governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

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Why the BJP will lose- Delhi State elections 2015

sadhu

(photo credit: freepik.com)

There are three reasons why the AAP shall succeed in holding off a BJP government in Delhi.

BICKERING IN THE DELHI BJP

First, the debilitated state of the Delhi BJP unit for which the malfunctioning mike at PM Modi’s election rally on January 10, 2014 was an apt metaphor. PM Modi or his alter ego Amit Shah have not had the mind space to redress what ails it: intra-fighting, lackluster leadership and just sheer inefficiency. These short-comings do not go unnoticed by the demanding and discerning BJP supporters in Delhi. They showed how lukewarm they were during PM Modi’s recent 10th January election rally in sharp contrast to the upbeat mood, way back in March 2014, when Modi first rode into Delhi as the BJPs PM candidate.

In contrast Kejriwal and his team are a chastened lot- apologetic about their earlier blunders; better honed for politics; eager to please and reach out to Delhi voters with a campaign strategy of individualized and personal interaction and long term relationship building which appeals instantly. With the Congress in retreat and tacitly backing AAP-their ideological ally- an AAP surge is certain.

SAFFRON SELF GOAL

Second, the aggressive Hindutva campaign and the indiscipline of the saffron clad BJP ranks, who frankly sound like they belong in the 18th century, with their calls for increasing the production of Hindu babies; a return to the “traditional” subservient role of women in Hindu families and the obsession with religion. India is a religious country and most Indians believe in God and practice a faith. But we do not want to impose our faith on others. Nor do we want others to impose theirs on us. Mutual respect with complete freedom of choice for believers is the Indian social mantra of long standing. All faiths proselytize. But it does not have to be done in a grandstanding and confrontationist manner designed to make headline news. True and efficient Missionaries do not try and get brownie points by advertising what they do.

Departing from the development script immediately risks losing the minority- read Muslim 12% and Christian 1%- vote entirely and alienating intellectuals, secularists and educated, aspirational women and a large segment of the upwardly mobile youth. This is the “self-goal” that the saffron clad leaders of the BJP have scored.

Some also read into this irrational indiscipline of the saffron clad crowd, the invisible hand of the wise men in Nagpur- the RSS.  PM Modi is very much his own man and not the typical RSS acolyte who will allow fuzzy theology to trump real achievements or threaten medium-term National objectives. His agenda is clearly development and this is what got him votes in the 2014 national agenda. He has gone from strength to strength and in the space of a mere one year, has become the sole voice of the BJP/RSS. Nagpur could not have liked that.

More importantly, those, over whose heads PM Modi elevated himself, have an axe to grind and an incentive to undermine him. Ensuring the BJP loses the Delhi poll aligns with this perverse objective.

MISALIGNED AGENDA

Third, the BJP has not reduced its image handicap of being perceived as the party of the rich. The erstwhile refuge of the poor-the Congress- has slipped into oblivion and that mantle has squarely been grabbed by Kejriwal. But it is not just a matter of perception.

The poor-the foot path vendor, small shop keepers, “auto” drivers, retired folk and Dalits (25% population) remember with nostalgia, the short reign of Kejriwal when he cracked down on the widespread petty corruption at the public interface level. In contrast the over 200 days of indirect governance by the BJP Union Government has seen an upsurge in petty corruption and disregard for the poor and the powerless in the Police, the Public Service Departments and the Municipal Corporation.

WHY SHOULD BJP CARE?

How big a blow will it be for the BJP to lose Delhi? Far from bemoaning this outcome the BJP should want to lose this election. There are three reasons for this contrarian view.

First, AAP is likely, at the very least, to be the main and significant opposition. The BJP will be hard put to keep up with the forensic oversight the AAP would unleash on the functioning of a BJP government in Delhi unless the Delhi unit is completely revamped. There is little chance of this happening since too much political capital needs to be invested for this with meagre political returns. This helplessness is best demonstrated by the inability of the BJP to reform the three Municipal Corporations it controls in Delhi. Hence the BJP has very little upside to lose in Delhi.

Second, an AAP government is likely to have the very same limitations it had when it last came to power; an uncooperative National Government controlling both the Police and Urban Development. Delhi is thirsting for more water but with a BJP government in Haryana (the source of additional supply) and a BJP National Government, an AAP government in Delhi will get no help in getting additional supplies. This indicates an AAP government is likely to underperform versus people’s expectations. So best to give them a long rope with which to hang themselves conclusively.

