While Dr. Singh enjoys excellent credentials as an economic powerhouse and for his scholarly insights, his electoral campaigns, though, were a major source of embarrassment for the Congress party. In such a scenario, where the section of the population who voted for Congress wanted to see Sonia Gandhi as prime minister, did she not disrespect their mandate by installing Dr. Singh? Was democracy not stretched to its very limits with such a move? How can the Prime Minister confidently say that he is the right man for the job when not one person voted for him per se, to take over the mantle of premiership? How can such a move be called a representation of the national sentiment when the person who people voted for backs out the very last minute. More importantly, has Sonia Gandhi not shied away from the responsibility the nation’s electorate had entrusted in her?

So, where lies the solution and how can democracy become more representative and ever evolving in the modern world. While for smaller countries the luxury of a re-election is an option, as is the right to impeach their head of State or government. But for larger nations like us, the idea of having a run-off as in the case of the French Presidential election, till a single party wins a majority is neither feasible nor will it be representative. The right to recall a government is an option that is a fundamental requirement of every democracy. A referendum is the key to ensuring whether a government stays or goes. While the idea may be extravagant and expensive, it will put the checks and balances that are required to make democracy truly representative. However much tinkering that we may do with the democratic model, the beauty of the system is the very fact that we can modify and criticize it. So while there may not be solutions to make democracy truly representative, we should never underestimate the power of democracy and its ability to change nations – like ours. Democracy has ensured free speech and right to ownership, a fundamental of human nature that has not changed since the evolution of man, and one must respect the democratic model on that count, flawed as it maybe, but then so are humans.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Palestine Churning - The point of no return

The crisis in the Palestinian territories seems to be nose-diving towards complete anarchy. The events of last week has left the world wondering whether we are all witnessing the partitioning of Palestinian territories even before the people of Palestine could achieve complete statehood. The two rival factions – Fatah and Hamas have fought each other to take control of their respective strongholds of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The outing of Fatah from Gaza was particularly brutal with eyewitness accounts of gross human rights violations and the unashamed execution of Fatah members by the Hamas faction. The Fatah side reacted almost immediately and has now ousted the Hamas from the West Bank in a tit for tat battle of attrition. The unity government, which was formed after the Mecca Declaration in March this year, saw hopes for peace rise with both Hamas and Fatah sharing power in order to achieve the ultimate goal of complete statehood. The euphoria was short lived, even my Middle Eastern standards, and within months the two sides were fighting street battles through their militias and political battles in the prime minister’s cabinet. That the West had completely cut foreign aid and the fragile territories energy supply led to increased frustrations amongst politicians and ordinary Palestinians alike. The stated aim of the embargo was to make the Hamas renounce violence and recognize the state of Israel. As it unfortunately turned out, the West’s sanctions not only took the wheels of the nascent Palestinian government, it further hardened the extremist outfits of Hamas, who saw this as another injustice by the West in order to arm twist the Palestinian people to recognize Israel. Ultimately, the viability of the unity government seemed vulnerable from the start and the West’s actions precipitated its downfall. As things stand, President Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah, has dismissed the Hamas led Ismael Hanieyah government and has sworn in Salaam Fayyad as the new interim Prime Minister. Fayyad, a former finance minister, will now pave the way for a new government that will be elected by the Palestinian people. The Fayyad premiership will appeal to most Palestinians as he is seen as a non-partisan independent belonging to neither faction.