Third, PM Modi’s “A” team (Arun Jaitley-FM and Rajnath Singh-Home Minister) is getting awfully stretched. Big political battles are around the corner; Bihar end 2015 and UP a year later. There is also the job of getting on with routine governance; the nuts and bolts of managing the pipes that deliver public interest outcomes like investment; growth and jobs. Managing Delhi is a distraction the BJP could do without.

Of course the BJP does not have it in its DNA to take the low profile, strategic, sustainable path. Their forte is the “shock and awe” tactic. The focus is very much on glossy, big ticket items: grand new schemes and projects; a “strong Rupee; soaring stock markets; clever IT apps; outstanding oratory and a one-headline-a-day frenetic outreach schedule.

Time for the BJP to do a huddle and think its Delhi election strategy through. Having recently won the war (National Elections), losing a skirmish (Delhi) is ok if it results in winning the battle (Bihar & UP) to follow.

PM Modi “let it be”

mother mary

PM Modi should consider listening to the “words of wisdom” in the famous 1970 Beatles hit –“Let it be”.

Of course in this cruel results centric world of ours, only those who get going fast and hard survive. But there are virtues also to sometimes take a call and just let things be.

Take for instance the manner in which BJP is keeping up the electoral rhetoric. Amit Shah the BJP President is everywhere exhorting voters in Bengali and Tamil to vote BJP. The adoption of “shock and awe” tactics- the use of such overpowering force that it leaves the enemy convinced that defeat is certain and thereby demoralizes them- is useful especially since the BJP is adept at using technology and has “Sangh boots” on the ground to realize this tactic in real life. Such tactics may work, but not against an extremely well organized and determined enemy- like the Afghans or Kejriwal.

In fact Kejriwal would welcome the adoption of the tactic in Delhi to magnify his underdog status and “David versus Goliath” effect. Ironically, in Delhi the BJP is painting Kejriwal as the “shock and awe” man with an Rs 100 crore election budget. Be that as it may but Kejriwal’s electoral base amongst the poor and the Muslims seems intact and he will give the BJP a rum fight.

The real question, is should PM Modi bother about Kejriwal? Some fights are best lost. After all India would lose its democratic plurality if every Indian state government from Kashmir to Kanyakumari became saffron-the BJP colours.

A ceaseless election rhetoric also has the downside that it does not allow the adversarial environment to cool down for the business of governance to commence. This the BJP can ill afford since it has built its election agenda around performance and shall be judged accordingly.

If Parliament cannot function harmoniously; if state governments get deadlocked in confrontation with the center, the development agenda, the BJP so desperately needs to implement, will remain just good intentions and plans.

The dilemma confronting the PM is starkly outlined by the Mid Term Economic Analysis 2014-15, the first document authored by the new Economics team in the Ministry of Finance, headed by Arvind Subramanian.

The Analysis notes that all through the period 2007 to 2010 it is private investment which led growth. It acknowledges that private investment has dried up. Corporates are deep in debt- partly due to their own greed in lapping up cheap debt because all through this period, inflation rates exceeded interest rates making it a no brainer to access debt- but also because investments have not resulted in revenues and remain locked in incomplete projects bedeviled by land unavailability; fuel shortages; contractual disputes; scams; and hold up in environmental approvals.

Rapid institutional reform (the underpinnings of good governance) could attract private investment for growth but the Analysis is starkly honest and pessimistic about the possibility of institutional reforms in the near term.  Apparently the PPP model is “broken” and cannot be fixed in the near term. Ergo the only available, albeit second best option, is to pump up public investment to compensate and hope to kick start private investments.

The efficacy of a public finance led growth option is not the topic of this post. The dangers are well known. No amount of public finance can fix a “broken” system. The more we rely on public finance led investment; national champions and a necessarily interventionist government; the deeper we slide into the morass of mega scams; gold plated projects; monopolies; tariff walls to “nurture” the consequential white elephants built using public finance and a further erosion of state credibility. This is exactly what the opposition wants to happen, so PM Modi should beware.

Political nirvana lies in sticking to the path the PM propounded when the country voted for him.

First, work doggedly to reform institutions in the near term. The near term is not as near as the next budget in February 2015, it is till end 2015 by when election fever will grip Bihar and then Uttar Pradesh. This can be done by building a team of selected state governments, the higher judiciary, Parliament and the trade unions all working to a minimalist institutional reform plan, which stops at causing unbearable (and uncompensated) pain to any one actor. That is the essence of democracy.

Second, PM Modi should rise above the metric of stock market numbers. What matters to him is an improvement in the lives of the average voter.  These are not people who live or die by what is happening on Dalal Street. Stick to the “micro economic” problem of making their lives better and here we have a problem. The ongoing deflation (reduction) in rural wages, as the Analysis maps, is not a desirable outcome for the poor, especially in an environment in which government servants are 100% inflation indexed.

But above all the PM has a political choice to make. Is it better for the BJP to continue to hog headlines via an adversarial electoral agenda or reserve the “shock and awe” effect for later in 2015 when preparations for Bihar and then Uttar Pradesh elections kick-in?

He would be well advised, in these troubled times, to “listen to Mother Mary and let it be”.

(This blog is dedicated to my Grand Nephew Angad Ahluwalia, age 6, whose favourite song is “Let it Be” and whose current ambition is to be a Lead Guitarist in a band.)

Careful with the eyes and ankles

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Sex is an outcome but also often the cause of inflamed passions. Regulating sex through law has a downside because the adversarial, legal process we follow is pretty poor at establishing “guilt”. The police are so busy lining the roads for VIPs and doing crowd control, that investigating individual crime is a low priority. Shoddy investigations often do not result in meeting the tests for enabling the State to encroach on an individual’s liberty and life. This is especially so when public sympathy is not with the murderer.

In the popularly followed soap opera of the Aarushi and Hemraj double murders (murders committed in 2009; lower court judgment after six years in 2013), public sympathy seems to be with the murderers-Aarushi’s parents. The disgust is reserved for Hemraj, the male Nepali house help, whose sexual relationship with Aarushi, a minor girl, enraged Aarushi’s father to murder and her mother to be an abettor to the act.  

Similarly, in 1959, Nanavati, a dashing naval officer confronted his wife’s lover and asked him if he intended to marry her. When the lover laughed in his face, Nanavati shot him with his service revolver. Public sympathy for the noble, husband, murderer and aversion for the lecherous, opportunistic, lover made the President of India pardon him.

In the ongoing Tejpal rape saga, public sympathy is with the victim, but it seems more than likely that she will not be able to meet the onerous legal requirements of proving him, or his abettor Tehelka Editor Shoma, guilty in court. Tejpal and Shoma have yet to be arrested and Tejpal’s long term political association with the Congress will stand him in good stead, unless yet again Rahul takes a principled stand.

The Gujarat snoop gate in comparison has not attracted much public attention despite it providing a platform for Congress to attack Modi’s governance style. Possibly, the reason is that Modi is not the only Chief Minister using his state police to keep an eye on political opponents. After all, the woman whose privacy was invaded by the Gujarat State has not complained to anyone and her father seems to condone the action. The clearly established charge (for which no commission on enquiry is required) of misuse of public resources is an endemic “perk” across governments. Nevertheless it would be fitting, for a front running, Prime Ministerial candidate, like Modi, to sanction his assistant Amit Shah, who ordered the snooping, by distancing him from the 2014 poll preparations and fast forwarding the criminal charge process.

Trial by the media helps in getting people convicted fast, but it is never clear if the guilty have been punished. Similarly, judicial proclivity to rely on moral outrage rather than the facts on file, can distort justice. Sometimes, this judicial stance provides a convenient just-in-time outlet for widespread social outrage, with the intention of pushing upwards to appeal courts, the tricky business of handing out justice.

Things get confused in a transitional society, like India, where norms of sexual behavior vary enormously. Dress codes and sexual behavior in a night club are very different from the codes prevailing while shopping in a market. Normally the silos are water tight. Night clubbers dress and behave different when shopping. However, signals get mixed when, for example, a “memsahib” tired of her daring clubbing dress, hands it down to her maid, who promptly wears it, inappropriately, in the park, sending out unintended signals, identified by the “Khap Panchayat mentality” as the cause of inappropriate male behavior and defended so vociferously, by women, as their right to dress as they want. Without a doubt, the onus for a mental makeover is on men, who being socially dominant in India, hold women to account to a stricter code of sexual morality, than for themselves.

The rash of recent criminal legislation seeks to reverse this skew by holding men more rigidly to account for sexual transgressions. This is easier said than done. In Germany a recent legislation proposing to criminalize the customer (generally male) of a prostitute was opposed by prostitutes themselves. Their argument was that this would drive prostitution “underground”, make them more dependent on criminal intermediaries and expose them to dangerous customers. Unintended consequences indeed for a law which meant to do good.