The paramount question that faces the leaders of the Middle East and the West is how to get the defunct road map to peace back on track and how to ensure that this current crisis does not take on multi-national dimensions. To avoid this domino effect to chaos, the West, particularly the US, will urgently need to learn from its mistakes and take some crucial leadership steps to bring back Palestine from the proverbial brink. First and foremost, there is an urgent need to appoint a US representative to the Middle East. The current twin pronged approach towards diplomacy involves the use of multinational and multi body instruments like the Quartet, which includes the U.S., EU, Russia and the UN or to use shuttle diplomacy through Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Neither has proved effective, with the Quartet not making any significant progress on the Oslo accords and the inherent disadvantages of a multibody approach causing things to go nowhere. The use of Rice as an effective mediator is seen as ad-hoc and only as a fire-fighting mechanism with the Secretary of State flying into the region only at a time of crisis. The US has gained tremendously from use of its special envoy for the North Korean talks in Christopher Hill. His persistence and presence in the region has ensured that the North Koreans have taken encouraging steps to bring its nuclear weapons under international inspections. This after the first testing of a nuclear device by the North Koreans seemed to have spelt the death knell to negotiations. By persisting with diplomacy and by continuing to talk to its friends and enemies the US can expect favorable results from the North Korean talks. A similar replication of this model needs to infused into the Middle East. Cynics may argue that with only eighteen months left in the Bush administrations tenure, appointing a Middle East representative will achieve little. While that may be true, it will however, send a clear signal of America’s intent on resolving this decades old dispute. Optimistically, this step may actually help in achieving some progress on President Bush’s stated two-nations living side-by-side policy initiative. The chequered legacy that the President will most definitely leave behind will also indict him for further deteriorating the Middle East conflict rather than improving it in any measurable manner. A peace envoy may just help the Bush Administration clear the air about the seriousness with which it takes the Arab-Israel dispute.

The other key learning that the West must take out of the entire crisis is that embargo’s, travel bans and economic sanctions on most occasions hurt the common man rather than having its intended effect on the ruling dispensation of any country. The list of failed sanctions is elaborate and some notable examples include Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Syria and now the Palestinian government under Hamas. Closer home, the sanctions that followed the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998 had little effect on both countries and ultimately the US had to remove sanctions and restore complete diplomatic relations with both countries. In the specific case of the Palestinian territories the ordinary Palestinian has felt continuously let down by the West. They voted when the West asked for the spread of democracy in the region. They elected a Hamas government, whom they thought would bring great social change after years of Fatah misrule and corruption. Hamas, on the other hand, had done some commendable work in the field of health and education in the Gaza strip, which led the electorate to believe that this would be the way of an elected Hamas government. However, Hamas continued to rule like a militia in charge rather than respect the mandate for change. The Hamas top brass felt that their election was the ringing endorsement for a further hardening of its people’s stance against Israeli occupation. They not only upped the ante against the Israeli armed forces but also played a crucial role in opening a second front in Gaza after the Israel- Hezbollah war broke out in 2006. The Palestinian people suffered further with the increased sanctions that were put into place by the West for the actions of the Hamas government. Rising unemployment and a rage against the west ensured that the militias only gained recruits but also a sense of injustice and a crisis was all for the making. The Palestinian people are now suffering the fallout of the power vacuum that has left them wondering what the future holds for them. The destructive role of sanctions has once again toppled a government, albeit, with a residual chaos that the West will find difficult to handle. The Hamastan, as some analysts are calling the new realities of Gaza, will further witness crushing sanctions which will not affect the Iranian financed Hamas, but the ordinary man, woman and child on the streets of Gaza.

The U.S will also have to realize that the proxy war it is playing with the Iranians is only harming its interests while at the same time strengthening Iran. The West’s call for Iran to end its nuclear program has fallen on deaf ears and the Iranians are playing a concerted public relations exercise to ensure that they are portrayed as the victims and the US as the aggressor in the region. The use of Iranian manufactured arms and weapons by Shia groups in Iraq, the Hezbollah in Lebanon and by Hamas in Gaza is indeed worrying. However, the West must count its options before opening too many theatres of conflict with the chances of winning any being rare. The Israel – Lebanon conflict of 2006 was widely seen as a defeat for Israel. The Hezbollah emerged stronger and in doing so has ensured that the Western backed Fioud Siniora government is further weakened by assassinations of prominent politicians. In Iraq, the situation is clearly not under control with sectarian strife assuming the 2006 proportions with a string of bombings of Shia and Sunni mosques meant to foment tension and violence. The Palestinian territories are further witnessing chaos. In such a situation, the American ploy to ratchet up the pressure on Iran will only aggravate the problems of the region rather than alleviate them. The Bush administration will have to ease its ego over Iran and put Iran in historical context. For better part of the last two millennia, Iran’s Persian Empire had been unconquered and unchallenged. The Persians always ruled areas that included modern Iran and no other kingdom or empire came close to defeating the might of the Persians. After the Islamic revolution, Iran has now again wanted its place as amongst the most influential countries in the world. With ample oil reserves and a sizeable army it has gained influence in the region over the years. The Iranians, it must be noted, helped the United States overthrow the Taliban on its Eastern flanks and ensured that the Northern Alliance took control of Afghanistan. However, with the war in Iraq, Iran sought to gain influence in the only country with a Shia majority apart from itself. The Americans failed to take this into account before the invasion. Iran now looks to dominate all Shia areas, which include parts of Lebanon. However, history has also taught us that the Arabs and Persians have not taken to each other for centuries. In this regional fight the Americans should stay clear of hostilities that date back centuries rather than blatantly take sides. In real terms it means that the Americans should look to placate Iran in order to extract benefits in Iraq and Palestine. Fighting through Israel and western backed governments will only help Iran not harm it.

The Arab people, including the Palestinians, have also long felt the desire to break free from American hegemony in the region that exists either through US backed governments like in Lebanon or through physical occupation as in the case of Iraq. These “client” governments, so installed by the blessing of the West, are seen as western hypocrisy by the Arabs. The West selectively prescribes democracy for some states while blesses regimes with leaders of questionable constitution. The idea that “one size does not fit all” irks the Arabs into believing that the West and the US are advocating democracy only for its own Machiavellian benefits. The US and West must give up that notion as backing non-democratic, corrupt regimes will only further throw up more Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s of the region. While such a u-turn may not be possible for years, even decades, it a fundamental shift in foreign policy that the West must be ready for if it wants things to change on the ground.

So today, the world is watching Palestine return to chaos after only days of calm. Not one analyst is ready to wager on the outcome of the current churning that’s in progress. What is true is that Palestine has taken a route that will significantly change the region and the Middle East peace process permanently. For it is the first time that the West will have to contend with not one, but two Palestinian entities. The West has already shown its open backing for Fatah, and in doing so, has ensured that Hamas will further want to show the Fatah faction as being the lapdog of the U.S. The open backing for Fatah may encourage aid to come the West Bank, in the long term, however, it will also lead to a backlash against Fatah, who will be seen as siding with the West at a time of a fresh Gaza crisis. Days after the overthrow of Saddam, then National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice has proclaimed that the route to resolving the Palestinian peace process was through Baghdad. With Gaza looking more and more like Baghdad, one wonders whether the ghost of Baghdad is coming to haunt Gaza.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Madam President: Masterstroke?

“ I’m always rather nervous about how you talk about women who are active in politics, whether they want to be talked about as women or as politicians”
John F. Kennedy
(Courtesy TOI)

After much political deliberations and consensus building, Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of the UPA, finally declared the UPA’s candidate for the post of the 13th President of India. Pratibha Patil emerged as the surprise consensus candidate and the announcement also sounded the end of the Shivraj Patil and Sushil Kumar Shinde presidential campaigns. In doing so, the Congress is claiming the moral high ground – for in the 60th year of the Republic’s independence the country will have a woman President – and it is the Congress that will go down in history as having put her there. The move is tactically smart, as the Congress has pulled a “Kalam” in throwing an option that most political parties will have difficulty opposing. In Governor Patil, you have a North Indian, Maharashtrian, upper caste Thakur, stature (though as compared to Shivraj Patil and Shinde most Governors in the country could beat them on that count), a known loyalist and most of all she is a woman. That this lady existed with such perfect credentials in the national scene and why she was never considered till the day of reckoning is a mystery. It does seem that with her nomination, the brilliant career of Mr. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat seems to have hit the end of the road. There is no doubt that all the talk of cross voting will now come to naught and Mr. Shekhawat will contest as a token opposition candidate.