Much the same is true of the spate of recent Indian legislation on sexual behaviour. Unintended consequences will mar these well- meaning laws. Here is how:

First, it is difficult enough today for a woman to compete on-the-job with social norms requiring her to multi task between home and office. Effective team work often requires a high degree of intimacy and huge amounts of time spent together. Women are disadvantaged in “hanging out” and “networking” primarily because it is still very much a man’s world. The majority of bosses, at different hierarchical levels, are men. They are likely to be even less willing, than currently, to employ women competitively if even their innocent actions of workplace intimacy can potentially attract criminal sanctions. To put it simply, if today a woman has to be twice as good as a man to get the job, she will now have to be four times as good. Even the “strident voices” which campaigned for making the law on sexual transgressions more draconian, are now finding out how difficult it can be to implement the law effectively in their own offices. Women should be concerned about this additional barrier to their competitiveness.

Second, the notion of a woman as “innocent or naïve” and any man as a “predator” seems antediluvian. The law for sexual sanctions should be gender neutral. Consider for instance the gender biased law on adultery (the most common sexual transgression), where the man is presumed to be the adulterer, even if both parties are married. Similarly the law only regards men sexually harassing and stalking women, as criminals.

Third, laws must respond to the state of play of collectible evidence. It is difficult enough to prove motive but it is even more so to prove whether or not a sexual advance by a man was consensual or not. Oldies will remember the film, “Pakeeza”(1972), in which Raaj Kumar is instantly attracted to Meena Kumari’s ankles, resting on the iron window bars of a train. Only the Taliban would go to extent of banning the exposure of ankles. But it does illustrate how diverse and contextual are the sexual signals communicated between a man and a woman.

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It is not for nothing that the eyes are the said to be the windows of the brain. Indian actresses, catering to our modern, prudish, sexual norms, have been adept at using minimalistic body language to convey powerful sexual signals. The lowering of eyes at an appropriate moment is understood to signal consent even if here is no verbal confirmation; playing with their hair is similarly a popular “I am interested” signal. All these are legitimate signals of the human mating dance. Also just as clearly the onus is on the male to calibrate his resultant advances, in a manner which is socially acceptable…and norms vary enormously depending on context.

Our laws are over wordy and over specified. This is a sure sign of a drafting process which gives too much weight to “satisfy” the demands of “strident voices” and “special interest groups”, rather than a professional balancing of the objectives of clarity, specificity, coherence and effectiveness.  Drafting good laws, which are forward looking, implementable and effective, is not our comparative strength. We use legislation just as a means to “shut the mouths” of discontents.

Lastly, lawmakers must assume that laws will be gamed by the unscrupulous; both men and women. This is the downside of the adversarial legal system we follow and its key limitation in harnessing social change. The US is a prime example where the fear of attracting “liability-civil or criminal” is so extreme that passers-by will not directly help the victim of an accident and instead wait for an ambulance to arrive for fear of attracting the liability of “legally” harming the victim.

Take a simple example. Increasing the age for becoming a legal adult from 16 to 18 for women is totally unrelated to the prevalent facts on the ground (UNICEF (2009) estimated that 47% of women in India are married in their teens). Dimple Kapadia was 16 years old in 1973 when she played the “quasi-Lolita”, title role in Raj Kapoor’s film; Bobby. Common sense would dictate that a fair proxy for adulthood is the average age of attainment puberty, rather than an arbitrary age, designed only to enlarge the pool of girls who would be “protected” by the more onerous sanctions against sex with a minor.

Finally, acceptable norms for social and sexual behavior must be left to be decided at the local level since the most effective threat against transgressions, is social sanctions. Pan-India laws are incapable of achieving this level of dovetailing between legal and social sanctions. It should then be left to people to vote with their feet and leave jurisdictions, whose social norms do not fit their world view. After all, India is increasingly a country of domestic migrants. Around 35% of the population has chosen to migrate, with the proportion increasing every year. Unacceptable social constraints and skewed gender roles (the Khap Panchayat world view) and unrealistic draconian laws (the social activist world view) would be just more (good) reasons to do so.   

Modi & Kejriwal; adrift sans a “clean” anchor

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The Gujarat Snoopgate can play out three ways. In two variations Amit Shah may be guilty. In the third version Modi himself may be the culprit.

Amit Shah was either acting, at the behest of Modi, to help the woman’s father keep track of his daughter or was personally interested in the woman himself. The first is a quaintly “Indian”, fatherly action, which no one will lose much sleep over, even though it violates the basic governance principle that public resources not be used for private purposes. So, no surprises that the BJP has adopted this strategy for damage control.  The majority of parents (though fewer of young people) would want a Chief Minister, so accommodating, resulting in a possible self-goal for the Congress if this turns out to be true.

If Shah had a personal interest in the woman and used “sahebs” name only for giving the unusual surveillance request, some political gravitas, it speaks poorly of the governance systems in the Gujarat government, but is still not a major issue for the BJP. Shah can be jettisoned, with not many in the BJP shedding a tear.