While the Patil nomination does serve the Congress and its UPA allies well, the fact that the woman president card was brought in so late in the discussions does indicate that the UPA was not keen to have a woman candidate right from the start. Any insinuation that it was a planned move to install a woman at Raisina Hill is specious. As the right wing media and the opposition is claiming that after Sonia Gandhi’s candidate Shivraj Patil was out rightly rejected, the Congress and Gandhi decided to fall back on the relatively safe and non-controversial candidature of the other Patil. And in choosing Patil the Congress ensured that whatever resistance the Left might put up would evaporate. For the Left having put the candidature of Captain Lakhsmi Sehgal in the last presidential elections, rejecting a woman candidate was not an option. The allies, including the DMK, NCP and RJD seem to go along with her candidature and so Patil’s moment in history finally arrived. With the position of the President more or less decided, the fight for the Vice President’s chair will soon hot up. It is highly likely that the DMK will push for their man for the post – for the unwritten understanding is that if the President is from the North, her Vice President should be from the South. While some analysts argue that the Left will stake a claim for the VP’s position, it does seem unlikely, as the Congress would not want the Left to emerge as the kingmaker with having scuttled the Shivraj Patil candidature and then installing one of their comrades in the Vice President’s post. The DMK, having just recovered from the embarrassing family soap opera, will press for their man for the job, but with the Prime Minister facing flak for having ministers thrust upon them form his allies, like in the case of A Raja for the Communications portfolio, it remains to be seen how seriously the DMK candidature is taken within the power circles of the Congress.

The main drawback in installing a woman president seems to be the fate of the Women’s Reservation Bill. With a woman at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, one feels that the call for the bill to be passed will diminish rather than gather pace. It is unlikely that in a male dominated political system the male politician will let go of the Parliament after having seen the all male bastion of the Rashtrapati Bhavan having already being breached. If the political casualty of a woman president is the women’s reservation bill, not many tears will be shed across the political spectrum.

So while many questions will continue to be raised about Pratibha Patil and her candidature, the Congress will feel that they have played a masterstroke in having virtually installed a loyalist in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. In doing so the party has once again elevated itself from the pack by showing “political morality” with respect to their power hungry foes. However, as soon as the Congress takes the moral high ground on issues, some tough questions do arise. Namely, does Pratibha Patil “fit the bill” because she is a woman or because she is Gandhi- Nehru loyalist? Secondly, is loyalty to a political family more than to a political cause the only criteria for selecting a President? Was the NDA for all its tokenism in installing a Muslim as the President, not choose a candidate that made the nation proud and who yet was not a BJP loyalist. If Sonia Gandhi was so keen to give woman their due in the 60th year of India’s independence, why didn’t she show her political resolve and declare only a woman candidate from the start? These questions will find scant answers, especially from the UPA. It is without a doubt though, that when all the talk about the Presidential polls is written and analyzed, having a woman president will make the nation proud. And the UPA knows it.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Caste Clashes - The UPA's Giving?
Rajasthan and its neighboring states have experienced widespread violence and loss of life and limb over the contentious issue of extending reservation benefits under the Scheduled Tribes category to the Gujjar community. The community, currently under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota, has vocally wanted to move down the social ladder and be placed alongside the Meena community, as ST’s, to enjoy more privileges in education and employment. Successive governments in Rajasthan have promised the ST status to the Gujjars and have failed to live up to a promise that constitutionally no state government can promise as a certainty. Violence, however, had not erupted for quite some time but incidents of the past few days, and the perceived callousness of the Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, has stoked passions and has resulted in road blocks and violence against the police and the Army. The media too has played up this issue of false promises and has tried to implicate the Chief Minister, as a Marie Antionettesque figure, who couldn’t care less about the poor and down trodden in the state. While on the Rajasthan scale the issue seems to resulting in animosity against the incumbent BJP government, on a pan national scale such violence can be attributed to the ‘social justice’ being churned out by the ruling UPA and some of its key ministries.

The current violence is truly tragic in many senses. Sociologically, the incident shows the pathetic result of the quota/reservation Raj in the name of social justice. Reservations in the past two decades have only further divided India on caste lines rather than unite them by providing an egalitarian social platform. The dream to integrate castes by undoing the past injustices to the lower castes has actually turned sour and the nation finds itself in a peculiar situation. This may actually be the first time that a particular community has asked for its ‘demotion’ on the caste ladder to a much lower standing. Rather than wanting to benefit from its present standing in society, a community would actually want to be lowered to a category that may bring rejection from society, though, with benefits in finding jobs and a decent education. The mentality is particularly terrifying if it were to be repeated amongst other similar communities. Ironically, India could end up becoming a country where while we move forward economically, our people would be wanting to move ‘backward’ socially. The other danger that has played out as a severe consequence is the inter-community tension between the Gujjars and the Meenas, who are under the Scheduled Tribes category. Sensing having to share the quota pie with their Gujjar counterparts, the Meena community has clashed with the Gujjars to end their protests. Such has been the ferocity of the clash on both sides that there have been unwarranted death and destruction to public property. The fear remains that the violence may spread to other areas and between other communities, which could be disastrous. The political leadership at the state and the centre must end their blame game and maturely deal with a situation that can ultimately harm both governments, irrespective of who rules where. The third important observation in the entire conflagration has been the glaring alacrity with which the political parties have been promising the ST status to the Gujjars in their political manifestos. The BJP came to power in 2003 riding on a manifesto that amongst other things promised an ST status to the Gujjars. Knowing fully that a decision to include or exclude any community from any lists, be it SC’s, ST’s or OBC’s is a federal subject. The promise on the manifesto speaks volumes of how a manifesto has become a mere tool for populism rather than a document that is a policy compass for political parties. The BJP must take the blame for promising something that its top brass knew could not be achieved, at least not completely at their behest. The Congress too must take the blame for the manner in which its young parliamentarian, Sachin Pilot, of the violence affected Dausa constituency, has hit at the state government. Without realizing that the state government can merely recommend which communities are to be included into a particular list, and not ensure any such move, Pilot too is misguiding his constituency on the role of the state government in the entire genesis of the crisis. It would have been far wiser for Pilot to have blamed the state government for not looking out for the Gujjars and then taken the onus on himself to ensure that the UPA in the centre would do such a thing. But political myopia could make Pilot only see benefits for his Dausa voter and in doing so ensured that a battle with the state machinery was inevitable.

The analysis of the Gujjar-Meena clash would not be complete without understanding why have things come such a stage. It is without a doubt that since the UPA government has taken charge in 2004, its social engineering project, spearheaded by the Union Minister for Human Resources, Arjun Singh and helped by regional parties and ministers like Social Justice Minister Meira Kumar have ensured not only does our nation continue to be divided on caste and class lines, in fact they have helped in a increasing the gap between communities. The past two years have seen virtual uprisings by the urban middle class, the rural poor, the Muslim minority and the Hindu majority to blame the central government and its policies towards social justice. The HRD ministry did itself no favors with the OBC quota in higher education, which led to street protests by students. Then came the Muslim quota and head count issue by constituting the Sachar commission. These two decisions by the UPA have helped increase social divisions amongst various communities both in the urban and rural settings rather than helping them solve the age-old divisions. The nation had left the days of a Rajiv Goswami immolating himself towards a more socially inclusive India. However, the UPA government seems to have brought back the days of social tensions and a sharply divided India wanting to label his fellow citizen on caste and religion. While the intentions of the UPA may be noble, wanting every Indian, rather than a privileged few, to share the economic and social upsurge India is witnessing, an honest assessment of how far its policies have been able to achieve that is grim. Alienating one community or a section of populace at the cost of the other can never lead to social harmony. UPA think tanks and sharp shooters are quick to draw attention of the prime minister and his cabinet to rising prices as a possible source for any electoral reversals in 2009, they have failed to even scratch the surface of the impact their social policies will have for the UPA and the Congress in particular in the coming elections. If anything, its social policies have not only alienated voters in the urban areas, who are the biggest casualties in the OBC quota issue, they have not made any inroads in the Dalit, backward, OBC or Muslim vote bank with their populist quota policies, as was seen in the UP, Punjab and Uttrakhand elections. What they have done is to ensure that more and more people are feeling cheated by the system and by empty promises of their politicians. The Gujjars demonstration and the Meena retaliation is a manifestation of that anger and revile at the UPA’s policies and hollow promises of politicians in general. It is pertinent that the UPA government not dismiss these violent acts as mere aberrations related to a particular community, it should rightly be alarmed and introspect at the prospect of how its own policies may become the unfortunate cause of mayhem in the times to come.