It is the third variation which could be the thorn in the BJPs flesh. If “saheb” actually has a personal interest in the woman, it would severely tarnish Modi’s Brahmachari image (Bhenji, Didi, Rahul and Amma have similar celibacy status). He would not be the first to “keep watch” over a significant other. Why he didn’t do it with his own money is a mystery, but then the distinction between public and private resources is very blurred in India not least due to the “beacon and security” culture.

Those doing “public service” jobs feel entitled to have the State as their nanny. This is common in revolutionary movements where resources are scarce and “moneybags” informally finance the movement. Gandhi lived simply, but it cost the State and the Birla group, a fortune to maintain the environment around his simple life-style, though undoubtedly this money was well spent. It is difficult, but those who work 24X7 for the public should not fall into the trap of assuming that their private life and their public work are coterminous.

If Modi fell into this trap, he must accept it and atone publicly by resigning his position and submitting himself to criminal indictment. Even if he is innocent, he has no option but to recuse himself from the CMs position, till an independent probe has cleared him.

In an unrelated but similar development the Aam Admi Party manifesto for the Delhi elections was released and Anna lambasted Kejriwal for misappropriating money collected for his movement.

The AAP manifesto was a huge disappointment! It promises free water, a 50% reduction in electricity tariffs, an increase in the supply of renewable energy (never mind that this would increase, not decrease, the cost of electricity supply and bankrupt the government), more legislation, a Lokpal (as if we don’t have enough oversight institutions). It demonstrates complete ignorance of governance arrangements in Delhi. It is full of “mother hood” statements and misleading, unrealistic promises with scant regard for their fiscal sustainability, economic efficiency or indeed their welfare benefits. Do the poor in Delhi want free water? Kejriwal should know that the poor never look for handouts. The poor are not beggars. They are value shoppers, as C.K. Prahalad taught us. They are used to paying for what they consume. It is the rich who look ceaselessly for freebies. What the poor want are jobs, protection from human rights abuses, access to good education, clean water and in times of distress and affordable health care.

The AAP manifesto proves what we already know. Kejriwal is a well-intentioned man but he, like Modi, is just one man without a party. Sans their good governance stance they are nothing.

Kejriwal tried to develop his party overnight. His political naiveté led to overextending himself by growing too fast and too loosely. The supporters he attracts are bound only by the glue of “change for clean politics”. They have very different views on what to do once they get into power. Hence the hopelessly inconsistent and regressive manifesto, promising permanent jobs for sanitation workers (to appease Dalits) and drivers in the government managed bus transport service (to appease Harayanwis), user charge concessions for special groups, special protection for Muslims against unfair criminal indictment, roll back of the University’s new, four year Bachelors program (to appease teachers) and other such “goodies”.

None of these proposed actions are reminiscent of the Disruptive Innovator Kejriwal once was. At some point, you have to transition to being a mainstreamed politician with an agenda for the post-change period which hangs together. In the case of the AAP, a brand new party, the speed and degree to which it has succumbed to political cynicism, “pork barrel” politics and identity politics is extreme and hence rankles. Kejriwal has already joined the ranks of those he once despised.

Modi is a RSS man but he knows that India’s needs are bigger than the narrow agenda of the RSS. His problem is how to shake the RSS off and yet have a field cadre left to fight the 2014 elections with. One hopes that he will continue to humour the past in Nagpur but reach out to India’s future elsewhere. Young Indians are not looking for a foster father in Modi. All they care about is growth, jobs, the economic freedom to innovate and the social space to forge a new Indian identity unrestrained by our obvious diversity of caste, religion and culture.

Kejriwal’s mentor Anna is hopelessly antiquated, but provides a “mask of morality” in these amoral times. Kejriwal desperately needs this link since the rag tag bunch around him, are unlikely to do much for his image of public propriety. He is doing the politically astute thing of being publicly “hurt”, at the allegations of impropriety, randomly hurled at him by his mentor, but privately relieved, that he doesn’t have to live under the same roof as Anna any more……as are many Kejriwal supporters.

Both Modi and Kejriwal need to change in the run up to 2014. Modi needs to loosen up, unbend and descend from the clouds of celibate power and walk-the-talk by going through an “agni pariksha” (trial by fire). If he is innocent this can will only boost his image. If he is guilty he cannot hope to become PM in any case, so he may as well come clean and live to fight another day. Voters admire Saints, but they also like human beings and accept their trespasses, so long as their own self-interest is preserved.  What they don’t like are falsehoods. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Accept your limitations honestly and don’t light fires you can’t extinguish.

 

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